Tag Archives: television

in which i gush about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

We just caught up with Phil & Co in the season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and can I just say, WOW.  (This will be a spoiler free post.)  We saw Thor 2, Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 in close succession, followed by a pile of S.H.I.E.L.D.s recently, the eps right around the Captain America cross-over and then on through to the end….and yeah, wowowowowowow!

Agents of SHIELD

We are SO enjoying this huge, multi-platform story!  I can’t think of anything that’s ever been done like it, hmm, maybe Star Wars with the movies, and books, and then the cartoon series?  Except Lucus keeps changing what “canon” is, so it’s hard to trust it…and then, I dunno, after the sparkling wonder that was the first Star Wars trilogy followed by the sour-tasting let down that was the second trilogy, I haven’t really kept up with that world.  (I hear they’re starting a new trilogy with old Han, old Leia, and old Luke!  Interesting, maybe?  I’m not sure….)

But this one, the Marvel Universe of the Avengers, (my review of the Avengers movie here), with its high-tech, magic, gods, aliens, super-heroes, mutants, all in this huge world with hundreds of characters and overlapping stories, tied together by over-arching plots….the way they’re handling it is just, gah, it’s just TERRIFIC.  And it’s gotten better, starting with the first Iron Man (some comments from me here in a surprisingly popular post) with its more cartoon-y feel (although I still enjoyed it) to the most recent Captain America 2: Winter Soldier (with its surprising realism)…I think they’ve just really held a dedication to character, and an avoidance—even when they are hip-deep in crazy super-hero shit and the jokes are flying—of falling into camp and silliness.  (For the most part.  Stan Lee cameos, anyone?)

Anyway, we’re all in at this point.  (Which I totally was for the second trilogy in the Star Wars world, which just goes to show, you can let your audience down and lose them, even with what feels liks rock solid Buy In…)

Back to  Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D.   There were several gasp-out-loud moments for me in the season finale, plus a few tears, and one actual SHRIEK.  If you’ve seen it, you know the shriek moment, when that certain someone offers a helping hand…?  And the end when Coulson finds that thing he was looking for, “I told you it was in here…” HAHAHAHA.  I’m sorry, I’m trying not to be spoilery.  But what a great episode!  I was so worried it would be stupid or leave me in a terrible cliff hanger, but no, it was awesome.  Highly recommended!

PLUS: did you know that Ming-na Wen, the hottie who plays the bad-ass, fantastic, gorgeous, smart, hard-as-nails, martial arts master of the team…is FIFTY YEARS OLD?  That’s right, the biggest action hero of the show is a middle aged woman!!  I LOVE HER.

MING-NA WEN

Okay, the first half of the season was good.  Enjoyable, but a little…meh.   There were some dud-ish episodes in the mix, and it did have a tendency to be a freak-of-the week show for a while.  Then it was Skye-searches-for-her-parents, which I did not get into—Skye is the hardest character for me to like, honestly, and I put a lot of that down to her look (sorry I am so shallow), all styled hair and eyeliner…she was a hacker living in her van, for heaven’s sake.  She should look a little…scruffy.  And she’s so sweet and cheerful…anyway, whatever, that stopped being an issue for me somewhere around the time she got shot…and then the second half of the season got rolling.  Because then things started focusing more around Coulson.  Ah, Phil, Phil….

Plain, suit-wearing, fanboy, non-sexy (in the usual ways), big-hearted Phil Coulson!


Okay, I’m just gushing.  And isn’t this the best fan-song ever?  What, you didn’t click on the video yet?  Go on, clickie clickie!

Oh!  And then that thing happened with Ward.  Oh, Ward, Ward.  And now I’m all worried about Fitz!  I love Fitz, he’s such a sweetie.  Omgoodness….

So look.  If you liked Avengers and you saw Captain America 2, (which was awesome! I can’t believe I didn’t write a review of that one), I highly recommend you dip into Agents of SHIELD if you haven’t already, (and can I stop putting in the damn periods now?  It’s exhausting.), because the show has become a really, really a great time.  Seriously, if has shifted into turbo mode since Captain America 2 gave it a kick in the pants.  (Hmmm, I wonder what would be a kick in the pants like that for the novel I’m working on right now?  Like maybe, a nuclear war?  No, post-apocalypse is so over.)

But hey, if you don’t want to do all the catch up, you can probably get away with watching the pilot and then starting in around episode 13, which gives the necessary stuff to really enjoy the Captain America 2 cross-over and everything that comes after, which is when the show got SuperPowGood!  (Oooo, I just found a great article over at io9 about this very thing—they pretty much agree with the episode 13 thing—about which episodes to watch if you want to skip through to the best parts.  Some spoilers, be warned.)

AND we can rejoice because Agents of SHIELD got a second season, yay!  I’ll certainly be tuning in.

unschooling is learning by playing, and it really and truly works

Not having internet for a month got me thinking about how much of my and my kid’s lives are organized around fun, that is, our entertainment.  I feel guilty, thinking of all the people in the world who work sweatshop jobs for most of their waking hours, when we…play.  All day.  It’s amazing, really.  Games, contacting friends (texting, FaceTime, email), books, movies, tv, music, audiobooks, looking up an endless list of things up, etc.  We are so blessed.

I mentioned this to SuperHubby who generously supports the kids an I in our rock ‘n roll lives.  “We pursue fun like it’s our job.  Education from entertainment.”

“Edutainment?” he said.

No.  Edutainment is when you want someone to learn something you’ve selected for them, and so you’re trying to make it fun,  to get them to stick with you through your message.  It’s manipulative, really.  No, I’m talking about the opposite—when you’re having fun, you learn stuff, whether you notice it or not.  Learning happens automatically when you’re enjoying yourself.

