The Newsroom : First Thoughts

I’ve been pretty excited to see this new show for a while now. Having just seen it I wanted to put a couple of thoughts down before I forgot them. I think I did the same for Studio 60. I will have to go back and see how accurate those thoughts were ūüôā

Anyway. The theme of this show is seriously compelling. If you’ve ever read my blog you would know that for about 10 years now almost everything I’ve ever complained about was based on one central premise and that’s that the news media has failed us entirely. My belief is that if we were an informed public we wouldn’t be so complacent all the time when insane things happen in the world around us. But of course, the news is just entertainment now. It’s a profit center. Just watch the fabulous movie Network, which was made in the 70s! and see that the insane future they predicted has come true.

This show is about a news organization that has decided to say : Fuck the ratings, we’re going to report the news. We’re going to question people and have opinions. Wow wouldn’t that be amazing if it were real huh? I love that about this show. I love that I can at least enjoy a fictional representation of what I long for in America.

But is it good TV? Sorkin has proven only once that he can do successful TV when he made the West Wing. Sportsnight, Studio 60? Both wonderful TV shows, but did they last? Perhaps this show will succeed. I sure hope it does. The cast is fresh and all seem to be interesting and compelling, the writing doesn’t even need to be discussed..

I really like how this episode (and the entire series) is set back in time by 2 years. It’s like we’re in an alternate universe where the media gets it right. Real stories from our past are re imagined. Real names, real people.. I really am looking forward to seeing how this works out.

Overall, I like the show. It doesn’t grab me though. I’m worried about that but it’s too soon to tell so I will reserve judgement. I can say this : I can’t wait to see next weeks episode though

Tv Fall 2011

I’ve seen almost all of the new shows this season and I’ve a couple I think I like that I want to tell you about. But first, I have to say something I seem to say every season.

Why cancel a new show after just one (or two) episodes? Why even make the thing in the first place? It seems like networks don’t want to take the time to let shows build audiences. Cheers, The Simpsons and Seinfeld are three great examples of shows that did very poorly at first but then audiences found them and the rest is history. This season you’ve got “How to be a Gentleman” (something I could see growing into something) canceled after 1 episode, “Free Agents” (a show I really thought was quite good) cancelled after 3, “Playboy Club” (did not see but still, how bad could it have been?) after 1 episode, and I’m sure there are going to be others. Now, of course not all of these shows will be successful, but still, what’s the deal with the quick cancellations?

I don’t know the money part of things but it seems like maybe the networks could have these shows move to online only instead of using up the precious air time. I don’t know.. It just seems really lame to dump shows so fast.

Ok. Well, whatever. Rant over.

Of the new shows left, so far I like Suburgatory, Homeland, American Horror Story and Person of Interest.

Suburgartoy will probably get cancelled because it’s title is impossible to spell and pronounce but so far I’m digging it. It’s cute and funny and has some heart. It’s not ‘must watch’ tv but its fun.

Homeland has only had one episode so far but it was a good one. Clare Danes’ character is awesome and she plays her really well. Mandy Patakin is great so far as well. The thing I wonder about is weather the story will hold up for a season or two. The plot seems to be kind of one dimensional but it could grow. There is some good acting and the fact that its on Showtime tells me that it’s going to have some quality.

American Horror Story is a fun show. Yes, there has been much written about this show already and people are saying how its ultra cliche but I like it anyway. I think that’s kind of its charm. I like the style of it and I like the fearlessness of the content (sex, violence, etc).

Person of Interest at first was something I wasn’t too happy with at first. I didn’t like the whole ‘mysterious’ part of it, especially the Finch character but the second episode really filled things out and made me happy. I kind of feel a little bit like Reese is an Equilizer type character. If you remember that show… I like that its set in NYC and it really shows off the city. It’s clearly shot there and not on some backlot and I love that. Each episode seems to be mostly self contained so they move fast and take shortcuts but I’m ok with it. I really like seeing Reese kicking ass.

Also, I should say that “2 Broke Girls” is a decent sitcom if only so I can watch Kat Dennings. I’m also enjoying Whitney but I think it’s going to get cancelled.

Looking forward to season 3 of Bored to Death on HBO. Last season was really entertaining. Also the first episode of Season 3 of The League was last week and it was hysterical! FX really kicks some ass lately.

