What was Beethoven’s favorite fruit?
A ship, sailing past a remote island, spots a man who has been stranded there for several years. The Captain goes ashore to rescue him and the man insists on showing him around before they go back to the boat. The Captain is a bit puzzled as he notices that there are three huts, but he is all alone.
“What’s the first hut for?” he asks.
“That’s my house,” says the castaway.
“What’s the second hut for?”
“That’s my church.”
“And the third hut?”
“Oh, that?” sniffs the castaway. “That’s the church I used to go to.”
Oh. My. God. I watched the first episode, and I can’t decide between two options:
- Is it the slowest comedy in existence?
- Is it the longest skit with no end?
Don’t get me wrong, there are some funny bits. In fact, there are about six mildly amusing conversations, where you expect every other phrase to be, “I know, right?”.
Okay, quick recap. June and Oscar are married, have been for 13 years, and it’s itchy time. Every year they go up to a lake house, and this year, June thinks they should mix it up, tend the garden, keep working at it, some other cliché I’m probably forgetting that they didn’t miss, and go skiing instead. Except the funniest scene is them getting there and June getting out of car, leading to her freaking about how cold it is. Yep, that’s it.
The other scenes are mildly amusing, but really, who cares? Not me. I predicted cancellation based on the description alone, and honestly, now that I’ve watched an episode, I can’t figure out how it was greenlit, even on Amazon. Definitely can’t see them doing a second season. CANCELLED.
June is played by Maya Rudolph and Oscar is played by Fred Armisen, both from Saturday Night Live. Perhaps that’s part of the reason I feel like it is a skit with no ending. I don’t know. There’s NO SHOW. Maybe episodes will be them trying something different each week, I don’t know. Oscar likes skiing, Maya hates it. Maya likes to drink, and some guy is hitting on her. Maybe either one will lead to something in future episodes, I don’t know. Either way, I’m out.
When I was reviewing A Million Little Things, and I thought about how hard it is for networks to do a good drama without a procedural hook of lawyers or doctors to keep it going each week with a new plot, in the back of my mind, I was thinking about Defying Gravity. The show ran a couple of years ago and the premise was a group of astronauts making a grand looping trip of all the planets. There was a hidden plot about an alien device that is directing and controlling their progress, but at the heart, it was The Right Stuff on steroids.
As I was doing my predictions, I saw that Hulu had a show about the first astronauts on Mars. I’m into space and astronomy, sure, which is a good basis for potential excitement but the reality is that there are four basic steps for them…launch in dramatic fashion, fly slowly and boringly to Mars, explore and collect some samples, and fly back. Sure, we can have an Apollo 13 emergency, radiation drills, whatever, but it isn’t Star Trek. If you don’t leave the solar system, space travel doesn’t get very exciting to watch. So I predicted cancellation.
I’ve now watched the first (no pun intended) episode of the series, and it is not what I expected. Spoiler alert, but the rocket fails and all the astronauts are lost. I was watching cold, no idea what to expect, but as soon as they focused on the “Go with throttle up” and beginning the separation sequence, I knew I was right — the launch would explode. And it did. Raining debris and cliché everywhere.
So they’re not going to Mars, they’re not on Mars, this is a drama set on Earth about building rockets and dealing with the aftermath of a disaster, while hanging out hope of a new flight. Yet the first episode worked.
Sean Penn is the crew commander who got dumped earlier and thus wasn’t on the flight, looking beyond buff but old, every ounce of his 58 years showing in his face. When he first appeared, I briefly thought it was Tom Skerritt (who is 85, just saying). He’s pretty muted through the whole episode, not a lot of emotion showing, but he is also alone for most of it, no one to play off of during the event.
Natascha McElhone plays the leader of the company that built the ship for NASA, and she is beyond muted for the whole episode. A walking automaton almost, as she tries to hold it together in the face of the loss. Sure, it’s better than her more flamboyant role on Designated Survivor as the President’s wife, one of the few shows I’ve seen her in previously, but hopefully she’ll come alive at some point.
Beyond those two, it’s hard to tell from Episode 1 which other characters will prove important. Two are recognizable. LisaGay Hamilton (The Practice) is some sort of military officer, perhaps NASA liaison background, working for the company. Oded Fehr is the engineer who designed the launch vehicles, and without the accent he used for Mossad agent Eyal Levine for Covert Affairs, I had trouble recognizing him. I hope he’s big, really like him.
