The Lost Art of Syndication: My Top 5 Shows To Binge Watch

To finish what I started last month with my thoughts on the lost art of syndicated television (click here, in case you forgot), I feel I need a follow up post discussing the current state of television.  If you haven’t noticed a lot has changed since the 80’s and 90’s shows I wrote about previously.  With modern streaming services giving you easy access to whole seasons at a time, it has made every plot into an overarching story line.  Gone are the days of picking up a single episode of a show without asking yourself, “Who are all these characters I have never seen before?”  Or “Why does my favorite character not have any arms?”

I’m not just talking about your favorite shows that you like so much that you could watch them for a whole weekend.  I’m talking about shows that if you don’t watch them all at the same time, you spend most of your time Googling plot discussions to figure out what in the world is going on.  With these shows it is almost a requirement to be binge watched, or else they are impossible to watch.

With that said, here are my top 5 shows that I think epitomizes binge watching:

 

 

The Walking Dead – You would think a show about zombies killing people or being killed by people would be a pretty simple watch.  The reason that is not the case, is because this show is quite frankly a soap opera.  Did Glen just die in that dumpster?  Who is this Governor guy?  Where did this baby come from?  There is no way you could pick up a later season episode of this show and have any idea what’s going on without watching previous seasons.

 

Dexter – The inclusion of Dexter on this list is somewhat questionable.  The show has overarching story lines throughout but there is still a lot of consistency around the main plot.  Dexter is in the same job, the same office, and many of the same characters are around him through each season.  The show, however, likes to have a main theme for each season.  It will introduce a new arch enemy for Dexter at the beginning of the season and then build on that until season’s end.  At the beginning of the new season, there are always slight differences but the scenario starts over anew.

The reason I make the binge watching requirement for this show is because if you tune in to see John Lithgow, Colin Hanks or Mos Def without any backstory you are going to be completely lost.

 

 

House of Cards – I didn’t specify whether this was the British or American version but I guess both apply.  This show has twists and turns at every corner.  Main characters come and go, some even die from time to time.  The main character changes jobs pretty frequently, moving further and further up the food chain.

I could see someone turning on season 4 and wondering why Kevin Spacey’s hair is so gray, how he became president or why Claire is so annoying.  Scratch that last one from the list.  Claire is annoying from beginning to end.

 

 

 

 

 

Lost – This show is a little older than all of the others on the list but I can remember a time when it was the king of the water cooler conversations.  I never had the patience to watch it in real time.  I waited until after the show’s finale to watch my first episode actually.

For a show that basically starts as a revamped Gilligan’s Island it quickly is clear that it’s not made for syndication.  Even though there should be a limited number of new characters available since it’s an island, the show always has an influx of new spirals.

Even watching the show on Netflix within about a 6 week period I often found myself saying, “What the heck is this bunker they’re in?”

 

 

 

Breaking Bad – If I only had to choose one show for this topic, I think Breaking Bad would probably be my choice.  The main couple of characters stay the same but everything else about this show gets turned on its head at one point or another.  Walter and Jesse’s living conditions, romantic situations, and circumstances around their work changes from season to season.

There is enough detail in the stories that it would make it tough to pick up and watch later, without having trouble piecing together the action.

 

 

 

 

Those are my top 5 shows that are synonymous with binge watching, let me know yours…

 

Nerdstalgia: (Grand) Mother’s Day Edition

I’ve got more Microprose and Legend of Zelda articles in the pipeline, but this Nerdstalgia installment is a little bit different. It was inspired by a post at IGN about the nostalgia of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Where that author talked about gaming with his mother, my memories of gaming as a child are with my maternal grandmother 1. She played a lot of games over the years, but there are a few that we played together that stand out in my mind.

Dr. Mario

I’m starting with Dr. Mario for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is that it’s the game I remember her playing the most, but it’s also the game that caused the least amount of strife, which isn’t to say that it caused no strife at all.

Dr. Mario was a fairly simple puzzle game, originally released on NES and Gameboy in 1990.  The idea was that there were “viruses” on the play field that could be removed if they were paired with pills of the same color. It was a game that was very much in the same family as Tetris, but, unlike Tetris, there were levels and an “end” in sight: you needed to clear all the viruses to move to the next board, which would have more viruses and move faster.  Most importantly, there was one major difference for the NES version: competitive multiplayer.

Multiplayer worked with a split screen, with both players having access to their own separate board. Combos would send random pill pieces to the other player’s board, allowing you to spam them, giving you a slight advantage. That caused plenty of frustration and grumbles from both of us, but it was mostly friendly competition.

Dr. Mario is available on the Nintendo eShop as a Virtual Console title. The NES version is available on the Wii U, and the Game Boy version is available on the 3DS.

Super Mario Bros. 3

The World Map was the site of many strategic ambushes.

The third installment of the Super Mario Bros. was actually featured in a movie, The Wizard, before it was released in the United States in February of 1990. Unlike Dr. Mario, the multiplayer of Super Mario Bros. 3 was alternating and more-or-less cooperative, as players took turns clearing levels (or attempting to) while working their way through various kingdoms to track down Bowser and rescue the once-again-kidnapped Princess Peach.

Super Mario Bros. 3 featured a return to the type of platforming that was seen in the original Super Mario Bros., after a departure in Super Mario Bros. 2 (which wasn’t originally a Mario game in Japan, which explains the departure). It added some new enemies (including the Koopalings, who appear in several modern games) and some new abilities for Mario and Luigi, while removing Luigi’s ability to jump higher than his brother. At the end of each level, players were awarded a card. Collecting three cards would earn extra lives (depending on whether your cards matched or not).

I said the game’s multiplayer was mostly alternating and cooperative, and those cards play heavily into the exception. If the currently active player passed over the “on-deck” player on the map, the “on-deck” player could challenge them to an original Mario Bros.-style duel. During these duels, cards could be stolen from the other player 2. The winner of the duel became the active player, a fact that could be used to prevent your fellow player from accessing a bonus game in certain situations.

The frustration and friendly competition from Dr. Mario was somewhat amplified when playing Super Mario Bros., because the “betrayal” of an ostensibly friendly fellow player (read: grandchild) was, sometimes, considered cheating by my grandmother.

Honorable Mention: Uno

Before I get to the most divisive video game that my grandmother and I played, I’d like to give a quick mention to a classic family card game that was also pretty divisive. Uno is a fairly simple game, and I’m pretty sure every citizen of the United States over the age of 10 has played it as some point in their lives. At one point, when I was very young, I was frustrated by my inability to win consistently, and I attempted to stack the deck (literally) in my favor while shuffling for a new hand in Uno. I lost, despite my attempt at cheating, and I was caught, which caused my behavior in any game from that point forward to be viewed with more than a little suspicion, which probably contributed to some of the hostility caused by the last video game on my list.

Lemmings

Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to get a good picture of multiplayer Lemmings.

