Tag: tv

My Attempt to Watch Mad Men

I‘ve heard lots of good things about the show Mad Men, and so, after the kids went to bed last night, Kelly and I settled down to watch the first two episodes.  They were entertaining, maybe a little over the top, but the truth is that after two episodes, I was worn out. Two episodes into the show and there was already so much potential drama1 that, as a story teller, I could see the explosive proliferation of plot twists and struggles that would fill the rest of this season, and presumably, subsequent seasons.

Part of what spurred me to give Mad Men a try was catching a few episodes of Bewitched earlier in the week. As a kid, I remember spending summer mornings watching syndicated reruns of the show (I’m nowhere near old enough to have seen the show in first run) and it was nice to see it again. Darren is, of course, an ad man, and the show takes place in the 1960s instead of the 1950s, but memories of how much I enjoyed Bewitched made me curious about Mad Men.

The problems I have with Mad Men are the same problems I have with all television dramas today. First is that they focus on edge-cases, which is understandable, since they are easy targets for good storytelling. But it also means that the shows tend to be overly dramatic and those wear quickly on my limited patience with television.

The second–for me, more important–problem is that they are serials as opposed to series. I’ve discussed this before. I don’t watch a lot of television. When I do, I want to dip for some brain relief and entertainment, and dip out again. I always liked dramas like Magnum, P.I. because, despite being dramas, they were self-contained episodes, rarely, if ever ending in a cliff-hanger, rarely carrying an arch beyond one episode. You could watch an episode, any episode, be entertained for 50 minutes, and move on without a second thought. Not so with today’s dramas, including, it seems, Mad Men.

Let me be clear that my objections to Mad Men have nothing to do with the quality of the writing or acting. They are objections based on my own ennui with how dramas are produced today. I am not a serial TV watcher. I don’t look for a show that will last season after season. I’ve grown to despise cliff-hangers in dramas, and I hate how they chop up seasons these days. Most of all, I really dislike how you can no longer watch just one episode. Today’s dramas are made with binge-watching in mind. I’m not part of that audience so it makes sense that I don’t connect with those kind of shows.

I suspect that series (as opposed to serial) dramas are mostly a thing of the past, and this is one of those cases where like what I grew up with, and am simply not part of the serial-watching culture. That’s okay, I can deal with that. But it is disappointing when shows that sound good in principle are virtually unwatchable to me because of this.

  1. I use the term “potential” in the classical physics sense here.

The Golden Globes

Apparently, the Golden Globe awards were presented last night. I didn’t watch. Over the last 10 years, television and movies have mostly lost the battle for my time. There are other things I’d rather do like read, write, and spend time with the family. And besides, award shows were more fun when I lived in L.A.

That said, I noted with delight this morning that Peter Dinklage won for his role in HBOs Game of Thrones. I saw the first two episodes of Game of Thrones before I started racing through the books last year. I suspect that many people like me can picture no one but Peter Dinklage in the role of Tyrion Lannister and that he plays the character perfectly. (Of course, I watched the entire HBO season, despite getting far head in the books.) While the series is excellent (thanks to great writing and acting), Dinklage makes it worth watching, despite the calls on my time. That is why I suspect that when Season 2 comes out, Game of Thrones will be the only show that I am watching. (I’m not watching any shows at the moment and haven’t been since the series finale of Smallville last spring.)

So congratulations to Peter Dinklage, to George R. R. Martin, and to the entire cast and crew of Game of Thrones. Clearly it is still possible to make a show that breaks new ground and sest the bar, rather than the plethora of imitations and remakes that simply try (and usually fail) to reach it.

Thoughts on Star Trek:Enterprise, Season 1

One advantage (perhaps the only advantage) to being sick the last 5 days is that I’ve had time to race through Season 1 of Star Trek:Enterprise. A few days back I posted my initial thoughts on the show. I really enjoyed the first season, thought it was very well done, but not without some problems. Now that I’ve finished watching the first season, here are some additional thoughts.

