kottke.org posts about TV

Slow TV comes to NetflixAug 22 2016

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
Northern Passage
Northern Railway
Salmon Fishing
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)

The Halt and Catch Fire soundtrackAug 19 2016

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:

And another one. I am excite. (via @aaroncoleman0)

Star Trek postage stampsAug 18 2016

Star Trek Stamps

The USPS is releasing a set of four commemorative Star Trek stamps on the 50th anniversary of the original series. The stamps were designed by Heads of State and you can buy there here.

Cocktails & DreamsAug 17 2016

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)

Futurama screencap search engineAug 15 2016

Shut Up And Take My MoneyMorbotron is a screencap search engine for Futurama. The cap above is perhaps the most popular use case. It also does animated GIFs. See also Frinkiac, the Simpsons screencap search engine.

Brendan Dassey's conviction has been overturned by a federal judgeAug 12 2016

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).

I Am - SomebodyAug 12 2016

From 1971, here's Jessie Jackson on Sesame Street doing a call-and-response with the children of the poem I Am - Somebody.

I Am

Somebody

I Am

Somebody

I May Be Poor

But I Am

Somebody

I May Be Young

But I Am

Somebody

I May Be On Welfare

But I Am

Somebody

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)

Trump quotes in Zapp Brannigan's voiceAug 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.

The trailer for Transparent season 3Aug 08 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.

The music and the opening titles of Stranger ThingsAug 05 2016

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: Garrett Shane Bryant made a 50-track playlist of songs that sound like the score of the show. Outstanding. (via @dozens)

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.

(via @CognoscoCuro)

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.

OJ: Made in AmericaJul 25 2016

OJ Simpson Trial

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.

Teaser trailer for Sherlock season 4Jul 25 2016

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.)

Trailer for Narcos season twoJul 21 2016

Narcos season 2 starts on Netflix on September 2. Oh, how I missed that stare! Wagner Moura is fantastic.

We're getting six new episodes of Making a Murderer from NetflixJul 19 2016

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)

Game of Thrones for beginners, narrated by Samuel L. JacksonJul 13 2016

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?

80s and 90s commercials from Saturday morning cartoonsJul 12 2016

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?

  1. 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....

The pilot for SeinfeldJul 06 2016

Even though I was one of the (relative) few to watch the first episode when it originally aired,1 I had forgotten how weird the pilot for Seinfeld was. The theme music is completely different, Michael Richards' character is called "Kessler" (because the network had legal concerns related to Larry David's real-life neighbor, Kenny Kramer, on whom the character was based), and Elaine2 neither appears or is mentioned. Oh, and the first season was only five episodes long (NBC was very skeptical about the show) and both Steve Buscemi and David Alan Grier auditioned for the role of George.

Update: Well, that got taken down from Vimeo fairly quickly. You can still watch the pilot on Hulu.

  1. I watched an incredible amount of TV as a kid. I would read TV Guide from cover to cover each week and have seen every episode of a number of embarrassing shows.

  2. Fun fact: Julia Louis-Dreyfus wasn't even aware of the existence of the Elaine-less pilot episode until 2004 (6 years after the show ended) and plans never to watch it. Whoever told her must have earned a solid GET! OUT! shove in the chest.

The fashionable peacocks of Pitti UomoJun 21 2016

Aaron Christian shot footage of the fashionably dressed gentlemen attending the Pitti Uomo menswear trade show and paired it with David Attenborough-esque commentary about peacocks.

Unlike the cues outside of the city shows, where photographers have a few seconds to snap their favourite look. Pitti Uomo is a four day long menswear trade show, in Florence, Italy.

It's a vast space where attendees spend all day walking around, visiting stands, eating in the sun or catching up with fellow fashion colleagues -- and so consequently it has become a prime spot for the worlds top street style photographers to document and shoot some of the most stylish men on the planet.

It's become a peacock parade where the men show off their outfits in all their glory hoping to get snapped by the top photographers.

It's quite comical, the way the fully grown men pace around subtly trying their best to get snapped, and it's the perfect location for this wildlife style mockumentary to take place.

Live: Sigur Ros circles Iceland with generative soundtrackJun 20 2016

Icelandic band Sigur Rós is doing a live slow TV event: a broadcast of a drive around the entirety of Iceland with a soundtrack generated by software based on a new song of theirs.

driving anti-clockwise round the island, the journey will pass by many of the country’s most notable landmarks, including vatnajökull, europe’s largest ice-sheet; the glacial lagoon, jökulsárlón; as well as the east fjords and the desolate black sands of möðrudalur.

the soundtrack to the journey is being created moment-by-moment via generative music software. the individual musical elements of unreleased song, and current sigur rós festival set opener, óveður, are seeded through the evolving music app bronze, to create a unique ephemeral sonic experience. headphones, external speakers and full-screen viewing are recommended.

Time travel in Game of ThronesJun 10 2016

[Spoilers!] This season, Game of Thrones is experimenting with time travel. A few years ago, Harrison Densmore created a chart showing the three kinds of time travel that happens in movies: fixed timeline (as in 12 Monkeys), dynamic timeline (as in Back to the Future), and multiverse (as in Terminator 2). So which kind of time travel is happening in Game of Thrones?

P.S. In addition to the extensive spoilers about what's already happened on the show, the latter moments of the video also offers some fan theories about what might happen on the show in the future. If that sort of thing bothers you, maybe stop watching around the 4:05 mark.

John Oliver takes on the debt buying industryJun 06 2016

On Last Week Tonight last night, John Oliver not only blasted the debt buying industry but ended up starting a company, bought $15 million worth of medical debt from Texas, and forgave it.

Update: I forgot to add, Occupy Wall Street did a similar thing back in 2012.

OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you're a debt broker, once you own someone's debt you can do whatever you want with it - traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We're playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

Update: It's disappointing that Last Week Tonight did not acknowledge the work and assistance of the Debt Collective and their Rolling Jubilee.

At the last minute Wilson told us LWT did not want to associate themselves with the work of the Rolling Jubilee due to its roots in Occupy Wall Street. Instead John Oliver framed the debt buy as his idea: a giveaway to compete with Oprah. The lead researcher who worked on this segment invoked the cover of journalism to justify distancing themselves from our project.

Why is Game of Thrones stuck in medieval times?Jun 03 2016

Riffing on Ken Mondschein's Strategies of War in Westeros, Evan Puschak explores why Westeros seems culturally and technologically stuck in the Middle Ages.

Update: Or does Game of Thrones depict the early modern period?

What Martin actually gives us is a fantasy version of what the historian Alfred Crosby called the Post-Columbian exchange: the globalizing epoch of the 16th and 17th centuries. A world where merchants trade exotic drugs and spices between continents, where professional standing armies can number in the tens or hundreds of thousands, where scholars study the stars via telescopes, and proto-corporations like the Iron Bank of Braavos and the Spicers of Qarth control global trade. It's also a world of slavery on a gigantic scale, and huge wars that disrupt daily life to an unprecedented degree.

(via @arbesman)

From Winnie Cooper to math whizJun 03 2016

As a child, Danica McKellar played Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years. After the show was over, McKellar had difficulty breaking away from other people's perceptions of her. But in college, she discovered an aptitude for mathematics, went on to have a theorem named after her -- not because she was famous but because she'd helped prove it -- and forged a new identity. (via @stevenstrogatz)

A supercut of Stanley Kubrick references in The SimpsonsJun 01 2016

There are tons of movie references in The Simpsons, but the show leans more heavily on referencing Stanley Kubrick's films than perhaps any other director. As you can see in the video, there are dozens of references to 2001, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, and even Eyes Wide Shut sprinkled throughout the series.

How the Seinfeld theme song was madeMay 26 2016

This 90s TV interview with Seinfeld theme song composer Jonathan Wolff is more interesting than you'd think. He talks through how he matched the theme to Jerry's standup delivery tempo and how each episode's song had to be customized the match the pacing of Jerry's particular monologue that week. (via digg, which is particularly good today)

Update: The Sideshow podcast featured Wolff on an episode last year.

The show's producers were having difficulty finding music that wouldn't overpower the comedian's opening routines. "Jerry, you've already given me the melody and theme," Wolff told Seinfeld. "My job is going to be to support you and the organic nature of your voice." Wolff sampled his own mouth noises and slapped some funky bass over it and the rest is history. He built the theme to be manipulated - the rhythm of the mouth pops, shakers, and bass notes changed ever so slightly to fit the different monologues that opened every show.

(via @TheFarceur)

The Simpsons couch gag in the style of an Ikea instruction manualMay 23 2016

The couch gag on last night Simpsons episode was illustrated in the style of an Ikea instruction manual. See also the Ikea instructions for making Dick in the Box.

Trailer for Mr. Robot season 2.0May 16 2016

Season two of Mr. Robot premieres on July 13. You can watch season one on USA's site with a cable login or on Amazon video.

10 inventions predicted by The SimpsonsMay 16 2016

When a show spans 27 seasons and almost 600 episodes, you're bound to hit your futuristic mark at least some of the time. Here are ten instances in which The Simpsons predicted inventions which have since come to pass, including smartwatches you can talk to, baby translators, and left-handed stores.

Hot Wheels presents The HomerMay 10 2016

Homer Hot Wheels

Hot Wheels released a die-cast version of The Homer, the "everyman" car designed by Homer Simpson in season two episode of The Simpsons. Designed for his half-brother's car company, the car was so bad and expensive that it drove (ha!) the company out of business. And now it can be yours!

John Oliver on the media's science coverageMay 09 2016

On Last Week Tonight last night, John Oliver took the media's often shoddy coverage of science to task. Like cherry picking the results of single studies that "prove" that chocolate prevents cancer and that sort of thing.

