Tag: TV

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ATTENTION RAND PAUL! Coming to PBS SoCal 2 — 10:00pm – Sunday, March 21, 2021 “Fauci: The Virus Hunter DESCRIPTION  FAUCI: THE VIRUS HUNTER is an hour-long documentary that provides an in-depth look at Dr. Anthony Fauci’s life story and career. Informative and engaging on-camera interviews with some of Dr. Fauci’s colleagues and friends, including […]

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What if Frodo was not the lead protagonist of The Lord of the Rings? What might the story be like if told through only one character’s perspective?  The same fictional world. The same setting of time, over-arching threats, characters great and small, etc. How might the events change if you guided Frodo’s decisions? Then start […]

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Unless you enjoy over-talk, facile questions front-loaded for facile answers, and a format designed for sound bites, this year’s presidential and vice-presidential debates are difficult to love. Television is not the ideal medium for anything like the extended speeches of the Lincoln–Douglas debates, but this year lacks much sense of depth, witty jabs, or speaking […]

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The Oprah Conversation: “Racist!”

 

Let’s have a conversation about race, shall we?  Because Oprah wants us to.  Like on her new Apple TV show, “The Oprah Conversation,” the first episode of which was entitled “How To Be Anti-Racist” (because simply not being racist isn’t good enough).  But be forewarned, white people.  It is necessarily going to be a tad one-sided.  That’s because the fundamental premise of any conversation with you about race is going to be that, well, you are just . . . no . . . damn . . . good.  Alrighty?  Let’s do it then.

Let’s talk about white racism, “white privilege,” “white advantage,” the “white power structure,” “whiteness,” and “white” this and “white” that and nothing but white, white, white, until if you hear the word “white” used in a derogatory way one more time, you’re just going to . . .

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Aside from Shark Tank, I don’t watch reality TV.  However, I would occasionally join my mother and sister to watch people live their lives on our TV.  But it wasn’t until my husband and I spontaneously watched an episode of The Great British Bake Off when I realized that each contestant had been boiled down […]

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Jack and Mary and Fred and Portland: The American Magic of Vaudeville

 

I’ll admit right out of the gate that I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately, something that can probably be blamed on not having seen home since January, and having been in lockdown alone since March. Things may have occasionally come to the ‘rocking out to metal songs sung by Christopher Lee about Charlemagne at 11 pm while washing dishes in llama pajamas’ point of solitary living. Maybe. Either way, when I’m not working or doing something useful, I find myself more and more seeking out the comfortingly old fashioned. It should be acknowledged that most of the cultural products I associate with nostalgia aren’t ‘personally nostalgic’ for me, in the sense that I had or have a contemporary connection (only post-1999 things could be such). One of the biggest parts of this recent obsession has been old radio comedians, mostly Jack Benny and Fred Allen.

Readers of a certain age will probably have at least some memory of Benny, who dominated radio and television from the ‘30s almost until his death in 1974. My mother absolutely and completely despises him, and threatens homicide if I listen to his ‘40s broadcasts in the car, so he played no great role in my early life. Allen, meanwhile, is a largely forgotten figure, mentioned, if at all, as a “comedian’s comedian” and witty satirist who failed to make the transition to television, a contrast to his arch-nemesis. I could, I think rightfully, laud their comedy chops, their innovativeness, and their lasting impact on American popular culture. These certainly all deserve praise, but what has struck me most in listening to and watching their performances in the last few weeks is who they were and who they became. 

Jack Benny was in fact Benjamin Kubelsky, the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrant business owners in the suburbs of Chicago. Allen, meanwhile, was really John F. Sullivan, a Massachusetts-born son of Irish Catholic parents who came of age in a deeply dysfunctional and shattered family, something George Burns identified as a common denominator among his generation of comedians (he noted his best friend, Benny, as a rare exception to this pattern). Both men, then, came from groups that were often regarded with hostility in more than one quarter, and Allen suffered the additional handicap of poverty and early experiences with family tragedy. By all rights, they should have expected modest success in life at best, but Vaudeville put them on an entirely new path. 

