From the archives: Television

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Hogwarts, Quahog and the Chinese Room

Friday, 2 February 2007 — 12:02pm | Harry Potter, Literature, Television

I’m quite shocked. I didn’t think she could do it.

A July release date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had been rumoured long before yesterday’s announcement, mostly because the prospect of the seventh Potter being released on 7/7/07 (as was often suggested) was too numerologically fortuitous to pass up. There were two reasons I never believed this: first, it coincided with the anniversary of the London tube bombings, and while I don’t like the idea that we’re effectively letting the terrorists win, I can understand the need for sensitivity.

More to the point, though, all indications were that Rowling wouldn’t finish in time. Books don’t get printed and shipped out as soon as they’re done: the fact that the date is now set to 21 July indicates that a complete draft is already in the can. I had no idea she was anywhere close to this. Settling on a title in December was probably the first indication that the book was coming along much faster than I expected, but even then, this is all rather sudden.

It’s encouraging, though. As was the case with The Prisoner of Azkaban, a quick turnaround time means things were tightly planned, things are going as planned, and the author isn’t struggling. It could make for a satisfying finale, to say the least.

By the way: while I have to read The Half-Blood Prince again before I commit to anything, my chips are still on “Harry is not a Horcrux,” “Snape is evil” and “Harry, Ron and Hermione all make it out alive.” All three of these positions are somewhat contrarian, and I wager I’m one of very few people to hold all of them at once, but we’ll see who’s eating crow come Saturday the 21st.

Next item on the agenda: Family Guy.

I make it no secret that I am not at all a fan of the show. In fact, I find it often irritating and outright dumb. After watching a few consecutive episodes one summer, it became readily apparent to me that however fresh it must have seemed back in its inaugural season, what passes for comedy on Family Guy amounts to a bag of three or four basic tricks.

I’m not going to get into details here. I tried once, but I couldn’t get to the end. Just read this guy and pay special attention to #9, #7, #3 and #2. And just know that the moment the show lost me for good was when I realized it didn’t even know how to make a decent jab at The Da Vinci Code.

I only bring up Family Guy now because for all its failings, the one element that never ceases to impress me is the music, be it the nostalgic sitcom cues or the full-blown musical numbers. Sure, like the rest of the show, most of them are merely referential and not parodic, which means that they can be cute, but not necessarily funny. I know at least one person who only knew the great Lerner/Loewe tune “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from Seth McFarlane doing Stewie doing Rex Harrison in one of Family Guy‘s more triumphant moments, and not from My Fair Lady; I’m sure he’s not alone.

So what do we make of this: taking the scene from Anchors Aweigh where Gene Kelly dances with the latter half of Tom and Jerry as a palimpsestic surface, so now we have Gene Kelly dancing with Stewie Griffin?

Personally, I find it quite enjoyable, and probably as good as the show is ever prone to get. In fact, Family Guy is generally a lot more tolerable when snipped into little sketches and segments that are placed online. This is one of its better moments, even if it reeks of the problem I mentioned earlier – that the show can’t tell the difference between reference and parody, and often settles for the former.

But as fun as it may be, Steve Worth is on point: “How much ‘thought to animation and choreography’ does it take to rotoscope someone else’s animation and slap your own character over the top of it?… Family Guy deserves no praise for this. A ripoff is a ripoff.”

Then again, even a ripoff is linguistically interesting from time to time.

As an aside, I started sketching this post in my undergraduate class on the philosophy of mind, and it’s slowly dawning on me just how little most people know about computers. I think it’s a problem, at a basic conceptual level, that the average layman wraps his head around computers as if they were only machines that are or aren’t powerful enough to do certain things, and not as theoretical, mathematical constructions – which, when it comes to a philosophical approach to consciousness, is the part that matters.

Generally, this is probably a consequence of the fact that most people’s exposure to science is limited to an exposure to technology. Consequently, it must be easy for them to fall into the trap of thinking that scientific problems, or philosophical ones with scientific elements, can be solved by technological progress alone.

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To boldly stop going anywhere

Thursday, 3 February 2005 — 11:51am | Television

Enterprise has been cancelled. Jeopardy! aside, it was the last television series I bothered following until even that came to an end, when my schedule prevented me from keeping up as much as I would have liked. Apparently the Temporal Cold War is over and they were just beginning to work on some neat prequel concepts, too – transporters, eugenics, and all sorts of fun with Vulcans. A shame, a crying shame.

This pretty much spells the end of Star Trek for good. To borrow a hackneyed phrase, it’s dead, Jim. The movie spinoffs died with Nemesis, and now the franchise is coming off the air, too. I don’t envision it undergoing another revival anytime soon, if ever, though Berman and Braga tend to have occasional fits of desperation when pimping off Gene Roddenberry’s lovechild. I shudder at the imagined thought of them drawing up plans for a Starfleet Academy series to appeal to the O.C. crowd, an endeavour that would be as futile as resistance itself.

On the other hand, between Enterprise and hockey, now you can quite definitively say that there is nothing to watch on television.

In the meantime, take a minute to gawk over these Super Mario Bros. collectible dioramas. I want them. I want all of them.

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TV stands for Too Viewtiful

Thursday, 9 September 2004 — 5:28pm | Television, Video games

It’s cool enough that Japan’s getting an anime series based on Capcom’s incredibly stylish video game Viewtiful Joe, which I have praised on many an occasion as the best side-scrolling fighting game since the golden age of Mega Man. But word is that after the 52-episode Japanese run that begins in October, there will be an English release bound for Europe and the United States, though there is as yet no word on whether or not Canadian networks will pick it up.

