Friday, July 31, 2015

Random Thoughts about HBO at TCA 2015 & Buffy's "Ted"

-HBO programming chief took questions from television critics during HBO’s day of the 2015 summer version of the TCAs, in which critics gather in the same space for panels and where they tweet, re-tweet, and joke about the same things all day, every day, and eat pancakes with actors. One critic asked about the fate of Jon Snow, the character left bleeding out in the season finale, because the show runners said he’s dead, and Kit Harrington said he’s dead. Fans don’t believe it because of Kit Harrington didn’t cut his long hair. The programming chief, Michael Lombardo, according to The Hollywood Reporter, gave a wide grin and answered, “Jon Snow is indeed dead.” Why critics bothered to ask the programming chief about the fate of a fictional character on a program he doesn’t write puzzles one. Who would ask the publisher of Nabokov’s Pale Fire to answer, “Did John Shade invent Kinbote or did Kinbote invent Shade?” Fans of TV shows don’t need to read about the possible fates of their favorite characters in the quote of a programming chief or any executive. Jon Snow’s not even dead. Michael Lombardo stating such a truth means the opposite. Thank the critics for a useless and unnecessary piece of clickbait.

-Lombardo suggested Game of Thrones will end after 8 seasons, an extension of one more season. Benioff and Weiss have thought about an eighth season after stating for years they wanted to end it after 7 seasons. Next year, expect Michael Lombardo to announce a ninth season, and the following year, expect a tenth…

-Critics asked about the 2nd season of True Detective. This season has pissed off critics, bloggers, and fans as much as the American dentist pissed off the world by killing Cecil the Lion. Alan Sepinwall criticized the complexity of the story, a troubling criticism in an age where executives probably prefer simplicity over complexity for the sake of keeping people with lower attention spans than 15-20 years ago. Asking the programming chief his thoughts about the 2nd season, as if expecting an answer that agreed with the critics’ criticisms of the season, again seems naive and misguided. Lombardo described the season as “satisfying” and cited the number of people watching. According to Jim lasted 8 seasons because of the numbers. Executives love numbers. Asking Lombardo’s opinion about the series opens it up for the corporate marketing spin. He doesn’t care about the quality. The man thought the Entourage movie a good idea.

-The Leftovers premieres Sunday, October 4. Damon Lindelof told reporters the season will bring together a family rather than pull a family apart.

-Enough HBO. ABC Family moved Buffy to 7AM from 5PM. Any young folk don’t need ABC Family to watch the series for the first time, of course. Buffy streams on Hulu and Netflix. I watched some of my favorite shows for the first time in syndication, in the ancient early aughts when cell phones merely allowed one to play snake. Buffy at 7AM is a fine way to begin the day.

Yesterday, “Ted” aired. John Ritter played a robot named Ted in an episode about a daughter’s resistance to accepting her Mom’s new boyfriend Joss Whedon ranked it in his Top 10. He wrote it with David Greenwalt. I hadn’t watched the episode in years. Beyond the metaphorical meat, which I like, a scene I totally forgot stuck in my head. After Buffy accidentally kills Ted (no one knows he’s a robot, and there’s a few clever lines that hint about the later reveal), she approaches her Mom trying not to cry but crying. Sarah Michelle Gellar was so good. On the page is: “Buffy enters, tentatively.” Both speak, then: “A beat. Neither of them knows how to scale this well.” Sarah lets the emotion free when Buffy tells her mother, “I didn’t mean to hurt him.” The economy of the scene, of the characterization of Buffy and Joyce, is admirable and beneficial to any newer, greener writer that tends to overwrite scenes (that’s me, friends and well-wishers): three lines of action: seven lines of dialogue. Joyce speaks four times; Buffy speaks three times. The emotion--the substance of the scene--happens between the spaces.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Random TV Thoughts: Watching The X Files

Whenever someone I know learns I’m watching The X Files, that someone mentions I should stop watching well before the end of the series. Whenever I peruse the Internet for reviews of specific episodes, the reviewer wrote a paragraph or two about the decline of the series. The AV Club reviewed the entire series a couple years ago. Both reviewers shared stories of when their interest in the series waned. After “Triangle,” one of the two reviewers wrote, “Rough stuff is ahead.” I enjoyed season six. I began season seven with trepidation, because the echoes of how bad the series goes resounded in my head. I’ve watched episodes guardedly, prepared for No Ordinary Family level of dreck at any one episode. After I watched “Rush,” the strangely Buffy Season 1 esque supernatural metaphor for puberty, I decided to quit watching episodes with preconceived notions about how bad it’d get, because that’s no way to watch television. I’m a completionist, but I won’t watch TV shows to completion if I’m forcing it. I let go, as it were, for “The Goldberg Variation” and the following episodes.

