Friday, March 1st, 2013

Poor Edith!We watched the season three finale of Downton Abbey the other night, so we’re finally all caught up with the series and the rest of the viewing public. I no longer feel like the odd man out. I still am, but I can pretend that I’m not.

The up side: NOW I CAN READ ALL THE SPOILERS! I am seriously looking forward to this. For weeks, all I’ve been able to read about Downton on teh Intarwebs is the IMDB web page, and even there I was poking around rather cautiously. Every other time I clicked on a photo or went to visit what I thought was a fairly safe web site – even Edith With Googly Eyes (this is my new favorite website) – the first thing I saw was a photograph that gave away the ending of an episode … USUALLY THE VERY NEXT EPISODE I WATCHED! So I gave up the internet for a whole week. I know that makes me a geek. Oh well.

The down side: WHAT THE HELL!? CAN’T WE HAVE JUST ONE FRAKKIN EPISODE OF DOWNTON THAT’S NOT A HUGE DOWNER?

downer | 6:28 pm CDT
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Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Well, we finished a marathon catch-up viewing of the fourth season of Breaking Bad last night. Oddly, it didn’t end on a cliffhanger, as the previous season did. Although there are obviously a lot of places for the story to go after the end of season four, the last episode was so much more like a resolution of everything that came before that it almost felt as though the series was done.

(I’ll just put in here that I was totally wrong about season three’s cliffhanger. I was absolutely confident that what appeared to have happened, couldn’t have happened, but My Darling B nailed that one. Either she understands plot mechanisms a lot better than I do, which would not be a stretch, or she’s got a good head for manufacturing and dealing meth. I’m hoping it’s not the ‘or’ option.)

For a series I didn’t like much at first, season four had me sitting on pins and needles by the end. I asked the rest of the O-folk what they thought was so compelling about the show. It certainly wasn’t that the characters were lovable or even likable. Not counting the baby girl, I can think of only three or four people who aren’t morally corrupt in some way. And Walter — I know this is a ‘no shit Sherlock’ thing to say, but for a guy who started out as kind of a milquetoast loser, his transformation to a manipulative, amoral monster has been truly fascinating to watch, like a slo-mo video of a bullet smashing its way through a stack of bone china.

B loves to watch the characters change as the story develops. Not that she thinks they’re likable, just that watching each of them reveal one layer of their personality after another makes a good story.

I think that what brings me back to the TV screen* time and time again is the plotting and writing. Every episode answered questions from the previous episodes, even while it posed more questions to pique our interest. Shows like Lost pretend to do this, but Breaking Bad delivers in spades. If this were a novel, I’d be re-reading it every couple years for the sheer pleasure of watching the story unfold, and probably catching some new facet of the plot I hadn’t noticed before.

It’s been a good marathon but, after staying up until eleven o’clock last night to finish up the marathon, we might need to take a little breather before heading on to season five.

*What’s a better word for a screen that does not display television programming received by broadcast or cable transmission but on which we nonetheless watch a recording of a television show? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

breaking bad | 11:51 am CDT
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Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

We started watching Mad Men last weekend. The first thing I wanted to know about the show was how they kept Don Draper’s five o’clock shadow permanently set between 4:45 and 5:15. This is the kind of question that buzzes around in my head while I’m supposed to be enjoying the dialogue. How’d you like to be the makeup artist whose job depends on making sure John Hamm’s face is always just the right shade of blue? I’ll bet that’s a challenging job. To say nothing of tiring.

It’s got to be a makeup job. B started watching while she was folding laundry and I was downstairs building shelves. I jumped into the show in the middle, so I had to double back to watch all of episode one. Draper went from wearing what almost looked like blackface in episode three to a face that was pink as a baby’s bottom in episode one. No shadow! I asked The Mighty Google to explain, but so far all I’ve found are adoring blog posts that go on and on about what a handsome guy Jon Hamm is. Not a word about how they make him look like that. Almost looks like they dusted his face with gunpowder.

Mad Men | 6:14 am CDT
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Saturday, October 27th, 2012

image of balokThe Corbomite Maneuver is one of those Star Trek episodes that I thought was the absolute cat’s ass when I saw it back in high school, but when I watch it now it’s so full of cornball I can hardly see anything else going on.

It starts off with a mystery: A giant multicolored cube blocks the path of the Enterprise as the crew ventures far out into an unexplored part of the galaxy. Blocks their path. I love that. Hey guys, you’re in space! You can move in other directions!

