kottke.org posts about TV
Speaking of PBS shows, Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now starts on PBS tonight with two back-to-back episodes. The NY Times has a positive review.
The opening episode, for instance, is called "Clean," and it sets the pattern for the five that follow. We tend not to acknowledge just how recent some of the trends and comforts of modern life are, including the luxury of not walking through horse manure and human waste on the way to the post office.
The episode turns back the clock just a century and a half, to a time before our liquid waste stream was largely contained in underground pipes. Mr. Johnson then traces the emergence of the idea that with a little effort, cities and towns could have a cleaner existence, and the concurrent idea that cleanliness would have public health benefits.
But his examination of "the ultraclean revolution," as he calls it, doesn't stop at the construction of sewage and water-purification systems. He extends the thread all the way to the computer revolution, visiting a laboratory where microchips are made.
The show is based on Johnson's book of the same name, which enters the NY Times bestseller list at #4 this week. Also, I keep wanting to call the book/show How We Got to Know, which strikes me as a perfectly appropriate title as well.
Update: The first two episodes are available online until 10/30.
Atul Gawande's best selling Being Mortal is getting the Frontline treatment on PBS this January. Here's the trailer:
Jack Handey, who wrote for SNL for seventeen years, remembers Phil Hartman.
Phil Hartman was perhaps the best cast member, ever, of Saturday Night Live. I loved writing for him. So did the other writers. Phil was rarely "light in the show," as the saying went.
Roles I gave him, from an unfrozen caveman lawyer to a giant businessman to a frustrated robot, Phil made shine. He was especially good at being the patient, authoritative voice of reason, gently explaining to an idiot why he was an idiot, and why he had to stop being an idiot.
When Anthony Bourdain's hour-long food and travel show first launched on CNN, it marked the network's step away from 24 hours news and towards more entertainment programming. But maybe Bourdain is just the reporter we need these days when most of what we see of other cultures is satellite images or shots of rubble. "I'm not a foreign policy wonk, but I see aspects of these countries that regular journalists don't." From FastCo: Anthony Bourdain has become the future of cable news, and he couldn't care less.
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd,
but when they said, "Sit down," I stood up.
-- Bruce Springsteen, Growing Up
In the NYT Magazine, A.O. Scott reflects on the death of adulthood in American culture:
What all of these shows grasp at, in one way or another, is that nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore. Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. It isn't only that patriarchy in the strict, old-school Don Draper sense has fallen apart. It's that it may never really have existed in the first place, at least in the way its avatars imagined. Which raises the question: Should we mourn the departed or dance on its grave?
This Lego version of the Simpsons house looks amazing. Not sure if it's $200 amazing, but still. These minimalist Lego Simpsons characters are much cheaper.
Bill Murray is set to host the season premiere of Saturday Night Live and the internet is going to fucking EXPLODE.
According to several sources -- including news posts yesterday by local NBC affiliate sites that have since been taken down -- the one and only Bill Murray will be making a glorious return to SNL to help ring in its 40th year on the air, while fellow SNL alum Sarah Silverman and TV-turned-movie star Chris Pratt will host the second and third episodes, respectively.
Update: FALSE ALARM! I repeat, FALSE ALARM.
NBC has announced that Chris Pratt will be hosting the season premiere, with Sarah Silverman hosting the second episode. It's not clear what happened to Murray-as-host -- it may have been rescheduled to later in the season or canceled altogether.
Go back to your homes and places of business in peace. No looting please. (via @zakmahshie)
Good morning, good morning. Welcome back from your beach vacation. Settling in? Good, good. Let's get right to it then: HBO has remastering The Wire in 16x9 HD and rebroadcasting what looks like every episode on HBO Signature starting this Thursday (Sept 4). Here's a teaser:
We haven't had news to report on HBO's The Wire in a long, long time but this tidbit caught our ear. HBO will be rebroadcasting one of its iconic series: The Wire in never-before-broadcast HD glory! The marathon will begin weeknights at 8PM starting on September 4th. You'll find the episodes on HBO Signature, a channel most, if not all HBO subscribers should have access to.
No idea if these new HD versions will make it to HBO Go or Amazon Instant or even into the mythical The Wire Blu-ray. Hopefully?
Update: A reader writes in:
My friend who works at HBO says they are chopping the top and bottom off the 4 x 3 frame for the early seasons to "fit" 16 x 9. We saw this with FX's Simpsons Marathon and I really wish companies would stop doing this. It wasn't cool to chop the sides off Lawrence of Arabia and it is likewise not cool to chop the head and neck off of Stringer Bell.
Boo. Boo-urns. According to IMDB, only season 5 was shot at 16x9. They should just leave seasons 1-4 at 4x3 and make the picture better. (thx, john)
Update: From an extensive piece on how The Wire was filmed:
And perhaps the final contrast to the rest of high-end episodic television, The Wire for each of its five seasons has been produced in good old fashioned 4 x 3 standard definition. DP Dave Insley recalled, "The reason the show has stayed 4x3 is because David Simon thinks that 4x3 feels more like real life and real television and not like a movie. The show's never been HD, even 4x3 HD and that (SD) is how it is on the DVDs. There is no 16x9 version anywhere." As a viewer with an HD set I will point out that like much of SD television that makes its way to HD channels, it appears that HBO utilizes state-of-the-art line doubling technology. It may still be standard definition, but line doubled it looks considerably better on a high definition set than it would on a standard definition set.
Insley explained, "When the show started 2001 / 2002 they framed it for 16 x 9 as a way of future-proofing. Then a couple of seasons ago, right before Season 4 began shooting, there was a big discussion about it and after much discussion -- David, Nina, Joe Chappelle, the Producers, the DPs -- and we discussed what should be the style of the show. David made the decision that we would stay with 4x3. The DPs pretty much defined the look to be what it is now. And it's been consistent for the past two seasons."
If the chopping down to 16x9 rumors are true, David Simon cannot be happy about that. I wonder how much creative control he maintains over decisions like that? I am guessing very little. (via @tubofguts)
Update: HBO has confirmed the remastering to EW, but says the timeline for airing has not been set yet.
A promo claiming that a "replay marathon" of the series would start September 4 on HBO Signature ran prematurely, HBO said, and the series will not be airing this month.
From the excellent Art of the Title, an interview with Angus Wall, the creative director responsible for the opening titles of Game of Thrones.
Basically, we had an existing map of Westeros and a xeroxed hand drawn map of Essos - both done by George R. R. Martin - and I took those into Photoshop and played with their scale until they lined up perfectly. The actual dimensions, the locations and their placement, and the different terrains are all based strictly on George R. R. Martin's maps. It was really important that we stay as absolutely true to the books as possible because of the ardent fans out there.
Wall also works as an editor, often on David Fincher films. He won two Oscars for editing The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
From Mallory Ortberg at The Toast, an appreciation of Ralph Wiggum.
Ralph is not a rule-follower like Lisa, nor a rule-breaker like Bart; Ralph does not observe the rules because he is almost completely unaware of them. More than any of the other students at Springfield Elementary, Ralph is a child. Bart and Lisa and Milhouse and Nelson and Janey are kids, and therein lies the difference. Ralph sees things that aren't there ("Ralph, remember the time you said Snagglepuss was outside?" "He was going to the bathroom!"), eats paste, picks his nose, volunteers unprompted, nonsensical declarations ("My cat's breath smells like cat food") disguised as Zen koans. His character is sometimes written as dim-but-profound, sometimes borderline-psychotic, and occasionally developmentally disabled, but more than anything else, Ralph like what he is: a child who hasn't yet aged into a kid, which is one of the most embarrassing things a child can be.
Goes nicely with this video of some of Ralph's finest moments:
From Tony Zhou, A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film.
Michele Tepper wrote about Sherlock's display of texts in 2011.
The rise of instant messaging, and even more, the SMS, has added another layer of difficulty; I'm convinced that the reason so many TV characters have iPhones is not just that Hollywood thinks they're cool, but also because the big crisp screen is so darn easy to read. Still, the cut to that little black metal rectangle is a narrative momentum killer. What's a director trying to make a ripping good adventure yarn to do?
The solution is deceptively simple: instead of cutting to the character's screen, Sherlock takes over the viewer's screen.
And just today, a trailer for Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children, which movie seems to consist entirely of texting and social media interaction:
The Art of the Title has a look at the Emmy nominees for best title design for 2014: Black Sails, Cosmos, Masters of Sex, Silicon Valley, and True Detective. As noted, the excellent titles for Halt and Catch Fire missed the eligibility period by a day. Spoilers: True Detective's titles won.
If the continent of Westeros from Game of Thrones had rail service, this is what the transit map might look like. Here's the King's Landing transport hub:
The maps are the work of designer Michael Tyznik and are available as prints: Westeros and The Known World.
In the late 70s, David Chase wrote a pair of episodes of The Rockford Files, a detective series on NBC. Those episodes were something of a prototype for The Sopranos, which Chase would create two decades later for HBO.