I don’t want to dig into why people hate the final seasons of the series with the vitriol LOST fans hate season six and the series finale. Not yet. I’ll figure it on my own, I think. I’m an adept watcher of television. (I know that’s not anything to brag about.) I even know and understand the broad reasons people lost interest and felt angry. The myth-arc devolved into gibberish. I thought Chris Carter and the writers hit the peak of the myth-arc between seasons three and four. Serialized stories risk disappointing the majority the fanbase. Fans want answers to their questions. Perhaps their demand for answers becomes intense because fiction can provide answers that life cannot. Some artists don’t think answering questions is the artist’s job, but that’s beside the point. Critics of True Detective point to Pizzolatto’s comments after season 1 concluded about the case not mattering as much as how the case mattered to the characters as a detriment. “Well, if the case doesn’t have more juice, it doesn’t matter how it affects the characters.” That’s nonsense. I can only speculate about what angered X Files fans. I’d guess the series ran too long.

Anyway, I watched the two-parter “Seid und Zeit” and “Closure.” A small part of me dreaded another 88 minutes of myth-arc story, but my new approach to watching the series helped me enter the experience openly. After the 88 minute story, which moved me more than I ever thought, I read The AV Club review of “Closure.” I learned about the episode’s divisiveness. I skimmed it to avoid learning that Carter backtracked on the fate of Samantha in seasons eight or nine, and then I thought about the maligned final seasons of the series again. The essence of “Closure” captures what best works in genre television, especially in genre shows that have a huge mythology and a variety of possibilities for what happened to different characters. Joss Whedon best utilized the monstrous metaphors for human things. Mulder’s search for his sister has been a convoluted journey. He found her clones, he learned about his parents’ duplicitous involvement in her disappearance, he learned about Cigarette Smoking Man’s involvement, he learned that The Syndicate offered their children to the aliens that wanted to colonize the planet, and his search for her motivated his story. What’s the most simple way to tell someone what The X Files is? It’s Mulder’s search for his missing sister.

The fourth and final act of The X Files almost leaves the fate of Samantha open, but Pillar’s little boy takes Mulder to the happy field where the children went after something terrible happened to them. Mulder sees her, forever fourteen and dead, and embraces her. “Closure” is gloomy and solemn, tinged by a bittersweet, though terribly sad, finality. She died because older men took her away to advance their plans. The most remarkable scene in the episode happens between Mulder and Scully when Mulder reads aloud from his sister’s journal, which he found at Cigarette Smoking Man’s house, about the tests done to her, about her faint memories of a brown-haired brother she’d like to hug, about her plans to run away, and, later, he learns about the self-inflicted scars on her arms and legs, all of which coalesces for Mulder into the sad and simple truth, which he sought from 1989 onwards, that his sister died. Mulder passes the search onto Pillar at the end when he tells him he saw his son. Pillar refused to believe and vowed to search until he found him. Cigarette Smoking Man’s line about hope underscores the fundamental divide between him and Mulder. He didn’t speak a word about the death of Samantha, because he thought Mulder needed hope. Mulder only wanted the truth.

Fans seem to either hate “Closure” or love “Closure.” The episode possibly hits a lot of things the writers did ‘wrong’ if such a thing is possible in creative writing in the fans’ perspective. I don’t know what’s next in season seven. The X Files’ writers didn’t build to exciting finales. The episode before a finale could be Mulder’s investigations of a bug creature in a call center followed by a heavy mytholgoy episode. Seasons were dotted with a lot of stand-alone stories; those episodes were separated by myth-arc business at the beginning of the season and at winter and spring sweeps.

So, no, I won’t stop watching the series. Season seven’s not different from previous seasons. The episodes range from great to very bad. I might check back in a few weeks when the cast changes and write a sentence that agrees with those who warned me to stop watching. Right now I don’t want to miss the unexpected delightful episodes, or an episode like “Field Trip” that’ll leave me entranced for 45 minutes, or something as gloomy, solemn, and sort of beautiful as “Closure.”

