Valar Morghulis – The Return of Game of Thrones

The new season of Game of Thrones premiers on HBO in just 8 days, on April 12th, and I simply cannot wait. Season 4 was my favorite so far and with the introduction of new characters like the Sand Snakes and Alexander Siddig as Prince Doran Martell, I firmly believe season 5 will be even better. I eagerly await catching up with all my favorite characters, visiting new locations and enjoying the memorable iconic phrases highlighted in this wonderful GoT supercut. Winter is coming, my friends!

Mr. Spock and I

So many wonderful things have already been written about Leonard Nimoy on his passing this week. I’ve been awash in stories about his life, his contributions to our popular culture and his humanity, but I keep coming back to what he’s meant to me these many years.

I could write a book about Leonard’s portrayal of Mr. Spock but I’ve decided to record my thoughts in audio form instead. Just a couple minutes to try and summarize why I loved him so much, on saying goodbye and an amazing, chance encounter I had with Nimoy as a teenager, growing up in New England. This life-long fan will miss him dearly.

TV I’m Enjoying Right Now

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MINOR SPOILER WARNING: I don’t talk about specific plot points for these TV shows in this post, but I do outline them in general. As with all of my posts about TV & movies, if you’d rather not be spoiled about ANYTHING, you probably shouldn’t read on.

It’s not a stretch to say the US television landscape is currently experiencing a golden age. Everywhere you look there are quality TV shows to be enjoyed. As television and those who create it have branched out beyond the major networks to cable, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, competition for viewers has increased dramatically. If the current state of television is any indication, the best way to attract those millions of viewers is with high-quality series that can be consumed any time and anywhere.

There’s so much good TV in fact, that it’s pretty much impossible to watch it all so I thought I might share just four of the great shows I’ve been enjoying lately, why I love them and where you can catch them.

Arrow

I had heard so much about the CW’s show Arrow, based on the superhero from DC Comics, that I finally just had to check it out. The series follows spoiled billionaire playboy Oliver Queen who, at the start of the show, is missing and presumed dead when his yacht is lost at sea. He returns to his home in Starling City five years later a changed man, determined to clean up Starling as a green-hooded vigilante armed with a bow.

Arrow follows in the footsteps of prior super hero efforts like The WB’s Smallville and although it takes about 10-12 episodes to really find its footing, once it does, it really gets going. By the end of season 1, Arrow is a solid mix of action, gritty drama, geeky comic book fun and more. Stephen Amell plays the lead, Oliver Queen, and thankfully his acting chops have improved considerably since the start of the series. Ollie goes from a spoiled brat who has little emotional range to a complex character we care deeply about.

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Arrow also has a great ensemble cast including stand outs David Ramsey as John Diggle and Emily Bett Rickards as Ollie’s geeky, computer expert Felicity Smoak. The writers really start to ratchet up the story arc and drama near the end of S2 which culminates in some seriously great TV. Arrow also sets up the backstory for crossovers with another CW property I’ve started watching – The Flash. The two shows take place in the same universe so I’m looking forward to seeing how these two heroes interact in Flash S1 and Arrow S3.

Arrow is a great deal of fun and seems to be building its own personal mythos. As someone who’s knowledge of the DC character Green Arrow came solely from cartoon episodes of the Super Friends, it’s been wonderful learning about Oliver’s origins, his personal mission and his relationships with his friends in Starling City. Arrow also features other costumed heroes and villains I’ve often heard about but never seen on screen until now. The first two seasons of Arrow are both on Netflix streaming, the third season is currently airing on the CW but is also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.

M*A*S*H

For many of you reading this, M*A*S*H is most likely before your time. The show followed a company of army doctors and nurses as they work only a few miles from the Korean War front to save wounded soldiers. Based largely on stories and accounts from actual MASH doctors, the series premiered on CBS on September 17, 1972, and ended 11 seasons later in February of 1983. It was one of the highest-rated television shows ever and its final episode “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” is still the most-watched episode of television in history with a record-breaking 106 million viewers.

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As soon as I heard Netflix streaming picked up the first 5 seasons of M*A*S*H, I instantly added it to my queue. I remember growing up on the show and loved watching the antics of surgeon Hawkeye, played by Alan Alda, BJ, Radar, Potter and the rest of the cast week after week.

If you’re new to M*A*S*H, the first 3 seasons are pretty slapstick and based more on the comedic formula of the 1970 feature film than what would follow. Several of the main characters decided to leave after season 3 including McClean Stevenson as Col. Henry Blake and Wayne Rogers as Trapper John. When they left, the writers (and the actors) who replaced them made a conscious decision to set the new characters apart from the old and the show started taking on more dramatic depth.

Re-watching a classic series like M*A*S*H on Netflix is great because you eventually come upon episodes you’ve never seen before in syndication. Finding them is like unearthing gold, dramatic and comedic nuggets to savor and treasure. I already count watching at least 4 episodes of M*A*S*H I’ve never seen which is remarkable since I was sure I had already seen them all.

