All Creatures Great and Small Episode 1 Review

All Creatures Great and Small

In addition to Around the World in 80 Days we get the first episode of the second season of All Creatures Great and Small. Your faithful blogger is going to have busy Mondays for a few weeks. You can refer to my review of the first season of All Creatures Great and Small here.

I won’t go too deeply into my thoughts on the first season. It was very enjoyable. I anticipated the second season with great hopes but also deep fears. Wrecking a show with sequel seasons is not exactly impossible. However, I’ll dispense with any drama, All Creatures Great and Small is once again great!

Spectacular Opening Scene

I can’t express enough the wonderfulness of the opening scene of All Creatures Great and Small. I’ve written a review of the first episode of Around the World and the opening sequence here is something the writers of that show should commit to memory.

We start off with James working in what is clearly not Darrowby and Siegfried’s surgery. What is going on? Has he left? Drama from the first second without a word of dialog! James finishes splinting kitty’s leg and then all is explained. The veterinarian at this high-tech surgery offers James a job after his two-week stint filling in.

The vet is highly impressed with James and so is the nurse. Conflict! Basically, what is clearly going to be a season long storyline is introduced in the first minute of the episode. This, this, this is how you do it! There is also mention of transferring the practice to pets instead of farm animals, another season-long conflict I suspect.

Now, we know James loves Darrowby and there is no way he’s taking this job. So, what do we do? We give him reasons. His father is ill, his mother wants him home, he has friends, knows the town. Within five minutes of the credits, we have drama, conflict, a season-long story with an unknown outcome.

Then there are the little touches. The nurse is keen on James so a potential love interest is thrown into the mix. The vet is kind and gives James time to think about the job offer. The mother makes a home cooked meal and tries to convince James to stay with the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.”

Meanwhile the father knows his son, he knows James is making his own way and is proud of it. It’s not a black and white decision to stay or go. It’s shades of gray.

This is delicious, delightful. We all know where James’s heart is. Mom says you can’t get home cooking like this in Darrowby but we know Mrs. Hall’s feasts all too well. Yes, mom, I’m afraid he can. Mother is saying one thing but we, the audience, are hearing something entirely different. It’s superb writing. The writers understand the story, the characters. This is how you start a season.

Another Conflict

James arrives back in Darrowby and we find out it’s around Easter thanks to Tristan eating some of the chocolate egg. Simple, effective.

We then cut to Siegfried’s house where Mrs. Hall has embroidered professional credentials on Tristan’s bag. Uh oh, we say to ourselves even before Siegfried tries to stop the plan. We know Tristan hasn’t passed his exam. Another season-long conflict brewing!

The Main Story

Only after setting up the entire season, do we get into the episode. There are two story lines, one involving a dead bird and the other a wayward puppy.

The dead bird allows us a little comic relief, provided as usual by Tristan. I’d like to take a moment to discuss a small touch. Mrs. Tompkins budgie needs its beak clipped. The bird is her only companion these last ten years since she lost her vision. Tristan is on the job. That is until the bird dies.

Now, there are some people in this world, not to name names, who will immediately look up the lifespan of a budgie to see if natural causes are possible or if Tristan just committed parakeetacide. Wikipedia informs people like the aforementioned that a Budgerigar has a lifespan of five to eight years. So, natural causes are perfectly reasonable and poor Tristan did nothing wrong.

It is little touches like this that bring a smile to my face. A writer included the dialog about the bird being a companion for ten years. Someone knows the lifespan of a Budgerigar. It all fits. They took the time to do it right. Doing so isn’t easy but it is appreciated.

Small Problems

My only issues with the episode are nitpicky and unimportant. Having all the sheep passed out was overkill. Anyone would know to train Scruff rather than kill him. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the solution to the problem.

That being said, conflict is necessary and there’s nothing wrong with a little drama to move the story forward.

