Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Doctor Who: Listen

Listen by Steven Moffat

My recap of Doctor Who: Listen.  The Doctor, after all these centuries, finally goes completely over the deep end, and Clara ends up having to act as his psychologist. Also, Clara and Danny have a really,  really terrible date. The end.

What, you want more than that?

Okay. I'll put a little more effort into it. Just sit back and listen.  Comfy? There you go. Doctor, come out from up there. There's no gravity in space. You'll fly away.

The Doctor meditates

All alone in the Tardis, the Doctor is babbling to himself. He's finally lost it. Completely. He's babbling at the empty room, asking why he's doing that - why anybody does that. Conjecture: he's turned into a paranoid schizophrenic and he thinks somebody's following him.  Actually, the Tardis, a living creature, is listening when he babbles to himself, but he's forgotten that. He's seen perfect hunters and perfect defenders, but why is there no creature who is perfect at hiding?

Uh, you've actually met several creatures who are perfect at hiding, Doctor. The Vashta Nerada, the Weeping Angels, the Silence... remember them? Oh, wait... maybe not. But maybe there's another one out there, in the room while you babble nonsense. What would they do when you address them directly?

Somebody has written an answer on the chalkboard.

Listen chalkboard
The Tardis is alive, but she doesn't normally communicate with words, so it probably wasn't her.   Holy shit, somebody get Clara.  The Doctor's going to need a straitjacket after that.  Let's roll the credits while we get some soft place for the Doctor to lie down. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Utopia On Fox: Why It's Failing

Utopia on Fox

I have been recapping the new reality Utopia on Fox for Happy Nice People.com for an entire, excruciating week now, and it looks like this "social experiment" they've been trying isn't going to last a year. Actually, I will be surprised if it lasts another month. After a fairly respectable audience of 4.6 million viewers for the opening show, the ratings plummeted a dismal 55% the following Tuesday and decreased again on Friday. Why is it flailing so badly? Well, it would be easy and flip to say that it's failing because it's a revolting pile of horse manure, but there's more to this debacle than that. Reality shows are full of unpleasant people doing despicable things, and the TV audience often gobbles them up like candy.  This time, it's different.

Here's why.

Dave Green

1. The cast chosen for this trainwreck are unusually poorly suited for the task they've been chosen to carry out.   IF, indeed, this is meant to be a genuine social experiment in community building, and not a deliberately staged freak show. After watching the first two episodes, I began to question that concept seriously.  I originally signed up to cover this show because I thought it might be interesting to see people work together to perform a really difficult, but ultimately worthwhile endeavor - to turn a tiny farm that can't really support them into a thriving, productive community. They've got people in this cast who, on paper, should be able to perform the tasks required to accomplish this. Josh Johnston, a general contractor, successfully installed working electricity and running water in the compound with some help from his friend, Rob Hospidor. Several people, including Bella Chartrand, Chris Tuorto, and Bri Nyugen, have backgrounds in farming and animal husbandry. Army chef Aaron Thomas has shown himself to be remarkably capable at managing the food supply. Hex Vanisles is very skilled with her crossbow and may be every bit as good a hunter as she claims to be. But if these mess isn't canceled soon, this Utopian society is going to resemble the Donner Party by Christmas.

Instead of working together, they've been at each other's throats. The laziest, meanest, most destructive and most useless people in the party have been getting most of the air time. Yes, Dave Green, I am looking at YOU, and your useless little hillbilly friend, Red VanWinkle. A day or two into the experiment, these two idiots declared themselves unwilling to cooperate with anybody else, and announced that they were seceding and creating a rebel state - The Utopia State of Freedom. Unfortunately, they couldn't actually leave the compound and become a real separate state; what they did, mostly, was lie around, refusing to do any chores. They also stole money from the group safe, declaring their booty to be their "equal share" of the meager $5000 given to the entire group to sustain them for a year. Dave eventually stormed out of the community forever in one of his many violent, terrifying tantrums, but not until he'd wasted an enormous amount of cash, fractured the community and grossly alienated the viewing audience. He wasn't an exciting character who made the show more interesting, which I suspect is what the producers were looking for when they cast this drug-dealing ex-convict. He was repulsive, destructive, and he turned the audience off.

