Television

The Marathon Will Be Televised

While the Six Weeks of Halloween marathon is mostly about watching horror movies, it’s also nice to dip our toes into the realms of television from time to time. I suspect the whole “Golden Age of Television” thing has passed, but there is truly an astounding amount of great television to catch up with. Even for horror nerds, which is a little surprising. Every year, I watch some horror television shows just to switch things up, and this year I’m finally catching up with a few programs that have been on my watchlist for a while now…

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 3.5 – Horror Television

The Haunting of Hill House S1: E1-E4 – I watched the first episode of this back when it came out, and while I was mostly impressed, I never quite followed through to the rest of the episodes. That first episode is a good introduction though. There are a lot of characters in this show, and we move back and forth through time enough that things could get very confusing, but it’s all handled reasonably well. There’s some skillfully crafted horror sequences and a really great button on the end of the episode that sets up the rest of the series well.

The next few episodes are a little less successful. While we got a good introduction, the characters and timelines do get a bit fuzzy at times in the ensuing episodes. Still, there’s great atmosphere and set design; you’re constantly scanning the screen looking for things happening in the background… and often finding things that are worthy of our attention (even if they’re not noticed by the characters in the scene – we notice them, and that produces some tension in and of itself). After a good first episode, though, it does feel a bit like the series suffers from the typical Netflix disease of being a little too long for the story it’s trying to tell. Then again, as we’ll see below, this might all just be really good setup for the rest of the series.

Mike Flanagan is the creator and director of all the episodes, and he’s been doing a lot of unsung work in the horror genre for a while now. I’m glad he’s found something of a patron in Netflix, who has given him a bunch of great opportunities over the past few years.

The Haunting of Hill House S1:E5 “The Bent-Neck Lady” – I wasn’t going to give up on the series or anything, but it was starting to become something of a slog… until I hit this episode. I’ve been deliberately avoiding plot descriptions here, in part because it does get very complication, but also because I don’t want to spoil anything. Still, in this episode, a lot of threads that may have seemed random in earlier episodes start to get pulled together. It turns out that a bunch of the spooky scenes in earlier episodes aren’t just there to provide a convenient scare in the moment, but also build towards a larger revelation and narrative purpose.

The Haunting of Hill House

This is the episode that really hooked me. It being halfway through the series does seem to indicate that maybe there are too many episodes, but perhaps other threads will be tightened in a way that justifies the length further. As I reach further in the series it seems less bloated and more like a generous sharing of screentime for all characters. Anyway, this episode was good enough to justify separating it out from the rest of the pack though, so here we are.

The Haunting of Hill House S1:E6 “Two Storms” – And I’m separating this one out too, just in recognition of the technical achievement. The entire episode consists of three long-take shots. This sort of thing can be gimmicky and showy and maybe too much style over substance, but I think this episode warrants the effort and the result really is a compelling episode. It is, of course, not the most pleasant story we’re engaging with here, but it has its spooky moments as well as a few well-placed emotional punches. I’m looking forward to finishing off the remaining episodes.

Ash vs. Evil Dead S1:E1-E4 – In the spirit of perhaps finding something a little lighter and more fun, I fired this series up. It doesn’t quite have the same energy that Raimi brings, but it does an adequate job imitating that style. I generally like the character of Ash, so I think the initial view of the character that we get is a bit of a turnoff, but it gets better as the series goes on. Bruce Campbell is great, as always, though perhaps not quite the amazing physical talent that he was in the early films (not that anyone could expect that, but still).

As an overall narrative, I’m not entirely sold, but really, the story and plot are not what make the Evil Dead universe so much fun, so who cares? I’ve only watched a few episodes, so I’m not sure it can maintain and improve where its at, but I’m optimistic. I’m having fun with it, even if it’s not the most amazingest thing evar.

What We Do in the Shadows S1 and S2 – Speaking of amazing things, this show has really won me over in a big way. Like Ash vs Evil Dead this is a television spinoff of a movie, but one that seems to have really found its feet. The first few episodes of season 1 are a bit repetitive, featuring some of the same bits from the movie. But as the season progresses it slowly but surely starts to assert an identity of its own. By season 2, they’re really firing on all cylinders.

What We Do In The Shadows

A lot of this is due to an incredible core cast of five actors. Every single one is perfect for their respective role and you quickly fall in love with them. This is an overall more comedic treatment than Ash vs Evil Dead but its parody comes from a place of love (whereas a lot of this sort of thing could be mocking its subjects). It’s really just nice to have a show that has some vampires but isn’t an existential slog of angst and ennui or overly gory, dark violence. If it touches on such topics it manages to do so with a comedic bent that really helps. Recommended!

Up next on the horror television docket (once I finish Hill House) will be Dark, a show that I’ve heard great things about (but which will apparently require every ounce of attention available and is, um, probably quite thematically dark.) And then, of course, there’s also The Haunting of Bly Manor, a sorta anthology-like follow up to Hill House by Flanagan and team (apparently being released this weekend). The cup truly runneth over with good horror television shows.

Tasting Notes

Just some quick hits on my media diet of late…

Television

  • Watchmen – I was skeptical; who was really hankering for a sequel to the Watchmen graphic novel? I may be biased because of my general distaste for sequels, but I gave the series a shot, and it’s steadily been chipping away at all my reservations about the show. It hits a lot of “prestige TV” notes and starts off by just dropping you into a world that isn’t quite familiar (even if you’ve read the comic book). A lot of it still feels unnecessary, but it’s actually quite good and getting better as it goes. Will it continue to pick up steam and end strong? I still have doubts, but this show has earned a place on my increasingly crowded watching schedule.
  • The Mandalorian – I’ve already posted my initial thoughts on the first two episodes and am genuinely curious to see where it’s headed. It’s quite good, but it hasn’t achieved greatness yet. Still, tons of potential and it’s hitting the non-prequel, low-ish stakes, and new character notes that most recent Star Wars has been missing. Baby Yoda is indeed great and cute, and so far, the whole “never taking off the mask” thing hasn’t bothered me as much as the show’s critics.
  • The Good Place – If you haven’t seen this, I highly recommend watching through the conclusion of the first season. Spoilers for what follows! One of the things about the show that you kinda have to buy into is that its vision of the afterlife is, well, kinda dumb. One of the great things about the conclusion of the first season was that there was a really good reason why the afterlife was that dumb – it was all a ruse. They manage to keep up the quality in the second season pretty well, but by the third season, it was definitely running out of steam. Now in its fourth and final season, it’s almost completely out of juice. Of course, I still love the show, it’s got a high joke density that lands most of time, and the characters are so likable and endearing that I still want to keep watching, but I’m glad this is the final season. It’s kinda on hiatus now until it finishes up early next year, but I’m kinda interested in the overarching story again because it’s kinda become canon that the system at the heart of the series is flawed and, well, kinda dumb. I have no idea how they’re going to resolve that though…