In Just a Coupla Guys, Tony the mob boss (Antony Ponzini) is a doting father who also happens to be a killer. Anthony Jr. (Doug Tobey) is a good kid acting up to get his dad's attention. Jean (Jennifer Rhodes) is the long-suffering mob wife, trapped in a suburban mansion. And Mr. Lombard (Gilbert Green), is an aging former boss who may or may not have lost his marbles. There's even a Catholic priest (Arch Johnson), although he's nowhere near as attractive as Father Phil, the clergyman who caught Carmela Soprano's eye.
Halt and Catch Fire just ended its first season last night and while the show wasn't perfect, I loved almost every single minute of it. (In Time, James Poniewozik writes about why the series was so interesting.) Even haters of the show can agree that one of the best aspects of the 80s period drama is the music. There are several playlists of the music on Rdio...this seems to be the best one:
Each main character from the show also has their own playlist. Joe MacMillan: Brian Eno, Eurythmics, and The Cars. Cameron Howe: Blondie, The Clash, and The Slits. Gordon Clark: Creedence, Eric Clapton, and Dire Straits. Donna Clark: Mozart, Joni Mitchell, and Billy Joel.
If you've been paying attention to the promos for HBO's Game of Thrones series, there's been a lot of Jon Snow sitting on the Iron Throne. When the show started, Snow seemed like a relatively minor character, but his uncertain parentage hinted at possible greater things on the horizon. Here's a video explanation of one of the more popular theories about Snow's parents:
BTW, if you, like me, haven't read the books and have only seen the TV show, the video doesn't contain any outright spoilers, only enriching context. So watch away. And if you've read the books, you probably don't need to watch the video because you're probably already aware of this old theory. If you're interested, there are more theories (and crazy spoilers) where that came from.
Over at McSweeney's, Gary Almeter reimagines episodes of the Little House on the Prairie TV show to reflect the presence of a Starbucks in Walnut Grove.
Charles inherits the entire estate of a wealthy uncle. Within 24 hours, the Ingallses, who are seemingly rich, suddenly become Harriet Oleson's best pals. They are pressured to make various contributions throughout the community, and they even receive newspaper article offers to chronicle this tremendous change in their lives. Things get even worse when this newfound fortune threatens the family's relationships with their real friends. Meanwhile, Nellie Oleson, to avenge a barista who broke Nellie's doll, replaces the cinnamon at the Starbucks condiments bar with cayenne pepper while Mr. Edwards finally accepts the idea that coffee can be iced.
45 years ago today, the lunar module from the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon. For the 40th anniversary of the landing in 2009, I put together a page where you can watch the original CBS News coverage of Walter Cronkite reporting on the Moon landing and the first Moon walk, synced to the present-day time. I've updated the page to work again this year: just open this page in your browser and the coverage will start playing at the proper time. Here's the schedule:
Moon landing broadcast start: 4:10:30 pm EDT on July 20
Moon landing shown: 4:17:40 pm EDT
Moon landing broadcast end: 4:20:15 pm EDT
Moon walk broadcast start: 10:51:27 pm EDT
First step on Moon: 10:56:15 pm EDT
Nixon speaks to the Eagle crew: approx 11:51:30 pm EDT
Moon walk broadcast end: 12:00:30 pm EDT on July 21
Here's what I wrote when I launched the project:
If you've never seen this coverage, I urge you to watch at least the landing segment (~10 min.) and the first 10-20 minutes of the Moon walk. I hope that with the old time TV display and poor YouTube quality, you get a small sense of how someone 40 years ago might have experienced it. I've watched the whole thing a couple of times while putting this together and I'm struck by two things: 1) how it's almost more amazing that hundreds of millions of people watched the first Moon walk *live* on TV than it is that they got to the Moon in the first place, and 2) that pretty much the sole purpose of the Apollo 11 Moon walk was to photograph it and broadcast it live back to Earth.
(FYI, I didn't test it, but I'm almost positive this will *not* work on mobile...it uses YouTube's Flash player to show the video. Sorry.)
I was 29 years old and living the dream, or at least my version of it, when everything changed. I was in love with an amazing woman and had a rent-controlled sublet in New York City's West Village and a good job at a glossy magazine. By any estimation as I now recall my life before it was tossed upside down, my girlfriend and I had no discernible problems.
In Matter, Larry Smith's My Life with Piper: From Big House to Small Screen.
The first season of a new series based on 12 Monkeys (and La Jetée) is set to debut on Syfy in January; here's the trailer:
(via the verge)
Back in February, Smug Mode chose American counterparts for all of Doctor Who's past incarnations. We're talking Dick Van Dyke as the 2nd Doctor, Gene Wilder for the 4th Doctor, and Donald Glover as the 11th Doctor. Here's a nicely done faux 50th anniversary video celebrating those Doctors:
This is a reel from Mackevision, showing the visual effects they did for season 4 of Game of Thrones. I wasn't expecting all the boats to be fake.
This reel does a better job than most in showing the process and how all the different elements fit together. Also interesting to see how much the digital greebles make everything seem way more realistic.
Update: And here's another reel of VFX from season 4 by Rodeo FX.
Speaking of Halt and Catch Fire, the title sequence is pretty awesome:
I am also currently trying (and mostly failing) not to have a giant crush on Mackenzie Davis, who plays crack programmer Cameron Howe on the show, reads Infinite Jest in Brooklyn coffee shops, gets anxious about talking on the phone (me too!), and has recently read The Soul of a New Machine (me too!). Am I wrong to think we'd totes be BFFs?!
Update: The Art of the Title did a feature on the H&CF titles, which includes 55 photos of storyboards. Pretty cool to see the process. (via @ScottIvers)
Television is in the midst of a protracted golden age. Anthropogenic climate change is beginning to affect the planet's weather. Sarah Miller puts these two ideas together in a short piece of humor writing.
About half an hour later, a Boston Whaler was cruising down Ninth Avenue, and a man stood on the bow with a megaphone, shouting, "Please leave your buildings. Make your way to the nearest rooftop" in English, then in Spanish, then in Chinese. By this point, the water had risen to the top of the first floor. An emergency siren came on and stayed on. Irritated, Marci turned on the closed captioning. Then she wrote a short post about how watching "House of Cards" with subtitles revealed that, in domestic situations, people with less power spoke more words than those with more power but, in professional situations, it was the reverse. She posted it to her Tumblr. "This is so exactly what I was thinking about right now," someone commented.
Watch as two players from the Japanese national soccer team try to score against 55 kids.
The kids had two opportunities to stop the pro players, once with 33 players and the second time with 55 players. This didn't turn out how I expected, given how a similar stunt involving fencing ended.
This was posted on Marginal Revolution a few days ago and garnered several interesting comments about how much better professional athletes are than us regular folk. Here are a few:
Rugby: I played against an international player once. Watching him play, I'd seen a chap who ran in straight lines, a strong tackler with a weak kick. Playing against him revealed him to be skillful, agile and possessed of a howitzer kick.
Back in the 1980s a friend was watching a pickup basketball game in Boston and reported what happened when a player from the Celtics showed up. He was so much faster, more athletic, and more agile than the other players that it seemed like he was playing a different sport. The player turned out to be Scott Wedman, who by that time was old and slow by NBA standards, and mainly hung around the 3-point line to shoot outside shots after the defense had collapsed on Bird, McHale, et al. But compared to non-NBA players, he was Michael Jordan (or LeBron James).
My U-19 team (we were very good by local standards) had a practice with the New Zealand All Blacks, who were on some sort of tour. It was like they were from a different planet. I stood no chance of containing, or conversely getting past, the smallest of them under almost any circumstance.
Back in the olden thymes I was a pretty good baseball player. Early in my high school career I got the chance to catch a AAA pitcher. I went into thinking I would have no trouble. The first pitch was on top of me so fast I was knocked off balance. It took a bunch of pass balls before I got used to how to handle his breaking stuff.
The result in the video might also shed some light on the question of choosing to fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses.
Yesterday, I did a round-up of movies, TV, and music available on this weekend in 1984. As a comparison, I thought looking at the same weekend from 1974 would be interesting. Tracking this information down was a little more difficult than with 1984, but I found most of what I needed in the June 23, 1974 edition of the NY Times.
Back in the 1970s (and probably particularly in NYC), movies stayed in theaters a lot longer than they do now. There was no home video market then...you either saw the movie in the theater or you missed it. This is a list of some of the movies available for viewing in theaters that weekend in NYC:
The Sugarland Express
The Great Gatsby
The Sting, Papillon, and The Exorcist had been out since late 1973, The Great Gatsby since March, and The Sugarland Express (Spielberg's directoral debut) and The Conversation since April. Only Parallax View and Chinatown had just opened. Interestingly, the year's top-grossing film, Blazing Saddles, which opened in February, didn't appear anywhere on the movie listing pages of the Times that week.
