Star Wars : My Thoughts Before We Wake

featuring art by the late great Ralph McQuarrie

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I’m writing this from the past.

All the way back on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

Because today, Friday, December 18, is a big day. For me. For a lot of us. I wanted to write this post ahead of time. Before today. Before it happens. Before we see it. Before the Awakening. Before the results of all this hype and hope and speculation and excitement are known. Will we be disappointed today? Will we be thrilled? Will our prayers be answered? I don’t know and for the purposes of this post, I don’t want to know.

So I’m writing this from the past. star_wars_r2d2_c-3po_ralph_mcquarrie_desktop_1920x1080_hd-wallpaper-1054461

Last night (for me, here in the past), The Force Awakens had its premiere at the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Which means that people have seen it. A large group of people, a lot of them famous, a lot of them on Twitter. And, while I trust that none of them are going to run and tweet “Oh my God! Han Solo is just Dexter Jettster wearing a Mission Impossible Mask!”, I have deleted Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any other social media app off my phone; deleted the bookmarks in Google Chrome. From Monday until Saturday, I am in as much of a media blackout as is possible in this day and age.

Because I don’t want to know.

I’m not a spoiler-phobe. I actually find that trend more than a little annoying, as I wrote about a while ago HERE. Do I want to know the story? The surprises? The ending? Fuck no. But mostly, I don’t want to know what people think about the movie. I don’t want to read Kevin Smith tweeting “HOLY SHIT STAR WARS IS SO GOOD!” or Patton Oswalt saying “Bad news guys…”. I don’t want to know what the critics have to say. Not a single fucking one. Not because I don’t like critics, but because I have no interest in what other people think about the movie.

I only care about what I think about it.

Two reasons for this:

1. There are at most a dozen people in this world whose opinions on film I actually respect. Who I can talk movies with in a way that satisfies me. Whose praise or condemnation of a film can actually sway my desire to see it. Does this make me a snob? Fuck yes. I embrace being a snob. I don’t care what most people think because I think I know better. It’s an ugly truth about me but a truth all the same. I feel that way about all movies; with Star Wars I feel it tenfold.

2. Knowing the general consensus on a film’s quality undoubtedly taints your experience in watching it for the first time. If the praise is effusive, often times you are disappointed by what you see because it was merely “good”, not “amazing” as every keeps saying. For me, I call this the Something About Mary effect. Conversely, if the word on the film is bad, if people are ripping it, if the cursed Rotten Tomatoes (boy do I hate Rotten Tomatoes) rating is low, you go into it expecting bad and you look for the bad. All you can see is the bad. And you don’t want to feel like an idiot for liking something that everyone else hates. Or you can go the other way. You’ve heard the film is bad, you go see it, enjoy it, and think “That was much better than everyone is saying. I don’t get it.” That happened with me on The Dark Knight Rises. The word wasn’t great on it but when I saw it I enjoyed it. Looking back, I realize those low expectations inflated my opinion of the film. I bought it on blu-ray the day it came out and haven’t been able to watch it all the way through even once. I find it mediocre and disappointing.

star-wars-mcquarrie3I don’t want to walk into the theater today with that baggage.

I’m bringing in enough with me as it is.

Because, well…

I love Star Wars more than you.

Since I don’t know who you are, dear reader, it’s understandable if you find that statement laughable.

But I love Star Wars more than you because Star Wars is my thing.

And it has been since 1980.

When I was four years old, my parents let me stay up to watch the network television debut of Star Wars. It was hosted by Billy Dee Williams (which is how I know it was around 1980), from a badly mocked-up version of what I would later learn was the Mos Eisley cantina. (Did you know it was owned by a Wookiee named Chalmun? Of course you didn’t. No reason you should. But I do. Because Star Wars is my thing.)

Like so many people, the first time seeing George Lucas’s Star Wars changed my life. I was never the same after that. I had, at the age of four, fallen truly, madly, and deeply in love.

I obviously don’t remember every detail of that night, but I remember enough. I remember the opening shot of the Blockade Runner (the Tantive IV) and the Star Destroyer (the Devastator) coming over the top of the screen and thinking the child’s equivalent of “holy shit!”. Being terrified of Darth Vader. I remember the cantina, obviously. Ben cutting off Ponda Baba’s arm. Meeting Han Solo. Seeing the Falcon for the first time. I have very strong memories of the trash compactor and, after that, the image that probably stuck most in my mind: Luke and Leia swinging across the chasm in the Death Star. Of course, the getaway fight with the TIE Fighters was amazing (“Don’t get cocky!”).

But what left an indelible impression on me was the final assault on the Death Star, later known as the Battle of Yavin. It enraptured me in a way I had never experienced. Starting with the scene in the briefing room where they break down the plan (I have this thing. Don’t know what it is, but my favorite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark is when Indy uses the chalkboard to explain to the guys, one of them the actor that played Jek Porkins in A New Hope, how the Staff of Ra worked. Don’t know why that is.) and then of course the visuals, the action. It was so damn exciting and tense. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had seen very few movies, so it never occurred to me that of course the hero was going to save the day. I was four. I didn’t know that it was an automatic thing in movies like this. I was terrified for Luke every step of the way. He’s just a kid from a farm! This is so dangerous! How is he going to make it out alive?

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Ships crash. People die. Darth Vader starts mowing down Y-Wings in his funky looking fighter (TIE Advanced x1). It was all too much.

Then Luke switched off his targeting computer.

I stopped breathing.

Then, it happened. The moment that brings me chills every time I think about it, let alone see it. Seriously. Right now, seeing it in my head, I’m getting that feeling.

Just when it looked like Vader was going to shoot Luke down. Just when the Rebellion was about to be blown to oblivion, a miracle happened.

“Yahoo!”

The Falcon came down out of the sun and saved the day.

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They came back! Han and Chewie came back! If you were an adult, you probably knew it would happen. Because that’s how movies work. The cynical loner always grows a heart and comes back to help. But as a child? I had no idea it was coming.

And when it did, I felt it for the first time.

The jolt. The shiver. The surge.

For all I knew, at that moment, 35 years ago, it was The Force Itself.

That feeling, you know? The potent injection of emotion that seems to shoot up your spine when you see, hear, read something that just hits you in a place you never knew you had. It’s the white soldiers cheering “give ‘em Hell!” to the 54th Massachusetts as they leave to die attacking Fort Wagner. It’s a brave vampire slayer leaping to her death to save both her sister and the world (“She saved the world. A lot.”). It’s the “Ode to Joy”, when that damn chorus comes in and the bliss crackles like electricity under your skin.

I was paralyzed with… I don’t know what that feeling is. It’s a cocktail of emotions, universally known but undefined. Just that… rush. That feeling.

It was the first time I had felt it.

It was riding my first roller coaster.

It was losing my virginity.

Drinking my first beer.

I have George Lucas to thank for that. And I thank him, as all fans should, for giving us this gift.

I also wanted more.

star_wars_movies_atat_ralph_mcquarrie_fan_art_1280x800_wallpaper_wallpaper_2560x1600_www-wallpaperswa-comThe first Star Wars trilogy was an enormous hit. Millions and millions of people are fans of the films. Made Lucas a brand of his own, the most successful independent filmmaker in history. The original trilogy is beloved the whole world over. Especially The Empire Strikes Back, nearly universally considered the best of the films.

But my love affair didn’t stop in 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released. I didn’t think “Well, that cool thing is over. On to the next thing.”

I was in love. I still wanted more.

And to get more, I had to dive deeper. And there wasn’t a whole lot there.

I’ve seen the two pretty-awful Ewoks TV movies more than a dozen times each. Why? Because they were Star Wars. Same with the “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons. I read the seven available Star Wars spin-off novels, including the very enjoyable Han Solo and Lando Calrissian series. I read the lackluster Marvel comics.

But between 1983 and 1991, it was slim pickings for a kid who wanted more of his favorite thing.

But in ’91, a novel was published. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. It took place 5 years after Episode VI and heir-to-the-empire-coverstarred all of the original characters, and introduced a few new ones, including one of the great Star Wars villains (hell, characters) of all time. Soon after, in the world of comic books, Dark Horse got the Star Wars license and released “Dark Empire”, which took place a year after Heir to the Empire. It was a bleak story about Emperor Palpatine rising from the dead to take one last stab at conquering the galaxy.

With those two pieces of fiction, the entity that would eventually be called the Expanded Universe was born. It would live and grow for almost a quarter of a century.

And I experienced all of it. Every novel. Every comic book. Every video game. Every role-playing game. Every encyclopedia. Star Wars became much more than three movies for me.

Even through the Special Editions and the Prequels, the Expanded Universe thrived. The novels and comics kept coming. Some were great. Some sucked. Most were in the middle somewhere. But the Star Wars galaxy continued to grow outside of the movies. In the case of the prequels, it often times eclipsed it in terms of quality. When 2005 was over, and Revenge of the Sith had come and gone, Star Wars wasn’t over for me like it was for so many others. I hadn’t abandoned it because of the quality of the prequels. Because to me it was so much more than six films. The movies were the most important aspect, sure, but I enjoyed the prequel era. While Lucas’s movies were bad (at times horrible), with several great moments, they spawned so many interesting stories between the cracks. In comics. And fiction. And in the spectacular “Clone Wars” television show.

I can imagine losing faith in Star Wars if all you know is the films. I don’t begrudge anyone for being done with the franchise after the prequels. Nor do I blame people for hopping back on in hopes that The Force Awakens is awesome. Please, come back to Star Wars. But also understand that some of us never left. Not out of blind loyalty, but because we’re fans. Not fans of the Star Wars movies; fans of Star Wars as a whole, the entire multi-media giant it has grown into.

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Now George Lucas is out. Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan, and J.J. Abrams are in. The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi.Everyone is excited to see what things are like, what’s happened, what’s going, three decades after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. So am I. Except, I’ve already seen it. The novels hit “30 years later” a long time ago. In the (now defunct) Expanded Universe, a lot happened in those years. Weddings. Births. Deaths. New villains. New heroes. Wars. Adventures. Tragedies. Triumphs. A fully fleshed-out timeline that has been built upon that first wonderful Timothy Zahn novel.

None of this has any bearing on The Force Awakens. This is a new timeline. A new vision. One that only includes the films and animated TV shows as “canon”. And I’ve come to terms with that. It’s fine. It’s all make-believe bullshit anyway. But it will be impossible for me to not bring all that (fictional) history with me. That knowledge is in my DNA. It’s part of what makes me me.

J.J. Abrams is without a doubt a Star Wars fan. But, if I had to guess, not the same type of Star Wars fan as I am. He loves Star Wars and I think he is going to make a film that represents it well. Except, his Star Wars is not my Star Wars. My Star Wars galaxy is so much bigger than most people’s. The question is really going to be, for me, is “is what J.J. loves about Star Wars the same thing I love about Star Wars?”. Maybe, but maybe not.

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What do I want this new movie to be?

I want it to be a good story.

I want it to feel like Star Wars.

I want the Kurosawa screen wipes between scenes instead of dissolves and cuts.

I want Harrison, Mark, and Carrie to be Han, Luke, and Leia.

I want Rey and Finn and Poe to be great characters that I will enjoy watching carry on the saga.

I want it to feel old and new.

I want someone to say “I have a bad feeling about this.”

I want John Williams to make me bawl like a baby.

I want it to pay homage to George but not be an homage to George. There’s a difference. Ask Bryan Singer.

I want Kylo Ren to be badass.

I want Captain Phasma to be badass-er.

I want it to be its own movie but also earn the title “Episode VII” and feel like part of the greater saga.

I want it to be good.

I want it to be great.

I want to love it.

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What do I not want?

I do not want Luke Skywalker to be evil.

That is the one thing that could turn me off of Star Wars for a very long time. Make me lose faith in the new regime. I think it would betray the original films, the films that everyone behind The Force Awakens say they are trying to do right by.

“Where’s Luke?” has been the refrain as the hero of episodes IV through VI has been absent from the poster, the trailers, the TV spots, and the toys. “Where is Luke?!?”

There could be many reasons why they haven’t shown Luke Skywalker in any of the promo material. Maybe he’s not in it that much. Maybe he’s only in scenes that are later in the film and they don’t want to spoil anything. Maybe his entrance into the movie is so motherfucking Orson-Welles-in-The-Third-Man-awesome that they want to hold onto it. Make us wait for it. Because when I see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker, 32 years after he did it last, I’m going to cry. The quality of his reveal will determine whether I just get misty-eyed or curl up into a sobbing ball on the floor of the theater. I want his entrance to floor me. I want to feel like a kid again.

He could also be a bad guy. That would be a legitimate reason not to reveal him until we see the film, as some have speculated. I really hope that’s not true.

Because I don’t know what I’d do. They would have to do it REALLY well to keep me watching.

They could have Jar-Jar and Wickett talk about midichlorians for two hours and I’d still be there for Episode VIII. But making Luke the bad guy…?

Let’s hope not. MCQ-emperor

As this posts, 1:20 pm, EST, I am sitting down with my father and brother at the Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station theater in downtown Atlanta to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. The last time I saw a Star Wars film in the theater with these two people that I love: 1983. So that, in itself, will be special.

If you are reading this within two and a half hours of me posting it, I am currently sitting in a darkened theater with an appropriately StarWarsian mix of hope and fear. I don’t need this movie to be good. If it’s not, I’ll still be a Star Wars fan tomorrow. I’ll be sad Star Wars fan, sure, for a while, but I’m not walking away. When my baseball team has a bad game, a bad season, even a bad decade, I don’t stop wearing their caps. I don’t stop rooting for them, watching their games, going to see them when they come to town. And even if the last year was horrible, I still start the next season with hope that they’ll get it right this time.

I feel the same way about Star Wars. In all of pop culture, there is nothing that is nearer to my heart. That’s why I wanted to write this before seeing the film. To express my undying love. No matter what I am experiencing at this very moment, I will be a Star Wars fan tomorrow.

As for my opinions on The Force Awakens, I will express them. On Saturday I will be recording another episode of the NEEDLESS THINGS podcast where we will have a round table discussion about the film. The episode will be available online soon after the film comes out, if you really want to hear me talk about it. I’m sure I’ll have one or two or five hundred things to say.

I may even let the other panelists talk. If I’m feeling generous.

Thank you, George.

Good luck, J.J.

It’s time. You psyched? I’m psyched.

Let’s do it. Here we go.

Punch it, Chewie.

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May the Force Be with You,

Chad J. Shonk
December 15, 2015

A Few of the Million Things I Should Have Written

We all those moments where we see something or read something or hear something and the only response is to slap our foreheads and exclaim “How obvious! Why didn’t I think of that?”

I mean it could be as simple as the Pet Rock or the windshield wiper on the back of your car, but for me it tends to take form in the movies and TV I watch or the books and comics I read. So here are a few of the culprits that have me shaking my head at myself.

Ready Player One

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A newcomer to this list, the book is the crazy quest set in a future where everyone effectively has checked out of the real world and lives the majority of their lives online. That’s what the book probably says on the back cover (I’m too lazy to double-check, but take my word for it).

That’s not what the book is about. It is about being a love letter to everything good and holy from the 1980s. Hey, did you like War Games (the movie with Matthew Broderick)? Random Japanese monster movies? Dungeons and Dragons? Joust!?!

Then this is the book for you.

And guess what… I loved all those things. Constantly as I read there would be some reference to something I not only recognized, but flat-out LOVED. In many ways it was like my subconcious wrote the book and then gave it to this guy so he could slap his name on the thing.

Damn my subconcious!

The Walking Dead

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Hey, I liked zombies before they were cool. In that between time where they had become a joke. Long after Romero had become a name only a few people might have known. I was watching those terrible movies and the good ones and everything else inbetween.

But The Walking Dead… that could have been me. And it isn’t just the idea of printing money with the release of the tv show or the comics or the spinoff or whatever may be next. No, the problem is that now, no matter what you do in “zombie” comic fiction, you can’t be better that The Walking Dead.

The frustrating part is that it took one guy to realize we all liked the story of survivors. We like the idea of a world trying to destroy us. And we love a story that isn’t going to end anytime soon.

The zombie movie that continues after the credits begin to roll.

So obvious!

A Game of Thrones

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Again, not because of the TV show, but because this is a book (series) which has finally managed to bring Fantasy back to the forefront. Sure the Lord of the Rings films helped put the spotlight on the genre, but it wasn’t until the better part of a decade later that the world stood up and noticed.

I mean, fantasy novels are mostly what I read in middle school and high school. But the main problem with much of those pulp/D&D novels were that they derived from the same original source… Tolkien. Everything was really just a riff on those core ideas. Elves are mysterious. Dwarves are grumpy. Hobbits are called Halflings because we don’t want to be sued. Goblins and Orcs and Dragons and…

You get the point.

Game said that you could choose a different path. Something more realistic, less magic based and still be lauded for it.

Sadly, it may have done its job too well. It might be the new standard, and a new stand-in for Tolkien… instead of breaking the old rules it merely created a whole new set of them.

Cabin in the Woods

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The movie I certainly could have written. Especially in light of Scream being one of my all-time favorite movies (not just horror movies, but overall). The deconstruction of the genre by that movie is really taken to the next possible level here. In Scream you ask What are the Rules?

In Cabin you ask Why are their Rules?

It is an important difference, but one that I think I’ve been trying to find for a while. Something that might look at the horror movies of the 70s through today and anticipate what the next trend might be.

Cabin asks the questions better than I could have thought.

Damn it!

Let the Right One In

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At a time when Vampires were not really the creatures of the night of our youths. Heck, they weren’t even the mysterious creatures from Anne Rice (they must have a decent publist). Let the Right One In gets back to both the idea of the unknown… this otherworldly THING who must be feared, and combines that with the idea that lonelyness is not just a human trait. That our need for connection with someone, with something will always triumph over everything else.

And that true friendship is one of the most important concepts in the world. So why not be friends with a vampire!

It’s like, how do you write a Monster horror novel with heart? Well, this is the way.

 

Well, that’s just a taste, but really, I need to go and try to write something so that my brain doesn’t forget to write the next one of these “obvious” ideas.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Gotta Get Back In Time…

The season finale to The Flash was last night. While I’m going to try and avoid the BIG spoilers, there are some things that peeked my inner time-travel/butterfly effect interest.

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The basic dilemma in the show was this:

Barry Allen (that’s the Flash to me and you) has the opportunity to travel back in time and save his mother’s life (she was murdered by his arch-nemesis when he was a child – hey, superheroing is complicated business!). Throughout the episode much of the thought process is on whether or not he should even try. Whether he should literally rewrite history. And he struggles with this, to undo one great act of evil will could then unravel time so that any good things which happened afterwards might never happen.

And here’s the thing, Barry is a hero. He’s spent the last year since becoming the Flash saving people.

What happens to those people? Will that one guy get pancaked by the truck… heck, will he even be in the same place at the same time as the truck?

Different doesn’t necessarily equate to better. There are going to be paths taken and not taken such that the world he comes back to may not exist in any form he recognizes.

What if he comes back without any powers? What if he comes back and his father is now the one who died rather than his mother? What if his life has gone completely to hell? The death of his mother shaped his life in a way that he can’t begin to comprehend.

And all of that is just a taste of what could happen if time is malleable in any way. What if that isn’t the case? Maybe time a stream that can’t really be altered? If you throw a rock into a stream, sure you’re going to get ripples, but the stream will continue on unabated. Meaning he could save his mother only to have her killed by some other random incident.

Is that what we’re dealing with?

And what if you back a dump truck of rocks to block the stream?

In fact, the last time he managed to change much of anything time didn’t seem to like it very much and made his “updated” life twist and turn such that it would have been better never to have changed anything.

time_travel

Throughout media whenever we are given these glimpses of the way things could be (or the way the characters contend they SHOULD be) it isn’t always the way we really wanted. Much like the wish from the Genie of the Lamp or the Deal with the Devil there is just too many variables and not enough constants to ensure that you are going to get exactly what you want.

The movie version of HG Wells’ The Time Machine (the one with Guy Pearce) had time such that the past could not be changed. It would self-correct almost immediately. And no matter how many times he went back to save his true love, TIME ensured that he could not.