A situation comedy like M*A*S*H pre-dates the long-story filled arcs that are common among today’s popular shows, but it more than makes up for it in heart and touching character interactions. I always enjoyed seeing how these brave group of men and women clown, scrounge and save lives in the midst of war. There are great episodes in M*A*S*H that will make you howl with laughter as well as cry like a baby. The key is giving the audience the kinds of characters we care about and can relate to. When the show ended, none of us (myself included) wanted to see them go. Re-watching the series now, it’s very clear why.

House of Cards

For some TV goers, House of Cards may be an acquired taste. The award-winning series from Netflix returns for season 3 on February 27th and fans of the show have been anticipating it’s arrival like an overdue subway train. I got hooked on House of Cards after only a few episodes, largely due to the fantastic performances of the two leads, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Clarie Underwood.

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The show features the dark side of Washington politics and the lengths some will go to to seize and hold power. It’s a tight, well-written dramatic series that features some impressive twists and turns and enough political intrigue to keep fans consistently on the edge of their seat week after week.

Unlike Arrow or M*A*S*H, the entire House of Cards run is available for streaming, but only from Netflix. Indeed, House of Cards (and other Netflix series like Orange is the New Black) helped bring the term “binge-watching” into today’s lexicon. Thanks to how the internet is changing the way we watch TV, viewers can now experience the entire 10 ep season of House of Cards in a single sitting. Personally, I like to savor my television, so I usually skip a few days in-between episodes, but your milage may vary.

If you enjoy tense, political maneuvering, well-crafted, realistic characters or just plain good storytelling, House of Cards may be for you. Those who love the show, love it dearly and with good reason. Spacey, Wright and the entire cast is top-notch, the writing is clever and production values (especially the music) are as good or better than any show on network or cable TV. The cliffhangers from S2 have paved the way for what’s yet to come and I can’t wait until Frank finally gets back to breaking the 4th wall once again.

Archer

Yes, Archer is a cartoon, and yes, that sometimes means it can be childish and silly but for my money it’s also one of the funniest shows on television. Archer is the brainchild of its creator, Adam Reed, developed for the FX network and follows the exploits of Sterling Archer, master spy and anti-hero. The series premiered in 2009 and features adult humor and dark, sometimes vulgar comedy but that’s really part of what makes Archer so great.

Archer and his co-workers at the organization formerly known as Isis, are a rag-tag bunch of misfits who tout themselves as being skilled in covert surveillance. In reality, the team often causes more harm than they prevent, going from one international incident to the next, toppling governments, trying to overthrow drug lords and even protecting the Pope from assassination attempts.

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Archer is at his best when he’s facing off against any number of arch-villian spies the series has introduced over it’s 5-season run on FX. I especially love Sterling’s bionic rival, Barry Dylan, who has made Archer’s life a living hell on more than one occasion. Barry showed up again this season, as did a number of other recurring characters which has helped to make season 5 more memorable than the previous “Archer Vice” season 4.

The series features the amazing voice talents of H. Jon Benjamin as Archer, Aisha Tyler as Lana and former SNL cast member Chris Parnell who puts in a hilarious performance as accountant Cyril Figgis. The cast makes an annual appearance at Comicon and often does live episode readings, dishes on their fellow cast members and answer fan questions. I also love the visual style of Archer including the “sets” and the design of the characters themselves, many of whom are patterned on their real-life counterparts.

If you like off-beat comedy combined with a touch of adult humor and fantasy thrown in for good measure, you’ll want to check out Archer on FX. One of the best parts of an animated series is that the characters and show format generally don’t change. When it comes to Sterling and company, that’s just fine with me, they’re hilarious just the way they are.

Honorable Mentions

Other shows I’m currently enjoying or looking forward to returning include Marvel’s Agent Carter & Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Flash, Big Giant Swords on the Discovery Channel (yes, and it’s awesome!), Face Off, Better Call Saul and WWII in HD on Netflix.

Everywhere you turn there’s just too much good TV to absorb it all. I hope this quick rundown helps give a glimpse into the kinds of TV I love to watch. Maybe there’s something here that appeals to you as well, enjoy!

Managing Movie Expectations

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One of the problems of living in the age of social media and hyper-connectivity is that it’s become quite difficult for me to manage my expectations of TV and movies. The longer I go before I decide to buy a ticket to a new film or commit myself to watching a new television show, the more I find the opinions of those I follow on Twitter or Facebook color my opinions of it when I finally do experience it. Try as I might, it’s nearly impossible to keep my own expectations in check when the people who’s opinions I value the most tell me “It’s the best movie of the year!” or “OMG, that was a stinker!”

I resisted seeing the mega-hit Frozen for months after its release, but the hype surrounding the film simply became so great that when I finally bought it on iTunes and watched it, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Here was a different kind of fairy tale with no central love story to speak of and a landmark song that everyone and their dog was making parodies of, but I must have missed something because I just didn’t find Frozen that fabulous. Similar experiences happened when I got to the theatre to see PIXAR’s Brave and just recently with Disney’s Big Hero 6.

