Channel Surfing

With the distraction of the election, on top of the distraction of the pandemic, my note pile has started to accumulate again. I’m way behind on my “Fall Clearance” plan to either finally write the posts or throw away the notes. (The issues I’ve been having with my laptop’s WiFi incompetence haven’t helped.)

Between winter and social distancing, I’ve had plenty of time to catch up on reading. I’ve also been catching up on TV shows I wanted to either check out or re-watch. There have been some new shows I liked so much the first time that I wanted to see them again.

So for this TV-Tuesday I’m channel surfing over all those shows.

The Big Kahuna has to be Good Omens, the Amazon Prime adaptation of one of my all-time favorite books: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990), by Neil Gaiman (one of my all-time favorite authors) and Terry Pratchett (my all-time favorite author bar none).

And, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, the adaptation is outstanding. I give both the book and the TV version five stars, two thumbs up, and a Wow! rating. For fantasy fans, these are absolutely must-read and must-see.

I posted about the book back in 2015, so I won’t go into too much detail here.

Suffice to say it involves four threads: An eleven-year-old boy, named Adam, and his three friends; an angel and a demon with a 4000-year friendship; the descendant of the only witch in history who actually predicted the future with 100% accuracy (albeit with little understanding); and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (although they ride motorcycles now, and two of them are, technically speaking, Horsewomen of the Apocalypse).

Adam happens to be the actual anti-Christ, although he’s been accidentally misplaced by the incompetent minions of Hell. He was supposed to be the son of an American diplomat and thus positioned to start World War III, Armageddon, and the literal end of the world with the final battle between Heaven and Hell.

Instead he was brought up by a lovely British couple in the lovely English countryside. The giant vicious Hell Hound released to be at his side as he issues in the destruction of everything… has morphed into a small friendly terrier Adam has named Dog.

Both Heaven and Hell are impatient for the final battle to begin, but things aren’t going as planned. The diplomat’s son (named Warlock)… is just a normal boy!

The main characters are the demon, Crowley (David Tennant), and the angel, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen). They’ve been here since the beginning (which was Sunday, October 21, 4004 B.C. at exactly 9:00 AM).

In fact, Crowley (or Crawley as he went by then) was the one who tempted Eve with the apple. When Adam and Eve were banished, Aziraphale gave them his flaming sword for a little protection in the harsh world outside the garden. (Heaven has been asking what happened to that sword ever since.)

Over the years Aziraphale and Crowley have gotten close; very close. In true Yin-Yang fashion each has absorbed a small bit of the other. They have become closer to each other than to their own sides.

[The ‘Shippers (especially the non-cis ‘Shippers) were all agog about the demon-angel relationship, but tend invariably to frame it as eros rather than agape, the latter a notion we seem to have forgotten in our visceral feelings-based anti-intellectual culture. It’s something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while now.]

The performances by Sheen and Tennant are spot-on. The cast includes Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Michael McKean, Nick Offerman, and the voice of Frances McDormand (as God). The adaptation is as faithful to the book as any I’ve seen. Fans of the book will delight in the adaptation.

I love the book so much I read it every few years or so. I enjoyed watching the TV series a second time and could well watch it again some day. It really is that good.

(See the Wiki Quotes page for some taste treats from the book.)

§

Another great wave I rode again is The Tick, also an Amazon Prime original series.

The 2016 Amazon live action series is just the latest incarnation of the superhero. There was also a live action series on Fox in 2001. Before that, there was an animated series in 1994, also on Fox. All are the work of Ben Edlund and begin with his 1986 comic book series, The Tick.

I’ve never seen the comic book, but I’m a big fan of all three TV versions.

The 2001 live action version starred Patrick Warburton, who I think is really funny and whose work I’ve enjoyed in sitcoms going back to 1990s (he was on Dave’s World a lot; a show I liked on multiple levels).

Warburton, who was, I thought, perfectly cast as the Tick, is one of the producers of the Amazon series. And Edlund has been behind each incarnation, so there is a “work of love” thing going on (and it shows).

The Tick is not everyone’s cup of tea. None of the incarnations has done terribly well in terms of longevity. The animated series lasted three seasons, the 2001 live action series lasted only one, and the Amazon series seems done with just two.

A damn shame in every case. As with Firefly, it seems that truly tasty storytelling is just too much for general audiences. People are happier with their bland McShows and a side of fries. You’d think with such a vast need for material, there would be more room for niche. Does everything have to be a money-making proposition?

The Tick is a different kind of humor from Good Omens. The latter is intelligent and deeply perceptive; the humor is situational and based on human foibles. The former is a parody of superheroes, which, on some levels, are pretty silly to begin with. The Tick isn’t quite slapstick, but the humor is pretty broad.

And pretty funny. Ya gotta love a villain who finally had to adapt the name everyone called her by behind her back: Miss Lint. She has dangerous electrical powers, but a side-effect is that she tends to attract lint.

I enjoyed re-watching this again, too. I’m sad there won’t be another season.