The top 10 on the Billboard chart for that week were:
Billy, Don't Be A Hero - Bo Donaldson And The Heywoods
You Make Me Feel Brand New - The Stylistics
Sundown - Gordon Lightfoot
The Streak - Ray Stevens
Be Thankful For What You Got - William DeVaughn
Band On The Run - Paul McCartney & Wings
If You Love Me (let Me Know) - Olivia Newton-John
Dancing Machine - Jackson 5
Hollywood Swinging - Kool & The Gang
The Entertainer - Marvin Hamlisch/The Sting
And on TV that weekend, a number of classic shows, all reruns except for 60 Minutes:
Sanford and Son
The Odd Couple
All in the Family
Mary Tyler Moore
BTW, the entire copy of the Sunday Times was fascinating to page through. The ads for cigarettes, hand-held calculators, and color televisions, real estate listings, job openings, book listings, the NY Times Magazine, car ads, etc.
On this weekend 30 years ago, in the summer of 1984, you could stroll into a movie theater and choose between the following films:
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The Karate Kid
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Plus, Sixteen Candles and Footloose had just closed the weekend before. 1984 was generally a great year for movies. Musically, the following songs were in heavy rotation on the radio and on MTV that weekend:
The Reflex - Duran Duran
Time After Time - Cyndi Lauper
Let's Hear It for the Boy - Deniece Williams
Dancing in the Dark - Bruce Springsteen
Self Control - Laura Branigan
The Heart of Rock & Roll - Huey Lewis
Jump - The Pointer Sisters
When Doves Cry - Prince
Eyes Without a Face - Billy Idol
Borderline - Madonna
On TV that weekend were mostly reruns and movies...networks only showed reruns in the summer back then. The shows airing included:
The Dukes of Hazzard
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Late Night with David Letterman
(via, no foolin', the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man)
I've been hearing some good things about Halt and Catch Fire, which is three episodes into its first season on AMC. The show follows a group of 80s computer folk as they attempt to reverse engineer the IBM PC. The first episode is available online in its entirety.
Many reviews mention the similarity of the characters to Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but the trio of managers from Texas Instruments who left to form Compaq in the early 80s are a much closer fit. The Compaq Portable was the first 100% IBM compatible computer produced. Brian McCullough recently did a piece on Compaq's cloning of the IBM PC for the Internet History Podcast.
The idea was to create a computer that was mostly like IBM-PC and mostly ran all the same software, but sold at a cheaper price point. The first company to pursue this strategy was Columbia Data Products, followed by Eagle Computer. But soon, most of the big names in the young computer industry (Xerox, Hewlett-Packard, Digital Equipment Corporation, Texas Instruments, and Wang) were all producing PC clones.
But all of these machines were only mostly PC-compatible. So, at best, they were DOS compatible. But there was no guarantee that each and every program or peripheral that ran on the IBM-PC could run on a clone. The key innovation that Canion, Harris and Murto planned to bring to market under the name Compaq Computer Corporation would be a no-compromises, 100% IBM-PC compatibility. This way, their portable computer would be able to run every single piece of software developed for the IBM-PC. They would be able to launch their machine into the largest and most vibrant software ecosystem of the time, and users would be able to use all their favorite programs on the road.
My dad bought a machine from Columbia Data Products; I had no idea it was the first compatible to the market. My uncle had a Compaq Portable that he could take with him on business trips. I played so much Lode Runner on both of those machines. I wonder if that disk of levels I created is still around anywhere... (via @cabel)
Update: I'm all caught up, five episodes into the season, and I'm loving it.
Louis C.K. sat down with Jonah Weiner for an extended interview where he discusses learning how to fix cars, tell jokes, fry chicken, and more. (Seriously, Medium is milking that whole time spent reading thing now.) He also gives some clues as to what he seems to be up to in the current season of Louie:
JW: You've talked about how you've had to explain moral lessons to your daughters, but do it in a catchy way. It's almost as though you're writing material for them. What's the place of morality and ethics in your comedy?
I think those are questions people live with all the time, and I think there's a lazy not answering of them now, everyone sheepishly goes, "Oh, I'm just not doing it, I'm not doing the right thing." There are people that really live by doing the right thing, but I don't know what that is, I'm really curious about that. I'm really curious about what people think they're doing when they're doing something evil, casually. I think it's really interesting, that we benefit from suffering so much, and we excuse ourselves from it. I think that's really interesting, I think it's a profound human question...
I think it's really interesting to test what people think is right or wrong, and I can do that in both directions, so sometimes it's in defense of the common person against the rich that think they're entitled to this shit, but also the idea that everybody has to get handouts and do whatever they want so that there's not supposed to be any struggle in life is also a lot of horseshit. Everything that people say is testable.
At the LA Review of Books, Lili Loofbourow has a good essay about Louie's abrupt shifts in perspective, in the context of its recent rape-y episodes. There's Louie the dad, who garners sympathy and acts as a cover/hedge/foil to Louie's darker impulses. There's standup Louie, who acts as a commentary and counterpoint to dramedy Louie... except when he doesn't, and the two characters blur and flip.
Louie is -- despite its dick-joke dressing -- a profoundly ethical show... Louie is sketching out the psychology of an abuser by making us recognize abuse in someone we love. Someone thoughtful and shy, raising daughters of his own, doing his best. Someone totally cognizant of the issues that make him susceptible to the misogyny monster. Someone who thinks hard about women and men and still gets it badly wrong.
I had to stop watching Louie after Season 1. I raced greedily through those episodes, enjoying the dumb jokes and the sophisticated storytelling, and telling my friends, "this is like looking at my life in ten years." Then my wife and I separated and that joke wasn't funny any more, if it ever was. The things in Louie that are supposed to indicate the cracks in the fourth wall -- the African-American ex-wife and the seemingly white children -- are actually true in my life. His character is more like me than his creator is (except Louie has more money). No haha, you're both redheads with beards. It's an honest-to-goodness uncanny valley. I had to walk away.
At the same time, I feel like I understand Louis C.K., the comedian/filmmaker, better now than I did three years ago. If you read that interview, you see someone who's more successful now than he's ever been, who knows he's good at what he does, but who's never been certain that anyone's ever loved him or if he's ever been worthy of love.
Now America loves Louis C.K. and hangs on his every word: on gadgets, on tests in school, on what's worth caring about. How can he not want to test those limits? How can he not want to punish his audience for caring about a character based on him that he doesn't even like very much?
From 2009, the Royal Shakespeare Company's modern-dress production of Hamlet, featuring David Tennant as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius.
The site the BBC produced for the show contains more information on the production. (via @mulegirl)
Steven Johnson has been working on a six-part series for PBS called How We Got to Now. (There's a companion book as well.) The series is due in October but the trailer dropped today:
And here's a snippet of one of the episodes about railway time. I'm quite looking forward to this series; Johnson and I cover similar ground in our work with similar sensibilities. I'm always cribbing stuff from his writing and using his frameworks to think things through and just from the trailer, I counted at least three things I've covered on kottke.org in the past: Hedy Lamarr, urban sanitation, and Jacbo Riis (not to mention all sorts of stuff about time).
The next Ken Burns PBS long thing will be a seven-part series on the Roosevelts (Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin).
This seven-part, fourteen hour film follows the Roosevelts for more than a century, from Theodore's birth in 1858 to Eleanor's death in 1962. Over the course of those years, Theodore would become the 26th President of the United States and his beloved niece, Eleanor, would marry his fifth cousin, Franklin, who became the 32nd President of the United States. Together, these three individuals not only redefined the relationship Americans had with their government and with each other, but also redefined the role of the United States within the wider world. The series encompasses the history the Roosevelts helped to shape: the creation of National Parks, the digging of the Panama Canal, the passage of innovative New Deal programs, the defeat of Hitler, and the postwar struggles for civil rights at home and human rights abroad. It is also an intimate human story about love, betrayal, family loyalty, personal courage and the conquest of fear.
Fall 2014. (via @tcarmody)
Homer Economicus is a new book which uses the fictional world of Springfield on The Simpsons to explain the basic concepts of economics.
Since The Simpsons centers on the daily lives of the Simpson family and its colorful neighbors, three opening chapters focus on individual behavior and decision-making, introducing readers to the economic way of thinking about the world. Part II guides readers through six chapters on money, markets, and government. A third and final section discusses timely topics in applied microeconomics, including immigration, gambling, and health care as seen in The Simpsons. Reinforcing the nuts and bolts laid out in any principles text in an entertaining and culturally relevant way, this book is an excellent teaching resource that will also be at home on the bookshelf of an avid reader of pop economics.
I watched the first episode of Band of Brothers last night to see if it held up (it does). The episode centers on the training and deployment to England of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, led by Lt. Herbert Sobel. In the miniseries, Sobel is played by David Schwimmer and is depicted as a real hardass who earns the hatred of his men while pushing them to be the best company in the entire regiment.
In real life, Sobel rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, fought in the Korean War, was awarded the Bronze Star, married and had three children. The part of Sobel's Wikipedia entry about his later years is among the saddest things I have ever read:
In the late 1960s, Sobel shot himself in the head with a small-caliber pistol. The bullet entered his left temple, passed behind his eyes, and exited out the other side of his head. This severed his optic nerves and left him blind. He was later moved to a VA assisted living facility in Waukegan, Illinois. Sobel resided there for his last seventeen years until his death due to malnutrition on September 30, 1987. No services were held for Sobel after his death.
