Tag Archives: TV shows

Christmas Traditions, Part 3

It’s funny how certain things just become associated with Christmas. Some perhaps more intentionally than others. Today I delve into some movies and TV shows that have been a part of Christmas for me and my families, and perhaps some things might be surprising.

For example, every Star Wars movie except The Force Awakens has been released in May. But Return Of The Jedi was shown on TV around Christmas for several years in a row when I was a child, so that was the one I saw most, and I still kind of associate with Christmas. The Force Awakens was released just a few days ago, around a week before Christmas, is that a movie that will keep a Christmas association for people?

Contrast that with Star Trek movies. I only saw the Next Generation and reboot movies in the cinema. First Contact and Insurrection were released in December in the UK, Generations in February (3 months after the USA, and the one with Trek’s only mention of Christmas), and Nemesis was Mid-December in the US, and really early January in the UK. I don’t think any of these are widely thought of as Christmas movies.

In addition to Return Of The Jedi, the 1982 animated short film The Snowman was another thing that seemed to be on every year. Not that we minded…

A few years later, and other things became Christmas staples on TV. The first three Wallace And Gromit movies.

And repeats were the order of the day, for a while: Morcambe and Wise. Then all manner of shows started doing Christmas specials. Watched Only Fools And Horses, of course. More recently, the Doctor Who specials, though nowadays we get those a bit later.

Here, we don’t have TV in the traditional way, it’s all streaming or discs these days. So we don’t have the same sort of habits of TV watching anyway, let alone similar traditions. Watching Love Actually has been a Christmastime tradition here (not necessarily on the Big Day). I think that’s been less of a thing the last couple of years because of the kids (though possibly general busyness contributes, too).

As I continue this series, casual reader, I ask you to contribute: what Christmas-related household traditions do you have/have you had? Please comment below.

The Man In The High Castle, Season 1

A few weeks ago, my wife and I watched the first couple of episodes of The Man In The High Castle, currently exclusive to Amazon Video. I wrote about that, at the time.

So we’ve just finished watching the whole series.

The show does not wrap up all the threads that it sets up, so there’s potential for a second season. Just did a search to see if I could find any information on a second season. IMDB trivia says that the showrunner got confirmation from Amazon that there would be a second season, before writing the finale, so he wouldn’t end on a cliffhanger if the show weren’t returning.

Some observations:

The season ends on the word “twist”. Literally.

Rufus Sewell’s character is introduced as a ruthless villain. Later on, we meet some people who are even worse. Prediction: his character will become less hard-line about certain things next season, which has the potential to make him more brutal in others. I don’t see him doing a complete about-face. If I’m wrong on that, he’ll stay as hard-line on the point I expect him to soften on, then that’ll make him intolerable in everything, then he’ll slowly crack.

Juliana. Her deferential mannerisms seem appropriate to the context which she’s grown up in. I’m not sure we see the same from any other significant character in the Pacific territory. She knows she doesn’t have the complete picture, and I think that this leads to indecisiveness and mind-changing, rather than setting a course and keeping to it.

After the first couple of episodes, I thought the show would be mostly Juliana and Joe in Canon City, was surprised it didn’t work out like that.

I really enjoyed the character of Trade Minister Tagomi. Looking the actor up on IMDB, it was interesting seeing that he was in Star Trek TNG (Mandarin Bailiff! Wooo!), Babylon 5, Alien Nation, and Stargate SG1. And a bunch of other things I’ve either seen or heard of. Getting towards the end of the series, I was still waiting for more explanation of his motivations. We get some, but I think Season 2 will shed a lot more light on this.

As this is my Sunday post, I’ll say that I looked at the Wikipedia page of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the guy who played the Trade Minister. There’s a paragraph towards the end of the Career section, which talks about his religious belief, which I found interesting.

The eponymous Man In The High Castle is mentioned a bunch at the beginning of the series, and Juliana and Joe seem to come close to meeting him in episode 4. The thought occurs, though, as I write this post, that we do happen to see a castle that’s geographically altitudinous, in which a male lives, who seems to be a bit of a film collector.

Rats, now I’m going to have to read the book, to see if it’s actually him, or if the title character is a…. mirror? counterpoint? reflection? Something along those lines.