I’ve been hearing for months how awesome Big Hero 6 was and truth be told, it’s a pretty good film. It’s full of heart and off-beat characters, but for all the raving I’ve seen on Twitter and the internet about it, I just didn’t go ga-ga. The story is one we’ve been told a thousand times and it’s obvious appeal to the base instinct kids have of controlling giant robots and becoming super-heroes turned me off. I also don’t personally think it’s a better animated film than The LEGO Movie which got passed over for Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon: 2 by the Academy Awards, and that is a true shame. I also don’t have kids of my own, so I think it’s fair to say many parents watch and rate these types of movies through the eyes of their children, which makes total sense.

It’s gotten to the point where I purposefully try to convince myself a movie will be bad so I’ll be pleasantly surprised when it’s not. This probably sounds silly, but most of the time it works. When the re-booted Robocop came out in theaters, I knew it couldn’t stack up to the original and convinced myself I was wasting my money going to see it. Turned out that was the right mindset because I came out of the theatre happy. Not for what the movie was but for what it wasn’t – a complete and utter train wreck.

Television shows are a bit of a different beast thankfully and my opinion of them changes and varies over long stretches of time as I watch them. Everyone was telling me that the CW’s superhero series Arrow was one of the best shows on TV, but honestly much of the first season is merely meh. I stuck with it however, and I’m glad I did because the series quickly picked up steam and has become a personal favorite of mine. Season 2 truly is great and I definitely agree with what my friends from Twitter were telling me all along. If you’ve not checked out Arrow on Netflix, give it a go, it’s pretty great.

In the end, the only person who decides if you like a particular movie or television show is you. The opinions of critics, the general public and even your close friends can only hold so much weight. The trick is learning to balance the overwhelming scale of today’s social media with those of your own likes and dislikes. There’s absolutely no question that our personal expectations color our movie and TV going expreiences. I think the trick is to recognize that fact and try and not let it stand in the way of keeping an open mind and having a good time. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself :-/

The TARDIS Takes a New Trip

I love it when fans make awesome contributions to the shows they admire. I also love that technology has reached a point where anyone, with enough skill and the right hardware, can create special effects sequences that rival the series’ actual production quality. Enter this unique, fan-created dematerialization sequence for the BBC’s Doctor Who. I’ve watched it half a dozen times already and I love it to death.

Back before series 8 aired, another fan posted his take on the iconic opening credits for the show that featured elements like spinning gears and clock faces. He did such a wonderful job of it, the producers adapted his creation into the official title sequence for Doctor Who starring Peter Capalidi. It’s wonderful when show runners treat the love of their fans as an asset to be nurtured instead of a threat to their intellectual property. So who knows, perhaps we’ll see a sequence like the one here in a future episode as the Doctor and his companion make their way across time and space.

Star Trek: Next Gen Wallpapers for iPad

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A few months ago I released several iPhone wallpapers that Star Trek fans have really been enjoying. The response to these LCARS-style graphics was tremendous and almost immediately I started receiving requests for iPad versions of them. The problem was there’s no way to design a square LCARS wallpaper that works both in portrait and landscape mode on the iPad. All of the major elements on-screen (the time, date, slide to unlock & camera icon) are positioned differently when you rotate your device.

A big part of the charm of the iPhone LCARS wallpapers is that the iOS elements flow right into the design and become part of it, but this just isn’t possible to do with a single image for iPad. The solution was to not even try and to design separate wallpapers that can be used in either landscape or portrait, not both. The result is the landscape Next Gen iPad versions I’ve created here. I may create portrait versions at some point, but the majority of iPad owners use the device in landscape mode primarily so that’s what I went with.

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek Production Designer, Michael Okuda since day one and like the iPhone versions, this project is my ongoing way of saying “Thank you!” for the wonderful, futuristic operating system that Next Gen fans know and love as LCARS. With these new iPad versions, you can definitely feel like you’re using a real Next Gen PADD when you unlock your tablet, it’s super fun!

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS 8:

1) Click to view the version of the iPad wallpaper you like best:

• iPad landscape – Original / TNG Colors
• iPad landscape (Starship Schematic) – Original / TNG Colors

2) Tap & hold on the image in mobile Safari & save it to your photo library

3) Open Photos, view the image then tap the Share button in the lower left

4) In the Share menu tap Use as Wallpaper

5) Pinch Zoom OUT on the image to size it exactly to the screen

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Position the image so the Lock Screen’s date line is centered inside the thinner, red upper bar

8) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Sleep/lock your iPad and the next time you activate it, you can pretend you’re Captain Picard himself receiving an important message from Starfeet Command. I hope you enjoy this fun treat & help spread the word via Twitter and Facebook.

Be sure to visit my Goodies page to download other fun desktop wallpapers for iPhone, iPad & Mac. Engage and enjoy!

I’ll Miss You, Jon Stewart

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Like so many good things in life, we often take stuff for granted until we lose it. When someone’s been on TV as long as Jon Stewart has, you tend to think of him as always being there. So when the news broke on Twitter today that Stewart will be hanging up his fake news hat later this year as the host of The Daily Show, it almost didn’t seem real. I’m too young to really remember Johnny Carson’s 30+ year run on The Tonight Show, but I imagine our parents must have felt something like this when Carson finally decided to retire.

