kottke.org posts about TV

Let's get rid of the pennyNov 24 2015

This week on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver rails against the penny. This seems like such an obvious thing, that we should stop using pennies, but I bet if the government ever moved to ban pennies, it would set off a firestorm of protest.

Trailer for season 2 of TransparentNov 23 2015

Transparent was my favorite first season of television since Game of Thrones, or maybe even Mad Men. So I'm delighted to see the trailer for the show's second season, which starts on Dec 11. If you haven't seen the first season yet, I would highly recommend doing so...this show does so many things right.

Prime-time soap operas are backOct 30 2015

Goodbye anti-heros, hello soap operas. Margaret Lyons writes about the increasing popularity of prime-time soap operas like Scandal, Empire, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and House of Cards.

Game of Thrones' Outstanding Drama win at the Emmys this year indicates a new era of perceived legitimacy for its genre, and I'm not talking about fantasy: GOT completely operates as a soap. All the scheming and vindictiveness would be perfectly at home on Melrose Place; the disguises, acceptance of the paranormal, and the absence and reemergence of obscure characters can all be found on Passions. (Cersei Lannister and Alexis Carrington would have plenty to talk about.) Soap is not a dirty word, and shows like GOT are helping reposition soapiness as a desirable attribute, not a vice.

I've had this theory for awhile that for fans of dramas, all but the very best are indistinguishable from soap operas by season three. As a viewer, you get so caught up in the "what's gonna happen", you stop caring so much about how it's happening, if the show is even any good, or what higher-level themes the producers might be expressing. And the show's producers feel the need to top themselves with each season, and so the stakes get higher, the plot gets more implausible, the characters get bigger, and themes are increasingly marginalized. This happened, in varying degrees, with Lost, Homeland, Six Feet Under, Boardwalk Empire, Girls, and House of Cards. Even Mad Men and Breaking Bad veered in and out of soap opera territory, but the shows were so good that they never completely went there. And let's not even talk about season 5 of The Wire.

Whistleblower Edward ScissorhandsSep 30 2015

HLN (which used to be CNN Headline News) needed someone to talk about Edward Snowden, US government whistleblower. They meant to invite a gentleman named John Hendren, a journalist for Al Jazeera, onto the show but instead invited funnyman Jon Hendren, who goes by the username of @fart on Twitter. Hendren, Jon used the opportunity to defend both Edward Snowden, briefly, and then sexy-but-misunderstood barber Edward Scissorhands.

Well, you know, to say he couldn't harm someone, well, absolutely he could. But I think to cast him out, to make him invalid in society, simply because he has scissors for hands, I mean, that's strange. People didn't get scared until he started sculpting shrubs into dinosaur shapes and whatnot.

The best part is that anchor Yasmin Vossoughian just keeps on plowing right through her script like they're not talking suddenly about a man with scissors for hands, deftly demonstrating what a farce these TV news "conversations" are. (via nymag)

These 11 actors play 119 characters on The SimpsonsSep 30 2015

Carl Sagan on the evolution of humansSep 28 2015

From the landmark science series Cosmos, Carl Sagan narrates the evolution of humans from the first cells billions of years ago.

Weird Simpsons VHSSep 28 2015

That's Yoann Hervo's tribute to The Simpsons in the form of a glitchy opening scene. I watched this last week and wasn't going to post it but found myself thinking about it over the weekend so heeeeeere you go.

Netflix is making more Black MirrorSep 25 2015

Black Mirror

Netflix and Charlie Brooker have agreed to make 12 more episodes of the fantastic Black Mirror.

Netflix has commissioned House of Tomorrow to produce the twelve new episodes as a Netflix original series. House of Tomorrow's Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, who executive produced the first seven episodes of the series, will continue to serve as executive producers and showrunners for the new episodes. Brooker has commenced writing the new episodes, which are scheduled to begin production in late 2015 from the series' production base in the UK.

"It's all very exciting -- a whole new bunch of Black Mirror episodes on the most fitting platform imaginable. Netflix connects us with a global audience so that we can create bigger, stranger, more international and diverse stories than before, whilst maintaining that 'Black Mirror' feel. I just hope none of these new story ideas come true," said Brooker.

My three favorite TV shows from the past 5 years: Mad Men, Transparent, and Black Mirror. Second tier: Breaking Bad, Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, and Boardwalk Empire. (via @mccanner)

The Wire theme, SimpsonsizedSep 22 2015

The opening credits sequence of The Wire done using clips from The Simpsons. The theme song and clips are from the third seasons of the respective shows.

Anthony Bourdain is eating the worldSep 17 2015

Who would have guessed 15 years ago that this self-styled rebel, who wrote about waitress blow jobs and shooting heroin in his best-selling 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, would become America's contemporary answer to, say, Mark Twain -- our most enthusiastic chronicler of life outside our borders?

Josh Eells tags along to get a firsthand look at Anthony Bourdain's world domination.

The Civil War, remasteredSep 07 2015

Twenty-five years after its first airing on PBS, Ken Burns has remastered his epic documentary, The Civil War, and PBS will be airing the new version all this week, starting tonight. The remastered series will also be available on Blu-ray in October.

Serious SeinfeldSep 02 2015

If you recut the scenes from seasons seven & eight of Seinfeld to emphasize certain aspects of Susan's death-by-envelope, you get a feel-good TV movie about George Costanza, a man who finds triumph in the midst of tragedy.

Her death takes place in the shadow of new life; she's not really dead if we find a way to remember her.

Jim Henson documentaryAug 13 2015

PBS is airing a documentary in September about Muppets creator Jim Henson called In Their Own Words: Jim Henson.

I had never really noticed before that Henson's natural speaking voice obviously sounds a lot like Kermit. (via @khoi)

Mad Men Carousel: The Complete Critical CompanionJul 31 2015

Mad Men

One of my favorite movie/TV critics, Matt Zoller Seitz, is coming out with a book this fall on Mad Men called Mad Men Carousel: The Complete Critical Companion.

Mad Men Carousel, authored by Abrams' bestselling author Matt Zoller Seitz, will gather all of Seitz's widely read (and discussed) Mad Men essays in a single volume. Rather than simply recalling the plot through lengthy summary, Seitz's essays dig deep into the show's themes, performances and filmmaking, with the tone and spirit of accessible, but serious, film or literary criticism. This novel-sized volume will be designed to have a 1970s feel and will be broken into seven sections, one for each season.

Seitz wrote the dreamy The Wes Anderson Collection.

The top 10 best running gags on Arrested DevelopmentJul 21 2015

Still, where did the lighter fluid come from?

Sister is my new mother, Mother.

I'm afraid I just blue myself.

I'm about halfway through season two of Arrested Development again on Netflix and it might be the best show ever on television. I'm not even kidding.

Update: NPR has been obsessively cataloging the show's running gags here. Holy shit, the extensive foreshadowing of Buster losing his hand! This show is amazing. (via @Nick__Vance)

How Buildings LearnJul 20 2015

In the mid-90s, Stewart Brand published a fantastic book called How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built.

Buildings have often been studies whole in space, but never before have they been studied whole in time. How Buildings Learn is a masterful new synthesis that proposes that buildings adapt best when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants, and that architects can mature from being artists of space to becoming artists of time.

