This SNL Black Jeopardy skit with Tom Hanks is as good as everyone says it is. And it’s not just funny either…it’s the rare SNL skit that works brilliantly as cultural commentary. Kudos to the writers on this one.
This SNL Black Jeopardy skit with Tom Hanks is as good as everyone says it is. And it’s not just funny either…it’s the rare SNL skit that works brilliantly as cultural commentary. Kudos to the writers on this one.
I am soooo tired of this election and this stupid, lying, racist, sexist, bullying predator of a candidate and the memes but this Arrested Development-style fact-checking of Donald Trump is really pretty good and right in my wheelhouse. I am terrible at following my own advice.
Note: There are some *major* unavoidable spoilers about the finale of season three of Halt and Catch Fire in this post. If you’ve been watching (and you definitely should be), you might want to catch the finale first and then come back.
The final two episodes of Halt and Catch Fire aired last night. The previous eight episodes of the season took place in the mid-1980s with Joe running something like Norton or McAfee in San Francisco, and Cameron, Donna, and Gordon running a dial-up service like Compuserve for playing online video games, chatting, and selling stuff on a nascent Etsy. In the 8th episode, a lot of that changed and the characters headed their separate ways.
For the final two episodes, the show jumps forward to 1990, and in the last episode, Donna brings the four main characters (plus Cameron’s husband Tom, who works for Sega in Japan) back together to talk about a new and potentially revolutionary idea that’s crossed her desk at the VC firm where she’s now a senior partner: the World Wide Web. The five of them meet over two days, trying to figure out if there’s a business to be built on the Web — Joe argues metaphorically that they should build a stadium while Cameron says that no one’s gonna come to the stadium unless you have a kickass band playing (lack of compelling content) and then Gordon retorts that rock n’ roll hasn’t even been invented yet (aka there’s no network for this to run on). The discussion, some anachronisms and having the benefit of hindsight aside, is remarkably high level for a television audience…I doubt I could explain the Web so well.
At the second meeting, Joe, who is a Steve Jobs / Larry Ellison sort of character, has had some time to think about the appeal of the Web and lays out his vision (italics mine):
Joe: Berners-Lee wrote HTML to view and edit the Web and HTTP so that it could talk to itself. The chatter could be cacophonous, it could be deafeningly silent. Big picture: What will the World Wide Web become? Short answer: Who knows?
Donna: Ok, so what’s your point?
Joe: It’s a waste of time to try to figure out what the Web will become, we just don’t know. Because right now, at the end of the day, it’s just an online research catalog running on NeXT computers on a small network in Europe.
Cam: So, you’re saying everything we’ve talked about since we got here has been a waste of time?
Joe: I’m saying let’s take a step back. Literally step back.
Gordon: What is this on the board?
Joe: It’s the code for the Web browser.
Tom: And you wrote it all on the whiteboard.
Donna: The online catalog of research?
Cameron: Full of Norwegian dudes’ physics papers and particle diagrams and stuff?
Gordon: And we care about this because why?
Joe: How did we all get here today? The choices we made? The sheer force of our wills, something like that? Here’s another answer: the winds of fate, random coincidence, some unseen hand pushing us along. Destiny. How did we all get here today? We walked through this door. We don’t have to build a big white box or stadium or invent rock n’ roll. The moment we decide what the Web is, we’ve lost. The moment we try to tell people what to do with it, we’ve lost. All we have to do is build a door and let them inside.
When I was five, my mother took me to the city. And we went through the Holland Tunnel and it was basic, concrete and steel, but it was also my excitement sitting in the backseat, wondering when it was going to be our turn to emerge, it was the explosion of sunlight. And when we exited the tunnel, all of Manhattan was laid out before us. And that was the best part of the trip: the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending.
This is the first Web browser, the one CERN built to view and edit research. I wrote it up here for you to see how simple it is. It takes up one whiteboard — that’s basic concrete and steel — but we can take this and we can build a door and we can be the first ones to do it because right now, everyone else sees this…
Donna: …as an online research catalog…
Gordon: …running on NeXT…
Cameron: …on a network in Europe.
Joe: And with this handful of code, we can build the Holland Tunnel.
It’s Don Draper’s carousel speech from Mad Men…but for the Web. And it hit me right in the feels. Hard. When I tell people about the first time I saw the Web, I would sheepishly describe it as love at first sight. Logging on that first time, using an early version of NCSA Mosaic with a network login borrowed from my physics advisor, was the only time in my life I have ever seen something so clearly, been sure of anything so completely. It was a like a thunderclap — “the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending” — and I just knew this was for me and that it was going to be huge and important. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but the Web is the true love of my life and ever since I’ve been trying to live inside the feeling I had when I first saw it.
