Newb Tube Two

Newb Tube Two

Oct 26

In the past year, I’ve lost The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, and The Late Show with David Letterman, and I did pick up The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but I’m really not that interested in the new Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I haven’t even taken a look at it. Ditto the Ferguson replacement.

Colbert is finding his audience, as all late-night talkshow hosts need to do, and it’s one of my favorite things in TV: seeing how these guys figure out what’s working and what’s not, and seeing their audience evolve with the show through its changes. Honestly, it’s a little rough right now, except for a pretty good live band, what has become a short, nightly segment on politics and current events (which I was hoping he wouldn’t do, because it’s a ground that’s too familiar for him), and the interviews. The week before last, he had Oprah Winfrey on, and they traded favorite scripture with each other, which was really great to see. The jury’s still out, but I think he’s going to be okay.

I’m still down with The Big Bang Theory, but I’m thinking that show needs to be retired soon. The decision to have Sheldon and Amy break up is probably going to salvage this season for me; however, the cast has become so bloated, and the characters so comfy, that the show has lost its heart, the thing that made it special in its first few seasons.

And of course there are all the usual sports things. My favorite show on TV is still ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, and I’m still watching Highly Questionable with Dan LeBatard and Bomani Jones, and I TiVo Around the Horn every day, but I pretty much only watch it on days after significant sports events, such as every Monday morning. Most times, I archive the show for some time later. I watch as much of the NFL as I can, and this week it’s the World Series.

Supergirl premiered this evening but I’m waiting until just before bed to give it a look. I have high hopes.

Newb Tube

Newb Tube

Oct 25

It’s been a month or so since the new TV season began (with a few exceptions; I’m still waiting on Supergirl Monday and Mom sometime thereabouts), so here’s a quick rundown of what I’m watching.

The most pleasant surprise has been Fargo, whose first season about a year and a half ago seemed to come out of nowhere and blow everyone (who saw it) away.  I probably wouldn’t have paid it any mind except that certain writers I respect were raving about it the week before it premiered.  It was excellent.  Maybe the first television I felt the need to discuss with others since Ally McBeal.  The new season had me wary, but only because I just didn’t see how it could equal the first season.  And so far, it has come pretty close.  I don’t see an Allison Tollman for this season, which is kind of a disappointment, but Kirsten Dunst could be this year’s Billy Bob Thornton: a known entity playing something completely different.  She’s been enthralling so far, a real puzzle.  I also like Ted Danson a lot so far.  It’s only been two episodes (of twelve), so if you’re missing the boat, it’s not too late to get caught up.

I’m a lifelong Muppets fan, as most people are, I guess.  The original The Muppet Show is one of my favorite TV series of all time, a show that impresses me more now that I’m old enough to know what to be impressed by.  This new show, The Muppets, a kind of takeoff on The Office, has Miss Piggy hosting a late-night talk show, with the rest of the crew as the production/performing team.  Fozzy is the show’s announcer and audience warm-up; Statler and Waldorf are regular audience members; Scooter is, as he always has been, a gofer; Kermit is the producer.  I totally get the criticisms, and I’m on board with a few of them.  The fat jokes aimed at Piggy are a bit much, and perhaps an anachronism of sorts for television today.  Like The Larry Sanders Show, another clear inspiration, we mostly only see behind-the-scenes stuff, which is the biggest disappointment.  The Muppets are show people.  Performers.  One of the inspiring things about the original show was the joy these characters felt in just getting on stage and performing, something that’s sorely missing from this.  Where’s the Kermit who was discovered sitting on a log in a swamp, singing “Rainbow Connection?”  Still, the characters are there, and they’re lovely and wonderful and I honestly can’t get enough.  And as I told Anto a few weeks ago, this completely new setting makes it easier for me to deal with the characters having different voices.

