Distractions, Diversions, Books, Wines, Whiskeys and Other Stuff To Think About When You Should Be Doing Something Else.

Posts tagged “Television

Diversion and Distraction of the Amusing Kind: The Killing and Firefly

I was watching the first episode of the new season of The Killing on AMC. We meet Detective Holder’s girlfriend played by Jewel Staite (who played Kaylee on Firefly) who reveals Holder’s “Serenity” tattoo.

I had to pause my DVR. That’s just about as funny as Richard Castle (played by Nathan Fillion) dressing up as Mal for Halloween.

By the way, though the first two seasons of The Killing seemed to drag on interminably, the third season starts a whole new case and it is looking incredibly interesting based off just the first two episodes.

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The 2012 / 2013 Jericho Award

Jericho AwardFor those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jericho Award, that honor is bestowed, by me, upon the best new show of the season (starting in the summer and ending with the close of the spring finales) that was cancelled. Granted, it is kind of an ignominious award to win but, it is also intended to point out injustices and frustrations with “The Powers That Be” who decided what shows live and die even apart from their respective, and sometimes rabid if small, fan bases.

This year I even kept track of all of the new shows I started watching to make my selection process even easier! In no particular order:

Defiance on Syfy

I don’t play the game so I’m not exactly sure how it ties in but the show has… potential. I kind of like it because everything isn’t explained right away, avoiding hours of exposition for the sake of explanation. I also dislike it because we, the audience, need some exposition from time to time to figure things out. A note to the writers: a lot can be learned just by showing the audience a map, no dialog needed.

The Following on FOX

The only problem I have with this show is suspension of disbelief, otherwise it had some pretty good entertainment value. If think were it lost me most was watching Kevin Bacon personally end a cult member or two in virtually every single episode. Actually I think he did shoot somebody in every single episode.

Ripper Street on BBC America

Why did I start watching this one? I have no idea except to explain it as the curse of the DVR. So many shows, so much memory. I actually kinda liked it. I’m pretty sure it is a cleaned-up depiction of Whitechapel in that era, but the acting is good and the writing doesn’t assume the audience is stupid. Check it out on DVD if you run across it.

Revolution on NBC

You know what? I don’t like this show and yet I continue to watch it out of sheer stubborness. I haven’t even watched all the episodes and I’m pretty sure I know how the season will end (the last episode is either on my DVR or will be soon). I so wish it had hewn closer to S. M. Stiriling’s “Dies the Fire” type of world, but it didn’t, it has guns. I’ve got news, guns pretty much killed any reason to carry a sword that you actually fight with. Aside from that, the plot is so convoluted and contrived in order to put a dozen people at the heart of every single major event before and after the power went out it blows my mind. Seriously, aside from these dozen people nothing else has or will happen in this world. Everybody is just waiting for them to get near so they can actually do something.

Elementary on CBS

Far and away my favorite new show of the season. I wasn’t sold on Watson being a woman at first but I really like the juxtaposition. The writing is smart. The acting is great. Above all Holmes isn’t single-handedly solving every crime for the NYPD. My only complaint is that Moriarty was introduced way too early in the series. I could happily have watched whole seasons without bringing in the arch-nemesis. Make him go away for a few years then bring him back when you know you only have a few seasons left.

Copper on BBC America

A gritty and brutal period show. The crimes and mysteries and situation seem believable and the acting and writing is very well done. Another show to watch on DVD.

Arrow on CW

Another show I liked quite a bit. Granted, it is on the CW so there is a fair amount of “pretty people doing pretty things” but the action is good and you need a little bit of brain-candy every now and again. It also did a really good job of working in the back-story all through the season instead of dumping it in all at the beginning. Some of the acting is good, some is pretty rotten but hey, how many other live-action super hero shows have made it on TV without being really weak in writing and acting or just  too campy. I think Arrow will avoid both of those things.

Continuum on SyFy

I started out not liking this show, probably because the main character relied very heavily on her future tech at the beginning. As episodes went on it gradually was whittled away from her and the show got better. You get to see her actually being a policewoman and a detective. Great job writers! (Everybody else take notes, Bond has toys because he is Bond and he is awesome. Your characters need to be characters first and use gadgets second). I like where this show is going. Lots of potential.