Well, to give them credit, they try to duck around one side of the cube, but it gets in their way again, so they stop, scratch their heads. Spock is in command. He does the only logical thing: He calls Kirk and tells him there’s a big cube blocking their way and he can’t figure out how to get around it. This does not make Spock look like the big-brained alien he’s supposed to be.

Kirk’s going to figure this out. Nothing stops him. He’s brash, he takes chances. He … just sits there, brooding at the cube. They puzzle over it for a long time. “Sensors show it is solid, but its composition is unknown to us,” Spock tells Kirk, and then, barely thirty seconds later, Sulu says its mass is “a little under eleven thousand metric tons.” Kirk turns to Spock and says, “Hey, Spock, Sulu seems to know what the cube’s made of. Maybe you should’ve asked him.” No, he doesn’t, but he should have.

They puzzle and puzz till their puzzlers are sore. “We’ve been held here, motionless, for eighteen hours,” Kirk tells his captain’s log. Eighteen hours? Really? You sat there for eighteen hours, shrugging your shoulders and saying to each other, “I dunno, whadda you wanna do?”

Finally, Kirk has a brainstorm: They’ll move away from the cube. Oh yeah, that’s a bold move! Took you only eighteen hours to come up with that? No wonder they gave you the keys to a starship.

They start to move away, but the cube follows them and starts to fry them with radiation. Kirk tells Sulu to throw the engines into high gear. Even at warp speed, the cube not only keeps on coming, it’s getting closer now. Spock tells them the radiation has passed lethal levels, but for some reason they don’t die. I think maybe Spock’s sensors need a little tune-up, don’t you?

Finally, they do what they always do: Fire phasers. It happens almost every episode: Kirk, standing on the bridge in front of the view screen, tells the aliens, “We come in peace,” and then, sometimes in the very next sentence, he turns to Sulu and says, “Fire phasers.” I love that trigger-happy guy.

So, just to recap: A giant cube stopped them, followed them, tried to turn them all into crispy critters. They blew it to pieces. They don’t know what the cube was supposed to be doing out there, and it’s entirely possible there’s another cube, or maybe even dozens of cubes, hanging around the neighborhood, maybe heading their way. What would you do in this situation?

Wait, what I meant to ask is: What would you do if you were Kirk? Well, sit and wait for another cube to show up. Of course.

And something else does show up, but it’s not a cube, it’s a sphere. A giant, glowing ball. The props department must’ve been on vacation that week, leaving the lighting department to design and build the alien space ships. “Well, I’ve got these Japanese lanterns.” “Okay, that’ll have to do.”

The aliens on the giant glowing ball menace the Enterprise crew: “You will be destroyed!” Kirk does the “We come in peace” speech but never gets around to “Fire phasers” because the aliens turn off everything but the lights on the Enterprise and start dragging them to their galactic impound lot. It’s game over for the Enterprise.

But Kirk has an ace up his gold-trimmed sleeve! Suavely stroking his chin, Kirk tells the aliens, “Y’know, before you attempt to destroy us, I’m obligated as a gentleman to tell you about the doomsday device on our ship. It’s made of, ah, corbomite! Yeah, corbomite! That’s the stuff! And you don’t know about it because we deleted every mention of it in our computer’s memory banks! (Remember when computers had “memory banks?”) Yeah! So, go ahead and destroy us if you want to, but you’ll be sorry!”

No, really. That’s what he does. Watch the show if you don’t believe me.

Eventually Kirk makes friends with the alien, who turns out to be Ron Howard’s brother, Clint, in a satin christening gown. I’m still not making this up. Clint plays Balok, who scares the Enterprise crew speechless when he uses a foam-rubber head on a stick to stand in for him because he guesses, correctly, that they would not have been scared by a baby in a christening gown. Why they were scared by the least-convincing foam-rubber head ever created is a question left unanswered.

corbomite | 9:37 am CDT
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Friday, September 14th, 2012

The library finally notified me the other day that disk two of the second season of Sherlock was waiting for me to pick it up, which we did on our way home after work yesterday. Watched it right after dinner.

The first episode on the disk was The Reichenbach Fall, the BBC’s adaptation of The Final Problem, Arthur Conan Doyle’s attempt to kill off Sherlock Holmes so he could write other, more serious litrahchah. The Beeb changed things around just a bit to modernize the story, but after a battle of wits with Moriarty Sherlock apparently fell to his death, his brains messily dashed all over the pavement outside Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Well. We couldn’t stop there, so we settled in to watch the next episode and learned … that was the season cliffhanger! I hate cliffhangers! And it turns out we have to wait most of a year until they even film the next episode in the next series! I suppose I’ll have to give in and subscribe to cable television so we don’t miss it, although maybe we’ll all have on-demand video in our cyborg eyes by that time.

