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I’m in a TV State of Mind April 25, 2012

Posted by Ted in : 24, Dollhouse, DTV, Fringe, General, Heroes, Inspirational, Lost, Parks and Recreation, Reviews, Ringer, Sci-Fi, Supernatural, Terra Nova, The Office, The River, Touch, Whedonverse , add a comment

Spring is here and the concluding 2011-2012 network TV season has turned out to be one of the better ones in memory. Here’s my take on some of the shows of the previous year:

The River

You may remember my rants about the DTV transition, which caused me to miss the last season of Lost because I couldn’t pick up ABC anymore. That was not a good situation for a TV blogger to be in, but luckily my local ABC affiliate has since boosted their signal enough that I can now pick up their nebulous station.

As a result, I discovered The River, which became my favorite show of the season. It’s sort of a cross between Lost, Blair Witch Project, and the Paranormal Activity movies. Set in the exotic locale of the Amazon jungle, The River really delivers the goods in terms of what makes for quality television: evil spirits, monsters, ghosts, conspiracies, native folklore, and even a demonic possession or two for good measure.

Admittedly, the premise of the show — a group of people on a boat navigating their way through a maze of rivers and fighting off various supernatural entities — seems a little too much like a video game. The River generally seeks to entertain without burdening its viewers with symbolism or deeper meanings. It dispenses with reality almost to the point of campiness at times, but that, for me, is usually more of a reason to watch than to change the channel.

I was surprised to read that this show hasn’t done too well in the ratings, and ABC was rumored to be in talks to sell the show to a cable network. In short, the future of this show’s not looking too good for those of us with only over-the-air channels.

Ringer

Sarah Michelle Gellar’s double reincarnation on her native CW network has been better than I expected. Ringer just finished up its first season with a fan-pleasing ending that tied up most of the loose ends, and provides a clean slate for the start of the next season, assuming there is one. The show’s ratings haven’t been the greatest, but they got a big boost for the season finale, which is encouraging news.

Now that the dual murder plots against the twins have been resolved, we will undoubtedly see more of a direct confrontation between the sisters, Bridget and Siobhan (pronounced “shi-bahn”), in future episodes, perhaps battling it out for the allegiance of their mutual husband, Andrew Martin.

This mystery drama gets to be a lot like a soap opera at times, but have I found myself watching every episode in spite of the obviously female target demographic. The show might have fallen flat with a lesser actress in the starring role, but Gellar’s wit and energy has helped to keep this show interesting.

(Checking my notes, scribbled on a little piece of paper.)

Another thing I like about Ringer is the music. CW’s habit of playing snippets of contemporary pop songs during their shows usually annoys me, but song choices on Ringer avoid the usual melodramatic route in favor of alterno-indie fare that has, on more than one occasion, sent me wandering off to the CW website to find out what the heck I was listening to.

Touch

Another interesting new show, which started mid-season, is the highly ambitious sci-fi-esque drama Touch by Heroes creator Tim Kring. The show follows the story of single father Martin Bohm and his mute, seemingly autistic son, Jake. The actor who plays Martin, a Kiefer something, looks a bit like 24‘s Jack Bauer.

The son, Jake, has a habit of writing down pages of repetitive numbers, which seem to manifest themselves as signposts in the lives of random people, who are brought together in various beneficial and tear-jerking ways. “Aha!” you say. “It’s the old numerology-and-clairvoyance-masquerading-as-physics routine.” Apparently, it is Jake’s heavenly-designated task to make sure that these various characters connect with each other for their mutual benefit, resulting in bucketfuls of sunshine and rainbows and happily-ever-afters.

As with Heroes, there are a lot of things I like about this show, and also some things I don’t like. The most annoying of the latter — I hate to say it — is the eleven-year-old son Jake. Not only does he refuse to talk, he throws a fit whenever he is touched by another person. Also, he likes to wander off by himself and doesn’t respond to anything his father says to him. Dad spends most of the show on a wild goose chase, running after his son yelling “Jake! Jake! Where are you going Jake?” Somebody needs to call Nanny 911, and fast.