Perception on TNT

Sherlock Holmes meets A Beautiful Mind. Yeah, I can watch that. The imaginary people seen by the main character are more interesting than most of the other characters on the show but I’ll take what I can get.

Longmire on A&E

My second favorite show of the season. The acting is super. The writing is spare and elegant (Walt Longmire is a man of deep introspection and few words).  This is the kind of show where something happens and it seems at first to be straightforward, but Walt gets those narrowed (or more narrowed) eyes and you know there is something else afoot and the next hour of TV is going to be interesting to watch.

Hannibal on NBC

This show has grown on me. I started off not liking it simply because of Lecter’s terrible accent. I still don’t like that accent. It is Scandinavian meets Scottish and somebody is making him hold a marble under his tongue. Otherwise, since they are going to be using many elements from the books it looks like something that will get better. I hope so.

Last Resort on ABC

This was a terrible, terrible show and I’m glad it was canceled without finishing. Not even the phenomenal actors and great locations it had available could rescue the ridiculous premise or the horrific writing. Seriously, if all you see is Andre Braugher’s speech in the first episode you have seen the best this show has to offer. Everything else is downhill from there.

Robot Combat League on SyFy

I don’t even know if this is a show that will come back but I really liked it. Actually I liked parts of it. I really liked the fighting parts. I couldn’t have cared less about the reality-show parts of it. I hope that this season will serve as a proof of concept and next season, or even a new show, will feature robots that follow game rules but are designed and built by the teams themselves (A whole other show I would watch). Even if the network bankrolls the production costs I want to see teams that are invested personally through blood and sweat in their bots and who will innovate nifty ways of beating the hell out of each other for my personal amusement.

So, who wins the Jericho Award for 2012/2013?

Nobody!

Only one of these shows was cancelled and that was Last Resort and I refuse to give an award of any kind to that show. Really this is congratulations to all the other shows I listed here. I enjoyed watching your first seasons and you remain programmed into my DVR for this coming season. Hopefully your freshman compatriots of 2013/2014 will be able to follow in your footsteps and get picked up for a season 2.


The 2011-2012 Jericho Award

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jericho Award, that honor is bestowed, by me, upon the best new show of the season (starting in the summer and ending with the close of the spring finales) that was cancelled. Not very prestigious I’ll admit, but since it is awarded to the show that I like the most, I would like to think that it serves to point out an injustice or two.

This season has a few shows to nominate. I didn’t really like all of them all that well, but I did watch all of their episodes. There are other shows that failed after their first season, but for one reason or another, I didn’t watch them. You may think they are much better but if I don’t watch them they don’t get nominations.

And The Nominees Are:

The River

For all of the times that I rolled my eyes at the rampant stupidity of the people on the Magus the show really hooked me with the first episode and finished just as strong. Granted, in between there were a lot of moments where it was kind of painful. I think the weakest point was with writing that had to be, well, convoluted in order to get the group to go in a certain direction or down a particular path. On the whole I didn’t think the show had more than a season in it based on its premise but after the finale I could see potential. I also liked how it ended with a soft cliffhanger. Maybe it will get picked up by TNT or Syfy, but I doubt it. Too expensive. Not enough cult following.

Alcatraz

In spite of never being a Lost fan (I only watched the first season and that on DVD) I really enjoyed this show. The back and forth between the two timelines to tell the story and bit-by-bit reveal new aspects to the mystery worked for me. If anything I think the end of the first season was too ambitious and may have killed its chances of getting picked up by a cable network like Syfy, though it would still suffer from fewer problems than some other shows. I really though FOX would have brought this one back. Oh well.