Rest in peace, Lieutenant Colonel Sobel.
A Japanese TV show took three expert fencers and pitted them against 50 amateurs.
I honestly didn't think this would be that interesting and expected the Musketeers to easily get taken out right away or, if they survived more than 30 seconds, to handily finish off the rest of the crowd...nothing in between. But it's fascinating what happens. The crowd, being a crowd, does not initially do what it should, which is rush the experts and take them out right away with little regard for individual survival. But pretty much every person fights for themselves. And instead of getting easier for the Musketeers near the end, it gets more difficult. The few remaining crowd members start working together more effectively. The survival of the fittest effect kicks in. The remaining experts get sloppy, tired, and perhaps a little overconfident. The ending was a genuine shock. (via digg)
I really liked this bit from Rolling Stone's interview with Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin:
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it's not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren't gone -- they're in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?
HBO is licensing some of their shows exclusively to Amazon for streaming on their Prime Instant Video service. Here's the scoop:
Beginning May 21, Amazon Prime members will have unlimited streaming access to:
- All seasons of revered classics such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome and Six Feet Under, and of recent favorites such as Eastbound & Down, Enlightened and Flight of the Conchords
- Epic miniseries, including Angels in America, Band of Brothers, John Adams, The Pacific and Parade's End
- Select seasons of current series such as Boardwalk Empire, Treme and True Blood
Game of Thrones and True Detective are notably absent from the deal. But Amazon Prime subscribers will be able to stream all of the shows above for free. (via deadline)
Kristian Nairn is the actor who plays Hodor on HBO's Game of Thrones. When he's not acting, the 6'10" Belfast resident DJs and makes music. His Soundcloud page contains a bunch of his house mixes; here's the latest mix from three months ago:
[Warning: season 4 spoilers ahoy!] So, in the second episode of this season of Game of Thrones, something wonderfully unpleasant happens. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about and if you haven't, you should really stop reading right now. I've been thinking about why it happened and who did it. This series of images over at Imgur presents a compelling explanation.
Lady Olenna gives sympathies to Sansa for the murder of her family. Watch carefully. Yoink! Olenna rubs Sansa's neck, plays with her hair and finally snatches the right-most jewel on Ser Dontos's necklace.
Interesting, right? (I mean, maybe not if you've read the books, but I haven't so I have no idea who killed Joffrey in the books or if you ever even find out.) But there are two puzzling things about the Tyrell plot:
1. Why the hell was it so convoluted? Couldn't Lady Olenna have brought the poison to the reception herself? Why use Sansa's necklace? There's no CSI: Westeros so no one would have ever suspected Sansa's necklace being part of it. Unless the Tyrells tipped someone off about it after the fact. Also, for the love of the old gods and the new, Grandma, hasn't Sansa been through enough without being framed for that little turd's murder?
2. Why do it? Why then? Does Margaery stay Queen? She has no heir by Joffrey. Or is one of Joffrey's little brothers in now? I suspect these questions will be answered in the next episode, but unless Margaery stays Queen, the Baratheon reign ends, and the Lannisters get bupkiss, I don't see a compelling reason for the Tyrells to do this.
Bonus tidbit: this is the last we'll see of Joffrey and also the last we'll see of the actor who plays him, Jack Gleeson. Gleeson is retiring from acting, saying he "stopped enjoying it as much as I used to". I bet the guy who played Malfoy in the Potter movies is breathing easier.
Years of Living Dangerously is a 9-part documentary series on climate change which features celebrity correspondents like Harrison Ford, Oliva Munn, Jessica Alba, and Matt Damon reporting from around the world on different aspects of our changing climate.
The series combines the blockbuster storytelling styles of Hollywood's top movie makers, including James Cameron and Jerry Weintraub, with the investigative skills of 60 Minutes veterans Joel Bach and David Gelber and a team of leading national news journalists and scientists.
Each YEARS correspondent -- including top Hollywood stars recognized for their commitment to spotlighting and acting on the biggest issues of our time -- delves into a different impact of climate change. From the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy in the tri-state area to political upheaval caused by droughts in the Middle East to the dangerous level of carbon emissions resulting from deforestation, the series takes the viewer on a journey to understand the current and intensifying effects of climate change through vivid stories of heartbreak, hope and heroism.
The show starts airing on Showtime on April 13, but the entire first episode is available on YouTube right now:
The show is getting great reviews so far; I hope it helps move the needle. (thx, tobin)
HBO put the entire first episode of Mike Judge's new show Silicon Valley up on YouTube:
My friend Aaron has compiled an Rdio playlist of every song ever played on MTV's Amp, a show from the mid-90s that featured electronic music. Lots of Underworld, Prodigy, Aphex Twin, and Orbital on here.
Some songs weren't available on Rdio, but there's more than 18 hours of music here.
Now that I've caught up on True Detective, I have to agree with Emily Nussbaum's take on the show and finale: a stylish well-acted show with a "hollow center".
To state the obvious: while the male detectives of "True Detective" are avenging women and children, and bro-bonding over "crazy pussy," every live woman they meet is paper-thin. Wives and sluts and daughters -- none with any interior life. Instead of an ensemble, "True Detective" has just two characters, the family-man adulterer Marty, who seems like a real and flawed person (and a reasonably interesting asshole, in Harrelson's strong performance), and Rust, who is a macho fantasy straight out of Carlos Castaneda. A sinewy weirdo with a tragic past, Rust delivers arias of philosophy, a mash-up of Nietzsche, Lovecraft, and the nihilist horror writer Thomas Ligotti. At first, this buddy pairing seems like a funky dialectic: when Rust rants, Marty rolls his eyes. But, six episodes in, I've come to suspect that the show is dead serious about this dude. Rust is a heretic with a heart of gold. He's our fetish object -- the cop who keeps digging when everyone ignores the truth, the action hero who rescues children in the midst of violent chaos, the outsider with painful secrets and harsh truths and nice arms. McConaughey gives an exciting performance (in Grantland, Andy Greenwald aptly called him "a rubber band wrapped tight around a razor blade"), but his rap is premium baloney. And everyone around these cops, male or female, is a dark-drama cliche, from the coked-up dealers and the sinister preachers to that curvy corpse in her antlers. "True Detective" has some tangy dialogue ("You are the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch") and it can whip up an ominous atmosphere, rippling with hints of psychedelia, but these strengths finally dissipate, because it's so solipsistically focussed on the phony duet.
I enjoyed the show and am seated in the McConaissance cheering section, but True Detective is far from TV's best thing evar. And Nussbaum hits the nail right on the head: the lack of good women characters is to blame.
Something I've noticed about my favorite TV shows: they are mostly testosterone fests where the women are more interesting than the men. Mad Men is the perfect example. Game of Thrones is another. And Six Feet Under. Even in Deadwood, which I am rewatching now and is loads better than True Detective, women more than hold their own against the men. It's fun to watch the men on these series generate bullshit, but it's much more interesting to watch the great actresses who play these women navigate and elevate through the predictable male privilege.
Saturday Sunday Night Live! Here's Louis C.K.'s monologue from last night's SNL; it's 8 minutes of his trademark stand-up.
Joe Sabia has built The Office Time Machine, which is a collection of video clips of every single cultural reference ever made in The Office, organized by year. For example, here is 1994:
Sabia built it to highlight how much artists and creators borrow from culture:
The Office is relatable (and hilarious) because it borrows so much from culture, and people get the references. Culture is society's collected knowledge, art, and customs. It's what surrounds us and unites us, and it allows us to collectively laugh at a joke in The Office about Ben Franklin or M. Night Shyamalan. Culture, simply put, is the seasoning in a meal.
The reboot of Cosmos has been solid but not spectacular so far, but the second episode contains as solid and clear an explanation of evolution as I've ever seen.
Even if evolution clashes with your world view, this is worth watching if only to understand what you're aligned against (per Bret Victor's advice). The third episode airs on Fox tonight and is about the creation of the scientific method.
For the show's 10th anniversary, a video essay about Deadwood, perhaps the best three-season show that'll ever be. Written and produced by Matt Zoller Seitz for RogerEbert.com.
Deadwood the series is a whole heck of a lot of things, in no particular order. And it's that "in no particular order" part that makes it so rich.
I had forgotten the Coens were turning Fargo into a FX TV series. But time has ground onward steadily and lo, the series is set to premiere in April. Here are a whole set of teaser trailers:
Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt? Could be good. (via devour)
If you missed it last night as I did, the new version of Cosmos is now available on Hulu (probably US-only unless you're clever).
The reviews are good so far.
If you're having Downton Abbey withdrawals, may I suggest Robert Altman's Gosford Park? Written by Downton creator Julian Fellowes, it's a proto-Downton of sorts: lots of upstairs/downstairs with a dash of mystery. And the cast! Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Stephen Fry, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe...and Maggie Smith plays a witty countess.