Monday, July 27, 2015

Running Wild with Bear Grylls "Kate Winslet" Review

Episode three of Running Wild with Bear Grylls takes place at Snowdonia National Park. It is the most casual of the three episodes. I wonder if the adventure peaked with Hudson and Ferguson. I wonder whether the final episode of the series involves Bear taking WWE superstar Stardust to Grand Canyon National Park, sit at Mather Point, while Stardust cuts heel promos about Arrow’s Stephen Amell and Bear finally cuts heel promos about Les Stroud. I don’t know. The Kate Winslet episode essentially follows her and Bear as they enjoy a mostly relaxing brief camping trip with scattered challenges.

-Bear and Kate Winslet hiked Snowdonia mountains. For Winslet’s first challenge, she repelled down a steep rockface to more walkable ground. Bear will take her from the top of the mountain to the bottom, which is really the opposite of what people do. Folk walk up the mountain and then folk walk down. Winslet got into a ‘situatiion’ during the first challenge. She lost her balance. Bear helped her through and coached her to a point where she clung to the side of Snowdonia until Bear came to rescue her. Suddenly it became a low-stakes Welsh fairytale.

-Bear rewarded Kate with a cup of tea. His mountainside relaxation tea time seems reserved exclusively for those that grew up on the island. Hudson and Ferguson didn’t drink tea. Ferguson enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate. Did Hudson drink anything? I don’t remember. Bear engaged her in conversation about acting, specifically about earning the role of Kate in James Cameron’s 1997 romantic classic, Titantic. I adored and loved 1997 Kate Winslet when I was eleven years old. They repelled more, because descending a mountain involved getting down from one rocky surface to another rocky surface in different ways. They barely walk anywhere before Bear takes the rope out for another adventure rope repel.

-So, they climbed up a narrow mountainous pathway to walkable terrain. Down the mountain they traveled. At a lower altitude they found camp and dinner. Bear fished. By fish, one must have the image of Bear making a line using a thin branch with a jagged piece of metal as the hook. I do, and I watched Bear fish. Bear fished by aggressively slapping the water towards Winslet. It worked. I could slap the water for centuries and not fly a fish from the water during that time. Bear, in TV time (which definitely reflects real-time), takes 10 seconds to catch a trout.

-I liked their camp. Bear built a small rock wall to protect them against the wind. For bedding he gathered moss and heather. Kate Winslet constructed a washing line for the purpose of washing her bra. Earlier Bear threw the caught fish down her shirt.

-Bear and Kate discussed positive body image for females. Kate never heard positive things about the female body growing up. As a mother to a daughter she celebrates the female shape, the female form, which then leads to a warm sentiment from her about the importance of people treating each other kindly.

-The episode condensed day two into twelve minutes. Winslet beat Bear up. He compared taking Winslet camping to taking a steroid-infused Mary Poppins. Winslet wanted her tea and other customary English pleasantries at breakfast time.

-The coastline of Snowdonia fills one with awe and a weird ache i.e. longing to be there. The coast of Wales has more in common with American Atlantic coastlines than the western Pacific cliffy coastlines. The helicopter shot of the coastline reminded me of Northern California, but I’ve yet to see the rocky shores of Maine and Massachusetts. Bear repelled down the steep descent to the coastline in 12 seconds. The descent looked gnarly. Bear and Kate need to walk as if gravity let up for them. The descent for someone looks similar to freely falling down—that’s the extreme degree at which one must descend. Bear urged her to lean forward. The further forward she leant the easier the descent would be for her.

-The last 12 minutes of the episode occupy day two because they need only reach the extraction point. I’ll repeat it every week: celebrity episodes sure lack the insane adventure and excitement of solo Bear. I mean, the scary descent down to the coastline looked scarier because of the editing. Winslet ran down the last part of it after Bear (and the NBC production team, presumably) coaxed her into re-creating the “I feel like I’m flying, Jack” scene from Titantic.