Movies

  • The Irishman – Martin Scorsese’s latest epic gangster flick is an unwieldy 3.5 hours long, which is probably at least a half hour too long. Look, I get it, De Niro’s character slowly but surely sacrifices everything good in his life for the sake of his mafia friends, who clearly don’t care, and it happens bit by bit over the course of decades, such that he doesn’t even realize it’s happening until it’s far too late. The last hour of the film, once he realizes what he’s done, is devastating and heartbreaking… I dunno, maybe it needs to be that long in order to get to that place, but pacing matters, and while I was never bored or anything, this didn’t quite have the energy that sustains Scorsese’s best efforts. As a result, I don’t see myself revisiting this the way I do with Goodfellas, Casino, Wolf of Wall Street, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, etc… (geeze, this guy’s made a lot of great movies, I could easily list five more that I’d rewatch tonight…) The best mafia movies are able to balance the romantic, attractive side of the life with the darkness and despair that inevitably follows. Goodfellas, in particular, is fantastic at this. The Irishman is more subtle and more calibrated around the darkness and despair, which doesn’t exactly make for a pleasant viewing. Anyway, De Niro and Pacino are great, definitely working at a level far above where they’ve been lately, but the real star is Pesci, who is really fantastic here. Side characters without much time even manage a big impact, like Anna Paquin and Stephen Graham, who are both standouts despite not a ton of time onscreen. Definitely worth a watch and maybe even one of the best of the year; it’s actually grown on me in the last few days, so maybe it will continue to expand its influence in my mind as time goes on…
  • Prospect – Neat little SF thriller set on an alien moon, where a teenaged girl and her father are trying to prospect for naturally occurring gems. Naturally, there are competitors and unfriendlies that complicate matters and turn the whole venture into one of survival. There’s some heavy reliance on tropes in the worldbuilding, but it gets better as it goes. Interestingly, since the environment on the moon isn’t particularly friendly to human life, they spend most of the movie with their space suits and helmets on, something a lot of movies wouldn’t bother with, but which adds a bit of verisimilitude that serves the movie well (and the filmmakers seem to view the limitations of this approach as a benefit, rather than just a challenge to be disposed of). Apparently this will be eligible for the Hugo awards, even though it premiered last year – it will be on my ballot.
  • Dolemite Is My Name – When I was younger, my brother and his friends came home one day with a tape from a video rental place. The movie was The Monkey Hustle, starring one Rudy Ray Moore. For some reason, we became obsessed with this dude and watched a bunch of his other movies, including Dolemite. They aren’t strictly good in any objective sense, but they’ve certainly got an energy about them. So this new film, Dolemite Is My Name, is a love letter to Moore and his particular brand of raunchy comedy. It’s kind of a biopic, but it focuses pretty narrowly on one portion of Moore’s career, so it doesn’t fall prey to all the cliches usually associated with the sub-genre, and it’s a whole boatload of fun. Eddie Murphy is fantastic, certainly the best thing he’s done in, um, decades? Jeeze. Great supporting cast as well, particularly Wesley Snipes. It’s a pretty fantastic example of the “I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen this way, but who cares because this is really fun!” style movie. Well worth checking out.

Books

  • Delta-V by Daniel Suarez – A billionaire hires a bunch of adventurer/explorer types to man his deep space mission to mine an asteroid; hijinks ensue. Pretty solid SF told in Suarez’s breezy style. It scratches the hard SF itch while being pretty entertaining, but it doesn’t really approach the true sense of wonder that marks the best of the genre either. Still, I really enjoyed this, quite a bit more than a lot of recent SF that I’ve read.
  • Zero to One Notes on Start-Ups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters – Peter Thiel is a famous tech entrepreneur who was one of the founders of Paypal. Blake Masters was a Standford grad student who took a class taught by Thiel and eventually came to work with Thiel to publish a book on Thiel’s ideas. This post can’t really do justice to Thiel’s ideas, but he has some interesting thoughts on monopolies, competition, and what he terms “indefinite optimism”. It’s at its best when he’s waxing philosophical on topics like this, though the bits on the nuts and bolts of operating a startup work too (they’re just necessarily more mundane). It’s actually very short, and could probably use a bit more fleshing out, but lots of food for thought here. As a fan of Science Ficiton, I thought Thiel’s framing of the indefinite/definite and pessimism/optimism would make interesting axis for SF – the definite optimism of the golden age yielding to indefinite pessimism of the new wave (maybe not the best description, but the general idea of SF becoming more pessimistic over time is pretty clear), etc… It could be interesting, but it’d be a topic for another post.
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell – By this point, you should already know what you think of Gladwell, and this book most likely won’t change your mind. I tend to enjoy his style and think he’s good at articulating certain things. For its part, this book seems to me to be a warning of the dangers of being hyper-vigilant. Sure, you might catch a Bernie Madoff earlier on and maybe the police can clean up a crime-ridden neighborhood, but applying that same hyper-vigilantism to other, more trustworthy areas can be disastrous. The book meanders a bit and Gladwell’s focus isn’t necessarily on hyper-vigilantism, but that was the most relevant piece for me, and you can see it all over the place (i.e. obvious places like politics, but also social media and smaller scale communities, etc…). Again, if you’re not a Gladwell fan, this won’t change your mind, but if you are, it’s solid stuff.

