Gwnewch y pethau bychain

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My brain is a strange place

A few months ago, we had a member of the group I hang out with on Facebook leave the group because he wanted to avoid spoilers1 for Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.  Since the latter show just ended its half-season and is going on hiatus, he rejoined the group and announced he had returned.  I replied “Welcome back!” and then, as I reflexively do whenever I say those two words, appended “Your dreams were your ticket out.”  It’s just a thing I do.

Somehow, the juxtaposition of the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter and Breaking Bad stayed in my head, and a few minutes later I posted this:

For your consideration:

A 1970s era remake of “Breaking Bad” starring Gabe Kaplan and Ron Palillo.

One commenter noted that Ron Palillo sadly passed away not too long ago; I was aware of that, but somehow it was much funnier to me that our Jesse substitute was Horshack rather than any of the other Sweathogs.23 And, really, it might have ended there, but my friend Joey chimed in “With a theme by John Sebastian”.

At first, I tried to imagine how Sebastian might render Dave Porter’s brilliant Breaking Bad theme, but then I realised I was coming at it backwards.  The following just wrote itself:

Breaking Bad 
Your cancer was just an excuse
Breaking Bad
You always wanted to slip the noose

Well your dreams never were what you’d hoped they’d be
Now you’re out on the res in an old RV

Who’d have thought they’d come true
(Who’d have thought they’d come true)
Crystalised in ice blue
(Crystalised in ice blue)

Well, he’ll prob’ly wind up dead
‘Cause he’s in over his head
Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad, Breaking Bad, Breaking Bad

I really haven’t a clue what to do with this idea, but it’s continuing to entertain me.

  1. The longruning debate over when its okay to post spoilers into an open space continues to weary me, since, as I’ve posted about multiple times, it’s largely a question of manners

  2. I later decided that Vinnie and Epstein would be Badger and Skinny Pete, respectively.  Mr. Woodman is Gus Fring. Not sure there’s a good analogue in this scenario for Freddie. 

  3. ETA:  No, Boom-boom Washington is Skinny Pete.  Vinnie is Combo.  That works better. 

Friday Five: Good Reads

No theme this week, just a collection of really interesting, though-provoking, and sometimes funny esays.

Neville Longbottom is the Most Important Person in Harry Potter-And Here’s Why | Tor.comNeville Longbottom is what Peter Pettigrew might have been – why that’s important to the Harry Potter arc.

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via Tor

What Really Makes Katniss Stand Out? Peeta, Her Movie GirlfriendGeneral Hunger Games/Catching Fire information below; no huge surprises revealed. ] This weekend, Catching Fire, the second chapter of the Hunger Games film adaptations, raked in enormous piles of dough – with over $160 million in one weekend, it’s the biggest November opening ever. Ever. (Take that, Twilight sequels.)

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via Npr

In Defense Of Sarah SilvermanVariety TV critic Brian Lowry, in a piece entitled “Sarah Silverman’s Bad Career Move: Being as Dirty as the Guys,” warns that she is “veering into bad taste territory.”

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The 35 Greatest Easter Eggs From The “Doctor Who” 50th Anniversary445,582 Total Views Tagged: doctor who, day of the doctor, doctor who 50th anniversary, easter eggs, viral, win, doctor-who 4.6X Social Lift Stats 3. And here’s Coal Hill School itself, where companions Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright taught. Look closely… Chairman of the Governors: Ian Chesterton! And right under that it reads “W.

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25 Gifts For Writers1. Books This is about as obvious an answer as it gets (“What should I buy that starving child for Christmas?” “Um, food?” “Eh.”), but just the same I’m surprised at how rarely I receive books as g…

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving in the US, and we’ve been enjoying the first day of our long weekend with lots of good food and a mini-marathon of Doctor Who.

I’ve always been a huge Doctor Who fan, dating back to when I was a kid.  My room looked like a Doctor Who museum gift shop exploded in it.  I watched every episode, read every book, and bought every poster and collectable I could get my hands on.  Doctor Who fandom in the 1980s was a pretty small group in the US, but we were die-hard.

When the show relaunched in 2005, I was elated, and it once again became appointment television.  Up until the middle of season six or so, at least.  But something about the tenor of the developing storyline with Amy, Rory, and River was bothering me.  It just didn’t feel right;1  I still can’t really articulate it, the whole story that was developing over the beginning of season 6 just didn’t sit well with me.

