The 100, Episode 2

I don’t think I have time to re-watch, so this won’t be as deep a ramble.

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The City of Light appears to be a digital place, which seemed to be the most likely scenario, when I discussed it with my friend. There’s no pain, which is why you can smack that dude on the head and he doesn’t feel anything, I guess. Not sure if that means you can exist simultaneously in both worlds? I’m still not 100% sure about the rules. Also, no death, so it looks like that dude’s consciousness has been uploaded completely and he gets to look pretty. As I said before, this show equates digital and biological consciousness, so I guess that’s really him.

When (if) Jaha gets back to Arkadia, it seems like Jasper would be a prime recruit for the City of Light. He’s going through so much pain, and the City of Light would relieve that pain. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got Abby, who says Jasper has to face the pain to get through it. It’s a very Freudian approach, which I don’t like. (Definitely more sympathetic to things like CBT.) I suspect that this is the dichotomy being set up, and the show’s probably more sympathetic to Abby’s approach, but I hope it’ll surprise me. I’m not entirely sure if it will be because the show’s definitely going out of the way to paint Abby more negatively, which I’ll get to right after one more point. Raven didn’t show up in the last episode, and she’s the other broken one, as described in the opening. She’s also prime for conversion to the City of Light too.

Abby is a terrible leader, and I’ve had that feeling since season one. I wasn’t even that enamored with her shenanigans to tell everyone about the culling. She’s very privileged and kind of does what she wants. Her decisions haven’t been great. She probably should’ve evacuated instead of hoping that she could revive Lincoln. Right now, she’s making the terrible decision to colonize Mt. Weather.

All the shippers on Tumblr are going crazy. I kind of wish Dan Harmon would team up and write an episode where it’s revealed that Bellamy and Clarke were having casual sex for a while and aren’t interested in a real relationship. Also, Bellamy is a master of disguise. I need to make some kind of Gene Parmesan / Bellamy mashup. I ship Jahalie by the way. Just kidding.

It was revealed that Roan, the bounty hunter, is not only from Ice Nation, but is an exiled prince. There’s a lot of backstory that I wish I knew more about. I like that this show is expanding the world by making grounder politics more complicated. I’m also excited to learn more about Polis. Were we supposed to recognize that tower as the wreckage of something famous? What’s the Ice Queen’s end game here? Why is she massing an army? Who else is in Lexa’s coalition?

Lexa wants Clarke to bend the knee and join the coalition. Lexa chose her people at the end of season two and now she wants Clarke to be her people. Clarke still hates her guts. Lexa not only betrayed her, that betrayal forced Clarke’s hand in committing genocide.

The Farm Station thing was resolved pretty quickly. I thought it’d be more of a mystery, but all was told quickly. They landed in Ice Nation territory. Most of them got slaughtered. And now, Pike hates all grounders and apparently refuses to see that some of them are different. Okay, cool, dude, great attitude.

I’m not going to try to make any predictions other than I think things are going to fly off the rails here in ways that I won’t be able to predict. (If I get a chance to rewatch in the morning, I’ll add more notes.)

More thoughts after rewatch

Abby tells Jasper he has to “face your feelings head on,” which is even more Freudian than I remembered.

Alie loves tech and they gather it for her, but Emori says there are other buyers. This seems like one of those little things that could be a potential mindfuck later on, like all those hints about the Mountain Men in season one.

Pike’s first name is Charles, I think? I think that’s what Monty’s mom said. Pike tells Monty, regarding Mt. Weather, “You did the right ting. Kill or be killed,” so we get a little bit more of Pike’s philosophy. Lexa is pretty progressive for a grounder, and Kane had direct interaction with her, but Pike has only been hunted since being on the ground.

Jaha says he was unburdened in the City of Light. I like that they brought back the fact that he lost his son. It was a huge point in season one. There are lots of scenes where Jaha is thinking about his son before he has a conversation with someone else, and that “I lost my son” scene where was really good too. It’s for this reason that I especially thought of Jasper. When Octavia is sitting with Jasper (wow, a lot has changed since Jasper first saved her life), she tells him that it’ll get better and he wonders, “When?” It could get better real fast in the City of Light, yo!

By the way, are they actually in the City of Light, or were they hanging out in the suburbs. Because it looks like you have to take a monorail to get to the actual buildings. Alie says the best part is that there’s no death, but I think you have to have been uploaded to be alive there. I don’t think she could bring back Wells, for example.

It seems like they’re still in the US because there was this “star spangled” text in that place where Roan and Clarke were hiding, and they were still in Ice Nation territory. I wonder if we’ll eventually travel south. There were 12 stations, right? How many are accounted for? I know at least a few blew up on re-entry. One crashed on a cliff and everyone died except for one girl. Arkadia is one and Farm Station was another, so are there anymore potential survivors?

I liked how Roan paused when Clarke says that he’s taking her to the Ice Queen. He just walks away and doesn’t say anything. He’s like that dude in werewolf never actually lies lol. Roan seems to know a lot about anatomy (or at least with regards to stabbing). He knew Clarke almost killed him, and he definitely stabs Bellamy not to cripple or kill, but just to take him out of commission enough in order to make an escape. He could’ve killed Bellamy, but we don’t know his motivations. It probably says something about his character. He also says that the Ice Nation scouts’ deaths were on Clarke, not him, so he’s not super excited about being murdery. We know that, at least. Not like Game of Thrones’s Ramsay or The Mountain.

The Alie-backpack shows up in the first scene, and giant messed-up head dude is super protective. I like that the show sets up stuff right from the get-go.

One question: What’s the difference between Ice Nation and Tree People. Like, why are the linguistics different. Is there government different? (I guess it is because one seems like a monarchy and the other is some weird reincarnation thing.) Are they Sky People because Clarke is like Lexa? Half-kidding. And why were they Mountain Men, not Mountain People? Although I’m not sure if there was a difference in grounder-speak. Okay, I guess that wasn’t really one question.

I thought of another mashup where Jaha and Raven discuss the City of Light. Jaha: In the City of Light, there is no pain. Raven: Will I walk again? Jaha: No. But you will fly.

Last thing: I love bread. That Oprah commercial is the best.

