Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hey! Now What Am I Supposed to Watch and Drink All Day?

Here's the deal. This post is wholly off-topic. It has no television relevance whatsoever. However, since I spent an entire day roaming Boston for my "Out and About" article, and since a typo resulted in the article's demise--and because I've been pretty awful about posting as of late--I figured I'd share some of the fruits of my labor with you. Here are some photos I didn't hate when I returned home from my "free day."

Yes, it seems I have an affinity for both wood and metal (and thus door knockers, apparently). Normal posting will resume in the very near future.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

God, Swimming Trash-Talk is Horrible

Do I have to talk about the Olympics? It’s a television blog, so I guess so, but I’m not sure I have much to add to the conversation that hasn’t already been driven home early and often.

Let’s not hedge the subject: NBC’s handling of the XXX Olympiad has been archaic. In the day of the DVR, advertisers buying time on television want live viewers—live viewers aren’t skipping the commercials they’re shelling out for, essentially negating their expensive efforts. Getting live viewers, in the wake of the popularization of the DVR, is not an easy task, but there is an important factor to success: you need programming the viewer does not want to wait for.

What kind of programming is that? In some cases it means exceptional, serialized television. Anything that is so good, so engaging, that the viewer wants to consume it as soon as possible. A healthy fear that any delay may result in spoilers—because all their friends and colleagues will be talking about it tomorrow—is helpful. Live events benefit here as well, particularly sports. Sports lose all tension when the outcome is known—unlike solidly written television. Sports don’t benefit from dramatic irony.

So NBC has the Olympics, a sporting event that people don’t want to miss because they know their friends and colleagues will all be talking about it. And what does NBC do with such a gift? They run it on tape-delay. They strip it of the power of being live. They forgo the boon of fear of spoilers. They pretend they exist in an era pre-DVR, pre-internet.

But that’s not all. They have also decided to use a broadcast method common to news programs: the hook. When you turn on the news, the first story you’ll be introduced to is the most interesting one of the night. That’s no mistake; it’s to make sure you don’t change the channel. It’s also the last story that is going to run—likewise, to keep you watching the channel. That’s what NBC has attempted to do with their editing. Popular events—like gymnastics—don’t expect to see those all the way through: they will be interspersed between the twentieth swimming preliminary and bland commentary by Ryan Seacrest (does NBC not have sportscasters?). It’s all designed to keep you watching a four hour program that contains 20 minutes of content you actually want to see.

Well, that’s what it’s designed to do, but, again, it seems that no one at NBC has quite figured out this whole DVR deal. They’ve disincentivized watching the programming live (because, well, it isn’t live), and, in a misguided effort to force prolonged viewing of a tape-delayed presentation, have incentivized DVRing the tape-delay. It’s like they want their advertisers to pull out.

Here’s how my consumption of the Olympic Games has played out. My girlfriend comes home knowing everyone who has won and lost. Either she’s read it on Facebook, or a co-worker or friend has mentioned it in passing, or her own curiosity has led her to Google. She then hits record on NBC, and we go about our night doing non-Olympic type things. With about a half hour left in the NBC programming for the night, we fire up the DVR and skip right to the events that are still visually interesting enough to watch, like gymnastics and maybe some diving (races—swimming—these retain no value once the winner is known).

While I don’t believe everyone is as methodical, this type of behavior seems the equilibrium point for the perfect shit-storm that is NBC Olympic coverage.

NBC has countered a lot of the backlash, but it only seems to reveal further ineptness within the network. To their credit, they claim they’re providing a “story” that the American audience wants to see—through their editing and interviews. In that sense, they are probably aware that the program needs a draw to combat the effects of tape-delay (much like how viewers will watch television shows even after being “spoiled” because the story contains additional content). But their story is neither compelling nor dynamic. It serves, instead, as a repetitive talking point in which commentators frame every action and inaction. The narrative is stagnant. How many times do we need to be reminded that Phelps didn’t take his training as seriously after Beijing? How many times do we need to recognize and agonize over Wieber failing to qualify for the all-arounds?

I could go on, but others have done it for me, and have done it better justice:

Here is a post about NBC editing to create non-existent tension. Here is an article about Twitter’s (and, by proxy, NBC’s) censorship of this journalist’s criticism of NBC’s Olympic coverage. And here’s Jon Stewart’s take, to lighten to mood.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

He Said He Wanted "Many, Many Thousands of Green People from History Times."

Alternatively: "You're Bald!" "No, I'm Not: I Was Bald."