Sixteen years is a long time to host any show however and I can understand if Jon wants to take a break from the endless pressure of making fun of the 24-hour news cycle. Add to the fact the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign season is fast approaching and one can start to understand the timing behind Stewart’s decision. That said, it’s been a tough year for fans of late night comedy. Between Stephen Colbert leaving his series and heading to The Late Show on CBS and now Jon Stewart leaving the fray, where will I get my award-winning fake news from? If Jon Oliver didn’t already have enough to live up, now he’s got even bigger shoes to fill.

For my money, Stewart was at his best when he was wasn’t laughing. I relished those TV appearances like his watershed 2006 appearance on CNN’s Crossfire, where he raised the level of discourse about the state of politics in the media. He’s always cast a critical eye towards media and political figures who talk much but whom say very little. His epic stints with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly come to mind as the two would take jabs at each other from their respective, televised desks. His first ‘Daily Show’ broadcast after the attacks of 9/11 was one that I’ll never forget, and put into words what so many of us were feeling in the days after the tragedy.

For all his jokes and satire, Jon often contributed more to our understanding of the day-to-day issues facing us as a nation than many of his “real world” counterparts did. For that, and his genuine desire to try and stop the cable TV shouting matches we’ve all had to endlessly endure, I will dearly miss him. Here’s hoping his voice continues to be heard, if not on Comedy Central, then in some other fashion. We could all do a lot worse than Jon Stewart.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Balance of Terror’

The crew of the Enterprise gets their historic first look at the enigmatic Romulans as Kirk is called to defend a string of Federation outposts along the Neutral Zone. A mysterious ship that seems to posses the power of invisibility has been staging sneak attacks and it’s up to Starfleet’s finest to track it down and destroy her before the Romulans start an all-out war.

The Balance of Terror is notable for a number of reasons, but my favorite is that it introduces us to actor Mark Leonard as the Romulan Commander. Star Trek fans will of course know that Leonard went on to play Spock’s father, Sarek in ‘The Journey to Babel’ as well as in a number of other episodes of Next Generation and the movies. Our one perfect shot comes during the stealthy deep space battle between the Romulan Bird of Prey and the Enterprise. The battle itself was patterned after popular on-screen WWII U-Boat conflicts made famous in such films as 1958′s Run Silent, Run Deep.

I just love the look on the Romulan Commander’s face as he realizes he’s finally met his match in Captain James T. Kirk. The two Captains circle and spar like caged tigers, employing every maneuver and trick in the book to try and best each other and the result is one of fans’ top-rated Original Series episodes. The Romulans would return time and time again in episodes like ‘The Enterprise Incident’, but for my money, their first appearance was also their best.

Next time the crew of the Enterprise takes a holiday and gets much more than they bargained for in ‘Shore Leave‘.

Check out the entire series of perfect Star Trek shots to date.

Why ‘Gotham’ Is Awesome

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MINOR SPOILER WARNING: This post talks about general character direction, minor plot points, settings, etc. for Fox’s Gotham. If you know Batman lore, then you’re probably safe to read on, otherwise head back to the Batcave.

I consider myself a superhero fan, but not a super-fan. That is to say my love of the genre comes more from movies and TV than it does from knowing every little detail about a particular character’s origin, backstory and development. I haven’t read Batman comics since I was a kid and I don’t play the Batman video games. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why I’m enjoying Fox’s new show – Gotham so much. The show takes place in its name-sake city, just after the brutal murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and plays out like a gritty crime drama in the biggest, grittiest metropolis of them all, Gotham City.

Like Smallville that tracked the formative years of Clark Kent on his road to becoming Superman, Gotham gives us a sneak peek inside the young mind of Master Bruce Wayne, his guardian Alfred, Detective Jim Gordon and host of future super-villains that will one day make life a living hell for the denizens of Gotham. The comparison to Smallville ends there however. As is true so often, Batman’s story is far more interesting than Superman’s ever hoped to be. I’m a HUGE Superman fan but for some reason I could never could get into Smallville. On the other hand, Gotham has me firmly in its grasp. There are a bunch of reasons for this and I just wanted to outline a few of them here for people who are thinking about watching but who are rightly skeptical. The show just had its mid-season finale which, if you’ve not watched so far, is a great time to dive in and catch up.

Young Bruce Wayne & Alfred

Without Bruce Wayne, there’s no Batman and even though Gotham certainly plays out like a crime drama, full of colorful criminals, crooked cops and political corruption, at its heart the story is about how Bruce eventually becomes the Dark Knight. Perhaps more than any other entry thus far, Gotham gives us a unique insight into the mind of the recently-orphaned Wayne and what makes him tick. From the comics (and countless portrayals in movies & TV) we know Bruce’s parents are killed in front of him in cold blood, but from there we typically jump years ahead, learn how he discovers the Batcave, travels the world training in martial arts and eventually returns to Gotham to don the familiar cape and cowl… and that’s it.