As a somewhat reluctant member of "the media", I've been guilty of this sort of behavior to varying degrees in the past. In the last few years, I've been working to improve on this count -- by reading studies, declining to post stuff that doesn't make the grade, reading what other trusted media sources are saying, using softer language like "could" or "may" instead of "does", distinguishing between correlation and causation -- but I still make mistakes.

At a certain point though, you have to rely on the scientific literacy of your readers. I can't explain the scientific process to everyone every single time. At some point, I need to assume we're all taking the results of studies with a similarly sized grain of salt.

In the end, I love science and I want you to love it too. That's why I often write about it, about the history of how we came to know what we know, about the limits of our knowledge, and, especially, about efforts to push beyond the boundaries of the known. There's always the temptation to gussy science up, to fit the facts to my world view. But deep down, I know that's unnecessary -- science is awesome all by itself! -- and harms the goal of increasing scientific literacy and interest. I'm gonna trying reminding myself of that more in the future.

Alanis updates Ironic with modern situationsMay 09 2016

On The Late Show with James Corden, Alanis Morrissette sung an updated version of her hit song, Ironic. Here are the lyrics:

An old friend sends you a Facebook request

You only find out they're racist after you accept

There's free office cake on the first day of your diet

It's like they announce a new iPhone the day after you buy it

And isn't it ironic, don't you think?

It's like swiping left on your future soulmate

It's a Snapchat that you wish you had saved

It's a funny tweet that nobody faves

And who would've thought it figures

Get Alanis in the studio (alone), produce it, cut it, release it.

The Simpsons pay homage to DisneyApr 26 2016

In this Simpsons couch gag, the show pays homage to some classic Disney animation styles. Featured are Steamboat Willie, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Jungle Book and Fantasia. The animation was done by Eric Goldberg, who worked at Disney on films like Aladdin and Pocahontas.

Recap of Game of Thrones season 5Apr 24 2016

If you're going to watch the season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones tonight but you've forgotten what happened last season (tl;dr people died), watch this recap of last season's action. I still can't believe they made Marnie marry Desi after he missed their perfor oh wait that's Girls.

Super-trippy images and animations created for The Simpsons on FXXApr 18 2016

I love these trippy Simpsons brand ids created for FXX by LA-based Laundry.

SimpsonsSimpsonsSimpsons

Amazon now offering monthly Prime subscriptionsApr 18 2016

Amazon is now offering the ability to subscribe to Prime and Prime Video monthly rather than just yearly. Prime Video is $8.99/mo (Netflix is going up to $9.99/mo soon) and the full Prime offering is $10.99/mo. A year of Prime is still $99.

In Prime Video, Amazon has built a worthy competitor to Netflix. And it actually might be better at this point. The stable of impressive Netflix originals aside (which Amazon is also doing *cough* Transparent *cough* best show in years), Amazon allows you to rent/buy digital movies not available for free streaming1, provides discounts for subscriptions to Showtime and Starz, and (if you opt for the full Prime) offers free shipping on most stuff in the store (as well as other benefits.) I sub to both services, but if I had to make a choice right now, I'd probably stick with Amazon.

  1. What Amazon should do, to really sweeten the deal (if the movie studios would allow such a thing), is offer Prime-only discounts on renting and buying digital movies and shows. So not only would you get a bunch of free streaming movies, you can rent new-to-video movies, and they're cheaper than at iTunes. That's something that Netflix can't offer right now. I wonder if they'll add a digital video store to their offering to compete?

Racial equality and Mister Rogers' NeighborhoodApr 06 2016

Actor and singer François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons for 30 years on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, talks about how and why Fred Rogers chose a black man to be a police officer on TV.

To say that he didn't know what he was doing, or that he accidentally stumbled into integration or talking about racism or sexism, that's not Mister Rogers. It was well planned and well thought-out and I think it was very impactful.

NPR also recently shared Clemmons' story.

He says he'll never forget the day Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his sweater and saying, "You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are." This time in particular, Rogers had been looking right at Clemmons, and after they wrapped, he walked over.

Clemmons asked him, "Fred, were you talking to me?"

"Yes, I have been talking to you for years," Rogers said, as Clemmons recalls. "But you heard me today."

"It was like telling me I'm OK as a human being," Clemmons says. "That was one of the most meaningful experiences I'd ever had."

Mister Rogers always hits me right in the feels.

The off-kilter cinematography of Mr. RobotMar 29 2016

Using traditional cinematography, characters are not usually confined to the bottom third of the screen, crammed all the way in the corner, or placed right at the edge of the screen, looking offscreen. But rules are meant to be broken and the director of photography for Mr. Robot uses these unconventional shots to tell the audience about what's happening on the screen.

P.S. Season 2 is coming in July.

P.P.S. I love that episode titles for season 1 are modeled after the filenames of pirated videos on BitTorrent: eps1.0_hellofriend.mov, eps1.4_3xpl0its.wmv, eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v, etc.

P.P.P.S. Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting doesn't like the framing in Mr. Robot, called it a gimmick. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't even notice the unusual framing when I watched it. I am flunking out of internet film school, aren't I? :(

Chef's Table back for 3 more seasons on NetflixMar 08 2016

Chef's Table, the excellent Netflix show by filmmaker David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi), which I like to think of as Other Chefs Dreams of Other Foods, is coming back with three additional seasons.

"The idea was to do a series about chefs with a really cinematic quality." As Gelb has said before, the BBC's Planet Earth was his visual inspiration. With one season behind him, Gelb now has a process. "The hardest thing is to choose the chefs... choosing chefs that are at the absolute top of their field, are dynamic story tellers, have interesting stories in their personal lives," he explains. He asks a lot of questions: "What are the epiphanies that made them want to be a chef? How do their cooking and personal lives intersect?"

And then from a practical perspective, do they have the time and will to commit to this shoot? "We shoot two weeks very intensively, and they have to be willing to give us their time. Finally it's about how do we balance the chefs, how do we make it so each story is different, so that the different stories complement each other. While each film can stand alone, together they should form a greater whole."

Among the chefs to be featured are Grant Achatz, Ivan Orkin,1 and Michel Troisgros. If you're curious about season 1 (trailer), the Francis Mallmann and Massimo Bottura episodes are the ones to watch.

Update: The trailer for the second season is out. May 27th!

  1. My favorite NYC ramen is the shoyu ramen at Ivan. Beats out a lot of other great bowls for me.

Game of Thrones season 6 trailerMar 08 2016

I said at the end of last season that I wasn't going to watch this show anymore but as I am a waffling coward, I of course am going to watch it. Not that I probably won't regret it! Anyway, looks good I guess? Better than reading any of the books at any rate.

Chris Rock's opening monologue from the OscarsFeb 29 2016

Chris Rock opened his monologue at the Oscars last night with "I'm here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People's Choice Awards" and for the next ten minutes, talked about racism in Hollywood.

Update: As much as I enjoyed Rock's monologue, I also agree with Stacia Brown's piece, Chris Rock, Justice for Flint and why we still have 'real things to protest'.

We still have real things to protest. If water contamination in a U.S. city due to alleged negligence doesn't call for "real" protest, what does? Disinvestment in the Oscars -- especially for DuVernay and Coogler -- isn't a frivolous undertaking. And black performers don't want equal opportunity just to be considered for awards. In this country, celebrity has always afforded people the platform and the capital to push forward the issues that are important to them. There couldn't have been a Justice for Flint fundraiser on the scale that they were able to mount without star power. Black celebrity -- its acknowledgement and its compensation -- is significant.

(via @anildash)

The missing Seinfeld episode, made from Curb Your Enthusiasm clipsFeb 25 2016

In 2009, Curb Your Enthusiasm centered on Larry David doing another season of Seinfeld. The four main Seinfeld stars (plus Newman) were all on the show, in character. From the various clips and bits shown, Topher Grace edited together a nine-minute "missing" Seinfeld episode. It's actually pretty good. I didn't know how much I'd missed the show until I watched this. (thx, greg)

The Dowager Countess' sickest burnsFeb 23 2016

As an unapologetic fan of Downton Abbey and Maggie Smith, I quite enjoyed this video compilation of the Dowager Countess' best burns from all six seasons of Downton Abbey. If you're having DA withdrawals now that the show is over,1 I encourage you to check out Gosford Park. Robert Altman directed it, Downton creator Julian Fellowes wrote it, and it features Maggie Smith as a snooty Countess -- not to mention Clive Owen as a dishy valet. Scrumptious!

  1. Well, almost over in the US..it's been done in Britain and on the torrents since the start of the year.

A new season of Planet Earth is comingFeb 22 2016

Ten years after the debut of the original show, the BBC is doing a six-episode second season of Planet Earth. They've been shooting it for the last three years using ultra-HD cameras and David Attenborough will return as host.

"I am very excited to once again be working with the Natural History Unit on its latest landmark series and am especially looking forward to getting out on location in the next month or so," said Attenborough.

Charlotte Moore, controller of BBC TV channels and the iPlayer, said that the new series has taken three years to shoot taking advantage of significant advances in filming technology since Planet Earth aired a decade ago.

The first season of Planet Earth is on Netflix in the US, but the Blu-ray is only $40 and the picture is so much better...worth it if you somehow haven't seen it and still have a BR player.1

  1. I still buy Blu-ray for a few things, stuff that needs crisp 1080p w/o streaming compression artifacts. Last purchase was Princess Mononoke.

John Oliver takes on crazy US abortion lawsFeb 22 2016

On the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver argues against many US states' anti-abortion laws. This was super funny and also made me really angry.

Silicon Cowboys, a documentary film on the history of Compaq ComputerFeb 18 2016

Silicon CowboysSilicon Cowboys is an upcoming documentary about Compaq Computer, one of the first companies to challenge IBM with a compatible computer.

