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    Better Things

    I’ve had the fourth season of Pamela Adlon’s Better Things sitting on my DVR since lockdown started, waiting to find the right moment to watch it. The series has been a personal favorite of mine since it started airing on FX back in 2016, and I usually rush to watch it whenever new episodes start airing. But my experience with the previous seasons is that my emotions are usually put through the wringer a LOT when watching it, and while the show has brought some moments of transcendent joy there have also been more then a few times when scenes were difficult to get through. As a parent, the struggles that Adlon’s character Sam Fox goes through raising three daughters on her own in Los Angeles resonate with me quite a bit.

    So I’ve been holding off watching the new season until I felt like I was in a good space to do so, both emotionally and psychologically. And in the early months of the covid-19 lockdown, I most definitely was not in that headspace. But then as the summer wore on and the election drew near, I had a whole other set of anxieties and stress to contend with. It wasn’t until this past Saturday, when the election results came in and the race was finally called for Joe Biden, that I felt like it was time to dive in. Then I did something that I hardly ever do: I binged watched the whole thing in two days.

    Normally I like to savor the shows that I enjoy. I start at the beginning, and watch one a night until I reach the end. I like to spend my time digesting the stories, spending as much time with the characters as I can.

    Not this time. Saturday night after my kid went to bed I started in on the first episode of the new season, and watched four episodes back to back. Then on Sunday afternoon I watched the other six episodes over the course of a few hours, taking occasional breaks to do laundry or cook. And while I normally prefer to take my time, I feel like this viewing benefited from being done all at once, as there were a lot of plot threads that were teased out gradually over the course of the whole season, and that I might have lost track of if I’d been going through them more slowly.

    I’ve raved before about how much I admire the lack of a traditional narrative structure in Better Things. Rather than episodic stories that fit into neat half-hour time slots, instead it feels like we’re just dipping into the lives of these characters for a few days and weeks at a time. Characters and conflicts are introduced, then seemingly not resolved, only to turn back up years later in another season. (This piece by Phillip Maciak for the LA Review of Books includes some really insightful analysis of how the show is structured, while focusing on the spiritual and supernatural elements of the plot.)

    (One aspect of the viewing experience that was more than slightly surreal was the fact that the recordings on my DVR dated from the beginning of March to the end of April. Those first episodes aired before the pandemic really hit and the latter ones were from a few weeks into full lockdown. The commercials shifted from the Before Times to These Uncertain Times around episode four or five, and the last episode featured an introduction by Adlon herself over a Zoom call exhorting viewers to stay home and wash their hands. The whole show was like a time capsule, both capturing the world before the pandemic as well as what it felt like when it finally hit.)

    I absolutely adore this series, and love spending time with this family. If you haven’t sampled it yet yourself, all four seasons are available on Hulu. And if you’ve seen earlier seasons but haven’t yet tried out the new one, you are in for a treat. As for me, I think I’ll be going back and watching the whole thing from the beginning again soon. I think I’m in the right headspace to enjoy it again.

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    Hailing Frequencies Open

    Beginning in December of 2018 and continuing through last year and the first part of this year, I tried to make it a habit to update my personal site on a regular basis, sharing positive thoughts about books and movies and TV series that I enjoy. Back in January I wrote about the Disney+ documentary on Imagineering, and shared my excitement for our upcoming trip to Disneyland in February. I had intended to write about our trip when I got back, but then the world shut down in March and the time just never seemed right to rave about how much fun we’d had at the happiest place on Earth when there was so much… well, so much 2020 going on.

    Now it’s October and 2020 just keeps on happening. This year has been stressful and scary and exhausting and it just… keeps… happening, but I’m still here. Still reading books and comics that I enjoy, and escaping into movies and TV series every night. I’m getting work done, too, as it gradually became a little easier to be productive when Everything Is Awful just became the New Normal.

    I’m going to try to update this site on a more regular basis, in the defiant hopes that we’ll all get some good news in November and we’ll slowly start heading back to a better timeline. I’ve been watching a LOT of Star Trek the last few months (and reading a lot of Star Trek comics, and Star Trek novels, and playing some Star Trek video games…), so maybe I’ll share some thoughts about why I’m finding that franchise to be such a source of comfort and inspiration in our present difficulties. Or maybe I’ll just talk about my favorite episodes. But in any event, this post is intended to serve as a signal buoy, to mark that I’m still here, I’m still enjoying media despite all of the awfulness, and I’ll be around.

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    The Imagineering Story

    Finally had a chance to watch The Imagineering Story documentary series on Disney+. Directed by Leslie Iwerks, the six-part series covers the history of Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney parks from the earliest days of Disneyland in the 1950s through the opening of Galaxy’s Edge this past year. I have always been a fan of the Disney parks, but as the years have gone on I’ve become increasingly obsessed with them. I’ve done a lot of reading about how the various rides and attractions were developed, and hunted down interviews with the Imagineers responsible for my favorites. So I went into The Imagineering Story with high hopes, because it seemed to be extremely relevant to my interests.