Then again, perhaps Barry gets to have the Marty McFly treatment. His life was certainly changed for the better (at least after the original Back to the Future). His brother and sister are both employed (no longer layabouts), his parents are more in love than he could have hoped for, and Biff is relegated to a car washer.

Heck he even gets a brand new truck out of the deal!

However, Marty didn’t have a choice. In fact, he was simply trying to return things back to normal so that he wouldn’t cease to exist completely. The good stuff was a happy accident you might say.

Will Barry be that lucky? Could he be that lucky to get the perfect life? And even if he does, is it worth everything he knows. Because all those connections with his surrogate father, and his crush Iris, and his new-found friends and… and… and…

So many unknowns.

So many strings that could unravel.

Is it worth it? Is it worth it to play the ultimate What If Game?

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

All My Futures…

I’ve become obsessed in the last week.

On one of my various adventures down the rabbit hole that is the internet I somehow found myself staring at this page for a collection of short stories from a couple of years ago. No biggie, I end up at various projects from time to time, but this one stuck in my head.

Since then I’ve been reading these shorts during lunch, trying to squeeze in one more where possible before my lunch break ends.

The Machine of Death (a collection of short stories edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki)

machine-of-death-cover

The premise is simple enough. At some point in the not so distant future some scientists managed to stumble upon a machine which will, through a sample of blood, tell a person how they are going to die.

That, in and of itself is interesting enough for me. But then they take it one more level. Let me give an example:

Guy comes in, gets his death slip given to him and it reads: Old Age.

Great, what an excellent thing. I know I’m going to live probably another 50-60 years. And then he steps outside and gets run over by a car driven by a senior citizen.

Old Age.

Yes, it is cutesy, but there is also a lot of room in there to play with. I believe the good ideas are ones that get you thinking regardless of whether they are your ideas or not. They are the ones that you slap your forehead (hopefully, not too hard) and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “That is so obvious, why hasn’t anyone ever thought of that before?”

More than all of that, I like the dilemma it provides. If you had knowledge of what caused your death (not the when or the where, just the How) would you want to know?

Think about it for a second… what if you get Car Crash? If you live in any city, anywhere, then you are completely hosed. So you stop driving, you move to the country where the only cars that might come anywhere near you are the mailman and the occasional delivery you have. You live your days like a hermit until, at some point, the prediction still comes true. Because that’s the kicker: you can’t change your fate. Maybe you can delay it, maybe not.

What about the idea that knowing your future will actually cause you to end up on that path? Maybe you get Car Crash, but because of that prediction you embrace your fate. You live as hard as you possibly can until finally you die in a street race (hey, Furious 7 just came out so it’s on my mind). Who’s to say that had you never gotten your reading, maybe it would have gone differently for you?

That’s the things I love though. These simple ideas which cause me to spend hours on the drive to work trying to figure out what I would do. How I might try and game the system. What type of story would I tell in this strange world.

I’m reminded of the old Twilight Zone episode “Nick of Time” where William Shatner and his wife end up with a broken down car in Small Town, USA. They go to the local diner which has this little fortune teller on the table. You feed it a penny, ask it a question, and it gives you a sorta Magic 8-Ball style answer. But the thing is that this couple gets to the point where they are asking it questions about their future at first, and then that becomes almost asking it permission (When can we leave?). They become paralyzed by this little machine.

nick of time

And maybe that’s because knowing what is to come removes much of the mystery from life. Even if it is a good future told to you, it may still be years away. You may just miss the journey if you’re not careful. You could not live your life because you are too busy waiting for something good to happen. We spend our times clocking into our jobs, waking up at the same time every morning, doing the same things day in and day out because of the idea of what the future might bring. Sometimes you just have to make the decision to embrace things as they are and make the change. Don’t wait for the fortune teller, whether it is a Machine of Death or a a strange woman behind a crystal ball.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

The Walking Dead returned a couple of weeks ago.

But I’ll get to that in a second. And actually this is not specifically about the Walking Dead, it is just one of the latest “things” to get this treatment. I’m probably going to be all over the place with this post. Apologies in advance.

I want to talk about this thing that we all do. Well, I’m not 100% on that stat, but let’s say a fair number of internet people do and it drives me nuts.

The people who want to say one of the following:

“This show is not as good as it used to be.”

“This show isn’t as good as everyone says it is (effectively saying you are all sheep who are watching it).”

I know it is human nature to compare something to something else. We do it because it helps us identify things. Comparing helps us understand what it is we are watching. We think – this is kinda like X thing, and I really liked X thing, so I’m probably going to like this Y thing.

I do it too. There are certain shows, movies, books, songs, etc. that I am much more likely to enjoy than someone else. Time travel, zombies, anything dealing with alternate worlds, and Groundhog Day style movies/TV shows are all in that wheelhouse for me. If you have some aspect of those things I’m going to probably check you out.

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Back in college I didn’t necessarily go to see every movie that came out. I’m not saying this as a statement of pride or anything else. It just was a fact. Even without going every week I saw a good number of movies. But by trying to narrow down a little bit, be a little bit discriminate meant that I missed a lot of bad movies. And I know this to be the case because if you’ve ever been up at 2 in the morning you see plenty of the “Bad” movies on HBO or TBS or TNT or… The flip side of that was, of course, I also missed out on a lot of good movies. That was the trade-off I was willing to make because I KNEW if something was really good a friend would let me know. And if something was only “OK”, well maybe I didn’t need to see that one.

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Choosing that path meant that I saw movies that, most of the time, I didn’t have much bad things to say. Oh, maybe I wasn’t floored by the latest Tom Cruise movie, but it wasn’t necessarily a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination. As time went on, those bad movies got forgotten or just relegated to the status of “Eh, it was ok I guess”.

Not the strongest endorsement, and I’m sure I had friends who thought that there were no movies I hated, but they didn’t realize I’d already done some level of weeding before I ever entered the theater. I mean, unless you are watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, there is little reason to watch a bad movie (note, however, I do not say there are no reasons – get enough people together and the worst movies can be the best experiences).

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But what I don’t understand is this need to tear down things that other people like. That other people enjoy. Those people who are just waiting in the weeds… they want to tell you why something sucks or that Season 1 was soooo much better, the first movie was better, book 3 was the best and everything after those things were just absolute garbage.

Note, this isn’t about discussions where something isn’t exactly to another’s tastes. I love to talk about and dissect various movies, books, tv shows, etc. A back and forth about how maybe one thing was a little bit better than something else. A talk in which you are thinking about the things you liked and the things that you didn’t like.

As a writer I love trying to figure why something was done a certain way. As a fan of the form(s) I love to think about what might have worked better from that angle as well. Sometimes those things line up and sometimes they don’t.

I’m not stupid, I know that not everyone likes everything they see.

Why do we need to tear something down? Why do we have to nitpick things?

I notice this more due to the Internet forums. And yes, I understand I should just avoid bothering with them, but I’m clearly a glutton for punishment. And I’m always floored by venom being thrown at certain things because other people like them.

When do you just get to enjoy it?

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Everything we consume has some kind of flaw. Nothing is 100% perfect. But why nitpick every last detail?

It seems like the only time this doesn’t apply is with shows that most people come in late on. Something like Breaking Bad. These things are done or almost done and we’ve consumed them in a way that maybe doesn’t allow for complete introspection. To put it another way, when you are binge watching something, you are more worried about getting to the next episode more than wondering why Walter White reacted in the way he did.

By watching a character arc in a matter of hours instead of weeks or years, everything has more weight and less weight at the same time. It means that maybe those tweaks and changes seem a bit more flawed than they need to be… because that true time to watch over the course of years is no longer needed.

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Case in point: LOST. I am unapologetic about my love for this show. Is it perfect? No, of course not, but I’m willing to live with a few warts for one of the better shows on the tv screen (at least as far as I’m concerned).

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So many of the genre shows sometimes take the brunt of it. I remember that when Lost was heading towards the end of Season 1. Mysteries were being laid out, shit was getting real, and I remember reading a blog where the guy said that he’s not watching Lost because he feels like it is going to do to him what X-Files did to him (not solve the mysteries they laid out). Hey, that’s fine don’t watch, but then when don’t sit there and tell everyone else why they are dumb for watching and enjoying.

Because you know you’ve seen it. That sadistic glee where someone says they aren’t going to bother with something because of some reason. But then spends the next X number of years bashing that TV show because it can’t be any good (if it was, they would like it).

But this is Season 1 we’re talking about and you’ve condemned it, without having watched, because you don’t trust the writers to answer all the questions they are asking (it is an entirely different blog post that would be needed to answer what did or didn’t get answered).

I guess what bothers me is it feels so much like the crap that we are supposed to be over. We’d rather complain about something versus just turning the channel. We sit around and hope to be right about something being bad. What the hell kind of sense does that make? Does the ability to tell someone “I told you so” outweigh everything else in your life? Is that the only bit of joy left to you is to take away someone else’s joy so that they can join you in the pit of despair?

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I’m not sure what part of the human condition this belongs to, but it has always bugged me. I don’t understand people who watch a TV show, read a comic series, and to a lesser extent watch movies or read novels who seem to take pleasure when something popular gets taken down a peg.

And don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily a critique of when a show has jumped the shark. We’ve all seen that happen, and many times I realize it and still watch because of the investment in the characters outweighs some of the BS.

I’m talking more about those people who lay in the weeds to tell you “haha! I told you it was terrible and now you have to think it too!”

Maybe this sensitivity comes from being a writer and trying to see where something might have went wrong is a part of the process, but when you are giving feedback you are supposed to give “Constructive Critiques”. The people I’m talking about wouldn’t know how to do much more than “It’s stupid and so are you!”.

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Why do we need to hate something? Wouldn’t it just be easier to love something different? Why can’t we change the channel?

Of course the flip-side to all of this is that desperate want for someone to agree with you that something is the BEST THING EVER!

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This phenomenon is something I see mentioned in conjunction with the Walking Dead currently. It gets these monster ratings and that only seems to enrage certain people out there. But it isn’t the only thing.

Doctor-Who-logo

I decided to get into Doctor Who this season. Yes, I realize that there have been 25+ seasons and 11 Doctors, but with a new incarnation I thought this would be the best time to maybe give it a try. So imagine my horror when everyone was talking about ending their own viewing of the show with the demise of Matt Smith’s Doctor. So many people were on Facebook talking about stopping, and I wanted to write each of them to say “Hey, I’m finally ready to fall in love with something you love and… hey where are you going?”

Why does it matter? Why does it matter to me that everyone who was watching (and I assuming loving the show) still continue with the new Doctor? What does it matter to me? And why would I even allow it to possibly affect my own enjoyment of the show?

It doesn’t. And yet, just tonight I read a blog post where the writer just had a passing slam about the new version of the show. Literally 2 sentences in a blog completely unrelated to Doctor Who in any way possible. Talking about how this version is just terrible.

And then it occured to me. That little shot at something that I like, without any explanation, feels like (whether it is or not) a personal shot at me. That by me saying “I like this thing” anytime someone else comes along and says “Well I hate that thing” it must mean that they hate something about me. And I’d rather not be hated, but somehow there is nothing I can do about it.

What is wrong with me? Why should I care?

I wish I knew.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Darryl Problem

<Potential Walking Dead Spoilers to follow.>

Walking Dead has been back for a couple of weeks now , and I’ve been reminded of a conversation I’ve had about the show… and about the idea that the best thing the show could do is kill Darryl off.

Because he’s too popular.

Because people would lose their minds if you did it.

Because no one would expect it.

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And for the most part I don’t believe any of those things are good reasons to kill a character off the show. Though, I’m also not completely on board killing off a character because everyone hates them, but I have seen that.

Let’s put aside that we’re talking about a show that kills in the ratings in a way I (a reader of the comic from issue 7 onward) would have never guessed could have happened. And that some of the decisions they have to decide on are as much about business, and perhaps not rocking the boat with such things.

Here’s the thing about killing characters off in novels, TV shows, movies, etc., once you’ve pulled that trigger you almost never can undo the deed.

Yes I realize in comics that characters come back all the time… that’s actually a different problem.

Dead is dead.

In the Walking Dead comics I believe that Shane is dead by the end of the 1st story-arc, issue 6. That means we really only got about 5 issues out of the whole dynamic of Shane vs. Rick for leadership, and Shane vs. Rick for Lori. Not really all that much time.

You notice that in the TV show Kirkman didn’t repeat that mistake. He milked that story for every bit of juice he could (some might say he stretched it out a little too long). He had a chance to change what he’d done in the first go around for the better.

In comics we see these things all the time where a new writer comes onto a book and in order to “shake things up” they kill a character off so that the rest of the cast can react to whatever happened. And they proceed to write those stories and everything is fine, until the next writer shows up and wants to write a story with the character you’ve already killed. So in order to use him/her again their choices are flashback, dream sequence, doppleganger, or just undoing the death in the first place. They put a couple of pieces of duct tape along the edges, wave their hands over the narrative, and hopefully the reader will be so happy they won’t care about the truck-sized plot holes.

TV is a little bit of a different problem. And this show in particular… as far as I know the only way you get to come back after death is as a zombie… so that fix is out.

character-death

Darryl is an interesting case as I think that the original plan wasn’t for him to become the “fan favorite” character. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers thought he’d be killed off early in season 2. But something happened… people liked him. They saw him as not just a redneck like his brother, but someone who might be able to become a hero… maybe someone we can root for… or maybe he was just the opposite of Shane, someone we saw was headed towards a confrontation with Rick sooner or later.

Whatever it was, the writers used that feedback and by this point in the story he certainly is one of the more important characters on the show.

I feel like when you are enjoying a story, no matter what form it takes, that the characters are there to serve the tale, but the tale is there to serve the characters as well. Many articles and interviews with authors have talked about a magical moment where the character starts dictating what is going to happen to them. That is the moment when those plans of killing off a character sometimes hit the biggest snag. Suddenly they aren’t going to go down willingly, they are going to fight and claw for every moment of their lives.

But in the end, I think that when you make the decision to kill a character, regardless of their popularity, that it isn’t something to do just to get a shock out of the fans. Because the shock will eventually wear off, and suddenly that character you wanted to tell one more story about is no longer around for you to do that much.

That’s a lot of generalities, but let’s assume that you were going to write Darryl’s death… wouldn’t you want his story told? His character arc finished? And would you have him go out in a way that is uninspiring and forgettable (or laughable even?)?

I would offer that he deserves… no, he’s managed to earn a quality death. Probably doing something to save the others in his group at the cost of his own life. You have a situation where you not only need to do right by the fans and what they’ve come to love about the character, but also do right by the character himself.

And it shouldn’t be as a lark.

And it shouldn’t be as a “I’ve run out of ideas” thing.

And it shouldn’t be as a reaction to him being “unkillable” because the fans love him too much.

No, it should happen because that is the next story you want to tell. And the ones after that one no longer need him to be told.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Previously on…

I have a saying that I picked up from somewhere (perhaps Warren Ellis’s email blog years ago) after I watch or read something that I feel is just so damn good that it makes me wonder about my own place in any future writings that I might do:

“It makes me want to break my fingers.”

Because, when you’ve seen the top of the mountain and know that it is probably impossible to get there, well, what else can you do but end your suffering?

I’ve been reading the Dark Tower series and King has managed to make me exclaim that a couple of times. Portions of Breaking Bad managed to make me feel like that as well when we were binge watching it.

That being said, the man who does that to me more often than not (that’s an odd sentence) is Aaron Sorkin.

newsroom3

We’re watching the last season of the Newsroom, and I know that every time I see a new episode that I am going to have that feeling all over again. And I know that when this season is over and the show is done I won’t know what to do with myself because it will be another show that was taken away too soon that had his name on it.

I don’t know when I knew about Aaron Sorkin. I mean, I get that he wrote A Few Good Men and The American President, both of which I had watched. But I don’t think I put those things together until Sports Night came on.

A little something about Sports Night. It is a show that should have been on tv for 5 years. It should have been this show that everyone understood and loved and we could all talk about how well written it was. It should have been that show that had it all, great actors, great writing, great characters, and it was tied into the world of sports.

And yet people didn’t watch it. It was cancelled in 2000 after only 2 seasons and 45 episodes and I still don’t know that I have forgiven all of you who had TVs and didn’t watch the show. You gotta make time for stuff like that (sadly I read that it had over 10 million viewers and still got the ax because 14 years ago 10 million was not good enough – today ABC would kill for those weekly numbers).

sports night

I think it may be the only thing I’ve ever watched multiple times all the way through. About every other year I pull out my DVDs of the show and start consuming them. And little by little I’m reminded of how good the show really was.

Luckily, he’d also come up with this little show at the same time called the West Wing, which helped alleviate my loss. Weirdly, I haven’t actually watched that whole show… I’m still working through it on Netflix as I’ve seen about 3 seasons worth and then I think life got in my way (Don’t judge me! You didn’t watch Sports Night!).

Something about the way that the worlds seem to fly out of his character’s mouths. How even when they are saying terribly complicated things that are probably over my head, he manages to ground it in some way or another. He makes his characters complex, living creatures. They show who they are with their words, with how they interact with others. There is never a better feeling than when a monologue is about to begin. They seem to dance in the air, only to be replaced by the next word, next turn of phrase… and somehow, when the moment has passed, I can only sit in my seat and say “Damn.”

west wing

Watching his current show, The Newsroom, I probably say that at least three times an episode. And sometimes it is some bomb that he’s dropped, but many times it is because of a subtle moment… a joke that is told… or even where he’s poking fun at his own style (having characters talk about monologuing and the like). It comes off as… well, maybe not exactly the real world (I’ve never worked on a tv show or in the White House or at CNN), but a world I wouldn’t mind hanging out in. Though I think I’d need a script to keep up with the rest of them.

And as much as I like the man’s movies (The Social Network was all kinds of amazing), I think I love him most when he is killing himself to write all the episodes of some of these TV shows. It is nice to get 2 plus hours, but I’d almost rather get the 10 a season I’m getting now, even if I have to wait a week at a time. It may mean that I’m being greedy. And I know I should be happy with whatever I get… but I am greedy. I do want more.

So don’t think of me as a stalker if I happen to hang out on his IMDB page and read about the next thing on his agenda.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. Each episode is only $0.99. But you can go ahead and purchase the full novel (all 6 episodes) right now for $4.99 with the above link!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Fastest Man Alive

The Flash is my favorite DC comic book character. If I had the chance to write a DC comic (aka The Dream) it would either be the Flash or Firestorm (more on him another time). So when they announced the new Flash tv show what do you think my reaction to it was going to be? Excitement? Marking it down on the calendar… making sure I took the day off?

No. I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all.

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Let me clarify that for some of the non-comic people out there with a little history lesson. There have really been 3 people to wear the Flash costume for any length of time (yes, comic book people, I am aware there have been more than 3 – but I’m just going to talk about the Big 3, ok?).

Jay Garrett – Jay was the first Flash way back in the 1940s. I’ll admit that most of my knowledge about Jay is entirely based on comics written in the 90s and the 00s (my collection only goes back so far). What I will say is that in the later years Jay has been treated as both the elder spokesman for the entire Flash family as well as held a leadership role in the Justice Society of America.

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Plus his costume is kinda awesome.

Barry Allen – This is the one you’d most likely be familiar with if you read comics pre-1986 or watched the live-action show in the early 90s. Barry Allen. And this is the man the new TV show will be focused on.

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This is where I have a little blasphemy.

I gotta say, Barry is boring to me. In the comics he’s the CSI scientist who is a bit bumbling and wears bow-ties and is always late to everything (get it – he’s late, but yet he’s the fastest man alive – ugh). I always thought that the best thing that Barry ever did was give his life for the universe (see Crisis on Infinite Earths for more on that story – in fact, if you haven’t read that one then you should do so immediately. It has everything a superhero story is supposed to have – high stakes, heavy losses on both sides, and it changed the way comic events were looked at). A character who seemed to accomplish more by being dead than being alive. He could be something that all other strove to emulate. He could be this thing that showed the true merit of a hero.