  1. I loved the fact that it is a prequel to the rest of the series. There is often a debate about the order in which to watch such series (or read them if they are in book form) but I have always been of the opinion that they are best enjoyed in the order of creation and not the order of the timeline. This is because you get more insights out of the show. Reading Prelude to Foundation, for instance, before any of the other Foundation novels might be enjoyable but you will miss many of the references scattered throughout the novel that make sense in the context of the whole series. The same is true for Enterprise.
  2. I was surprised by the opening sequence of the show–that it didn’t adhere to the normal openings for the show. Apparently, this was quite the fan controversy when the show first came out. I didn’t like the opening–at first. But I’ve got to admit, it grew on me. Despite being a rather sappy song, I grew to like it somewhat. The fact that it was defiant reflects, perhaps unintentionally, John Archer’s own defiant attitudes.
  3. Tucker can sometimes be too hasty in his decisions to interfere with alien worlds. I think this is a flaw in the storytelling, to some extent. Even today, scientists are concerned about the bacteria our probes might carry to other worlds, like Mars for instance. Surely this concern would carry through to the next century and be magnified when considering alien worlds inhabited by intelligent civilizations. T’Pol argues against much of this but her reasoning is no more enlightened then our own present reasoning. This aspect of the show is perhaps its weakest point, but I will acknowledge that it may have been an easy decision for good story-telling, i.e., more drama.
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The television flatline

More and more, my interest in the standard fare on television has been waning. With the beginning of this season, I think it finally flat-lined. There were always some shows that I enjoyed watching and that I looked forward to. The number of those shows have been steadily going down. I used to love The Office, but I am a few seasons behind on it now, and there is just nothing compelling that makes me want to catch up. Smallville was probably the last show I really made an effort to see.

Shows on premiums channels like HBO and Showtime always seemed of higher quality in my book. But even these shows have finally waned on me. I thought Boardwalk Empire was terrific in its first season last year, but had no interest in watching it this season. Dexter on Showtime has been getting better with each passing season. I watched this year’s season premier with mixed emotions, but have not watched it since.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are good shows on TV, but I think that my priorities in life have been changing, and in the competition for an ever dwindling supply of time, television is the loser–as it should be. It’s a viscous cycle: I can’t spare the time to watch the shows, and by not watching them I lose interest in watching them. For the first time in a long time, I can’t think of a single show on television, premium or network, that I would be willing to give up my time doing other things to watch–even recorded on DVR.

I am fine with this, and there may come a day when things cycle back around. But television has, to some extent, moved beyond me. Series, especially, have morphed into serials, where you have to have seen all previous episodes to understand the full complications of the current one. It wasn’t always like that. I enjoyed shows like Magnum, P.I. and Diagnosis Murder in part because you could commit to an episode as opposed to an entire season.

So if you ask me if I’ve seen the latest episode of such-and-such, don’t at all be surprised when I tell you no. It’s not that I don’t like TV. But time is precious and the currency of time, they’ve priced themselves out of my market.

Smallville, Superman, and Me

I just finished watching the series finale of Smallville. I am quite literally out of breath as I type this, so bear with me if my thoughts are a bit jumbled. Please note that there are major spoilers within, so be warned if you haven’t yet seen the series finale.

I was never a comic book guy. I discovered science fiction at the same time I discovered astronomy, somewhere around the age of seven, and I somehow managed to skip over the whole comic book thing. It’s strange when I think about it, because most of my friends in the science fiction world are comic book fans; some of them even wrote for the major superhero comics. I was never really interested for some reason. Having said that, I’d always had a kind of hero-worship for Superman.

When did Superman first enter my consciousness? It’s hard to say. I suspect it might have been one Halloween in the mid-to-late 1970s. Certainly there were costumes (not nearly as elaborate as today’s) of Superman and I must have had some idea that he was a hero. I remember dressing up as Batman one year, complete with Utility Belt, which of course was the only reason to wear the costume in the first place. Toward the end of that decade, I remember very clearly watching episodes of The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves on TV. I knew the whole opening sequence and can remember pretending to fly around the house with a towel as a cape.