Launched in 1982 by three friends in a Houston diner, Compaq Computer set out to build a portable PC to take on IBM, the world's most powerful tech company. Many had tried cloning the industry leader's code, only to be trounced by IBM and its high-priced lawyers. SILICON COWBOYS explores the remarkable David vs. Goliath story, and eventual demise, of Compaq, an unlikely upstart who altered the future of computing and helped shape the world as we know it today. Directed by Oscar(R)-nominated director Jason Cohen, the film offers a fresh look at the explosive rise of the 1980's PC industry and is a refreshing alternative to the familiar narratives of Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg.

There's no trailer yet, but the film is set to debut at SXSW in March. The first season of Halt and Catch Fire had a lot of influences, but the bare-bones story was that of Compaq.

Many reviews mention the similarity of the characters to Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, but the trio of managers from Texas Instruments who left to form Compaq in the early 80s are a much closer fit. The Compaq Portable was the first 100% IBM compatible computer produced.

The entire first episode of Making a MurdererFeb 17 2016

If you don't have Netflix but want a taste of what everyone has been talking about for the past two months, the entire first episode of Making a Murderer is up on YouTube.

The New Yorker TV showFeb 17 2016

The New Yorker had launched a TV show called The New Yorker Presents, available on Amazon Prime. The first two episodes feature directors Alex Gibney (Going Clear) and Steve James (Hoop Dreams).

We're tremendously excited to share "The New Yorker Presents" with you, and we hope that you'll watch the two new episodes that will be released each Tuesday for the next five weeks. The first of the episodes available today also includes a segment on the "Truman Show" delusion, in which people believe that they are constantly being filmed; a cartoon being drawn by Roz Chast; and a performance by Paul Giamatti as Honoré de Balzac drinking his fabled fifty daily cups of coffee. The second episode includes a documentary on youth bull riding, by Steve James; Edwidge Danticat's essay "Black Bodies in Motion and in Pain"; and a visit to Atlantic City, with Nick Paumgarten.

This launch is actually a bit of a reboot...they did a pilot of The New Yorker Presents last January.

Movie references in The SimpsonsFeb 11 2016

From Celia Gomez, a supercut of some of the most notable movie references from The Simpsons. The Simpsons came out when I was 16 and while I loved it immediately, the show started making a whole lot more sense after I watched The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, and Dr. Strangelove in my 20s. Lots of Kubrick in the Simpsons.

The Hummingbird Effect: what does the wine press have to do with astronomy?Feb 11 2016

In How We Got to Now, the TV series based on the book of the same name, Steven Johnson explains how the wine press was used to print books, which resulted in a surge in demand for reading glasses, which had yet more unintended effects.

Johnson calls this cascade of inadvertent invention the Hummingbird Effect.

This is how change happens in the natural world: sometime during the Cretaceous age, flowers began to evolve colors and scents that signaled the presence of pollen to insects, who simultaneously evolved complex equipment to extract the pollen and, inadvertently, fertilize other flowers with pollen.

Over time, the flowers supplemented the pollen with even more energy-rich nectar to lure the insects into the rituals of pollination. Bees and other insects evolved the sensory tools to see and be drawn to flowers, just as the flowers evolved the properties that attract bees. The symbiosis between flowering plants and insects that led to the production of nectar ultimately created an opportunity for much larger organisms -- the hummingbirds -- to extract nectar from plants, though to do that they evolved a extremely unusual form of flight mechanics that enable them to hover alongside the flower in a way that few birds can even come close to doing. In other words, they had to learn an entirely new way to fly.

In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Johnson shared another example:

At the start of the 20th century, in Brooklyn, a printer was doing full-color magazines. In the summer the ink didn't set up properly. The printer hired a young engineer, Willis Carrier, to devise a way to bring down the temperature and humidity in the room. He built this contraption that made the printing possible. Then the workers were like, "I'm gonna have my lunch in the room with the contraption, it's cool in there." Carrier says, "Hmm, that's interesting." He sets up the Carrier Corporation, which air-conditions movie theaters, paving the way for the summer blockbuster. Before air conditioning, a crowded theater was the last place you wanted to go. After a/c, summer movies become part of the cultural landscape.

David Attenborough being awesomeFeb 08 2016

Here are some clips taken from Life on Air, a 2002 BBC documentary celebrating David Attenborough's 50 years on television. The entire show is available here. (via @dunstan)

The Simpsons screencap search engineFeb 04 2016

Frinkiac searches through the subtitles from every episode of The Simpsons (in the first 15 seasons) and returns screencaps of all the times when the search term was used. For example, inanimate:

In Rod We Trust

(via @emunn)

Update: Hi diddley ho! The Frinkiac now does animated GIFs. Like this one. (via @buzz)

What Errol Morris thinks about Making a MurdererJan 27 2016

Oh, this interview with Errol Morris where he talks about Making a Murderer is so so spot on.

To me, it's a very powerful story, ultimately, not about whether these guys are guilty or innocent -- but it's a very powerful story about a miscarriage of justice.

Yes! If you came out of watching all ten episodes convinced one way or the other whether Avery was innocent, I humbly suggest that you missed the point. And further that you can't actually know...it's a TV show! The tip of the iceberg.

Another thing that I was struck by watching Making a Murderer was the feeling of the inexorable grinding of a machine that is producing, potentially, error.

This was my favorite aspect of the show. A lot of people complained about them showing huge chunks of Avery's and Dassey's trials, saying that it was too boring, but that's the whole thing! The crushing boredom of the justice system just grinds those two men and their whole families into the result that the state wanted all along. It was fascinating and horrifying to watch, like a traffic accident in super slow motion.

If you're asking me, would I sign a petition stating that I believe that Steven Avery is innocent? Well, I don't know. I really don't know from watching Making a Murderer, but there's one thing I do know from watching Making a Murderer -- that neither Brendan Dassey nor Steven Avery received a fair trial, and that that trial should be overturned.

My thoughts exactly. If I had to guess, Dassey is entirely innocent and Avery is maybe guilty, but neither of them should have been convicted on the evidence presented or the procedure followed.

Anyway, read the whole thing...his stories about making The Thin Blue Line are great. And he's making a six-episode true crime show for Netflix? YES!

Horizontal historyJan 21 2016

At Wait But Why, Tim Urban turns history on its side by thinking about time-synchronized events around the world, as opposed to events through the progression of time in each part of the world.

Likewise, I might know that Copernicus began writing his seminal work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in Poland in the early 1510s, but by learning that right around that same time in Italy, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I get a better picture of the times. By learning that it was right while both of these things were happening that Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon in England, the 1510s suddenly begins to take on a distinct personality. These three facts, when put together, allow me to see a more three-dimensional picture of the 1510s -- it allows me to see the 1510s horizontally, like cutting out a complete segment of the vine tangle and examining it all together.

He does this mainly by charting and graphing the lifetimes of famous people, revealing hidden contemporaries.

Horizontal History Graph

I've been slowly making my way through Ken Burns' remastered The Civil War.1 At a few points in the program, narrator David McCullough reminds the viewer of what was going on around the world at the same time as the war. In the US, 1863 brought the Battle of Gettysburg and The Emancipation Proclamation. But also:

In Paris that year, new paintings by Cezanne, Whistler, and Manet were shown at a special exhibit for outcasts. In Russia, Dostoevsky finished Notes from the Underground. And in London, Karl Marx labored to complete his masterpiece, Das Kapital.

And a year later, while the advantage in the war was turning towards the US:1

In 1864, a rebellion in China that cost 20 million lives finally came to an end. In 1864, the Tsar's armies conquered Turkistan and Tolstoy finished War and Peace. In 1864, Louis Pasteur pasteurized wine, the Geneva Convention established the neutrality of battlefield hospitals, and Karl Marx founded the International Workingmen's Association in London and in New York.

Urban explicitly references the war in his post:

People in the US associate the 1860s with Lincoln and the Civil War. But what we overlook is that the 1860s was one of history's greatest literary decades. In the ten years between 1859 and 1869, Darwin published his world-changing On the Origin of Species (1859), Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861), Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland (1865), Dostoyevsky published Crime and Punishment (1866), and Tolstoy capped things off with War and Peace (1869).

The Civil War. The Origin of Species. Alice in Wonderland. The infancy of Impressionism. Pasteurization. Das Kapital. Gregor Mendel's laws of inheritance. All in an eight-year span. Dang.

  1. Which is simply excellent. I had forgotten how powerful the storytelling technique Burns devised for his documentaries is. Really really worth your time to watch or re-watch.

  2. In talking about the Civil War, I've been trying to use Michael Todd Landis' new language...so, "labor camps" instead of "plantations" and "United States" instead of "Union".

The One with Chicken BobJan 19 2016

Twitter user Andy Pandy fed the scripts for all the episodes of Friends into a neural network and had it generate new scenes. Here's what it came up with.

Neuro FriendsNeuro Friends

(via @buzz)

Michael Pollan gets his own Netflix seriesJan 15 2016

Food writer Michael Pollan -- author of The Botany of Desire (my fave of his) and originator of the world's best simple diet: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." -- is the subject of a four-part Netflix series called Cooked. The series is based on Pollan's book of the same name and debuts on February 19.

Each episode will focus on a different natural element and its relationship to both ancient and modern cooking methods. In the "Fire" episode, Pollan will delve into the cross-cultural tradition of barbecue by looking at fire-roasts of monitor lizards in Western Australia and visiting with a barbecue pitmaster; in the "Water" episode, he'll take lessons from kitchens in India and cover the issues surrounding processed foods. An episode titled "Air" explores the science of bread-making and gluten, while the final episode, "Earth," looks at how fermentation preserves raw foods. Every episode will also feature Pollan in his home kitchen in Berkeley, California, with the intention of underscoring the viewpoint that "surrounded as we are by fast food culture and processed foods, cooking our own meals is the single best thing we can do to take charge of our health and well being."

Announcing this show only a month out and unaccompanied by a trailer? I have no idea what Netflix is thinking sometimes.