Watch it on Netflix Instant, at Amazon, or on iTunes.
This Tumblr is collecting instances of experimental music on children's television shows. Some personal favorites are Al Jarnow's Cosmic Clock and Philip Glass on Sesame Street. (via @youngna)
Mike Judge has a new series coming to HBO in April. It's called Silicon Valley and is about startup culture. Here's a preview:
Now this is some top notch investigative journalism. In Star Trek: Voyager, a Starfleet ship is stranded on the other side of the galaxy and the estimated travel time back to Federation space is 75 years. Early on in the show, it's revealed the ship has only 38 photon torpedoes and "no way to replace them after they're gone". But they used many more than that throughout the run of the show:
This is a particularly nerdy and slow-burning example of the Bottomless Magazines trope.
Looks like Don Draper may have contributed to Lucky Strike's recent sales increase.
While the claim that Mad Men could have driven a nearly 50% (representing an additional 10 billion cigarettes) increase in Lucky Strike sounds like typical advertising puffery, it's hard to pin down another driver. Lucky Strike did launch new flavors, update packaging and launch "capsule" cigarettes in the five years since Mad Men premiered, but so too did its competitors. The only new country the brand entered was Turkey -- and that wasn't until 2011. Even if one excluded all capsule (2010- ) and "All Natural" (2011-) cigarette sales (which would have been predominantly cannibalized, rather than net new), Lucky Strike would still have grown 12% between 2007 and 2012, five times faster than the industry overall and eight times British American Tobacco (the owner of Lucky Strike). Could it really have been Don Draper?
Sales of Canadian Club whiskey have turned around since Mad Men started as well. (via nextdraft)
The landmark civil rights TV series Eyes on the Prize is available on YouTube. Here's the first part:
I watched it a few years ago and cannot recommend it more highly.
Using nothing more than archival film footage, on-camera interviews, period music, and a narrator's voiceover, the stories of Emmitt Till, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the desegregation of southern schools riveted me to the couch like few viewing experiences have. As compelling as the history of the civil rights movement in America is, the production of the film deserves some of the credit for its power. To hear the stories of these momentous events told by the participants themselves, without embellishment, is quite extraordinary.
That YT link likely won't last, so check it out on DVD or at Amazon Instant Video. (via @tcarmody)
Like Twitter, HBO's Game of Thrones started out with 140 characters but now most of them are dead so I have no idea what this season is going to be about. But dragons!
Jerry Seinfeld did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) at Reddit yesterday. His answers are real, and they're spectacular.
Q: Where did the idea of, in Seinfeld, your character being a comedian for a profession, but be the straight man for your friends, come from? I always thought that juxtapositioning for the show was genius.
A: Very good observation and analysis on your part, Baxter. You are truly exhibiting a good comedic eye. The reason I would play straight was it was funnier for the scene. And very few people have ever remarked on this, because it was a conscious choice of mine, only because I knew it would make the show better, and I didn't care who was funny as long as somebody was funny and that the show was funny. So you have hit upon one of the great secret weapons of the Seinfeld series, was that I had no issue with that.
I have seen every episode of the show at least twice and never realized this. Gold, Jerry! Gold!
ps. Favorite episode of Seinfeld? Aside from the nearly perfect The Contest, I'll go with The Marine Biologist. If I ever decide to be an actor, my audition tape will be me telling George's whale rescue story:
Aaron Gordon of Sports on Earth watched 32 NFL games to determine the best and worst NFL announcers.
In general, there are three types of announcer comments: good, neutral and bad. Good statements offer some type of insight into the game. This is inherently subjective, since different people know different things. Neutral statements constitute the bulk of their utterances: neither offensive nor insightful. As a result, I decided to measure the bad statements.
I divided announcers' verbal infractions into six categories that are not simply pet peeves, but likely to be annoyances for a majority of NFL viewers.
Happy to see Chris Collinsworth near the top of the heap...he's my favorite and, while a bit goofy sometimes, offers the best post-Madden analysis in the game. Siragusa and Gruden are like nails on the chalkboard, surprised they didn't rank much worse.
An epic post on MetaFilter about the original Iron Chef, the cooking show that aired in Japan from 1993-1999. YouTube links to every show are included, so there's your holiday viewing all sorted. Iron Chef is my all-time favorite food show. I learned a lot about cooking watching it.
Working for CBS and later on his own in the 40s and 50s, sound engineer Charley Douglass perfected the laugh track technique, which was then called sweetening. His secret weapon was the laff box, a machine that you could use like a typewriter to produce the type and sequence of laughter you needed for a particular situation. Here's how the machine worked:
The one-of-a-kind device -- affectionately known in the industry as the "laff box" -- was tightly secured with padlocks, stood more than two feet tall, and operated like an organ. Only immediate members of the family knew what the inside actually looked like (at one time, the "laff box" was called "the most sought after but well-concealed box in the world"). Since more than one member of the Douglass family was involved in the editing process, it was natural for one member to react differently to a joke than another. Charley himself was the most conservative of all, so producers would put in bids for other editors who were more liberal in their choice of laughter. Douglass used a keyboard to select the style, gender and age of the laugh as well as a foot pedal to time the length of the reaction. Inside the machine was a wide array of recorded chuckles, yocks, and belly laughs; exactly 320 laughs on 32 tape loops, 10 to a loop. Each loop contained 10 individual audience laughs spliced end-to-end, whirling around simultaneously waiting to be cued up. Since the tapes were looped, laughs were played in the same order repeatedly. Sound engineers would watch sitcoms and knew exactly which recurrent guffaws were next, even if they were viewing an episode for the first time. Frequently, Douglass would combine different laughs, either long or short in length. Attentive viewers could spot when he decided to mix chuckles together to give the effect of a more diverse audience.
I found out about the laff box from Kevin Slavin & Kenyatta Cheese's talk about how, with the Internet, the audience now has an audience.
Girls. Trailer. Third season. HBO. January 12. Lena Dunham. Watch:
I am so excited for this show to return. I don't think I can hide it. It's like I'm about to lose control. Maybe I like that feeling?
This is great fun...the people on every channel of this TV are singing Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan. Including Bob Dylan himself on VH1. (via @faketv)
It turns out that for many of the games on The Price is Right, a simple application of game theory is all you need to greatly increase your chances of winning. You don't even need to know any of the prices.
In one instance, when Margie was the last contestant to bid, she guessed the retail price of an oven was $1,150. There had already been one bid for $1,200 and another for $1,050. She therefore could only win if the actual price was between $1,150 and $1,200. Since she was the last to bid, she could have guessed $1051, expanding her range by almost $100 (any price from $1051 to $1199 would have made her a winner), with no downside. What she really should have done, however, is bid $1,201. Game theory says that when you are last to bid, you should bid one dollar more than the highest bidder. You obviously won't win every time, but in the last 1,500 Contestants' Rows to have aired, had final bidders committed to this strategy, they would have won 54 percent of the time.
See also how a man named Terry Kniess solved The Price is Right.
Nine Doctor Who episodes from the 60s featuring Patrick Troughton as the Doctor have been discovered at a TV station in Nigeria.
The BBC destroyed many of the sci-fi drama's original transmission tapes in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, many episodes were transferred on to film for sale to foreign broadcasters. It is often these prints found in other countries that are the source of retrieved episodes.
In this case, 11 Doctor Who episodes were discovered, nine of which were missing, in the Nigerian city of Jos.
The episodes are already available for watching on iTunes: The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World.
League of Denial, the Frontline documentary on the NFL and concussions, is available online for anyone to watch for free.
We're not big on TV for our kids (they watch maybe two hours a week and frequently less than that), but one show we've come to love watching with them is Shaun the Sheep. Produced by Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit), Shaun the Sheep has a number of things going for it:
- No dialogue. Not even the humans talk. Everything is communicated through grunts and gestures. Your three-year-old can follow it, as can your grandfather who only speaks Chinese.
- It's frequently hilarious. I've never heard Ollie laugh so hard at anything. And not just for kids...my wife and I are usually in stitches next to them on the couch.
- Non-topical, non-contemporary. The show is almost entirely self-contained...you don't need to know anything about pop culture to get the jokes. The humor is timeless...the show will be as good in 50 years as it is now. (There are plenty of pop culture references for the parents though...as with Bugs Bunny and Wallace and Gromit.)
- Non-violent. The humor is typically not mean-spirited and not predicated on characters hurting or attacking or making fun of other characters.
- Not gender specific. Mostly. This aspect could be a lot better (e.g. all the main characters are male), but the show is not specifically for little boys or little girls in the way that some kids shows are.
In short, it's the perfect entertainment for 3-8 year-olds and their parents. I don't think it's available on Netflix Instant anymore, but you can get in on iTunes and at Amazon.
According to an upcoming book by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the NFL "conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage".
Excerpts published Wednesday by ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated from the book, "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth," report that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league's own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game.