People have no problem with this idea with babies.  Babies learn by playing, it’s a truism.  But as kids get older, gradually playing isn’t seen as good enough anymore.  You’re supposed to switch over to ‘work’ and ‘get serious’ about your studies.  I honestly believe this is a bunch of crap.

In North Carolina you have to test your homeschooled kid once a year with a state-approved test and I used to hate this because it seemed like whatever number you get, it messes you up.  If your kid scores high, you think differently about your kid and about what you’re doing for your homeschooling, than if your kid scores low.  And either way you’re looking at a number instead of at your kid.

But lately, I’ve noticed a nice side effect of the test.  So far, Sophie and Luc test right at grade level and I’ve found that gives us and our unschooling lifestyle a certain bulletproofing.  When people gape at me incredulously “you don’t teach reading at all?” or, “what about math???”  I can say, “we don’t do any of that stuff and the kids are exactly where they are supposed to be [according to some arbitrary, State chosen plan, which I could give a shit about, but still, it’s a standard most people buy into].

Take away point: at least at the elementary school levels, you really don’t need to do all that stuff they do in school in order to learn school stuff.  The kids get it through living rich interesting lives in a rich interesting environment. They get it through the air.  That’s right, I’m saying that, at this level, kids learn reading and math and history without any effort at all.

Reading sidebar: Sophie is currently reading Wonderstruck, by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabaret (both amazing books).  The first books she ever pursued on her own and read through was all twenty-seven (27!) volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist, last year, a super complex, interesting, funny, morally challenging manga series.  Reading Wonderstruck or anything else, for a ten year old is not so special—except it might be surprising to some, given that Sophie has never had any reading instruction.  Well, she watched a few episodes of Sesame Street when she was little, and has had me reading or spelling for her anything she has ever asked me to read or spell (books, game text, movie subtitles, texting with friends, etc etc), since she was born.  But that’s it.  She got to reading all on her own, with no apparent effort.  Her brain was ready and boom, it happened.

“It’s so enjoyable to just disappear into a book for a while,” she said to me a few days ago about Wonderstruck.   I played it cool, but, as a reader and a writer who hopes to share my love of books with her, I was jumping up and down, cheering.  “I totally agree,” I said.  And I do.

Which made me think of this homeschooling curriculum I’ve seen out there called “Teach your child to read in 100 lessons,” and I can’t help but think, man, what a waste of time!  You guys could be partying instead and the reading will still happen when the kid is ready and has something they want to read.  Like Fullmetal Alchemist for Sophie.  When she started with Volume 1, it took her a week to plow through one.  By Volume 27, she flew through one in an hour, like a carousel picking up speed as she went.

What if there is no age-determined line where learning is supposed to switch over from playing to hard and boring?

I’ve seen my kids hunker down and focus like CRAZY to learn something they’re interested in.  This from kids who can, for example, watch as much tv as they want, no limits from me, and who rarely turn it on.  I say this in case some reader might think “playing all day” doesn’t include, at times, intense concentration, goals, focus, and drive.

Concentration, work, and drive are really, really FUN when they are in the service of your own goals.  Ever seen a baby struggle and focus to build a block tower, or poke a stick through a leaf, or pick a rainbow up with a pair of tongs (mine did all of these)?  That ability to work and focus doesn’t go away. Just don’t mess it up by sticking your own goals in there.

Bottomline: learning is easy when you’re having fun (and really hard when you’re not), but fun—playis hard when you’re being made to do something you aren’t interested in.  We all know that about fun, but forget.  Seriously, kids don’t need to work hard to get this stuff.  They just need to play all they want, however they want, in a rich, fun environment.

Okay, that’s enough soapbox from me today!

why are the commercials on Hulu SO BAD????

I got sick this week, one of those drippy, annoying colds that make you drag your ass around like you’re in the desert searching mirages for water.  That pretty much flushed the whole seven days down the toilet, except for a bunch of extra tv watching, because there was the tv, right in front of the couch.  I can’t complain too much because I wasn’t sick much this winter except for that terrible flu that nearly killed me, but that was back in the dark ages of last fall, so, yeah, not complaining.  Much.

Anyway, my point, and I do have one, is that the commercials on Hulu SUCK ASS.  What is wrong with these people?  I mean, I get that Hulu has to have a business model that actually brings in some cash besides the measly $7 bucks a month I’m paying for access, so I’m resigned to commercials.  Hulu still beats the heck out of $130 to DirectTV for a bunch of shit I don’t want to watch, even if you can’t fast forward the ads and they suck.  I actually love Hulu and Netflix and you can pry them out of my cold dead fingers.

But here’s the thing: Hulu plays the same damn commercials over and over and over and IT MAKES ME WANT TO HIT THESE PRODUCTS WITH BATS THEN SHOOT THEM WITH NUCLEAR MISSILES AND THEN SEND THEM OFF INTO SPACE.

And I’m a peaceful person.  I am.  I don’t think nuclear missiles are a good idea in any other application.

I’m come to believe that most of these ads were designed by people who are stuck in the broadcast tv model where maybe you see the same ad once a night or something, and that only if you’re a big TV watcher.  They don’t realize that if you are going to subject someone to your “message” five times in a 45 minute show (when you are already annoyed at having your show interrupted so many fucking times to begin with i.e. a hostile audience), you’ve got to totally rethink your design.  That kind of repeat kills even the best, cutest, funniest commercial.  Kills it dead.  And the already semi-annoying ads becomes torture devices guaranteed to make the viewer hate that product with the fire of a thousand suns.  Trust me, name recognition is not a good thing when it means, OH YEAH, I HATE THOSE GUYS.

