Light a Candle

Things have been pretty scary the past few weeks, even within the hard year that 2017 has been. We had a family health scare just a little while ago (all better now), plus the ongoing garbage fire that is US politics.

So I wanted to spend a bit of time focusing on things that have been bringing joy and light into my life, in case these things could do the same for you. At the bottom, I list some resources I’ve been using to stay up to date on politics with a minimum of hassle/frustration.

Sources of Joy

One of the things I do to relax is listening to podcasts. I started listening to podcasts over ten years ago when I was out in Oregon doing my M.A. in Folklore. Back then, the only show I listened to was Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing. These days, I’m a part of two podcasts and subscribe to many more. The two below have been particularly helpful for me this summer:

Friends at the Table – A marvelous actual-play tabletop role-playing game podcast with great players, engrossing worlds, and amazing music by composer Jack de Quidt (who is also one of the players). The current season Twilight Mirage is especially engrossing, telling the tale of a far-future utopia in crisis.

Waypoint Radio – The home podcast of video game website Waypoint. They focus less on giving games scores and more on story structure, design, and the political dimensions of games. They sometimes also talk politics (esp. labor and health policy) and are clear and open in their progressive leanings.

When I’m not listening to podcasts, I am often chilling out with my wife watching TV or watching something in the background while I work on this or that. Here are some shows and video series that have brought me joy the past few months:

DuckTales – The original show was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid, and the 2017 remake on DisneyXD is very amusing so far. I am a total sucker for anything that plays in the ‘modern multi-genre pulp’ mode where mummies and vampire and Atlantis and so on are all real.

Breakfast & Battlegrounds – This is a video series on Waypoint comprised of recordings of the game Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. Breakfast & Battlegrounds is complete with a (funny, loose) continuity, special music (boat jazz!) and fun special guests. Austin & Patrick from Waypoint play as father & son team Crowbar & Sickle, in search of the elusive Chicken Dinner of victory. The most fun I’ve had watching a video game in some time.

Killjoys – A fun, sexy, space-based action-adventure series which starts with great episodic stories and builds to a cool metaplot. The showrunner is the same as the urban fantasy series Lost GirlKilljoys is about a pair of space-age bounty hunters called Killjoys who travel The Quad (four planet/moons bound together by a corporate-owned government).

And of course, since I’m a gamer, here’s a recent game I loved playing:

Pyre – The new game from Supergiant Games, who created Bastion and Transistor. It’s a cool fantasy combination of a visual novel/choose your own adventure and a magical sports game. The biggest draw for me in this game is the cool characters and their evolving relationships with one another. Also, you can complete a play-through in about 10-12 hours.

Pod Save America
 – Ex-Obama staffers break down the news and snark along the way. Unabashedly Democrat-leaning & progressive, a bit bro-y, though not gross.
Pod Save The People – Activist Deray Mckesson provides a grassroots view on politics, with a strong focus on the impact to and organizing by communities of color.

What The Fuck Just Happened Today? – Trump-focused digest of American political news.

Superhero shows I want to see

So, if Twitter and online media reviews are any indications, Daredevil is a hit. (I’m really liking it, though I’m only 9 episodes in).

We’re already in the middle of a wave of superhero TV, much of which is far better than has been made in the past.

But what’s next? Supergirl is coming, as is DC’s All-Star Team-Up (or whatever the series with ATOM/Firestorm and co. will be called).

The big Q I have right now is what superhero TV shows will be greenlit on the back of Daredevil‘s success.

What I’m hoping is that we see more supers shows developed with high production values without always already having to be gritty and morally gray. Agents of SHIELD got stronger after a weak launch, but when comparing it to The Flash or Daredevil, it’s now weak sauce.


Here are some ideas that took basically no time to come up with:

Birds of Prey  (Pitch: Girls + crime-fighting) – Batgirl and Black Canary + 1-2 other 20-something women being young and fabulous and flawed and friends while fighting crime. You could basically work directly from the Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr Batgirl run for the first season as your starting point (after adjusting the plot of Issue #37).

