Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year, Everyone!


Milestone, Millstone, You Decide.

Sometime this week (most likely Tuesday) visitor number 10,000 will click on to this humble blog. Whether by intent or confusion, whether a visit from our regular reader(sic) or simply some poor soul lost in the mighty blogosphere, we welcome you. Pull up a chair, spit on the rug and call the cat a bastard if you wish.

When I started this little island of egotism, I really expected nothing. And, with apologies to Dr. FrankNFurter, I have received it in abundance. With a new blog being born every second or so, many, many of them don't even get the minimal traffic we do here. It's just that at times it is hard to maintain regular activity in the face of such overwhelming indifference.

Carping aside, I'd like to thank some of the folks who make blogging worthwhile to me. Without my minimalist effort here I would never have become blog-interested enough to find:

  • ae still striving to save the world from her post on arsepoetica
  • fellow geographer/historian Eric illuminating the world on alterdestiny
  • the magnificent Corndog himself of Corndogmatic fame,  lover of things odd and musical
  • my journalistic hero  Diane and her always thoughtful Dee's Diversion
  • magnificent grumbler doghouse riley at Bats Left Throws Right
  • Chris Clarke and Zeke  following that Creek Running North forever
  • Fred First sharing his wonderful life in Floyd, Va. on Fragments from Floyd
  • Patrick and Teresa Making Light with the best commenting  team on the web
  • Herr Professor Berube taking my head for a postmodern spin yet again
  • My ArchPoet Dave leading the way on the Via Negativa
  • John Scalzi saying Whatever he wants
A special shout out goes to my blogging compatriot, Kolchak, without whom precious little real writing would occur hereabouts. Many thanks for your support, Bill., and keep writing those columns

Afterall, I still know where the manuscript with a stake through its heart is buried.

Thank you all. It's been a great honor to be allowed  out of this dark musty corner of Blogistan to comment on your superb blogs,  fools that you folks may be to associate with this cursed anarchist, this sordid malcontent, this Wob.

Most of all, Thanks for All the Fish!

I beg to remain,


Thursday, December 21, 2006

I'm Dreaming of a Weird Christmas

from Kolchak

Every year, the holiday season brings with it its peculiar set of challenges. Finding that special present for your significant other. Paying for that special present for your significant other. Getting through the company Christmas party without drinking. And, --perhaps the most challenging of all-- avoiding holiday-themed shows on television.

In addition to the usual suspects, like variety shows and sitcoms, holiday themes can pop up in unusual places, like science fiction shows and other genre entries. Here are some of the weirdest Christmases I've found while channel surfacing:

The most notorious program in this category is probably The Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978. This was such a bizarre mixture of space opera and variety show that it only appeared on television once (How many Christmas specials can you say that about?) and Lucasfilm has never released it on home video. There are bootlegs in circulation-- Weird Al Yankovic "buys" one in the video for his song "White and Nerdy"--but I'm working primarily from my memory of that single broadcast.

The holiday in question here was Life Day, a celebration on Chewbacca's homeworld, Kashyyyk. Han Sola and Chewie are trying to make their way back to Kashyyyk, so the wookiee could celebrate Life Day with his family. Most of the stars of the original Star Wars movie appeared in the holiday special but the emphasis was on Chewie's family and characters played by performers like Bea Arthur and Art Carney. The Internet Movie Database says that Jefferson Starship also makes an appearance but I seem to have blocked that out of my memory.

If you're wondering how all this comes together, the answer is: badly, very badly. According to Mythmaking by John Baxter, the length of the show kept growing as the producers made room for the commercials that were being sold. Unfortunately, the story didn't grow. .Or the production values. As someone who still considers himself a Star Wars fan, I have to admit that the prospect of seeing more of Chewie's home planet was a big deal in 1978. But I wanted to wash my hands after seeing The Star Wars Holiday Special.

On the other hand, I usually find the time every year to dig out my copy of "Too Many Christmas Trees," an episode of The Avengers from 1965. In this story, a team of psychics tries to drive John Steed insane while he and Mrs. Peel are attending a multi-day Christmas party in the country. Although "Too Many Christmas Trees" features a classic "Avengers"-style British eccentric--a man fanatically dedicated to the works of Charles Dickens--this is a moderately serious episode with Mrs. Peel showing genuine concern over the possibility of Steed having a breakdown.

However, there are some lighter touches. Early in the story, Steed opens a Christmas card from his previous partner, Mrs. Cathy Gale. As he examines the envelope, Steed says, "Whatever could she be doing in Fort Knox?" At roughly that time, Honor Blackman, the actress who played Mrs. Gale, was starring in the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

BBC America is currently running The Avengers, but the network seems to be sticking to the color episodes while "Too Many Christmas Trees" was filmed in black-and-white.

And, of course, no holiday season would be complete without lizard-like extraterrestrials eating live rats and otherwise camping it up. In 1984, this obvious gap was being filled by V, a weekly version of a popular mini-series. Ultimately, the weekly V didn't last much longer than the mini-series but it lasted enough for the producers to take a crack at a Christmas episode.

As you may recall, V dealt with the fight between human race and the lizard-like Visitors for control of the Earth. In the weekly series, though, this fight consisted mostly of running and shooting, while, in the original dealt more with political maneuvering.

In the Christmas episode, the Visitor leader, who went by human name of Diana , celebrates the holidays by creating an evil clone of a human-Visitor hybrid (Don’t ask.).

