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The Twilight Zone’s Reboot review (also “The Comedian” episode review)

The Pithy Review: The Twilight Zone’s Reboot and “The Comedian”
CBS All Access (1st episode free on YouTube)
Runtime: 56 minutes

What I Expected:
Three visual short stories in one episode (with commercial breaks), each a SciFi/Fantasy parable about some social ill in the world. Also, a narrator to tell us about the moral of each story, just in case we missed it.

What I Got:
One hour-long TV episode with one, hour-long story (without commercial breaks). There's a narrator to tell us about the moral of the story, just in case we missed it. ...And the SciFi/Fantasy parable format is still intact.

Bias Confession: I’m a fan of the original show--every bit of it. Plus I’m a fan of the short story format [0].

What I Thought (of the episode):
I really liked Checkhov’s Wallpaper, the rest of it… was OK.

The plot and moral of “The Comedian” is classic Twilight Zone. It was like visiting an old, beloved friend. However. I also found it predictable and not in a good way. The timing and pacing dragged in places and were tight in others. In the end, It would have been better if it was a 30 minute episode. (Functionally, it would never fit into 15 minutes, the average length of story from the original series.) It was a good episode, just not good enough to get me to buy a CBS All Access Pass. I will, however, go see if the actor playing the main character is a comedian in real life. He feels that genuine in the role. Yay! for good casting.

What I Thought (of the rebooted show):
Sturgeon’s Law comes to mind--and it was coined about eight years before the original TZ’s first broadcast. I have a corollary[1], and it applies to this show as well.

The Twilight Zone’s reboot is good, (the top third of the middle 80% if I’m going to be geeky about it) but it could benefit from the Red Pen of Editing despite sticking firmly with the original show's intent if not format. Yes, I’m aware my love of and awe for the short story format biases me badly, but there it is. While the original show was predictable, the pacing was fast enough that I didn’t have time to think before the twist arrived at the end. (Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time on the dramatic action stopwatch.) I had so much time to think with this rebooted episode. Too much time. I kept checking the clock on the slide to see how much I had left to sit through. The first rule of writing? Don’t bore your reader...or viewer. I got very bored in places. I’ll forgive a certain amount of predictability; I won’t forgive boredom.

I liked that the casting was not Straight White American Middle Class. The cinematography in the reboot is more realistic than in the original--and that’s all to the good.

Jordan Peele[2] as the host is a good choice. While Rod Serling’s dry, ironic delivery made the original show what it was, Peele’s presence and delivery is a much needed update. When TZ was first aired, irony was a rare thing in an earnest, self-satisfied (white) world. Everybody does irony now (and in all colors of people). Something else that has changed since TZ originally aired -- Science Fiction/Fantasy has become mainstream, not counter-culture. Peele’s sober delivery projects a “pay attention/did you pay attention” professorial attitude to go along with the “The This Is Not A White Man’s Show” visuals. What the viewer-as-a-student takes away from the show is, as always, up to the viewer. Peele just wants to make you think about what you take for granted. Which is what Sterling wanted as well.

[0] -- mostly because that’s the one format I can’t write easily. I know how it’s done, I just can’t do it. I have two default modes: multi-book series, flash fiction vignettes.

[1] L’Ecuyer’s Corollary: Now that science fiction (and fantasy) has made it to the mainstream culture, the larger data set shows that 10% is absolute gold, the best of the best in any genre; 10% absolute crap, the worst of the worst in any genre. The remaining 80% exists somewhere in between the two extremes as defined by the rules of its own genre.

[2] Peele is another example of comedians making the best dramatists. I first noticed this with Robin Williams. It makes sense when comedy is a coping mechanism for dealing with bad things. When the comedian stops laughing and just lives it -- projects it, good drama is a potential outcome. The reboot of TZ is where Peele is living. Which, I think, is why the inaugural episode of the reboot was about a comedian.
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The Pithy Review: Losers
Netflix Original Documentary Series
8 episodes, run time +/- 30 minutes each

What I Was Expecting:
Not much. I’m not a sports fan (I hate organized sports in particular), and this is a sports documentary. However, I was feeling like a loser and misery loves company, right?

What I Got:
These were not miserable people. The series has an upbeat tone about not winning when winning is everything. It looks at a different sport and associated notable/notorious athlete in each episode. By the end, I wasn’t feeling like a loser.

The Review:
Netflix’s algorithm threw this into my feed of potential watches to my bemusement. Having watched the episodes somewhat out of order (the first episode is about boxing, so I skipped to the competitive dog mushing -- episode #6), I can attest that each one stands alone. They also give a good look at the sport under consideration and what winners are made of in each of them. They also explain all the factors that went into the loser losing.

