18 September 2005

more nega-TV-ty

The library reserve system works in mysterious ways. I request books, CDs and DVDs, and then I wait. Sometimes the materials come right away, and sometimes they take longer. Sometimes I get a postcard in the mail that tells me that my request just cannot be granted. I have no way of knowing if what I want will ever show up, and if so, when.

Well, it turns out that two DVD sets of second seasons of TV shows I enjoy showed up within a week of each other. I've long since given up on remembering when or why I request things, and for all I know I'd searched all DVDs for "complete second". Anyway, now I'm midway through watching both the second season of Dead like me (as I mentioned yesterday) and also Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. Jessica enjoys B.S.!* (as do I) so out of courtesy for her (and because I enjoy seeing her enjoy a DVD) I watch it only with her.

Formerly I would sometimes end up succumbing to temptation, watching episodes ahead and inevitably ruining the surprises and telegraphing the jokes by giggling early. So it takes some discipline to wait. It helps that I've got other stuff to watch on the side, too.

So anyway, we're watching the second season of these anarchic showmen and their exposés, and this time around the subjects are as sintersting as before, if not more, with the added benefit of them being more comfortable with confrontation and editing. The first season saw them addressing ESP, ouija boards, and bottled water, and this time they go after some bigger targets: P.E.T.A., the war on drugs, and 12-step programs. Here is a list of all the episodes.

One episode this season, however, stands out, even more than the first one's Secondhand smoke: Recycling. Their standpoint, which they back up with research from their crack team, is that recycling is largely not good for the environment or the economy. The make some sound points (it's cheaper, right now, to make new plastic bottles than to refine and reuse old ones to make new ones) and some that don't seem to stand up to scrutiny (there are more trees now than ever, mostly in tree farms, so saving paper doesn't save trees that don't need to be saved anyway) and some that are basically irrelevant (landfill space isn't exactly scarce). But they fall into the same trap that the network news and other sensationalist reporting does: they're out to entertain more than inform. They don't clearly state that they are focusing almost entirely on consumer curbside programs (which do, admittedly, waste a lot of time and fuel) and not the industrial re-use of waste, except in a brief mention on a toilet paper label, in a segment played more for a laugh than anything else.

But am I just being defensive because they've finally come after something that I put stock in and moreover, do? I don't think so. Their gleeful nihilism dismisses the eventuality that the costs of recycling will be cheaper than starting from scratch. They do point out that aluminum recycling is cost-effective and worthwhile, but they stop there at offering positive options or alternatives.

If ever an issue warranted followup or further explanation, it is this one. For them to dismiss it with the same sacred-cow-busting attitude as they do genuine nogoodniks like cosmetic surgery for children or the mortuary industry does everybody a disservice, if not the whole planet.

But I'm not going to stop watching them, of course.

* At least that's what the covers from the library's discs call the show. I'm happy that they buy the show, even if the title is potentially offensive.

17 September 2005

just call me mister negative DVD watcher

As a champion of the misguided, I've learned to recognize it relatively quickly. Surprisingly I don't recall picking up on it when I watched the first season of Dead like me. Now that I'm working my way through the show's second season, I think I'm beginning to see why it didn't work out, what with the show being cancelled after two seasons and all.

Or at least I have one theory. Allow me to spoil things a bit*. The show's about 'reapers', the grim and not-so-grim among the undead tasked with removing the souls of the dead just before their demise. The show centers around one particular reaper named George who hangs out with a foursome of reapers on a particularly nasty beat: accidents and other untimely demises.

Supernatural shows always seem to have trouble staying on the air for too long without being cancelled, alienating their fan base, or getting really, really weird or worse. Dead like me isn't really making those mistakes, but other ones. From what I've seen so far of the season, they (and I mean the writers, etc.) are getting sloppy. For a show that tries to skirt the issues of fate and causality and whatnot, it seems to be faltering.

For one thing, the reapers themselves are beginning to play critical roles in the victims' deaths. Namely, it seems that the poor sap (or sap-ette) wouldn't kick the bucket if not for our heroes having provided him with said bucket.

It's also starting to get more mixed up in soap-operatic dealings between the main characters and the secondary ones. This is inevitable, I suppose, but there are good ways to develop characters and other ways. Those other ways include suddenly developing complicated relationships or heretofore unmentioned backstories. No evil twins arise, but I'm not through the whole season yet.

* The standard disclaimers apply. If you don't want to find out about stuff, don't read it.

Thinking about it, in general, that "it" is entirely unnecessary. I could just settle with "If you don't want to find out about stuff, don't read". For pretty much everything, not just this DVD.

