Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Battlestar Galactica mid-season finale

Posted by Gerald on June 13, 2008

Like with the Sopranos finale, I find myself forced to write an immediate reaction.

My first reactions are:

Again, it is proven there is no such thing as a good day aboard the Galactica.  This is the most depressing thing I’ve seen on TV since “The Day After.”

and

It was perfect.

After the “Adama and Roslyn realize their love” and the “this is what makes us worth saving” stuff last week and then the great rapprochement this week we were all set up for the happy day.  They make the realization, the make the jump, they find the planet, they kiss and hug and cry…

…and then they go down to the planet.

…and we all get punched in the gut.

It was perfect… and sooo dark.

Wow.

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Posted in Battlestar Galactica, science fiction, Television | 4 Comments »

I Probably Should Stop

Posted by Gerald on July 14, 2007

… watching History International.

They had a show on earlier today entitled something like “Where Does it Come From?”  The host mentioned that he was a physicist, which makes sense.  There do not seem to be any historians associated with most of what the History Channel and History International do.  The subject was apartment buildings and the theme was that they originated in Ancient Rome.

To be fair most of the show was fine.  In fact, it featured a very good demonstration of how fullers cleaned clothing in Rome – urine and all.  Two things irked me however, so here we go.

Early in the show the host mentioned the usual height of the Roman insulae and the regulations enacted by both Gaius Julius and Augustus Caesar limiting the height of these buildings to 70 feet and mandating that they have 2 feet thick walls.  Again, there were some good things here.  The host used toast to demonstrate why Roman concrete blocks did not stand up well to torsional strain.  They also went to an engineering firm to do computer models about how high you could safely build a building made of concrete blocks without a steel frame.

First there was the surprise everyone seemed to have when the computer model demonstrated that – guess what – using those building materials at those thicknesses, the maximum safe height for a building was 70 feet – as reflected in the regulations.  Surprise, surprise – people in the past weren’t idiots and had reasons for the things they did!  Maybe I’m being over-sensitive, but there seems to be a contempt for our own ancestors in our popular culture.

The most extreme examples of this are the ridiculous theories that people have put forward about the megaliths in Europe, monumental construction in Egypt, temples and cities in pre-Colombian America, the monuments on Easter Island, etc…  It was aliens, time-travelers, reptiles who dwell in the center of the earth, anyone but the people who lived there.  Because we can’t figure out how they did things with the technology they had available, they must not have done it, there must be some supernatural explanation.  Maybe there is a simpler one: we are the children of some pretty smart and capable people who figured out how to do some pretty amazing things.  I don’t get the attraction so many people have for these unhistorical pieces of nonsense – don’t they WANT to be descended from these smart and capable folks?

Second, the host made a point of saying that the limitations on the height of these building could have been exceeded “if the Romans had used steel rods to reinforce the walls of the buildings” – while showing a shot of a modern skyscraper under construction.  What they never asked, or answered, was why the Romans didn’t do that?  Evidently, it is just because they weren’t clever enough to think of it.

The fact is that using steel rods to build a frame for a building was economically unfeasible.  Until the invention of the Bessemer Converter in the 19th century (itself a product of new insights into chemistry and thermodynamics) steel was produced in small batches by skilled craftsmen.  The Romans had steel – hell, the Germans and Celts had steel (in the case of the Celts, some was better than the Romans) – but it was kind of expensive.  Also, there was another demand for steel – the Roman Army.  Given the limits on supply due to existing technology, and the pressure on price due to demand from the Army, the idea of using steel as a building material was unlikely to occur to anyone.  It could be done, but you would have a very expensive building in the end.

I’m not sure why I felt the need to pontificate so (well, I am a bit of a blow-hard…).  Maybe I’m just in “lecturing withdrawal” since I’m only teaching on-line this summer.  Still, I would like it if the history shows on TV would dig a little deeper and check a little more.

