Good Shows to Watch When You’ve Got Covid

One consolation of having Covid (and yeah, I’ve had a rebound and it feels like a head cold, but I am now positive again!!) is that you have a good excuse to sit and binge watch shows you’ve been meaning to get to. In my case it was For All Mankind (Season 4) and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (Season 1). Both were really good, both on Apple TV+!

For All Mankind was co-created by Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame, and it displays all the strengths and (maybe) excesses of that show. The writing and acting and production are top-notch, and the story arc utterly compelling (alternate history of the space program). It maybe goes overboard on the gritty realism, for my taste—in the sense that virtually every character is conflicted by bad choices and tormented by the ensuing consequences, just like in BSG. The characters are all quite believable, and I wouldn’t call any particular one into question, but the overall angst-o-meter reading is way over into the red, and I might have liked a little break from that. Also, I’m skeptical about the asteroid-diverting orbital dynamics that enabled the Mars-firsters to steal a big asteroid from the Earth-loyalists. But never mind that. It was a terrific watching experience, and it took my breath away at the end.

Monarch was good, too, which was surprising to me, as I watch creature features for the love of the monsters and don’t expect much good writing and characterization. In fact, this was much more a human-character story than it was a monster flick. Godzilla and others appear, but infrequently. (Godzilla still doesn’t have the proper Gronnnnnnnnnk! roar of the original.) And some of the character angles (the antagonism of two step-sibs toward their wayward father, primarily) got beaten into a dead horse at times. But overall, it was entertaining and surprisingly well done.

What to follow that up with? Well, I tried Reacher (Season 2 on Prime), and it was time-filling, but not much more than that. Banal dialogue, endless stupid violence, and if my memory is accurate (not at all a sure thing), it didn’t follow the book it was based on very well. I confess I have listened to many Reacher books via audiobook, and they are definitely a guilty pleasure. Reacher’s an interesting character, and the books are fun action adventure, but basically overloaded with mindless violence. Each time I finish one, I say, “That’s it, no more.” And then another comes out, and I go, “Oh well, maybe one more.” I’m not proud of myself, but there you have it.

Oh, we’ve also been watching Astrid on PBS and Midsomer Murders on Pluto, both excellent. I am trying to memorize the theremin theme to Midsomer so I can learn to play it on my theremin.

Meanwhile, we are getting ready for a trip to Puerto Rico, and the porch reconstruction inches along.

June Foray, a.k.a. Rocket J. Squirrel, at 99

posted in: deaths, farewells, TV 0

June Foray, from IMDB

June Foray, one of the world’s most versatile voice actors, and the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel as well as the scheming Natasha, died last week at the age of 99.

By coincidence, I just recently started watching some of the old Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle episodes, when my friend Craig started reducing the size of his breathtaking video collection. (These are on VHS, and Craig and I may be among the few in town who still possess working VCRs. He and his wife Barbara watched them one more time, and then passed them on to me.) The cleverness and wit behind this venerable series is hardly at all dated. (When I was a kid, I doubt I would have gotten many of the references, such as the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam, which is a model boat that Bullwinkle has somehow gotten hold of.)

Some years ago, Craig and I went to hear June Foray give a talk, I think at M.I.T. She was smart and funny, and actually had a pretty bawdy sense of humor, which of course had to stay suppressed while she was working in kids’ programming.

The world is a little less funny and creative with her gone. Here’s a lot more about her in the Boston Globe and the New York Times.

Another New Favorite—Mozart in the Jungle

posted in: TV 0

Another great show we’ve recently discovered, thanks to a tip from a friend, is Mozart in the Jungle, on Amazon Prime video. It’s been around for several seasons, but is new to us: a hilarious and engaging story of a fictional New York Symphony Orchestra, complete with the inner machinations of the nonprofit arts; Rodrigo, the flamboyant new conductor who steps on toes everywhere he turns; Hailey, a hopeful young oboist caught up in the whirlwind, and lots of funny, soap-opera-worthy characters. Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell headline the cast with Gael García Bernal, but it’s told largely through the eyes of Hailey, the young oboist—played by Lola Kirke, who as it turns out was a classmate (one year removed) of my daughter Lexi at Bard College! Very funny show.

If you have Amazon Prime, it’s free. Give it a try!

Downward Dog—Arf!

posted in: animal friends, TV 0

Our new favorite comedy is Downward Dog, the story of a dog named Martin and his human, Nan, as narrated by the dog. In a voice that’s somehow a blend of surfer dude and NPR’s This American Life, Martin waxes philosophical about his life with Nan. His philosophy isn’t terrible stable, so his day tends to be filled with insights that contradict his last insight. The writing is witty and funny, the acting is great, and the dog is an adorable rescue mutt adopted from a shelter by the producers. No dog lover should miss this show. On ABC, free on-demand, or streaming.


Another New Star Trek!

posted in: Star Trek, TV 2

CBS announced today that they’re launching a new Star Trek series in January of 2017, to be aired on their paid subscription channel CBS All Access. The first episode will be on broadcast TV, to get us hooked. Alex Kurtzman, one of the co-writers of the reboot films Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, will be executive producer.

I’m of several minds on this announcement. I’m excited to hear that Star Trek is returning to television! On the other hand, I’m sad to hear that to see it, I’ll have to subscribe to yet another pay service. Granted, this was true of Game of Thrones, which (for that very reason) I came to late. And it’s true of Alpha House (by Garry Trudeau), one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, though as an Amazon Prime member I got to see that for free. And it’s true of Episodes, another of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, which I only caught on DVD after the fact. Is this the wave of the future, for quality original programming? I think it is.

But will this be quality programming? Kurtzman has a solid track record, although I admit I (again!) had mixed feelings about the reboot films, with its alternate timeline to the established Star Trek universe. Still, they were good movies, if flawed (especially Into Darkness). But this announcement is all about “franchise”—which is a term I hate when it’s applied to creative endeavors—and is short on specifics. It leaves me wondering if they really have a vision for the new series, or if they’re simply reviving a guaranteed money-maker. (Hey, let’s do a new Star Trek show! It’ll be big. What will it be about? Well, I don’t know. Wait, I’ve got it! New characters, folks having adventures in space!) I didn’t really catch much of the vision thing in the announcement. There’s no indication yet of which timeline it will be set in, or whether it comes before, after, or concurrently with any of the existing Star Trek story lines. And if the latter, if it will for God’s sake have some new adversaries, rather than continuing to recycle the old ones.

So, I’m excited. But cautious. I’ve learned caution, when it comes to anticipating new TV shows.

In the meantime, I finally got to the theater and saw The Martian. What a terrific movie! If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t wait for the DVD. Big screen. Go for the big screen. I also watched the first episode of Supergirl and thought it showed real promise. Not brilliant, but good. It has the upbeat tone I was hoping for, a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous “darker, edgier, grittier” mantra that has marked so many shows in recent years. Including, um, Star Trek.