Conservatism & Progress: A Tale of Two Commencement Speeches

 

If you’re looking to learn rhetoric, I’m your huckleberry. Here’s a comparison of the varieties of rhetoric in American politics–two speeches by men who are and were respectively senators. Each talk is about the same length — seven minutes and change is a short speech — and with the same purpose, apparently, to congratulate and exhort America’s callow youth. Sen. Sasse of Nebraska is first. He gave this speech, which is alright, not very good, the sort of mediocrity we expect in politics and celebrity culture, broadly speaking. He seems to be a good man, wears his successes lightly, and he’s handsome, so it’s likely to go over well:

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My wife recently started us watching Outlander, streaming it via Starz.  I heard parts of the books on audio many years ago (a friend listened to them in the car) and have been intrigued.  Well, we’ve really gotten into it, but I have to ask you all:  Does the sex and violence ever let up?  […]

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‘You’ve Done It Again, Lewis!’: On the Enduring Worth of ‘Inspector Morse’

 

There are, it seems, about a million British detective shows on offer to American audiences (about a million to the power of ten when you add in all the other European sleuthing nationalities), from heart-pumping “Luther” to the more sedate “Ms. Marple’s Mysteries.” Having grown up without cable and had 90 percent of my television-viewing experiences before high school courtesy of WGBH, I have a definite familiarity with the full range of British television offerings (“Vicar of Dibley,” “Keeping Up Appearances,” and “Waiting for God” were all household favorites), but age prevented me from ever making the acquaintance of “Inspector Morse.”

It took until halfway through high school, when I had, in a rare coup d’état, actually managed to get hold of the solitary television clicker, to see the Inspector on Netflix and my mother in no uncertain terms demanded that he disappear after half an hour. However, I was hooked. Even within the diverse range of detective dramas, Morse is a quite singular property, elaborate plotted, skillfully filmed, chock-full of more obscure references than an Umberto Eco novel, and poignant without being sappy or sentimental. A genius product of pop culture. 

The titular Inspector is himself a bit of a departure from the typical flock of Brit detectives; an aging middle-class Englishman with an Oxford education, an accent that could only have come of childhood elocution lessons, and an equal love for real ale and Wagner. John Thaw’s piercing cornflower eyes and reserved expressiveness (perhaps a contradiction in terms, but entirely appropriate when one watches him balance the manners of an Englishman “of a certain age” with his innately virulent emotions) lend an odd sort of beauty to a character who is flawed both in body and soul. His eyes are most often crinkled in a decidedly contemptuous expression and, while he is as brilliant and sensitive as the brief background suggests, he is equally capable of cruelty and vanity. Along for the ride is his much more centered DS, Robbie Lewis, a cheerful Northerner with two kids, a wife, and every day worries.

‘9-1-1 Lone Star,’ Give Me a Break. Please.

 

This is RightAngles, TV Reporter, here to save you some time. Do not bother to watch the new Fox show 9-1-1 Lone Star unless you want to end up throwing things at your TV. I admit I may have been predisposed to disliking this show because in the trailer they flew the Texas flag upside-down, but I think my initial gut reaction proved to be correct. So without further ado, here is my reaction to this over-the-top mishmash of SJW causes.

My first clue was when with the opening credits barely finished, we learn that New York Fire Capt. Rob Lowe’s son, also a fireman, is gay. I mean they just could not wait to stick that in there. Lowe is sent to Austin to repopulate a firehouse where everyone died in an explosion, and they tell him diversity is paramount (what?). As a result, we see him interviewing a paramedic in a hijab (he hires her even though she has 11 reprimands on her record), a black trans person (a twofer!), a basic Brown Guy who has failed the written exam four times (he hires him too), gay men, etc., etc. I mean is this the Fire Department or the SJW Cavalcade?

I don’t know about you, but if my house is on fire I want a 120-pound woman in a hijab with a record of not following orders and whose scarf is blowing around getting in her eyes and a trans person who’s checking to see if I’m a bigot before saving me.

“Quiz Show” at 25: The ’50s on Trial

 

If you weren’t even alive back then, you’ve probably seen the black-and-white footage, some of the best-known images of early television. Two men stand isolated under the hot lights, answering questions, trying not to show the pressure. The graceful, elegant one from New England is the scion of one of America’s most famous families; the other one, a decent but unattractive man, a hard-working “grind” who rose from the lower middle class, is the smarter of the two, but he’s already sweating, feeling hopelessly outclassed. A trick question has caught him—he’s not allowed to give the correct answer! His anger rises; but he dutifully, bitterly keeps his mouth shut. He plays along for what he thinks is the good of the system, even if it means his defeat. But enough about the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960.

There’s an overlooked twist of history here, and we’ll get back to it at the end of our story. “Quiz Show” (1994) takes you back to the adolescence of American television. The film is based on the real-life scandal that engulfed the big-money quiz shows in 1959.

The movie begins with meeting a main character and hearing a radio broadcast, the eerie beeping of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, as heard on a car radio on the night it was launched, October 4, 1957. This anchors “Quiz Show,” the movie, in a critique of American values that feels compelling, but is vaguer the closer you get to it; does the omniscient filmmaker want us to look down on America, the inept, because Eisenhower “let” the Soviets get a satellite into space first? If not, why the ominous faces and the air of foreboding? Or, on the other hand, are we supposed to look down on America, the paranoid, because people cared whether or not the Soviets got into space first? They can’t both be equally true and culpable indictments of national character. What’s the connection to the quiz show scandals, other than a sense of moral let-down? Yet it’s a captivating portrait of the ‘50s that you should see, if you haven’t already.

