Archive: July, 2023

Hollywood on strike

I just started "Silo," so it's not on my list yet, but it might get there. So far so good.

With the Writers' Guild of American and the Screen Actors Guild both on strike—for very good reasons I wholeheartedly support, for whatever that's worth—we likely won't be getting much in the way of new TV for a long while. Nothing good, anyway; I'm sure there will be lots of brainless unscripted "reality" garbage and revivals of old game shows galore, but the real stuff we look forward to might be off the menu for the duration of what could be a lengthy battle with studio greed and exploitation.

So what to do in the interim? If you're like my dad, nothing changes; he doesn't watch much TV outside of news. But if you're like many of us, you'll need to find something to fill your entertainment hours. For those sorts, I have recommendations.

There's been so much quality programming out there since the streaming era dawned and chances are you've missed some of it. I'm sure I have too, so if you like something that I don't mention below, say so in the comments and maybe I'll give it a look.

But these shows are gold. They might not all be your personal cup of tea, but the quality of production and writing in them are top-notch. So add these to your streaming queues if you've not already partaken:

  • The Orville
    Please, go watch this show and help get it renewed. Even if  "you are small and feeble and do not possess the necessary intelligence."
    The Orville. Seth MacFarlane's tribute to Star Trek was on network for two seasons, then on a long hiatus, then on Hulu for a year, now in a limbo that began after its Hulu season completed last year. After a pilot episode that was made more for Fox executives than anyone else—it has far more in the way of lowest-common-denominator juvenile humor than does the series proper—it really took flight and became one of the best genre shows ever made. It's ostensibly a comedy, but in the best Trekkian tradition its stories mirror our social and political issues of the day, from trans rights to social media to misinformation campaigns to the evolution of artificial intelligence. And there's some pew-pew-pew in there, too. The first season didn't get great critical acclaim, but I suspect that's mostly due to the pilot episode trying to fool the execs into thinking this would be more like "Family Guy" Seth MacFarlane than Star Trek nerd Seth MacFarlane; years two and three did get all sorts of praise, but still no renewal decision. It's an expensive show to make, and the streaming landscape is finding its footing after too many services flooded the market, but I'd sure rather have more seasons of The Orville than just about anything else Hulu/Disney greenlights. All three seasons of The Orville can be seen on both Hulu and Disney+.

  • JodiB
    Jodi Balfour is a standout among standouts as astronaut/politician Ellen Waverly Wilson
    For all Mankind. This awesome alternate-history drama from the wondrous mind of Ronald D. Moore (DS9, Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) postulates that the Americans were beaten to the moon by the Soviet Union in 1969. From that point, history diverges from what we know and the race to the moon becomes the plan to occupy the moon becomes the push to go to Mars, with the full Cold War backdrop and all the mistrust and politics and secrecy that goes with it. The show focuses on NASA and a core group of characters there, but in the background we also see bits and pieces of significant events going differently, from presidential elections to a Beatle reunion to a very different type of technological advancement than what we've lived through in our reality thanks to a never-mothballed space race. Each season begins with a time jump of roughly ten years, so we get the ’70s in season 1, the ’80s in season 2, and the ’90s in season 3, with a tease for season 4 in the 2000s, which at last report was in post-production (so maybe we'll get to see it even with the strike on?). It is brilliant and deserves all its accolades and more. For all Mankind streams on Apple TV+.

  • Severance
    "I am certain you will remain with me in spirit, in some deep and yet completely unaccessible corner of my mind."
    Severance. Imagine the ultimate work/life balance. That's the premise of Severance, which follows Adam Scott's character Mark Scout into a new job as a "Macrodata Refinement" worker at Lumen Industries that requires him to undergo a procedure that separates his mind into two parts: One for work (or, the "innie" persona), one for home (the "outie"). How the personas diverge and differ becomes one part of the drama while the other revolves around just what mysterious job Mark and his team are doing for Lumen. Creepy and fascinating, the writing is amazing and the performances are great, not just form Scott, but Christopher Walken, Dichen Lachman, John Turturro, Patricia Arquette, really everyone in the thing. Season two was nearing completion when the strike hit, but season one is ready for your viewing enjoyment on Apple TV+.

  • The Diplomat
    The Diplomat. Keri Russell's come along way from her Felicity days. Here she plays a reluctant U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, navigating political intrigue, a possibly corrupt Prime Minister, machinations from the U.S. President (Michael McKeon)'s team to draft her as a replacement for the Vice President, and a former State Department husband (Rufus Sewell) that can't help but stick his nose in where it isn't wanted. Just the one season so far, on Netflix.