The Reichenbach Fall | 7:28 pm CDT
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Thursday, August 30th, 2012

My Darling B and I have watched more television in the past two weeks than we have all summer. Here’s just a sample of what’s been flashing across our retinas:

Sherlock

Well, this is fun. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade in modern-day London. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Holmes with a hyperkinetic glee that makes Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes look as staid and old-fashioned as Basil Rathbone’s.

We started by watching the first episode of the second season, because that’s what was available at the video store, but in this case that wasn’t a bad thing. We liked it so much that B put the first season on reserve at the library and the first two disks came in this week. Turn out to be as good, if not better, than the second season.

From The Earth To The Moon

We were trolling the aisles of the only video store left in Madison for rainy-day movies when My Darling B appeared from around a corner with the boxed set of the HBO series From The Earth To The Moon and said, “Look what I found! It’s got ‘Moon’ in the title, which sounds like it’s about the space race, so I thought you might be interested…”

I might be interested. What a wonderful, perfect girl she is for me.

Run Silent, Run Deep

A doubleyou-doubleyou-two movie starring Clark Gable as the submarine captain haunted by his past, and Burt Lancaster as the second in command who’s miffed at Gable for swooping in to take command when it should’ve been mine, dammit, mine! Not enough? You need more? Okay, we’ve also god Jack Warden as Clark Gable’s trusty sidekick, and Don Rickles as the plucky comic relief. Still not enough? How about this: Ken Lynch as the Star Trek connection, playing “Frank (uncredited)” who appears in one or two scenes, usually with a cig dangling from the corner of his mouth. He didn’t smoke in Star Trek, but a lot of the miners who worked for him turned into smoking puddles of oil when The Devil In The Dark got hold of them.

watching | 8:59 pm CDT
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Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

No zombie dreams last night, thank goodness. No dreams at all that I can remember. I was so bushed after dinner that I could barely hang on long enough to drag myself to bed before I fell asleep. I had plans to stay up late enough to sand and finish the book shelves in the extra room, but hitting the hay early to get a full night’s sleep sounded like a much better use of my time. That’s how the zombies get you, by the way. You fall asleep at the wrong time and, next thing you know, they’re munching on your innards. That’s how the pods steal your body, too. And how the Wicked Witch of the West gets your shoes. There really isn’t a safe time to go to sleep, even in cheery kid’s movies.

My Darling B and I had to fold some of the mountain of clothes that have piled up in the baskets on top of the washing machine over the past week. We’ve been champion procrastinators about this, putting it off night after night for at least a week, so last night I set up the television at the end of the coffee table and popped a DVD from the first season of The Big Bang Theory into the player, then cranked up the theme song to lure her into the living room and sit down on the sofa where I’d moved all the laundry baskets. She fell for it. In just two episodes, we folded forty-two million pieces of clothes. Now I just have to figure out how to get her to put her clothes away.

Then, we tried to play Boggle, but I was already having a hard time staying awake. I got one really good word, “footsie,” but the rest were all three- and four-letter words, and my scores got worse as the game went on. I capitulated (that would be one hell of a good Boggle word) after playing just a half-hour or so, brushed my teeth and went to bed to read. I managed to stay awake long enough to finish two chapters of Just My Type, but only because I kept dropping the book on my face. I may have to go back and re-read some of it tonight.

sleepy | 6:17 am CDT
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Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

The cats may have locked me out of my laptop. When I came home this afternoon It was sitting on the sideboard by the front window with the top up. The monitor was dark and wouldn’t come back on so I had to force it to shut down. Then, after I booted it up again, I couldn’t get the mouse cursor to move or get any response at all when I tried the function keys, control-alt-delete or any of that other magic. Tried starting it up again in safe mode – still no luck getting it to respond. “You could call customer service,” My Darling B suggested, but we popped in a DVD and watched the second episode of Luther instead. It’s so strange hearing Idris Elba speak with a British accent after all those years listening to his Stringer Bell Baltimore lingo. And we’ve both got such a tin ear for Britspeak now that we have to turn on the subtitles. Still, there’s no question it was a much better way to spend my time on a week night than listening to hold music for sixty minutes while waiting for a tech support rep to answer.

locked | 10:05 pm CDT
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Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

We started watching the television series Rescue Me about a month ago after we saw Denis Leary on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and they mentioned this would be the last season for Leary’s show. I turned to My Darling B for the umpteenth time and said that I heard that was a pretty good show and she said for the umpteenth time that we should check it out from the library and watch it. We’ve been saying this to each other since life crawled out of the ocean.

