Nick Saban and the NIL Kerfuffle

NIL

NIL is making news in the NCAA in a dust-up between Nick Saban, Deion Sanders, and Jimbo Fisher. NIL is an acronym for Name, Image, and Likeness. The state of California passed a law back in 2019 that allowed college athletes, so-called student-athletes, to profit from their NIL. From there a Supreme Court case followed and now the practice is legal and thriving.

Saban accused Jackson State and Texas A&M, coached by Sanders and Fisher respectively, of essentially paying players through NIL manipulation. Sanders and Fisher don’t like the accusation much and counterclaim that Saban is the one who used such methods in the past to get the best recruits.

The NIL Accusation is True

Saban claims coaches like Fisher and Sanders are going to local business leaders and getting them to offer prized recruits NIL deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This in an attempt to win the recruiting battles which decide winners and losers in the NCAA. The teams that get the best high-school players win more. Full stop, end of story.

Saban is now losing out on some of the best players to Jackson State and Texas A&M. It’s important to understand Saban’s accusation is absolutely correct. Fisher and Sanders, and other coaches including Saban himself, are creating a pool of money contributed by interested business owners and offering it to the most highly sought-after recruits.

What Saban wants with NIL

Saban’s point is giving highly lucrative NIL deals to high-school recruits who have yet to play is a perversion of the system. The NIL is designed to reward the players on the team who become recognizable for their athletic performance.

Saban himself says he has no problems with players like Bryce Young making as much as they can from NIL deals. He believes they earned it with play on the field. Saban wants the NIL deals to be commiserate with the athletic ability of the players.

Saban suggests the current NCAA situation is like a professional sports league without free-agency rules and no salary cap. The team that wants the best players, gets them.

The Reality of the NIL Situation

Nicky-boy, I appreciate what you’re saying, I truly do. I think your intentions are honorable. It’s a lost cause. It’s not only the coaches engineering the payments to boost recruiting. Fit and attractive young women athletes in the NCAA are getting NIL deals at an astounding rate. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to anyone.

One wonders when the next Paige Spiranac will arise on the women’s college golf scene. Whoever she might be, she’s going to make a lot of money playing golf and good for her.

The underlying reality is if someone wants to pay someone, for whatever reason, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so? If an athlete can make a ton of money, make it. They are one play away from a career ending injury. Sure, the coaches of the world might offer the crippled player a job as an assistant water-boy for a couple of years, gee thanks.

Conclusion

It’s a free market economy in college athletics, finally! With a free market comes some bad with the good. As I said, Saban is right. Fisher and Sanders are absolutely engineering NIL deals for recruits in an all-out bidding war.

The teams that pay the most are going to get the best players. But, honestly, how is that different than its been for the last fifty years in the NCAA? The power teams get the best players and win the most games. Saban should understand that better than anyone.

Now, at least, the players get something out of it as well.

Tom Liberman

Depp and Heard are a Billion Dollar Industry

Depp and Heard

Depp and Heard are in the middle of contentious legal battle and it’s a billion dollar industry. I’m conflicted. I’m talking about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp but I don’t think anyone needs that clarification. Who isn’t cashing in on the Depp and Heard drama?

I’m conflicted about this blog. Writing it means I’m part of the legion of Depp and Heard opportunists. Am I expressing genuine thoughts here or do I just want clicks and eyes on my blog? Maybe this post will go viral and indirectly result in the sale of millions of my novels.

On the other hand, the sheer volume of people trying to cash in on this terrible and tragic story is nauseating. I suppose it’s all moot in the end, you’re reading this and that means I wrote it. Let’s get on with it.

Depp and Heard Trial

The trail is all over the news and I’m not going to expend any time talking about the awfulness of one party versus the other. It’s a terrible tragedy. A marriage gone horribly wrong. Two people whose love turned into an international tragedy and lawsuits.

Cashing In

Who is the big winner in all of this? Not Depp and Heard. It’s mainstream news channels. Alternate news channels. Misogynists, social justice warriors. It’s social media personalities, all the influencers. Even morally bankrupt politicians are trying to garner a few votes by picking sides. Scalpers! Yuck.

Twitch watch parties with some of the biggest streamers. YouTube personalities with millions of subscribers releasing daily videos with sensationalistic titles. Depp this! Heard that! The Big Moment! Twitter is trending Depp and Heard. TikTok. Name a social media outlet and I’ll show you opportunists trying to take advantage of the situation to make some money.

Sick to my Stomach

I’m honestly feeling nauseas just writing this. I’m regretting it. I’m thinking I shouldn’t be doing it just because it means I’m part of the problem. Still, I think it’s important to call out everyone profiting off this situation.

I know this lurid story is interesting and people are genuinely picking sides. That being said, there is no doubt that a YouTube video that suddenly generates millions of watches is a strong motivator to make more such content. A Twitch streamer watching the legal case live with thousands of viewers is cash in the bank. It’s money and its gross money, at least I think so.

Human Nature

People love a train wreck. It’s undeniable. People cheer at the hockey game as much during a fight as they do for a goal. Many people enjoy the lurid, the sensational, the exciting. Depp and Heard is all that. Everyone has an opinion and if they can make some money expressing it, all the better.

I suppose I’m tilting against windmills here, just the same as when I rail against drafting in professional sports.

Conclusion

I think I’ll wrap this up quickly and then go wash my hands. Gross. It’s all so gross.

Tom Liberman

The Stereotype in Religious Beliefs Article

Religious Beliefs

I just read a moderately interesting article about how atheists, agnostics, and Christians are stereotyped in regards to their religious beliefs. The article pretty much confirms anything you’d suspect. Most people stereotype others based on their religious beliefs or lack thereof. That’s not what I’m going to be writing about today.

I want to discuss the extensive comments thread on the article. Now, I didn’t peruse all 1,322 comments on the article but I did scroll down far enough to get a general impression. No one discussed the actual article. People certainly had strong opinions on the religious beliefs of one another and things get quite political at times. As to the study? Nada.

What was the Study?

The study was pretty simple in design. Do people stereotype atheists, agnostics, and Christians differently? The premise being that, generally speaking, people think atheists are more likely to behave in a morally deficient manner. The big difference in this study is that it separated atheists and agnostics rather than grouping them together.

The results were exactly as predicted. Atheists were considered the most likely to behave immorally, followed by agnostics, with Christians being viewed as the least likely to engage in amoral practices.

Exactly what the study expected to find. The authors did some interesting things with the those who filled out the questionnaires by sometimes defining atheism and agnosticism and other times allowing the users to give their opinion without the definitions.

The Results of the Study on Religious Beliefs

To my, atheist mind, it’s a predictable result. It’s exactly what I’d expect. No big deal, study confirms the stereotypes exist and play out pretty much in a standard way.

The Comments

Ah, now we get to the interesting part of the article. The comments. After reading the article, I planned to comment my thoughts that the results pretty much matched expectations of the stereotypes of religious beliefs. No one else seemed to be on the same wavelength.

Not that people didn’t anticipate the results, they just filled the comment sections with more study fodder. Basically, everyone spent their time talking about moral expectations of people based on their religion and political views. I saw much back and forth on the actual definition of atheism and agnosticism. This of course, is exactly what the study was not about.

The study wasn’t about the actual morality of atheists, agnostics, and Christians. It was about stereotypes others have of those group in regard to their likely moral behavior.

