SF Media

Jan. 10th, 2016 10:26 pm
shannon_a: (Default)
My media all seems to be science fiction lately:

The Expanse (TV). I've previously read the first four books of this series, and am very fond of them. (I'm awaiting the fifth book arriving in trade paperback.) Now, I've come to quite like the TV series as well. Its biggest problem is that it feels near-impenetrable. I have troubles figuring out what's going on sometimes, so I can't imagine how confusing it must be to a newcomer. But, I enjoy the density of the universe, I like its grittiness, and I enjoy the characters (now that we've got to actually know them, after a near-disastrous attempt to disguise who the main cast is in the pilot). Alex really stands out in a way he didn't in the books. [4.5 stars]

Orphan Black (TV). We've been watching the third season of this BBC America show after it finally arrived at Netflix. (They have trouble getting all the BBC DVDs for some reason.) This story of clones in the modern-day has a clever and unusual premise, and it's rather brilliantly led by Tatiana Maslany who regularly plays four very well-differentiated clones. Though I love arc shows, this one has a bit too much arc even for me, as it's all middle: not only is there no beginning and end to the episodes, that's also true for the seasons(!). I felt like we just dived right back in when season three opened. I continue to enjoy this show quite a bit, but it's a challenge for me too (and I don't love it quite as much as in the earlier seasons when it felt like there was more mystery in the air). Looking at GraphTV though, I see people thought the season improved as it went on. [4 stars]

Nexus (comic). I was thrilled to discover recently that a new Nexus collection was being published called "Into the Past", based on short serials that Baron & Rude had been producing for an anthology comic. This is a classic SF comic from the '80s about an empowered vigilante. It was brilliant in its original run, not just for its hero, Horatio Hellpop, but also for the SF universe it created. The newer stories lack something because the serializations don't allow for as much of that deep universe creation, but they're getting better as the creators adjust to the limitations of the format, so I'm looking forward to where it goes from here (and I'm also hoping that Dark Horse will at some point fill in the almost 20-issue gap of comics after the end of the original series that has never been reprinted in collections: #81 and #84-98 or something like that.) [3.5 stars]

The Dark Forest (novel). This is the second book in the series by Cixin Liu, where the first, The Three-Body Problem won last year's Hugo. I started the series in part because I was intrigued by translated Chinese SF and in part to give it support because horrible bigots in science-fiction semi-prodom were protesting against it. (They're real scumbags who did their best to stuff the Hugo ballot boxes, but more notably whine like little babies that all science-fiction isn't still written by overprivileged white men, like them.) Anywho, the first book was interesting; though this second one has some interesting bits, it's also mostly boring, the waiting for Godot of the alien set. [2.5 stars]

Star Wars: Aftermath (novel). After enjoying Star Wars 7, I picked up the first of the prequel novels. You see, my favorite type of storytelling is heavily sequential. That's what I'm a fan of comics and TV shows. It's also why I enjoyed long-lived licensed fiction, like the 60 books of Doctor Who: The New Adventures that I recently finished. Star Wars used to have that, before the Expanded Universe got the boot, and I enjoyed some of the far-flung stories I read (mostly comics), like Dark Empire and Legacy. I dunno, Star Wars may get there again as it expands out of its new foundation. But a third of the way in, this new novel hasn't grabbed me, mainly because it's about minor or new characters and because its setup of the new universe of the movies is moving at a glacial pace. [3 stars]
shannon_a: (Default)
Today Kimberly and I did something we've never done for Thanksgiving before: we went out to eat.

Usually, we heat up a prepared meal at home or (more rarely) go to the South Bay and eat with family. But this year I didn't want piles of leftovers in the house for weeks, and K. wasn't up to big family gatherings (though ironically the big family gathering ended up not happening), so we decided to go out and eat instead.

We made reservations at Hs. Lordships down at the Berkeley Marina, and also invited along Kimberly's friend, C. And so we set out a bit before 4pm today to go and eat.

We were seated at a table directly overlooking the Bay. K. and I think it was literally the best table in the restaurant, because we were right at the window and the Golden Gate was pretty much straight out from us. Beautiful view, especially since we got to see the sunset.

The dinner was buffet, and it was quite great. There were tons of different options, and all of them were very good. The plates for the buffet were somewhat small, and that actually encouraged you to take small portions, which gave more room to really enjoy everything.

First plate was cornbread, biscuit, a few pieces of sushi, chilled crab leg, chilled shrimp, cocktail sauce, crab salad, calamari salad.

Second plate was ham, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, cornbread (that's the only thing I went back for), small piece of hard bread, brown mushroom gravy.

Third plate was chocolate cake, cookie that was chocolate dipped, a marshmallow dipped in a chocolate fountain, and a strawberry dipped in a chocolate fountain.

K. was unfortunately feeling sick, so C. and I were sitting around chatting, and I couldn't resist eventually going back for a little more desert. I had a very teeny chocolate cupcake and a slice of some marbled bread or cake or something.

Yeah, I overindulged, but Thanksgiving is pretty much the quintessential American holiday, which means it's all about overindulging. We could only have made it more American if we'd shot some guns, thrown some baseballs, drank some beer, and then thrown it all up.

(There was actually some throwing up at the buffet, but someone who almost made it to the bathroom. What's more American than over-eating, throwing it up, then going back for more?)

K. and I often marathon a TV show on Thanksgiving. The plan was to watch Wolf Hall, which has been on our Tivo since the start of the year. So early this morning we watched the first ep., and I was entranced by the movements of these historical characters (especially Cromwell, who walks around a lot), but K. proclaimed it the most boring hour of TV she'd ever watched. We'll finish it up together, but K. didn't want to watch the whole thing (or most of it) today as planned.

Fortunately, the world now includes streaming. K. recently signed up for a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, to get Prime shipping on any Christmas presents we order from them. So we also watched one of their newest series, Man in the High Castle, based on the novel (they keep saying "book") by Phillip K. Dick. I remember liking it quite a bit when I went on a Dick binge in the '90s. (Boy, that sounds wrong.) So, I was thrilled to watch the TV show too. We watched 5 eps over the course of the day, which is half the show. Good stuff. Very nice historical (alternate history '60s) feel, good directing, interesting characters, good writing. I need to reread the book to see what they used and what they made up. (Somehow that's the one book that went missing from my Dick collection, so I've ordered a new copy in the "Vintage" edition that almost all of my Dick collection consists of.)

Our Fitbits encourage us to be active, so in the evening we also went for an hour walk, up the hill to near the Claremont and back.

Probably the one way we failed in making this a quintessential American holiday.

We'd hoped to see some Christmas lights, given how early they appear nowadays, but there were almost none out. One lit house we saw was very sad. I described it as something like this: "Yeah, we have a Bay Window, but we'll only put lights on two of the three sides, and one will be blue, and one white, and only one will be blinking ... and it'll look just great." Or as I alternatively described it: "That looks like the sort of half-assed crap we'd do."
shannon_a: (Default)
The Cats. Lucy has started being increasingly aggressive toward Callisto lately. It's just hissing and growling, but there's more of it. Mind you, Lucy has never been very fond of Callisto, but this seems to be going in a bad direction at the moment.

I suspect that it's my office that causes most of the contention and annoyance, since both cats like to sit around my desk while I work, and there's also just one food bowl and water bowl in the room. So, I'm in the process of making my office last contentious.

To start with, I tried to deal with the boiling annoyance last week by locking Callisto out of the office during my Thursday and Friday workdays. Poor Callisto, but I figured she got the rest of the house and her mama. But, she yowled at the door for quite a bit. And then she started throwing herself at the door to try and open it (which actually works on our Family Room door, because it has an old lock).

And then she did the wackiest thing ... she ran into the Family Room and started trying to get into the closet that we wedge shut there. She indeed managed to get that door open, because it doesn't latch. Kimberly later said, "What was up with that?" My theory was this: in her little kitty brain, Callisto knew she was blocked by the door from getting into her office. So she ran to open another door, figuring it would lead the same place. Smart cat? Dumb cat? I think the former.

