The Gilded Age a Season in an Episode

The Gilded Age

The Gilded Age on HBO premiered this week and, as a history buff, I tuned in with eager anticipation. The Gilded age refers to an incredibly interesting time in the history of the United States as the country transitioned to industrialization.

New money families arose and began to challenge the established wealth that dated back to colonial times. Many of the great family names still around today, Westinghouse, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Morgan, Guggenheim, Vanderbilt, and more ascended at this time. The time frame gives us a huge historical reality to play with and so many plots to explore.

I eagerly anticipated watching the first episode. I was somewhat disappointed for reasons I’ll detail below but I think the show has a lot of promise. On with the review!

The Gilded Age Plot

The major storyline of The Gilded Age is the conflict between new money and old in the New York social and business world. The Russell family is new money and George is the classic robber baron of the railroad industry. His wife, Bertha, tries desperately to find a place in New York with the established families.

In contrast are the van Rhijn ladies who represent old and snobby money. They want nothing to do with the Bertha and her social plans. The conflict between Bertha and Agnes van Rhijn is the driving force of the story although the younger generation has a role to play as well.

Too Much too Fast

The speed at which the plot developed in the opening episode left my head spinning. We met character after character in a dizzying array of scenes that left me without attachment to any of them. It’s a real shame because several of the characters have an enormous potential to feed future plots.

Peggy Scott as a young writer of ambition. Larry Russel as the son of the George and Bertha, a spirited young fellow eager to be in the world. Gladys Russel as the shy and sweet daughter of new money. Several of the servants in both houses including the scheming Turner and the wise Watson piqued my interest.

I don’t mention Marian Brooks, the niece of Agnes, because the young girl is incredibly boring; but I will deal with that later.

A Whole Season of Potential Gone in One Episode

Sadly, a huge amount of potential was lost as we sprinted through an opening episode that I argue might have been an entire season. The failed party hosted by Bertha served as the climax of the episode. To my mind this should have been the denouement to the entire season.

The premier episode might center around young Marian Brook and the difficult financial state brought on by her father’s reckless spending. The relationship between her and the lawyer, her father’s estrangement from his sisters. Then we might switch to Peggy and her family troubles. The incident that caused her to separate from her father. We might end with the two meeting at the rail station.

The second episode might center on finishing up the magnificent Russel home. Focusing on the two children and Bertha’s ambitions. Spending some time getting to know George and his financial success, how it happened, the old life they are leaving an attempt to reach the upper crust of society. We might meet some of their old friends and finish with the family moving into the new house.

In any case, I’m not going to outline an entire season here but it’s clear to me they rushed things far too fast and left many juicy plots behind in their eagerness to get to the failed party. I feel like I missed out on an entire season of the Gilded Age because of the incessant rush.

The Acting

The acting is stiff and wooden to a level that I can only attribute to the director. It’s as if the actors, many quality performers, are looking over their shoulder to make sure the nun isn’t going to smack them with a ruler because they showed the slightest bit of emotion.

I’m guessing this is designed to display the ultra-formal speech used back in those days. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s just bad acting but I don’t think so. Poor Louisa Jacobson, who portrays Marian and is the center of the story, is like a wooden block. She looks terrified she might make a mistake in every scene. She is not alone though.

Almost everyone is wooden including Carrie Coon as Bertha. Bertha and Marian are the main characters of the story! Even Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski, established and quality actors, as the van Rhijn aunts, appear almost frightened to actually perform.

I must take a moment to praise Audra McDonald and Donna Murphy as Dorothy Scott and Mrs. Astor. The two brought real emotion and life to the otherwise dull character interactions. Blake Riston as Oscar van Rhijn was also quite good although his arc seemed fit for a season long storyline rather than something to be quickly revealed in the first episode.

Conclusion

I’m not completely disappointed with The Gilded Age. It had a few good moments and I think if the actors are allowed to act and the pace of the story slows, there’s a good chance it might become an excellent series.

The first episode is disappointing.

Tom Liberman

Opening Sequence Analysis All Creatures versus Around the World

Opening Sequence

Sunday night television on PBS here in St. Louis offers Around the World in 80 Days followed by All Creatures Great and Small. It’s been a great opportunity for me to give my opinions on the two shows. I’ve done so over the last couple of weeks.

Today I’m going to narrow my focus down a little and simple compare the opening sequences of both shows. What works? What doesn’t work? Why does it work? Why doesn’t it work? I will attempt to refrain from being critical of other elements of both shows although I promise nothing. Anyone who’s read my other reviews is sure to know my thoughts on the merits of each of the shows.

Opening Sequence Around the World

The opening sequence of Around the World in 80 Days involves our three protagonists walking through a fly-infested region appearing somewhat lost and disheveled. They come across a young girl who leads them to a village. In the village they encounter a matriarchal figure who explains a wedding between her daughter and a young man is planned for later.

This sequence probably took about five minutes although it seemed to drag interminably.

Opening Sequence of All Creatures

The opening sequence of All Creatures Great and Small has our four protagonists walking along a road at the back of a funeral. The camera focuses on a woman, apparently the widow, her two small children, and a strapping young fellow. A farmer coming the other way tips his cap.
The scene took perhaps a minute or two and not a single word of dialog is spoken.

The Implications

The implications of the opening sequence are quite important in telling a story. The audience needs to know the focus of the episode. What is the story going to be about?

Around the World and 80 Days and All Creatures Great and Small are certainly two different kinds of stories with apparently little in common. But, if you look closely, there were similarities this week. In both shows a group of strangers drive the external conflict and plot.

In this case the implication from the opening sequence in Around the World revolved, to my mind, around the little girl and the family matriarch. The wedding didn’t seem like it was going to be that important, there was something about the girl.

In All Creatures it seemed clear to me that the widow and her children were the focus of the conflict in the coming episode.

How it Unfolded in Around the World

This is where, in my opinion, the opening sequence failed in Around the World and succeeded in All Creatures. It turns out the young girl was unimportant and even the matriarch of the family only played a smaller role. The wedding brought on the conflict as it turned out the groom deserted his unit. A young British lieutenant and his troops arrived in the middle of the wedding and dragged the groom off.

