gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
After some shenanigans with our cable feed last night - it dropped out just as they were announcing the winner on Forged in Fire - we stayed up to watch the "live" (nothing is live when you live on the West Coast) season finale of Ink Masters - Shop Wars.

It was terrible. First of all, whoever was doing sound needs to be shot. The three judges could barely be heard of the constant screaming audience. Host Dave Navarro had to repeat himself at several points to keep the show moving.

Which brings up the point that it appeared this event had a bar. Which meant half the crowd was sloshed. Which meant it sounded like a typical night in a bad club. I almost turned on the subtitles just so I could see what was going on.

Next problem, they had *all* the defeated contestants on stage, sitting on two sets of risers at stage left and right. Now, these are tattoo artists, not people generally given to the finer points of etiquette to begin with, and the show format is designed to foster bad feelings. So, early on, we were subjected to shouting matches across the stage. Charming. We got sick of these morons yelling at each other weeks ago!

All of which led to a loud rushed show. The three shops in the final, represented by two artists, had done two full back pieces at their own shops, one black and gray, one color, as well as a "live" six-hour tattoo in the studio. Fans voted for the favorite live tattoo, and the winning team went to the top two, and then the black and gray work was judged. The final winner was based on the body of work shown that night.

But the judges had almost no time to work, They had done previews of a spin-off, and the next season, announced that Spike was becoming the Paramount Network, and did everything but examine tattoos. As I said, the whole feel of the event was loud and chaotic. They didn't even have time to spend a minute or two with the winning shop, present them with their check for $200,000, get a reaction, you know, happy winner stuff.

I freely admit that I'm addicted to reality TV. Especially competition shows where talented people are pushed to their limits to perform. This is why we've come to love Forged in Fire. In last night's episode, four blade smiths had to make a good blade out of a chainsaw. Seeing the process of them all using the teeth and bar to make cannister Damascus steel, seeing the problems that can result, and getting an in-depth examination of the blades by experts is fun and educational.

Things like that. Hell's Kitchen is great because it puts chefs under a pressure cooker (NPI) like they've never experienced. Top Chef does the same, but with higher standards and less yelling. Project Runway has taught me a lot about fashion, and how *not* to make a dress. Then there's MasterChef, where home cooks get held to Gordon Ramsay's standards. If you really want to question your life choices, watch the Junior editions of Project Runway or Master Chef. Seeing a 9-year-old kid present a stunning Boeuf Bourguignon when you have just mastered not setting the house on fire with your Foreman Grill really humbles you.

There are a dozen more, many of them on the Food Network. I could spend all day watching people struggling to make that perfect Paella Mixta for the judges. But then I'd eat everything in the house, and that would be bad.

Then there are the "fix it" shows. These are where an expert goes in and rescues a flailing business. The grandfather of these was Kitchen Nightmares, which ran both on the BBC (where it was about food) and on FOX (where it was about screaming.) The formula again is simple. The expert comes in, identifies the issues. Deals with a recalcitrant owner and/or staff, makes radical changes to the services and building, everyone is (usually) happy, roll credits.

Kitchen Nightmares (US) ended after Ramsay realized that people were gaming the show to get free remodels. That's the problem. On another favorite, Bar Rescue, it seems that the drama is played up for the cameras. Still, it's a great lesson in how not to run a bar. We all miss Tabitha Takes on, where a blond Australian Amazon megastylist took over all sorts of businesses and applied tough love that was just shy of a BDSM session.

We watch a mix of scripted and reality TV, plus a lot of sports. I think the key to keeping the interest is don't get too formulaic. Especially if your show does makeovers. Make it clear that changes in the physical plant require changes in the people. For the skill shows, keep throwing curves. Make designers make a dress out of car parts, force chefs to fun a food cart in competition with the other teams. Force them out of their comfort zone and see if they can overcome.

