Categories
Television

They went back! On a ‘Lost’ retrospective podcast

Really enjoyed the SYFY limited podcast series Through the Looking Glass: A LOST Retrospective, which celebrates 15 years since the premiere of Lost in 2004.

Hosted by Tara Bennett and Maureen Ryan—two television writers who covered the show’s original run—the podcast consists of six episodes that examine Lost from different perspectives, including how it revolutionized fan engagement, viral marketing, the phenomenon of showrunners, and television in general.

The final episode features Lost showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who were game as always. Their own podcast that they ran while making the show was the first one I ever followed. Before social media was a thing, they made interaction with fans a vital part of the show’s development and marketing.

As an avowed fan of the series finale (fight me), I couldn’t help but relish Damon’s harsh but true words for George R. R. Martin, who was critical of the finale at the time but has now very publicly run into his own issues ending Game of Thrones. Even if his ending matches or exceeds the now crazy high expectations, he will have done it with far more time and creative control than the Lost guys were afforded for theirs.

And yet, despite my appreciation for the series, I haven’t felt compelled to rewatch it since the original airing. Perhaps because of the time commitment, or the foreknowledge of having to wade through some of the weaker episodes.

But this podcast makes me want to revisit it. You all everybody want to join me?

Categories
Television

What is utter sadness, Alex

Since coming home from the hospital with our baby boy, we’ve been alternating between several streaming shows to pass the hours that need passing. Current go-tos include The Office, The Great British Baking Show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Wire.

As much as I like all of them, none give me as much joy as watching Jeopardy! on Netflix. I literally gasped when I discovered it was on there. Finally I could finally skip the awkward contestant small talk and Medicare commercials and just engage in pure, uncut, nonstop trivia.

I found it just in time. The other day the Boy was getting fussy as I was starting an episode. As soon as Alex Trebek’s legendary voice started in on the clues, he calmed down. I’m gonna go ahead and assert that in this instance correlation did equal causation, because Jeopardy! fixes all.

Which makes the news about Trebek’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis that much sadder. The straight-laced optimism and sly humor in his video announcing the news is inspiring and very on-brand. It’s like he’s a Clue Crew member delivering a Video Daily Double:

(See also his interview on The Nerdist.)

Barry Petchesky from Deadspin gets it right:

This is exactly what you’d want and expect from the man who, for 35 years, has hosted the best and smartest game show in existence. Businesslike. Competence exuded through every pore. Cool, professional, authoritative. (It’s what makes his occasional jokes work so well. They’re gems because they’re so rare. They’re earned.) You are not there, in Trebek’s house, for chit-chat. You are there to answer some damn questions. And there is no one on earth better suited to oversee the merciless, no-frills format of Jeopardy! than him.

I’m so glad I got to see Trebek and the show in person. Long may he reign. And may we have mercy on whoever has to eventually replace him.

Categories
Film Television

Perfect Bid

Remember Terry Kniess, the guy who made the perfect bid on the Showcase Showdown of The Price is Right? Someone made a documentary about the guy behind that bid, and it’s surprisingly thrilling.

Ted Slauson is a math whiz and The Price is Right superfan who’s attended dozens of tapings of the show and even wrote his own computer program to help him memorize the show’s thousands of different products and games. Using archival footage and Ted’s deadpan talking head interviews, the documentary pieces together how Ted’s savant-level mastery and willingness to feed other contestants exact prices led to some amazing television.

Though amateurish in its choppy editing and overuse of background music, the doc is an effective love letter to one of the most popular game shows ever and a compelling investigation into its unlikely cult hero.

Categories
Life Love Television

Queer Eye and Straight Guys

Karamo Brown of Queer Eye recently gave a free talk nearby, so I availed myself of the opportunity to see him in the flesh. He was the same as you see on the show, except this time he made himself cry. He got emotional as soon as the talk began because an old college friend of his was in the audience, someone who reminded him of how far he’d come in life. He then briefly told stories from the show and about being a dad.

Unsurprisingly, he was very open with feelings and implored us not to make fear-based decisions. His sons probably do not appreciate when they bring girls home and Karamo pulls them aside and asks “Have you done anything out of fear lately?” But that’s something youths can only appreciate in hindsight (and something only a therapist/motivational speaker like Karamo could get away with).

I never watched the original Queer Eye, though vaguely remember its cultural impact. But while I was in Denver for a wedding last fall, my straight-dude friends were effusive in their praise for the new version. It’s so much more than fashion, they said. They were right. It’s fun to see the Fab Five work their magic: Bobby remodeling homes and Jonathan transforming hair and Antoni inspiring cooking and Tan remaking wardrobes and Karamo shepherding the show’s “heroes” to a new self-awareness.

But, like Karamo, I think I’m most interested in seeing what makes the subjects cry, or at least be vulnerable. Those moments are water wells, openings to the deep reserves of emotional underground that’s usually in darkness. Drawing from that space, for me anyway, involves work and risk but almost always reward. It happened for me that weekend in Denver, which is why I’ll always associate that time with the show. The ability to be vulnerable among friends—straight male friends, no less—and to do it so easily when it’s otherwise so daunting, meant it was good in the richest sense of the word.

That inspiring of goodness is one of my takeaways from the show. The Fab Five dedicate themselves to new and challenging experiences around Georgia for the first two seasons, and in doing so demonstrate their goodness to everyone. Being willing to share their expertise for the betterment of strangers, prodding when necessary but remaining open to being changed themselves—that’s good. That takes guts, and vulnerability. And that’s what I look forward to seeing even more of in season 3.