Season 1 is only 8 episodes and I’m in. And I’m going to give it some props…I predicted cancellation originally, but I’m going to predict Hulu gives it another season. It’s hard to tell from only one episode, but it looks pretty sharp, albeit muted still. Heck, I’m willing to give it a shot based on one line from the writers. After the explosion, the daughter of one of the astronauts innocently asks, “Who gets to decide who dies?”. Powerful stuff.
Back in 2016, I decided to “up my game” for photography, and I thought I would start with a class or two. Henry’s courses are popular, but there are also courses through the city’s annual learning catalog, and even through Algonquin College if I want to get really serious. But I wanted to keep it simple, so I started watching The Great Course’s “Fundamentals of Photography” series (Learning photography – Introduction).
Recently, as part of my lingering 50by50 commitments, I wanted to get back into photography learning, but even in the last two years, my approach has changed. I have a decent camera — a Canon Rebel T5i aka the 700D — and it works well for me. It is considered a high-value entry level DSLR, but my needs are relatively modest, with just a couple of quirks.
My primary need is outdoors photography … waterfalls, landscapes, flora and fauna, hiking through nature, and friends and family doing both active and passive activities.
My secondary need, like most people, is indoor photography … birthdays, parties, events, holidays.
My quirky needs are both related to astrophotography — first, attached to the scope (body only) or second, straight Milky Way sky shots (with and without zooms).
The T5i came in a couple of configured bundles, and I went with the one that included two lenses — 18-55mm, and 55-250mm. It also has a whack of pre-set modes:
- Portrait (blurred backgrounds);
- Landscape (wide depth of field so both foreground and background are in focus);
- Close-up (aka a software macro option for flowers and things);
- Sports (continuous shooting, high speed capture, rapid focus);
- Scene mode (several sub-options);
- Creative auto (simple mode for quick setting of common features);
- Flash off (can’t fire, no matter what the camera thinks is right or not); and,
- Scene-intelligent auto (the computer takes its best guess on all the settings, useful if you keep changing setting)
It then has four semi-manual modes:
- Program mode (P) — This is a bit misleading, as it is semi-auto (aperture and shutter speed) but you control the rest;
- Shutter priority mode (Tv) — You control how fast the shutter is, the computer does the rest;
- Aperture priority mode (Av) — You control how wide the aperture is, the computer does the rest;
- Manual mode (M) — The full power of the camera is at your fingertips.
For me, I spend almost all my time in pre-set modes, and truth be told, I don’t even do that well.
I have managed to get what I think are some great shots — birds in flight, cousins doing various water sports, flora around various hiking trails in Ottawa. But while I pointed the camera, chose the mode (sports, for example) and captured the shot (cousin waterskiing and spraying up water), I didn’t really know what the camera was doing. I wanted to know how and why it worked, not just the what of the shot or settings. Part of my reasoning is that if I can understand the basics for my primary needs (basic outdoors and indoors), I have a better shot at understanding how to approach astrophotography.
So I signed up in September for a course with Henry’s, the local photography store. I wanted a bit of hands-on experience to get me out of pre-set modes and into manual, but I also wanted to know what the camera was doing. Part of that experience is going back to look at previous photos that turned out well and figuring out, “OH! So THAT’S how I / my camera did that…”. There were a few options available including both “learn about your Canon camera” as well as “photography 101”. With timing and location, I opted for the photography basics course in Kanata.
The course was divided into four classroom sessions, plus one practical session, with each session designed to dive into the key aspects of what you control in photography. I’m going to write separate blog posts about each week, but the overview is show below, although the titles/descriptions are mine, not the official ones:
- Camera fundamentals — I hesitate to call this “meet your camera” but it pretty much is what it was about. You learn all the basic controls, what they do, and because it is a generic photography class with everyone having different brands and models, a lot of it was hands on walking various people through THEIR camera settings to get it into a relatively common set of options for everyone to start with.
- Understanding aperture — Looking at depth of field, aperture and f/stops, and fast lenses.
- Understanding shutter speed — Looking at motion for capture, blurring, and panning techniques;
- Planning the photo — Looking at a combination of different lenses, perspectives, sensors, and then the creative side (composition, tips).