The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl (Pitch: No, seriously, this will work) – Here’s part one of Marvel’s play for tween/teen audiences. The new comics run is fun, whacky, and really kid-friendly. Do it as a cartoon if you need to. Avatar: the Last Airbender has proven that cartoons can have tonal range and work across demographic categories.

Ms. Marvel (Pitch: This book is huge, just make it) — This comic is a gigantic hit barely a year into its first run. Capitalize on this sensation while you’ve got it, Marvel. Take a stand by putting a Pakistani-American young woman front-and-center in the MCU. The success of shows like Jane The Virgin and Scandal prove that a woman of color in a lead can succeed in ratings. Though I get maybe wanting to wait with her to introduce Captain Marvel first in the MCU. Doesn’t mean you couldn’t do a 616 series instead of MCU, especially in cartoon form.

Silver Surfer (Pitch: It’s an American Dr. Who) – Take your cues from the current Slott/Allred run and have a ball. Made more difficult by the shiny silver-ness of the lead, but worth considering.

She-Hulk – (Pitch: It’s Ally McBeal for the 20-teens. OR It’s feminist superpowered Law + Order). Take your cues from the recent runs and go for a procedural show where the lead is both Law + Order by herself. Cast a statuesque actress or CG her up in post-production (the former is a smarter idea) and go for episodic plots – A plot is the legal case of the week, B-plot is a superhero plot. The next week, reverse it so the supers plot is the A-plot. And then use subplots in mini and maxi-arcs to give the whole show shape.

Wonder Woman (Pitch: The West Wing + Greek Gods). This has been tried for TV, but not in the way I think would work best. Let Wonder Woman be a Big Damn Hero and an international diplomatic figure. She’s a Big Deal. Draws inspiration from the Greg Rucka run on the character, maybe mix that in with the Greek God-tastic Azzarello run.

X-Men (Pitch: It’s a CW Show. With the X-Men). HOW IS THIS NOT ALREADY HAPPENING? CW is doing a lot of SFF, and an X-Men show focusing on younger heroes, a mix of existing and brand-new mutants, with some familiar faces on faculty, WOULD ROCK. To answer my own question, I imagine this hasn’t happened mostly because of Fox and Marvel’s strained relationship, but there’s money being left on the table here, folks. Looking at shows like The Flash, I think the tech is there to start putting more visually-impressive supers on TV. The look of many visually-distinct mutants can be achieved with good makeup.


What supers shows do you want to see, and how would you do it?

Cool Stuff You Might Like

Here’s some stuff I’ve enjoyed recently that I’d like to share:

Kimmy Schmidt

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – A Netflix original series from the team that created 30 Rock. The show follows Kimmy Schmidt, tricked into joining an apocalypse cult living underground for fifteen years before she and the three other women with her were rescued. But rather than living in victim-hood and work the talk show circuit, Kimmy decides to stay in NYC and start over.

The lead, Ellie Kemper, is the #1 reason to watch the show, IMO. The show takes a tragic character backstory and turns it into the reason for a comedy show. Kimmy is aggressively optimistic, even though the trauma of what was done to her is far from just washed away once the show starts. The show has some questionable representation that isn’t sitting well with me, but if you liked 30 Rock, this show is definitely worth a try.

Silver Surfer: New Dawn

Silver Surfer: New Dawn (Dan Slott, Michael Allred, Laura Allred, VC’s Clayton Cowles)

I have a soft spot for Silver Surfer ever since I read one of the old hardcover collections with his first solo issue appearances from 1968). The character is often shown as kind of flat, the brooding Herald of Galactus. But when well-done, the character is thoughtful and kind. The Slott/Allred Silver Surfer was, for me, a major return to form, clearly influenced by the original Kirby/Lee run. I wouldn’t have thought to tap Michael Allred to echo Jack Kirby’s cosmic baroque art, but it is a great fit. The story is solid, largely for that invocation of the late-60s run.