With a weekly TV series like Gotham, writers have a unique opportunity to explore Bruce’s character like never before and show us why he changes from that frightened kid in the alley to the powerful, dark vigilante he’s destined to be. Bruce becomes obsessed with finding the person who not only killed his parents, but also learning about the crime network that made it possible in the first place. He quickly realizes he has the resources to keep tabs on just about everyone, laying the foundation for becoming a master detective in the process. He also begins to test himself, holding his breath in the family pool for as long as possible, balancing precariously on railings and more so he can become stronger both mentally and physically.

Perhaps most importantly, his legal guardian, the loyal Alfred, is there every step of the way to protect him and try and help him make sense of the tragedy that surrounds him. In subtle ways, Alfred unknowingly guides Bruce to become his future Bat-self. When Bruce is bullied at school, Alfred not only teaches him how to physically defend himself, but also makes it directly possible for Bruce to confront his attacker. All of these scenes give depth and meaning to the familiar struggles Alfred endures as Bruce fights for his life as an adult. In the universe of Gotham, Alfred has become the ultimate enabler and in my opinion, it’s the single best reason to watch the show.

The Rogue’s Gallery

Another awesome aspect of Gotham is the entire ensemble cast of characters and getting to explore the intricate web of relationships they have with each other, and ultimately Batman. The show’s primary focus on the fresh, young Detective, Jim Gordon is appropriate and Ben McKenzie does a fine turn as does Donal Logue as Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock. Gordon is the one good cop in a bad city which makes the monumental task of cleaning up Gotham seem even more impossible. There are crime bosses like the delightfully villainous Fish Mooney played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and of course Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot played wonderfully by Robin Lord Taylor who steals more scenes than a pickpocket steals wallets.

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There’s a corrupt mayor, police commissioner, hired mercenaries and an odd assortment of crazies that Gotham just seems to breed like some twisted, evil puppy mill. It’s easy to see why the city needs a protector but until Bruce comes of age, Gordon must fill the role for the time being. Sometimes Gotham hits us over the head one too many times with the name of a character just to make sure we “get” who they are, but it’s a concession I’m willing to grant them at this early stage in the game.

Overall, the interplay of the large cast of characters is interesting and contains enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, which I like. I’m also looking forward to Morena Baccarin joining the cast as Dr. Leslie Thompkins after the mid-season break. Dr. Thompkins is an important figure in Gotham lore and should provide some much-needed matriarchal balance in Bruce’s tumultuous life. If there’s one criticism of the cast of characters, it’s that the producers rely a bit too much on the comics. I like meeting characters I’m not familiar with that have been created specifically for the TV show like Fish Mooney. Not every bad (or good) guy has to come from the comics.

Production Design

From the cavernous Gotham PD interior, to the on-location shooting in and around New York City, to the thoughtful costume design and especially the amazing CGI long-shots of the city’s waterfront, the visual design behind the Gotham is inspired. Perhaps more than any other TV show I’ve watched in recent memory, Gotham seems like an actual place. The city feels epic in scope and situated just perfectly between retro and modern styling (there are no smartphones, flat-panel monitors, etc) for today’s television audiences.

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Each week, Gotham looks and feels more like a film than a TV show. It also manages to strike a great balance between shots designed specifically for television but inspired by the comics. The city itself feels huge and sprawling and a character in its own right, which was one of the things I loved most about Twin Peaks, and that’s a good thing. I especially love the long, sideways tracking shots that give us glimpses down between the city’s towering buildings. The CGI and lighting in these shots is masterful and totally realistic. Gotham’s top-notch production design sets it far above other superhero TV entries like Lois & Clark, Smallville, and Arrow and makes the stories that much more convincing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s universe feels as fully realized as Gotham’s.

Conclusion

There are lots of great reasons to watch Gotham, but perhaps the best one is that the show manages to make perfect sense of the fantastical world of Batman. Watching the stories unfold and seeing how the characters evolve from week to week brings info focus the incredible mythos that is the Dark Knight. Bob Kane created a wonderful character in Batman 75 years ago, but in all that time we’ve really only learned a little about what motivates Bruce Wayne to do what he does as well as those who surround him. Fox’s Gotham shines a bright light in that dark corner of the comic book world and the results are fun, unexpected and visually stunning. I only hope the show lasts long enough to watch Bruce grow up into the hero he’s destined to be.

I’ve Got An ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Theory


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’ve not watched up through S2, ep 6, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

This season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has really been firing on all cylinders. After a slow and rocky start, the show started to really come into it’s own after the universe shaking events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier debuted in theaters. Since the fateful emergence of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s nemesis, Hydra and the subsequent dissolution of the agency, the drama has really been amped up for Coulson and his now, tiny, rag-tag team.

One of the best story lines we were introduced to at the start of S2 was Agent Jemma Simmons’ infiltration of Hydra in order to gain critical intelligence on their base of operations. Simmons (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Henstridge) worked as a scientist in one of Hydra’s top labs, flying under the radar of the big bads who, as we learned, have a penchant for brainwashing talented and gifted people to turn them into weapons against S.H.I.E.L.D. Jemma managed to feed intelligence reports to Coulson until she was discovered and rooted out in ep 5 – A Hen in the Wolf House. Thankfully she escaped unharmed and un-brainwashed – or DID she?