Anywho, this week I got in some cat pheromones to run in my office. I'm also encouraging Callisto to use an alternate lounging place and have moved a second bowl food and water in there.

So far, things have calmed down a bit.

The Bike. I bought my fourth bike computer last month. Those things keep dying. The first started responding incorrectly to button pushes, the second lost a button, and the third stopped recording the bike's movement. The cheapest one I had, by Schwinn, actually lasted the longest at about four years, while the better ones from Sigma lasted just less than two years and just less than one and a half.

Inexplicably, I got another Sigma. Well, it's not actually inexplicable. They have better feature sets, and their new one that I got has a feature I really wanted: an altimeter. Now, I looked quite a bit for bike computers before I decided on one, and quite a few of them have altimeters now, but they're almost all using GPS. And GPS sucks down energy like no one's business. So I decided I didn't want a bike computer that was unreliable because I had to constantly power it.

So I bought the new SIGMA ALTI instead. I have no idea how it actually measures altitude. Maybe atmospheric pressure or something? It's not entirely accurate. I find that it shifts quite a bit, just sitting in my garage. I might put it away at 180 feet and come back two days later to find it's now at 153. But, it certainly gives the general trends, and over the course of a single bike ride it stays reasonably reliable.

I've been enjoying it quite a bit. I've gotten to see the altitudes of many of the places I ride, and what the actual ups and downs are. (I wish it showed rise over time, so I could understand what slopes are the most difficult for me.) I've found it particularly interesting playing the what's-the-same-height game. For example I've learned that the Berkeley Rose Garden and Jewel Lake (on opposite sides of a ridge) are at about the same height. I've also been able to see which routes are more wasteful due to rise and falls. It's also served as encouragement ("Look at that, I'm almost up to 1000 feet, I can go just a bit further"), which is the same purpose served by the odometer on the computer ("I'm lagging, I should push up to at least 12 mph from this puny 10.")

Other Entertainment. I wrote this last section head just to be parallel to my last journal entry, where I wrote about "Other Roleplaying". So, what other entertainment have I been doing? As usual that's board games, TV, and books.

Board gaming continues to be my regular Wednesday + Thursday evening activity. My current obsessions are Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (which gets played once a month with my Thursday group) and Roll for the Galaxy (a great dice-rolling game).

TV is in the summer slumps, which means we're watching great things on DVD. Thus far this summer has included Good Wife (season 3), Newsroom (season 2), and Game of Thrones (season 4), with Newsroom (season 3 and final) and Dexter (season 3) on deck. We've also been slowly watching through Arrow (season 3) and Flash (season 1), now that summer reruns finally got us the start of the seasons on our Tivo Of them Good Wife slumped a little from its season 1 greatness and Arrow season 3 just hasn't been as great as what preceded it, while Flash is still developing its cast and mythos. But they're all at least good (with Arrow my least favorite of that bunch) and many are great. We're also watching the embarrassing Big Brother 14 because I can't give up my love of televised strategy games for the summer, even when the summer show is crap.

As for books: I continue with my massive Michael Moorcock re-read. I just finished Phoenix in Obsidian (1970) a couple of nights ago, and am working on my article for it. Other than that, it's what caches my fancy off my to-be-read shelf. I've just started one of the few Sanderson Cosmere books I haven't read, Elantris. Recently finished books include Ship of Magic (a reread of the classic Robin Hobb book, which is still classic), Scream of the Shalka (a Doctor Who book written just before the new series, by Paul Cornell, which was OK, but disappointing for a Cornell book), The Annihilation Score (the newest Scalzi Laundry book which was very disappointing because it took the series in an entirely bizarre and inappropriate direction), and The Girl with all the Gifts (a post-apocalyptic Mike Carey book which left a bad taste in my mouth).

Oh, and I've also been re-reading A Feast for Crows, following our conclusion of season 4 of A Game of Thrones. I pick it up every once in a while and read one or two hundred pages over the course of several days, then I put it back down and read something else. The problem is that nothing happens. It's just a bunch of people standing around and hoping that something happens, but with a few specific exceptions spread out over the book, it doesn't. So, there's no tension and no concern about putting the book down for a week or two. Pfah. The writing is still smart, the characters well drawn. But it makes me that much sadder that Martin lost his way and wrote these two books that just tread water without any purpose.

And that's some of my current entertainment.


Jun. 7th, 2015 01:06 am
shannon_a: (Default)
Woo's bachelor party today. It was hosted and put together by Sweet. We gathered at his house starting around 7pm. Mostly gamers, but a few other Woo friends as well. There was ramen and barbecue to go on it. Drinks were shared around (though I sadly abstained, as I didn't want to upset my stomach before the wedding). Then at 8pm, the "game truck" showed up.

This is apparently a real thing that you can franchise. Patented too, which shows how broken the patent system is. ("A system for putting Wiis and Xboxes on a mobile delivery platform" — not obvious at all). The Game Truck people claimed it could seat 20, but that was clearly younger butts. But about 10 of us were in the truck playing on the 4 big screens at its height. I was also amused by Kevin and Pick playing from outside the truck for a bit, leaning in through the big windows. I bet young 'uns can't do that.

Besides the gaming and the eating, there was some talking too, in chairs out in front of Sweet's house in Pleasant Hill, which is pleasantly balmy at night. I forget that other parts of the nearby Bay Area don't have the nasty chill evenings we get here in Berkeley. At least not in summer.

Anywho, that was the Bachelor's Party. I think it was the third I attended. Rowe's (miniature golf + go carts + pool & drinks) + Jason's (Hooter's + I didn't stick around for the bar hopping) + Woo's (ramen + game truck + drinks).

I actually spent much of the day over the hills in Contra Costa. I did a great bike ride from Lafayette around and over some of the hills into Pleasant Hill. I biked up to about 680 feet, hiked down through the Aclanes Open Ridge Space and then biked along a portion of the Brionnes to Mt. Diablo Regional Trail, which was a really great ride. It went through some hilly areas going down, then through some houses and a park (where I stayed and wrote for a couple of hours) then eventually connected up with the western contra costa canal trail.

I also rode a bit along the western contra costa canal trail, which I've done twice before. I love the canal and I love the suburban areas it goes through. On my first ride through I found it really hilly and tough going as a result. It's still hilly, but not very tough now. Instead there were some delightful areas that I was able to really enjoy when I was a good 20 or 30 feet up from the canal far below.

And then on the way home I took dark trails out from Sweet's house around to Walnut Creek. I'd done it once before and it was a weird and wonderful ride, as was the case again tonight.

(25 miles total today. Almost 4000 calories burned and over 200 active minutes according to my Fitbit.)

And that was the busy day. K. and I also finished Justified earlier in the day with the last two episodes. Fine show! And with an ending that worked well! I'm really sad to see it go, as Harlan County is one of those TV places that's found a little place in my heart, as only the best detailed places can.
shannon_a: (Default)
To The Refuge. I had a marathon bike ride on Saturday. I rode up to Hilltop Mall for lunch (which has become a bit of a habit due to chicken cheesestakes and chocolate brownies) and from there went through Pinole and Hercules. I saw some nice parts of those towns that I hadn't seen previously, plus rode along my favorite creek trail in Pinole, but my ultimate goal was the Refugio Valley Park in Hercules, which according to Google maps was a lake at the head of a bike trail going south.

The Park was very pleasant, reminding me a bit of Lake Merritt, with its lake fountains, its stone overlooks of the lake, and its numerous geese. The trail leading south from the lake was less impressive. The first mile or so was nice, and I got a nice serenade of The Star-Spangled Banner from some sporting event at the Hercules Middle/High School. But then the "path" became little more than a narrow sidewalk that ducked down away from the road between the intersections. Well, I'm usually happy to try out each bike trail once.