Lemmings is one of the first indirect-control, real-time games. It’s considered to be more of a puzzle game than a strategy game, but its gameplay inspired a lot of the gameplay of early real-time strategy games. Even more than Super Mario Bros. 3, Lemmings is primarily a single-player game. Most people who remember Lemmings remember it purely as a single-player puzzle game, and probably never played the multiplayer version much. Basically, the multiplayer game is played on a split-screen like Dr. Mario, but, unlike Dr. Mario, the players share a single map.  Usually, the players would find all their Lemmings entering the map in the center, and would have to work their way to one side or the other to find the exit. Each player had their own team of Lemmings, and the goal was to save more Lemmings than your opponent.

My grandmother saw this as something like a race, where you were competing as much against yourself as the opponent, and there wasn’t really much interaction between the two players. I saw it more as a game that had both offense and defense, and it was infinitely easier when your opponent wasn’t really playing defense. I’d take most of my Lemmings and go to solve the puzzle, but I’d manipulate one or two to travel the other way, usually after a short delay so they were mixed in among my grandmother’s Lemmings. I’d then alternate between solving the puzzles on my side of the map and subtly sabotaging my grandmother’s solutions (or not so subtly, if I could find a way to start killing Lemmings en masse).

This behavior was generally considered fair game by me (after all, you can’t cheat at a video game, outside of hacking; if the game designers allowed it, it’s within the rules), but was considered to be cheating of the worst kind by my grandmother. After a few games where I would promise not to screw with her design (and kept the promise), I would always slowly go back to my sabotaging ways. Eventually, she refused to play Lemmings with me anymore due to this fundamental difference of opinions about how the game was meant to be played.

To my knowledge, there is no place available to buy the original Lemmings for any of the systems on which it was released. All screenshots here were taken from my copy of the PC game, which I play primarily on DosBox (along with several other old Windows and Dos games that I can’t find anymore).

I know I’ve made it sound like my time playing games with my grandmother was full of fighting, but, honestly, even the “fighting” was with a friendly and loving tone (mostly). The nostalgia I get when I fire up Nintendo’s Virtual Console or my copy of DosBox is very strong, and I’ve found that I’m unable to play Dr. Mario with the music on because nostalgia starts to overwhelm me a bit. My grandmothers both contributed to my love of video games as a hobby, and I will always be grateful to them for that.

AirPods: The Review

Back in December Apple released wireless Earpods, aka Airpods. I immediately wanted a pair, but the available stock sold out pretty much instantly. Foolishly, I spent two months waiting on them to become generally available, thinking I’d just pick them up at Best Buy. By the end of February, when the people in Best Buy still showed me packs of wired Earpods when I asked if they had Apple’s new wireless headphones in stock, I finally did what I should have done back in December:

I bought a pair on apple.com and waited 6 weeks (the lead time since the initial batch sold out has been, and remains, at 6 weeks) for them to ship.

A few weeks ago a co-worker told me www.att.com had them in stock, and since they were in stock with free shipping and my Apple order was 4 weeks out I decided to order a second pair from AT&T and I could get them the next week and cancel the Apple order if my wife didn’t want the second pair (or eBay them for fun & profit).

As it turned out, the Apple Airpods shipped the day after the set from AT&T shipped out. :-/

Two hundred words in, lets start the actual review!

Imagine the wired Apple Earpods we’ve had for a few years now. Now imagine how they sound and how they fit in your ears. Are you happy with how they sound and how they feel? I’ve used and liked the Earpods that ship with iPhones for a long time, so I expected to at the very least like the Airpods as much as the wired version. If you like/love the wired Apple headphones, the Airpods are no different. If you hate the feel or the sound of the ones that ship with the iPhone, you’ll hate these as well.

It turns out removing the wires makes a HUGE difference in day to day usage (yeah, I know….welcome to Bluetooth tech and 2012). Any worries I had about the Airpods falling out of my ear was completely unfounded. Without the wire to pull on them and get snagged on things, I’ve never had one fall out accidentally in a couple weeks of use. They sound identical (to my ears) as the wired version. If you are happy with how they sound, you’ll like the Airpods’ sound quality as well. The battery life has been great, the storage case keeps them charged up and I simply charge the case every other day during my commute.

Really the only issue is the loss of the volume adjustment that is on the wired version. I don’t know how you’d address that in a version 2 of the Airpods, but Apple wants you to use Siri to change the volume (a quick double tap of the Airpods activates Siri by default). As you might imagine, that’s an awful solution. The first thing I did was change that setting to play/pause the headphones. I’ve just settled on changing the volume via the volume buttons on my phone. Not great, but not the end of the world either.

 

I was thinking the other day, now that I’ve used them for a few weeks……would I buy them again? I would. In fact, I really wish I had ordered them back in December so I could have been using them since February.

9/10 – Would buy again (which I technically did by accident)

 

The Lost Art of Syndication: First 5 Shows to Randomly Watch

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I feel like I was witness to the golden age in rerun television.  At any point during the day you could flip on the TV and immediately be pulled into a random sitcom or detective show.  In this day and age there is programming of all genres available at your fingertips whenever you want it.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a good thing and in no way want to return to the 13 channels of basic cable programming available to me in my formative years.  But at the same time, I feel like modern TV shows have lost the simple pleasures I found in syndicated reruns because of the oversaturation and availability of entire seasons that you get with streaming services.

With a good rerun, outside of the dreaded “To Be Continued” episode, there is really no need for a backstory or any understanding of previous episodes.  There are not many overarching story lines that you need to know about in order to understand what you are watching.  The main characters need to stay pretty consistent throughout all seasons so that you don’t have good and bad seasons because of the cast.  How annoying would it be to tune in to Walker, Texas Ranger expecting to see the stunning Chuck Norris only to find out for the last couple seasons of the show they cast Steven Segal in the lead role?

There is a time and place for binge watching shows with overly complicated plots that stretch across multiple seasons but this list is only for shows that you can keep in a list of favorites, picking up an episode here and there for amusement and stress relief.  With that said, here are the first 5 shows in my rerun rolodex of good times:

 

The Rockford Files – Need I say more?  Quite possibly the greatest show ever produced, The Rockford Files was on for 6 seasons through the 70’s.  It stars James Garner as the main character and his sweet Firebird as the most notable reoccurring co-star.  The plots are all pretty similar with the main theme being a hard luck private detective comes out on top and catches the bad guy after first encountering some issues.  Anytime you combine James Garner, a Firebird and frequent breakfast tacos you might as well go ahead and sign me up.

 

 

 

Seinfeld – While I was in college, TBS would run two episodes of Seinfeld every afternoon/evening.  That means by the time I graduated I had probably seen every episode at least 8 times.  Even though I know each episode like the back of my hand, I can still laugh along as if it was the first time I watched it.  The cast stayed pretty much the same throughout the shows run and the storylines were all reset at the end of each episode.  The stories for each show were so unique that the episodes could be shuffled and the show would still have the same effect.