Blades in the Dark (John Harper)

Blades in the Dark is a Tabletop RPG being Kickstarted right now. It’s funded to the tune of over $50,000, and has a month left to go. Expect major stretch goal action.

The core game does the focused indie RPG thing of presenting a single core premise and game mode – in this case, playing a group of thieves who work together from nothing to build their criminal empire in a setting reminiscent of Video Game RPG Dishonored. The game invokes Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and The Lies of Locke Lamora as comparisons, and it looks like it’d also play well for fans of Among Thieves.

I think this looks really cool, so I’ve backed it, and I figured that I’d share it in case other folks were interested. I haven’t gotten to play any tabletop RPGs in a while, but I like to keep an eye on what’s going on in the form and support interesting projects. Of particular note to me are the ‘build your missions’ idea that looks like it may solve the Shadowrun problem of ‘plan the job for 3 hours, then another 3 hours of combat.’

The completed stretch goals have added extra character archetypes and several all-new game modes (play the City Watch, play fantasy-whale hunters, play a group trying to overthrow the Immortal Emperor, etc.)

New Geekomancer Under Glass

I’ve got a new post on Skiffy And Fanty in my Geekomancer Under Glass series. This time I’m talking about transmedia storytelling, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and the MCU.

Here’s a little taste:

There have been TV->film->TV movements, from La Femme Nikita to Star Trek, Star Wars, and more. The Matrix universe delved deep into transmedia storytelling, with animated shorts, video games, and comics.

But Agents of SHIELD was something different — clearly designed as a bridge between movies, the show started weak. Really weak. The pilot episode showed some promise, with Clark Gregg as a compelling lead and Mike Peterson giving a voice to an interesting thematic question (is the American Dream a lie?).

Read the whole thing here

Fall 2010 New Show Roundup

Having watched a number of the new shows that debut this fall, here are some thoughts:

My Generation: I was interested in this show in no small part due to the fact that the main characters, nine students from the class of 2000 at an Austin high school, are nearly my age-peers.  I graduated in the class of 2001 (we did not play Space Odyssey, I’m sad to say), and am far away from where I thought I would be at that time.

This show takes the mocumentary style and applies it to a drama, where filmmakers followed nine students throughout their senior year, and is now checking in with them ten years later.  The characters are introduced with their High School clique labels, such as “The Nerd,” “The Brains,” “The Jock,” etc.  and then shown in their current lives, often very far away from where they’d expected to be.  Circumstances in the characters’ lives bring many of them back to Austin, re-connecting with those who had never left or already returned.

The pilot clearly set the stakes, established the characters and their current trajectories vs. their self-professed worlds that they had imagined for themselves in 2000.  It’s not fantastic, but it’s compelling so far and I’m likely to keep watching for a little while, if for no reason than the degree to which it makes me think about what has been happening in my own life vs. what I expected when I was a senior in HS.

The Event — This is the new The New LOST.  The Event uses mosaic-style storytelling, jumping between characters and time frames in a fairly jarring manner, though over the episode, the rhythm became less distracting for me.  The focus on Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) in the first episode brings the audience into the middle of The titular Event, balanced with POV sections from President Martinez (played by Blair Underwood — no relation) and others.

For me, much of my level of ongoing interest will depend on the truth of the Mt. Inostranka facility.  Who are these people, and how are they connected to The Event?  Once we know more about that, it’ll be easier to decide how much I care.  There are several options that are yawn-worthy, and some others that could prove quite compelling.

Undercovers — The new sexy spy offering from Alias-creator J.J. Abrams is cute and fun.  It’s not fantastic, but it does show a happily-married african-american couple as series leads, which is still noteworthy for network TV.   It’s Sexy People Doing Sexy Spy Things, but it’s pretty well-done, and the leads are both gorgeous and likeable.  I won’t stay home for this one, but I’ll probably catch up via Hulu every so often.