Music

  • Watchmen: Volume 1 and Volume 2 (Music from the HBO Series) – As I was watching the series, I was thinking that the music was great and a little familiar and look at that, it’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Great stuff, and good background for working…

The Finer Things

  • The Kaedrin Beer Blog is still going, though posting has dropped off quite a bit. Still, we’ve entered barrel-aged stout season and I’m working my way through BCBS variants (best so far is the Reserve Rye) and the more local, independent Free Will Ralphius variants (so far, the Vanilla and Double Barrel-Aged are the best variants, better than most of last year’s for sure).
  • The Annual Egg Nog Tasting this year was of moderate size. Not much to cover that we haven’t covered before, but a couple of newish entries this year, including the semi-local Kreider Farms Eggnog (which was my favorite) and Promised Land (which the majority voted as best).
    The 2019 Egg Nog Tasting

    Wawa always places well too, but I think people are so used to it that they just vote for something new and good whenever it’s available. In terms of worst-in-show, someone brought eggnog flavored creamer, which was… not good.

And that’s all for now folks…

The Mandalorian

Disney+ launched this week with the expected archives of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars goodies, but also some new series, including The Mandalorian. It’s about a bounty hunter, well, hunting bounties. He looks a lot like Boba Fett, but that’s only because Boba Fett wore Mandalorian armor (despite not being a Mandalorian). Still, he’s a strong silent type; think Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy of spaghetti westerns, but in space. So far, there’s only been two episodes, but some assorted thoughts are below (Spoilers ahoy!):

  • I’m enjoying it. It’s not perfect, but there’s lots of potential, and we’re finally getting new Star Wars that isn’t hyper-dependent on what came before. It’s true that we get little references and “I recognize that thing” pretty frequently, but they’re mostly minor fan-service and the series appears to be making good use of the extended universe beyond characters we know.
  • I guess they’ve generally decided that the opening crawl is a numbered-entry thing only going forward, but it’s weird, I feel like this series (or at least the first episode) could have made good use of it. Dropping into the story the way we did is fine, to be sure, but the opening crawl could have maybe better contextualized things.
  • The series basically had me within 5-10 minutes when it did the whole iris door gag, which I’m not going to spoil, but which was eye opening for sure.
  • Funny that in Empire the whole carbon-freezing process was untested and no one was even sure if a human being would survive, but now it’s standard practice for all bounty hunters or something? Darth Vader: great innovator and technology disruptor.
  • Werner Herzog is always welcome and his speech cadence just works in situations like this, but it’s a short scene. Hopefully we’ll get more of him.
  • The first episode drags a bit in the middle and appears to be almost literally a video game when he first gets to the planet and must figure out how to ride a Blerg. I swear I’ve played this sequence a hundred times in a hundred different games. The Blergs don’t exactly look great either, but they’re a small part of the episode.
  • The best part of the episode is the appearance of the IG bounty hunter droid (presumably not IG-88). It’s great to see him in action, and there’s some humorous bits with him attempting to self-destruct. I was kinda hoping that he’d be a recurring character and that he’d always be triggering his self-destruct mechanism at even the faintest obstacle. This clearly won’t happen, but I suspect we’ll see other IG droids.
  • The “reveal” at the end is pretty good. I wasn’t expecting it, but it’s not exactly a surprise either.
  • The second episode is only 33 minutes long, which is interesting. It doesn’t really progress the story much, but it’s still entertaining, and we learn more about baby-Yoda-alien-thing. It also has a very nice Lone Wolf and Cub vibe that works well.
  • Basically, I’m quite entertained. It mostly meets the needs I set out in my Humble Star Wars Wishlist: It’s not a prequel, it’s got completely new characters (though it still relies on the worldbuilding of the movies), and so far, it’s relatively low stakes. As mentioned above, it’s got a lot of potential. I’d love to see some process-dork stuff about bounty hunting, but so far, that’s been a bit sparse. The action is reasonably well done and the acting is good, especially given that our hero has not taken off his mask (and probably won’t).
  • Disney+ is pretty good so far, but right now it’s basically just “The Mandalorian” service, as the other interesting original content doesn’t come until next year and the year after. It’s great to have most of the MCU movies archived, but it’s not like they weren’t widely available before. Ditto Star Wars and Pixar. Some of the older Disney animation stuff is cool, but there’s some inexplicable stuff too, like what they did to The Simpsons (which is abysmally cropped, but also somehow feels stretched?) All in all, I’m not sure if this service is a keeper or not, but for now, it’s decent… I’d probably recommend waiting until the Mandalorian is finished, and binging during the free week or first month or something.

And that covers my initial thoughts. Really interested to see where we go from here…

6WH: Week 3.5 – The Marathon Will Be Televised

During last year’s Six Weeks of Halloween marathon, I watched a record 61 movies. Part of that came at the expense of watching horror related television, despite some good stuff happening there. Since I’ve already been thrown off my pace this year by travel and other happenings, I might as well switch gears a bit and check out some new shows. I haven’t delved particularly deep just yet, but I’ve been watching some stuff that I found interesting, so I figured I’d share some thoughts:

  • Creepshow S1:E1 “Gray Matter/The House of the Head” – Shudder’s new Creepshow series is dropping one episode at a time for… six weeks (culminating on Halloween itself). It looks like each episode will feature two segments (each about 20-25 minutes long). This first episode starts a bit slow but ends strong. The first segment, “Gray Matter”, is based on a Stephen King short story, and it takes place during a big storm. A kid shows up at the local convenience store to pick up a case of cheap beer for his father, who has been drowning his sorrows in alcohol since his wife died. But grief has turned him into something altogether different… Some nice atmosphere and decent creature effects, but ultimately kinda straightforward. Enjoyable, but not going to light the world on fire. The second segment, “The House of the Head”, is altogether more successful and effective. A little girl plays with dolls in her dollhouse, but a mysterious severed doll head shows up, and her dolls start moving on their own.
    The House of the Head

    The head has murderous designs on the quaint family the little girl built up in the house, and she must figure out a way to help them. Now this is the stuff. You never see the dolls move, but the still shots you see are very effective and menacing. The little girl makes some interesting attempts to solve the problem, but because this is Creepshow, they don’t really work out. Not exactly a bummer, but very creepy and entertaining…

