TV Talk: The Olympics!

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By Edwiges Lopes Tavares (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t think I’d be excited for the Summer Olympic Games. All the talk of the problems in Rio de Janeiro — like the contaminated water and beaches, including two of the most storied beaches on the planet, and the high crime rate  — left me a little…flat. And concerned. I figured I’d go into them with a shrug and a pang for the shows that won’t be airing for the next few weeks.

I was wrong.

Now that it’s nearly time for the Opening Ceremonies, I’m feeling a twinge. No matter what the issues with the venue, as was the case in Russia in 2014, the perseverance and hard work of the athletes themselves are a siren song.

I’m still worried for them, especially in the water-based sports. I hope everyone leaves Rio as healthy as they arrived. Still we get to see people who are the best at what they do attempt to do the best they’ve ever done.

The funny thing is that Chicago actually competed to host these games. Oprah Winfrey, along with other big Chicago names, headed off wherever it was to plead Chicago’s case when it was down to the final few choices.

Chicago lost; Rio won.

I was disappointed at the time, but now, when I think of the logistics of the world descending upon us…that was a near miss. Rio is expecting nearly half-a-million visitors. Given that Chicago is pretty accessible, I expect the number may have been higher. Yikes.

Thanks, IOC!

Here’s the thing about the Olympics: it’s a world-wide phenomenon. And now that our global communication is easier than ever I can watch the events with people literally anywhere in the world, in real-time.

Talk about live-tweeting.

So good luck, athletes, every single one of you. We’ll all be watching the culmination of your dreams.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

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TV Talk: American Ninja Warrior

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OK, let’s all acknowledge that American Ninja Warrior isn’t the kind of show I usually write about. Nope, most of the time, it’s high-concept shows with intricate plotting, complex characters and long, twisty arcs.

This is not that kind of show.

Well, it does have long, twisty arcs, but the contestants are supposed to slide across them on a bar. Or cling to them upside down with their fingertips. Or hurl themselves toward them with a trampoline.

You know. The normal day-to-day.

I’d never actually watched American Ninja Warrior (it really needs a catchy acronym, but ANW sounds like a window-makers’ professional organization) until this week, when, setting my DVR, it appeared on my screen. I couldn’t look way.

Couldn’t. Look. Away.

For anyone who hasn’t seen this spectacle it’s a combination of parkour and your worst gym class nightmares, where contestants resembling Greek gods attempt to complete an obstacle course. Like most competition reality shows, there are the heartwarming profiles to get you rooting for them, often right before they go splat into the pool. Or splat into the padding.

There are many splats.

Most of the time, they pop up smiling, which is reassuring. Meanwhile, the announcers narrate in the background, lending the feel of a sporting event.

And, of course, despite having never successfully completing a pull-up in my entire life, I am absolutely convinced that I, too, could climb up a beam and down again by hanging on to a hoop I use to “hop” over pegs, using only my upper body.

Me in my head.

Me in real life. (Picture from http://susan-swiderski.blogspot.com/, Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade).

I mean there has to be a workout video for that, right?

Maybe it’s just human nature to be fascinated by the physical feats of our fellow humans. Maybe it’s reveling in the fantasy, if only for the 2-3 minutes it takes the finishers to run the course, that we, too, could glide over a collection of rotating poles as gracefully as skipping on the beach.

Assuming we could skip gracefully on the beach.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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TV Talk: Death Death Death

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TV-T&PC (1)As usual, there are no spoilers!

There is an epidemic. They’re dying in record numbers, one after another after another. I am, of course talking about TV characters.

There was a time that a death of a character on a show was a big deal. We grew attached to our fictional friends, and yes, that friendship was a little one-sided, but when they disappeared into the great Television Beyond, it was sad.

Now we know better.

I couldn’t even begin to give you a death toll for my week so far in television viewing. And that’s just the Real Housewives of New York! (Just kidding. Only lady parts seem to be harmed in the making of that show, because they talk about them. A lot. A kind of Vagina Dialogues, if you will. And no, that joke didn’t do well on Twitter either).

Seriously, though, the deaths come so quickly and so meaninglessly that they’re starting to have nearly zero impact. And that’s bad for the shows, that’s bad for television, and it’s bad for society as a whole.

The best thing you can have for a television show is a completely engaged audience. Loyal fans who will go out and spread the word, who will tweet with the show, who will attend events and generally show support. And while possible death of favorite characters is a good way to build tension, it can’t be your only way.

Here’s the thing with that: if you keep teasing it, eventually you have to make it happen, or else that element of tension is lost. Some shows don’t care, and actually trade on the safety of knowing that one of the main characters is never going to die. Early “Castle,” for example, allowed fans to enjoy the peril and, more importantly, enjoy seeing how the characters would escape it, knowing that they would.

