A Tale of Two Treks

Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Antz and A Bug’s Life. 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sometimes 2 movies or TV shows with the same premise are released at the same time. Some people say that it’s the result of the zeitgeist. I believe that they are usually a coincidence since there is so much media. Either way, it’s the perfect setup for a head-to-head comparison, and unless you traveled through the wormhole to a desolate planet (or maybe just aren’t a trekkie), then you should know that we are witnessing the greatest TV show fight of all: The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery? Continue reading “A Tale of Two Treks”

How Realistic is “Silicon Valley”?

Earlier this week, I was asked by someone visiting the Bay Area how realistic the HBO show Silicon Valley is. Well, I just checked my site analytics and surprisingly, only 10% of my website visitors live in California*, so I’m going to pretend like the rest of you are deeply interested in my opinion because you don’t have a first-hand account. Also, I will completely avoid spoilers.

First, my credentials are that I regularly bike past the building that is used as the exterior shot for Pied Piper’s office (evidence from Google Maps). I also have been known to complain about some of the technical explanations in the show. Hopefully that’s sufficient proof.

So to answer the question, I would break down my answer into 2 primary parts. First, TV is supposed to be exciting and dramatic, so crazy stuff is happening to the Pied Piper team every episode. In reality, a startup doesn’t go through a potentially fatal problem on a weekly basis with hilarious outcomes that are often resolved in minutes. I criticize Silicon Valley for often resolving issues in a way such that no progress was made, but that actually might be accurate to the roller-coaster that startups can be.

A real startup probably has a handful of absurd events through its entire lifetime that are the stories that get passed around. Think of it like Full House or Everyone Loves Raymond: your family hopefully doesn’t have as much drama as they do, and usually problems aren’t resolved so easily. However, you have some funny stories about your siblings over years of growing up together that you bring out appropriately.

Second, the humor in the show comes from the totally absurd but also kind of familiar. I can’t say I have ever exactly encountered as dry as Gilfoyle or a buffoon like Bachman, but I am definitely familiar with the stereotypes they’re pushing. And there are a lot of interactions between engineers and non-engineers that aren’t quite as broken as on the TV show but seem possible. My usual feeling is that most situations haven’t happened to me exactly, but I could absolutely see it happening.

Overall, I would say that Silicon Valley is realistic and well-researched but obviously dramatized to make good television. As a software engineer, it’s nice to have a show ostensibly about me so I can critique the details of it. Now I understand what it’s like for doctors to watch House, police offers to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or zombie apocalypse survivors to watch The Walking Dead.

One more thing I want to address are the sets and offices. I don’t know what general perceptions are, but that’s definitely what SV tech offices looks like. The food trucks, open office layouts, and drink fridges are quite accurate for companies big and small here. I mention this because maybe a year ago, I read The Circle and looked up book reviews afterwards. Most of the critiques were fair, but I was surprised by the number of people who insisted that the descriptions of the office were totally ridiculous. Out of the anything in the book, I thought that the office descriptions were some of the most plausible details.

Hopefully that gives you more context on the show, and I hope you’re enjoying it. If you’re not watching Silicon Valley, I recommend it both because I think it’s worth the time and because it’s a good way to destress after Game of Thrones. And yes, I am assuming that you’re watching Game of Thrones because everyone is watching it.

*fun fact: in the last month, there are only 2 states from which I have 0 visitors: Alaska and South Dakota.

I finished Battlestar Galactica, and I have to talk about it

In this age of binge-watching, I continue to be bad at watching TV shows with any haste. I’m actually quite proud that Julie and I finished watching all 4 seasons and 75 episodes of Battlestar Galactica (BSG) in about 3 years. Although I’m about 6 years too late, I have to talk about it.

If you haven’t watched the show, there are spoilers ahead, and even if you don’t mind the spoilers, this post probably won’t make much. If you have not watched BSG and enjoy sci-fi, I recommend it.

Continue reading “I finished Battlestar Galactica, and I have to talk about it”

Watching TV Alone Together

Julie and I watched 4 episodes on Sunday, 3 on Monday, 2 on Wednesday, and 1 on Thursday to finish the first season of “Game of Thrones“. The last show I watched this quickly was 7 seasons of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” in 1 summer during high school, so we’re enjoying “Game of Thrones” a lot.