No Ordinary Family — The Pilot of this one hasn’t actually aired, but I got to watch a preview last month when they had it in limited availability.  No Ordinary Family is very nearly a Live Action The Incredibles, with an origin closer to the Fantastic Four, who were an obvious inspiration for the Pixar film.

Michael Chiklis is Jim Powell, police sketch artist and under-appreciated dad.  He feels fairly powerless and disconnected from his family, including his Bigwig Scientist Wife, Stephanie Powell (Julie Benz).  Their children are Just-Trying-To-Fit-In Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and Undiagnosed Learning Disability Kid Brother JJ (Jimmy Bennett).

Jim convinces the family to take a vacation, which leads to their plane crashing into the Amazon — their trip is ruined, but shortly after their return, the members of the family begin manifesting super-powers.  Jim gains incredible strength and toughness, Stephanie gets super-speed, Daphne becomes telepathic and JJ gets a massive intelligence boost.

The show’s formula seems like it will include Jim using his powers and police connections to fight crime while the rest of the family goes about their lives trying to deal with their powers — there are also hints of a larger super-world which will likely play a role as the show goes forward.

Of the new shows this season, I’m probably most excited about No Ordinary Family — it’s fun, doesn’t take itself to seriously, and seems to be respectful of its genre roots.

Hawaii Five-O — The joys of remakes.  I didn’t really watch much of the original, as it was mostly before my time.  However, the new show keeps what some say is the best part of the original show — the opening theme.

Alex O’Laughlin plays Steve McGarrett, who is brought out of the Middle East and offered a position heading a new state police unit in Hawaii, with no red tape and vast resources, tasked with bringing down TV-worthy criminals across the state.

He crosses paths with Danny “Danno” Williams, a divorced father who moved to Hawaii to be near his daughter (who primarily lives with her mother and step-dad), and also recruits Chin Ho (Daniel Dae Kim), a disgraced cop who worked with McGarrett’s father.  Rounding out the cast is Grace Park, playing Chin Ho’s cousin Kona “Kono” Kalakaua, a hotshot rookie policewoman.  McGarrett recruits her right out of the academy, as she’d have trouble getting respect in the normal force due to her familial connection to the disgraced Chin Ho.

The exotic locale, nostalgia, and charming cast are likely to be the show’s best assets, at least to begin with.  I admit that if the show finds a way to highlight Grace “Boomer” Park’s gorgeousness on a regular basis, that will help by willingness to watch.

Pilot: The Event

Behold, NBC’s intended successor to LOST.  It’s tightly-paced, unfolds in a mosaic narrative style, with interlocking character arcs, mysteries abounding, and a plane.

The plane is important.  It increases the LOST resonance, and is important in the plot.

Only one episode has premiered, but sofar, I’m intrigued.  Go below for Spoiler-ed discussion.

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Glee as Fantasy

I posit that Glee is a fantasy television series, in that it can be fruitfully evaluated using a focus on its non-mimetic narrative style to both comment on the traditions of the musical genre (especially the Hollywood Musical) but also in discussing “Music as Magic” and the way that said magic can be transformative, liberating, and revelatory.

From the ubiquitous piano player — “He’s always just around” to the fact that in Glee, seemingly everyone can instantly learn arrangements and choreagraphy and the elaborate fantasy sequences which bleed in and out of the diegesis, we have what could be described by some as Slipstream, some as Urban Fantasy, and possibly even Magical Realism (though less so on that one, given what I see as a lack of a definitive tie to the fairly culturally-specific tradition of Magical Realism).

Why does this matter?

1) If Glee is a fantasy series, then the places/times when it diverts from realism can be seen not as a violation of believability inspiring a rolling of the eyes, but a demonstration of the times when life is not enough and extra-normal storytelling is required. This brings back my beloved Etienne Decroux quote:

“One must have something to say. Art is first of all a complaint. One who is happy with things as they are has no business being on the stage.” — Etienne Decroux

And to paraphrase my former professor John Schmor, Musicals are a complaint that life should be more marvelous — why don’t we just burst into song when mere speech can no longer contain our emotional intensity?

