Archive for TV

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.

TV

Cord-Free!

Yesterday morning I was off returning all my cable equipment, and now for the first time in my adult life I don’t have cable TV. I also don’t have any means of recording something I want to watch later, since I’d need a digital converter box to use my VCR. I do have a DVR on order, but it won’t be shipped until April. However, things have changed since the last time I went without a VCR, which was 1990. Now there are all kinds of streaming options for watching online. We didn’t have the Internet in a consumer form in 1990, and what did exist was pretty much text-only.

It turns out that there are a lot of local stations that weren’t included in the cable service, so there seems to be plenty to watch, especially if you like Star Trek or Night Court. One of the stations seems to be running episodes of the late 90s version of The Magnificent Seven (aka Attractive Men Wearing Leather and Riding Horses — apparently one of the reasons it got canceled is that they sold it to advertisers as a good way to reach male viewers, but for reasons the network executives couldn’t fathom, it drew a large female audience instead). About the only thing I’m missing is a good way to get my documentary fix, since the PBS digital subchannel that they were using for PBS World (basically, lots of documentaries) got turned into PBS Kids, which is less interesting to me. However, they also have a Create channel, which seems to be 90 percent cooking shows with the occasional This Old House and travel show. Fortunately, my library offers a few streaming services that have documentaries, and then there are a lot of DVDs at the library. Walking over once a week or so to pick up new DVDs to watch will be good for me.

On my first cable-free night, I watched a little of the Olympics (using the antenna!) and found that the picture was actually sharper and brighter than I got with cable. Then I watched a livestream of a wind symphony concert from the University of North Texas, via the Roku. See, I’m already becoming a lot more cultured.

I really hope to spend more time reading and writing. My book count was down last year, though I did read some pretty big ones that I should have counted as two. My writing time was way up last year, but I need to get back in a groove because I haven’t been doing as well this year so far.

The strange thing that’s bothering me the most and that I’m missing the most from cable is the clock on the front of the box. It had brightly lit, tall numbers that I could see from across the room, even without my glasses, and since it was set by the system, it stayed on time. I keep glancing in that direction to see what time it is. I have an atomic clock in the living room, but it isn’t lit up and the numbers aren’t as big, and it isn’t near where the TV is for easy glancing. I guess I’ll have to set the VCR clock, which is what I used in the old days before we got the fancy cable boxes with the digital readout on the front, but those numbers are small enough that I’ll need my glasses even to see from the sofa.

It’s strange the little things you get used to. But I’m sure I’ll adapt.

TV

RIP Once Upon a Time

It’s my last day of cable TV, and yesterday there was some news that somewhat justifies cutting the cord. They’re cancelling Once Upon a Time.

I have such a love/hate relationship with that series. It had so much potential, but most of that potential went unrealized, which was frustrating. This final season has been a real mess, with me transitioning from enjoying it but snarking about it to pretty much flat-out hate-watching. They got rid of most of the characters I liked, even including one whose actor is still on the show (playing a different character who’s a different version of his original character) and the new characters are weak. They’re not even trying to make any of the worldbuilding make sense.

For instance, the timeline. This is driving me nuts. The new central character is the kid from the first six seasons, now all grown up. There are flashbacks taking place about 9-10 years ago, in which he’s already an adult, and then in the present day he has an 8-9-year-old daughter. But the same actors as before are playing the people who were adults in his life when he was a child, and they aren’t doing anything to age them, but they haven’t explained why at least 15 or so years have passed since the end of the previous season and one character grew up but nobody else has changed at all. I’m aging weirdly so that no one believes how old I really am, but if I look at photos from 15 or 20 years ago, there is a difference. One of these characters is immortal, which explains the lack of aging, but it doesn’t explain the others.

Then there’s the new setting. The new curse moving the fairy tale characters to our world didn’t create an isolated small town like before. They’re in a neighborhood in Seattle (present-day Seattle, in spite of so much time passing, but I’m sure that will eventually be explained), where the fairy tale people are mixed in with “real world” people, and I’m not sure how that works because two of the characters are cops in their cursed identities, and that would require having a background that could be checked. Someone couldn’t just magically appear out of nowhere and become a cop, and since magic doesn’t work in our world, would it be able to alter memories so that “real world” people remembered having worked for years with someone who just arrived? That sort of thing needs to become clear for the world to work.

And the city is so blah. I do think you can make a city feel magical. Look at Neverwhere. Or Grimm. Or Enchanted, Inc. Or any urban fantasy. They just haven’t done anything to make their setting feel like a place where you might meet Cinderella or Rumpelstiltskin.