Edit:

Last last thing: Haven’t watched episode 3, but I’m about to. Just want to say that the Monty’s dad story sounds a little contrived, but only a little.

My Favorite Shows of 2015, Part 3

Reviews are an odd art form in the age of spoilerphobia. It’s a near impossible task to describe why something is good without really describing it. A moment in a show can be really good, and you can describe all the things that make it awesome to help make a case as to why a show is worth watching. But then you might spoil an important plot point. It’s easier and harder with comedy. With comedy, you’re less likely to spoil something important, but then your delivery will always be inferior to the actual funny moment. Anyway, it means I have no idea what I’m doing when I’m describing these shows and then saying they’re worth watching. I probably should’ve written them to myself as if I was reminding myself why I loved the show.

Community / Parks and Rec

These shows both ended this year. The seasons were great and had their funny moments, but overall, they didn’t match the peaks. Community had to deal with another cast member leaving (Shirley), after they had already lost Troy and Pierce. In season five, I really enjoyed the addition of Jonathan Banks as Buzz Hickey, the surly criminology professor. When he handcuffed Abed to the cabinet, I liked how tense those scenes were, and how we got to see the darker side of Abed. His character had a weight to it, as if he already had a full backstory. Season six added two new cast members who both had great, funny moments, and knocked it out of the park, but I didn’t feel like they had the same weight as before. Keith David’s unceremonious good-bye kind of summed it up. It didn’t feel special or all that emotional, but it was still great and perfect in its own way. Season six, having moved to yahoo screen, was given more space, some of which was used on wacky, out-there post-credit endings, like the one with the Japanese kid pranking the Dean. Those were actually some of my favorite scenes in season six, but that’s kind of unfortunate when I really enjoyed the chemistry between the characters in previous seasons. I felt like losing so many cast members was just too much to overcome, and there wasn’t enough natural conflict between them. Yet the season was still streets ahead of gas-leak season four. What I liked about season five was the bitterness behind it and the fuck-you’s to season four. Season six was a little more mellow. But overall, it was a great good-bye to the characters we loved. It dealt with it the only way it could, meta to the end, trying to see how the show could stretch to further seasons and knowing that it couldn’t. We couldn’t have another season artificially keeping these characters together. It resisted shipping Annie and Jeff. It was fitting, and we got the best season of Community we could considering the circumstances. Definitely worth watching if you’ve loved the show from the beginning, I think. Every season, I wanted Community back, but I made peace with it ending, happy with what I got, but sad there wasn’t more. It kept rising from the dead. Season six wrapped it up, and I felt like I made peace with it ending, but on the show’s terms. It didn’t need to rise from the dead anymore. I don’t even need the movie.

Parks and Rec I felt had a little more success. The time-jump helped keep it a little fresher, and provided a great avenue for silly jokes about the future (especially the pop-culture stuff from Aziz’s character). (Footnote: Sorry, I switch back and forth haphazardly between character names and actor names.) The previous season or so felt like it was running out of steam, kind of running out of new stories to tell with these amazing characters. The last episode had flash-forwards showing us what happened with all the characters. It tied it all up and was super satisfying, especially with the hints that Leslie was president. The most optimistic show didn’t undercut it. I loved that this show existed and I’m happy I got to watch it.

It’s sad that both these shows, two all-time great sitcoms, are done. I thought the sitcom was dead, but then there’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and You’re the Worst to fill the void.

Master of None

There isn’t really a thematic way to link this show with those two previous shows. The only real link is Aziz Ansari, a very talented comedian with a unique voice.

When the show won a Critics’ Choice award, Alan Yang said, “Thank you to all the straight white guys who dominated movies and TV so hard, and for so long, that stories about anyone else seem kind of fresh and original.” That about sums up why you should watch the show. It tells different stories (and feels fresh, compared to everything else on TV.) The second episode is particularly good, telling the stories of two characters’ immigrant parents. It also felt good to feel represented, as a child of an immigrant.

It’s great to see these shows, and if you wanted to be wrong, you could make an argument about progress. In Seinfeld, some Asians have obviously fake accents played for comedic effect. In Parks and Rec, Aziz gest to be part of the main cast but is still a more secondary character. In Master of None, he’s the main character and gets to critique what Seinfeld did. Representation is getting better. You could also point to Community where Troy and Shirley are main characters in an ensemble class, which is a step up from having just one black person or black people only as side characters. And then in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, we get perhaps a more diverse cast, with two Latina women and two black men (one gay) as part of the main cast. But black representation was better before on TV, and then blacks practically disappeared from sitcoms. That we can have shows with unique views doesn’t mean those unique views won’t disappear. So watch these shows, promote these shows, discuss these shows, and if they’re good, make sure that networks know that we want more shows like them.

The 100, Season 3, Episode 1

I’m watching The 100 and I want to write about it. So, here we go. These won’t be recaps. More like disjointed thoughts. Spoilers ahead, yo. Spoilers be here, yar.

Bellamy does the voiceover instead of Clarke in the intro. I guess that means that Bellamy is now less likely to be a main character to bite the dust, but who knows with this show. Maybe they’ll rotate the voiceover? But it seems like Bellamy makes more narrative sense than Clarke. This show owes so much to BSG, and you can hear the influence with the music. The biggest influences on The 100 are Lost and BSG, but it’s Lost and BSG in a post-Game of Thrones world. So, main characters can die. (Well, main characters on Lost and BSG died too, I guess, but the line between death and life was much more blurred on those shows.) And we have the map in the intro, which is definitely influenced by the Game of Thrones intro. I tried to see what was going on with the map, but I suck at geography, so I’m not going to bother, sorry.

It took two viewings to try to figure out wtf is going on with ALIE. Well, actually, I still don’t really know what is going on, but I figured out a little more. While Murphy is in the bunker, we learn that ALIE’s creator isn’t the dude who shot himself, but instead Becca. ALIE models her avatar after her creator. What we don’t know is why the lighthouse dude let ALIE out, or why she was put away (perhaps her homicidal tendencies?). In the lighthouse, two other guys show up, and they’re also there in the avatar sequence. (But Becca isn’t in the lighthouse during the bombing.) So, Becca had some buddies help her with ALIE? She seemed closest to the guy who killed himself. Maybe Becca locks ALIE up, then dies, and the other dude wants to see Becca again, so he lets out ALIE? It’s impossible to know at this stage.