From the connected farmhouses of New England to I.M. Pei's Media Lab, from "satisficing" to "form follows funding," from the evolution of bungalows to the invention of Santa Fe Style, from Low Road military surplus buildings to a High Road English classic like Chatsworth-this is a far-ranging survey of unexplored essential territory.

In 1997, Brand and the BBC did a six-part TV series based on the book. Brand has put the series on his YouTube channel; here's the first part to get you going:

(via open culture)

Every Kramer entrance on SeinfeldJul 17 2015

That's it. That's the joke.

The password sharing economyJul 15 2015

Netflix and HBO know what you did last summer. And they know you're still doing it this summer. The sharing of login credentials is so widespread that the big streaming players are losing hundreds of millions a year. So why don't they stop us? Two reasons: It's all about growth at this point. And no one has come up with a way to limit credential sharing without hurting the customer experience.

Amazon is a different kind of movie studio. It's all about getting more people to become Prime members.

You can have the best technology, you can have the best business model, but if the storytelling isn't amazing, it won't matter. Nobody will watch. And then you won't sell more shoes.

Trailer for the Sherlock Christmas specialJul 11 2015

With the pace of the excellent Sherlock series slowing down a bit because of scheduling (Cumberbatch, Freeman, Moffat, and Gatiss are increasingly busy), they still somehow found time to shoot a Christmas special that will air in December 2015. Here's a short teaser scene:

Update: A longer trailer. Makes it look a bit darker than the regular show, which I'm not sure is a good thing.

Colbert hosting cable access shows in his spare timeJul 02 2015

Stephen Colbert recently guest hosted Only in Monroe, a public access cable TV talk show based in Monroe, Michigan. His guest? Michigander Marshall Mathers.1

God, he is so good. I might actually have to watch the Late Show this fall. (thx, michelle)

  1. Do I need the "aka Eminem" here?

Translating SeinfeldJun 26 2015

Translating episodes of Seinfeld (and other sitcoms that rely on wordplay) is not an easy task. The Verge's Jennifer Armstrong has a piece that focuses mostly on the struggle to translate Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer's antics for a German audience.

Seinfeld's Jewish references posed a unique challenge: as Sebastian explained, "The Germans have a certain you-know-what with the Jewish." Her editor was worried about some of Seinfeld's Jewish jokes. "We better not say it like that," she remembered her editor saying, "because the Germans may be offended." She added later, recalling the incident to me, "They should be offended, in my understanding. They did it!"

Sebastian appreciated Seinfeld's direct approach to Jewish history. She wanted to use jokes in direct translation, but the editor wouldn't let her. She lost several battles. It was a fine line: Der Suppen-Nazi? Sure. Subtle reference to an uncle who survived a concentration camp? Not so fast. An entire episode based on George being mistaken for a neo-Nazi was problematic. So were references to the TV miniseries Holocaust and the film Schindler's List. Take Elaine's voiceover narration in "The Subway" episode when her train gets stuck: "We are in a cage. ... Oh, I can't breathe, I feel faint. Take it easy, it'll start moving soon. Think about the people in the concentration camps, what they went through."

(via mr)

The game is the gameMay 28 2015

It is what it is. What's done is done. My name is not my name. My name is my name.1 Derek Donahue found all of the tautologies from The Wire and collected them into one video:

These types of phrases characterize the immovable forces the characters feel govern their lives and actions: poverty, bureaucracy, addiction, institutional corruption, ethnicity, etc.

  1. The juxtaposition of Vondas' "my name is not my name" from season two and "my name is my name" from Marlo in the final season is one of my favorite little moments in the show. Two men pursuing similar ends going about it in opposite ways.

Steve Jobs movie trailerMay 18 2015

I have been doing a poor job keeping up with my Steve Jobs-related media. I haven't had a chance to pick up the new Becoming Steve Jobs book yet. And I had no idea that the Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic was still in the works, much less that Michael Fassbender is playing Jobs and Danny Boyle is directing. Here's the trailer:

The trailer debuted during last night's series finale of Mad Men, which was possibly the most appropriate venue for it. [Slight spoilers...] Draper always had a Jobs-esque sheen to him, although the final scene showed us that, yes, Don Draper actually would like to sell sugar water for the rest of his life.

Update: A proper trailer has dropped. I don't know how much we'll learn about the actual Steve Jobs from the movie, but it looks like it might be good.

Update: Another trailer. This is looking like a strong film.

RIP Mr. Burns, Smithers, and Ned FlandersMay 14 2015

Mr Burns Dead

Harry Shearer, who voices dozens of characters on The Simpsons including Mr. Burns, Smithers, and Ned Flanders, announced on Twitter that he will be leaving the show. A few things:

1. The Simpsons is still on?

2. Shearer also voices Principal Skinner, Otto, Lenny, McBain, Reverend Lovejoy, Kent Brockman, Scratchy, Dr Hibbert, and dozens of smaller characters.

3. Will they replace him? Or just not use those characters anymore? How can you do the show without Burns, Smithers, Flanders, and Skinner? But if they sound different, how can you do the show with them?

Update: Aaaaaand Shearer is back on the show.

Shearer has signed the same contract as did the other five primary voice actors -- Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, and Hank Azaria -- keeping the show's original cast fully intact, EW has learned. These deals, which run for four seasons (including a network option for seasons 29 and 30), are estimated at more than \$300,000 per episode. Fox recently renewed The Simpsons for a 27th and 28th season, which will bring its episode tally to 625.

The centripetal force of lifeMay 11 2015

I don't quite know what I'm doing to myself these days. Last night was an episode of The Americans in which a marriage was ending, another family was trying to keep itself intact, and a young boy struggles to move on after his entire family dies. This morning, I watched an episode of Mad Men in which a mother tries to reconcile her differences with her daughter in the face of impending separation. And then, the absolute cake topper, a story by Matthew Teague that absolutely wrecked me. It's about his cancer-stricken wife and the friend who comes and rescues an entire family, which is perhaps the truest and most direct thing I've ever read about cancer and death and love and friendship.

Since we had met, when she was still a teenager, I had loved her with my whole self. Only now can I look back on the fullness of our affection; at the time I could see nothing but one wound at a time, a hole the size of a dime, into which I needed to pack a fistful of material. Love wasn't something I felt anymore. It was just something I did. When I finished, I would lie next to her and use sterile cotton balls to soak up her tears. When she finally slept, I would slip out of bed and go into our closet, the most isolated room in the house. Inside, I would wrap a blanket around my head, stuff it into my mouth, lie down and bury my head in a pile of dirty clothes, and scream.

There are very specific parts of all those stories that I identify with. I struggle with friendship. And with family. I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can't tell them or show them how to do that because I'm me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I'm just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it? God, this is way too much for a Monday.

Blurred Sex and the CityMay 08 2015

The real-life house that served as the stoop of Carrie Bradshaw's apartment on Sex and the City is blurred out on Google Street View.

Sex And The City House

The house was on the Sex and the City tour for a time, before it was dropped due to pressure from neighborhood residents, and remains a popular tourist attraction. I go by there quite often and there is always someone taking a photo on the stoop. As I'm writing this, the most recent photo of someone standing in front of the stoop was posted to Instagram 16 minutes ago. I can see why the owners would want it blurred out, and it turns out getting your property blurred on Google Street View is a simple process.