There is one good thing about Barry – his villains. Behind Spider-Man and Batman, I think that the Flash has the best villains. Mirror Master, Captain Cold, Heatwave, Weather Wizard, Professor Zoom, Abrakadabra, Gorilla Grodd… and all of those come straight from Barry’s run as the Flash.

Wally West – This is my Flash. You may know this version of the Flash from the Justice League cartoon.

When I started reading comics – this was the current Flash. And as I read I began to understand where this character came from. DC has built itself over the years by being a company all about legacies. Those ties from the 30s and 40s which stretch to the 50s and 60s and then end up in the 80s and 90s.

3 generations of heroes.

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But it was in Wally West that this idea was really fulfilled. Years before Dick Grayson (Robin) would become Batman (after Bane broke his back), Wally shed the Kid Flash costume and adopted his uncle’s. But it wasn’t a comfortable change. For years he struggled with the idea of living up to the legacy of a man who sacrificed himself for the entire universe.

Wally wasn’t as fast, wasn’t as smart, and maybe he wasn’t supposed to be anything more than Kid Flash.

He just wasn’t Barry.

Until a writer named Mark Waid took over the book and saw in Wally something more than his uncle Barry. Yes, he lived in the shadow of greatness, but that did not preclude him from being great. Maybe he could be better than any other speedster had ever dared. He just needed a little push.

He became The Flash.

So maybe you can understand why I wasn’t over the moon about the Flash tv show. It wasn’t going to be “my” Flash (which I knew it couldn’t be, but still). And I like the fact that Arrow is pretty grounded – this was going to throw it all out of whack. I made up my mind to begrudgingly watch it, but it would be under protest.

Then I saw the first teaser… hmm…

The I saw a trailer for it… uhm, that looks pretty good…

And now that the moment is almost here… well, I might be getting excited about it.

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Bonus – My Top Flash storylines:

terminal velocity

Terminal Velocity (The Flash #96-100, vol. 2) – Wally West realizes that he is going to die very soon, consumed by the very energy he uses to achieve great speeds. So he does the only thing that he can, he passes his legacy onto a new Flash… all the while trying to stop a madman from blowing up his city.

Terminal Velocity was the comic that brought me back to the Flash after having stopped picking it up for about a year. It was also the comic that made Wally West my Flash. The beats in each issue builds to the point where you’re legitimately not sure how things are going to turn out.

race against time

Race Against Time *The Flash #112-118, vol. 2) – Wally is caught in the timestream, his memory swiss cheese… the only thing he has that can keep him from disappearing into the Speed Force is his love, Linda.

Of course, this trip through time leaves a different sort of Flash back in the now. And he and Linda seem to be getting a bit close…

Time travel and the Flash go hand in hand. Two of his villains are from the future. He has a treadmill that can let him travel through time (don’t ask). But mostly I love this story because of one moment where Wally’s world comes flying apart. I remember having my friends wait for me to finish reading the issue so that we could all share in the WTF moment.

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The Return of Barry Allen (The Flash #74-79, vol. 2) – What happens when the man whose legacy you are trying to uphold returns from the dead? And what happens when you realize that he is not happy that the world has moved on to a new Flash.

Somehow this was the first Flash storyline I ever read. I barely knew who everyone was, but I devoured these comics. And maybe it was the fact that I didn’t know everyone and ever moment of history in the book, but I did not see the ending coming.

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is currently in week fourof its 6-part release. Each episode is only $0.99.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Sliding Back Down Memory Lane

Way back when, in 1995, I did what all the cool kid’s did on Friday nights.

I ran the streets, hung out at the local movie theater, chopped it up until the wee hours of the night at Waffle House, and eventually crept into the house shortly before the roosters did their morning call.

Ok, now that we’ve got the obvious lying out of the way, let’s talk about what my Friday nights were really composed of.

Homicide: Life on The Streets, and Sliders.

Sliders Logo

Homicide: Life on The Streets deserves its own multi-part epic post, as being a trend setter for cop dramas which have come since.

And no, I don’t mean that flashy, pop song laden drivel known as CSI.

I’m looking at you Caruso. Take those goofy sun-glasses off, and stop with the tasteless murder scene quips.

Nope, this post will be dedicated to reminiscing about one of my all-time favorite sci-fi television series’, Sliders.

Let’s travel back to a far off time, when sci-fi/ fantasy/ genre network television shows, were kicking butt, and  fairy tale creatures, vampires, or werewolves were nowhere to be found.

In the wake of X-Files, it seemed to a young kid growing up in Decatur, GA that network television was something of the shiznit when it came to providing a platform for fun, dark, and in some cases cheesy sci-fi/fantasy.

The Fab Four: Sliders Edition

The Fab Four: Sliders Edition

X-FILES. Millennium. Space: Above & Beyond. The Lone Gunmen. M.A.N.T.I.S. The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. SeaQuest DSV. Hercules. Xena. Star Trek: DS9. Star Trek: The Next Generation. These were a few shows that rounded out my weekly immersion into the awesome depths of genre storytelling.

But for me Sliders, stood out a bit from the pack.

(Separate nerdy note: both Sliders and DS9 were my two favorite sci-fi shows of the 90’s, but today’s Sliders time to shine.

DS9, I got you, homey. Best believe it.)

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Dude, where’s my dimension?

The show told the story of Quinn Mallory (Jerry O’Connell), a San Francisco based grad school physics major, who in his attempt to create an anti-gravity machine, stumbles upon something even more amazing.

Quinn unlocks an ability to travel to different worlds, or alternate dimensions. Parallel Earth’s.

See why a geek like me might get excited by this? Or even why the writer in me loved this series?

Imagine a mirror universe of our own, where due to a small change in the course of that world’s history, technological advancements, etc., these parallel Earths might have taken drastically different routes than our own.

The possibilities are endless in terms of storytelling, and viewing potential.

Without giving too much away about the pilot (which I think still holds up even today), Quinn is joined in his MultipleEarths-300x200adventures to different worlds by his friend Wade Wells (Sabrina Lloyd), his mentor and teacher, Professor Maximilian Arturo (John Rhys-Davies), and the once famous R & B singer, Rembrandt “Cryin’ Man” Brown (Cleavant Derricks) who is accidentally caught up in the wake of Quinn and company on their first “Slide”.

When Quinn attempts to test his “Sliding” machine for the first time, he and his partners wind up whisked up in a 5 season dimension hopping jaunt. Unfortunately, due to a malfunction of the Sliding device (the timer) during the Slide, the group is caught up in a possibly never ending trip to get back home.

Sliders-Ice-World

Ice, ice baby. Too cold, too cold. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

Starting with this solid premise, the original “Fab Four” traveled to such places where the Soviet’s won the Cold War, women were the ruling sex, the British Empire triumphed in the Revolutionary War, American’s were migrant workers who were traveling to Mexico for work, global warming had run it’s calamitous course, and so forth, and so forth. These awesome “what if’s” were what had me coming back episode after episode every Friday.

That, and the growing camaraderie between Quinn, Wade, the Professor, and Rembrandt. Though thrown together by forces beyond their control, these actors seemed like a far flung Swiss Family Robinson of the cosmos. Every actor brought their A-game to this series (even in the face of sometimes questionable writing). This made it all the more nerve racking to wonder if they’d ever get home, as I found myself caring about these folks with every subsequent episode.

A never ending quest to get home.....

A never ending quest to get home…..

Added to both these factors was a fun and healthy sense of comedy, edge of your seat heroics, and adventure which all coalesce into why this series was at times awesome.

Now to say that the show sometimes, or in later seasons didn’t keep the same quality storytelling as in the first two seasons, would be a lie. At one point it seemed as if the screenwriters were just pulling from whatever popular movie was at the local Cineplex. Don’t get me started on “Twister” world, “Jurassic Park” world, “Species” world, or even “Zombie” world (actually, that was an awesome, though silly concept for an episode, but I’m kind of biased, being a zombie nerd).

And there were often times where the possibility of meeting your evil doppelganger happened way too many times. I understand that on a parallel Earth, there might be a douche-y version of yourself, who hates everything. But when you use that trope one too many times, it gets a little tired.

There were other episodes or storylines where I was left scratching my head, in certain instances as “Mad Max/ No More H20” world, “Magic” world, or even the storyline that would dominate seasons 3-5, the rise of the Kromagg empire.

The Kromagg’s were in simplest terms, evil, humanoid primate Sliders who were hell bent on the domination of all parallel Earths.

I'm going to pouty face you to death.

I’m going to pouty face you to death.

Yup.

So, don’t get me wrong, as with any show, this one had its minuses, in addition to the numerous plusses to be found. Some sources chalk it up to corporate interference by the FOX bigwigs. Others say it was the behind the scenes favoritism/ in fighting amongst the cast and some of the producers of the show that caused a dip in quality.

Definitely do the homework, and you’ll find some doozies in terms of the behind the scenes drama of the show.

But ultimately, as a kid of the late 90’s who wasn’t inundated with all of this extra info, and plopped himself down in front of the TV to watch the latest escapades of the Sliders, the show was a godsend. Cheesy or formulaic though it might have been at times, there were a host of episodes which kept me entertained, enthralled, and just overall enjoying some good sci-fi.

sliders2I simply enjoyed the idea of a group of travelers jumping from one different dimension, to another dimension, week after week, with the simple goal of getting home always in tow. Add to that, you’ve got some fun action/ adventure elements added to the mix, and the 13 year old Robert was satiated.

So if you’re looking for a fun sci-fi show to binge watch, check out Sliders on Netflix, Hulu.com, and other streaming providers.

Enjoy the Slide.

TV Casualty – Please Don’t Feed My Television Screen

This is how it goes come September. Our DVR is relatively clear. Sure, perhaps there is that one lingering show from last year we just haven’t quite gotten around to watching… but otherwise we start fresh.

That lasts for all of about 2 weeks.

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We scan through the new shows, looking through Entertainment or online or even TV Guide flagging those shows which catch our eye and ensuring there are no conflicts with any existing shows. Slowly that DVR fills up. Shows become endangered species as the capacity approaches. 5% left and now the easy decisions get made:

We were never going to watch X show… let’s just delete it. That buys us, what? 3 days?

My wife sees the numbers of episodes click ever upward. Her palms begin to sweat. She’d rather not bother with the show if the number gets too high (Heaven help you if she finds out that pilot is 2 hours – she might go screaming from the house). So now I become a Vaudevillian performer with my spinning plates, ensuring that everything survives as long as it can (or until we make a decision about locking it in for the rest of the year.

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Maybe this is beginning to change though. We’ve certainly joined into the binge watching affairs during this last year. 2 seasons of Orange is the New Black, all of Breaking Bad, and even the new run of 24. And each one of those had a number beside them that was at least 12 long, and in some cases many, many more than that.

And then last year, even though Sleepy Hollow looked right in my wheelhouse – I waited. I recorded the episodes, but didn’t watch them. Had I not been burned time and time again by these shows? And this one looked like the type that begged to be cancelled 4 episodes in. Plus it was on FOX, so there was little doubt.

Imagine my surprise when they were picked up for a full season well before Christmas. Somehow a genre program which walks that line between goofy and serious has turned into the little show that could.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge this year’s newcomers?

We may still be in the Golden Age of TV… I don’t know for sure. I do know that for superhero “stuff” on TV, this next year is above and beyond anything we’ve ever experienced before. It’s an all you can eat buffet.

I just wanted to look at the comic shows debuting this Fall:

Gotham – If you haven’t listened to Kevin Smith’s “Fatman on Batman” Podcast, you are missing out. He typically does these epic 2 + hour conversations with the various creators, voice actors, animators, etc. who have worked on something Batman related. But it was one of his conversations with Paul Dini where they discussed a potential Batman show done where he was much younger than anything we’d ever seen before. How you could focus on Gordon when he was a much younger man trying to make his way in the world. How you could slowly introduce many of his villains.

The tangent probably lasted 20 or 30 minutes, but I was in. Gotham seems like it sprang directly from that talk (though it was developed entirely separate). But, yeah, I’m in on that one.

Flash – I actually have a blog post coming up in a couple of weeks about the Flash. Sufficed to say I will be watching it.

Constantine – I think I have about 6 comics with Constantine in them. I never have read Hellblazer (it is on my list). I didn’t see the Keanu Reeves movie from a few years back (though that might be a blessing). Assuming I do check this one out, I’m pretty much going into it blind. I know there will be demons and magic and that’s about it.

I check this one out, but I need to be wowed quickly.

Agent Carter – I wonder if this concept has enough “juice”. I like the general idea of exploring the early days of SHIELD and the Marvel Universe, but I worry that once the gimmick runs its course, the show won’t have much more to stand on. There is definitely some opportunities for them to universe build, but it could easily turn into the show winking at the audience every week with some random comic easter egg (which Agents of SHIELD did a few times to mixed results).

The other worry is that it took SHIELD half a season to get to where they should have started. Now, don’t get me wrong, by the end of the season it was running on all cylinders, but if Carter fails to get out of the gate in the same way, I wonder if the leash will be quite so long?

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3 from DC and one more from the Marvel movie universe. My best guess is that Gotham and Flash survive, Constantine doesn’t finish the season. Agent Carter gets 1 full season and then it is done (and maybe they end up saying that was the idea all along).

But aside from these, what shows should I be checking out (no guarantee they get added, but I know I’m going to miss a few somewhere in there).

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, I’m not talking about Christmas… that’s still months away. No, I’m talking about that special week that only graces us once a year. That certain something which tells me summer still has about 1 solid month left. That week that informs me that I’ll always be a little scared to go back into the water.

Shark Week.

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Oh, yea!

Next week I’ll begin filling my DVR up to the brim with any and everything shark related. And then, over the next month I’ll watch it in little pieces here and there (cause I know how to party, clearly).

I’ve said it before, but I truly believe that had I not seen Jaws I might have been a marine biologist. Maybe those were just the dreams of a ten-year old John, but I’m not so sure. I do know this, Jaws scared me more than any horror movie I’ve ever seen: because it changed my thinking of the ocean (it may be fitting that it is currently running in the other room as I write this).

My family goes to the beach every year. We have since I was about 13 or 14. Typically the beach of choice is Destin, FL, but it does change from time to time. The reason I bring this up is that my mom knows to find a place with a decent pool, because that is where I’d rather go swimming. Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting under an umbrella and feeling the salty breeze on my face, nose buried in some book. If that was my life every day for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t be too upset.

But to get into the water? I guess, if you force me to. And I’ll enjoy myself for a little while.

But always I wonder what is beneath me. What’s in the water that I cannot see? Where is that instrument of destruction that could tear me limb from limb?

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You may scoff. Say it is an irrational fear. You’re not entirely wrong. It is what it is.

So why, in the name of all that is sane, like shark week so much? Do I get some sort of sick joy from scaring myself mere weeks from when I might find myself face to face with one of them? I certainly don’t want to look into those black, “doll eyes”.

It is because I am fascinated by what they show. I am floored by the documentaries they put on each year. And yes, I know there are a fair number of repeats, but some of those I missed the first time around anyway.

Mostly, I think that kid inside me, who wanted to be a marine biologist all those years ago is exerting his will. Maybe if I had seen the Air Jaws doc instead of Jaws first… who knows?

 

Bonus:

Top 5 Shark movies –

1 – Jaws – Obviously. No brainer. The first, the best, and one of my top 5 all-time favorite movies. I’m amazed by the way we don’t see the damn shark for most of the movie. We see things from its perspective. We see the chaos it has wrought. But until it pops out of the water that first time (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”). The end of the movie. The moment where father and son are at the dinner table and the kid is mimicing his father.

But more than anything it is the scene where Robert Shaw tells his story about the Indianapolis. That kills me every time. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

2- Jaws II – Flawed, yes. But its biggest flaw is that Jaws I exists at all. You cannot compare yourself to one of the greatest films of all time. That’s just silly. The scene where the sailboats are tied together and the shark is hunting them. That’s just a cool scene.

3-Open Water – Not exactly a shark movie as much as it is a movie about being stuck in a bad situation… and then there are sharks later. This maybe my second worst nightmare put on the screen (the first being buried alive).

4- Deep Blue Sea – Sam Jackson gets eaten by a shark. Nuff said.

Actually this movie is horrible because why would you develop a smart shark? I get the study to help against Alzheimers, but why wouldn’t you make them without teeth or something. Everyone deserved their fates in this movie.

5- Sharknado – I mean, if by #5 I mean a train wreck that I can’t turn away from. At the time of this blog I have yet to see the Second One (that should have been called Electric Boogaloo), but I am sure it will be all sorts of awesome (and by awesome I mean really horrible).

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

TV Shows that Ended Too Soon

I was thinking about cancelled tv shows the other day, and it occurred to me that there are a handful of them that I loved when they came on, but just didn’t grab the audience they needed to survive. All of these either had 1 or 2 seasons, and while there are plenty of shows that maybe only got 3 seasons (Veronica Mars – I’m looking at you!), at least they got 3 seasons.

Also, I’m not going to put Firefly on this list, but only because it is a no brainer, and probably the biggest tragedy when it comes to cancelled shows. That said, so many other people have written that article/blog, that I’m just not sure what I could really say. Yes ,it was awesome. Yes, I thought so from the very first episode. And yes, I wish they’d do more episodes at some point down the road (why not an animated show? Then the cast only needs to show up for the voice work!).

So here are 3 shows that were ended too soon:

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Nowhere Man (1995-1996) UPN – I wasn’t actually watching a lot of tv during this phase of life. I was entering my second year at Georgia Tech, but somehow I saw an ad for this show about a man who has his entire life erased (because of a photo he took years earlier). That woman who was his wife no longer recognizes him, none of his accounts work, and there seems to be someone trying to kill/get him. Each episode followed him as he tried to figure out who was behind ruining his life and why. He’d travel from town to town, mailing the negatives to himself over and over (so he wouldn’t have them on him if he got captured). And each episode he’d learn a little more about the organization behind ruining his life.

Paranoia was the largest piece of this show. Our hero trying to figure out who it was that was ruining him, while at the same time trying to stay a few steps ahead of them when he could. But more than anything, I love the idea that everything we have could be stripped away from us at a moment’s notice. That if we aren’t careful about creating and maintaining real relationships out in the world… well, who will be there to vouch for us when it all goes sideways.

In the days before DVRs, I made sure to either record it or probably watched it live most of the time. And when it got cancelled I was scouring the fledgling internet for any news I could find on it from fan sites and the few interviews the creator (Lawrence Hertzog, RIP)Sadly, I actually never got the see the series finale (and it only just now occurs to me that I might be able to watch it out in the internet jungle… hold on… yep. Well, I know what I’m going to be watching sometime this weekend!).

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Brimstone (1998-1999) Fox – It is a deal with the Devil story!

I don’t think you heard me. It is a Deal with the Devil STORY!

The basic gist is that this cop’s wife is raped and the rapist manages to get away with it. So, our hero (Zeke), ends up tracking the guy down and murders him. Sadly, it is not that long afterwards that his own life expires and without additional time to get his good/evil scale back on the side of angels he ends up in Hell.

Flash forward about 18 years and there is a prison breakout of Hell. 113 souls have escaped back to earth. So the Devil makes Zeke an offer: track down these errant souls and at the end he’ll get a second chance at life.

All that would be enough, but then add John Glover as the Devil and you have a masterpiece. No, seriously. His portrayal of the master of darkness was such that whenever he came on the screen he took total control of the scene. Whether it was simply “annoying” Zeke with cryptic words or tying a sleeping bum’s shoelaces together for a laugh, he nailed the role.

This show had the misfortune to come onto Fox during a time when they were blind to anything that didn’t do X-Files type ratings on Friday night. Of course, they forgot that X-Files wasn’t a juggernaut immediately and was allowed to become the top-notch show.

Do I think that Brimstone was ever going to be the end all be all for Fox? No, I think, at best, it would have maybe gotten 2-3 seasons and the fans would have been happy with it. As it is we got 13 episodes that, to these eyes, only got better and better as time went on.