The Finder

Ok, I don’t watch Bones so I don’t really understand the tie-in beyond being in the same narrative universe, but I am a sucker for quirky detective stories. This one was about as quirky as it gets. To tell the truth, I was a big fan of Walter logic and the ensemble cast really worked and was interesting. Each of the characters seemed to really effortlessly bring their particular skill-set to the table, though Walter was the one to tie them all together. If there are any of the nominated shows that I think should be picked up on cable it is this one. Personally, I think it is a natural fit for USA or A&E. Both of those networks already have quirky detective shows in Psych and The Glades (respectively) but I don’t think another would hurt either of them and may actually help to pull audience from one to the other.

Terra Nova

Ok, to be honest I didn’t like this show, but since I did watch all of the episodes I decided to include it with this season’s nominees. Honestly, the premise was weak. The plot was contrived. The special effects were gratuitous. The writing was tortuous. The acting was weak (I know, I already said weak but it fits here too). I am appalled that this is the show that is getting the most traction for a bid to go to cable. Seriously? I know Terra Nova had fans, but I just don’t understand what people see in this show.

And The Winner Is…:

Well, I am really tempted to declare a tie, but I think the show that I am going to miss the most is The Finder (whose potential Jericho-mate is Alcatraz). Both of these shows were solid all the way through and seeing as how they were on the same network, and that House is coming to an end, I don’t see why FOX would want to discard both of them while keeping the terminally stupid Touch. I could only stand two episodes of that piece of garbage.

Like I said, winning the Jericho Award is kind of ignominous. The reall winners this year are the shows that I watched that did get picked up for another season and that deserve a look from those of you who missed them. Here they are in no particular order (probably missing a few too):

  • Person of Interest
  • Hell on Wheels
  • Alphas
  • Grimm
  • Homeland

Diversion and Distraction of the Epic Kind: A Game of Thrones on HBO

Ok, I couldn’t possibly let something this awesome go by without saying something about it. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin is one of the greatest epic stories of all time. You will notice I didn’t say fantasy epics. It is, indeed, fantasy, yet I have no reservations placing it against any epic, fantasy or otherwise.

Plus, how cool is this opening?

The HBO series has been a long time coming (though not as long as some of the books have been coming). From seeing the first episode I think it is way too early to tell it they have really captured the depth and spirit of the book A Game of Thrones but the potential is certainly there. To do it justice they will definitely need to get a few things right.

They will need to get the feel:

Martin’s world is dirty, violent and brutally unforgiving of weakness. The series seems to be off to a good start in this regard. Nobody gets a free pass in this world. Being a “Hero” means a very nasty death is probably right around the corner. Being a villain means somebody even worse is likely to soon appear. The land is equally as harsh and pitiless. For example, audience members who haven’t read the books need to understand the import of a continent spanning Wall of ice. It is there for a reason. It was built, at great effort and expense, to protect against something. What could possibly be so terrible to require such a barrier be built? Even if the characters never ask these questions, the audience should look at the Wall and absorb a feeling of dread and apprehension. You can create almost anything in CGI these days but CGI alone can’t truly convey the sheer harshness of the environment of a land where winter may last for a generation or more. That has to come from the writing and acting as well as the settings.

There are several characters that have to be right:

This is what you really can’t see by the first episode alone. The most major characters have hardly been introduced, if at all. Arya Stark is there but she says little. Sandor Clegane has one throw-away line and has yet to be formally introduced. Tyrion and Jamie Lannister have a great deal of encouraging screen time. Jon Snow is still much of a mystery as is Daenerys Targaryen even though they are probably the axis on which the series will eventually revolve (at least that is my thinking though, of course, the series has yet to be finished).

Without quality acting from these characters the series won’t fly. It is very cool that on the strength of the first episode alone, the series has been renewed for the second season / second book  A Clash of Kings (I wonder if they will change the name of the series with as each season is intended to cover the events of a single book). It makes me even more eager to get my hands on A Dance with Dragons, the newest book in the series that will hit bookstore shelves shortly after the end of the A Game of Thrones season.

I’ll need to start my re-read soon.


Diversion and Distraction of the Beer Kind: Brew Masters

Brew Masters

I recently added a new entry to my “Television Worth Watching” queue; Brew Masters, an infotainment offering from the Discovery Channel featuring adventures in the craft brewing industry. I honestly like infotainment programs and I don’t much care if they are hard-core factual explorations of events on the History channel, science-geekery / invention programs on Science, or travel / food-porn on Food Network. Brew Masters kind of bridges the gaps between all of those subgenres to connect the history of an endlessly interesting industry with the nuts-and-bolts of the brewing process and the people in it, and the beer itself.