A moment to commend Charlie Hamblett for his portrayal of Lieutenant Bathurst. The only performance I found convincing. I shall not dwell, onto my focus.

The problem here is the opening sequence didn’t introduce the antagonist or even really let us know about the main conflict of the episode. It completely misdirected us to the young girl.

How it Unfolded in All Creatures

We immediately find ourselves entangled in the main plot of James helping the widow with her sick cows. The widow is desperately trying to manage the farm and her two sons with the help of a young man but it’s not easy. The cows are sick, they must be kept inside, this costs money. The local farmers think she should sell.

The opening sequence did not lie to us. It introduced us to the main characters of the story and the conflict of the sick cows is a direct result of the death of the farmer. Everything unfolded in a completely natural and organic fashion. It made sense. The story grabbed me and held me. I didn’t find myself confused.

Conclusions

This is why an opening sequence is important. It prepares the audience for what is to come. I think All Creatures succeeded in a two-minute sequence with no dialog where Around the World failed in a much longer sequence with too much dialog.

The failure and success in the first few minutes of the episodes tell us a great deal about the general quality of the writing in both shows. It’s no surprise that the entire episode of All Creatures engrossed me whereas 80 Days largely left me unsatisfied.

But, I promised I wouldn’t get into all of that, so I won’t.

Tom Liberman

All Creatures Great and Small Episode Two

All Creatures Great and Small

Ah, that’s the stuff. After a lackluster hour watching Around the World in 80 Days, we get some excellent entertainment. If you hadn’t guessed already, I enjoyed the second episode of All Creatures Great and Small as much as I liked the first.

This episode of All Creatures Great and Small expands on the main conflicts introduced in the first episode while also introducing potential romantic interests for Siegfried and Mrs. Hall. The major story arc continues to be James potentially taking a new job and Siegfried’s unwillingness to listen to James’s ideas.

Inciting Incidents

Episode two unfolds leisurely, as is the general pace of All Creatures Great and Small. The big Daffodil Day festival is around the corner and the gang all purchases tickets except Mrs. Hall who prefers to stay at home reading a book. Siegfried and Tristan leave to tend to an important customer James apparently forget the day before. Meanwhile James and Mrs. Hall are left to hold down the fort but their orderly schedule is disrupted by an emergency. Helen drops by because Tristan told her James had something to ask.

These inciting incidents largely direct the rest of the episode, as it should be. The events of the opening sequence let the audience know what to expect. This is nothing more than standard writing technique but it seems absent in most other shows I watch. Every thread introduced in the opening sequence of this episode of All Creatures Great and Small plays an important role the rest of the way.

The Incidents Lead the Plot

At surgery, Mrs. Hall redirects all the morning clients to the afternoon in order for James to tend to the wounded dog. A trap caught the dog and mangled its leg. The owner is a veteran who also has a wounded leg. He and Mrs. Hall find a connection and it quickly becomes apparent this is a romantic interest.

James saves the dog, of course, although recommends it be kept overnight to make sure infection hasn’t set in. Events unfold naturally in a way that makes sense. There is drama without piercing music telling us the situation is frightening. I found myself far more afraid for the dog than for Fogg and Passepartout an hour earlier as they stumbled through sandstorms and desert heat. Why? It all seemed real, natural, believable, part of a flowing narrative. I am immersed.

Meanwhile, Siegfried defers to an important client who threatens to move his business to another veterinarian. Then we have some comic relief with Tristan and a large sow. On the return trip Tristan makes some pointed remarks in regards to Siegfried’s timidness in regards to the client and general demeanor of not wanting to take risks in his old age. This speech drives future narratives between Siegfried and James in regards to upgrading the surgery to modern standards. In other words, it is there for a reason.

The Pay Off

All Creatures Great and Small does not disappoint. Everything setup in the opening sequence comes to bear in the last half of the episode. James and Helen dance at the festival. Siegfried stands up to the important customer. Mrs. Hall sits alone petting the wounded dog as a symbolic substitute for a romantic relationship with its owner.

We, the audience, are rewarded for paying attention to events. Things don’t come and go for no logical reason therefore it’s important we watch each moment of All Creatures Great and Small with attention. When I know something is pertinent, important, I care. I care about the characters and what happens to them, I’m invested.

Wrapping Things Up

We end with questions unanswered and further intrigue ahead while still wrapping up this episode in a satisfactory fashion. The wounded dog is fine. Helen is ready to move on. Mrs. Harris declines a polite invitation for a dog walk but we know it’s not the last of the handsome man we’ll see.

Meanwhile, James’s mother took it into her own hands to accept the position offered at the modern veterinarian clinic leaving James torn. He wants to stay here but he feels an obligation to his parents who paid his way through school.

Siegfried makes of point of telling James that suggestions for improving the surgery are welcome although we’re not completely sure if we believe the stern owner.

Conclusion

Another excellent episode of All Creatures Great and Small. The writers, actors, set designers, and all the rest clearly pay attention to details. Simple things are not taken for granted. Near the end of the episode an old client comes in who reminds us of how James and Helen spent the night attending a pregnant doggo. It’s the same dog or at least one that looks the same.

It’s a real pleasure watching this show and I eagerly await next week’s episode.

Tom Liberman

Around the World in 80 Days Episode Three

Around the world in 80 Days

The quality of the third episode of Around the World in 80 Days falls somewhere between the first and the second in my opinion. The structure of the story was fairly similar to that of the previous episode. We meet some new and interesting people, and our heroes find themselves in grave danger.

In a travel tales such as this, these sorts of plot devices are fairly integral to moving the story along. The protagonist and companions find themselves in a desperate situation and must extricate themselves either with the aid or hinderance of the new characters.

In this case the new characters are based on people from real life, most notably Lady Jane Digby. I heartily approve including historical figures in a work fiction of this nature but found myself sadly disappointed in the amount of screen time for Digby. In fact, that is my primary complaint.

