Given Pause

by on Jun.04, 2010, under philosophy, TV

I was up last night enjoying my double-shot of fake news, and found myself surprised by Stephen Colbert.  Okay, that on its own is not surprising – his brand of humor revolves around being startlingly if mockingly conservative and I for one get and enjoy the joke.  But no, he was in the midst of an interview with the band Vampire Weekend and brought up a reference to one of their lyrics about the Oxford comma.

If you are not familiar with the Oxford comma (I hadn’t been familiar with it by that name until last night myself), it is the final comma before “and” or “or” in a list if 3 or more items (e.g., apples, bananas>,< and cantaloupes).  I’m sure most of you could probably care less about this matter, but its necessity has apparently been refuted and vacillated over the years and I have actually had discussions on this matter with people and happen to share Colbert’s expressed opinion on it.  Apparently the modern American convention is that it is assumed and thus unnecessary.  But traditionalist, Oxford scholars, Stephen Colbert, and myself believe that its inclusion or exclusion change the meaning of the phrase as it is possible to have compound elements within such a list (e.g., ham and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, or tuna fish).

Again, I admit that this is a fairly minor matter and why I have such strong opinions on it I cannot really explain.  But it was interesting to witness such a juxtaposition as this subject matter being discussed between a fake pundit and a young rock group whose music intones nonchalance.  Certainly there are less trivia matters in the world than proper comma use, but I can’t help but be given pause be such matters.  Perhaps it is my affinity to debate any subjects that may have no right or wrong side.  Perhaps in a world where it is easy to feel like the reach and longevity of our impact on it may be minimal, rhetoric can seem as important as anything else.  Or maybe I should just start going to bed earlier.

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Circus of Heroes

by on Feb.08, 2010, under TV

In the beginning of this season of Heroes – the show that I used to love, started to hate, came to enjoy again and am now ambivalent about – the writers did what they needed to do by immediately injecting new characters and twists to the saga that was turning a little to telenovella-esque. The characters we had known and loved were able to evolve forward(-ish) and react to these new elements. Unfortunately at times even this new line feels stretched, stale, or overly tangled. And even with all that, there always seem to be some loose ends that threatent to unravel the tenuous hold the show seems to have on my patience. But tonight this chapter finals comes to an end. The big question is will the end tie a nice bow on the season or be the noose by which the series draws its own demise.

[me watching the Heroes season finale]

Okay. I will start with the positive. Most of the mainstays ended up either where I hoped/expected or in a place I can accept. Some got there with more hoopla than generally necessary, but they got there none the less. The writers were also good to avoid huge cliffhangers for next season (well, perhaps one). In general, with exception to some of the Sylar in Parkman’s head moments from earlier in the season, I’ve enjoyed his character arc this season and it’s correlation with Peter’s; the finale did well in completing that arc. All in all, this close was very reminiscent of the season one capper.

As for negatives, there actually are fewer than I expected. Samuel was a sociopath to the bitter end, but i’d anticipate no less. It is odd how full of himself he can be and how much if a manipulator he is, and yet he does so through coersion and omission and almost never seems to blatantly lie.  But really the negatives in my mind are more with the season than with the finale.  Where the season occasionally suffered from convoluted story arcs that didn’t always circle back as expected, the season closer did not suffer as such.

So to sum up:

Heroes Chapter 4:  C-
Heroes Chapter 4 Finale:  B+
Heroes Chatper 5 Outlook:  B?

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Dollhouse Dismantled

by on Feb.01, 2010, under TV

The final chapter has been closed.  Joss Whedon’s latest attempt at television success came to a bittersweet close last Friday.  Clearly I’ve had my druthers with the handling of this show (see here, herehere, and here), but I will try to keep this post about the show’s ending and avoid the downward spiral of network reproach.

Joss Whedon, in a word, is a genius.  Though it wasn’t aired on television, he had capped last season with a shocking look at what the future could hold for the technology of the Dollhouse – what seemed morally questionable became innocent and tame by comparison to the potential abuses.  Then in the second season Joss showed us bit by bit how such a future could come to be – weaving the various “flashbacks” from the fast forward into the regular season and filling in the gaps of how the technology could progress as such.

While I am sad to see the show end, I think that having a defined end point allowed for one of the best series wrap-ups I can ever remember seeing on television.  Whedon and co. delivered one-two punches week after week with the twists and turns in the plot for the past few months.  Characters who seemed infallible would fall, characters who seemed incorrigible would be redeemed, and characters who seemed as transparent as glass would turn out to have unimaginable secrets.

In the final hour, we were returned to the 10-years forward view of things, where despite (or perhaps as a result of) our heroes’ efforts, chaos reigns.  But where the previous flash forward showed an isolated snapshot of the future mixed with glimpses of the road to it, this episode was a mission to set all things right in the world.  As is common with a Joss Whedon wrap-up (e.g., Wash, Anya, Wesley), there were casualties.  And as would be realistic, there were bumps in the road to redemption.  But all things said and done, I couldn’t imagine it ending any other way.