It was an interesting experience. For week 1 and 2, I went to the Kanata course on Wednesday nights, and there were about 10 of us in the class. A wide range of interest — older for hobby, younger with dreams of entrepreneurship, a few unique interests. However, the instructor noted he was also teaching on Friday nights nearer my house (earlier time, and on a Friday?), and if we missed Wed, we could catch Friday at the other site. Week 3 & 4, I did just that, because there was only 1 person over there, meaning it was almost like a hands-on class. We asked questions constantly, at least I did, and stopped him regularly when something wasn’t clear. Way more “aha” moments than if we had been in a larger group because it was the follow-up questions that really crystallized things for me. When I do the four blogs for the weeks, I really want to see if I can re-create some of the examples.
I have the practical session tonight, but it isn’t as “practical” as it sounds — we’ll be over by a park in the relative dark. The Friday night class would be great for me, but it’s at a bad time for me this week. so not sure what I’m doing yet.
Am I ready to go full manual now? No, but I achieved my true goal — learning and feeling much more comfortable with making my camera do more of what I want it to and less of what I don’t. Part of a multi-year plan to get me fully conversant before retirement. And a welcome addition to my list of 50 things.
Lifetime has a new show called “You”, and I wasn’t going to watch it or review it. I really wasn’t. It just sounds, well, icky. The premise is a bookstore manager who meets a nice girl, wonders if she might be the one, yada yada yada, he stalks and invades her life by stealth to figure out everything he can about her. Including faking his way by a gas company repairman so he can go through her apartment.
Yep, it’s a stalker show, from the perspective of the lovable bookworm.
The creepier part is that it is watchable. You can see what she sees, and how she might come to be interested. You can see upfront too that she just sparks all over the place, and is like catnip to the introverted bookstore manager. And if it was just a short romantic comedy, it would be, well, maybe not deep, but cute.
And I’m under no illusions that stalking is cute or harmless. But I want to see where it goes as his madness and obsession expands.
I’m not familiar with the male lead, Penn Badgley, as I wasn’t into Gossip Girl, and I haven’t seen Elizabeth Lail either as the female lead. But she has a bit of a Piper Perabo thing going on, which doesn’t suck, and Penn isn’t initially creepy to watch.
I’ll give it a go. But I don’t see how it could ever get to a second season, and I’m betting it will be cancelled anyway.
Everybody wants a hit drama. Most try to manufacture the drama each week with a murder or a legal case, or some other “profession / case that can drive the plot this week” device. Doctors or hospitals are always popular. Even pathologists. Occasionally they find magic with the teaching profession. And 44 minutes later, the plot is resolved for that week.
The current search is for the new “This Is Us”. A drama with flashbacks, no professional hook, just family relating. With the “family” being the plot device, no 22 minute-long joke reels in these ones though. I watched “This Is Us” for the premiere, and I liked it well enough, thought they did a good job, but it wasn’t a hook for me. And most of the attempts at non-procedural dramas die. The group who “flashed forward” and saw their future. The parents whose kids returned after death. The lottery winners and what happened to their lives after the big win. All popped up and got beat down in a ratings-based game of whack-a-mole.
So when I read about the new show, A Million Little Things, I thought, “hmmm…”. Okay, so it has a Big Chill feel to it. Although fans of the Big Chill who resonated at the time are WAY older now. Still has a death to pull people together and to “handle”. But it’s a suicide, which is a bit risky. My prediction based just on the description was “CANCELLED”, no renewal.
I have now watched the premiere and I flat out loved it.
The premise is four friends who met when when they got stuck in an elevator together as four random strangers ten years ago. Two and a half hours later, and they had bonded. Friend #1, John, is played by Ron Livingston, and I just loved him in Defying Gravity, even if he gets more props for Band of Brothers (and rightfully so). Back in the elevator, John was the perfect glue, the guy who thought everything happens for a reason but you have to fight hard to find that reason, and that friendship was made up of “a million little things”. John is a smooth-talking business type, and you see him on the phone at the start of the episode wheeling and dealing, the epitome of always be closing, without the smarm. Would he kill himself?
Friend number 2 is Eddie, played by David Giuntoli (ahh, I miss Grimm too). Eddie is no longer in love with his wife, and in fact has been planning to leave her for years (apparently). A recovering alcoholic, he is in the process of “packing to go” as the episode opens, he’s in love with someone else, and just as he is packing, he has a sudden realization — what will he tell his son? Really? Planning for years and this is the first time it occurs to him? Really? Okay, so that writing sucked, but David is pretty solid. And while later you see him deliver a kick-ass eulogy, at the start, he’s stressed, did he kill himself?