P.S. What's funny about the house is that Sarah Jessica Parker actually lives only a block or two away. I used to see her all the time, walking our respective kids to school. Ollie and I even got caught in a paparazzi shot one day...that's me in the dark coat right behind Parker and Ollie on the scooter:


No way to fill out a form to blur out my son's face though, I reckon. (via @michaeltsmith)

Auto-widened Seinfeld and The SimpsonsMay 06 2015

Artist JK Keller has digitally widened1 episodes of The Simpsons and Seinfeld to fit a 16:9 HD aspect ratio. Watching the altered scenes is trippy...the characters and their surroundings randomly expand and contract as the scenes play out.

Keller also HD-ified an episode of the X-Files and slimmed an old episode of Star Trek into a vertical aspect ratio. (via @frank_chimero)

  1. At least I think that's how they were created. The videos were posted without explanation -- aside from their titles "LEaKeD TesT footagE frOM seiNfelD RemaSter In hiGh-defiNiTiON" and "animAtORs rEdraw old SimPsons epIsodeS fOr hdTv" -- so it's hard to say for sure.

Netflix orders Green Eggs and HamApr 30 2015

Netflix is making a 13-episode animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. The show will premiere in 2018 and the official press release shows that Netflix is fully committed to the premise:

Issued from Netflix headquarters.

Delivered straight to all reporters.

We'd love to share some happy news

based on the rhymes of Dr. Seuss.

Green Eggs and Ham will become a show

and you're among the first to know.

In this richly animated production,

a 13-episode introduction,

standoffish inventor (Guy, by name)

and Sam-I-Am of worldwide fame,

embark on a cross-country trip

that tests the limits of their friendship.

As they learn to try new things,

they find out what adventure brings.

Of course they also get to eat

that famous green and tasty treat!

Cindy Holland, VP of Original Content for Netflix

threw her quote into the mix:

"We think this will be a hit

Green Eggs and Ham is a perfect fit

for our growing slate of amazing stories

available exclusively in all Netflix territories.

You can stream it on a phone.

You can stream it on your own.

You can stream it on TV.

You can stream it globally."

For reference, here's an animated version of Green Eggs and Ham done in the 70s:

Letterman prepares to sign offApr 29 2015

Letterman's cups

I was never a particular fan of David Letterman's show1 but always have appreciated what he did and how he did it. Dave Itzkoff of the NY Times did an interview with Letterman about his impending retirement.

It seems like there's an increasing emphasis, at least with your network competitors, to create comedy bits that will go viral on the Internet. Did you make a conscious choice to stay out of that arms race?

No, it just came and went without me. It sneaked up on me and went right by. People on the staff said, "You know what would be great is if you would join Twitter." And I recognized the value of it. It's just, I didn't know what to say. You go back to your parents' house, and they still have the rotary phone. It's a little like that.

The photo slide show accompanying the piece is worth a look as well, particularly the photo of the stack of paper coffee cups in Letterman's dressing room (one cup for each show, they cover half his mirror) and the final one of Letterman bounding out onto stage. I hope that when I'm 68, I'm still charging ahead like Dave.

  1. To be honest, I've never been a particular fan of any late night television, save for SNL in the late 80s and early 90s. I watched the last few years of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and then the first couple years of Leno, mostly because that's what my parents watched. Letterman I caught every once in awhile after Carson and rarely after his move to CBS. I've only seen Conan's show a handful of times...same with The Daily Show and Colbert. Have never watched a single episode of Fallon or Kimmel or Conan's new show. Oh, I've seen clips on the web and such, but never whole shows.

    My late night TV as a kid was Doctor Who and British comedies -- Are You Being Served?, 'Allo 'Allo, Fawlty Towers, Good Neighbors, Keeping Up Appearances, The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, etc. -- on the local PBS station. That and Nintendo.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the TV seriesApr 29 2015

Ever since I read Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell just after it came out, I've wondered when someone was going to do a movie or miniseries adaptation. Well, BBC has stepped up with a seven-part series that debuts on BBC One in May and on BBC America "this summer". Here's a trailer:

Set at the beginning of the 19th-century, England no longer believes in practical magic. The reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey stuns the city of York when he causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. With a little persuasion and help from his man of business Childermass, he goes to London to help the government in the war against Napoleon. It is there Norrell summons a fairy to bring Lady Pole back from the dead, opening a whole can of worms...

That trailer was a little too trailery for my taste (if you know what I mean), but I'm excited nonetheless. (via ★interesting)

Update: BBC America has put the first episode of the show up on YouTube:

The rest of the episodes are available in a slightly less official capacity as well -- here's episode 2 for instance.

1491, the TV seriesApr 23 2015

1491 TV

Charles Mann's 1491 is one of my all-time favorite books. I mean, if this description doesn't stir you:

Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man's first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.

On Twitter yesterday, Mann shared that a documentary series was being made based on the book. The eight-part series is being commissioned by Canada's APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) and Barbara Hager, who is of Cree/Metis heritage, will write, direct, and produce.

This is fantastic news. I hope this gets US distribution at some point, even if it's online-only.

The women of Don DraperApr 22 2015

Women Don Draper

Hannah Choi is making illustrations of all the women Don Draper has slept with on Mad Men in chronological order.

The Making of Star WarsApr 17 2015

In 1977, only a few months after the movie came out, a hour-long television special called The Making of Star Wars aired on ABC. It was the first documentary about Star Wars.

LOL to the rehearsal shot at 4:10 of Han going "bang, bang, bang, bang, bang" while shooting his blaster, the reaction of Luke, Han, and Leia to a boom mic blowing the 18th take of a scene at 34:20, and the description of Princess Leia as "royalty of a very liberated kind". (via kung fu grippe)

David Chase on The Sopranos endingApr 15 2015

Tony Soprano

David Chase analyzes the final scene of The Sopranos in great detail for the Directors Guild of America's quarterly magazine.

It was my decision to direct the episode such that whenever Tony arrives someplace, he would see himself. He would get to the place and he would look and see where he was going. He had a conversation with his sister that went like this. And then he later had a conversation with Junior that went like this. I had him walk into his own POV every time. So the order of the shots would be Tony close-up, Tony POV, hold on the POV, and then Tony walks into the POV. And I shortened the POV every time. So that by the time he got to Holsten's, he wasn't even walking toward it anymore. He came in, he saw himself sitting at the table, and the next thing you knew he was at the table.

Great read. Here's the final scene to refresh your memory.

HBO's static introApr 14 2015

The electric snowstorm is joined by a single tone that ascends like a gospel choir singing to the heavens.

Playboy's Zaron Burnett on HBO's static intro, the most powerful force in the universe.

True Detective season twoApr 09 2015

HBO has released a teaser trailer for season two of True Detective. Los Angeles is swapped in for Louisiana, Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn for Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and Justin Lin directing instead of Cary Fukunaga. It's an entirely different show.

Here's the synopsis from HBO:

A bizarre murder brings together three law-enforcement officers and a career criminal, each of whom must navigate a web of conspiracy and betrayal in the scorched landscapes of California. Colin Farrell is Ray Velcoro, a compromised detective in the all-industrial City of Vinci, LA County. Vince Vaughn plays Frank Semyon, a criminal and entrepreneur in danger of losing his life's work, while his wife and closest ally (Kelly Reilly), struggles with his choices and her own. Rachel McAdams is Ani Bezzerides, a Ventura County Sheriff's detective often at odds with the system she serves, while Taylor Kitsch plays Paul Woodrugh, a war veteran and motorcycle cop for the California Highway Patrol who discovers a crime scene which triggers an investigation involving three law enforcement groups, multiple criminal collusions, and billions of dollars.

