Unrecommended recommendations

Netflix has always had its way of recommending films, based on the films you’ve rated. Up until now, I’ve just seen the end results. But now I see some entries that list their computer’s reasons for recommending these films. Some make a lot of sense – because I liked the Godfather movies and The Wire, they recommend The Sopranos.
But then I see that because I liked Back to the Future, they think I’ll like a 20 disk set of WWE Royal Rumble wrestling. And because we gave a good rating to a Sesame Street “Elmo’s World” disk and two BBC Jeeves & Wooster adaptations, they’ll think we’ll like Crunch: Burn and Firm Pilates.
I’m losing my faith in computers.

Published in: on April 19, 2007 at 11:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Real work-for-hire

Just a quick reminder to my fellow comics publishers and creators that it takes more for a work to be work-for-hire than just the publisher saying it is.

Published in: on April 16, 2007 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

On the Virginia Tech shootings

This goes out to the alumni of Virginia Tech, because you’re the only ones I have any insight for.
My own alma mater, Simon’s Rock, went through a similar albeit smaller (at a smaller school.) And there’s one question you may find yourself struggling with: Why? Not in the details of why this shooter shot on this occasion, but why this school, why my school, why in a place where you think this would never happen?
You’re searching for an answer that isn’t there. It’s not that the space deserved this or generated this. What happened was an unlikely incident anywhere, a rarity, a strangehood. Any place that has a diverse culture (which a school should have, and there are problems if they don’t) takes a risk of being the next place where something like this happens. It’s like a bad lottery ticket… but someone wins the lottery. Your school was not some seething dark cesspool that you didn’t realize; it is just in this world of both tragedy and beauty, the moment brought your school the former.

As a footnote: I see that the media is calling this “the deadliest school attack in U.S. history“. They did the same thing for Columbine. Wasn’t true then, wasn’t true now, but they don’t seem to bother to check the history before making that claim.

Published in: on April 16, 2007 at 2:06 pm  Comments (1)  

"Drivel" would be the obvious header, although that doesn't match quite what I'm going at here

The real trick to fiction is rarely realism. Sometimes its verisimilitude, the feeling of being contextually real. Sometimes it’s giving the viewer enough to allow them to create a willing suspension of disbelief. You can create a series with a wonky concept, and if you let people know well enough that once they buy into that concept, they will be carried along on a ride. It’s like that first crest on a roller-coaster — get over it, and the ride will carry you the rest of the way.
When I first looked at Drive, I questioned whether the kinetic storytelling of a cross-country car race would carry people past the hump of a mysterious cross country car race with drivers involved against their will. Having now watched the first of two episodes which Fox aired last night, I gotta say that my reservations are still intact. Part of the problem is that it’s both a ridiculous situation and a mystery – the public response to Lost has seemingly waxed and waned based on how much we believe that there is a reasonable explanation at the end. By building around such a ridiculous situation, however, Drive keeps me from believing that there is a reasonable situation to be had… and by positing it as a mystery, the show tells us that we’re not allowed to put it behind us and just go for the ride. We’re going to be constantly reminded that this is a show about people racing across the country in four hour chunks, that there are people exercising great power to enable this awkward race, that they have reason to do heinous things to keep uninterested people involved, that there is mysterious information on a flash drive which might dictate the finishing line of the race (despite the fact that knowing that would seem to be of very little advantage). We cannot accept the concept and move on. And even if we were interested in the mystery, we’re faced with the practical dilemma that few of the recent Big Mystery series haev survived long enough to reveal the mystery, suggesting this will be another exercise in frustration. Everything about the plot of this show seem manipulated to involve us in the moment, logic be damned — but without logic, there is no moment.
I’ll probably watch the second episode, already cued up on the ReplayTV. But it will have to have some real surprises, not in terms of story twists but in terms of changing expectations, for me to commit to this show.
(And as a footnote for those who don’t memorize my every review: this is a Tim Minear series, and my track record on non-Whedon Minear shows is poor. I didn’t like Wonderfalls, didn’t like The Insider. If you liked those shows, then this should temper any expectations you have based on my review.)

Published in: on April 16, 2007 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Notes on Notes from the Underbelly

If it is true that comedy is tragedy plus time, then the problem with the new pregnancy-themed sitcom Notes from the Underbelly is that not enough time has passed for me. The disruptive effect that pregnancy and the results of pregnancy hae on one’s life are a mite too fresh.
On the other hand, if that isn’t true, then maybe the problem is that the show is just not that funny. It seems to trace the path of the usual pregnancy cliches, as though the writers had not experienced pregnancy but merely heard about it in standup routines.
Pretty people, smoothly made, but not amusing for me at this point. And I question it is a long-term concept… unless they want to do a very different sort of show, they can’t keep her pregnant forever (and even if they did, they can’t have the couple discovering the effect of pregnancy forever.) So is it supposed to grow into just a standard family sitcom? (This is actually a good artistic argument for intentionally short-run sitcoms, although there are plenty of economic arguments against that.)

