Category: television

Returning to American Idol

Okay, okay. Remember how back when I blogged about revisiting Survivor, I mentioned in passing (and jokingly) that I might even try American Idol again? Yeah, well . . . I broke down and added it to my DVR, and then I went one step further and watched the first episode. One thing led to another, and that’s how I’ve started watching the season. Yeah. I’m a sucker, what can I say?

However, a few comments have come to mind around this new version of American Idol that I’m watching now. First of all, the DVR makes a huge difference. If there’s a performance I don’t like, I can just skip it. I can also skip all the ads, which means an episode takes much less time. (I don’t think I’ll watch it live. Even for live sports, I typically will just stay away from any news sources and then start the game an hour or so late. Who has time for ads?) Watching shows on my own schedule is very freeing. (Though there are still some shows I make time for each week as soon as I can. The Marvel shows on Disney+ have been that way for me so far.)

But more than just watching it with a DVR is the fact that the old American Idol was basically “Watch Simon be abusive to people for an hour.” Paula and Randy’s comments didn’t really “matter.” The whole point of the show was to impress Simon Cowell. (A format that went on to be successful in other reality shows, including The Apprentice. One might even wonder if Donald Trump would have been president if not for the path Simon Cowell blazed for him.)

Back in the day, I remember really liking Simon because he was so brutally “honest.” I cringe to think back on that now. And if the current AI were that way, there’s no way I would stick with it. However, the new hosts are genuinely caring. Sure, they do and say some stupid things now and then, and they can get combative with the contestants if the contestants are being combative first, but by and large they seem genuinely concerned for the singers who are on the show. They want to see them succeed, and they give them feedback to help them, no matter what stage of the game the contestants are at.

I believe we all have different inherent aptitudes for different skills. Whether it’s sports or an instrument or writing or whatever, each of us would start off with more or less skill in that than someone else. But you can take the skill you start off with and really make something with it. Through hard work and diligence, you can make that skill come alive, and you can get to a higher point with it than someone with better inherent skill who chose not to hone it.

If people are genuinely interested in getting better at something, the way to help them isn’t to tell them how bad they are, though that can be appealing if you yourself are unconfident. To really help, you point out their strengths and weaknesses and show them the next steps. I really enjoy seeing the judges do that now. Are there as many zingers and “did he just say that?” moments? No, but who cares? You can watch people being nice to each other.

More of that, please.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Netflix Review: Murder Among the Mormons

With a title like Murder Among the Mormons, how could I not watch? If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a documentary that just came out last week, focused on the Mark Hofmann case. Directed by Jared Hess (of Napoleon Dynamite fame), you might expect this to be some sort of light-hearted, zany look at an historical event. If you’re at all familiar with what Mark Hofmann did, however, you’d know that’s anything but what you’re going to get.

How to review a documentary where I assume many of the readers don’t know anything at all about the subject, and it’s presented in a sort of mystery format? I think I’m going to lead off with a spoiler-free discussion of the three-part documentary, and then I’ll get into some spoilery details after those who want to go into the show “clean” have a chance to leave.

It’s a compelling documentary, and since it’s just three parts, it’s very accessible for anyone to watch. You could easily finish the whole thing in a long evening. Denisa and I watched it over the course of two nights. They actually did something in the same vein as I did with THE PERFECT PLACE TO DIE, which is to treat the historical case like a mystery. Yes, a fair number of people might already know the specifics of the case, but a fair number won’t. More importantly, the people who were living back then didn’t have a clue what was really happening either. I think it’s more interesting to look at how things seemed at the time, rather than to view it all with perfect hindsight. One of the reasons noteworthy cases become so noteworthy is that they seemed unsolvable and unique at the time.

What do you need to know about the history going in? Back in the 80s, there was a man (Mark Hofmann) who specialized in digging up obscure documents out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ past. Documents that became more and more problematic for the church. And then pipe bombs started entering the mix. Police had no clue who was doing the bombing or why. Take it from there.

It’s well executed, and I found it very compelling. It doesn’t treat the church with kid gloves, though it doesn’t treat it really unfairly, either. I thought they found a good balance between the two extremes, something I was very curious to see how it was handled heading into it. All told, I gave it an 8/10, and I appreciated having something that was longer than a movie but shorter than a long series to watch. It would make an excellent show to watch in between shows.

With the spoiler-free part of the review out of the way, I want to dig in a bit more to the actual history of the case. So here’s your warning if you’d rather avoid those comments.

SPOILERS BELOW

So. Mark Hofmann. I’m always amazed at how easy it is for people to become really evil. I know he presented himself as just a normal guy, but I was astounded at how far he sank and how quickly. Justifying murder with the thought that “they might die in a car crash anyway” and “it’s really self-preservation, which is justified.” I don’t think Hofmann viewed himself as a terrible person, and I don’t think people who commit atrocities generally do either. You just get to a point where you’re able to justify it to yourself, and once you can do that, you reduce a lot of things down to a thought experiment.