Even more nerve-grating are the kid’s pompous monologues that start and end the show, meant to impart deep wisdom to us, the unwashed viewers. It is unclear in these moments whether we are hearing Jake’s thoughts or if he periodically sneaks off with a tape recorder while no one’s looking, as if to say, “Ha, ha, the joke’s on you! You thought I was mute, but it turns out I’m just a brat!”

This is a show in dire need of a villain. My suggestion would be this: since the kid has already assumed the role of villain in my life, why not let him be Officially Evil on the show too? Give him telekinetic powers in addition to his clairvoyant ability, and maybe he could use his knack with numbers to create chaos and confusion instead of Hallmark card moments. Then bring back a few super-powered characters from Heroes to teach the wayward tyke some important life lessons.

The whole Touch experience feels a little bit like Josh Whedon’s Dollhouse, another show that I tried hard to like and stuck with for the duration of its short life. Except with smiley faces instead of brooding post-apocalyptic irony. When I contemplate the future of this show, the cosmic number receiver in my gourde keeps saying 86. That’s not good, unless it refers to the number of episodes that will be aired.

Fringe

Fringe is still hanging in there after four years on FOX, but the ratings this season have hit rock bottom. Still somewhat of a confusing mess with the alternate timelines and what not, it remains one of the better shows on television.

I think I’ve finally put my finger on what’s holding this series back: it relies too much on the stand-alone stories and has become too predictable, too much like a police procedural drama. I would like to see Fringe as a true serial drama with one long never-ending story arc. Then, instead of staying bogged down in the lab, let the setting change on a regular basis and don’t anchor the show to any specific location. I know that’s a lot to ask, but there it is. A new direction for the series might be just what it needs to boost its viewership again.

Terra Nova

I started out making fun of this show, but ended up liking it a lot. Having an army of executive producers turned out to be an effective strategy. The dinosaurs, thankfully, were not the central focus of the series, but more like part of the scenery. The real theme of the show was the power struggle that goes on in a small developing community and the ways people learn to co-operate for their common good. Like so many great network sci-fi shows of the past, it now appears that Terra Nova has been cancelled after one season.

Supernatural

This old standby of the CW network was less interesting without the Cass and Bobby characters this season. Luckily, both have rematerialized in the later episodes in slightly altered forms — Bobby as a ghost, and Cass unable to remember that he’s an angel. I have a feeling this show has yet another slam-bang season finale in store for us.

The Office

I checked out this show’s Facebook page early in the season and found a lot of predictable “This show sucks without Steve Carell” type comments. Personally, I think the quality of the show has stayed pretty high this season, except for a couple of weak episodes like the one where Andy gets a butt tattoo as a gimmick to boost the morale of the sales team. That episode was so bad I went online to find out who wrote it. Turned out that it was Paul Lieberstein, the guy who plays Toby. Hmmm, maybe we shouldn’t be letting the actors write the show? Just a thought.

Otherwise, The Office has stayed entertaining and has not yet devolved into the kind of unbridled childish stupidness that afflicts certain other NBC sitcoms. This is probably due to the continued involvement of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the producers of the original British version of the show.

Parks and Recreation

Another excellent sitcom that NBC has still not found a way to screw up. Leslie Knope has taken leave from the Parks and Rec Board to run for Mayor of Pawnee, and it will be interesting to see what happens now that Mr. Swanson had appointed the icy April as a Knope’s unlikely temporary replacement. Undoubtedly, many enquiries into P&R issues will be met with a cold stare and a distant, apathetic attitude.

Well, that wraps up my review of shows I watched last season. To be honest, I’m kind of glad that summertime is approaching so I can ease up on the television and get out and see the sun and maybe read a couple of books.

There is never a shortage of people in my life to remind me that all this watching of TV is a waste of time. They say that life is short, and should be spent doing things like climbing mountains, attending wine tastings, or memorizing the value of pi to a hundred decimals. What they don’t understand is that television is more than a time-wasting device for me. After putting in almost 50 hours a week at the local convenience store, I need a way to relax. When I get home in the morning after one of my grueling all-night shifts spent ringing up people’s cigarettes and energy drinks, nothing helps relieve the stress better than popping in a videotape of one of my favorite shows.