There was a lot of open, brown land near the school and the community college, but then subdivisions began to appear to one side, and the road eventually came to an end. I was quite puzzled, as my (incorrect) Google maps said it continued on. I eventually sussed out that it was EBMud Watershed ahead. Eventually I opted to head in. (I now have an EBMUD Trail Permit for the next 5 years, so I'll to take advantage of it.)

I had to walk my bike, which was just as well, because there were some very large rises and steep drops on the Bay Ridge Trail that I was walking, and they wouldn't have been bikeable anyway. There were also lots of cows. Tons of them. And most of them have calves. Ever read that calves bound? They do, they really do. There were calves bounding all over, like they had springs in their legs. It was totally darling. The adult cows were less so; they were a little agro, but as I got close eventually backed away so I could pass.

The hike inside the EBMud lands was exhausting. It would have been hard without hauling a bike around, and with ... whew. A mile and a half (and probably close to an hour later) I made it out to a slightly hilly road and eventually followed that up to San Pablo Dam Road, which I took to Orinda. All in all I made a huge loop that was 35 or so miles total, plus a BART ride from Orinda to Rockridge.

Whew! Exhausting day, but there was cheesesteak to be eaten and new places to see and hills to climb and cows to avoid.

Endgame. Sadly, I missed out on Endgame's 13th anniversary party, which was also Saturday. I didn't see an announcement about it until Tuesday night, and by then I felt like I'd already promised out all my emotional energy for the week. If I'd known that people I would have liked to see were going to be there, I would probably have went, and I probably should have asked, but ultimately I decided that rather than expending emotional energy at a gathering, I'd build up emotional energy on a long solo outing.

And so it goes.

Television. Kimberly and I decided to fire Once Upon a Time tonight. The show has teetered on the edge for us for its entire existence, because it's never been a very well-written show. (To be precise, it's cliched and obvious and soapy.) However at the start of the show, there were interesting mysteries and long-term stories and consequences. (Though the producers seemed at least as bad about figuring out what their long-term plans meant as when they were working on Lost, particularly with the two saboteurs who came into town late in season two and seemed to totally change their motivation just before they were abruptly written out at the start of season three.)

But now the show has become some sort of saccharine family drama and rather than long term plots Once Upon a Time instead tells 11-episode arcs which are forgotten almost as soon as they're done. Their first one, on Peter Pan, was quite good, but I think that's because the show abandoned most of its less successful characters and its less successful setting (temporarily) to go to Neverland. Their second arc, on the Wicked Witch, was a total flop, and I say that loving Oz and Wicked. Their third one, on Frozen, is almost as dull.

I'd thought about waiting until the end of this Frozen arc to dump the show, but it just wasn't worth it.

Meanwhile, Gotham may be getting slightly better. It started with a horribly fractured premise (it is about a young Bruce Wayne? is it about Gotham Central? is it about the appearance of Batman's villains?) and I knew it was going to take a while to find its center, but Jim, The Penguin, and (much to my surprise) the young Bruce are all become increasingly strong centers of the show. I also like the two mobsters (Falcone and Marcone) who have become increasingly important in recent episodes. Hopefully that show is finding itself (because Once Upon a Time never did).
shannon_a: (Default)
We're back from Placerville for a week now, and it feels like a return to reality. Amazing how much away-time you can squeeze into a couple of important, active days like that.

Designers & Dragons continues on, but now we're knocking down major milestones.

The first major milestone was the end of the Kickstarter, which today feels like it was a billion years ago.

The second major milestone was the complete polish of the final index, which I finished a few hours ago. This is a pretty big deal.

A minor milestone beyond that will be my OKing the final corrections on the book, which should happen in the next week and should be my last work of note on the print books.

The third major milestone will be completing all of the new writing for the "Platinum Dragon Appendix" PDF. I got a bit more than half of the new writing done before I got the '00 index about 10 days ago, and now it feels like it's been forever since I worked on it. I'm currently planning to get back to it on Friday or Saturday. I'm scheduled to finish it all for October 31st, but there are so many moving pieces (writing, verification, corrections, editing), that I'm not sure if it'll all fit or not.

Skotos continues on too. There have been some kerfuffles in recent weeks and annoying internet-wide security issues, But I've also been helping Chris with some nice privacy writing and we have a co-op gaming book just about ready to go, so there's good stuff going on there too.

After having spent last weekend in cars, this weekend I went out for a long bike ride, about 32 miles — up to Hilltop Mall, out to Miller Knox Regional Shoreline, and back. Nothing new, but it was nice, and that's pretty much been the story of this summer.

Of course when I was out was when I got some of my weekend writing work done. "R"-"Z" in the '00s index bit the dust while I was at Miller Knox yesterday.

In the media world, the new fall TV season has begun. Thus far we have just one new show, Gotham. I found that the pilot last week had interesting characters but was over-directed and over-musiced. There was way too much over-dramatic (dark, sweeping shots and loud, booming music) in both of those things; I was pleased this afternoon to find another reviewer who said the exact same thing. I'm hoping that gets polished out and the show improves with the first new episode, as the pilot was interesting enough but it made a disadvantage out of what I thought would be advantages.

We'll have Constantine next month, but sadly my hopes there are even lower than for Gotham. At least it doesn't star Keanu Reeves.

Over on DVD, we just started watching Dexter (quite good, once I got the taste of the mediocre but exciting books out of my mouth) and Arrow (OK, primarily due to characters and fan service to DC readers).

And in the reading world I am close to finishing The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Been reading that (occasionally) since 2009, and whew those are dense, long books. The wikipedia page says 3.3 million words or 11,000 pages. Still, they've been pretty great for their world creation, their deep characters, and their plotting, in that order. I've even gone back and reread the first one already, and I plan more rereads of my favorites. (I think #3, Memories of Ice will be next, then probably #5, Midnight Tides.) So I guess I'm only sort of almost done (and I have over 700 pages still to go on #10, The Crippled God).
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It began on Monday, which was of course my birthday. I took the day off work, and good thing because it was a glorious day. My plan was to bike up to Wildcat Canyon. There were some troubles on the way there, as my gear cable snapped less than a mile out of my house. Fortunately, the folks at Missing Link were willing to fix it right away. Willing, but somewhat less able, as my gear shifters largely boggled the mechanic working on my bike. He had to keep looking at instructions on the internet. Did I note I bought those gear shifters at Missing Link? Within an hour all was well and I was on the road again.

It was actually warm (nay: hot) when I biked through Wildcat Canyon, and overall was quite a nice ride. I hung out for a bit at Jewel Lake, reading and (almost) napping a while, then headed home.

For dinner, Kimberly and I went to Chevy's.

Then afterward we went to see Veronica Mars: The Movie. Fun movie, but unlikely to be of interest for non-fans. It continues our streak of good movies at two, following a good Winter's Tale for Valentine's Day, and before that the disappointing Hobbit 2: Elves with Swords last Christmas.

The birthdaying picked up in earnest on Friday night, which is K's birthday. It was less eventful than my own, but we went out for a very tasty dinner & dessert at Pasta Pomodero in El Cerrito.

Tasty food, but pretty bad service. Slow, slow, slow. Our waitress was also constantly worried about forgetting little things we asked for (like no onions in K's salad), and I think she honestly forgot about picking up our check. We probably did 45-50 minutes of reading of our current book (Prince of Chaos) while there.

Saturday, K. went out for tea in the city with a friend and I hung around Berkeley. I'd been planning a big bike ride to somewhere I haven't ridden before (I was considering a few different bridges), but I was foiled by rain. (Sadly, this was the second foiling: two weeks ago I was foiled by a hard drive crash at Skotos.)

Anywho, I had a fast food lunch in Berkeley, then hung out at the main library, mainly to have some time away from the house. Up on the top floor, I had wifi which made it easy to do the writing I was working on, and I also had a nice view of the Marin headlands when the sky finally started to clear.

