Archive for TV

TV

“Chick Lit” TV

I discovered a fun series on Amazon Prime this weekend (actually, a friend recommended it years ago when it was originally on, but it was a Canadian series, so I didn’t have a way to watch it, but I recently stumbled across it on Amazon and remembered the recommendation): Being Erica. It’s basically paranormal chick lit in TV series form, and it’s a comedy that really makes you think.

Erica is a 33-year-old woman whose life hasn’t gone at all like she hoped. She’s bright, pretty, and has a master’s degree, but she’s still single with a terrible dating life and she can only seem to get dead-end jobs — and then get fired from them when her bosses decide she’s so overqualified that she must be bored. After a truly terrible day, a therapist approaches her, gives her his card, and tells her he can help her fix her life. After another terrible day, she takes him up on the offer. She tells him that she knows her life isn’t working because she’s made bad decisions along the way. He tells her to make a list of these bad decisions. She just about fills a notebook. He asks about the first one on the list, something that happened in high school. Next thing she knows, she’s back in high school, but with all the knowledge and memories of what came later.

The premise of the show is that each week she’s sent back in time to revisit one of her past bad decisions. In the episodes I’ve seen so far, the chance to change things doesn’t really change things, and that’s actually rather reassuring. The sense isn’t that nothing you do matters, but rather that the things she looked at as terrible decisions weren’t necessarily bad for her. Sometimes it turns out she actually made the right call. Sometimes, the result was a blessing in disguise or something that might have happened no matter what she did. The change in the present is her gradually getting over the sense of being a loser and taking more control of her life now.

The result is both entertaining and empowering. I think we all probably have a list of regrets, things that we wish we could change. But if we dwell on where we went wrong, we can’t really move forward.

But the show itself isn’t that heavy. It’s not romantic (so far), but it has that romantic comedy feel, with the spunky kid/everywoman type underdog heroine having wacky adventures in time travel as she finds herself in high school or college but with her adult awareness. So much of the stuff streaming right now is so dark, so this was a fun find. People who like my Enchanted, Inc. books will probably like this series.

TV

Name That British Actor

I’ve been watching a lot of old Masterpiece Theatre miniseries on Amazon Prime, some for the second time and some I didn’t catch when they were on. It’s turning into a game of “wait, who is that?” because even in the more recent ones, the costumes/hair/hats of the period dramas render actors less recognizable, and then there are the ones that are 20+ years old, so I’m seeing much younger versions of actors I think of as older. There are also some fun correlations with other roles.

So, for example, the 2008 TV version of Sense and Sensibility (from the year Masterpiece went with all Jane Austen) … Dan Stevens plays Edward Ferrars, and the actress who played his Elinor was the same one who played the Enchantress who cursed him in Beauty and the Beast.

Or there’s calculating the show’s Doctor Who or Harry Potter score (as just about anything made in Britain in the past 20 or so years includes at least one actor who was in either a Harry Potter film or a Doctor Who episode). Sense and Sensibility got a double score with Mark Williams, who played Mr. Weasley and Rory’s father. There were at least three other actors with Doctor Who roles in that miniseries.

I just finished watching a production of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall from 1996, which had me rushing to IMDB because some of those actors were nearly unrecognizable. We had “Sister Evangelina” from Call the Midwife as the hero’s mother and “Prudie” from Poldark as the evil husband’s mistress. Rupert Graves is familiar in both young and older modes, since I do still remember him from all those E.M. Forster adaptations from the 80s and early 90s but he’s also still working, so I know what he looks like now. Still, it was a bit of a jolt to see him so young again, and he almost made the evil husband semi-likeable. At least, he was charismatic enough that you could see why she married him.

I’ve also rewatched Bleak House and Under the Greenwood Tree (a rare happy Thomas Hardy story).

I’ve started watching one called Desperate Romantics that I don’t remember being on in the US. It’s about the Pre-Raphaelites and has a great cast, including Aidan Turner from Poldark as Dante Gabriel Rossetti. There’s a fair amount of nudity and sex, so maybe it didn’t make the cut for American broadcast television.

Since all this stuff is either historical or literary, I can almost count my TV watching as educational programming.