Friend number 3 is Gary, played by James Roday (yep, Shawn Spencer from Psych!). It’s a bit of an adjustment to see his delivery 100% serious all the time, but good. Gary is a bit of a hot mess, honestly, as the episode describes him. He has beaten breast cancer, but is tested every 3 months to be sure it isn’t back. He is working his way around the cancer support group as the only guy, and since he “gets” what they’re going through, he cleans up with the group like Casanova in a hospital gown. In the opener, he’s getting a cancer update diagnosis, and he’s a bit stressed, so maybe he killed himself.
And friend number 4 is Rome, played by Romany Malco. Rome is losing his sh** as the episode opens, and he has already drafted a suicide note. Okay, it’s him, pretty clear. He pours a bunch of pills on the counter and then stresses out when he spills too many. He goes to get water out of the fridge, and the Brita is empty. He starts to get water out of the tap, but there’s a story on the news about somewhere having poisoned tap water, and so he starts again with the Brita, so he can wash it down. As he is trying to cram the pills in his mouth, and then wash them down, his phone keeps ringing. It’s one of the other friends calling to tell him that John killed himself. Rome spits out the pills.
John jumped off a balcony at his office, and his assistant seems to have seen him jump. But nobody knows why he would do it. He was the glue, the one who had everything perfect, and always seemed happy. A bit of a cliché but it is handled pretty well.
There is a bit of mystery going on though. His assistant, Ashley, has a small folder with Delilah’s name on it from him, and she hides it in a drawer rather than give it to her. Is it a suicide note? Was there something going on with her and him? Later, she hides even more stuff. Dun dun dun.
Meanwhile, the guys are not coping alone. David has a wife Katherine that he doesn’t love and she knows he wants to leave (Grace Park of Battlestar Galactica, Hawaii Five-O). John’s wife is strong and near picture perfect as the grieving widow, Delilah. Rome’s wife, Regina, is super strong, a chef who opened her own restaurant once when she was young and as inexperienced as her investor, but John got her out of it (someday she’d like to reopen one).
And new to the mix is a date from the cancer support group — Maggie. Clinical psychologist by training, she’s struggling with her cancer treatments and diagnosis. She latches on to Gary, and their first “date” is John’s funeral. I haven’t seen the actress, Allison Miller, before but she has some presence. I was worried she might be the “observer” plot tool for the show, but she has her own drama developing, and I think she’ll be with us for the duration.
The guys bond, the girls bond, they deal with the funeral and the immediate aftermath.
Speaking of duration, the whole point of watching the premiere was to predict if the show will be cancelled or renewed. While I guessed cancelled in the beginning, sight unseen, I’m on the fence now that I’ve seen the pilot. It’s good, but is it “renewal” good? I’m going to take a chance and say yes. Either way, I’m going to be watching.
I love dramas, I like crime shows, I like serialized story telling. What I don’t often like is any show that glorifies the life of crime or hides the reality of the impacts of the crime, whether it be drug-dealing or trafficking or general thuggery. I don’t need it whitewashed with a nice wrap up in 44 minutes of story-telling, but outside of The Sopranos, my taste for watching gangster shows is pretty limited.
So I never watched Sons of Anarchy, and I was fully expecting to watch the new spin-off Mayans M.C. and pass. Imagine my surprise when the show quickly veered into — spoiler alert — Wiseguy territory. Yeah, that’s right, the lead character is being extorted by the DEA into joining the Mayans Motorcycle Club and using his connections to root out one of the powerful drug cartels.
Part of the reason I might like it too is the main actor, J.D. Pardo. He played a young buck in Revolution, and I enjoyed most of his episodes, as well as his earlier role in the short-lived series Drive. His ex-gf is played by Sarah Bolger (Once Upon A Time and Into the Badlands), but we didn’t get to see much of her doing anything in Ep1 so hard to tell how she’ll be. Edward James Olmos plays his dad, and if they can stay away from “Sure enough” chants, I can probably live with his occasional over-acting. He’s pretty muted in Ep1.
My second surprise was seeing Danny Pino as the head of the cartel. When he was first on the screen, I couldn’t place him at all. It was his face that was throwing me, though — his voice was SO familiar. Later, you get a better look at him, and I was like…”Oh, him, wait what show was that?”. Oh right, sure, he was on L&O: SVU for a long time, but for me, he will always be Scotty Valens from Cold Case. I loved him on that show. Now he’s the bad guy, but I can live with that.