Update: Cooked is now available on Netflix. The NY Times has a review. (via @Ilovetoscore)

Rosa Parks on To Tell the TruthJan 08 2016

In 1980, civil rights hero Rosa Parks appeared on To Tell the Truth, a long-running game show. Parks appeared alongside two other women claiming to be Parks and a celebrity panel tried to guess the identity of the true Parks. See also the appearance of a Lincoln assassination witness on a 50s game show. (via @ptak)

Official BBC instructions for knitting Doctor Who's scarfDec 15 2015

Dr Who Scarf Instructions

Apparently if you wrote the BBC asking how to make Tom Baker's Doctor Who scarf, they would send you the knitting instructions on BBC letterhead. According to the Whovians in that forum, the Fourth Doctor wore this particular scarf in a pair of episodes early in season 12. (via laughing squid)

Update: And here's the Fourth Doctor's scarf in HTML/CSS/JS by @kosamari.

Saint Fred Rogers, the patron saint of neighborlinessDec 03 2015

Jonathan Merritt writes about Fred Rogers, ordained Presbyterian minister and beloved children's TV show host who used his faith and TV to help millions of children.

Fred Rogers was an ordained minister, but he was no televangelist, and he never tried to impose his beliefs on anyone. Behind the cardigans, though, was a man of deep faith. Using puppets rather than a pulpit, he preached a message of inherent worth and unconditional lovability to young viewers, encouraging them to express their emotions with honesty. The effects were darn near supernatural.

I watched Mr. Rogers religiously growing up, pun intended. Actual church, with its focus on rites, belief in the supernatural, and my pastor's insistence that the Earth was only 6000 years old, was never appealing to me, but Mr. Rogers' unconditional, graceful, and humanistic brand of religion was just perfect. I heard him say this line at the end of his show hundreds of times:

You've made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.

It's easy to roll your eyes, but when you're six or eight years old, such a simple message from someone who obviously loves you can mean everything.

Let's get rid of the pennyNov 24 2015

This week on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver rails against the penny. This seems like such an obvious thing, that we should stop using pennies, but I bet if the government ever moved to ban pennies, it would set off a firestorm of protest.

Trailer for season 2 of TransparentNov 23 2015

Transparent was my favorite first season of television since Game of Thrones, or maybe even Mad Men. So I'm delighted to see the trailer for the show's second season, which starts on Dec 11. If you haven't seen the first season yet, I would highly recommend doing so...this show does so many things right.

Prime-time soap operas are backOct 30 2015

Goodbye anti-heros, hello soap operas. Margaret Lyons writes about the increasing popularity of prime-time soap operas like Scandal, Empire, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and House of Cards.

Game of Thrones' Outstanding Drama win at the Emmys this year indicates a new era of perceived legitimacy for its genre, and I'm not talking about fantasy: GOT completely operates as a soap. All the scheming and vindictiveness would be perfectly at home on Melrose Place; the disguises, acceptance of the paranormal, and the absence and reemergence of obscure characters can all be found on Passions. (Cersei Lannister and Alexis Carrington would have plenty to talk about.) Soap is not a dirty word, and shows like GOT are helping reposition soapiness as a desirable attribute, not a vice.

I've had this theory for awhile that for fans of dramas, all but the very best are indistinguishable from soap operas by season three. As a viewer, you get so caught up in the "what's gonna happen", you stop caring so much about how it's happening, if the show is even any good, or what higher-level themes the producers might be expressing. And the show's producers feel the need to top themselves with each season, and so the stakes get higher, the plot gets more implausible, the characters get bigger, and themes are increasingly marginalized. This happened, in varying degrees, with Lost, Homeland, Six Feet Under, Boardwalk Empire, Girls, and House of Cards. Even Mad Men and Breaking Bad veered in and out of soap opera territory, but the shows were so good that they never completely went there. And let's not even talk about season 5 of The Wire.

Whistleblower Edward ScissorhandsSep 30 2015

HLN (which used to be CNN Headline News) needed someone to talk about Edward Snowden, US government whistleblower. They meant to invite a gentleman named John Hendren, a journalist for Al Jazeera, onto the show but instead invited funnyman Jon Hendren, who goes by the username of @fart on Twitter. Hendren, Jon used the opportunity to defend both Edward Snowden, briefly, and then sexy-but-misunderstood barber Edward Scissorhands.

Well, you know, to say he couldn't harm someone, well, absolutely he could. But I think to cast him out, to make him invalid in society, simply because he has scissors for hands, I mean, that's strange. People didn't get scared until he started sculpting shrubs into dinosaur shapes and whatnot.

The best part is that anchor Yasmin Vossoughian just keeps on plowing right through her script like they're not talking suddenly about a man with scissors for hands, deftly demonstrating what a farce these TV news "conversations" are. (via nymag)

These 11 actors play 119 characters on The SimpsonsSep 30 2015

Carl Sagan on the evolution of humansSep 28 2015

From the landmark science series Cosmos, Carl Sagan narrates the evolution of humans from the first cells billions of years ago.

Weird Simpsons VHSSep 28 2015

That's Yoann Hervo's tribute to The Simpsons in the form of a glitchy opening scene. I watched this last week and wasn't going to post it but found myself thinking about it over the weekend so heeeeeere you go.

Netflix is making more Black MirrorSep 25 2015

Black Mirror

Netflix and Charlie Brooker have agreed to make 12 more episodes of the fantastic Black Mirror.

Netflix has commissioned House of Tomorrow to produce the twelve new episodes as a Netflix original series. House of Tomorrow's Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, who executive produced the first seven episodes of the series, will continue to serve as executive producers and showrunners for the new episodes. Brooker has commenced writing the new episodes, which are scheduled to begin production in late 2015 from the series' production base in the UK.

"It's all very exciting -- a whole new bunch of Black Mirror episodes on the most fitting platform imaginable. Netflix connects us with a global audience so that we can create bigger, stranger, more international and diverse stories than before, whilst maintaining that 'Black Mirror' feel. I just hope none of these new story ideas come true," said Brooker.

My three favorite TV shows from the past 5 years: Mad Men, Transparent, and Black Mirror. Second tier: Breaking Bad, Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, and Boardwalk Empire. (via @mccanner)

The Wire theme, SimpsonsizedSep 22 2015

The opening credits sequence of The Wire done using clips from The Simpsons. The theme song and clips are from the third seasons of the respective shows.

Anthony Bourdain is eating the worldSep 17 2015

Who would have guessed 15 years ago that this self-styled rebel, who wrote about waitress blow jobs and shooting heroin in his best-selling 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, would become America's contemporary answer to, say, Mark Twain -- our most enthusiastic chronicler of life outside our borders?

Josh Eells tags along to get a firsthand look at Anthony Bourdain's world domination.

The Civil War, remasteredSep 07 2015

Twenty-five years after its first airing on PBS, Ken Burns has remastered his epic documentary, The Civil War, and PBS will be airing the new version all this week, starting tonight. The remastered series will also be available on Blu-ray in October.

Serious SeinfeldSep 02 2015

If you recut the scenes from seasons seven & eight of Seinfeld to emphasize certain aspects of Susan's death-by-envelope, you get a feel-good TV movie about George Costanza, a man who finds triumph in the midst of tragedy.

Her death takes place in the shadow of new life; she's not really dead if we find a way to remember her.

Maybe Daniel is the real bully in The Karate Kid?Aug 25 2015

Everyone knows that The Karate Kid is the story of Daniel LaRusso, an undersized new-kid-in-school who, with the help of a wise mentor and unconventional training in the martial arts, is able to triumph over a gang of bullies picking on him. What this video presupposes is, maybe Daniel is the real bully?

To no one's surprise, Johnny advances to the final round and karma catches up with Daniel when his leg is injured by the boy he wantonly attacked on the soccer field. However, just as Johnny is about to be awarded his trophy, Daniel is granted unnatural strength by the demon sorcerer Miyagi, enabling him to defeat Johnny and win the tournament in an upset.

See also more revisionist history of beloved media: Hermione Granger as the real hero of the Harry Potter books and Tim Carmody's The Iceman List, which is about "classic movie antagonists who were actually pretty much right all along".

Update: Another one to add to the list: Ross Geller is the hero of Friends, an intellectual and romantic man who is brought low by his so-called friends:

But the characters of the show were pitted against him from the beginning (consider episode 1, when Joey says of Ross: "This guy says hello, I wanna kill myself.") In fact, any time Ross would say anything about his interests, his studies, his ideas, whenever he was mid-sentence, one of his "friends" was sure to groan and say how boring Ross was, how stupid it is to be smart, and that nobody cares. Cue the laughter of the live studio audience. This gag went on, pretty much every episode, for 10 seasons. Can you blame Ross for going crazy?

And like a Greek tragedy, our hero is caught in a prophecy that cannot be avoided. The show's producers, akin to the immutable voice of the gods, declared that Ross must end up with Rachel, the one who shops. Honestly, I think he could've done better.

Jim Henson documentaryAug 13 2015

PBS is airing a documentary in September about Muppets creator Jim Henson called In Their Own Words: Jim Henson.

I had never really noticed before that Henson's natural speaking voice obviously sounds a lot like Kermit. (via @khoi)

Mad Men Carousel: The Complete Critical CompanionJul 31 2015

Mad Men

One of my favorite movie/TV critics, Matt Zoller Seitz, is coming out with a book this fall on Mad Men called Mad Men Carousel: The Complete Critical Companion.

Mad Men Carousel, authored by Abrams' bestselling author Matt Zoller Seitz, will gather all of Seitz's widely read (and discussed) Mad Men essays in a single volume. Rather than simply recalling the plot through lengthy summary, Seitz's essays dig deep into the show's themes, performances and filmmaking, with the tone and spirit of accessible, but serious, film or literary criticism. This novel-sized volume will be designed to have a 1970s feel and will be broken into seven sections, one for each season.