A lot of what most of the characters do is reactionary, rather than being proactive. This leads to a bit of a settling-down somewhere in the second half, before things get a bit shook up again. I think even towards the end, when a bunch of characters get more active, there’s still a bunch of doing what they’re told, rather than forging their own path.

The creepy Edelweiss theme, kind of delicate over the dark brooding images of the credits, was given an interesting explanation by someone far smarter than I am (my wife): the song is associated with Germany (or, rather, Austria, though in our universe, the song was written for the film The Sound Of Music, rather than being traditional). But the arrangement here may be intended to suggest a Japanese musical style (America being divided between Germany and Japan in the show). The singer in real life is Swedish, that does not necessarily discount the idea.

In my previous post on The Man In The High Castle, I linked to an article that Wikipedia referenced, which was an examination of the Japanese-ness of the Japanese portion of America in the pilot. One of the things it pointed out was Hirohito Airport, where naming an airport after someone was not a Japanese thing to do. When Joe flies into an airport in the Pacific States later in the series, I noticed that it wasn’t named after anybody. Different airport? Retcon? I don’t know. And though, in the scenario, Japanese culture would become dominant in the areas they control, who’s to say there wouldn’t be any cultural bleed the other way? Perhaps using Americisms in some places, but with a Japanese edge, as a secondary, softer method of establishing cultural dominance.

Interesting show. I look forward to Season 2, and hope that the continuation feels organic. Obviously, with certain developments, it’s not going to be the same as Season 1, but it might be a bit of a balance to feel like the same show.

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving. An American holiday, packed with food, family, fankfulness (if you’ll forgive my brief descent into Estuary English), and f-

Hmm, must be some way to start this with an “f”.

Ah, filling up shopping carts.

There we go.

Naturally, we had some tidying to do before company came over, but thanks to the game night we had the other week, the mess wasn’t deeply entrenched. Company came, and fun was had. Food was served in the afternoon. It was breakfast to me, as I knew there’d be a lot of food, and I wanted a lot of it. Also, it was probably good policy to not get in the way of the wonderful cooks, who are people I’m very thankful for.

After the main course, we took a break before dessert. In that break, games were played. The kids played Loopin’ Louie, and sometime before that (you know how days go, could have been before eating), they played Twister. I played two games of Blokus with my parents-in-law, the first also with Oldest, and the second with my sister-in-law. During the second game, I got distracted a couple of times helping youngest play Dixit. He’s not really old enough to play, so I picked a card from his hand and asked him to say a word the card made him think of. The picture was of a treasure chest in a castle, with tentacles extruding from something inhabiting the chest, and the shadow of a treasure-hunter seen through a door, he’s coming down some stairs to the room.

The clue that Youngest gave to this image, was “three”.

So it was fun hearing all that. And despite the distractions, I managed to win both games. Sometimes I worry that if I do that too much, people won’t want to play with me.

In-laws and games, I’m thankful for those.

In the evening, some of us went to Wal-Mart. Say what you want about their Black Friday sale (and many do), it’s a good opportunity to pick up Christmas presents.

Last year, they staggered the sales, so some started at 6, some at 8, some at 10, and some the next morning. Or perhaps the 110 was the next morning. Anyhoo, this time the flyer was set up in a similar way, only all the times were 6pm, pretty much. Our store seems a little too large for the area, so often when you go in, it feels pretty empty. Tonight, everyone could get around, though sometimes the main aisles took a bit of time. I think they opened their doors around 4pm, but people couldn’t check out with the Black Friday items until 6. We got there just after 6, so missed the initial rush.

In the end, I didn’t get much. My mother-in-law expected to see me with a stack of DVDs as long as my arm, and I kind of expected that, too, but not much really grabbed me. I ended up with 3 DVDs, a couple of USB flash drives (it’s amazing how the price of those things has been dropping – it was only a year or two ago that I got 16GB for what I paid for 32GB today), and some headphones.

We left there at about 8, and the extra divisions between the checkout lines, were being taken down as we queued. The big rush, for them, was already over. Black Friday had almost ended at 8 on Thursday.

Was almost tempted by 3 seasons of NCIS. I know I’ll enjoy it if I sit down and watch it, in fact part of an episode I caught before we moved here, intrigued me enough that it’s on my radar. Don’t think I’ve actually caught more than one full episode, though. Maybe one day.