For awhile, I was quite stubborn about watching “Game of Thrones”. My friends watched last season together on Sunday nights, and I even attended a few viewing parties and just did other things instead. Out of pride or forgetfulness, I can’t recall why I refused to watch, but with the 3rd season starting last weekend and Julie reading the books, it made sense to catch up as quickly as possible to share the experience with my friends.

Binge-viewing is now a recognized behavior among TV viewers. Thanks to services like Netflix, people can easily watch an entire TV show over the course of a few days instead of needing to get the DVDs or wait for re-runs or new episodes. An interesting consequence noted in the NYT article is that cliffhangers aren’t as relevant for binge-viewers who are launched straight into the next episode. In fact, the so-called “hoarders” even prefer to wait for a TV show to finish its run before watching it all in one go.

Another hidden cost to increased availability of past TV shows is that TV doesn’t have the same global feel to it, where everyone was sharing the experience simultaneously, albeit individually at home. One factor is that we don’t have to watch TV live. A few years ago, it was unfortunate when you couldn’t be home for your favorite show and needed to tape it. And if it took more than a day to watch, you had to deal with spoilers at lunch the next day. Another factor is that current TV may not garner the same audience. Why should I spend my time watching a possibly bad show when I can watch a classic instead?

I have mentioned a few shows I have watched recently, and I’m sorry to say that I often wasn’t keeping up with those well, either. Every few weeks, I would catch up on the last few episodes of “30 Rock” or “Dollhouse” or “Avatar”, while my friends bugged me about the past episodes I hadn’t watched yet. Without Hulu, I might never have kept up, and without Netflix, I might never have watched Arrested Development and missed out on those experiences. But with these services, I don’t feel the need to be in front of my TV at a certain time, and I’m losing out on the shared experience around that.

That shared experience is what I’m hoping to reclaim with “Game of Thrones”. There are politics and battles everywhere, and I would like to be able to speculate wildly on what might happen next. For example, I went out to dinner with family friends last week, and we realized that we had been watching the BBC “Sherlock” show, which ended the 2nd season with a cliffhanger. We had different theories about the mysteries and how they would transition into the new season. Despite having not talked about it before, TV situated us both in the same experience without having shared anything before, and that’s pretty cool.

Anyways, I recommend that you all watch “Game of Thrones”. It’s bloody, and there’s more nudity than the plot requires, but it’s HBO. And maybe we’ll never be able to speculate wildly, since the TV series is following the fantasy books, but it’s enraptured a lot of my friends, and sharing this experience seems like an okay application of peer pressure.

Reflecting on “30 Rock”

In 3rd grade, my dad decided that my sisters and I should no longer be allowed to watch TV. In the coming years, we picked up a few shows (Enterprise and House, to be specific) that we watched for exactly that time slot, but turning on the TV just “to see what’s on” ended. During senior year of high school, however, there were maybe a handful of times when I just turned on the TV in the evening to see what was on. Once, I watched a PBS documentary about penguins. Another time, I stumbled across 30 Rock, an apparently new sitcom that instantly hooked me.

Back then, I was pretty negative about pop culture: I thought that all top 40 music lacked any real musical value, and TV shows universally appealed to our worst character traits and didn’t really engage viewers’ minds. It was terribly judgmental, dismissive, and smug of me, but 30 Rock was different: it was smart and funny and focused on a diverse ensemble cast. And Tina Fey was a realistically geeky and cute lead.

I scoured the internet for details about the show, which were surprisingly hard to get back then. Fortunately, I had caught the 8th episode (“The Break-Up”) and wasn’t too far behind, except that there wasn’t anything like hulu back then to help me catch up. I watched week after week, and when the season ended, I waited anxiously for the DVDs, which became the soundtrack of my freshmen year at college.

Now, after 7 total seasons, it’s over, and while I’m not emotionally compromised by the situation, it’s still somewhat sobering to think that there isn’t anymore 30 Rock. I have watched a few TV shows more or less to completion now (Enterprise and Dollhouse), but neither lasted this long, and neither became so important in my life.