Seitz wrote the dreamy The Wes Anderson Collection.

The top 10 best running gags on Arrested DevelopmentJul 21 2015

Still, where did the lighter fluid come from?

Sister is my new mother, Mother.

I'm afraid I just blue myself.

I'm about halfway through season two of Arrested Development again on Netflix and it might be the best show ever on television. I'm not even kidding.

Update: NPR has been obsessively cataloging the show's running gags here. Holy shit, the extensive foreshadowing of Buster losing his hand! This show is amazing. (via @Nick__Vance)

How Buildings LearnJul 20 2015

In the mid-90s, Stewart Brand published a fantastic book called How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built.

Buildings have often been studies whole in space, but never before have they been studied whole in time. How Buildings Learn is a masterful new synthesis that proposes that buildings adapt best when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants, and that architects can mature from being artists of space to becoming artists of time.

From the connected farmhouses of New England to I.M. Pei's Media Lab, from "satisficing" to "form follows funding," from the evolution of bungalows to the invention of Santa Fe Style, from Low Road military surplus buildings to a High Road English classic like Chatsworth-this is a far-ranging survey of unexplored essential territory.

In 1997, Brand and the BBC did a six-part TV series based on the book. Brand has put the series on his YouTube channel; here's the first part to get you going:

(via open culture)

Every Kramer entrance on SeinfeldJul 17 2015

That's it. That's the joke.

The password sharing economyJul 15 2015

Netflix and HBO know what you did last summer. And they know you're still doing it this summer. The sharing of login credentials is so widespread that the big streaming players are losing hundreds of millions a year. So why don't they stop us? Two reasons: It's all about growth at this point. And no one has come up with a way to limit credential sharing without hurting the customer experience.

Amazon is a different kind of movie studio. It's all about getting more people to become Prime members.

You can have the best technology, you can have the best business model, but if the storytelling isn't amazing, it won't matter. Nobody will watch. And then you won't sell more shoes.

Trailer for the Sherlock Christmas specialJul 11 2015

With the pace of the excellent Sherlock series slowing down a bit because of scheduling (Cumberbatch, Freeman, Moffat, and Gatiss are increasingly busy), they still somehow found time to shoot a Christmas special that will air in December 2015. Here's a short teaser scene:

Update: A longer trailer. Makes it look a bit darker than the regular show, which I'm not sure is a good thing.

Colbert hosting cable access shows in his spare timeJul 02 2015

Stephen Colbert recently guest hosted Only in Monroe, a public access cable TV talk show based in Monroe, Michigan. His guest? Michigander Marshall Mathers.1

God, he is so good. I might actually have to watch the Late Show this fall. (thx, michelle)

  1. Do I need the "aka Eminem" here?

Translating SeinfeldJun 26 2015

Translating episodes of Seinfeld (and other sitcoms that rely on wordplay) is not an easy task. The Verge's Jennifer Armstrong has a piece that focuses mostly on the struggle to translate Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer's antics for a German audience.

Seinfeld's Jewish references posed a unique challenge: as Sebastian explained, "The Germans have a certain you-know-what with the Jewish." Her editor was worried about some of Seinfeld's Jewish jokes. "We better not say it like that," she remembered her editor saying, "because the Germans may be offended." She added later, recalling the incident to me, "They should be offended, in my understanding. They did it!"

Sebastian appreciated Seinfeld's direct approach to Jewish history. She wanted to use jokes in direct translation, but the editor wouldn't let her. She lost several battles. It was a fine line: Der Suppen-Nazi? Sure. Subtle reference to an uncle who survived a concentration camp? Not so fast. An entire episode based on George being mistaken for a neo-Nazi was problematic. So were references to the TV miniseries Holocaust and the film Schindler's List. Take Elaine's voiceover narration in "The Subway" episode when her train gets stuck: "We are in a cage. ... Oh, I can't breathe, I feel faint. Take it easy, it'll start moving soon. Think about the people in the concentration camps, what they went through."

(via mr)

The game is the gameMay 28 2015

It is what it is. What's done is done. My name is not my name. My name is my name.1 Derek Donahue found all of the tautologies from The Wire and collected them into one video:

These types of phrases characterize the immovable forces the characters feel govern their lives and actions: poverty, bureaucracy, addiction, institutional corruption, ethnicity, etc.

  1. The juxtaposition of Vondas' "my name is not my name" from season two and "my name is my name" from Marlo in the final season is one of my favorite little moments in the show. Two men pursuing similar ends going about it in opposite ways.

Steve Jobs movie trailerMay 18 2015

I have been doing a poor job keeping up with my Steve Jobs-related media. I haven't had a chance to pick up the new Becoming Steve Jobs book yet. And I had no idea that the Aaron Sorkin-penned biopic was still in the works, much less that Michael Fassbender is playing Jobs and Danny Boyle is directing. Here's the trailer:

The trailer debuted during last night's series finale of Mad Men, which was possibly the most appropriate venue for it. [Slight spoilers...] Draper always had a Jobs-esque sheen to him, although the final scene showed us that, yes, Don Draper actually would like to sell sugar water for the rest of his life.

Update: A proper trailer has dropped. I don't know how much we'll learn about the actual Steve Jobs from the movie, but it looks like it might be good.

Update: Another trailer. This is looking like a strong film.

RIP Mr. Burns, Smithers, and Ned FlandersMay 14 2015

Mr Burns Dead

Harry Shearer, who voices dozens of characters on The Simpsons including Mr. Burns, Smithers, and Ned Flanders, announced on Twitter that he will be leaving the show. A few things:

1. The Simpsons is still on?

2. Shearer also voices Principal Skinner, Otto, Lenny, McBain, Reverend Lovejoy, Kent Brockman, Scratchy, Dr Hibbert, and dozens of smaller characters.

3. Will they replace him? Or just not use those characters anymore? How can you do the show without Burns, Smithers, Flanders, and Skinner? But if they sound different, how can you do the show with them?

Update: Aaaaaand Shearer is back on the show.

Shearer has signed the same contract as did the other five primary voice actors -- Dan Castellaneta, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, and Hank Azaria -- keeping the show's original cast fully intact, EW has learned. These deals, which run for four seasons (including a network option for seasons 29 and 30), are estimated at more than \$300,000 per episode. Fox recently renewed The Simpsons for a 27th and 28th season, which will bring its episode tally to 625.

The centripetal force of lifeMay 11 2015

I don't quite know what I'm doing to myself these days. Last night was an episode of The Americans in which a marriage was ending, another family was trying to keep itself intact, and a young boy struggles to move on after his entire family dies. This morning, I watched an episode of Mad Men in which a mother tries to reconcile her differences with her daughter in the face of impending separation. And then, the absolute cake topper, a story by Matthew Teague that absolutely wrecked me. It's about his cancer-stricken wife and the friend who comes and rescues an entire family, which is perhaps the truest and most direct thing I've ever read about cancer and death and love and friendship.

Since we had met, when she was still a teenager, I had loved her with my whole self. Only now can I look back on the fullness of our affection; at the time I could see nothing but one wound at a time, a hole the size of a dime, into which I needed to pack a fistful of material. Love wasn't something I felt anymore. It was just something I did. When I finished, I would lie next to her and use sterile cotton balls to soak up her tears. When she finally slept, I would slip out of bed and go into our closet, the most isolated room in the house. Inside, I would wrap a blanket around my head, stuff it into my mouth, lie down and bury my head in a pile of dirty clothes, and scream.

There are very specific parts of all those stories that I identify with. I struggle with friendship. And with family. I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can't tell them or show them how to do that because I'm me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I'm just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it? God, this is way too much for a Monday.

Blurred Sex and the CityMay 08 2015

The real-life house that served as the stoop of Carrie Bradshaw's apartment on Sex and the City is blurred out on Google Street View.

Sex And The City House

The house was on the Sex and the City tour for a time, before it was dropped due to pressure from neighborhood residents, and remains a popular tourist attraction. I go by there quite often and there is always someone taking a photo on the stoop. As I'm writing this, the most recent photo of someone standing in front of the stoop was posted to Instagram 16 minutes ago. I can see why the owners would want it blurred out, and it turns out getting your property blurred on Google Street View is a simple process.

P.S. What's funny about the house is that Sarah Jessica Parker actually lives only a block or two away. I used to see her all the time, walking our respective kids to school. Ollie and I even got caught in a paparazzi shot one day...that's me in the dark coat right behind Parker and Ollie on the scooter:

SJP

No way to fill out a form to blur out my son's face though, I reckon. (via @michaeltsmith)

Auto-widened Seinfeld and The SimpsonsMay 06 2015

Artist JK Keller has digitally widened1 episodes of The Simpsons and Seinfeld to fit a 16:9 HD aspect ratio. Watching the altered scenes is trippy...the characters and their surroundings randomly expand and contract as the scenes play out.

Keller also HD-ified an episode of the X-Files and slimmed an old episode of Star Trek into a vertical aspect ratio. (via @frank_chimero)

  1. At least I think that's how they were created. The videos were posted without explanation -- aside from their titles "LEaKeD TesT footagE frOM seiNfelD RemaSter In hiGh-defiNiTiON" and "animAtORs rEdraw old SimPsons epIsodeS fOr hdTv" -- so it's hard to say for sure.

Netflix orders Green Eggs and HamApr 30 2015

Netflix is making a 13-episode animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. The show will premiere in 2018 and the official press release shows that Netflix is fully committed to the premise:

Issued from Netflix headquarters.

Delivered straight to all reporters.

We'd love to share some happy news

based on the rhymes of Dr. Seuss.

Green Eggs and Ham will become a show

and you're among the first to know.

In this richly animated production,

a 13-episode introduction,

standoffish inventor (Guy, by name)

and Sam-I-Am of worldwide fame,

embark on a cross-country trip

that tests the limits of their friendship.