The Episode

This episode of Around the World in 80 Days finds our heroes aboard a ship headed for the Suez Canal with everything seemingly in order but, of course, that changes quickly enough. The ship is delayed by the threat of pirates and they find themselves in the city waiting for a British war ship to escort them to Aden.

At the port our trio spots the scandalous Digby and her husband and ignore them as social outcasts.

Our heroes, led by Fogg, decide to hire camels to cross Saudi Arabia to get to Aden. A distance of some 1500 miles although shortened dramatically for narrative purposes to a three-day trip. Fogg refuses to allow Fix to go as the journey is dangerous. The guide abandons Fogg and Passepartout and only Fix hiring Digby saves our heroes.

They continue on in the desert where Bedouin tribesmen attack and only the quick thinking of Fogg and the marksmanship of Passepartout save the day. Eventually they arrive safely in Aden where the erstwhile fake valet is offered money in order to sabotage the endeavor and seems to agree to the proposal.

Pacing in Around the World in 80 Days

This episode of Around the World in 80 Days suffered from a lack of proper pacing. Parts that needed fleshing out and time sped by in an instant while sections that didn’t require a great deal of effort lingered too long. In addition, Digby and husband, interesting characters to be certain, suffered from a lack of development.

We start on the deck of the steamer headed across the Mediterranean toward the Suez Canal. Valuable time is wasted in watching Passepartout attempt to throw food in his mouth while Fogg and Fix talk about nothing useful. Then, suddenly, they are in a city where we are treated to a long series of expositions.

Exposition

Fogg complains about the captain delaying the ship because of pirates. There’s Lady Jane Digby and let me tell you all about her. Why didn’t we see the captain explaining the pirate situation to Fogg? Why wasn’t the history Digby told through conversation with Fix later as they are chasing after Fogg? Exposition is lazy and not particularly entertaining. I was extremely bored through the opening sequences.

Finally, the story gets going when Fogg foolishly trusts a local to guide them to Aden for a mere ten pounds. Passepartout is skeptical and fights for Fix to join them but Fogg insists on having his own way despite the fact he can’t even unbutton his shirt properly. I liked this scene because it shows Fogg’s naivete and incompetence as part of the Hero’s Journey.

Left behind, Fix hires Digby and her husband to chase after Fogg. This was the opportunity for us to learn about Digby and her past connection with Fix’s father. An extended scene with Fix, Digby, and her husband to explain all the nuances of their connections seemed in order but we didn’t get it.

Then we waste more time back in London showing the embarrassing financial situation of Fogg’s friend at the Reform Club. This entire plot line just takes away from the main story of Around the World in 80 Days, that is to say, getting around the world. I shall only briefly mention the improperly arranged Snooker table.

The Desert

Fogg and Passepartout find themselves abandoned in the desert. We waste a tremendous amount of time watching them slowly bake. The scenes just don’t convey desperate and dangerous. The sandstorm, the looming death. I felt nothing, no sense of danger.

Then, suddenly everyone is rescued. Why not spend most of that time with Fix, and Digby and her husband? They are compelling characters with interesting stories. In episode two we got to spend time with the industrialist and his son.

The best scene happened when Digby’s husband virulently defends her. I found the actor didn’t fit the role in appearance but I absolutely believed this was a proud man who deeply loved his wife. It was largely the only compelling moment of the episode.

Digby tells Fix outright going forward is almost certain death at the hands of Bedouins but suddenly, for reasons I can’t figure out, offers to take them to Aden if that’s what Fix wants. I want Fix to prove her worth to Digby, to show she’s a woman cut from the same cloth, to drive the plot forward.

In any case, the predictable Bedouin attack is handled badly from a cinematographic perspective. Our heroes repeatedly tell us they can’t see the attackers and are firing blindly into the night at the sound of hooves but we, the audience, can see pretty clearly. I guess the decision was made so that we can visually see the actions of the various protagonists.

It seems to me a scene of darkness, thundering hooves, shouts, gunshots, a scream from Fix, confusion, and mayhem was in order. I might have found that dramatic. What I saw was rather dull. I won’t talk about the flammable properties of raw crude oil as the mechanism for Fogg to save the day.

Conclusion

Another decent episode of Around the World in 80 Days. Certainly not compelling or particularly good but watchable and moderately entertaining. I suspect this is what we’ll get the rest of the way.

Tom Liberman

Why I dislike Succession on HBO

Succession

Succession is a highly rated and successful show on HBO and I recently began watching. It garners 93% on the Tomatometer from Rotten Tomato critics and 81% approval from audiences. The show is equally highly rated on IMBD with a score of 8.6. It has two Golden Globes and nine Emmy awards in the first two seasons.

My personal perusal of reviews and audience reaction confirms these numbers with sentiment for the show running quite high. People seem to love the storyline, the acting, the directing, the sets, just about everything to do with Succession.

I Hate it

I hate Succession. I’m certainly not telling people who love the show they are wrong. I understand I’m merely three episodes into the third season of Succession and my opinions are based on extremely limited information. Still, I can barely make it through an episode.

Just because I don’t like a show is no reason it shouldn’t be successful. I find most of the blockbuster movies made today to be awful and they make hundreds of millions of dollars. If you like it, so be it. I don’t and I’m going to tell you why, because that’s what I do.

Overview

Succession tells the story of media and entertainment mogul Logan Roy along with his family. It is billed as a Dark Comedy although, in the episodes I’ve seen, I don’t recall laughing a single time.

I’m not going to dive deep into what makes a show good or bad but if you’d like my thoughts on that, take a look at this blog.

The Dialog

The first thing I hate is the writing. It isn’t so much terrible as it is untrue. The dialog seems written more toward what the audience expects the characters to say and do instead of what the actual characters might actually say. I find it almost universally unbelievable.

I find Kendall to be particularly implausible considering his educational and family background. His historical references don’t make sense. Ok, he has self-doubt and struggles with wanting to be liked. Could you do that with subtleness rather than hitting the audience over the head with a sledge hammer every single time he opens his mouth?