Tonight the Wiedlins came by. We had a nice dinner over at La Med, some ice cream, and some chatting here and there. We also got some prezzies: I got some fancy bike shorts which may keep my butt from hurting when I do long rides; we'll see how they work out.

I've also been buying myself some birthday prezzies online. Unsurprisingly: books and comics. I'm most excited about The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell, a preorder that'll arrive in a few months. So the birthday times keep going and going!

In other news, this morning K. and I finally caught up with our backlog of TV that appeared when we visited Hawaii at the start of the month. Whew! (Since then, The Amazing Race, Once Upon a Time, and The Walking Dead have taped; but Sunday is our biggest DVRing day)

And we've started in on season 4 of Justified from Netflix. Nice to have one of best quality TV shows again!
shannon_a: (Default)
So Kimberly and I watch a fair amount of Reality TV. Survivor, The Amazing Race, and The Real World in the regular season; Big Brother in the summer; and Project Runway whenever it shows.

It's low-quality, unscripted TV, but I find it interesting in a number of different ways.

First and foremost, you have the "characters". Reality TV is all about showing people as their unvarnished selves; it thus reveals interesting views of what people are like, and also offers a number of viewpoints that I wouldn't see in my normal life.

Second, reality TV shows are interesting exercises in plot. Given the real-life(ish) footage that they have to work with, how do youtheypresent a show that feels like it's plotted and has an ending that's fulfilling? It's fun to not just watch the process, but also to talk about how a show is being edited and what it means. It's particularly interesting when it becomes obvious that the show didn't have the footage it needed to tell a compelling story (such as in Project Runway 6, when the winner Irina Shabayeva was clearly a great designer but got a kind of an unpleasant edit the whole season) or when the producers of the show seem to massively misunderstand the emotions that an edit will produce (such as in Project Runway 8 and The Real World: Portland, both of which I'm going to return to).

Third, you may note that most of my Reality TV shows are actually game shows, and that's because I find the gameplay intriguing. Both how the show arranges its various challenges to encourage certain types of play and how the contestants in turn try to manipulate that system.

With that said, Reality TV can be dangerous and unsavory too. At least one of my friends widely avoids the genre because he thinks that producers purposefully choose unstable people and put them in purposefully unstable environments. He's certainly in part correct, and even if people are choosing to submerge themselves in the environment, you have to ask some questions about the ethics of the process. As I did with the recently completed Real World: Portland.

But first, let me talk about a few other Reality disappointments.

The Celebrity Apprentice 2 (2009). This was my first great reality disappointment. The Apprentice had started out as an interesting variation of Survivor, where people engaged in business tasks as teams, with one team winning and one team losing. Then Donald Trump figured out who was most at fault from the losing team (by a variety of criteria) and fired him. Good concept, and it mostly worked, though from time to time you questioned Trump's judgement in firing someone.

Then, in 2008 the show turned into Celebrity Apprentice, which was the same idea, but too often about which players could get their friends to pay ridiculous amounts of money for cupcakes (or whatever). Because the focus was on financial aid, almost all the tasks turned into sales, where before there'd been a nice mix of product development, marketing, sales, and other business stuff. Kimberly & I persevered. Then came The Celebrity Apprentice 2 when two of the contestants were friends of Trump's ... and that ended about as well as you'd expect. Trump constantly found reasons not to fire his friends; even after one committed the unforgivable Trump mistake of quitting ... he welcomed her back. And she won against an opponent who had clearly, clearly, clearly been playing the game better. (Among other things: she didn't quit.)

Kimberly & I decided that the game had entirely lost its integrity, and so we pulled it off our Tivo season pass and haven't watched since. And I'm glad we did as I thus didn't have to deal with any cognitive dissonance from Donald Trump turning into a raging asshole, bigot, and conspiracist in the leadup to the 2012 election.

(I'd still love to see the British Apprentice, which we saw part of in 2008 before the financial markets collapsed, and is vastly superior to its American brethren by the lack of Donald Trump.)

Project Runway 8 (2010). This was another show where the clearly superior winner lost. There was actually a really big internet kerfluffle as a result. As far as I can tell, this was because the designer who should have won refused to listen to the advice of two of the judges, and so they refused to let him win. It's hard to say for sure, however, because of course we don't see everything, just the edited and final footage. Unlike in The Celebrity Apprentice, there weren't any obvious reasons that the judges were biased, though they were a bit hypocritical in their advocation of the winner's ready-to-wear looks, even though they'd previously argued for the exact opposite in runway shows.

It could be that this season of the show was just really badly edited, to give too much good attention to the second-place finisher and too much bad attention to the first-place finisher. I mean, that certainly happened, but maybe it was unintentional. Maybe we would have accepted the result otherwise -- but a lot of people certainly didn't as it was. In any case, it didn't make us want stop watching the show. But it sure made us lose some respect for the judges' decisions.

(Which highlights a problem with these judged reality TV shows, I guess.)

The Real World: Portland (2013). And then there was last night's reality TV. To start with, I should admit that I know that the Real World is the absolute bottom of the reality barrel. It's just the (true-ish) story of what happens when 7 people are picked to live in a house together. And they're twenty-somethings, so they drink too much and argue. Nonetheless, it's an interesting character study and it's the main funnel for "cast members" going into The Challenge, a show that's often more interesting because there is competition.

But this season was the worst season of The Real World that I've ever seen. It all centered around one cast member who was clearly outside of the mental norm for society in some way. Most obviously she was a constant liar and manipulator, but she also seemed to have some unsavory desire to always prove she was better than other people, to put them down if they were above their station or something. And she believed that vengeance was hers like she was the Lord, that if someone transgressed, that it was her job to constantly and repeatedly get them back. I'd call her crazy if I knew what the crazy was, but as is I'll just say: extremely poor at playing with others.

The worse problem was that she degenerated over the course of the season, growing more hateful of other cast members and more violent toward them. In the last episode (which we saw last night), she physically assaulted one cast member with a hair drier, smacked another in the back of the head well after the previous argument was over, and then tried to get one of her (non-cast-member) friends to physically assault a third cast member; the friend said that he wanted to shoot said cast member in the head before he was calmed down by a fourth cast member.

Now crazy cast members are a problem in themselves; it's something that Reality TV shows have increasingly cast for as time has gone on, presumably to give their shows more audience appeal. However, what really, really offended me in this most recent season of the Real World was the fact that production never stepped in to do anything about this increasingly violent and (I suppose) crazy cast member. They let the physical violence go on and they also let a situation develop where someone could have been shot and killed.

Kimberly and I were disgusted by the behavior of the violent/crazy cast member, but even moreso by the show's production staff deciding that they'd prefer to let all this go on -- presumably for the ratings. The Real World actually used to be really good about removing people from the show at the second that violence emerged. I was somewhat surprised several years ago when they started letting past violent offenders return for follow-up shows, and now that they don't care at all ... well, I don't care.

So The Real World is either gone or going from our season pass. Its sister show, The Challenge remains, at least for the moment, as they've continued to remove people for violence there as recently as a couple of seasons ago. With Real World gone, either The Challenge or Big Brother is the bottom of our reality TV show bucket; amusingly they each start in about two weeks.

I also emailed a letter to Bunim-Murray Productions, figuring that was the only other way I had to make a difference other than turning off the show. I politely but very bluntly told them I thought they were accessories to crimes who had failed ethically in their behavior.

They mailed me back saying they didn't take unsolicited submissions.
shannon_a: (rpg glorantha)

Finished up a complete draft of my rpg history article on Grimoire Games (and on Dave Hargrave and early RP gaming in the SF Bay Area). It's one that I'm very pleased with, because I think it does a really nice job of shedding a light on what the early RPG hobby looked like, at least on this coast. As I wrote in my intro to the history, it's the first one that I really wished had gone in the book.