Which is why this scene wrecked me so hard. The Web that they are talking about on the show, the open Web, is ailing, dying. It was like listening to a eulogy at a funeral, this thing that I love, poured the best of my self into, gone forever. Of course that’s not strictly true, the Web is still a fabulous place where anyone can set up a site to do, say, or sell whatever they want, but instead of the promise of small pieces loosely joined, what we mostly got was large pieces tightly coupled. Today’s Web browsers and apps are Holland Tunnels that open up right into shopping malls instead of open city streets. Facebook makes it absurdly easy to start your own blog that all your friends and family can conveniently read, but you give up the freedom to say anything you want, it’s impossible to move those words elsewhere if you’d like (I’m talking with URLs and social graph intact), and they sell advertising against your words & images and you don’t get a cut.
Now, I’m not advocating a Make The Web Great Again policy because the open Web of the 90s had many problems, the greatest of which was a lack of access for anyone without the free time and skills necessary to set up a web server, install software, etc. etc., not to mention the expense involved. Today’s Web is much more accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels and as a result you see much more participation across the socioeconomic spectrum, especially in developing countries.
But the open Web enthusiasts and advocates missed an opportunity to take what the Web was in the 90s and make that available to everyone. Instead of walled gardens like Facebook, Pinterest, and Medium (which echo the closed online services like AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve that predated the Web), imagine a bunch of smaller services bound together with open protocols where individuals have both freedom and convenience. At this stage, building an open Twitter or open Facebook is nearly impossible, but it wouldn’t have been 10-12 years ago. I hope I’m wrong, but with all of the entrenched incumbents and money pumping into online services, I’m afraid that time has truly passed. And it’s breaking my heart.
From the BBC, an hour-long documentary on Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.
You might have assumed that the computer age began with some geeks out in California, or perhaps with the codebreakers of World War II. But the pioneer who first saw the true power of the computer lived way back, during the transformative age of the Industrial Revolution.
Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!
I reported back in February that the BBC was doing another season of Planet Earth with David Attenborough (aka the voice of nature). Now there’s a trailer out (with a Sigur Ros soundtrack) and the show is set to debut in the UK on BBC One later this month. In US? Who knows… probably in 8 months with Ellen Degeneres narrating.
Frontline has posted their 2-hour documentary about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the 2016 presidential election to YouTube.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the most polarizing presidential candidates in modern history. Veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk goes beyond the headlines to investigate what has shaped these two candidates, where they came from, how they lead and why they want one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.
This looks excellent…I might watch this instead of the debate tonight.1
To be clear, there’s no way I’m watching the debate tonight under any circumstances. I’ve already decided on my vote so there’s no need and I have no desire to gawk at a particularly gory traffic accident that’s doing long-term damage to American society.↩
The trailer for the third season of Charlie Brooker’s excellent Black Mirror just dropped. If you haven’t seen the first two seasons, I’d recommend catching yourself up. And did I spy Mackenzie Davis and Kelly Macdonald in the trailer? I did, I did. The new season starts October 21 on Netflix.
Rolling Stone polled actors, critics, producers, and showrunners about their picks for the greatest shows ever to air on TV and aggregated the responses. Some random results:
87. Doctor Who
57. Fawlty Towers
43. The Americans
27. Arrested Development
12. Game of Thrones
That’s really high for Thrones, isn’t it? It’s no spoiler to say that the top two picks are The Wire and The Sopranos…you’ll have to click through to see which order they put them in. It’s been awhile since I’ve thought about what my list of favorite shows would look like, but just off the cuff, maybe (in no particular order):
The Wire, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Transparent, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Simpsons, Iron Chef, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Doctor Who, The Americans.
A couple of those are definitely not great shows, but they are favorites all the same.
The Simpsons is the longest-running series in primetime TV history. The show’s 27 seasons hold much potential treasure for data scientists. Todd Schneider downloaded the scripts from every show and analyzed which characters spoke the most and where. The results reveal a heavy focus on Homer and a large gender imbalance in terms of dialogue.
The colors of the bars in the above graphs represent gender: blue for male characters, red for female. If we look at the supporting cast, the 14 most prominent characters are all male before we get to the first woman, Mrs. Krabappel, and only 5 of the top 50 supporting cast members are women.
Women account for 25% of the dialogue on The Simpsons, including Marge and Lisa, two of the show’s main characters. If we remove the Simpson nuclear family, things look even more lopsided: women account for less than 10% of the supporting cast’s dialogue.
