Tag Archives: TV

How the new telenovela conquered the US

Planet Money, The New Telenovela:

You can probably picture a classic telenovela. It’s dramatic, full of scandal. Cheating husbands. Cheating wives. Sunset romance. Dewy-eyed heroines.

Perla Farías was a telenovela actress in Venezuela, and she was getting bored of the typical story. So when she became an executive at Telemundo in the United States, she decided to try something different. At the time, Telemundo was the underdog in the world of US telenovelas, always in second place behind the giant Univision. But Farías’s shows changed all that. They altered the landscape of Spanish language TV shows—and of all TV shows.

“These Are the Voyages”

I’ve been reading “These Are the Voyages,” an obsessively detailed history of Star Trek.

I don’t mean it’s a history of the fictional universe of the Federation — I mean it’s a history of the classic 1960s TV show. It’s utterly fascinating (see what I did there?). It’s nearly an example of microhistory, placing a small event (a single TV show) in a larger context of the history of its time.

I haven’t been rewatching the episodes. But I’ve seen them all many times. So it’s as if I were rewatching as I read.

I had somehow picked up the idea that it was common wisdom that the first season of Trek was the best, the second season was nowhere near as good, and the third season was drek.

But I’m a couple of episodes into reading about Season 2, and I’ve reviewed the episode list. Now I think that was classic Trek’s best season. It had found its stride by then.

Sure, there were a couple of episodes in Season 1 that were Trek at its best, but Season 1 was often pompous (A Taste of Armageddon, The Alternative Factor). And at least one episode that was acclaimed in the past just doesn’t hold up today (Devil in the Dark — we did watch that one recently, it was the first and only episode of what was intended to be a ToS rewatch).

In Season 2, Trek was hitting on all cylinders: Drama (“Amok Time”), high opera (“Who Mourns for Adonais”), and campy fun — pretty much any episode where the Enterprise visits an alternate history Earth.

Yes, Season 2 was Trek at its best.

We’ll just pretend “Friday’s Child” and “The Omega Glory” never happened.

“Stranger Things,” “love letter to the VCR era,” taps into older, darker American myths

The 80s influences of “Stranger Things” are obvious — Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, the “Goonies” and other 80s movies that appealed to preadolescents of that decade. But Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker finds an older, darker influence: H.P. Lovecraft

The scientific worldview says that the universe is neutral. It doesn’t care if you live or die. But Lovecraft had a different view: The universe is evil. It hates us. And it’s supremely powerful, inhabited by entities who are to us as we are to insects, and are eager to torment us just for giggles. In Lovecraft’s view, the Earth is a tiny little island of relative safety that could open to that wider, hostile universe with a single pinprick of reality. In Lovecraft’s view, the pinprick came from miscegenation — racial contamination — Lovecraft was a full-throated bigot who hated and feared brown-skinned people and Eastern and Southern Europeans.

But Lovecraft has many heirs and imitators today, and they substitute other forces for racial impurity. In the case of “Stranger Things,” the horror is unleashed by US government scientific bureaucracy, as it often is in King’s novels.

Rothman identifies two target audiences for “Stranger Things:” Adults who were children in the 80s and view the series as a big ol’ nostalgia wallow, and children who look back on that era as a golden age before they were born, sort of like the 50s were viewed when I was a teen-ager in the 70s.

I’m from an older generation; I turned 20 in 1981. I enjoyed the nostalgia of “Stranger Things” because the period portrayed on the show was not all that different from the early 70s, when I was the same age as the show’s child heroes. As kids in the early 70s, we roamed freely around the neighborhoods on our bikes and engaged in nerdy pursuits without parental supervision. We didn’t have Dungeons & Dragons; that hadn’t been invented yet. But we played marathon games of Risk.

This idea of the universe being actively hateful and evil is a new one for me. I’m a rationalist, I don’t believe that the real universe is evil. An indifferent universe can be hostile enough at times.

But the idea of an actively hostile and evil universe certainly opens possibilities for fantastic fiction.

Joe Haldeman said that in science fiction, the universe is neutral and knowable through reason and science; in fantasy, the universe is unknowable; and in horror the universe is hostile. (I think he said that — he said something along those lines but I may be misremembering the specifics.) While science fiction and fantasy are usually paired together as “fantastic fiction,” science fiction’s actual closest sibling is the police procedural, Haldeman notes.