It wasn’t rosy all the way along: I thought a few seasons in the middle were somewhat weak, and I worried that the show wasn’t going anywhere. They dropped the focus on the ensemble cast to instead get more in-depth with Liz and Jack, which I didn’t like as much. There were times when the shows seemed to get a little formulaic, too. But over the course of 7 years, there are bound to be rough patches. I have often wondered whether some great TV shows cut short (“Firefly” being the prime example) would have achieved the same cult status had they gone through their whole run: it’s almost a blessing that they were canceled so fans never had to experience the inevitable decline. So maybe 30 Rock wasn’t always its best, but I always laughed, often very hard.

Looking back on the seasons, 7 years was a long time. When I started watching, I didn’t know what college I was going to. Now, I’m looking back on college and am working full-time. It’s hard to say that I really grew up with the characters of 30 Rock, but I have become used to it being around week after week. And because I watched it live almost from the beginning, I do have some sense of pride or ownership or something with it.

You know, I’m not really sure where I wanted to go with this post, so I’ll cap it off with at least one thing I wanted to say. Thanks to 30 Rock and everyone involved with it for creating such a great TV show. I have really enjoyed it for the past few years and will probably watch reruns for years to come.

Olympics, No Spoiler

Well, if you’re more than a day behind, this actually does have a spoiler, but the first “big” news for the US Olympics team was the result of the 400 IM Finals, featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. So, if you hadn’t heard, Lochte won and Phelps was out of the medals. I hadn’t, until about 4 hours before it was shown on NBC primetime.

I hear there’s a lot of controversy about this online right now, but I’m afraid to read it in fear of reading another spoiler. Fortunately, my reddit account shouldn’t have any results appear on my front page, but I need to stop instinctively checking sports news on ESPN.com when I’m bored. In case you’re not also affected by this first-world problem of mine, NBC tape delays important events (particularly involving Americans) until primetime coverage at 8PM in the evening. Since the west coast is 8 hours behind London, this means that results are coming out significantly before primetime, and unlike with movies, spoilers aren’t a faux pas in sports.

It gets worse, though, as NBC hasn’t even managed to coordinate their own coverage. The nightly news from 6 to 7 on NBC Bay Area does their job in covering the latest news, including the results that will be shown on their channel immediately after the news finishes. On one occasion, they were polite enough to warn of the spoilers ahead, but even the teaser of the stories have a way of revealing results (“In just a few moments, we’ll discuss the shocking result of [EVENT] with Bay Area local athletes”). It kind of kills the excitement, as you might imagine.

Maybe this has been a problem for years now, and I have only just reached maturity to care about it now. But let’s pretend that’s not the case. Why is this any worse than Beijing 4 years ago or Turin 6 years ago? Maybe it’s Web 2.0. These days, we get news instantly. Many people still get their news from the mainstream media, but for many of my peers, reddit, twitter, and facebook are the first sources checked for news. And since they’re so tightly integrated with our social lives, the news is unavoidable as we go about our normal lives. As I noted above, I have needed to go on a bit of a social diet to avoid the spoilers.

This probably isn’t the worst thing, though that’s the part of me that greatly desires for a sense of superiority in being a luddite. In any case, it’s just another sign, I think, of how the internet has continue to hurt TV. The most obvious effect is that we’re viewing more media on the internet, but the timing of them are causing perhaps irreconcilable problems. TV, except in truly exceptional breaking news, is on a pre-determined schedule meant to feature content at certain times. The internet is a constant flow of content pushed to us when we want it. Live sporting events and news are a good example. Another is prime-time TV: TV networks feature their popular shows in the evenings, and they’ve been losing a lot of ground to hulu and netflix, which allow users to watch content when it’s convenient for them. I don’t have any numbers on it, but I would imagine that the availability of old TV shows online has cut into the viewership of the new shows that the networks want us to watch.

NBC is being criticized for tape-delaying their content and being late to the game. The most obvious solution is to show it all live, but the average viewer (including me) isn’t going to stay up all night and forgo weekday mornings just to watch. I much prefer to watch it in the evenings. Besides, it isn’t really their way: their strength is the primetime content.

So I’ll be glued to my couch for the next 2 weeks after dinner. I got an antenna last week, which is pretty phenomenal. Assuming I don’t use my computer in specific parts of the room and don’t need the 2 end tables that it’s sitting on top of, the digital signal provides a perfectly clear HD image. I’ll be working my shower and other tasks into the commercial breaks to miss as little as possible. It’s a little inconvenient, but the primetime experience is just too good to do it any other way.