2) It allows Glee to be more easily analyzed in the context of other SF/F musicals such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More With Feeling,” Fringe’s “Brown Betty” and so on.

3) It allows the use of the scholarship regarding the metaphors of the Fantastic to be applied t the series. It also enables scholars to bring to bear Samuel R. Delany’s notion of SF/F as a literature that allows for the “literalization of the metaphor” — music is soul-healing, music is empowering, music enables people to express themselves in ways they had previously/traditionally not been able.

These are merely preliminary thoughts. Look for more in time, as I believe this approach is the one which allows me to most effectively analyze the series.

Review: Doctor Who “The Eleventh Hour”

New Doctor, new Companion, new look.

In “The Eleventh Hour” Matt Smith steps into the role of The Doctor, one of the most recognizable and longest-running figures in science fiction television.

I’m not much of a Whovian. I’ve watched occasional old episodes and chunks of episodes, the whole Eccleston series, chunks of Tennant’s run, and now the first offering by Smith. The New New Who is run by Steven Moffat and co-stars Karen Gillian as Amy Pond.

“The Eleventh Hour” starts out with The Doctor, freshly regenerated, hanging out the edge of the TARDIS as it careens through the atmosphere and sky of Earth. He crash-lands the TARDIS and spends several minutes running around very manically with a little girl, Amelia Pond. I wasn’t a big fan of the cravings/food preferences sequence, but it was a change for Smith to start to feel out the role. Smith is clearly drawing influence from Tennant’s impressive run, but there are shades of other doctors as well.

Smith is only a couple months older than I am, but doesn’t come across as “young.” He seemed more to me as energetic, refreshed/renewed. If anything, he’s a very old soul in a new and lively body.

The episode wasn’t the strongest I’ve seen in Who-history, but it was well-carried on the dynamic between Smith and Gillian. Karen Gillian plays Amy (formerly Amelia) Pond, who met the Doctor as a young girl when the TARDIS crash-lands, and builds a whole mythology around him when he disappears and doesn’t come back for 12 years. (Twelve years, four therapists, and countless hand-made dolls). The Doctor next sees Amy as a policewoman when he’s trespassing. Amy Pond, as a character, is very well-established throughout the episode, and has a history more intertwined with The Doctor than most season-long companions (to my knowledge).

There’s plenty of frenetic running around, a little bit of technobabble (impressively little technobabble, actually) and creepy aliens. The new TARDIS interior is very posh, combining futuristic with retro. (Steampunk? Maybe a little). Plus, by the end of the episode, this new Doctor has found himself, stood up to a fleet of aliens, and channeled the “I’m old as hell and more dangerous than a fleet of Daleks. Do not F@&# with Earth. It’s under my protection and I’ve put a lot of effort into it” awesomeness of the previous Doctors. One of my favorite bits in the episode shows a montage of each incarnation of the Doctor (all ten previous actors), with the fully-composed Smith stepping through the hologram to deliver the final line of his “Go away” rant — a great touch and a fine introduction to the finalized new Doctor.

The rest of the season seems to have a great deal of promise, including a return of the super-creepy Weeping Angels from “Blink,” Daleks, Cybermen, World War II dogfighting, and more.

This is a great time to get into Doctor Who, as the episode is a more-than-passable pilot for new viewers. It’s a good idea, especially for a series that has an history that dates back almost fifty years and more than 700 episodes.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

This is one of the two kinds of reality tv that I like. The first kind is where competent people excel at doing awesome things, shows like Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.

The other is shows where activism and social change are made accessible and exciting.

In Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (ABC, Fridays at 10/9 Central), Celebrity British Chef Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef, Cook With Jaime, etc.) comes to Huntington, West Virginia to begin a revolution in public school food (presumably, he’d like to reform all eating in the USA, but the show focuses on schools). The choice of Huntington is prompted by a CDC report listing Huntington as the unhealthiest town in the country, with the highest instances of obesity-related illness and death.

Three episodes have debuted so far, garnering strong ratings (The Friday at 10PM slot isn’t a great slot, so it’s perhaps not as hard to win).