In a sketch from Monty Python called Argument Clinic, a character played by Michael Palin goes to a facility and pays to have an argument with John Cleese. That argument was recreated for this video using a pair of old school speech synthesizers. Palin’s part is played by the DECTalk Express (aka the voice of Stephen Hawking) and Cleese’s part is played by the Intex Talker. As you can probably hear, the Talker predates the DECTalk by a few years and is more difficult to understand. (via @303)
Vox recently took a look at every single job that Homer has ever had on The Simpsons in an attempt to see where his average salary falls on the economic spectrum in America.
Over the show’s 596-episode run, Homer has had at least 191 jobs. They’ve ranged from executive positions to service jobs, and have dotted the entire economic spectrum, from ultra-rich to the poverty line.
In the list below, we’ve compiled the real-life salaries for 100 of these jobs. Seasonal jobs (like “mall Santa”), and jobs that were virtually impossible to find salary data for (“beer smuggler”) were excluded, as were any repeats (he was an Army private twice, for instance). His full-time gig as a safety inspector is highlighted in yellow, for reference.
He gets a lot of flack, but Homer is actually the most interesting person in America by a wide margin, even though he’s not well compensated for it.
Speaking of Mr. Rogers, Arielle Bernstein wrote about how the spirit of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood lives on in contemporary advice columns like Ask Polly (now a book!), Dear Sugar, and Ask Andrew W.K.
Rogers offered something different from other TV icons — he used his show as a platform to actually give voice to children: their fears, their hopes, their pains, their purest expressions of joy. Each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood started with the same reassuring sequence showing the host entering his home, slipping on one of his famous sweaters, and changing his work shoes for comfortable sneakers. In this simple world, every question — big or small — was seen as worthy of respect; every feeling — good or bad — was viewed without judgment. Rogers answered questions in an open-hearted manner, often drawing on his own experiences and speaking directly into the camera, as if personally addressing each member of his TV audience. In one episode, he drew a picture using crayons and reflected, “I’m not very good at it. But it doesn’t matter … It feels good to have made something.” In another, the camera lingered on one of Rogers’ dead fish with the curiosity and compassion of a child, imploring viewers to look, telling them that it’s okay to cry.
Today’s advice columnists carry on this same tradition of giving their readers the space to explore emotions they might feel they have to downplay, ignore, or hide from others. At a time when millions of adults are snapping up coloring books, and essays bemoan college students for seeking “safe spaces,” it might be tempting to see the gentler column as an outgrowth of a desire to prolong childhood. But the success of these columns points instead to the very grown-up need for settings where feelings are valued, rather than dismissed, and where the primary human response is compassion, rather than anger.
In an episode of Doctor Who from 2010, the Doctor and his companion Amy take Vincent van Gogh, who was not a commercially successful artist in his own lifetime, to the Musée d’Orsay to see an entire room filled with his paintings. The resulting scene is unexpectedly touching.
This Valley Girl contest that aired on Real People1 in 1982 is quite the time capsule of Reagan-era America. BAG YOUR FACE!!!! I had totally (LIKE, TOTALLY!!) forgotten about that super-80s insult. Is the Valley Girl thing the reason we, like, all say “like” and uptalk all the time now?
Along with the Dukes of Hazzard, Real People and That’s Incredible were my favorite shows in the early 80s. I probably watched this episode on TV when it first aired.↩
Earlier this month, Netflix debuted a number of slow TV shows on their service, including shows about knitting and firewood, which were very popular in Norway. Here’s the complete roster:
National Firewood Evening
National Firewood Morning
National Firewood Night
National Knitting Evening
National Knitting Morning
National Knitting Night
The Telemark Canal
Train Ride Bergen to Oslo
Update: Looks like a few of these programs, most notably Northern Passage and Northern Railway, are not the complete end-to-end shows that were originally broadcast. So, FYI.
Also, these shows are getting terrible ratings on Netflix. Aside from the two shorter shows mentioned above, each show has a rating of only one star. (Further update: Netflix’s ratings are personalized, which means those ratings are specific to me. Others might see 4 or 5 stars. thx, @Rudien)
Ah, my Friday is off to a bit of a rough start, but a phone chat with a friend and the soundtrack for Halt and Catch Fire dropping on Spotify is patching things up nicely.
P.S. Season 3 starts on Aug 23rd. Here’s a clip from the new season:
Mike Upchurch was a writer for Mr. Show and MADtv but now he’s making these clever little videos with additional actors spliced into the narratives of Cocktail (the Tom Cruise movie) and the Dragnet TV series.