For example.  Ford has some really nasty ads full of actors paid to pretend to be brimming with fake-sincerity “real people” giving their “honest experiences” but the whole thing is just ONE BIG LIE and we all know that, so no one is buying this little ruse, okay, Ford?  DUH.  “Brandon” wants me to know “I’m always telling people, look at what Ford has to offer.” FUCK YOU BRANDON. NO ONE EVER SAYS ANYTHING LIKE THAT.  And don’t even get me started on “the truck guys.”  Those truck guys can suck my dick.  And I don’t even have one.

Surprising side bonus: Actually, Brandon’s phrase has turned into some hilarious jokes around the house , I’ll give it that.  Luc doesn’t want to eat dinner?  “But look at what broccoli has to offer.” Sophie’s staying up super late?  “Look at what the bed has to offer.” DearHusband is complaining about my lack of housekeeping? “Hey, look what my foot up your ass has to offer.”  It does have remarkable applications.  I stand corrected.

Second example: I really hate the State Farm ad with the terrible, depressed, overweight, miserable married couple having a late night fight because she’s caught him talking sweet to the State Farm guy (why the fuck would anyone talk to the insurance company in the middle of the night, anyway?) and thinks he’s having an affair.  This is so awful, to imagine being a wife who has so little confidence in her marriage that she jumps to that conclusion, or the husband who just takes it like the hen-pecked shmuck he is.  I don’t want to see this scene from their terrible marriage even once, much less FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND TIMES.  Is this really the market State Farm is aiming for?  Fucking depressing.

Oh, and I can’t tell you how disturbing the “bacon in your burger” ads are for a vegetarian, what with the genetically modified cow/pigs and the square-dancing nightmare Stepford wives probably ready to eat me next.  Fucking nauseating.  We have a standing rule that if you sing that song to anyone in the family, you have to pay them a dollar in damages.

I could go on and on.

There have been a couple of good ads that have miraculously retained their not-torturous-ness through repeated viewings.  The PS4 ad with the guys singing “you just keep me hanging on” (song is Perfect Day) is still funny, and the other PS4 one with the band of guys waking up in new costumes for each game, culminating with the pirates, that one rocks.

Oh, and there were some ads for the Daily Burn, some kind of subscription exercise tv-show-class, that were fun because Paul started the practice of dancing around like a hilarious idiot whenever they came on, saying that was his work-out for the day.  Thirty seconds of him mimicking the moves of those aerobics instructors got me laughing pretty much every time, so much so that I started looking forward to the ads.  “It’s the daily burn!  Time for you to work out!” I would say, and he would long-sufferingly get up and do his moves.  “Whew, that was a tough one,” he’d say, settling back onto the sofa for more tv.  I was sad when they stopped playing those.  Plus, quick shots of gorgeous bodies doing interesting gyrations apparently has a much longer half-life than most other things.

Take Away Message:  Advertising people, please.  Have mercy on us.  Realize that your Hulu ads are, in 90% of the cases, causing us, your potential customers, to detest your products.  Reinvent the visual ad so that seeing it ten times in a night doesn’t make us hate you and the horse you rode in on.  Keep them short.  Not insulting.  Great music helps.  Interesting visuals are good.  Stupid tag lines, puns, annoying jingles, fakeness, all of these flaws burst the seams after a few repeats.  And we have to watch them many, many more times than that.

And just in case you think I’m against all ads completely, I’m really not.  They can be these amazing tiny stories.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite ads of all time, in no small part because of the terrific music by Four Tet.  You might remember it, Raining Runners?  I love this 60 second story….

…the moment when the runners are all playing like kids in the rain?  So lovely!  And the message/story is actually in line with what the product is actually for.  For once.

Please, People-Making-Ads-For-Hulu.  Try to be kind.  Try not to torture us.  I’m begging you.

dora the demonic force of musical evil

This is Dora.

Dora is a multi-gazillion dollar franchise with tv, book, toy, game, happy meal, etc., tie-ins and a musical component that is the aural equivalent of ebola.  I’m serious.  The songs on her show have to be the most annoying music in the history of the musical world times ten.

For example, the little purple thing on her back there is her back-pack. It gets it’s own song.  I can’t even say the word ‘back-pack’ without the stupid ass back-pack song, a tune that infects my brain for days after the briefest exposure, getting stuck in my head. “Back pack, back pack…”  It turns into so many things.  “Bad cat, bad cat…” “Jump back, jump back…”, “Fuck that, fuck that…” You get the picture.

Paul is particularly susceptible to this infection, using his own made up lyrics, of course, and at a moment’s exposure will have the back-pack tune in his brain for weeks.  It’s gotten to the point where he starts singing it, maybe he’s making breakfast, or tying his shoes, or just walking around the yard, some phrase, or half-phrase even, triggers the song in his head and he starts singing it, and one of the kids goes over and socks him.  No talking, no explanations, just wham!   The poor man can’t stop himself, I know, but I can’t help but feel their pain.  The song is a nightmare.

It isn’t like we watch the show.  The infection can come in on a commercial—of which there are many—while we innocently watch something else.  What to do? What to do?  My family is turning into a mass of barely contained violence and musical torture.

I knew we had reached critical mass the other day in the grocery store, walking along, looking for apple juice, when we passed a box of Dora cereal and Sophie stood there, finger pointing in total accusation, and said, “DORA, I CURSE YOU.”

I’m not kidding there, she really said that!