And make sure your finale doesn't suck, OK?
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
I just finished one of the semi-regular binges of The West Wing on Netflix. Still an amazing show even after several complete viewings. Yes, there are some extremely weak storylines, and some characters who were forgettable (Oh, Mandy, where did you go?) But all in all it remains one of the greatest achievements in American television.

For those of you who missed out, the show follows the trials and tribulations of the staff working in the West Wing of the White House under President Josiah Bartlet of New Hampshire. Originally meant to be a starring vehicle for Rob Lowe, who played Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn, he was quickly overshadowed by a stellar cast and left the show midway through the run.

But I'm here to rant about what happens near the end of the run. The series began about a year into Bartlet's first term, so seasons 6 and 7 were largely devoted to the campaigns to replace the outgoing Administration. On the Republican side, the board was run by Senator Arnold Vinick, R-CA (Alan Alda) a grandfatherly moderate with an incredible pedigree on foreign affairs. The GOP forces him to chose an evangelical anti-choice governor as his running mate.

On the Democratic side, things are more complex. There are three contenders, and one spoiler waiting in the wings. Vice-President John Hoynes, who was forced to resign due to a sex scandal; Vice-President Bob Russell, thought to be a dense political nobody who was forced on Bartlett by the Republican Senate but who turned out to have a brilliant political mind; and Rep. Matt Santos (D-Texas), former mayor of Houston who was about to leave politics out of frustration under Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, convinces him to run for President.

Long story short. The three candidates come to the convention with none of them having enough delegates to win on the first ballot. An insurgent drive to draft the Governor of Pennsylvania erupts. Finally, Santos is told that he has to throw his weight behind Russell for the good of the party. He turns his concession speech into a rousing call for the delegates to reject the orders of party leaders and vote for themselves, wins the nomination, and here's where it all goes wrong for me.

There remains the question of who Santos' running mate will be. Josh Lyman walks up to his old boss, former White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, who had been sent to bring order to the convention and taps him for the role.

Which is TERRIBLE politics. Horrible! Here's why:

Leo is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. He spent time in a rehab facility while serving as Secretary of Labor. This came out early in the Bartlet presidency, and only a last minute deal prevented the public from learning that Leo had fallen off the wagon, hard, during the first campaign for the Presidency. There's your first line of ads. Not even dirty, as it's an honest question, here's a drunk who popped Valium, can we trust him?

Secondly, Leo helped conceal the fact the President of the United States has multiple sclerosis. This was a scandal that rocked America and nearly torpedoed the re-election campaign before it started. Leo learned late in the game, but still, his silence would be troubling to many people on the fence.

Next? About a year before the campaign, Leo suffered a massive heart attack at Camp David and was forced to retire. It was hinted that this wasn't his first. The extent of the damage to his heart was made very public. Now, the Democrats want to put a man with a history of heart disease one heartbeat from the Oval Office. Serious concerns there!

Finally, and this is the killer, it looked like the convention was fixed. Think about it. Two well-established candidates, both of who served as Vice-President, and this scrappy outsider. The Santos is given a prime time speech slot, allowed to say whatever he wanted, gets the nomination, and immediately awards the man running the convention with the Vice-Presidency? People would be screaming "Fix!" before the first balloon hit the convention floor! The Republicans would have a field day screaming about Beltway insiders and while Democratic fundraisers might back away out of concern over the circumstances.

So, who would have been a better choice? Glad you asked. In the episode "La Palabra" Santos is campaigning in California when a bill banning illegal aliens from getting driver's licenses is passed by the GOP-dominated legislature. California's Democratic governor, Gabriel "Gabe" Tillman, ends up vetoing the bill, ensuring an endorsement from a powerful Latino group for Santos, while not endorsing Santos himself. Instead, Santos stands near the Governor as he explains his veto. The Governor then tells the reporters to ask Santos about his policy ideas.