Both feature actor/comedian Chris Fairbanks in the lead role and are noted as “proof-of-concepts” for a series called Electric Television that Upchurch is presumably developing. Someone should greenlight it. (via @dunstan)
Brendan Dassey, who was one of two men convicted for the murder of Theresa Halbach, may be released from prison soon. A federal judge issued a ruling overturning his conviction today:
Concluding the 91-page decision, Duffin found that investigators made false promises to Dassey during multiple interrogations.
“These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law,” Duffin wrote.
Prosecutors have 90 days to decide to retry Dassey or release him. It was fairly clear to me, having watched Making a Murderer, that Dassey was innocent (or at the very least, was not given a fair trial).
From 1971, here’s Jessie Jackson on Sesame Street doing a call-and-response with the children of the poem I Am - Somebody.
I May Be Poor
But I Am
I May Be Young
But I Am
I May Be On Welfare
But I Am
It’s difficult to imagine something like this airing on the show now. Sesame Street was originally designed to serve the needs of children in low-income homes, but now the newest episodes of the show air first on HBO…a trickle-down educational experience. (via @kathrynyu)
ZAPP presents…Famous Trump Quotations! pic.twitter.com/cFq1rQ4veY— Billy West (@TheBillyWest) August 11, 2016
Billy West, who does the voice of Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan, is taking quotes from Donald Trump and speaking them in Brannigan’s voice. This is silly and dumb, but I can’t help loving these.
Update: The addition of Kif’s reactions really takes these to the next level.
Kif sighs for all of America. And this one, I mean…if they wrote this dialogue for the show it would be rejected because not even Zapp is that outlandishly dim and egotistical.
Zapp presents…Famous Quotations from Donald J Trump! pic.twitter.com/eorklqXsMk— Billy West (@TheBillyWest) August 12, 2016
Transparent returns to Amazon for a third season on September 23. I’ve said this before, but Transparent is my favorite show on TV right now. If you haven’t watched it yet, summer is the perfect opportunity to catch up before the new season starts.
Like many of you, I have been watching Stranger Things on Netflix. My 80s movie fixations tilted towards the War Games/Explorers/Goonies end of the spectrum rather than the supernatural/horror/Steven King end so I’m not obsessed, but I am definitely enjoying it. You can watch the first 8 minutes of the show to judge for yourself.
But I love the opening credits, especially the music. (Both remind me of the opening credits for Halt and Catch Fire.) The title song was composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, members of Austin synth band Survive. Someone did a 10-minute extended version of the song and put it up on Soundcloud:
Currently on repeat for the last hour with no sign of stopping. You may also be interested in a pair of playlists featuring music from the show:
What else? Here’s a deep dive into the font used for the opening credits (which was also used for the Choose Your Own Adventure books back in the 80s). Alissa Walker wrote about the free-range children on display in ST, something that also grabbed my attention. When I was a kid, I rode my bike everywhere. On summer weekends, I typically ate breakfast at my house and was gone until dinnertime. My parents had no clue where I was or what I was up to…and none of my classmates’ parents did either.
Update: From the NY Times, The ‘Stranger Things’ School of Parenting.
Still, “Stranger Things” is a reminder of a kind of unstructured childhood wandering that — because of all the cellphones, the fear of child molesters, a move toward more involved parenting or a combination of all three — seems less possible than it once was.
The show’s references to beloved films of the ’80s have been much remarked upon, but “Stranger Things” also calls to mind all those books and TV shows — from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to “Muppet Babies” — where parents are either absent or pushed into the background.
These stories let children imagine breaking the rules, but they also allow them to picture themselves solving mysteries or hunting down monsters all on their own. Often it’s only when the parents aren’t watching that a child can become a hero.
Update: The official soundtrack for the show is available on iTunes. It’s the score though, not the classic 80s tunes.
Update: Vox spoke to a creative director at Imaginary Forces about their process for designing the opening titles.
Update: And the score is now available on Spotify. This is my working music for the day.
Last night, I finished OJ: Made in America, ESPN’s 8-hour documentary series about OJ Simpson. Prior to starting the series, I would rather have poked an eye out than spend another second of my life thinking about OJ Simpson; I’d gotten my fill back in the 90s. But I’d heard so many good things about it that I gave it a shot. Pretty quickly, you realize this is not just the biography of a man or the story of a trial but is a deep look at racism, policing, and celebrity in the US. OJ: Made in America is excellent and I recommend it unreservedly. From Brian Tallerico’s review:
Ezra Edelman’s stunningly ambitious, eight-hour documentary is a masterpiece, a refined piece of investigative journalism that places the subject it illuminates into the broader context of the end of the 20th century. You may think you know everything about The Trial of the Century, especially if you watched FX’s excellent “The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” but “OJ: Made in America” not only fills in details about the case but offers background and commentary that you’ve never heard before. It is an examination of race, domestic abuse, celebrity, civil rights, the LAPD, the legal process and murder over the last fifty years, using the OJ Simpson story as a way to refract society. Its length may seem daunting, but I would have watched it for another eight hours and will almost certainly watch it again before the summer is over. It’s that good.