I have never been much of an anime fan myself aside from “The Origin of O-Ren” and the occasional Miyazaki, but I’ve seen the tremendous potential for such a project since I saw the anime Viewtiful Joe commercials that promoted the first game. While most video games, perhaps all of them, are butchered in the transition to television – anyone remember the atrocious Legend of Zelda episodes every Friday in the Super Mario Bros. Super Show starring Captain Lou Albano? – bringing VJ to television could work out a whole lot better. The entire game is already a tribute to manga art and popular film in general; and as I already mentioned, the existing commercials are a testament to the kind of quality we could expect.

On another note related to stylishness in the video game industry, check out this new glamour photo of the Nintendo DS, easily the best picture of it released so far. It tweaks the last design overhaul and resolves the one reservation I had about the colour contrast, since the plasticky black is now closer to the charcoal grey that took the PC industry by storm a few years ago. (This was possibly not a design change at all, but just something revealed by a higher-resolution photograph done under better lighting.) Also note how the DS logo is now emblazoned just beneath the touchscreen.

For those of you wondering about what in the blazes happened to the headline above my piece in today’s Gateway, it has been corrected for the online version. So that’s what it was supposed to read; I had my bets placed on “By-elections are exposé of Council’s weaknesses” with an omitted accent and “of”. Guess I was wrong.

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The Maple Leaf Forever

Thursday, 1 July 2004 — 9:41pm | Music, Television

We hear a lot today about how Canada is somehow in danger of cultural assimilation on the part of our southern neighbours, hence the need for arcane and increasingly unenforceable satellite TV regulations on the part of the CRTC, among other things. What is actually best for both consumer choice and the promotion of Canadian artists is a discussion for another day, as is whether or not this purpoted cultural assimilation exists when Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for Governor on a platform of putting a cork in Hollywood’s Vancouver-ward drainage, but I will point out a little something that may seem contradictory from an ideological point of view: I like the CBC. I like them a lot.

Taking a consistent stand on the extent to which government protectionism should apply to the arts is, again, nothing but blind ideology. A more pragmatic stance is to look at the merit of entertainment regulations and providers on a case-by-case basis, instead of blanket statements about bolstering or gutting the CRTC and CBC. The naive argument is that if consumers want Canadian content on their television sets, they will pump their money into it by their own will, only they won’t, because Canadian television sucks – when currently, all television sucks, except for – note the country of origin – Hockey Night in Canada (along with a number of odd exceptions I omit to preserve and emphasize my point). But as for the inferiority of television – that, too, is an entirely different matter.

Chuck the satellite regulations, but a well-funded CBC stays. The proof: CBC Radio Two – specifically, After Hours, the best jazz show in the whole country, period, no ifs and no buts. After Hours, which plays on Radio Two weeknights from 10pm to midnight, did nothing less than teach me everything I know about jazz. Mind you, filling domestic content quotas is a heck of a lot easier when your country can lay claim to the likes of Oscar Peterson, Moe Koffman, Regina Carter, Lenny Breau and Diana Krall. An anecdote: hree years ago, back when the legendary Ross Porter was still hosting the show – sadly, he has since left – I wrote the show in response to a call for written submissions on “the definition of jazz”; ten months later, the CBC informed me (quite to my surprise) that it was actually a contest of sorts, and subsequently sent me a CD wallet, Verve Records shirt and no less than twelve albums by bassist Charlie Haden.

Hockey Night in Canada is but the icing on the cake – with a Cherry on top, one might add.

Happy Canada Day, eh.

Speaking of 1 July, the other anniversary of sorts, but one a hundred years younger, is the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese, which is celebrated every year with a good old-fashioned pro-democracy protest. Now, I know I have said little to nothing on these here pages of my June excursion to that region of the world, but that would just lead to more expressions of British colonial pride – which, of course, bring us back to the subject of the Dominion; and what a Dominion it is.

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Sixteen, going on seventeen

Wednesday, 23 June 2004 — 7:47pm | Television

That’s how many consecutive wins Jeopardy! sensation Ken Jennings is sitting at as of tonight, doubling the previous record of eight. Given that this is still within the first year of the decision to scrap the victory cap, one only wonders how far people will go in the future. Having to go up against a super-genius is not exactly the luckiest thing, from the perspective of the other contestants who made it all the way past the rigorous audition and screening process only to be mowed down by this guy, but limitless record-setting certainly has a certain degree of audience appeal, as we wait and see who will finally bump him off. It’s like the old days in video arcades where lines would form behind the joystick titans of Street Fighter II, some going at it for longer than most would bear to stay and watch in one sitting, if it were not for the fact that they were seeing a legend in action, and knew it, too.

Jeopardy! – otherwise known as one of the single-digit number of programmes I would order if television services worked under a show-by-show on-demand model, which they do not – is remarkable in that it does exactly what a good game show is supposed to do: make the audience feel alternatingly smart and stupid. Everybody can sit down with a given episode and clean house with half the categories and draw blanks with the rest; the contestants, however, face them all – and under both time and camera pressure, which even board game players could tell you is a very difficult adjustment. Today’s television programming exploits a fascination with the everyman, with a so-called “reality”, but the answer-and-question mainstay of broadcast trivia that has been with us since 1964 still boasts the most admirable real-life heroes on the airwaves.

Incidentally, Jennings is a software engineer. Maybe they aren’t so bad after all.

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