There wasn’t a breaking point; there wasn’t a moment where I threw down the remote and said “That’s it, I’m done!”2  But something was corrupted in my download of the subsequent episode, and I needed to go and re-download it3 and then we got distracted with this thing and that thing and….the next thing I knew, time had passed and we still hadn’t gone back to pick it up.  The things I was hearing about the developing storylines didn’t actually make me feel like I wanted to come back to it, either.  I did watch “Asylum of the Daleks” with runnerwolf, and the Christmas special “The Snowmen”, because those were setting up the new companion.  The first just refreshed my annoyance with the Rory/Amy storyline, and the second I liked well enough to say I wanted to watch the series again, but not so much that I immediately made room in my schedule for it.

Then, this last week, they aired the 50th Anniversary episode.

I had been keeping an eye on the lead up to the festivities, but I figured I’d wait and see what they actually did with it before committing to watching it.  Multi-Doctor stories are tricky at the best of times, and I was a bit wary of what they might do with it.  But after it aired I heard nothing but good things4, so I pulled it down and we settled in to watch it on Monday night.

To say I loved it would be an understatement.  I’d been intending all week to write a more detailed reaction to it, but this was an episode that felt so perfectly right to me, with the right balance in tone between funny and serious, paid the right nods of respect to the classic series, and managed to hit a big reset button on some of the recent continuity in such a way that preserved the effect while lifting the staggering burden from the Doctor’s shoulders so that he can move on without being blithe and simply deciding to ignore the monumental consequences of his actions.5

The net result of this has been a revitalisation of my interest in the adventures of the good Doctor, so today we settled down over our Thanksgiving dinner to start watching again.  We’re not going back to where we left off — I’m still not entirely ready to watch the rest of the Ponds’s saga — but we did pick up with “The Bells of Saint John”, which was the first proper episode featuring Clara as a companion.  We got through four of them today, which is rather a lot in one stretch for us any more, and I’m finding myself quite engaged.  Some of this is due to Clara herself.  She really reminds me more of an old-school companion in her relationship to the Doctor, and she’s smart and very capable.  The details of her unfolding mystery are interesting enough, but mostly I just like her personality.

We expect to watch the remaining four episodes we’re behind on over the weekend.  I hope everyone had a wonderful day, and that, regardless of whether you are in the US or not, that you spent it enjoying life with people  you love.

  1. I expressed this to my friend Jeff, who has been my best friend since we were twelve and is also a devoted fan of the show.  He said, “I’m sorry you don’t like them.” and I explained that it wasn’t that I disliked them.  I loved Amy and Rory to death, and what I didn’t like was what was being DONE to them. 

  2. In fact, the last episode we watched was “The Doctor’s Wife” by Neil Gaiman, which I loved to bits. 

  3. I still download the episodes off the underwebs.  I don’t trust BBCA not to make a dog’s breakfast out of the episodes cutting them down for time, after the travesty of their edits on “The Eleventh Hour”. 

  4. Even Zander Nyrond, who has been a bitter critic of the new series, wrote “that actually wasn’t bad. I shall probably watch it again, and who knows, it might even make “rather good.”” 

  5. Doctor Who has never been the world’s most continuity-conscious shows in the best of times, but there are some elements you really do have to resolve on screen. 

Mixed Messages

Because we watch TV on the TiVo, we rarely actually see commercials, but a recent ad by cognac giant Hennessey caught my ear,1 mostly due to their slogan juxtaposed with traditional disclaimers that accompany alcohol advertising on television in the US.

Please drink responsibly.

I’m not entirely certain those three directions are entirely compatible with one another.  Just sayin’…

  1. The text on the screen was just the first two lines.  The voice-over contained all three. 

You Won’t Admit You Love Me

Many years ago, I saw a commercial on BBC America for a television show called Coupling.  The commercial made it look like a good laugh, so kitanzi and I decided to give it a look, and completely fell in love with it.  It was quirky, it was funny, it was full of highly entertaining characters, and it very quickly became my favourite situation comedy of all time.  We bought the seasons on DVD, and showed them to pretty much anyone who would sit still for them, to the extent that I can still probably recite entire episodes of the first season from having seen them so many times.  (With only a couple of exceptions, everyone we showed it too also loved it too.)

In 2003, NBC announced they were going to launch a US remake of the show, with an all new cast but retaining the show’s creator and principle writer, Stephen Moffatt (who is now much more widely known for his work on Doctor Who).  We greeted this news with a fair bit of trepidation; the show starred absolutely no one anyone had ever heard of, and the track record of remaking quintessentially British shows in America wasn’t very good in recent years1.  Still, it did have the original writers working on it, and they were putting a lot of effort into promoting it.  How bad could it possibly be?