Posted in American culture, History, rant, Roman History, Teaching, Television, thoughts | 2 Comments »

Mission: Impossible

Posted by Gerald on July 12, 2007

Because I’ve read my eyes out today grading many essays, I’m indulging in a TV evening (… and, of course, blogging – because it is like crack and I CAN’T HELP MYSELF!!!)

I’m watching a DVD of episodes from the second season of Mission: Impossible.  I loved this show when I was a kid and unlike some other shows I’ve watched as an adult, I still love this.  Yes, it is dated.  Yes, it is unapologetic-ally pro-American.  Yes, it is sexist as hell.  Yes, the whole idea of the government doing things they won’t own up to in public is one of the biggest problems we have today (George, it was just a TV show!)

Still.

Those cool, intricate plans, the nifty disguises, the cool gizmos,  I just love it!  Everybody smoking and drinking cocktails.  All the guys are always wearing really cool suits (have you noticed that men’s suits right now kind of look like they did in the mid 1960s?)  Also, for 1967 it had to be a big deal that the tech guy and general science whiz on the team was black.

You gotta take joy in the little things. 

Posted in American culture, Personal, Television, thoughts | 3 Comments »

More Sopranos Reaction and Beyond

Posted by Gerald on June 13, 2007

If you would like to read a much more interesting non-review of the Sopranos finale than anything I would be capable of writing – some fascinating ideas about art and what it means – go over to my friend’s blog at Semeiotikos.  Even if you do not care at all about the Sopranos or TV in general, this is worth reading.

Posted in Television | 1 Comment »

The Wrong News

Posted by Gerald on June 11, 2007

Here is a very interesting report about a recent study on TV news from the Project for Excellence in Journalism.  While Iraq has been the big story in the news media here in the US, a majority of the coverage has been about the domestic political wrangling over the war, not about conditions or events in Iraq itself.  Of what is coming out of Iraq, most stories are about Americans there, not about the conditions of the Iraqi people.  Not shocking, but at least here is some hard data.  Interestingly, the White-House-Press-Office-at-Fox-News devoted less coverage to the war and more to Anna Nicole Smith now that their neo-con viewers aren’t likeing the news about the war no more.

Where can we find a better mix of stories according to the PEJ?  Online news sources.

Posted in International, Iraq War, journalism, politics, Television | Leave a Comment »

Post-Sopranos – An Hour Later

Posted by Gerald on June 11, 2007

Okay – definitely genius!

I had to get past the immediate WTF!?! of the black screen, and I see why it is really going to leave some people angry.  It lacked the one thing that everyone was looking for – resolution.  There is no feeling of fulfillment, no “moment.”

That is the genius though.  The “resolution” feeling is what we have been taught to want from television.  The moment of catharsis, the ending.  What we got here was an end, but not a resolution.  The problem with resolution though, is that it is false.  Real stories don’t end, we decide on ending places for them.  The genius of The Sopranos has been the way it has resisted the false.  This ending might not have been satisfying, but it was real – and that makes it great.

As for John From Cincinnati. I’m intrigued but not sure yet.  Being There with surfing?

Posted in opinion, Personal, Television | 2 Comments »

Immediate Post-Sopranos Reaction

Posted by Gerald on June 11, 2007

I can’t decide if I am pissed-off or in awe of a moment of genius, tilting more toward the latter.  It sure as hell wasn’t anything I expected, and it definitely wasn’t in any way false.

Either way, I wasn’t left feeling nothing!

Posted in opinion, Personal, Television | 8 Comments »

Lost Day

Posted by Gerald on June 10, 2007

This has been a very lazy Sunday for me.  Outside of scanning some news and blogs, and posting a couple of comments, the biggest accomplishment of the day so far has been watching The Prestige on DVD.  This is a film made by Christopher Nolan, who did Batman Begins and stars two actors from that film, Christian Bale and Michael Caine.  It also stars Hugh Jackman and a good supporting cast headed by Scarlett Johansson and Piper Perabo.  It is a cool story concerning the rivalry between two stage magicians at the end of the 19th century.  Their rivalry grows to include Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie).  It is really more of a movie about lies and truth.  I’m afraid that more discerning viewer will predict the big reveals before they happen, but it is still a worthwhile film if you haven’t seen it yet.