This one was slightly exhausting to write because the written record of the company was so scant. I only managed to turn up three Dave Hargrave "interviews"; fortunately two of them were extensive bios in Different Worlds. The third was part of a semi-hit-piece in New West magazine which Greg S. was kind enough to put me onto. I'm aware of one more notable article by Hargrave, in super small-press Abyss #17, from Ragnarok Press. I'd still like to somehow get a copy of that article, but for now I'm content.

Despite the scant primary sources from Hargrave, I was able to get some pretty extensive help from Marc S. (on Arduin and the second edition) and Donald R. (on the early bay area gaming culture), so that was part of what made the article come out pretty good. Greg S., Steve P., and others helped too.! But it was still a lot more work than just reading a pile of interviews and design notes.

The article will show up in two parts in my Designers & Dragons column on 6/4 and 7/9. If you subscribe to the RSS, you should see new articles as they appear.

Amazon is the other company on my mind this evening, for they sadly disappointed me. We'd ordered The Amazing Race Season 4 from them, as they've started pressing on-demand DVDs, and we're happy to finally get to see the old seasons of a reality show we like.

Unfortunately, when we sat down to watch this newest DVD this evening, as a start-of-the-holiday-weekend treat (and also a treat for Kimberly who is sick), we discovered that our 3-DVD set had shipped in a 1-DVD box (indeed, with 1 DVD!). Kimberly called up Amazon and after talking to a somewhat clueless but very helpful service rep, got them to send us a new (hopefully complete) set of the DVD which is supposed to arrive on Tuesday. I have to give that credit as very good customer support.

Well, we can at least watch this first DVD, we decided. So we turned it on ... and found the DVD almost unwatchable, getting all pixelated and skipping several seconds at a time ... constantly. 

So that's strike two for Amazon's DVD on Demands program. Mind you, we've got the two previous seasons by this method without problem (though the DVDs occasionally got a little pixelated, showing off perhaps a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time setup). But, if this was my first experience, it would probably be my last as well.

shannon_a: (Default)
We've still got a few dozen shows taped on our DVR from the recent TV season, but I think we've made our final assessments on everything.

We just erased Touch from our DVR after getting about halfway through the fifth episode (or so). Our main problem with it was that the scripting was cliched and talked down to us. I swear they had a script editor whose entire job was to enter lines of dialogue to explain things that particularly stupid viewers might not get. So Kimberly laughed at a line from this recent episode that was something like: "I haven't seen my mom in six years. She's schizophrenic." Like being schizophrenic was the reason this social worker hadn't seen her mom (whereas it was actually offered just to tell dumb viewers that she was, indeed, crazy). The worst was the father constantly repeating the numbers his son gave him, so that dumb viewers could make the connections. In this last episode we saw, about 975, we saw a "Flight 975" and Kimberly said, "the father's going to be mumbling 'Flight 975' sometime in this episode." Five minutes later, he was, and we turned the show off and erased all the other episodes. 

We also recently deleted all of our store of Alcatraz. We'd actually stopped watching it months ago, as the serial killer of the week aspect just wasn't that interesting, especially with its oft poorly thought-out logic. My assessment was that they might be doing an of-the-week formula for a season, then planning to open up the show and make it more interesting in season 2 (as Millennium did). I might have been willing to watch the rest of season 1 with the promise of something more, but as soon as the show got cancelled, I was no longer interested.

We still have two shows on our DVR, which we plan to finish watching. Awake is generally interesting and pretty darn good and it assumes that its viewers are pretty bright. Despite the fact that it was cancelled, we're happy to see where the show ends up. (It's only still on our DVR because we didn't start watching it until a few weeks ago, due to how much was on the TV in the Spring.) We also have half-a-season worth of Grimm on our Tivo, but we generally find it good fun when we watch it, despite it being super light.

Beyond that, I think there were only two dramas that we were watching that survived the season for us. We thought that Smash was great, start to end (except maybe when it went too soap opera from time to time). We'll eagerly watch it next season, though I have some concerns they'll dumb it down after season 1's ratings (though it was actually a hit on NBC who still hasn't recovered from their Leno stupidity). We thought that Once Upon a Time was mediocre, start to end, but I became increasingly engaged by the story as time went on. Still not a particularly good show, but its subversive faerie tales often helped hold up the rest of the show. Biggest problem with Once Upon a Time: any scene involving the mayor.

Here's what I wrote about these and other shows in February. The TV tag has a few more discussions way back in September.
shannon_a: (Default)
So Kimberly and I haven't had very good luck finding new TV shows this season. Too much has been mediocre, cancelled, or both. My TV tag includes discussions from last year of how we stopped watching A Gifted ManPrime Suspect, and Person of Interest. I've also written over on Xenagia about my ups and downs with Once Upon a Time.

Here's my current thoughts on the more recent drama shows we've tried out:

Alcatraz. A beautiful premise. A great character in Hurley-the-comic-book artist, and almost as good of characters in the Warden and the boss of CSI: Alcatraz. The problem: the producers have taken all of this potential and turned it into a somewhat unbelievable police procedural. (Why is it unbelievable? At least partially due to the caliber of the criminals of Alcatraz, most of whom seem to serial killers in an era before serial killers. But the crimes are also often set up badly, such as the week that pert-blonde-cop figured out a very complex "modus operandi" [not actually a modus operandi] for how the killer killed people, which had never been discovered during his original crimes; you see there was one young girl in each group of three ... who could have ever figured that out!?) And worse, it's a lame procedural, because there's no mystery about who's doing what, nor a lot of tension. And it's damned repetitive, as 63-of-the-week after 63-of-the-week commits crimes with weirdly regular time requirements that our heroes must foil. I was ready to give up before last week's episode, about the returned guard. Then we suddenly got an episode all about metaplot and the more interesting parts of the background that often seem forgotten (like the fact that whoever is sending these 63s back has some sort of purpose), that's also solidly connected to our main characters. Sadly, I'm expecting to go right back to 63-of-the-week with tonight's episode. The weekly question isn't "Will a '63 be returning?", but rather, "Will I?"
Grimm. Though it started in fall, Kimberly & I didn't actually start watching this show until the Christmas break, when everything else went off the air. (We're still about 5 episodes behind, as we watch the show occasionally when it strikes us, so take what I say here with that grain of salt.) The show was helped by the fact that it didn't try to punch out of its weight class. We knew it was a police procedural coming in, and so that was our expectation. Yeah, there's a little metaplot involving the boss and that lawyer and our hero Grimm's role in the upcoming apocalypse, but we understand that the show is going to be about the supernatural crime of the week. And, from that point of view, it's interesting. The hero is OK, and he's got a kinda funny girlfriend. The best character, who really makes the show, though, is the werewolf sidekick. The crimes are kind of interesting and occasionally surprising. The directing and mood are both really good. Suffice to say, without the dark grimmness and the funny sidekick, we wouldn't be watching the show. My only real issue, other than the show's innate shallowness, is that the whole new-animal-people-of-the-week could both get old and undercut the idea of fairie tales. Not so far though. Goodd enough (for what it is).

Lost Girl. Succubus turned detective? Could be the next Buffy. A Canadian production? Could be the next Slings & Arrows. Interesting metaplot? Perhaps. Or it could look like the bastard offspring of a Hong-Kong Action Film and a SyFy made-for-tv monster movie. So, it had some interesting characters and some interesting background, but it burns, it burns. What I've read suggests it doesn't get any better through season 3 (which has been shown in Canada), and never does anything that interesting, so I'm happy enough we let this one go quickly. A lost hour.