  • Creepshow S1:E2 “Bad Wolf Down/The Finger” – A platoon of American soldiers gets trapped behind enemy lines and takes refuge in a local police station. It appears that the Germans in the station have been slaughtered by some sort of wild animal. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, the Americans find a novel way to fight back. It’s silly and fun and pretty much all you could ask for out of this one. “The Finger” is a little less successful, though it has some nice moments and the idea at its core works well enough. A man finds a finger on the ground and brings it home to research where it came from. Then the finger starts to grow, at first another finger, then a whole arm, then a whole little gremlin thing… that likes to watch soap operas and eat popcorn. Ultimately it just sorta peters out, but it comports itself well enough. As per usual, these anthology series are a bit uneven, but each story is short enough to keep interest going. I’m looking forward to watching more of these as the season progresses.
  • The Twilight Zone S1:E1 “Where Is Everybody?” – I’ve obviously seen lots of episodes of the Twilight Zone, but I thought it might be fun to go back and start from the very beginning with this 1959 episode in which a man finds himself in an empty town and slowly grows crazy in the isolation. A neat little tale, not one of the best episodes to be sure, but short and sweet, and pretty indicative of the types of stuff we’ll see in the rest of the series.
  • The Twilight Zone S1:E2 “One for the Angels” – A street salesman (i.e. a pitch man) comes home one day to find that Death is waiting for him, sez he’s scheduled to die that night, gives him time to set his affairs in order. The salesman attempts to appeal, settling on the idea that he’d like to make a really big pitch before he dies, you know, “one for the Angels!” Death agrees, but when the salesman attempts to welch on the deal, Death tells him that he’s going to have to take someone else’s life instead, and chooses a local neighborhood girl. Will the salesman be able to find a way to save the little girl? This is a really nice episode. I don’t normally think of The Twilight Zone as being heartwarming, but this episode strikes the right balance. Great performances here too, which certainly helps sell the experience.
  • The Twilight Zone S1:E3 “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” – A western about a town drunk and former quick draw champion whose past catches up with him, with a little help from the personification of Fate. Another neat little episode with a happy ending, but no less effective because of that.
  • Evil S1:E1 “Pilot” – This new show from the creators of The Good Wife is about an investigator for the Catholic Church looking into reports of possession and miracles, etc… The first episode involves a defendant trying to use insanity/possession as a defense against murder charges. There are some effective little bits here and there, and I like the debunking aspects of the episode, but it also feels like they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. This sort of thing could potentially be worked out over time though, so maybe this will end up scratching that X-Files monster-of-the-week itch. It’s an easygoing show akin to your typical CBS procedural, but with a more supernatural flair. Some bits are perhaps too on the nose, but it’s a decent enough start. I’ll probably watch more of this.

I’m definitely planning to dive deeper into The Haunting of Hill House this year, and may check out some other series if time permits…

Tasting Notes

I used to do this thing where I’d do a series of quick hits on my media diet, but damn, it looks like I haven’t done this in about five years? Let’s rectify that situation:

Television:

  • The Good Place – I wasn’t expecting much, but then I burned through the entire first season in just a couple of days. It’s a fantastic season of television, very funny, great stakes, well paced (both in terms of individual episodes, but also in the way the series expands on its own world throughout the course of the season). There are some big twists that you might pick up on early in the season, but in general, the season works well as a whole. I’m somewhat wary of the forthcoming second season, but the writers managed to be pretty clever throughout the first season, so there’s a hope that the second season will work. But they’ll need to do something almost completely different with the premise this time around (otherwise, it could get very repetitive), which is a challenge.
  • Patriot – What a fucking bizarre show. It’s clearly aping the prestige TV tropes out the yin yang (i.e.

    Breaking Bad-esque cold opens, anti-heroes, etc…) and I can’t exactly say it’s planting any of its own flags, but I actually kinda liked it? I find it hard to recommend and when I break it down, it’s not super original and many of the characteristics of the show are things I don’t normally care for, but somehow it tweaked me just right. At least until the very end, which is an anticlimax (albeit one you can kinda see coming). It’s about a spy who goes undercover at a piping firm in order to travel to Europe and do some sort of deal to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Things immediately go wrong, and pretty much the whole series is an ever-telescoping series of crises built on top of crises. It has this ridiculous sense of deadpan dark humor (I think? Nothing about this show makes perfect sense to me…) that I don’t think I have any reference point for… It’s almost worth watching so that you can get to the Rock/Paper/Scissors game scene towards the end of the series, which is utterly brilliant. Again, a hard one to recommend though. It might be worth watching the first episode (it’s an Amazon Prime original though, so I think you can only see it there). If you’re on board with the ridiculous things that happen there, this series might be for you. I honestly still don’t know what to think about it, which probably means I think its good?

Movies:

  • Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic is indeed a spectacle to behold, one of the best photographed movies of the year and definite nominee for Most Visually Stunning in the Kaedrin Movie Awards. Not a ton of dialog and minimal plot, and yet it’s propulsively paced and at times harrowing. It’s not your traditional crowd-pleaser, but nods in that direction far enough to keep interest up. I hope it continues to do well. It will likely make my top 10 of the year, though perhaps towards the bottom of that list…
  • The Big Sick – Delightful romantic comedy based on the true story of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who wrote the script), and you can see that heart up there on the screen. It deals a lot with family and culture clash in a sophisticated way, but it never drags at all, and is generally able to leaven the drama with comedy. Another film that will likely make my top 10.
  • Baby Driver – Edgar Wright’s latest is fantastic entertainment, a sort of hybrid musical that substitutes car chases for dance numbers. This works spectacularly for the first two thirds, but there’s some serious third act problems with the story (lots of inexplicable decisions and character turns), even though the execution of what’s there is still very enjoyable. Hitchcock’s refrigerator comes to mind here – it works ok when your watching it, but does not hold up to scrutiny. Not a shoe-in for the top 10, but will definitely be a candidate and it will certainly garner a Kaedrin Movie Award or two. Still recommended!