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Here’s my theory – Before she escaped with the help of Mockinbird “Bobbi” Morse, I think Jemma was indeed seized and put through Hydra’s brainwashing program and turned into an eventual mole against Colson, May, Skye and even the now-damanged Fitz. There are a bunch of breadcrumb clues that will make this seem obvious later on. Firstly, Ward tells Skye in the brig that Hydra’s brainwashing is only done in special cases, they have to have a certain type of personality for it to take. Jemma has always tried to be a good agent, following orders and making her superiors proud of her, in other worse she’s perfectly suited to obey programmed commands.

Second, when Morse returns Simmons to the team, Simmons thanks Coulson personally for getting her out before she was made to “Happily comply with all their commands”. Unless I missed something, there’s no way Simmons would know about Hydra’s brainwashing program, let alone the key trigger phrase “You will comply”, unless she had actually been through it herself. Trust me, she’s been turned into a sleeper agent behind our backs, and it’s going to be awesome.

The writers of S.H.I.E.L.D. have demonstrated their willingness to pull the rug out from under us as they did with the fantastic realization that Ward was a secret agent of Hydra in season 1. I think they have something similar planned with Simmons in S2. I’m not saying she’ll re-join the ranks of Hydra permanently, but I do think her story line and that of her close friend, Fitz will intersect in a most dramatic way. At some point, Fitz is going to return to his fully-functioning self and wouldn’t it be the biggest kicker if just as that happened, he and the rest of the team was betrayed by the re-programmed Jemma? Fitz would go literally off the deep end, plunging even further than he did in that box at the end of season 1. The kind of dramatic climax that represents would be off the charts and one that would make for some seriously awesome TV. Or perhaps Fitz will realize Jemma has been brainwashed and his need to protect and cure her will finally coax his brain back into working order.

Any way you cut it, this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up in fantastic fashion, with tons of action, hidden secrets and wonderful character development. I’ve enjoyed the addition of the new agents, Kyle MacLachian’s turn as Skye’s creepy father and Ward staying a bad guy and not being turned back to the side of right. I can’t wait to see what happens next, but in the meantime, I’ll be keeping one eye squarely focused on Simmons in the weeks ahead and so should you.

Space:1999 + LEGO = WIN!

Builder Joe Klang recently posted images from his LEGO construction book Build Your Own Galaxy in which he features a few builds based on the cult 70′s science fiction TV series Space: 1999 and if you’re a fan of the show like I am, the results will have you beaming. Joe built incredibly detailed models of Eagle One, a large portion of Moonbase Alpha Main Missions and even minifig versions of the command crew itself including Dr. Russell, Commander Koenig and Maya. What I wouldn’t give to have his LEGO Eagle One sitting on my desk, ready for lift off. I’ve been obsessed with Space: 1999 ever since I was a boy and seeing Joe’s creations, crafted out of LEGO’s brought me right back to my youth. Bravo, Joe!

Hat tip to The Brothers Brick for this post.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Conscience of the King’

The Enterprise is called to Planet Q by Dr. Thomas Leighton, a research scientist and friend of Captain Kirk. Leighton’s suspects Anton Karidian, the leader of a Shakespearean acting troupe currently on the planet, is, in fact, Kodos “the Executioner”. Kodos was the former governor of the earth colony Tarsus IV, and was responsible for the massacre of over 4000 people—including members of both Kirk’s and Leighton’s families—20 years before. Kirk decides to take the traveling troupe of actors onboard and try and discover if Karidian is truly Kodos.

Our one perfect shot comes as Karidian performs Shakespeare’s Hamlet on board the Enterprise, as he peers out from behind the metaphorical mask he’s been wearing for the past twenty years. ‘Conscience of the King‘ is a wonderful dramatic episode of Star Trek, one cited by writer and BSG creator, Ron Moore as one of his all-time favorites. There’s a great deal of allegory in the writing and its connection to Shakespeare which makes it all the more compelling as a murder mystery.

Our next episode cleverly brings the deep-sea submarine hunts of WWII to outer space in The Balance of Terror.

How to Get Sh*t-Faced Watching SyFy’s ‘Faceoff’

I admit to loving the SyFy network’s makeup reality show Faceoff. Budding young artists square off against each other each week to try and create the most elaborate, fantastic and convincing characters they can. In the last few seasons however, Faceoff has slipped into a formulaic approach where we repeatedly experience the same tropes over and over again.