Oh, and Peter Horton (Zeke) always gets extra point from me by appearing in the greatest Volleyball film of all time: Side Out (look it up, you won’t be disappointed… well, you might be disappointed, but not this guy).

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Werewolf the Series (1987-1988) Fox – A show that owes as much to the Incredible Hulk as it does American Werewolf in London, Werewolf was one of those shows that I remember being excited about seeing, even if I never knew exactly when it was coming on. The thing is, I’m not sure it does much reinventing of the genre or anything. At its core it was a very standard werewolf story. Guy gets bit, guy tries to fight the urge to change, and then guy doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to live with this curse.

Except this had special effects that rivaled the Howling and American Werewolf in London. And they did give Eric Cord a goal with one twist on the legend: if you kill the head of your bloodline then you will be human once more. So much like the Fugitive, he’s tracking down his maker while avoiding his own pursuer, a bounty hunter named Alamo Joe (much cooler than it sounds).

I must confess that I’m not 100% on how well this one might hold up to today’s standards… I haven’t really sat down with it in a long while. But I remember watching as a 12-13 year old and thinking that it might be the coolest show I’d ever seen. It probably (most likely) is the reason I love werewolf fiction.

Honorable Mentions: Roar, Sports Night, Journeyman, Friday the 13th the Series. Rome, Deadwood, Awake, and many, many others.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

New Studio Assistant

 

These week I hired a new studio assistant. She knows nothing about brushes, paints or Photoshop but I’m sure she’ll be a quick study. Drusilla is eager and full of creative drive. I met her at the dog groomers over the weekend and I knew then she’d make a perfect edition to the creative family. She’s already begun learning about colored pencils and of course, brushes. I’m going to have to watch her with those–she keeps trying to munch on them.

Drusilla MakepeaceDid I fool you?! Probably not. If you follow me on the web anywhere I’ve been posting photos of this little angel almost non-stop. She’s just too precious!

And, she looks just like Shadow. It was a little surreal when I walked into the dog groomers Saturday morning and saw her sitting near the door. My heart clenched and I tried not to look at her. It must have been fate. She’d been found inside a car engine and she has the scars on her nose to prove it. The small, very friendly kitten, was also severely underweight. I brought her home and within days she was gaining weight and running around the studio.

Up until yesterday, we were not positive on whether she was actually a she and that was partly due to her weight and overall scruffiness. The Veterinarian confirmed yesterday we indeed have a little girl and except for some tummy bugs, she was in good health.

I can’t take credit for the name, but I also didn’t need any convincing. Drusilla was my mother’s suggestions. And yes, she is named after that Drusilla. 😀

Drusilla is already taking after Shadow. She likes to sleep right up near my face and she lunged and hissed at the dog yesterday. She’s a fighter and a survivor, but also incredibly loving. I still miss Shadow terribly but this little look-a-like warms my heart. Before long she’ll be sitting in my lap, snoozing as I paint.

Drusilla

For fellow Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fans, you may be interested in my videos from Dragon*Con 2012. I have two videos from a panel with actors Juliet Landau (Drusilla) and Spike (James Marsters). Here’s Part 1, check my profile for Part 2.

Three Badass TV Shows (From a guy who never watches TV)

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 I’ve been slacking. No skulls for several weeks now. I must be losing my touch.

This week’s skull is symbolic. He’s a Cro-Magnon, this guy, and damn handsome if you ask me. He lived tens of thousands of years ago, and in a way I identify with him. Like me, he didn’t catch much TV. He didn’t have cable. He never got to watch his favorite shows. Such was life in the Ice Age. He probably had a wicked DVD collection, but also like me, couldn’t watch it because his Xbox had long since died. Must’ve sucked some days being a prehistoric guy.

Before we get too deep, I’ve a disclaimer: I strongly dislike TV. I haven’t watched a show regularly in decades. I don’t know who’s hot, what’s funny, what awesome new song came out, or who in the business got caught banging who. When my friends talk to me about Breaking Bad or Timothy Olyphant or Doctor Who or Desperate Housewives of Tijuana, I lose all sense of the conversation. I’m Cro-Magnon in my ignorance. I’m an imposter nerd, so desperately out of touch with all things hip culture.  I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing, wandering in circles infinitely more TV-savvy than I’ll ever be. Thank goodness for that.

That said

 It so happens that even without a clue, I stumble onto the ocassional show. Whether by accident, being at a house party with a tv on in the background, or by virtue of no football, baseball, MMA, or halfway-decent porn occupying the ole’ boob-tube, I’ve chanced onto a few programs. Most lists on the internet are five, ten, or a hundred long, but not this one. Three is all you’re gonna get. I reckon if these three can shake a savage like me off the TV-hating mountain, chances are they’re pretty good.

And so

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# 3. Big Bang Theory

My first mildly-liked show is probably ancient history for you, but new for me. I don’t care that it’s about nerds who remind me of dudes I knew in high school. It’s not important that Penny is somewhat cutish. The reasons I like Big Bang Theory are its brevity, its punch-and-run brand of funny, and it’s brutal sarcasm (or in Sheldon’s case, the lack thereof). If ever I’m in need of 27 minutes of commercially-interrupted stupid, I watch this show. It’s usually good for a laugh or twenty.

 

 

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#2. Game of Thrones

Ok. Admit it. You saw this one coming. On the low-low, I stopped reading near the end of book four. Mr. Martin’s fiction is a lot too sluggish for me, and that’s saying something for a guy (me) who writes Tolkien-length epic novels. But the show, ah…the show. It’s just long enough, and despite my bitching, tends to hit all the major plot points with a nice, sharp edge. Now, it’s true I haven’t seen any of Season 4 (see the aforementioned lack of cable) but I will, and that says a lot. In the realm of television shows, I seek out almost nothing. But for GOT’s brand of death, murder, and betrayal (all of done with swords instead of guns) I will journey out of my cave long enough to watch. My list of characters I’d like to see dead: Cersei, Sam, Margaery, Jaime, Dany….ok pretty much all of them except Arya and the Others. Did I mention I like bad guys?

 

Cosmos

#1. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

First, ever notice how the Cosmos main logo looks a bit Sauron-y? I mean; that’s reason enough to love it right there. But ok, the real reason: Neil deGrasse Tyson is a modern day science rock god. Is it possible someday someone will prove his assertions incorrect? Yes. Entirely. But does he knock home run after home run regarding the truth as we now know it? Yes. Absolutely. I love his use-a-scalpel-not-a-hammer approach to explaining science. Being somewhat a space-dork myself, I’m mostly familiar with much of what Cosmos has to say. Doesn’t matter. It’s all in the presentation. Elegant. Vivid. Gutsy. And most importantly, true! If you haven’t watched this show yet, get on it. Cancel your hot date. Give your kids a sedative (or better yet, make ’em watch it with you). Shows like this remind me just how crappy most other programming is. Thank you, maker of Family Guy, for making something I can actually show my son.

So there. Likely my only television-related post ever. Time to get back to skulls, books, and general gloom and doom. To disavow today’s nerdiness, I’m punishing myself with a few hundred chin-ups, and I’m chasing it with a giant slab of angel food cake. And yes…I’m completely serious.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

The Deep, Dark Hills of Eastern Kentucky

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(note: This post lists many, many television shows. I am usually a stickler for punctuation and ideally each title would have quotation marks around it. But that would drive me insane and I’m not going to do it this time. I’m sure it will bother me way more than it bothers you. -chad)

The Sopranos started a revolution.

The Wire transcended television and became high literature.

Breaking Bad was an incomparable example of quality, integrity, and sharp, bold storytelling.

Sherlock brought us both the Cumber and the Batch.

Game of Thrones leaves people who would never pick up a fantasy novel salivating every week for more sex, swords, and devastating character deaths.

True Detective was (is)… so mind-bendingly good I’m still not sure if it really happened or if it was a dream.

Mad Men. Six Feet Under. Dexter. The Walking Dead. Rome. Entourage. True Blood. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Band of Brothers. Sons of Anarchy. Girls. Treme. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Lost. Louie. Community. Bates Motel. Hannibal.

We all know it. Several have said it. It’s not the point of this post, but it’s important to say:

Over the last decade plus, television has surpassed film in both cultural relevance and quality.

Most of these shows air or aired on cable, basic and premium, but not all. We are, if you can look past the pile of shit that is reality TV, past the umpteen-million Star Search clones that clog the networks every year, in a Golden Age of TV. An age that could never have been foreseen by Philo Farnsworth and his brother-in-law Cliff (that’s for the Sports Night fans out there – “I can make glass tubes.”)

Tonight, one of my all-time favorite shows is having its fifth season finale. Next season will be its last. It doesn’t get a lot of press or awards (it has won a few) and its final episode won’t generate anything close to the hype surrounding the last stand of Walter White.

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But Justified is my favorite show on television.

I admit it’s not the best show, but it’s definitely my favorite.

Because Justified is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of cable TV.

And I love me some peanut butter cups.

In order to explain that (the metaphor, not my love for the candy), I have to briefly mention two amazing shows that I purposely left off the above list.

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Deadwood. This HBO show had a lot of things that made it difficult to find an audience: it was a western, it deliberately paced, sometimes complicated, and written by David Chase with an almost Shakespearean style of dialogue that was at times impenetrable. I fucking loved it.

It was great to have a full-on, serious Western on TV. A dirty, violent, sometimes sexy, somewhat-based in history, western in which the great Ian McShane claimed the word “cocksucker” as his and his alone for all time.

In ran for three season and ended in a less-than-satisfying way, because they were not 100% aware they were making a series finale when making the season 3 season finale. When it ended, we were promised a TV movie or two to wrap things but, but they never materialized.

Deadwood was so good, but I have never revisited it. Because I know it doesn’t pay off. I know I won’t get any more satisfaction getting to the end than I did the last time. It’s a real shame.

Deadwood went off the air in 2006.

One of the stars of Deadwood was an actor I had already been a fan of for years, ever since his turn as the “good” drug dealer in Doug Liman’s Go. The character he played was real-life Deadwood lawman Seth Bullock.

The actor’s name is Timothy Olyphant.

We’ll call him “chocolate”.

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The Shield. Due to the well-deserved supremacy of The Wire and The Sopranos, the other great crime/cop show of the last decade has been largely forgotten. But The Shield was grade-A amazing damn television. Michael Chiklis’s Vic Mackey was Walter White before Walter White. As a crooked cop who always ended up doing the wrong thing even when trying to do the right thing, he didn’t break bad: he broke worse. And worse. And worse.

It was a boundary pushing show. Taking a cue, I think, from NYPD Blue, it tested the limits of what you could say or do on (cable) television. Watching the pilot, I couldn’t believe the language they were using, even so far as talking about a guy’s “cock”. (And yet, they still never said “fuck”. Censors are weird.) The violence, the all-around moral bankruptcy, it was astounding.

The Shield also aired the most single harrowing scene I have ever watched on television. If you haven’t seen the show I won’t give it away, but, near the end of its run, it does something that is so heartbreaking, so unexpected, and so utterly painful to watch that it kept me up at night. Fuck the Red Wedding. Fuck Buffy’s mom dying. This moment… oh man I wish I could get into it but it would take so much setup… just thinking about it hurts me deep.

The Shield was a hit, especially for FX, and lasted 7 seasons. The finale was quite good.

The last episode aired in 2008.

One of the stars of that show was an actor I had never seen before. He played Shane, a cop that teeters over the edge and becomes a monster that even his mentor, Vic, a monster himself, can’t control. He is the center piece, actually, of that harrowing scene I mentioned above. You may have seen him in the last few years in films like Lincoln, Cowboys & Aliens, and Django Unchained.

His name is Walton Goggins.

We’ll call him “peanut butter.”

Two years after the end of The Shield, Justified debuted on FX. Centered around two Elmore Leonard characters -Raylan Givens, a deputy US Marshall forced to go home to Kentucky where he grew up, and Boyd Crowder, a white supremacist, arsonist, criminal hillbilly scumbag- it is a crime show with a western feel to it.

Who play these two men?

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Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter.

Two great tastes that taste great together.

An actor from one of television’s best westerns and an actor from one of television’s best crime shows starring in a show that is both a western and a crime show.

I was hooked before the pilot even aired.

Dickie_Bennett_infobox_3I could go on and on about the great qualities of Justified but if you haven’t seen it, I want you to experience it yourself. The dialogue is razor-sharp, very much in the vein of Elmore Leonard’s style. In fact, before he passed he said it was his favorite adaptation of his work. The story lines, while not groundbreaking, entertaining as hell and always pay off in satisfying ways. The show runner, Graham Yost, also has an unbelievable eye for guest stars, for bringing in faces you recognize but never feel like they’re stunt casting. Margo Martindale (who won an Emmy for her role). Jeremy Davies. Jere Burns. Mykelti Williamson. Neal McDonough. Patton Oswalt. And, this season, Alicia Witt, Amy Smart, and Michael Rapaport, turning in his best performance since Dick Richie.

But, really, the number one reason to watch Justified is that it’s fucking cool.

Olyphant as Raylan is just fucking cool.

Goggins as Boyd is just fucking cool (in a scary way sometimes but still).

The rest of the supporting cast is fucking cool (especially the great Nick Searcy as Raylan’s put-upon boss).

But they’re more than just cool. The dynamic between Raylan and Boyd is a lot like Alan Moore’s vision of the Joker/Batman relationship (nerd alert!). Or, okay. Both their fathers were criminals. Let’s say, instead, that they were alcoholics. Now. Most children of alcoholics (and other addicts) that I have known go one of two ways. They either eschew the fire water entirely, doing whatever they can to not turn out like their parent, or they fall the same way, losing to the genes that carried down the terrible disease.

Raylan is a man determined to not be like his father. Boyd, on the other hand, has chosen to continue the family legacy. But neither are that far from the other. They both walk a very delicate line and that balancing act is the heart of the show. A good man who sometimes finds himself doing bad things and a bad man who I think sees himself as righteous, even though deep down he knows he’s damned.

Have I mentioned I love this show?

mags-bennettJustified-AvaMichael-Rapaport-Justifiedpicture-of-jere-burns-in-justified-2010--large-picturenick-searcy-interview-02cut-ties

When they announced Justified would be ending after season 6, I was at first sad because I don’t want to see it go, but then was grateful. Because I still enjoy tuning in every week. It’s the first thing in my Tuesday DVR recordings that I go to. And if it can go out providing the same amount of entertainment, without collapsing like The Office or Six Feet Under or, let’s face it, most shows, then I’m all for it ending.

2013-01-05-justifieds4_gatefold

So I guess this has just been a plea for folks to watch my favorite show. I’m sure I haven’t done a great job selling it, but trying to sum up 5 years of a show without spoiling stuff and trying to keep my word count down is nearly impossible. I would rather the uninitiated see for themselves.

I know Game of Thrones just got back. I’m stoked too. And Silicon Valley looks very promising. Veep is great. And Hannibal? Hannibal is about to get real damn interesting. But, after sweeps, after the season is over, if you haven’t watched or caught up on Justified, I cannot recommend it enough. There’s plenty of time to get through the first five seasons before the final one airs next year.

Enjoy this Golden Age. A time when television has never been better. When television is, and I’m speaking as a film nut, a more satisfying experience than nearly any film that hits cinemas. It may not last forever. Hollywood has a habit of fucking up good things (see the indie film boom of the early 90s).

Like I seem to be doing lately, I leave you with a song. “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” is not the theme song to the show, but it is its soul and they often use it to end their seasons. It’s been recorded by many, but here is Brad Paisley’s version, the version I heard first. Not normally my kind of music, but it sums up the spirit of the show more than any words I can conjure.

A Long Time Ago… We Used to be Friends…

My wife is obsessed.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you were a writer and you happened to know a Chemist, the best thing for you when you need to insert a generic scientist into your story MIGHT be to make that character a Chemist. I mean you have the access to that knowledge (so your story can be a little more authentic). It just makes sense.

Veronica_mars_intro

With the TV show Veronica Mars, I have access to an expert as well.

Now I’m not 100% on this, but I’d be willing to bet that she’s watched the show (3 seasons and 60+ episodes) more than anyone else on the planet (at the very least she has to be in the top 1% of Veronica Mars fans when it comes to watching episodes) (which probably means I’ve watched every episode 6 or 7 times). We own the DVDS and she’s manged to wear 2 of the seasons out from the repeated play (yeah, I didn’t know that could happen either with DVDs). When the SOAP Network (RIP) began showing the series in order during a 2 hour block every day (and then on the weekends as well) there was many a day I would come home from work to find V-Mars playing on the TV. Think about it, she’d watch episodes with commercials in them because she loved it so much (well, maybe there was a bit of laziness in there as well, not wanting to hunt down that particular episode).

A little obsessed…

So when Veronica Mars had a chance of returning to the world through a movie with their Kickstarter Campaign about a year ago, it was never a question of IF we’d be supporting the project. The only question was “how much would we pledge”. And when they passed 2 million dollars she squealed like a teenage girl. Then the countdown was on, and on March 14, 2014 at 7:15 we sat in a theater, about 1/2 full, and watched Veronica appear on the screen for the first time in about 8 years.

We also have a digital copy of the movie. Don’t ask how many times she’s watched it (I ran out of toes and fingers counting).

Amazon-Kindle-Worlds

Then when Veronica Mars was announced as being a part of the Amazon Kindle Worlds program, whether we were going to do a project was secondary to who the story would focus on, when to place it…

For those that may not know, Kindle Worlds is a way for you to write Fan Fiction in a world in a more legit manner. They license the properties and open them up to anyone to contribute. Whatever your opinion of fan fiction might be, it still strikes me as a kinda cool way to be more apart of the world(s) we all know and love.

With this opportunity and this particular World, my wife and I had to do something.

And that led us to Mac.

Veronica Mars

 

Mac is Veronica’s friend. She’s sorta the Q to Veronica’s James Bond. And since we weren’t going to write about Veronica directly she jumped out at us.

Collaboration is always tricky when writing comics or prose or whatever, but collaboration with your spouse… well, it was actually fairly easy. We spent a couple of weeks after the initial announcement in early February just talking about plot lines, possible angles to take. Which characters would appear? Which season would we set things? And so on. Then once we had the rough beats for things I started writing and over the course of about 2 weeks pounded out the first draft. She read it in 2 parts, the first 3 chapters and then the last 3 chapters. I then took her edits and did another pass on the story with her sitting beside me to really go over any places I had questions about.

The final step, after multiple drafts, was to read it aloud. I’ve read about other writers who do this in order to make sure that the sentences aren’t too awkward. The idea being that if you stumble over it as you read it aloud, then it probably needs to be rephrased. I gotta say, that after doing it I not only noticed more than a couple of odd sentences, but also caught a couple of simple errors, double words, that sort of thing.

So maybe there is something to this technique.

Anyway, we hit submit on the novella Sunday evening and last night I got the email from Amazon that it was now live! Right Here!

That’s right, you can now read a Veronica Mars story by me and the wife, if you happen to be into that sort of thing. And you should be, especially if you were ever a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon appeared in the show and at one point said it was his favorite show on tv (at least while it was on the air). So that’s gotta count for something, right?

dana-whedonverse

This guy likes Veronica Mars, you should too.

And now a little excerpt from the novella (just a taste)…

Get away from Beaver. Now. He’s a killer. I’m in the lobby.

The words scream at me from my phone. Veronica’s attempt to help me. To save me.

It’s been two weeks, and I’m not sure exactly what those words mean.

Oh, I understand the big things. The newspapers had part of it, and Veronica filled me in on the rest. Beaver was the one who killed all those people on the bus. Beaver tried to set Veronica up. And that night, he tried not only to kill her, but almost killed her dad with the bomb, which blew up Woody Goodman’s plane.

Get away from Beaver. Now. He’s a killer.

The words are in English, and yet they make no sense. Nothing about that night makes any damn sense. Try as I might I can’t wrap my head around it. What was supposed to be a special night became a nightmare. Since then, the days have been the better part of a blur. So I sit here at Java the Hut and stare at my cell phone, hoping through sheer force of will the phrase will make a little sense at some point.

I’m not holding my breath though.

He’s a killer.