Dr. Ken, the new sitcom with Ken Jeoong, is uneven, but I’m on board for the whole season (and ABC just last week ordered the full season; it is the first of the new shows to receive the order) because I’m reviewing episodes for  The show is trying really hard to do some important things besides making people laugh, something I admire, but it really needs to be good entertainment first and good Asian American entertainment second, you know?  The cast is strong, for the most part, especially Dr. Ken’s family, anchored by Suzy Nakamura as Ken’s psychiatrist wife, and the chemistry between the two doctors is the show’s strongest element so far.  I’m not as in love with the way the staff at Ken’s HMO is being fleshed out, which is a disappointment because Tisha Campbell-Martin is there, and I love her.  The only reason I kept watching Martin on Fox in the 90s when it stopped being funny was her.

Which of course brings me to season two of Fresh off the Boat, which I am also doing episode reviews for. I have to say that it’s still uneven, but the season is a lot stronger than I expected. It’s doing a few things really well, giving Eddie a new love interest, and continuing to develop Jessica’s relationships with the other characters.

I’m TiVoing Life in Pieces, but haven’t watched any of it yet. It looks promising. I’m also TiVoing Last Man on Earth, that Will Forte series, but I only get to it once in a while. It’s excellent, though, and I’m sure I’d be more enthusiastic about it if I’d seen the first season. Definitely my kind of show. Alienation, baby.

For now, I’m down with Quantico too. I checked it out because of its star, Priyanka Chopra (ABC seems to be leading the pack in Asians, if you count CBS’s Hawaii Five-0 as just one multi-Asians thing), and got sucked into the story. I’m not sure I’ll stick with it, because it’s not really my genre, and if they plan to yank me along for a whole season without giving me enough development, I probably won’t make it. But it’s good so far.

I’m going to have to continue this tomorrow. It’s 12:33 in the afternoon, and I’m due at the annual NaNoWriMo kickoff, which I will also discuss later.

I’m Done Chasing Monsters in the Dark

I’m Done Chasing Monsters in the Dark

Oct 10

This isn’t my life anymore, Mulder. I’m done chasing monsters in the dark.

Scully was wrong, of course, and so were we all, because The X-Files returns with six episodes beginning at the end of January, just in time for the end of football season.

I have to admit that I’m not a true X-Phile. My friend Grace is. She has all the episodes on VHS, and if I know Grace (and I do; we’ve been friends since seventh grade), each cassette is carefully labeled and indexed, not only with episode titles, but names of writers, directors, and guest stars. For this reason, she disapproves of most of my sad, misdirected fandom of the program, because the things I like are the things that kind of brought the show down, in her eyes. When I told her that I liked the second movie, I Want to Believe, the first thing she asked me was, “What’s your favorite episode of the TV series?” This was going to tell her all she needed to know about how seriously to take my impression of the film, which she was not in a hurry to see.

I’d heard the buzz, of course, and I’d seen the commercials, but nothing about the show’s publicity or press made me want to see it. Then my friend Cathy asked me if I wanted to see the first movie. I went along and really liked the film. So Cathy, who was already kind of a casual fan, started coming over on X-Files night to watch it with me. Between the night we saw the first film and the night the series finally limped across the finish line, we watched every episode at either her house or mine.

I actually liked the show in its last, painful season. But it was true: we were all hanging on just to see it through, you know? I was pleased with the way it ended. On the science vs. faith, Scully vs. Mulder thing, I was firmly on the side of faith, but while it was Mulder who believed and Scully who was skeptical, Scully had the church background, and in those last few episodes, the tension was a lot more specifically about religious faith, and that of course made the show a lot more interesting for me.

I never did go back and fill in blanks in my X-Files viewing, another reason I’m not a true X-Phile. But now that I’ve paid for a year of Prime, and because all nine seasons are available on Prime, I’m making an effort at least to catch up to where I started watching, whenever the first film was released. Season 7?

If I see them all, it’ll be three seasons per month, or about three fourths of a season each week. I think I can do that.

I’m so far three episodes into season one. It’s a lot less relationshippy than the show later becomes, which is of course Grace’s reason for not liking later episodes as much. She’s so funny. The relationships are the reason to stick with any series for more than a few seasons. That’s why The Big Bang Theory has gotten lame: while it still understands that it’s a show about relationshps, the cast has become so ridiculously large that it can’t meaningfully continue the development of the relationships among the original central characters, so it’s lost all kinds of focus, and it’s just not as interesting or as meaningful as it once was.