Books:

  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland – I’m about two thirds of the way through this book, which features witches, a quantum mechanical explanation for magic, and lots of time travel. And bureaucracy. I’m pretty much loving it so far, but as a long-time Stephenson fanatic, I think you could probably have guessed that, right? Really curious to see how it will play out (seems like a solid candidate for a Hugo nomination for me). More thoughts forthcoming in a full review…
  • Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin – Non-fiction story of gravitational waves and the LIGO project – an arduous, fifty-year endeavor to measure gravitation waves from events like two black holes colliding… So far seems to be pretty excessively focused on the personalities involved and the hoops they had to jump through to get funded, etc… Interesting stuff, but not necessarily the most immersive story.
  • Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth – Trashy little thriller about a security consultant/spy who can read people’s minds. This is from the guy who wrote about the President’s Vampire, so we’re not looking for anything groundbreaking or anything, but it’s a fairly fun little story. I basically got this (and its sequel, which I didn’t like as much, but was basically more of the same) so that I could get a new President’s Vampire story (which I actually haven’t read yet and at this point, will probably save for the Six Weeks of Halloween), but these were an enjoyable enough diversion, if a bit formulaic and disposable…

Gaming:

  • Friday the 13th: The Game – This is an online multiplayer game (not my usual thing) that is set in the Friday the 13th universe (emphatically my thing). The technical term for this type of game is “asymmetrical multiplayer” because while most of the players are camp counselors running for their life, one randomly selected player gets to be Jason, whose job is to hunt down and kill all the other players. It’s a lot of fun, even though I suck and the game and am not really willing to put the time into it to get good at it (the last time I played as Jason, I only killed one counselor and spent a couple minutes chasing one person around a table).

    Worth checking out if this seems like your jam.

  • Dominion – This is a deck-building card game that I stumbled onto because some folks at work started playing at lunch. I don’t always get to play there, but once I got into it, it’s a really deep and fun game to play. There’s an online version (linked above) that works well enough, though it could use some updates (it’s relatively new though, and they’re still making improvements). I still really enjoy the meatspace version, and it helps that my friends have basically all of the expansion packs (which add a lot of flavor).

The Finer Things:

  • As always, I’m drinking a lot of beer and as you probably know, I have a whole blog where I keep track of this sort of thing. Recent highlights have all been IPAs, actually, like Tree House Julius and Burley Oak 100
  • Since it always takes me, like, 2 years to get through a bottle of whisk(e)y, I was intrigued by the concept of an Infinity Bottle (aka Solera bottle), which is basically when you take a bunch of nearly finished bottles and blend them all together into one super-whiskey. I started a bourbon based bottle recently, mostly Four Roses based, but with some Stagg Jr. and Bookers. Biggest problem right now is that the proof is excessively high (approximately 122) at this point. I need to find some low proof stuff with some age on it (am I crazy, or is this a job for an orphan barrel bourbon?) Still, it’s a fun little project and it should get more and more interesting over time (as more and more whiskeys join the blend).

Phew, that’s all for now. I will be on vacation next week, so posting is dubious, though you never know!

6WH: Week 4.5 – 80s Halloween TV Episodes

One of the dorky things I’ve been doing lately to ring in the season around my favorite holidays is to check out holiday-themed episodes of various TV shows. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to check out the Halloween episodes for a bunch of 80s shows. It turns out that I’m not the first dope to have this idea, but since I’ve already watched the shows, I figured I’d give my readers the skinny on a few of these shows (and there’s not total overlap, so there is that). It being the 80s, there are lots of recurring motifs and tropes that seem to have disappeared. Notably, many of these shows seem to feature a rational protagonist refusing to believe the seemingly supernatural happenings of the day and being vindicated right before having their legs cut out from under them by a piece of unexplained evidence. Most of the episodes follow this formula, and the ones that don’t tend to fall a bit flat. Anywho, enough preamble, let’s hop to it:

  • Quantum Leap – S3E5 – “The Boogieman – October 31, 1964” – First and foremost, the opening of quantum leap, where a disembodied female voice explains Dr. Sam Beckett’s predicament, is surprisingly effective and really generates empathy. I probably haven’t seen an episode of Quantum Leap in 25 years, but I was immediately back in the swing of things. It helps that this is probably the best of the Halloween episodes (though another one stuck out in my mind for reasons that will be discussed below). So Sam leaps into Joshua Rey, a horror novelist referred to as a second-rate H.P. Lovecraft (so… Brian Lumly? Zing!). He is, of course, dressed in a ridiculous getup and his house seems abnormally… Gothic.

    Sam Beckett as a second-rate HP Lovecraft

    It turns out that it’s Halloween and he’s working on Church’s haunted house and of course this is going to be the best one ever, right neighborhood boy? Right! Naturally, really bizarre things start happening and bodies are dropping like flies and a suspicious goat starts showing up and there’s a Black Mamba snake for some reason and Al and Ziggy are acting all funny and is the devil really the culprit here and oh look, all work and no play make Joshua a dull boy. This one has great Halloween atmosphere and thus makes for a good episode, and there’s enough tricksy stuff going on that you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen. Plus, we’re treated to two stingers, one about an unexplainable supernatural event, and the other a sorta cameo, both pretty good. I’m pleasantly surprised by how well Quantum Leap is holding up here. Not exactly “Golden Age of TV” stuff, but really fun and still emminently watchable. I’m told this fans consider this episode ccccurrrsed, as countless VCRs were destroyed in attempting to record or playback this episode. The author of that article mentions she had trouble with Hulu as well, but come on, it’s Hulu. Anyway, I had no troubles, and it’s worth watching.