Update: And here's a second trailer with a little more info:

We've also got a premiere date: June 21.

Game of Thrones pre-season briefingApr 08 2015

From Gawker, a quick two-minute video guide to what all of the characters in Game of Thrones are up to as season five gets underway this Sunday. Major spoilers for those who aren't caught up through the end of season four.

Modern day VHSApr 07 2015

Modern Day VHS

Someone pretending to be a Parisian hipster who only watches VHS versions of modern shows & movies like Game of Thrones and Interstellar created these VHS covers as an April Fools joke. These are actually pretty great. (via subtraction)

John Oliver interviews Edward SnowdenApr 06 2015

Last night on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on the topic of government surveillance and traveled to Moscow to interview Edward Snowden. After some softball questions -- "Do you miss Hot Pockets?" -- Oliver presses Snowden on his personal responsibility with regard to the information he revealed.

How to play "Wolf Hall"Mar 31 2015

Mike Poulton adapted Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for the stage. The play premiered last year in the UK and just began its run on Broadway here in NYC. There's a book version of the adaptation that contains some notes that Mantel wrote for the actors playing the various characters. The New York Review of Books has an excerpt of Mantel's notes; here's Anne Boleyn:

You do not have six fingers. The extra digit is added long after your death by Jesuit propaganda. But in your lifetime you are the focus of every lurid story that the imagination of Europe can dream up. From the moment you enter public consciousness, you carry the projections of everyone who is afraid of sex or ashamed of it. You will never be loved by the English people, who want a proper, royal Queen like Katherine, and who don't like change of any sort. Does that matter? Not really. What Henry's inner circle thinks of you matters far more. But do you realize this? Reputation management is not your strong point. Charm only thinly disguises your will to win.

The BBC aired a six-part TV version of Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies that finished up a month ago, and PBS will start showing it this weekend. I've watched all but the last part and it's really well done.

John Oliver: down with April Fools' DayMar 30 2015

John Oliver says April Fools' Day is terrible and we shouldn't take part in it.

Pranks are terrible. Anyone who claims to be excited for April Fools' Day is probably a sociopath. Because what they are really saying is, "I cannot wait to hurt the people close to me".

Teaser clip from season two of Halt and Catch FireMar 27 2015

Halt and Catch Fire season two is starting on May 31! And there's a five-minute clip to whet your appetite! And it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors!

The exclamation points mean that I am excited for the new season without explicitly saying so!! (via @kathrynyu)

Relationship advice from Al SwearengenMar 26 2015

Ask Polly, by Heather Havrilesky,1 is surely one of the best advice columns out there. In yesterday's installment, Havrilesky adopted the voice of Deadwood's Al Swearengen to answer a letter about a boyfriend's troublesome relationship with a married woman.

It sounds like you're feeling less than your full fucking self, and for good reason! The hour requires some unvarnished words and since you made mention of your passion for Deadwood, David Milch's brilliant portrait of the Wild West (largely unsung and partially unfinished thanks to some big-city cocksuckers at HBO, who'd sooner brand their own foreheads with a flat iron than allow a man of the pen to complete the masterpiece for which his name will henceforth be praised), I'd like to sally forth in a style befitting the scoundrels, whores, dirt-worshippers, and hoopleheads of that melancholy town. Be forewarned, though, the language herein might lead some to imagine that yours truly has been pillaging Doc's stash of chloroform, more typically reserved for offering animals a merciful exit from this mortal plane. Suffice it to say that skeptical cocksuckers and those with delicate sensibilities might be well-advised to seek respite elsewhere. You can help your delicate sensibilities by turning the fuck away.

  1. Who I still think of as being from Suck and probably always will.

Cancer: The Emperor of All MaladiesMar 24 2015

Oh, this sounds fantastic: PBS is set to air a six-hour documentary series, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, starting at the end of March. How have I not heard about this before today?

This "biography" of cancer covers its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the 20th century to cure, control and conquer it, to a radical new understanding of its essence. The series also features the current status of cancer knowledge and treatment -- the dawn of an era in which cancer may become a chronic or curable illness rather than its historic death sentence in some forms.

The series is based on Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which is one of the most interesting books I've read in the past few years. Ken Burns is executive producing and Barak Goodman is directing.

Thanks to Sarah Klein at Redglass Pictures for letting me know about this. Redglass created a pair of videos for the series featuring Terrence Howard and Ken Jeong talking about their experiences with cancer.

Update: All three parts of the series are available on the PBS site for the next two weeks or so.

Robert Durst arrested on eve of Jinx finaleMar 15 2015

Robert Durst

Whoa! Robert Durst has been arrested in New Orleans in connection with the killing of his friend Susan Berman in Los Angeles in 2000.

Robert A. Durst, the scion of a New York real estate family, was arrested on Saturday in New Orleans on a warrant issued in a homicide investigation by Los Angeles County, law enforcement officials said.

For years, questions have swirled around Mr. Durst about the unsolved killing of a close friend and confidante in Los Angeles 15 years ago, and about his first wife's disappearance in 1982 and the shooting and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor in 2001.

Durst is the subject of the HBO series The Jinx, which I have been obsessed with over the past few weeks. The final episode airs tonight. Jinx director Andrew Jarecki must be freaking out...the arrest might be due to new evidence uncovered by Jarecki during the production of the show.

The Real Don DraperFeb 27 2015

Vice did a nice little feature on George Lois, the kind of 1960s big-egoed ad man on which Mad Men's Don Draper was based.

Lois created a number of iconic ad campaigns as well as dozens of fantastic Esquire covers. Or at least he says he did. ;) (via devour)

Update: Here's the transcript for the episode of This American Life in which Sarah Koenig interviews her father Julian Koenig about George Lois taking credit for some of his best ideas.

In my instance, the greatest predator of my work was my one-time partner George Lois, who is a most heralded and talented art director/designer, and his talent is only exceeded by his omnivorous ego. So where it once would've been accepted that the word would be "we" did it, regardless of who originated the work, the word "we" evaporated from George's vocabulary and it became "my."

Of course, Koenig also claims to have invented thumb wrestling and to have popularized shrimp in America, so... (via @kevinmeyers)

Norm Macdonald on SNL 40Feb 19 2015

In a long series of tweets last night, Norm MacDonald posted a recap of the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special from his perspective, from how the writing process started, to running into Paul McCartney in the studio, to trying to get Eddie Murphy into a sketch. Gothamist transcribed the whole thing...you should read it, it's great.

And then comes Eddie. I'm standing with my son, Lori Jo, and Chris Rock. We see Eddie from 100 yards away. Rock says, "There he is. Like Ali in Zaire." Eddie, Bomaye. It's my job to talk him in to doing Jeopardy. We talk in his dressing room a good hour. When it's over, I'm convinced he'll do it. He doesn't. He knew the laughs would bring the house down. Eddie Murphy knows what will work on SNL better than any one. Eddie decides the laughs are not worth it. He will not kick a man when he is down. Eddie Murphy, I realize, is not like the rest of us. Eddie does not need the laughs. Eddie Murphy is the coolest, a rockstar even in a room with actual rockstars.