People made a big deal in the show (and in some articles I’ve read around the case) about how the case proves Latter-day Saint prophets are phony. If they commune with God, then how come God didn’t tell them Hofmann was a murderer and the documents were fake? I tend to think people oversell the “commune with God” angle when they’re viewing religion. I don’t really believe God is just there with a red phone hotline that He uses to direct things. By and large, He lets us muck through things on our own, because that’s why we’re here on Earth in the first place. To figure out how to do things on our own. To grow and develop. If God intervened to keep the church from buying some phony documents, where does the line get drawn? Just my thoughts on the matter. (Richard Turley, the church historian interviewed in the mini-series, did a podcast entry about it here, which was interesting as well.)

I was really impressed with the investigation that went into the case. Proving Hofmann was a forger took a ton of hard work and persistence. That’s not easy to do when the common consensus is that all of that hard work is a waste of time. Hofmann’s discoveries were real, after all. They’d been verified by the FBI! But because of a few people’s persistence, it all began to unravel. (Also interesting to note just how quickly it all fell apart, once the story began to fray.)

Anyway. It’s a show that’s getting a fair bit of attention, or at least enough that I’m hearing a lot about it in the online circles I walk through. It was a fascinating look at the history of an event I knew something about, but which I’d never really taken the time to fully dig into.

What did you think?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Television Review: WandaVision

There aren’t many appointment television shows out there for me anymore. Shows that I make time to watch as soon as I can, week after week. But one highlight of the pandemic has been Disney’s Friday night offerings on Disney+. First with the second season of The Mandalorian, and just barely with WandaVision, I’ve looked forward to having something new and fresh to watch with the family. (Well, MC doesn’t watch, but Tomas and Daniela really enjoy it, and Denisa generally tolerates it.)

WandaVision was a very strange concept that I wasn’t sure about heading into it. Some sort of a strange adaptation of sitcoms throughout the last six decades combined with a Marvel superhero plot? I had no idea how it was going to work, and how they would tie things together. I know Marvel movies have gotten criticism in the past for all of then blending together. This hasn’t really been a complaint of mine, since I’ve felt like they’ve done a solid job at differentiating them all by style and tone. Thor Ragnarok vs. Guardians of the Galaxy vs. Dr. Strange vs. Iron Man? They’re all different types of movies, though all still definitely superhero movies. (Maybe the complaint might be “too many superhero movies,” but I still haven’t reached that point. At least not for Marvel. DC, on the other hand, tried to differentiate itself by having the “serious” superhero movies. The end result is that, outside of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, they’re almost all broody and one note and just blah.)

WandaVision continues that exploration into different territory, and I think it really succeeded. I loved how they blended comedy into mystery into action, though admittedly I’m already the sort of person who really likes some genre bending. In the end, the whole series felt like a uniquely Marvel-flavored experience, and it gave me a lot of the same vibes I used to get seeing Marvel movies in the theater. A very wise move in the middle of the pandemic.

I know some have criticized it for being things it wasn’t. For not having huge character reveals. For not setting up enough Marvel franchises for the future. For not being explosive enough. I didn’t really connect with any of these complaints. For one thing, I realize WandaVision was never meant to be the next big step for Marvel. It had that role thrust upon it due to the world going crazy. I’m impressed that Marvel is able to consistently deliver great characterization and plot development into characters I didn’t really know a whole lot about before the movie or show. Wanda and Vision? I mean, they’re fine and all, but they always struck me as third fiddle to the other characters. Now that they’ve had a better chance to shine, it’s great to see that they polish up so nicely.

It’ll be interesting to see how things go with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but I’m still excited for it, and happy that we have some time for continued experiences like this. For me, this was an 8.5/10. A much needed breath of fresh air for my evening viewing experience. What did you think?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Television Review: The Crown Season 4

I’m not sure if I’ve reviewed older seasons of The Crown. I don’t review everything I watch, even the shows I quite enjoy. I’ve stuck with the Crown through all these seasons because I like the way it presents different slices of history. Each season deals with a decade of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, and the shows I like the most are when they get away from the royals themselves and focus on what the royals were doing. What events were happening in that decade. It’s fascinating to see what they choose to fill each of the 10 episodes with.

So while many might have been really looking forward to Season 4, which focuses on the 80s, I wasn’t terribly enthralled with the idea. I expected it to be dominated by Prince Charles and Princess Di, and indeed it was. I understand why’d they do that: there likely would have been many people who would have been upset if they hadn’t given a lot of attention to the couple, since the couple was a focal point of the royals for the 80s. But man oh man was it a downer of a storyline. The show presents it as a miserable, failed marriage almost from the beginning, and it’s very hard to have any sympathy for anyone other than Princess Di coming out of the season.