We also know that ALIE wanted to improve life, but she thought there were too many people. I suspect Becca programmed her with that prime directive, but we don’t know what she thought about the rest. Given that ALIE was “let out,” we can probably gather that Becca did the trapping, and didn’t approve of some of what ALIE was doing.

What’s the City of Light? Jaha says it’s real. It seems to be some kind of digital thing. ALIE’s conversation at the end of season 2 let’s us know that synthetic and biological consciousness are basically the same thing in this universe. Jaha is in a meditative pose and ALIE tells Murphy that Jaha is “in” the City of Light. Perhaps his consciousness goes to this digital place. Is it networked? Or is it just in your head? Of course, maybe it’s not a real place and it’s more like a drug.

When they locked Murphy up, it must’ve been because of the dangerous work they were doing converting a bomb to an energy source. (Okay good, she doesn’t seem to want to murder the rest of humanity… yet…?) But what is it powering? They wanted to complete the work ALIE started with her creator, but what was that work? It has to be something beyond just that prime directive, right? Why do they need so much power? Was it to manufacture that weird crystal thing that Jaha gave Murphy? How many of those things exist?

Also, did the City of Light exist before Jaha got there and helped with the power source? I have to imagine it did to convince Jaha to help out, and to recruit all the mutants. And to not only help out, but to be a die-hard Kool-Aid drinker, who thinks that ALIE was justified in murdering everyone in a nuclear holocaust. (Sometimes you have to sacrifice the many to save the few?)

Jaha says that in the City of Light there’s no pain, no hate, no envy. He also says that in the City of Light, we’re all kings, and the outside world doesn’t matter. I suppose the show will address what makes someone a human through this storyline. Murphy replies that pain, hate, and envy are the “ABC’s of me” and that if you take them away, then there’s nothing left of him. If you take away all the bad stuff, maybe there’s no humanity either?

They brought back Emori, but at first I was confused by who she was. I thought maybe she was the person that jacked all their shit in the desert, and that seemed to be confirmed when Murphy asked who she stole the boat from. Nice touch. I wonder if she’s been to the City of Light.

When they’re about to leave, ALIE shows up in a red dress. Speaking of BSG influences, haha. Beardless Jaha is no longer Jaha-Moses; now he’s Jaha-Baltar. But seriously, can anyone else see her? Is she hooked up to his consciousness and more free to roam around?

And since we had the Iliad show up in the beginning, will she be some type of god meddling in human affairs? Hmm. A couple more answers with ALIE, but really, just more and more questions.

It’s interesting how this show is dealing with sexuality. In the beginning, I thought it’d be some standard CW love-triangle stuff that I’d have to suffer thorugh for the good stuff. It kinda reminds me of Korra and how much time they spent on that. Korra ends up being bisexual, but I can’t applaud there treatment of it. After spending so much time on other heterosexual relationships in the show, I’m supposed to be satisfied with a relationship that exists only in hints until the very end. Plus, we don’t even know if their relationship is frowned upon or what? In this show, Clarke is bisexual, and the show doesn’t really make a big deal of it either. She’s really in love with Finn, and they she kisses Lexa, but says she’s not ready for a relationship. The show seems to be establishing a universe where same-sex relationships are not stigmatized at all. This is further proved when it’s revealed that Miller had a boyfriend on Farm Station. But I don’t know yet if sexuality is just fluid for everyone, or if some people have preferences, or what. I like that this show does have these characters, and I don’t want to change anything here, but it does punt a little bit on sexuality on race because it takes place in the future. I guess the thought is that some of these concerns go away when survival is the biggest thing (but classism doesn’t go away?), but I like it when narratives get to confront racism and homophobia and show how characters are shaped by these forces but also their own agents. Still, props for having complex characters with different sexualities who aren’t props for main characters. (Bad pun, sorry.) I’m sure it’s awesome for people to be able to identify with these characters on the show.

While we’re on the topic of sexuality, Abby’s doctor helper dude (don’t remember his name), mentions that people are getting their contraceptive implants removed. I’m guessing that every female in the Ark gets one, probably at puberty, so that’s why everyone got to have sexy-time on the ground with no one worrying about getting pregnant. I’d call it a nice ret-con, but this show is pretty good with planning ahead.

Clarke’s got a new lady-friend, but that might be over already what with Clarke being caught by that bounty-hunter. It was interesting seeing how Niylah admired her and thought of her as a hero because she ended the reaping, but we know how much pain Clarke went through and that she’s still having nightmares (when she wakes up suddenly). I don’t have any further analysis beyond saying it’s an interesting dynamic.

We don’t get to know anything about Bellamy’s new girlfriend. Raven says “she’s too good” for Bellamy, whatever that means. I guess it means she’s not a selfish douche, haha. (Oh how far he’s come.) Also, she gives him The Iliad, which is a nice gesture, but it makes me think less about her and more about what elements this season is going to borrow from that story. Obviously, war. But will there be parellels between characters, events, or themes? A sack of Troy? Too early to tell, but there has to be significance in which tale they picked. This show doesn’t waste something like that.

Raven no longer has a boyfriend. I was reading in The AV Club recap comments that the guy who plays Wick may have gotten fired after saying racist stuff on Twitter. Kinda sucks because I enjoyed the character. Oh and speaking of Raven, did you notice that she still had Finn’s necklace? It was in the truck. This show is good, right?

I really enjoyed that scene where the original crew got to let themselves go and sing in the truck. It was nice seeing them have fun for once. I was really tense though, half-expecting someone to die or for the car to blow up.

Lincoln and Octavia talk about what it means to be tree-people and sky-people, and I’m not sure I quite understand Octavia’s motivations right now. The first time around, I was trying to figure this out, but the second watch-through, I focused more on what they were saying and Octavia mentions running away and that Luna’s clan will take them in. Lincoln says Luna is in hiding. So, who is Luna? Was she mentioned before? Was that where Lincoln was trying to run to before? Will she be a character later?

Time for some wild-ass speculation: It seems like this show is setting up Trikru & Skaikru vs. Ice Nation. They just broke the cease-fire, the Ice Nation is hunting for Clarke, and Farm Station may have crashed there and we have no idea what happened to the people. But perhaps this show will zag when we expect it to zig and we may see an alliance with the Ice Nation and Arkers instead. It would explain why Octavia and Bellamy are fighting in the season 3 trailer.

