Non sports division. Hulu’s The Bear. Unfortunately, for now, only eight short episodes.
In other entertainment news, best rapper name and worst address belong to 22 year-old Lontrell Williams, aka Pooh Shiesty. Current address. . . the Pollock Federal Correctional Institution in Pollock, LA.
That void in your life. . . me not having done a “How To” post in ages. Let’s right that wrong.
Two sure-fire ways to drive your daughters crazy. First though, why drive your own flesh and blood crazy? In short, homeostasis. No doubt they’ve been driving you crazy for years, now it’s your turn to reciprocate in the interest of harmonic balance.
The key to the first strategy is to control the television remote like Raphael Nadal controlled today’s quarterfinal tiebreaker. Then, once you’ve queued up the show, skip the intro. Done and done. If your daughters are like mine, they may never fully recover.
The second related sure fire way to push them over the edge is instead of watching a series from the beginning, just watch repeated episode highlights on YouTube. I’m currently doing this with Curb Your Enthusiasm. At my age, I can’t commit to watching 110 episodes spread out over 11 seasons, not knowing if I’ll make it to the end. Much to my daughters’ dismay, YouTube has me covered.
If I knew it was so easy to make them apoplectic, I would’ve honed these skills years ago.
Monarchies are whacked; and yet, I find The Crown, the story of Britain’s monarchy, imminently enjoyable. I start each episode; I’m currently through Season 3, episode 7; wondering if it’s the one where the quality will start ebbing ever so slightly. Although a dip seems inevitable, each successive one leaves me more and more wowed. I don’t even think of fast forwarding through any parts of it.
When it comes to viewing pleasure, I did not see many movies in 2019 that rival any random episode of The Crown. And interestingly, it’s an anomaly for the “Golden Age” of television in which the most popular content is dark and edgy*. In contrast, The Crown is the Tim Duncan or Big Fundamental of contemporary television.
The Crown soars because of its writing, it’s cinematography, its music, and its casting. Especially its casting. In particular, Olivia Coleman as the middle aged Queen Elizabeth and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip are phenomenal.
Only three episodes in the queue. I plan to stretch them out as much as possible to shorten the wait for season four a wee bit.
*rest assured, the Netflix series on the Trump monarchy will be decidedly more dark and edgy
When a person’s image and/or reputation is inflated, sometimes people lament, “Big hat, no cattle.” A lot of people today, like the President of the United States, excel at promoting themselves more than anything else. Thanks to the public’s allegiance to valueless media, we’re making a mockery of merit.
A case study. My July morning routine entails working out, eating breakfast, making a green tea latte, and then settling in to the day’s Tour de France stage which I spend about thirty minutes fast forwarding through.
This year there are three cyclists from the U.S. in le Tour, meaning about 1.5% of the total peloton. One of the U.S. riders is barely surviving the mountain climbs, just making the maximum time cuts. But because we’re living in the Age of Self Promotion, that same rider is starring on the U.S. television coverage, dropping daily broh-heavy “behind the scenes” video segments that add nothing to the event. He seems likable enough because of a goofy personality. And maybe the fact that both of his parents were professional cyclists and he’s bounced back from a horrific accident a few years ago contribute to some of his faux-fame as well.
But even accounting for those extenuating circumstances, the fact that he’s in damn near last place would only matter if we were in an Age of Meritocracy, but we’re not. Increasingly, we’re surrounded by people with really, really big hats. Which makes it tough to see the front of the race.
Watching television comes with obvious opportunity costs. You’re (usually) not burning calories, getting to know real live human begins better, or (usually) learning much.
Despite those downsides, I agree with a lot of critics that the quality of television content has never been higher. Especially with Netflix and other similar portals, there are a lot of good shows—past and present—to choose among.
And, let’s not forget, a particularly excellent one just wrapped—21) 30 Rock.
The digital video recorder has transformed my viewing experience by making commercials obsolete. Thursday night I tried watching the start of the NBA finals, but the major network showed about fifteen to twenty minutes of commercials right before the tip. It was brutal. So I channel surfed until the game started. I often record sports events and then begin watching them an hour or so later without commercials, without timeouts, without incessant video replays, and even without inconsequential action (like huddles, lining up putts, even walking the ball up the court). When timed perfectly, I finish the tape just as the event is ending in real time. Mad skills.
The rewind feature of the modern DVR is also sups cool. I was floored by Julia Dale‘s rendition of the National Anthem before game 1 of the NBA finals last Thursday night. “Come here and watch this,” I yelled to peeps in the kitchen. Then rewound it for a second viewing. My second favorite performance of the Anthem after Marvin Gaye’s which I was lucky enough to experience live.