It’s gotten so bad I started thinking it might actually make a great drinking game. I’m not a drinking man by nature, but if I was, a Faceoff Drinking Game would get me shit-faced (see what I did there?) super-quick. Next time you host a party and want to get sloshed with your friends, cue up any episode of Faceoff and drink whenever you spy any of the show’s oh-so-familiar trappings. You might even get drunk enough not to care that SyFy cancelled Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. :-(

• A contestant is “excited” about this week’s Spotlight Challenge

• Two contestants who don’t work well together, naturally get paired up

• One person on a team strongly disagrees with the design direction of the other but is too timid to say anything until it’s too late

• Contestant’s makeup specialty is the very subject of this week’s challenge – zombies, vampires, steampunk, etc. (this person usually ends up being the one to go home)

• A contestant doesn’t have a “clear idea” for the direction of their makeup

• Contestant listens to sage advice from makeup master, Michael Westmore, but decides to ignore it and proceed with their own poorly designed creation

• Contestant uses a material / process they have little or no experience with

• One of the contestant’s molds “gets stuck” (take a bonus shot if said contestant starts crying on camera)

• Stuck mold miraculously freed in the last few minutes of day 2

• One of the models has an allergic reaction to a material used in their makeup

• Contestant leaves painting until Last Looks

Glenn Hetrick’s outfit is especially goth/vampire/over the top

• One of the judges complains about the poor asymmetry of a makeup

• One of the judges points out a contestant’s makeup has little or nothing to do with this week’s challenge

• The rest of the contestants give out a collective sign of “Oh no!” when they find out which one of their talent-less peers is going home this week

UPDATED: Reader Ross Crabtree sent in some additional suggestions for our little Faceoff drinking game and they were just too good not to post, so here they are. Thanks Ross!

• Anytime Fun Fur is used in a makeup

• A contestant talks about how there are certain they are going home this week

• A contestant gushes about how they are a big fan of a guest judge

• A Contestant’s makeup appliance has a tear that needs to be repaired

• A contestant decided to not use a mold because they are running out of time

Star Trek: Next Gen Wallpapers for iPhone 6

UPDATE: Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus versions have been updated to correct some minor alignment issues, took a shot at a version for Windows Phone as well as added a new more “authentic” Next Gen color scheme to choose from.

If you enjoy Star Trek as much as I do then you’ll love these free, Next Generation mobile wallpapers I designed for use with iOS. I’ve updated my original LCARS Star Trek lock screen for the brand new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus so you can be the geeky envy of all your friends. For those of you still running the smaller iPhone 5, don’t worry, there’s even a version here for you!

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek Production Designer, Michael Okuda since day one and this project was my way of saying “Thank you!” for the wonderful, futuristic operating system that Next Gen fans know and love as LCARS. With the iPhone 6 Plus approaching the size of actual padds from Next Gen, it only made sense to bring this amazing aesthetic to the palm of our hands.

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS 8:

1) Click to view the wallpaper that best fits your device:

• iPhone 5 Series – Original / TNG Colors
• iPhone 6 – Original / TNG Colors
• iPhone 6 Plus – Original / TNG Colors

• Windows Phone – Original / TNG Colors
I don’t own a Windows Phone and make no promises about how this version will work for you. These are provided as is!

2) Tap & hold on the image in mobile Safari & save it to your photo library

3) Open Photos, view the image then tap the Share button in the lower left

4) Scroll to the right in the Share menu and tap Use as Wallpaper

5) Pinch Zoom OUT on the image to size it exactly to the screen

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Sleep/lock your iPhone and the next time you activate it, you can pretend you’re Captain Picard himself receiving an important message from Starfeet Command. I hope you enjoy this fun treat & help spread the word via Twitter and Facebook. Engage and enjoy!

Uhura’s Mysterious Armband

You have to understand, I have seen every episode of the original Star Trek series dozens of times so when I spot something I’ve never seen before it’s like receiving a wonderful, geeky present. I recently came across startrekhistory.com, an amazing repository of original Star Trek deleted scenes, unseen photos and production resources. There’s an entire section of the site dedicated to the construction of the original 11-ft model of the Starship Enterprise that no Trek fan should miss. There’s also a section devoted to deleted scenes and visual miscellany, one of which comes from the classic episode The City on the Edge of Forever – Uhura’s mysterious black armband.

I must admit that even after nearly 40 years of watching Star Trek, I had never seen this costume element before. The band is worn on her left arm and is only shown in the opening sequence. What is it? Why is it there for only this one scene? Is it simply a goof or something else that we never got to see? The authors at StarTrekHistory theorize it might have been a velcro strap that Uhura could attach her famous ear piece to when not in use, similar to how the crew wore their phasers and communicators. That theory sounds pretty plausible to me and since it never appears in any other scene in the original series, we’ll probably never know. Tiny details like Uhura’s armband may seem like minutia to the uninitiated, but to life-long Star Trek fans like myself they bring nerdy joy. I LOVE that even after all this time, I’m still discovering things about Star Trek I never knew. Utterly fascinating.

One Perfect Shot: TOS’s ‘The Menagerie Pt. I & II’

There are a few shots from the original series that fans like myself consider highly iconic. Today’s one perfect shot from the two-part episode The Menagerie is one such image. The shot features a medieval-looking castle on the planet of Rigel VII where Captain Pike (in the foreground) is forced to fight a large, hulking Kalar. This wonderful frame features a matte painting by artist Albert Whitlock that was actually improved for the re-mastered version of the original series.