§

I’ve been slowly re-watching My Name Is Earl on Hulu (only 13 episodes left to go).

The comedy series ran for four seasons on NBC from 2005 to 2009. It stars Jason Lee (who was well known to fans of the Kevin Smith movies) as Earl, a no-account, ignorant, thieving dummy who wins the lottery. Recklessly celebrating in the street, he’s hit by a car and hospitalized.

While in the hospital, Earl learns about karma while watching TV and decides that the reason his life sucks is that he has bad karma due to all the bad things he’s done.

Part of his pain comes from losing the lottery ticket due to the accident, but it’s miraculously restored. (The wind that blew it away, blows it back to him when he’s out of the hospital.)

So Earl wins $100,000 and decides to devote his life to correcting all the bad things he’s done in life. He’s made a list, and each episode (after the pilot) involves Earl trying to cross one more item off his list by making up for something he did to someone.

It’s a neat premise for a TV show, not entirely unique, but certainly unusual.

I liked the show enough when it aired that I bought the DVDs (which ultimately I donated to the local library because streaming), so the show is familiar ground. But in terms of writing originality, and in terms of great guest stars, as well as in terms of all the actors, the show is very good — on par with, and maybe even a little similar to in comic sensibility, 30 Rock on those same counts.

That said, there is a slight undercurrent of sexist chauvinism that runs through the series. Co-star Nadine Velazquez played a stripper, and they wasted no opportunity to have her in skimpy stripper outfits. Some of the humor could get a bit on the infantile fratboy side, too.

But for all that, the show had a lot going for it. A few moments make me cringe now, but overall I still find it finestkind. Worth checking out if you’ve never seen it. Huge points for creativity.

§

The fall broadcast TV season finally seems to have started. I’ve seen new episodes of The Simpsons, The Blacklist, Bull, and NCIS.

I can’t say any of them have much engaged me. Some of that, I suspect, is me and the times. The fantasy nonsense of those shows seems vapid given the insanity of politics and society right now. (WTF is wrong with the Republicans?)

Truth is, I think The Simpsons is way past its freshness date. The show rarely causes more than a few smiles anymore. Maybe a chuckle. Of all the animated shows I watch, I’d have to rank it last.

And, OMG, would The Blacklist please finally die so I can stop watching? The damn show just keeps going on and on. I love James Spader, and I’m determined to stick it out, but I lost interest in all the damn secrets seasons ago. And I can’t stand Liz. I really can’t stand Liz.

I’ve always been iffy on Bull, repulsed by the idea of trial science. The season premiere was a dream sequence with singing. Did not care for it at all. I think I’m ready to drop this one.

And NCIS, true to previous form, still can’t seem to turn out a decent season premiere. It’s like they try too hard. I’m fed up with the Fornell bullshit. Emily is fine and Fornell has lost his damn mind.

More of this feelings and emotions over intellect and rational behavior modern storytelling fucking bullshit that I absolutely loath. (Among its sins, that sort of thinking brought us P45.)

§

I actually thought this was going to be a shorter post (but I should probably know better). I didn’t get a chance to mention The West Wing, Parks and Recreation, or Northern Exposure, all of which have had, or were considering, some sort of reunion.

I guess Parks and Rec did something Zoom-ish during the first pandemic shutdown, but word was it seemed mostly advertising for other NBC shows. A sad callback for a unique and delightful show.

As for the other two, please just let them be. They were both outstanding shows. I was a huge fan of The West Wing (watched the series several times) and I really loved Northern Exposure (except the last season which seriously shark jumped).

The latter was one of the most creative shows of its era, and the former is a wonderful, albeit very idealistic, picture of how we wished our government worked. These days the brain weary might find it a refreshing escape.

Stay ticking, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

16 responses to “Channel Surfing

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Apologies for the way the post looks in the WP Reader. There’s apparently a bug somewhere. WP is working on it.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It seems fixed now, WP is working on figuring out what happened.

      They tried moving the top image to between the first and second paragraph, and that made the paragraphs render correctly in the Reader (but kind of wrecks the intended style of the post). I see the tech moved the image back to the top, and the post still renders correctly in the Reader.

      I wonder if merely editing it fixed something?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Final answer: Seems to have been a one-time glitch. (I noticed it happened to another recent post on another blog I follow, so it wasn’t just me.)

        Apparently, it was simply editing the post that fixed it. Something didn’t work quite right when the post was submitted for publication, I guess.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    A lot of my notes have to do with the last four years, and since it’s time to kick that worthless POS out of my head, that’s a large number of notes I can definitely just toss.

    (Along those lines, today is a notable day because Biden’s website is now showing a .gov domain, and the GSA has finally allowed the transition to begin in government.)

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I watched Good Omens (I think on your recommendation) and enjoyed it. It’s a good light hearted show.

    I saw some of the animated version of The Tick decades ago, and enjoyed it, but haven’t caught any of the live action stuff since.

    I’m mildly surprised The Simpsons is still around. I haven’t heard anything about them in a while. You know my history with NCIS: intense interest for a few years, then completely lost interest since.