TV

Non-Binge Watching

I think I’m doing the streaming TV thing wrong — or, at least, different. It seems that binge-watching is the way most people go. You find a series and don’t stop watching until you’re done, with several episodes at a time, and you watch all of a series before starting something else. That’s even what the Amazon app seems to expect, since when you get to the end of an episode it will automatically play the next episode unless you stop it, and it takes several steps to stop it.

But I seem to be treating it like regular broadcast TV, so that I watch one episode at a time, and I’m watching multiple things at once, so I might only watch one episode of a show each week. It’s not quite like regular TV in that I’m not keeping to a particular schedule (this show on Monday, that show on Tuesday, etc.). It goes more by time and mood. There are some things that are less than half an hour, some right at half an hour, some at about 48 minutes, some at exactly an hour or a little more than an hour, so I pick the thing that fits into the slot I have available. Then there’s mood — am I up for a documentary? A comedy? A drama? Something I’ve seen before? Something new? Historical? Contemporary?

At the moment, I have at least six series in progress. I have watched some things on back-to-back nights, but I seldom watch more than one episode of anything at a time. Serialized things are more likely to go back-to-back, while the documentary series may get more spread out.

I’ve read some articles complaining that series aren’t written for binge-watching, so you’re not getting the proper effect if you don’t take time between episodes. I don’t know about that. I just know that I tend to get burned out if I binge on something, so I’m more likely to like it if I parcel out the episodes. If it’s something I’m really enjoying, I don’t want it to be over, so I space out the episodes. I seldom watch more than an hour or so of TV a night. And there’s the fact that there are so many things I want to watch that it’s hard to choose just one.

I guess that fits with my realization that I need to take breaks between books when I’m reading a series. I probably won’t finish the series if I try to read straight through without taking a break to read something else.

TV

Ending Once Upon a Time

I never did say anything about what I thought about the finale of Once Upon a Time. I suspect that anyone who’s not waiting for Netflix or the DVDs who’s planning to watch it has seen it by now, so there will be spoilers ahead.

For the most part, the wrap-up of the plot for the current season was okay. It was nice to see the original characters again, and there were some nice moments. It might have helped if the whole season had been coherent. It mostly reminded me of a story told by a kindergartener, jumping around randomly as they think of something new that’s entirely unrelated to anything that had happened before. You could cut out huge chunks of the season without affecting the plot because they ended up being utterly irrelevant to the plot. That makes me wonder if there was some mid-season course correction as they realized that either some of the things weren’t working or that viewers were responding very negatively. I was actually kind of okay with the resolution for Rumpelstiltskin (though I think his “redemption” was missing a few steps). It seemed fitting.

But then we got to the series wrap-up, which sprang out of nowhere and made absolutely zero sense on any level.

Seriously, they decided it was a good idea to merge all the various story worlds and put them into that one little town in Maine that was created by the original curse (multiple worlds, in one little town, in Maine, which isn’t that big a state?), and then supposedly all these worlds elected Regina, the former Evil Queen (who has yet to actually apologize or show remorse for committing mass murder) the literal Queen of the Universe, with all the people she spent decades tormenting bowing to her.

Even the worst Mary Sue fanfic writer would be ashamed to publicly post something like that about their self insert character. We’ve managed to top Rose getting her very own human version of the Doctor.

Not to mention, it would seriously mess with the timeline, since the season 7 characters were about 26 years into the future before being sent back in time with the curse. But now all the worlds are smushed together, so will the “present” versions of those characters still go and do the same things, so that the curse will be cast and they’ll end up back in time? What happens if that curse doesn’t get cast, so that the events that led to those characters being where they were and that led to combining the worlds never happen?

Not that the timeline of the season worked at all. We had some characters aging enough that they were played by different actors, but then there were other characters still played by the same actors, even though nearly 30 years had passed — and without any kind of aging makeup, and with those characters being treated like they were still the same age. This in a show in which for the first six seasons it was a plot point that a daughter and her parents were the same age because they’d been frozen in time while she grew up, so it was hard to tell in season seven if this was supposed to be a plot point or if they were just being sloppy.

There was so much potential in this series. They had a brilliant premise and a mostly great cast, and they occasionally created wonderful moments. But the overall direction of the series was just so very bad that this finale was fitting. I keep wanting to rewrite it all, fixing the flaws. I hope most of the cast members find good new roles and land on their feet. I’m still trying to find a way I can file off the serial numbers and create something that looks original enough to pass but that allows me to rewrite it and fix it. I have an idea, and we’ll see if I can pull it off.