-At the end of their journey, Bear expressed admiration for Winslet’s modesty. Winslet liked getting away for two days and being taken care of instead of taking care of everyone. Bear takes care of people well. He believes in the best of people; he looks after them in the wild; he protects them; and he returns those that travel with him safely to their families. Like any unforgettable Welsh fairy tale ending, Bear whisked Kate away by speed boat to the mythical Isle of Man.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Nostalgia in Reverse: Boy Meets World's Strange Sequel on Girl Meets World

I watched Boy Meets World, the complete series, a countless number of times. I’ll go with 33 times. Coheed and Cambria named a song “33”. I watched parts of the original TGIF run in the late 90s and the year 2000. TheWB Philadelphia affiliate aired re-runs during the 90s. Disney and ABC Family alternately re-ran the series and seemingly will continue do so for an infinite amount of time. I re-imagined season six in this blog. I wrote a couple hundred words about the terrible “Brotherly Shove” episode. I also wondered about the scale of John Adams High, whether or not anyone not in Cory’s and Shawn’s and Topanga’s age group were banished from Chubby’s and the school. I’d be laughed off the internet if I didn’t try to figure out the geography of the show in a post, which is what I did, because Michael Jacobs has the geographic sense of a toddler. I’ve overthought Boy Meets World. Some people brainstorm ways to bring electricity and water to third world countries. I tried to prove fictional Cory Matthews lived in Mayfair. I’m a bad person.

Girl Meets World already shot to hell my overarching theory about the show. Cory imagines Mr. Feeny encouraging him at the end of the Girl Meets World “Pilot.” I theorized to friends that Feeny died in between the final episode of BMW and the first episode of GMW. His appearance in the “Pilot” would work two-fold. Cory imagined seeing his beloved late teacher unaware that his essence, his ghost if-you-will, watched and observed and slightly influenced Cory’s life for the better. The viewer wouldn’t know either about Feeny’s hereafter spectral influence. Cory, Shawn, and Topanga would never know. Perhaps a situation, an object, a lesson would remind them of Mr. Feeny, but they wouldn’t know Feeny still looked after them. Cory’s lessons, a book one of the girls read, a made up game Auggie invented, all would point to the faint influence of Mr. Feeny.

Mr. Feeney appeared twice in the second season, alive and well. In one episode, Cory called him to make sure he didn’t die, which I took as a direct assault on my theory from Michael Jacobs. (No, I never published the theory, and Jacobs wouldn’t know I or my blog exists). In the second episode, Cory, Shawn, and Topanga dug up a time capsule they never buried in Boy Meets World. They buried the time capsule in Feeny’s yard. He showed up, flashlight in hand, and gave them adult detention. The artificial audience turned into a cafeteria of Catholic grade school students when he handed out adult detention.

I watch exclusively for the Boy Meets Word storylines. So far, the continuation of Boy Meets World storylines has been a mix of pandering and nonsense. Angela returned to ask Shawn about whether or not she should become a mother. Her appearance came in the midst of a strange arc involving Riley’s best friend and her mother in which the best friend, Maya, wants Shawn to be her guardian. At times I feel uncomfortable watching the Shawn/Maya dynamic. Angela represents Shawn’s be-all-end-all, she’s the one that got away and didn’t come back, and everyone who cares for Shawn in Girl Meets World thinks he’ll fall for Angela all over again if he saw her. The contrived and nonsensical reason she returns failed to re-capture Shawn and Angela. The writing almost gets there when Angela brings up their shared abandonment issues, but the writers reduced to her a plot device. “Angela’s Ashes” went as deep as a primetime family sitcom will go in relationships. Angela mentioned her father passed away, but it’s a nothing thing because everyone else eavesdrops outside Topanga’s coffee shop in hopes Shawn won’t return to her.

Eric Matthews returned as Plays With Squirrels, which was a nonsensical and fan pandering choice. No one knows Plays With Squirrels exists. Eric imagined the scenario during “The War.” Eric shares his “Lose your friends. Lose all friends. Lose yourself.” That’s it. The people of Stupidtown elected him mayor. Eric helped Riley and Maya heal what hurt their friendship in his first episode. The second episode told a story about young idealism typical of shows targeted to young teens and tweens who don’t know the bad man that wants to heavily reduce education funding will be elected and re-elected and re-elected again. Child idealist Eric Matthews believes in their future, wins an important debate overseen by his brother and attended only by children that can’t voice. A character in The Wire tells the mayor hopeful, “Kids can’t vote,” in one of the more hopeless scenes. Tommy from season six returns in a moment that touched my sooty soul to thank Eric for the sacrifice he made for Tommy over a decade ago. Eric’s even worse than the season seven portrayal.