What does that even mean?

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

am.

The Tribe Has Spoken

I don’t watch reality TV. It’s not that I think it’s beneath me or anything, I just prefer to watch truly scripted shows (and I’m not getting that confused with many, many of the reality shows that clearly are scripted… you know what I mean). But there is one that I do watch and have watched since the first time it aired: Survivor.

Now I know what you’re saying… “that show sucks now”, “all they do is keep bringing back people who played before”, “there is nothing new to the show”, or maybe even “that show is still on?”.

Survivor.borneo.logo

To you I say: I don’t care. Courtney and I love that damn show. We’ve watched pretty much every season with each other missing 1 whole episode (it didn’t record, it’s not our fault) over the 27 seasons. And I think the reason is because we like the game aspect of it as much as the “reality tv drama”. Those evenings when we start to go through the episode there are always frequent pauses as we discuss the strategy being used by Player A or Player B. And this isn’t just a matter of “Oh that was stupid, I hope they lose”. No, we analyze it like you might look at a chess board trying to figure out things 5, 10, 15 moves down the line. We’re trying to out-think the players (with the added benefit of doing from our comfortable couch and with the tv edits, but hey, we’re also not winning a million dollars).

The thing is our love of the show pretty much ends though with the show. We don’t search out fan-sites or strategy boards. And I’m normally pretty nerdy about stuff like that.

That being said we have come to our own conclusions about not only the show, but the strategy certain people use within the show. Now I’m not saying that any of them are sure-fire and if one of us got on the show we’d be a shoe-in for the million because there are tons of variables (heck there are 19 other players to start with), but some things you keep seeing time and time again and you have to wonder whether that contestant had ever viewed the show before.

So given that a new season started up last week – here are Courtney and John’s strategy for winning at Survivor (if any of you ever find yourself on the show perhaps these might help).

I believe that the game is really a sub-game of 4 levels. Different things happen at different levels and there are some overlap between moments and strategies one might employ, but in general I like to think about the game as the Early Game, Pre-Merge, Post-Merge, and the Final 3.

Early Game

PONG

For us the early game is pretty much from the moment you get the call that you are going to be in the game, but it probably should start even before then. This is the time to brush up on your boy scout skills (building shelter, fire, water, etc.). Why wouldn’t you try to come into the game with as much knowledge as possible? Now maybe they don’t tell them until very close to the time to begin, but I gotta think that people who have jobs aren’t in the position to just take off at a moment’s notice and would need some kind of heads-up.

Anyway, that Early Game lasts through about the 3rd Immunity challenge and corresponding Tribal Council. It is during this time that the majority of the big mistakes are made.

The Puzzle Gambit  (better known as “I’m a liability in challenges”) – These include those who are normally older or just not as fit, but it is also can include the clumsy. In those first couple of tribal councils people are looking at who is going to cause them to lose the next challenge. You manage to screw up in one of these, you may never get a chance to prove yourself later on. Really, though, this means that you need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and try and position yourself to play to your strengths as best you can. If you can’t swim (well first, why are you out there) then you need to find a spot in the challenge where your running or strength can be shown.

And for God’s sake, don’t volunteer for the puzzle unless you are REALLY sure you are going to nail it. So many people run the Puzzle Gambit and then find that when they can’t perform (even when they have a 3 minute lead) the vote will quickly turn against them.

The Annoyance – These come in a few flavors. There is the talker, the loud-mouth, the know-it-all, and the lazy person. People are going to be hungry and they are going to be tired. They don’t want to be annoyed. Too many times there is this person who decides they aren’t going to change who they are for sake of the game… but who they are annoys the crap out of everyone on their tribe. Suddenly your torch is snuffed and you’re wondering where it all went wrong. Maybe you should have listened a little more.

The Alliance Junkie – This is the person who goes around and tries to make deals with every person on their tribe. And on one hand it seems to make sense. If you have an alliance with everyone, then your name can never be written down. The problem is that other people are comparing notes in those early days. They are the ones who see you talking on the side with Player B and soon enough they are going to figure out you’ve promised everyone final 3. That math just won’t add up and Jeff ends up saying your name one too many times.

The Leader – This actually can work to the player’s advantage so while there is risk, there can be great reward. However, most of the time this person puts the target square on their back and it backfires. But if they are likable or they have some star power (maybe they are a returning player on a tribe of newbies) then they have a shot to take complete control of their tribe and set up their Pre-Merge Game. It probably has failed as much as it has succeeded, but if you look back at past winners many of them are going to fall into this category.

Bringing up a name – At this point you should be happy whenever your name is not being brought up. Now is not the time to throw Leader under the bus because he said something bad to you and no one else. Now is the time to go with the flow. There is a saying in Baseball that you cannot win the Division in April, but you can lose it. In Survivor I think that means that you need to keep your head down and vote with however the rest are going… remember, there will be plenty of time later to make your move.

So in the Early Game what is the best strategy? I think it is being the Worker Bee. This is the person who never complains, who works just hard enough that no one thinks twice when they do need to take a break. Listen, you’re not pushing things to make others look bad (see The Annoyance above). You want to be a part of the crowd and blend in. You need time to see how things are shaking out and maneuver yourself into the proper alliance. And this is the other reason I think the Worker Bee is a good one, they are the type that get into an alliance with a group and are seen as “solid”. Again, you’re not trying to win the game, you’re just trying to survive to the…

Worker-Honey-Bee

Pre-Merge

The game has been going on for at least 3 votes by this point and alliances have certainly been made. You’ve lost 1 or 2 or, lord forbid, 3 players. Hopefully you’ve found an alliance where you are comfortable with the people and can “trust” them.

The Numbers Game – This is more having to do with the challenges themselves. You need to find a way to win because, yes, you don’t want to go to tribal council, but more importantly, you need to have the majority when it comes to the merge. At worst you have to get things to even. So these are the votes where you make the big decisions of friendship vs. might or alliance vs. weakness. Choose wisely here because if you vote out the strongest guy because everyone hates him… he might have been the one to run just a little faster in that next challenge. These decisions many times are the undoing of a tribe as one bad choice rolls into another and suddenly you’ve lost the last 3 challenges.

Pecking Order – Don’t tell someone where they truly sit within your alliance. People need to be reassured that they are your best friend. That you and them are going the whole way. If you don’t reassure them eventually they’ll figure out that they are 5th best in your alliance and look to deal your fates for a better offer once you  make the merge.

Strengthen Your Core – During this phase of the game you should be getting a decent feeling for who you can trust and who you can’t. Moments like revealing a hidden immunity idol to a teammate can help cement their relationship. I really feel that this is where you need to take the time to get to know the people in your alliance so that you build that bond with them. It is much harder to write someone’s name down who you genuinely like.

Post-Merge

Merge-Ahead

So you made the Merge and feeling pretty good about yourself. You can already see the final votes where you win the million dollars, but not so fast! This is the point of the game where those old lines begin to blur a little bit. For every tribe that just systematically votes out the other tribe until they finally start fighting it out on their own, there is those tribes who have people flip and the blindsides begin to come fast and furious. You’re a King and then you’re a Pauper. What happened?

Threat – You won the first 2 individual challenges and now everyone sees you as a threat. I’m not saying not to win, but you always need to have an idea of how you are viewed in the game. If everyone is suddenly worried that they may not be able to beat you then they are going to vote you out on their first opportunity.

Mover and Shaker – This is the person who wants to shake up things with every vote. They love the high of the Blindside and want to relive it over and over again. When the rest of the people realize that you aren’t a person of your word then they are going to turn on you… before you can do it to them.

Reward Conundrum – You fought a good battle and won the immunity necklace and now you get to not only eat a feast, but also invite a couple of your friends. You choose A and B to come with you and those 4th and 5th members of your group suddenly realize the Pecking Order. When you get back you will find they may have flipped on you. So you need to have these talks with your group beforehand. Maybe a simple “I’ll take A & B if I win… if you win then take C & D” could go a long way to helping you remain in the game.

The Final 3

The End Game

Despite the name, the Final 3 probably begins at about 5-7 people left. This is where you should be looking to see where you are in not only the Pecking Order, but who is going to get who’s vote. You allow yourself to dream of sitting at the end and who you think you can beat.
Make a Move/ Don’t Make a Move – Are you number 4 in your group? Are you sure that your partners want to sit with you at the end? This is where you need to not only do the math, but figure out who you can beat in the end. Too many times someone is so focused on just sitting at the end they delude themselves into thinking they can win and vote the few people out who they might have had a chance against. You need to weigh everything now and put yourself in the best position possible… and that may mean taking a chance for top 3 if a move succeeds, but then top 7 when it fails. Go big or go home!

Did you Make Enemies – If you are the Leader, then you definitely have and there is no getting around that. Your goal now is to remain true to your alliance and hope they feel the same way because the only way you are derailed is if they think they can’t beat you OR you flip on them and lose the jury’s respect (I think loyalty goes farther than almost anything else in the game. When you flip on people that helped get you to the end it doesn’t sit well with many people because you get cast as the Villain.

The Villain – You’ve betrayed people, you’ve lied and stolen from people, you are a snake and yet no one would vote you out. If you make it to the merge sometimes the Villain is the best play IF you are happy with 2nd place. People don’t like to be lied to, but more than that they would like to think the person getting the million dollars is a decent human being outside the game. If you didn’t convince them of at least that much…

The Right-Hand Man/ Coattails – “You just were riding his/her coattails” may be the most damning statement a jury member can say to one of the final 3. There is almost no coming back from that one. So what if you were in on every decision with your alliance, if the perception is that you just coasted along while everyone else took all the bullets, then you’re not getting the votes at the end either. People want you to have earned it and to have made the tough choices. The Coattails never has to do that (at least in their eyes).

Who wins? It seems the people who win are those who stick with their alliances. The ones who got a couple of lucky breaks. And the ones who make their moves at the correct time. But mostly, they are the ones who don’t beat themselves. They may stay under the radar at the beginning only to make a run towards the end. Or they could be the Lead Dog the whole time leaving very little in doubt.

Those aren’t even all of it. Heck, when I started this blog way above I wasn’t sure how much I would really have to say about this. Now I’m thinking I could have went on for at least double this (I will spare you from that… this time).

This one is for you, Courtney Regan McGuire. Thanks for talking silly tv show strategy with me all these years. I wouldn’t want to watch it with anyone else.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

How to Improve the Oscars (for me)

Gold Trophy

I used to love the Oscars. Some of my favorite memories of my life in Los Angeles involves getting together with my friends, anywhere from six to ten to fifteen of them, grabbing junk food and booze, firing up the TiVo, ordering a pizza, filling out our ballots to gamble on the winners and losers, and watching the show designed to celebrate everyone in the room’s favorite art form. We’d have a good time bullshitting, laughing at the good jokes, tearing apart the bad ones, arguing over who deserved to win what, getting real competitive over the stupid pool, and getting hammered enough that by the next morning we had already forgotten who won Best Picture.

That group of friends, though, is now scattered to the winds. Those get-togethers, at least at that scale, are a thing of the past. And every year I have enjoyed the ceremony and the show less and less. This has little to do with which films are honored. There have only been a few times when a particular film winning has elated me and a few more times when a particular film winning enraged me. In general, they pick fine films that are not always my favorites of that year, but are quality nonetheless. (With some exceptions, of course. <cough> Crash <cough> .)

My lack of enthusiasm about the Academy Awards has been created by, over the last 20 years of caring about film and chasing my Hollywood dreams, witnessing the cycle of sameness and lameness from which they seem incapable of escaping. It’s wearing thin. They do the same thing every year, make the same mistakes, and, on the rare occasion when they do something edgy, usually involving a “hip” host, a few people complain the next day and they immediately respond by at least three consecutive years of safe, uninspired hosts that offend absolutely no one because they are incapable of doing it if they tried.

Some of my friends still enjoy watching the Oscars and that’s great. I, less so. So, being a selfish, selfish, man, here is a quick list of the things I would change about them to make me like them better. Just me: a film lover, film expert, and filmmaker. Some of these things may only satisfy me, but I know some would be welcome by others as well. But I don’t care about them. This is all about me. What I’d change. For starters, I’d…

1. Dump the outdated and time-consuming “Best Song” category. This award is a remnant from the days when musicals were a viable genre and for some reason we’ve kept it going. There are two major problems with this category. Firstly, it is not about film. It is about music. And it’s often times not even about music in a film. So many of the nominated songs don’t even appear in their respective movies until the end credits. Most of the rock songs are ones not good enough to put on the respective band’s album. If they could find five songs a year that are actually used IN the movie, in a meaningful and artful way, then maybe I could see keeping it, but they never do. It’s usually two songs like that and three by famous musicians that you probably only heard if you’re one of those people who stays for the whole credits, like me.

Problem number two, of course, is that this category is a horrible time suck. Because the producers feel the need, every year, to have the nominated songs performed during the ceremony. With five songs, plus the actual giving of the award, you’re looking at maybe 20 minutes that could be cut from a 3 ½ hour show. Now, I don’t really care about the length of the show, but I’m a movie geek and I live on the West Coast. But for those in EST, that half hour is a big deal, especially since the awards are always on a school/work night.

Also, this makes “Best Song” the most important award of the night, proportionately. “Best Director” takes up maybe four minutes total, but “Best Song”? It’s 10% of the show! Seems like a lot of time wasted on something that really has nothing to do with making movies.

2. Speaking of wasting time, let’s cut the short film categories. I know this sounds harsh and rather un-filmmakery of me, but let’s be honest. No one cares about these awards except for the nominees and their loved ones. But this show is an entertainment, meant to celebrate the glamour and art of Hollywood, and, to use last night as an example, STEVE MARTIN received an honorary Oscar off-screen in a previous, untelevised ceremony while the winners of “Best Short Documentary” got to speak on TV. I know, I know. Let these folks have their moment. I get that and I understand. But, again, this show is supposed to be entertaining and I know very few people that don’t use those awards as an excuse to use the bathroom. We don’t have to cut them entirely, just lump them in with the technical awards, the ones they do earlier on that celebrate the stuff that they don’t want to bore you with on TV. That’s where they belong. Sorry.

3. Restrict the host to just… hosting. I like Ellen DeGeneres. I thought she did a pleasantly bland good job Sunday night, with a fairly decent ratio of hits to misses. Thought her opening monologue was good and safe, which is fine, and several of her interjections here and there were good for a laugh. My problem is with the sketches. Especially when we get into hours two and three. The costume changes. Going into the audience to get Meryl Streep to take a selfie or make Martin Scorsese eat pizza. It makes the show too much about the host and not about the films. And I just don’t find them funny. The pizza bit last night just made me feel uncomfortable and awkward. That far into the ceremony, sketches like that just make the whole thing seem unnecessarily longer. I want my host to have a monologue to greet us, then spend the rest of the night introducing presenters, throwing in jokes here and there to make us smile. But that’s it. I don’t give a flying fuck if they “broke Twitter” with their group photo.

4. Diversify. Apparently Oscar voters are 94% white, 76% men, with an average age of 63. And boy does it show. Both nominee Julie Delpy and my friend Bob Ray pointed this out in the last few days. Are those numbers representative of Hollywood in general? Yes, and it’s one of its great shames. And it’s nowhere more apparent than in an Oscar broadcast. It explains the same people being nominated year after year. I mean, Meryl Streep is a great actress but not every film she makes is worthy of recognition. They refuse to acknowledge the work of Andy Serkis in Lord of the Rings and Scarlet Johansson in Her as “acting”. They have one category reserved for “quirky” films, “Best Original Screenplay”. Nearly every year it is given to the year’s “weirdest” or “edgiest” film as a consolation prize, because there’s no way we’ll ever give Pulp Fiction or Lost in Translation or Her or Django Unchained or Eternal Sunshine “Best Picture.”

Two words sum up to me why the Academy needs a demographic overhaul:

Bette Midler.

I mean, what the fuck?

“Wind Beneath My Wings”?

Are you shitting me?

I’m sure some people loved it but it just showed me how out of touch these people are. You choose to honor the dead (including Phil Hoffman, who was not mentioned by anyone except for the In Memorium montage) by having her come out and sing a song that was corny as hell five minutes after it came out three hundred years ago?
Felt so lame to me. But just to me. Again, this list is all about me.

5. Drop the “Themes”. The last several years, each Oscar broadcast has chosen a theme. Last night’s theme was “Heroes”. Never mind the fact that 90% of Hollywood Films are about some sort of hero, therefore making the theme of the night “movies”, it is the reason we got three uninspired montage-tribute things that were just a bunch of shots of “heroes”. They had no narrative to them, no energy. They served no purpose other than for people to go “hey, I’ve seen that!”. I just thought they were horrible. I haven’t seen any of these “themes” really work, but this year’s was so boring and vague. Again, wasting time.

6. I know I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: Seven songs were performed and three short films were given awards, but the Lifetime Achievement awards, given to real Hollywood legends, have been pushed off the broadcast into the same purgatory as the tech awards. Wouldn’t you have rather heard Steve Martin talk than listen to Pink sing “Over the Rainbow”?

7. Have them earlier in the year. This may not be possible, but one of the bummers about the Oscars these days is that all of the major categories are decided well before the ceremony. Sunday night it felt like all four actors had already won and were just showing up to collect their trophies. There was absolutely no suspense last night until “Best Picture” and even that was only between two films. With the Globes and the Spirit awards and the countless critics’ awards, it has started to feel like the Academy awards are simply reactive. That the members vote based on what has already won other things. I think the inevitability of the awards this year was the key factor in me not being excited. They have to do something to bring in some suspense. Because there wasn’t one minute last night that I found to be compelling or surprising.

8. My last point is probably untenable and stupid but I couldn’t help thinking about it last night. I think the Oscar broadcast would be a whole lot better if it went…

Live to tape.

“Live to tape” is what shows like the “Tonight Show” and “Daily Show” do, which is record a show like it’s live, with commercial breaks and everything, but then air it later. Very little TV that look live is actually airing live.

What this does, in addition to not making the creators of these shows live like vampires, is give them the chance to make little tweaks. Ever notice on “The Daily Show” when there’s a weird cut in an interview? You notice it, it’s weird, but it means the conversation went long and they had to trim it down to get to their network mandated runtime.

But it gives them the chance to have the interview and, if it goes over, cut it down to the parts they think are most interesting.

In the age of Twitter and the internet, I don’t think this is a possibility, but I would love the Oscars to do the same. Go live to tape the afternoon of.

Think about it. Record the whole thing, including letting the damn winners give full speeches and not playing the less famous ones off in 30 seconds. Then, once it’s on tape, the producers can make decisions. “Okay. Spike Jonez’s speech went long so let’s cut the pizza bit. Oh, that montage didn’t go over to well. Let’s cut it.”

They could deliver a fat-free entertaining broadcast if they could have five hours to make some cuts. And they could get it down to 3 hours, easy.

Problem is, of course, that the winners would get out into the interwebs before the show ever aired and no one wants that. But, to be fair, for years the West Coast (where the Oscars are held) got the whole show on a tape delay every year so that it fell in primetime. It’s a recent development that it airs here live at 5:30. And we dealt with it. If you really, really care, there are ways to avoid knowing what happens.

I just think it would make a better show.

But it will never happen.

So those are some things that would make the Oscars more enjoyable for me. As much as I bitch, I still do love the Oscars. I will watch them next year and the year after that. But I am consistently disappointed by their resistance to change. One can mark it up as “tradition”, I suppose, but to me it’s just stale.

Signing off,

your resident grumpy old man,

chad

My Top Six Video Games of All Time

 

Skulltula

This week’s skull…the most abused creeper of all time.

I’m in my man-cave at 11-something PM. It’s raining outside. Save for the streetlamp’s flicker beyond my window and the low-key illumination of my laptop, the world is dark. I’m happy to be alone. Ecstatic, actually. If I can squeeze in about 700% more of this kind of time, I’ll die a happy man.