Brew Masters features Sam Calagione the founder of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Delaware. He is both the host of the program and the main character of the reality-television show that encompasses all of the non-brewing or historical aspects of Brew Masters. He seems to be a really nice guy who is a little more than slightly odd and unique in the same kind of interesting way that he envisions his beers being (The Dogfish Head motto is: Off-centered ales for off-centered people). He is, quite literally, the kind of guy who would be a lot of fun to have a beer with, and that makes the show interesting and engaging, though the first episode contains bits featuring his craft brewing hip-hop group that was almost painful. It wasn’t the music so much (it wasn’t to my taste but the music videos were amusing), but rather that he thought it would be a good idea to use the premise / theme of the first show, the brewery’s collaboration with Sony Music to produce a beer accompaniment to the re-release of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album, to pitch a record deal of his own. It could have gone better I suppose.

I’m looking forward to more episodes of Brew Masters. Even more, I’m looking forward to the possibility that future seasons of Brew Masters will feature other craft breweries like Sam Adams, Stone, Founders, New Belgium, Magic Hat, Three Floyds or Avery who are known for making fantastic, excellent and unconventional beers. There are too many interesting characters and stories to tell to keep the show confined to one brewery, even one as colorful as Dogfish Head. Maybe they will even spin it off to distilleries and wineries. I’d probably watch those too.


Diversions and Distractions of the Undead Kind: Zombies!

The Zombie Apocalypse is Coming!

Apologies to Roosterteeth for totally stealing their excellent shirt logo. Right click to go buy one!

Do Not Enter
Do Not Enter

No, Really!

This Halloween night AMC is going to debut a brand new series called The Walking Dead. It is based on the comic book series by the same name and follows the story of the survivors in a world overrun by the ghoulish living dead. AMC is already the home of my latest, favorite television program, the spy-drama Rubicon. If The Walking Dead follows the precedent set by the writing and production values of Rubicon as well as the multi-Emmy award winners on AMC;  Breaking Bad and Mad Men, it should be totally and completely awesome.

Aside from the entertainment value, the Zombie Apocalypse has been a favorite Black Swan scenario / What-Would-You-Do-If, mental puzzle of mine for a long time. What other possible situation could create the same all-or-nothing hard choices than an invasion by the undead? I’m not alone either. Apparently lots of other serious thinkers (Daniel W. Drezner at Foreign Policy Magazine, for example) have the same fascination with a situation that forces outside-the-box thinking.

For the most part, the horror movie genre doesn’t really appeal to me (and among zombie movies I prefer the more amusing ones like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland) but there are two really excellent zombie books out there for those looking to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

zombie.jpg image by angel0nline00

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead

by Max Brooks

For any zombie survivalist this is the first, and foremost, book that needs to be added to your undead survival go-bag. It’s information is priceless for anyone thinking about living in a world where the undead could strike at any time. It covers all possible scenarios including strategies for surviving zombie outbreaks of a few dozen ghouls, to a full-on worldwide Zombie Apocalypse. It discusses the relative advantages and disadvantages of all different sorts of weapons from swords and axes to handguns, shotguns, rifles and flamethrowers. It covers tactics for those on the run from the undead, and for those who turn zombie-hunter. Also included are handy packing lists and equipment suggestions that could mean life or undeath when every second counts, efficiency is essential, and dead-weight takes on a whole new level of meaning.

After reading the book, you will know your enemy. You will know their habits and their tendencies. You will understand their strengths and their weaknesses. It even includes historical case-studies of previous zombie outbreaks so that you can learn the lessons of the past and apply that hard-won knowledge.