I can finally talk currently of “Breaking Bad,” specifically the most recent episode “Hazard Pay.” In the wake of Gus’s forced retirement, two very bald men have established a powder keg dynamic.

Walter, Jesse, and Mike have formed an “equal partnership” business that, within its first episode, has already seen its share of power struggles. The conflict stems from both Walter and Mike being painfully stuck in old paradigms as they try to move forward—it, interestingly enough, does not begin and end with their history of strong dislike for each other, as justified as it may be on both accounts (though it certainly doesn’t help).

Walter’s contribution to the friction is easy to identify, which shouldn’t be a surprise at this point in the series. The audience is well aware of his ego, of his need for control. When he agrees to put power over the business side of the operation in Mike’s hands, we expect the impending qualifying statement he makes to Saul: “He handles the business. And I handle him.”

Even the term “equal partnership” recalls conflicts between Jesse and Walt as “50-50 partners.” It’s no accident that when Mike recounts the totals, and Walt does the math, declaring, “Mike, you’re short,” that the audience is transported back to Season 2 and “Breakage.” When distribution was Jesse’s responsibility, Walt questioned why complications in distribution came evenly from both Walt and Jesse’s cuts—as Walt was responsible solely for production. An analogous argument occurs over Mike’s “legacy pay,” and, one might make note, Jesse eventually offers to cover the expense in both cases (which causes Walt to back down, at least momentarily, in both cases).

Mike is undergoing similar growing pains. Under Gus, it wasn’t his responsibility to explain his actions. His actions were justified by the fact that they came from a higher authority, an authority with an intricate and detailed plan that those asking questions could not hope to understand. Mike had what equated to divine right, maintained by faith and history, not immediately by reason. When the cartel began attacking Gus’s men, and Jesse asked Mike if Gus had a plan, the answer was simple: “Ask him.” Now, Mike is continuing to operate under the assumption that his actions are justified on high, only now the ultimate authority is necessity (or, more accurately, what Mike deems as necessary). He continues to work within a hierarchy that no longer exists.

So the clash is inevitable—and in many ways, it has already happened. Mike does not believe he needs to justify his actions, so he denies Walt the two things he holds paramount: power and reason.

The answer to why Mike is acting as he is remains unclear. Perhaps it is a man set in his ways, or stubbornness fueled by dislike for Walt, or a belief that Walt—like all men other than Gus—will back down from Mike’s challenge. If the last is the case, Mike would do well to remember Gus’s fate. And yet that does seem to be the case. Mike, after all, correctly identified Walter as a time bomb. He must believe—even incorrectly—that his actions will lead to either a disarming or an implosion. He doesn’t stand to gain from an explosion, not with his now-close proximity.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Those Are Balls. See, From This Close They Always Look Like Landscape.

Alternatively: "We're Not Gay! Not That There's Anything Wrong With That."

So I’ve recently been able to clear out some of my DVR. Last night I watched the two most recent episodes of FX’s “Louie,” “Miami” and “Daddy’s Girlfriend: Part 1.” Something felt off about “Miami.” It was unmistakably an episode of Louie: it showcased shots of simple, borderline mundane comedic situations—Louie falling asleep in his hotel room with a plate of food, juxtaposed against the young, healthy bodies of Miami; the terror and embarrassment of Louie being saved by a lifeguard when he wasn’t drowning—it built up a revelation Louie was to undergo (he had never seen the “real” Miami), and all of it was shadowed by the looming threat of something going terribly wrong. That last bit should be of no surprise to anyone who has seen the show. In fact, the main reason why the threat looms is because it has been established by history. A favorite blog of mine, Warming Glow, has a segment entitled “The 7 Most Soul-Crushing Moments” for each episode that airs.

As Louie befriends the young, attractive male lifeguard, Ramon, who “saves” his life, you can feel the impending doom churning. Everything is just going too well: too well for a normal person—it’s downright miraculous for Louie. Louie’s time in Miami runs out, he says goodbye to Ramon, and you think, foolishly, Louie’s done it—he’s had a human experience without the awkward and torturous side-effects that are always in tow. But your feelings of tragedy are vindicated—and your momentary lapse into hope, squashed—as Louie, in the very next scene, decides to extend his stay in Miami.

I have to say, kudos to Louis (writer, creator, and director—Louie’s real life counterpart) for the slow burn. It is exhausting—in the best way possible. As Louie approaches Ramon at work, you dread the outcome. Surely, this is where Ramon, having believed Louie to have left Miami, is going to be uncomfortable. Louie has disturbed the social balance, and he’ll be punished for it. But that isn’t what happens. Ramon is as warm in his reception of Louie as ever, even going for a swim and throwing around a football. The awkwardness will occur, as it is wont to do on “Louie,” but not until later.