Another thing I’ve noticed about these first few episodes is that there’s no attempt to explain anything! Stories resolve but with no real explanations. That’s not a complaint, but it’s testimony to the show’s longer vision, which is perhaps one reason the fandom is so rabid, and perhaps a reason the payoff at the series conclusion was unsatisfying to some.

I’m stoked about the new season. There’ve been a lot of questions about who will be involved, or what the relationships will look like when it picks up. Those are all interesting, but the thing I really want to know (but I don’t want to know in advance, so don’t tell me if you’ve heard something), is whether or not the Lone Gunmen will be involved. They’re supposed to be dead, but of course it’s more than plausible that they faked their own deaths, either by choice or by force, because they were getting too close to something. Yes. I so want to see them in at least one of the new episodes.

This is Better than Real TV, Isn’t It?

This is Better than Real TV, Isn’t It?

Sep 20

“Our next presenter has two things in common with L.L. Bean. Please welcome L.L. Cool J.” — Andy Samberg on Sunday night’s Emmy awards show.

Nothing significant about that quote except that it made me laugh.

This seems like a good time to write something I’ve wanted to write for kind of a long time. The Late Show with David Letterman went off the air in May, and yes, of course at my age I’ve seen lots of great shows come and go, with the exception of M*A*S*H, the greatest television show of all time, none has left the void in my life that I knew David Letterman’s departure would leave. My real-life friends know, just based on our conversations, that no single television program has meant more to me than The Late Show.

For the longest time, I didn’t know how to talk about why Letterman was so great. I could point to certain characteristics of the show itself, such as the best television band in the world, or I could point to specific memories that left my mind blown by what television entertainment could be, such as the guy on Stupid Human Tricks who snorted milk up his nose and then shot it out of his eye (or, another of my favorites, Can a Guy in a Bear Suit Get a Table at the Russian Tea Room?). But it was Craig Ferguson, while he was settling into his groove on The Late Late Show, who said Johnny Carson kind of defined the late-night talkshow format as we know it, and then David Letterman deconstructed it.

Yes. That’s exactly what he did. Ed Sullivan would follow the Beatles with a dancing bear, and it was all supposed to be entertainment. But Letterman read a letter from an old lady offering to read her poetry on the show, then had the old lady on the show, and then interrupted her just as she began to read her poem. He asked the audience if it would rather listen to this old woman’s poetry or watch a fat guy leap into a hammock filled with raw eggs. The audience voted for the fat guy, the old woman left the stage, and the fat guy leapt into the hammock, cracking eggs and dripping yolks all over the stage. Of course the old lady and the fat man were actors, and the whole thing was just a silly setup so that we could look at something on TV we hadn’t seen before, but honestly: what was the difference between that silly thing and Don Rickles insulting Johnny Carson in one of his countless appearances on The Tonight Show?

I couldn’t stay up late when I was in high school, so I seldom got to see Letterman on the old Late Night until I got to college, when I saw him just about every night. I moved to Hilo to finish my BA at UH-Hilo in the fall of 1993, which is when Letterman moved to CBS with The Late Show, and I’ve pretty much seen him every night since, minus a few years at the beginning of my teaching career. And nobody has made me laugh more in all that time than David Letterman. That by itself is all the reason I need. Recent years have brought Jon Stewart and Jon Oliver on TV and Tony Kornheiser on radio, and they’ve all filled my days with even better laughter, to be honest, but it’s different, the way Letterman has made me laugh.

I’m going to miss him so much.

Stream of Consciousness: Grammys

Stream of Consciousness: Grammys

Feb 09

Performance: The quality of an AC/DC performance hinges on Brian Johnson’s ability to sound semi-close to his records, something he doesn’t always pull off. But he did it this time. Angus seemed a little lackluster, but I’m cutting him slack because he’s like seventy. I was curious about who was on rhythm guitar and it turns out it’s Stevie Young, a nephew of Angus and Malcolm, so that’s cool.