Parting thoughts: Is the Ice Nation in New England or Canada (or all of it)? I really want the Ice Nation to be Canadian for some reason. Is there a Fire Nation? Do they attack?

My Favorite Shows in 2015, Part 2

Binge-watching a promising first season, and then getting to jump in and watch an amazing second season is a really fun way to get into a show. Most comedies suck in their first season, or at least take several episodes to get going. Some shows get better, and some get canceled. It’s a big gamble when you try out a new show, even when there are actors you like or a creator/show-runner you love. So many things can go wrong. Well, it’s not that big a gamble because at worst you’ve lost some free time you were probably going to spend on TV anyway. What’s nice about binging a show before the second season is simply that you don’t have to wait for the second season. I did this with both You’re the Worst and Rick and Morty. I watched Bojack Horseman right when season 1 came out, but I’ll talk about that show today too because it fits thematically.

You’re the Worst

I think the premise might turn some people off. The easiest way is to describe it as Always Sunny meets rom-com. Two terrible people who fall in love.

What drew me into the show was how far it gets beyond its premise. The typical sitcom has very broad characters. Side characters are 1-dimensional, main characters probably don’t even reach 2-dimensional. Relationships suffer too, in terms of development. Characters don’t communicate in order to facilitate wacky misunderstandings. So you get shows like Friends, where most of the characters are people you’re supposed to identify with, but they’re actually terrible people and terrible friends. Some shows correct it by leaning into it, making the characters actual terrible people. You get Seinfeld and Arrested Development and Always Sunny. But You’re the Worst manages to somehow make the characters bad people and 3-dimensional. Even the side characters get more and more of an inner life, as you get further into the show. You’re the Worst has a lot of empathy for its characters and is willing to investigate why they are the way they are. I love it when the comedy and plot comes from the characters. They have actual motivations and that drives conflict. A lot of times with sitcoms, you have to have this willing suspension of disbelief because there are plots where no one would ever really do that. I could see it while watching the show, but this intention with fleshing out characters came through in interviews with the creator too.

And despite being bad people, the two main characters actually have a really good relationship.

Season 2 introduces a plotline where one of the characters deals with depression. Well, it’s not just one characters because the fallout affects everyone else too. It handles mental illness very well. Here, just read Todd VanDerWerff, a real TV critic, talk about this show and his wife’s depression. It’s an amazing piece of writing, and better than anything I can say on the topic.

When you get to LCD Soundsystem, you’ll see that the show also takes risks, which I admire too. Back during April Fools, I really wanted an all-Winston pranks episode of New Girl, but it never happened. That show doesn’t really take risks.

Oh and the show is really funny. Funny lines, funny characters. People might categorize it as a dramedy, but as a sitcom aficionado, I categorize it as a sitcom.

Bojack Horseman

Another show with a silly premise, that manages to actually be a deep show, and also deals with depression.

Bojack Horseman is a former 90s sitcom star, and the character is voiced by Will Arnett (that’s a very important detail to give you an idea of the character). Bojack is selfish and not nice. Usually, these characters will have a heart of gold or learn to be a better and person and this may involve winning over a girl too. This show does have a girl, but she’s a person too with her own motivations and not just a prop to help the main character. Or perhaps in a typical show, you’ll see the history of the main character, and feel sorry for him, and then you’ll know he’s just a good person who had a bad life. Instead, you do get to see why Bojack is the way he is, but you also see how his choices and actions make him a bad person, not just the circumstances. And that’s just season 1.

Season 2 elevates the show, dealing with Bojack’s depression. It’s interesting seeing the varieties of depression. On You’re the Worst, you see someone who deals with periodic debilitating bouts of depression. Bojack is more someone who seems permanently depressed and feels broken inside. (And Diane, another character on the show, deals with depression because of an existential crisis.) The show does a really good job with it, still managing to be really funny too (just like You’re the Worst). Honestly, as much as I love Steven Universe for feels-punching, I think You’re the Worst and Bojack had the most feels-punchy moments. Bojack is a really great show to watch when you’re depressed.

The reason I originally got into the show was because Lisa Hanawalt is the production designer, and she’s a funny, weird cartoonist. A lot of the characters on the show are basically people with animal heads (and sometimes limbs). It makes for some great visual puns too.

It has a really good cast with Will Arnett, Allison Brie, Aaron Paul, and Paul F. Thompkins. Season 2 adds Lisa Kudrow. Oh and my favorite Kristen Schaal plays a former-child star on Bojack’s show.

Rick and Morty

I decided to lump these shows together because it’s also another show that is in its second season, and I binge-watched season one before jumping into season two. This show is definitely on the more pessimistic end, as opposed to Steven Universe. My favorite quote (from season one): “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” And while Steven Universe occasionally gets dark (“all comedy is derived from fear”), this show is steeped in darkness. The meaninglessness of life is fundamentally part of the human condition, and the show often reflects that truth. Bojack Horseman is similarly dark when Bojack’s former friend dies, and Henry Winkler bluntly states that life has no meaning. Yet I think Bojack and You’re the Worst, while steeped in darkness, are ultimately hopeful, and it’s a sense that I never get from Rick and Morty. Anyway, if you think that life has no meaning, and that this is simultaneously depressing and hilarious, try Rick and Morty.

The other thing Rick and Morty has going for it is its inventiveness. The show constantly surprises with its crazy-ass plots. Describing them in a blog post won’t really do them justice. I wonder what it was like watching early Twilight Zone episodes (a show that is parodied in one episode of Rick and Morty), and if the ironic twists were surprising. If it was surprising, it must have felt really new and awesome. I suppose that would be the closest thing to watching Rick and Morty now.

Seriously, while watching all of these shows, I was like, “This is my favorite show now.” There’s so much good TV.

My Favorite Shows in 2015

I’m having trouble falling asleep, and this is something I want to write, so we’ll see how far I get before I finally get sleepy.