It seems no one actually read the article, big surprise there. The atheists, agnostics, and Christians simply listed out their stereotypes of one another and argued about it. I found this humorous. I suspect you, valued readers, are less amused than I.

Conclusion

They needn’t have done the study at all. Just pretend to do the study and post the article. The comment section tells the rest of the story.

Tom Liberman

Greg Norman is the US Congress

Greg Norman

A lot of people are angry that golfer Greg Norman is in bed with Saudi Arabia in regard to a new golf league called LIV. He glossed over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi saying that “We all make mistakes”.

LIV is basically a league funded by money from Saudi Arabia where the biggest names in golf get paid extremely well no matter how they perform. Greg Norman is willing to ignore evil in order to make some money and people don’t like the blatant greed and amorality of this.

Well, readers, I’ve got news for you. Hold on to your hat. Take a seat. Greg Norman is doing nothing worse than our Congress has done for the last fifty plus years. If he’s guilty, so to is our system of government, to its rotten core.

Past Rants

I’ve ranted in the past, sometimes virulently, about how Saudi Arabia is not our friend and yet everyone in Congress gets down on their knees and shoves her or his nose where the sun don’t shine. Did we fly Saudi Arabian royals out of the country after 911 when the rest of our nation was locked down from flying? Yep.

Are we in bed with selling them weapons when they are murdering men, women, children, both born and unborn, in a wholesale slaughter in Yemen? Check.

Were fifteen of the men who attacked the country on 911 from Saudi Arabia? Yep. Is Saudi Arabia in actuality a far bigger cash cow for terrorists than Iran? You betcha.

Do they loan the son-in-law of the former president billions of dollars? No doubt about it.

Money

It’s a sick, disgusting lack of moral and ethical conviction driven by lust for money. Our congress is corrupt to its foundation when it comes to Saudi Arabia. Sure a few members of make noise about cutting them off but it’s the whistling of a parakeet against a hurricane. The Saudi Arabians own your politicians. Own. Don’t give me any partisan nonsense you Democrats and Republicans. You claim the ends justify the means and support murderous, terrorists, whose goal is to destroy the United States of America. You vote for the miserable politicians who justify their behavior with sick logic.

Greg Norman is the Bad Guy?

Yet, despite decades of absolute corruption from your politicians, who wave the American Flag around like they just won World War II, you vote for them time and time again. Greg Norman is the bad guy here? You’re the bad person here! Your representative in Congress is the bad guy here and you voted for her or him. Judges and Justices on the Supreme Court bench are the bad guys here. Our entire system is corrupted in part by money from Saudi Arabia.

You save your outrage for Greg Norman and a golf league while holding it back for your chosen politicians, presidents.

Conclusion

Greg Norman is scum but at least he’s not destroying my country. He’s in bed with murderers and you are too. Save your outrage for the people who deserve it, the people who are making decisions about the future of this country, if it has one.

Tom Liberman

Sanditon Lacked the Deft Touch of Jane Austen

Deft Touch

Season Two of Sanditon wrapped up with a final episode largely lacking a deft touch. The various plot lines largely smashed to the ground with all the force of turkeys dropped from a helicopter. This lack of deft touch runs counter to the general manner in which Jane Austen writes her novel and struck me greatly.

I’m certainly not saying the second season of Sanditon is a disaster. It proved largely watchable and mostly enjoyable. Still, the heavy-handed conclusion to several of the season-long story lines left me somewhat disappointed. Let’s talk about it.

Charlotte, Alexander, and Colonel Lennox

I never felt any real chemistry between Charlotte and Alexander. I found Rose Williams effective in her role of Charlotte but I couldn’t see why she fell in love with Alexander. Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Alexander never really engaged me. He seemed dull and lifeless, which, to be fair, is part of the character as written.

Likewise, Colonel Lennox didn’t strike me as the sort to win Charlotte’s heart. In addition, his portrayal as a scheming villain never resonated for me. Tom Weston-Jones just didn’t make me hate him, or like him much for that matter. He was just sort of there.

Because I never really got invested in the potential love triangle, the ending never tugged at my emotions at all.

The Kids

Honestly, I know one is Leonora but the other one I just can’t remember. Let me look it up, ah, yes, Augusta. Eloise Webb didn’t have a lot to work with and she rotated between hating and adoring Charlotte so often I lost track of it all. I just didn’t really care about either one of the children to be honest and therefore their plight didn’t mean much to me.

Tom Parker and the Money Problems

I did find the money issues involving Sanditon and Tom Parker compelling but the resolution left me completely dissatisfied. I hoped Arthur might come up with some brilliant plan. Instead, a single hand of cards in a game that wasn’t explained solved the issues. The dramatic music played during the game hoped to create tension and suspense but I felt nothing.

It’s a real problem when one of the biggest dramatic moments at the conclusion of a season is confusing and dull. The resolution here left me baffled. This is the best the writers could find?

Miss Lambe and Charles Lockhart

The ending here really turned me off. Alexander Vlahos did a superb job as the brilliant artist, dismissive of society, admiring Miss Lambe. Then, suddenly, with no explanation or foreshadowing, he’s the bad guy. Crystal Clarke as Georgiana also turned in a fine performance. First disdainful of the artist and then succumbing to his charm.

The conclusion largely betrayed everything that came before it. If we’d seen Lockhart revealing his nefarious scheme in any way before the denouement, it might have worked. We didn’t. The twist ending fell quite flat for me at least, the deft touch of Austen completely absent.

Alison, Carter, and Fraser: A Deft Touch at Last

This love story made more sense and the flavor of Austen came through. I believed the innocent and bright-eyed Alison falling for the apparently dashing Captain Carter. Frank Blake as Fraser did a great job portraying his admiration of Alison while displaying loyalty to his friend.

Rosie Graham as Alison and Maxim Ays as Carter also performed admirably in their roles. I found myself invested in this story and when Fraser emerged as the winner of Alison’s heart it made sense.

I was a little put off by Fraser resigning his commission and returning with Alison to a life of farming. A more appropriate ending, in my mind, is Alison joining Fraser in India, traveling the world as the wife of an officer destined for glory. That is a small quibble and this storyline proved more satisfying.

The Nefarious Edward

Absolute applause for Jack Fox in his role as Edward Denham. His performance made this story the most compelling in the series. This is a villain! He perfectly transitioned between scheming miscreant to charmer. I believed him, his plan made sense. He brought Edward Denham to life in a way lacking with Colonel Lennox and Charles Lockhart. A villain is vital to a story and Fox sold me completely.

Lily Sacofsky as Clara, Charlotte Spencer as Esther, and Anne Reid as Lady Denham ably supported and enhanced Fox’s performance. Each of them brought their own nuance to the plot and I believed every second of it. When Clara comes to the realization she’s better off on Team Esther it is apparent and logical. Everything comes together nicely.

Perhaps I found her final decision a bit paradoxical after her speech about the fierceness of her love for the baby, but this is minor.

Conclusion

Sanditon is a decent show and I enjoyed it. Sadly, it lacked the deft touch necessary to bring it home as excellent entertainment. What did you think?

Tom Liberman

Butt Hurt Liberal Politicians Punish Meanie Disney

Liberal Politicians

There’s a small story in the news about the liberal politicians of Florida using their power to punish a corporation for saying mean things about a law they passed. These liberal politicians think it’s the job of government to punish anyone who dares criticize their policies.