After the matter-of-fact episode on Aliy Zirkle, I figured the rest of the sports/episodes should be equally watchable and lacking in overt messaging. They were. Each episode consists of “talking head” interviews of the athlete, the athlete’s family, friends, race officials, and competitors, but it didn’t stop there. The interviews were intermixed with news footage and animations “reenacting” what the people are talking about. The animators did a good job of showing the emotions the athletes while the athletes talked about what they’re feeling in the middle of action that may or may not have been captured on tape while it was happening. It added an unexpected bit of intimacy and sympathy.

As I was double checking details for this review, I found the series, when watched in order, has a larger story to tell and a message to get across. I’m used to documentaries obviously judging and/or promoting an agenda. The director, Mickey Duzyj, does this subtly. He takes a good long look at the different kinds of losers in a Winner Takes All culture that adores Big Wins, Underdogs, and Cinderella Stories. Each athlete was carefully chosen not just for their personal notariety, but for the what and the how of each big loss. He also looked how each loss affected the athlete life outside their chosen sport as well as inside it.

All eight athletes are competent individuals who won small but failed at winning big. The examinations of how they failed to win big tell a lot about professional sports and the culture surrounding them. The thesis of the whole series is reiterated somewhere in each episode, in each athlete’s vernacular. Some of the athletes are even self-aware enough to know why they have not/will not Win Big. Ever. Of those, some still won’t quit competing while others were happy to leave.
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So I've recently started listing to podcasts on my smart phone. Between that and my tendencies to take a lot of snapshots, my phone ran down on memory. So, bit by bit, I'm doing my get-around-to-it projects.

One of those is downloading and sorting photos. Some of that was already done, but I have this inner pack rat[1] that doesn't want to let go of ANYTHING.

Another of those things is using the photos as reference for my watercolors. I love painting.

Something unexpected happened while I went back to the oldest photos on my phone. I started processing my grief. You see, I took them on the way back from driving my late sister to her chemotherapy treatments.[2] Six hours round trip. I'd work for an hour or two at the day job, beat feet (roll radials?) 2 hours to where Belle worked. Pick her up, drive 1 hour to chemo. Wait an hour or so for the procedure and then reverse trajectories, dropping Belle off at her home along the way after seeing to as many of her needs as I could.

In an effort to keep myself alert on the long, repetitive drive, I'd take a different route to and from my sister's place.[3] After a few trips, I'd stop and take photos of things that kept catching my eye.

Normally, I process my grief and other strong emotions with poetry.

This didn't happen.

Much to my surprise, while Tweeting pics, a bit of flash fiction/vignette/narrative monologue/Not-A-Poem-Thing popped up in my head, pretty much fully formed.

It'll be interesting to see how long this non-poetry thing hangs around.

[1] Actually, it's Inner Pack Rat. I've labelled and named it. This is a thing that can/will get out of hand if I'm not constantly self-policing my urge to hoard.

[2] This was the beginning of her long, slow slide into death. She clung to life the way people in horror movies claw at the ground as they're being dragged into an abyss/maw.

[3] There were only so many paved roads to drive cross country. The trip between my sister and her treatments was a straight shot, no deviations possible, unless I wanted to go waaaaay out of our way. I introduced Belle to audio books during this leg of our journey.
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The Pithy Review: Agatha and the Truth of Murder

Agatha and the Truth of Murder
Streaming on Netflix, Runtime: 1 hr 32 mins

What I Expected:
Agatha Christie, tired of dealing with preposterous people, takes a holiday and tells no one to preserve her privacy. Along the way, she solves a murder a la her fictional character Miss Marple. This fictional adventure is slotted into Agatha Christie’s real-life 11 day disappearance.

What I Got:
Agatha Christie deliberately skips town to solve a real murder mystery instead of just writing about them.

The Review:
This is a tightly written, well acted mystery where Agatha Christie is dealing with writer’s block, a cheating husband, and whether or not to agree to a divorce from the blighter. On top of that, she’s approached by a grieving nurse who wants Agatha to investigate the 6 year old murder of a fellow nurse, and both of whom had served on the front lines in WWI. Frustrated with her life, Christie takes the opportunity to “get away from it all” by going undercover to investigate the cold-case murder.

Set in a post-WWI, pre-WWII England, the movie felt reasonably authentic. I’m not a historian, but from what I learned in a women’s history course in college, the level of sexism in this 1926 era drama is spot on and gave Christie good reason to be angry and frustrated with almost all of the people around her. So my assumption of “bugger the lot of you, I’m taking me-time” expectation wasn’t very far off.