Tonight I’ll be watching the finales of two series I’ve really enjoyed.  First, of course, is The Sopranos.  I’m not going to make any sort of predictions about this.  David Chase has said repeatedly he is not interested in telling a morality tale.  Also, the thing that has always made this show superior is that the writers take turns that are true to the characters rather than what is expected in television.  I’m satisfied to just wait to see what they’ve got.  My only concern is that this has been so hyped that for many people no possible ending could equal the expectations.

The other show on tap for tonight is The Tudors.  Here, I have no doubts about how the story comes out, or if I did I would really need to stop being a history instructor for a living.  I’ve enjoyed the show overall, but I do have some quibbles.  I think that the heart of the human drama of the story of Henry VIII and the divorce is the conflict of needs that drove everyone involved.  The show has done a good job of showing some of this, but not all.  In particular I do not think it has really conveyed the urgency of Henry’s need for a son.  This isn’t just the desire for male offspring, this was a political necessity.  Not just Henry, but everyone concerned with the political settlement created with the Tudor ascension to the throne wanted that boy.  Now the show shouldn’t be a documentary, but it has already devoted a fair amount of time to diplomatic matters.  I think that having spent some time on the domestic political scene (beyond one-upmanship at court) would have ADDED to the human drama involved.

Still, I am looking forward to seeing how they portray what is bound to happen during tonight’s finale and I hope we get to see another season of it.

Well, back to listening to Fairport Convention and reading the next Jim Butcher novel.

Posted in Movies, Personal, Television | 2 Comments »

Gettin’ My Geek On…

Posted by Gerald on June 9, 2007

It is another weekend, and I am gettin’ my geek on!

For the last several years, my Friday nights have been reserved for the SciFi Channel’s various line-ups of original shows (well, if I have someplace to go I just record them – “Bless the DVR, Bless its comings and its goings”).  I am an unapologetic fan of science fiction.  No one has yet proven to me the objective superiority of several hours out of my life to watch someone else play a game versus taking hours out of my life to watch TV shows or movies featuring spaceships and people wearing latex foreheads. 

Since moving Battlestar Galactica to Sundays, the Friday night line-up has been dominated by the Stargates (“SG-1” and “Atlantis”).  This may offend some of the more hard-core fans out there, but I am not going to try to make any huge claims as to the artistic merits of these shows.  I like them.  I also like Pizza Hut’s pizza, but I’m not claiming it as fine cuisine.  I think I like what most of the fans do.  They are well-paced, have likeable characters, the dialog is smart and funny, and every now and then they manage a moment or two when you feel something about what is going on.  They are also basically optimistic shows.  Given my general cynicism about the human condition, but my real wish that things could be better, a little optimism is refreshing.  SG-1 is just about to wrap up its very long run.  I’m going to be sorry to see some of the characters go, but not really the series.  While the show still shows some of what made it fun to watch, it has gotten a little tired.  I’m happy enough that they are ending things while I still like the show rather than doing what the X-Files did and run at least three seasons too long.

The remaining entry this season has been a new show called “Painkiller Jane,” which is based on a comic book I’ve never seen.  A couple of years ago, SciFi showed a “Painkiller Jane” movie that I kind of liked.  The TV show is different and I cannot say I’ve warmed to it.  Kristanna Loken plays Jane, a member of a unit that hunts down people with weird abilities and who, for some reason, has the ability to heal from just about any injury (see Wolverine from X-Men, “the Cheerleader” from Heroes, etc… – not exactly original.)  I do not know if it is the material or the actress, but the only emotion this character has provoked in me is a moment of lust during a scene where she was dancing around her bathroom in her sports bra – and even that wasn’t a very intense lust, more pro forma. 

That’s okay, though.  I’m getting old and by 10 pm, if I’m home, I’m usually ready to just turn on some music and read awhile before going to bed. 

Posted in Personal, science fiction, Television | Leave a Comment »