The Crown…

I’m an unreconstructed anglophile. I like the Brits for their humor, their television, and their food. I like them for clinging to aristocratic pretense and the trappings of monarchy
long after it’s supposedly gone out of favor. I like them for their sense of history and place.
I like them for their stiff upper lip and determination in the face of crisis. I like them for
the-crown-season-2-770x433.jpgthe single fact that England is a place and that almost everything I hold dear here in its former colony can draw a line, whether direct or indirect, back to that small island in the North Atlantic. I like the fact that England is.

I watch a fair amount of British television and though I won’t claim to like it all, they have a better hit percentage for my viewing time than most of what’s made here in the states. Last weekend, I may have binge watched my way through the first season of The Crown, which is based on the life and times of Elizabeth II. Sure, they punched up the drama a bit and took a few liberties with the story, but I found it a perfectly enchanting period piece that drifts through 50’s era England and paints the House of Windsor in far more familial tones that we’re use to seeing. More important, maybe, is its attempt at presenting a case study in personal desire versus duty.

I commented to a friend who sometimes shares my affinity for the English that it’s sweet and it’s sad and it’s funny in that uniquely British way. I’m a fan. If you’ve got ten hours to kill and want to watch something other than reality TV or the continuing disintegration of the republic on the nightly news, you’d be hard pressed to find something better to watch. Truly Netflix has embiggened us all.

Political drama…

When I’m tinkering around on the computer in the evenings I’ve gotten into the habit of running long since cancelled television shows as background noise. Currently I’m playing my way through season four of The West Wing… which after watching the utter jackassery of a real presidential debate last night reminds me how much more I’d rather live under a Sorkin scripted presidency. Even with some of his more unpleasant left-leaning tendencies.

I wish I had something more insightful to say on the topic of the real candidates, the actual debate, or the current state of American politics. Unfortunately there isn’t, so I’m stuck with dreaming of a world that resembles a nearly 20-year old political drama far more than it resembles our reality.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Brain fog. Perhaps worse than actually being sick is the pharmacologically induced brain fog that comes from trying to stave off the more obnoxious effects of the human condition. It makes everything happen just a little bit slower and makes it well near impossible to craft well formed and coherent sentences. Don’t even ask how badly it tends to mangle spelling and grammar usage, which isn’t a particularly strength of mine to begin with. Despite the annoyance, I’ve got a few more days of self medicating left before letting the stuff work its way out of my system. Until then I’ll continue to be the poster boy for short attention spans.

2. Two months. We’re still two months from the 2016 presidential election. I usually like this stuff, but I think at this point I’d rather take a jackhammer to the side of the head than listen to another day of the back and forth.

3. Afternoon television. It’s something I only notice the once a year or so that I find myself home and otherwise unengaged between the hours of noon and 4:00 pm, but there really is absolutely nothing on television on a typical weekday afternoon. Which makes perfect sense when you consider that most of the people who have jobs to earn disposable income are at their jobs earning disposable income instead of home watching television. Still, I’d like to note how wonderful it is to live in an age of Netflix and Amazon Prime. They saved me from endless hours of crap programming on the networks and cable providers this week.

Trek…

Since I was old enough to start making my own decisions about what television to watch, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek. There was a time in the late 80s and early 90s when I could have probably quoted every line of the 3 seasons of the original series, watched in syndication and taped to re-watch countless times on a score of clunky VHS tapes. Six movies and The Next Generation followed, adding to the franchise. I largely fell away during the era of Deep Space 9 and Voyager and Enterprise, though.

I wasn’t overly thrilled about the prospect of bringing the old girl out of mothballs with J.J. Abrams at the helm. I don’t generally like the current Hollywood approach of reanimating every old TV show and movie in an effort to pump more cash from an already tapped well – as if having an original idea or story to tell is some kind of crime against humanity.

With that being said, I’m pleased to report that Beyond manages to hit most of the right notes for this old Trek fan. As troubled as I was originally about these new movies breaking off onto a new timeline, I think this installment comes just about as close to the tone and feel of an original series episode as a fan could hope without putting everyone back on a low-budget set with a bunch of flashing lights and toggle switches. Although I’d never threaten to call this new incarnation of the Start Trek universe “campy,” it finds the proverbial sweet spot somewhere between keeping most of the old timers happy without alienating a new generation of fans. It was nicely done.

A show well run…

There are thousands of websites you can visit today and read every detail of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. I’m not going to call for a spoiler alert here because I don’t intend to provide that level of detail.

It’s not often that I find myself caught off guard, even by a show like Thrones. It’s simply understood that in the world created by George R.R. Martin anyone can drop dead at any moment. On any given Sunday you expect the high lords of Westeros to grapple in a fight to the death. There a whole hose of characters who have become part of the series’ background hum. Those secondary and tertiary characters may not get off any easier than their high born overlords, but their deaths are generally less noted.

In a season where the series seems to have discovered itself again – or perhaps noted that an end really is coming – last night’s blood offering was all the more notable. It spoke to sacrifice, friendship, and consequences. It reminds us that even in a world full of fairy tails, evil trumps good every bit as often as the other way around.

Maybe most surprising of all, though, is that it was a clear that even six seasons on, the fandom can still count on being caught off their guard. In an often formulaic world of 22 minute sitcoms and 43 minute dramas,  it’s nice to know that great stories are still being told. Boy did those writers earn their money this week. Their ending was among the most powerful I’ve seen on the small screen in quite some time.

I don’t usually give this space over to singing praises, but Martin, Benioff, Weiss, and the rest have created something absolutely magnificent. Show well run, gentlemen.

The golden age…

Those who are in charge of deciding such things have proclaimed the 1950s and 60s the Golden Age of Television. I’ll gamely admit that in a 3-channel world ruled by the censor’s iron fists, those old timers managed to put together some truly amazing stuff. If you’re expecting story telling without a lot of special effects some of those shows still hold up. I’m happy to burn half an hour watching Andy Taylor patrol Mayberry or Marshal Dillon bring justice to the streets of Dodge City.

Since that golden age, though, we’ve seen the rise of hundreds of cable channels and shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, The Wire, Downton Abbey, and Game of Thrones. They’re reset the bar for the kind of entertainment that people expect on their small screen. Of course we’ve also seen Jerry Springer and Teen Mom II, but I suppose not every bit of writing deserves an Emmy. Still, with everything in the balance, I’d be hard pressed to think those old timers could do anything better.

Contested…

Looking at the results of last night’s primary vote in Wisconsin, it’s becoming more and more likely that the Republican Party is headed for a nomination knife fight in Cleveland this summer. The talking heads are calling it a “contested convention,” but the reality of the thing is if none of the potential candidates arrive with enough delegates for a coronation, the convention floor is going to be a blood-soaked mess… metaphorically, of course. Probably.

Since my undergrad work was in political science, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m fascinated at the prospect of seeing a convention nominate a candidate the “old fashioned way.” It’s not something I’ve seen in my lifetime. While it will certainly solve a certain academic curiosity of mine, the process is going to leave the eventual candidate bludgeoned if not broken on his way to the stage. You could have that kind of intra-party conflict in the days before television, and camera phones, and twitter and charge out of a convention to win the general. I’m not at all sure a contested convention aired live in the 24-hour news cycle and covered to death on social media is good for anyone involved… other than the media, of course. People can always be counted on to turn in to watch a circus.

It’s a long way to slog through to July and I won’t even speculate on any number of fiascoes that could transpire between now and then. The only thing I’m willing to concede with any certainty is things are about to go even more stupid than usual.