Monday, January 23, 2017

In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

It was just announced that Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga will be called The Last Jedi.

That's what they say, but those Jedi are tricky.  I wouldn't put it past them to change it.  They've done it before, in a title with the same proper noun.

I'm sure you all remember that Episode III, Return Of The Jedi, was first announced as Revenge Of The Jedi, before George Lucas decided that was too harsh. (I recall seeing a low-budget film around that time where one teen asked another "Do you want to see Revenge Of The Jedi?" I'm sure they were not happy when Lucas changed his mind.)

There's already a lot of speculation regarding this last Jedi.  Is it Luke (new hope to last Jedi)? Rey? Is it plural? Does it mean the Jedi are coming back?

Whatever, they sure fell off the map fast. In the original Star Wars, you got the feeling it was an ancient, long-forgotten cult from centuries ago.  Then came the prequels--ah yes, the prequels, screwing with our ideas of what happened.  Thanks, George.  We saw that the Jedi were well-known, common, and running things just a generation before Luke and Leia saved the rebellion.

Things happened fast a long time ago.

Sunday, January 22, 2017


The Good Place, my favorite new sitcom, just ended its first season. The concept of the show is a bad person gets into a happy afterlife by mistake.  There were plenty of twists, but the biggest came in the finale.

(Massive spoilage ahead.)

We'd been led to believe that the good place was heaven, with a particular neighborhood built for its denizens and watched over by its architect Michael, played by Ted Danson. Turns out instead it's been created as an innovative way to punish* four particular people (while the rest of the neighborhood is in on it).

I didn't see it coming, but it was properly set up.  Two of the people were clearly not good by any normal standard.  The other two were a woman who'd done good things but for vain reasons, and a man who studied ethics but caused agony to his friends through his indecision.

Some had noted these issues, though they weren't necessarily problems--The Good Life can set up whatever rules it wants for its afterlife, it doesn't have to employ conventional morality.  And that their lives in "heaven" were miserable made sense, since you need conflict or you don't have a show.

The reaction to the finale seems to be positive.  The A.V. Club gave it an A, and their reader consensus was an A-.  The Hollywood Reporter loves it as well.  But I don't like it at all. It was surprising, it was funny and it made perfect sense, but I'm troubled by what it means for the show.

Ted Danson, as an apologetic leader who didn't quite understand what to do, was the best thing about The Good Place. To discover it was all an act, just so he could torture these people (by making them torture each other), is a letdown, making so much that went on before less enjoyable in retrospect.  Everything was a lie, which means the reasons why I laughed, quite often, were a lie.

The second season, if it occurs, will be sort of a do-over.  Because the four figured out what was going on, their memories have been erased and they'll start from scratch, only with somewhat different parameters.  It's also different in that we know what's going on this time (supposedly), but I don't want to see them reset the whole thing, even if it'll go along different lines.  I feel like someone who's been held back a year in school.

I want the plot to be unpredictable, even shocking, but changing basic things that made the show the show makes me less interested.  If it's renewed, I'll probably still watch, but I don't think it'll be as much fun the second time around.

*This is also the plot of a Twilight Zone episode.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

And That's The Truth

Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman is an old acquaintance, but from his perch there he's been a bit too political and preachy. Take his recent review of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power.

A decade ago, when "An Inconvenient Truth" made its own splash at Sundance (and was picked up by Paramount, a deal that proved instrumental in turning it into a phenomenon), the film may have been "speaking truth to power," yet there was every reason to suspect that, like too many socially conscious Sundance documentaries, it could wind up preaching to the choir. But "An Inconvenient Truth" was that rare documentary that actually achieved what these movies always set out to do: It didn't just change hearts and minds--it shifted a paradigm.  The movie presented Gore as a charming dweeb professor of dire environmental warning, but it did more than offer a message.  It clanged the alarm bell and brought the news. It helped to free global warming from its pesky (and outdated) leftist underpinnings, establishing the issue as a mainstream concern in the same way that Occupy Wall Street would inject the meme of the one percent into the center of the middle-class culture.

Okay, it's a political movie, so a critic might want to discuss its politics, especially in the paragraph discussing the original Inconvenient Truth.  But Owen isn't just biased, he's misinformed.

He claims that film changed hearts and minds but, more important, created a paradigm shift. (Isn't that the same thing?)  Except it didn't.  It's easy enough for anyone to check the Gallup polls on global warming through the years, but Gleiberman is too busy spreading the fantasies that certain people wish to believe.

Truth is, Americans have had no problem believing in climate change.  According to Gallup, in 2000, 72% worried about it.  The number went down to 51% by 2004.  The number started rising at that point, going up to 66% by 2008.  An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, and there's no evidence it created a significant bump.  The number went down again to 51% in 2011, but rose significantly in 2016 to 64%.  For that matter, in 1998, 69% of Americans saw global warming as a serious threat.  That percentage went steadily down until it hit 58% in 2008.  It went up again, and then down again, and is presently at 57%. 

It's not that people don't care about the issue.  It's just that when they're told the fixes will cost trillions of dollars, or their jobs, that they start having second thoughts. (And, perhaps, after hearing apocalyptic threats for more than a generation, they're fatigued.) Unfortunately, through the years, the issue has become more politicized (despite what Gleiberman thinks was the Gore effect).

If the film turned Gore into a "charming dweeb professor," he must be pleased.  In fact, he's not a scientist, but is a powerful politician, who may or may not be speaking truth to power, but does speak from a position of power to hundreds of millions much weaker and poorer than he.

And while we're at it, it's hard to say what the effect of Occupy Wall Street was, though it showed the middle-class just how radical the Left is in America.  I don't know if it harmed the Democrats too much, but they've certainly been doing a lot of losing since OWS started--while the Republican have been doing a lot of winning since the Tea Party started, even as the media favor the former and revile the latter.

Friday, January 20, 2017


For some reason, this song has been going around in my head today:


I'm surprised and saddened to hear Miguel Ferrer has died.  Son of Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, he was only 61.

He played a lot of roles in a lot of TV shows, but to me he'll always be the rather harsh FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dave And Dan

I just read The Platinum Age Of Television by David Bianculli, a TV critic you might be familiar with if you listen to NPR.  We're living in that platinum age, with all the great shows--especially drama--available in the last generation.  But the book looks at quality television from the start.

Bianculli picks the five best shows from numerous genres--variety, soap operas, Westerns, workplace sitcoms, family sitcoms, medical drama and so on--also noting other examples that came in-between.  Unfortunately, this allows for only cursory discussions of each show.  Much better are the chapters that profile various TV names, both stars and writers--including an intriguing meeting with Louis C. K., who complains that Bianculli was too rough on his HBO sitcom Lucky Louie.

But I'm not here to discuss the quality of the book.  I want to discuss Dan Quayle.

If you're a TV fan, you already know where Quayle fits in.  On the chapter about "Single Working Women Sitcoms," Bianculli brings up Quayle's attack on Murphy Brown when the title character decided to have a child and raise it on her own.  The show itself responded by making Quayle's comment part of the world of Murphy Brown.

So far, so good. It's an interesting moment in TV history.  Except, in Bainculli's book, we get this sentence--on page 377--about how Quayle might have responded to Murphy Brown's precursor, The Days And Nights Of Molly Dodd.  In that show, Molly had an unplanned pregnancy with her boyfriend.  The boyfriend died, but Molly decided to have the baby and raise it herself.  This was a year before the Quayle/Murphy Brown brouhaha.  After noting Quayle's displeasure with single mom Brown, he adds:

And Molly's late boyfriend was African-American, which might or might not have incensed Quayle even more.

What a horrible thing to say.  That Bianculli thinks he's being sly and cute and clever only makes it worse.  If Bianculli doesn't like Quayle's comment on Murphy Brown, or his politics in general, fine.  But to casually imply Quayle holds hateful views (without any evidence, as far as I can see) is despicable.  It tells you something about David Bianculli, not about Dan Quayle.  (It also may tell you something about Bianculli's editors.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Method Acting

It's official--when Better Call Saul returns in April, Gus Fring will be there.  They even released a commercial:

This is no surprise to fans.  Though it raises a question I've had for a long time.  Gus owns several chicken places. He seems to be doing well.  Why bother with the drug business?

Maybe he's getting too much competition from Hurley:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Looked Up And It Was Chelsea Manning

President Obama has commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning.

In my Predictions For 2016, I wrote: "President Obama will make some very controversial pardons (though this may happen in early 2017)."

There have been others that were controversial, but this is the biggest (so far).

Anyway, I think I called it.

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