Also on my Season Pass list is Survivor (not that great this year but still ok), How I Met Your Mother, Always Sunny, and the always fun Big Bang Theory.

Dr Who : Lets Kill Hitler

Are you kidding me?

This show used to really be quite perfect. The characters made sense and they were properly motivated, the stories were tight and didn’t have many plot holes and it was all very fun and compelling to watch.

The recent episode just showed so clearly why Steven Moffat has ruined all of that. I’m not going to get very deep here but lets just start by talking a bit about the Hitler part of the episode. Ok, fine, we’re going back to kill Hitler. Nevermind that the doctor would never agree to this since it would alter the timeline in some seriously significant ways as any time traveler with even a bit of morality would agree with. Oh and yes, he had a gun pointed at him so maybe he agreed for that reason? The Doctor would have said at least something like “No guns! I hate guns!” and talked the girl out of the gun thing. Whatever..

So they go back and put Hitler in a closet.¬†Never mind¬†that they never let him out and never give him any¬†explanations¬†of why they are there or anything, forever leaving his¬†timeline¬†altered. ¬†This plotline was pointless and used just as a vehicle to hook up the Doctor with these other time travelers who apparently go back and punish people who did bad deeds.. Silly but, ok, I’ll buy it a little bit.

Then River Song, who, I love. She really makes me tear up sometimes. This story line is really important to me but to throw in this whole line about her being that other girl and Rory and Amys best friend who you never heard of? Come on! That’s so lame to just add her like that!

And so she regenerates into River and tries to kill the Doctor who thwarts her every move but the poisoned lipstick. Um. Where did she find that? In Hitlers closet? No, she just had it.. apparently that was part of her regeneration. Come on again!

So the Doctor is later saved by River by her giving all of her tardis regeneration energy away to the Doctor. The jury is out for me here. I don’t know if this is ‘realistic’ or not or even possible but I’m ok with it.

Overall, it was cool from the River Song storyline perspective and that makes me happy but the absolute disregard for reality in the other story lines was pointless and sloppy and offensive.

I really hate Steven Moffat and what he’s done to my series!

The state of TV in America

I love TV. I know that as an ‘intellectual’ I’m supposed to hate it, but I’m also a creative and I love the form immensely. Shows like ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Wire’, ‘The Shield’ are truly wonderful works of serialized fiction. Some game shows like ‘Survivor’ are beautiful visually (have you seen Survivor lately?) and fun to watch from a strategy perspective. But today isn’t about TV reviews. It’s a short musing about what I feel is happening in the TV business.

Networks are clueless (as most big media houses are these days) about how to make their audience happy. First off, they seem to choose shows not based on quality but on thier ability to appeal to the largest audience. That means that most shows are dumb, and easy to follow. I find that most shows I tend to love these days are on networks that seem to care a bit about quality (AMC for example with the now cancelled ‘Rubicon’ and their so far non-cancelled ‘The Killing’, or FX with ‘Archer’ or ‘The League’). That’s problem one and I know that its expensive to put on TV shows and you can’t cater to long tail viewers. I get that.

What I also get but find to be a huge problem is cancellations. It seems to me that more and more, networks cancel shows before they allow them to get into a stride and capture an audience. Its a well known fact that ‘Seinfeld’, considered one of the most successful shows of the 90’s was almost canceled many times in it’s first couple of years until they placed it after ‘Cheers’ and tuned it up a bit. You can read in many places about shows that were cancelled before they should have been (‘Firefly’, ‘My so Called Life’, ‘Sports Night’, etc..).

So when a network has a new show what am I to do? 5-10 years ago I would have watched it and hoped for the best. Now? I tend to wait. In a time where everyone seems to watch on DVR or Netflix, there is almost no need to see a show in its timeslot because nobody is talking about it the next day (like we all used to). What you want to be sure of is that you are able to see all the episodes, in order. So I wait it out a bit and see if a show makes it to its second season before I decide to give it a shot. Then I rent the first season from Netflix (or if they don’t have it I *gasp* download the torrents) and I catch up. It’s much safer to watch tv that way.

Of course if everyone did it the way I did then everything would be cancelled. What’s the answer? I’m not sure but I think part of it is that we have to understand that moving to an on-demand world is a good first step. Maybe loosing the cost of having to maintain a huge broadcast network with affiliates, etc. and moving exclusively to digital distribution across the internet may help?