It's worthwhile to note two things here:
  1. Red VanWinkle was also on a reality show called Blue Grass Boys. He's making a name for himself as a very stereotypical hick on television. You have to wonder how much of what he did was specifically to get on camera. 
  2. Red and Dave protested one of Aaron's grocery lists by stomping on a bunch of canned fruits and vegetables. Those cans got smashed awfully easily. There's a lot of speculation going around that the cans were made of tinfoil, and the entire scene was staged.  
Is this really a nascent community, or is it a bunch of morons behaving badly on camera because that's what they were hired to do? 

2 . The show format lacks formal structure.  Of course, casting reprehensible turds like Dave Green is nothing new for reality shows; you can't go through a season of Survivor without meeting at least one person who looks to be in desperate need of intense psychological therapy. However, Survivor has survived for over a decade because there's a specific reason for much of the bad behavior; the contestants are playing a game for money, and one possible strategy is to mess with the other people's heads. Also, there's the promise of possible retribution for really outlandish behavior. The tribe can elect to vote out really obnoxious people if they want, and part of the show's appeal lies in the audience's desire to see if this will actually happen, or how long it might take. The opportunity for justice (or lack thereof) is built in, lurking for every contestant at the end of every episode. On Utopia, formal votes only happen once a month, so the audience may go for eight episodes without experiencing that chance to watch retribution take place. If somebody relatively benign ends up getting axed instead, as is certain to happen this week, we have to wait another entire month for the chance to see the toxins purged. One of the most satisfying aspects of Survivor is gone.

3. There is virtually no real suspense.  Because of the 24/7 video feed, anybody who is interested can know what is going on in that compound at any given time. As of this blog entry, the only person who has left the show is Dave Green, and the tribe is about to vote out one of two new women to the complex: Rhonda or Kristen. However, anybody who is following the show at all knows that Rhonda (pictured above) was voted out, that a new guy named Taylor is coming in, (which does not seem at all fair to Rhonda,) and that pastor Jonathan had to withdraw because of medical issues. This is not because moles managed to leak information that may or may not be reputable; it's part of the show's structure to give us instantly updated information, so the broadcast shows don't really tell us anything new.

So, what are we left with? A show about a bunch of very unlikeable people doing a task so poorly there's almost no chance of success, when the most interesting upcoming televised events have already been spoiled for the handful of audience members who actually care.

It's no great surprise that there's so little audience for that. If I weren't reviewing it, I would not be watching, either. It's disappointing, because I was hoping to see the ambitious social experiment that was advertised, but Utopia has turned into Survivor with all the most compelling parts missing.

If anybody is interested in reading my recaps on this show, they are at HappyNicePeople.com.

Episode One: It's Not Utopia, It's Lord of the Flies for Adults.

Episode Two: Give Me Ramen or Give Me A Really Stupid Lingering Death from Starvation or Malnutrition.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood

Robot of Sherwood

Now that he's done putting out fires that pop up in his (brand new) face, the Doctor would like to take Clara someplace special - anywhere she wants in time and space! Anywhere at all!  As long as it's someplace he actually wants to go, of course.

Clara's got just the place, and a person she really, really, really, really wants to meet, even though he's not real.

Robin Hood!

The Doctor and Clara
The Doctor hates the idea, because it isn't his, and because he can only take her to meet people who have actually existed - like Daleks. Seems like the Doctor is allergic to meeting any imaginary heroes that aren't him, and The Mind Robber was forty-six years and eleven faces ago. Wouldn't she rather go someplace more interesting to him, like Mars? Of course, given what happened to him the last time he went to Mars, I am stunned that the Doctor is eager to return. Still, Clara insists, and the Doctor keeps his promise for the delicious satisfaction of saying "I told you so."

He pulls his gears and pops his levers, and pretty soon the Tardis is taking him exactly where he's sent her... somewhere, after 2000 years, he actually learned how to navigate that thing. As they settle down in a lush, green forest near a sparkling river, the Doctor saunters out of the box and announces smugly, "No damsels in distress, no pretty castles, no such thing as Robin Hood!"

THWACK! An arrow punctures the Tardis.