Shiv takes a minute of hemming and hawing and umming and uhhing to speak a line of dialog. I want to kick her in the shin, spit it out!

Roman’s lines seem written for a thirteen-year-old, and I apologize to boys that age for the comparison. “Ha ha, I said fart,” is about the crux of it.

Greg’s bumbling is so pronounced and severe I don’t even believe he’s human.

I could go on but I’ll stop there.

Scene Structures

The scenes come fast and furious but I see no connection from one to the next. Is it an hour later? The same moment but a new location with different characters? A week later? There’s no rhythm to the show. It’s just one scene after the next, each seemingly with the sole purpose of a one liner at the end hoping for a laugh. Spoiler, I didn’t laugh.

So many things happen that make no sense I can’t even begin to get into it all. I’ll give special mention Shiv’s big speech. Why was there a panic when Kendall came into the building? Like they weren’t expecting it? How incompetent are they?

Then Kendall suddenly comes up with a great plan to ruin Shiv’s speech by playing loud music. He sends a lacky out to buy equipment at the last second. Someone runs hundreds of feet of wire, interfaces with a receiver, and the master plan goes into effect.

Let’s discount this should take an hour at best and mention a hundred people see all of it happening and can’t call security? Can’t unplug the speakers? Utter nonsense. This happens all the time in this show. I’m constantly taken out of immersion and into stunned incredulity at the stupidity of it all.

Acting

I can’t blame the actors because the dialog is so bad. Credit to Brian Cox as Logan, Alan Ruck as Connor, and J. Smith-Cameron as Gerri as remotely believable in main roles. Most of the good acting performances come from bit players, probably because their lines aren’t written with audience approval in mind.

Conclusion

I find the show painful to watch. I’m not immersed in the world, I’m shaking my head at dialog that makes no sense, scenes that come out of nowhere and return to oblivion after a stupid one liner. Everything is rushed, pushed, shoved, harassed, and jammed into place. There is no reflection, no pacing, and hardly a likable character. An hour seems like a day. It’s painful.

Bring the hate, you lovers of Succession. I can take it.

Tom Liberman

Are the Ruby Rose Accusations Delusional?

Ruby Rose

Model turned actress Ruby Rose performed as the lead for the first season of Warner Bros. Television version of Batwoman. She left the show after that season and recently made serious accusations against other actors, the production staff, and the crew.

Ruby Rose claims both her serious injuries and another’s occurred on set because of negligence and corner cutting. In addition, Ruby Rose claims there was pressure to return to work while still injured and that several fellow actors were abusive to women on set.

Batwoman

Batwoman, now in its third season, continues to receive reasonably good reviews and moderately decent ratings for the network it is on. There is a lot of ill-feeling toward Batwoman because it is generally considered to promote a “Woke” agenda. Ruby Rose herself is an outspoken proponent of the LBGTQia+ (yes, I had to look that up) community.

Needless to say, there are quite a few outspoken people happy to believe both the worst and best about Ruby Rose and her accusations. That being the case, I’m seeing plenty of hot opinions on these accusations.

The Response

The actors accused of behaving in a toxic fashion deny it completely. The company claims it was Ruby Rose who behaved badly on set. Warner Bros. claims they fired her because of her own bad behavior, showing up late, treating crew badly, not knowing her lines, storming off set in a rage on multiple occasions.

What Really Happened

It’s likely we’ll never really know what happened but my suspicion, without any kind of conclusive proof, is that Ruby Rose is exaggerating minor events and possibly even fabricating much of what happened. If that’s true, then why is she doing it when it’s pretty clear those she accused will dispute her claims?

One of the strange things in human nature is the ability to become completely delusional about reality. It’s my opinion that is in play here with Ruby Rose. She’s surrounded herself with Yes People who fuel this delusion. Online she gets endless support from those who tie their own belief system to that of Rose and they will support anything she says.

Conclusion

Here is where I think I’ll lose everyone reading along, nodding their heads in complete agreement, the Ruby Rose haters. I honestly think former President Trump, and many of his allies, engage in this practice almost constantly. They are surrounded by True Believers who tolerate the most abhorrent behavior and fuel it to levels of delusional insanity.

We must disagree with people we like and support when they do things with which we disagree. If we don’t, we create evil monsters, capable of damage beyond comprehension. If we continue down that road this country is in serious trouble.

I say to you, stand up for what is right, no matter who says it. Fight against what is wrong, no matter the source. The world will be a better place.

Tom Liberman

White Lotus Ultimately Disappointing

White Lotus

What is White Lotus?

White Lotus is a recently released mini-series which received acclaim from both critics and audience. It tells the tale of a group of travelers at a luxury resort and expands on their personal problems while hinting at a murder mystery.

Really Good for While

The thing about White Lotus is that it’s really quite good in almost every respect. It’s not a situation like The Nevers or Miss Scarlet. Those shows, while many people certainly enjoy them greatly, I found to be almost without redeeming qualities.

In White Lotus the writing is well-paced and interesting. The characters slowly reveal themselves to us through dialog and events rather than obtrusive exposition. In particular the Quinn character story arc spoke to me in a number of ways.

Steve Zahn as Quinn’s father annoyed me to no end but slowly grew into an interesting and fully three-dimensional character. The acting is largely excellent. I thought Jake Lacy as the annoying husband to the confused and unhappy Alexandra Daddario particularly effective. Connie Britton peeled away the crazy layers of her character with wild-eyed abandon.

The sets were lovely, the cinematography well done. Quinn going outside to sleep on the beach as the sun set and whales breeched is an image I won’t soon forget.

Why it Doesn’t Succeed Fully

You might be wondering at this point as to why I found White Lotus disappointing if all I can manage to do is heap praise upon it.

It’s the ending. Perhaps I should say some of the endings. I don’t mind a story that doesn’t tie everything up in a nice little bow, in fact I general prefer a little ambiguity. I also don’t mind an ending that isn’t happy. That’s real life and it happens.

The fate of Rachel in a golden prison with Shane is not my problem. Nor is the conclusion of the Nicole story with her joyously sprinkling the ashes of her dead mother. Those two I liked, it’s everyone else’s ending that disappointed.