Fifteen minutes into the first episode, we had our verdict.  It could be very, very bad indeed.  The episode was pretty much a complete script-lift of the first episode of the UK show, which made already inevitable comparisons to the original impossible to avoid.  The dialogue was like a poorly fitted suit, and the actors looked physically uncomfortable with the material.  Every single joke fell flat, and the whole exercise was suffused with a general sense of wrongness.  By the first commercial, we’d pretty much made our judgement, switched it off, and watched the first season of the UK show on DVD again just to wash the taste out of our mouths.  Apparently, that was a pretty universal reaction to the show; it was cancelled after 10 episodes, and is referenced today primarily as a cautionary tale.

Until recently, this would be the end of the story.  I certainly had no reason to revisit my opinion of a terrible TV show with no redeeming qualities 10 years after it aired, did I?   Prior to this year, I’d have scoffed at the notion, and often did.  The US version of Coupling was a punchline, a story to tell children in order to make them behave.  What could inspire me to watch that travesty?

Oddly enough, two other shows sparked my curiosity.  Eureka and Better Off Ted.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Eureka when it was on the air, but I never got around to watching it.  It was another one of those shows that friends and other people who’s taste I generally trust would say generally positive things about, but never so much to make me actually watch it.  I caught one of the Christmas episodes at my mom’s house, and she said a lot of nice things about the show, and I knew that Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton both had recurring roles in later years, which piqued my interest, but not enough to drop into a show I’d never watched in the middle of its fourth season.  When we moved in with runningwolf, it turned out it was one of her favourite shows and she suggested it as a dinnertime viewing selection, so we started with it from season one and it quickly became our go-to programme to watch together.  We’ve gotten up to the last season and I know I’ll be a bit sad to see the end of it, but I’m very grateful to have experienced it.

Better Off Ted was a criminally short-lived comedy that I first heard about from markbernstein.  It got two half-seasons on ABC, and while it was well received by critics, no one watched it and it died of low ratings.  Because of Mark’s recommendation2, I had added it to my Netflix queue as a thing to watch one day, and a couple of weeks ago, when kitanzi suggested we watch “something funny”, I pulled it up and said “I hear this is good.  Give it a try?”  It was a good choice.  Better Off Ted‘s absurdist satire is right up my alley, and watching it now, long after its exit from the airwaves, I can only wonder how badly it must have been promoted to have not taken off.  Terrific cast, snappy writing, and innovative breaking of the fourth wall.  If you’ve not seen this show, go watch it.  It’s worth your time.

As I often do when watching some new show that I hadn’t seen before, I glanced through IMDB to see what else I might have seen various actors in.  Sometimes I just do this because they look vaguely familiar, and sometimes because I figure if I like someone in something I might like them in something else.  And it was here that I discovered that Tim Harrington, who plays the lead in Better Off Ted, was also Steve in the US version of Coupling.  And not only that, but Colin Ferguson  who plays the lead in Eurkea, was Patrick.

“Wow,” I thought.   We’d not heard of either of them when that aired.  I wonder if it would be interesting to rewatch that, just to see those two in it now that we know who they are?

I resisted this notion for a while.  I mean, that show as terrible.  Everyone knows that.  And watching actors you like in a painfully bad production is never fun.  Is it?

I decided to test the notion.  Searching around the dark corners of the underweb, I found the 10 episodes of Coupling US, which had been capped from a European cable channel called Canal+, complete with, of all things, subtitles in Swedish.  I decided that if I was going to review this, I was going to commit to it, and watch all ten episodes, rather than just bailing on it like I did the first time.  I’m glad I did, because the first three episodes are still painful.  Each was a remake of an episode of the UK series, and they suffer from the same problems I’d observed in my first viewing of the pilot ten years ago:  bad timing, poor execution, and generally flat lifeless storytelling.

But in the fourth episode, something amazing happened.  Rather than being a forklift of an existing episode, it was an entirely original script.  With dialogue written for them, the actors for the first time looked comfortable in their roles, the jokes popped, and I found myself genuinely laughing at the show for the first time.   Given the freedom to create their own parts rather than simply copying their British counterparts, the show relaxed and started to gel into something that could stand apart from its origins.  Tim Harrington’s Steve isn’t nearly so flustered and panicked as Jack Davenport’s, and Colin Ferguson’s Patrick isn’t quite as thick as Ben Miles3.  Christopher Moynihan’s Jeff lacks the fundamental weirdness that Richard Coyle possessed, but manages to bring the part a certain self-awareness that humanises the part, while Lindsay Price’s Jane is more grounded (and, in many ways, more predatory) than Gina Bellman.   Rena Sofer manages to play Susan as less uptight and a bit more wounded, and while Sonya Walger never really did manage to do much with the part of Sally, there were signs she was developing into a more interesting character too, particularly in the Christmas episode.  By the time the final episode rolled around, I found I was genuinely enjoying the show – not as a remake of the original, but as something new that had striking similarities to the programme which inspired it, but which nevertheless stood on its own.