 

 

 

Matlock – Andy Griffith was close to making this list twice but I chose this show in particular because its cast didn’t contain Warren the replacement deputy.  Seriously though, this show is a consistent watch.  His lead investigator changed a couple times and his female co-attorney seemed to come and go but the storylines for this show were all basically a reset.  Every episode would start with a bad guy committing a crime, Ben Matlock playing the role of a fool, a lot of noisy eating scenes with hot dogs and eventually Matlock winning the case.  Did he ever lose a case?

 

 

 

Cheers – I’ve watched this show through a couple times and I still find it pretty funny.  There is some turnover in characters with Coach dying/being replaced by Woody (Harrelson) and Diane (Shelly Long) being replaced by Rebecca (Kirstie Alley).  The core characters that come and go in the bar though pretty much stayed throughout its run.  Sam, Norm, Cliff and Carla are enough to keep a good synergy and plot line going that keeps the show watchable from beginning to end.  The atmosphere of the bar and the way it comes across as a big family is what sells the show.

 

 

Murder, She Wrote – Angela Lansbury is the equivalent of a female James Garner basically.  I couldn’t imagine the role of Jessica Fletcher being played by anyone else.  There was some turnover in the other cast members and the location of the episodes changed frequently, but for the most part the plots were pretty consistent.   Every episode someone would drop dead and it was up to Jessica to solve it because law enforcement was clueless.  Even though she was a mystery writer, she somehow got a crazy amount of access to open cases.  How come she was never suspected of the crimes?  Everywhere she went, people were giving up the ghost left and right.

 

Close but no cigar (and the reasons why):  

The Andy Griffith Show (After Barney left, the show was never the same.  If a Warren episode comes on I might just put my foot through my TV)

The Dukes of Hazzard (The Coy & Vance years)

Law & Order (The cast had a lot of turnover and some down years)

The Office (Without Michael Scott the show suffered.  It even had an awkward season with Will Ferrell)

Magnum P.I. (Tom Selleck is no James Garner)

 

Leave a comment and let me know how your top five mindless rerun favorites compare…

 

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

(Caution: this review contains spoilers.  It will spoil things.  Much like this movie spoiled a perfectly good Sunday afternoon for me.)

Let me first start this review by clarifying a couple points:  First, I am not a comic book connoisseur or super hero mega fan.  I am aware of their popularity, enjoy their stories, movies or video games, but I usually don’t go too far down the rabbit hole in that general direction.  Second, I have a very high tolerance when it comes to movie quality.  While I enjoy many of the accepted classics, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, Annie Hall, Psycho to name a few, I am also happy to point out that Mr. Mom easily ranks within my personal all-time top 5 movies.  My point is, I am neither a super hero purist or terribly hard to please when it comes to watching a movie.  Heck, I once took a date to see Fatal Instinct.  (It’s not the one you’re thinking of right now, trust me.)  Please bear these two facts in mind as you continue through my review.

If you thought Michael Keaton was great as Batman, check him out as an unemployed former auto worker and Detroit Lions fan.

I first saw trailers for Suicide Squad in early 2016 and thought that it looked surprisingly interesting to me especially given the fact that I had no previous awareness of the franchise at all.  I do remember Harley Quinn, with her “puddin” and “Mistah J,” from Batman the Animated Series in my younger days.  Other than that I really had no idea who the rest of these characters were.  The combining of several ne’er do wells into a fighting squad seemed like a good concept for a movie and I’ve always been a sucker for the anti-hero premise as well.  In retrospect, I can now see that trailers truly are a marketing tool and can be very misleading when it comes to the actual quality of the movie itself.  When the movie came out in August of 2016 I did not actually see it in theaters.  Instead I only recently watched it on a streaming service at home.  I cannot imagine, however, that seeing it on a theater screen would’ve remedied any of the issues I found within the film itself.  Here now are my pros and cons in bullet point, stream of consciousness form.

 

Pros

Margot Robbie was very good as Harley Quinn.  Her faux-Brooklyn accent kind of came and went, but overall she was probably the most fleshed-out character in the movie.  Her flashbacks to the developing relationship with the Joker provided some needed depth in a movie full of thin, cardboard characters.  It was nothing surprising, but it did cover the story arc of their relationship and played into the main story pretty well.  I’ll stop short of saying Robbie was “born to play this part” but she did fit the role pretty well.  She’s nice to look at, exudes a certain toughness, does crazy very, very well and still lets you know that down deep Ms. Quinn is an irreparably broken individual.

The first couple of crime in Gotham City. (And in my opinion the only two characters surviving this train wreck for any hope of a sequel.)

Jared Leto was good as The Joker.  I’ll admit I’ve always been fascinated by the Joker character in the Batman movies.  I think they’ve always been portrayed very well by a very good set of actors.  Jack Nicholson was superb in the 1989 film.  Heath Ledger was off the charts in the Dark Knight.  Even Cesar Romero was full tilt as the more cartoon-y Clown Prince of Crime way back when.  The character itself has always been interesting to me.  Most villains are either crazy or brilliant, but what do you do with a villain who is both.  His plans are intricate and well thought out and yet he’s willing to do absolutely anything, and I mean anything in his quest for victory over Batman.  It’s a very enduring character and one that can be taken in many directions.  Fortunately for this film, Leto brings the same crazy/genius energy to the character.  His shock of green hair and silver teeth.  Tattoos and trademark psychotic laugh.  I wouldn’t say it outshines Ledger or Nicholson, but it can easily be talked about in that conversation.  In fact, I think the only reason it may not be quite up to that level is that he spends a relatively small amount of time on screen in Suicide Squad.  Going forward, I think Leto would be a solid choice to continue “this Joker” if the filmmakers were so inclined.

The CGI, music, and other “movie” stuff were fine.  Each of the super villain’s power was portrayed in a believable and effective way.  They all looked pretty good on screen.  Killer Croc was particularly cool to look at.  

 

And that’s about it for the good…

 

Cons

“Daddy, I want you to stop killing people…and maybe dress a little less like a 1970’s pimp. OK?”

Where to begin, where to begin…I guess we’ll start with the biggest for me which was the imbalance in backstory detail between the characters.  You get a sort of run down from the very beginning from Amanda Waller, the government bureaucrat who wants to put the team together and some scenes at the high security prison where most of the squad has been incarcerated.  It’s all very boilerplate “team assembly” montage stuff with some DC heroes sprinkled in for effect, but it really doesn’t do much more than give you a name for most of the folks involved.  While we get to see some thorough backstory on Deadshot, his daughter and his apprehension by Batman, we only get a second or two on Captain Boomerang (not that I’d want much anyway, but more on that later).