TV

Cord Cutting Update

I now have my cord-cutting setup more or less complete. I need to get a couple more things for full functionality, and I might make some tweaks, but I have all the major equipment now that my tuner/media server/DVR has been delivered. I was looking at DVR options once I dropped cable, but I couldn’t justify the cost of the Tivo for the amount I’m likely to record from over-the-air television. Either you spend a lot up front for the lifetime subscription or you pay monthly an amount that’s about the cost of a streaming service.

Then I noticed that some of the digital adapters/tuners had a DVR capability if you added an external hard drive. Most of the reviews for these were pretty bad, but there was one that had good reviews. I followed that link, and it turned out that it had been discontinued, but that company was about to launch a new product to replace it, and it had fixed the things that were lacking in the previous version. If you pre-ordered it, you got it at about half the usual cost, and it was quite reasonable, so I took a chance.

It’s a little gizmo that you plug your antenna into, and then it plugs into the TV via HDMI, and it works kind of like a cable box. It gives you an on-screen program grid for all your over-the-air channels, and if you insert a memory card (I need to get one), you can record programs. The nice thing about using a memory card is that if you fill one up, you can just swap out for a new one, so it pretty much has infinite memory. I don’t anticipate recording that much, mostly stuff from PBS, but what I do record along those lines, it’s for archival purposes because it’s some documentary that I might use as a reference for something I’m writing.

The media server side of things is a little iffier, since it’s Android TV and there aren’t a lot of apps for it yet. They don’t even have Amazon Prime. So I’ll still be using my Roku for streaming.

I’ve been thinking of getting a longer cable for the antenna and moving it upstairs to see if that improves reception any. The PBS station is prone to glitching when a plane flies over. I may also eventually look into getting a better antenna that might pick up my ABC station. At the moment, I can get their local news online, and there’s only one series I watch on ABC, which is about to end, so I don’t know if upgrading the antenna is worth it for that one station.

I really have been watching less TV, which is good. I think my reading is up. Amazon Prime is allowing me to have a lot more variety in my documentary habit, so I’ve branched beyond WWII. I’ve been watching a lot of stuff about the Tudors and the British royal family, since I’m currently working on a book that involves royalty. There are also a number of good travel programs. I think the difference between cable and my current situation is mostly in whether I have access to specific things. Having something to watch isn’t a problem at all.

TV

Going Postal on TV

I made the dangerous discovery that if there’s something I’d like to watch, I can run a search on the Roku and see if it’s streaming anywhere. I’d found last week that some of the TV adaptations of Terry Pratchett books were available with Amazon Prime, but not the one I hadn’t already seen, Going Postal. It’s not even available to buy/rent on Amazon. Just out of curiosity, I ran the Roku search and found that it’s on one of the free TV apps. So, now I’ve had a chance to watch it.

I heard a lot of complaints when it was on British TV, but it really wasn’t bad at all. The book was still better, but that’s a big “Duh!” I thought the casting was excellent (Charles Dance was born to play Vetinari), and it was interesting seeing some of these things come to life, like the way they depicted the Clacks. There’s a bit of a steampunk aesthetic in the setting, technology, and costumes. The special effects are a bit on the cheap side, and the low budget is occasionally obvious, but I don’t think that ruins the overall effect. I would love to see some of these adaptations done with a decent budget, and since I’m sure there’s a big audience for them, I’m not sure why they’ve all been so cheap.

That’s one of my favorite Pratchett books, in part because it was my first, but in part because it’s such a satisfying redemption story, about a con artist who gets caught but gets another chance. At first, he’s scheming for himself, but then he starts to see the impact his crimes had on people and he actually starts thinking about a greater good. He finds ways to use his talents to the benefit of others, not just himself, and that ends up benefiting himself. And that’s all done without getting sappy or sanctimonious.

I don’t know if I’d want to watch this again, so I don’t know about looking for the DVD, but I was so glad I found it to stream. I liked the adaptation of Hogfather, though it, too, suffered from being a bit cheap. The Colour of Magic was kind of a mess, though. It’s pretty much impossible to do that story on a low budget, and that meant a lot of the good stuff was cut out.