The Music

I’d like to take a moment to reiterate my thoughts on the music from this show. They don’t shove it down your throat like every other drama. The music is there, quiet, subtle, enhancing a scene. It’s not blaring and distracting. I don’t understand why this is apparently so difficult to understand.

Conclusion

Superb start to the second season of All Creatures Great and Small. I can’t wait for more.

Tom Liberman

Around the World in 80 Days Episode 2 Review

Around the World in 80 Days

I watched the second episode of Around the World in 80 Days and enjoyed it more than the first. This, if you’ve read my first review, is damning with faint praise. Still, I thought this episode showed an understanding of the Hero’s Journey and the structure of a good story even if it didn’t generally succeed.

In this episode our band traverses Italy by train heading toward, well, that is a bit of mystery to me as the geography didn’t make much sense. I’ll get to that later.

The Strangers

We start the episode on a train with a group of Italians led by an industrialist giving a speech and being interrupted by his son who spots our heroes in a balloon. Soon enough the balloon crashes and Fogg, Fix, and Passepartout climb aboard the train where class restrictions send the Frenchman into the rear with the unwashed masses while our heroes enjoy the luxury of privilege.

I was a bit confused about where our heroes got their evening wear but I shall not nitpick too much, it’s not important.

The idea of the main characters encountering strangers and interacting with them is obviously going to be a major theme of Around the World in 80 Days. This requires a deft touch because we only meet people for a short time. I expounded on the problems with this in my review of the first episode in Paris.

This time the situation is handled with greater aplomb. We actually get to meet the father and son while seeing their conflicts first hand. We see the son’s wonder at new inventions and the father’s staid demeanor. This helps later when the two become focal points in the story.

Personal Conflict in Around the World in 80 Days

Conflict makes a story and we have it aboard the train in two ways. First, Fogg is berated by the Italian father for not being much of an adventurer. It’s a good conflict in that it exposes Fogg’s weaknesses but I’m just not sure from whence it came. Why such vitriol? Still, this is actual character development and a good thing. We learn Fogg is insecure about his life and rather timid in nature. Episode one might have spent time developing all of this but at least we’re getting it now.

Meanwhile Passepartout is getting drunk and losing at cards in back. He is upset by his brother’s death, understandable although it came and went so fast, I’m having trouble finding empathy for the Frenchman. Then Abigail Fix arrives on the scene.

Fix begins blathering on and on about how she is independent and doesn’t need a man. This annoys the card players as they simply want to play. It’s an interesting scene but I am confused. Is Fix actually this socially oblivious? If so, why didn’t we see it earlier? In her first scene she seemed to be interacting with the rough and tumble newspaper men with ease and style.

Perhaps Fix is a card sharp who recognized Passepartout’s inept playing and contrived her social ineptitude as a way to limit the Frenchman’s losses without embarrassing him. This is an interesting story idea but, necessarily, we need to know Fix is good at cards. Again, the failures of the first episode of Around the World in 80 Days is haunting us here in the second.

The Bridge is Out!

Conflict is necessary. Sure, the bridge being out is contrived but that’s fine. We writers need to do things like that. Yes, the son’s gaping wound is overkill but I can live with it and it’s necessary for the boy to eventually inspire the despondent Fogg. More on that in a moment.

The reluctant protagonist finding out he has the resources necessary to overcome obstacles shows a firm understanding of the Hero’s Journey. Fogg figures out the load of the train and the support of the remaining track and guides our team, with no small help from Fix and Passepartout, to success.

My problem with this scene is that we didn’t know Fogg was an engineer by trade or at least has significant education in that regard. Maybe it was mentioned in passing at the Reform Club but not with enough emphasis to make me notice. This is the sort of development we needed in the first episode of Around the World in 80 Days.

Nitpicking

I know I said I wasn’t going to nitpick, but I would have simply emptied out the carriage of seats and other heavy items. Then there’s enough coal for the journey. It makes no sense.