Mr. Turner, Boy Meets World’s true villain in my alternate season six vision, returned for an inspiring half-hour about alternative teaching methods. Turner, whose last episode was the cult one when he crashed his bike, holds the superintendent position of New York Public Schools. He hired Cory. The Principal wants to fire Cory for hiring an English teacher that teaches comic books alongside canonical works of literature. The episode’s theme is heroes and villains. Guess who the heroes were. Yeah. The principal’s the villain for his narrow thinking and loses his job for trying to fire Cory and female Turner. Female Turner teaches Alan Moore’s Dark Knight alongside Harper Lee’s To Kill A  Mockingbird. Anyway, Turner eats dinner at the Matthews. Maya asked about Shawn. Turner said he loved Shawn like a son. Yes, it’s a sweet sentiment, and we’re supposed to forget Turner wasn’t there for Shawn’s graduation or the death of his father or when Shawn learned Verna wasn’t his biological mother. Before he disappeared Turner didn’t want to adopt him. Shawn lived with Chet again only to be kicked out again for Shawn’s own growth. When Shawn sees Turner again, Girl Meets World will leave out their complicated past. The actor probably wanted to leave the show, but own the story. Work it into the story. Boy Meets World didn’t shy from telling ‘heavy’ emotional stories.

Rider Strong’s the strongest actor in the series. Ben Savage is the worst. Shawn plays the sad stuff quietly. He’s not bombastic during the loud comedy bits. He played younger Shawn with a lot of whine and teen agent and it worked for the character. Teenage Shawn came from a broken home, a potential guardian rejected him, colleges didn’t want him, and he didn’t have a place. Shawn at thirty-something years old should deal with inner anguish and sadness with more control. Older folk gain perspective. We figure out how to be young when we’re past that. Teens don’t really listen well to people who’ve gone through it. The story for Shawn is building a future with Maya’s mother and Maya. The better direction could’ve been wise 30 year old Shawn who knows he can’t fill what Maya needs, but he can be there for and let her know that whatever she feels at 14 won’t always stay with her.
Cory’s still an idiot. The 5 year old son has more sense and wisdom than Cory Matthews. Topanga’s a non-character.

Shawn Hunter’s the series’ richest, most subtle character because of Rider Strong’s talent. He added more to the Angela scene than what was on the page—his manner, his body language, expressed more than any of the subpar and hastily written dialogue. Disney shows have atrocious acting, their series seem written by a wild pack of starved hyenas, and maybe I’m a grizzled and cynical man but not every adult actor needs to act like an over-sugared child.

Okay, so the Feeny theory wasn't real. Ponder this, though: nostalgia drives part of the TV and movie industry. What we saw before we're seeing again. Coach, The X Files, Twin Peaks, Heroes, etc. all have spots in the 2015-2016 TV Season (not Twin Peaks). Girl Meets World's part of the longing for the past by people. Girl Meets World isn't a show driven by the spirit of Mr. Feeny. Perhaps the show's  main theme is memory. Memory's amazingly unreliable. I said something that cracked my friend up in 2013. He quoted me Sunday night. I have no memory of saying it. I don't remember things as they happened. I remember what I think I remember, or rather I think I remember what I remember but what I remember is unreliable and trustworthy. We're all unreliable narrators. The writers of Boy Meets World and, now the writers of Girl Meets World, retcon the heck out of the past. The retcons could be part of the main fabric woven through the two series, a commentary about memory, how it becomes blurred and confused, and how as we age we retcon our own pasts. Characters re-appear different from what they were which is not dissimilar to how it is when we run into someone we haven't seen in years. The first thing people will say is, "Wow! You look different!" Sometimes I think, "If I could return to the past, I'd wouldn't do the same things. I'd act differently." Hasn't everyone, if only once, thought about that they'd do something differently if they had the chance? The nostalgia wave lets writers and fans do things differently. The scary thing to think about is that I'd do same thing. No matter what I think I'd do or how I'd act, I'd do it all the same. People essentially want the same thing. TV does the same, except the actors aged a bit.

Girl Meets World wraps all those aspects of nostalgia, the remembrance of things past, but more likely it's the opposite end of memory that made it into the pitch. Without memory, we don't have a past. A lot of people remember and love Boy Meets World. They'd love it all over again even if it's a little different, a little changed--like them. Everyone's a little different and a little changed now compared to then.

The series is more than a nostalgic kick for us entitled millennials. I’m invested in the Boy Meets World stuff, because I’m cursed. I don’t watch unless I know Eli Williams will return. GMW basically copies the Boy Meets World stories. Jacobs and the writers make meta references about it. The stories always start with Riley. Girl Meets World is Boy Meets World for a new group of young kids except its from a female perspective.

We’ve seen it all before, Boy Meets World fans.

About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.