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Initial thoughts on Game of Thrones

Let me start by saying that generally speaking, I am not a fan of fantasy fiction.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t like it, it simply means that I prefer other things (like science fiction) ahead of fantasy and there is enough science fiction to keep me busy for a lifetime. Also, I have this probably erroneous notion (one that will irritate fantasy writers the world over) that all fantasy stories are essentially retelling of The Lord of the Rings, a book that I thought was phenomenal. In a way, Tolkein ruined it for everyone else by writing the end-all, be-all of fantasy stories..

I’ve tried to read others and they just haven’t taken, and with so little time to spare, I’ve mostly given up trying.

But I was curious about the new HBO series, Game of Thrones, based of course on George R. R. Martin’s series, because no one does series better than HBO. (People: I love Dexter, but as good as it is, it’s just not quite up to the same standards as HBO stuff.) I’ve never read any of the books, but I sat down last Sunday to watch the premier and I was impressed. I sat down to watch last night and I was even more impressed. Great cast, good story so far, intriguing characters, and Peter Dinklage (who was brilliant in The Station Agent, to say nothing of the first two episodes of this new series).

The fact is, the HBO series has be intrigued enough to want to at least attempt reading the first book. I won’t be doing this any time soon as my reading quote is full for the foreseeable future. But it is the first time I’ve felt the urge to read high fantasy in more than two decades. I think this is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve really enjoy and been highly impressed with the HBO series thus far. Everyone involved should be proud of the effort.



Rainy day today.  As planned, Karl, Todd and I headed to the house during lunch.  They helped me bring the grill up from the landing and into the living room (where I can more easily maneuver it toward the kitchen) and then we spent an hour or so playing Wii.  It was a lot of fun.  They wanted to see what Wii Fit was like, so we played some of that, too.

I’m trying to reduce the amount of paper I use and so today, I downloaded a demo copy of DevonThink to see if it will work better for me than paper in collecting notes from reading and other things.  It is supposed to be very good at collecting and organizing this type of information.  How well it actually works depends on how well you can hierarchically organize your information, and last night I got started playing around with it a bit.  If it turns out to be a useful way of capturing and finding information, I’ll end up buying a license for it.  It only works on Macs, but I could end up using it at work also, since I have a Mac there, too (on which I run Parallels).

Last night was TV night.  We lazed around when wegot home.  I watched new episodes of Smallville, The Office, and Life on Mars.

Today’s reading: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (through page 88.

Friday morning

…or lack thereof. I haven’t done anything in the last week, which has put me somewhat behind in NaNoWriMo. But I intend to get some writing done today and to try and get back on track. It’s quite a hill to climb, but I’m trying to put that out of my mind, and instead, just writing every day. (Plus, next week, I’ve got 10 hours to kill on airplanes, and 10 hours of writing could easily get me back on track.)

I’m still (unofficially) making my way through the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I say unofficially because I haven’t added it to my reading list. I’m almost through the A’s (in fact, I read the entry for “Astounding Science Fiction” on the train in this morning). That’s about 66 pages into the more than 1,200 page book. But I have to say that I am still enjoying every moment of it.

Payday today, which is always nice. Paid a few bills and transferred the rest to savings.

Looks like 6 or 7 episodes of Smallville left before they run out. Last night’s episode of The Office was the last one that they had. And Heroes (which I still haven’t been keeping up with) is down to it’s last 3 episodes. Maybe I’ll finally be forced to give up TV through sheer circumstance.

We’re going to Jess’s tonight to sit around the fire pit. Hanging out with AJ and Denisse tomorrow.

It was cold out this morning.

Sunday morning

I killed time last night by watching some episodes from the first season of The West Wing. In my mind, it still stands as some of the best writing ever to appear on television.

I was up around 8 AM today. Still not feeling 100% so I called AJ and Denisse and canceled lunch plans with them. I’d hate to get them sick. We’re going to reschedule for another time.