  • A League of Their Own
    D'arcy Carden is but one of the reasons this is a great show
    A League of Their Own. This remake/reinterpretation/spinoff of the Geena Davis/Tom Hanks film of the same name follows the Rockford Peaches of the World War II-era All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Its first season was terrific, with a lot more drama and depth (and queerness) to the characters than was possible in the 1990 movie, and I was really looking forward to season two. Then the suits at Amazon Prime cut the season order down to four episodes and declared that would be that, effectively cancelling it with a little going away gift that Collider likens to a mere participation ribbon and a slap in the face of the show's passionate viewership. But this is Amazon we're talking about, and face-slaps might be the best one can expect from such a predatory corporation. If you've got Prime, great, watch it there. If you don't, well, there are workarounds and f%#& Amazon.

  • Picard
    Why showrunners have not been running over each other to woo Jonathan Frakes to direct their shows is beyond me. Frakes is fantastic.
    Star Trek: Picard season 3. I, of course, have very high standards when it comes to Star Trek programming, which is why I specify "season 3." Seasons 1 and 2 both start out strong, with 1 falling apart right near the end of the ten episode run and 2 going off the rails about halfway in. They're still enjoyable, if flawed, and there's stuff in those episodes that informs some of season 3, so if you're a completist, by all means, just beware of plot holes. On the other hand, season 3 is a masterpiece and a wonderful coda for the Next Generation characters. It's not to be missed. Written and produced by massive Trek fans, notably showrunner Terry Matalas, it does presume the viewer has knowledge of at least the basics of Trekdom, so if you go in cold it might be a challenge; still, not to be missed. Streaming on Paramount+.

  • Strange New Worlds
    It's not perfect, but it is pretty damn good.
    Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 1. Similarly, the prequel series featuring Captain Pike and the crew of the pre-Kirk USS Enterprise is wonderfully good. I specify season 1 here just because it's consistently terrific from start to finish (though I do have a couple of quibbles, mostly Gorn-related), while the currently-running season 2 hasn't been as impressive, at least to me. Not that it hasn't tried; there have been some ambitious things tackled in the current season and it's also worth your time, but year 1 is so solid that it gets an isolated shoutout. (I would also include the entirety of the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks in this list, but for that one you really do need to be a hard-core Trek nerd to truly appreciate it in all its glorious goofiness.) Paramount+.

  • Outlander
    Not everyone's idea of deep TV, sure, but it is quite well done
    Outlander. It's a time-travel romance novel on television. Once you accept that, you can enjoy it for its quality of production and character and historical depth while overlooking (or not) the co-lead being a hunky guy that might as well be the model for every Harlequin bodice-ripper book cover (he's a good actor, so just run with it). I gravitated to it because it was developed by the aforementioned Ronald D. Moore, who, as we've established, is awesome. The story follows Claire, who finds herself mysteriously transported from the 1950s to the 18th century in Scotland. Over the seasons, the locale shifts from UK to France to the American colonies in the runup to the Revolutionary War. It's fun, well-made, a little sexy and a lot violent in an historically appropriate way. The first five seasons are on Netflix, the sixth is on non-US Netflix, and the current year 7 is running on Starz.

  • Ted Lasso
    We can all aspire to be like Ted. And he's 100% right about tea.
    Ted Lasso. Just completed, this series spans three seasons of the title character helming a British soccer—excuse me, football—club despite being an American who goes in knowing nothing about soccer. This show is a kind of antidote to cynicism and negativity in the world. Ted, despite his own personal turmoils, is the nicest human being that ever lived and brings out the best in everyone around him. The third and final season isn't quite as great as the first two—or maybe it is?—but the whole thing start to finish is a delight. Streaming on Apple TV+.

  • The Big Door Prize
    "I think I have everything I’ve ever wanted." "Maybe you didn’t want enough."
    The Big Door Prize. This is a weird mashup of shows—it's got a little Schitt's Creek, a little Twilight Zone, a little Freaks and Geeks—but it's utterly charming in its own right. A small town is turned upside down by the arrival of a machine that you might find in an arcade or on a boardwalk that claims to tell each person their "true life potential." This goes over very well for some townfolk, not so much for others. It stars Chris O'Dowd, who is brilliant as ever, alongside a bunch of actors I wasn't familiar with but who all ably embody quirky fun characters in a ridiculously diverse burgh in, presumably, middle America. Season 1 is streaming now; season 2 had already finished filming when the strike hit, so we might get that soon as well. Apple TV+.

Other recent/current shows are also worth a look—Only Murders in the Building, Hello Tomorrow, Russian Doll, plenty of others—but those listed above are my cream of the crop. Of course, even I have not seen everything. What are some of your faves from the last couple of years? Sound off and let me know.

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New Moon

Mizuki makes three

Meet Mizuki. She is approximately nine weeks old and is my latest feline companion. Mizuki brings the StarshipTim cat household back to three, which, depending on your perspective, is either full capacity or one over capacity.