Why are these songs so catchy, when they are so bad?  Who writes them and what drugs are they on?  What is their end-game?  Or maybe I don’t want to know.

We’re getting help.  I’m calling in an exorcist.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

i miss my show

We saw the LAST three episodes of Avatar: the Last Airbender last night.  Devastating!  Terrific!  Fantastic music, spooky awesome art, terrific writing.  Heroic moments for all the characters we’ve come to love, some yeah! moments, some moving moments, some holy cow, did you see that? moments.  And how about that Lion Turtle??

What a great and satisfying ending.

But here we are, it’s seven o’clockish, and…no Avatar.  We’re done.

Sob!

It’s amazing how much a story can occupy my heart and thoughts.  Especially a long, serialized story like a tv show, or something like Harry Potter, some huge story that takes a long time to work my way through. If there is XX amount of mental/emotional real estate inside of me, a two hour movie might profoundly move me, yes, but a story I’m living for months or years of watching, or years of reading, if I’m engaged throughout all that time, that’s a lot of inner territory filled up with those characters.  Or no, wait, maybe stories create their own lands inside of my head?  Maybe my inner landscape is expanded by the inclusion of each new fictional world I journey to?  Ooo, I quite like that thought.

I wonder if I’ll ever write anything that makes someone miss it when it’s over, as much as I’m missing Avatar this evening?

Sokka and his antics!

Kitara and her hair loopies! And Aang and Mo-mo!

(Mo-mo is the little guy with the big ears.)

And Toph, and Uncle, and Zuko, and all of them….

I miss them like they’re real people.  I’m sad that it’s over.  It’s like my inner life is confused—what do mean it isn’t real?  That’s absurd.

Sigh.

Luc and I are seriously thinking about starting it all over from disk one.

And we’re crazy excited about the upcoming live-action movie.  Big shoes to fill Mr. Shyamalan.

I guess I’ll go do the dishes.

avatar: in which we love some tv and are the better for it

We have been watching this terrific show for the last month or so, first on live tv, then on our dvr, and then (when we wanted to get the eps more in order) on dvd.  That show is Avatar: the Last Airbender.  An episode is maybe twenty minutes (a half hour show minus commercials), so we’ve been watching two or three eps a night most nights for several weeks.  We’ve all become huge fans.

A quickie overview: Avatar is about a world where the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water are embodied by four nations of people, each a separate and complex culture.  Within each culture there are people who have a magical ability to control their element.  These people are called ‘benders’ as in, a water bender, fire bender, etc.  The Avatar is a reincarnated being who can bend any of the elements.  It is this person’s job to maintain the balance of the four elemental peoples.

But a hundred years ago the Fire Nation broke the balance and began invading and taking control over the other groups.  The Air Nation has been decimated.  The Southern Water Nation has fallen, though the Northern Water Nation is still strong in their ice city.  The Earth Nation remains strong within their walled city, but it is only a matter of time. And the Fire Lord seems intent on world domination.

And the Avatar has been missing for one hundred years—thus allowing the Fire Nation to bully and dominate the other Nations unchecked.  But now the Avatar, a child, returns.  If he can’t bring balance to the Fire Nation before a coming comet gives a burst of incredible power to the Fire Lord, the Water and Earth Nations will fall and the power-hungry Fire Nation will take over the world.

Oh, and did I mention that Avatar is really funny?

Or this: despite the show being, in part, about a bunch of world-class martial artists, violence is not offered as the solution.

The art for the show is gorgeous.  The music is lovely, rousing, quiet, moving, whatever is needed. The voice acting terrific.  But it’s the writing that knocks my socks off.  Within the huge arc I just described there is a large cast of complex and tremendously likable characters, traveling through deeply realized cultures, confronting serious issues.  The best of these, for me, is Zuko, the Fire Nation Prince.  His arc encompasses huge change, all carefully built over the three seasons, causing the watcher to feel differently about him at different times.  He is a psychologically complex character and a lovely piece of writing.

…wait, is this a kid show I’m talking about?

Yes.

If you think an animated show for kids can’t explore serious issues in a deep, but kid appropriate way—and I DON’T mean trying to ‘teach a lesson’ but rather to really explore—you haven’t watched this show.  If you think tv makes your kid’s brain mushy, if you think tv is all a waste of time, try watching this show.  And if you think tv stunts a kid’s imagination, well, that last one is just so far from my reality I don’t know what to say.

But here’s the thing.  We’re into the story, yes, and we love the characters, true, but look at some of the topics of conversation we’ve had of late, prompted by Avatar: What is war? Why do groups go to war? Full stop right there.  Holy cow, that’s a big one!  But keep going: What is good leadership, vs greed or power over others?   What is a refugee?  What is a culture?  Why do different groups have different clothes, dance, art, script, mythology?  What is the spirit world?  How can characters, just made up people, be so real in your heart, it makes you cry if they die?  What is poverty?  How can someone who doesn’t have special powers be a key part of the team?  How does the land and weather affect the people that live there and the culture that develops in those conditions?  What is justice?  What is a lawyer?  Why does war make technology amp up?  What is reincarnation, karma, destiny?  What is a soul?

Some of these questions have been satisfactorily addressed (satisfactory to the person asking the question) with a couple of sentences.  Some have been reoccurring conversations, coming back again and again as new insights come to light.  Some have prompted google searches.  Some have been barely touched (for now).

Hear that sound?  It’s the sound of our brains turning to mush.  Not.