I did some laundry and ran out to get a haircut. It seems like I got it cut 3 or 4 weeks ago, but I felt desperately in need of another one. There was a fairly long wait but I kept myself busy reading. Yes, I finally decided on a book. I chose David Brin’s Starttide Rising, which was a winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards back in the 1980s. I read Brin’s Foundation’s Triumph in the late 1990s and thoroughly enjoyed it. But the only other Brin book I’ve read was Sundiver, back in 1996.

Haven’t done any writing yet today, but I hope to get through another 2,000 words or so before going to bed tonight.

Yes, I’ve definitely come down with something

You know that feeling you get, a kind of rawness in the back of your throat, that bloated feeling in your gut, a stuffed up head, a glassy hot feeling to your eyes. You know what I’m talking about . Well, it’s happening to me right now. I hate it.

After work today I had dinner with Kelly and her friend at Thaiphoon, which is, obviously, Thai food. I’d never had Thai before, but I purposefully chose something spicy from the menu so that I could taste my food through this cold that I’ve got. I ended up ordering the Pik Kaur, which was actually quite tasty, even though I couldn’t finish it. After dinner, Kelly and her friend went shopping and I headed home.

For the first time ever, I did a little writing on the train ride home. Pulled out my laptop, fired up Scrievner, and did a little work on the novel for NaNoWriMo. Incidentally Scrivener is working beautifully for this project. It’s the first time I’ve really given it a chance and I really like it. I ended up doing a total of 2,300 words today. Some re-writing was involved and I know I should avoid that in first draft. I’m trying. I’m dropping notes in Scrivener’s notes field to remind myself what I want to fix or change later on.

I applied for an EZ Pass today. I drive up to New York just often enough to make it worthwhile, if for nothing else than to speed up the drive a bit and avoid the long lines at the non EZ Pass toll booths. It says I should receive my transponder in 5-7 business days. Maybe, just maybe I’ll have it in time for the trip next weekend.

Watched Smallville and The Office this evening.

I’m chock full of NyQuil and off to bed!

Here comes the rain again

It was actually warm last night and never really cooled down. When I went to bed, I let the bedroom window open and even in the house it didn’t cool down. But it rained, and the sound of the rain was wonderful and helped to lull me to sleep.

It looks like its supposed to be overcast and rainy throughout the day today. It might even begin to cool off the latter half of this week, which means it may begin to feel more fall-like. I can’t wait.

Lots of phone calls last night. I spoke to Dad. He and Mom were at the airport in Vegas waiting to fly home. As usual, Mom won. Dad bet on the Mets in 2008 in the sports book. That’s team loyalty for you. I also spoke to he11o_sunshine, strausmouse, and vickyandnorm. Looks like a bunch of us will be getting together for a visit on Veterans Day weekend.

I am finally caught up on The Shield. Over the course of the last 2 weeks or so, I’ve gone through all 6 seasons, something like 70+ episodes. Season 7 is scheduled to start in January and I’ve already setup a Season Pass for it on TiVo.

Lazy Sunday

[Posted on Monday, October 22]

We all kind of slept in on Sunday morning. We headed up to IHOP for breakfast at around 10:30 AM and afterward, I dropped AJ and Denisse off at the metro station so that they could head home.

Most of the rest of the day was a very lazy one for me. I finished watching Season 4 of The Shield and naturally, immediately wanted to watch season 5. Fortunately, season 5 and 6 are available on the iTunes store, and in fact, it was far cheaper to buy them from there than order the DVDs online. So I downloaded all 21 episodes that make up seasons 5 and 6 and I watched the first 4 or 5 of them.

I cleaned up the house a bit, but didn’t end up doing any laundry, as I’d planned to do. I called Doug and left him a message. (He called back but it was after I’d gone to bed.) I also called he11o_sunshine and we spoke for 10 minutes or so. But I was pretty tired, having been up so late last night. I ended up climbing into bed at around 7:30 PM.