So, I’m curious to see how they wrap it up, but the series going away means I won’t have to find a better antenna that will bring in ABC for next season (unless ABC comes up with a new series that sounds good).

And, meanwhile, I may have come up with a way to play with some of the ideas and concepts I liked from the show that I felt like the show didn’t explore without it being super obvious where I got the ideas. That was a challenge because the concept was so unique that there wasn’t much of a way to file off the serial numbers.

Books, TV

Playing with Pride and Prejudice

I’ve finally started digging into the pileup of Christmas movies on my DVR. Last night’s was an old Lifetime one, The 12 Men of Christmas, which is basically a retelling of Pride and Prejudice — a PR exec who lost her job and seems to have been blackballed from other agencies after she caught her boss making out with her fiancé at the office Christmas party takes a desperation job of promoting a small Montana town as a site for corporate retreats. She gets off on the wrong foot with one of the locals, and Pride and Prejudice ensues, with the external plot centering around her idea to raise money for the local search and rescue squad by doing a sexy calendar involving the men on the squad. Of course, “Mr. Darcy” is against it because it’s beneath his dignity, and it doesn’t help that “Mr. Wickham” is gung-ho.

And then my bedtime listening was the last part of an audio drama of Pride and Prejudice. Which seems to have led to my waking thought this morning being to wonder if anyone’s ever done a gender-flipped version of this story. I’m not sure it would work in the original setting because so much of the plot involves gender politics — the precarious situation of Lizzie’s family because they were all girls and the estate was entailed, which required them all to make good marriages; the scandal of the elopement, which affected the woman’s family more than the man’s. But it would be interesting to play with the idea of the woman being proud and aloof and the man taking an instant dislike that skews his discernment about anything anyone says about her.

Next thing I know, I’ve got a TV Christmas movie playing out in my head — there’s a family with five sons who run a ski lodge. They’re barely keeping the business afloat and need a huge influx of cash. Then they learn that a wealthy woman (maybe a movie star or rock star?) has rented a chalet in town. Maybe they could get her to invest in their lodge — or, since she seems to hit it off with the oldest son, they might end up with a cash infusion in another way. Unfortunately, her haughty best friend gets off on the wrong foot with the second oldest son, who then hears some nasty rumors about her from one of the guests staying at his lodge — a guest who’s actually a con artist who scams the youngest brother.

Hmm, maybe I’ve got my next Christmas story right there. But for it to be me, I’d have to find a way to add a dash of magic. I was thinking I’d have to write it in third person, or else write it from Mr. Lizzie’s perspective, but then it occurred to me that this story from Ms. Darcy’s perspective might be interesting. To some extent, part of the fun of the original story is not knowing what’s really going on in Darcy’s head, so we only see him the way Lizzie sees him, but it might be fun to flip that around and be in the Darcy character’s head, with all the “what is wrong with these people?” that surely must be going on.

There’s a conference in a ski resort town (though not during ski season) that I’ve been thinking about going to next year. That would be a great opportunity to research this story. I’m not sure it has to be at a ski resort, but that was the setting that occurred to me and where I see it playing out.

TV

Catching Up on Star Wars Rebels

One thing I’ve been doing a lot of lately is knitting, since I have a gift I need to get finished. And something I’ve found that makes good background noise for knitting is the Star Wars Rebels series that Disney has put on demand, going all the way back to the first season. I watched the pilot when they aired it on ABC and wasn’t impressed. I didn’t like the “teen with attitude” main character, and I really hated the animation/character design.

But I kept hearing good things about it, and then apparently they worked in stuff from the movies (and vice versa), so since I needed something to watch one day, and since most of the episodes are about 22 minutes, so they fit into small chunks of time, I decided to give it another shot.

I’m still not crazy about the character design and animation. It’s weird that the scenes, the ships, and the droids are all beautifully rendered and gorgeous, but the characters themselves look like the kind of animation that was in video games about 25 years ago. The way the faces are rendered reminds me of the kind of book covers that showed up on small-press romance novels back in the 90s, when there was apparently some kind of software that generated pictures of people, except they looked weirdly (and creepily) lifeless, more like people wearing masks, and with cold, blank, dead eyes. This is why this is a good background noise show. I can’t just sit and watch it, but I can listen and look up occasionally.

The plots in early season one struck me as very Disney sitcom-like. It was sad how many of the stories involved the characters getting into trouble because they did something childish and stupid. I think they thought that since this was on the Disney XD channel, their target audience was tweens. Then somewhere along the way the writing really got a boost and it started to feel more like Star Wars and less like a tween sitcom in the Star Wars universe.