As for the rest, the setting in a somewhat abandoned country mansion was lovely, including the dead, desiccated Christmas tree and forlorn holiday decorations left to molder. (The mansion’s caretaker wasn’t up to taking care of the place.) The visual metaphor wound up doing a lot of work toward showing the various characters’ quirks. The plotting was tight, and somewhat somewhat similar to the real Christie’s writing. The issues facing an amateur, theoretical detective (author) were included within the story as plot issues, which I like. A lot of cozy mysteries don’t even think of this, let alone address it. The writer and director did a good job of cherry picking plot and setting details for this film from Christie’s actual published works. As a result it is possible to see where, if this were not a piece of fiction, the Fictional Christie would have mined the experience for the Real Christie’s subsequent novels. Therefore, if you’re an Agatha Cristie fan, there are plenty of Easter Egg-y elements. Plus the movie explanation for Fictional Christie’s missing days match the Real Life(tm) Christie’s explanation.
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Life and Plans and Blogging

"Life is what happens when you have other plans." --John Lennon

Boy, did I have plans. I looked at my posting time line and cursed. Then the events of the last 2.5 years ran through my head. I had to tell myself "an introvert's coping mechanisms includes the internet" because people are still people even if they are theoretically there instead of actually there. I really needed my hamster ball.

In short: I've spent the last 3.5 years supporting three family members with cancer. The first two patients (my sister and her husband--no children)[1] involved providing physical, moral and emotional support while they died. The third family member (also a sister, single & childless) involved two years of being medical power of attorney[2] and primary medical support for two years worth of surgeries and chemotherapy. One side effect of this was getting fired from a job. Another included my mild Winter Pattern SAD getting exacerbated by some mild depression. I'm feeling better now.

And that's why I'm cracking open the Hamster Ball.

[1] I kept running into a cultural assumption that the spouse/adult children of an adult will step in to take care of the medical support when bad thing happen. The assumers get all pissy until you tell them, "Your assumed support system doesn't exist. Both have cancer. Both need support from others." I had to do the same later only with the "Not married, no kids" clarification. (see footnote [2])

[2] During one conversation, I was actually told, "I don't love any of my siblings enough to make life or death decisions for them." And, yes, some of this did occur.
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Thoughts in Wind Farm Country

“Magic beans sold here.”
A world of white whirligigs.
Giants have children.

New Century Flicks--
Hovercars slalom through fields
racing at high speeds.

Lines of chorus girls
twirling out of step, frozen,
and dancing in time.

Distant rows look like...
a mad daisy spinning its
sharp petals like blades.

These windmills are not
iron sunflowers on stilts
sipping aquifers.

Linear trios,
up close, resemble Kali.
Powerful. Immense.
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I think I'll call it George[0]

Anyone who follows my twitter account will know I had some weather based excitement Monday on my way home from the Day Job. I saw a baby tornado form about a block away from where I was sitting at an intersection waiting for the light to turn green.

How do I know it was a baby tornado? I saw it pick up dust, dead leaves and grass bits in a swirling updraft as it headed due east off campus and across the street. (The weather alert that came 30 minutes too late was also a clue.) It didn't do much to the cars waiting on the road, it being only an EF0 (max wind speed 85 mph). The storm had gusts up to 70 mph, so the storm front was doing as much damage as the actual tornado. What I saw lasted just long enough to qualify as a touch down (half of a red light) before I had to leave the scene. A straight line wind (topping out at 100 mph) does much more damage than an EF0, so I could be forgiven, mostly, for thinking George was just a dust devil.

Denial is more than a river in northern Africa.

Also, I'm a native Kansan. "It's just wind," applies.[1] I actually expected to be scared[2] upon seeing a tornado that close rather than just having a WTF moment. My bogglement was mostly due to the situational humor/local history. George touched down beside the university's recycling center - formerly called the "Wind Erosion Lab." The USDA (half owners of the building at the time of the 2009 tornado) took one look at the damage eight years ago and said. "All yours! We can't take the irony."[3] I think Monday was a case of lightening striking twice....

Anyway, the baby tornado bounced back up into the clouds. Supercell-George put down some more fingers of distruction along an east-southeast path hopscotching from Manhattan to Paxico (north of town, not south, where the winery is) to Silver Lake, where it played with fire. Literally. The local fire department had almost won against a grass fire they'd been fighting for over three hours when the storm front hit. George fanned the flames and forced the fire fighters into nearby homes for shelter. It also put out the fire before showing Kansas City a good time. On the whole my "baby" was pretty polite as storms go. He didn't get drunk and kept the damage to a minimum.

Yes, I am a weather nut.


[0] ... mostly because Ursula Vernon has cornered the market on naming things "Bob". Besides, NOAA and the Weather Channel are naming storms. Why can't I?

[1] I once boggled a couple from Japan I was tutoring years ago. They were in-country a few weeks when we had a big thunderstorm go through. They were thinking "Inland hurricane! With Feral Electricity!" When all I did was shrug, they gave me the you're-crazy-look common to all cultures. So I had to explain about all the different kinds of local storm weather, where to go for information about them, what sirens going off means and why NOAA.gov exists.

[2] There's a reason straight line winds scare the bejesus out of me. They do as much damage as an EF1, but over a much, much larger area. On top of that, there's no playing tag with them.