The TV world, in my opinion, is far superior to the real one. Everything there is interesting and nicely scripted — well, at least in the good shows. The people are quick-witted, sharply dressed, and usually know the right thing to do in every situation. There are no problems that can’t be resolved, no scenarios that are too far-fetched, no laws of physics that can’t be broken. That’s the universe I want to live in.

Recently it occurred to me that I might somehow live to be pretty old. Hopefully by then I won’t be living in Mom’s basement anymore. Not that it bothers me to be living here at age 38. I happened to have been blessed with a cool Mom. Times have been tough and she understands that, plus I’m sure she appreciates the yard work I do in addition to the $150 in rent I pay her every month. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, I was saying that one day I would be old and hobbling around with a cane and I would think back on what I had achieved in my life. Would I regret the fact that I had spent all of my years on the couch in front of the tube and writing a blog about it? Would I think that my life had been wasted? No way, people. This is what I was born for and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

Summer Viewing Report 2010 September 16, 2010

Posted by Ted in : America's Got Talent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, DTV, ER, Friends, General, Hell's Kitchen, Inspirational, Lost, PBS, Reality TV, Reviews, Sci-Fi, Supernatural, The X-Files, Whedonverse , add a comment

The DTV Nightmare Part IV: In spite of the umpteen public service announcements that promised all I had to do was hook up a digital converter box and my TV viewing would not be affected in the slightest by the digital television transition, I discovered after the switch that I was unable to receive my local ABC affiliate — in spite of buying two different antennas for that purpose — and was unable to watch the final season of Lost. Not the biggest surprise of my life. It’s OK, I’ll just pick up Lost on DVD. That show’s definitely worth owning. I’ve already started to accept the fact that this could the beginning of the end of free over-the-air television, thanks to the greedy telecom companies wanting to usurp all the extra bandwidth, and I could eventually be forced to pay for cable or satellite television for the first time in my life. Honestly, the thought of paying a monthly fee for TV makes my stomach turn, but I guess I’ll just cross that bridge when I get to it. I may have to change the name of my blog to Book Wormhole. God knows, I have plenty of books to read.

So maybe the fact that one of the major networks is out of my life for the foreseeable future accounted for the lack of things to watch on TV this summer. Although, that seems unlikely, since Lost is the only show I can remember watching on ABC since The Six Million Dollar Man. I guess part of the problem is I’m finally getting tired of some of the summer reality junk that used to amuse me on occasion. I once again elected to miss the circus of stupidity called Big Brother, and sidestepped the parade of wasted lives know as America’s Got Talent. I chose to opt out of Chef Ramsey’s masochistic cooking school for a second season in a row, maybe I’ll be bored enough to watch him next time Hell’s Kitchen rolls around, and yes, there will be a next time. There’s always a next time for these abusive British types.

Supernatural reruns: This CW show has been pretty amazing for the last couple of seasons in spite of the fact that I never particularly liked the Winchester brothers. Their melodramatic bickering and overwrought machismo are still annoying at times, but the show consistently delivers interesting, well written stories, with witty dialogue reminiscent of Buffy in her heyday (but don’t tell Dean I said that).

supernatural-290

Need To Know: I tuned in to the new PBS public affairs program, needing to know if the show was a worthy replacement for the recently ended Bill Moyers’ Journal. It’s not a bad program, but they seem to take more of an apologist stance on American foreign policy than I would have hoped for. In other words, more of the same warmed over middle-of-the-road opinions you can hear anywhere else. Well, we can look on the bright side. Maybe the talk radio Nazis will quit calling PBS liberal now that Moyers is gone. Of course, they would have to actually watch the network to figure that out, which seems unlikely.