I'll reiterate: Macdonald obviously did not deserve to be ranked so low on this Rolling Stone list of all the SNL cast members.

Update: Here's the original SCTV skit (feat. Eugene Levy, John Candy, and Martin Short) that inspired Celebrity Jeopardy.

The cast of SNL, rankedFeb 13 2015

The SNL 40th Anniversary Special will air this Sunday. From Rolling Stone, a list of all of the regular cast members of SNL, ranked from worst to best. The worst is Robert Downey Jr. ("Making him unfunny stands as SNL's most towering achievement in terms of sucking") and the top 10 are:

10. Chevy Chase
9. Gilda Radner
8. Amy Poehler
7. Phil Hartman
6. Bill Murray
5. Dan Aykroyd
4. Mike Myers
3. Tina Fey
2. Eddie Murphy
1. John Belushi

I disagree with Norm MacDonald's placement near the bottom of the barrel...I always liked his stuff. And Dratch at #16? Was never a fan. Most of the original cast ranks too high...I would have preferred Eddie at #1 over Belushi. My favorites: Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman.

FYI, the guest list for the special is kind of incredible. So far, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Alec Baldwin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Kristen Wiig, Chevy Chase, Chris Rock, Dan Aykroyd, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and about 80 other bold-faced names (Hanks, Taylor Swift, Spielberg, etc.) are all scheduled to appear. (via digg)

Theory: Homer Simpson has been in a coma for 20 yearsFeb 13 2015

On Reddit, a fan of The Simpsons recently outlined his theory that Homer Simpson has been in a coma for the past 20 years and everything on the show since mid-1993 has taken place in Homer's head. Here's the argument...

In the series' first clip show, which aired in the fourth season, Bart pranks Homer by shaking up his beer can in a paint shaker. The beer explodes and knocks Homer into a coma. At the end of the episode, Homer is shown waking up from the coma. But maybe he didn't? As possible evidence, the theorist suggests that's why the Simpsons never age:

This is why the characters don't age. Homer remembers Bart, Lisa, and Maggie as 10, 8, and 1 year old, so they will always appear that way in his dreams. He is subconsciously aware of time passing, so his mind will often "update" his memories so that the year they occurred matches up with the age he thinks he is.

And it's also why the plots on the show became more outlandish after the coma episode:

This is clearly Homer's imagination running wild. With no real world restrictions, Homer's mind is able to dream up scenarios of him and his family in fantasies involving him winning a Grammy, his father fighting his boss for buried WW2 treasure, his wife getting breast implants, his infant daughter saving him from drowning, etc.

That's pretty clever. It immediately reminded me of two things:

1. The entirety of St. Elsewhere took place inside the mind of an autistic kid named Tommy Westphall. And since St. Elsewhere was referenced on other TV shows like Homicide: Life on the Street, that means those shows (and the shows referenced on those shows) also took place in Westphall's mind.

2. From 1991 to 1994, a show called Herman's Head aired on Fox. The show took place partially in the main character's head. Among the cast are two regular Simpsons cast members: Hank Azaria (Moe, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Comic Book Guy, etc.) and Yeardley Smith (Lisa). Super-crazy theory: perhaps Herman's Head inspired Homer's coma?

Update: Of course this theory isn't true. Al Jean, a writer and show runner for The Simpsons during season four, told TMZ that Homer hasn't been in a coma for the past 20 years. (thx, greg)

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert DurstFeb 11 2015

From HBO and director Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans), comes The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a six-part documentary series on reclusive millionaire Robert Durst and the three unsolved murders he is suspected of committing. The first episode aired over the weekend and is now free to watch on YouTube (in the US). A couple of reviews: The Anti-Serial and HBO's Crime Drama 'The Jinx' Succeeds Where Others Fail.

The allure of the NFLFeb 02 2015

Back in September at the beginning of the NFL season, I wrote a post called I'm quitting football.

I've been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I'd catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league's nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.

It's overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won't be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can't see each other anymore. And it's definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.

So how did I do? I ended up watching four games this season: a random Sunday night game in week 15 or 16, the Pats/Ravens playoff, the Pats/Colts playoff, and the Super Bowl. I've been watching and rooting for the Patriots for the past, what, 14 or 15 years now. And more to the point, I've been following the Brady/Belichick storyline for almost that long and once it became clear the Pats had a great shot at winning it all, not watching the final acts was just not going to happen, NFL bullshit or not. It would be like putting down one of the best 1200-page books you've ever read with two chapters to go and just saying, yeah, I'm not going to read the end of that. And that game last night...I felt *incredible* when Butler intercepted that pass. Life is full of many greater, more fulfilling, and more genuine moments, but there's no feeling quite like the one when you realize your team has won, especially when that victory has been snatched, semi-literally, from the jaws of near-certain defeat.

But that's ultimately weak sauce. I don't feel justified about watching just because I really enjoyed it. I made a commitment to myself and didn't honor it. I believe the NFL is still a terrible organization and isn't worth supporting with my attention. For whatever it's worth, I'm going back to not watching next year, and I hope I fare better.

Update: Bill Simmons, in an epic recap of the final 12 minutes of the Super Bowl, echoes what I was getting at above.

When you've been rooting for the same people for 15 years, at some point the stakes become greater. You want that last exclamation-point title. (Just ask Spurs fans.) You want to feel like you rooted for a dynasty, or something close to it, instead of just "a team that won a couple of times." You want to say that you rooted for the best coach ever and the best quarterback ever, and you want to be constantly amazed that they showed up to save your sad-sack franchise at the exact same time.

Anthony Bourdain: Parts UnknownJan 28 2015

Parts Unknown

I've caught a couple of episodes of CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and I've been impressed with the show so far. In it, chef/author Anthony Bourdain travels to places off the beaten path and explores the local culture. But it's not just about food and culture as with his previous shows. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain also delves into local politics and social issues. In Iran, he spoke with journalists about their tenuous relationship with the government (and two of the journalists he spoke with were subsequently arrested). Episodes in the Congo, Myanmar, and Libya are produced with a focus on their oppressive governments, past and present. Even in the Massachusetts episode, he talks about his former heroin addiction and the current addiction of poor whites in the US. Many of the places he visits, we only hear about the leadership and bad things that happen on the news, but Bourdain meets with the locals and finds more similarities amongst cultures than differences. I'd never considered going to visit someplace like Iran, but Parts Unknown has me considering it...what a great people.

Season four recently wrapped up and they're shooting season five now. The first three seasons are currently available on Netflix and all four seasons are on Amazon. (FYI to the web team at CNN: "Unknown" is misspelled in the <title> of that page.)

Transparent streaming for free tomorrow!Jan 23 2015

Transparent Show

All day on Saturday, Amazon will be streaming their acclaimed series Transparent for free (US-only probs) in celebration of the show's wins at the Golden Globes (best TV series and best actor for Jeffrey Tambor). Here's the press release.

"We're incredibly proud of everyone involved in the making of Transparent-the team took a risk and it paid off," said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. "Big kudos and congrats to Jill, Jeffrey, and all the cast and crew."

Written, directed and executive produced by Emmy-nominee and 2013 Sundance Best Director winner Jill Soloway, Transparent is a 10-episode, half-hour novelistic series that explores family, identity, sex, and love.