That "later" is the next scene, when Louie approaches Ramon at the hotel that night and asks him if he has plans. Ramon and Louie sit down at the bar, where they proceed to have the most bizarre conversation you’ll ever watch. This is where the episode fails to come together for me. “Louie” succeeds in everything it does because it’s genuine; it’s sincere. Its banalities cease to be banal because they are real and identifiable. As Ramon hedges asking Louie if he is gay, and Louie understands, but is completely unable, himself, to say the word “gay”—or to speak in any clear terms about his intentions towards Ramon, for that matter—the reality is suspended. The difficulty of the conversation, the nervous laughter, the starts and stops and carefully chosen words: all of this works. All of this recalls with precise detail the excruciating clumsiness of new friendship, of trying to speak correctly without knowing what “correct” entails. What doesn’t work is that neither party ever brings themselves to say “gay,” and that Ramon leaves—many uncomfortable minutes later—without ever getting the answer to his unasked question. In this instance, Louis loses touch with the viewer because Louie’s commitment to avoiding any phrase, thought, or wording that can be misconstrued as bigoted borders on satire. While Louie, as a character, has shown great care in the past during similar controversial issues, it just feels like a suspension of disbelief that does not mesh with the current episode, or even the current relationship, which, in the infancy of its few day duration, underwent this exchange:

Louie: So, you, uh, you from Miami?
Ramon: Well, I was born in Cuba.
Louie: Really?
Ramon: Yeah, and then I came here when I was a baby.
Louie: That’s a big move for a little baby.
Ramon: (Laughing) I mean, my parents brought me here when I was a baby.
Louie: Like on a raft or something?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

If-You-Know-What-Happened-in-the-Mets-Game-Don't-Tell-Me-I-Taped-It. Hello?

A Note on Spoilers

What is a television blog without a spoilers discussion? A safe rule to follow for the spoiler-sensitive is this: don’t read about a show online if you haven’t watched the latest episode. It’s blunt, and it’s certainly not what anyone who just found out their favorite character dies in the new episode wants to read, but it’s also logical. In fact, since many sites have inside sources to the shows, or knowledge of a show’s source material, complete television blog abstinence is the only true safeguard. Even then, some of your more self-centered friends or coworkers might not think twice about inadvertently spoiling you. It’s a minefield out there.

In my attempt to provide one more safe spot to stand, I’m going to give you an overview of how I’ll try to manage spoilers. For one, I’ll expect you’re up to date on the show (even though I’m not even up to date on all the shows—my girlfriend’s desire to watch with me has hampered my progress on Justified and Breaking Bad, greatly and by about three episodes, respectively). I’m also not going to spend much, if any, energy talking about rumors regarding future episodes, so you’re safe there. As for source material—and here, Game of Thrones is a huge potential for disaster—I’m going to do my best to limit discussion to the show. I have a few posts planned to discuss how the show relates to the books, but I will be exceedingly vague (all the way down to names) about anything that has not already occurred by the end of season 2. I understand that in a series like A Song of Ice and Fire, even the mention of a character name is, at essence, a spoiler about the longevity of that character. I’ll be writing with that in mind.

On a more personal note, spoilers have never bothered me much. I’m more put off by the disrespectful nature of the one doing the spoiling than the spoiler itself. From my perspective, very few (some, but very, very few) events in a story should be true surprises. When something happens, I’m much more likely to be impressed if my response is, Yeah, that makes sense, than if it’s, Holy shit, I didn’t see that coming! The latter is often (not always, but often) a sign of poor writing more than anything else.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Because That's How You Get Ants

I began this blog with the intention that I would be writing about an array of subjects: books, movies, television, video games, "The things you do when you're not doing anything." As I set out to plan a few postings, and to add a little visual effect to the blog space, I gravitated almost completely towards the subject of television. It is the only subject represented by my design, in fact. It seems almost preordained, then, that the majority of my posts will be heavily related to television; perhaps they will branch organically from there. I'm okay with that.

For me, television is not simply about sitting down and shutting off. Much as I feel I cannot part with a book until I've gone through the catharsis of discussion, television has never been restricted to the time in which it casts its awesome illumination upon me. Since I sometimes think my girlfriend is coming far too close to stumbling upon just how much of a nerd I am, this blog seems like the perfect place to unload my thoughts.