I’m not going to try and convince you that the US remake of Coupling was great.  It suffers from a lot of the problems that all sitcoms do, and is wildly uneven, especially when it tries to go back to the recycled scripts well in episodes like “Foreign Affairs” (which lifts from “The Girl With Two Breasts”) or “Dressed”, but even those have enough new material mixed in that they aren’t entirely unbearable.  As a series, it doesn’t approach the genius of its predecessor  but there are individual episodes which indicate that given enough time to find it’s own rhythm and its own voice, it could have been a fine series in its own right.


1And Coupling is in many ways quintessentially British.  A common reaction to it when we were first watching it was “You’d never get away with that on American television.”

2Aside from Better Off Ted, Mark turned me onto So You Think You Can Dance and a few other shows.  As a result, I value Mark’s recommendations very highly.

3Its amusing, at times, to imagine that Steve and Patrick here are in fact younger versions of Ted Crisp and Jack Carter.  It doesn’t really hold up in the long run, but it’s still funny.

So Please Stop Explaining; Don’t Tell Me Cause It Hurts

Last night, an event occurred on a popular television show.  Because the television show is based on a popular book, many people knew the event was going to occur.  Many people, who had not read the popular books, were unaware of the impending event and were surprised.  Many people who had read the popular books wanted to talk about the event, now that it had finally happened.  Many people who watch the popular television but watch it time-shifted rather than live were startled when suddenly, without warning, the Internet lost its mind and Twitter violently exploded.

This morning, I made a post on a Facebook group where I am a moderator.  Anticipating that the above was going to be the topic of spirited conversation, I said the following:

Careful with the <popular television show> spoilers, guys.

If you’re behind on the series, read comments at your own risk. Try and keep spoilers out of main posts, so people can decide whether or not to read them.

General spoiler etiquette says you should give at least a week of courtesy after an episode airs, because many people watch the show on DVRs or other time-shifting methods.

I thought (and still think) that this was a perfectly reasonable set of guidelines.  The subject wasn’t declared off-topic, nor were people asked to avoid spoilers entirely.  I asked folks to try and put the spoilers in the comments rather than the main post, so people trying to avoid them would have an easier time1, and asked people who wanted to avoid them to be careful and stay out of the comments threads of posts about the show so they could avoid them more easily, and put a reasonable time limit for this particular courtesy to be in effect.

And yet…

Among the reactions I got to this request included:

  • “People who have not see it read Facebook at their own risk.”
  • “This episode is a little different because people who have seen it really want to talk about it.”
  • “People who don’t want spoilers should read the books.”
  • “I don’t think you should ever have spoilers ever, no matter how old the thing in question is”
  • “Once you see the episode, you will probable do what most people did and post about it immediately.”
  •  “A lot of TV shows and (especially) films come out at different times. Japan doesn’t get Star Trek until September, Man of Steel; August. Having them spoiled because people think that they’ve been ‘out long enough’ sucks.”
  • “[By] that logic, we can never talk about tv shows or movies.”
  • “Sorry but there WILL be spoilers on the Internet (shocking, I know) and some of us feel the [group] is the only place we can share these things.”
  • “[Some studies show that] people seem to enjoy stuff more if they know what’s gonna happen. Therefore, if you come across a spoiler? You’re welcome. LOL”
  • “I think people are all too damn sensitive.”
  • “I made a point of being discreet when Avengers, Iron Man 3,Star Trek, Harry Potter, The Hobbit came out [in the UK] first, is the consensus that when the next blockbuster is released I shouldn’t be constrained?”

Seriously, the tone of some commentators suggested they were only moments away from painting themselves blue and declaring “They can take away our spoiler posts, but they’ll never take away our FREEDOM!”2

I’m not personally put out by spoilers, and that goes doubly so in this case, where I’ve read the books the television programme is based on and have therefore been in the camp of folks waiting for the inevitable event to occur.  But how I feel about spoilers isn’t really the point.  Nor, if I’m honest, is how you feel about spoilers the point.

The point is that when we all are existing here in public, as a community, we have a moral obligation to be considerate of the thoughts and feelings of other people who are participating in that same community.  As Kurt Vonnegut so memorably says, ” There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

It’s a little bit inconvenient to make sure you put your comments behind cut-tags or outside of the main body of a post to ensure that other folks won’t trip over it.  And it’s a little bit inconvenient to have to carefully navigate through online discussion forums to make sure you don’t read something you didn’t want to, because you haven’t had a chance to see the latest thing everyone’s talking about.  And it’s inconvenient that at some point, we all decide it’s been out long enough for everyone to discuss it freely without worrying that someone hasn’t seen it yet, because there’s only so long you can keep on your guard.