As they learn to try new things,

they find out what adventure brings.

Of course they also get to eat

that famous green and tasty treat!

Cindy Holland, VP of Original Content for Netflix

threw her quote into the mix:

"We think this will be a hit

Green Eggs and Ham is a perfect fit

for our growing slate of amazing stories

available exclusively in all Netflix territories.

You can stream it on a phone.

You can stream it on your own.

You can stream it on TV.

You can stream it globally."

For reference, here's an animated version of Green Eggs and Ham done in the 70s:

Letterman prepares to sign offApr 29 2015

Letterman's cups

I was never a particular fan of David Letterman's show1 but always have appreciated what he did and how he did it. Dave Itzkoff of the NY Times did an interview with Letterman about his impending retirement.

It seems like there's an increasing emphasis, at least with your network competitors, to create comedy bits that will go viral on the Internet. Did you make a conscious choice to stay out of that arms race?

No, it just came and went without me. It sneaked up on me and went right by. People on the staff said, "You know what would be great is if you would join Twitter." And I recognized the value of it. It's just, I didn't know what to say. You go back to your parents' house, and they still have the rotary phone. It's a little like that.

The photo slide show accompanying the piece is worth a look as well, particularly the photo of the stack of paper coffee cups in Letterman's dressing room (one cup for each show, they cover half his mirror) and the final one of Letterman bounding out onto stage. I hope that when I'm 68, I'm still charging ahead like Dave.

  1. To be honest, I've never been a particular fan of any late night television, save for SNL in the late 80s and early 90s. I watched the last few years of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and then the first couple years of Leno, mostly because that's what my parents watched. Letterman I caught every once in awhile after Carson and rarely after his move to CBS. I've only seen Conan's show a handful of times...same with The Daily Show and Colbert. Have never watched a single episode of Fallon or Kimmel or Conan's new show. Oh, I've seen clips on the web and such, but never whole shows.

    My late night TV as a kid was Doctor Who and British comedies -- Are You Being Served?, 'Allo 'Allo, Fawlty Towers, Good Neighbors, Keeping Up Appearances, The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, etc. -- on the local PBS station. That and Nintendo.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the TV seriesApr 29 2015

Ever since I read Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell just after it came out, I've wondered when someone was going to do a movie or miniseries adaptation. Well, BBC has stepped up with a seven-part series that debuts on BBC One in May and on BBC America "this summer". Here's a trailer:

Set at the beginning of the 19th-century, England no longer believes in practical magic. The reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey stuns the city of York when he causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. With a little persuasion and help from his man of business Childermass, he goes to London to help the government in the war against Napoleon. It is there Norrell summons a fairy to bring Lady Pole back from the dead, opening a whole can of worms...

That trailer was a little too trailery for my taste (if you know what I mean), but I'm excited nonetheless. (via ★interesting)

Update: BBC America has put the first episode of the show up on YouTube:

The rest of the episodes are available in a slightly less official capacity as well -- here's episode 2 for instance.

1491, the TV seriesApr 23 2015

1491 TV

Charles Mann's 1491 is one of my all-time favorite books. I mean, if this description doesn't stir you:

Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man's first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.

On Twitter yesterday, Mann shared that a documentary series was being made based on the book. The eight-part series is being commissioned by Canada's APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) and Barbara Hager, who is of Cree/Metis heritage, will write, direct, and produce.

This is fantastic news. I hope this gets US distribution at some point, even if it's online-only.

The women of Don DraperApr 22 2015

Women Don Draper

Hannah Choi is making illustrations of all the women Don Draper has slept with on Mad Men in chronological order.

The Making of Star WarsApr 17 2015

In 1977, only a few months after the movie came out, a hour-long television special called The Making of Star Wars aired on ABC. It was the first documentary about Star Wars.

LOL to the rehearsal shot at 4:10 of Han going "bang, bang, bang, bang, bang" while shooting his blaster, the reaction of Luke, Han, and Leia to a boom mic blowing the 18th take of a scene at 34:20, and the description of Princess Leia as "royalty of a very liberated kind". (via kung fu grippe)

David Chase on The Sopranos endingApr 15 2015

Tony Soprano

David Chase analyzes the final scene of The Sopranos in great detail for the Directors Guild of America's quarterly magazine.

It was my decision to direct the episode such that whenever Tony arrives someplace, he would see himself. He would get to the place and he would look and see where he was going. He had a conversation with his sister that went like this. And then he later had a conversation with Junior that went like this. I had him walk into his own POV every time. So the order of the shots would be Tony close-up, Tony POV, hold on the POV, and then Tony walks into the POV. And I shortened the POV every time. So that by the time he got to Holsten's, he wasn't even walking toward it anymore. He came in, he saw himself sitting at the table, and the next thing you knew he was at the table.

Great read. Here's the final scene to refresh your memory.

HBO's static introApr 14 2015

The electric snowstorm is joined by a single tone that ascends like a gospel choir singing to the heavens.

Playboy's Zaron Burnett on HBO's static intro, the most powerful force in the universe.

True Detective season twoApr 09 2015

HBO has released a teaser trailer for season two of True Detective. Los Angeles is swapped in for Louisiana, Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn for Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and Justin Lin directing instead of Cary Fukunaga. It's an entirely different show.

Here's the synopsis from HBO:

A bizarre murder brings together three law-enforcement officers and a career criminal, each of whom must navigate a web of conspiracy and betrayal in the scorched landscapes of California. Colin Farrell is Ray Velcoro, a compromised detective in the all-industrial City of Vinci, LA County. Vince Vaughn plays Frank Semyon, a criminal and entrepreneur in danger of losing his life's work, while his wife and closest ally (Kelly Reilly), struggles with his choices and her own. Rachel McAdams is Ani Bezzerides, a Ventura County Sheriff's detective often at odds with the system she serves, while Taylor Kitsch plays Paul Woodrugh, a war veteran and motorcycle cop for the California Highway Patrol who discovers a crime scene which triggers an investigation involving three law enforcement groups, multiple criminal collusions, and billions of dollars.

Update: And here's a second trailer with a little more info:

We've also got a premiere date: June 21.

Game of Thrones pre-season briefingApr 08 2015

From Gawker, a quick two-minute video guide to what all of the characters in Game of Thrones are up to as season five gets underway this Sunday. Major spoilers for those who aren't caught up through the end of season four.

Modern day VHSApr 07 2015

Modern Day VHS

Someone pretending to be a Parisian hipster who only watches VHS versions of modern shows & movies like Game of Thrones and Interstellar created these VHS covers as an April Fools joke. These are actually pretty great. (via subtraction)

John Oliver interviews Edward SnowdenApr 06 2015

Last night on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on the topic of government surveillance and traveled to Moscow to interview Edward Snowden. After some softball questions -- "Do you miss Hot Pockets?" -- Oliver presses Snowden on his personal responsibility with regard to the information he revealed.

How to play "Wolf Hall"Mar 31 2015

Mike Poulton adapted Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for the stage. The play premiered last year in the UK and just began its run on Broadway here in NYC. There's a book version of the adaptation that contains some notes that Mantel wrote for the actors playing the various characters. The New York Review of Books has an excerpt of Mantel's notes; here's Anne Boleyn:

You do not have six fingers. The extra digit is added long after your death by Jesuit propaganda. But in your lifetime you are the focus of every lurid story that the imagination of Europe can dream up. From the moment you enter public consciousness, you carry the projections of everyone who is afraid of sex or ashamed of it. You will never be loved by the English people, who want a proper, royal Queen like Katherine, and who don't like change of any sort. Does that matter? Not really. What Henry's inner circle thinks of you matters far more. But do you realize this? Reputation management is not your strong point. Charm only thinly disguises your will to win.

The BBC aired a six-part TV version of Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies that finished up a month ago, and PBS will start showing it this weekend. I've watched all but the last part and it's really well done.

John Oliver: down with April Fools' DayMar 30 2015

John Oliver says April Fools' Day is terrible and we shouldn't take part in it.

Pranks are terrible. Anyone who claims to be excited for April Fools' Day is probably a sociopath. Because what they are really saying is, "I cannot wait to hurt the people close to me".

Teaser clip from season two of Halt and Catch FireMar 27 2015

Halt and Catch Fire season two is starting on May 31! And there's a five-minute clip to whet your appetite! And it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors!

The exclamation points mean that I am excited for the new season without explicitly saying so!! (via @kathrynyu)

Relationship advice from Al SwearengenMar 26 2015

Ask Polly, by Heather Havrilesky,1 is surely one of the best advice columns out there. In yesterday's installment, Havrilesky adopted the voice of Deadwood's Al Swearengen to answer a letter about a boyfriend's troublesome relationship with a married woman.

It sounds like you're feeling less than your full fucking self, and for good reason! The hour requires some unvarnished words and since you made mention of your passion for Deadwood, David Milch's brilliant portrait of the Wild West (largely unsung and partially unfinished thanks to some big-city cocksuckers at HBO, who'd sooner brand their own foreheads with a flat iron than allow a man of the pen to complete the masterpiece for which his name will henceforth be praised), I'd like to sally forth in a style befitting the scoundrels, whores, dirt-worshippers, and hoopleheads of that melancholy town. Be forewarned, though, the language herein might lead some to imagine that yours truly has been pillaging Doc's stash of chloroform, more typically reserved for offering animals a merciful exit from this mortal plane. Suffice it to say that skeptical cocksuckers and those with delicate sensibilities might be well-advised to seek respite elsewhere. You can help your delicate sensibilities by turning the fuck away.

  1. Who I still think of as being from Suck and probably always will.

Cancer: The Emperor of All MaladiesMar 24 2015

Oh, this sounds fantastic: PBS is set to air a six-hour documentary series, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, starting at the end of March. How have I not heard about this before today?