For music, we are seeing that a band can self produce and distribute and still maintain quality. We’re seeing that start to happen ion publishing as well. I wonder if TV can do the same thing? I know it’s way more expensive to make a TV show than a song so I fear that maybe we will loose out on production values if the networks stop funding big shows. That wouldn’t be good. But there is an answer somewhere out there and it doesn’t seem that anyone is looking for it.

Edit : Just came across this interestingly relevant post (and comments) on reddit.

Torchwood

I love TV. And my favorite time of the year is approaching.. Around now all the new network shows start rolling out and I Tivo a ton of them and check them out. So far I’ve seen 4 new shows (and have a few more queued up to watch) : “Kitchen Nightmares” (covered a couple of posts ago), “Back to You” on Fox (which is about ‘eh’ on my rating scale), “Big Bang Theory” on NBC (which may actually be good) and “Torchwood” on BBCA.

First off, quickly lets talk about “Big Bang Theory”. This show is sit-com about a couple of supposed physics geniuses . This show is interesting to me because I’m not sure what their intended audience is . If that audience¬† is¬† intended to be as many americans as possible,¬† they better not get too technical (technical jokes, etc.) they will alienate most of them. On the flip side, if they are trying to get the geek audience, they better make sure that all of their tech jokes are not only plausible and technically correct, but funny for geeks at the same time. It’s not clear from the Pilot. I found some funny geek humor (String Theory references mostly) but some of it was incorrect. My guess is that they are going to sway towards the former audience and in that case, I think I’m going to hate it but we’ll just have to see.

Now on to something important: “Torchwood“. First off, know that I love “Dr. Who” the new seasons that have come out of BBC over the past 3 years have been pretty much flawless. I found them fun, funny, intelligent, subversive, interesting, and at times tear-jerky. I really love this show. “Torchwood” is a spin off of the new “Dr. Who”. Torchwood in the “Dr. Who” storyline is a British agency that is a version of “Men in Black” or “X-files”. In addition, the lead character of the show (Captain Jack Harkness) is a character I loved from the second season of “Dr. Who”.

So far I’ve seen 2 episodes and I actually didn’t have high expectations for some reason. But I’ve been pretty surprised. It’s been a slow start but I like where its all headed. I think that this could have the potential to be great. So far I love Captain Jack since I see a lot of depth in him that I want to know more about. I also like the female lead (Gwen Cooper) who I think is really hot in some odd way. The other characters I’m not sure about, but something tells me that they will grow on me a bit. Anyway, give this a try if you are into sci-fi stuff. I did and I’m glad.

America really sucks lately

And I’ll tell you why with 2 quick items.

The first is the fact that a girl was almost blown to bits by overzealous asshole cops a couple of days ago. Of course I’m talking about Star Simpson at Logan airport. I just came across a blog post on salon that pretty much sums up how I feel so I’ll just let you read that first. What’s sad is that we Americans instead of being upset at how the cops overreacted and almost killed someone for having an unidentified electronic device at an airport (my lord what will we do?) we do one of two things. We shrug it off as just another odd story in this crazy county of ours or we say something along the lines of “well, she should have known better”. Really? Should Cartoon Network have known better when they put up the mooninites? Why should we as American citizens have to spend brain cycles all the time checking all of our public actions to make sure that we don’t look or seem like “evil terrorists bent on destruction”?? I mean really. Let me tell you something. If someone wanted to blow up an airport or someone wanted to attack and kill a bunch of Americans they would do it and we wouldn’t be able to stop them because anyone should know that a determined attacker will not walk into an airport with a bomb strapped to the outside of their sweatshirt. I for one believe that they would probably hide it in some way. Ugh.. I’m done but I could go on.. I don’t think I need to though.. those of you who read here all pretty much agree with me anyway.. who am I convincing?

The second item is not directly related but it still shows us how sad we’ve become. For 3 years now I have been enjoying “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” on BBC America. This show was a simple, genuine and interesting look at how to turn around a failing restaurant. Gordon Ramsay, a very successful and opinionated chef would visit a failing restaurant, figure out what was wrong with it and then work with the owners to make it better again. He would come back a month or so later to check up on it. The show was great because a) the people were genuinely trying to run their establishment, b) Ramsay knew what he was doing, c) he really wanted to help fix the place up and d) occasionally he would encounter friction with the owners or their chef, etc.

