TV Pick: The Expanse

Sci-Fi network (SyFy?) once had the market cornered on good science fiction TV series.  That was before they decided to rely on wrestling and straight-to-video movies to fill their programming slate.  These days, everyone from AMC to MTV to the premium channels has some sci-fi or fantasy in their lineup – some good, some not.   So it’s nice to see something worth recommending on Sci-Fi/SyFy.


The Expanse, based on the novels by James SA Corey, takes place in a near future in which humanity has expanded into our solar system to colonize Mars and mine the asteroid belt.  There’s no faster-than-light travel, and one of the central tenets of the books is a realistic approach to the science and challenges of space travel and survival. Continue reading

Black Friday Spirit

We’ve posted before that we don’t really like Black Friday.  Too much craziness, too many people compelled to work on a holiday.  I noted a few stores were actually advertising that they would not be open at ridiculous hours – good for them.

You can learn a lot about the spirit of Black Friday by watching the excellent Teen Titans Go!  This show is a staple in our house – the kids love it, and it consistently makes me and the wife chuckle.  The show’s writers are obviously from our peer group, often referencing semi-obscure 80’s and 90’s lore in full Seth MacFarlane mode.


The episode rifs on ‘A Christmas Carol’ as so many fine holiday toons have done before, and really put me in the proper frame of mind to go out and do battle within the halls of retail Friday afternoon.

If you have pre-teen kids, you probably already know about Teen Titans Go!, but if not give it a look.  The Black Friday episode aired last week and will certainly be on again.

One Last Report

Unless you are completely deaf to the media, you know that last night was the final Colbert Report on Comedy Central.  Yes, Nation, Stephen Colbert will take his talents to CBS soon, where he will backfill for the retiring David Letterman.  So some people are probably thinking, no big deal, we’ll just see him on the network in a couple of months in Dave’s spot.  But wait – many viewers don’t realize (or don’t fully accept) that the Stephen Colbert on the Report is a caricature, a character, an ironic construct.  And that’s because he’s kept up this persona in front of the camera for nine + years, almost without fail.  He hasn’t done many interviews or public appearances out of this character at all.

So what’s he going to do on late night – that’s the question.  It will be different; enough hints have dropped that we know he’s doing interviews and jokes as more of himself.  How much will this confuse the Nation?  How will the viewers adjust? Continue reading

World Cup Couch Weekend

The big day is Monday – USA v. Ghana at 5:00 CST.  But today and this weekend (just in time for Father’s Day) we have World Cup Viewus Maximus.   Four games today, three games tomorrow.  No overlap, all available to watch on ABC and ESPN.  It’s like Sweet Sixteen weekend – all the games are on, all of them are important – only with higher stakes and it only occurs every four years.  Have a seat on the couch or head out to your favorite sports bar.

So far we’ve seen some bad refereeing decisions (Brazil penalty, Mexico disallowed goals) and a shocking dismantlement of the Spaniards by the Dutch.  The games this weekend all have some intrigue and reasons to watch.

  • Colombia v. Greece – 11:00 Sat:  Without Falcao, Colombia aren’t as fun, but they’re still pretty fun.  Will the Greeks come to play or will they bunker down?
  • Uruguay v. Costa Rica2:00 Sat:  Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani are worth a look.  Let’s hope Suarez’s knee is really OK.  The Ticos of Costa Rica are from our region and feature exciting players like Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz.  They’re definitely the underdogs in this group.
  • England v. Italy – 5:00 Sat:  Euro Old Guard powers square off.  The winner has the inside track on this group; the loser blames the weather and gets scorched by their home country’s media.  A lot to like here Ballotelli and Pirlo against Gerrard and Rooney.  This is one to watch.
  • Japan v. Ivory Coast – 8:00 Sat:  Which Japan shows up?  The technical swashbuckling samurai or the overmatched, over-pressured team of last summer?  Ivory Coast features big names like Drogba and the two Toures (Yaya and Kolo).  This is a potentially great match-up and we could see either of these teams winning the group or completely bombing out of the tournament.
  • Switzerland v. Ecuador – 11:00 Sun:  Can the Swiss take the heat?  The weather and Ecuadorians will oblige them.  Is Ecuador for real or are they just the beneficiary of playing all their qualifiers at a very altitude?
  • France v. Honduras – 2:00 Sun:  Hondo, our other regional cousins (we don’t claim Mexico) are big underdogs here.  Many of their players are MLS guys.  France has star power, skill, and talent, but you don’t know if they’ll show up to play or end up on strike.
  • Argentina v. Bosnia-Herzegovina – 5:00 Sun:  Messi, Higuain, Aguero for Argentina.  How will they play together?  Will Messi exert some leadership and lead this team like he can?  Bosnia will certainly try to bunker and counter but they do have Dzeko and Pjanic in the attack.

Here’s hoping for some great play, plenty of goals, and fewer bad calls this weekend.

Walking Dead is back

One of the few episodic shows we continue to watch returns for its fourth season this Sunday:  The Walking Dead on AMC.  Not since we watched The Wire have we been so enamored with a show that can just be so damned depressing.  If you’re behind on episodes or looking to catch up with the plot again, AMC is currently running through all the prior seasons leading up to this Sunday.