Of course there are ways television could be improved. If people stopped watching “reality” shows and the cable “news” circus, they’d go away. More aggravating to me, is some shows gratuitous use of the “f” word and penchant for glorifying drinking.
I’ve been a fan of Julia Louis-Dreyfus since she first started shoving Jerry in the chest on Seinfeld, so recently I gave her Home Box Office series Veep a whirl, in which she plays the Vice President of the U.S. Let’s just say the cute, spunky, chest shoving Elaine of Seinfeld is long gone. In her place is an insecure, foulmouthed, unlikable character. I don’t think of swearing in terms of moral failure. Ever since teaching high school, I’ve been unfazed by profanity. But I don’t like it when it’s forced and exaggerated. I counted 38 “f-bombs” in two consecutive 25 minute episodes. I find it hard to believe that Joe Biden and his staff use the f-word in semi-public nearly once per minute (Rahm Emmanuel maybe).
When a wise guy on Soprano’s or a Jonathan Franzen character lets it rip it adds to the story’s believability, but when the first female vice president or her staffers swear every minute (f-bombs plus more run of the mill profanities), things fall apart. HBO suits must think their success is the result of their characters saying things that characters on the major networks cannot. But it’s not. It’s based upon interesting story lines and strong character development that gritty language sometimes contributes to. Note to HBO, the swearing is an authentic and artistic means to an end, not an end itself.
Then there’s Zooey Deschanel’s show, New Girl, which takes moral irresponsibility to new levels. Like Veep it’s a clever, even funny show, with amusing characters who play their parts well. It’s target audience is probably my 18 and 21 year old daughters. The characters are 30, but in a Seinfeld-like manner, are stuck in a perpetual sex and drinking college-like vortex. In the hands of the shows writers and producers, drinking heavily is both fun and funny. I challenge you to identify one entire 22 minute episode of New Girls that that doesn’t glorify excessive drinking and/or random premarital sex. It’s a shame that responsibility and moderation do not attract as many eyeballs.
I’m halfway through Netflix’s first original television series, an eight episode series titled “Lilyhammer” that takes place in Lillehammer, Norway. Episodes are 45 minutes long or about 20k on the bike trainer. It’s solid and hopefully a positive sign of things to come from Netflix. Here’s their brief description.
After he testifies against a Mafia boss, ex-gangster Frank Tagliano enters the witness protection program and asks to be sent to Norway. Despite the peaceful surroundings, it’s not long before Frank strays from the straight and narrow.
I dig it and I’m awarding it an “A-“. Full-disclosure, I lived near Lillehammer for a few months five years ago and have fond memories of a ski weekend there, a memorable dinner party, and a school visit where I was the guest teacher. I’m smitten by the setting so adjust your grade at home accordingly. The scenes of the train station, the white farm houses against the snow, the shops in town, the countryside, the ski jump, the Birkebeiner cross country ski race all take me back to that time.
Besides the distinctive and extraordinarily beautiful setting which makes it worthwhile alone, the show works because of the wonderfully authentic and quirky Norwegian cast. Incompetent cops are played out in American television comedies, but their Norwegian counterparts are good for a new and steady stream of cross-cultural laughs. It’s well written, moves at a nice pace, thoughtfully explores cross-cultural differences, and is decently acted.
I deducted half a grade because Steven Van Zandt, of Soprano fame, is too much of a caricature of an American mobster. He could and should be much more nuanced and subtle. Related to this, it will be interesting to see whether Netflix has learned the lesson of the Sopranos. Somehow, despite Tony Soprano’s incredibly flawed nature, he was likable. He could have a guy whacked, or whack him himself, and cheat on his wife. Then when he walked into the kitchen you’d cheer the fact that his favorite pasta was ready and waiting. An unsolvable television mystery.
Four espisodes in, Frank Tagliano or Johnny Henrikssen, isn’t as likable as Tony. I’m not sure whether he has the necessary charisma and charm to compensate for his buffoonery. Also, his romantic relationship with a much younger woman fails the believability test.
Despite those flaws, I’m looking forward to the next four episodes.
Or I should say “really like it” since moms always says, “You can’t love something that can’t love you back.”
Each tightly packed episode is a thirty minute long travel/house hunting fix. A person, couple, or family chooses among three residences in some foreign country. Recently, while watching a college football game, I caught most of two episodes*. The first was about a British man and an American woman who met in Orange County, California. They were moving to England. Immune to our recession apparently, he needed a large garage for his cars and she needed a dance studio.