11 August 2005

's hell

War is hell. That's really all I can say, having finally seen all of HBO's Band of brothers. It's quite a powerful series, following the U.S. Army's Easy company from their training before Normandy up to V-E day, done in a very visceral style. You know, like the beginning quarter of Saving Private Ryan, but much, much longer.

As a series, though, Band falters more than once. Having been spread over parts, each with a different director and other inconsistencies (a couple had a DVD chapter stop right after the opening credits; most didn't) with the styles of visuals and narration, it was more distracting than it should have been. Switching the focus from soldier to soldier is one thing, and not so bad at that, but constantly changing the look and feel of the show meant I needed to get used to each episode's style all over again, every time. In this regard it very much reminded me of From the Earth to the Moon, another HBO (mini-) series*. That show, of course, was much less violent.

Band may be violent, but it never seems inauthentic. The battlefield scenes are almost too vivid (complete with the currently-in-vogue shaky camera motion) and realistic. I've never been in a war and now, more than ever, do I know that I'd never want to be in one either. War is hell. I don't know what more to say about it. I'm not so dedicated to my country, nor so dead-set against some evil to take up arms and fight and potentially lose my life. I suppose I owe my respect to those who do (and for that matter, my freedom and livelihood). So thank you all, but can't we all just get along?

* Also produced by Tom Hanks, oddly enough. His son Colin didn't ever appear in that, to my recollection, and fortunately so. That kid just doesn't have his dad's acting ability, yet.

21 July 2005

the waiting game

Instead of my usual exciting start of the workday, this morning I was up bright and earlier, and just sitting around. In fact, I sat around from about eight thirty until just before noon. I was waiting around because Jessica was having foot surgery.

I miss out on all the excitement.

She got through it fine, by the way. With the anesthesia she didn't even know it was happening until it was over.

I, on the other hand, was forced to endure those three hours more or less awake, in the waiting room with nice-looking (i.e. expensive) chairs that weren't all that comfortable for long term occupancy and a television blaring the Fox News channel.

The channel gets a bad rap, I guess, but by not having cable and not watching television in general, I don't run into it very much and haven't formed much of an opinion. From what I've heard their programs are rather abrasive and biased or worse.

Today was a special day, though, and instead of their regularly scheduled programming the channel seemed to be in live crisis mode.

To be honest, the last time I even saw more than a channel flip's worth of Fox News they were in crisis mode, back in September of 2001. They haven't gotten any better at it.

This morning's crisis was across the pond, seemingly a re-hash of the mass transit bombings a fortnight ago. From what I heard, that was quite the tragedy and many lives were lost. All in all, a bad thing. And that's about the extent of my feelings about it. Call me callous or self-centered or whatever but what I feel won't change one bit of those people's lives for the better (or the worse).

But that's last week. Today's crisis was seemingly a series of diversions, detonators detonated without explosives exploded. Of course, at the beginning, we didn't even know that much.

When we first arrived in the waiting room the screen was showing street-level footage of cars, buses and people, interspersed with a map of downtown London with one or two tube stations marked.

Two hours later, that map hadn't changed except that the arrows now pointed to little blue red and white Underground icons, not just points on the map. Woo hoo.

Of course they weren't just showing the map; they also had rivetingly boring footage of the same streets over and over. Occasionally they framed a British station, complete with its own ticker, clock and other eye candy, inside their own ticker and so on. The footage was the same, just an extra border or two.

The real action was in the voiceover. The 'host' was talking to anybody he could find, apparently, some on the scene and others just watching the show. He was asking the people such hard hitting questions as "What do you hear?" and "Do you smell anything?"

This focus on the senses struck me. Obviously there was nothing they could show us, so was this an effort by the news folks to get us to somehow experience some of the chaos and confusion? Difficult to say.

An oft-repeated litany was "We don't know". Nobody seemed to know anything for the hours of the broadcast while I was there. Some people had smelled and heard odd things, and some reported seeing a suspicious tall African American or Asian wearing a hoodie with wires hanging out the back. He eluded the bobbies, but the news people, despite knowing nothing about him other than that "tall African American or Asian wearing a hoodie with wires hanging out the back" so they just repeated that over and over, like some kind of moronic chant, an invocation to call this suspect out of hiding.

That was the main thing that bothered me: they had nothing to tell. Live coverage is only significant if something is happening, and largely, during the hours I heard the show, most everything was unknown or under control. It is a testament to London's emergency response teams that most everything was buttoned down and everyone largely safe.

Anyway, I didn't stick around long enough to get any real facts, so I don't know what actually happened. And you know what? It doesn't matter. Very little that happens in the subways of London is affected by me and what I know, and very little that happens there affects me. I know that terrorism cannot be tolerated anywhere, and it is important to know that something has happened, but I don't need a play by play, especially when nothing's happening.