Excerpts of the book are available from ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. An episode of Frontline based in part on the book airs next week. Interestingly, ESPN was collaborating with Frontline on this program, but they pulled out of it in August.
I love Girls, I love Saturday Night Live, I love Tina Fey, so this was pretty much perfect for me:
An Albanian girl named Blerta moves to Brooklyn and offers sage advice to Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna.
Lex Friedman details how to use DNS services (like AdFree Time) to route around region-specific content locks, so you can do things like watch all NFL games in HD from anywhere, change Netflix regions (for access to different content), etc.
Third-party services like AdFree Time offer up a DNS-based solution: Pay a monthly fee and use their DNS services, and the NFL's website treats you as if you're coming from Europe. You thus get to watch every NFL game streaming online in high definition, since the league offers that option to folks in Europe at no charge. Americans, usually, miss out. I could pay for DirecTV's insanely overpriced Sunday Ticket, but I think it's a ripoff when I'm only looking to watch about six to eight Eagles games that won't show here.
This beats hate-reading the NFL TV maps every weekend.
It's NFL season again and it's time to tune into the NFL TV maps site to find out when your favorite team isn't on TV because the network is contractually obligated to show the pathetic Jets.
Building on yesterday's "The dirty BLEEP," here are a few more great moments in the artful use of censorship (or its illusion):
- Neven Mrgan and James Moore have an iOS game called "Blackbar" that involves playful use of blacked-out text. (If my last name were missing an expected vowel, I'd be interested in intentional omissions too.) It's described as "serious," "artsy," and "texty," all adjectives I hope I will one day earn.
- Jimmy Kimmel has gotten a lot of mileage out of "Unnecessary Censorship," a recurring sketch that uses bleeps and blurs for comedic effect. A proprietor of a popular internet site named J--n K----e confided in me this week that "Kimmel's... skit always makes me laugh until I pee my pants," a pretty stirring endorsement if I've ever heard one.
Also, besides using the appearance of censorship to remix existing text, audio, and video like "Unnecessary Censorship" does or fully scripting the bleep ahead of time like Arrested Development or South Park do, there's been a real rise in a mode that's in between, something that's deliberate but has the feel of being off-the-cuff. This is probably best exemplified by The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Check out Ashton Kutcher's "surprise" experience on Colbert:
Here the tension isn't just between what you've heard and what you know was said, but also between the live experience and that of broadcast. It used to be that if you heard a bleep of an event that was recorded live, someone had gone off the rails, like Madonna on the David Letterman show.
Now, TV mostly just lets anything and everything rip for the people in the room, knowing it will amp up the energy in the crowd, but can be bleeped for broadcast later. Then sometimes (like with The Daily Show or Chappelle's Show on DVD or Netflix), you can catch the uncensored cut at home.
So we get the live, the censored, and the edited-but-encensored experiences, and we're always mentally bouncing between all three. We know it's not really spontaneous, but knowing is part of what lets us in on the joke, even though we can't be in the room.
Jason posting the trailer for "Her" (which I love and feels like my life except I'm the one in the phone?) reminded me a lot of this episode of Black Mirror titled "Be Right Back". Black Mirror is a modern, British version of The Twilight Zone. The title refers to the dark, reflective surfaces of our smartphones and TVs and how we're constantly staring into them. There are 6 hour-long standalone episodes of Black Mirror, many of which are available on Vimeo (for now, at least). They're all great but "Be Right Back" is my favorite.
Now this looks interesting: Steven Johnson is doing a six-episode series on PBS about the 500-year histories of several aspects of modern life. Sounds right up my alley...and also quite Connections-ish.
The show builds on many of themes in the innovation history trilogy of The Ghost Map, The Invention Of Air, and Where Good Ideas Come From, but is based on new material with a completely different structure. Each hour-long episode takes one facet of modern life that we mostly take for granted -- artificial cold, clean drinking water, the lenses in your spectacles -- and tells the 500-year story of how that innovation came into being: the hobbyists and amateurs and entrepreneurs and collaborative networks that collectively made the modern world possible. It's also the story of the unintended consequences of these inventions: air conditioning and refrigeration didn't just make it possible to build ski slopes in the desert; they also triggered arguably the largest migration of human beings in the history of the species -- to cities like Dubai or Phoenix that would otherwise be virtually uninhabitable.
Outside of the nature documentaries like Planet Earth, I haven't seen a decent science series on TV in a long while -- most of them are too slow with too much filler and not enough actual, you know, science -- so I'm not getting my hopes up too high, but hoping this one bucks that trend.
Been waiting for this one for awhile: a three-minute trailer for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a sequel to Carl Sagan's Cosmos.
The show will be hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and is being produced by Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) and Sagan's widow Ann Druyan. If MacFarlane's involvement raises some eyebrows, it shouldn't: he came up with the idea of rebooting the series and is apparently a big space nerd and fan of the original series. (via devour)
From The New Yorker: Jenny McCarthy's Dangerous Views. She's been hired as a new host on The View. Some worry that we'll be hearing a lot more about her anti-vaccine postions. Of course, if you are making life-decisions based on the views of people on The View, you might want to consider the host who thought the world might be flat.
Adapted from Brett Martin's Difficult Men, this piece in Slate gives a glimpse of what it was like on the set of The Wire.
In the isolated hothouse of Baltimore, immersed in the world of the streets, the cast of The Wire showed a bizarre tendency to mirror its onscreen characters in ways that took a toll on its members' outside lives: Lance Reddick, who played the ramrod-straight Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, tormented by McNulty's lack of discipline, had a similarly testy relationship with West, who would fool around and try to make Reddick crack up during his camera takes. Gilliam and Lombardozzi, much like Herc and Carver, would spend the bulk of Seasons 2 and 3 exiled to the periphery of the action, stewing on stakeout in second-unit production and eventually lobbying to be released from their contracts.
Oh, McNutty. (thx, sam)
[Sherlock season 2 spoilers ahead...] At the end of the second season of the excellent BBC series Sherlock, Holmes jumps off the roof of a building in Smithfield, London. Ever since then, fans of the show have been leaving notes near where he would have landed.
The first season of Sesame Street aired in 1969-1970 and this photo of the cast dates from then:
The giveaway is Oscar the Grouch's orange fur...it would switch to green for the second season. Here's the first 15 minutes of the first episode:
And here's part 2, part 3, and part 4.
Sesame Street is insane, BTW. They aired 130 60-minute episodes over six months for that first season and over its 43 seasons, the show has averaged 100 episodes per season. A truly amazing combination of quantity and quality.
The Writers Guild of America recently selected their list of the 101 best written TV series of all time. Here are the top 20:
1 The Sopranos
3 The Twilight Zone
4 All in the Family
6 The Mary Tyler Moore Show
7 Mad Men
9 The Wire
10 The West Wing
11 The Simpsons
12 I Love Lucy
13 Breaking Bad
14 The Dick Van Dyke Show
15 Hill Street Blues
16 Arrested Development
17 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
18 Six Feet Under
20 The Larry Sanders Show
The full list is here in PDF form. Lost above Deadwood? And Homicide? And several other more? Maybe they ignored everything after the first couple seasons?
[SORTA MAD MEN SPOILERS! but not really] I don't know if Ken Crosgrove dancing on the latest episode of Mad Men is the best thing that's ever been on the show, but it's definitely in the top 10. And it might be even better with a little Daft Punk.
And it might be best with the Crazy in Love cover from Gatsby...just load up that this YT video while watching the animated GIF and you're all set. (This is how Millennials watch TV, BTW...it's all animated GIFs with YouTube video soundtracks. Civilization is gonna be juuuuuuust fine.)
Photographer Richard Prince took photographs of the 57 girlfriends Jerry Seinfeld had on the show and turned it in to the below composite.
See also Jason Salavon's work. (via @sippey)
Update: Max points out I may have misread the article and these 57 girlfriends are not necessarily Jerry's only. Supporting this is Sarah Silverman's inclusion in the composite even though she's was a love interest of Kramer's.
A list of the most New York episodes of Seinfeld.
4. "The Rye" (Season 7, Episode 11)
This episode's titular breadstuff-which Jerry steals from an old lady who refuses to sell it to him, even for 50 bucks-supposedly comes from Schnitzer's, a great New York bakery name if we've ever heard one. The real place was called Royale Kosher Bake Shop. Unfortunately, it's now closed. A Jenny Craig branch stands in its place at 237 W. 72nd St. Also in this episode: Kramer leads Beef-a-Reno-fueled hansom cab rides through Central Park. His skills as a tour guide are questionable, though, as his historical "facts" are impressively inaccurate. For example, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux-not former New York Yankee Joe Pepitone-designed the park.
Already good, Seinfeld got 100 times better when I moved to NYC and got 10 more of the jokes per episode.
This is fantastic: an outtake of a scene from the new season of Arrested Development. God, I can't wait for these episodes to come out! #wettingpantslaughing (via digg)
What if each member of the Bluth family made an album? The album covers might look something like these.