This "biography" of cancer covers its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the 20th century to cure, control and conquer it, to a radical new understanding of its essence. The series also features the current status of cancer knowledge and treatment -- the dawn of an era in which cancer may become a chronic or curable illness rather than its historic death sentence in some forms.

The series is based on Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which is one of the most interesting books I've read in the past few years. Ken Burns is executive producing and Barak Goodman is directing.

Thanks to Sarah Klein at Redglass Pictures for letting me know about this. Redglass created a pair of videos for the series featuring Terrence Howard and Ken Jeong talking about their experiences with cancer.

Update: All three parts of the series are available on the PBS site for the next two weeks or so.

Robert Durst arrested on eve of Jinx finaleMar 15 2015

Robert Durst

Whoa! Robert Durst has been arrested in New Orleans in connection with the killing of his friend Susan Berman in Los Angeles in 2000.

Robert A. Durst, the scion of a New York real estate family, was arrested on Saturday in New Orleans on a warrant issued in a homicide investigation by Los Angeles County, law enforcement officials said.

For years, questions have swirled around Mr. Durst about the unsolved killing of a close friend and confidante in Los Angeles 15 years ago, and about his first wife's disappearance in 1982 and the shooting and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor in 2001.

Durst is the subject of the HBO series The Jinx, which I have been obsessed with over the past few weeks. The final episode airs tonight. Jinx director Andrew Jarecki must be freaking out...the arrest might be due to new evidence uncovered by Jarecki during the production of the show.

The Real Don DraperFeb 27 2015

Vice did a nice little feature on George Lois, the kind of 1960s big-egoed ad man on which Mad Men's Don Draper was based.

Lois created a number of iconic ad campaigns as well as dozens of fantastic Esquire covers. Or at least he says he did. ;) (via devour)

Update: Here's the transcript for the episode of This American Life in which Sarah Koenig interviews her father Julian Koenig about George Lois taking credit for some of his best ideas.

In my instance, the greatest predator of my work was my one-time partner George Lois, who is a most heralded and talented art director/designer, and his talent is only exceeded by his omnivorous ego. So where it once would've been accepted that the word would be "we" did it, regardless of who originated the work, the word "we" evaporated from George's vocabulary and it became "my."

Of course, Koenig also claims to have invented thumb wrestling and to have popularized shrimp in America, so... (via @kevinmeyers)

Norm Macdonald on SNL 40Feb 19 2015

In a long series of tweets last night, Norm MacDonald posted a recap of the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special from his perspective, from how the writing process started, to running into Paul McCartney in the studio, to trying to get Eddie Murphy into a sketch. Gothamist transcribed the whole thing...you should read it, it's great.

And then comes Eddie. I'm standing with my son, Lori Jo, and Chris Rock. We see Eddie from 100 yards away. Rock says, "There he is. Like Ali in Zaire." Eddie, Bomaye. It's my job to talk him in to doing Jeopardy. We talk in his dressing room a good hour. When it's over, I'm convinced he'll do it. He doesn't. He knew the laughs would bring the house down. Eddie Murphy knows what will work on SNL better than any one. Eddie decides the laughs are not worth it. He will not kick a man when he is down. Eddie Murphy, I realize, is not like the rest of us. Eddie does not need the laughs. Eddie Murphy is the coolest, a rockstar even in a room with actual rockstars.

I'll reiterate: Macdonald obviously did not deserve to be ranked so low on this Rolling Stone list of all the SNL cast members.

Update: Here's the original SCTV skit (feat. Eugene Levy, John Candy, and Martin Short) that inspired Celebrity Jeopardy.

The cast of SNL, rankedFeb 13 2015

The SNL 40th Anniversary Special will air this Sunday. From Rolling Stone, a list of all of the regular cast members of SNL, ranked from worst to best. The worst is Robert Downey Jr. ("Making him unfunny stands as SNL's most towering achievement in terms of sucking") and the top 10 are:

10. Chevy Chase
9. Gilda Radner
8. Amy Poehler
7. Phil Hartman
6. Bill Murray
5. Dan Aykroyd
4. Mike Myers
3. Tina Fey
2. Eddie Murphy
1. John Belushi

I disagree with Norm MacDonald's placement near the bottom of the barrel...I always liked his stuff. And Dratch at #16? Was never a fan. Most of the original cast ranks too high...I would have preferred Eddie at #1 over Belushi. My favorites: Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman.

FYI, the guest list for the special is kind of incredible. So far, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Alec Baldwin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Kristen Wiig, Chevy Chase, Chris Rock, Dan Aykroyd, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and about 80 other bold-faced names (Hanks, Taylor Swift, Spielberg, etc.) are all scheduled to appear. (via digg)

Theory: Homer Simpson has been in a coma for 20 yearsFeb 13 2015

On Reddit, a fan of The Simpsons recently outlined his theory that Homer Simpson has been in a coma for the past 20 years and everything on the show since mid-1993 has taken place in Homer's head. Here's the argument...

In the series' first clip show, which aired in the fourth season, Bart pranks Homer by shaking up his beer can in a paint shaker. The beer explodes and knocks Homer into a coma. At the end of the episode, Homer is shown waking up from the coma. But maybe he didn't? As possible evidence, the theorist suggests that's why the Simpsons never age:

This is why the characters don't age. Homer remembers Bart, Lisa, and Maggie as 10, 8, and 1 year old, so they will always appear that way in his dreams. He is subconsciously aware of time passing, so his mind will often "update" his memories so that the year they occurred matches up with the age he thinks he is.

And it's also why the plots on the show became more outlandish after the coma episode:

This is clearly Homer's imagination running wild. With no real world restrictions, Homer's mind is able to dream up scenarios of him and his family in fantasies involving him winning a Grammy, his father fighting his boss for buried WW2 treasure, his wife getting breast implants, his infant daughter saving him from drowning, etc.

That's pretty clever. It immediately reminded me of two things:

1. The entirety of St. Elsewhere took place inside the mind of an autistic kid named Tommy Westphall. And since St. Elsewhere was referenced on other TV shows like Homicide: Life on the Street, that means those shows (and the shows referenced on those shows) also took place in Westphall's mind.

2. From 1991 to 1994, a show called Herman's Head aired on Fox. The show took place partially in the main character's head. Among the cast are two regular Simpsons cast members: Hank Azaria (Moe, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Comic Book Guy, etc.) and Yeardley Smith (Lisa). Super-crazy theory: perhaps Herman's Head inspired Homer's coma?

Update: Of course this theory isn't true. Al Jean, a writer and show runner for The Simpsons during season four, told TMZ that Homer hasn't been in a coma for the past 20 years. (thx, greg)

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert DurstFeb 11 2015

From HBO and director Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans), comes The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a six-part documentary series on reclusive millionaire Robert Durst and the three unsolved murders he is suspected of committing. The first episode aired over the weekend and is now free to watch on YouTube (in the US). A couple of reviews: The Anti-Serial and HBO's Crime Drama 'The Jinx' Succeeds Where Others Fail.

The allure of the NFLFeb 02 2015

Back in September at the beginning of the NFL season, I wrote a post called I'm quitting football.

I've been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I'd catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league's nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.

It's overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won't be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can't see each other anymore. And it's definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.

So how did I do? I ended up watching four games this season: a random Sunday night game in week 15 or 16, the Pats/Ravens playoff, the Pats/Colts playoff, and the Super Bowl. I've been watching and rooting for the Patriots for the past, what, 14 or 15 years now. And more to the point, I've been following the Brady/Belichick storyline for almost that long and once it became clear the Pats had a great shot at winning it all, not watching the final acts was just not going to happen, NFL bullshit or not. It would be like putting down one of the best 1200-page books you've ever read with two chapters to go and just saying, yeah, I'm not going to read the end of that. And that game last night...I felt *incredible* when Butler intercepted that pass. Life is full of many greater, more fulfilling, and more genuine moments, but there's no feeling quite like the one when you realize your team has won, especially when that victory has been snatched, semi-literally, from the jaws of near-certain defeat.

But that's ultimately weak sauce. I don't feel justified about watching just because I really enjoyed it. I made a commitment to myself and didn't honor it. I believe the NFL is still a terrible organization and isn't worth supporting with my attention. For whatever it's worth, I'm going back to not watching next year, and I hope I fare better.

Update: Bill Simmons, in an epic recap of the final 12 minutes of the Super Bowl, echoes what I was getting at above.

When you've been rooting for the same people for 15 years, at some point the stakes become greater. You want that last exclamation-point title. (Just ask Spurs fans.) You want to feel like you rooted for a dynasty, or something close to it, instead of just "a team that won a couple of times." You want to say that you rooted for the best coach ever and the best quarterback ever, and you want to be constantly amazed that they showed up to save your sad-sack franchise at the exact same time.

Anthony Bourdain: Parts UnknownJan 28 2015

Parts Unknown

I've caught a couple of episodes of CNN's Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and I've been impressed with the show so far. In it, chef/author Anthony Bourdain travels to places off the beaten path and explores the local culture. But it's not just about food and culture as with his previous shows. In Parts Unknown, Bourdain also delves into local politics and social issues. In Iran, he spoke with journalists about their tenuous relationship with the government (and two of the journalists he spoke with were subsequently arrested). Episodes in the Congo, Myanmar, and Libya are produced with a focus on their oppressive governments, past and present. Even in the Massachusetts episode, he talks about his former heroin addiction and the current addiction of poor whites in the US. Many of the places he visits, we only hear about the leadership and bad things that happen on the news, but Bourdain meets with the locals and finds more similarities amongst cultures than differences. I'd never considered going to visit someplace like Iran, but Parts Unknown has me considering it...what a great people.

Season four recently wrapped up and they're shooting season five now. The first three seasons are currently available on Netflix and all four seasons are on Amazon. (FYI to the web team at CNN: "Unknown" is misspelled in the <title> of that page.)