Gene L. Coon brought the heart and laughter to the original Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek was preachy and serious. Gene L. Coon injected laughter and heart. He also invented the Klingons, and the constant thread running through Trek that hostile behavior often stems from cultures misunderstanding each other.

Andreea Kindryd was an African-American civil rights activist who had worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and worked for Coon as his production secretary. She was at first “uneasy about working with an old white guy named Coon—especially after Coon told her that his father had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan—but Coon was passionate about injecting anti-racist messages into Trek.”

Charlie Jane Anders, Wired

Wikipedia entry for Sunnydale, the fictional location for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” 

Sunnydale’s size and surroundings are implausible but justified given its origins — to sustain a human population for supernatural evils to prey upon. The town’s founder spared no expense to attract a populace, and Sunnydale thus contains many elements of a large city — which the show’s writers utilized fully for comic effect and narrative convenience. During the first three seasons, Sunnydale is shown to have 38,500 inhabitants,[2] very few high schools,[3] forty-three churches,[4] a small private college,[5] a zoo,[6] a museum,[7] and one modest main street. Even so, it has twelve gothic cemeteries.[8] These cemeteries are so heavily used that services are sometimes held at night.[9] Sunnydale is divided into five neighborhoods. The first is the entertainment district which contains Bronze. The second is the alleys directly behind Bronze which contain the town’s excess supply of pallets and cardboard. The high school makes the third neighborhood. The fourth neighborhood is filled in its entirety by the large graveyard, and lastly the suburban residential sprawl is the final neighborhood. The abundance of very nice homes is made possible by low property values caused by frequent murder.[10]

RIP Fyvush Finkel, star of Yiddish theater, TV’s ‘Picket Fences’ & ‘Boston Public’

Fyvush Finkel, whose homespun moniker and putty face were comic statements all their own that helped him become a mainstay of what remained of Yiddish entertainment, and who later crossed over into the television mainstream as the cantankerous lawyer on the 1990s series “Picket Fences,” died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

Despite the decline of Yiddish theater, Finkel, who started performing at nine years old, never gave it up.

In his autumnal years, he often starred in pastiches recalling the Yiddish theater’s heyday, adorned with old theater posters of Molly Picon and Jacob Adler and musical chestnuts like “Yidl Mitn Fidl.”

In 1991 he patched together a merry valentine to Yiddish vaudeville, with himself as the star, called “Finkel’s Follies.” Presented Off Broadway at the John Houseman Theater on West 42nd Street, it featured such shopworn shticks as the waiter who rebukes a customer for griping about a filthy napkin.

“Eleven people used that napkin,” the waiter says. “You’re the only one who complained.”

I was a fan of his on “Boston Public.” It wasn’t a great role, but he shone in it.

George RR Martin’s “Wild Cards” books are coming to TV

The “Game of Thrones” author’s Wild Cards series are set in an alternate history where an alien virus in the 1940s gave superpowers to a tiny fraction of humanity. Martin worked on the books with Melinda Snodgrass and a team of about 30 collaborators, each writing individual stories in the larger universe.

I loved the first dozen or so volumes of the series, and I’m looking forward to the TV show.

Dalya Alberge at The Guardian:

It is a sprawling fantasy featuring deformed humans, superheroes who can read minds and fly, and plot lines exploring issues such as bigotry and raw political ambition. Like the blockbuster TV hit Game of Thrones, it is also based in part on the work of the cult fantasy writer George RR Martin.

Now Hollywood is betting that a major TV adaptation of Wild Cards, a series of science fiction books grounded in gritty realism that Martin began writing 30 years ago, can emulate the extraordinary worldwide success of the HBO show. If it does, it will fulfil the dreams of Martin’s collaborator on Wild Cards, Melinda Snodgrass, who has struggled in vain for 12 years to interest film and television producers.

The US writer and editor was praised by executives, only to be given excuses about why the books were not for them. She refused to be bowed by rejection and her determination has finally paid off. She is now heading an ambitious TV adaption of the series backed by Universal Pictures.


No Longer Omar: Actor Michael K. Williams On Lucky Breaks And Letting Go

Actor Michael K. Williams is known for playing morally ambiguous, sometimes violent characters. As Omar Little on The Wire, Williams was a fearless stick-up man who stole money from drug dealers. In Boardwalk Empire, he played Chalky White, a bootlegger in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Now, in the new HBO series The Night Of,he’s a powerful inmate in New York’s notorious Rikers Island Prison.