Also, I did catch a bunch of deals on Amazon, in the morning. Missed out on “Inside Out”, being waitlisted when I clicked “add to cart” as soon as it was available. Got one lightning deal, and a few other things that were just cheap. Still got my eye on a couple of things that I hope will dramatically drop in price, as both did at around this time of year, last year.

The waiting game.

This evening, after coming home, I played some jigsaw puzzles with Youngest. He’s getting the hang of lifting pieces and putting them in, rather than trying to ram them together, flat on the table. Still trying to figure out turning them just that little bit more to make them fit right. Still, happy with the improvement.

My kids and wife, I’m really thankful for.

There’s been snow on the ground for a week, or maybe two (not the best at keeping track of time). This has prompted me to sing “White Thanksgiving” to the tune of “White Christmas”.

And may all your Thanksgivings be white…

DS9 Season 2, Part 3: Rules Of Acquisition

Deep Space Nine has quite a range, having episodes that are very light, and episodes that are quite dark. This contrast is significant, it allows for a broad painting of life which is, for want of a less pun-ny way to put it, quite lifelike. Sometimes, the contrast is starkened by light and dark being in the same episode.

Rules Of Acquisition” is rather firmly in the lighter side of things.

It starts with Dax playing Tongo with a bunch of Ferengi, in Quark’s bar, which is closed for the night. The game looks very complicated, there are constant bids going into the pot, there’s a set of cards on the table, each player has a hand of a different kind of cards, there’s also the rolling of dice. There are a couple of points where the game is held up by a player who takes a while to make a decision, or whose mind is elsewhere. It happens in games, though most people try not to be that person. I try to have my turn planned before it happens, though of course in many games the element of chance, or other players’ turns, can disrupt that planning.

Quark then gets a call from the Grand Nagus, in his second appearance on the show. Zek wants Quark to meet with some representatives from the Gamma Quadrant, and come to a significant deal, establishing the Ferengi a financial foothold in the new market.

Quark’s waiter, Pel, provides Quark a lot of helpful advice, leading Pel to become a significant assistant during the negotiations. Pel turns out to be a woman disguising herself as a man, Ferengi women not being allowed to go outside, wear clothes, make a profit, that sort of thing. The profit one may be the most significant, in a culture that worships profit.

The Dosi, the species Quark and Pel are trying to broker a deal with, are aggressive negotiators, and are reluctant to agree on the high amount of tulaberries that the Ferengi are demanding. Even intially, before Grand Nagus Zek tells Quark he’s to negotiate for tent imes the initial amount.

Pel intuits that Zek knows more than he’s letting on, and that the tulaberry deal isn’t what he really wants. Quark gets told that the Dosi can’t deliver the amount he’s asking, but he should try dealing with the Karemma.
“Who’s the Karemma?”
“An important power in the Dominion.”
“The Dominion? What’s that?”
“Let’s just say if you want to do business in the Gamma Quadrant, you have to do business with the Dominion.”

This is our first mention of the Dominion, who become somewhat important later in the series.

I’m sure I shall say more about the Dosi, the Karemma, and the Dominion, when we’re introduced to the Karemma, I believe at the start of the next season.

The Dosi seem to be a bit violent, perhaps not quite so much as the Klingons, who head-butt each other for fun. Last season we saw Tosk, a kind of sentient pet species, and the race that hunted Tosk for sport. We also saw the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, two factions on a planet, that were always at war, and those that died got regenerated by nanotechnology. so the majority of species we’ve met in the quadrant, have a violent streak.

We’ve also seen the Wadi, who weren’t really violent, they were more interested in pleasure, particularly games. Wonder what they’d make of the Ktarians.

Considering what comes later, it’s interesting to contrast what comes earlier.

The Ferengi view of women is something that gets looked at a few times in DS9. When Jake and Nog went on a double-date, Nog expected his non-Ferengi date to chew his food for him, like a Ferengi woman would be expected to. In today’s episode, there’s scandal that a woman is out and about, wearing clothes. Quark and Zek reach a kind of stalemate, that either could ruin the other by revealing that they let a woman take such a big place in these important negotiations. And of course, next season we meet Quark’s mother, who also doesn’t adhere strictly to Ferengi law. And the attitude of pretty much any male Ferengi to any female at any time, perhaps paint even more of a picture than our exposure to Ferengi females.

“They’re greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls, and I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them for a second.”
“Neither would I. But once you accept that, you’ll find they can be a lot of fun.”