Netflix has announced that the 15 episodes of the new season of Arrested Development will be released, all at once, on May 26th. Netflix did not announce that later that day, all 15 episodes will be available on BitTorrent.
If the advertising parts of Mad Men are your favorite bits of the show, might I recommend Taschen's two-volume Mid-Century Ads (on Amazon).
It's a beautiful set of books, tons of ads from the 50s and 60s presented in large format.
A nascent trend on YouTube is to take contemporary dramas and imagine what their 1995-style opening credits sequences might look like. The first one appears to be this Walking Dead one, followed by Breaking Bad, which is the best of the bunch:
The Game of Thrones one is pretty great as well:
These seem to be a variation on the recut trailers meme, e.g. The Shining as a romantic comedy or Toy Story as a horror film. (via @aaroncoleman0)
Andy Marx shares the story of how a lunch with his grandfather, Groucho, and a few of his grandfather's guests ended up helping save every episode of the seminal 50s TV show You Bet Your Life.
No longer out of the limelight, my grandfather was enjoying his status as a cultural icon now that such classic Marx Brothers films as "Duck Soup" and "A Night at the Opera" had been discovered by a whole new generation eager for something to go with the free-wheeling attitudes and politics of the late '60s and early '70s. Groucho and his brothers fit the bill perfectly and my grandfather was more than happy to oblige his new-found fans, many of them Hollywood celebrities. Among my favorite celebrity sightings at my grandfather's house in those days were Alice Cooper and Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood.
This particular day, my grandfather asked me to be ready to accompany him on the piano, since he planned to sing for the invited guests: Jack Nicholson, Elliot Gould and the great French mime, Marcel Marceau. As I said, you never knew who would arrive for lunch with Groucho.
(also via df)
This is a clip from the BBC series Edwardian Farm that shows how rope was made in the olden days.
The entire series is available to watch online.
In case you missed it a few months ago on PBS, the excellent The Mind of a Chef is out in downloadable form on iTunes and at Amazon. The first episode is available for free on the PBS site for try-before-you-buy purposes.
The third episode of the first season of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror was called The Entire History of You, in which many people have their entire lives recorded by implants. Brooker's take on the self-recorded future and Google's rosier view meet in this video:
Black Mirror is currently in its second season in the UK, with no US release on the horizon. Here's what one of the season two episodes is about:
A CG character from a TV show is jokingly put forward to become a member of Parliament. The actor behind the character is uneasy about this new political world he's found himself in, and as the character's popularity among voters increases things begin to take a turn for the worse.
See also The real Google Glasses.
Is it permissible to squee about Westeros?
Squee! I still miss Sean Bean though. I wouldn't mind a little Six Feet Under Late Ned action. Maybe bring him back as a White Walker or something. They're headless zombies, right? Hello?
There's a blizzard bearing down on the northeastern United States and here's some essential information you need to know if you live in an affected area:
But seriously, you should follow @EricHolthaus for the latest storm info. (Ok, so we have our first celebrity Twitter weatherman. Weather and climate are going to become a lot more important in American pop culture...at what point do Gawker or Buzzfeed launch their climate verticals?)
Help Lord Grantham find his cigars, puff up pillows for Anna, and spy on other staff for Lady Mary in this "tastefully exciting" SNES version of Downton Abbey.
Robert Chew, who played Proposition Joe on The Wire, died yesterday aged 52.
Prop Joe was one of the few characters to appear regularly in all five seasons of David Simon's urban drama. Chew was a mountain of a man with a world-class deadpan, always underselling the character's juiciest lines. "Gotta say I'm proud of y'all for putting aside petty grievances and putting this thing together," Joe intones during a meeting of the New Day Co-op, a democratic association of drug dealers whose meetings are run via Robert's Rules of Order. "For a cold-assed crew of gangsters, y'all carried it like Republicans and shit."
An entire Tumblr full of images of Downton Abbey's Lady Edith Crawley with googly eyes.
God, this makes me unbelievably happy.
These are all so perfect but I'm having a hard time deciding which is the most perfect....the Mrs Patmore tabby or the Dowager Countess Sphynx?
Prints are $22 a pop on Etsy and likely to go quickly. (via @mathowie)
BBC Research & Development have created a site using the Web Audio API that lets you recreate the sounds of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, stuff you may have heard on a Jon Pertwee-era episode of Dr Who. The Wobbulator is my favorite.
The gang at Overthinking It have analyzed the endings of all 456 episodes of Law & Order (guilty, not guilty, plea bargain, etc.).
"Implied win" refers to episodes in which you don't see a plea bargain or Guilty verdict, but it's pretty clear that's the way things are headed. For instance, if the killer's wife tearfully agrees to testify against him and then the episode ends, it's an "implied win." We don't know the outcome, but we are led to believe it's going to be some flavor of Justice. (The rare cases where the result was completely unclear went into the Other category.)
Over the entire run of the show, more than a third of all the episodes ended in Guilty verdicts, while another third ended in plea bargains. 80% of episodes ended in solid wins: either Guilty verdicts, plea bargains, or implied victories. That's not too shabby, considering that the actual NYPD has a homicide clearance rate of about 50%. (Although you have to figure Law & Order isn't meant to represent every case these detectives investigated; in 20 seasons, I don't think there was a single murder that didn't result in an arrest.)
They also looked at all of the red and yellow alerts on Star Trek:TNG.
You need predictable and changing seasons to grow grapes and the Game of Thrones world features long unpredictable seasons...so where does all that wine come from?
The seasons in George RR Martin's medieval fantasy are a random, unpredictable mess. They could last anywhere from a few months to a decade and there's no way to forecast them. As the story opens, the characters are near the end of a long, ten-year summer. They also worry about the coming winter, which will cause mass starvation if it also lasts years on end. This wonky climate is an irreplaceable part of Game of Thrones. Westeros would not be remotely the same without it.
But grapevines have a life cycle that depends on regular seasons. In winter, grapevines are dormant. Come spring they sprout leaves. As summer begins, they flower and tiny little grapes appear. Throughout the summer the grapes fill up with water, sugar and acid. The grapes are finally ready for picking in early autumn, then go back to sleep in winter. This cycle is why wineries can rely on a yearly grape yield. Obviously, in Westeros, something must be different about how grapes work.
Illustrator Dennis Culver is offering for sale a poster of 50+ characters from The Wire.
You've obviously got your Omar and String, but you've also got Butchie and Lamarr and Horseface. $25 for the poster...that's about 50 cents a character!
My wife and I have been watching Boardwalk Empire for the past three seasons and it's seemed at times like we were the only ones. Writing for Grantland, Carles argues that the show got great this season and I totally agree. (Warning: tons of spoilers.)
Basically, I spent the first two seasons of Boardwalk Empire trying to figure out whether or not I even enjoyed the show. It featured premium producers, directors, writers, and actors, but it never felt like you were watching the show of the moment. Boardwalk Empire has been popular enough to get renewed regularly (it will be back for a fourth season next year), but it's been difficult to come to a consensus on whether or not it has been a fulfilling experience. There's a gap between high-end critical acclaim and casual fans. The uninitiated never get it. 'It's boring,' they say. 'It's trying to be something it isn't.' And maybe they were right. Fortunately, Season 3 has changed everything.
The show's tough to recommend to people because it's such a slow starter (compared to something like Breaking Bad or Homeland or whatever), but I'm happy we stuck with it.
The BBC is making a 6-part miniseries out of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
For those unfamiliar with the book, it's a sweeping fantasy novel set during the Napoleonic Wars where two magicians have emerged in Britain. As well as telling the story of their rivalry, it also details an amazing alternate history where the North of England was the dominion of a magical overlord known as the Raven King, and pulls in many notable historical characters.
Can't wait...I loved JS&MN.
I am not ashamed to admit that, to my total surprise, I am looking forward to the second season of Girls more than The Hobbit or the next season of Mad Men. (But perhaps not season three of Game of Thrones. Perhaps.)
Friendly reminder: ten episodes of Anthony Bourdain and David Chang's Mind of a Chef are available to view for free on the PBS website. I am through two episodes so far and it's my favorite cooking/food show since The Naked Chef.1 Here's the first episode, all about ramen:
[I removed the embed because it was autoplaying for some unlucky people. You can watch the first episode here.]
The first four episodes will be taken down after Friday so act now.
 No joke, those first couple seasons of Oliver's show were really good. It's not the original Iron Chef or anything, but still. ↩
A spoof episode of American Experience on hobos, narrated by John Hodgman.
I posted this a few years ago but ran across it randomly the other day and had to feature it again. See also the Human Planet episode about The Douche.
In a rant as informative as it is funny, filmmaker Stu Maschwitz explains why your TV ruins movies & tells you what presets to use, what settings to disable, and why you shouldn't buy a TV in a store.
TVs are designed to do one thing above all: sell. To do so, they must fight for attention on brightly-lit showroom floors. Manufacturers accomplish this in much the same way that transvestite hookers in San Francisco's Tenderloin district do--by showing you everything they've got, turned up to eleven. You want brightness? We'll scald your retinas. You want sharpness? We'll draw a black outline around everything for you. [...]