In this case a private company, Disney, in a press release criticized some legislation promoted by Governor Ron DeSantis. Little Rwonny was so butt hurt by this criticism that he went crying to his mommy for his binky and a sippy cup of warm milk. Sadly, it was not forthcoming so he set out to use his political power to punish those meanies at Disney.

Only Big Government Liberal Politicians Left

Little Rwonny and his crying liberal politician buddies exactly sum up the condition of politics in the United States of America. As long as it’s your policies being promulgated by an overreaching government, every private citizen must line up in absolute agreement. How dare anyone dare disagree with me, shouted widdle Rwonny as he pouted and threatened to hold his breath. I gonna show them!

Such government overreach is not even questioned in this day and age. It doesn’t matter if it’s democrats mandating a private business must force customers to wear masks or a republican demanding a business cannot do so. It’s all one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin is Libertarian. A business, an individual, a human being can disagree with politicians without fear of repercussions. They have every right to speak their mind without an overreaching, uber-liberal, government threatening their livelihood if they don’t get in line.

Get out of Business

No tax breaks! Stop incentives. No special statuses. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Get government out of our private lives. I want to smoke some weed, wear a mask, fire some guns, and the government shouldn’t have any say in it.

We have an entire profession, lobbyists, built around bribing politicians with fancy dinners and gifts in order to get them to pass laws favorable to my business. Crony Capitalism isn’t rampant, it’s the de-facto form of business we have in this country.

Government officials decide who succeeds and who fails. Our current crop of politicians are completely ingrained in this ideology. They have no idea all that remains is the difference between liberal politicians and uber-liberal politicians.

Authoritarian Citizens

The supporters of both the Republican and Democratic party cheer with wild abandon when government punishes their foes. Yay! That’s awesome they cheer and pat each other on the back. Hopefully they’ll make it legal to shoot my opponents soon!

Then, as soon as the exact same thing happens in a state controlled by the opposite political party they start whining and crying like a two-year old denied access to the chemicals under the sink by a reasonable parent. Wah! So mean. They are mean. I don’t like them. It’s not fair. Boo-hoo. Sob, weep, wail, they are so mean!

Conclusion

You’re all liberals who think it’s the job of government to punish your enemies. Keep it up, destroy the grand experiment of the founding fathers. You deserve what you get.

Tom Liberman

Kitchen Set for Young Boy Causes Controversy

Kitchen Set

An interesting story in the news involves an uncle giving his nephew a fancy kitchen set for his birthday. Apparently, the parents of the lad are quite upset with the gift. They think it’s inappropriate for a boy to get a kitchen set as a present.

Now, we do have to take Reddit posts with a grain of salt. It’s quite possible the person making the post is just trying to stir up trouble. Still, I think it’s a situation worth examining from a Libertarian point of view. Let’s go!

Parental Rights

For a Libertarian it comes down to Parental Rights. There’s a lot in the news about Parental Rights and, as usual, there is no consistency in the established parties. When it comes to math questions it seems the Republicans are all about Parental Rights and Democrats are against them. When it comes to certain medical procedures then it’s completely reversed. Republican’s think the state knows better for the child than the parents while Democrats think, rightly so, the parents must be the ones in charge of such decisions.

Now, in this case, it’s pretty simple from a Libertarian perspective. The parents have every right to restrict the type of gift their child receives. If they think a kitchen set is an inappropriate gift then they can inform the uncle to please gift toy soldiers to the lad in the future. Save the kitchen set for daughters, if there ever are any.

Boys Cook

Everyone is up in arms because the chef industry is dominated by men. The article states almost 75% of all professional chefs are men. It’s a good job and I’m quite proud and happy to say my nephew owns and operates a restaurant. You go, James!

The fact the parents don’t want their son to play with a kitchen set makes the parents morons. This is factually true and I agree wholeheartedly, they are idiots. The uncle is absolutely in the right in giving the gift as long as he didn’t know about the parents’ preferences. It’s a great gift for a young man or woman. I like to eat. I love good food. The more chefs in the world the better. You go, uncle!

Idiot Parents are Still Parents

The parents are living a delusional lie and trying to limit their son. Horrific. I hope the boy overcomes their miserable stereotypes and gender biases and becomes whatever he wants to be, a chef if that’s his passion. Perhaps the uncle can give him an example by cooking a delightful meal whenever the family visits. Make a point of being in the kitchen and creating great food for everyone to enjoy.

That being said, the parents are the parents. They have every right to raise their child the way they see fit, barring something illegal. It’s not illegal to deny your male child a kitchen set, just stupid.

Conclusion

Much as we’d like to everyone to agree with us, be it a math problem or a medical procedure, sometimes parents are stupid. Sometimes people are stupid. It’s not up to the government to fix stupidity. Freedom is all about allowing people to do as they want, within reasonable boundaries including not causing harm. Even if such behavior is self-destructive or incredibly stupid. Even if such behavior negatively affects a child, sad to say.

Tom Liberman

A Mess of a Winning Time Episode

Winning Time

Any carry over from last week’s excellent episode of Winning Time quickly dissipated with this mess of an episode. No focus, no central theme, back to unnecessary salacious content, lots of fourth wall breaking, and just a general hodgepodge of an episode.

I honestly find it difficult to believe the people who put together Pieces of a Man also released Momento Mori. Same director, largely the same writers, and yet a completely different result. I find it unfathomable.

What went wrong with this episode of Winning Time? Let’s discuss.

Lack of Central Theme

I’ve discussed before how a central theme holds an episode together and allows other, smaller stories to swirl around it with an anchor to bring them home. The theme was readily available, the catastrophic injury to Coach McKinney. The necessity for assistant coach Westhead to grab the team and take over.

The episode certainly showed us the blood covered McKinney often enough but the other story line of Magic Johnson and his endorsement deals shared the spotlight. Frankly, both made good thematic elements but by splitting the episode back and forth between them with a cursory look at dementia inflicted Momma Buss only diluted the impact of everything.

The added theme of the financial troubles for Dr. Buss took up another big section of the episode. Each vied for supremacy and nothing really emerged. We just jumped from one scene to the next along all three plot lines. It ended up being largely confusing and unimpactful.

Too Fast

The various story lines just went too quickly. Magic’s relationship with his girlfriend and father came out of the nowhere. It seemed like a vehicle for the fourth wall breaking punch line of the Nike rep at the end. I’m not a big fan of an entire storyline dedicated to setting up a zinger at the end, even if the zinger is a good one.

Coach McKinney’s injuries and the team responding to them all happened so fast. It was just a whole bunch of scenes tenuously strung together. The emergence of Michael Cooper as a premier defender is an interesting story but you’d only get what was happening if you already knew the outcome. It wasn’t cohesive storytelling.

The loan situation was really interesting as well but it came in short snippets interspersed with the other stories. Everything just raced along toward zinger conclusions. The episode completely lacked the deliberate and intense pacing of Pieces of a Man.

Fourth Wall in Winning Time

Not surprisingly, this episode of Winning Time broke the fourth wall almost continuously from beginning to end. The previous episode resorted to this tactic only once or twice and briefly at that. This time we found ourselves listening to long monologs as characters explained their motivations and plans. I found it irritating, pointless and detracted from the interesting stories.