  • Quantum Leap – S5E15 – “Blood Moon – March 10, 1975” – So this episode is one of the reasons I actually wanted to go through this whole rigamarole and watch these 80s shows. I have a very distinct memory of the stinger in this episode where the rational protagonist is suddenly confronted with something unexplainable. For some reason, I had attributed this in my head to MacGyver (more on him below), but it turns out that this Quantum Leap episode was what I was thinking of… Sam leaps into Nigel Corrington, who lives in an English castle and sleeps in a coffin and is thus, obviously, a vampire (Al is convinced, Sam is of course not). Indeed, it appears to be the night of The Blood Moon, a night that commemorates one of the earliest vampires, and Nigel is entertaining two visitors intent on observing the vampiric tradition of murdering Nigel’s freshly minted, commoner wife. Nice gothic atmosphere and an entertaining tale, also worth checking out. And that stinger is great fun!
  • Quantum Leap – S4E16 – “Ghost Ship – August 13, 1956” – Alright, so this one apparently isn’t an actual Halloween episode, but come on, Sam flies into the Bermuda Triangle in this one, and is there anything more 80s spooky than that? Of course the instruments go all haywire and Al has trouble maintaining contact with Ziggy (and, for that matter, Sam) and of course one of the passengers on the plan has her appendix burst, so it’s vitally urgent that they find their way to nearby Bermuda (and it’s hospital) rather than turning around and making the long trip back to the mainland. Again, nothing particularly Haloweeny about the episode, but it’s got the main formula in place, with plenty of spooky things happening and, of course, a neat little stinger that seemingly confirms the Burmuda Triangle’s bona fides. Another fun episode that is totally worth checking out.
  • MacGyver – S4E1 – The Secret of Parker House – This doesn’t explicitly take place on Halloween or anything, but it concerns a haunted house (and was aired on Halloween), so that seems like enough. So Mac is inexplicably friends with the rather daffy Penny Parker (played by Teri Hatcher), who has just inherited her aunt’s old mansion. It is, of course, rumored to be haunted. Some mysterious happenings, a convenient lightning strike, and a strange facial reconstruction later, and we find that it’s not quite haunted. It turns out that the house was built in prohibition days and had a hidden distillery, and a simpleton groundskeeper was hiding in there (and thus causing some mischief). It’s a decent little episode, and of course it turns out to be completely rational. Or does it! This doesn’t hold up as well as the Quantum Leap episodes, but it was a decent enough watch.
  • MacGyver – S5E6 – Halloween Knights – So this one actually does take place on Halloween and even features a costume party, but otherwise does not take on anything even remotely spooky. It turns out that one of MacGyver’s arch-nemesi, one Murdoc, wants to enlist MacGyver’s help in taking down his SPECTRE-like organization of killers (there’s a funny and goofy name for this that isn’t really worth looking up). Again, there’s a costume party and Mac gets dressed up in not one, but two costumes (including a Jester costume, which is fun), but the episode is frankly absurd. There’s this ridiculous obstacle course with motion detecting guns and of course Mac defeates this using SCIENCE, but whatever. The episode just kinda ends, no stinger, nothing spooky at all. Maybe a good MacGyver episode, but not a great Halloween episode…
  • Cheers – S3E4 – “Fairy Tales Can Come True” – It’s Halloween at Cheers, and the no-name regulars are giving Cliff a hard time because they never see him making the moves on women. But when he’s in costume as Ponce De Leon, he doesn’t seem to be as tongue tied or nervous as when he’s himself, and thus meets the woman of his dreams. Or something, as I don’t think she shows up again, but this is a nice enough episode, worth it for the costumes (but then, not really spooky either).
  • Cheers – S4E5 – “Diane’s Nightmare” – Diane dreams that “Andy Andy” has escaped from a mental institution and is coming to kill her (is he a guy from a previous episode? I don’t remember that, but it’s easy enough to follow.) Then she wakes up, and has to face “Andy Andy” again. It’s a neat little episode, not quite spooky but certainly on the spectrum and enough to make it a nice Halloween experience. These sitcom episodes don’t really follow the formula, but this one has a funny stinger at the end (albeit, not a supernatural one).
  • Cheers – S5E5 – “House of Horrors with Formal Dining and Used “ – Carla finds a great house in her price range. The only catch is that it’s built on top of a 17th century prison graveyard and the dead prisoners have vowed on their revenge. Being ever superstitious, Carla decides that if she can spend the night there without incident, all will be well, and Cliff helps out. A funny take on the tired premise, it works well enough for sure. No real reference to Halloween, but enough hints of murderous ghosts that it seems worthwhile.
  • Cheers – S10E7 – “Bar Wars V: The Final Judgement” – Another in a long line of prank episodes between the folks at Cheers and rival, Gary’s Olde Towne Tavern. This one involve’s Gary’s death and Sam’s refusal to believe it isn’t a prank, which it isn’t. Or is it? All the prank episodes are fun, and while this one takes place on Halloween, it only involves a couple of seasonal-related gags (albeit, pretty good ones). Good times, as usual with Cheers…

So there you have it. If you’re looking for some 80s Halloween chills, check out those Quantum Leap episodes (and there are a couple of others that I didn’t get to as well), as they hold up pretty well. MacGyver was less successful (though I didn’t watch the “Mac Wrastles Fucking Bigfoot” episode, so keep that in mind). Cheers is fun, but not particularly Halloweeny… I’m told there are lots of other 80s shows with great Halloween episodes, but I wasn’t able to get to them (maybe next year… if Netflix still has them)… Anywho, stay tuned for, well, I’m not sure what’s up for this weekend. Either old-school slashers or new school Blumhouse stuff… come back on Sunday to find out!

Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections on Game of Thrones

The fifth season of Game of Thrones just ended and it’s been a doozy, so I figured it was time to peel off some disgruntled, freakish reflections on the show. In typical Kaedrin fashion, I’ve waited 5 seasons to do so, though I did once comment on the Red Wedding as it related to Joss Whedon. Major Spoilers for the entire show up until this point!