One does rather wonder where these attitudes come from. A couple of the screen-mentioned Rules of Acquisition specifically concern females (#94: “Females and finances don’t mix.”, and #139: “Wives serve, brothers inherit.”, honorable mention to #112: “Never have sex with the boss’s sister.”), and quite a few others recommend exploiting family in general, and employees.

From what we see in the show, Rule #94 doesn’t make a lot of sense, Ishka and Pel both turn out to be smarter and better at business than most, if not all, of the other Ferengi we ever see ever. Perhaps the smart Ferengi male is one who disregards that rule, and lets his wife have her own income streams (under his name, to put off suspicion), or takes her advice on things sometimes.

But the Rules themselves must have reflected the culture in which they were produced, by Grand Nagus Gint, 10,000 years ago. Though there have been revisions and additions since then, so who knows how bad the original ones were. Not us, certainly, as the show never explores that. Rules are often set up for a reason, and to understand the rule, you have to understand the reason for the rule. And sometimes both reason and rule are stupid, sometimes the reason is understandable, but not good enough to establish a rule, and sometimes there’s a surprisingly good reason for a rule.

The Ferengi were originally intended to be an opposing race that would rival the Klingons in popularity. They didn’t really take off as that, from their first few episodes in TNG, and so they packed up heir bags, and headed into the land of comic relief. They had their taste for profit from their introduction, however.

The Rules of Acquisition made their debut in Season 5 of TNG, their only TNG appearance. Most of the rest are from DS9, the rest are from Voyager and Enterprise. The TNG reference is late enough that it may have been part of setting up for DS9, which started 9 months later.

I think those who established these facets of Ferengi lore in the TV shows, never really asked why the Ferengi were like this, and to be fair, I don’t think they ever really needed to. Like an anecdote I heard about Fawlty Towers, we don’t need to know why Basil and Sybil got married, or what they liked in each other back then, we just need to understand that they are married now, and to some extent they don’t really like each other any more.

But in real life, we do need to understand the reasons for things. A significant element of ’60s and ’70s culture was “free love”, which essentially meant unrestricted sex for everybody. To some extent, our media still portrays that as an ideal. But, as Austin Powers was confronted with when he reached the ’90s, there turned out to be reasons why everybody doesn’t just sleep with everybody else.

Western society now has a kind of schizophrenia, pushing sex, while also pushing the notion that you’re not owed sex by the object of your desire, who might not be that into you. Promising freedom from consequences of sex through abortion, while enforcing consequences for sex by hasty marriages or child support.

And all the while, it seems that every other cultural boundary is open for dismantling, every other taboo is ripe for mainstreaming. It’s like someone in a house, deciding he doesn’t need this wall or that one, and taking them out without any concern or knowledge that some of these walls might be load-bearing, and thus, rather important.

And yet at the same time, the majority of the laws being enacted are increasingly more restrictive.

Neither of these, of course, are new phenomena. The Roman Empire, as it got more decadent, also got more restictive. Communism, billed as levelling the playing field for everyone, tearing down social structures and creating its own.

Many consider certain traditional understandings of things, to be as silly as the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. But I think only a tiny fraction of them have ever given any thought to the Why of things, not to try and understand it. Perhaps to ridicule it, but not to understand it.

But also many of those who adhere to the traditional understandings don’t have a firm grip on the Why, either. When the That has been common understanding for a long time, it’s easy to just accept. The realisation that suddenly there’s a whole lot of people not on the same page as you, tends to catch you unawares.

For an example, iconoclasm. (Warning: simplification for the sake of time) There was Christian art from the beginning (apparently the Roman catacombs have some good examples), and iconography was status quo for quite a long time. Then there was the rise of iconoclastic Islam, which started conquering Christian lands. Some leaders thought perhaps the Muslims were winning because there might be something wrong with icons, which opened up a second front of destruction. The iconodules were used to icons being the status quo, and knew the What, but now they were challenged to come up with a Why. And they did, there are writings (by St John of Damascus and St Theodore the Studite, for example), and the results of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

Dialogue and understanding between different groups and opinions, rarely seem to be actively encouraged. It’s hard to not think that this will be our downfall.

The End Draws Near For The Media Computer

We have a computer set up as the media computer. It used to be my main machine, before I built my new rig. So far, it’s done all right, but it has been struggling a little of late.