Conclusion

It’s a real shame of an episode following the brilliance of its predecessor. The show is still largely entertaining and worth watching but I hope we get more of the good stuff and less of the mess.

Tom Liberman

Sheriff Hickman and the Blacks

Sheriff Hickman

I just read a fascinating article about Sheriff Rick Hickman and his response to an emergency call in the neighborhood of Des Arc, Arkansas. Sheriff Hickman responded to the call by asking where the triple-shooting took place. When informed it was a particular apartment complex he responded, “Oh really, black people then.”

The upshot of the response is Sheriff Hickman is being called a racist. Sheriff Hickman claims the apartment in question is largely occupied by black people so his response was not racist, but natural. Now, it turns out the attacker and victims are all white but that is not relevant to the point I’d like to analyze today.

Is Sheriff Hickman a racist?

The Event and Aftermath

The event itself is a horrific example of the gun violence rampant across all sections of the United States, urban and rural, white and black. Three people died in the shooting. It’s horrible and my sympathies to all those who lost loved ones and those who respond to such events and see the horrors.

Sheriff Hickman and his Other Comments

Sheriff Hickman, now accused of being a racist, was asked if he ever used racial slurs before. He responded that he does not use the most egregious racist word often but has in the past and a lot of people around him do. He also thought his response when told about the location of the shooting was natural and not of racist implication. Black people live in that area so that’s what he assumed.

My Analysis

The case seems pretty open and shut but I think there is a great deal more nuance than people who view the world in simplistic, good and evil, terms will admit. Now, I don’t know Sheriff Hickman at all besides his few quotes so I’m merely stating an opinion here.

I found the response to the question of his own usage of racial slurs to be refreshingly honest. In this day and age where the standard law enforcement line generally includes something like: that sort of attitude has no place in our department. We never put up with it. I’ve never known a racist law enforcement officers. Blah blah blah blah blah. Bullshit.

I’ve lived in small towns. I know all about sheriffs, both good and bad. Fire marshals, both good and bad. Good old boys, both good and bad. The fact that Sheriff Hickman answered honestly about his own use of racial slurs when his brethren officers consistently lie in similar situations makes me like the man. It makes me think he’s one of the good guys.

I think if I sat down with Sheriff Hickman and asked: what do you think you’d say if the shootings took place in a predominantly white area? Would you have said, “Oh really, white people then.”? I suspect Sheriff Hickman might pause, look at me, thought about it, and replied, “You know what, Tom. You’re right. I wouldn’t have said that. Maybe I do have some unconscious racial biases and it affects the way I do my job and the way underlings look to my lead. I need to do something about that.”

Now, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he wouldn’t reply that way. Maybe he’d remain in continual denial about a problem that isn’t just overt racism, hatred of all black people. It’s subtle, it has nuance, and it causes problems in many ways, both small and large.

Conclusion

I think it’s important to have conversations with men like Sheriff Hickman. Difficult conversations where I understand his point of view and he understands mine. I think that’s the way forward. This rush to judgement, to cancellation or whatever you want to call it, just widens the divide instead of helping to heal it.

What do you think?

What should be done about Sheriff Hickman

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Tom Liberman

Pieces of a Man Winning Time’s Statement Episode

Pieces of a Man

Pieces of a Man is the fifth episode of Winning Time and what an episode! Booya. If you’re wondering how to craft a story properly, watch Pieces of a Man. It showcased fantastic acting, an intense and compelling story, and passion. An episode like this is why I love entertainment; this is why people filled stadiums to watch Greek Tragedies two thousand years ago.

I know I’m waxing overly poetic here, but it’s been a while since I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed a television episode. I’d probably have to go back to the heyday of the Sopranos to remember a time when I found myself so engrossed.

Last week I mentioned what a solid understanding of character Solomon Hughes brings with his portrayal of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. If only I knew what awaited. Anyway, on with my review.

The Central Theme of Pieces of a Man

It is generally a good idea to have a central theme to focus an episode and the characters therein. In this case we leave Dr. Buss and Magic Johnson and focus on Abdul-Jabbar. We start with him as a young witness to terrible racial injustice. His father, a police officer and a devout Christian, does not see eye-to-eye with his son, Lew Alcindor.

Being a superb athlete and champion is not enough for Alcindor. This young man is a piece of what he will become but he wants more, he wants to be more. He comes to Islam and takes a new name much to his father’s chagrin but that is just another piece in the man that Abdul-Jabbar is becoming. It’s a fantastic start to the episode.

This isn’t about the Lakers, it’s about Abdul-Jabbar, but it subtly becomes about the Lakers. It becomes about Magic Johnson, Jack McKinney, and Dr. Buss. It’s a story about all of them and all the pieces of them. It’s a profound episode.

Salaciousness

I’ve complained about the unnecessary salaciousness in Winning Time. We get it here but it is part of the story. It’s part of the locker room. I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms. I played sports. The locker room scenes in movies with men in towels everywhere and overly condescending locker room talk always strikes me as fake. Not here.

Here the players talk about cut cocks with Wood Harris, in all his glory, playing the role of Spencer Haywood. He brings it to life with a monolog that sounds like the locker room. I believe! Whether it’s a true story or not hardly matters. I believe these are real athletes in a real locker room and that’s no easy trick. Most sports movies fail miserably in this regard because it’s difficult for an actor to portray a professional athlete.

The Other Characters as Pieces of a Man

Dr. Buss plays a small role in this episode which was an incredibly brave move and it works. While Abdul-Jabbar is struggling to reconcile what he has become as compared to the youthful energy and enthusiasm of Johnson, we also see Dr. Buss struggling to put together his pieces as well. Can he step back from the edge of the cliff and admire the view?

Will Abdul-Jabbar add another piece in his journey? Can Magic Johnson become more than a fragment, a single piece of a man? Can Jack McKinney put together the final piece that he’s been striving for all his life?

The Importance of Dialog

This episode functions on many levels. The conversation between Heywood and Abdul-Jabbar in regards to young Magic is thoughtful and moves the story forward.

The disagreement between McKinney and Abdul-Jabbar where the later exactly predicts the result of his performance is profoundly interesting. McKinney realizes that Abdul-Jabbar knows what he’s talking about. It brings their relationship to a new level.

The locker room fight between Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar trying to put together their own pieces and find their place in all of this is raw and powerful.

The conversation between the financial advisor and Dr. Buss brings us a deeper understanding of his struggles to put together his own pieces. Even Jeanie finding Paula Abdul to lead the cheer squad is interesting.

Abdul-Jabbar at the mosque talking with the Imam moves the story toward its inevitable conclusion. We know what’s going to happen but it’s the journey that compels us to keep watching.

The dialog pulls the entire episode together. There is no telling in this episode, just showing. No exposition. Just actors performing, owning their characters and their lines, pulling us into their world.

Conclusion

You’ve probably figured out I liked this episode. Go watch it. Well done. Well done, indeed.

Tom Liberman

Can you Ban your Cake and Eat it Too?

Cake

I just read an interesting article about a restaurant that charges a fee to bring your own cake. It’s tearing up the internet and it gives me a chance to focus on my Libertarian ideology for the first time in a while.