  • I enjoy the show a great deal, as evidenced by the fact that it is one of two shows that I actually watch live (the other? Silicon Valley, the show after GoT and coincidentally my favorite active comedy), a distinction that might be more due to its timeslot than anything else, but still. On the other hand, I’ve never really considered it more than a really violent, fun soap opera. Sure, you can read into it if you want, and the epic scope of the story is indeed impressive, but it feels a little on the bloated side, and I don’t know that I’d ever really want to rewatch the show. Indeed, it took me a while to get into the show for that reason. It’s a show that I watch to see what will happen next, not a show I generally obsess over. Nothing wrong with that, and the series ain’t over yet, so maybe I’ll change my tune on that in the future.
  • The first half of this season felt like setup and filler, but once things started happening, they came on fast and furious, and hot damn, the last three or four episodes were quite engaging. Cersei’s short-sighted and petty attempt to get back at Margaery finally turns back on her, as everyone expected (doesn’t make it any less satisfying when it happens!) Daenerys meets Tyrion! The Dorne thread doesn’t entirely work, but it ends with a bang. And then there were the really big things.
  • The battle of Hardhome was fantastic and signals a shift from petty politicking to existential struggle. The TV series is called Game of Thrones, but it’s worth noting that the book series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. The icy White walkers have been hinted at all throughout the series, but this appears to be the start of their campaign proper. Much is made in this episode about the ability of Dragonglass to kill them, and then we find out that John Snow’s valyrian steel sword can also do the trick. Note that valyrian steel is also referred to as Dragonsteel, and who do we know that has access to firey Dragons? Yeah, I’d say the endgame of the series is coming into focus, which is interesting because as I mentioned earlier, it really did seem like more of a neverending soap opera than a complete narrative. This isn’t to say that the series (book or TV) doesn’t have their work cut out for them, as this will still be exceedingly difficult to pull off. The themes of the series so far just don’t fit with Dany riding to the rescue on her dragons and then triumphantly taking the throne. Honor and righteousness is punished in this world, and though Dany has snuck by with her dignity, I don’t think unambiguous triumph is in the cards. On the other hand, I don’t know that anyone would be particularly satisfied by a cynical, nihilistic, and tragic ending either. There’s a fine line to walk here. Fortunately, it seems possible that this could actually work, which is a good thing.
  • Stannis has always been a turd, and attempts to soften his image earlier this season really telegraphed some of his (horrendous) actions later in the series, and when he finally burns his daughter at the stake (in a scene that genuinely had me asking why I watch this show – seriously one of the two most brutal moments in the series, particularly because they linger on it for so long). This resolution has me wondering what the whole point of the Stannis storyline actually was. Did we really need Stannis at all? I mean, I like Davos and I guess Melisandre could do some interesting things now, but otherwise, Stannis really is the Pierce of this show (perhaps one of many, but still). Tick this in the GoT is just a soap opera column.
  • On the occasion of the Red Wedding, I had opined that “while the Red Wedding is the end of characters we like, it’s also the beginning of a villain we’re going to love to hate!” and in large part, one of the things that keeps people watching this show is that we want to see our villains get their comeuppance. But it’s worth noting that this comeuppance is rarely as satisfying as we might think. Sometimes it’s great, as in Joffrey’s death. But it is often undercut in one way or another. Take Arya’s final revenge on Meryn Trant in the finale. It was fantastic! Then Arya goes back to the house of black and white, gets scolded, and finds herself going blind. While the show’s initial conceit was that honor and righeousness was a flaw that would get you killed, it seems that vengeance is also not all it’s cracked up to be, which is an interesting turn for the series, and we’ve seen a fair amount of that in this season…
  • The finale was a bit odd in that so much happened, and so quickly, that much of it felt unresolved and unsatisfying. But then, that’s kinda the point of a finale. Still, there were a lot of deaths, only some of which felt earned, and some of which might not actually be deaths? I mean, what happened to Sansa and Theon? Was that suicide, or were they jumping into a soft snowdrift or something? And whenever someone dies offscreen, it’s hard to not succumb to pointless conspiracy mongering (did Stannis actually die?) And so on. John seems like the most substantial death, though I can’t say as though I hadn’t been expecting it. I mean, that whole Ollie character seemed to be telegraphic it, and the fact that John actually came into his own as an honorable leader means that his time was coming to an end. I can’t say as though John was my favorite character though, and indeed, much of his misadventures north of the wall seemed kinda lame to me, though it was starting to turn around this season. Rumors abound that Melisandre might resurrect him, which feels kinda lame, but might come off ok if done well. Still, next season seems like a bit of a corker. As I understand it, we’re now caught up with and even eclipsing the books at this point, though it does seem like the next installment might be out in early 2016.
  • Speaking of the books, at the urging of a friend, I’ve taken to listening to the audiobooks of the series, so I may have more to say about that as I listen to them. My initial thought is that watching the TV show was actually good prep for the books, as the amount of detail and obscure characters packed into even the first few hours of the book would have been overwhelming or simply lost in the shuffle. But knowing who the Tyrells or Boltons are, right from the start, gives you a bit of a leg up on the books. As I mentioned earlier, I have no real desire to rewatch the series, and listing to the books makes me wonder if that’s actually true because I’m enjoying them well enough. They are super long, but because of my familiarity with the general thrust of the story, it helps.

That’s all for now. Will probably have more to say once I finish the first book…

More TV Shows I Should Probably Catch Up With

About a year ago, I posted a list of television shows I wanted to catch up with. I’ve actually made it most of the way through that list, with a few stragglers that will also appear below. People keep calling the turn of the century period when television got good the “Golden Age” of television, and while I’ve seen a bunch of that stuff (Sopranos, The Wire, etc…) some stuff I just haven’t taken the time to watch. Catching up with TV shows like this is probably a big part of why I didn’t watch as many movies last year, and I don’t see that changing much. The quality of television has risen so dramatically, and technology for consumption has gotten so much better that watching TV is actually a fair amount of fun. This is, of course, not a revolutionary notion, but I’m catching up here, so cut me some slack.

I’m enjoying several series currently on TV (notably True Detective, Archer, Game of Thrones, and a few others), but there are still a lot of shows I could be catching up on, whether they be Golden Age staples or just obscure weird stuff, like my first pick:

  • Clone High – After enjoying The Lego Movie so much, I decided to take a look back at what else Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had done, and this one popped up. I vaguely remember when it aired on MTV a while back, though it was originally produced and aired in Canada before coming to the US. I know the Extra Hot Great folks are big fans of the show too, and I’ve always wanted to check it out. Alas, streaming options are nil, so I’ll have to take a flier on the DVD.
  • Look Around You – Short spoofs of 80s educational science movies from Britain? It sounds rather strange, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s hilarious. Another recommendation from our friends at the Extra Hot Great podcast from Previously.tv, this was a canon entry from Dave a few weeks ago. Thanks Dave. Thave. Once again, streaming options are limited. That sucks.
  • Louie – This is Louis C.K.’s show where he plays a presumably fictionalized version of himself. I’ve seen a couple episodes, and they’re pretty good, though this does get a lot of hyperbolic praise, so I’ll probably give it a more serious look at some point. And wonder of wonders, it’s on Netflix streaming, so it’s easy.
  • Psych – One of those seemingly light and fluffy USA series that a friend actually really loves. I’ve seen a few episodes, and they really are a lot of fun, so I’ll probably make my way through the series, and it’s nice to have a procedural detective show that doesn’t depress the hell out of me. Also on Netflix streaming.
  • Veronica Mars – I know almost nothing about this series except that Kristen Bell is the title character, and that she does detective stuff with her dad, or something like that. I figure I should probably check out the show before that Kickstarter movie comes out, and it just got added to Amazon Prime streaming, so that’s nice.
  • The Shield – One of those shows frequently cited amongst all the talk of Television’s Golden Age, along with the likes of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and the like (it seems to be the first basic cable show to challenge HBO). All I know about it is that it’s about a dirty cop played by Michael Chiklis – one of them anti-hero shows. It’s also on Amazon Prime streaming, so I should probably hop to it.
  • Oz – HBO’s prison drama was kinda the first foray into that Golden Age of television thing, so I figure it’s the sort of thing I should probably nail down. It’s on HBO Go, but Comcast won’t let me watch that anywhere but my computer or tablet, so options are limited here.
  • Mad Men – A holdover from the last list that I’ve just never pulled the trigger on. It’s another highly praised show that I’m sure I could get into, but again, that trigger won’t pull itself.
  • Doctor Who – Another holdover, and I’m sad to say that I’ve made minimal progress on the show. That being said, I expect to make a concerted effort this year.

Phew, looks like I have my work cut out for me. Someday, I’d like to read Alan Sepinwall’s book The Revolution Was Televised, which covers 12 shows: The Sopranos, Oz, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Fortunately, I’ve got about 2/3 of them reasonably well covered (need to finish off a few seasons here or there) and several on the list above, so if I make good progress, I might be able to read the book this year without having to spoil the shows. Score. Or maybe not. That’s a lot of television to be watching!

Three Canceled, Obscure TV Comedies You Should Watch

I know, when did Kaedrin become Buzzfeed, right? But for reals, one of the reasons I’m so behind on 2013 movies is that I’ve spent a portion of the year slowly making my way through this “Golden Age of Television” everyone keeps talking about. There’s certainly a lot to get through and I suppose I could do a list of the best TV shows I’ve watched or something, but do you really need someone else haranguing you to watch Breaking Bad? Nope!1 So here are three television comedies that are moderately to deeply obscure. And canceled. But that just makes them manageable to watch, and all three went out on the top of their game (insert lament for latter season Simpsons here). So here goes:

  • Better Off Ted – Single father Ted attempts to balance his ethics with his job as head of research at a soulless conglomerate. So two things to note here. This show is: 1. Funnier than it sounds and 2. Probably shouldn’t have been released right after the financial crisis in 20082. Like a surprising number of sitcoms, the titular character, who is ostensibly our protagonist, is also the most boring character. Fortunately, he’s surrounded by absolute gold, especially Portia de Rossi as the fearsome executive and the tag team of Malcolm Barrett and Jonathan Slavin as a pair of research scientists. Brilliant and funny performances all around. It’s two relatively short seasons, but it’s mostly gold. Also: this is the only show in this post available on Netflix Instant, and it’s well worth your time.
  • Happy Endings – There’s not a whole lot to describe here – it’s a hangout sitcom that revolves around a group of 6 friends. They hang out a lot and get into wacky hijinks. I was not really aware of this show until I heard about it from a canon submission on the Extra Hot Great podcast3 and those Previously.tv folks noted that VH1 secured rights to syndication and would be doing a marathon on New Years Day. I would say that my DVR is still full of episodes, but I’ve watched an embarrassing number over the past week or so. The cast is fantastic, with special notice going to Elisha Cuthbert, who shows a previously unseen comedic talent here4, Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. as the poster children for married couples on sitcoms, and everyone else is a great too. The jokes (which are actually very funny, which I shouldn’t need to say, but given the way a lot of sitcoms are these days, actually does need to be said) come at a steady pace, the show rarely bogs down into “special moments” the way some sitcoms try to, and it’s got a perfect balance of elastic reality going for it. Ridiculous things happen from time to time, but the show remains grounded and even pokes fun at itself from time to time (reiterate lament for latter season Simpsons here). It’s not on Netflix streaming, but you can purchase it from the usual suspects (and it’s being aired on VH1, if you want to DVR it and watch slowly, but as someone who mainlined episodes this past week, I will say that it certainly holds up to such a viewing experience).
  • Lucy: The Daughter of the Devil – This is one of those Adult Swim 15 minute timeslot jobbies, so the one season of 11 episodes would probably only take you a couple of hours to watch, tops. It’s the totally sacrilegious story of Lucy, the 21 year old Antichrist and daughter of the Devil. She works at the Devil’s restaurant chain (one of Satan’s many hilarious attempts to bring about the apocalypse). DJ Jesus shows up from time to time, as well as a couple priests and a nun who are trying to destroy the Antichrist, but are constantly sidetracked. H. Jon Benjamin plays the Devil, and he’s a hilarious character. He wears Cosby sweaters and devises the most obtuse ways to bring about the end of the world, which he then manages to sabotage himself because he’s the Devil and not terribly good at this whole thing. This is one of those shows that I should be offended by, but something about it just tickles me silly. Unfortunately viewing options are somewhat limited. I believe it’s on iTunes, but not Netflix or Amazon.

So there you have it. Happy watching.

1 – For the record, I did end up loving Breaking Bad, though I will tell you that I found most of the first two seasons to be a slog. It certainly picked up steam after that though, and they tend to be relatively short seasons (the first season is only 6 or 7 episodes, I believe).

2 – Talk about your bad luck in timing, though it’s nothing compared to Buffalo Soldiers!

3 – Incidentally, I also heard about Better Off Ted from EHG (back before the previously.tv days). They’re good people, and if you like TV, this is a podcast worth checking out. I have to admit that part of my newfound respect for television is thanks to their podcast…

4 – Unless you consider her season 2 performance as Kim “Cougar Bait” Bouer on 24 as comedic, which it totally is, though perhaps unintentionally.