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REVIEW: The Marriage Ref

The last couple of weeks our tv-watching time has been mostly consumed with the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Despite NBC’s relatively awful coverage, I still greatly enjoyed the Games, because I love Olympic sports. Perhaps because I grew up in an area where snow has ever been a novelty, I love the Winter Games even more.

Now this year, much like in the last few games, we watched exclusively on the TiVo, often 24 hours behind the results (and after falling behind over the weekend, as much as 3-4 days behind), but it meant we could easily skip past sports that aren’t interesting (I’m looking at you, cross-country skiing), in favour of sports which are more exciting. Even if we failed to avoid spoilers, it’s usually fun to see HOW the results came about, so we oohed and ahhed over the snowboarding and the figure skating.

Aside from relatively un-telegenic sports, we also skipped most of the commercials. Honestly, I miss most commercials on television, because I simply never stop to watch them. (I had to go look up the “I’m on a horse” Old Spice commercial on YouTube, because I had no idea what aiela and davehogg were babbling about). But over the course of several breaks, it’s impossible not to see a few of them, and hence we were exposed to multiple promos for NBC’s new series, The Marriage Ref.

“That looks dreadful,” kitanzi said, and there was no reason to expect otherwise. Still, my curiosity was piqued. There were some talented people attached to this. How bad could it really be?

Having sampled an episode, I am here to report: It is very, very bad indeed. I’m reminded of Opus the Penguin’s film review in the old comic strip Bloom County: “George Phblat’s new film, ‘Benji Saves the Universe,’ has brought the word ‘BAD’ to new levels of badness. Bad acting. Bad effects. Bad everything. This film just oozed rottenness from every bad scene… Simply bad beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness…Well maybe not that bad, but Lord, it wasn’t good.”

The premise of the show is fairly straightforward. A real married couple is having an argument over some absurd thing, Unable to resolve it, they present the facts of their argument to a celebrity panel, who make jokes about it, the host refers to a news researcher who presents some sort of statistical context for the disputed notion, the panel makes some more jokes, and then the host decides for one side or the other. The couple is brought onto a live monitor, the host informs them of the decision (with more jokes), they react predictably, and then it’s on to the next segment.

In the one episode I watched, (thanks to Hulu), there were two arguments to be settled. In the first, a man wanted to have his faithful canine companion stuffed by a taxidermist, in order to create a small shrine in the living room. In the second, the husband wanted to install a stripper pole in the house, which he imagined his wife would entertain him with. In both cases, the argument was so patently absurd that you really couldn’t figure out (absent evidence of severe brain damage) precisely why this was such an intractable issue. On the other hand, kitanzi and I once had a four-day long argument over the question “What, precisely, is poetry?”, so perhaps I shouldn’t throw stones too hard.

I could, if I were so inclined, complain about how the show perpetuates the “men are idiots” meme that has been a staple of sitcom humour for the last 30 years, but my heart isn’t really in it. Men, quite often, ARE idiots, and while I’m willing to defend them generally, I’m not really motivated to advocate for these two yahoos. They each had the hallmarks of a stubborn jackass who has made up his mind what he wants, and is so wrapped up in his desire that he isn’t listening to anything being said to him.

I could also make an argument that the very concept of this show represents a continuing dumbing down of television in the Reality Era, which makes a habit of putting ordinary people on screen for the purpose of making fun of them, but that doesn’t really have a lot of traction either, even by the notoriously low standards of reality television. Compared to pabulum such as The Bachelor and Rock of Love, The Marriage Ref is Shakespeare. Besides which, it replaces the unlamented Jay Leno Show disaster at 10pm, so it’s hard to say just how far the standards have really declined from what previously held the time slot. In truth, I’m reasonably confident that the primary reason that this show is on the air in the first place is that NBC suddenly needed to come up with an extra five hours of programming in a hurry, and it was quick to film and costs about $3.87 an episode to produce.

No, the real letdown of this show is simply that it isn’t really all that funny. I’m not really familiar with the previous work of Tom Papa, but Jerry Seinfeld is usually a funny, if somewhat annoying, comedian, and you would think he’d have better instincts than to be involved with this mess, let alone help create it. If this were being made by a bunch of unknowns in a basement studio for release on the web, it might be able to aspire to that “so bad it’s good” status, but this show is too polished, too promoted, and too well funded for that.