When I read the description originally, my thought was that as a sequel to a relatively successful show, it should have enough legs to get it to renewal. Having seen the premiere, I’m sticking to the RENEWAL theme and I’ll even be one of the ones watching.
I am not the demographic for the new show Rel. I’m not black, I’m not young, and I’m not looking for a stupid sitcom about nothing. The lead actor Lil Rel has a Seinfeld-ish plot going, with slightly off friends and family, him playing most of it straight, and repeated jokes milked through the episode. This one is about someone who wears loose-fitting boots aka loose boots, and about the 8th time it is used, it’s almost funny.
I didn’t like him talking to his phone as if he was talking to his kids, I didn’t like his female best friend, I didn’t like his little brother or the people they meet on a bus. The only bright spot in the whole episode was Sinbad playing his dad, a slightly crazy but self-aware father.
Oh, and the premise? His wife was cheating on him with his barber, and now they’re separated, with a potential fight looming for custody. Man, I’m sure all of that will be hilarious. Apparently, though, they’re not sure about the show as they didn’t bother casting either the ex-wife or the kids — they’re only talked about, you never meet them.
I didn’t laugh once through the whole show. I’m sticking to my original prediction of CANCELLED.
I’m not a fan of horror movies, so I haven’t watched any of the four movies on which the series is based. But, if you ignore the ridiculous political premise, the idea behind one night of the year where all crime is legal is interesting from a purely philosophy of law and order, role of the state, etc. kind of perspective. Intriguing even. Not enough to watch one of the movies, not my genre, but when they turn it into a movie and thus by extension have to turn down the gore factor and up the storyline, I am willing to watch an episode.
The characters seem to have a loose tie back to the movies, and the creator of the movies wrote the first episode of the new series. From watching the first episode, there are basically three main storylines:
- Miguel is looking for his sister Penelope who was in a rehab program but checked herself out while he was off being a Marine. She’s found her way to a suicide cult who commits suicide-by-purge. The cult members basically “give” themselves to purgers to kill, thus freeing them from the world to embrace the invisible world of Heaven. So if Miguel doesn’t track her down in time, she’s going to die tonight. Willingly in order to reunite with their dead parents, who died during the fourth movie.
- Jane is a business executive who has to work on Purge night on a secure floor of an office building along with a bunch of high-end young corporate types to put a deal together before the Japanese markets close in the morning. However, Jane is not as she seems, and she seems edgy all the way to the end of the episode when you find out she has another game going on, not just the business deal, and it is illegal (she can’t commit the first step until the Purge starts). Dun dun dun.
- Finally, there is a couple, Jenna and Rick, who have accepted an invite on Purge Night to spend it at an one-percenter’s party in order to try to get investment capital to build housing for low-income families. They feel like they’re selling their souls to the people behind the Purge, and it’s all complicated by the fact that they have a past sexual relationship with the benefactors’ daughter, a relationship that did not end well.
Episode 1 takes place from 90 minutes before the Purge up to just after the start of the Purge, and I confess I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s on USA network, so it’s not like it is Netflix or HBO where the gore, violence or sex are going to be too explicit, but still, I’m not a horror fan, as I noted earlier.
I liked it. Miguel is compelling, very intense. Jane is tightly wound, not sure how the actress will do for whatever is to come, but I found her somewhat of a cliché as currently written. Jenna and Rick are acting a bit too much like they are ACTUALLY making a deal with Lucifer, not just shady business people with questionable political views. Here and there, a few actors were promising additions. For example, Reed Diamond plays the male half of the one-percenter hosts, and I like Reed in lots of previous roles. Designated Survivor as Director of the FBI; Minority Report as one of the bosses; FBI agent in The Mentalist (and one of the 7 Red John suspects); confused investigator in Dollhouse; and various weekly roles in White Collar, Revolution, The Glades, Cold Case, Castle, Stargate SG-1, and The West Wing. He’s a bit smarmy, but always fun to see.
Based on the initial description, I didn’t think it had enough oomph in the reboot world to make it through the season and get renewed. Having watched the first episode, I’m going to keep that prediction — CANCELLED — but I confess they’re making it a closer race. They almost made it interesting enough for me to watch. But honestly, I don’t care about Penelope or if Miguel saves her. I don’t care about Rick and Jenna, just hypocrites from the looks of it. I found the acting weak for Jane, but I would kind of like to know what happens with her storyline and what the big plot is that she’s part of for the night. But one out of three storylines is not enough for me to keep watching. I’m out.