Ghost Story / Circle of Fear: Lucky for me, I have a small stockpile of DVDs of favorite TV shows from the past. These are a real lifesaver at times when there’s nothing on but infomercials or court shows. Receiving top billing here in the crawlspace this summer was an old childhood favorite, which had never been officially released on DVD, but I was enthused to find it for sale as a bootleg. It was a supernatural-themed anthology show (meaning that each episode was a stand-alone story with a different set of characters) called Ghost Story, which was renamed Circle of Fear in its second and final season. The program is very similar in style to Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. This show originally aired in the early 70s, but I discovered through reruns in the 80s. The passing decades have only made it more appealing — the old cars, the clothes, the psychedelic music and directing style all add up to a nostalgia high for this aging potato. Plus, Sebastian Cabot adds a touch of class as a mysterious innkeeper who introduces each episode.

Hangin’ out with my Friends: Other shows in my DVD player recently included the first seasons of X-Files, ER, and Friends. You might not believe this, but I was actually going through an extended “I don’t watch TV” phase back in the 90s when the early seasons of these shows where on. But I fell off the wagon hard in 1996 when I discovered them, along with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Seinfeld. That was the year I became a TV fanatic. I couldn’t believe how much good stuff was on, and so happily rejoined the ranks of the low-brow and unrefined. My renewed friendship with the glowing box has gone on for 14 years now.

So sue me. I’m sure you anti-TV snobs that read that last paragraph will recognize me as a traitor to your cause, and call for an immediate intervention on my behalf. No doubt, you’ll have me sent to a TV watchers’ rehabilitation center somewhere, where my treatment will consist of a rigid daily regimen of life affirming get-em-off-the-couch activities, including skydiving, bungee jumping, horseback riding, cake decorating, metallurgy, tightrope walking, bee keeping, long distance swimming, marble sculpting, barehand tree climbing, helicopter piloting, CPR classes, square dancing, jazzercise, tennis, karate, taekwondo, tai chi, feng shui, and advanced survivalist training. Evening hours will be dedicated to group therapy and the speed reading of great literary classics. Concurrent with these activities, I’m guessing, will be daily deprogramming sessions involving the use of psychoactive medications and the forced viewing of Clockwork Orange-style propaganda videos. At the end of my 60 day stay I will roll my eyes at any suggestion of watching TV, and join the ranks of the sweater-wearing latte sippers at my local trendy bookstore.

Inside the DTV Transition Nightmare, Part 3 December 17, 2008

Posted by Ted in : DTV, General , 3comments

 

oldtv

 

OK, I know I left you all hanging for several months in anticipation of the third exciting installment of my DTV blog series. Rest easy, my two faithful readers, for your patience has finally been rewarded.

After a prolonged period of painstaking and painful alliteration, I have reached the following conclusions about the digital television transition:

If you don’t have a state of the art television and you’re not a cable or satellite subscriber, you may find the DTV transition to be reminiscent of the following situations:

1. The first time you looked in the mirror after your parents forced you to get braces.
2. Getting an unplanned one day crash course in lion taming.
3. Staying awake for two days, then taking a physics exam without a calculator.
4. Running barefoot through hot gravel.
5. Getting the hiccups during a job interview.
3. Washing down your cold french fries with a warm, watery drink.
6. Trying out for the rodeo while intoxicated.
5. That time your prom date found a ride home with somebody else.
7. Having a tooth pulled with three fourths of the normal dose of anesthetic.
9. Getting bailed out of jail by your mother.
8. Having shoes thrown at you during a press conference.

In the previous episode, you may remember, I aquired a digital converter box from my local Radio Shack, and I somewhat naively believed that this would solve all my DTV transition issues. I was able to successfully set up the channels on my converter box, but I found that a couple of the channels would cut out or the picture would freeze. With digital channels, unlike analog, you get all or nothing. If the signal isn’t 100% strong, you get no picture. In a desperate attempt to fix this problem, I bought two new antennas, neither of which improved my reception very well. My only other option will be to put up an outdoor antenna, but I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that won’t be necessary.

Keep in mind that the reason I’m fooling around with antennas is to avoid having a monthly bill from a cable or satellite service. The subscription TV providers are the big winners in this huge scam by our Washington brain trust. February 17, 2009 is the day Dish Network, Direct TV, Charter, Bright House, and all the others hit the jackpot. These guys aren’t getting my money. I’ve never paid for television and never will, unless they figure out a way to outlaw free TV altogether, which will probably be the next step in the never ending downward spiral that is the American way of life. The other big DTV snafu that they don’t tell you about is the fact that you will no longer be able to tape one show on your VCR and watch a different show at the same time. You will either need to buy an extra television, or invest in an expensive Tivo system.