Streaming shows on Hulu used to work all right Medium quality, there are now times when getting through the ads had been rather time-consuming so we can even adjust the quality. And Low has been starting to be the better option. A bunch of the shows, though, aren’t actually on Hulu, which links to places like CBS which host their own shows. And don’t have the Quality option. Watching stuff has been getting more awkward.

Now part of the problem could be that the OS hasn’t been reinstalled for a long time. Part of it could be the wireless reception, though as laptops set next to the computer haven’t had the same issues, it could be the speed of the wireless adapter. Could just be the machine getting old, which, to be fair, it is.

Perhaps evidence of this, has been trying to get Amazon Prime to co-operate. The kids watched the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood the other day, and watching it using Silverlight on Firefox was painful. It played a few seconds fine, played a few seconds slooowly, and paused a few seconds to catch up. Repeat for the whole episode. Amazon put a popup saying HTML5 has faster loading and less buffering, and suggested a bunch of other browsers, specifying for most that they should be in Windows 8 or above. One that didn’t specify that, was Opera, so I downloaded and installed that.

Alas, the course of getting technology to work never did run smooth, and trying to run Amazon Prime videos in Opera threw up some error message. Apparently it was trying to run HTML5 video, but the error message said something about making sure that the WideVine add-on was enabled (which, on checking, turned out to be enabled).

So then a long search for what this Widevine thing is, and why it’s not working.

Long story short, Widevine is a DRM for streaming video, developed by Google. It’s not working because Widevine supports Windows 7 and up, not XP, which apparently would otherwise still run HTML5 video.

My machine’s not he most specced-out XP-running computer, so I imagine there’s still plenty out there that are good enough to not have the kinds of issues we’ve been starting to have. For us, the DRM thing might mean the end of the line of this computer for streaming purposes.

I think in this blog, I’ve established my dislike for DRM, and so you can imagine there’s an element of “of course it’s DRM that’s making me unable to fix the problem”. But as the problem was there, and we’d resorted to watching Supergirl via the old laptop-plugged-into-the-temperamental-TV trick, I suppose I can’t be too hard on it.

This time.

DS9 Season 2, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the opening 3-parter of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s second season. I thought it might be nice to keep making notes on the series as we go through it.

Last week, Star Trek night was truncated by catching up on Agents Of Shield first, so we got one episode in, this week we did similar, but got 2 DS9s in. So the episodes we have for review today are Invasive Procedures, Cardassians, and Melora.

In Invasive Procedures, an unjoined Trill called Verad (played by John Glover, known to many as Lionel Luthor in Smallville, but to me will always be Daniel Clamp from Gremlins 2), shows up on an evacuated DS9 to lay claim to the Dax symbiont. Taking the symbiont will leave its current host, the much-loved Jadzia, to die.

It’s interesting seeing a slug as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Verad researched a bunch of symbionts to see which would share his interests, but it’s not obvious that Verad himself has much to bring to the table. Or if, in fact, Dax really is his first choice. There’s a certain amount of opportunity that Dax presents: in the episode, the station with only a skeleton crew, but even without that, she’s often out in a runabout, so would be easy pickings. In any event, Verad is a bit like a boy who’s attracted to a girl, the girl doesn’t like him but he won’t take “no” for an answer. He probably thinks he’s a nice guy, but he’s not the kind of guy you want to have a crush on you.

At this point in the show, it is believed that only 1 in 1000 Trills is suitable for joining, later it is revealed that 50% of the population is suitable, there’s just a severe shortage of symbionts. With that information, the episode could be looked at a little differently: was he rejected because of biology, or perhaps because of personality?

Also, in the later episode “Facets”, Jadzia gets to meet all Dax’s former hosts, whose consciousnesses are temporarily transferred to her friends, so she can interact with them. Verad is left out of this party, with no explanations.

I enjoyed Glover’s performances, as the anxiety-ridden Verad, and the much more confident Verad Dax. I liked seeing Megan Gallagher, who would show  up as a different character in DS9’s Little Green Men, and also a Voyager episode. She’s more familiar to me as Catherine Black in Millennium, of which one day I will finish the first season and maybe see the rest. Possibly. Track record’s not great on that. Also, one of the Klingon mercenaries is played by Tim Russ, who would go on to play Tuvok in Voyager.