Also, the background on the Enchantress character and her relationship with Rick Flag is woefully underserved in relation to her importance in the overall story.  (Hint:  She eventually becomes the main bad guy and is the whole reason the team is called into action.  We really need a little more information on her if we’re going to give a crap!  How about a little less snark from dopey Ike Barinholtz at the beginning and a little more info on how the Enchantress ended up in that cave and why she wants to take over the world.)

The best example I can give you of the imbalance is poor old Slipknot.  Those of you who’ve seen the movie know exactly where I’m going with this.  This poor mamma jamma shows up just as the team is embarking on its mission a

I have no idea how this poor SOB even made it into the promotional spots for this film. Maybe he has a larger role in the Blu-Ray extras. I dunno…

nd all we know about him is that he doesn’t like mouthy law enforcement agents and that, according to Flag, “He can climb anything.”  That’s it.  Ten minutes later he’s dead.  And he’s on most of the promotional marketing for this movie.  It’s insane.

 

Rick Flag.  The actor who plays Rick Flag is either the worst actor I’ve ever seen or his character was the most poorly written character ever, I’m not sure.  Maybe both.  Had I been hired to play this role, I would’ve just stopped mid-production and demanded a rewrite.  Flag is supposed to be a highly decorated Army specialist that chews shrapnel and pees excellence, but in this movie he is either a mouthy little punk or a whiny complainer.  He spends almost the entire movie either questioning the “villains” of the Suicide Squad about their dedication to the mission or begging them for their help.  What?  For a decorated Army specialist, he is maybe the single least physically imposing specimen I’ve ever seen.  I’m not saying we had to have Dave Batista playing the role, but this guy looks like me during my junior year of high school.  His little in and out “southern” accent is annoying as well. The sad thing is, by the end of the movie, you want him to assume command of the squad.  This is because you’d rather see anyone in charge besides Amanda Waller.

Worst character/actor combo. Ever. Ever…

Evil Oprah was one of the worst things about this movie. That’s really saying something in this case.

Amanda Waller.  I love it when you have a know it all, pushy, faux tough, bossy, smart mouthed team leader who is eventually shown to be evil and gets his or her comeuppance.  What’s that?  There’s no comeuppance?  No turning tables?  No repercussions?  Are we sure?  Oh.  Well, that sucks.  There you have it.  Amanda Waller.  The smartest thing Deadshot said the entire movie was when she appeared after the final battle and he remarked “How are you not dead?”  How indeed, Will Smith.  How indeed.

Deadshot.  The character is actually not that bad.  He’s a master at any and all firearms and is said to have never missed a shot.  Will Smith, however, is just doing typical Will Smith in this movie.  It’s the scowling anti-hero with the heart of gold.  Sound familiar for the not-so-Fresh Prince?  Smith hasn’t done anything this bad since he helped make Jaden and Willow.

Captain Boomerang looks confused. I guess I’d look confused too if I was in this movie.

Diablo gazes into the flame wondering why he didn’t just self immolate about 20 minutes into the picture.

Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang & Diablo.  I grouped these three together because none of the three are really worthy of a bullet point of their own.  They are all very shallow, two-dimensional characters that play into stereotypes in the worst way.  Captain Boomerang seems to always have a cold one in his hand, a thick Aussie accent and he throws boomerangs for crying out loud!  I can forgive the last one, but in this movie there’s nothing else about him to grab onto.  The character never really advances past being a drunken lout from down under.  Diablo is a latino gang-banger with over the top flame abilities.  His backstory is a little deeper than Captain Boomerang, but is still along the tried and true lines of “I hurt someone I love.  I’ll never use my powers again.  Oh wait, you really need my help, I guess I’ll go ahead and break my vow.”  Even his attempt at a heart to heart with Deadshot and the other members of the squad near the end doesn’t really add much to our interest in him.  Killer Croc, for my money, is the most underused member of the team.  They offer a few little nuggets of information on him, but we’re mostly just supposed to be in awe of his appearance and ferocity.  He’s tasked with a side mission near the end that calls for him to use his special abilities, but it’s pretty predictable on the whole.  When told he has to return to prison at the end of the movie, he says he will but only if they get him BET in his cell. Stereotypes, stereotypes everywhere.

 

Weren’t you in Kill Bill Vol. 1? No? Really?

Katana.  Katana just seems like she was thrown in at the last minute to fill a quota for overall team diversity.  Even though Rick Flag has an app on his wrist that will pop an explosive capsule in the neck of each of the team members if they step out of line (Thank you Escape from New York!), for some reason he still brings in Katana “to watch his back.”  Huh?  You can literally blow the heads off these guys at any time and you still need back up.  What for?  Oh we need an Asian chick with a soul capturing sword?  Okay.  Whatever.  There is also a laughable scene prior to the main showdown where Katana is tearfully talking to her dead Husband’s spirit in advance of the fight.  Via subtitles we can see that she will be happy to die in battle because that means she will get to join him in the afterlife.  One of the other members of the team asks Flag what she’s doing.  He explains that she’s talking directly to her husbands soul as it has been captured by the very sword she uses in battle!  However, Flag says this with the same enthusiasm and emphasis that you’d give to a request to go to the bathroom before the big fight.  It’s just typical of this movie trying to cram too much plot in some areas while cramming too little in others.

Miscellaneous.  If Enchantress can magically teleport to Tehran and get a book of secret plans then why the heck do they need anyone else on this team at all?  Can we not just have her pretty much use her infinite powers and do whatever the heck we need?

What is that? We don’t know. Why does it have an axe? We don’t know that either. What do we know? Very, very little.

Is a meta-human technically a mutant?  If DC continues to toss that phrase around in all their movies, do you think Marvel will sue?  

So what were the alien-like soldiers in this movie?  We really didn’t get any details other than seeing one of the Army officers turned into one by Enchantress.  Shouldn’t they have spent maybe a minute or two more on that since they spent a good chunk of the movie killing those things?

Anybody know where the heck we’re going?

Didn’t it seem like it took them forever to walk through the city?  I know it was intended to provide a backdrop to the witty banter between team members but for a good while there it was just them walking around.

How did Joker survive that helicopter crash?  

Hi, I’m Killer Croc. I’ve got an impenetrable layer of thick skin all over my body and the ability to swim like crazy. But yeah, you regular humans go ahead and set the underwater bomb at the end of the movie. I’ll just fight off some guys while you do it.

Did the regular human Army Rangers that helped to set that bomb at the end of the movie really die?  It seemed like the one Ranger was kinda right there when they set it off.  Did he have time to escape?  Why didn’t they let Killer Croc do all of that and then say that his super powers allowed him to escape harm?  

Can we really trust anyone in charge of these movies if they let Ben Affleck play Batman?  I mean really.  Name one movie that is actually better because Ben Affleck was in it.  I bet you can’t.  Any movie you can name with Ben Affleck, I can tell you someone who would’ve done a better job in that role.  Any movie.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait………………………………………………. Couldn’t do it could you?  