TV is my primary way of consuming narrative these days. I don’t consider it inferior, nor do I feel guilty for watching a lot of TV. (However, I do wish I read more.) One of the greatest English writers was Shakespeare, and he wrote plays. Some of the best novels were actually serialized chapters. TV kinda combines all that. You get the deep connection to characters through serialization. On top of what’s written, you get the direction and acting. Delivery can add so much, especially with comedy. In fact, sometimes a joke is only good because of its delivery. The best works of TV match up against any achievements in literature. The Wire is a fucking masterpiece. I Remember You, an episode of Adventure Time, is as good as any short story I’ve ever read. I have to make an effort to not tear up, even when I just think of it.

Everyone used to say we were living in a Golden Age for TV, but now we’re in Peak TV. There’s too much good stuff to keep up. It makes me hesitant to watch even shows that are merely good, and only watch things people rave about. So, this won’t be any type of comprehensive list. If critics can’t even keep up, then I definitely can’t. This also won’t be any type of ranking. I love these shows in different ways. I was going to put imaginary numbers in front of each show to drive home this point, but I’m too lazy.

Steven Universe

This is my latest obsession. There’s so much to unpack about why it’s good that I’d need several essays, so I’m not even sure where to start. I guess I’ll just ramble incoherently. It’s a cartoon and a kid’s show. The most basic, basic way to describe it is as a coming-of-age story for a kid with magical powers. Episodes are 15 minutes long (well, less without commercials). That episode of Adventure Time I mentioned earlier was co-written by the creator of this show: Rebecca Sugar. The show knows how to punch you in the feels without resorting to cheap tricks and while retaining Steven’s child-like nature. Its pacing is amazing, raising the stakes, revealing backstory, fleshing out characters and their relationships, and showing Steven slowly growing up. I also have to mention that it does a good job with diversity. The Crystal Gems are all female characters, and they all have unique personalities. They exist not merely to serve Steven’s story, but as their own characters with their own relationships with each other. They’re also role models for Steven, and it’s cool to see on TV a male character looking up to several female characters. Connie, another female character, is Steven’s friend, and isn’t merely a love-interest prize. Seriously, I could write another essay about her too. She gets to have her own goals, desires, and values. Like I said, I’ve watched a lot of TV, so I’ve seen cases where this isn’t true for female characters. Plus, it’s not just skinny white ladies. Although the Gems aren’t human, Garnet is definitely a black woman — she looks like one and she’s voiced by Estelle. She also is tall and strong, yet also tender and wise. She’s also the leader. A true leader, not just a token side character in a position of authority, as I’ve seen in other shows. Amethyst is more ambiguous ethnically, but she represents a different body-type. Pearl is more stereotypical light-skinned and very thin. But what’s nice is that she is her own well-rounded character with her own strengths and flaws, not necessarily presented as more or less than the others. Connie is Indian, and the diversity here is pretty casual. I’m using that in a jargony way that only makes sense to me. What I mean to say is that it’s a world where diversity is a given, and not the other way around. It just is. It doesn’t have to justify itself or call attention to itself. Not that calling attention to diversity is a bad thing; it’s just refreshing to see a fantasy world where this is the norm. This is especially refreshing for a mixed person like me, who grew up seeing diversity as a norm. Oh and Connie’s parents are Dr. and Mr., which will be like me and my wife when she finishes grad school.

All this rambling, and I didn’t even mention the music, which is so amazing!!! Not every episode has a musical number, so it doesn’t feel forced or anything. I’ve listened to some of them a million times, and I learned the ending credits on piano.

It’s so, soo good. Most of it is on Hulu, so it’s binge-able. It might have the widest appeal of any of the shows I’m going to mention. It’s only on it’s second season, and episodes are short, so it’s not that much of an investment to catch up. I recommend watching from the very beginning. It starts out good and just gets better and better. Pretty much every episode is worth watching. The only skippable episode is the non-canon Uncle Grandpa crossover.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

This is my favorite traditional sitcom that’s currently on network TV. It’s consistently funny. It’s more of an ensemble comedy, like Modern Family or later seasons of Cheers. There’s no weak link in the cast (really early on, Gina didn’t work as well as some of the other characters, but I definitely wouldn’t say that now), and they good job mixing and matching characters. All of them are equally awesome, but the hilarity of Captain Holt’s deadpan delivery is more equal than the others. (Holt describing Ratatouille as “the rodent chef” made me die.) Plus, Terry Crews is funny in everything.

You can jump in any time, since there’s no huge overarching story. If you’re not watching, jump in now!

With the end of Community and Parks and Rec, the sitcom isn’t dead. This show carries on the tradition.

As a side note, I’ve kinda stopped watching Modern Family. I enjoyed some of the earlier seasons. The writing for that show is really solid, jokes-wise. The show is pretty jam-packed, so sometimes it feels like everything has the depth of a c-story. The actors are all good too. I never felt obsessed with that show the way I felt about other shows, so while solid, it doesn’t have any special place in my heart.

I haven’t watched Fresh off the Boat, which I’ve heard is decent, but no one has raved about. I also gave up on Last Man on Earth for now, despite my love for Kristen Schaal.

Bob’s Burgers

You could make a case that this is a traditional sitcom because the show has a lot of that family sitcom DNA. But it’s animated and has a bunch of music, so even though it’s not network TV, it doesn’t technically count for me. It doesn’t rely on cut-away humor the way other Fox shows do. The humor comes more from the characters.

This show makes me really happy. (Given some of my other favorite shows, it’s really refreshing.) The Belchers are a weird family, but they all embrace, accept, defend, and love each other. (Even Louise.) Add in the fun musical numbers, and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside after the show is done. It’s also really, really funny. And I love, love, love Kristen Schaal, who voices Louise.

Other favorite shows I’ll hopefully write about later: You’re the Worst, Bojack Horseman, Community, Parks and Recreation, Master of None, Rick and Morty. Other shows I’ll probably mention: Game of Thrones, The League. Other shows I binged but I won’t count as a 2015 fav: Seinfeld, Always Sunny, Regular Show, White Collar, Lost.

Video Games and Capitalism

I loved this talk on Video Games and the Spirit of Capitalism. Watch the whole video. I much preferred it to the text; the text spends more times talking about games than capitalism.