Two was my standard forever until recently. I had my own cat as a kid (a series of them, actually, it's a sad tale; the one I got when I was 14 broke the cycle of early kitty demises), and there was at least one family cat as well. When I was 18 the family cat had kittens and I convinced my mom to keep one, and from then on I had two. Those two moved north with me when I left home and they lived to moderately elder status (17 and 15½), and when each passed away I got another in relatively short order. I got a third in December of 2019, as at that point I had an elderly cat (Bansei, 17) and a youngster (Raimei, 1½), and the youngster needed a playmate. I figured this third, who became Zephyr, was kind of an advance; Bansei wasn't going to be with me all that many more years (about 18 months, as it turned out) and this way her remaining time wouldn't be hindered by unwanted attention from a just-beyond-kitten that kept trying to chase and play.

So that was the plan, and since Bansei left us the norm of two reigned again, as intended.

But I missed her, as I miss all four of my longer-lived departed kitties, and more to the point, I had kind of gotten used to having three. Still, not a good enough reason to get another one. I mean, two is fine, three puts me on the edge of becoming Crazy Cat Guy.

The other thing influencing me was my fucked-up brain chemistry, which often imposes bouts of depression in varying degrees. When in the hold of the more potent episodes, I tend to feel like I'm unfulfilled and not good at grown-up life, but one thing I am very good at and do very well is give kitties good and happy lives. And their presence helps mitigate those episodes. So it was within such a context that I preliminarily decided to adopt a new kitten.

Hiding behind the Sturgeon and the Vonnegut to get the lay of the land

I know, however, not to act on any whims while in a depressive episode. I've figured that out over the years. But the thought continued to percolate and I still felt like the upside outweighed the downside, even after I ran the numbers. Cats can be expensive, to unpredictable degrees; Pixel had basically one bad health issue while in her youth and that was all until she was 18 and rapidly came down with a cancer of some sort, while Bansei was in and out of the hospital numerous times for liver problems, repeated dental issues, and an ultimately fatal long-term kidney disease. It's a crapshoot whether this new one will tend toward the Pixel end of relative thrift or the Bansei end of tremendous financial cost. But I estimated an average cost of $100-$160 per month per cat over a 20-year lifetime (backloaded, to be sure) in 2023 dollars and I can swing that times three.

So I prepped, telling myself I still hadn't decided. I made a three-dish feeding station. I bought a third carrier. Researched the best available kitten foods, even though they likely hadn't changed much in the last few years. Then I started to expand the catwalk in my office to connect to the bedroom. At that point I recognized that "I hadn't decided yet" was bullshit.

So yesterday I checked out the PAWS website (PAWS is where Pixel, Raimei, and Zephyr all came from) for available kittens, and they had none. So I drove down to the county animal shelter in Kent to see who they might have. I got Bansei from that shelter in 2002, and back then that place was awful, it was like kitty POW camp. Today, though, it's much nicer, the cages are much larger, the cats and dogs are separated, and the environment is much less scary, which I was pleased to see.

Enjoying the breeze from a fan on my desk

The County shelter had one female kitten and several males. My experience with Zeph's kittenhood suggested that another boy kitten would be problematic, so I looked at the girl. Initially it didn't seem like a good fit, only because she was a brown tabby just like Bansei was and I didn't want a cat that seemed like a Bansei clone. But I visited with her anyway and she won me over. She may be a brown tabby with similar coloring, but her features are her own and her demeanor quite different. So I signed the contract, paid my C-note, and brought her home.

Naming her was a bit of a challenge. Zephyr's name came to him as an ironic comment on his behavior, which, at least for the first two years of his life, was more akin to a cyclone. Pixel was named after a cat in a Heinlein novel. Raimei (full name Kuro-Raimei, or 黒雷鳴, "black thunder") is named for her appearance and loud purr. But Bansei had the best name (伴星, it means companion star as in a binary or trinary system) and in going for a similar vibe I settled on Mizuki.

As with many Japanese names, Mizuki can mean a number of things depending on how it's written. Initially I thought it would be “三月” ("third moon"), since she is the third current pet orbiting my life, but that's essentially the same way one would write the month of March (third month of the year), which just seems weird. However, “光月” means "bright/radiant moon," “月” means "tiny moon," and “月” is "beautiful moon," which all work, so I'll go with one of those as soon as I have to commit it to writing. (Also considered: 星空 ["Hoshizora," or "starry sky"] and 小星 ["Koboshi," meaning "little star"].)

So far, Mizuki is adapting to her new home fairly well. As recommended, for the first day or so I kept her isolated from the other cats, or at least that was the plan—when I wasn't looking, late last night she wandered out of the downstairs TV room I had set up as her "safe place" and climbed up the stairs only to be scared into hiding by the mean big cat who acted like she owns the place. I finally found her under the sofa, which took some effort as the underneath is only accessible from the back. Today she's bolder, more exploratory, and the remaining hurdle is just the adjustment period for Raimei. Zephyr has already shown indications of curiosity rather than hostility, but Raimei will need reassurances that she's not being replaced before she stops feeling threatened. We're working on it.