Thursday, June 21, 2012

What I've Been Watching

I think it’s important to be familiar with pop culture—to have some idea of what everybody is talking about, reading, watching, listening to and buying. It means I can find something to talk about with almost everyone, and that I have a little better understanding about today’s world. As people get older, there is a tendency to dismiss novelty out of hand; I want to fight that, but I’m lazy at heart, so I try to do just enough to get by. Story of my life.

I have different levels of interest in the various forms, depending largely on the investment of time and money required for passable fluency. With pop music, for instance, it’s worth letting the Gs control the radio when I’m driving them to school, or cheer practice, or tae kwan do, or play rehearsal, or lego club, or piano lessons, or dance class, or birthday parties, or playdates, as it facilitates a familiarity with all of the new hits; enough that I can stick to NPR or college radio when I'm alone.

With books, I’m generally not as willing to read whatever sits atop the New York Times bestseller list, partly because I don’t enjoy fiction as much, and also because I don’t find the time required to read Think Like a Lady, Act Like a Man—and I use this purely for exemplary purposes, not because there is anything particularly undesirable about this book (the first one that actually came to mind was $%^# my Dad says, but this is a family blog)—is worth the utility of having read it. I am no doubt wrong in this approach at times, and I often enjoy books I'm given that I would never otherwise read; but, as Daniel Kahneman tells us, we need these "heuristics" to get us through the day.

I am also finding myself less inclined to see the summer’s blockbuster movies of late. I have been so disappointed by big movies over the last few years that I have practically given up on them altogether. They seemed utterly lacking in credible stories, and I invariably found myself walking out of the theatre thinking “Really? That’s the best you can do with unlimited resources? And people love it?” Maybe this will change as the Gs cross into the land of PG-13.

With television, I just can’t bring myself to check out the new shows, unless there is a significant level of buzz generated first, an approach that invariably rules out starting fresh with something. Worldwide has been faithfully watching Downton Abbey and Mad Men, and while the former is not my cuppa, the latter seems like it ought to be, and I can think of no good reason not to be watching it, so I think that I may begin Season 1, once a place on the schedule is available.

My routine, on nights when there isn’t a game on, is to spend an hour or so with the television after everyone has gone to bed. All of the shows that I’ve been watching—with the exception of the Wire, which Sarah pressed on me the first day I arrived—are available for streaming on Netflix, which I have been generally pleased with, except for weekend nights, when the quality is often spotty.

Having missed 2005-2009, most of these shows are a little older, and, as I catch up, I may have to rethink our current policies regarding HBO and Netflix. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend all of them, but they were of sufficient quality that I stuck with each to the end.

The Wire ****
Best HBO program ever (I don’t think it’s fair to call it a TV show, due to the commercial free broadcast and mature content, but I did initially consider calling it the “best show ever”). Beautifully written and acted, the show brilliantly captured the hopelessness of growing up in the inner city, the vibe of working in local politics, on the police force, or in a newsroom, and the humor maintained by all kinds of people trying to live their lives as best they can, “boats against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past.”

Firefly **
This Joss Wheedon project has a devoted cult following, and I was intrigued by its premise, combining aspects of Buck Rogers and Robin Hood. But I found the stories a little boring, and the camaraderie among the ragtag crew, each with his or her own specialty, a little force. Nice to see Ron Glass working, though. I guess Blood on the Badge must not have panned out.

Battlestar Galactica **1/2
I was excited by the reboot of this series, which I didn’t watch in the 1970s. I think it raised lot of interesting points about humanity, in the context of an entertaining battle between people and alternatively sexy/scary robots, but, as the series progressed, I felt like the writers were using the plot device of [character] is secretly a robot a little too freely.

Friday Night Lights ***
As a sucker for shows that involve teens or sports, this one had me at hello. But it was well written and acted, nicely capturing a number of different family dynamics, and the realization or abandonment of a host of teenage and grown-up dreams, not always in the manner expected. So don’t despair, Taylor Kitsch. You do have to live with the ignominy of John Carter, but you’ll always have Tim Riggins. Texas forever.

Louie ***
Until recently, I was only vaguely aware of Louie CK. This show, like the early Seinfeld in conceit—a story interspersed with standup—but nothing like it otherwise, is at times, funny, poignant and pathetic. A very economical 23 minutes, though it can be a little vulgar.

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