But if you constantly kill off characters, instead of engaging fans, they tend to disconnect. Why? Because who wants to be broken up over someone who never actually existed ceasing to exist? There’s no point in getting attached to characters who are only temporary.

Not all shows are guilty of it. But the problem is that watching so much TV death on some shows inures us to death on others. And, I think, makes us less sensitive to real-life tragedy.

Yes, TV death allows dramatic, tension-filled scenes with lots of bloody gore. But constant death and constant gore only creates a gulf between viewer and show.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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TV Talk: Twitter

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It's a bird! Get it? TWITTER? Eh. Everyone's a critic.

It’s a bird! Get it? TWITTER? Eh. Everyone’s a critic.

Nope, it’s not the name of a show you’re missing. Though for any TV execs in the room, have I got a pitch for you!

Twitter is an amazing tool. It can bring you news before it’s news; it can instantly link you to people with similar interests; it can act as a source of endless amusement with various hashtag games. It can even bring love, as two of my friends found.

(What’s that, hypothetical reader? Did I maybe nudge them in the direction of magic? Why yes, yes I did, funny you should ask).

But my favorite use of Twitter is television.

You might have noticed that if you’re following me on Twitter. I’m currently live-tweeting five days a week — at least when I’m home to do it — and TV has never been so much fun.

From reality shows like Real Housewives of etc. and Below Deck random flavors to my science-fiction staples of “12 Monkeys” and “Orphan Black;” fantasy newcomer “Wynonna Earp” and soapy satire “UnReal,” I hunker down in front of my keyboard, mind my hashtags and tweet away.

Some shows are much easier to live-tweet than others. “Real Housewives of New York” (RHONY for those in the know) doesn’t really require eyes on the screen. With “12 Monkeys,” looking away for a second is impossible.

Still, no matter where you are in the world, you are suddenly at a viewing party, and the best thing is you don’t even have to share your snacks. Everyone has opinions, from the super-snarky to the truly insightful, and everyone’s invited.

A little hesitant about the idea of live-tweeting? Don’t be! If it’s too much to tweet while you’re watching, you can always wait for commercials. Be interactive, read and respond to other tweets, retweet the ones that tickle you and reciprocate when someone does the same with yours.

Easy-peasy.

And just so much fun. The best part? You can support your favorite shows, as well. A strong Twitter fan base probably helped to rescue “Nashville” from the great TV beyond.

So see? You’re not only having fun on Twitter. You’re helping.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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TV Talk: 12 Monkeys

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As usual for TV Talk, no spoilers!

If you follow me on Twitter (what? You don’t? Heresy!), you’ve probably noticed my, uhmm, somewhat fanatical devotion to the SyFy time-travel show “12 Monkeys.” It’s a writers’ show, and if you enjoy fully-realized thoughtful writing, you should be watching it.

What’s that, hypothetical reader? You remember a movie by that same name many years ago? Yes, the series is actually based on the movie, but it is so very much more than that. Get your rain ponchos and umbrellas ready, because I’m about to gush.

Hmm, hypothetical reader? And galoshes? Yes, they’d probably be wise.

With the advent of streaming services, and the tendency of outlets like Netflix to release a whole season of a show at once, the very fabric of television has changed. Now, instead of episodic shows which couldn’t rely on a viewer consistently watching every single week without fail, television has switched places with movies to become the long-form of visual storytelling.

With a show like “12 Monkeys,” — like many of the Netflix, Amazon and Hulu shows — writers now usually have  about 12 or 13 episodes, totaling anywhere from 9 to 13 hours, to plot an arc. Compare that to a movie’s 2-3 hours. The opportunity for nuance of character alone is incredible, let alone intricacies of plot.

And the plotting is intricate. Astoundingly intricate. Here’s the thing with writing about time: it’s hard. Time is complicated, as I discovered when writing my own novel dealing with it. And there is an enormous temptation to cheat, because cheating is so much easier than unpicking the consequences of your knotted-up plots.

(That actually sounds like a pretty good assessment of life in general, but I digress).

“12 Monkeys” never cheats. Like all well-done science-fiction, it creates its rules and it stands by them resolutely. And yet it manages to surprise me minute by minute.

That’s not easy to do.

It takes up every inch of the space it’s allotted, and the finished product, thanks to the writers, directors, the cast, the crew and showrunner Terry Matalas, is breathtaking.

It also has one of my absolute favorite genius nut jobs on television, Jennifer Goines, played the insanely (ha!) talented Emily Hampshire. Anyone who’s been around here knows I’m pretty partial to genius nut jobs.