The question is fairly basic. A restaurant doesn’t want you bringing your own cake, food, or beverages to consume. Almost all restaurants have a corkage fee for bringing in your own wine and no one really has a problem with this. The fee in question at the unnamed London restaurant was £10 per person at the table. It was a birthday celebration with a dozen people and I’ll leave the math to you.

In any case, my question today is if the fee is justified.

£120 for a Cake

The sticking point largely seems to be the high price for the cake. Most people seem to agree that some fee is in order but a great deal of debate on the amount is raging. The price does seem rather high to me but, that being said, it is replacing twelve desserts. I can easily see each dessert running around that individual price.

In other words, I absolutely see both sides of the argument. I do understand the restaurant is out the price of all those desserts but, on the other hand, they’ve made a tidy profit on the rest of the dinner. A table of twelve at a celebration is certainly going to eat a lot of food with appetizers, mains, and drinks. Is it worth it to alienate good customers with such a policy?

The Internet is Divided

Based on the comments I read, the internet seems fairly divided on the topic. I certainly understand both points of view as I mentioned. However, this is where my Libertarian ideology turns such conundrums from difficult to simple.

While most of the commenters put forward various arguments in support of the restaurant and against it, my answer is easy and came to me even before I finished the article. I’m sure most of you loyal readers already know exactly what I’m going to write.

The Libertarian Cake Answer

The restaurant is well within their rights to charge an extra fee for bringing a cake onto the premises and substituting it for desserts ordered on site. The customer is equally within their rights to resent the fee and refuse to eat at the restaurant again, cake or not.

That’s where life gets pretty simple for a Libertarian. It’s clearly not a situation in which the government should intervene although I suspect a bi-partisan panel of “conservatives” and “liberals” will introduce legislation to ban charges for bringing your own cake. They will tout the legislation as common sense and good for the children who get to eat the cake. Afterall, we must protect the children!

Conclusion

Putting aside the sarcasm for a moment, though it pains me; if the restaurant wants to charge whatever amount for bringing your own cake, that’s their business. If the customers decide they’d rather eat somewhere else, that’s their prerogative as well.

That is all. Continue with your daily lives and don’t forget to stop and taste the cake.

Tom Liberman

Sanditon is it that Difficult to Keep a Timeline?

Timeline

Argh, Sanditon, I say. Argh, I repeat with emphasis. Is it really that difficult to construct a timeline that makes sense? Of what do I speak, you might ask? The latest episode centers on a festival later on today or tonight or next week or tomorrow afternoon. I’m not sure. They keep changing it.

I know I’m the only one in the world who cares about this sort of thing, but the fuzzy timeline of the big festival largely ruined my immersion in this week’s episode of Sanditon. When is the festival? When? Every time I think I have a handle on the timeline, it shifts likes the sands of Arrakis.

The Festival is Today

Tom Parker gets a package. He looks up at the sky and tells the clouds not to rain. Clearly there is something on tap for today. He opens the package and finds a bunch of fliers for a festival. Oh, good, he exclaims with glee as gazes at them.

I’m already confused. He just looked at the sky and told it not to rain. Does that mean the timeline for the festival is today? That seems like the only explanation but why are the fliers only arriving now? Why haven’t those been pasted all over town a month ago?

The Festival is Next Month?

Tom doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to paste the fliers all over town. I am utterly confused. Maybe the festival isn’t happening today. Next month, perhaps? Surely, he understands promotion well enough to know he can’t post the fliers a few hours before the event?

The Festival is Tomorrow Morning

The elephant is cancelled? If the event is happening tomorrow, I’d expect the elephant to be on premises at least a few days early. There’s much to do, setting up a pen for the mighty beast, arranging for food, and other necessities.

Everyone does seem excited about the elephant. Tom is ripping down the fliers, that the timeline hasn’t accounted for putting up, because it’s embarrassing that the elephant he promised, today, won’t be here tomorrow.

Charlotte is Time Traveling Again

Charlotte is with her employer and the girls, Alison is out on a date with the shady officer, now they are talking to each other with Miss Lambe at the Parker house. Now she’s back with her employer having a picnic. When is the festival? I’m lost. Is Doctor Who in charge of the timeline of this episode?

It’s Tomorrow

Oh, it’s tomorrow. When is the festival starting, tea time? Everyone is going about their business like the thing is happening later but it’s been all day already. Charlotte woke up, went to work, had a picnic, tutored the girls, and is still back in Sanditon in time for the hydrogen balloon, no hot air required for those of you with inquiring minds.

Winch

How incompetent is Colonel Lennox? You’ve got three soldiers holding a rope for the balloon? Winch. You need a winch. Not a wench, Alison is all over that. I know, this has nothing to do with my rant today but I can’t stop myself.

At least we’ve got jolly Arthur Parker to save the day. Although, honestly, after that fiasco I’d be less inclined to make the ascent. The soldiers are clearly all idiots.

Conclusion

Is it really that difficult to construct a coherent timeline? Why weren’t we told about the upcoming festival last episode. The elephant, the fliers, all the things required to make this week’s focus, the festival, make any sort of sense.

Argh, I repeat for likely not the last time.

Am I the only one who cares about out of sequence events?

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Tom Liberman

A Cartoon Interlude that Nearly Spoiled Winning Time

Cartoon Interlude

I’m largely enjoying the HBO series Winning Time. It covers the early period of Dr. Jerry Buss’s ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers with star rookie Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. The story itself is compelling, the actors are doing a great job, the sets look good, it’s the formula for a winning show.

Now, I’ve got my quibbles about the Fourth Wall breaking they do throughout the show. I also think they could do with less salacious content but overall I’m enjoying it. This week’s episode other than some unnecessary sexing it up early was shaping up to be a great episode, the best of the series.

Then came the cartoon interlude that completely took me out of immersion. Let’s talk about it.

The Good Stuff

We got to see some absolutely superb character development and acting. Hadley Robinson makes Jeanie Buss interesting and conflicted as her father’s daughter. Sally Field is great as Jessie Buss the harsh but caring mother.

Solomon Hughes has a great handle on what he wants to do as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I don’t know if Kareem is really like that but Hughes is throwing himself into the role. He is completely believable as the aloof captain of the club.

Tracy Letts is slaying it as the tormented genius Jack McKinney. I believe, I’m immersed, I’m enthralled. The look back at his sons’ ruckus in the backseat said a thousand words with just a glance. The team rebelling against McKinney’s novel ideas seemed realistic to me.

The athletic sessions, always difficult in a sports movie with actors not athletes, came across as believable. All the players seem like players, not actors, and that’s not easy. Then came the cartoon interlude.

The Cartoon Interlude

We’re watching the team struggle with McKinney’s fast paced offense. We see Magic’s attempt to get the ball to open players who are not ready for his court awareness. Then, suddenly, we get a cartoon interlude of cartoon Johnson talking directly to the camera. Not for five seconds, not for ten seconds, but on and on and on and on. It went on forever.

The cartoon interlude shocked me. It immediately ruined all my immersion in the episode up until then. I’m tempted to call it the most fundamentally flawed intrusion into show I’ve ever seen. It had no place, no function, no use.

Aftermath

The show then immediately picked up where it left off with excellent acting, great character interaction, drama, conflict, story. Happily, I forgot about the cartoon interlude just a few minutes after it made its unwelcome appearance.