I really don’t know what to make of the Paula and Olivia ending. What happened? Are they still friends? Did they learn anything. What about poor Kai? Manipulated by Paula to salvage her own conscious at being of color but living in luxury.

I worry that Quinn won’t even be able to make it back from the airport to the resort with no phone and no money. How will he survive? His parents certainly won’t let the plane leave without Quinn on board.

What about Belinda? What will she do with the wad of cash? Will Nicole run the business opportunity by her team and change her mind?

Armand’s story seemed to simply justify the premise of the opening scene where we know someone died. It didn’t seem organic to me.

In the End

Too many of the endings just weren’t endings at all. I found myself unsatisfied. I’m certainly not saying White Lotus is bad, it’s quite good really and I very much enjoyed watching it. I’m looking forward to a second season reportedly in the works with new guests.

I guess my point here is that endings are really important. If you can’t find a good ending then every wonderful thing leading to that point is forgotten. White Lotus was close to wonderful and I’d recommend it even though the ending left me disappointed.

Tom Liberman

All Creatures Great and Small versus Miss Scarlet

All Creatures Great and Small

The PBS shows All Creatures Great and Small and Miss Scarlet wrapped up this weekend and their run gives me a chance to speak on their relative merits. I think a fair analysis of the two shows is in order because Miss Scarlet clearly has a Woke Agenda while All Creatures Great and Small displays many of the themes associated with that movement but with a significantly gentler touch.

The problem is that Miss Scarlet isn’t very good, in fact I’d argue it’s awful, while All Creatures Great and Small is rather a delight. Because of the Woke Agenda displayed by Miss Scarlet I suspect many detractors will lay blame on this theme while apologists will defend the show’s shortcomings as actual strengths.

I’d like to take a more objective look at the two shows and what makes All Creatures Great and Small what I would call good and Miss Scarlet bad. I’ve spoken of subjective and objective in other places so I won’t go deeply into them here.

What makes a show objectively good? Characters, cinematography, plot, theme, acting, directing, the ending, and other elements; not our subjective desires for a show to be good or bad.

The characters in Miss Scarlet are strikingly one dimensional. We know little about the titular character other than she was raised by a father and wants to be a detective. We know even less about The Duke, her love interest. Meanwhile, James, Tristan, Siegfried, Helen, and even the minor characters of Hugh, Mrs. Hall, Mrs. Pumphrey, and a host of others are more fleshed out than the main characters of Miss Scarlet. I have more empathy for the farmers whose cow is sick than I do for Miss Scarlet. One farmer stays up all night rubbing salve on his sick charge and that tells me more about him and his wife, who never lets James leave without a meat pie or two, than I know about anyone in Miss Scarlet. The most developed characters in Miss Scarlet are her patron and Moses, two side characters. Sadly, the director apparently chose to have Moses speak with such a heavy Jamaican accent I often don’t know what he is saying.

The chemistry between the Miss Scarlet and the Duke is akin to Anakin and Leah if you’ll permit me a Star Wars reference. I’m mystified as to why anyone would be attracted to either of them other than their appearance. Meanwhile the tension between James and Helen is palpable from the start. They care about the same things, they ask one another questions, they show interest in each other’s lives, if they bicker it’s just a good-natured jibe here or there, not a constant bombardment of quips designed to show us how clever is the writer. Even Hugh, the romantic rival, is portrayed as a real human being who cares deeply about Helen.

The acting in Miss Scarlet is atrocious. Both main actors display no range of emotion and their constant flirt/bickering takes the tension out of every scene that is designed to be tense. Someone is pointing a gun at them, time to throw quips at each other and grin condescendingly. Meanwhile I can’t think of a bad performance in All Creatures Great and Small. Tristan starts out as an obnoxious, entitled, moron, and by the end he is a lovable, if flawed, fellow. The minor characters are believable and add to the show at every step.

The music in Miss Scarlet is overbearing and attempts to force us into emotions. It’s time for action, time for fear, time for joy. It’s loud and obtrusive. I barely notice the music in All Creatures Great and Small. It is subtle and enhances a scene rather than dominating it.

The cinematography in Miss Scarlet is boringly repetitive. Almost every shot in the entire series is a front on close-up of a character as she or he speak. Not to mention the bleak, dark, washed out background which are clearly designed to contrasts with what must be the focus of our attention, the vivid and bright Miss Scarlet. The vibrant country life depicted in All Creatures Great and Small is colorful and stunning although some scenes are dark and gray as appropriate. It is never dull, predictable sameness. Just look at the images I picked for this blog. One is sterile and one is filled with life.

The sets in Miss Scarlet are stark and tell us little about the inhabitants. There are few nick-nacks on shelves, few paintings on the walls, few personal items scattered about. Even Miss Scarlet’s office has barely a picture of the father who supposedly so influenced her. Meanwhile the sets of All Creatures are filled with personal objects from the opulence of Mrs. Pumphrey’s house to the peeling wallpaper in the home of the interracial couple whose dog is having trouble with her puppies. I believe real people live here, people with lives outside of the shot required for the show.

The story in Miss Scarlet makes little sense and the finale was so convoluted I completely lost track of what was happening. It was as if multiple pertinent scenes were left on the cutting room floor. As an example, Miss Scarlet has been put in a cell for her protection, although it’s not clear why the villain wants to harm her, and suddenly, she is in the detective’s office working on solving the case.

The story in All Creatures Great and Small certainly takes liberties with reality in order to further the plot but largely remains believable. I was regularly unsure of what would happen next. Would Helen go through with the marriage, would James turn around, would the cow die? I didn’t know and I was invested in finding out.

The ultimate villain in Miss Scarlet is sprung on us at the last second and I’m not even sure why or how he managed it all. So much was unexplained I was left utterly baffled and dissatisfied. The ending in All Creatures Great and Small was bittersweet and totally in line with all the events that happened before it. I was left satisfied even though there was no final resolution.