Published in: on April 15, 2007 at 10:48 pm  Comments (1)  

On further episodes

  • Watching the second episode of Thank God You’re Here (lesser than the first), I realize the proper descriptor for it. It’s not improv — it’s Mad Libs. The only part of what the guest actor says that the cast integrates into their work at all is the name. I guess this is suppse to be safe, to keep things from going far wrong…. but where’s the fun in that? After a few Mad Libs, you realize you can simply say “booger” for every noun, “fart” for every verb, and “fartilicious” for every adjective. Whoopie. Much more fun would be a show that took the risk of going nowhere. It’s not surprising that the veteran improv folks come off looking particularly bad — they’re used to trying to build something, and you’re not allowed to here. Get a cast of good improvers, throw in an actor without much improv experience, show it live (no editing!), and watch everyone try to follow whatever is thrown at them. That’d be good TV.
  • I’m a week behind in talking about Raines, which means that I didn’t talk about their comic book-oriented episode. The one where the management of the Golden Apple says they’d rather not have customers come into the store. The one where they put thousand-dollar comics in handy mauling/shoplifting range. The one where each panel of a comic is drawn on a separate full-sized art board. The one where a guy who doesn’t care about collecting and investing in comics is somehow an expert in the methods of comics forgery and the identification thereof. The one where Dark Horse Comics wants to publish an unfinished superhero work by an unknown creator. As you might suspect, I cringed throughout this entire episode. The series has not lived up to what they achieved in the first episode… much less what promise it suggested.
  • And the problems with Rainesleaves me reflecting on the ’06-’07 season as a whole. Had you told me that we’d have a season with new shows from Aaron Sorkin, Paul Haggis and Graham Yost, I’d’ve thought we were in for TV at its greatest. Instead, those have all proven disappointing.
  • Having watched the season closer of Friday Night Lights, there was one series that did not disappoint. I’m not as overwhelmed by it as some critics are, but it’s an honest and earnest effort, well-produced, if occasionally caught in the the standard tropes of the sports story milieu. But I also won’t be too disappointed if it isn’t brought back (a little surprised, but not too disappointed); while it certainly could still be used to tell more stories, I think it’s said everything it absolutely needed to say.
  • I’m still groovin’ on Ugly Betty, Lost, and they dang well better bring back How I Met Your Mother. 30 Rock still has A-story problems, but the B-story makes me forgive them. The Office‘s used of stunt directors seem to hae been worthwhile. Most of the other things I might watch on prime-time TV, however, are time fillers and background noise.
Published in: on April 15, 2007 at 3:04 pm  Comments (2)  

Why, even "tool" is insulting!

Time was when licentious men would be put down as rakes. And calling persons of African descent a spade was certainly not meant as a compliment. And the news reminds of just what is meant what modern society thinks of hoes.
Really, what is it with this society’s problem with garden implements?

Published in: on April 13, 2007 at 3:05 pm  Comments (1)  

Perfect news storm

The whole Imus/”nappy-headed hos” thing is magnificently unimportant. A radio show host said something insulting and got fired. The reason for the media coverage is not the importance, it’s that it hit a bunch of categories – it’s a race story, an entertainment story, and a sports story all at the same time!
And I thought I was seeing the truest sign of how overblown the news media is making this when the RSS feed for CNN.com lead with a headline about how Imus was going to talk to the Rutgers basketball team he insulted, which pushed down to the second slot the announcement that an actual state governor, someone of real importance, was critically injured in an auto accident.
And then I opened the governor article.
And saw that he was hurt on his way to the Imus/Rutgers meeting.
It’s the same damned story!

Published in: on April 13, 2007 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  

The legacy problem

The death of “B.C.” creator Johnny Hart has inspired a number of commentators to discuss the problem of so-called “legacy strips”, comic strips that are still running after their creators have died, perpetrated by other hands.
I don’t think these people are overstating the problem. In fact, if they pulled back, they would see that the problem is much larger than that. Most of the newspapers carrying these “legacy strips” are legacy newspapers. That’s right, when you’re reading the Philadelphia Inquirer now, you’re reading an issue that founders John R. Walker and John Norvell had nothign to do with. None of the original writers or columnists are still involved. As such, there’s no creative spark. Of course, there’s some comfort in seeing the same sort of stories I saw in there when I was a child – the president makes an announcement, the government does something, people have been procrastinating on doing their taxes, people died in a fire, and the game last night was either won or lost by the local sports team (the legacy Phillies — the team has literally none of its original members!) But the current newspaperfolk are obviously trapped by the patterns set by the founders, and don’t have the freedom to violate them.
Rather than continue the paper when the founders die, they should close it down, and destroy the presses. That way, there will be room at the newsstand for some brand new paper, bringing something different to the rack, and thus encouraging new customers.

Published in: on April 12, 2007 at 9:29 am  Comments (1)  

Wedding Bells

Finally watched an episode of the already-axed Wedding Bells. It’s a basic David E. Kelley workplace comedy, populated by a mixture of characters in romantic situations and simply insane characters. This time, it’s a And even though it’s just a few episodes in, we already have the outsider coming in to straighten out the place, being wacky and overbearing but kinda right — usually a Kelley series goes on for some seasons before this happens.
It’s slick, it’s smooth, it’s witty but predictable; it’s existence doesn’t pain me, but neither will its absence.
I’m not sure that building a series around weddings is actually a good idea. The people who haven’t gone through the process may not be invested in it, the people who have gone through it may not feel empathetic to the sort of thing that’s presented. I feel much the same doubt about the upcoming pregnancy-oriented sitcom Notes from the Underbelly.

Published in: on April 11, 2007 at 12:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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