Best new artist: Please, not Iggy and not Sam. Ugh. It’s Sam. HE SUCKS! Man, would I have loved to see Bastille get that, but it’s amazing enough that Bastille was nominated.

Performance: Jessie J with Tom Jones doing “Unchained Melody.” I hate this song. I don’t have issues with the singers. I just hate that song. Fast-forwarding.

Best Pop Solo: It’s a great field. I’d vote for Taylor’s “Shake it Off.” It goes to…Pharrell for “Happy (live).” Ah well.

Performance: Miranda Lambert, “Little Red Wagon” or something like that. She’s hot, but this just isn’t my cup of tea. I’m going to let this play while I get a snack.

Best Pop Vocal: Please, anyone but Sam. Dang it.

Performance: Kanye. Kanye is a songwriting, producing genius, but he really can’t sing or rap. Pretty good performance tonight. I like this. “You’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes.”

Performance: Madonna. OH MY GOODNESS LOOK AT THOSE LEGS. The song isn’t great, and her singing has been better, but this performance is sizzling.

Best rock album: I already know Beck won this because I saw it on Twitter. Not a bad choice. I would rather it had gone to U2.

Best R&B Performance: Well here my prejudices show. I don’t know any of these songs. Beyonce and Jay-Z take it, and I have no meaningful comment.

Performance: Ed Sheeran with Herbie Hancock, ?uestlove, and others. Good performance. And a really good song. These guys really laid it down.

Peformance: Wow, what the heck? ELO doing “Evil Woman.” That’s a curveball I didn’t see coming. And now Ed Sheeran rejoins him and they do “Mr. Blue Sky” together. This is EXCELLENT. Geez, that really was great.

Performance: Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani. This is…well, it’s okay so far.

Performance: Hozier. Ugh. I haaaaaate this song. I’m fast-forwarding. Ah heck. I was fast-forwarding and I saw Annie Lennox. Now I have to go back and watch the whole thing. Eh. It was okay.

Best Country Album: My hormones want Brandy Clark to win this. And…Miranda Lambert. I can live with that.

Performance: Pharrell. Yeah. It’s fine.

Performance: Something about domestic violence, introduced by the President. I’m fast-forwarding over this too. It’s a bit melodramatic for me.

Performance: Katy Perry. Sorry. I like her but I can’t get into this song or this performance. This is this year’s version of last year’s same-sex marriage moment with Macklemore and Queen Latifah. I think there’s a way to pull this off in a sincere, effective way, but the Grammys haven’t found it yet.

Performance: Imagine Dragons. They were one of the buzziest bands after last year’s ceremony. This is fine.

Performance: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. I’ve already heard them perform this together (I think it was on Jon Stewart). Gaga basically holds the song together while Tony does his usual thing.

Performance: Usher. It’s okay.

Performance: Eric Church. Also okay.

Performance: Brandy Clark. This is more like it.

What happened to the awards?

Performance: Kanye, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney. This actually works well. I’m enjoying this.

Performance: Sam Smith with Mary J. Blige. I hate this song. I’m fast-forwarding over it.

Performance: Juanes, “Juntos.” This is kind of cool.

Album of the Year: Please, please, please. Anyone but Sam Smith. Wow, Beck. Totally unexpected.

Performance: Sia. She was a disappointment on SNL. Okay, this is bizarre but it’s really, really cool. I am not a fan of that dancing stuff she keeps employing with this album, but the singing with her face to the wall? Very neat. The stage set is cool too. And what a finish. Wow.

Song of the Year: “Stay with Me.” Bleah.

Dave Grohl reads a thank-you to David Letterman. That’s kind of cool.

Performance: Beck. With no turntables and a microphone. Is that Chris Martin singing with him?

Record of the Year: Please not Sam Smith. Suck! Aw suckity suck suck.

In Memoriam: Andrae Crouch. Pete Seeger. Big Bank Hank. Gerry Goffin. Paco de Lucia. I didn’t know about Paco and Big Bank. Gotta Google those.

Performance: Beyonce. She’s great. But this is just okay. I think the Grammys these past two years have been stricken with a bad case of the Seriousnesses.

