The End of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones has been on-air for eight years. Over eight years, I have attended or hosted dozens of watch parties and spent countless hours reading and speculating about what might happen. I remember being genuinely uncertain about whether every character would live or die by the end of the show.

Now, it’s all done, and in contrast to the internet, I enjoyed the last season.

Of course, spoilers ahead.

Continue reading “The End of Game of Thrones”

Thoughts before Game of Thrones: Season 8

Unless you have been living under a mountain of dragonglass, you likely know that Game of Thrones is returning this weekend. I can hardly believe that it has been almost two years since we have had a new episode, but I am very ready to see how this goes.

Of course, spoiler alert for everything ahead. I will also disclaim that as a very average fan, my ideas are at best common or at worst plagiarized from others without citation.

Continue reading “Thoughts before Game of Thrones: Season 8”

My 2018 Recommendations

Many bloggers write a “Books I Read Last Year” or “Recommended Movies” post at the end of the year. Frankly, I think most people do it because other people do it and because they’re really easy to write. It’s a total cop-out for generating content.

In fact, it’s such a good cop-out that I’m going to do it, too. It’s still a nice way to review the past year and share what I did. Here are the some things that I loved from 2018.

Continue reading “My 2018 Recommendations”

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 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.