Amazon is also offering a Saturday-only discount on 1-yr Amazon Prime subscriptions...$72 instead of the usual $99. I loved Transparent...if you're not doing anything for 5 hours on Saturday, I recommend hopping on this.

The New Yorker's new TV showJan 15 2015

TV1 is the place to be. Amazon recently signed Woody Allen up to do a show. And today, The New Yorker debuts the first episode of their new show on Amazon: The New Yorker Presents, complete with a Alfred Hitchcock-esque silhouette on the title card to match the riff on the name of Hitch's 50s TV program.

America's most award-winning magazine comes to life in this new docu-series. Produced by Oscar & Emmy winner Alex Gibney, the pilot features a doc from Oscar winner Jonathan Demme based on Rachel Aviv's article "A Very Valuable Reputation," writer Ariel Levy interviewing artist Marina Abramovic, a sketch from Simon Rich and Alan Cumming, poetry read by Andrew Garfield, and cartoons by Emily Flake.

The first episode is free to watch for all. I watched the first five minutes and it's promising and pretty much what you would expect.

  1. Is this what we're going to call these things, television? How many people actually watch these Amazon shows on a television? Increasingly fewer and fewer, I'd guess.

Steven Soderbergh's 2014 media dietJan 09 2015

Once again, Steven Soderbergh kept track of every book, TV show, movie, play, and short story he read or watched in 2014. A sampling: Girls, True Detective, Gone Girl, 2001 (3 times), Dr. Strangelove, Olive Kitteridge, My Struggle: Book One, Boardwalk Empire, and his black & white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark (twice).

Here are his lists for 2013 (House of Cards, Koyaanisqatsi), 2012 (This is Spinal Tap, The Lady in the Lake), 2011 (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Senna), 2010 (Mad Men, Where Good Ideas Come From), and 2009 (Breaking Bad, Slap Shot). (via @khoi)

Game of Thrones on IMAXJan 06 2015

A couple episodes of Game of Thrones will be shown on IMAX screens.

An exclusive season five trailer, as well as the final two episodes of the fourth season, will get an unprecedented run Jan. 23-29 at 150 theaters in top markets across the U.S.

While the visual spectacle of the HBO hit makes it a natural for the large-screen treatment, "Thrones" will be digitally remastered to fit the Imax format.

Fans will be able to purchase tickets to the special event for an unspecified price on Imax.com in the coming weeks.

The sounds of The WireJan 05 2015

You don't typically think of The Wire as a show that used audio to great effect, but you'd be wrong. From the show's use of music only ambient to the scene (e.g. a car radio playing), the season-end montages, and the background soundtracks that accompanied certain characters or situations, The Wire's use of music and sound was quite calculated and effective. At Reddit, a sound editor who worked on the show shared her experiences.

One of my crew's challenges, then, was to find ways to evoke mood with backgrounds. When a character is in a crowded situation he is not comfortable with, listen for background laughter. When McNulty is drunk and on the prowl, listen for dogs barking (because he's a dog - my own private commentary on his character). There was a whole world of work that went in to creating the sound of Hamsterdam and building it from an empty to thriving enterprise.

Working with Felicia Pearson was challenging:

Snoop was tricky. That DeWalt scene wasn't the first time she was in the show (she's a scout for Marlo the first time we see him in season three maybe?) but it was the most dialog she had up until then, and the HBO note was that she was completely unintelligible. I had her in the studio to do pretty much the entire scene over it felt like, and whenever I had a new actor in the studio, I would always ask (unless I recognized them from something else) if they had done ADR before because "The Wire" used so many non-actors. She said "no ma'am" so I walked her through the process and she did a great job. Stayed in sync, matched her cadence... and sounded exactly as unintelligible as she did on set!

But so was Dominic West:

McNulty (Dom West) came in often and was awesome, as well. His accent showed most often when the character was drunk or angry. Oddly, the name "Stringer Bell" tripped him up a lot. "Stringa" and then a very over-enunciated end to "Bell-eh." Also, the words "fuck" and "cunt" came out "feck" and "cahnt" and the only way to break him of it was to stand right in front of him (so he could watch the mouth shape) and say the word over and over again. So a Dom West ADR session often went like this:

Me (with Dom staring at my mouth): Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.

Dom: Cahnt. Shit, do it again, please.

Me: Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.

Dom: Cunt. Cunt. OK, let's record...

(three beeps, the line starts and):

Dom: ...cahnt. Feck! Say it again.

Me: Cunt....

There were some instances where we didn't bring Dom in for ADR because the emotion and energy of the scene would be compromised if we tinkered with his accent, and I support that decision, but it still pains me to hear those lines and feel like something slipped by me. I was like, the last checkpoint before dialog went on the air.

Which reminds me, the "Fuck" scene (McNulty/Bunk) -- when picture came to me, there were only about 30 "fucks" in it. We brought the guys in together and played the scene over and over and slammed a variation of "fuck" everywhere it would fit. I think the final mix tops off at somewhere in the 80 range? My personal contribution was Bunk's "fuck, fuck fuckitty fuck."

And Michael K. Williams cannot whistle:

Michael K Williams cannot whistle! It's totally true. We brought him in and he tried but it just wasn't happening. Omar's whistle is provided by a lovely and talented loop group member named Susan, who is an actor and John Waters' personal assistant.

To which another Redditor replied, "Susan's coming yo!" The whole thread is great, read it.

The top 10 film/TV title sequences of 2014Dec 31 2014

From the excellent Art of the Title (which had a great year), the top 10 title sequences of 2014. So awesome to see Halt and Catch Fire take the top spot. And Too Many Cooks!

Black Mirror sweeps nationDec 29 2014

If you weren't watching the new HD remaster of The Wire over the holidays, you may have been tuning in to Black Mirror on Netflix. Charlie Brooker's dystopian sci-fi series was broadcast in Britain beginning in 2011 but only recently became available in the US on Netflix. Emily Nussbaum reviews the show for the New Yorker's latest issue.

Still, for all the show's inventive storytelling, its true provocation is its righteous outrage, which shares something with Mike White's whistle-blower series "Enlightened," although it's overlaid with a dark filter. Like "Enlightened," "Black Mirror" is about love in the time of global corporate hegemony. It's a bleak fairy tale that doubles as an exposé. An anthology series, it consists of six one-hour episodes spanning two seasons (plus a Christmas special), each with a new story and a different cast. In various future settings, Brooker's characters gaze into handhelds or at TV-walled cells, using torqued versions of modern devices. In one episode, a couple has sex while stupefied by virtual visions of earlier, better sex. In another, a woman builds a replica of her husband from his photos and posts on social media. In a third, workers watch streaming schlock and are docked points if they shut their eyes. Some plots deal with political terrorism (or performance art-on this show, there's little difference) and the criminal-justice system; there are warped versions of reality TV. Though the episodes vary in tone, several have a Brechtian aggression: the viral video "Too Many Cooks" would fit right in. But, in even the most perverse installments, there's a delicacy, a humane concern at how easily our private desires can be mined in the pursuit of profit. The worlds can be cartoonish, but the characters are not.

Like Nussbaum, I also watched the show "through occult means"1 and it's fun hearing from friends who are catching up on it. Too bad the show couldn't have found a way over here earlier.