Was SlipKnot a Native American or Latino?  It doesn’t matter really, but if he was Native American it would make the team really, really diverse, huh?  I mean, think about it.  You’ve got an Aussie, a black guy, a white woman, an asian lady, a latino, a native american and a crocodile thing that likes BET.  Really?  That doesn’t seem odd to anyone else?  It’s like the diversity all stars or something.  

Is it just me or was Will Smith in this movie a straight up combination of his characters in pretty much all of his other movies? And what about Deadshot’s mask?  Sometimes he wears it, sometimes he doesn’t?  Does it do anything in particular or what? Seems kind of important don’t you think?

Quick is this from Suicide Squad or Ali? Trick question, it’s actually from Men In Black.

This is serious Will Smith. Or maybe it’s confused Will Smith. Or perhaps sad Will Smith. You never can tell.

When Deadshot talked about wanting to be with his daughter in this movie, he actually grew a thicker mustache and a soul patch. Talk about super powers!

I am a stone faced killer, with a sniper rifle patrolling the remnants of a destroyed city. I Am Legend. I Am Deadshot. I Am pretty much the same character every time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This movie was both written and directed by the same man.  Do you think that gives too much power to one person?  I mean in certain cases it can be great (Quentin Tarantino), but don’t you think those cases are the exception rather than the rule.  I know everyone wants creative freedom and all, but what if you suck and no one is there to tell you that you suck?

Enchantress was basically a one woman team. Which is why she decided to go ahead and try to take over the world I guess.

Finally, does anyone else find it funny that Enchantress tries to destroy the world within seconds of Amanda Waller getting approval to put this dumb team together?  It’s like the whole reason for the movie.

Waller:  I need to put a team of villains together to help defend us from threats.

 

Everyone else:  That seems wildly unsafe and poorly thought out.

 

Waller:  But look, Enchantress can do tricks!

 

Everyone else:  Oh well, what the heck.  It’s fine.  Get that team together.

 

**Enchantress tries to destroy the planet**

 

Everyone else:  Good thing we have this team, huh?

 

Me:  What the…?

 

At an rate, that’s my quick and dirty review of the film, Suicide Squad.  When I heard the reviews last year for the film, I just assumed that the negativity was based on purists or fanboys made because the crease in Deadshot’s costume wasn’t just right or Diablo should’ve been taller.  I figured it couldn’t have been too bad.  I guess I was wrong.  I hate to pile on, but I really do think this movie was a huge swing and miss.  I’d like to say it could’ve been so much more, but given the logistics of a large squad of superheroes and limited time, maybe it couldn’t really be helped.  Either way, I think you’d have to be a pretty dedicated super hero fan to really enjoy this one.  Let me know what you think.   

 

Patient Gamer – NBA2K17

The idea behind the patient gamer category was originally to review Xbox Live “Games with Gold” but I have trouble following guidelines.  Plus, not only does a gold membership give you access to free games, it also allows you to have a free play weekend.  You can download a full game, give it a try for the weekend, and then determine if you really want to buy it the following week.  For me, this is a terrible trap to which I am constantly trying not to fall.

A couple of months ago, I saw that NBA2K17 was available for a free weekend trial.  I downloaded it on a Friday and, by Sunday, I had already played through a full season with my beloved Philadelphia 76ers.  Since it is one of the few places you will actually see the Sixers win a game recently, I was immediately drawn in.  By Monday, I loaded the game and was in shock when it took me to the Xbox Store to prompt me for purchase.  After reluctantly forking over $60, I spent the next couple months weighing my decision.  I’ll try to break down some of my thoughts into pros and cons and we can all decide for ourselves the quality of this purchase.

Pros:

  • Overall graphics and attention to detail – After taking a few years off from sports games, I was pleasantly surprised by the realism and beauty of this game. The arenas are well done with realistic looking crowds, courts and scoreboards.  This may seem like a petty observation but there were many times that friends or family couldn’t tell whether I was playing NBA2K17 or watching a live basketball game.The player models were also very well done with each player having their own unique look and playing style.  The details, even down to their exact shooting form, was captured perfectly for most players.  It’s fun to randomly pull up an exhibition game between some retro teams and watch Magic Johnson dribble around with exaggerated high knees or Larry Bird hitting threes with his arms raised well above his head on release.

Draymond Green works up a sweat punching guys in the junk.

  • Control modes – Often times when you play a sports game, the buttons take a 9 week course to master most of them. In this game for every control, there is a simple or complex button choice.  For instance to shoot the ball, you can either hold down the X button or use the stick.  The stick gives you more control but is harder to get the hang of than just a simple button click.  This was appealing to me because while I was trying to get the hang of more complex button combinations, I was able to still use the simple controls to get by.  It wasn’t like some games (UFC, WWE, etc) where until you get a firm understanding of the exact combinations you are going to get throttled, repeatedly.
  • Career mode – Outside of just your standard play now modes, there are some other pretty interesting game modes. I’m usually not a big fan of online modes, so when I play games like this I am usually looking to sink time into modes that don’t force me into online play (this will be covered in more detail in future con items, I assure you) without a decent local play mode.  Career mode allows you to create your own character and starting with a couple college games, character build to your heart’s content.It also has a neat feature that allows you to take pictures with your smartphone and upload them to your career mode.  It takes your selfies and models them around your player model.

    When you have a face like this, who wouldn’t want to look at it as much as possible.

    Career mode allows you to take control of the day to day life of an NBA player.  You start with a generic player model and design everything about them.  You choose your position and what type of player you want to be.  As you play games, you are rewarded with points for how well you do.  You take the points and redeem them for leveling up different aspects of your player’s game.  There are several abilities, like free throw shooting, that you can only level up through practice.

    During the day, there are periods of time where the gym is open and you can go practice.  You can work on your shot or as other NPC’s come and go in the gym, play pickup games.  The experience earned in practices allows you to improve on things you couldn’t otherwise do by buying skill levels.As you play through the season, you can receive player awards, participate in all-star games, or attract new fans by hanging out with past and present NBA players.

    For gamers with a thing for leveling up characters, this would be your mode.