There you go. The ticket should have been Santos-Tillman. Bring California's governor on board suddenly makes Vinick have to fight and fight hard for his home state. You could pretty much leave Tillman in the West. While Vinick is trying to win votes everywhere, Tillman, who just became a hero to Latinos, is campaigning in California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Less drama, but it makes more sense to me. Do you need drama? Santos and Tillman learn that they don't like each other very much, and have to keep it together. That's how I'd do it, anyway.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Some spoilers for Iron Fist lie ahead. Be warned.

So I've just binged the first few episodes of Iron Fist on Netflix. Despite the professional reviews dissing it, I'm having fun with the realization of one of my favorite characters from the strange pool of ideas that was Marvel in the 1970s. But that's not to say I don't have some issues.

For those not familiar with the character, Iron Fist is Danny Rand, a young man raised in the mystical city of K'un-L'un. The comics and the TV show differ on how young Danny gets there, but the end result is the same: dead parents and years of training in the martial arts. As Iron Fist, Danny is able to channel his chi into one fist, making it "unto a thing like iron."

Danny returns to New York, where he eventually teams up with Luke Cage in Heroes for Hire, Inc., and later the Defenders. He is very much a street-level hero, better suited for fighting more mundane threats as opposed to the Avengers, who can take on huge threats.

My issues with the series start with them keeping the "scion of a billionaire family who returns from the Mysterious East with amazing abilities" trope. Seriously, this is the biggest cliche in comics. It's the regular attempt to recreate Batman in a different suit. Even on television, we currently have Green Arrow having the exact same background. Chang it up!

Then we have the fact that some of the Netflix shows have a terrible sense of story pacing. Danny arrives in New York shoeless and shaggy. He sleeps in a park while trying to prove that he is in fact this kid who was reported dead 15 years ago. Regaining who he is could have been the first season. It would have given us a longer arc of him becoming a hero for the homeless and ignored. It would have established who Daniel Rand is in our minds, this man who has the values of a mystic warrior monk.

Instead, by the 4th episode, he's already in the corner office with 51% control of his family business. Too quick! I hate that nobody wants to do a striptease with the plot reveals anymore. It took Babylon 5 two full seasons to fully reveal the threat!

I do like that the writers did play a bit with the idea that maybe this "Danny Rand" was crazy, but let's be honest. This is New York City a few years after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Harlem has been devastated by the Hulk and Abomination, A major tech fair was attacked by flying drones and defeated by Iron Man and War Machine, and an entire alien army led by a Norse God beat the shit out of lower Manhattan! It is publicly accepted that a WWII hero was frozen in ice for 70 years and that one of mankind's greatest defenders is another Norse God!

You would think that mental health professionals at this point would be slightly more accepting of the possibility that the young man in front of them did in fact spend 15 years in a mystic monastery.

But the one thing that has a lot of people talking is the fact that Danny Rand is a white guy. A white guy who uses Chinese martial arts and speaks fluent Mandarin. There have been cries of whitewashing and cultural appropriation leveled at the series. Some have questioned who do this series at all?

First of all, you can't whitewash a character who was originally conceived, written and drawn as a blond white dude. The characters' who point is the place he was trained only opens to the outside world every fifteen years, and was brought in to save his life. Is the idea that this master of the arts and the power of Iron Fist a white guy racist? Possibly. But remember that at the same time Marvel was also riding the martial arts craze with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, a Chinese character. This was also the birth of Luke Cage, Power Man among other more diverse characters. Marvel was trying to be better about race and gender representation in their books.

Cultural appropriation? Where? Again, from the age of about 9 or 10 to 25 Daniel Rand lived in this mystical place. It was his culture! He had no choice, he didn't decide to watch his parents die and become a monk. Ridiculous charge.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, Marvel is planning a Defenders series for Netflix in the future. As many of the comic-book Defenders (and there have been many line-ups and versions of the team) are either tied up in legal problems or wouldn't fit with the lower-budget Netflix projects, it was decided to reunite Iron Fist with Luke Cage for the series. Perfectly reasonable. It took us half a dozen feature films to get to the Avengers, after all.