Update: From Josh Dzieza at The Verge, I can't stop comparing everything to Black Mirror:

A friend recently told me that his favorite thing about the show Black Mirror is that he finally has a term for a certain type of technological anxiety. It's a type of anxiety that seemed everywhere this year. The Sony hack could have been an episode of Black Mirror, as could Gamergate. In the same way that we refer to Blade Runner as shorthand for gritty dystopian cityscapes, Gattaca for worries about corporate use of genetic information, and Terminator for ominously powerful AI, Black Mirror has become shorthand for a certain type of contemporary internet-age creepiness.

  1. It's interesting to hear the TV critic for the New Yorker all but admit to pirating shows off the internet.

TransparentDec 17 2014


I'm adding mine to the chorus of voices praising Transparent, the Amazon Original Series starring Jeffrey Tambor, aka Arrested Development's Pop Pop. Tambor plays a retired college professor who is transitioning to living as a woman. Each episode is 30 minutes long and the pacing is sitcom-like, but the show is equally comedic and dramatic. The show started off kind of slow for me but got better and better as the season went on. Here's a trailer.

The first episode is free to watch but for the rest you'll need an Amazon Prime subscription1 (for which they offer a 30-day trial). Highly recommended, Tambor is amazing. Oh, and they're doing a second season.

  1. I wonder how effective this tactic is in driving new Prime subscriptions. It's weird that you can't just buy the whole season of the show for $20 or something. I would love to see their internal analysis of how much revenue each Prime member brings in over X number of years versus potential lost revenue from direct sales by non-members.

Unedited Footage of a BearDec 16 2014

Following in the footsteps of Too Many Cooks is Unedited Footage of a Bear. It aired for the first time on Adult Swim this week in their 4am infomercial slot. It starts off as a nature thing with a bear which is interrupted by a fake infomercial and then. Gets. WEIRD.

Update: Adult Swim has a site set up for Claridryl. There might be some answers there to some questions you might have? About stuff? (via devour & @veganstraightedge)

Wolf Hall BBC miniseriesDec 15 2014

Wolf Hall Tv

Wait, how did I miss this...Hilary Mantel's excellent pair of novels about Thomas Cromwell & Henry VIII, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, are being turned into a six-part BBC miniseries. Outstanding! Noted Shakespearian actor Mark Rylance will play Cromwell with Homeland's Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.

BBC One will be airing the show in Britain in January while American audiences without access to BitTorrent will have to wait until PBS airs it in April.

Every episode of every Star Trek series rankedDec 15 2014

Jordan Hoffman is a huge huge huge Star Trek fan. So great is his fandom that he is able to rank every single episode from every single Star Trek series from #695 to #1. Several TNG episodes make it into the top 10, including Yesterday's Enterprise, Darmok, and The Best of Both Worlds.

Best TV shows of 2014Dec 08 2014

kottke.org favorite Matt Zoller Seitz weighs in on his top 10 best TV shows for 2014. For someone who doesn't watch a ton of TV, I have seen a surprising number of these.

My friend David has been trying to tell me about Hannibal, but I haven't been listening. Maybe I should start? Olive Kitteridge was great; Frances McDormand was incredible. True Detective was pretty good and I was lukewarm on Cosmos (I have NDT issues). Mad Men continues to be great...I keep waiting for it to fall off in quality, but it hasn't happened. The Roosevelts was really interesting and like Seitz, I find myself thinking about it often. I've seen bits and pieces of John Oliver but I get enough of the "humans are awful ha ha" news on Twitter to become a regular viewer.

Other shows I've watched that aren't on the list: Downton Abbey (my favorite soap), Game of Thrones (tied w/ Mad Men for my fave current show, although MM is better), Boardwalk Empire (strong finish), Sherlock (still fun, tho got a bit too self referential there), and Girls (gave up after s03e04 when it was airing but recently powered through rest of the 3rd season and is back in my good graces).

The Wire finally coming out in HDDec 03 2014

Back in September, I posted that HBO was remastering The Wire in HD. The company announced they've completed the process; it'll be on HBO Go this month at full-frame 16x9 HD.

HBO announced today that they had completed the high-definition re-mastering of all five seasons of "The Wire," which will debut in December on HBO Signature and HBO Go, be sold in digital HD (through iTunes, Google Play, etc.) starting January 5, and on Blu-ray starting next summer. As the press release notes, "The entire series has been beautifully re-mastered in 16x9 Full-Frame HD from more than 8,000 reels of original 35mm camera negative, allowing for a tighter fit on widescreen TVs and computer/tablet screens. The original negatives were scanned, edited, dust-busted and color-corrected with great care and attention taken to stay true to the look and feel of the original Standard-Definition 4x3 version."

Well, well. That's a welcome change from what I heard about how the show was shot and how they were going to remaster it (chop the top and bottom off the 4x3 frame). David Simon wrote extensively on how he became involved in the remastering process and came up with something to everyone's satisfaction.

To their great credit, once we alerted HBO production executives to our absolute interest in the matter, they halted the fall HD release and allowed us to engage in detail. And over the past several months, looking at some of what the widescreen format offered, three things became entirely clear: First, there were many scenes in which the shot composition is not impaired by the transfer to 16:9, and there are a notable number of scenes that acquire real benefit from playing wide. An example of a scene that benefits would be, say, from the final episode of season two, when an apostolic semicircle of longshoremen forms around the body of Frank Sobotka. Fine as far as it goes, but the dockworkers are all that much more vulnerable, and that much more isolated by the death of their leader when we have the ability to go wider in that rare crane shot.

But there are other scenes, composed for 4:3, that lose some of their purpose and power, to be sure. An early example that caught my eye is a scene from the pilot episode, carefully composed by Bob, in which Wee Bey delivers to D'Angelo a homily on established Barksdale crew tactics. "Don't talk in the car," D'Angelo reluctantly offers to Wee Bey, who stands below a neon sign that declares, "burgers" while D'Angelo, less certain in his standing and performance within the gang, stands beneath a neon label of "chicken."

That shot composition was purposed, and clever, and it works better in the 4:3 version than when the screen is suddenly widened to pick up additional neon to the left of Bey. In such a case, the new aspect ratio's ability to acquire more of the world actually detracts from the intention of the scene and the composition of the shot. For that reason, we elected in the new version to go tighter on the shot in order to maintain some of the previous composition, albeit while coming closer to our backlit characters than the scene requires. It is, indeed, an arguable trade-off, but one that reveals the cost of taking something made in one construct and recasting it for another format. And this scene isn't unique; there are a good number of similar losses in the transfer, as could be expected.

(thx jeff & @jasonsantamaria/)

Update: HBO Signature is currently running a marathon of all the HD episodes. They're also available on HBO Go.

David Simon added some before-and-after video clips to his piece about the HD remastering process showing instances where the wider aspect was beneficial and not-so-beneficial.

The economics of SeinfeldDec 01 2014

Scenes from Seinfeld can help illustrate economic concepts like incentives, thinking at the margin, and common resources. For instance, in The Strike from season nine (the episode that popularized Festivus), Elaine angles for a free sandwich:

Elaine has eaten 23 bad sub sandwiches, and if she eats a 24th, she'll get one free. She is determined to do it, even though Jerry advises her to ignore sunk costs and walk away.

See also the economics of The Simpsons.