Without a doubt, The Marriage Ref is the most dreary, unfunny, and mediocre half-hour of television I’ve sat through in quite some time. In the final results, you’ll find it down at the bottom of the standings, with the notation “DNF”.

Tiny Beautiful Things

Every so often, a book comes to my attention that perhaps wouldn’t have normally. I’ll read a review, or hear it recommended, and think “Hey, that sounds interesting”, and I’ll make a note to myself to pick it up if I see it, or sometimes i’ll just grab it off the Amazon Kindle store where it will sit, waiting for me to find a moment to crack it open.

I don’t, at this point, remember who recommended the book “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed. It’s been sitting in my Kindle Library for some time. But a couple of days ago I randomly opened it and began to read. Today I finished it.

I don’t recall the last book that so often made me laugh out loud, so often moved me to tears, so often stopped me dead in my tracks with a perfectly phrased insight or so often made me just stop, walk away from the book because I needed time to think and digest.and reflect on what I had just read.

I’ve read collections of advice columns before, from Dan Savage and Miss Manners and others. This is very likely the first collection of advice columns I will read again and again, because as much as I took from it, there’s more to take and find and connect with.

If you’re a human being who is currently in the process of living a life, I recommend this book.

Disappointing Dragon’s Dogma Doesn’t Delight

(Originally posted on FB)

I recently found myself at a bit of a loose end, games wise. I’d been playing a lot of Star Wars: The Old Republic, levelling through six of the eight available class storylines, and wanting to take a short break from it. I was kind of itching for a sprawling Bioware/Bethesda style RPG, and debating doing another playthrough of Dragon Age or Fallout, when I came across “Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen” unplayed in my steam library. I don’t remember when I bought it, but it was probably deeply discounted during one of their sales.

The game was originally released for consoles in 2013, and later ported to the PC. It seems to have a fairly enthusiastic following, as I found from looking about online. And I had too look online, becuase otherwise I’d have no idea what was going on with it.

After a few hours of play, I have to say I can’t recall the last time I played a game so aggressively uninterested in giving me information about itself. The basic mechanics of the game are reasonably straightforward, which is good since it just drops you right in without much fanfare. The prologue has you playing a character who isn’t your avatar, but doesn’t explain much. You eventually pick up NPC party members, but the game is pretty mum on how you should evaluate these characters to join your party, and none of them are real characters in any sense, they’re just automatons. (Literally, in game. They’re called “pawns”, and they’re presented as soulless minions who only exist to serve your need.)

The user interface makes it hard to find anything, and there’s no way to tell if an area or a foe are appropriate to your level, short of charging in and seeing if you get your butt handed back to you. Conversations with NPCs are stilted, between the frankly awful voice-acting and the fact that you never actually respond to anything said to you. They react to you as *if* you said something, but it’s not like there was dialogue to choose that shapes the responses. They just say something, and you hit enter, and they say something else.

A friend I trust tells me the story is ultimately worth it, but I’m afraid that it’s just not engaging me. I might give it another try later, but I think for now I’m going to set it aside.

Review – Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Genre: Action/Comedy
Grade: A

Catching up on DVDs this weekend, becuase there’s a big stack of movies we haven’t gotten around to seeing.

I know everyone likes to complain about too many reboots and remakes of old favourites, but I have to say that “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a wonderful homage to a film I really liked as a teenager, updated to be fresh and relevant to modern audiences.
 
What? No, I don’t mean the 1995 Robin Williams film “Jumanji”, which I’ve never actually seen.
 
But it is absolutely a wonderful update of the 1985 film “The Breakfast Club”. 🙂
 
Seriously, it really is a tremendously fun movie, and we enjoyed it a lot. I particularly enjoyed the way the four leads played both to and against type, and they certainly seemed to to be having a great deal of fun with it.   This is the sort of ensemble cast that lives or dies on the strength of its cast’s chemistry, and Johnson, Gillian, Black, and Hart have it in spades.  It really makes me want to see the four of them do another project together, just to enjoy watching them interact.
 
If you like well-paced, genuinely funny action-comedies which put as much effort into the action as the comedy, and have a real heart, definitely make some time for it.

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