The kids have painted blue arrows on their foreheads or fire on their palms and run around airbending and waterbending, thrilled with the fantasy of powers. They have drawn mountains of pictures of various of the characters doing things from the show, and they have made up their own stories with the characters.  We bought jasmine tea, spurred by the time Zuko and his uncle work in a tea shop.  We have drawn Japanese and Chinese characters (the cultures in the show are based on various Eastern cultures).  We have drawn links between the different fighting arts in the show and Sophie’s aikido classes.  We’ve done a million other things, not as some sort of project, but just because it is tremendously fun.

All from a tv show.  And I say this because it is practically parenting creed that tv is bad for kids.  That there is nothing on tv but crap.  Etc.

I totally disagree.

I’m so impressed with the show’s ability to sensitively explore such a huge and terrifying issue—war—from a million angles, while always remaining within a kid’s sensibility.  Yet they have kept both Paul and I thoroughly engaged as well!  What a balancing act!

This is art, people.  A human creation of visual storytelling that explores life in true ways, causing us to think and question and learn.  This is not crap.

Obviously, I don’t think everything on tv is this good.  There are plenty of shows that are boring or poorly made or just not my thing, or Sophie’s thing, or Luc’s or your thing.  But neither do I think every book is great, or every piece or music, or every painting.  There is an infinite range in all these mediums.

But there is such prejudice against the medium of tv, especially among parents.  I think this is a mistake.  A homeschooling parent in particular would be, in my opinion, blocking from their kid a HUGE resource by limiting tv in any way.  Think of how crazy it would sound to say, “We limit reading time in our house,” or even, “We don’t allow books in the house.”  To my mind, limiting tv is the same thing.  There is no way, for just one example, to learn about the dances of other places from a book.  But tv—now we’re talking!  Back to Avatar, for us, just this one show has been such an opening to a million thoughts, questions, stories, games, and conversations, some of those about such important issues—while at the same time it has also been singing “giant mushrooms! giant mushrooms!” while waving our hands in the air, or doing Fire Nation dances around the camp fire the other day, and other spontaneous silliness.

Basically, there is no way to spin it, that I can think of, where we, all four of us, have not benefited in a multitude of ways from our exposure to this tv show.

I’m so glad we didn’t miss out on all this fun and learning because we had tossed the avatar out with the bathwater.

I leave you with Appa, the avatar’s flying bison who carries the main heroes on his back as they travel their world.  It’s a lovely image from a wonderful piece of storytelling.  I highly recommend.

true blood is knocking my socks off

Have I mentioned how much I am loving True Blood right now?

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Well, I am. When season two first started, I have to admit, I didn’t know if I was going to stick with it because the first couple of eps were so…nasty. Horrific. Gross. Lafayette in the basement, Jason being wooed by the Fellowship of the Sun, and no romance with Sookie and Bill. I thought…this is too yucky. And there’s no one to root for. Why was it I liked this show again?

But I did stay with it and now, with only three eps to go, I’m really glad I did.

If you haven’t seen season two yet, when the DVD comes out, I highly recommend staying the course.

And if that is you….

!!!!!!!!!!!SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!

Really! Don’t read any more if you haven’t watched up to this point!

I mean it!

GO AWAY!

…………………

Okay. If you are still reading, it’s because you’ve already seen Season Two up to tonight’s episode. Agreed?

So. We’ve had this Fellowship of the Sun arc, Jason and Sookie on parallel paths, but with little cross over, each infiltrating the church in their own ways.

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Here we have the freakiest Christian couple I’ve ever seen on tv. I mean, weird, hilarious, fucked-up, weird.

Below we have Sookie and Bill, probably arguing about how Sookie is going to sneak into the church and read everyone’s minds, as a favor to Eric. More on Eric in a minute.

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By the way, why have Sookie and Bill had so little chemistry this season? I just barely care about them as a couple. Interesting. There is always that gorgeous string (violin? cello?) music theme when they kiss, standing in for real emotion that I should be feeling, but am not. Sorry Bill, but your arc with your maker is kind of boring. Although, early in the season, it was pretty funny when Sookie and BIll were fighting over the ‘parenting’ of new vampire Jessica.

Anyway, here is Jason doing his feel-good Christian Camp experience.

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Holy GAWD that dude has a body.

Ahem.

So Sookie and Jason go about getting into the slimy underbelly of the Fellowship, and it’s kinda interesting, only I’m not sure, do I want to keep watching? And then, WHAM, we get Godric, a two thousand year old vampire who has offered himself to the church as a sacrifice, sparking a near war between vampires and humans. From his first moment, saving Sookie from rape, he immediately became the center of both stories, and one of the most interesting characters I have seen in a while.

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I was HOOKED. Of course, he is GOD-ric, wink, wink. Well, he IS playing out a Christ-like role, right up to the sacrifice at the end. His death scene is AMAZING. Good work Anna Panquin on the acting!

Isn’t it interesting how Anna can look totally, gorgeously beautiful in one shot and then kind of dorky-plain in another?

Anyway, the church is nullified as hateful, greed-filled, and silly (“I hate your hair!”) and we find the real spiritual messages of bettering oneself, compassion, and forgiveness coming from a vampire. Cool. Sookie, Eric, and the others have now been exposed to Godric’s decisions, his calm, kind presence, and been changed by them, I think. I’m anticipating interesting things from these characters as a result.

There have been a lot of these reversals in the show, all the way back with the opening sequence in Episode One where the spooky, tattooed, black-haired dude is NOT the evil, threatening vampire, but the red-neck, good ole’ boy, IS a vampire, and he is just buying a six-pack and trying to mind his own business. I’d go so far as to say that reversals such as these are the POINT of the show, or at least one of the biggest tent-poles holding the whole thing up (accompanied by Exposing Prejudice of All Kinds, and occasional, but regular, raunchy sex scenes just to remind us that Hey, This Is HBO You’re Watching, and Don’t You Forget It.)