Robin Hood's arrow hits the Tardis

 Robin, don't insist on proving the Doctor wrong. It makes him very cranky and difficult. Actually, getting up in the morning makes this Doctor cranky and difficult, so carry on.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Quick Guide to Reality Shows for the Perpetually Confused

I've got a new gig writing humor for the site Happy Nice Time People, and I've made a deal with the website owner.  When I post an article there, I can post the first part of the article here as well. If you like it, I'll tell you where to read on.

They’re everywhere—ordinary folks doing extraordinary things just to get on TV. And by “extraordinary,” we generally mean “stupid,” “frightening,” “earsplitting,” and sometimes just plain “gross.” From singing off-key to leaping out of airplanes… from dining on enormous insects (while the host cheers them on for trying the local “delicacy”) to dating and sometimes marrying total strangers… you name it, somebody has done it on television.

But who are all these people, and how can you keep them all straight? Fear not, confused reader, for we will break it all down for you.

Dancing With the Stars

Proving that English is in fact a living language by devaluing the word “star” further and further every season, this is America’s number one most watched reality show. People who are only famous for being on other reality shows often end up here, along with sitcom sidekicks, 80s heartthrobs, and someone you’re pretty sure you went to high school with but you actually recognize from a 1994 episode of Power Rangers. Sometimes the producers add some washed-up athletes to the cast to so wives can lean over to their husbands and say, “See? Someone you know!” The winner is usually the woman paired with pro dancer Derek Hough.


The mother of the modern network reality boom. And like most mothers, she’ll abandon you in the wilderness for weeks at a time and force you to become a lying, manipulative, underhanded scoundrel in hopes of someday getting your hands on her money. The object of the game is to make it to the final vote with the weakest competition possible; therefore, the best players are least likely to win the million dollar prize. Warning: This program is prone to grossly unfair results; do not watch if easily enraged.

American Idol

Very young people compete for a chance to sleep with Paula Abdul Jennifer Lopez Mariah Carey Jennifer Lopez again. Runners-up are automatically qualified to run for Congress in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Most of the show is karaoke of inexplicably popular classic rock, pop, and country hits. Sometimes they throw Broadway songs into the mix so that the geriatrics in the audience can recognize some of the tunes. There’s a panel of three people who are supposedly there to judge, but mostly they grandstand, bicker with each other, and attempt to draw attention to themselves. Originally, the winner got to make one album before fading into obscurity, but after season four they reversed the order.

The Voice

A cross between American Idol and rescuing a stray from the pound. Contestants sing their hearts out as they try desperately to convince one of four celebrity coaches to take them home and let them sleep on the foot of their bed. Meanwhile, the coaches banter viciously among themselves to build and keep the best possible stable of talent. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the coaches are really impressed with the singers or if they just want to piss off the other coaches. The winner is the coach with the biggest ego. The best singer gets an automatic spot on Dancing With the Stars Season 48.

The Bachelor

Hot, sexy women vie for one guy’s attention in a dating competition held in an exotic, romantic location. You’ve got to wonder why all these hot, sexy women need a televised dating service at all, especially since they’ve all been asked to act as one guy’s personal harem. Are they here to find love, get on television, enjoy a free vacation, or just hook up with a conceited stranger? Contestants advance when the Bachelor gives them a rose; the winner gets a full vase of wilted roses and the opportunity to find out what a jerk her “prize” really is when they get back home and reality sets in. Losers may end up coming back for another season as the Bachelorette. This season, we’ve got losers of both sexes competing for each other’s roses, and it’s really looking like an orgy.

America’s Next Top Model

Aspiring models compete to see who is best at strutting in heels with pouty attitude while kissing Tyra Bank’s butt. The winner is the one who leaves the most lipstick stains on her perfectly toned posterior. Winning may involve a single, short-term modeling contract with… somebody. Winners should not quit their day jobs.