So then. Like video games? Me too. They’re a passion of mine, and although I seldom play them anymore, I’ll always reserve a special place in my chest cavity for them. Anyone who’s ever been in love with video games knows there are two types available for consumption. Foremost, you’ve got games that are just that: games. You blast or hack your way through this or that horde, sort colored baubles to win imaginary prizes, collect coins and 1-ups, or just generally bust the laws of physics for fun. While these kinds of games provide an excellent way of murdering several days/weeks/months of your life, they’re not the type of game I’m talking about today.

What am I talking about? The second type. The games that aren’t just games, but mood-setters, sensory-devourers, mind-benders, and experiences. A long, long time ago, I blogged a related piece  – http://tesseraguild.com/was-only-a-matter-of-time/  but this time, I’m goin’ balls deep. I’m throwing my top six games out there. These are the pixels most palatable to my grim, grey state of mind. Subconciously, I’ve no doubt that playing these six remapped entire swaths of my brain.

So let’s get started:

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#6 – Diablo (The original)

Playing Diablo for me isn’t the same as it is for other folks. Sure, I get a mild kick out of the treasure hoarding, demon slaying, and level upping, but for me Diablo is all about the mood and the music. Before I ever knew I liked to write, I’d sit in the dark at my paleolithic IBM 486 and play it until my eyes hurt. I’d wander ancient ruins with the game’s masterful 12-string guitar soundtrack thrumming in the background, the pixellated rain clattering atop dead men’s roofs. Hell, in recent weeks I’ve hunted down some of the music from the original game. If I ever move into a video game city, I’ll probably pick Tristram. It’s always cloudy there, and the mood suitable for my state of mind.

Metroid Prime

 

 

#5 – Metroid Prime

To be fair, I feel any of the Metroid games (sans the one that really sucked) fit this niche. I’ll go with Prime because if I go too far back I’ll confound the ‘what the hell is a NES?‘ crowd. Metroid for me was always more than a simple space opera. I never cared that the protagonist was a girl, nor that the villains were bland and underdeveloped. What I liked (and love) about the game is its atmosphere. One hero. Alone. Creepy music. Creepier monsters. There’s something elegant about the game’s fusion of far-out science with primeval alien mythology. I’ve always thought the game might’ve made a great movie, maybe even a killer novel. Hmmmm…

Deus Ex

 

 

 #4 – Deus Ex – Human Revolution

When I first picked up Deus Ex, I figured it’d fall in line with most other games. There’d be some cool moments, some blah, blah shooting, and a few dramatic cut scenes. I was wrong. In many instances, Deus Ex walks the line between game and art. Forget how tense and fun the action is. It’s like Blade-Runner blended  with Seven. It’s the not-too-distant future, rain-riddled and fraught with ‘What would I do if this happened to me?‘ moments. It’s fun + gorgeous to look at + elegantly dark. I. Love. It.

Witcher

 

 

#3 – The Witcher – Assassins of Kings

As far as games in the genre I prefer to muddle in, Witcher might be the best of them. The story (pariah accused of regicide) is pulled off better than in most movies. The love affairs, the rivalries, and the this-could-actually-happen feel as powerful as any fantasy novel. Heroes should be likeable and hateable. Love interests should be worthy of our affection and able to beat our asses. Villains should have believable reasons for hating the world. The Witcher has it all. If I didn’t have a three-year old kid, I’d buy the new Xbox and play the sequel.

Shadow_of_the_Colossus

 

 

 

 #2 – Shadow of the Colossus

Never played it? Unacceptable. Set aside three rainy days and get ‘er done. If you’re not interested in video games, buy it for your girl/guyfriend and watch them play it. Yes, really. Shadow of the Colossus is not the game you think it is.  On the surface, it looks like a dude fighting huge monsters to save the world, his woman, his dog…whatever. It’s not that game. In playing Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll find out what it means to be misguided. You’re the bad guy, and you don’t even know it. You’re a murderer, a destroyer of beautiful art, a sociopath, a monster. What’s the matter with you anyway?

Zelda

 

 

 

#1 – Zelda – Twilight Princess

As if you didn’t see this coming. Those who know me will roll their eyes and say, ‘Well that was obvious.’ Now, as far as atmosphere, I’ll admit most of the Zelda series doesn’t measure up to the Witchers and Metroids of the world. The music is good, but not soul-stunning. The graphics are neat, but not particularly immersive. Why then have I put Twilight Princess at #1? It’s easy. You’ve got a beautiful world worthy of saving (Hyrule), a familiar, likeable, and best of all silent hero to save it, and a dread-inspiring evil to overcome. Twilight Princess beats the other Zelda games by virtue of its edge, its willingness to embrace adult themes, and most of all, the presence of a villain you knew was coming, but likely spent the whole game asking, ‘Where is my arch-rival? I need that guy, else life is incomplete.’

Honorable mentions:

Doom – Grim atmosphere. Pinky demons. What else do you need?

Portal – Was pissed about not getting cake…

Skyrim – Too epic not to be included, but damn so many of its characters for being cardboard.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll indulge my inner geek. I found my old Gamecube in a closet last weekend. Time to visit an old, old friend.

* * *

And if you think you know video games, take this 114 question quiz. If you score 60 or higher, you’ve got skills.

J Edward Neill

A Half-Assed and Mostly Sarcastic Plea to Congress

bad motivator

If one more person utters the phrase “SPOILER ALERT”, be it in person or in text or on a podcast (“How Did This Get Made” excluded), be it used earnestly or dripping with irony, I’m going to pop a motivator like a beat-up red astromech droid. (see above) I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know what blogger or TV writer or forum nerd coined it, but I want it to die. I don’t want someone to splatter it on my Facebook page when I make an off-hand comment about something that happened on TV three weeks ago, nor do I want it “hilariously” screamed when someone mentions the end of Old Yeller or something.

The dog gets rabies. The kid who people say looks like me has to shoot him. We all cry. The End.

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The reason I rail against this phrase and, more accurately, the thought and philosophy behind it, is simple. I love talking about movies and TV and comics and video games and books and stuff. I love waxing poetic, gushing like a fanboy, spitting vitriol, arguing, feeling smug because I know I’m right, acting smug because I know I’m wrong, changing someone’s mind on something, having mine changed, cracking jokes, tearing something down, hurling rampant hyperbole.

It’s one of the great joys of art: the shared experience. When you see a great film, you want others to see it, too. Why? Because you want them to experience it, to enjoy or not enjoy it, and then get back to you and talk about it. Did you like it? Great! Let’s talk about how great it is. Did you hate it? Great! Let’s talk about what a fucking moron you are and how I misjudged you as a person of worth!

After the final moments of “Breaking Bad” aired, I immediately called my brother so we could talk about it for hours. I always want to know who’s seen what, so we can start a discourse about it, even if it’s just a few text messages. If I were a more annoying person (not to say that I’m not already), the only thing I would say to anybody right now is “Have you seen Her yet?”. To my mom, the mailman, the guy asking me for change outside of Walgreens. “Have you seen Her yet?”. If I bumped into President Obama on the street: “Have you seen Her yet?”.

Because I loved that movie so much and want to talk about it.

We used to call this Water Cooler Entertainment. The stuff you saw the night or weekend before that you couldn’t wait to stand around with the people you worked with and yak about. Whether it was last night’s Johnny Carson or the Falcons game or the “M*A*S*H” finale or whoever got kicked off “American Idol” last night. “Lost” was the perfect water cooler show. Almost every week it delivered something, be it surprising, infuriating, terrifying, stupid, cool, or unnecessarily opaque. But it was meaty. Two or more “Lost” fans could chatter on for hours, spinning themselves in circles trying to figure out what they had just seen and unsuccessfully predicting what they would see next.

And that was the other thing about this type of entertainment: the wait. Especially with TV. What is going to happen next week? What did that cliffhanger mean? Are they ever going to pay off the Walt storyline? (The answer to that one is ‘no’.) “Who shot Mr. Burns?”. I love the wait.

But a nefarious and seductive force has come along and destroyed water cooler entertainment.

It is collectively known as On-Demand.

On-Demand includes DVRs, Netflix, DVDs, the internet, and, yes, your cable company’s ON-Demand service. Anything that allows you to watch what you want, when you want, completely independent of theatrical releases and television scheduling. It is what gave birth to the concept of binge watching; why wait seven days between episodes when I can just spend a whole weekend shoving them down my throat like Joey Chestnut? Never mind that stops it from being TV and turns it into a 10 to 20 hour movie, the practice destroys what makes TV great. It’s a long game. Binge watching makes the bulwark of suspense, the cliffhanger, irrelevant as a storytelling device. And can one really absorb the greatness or badness of a show with no time to digest in between doses?

I love my DVR. I love my Netflix. I have binge-watched many, many times. I am not arguing against On-Demand. I take advantage of it daily. But because of it, we have become a culture of spoiler-phobes. Before, if you missed a show, you missed it. When this happened…

bobby-in-the-shower

…you either saw it or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you found out about it the next day. That simple. Appointment TV. As soon as something aired, as soon as a movie opened, it became part of the culture. But not anymore. We don’t have to watch things at a certain time, on a certain night, in a certain year. We can watch them whenever. Which is great. Except when it’s not.

I was on a plane once coming home to San Francisco when a passenger requested the pilot not make any announcements about the Giants game because he was DVRing it. I’ve genuinely upset people by referencing the ends of films like Psycho and Glory. One time I let slip something that happened in book four or five of Song of Ice and Fire and made a “Game of Thrones” TV fan look like I had just shot her rabid yellow lab.

What it really comes down to is this: “BUT I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT YET!”

I realize that there are pressing concerns in the world. We need to find a solution in Palestine, do something about climate change, and fix the voting process for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but first I think we need to tackle this:

I am calling on the US Congress, or maybe even the U.N., to decide on an official world-wide spoiler statute of limitations.

Urban Dictionary defines a spoiler thusly:

urban

Urban Dictionary? That’s not real. Okay. Here’s what Miriam-Webster has to say.

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I would like to add a time limit to these definitions. Now, we would all agree the moments depicted below are no longer “spoilers”:

imagespsycho-2fredo-kissstar_wars_episode_v_the_empire_strikes_back_1980_1200x755_67251

Even if you haven’t seen the works in question, the images and words from them have so become part of our cultural heritage that they are incapable of surprising you. Anyone today even half-aware of movies would never be shocked by the end of Psycho like audiences in 1960 were. And you may never watch that old black and white movie about that everyone says is the greatest film of all time but when pressed you probably know the name of his damn sled. These things are just…known.

But what about things a little later? Am I allowed to Tweet a reference to what’s really going between these two?

Fight_Club_1999

Or what happens after this?

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Or this big secret? Are we still not supposed to bring it up in mixed company?

thesixthsense

The most recent of those films is 15 years old. But if you haven’t seen it, and I told you the end, it would be a spoiler, would it not? But so many people know it, when does it stop being taboo?

“BUT I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT YET!”

And when it comes to recent stuff, it’s dangerous waters.

At what point can we openly talk about this?

GOTRW

Or how this ended?

breaking-bad-tweets-top

The biggest minefield in TV right now is “The Walking Dead”. Because of the nature of the show, every episode is a possible big episode. Someone can die at any moment, not just on season-finale night. Seems like the only person allowed to talk about “The Walking Dead” after it airs is Chris Hardwick.

the-walking-dead-season-4-rick-grimes-2

I get it. You DVR a show and don’t get to it the night it airs but still want to enjoy it. Fine. I’m with you. The week after “Breaking Bad” ended, it was only proper manners not to talk about the ending to anyone who wanted to see it who hadn’t yet. But if someone is just starting to watch it now, from the beginning, do you have to dance around them? I know Song of Ice and Fire readers feel a responsibility to not ruin anything for the viewers of the show. Because the show is great and we’re enjoying it, too, and don’t want to be a dick and tell you how it ends (not that it will ever end. Write, George, write!).

But when can we start talking about The R** W****** without first checking in on everyone in earshot? A week after it airs? A month? A year? Or do we have to wait for it to come out on home video, seeing as some people wait on HBO shows and binge-watch them?

All I’m asking for is a reasonable expiration date. Because I love talking/posting/blogging about movies and TV. Because critics have become so fearful of giving away something that they don’t really tell you anything at all about what they’re reviewing. Because I’m so sick and tired of hearing someone yell “SPOILERS!” any time you bring up something they themselves haven’t seen.

I once was waiting in line for a movie. I made a joke about Patrick Swayze dying in Ghost and the person behind me in line went, not joking, “Ugh. Spoilers. I’ve never seen that movie.” Now, never mind that the movie is called “Ghost” and that his death happens quite early in the film. The movie is nearly 25 years old. You don’t get to “spoiler” me on a film older than you.

Ghost Patrick Swayze

“BUT I HAVEN’T WATCHED IT YET!”

So, I ask Congress and the President to get on this. Do the right thing. End this nightmare. If you create a federally sanctioned definition of “spoiler”, one that has hard-and fast rules as to when that status no longer applies to a work of art, I will abide by it. But until then:

Jack freezes to death. The cripple is Keyser Söze. He was dead the whole time. Rocky loses. Rocky wins. Rocky wins again. And yet again, this time in Russia. The 54th gets slaughtered. Lincoln dies. Malcolm X dies. Gandhi dies. She’s her daughter AND her sister! They named the dog Indiana. Colonel Blake’s chopper was shot down over the Sea of Japan; there were no survivors. The maniacs, they blew it up! Damn them! God damn them all to hell! Finkle is Einhorn. Maggie shot Mr. Burns. Will has to go and see about a girl. Rick puts Ilsa and Victor on the plane and walks away. All she had to do is click her damn heels together three times. And Soylent Green is people.

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It’s just a show; I should really just relax.

mst3k_vector_sm
This past weekend a large chunk of geekdom as well as a the whole of the UK celebrated the 50th anniversary of one of television’s most enduring icons, the more-popular-than-ever ‘Doctor Who’. I am a big fan of modern ‘Who’ (please check out my post over at Needless Things about my relationship with The Doctor), although I stayed away from the weekend’s festivities due to having a ticket to see ‘Day of the Doctor’ in the theater last night, which was a whole lot of fun.

As great and deserving as all that hoopla was, there was another television milestone celebrated this weekend that meant far more to me than the Whoniversary:

25 years and 2 days ago, the first episode of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ aired on the Minneapolis-St. Paul based television channel KTMA.

(I’m going to assume you know at least a little bit about ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ as I write this. I have no desire to whip up a history of the show for you. If you want to know the whole story, check the Wiki.)

I lived in Ohio then, and in Georgia starting the next year, so I never saw MST3K (which is how it is most commonly referred to now) during its original cable-access roots. But soon it moved to The Comedy Channel (quickly renamed Comedy Central) and at some point, I stumbled upon the show, in the middle of an episode. It was probably in the second or third season. I don’t remember what movie it was. I was probably 14 or 15 years old. But I do remember stumbling over it with my brother Adam and we had no damn clue what was going on.

There was a movie on TV, a shitty movie, it seemed, but there were three shadowy figures blocking part of the screen like they were sitting in the front row of a movie theater. Only one of them seemed to be human; what the others were, we hadn’t the foggiest. My brother was only ten, so I’m not sure how much he comprehended, because it sure as hell took me a good 15 minutes to figure the damn thing out.

Those guys in the front were making fun of the movie they were watching.

mystery-science-theater-3000-the-movie-20080520001825634

We found out, in the show’s interstitials, that the human’s name was Joel and that his two companions were robots, one named Crow and the other a gumball machine named Tom Servo. They lived in a satellite of some sort and were apparently there against their will. But it was very odd and we still didn’t have a grasp.

Until, right after, they played another episode and we heard, for the first time, the theme song that I will know word for word until the day I die, one of the most perfect theme songs in history simply for its straight forward statement of the show’s conceit; it told you everything you needed to know:

It was brilliant. The entire premise of this stupid show, in 83 silly seconds.

This wasn’t an anomaly. This wasn’t some strange occurrence on a fledgling cable channel. This was a show. And there were more.

And I was going to watch it. A lot.

It was usually on late at night, which meant setting our ancient and clunky VCR to burn the magic onto six-hour long-play VHS tapes. I would wake up the next day unable to contain myself that I had a new MST3K waiting for me to watch when I got home from school. I couldn’t wait to see Joel (and later Mike) and the bots tear into another 50s or 60s piece of shit masquerading as a film. I had heard of none of them, with the exception maybe of Gamera and similar man-in-rubber-suit movies.

Most of them were science fiction because, well, the supply of extra shitty sci-fi films from the middle of last century is endless. Which was fine by me. I loved science fiction, but I also knew, even then, that most work in the genre was low-budget ridiculous pap. Not all of them had badly acted aliens and Ed Wood quality flying saucers, though. There were horror films, crime films, adventures films, and whatever the fuck Manos the Hands of Fate was.

10_joelmikeI’ll admit I cared less about the host segments than I did the in-theater riffing. I loved Joel and Mike and Crow and Tom and Frank and Doctor Forrester but the public access level humor was usually more miss than hit for me. There were of course some very funny moments in this connective tissue, but that really is all they were to me: a break in the action to sit through before we got back to the main attraction. I know a lot of MST3K fans feel differently, but for me it was all about the movies.

‘Mystery Science Theater’ started as a cable access show and it never shook that aesthetic and attitude, even in 1996’s theatrical feature. It felt DIY because it was DIY. And it was this aspect of it, this feeling that even in its eighth season it was still being shot in someone’s basement, that made MST most special to me. Because it made it feel like my secret. It was this little, grungy, weird show and it was mine. Even if I knew other people who watched it, it still felt like it was made for me. Nobody else could understand it. Appreciate it.

It was my secret.

And it kind of was. Because not a whole lot of people knew about the show, let alone watched it. As the years have passed, it seems like everyone has at least heard of MST3K. There are probably folks who can sing the theme song even though they’ve never seen an episode. But it wasn’t like that in the early 90s. Before the internet. Before Netflix. ‘Mystery Science Theater’ was a show I watched on my own (sometimes with my brother) and I liked the solitude of it. It was like when I discovered ‘SCTV’ as a child; no other kid at school was watching it. And that was fine by me.

Over the years, the show evolved. The host changed. Behind-the-scenes folks came and went, many of whom were also on-camera talent, so we lost them, too. The voices of the robots changed. After being canceled on Comedy Central, the show went to the Sci-Fi Channel. I’ll admit I didn’t keep up with it the entire time. I know I haven’t seen all of the Sci-Fi era episodes. But I never lost my affection for the cast and crew of the Satellite of Love (and didn’t get the Lou Reed reference for many, many years).

And I’ll never forget the names behind this magic: Joel Hodgson, Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu, Jim Mallon, Bill Corbett, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl…

And this show, this bizarre cable access show about a dude and some puppets watching the worst cinema imaginable, got 11 seasons and a movie.

(Take that, ‘Community’.)

A world that allows that to happen can’t be that bad of a place, can it?

In case you haven’t seen a lot of MST, here are three of my personal favorite episodes:

CAVE DWELLERS (Season 4, Episode 1)

Cave5

This unwatchable ‘adventure’ film about cavemen features an abysmal opening credit sequence presented in the classic ‘shoebox format’, a prehistoric hang glider, and my favorite exchange in MST3K history:

Upon seeing the acting credit for a certain once and always Tarzan:

Joel: How much Keefe is in this movie, anyway?

Tom Servo: Miles O’Keefe.

Classic.

EEGAH (Season 7, Episode 6)

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Famous for starring two-time James Bond villain Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel as a giant caveman trapped out of time (I guess I like movies about cavemen), this film is most notable to me because it is directed by Arch Hall Sr., an auteur of junk who I believe was a worse filmmaker than Ed Wood. I know this because my friend Bill was obsessed with him and made us watch several of his films. All of them starred his son, Arch Hall Jr., who is quite possibly the worst actor of all time. And yes, I’m including Sophia Coppola and the other guy from Weird Science.

SPACE MUTINY (Season 9, Episode 20)

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Whoa boy. Space Mutiny is a South African film that is basically a science-fiction retelling of Mutiny on the Bounty. It is a Star Wars / Star Trek / BattleStar Galactica rip-off from 1988 that would have felt right at home in 1956. It is maybe the worst film I have ever seen, largely because of how ambitious it is. The effects, the acting, the writing… the most talented artists in the world could not simulate its horribleness. Which of course makes it perfect fodder for Mike and the Bots. I mean… you just have to watch it. It’s on YouTube.