Meanwhile, back in Bon Temps, Tara has fallen under the sway of the Forces of Evil, in the form of Marianne.

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Poor Tara has eaten of the shape-changer-heart casserole and participating in some rather disturbing, violent, sex orgies…

(okay, I looked for a picture of the sex orgies, but I couldn’t find one. Sorry.)

…and has gotten a a really hot boyfriend with the odd name of Eggs. Everything looks lovely between them, but he’s just a brainwashed minion of the devil. Another reversal. Poor Tara.

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Interesting that Tara can be lost so far down this dark hole and not even realize it. The devil Marianne took out the voo-doo gal who did the exorcism on Tara last season (sheesh, I can’t remember her name!), by ripping her heart out (who got to eat that one, I wonder). Tara’s mother, changed now into a born-again-Christian figure, has repeatedly been shown as too weak to accomplish much, although her transformation from alcoholic-demon-mother to church-going-prayer-making-mother, seems to have stuck. It’s an improvement, but not by much, as her abandoning of Tara in jail is what opened Tara up to Marianne to begin with. Will Lafeyette and Tara’s mother be able to save Tara? We’ll find out tonight….

Or maybe Sookie, with her new exposure to GOD-ric, will come to her friend’s aid. And to the aid of all of Bon Temps. Because from the look of last week’s teaser, Bon Temps needs some serious saving from Marianne and her Evil Parties of Death.

Which brings me to the Transformation of Eric. Eric has gone from vaguely menacing, funny, and brutal (in the first season), to horrific monster (the basement freak-show scenes at the beginning of this season), to now, where he shows up as a more potent love interest for Sookie than Bill has ever been. Huh? How did that happen? His passionate devotion for his maker, Godric, has revealed depths to him that I never would have expected, depths that have moved me without my noticing it was happening, until here I am, rooting for him, this twisted (tearing the arms off the guy in the basement and being pissed about messing up his hair), lying (getting Sookie to suck the blood out of his chest by feigning near-death), brutally violent creature. Weird! And, Really Good Writing and Acting!

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He’s cute, too. What do you think? Short hair or long? I was all for the long, but now I’m liking the short after that naked-pillow-talk scene, what with the muscles, and the broad shoulders, and the intimate smiles….

Uh…what was I saying?

Oh yeah! What in the world will happen with the very sweet love story between the perpetual Virgin Vampire Jessica, and the 28 year old just-barely-not a virgin Hoyt? They seem so profoundly DOOMED I can’t stop cringing every time they come on screen. I’m just waiting for the Bad Thing. I’m guessing Hoyt gets killed in the whole Marianne situation, and Jessica goes on a killing rampage. I hope not, for Hoyt’s sake. I like Hoyt. Didn’t you love how he stood up to his mother, and then took the potato-chip sandwich with him as he stomped out the door? Kind of detracted from the otherall statement he was trying to make, but increased his general adorableness, don’t you think?

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And what about Sam? He’s done nothing but run away and sneak back this whole season. But he’s going to step up, I think. I hope. That turning into a fly business was pretty cool. He seems fated for more than bartender work, with such power at his disposal. Or maybe not…?

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Anyway, I can’t wait for tonight’s episode! I’m a bit scared the show won’t succeed in carrying through all the themes and threads it has set into motion, but I’m feeling more and more trust in Alan Ball’s storytelling hands. He’s got me for the next three eps, that’s for damn sure. I wonder where he plans to take me?

The Listener (Who-Also-Sees) gets a review

I watched the pilot of “The Listener” the other night. At first glance it seemed to be a Canadian rip-off of “Medium” and “Ghost Whisperer” et al, a telepathic paramedic solves crimes. Yawn. But, to be honest, I don’t really care if an idea is a rip-off if they do a good job. Are the characters complex and fascinating? Are the relationships moving and true? Are the jokes funny? Although I am NOT a fan of procedurals, far preferring episodic tv that has a chance to go places, I’ve swallowed plenty of procedural yada yada in pursuit of a good character arc. So, when I saw ads for this one, I knew I would tune in, despite the distinct feeling of deja vu. And the main guy was appealing, you know, except for the goofy hair. I can forgive goofy hair. Hell, I live it. But bottom-line, the show threatened to be a derivative rerun of a last year’s leftovers, but I was willing to let it retread if it did it well. Hey, sometimes hash is better than the steak it was made from, you know?

But I hated it.

(And then changed my mind. Wait for it.)

First, it seemed to me, in watching pilot, that they barely used the telepathy angle, pulling it out sporadically, and only when it was convenient for the plot—but letting it drop when it would have solved things nicely (as in: wtf? why didn’t he just LISTEN TO HER THOUGHTS right there? That sort of thing). I hate that stuff.

Second (and this is a bit petty, I’ll admit) although the show is “the LISTENer” he apparently SEES stuff, too. He’s not a telepath, he’s a psychic, people. I mean, I get that Allison Dubois of “Medium” sees things, so I guess focusing on the hearing angle differentiates the show. A little. But it bugged me every time he got a vision. I wanted him to Listen. I wanted Brand Consistency.