The other book World War Z is also by Max Brooks (son of director Mel Brooks) and is novelization told in the form of a series of interviews collected by a historian in the aftermath of a worldwide zombie outbreak. It is set to become a movie starring Brad Pitt. The audiobook, even though it is abridged, is also highly recommended and features an all-star lineup of voice actors.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

by Max Brooks

World War Z follows a zombie outbreak from its first stages to what develops into a worldwide Zombie Apocalypse. It is framed as a series of interviews with survivors and witnesses, soldiers, politicians, doctors and others who had roles small and large.

What I enjoyed most about World War Z was its plausibility. Granted, the possibility of a real zombie outbreak is vanishingly remote (though you never know what is going on in the bio-tech lab down the street), but the forces that serve to cause the rampant spread of the infected are straight out of a CDC worst-case-scenario. The official response by governments and militaries, foreign and domestic seems completely characteristic. The short-sightedness of people trying to do anything to get away is sad, but believable.

Like I said, this is a great Black Swan scenario with decisions having unexpected consequences and forcing new ways of thinking about problems. My personal favorite image from the book is during the North American offensive, when U. S. anti-zombie forces break out from behind the Rocky Mountains to fight their way eastward. At one point, from behind a prepared defense and using formations familiar to Grant and Lee, the U. S. forces instigate a zombie attack that develops into a zombie chain-swarm, drawing in zombies for miles and miles to be methodically shot down until a rampart of the undead surrounded the camp.

Happy Halloween!

Hat/Tip and Apologies to the guys at Roosterteeth for totally ripping off the logo from one of their t-shirt designs.

You really should go buy the real Zombie Plan shirt from their store and be the envy of your friends.

 


Distraction and Diversion of the TV Kind: What I’ve Been Watching.

In response to fellow 5GW theorist and blogfriend Purpleslog, a list of the shows I’ve been watching brought to you courtesy of my DVR, which makes any television viewing possible.

In no particular order:

Leverage: Con games and manipulation to right wrongs. How could a 5GWist not enjoy?

Justified: Wild West justice in the modern world. I’m with Purpleslog on this one. It’s awesome!

Warehouse 13: Sort of an X-files-ish detective show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Great premise.

South Park: My half-hour dose of animated absurdity.

Rubicon: My favorite new show. Excellent!

FlashForward: Wins the Jericho award for the new show I liked that got canceled. My next nominee is The Event.

Bullrun: Hot cars and stunt driving do keep my interest.

Penn and Teller’s Bullshit: Very snarky. Very, very funny.

House: As long as this show remains about the case/puzzle I enjoy it. When it becomes a soap-opera, not so much.

Wipeout: The unapologetic unfairness of this show amuses me to no end.


Distraction and Diversion of the Television Kind: Rubicon

Rubicon is a spy drama that seems to me to have a great deal of potential. The plot, thus far, follows two different storylines that intersect with a shadowy conspiracy. It is dark, quiet and slow-moving. Normally, that combination would quickly bore me but in this instance it creates an atmosphere of intent expectation and underlying mystery. It is as if everything, even the most innocent things, have a deeper and more sinister meaning. Also, the acting is excellent. It seems like more is said in the wordless glances and the expressions as the actors walk alone through empty rooms or read papers and notes than in the spoken dialog of most television programs.

 The first, main, storyline belongs to Will Travers (James Badge Dale), an analyst for an organization known as API, an intelligence analysis super-agency that takes in the raw intel generated by many spy agencies and turns it into (theoretically) unbiased analysis and recommendations for future action. In the series opener, Will notices a strange coincidence between the crossword puzzles in many major world newspapers. He shares this insight with his boss, David Hadas (Peter Gerety), who is immediately killed in a train crash, but not before leaving behind several vague clues that point toward his death being anything but accidental. Will, slowly and carefully, begins to tug on this fragile thread that may unravel a dark conspiracy.

The second storyline features Miranda Richardson as Katherine Rhumor. In the first episode her husband, a wealthy and powerful man, unexpectedly commits suicide. Her mystery begins when, at the reading of his will, he leaves her a townhouse and a clothing manufacturer that she didn’t even know existed. Initially, she thinks her husband kept the secret townhouse to cover for an affair, but soon begins to suspect a deeper secret, especially when she catches her husband’s best friend in several small, but confusing, lies. She has yet to fully realize that she also is tugging on a loose end to the conspiracy, but she feels whatever she is uncovering ultimately led to the death of her husband.