As I sit here and write this blog, I’m still in somewhat of a state of disbelieve. Did the cartoon interlude actually happen? Maybe it was a bad dream? I am a Boomer and prone to napping. The rest of the episode was great.

Magic hand-squeezing the orange juice. Claire pitching Jeanie’s ideas to Dr. Buss. It all worked except that stupid cartoon interlude.

Conclusion

I don’t even really know what to say. Perhaps I should just forget about the cartoon interlude altogether. Did anybody like it?

Did you like the Cartoon Interlude

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Tom Liberman

Sanditon Cliffhanger not Resolved Well

Cliffhanger

The first episode of Sanditon ended in a pair of cliffhangers. One when Miss Lambe and Miss Heywood, Alison that is, crashed their coach. The army officers training on the beach rushed over to rescue them and Charlotte’s little sister gazes up into the eyes of her handsome hero.

The second when we find out Sidney Parker, before his death, learned something distressing about Miss Lambe. Now, generally speaking, when ending an episode or a season with a cliffhanger it’s reasonable to expect it to be resolved fairly quickly in the next episode. It’s not a necessity by any means and there are good reasons not to do so, which I’ll talk about later.

Generally speaking, the reason you include a cliffhanger in an episode is to draw the audience back for the next episode. People want to find out what happened. Cliffhangers are generally structured so a resolution is the next possible event. But not always.

Were the choices made good ones? Let’s discuss.

Coach Crash Cliffhanger

The coach crash falls into the immediate category. We left off with the young women spilled out all over the beach, knocked nearly unconscious. We sort of need to know if Alison and Miss Lambe suffered any serious injuries.

I imagined we’d pick up right where we left off. We’d see the rescue, first aid applied, a rushing over of concerned bystanders, and eventually a return home. Later scenes might include a visit to the doctor and the concern of Charlotte for her sister’s safety, an admonishment to Miss Lambe for her careless driving. None of that happened.

Instead, we pretty much immediately see both of the young ladies up and about in good health and spirits. The only mention of the accident comes when Captain Carter comes to deliver invitations for the ball and Alison somehow doesn’t even know his name. It seems like information she’d have from the aftermath of the crash, but, whatever. Not a big deal.

The problem with resolving the crash this way, for me at least, is I found myself totally confused during the opening scenes of the episode. Wait, wasn’t there a crash? Did I miss an episode? Is this out of order?

I’m guessing, without any evidence, a rescue scene was filmed but the editor decided it didn’t add much to the story and cut it. It just felt like an odd way to handle the cliffhanger.

Miss Lambe’s Finance Cliffhanger

The other cliffhanger was less immediate. We learned Sidney was investigating something about Miss Lambe and we suspect it might be financial shenanigans. This is the sort of cliffhanger that doesn’t need an immediate resolution. The truth of the matter can slowly unfold over the course of the next episode and those that follow.

That being said, it barely got a mention at all. The only time I recall it coming up occurred when Arthur Parker is speaking with Miss Lambe. They both seem aware of the situation involving Sidney but no further information is divulged.

I found myself surprised that someone told Miss Lambe about the situation at all considering they don’t know much. How did Arthur find out? Presumably discussions occurred but all off screen. I’m not a big fan of handling a major plot device with such exposition. Show us the scenes where Miss Lambe is told about the potential irregularities. Let’s see her reactions. It’s an important plot point because Miss Lambe’s wealth is a major focus of her many suitors. If she’s not the heiress we all imagine, if the money is gone, that is pretty important information.

Why was the situation largely ignored in the second episode? I’m sure more is coming but a few scenes where Miss Lambe is informed of the problem, perhaps where Charlotte is told, are in order. The lack of those scenes dulls my interest. If this is to be a major plot point, we need some information, some scenes, some concern about the potential consequences, but nope, a couple of useless lines.

Conclusions

I find myself quite disappointed in the way Sanditon handled the two big cliffhangers from the premier episode. Confused at the opening scenes of the episode and mostly forgetting about the Sidney situation.

The show is largely lacking the deft touch of say, Jane Austen.

Tom Liberman

The Many Saints of Newark Stages of Grief

Many Saints of Newark

I’m sorry to say that I finally got around to watching The Many Saints of Newark. To say it was disappointing is not to do it justice. I feel like I went through some version of the stages of grief while watching the hot mess that can charitably be described as disjointed fan service.

I’m a big Sopranos fan. I loved the show and watched the entire arc twice through and wouldn’t mind doing so again. I even wrote a blog about how Little Carmine Lupertazzi most certainly did not kill Tony Soprano in the show finale.

I read the various reviews of The Many Saints of Newark and I knew it didn’t live up to expectations, that people were disappointed. These reviews did not prepare me for the reality. On with my grief.

Stage One: Expectations

Even though I read the negative reviews of The Many Saints of Newark I still went in with at least middling hopes. I didn’t expect it to be great but I did imagine a mildly entertaining movie and perhaps a few nods to the brilliance of the original series.

My expectations were largely met in the first twenty minutes or so of The Many Saints of Newark. Then we kept getting scene after scene but no actual plot, not story, no through theme, no structure. I discussed this problem in The Gilded Age so you can read my full thoughts here. Eventually, I said to myself, there has to be a main plot, right? This is David Chase after all. His brilliance in the series cannot be denied.

Stage Two: Confusion

We’re an hour into the show now and there is still no sign of plot. Wait, did they just kill the Ray Liotta character. I saw previews where he spoke with Dickie Moltisanti in prison. He can’t be dead, can he? No, he’s dead. I mean, he’s on fire and not saying anything which is a good indicator.

No, seriously? A twin brother? You’ve got to be kidding me? Is this an afternoon Soap Opera? I’m utterly confused at this point and still waiting for a plot of any kind. There has to be some direction eventually doesn’t there?

Stage Three: Rage

I’m angry now. It’s nothing but a series of scenes with lots of fan service. Entire scenes are simply designed to provide a line of fan service to those of who loved The Sopranos. This is ludicrous. How did this happen? Screw you for spitting on the legacy of the Sopranos. Why, David Chase. Screw you, Many Saints of Newark.

You are this bad. You are really terrible. The acting is fine. The sets are good. There is no main story. There is no structure! Why is anything happening? There are twelve different storylines going on and none of them are explored with anything other than superficiality. There is no central thread. This movie sucks!

I hate every single character in the movie. I hate them all.

Stage Four: Rationalization

Ok, I accept The Many Saints of Newark is awful. I’m over that. It’s bad and these things happen. It’s got to be that Chase didn’t want to make the movie. That he made it at the behest of money loving studio executives and intentionally sabotaged it.

He let the executives write the script. He did everything they wanted in a deliberate attempt to make a bad movie. Yeah, that’s got to be it. Chase can’t have completely gone off the deep end. It’s deliberately bad. There will be some nod, some tip, right near the end, to let me know it’s all a goof.

Stage Five: Acceptance

Dickie drowns the girl? Junior kills Dickie? The ending is more fan service? Ok. It’s bad. They tried. The magic is gone. You can never go home again. At least I’ll get a blog out of it.

Tom Liberman

Cremated and Unable to Rapture Lawsuit

Rapture Lawsuit

There’s an interesting lawsuit making its way through the courts in Arkansas against a funeral home that cremated the remains of man against his and his family’s wishes. The man believed that if cremated his body could not ascend to heaven during the rapture. The lawsuit indicates the cremation caused significant emotional distress on the family.