In an English period piece, the clothing and scenery is almost always fantastic but in Miss Scarlet the tone was dark, darker, darkest with little of London on display. The clothes, you ask? Miss Scarlet and the Duke are always impeccably dressed in clothes that look like they just came from the tailor, this despite having been locked in a dirty cell all night or having been investigating in filthy brothels for hours. Speaking of brothels, I was instantly turned off to Miss Scarlet when she threatened to burn down the brothel and kill dozens of working girls and patrons because Moses stole her purse. I mean, she’s vile and selfish, she doesn’t think about others. Why would I like her?

Meanwhile the wardrobes in All Creatures Great and Small looked like clothes people actually wore all day. People got dressed up for fancy events but it was clear their fineries were not new from the tailor. Shirts look rumpled and lived in. Everything looked alive and real, as if these were real people from real life who happened to come across the camera that day.

I’ve gone on too long. You can certainly subjectively like Miss Scarlet and the Duke and subjectively dislike All Creatures Great and Small. That’s your decision to make. However, an objective look at the elements of both shows comes to but a single conclusion.

Tom Liberman

Batwoman Criticism Legitimate or anti-Woke Propaganda?

Batwoman

The second season of Batwoman on The CW is getting universally bad reviews for any number of reasons but is any of it simply anti-Woke backlash? What makes this interesting for me is that I’m just about ready to write a negative review about Miss Scarlett and the Duke which also includes a Woke objective.

This is a real problem when a television show or movie is objectively bad and is also being used as a platform for social issues. When someone like me; as white, male, and privileged as you can find in the world, writes negative thoughts about Miss Scarlett there often follows accusations of being hostile toward such social issues.

When someone like HeelvsBabyface, Nerdrotic, or TheCriticalDrinker makes similar complaints about Batwoman, they sometimes come across as anti-Woke rather than simply critical of the show in question. The show has numerous problems but the focus of the criticisms from people often is the subversion of good writing and logical plotlines in order to present Woke issues. The fact the producers of some of these show state quite clearly this is their objective muddies the water further.

The reviewers I’ve listed above are rather caustic in their tone and brutal in their assessments and do come across, fairly or unfairly, as anti-Woke. Ryan George of Pitch Meeting fame is far gentler in his criticism and includes a great deal of humor which makes him appear less negative.

This all leads to the answer of my question if the criticism of Batwoman is legitimate or simply the raving of anti-Woke activists. It’s both and it’s neither. Some of the criticism is certainly coming from an anti-Woke bias while a great deal of the criticism is legitimate and concerns other problems with the shows in question. Who gets to decide which is which? You. That’s the point here.

There is no question that raging Incel, anti-Woke nut jobs look to certain videos as validation for their misogynistic and misguided hatred. There is also no debate that some of the people who watch these reviews are not so inclined.

If a reviewer has a caustic and negative style that’s their business. Perhaps they do have an anti-Woke bias against Batwoman or perhaps they just find the show intolerably bad regardless of its Woke agenda. You get to watch the reviewer you want to watch and if you think they are overtly anti-Woke then stop watching. If you like the reviews, continue to watch.

I like to consider myself Woke and my novels address some of those self-same issues although I try to put logic, plot, character arc, and general theme above those ideologies. I also think my upcoming negative review of Miss Scarlett is not based on the Woke aspect of the show but other elements that are sorely lacking.

The question of Anti-Woke or legitimate review is largely for you to decide for yourself. I can’t decide for you, nor do I want to make such an attempt.

Tom Liberman

Nobody Thought they were Truman Burbank before Television

Truman Burbank

There are a number of people who think they are the subject of a Reality Show much like Truman Burbank from the Truman Show. They are delusional, certainly, but what is undeniable is that no one had such a mental delusion prior to the invention of television. Even after the invention of television it was not a heard about mental problem until after the Truman Show became part of the public conscious. What does that tell us about the human mind?

It wasn’t until H. G. Wells wrote the War of the Worlds that people began to see aliens and UFOs. No one saw a leprechaun until they read, or were told, about them first. This is reality, a concept from which the people who suffer these delusions are somewhat divorced. But then, aren’t we all? Our memories are faulty, our senses unreliable, and our confirmation bias on high alert most of the time. It’s no wonder people think they are the subject of a reality television show.

I have a friend who, despite being apparently sane, intelligent, and rational, firmly believes he is the subject of an alien experiment where he is the only “real” person on the planet and everyone else is part of the research. Is he insane? Or is his delusional normal? Is everyone delusional to some degree or another? Is he Truman Burbank?

We are, undeniably, the center of our own universe, just like Truman Burbank. When someone I know moves to a location beyond my ability to sense them, they essentially disappear. I have no idea what they are doing or how they are conducting their life until I see them again. We are, equally undeniably, not the center of the real universe. We are not the subject of alien experimentation or the star of a television show in which the rest of reality is an illusion designed to fool us.

What happens that causes people like my friend, or those with the Truman Delusion, to lose their grip on reality? If they continue to function in normal society, is it really that damaging? Do we not have functioning drug and alcohol addicts around us every day? If they can manage to keep their delusion, or addiction, from putting them in a mental hospital, what harm is there?

I’m not going to write a dissertation on these many questions. I think the problems of mental health and self-delusion are complex and not easily addressed. I’ll try to sum up my thoughts in a reasonable way.

I think we should all strive to do a better job of being critical thinkers. I am not Truman Burbank and neither are you. Don’t believe what you want because it boosts your ego, trust what evidence shows is the most probable truth. Be a critical thinker.

Take this attitude toward all things in life. What car to buy. What food to eat. For what politician to vote. What novel to read.

Tom Liberman

Are you Still Paying for TV? Why?

Cable TV SubscribersI just read an absolutely fascinating article from the financial world about how the television business is having a dismal year and the future looks bad.

The reason I found the article fascinating is that it completely agrees with everything I’ve been saying about those who make content and those who deliver it to the consumers. Here’s a hint for anyone that wants to be my friend, just tell me I’m amazingly smart and always right!