Third—and most distracting to me—there was this dumb-ass “detective” with 20 pounds of hair-products in her perfect, long ringlets (it would take no less than an hour to get hair like that, and we all know how much spare time for grooming your average detective has), not to mention her low-cut, skin-tight, red tank-top and push-up bra ensemble. You could have completely cut all of her scenes and it wouldn’t have changed anything. Except for the boobs, which Paul said were important in their own right, but I maintain have nothing to do with detecting, nor listening, so they ought not to have been so prominently displayed. I, apparently, want gritty realism in my telepathic paramedic shows, and big boobed, ringlet tossing detectives just don’t fit in with that model. I have to draw the line somewhere.

I mean, I knew going in that it was going to be your basic “paranormal abilities force a nice, normal person towards greatness by making them save someone’s life every week” story, but I got SO ANNOYED. I don’t know why—who cares, right? Another crappy tv show, so what. But it pissed me off. Why does that stuff get made?

It’s just, I wanted very much to like it, and it failed me.

Fast forward a week and I noticed my dvr had captured the next couple of eps. Blame it on my new novel which is refusing to get jumpstarted, leaving me with a free hour in the evening. Or blame it on my being worried about the aforementioned Allison Dubois, who will be in a coma ALL SUMMER until the season premier in the fall (her husband Joe must be out of his mind with worry! and her poor girls!). Or blame the end of “Sarah Connor Chronicles,” and “Battlestar Gallactica,” and “Dollhouse” (can you believe that got a second season? I’m so psyched.). Factor in how much I’m jonesing for some sci-fi, paranormal, get-my-freak-on tv, but whatever was the reason, I watched it. Both eps, actually.

They were pretty good.

Huh?

Okay, first, the skanky detective put on some regular clothes and a pony tail—she still didn’t have anything to do but say “What are you doing here?” and, “How could you know that?” and, “Why should I believe you?” Her purpose is to scowl and scoff, but okay, I guess can tolerate her now. Barely.

Second, it appeared that the way they portray Toby the Telepath’s ability, whatever it is, is either constantly in creative flux, because it’s different every time, OR (and I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here for a few more eps and assume that they meant to to that) it’s evolving. Maybe they’ve got some momentum here, some forward arc on the ability angle, and my patience will pay off…? Anyway, I’m willing to give a pass on the Listener-Who-Also-Sees mess.

But third, and the real turn for me, was the best-friend. Oz (a total rip off of Cool-Best-Friend-Name but at least he’s Turkish, so maybe it’s short for something ethnic) has some awesome people writing his lines! He had several very funny monologues—not just lines now, but whole paragraphs—delivered perfectly by Ennis Esmer, that had me chuckling out loud and tapping the rewind button. I find I really like him and his relationship with Mr. Telepath, lots of chemistry there. Heck, I’ll call it a full on bromance—and hey, I got to use that word! I’m so happy.

The show still has problems for me. For example, too much on the puzzle of the week and not enough about the ability that seems to be changing…maybe? It’s too vague—if Toby the Telepath is having a seismic shift in this ability he has been suppressing, for the most part, his whole life, then I want to be hearing more about that. And the pacing has problems at times—things get rushed that should have more space, if-you-ask-me. Also, I don’t know why they keep putting him in these girly sweaters with deep v-necks—maybe manly guys in Canada wear these things?

Still, despite the girlie shirts, I find I’m suddenly grooving on this show that I severely dissed, just a few days ago. Weird. Am I just desperate for paranormal entertainment? Because you know, I may want some realism in my tv, but I need some tv in my reality. Because reality, what with it’s alarming lack of superpowers, can be so disappointing.

Or maybe it’s just Craig Olejnik’s beautiful eyes, featured prominently, and in close up, in every ep.

I’m not complaining about that, by the way.

(Although, it being “The Listener” shouldn’t they be prominently featuring close-ups of his EARS? Maybe I should be thanking the producers for being a bit fuzzy on the whole listening/seeing thing and let it go. His eyes are worth it.)

Just goes to show, can’t judge a show by the pilot.

ETA 8/1/2009: Although NBC took “The Listener” off the air before the last five eps shows, you can see them on Hulu.com, at least for now. I’ve seen them, and I thought they were great. The last six eps really came together—they finally figured out what to do with the telepathy. The show continues to air in Canada, where it is produced, and is doing well there, so there is hope for a second season. Cross your fingers!

the incredible hulk invades the yurt

It all started with the arrival of a little lego Hulk, one of a hundred million legos, purchased in a tub from the thrift store.

” Mom,” said Luc, “Why is this guy’s pants all ripped up? And why is he green?”

Well…

Off to google! Where, like Godzilla before him, we found a million images, youtube clips, and pop-culture histories of this amazingly durable character.

There is the comic, of course, from master Stan Lee, first penned back in the early 60s,

and then the late 60s animated show (hilarious theme song!),

and the 70s live action show with Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk,

and the 80s animated show with Spiderman (odd combo, if you ask me),

and then the 90s animated show with Lou doing Hulk’s voice.

Next the Hulk moved to the big screen and we had the Ang Lee live action movie,

and now, 50 years after it all started, another live action movie with Edward Norton.

I saw “Hulk,” the Ang Lee movie, when it came out (that was pre-babies, back when I actually went to the movies) and I have to say, it didn’t work for me. I also Netflixed the new movie back in October, before (or as a prequel to?) the current Hulk madness, and liked it better, though the Edward Norton sections felt only lightly connected to the Hulk sections. And the bulging muscles of the green guy are just too over the top for me. His head isn’t big enough or something. But I digress, because the real point is this:

A story has to be pretty freaking compelling to call to so many people, in so many iterations, over such a long period of time.