Do yourself a favor. Click HERE. I’ll wait.

Other great episodes that are a must-see are: Manos the Hands of Fate, Gamera, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, The Puma Man, SoulTaker, Laserblast, the Joe Don Baker masterpiece Mitchell, Teenagers from Outer Space, Touch of Satan, Jack Frost, and Alien from L.A., starring a young and dubbed Kathy Ireland. Although to be honest, nearly every episode is worth watching at least once.

Oh, and the movie they made is great, too, making fun of ‘legitimate’ science-fiction classic This Island Earth:

this island earth

Unlike ‘Doctor Who’, MST3K isn’t on the air anymore. But it’s not gone. It lives on. In Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic, featuring members of the original show. In podcasts like Earwolf’s How Did This Get Made? In live shows, like The Doug Benson Movie Interruption.

And in my parents’ living room, every Christmas, when my brother and I flip through the channels looking for cheesy movies, the worst we can find. My favorite year involved a fabulous triple-bill of awful: Click, Little Man, and Baby Geniuses. Oh boy. Although we didn’t exactly riff on Baby Geniuses; it’s hard to crack wise when your jaw is permanently on the floor.

MST3K was and is very important to me. It helped sculpt my sense of humor. It got me through lonely and tough times as an awkward and nerdy kid. It gave me something that was mine, even if there were lots of other people watching it.

So this Thanksgiving week, I give thanks to Joel Hodgson for using those special parts to make his, and my, robot friends.

Happy 50th, ‘Doctor Who’.

Happy 25th, ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go ram my ovipositor down your throat, and lay my eggs in your chest.*

– Chad

* (But, I assure you, I am not an alien.)

Chad’s Theory of 10%

a good muffin

I apologize in advance for the brevity of this post. Sometimes the words flow out of you, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you can’t stop writing; sometimes you can’t start. In this case, sometimes you have too much to write and your weekly blog post gets shuffled to the bottom of the pile.

I am currently adapting two works into other mediums: a novel called Proxy into a treatment for a motion picture screenplay and a motion picture screenplay called Dakota Skye into the first of a series of novels.

I wrote both of those things. So that means I’m adapting myself.

And it ain’t easy.

Partially because I’ve told both of these stories before and it’s hard to get up to tell them again.

But mostly because I’m struggling to find the magic 10%. What the hell does that mean? you ask. I’ll explain.

Novels have been adapted into films since the beginning of cinema. Modern readers are often disappointed with the adaptations of their favorite books: “why did they cut that?” “she wouldn’t say that!” “where is Tom Bombadil?” “that’s not how it ends!” “what are you Hollywood morons doing to my favorite thing?!?”.

Understandable thoughts, I think. I’ve had those reactions myself. Understandable, but quite unreasonable.

You see, the major narrative mediums: fiction, drama, television, film, web series, operas, comics, and, to an extent, video games, are 90% the same. The tenants of storytelling apply across the board. Structure, pacing, conflict, character, tone. Storytelling hasn’t changed much since the days of bards and minstrels.

So, if all these mediums are so similar, if storytelling is so uniform, then what makes them different? It’s that missing 10%. That 10% (obviously just an arbitrary symbolic ratio) to me is what makes each art form its own. Every single one of those storytelling vehicles I listed above have something that the others can’t do. A great book, movie, or play takes advantage of what it does better than its peers.

I believe that you should create your work with only one medium in mind. You shouldn’t write your novel thinking about how it would make a good movie. Don’t make your comic book with visions of a video game in your head. Because that thinking limits you to that 90% and keeps you from realizing the full potential of what you’re writing. To me, that’s where you get boring books, paint-by-numbers films, and mediocre television.

I had an incident two years ago that illustrates this. I had an idea for a web series. A friend of mine has a character, an alter ego you would say, that he has created, and we were always looking for something to do with it/him. So I hit on an idea that I thought would work as a web show. I took into consideration the limitations of the form (and our wallets), but also what I thought could make it unique and interesting and funny by working within those confines. By making something that only made sense as a web series, that catered to the viewing habits of internet watchers, that made it unique.

We both loved the idea, but we thought maybe we needed to bring in a few other people to help, because we probably would need a little money. We met with an couple guys that were looking to get into producing web series. We started talking about the show; they had read the pitch already. We all thought it was a good, funny idea.

But then things went south. They started to talk about ‘opening it up’. Taking the character ‘out into the world’. Varying up the types of episodes. Making it less specific, trying to reach a broader audience. It dawned on me what they really wanted to make:

They wanted to make a mini-sitcom.

Which is a terrible fucking idea.

But what they were looking at this web series as was a means to a bigger end and to me, it was the end. They wanted to make something that could then be picked up as a regular television show if successful. So they wanted to apply many of the (outdated) rules of TV to it.

But this idea of mine, it would have been an awful, unsustainable television show.

But a great web series.

I ended up scrapping the whole thing because these guys didn’t understand new media. Had no idea. I would mention very successful web series like ‘The Guild’ and get blank stares. They had never seen a web series. They wanted to make short-form TV pilots.

They wanted to make a show that covered the 90% and ignored the 10% that would make it special. And in my experience, if you write something in one medium with another medium being your goal, you are going to create something that falls short of both.

The same thing happened when I was working on a comic book with a creator/artist who could not shut up about how much money he could make with the toys and movie rights. I kind of wish he had spent less time dreaming about being Todd MacFarlane and more time actually making the fucking comic because it’s been several years since my departure from it and the book has yet to see the light of day.

When I wrote the screenplay for Dakota Skye, I only ever thought of it as a film. Even though it’s talky, I still tried to think visually, using the language of cinema to tell the story. Film stories are flimsy things; there is not a lot of depth to them based on the limitations of running time. You have to do things, like create a love story, in brief and broad strokes. Luckily, a single image can convey what a novelist would need 5000 words to evoke. The image is at least 75% of film’s 10%.

(Getting tired of the arbitrary percentages yet? Sorry. There will be more.)

So now I’m sitting down to turn this screenplay into a novel and whoa boy. I learned on Proxy that a book requires many more words than a screenplay (a script page is mostly blank space). A lot more writing. Adapting Dakota Skye is reinforcing that bit of knowledge with a vengeance. I sat down to write the first chapter, based on the first couple scenes of the script, and just wrote what was in the script. Didn’t add any dialogue, just included very simple descriptions of what was happening and didn’t go too far into the characters’ thoughts. I did a very faithful version of the scenes that people know from the movie and script.

When I was done I had about a page and a half.

So what I’m doing now while I’m writing the book is searching for that 10%. I’ve taken away the things that make the movie a movie: the ability to convey information with imagery alone, characters coming to life through the use of actors, the ability to augment pace and emotion with things like editing and music. So, what do I replace those things with to make Dakota Skye: The Novel into an actual novel in the way Dakota Skye: The Movie was a movie?

It hasn’t been easy, but it mostly involves adding a fuck-ton more words.

At the same time, a few producers have expressed interest in considering thinking about the idea of my novel Proxy as a film. Before they can even see that, though, they need a treatment (a short prose description of the film, usually written before the screenplay) and eventually a script. So I’ve been working on that at the same time as the new novel and am facing the same challenge: the 10%.

In the case of going from the novel to the screen, the specialness you’re losing is the depth. The ability to dive into a character’s mind, to go off of tangents that may or may not enhance the narrative, to take characters on long, complex journeys step-by-step without having to use shorthand, to build robust worlds for your characters to inhabit.

The main thing you lose is the characters’ internal lives, especially with a first-person novel like Proxy. In a film, you can’t describe what a character is thinking: you need to show it. You can’t meander in and out of the world you’ve created: there’s no time. A characters thoughts, emotions, beliefs, motives, they all have to be on the screen. Sure, you can use voice-over (I did in Dakota Skye) but that’s very easy to do wrong and even when it’s done right (like in Dakota Skye) you have to use it sparingly.

No, film truly is ‘show don’t tell’.

So now I have to take this book I wrote, this book that was the center of my world for over a year, strip it down, simplify it, find ways to convey complex information in broad strokes, get rid of the asides and deviations, and mostly ignore the world I’ve built, and in addition serve certain non-diegetic concerns such as commercial viability, budget, and casting.

What do I get in return for these sacrifices? I get the things I’m having to lose from Dakota Skye. The image. The edit. The visceral experience that a book cannot provide. Do you know what will be better in a film version of Proxy than in the book? Fights. Chases. Sex. Things that you can do fine on paper but that movies excel at. Finding the ways you can take what you’ve done and make them visual filmic is difficult and rewarding. Sometimes you add things; sometimes things have to go.

So remember that the next time you see some stupid filmmaker fuck up your favorite book. A book is not a movie; a movie is not a book. That 10% is 100% the difference.

Taking a book and making a word-for-word film version would not just make a thirty-hour movie, it would be impossible.

Taking a screenplay and making a word-for-word novel version would not just leave you with a 45-page book, it would be impossible.

So, anyway. that’s where I am now. This crisscross of adaptation. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t difficult, but I am determined to find each project’s special 10% that will help it make the transition properly.

This was going to be a blog post about how I didn’t have time to write a blog post. I ended up writing one anyway. I’m a big fat liar like that. There’s at least a 62% chance that I’ll have something substantial next week as opposed to this unorganized rant about how busy I am and my 10% philosophy, one of my many annoying and I’m sure incorrect ideas about writing and art (I’m sure I’ll inflict more of those on you at another point).

Anyway. Gotta go. My other projects are calling me.

Now, should I work on the adaptation…

or the adaptation?

The Biggest Fish: Smallville

At some point the following tale has become my own Big Fish story. Or perhaps it just has that sort of potential. I can only relay the events as they are currently in my mind… somewhat dulled by the time and distance from the original events. What you do with this information is completely up to you.

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I cast my mind back to sometime in 2002 where I had joined up with a group of like-minded aspiring writers in the back of the Dragon’s Horde comic shop in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I like to think of this time as the beginning of Phase 1 of my writing career (Phase 2 came in 2010). The beginning of working with others on various projects, and the beginning of having someone read something I had put to paper (up to this point writing was this distant thing in the back of my mind, but I either lacked the willpower or the knowledge to even know where to begin).

Anyway, one of the group members (we called ourselves WriteClub… possibly not the most clever of names, but it got the point across) told us he had a connection through his sister that could walk a potential script into the Smallville offices. We just needed a script.

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Of course the first question after “How exactly is this going to work?” and “Really? No BS?” was how were we going to do this? There were 6 of us in our little group and this could be something we all focused on. A true collaboration. So we sat around one Sunday and talked about the show, and if we were going to do a script what plot points should we hit? I want to say after that one afternoon we had a rough outline and plot points, but it may have been a couple of meetings before that happened. And I don’t remember all the specifics of those meetings, but I do recall the FUN of it all. This was our chance, no matter how small, and we were all ready to give it a shot. No idea was off limits at first, and then we slowly began to circle around the true idea… the one that would serve as our story for this script.

That story was roughly as follows:

Green Arrow would make his first appearance on the show. (What nerve we had to even think this way. I mean not only were we going to immediately get this script sold, but we’d also be the first to really bring in a non-Superman hero. Like no one in their writer’s room had thought of that.)

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He would meet/come into contact with Chloe (she was the sorta Lois character before Lois showed up on the TV Show) and there would be some definite sparks that would fly between the two of them. (While I think this is a fairly obvious thing to do, I actually still like the idea of trying to introduce another person into the Lana/Clark/Chloe triangle. And there would be someone else for Chloe to add to the Wall of Weird.)

He would need something from Lex. And to get that something would require breaking into Lex’s home. (I believe this was one of those things that would initially bring our heroes into conflict as suddenly Clark is really stuck between possibly covering up a misdeed of Lex or letting a thief get away with something that could hurt his friend… a pseudo gray area for the Man of Steel).

And at the end, Green Arrow would get the heck out of town with some aspect of the information he was after (courtesy of Chloe), but with the feel as if he could be back.

Again there was more to it than that, but this was the basics as we settled on them. Now the only question was: Who wanted to bang out this script?

And the table went silent. I’m not sure if it was because none of us really had a clue what we were doing and didn’t want to be called out on it or what, but for whatever reason I found myself saying the words: “I’ll do it.”

Looking back, this was a huge step for me. What in the world was I thinking? What if they hated it? What if I was exposed as a fraud? Hell, I barely understood the way a script was supposed to be formatted at this point. And still I raised my hand and volunteered. I rushed home with Final Draft ready to be installed on my computer and began to type, my fingers a blur as the ideas and the dialogue flowed from me. I did my best to develop scenes and made sure to hit all the high points. By the end of the night (probably more likely very early in the morning), I had the roughest of rough drafts finished. A masterpiece of American Television waiting to be unleashed upon Hollywood.

It was 29 pages.

Now, what I did not know at the time was that in script terms for movies and TV 1 page equals (roughly) 1 minute of filming. Smallville had a running time without commercials of around 42 minutes. Which meant I should have something around 42 pages.

And I had 29.

No problem, though. I was excited to have that much written up. And when I found out about the discrepancy, well that was why I was a part of the group. We tossed more ideas around and I believe we got the script up towards 40 pages (I might be wrong on this, but as I said above, this is my Big Fish and it weighs…). But we weren’t done. We did a table read. We brought in a couple of females to read the women’s lines to help make sure nothing was too out of whack. And at the end of that follow-up meeting I took the notes and compiled that final version.

We sent it off to the sister.

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And waited.

And waited.

And then heard back from her that she read it and really liked it! It was on its way as she’d pass it along to her contacts over at Warner Bros.

And then nothing. Nothing came of it. In my mind, I constructed an elaborate Twilight Zone style scenario where the script was on the desk of the man (or woman) who was the final arbiter and somehow it had fallen behind the desk, just out of sight. Because that was the only reason our phones had not been ringing off the hook (back when phones did that and didn’t just vibrate in your pant’s pocket).

Months passed and the script became almost an urban legend in the group. We’d mention it in passing like someone who had taken a grainy picture of Bigfoot or Loch Ness. The thought was occasionally passed around that we might be able to resubmit via another connection (we may or may not have done that, I can’t remember). I took the last printed copy and stored it away for safe-keeping. Eventually, like most legends it slipped completely from our consciousness.

Fast forward to October 20, 2004. I settled in to watch Smallville for the evening as the episode “Run” appeared. It was to feature a non-Superman hero: The Flash.

For those of you that don’t know my two favorite superheroes are Spiderman and The Flash… but I’ll talk about that in another post. So to say I was glued to my seat would be an accurate statement.

This version of the Flash flirts with Chloe, steals something from Lex, which causes him to come into conflict with Clark.

Watching the episode was a bit surreal. Little things here and there seemed familiar, big things seemed close…

And when I was done I felt a warmness spread throughout me. We were on the right track with our script.  This episode felt so much like ours that it only reinforced that thought in my mind. The next day I talked to one of the group. His first words were:

“I liked the episode of Smallville you wrote, John.”

Now do I know if anyone in the Warner Bros’ offices actually ever saw our script? No. Heck, I’m 100% (well more like 99.999 – with a lot more 9s, but we’ll round up) that they did not. I’m not accusing anyone of anything unsorted.

I just think we tapped into that common Idea Space that is out there, that so many creative people seem to be able to harness. That same reason that multiple movies come out about the same subject (of course the other reason for that is because the studio sees an opportunity to beat an opponent at the same game, but I digress).

This was an example of that. That’s how close it was/felt to what we had done. That’s how close we were to getting a shot at the big leagues.

But above everything else, that project gave me some measure of confidence in my abilities. Writing that script in the first place and then watching as the others read it I felt like a team with others, but more than anything I felt like I could be one of the heavy hitters for that team. My future in writing was going to be big and bright.

I mean, I’d written an episode of Smallville after all.

Chad’s (Insignificant) Hollywood Tales : “Too Sci-Fi”

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There used to be this thing called the Sci-Fi Channel. It had great potential, but it never really applied itself. It had a few brilliant moments, one in particular, where it showed itself to be the entity it should have been. But mostly it just ran away from its destiny, tried desperately to get people to like it, and struggled with its identity to the point of changing its name, forsaking its heritage. As it stands now, it is a joke to most people, only known for its most outlandish and ridiculous of efforts.

This is a quick story about my brush with the Sci-Fi Channel.

Several years ago I had a colleague (and friend) whose father was a very, very powerful man in the history of television, a near-god in the NBC-Universal family. This friend was an aspiring producer who I worked with on several projects that never got off the ground, unfortunately, although he did option a screenplay of mine once, for real money, and that was something I’ll never forget. We talked about doing this, about doing that. He almost hired me to write a script for him, but it fell apart. We were going to do a series of shorts for FunnyOrDie, but they never materialized.

One day he calls me and asks “Do you have ideas for shows we can pitch at the Sci-Fi channel?”

Hells yes, I do, let’s fucking do this, I want to do this so damn bad, it’s about time we got into something like this, woo-hoo! I thought. “I’ll jot down a few things,” I said.

So over the next couple weeks I worked on several ideas in which I thought the Sci-Fi channel might show interest and presented my list to the producer. After talking a bit, he fell in love with one idea in particular, which also happened to be my favorite of the bunch.

“That’s the one,” he said. “Let’s get cracking on fleshing it out and I’ll set up the meeting.”

I’m not going to say what the concept was because I still think it’s a very viable idea and have plans to resurrect it. So I can’t give it away for free. But I will say… it’s pretty great.

So while I was putting together my pitch -figuring out the pilot, plotting out the first season arcs, creating the cast of characters, coming up with a half-dozen sample episodes, putting down a rough idea of what future seasons would bring- I learned that we would not be meeting with some low-level exec over at Sci-Fi. Oh no. We would be meeting with the VP in charge of original programming.

In charge. Of original programming.

Meaning, if he liked the show, he could probably green light it himself.

That upped the stakes, so I upped my game.

We went into the meeting with what I think was a solid, entertaining pitch. We also had a back-up project, something that I had tried to get off the ground in several mediums (film, comics) but had never followed through on. It was a back pocket pitch, only to be used in case we got the dreaded “what else do you got?” question after the exec was unmoved by our marquee concept.

I was nervous as hell. It wasn’t my first pitch meeting but it was, at that time, my biggest. And I knew that the only reason I was going to be pitching to someone that high up was because of the man walking in the door next to me, and mostly because of his last name. Because Sci-Fi is an NBC-Universal channel and the name that he carries can probably get him through any door that falls under that massive umbrella of media.

I got to the meeting early and hung out outside the massive skyscraper in Century City. I met my producer in the courtyard, and we went over some things. The way pitches usually work for me is simple: I need a straight man. Someone to keep the conversation, the presentation, on track. Then, when we need to inject energy, ideas, and just the creative thrust of the thing, it’s my turn to talk. If you know me and are reading this, you know I talk too much. And I ramble, repeat myself. Especially if the subject excites me. So I always need a baseline yin to my erratic yang.

So my producer would yin while I yanged. No problem.

bsg-number-sixNow, at the time, the Sci-Fi channel’s sole artistic triumph was nearing its end. ‘Battlestar Galactica’ had its problems, especially towards the end, but it’s impossible to deny that it was a good show and, at the very least, considering what had come before, a great science-fiction show. It was the type of program we had all hoped the Sci-Fi channel would be bringing us since the beginning. And, with its critical (but not ratings, that’s important) success, I think a lot of us were excited for a new era where this channel, that claimed to specialize in a genre we loved, was about to break through in an HBO/AMC/FX sort of way.

But BSG was expensive. And not enough people watched it.

So it was going away. To the channel’s credit, most people would have pulled the plug after the first two seasons (and by ‘people’ I mean ‘networks’) but they stuck with it. But it never found enough of a mainstream audience to justify the amount of money they were spending.

And, at the same time, Sci-Fi had a new show, a very different show, that was doing much better in the ratings. More on that in a bit.

So we go into the very nice office of this very powerful man and I’m sure my voice shook for the first ten minutes or so. He was very nice, this exec, as was his assistant, who also sat in on the meeting.