The bottom line is, you will have to pay out the butt for new TVs, cable and satellite services, antennas, and/or digital video recorders, unless you have already done so. It’s almost enough to make me give up TV and start dating again.

Inside the DTV Transition Nightmare, Part 2 July 20, 2008

Posted by Ted in : DTV, General , 2comments

 

Fight the Future!

I’m sure you all know about the Digital TV transition at this point, and you’re probably sick of all the public service announcements about it. “Who cares?”, you think, “I’ve got a nice flat screen with satellite TV service, so I’m good to go.” But there’s one very important reason why you should care about this issue, namely, that it affects me personally. That’s right. Here in the crawlspace I watch exclusively over-the-air programming on my old analog 22″ Panasonic. Don’t laugh. Up until now, it has served me just fine. I never felt the need to get cable. What’s so great about cable anyway? It’s mostly just sports, shopping channels, some violence and T&A on HBO, and lots and lots of reruns. So why pay for that stuff when the best programs are available for free on network television?

Now they’re telling me that after February of 2009 I’ll be staring at nothing but static like that little girl in Poltergeist. This has huge connotations for the future of my TV blog. I try hard not to be paranoid, but it almost seems as if congress is thumbing its nose at me. After all, there’s a lot of big business interests who seem poised to benefit from this process: cable and satellite TV providers, electronics retailers, TV manufacturers, and so forth. “So what?”, you say, “Just get the damn converter box.”

Well, I did, and that’s where the situation got complicated. I went to the DTV Answers website several months ago and dutifully ordered my 40-dollar-off coupon. I received the coupon, which looks like a red credit card, in the mail after a few weeks. I took it to my local Radio Shack and asked if they had any converter boxes. They were out, but the clerk said they would have more in within a couple of days. So I went back three days later and got the converter box. The coupon covered most of the cost. I was feeling upbeat about my prospects. I would get through the DTV transition with my individuality intact; I would defeat the Orwellian designs of the military-industrial complex and continue to receive free television, only now I would also get a clear digital picture. What’s not to like? But as anyone over the age of 4 might have predicted, there was a catch.

(To be continued)

Inside the DTV Transition Nightmare, Part 1 July 9, 2008

Posted by Ted in : DTV, General, Holiday Posts , add a comment

 

It was a dark and stormy Christmas Eve in Washington D.C. The senate had postponed their holiday vacation to deal with a matter that weighted heavy on the heart of the nation. A teary eyed conservative senator stood before the chamber and proclaimed, “On behalf of my fellow Republicans I want to apologize. We hadn’t realized the magnitude of this problem. So many people out there are suffering…..really suffering…..” Unable to continue, he pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed his eyes. But his display of emotion didn’t seem so strange that night. There were few dry eyes on either side of the aisle. The majority leader spoke next. “I’m inspired by what I have seen here tonight. Inspired that we can set aside our partisan differences and do what’s right for the American people. There are many problems facing our country in this troubling age: a shrinking middle class, skyrocketing fuel prices, the loss of high-paying jobs, spiraling healthcare costs, disabled veterans who can’t pay their bills, climate change, the threat of nuclear and biological attacks, and the list goes on. But these problems pale in comparison to the heartbreak that is endured every day by millions of helpless Americans. For too many years they have suffered in the shadows, afraid to speak up, not wanting to burden those of us who enjoy a clear digital picture on our televisions. While we relax in comfort they struggle with their rabbit ear antennas, trying in vain to improve their reception of Everybody Loves Raymond, Scrubs, and other shows we take for granted. Some of them can barely pick up the CW. It’s a national disgrace, I tell you. Tonight we have shown these brave Americans that they haven’t been forgotten this holiday season!” After a 10 minute standing ovation, the cheering senators crowded around the speaker and he proceeded to body-surf out of the chamber. Joyful chants echoed around the capital building: “DTV for all! DTV for all!”

"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...