“Cardassians” is a title that could apply to quite a number of DS9 episodes. In the one it actually applies to, a Bajoran man shows up on the station with a Cardassian boy in tow. Garak, the Cardassian exile living on the station, greets them, the boy bites Garak’s hand.

A bunch of orphans were left on Bajor after the end of the occupation, orphans having no standing in Cardassian society. These were mostly adopted by Bajorans (though we do see some still unadopted), but the Bajoran hatred for the Cardassian invaders is infamous, so some of these Cardassian kids are brought up to hate Cardassians. Which is going to have some impact on their self-esteem.

This particular boy turns out to be the son of an influential civilian leader, and a large part of the situation seems to have been brought about by gul Dukat, who was soon to be investigated by him. The implication was that Dukat made sure the boy was accidentally-on-purpose left behind for later use as an ace-up-the-sleeve.

Some questions are left unasked and unanswered, but the details can be filed in pretty easily. How the boy came to the limelight, and how Dukat found out about the hand-biting incident almost as quickly as Sisko did.

There was a trader called Zolan, who brought the boy’s adoptive father to the station to try and get him a job. Got the feeling he’s one of Dukat’s agents, and was requested to seek the boy out a few months ago, in preparation for the embarrassment of Dukat’s political enemy. And then he was around when the incident happened, and later made some accusations while being questioned, before disappearing. He, therefore, seems to connect the dots.

The discussion about which father to live with, biological or adoptive, seems to have been set up, but then discussed off-screen. Not an easy choice to make. Kinda wish we could have seen some clever resolution that wasn’t entirely one or the other.

Lastly, there’s Melora. Interestingly, the character of Melora, someone from a low-gravity environment that finds “normal” gravity difficult, was originally conceived of as the station’s science officer, but was considered too difficult to pull off, so the Dax character was created instead. the design of the station really isn’t suitable for a wheelchair, and it was interesting to see the set adapted so she could get around.

I really liked Daphne Ashbrook’s acting in this one. Making everything seem like such an effort, and relaxing enough when she was carried that it looked like she really couldn’t move. And the juxtaposition in the script of the fiery, independent woman out to prove she doesn’t need help, and her sometimes being forced to accept help or work as part of a team instead of alone.

I think Melora was probably the weakest episode of the three, but I think that there was some really good stuff in there.

The Background Information section of the character’s Memory Alpha page also contains some interesting trivia.

After this episode, I had to show Oldest some of Daphne Ashbrook’s performance in Doctor Who. I think the Melora makeup made her look too different for him to recognise her. And I don’t think he was that impressed with the couple of scenes he saw. Don’t worry, kid, there are plenty of people who are unimpressed with the whole thing…

Next time: the Grand Nagus shows up, and we get our first hint of the Dominion, in Rules of Acquisition.

Harp Twins

I started writing a post on a different subject, and research started taking a while, and it just got to a point where I decided I needed to go to bed soon, so I decided to save that post for another day, and give you something less complicated.

So, following on from yesterday’s post about stuff I found on YouTube, I thought I’d highlight a couple of YouTube stars who have been rather prolific in their output.

I found the Harp Twins, Camille and Kennerly, from their Star Trek themes cover. They take tunes they line, TV themes, movie tunes, video game music, rock, and heavy metal, and create arrangements of the tunes, for two harps to play. then they record them, video them, and put them up on YouTube for your enjoyment.

(of course, if I’m going to embed one, it’ll be Final Fantasy tunes)

Their Lord Of The Rings covers are a favourite, Oldest loved their Star Wars medley.

There’s all sorts of stuff to enjoy there, and I hope you do enjoy it. nice relaxing playlist to have on in the background of your day.

YouTube, Home Of Nostalgia

Youngest was into stuff tonight, and trying to go to places we didn’t want to just let him run off to, so I said I’d give him a show if he put his Duplo away. He did this fairly quickly, so I fired up YouTube to find him something to watch.

Obscure, old things to watch.

I started him off with The Family Ness, a cartoon from the ’80s featuring a pair of twins, Angus and Elspeth, who discover the Loch Ness Monster, and find there’s a whole family of them. The Nessies’ names tend to be words that pair well with the suffix -ness: Ferocious Ness, for example. The episodes are less than 5 minutes each, and the entire series was released over 2 DVDs, each around 40 minutes, both available from Amazon UK.