My TV Update

A little over a year ago, I had my last update about the TV shows I was watching. Since then, “Dollhouse” has been canceled, and I haven’t been watching “Clone Wars” since perhaps half-way through the last season. So my weekly TV schedule has been reduced to “30 Rock,” which I admittedly haven’t been enjoying as much as past seasons. I have been watching both the new season and the first season with Julie, and the differences are striking. Most shows take some time to break in, and I remember “30 Rock” mentioning early on that they were hoping to catch people a few seasons in, like “Seinfeld.” It’s found its groove and is perhaps more character-driven by the main cast members, but it has lost the attention to the ensemble cast and throwaway gags.

You’ll find out how my movie watching has gone soon in my review of my New Year’s Hopes, but I have still been keeping up with other screen media. First, I have been watching “Arrested Development” for the past half-year and just finish season 2. The writing is excellent, taking running gags far beyond other sitcoms. Second, I occasionally watch the Day[9] Daily if I have a lot of downtime, though I have recently realized that in most cases, it’s better to play Starcraft 2 instead of just watching it. To spare my self-respect, we shall now move onto my next point.

Over this past quarter, I have been vaguely interested in getting into a new TV show. My former roommate RJ suggested a few shows, though I never pursued any of them since I didn’t quite feel the hook I hoped for. When I heard that “Glee” was doing a Rocky Horror episode, I decided to give that a chance and join the rest of the Gleeks in my draw group. As they often do, Ben and George pinned me, and I was as indifferent as they expected. The singing in “Glee” is great, but the plot itself felt shallow. A follow-up effort on the next episode where Kurt gets bullied made me feel that the writers were trying too hard to be relevant.

Ben made the observation that although most people see TV more as an escape and downtime, I see TV as a time investment, which I tentatively accept. I can’t think of any shows I consider guilty pleasures, and I do want to get something out of a show. A show doesn’t necessarily need to have meaning; my preferences tend toward light-hearted shows than intense dramas. I am willing to toss TV shows if I don’t get anything out of it. Reviewing past TV shows I watch on-air:

  • “Star Trek: Enterprise”: I watched the first 2 seasons fairly regularly but fell off for the last 2 seasons. I wanted to watch Star Trek, but it was pretty bad all the way through. In fact, I probably watched too much of it
  • “Family Guy”: I caught the second wave and watched season 4 and probably part of 5. Although I thought the earlier episodes were fairly clever (and went so far as to write a final paper about it), this show also got bad as they relied more on shock and less on the parody and references that I liked in the earlier episodes
  • “House”: I watched the first 2 seasons and probably part of the 3rd as well but had definitely fallen off before the new staff. The show got repetitive
  • “30 Rock”: Still watching
  • “Dollhouse”: That show was great. Unfortunately, it only ran for 2 seasons. Sad times
  • “Clone Wars”: I really enjoyed watching this show for its action and pacing. George Lucas talks a lot about old serials, and that’s clearly the setup for this show as well. I stopped watching when I realized my life wasn’t really any better for watching it, I think

Starting in 3rd grade was the dark ages that led to the huge gap in TV watching. After a trip to visit my cousins who apparently read instead of watching TV, my dad insisted that we were no longer allowed to watch TV except with special permission. Idle TV watching was tossed for the next few years except on vacation, where TV in the hotel room was something very special to my sisters and me. The deliberate effort we needed to put in to watch TV is likely a big factor in how I watch TV today. I probably didn’t miss too much anyways.

Just this afternoon, I felt the call of idle procrastination and went over to Hulu to see what was good. One episode of “Community” confirmed my previously unsubstantiated snub of the show, though I ended up getting caught by “Modern Family” and watched all 5 episodes available. Although the show name and characters suggest a more progressive setting, It uses a very traditional sitcom format and has an “Everyone Loves Raymond” feel. The jokes aren’t laugh-out-loud funny, but I also didn’t do much eye-rolling. I probably won’t watch it regularly, but I wouldn’t mind watching it if I get in an idle procrastination mood.

The 2 Great TV Contests of our Time (or at least the weekend)

Today was a day of watching heated contents with slim margins. Of the two, I’m vaguely familiar with one, and completely clueless but strong opinionated about the other. Let’s start with the one I’m more familiar with.