(That actually makes me question just what things were really like. I know this is all a dramatization of historical events, and I know the royals are famously tight lipped about what they do and who they are. The Charles/Diana storyline seemed almost 100% in favor of Diana, to the point that Charles comes off as some sort of fairy tale troll. Perhaps they thought that all the goodwill they tried to earn for Charles in Season 3 would help offset that. Provide context for why he acted the way he did. It didn’t. He comes off as an entitled boor the whole time, gaslighting and manipulating this poor innocent wife. I hope it wasn’t really as bad as that.)

In any case, I wasn’t a fan of the Charles/Diana plot. Each time they were on the screen, I just felt physically drained. Too much baggage for a pandemic audience. Then again, Gillian Anderson did a tremendous job as Margaret Thatcher, and I really enjoyed seeing that arc unfold, even though it was also a bit of a train wreck, historically speaking.

In the end, you have a wonderfully produced, directed, and acted season about a subject that is very much not what I was in the mood to watch. It says something that I watched it anyway, which is why I gave it a 7/10. If I were being more impartial, that score would likely be higher, but I just didn’t have a fun time watching it. I understand that’s a petty complaint. I wasn’t supposed to have a fun time watching it. But there it is, nonetheless.

If you’re a fan of Charles and Diana and want to see one version of how it might have played out, or if you’re just into star-crossed marriages destined to go wrong, then have I got a show for you. If you’re not, then this might be a season you can skip. It’s rated TV-MA, but I think that’s more for the series as a whole. I don’t recall anything content-wise in this season that would call for it, short of the depiction of Diana’s experiences with bulimia.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Returning to Survivor

Back in the day, there were a number of shows I watched regularly. When I ditched television back around 2009, I gave up most of them. At the time, it just didn’t make sense to be paying how much I was paying (as a percent of what I earned) in return for the television shows themselves. Of course, it’s been 12 years or so since then, and there’s only so much sitting around during a pandemic you can handle. So maybe it only makes sense that I would eventually return to some of the television shows I used to watch all the time. (I even caught some of American Idol on Sunday. I’m still not sure how I feel about that . . .)

But one show that I’ve really been enjoying catching up on is definitely Survivor. We had avoided watching it with the kids for a long while, simply because I remembered it getting fairly cutthroat, and I wasn’t sure they were up to it yet. But there’s something about being abandoned on a beach and having to fend for yourself that really resonates with me right now (I wonder why), and so we launched in with Season 25. (I can’t remember which seasons I’ve seen and which I haven’t, so we just started somewhere I was sure no one had seen.)

If I were to ever want to go on a reality game show, Survivor would definitely be my first choice. It’s not my favorite of the genre: that would be The Amazing Race. However, I’ve traveled enough to know that I personally would probably tank in the Amazing Race. All those planes . . . I just don’t think I could force myself to do that for that amount of time. Survivor, on the other hand, has proven that you don’t necessarily need to be a superhero to be able to succeed in the game. Yes, there’s a physical aspect to it, but so much of the game is social and strategic, and that’s the part of watching it that really appeals to me.

I love board games. To me, Survivor is just one big enormous social interaction game, and nothing more. I don’t really understand how people playing the game say things like, “I have to give up my integrity to play this game well.” It’s a game. If I’m playing Risk with someone, and I make an alliance with them, and then I end up having to break that alliance, am I suddenly a person with no integrity? I would say no, since it’s all within the bonds of that game. (And in Risk, if you break an alliance, that can really come back to haunt you, just as in Survivor.)

Does that mean I’d do anything in order to win? No. I tend to believe I’d use my typical skill sets to try and get ahead on the game. When I play board games, I almost always keep my word, even within the bounds of the game. I’ve found that trust is more valuable than short term gains from breaking trust. What else wouldn’t I do? I wouldn’t compromise my morals, and I wouldn’t do things that go against my religion. (Another reason I think the Amazing Race would be ill-suited for me. There’s inevitably some challenge that involves alcohol, and I’d have to just take the automatic penalty, which would really stink.)

Do I think I could win on Survivor? Sure, it’s in the realm of possibility, but just as much as anyone can win on Survivor. Yes, a lot of it is skill based, but there’s plenty of luck as well, and I’m always impressed by the people who manage to successfully finagle their way through all the potential pitfalls to come out on top.

Of course, at the end of it all, I do have a general question as to what the worth of Survivor is. I like to watch things that improve me or my writing somehow. In the Amazing Race, I like seeing other countries and learning a (very small) bit about them. That’s enough to justify the show to me. In Survivor, I’m not sure. It’s an excellent way to pass the time, and it offers some interesting scenarios to spark discussion with the fam. (I wonder how often my family wishes I would stop hitting “pause” to make commentary . . .)

In any case, it’s been a diverting way to spend some evenings again. (Though I’m still not sure I’ll ever get back to full American Idol fandom . . .)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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