Massive ego aside, I did want to take a quick look at what the metrics from this article mean about our future consumption of content. What I think is happening is that there is a growing separation between those who create content and the companies that distribute it to us. In the past these two industries were often combined. The networks, studios, publishers, and labels created the content and delivered it to us.

With wireless internet becoming more universally available and with devices that can take advantage of that medium becoming almost ubiquitous we are seeing a trend where people consume content when they want and where the want. That content is no longer tied to a provider.

I’ve been hammering away for years that the major content creators should simply give up on delivering content. They should give their content away for free to the providers and get revenue each time someone consumes content.

Naturally there has been reluctance to accept this business model. The content creators had huge revenue streams through their delivery arms.

What is happening now is that people don’t want to pay for access and subscribers are falling. They want to pay for individual items they purchase. We don’t pay to have access to the grocery store, we pay for the items we buy. As times goes on fewer and fewer people will have dedicated television or internet devices. All media will be delivered electronically to whatever device we are viewing at that moment. We will pay for this by watching advertisements and possibly some monthly fee. Advertisers will pay the content providers a certain amount per view. The content providers will then pass along a share to the content creators.

As it stands, when I see my favorite shows being pulled from Hulu, my favorite sporting events being pulled from ESPN3 I get angry. However, I see a bright future for me and others who enjoy content. No longer will we be tied to a service. I will watch what I want, when I want. Those that provide popular content to the largest audience will get the lion’s share of the revenue.

The content creators will open their vast libraries to Hulu, Netflix, ESPN3, and other providers that will arise in the future.

New content creators will arise, regular people who write their own amazing Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels for example! People will consume what we want at a reasonable price.

There will be more success stories like Felicia Day. Regular people will be able to showcase their talents directly. More content, more creativity, more variety, more goodness!

Children will dance in the streets. Dogs and cats will live in harmony. The Cardinals will win the World Series every year (darn you and your beards; evil Red Sox).

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Kill all the Chinese and Fire Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel as HitlerI’m not exactly certain how I missed this earth shattering story but apparently a segment of the Chinese-American community is incensed about what a kid said during a Jimmy Kimmel show.

Kimmel has a Kids’ Table segment where he asks young children questions about serious issues the nation and world face. In this case he asked what the country should do about the $1.3 trillion we owe to China.

One young fellow decided that killing all the Chinese was a reasonable solution. Kimmel tried to suggest that perhaps this wasn’t the best idea but quickly moved on to other suggestions. One young girl argued rather persuasively that if we tried to kill all the Chinese they would try to kill us back and that might not be good. The boy countered with the idea that the Chinese would all be dead by that time so we had nothing to fear. In other words, children lobbing childish ideas. It was all rather humorous, if a bit dark.

In the ensuing outrage Kimmel offered an apology for offending anyone of Asian or Chinese heritage. He expressed the idea that the show merely meant to entertain. That they don’t control or condone what the children say.

This apology apparently did not go over well with as many as 1,500 people protesting outside the ABC studio where his show is produced. Jimmy is accused of teaching kids hatred, promoting genocide, and being a general Hitler like figure in the world. A petition to fire Kimmel was posted on the White House website and has generated a significant number of signatures.

I suppose the idea is that Kimmel should have stopped the segment and gotten into a serious discussion about how genocide against the largest population on earth was not a good idea. He laughed, he told them it was a bad idea, they’re kids. End of story.

A large part of me wants to think the entire protest is actually just an attempt at humor but apparently it is not.

I don’t even know how to respond. Should I try logical arguments about how kids say silly things they don’t mean all the time? That kids often say illogical and ridiculous things. Should I point out that Kimmel laughed it off and tried to explain why the idea was bad? Should I tell people being overly sensitive does their various causes no good? Should I try to write a dissertation about humor?

I’m stumped.

I will make one suggestion and I’ve made it before. I’m of Jewish heritage and history is my favorite subject. I know a thing or two about Hitler and the Nazi party. How in the early 1930’s young German women were paraded around town tied to polls and physically assaulted because they refused to call off engagements to young German Jews. How citizens were beaten and even killed for not giving the Hitler salute during parades. How they rounded up disabled children telling parents the children were being taken to schools where they would be treated with the latest medicine, and then killed them.

My advice, don’t compare Jimmy Kimmel to a Nazi, to Hitler. You don’t win me over.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Bad TV wins – why?

Don't trust the B in Apt 23I don’t watch a tremendous amount of television but there are a few shows on Hulu that I watch with regularity and something recently happened that, once again, caused me to question the rationality of television executives. Over the years we’ve all seen great shows get cancelled while shows not as good continue on. Sometimes it’s purely a ratings decision but I’m going to examine the situation a little more closely today.

Why is a good show cancelled and what is it that we call good?

The incident that brought about this examination was the cancellation of the show Don’t Trust the B* in Apt 23 while a somewhat similar sitcom called New Girl continues on. Apt 23 was regularly hilarious, generally funny, and occasionally stupid as cutting edge comedies often are. New Girl is almost always stupid punctuated by moments of funny. Apt 23 is well written and well acted. New Girl is poorly written with nonsensical situations highlighted by overacting and tired jokes. Yet, Apt 23 is gone and New Girl is highly touted by the network. Why?

The network spokespeople will suggest it is all about ratings but I’m not so sure that’s the case. See Firefly or American Gothic and even now Community for examples of a network mishandling a show with time slot changes, episodes shown out-of-order, lack of promotional activity, and other seemingly destructive policies.

As I try to be a rational thinker I want to examine some possibilities on the cancellation that don’t have to do with ratings. Perhaps a rational television executive crunched the numbers, the show production cost, distribution, long-term salaries, and weighed that against revenue, media sales of episodes already finished, and other factors. Is it possible that Apt 23 will make more money in DVD sales than it would have made if it continued in production for four more seasons? I don’t know the answer but it’s possible I suppose. Did the executive try to pick up Krysten Ritter in a bar and was shot down in humiliating fashion? It’s possible. Does the executive’s son hate James Van der beek? I don’t know, maybe?