You can see an anaconda, a giraffe and kangaroo, but you’ll never find a Nessie in the zoo.

Youngest fell asleep in the third episode, but then we brushed his teeth, which woke him back up. After that, he didn’t want the same show again, but I managed to suggest something that appealed to him. A cartoon with planes.

The Jimbo And The Jet Set episodes that we then watched on YouTube (one-and-a-half, before Mommy took him), were without the credits. But he seemed to enjoy it. I thought the DVDs of Jimbo might be a good addition to his wish list (Christmas approaches, don’t you know). The show got released over 2 DVDs in 2004 (wow, that’s eleven years ago), and one is available straight from Amazon, and the other is listed, but only available via sellers on there.

When looking these things up on Amazon, of course they make suggestions of other shows you might be interested in. SuperTed, of which I used to have a three-hour-video, and as a grown-up I really couldn’t watch that much in one go. Bananaman, which I would be interested in seeing again, but I think it’s only available from sellers on Amazon now. Count Duckula.

Hmm, I never really watched much Count Duckula back in the day, but I have seen some. The whole shebang is available in a DVD set, but I found a playlist of episodes on YouTube, of which I watched one.

In Transylvania, there is a dynasty of vampire ducks, who have a history of terrorising the locals, and eventually getting themselves killed. Once a century, a rite can be performed to reincarnate the old Count into a new Count. This time round, a mistake was made, and tomato ketchup was used instead of another ingredient (probably blood), so the new Count is a vegetarian. And without the pointy teeth generally associated with vampires.

Duckula’s manservant, Igor, has an agenda of trying to turn Duckula back the way he’s “supposed” to be (in other words, evil). The Count’s Nanny is also still on hand, and still mollycoddling him even though he’s a grown-up. Castle Duckula can also teleport, if the adventure of the week demands it (I would hazard a guess to suggest that it usually does).

There are a bunch of references and puns, and I think there’s a significant proportion that the kids are unlikely to get, but is more aimed at the parents. David Jason provides some of the voices.

The laptop speakers were not ideal for watching any of this stuff with, but I think the quality of these videos as uploaded to YouTube didn’t help, I think they were missing a bunch of the lower range. youngest enjoyed the first two shows, though, and I enjoyed the second, which I was mostly only listening to as I did other things.

I think Oldest (8-and-a-half) wouldn’t be old enough for Duckula yet.

Links not provided, to lessen their risk of being removed from YouTube, but they should be easy to find with a quick search. If you dare to enter the domain of ’80s childrens cartoons.

Goodnight out there, whatever you are.

Plotting Your Favourite TV Shows

Earlier tonight, my wife and I were revisiting a site that we have found interesting/amusing before, so I thought I’d share it with you.

This site takes the IMDB user ratings for each episode of a TV show, and plots them on a graph. Each season is given a different colour, and a line is charted for each season, representing the average, and showing whether the season trends as getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same. It is worth noting the scale on the left. Each episode has a score of 0-10, but the full 0-10 isn’t shown each time, often a chunk is cut off the bottom (and possibly the top), if no episodes are in that range. That can be changed, there’s an option below the graph.

Like Firefly, the bottom line is 8 and the top is 10, the lowest-rated episode is 8.3, the highest is 9.5, and the average line is pretty flat  at around 8.9.

It’s interesting how sometimes it’s one episode that will skew a season’s average line. Enterprise shows a gradual increase in perceived quality over the first two seasons, Season 3’s line starts a little lower than Season 2’s end point, then dramatically rises over the season, then the cluster of Season 4’s dots look like S4’s line should rise, too… but the line goes down. Why? Series finale “These Are The Voyages”, Enterprise’s lowest-scoring episode (not without reason) (IT’S NOT CANON! LALALALALALALALALA) skews the line into serious decline.

The other Trek series are worth a look as well, if you’re into that sort of thing.
TOS
TNG
DS9
Voyager

I’ve been watching Pie In The Sky with my wife, and we’ve just finished Season 4. Looks like we’re just about to hit the low point of the series.

I didn’t watch it, but out of interest, I looked up Lost. Had to laugh when rather than the show’s real title, the site says “How Did You Get Here?”. And for all the bad I heard about the ending, it didn’t rate too badly.

You can hover over any dot and find what the episode is, and exactly what it rated. You can also click on the dot to be taken to the IMDB page for that episode.