Once Upon a Time. This is our only true survivor from the Fall '11 drama season. It's got a lot going for it. The setup is pretty good, with Fables in the real world (not that they weren't beat to that idea or anything, though). The flashbacks to the Fables world are also quite good. However, from there the show gets really rocky. My biggest problem is the inconsistency of the show. There were two episodes that were just so horrible that I could barely stand to watch them. The first was the second episode, which went off on this horrible "Desperate Housewives" like plot, with Emma and the Mayor spitting and slapping at each other in maniacal ways. Emma even threatens to cut down the mayor's apple tree! Oy! The second was a more recent episode spotlighting the genie of the lamp, which had two big twists deep in the episode, which I thought were horribly obvious from very early on -- and thus it was torture watching the stupid, stupid characters not seeing what was coming. My other issue is that though the plotting is often interesting, the scripting is often bad in an over-the-top, overblown, badly-written, I-can-quote-that-line-before-they-say-it sort of way. This two-faced show has stayed on our list for its potential and for its glimmers of goodness, but might not survive a more competitive season. Bill Willingham did it better. But I keep being drawn back nonetheless.

The River. OK, so I had some problems with the first episode (part one of the two parts they showed last week). First, it was so decompressed that even I, Mr. Decompression Lover, thought it was lagging. Second, it aped The Blair Witch Project in such an obvious way while simultaneously not understanding what actually made The Blair Witch Project good. Enter episode two, which Kimberly and I watched this evening. In part. (That's foreshadowing.) Half-an-hour in, I say, "Is it me or has nothing happened in this episode?" Kimberly says, "There was walking." Then the freaking director starts yanking the cameras back and forth while off-camera stage-hands throw dolls through the frame. The actors start running around through mud and then one suddenly collapses screaming, "It's got me! It's dragging me down!" And it becomes freaking impossible for me not to see that this bunch of actors are just role-playing on a muddy set with nothing actually dangerous around. And I realize that this is the crap that a 15-year-old does for his high school class because he doesn't actually have any money and he doesn't know how to make a film anyway. And it's physically painful to watch. So I ask Kimberly if she minds turning the thing off, and she doesn't, and I don't. So it's gone with only an hour and a half wasted on one of the worst shows ever to grace our TV screens. Which is a pity, because it might have been OK if not for their Blair Witch high concept, which led to the problems of decompression and looking like a bunch of morons flailing around for pretend in a swamp in front of cameras. Shake your monitor back and forth while screaming, and you will see how dead to me this is.

Smash! Just one episode into this, which you'll see is the only non-genre show on the list. Kimberly and I both thought it was really good. Mind you, we both thought the pilot of Glee was brilliant, and the rest of the show never came near that episode's level. I think the pilot of Smash however, looked more sustainable. It was quirky character drama with an interesting view of the arts that reminded me a lot of the very-good Canadian show Slings & Arrow. If it can maintain that comparison, all is good here. Oh, and I like the connections to history via the Marilyn Monroe backstory. Smashingly good! So far.

The Walking Dead. This just came back on the air last night. It's too early to see if season 2.5 is up to the standards of 2.0, and I'm still waiting for fallout from the loss of the show's producer and money as the network scrambled to keep Mad Men. But, I thought season 2.0 was brilliant. That was decompression done very, very well, with a tight, claustrophobic story told over 6 or 7 episodes, all the time giving us both great and intimate views of the characters and meaningful and symbolic subtext to think about. I thought the first season was a little uneven, but from 2.0 onward, this has gone on my list of top genre dramas of recent years. Grrrrr!! Argh!!!! Great!!!!

The other thing that strikes me about this new crop of dramas: how badly derivative of Lost they are. I mean, AlcatrazOnce Upon a Time, and The River all use flashbacks for their storytelling. The River disguises it by the flashbacks being old footage, while Alcatraz is so bold as to use a go-to-flashback sound-effect that is almost exactly like the Lost go-to-flashback sound-effect. Both Alactraz and Once Upon a Time also closely ape the one-character-per-episode model that Lost created.

Mind you, I love what character focus and flashbacks bring to the table for TV shows, and I hope these innovations will last beyond this Lost finale fallout. I didn't complain about the character-focus in Flashfoward, as I felt it had plenty of its own going for it & that it did it well. But I'm pretty shocked that three shows all set in the modern day with supernatural components would be so blatant in also using the main stylistic tools of Lost. (Yes, each with their own angle: Alcatraz is Lost & Order; Once Upon a Time is Lost Fables; and The River is The Lost Witch Project; but I feel like there's a real paucity of innovation in these new shows, which is IMO, part of why they fail.)

[And that was all a nice break from real-life drama, which continues.]
shannon_a: (Default)

So I ilke competitive reality TV shows and thanks to my friend Eric R. I've gotten interested in the creative ones that started with Project Runway. The newest in that family was Work of Art, which premiered last year. Kimberly and I watched the first series, and generally enjoyed it. It wasn't quite as cohesive as Project Runway, because there were lots of different types of artists, and even more frequently than with P.R., we felt like The Emperor's New Artwork was being produced--absolute crap that the judges all said was good because they thought they should say it was good. But, there was a lot of creativity that was fun to watch and it was interesting to briefly meet this creative people. And some stuff that was created was quite good.

I have no doubt that the producers of Work of Art thought that their breakout character from last season was Miles, a somewhat neurotic artist who created a photo developing room for his first task and later used blowtorches and other tools to create his art, sometimes even creating apparatus which themselves formed his artwork.

And they seem to have taken that to heart for Work of Art 2, bringing in scads of weirdos, almost none of whom are working in traditional art forms to date. Two of them even had no depth: one who solely did work that looked like internal organs and another who did long lines of Mayan-like runic corridors. Not surprisingly, they were the first two to go, as they had no ability to respond to the challenges, but I really have to question why they were ever picked in the first place. Tonight Kimberly and I watched the second episode, and everyone and their brother was using hardcore tools, really underlying the fact that the show seems to have changed from from a show about art to much more random creativity.

I mean, I think the bottom three pieces of "art" in this last episode speak for themselves: a videotape of organ-like objects being tossed onto the ground; a garbage bag of shredded paper; and a barrel with painted hose around it several feet from a hand on a wall. Modern Art at its absolute worst.

Not really that pleased with the show this season as a result. I'm tempted to give the rest of the season a pass, and maybe come back next season if they have a more reasonable group of artists. But, maybe it gets one more week to see if it redeems itself or if the next episode leaves a bad taste in my mouth too.

In other news: Berkeley beset by eartquakes lately. But, I don't think tiny one we just had (the third noticeable one in two days) ended the world like ye-old-religious-crazy said would happen. A local Berkeley crazy who has been diligently counting the days all summer will be bitterly disappointed.

Lucy really doesn't like all the quakes.

In other, other news: Designers & Dragons is out!! I got a few copies in the mail on Wednesday and then got a call from a friend this evening, who'd seen them at a local game store. Endgame says theirs will be in on Tuesday, though only 8 are still available.

Busy Week

Oct. 1st, 2011 10:40 pm
shannon_a: (Default)
Been a busy week. Kimberly was feeling ill toward the start of the week, so I played Dominion with her Monday evening, then with her and her friend Lisa on Tuesday evening. Wednesday, Donald was in the area, so Kimberly and I had dinner with him before I headed out to Endgame. (He stayed to play ... wait for it ... Dominion.)

With regular gaming for me on Wednesday and Thursday, RPG prep on Friday, then the actual RPG game today, plus grocery shopping, I'm tuckered out, as is sometimes the case on Saturday evenings.

(Though I wasn't that burned out on Tuesday or Wednesday, despite the high level of peoples, I think because I kept my interactions pretty brief. Though I actually may have been a bit more intolerant of slow gaming than usual, now that I think of it.)

We have continued watching new TV shows. Here's a few more thoughts.

After the second "A Gifted Man" appeared on the Tivo, I decided I didn't really give a damn about it. Kimberly feels likewise and will be deleting the season pass. I now see that its' ratings were suboptimal in any case. I'd bet it's cancelled before the end of the year.

Tonight Kimberly and I watching the second episode of "New Girl" and were pleased to see that it continues to be funny. We were however, both a bit nonplussed by them replacing a black character with another black character, like they're all interchangeable. Mind you, if they'd replaced a black character with a white character, we might have thought they were white-washing the cast. So, they were probably in a no-win situation when the actor playing said character found his previous TV series very unexpectedly renewed.