Next we have to examine the idea of good. Is good a completely relative term? Just because I think Apt 23 hilarious and New Girl painfully bad; is this objectively true? Certainly there are those who think New Girl is hilarious and those who probably didn’t like Apt 23. I like to think there is an objective good. One joke is funny and another is not. Any comedian will tell you that certain jokes get laughs and others don’t.

What are the factors that make a television show good or entertaining? Funny jokes, a plot that is logically accurate to itself even if far-fetched and fantastic, see Big Trouble in Little China. Actors who effectively convince you that they are the character they are portraying. Sometimes called good acting. Good camera work. A thematic structure to each episode and the show in general. Dialog that is crisp. Characters that are consistent. I think all these things objectively define good even if people don’t always come to that conclusion. I think we can define Apt 23 as good and New Girl as bad.

That being my opinion I’m deeply saddened by the cancellation of Apt 23. I think about all the episodes of Firefly that were never made. I’m the loser because of this, I’m less entertained. I would argue that our society is the loser when bad wins out over good. Maybe it’s not a big a deal when it comes to entertainment but maybe it is. Maybe every time bad wins out over good we are all diminished.

Of course, there’s the possibility that New Girl is a great show and I’m just deluding myself.

Wouldn’t it be great if better always won out over worse? What would your world be like if everything that was better succeeded? That’s the ultimate goal of the Randian objectivist. I’m sure it’s not possible but I won’t stop striving. I hope you don’t either. And I hope a young network employee reads this and goes on to become an important executive.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Home Team Blackouts

BlackoutIt was a happy day for me when my Uverse was finally installed after much bickering with AT&T. I gave up my television years ago and streaming sports on ESPN3 was choppy and Hulu television troublesome on my old DSL connection.

My beloved World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals are in Spring Training as I write this and I haven’t been able to watch most of their games for the last couple of years. I certainly got my high-speed connection for a number of reasons and watching the Birds on the Bat was one of those.

Major League Baseball offers an internet package where, for $124.99, you can watch every game of every team streaming on your computer, tablet, phone or other device. Imagine my joy. I get to watch my World Series Champion Cardinals play every game! Then I clicked on the little blackout link and read this:

All live games on MLB.TV and available through MLB.com At Bat are subject to local blackouts. Such live games will be blacked out in each applicable Club’s home television territory, regardless of whether that Club is playing at home or away.

It goes on to mention the blackout applies even if the game isn’t televised. Home or away? Televised or not? Sold-out or not? I can’t watch the Cardinals!?

I’ve got $124.99 burning a hole in pocket to watch the 11 time World Series Champion Cardinals. Take my money, please?

Ok, wait, catching breath, bulging eyes recessing, fist pounding abating, let’s look at this rational, from a critical perspective. Perhaps MLB is justified in this policy. Think, Tom, don’t scream and rant like a radio talk-show host who would sell his mother into slavery to get a ratings point.

First stop, MLB Blackout policy page of Wikipedia. Have I mentioned my love of Wikipedia? Calmly reading. Keep blood pressure under wraps. Learn rational reasons behind policy. Keep calm … calm … soft music … calming waves … soothing … EXCLUSIVE TERRITORIAL RIGHTS! What? What? What?

Do we live in Communist Russia? Wait, stop , be rational, Russia isn’t communist any more … Do we live in Communist China? Socialism? Media control? Freedom Revoked?

Ok, breath slowly, long breaths, I mean, technically, television broadcast in St. Louis city could somehow be seen to be owned by the local team … the ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA blacked out for Cardinals, Cubs, Twins, Royals, White Sox and Brewers. HEAD EXPLODING!

Freedom being taken away, grab rifle, oh wait unarmed, maybe good thing, calm, calm, soothing sounds, ocean, babbling brook.

I know, let’s look at the easy to understand map of blackouts … ARGHHH … BUNNIES MUST DIE … DIE … DIE!!

Wipe frothing away from mouth, think happy thoughts, don’t kick cat, it’s going to be all right. There has to be a rational explanation, doesn’t there?

What is the idea? Ok, here we go, a broadcaster pays for the right to exclusively show the games on their channel. That’s capitalism, NBC shows, CBS shows, FOX shows. But, wait, don’t they stream on Hulu? I mean, the idea is get as much revenue as possible, isn’t it? Isn’t my $124.99 lost revenue? There are plenty of World Series Champion Cardinals fans all over from the great states of Iowa, Arkansas, Tennesse, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Southern Illinois, isn’t that a lot of $124.99s? Wouldn’t it be easy for MLB to distribute a percentage of that money to the broadcasters? I mean, that’s a lot of lost revenue.

If you think I’m a diehard Cardinals fan you haven’t been to Germantown, Illinois! You haven’t been to Busch Stadium after a Cardinals win to see a family of four, kids decked out in Cardinal gear, taking pictures for their once a year trip to St. Louis from Lawton, Oklahoma to see the Birds on the Bat.

This policy is denying all those fans the opportunity to watch the Cardinals. It is denying the children of die-hard Cardinals fans from all over the midwest the chance to learn, like their parents, to love the best team in baseball (Shut yer yaps, yuse Yankee bums). It is killing marketing, it is throwing money away! Do you not want more fans?

Why are the Cardinals so beloved all over the midwest and beyond? Because KMOX radio was a clear channel signal that broadcast the games to all those areas, that’s why. Now, we live in the television era and you want to LIMIT BROADCASTING of games only to areas nowhere near the actual team? Where does that make any sense? MLB, broadcasters, work out a deal, there is money on the table. There are millions of fans waiting to be made. This is capitalism! This is marketing. This is America! Isn’t it?

Why does Fox Sports Midwest care where anyone watches the game? My tv, my computer, my phone, my tablet? It doesn’t make any sense! You want more audience, do you hear me, MORE AUDIENCE! Not less. More. Do you see? Hands shaking … must calm down.

Shower, must have cold shower, brain exploding, stupid, morons, idiots, more audience, spasm-spasm, more audience, more revenue, spasm-spasm, can’t understand, does not compute, spasm-twitch-spasm-twitch-twitch-spasm … more audience … more revenue … twitch-spasm-spasm.

Tom Liberman