The NCAA tournaments for basketball are going on right now. Indeed, if you aren’t swept up in March Madness, you’re probably pretty normal. There’s a lot of hubbub about the tournament with many drawing up brackets and participating in big pools, but I haven’t met anyone so familiar with all of the match-ups to have put together a completely well-reasoned and researched bracket. Once past the top 30 teams or so, who really knows how Cornell or UNT did this season and what they’ll look like matched up a Kentucky? I can’t even imagine having followed all of the 64 teams up until now, which is likely why I haven’t participated enough to even get brackets put together.

That of course doesn’t keep fans from being entertained by watching the games. I didn’t know a one of the players I saw play yesterday, but by the end of each game, I was pulling for someone to win. You kind of have to have stakes in the game for watching to be any fun. In the end, you just kind of do some satisficing to figure out which team winning benefits you more and start screaming at the TV.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the tournament, though, is the underdog story. The charm of Northern Iowa beating Kansas (the #1 ranked team in the nation) was the fact that no one was paying attention. You can look at all the statistics and listen to all of the analysts, and no one is going to call that upset. But as they say, “That’s why they play the games.” At some point, all that discussion has to ground out in something happening. Besides, there’s just nothing like watching the lead change twice in the last 10 seconds to be capped off by a buzzer beater.

And on that note, I want to move on to the other great television spectacle: the House and health care. Now don’t run off in fear of this blog turning political: I’m too ignorant to offer anything substantial. I want to talk about its portrayal and why I was so entertained.

My mom, my sister, and I turned on the TV just before dinner to watch MSNBC when I got wind that the health care bill was going to the floor for debate. Frankly, I find a lot of the coverage not particularly interesting, but I came back in the middle of Nancy Pelosi’s speech to what was going on.

When they started counting votes, I was gripped. I mean, I knew nothing about the process,s the deals, the formalities, the motions, but the guy on MSNBC told me that exciting things would happen when that number got to 216, and I kept looking back at the NV column to guess how far away the House was from doing or not doing something. I certainly didn’t stand up and scream when they hit the magic number, but I could believe that someone on the planet did (likely a nerd wearing pajama pants, no less), and that’s a big deal.

I honestly didn’t wake up a happier person today because of the health care bill (though according to some, maybe I should have). For me, it was just a series of 3 15-minute contests where both sides were trying to have a higher total count on their side after months of work. And sure, the commentator can talk all he wants, but I can’t become an expert after watching for an hour or two. There’s just too much going on to understand, and I’m not nearly dedicated enough to follow all of the details and numbers for this to be a momentous occasion for me. I’m just as happy as anyone else to have watched a good show.

My TV schedule

The big news is my sphere of pop culture is that “Dollhouse” has been cancelled. I think it makes Joss Whedon look like a sucker for going back to FOX after they cancelled “Firefly” on him, but at least we got more than more one season and a chance for closure. At the end of the first season, we were worried that FOX would cancel the show after only one season, so perhaps this entire season is a gift. It’s not the end of the world, but it is disappointing. FOX couldn’t have expected much in ratings by airing it on Friday nights; even my group of friends no longer watches it when it first airs, especially since it’s so convenient to watch it online.

On the plus side, we still have “30 Rock.” In its 4th season, the show has hit its mid-life stage. The characters are familiar, the same gags are repeated, and episode setups are getting predictable. I’m okay with that. I love the first season too much to ever expect anything better, and it’s just a sitcom. As long as I keep laughing, the DVDs will continue to be instant purchases.

My last regular TV has been the “Clone Wars” CG cartoon show. If anyone remembers back to the release of “Star Wars: Episode 3,” George Lucas talked about wanting to do Star Wars TV shows, and this is it. There’s no overarching structure as a classic myth or dramatic theme of galactic proportion, but it’s what I imagine old sci-fi serials were like. They’re cheap, exciting, quick mini-arcs with all of your favorite flashy weapons and villains who cackle and barely escape capture at the end of each episode.