Williams tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that playing such intense characters sometimes takes a psychic toll. “When I wear these characters to the extent that I wear them to, that [energy’s] gotta go somewhere,” he says. The dark energy of Omar Little, for example, “was a little too close to home.” Williams struggled with addiction while he worked on The Wire and eventually sought help at a church in New Jersey.

Now the actor practices prayer and meditation, which help him separate from his work. “One of the main things that’s changed from when I was first on The Wire and to now — in, particularly, The Night Of — is I know how to differentiate myself from the character. … I still go in just as deep, but now I have the tools … to pull myself out of that.”

No Longer Omar: Actor Michael K. Williams On Lucky Breaks And Letting Go (Fresh Air podcast)

Literally the night of the day that I listened to this podcast, we decided to watch the first episode of the crime series “Hap and Leonard.” And who shows up as a co-star but Williams?

“Hap and Leonard” looks good so far; we’ve only seen one episode but it’s good enough to get us watching the second. It starts with a car chase like something out of a 70s Burt Reynolds movie, and doesn’t slow down from there. I got the recommendation from a panelist on The Incomparable podcast, who said rightly that if you liked “Justified,” you’ll like “Hap and Leonard.”

50 years of Star Trek clips

“Irritating? Ah, yes, one of your Earth emotions,” says Spock with a little smile.

Spock? Smiling? WTF?

I need to watch the original Trek movies again. All of them. Maybe not Wrath of Khan — it’s the best of the bunch, but we’ve seen it relatively recently.

A friend recently said “the one with the whales” is a low point for the series. I may be rethinking our friendship over this. (To be fair, I haven’t seen it in many years and for all I know it holds up like crap. But it was brilliant when it came out.)

Via David Pescovitz, Boing Boing. Thanks!

Trailer for the “Gilmore Girls” comeback this year. Excited!

Julie got me into this show when it first aired. I stayed away because I thought it had girl cooties. Which it does but I guess I have girl cooties because I love “Gilmore Girls.”

Earlier this year we started to rewatch the show but Julie was all, “Meh. I’m done with Gilmore Girls.” And then I heard there was going to be a revival and I was all OMGOMGOMGsqueeeeeeee!! and Julie was all “meh.”

The problem with Twitter’s new marketing campaign

Twitter’s new video ad actually explains what Twitter is for – Kurt Wagner, Recode

Twitter unveiled a new video ad Monday morning, and it does something that its previous TV commercial never did: It explains why you might want to use Twitter.

Here’s a look at the new ad, which Twitter is running on its own properties for now and will soon pay to distribute on other digital platforms:

“What’s happening in the world?” the narrator asks over video of Donald Trump campaigning and clips from “Game of Thrones.”

“What’s everyone talking about? How did it start? See what’s happening in the world right now.”

This is, in essence, why anyone uses Twitter. To answer these exact questions. And now Twitter is explaining that, or at least highlighting it, in a way that might catch people’s attention.

Twitter’s problem is that most of the time there’s nothing going on in the world that you need to know about RIGHT NOW. Osama Bin Laden isn’t being killed somewhere every second of the day.

Sports and celebrity gossip might be the exception. People don’t need to know that stuff right away, but they enjoy it. Is that enough to sustain Twitter?

Also, if someone has never used Twitter before, can they find what’s happening right now FAST, like right this second?

“Why Lady Elaine Fairchilde Was My First Feminist Role Model”

Elizabeth Yuko praises the Mister Rogers character on The Establishment:

There were a lot of things I admired about Lady Elaine, but the thing I got the biggest kick out of as a wee feminist was her unwavering confidence and ability to challenge authority. While the rest of the residents of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe were obedient of King Friday, Lady Elaine had no problem standing up to him, or just casually calling him “Friday.”

Even as a child I appreciated Lady Elaine’s independence; she wasn’t constantly trying to find a husband, as she was too busy having her own host of adventures—like traveling to space and discovering Planet Purple. Not only that, but she got to live in the Museum Go-Round—which frankly, still sounds appealing to me today—and had the Boomerang-Toomerang-Zoomerang at her disposal, which enabled her to turn the neighborhood upside-down.

I also loved Lady Elaine’s signature style: She looked great in red, knew how to rock a cardigan, and didn’t let a bit of rosacea (heavy drinking?)—and what is more-than-likely a DIY haircut—stand in her way. Better yet, she played the accordion, which I related to not only because my hometown of Cleveland is America’s Polka Capital, but also because my father played the instrument to calm me down when I had colic as a baby.