All that aside, it’s just plain fun to watch. And tweet; the cast and crew are always active on twitter, constantly interacting with fans, which makes live-tweeting one big time-travely party.

Have a great binge this weekend (once you start, you won’t be able to stop) and come hang out on Monday, at 9/8c!

Yes, hypothetical reader, it’s now safe to remove your rain gear. What’s that? Stop talking to you because you’re trying to watch?

Very wise, hypothetical reader. Very wise indeed.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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TV Talk: Lady Dynamite

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No spoilers! I promise. So if you haven’t yet started the incredible “Lady Dynamite,” or you’re only a few episodes in, no fear.

Thank you, Netflix, for the gift of “Lady Dynamite,” because this show would not and could not have found a home anywhere else. With major broadcaster CBS passing on “Nancy Drew” for being “too female,” and then ABC  axing the two female leads of “Castle” before ultimately cancelling it, mainstream broadcasting doesn’t seem like a happy home for women-driven shows.

And this show is complete in it’s uniqueness. But before I wax poetic on the art of this show — and I’ve got my poetry wax standing by and ready to buff — this show is great comedy. It’s steeped with genuine, clever humor and shouldn’t be missed for that reason alone.

But it is so much more than that.

About a fictionalized (?) version of comedian Maria Bamford, played by the actual comedian, Maria Bamford, this show is layered art. While you can watch it purely for the tart, satisfying comedy, you can tell, watching the first time, that a rewatch will yield even more.

Bamford has Bipolar II disorder, and the show explores the impact of that diagnosis on her life. And here’s its brilliance: it does it in a surreal way, leaving you pondering what is and isn’t real, what did and didn’t happen. This feeling expands in a meta direction, because you can’t help wondering, after watching, how much of it reflects Bamford’s journey.

And you just can’t know for sure. Giving those of us without experience with Bipolar 2 insight into what it’s like to live with the disorder, which can cause hallucinations.

As I said. It’s genius.

Yet it’s utterly relatable for anyone who has had trouble navigating the grown-up world of life. Which is pretty much everyone.

Netflix took a huge risk with this show, because it’s not like anything else. And just as I love it so much I want to make it wear doll clothes and have pretend tea with me every day, no doubt there are people who will have a visceral negative reaction.

There is nothing middle-of-the-road about it. Very little television strides boldly in the direction of its conviction; many things get watered down to appeal to as wide a swath as demographics will allow.

Not “Lady Dynamite.” It is entirely itself as television can be, and it’s beautiful.

In or near Chicago? Check out our sketch comedy revue, Me Inside Me Presents: “Neurotrash.” Saturdays at 10 pm, May 7, 14, 21 & 28 in Donny’s Skybox Theater. Tickets $13; Students $11 SCTC Students: $7  Click here for tickets.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

 

TV Talk: Castle

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I used to truly enjoy the campy mysterious goodness of “Castle.” Or, to be more precise, I used to truly enjoy the campy mysterious goodness of Nathan Fillion in “Castle,” because the mysteries themselves weren’t all that tricky. It wasn’t difficult to spot the killer in the first 15 minutes, which made for pretty stress-free viewing.

The thing that made “Castle” fun to watch was the interaction between mystery writer Richard Castle and cop extraordinaire, Kate Beckett. Their romance was really the engine of the show; the rest was standard procedural fare, populated with fun characters you didn’t mind inviting to your house once a week.

In summary, “Castle” wasn’t exactly enlightened viewing. It’s no “12 Monkeys,” for example.

So when I read that Stana Katic — the actor behind Beckett — was out for a possible season 9, I was disappointed. And then more so when I heard Tamala Jones, who plays a snarky medical examiner, was also out.

The two major female characters were cut from the show.

I’ve always loved Nathan Fillion, a) because I am a straight human female, and b) because he has always exuded the effortless, humor-packed charm of a man who has a highly-functioning brain, which is also appealing.

But all of that vanished when this show, reportedly due to conflict between the stars, dropped not only the female lead, but the second most-prominent female character as well.

Was a unique character like Beckett simply disposable? Replaceable?  After eight years?

I literally stopped watching the show as soon as the news broke. I’d loved that this strong, intelligent, brave detective-turned-captain was an equal partner to the crime novelist. But by firing her, and the only other major female actor, the show told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was wrong.

In or near Chicago? Check out our sketch comedy revue, Me Inside Me Presents: “Neurotrash.” Saturdays at 10 pm, May 7, 14, 21 & 28 in Donny’s Skybox Theater. Tickets $13; Students $11 SCTC Students: $7  Click here for tickets.

Want to know what happens to Jane Storegoer before everyone else? Sign up for my spamless newsletter, and get new episodes in your inbox on Fridays!

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!