We started watching "Alphas" some weeks ago (catching up on all the old episodes thanks to a "Syfy" marathon ... though we're still weeks behind). Accepting that it's the weak pablum that Syfy offers up as science-fiction nowadays, it's pretty good. Great characters and a fun scientific setup for superpowers. There's also been some hint of a wider arc, though I don't trust Syfy to push on it very much. But, well worth watching.

"Haven", meanwhile, is a returnee from last summer that we started watching again this summer (and we've got two episodes left to see on our Tivo). It was based on a superb Stephen King novella, and the series has been ... OK. Kimberly liked it more than I did in season 1, though in the last couple of episodes they did some surprising things that really redeemed it in my eyes. This season that excitement continued on for 2 or 3 episodes ... then things mainly reverted to normal and the show became a highly predictable procedural (with a supporting character, Duke, being the only one with a particularly interesting character arc). Both Kimberly and I somewhat groan as it comes on now. We'll probably keep habitually watching it, as summer is often pretty vacant, but I'm not convinced it's actually worth it. Maybe they'll interest me again with the season finale though ...

Came to the realization lately that I've been working on iPhone euro games for something like 2 years now, with 5 games to show for my trouble, plus 2 more approaching completion. I think that's started to burn me out a bit, and that I need to push on to some other things after these games get put to bed. But, I was kind of considering that anyway, because I'm not convinced that the iPhones euros are our best thing to do going forward, as the market has worsened as it's saturated over the last two years. So, we may cut down on the euros and try some other things.

I actually spent much of last week translating one of our iPhone games to the Mac. It's the kind of work that somewhat terrifies me, as I'm throwing myself pretty fully into an area where my expertise is pretty limited. But, a week later I can play the game through on my Mac and I've got a pretty clean code base that I can continue to use for Mac and iPhone alike. And, my expertise is considerably improved. I've still got a lot of fiddling to do to get all of our subwindows working well, but it's increasingly looking doable, which is a relief.

We'll see how this new direction does, as the Mac App Store is much less mature at this point ... I've love it to do well and push all of our games over ...
shannon_a: (Default)
Decided not to watch "Terra Nova". "Falling Skies" never actually became interesting, and that killed my interest in another Spielberg production. If it's great, people will say so, and we can get it on DVDs, but in the meantime, "Cool ... dinosaurs" wasn't enough. And we cancelled our season pass for "Faling Skies" too because I discovered that I neither remembered what the cliffhanger was for the season, nor did I care.

At K's suggestion, we tried out a comedy called "New Girl". I had little interest when she said it was about a girl living with some guys. But then she said, "Apparently she sings a lot" and that won me over. I wasn't actually impressed by the singing which was mostly little snippets here and there. But the show was damned funny. It's a keeper unless it crashes after the pilot.

Speaking of crashing, the whole time we watched the pilot of "Pan Am", I was praying that the plane was going to plummet to its death on a deserted island. Because this badly written, tone deaf, and entirely vapid show had nothing going for it. It had no idea how to deal with its time period in a nuanced way, and its inclusion of an ongoing **spy** subplot suggested how much the writers were grasping for any plots possible. Well, anything other than "Desperate Stewardesses". What a waste of 45 minutes! I couldn't cancel the season pass quickly enough!

So far, no real winners about the new shows except "New Girl". "Prime Suspect" could get there if has good ongoing plots. And then there was a whole lot of dreck.

Is it time for the mid-season replacements yet?

(Actually, lots more shows in late October for some reason, so there will be one more set of dreck before the good shows appear, that of course were pushed out of Fall premieres.)
shannon_a: (Default)
Rain on and off all morning today. I don't think I've ever seen such a short dry season in the Bay Area, but 3 months was apparently all we got this year.

When I was reading the News the other day, when they predicted the rain this weekend, I was pleased to see that the author also felt like summer had started just this week. So, it wasn't just me bemoaning the lack of summer this year (or last).

It's actually pretty temperate out there today, despite the rain. Mid '60s. I'm tempted to go out in it. Warm rain is one of the few things I miss from Missouri (and that I've enjoyed in Hawaii when we've been there).

So we've continued watching a few other new shows.

"Person of Interest" got our attention mainly due to its inclusion of Michael Emerson on its cast, but the idea of investigating people before a crime has occurred also seemed intriguing. Unfortunately, the show was badly written and it went in the least interesting direction with the premise (a computer that spits out social security numbers of "people of interest"). K. at first wanted to give it one more week, but then dropped that when some other new shows put PoI's so-so-ness in perspective. (It reminded me a lot of "The Human Target" from a couple of seasons ago, which wasted our time for maybe 6 weeks or so before we decided it was never going to rise out of its own so-so-ness and that the pretty decent action sequences weren't enough to carry it.)

"Prime Suspect" is a remake of a British show, so that immediately upped our expectations of its quality. And, it was generally a pretty good police procedural, with well-drawn characters and good plots. It's set in a sort of weird time warp back to the early '90s with a lot of its dress and its pretty extreme sexism being pretty jarring. And I only say that's weird because the show doesn't admit it, which would change its whole complexion. I put it on par with "The Chicago Code" from last year, which maintained our interest through its whole run. It's no "Homicide" (season 1 + 2) or "Wire" or "Shield", but it was a pretty good drama. It's still going to have to rise up beyond being a totally episodic procedural to maintain my interest though.

"A Gifted Man", about a selfish Doctor who is haunted by the ghost of his ex-wife, who's trying to make him a better man, was far better than expected. But, you know, I expect it to be touched-by-an-angel/highway-to-heaven style schlock. It had good characters and a stronger emotional core than any of the other shows, but I can still see it tending toward schlock, the writing varies (including a laughably bad first scene), and I'm not sure that I'm going to find the ongoing plot that interesting, but it earns another week at least.

Trying to decide whether it's worth taping "Terra Nova" tomorrow. The last Spielberg production, "Falling Skies", was so mediocre that it's left a bad taste in my month after watching the whole season. Reviewers say "Terra Nova" is better, but some indicate that the SFX is mostly what it has going for it.

In other media, I recently finished a reread of To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. After two reads, I think I can officially declare it one of my favorite books. Hilarious, beautifully written, and with a wonderfully timey-wimey look at time travel. All around, tremendous. I tried to also read Three Men in a Boat, to which To Say Nothing of the Dog is, in part, a homage, but decides that Willis' writing was just so much better that TMiAB grated. Ah well.

This was all in preparation for reading Blackout and All Clear, Willis' new time travel historian book(s). I'd prefer to wait until they hit mass market*, but may end up getting the hardcovers.

* I fear that eBooks may be pushing mass-market paperbacks to extinction, as I've recently seen some releases (e.g., the Third Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) that aren't making that jump. In a world of limited shelf space, that more than anything is likely to drive me to eBooks.
shannon_a: (Default)
So ironic, given the date, but Monday was our first real day of summer. After a mostly gray and cool several months, it was actually hot on Monday. Pretty hot today too. Yesterday K. and I celebrated by picking up some Top Dog and going to a little secluded spot on campus to eat and read.

Well, mostly secluded. Some students were studying at our usual table, but there was a perfectly fine bench overlooking Strawberry Creek. We also got to see bicyclists positively whiz by every few minutes.

And late September also means that the new shows have started. By my count, after the massacre that was the 2009-2010 season, we only had one drama still standing, which was Glee, plus various reality crap. So we're going to be checking out some new shows this year. That'll begin on Thursday with Person of Interest and Prime Suspect (though the two that really interest me, and which won awards for best new shows, Alcatraz and Awake, both got delayed to mid-season).

However, we've already got a few of our returnees on the air.

Survivor is one of many guilty pleasures. I like it for the gameplay, the strategy, and the not-knowing-how-things-will-go. (Too often I can figure out TV and movie plots well in advance.) That premiered last Wednesday, and it was the general fun that I expect, though I was disappointed that they're doing the returning players thing again, as that particular twist really warped the last seasons of Survivor and Big Brother. I'm hoping that the returnees being less social players will limit the damage.