ELISHA KRAUSS is back! She joins Lyndsey Fifield for a hilarious conversation about how to pick TV shows that are safe for kids… and safe for adults. Lyndsey rants about what contemporary content is doing to our brains… as Elisha said, this might have been Lyndsey’s “Matt Walsh week.” Keep listening for a great challenge from Mrs. Krauss at the end of the episode.

TV History 8: High Definition Television

 

Ask any critic: We’re living in the era of Peak TV, when major cable and streaming projects have become as important and glamorous in our world as theatrical films are, sometimes even more so. Television’s been an important part of our lives for seventy years, but other than for live events, it’s always been the (relatively) family-friendly, 21 inch-wide, generally low prestige cousin of the movies. That all changed in this century, and this post will claim it’s partly due to a non-artistic advance that’s supposedly “merely” technical, as if anything is “merely” technical: The stunning quality, size, and affordability of today’s high definition home screen.

The traditional movie theater is increasingly reserved for spectacle; your living room flatscreen is now your movie screen, just as your laptop or tablet has become your kitchen table TV, and your mobile phone became your daily, carry around computer message center. Just considering sheer cultural impact, “The Sopranos”, became “The Godfather” of our era, and “Game of Thrones” has been “The Lord of the Rings” of the past decade. It’s hard to recall how recent this all is. Even a quarter century ago, you’d have to have been a Hollywood millionaire with a 35mm home theater to see a picture anywhere nearly this good in your living room. Now you only need $500, and 55 inches (diagonal) of wall space. The story of how video reached film quality, and is now approaching the limits of human eyesight, involves enterprise, decades of backdoor deals, art, science, the politics of the Sixties through the Eighties, and a high money stakes engineering fight with Japan; which we won. Here’s how it happened.

Great Character Actors: Ward Bond

 

There’s no real point to this post other than to briefly discuss and celebrate the career of one of the great character actors of all time — Ward Bond (1903-1960). First, I have to admit I don’t know much more about Bond’s life than that presented in his Wikipedia biography.

Let’s see … I did know that he’d played football at the University of Southern California along with John Wayne and that he and Wayne began their acting careers when they and other USC footballers were hired by director John Ford to appear in “Salute,” a 1929 movie about football. I also knew about the drinking and the conservative politics (among other things he was an early and proud member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals). I didn’t know about the B.S. degree in engineering nor did I know that he suffered from epilepsy.

Bond and Wayne, who would remain lifelong friends, had somewhat similar career paths although with widely divergent trajectories. Wayne, after a decade or so, would rise to the peaks of stardom, while Bond, after a decade or so, would establish himself as a solid, highly sought-after character actor. Bond appeared in over 200 movies in his career, including some of the best ever made. It’s likely most moviegoers of the time would not have recognized his name although they would have recognized him as soon as he appeared on screen. In any event, Bond made every movie he was in just a little bit better than it otherwise would’ve been.

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In 2009, Microsoft brought the game show format online through Xbox Live. Every owner of an Xbox 360 video game console had a cartoonish avatar to represent the player in a variety of virtual interactions. In the trivia game show 1 vs 100, these avatars could fill a virtual crowd of a hundred players competing […]

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One of the many discussions we had at the first Ricochet Meetup my wife and I attended (Charlotte, 2014: http://ricochet.com/archives/charlotte-meetup-d-c-mcallister/) was about how some TV series end their run – which ones did it right, and which ones left viewers scratching their heads (some endings threw fans into a rage). Well, it looks as if […]

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Let’s Talk About “The Expanse”

 

About seven months ago, a kid I work with told me about a science fiction TV show he thought I’d enjoy. It was a little something called “The Expanse.” It had a great premise. The only problem was that it was on the Syfy channel.

If you’re not familiar with Syfy, until they rebranded themselves a few years ago, they were the Sci-Fi Channel, a cable station nominally devoted to science fiction television. The only problem is that … their programming was terrible. If you need an example of their garbage programming, they’re the folks behind Sharknado. The fact that they changed their name to “Syfy” should tell you everything you need to know. But I was assured, by my coworker, that this one series was the shining gem of the network and that it was worth watching. And, boy howdy, was he right.

The series is set a few centuries in the future. There’s a united Earth, under the UN. There’s a colonized Mars, attempting to terraform, and there’s The Belt, the people who live and work in the asteroid belt. They are the Third World of the solar system. They have their own culture, their own language, their own society, and they are perpetually under the boot of the Inner Planets. The series centers on two main characters, James Holden, who begins the series as XO of an ice freighter, and Miller, a hard-boiled detective who lives on one of the inhabited asteroids in The Belt.