Archive for TV

TV

Summer of Mystery

I seem to be immersing myself in British mysteries this summer. I think of mystery as a genre for fall. That’s when I usually read them. But PBS schedules its mystery shows for the summer. We just wrapped up a season of Endeavour, which I enjoy even though I never saw the original Inspector Morse series. That got me in the mood for that sort of thing, so I went back and watched the series from the beginning on Amazon.

A lot of what I love about it is the Oxford setting. One of my favorite vacations ever was to Oxford. I had a huge client event early in October one year, and since I worked from home and my client’s office was closer to my house than my actual office was, they had a habit of calling me over there at all hours as we prepared for the event. I decided I would go on vacation when the event was over, and I would go somewhere I couldn’t be reached (at the time, US cell phones wouldn’t work overseas unless you got a special world phone model). I saw an airfare sale and bought a ticket to London, then after doing a little research, I decided I’d stay in Oxford. It was a setting for some of my favorite books, it was close enough to London for day trips, and it was close to other things I wanted to see, plus it was a lot cheaper to get a room there than in London. The bed and breakfast where I stayed was apparently used as a location on Inspector Morse, a fact of which the landlady was very proud and made a point of telling me. I’ve looked for it on Endeavour and on Inspector Lewis, but haven’t spotted it, though a lot of the houses do have a similar look.

Anyway, it’s fun watching shows set in a place I’ve visited, and I enjoy looking for familiar locations. On this series, the cast is also wonderful, though it’s sometimes disconcerting hearing Roger Allam’s voice, as he was the original Javert in the London production of Les Miserables that I have the cast recording of, and I keep expecting him to burst into song with “Monsieur Le Mayor, you’ll wear a different chain.” It’s also interesting watching the character growth and development. The mysteries themselves are almost beside the point and are usually hopelessly convoluted.

Then my PBS station started showing episodes of The Bletchley Circle San Francisco, which was originally on the Britbox streaming service. I’d enjoyed the original series, about the women who worked as codebreakers during the war turning their skills to solving crimes, but I’m finding the spinoff rather dull, and I’m giving myself permission to stop watching it.

Next up on Masterpiece Mystery is Grantchester, which is set around Cambridge, where I went for a day trip on my England vacation the year after my Oxford trip.

Although I usually do mysteries in the fall, it is nice to try to trick myself into imagining fall weather in the middle of July, or at least cool and rainy weather, like they usually have at all times of the year on these British shows.

TV

Good Omens

My plan to read mostly off my to-be-read pile so I can clear it out might be somewhat thwarted, since I just watched the Amazon series of Good Omens, and now I want to re-read the book (and then rewatch the series). It’s been long enough since I last read it that it wasn’t so familiar that the series clashed with my own mental images, but it’s familiar enough that I recognized certain scenes and even lines.

There were a few things that clashed enough with my mental images to bother me a little (like Anathema being American), but for the most part, it worked for me. They had to update some of it because it was written in the 90s and the world has changed a lot, but those updates made it even more relevant to our world.

Biggest unintentional laugh: Apparently, no one involved with the production has ever seen a US Air Force base. I guess none of the real ones would let them film there and they couldn’t find even a decommissioned one (I’d have thought there might be one or two of those in the UK).

But otherwise, I think it struck a nice balance between being faithful to the book and translating it to a new medium. The casting was excellent. It’s funny and makes you think. (Sometimes I think the funny things are most likely to make you think, even though people often think drama is more serious and thought-provoking.)

I think I may hold off on the re-read/re-watch. Maybe later this summer or early fall. It could be a good reward for finishing a project.

Which means I have to finish a project, I guess. Back to work!

TV

Musicals on TV

Tonight’s the series finale of the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In a way, I’ll be sad to see it go because it was fun having a musical on TV, but I think it’s run its course, so I’m ready for it to end.

They’ve done some fun things, starting out looking like it would be a standard romantic comedy — an unhappy New York lawyer runs into her boyfriend from theater camp when she was a teen and realizes that may have been the last time she was happy, so she quits her job and moves to his hometown in California, hoping to win him back, only to find that he already has a girlfriend, and maybe his best friend might be a better fit for her, if only she could see that. And then they kept undermining that expectation. The best friend was kind of a jerk with his own issues. She got into some serious stalking and trying to sabotage her target’s new relationship. She finally got the guy of her dreams, and then we learned that the “crazy” part was literal — this wasn’t the first time she’s done something like this.

There were wonderful celebrity cameos from the world of music and musical theater, like Lea Salonga as the aunt who manages to work karaoke into every family celebration so she can show off, or Josh Groban doing “the song at the end of the movie.” There were so many fun musical numbers from a variety of styles.

But I think they ran out of steam in later seasons, and I can’t think of a way they can resolve the story satisfactorily. There are three guys really into and wanting to be with this woman who’s stalked them, cheated on them and generally messed with their lives, which is a little hard to believe, and now the show is making it look like she has to choose one of them, even though she didn’t seem to be particularly into any of them before they made their big declarations of love. I guess to some extent that’s still a spoof of romantic comedies, where the couples manage to end up together in spite of them having been awful to each other before. They’ve been clever and creative in the past, so maybe they call pull this off.