 Other shows covered at Happy Nice Time People:

- American Ninja Warrior
- The Amazing Race
- Keeping Up With the Kardashians
- 19 Kids and Counting
- The Real Housewives of...
- The Apprentice
- The Biggest Loser
- MasterChef

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

The producers have tried something with Doctor Who that we haven't seen in 15 months: A regular, 45 - minute episode. Since The Name of the Doctor was broadcast back on May 18, 2013, we've had only three episodes, and they've all been major events - a huge anniversary, a blockbuster regeneration, and a blockbuster New Doctor episode. For the first time in over a year, it was business as usual, with an ordinary episode - that just happened to be pretty extraordinary.  I thought this might have been the most flawless work Doctor Who has done since Season Six, at least.

Leave it to the Daleks to up the game considerably.

We begin in the middle of battle; an entire fleet of the nasty little pepperpots are using a lone human spaceship as target practice, and the young pilot inside the craft is probably wondering why she didn't choose something safer to do with her life, such as bounty hunting or bomb defusal. Her co-pilot, who also happens to be her brother, is dead, she's surrounded by asteroids that have seemed to join the Dalek force as an enormous band of mercenaries, and then, just as it seems her number is up, she gets the scariest jolt of her life:

She materializes inside the Tardis, to be greeted by the universes' most ungracious host, the Doctor.  One minute she's being attacked by killing machines, and the next minute she's being frowned upon by Those Eyebrows. Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire.

What would any sane person in that situation do? She reaches for her gun, of course. Who wouldn't?

The Eyebrows regard her quietly and calmly as he strides across the Tardis bearing two cups of coffee - neither of which, it turns out, were meant for her. Like I said, the Universes' most ungracious host. Of course, who can blame him? Even the Queen's own butler might be hard pressed to provide refreshments to an armed and grieving hysterical guest who is prepared to shoot her way out of the hospitality he wishes to provide. She didn't even say thank you.

The Doctor counters her terrified attack stance with icy, matter-of-fact statements, lightly laced with a delicate layer of exasperated contempt. "I materialized a time capsule exactly round you and saved your life one second before your ship exploded, but do please keep crying."

Funny how this doesn't  make her feel any better. The soldier, whose name is Journey Blue, demands that the Doctor take her back to her command capsule.

Grumpy Doctor Grandpa (always happens with the first incarnation in any regeneration cycle, apparently) decides this ungrateful child needs some schooling in basic manners, and makes her say please. But he still doesn't give her any coffee.

Once back at her command capsule, the Aristotle, Journey Blue learns that the Tardis is smaller on the outside and the Doctor learns that the Aristotle is actually a hospital - without any doctors. And apparently, without any real common sense; aboard the Aristotle, the standard reward for saving the life of an officer is immediate execution. Apparently Journey learned her gratitude skills from her superiors.  "He might be a duplicate" explains the commander, Journey Blue's Uncle. Well damn, and the Doctor just stopped having all those post-regenerative hallucinations and dizzy spells.

Journey points out that Eyebrows is a Doctor, and they have a patient.  As the group marches towards sick bay the Doctor grumbles about things he doesn't like, (soldiers) and coos over things he does like - most notably, the moleculon nanoscaler, a device that shrinks people down to the size of bacteria so that they can operate on patients from the inside. The Doctor thinks this is a great idea for a movie and a terrible idea for a proctologist. Our dark, grumpy Doctor is also a very dryly funny Doctor, and he's becoming more and more one of my favorites every time he opens his mean little mouth.

Once the Doctor sees his patient, however, he may be ready to take his chances with the Aristotle's firing squad.

The credits roll.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Doctor Who, Season Eight: Deep Breath

....And I'm back. I've been waiting months to find a show I was enthusiastic enough to blog about, and now I've got it - a new season of...

New season, new Doctor, and a refreshing new direction in which we learn, after seven series of flirting with companions, that the Doctor is not our boyfriend after all.

It only took him a thousand years to figure that out, finally.


We open with a freakishly over-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex (or, since the beast is female,  possibly a Tyrannosaurus Regina,) who is rampaging in terrified fury through Victorian London. At least she's not a dinosaur on a spaceship. As the ordinary folk scramble in terror and try to avoid becoming dino chow, three odd little characters rush through the scene with a more analytical approach. There's a lovely young woman named Jenny, something that appears to be a giant walking, talking potato, and Madame Vastra, lesbian Silurian. As Vastra gazes up at the magnificent lady lizard, I wonder if she's possibly fallen in love. (Watch out, Jenny.) Moments later, they realize the dino is choking on something, and it spews out a big blue box.