TV

Non-cable TV Discoveries

I’m now about two months into my no-cable experience, and I’m already wondering how I survived without Amazon video. There’s so much cool stuff on there. I’ve watched two series of documentaries about the Celts and a series about locations associated with some famous English authors (important locations for their lives and places that inspired or appeared in their books). The other night, I really needed something extremely mellow, and I found a show in which two gardening experts were touring and discussing gardens in Northern Ireland. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of that kind of stuff.

I’ve also started watching The Man in the High Castle, but it’s pretty intense so I have to take it slowly. I’m watching an episode a week, as though it’s a regular TV series. I read the book ages ago, but I don’t remember a lot about it. It’s an alternate history about the (former) United States in the early 60s if Germany and Japan had won WWII. I’m trying to decide if I want to re-read the book now or wait until I’ve watched more of the series.

And there’s The Tick. I loved the previous TV version. This one still has that quirky charm but seems a bit darker. A lot of writers I like from other series are working on it.

And then there’s the whole catalog of old PBS stuff I either missed or want to rewatch.

So I really don’t miss cable. I don’t have time to watch all this stuff that’s available to me, but at least a lot of what I’m watching now counts as educational.

TV

My Documentary Fix

Last night, I finally got around to exploring what comes with Amazon Prime video, and it looks like that will more than suffice to give me my documentary fix. They seem to have a lot of the stuff that’s been on PBS, as well as programs from the production companies that supply the cable channels I used to turn to for that sort of thing.

I got sucked into a program about Hidden Dangers in the Victorian and Edwardian Home (or something like that). In it, a historian talks about all the “modern” (at the time) advances that were actually incredibly dangerous. Like using arsenic to get vivid dyes for wallpaper. That was a big reason why a vacation to the seashore was so reviving. It wasn’t so much the sea air as it was getting out of a house that was slowly poisoning its occupants.

The early days of having electricity in the home were apparently rather exciting, with unshielded wires and some really random appliances. Initially, there weren’t any wall sockets, just light fixtures, and there were adaptors you plugged into your light fixtures to plug your appliances into. One of the weirdest electrical appliances was the electric tablecloth: you could plug lights directly into the tablecloth. It seems to have been a thing that was done because it could be done rather than because there was a real need.

One thing I found really interesting—and I may have to rewatch it to take notes—was a little experiment they did on corset wearing. An exercise physiologist rigged up the historian to get data on heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, oxygen use, etc., and got baseline readings, then ran the same study on her while she wore a corset. She got dizzy and felt faint after doing the same kind of exercise she’d done easily without the corset, and the readings showed that her body was having to work harder while still getting less oxygen. I’m sure that people who wore corsets all the time might have adapted, but it does explain the amount of fainting that went on in Victorian novels.

Each episode ends on the ominous note that they didn’t necessarily know that these things were dangerous at the time, so what’s in our homes now that will horrify future generations? That does make you wonder. A hundred years from now, will they be aghast that we flooded our homes with WiFi?

One thing about getting my documentary fix through Amazon that concerns me is the likelihood that this viewing will be factored into their algorithm for what they recommend to me and whatever profile they have of me. I wish there were a way to make it clear that I am likely to watch a lot of stuff about Nazis and WWII not because I think it’s cool, but because it horrifies me and I want to understand more of the roots so we can do more to prevent it. I don’t know how it is in every school, but in my education, most of this stuff was just skimmed over or barely addressed in history classes. At least, I hope that’s what’s going on with the idiots now who put swastikas on stuff and give the Hitler salute. If they know in detail what that was all about and still do it, then they’re evil. But since there are idiots doing that, it’s even more important to study the real thing and find ways to keep it from happening again. Plus, I’m a writer, and it’s an excellent case study for villains and the people who stand up to them. Unfortunately, there’s no way to put that disclaimer on your search terms. It’ll be interesting to see what Amazon starts recommending that I buy.

TV

Playing with History

I’m the weirdo who actually likes the spring time change. It seems to fit my body clock better. I’ll confess that I wasn’t exactly out of bed at the crack of dawn this morning, but I woke up at about the same time by the clock as I usually do, even though that time was an hour earlier. Tomorrow will be the real test since I stayed up late last night (for me).