It’s been a while since I wrote a legal blog as I’ve been preoccupied with entertainment and I thought I’d chime in on this one, particularly after reading the comments. The comment thread on the story seems focused on the idea that god can do anything and the man’s beliefs and that of his family are wrong.

I’m happy to say your beliefs are not on trial, whatever they might be.

The Rapture Lawsuit

It seems pretty clear to me that when the Roller-McNutt Funeral Home cremated the remains of Harold D. Lee they violated a contract. They certainly acknowledge as much, waived all fees and returned the deposit to the family.

The family members believe Lee’s cremation means he cannot ascend to heaven. Thus, the rapture lawsuit. I’m not going to get deeply into religion in this blog as we’re talking law, but we must consider it to some degree. Here in the United States, we have something called Freedom of Religion. People can have whatever religious beliefs they want without fear of legal ramifications.

Anguish

If the Lee family believes Harold can’t get into heaven, then that’s what they believe. It doesn’t matter the vast majority of comments involved the idea an all-powerful deity isn’t restricted by a cremation. The comments largely ridiculed the family for this belief. The Lee family believes it so, and that is their right. That’s all that matters. Not your opinion nor my opinion of their grief.

It’s important to understand mental anguish in regards to the rapture lawsuit is not debatable. If they claim to be anguished, they are anguished. You cannot prove someone is or is not suffering mental anguish. As nonsensical as this atheist finds their beliefs, I cannot argue against their anguish.

Damages

The thing the court must decide in this rapture lawsuit is what actual damages the family suffered. Seeing as the funeral home refunded all fees there are no immediate financial damages. However, if the family can prove the anguish of the event caused them to miss days of work, firing from work, suffering financially, then the rapture lawsuit has merit.

It’s clear the funeral home made a terrible mistake. Personally, I want to be chucked, wearing only my beloved St. Louis Cardinals jacket, into a hole and left to the worms. Sorry for any damage that image burned into your brain. If the funeral home did something else, it’s possible my family members might be anguished. No matter her or his anguish, they have to prove damages in the lawsuit.

Getting into Heaven

The court cannot offer damages for the ascension, or lack thereof, of Harold into heaven. You cannot assign a price that. Nor could my family sue religious organization if they performed some rites that supposedly sent my non-existent spirit to heaven.

I won’t mince words here. I don’t want to go to your imaginary heaven. I’m morally and ethically disgusted by the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god as depicted in your holy books. I want no part of it. But my family can no more sue for damages for you believing I ascended than the Lee family can sue for their belief in the lack of his ascension.

Conclusion

If the Lee family can prove their emotional distress caused them damages, the funeral home will have to pay. They made a terrible mistake and the family member’s anguish cannot be debated.

Tom Liberman

By Jove The Gilded Age Finally Got it!

Gilded Age

It took an entire season, but The Gilded Age finally came through with a worthwhile episode. The season finale delivered on the hype by giving us an entertaining and watchable episode. I cared. I’m not saying the episode made me change my generally negative opinion about the show, but it gives me hope for season two.

Huzzah! Hurrah! I’ve been writing largely nothing but negative things about the show and I think that gives the impression I enjoy doing so. That I’m one of those reviewers who prefers to give negative assessments and make cutting remarks.

This is not true. I want The Gilded Age to be good because excellent entertainment is in my best interest. I prefer good shows. I’m not the sort to be happy when my team loses because it validates my hate. In any case, why was this episode good? Read on.

A Central Theme in the Gilded Age

I wrote an entire blog on why an episode needs a central theme to hold it together and the season finale had it. The entire episode swirled around the debutant coming out party for Gladys. Sure, we had Marion’s ice hot love life to distract us along with Peggy’s revelation and the chef’s troubles, but the entire episode had the structural support it needed.

With the debutant ball to hold everything together we came back to the main structure again and again. The side plots entertained us briefly but then we returned to the support that held everything together. This is the foundation of a good episode. It keeps us grounded and focused on a particular thing.

I hope my complaints earlier about the lack of such support make more sense now that we’ve seen it done properly. The actors are all working around this idea. The scenes are not scattered all over the five boroughs without relation to one another. Cohesions.

A Single Timeline

With the support of the debutant ball to focus the plots, the fuzzy timelines of all the previous episodes vanished. We didn’t see one character pass through a week while other characters were still back on the same day eating dinner. Because of the ball, everyone moved at the same rate. Everyone was going to the ball so time, by force, had to pass at the same rate for everyone.

Improved Acting

I’m not going to pass out awards for the acting but it showed a marked improvement. It wasn’t all about one character cutting down another with witty remarks. We didn’t have an overwhelming plethora of quick scenes designed around a zinger at the end. The main story forced the characters to work with one another, to care for one another. We saw longer scenes, real interactions, meaningful character development.

We had Raikes as a foil and the battle of wills between Bertha and Mrs. Astor played out through the friendship of their daughters. I was immersed in the battles.

Contrivance

Ok, there was a ton of contrivance, I know. The bank loan, the chef’s revelation and his drunken replacement, the letter revealing Peggy’s son, the elopement and the ball on the same night, it was all clearly contrived and rather silly but I can overlook that when everything else is well done.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there must be conflict and sometimes that requires coincidence and a little creativity from the author. Believe me, I’ve done it my books and I don’t begrudge the writer a bit of leeway in this regard.

Conclusion

I’m very pleased to be writing this positive review of The Gilded Age. I wish I could have done it earlier. The season finale did things properly as far as structure and that elevated the entire episode.

The idea is technical and I won’t get delve deeply but there is a thing called the Five Act structure. It’s been around since ancient Greece. It’s a foundation upon which to build a story. Ignore it at your peril.

Tom Liberman

Oh Sanditon don’t be The Gilded Age

Sanditon

The much-anticipated premier episode of the second season of Sanditon arrived with fanfare on PBS and because of that, you get to hear my thoughts about it. I’ll be clear right away, I’m not one to mince words. The episode borrowed far too much from The Gilded Age and that does not make me happy.

I don’t think the episode nearly met the low standards of The Gilded Age but it seemed the producers of Sanditon, at least in this first episode, used the same playbook as those who created the aforementioned series.

Now, perhaps it’s a good thing to borrow from a successful show but to my way of thinking, success is not equivalent to high quality. Let’s get on with it.

Blistering Pace

Sanditon blasts off with all the subtlety of an Elon Musk product launch. The opening iambic pentameter recap just wasted time reminding us of the events of the previous season. Then came the race to start every plotline as quickly as possible.

Sidney is dead, Charlotte is returning with her sister, Sanditon is rebuilt, loans must be repaid, miscarriages, army units, nefarious officers, dashing officers, children running under horses, women working for a living; it’s all happening too fast. Who, what, why, when, where? Doesn’t matter, stand aside, we’ve got to introduce every conflict as quickly as possible instead of letting them unfold organically.

Out of Time Sequences

Scenes out of time and out of place is a particular annoyance of mine although I know it doesn’t bother others as much. It’s a staple in the Gilded Age where one character has five days roll by and another only has a single afternoon pass when they meet for lunch.