Rubicon airs on AMC.

See the first episode.


The Lost Tomb of Jesus

Originally published on 3/5/07 at Dreaming 5GW.

Is it journalism? Is it docu-drama? Is it archeo-porn? Is it a window into a 5GW operation? This last Sunday evening, without the distraction of NFL football and not being a fan of Desperate Housewives, my television landed on the Discovery channel and The Lost Tomb of Jesus. The program was promoted as a James Cameron (Executive Producer) documentary and was followed by an hour-long discussion hosted by Ted Koppel including the film’s Director and Writer Simcha Jacobovici and several archeological and theological experts.

In a nutshell, the program is about a tomb that was discovered in Jerusalem in 1980 during a construction project. Inside the tomb were several ossuaries, or boxes where the bones of a person are kept. The mystery begins when several of the boxes are discovered to be inscribed with what are possibly the names of the persons whose bones are inside them. These names, when taken together and with a bit (some would certainly argue more than a bit) of massaging, suggest that this tomb belonged to the family of the biblical Jesus and contained not only his remains but those of his mother Mary, two of his brothers (who were disciples), possibly Mary Magdalene and perhaps the remains of his son. The claims are backed up by the suggestion of science and the statistical probability of this combination of names being found in any other tomb in Jerusalem.

It seems that I look at the world now with 5GW glasses. I can’t read a spy novel or listen to a newscast without a little thought in the back of my head prodding me to consider how something would work as a part of, or engineered by, a 5GW campaign. For this particular program that little, persistent thought was armed with an air-horn, and waving a banner while leading the official 5GW marching band. It wasn’t the subject matter; though finding remains of a person who could have been the biblical Jesus in sufficient quantity to conduct DNA testing certainly is provocative, but rather the positioning of the evidence that caused a blip to appear on my 5GW radar.

It has long been one of my, admittedly cynical, beliefs that people have an amazing ability to justify almost any action or idea to themselves. Especially when they have previously acted in that manner or held that particular thought or opinion. A student can find a way to justify putting off homework for just one more television show. Somebody with an almost maxed-out credit card (and more debt besides that) can find a reason to buy one more piece of clothing and pay for it with the plastic. A thief can decide that stealing really is the best way to get something they want. It is what gives racists the confidence in their bigoted beliefs. We have all done it. I am guilty of it myself. It comes from selfishness and from mental laziness, and it is, as I see it, the currency, or the leverage if you prefer, of a 5GW organization. This consideration has long been one of my central ideas when considering how a 5GW organization would attempt to manipulate actors in systems and this is what jumped out at me while watching The Lost Tomb of Jesus.

Evidence and Pattern, Deception and Salesmanship:

I don’t think the filmmaker was attempting to deceive the viewer but rather to make the best, and most persuasive, case possible for this to be the family tomb that was the final resting place for the body of the biblical Jesus. Framing this as a documentary, complete with scientific testing of evidence and expert opinion may make for accusations of intellectual dishonesty, but in all reality the worst that can be said of the validity of the evidence and its testing, is that what was done was done more to make a theory more plausible (and therefore better television) than to show how tenuous the connections, and therefore the pattern they represent, may really be. That’s salesmanship. A salesman may frame a fact in such a way as to encourage a favorable reaction, and that may in a way be deception, but ultimately the buyer will make the decision to buy or not. With the docu-drama/documentary, or a salesman in general, the viewer/buyer is usually very much aware they are being targeted.

In a 5GW campaign everything turns around. The 5GW organization may take evidence, true or not, and place it in a pattern, real or imagined, that leads the actors being targeted to create a meme based on their own pre-conceived ideas, trusting (in fact counting on) their target’s ability to justify almost anything to themselves. If the 5GW organization is smart, the pattern itself is tailored specifically to take advantage of the target’s existing biases. In this way the deception is not really in the positioning of the 5GW organization, but in the selfish and lazy self-deception of the targeted actors.