The TV series Timeless was back last night, and they put it in the late slot, which shows that they weren’t paying attention last season. This was a show that got canceled and then brought back due to fan support, including some big-name fans (Mark Hamill was one of the big cheerleaders for the series). But most of the fans talked about it being a show they liked to watch as a family and how they used the bits of history as a springboard to exploring those events or people with their kids. So why did they once again put the show on late at night? Granted, it did go to some darker places last night, but still, one hour earlier would be a much better fit for a show that seems to be a family viewing favorite.

Anyway, this is a fun show for people who like history and/or time travel. I love watching the characters go all fanboy/fangirl over the various historical figures they meet, and they’ve done a good job of highlighting people who are generally forgotten by history or who don’t get full credit for what they did due to their sex or race. I feel very smug and smart when they deal with a period, event, or person I’m familiar with because of my own research and reading.

I mess with history by playing alternate history games — what would have been different if the British ruling class was ruling because they had magical powers? — but they do similar things with people interfering in history by using time travel.

But it meant I stayed up later than I usually do (by the clock — I guess I was still going to bed quite early by the time it was a few days ago), so I’m not quite back to my spring schedule.

It’s spring break, but the only way that affects me is that I don’t have children’s choir this week. I’m still working, plugging away at this book.

TV

Small Kindnesses

While I’ve been on a PBS kick lately, I’ve become hooked on a show that my local station has on Tuesday nights (and you can probably see episodes online) called We’ll Meet Again. Each week it focuses on some historic event and two ordinary people who were caught up in that event who were deeply affected by some other person they encountered during that event. Now they’re trying to find that person again (or, sometimes, relatives of that person). We spend most of the episode on the events of the history, see some of the search, and then see the reunion. At that point, I’m usually in tears.

The World War II episode focused on a Japanese-American woman trying to find the childhood friend who stood up for her during the anti-Japanese sentiment following Pearl Harbor and then welcomed her back from the internment cap and on a Jewish man who’d been a refugee in Singapore (an open city, so it was one of the few places Jews fleeing Europe could go) during the Japanese occupation who was looking for the daughter of the people who were surrogate parents to him. There was an episode about the Mt. St. Helens eruption, with a hiker trying to find the helicopter pilot who rescued her and a scientist trying to find the family of the scientist who saved her life by sending her away just before the eruption. The Vietnam episode focused on a man whose parents sent him away to try to escape to America when he was 12 looking for the aid worker who helped him flee and on a Vietnamese woman whose American father was forced to leave his Vietnamese wife and family behind when the US pulled out trying to track down her father or any family she might have in America. Last week’s episode focused on 9/11, with a man who escaped the hotel in the middle of the World Trade Center complex just before the first tower fell trying to find the woman who comforted him and got him to a safe place and a chaplain working at the Pentagon in the aftermath looking for the other chaplain who helped him keep going during a crisis of faith.

There are two things I find utterly fascinating about this program. One is that it shows us these major events through the eyes of ordinary people. These aren’t really the ones in the middle of the action. They’re the people caught up in events they had no control over. That offers an interesting perspective on these events.

The other is how small an act of kindness can make such a huge difference. While there have been a couple of big, heroic things, like the helicopter pilot flying into a dangerous area to look for survivors, most of the things that mattered so much to these people that they’re tracking down people decades later have been relatively tiny things. The Japanese-American woman never forgot the girl who met her at the schoolyard gates and walked into the school holding her hand when she returned from the internment camp after the war and was afraid of how she’d be received at school. She tells her story at schools and always mentions that friend. When they reunited as elderly women, the friend had no idea how much that had meant. It was a little thing to her, but it meant the world to her friend. The chaplain ministering to the recovery workers at the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 had maxed out on what he was able to take, and it was another chaplain kneeling beside him and placing a hand on his shoulder and just being there with him that gave him the strength to go on, so that now he’s had a career of ministering to the troops, including those deployed overseas.

And that really makes you think. What little gesture of kindness might you make that means the world to someone else? You don’t have to rush into a burning building or take a bullet for someone to matter a great deal to someone else’s life. Every single day, we have the opportunity to make a difference by being kind, showing compassion, and noticing when people need something.