Geez. That was a huge waste of time, and the show basically sucked. It had a few good moments, but all in all it was kind of a yawn.

Thirty Minute Catch-Up

Thirty Minute Catch-Up

Oct 21

lost issueI’m giving myself thirty minutes to write as much of the stuff as I’ve been wanting to write as possible. If it’s rife with errors as you read it, it’s because I haven’t had a chance to edit yet. I’m trying to just make as much use of these thirty minutes before bed time as I can.

Sometime in August, Ryan hit me up in GTalk to verify that my friends and I attended the premiere of LOST ten years ago at a then-recurring local event called Sunset on the Beach, where movies are screened right on the beach at Waikiki. It’s where every LOST season premiere also premiered and where every Hawaii Five-0 season premiere has premiered, and it’s one of the best things about living in this city. Yes, I told Ryan. He asked if I’d be interested in being interviewed about the experience for a special commemorative issue of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (our city’s only daily paper now), and I declined, but I did put the writer in touch with one friend who agreed to the interview. Then, a few weeks later, before the special commemorative section was published, the editor of the entertainment section emailed me and asked if I would do a LOST-themed crossword for the section. I was flattered and somewhat daunted, but I said of course I can do that.

My first draft was rejected for not being LOSTy enough. I had tried to hold to certain established practices for themed puzzles in the current crossword market, but what the editor was asking me for was basically to discard one of those practices and go all-out on themed clues, even if it meant slightly less elegant “fill” (that’s crossword constructor jargon for the rest of the puzzle, the non-themed words). So I tried again, and within a day, we had something the editor liked. And on September 21, my first published crossword puzzle made its appearance in the pages of a major local daily. The answers appeared the next day, and a few days later, the Star-Advertiser released the content from behind the paywall, and it’s all here, including my puzzle, if you’re interested in checking it out. I can’t say I’m super proud of the work (it’s kind of obviously, to a practiced eye, the work of a beginner), but I’m proud of my contribution, and it pleases me enormously to have published this work.

Last week, I taught a three-day, eight-hour-a-day training session for the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health division of the state’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. It was a business writing course, and although I’m confident in my teaching ability and my knowledge of the subject, I had never taught anything like an eight-hour, one-subject day, and to do it for three consecutive days with the same group of participants was an insane concept. Of course, I said I could absolutely do it, and the days leading up to the training were insane. I had to put materials together and outline the course for a group of people I had never met. This went against everything I’ve known about good teaching, which is reponsive to the people in the seats, and it stressed me out something fierce. I slept just an hour Sunday night (the training went Monday through Wednesday) and three hours each the next two nights, and I was a mess, but the class went (mostly) quite well. The participants were great, and I feel very strongly that I could do this again, now that I have done it once. My course evaluations pretty much reflect my own feelings: I got high marks for teaching style and ability, but mediocre marks for relevant content. Strangely, I may have made a few friends there, too. We got along quite well.

I was then offered (on very very short notice) a one-day advanced grammar course for another state office, and I said I’d be happy to do it, but then the office requested the person who’d taught their course the last time, so I was let off the hook on that one. Still, I’m looking forward to other opportunities.

amandaA few weekends ago, I was finished with my paid writing and still sipping on my latte, so I flipped idly through the TV season offerings in the iTunes store. Always a dangerous situation, as I’m sure you know. Of course I bought something: Season One of HBO’s Silicon Valley, of which I will write a thoughtful review later. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. It’s funny and crude and fascinating, and as a bonus, the lone female character is one of my new favorites. The actress’s name is Amanda Crew, and she’s got kind of an Anna Kendrick thing going on. Just adorable. Season One is eight episodes, which feels like just the right length, and it’s been renewed for a second season. It’s from Mike Judge (the guy who did Beavis and Butthead AND King of the Hill) and I’ve now watched the season three times through, laughing aloud at least once in almost every episode. There is some really good writing here, and I love the subject matter.

Okay. Half an hour. Perhaps I’ll try again tomorrow night and get to the other stuff I’ve been meaning to get to.