And my 3 year old Luc is completely entranced by it, like so many little boys before him. “Why does he get angry? What does he eat? Would he be stronger than an apatosaurus? What if the Hulk fought a bull dozer?” Imagine small, cutie-pie, sweetheart, Luc, standing on the sofa, legs apart, arms outstretched, HURLING a sofa pillow to the floor with a huge ROAR and yelling, “I am the Incredible Hulk!”

The Hulk story is like some medicine he is taking in, exploring what it’s like to be massively huge and powerful—but still a good person.

Me: “Why do you like the Hulk?”

Luc: “Because he’s really, really big and really, really powerful and really, really, really, really green.”

A quick trip through the tv listings and we had full eps of the 1996 show, which, it turns out, we all are totally into. This show introduced new elements to us, such as She-Hulk!

a green vixen with the “kelly-green abs of steel”, aka Jennifer, Bruce Banner’s cousin, who had to receive an emergency transfusion of Bruce’s gamma-infected blood in order to save her life. Unlike Bruce, who seeks a cure, Jennifer approves of the transformation. She’s got a different gig, though, because her mind remains intact. Poor Bruce transforms completely, triggered by his anger, and so has little control over what he does when he’s all Hulkish. Jennifer, on the other hand, is basically herself, only with bigger, greener, hair, and super strength. An interesting variation on the theme.

We also got Gray Hulk (I totally couldn’t find a picture of this guy except this, from the comic):

a scary Evil Hulk, the result of a split-personality situation with Bruce and the separation of Bruce and Hulk in some kind of nutrient bath…or something…um, anyway, this guy gave Luc a whole new set of questions: “Why is he gray? When will the Gray Hulk come? Is he a bad guy? Why is he a bad guy? Maybe he needs to eat something so he will be less grumpy.” And, “I want to see the one with the Gray Hulk again.”

The center of the story (as you probably know) is a good man who, through no fault of his own, finds that his anger transforms him into a creature of great destructive power. Because of this, he loses his old life and is hunted by the military (who want to either kill him or use him as a weapon), and by The Leader, an alien (I think?) who wants to manipulate the Hulk’s DNA to take the Hulk’s power for his own—or maybe make a Hulk army he can control.

Poor Hulk, he’s quite the tragic figure, using his power only defensively against those that would hurt him or hurt his friends, Betty, Rick, and Jennifer. And this, I think, is why the story endures: despite his destructive tendencies and scary appearance, the Hulk is a good guy. Bruce is wrong—we DO like him when he’s angry, because he has a big, green, heart. Just goes to show you can’t judge by appearances.

Occasionally, watching the show, Luc gets nervous. It’s pretty intense with lots of bad guys, explosions, fighting, and a dark plot line. We sit together and watch, talking about what’s going on, him asking lots of questions and me explaining as we go. I try to give him power (what the Hulk is all about) over the tv, explaining how to pause, or fast forward, offering to watch and tell him what happens so he can know for sure that everything turns out all right before he watches himself. He can look away and just listen, and, of course, just turn it off. These are all the things that I do when I want to watch something that might be too scary for me. For example, I really enjoyed the marvelous “28 Days Later,” but only because I had my finger on the fast forward for the worst bits (like that freaking tunnel scene—forget about it!). If I put it out there that he is too little to watch, or the show/tv is too scary for him, then he is disempowered—the opposite of what he wants with all the Hulkness. But if I help him have power over his watching, so he can watch, or not watch, in a way that works for him, I figure that’s what the Hulk is all about. Doing it your own way! Hulk not smash the puny humans!

I guess it’s working because he asks for the show, again and again, and talks about it during the day, making connections between things on the show and his life in ways that tell me he is really working with this material, exploring anger and power and what it means to have either, or neither. The Hulk is a clear extension of Luc’s other interests, dinosaurs and construction machines—things that are big and strong. And no wonder this interests him—he is so little, this cute tiny guy who barely hits 3 feet tall and can just pick up a five pound weight. Just like I trusted him as a baby to know when he needed to eat or sleep, I trust him to know what stories he needs. And right now, it’s stories about power (and size!) and the Hulk is nothing if not an exploration of that. So we watch, and talk, and he plays Hulk and throws the sofa cushions. “Hulk angry!!!!”

In one of those great coincidences, with no a clue about this whole Hulk invasion, an aunt gave these shoes to Luc over the holidays:

And guess what? The teeth and eyes glow in the dark. No kidding! See how he’s wearing purple pants with them? “Mommy, Mommy, I’m busting out of my clothes!”

Here is Sophie’s rendition of the whole thing:

Hulk…friend!

ETA: For further Hulk conversation, go here.

diggers watch tv, too

Luc is enthralled with big machines. Bull dozers, backhoes, excavators, trenchers, dump trucks—driving past a construction site these days causes the backseat to erupt into squeals of “It’s a crane! Mommy, a digger! Mommy, Mommy, a front loader!” A couple of weeks ago, I ran across an ad for a construction site video for kids, which I promptly nexflixed. We popped it in the dvd player and whammo, our very own construction site machines to stare at in the comfort of our own home. SEE the big cat crawl to the top of a mountain of garbage at the city dump! OBSERVE the sheer tractor tear apart an old building! WATCH as the cement truck fills wall molds for a 30 foot high rise! Become SO BORED your eyes roll back in your head!

But not Luc—he is entranced. “Mom, I want to watch Mighty Machines!” Is it the image of so much brute strength that makes these big machines so wonderful to my little guy? Is it testosterone? I admit that I just don’t get the appeal. But that’s cool. He loves it, and that’s enough.

Here he is, watching a mac truck haul some gravel out of a quarry. See how he got all his diggers out and lined them up beside him on the couch? He told me he wanted them to be able to watch, too. I love the generosity of that.