📺 I just subscribed to Paramount+ for the year. I got hooked on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds this summer, and now I want to watch all the other Trek that I missed. I am in the middle of Star Trek: Discovery now.
Ian Bogost’s essay comparing the TV adaptation of The Last Of Us to its video game forbear was a good read. I especially enjoyed his thoughts about what content makes sense in a video game vs. a television series.
I don’t fully buy his argument that video game storytelling is inherently inferior to other media. It works differently, which I don’t think the author fully realizes. At one point, when descriving his experience playing The Last of Us (the video game), he states:
I couldn’t shake the sense that the combat was getting in the way of the story, acting as filler, just there to give me something to do in between metered doses of narrative.
Video game narratives are compelling, even if they are shallower than television or movie narratives, because you, the player, are put into the shoes of the protagonist. You are not watching a story happen to someone else; the story is happening to you—and it is happening right now.
That’s why it doesn’t matter that all the actions you perform in a video game may fall into a video game trope, like first-person shooter-style combat or even quick-time events. That stuff is the game. Gameplay, not story, is the essential element of video games. In the best games, the gameplay, more than the narrative, is what sparks your imagination, even after you’ve stopped playing. The experience sticks with you because you did it. The story sticks with you because it happened to you.
📺 I finished watching His Dark Materials season 3 last night. I found the last season to be a letdown in many ways, especially the last few episodes. I think an adaptation of The Amber Spyglass that I would like would be twice as long and cost a hundred times as much.
📺 I have been watching Obi-Wan while at the gym because it is relatively mindless. And wow is it mindless! Seeing more Darth Vader and Obi-Wan is fun, but boy does everybody suck at their jobs on that show. 😀
📺 I finished watching Slow Horses Season 1 tonight. I loved it and can’t wait for Season 2. I’m wondering if I would like the books that the show is based on. I also wonder if it will get more than two seasons.
📺 I very much enjoyed Stranger Things season 4. After I finished it, I re-watched seasons 1 and 2 (so far), which I have not seen since they debuted. I think they hold up well and I liked them even better than the first time I watched them.
📺 Stranger Things season 4 really clicked for me. Sure, it has some clumsy bits and didn’t serve half its characters with a real story, but overall I was hooked from the start and loved every minute of it.
Yesterday, The New York Times published a very well-written profile of actor Henry Winkler written by Matthew Klam:
When the producers of the HBO series “Barry” asked Henry Winkler to audition for the role of Gene Cousineau, they assured him that he was on a short list. Winkler said he was willing, as long as the list didn’t include Dustin Hoffman. “Because he’s a movie star. He’d get it. If Dustin was on the list, I wasn’t going in. They said no. I said OK.”
There was no particular reason to think the two-time Oscar winner would be up for the same part, but Winkler can be forgiven for indulging in a little paranoia. Across the span of his 50-year career, he has had some highs — 1970s pop-culture saturation to rival “Star Wars” and the music from “Jaws” — and lows, including a long stretch where he couldn’t get hired, filled with the sense that he’d been typecast into oblivion.
Years ago I listened to a long interview of Henry Winkler on The Nerdist podcast1 that opened my eyes to how warm, generous, and philosophical Henry Winkler is. This profile provides some insight into those qualities, and also takes a deep dive—deeper than I would normally expect from a newspaper article—into Winkler’s audition for, and his acting in an early scene, in Barry.
I think it is gone from the internet now, unfortunately. ↩︎
📺 I rewatched all of Barry over the past week, and watched the first episode of season 3 tonight. So far, season 3 appears to be off to a fine start.
📺 Netflix canceled my daughter’s favorite show, The Baby-Sitters Club. I haven’t broken the news to her yet, because it would crush her. Consequently, I don’t feel too bad that Netflix has been beaten up by Wall Street this week.
📺 I started rewatching Barry in preparation for the season 3 premiere. It seems impossible that the last episode of season 2 to air was almost three years ago. 🤯
I watched about an hour of Apple TV+’s Friday Night Baseball last night.
The picture quality was fantastic, both in terms of sharpness and color. I think that the MLB service also has great picture quality, too, but Apple’s streams looked better to me than Thursday’s streams from MLB.tv. I liked the near lack of graphics and other nonsense on the screen.
The announcers were sporadically good, but sometimes they were so far off topic that they didn’t bother to call the game. At times they were so caught up in their own conversation that it reminded me of watching meaningless late-season games between teams with no chance of making the playoffs. I bet the announcers got a bunch of notes about this already and will try to stay more focused on the games going forward.
📺 Why does the premiere of Apple’s Friday Night Baseball have to coincide with the season finale of Severance?
Rebecca Keegan wrote an entertaining and informative profile of Barry star and co-creator Bill Hader in The Hollywood Reporter:
In Barry, which returns to HBO for its third season April 24, Hader plays a reluctant hitman who wants to be an actor. Barry is just really great at killing. This is not so different, Berg points out, from Hader, who became a star on SNL in his 20s almost in spite of himself, fought crippling anxiety on the live broadcasts, and really just wanted to write and direct.
I am very excited that Barry is returning to HBO soon. It is a daring show on many levels. Plot-wise it flirts with show-ending (or at least show-ruining) disaster several times each season. I have no idea how the cliffhanger at the end of Season 2 will be resolved, but I am confident that the writers came up with something satisfying.
I love Bill Hader, too. He is amazing and deserves every bit of success he has had.
One thing I have gotten into lately is watching videos on YouTube in which musicians talk about music. One channel/host I like is Rick Beato. He does everything from break down the music theory behind certain pop songs, to live interviews, to simply gushing about great performances and great audio production. What makes his videos enjoyable is his infectious enthusiasm for all kinds of music, and his deep respect for artists, engineers, and producers.
I am sitting down to watch the final episode in the weakest Disney+ series I have watched so far: The Book of Boba Fett1. The show is flawed in many ways, but some of it is fun, some of it looks good, and it is, in all but name, a continuation of a show I do like, The Mandalorian.
Not a book, by the way. ↩︎
📺 I watched the first few episodes of Hawkeye on Disney+, and that was only because I was on my iPad half the time. I think it is the weakest Marvel or Star Wars series that Disney+ has produced. The plotting is lazy and makes no sense, and at every turn it goes out of its way to undercut and ignore its title character, which is frustrating.
My wife and I started watching The Americans this weekend. We stumbled upon it when browsing Amazon Prime Video. It’s good to have something to watch on Prime Video, because it is criminally underutilized in my house. The last thing I watched on it was Invincible and I don’t even remember how long ago that was.
My wife and I have been watching Sex Education season three. True to its title, the show actually does weave sex education into its stories and strives to impart sensible information to its audience.
In one of the episodes, a trans student acts completely confused about which of the two sex–specific (boys and girls) sex education classes that the school’s new, conservative principal set up that they should attend. Because the trans character is new to the show, this scene seemed like a zeitgeisty political statement that the show’s writers crammed in, rather than a story beat that grew organically out of the characters and themes of the show.
In this scene, I thought that the trans character was being obtuse. After all, gender isn’t sex. Bodily organs are not identities. I would imagine a transgender person would understand that better than I would. I thought that the character should just go to one class or the other without making a political statement about it. I’m sure the character could just blow off the class without coming to any harm.
My wife and I discussed this scene after the episode was over. I was annoyed by the scene’s apparent politicism, but came to a conclusion about it that probably aligns with the trans character’s thoughts: Segregated boy/girl sex-ed is pointlessly gendered. Bodies have sexual organs, both external and internal. It would be good to know how they work, whichever ones you have. In fact, because of this, it makes sense to teach everybody, all together, how everybody’s sexual organs work and how reproduction works, too (pregnancy, childbirth, the whole thing). Perhaps that isn’t done because kids are too immature to handle it. I bet, though, that it isn’t done because adults are too embarrassed to do it.
📺 I, for one, thought that yesterday’s divisive Coach Beard dark-night-of-the-soul episode of Ted Lasso was great. It wasn’t perfect, but I admired its ambition and loved every minute of it.
I can’t clean my office because I’m too busy to do anything with it all day, even though I am working in there, and at the end of the day I don’t want to be in there anymore. I have been thinking that I should break up the mess into chunks, box part of it each day, and organize the box while I watch TV. The problem is, I don’t really watch TV much anymore. When I do, it’s usually “good” TV that I have to pay attention to. I no longer have mindless TV shows that are good to kind-of pay attention to while folding laundry. When I was younger and lived alone, I always had sitcoms and sports on that I didn’t really care about, but were good distractions while I was puttering with something or doing light choses. That took up a huge part of my evenings. Now that I have a family, all of that is gone—mostly for the better—but I think I need a little of it back in my life sometimes.
📺 Ted Lasso Season 2 Isn’t In A Slump, It’s Headed For A Breakdown: This is a great analysis of what’s going on with the tonal shift in Ted Lasso season 2.
Elizabeth Nelson wrote the best, most accurate take on Ted Lasso (the character) that I have ever read:
Unceasing optimism defines Ted Lasso. But roller-coaster mood storms, manic reveries, and seemingly deliberate head games also define Ted Lasso, the players’ coach, and make him one of the best and most-layered characters of the peak TV era. He’s a man who presents himself as two-dimensional, but who might actually be playing three-dimensional chess. We delight in his antics, marinate in his charm offensive, and celebrate his offbeat approach to winning the whole fucking thing. But at all times, there’s a slight worry, one that crops up in the back of our minds, about what he might be willing to do to make it happen.
People love the show’s positivity, but it also has a dark side that actually makes it good. There’s something just a little off about Ted Lasso, and that’s what makes him interesting.
While Ted wins over a bunch of potential enemies in England, his wife back in Iowa can’t stand his relentless positivity. Maybe you couldn’t either, if you were married to him.
Ted excels at darts because he spent every Sunday in a sports bar with his dad between the ages of ten and sixteen, when his father passed away. I don’t think it is normal to bring your underage son to a bar every single week. That isn’t exactly a normal childhood. Furthermore, losing a father at sixteen may have caused some emotional trauma that Ted buries deep, causing him to overcompensate with cheery paternalism in almost every interaction.
Most importantly, Ted fails. He failed at his marriage, he is trying and largely failing to be a good father, and he failed to produce a winning record for his team, or even keep them in the Premier League. As appealing as Ted is to the TV audience, what he is doing is not working—or not working yet—in the world of his story.
What made Season 1 great was the surprising complexity of what appeared to be a dumb, one-joke sitcom based on a commercial that hardly anybody remembered. Season 2 starts to air tomorrow. I hope the writers didn’t forget about the dark undercurrents that made their show about a nice guy work so well.