After a few platitudes, I went about pitching my television show.

And it went really well.

I talked for a while, describing the premise, the characters, the show. What drew me to the material. What passions of mine were wrapped up in its conceit. While I was doing this, my producer was chiming in on logistical things, comparing it to other successful shows and films, trying to stress why letting this babbling (although in that case, effectively babbling) guy that had no right being in that room create a show would not be a terrible business decision.

One of the ways you can tell a pitch is going well is if it gets interactive. A rule of these types of meetings is to never bring in any of your ideas on paper. I wrote up tons of stuff for this idea, did research, plotted out stories, but brought none of it with me. Because when you’re in the room, what you want in the exec to get engaged. To start chiming in with his own ideas. You also want to be able to read what’s working and what’s not and cater your pitch, improv if you will, to appeal to the pitch-ee. The goal is to have, at the end of the meeting, sold the producer a show that he or she wants, not a show you want.

So you never leave behind a document that lays out what you came in there with, because most likely you have had to change some things to appease your audience and the last thing you want them to do afterwards is read a synopsis or treatment that is not exactly the show you just pitched them.

It is a hard and fast rule for pitching: never leave behind a document. If they want one, go home, revise what you’ve got, then send it in. But never leave it in the room.

Anyway. I got what I wanted out of this guy. He was engaged. After responding very favorably to the main conceit, he started asking questions and it turned out he and I had a lot of similar interests. He started adding things, suggesting episode ideas, tweaks to the story, different angles on things. The show had a large ‘alternate history’ element, which is a very hardcore sci-fi subgenre, but the real history I was riffing off of ending up behind something this exec was a huge fan of. Actually, he knew more about it than me and I had to work hard to keep up with him.

At the end, we had laid out what I think would have been a fantastic science fiction television show, a worthy successor to Battlestar Galactica.

“Chad,” the exec said, “I love it. Love the concept. I think it’s original, smart, and if done right, could be really great.”

Yes yes yes!

“And if that show was on TV, I would watch it every week.”

Oh no oh no oh no…

“But it’s just too sci-fi for us.”

It’s too what now?

Looking back, it feels like I stared at him dumbstruck for at least a minute, although it was probably only ten seconds. I do know, though, that I looked up to the big Sci-Fi channel logo up on his wall and then back to him, and that he noticed that. I tried to play cool.

Too sci-fi?”

He went on to explain that they were looking for things with broader appeal and that my idea was a little too hardcore for general audiences. That they needed shows that were more user-friendly, that my mom or someone would want to watch.

eureka-tv“Like what?” I asked, seething inside.

“Well, we’re looking for more shows like ‘Eureka’.”

I did not watch ‘Eureka’ so I don’t have an opinion on it either way. I know several people that watched it and one of the writers, Eric Wallace, is a friend of a friend of a friend who I also once sat on a writing panel with. But I do know the concept of ‘Eureka’ and I know what kind of show it was. And I have nothing against it. But…

“You already have a ‘Eureka’,” I said.

But they wanted another. Why? Because it was doing well. Because their numbers showed that people who normally didn’t stop on their channel were tuning in for it and only it. It was the crossover hit they’d been looking for.

“I would love to make your show, Chad. I would. But I just can’t.”

The rest of the meeting was cordial. We pitched our backup idea, which they responded to and we promised we’d send pages but we were never able to break that concept. I’ve pretty much scratched it. It sounds good on paper but I’ve never figured out a way to make it work.

At the end of the meeting, I think I asked if they still planned on making any more ‘silly monster movies’, because I played D&D and I could lock myself up for a month with my Monsters Manual and write them like four of those.

He said they were trying to move away from those.

Guess no one else got the memo:

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I walked away feeling good about the meeting and shitty about the outcome.

“Too sci-fi”?

“TOO SCI-FI”?

In the days that followed I had one of those “man I wish I would have said this” moments where a speech popped into my head that if I would have actually said in the room, I would have blown the meeting entirely:

“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN ‘TOO SCI-FI’?!? This is the Sci-Fi Channel. Let me break this down for you. My mom is NEVER going to stop on your channel while surfing. NEVER. I don’t watch hockey and have never once flipped to the NHL channel. You don’t see them trying to crossover to more popular sports: “Tonight on the NHL Network…the 1998 Home Run Derby!”. No. They are niche. What they do is in their name. NHL. That’s it. You are the fucking SCI-FI channel. Stop being ashamed of the genre that you are named after. Because there are millions and millions of TV viewers that aren’t going to check you out simply because of that phrase: sci-fi. Deal. With. It. Embrace it. Because you know what? Science-fiction fans are LOYAL. Geeks are LOYAL. If you give them good genre shows, they will flock to you. BSG should be your model. Was it too expensive? Okay. Fine. You can do something cheaper. Is ‘Eureka’ sci-fi? Absolutely. Keep it. But you have the corner on this: you are the only Sci-Fi Network. We WANT you to succeed. We WANT you to be viable. We also want you to live up to the promise you made when you chose that name. ‘TOO SCI-FI?’ FUCK YOU!”

Saying that would have been dumb beyond belief, but that’s how I felt.

So, a few years after my meeting at Sci-Fi, they did indeed address this problem. Did they unveil a slate of awesome-looking genre shows? Um. No.

They changed their name to SyFy.

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Which, of course, means nothing. But at least it’s not promising science-fiction anymore.

So stupid and cowardly. And meaningless.

Because my mom still doesn’t tune in.

Looking today at SyFy’s programming for today I see: 11 hours of ‘Face Off (a reality show), a shitty horror movie for Halloween (The Ninth Gate…ugh), and an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ (can’t fault them on that).

And I’m sure this weekend they’ll treat us to the tale of some sort of aquatic predator crossed with some sort of dinosaur chasing and eating people during some sort of natural disaster, starring has-been TV actors and other Hollywood cast-offs.

Man, that’s some good SyFy.

This post isn’t about bitterness. It’s a lament. Not for my own career, but for a cable channel that I really wanted to succeed. But it’s now a joke, only known now for its stupid, stupid new name and its even stupider schlocky monster movies. A junk channel, traitor to its conceit like Discovery and History. What a waste.

For all its faults, failures, and foibles, the one thing you can never accuse SyFy of is being…

Too Sci-Fi.

More ‘Man’, Less ‘Child’

 

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Here are some things that I like lots: comic books, Star Wars, the Muppets, Chuck Taylors, video games, porn, Star Wars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, pop culture T-shirts, sports, technology, angsty music, white tube socks and Star Wars.

Here are some things that I actively dislike: neckties, hiking, auto repair, guns, mornings, cheap scotch, fine scotch, neckties, most sitcoms, plumbing, meetings, sushi, yard work, trying to understand my health insurance, keeping track of my finances, and neckties.

I am rapidly coming up on 40 years old.

I state these things up front so that if anything I say after this comes across as hostile, recriminating, or insulting, you know that I’m one of the injured parties. I am of two minds about all of this. So that when I say something like…

My generation needs to grow the fuck up…

…That I’m talking to myself.

There’s nothing shameful about being an adult (I can no longer dodge that title) who likes any of those things that I like. Except maybe the porn. And the last decade of popular entertainment has provided me with plenty of content to satisfy said list: a seemingly endless barrage of superhero films, a good many of them quality, featuring A-List talent, a new Muppet movie made by someone with genuine affection for those little felt pieces of happiness, games like Bioshock: Infinite and The Last of Us that take video games into realms I never would have dreamed while playing Yar’s Revenge and Tempest as a kid, the MLB Network, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, white chocolate peanut butter cups, Big Cup peanut butter cups, mini peanut butter cups, and, the asshole of them all, the Reester Bunny, a sword-and-sorcery adult fantasy television show with mainstream appeal that doesn’t betray its genre roots, and a man winning an Oscar for playing the Joker.

When I was younger, the things I like came in these forms:

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And now, they look like this:

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It’s been great to be a ‘geek’.

But this recent slate of Summer films as culture in general have got me questioning whether all of this is a good thing. As I write this I’m still angry at Man of Steel, a film that feels like it’s made by a bunch of teenagers trying to be ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ and ‘adult’. But that’s a rant for another day, another time, another blog post.

I am most familiar with film; it is my first love and the medium in which I am most well versed. So I will use it most heavily to illustrate my point.

Oh, and I’m just talking American film here. To travel to foreign soil would make this already too-long piece way too-fucking-long.

In the 1960’s, the Hollywood studio system collapsed. The result was, in the 1970’s, the greatest decade of film so far in the history of the medium. Not knowing what to do, they threw their doors open and let the first batch of film school graduates and their peers, the ‘film brats’, take over Hollywood. It is commonly said that in the 70’s, they let the lunatics (and they were indeed lunatics. Brilliant, ballsy, genius, visionary lunatics) take over the asylum. This time is known as The Hollywood Renaissance.

The lunatics in question? Scorsese, Coppola, Ashby, Altman, Kubrick, Allen, Malick, Friedkin, Frankenheimer, Lumet, Spielberg, Lucas, Bogdonavich, Cinimo, Pollack, Polanski, De Palma, Penn. Not to mention the numerous producers, cinematographers, and writers behind the scenes. The actors of that generation are among film’s finest: DeNiro, Pacino, Hackman, Keaton, Gould, Hopper, Hoffman, Keitel, Nicholson, Streep, Foster, Burstyn, Sheen, Walken, Duvall, Rowlands, Spacek, and two personal favorites and underappreciated icons: John Cazale and Warren Oates.

taxi-driver-taxi-driver-06-1976-08-02-1976-8-gThese folks found inspiration in every film made before them, from the silents to John Ford westerns to John Cassavetes to, most prominently in some cases, the amazing work being done in France, Italy, and Japan in the post WWII era, and they created a New Hollywood that transcended the starry-eyed golden age of movies and turned the form into a true art. They (for the most part) made serious films about serious things. Uncompromising looks at life the way it really was, not how they wanted it to be. They were the perfect people to come along and create film for the Vietnam generation.

And the fact that they appeared together makes the me the most impressive collection of American revolutionaries since America’s actual revolutionaries.

Their reign lasted 13 years.

pulp_fiction_uma_thurman_jack_rabbit_slimsIn the 1990’s we got a new wave of fascinating moviemakers, inspired by the work of the New Hollywood movement. It seemed a new Renassiance was upon us. Tarantino, Smith, two men named Anderson, Fincher, Linklater, Payne, Rodriquez, Jackson (okay, not American but English language), Russell, Soderbergh, Egoyan (yeah, also not American). The Coen Brothers came into their own. A lot of these men were associated with the independent boom of the 90’s. I would call them the Miramax Generation. They breathed new life into film, pushing past the entertaining but someone stale cinema of the 80’s. They wore their influences on their sleeves. They pushed limits when it came to violence, language, and just what constituted a ‘film’. Some of them reveled in the profane and immature, but they had something to say, most of them, and made great films that stand the test of time. Several are still making great, relevant films, twenty years later. This is the generation that inspired me to become a filmmaker.

Their reign lasted, by my estimation, about 8 years.

Who are the hot-shot, super-star filmmakers of today? The ones that get the most attention, the ones the studio hands the biggest budgets, the most coveted properties?

Zach Snyder. Chris Nolan. Guillermo Del Toro. Marc Webb. Rian Johnson. Duncan Jones. Joss Whedon. Edgar Wright. Peter Berg. Jon Favreau. James Gunn.

Many talented men in there. (Yes, men. I lament that there is only one major American female film director right now. I do. But it is a fact. One I’d love to see altered. But you want to see a boys’ club? Look no further than Hollywood.) I am a fan of many of them in one way or another. Some, like Whedon and Wright and Jones, I adore.

But this is a filmmaking generation of man-children.

I’m not a person who laments the current state of film often, but looking at the Summer we just came out of, I am forced to. I’m not going to go film by film but I will use one particular film to make my point:

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Pacific Rim.

I like Guillermo Del Toro. As a person. He’s ‘one of us’. A real geek. As a filmmaker, for me, he’s hit and miss. I think the less money he has, the better. His projects with considerable budgets, namely the two Hellboy films, have been lifeless, poorly told stories with good effects, even if the Hellboy II creatures seemed to be cast-offs from the overrated Pan’s Labyrinth. He is one of those filmmakers, like Tim Burton before him, who is much better at the visual and the concept than the story and the characters. Which would be fine, if he wasn’t making narrative films. But he is. He is telling stories. And if he isn’t bad at it, he is at the very least lazy.

Pacific Rim is no exception.

I know I’m supposed to love Pacific Rim. I love Gorjira and Robotech, why shouldn’t I love this? Like my beloved peanut butter cups. Two great tastes that blah blah blah.

But I didn’t. Because it felt like it was made by a twelve year old. Watching it all I could think of was a little fat kid in Mexico, sitting in his sandbox, bashing his Godzilla toy into his Optimus Prime toy and imagining the epic battles they would have.

Every generation of filmmakers is influenced by (read: steals from) the generations before, but his is different. These guys aren’t ingesting what came before, gestating it in their minds, then making something completely new and original. They’re regurgitating. Pacific Rim, if you ignore the monsters and robots (a conceit, while cool on the surface, doesn’t hold up to one moment of critical thinking; more later), is just one tired ass action movie trope after another tired ass action movie trope that, when strung together, Del Toro thinks constitutes a story.

It is Top Gun. It is Independence Day. It is Gojira. It is “Voltron” and Gundam. Thrown into a blender and called a Summer blockbuster.

It is not a work by a man with any original thoughts or anything to say.

Sorry.

(I also know why it failed. Geeks may have had super-duper hard-ons for it, but I asked a few guys, guys who go to the movies on a regular basis, who had seen Iron Man 3 and Star Trek and Fast 6, about Pacific Rim and they said “it looks dumb and loud”. That is why it didn’t connect with the mainstream audience. It looked dumb and loud.)

I walked out of Pacific Rim slightly entertained but unsatisfied, then, two days later, after the smidge of enjoyment it gave me wore off, I realized that it’s a bad movie. Just another case of something that has plagued not only film of the last decade, but art in general.

The 70’s were the New Hollywood Generation. The 90’s, the Miramax Generation.

This is the Karaoke Generation.

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Some people mistake Tarantino for a mimic, but I disagree wholeheartedly. Pulp Fiction is, behind the surface, about three killers who find themselves saving a life. It is about redemption: that’s what’s in the briefcase for me.

That may not be super deep, but what is Looper about? Other than Johnson showing us a bunch of shit that he likes. 12 Monkeys. The Omen. Back to the Future. Blade Runner. I have no problem with wearing your influences on your sleeve, but, for God’s sake, try to come up with something of your own. Stop singing the words scrolling by on the monitor and write your own song.

Two of the bigger films of the year made two mind-boggling choices that I am still trying to figure out.

JJ Abrams’s first Star Trek was, for me, great. Fresh, entertaining. It told its own story and, while respecting the decades of Trek behind it, started its own timeline. That encouraged me. Opened up the idea of brand new Trek stories not beholden to all that canon. So, what did they do for their next tale, Into Darkness?

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They brought back Khan.

Man of Steel was a disaster in almost every aspect, but again. Starting over. Fresh slate. Retelling the origin. Redefining the relationships. Trying to paint a new Clark (one who is a borderline sociopath, but whatever). New look. New feel. New everything. And who was the villain in this re-imagining of one of America’s most enduring fictional characters?

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They brought back Zod.

In both cases the filmmakers, in acts of inane laziness, pilfered the most famous and effective parts of previous films and “reimagined” them into their own. This is especially egregious in Star Trek, which not only recycled Khan, but the entire last act of the film. With, you know, a “twist”.

All the money in the world they can spend. Any writer in Hollywood they can employ. With effects the way they are now, anything you want to show, you can show. Any world you want to build, creature you want to birth. The possibilities are literally endless.

Nope. Khan and Zod. Cool, right?

HPIM5002No. Not cool. Nostalgia isn’t storytelling. Just sit down, have a beer, and wait for the MC to call you up so you can emote your way through “Don’t Stop Believin'” one more time.

Children, playing with the toys of their youth, with no original ideas of their own.

Like I said above, I love science fiction and comic books and nearly all things geek. Hell, I finally crossed over my final nerd threshold, the thing I said I would never do, which was Doctor Who, and it turns out I love it. But come on, guys. Isn’t it time to grow up, just a little?

That may be why I liked The World’s End so much. Despite its robot/alien subplot (which was really the least interesting part of the film), there was an adult story there. About addiction, about the disappointments of life, about the bonds of friendship, and, yes, about growing the fuck up.

Maybe I’m just an old man, but I do miss the filmmaking of the 90’s. Much like “The Love Boat”, it felt exciting and new (which, oddly, was a show that never felt exciting or new). But now, the only films I get excited for are the ones made by people from previous generations: Scorsese, the Andersons, Fincher, The Coens, Ridley Scott, Tarantino, Payne, Russell.

They are the only ones making films for adults. I think we have embraced the man-child, but have done no service to the ‘man’ half of that hyphenate.

G.I. Joe. Transformers. Batman. Superman. Spiderman. The A-Team. The always-rumored Thundercats and He-Man films. New Star Wars films directed by a Star Wars geek. The Muppets. There is no mistaking the age range of today’s most popular filmmakers. They’re my age. But, unlike them it seems, I didn’t stop watching film and television after I turned twelve.

battleship-movie-image-02I mean, come on. Battleship? FUCKING BATTLESHIP?!? Bad enough to make a movie based on a children’s board game (again with the nostalgia), but to make it a Transformers rip-off in the process? This is what studios think people want. FUCKING BATTLESHIP.

What I’m trying to say here is, while the ‘geek revolution’ has pleased me greatly, I’m starting to turn on it. I’m tired of films made by grown men who think they’re teenage boys. And I’m one of those men. But I have another side to me, the side that has accepted the fact that I am also an adult that yearns for mature entertainment and art. These guys live in a perpetual state of adolescence and get paid millions of dollars to do so.

This doesn’t just apply to film. The only books anyone seems to read nowadays are Young Adult fiction. Potter. Twilight. Hunger Games. Mortal Instruments. These are adults reading these books. I have read a few myself (Potter and Hunger Games) but that is all some people read. Do you know more people that have read Harry Potter or The Sound and the Fury? Twilight or The Count of Monte Cristo? Hunger Games or Naked Lunch?

Don’t get me started on music. Have you heard that new Katy Perry song, ‘Roar’? The most asinine and hacky lyrics I have heard in a long time, no matter how catchy the track may be. Plus, she rips off Survivor of all things. You can’t drop an ‘eye of the tiger’ into a song. That phrase is taken, lady. It is only acceptable during a corny 80’s training montage. Lady Gaga literally karaoke’d Madonna’s “Express Yourself” for her “Born this Way.” (Or maybe she Weird Al’ed it).

I’m just tired. Tired of being disappointed by artists who I think should know better. Tired of seeing the same things over and over and over again. Much of the hype about Pacific Rim was that it was a ‘new property’ (that’s what we call our films now: properties), but when I saw it, was just a bunch of things I’d seen before strung together with some big, loud, CG things hitting each other.

voltron-775596(About that: why do they hit each other? they have missiles and plasma cannons. there is no reason not to start a fight with those things instead of charging headfirst into a fistfight. any military strategist will tell you: ranged attacks first. has been that way since the bow and arrow. and the sword? we get 75% of the way through the movie and we reveal that the things have swords that can cleave the monsters in half with one slash? either Del Toro watched too much or too little “Voltron” to understand how little sense this makes. form the blazing sword right away, you morons. it works every time. sigh.)

I worry about the state of film going forward, and film is something I hold very dear. It is a great art form that is still in its infancy. We have yet to see a Beethoven or Van Gogh come along. I don’t know what those guys, their films, will look like, but I hope to see them in my life. But as of the moment, the art of filmmaking is in a state of arrested development.

Much like the men making them.

Did I say ‘men’?

I meant ‘boys’.

Oh, and just to show that I’m not just making fun of the guy up top in the Batman hoodie, here is me in my Boba Fett hoodie. I’m part of this, too.

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