I still remember picking up the very first trade of Robert Kirkman’s series back in the day, when the buzz about the comic book was starting to increase, and thinking the central premise was a pretty blatant rip-off of 28 Days Later (guy wakes up form coma and zombie apocalypse has ensued).  But the way he set up the characters and paid them such careful attention, the focus on the human element in the midst of such a horrible situation – these really stood out.  I still want to back and check out his book, Invincible, a character-driven take on the familiar teen and family superhero story.

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TV Picks Return

Quick programming alert: two Beemsville TV picks return for each of their second seasons this week.

On AMC, Hell on Wheels kicks off at 8:00 CST.  You can watch trailers and plot-line lead-in from last season if you want to get on board or missed some episodes.  AMC is also doing a Season 1 Marathon all day today (Sunday) as is their custom.  We like this show because it’s a well-made Western with strong performances and interesting characters.

Tomorrow night at 9:00 CST, Grimm starts up again on NBC.  Move on from your Olympic hangover with supernatural style.  NBC’s site also has plenty of media and content to initiate or reintroduce you to Detective Nick, Monroe, and the Grimm-iverse.  This show has old-school X-Files appeal, a well-conceived urban fantasy setting (easier said than done – just look at all the crap fantasy spin-off attempts), and interesting characters.

You gotta have interesting characters.  Check them out.

Picking and Grimming

Last fall we picked the NBC series Grimm as one to try out, and one we initially enjoyed.  While the idea of police drama and fantasy stories from Grimm’s Fairy Tales isn’t all that novel – cops and monsters have been around in some fashion for decades – the effective creation of such a show has proven more elusive.  In earlier posts we’ve referred to the Twilight Effect, wherein a high percentage of new drama shows have included some element of the fantastic of a science fiction aside.  You might think that as proponents of sci-fi and fantasy, we would appreciate this trend.  But here’s the thing:  many of these shows are just bad.

Not so with Grimm.  Although I had initial concerns about ‘monster-of-the-week’ issues and whether the basic formula of giving Detective Nick Burkhardt a new fairy tale inspired creature and mystery to confront each week would grow stale, the series’ producers and writers have mostly avoided this by adding elements of a larger hidden-world struggle.  This struggle involves the power structure and traditions of the various creatures, a hidden multi-layered history (which Nick can discover along with the viewers), and how these elements intersect for Detective Nick. Continue reading

AMC Goes West

AMC seems to have taken a cue from the HBO playbook.  They keep producing quality television.  The Walking Dead has resumed – one of our favorite current TV series – and we’ve had the chance to catch up on another AMC  show: Hell on Wheels.  They ran a marathon of the series on New Year’s Day, which we recorded and have been watching, and I’m here to report it’s worth seeking out.

Hell on Wheels is set on the frontier after the Civil War – western Iowa, where the Union Pacific Railroad pushes towards the Rockies.  The show is about that westward push of steel, sweat, and blood, as United States sought figurative and literal unity.  It’s a Western to be sure, drawing on the conventions and tropes of that genre to fine effect.

Anson Mount plays Bohannon, a former Confederate outrider who has come west for vengeance.  We quickly learn Bohannon’s wife was murdered by a squad of Union soldiers during Sherman’s March, and now he’s tracking them down one-by-one.  He quickly earns a place on the railroad crew as cover for his quest.  Bohannon is your classic Western lead – he’s been wronged and he’s out to right that wrong, but he also has a sense of fairness and honor to redeem him. Continue reading

Retention Irony

A couple years ago, we switched from Dish Network to DirecTV.  I was amused and surprised by the follow up phone calls and incrementally aggressive offers by Dish.  They came close to matching the DirecTV intro offer.  Of course all this did was make me cranky, because it indicated how I’d been overpaying for months and months.  Yes,  most people know you have to call the TV providers and wheedle and threaten every once in awhile to keep them honest.

So last month, when AT&T came by with an offer to combine TV and Internet, we decided to take them up on it.  The Internet connection was the key:  we wanted to move up from DSL, and with AT&T Uverse we finally had an option that did not oblige us to either keep a land phone line or subscribe to outrageously expensive cable TV.

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Magic in Prime Time

We’ve been watching a couple of new TV shows with firm contemporary fantasy roots:  ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s Grimm.  They are similar in that they juxtapose well-known fairy tale characters and stories in the really real world, feature reluctant non-believer protagonists, and have intriguing bad-guys in the mix.

Once upon a Time takes place in the town of Storybook, Maine, where skip-tracer Emma Swann has arrived at the request of her 10-year old birth son, Henry, to investigate his claims that she’s the one who can the curse.  What curse, you ask?  The one cast by the wicked Queen (of Snow White’s tale) on the denizens of the magic kingdom, causing them to all forget who they are while transporting them to a ‘horrible place’ (i.e., Maine).  So, in the context of the story, the wicked Queen is now the control-freak Mayor with a thing for apples, Jiminy Cricket is Henry’s Shrink, Snow White is an elementary teacher, etc.  So far the show has balanced on the crux of Emma believing in Henry’s explanation and playing along with him for the sake of his therapy.  However, we know she has a part to play because we also know she is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, the only person who can break the curse and send everyone home. Continue reading