I think people’s personal experience in those roles backs this up. I know someone who enjoys resource management games because it’s practice for managing the time and abilities of different people in real life. Even before I watched this talk, I was finding similarities between project management and Farmville. That is, in Farmville, you set things going and then you have to wait. You’re not actually making plants grow. In project management, you are probably not the one designing, coding, building, etc. That means waiting, and then collecting the resources. Granted, project management is more than just clicking to plant — and there’s no QA or politics. Farmville requires zero skill. Still, this kind of work can be fundamentally more alienating than a task like coding.

I mean this as a structural critique of society, not as an individual indictment. Modernity is alienating, and all wage-slavery, so to speak, is alienating. But people gotta make a living and they even can find enjoyment in their individual day-to-day job experiences.

Incoherent thoughts on political epistemology

Politics is another realm where logic can often fall short — even more than in the moral realm. Humans are complex and politics is messy.

I’m skeptical of arguments from first principles and even more so when talking about politics.

One thing I find fascinating about Machiavelli’s The Prince is the way he classifies principalities. He takes into account their histories. A hereditary principality is different from a new one. Then, there are further subdivisions. The people who are in a new principality could be used to being free or used to living under a prince. Each type should be governed differently.

When it comes to government, we have to start with the people and history, not with first principles. We have to start with what’s there, not with ideology. Take ideas like fairness and equality. If you start with first principles, you have an abstract representation of what government might be like if its fair. People should be treated exactly as equals. You have an idea of what laws should look like in that case. If you get treated better than me, then that’s unfair. However, there are multiple flaws with this approach. The first flaw is that it misses historical (and current) iniquities. We don’t live in an abstract realm. We live in this human realm. Truths about government aren’t actually self-evident; they’re contingent on what’s happened already. (Which reminds me, I really should try reading Oakeshott some time.) If you start with the fact that people have been treated unequally in the past, then fairness includes rectifying this history rather than just trying to treat everyone exactly the same now. Affirmative action is unfair if you start from first principles instead of historical understanding.

The other flaw is the creation of Procrustean beds. In the more violent versions of the myth, Procrustes has two beds — one long and one short. Tall people go on the short bed and he lops their heads off. Short people go on the long bed and he stretches them. He fits the people to the bed. Those who argue from first principles do the same, fitting people to their ideology, rather than the other way around. They even tend to be more violent than Procrustes. (My thoughts on this would definitely be strengthened by more specific examples, but I’m just kind of scaffolding my own thoughts for myself right now.)

That’s it for now. I’ve got more posts in me on this topic, including how knowledge can be encoded in tradition.

Less disjointed thoughts on moral epistemology

I really need to re-read Hume because it’s the basis of my thoughts on why using logic is problematic when discussing morals. Here’s a link to Wikipedia on the is-ought problem. I’m fine linking to wikipedia as a summary because I fucking read Hume many times and wrote essays in college. Anyway, is and ought are two different things and there’s no way to derive ought from is. And here’s the wikipedia article on Hume’s Fork:

The apparent gap between “is” statements and “ought” statements, when combined with Hume’s fork, renders “ought” statements of dubious validity. Hume’s fork is the idea that all items of knowledge are either based on logic and definitions, or else on observation. If the is–ought problem holds, then “ought” statements do not seem to be known in either of these two ways, and it would seem that there can be no moral knowledge.

It’s only a problem if you accept the way Hume structures knowledge. And I don’t, of course. If you believe in the supremacy of logic and an epistemology of true-false, then Hume’s fork is a problem. You can’t derive moral knowledge.

That’s why I think those who insist on the primacy of logic during moral arguments are silly. They think they’re being logical, but if you follow the logic all the way though, they’re standing on nothing. They’re like the Coyote chasing the Road Runner off a cliff. Meep meep.

Another important component of morality is skin in the game. It’s an elegant solution to principal-agent problems — usually much better than inventing regulations and bureaucracies, which can be gamed and captured. In Roman times, if a guy built a bridge, he had to sleep under it before people used it. That’s skin in the game. If a money manager tells you a stock is great, but never buys the stock herself, then she has no skin in the game. You should feel comfortable telling her to fuck off.

That’s the problem with logic and being dispassionate when arguing morals. It usually means you have no skin in the game. Dispassion indicates disconnection; it’s a moral thought experiment where you remove yourself from the equation. It’s even easier if it’s not a thought experiment and the moral matter doesn’t affect you at all. If an obvious injustice isn’t stirring righteous anger within you, then perhaps you shouldn’t have a say.

You have to go even further than saying that these people have no skin in the game. They do have skin in the game, but because they benefit from the existing power structures. These lived realities of existing structures matter more than moral arguments from first principals, which is another case where logic comes up short. To explain this, I have to transition from moral epistemology to political epistemology. This will have to come in future post(s).

Some Incoherent Thoughts on Rationality

Alex posted this on pslack: The Myth of “Emotion vs. Logic” and The Reality of Oppression. I found it interesting, but I’m not going to respond to it directly for now. What I did want to talk about is why I devalue logic, so I guess I’ll talk about how I arrived at similar conclusions from a different angle. This, of course, is an incomplete account, but I gotta start somewhere.

My epistemology is mostly formed as a response to thinkers like Plato and Descartes. I disagree with their ideas about the structure of knowledge. I think Forms are nonsensical. Things are good, but there is no “The Good.” I also don’t think you can say, “Alright, I know this one thing is true” and then have that one thing be enough to build all of human knowledge on top of it. I don’t think it works.

When it comes to moral epistemology, I’m heavily influenced by the is-ought problem, or Hume’s Guillotine. One of the reasons I don’t think knowledge can be structured the way Descartes thinks is because you can never build morality off of it. (Some would say God is a way around these limitations, but I think God is basically just a Form.) You can’t get from logic to ought. Logic mostly just gets you consistency.

People who value logic also tend to value that which can be neatly expressed. Logic requires a chain of reasoning. If you don’t have good reasons for something, then you’re stupid and illogical. I don’t think that the ability to verbally express yourself clearly (and optionally, extemporaneously) is equivalent to knowledge. (However, at the same time, I do think that writing can help you learn and gain knowledge.) There are plenty of charlatans and sophists who are very logical and very persuasive. You can play Werewolf as a werewolf and win without ever telling a lie. Plenty of people talk good on TV but are full of shit. Conversely, you can express plenty of knowledge without ever saying a word.