The Menagerie’s skillful use of scenes and elements from the original, un-aired Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was Gene Roddenberry’s way of taking some of the pressure off the show as the schedule of the original series started to slip from week to week. By creating essentially a “flashback story” with a dramatically shorter script (just 64 pages long, shorter than the scripts for most single-part episodes), Roddenberry was able to give the production and writing teams crucial time to get back on schedule with NBC for episodes currently in production.

The castle would again be re-used in season 3′s Requiem for Methuselah as the lavish home of the immortal recluse Mr. Flint. When the re-mastered version of Requiem aired, the original shot from The Cage was replaced by an all-new, CGI version of Flint’s home on Holberg 917G.

Next up, Captain Kirk discovers the play’s the thing wherein he’ll catch The Conscience of the King.

Star Trek: The Next Generation S7 on Blu Ray

All good things must come to an end (see what I did there?) and such is the case with the high-definition conversion of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray. The final season 7 has just been announced and to geeks like myself, this is positively great news. Not so much for the episodes in S7, but hopefully because this means CBS will be that much closer to starting work on HD versions of my favorite Trek series – Deep Space Nine. All kidding aside, there are some great stories in season 7 including ‘The Pegasus’ ‘Attached’ and of course ‘All Good Things’. This final set also promises to be chock full of cast extras that should be worth the price of admission.

Head over to Amazon to pre-order your copy of Next Generation, season 7 on blu-ray today. Yes, this is an affiliate link and yes, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-ordered from my blog. Thanks for your support! :-)

‘Star Trek’ Actress Arlene Martel Dies at 78

This past week has been tremendously sad as we’ve lost several notable stars of the big and small screen. Arlene Martel, who Star Trek fans will remember for playing Spock’s Vulcan bride, T’Pring in “Amok Time,” died on Tuesday, August 12, 2014. She won’t be recognized by nearly as many people as Robin Williams or Lauren Becall but to Trek fans like myself, she holds a special place in our hearts. I’m not afraid to say I had a huge crush on Martel as T’Pring as a boy and although she appeared in other TV series including Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, The Wild, Wild West and Battlestar Galactica (1978), I’ll always remember her as the coldly logical vulcan who managed to outsmart even Spock. Rest in peace, Arlene.

One Perfect Shot: TOS ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’

Back in 2006 CBS Home Video began airing the first episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series in their newly re-mastered format. These episodes featured improved CGI effects, HD picture quality and professional sound mixing and have become my absolute favorite examples of how remastering a classic property such as Star Trek, should be approached. Mike Okuda and the team at CBS focused on creating visuals that enhanced the originals; more realistic planets, more detail on the Enterprise and beautifully rendered alien landscapes. The team produced the kinds of shots the original show creators would have used themselves if possible. The remastered original series is a testament to restraint and good visual design and if you want a great example, look no further than ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’.

Our one perfect shot features the Enterprise dwarfed by the Fesarius, the flagship of the “First Federation”, an immense ship of size and power. Captain Kirk and crew make first contact with Balok, commander of the Fesarius and employ a cunning bluff to avoid certain destruction. As a kid, this shot of the Enterprise and Fesarius always gave me chills and the newly remastered version adds a definite sense of wonder and awe. The detail on the surface of the Fesarius is now geometric in nature and the entire ship seems to pulse with limitless energy. I also love how we can see some of the internal structure of Balok’s craft which takes visual cues from geodesic dome designs like EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth. The re-mastered special effects in The Corbomite Maneuver are impressive, beautiful and purposeful which adds up to the perfect combination for one perfect shot.

Notably, the other shot I considered for this episode depicts one of the most iconic (and low-tech) aliens from the entire series, the puppet of Balok’s alter ego himself. Created by production designer Wah Chang, this supremely alien character could have easily been replaced with a CG version of the primitive puppet, but Okuda and team wisely let him stand in his original form. Chang’s original concept sketch for Balok is wonderful and his depiction on the small screen was often featured in the closing credits of Star Trek episodes each week. I almost chose Balok for this episode’s one perfect shot, but in the end the beauty and attention to detail of the remastered Fesarius won out.

Next up, Spock kidnaps the Enterprise in a bold attempt to help his former Captain in ‘The Menagerie Pt. I & II

Remembering Robin Williams

I and many other people are feeling a deep loss at the sad news that funny man and Oscar-winning dramatic actor, Robin Williams, has died at the age of 63. From my introduction to Robin as Mork from Ork on Happy Days to his break-out stand-up performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I followed his career at every step of the way and enjoyed everything he appeared in. Some of my favorite Williams’ performances include Good Morning, Vietnam, his amazing voice over work as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Toys and The Birdcage. It pains me to say it but there are many films he’s appeared in that I’ve never seen. With his passing I think I’ll have to correct that oversight and re-discover some of Robin’s incredible work anew.

There are only a few celebrities & personal heroes who, when they pass, I will truly grieve for. Robin Williams is one such person. He brought so much happiness, laughter and light into our lives it’s difficult to imagine a world without him. Personally, I’ll be focusing on all those wonderful moments and characters, all the belly-laughs and chuckles and even the tears he conjured as he entertained and transfixed us. He was a bright star in the lives of those friends and fans who loved him and he will be dearly missed.