Meanwhile, Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) , the toughest and coldest of our human characters, undergoes the Grinch heart-expansion treatment as he and the other resistance fighters smuggled some human children into the relative safety of Los Angeles.

Earlier in the season, Los Angeles had been established as an open city, where both humans and Visitors could live without restrictions. I’m mentioning that because I think that was the main reason why humans were celebrating Christmas. In a surprising bit of actual world-building, it’s mentioned that some of the traditional stores are running out of supplies and many of the holiday gifts are hand-made items being sold by street vendors.

The complete weekly run of V is currently available on DVD. The show had a long list of problems when it first appeared and those problem haven't gone away, But there are elements to the series that I still like.

A relatively recent SF Christmas program is "The Christmas Invasion," a special episode of the recently-revived Doctor Who. It's first run, in England, was in Dec., 2005. In this story, aliens called the Sycorax come to Earth during the holidays, in order to stop the Doctor from regenerating. This episode is more about David Tennant taking over the role of the Doctor than it is about Christmas, but there are exceptions. At one point, a group of Sycorax, all dressed as Father Christmas, pursue our heroes. Also, a very secret branch of the British government called Torchwood destroys the Sycorax ship on Dec. 25, and "the explosion at Christmas" is mentioned in a later episode.

The Scii-Fi Channel is has scheduled a rerun of "The Christmas Invasion" for 3 p.m. on Dec. 25.

This is not a complete list of weird Christmas episodes by any means. During the first season of Bomes , a mystery/crime show on Fox, the main characters spent the holidays in quarantine together. In Beauty and the Beast, the people who live in the streets beneath New York City have a ceremony that celebrates Winter Solstice.

When handdrummer and I first talked about this post, he remembered a holiday episode of Hill Street Blues, and said that Kwanzaa played a role in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. So, if you have any nominees for this list, let us know.


Happy Solstice!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Working Out the Bugs

from Kolchak:

I don’t know how long it’ll take. It could take years, but it could happen a lot faster. All I can say is that sooner or later--my bet’s on sooner-- I won’t be able to watch first- run television, whether it’s on broadcast or cable.

And I’m not complaining about the shows themselves--not yet, anyway. I’m complaining about how difficult it is to watch a show when the picture has been all but crowded off the screen by an infestation of network identification logos, animated ads for other shows and lines of text marching across the bottom of the screen.

At this point, you may be thinking: What a wuss. You can just tune that stuff out. Well, ,maybe you can. Me, I still hear the Muzak that they play at shopping malls.

I realize that network logos--sometimes called “bugs”-- serve an actual purpose. They’re the easiest way to identify specific networks, when you’re running the dial.

I particularly like how the operators of Logo, which specializes in gay interest programming, actually use their bug to make a visual pun. While most networks put their bugs in lower right hand corner of the screen, Logo’s on the upper right, which is consistent with a network with…um, how shall we say it?… different orientation.

Most of the time, though, we have to deal with more than just bugs. There are ads for other shows which usually include some sort of animation or miniaturized clip (a video bite, rather than a sound bite?) for the show. These ads can vary in size. The largest ones I’ve seen so far--on TNT, I think--can fill a quarter of the screen. When you’re watching a sitcom or a police procedural, that’s not a problem. When you’re trying to watch, say, The Fellowship Of the Ring, it becomes a different matter entirely. Can people actually follow what’s going on in these shrunken clips? Does the motion in these scenes do anything but distract the viewer from the show he or she is trying to watch? Granted, that may be a good thing in some cases, but, it’s still annoying.

Things get worse when you turn to CNN. On this channel, there’s a bug; the time and a ticker-style headline display at the bottom of the screen. Immediately above that, there’s a space used for captions relating to, or a quick summary, of the story currently being told. Sometimes, when CNN is using a broadcast from an affiliate station, its graphics partially obscure the ones that the station is using.

That’s not all, folks. CNN’s morning show recently added a video wall to its set.

On top of that wall is another news ticker, displaying headlines. So there are points when there are headlines at the bottom of the screen and at the top. And they’re not the same ones.

A relatively new cable service called Current has brought its own twist to the clutter problem. As you may know, Current broadcasts short non-fiction videos.(which they insist on calling pods.), many of which are contributed by viewers. I’m not sure whether it’s accurate to call these pieces documentaries, which is one of the problems I have with Current. But it’s also off-topic at the moment.

No video runs more than eight minutes, but, apparently, the Powers That Be at Current are afraid that may be too much for their target demographic.

This network has a two-part bug, and both parts are moving. The word “current” is built in the lower right-hand corner, while a loading bar, like the ones you find on some websites. You can’t tell exactly how much time is left in the video you’re watching, but you can tell whether you’ve passed the halfway mark

While all this is going on, a photo of the video’s creator flashes on and off, along with shots from coming distractions, er, attractions.

I don’t have any theory as to why this is happening, except to say that even I’ve noticed the similarity between these screens and the screens on most computer games. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that my proficiency with computer games is almost too small to measure. If I spend a lot of time with a game, I can usually work my way up from Hopeless to Mediocre, but that’s it.

Still, there’s a upside to all this. It’s a good rationalization for buying DVDs. Just don’t talk to me about Blu-Ray, okay?


Goodbye, You Old Zipper Neck!

Actor Peter Boyle Dead at 71

NEW YORK (AP) - Peter Boyle, the sardonic father on TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond," has died at New York Presbyterian Hospital, his publicist says.

The 71-year-old actor died last night after a long battle with multiple myeloma and heart disease.