The Simpsons and their mathematical secretsNov 13 2014

Simpsons Math

Acclaimed science and math writer Simon Singh has written a book on the mathematics of The Simpsons, The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets. Boing Boing has an excerpt.

The principles of rubber sheet geometry can be extended into three dimensions, which explains the quip that a topologist is someone who cannot tell the difference between a doughnut and a coffee cup. In other words, a coffee cup has just one hole, created by the handle, and a doughnut has just one hole, in its middle. Hence, a coffee cup made of a rubbery clay could be stretched and twisted into the shape of a doughnut. This makes them homeomorphic.

By contrast, a doughnut cannot be transformed into a sphere, because a sphere lacks any holes, and no amount of stretching, squeezing, and twisting can remove the hole that is integral to a doughnut. Indeed, it is a proven mathematical theorem that a doughnut is topologically distinct from a sphere. Nevertheless, Homer's blackboard scribbling seems to achieve the impossible, because the diagrams show the successful transformation of a doughnut into a sphere. How?

Although cutting is forbidden in topology, Homer has decided that nibbling and biting are acceptable. After all, the initial object is a doughnut, so who could resist nibbling? Taking enough nibbles out of the doughnut turns it into a banana shape, which can then be reshaped into a sphere by standard stretching, squeezing, and twisting. Mainstream topologists might not be thrilled to see one of their cherished theorems going up in smoke, but a doughnut and a sphere are identical according to Homer's personal rules of topology. Perhaps the correct term is not homeomorphic, but rather Homermorphic.

Too Many CooksNov 07 2014

Adult Swim did something magical with this 11-minute 80s sitcom intro:

I didn't have high hopes for this when I started watching, but it's like the Terminator of 80s sitcoms: it just will not stop introducing people. Better quality here. (via waxy)

Prince on SNLNov 02 2014

Prince played Saturday Night Live last night at the request of host Chris Rock, doing one 8-minute medley of songs instead of two separate short performances during the show. Here's the whole performance:

If Hulu isn't working for you, try the video embed on Deadspin. A set list is available on Rdio and Spotify. (via @anildash)

Unlimited free streaming of The SimpsonsOct 24 2014

The Simpsons

This happened a few days ago, but I just got a chance to check it out: FXX launched Simpsons World, a site where you can stream every Simpsons episode ever aired. You just need a cable login, as with HBO GO. There are apps too: iOS and Android. To get you started, here are the top 10 episodes of all time, from a 2003 Entertainment Weekly list.

1. Last Exit to Springfield
2. Rosebud
3. Cape Feare
4. Marge vs. the Monorail
5. Homer's Phobia
6. Mr. Plow
7. Itchy & Scratchy Land
8. A Fish Called Selma
9. Treehouse of Horror V
10. The Last Temptation of Homer

Update: Got a bunch of complaints that the "free" in the title is misleading because a cable subscription is required, even though I explicitly called that out in the second sentence. Fair enough. But then again, if you're going to nitpick, nothing is free. Even if you didn't need a cable login, Simpsons World would hardly be free. You need access to an expensive computer or mobile device, high-speed internet access, and enough free (there's that word again!) time to watch. And even if you're viewing using a computer at the public library, you're paying with your attention by watching advertising.

But all that is red herring nonsense. I was using "free" in the sense that for cable subscribers, they're getting something they did not have for the same price they were previously paying. You know, free.

How We Got to Now on TVOct 15 2014

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.

Update: How We Got to Now is now available on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Being Mortal, the TV showOct 15 2014

Atul Gawande's best selling Being Mortal is getting the Frontline treatment on PBS this January. Here's the trailer:

Deep Thoughts (about Phil Hartman) by Jack HandeySep 25 2014

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.

(via digg)

Anthony Bourdain, the future of cable newsSep 24 2014

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.

The Death of Adulthood in American CultureSep 12 2014

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?

Lego model of the Simpsons HouseSep 11 2014

Simpsons House Lego

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 returns to SNLSep 10 2014

Bill Murray SNL

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.

(via @Choire)


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)

The Wire, remastered in HDSep 02 2014

Good morning, good morning. Welcome back from your beach vacation. Settling in? Good, good. Let's get right to it then: HBO is 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.

(via @WaterSlicer)

The Game of Thrones title sequenceAug 27 2014

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.

An ode to Ralph WiggumAug 20 2014

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:

Texting in moviesAug 20 2014

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:

(via @tcarmody)

2014 Emmy nominations for Outstanding Main Title DesignAug 18 2014

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.

Westeros transit mapAug 15 2014

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:

Westeros Transit Map

The maps are the work of designer Michael Tyznik and are available as prints: Westeros and The Known World.

The Sopranos betaAug 12 2014

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 soundtrackAug 04 2014

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.

A theory on Jon Snow's parentageJul 21 2014

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.

Little Starbucks on the PrairieJul 21 2014

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.

(via @tadfriend)

Live TV coverage of Apollo 11 landing and moon walkJul 20 2014

Apollo TV teaser

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.)

Behind the scenes of Orange Is the New BlackJul 18 2014

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.

12 Monkeys TV series trailerJul 18 2014

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)

If Doctor Who were American...Jul 15 2014

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:

(via @moth)

Game of Thrones season 4 visual effectsJul 09 2014

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.

Halt and Catch Fire titlesJul 02 2014

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)

Update: Halt's opening sequence was nominated for an Emmy in Outstanding Main Title Design!

Prestige TV in the time of climate changeJun 27 2014

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.

Soccer: 55 vs. 2Jun 25 2014

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.

On this weekend in 1974Jun 22 2014

Chinatown Listing 1984

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 Sting
The Exorcist
Parallax View
The Sugarland Express
The Conversation
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:

Brady Bunch
Sanford and Son
Good Times
Upstairs, Downstairs
The Odd Couple
All in the Family
Mary Tyler Moore
60 Minutes

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 in 1984Jun 21 2014

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
Top Secret!
The Natural
Police Academy

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
Fantasy Island
Diff'rent Strokes
60 Minutes
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Late Night with David Letterman

(via, no foolin', the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man)

Halt and Catch FireJun 20 2014

Halt And Catch Fire

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. on testing the limitsJun 06 2014

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?

HamletMay 29 2014

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)

How We Got to Now trailerMay 28 2014

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 RooseveltsMay 08 2014

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)

The economics of The SimpsonsMay 02 2014

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.

(via mr)

CurraheeMay 02 2014

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.

All for one and one for allMay 01 2014

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)

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crownApr 30 2014

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?

(via mr)

HBO shows on Amazon Prime Instant VideoApr 23 2014

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)

DJ HodorApr 17 2014

Dj Hodor

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:


Game of Thrones theoryApr 16 2014

[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 DangerouslyApr 09 2014

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)

First episode of Silicon ValleyApr 07 2014

HBO put the entire first episode of Mike Judge's new show Silicon Valley up on YouTube:

MTV Amp complete playlistApr 03 2014

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.

True Detective: it was okApr 02 2014

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.

Louis C.K. on SNLMar 30 2014

It's 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.

The Office Time MachineMar 25 2014

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.

(via waxy)

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains evolutionMar 23 2014

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.

Deadwood, a retrospective 10 years onMar 12 2014

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.

(via @djacobs)

Fargo TV seriesMar 10 2014

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)

Cosmos on HuluMar 10 2014

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.

Gosford ParkFeb 25 2014

Gosford Park

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.

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