It wasn’t nearly as egregious in Sanditon, but Charlotte went from applying for the position of governess to having lunch with the Parkers and then to walking back from the job interview. Maybe the good Doctor Who intervened somewhere to make that possible.

Contrived Conflict

The majority of the conflict seem to come out of nowhere. Why does Miss Lamb hate the artist who will clearly be her love interest? The argument between Charlotte and her employer was out of place. Even the military unit’s presence in town didn’t make a lot of sense. As for the two wayward children, they seemed almost like alien entities. Why are they here? What’s going on? Don’t know, don’t care, we need plot!

Now, I’m not a stickler for this sort of thing. You’ve got to have conflict and sometimes you need contrivance to make it happen. A few coincidences and events I don’t mind, but it was just one after the next in the premier episode.

Not All Bad

The middle section of the show slowed down to a calmer pace. Particularly, the story of Lady Esther Babbington arrived organically and makes sense. The plot line of the loaned money also seemed very natural and normal as did the cliffhanger regarding Miss Lamb.

The acting is universally strong and that stands in stark contrast to the Gilded Age. The director lets the actors act rather than forcing stilted conversation on them. They speak to one another rather than at each other. It is this quality acting that largely saves Sanditon in my opinion.

Conclusion

I hold out every hope the frantic pace of the premier episode of the second season will disappear into the background. That the show, with all the conflict set in motion, will move forward at a more regular pace.

A boy can hope, can’t he?

Tom Liberman

Introducing New Characters Gilded Age and Winning Time

New characters comparison

Introducing new characters into a series is not always an easy task. When the series is in its first season the audience meets new people fairly frequently and how they interact with the existing characters is important.

Today I’m discussing the way the Gilded Age and Winning Time introduced a new character and why I think one method is better than the other. In both cases the new character is a crotchety older woman and mother to an established character. That’s why I thought it might be an apt comparison.

Mean Old Mom

In The Gilded Age we’ve met the nasty housekeeper, Armstrong, from the Van Rhijn estate on several occasions as she made life miserable for Peggy and others. Meanwhile, Dr. Buss is one of the main characters in Winning Time and we know a lot about him.

Both of those characters have mothers, obviously. It turns out both women are more than a bit crotchety.

We meet Armstrong’s mother when Armstrong takes a day off from work to help the bed-ridden woman. Armstrong takes non-stop abuse from the horrible woman. Mom is as one-dimensional a character as you can imagine. Mean. That’s it, no more, no other traits, nothing redeeming.

Meanwhile we meet Momma Buss when her son comes to her with the company books for help with accounting issues. She’s biting in her critique of Dr. Buss and they have quite the exchange that seemed like real family to me. Near the end it is clear that while she is nasty, she also cares for her son and wants what is best.

The Purpose of Side Characters

Often times the purpose of side characters is to give us insight into the main character. By meeting Armstrong’s mother and Momma Buss we should learn about the two more important characters.

In this case it seems to me the idea of introducing Armstrong’s mother as a miserable and hateful person was to make us more sympathetic to the longtime Van Rhijn maid and her treatment of Peggy.

The idea behind introducing Momma Buss is to give us some awareness of the kind of upbringing Dr. Buss had and perhaps his own drive to succeed.

The Aftermath

After meeting both mothers, I liked Momma Buss despite her flaws but Armstrong’s mother was so vile, so mean, so without redeeming characteristics that I should have disliked her but, because of her one-dimensional nature, I didn’t really care much one way or the other.

This is a general problem with the Gilded Age. We cycle through characters and story lines so quickly that I don’t really get to know anyone at all. I don’t hate them but I also can’t say that I genuinely like any character in the Gilded Age. Young Jack is likeable and we got an extended scene with him this week but that’s not a topic for today.

As discussed, I think portraying Armstrong’s mother so negatively was to get us to have sympathy for Armstrong. And yet, in the latest episode, Armstrong is absolutely horrible. I don’t like her. I have no sympathy for her. So why did we meet her horrible mother? One more person to dislike on The Gilded Age? As if there aren’t enough?

Meanwhile, the short scene with Momma Buss gave us insight in Dr. Buss as did the scene with Red Auerbach. Michael Chiklis absolutely slayed it in that role by the way.

New Characters Add to the Story

The new characters in Winning Time, Momma Buss and Auerbach, added greatly to the story. They interacted with the main characters in ways that pushed the story forward. In ways that gave me insight into the main characters. They were introduced seamlessly and easily.

New characters in the Gilded Age; Armstrong’s mother, Mrs. Fish, Carrie Astor, and many more don’t really seem to do much. They are there. They speak. The allow other events to happen but they don’t interact meaningfully with the main characters. They give us little or no insight and they come and go like a freight train in the night.

Conclusion

I don’t say Winning Time is a perfect show or that The Gilded Age is without merit. I say that someone at Winning Time understands how to tell a compelling story and maybe someone over at the Gilded Age should take some notes.

Tom Liberman

Talking at Each other in the Gilded Age

Talking at each other

I watched episode eight of The Gilded Age last night and I’m afraid it was largely just characters talking at each other. Any momentum from last week’s moderately decent episode went flying out the window. Almost the entire episode consisted of one character spitting out their lines at a breakneck pace without giving the words of the other character even the slightest consideration.

Honestly, I’ve seen some terrible entertainment over the years but this was the worst case of characters talking at each other I’ve ever witnessed. The problem of too many short scenes recurred, the problem of no central theme recurred, the problem of time flow recurred, it was a cornucopia of everything wrong with the Gilded Age.

Talking at Each Other

What do I mean by characters talking at each other being bad? Isn’t that what people do? I speak and the other person responds. That’s the normal flow of conversation, right? Wrong. The normal flow of conversation is that one person speaks, the second person listens to those words, formulates a reply, and then answers.

If I want to watch two people talk at each other I’ll turn on the local opinion show that masquerades as news. That’s just one idiot saying something and the other moron responding with whatever they wanted to say regardless of what they just heard. That’s not what I expect from a highly produced television series.

Sadly, that’s exactly what happened in this episode, time and time again. One person spoke and almost before the sentence ended the second person spat out a cutting reply with no intonation, no reflection, no indication of any emotion. Just a quick, sharp, and move on to the next scene so I can see someone in a different outfit.

A Good Dialog

The only reasonable dialog in episode eight occurred when George discussed the derailment issue with his experts. The experts, minor characters, actually listened to George, thought about his words, and then replied at a normal pace indicating they listened to his original statement. It was startling to see the contrast between the bit players and the main actors.

Bad Acting?

Is bad acting to blame? I’m don’t think so, at least not in every case. Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon are two capable, veteran actors with good work to their credits. Even they seem to struggle to speak their lines with emotion and thought rather than spit them out like a runaway steam locomotive.

I’m of the opinion it’s the directing. The actors are being told to spew out their lines quickly and without emotion, to not pause, to fail to consider their opposite’s words. The problem is far too universal and largely only with the main characters to simply be bad acting.

Now, it’s possible some of it is bad acting, I don’t deny that and I think everyone knows the actors of whom I speak. But, it’s also possible that those actors are actually talented with potential but being wrecked by terrible direction.

Conclusion

The season is barreling toward its conclusion with Gladys’s debutant ball. Perhaps when it comes time to film the second season someone will have noted all the problems and try to give this show the direction it needs. I hold out little hope for the remaining episodes.

Tom Liberman