In addition, they mention it is six hours back to Rome and two hours to their destination. Rome is basically near the center of Italy and I’m guessing they are heading south to catch a ship across the Mediterranean to Cairo. This indicates a journey to Taranto which is 268 miles from Rome. Now, I’m no engineer but the time scale seems way off to me.

The bankruptcy of Fogg’s fellow Reform Club member and need to create further obstacles is sprung on us too quickly and, frankly, I find it unnecessary. There should be plenty of conflict on the journey without the mysterious villain. Why weren’t the financial troubles mentioned earlier if they are so important? Again, missed opportunities in the first episode.

Fogg the Hero

Eventually they arrive at their destination and Fogg is still despondent for some reason. Fogg just saved the boy’s life; he solved a major obstacle. Why isn’t Fogg elated, ready to take on any adventure? In any case, a quick word from the wounded lad and he’s ready to go again. The writers have the right idea of Fogg needing inspiration, I just thought a lighter touch necessary.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this episode far more than the first. It shows an understanding of story structure, character arc, the Hero’s Journey, conflict, and other elements required for engrossing entertainment. Having said that, it all seemed heavy handed at best.

It gives me hope.

Lego Masters or how to Mess up a Good Idea

Lego Masters

Lego Masters reality show! I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw the first promotion for this show. Teams of Lego Masters building complicated designs and being judged by professionals in the field? What isn’t to like about that? Elimination competition, cool Lego builds, reality drama! Bring it on! Let’s go! Today, I want the episodes to start now! I want Season Two!

It’s a wreck. I’m willing to admit my hatred of the result is certainly a product of my expectations. I thought it was going to be amazing and it leaves me bored, disappointed, and simply angry at the bad choices they’ve made. If I thought it was going to be awful and it was, I’d shrug my shoulders and move on. After last night’s episode, I’m so triggered that I have to write a blog. So, buckle your seatbelts, prepare for rants, gird your loins, build a Lego fallout shelter; I’m going to explain all the mistakes.

Problem number one is the challenges are completely unfair to the competitors. No one has the same challenge! Seriously. Everyone is given different objectives. The premier episode got it right. They were all to build a section of an amusement park centered around an epic ride. That gives the audience immediate understanding of the challenge and we get to see creative differences immediately arise. Who has a good idea? Who has a bad idea? How does each team implement their plan? Good stuff. We got it for one week.

Week three illustrates the problem. The competitors were given an object to cut in half and they were to fancifully build the second half. The problem? Everyone had different objects. Therefore, it’s completely unfair to the teams and judges. One gets an exciting and dynamic object while another gets a static and dull object. It’s also impossible for the judges to rate the teams. The third problem with this format is that ten to fifteen minutes of the show are wasted showing us each of the different objects for the teams. If there was one object for all to finish that takes a minute, the creativity of the teams is paramount, and judging is based on an equal scale.

It’s not hard. It’s really not. Create a store at a mall. Create a floor in a skyscraper. Create a bucolic country scene for a kid to view while traveling cross country on vacation. You had it right in the first episode and abandoned it. Yarg!!

The second issue is that Will Arnett is performing skits with guest hosts and others for about half the Lego Masters show. Meanwhile we don’t get to see anyone building. In the most recent episode, the winning team had a supervillain and sidekick that were a Pharaoh and Scorpion Queen. This gave them a huge advantage over the Bathtub Guy and Plant Girl team, see above for my rant about that. In any case, we saw them laying the groundwork for their structure and after all the skits and guest host nonsense, we see the finished product! Seriously, almost zero building, zero design, zero planning. Nothing.

The Golden Brick is a disaster. The idea is the team that wins one week gets a Golden Brick they can use to stave off elimination subsequently. They hold the brick for as long as they want. This created an enormous problem last week when the Superhero/Supervillain teams combined builds to make a battle between their original builds. Well, the team that had the Golden Brick had no pressure and the team paired with them and the other teams weren’t on a level playing field. Immunity, fine. But the Golden Brick just doesn’t work this late in the game or when there is a combined team competition. It’s fine for the first couple of weeks, maybe.