But in the meantime, here’s probably my favorite song, from back in season one:

TV

Crazy Christmas Movies

I actually had a night in last night, and as I had no brain, I ended up watching the Christmas movie I recorded the other night. It was called A Snow White Christmas, and since I’m into fairy tales, I figured why not?

And oh, dear, I’m not even sure where to begin. It was so bizarre. I’m not sure if they took this seriously or if it was meant to be a farce. I think some of the actors were in on the joke, but not all of them were.

Let me see if I can adequately describe this insanity … (Spoilers! As if you could spoil something like this)

Blanca works for the candy company her father founded. She’s supposed to fully inherit the business and her share of her father’s money on her 25th birthday, which happens to be Christmas. Her stepmother and her stepmother’s gay best friend/assistant (they’ve basically Karen and Jack from Will and Grace) have cooked up a scheme to get all the estate. They’ve forged a letter from Blanca, giving it all over to her stepmother, and the bestie got certified as a Notary Public so he could notarize the forgery. They just need to get her out of the way until after her birthday so she can’t personally make any claim on the estate. Plan A is to give her a vacation somewhere else, but she wants to be at home for Christmas.

Meanwhile, the stepmother is renovating the family home before the deadline in which Blanca will inherit it officially, and stepmother has designs on the architect, a much younger man who’s a notoriously eligible bachelor (his last name is “Prince,” so you’ll know where he fits in the story). But he falls for Blanca at first sight and barely notices the stepmother. Of course, you realize this means war, so it’s time for plan B. They hire a hypnotist to make Blanca lose all her memories of her stepmother, her family’s business, and her inheritance. She has fond memories of a Christmas she spent with her father at a roadside motel before her father made his money, when they just had the simple things, so they hypnotize her into thinking that’s her life now. They drop her off at the motel so that when she wakes up, she’ll think she decided to spend Christmas there. The catch, the hypnotist warns them, is that true love will break the spell.

And this is where it starts to get weird, like we’re in two, or maybe three, different movies. At the motel, Blanca runs into the band playing at the motel’s restaurant for the holiday season, the Holly Jollies. There are seven members, and you can see where this is going. They all have traits that map to the dwarfs in the Disney version, but since those were actually created by Disney and aren’t from the fairy tale, they don’t use those actual names (“Grumpy” is “Oscar” — get it?). Blanca instantly becomes friends with them, and soon she’s creating her wonderful treats and her supposedly genius idea of a hot cocoa bar for the hotel coffee shop (and somehow managing to do enough baking and cooking to sell in the kitchenette of a motel room). But when she Instagrams herself and her creations, the “Prince” realizes where his girlfriend disappeared to and tracks her down. She doesn’t remember him, and has no idea what he’s talking about when he mentions her stepmother, and she resists when he suggests that maybe she should see a doctor about her memory loss. He keeps doing crazy, over-the-top stunts to win her over, but she’s so not into it (then again, she’s sort of blank and affectless, so it’s hard to tell. She’s not much different when she is really into something).

Meanwhile, Karen and Jack the stepmother and her “mirror” are usually seen cackling evilly about their plans while drinking champagne and indulging in spa treatments. When the architect reports finding Blanca, they send the artist who’s painting a mural in the house (named “Hunter”) to look after her, only telling him that she’s lost her memories and they want someone to make sure she’s okay.

From this point, a Hallmark movie ensues as Hunter and Blanca hit it off because they enjoy the simple things of Christmas. They go shopping for a Christmas tree in the snow, drink hot cocoa, listen to the Holly Jollies not sing on camera, etc. And I’m sure you know where this is going.

Except true love breaking the spell doesn’t solve everything. Somehow, Blanca remembering her stepmother and the hypnosis doesn’t make her go right back home to put up a fight. She overhears Hunter on the phone with stepmom trying to convince him to stall Blanca and keep her away until after Christmas and feels betrayed, but she misses the part of the conversation where Hunter realizes what stepmom is up to and tells her what she can do with it. Blanca is devastated (at least, she says she is, but with her, it’s hard to tell). But there’s the last-minute dash through the snow to reveal the stepmother’s schemes in the nick of time, and somehow it’s possible to force stepmom and her bestie to work in the candy factory even though slavery is illegal in this country.

The stepmom and her mirror seemed to think this was all a comic farce and were having a grand time. I hope the “Prince” was playing a farce and all the over-the-top emoting was an acting choice, but I’m afraid he thought he was playing it straight (for a while, I thought he was supposed to be under a spell, and that’s why he was so obsessed). “Hunter” thought he was in a Hallmark movie and was quite sincere. Blanca wasn’t quite sure what was going on or why people were pointing cameras at her and telling her to say things.

Alas, it wasn’t quite bad enough to be deliciously glorious, but it wasn’t quite good enough to be good. It was, however, quite different. I kept saying I was just going to turn it off and delete it, but I kept watching until the end.

I think my next free night, I’m rewatching Love Actually.

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.