Cons:

  • Endless loading screens – As in most other sports games, NBA2K17 is made up of about 78% loading screens. When you turn on the game, the initial splash screen is discreetly a loading screen.  You can skip the intro video, which will then drop you to the main menu screen and another progress bar.  I think at this point behind this loading screen it’s going out to 2k servers to check for updates.  When that finishes, you will probably be awoken from your slumber by horribly loud hip hop music.  This is your cue to choose the menu that will advance you to your next loading screen.  If you choose an offline mode of gameplay, the update it previously was searching for will be downloaded at your next convenient load screen.Let’s say you want to play career mode and blow off some steam.  To get to an actual game play (you know, the actual point of turning the game on), you have to wait through two additional load screens and an additional load screen disguised as a pregame show to get there.  If you are counting at home, that’s a total of 5-6 load screens to get to actual game play in career mode.  You sit down, turn on your Xbox to play a little basketball and before you know it, it’s baseball season.
  • Updates – As previously mentioned, 2k is thrilled to pump out daily updates for this game. This would please most online gamers, but for me, it’s just one more thing to wait on in a loading screen that I have yet to see a return on investment with.  The updates won’t attempt to download unless you are in an offline game mode.  This means that if you bring up play now, GM or season mode, you are going to have an extra long wait time at your initial load screen whether you want the update or not.Another fun benefit of the daily updates being pushed down your throat is the game often time gets confused and the update will hang the game at unexpected points with no notice whatsoever.My favorite of these is when it occurs at the initial game launch.  You load the game up, some sweet hip hop music greets you and it plays a beautiful video of your favorite stars.  Without warning, Chris Paul stops moving and the music stops.  There are no error messages and no indication that the game is still alive.  You can attempt to resuscitate it by launching the game again but 2k is persistent.  They want you to have this update, no matter the cost.  When this fun issue arises, the only way that I’ve been able to resolve it is to clear the reserved game cache for NBA2K17 on the console.  This forces it to pull down the latest version (with a longer than usual load screen) and install fresh.  Try googling the phrase “NBA2K17 freezes” to see how big of an issue this is for users.Any game developer that can’t even properly push out an update without requiring its users to basically clear the game’s cache manually prior to updating doesn’t deserve my money.

Get used to playing games with this banner unless you want to quit everything you are doing and drop back to the main menu to install your daily update.

  • Feeling alienated – I realize that the NBA has doubled down on targeting a younger market to which demographically I don’t belong for several reasons. To say this in the nicest way possible, I don’t really care much for hip hop or rap music.  I’m not much of a fan of street ball either.  Does that mean I can’t be a fan of NBA basketball now?  Why is it not in the NBA’s and 2K’s best interest to open their doors to fans from all walks of life?I guess I’m just a little disgruntled as a 33 year old, un-athletic, lifelong video game player and fan of the NBA, to so obviously be the antithesis of this games’ target audience.  Oh, and get off my lawn while you’re at it!

 

Scorecard:

I’ve developed a scoring system to determine if you will like this game or not.  Add up your scores and I’ll let you know where you fall:

A:  (# of JayZ Songs You Know) (# of Kids You Have)

B:  (# of Lebron Jerseys You Own) (# of Hank Williams Jr Songs You Know)

C:  (# of Hours Daily You Play Online Console Games) (# of the ’89 Pistons You Can Name)

A + B + C = Your Score

If your score is greater than zero, you’ll probably enjoy this game.  My score is a sweet -13 by the way.  Oh, and don’t make me tell you to get off my lawn again!

 

Nerdstalgia: The Legend of Zelda

If I had to guess, I’d say that the biggest thing in gaming right now is the new Nintendo game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Since that game is less than a month old, it’s hardly appropriate for a Nerdstalgia or Patient Gamer review. So, let’s take a look at the game that started it all, The Legend of ZeldaThe Legend of Zelda was released in 1987. I was in third or fourth grade at that point, and I really doubt I actually had a Nintendo Entertainment System yet, so I didn’t really play it. My introduction to the series was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and even that I played only in small bits and pieces at a friend’s house. My first real experience with Link, Zelda, and Ganon was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Still, I think it’s best to start at the beginning of a series for these retrospectives, at least where I can.

I think remakes of the game probably cleaned up the translation some.

If I’m being completely honest, I really didn’t expect to like The Legend of Zelda that much, because I remember disliking The Adventure of Link. I started playing it for this post primarily because it’s a historically significant game, as not only the first entry in a classic video game series, but also possibly the first console RPG ever. I expected to play it and appreciate it for that fact, much as I can appreciate the movie Casablanca. I was actually surprised at how much fun I’ve been having.

The story is pretty simple. Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, has captured the Triforce of Power and was attempting to get his hands on the Triforce of Wisdom. Princess Zelda managed to split the Triforce of Wisdom into eight parts and scattered them around the world, but she was subsequently captured by Ganon. Now, the hero, Link, must reassemble the Triforce of Wisdom, infiltrate Ganon’s castle, defeat him, and save Zelda. This entire back story is shared in a quick prologue screen before you start your journey.

This may be one of the most famous screenshots/quotes in gaming.

That’s pretty much it for explanation. Games of this era had very little in the way of tutorials (since it was assumed you had the manual, which was a pretty stupid assumption for an industry that was marketed toward kids who had a tendency to lose everything they touched, but I digress…). You’re dumped into a field next to a cave, and you’re expected to find your way from there. If you go into the cave, you’ll be given a sword, and then you’re off to figure out how to make your way in the world, find the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, and save the Princess 1.

Once the game has started, you really are given no hints about where to go. Since this is an NES-era game, the “map” is pretty woeful, consisting of a grey screen with a green square indicating which square of the map you’re in. That’s something, but it means you’re in for a lot of wandering. It’s very easy to find yourself in an area that you’re not quite ready for, and the game is pretty unforgiving about that. It’s difficult in any sense, and not quite being certain whether the next screen will bring up enemies you can’t handle makes it even more so.

I love Link to the Past, and there are lots of places in this game where the link between these games is practically screaming at you, moreso than between The Adventure of Link and Link to the Past. The dungeon doors look similar, and most of the enemies are familiar, in a way that I have to compare, again, to watching a classic movie and seeing the origin of a lot of the tropes that now seem almost cliched.

The Legend of Zelda doesn’t hold up to modern games graphically, but there’s a lot to love with its simple depiction of Link and his enemies. Especially if you’re familiar with the enemies from later games, it’s easy to fill in the gaps of the crude graphics to see what the designers were going for (and what the enemies will evolve into).

If you enjoy the later Zelda games but haven’t played this one, I absolutely recommend picking it up. You should try it just to respect the series’ roots, but I think you may be pleasantly surprised by how fun this game is, even after thirty years.

The Legend of Zelda is available on Virtual Console for both 3DS and Wii U. Screenshots all come from the 3DS.

Nerdstalgia: Master of Orion

I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember. I remember thinking Pac-Man on the Atari 2600 was probably the best game of all time (I was very young. Don’t judge me.). I remember getting our Commodore 64, and spending enough time playing Jeopardy on it that I could pretty much buzz in on every question, confident that I’d remember what the answer was (I don’t think there were many puzzles on that one). Later, Lemmings on the Super Nintendo was the ideal puzzle game, and Final Fantasy II (Final Fantasy IV in Japan and all modern incarnations) was the best RPG ever.

All of these “best games ever”, though, pale in my memory when compared to Master of Orion 1.