Something that lasted a lot of years and has a lot of episodes per season can be fun. Here’s Doctor Who, 1963-1989.

We had a bunch of fun looking up a bunch of different shows we like. If graph-site’s search doesn’t work, you can find the show on IMDB and copy the show’s ID into the search box.

Comment below with shows you like, and looked up. Be careful, I’m sure you could be there all day looking things up…

Review: Scream Of The Shalka… Special Features

I’m not sure I’ve reviewed special features rather than the “main attraction” before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything.

There are certain times when it’s easier to watch the special features than it is to watch the main attraction. I started watching Doctor Who through with Oldest, and we’re currently stalled at The Keys Of Marinus: the first episode was too scary for Middlest.

I’ve picked up a few Doctor Who DVDs, most of them are to fill gaps. There were two stories that I didn’t have on videotape, and then rediscovered missing episodes and stories, and animations of missing episodes, make up most of the other DVDs I’ve bought.

Somewhat of an oddity in the Doctor Who DVD catalogue, is a recent purchase of mine: The Scream Of The Shalka.

Some people at the BBC realised that the BBC wasn’t planning to do anything for the 40th anniversary of the show, so they knocked on a bunch of doors to see if they could do an animated story for the website. They managed to get permission to do it, and so they did. Development took a long time, and suffered quite a few setbacks, but in the end, production happened. Richard E Grant was to be the Ninth Doctor.

Post-production took a long time, and so it was that two months before Shalka was released onto the website, the announcement was made that Doctor Who Was Coming Back. Shalka became instantly overshadowed by this news, and is an oft-overlooked chapter in Who history.

And yet, had Shalka not been made, NuWho might not have happened.

There are three particular special features I want to talk about.

One, and it’s more of a mention, is an interview with some of the people involved, from the time the show was made. And I think pre-post-production, so before the return was announced. I think there are some shots of David Tennant there (who managed to talk his way into a small role, he was recording something next door, found out they were making Doctor Who, and figured it was his only chance to be in Who… funny world).

Another is the tale of how the show came about, with more recent interviews with behind-the-scenes people. This was really interesting, and there’s so many interesting little things, including interaction between members of the Shalka crew, and production staff of NuWho.

When trying to find out if they could do something for Who’s 40th, they ran into people who cited “rights issues”. So one of the crew members was tasked with researching the rights issue. Practically everyone to do with rights at the BBC was contacted, and the only thing that seemed like it could be an actual problem was “maybe something about the Daleks”. but the Shalka crew weren’t planning to use Daleks, so they went ahead. And filed away all the research and responses to the rights issue.

A new head of BBC was appointed, who said she’d love to bring back Doctor Who, if the rights issues could get sorted out. concerned fans contacted the Shalka crew to find out whether these rights issues would affect the Shalka release. The Shalka people then posted an article outlining the rights issues as they understood them (basically, that there weren’t any). The Shalka team lead was then summoned to his boss for a stern telling-off. He took the research with him.

It is implied, but not explicitly stated, that it was this meeting that cleared the way for NuWho to enter production.

And that’s just a small part of what, to me, was a very interesting story.

the third special feature I want to talk about, concerned the development of the BBC website, and Doctor Who’s place and importance in that.

I liked the tongue-in-cheek pokes at the site’s regular rebrandings, the experimental things that people were allowed to try, while at the same time the reluctance for setting precedent. The “Live chat” feature, where interviews were conducted over Instant Messages, and broadcast in real time. Even real time over the outside window to the studio…. which was constantly hidden by a row of buses. The now-archived Cult portion of the site, where dead (Who) and living (Buffy) shows were lumped together. The previous Doctor Who animations, and issues like buffering and sound quality. A misuse of RealPlayer’s subtitle functions to do animations. The PhotoNovels reconstructions of missing episodes. The development of iPlayer. It’s like a digital history lesson, and I’m interested in history and also computer stuff, so this was up my alley.

I’m not sure that I watched Scream Of The Shalka when it came out. I may have tried, but buffering, and the terrible audio quality of streaming at the time may have prevented my watching much of it. And I haven’t yet sat down and watched it this time round (maybe at some point when Youngest needs distraction, or maybe with Oldest if he gets schoolwork done early). At this point, it almost doesn’t matter, the special features were entertaining enough to warrant the price of admission.