    I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint. If anything it was even better than I was expecting, and was surprisingly emotionally affecting at times. I’m taking my kid to Disneyland next month for their sixteen birthday, and watching The Imagineering Story has left us both even more excited about the trip than we already were. Even if you don’t have plans to visit a Disney park anytime soon, I highly recommend checking out the series.

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    I Love Star Wars

    I love Star Wars. All of it.

    I have tried and failed to sum up my thoughts about the series as a whole this morning, in advance of seeing The Rise of Skywalker tomorrow. I have seen every Star Wars movie in the theater since 1977, when I saw A New Hope shortly before my seventh birthday. Like Cassian Andor, “I have been in this fight since I was six years old.” And I have loved them all. Even the ones that I didn’t always like so much, I found something in them to love.

    I’ve stayed off social media this week, to avoid spoilers for the new movie. I’m even trying to avoid seeing headlines for the reviews that I will not be reading until after I see the movie. But honestly, I don’t care what a single other person has to say about it. And the experience of recent years has shown that when it comes to Star Wars movies our individual responses can be wildly subjective. There are people who hate my favorite Star Wars movie with a white hot passion, while I love it unreservedly and refuse to recognize that it has any possible flaws. There are other people who will passionately defend as the best in the series a movie that I enjoy to a point but think has marked flaws. And I think that is perfectly okay.

    The point is that for many of us Star Wars has become far more than just a series of films. Through the books, and comics, and role playing games, and video games, and TV spinoffs, and theme park rides, and on and on, and on… It’s become an outsized part of our lives. Sure, it’s a fantasy about space wizards with laser swords that is intended for children, but Star Wars is still real and it matters in profound ways.

    There has always been talk about Star Wars being a “modern mythology,” and I think that is true. It’s the closest thing to a religion for many of us (and the often rancorous disagreements between fans do resemble doctrinal disputes in a lot of ways). The moral lessons that Star Wars teaches still resonate today, and the new movies continue to provide lessons that we very much need.

    I’ll be seeing The Rise of Skywalker tomorrow morning on my own, and then again on Saturday with the family, and by then I’ll probably have gotten back onto social media, and taken a look at a few reviews. But in many ways I feel like the only opinion that will matter to me is that of the six year old me that lives in my head and has been waiting for this movie for more than 42 years, and I strongly suspect that he’s going to like the movie just fine…

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    Star Wars: Resistance Reborn

    I have been on a serious Star Wars kick the last few weeks. I’ve been absolutely loving The Mandalorian on Disney+, and Jedi: Fallen Order is one of my favorite video games in years, and probably the best Star Wars game I’ve ever played. I’ve been rewatching all of the films (in in-universe chronological order) in advance of the end of the Skywalker saga, as well as starting rewatches of both Clone Wars and Rebels (along with teaching myself to read Aurebesh, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages). And I’ve been inspired to go back and revisit stuff that I might have overlooked. For example, after learning that the Fallen Order video game had a lot of connections to the second volume of Marvel’s Darth Vader comic from 2017, I realized that the series had gone on for more issues than I realized and I hadn’t finished reading the whole thing the first time around. With scripts by Charles Soule and art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, the 25-issue long run ended up being one of my favorite Star Wars stories of recent memory, with the final issue being absolutely staggeringly good. (And now I’m rereading the first volume by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, which is every bit as good as I remembered.)

    I’ve also been working my way through the various prose tie-in novels in the “Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” line in the run-up to the new flick, and last night finished reading Rebecca Roanhorse’s Resistance Reborn. The novel picks up shortly after the events of The Last Jedi, with the few surviving members of the Resistance fleeing from the First Order onboard the Millennium Falcon in a desperate search for new allies and safe harbor. The story is very well constructed, and I feel like Roanhorse does a spectacular job of capturing the voices and personalities of the various characters. And one of the things I enjoyed most about reading it was seeing characters that I had first encountered in video games (Battlefront II, to be precise), comics (primarily Poe Dameron, again by Charles Soule), and even other novels (Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy and Claudia Grey’s Bloodline, in particular) interacting with characters from the films. It made that world seem even more like a cohesive whole, and I was left feeling like any one of these characters could appear in The Rise of Skywalker and fit in perfectly with the live action cast.

    If you’ve ever enjoyed a Star Wars prose novel, I strongly recommend checking out Resistance Reborn. It’s an extremely enjoyable read, and left me even more excited to see The Rise of Skywalker in a few weeks than I was already.