Then about three or maybe four weeks ago we finally checked the first disk out from the library and watched it. And it was pretty good, so we watched the next one, and then the next one, and we finished watching the last disk of the first season last night. We’d probably be watching the first episode of the second season right now if B wasn’t knocked out cold from the over-the-counter medicine she took right before supper. She’s a little under the weather again. Spring isn’t as kind to some of us as it is to the rest of us.

Weird thing about Rescue Me is this: There are practically no likable people on the show. Tommy Gavin, the character played by Denis Leary, is a complete asshole who talks to everybody he knows, even – no, especially his friends as if he would rather be doing anything else. He drinks way too much, and all the time. He beats people up on a whim and he’s screwing his best (dead) friend’s wife. She kind of threw herself at him, but still.

The rest of the show’s main characters, most of them firemen all in the same New York city firehouse, are not as bad as Gavin, only nearly. All the married peole are screwing around on their spouses, everybody else is just screwing. We were watching an episode the other night that had so much screwing in it that when the fire alarm went off and the firefighters all suited up and climbed into their trucks, B yelped, “Holy Cow, that’s right! This is a show about firemen! I forgot!” If real-life firemen are half the horndogs these guys are, no woman anywhere in the country is safe.

Thing is, we keep watching. It’s like trying to tear our eyes away from a really gory traffic accident. Can’t do it. So, I’m not saying it’s an especially good show, but it’s watchable in that strange way that internet videos of a tsunami are watchable. It’s grotesque. It’s abhorrent. It’s not right. But I can’t stop watching it.

Rescue Me | 8:00 pm CDT
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Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I was trying to get our flat-screen TV to work without the remote, but it had no visible means of control that I could tell, but that couldn’t be. Why would they even make a TV that didn’t have some way to at least turn it on without a remote? So I looked all over the front, then turned it around to look all over the back, then I picked it up and began an inch by inch search of the bottom, the sides and the top, because there just had to be an on button somewhere. And while I was juggling it in the air over my head, it came on.

Now, how did I do that?

It took a while, but I finally found them: Tiny little bumps along the right-hand side of the frame, each no bigger than a grain of salt, as if there was a sadistic bastard in the design department who had purposely designed them to be as hard to find as possible. Each little bump was labeled with a tiny little pictogram to indicate what it was supposed to do. The bottom one had the one-zero universal symbol for on/off. When I tapped it with my finger, the TV blinked off, and when I tapped it again, the TV … stayed off.

Tap! Still off.

Tap! Nope, still off.

Tap! Tap! Tap! (Dammit!) Tap! There! It came on again! And it stayed on long enough for me to play with the other buttons and discover that they gave me access to the menus for the signal source, the volume, the color and hue, and … Dammit! I accidentally touched the on/off button, turning it off.

Tap! Still off.

Tap!

Tap! Tap! Tap! Tap!Tap!Tap!Tap!Tap! Dammit! Dammit! DAMMIT!

Wouldn’t you know it? The one button that doesn’t work well is the on/off switch. This went on forever. I let the damn thing mess with me much longer than a normal person would have, because I wasn’t going to walk away before I’d at least learned how to select the signal source to see if it worked with the DVD player. And I even managed eventually to get it to show me a picture, but at the cost of raising my blood pressure at least ten points. Later, after I calmed down enough to see straight again, I shot an e-mail plea to our very own T-Dawg, who almost magically appeared the next day to present us with a remote, so now I don’t have to cuss at the TV any more. I probably will, anyway. It’s what I do.

Tap dance | 5:50 am CDT
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Friday, October 29th, 2010

I never thought about the zombie apocalypse in this way before, but I think Alessandra Stanley may be on to something:

All it really takes to outrun a zombie is a car. Also, a bullet to the head will stop one cold. And that may explain why so many men prefer zombies to vampires: zombie stories pivot on men’s two favorite things: fast cars and guns. Better yet, zombies almost never talk. Vampires, especially of late, are mostly a female obsession. Works like “Twilight” and “True Blood” suggest that the best way to defeat a vampire is to make him fall so in love that he resists the urge to bite. And that’s a powerful, if na├»ve, female fantasy: a mate so besotted he gives up his most primal cravings for the woman he loves.

Vampires are imbued with romance. Zombies are not. (Zombies are from Mars, vampires are from Venus.)

Stanley wrote this cogent thesis in a review of AMC television’s The Walking Dead In today’s New York Times.

Zombie Dogs | 6:15 am CDT
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