I really like Taleb’s Green Lumber Fallacy, where the most successful trader in green lumber thought it was literally lumber painted green. People who talk smart on TV and go bankrupt can have less knowledge than those who sound stupid. Logic is about what’s true and what’s false. However, not all information is equally important. That’s why true-false isn’t always as helpful in a world where you’re acting with incomplete information.

I also really like this aphorism from Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes: “Since Plato, Western thought and the theory of knowledge have focused on the notions of True-False; as commendable as it was, it is high time to shift the concern to Robust-Fragile, and social epistemology to the more serious problem of Sucker-Nonsucker.” These epistemologies are more useful for when you’re trying to navigate the world.

If you really push me on true-false epistemology, I become a skeptic. I’m not sure that’s there’s any way to know anything. First, you can’t get morality. Second, there are issues with induction (which I’m not going to explain now). Finally, even deductive reasoning requires postulates. In the end, I don’t think logic can dictate whether you should even jump out a window or not, but robust-fragile and sucker-nonsucker can.

As an aside, another issue with talk is that it often involves narrative, and as a sometimes-artist, I’m keenly aware that to some extent, narratives are always lies.

P.S. I’m going to add a note here that the part where I really agree with the article is the primacy of lived experiences over logic.

The First Amendment

Torture is wrong. Those who tortured and those who authorized torture should be prosecuted as war criminals. That America allowed this is a stain we can never erase.

I believed this when we began the torture, and I still believe it now, after the release of the Senate report on CIA torture. The release of the report made me feel the same anger I felt back then.

You see, I haven’t been angry for a while. Anger was replaced by pessimism. I believed in Obama, but he betrayed us. Before he was elected, he betrayed us on FISA. He said he’d close Guantanamo within a year, and it’s still open. The war criminals still walk free. Years passed and nothing happened. What could I do?

Plus, there were even bigger problems. Global warming is an existential threat to humanity. Nothing I read makes me feel like the problem can be solved. In fact, it always makes me more pessimistic. Shit, things are warming faster than we thought. Shit, we can’t even prevent some amount of the warming now. Shit, shit, shit. Hope? I’m far away from that. Philosophically I’ve even begun to entertain the thought that we, as a species, don’t deserve to survive because of our crimes against the planet.

The market crashed and the market recovered. But we never put the bankers in jail. We never fixed the systemic issues that allowed this type of crash in the first place. The Occupy movement was a failure — so far, at least. It was crushed by the state. The state literally beat the people down.

The trends are frightening. We used drones to assassinate an American citizen without a trial. We have a prison, that’s still open, where we tortured people — some of whom were innocent. The police have become increasingly militarized — they literally have military equipment. The police use excessive force against citizens protesting. Journalists get thrown in jail. (Then the police get embarrassed and they let them out.) Remember “free speech zones”?

Can’t anyone else see the connections between what happened in the war on terror, what happened during Occupy, and what can happen now? In some ways, democracy is such a fragile thing. We’re only a few steps away from a police massacre of citizens and a few more steps from people shrugging at such a thing. We’re only a few steps away from protesting citizens getting locked up in secret jails, along with the journalists covering them. It really doesn’t take a large leap of logic.

We’re seeing a systematic erosion of free speech rights. The people have a right to peaceful assembly. However, every protest is being categorized as a riot. Disrupting people’s normal life by blocking the road, or really, any pause in the status quo, is seen as an assault. (I even saw someone on facebook categorize it as an economic cost.) Then, that is used as a pretext for the state to use force against its citizens. We’re already seeing them lob teargas, shoot rubber bullets, and beat people with batons. They shoot unarmed people with real bullets. Do you really think it takes a large leap of logic for them to turn those real bullets on a protest?

I know we like to think that good always wins, that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, but we can lose. And we can lose badly. Many attempted revolutions have failed before. Cicero never saved the Republic.

Getting your head chopped off, like Cicero, is pretty bad. I’m curious, though, if we have it worse. As generations pass, death becomes more mechanized. The state can kill a lot more people. Plus, it was pretty hard to find Cicero. With the trends in state surveillance, it’s much easier to find Ciceros (and Snowdens).

[… more thoughts in future blog posts … there’s a lot more to unpack …]

[… and thanks Stevie for making me start to think about this …]

Limbo

I beat Limbo. It came out for iPad and the game was pretty heavily hyped when it first came out, so I figured it was worth purchasing. I’m not sure how to evaluate it. The game has its strengths: the art, the atmosphere, the puzzles. The story gives me more pause. I guess it’s supposed to be open-ended, but I don’t think there is enough to adequately support any interpretation. I find in some games, even when the story is supposed to be great, it’s more like the backstory and world-building are good. (Like Legend of Korra, the world is awesome, but the story sucks.) Meanwhile, character development is non-existent. Not all games need that, though. Some get by on exploring a theme. Some games have no theme and just need awesome mechanics. I don’t know if Limbo actually has a theme, or a lesson learned.

Smash

I’m going to play the new Smash today for Wii U. Pretty excited. I’ve only gotten one taste of it on 3DS (I don’t own one).

I’m especially interested in figuring out what characters will fit my style best. I’ll have to do a lot of un-learning and re-learning.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to play with the GameCube controller yet, so that’ll handicap me. I suck without the c-stick. I may have to get a new controller. Other people were playing with mine and said it sucked. Part of it is because the joystick has different resistance and part of it is because my controller is hella old and dirty and literally has aluminum foil in it.

Productivity vs Presence

I think in a work environment productivity is clearly better than presence. That is, 4 hours of productive time is better than 8 hours of unproductive butt-sitting. However, productivity can be sometimes hard to measure. So, a lot of places will use presence as a proxy. Plus, when employers can’t trust employees (or choose not to) then presence is automatically valued over not being present. For those employees, all the emails and tasks done outside of work add stress but don’t count in the employer’s eyes. I’m lucky enough to have avoided such situations.

Random Access Memories

“Tom brings home Random Access Memories and they listen to it together, as father and son. A tear runs down Stu’s cheek. He thinks, ‘On this day, both my son and disco have returned. This truly is the greatest day.'” – from my Rugrats fanfiction. Like if you want more!!!