These little inconveniences that we all put up with for the sake of a more gentle and kind society?  Gentle reader, they are called manners.

And I, for one, am in favour of them.


1 It’s worth noting that Facebook is singularly bad for this, because of the way it displays posts and comments.  But this was about best efforts, and there’s only so much you can do.

2 Those so inclined might wish to revisit just how well that worked out for Mr. Wallace.  (Spoiler:  Not well)

A Month of TV Commentary: A Meme in 30 Parts: Day 17

Day 17 – Favorite mini series

While lots of mini-series have been made in recent years, they always seem to be an artifact of the past to me. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, a number of Big Event™ mini-series captured the public imagination. Roots, The Winds of War, Shogun, The Thorn Birds, The Blue and the Grey, the list was endless and unrelenting. Without watching a single frame of these, you knew two things for certain: everyone was going to be talking about them, and sooner or later Richard Chamberlain was likely to show up.

Of course, these epic “TV Events” aren’t the only mini-series. Cable has used the format to great effect to tell stories too large do in a single movie. HBO recently spent over $200 million on The Pacific, a sprawling World War II historical drama, and before that produced the award-winning Band of Brothers to tell the story of that war’s European theatre. Back in 2000, the Sci-Fi channel did what David Lynch wasn’t allowed to do 15 years previously: take six hours to bring Frank Herbert’s Dune to the screen.

But this is a post about favourites, and if I had to choose a favourite mini-series of all time, I’m going to go with the 1994 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand. The Stand is my favourite of King’s novels, and it really needed the broad canvas of a mini-series to do it justice. The cast is stellar, including Gary Sinese, one of my favourite actors, along with Molly Ringwald, Ruby Dee, Matt Frewer, Ray Walston, and other notables. Up to this point, most adaptations of King’s work were somewhat regrettable, with a couple of odd exceptions, but The Stand was a truly stunning piece of work, and still holds up as a quality production 15 years later. You can get it on DVD. I recommend it.

Honourable mention: Neverwhere, produced for the BBC from a script by Neil Gaiman. It took forever for this to come out on DVD, but it was worth the wait. A great deal of Gaiman’s vision didn’t make it to the screen (and can be found restored in the subsequent novel), but the potential can be seen, and it still feels like a Gaiman story brought to life. Again, recommended.

If A TV Show Turns 50 And No One Notices… : NPR

If A TV Show Turns 50 And No One Notices… : NPR

The theme song to TV’s My Three Sons is a tune all but guaranteed to start your toes tapping — and it may even conjure up long-dormant images of the animated opening credits, where cartoon toes were actually tapping.

There’s value in old shows like that one, not just because the best of them were and are entertaining but because they provide a snapshot of what we were, what we accepted and what, in some cases, we aspired to become.

I mention this not because of a general wave of nostalgia, but because of a very specific wave: Last Wednesday, My Three Sons, a gentle ABC sitcom starring Fred MacMurray as a single father raising three boys, turned 50 years old. I would say it celebrated its golden anniversary, except I couldn’t find any celebration.

A Month of TV Commentary: A Meme in 30 Parts: Day 16

Day 16 – Your guilty pleasure show

I pondered this one all weekend, and to be honest, I don’t have one.  More to the point, I can’t really think of a show that I consider a “guilty pleasure”.

On the other hand, I’ve never been a big fan of the concept of “guilty pleasures” anyway.  I’m enough of a hedonist that I tend not to feel guilty about my pleasures, whatever they might be, and I’m enough of an iconoclast that I don’t tend to get too put out if I have personal tastes that don’t dovetail neatly with the rest of society.

I really don’t have a good answer for this one, guys. I’m not ashamed of any of the media I consume, and I think that you can’t really call it a *guilty* pleasure without that.

I’ll try and do better with the next one.

Hometown paper profiles Mythbuster’s Tory Belleci

Local boy paid to blow stuff up – ::

When he was young, Tory Belleci would decorate his Monterey home for Halloween with severed limbs and human statues that would come alive to frighten trick-or-treaters.

Fourth of July was also a big holiday, when Tory and his father Andy Belleci would glue fireworks to wooden planks that shot off sparks and flares in all directions.

But one special-effects stunt involving explosives nearly landed Belleci in jail — and when he got a second chance, he wound up having success in television on the show “MythBusters.”

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