And tonight was Glee. K. was disappointed, but I thought it was mostly the same as last season. Which, you know, means not great. Starting with the back half of season 1, the show got onto this assignment-of-the-week kick which makes the show even more predictable than a procedural (and that's saying something). The integration of song and plot (mainly with having songs reflect plot) also went way downhill, and the show's never recovered from either. But I like the music, and this episode was no exception. I'd actually been waiting the whole show to hear a Go-Go's song and was pleased to see it here, though having to wait a third of the episode for that first song was a bit trying. I was also amused with the bookending of the show with "We Got the Beat" and "You Can't Stop the Beat".

We'll see if the new stuff is any better!

(For actual good shows, we're watching season 5 of MI-5/Spooks right now from "Netflix" streaming. It continues to impress with every episode.)
shannon_a: (Default)
Absolutely beautiful weekend weather. I loved my ride down to Endgame and back on Saturday, then today I went out to lunch and afterward rode down to Cesar Chavez Park. I circled the peninsula and sat for a while out at the land's end, reading and watching the Bay.

Later in the day I talked with my dad and was jealous of him talking of swimming in the ocean. Down in Hawaii, where it's warm enough to do so.

Kimberly and I have continued watching our trashiest TV show, Big Brother, and as a first we're about to give up on the show because of how unlikeable most of the remaining players are. I'd call one of them a sociopath, except she seems to believe herself totally honest through all of her lies and manipulations, so I don't know what that is exactly. (And I love good gameplayers. If she was purposefully manipulating everyone and not sobbing to the audience about how people are calling her on her lying when she's lying, I'd think totally differently.)

In any case, we felt much the same while watching Big Brother 6, half a decade ago, as many of the final people were very unpleasant, but we watched that one through. Kimberly said she didn't enjoy doing so at all and later regretted it. I might well have been similarly disgruntled, but I place more importance on watching something through to the end.

One of the biggest problems that Big Brother faces is that the producers don't know the outcome while they're editing and broadcasting the show. As a result, unlikeable and "undeserving" players seem to win more than half the time. It shows you how much editors can manipulate reality when they do edit other shows like Survivor. And it also shows that most people competing to win a million dollars on TV aren't folks you'd really want anything to do with.

I've been writing history #61 for the RPG history book! Or, rather, for my column for the same. I'd long planned to write a column containing shorter history snippets, but this "mini-history" got out of hand, and is going to be a full history. 1500 words so far, and two other major sections, I think. I'm going to at least break it into two so that I don't drive myself crazy with too much history to write.


Overall, a relatively nice weekend. Besides all the rest, there was Dresden Files RPing, and it was good.
shannon_a: (Default)
Well, the 2010-2011 season of shows is nearly over, and I've seen a massacre for the dramas that Kimberly and I watch together. I think of all the mainstream dramas we were watching, only Glee survived. (There are a few others like Doctor Who from the Beeb and summer shows like Madmen and maybe The Killing on cable networks.)

Here's what we lost, in decreasing order of quality.

Stargate Universe. Sadly, one of the best science-fiction shows ever, cut down in its prime. I'd be hard set to say whether the new BSG or Stargate Universe was a better show, but I surely liked Universe better, because BSG was a much bleaker show, while Universe occasionally flirted with a sense of wonder. The characters were what really made the show brilliant, especially as they evolved and changed over time. The arc was good too. The series finale was at least an open-ended cliffhanger. We can all imagine what happened as the Destiny hurtled through space with its crew largely asleep.

Caprica. In some ways, Caprica was slightly too unsteady to be a truly great show. It was obvious too often that the show was flying by the seat of its pants, and though the producers got away with that in BSG, it didn't fly quite as well in Caprica. Nonetheless, the transhuman ideas that the show was playing with have been seen very rarely on broadcast TV, and I was intrigued to see where it was going. The producers kind of showed us the show's future with a several year flashfastforward, which at least gave us a bit of closure even if things were never closed (and that's a lot better than we ever got from Babylon 5's Crusade, similarly a younger sibling of a more popular SF show, but one whose plot is a big gaping hole in the overall story of the universe to this day).

The Chicago Code. My only non-genre show on the list. I watched it because of the rave reviews for the pilot, and though the rest of the show never equalled that pilot, it still had great characters that were a lot of fun to watch. The show was overall more episodic than I would have liked, with crime-of-the-week plots (which that original TV reviewer was sure wouldn't be part of the show), but we did get good arc by the end of the show, and everything was tied up very neatly. I actually think they might have ruined things if they did another season, either by bringing back the same villain or retreading the same ground with a new opponent.

The Event. And here we get to the first of the shows that I'd stopped watching before their end. The Event's storyline was really on the edge for me. Nice arc, but lots of annoying characters, and too many people acting way too stupid. In fact it was the stupidity that finally made me turn off the show. But, I might have stuck around if it wasn't looking like the show was going to be cancelled anyway; I could see that it was going to be another Caprica/Flashforward/Dollhouse/Stargate Universe that didn't get to finish its story. So I didn't see any point continuing. I've still got the last 10 episodes sitting on my DVR. If someone can tell me that they get better and/or the show had a good-enough closure, I might watch them. (The last thing I saw was the aliens assaulting the Alaskan prison to free their compatriots; I stopped halfway through the 2-hour return of the show.)

V. And finally I get to the one show that I totally say "good riddance" too. Great premise, some good actors, and an awful mockery of a show. Stupid people doing stupid things in stupid plots that made me more stupid by watching them. Bleh.

Combined with the loss of Dollhouse, Flashforward, and Lost in '10 and Battlestar Galactica in '09 my broadcast shows have really faded away.

Tell me what I should be looking for in '11-'12 that's either good genre or great drama.
shannon_a: (Default)
Been a while since I read any mystery/action/cop books. I got to this one via the TV show Justified, which Kimberly and I have been watching the first season of. That show was based on two novels and a short story by Elmore Leonard, of which Pronto was the first (though only the short story is credited for some reason).

I found Pronto ... adequate. The problem may be that I already had the TV show as a model, and the TV show is excellent, a well-characterized southern Pulp Fiction, where half the time you're just shaking your head at the beautiful criminal stupidity. The book isn't nearly as good.

What I found most interesting in the book was the bits that were lifted straight from the book to the TV show: a couple of scenes here and there. Most notably the big stepping-off scene that leads off the TV show (where Raylan gives a crook an ultimatum to get out of town) is the climax to the novel. Which is a pretty interesting difference.

I also found two character details interesting. In the book, Rayland's ex- is referred to constantly as fat. In addition, they have two kids. Neither of these facts is true in the TV show.

Though I enjoyed seeing the things moving from one medium to the other, I'm not particularly enthused to read the other novel at this point.
shannon_a: (Default)
So a few weeks ago I discovered that the Siffy ("SyFy") channel had a new summer offering called Haven. I got excited when I discovered it was based on a Stephen King novella called The Colorado Kid and that the TV show was being produced by the novella's publisher, Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai. I'd previously read three of the very pulpy Hard Case Crime novels, the three written by Charles Ardai, and two of those were superb (and the third intriguing and clever).

So, I ordered a copy of The Colorado Kid from the library and finished it a couple of days ago.

It's a nice little story, definitely one of the strong King works from the last few decades. It's a very quiet piece, set on an island near Maine that centers on three people talking about an old unsolved crime. It's really a story about questions, not answers, that sets up an intriguing situation and then invites you to think about it yourself.

And it doesn't have a bit of science-fiction in it (as for whether it contains "syfy", who can say)--though the TV show is said to be a supernatural drama.

In anyc ase, the novella was definitely worth reading. I don't know how much mileage the TV show will get out of it, except as a snapshot of a rural Maine community, but I'm still interested in the show too, based largely on Ardai's involvement.

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