I remember stumbling across the Master of Orion box among the other computer games, though I couldn’t tell you what store we were in at the time. Honestly, it wasn’t that flashy compared to other games; it was a basic black box, with a generic sci-fi scene (ships above a planet) and the name printed on the side of the box without even a fancy font or logo. I must have played other strategy games and liked them, because “Strategy” is the only thing that stands out on that box to me now, but, honestly, I don’t really know what drew me to this one.

To be honest, it’s been a few years since I’ve played Master of Orion, but not nearly as many years as you might think. Over the years, I have reverently moved the Master of Orion files from one external drive to another, periodically picking it up and playing a few games of Master of Orion, helping the Silicoids or the Psilons achieve their rightful places as the rulers of the entire galaxy. When I booted it up for this review, I wasn’t really worried that the graphics would look dated, or that I wouldn’t enjoy the gameplay, because it hasn’t been that long since I’ve played it.

The graphics and game layout are obviously a product of the time in which they were created, but they don’t really seem dated to me. It wouldn’t be too long after this game’s release that video games started being rendered in 3D. In a sense, these games had taken their 2D designs to their limit, and while the resolution of the screen and certain elements may show the technical limitations of their age, there isn’t a lot of room to criticize them, in my opinion 2

Even almost a quarter century later, the graphics are fine. They’re not flashy, but they don’t need to be.

The same can’t entirely be said for the game play. Most of it is workable. I wish I could zoom in and out on the map, and it took me a while to remember that simply clicking on the map will refocus it on my cursor. I kept trying to drag, which led to unexpected behaviors when the map would simply recenter on the last point where my mouse button was down. Still, most of the management is done using sliders (see the screenshot to the right for just one set of sliders). Lots and lots and lots of sliders. Each planet’s spending priorities are controlled by slider. Research priorities are controlled by sliders. Espionage and infiltration? Slider.

That’s not entirely a bad thing, since I prefer it to the way Master of Orion 2 did things (expect a review of that classic at a later date), but I suspect it would give the game kind of a clunky feel if one wasn’t compelled by nostalgia to love it as much as I do.

The game itself is one of the models on which most future 4X games would be based. The term itself was coined for this game. You start off controlling a single planet, and you slowly explore and expand your empire, exploiting resources as you find them. Eventually, you’ll find other races among the stars, and, as a would-be galactic emperor is compelled to do, you will have to exterminate them. Where other games in the genre would eventually allow you to win through diplomacy and alliances (and those aspects are at play during any given playthrough of Master of Orion), the only winning condition for this game is to be the last empire standing.

I hated this stupid GNN reporter. I’m pretty sure the inhabitants of Endoria that I haven’t evacuated yet probably hated him more, though.

Because of that, Master of Orion is actually pretty simple, comparatively speaking. You build up the infrastructure on each planet, making sure to balance that with protecting the environment (unless you play as the Silicoids, who don’t really care about things like breathing or radiation). Eventually, those planets can earn research points, save money, or build ships. Researching can improve any aspect of this. Early on, increasing your ability to explore, expand and exploit is going to be your main focus, but there comes a time when any young emperor’s fancy turns to love extermination.

When that time comes, you’re going to start building a fleet of ships intended for something more than defense. Ship design is pretty basic – you pick a size for the ship, pick one of the ship images, and decide what items to put in there. Available ship styles are dictated by the color of your flag and the size of the ship you’ve chosen. Engine, Armor, Weapons, Computers, and “special” items (like the colony ship unit that turns a ship into a colony ship) all fit inside. As your technology increases, you’ll have access to better and better items, and the existing items will get smaller and smaller.

Space combat is strategic and turn-based, but pretty basic.

All space battles will take place in orbit around a star system, usually in orbit of the star’s primary planet (stars in Master of Orion have no more than one planet shown), or in empty space if the star has no planets. The attacking fleet will be stacked on the left, with the defending fleet stacked on the right. Since you can have six ship designs at a time, that means you have at most six icons on your side (unless it’s your planet, in which case you get to control the planet’s ground-based missiles as well.

Battles are generally pretty quick; your ships can move one space for each “level” of engine they have, and the entire stack of ships fires at once. If your design includes a single set of missiles, but you’ve got a stack of 10 ships, then you’ll fire 10 missiles at a time from that stack. Beam weapons and missiles can be fired at separate targets, and, if you’re fighting against a planet, you may also use bombs to attack the planet. In addition to the playing through the strategic battle, you can click “AUTO” to simply watch the battle play out.

 

Planetary invasions are even more basic than space combat.

Once you’ve gotten rid of a planet’s defenders, you have to deal with any alien colonies that are in place. You could simply bomb them out of existence, but why not take advantage of the infrastructure your enemies have so kindly built up for you? You can simply transfer “colonists” straight to an enemy colony (even a single ship in orbit can send all your “colonists” to their doom, so you’ll want to leave a small fleet in orbit long enough to get your colonists delivered. Your colonists come equipped with the best weapons your technology can handle, and they’ll systematically clean up the planet of any pesky aliens before settling in (or, in the case of my screenshot to the left, they’ll die trying…).

In addition to diplomacy and warmongering, you’ll have to face random events. These events aren’t quite as varied as in the next game in the series, but they do occasionally put some of your people at risk, with the all-too-cheerful GNN robot informing you that your people on a given planet are all going to die if you don’t do something. There are also good events (a random planetary realignment might boost a planet’s ecosystem, or you may find ancient ruins that will boost your research), but those seem to mostly be reserved for AI players. I’m pretty sure GNN is biased toward players of the computer variety.
Also, somewhere, out there in the galaxy is Orion. Orion is the homeworld of an ancient advanced race, patiently waiting for the first player to find it and plunder it for some of the best technology in the game, like the aptly-named Death Ray. The only thing between the player and the riches of Orion is the Guardian. You’ll have to build up a decent fleet with some good weaponry to take out the very well equipped Guardian. There are tricks to maximize your chances (it doesn’t do quite as well against swarms of smaller ships), but that’s not to say it’s easy.

Master of Orion is now available on Steam for just a few dollars (I picked up Master of Orion and Master of Orion 2 for $5.99.). I can’t recommend either of the other two bundles, as they both include Master of Orion 3, which was a huge disappointment (I haven’t tried the remake yet, so I can’t speak to that). If you’ve any interest in 4X games and haven’t tried it, it’s definitely worth trying the game for which the term was coined.

Listening Pleasures: The Great Gildersleeve

Around 10 years ago, after a friend’s suggestion, I stumbled across the Old-Time Radio network Antioch Broadcasting Network (ABN). Prior to that time I had never really listened to radio for anything other than music or talk radio. I’ve always liked classic television, so it was to be expected that I immediately followed the various crime or detective stories broadcast on ABN.

