Mar 122014

The Times’ David Carr has a difficult time keeping up with all the good stuff on TV. He writes:

I was never one of those snobby people who would claim to not own a television when the subject came up, but I was generally more a reader than a watcher. That was before the explosion in quality television tipped me over into a viewing frenzy.

Something tangible, and technical, is at work. The addition of ancillary devices onto what had been a dumb box has made us the programming masters of our own universes. Including the cable box — with its video on demand and digital video recorder — and Apple TV, Chromecast, PlayStation, Roku, Wii and Xbox, that universe is constantly expanding. Time-shifting allows not just greater flexibility, but increased consumption. According to Nielsen, Americans watched almost 15 hours of time-shifted television a month in 2013, two more hours a month than the year before.

Of course, I can relate. After I finish a few things on-line, this evening will be devoted to catching up on The Walking Dead and The Americans. I might even squeeze in an episode of The Daily Show before trying to make some progress on my book club selection.

I’m old enough to remember when people first started talking about television’s “golden age” in the late 90s, with the rise of shows like The X-Files and The Sopranos. But the proliferation of quality series over the last few years has been remarkable. Players like Amazon and Netflix will only accelerate this trend, throwing more content at me than I can possibly consume. I’m more than okay with that. I still love books and movies and music and comics and games, but serialized TV really has become my primary jam.

Mar 052014

I’m looking forward to the relaunch of Cosmos this Sunday. I have vague but pleasant memories of watching the original Carl Sagan series with my parents and it provided my introduction to the notion of scale; both in terms of the vastness of the universe and the deepness of time. I’m still a bit surprised that Fox and Seth MacFarlane are behind this project, but the early reviews seem positive and make no mention of dick jokes or climate change denialism. The fact that it’s airing on Sundays seems to indicate that Fox is hoping to attract a large audience. I’m skeptical that Americans will watch a general-interest science series in droves, but I would love to be proven wrong.

I should also try to re-read Sagan’s Contact, which made a big impression on me when I first read it back in the mid-80s.

Jan 142014

Now that Disney holds the deed to the entire Star Wars universe, it can do as it likes with the place. For starters, Disney has announced that it will take a lightsaber to the vast wasteland that is the Expanded Universe. The EU is the collective term for every bit of narrative detritus that isn’t part of the actual movies–books, comics, videogames, and so forth. The grand moffs at Disney will decide which bits are worthy of being designated as canon while the rest will be left to rot in the garbage compactor of some distant space station. Since nearly everything in the EU is execrable drivel, little will be saved. This move will give Disney plenty of room to tell new stories without worrying about whether it’s in conflict with some terrible paperback tie-in published in the 90s.

Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing Grand Admiral Thrawn make an appearance in one of the sequels. He may be the only character from the EU worth preserving.

Dec 032013

If you want a 5-minute summary of the state of pop music at the close of 2013, you could do worse than DJ Earworm’s latest annual mashup. It has that same-y club sound found in most of his mashups, but I do respect his ability to assemble a coherent track from so many sources. And I recognized most of the artists (including Lorde, whom I admire quite a bit), so I’ve managed to fend off the creeping forces of fogey-dom for another year.

Here’s the video:

Nov 192013

Some Star Trek fans like to dress up as Klingons or Starfleet officers. Others like to write long-form essays that posit an economic theory of Star Trek. Rick Webb does an excellent job of explaining how a post-capitalist, post-scarcity economy might evolve from democratic traditions and a greatly expanded welfare state. In such a society, it could be perfectly acceptable for people to not work since everyone has access to the resources needed to live comfortably. Instead, people are motivated to seek personal enrichment and fulfillment. For some people, this might mean joining Starfleet. For others, it might mean becoming a competitive 3-D chess player.

It’s an economic theory that perhaps relies on an overly sunny view of human nature, but Webb makes it sound plausible. As he points out, we already are on the threshold of a post-scarcity economy, but we do a crappy job of allocating those resources. If we look at Star Trek through Webb’s critical prism, the implications are clear: humanity can do better.

Nov 082013

Netflix and Disney have reached a deal that will bring several series based on Marvel characters to the streaming service. This is almost certainly welcome news for comic book nerds like myself, although I worry that quantity might compromise quality. I’m most interested in the Jessica Jones series, which hopefully will be based on the excellent and rather dark Alias comic series from the mid-Aughts.

Marvel is becoming quite adept at playing the 21st-century media game with its carefully choreographed slate of movies, TV shows, and other properties. Still, I wonder if we’re nearing peak superhero in our pop culture.

Sep 162013

AMC was once a little-watched cable network that showed nothing but old movies. In an effort to attract more viewers, it greenlit series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. These shows became critical and ratings successes, earning AMC the kind of prestige that had once been reserved for the likes of HBO. But Breaking Bad ends its magnificent run in a few weeks and Mad Men will wrap up next year, leaving AMC with two gaping holes in its schedule. How can it bottle that kind of lightning again?


AMC’s answer: spinoffs! In addition to the recently announced Breaking Bad spinoff featuring underworld attorney Saul Goodman, the network is also developing a companion series for The Walking Dead. It isn’t difficult to understand AMC’s rationale: people liked the original series, so perhaps they’ll like these similar shows. While this strategy sometimes works (see Frasier and The Colbert Report), it more often doesn’t (see Caprica and Stargate Universe). One of these new shows might get traction, but the odds are long that both will be successful. For a network that made its name taking risks on unconventional stories, AMC’s investment in these new shows bears a noticeable whiff of desperation.

Aug 152013

In case you’ve forgotten, Orson Scott Card would like to remind you and everyone else interested in seeing Ender’s Game that he’s still a paranoid right-winger and more than a teensy bit racist. Card recently published an essay that imagines how Obama might become a  dictator-for-life. He frames all of this as mere spitballing, but it comes across as something that you might find posted on militia website. Here’s Card imagining how Obama might seize power by creating a “national police force”:

The NaPo will be recruited from “young out-of-work urban men” and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities. In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama’s enemies.

Instead of doing drive-by shootings in their own neighborhoods, these young thugs will do beatings and murders of people “trying to escape” — people who all seem to be leaders and members of groups that oppose Obama. 

If Lionsgate Studios doesn’t want to spend the next few months doing damage control, it might consider paying Card a hefty sum to take an extended vacation in a locale with no Internet access.

Aug 052013

I’m among those who aren’t terribly familiar with Peter Capaldi, the Scottish actor who will play the 12th iteration of the good Doctor. Like a lot of fans, I was hoping we might get someone other than a white male, but that may have to wait until showrunner Stephen Moffet hands over the reins to someone else. In the meantime, it will be refreshing to see an older actor in the role after watching a string of younger dudes bring varying levels of manic energy to their interpretations. Matt Smith had a great run, but his sudden shifts from mischievous hyperactivity to solemn speechifying could give me whiplash at times.

And perhaps we can get Armando Iannucci to pen an episode. I’d love to see the Doctor unleash an expletive-laden diatribe on some hapless alien bureaucrat.

Aug 022013

The latest trailer for the final season of Breaking Bad does a great job of foreshadowing what is likely to be a bleak ending. Bryan Cranston (Walter White) reads from Shelly’s “Ozymandias”, a poem about an empire in ruins. I’ve been watching the early episodes and had forgotten how quickly White descends from average guy to violent criminal. It’s not a story about a guy who goes astray in a misguided effort to provide for his family. It’s a story about a guy who finally embraces the darker self that he kept repressed so long.

Here’s the trailer: