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Let’s All Calm Down About Doctor Who

Futurama Doctor WhoThat should be easy for most of you, the ninety percent of you who not only are unaware there’s a modern incarnation of Doctor Who, but who seem to instinctively want nothing to do with it. Most folks think of the curly-haired dude from the seventies and they could maybe identify the T.A.R.D.I.S. if you showed them an image of it, but that’s it. Their eyes glaze over within several words – not only is this show about a time traveler, it’s freaking British.

Why must they have their own version of everything? And why do they always have to come up with their version first?

Anyway, I love that about Doctor Who. It seems to me, you need to get on board the show about a centuries-old time traveler who regenerates into different bodies as each actor gets tired of playing him, or you need to not get on board. If Doctor Who were a boat it would be a big, silly, outrageous boat with tea and ferris wheels and a Trekkie Convention on crack for a crew, and it would be very obvious to you just by looking at it if it was the kind of boat you would enjoy riding around on.

Don’t get on the boat and start bitching about the silliness. You get yourself a cup of tea and enjoy, or you get off the boat.

So most people stay away from it – cool. I don’t blame them, it’s utterly ridiculous. I can’t imagine how one could ever enjoy the show if one were to approach it with even a hint of cynicism. And so when I’m hanging around on the various Doctor Who Facebook Pages (you heard me), I’m always a little freaked out by all the bitching, especially with regards to the upcoming 50 Year Anniversary Episode.

I can’t imagine anyone reading this far and not knowing what the 50 Year Anniversary episode’s all about, but what the hell, some people are reading about my coffee and my car rides. Real quickly, the show has been off and on for fifty years and they’re on the Eleventh Doctor, meaning that’s how many different actors have played him. In the show, The Doctor gets injured really badly and as a Time Lord his body gets regenerated into a new actor by the vast and mystic energy that powers The T.A.R.D.I.S. Which again, the T.A.R.D.I.S. is his sentient time machine, shaped like a blue emergency Police Box, which is huge and possibly infinite inside. Has a swimming pool, for instance.

Okay, now that you are up to speed, all you need to know is that for the 50th Anniversary episode, they’re going to have various actors who have played The Doctor all interact, or possibly not, or possibly some of them. Here’s an article on The Guardian about all the rumors – Digging the dirt on the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Episode – and it seems clear that the producers are very cleverly dishing out a slew of conflicting rumors so as to render all rumors unreliable. That’s just the British, being smarter than us as usual.

But back to the actual Doctor Who fans. Good lord, you guys have to calm down and quit bitching about everything. Given how so many people find it simply impossible to even discuss the show, and given how culty and low-budget it used to be, we should kissing Steven Moffat’s ass, and BBC’s ass, and anyone else’s ass who is keeping this train running.

Yes, I know, we’re the viewers and we keep it running too. But they don’t always listen to us – have we forgotten all about Firefly? We need to Get. Behind. Our guy.

Comic Book GuyInstead it’s like the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons used the Immortality Gate that The Master hijacked in “The End of Time” to turn everyone on Earth into himself, you know, when the Tenth Doctor got to spend a bit strolling through a Green Day video before regenerating into the Eleventh? Except instead of everyone turning into the Master and mocking The Doctor, you’re all turning into the Comic Book Guy, and you’re mocking me.

Honestly, how do you watch the show, come up with a laundry list of things you hate, and then watch it again? River Song is long gone, you’re still bitching about River Song?

Oh, I hate the new Companion because she’s too young and cute (just admit it, that’s what you’re all saying, I see you).

It’s not dark enough. It’s not scary enough. It makes my eyes roll. It’s too dark. It’s too bright.

Pretty soon, I’m hearing complaints that sound an awful lot like “Yeah, like that could ever happen” or “That doesn’t make any sense” or “That was dumb.”

I mean again, the whole show is utterly ridiculous. The cheerful lunacy of it is what I like, that’s part of the appeal. They can go anywhere, do anything, there are no boundaries to the show at all. Here’s how I approach it – the writers tell me what happened, and I say, “Oh. Huh. How about that?”

I honestly don’t know how you can watch the show without pretending you’re a sheep and simply following the wacky goat. The goat does fail me sometimes, but I love that goat. We’ve had some awesome times together, me and the goat.

John Barrowman, for example, who plays omnisexual immortal Captain Jack Harkness, has reported that he won’t be in the 50th because he wasn’t asked. And he really, really wants to be in the episode. Again, we have no idea if this is part of the rumor manipulation they’re doing, no idea. He could pop up in the episode or he could be telling the truth.

LaForgeBut you know, it’s like a Star Trek movie where the only way the whole cast will agree to be in it is if their characters all get equal screen time, so they have to think up shit for Geordi LaForge and Deanna Troi to do. Let’s have them turn LaForge’s contact lenses into Google glasses! Deanna, you take a bath and then get drunk down on Earth!

It gets clunky and in the way, and it seems to me they know what they’re doing. They have enough problems trying bring various Doctors and Companions together, and I don’t want to demand they include certain characters having no idea what they’re up to.

Whatever you’re cooking, make sure it has trout in it! And marshmallows! And it better be good!

That doesn’t make any sense. They’re working, in there. You guys got to shut up and give them a little room.

It seems silly to have to point out that the Fifty Year Anniversary Episode you are attempting to micromanage from your couch is the Fifty Year Anniversary Episode. Why don’t you go tell the boys at Jameson how to make Irish whiskey? Settle down, all right?

Okay, now I’m sorry I hollered at you. Let’s just all remember that words hurt and folks are busy. Mmm-kay?

Mmm-kay.

PS – if you want a bunch of hilarious Doctor Who links on your newsfeed, then go to this guy’s Facebook page right here. Now keep your bitching to yourself, the new episode is on in a little bit, and if you’re going to yell at me in the comment section, do so with a British accent or I shall ignore you.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Television/Movies, Uncategorized

 

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Can Captain Kirk Save Us From Accidental Racism?

Well why not? Saving us all from things is what Captain Kirk does – even us back here in the past, like whatever was going on in that episode with Teri Garr in it and Agent Gary Seven, and that freaky lady who could turn into a cat.

And he has taken on racism in the past too. Do you remember a world where hot white people and hot black people were not allowed to make out on our televisions? If not, you can go ahead and thank Captain Kirk for that. He didn’t care if you were white, or black, or blue, or a space cavegirl, Captain Kirk was as Down With The Swirl as one can possibly be.

Star TrekRemember when they found that planet where the people were all exactly one half white and one half black, and those who were white on one half were crazy racists toward those who were white on the other half? See, it wasn’t just making out with chicks – Captain Kirk could roll up his sleeves and help folks understand each other and get along as a society. Hide your chicks, though, seriously.

The only reason I was thinking about Captain Kirk was that my youngest daughter has an iPhone now, and so when I’m driving or even just sitting around on my can, I talk to her like I’m Captain Kirk. Hey, text your sister the following message, or locate the nearest bowling alley, or call my lawyer very quickly and tell him to engage the Alpha Protocol. She’s so pleased to do something with the most fabulous object in the universe that she does it quickly and without question, whatever it is.

And then once I had Captain Kirk on the brain, I realized he might be able to save us from the horrifying attempt at racial harmony created by Brad Paisley and Recent Mental Patient L. L. Cool J, both of whom seemed to me before this point like reasonable men, so maybe they’ve simply surrounded themselves with poor advisors. Entourages of folks who don’t know how to say to them at any of sixteen or twenty obvious points, “Hold on, this is some awful, crazy, offensive, dumbass bullshit here, we have to stop. We have to stop for God and Country and Humanity Itself. This is wrong, we can’t do this.”

Brad PaisleyNo one stopped them. I heard about the song for days before I finally, reluctantly sat down to listen to it, and I don’t even really want to talk about it. Paisley doesn’t seem to know the meaning not only of the word “racist” but even of the word “accidental.” And L.L. Cool J, well – let’s just say he seems to have mistaken himself for the Black Ambassador To Country Music, and not only is he mistaken about his title, he is clearly underqualified as a negotiator.

I would think for instance that one could expect not to be judged based on one’s fashion accessories from the get-go. No need to concede the centuries-of-enslavement-and-oppression angle. If we think racism is over, then surely Judging One By One’s Doo Rag Or Any Type Of Headware Really, had to be part of the deal. And if we don’t think it’s over, then find another way to express your deep and admirable love for Lynyrd Skynyrd.

But, who cares. You know, I really think they both meant well, and so it’s a nice gesture. It’s not like satire. At least they didn’t hire a different county music star who was white and put him in blackface and have him do a silly dance as he forgave the South for racism in exchange for being allowed to wear his favorite hat.

I mean, let’s fill out the whole scorecard, right? No blackface or silly dances? We’ll count that for ten points, like some sort of Attendance Award. Good try, fellas, let’s talk about something else.

Of course, wherever each of us was on our inner battles against racism, we now have a new problem, having heard the awful song, having cringed while listening to it like we’re at the meeting in Jaws where the shark hunter gets everyone’s attention, having listened to it several times hoping we heard it wrong, hoping to find some trace of an ironic joke. Now we have a new problem – how to get the song out of our heads.

And I have the answer for you – it’s Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

WWCKD

See, this isn’t the first duet Brad Paisley threw together. He also contributed to Bill Shatner’s album Has Been, singing a duet with Captain Kirk Himself about what it’s like to be Captain Kirk.

Get over there and listen to it, because it’s exactly like getting the inside of your skull power-washed clean of any trace of “The Accidental Racist.” You’ll be instead sitting on your back porch with an icy cold beer, looking into the sunset and reflecting deeply on how much Captain Kirk has really done for you in your life, and you’ll suddenly realize, damn – it’s been a lot.

The first hero I ever had, the square-jawed ideal every man should aspire to be, the bareknuckled savior of us all dozens of times over. The only Starfleet cadet to ever defeat the Kobayashi Maru.

Khan’s Bane. KHAN’S BANE, DAMN IT!

Kirk Vs GornTake your hat off and think back to lying on the floor of your living room, watching Kirk with a ripped shirt shoot a homemade cannon at the Gorn. Remember that you learned about courage from this man, just as much as anyone real. Then thank whatever God you pray to that Bill Shatner was ever born, and thank Bill Shatner, for retroactively redeeming Brad Paisley – who in all honesty doesn’t sound too bright, and seems to have simply made a hilarious, gargantuan philosophical mistake, and then found a wacky partner who made the exact same comical error. Think of them as Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, if that helps.

Then go listen to the whole Shatner album. Henry Rollins from Black Flag is on there! Ben Folds!  Joe Jackson! And Actual Spoken Word Poetry By Shatner Himself!

See? Now you forgot all about that other thing, cause you’re an Accidental Trekkie now. Feels good, doesn’t it?

 
 

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The Opposite of Sports

quidditchSure, but suppose you don’t give a shit about sports. Not in a mean or arrogant way, you just don’t.

You don’t watch the games or the analytical talk shows and you don’t even know who the giant guys in suits on the shows are. You walk into a bar and it’s packed and you’re puzzled. Is it the 4th of July? St. Patrick’s Day? Was school cancelled for tomorrow and these are all a bunch of hammered teachers? Where did all these people come from?

And it turns out they’re all there to watch some kind of sports thing you’re supposed to know about. You can’t shake the feeling that a solid chunk of these people have to be pretending to care about the total strangers playing the weird game between commercials on thirty-five screens, but you can’t find any of them. These very, very similarly-dressed people definitely care.

Then you get on Pencilstorm and that’s what they’re talking about – sports. And it’s not like an average room where you can simply agree with the largest male about whatever he says with regards to sports and everyone will accept you. It’s writing.

People are going to be able to re-read and figure out that you’re just sitting here, not blogging while the other guys blog. You can’t nod your head through an entire blog post. And guess how long sports go on? Forever.

Normally what I do is I act like a smug prick about it. I’ll refer to your favorite team as “your favorite group of total strangers,” tell theatrical stories about not knowing about the sports you’re so excited about. Blog about it while you’re watching sports.

And you know, it’s not so much that people don’t like that, it’s more that they don’t care because you’re not sports. You just pop out of their minds like soap bubbles.

And then what you’re left with is people who don’t care for sports, but who like smug pricks. That’s a pretty narrow market.

SlothSo I went on over to Pencil Storm to try and gain their trust, thinking maybe I could get them to teach me about sports. I remembered how Princess Leia gave that Ewok a cracker, and how Elliot gave E.T. some Reese’s Pieces, and how the Goonies gave Sloth a candy bar. I thought, well they were all trying to gain trust, I’ll try that. And it went great at first, but when I ran out of candy and crackers, Johnny DiLoretto bit me and Brian Phillips threw his beer across the room and Colin made us all take naps.

I remember lying there in my new Pencil Storm Cubby having my time-out and thinking, remember when The Dark Knight made about $158 million on its opening weekend? Pretty cool compared to the second place movie  – Mamma Mia – which made almost $28 million. Still, that seems like a lot of money for Mamma  Mia, and the reason it did so well seemed simple.

Mamma Mia is the opposite of The Dark Knight. It was a good move releasing it against The Dark Knight, because everyone who wasn’t jacked about seeing The Dark Knight was really keen to strap on a pantsuit and drink in Mamma Mia.

So that was really the question I needed to ask the walls of my cubby – What is the opposite of Sports?

And in a serene moment with really mystical pipes and flutes playing, I suddenly knew. Downton Abbey. The very opposite of sports.

So I spent about six hundred words explaining that at the beginning of my Pencil Storm post, and then Hassler came stomping around, making Charlie Brown teacher noises about how four thousand words was too long for a blog post. He turned out to have a machete down his left pants leg, yanked it out and chopped the first third of the way-too-long blog post off, and so now you’re getting it reheated for your supper, blogosphere. Cause Tommy C. doesn’t feel like cooking.

The rest of the Downton Abbey post is right here.

This is me by the way when I still had some cookies, trying to get them to teach me about sports and microwave ovens and digital alarm clocks. Great bunch of dudes til the cookies run out.

Tell Me More

 

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Ten Things I Learned From The Walking Dead Marathon

In case you don’t know, The Walking Dead is a zombie apocalypse show on AMC, the same network that brought us Mad Men and Breaking Bad.   So it’s a pretty serious take on the genre – well-written, high production value, great acting – although it does leave a couple of zombie movie clichés fully intact.

Like gore for instance.  I always forget how easy it is to rip a human being apart into a gooey, lumpy red soup until I get to watch a bunch of moaning zombies do it.  Everybody’s body seems to act like it’s been in the Crock Pot all day – just falls right off the bone.

And then there’s the Standard Horror Movie Dumbass Tendency, in which the characters behave with jaw-dropping stupidity, even as the rest of the plot seems tightly woven and well thought out.

So here’s a list of things I learned watching the marathon last night.  Spoilers ahead to some degree or another, so beware.

1.  Being A Zombie Is Not Very Contagious.  Apparently, the way to turn into a zombie is you get bitten by one, but damn – that’s about the only thing that seems to worry the survivors.  At one point they cover themselves in zombie guts so they can lurch down the street to get a truck, and sure, they put on some extra layers of clothing first, but I don’t think I’d be doing that without a Hazmat suit on.

“Make sure you don’t get any of it in your eyes,” one of them says, and yes.  I would agree you should be careful about that.  I sure hope breathing the zombified corpse fumes doesn’t do anything to you, either, but I guess there’s only one way to find out.

I don’t know about you, but when my kid has the flu and she’s been sleeping in my bed, I change the sheets before I get in that bed again.  I don’t drink out of the same water glass, either.  If you’re telling me, here’s the plan, to avoid getting turned into zombies we’re going to smear zombie guts all over ourselves, then I’m telling you, no we’re not.  Perhaps you have a mouse in your pocket?

2.  Think Twice About Horsy Rides.  I know that gasoline is hard to come by in the zombie apocalypse, but you have to understand, if you’ve decided to ride into a zombie-infested city on horseback, then what you’re essentially doing is trotting around on top of a giant, walking cheeseburger.

2a – Dead Horsy Alert – As a corollary, be certain you do not watch The Walking Dead unless you are prepared to watch a hundred zombies rip a horse apart like water balloon full of Johnny Marzetti.

3.  Boy Needs A Daddy – I know that it’s hard raising a son all by yourself at the End of Days, and I know that maybe your husband was in a coma right before the zombie attack, and also I know that in such a situation, it’s probably not necessary to mourn for a full, standard year before hooking yourself up with a big, strong man to watch over you.

But probably a little longer than a week or so.  And maybe question the motive, sincerity, and reliability of the dude who tells you that your husband is Extra Super Definitely Dead, before you sneak off into the woods to fornicate in the bushes with him. 

You know, as a rule, dudes will say just about anything to get you to sleep with us, and yes, that includes “I’m 100% positive your husband is dead.”

He’s not positive.  Practically all of us have used that old gag before, and we’d cut it out if it didn’t work so well.  I know you’re lonely and frightened, sister, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you.  That guy had about as hard a time getting your clothes off as he would on Spring Break circa 1985.

4.  It’s Okay To Hang Out On Rooftops.  If you chain a racist biker to a pipe on a rooftop, and then lose the key and have to leave him there, but first you chain the door closed so no zombies can get to the roof, and then later you say, “Well he’s got to be still alive up there, because we chained the door shut!”

Then I have to wonder – why did you flee the city?

The cool thing about rooftops is that there are only stairs and ladders leading to them, and zombies are not very agile.  You could chain the door shut and then not chain yourself to the pipe, and it seems to me that you’d have a considerable advantage over the racist biker, who you are pretty certain survived the night.

A considerably less effective strategy would be to find a place in the middle of the woods, where you can be approached unseen from all directions, and then place the tents around the edges of it, the way you would on a regular camping trip if you were hoping for a little privacy.  And then don’t bother posting any guards or lookouts of any kind, just all of you sit around the fire yucking it up loud enough that you can’t hear thirty zombies lurching up on you through the brush, until they’re already biting people.

6.  People Who Are Turning Into Zombies But Aren’t Finished Have Rights.  See, I would have gone the other direction on that one.  Oh, you got bit by a zombie?  BLAM! 

You gotta do it like you’re ripping a Band-Aid off, don’t talk about it.  Nobody wants to sit there turning into a zombie, and if they’re telling you any different, it’s because they’re turning into a zombie

Jeebers H. Mice.  How many zombie attacks before you guys start taking this shit seriously?  You’re up to like eight now.

 7.  Don’t Be A Dick Or Anyone’s Hot Sister – A good way to get eaten by a zombie is to be a real dick, like throw around racial slurs or make leering, unwanted sexual advances on hot girls or simply beat up your wife. 

See, in a zombie movie, the audience would get psychologically exhausted if all of our favorite people kept getting ripped apart, so if you’re going to act unpleasant, then that’s all we’re thinking – have fun getting eaten by a zombie, jerk.

Similarly, there is really no point in having two hot sisters in your show.  If you have a hot sister, then one of you is going to have to get eaten by a zombie to add depth and motivation to your otherwise not-very-interesting sister.  So if you have a hot sister then it’s either her or you.

Hard choices, sweetheart, that’s why they call it the Zombie Apocalypse.

8.  That’s A Pretty Funny Name.  A Walking Dead Marathon sounds like all the zombies have little numbers on their backs and are listening to iPods, doesn’t it?  Heh.  That’s not really what it is, though.

9.  An Upper Torso Zombie Can Crawl Across The Park – Make sure you bend down and talk to it before you put it out of its unholy misery, though.  No hurry, it’s just an abomination suffering through Hell on Earth – take a moment to say a few words it won’t understand.  That makes tons of sense, and we learn that early on.

10.  Even In A Zombie Apocalypse, Baby Boomer Dudes Have Irritating Stories And Demeanors. – I think I’d probably just shoot that white-haired guy the first time I got him alone, and then just pull the old He Was Turning Into A Zombie trick.  What are they going to do, call the cops?

Nobody cares, professor, just put your eyebrows down.

 

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What’s Your Charlie Sheen Number?

Two and a Half Men is the most popular show on television, so I don’t think there would be much point in arguing about whether it’s any good or not.  Personally, I’m not going to sit around and watch a show with a laugh track, here in 2011 – I’m just a pretentious bastard that way.  Every time I see some of it by accident, it feels like a Simpsons bit come to life.

Really – how many jokes can there be in this premise?  Charlie has many sexual partners – ahahahahhaha.  Charlie’s pal or brother or whoever that other guy is, he doesn’t have nearly so many sexual partners – ahahahahahhahhaha.  Their ex-wives are bitchy and unreasonable – ahahahahahhaha.  The housekeeper’s like their mom – ahahahhahahahah.

I mean, okay – I’m the one watching dinosaur shows and Doctor Who and Cake Boss.  I’m not here to judge you. 

What fascinates me about Charlie Sheen’s recent, hilarious, crack-addled antics is that they gave us a chance to find out series creator Chuck Lorre’s Charlie Sheen Number – it’s 250 million.

In case your name is Rebecah and you need a recap here, Charlie Sheen is apparently on crack.  What he likes to do is get loads of crack and some porn stars and a hotel room, and then he likes to light up the crack and see what happens.  Sometimes, I assume, nothing does. 

They don’t put it in the news when nothing happens, though.  They only put him in the news when he gets the cops called on him or goes to the ER or someone “steals” his car and drives it off a cliff.  Then suddenly everybody’s Judge Judy.

Here’s my favorite Charlie Sheen quote – “I don’t recommend crack cocaine to anyone unless you can manage it socially.”

Yep.  Contingent on an enormous, pulsating, eerily-glowing “unless,” that sounds about right.  Some people probably could manage it socially, like Jesus or Superman or the ghost of Steve McQueen.  So Charlie makes an excellent point.

Now, since I don’t watch the show, it of course doesn’t concern me for a second whether or not they ever film another episode again, but I’ve been nothing but fascinated by the story.  Like the other day, when Charlie Sheen went off on the series creator on a radio show, and also said that if he didn’t have to work with the current batch of “losers” he was working with, he could be “making movies with superstars.”

I don’t quite know everything that Mr. Sheen said, but it was eventually enough for Chuck Lorre to call off the whole show.  And that decision from a gross earning standpoint, will cost the network and Chuck Lorre approximately 250 million dollars – that’s Two and a Half Hundred Million Dollars, if you’re scoring at home (heh). 

A thirty-second commercial spot goes for about $200,000 right now, and they were booked all the way through the end of the season, and who knows where else the money comes from?  It’s not a figure I pulled out of my butt or anything.

So Lorre had to make a decision.  He had to say to himself, man, I don’t like taking a bunch of public crap from this literal Brat Packer on Crack.  Is 250 million dollars enough money to keep kissing his ass, or should I just say screw it, and shut the whole thing down.

He shut it down, so that means his Charlie Sheen Number is 250 million.  That’s awfully good. 

I have to tell you, for even one percent of that money, Charlie Sheen could throw turds at me on national television an hour a week for a full year, saying anything he wanted to, smoking all the crack he wanted to, and I’d just stand there smiling, shaking my head, going, “Oh, Charlie.  You are such a rascal!”

Chuck Lorre’s got a pretty high Charlie Sheen Number, if you ask me – especially for a television producer.  I mean, did you know that Pamela Anderson had a television show called Stacked, in which she played a librarian with large breasts?  The idea was, she walked around with her cleavage showing, and people would then ask a question about stacks of books or racks of magazines, and then she would mistake their questions as being directed at her boobs.  And despite the constant confusion on the matter, she would never, ever put her breasts away.

God bless you, television.  God bless your digital soul.

So anyway, you don’t think whoever produced that show had to kiss Pamela Anderson’s ass?  You figure she was probably really easy to work with, full of energy and professionalism? 

Certainly there was no show without her.  And since that show didn’t make much money, you have to think that the producer’s Charlie Sheen Number was probably what, a hundred grand?  Definitely closer to my ballpark. 

That’s all Chuck Lorre has to do, you know, is kiss Charlie Sheen’s ass.  He just needs to say, “Charlie I was wrong and I need you, please film more episodes.  I’m stupid and you’re smart.” 

I really can’t believe it matters what level of quality Charlie brings to the formulaic, laugh track-driven premise.  All you have to do, Chuck, is kiss Charlie Sheen’s ass and you get more money than the rest of us will ever see in our lives. 

We all have a Charlie Sheen number.  That’s what jobs typically are, right?  How much money would you need to roll in here and kiss somebody’s ass who doesn’t deserve it? 

I think 250 million is a pretty high Charlie Sheen number.  Mine’s about eight hundred bucks or so – bloggers are awful, shameless, horrible people and we cannot manage our crack cocaine socially, that. Is. For.  Sure.

Lie, cheat, blow stuff up, kill spies – you drop down to eight hundred bucks and I’m probably out, but anything above that, well – I’m listening.  Nothing sexual though – you’d have to find out what my wife’s Charlie Sheen Number is, for that, though I don’t think it’s much higher than mine.  Go ahead and break her off an email – I’m kind of curious myself. 

So anyway, when I see a Charlie Sheen Number way up in the nine-digit range, I’m nothing but impressed.  That’s an awfully big can of Screw You Charlie Sheen, you’ve got there, sir.  Very impressive.

What do you think, blogosphere?  What’s your Charlie Sheen number?

 

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Watson, The Amazing Data-Storing Computer

I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to make of Watson and the recent Man Vs. Machine Smackdown on Jeopardy but I can tell you this:   I’ve never been so fascinated by something and at the same time so irritated and bored. 

Just to see if I’ve got the macro-chronology correct, let me walk through it real quick.  Man invents computers long ago to more efficiently store information and perform calculations, and then Man proceeds over the decades to continuously increase the efficiency of these computers, until the questions and answers to every single Jeopardy Square ever shown on television could be stored in a small device we can all fit in our pockets, and which also works as a camera and a phone.

And all the while, we have been impressed by human beings who can store lots of trivial information in their brains and access it quickly when you ask them about it.  We don’t value it quite like we value athletic or musical prowess – those guys get groupies – but we value it.  We make shows like Jeopardy, where one can win decent-sized chunks of money demonstrating how much trivial knowledge one can store in one’s brain.

Of course, over that period of time, the Internet arose, millions of computers networked together, sharing all of their hyper-efficiently stored knowledge with each other at near-instantaneous speeds.  And the trivia world, of course, failed to really realize that this meant the end of trivia contests as we knew them.

For example, does your favorite radio station still ask trivia questions and then take caller Number Ten and then give away tee shirts or concert tickets to whoever can answer them?  And how long has it taken you to realize that these are basically Googling contests followed by a lottery-type luck of the draw factor, when it comes to being Caller Number Ten?

Now, there’s a reason why you aren’t allowed to have your Blackberry up there at the podium when you are playing Jeopardy!, because that wouldn’t be impressive, googling the trivial answers.  And it also wouldn’t be impressive if you had eight million trivia answers stored in the phone, and accessed them without getting online at all.

We’re talking about the efficient storage and retrieval of tiny bits of information, and you’re telling me that there is some question as to who’s better at it? Man or Machines?

Isn’t that exact function of these machines which we’ve built and improved and refined for decades?

How about another fascinating contest – Man Vs. Cars!  Who is faster?!

We’ve been working on cars and computers for quite a long time, and they’re both supposed to make things easier for us.  If they’re not better than unequipped human bodies at the things we designed them to do, then that would say awful, terrible things about our craftsmanship and ingenuity.

There was absolutely no question that Watson would be better at answering trivia questions.  The only problem was, Jeopardy kind of prides itself on awkwardly worded queries.  The idea is, they give you the answers and you provide the questions.  And they’re worded kind of cryptically – sometimes they’re all about puns or homonyms or Cities That Are Also Someone’s Name.

So the only disadvantage Watson has is that he might not understand the question.  So we’re not  really watching a trivia contest anymore – we’re watching two humans have a trivia contest while a computer has a Question Comprehension Contest.

Watson has a real advantage the instant he understands what the hell Alex Trebek is talking about.  I can’t imagine he’s allowed to go online or anything, so I assume that he has a vast memory full of trivia.  Once he figures out which piece of it you want, that shouldn’t be a problem for him, getting it for you.

And the other advantage he has is that most of him isn’t even in the studio.  That black rectangle is his avatar, but he’s in another room somewhere – he is another room – just packed full of Hard Drives and Computer Stuff and Whatnot.  Which makes his avatar the first Jeopardy contestant I’ve ever heard of who is allowed to contact another room every question.

If I were playing against Watson, I would have another room, too, and it would just have one of my daughters in it with a laptop, and I’d hit the buzzer instantly every time and then stall for a few seconds while my daughter googled it.  I’d hit the buzzer and grin a nice, easy-going grin and say, “Hmmmm, that’s a tough one, Alex it really is.  But despite its difficulty, I do know the answer – well the question actually, right – hahahaha.  Anyhoo.  What is Petaluma, California?”

See, I’d have a little earpiece in and no one would be able to hear what my daughter was saying to me.  Just like we aren’t privy to whatever Watson’s avatar is saying to his roomful of Trivia Drives.

If it doesn’t make sense to play Jeopardy against a guy with a laptop, then why does it make sense to play Jeopardy against a gargantuan laptop?  Obviously the point wasn’t to pit Man Vs. Machine, but to posture that way and then sucker a bunch of bloggers into watching it. 

Nice try, Jeopardy.  But some of us aren’t afraid to blog about it without having watched it at all.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 18, 2011 in News/Commentary, Television/Movies

 

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Being Human: Possibly The Best New Show Of The Year

Yes, I know the year is only a month old, but it’s also the best new show of the last twelve months, at least for its genre.  Being Human is on the Syfy channel, although I guess it’s more of a horror show, but listen, that makes the fact that I like it even more surprising.  As many of you know, I do not generally like to be frightened or disturbed or even mildly startled. 

Here’s the premise and I know you’re going to immediately frown and be all skeptical, because that’s what I did.  It’s about a vampire and a werewolf and a ghost who are all roommates, and yes, they play it pretty straight.

Okay, I’m serious, come back.  Just listen to me for a second.  I thought that sounded as dumb as you think it sounded, but it’s somehow really clever and original.  Frankly, I have no idea how they did it. 

Well, actually, I sort of do.  First, they noticed the BBC version and said, “Hey, let’s do what those guys are doing.”  It worked for The Office, so why not?

And then they managed to strike a balance between humor and depth, playing it straight sometimes, winking at us others.  The tone is similar to An American Werewolf In London, the plot maybe one part Anne Rice, one part Highlander?  I don’t know, it’s pretty hard to put your finger on.

Basically, they don’t spend a lot of time explaining or apologizing for the werewolves and vampires and ghosts.  That’s just how it is, that’s the world.  And they seem aware that they have to spend some of their time on the already well-traveled path that any of a hundred modern supernatural stories have beaten down hard.

So they have to rely on strong characters and strong acting and strong writing, and they have all three of those things in spades.  Really blows just about any other supernatural show out of the water in all three of those categories. 

Aidan (Sam Witwer) is a vampire.  He’s about two hundred years old and ran afoul of some vampires in the Revolutionary War, and then he spent a long time being just absolutely horrible.  He fell in with Bishop (Mark Pellegrino who played Jacob from LOST) and joined his cabal of vampires and then over time, decided he wanted to stop killing all the time.

He’s like an addict.  He works at a hospital to gain access to blood, and tries to sustain himself on it, but he keeps relapsing and killing people.  Some of the vampire imagery is a little cliché and gross, but there’s really no way around it, and I love how his desire to change is in fact very human, even though he is not.

Josh (Sam Worthington) is a werewolf, and for him, it’s more like being a serious binge drinker.  He doesn’t remember the evil things he does – in fact, you could argue that he isn’t even evil.  He’s just an animal part of the time.  He goes out in the woods to change at the full moon, and wakes up buck naked with a deer carcass a while later.

He’s horrified by the things he does, and severs all ties with his family and friends, refuses to get involved in relationships – all because honesty is essentially impossible and there’s no way to be sure he won’t hurt anyone.

Above all, the two of them want to be normal, so they decide to rent a house together and help each other appear that way, all while helping each other out in terms of hiding their true natures. 

This is where I can really relate to this show – a couple of dudes with some really serious flaws who only want to fit in and be better people.  Even though sometimes, their behavior seems to suggest otherwise.

Of course they have no established credit, and their residence history is pretty shaky, so they end up renting a house which the owner was having trouble getting rented.  That’s because the owner’s ex-girlfriend died in the house, and it turns out that werewolves and vampires can see ghosts.

So that’s where Sally (Meaghan Rath) comes in, the incorporeal ghost who only they and others like them can see.  She is a lot like Patrick Swayze’s character in Ghost, in that she can’t really touch anything until she learns to focus her energies.  At first, she can’t even leave the house, but she meets a rather amusing ghost from the eighties, complete with a sort of mullet, who teaches her (and us) what the rules and limitations and powers of ghosts are.

That’s really the first few episodes – establishing the rules of the world they all inhabit, what each of them can do, what they can’t, what they want, what they don’t.  I was never a fan of literally any show like this – not Buffy or Supernatural or Vampire Diaries or even Twilight.  It’s not like, “Well, Star Trek’s off the air so here’s another space show.”

I guess I used to watch Charmed with my daughters sometimes, but: A) I was never particularly into it, I just thought the Charmed Ones were cute, and B) my girls are not going to be watching Being Human.  It’s a lot darker and more adult even though yes, it does sound designed for twelve year-olds.

What I like is the depth and irony.  Its title is exactly what it’s about, even though the characters are not human at all.  But the clear point of it is to explore the darkness and goodness in each of us, the battle between them and how realistically we lose that battle as often as we win it.  That’s what being human is all about.  And then despite this depth, they manage to avoid being heavy-handed or ponderous.

I’m particularly impressed by the way the characters can be dark and horrifying like Dexter, but without the glib, smirking shock value that really shorted out any connection I could ever make to Dexter.  I’ll take this show over Dexter any time at all.

It’s on Syfy Mondays at 9pm, and you can also catch it on demand.  My new favorite show and my wife’s new favorite show, too, so watch it (full episodes here on their site) and decide for yourself.  You can always come back here and yell at me about it if you think I steered you wrong.

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Earlier:  Welcome To The Harmless Ice Monster Project

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And:  The Golden Voice Dance Remix: Engaging The Milker

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And:  Future Tom Blog Force: Crisis On The Internet

 

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