Categories
Television Typewriters

Cookie Monster, typist

I’m just gonna say it: Cookie Monster is the best Muppet in the Jim Henson Muppetverse. And not just because of his typewriter scene in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, which I watched last night. Though I cannot endorse his flagrant destruction of a perfectly good fake typewriter, his GIF-worthy reaction at the end of his scene with Gordon is golden.

Also, I just now discovered his parody of “Call Me Maybe”, maybe the best pop song of the last 10 years:

Categories
Television

Big Mouth of Little Lies

My wife and I recently binged season 2 of Big Mouth and season 1 of Big Little Lies, and I noticed a key bit of thematic overlap between the two.

Big Mouth, Netflix’s obscene, irreverent, gut-bustingly funny cartoon about kids going through puberty, introduced the Shame Wizard character in season 2. Voiced by a slithery David Thewlis, he creeps among the kids whispering shame-inducing accusations and judgments. He even has a (NSFW) song:

Oh, I hate to be a bummer
But, my dear, I’ve got your number
And I’ll whisper it forever in your ear
Bringing the shame, shame
You’ve got no one but yourself to blame
You thought no one was watching
But I’m right here in your brain

It takes a while for each of the kids to realize that they aren’t the Wizard’s only victim. Each had separately internalized the shame and let it negatively influence their self-image and behavior.

The Shame Wizard would have fit well in Big Little Lies, the HBO series based on Liane Moriarty’s excellent book. Wealthy parents with kids in a public school deal with an accusation of bullying as they struggle with the ripple effects of domestic violence, infidelity, divorce, and trauma. What’s kept hidden from others by kids and adults, lovers and friends, because of their own version of the Shame Wizard really propels the story.

When things finally get out in the open in the final episode is when many of the characters finally experience freedom—even if, like a bandage being ripped off, it hurts like hell getting there.

Categories
Television

Final touches in ‘Lost’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’

I don’t know how but Jenny and I jumped back into Parks and Recreation again in season 5 and went all the way to the end. This time through the finale, “One Last Ride”, I saw how much it had in common with the Lost series finale.

*Spoilers ahead*

I’ve written about Lost and Parks and Recreation before, but didn’t see until now that both shows incorporate touch and time travel in their final seasons.

Lost started using “flashforwards” in season four, and then a whole separate timeline through “flashsideways” in the sixth and final season. The main characters don’t know each other in this separate timeline. Only when they incidentally touch each other do the memories of the original timeline and island life flood back, and they are reconciled.

Likewise, the final season of Parks and Rec jumps three years from the previous season, and then even farther in the series finale with glimpses of each character’s far future. These glimpses are also triggered by touch. Both gangs then end up congregated in their show’s final moments, having to say a bittersweet goodbye (albeit in different ways).

That’s probably where the similarities end between these otherwise very different shows. I’m grateful for both of them and their humane, emotionally true resolutions.

(Don’t @ me about the rest of the Lost finale)

Categories
Television

The Crown

As a patriotic American, I am against the British monarchy on principle. That hasn’t stopped me from loving Netflix’s The Crown. I’m here to echo all the good things you’ve heard about it, specifically the performances of Claire Foy as the Queen and Matt Smith as Phillip. That said, I think swapping in a new cast for the next two seasons is a great idea. Much better than trying to falsely age younger actors with makeup.

Categories
Television

The People v. O.J. Simpson

I was seven years old when the O.J. Simpson trial happened. I don’t have any personal memories of it, but through over 20 years of cultural osmosis I’ve grown familiar with its broad strokes and iconic images: the Bronco chase, Kato Kaelin, O.J. trying on the glove, Judge Ito, the verdict.

Watching FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson, then, was an hours-long revelation for me. Seeing a dramatized version of the moments and decisions between those images helped put the whole trial and consequent media circus in better perspective.

And wow, was it a cloisterwalk, to put it in PG terms. What began as a supposedly slam-dunk case began to unravel in slow motion, undermined by shoddy police work, questionable courtroom strategies, and a defense that simply outplayed the prosecution. I still think O.J. did it, but I understand better now why he got off.

Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark and Courtney B. Vance as Johnny Cochran are the standouts in the cast, and the anchors for what becomes a wild narrative. It’s a tremendous credit to the creators of the show that despite there being zero mystery about the climax, I was so invested in the narrative that my heart was pounding by the time the verdict finally arrived, having felt each twist and surprise development along the way.

I went with this one over O.J.: Made in America because I thought it would be shorter, but it’s just as long, if not longer, than the documentary. Hollywood might not be great at rigorous history, but it is great at making compelling stories. So I’m sure I’ll go back to O.J. soon.

Categories
Media Television

Just don’t look, just don’t look

In the “Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores” story from The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror VI”, giant advertisement characters come to life and terrorize Springfield:

Lisa goes to the ad agency that created those advertising characters, and an executive suggests the citizens stop paying attention to the monsters as they are advertising gimmicks, and attention is what keeps them motivated. He suggests a jingle will help distract people from watching the monsters. Lisa and Paul Anka later perform a catchy song and the citizens of Springfield stop looking at the monsters, who lose their powers and become lifeless.

Their jingle? “Just don’t look”:

Some things can’t be defeated by looking away, but many things can.

You don’t have to look. You don’t have to click. You don’t have to pay your attention to things or organizations or public officials who don’t deserve it. Don’t pay the toll on a road you don’t want to go down.

Almost Famous tells us “the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” True enough, but I think the only true currency in this bankrupt world is your attention.

Which is pretty much the same thing.