Gotta wonder how the newspapers reported this the next day. Gotta wonder why it didn't make the history books.  The Tardis slams down conveniently near Vastra and her party, and one particularly clueless guy (Oh, look! It's the local detective! Where's Sherlock Holmes when you need him?) declares that the big lizard currently stomping buildings and people to pieces has laid an egg.

Vastra sneers at him because he doesn't realize it's a police box, and I stop to consider that these Victorian folks probably don't know what a police box is, either. Or if they do, they just know it as that big blue thing that always seems to appear right as the entire world goes completely insane. Yet another reason to be scared out of their wits.

The walking potato man, who will heretofore be referred to as Strax, orders the occupants of the box to surrender to the glory of the Sontaran Empire, and the man inside pokes his head just long enough to tell Mr. Potato Head to shush. Probably something Strax hears a lot, actually.

It is, of course, the Doctor, although none of the Paternoster Gang are sure yet because he looks very different from the last time they saw him. The Doctor doesn't recognize Strax, either, confusing him with one of the Seven Dwarves. He does recognize Vastra ("the green one) and Jenny ("the not-green-one") but he is still very disoriented in his post-regenerative haze. Moments later, Clara stumbles in a daze from the Tardis, probably wondering why she traded in an idyllic classroom of menacing delinquents for these ghastly adventures, especially since this new Doctor who does not resemble her cuddly young friend has forgotten her name. The Impossible Girl is now the Asking Questions One. (But does she ask the right questions?)

The Doctor sees that he has not actually managed to escape from the dinosaur, so he tries a new approach: "not flirting". He'll be not flirting with more than one person this episode, even if he does refer to the dino as his lady friend at least once. After a few more moments of incoherent rambling, the Doctor passes out.

Regeneration is a bitch, isn't it? At least he didn't try to strangle anybody this time, and he's not set right with a simple cup of tea (although this first scene for Capaldi borrows really, really heavily from The Christmas Invasion.)  As Clara informs the Paternoster Gang that this older man with a new face is the Doctor, Vastra puts on her best Brigadier hat and murmurs "Here we go again," and the credits roll.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dr. Who: "The End of the World." Retrospective Recap, Season One, Episode Two

Right then!

In the last episode the Doctor met Rose and they battled evil plastic creatures intent on destroying the earth in Rose's own era.  But that's just child's play. The Doctor enticed Rose away from Micky's clinging, not only by merely Not Being Micky, but through promises of time travel, and he aims to deliver.  So, where does she want to go? A hundred years in the future? BOOOOORING! No, let's do this wibbly wobbly timey wimey thing right... (sorry, wrong Doctor.) He spins some dials and causes the TARDIS to make funny noises, and before they know it, he's beckoning for her to step outside the little box into... a pretty dull looking hallway. Rose is a bit crestfallen at first, because the mere movement from one place to another has lost most of its excitement value, but the Doctor isn't done yet. He lowers the shutters of a window portal to show her Earth, looking much as it does in the present day... but it is not present day.  He's taken her five billion years into the future, and the evening's planned entertainment is the death of planet Earth.

What, you thought the destruction of the world was at hand with the Nestene Consciousness? Certainly not. The world can't possibly really end until this date in the future, because the Doctor knows the day exists. As they watch, the sun expands, filling the sky with reddish heat.  "Welcome to the end of the world" says the Doctor dramatically.  Rose looks at him as if he caused it, and begins to rethink this whole time traveling arrangement she's gotten herself into.

As the expanding sun glows threateningly on the horizon, a host of spaceships dock at a station that looking forbiddingly like a hypodermic needle and a soothing, welcoming voice reminds them that use of weapons, teleportation and religion is forbidden on Platform One. Earth death is scheduled for 15:39.  Drinks to follow.  Nice of the universe to work the event into their hospitality schedule.

The Doctor assures Rose that they will be seeing plenty of strange aliens - and by aliens, he means people who do not resemble humans as he does -  and that the richest and most powerful beings around are gathering to watch the planet burn.  Fun times! Surely the intergalactic social event of the millenium.