I was looking forward to the American version of the show (it debuted on fox last week). Boy was I surprised. The concept was similar, the chef the same, but wow did the show suck! In typical Fox/American TV fashion, the owners of the restaurant were so over the top I was convinced the whole thing was staged and they were actors. Instead of actually implementing ideas and getting deep into the restaurant business, Ramsay (or Fox, its unclear) bought them a new kitchen and generally acted as a host and simply walked around acting surprised and the zainy owners behavior. In addition, the restaurant was completely overlit to the point of looking like a set. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that all the people had to wear makeup. In short, the show now had no soul or depth and was simply sensationalized crap that I still think was fake. But the funny thing is that I agree with what Fox did with it. The BBC version would last one episode here. American viewers would hate it because it would be too complex to understand and probably would seem quite boring. And that is what is so sad. We Americans need to be fed simple, shocking, bright doses of entertainment. We will accept nothing less. Why is this? What is the matter with us? Are we really that shallow?

The Shield

Happy New Year! Over Xmas and New Years I found a very good TV show called “The Shield”. This has been on FX for a number of years and a friend lent me seasons 1 and 2. I have to say that this is the best cop drama I’ve seen since “Homicide”. Sure, Homicide is still the winner, but this comes quite close. My girlfriend thinks that the main character is more compelling than Tony Soprano and I kind of agree in some ways.. I heartedly recommend it to all.

The quest for the cableCards

So. As you know from a previous post, I jumped in with both feet and bought a Tivo 3. Now, for the S3 you need to have 2 cableCard devices to make it work. If you look at some of the posts on the S3 and the cards (like here) you will see how much of an issue most people have had with a) getting the cards and b) getting them to work. Apparently it’s mostly Comcast’s fault since most cards are/were defective combined with the fact that they have to do some work on the head end to register them properly so they work and most Comcast reps are clueless as to how (since admittedly cableCards are quite new).

My story is interesting but actually somewhat positive. First off, I called the 800 number and they told me that I could go and pick up the cards and install them myself. I went down to the office on Delaware ave and the lady there behind the 3″ bulletproof glass told me that “the customer service folks give out incorrect info all the time” and sent me on my way with no cards. So began my journey to get an appointment to have them installed.

As an employee, there is only one person in the entire organization here in Philly that can handle my requests. That lady had retired the day before my first call to the 800 number. Subsequent calls to the 800 number were met with reps saying that they could not help me since I was an employee.. Some gave me a new special employee number to call. That number was disconnected. Others gave me the name of someone to call in the company. They, of course, did not exist.

After 2 days of trying to find someone to either send me my cards, or send a guy to put them in I decided to call my HR department. After a chain of calls (“not me, call this person”) I ended up with a lady who was subbing for the retired lady. This lady said “there are lots of employee requests, I’ll add you to the list and the person who deals with the requests will get back to you”. I waited a day, no call. Two days, no call. I called her and she said “the list is long.. Wait until after the holiday” (it was coming up on Tgiving). Friday after the holiday (a full 1.5 weeks after my quest began) I got no call. I called the lady back and begged her for the number of the person who handled the requests. She finally relented and I called the guy. He was out for the day.

Monday rolls around and I call the guy again. He picks up and says “oh.. Ok.. Let me see here”. He types into his computer for a long while and says “yup.. Got you all set.. Is tomorrow at 8am good for you?”. Finally someone competent.

Next morning I’m home from work and the cable guy actually shows up. 2 hours later he leaves. We’ve got one card working perfectly and the second is only getting 10 channels but I’m promised that if I wait a while they will all come in eventually. I’m skeptical.

Of course I wait 2 days and nothing changes. I call the guy I called on Monday and explain it to him. He types into his computer and says “ok..I reset the cards.. Let me know if that doesn’t work”. I get home from work that afternoon and they both are working perfectly.

So.. Other than dealing with my companies incredibly horrible customer service, the cards went pretty smoothly considering. The picture quality from the cards in the tivo is an order of magnitude better than the cable box they replaced. I’m quite pleased.

Today in less than an hour my Pioneer Elite 1140 HD shows up and we’ll see how that looks…