I posted that on facebook. I’m not sure that there are any other appropriate places for that joke. Even reposting it here is weird.

A Dark Room

I was thinking about A Dark Room (Spoiler Alert!) vs Boom Beach and why one game is good and one game is terrible. Both involve resource gathering and waiting, right? The difference is that A Dark Room involves building an economy. You use some resources to produce other resources and you have to make choices about which resources are more important. You can run a deficit to get more bullets. It’s more complex and you have to make choices; it’s not merely mindless clicking. The other difference is the theme. Your villagers become slaves. It’s funny juxtaposed with Boom Beach, where you’re “freeing” villages from people who make them work, but then they’re giving X amount of gold to you every hour. With A Dark Room, there are more layers with both the gameplay and the theme.

Enough

Greed sucks. The more material goods you have, the more you want, and it’s impossible to be satisfied.

I want a new iPad, even though mine is perfectly fine. Well, I want more hard drive space. Is that enough to justify a new expensive toy? Why don’t I finish the games I have first instead of coveting more?

I think it takes effort to appreciate what one has, and I should put more effort into that. I should be very grateful for financial stability and shouldn’t blow it on unnecessary expenses.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

is a very funny show. I’ve only been watching the first season, but the characters make me laugh. It’s not yet in great sitcom territory where I care about the characters and they’re real people, and I don’t know if it’ll ever get there. However, I don’t think that it necessarily needs to be like that to become one of my favorites. I mean, I don’t need the characters in Always Sunny to be 3-dimensional.

Pay for your games

I briefly played Two Dots. The game is beautiful, within each level and in the world map. But the gameplay is kind of garbage. It got frustrating because once you get to higher stages, you just needed increasing levels of luck to clear them. Before I got tired of the game, my friend who was also playing asked me for some recommendations for puzzle-like games. I was surprised to notice that almost all the games I recommended weren’t free. Most of the games on my iPad and iPhone are paid.

My niece recently downloaded Boom Beach on my phone. I’ve been playing it a bit so that I could join her strike force or whatever. I haven’t leveled up my base enough to join yet. The game is not very rewarding so far. It feels like fucking Farmville, but I don’t even get any ribbons. You just wait and wait around. Tap a few things when you get some resources, and then build. Sure, there’s some raiding/fighting, but there’s barely any strategy involved.

South Park recently parodied freemium games. While I didn’t get a chance to watch the entire episode, I saw a clip where they explained the freemium model. It was dead-on and described the game perfectly.

Here’s a heuristic: If a mobile game is free, it’s probably not good.

Corollary: Pay for your games if you want good games.

Recently, Monument Valley released an update with more levels. I have yet to play the new levels. However, I have played through the original levels and I loved them so much. Earlier, I said Two Dots was beautiful. Well, Monument Valley is amazingly gorgeous. It’s a puzzle game inspired by MC Escher. Anyway, the new levels are only available through in-app purchase. This led to a flood of one-star reviews by entitled idiots. Fuck you. Fuck all of you. I left a 5-star review to help combat it.

If we don’t want games to be shit, then we need to start paying for them. It’s especially not hard to pony up some cold hard cash when a beautiful game that gives you hours of entertainment costs way less than a movie and a little less than a few candy bars.

Monday Nights

I missed blogging yesterday. I essentially went straight from work to my friend’s place, and then I was driving home when midnight passed.

It’s crazy that we’re still getting together pretty much every Monday night. I can’t even properly count the number of years. I guess it was right out of college, so… 5 years? We started just watching House, the TV show starring Hugh Laurie. Eventually, we stopped watching House (the quality declined), but we still kept meeting together on “House Night.” It’s nice having the stability of a group of friends and a regular night to meet together no matter what.

Morning Routine

My phone has made it so much easier to browse the internet in bed after waking up. I’ve never found reading stuff on the internet to be that effective a morning routine. (I’m using the term effective very loosely, since I’m not obsessed with productivity.) It may be even less so as my old usual blogs and comics have been phased out by social feeds.

Dark Skies

“Let there be light,” said the industrialists. As the earth grew brighter, the heavens dimmed. The stars all died and no one bothered looking upwards anymore.

We like to think philosophy killed the gods, but I believe it was the lights.

Killing Merlin

The last several times I played Avalon, the Merlin kept getting assassinated. Even adding Percival didn’t help. I knew there had to be a way to counteract this, so I began searching online for a remedy. Lo and behold, I found this discussion: http://boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/14806/merlin-always-gets-stabbed

The main thing to keep in mind is that usually the other people make it super obvious that they’re not the Merlin. One trick to confuse evil is to be act super sure as a good person, even when you’re making guesses. Hopefully multiple people will be right, or the wrong ones will be seen by evil as Merlin attempting to throw them off. The other thing is that the game can be won even when Merlin does nothing, so Merlin doesn’t have to do a great job hinting and signaling to everyone.

The next two games didn’t see the Merlin assassinated. I think the advice helped.

On a semi-related note, we played Werewolf on Halloween. I’m not as big a fan of the game because there’s a lot more guess-work and a lot less deception. However, we played with a candle in front of every person. During the night, the moderator would blow out a candle. You’d awaken in slightly dimmer light, one candle extinguished representing the dead person. The atmosphere made the game way more fun. I really, really want to play with the Ghost role, where the Ghost communicates via Ouija board.

As a group, I feel like we sometimes get too stuck on a “right” way to play, when the game requires dynamic strategies to keep people guessing and to keep the game fresh.

Gotham

I recently started watching Gotham. I’m not quite sure what to think of it yet. I liked the episode with the Balloon Man. I like it when shows deal with ideas of what constitutes justice and sticking to one’s principles even when it’s hard. I like the atmosphere of a corrupt town veering towards outright chaos. Penguin is fun. I’m always excited to see Don Falcone, but only because I still think of him as Rawls, haha. I’m not enjoying Jada Pinkett Smith’s character. I watched the “Arkham” episode and didn’t like it because it felt like the story was full of “and then,” instead of the plot being propelled by the characters.

I wish the show would be darker. Like, embrace the tragedy. Show that Gotham’s fate is sealed, no matter what people try to do. Those ancient Greeks knew how to do tragedy. We always want a hero. I guess that wouldn’t work on network TV.