The second couple, an Irish man and an American woman moving from Chicago to Ireland, had two small girls. Appears as if Euro men are stealing our women, but I digress. Their Chicago house had a small yard “where every time the girls kicked the ball it hit the wall”. He wanted at least an acre which they eventually found a few minutes from where he grew up.
A few times in the episode he implied his girls needed a large yard, but I couldn’t help but think he was projecting his past on their present. We all do that to some degree don’t we? Recreate our childhoods for our own children in some form—whether tangibly in terms of the house and neighborhood environment or intangibly in terms of norms, expectations, ethos?
Did the toddlers really “need” a soccer pitch-sized backyard? Would their lives turn out much differently with a small yard or if they found a house near a public park? All I could think of was how much of his time and money he was going to have to spend maintaining his giant patch of grass. To each is own.
Dear HGTV network. How about a show with the same format, but focusing on minimalists proactively embracing our new economic realities by looking for smaller yards, less space, less clutter, lower energy costs? People convinced that some cliches, like “less is more,” might just be true.
House Hunters Downsizing. Or Downsizing House Hunters. Either way, I’d watch it during college football commercials.
• This requires deft remote controlling. And I’m the deftest. Which brings to mind the best sports story from the last month. A 97-year-old man who wanted to watch a Milwaukee Brewers playoff game called 911 to report someone had stolen his remote control. According to the Greenfield police report: The man called 911 to report someone had stolen his remote control from his residence in the 9300 block of West Howard Avenue prior to 8 p.m. Sept. 26. The remote control was found after police responded, so the man was able to watch the Brewers game.
Modern Family is my family’s favorite television show. Only twenty-two minutes in length, it always garners guffaws. When we watch it separately and come back together we ritualistically recite our favorite lines from memory. Even though I’m older than Phil, I want to be him when I grow up.
I would have expected some slippage by now, but each episode is as tightly written and produced as the previous one. Wonder how many hilarious, heartwarming episodes they have queued up?
Like every hit show I suspect, MF’s success starts with the writing. But its success is also explained by three myths we happily embrace.
Myth one. Interpersonal family conflicts are resolved quickly and simply, mostly within twenty-two minutes. Pilot episode—gay son and his partner don’t feel accepted by the gay son’s dad. Throw in an international adoption, jab him a bit about his old-fashioned homophobia, and acceptance follows. MF provides a fantastical break from the complex, intractable conflicts that shape our lives.
Myth two. The three families live close to one another, enjoy one another’s company, and make time for one another. For most people, the phrase “extended family” is quite literal. Take me for example, my three siblings live in three different states, my mother in a fourth. Their closeness is endearing.
Myth three. Work is unrelated to wealth. This is great news for American viewers for whom fiscal responsibility doesn’t require sacrifice. MF is nearly as work-free an environment as Seinfeld’s apartment. Phil recently showed a house, but the housing correction hasn’t impacted his family’s lifestyle. All three families drive nice cars, live in very nice homes, and very rarely work. Magically, mortgages, car payments, and vacations all get paid for.
And of course for Pacific Northwest viewers like my family and me, the warm and sunny SoCal setting doesn’t hurt either.
When working on their drafts, I ask my writing students to continually self-assess whether they’ve been sufficiently introspective and whether they have interesting ideas to communicate.
Sufficient introspection is tough for an increasing number of students who are unable to unplug for any time of real consequence. For some of my students, not texting for an hour and forty-five minutes is excruciating. I wonder, how introspective can one be when alternating between texting, talking, listening to music, facebooking, tweeting, watching youtubes most recent viral videos, or streaming films?
A second challenge is sufficient exposure to complex and challenging content. This challenge takes two forms—the quality of curriculum materials in school and the personal choices made outside of school.
With respect to the later, young people watch a lot more television and movies than they do read. That’s not inevitably negative, depending on the relative quality of their preferred television programming and movies.
Extrapolating from my students and my daughters and their friends, today adolescents tend to watch television and films that fail the complex and challenging test.
Again I wonder, if they’re unable to unplug and they’re switching between Gossip Girls, Camp Rock, and Legally Blonde (my frame of reference is admittedly female) what can we expect from them in terms of interesting ideas?
Postscript: I’m not immune from these challenges, particularly unplugging. I am too easily distracted. That partially explains why it took me so long to FINALLY finish Franzen’s Freedom. Whew, masterful. Worth noting, he said he worked on it in an office without an internet connection. Currently I’m reading The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. And last night the family and labradude gathered for this excellent film. Fifteen was NOT happy it was subtitled, but she dug deep and read for the whole 2 hours. She’s still not quite forgiven the Galpal and I for subjecting her to this excellent film five years ago.