It is ashame that the show did not garner the success or the due that it deserved – if you asked people about the show, they would either love it or not know what you are talking about (unfortunately the latter would be the majority).  But I enjoyed it while it lasted, I can feel confident in the ending laid out, and look forward to Joss’ next project (hopefully in no way tied to FOX).

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Formally Offended (eXpletive-free version)

by on Nov.12, 2009, under TV

I understand that business is business.  Even in the business of entertainment, if you aren’t making more than you are spending on a project then you need to either find a way to turn it around or cut your losses.  I get that.  However, with entertainment properties there is more than a simple matter of supply and demand.  There are qualities of value and message that come into play, factors that lead to a fandom and critical acclaim despite, sometimes in spite of, the numbers on the board.

Every season brings a crop of new shows presenting new talent and new twists on old themes, occasionally some unique perspectives and ideas.  And with this annual crop, there are at least as many weeds as blossoms.  And there is always some level of shuffling things around to give every piece its due time in the sun.  But it seems that some people are too cautious of thorns to know a rose when they have one.

Yesterday, Fox officially announced that they are cancelling Dollhouse during production of this season’s episode 11.  So Joss Whedon now has 2 remaining episodes to tie up all of his loose ends and create a series finale for a show that shouldn’t need to be singing its swan song.  I have not gone looking for a response from Joss or the cadst, but I can only imagine that none of them are happy with the decision.  Given the Fox/Whedon track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if Whedon is turned off from television for a long while.

This situation was completely avoidable.  (a) Fox could have allowed season one to follow Joss’ plan instead of forcing him to change it (since their changes lead directly to depressed ratings during the first half of that season).  (b) Fox could have given it a fighting chance by putting it on a higher traffic night and/or giving it a better lead in.  A Dollhouse/Fringe pairing would have made more sense this season than exiling it to Friday nights nestled among doomed sitcoms.  (c) Joss could have started shopping for a new home for the show at the end of last season when the series was in danger of cancellation (sorry Joss – didn’t want to pin any of this on you, but this IS the third time Fox has screwed you).

As far as I’m concerned, this is a last straw for Fox.  I encourage anyone who feels similarly to consider the following:  Do watch the remainder of the episodes of Dollhouse – preferrably live.  If you don’t watch any other Fox shows, keep it that way.  If you do, DVR them or watch them in some other method where you can avoid watching the commercials (note – I’m not advocating illegal downloading).  Make a conscious effort to avoid Fox and its related properties – take this to the degree you prefer, but note that Fox is owned by the News Corporation which also owns Fox News, FX, FMC, the My Network, NatGeo, Speed, MySpace, Photobucket, IGN and many others.

Luckily I’m fairly liberal-minded and Tom is not my friend, so many aspects of such a boycott will be easy for me.  But I am a fan of a number of other Fox shows such as Bones, Lie to Me, House and 24.  So I will have to either divorce myself of some of these shows or follow my own advice on finding alternate ways of watching them (though I do already DVR pretty much everything I watch).  I hope to see Joss bounce back from this – perhaps get the show picked up elsewhere or work on some cool new project.  Only time will tell.  As sad as I will be to see Echo fade away, I will not forget where the stake through her heart came from.  I understand business, Fox, and this is bad business.

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Unexpected Morals

by on Nov.05, 2009, under About Me, philosophy, TV

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” I, however, have found that in some instances I have gleaned some life lessons from the actions of others (even when it seems that the others haven’t). Here are some examples:

  • For as long as can remember, my father has quested to top himself each year with his Christmas gifts for my mother – always looking to get her some new gadget or equipment that she would have never realized she always wanted. Sometimes he has succeeded, but often the hype in his head is greater than the real reaction. He has also always had a trend of uniquely labeling his gifts to her (e.g., From: XY/To: XX). To these, my mother has always had a positive reaction (even when they were bordering on inappropriate).
    Moral: Sometimes the giving is more important than the gift.
  • Both my father and my sister have always been very ‘tell it like it is’ types of people … but in slightly different ways. My dad in such that he does not sugar-coat much of anything (except perhaps in his business – he IS a salesman after all). My sister in such that should tends to be very curtly honest to the extent that she doesn’t always know what she shouldn’t likely be straight with people about. On more than one occasion this combination led to someone being offended by something that my dad probably shouldn’t have said around my sister and that my sister definitely shouldn’t have relayed on to the subject matter.
    Moral: Whenever opening your mouth, beware of feet.
  • Growing up, I saw my father primarily on the weekends. When my wife and I first were seriously dating, I ended up moving in with her and her family for a year – I didn’t see her father for the first 3 months I was there. With my dad, I know how he felt about the situation because when he was home he tried to make up for the time he wasn’t. Now I’ve got 2 kids of my own and I find myself working long hours on occasion when I’d rather be at home with them.
    Moral: If you don’t understand work-life balance, don’t expect your kids to get it either.

I can’t claim to have it all worked out – I don’t even always get these things right a lot of the time. But the foundation is there leading my intentions (and hopefully leading my actions more often than not).

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