There is a bit of inflated drama, but overall, the series is a depiction of a sincere pursuit by Oliver, who has already revolutionized the British public school food system.

One of the clips used to promote the show comes from a segment where Oliver is trying to hype up excitement for his test-run doing meals in an elementary school. He goes into a 1st grade class and asks them to identify vegetables such as a tomato, a cucumber, and a potato. The students were unable to identify any vegetables correctly when prompted. This is how separated from real food many children are, and how separated they are from the process of cooking and food-making.

Oliver begins with a test week in an elementary school, competing with dietary regulations that call french fries a vegetable and require 2 servings of bread/grain per meal, but only one serving each of veggies and fruit. Oliver struggles with the dietary requirements, a combative head cook at the school, as well as a obstinately skeptical local DJ.

Oliver opens “Jaime’s Kitchen” as his base of operations to host demonstrations, teach families/kids how to cook simple, healthy meals. As the series goes on, he’s worked with a particular family, recruited a group of high-school students to be his spokespeople in school and help him raise money for a county-wide training to help their school cooks be able to prepare Oliver’s healthy fresh meals on time and budget.

This series is a frank and powerful look at Oliver’s diet/cooking activism in a place that most desperately needs some kind of revolution/reform. Oliver’s sincerity is clear at all times, as he sets himself for an incredibly tough uphill battle (if he’d picked a less challenging setting, it’d doubtlessly not make as good television — they do have to get ratings to survive, after all).

The easiest way to understand this series is to go ahead and watch it. It lacks the artificial drama and competitive greedy backstabbing of The Biggest Loser and is far more grounded in reality than a show like Dance Your Ass Off. It focuses on fresh, real food, rather than artificial/additive-laden and greasy food, showing that it can be beautiful, delicious, and isn’t too difficult or expensive to prepare. Real food may take longer and cost more than box microwave dinners or highly-processed crap, but it’s an investment that’s worth making for nearly everyone. It’s easier for me to say this as a privileged middle-class guy, but the fact remains that real food in reasonable portions is demonstrably better for your health, and in a nation where diabetes is prevalent and weight-related diseases and deaths are scarily high, it’s hard to argue on any basis other than money.

A note for the Fat Studies community: Weight by itself is not vilified in Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution. The show focuses on instances where poor eating habits and weight have lead to demonstrably negative health effects. A Teenager likely to develop diabetes before they turn twenty. A highschooler with liver spots that may cap her life expectancy in the early twenties. A girl who lost her father and uncle to weight-related illnesses. Being fat is not the problem — eating unhealthily in a way that creates weight-related illnesses and death is the problem.

I’ve quickly become very passionate about this show. I watched the first two episodes with my girlfriend, who is a big foodie and cook. I come at it from a developing love of diverse food and cooking, but also as someone who had weight issues as a teenager due to a sedentary lifestyle and a terrible diet (not helped in any way by the public school food system). We ate decently at home, but I was given the freedom to make unhealthy eating choices (massive soda consumption, junk food, etc.) and only later developed a real awareness for how bad those foods were for me, as well as learning the skills of and appreciation for cooking for myself with fresh, real food. I’m still learning those things. When I’m at home from a selling season, living alone, it’s harder to work up the motivation to cook real meals for one. To that end, I bought the companion cookbook, Jaime’s Food Revolution, and will be trying to host friends/join friends for family-style meals of real, healthsome food.

Knowing that certain foods are bad for you, on an intellectual level, is one thing. But it takes an accessible and realistic alternative and the means to transition your habits to make a real, lasting change in your life. Oliver’s show is trying to show that process with one school, leading to a school district, with Oliver’s ambition being to revolutionize school food and general eating habits in the USA, a much larger task than his already-impressive feat in his homeland.

All of the episodes are available on hulu, and there’s information and recipes on the website here:

I hope you give the show a shot, and even if you don’t like the show, I think it’s sentiment and agenda are commendable.