[3] I thought they were being paranoid or superstitous. They said "The facility is too old and outdated to repair." And they stuck to their story, too.
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Open letters to Jane and the Coffee Shop Guy

Dear Jane,
I hope you made it to Radina's in the Blue Earth Plaza on January 3, and that your first face-to-face meetup with your on-line guy went well. He mistook me for you and made a very good first impression. I've been wondering what happened ever since. Judging from the look in his eyes, and way he sprang out the chair when he discovered he'd engaged with the wrong woman – I'd say he's very much in love with you. Or the person you present yourself as on-line. His hope and joy, and his smile, when he sat down was riveting.

If you stood him up, or worse spied in him through the windows before leaving the meet-up, shame on you. I understand that blind dates are not the most enjoyable of things—having been on some myself. I get not wanting to waste your time. However, setting someone up only to leave him hanging is just rude. Not to mention mean. Yes, it's stressful to meet someone face to face for the first time, especially if you lied on-line. However, ditching him without some basic courtesy says a lot about you.

Dear Guy at Radina's who mistook me for Jane,
I hope Jane showed up and that you two hit it off in person, had many dates in the last three weeks and will continue to have more.

If Jane didn't show up, don't feel bad. It was all her. As the recipient of your hello… Well, you left me breathless and smiling. Not to mention wistful. I really wanted to be Jane for you.

(of the hat and book by the window)
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Hidden Figures Movie Review

What I Expected:
A biopic about three amazing women who worked for NASA and put a man in space.

What I Got:
A biopic about three amazing women who worked for NASA and put a man in space.

What I Want:
That each of those amazing women get their own biopic.

The movie was well cast, well acted, well filmed. If you stay for the credits, you'll see how well the sets and costumes matched historic photos. There are several very visually arresting scenes that clearly demonstrate the level of willful ignorance/dismissal of the Taraji P. Henson's character Katherine G. Johnson. The racism and sexism both subtle and in your face. While Katherine Gobli Johnson was the main character, every story has to have one, the supporting roles of Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson were no less important. Of the two, Mary Jackson's role was the most short shrifted in NASA time but her story is no less important. Ditto for the effort of Dorothy Vaughn not taking an every woman for herself attude when she saw the writing on the wall.

If anything, I am most critical of a bit of advertising bait and switch. The trailers stressed the comedy aspect of the story. It wasn't a funny take on getting a man into space with scrappy can-do "colored gals" pitching in where possible. It was very much a film about incredibly intelligent women fighting to get their very much needed work acknowledged and their voices heard.

I give this movie a 4.5 out of 5.
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Because Love – part 3 of 3

Three months to the day after their mutual declaration of intent, Winchestaz wasn’t sure what she felt or thought, but knew it was her expression that stopped Xian dead in his tracks just inside the portal to her quarters.  
He went into full protection mode. “What happened?”
“Dr. Hobarth.”
“What did she do?”
“She sent me a follow-up prescription," she said, waving at the medium sized container. "And gene locked it. I gave it my sample, but it won’t open. I can’t hack it either. It’s too weird. I’d have to break it into parts and reverse engineer them to figure it out.”
“Which is counterproductive.” He grunted and took the box from her. “TerraTech products self-destruct if you don’t use them as specified.” Xian said. “You must have hacked that file, too.”
"Well, yes. Otherwise that wouldn’t still be intact." She gestured to the small crate he was turning over in his hands.
Done with his inspection, he pressed a glyph, the only marking on the box." Ouch!” The box chimed after it processed the drop of blood and opened. Xian took one look, groaned, and passed her the container.
Winchestaz snickered and tossed the top object aside as well as the one underneath it. "I don't need reproductions as long as I have you," she said, knowing it would make him blush. “Mini Power cells—rechargeable even, data chip with … she slid it into a reader and scrolled through the listing. “Manuals, instructions, guides, illustrations, how-tos, and catalogs. She kept scrolling “Lots and lots of catalogs. Hey! A note.” She read it. “Oh!“
Xian cozied up behind her and read over her shoulder. "Dr. Hobarth is, among other things, a spy. She always knows things she’s not supposed to."
"I knew that.” she absently swatted him. “It’s the ‘Good luck on your long-term, mutually-monogamous co-dependency in your chosen form of expression,’ that got to me,” Winchestaz said.  
    "I think she’s an alien despite being a provable, fully genetic Human. I've heard others call her …"  
    Winchestaz made a rude sound. “She's just misunderstood. She can't be all that bad if she's wishing us '…many happy years full of mutual sexual satisfaction--and love, if that emotion applies' on our 'point three anniversary'.”
    Xian rested his forehead on the top of her head. "Did I ever thank you for prying me out of her claws?”
    "It was tentacles and yes. I think so. Once or twice."
    “Well let me thank you again."