I'm liking Iron Fist. I just hope the rest of the season is paced better, but I was spoiled by how well Luke Cage was produced.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
Ah, the holidays, that wonderful time of the year (which now seems to stretch from late October through to Groundhog Day) when families gather, turkeys and trees are massacred, and television schedules go to hell.

I'll freely admit that I'm a man who likes my routines. Sort of comes with everything I've been through. And those ruts include my TV viewing schedules. So with the advent of "mid-season finales" I've been a bit put out. Luckily, [personal profile] kshandra got herself a Roku box. Now that I've learned to use the damn thing, we've been binge-watching. I caught up with Daredevil months ago, so he's not being discussed.

So, what have we been watching?

  • Luke Cage One of the oddest complaints I've ever seen is that this show is "too black." That's what I like about it! Luke Cage, his allies, and his enemies are all part of Harlem's unique African-American culture and history. The creators embrace that, making a hero and plot that could not work with a white hero. Great depth of character all around.

  • The Expanse I started watching the first season on SciFi, but quickly lost the thread. Having now read the first five books, I can better follow the action. Very pretty, but not quite what my mind's eye had drawn. Still very good. One problem, Chrisjen doesn't swear nearly enough.

  • Muhteşem Yüzyıl (The Magnificent Century) A Turkish show about the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent and his harem slave-turned-wife the Hürrem Sultan. Seeing as we've visited Topkapi Palace where much of the action happens, and seen the tombs of both these people, how could we not watch? We've fallen behind because discovered . . .

  • House of Cards Yeah, I know, late to the game. But dear gods, Kevin Spacey has cemented himself as my favorite actor. Frank and Claire as such utter sociopaths, but you cheer for them! We've just reached S3, as President Underwood has just taken office.

Still on tap is The Grand Tour, the post-Top Gear show made for Clarkeson, May, and Hammond. Also need to figure out if our Amazon Prime account unlocks Game of Thrones.

So, what are all y'all watching?
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Fail Black)
OK, so the Fox Network is remaking the Rocky Horror Picture Show for broadcast. Why I don't give a flying piece of toast.

First Red Doritos: Hearken back to when the RHPS was just getting rolling. No one really knew any LGBT people. The closest most came was watching Billy Crystal on "Soap." Same goes for transvestism. So a movie with a bisexual, cross-dressing alien as a lead was edgy. On screen implied sex was edgy. Hell, implied cannibalism was edgy. Today? LGBT people are out and open members of society. And the cannibalism dinner scene? You can find much worse on YouTube.

Second Red Doritos: We were much closer to the source material. The "late night, double-feature, picture show", whether at your local theater or on a local station after regular programming, instructed us in the tropes that the RHPS played with. The two kids with a flat, the mysterious house, creepy butlers, mad scientists, and created monsters. Seeing the RHPS was like a best-of reel from great B-horror flicks of the 50s through the 60s.

Third Red Doritos: It was a social event where we broke rules. When you go to see a movie, you're supposed to sit quietly and enjoy. Not at Rocky! We danced, shouted call back lines, used props, and in most places there was a shadow cast, either ad hoc or a dedicated team acting out the film in front of the screen. You went to the RHPS to have fun with other people. Running around a theater in your underwear screaming obscenities at the screen then going to Denny's and eating fries with Ranch. Watching any production at home alone loses the point. Rocky was something out of the ordinary.

Finally, it was as close to a mystery cult as we could get. There was a fraternity among Rocky fans. The jocks and stoners went to see Song Remains the Same or Wizards, the Metal Dudes lined up for Heavy Metal (once it hit the midnight circuit), and the Art Nerds went to see whatever was playing at the Los Gatos Cinema. But Rocky fans showed up week after week. We'd see each other at school and give the briefest of nods, as our membership in the cult crossed caste lines. It meant something, damnit (Janet, I love you!).

I did Rocky Horror for well over a decade, Friday and Saturday nights for long stretches. Keep this pointless remake.

Because on our world, we'll do the TIME WARP AGAIN!!!


gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)

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