    Did you hear that The Expanse got renewed for a 6th season? And that it will be the last season? It’s not known if the storyline from the books will be altered to compress the events. Oh, and Cas Anvar won’t be returning, although no word if Alex will be recast or just dropped.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m struck by your reference to Good Omens as lighthearted — I wonder if that would still be your assessment if you read the book. It does have a lighthearted presentation, which ends up center stage in the TV version, but its core is actually far more substantial and insightful. I wonder if that didn’t come through in the series as much as in the book. (Of course, I’ve read the book a bunch of times now.)

      If you liked the animated series, I highly recommend the 2001 live action version of The Tick. Warburton seems put on Earth to play The Tick — he’s perfect in the role. That may be part of why he’s co-producing the Amazon series. The short life of both live action series really is a Firefly-level tragedy.

      I’m a bit surprised about The Simpson’s, too. It’s gotten very long in the tooth. I was just watching a Wisecrack video last night about Archer and what it deemed an all but unavoidable decline in quality over the show’s run. (FWIW, I disagree. There is some inevitable fade, that can’t be helped with a given set of characters, but I found the video’s criticisms saying more about their expectations than about the show itself. There was no “charity of interpretation” — I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last three seasons.) Anyway, their canonical example of a show that’s completely lost its freshness is The Simpsons, and that part I can’t disagree with.

      I heard about the 6th and final season. I’m not sure how they’re going to do anything without Anvar. He’s too key to the story. Or how they’re going to wrap up in just one more season. (But now I guess they have no choice.) If it were me, I’d almost be tempted to take the story in an original direction, maybe that included Alex’s death somehow. Damn. Once again, we just can’t have nice things.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I haven’t read the book, Good Omens, so it’s definitely possible I’m missing some deeper significance. But it also might be that many of the theological points might not have the significance for me that they would for a believer.

        On the Expanse, they could just recast Alex. Overall, I wonder when they knew about the season 6 cutoff. If before season 5 was written, it wouldn’t be hard for them to compress books 5 and 6 into one season. (I actually hope they did that.) And I don’t think it would be that hard to compress books 7-9 into a single season. (Assuming book 9 isn’t War and Peace.) Ty Franck, responding to a fan on Twitter lamenting that the story would never be finished, noted that they were making a lot of assumptions “about the IP”.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Oh, the books are theological silliness; I suspect they could be offensive to some true believers. No, I refer to the insight into the human condition. That’s what makes both Gaiman and Pratchett among my favorite authors — the combination of humor, creativity, and human insight.

        With The Expanse I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what happens. I’m trying to decide whether to put off watching any of season five until they’re all out or take them as they come. I’ve kind of gotten to like binging.

        I suppose they could recast Alex, but it just wouldn’t be the same.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        It is kind of a bummer that we only get one episode a week. But I don’t think I’ll have the discipline to wait. At least it will give me something to look forward to for a few weeks.

        I’m not really that attached to Anyar. But many might be thrown out of the story with an abrupt recast. Maybe they could just slide another character into the pilot seat with a quick dialog note on Alex going back to Mars or something.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        IIRC, in the book, Alex goes back to Mars hoping to reconcile with his wife, and it goes really badly. Maybe that’s the change; it goes so well Alex stays with her and leaves the crew? (Not really in character. Better to kill him off?)

        Gonna be weird no matter what. Fortunately, Alex is the one crew member they can lose without completely destroying the story.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On Alex, the problem, I think, is season 5 was in post-production when the scandal broke, so anything they changed due to it would have to be dubbed in or something. If season 5 does go through book 6, it would give them a good opportunity to just drop Alex between seasons.

        Yeah, it would have been much worse if it’d been Amos, and pretty much impossible with Holden or Naomi. They would have to recast and hope for the best.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Ah, yeah, if the season was in the can they’re stuck with him.

        So a huge question is whether season five is book five or if it’s books five and six. It certainly would be a lot easier to just remove the character between the second and third trilogies — there’s a considerable time gap.

        And then, as you mentioned, there’s book nine. Almost a Game of Thrones kinda situation… will the TV series diverge from the later books?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I read an article suggesting season five would be book five and season six would be book six, and the TV series would essentially end with just books 1 -6. (Perhaps with more of a wrap-up ending? Or leave it hanging for a movie or second TV series? Kind of disappointing regardless.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Ugh. I hope that’s wrong, or they change their mind. Although depending on how far along production is for season 6, it might not be feasible at this point.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        The article (it was in Screen Rant, as I recall) mentioned the time gap between books 6 and 7 did offer some issues production-wise and is a kind of natural break point. I can see the logic, but yeah, definitely a disappointment.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Just looked up the article. That matches a lot of fan speculation. But one of the authors, on Twitter actually played down the time jump issue, saying it wasn’t a factor.

        I think the real issue is Amazon just wasn’t getting the numbers they needed. We should be grateful they ran it three years, but it’ll be a bummer if the show only goes through book 6.

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