These days, any TV you are likely to buy, will, by default, have technology enabled that completely changes the emotional quality of the movies you watch. This is a cinematic disaster.
Last week, the hosts of NFL Kick Off on ESPN, Trey Wingo, Mark Sclereth, and Tedy Bruschi, jammed as many Princess Bride references as they could into their half hour show. Jack Moore collected them. Genuine guffaw at "There will be no survivors" from around :45.
The Dust Bowl is a four-hour documentary by Ken Burns airing on PBS starting this weekend.
The Dust Bowl chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the frenzied wheat boom of the "Great Plow-Up," followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Vivid interviews with twenty-six survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. It is also a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us -- a lesson we ignore at our peril.
You can watch the first five minutes of the film on the PBS site.
You'll be sorry you asked.
How had I not heard about this before now? The Mind of a Chef is a PBS consisting of sixteen half-hour shows that follows David Chang through his world of food. As far as I can tell, this series is basically the TV version of Lucky Peach. Episode one is about ramen:
In the series premiere, David dissects the roots of his passion for ramen dishes and tsukemen on a trip to Japan. Learn the history of this famous noodle as David visits a ramen factory, has a bowl of the original tsukemen, and examines how alkalinity makes noodles chewier and less prone to dissolving in broth.
Check out an excerpt here, in which Chang reveals how he used to eat instant ramen noodles right out of the bag with the pork flavor powder sprinkled on top. The series starts this weekend...check your local listings, as they say. (via ny times)
Emeril Lagasse made an appearance on Treme on Sunday. I watched a clip of his scene a few days ago and have been thinking about it on and off ever since. In the scene written by Anthony Bourdain, Emeril takes a fellow chef to the building that used to house Uglesich's, a small-but-beloved New Orleans restaurant that closed back in 2005. The chef is having misgivings about expanding her business, particularly about all the non-cooking things you have to do, and Emeril explains that the way the owners of Uglesich's did it was one way forward:
You see, they kept it small, just one spot, just a few tables. There'd be a line around the corner by 10 am. You see, they made a choice. Anthony and Gail made a choice to stay on Baronne Street and keep their hands on what they were serving. They cooked, everyday they cooked, until they could cook no more.
But there's also another way to approach your business:
The other choice is that you can build something big but keep it the way that you wanna keep it. Take those ideas and try to execute them to the highest level. You got a lotta people around you, right? You're the captain of the ship. Or what I should say is that you're the ship. And all these people that look up to you and wanna be around you, they're living in the ship. And they're saying, "Oh, the ship is doing good. Oh, the ship is going to some interesting places. Oh, this ship isn't going down just like all the other fucking ships I've been on." [...] You've got a chance to do your restaurant and to take care of these people. Just do it.
kottke.org has always been a one-person thing. Sure, Aaron posts here regularly now and I have guest editors on occasion, but for the most part, I keep my ass in the chair and my hands on what I am serving. I've always resisted attempts at expanding the site because, I have reasoned, that would mean that the site wouldn't be exactly what I wanted it to be. And people come here for exactly what I want it to be. Doing the site with other people involved has always seemed unnatural. It would be selling out...that's how I've thought about it, as opposed to blowing up.
But Emeril's "until they could cook no more" and "you're the ship"...that got to me. I am a ship. I don't have employees but I have a family that relies on the income from my business and someday, when I am unable to do this work or people stop reading blogs or all online advertising moves to Facebook or Twitter, what happens then? Don't I owe it to myself and to them to build something that's going to last beyond my interest and ability to sit in a chair finding interesting things for people to look at? Or is it enough to just work by yourself and produce the best work you can?
Or can you do both? John Gruber's Daring Fireball remains a one-man operation...as far as I know, he's never even had an intern. I don't have any inside knowledge of DF's finances, but from the RSS sponsorship rate and the rate for sponsoring Gruber's podcast, my conservative estimate is that DF grosses around $650,000 per year. And with a single employee/owner and relatively low expenses, a large amount of that is profit. So maybe that route is possible?
I don't have any answers to these questions, but man, it's got me thinking. Emeril got me thinking...who saw that coming? Bam!
Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Adam Wilson has a thoughtful take on Louis C.K., his TV show, and his comedy style in general.
The format of the American sitcom held steady for almost 40 years. The most noteworthy innovation was a negation; in the early nineties, HBO comedies like the short-lived Dream On ditched the pervasive canned laugh track, paving the way for the so-called cringe comedy of shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm. On Curb, the absence of a laugh track makes it difficult for viewers to know when to laugh. We cringe because we're holding in laughter, waiting for a cue that it's okay to release. But there is always a breaking point, an explosion into an absurdity so deep -- Larry rushing into the water to "save" a baptismal candidate from drowning, for example -- that the tension is relieved, and the laughter is released.
Louie both reacts to the failure of Lucky Louie and advances on Curb's cringe comedy by creating something tenser, more tonally ambiguous. Louie's singularity lies in its ability to further confound viewers by setting up jokes, and then providing pathos instead of punch lines. Not only does Louie's audience not know when to laugh, they don't even know if what they're watching is supposed to be funny. For the Laptop Loner, this ambiguity is made all the more palpable by the absence of viewing partners; we use other people's reactions to gauge the correctness of our own. But it also makes the ambiguity less assaulting. Alone, we can be comfortable in our discomfort.
Last week Aaron linked to Kanye Wes. Turns out there is also Arrested Westeros (Arrested Development quotes + Game of Thrones scenes):
Man, I wish Kanye Westeros were better. (via @JoshMorrison)
Technology journalist Glenn Fleishman appeared on Jeopardy on Thursday and wrote up a piece for Boing Boing on his experience.
The secret of Jeopardy, what defuses the reality-show aspect, is that we all universally wanted each other to win even though we knew that only one person took home the big money and would return to fight again.
Here's Glenn's Final Jeopardy from that night:
I wouldn't have gotten that question in a millions years. Maybe in high school...
In production for the past twenty-four years, it looks as though the documentary about Arrested Development might be nearing its release. Here's the final trailer:
This is a really interesting and eclectic list of 25 TV shows that have had an impact on society beyond the water cooler. There are a few obvious choices, but most of these I hadn't heard of.
In 2003, 24-year-old machinist Juan Catalan faced the death penalty for allegedly shooting a key witness in a murder case. Catalan told police that he couldn't have committed the crime -- he was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game at the time. He had the ticket stubs and everything!
When police didn't buy his alibi, Catalan contacted the Dodgers, who pointed him to an unlikely hero: misanthropic comedian Larry David. On the day in question, David had been filming an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in Dodger Stadium. It was a long shot, but maybe Catalan could be seen in the background. When his attorney watched the outtakes, it took just 20 minutes to find shots of Catalan and his daughter chowing down on ballpark dogs while watching from the stands.
Thanks to the footage, Catalan walked free after five months behind bars. And Larry David found one more thing to be self-deprecating about. "I tell people that I've done one decent thing in my life, albeit inadvertently," joked David.
There was a time when American Movie Classics used to show classic American movies, when The Learning Channel could teach you something, and when ABC Family broadcast family programming. Wired's Ruth Suehle has a look at six TV networks that have significantly changed their programming since their founding. The story of ABC Family, which used to be known as The Family Channel, is especially interesting:
Plan A was to use it for ABC re-runs. Too bad [ABC] didn't own the syndication rights to the stuff they wanted to show.
Plan B was an image makeover. They'd rename it XYZ (as in the opposite of ABC) and sell it to a younger, edgier audience. Too bad nobody read the contract that said the word "family" had to stay in the name forever.
Why? For that, we rewind to its beginning as Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network Satellite Service in 1979. That religious beginning followed the network through multiple sales, each of which has been required to continue broadcasting Robertson's The 700 Club, hence the reason that show is now bookended by the disclaimer, "The following/preceding CBN telecast does not reflect the views of ABC Family"as well as the network's slogan of the last few years, "A New Kind of Family."
Amy Poehler says it's the best show on television and GQ has a long oral history of Cheers.
On The Jeffersons, you would give your notes to the director, and he'd go, "Right, right," and then turn around and go to the actors and say, "Oh, those fucking writers. They want to change this." And then the director would come back [to the writers] and go, "Oh, those actors. They won't do a thing I ask them." You get this weird us-against-them [mentality].
And when we got to Cheers, everybody could talk to everybody. Now, granted, if you were smart you had a sense of where you were on the totem pole, you watched your comments and obviously deferred to the bosses. But if I saw something that Shelley had done that I thought was particularly good, or if a writer had a suggestion for a way she might be able to do it better, you got to tell her that. The only rule was you had to do it so everybody could hear; there were no private conversations. It had to be open with everybody. It really fostered this feeling that we were all in it together.
I watched Cheers all the time when I was a kid...I've seen each episode at least twice. For me, it was the best show until Seinfeld came along. Haven't seen an episode for probably 15 years though. I wonder if it holds up as well as Poehler claims.