I’m willing to give the judges somewhat of a pass because problem number one makes their job all but impossible. Still, I will touch on the idea of their inherent unequal treatment of contestants. Two of the contestants, Aaron and Christian, were significantly more experienced and skilled than most of the other teams. The judges seemed to rate their efforts largely on the idea that their builds should be not better than the other teams, but much better! Anything less than awesome was bad.

This was illustrated in the last episode. Their build was clearly better than poor Bathtub and Plant team, who again, were at a huge disadvantage from the start. Still, the better build should win.

I hope they get Lego Masters right next season because it could be amazing. As it is, it’s unbearably sad to watch.

Tom Liberman

Misspelled Jeopardy Question – Thomas Hurley III

Jeopary Alex TrebekThere’s an interesting story in the news about a young teenager who misspelled the Final Jeopardy question which was ruled incorrect.

The young man told a media outlet in his home town that he was “cheated” out of being given credit for answering the final question correctly.

Money is not at stake but something far more important, accuracy. Thomas Hurley III was not going to win the game in any case. He was far behind the teen who won that particular episode and even if his answer had been ruled correct he would have finished in second place and taken home the exact same amount of money.

What happened is fairly straight forward. In Jeopardy, for those of my readers who don’t know the game, the contestants are supplied with an answer and then must formulate the question. In this case the question should have been, “What is the emancipation proclamation?” In Final Jeopardy contestants must write down their answer as opposed to simply saying it as they do the rest of the game. In this case Hurley wrote, “What is the emanciptation proclamation?” Essentially inserting one extra letter.

The host of the show ruled that answer incorrect. The show’s judges later confirmed this decision. Incorrect decisions by Alex Trebek have been overruled in the past.

His feeling about being cheated is, in my opinion, quite interesting. I could not find any official rules about spelling but the show is notoriously strict about these sorts of things. If the answer was “The First President of the United States” a question of “Who was Washington” would be correct as would “Who was G. Washington” but “Who was J. Washington” would be incorrect. The idea being that you must know the answer generally but also fully. Clearly, anyone who put “Who was J. Washington” meant George Washington. They had the essence of the answer correct but not its detail.

The show does accept phonetic spelling of a word, spelling the word the way it sounds. That was not the case here. I don’t watch the show regularly but reading the comments on the story it seems spelling is a judgment call. Some misspelling are accepted and others not, this might not be true, as again, I couldn’t find any official rule about misspellings.

The comments were generally hostile to Hurley calling him entitled and worse.

I see Hurley’s point here but also see the show’s. Hurley knew the right answer and he misspelled the word by inserting a single extra letter. Trebek felt the extra letter was enough to declare the answer incorrect.

But, as always, I cannot simply comment. I must give my opinion as to who is in the right and who is in the wrong even when the difference is relatively narrow. In this case I side with the show. It is their show, their rules, and Trebek is the initial arbiter. If the answer was wrong, in even the most minor way, they have the right to rule it incorrect. However, I do think they should apply that rule across the board. If one spelling mistake is wrong then all spelling mistakes, except intentional phonetic spellings, are wrong.

As for Hurley, I don’t have as much hate and derision as the internet seems to have for him. He knew the answer, misspelled the word very slightly, and certainly wasn’t complaining about money, simply about what was right. In this case I think he misses the point but not by much. It was a minor technicality and in life getting the answer correct is often the most important thing.

If you feel you were cheated then you should speak up. If the situation is investigated by the proper authorities and it is determined you were not cheated, then it’s time to move on with life. I’m sure that’s exactly what Hurley will do.

No harm, no foul. Jeopardy gets some publicity and Hurley gets a lesson about complete accuracy. Not a bad outcome in the end.

Tom Liberman