There are two other things that make this a good show to listen to: the music and the voice acting. They use the original John Williams themes and weave them together to make a good score that fits — when we see walkers, we hear the walker music from the Hoth battle; when someone uses the Force, we hear the Force theme, etc. They also have an excellent voice cast (that even includes at least one Oscar nominee among the regulars). I was really impressed by how right Darth Vader sounded, and then I looked it up, and they actually got James Earl Jones. When Lando shows up, they have Billy Dee Williams. It’s just a pity that they don’t back up this excellent voice cast with better character animation and design.

What I’m enjoying is getting a broader look at that universe from other perspectives. Plus, since I have four seasons to catch up on, it’s amazing to be able to have new Star Wars content every day. I remember waiting years for the next movie and having nothing new in between movies. Now, whenever I turn on the TV, I can have new-to-me Star Wars stuff. And I haven’t even started delving into Forces of Destiny. I tried one episode of Clone Wars and had the same cheap animation problem, with a side of wrong voices, but maybe I should check that out of the library and give it another shot.

writing, TV

The Supersonic Raven Fallacy

I’ve noticed that some writers have a tendency to get defensive when they’re called out about something that doesn’t quite work. There’s a particular tendency among some writers of fantasy to question “nitpicks” in a fantasy work — if you can believe in magic, why can’t you accept these other things? It seems to be more of a trend in TV writers than among novelists, which may have something to do with the way novelists approach worldbuilding. At any rate, this arose again this week, thanks to events on Game of Thrones, and I have now dubbed this particular argument the Supersonic Ravens Fallacy.

The argument goes: “You can believe in X, but you can’t believe in Y?” where X is “big fantasy element” and Y is “mundane thing that doesn’t quite work the way it does in the real world.” For example, “You can believe in dragons, but you can’t believe in ravens that had to have flown faster than the speed of sound in order to deliver a message in that amount of time?”

The defensive writers blame the audience for being nitpicky or unwilling to suspend disbelief, but I think it’s the writers’ fault. If the audience doesn’t believe in Y, it’s because the writers didn’t make them believe in it. They believed in X because the writers built it into the world. The disbelief comes when the writers fail at building something into their world or portray it inconsistently. The audience wouldn’t believe in X, either, if it was written inconsistently.

It’s a false equivalence because the big fantasy element and the mundane thing that don’t work right aren’t on the same level. The suspension of disbelief that allows the audience to buy into the big fantasy element isn’t transferable. It only applies to that big fantasy element. Writers have to make the audience believe in every single aspect of the story, and it’s usually the easy stuff that trips them up. You don’t have to explain “ordinary” things to the audience. They take those things as a given. If you don’t show us that these things aren’t the ordinary things we’re used to, then we’re going to assume they work the way things in the real world work. We get annoyed when they don’t work the way they work in the real world.

So, say there’s magic in your fantasy world. You’ll show us that magic is a part of this world, suggest who can use it and who can’t, show how it works and what it can do, and give an indication of what people in this world think about magic — do they know it exists? Do they like it? Fear it? If a character suddenly uses magic to get out of trouble when you haven’t established that magic exists, then that surprise needs to fit into your world. You can’t have a character with no magical powers in a world with no suggestion of magic just suddenly use magic to get out of trouble without that being a big deal — “OMG! I have magic powers! How did this happen? What do I do now?”

Meanwhile, if you have horses in this world and haven’t given us any indication that they’re different from horses in our world, then they have to act like horses in our world and have the same needs, abilities, and limitations. We’re going to assume they need to eat, have to have rest and water every so often, and they walk on land. If a horse suddenly flies when your plot requires it and you’ve given no indication that horses in your world can fly or are at all different from what we know of as a horse, then we’re not going to believe it, even if we believe that there’s magic in your world. You’d better have a good explanation, like the horse ate enchanted hay or someone did a horse levitating spell, and people better be surprised about the horse flying. Otherwise, if you need the horse to fly to get your character out of trouble, you’d better establish previously that horses in this world can fly, and you need to show how that affects your world — people carry really sturdy umbrellas, there aren’t as many roads, etc.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that you can’t change the rules of your world to fit your plot —especially not to get your characters out of trouble — whether it’s the magical elements or the mundane elements. If you can set up the fact that ravens serve as the messenger system, then you can set up the fact that maybe there are special ravens to be only used in dire emergencies or there are spells to be cast on ravens to make them fly faster, or there’s a special supercharged raven food. But if the ravens have acted like our ravens, other than the fact that they work as the Internet, then they need to keep acting like our ravens and not flying thousands of miles in a few hours.