Transparent streaming for free tomorrow!Jan 23 2015

Transparent Show

All day on Saturday, Amazon will be streaming their acclaimed series Transparent for free (US-only probs) in celebration of the show's wins at the Golden Globes (best TV series and best actor for Jeffrey Tambor). Here's the press release.

"We're incredibly proud of everyone involved in the making of Transparent-the team took a risk and it paid off," said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. "Big kudos and congrats to Jill, Jeffrey, and all the cast and crew."

Written, directed and executive produced by Emmy-nominee and 2013 Sundance Best Director winner Jill Soloway, Transparent is a 10-episode, half-hour novelistic series that explores family, identity, sex, and love.

Amazon is also offering a Saturday-only discount on 1-yr Amazon Prime subscriptions...$72 instead of the usual $99. I loved Transparent...if you're not doing anything for 5 hours on Saturday, I recommend hopping on this.

The New Yorker's new TV showJan 15 2015

TV1 is the place to be. Amazon recently signed Woody Allen up to do a show. And today, The New Yorker debuts the first episode of their new show on Amazon: The New Yorker Presents, complete with a Alfred Hitchcock-esque silhouette on the title card to match the riff on the name of Hitch's 50s TV program.

America's most award-winning magazine comes to life in this new docu-series. Produced by Oscar & Emmy winner Alex Gibney, the pilot features a doc from Oscar winner Jonathan Demme based on Rachel Aviv's article "A Very Valuable Reputation," writer Ariel Levy interviewing artist Marina Abramovic, a sketch from Simon Rich and Alan Cumming, poetry read by Andrew Garfield, and cartoons by Emily Flake.

The first episode is free to watch for all. I watched the first five minutes and it's promising and pretty much what you would expect.

  1. Is this what we're going to call these things, television? How many people actually watch these Amazon shows on a television? Increasingly fewer and fewer, I'd guess.

Steven Soderbergh's 2014 media dietJan 09 2015

Once again, Steven Soderbergh kept track of every book, TV show, movie, play, and short story he read or watched in 2014. A sampling: Girls, True Detective, Gone Girl, 2001 (3 times), Dr. Strangelove, Olive Kitteridge, My Struggle: Book One, Boardwalk Empire, and his black & white version of Raiders of the Lost Ark (twice).

Here are his lists for 2013 (House of Cards, Koyaanisqatsi), 2012 (This is Spinal Tap, The Lady in the Lake), 2011 (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Senna), 2010 (Mad Men, Where Good Ideas Come From), and 2009 (Breaking Bad, Slap Shot). (via @khoi)

Game of Thrones on IMAXJan 06 2015

A couple episodes of Game of Thrones will be shown on IMAX screens.

An exclusive season five trailer, as well as the final two episodes of the fourth season, will get an unprecedented run Jan. 23-29 at 150 theaters in top markets across the U.S.

While the visual spectacle of the HBO hit makes it a natural for the large-screen treatment, "Thrones" will be digitally remastered to fit the Imax format.

Fans will be able to purchase tickets to the special event for an unspecified price on Imax.com in the coming weeks.

The sounds of The WireJan 05 2015

You don't typically think of The Wire as a show that used audio to great effect, but you'd be wrong. From the show's use of music only ambient to the scene (e.g. a car radio playing), the season-end montages, and the background soundtracks that accompanied certain characters or situations, The Wire's use of music and sound was quite calculated and effective. At Reddit, a sound editor who worked on the show shared her experiences.

One of my crew's challenges, then, was to find ways to evoke mood with backgrounds. When a character is in a crowded situation he is not comfortable with, listen for background laughter. When McNulty is drunk and on the prowl, listen for dogs barking (because he's a dog - my own private commentary on his character). There was a whole world of work that went in to creating the sound of Hamsterdam and building it from an empty to thriving enterprise.

Working with Felicia Pearson was challenging:

Snoop was tricky. That DeWalt scene wasn't the first time she was in the show (she's a scout for Marlo the first time we see him in season three maybe?) but it was the most dialog she had up until then, and the HBO note was that she was completely unintelligible. I had her in the studio to do pretty much the entire scene over it felt like, and whenever I had a new actor in the studio, I would always ask (unless I recognized them from something else) if they had done ADR before because "The Wire" used so many non-actors. She said "no ma'am" so I walked her through the process and she did a great job. Stayed in sync, matched her cadence... and sounded exactly as unintelligible as she did on set!

But so was Dominic West:

McNulty (Dom West) came in often and was awesome, as well. His accent showed most often when the character was drunk or angry. Oddly, the name "Stringer Bell" tripped him up a lot. "Stringa" and then a very over-enunciated end to "Bell-eh." Also, the words "fuck" and "cunt" came out "feck" and "cahnt" and the only way to break him of it was to stand right in front of him (so he could watch the mouth shape) and say the word over and over again. So a Dom West ADR session often went like this:

Me (with Dom staring at my mouth): Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.

Dom: Cahnt. Shit, do it again, please.

Me: Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.

Dom: Cunt. Cunt. OK, let's record...

(three beeps, the line starts and):

Dom: ...cahnt. Feck! Say it again.

Me: Cunt....

There were some instances where we didn't bring Dom in for ADR because the emotion and energy of the scene would be compromised if we tinkered with his accent, and I support that decision, but it still pains me to hear those lines and feel like something slipped by me. I was like, the last checkpoint before dialog went on the air.

Which reminds me, the "Fuck" scene (McNulty/Bunk) -- when picture came to me, there were only about 30 "fucks" in it. We brought the guys in together and played the scene over and over and slammed a variation of "fuck" everywhere it would fit. I think the final mix tops off at somewhere in the 80 range? My personal contribution was Bunk's "fuck, fuck fuckitty fuck."

And Michael K. Williams cannot whistle:

Michael K Williams cannot whistle! It's totally true. We brought him in and he tried but it just wasn't happening. Omar's whistle is provided by a lovely and talented loop group member named Susan, who is an actor and John Waters' personal assistant.

To which another Redditor replied, "Susan's coming yo!" The whole thread is great, read it.

The top 10 film/TV title sequences of 2014Dec 31 2014

From the excellent Art of the Title (which had a great year), the top 10 title sequences of 2014. So awesome to see Halt and Catch Fire take the top spot. And Too Many Cooks!

Black Mirror sweeps nationDec 29 2014

If you weren't watching the new HD remaster of The Wire over the holidays, you may have been tuning in to Black Mirror on Netflix. Charlie Brooker's dystopian sci-fi series was broadcast in Britain beginning in 2011 but only recently became available in the US on Netflix. Emily Nussbaum reviews the show for the New Yorker's latest issue.

Still, for all the show's inventive storytelling, its true provocation is its righteous outrage, which shares something with Mike White's whistle-blower series "Enlightened," although it's overlaid with a dark filter. Like "Enlightened," "Black Mirror" is about love in the time of global corporate hegemony. It's a bleak fairy tale that doubles as an exposé. An anthology series, it consists of six one-hour episodes spanning two seasons (plus a Christmas special), each with a new story and a different cast. In various future settings, Brooker's characters gaze into handhelds or at TV-walled cells, using torqued versions of modern devices. In one episode, a couple has sex while stupefied by virtual visions of earlier, better sex. In another, a woman builds a replica of her husband from his photos and posts on social media. In a third, workers watch streaming schlock and are docked points if they shut their eyes. Some plots deal with political terrorism (or performance art-on this show, there's little difference) and the criminal-justice system; there are warped versions of reality TV. Though the episodes vary in tone, several have a Brechtian aggression: the viral video "Too Many Cooks" would fit right in. But, in even the most perverse installments, there's a delicacy, a humane concern at how easily our private desires can be mined in the pursuit of profit. The worlds can be cartoonish, but the characters are not.

Like Nussbaum, I also watched the show "through occult means"1 and it's fun hearing from friends who are catching up on it. Too bad the show couldn't have found a way over here earlier.

Update: From Josh Dzieza at The Verge, I can't stop comparing everything to Black Mirror:

A friend recently told me that his favorite thing about the show Black Mirror is that he finally has a term for a certain type of technological anxiety. It's a type of anxiety that seemed everywhere this year. The Sony hack could have been an episode of Black Mirror, as could Gamergate. In the same way that we refer to Blade Runner as shorthand for gritty dystopian cityscapes, Gattaca for worries about corporate use of genetic information, and Terminator for ominously powerful AI, Black Mirror has become shorthand for a certain type of contemporary internet-age creepiness.

  1. It's interesting to hear the TV critic for the New Yorker all but admit to pirating shows off the internet.

TransparentDec 17 2014

Transparent

I'm adding mine to the chorus of voices praising Transparent, the Amazon Original Series starring Jeffrey Tambor, aka Arrested Development's Pop Pop. Tambor plays a retired college professor who is transitioning to living as a woman. Each episode is 30 minutes long and the pacing is sitcom-like, but the show is equally comedic and dramatic. The show started off kind of slow for me but got better and better as the season went on. Here's a trailer.

The first episode is free to watch but for the rest you'll need an Amazon Prime subscription1 (for which they offer a 30-day trial). Highly recommended, Tambor is amazing. Oh, and they're doing a second season.

  1. I wonder how effective this tactic is in driving new Prime subscriptions. It's weird that you can't just buy the whole season of the show for $20 or something. I would love to see their internal analysis of how much revenue each Prime member brings in over X number of years versus potential lost revenue from direct sales by non-members.

Unedited Footage of a BearDec 16 2014

Following in the footsteps of Too Many Cooks is Unedited Footage of a Bear. It aired for the first time on Adult Swim this week in their 4am infomercial slot. It starts off as a nature thing with a bear which is interrupted by a fake infomercial and then. Gets. WEIRD.

Update: Adult Swim has a site set up for Claridryl. There might be some answers there to some questions you might have? About stuff? (via devour & @veganstraightedge)

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