I’m okay with soon only having an hour of TV a week to keep me entertained, however, because I need to catch up on movies. Lunch and dinner conversations have far too many movie allusions that I am only barely familiar with, and although “Top Gun” may not be a classic, I feel I should have seen the “volleyball scene.” I was working on puzzles yesterday where movie trivia was very important, and although I think I’m familiar with a lot of movies, I haven’t actually seen a lot of them. My list of movies to watch is long and goes up with each dinner conversation, but I still have movies from 2 summers ago that I have loaded but not watched.

I think I’ll get around to them after I’m done watching “Avatar.”

Buying a TV

I’ve spent the past 3 weeks easing myself into my summer life of job work, cooking, and commuting. Out of our college possessions, Leland and I produced a few nice items among a trove of trash, including cooking equipment, a few musical instruments, and some posters. Before we moved in, Lee had mentioned last quarter that he had a Wii sitting at home, and a mental image of his parents playing Super Mario confirmed that no one was using it. Just last night, I played Mario Kart for Wii with our 3rd roomamate, Andrew, on 32 inches of flat panel entertainment. It’s one of my first major investments in a new item.

Not to say a used one wasn’t available to us. At the beginning of the school year, my drawmate Ben found a 50 inch TV on craigslist for $100. With Dave’s rolling bedroom, we actuallly had enough space to drive it back to campus on our own. When we met our buyer, he mentioned the glare as his primary gripe and reason for sale. The TV sat in a garage converted into a den, with a window opposite the TV. Apparently, when the sun hit that window just right, you couldn’t even make out a purple cow on the TV. The TV was a little old as well, and the factor of 10 discount counted each year of its life.

At the end of the school year, no one wanted to–or even could–take the monstrosity home. Lee and I got the offer to take it with us across the street to our summer dorm, and we firmly (but politely) refused. It was no fun to carry up the stairs, and absurd amounts of video games had turned the screen red. An attempt to recover all $100 on craigslist failed, but an offer to take it for free (assuming that the taker did the physical work of taking it) got 15 calls of great enthusiasm. In the end, someone took it down those 3 floors and away to a women’s shelter where they will have to deal with the glare.

Our next option was to buy another TV. At the end of each school year, many students have 26 to 30 inch back projection TVs of mysterious brands to sell. While certainly an option, Leland pointed out that those not only weighed their worth in rocks but also waste precious dorm space. Instead, we agreed a new flat panel would be a better investment than buying a throwaway to use for just a year. Assuming nothing catastrophic happens, TVs can last for a long time, and a decently sized flat panel TV could become an establishment in a future living room.

We began our search online. I’m sometimes astonished by how much shopping has changed; I remember my grandpa’s shop with rows of TVs in his quiet Gravenhurst shop. There, the best bargain was on the shelf. Today, it’s listed on some website. Instead of having to cross town to compare prices, we can now go to other websites that mine those websites for the shiniest deals. A particularly good one was an eco-friendly Vizio TV from the Dell store. With a coupon code, it would cost under $400 (before tax). Had we known standard market prices, we would’ve taken the deal right away, bt we didn’t want to commit so soon. Good advice says not ot fall in love with any particular house, especially the first one. We trusted caution and for a couple more days we watched for alternatives, keeping that TV in mind. It seems that the Cupid of LCD displays was hoping we’d be foolish lovers as after a couple days, including Sunday ads, we never found a deal as good as that first one. When we went to buy, the coupon code had been used up to its limit.

At first, we denied it by redoubling our efforts to find something just as good. We even tried the old ways and went to the local Best Buy to look at TVs. Side by side, the difference was noticeable, but I double I would ever notice with just 1 sitting in a dorm room. The limited selection and generally higher prices swept away my doubts for why store shopping has been swept away, we went back to the internet.

A few days later, we settled on a different Vizio from Dell. Despite it not being quite as good as the first, we realized we could wait forever on a deal, agonizing as each gem passed. With only an 8 week summer, it seemed more worthwhile to have the TV for longer. After overcoming a most bizarre method of screening orders where our TV was only shipped after canceling the order, we got notice that it would come in the following Monday. And seeing a new TV in your living room helps a lot when coming back from work on a Monday.

Since then, it’s been what we wanted from it. I now have Sportscenter with my Fruit Loops, Super Smash Brothers to fire up with company, and a legitimate display for movies. And every time I look at it, it seems just as good as any one I saw on the shelf at Best Buy