The only real criticism I have of the series is that the treatment of women in America should have been explored more, on the same level as racism and celebrity. A.O. Scott picked up on this in his NY Times review:
It is hard not to notice the predominance of male voices among the interview subjects, and the narrowness of the film’s discussion of domestic violence. This is not to say that the issue is ignored: Mr. Simpson’s history of abusing Nicole is extensively and graphically documented, as is the fact that most of his friends ignored what was going on at their Rockingham estate. But the film, which so persuasively treats law enforcement racism as a systemic problem, can’t figure out how to treat violence against women with the same kind of rigor or nuance.
A fuller discussion of domestic violence in the US and misogyny in sports would have provided another powerful, reinforcing aspect of the story.
I really like Sherlock, but a little less so every season…and this trailer seems to point in what I feel is a bad direction. Why does everything have to be so cartoonishly big and important? This isn’t James Bond with the entire world under imminent threat every 12 months from some heretofore unknown super-villain who is in charge of a global cabal of baddies that suddenly materialized, fully formed, out of nowhere. To be fair, Sherlock is far from the only show/movie series that does this (and to be more fair, they do it less than most), but the constant raising of the stakes is lazy writing and leads only into a corner.
The two most suspenseful movies I saw last year were Mad Max: Fury Road and Spotlight. Both focused on relatively small actions — the rescue and survival of five women in the former and the gathering of long hidden truths about the Catholic Church in the latter — and both were edge-of-your-seat the entire time. And the movie about journalism (journalism!) was actually the more suspenseful of the two, even though I knew the outcome the entire time. That’s excellent writing. I know the Sherlock team is capable of excellent writing — it’s one of the most inventive shows out there — and I hope this season will be more interesting than the OH MY GOD THE WORLD IS ENDING AND ONLY SHERLOCK CAN SAVE US vibe I’m getting from the trailer. TL;DR: the trailer for a TV show is too exciting. (Oh brother.)
Narcos season 2 starts on Netflix on September 2. Oh, how I missed that stare! Wagner Moura is fantastic.
Well! Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, directors of Making a Murderer, are working on six more episodes of the series for Netflix.
The new episodes of Making A Murderer will provide an in-depth look at the post-conviction process of convicted murderer Steven Avery, and his co-defendant, Brendan Dassey, as their respective investigative and legal teams challenge their convictions and the State fights to have their life sentences upheld.
They will also offer access to Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner and Dassey’s legal team, led by Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin, as well as the families and characters close to the case.
I thought Making a Murderer was excellent, one of the best things I watched last year. Reminder: the entire first episode of the show is on YouTube for free. (via @beaucolburn)
HBO did a beginner’s guide to Game of Thrones and got Samuel L. Jackson to narrate it.
Over in Westeros, Lord Eddard Stark, aka Ned, is asked by his friend the King, Robert Baratheon, to be the Hand of the King, aka his right hand man. Ned doesn’t wanna go, but das his boy! So he uproots his family and heads to King’s Landing. Nice family, right? Don’t get attached. I’m just saying.
Does anyone swear as delightfully well as Samuel L. Jackson?
The Internet Archive has just uploaded a bunch of commercials that were shown during Saturday morning cartoons during the 70s, 80s, and 90s.1 Holy nostalgia bomb, OMG that Frosted Mini Wheats commercial! I somehow remember most of the 80s ones…can I delete those memories somehow to make more room for new thoughts about AI, self-driving cars, and climate change?
For you youngsters out there, it used to be that cartoon shows on TV were shown on Saturday mornings…and only on Saturday mornings (mostly). Evenings were for dramas and sitcoms, afternoons were for soaps and game shows, and Sundays were for news shows and religion. It was an Event…and the only time during the week when parents could sleep in knowing for sure where the kids would be and what they were doing. Oh and also, there were only four channels and the TV screen was about as large as a sheet of paper…in B&W. And the phone was on the wall and had a rotary dial! And at the store, they looked your credit card number up in a book to make sure the card was valid! And you had to hand-crank your car to start it! And when the flint started to go on your axe, you just chipped yourself a new one….↩