With radio programs, outside of a very limited amount of sound effects, the voice acting is the integral part to whether the story reaches its intended target. With these shows taking place primarily before the invention of television, the best actors were still in radio and it showed. In those days the advertiser actually had control of the programming as opposed to the show or network calling the shots. Companies such as Kraft Foods (sponsor of The Great Gildersleeve) had their own stable of actors and programming that was under company control.  The concept that the company being promoted during commercial breaks is actually the driving force behind the radio program itself is almost absurd to think about in comparison to today’s television programming.
After my initial interest in crime dramas I started to listen to several situational comedies. At first I was a reluctant listener but then the characters started to grow on me, somewhat unexpectedly. The show that stands out the most to me in the group of early radio sitcoms is The Great Gildersleeve.

The show started as a spin-off (it’s actually one of the first broadcast spin-offs of all time) of one of my least favorite shows: Fibber McGee and Molly. The main character, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, was played by Harold Peary. The character started as a neighbor of Fibber McGee and became so popular with listeners that Kraft Foods (the show’s sponsor) decided to give Peary his own show.

The premiere episode was August 31st, 1941 and I’ll be honest, the initial story line is not the greatest. Gildersleeve is single businessman (owner/operator of Gildersleeve Girdles) who has to leave his business and move to a town called Summerfield to take care of his recently deceased brother-in-law’s children. This part of the plot is very vague and is never really touched on again. It is just accepted that there is an odd living arrangement where Gildersleeve is the new guy in town, taking care of his adolescent niece and nephew.

Most of the initial storylines revolved around the kids, Leroy and Marjorie, getting to know their uncle. The household also had a housekeeper named Birdie. Marjorie is a teenager when Gildersleeve arrives and several early episodes centered on the latest love interest or teenage girl issue. Throughout almost the entirety of the show, Leroy remained 10 years old. The voice actor that played Leroy was actually an adult from the very beginning. He specialized in a teenage boy character’s voice and apparently did quite well at it. Because of the consistent age, most Leroy stories were similar to a Tom Sawyer-esque approach. Leroy and a revolving cast of friends were always up to something mischievous.

There was no doubt however that the focus of the show was Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. Harold Peary, the actor that played Gildersleeve, was a very good singer and his singing ability was often a part of the theme of the episode. The character was also overweight for the 1940’s, so there were always comments about his weight from his arch nemesis Judge Hooker. Gildersleeve had a very distinct laugh that would be impossible for me to describe. The laugh was so unique that it became the calling card of the show. With Gildersleeve being a bachelor his love life was a constant work in progress. In a very fluid love interest character role, Leila Ransom was the most reoccurring character.

Since the show was in its prime during the start of WWII, it was inevitable that the war shaped a large portion of the show. I still remember the night I was listening to an episode when there was an interruption in the broadcast and a news anchor announced the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I listened to that episode multiple times that night just imagining what a listener in 1940s America would have thought tuning in expecting to hear Gildersleeve chasing a girl, never realizing that their entire world was about to change. The following episodes of the show contained plugs for war bond drives, rationing, soldiers returning from overseas and many other war time themes. These episodes were a peek into a time long forgotten by many, even though it was a simple family comedy that I don’t think ever intended to be anything more than just that.

OTRR LIBRARY – THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE

The show continued into the 1950s and by this time Harold Peary has been replaced by Willard Waterman because of a contract dispute. I have listened through all 552 episodes of the show, all the way through 1954. In my opinion the show ended with Harold Peary in 1950. No offense to Willard Waterman but he was simply a person doing a bad impression of Harold Peary playing the Great

Gildersleeve. While many of the main characters like Judge Hooker, Peavy, Marjorie and Leroy continued in the series, the show was never the same and I believe the ratings are evidence of that. The series also had a short lived run as a television series and also several feature length movies.

I’ll admit that I started this series with a very strong dislike of its storyline and the main character but for some reason it just grew on me. I found it to be a good stress relief in the hustle and bustle of today. The characters are genuine and the wartime setting made the show very memorable for me. I suggested it to my wife and she reluctantly fell into the trap, all the way up to the Willard Waterman years (Willard Waterman!!!). Seriously though, if you are looking for some easy listening give this series a try…

On Politics, Journalism, and Zombies

[SPOILERS for the first three books in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy and first four chapters of the fourth book, Feedback, can be found in this post. I’ll warn you before we get there, but if you want to stop now, I don’t blame you.]

I have a love/hate relationship with politics. On the one hand, I love theoretical politics. Various political and economic theories fascinate me, and I’ll happily discuss any current issue until whomever I’m speaking with agrees with me just to get me to shut up (filibustering is my favorite method of “winning” an argument). On the other hand, applied politics is dirty and frustrating. It involves compromises, backroom deals, scheming and hypocrisy. Even the most well-meaning politicians must be somewhat two-faced to be effective, and it makes politics as a profession somewhat dirty. Still, the idea of pure, unsullied politics appeals to me.

Cover of 'Feedback' by Mira Grant

‘Feedback’ is the fourth book set in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh universe.

The flip side of that coin is journalism. Journalists, as the “fourth estate,” are a vital part of the fabric of any free society. Where the “pure” politician is always going to be a little distasteful, the pure journalist feels like something of a hero. The little guy, looking for the truth, often pitted against the most powerful and influential of people, who have a vested interest in making sure that truth isn’t revealed. Unfortunately, as in all things, reality falls a bit short here, too. Journalists are human beings, who have their own biases and flaws. The reality of our economy and people’s short attention spans mean that click-bait and alarmist thinking are always going to get the dollars; journalists, who generally like to eat, are forced to give into that. Again, though, the concept of the journalist as the plucky hero is golden.

Finally, I love zombies. Even before the glut of zombie fiction we’ve had the last few years, I’ve found them fascinating. I don’t care so much about the stories told in The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later (though, I enjoyed the first few seasons of TWD and love 28 Days Later). While I enjoy the pure action and horror of the stories, I’m more fascinated by the world building aspects of the zombie genre. What, exactly, does the presence of these eating machines do to people’s ability to survive? What impact does it have on society when a sudden heart attack can turn a mild-mannered family man into a carnivorous monster who is contagious to boot?

Put all of this together, and Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy (Feed, Blackout, and Deadline) seem tailor-made for me. A team of blogger/journalists are hired to follow a Presidential candidate on the campaign trail, in a world where the zombie apocalypse happened twenty years ago and is still very much a danger? Yes, please. While neither of the two sequels are quite as good as the first book (and I never quite got over some of the distasteful stuff in those novels, details of which I’m leaving out here for spoiler reasons), the first book is a masterpiece and the other two are excellent. Late last year, when my reading time was cut somewhat short by the presence of a new baby in the house, Mira Grant’s fourth Newsflesh novel, Feedback, was released. According to Amazon, I bought it the day it was released, but I never really got around to reading it until today.

[SPOILERS for the first three books in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy and first four chapters of the fourth book, Feedback, can be found below this line.  You have been warned.]

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