Percussive Maintenance

Anyone who can find commonality between Deep Space Nine, Hogan’s Heroes, Back to the Future and Happy Days is okay in my book. I love TV and movie supercuts and this is one of the most clever I’ve seen. Take all those times when characters fix broken equipment with a good whack and what you get is percussive perfection. Enjoy!

(via Collossal)

Breaking Bad’s Swimming Pool Symbolism


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for AMC’s Breaking Bad. If you’ve not watched through the first half of season 5 and don’t want to know spoil some of the major plot points, then you should really stop reading now. You’ve been warned.

The cult TV hit, Breaking Bad, wraps tonight on AMC in what is sure to be one of the best series finales ever to hit TV. I only recently started watching the series on Netflix and have come to appreciate the complex web of plot, character development, drama and awesomeness that is Breaking Bad. Watching the entire 5 seasons in a little over a month gives one a fresh perspective on the show that long-time fans may have missed, especially the subtle use of signs and symbols that are a favorite of the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan.

One of the re-curring symbols that shows up in Breaking Bad is water, and more specifically swimming pools. Chemistry teacher turned master meth cook, Walter White, has one in his backyard and throughout the show’s run, action frequently takes place in and around these small aquatic jewels. Fans of the show know that the pools themselves often portend ominous happenings in the world of Breaking Bad. In fact, I don’t think I can recall a single scene where people were actually having a good time in a swimming pool in the entire 5-year run of the show. No, in Walter White’s world swimming pools and the water that fills them represents something else entirely and it’s the single plot point that propels the show.

There are lots of different interpretations of what swimming pools mean in Breaking Bad, but the one that is the most obvious, indeed the one that hits us over the head by season 5′s “Fifty-One” is that they are a metaphor for Heisenberg’s blue meth. In the S3 episode ‘Caballo Sin Nombre‘ we see Walt fish a bandaid out of a swimming pool (see above). Walt’s always been a problem solver as well as a perfectionist and this small scene I think highlights Walt’s need to always improve his addictive product. He’s forever trying to keep contaminants out of the cook, something we’re reminded again just a few episodes later in “Fly“. It also symbolizes his desire to keep his family clear and “clean” of his seedy, second life.

Then there is the air disaster that marks the brutal end of season 2 when Jane’s father and air traffic controller, stricken with grief over losing his daughter to a drug overdose, accidentally collides two passenger jets in the skies over Albuquerque. The image of the pink bear haunts us in the cold opens for most of season 2, a horrible reminder of the unforeseen consequences of Walt’s actions.

In season 4′s ‘Hermanos‘ we visit the lavish home of Mexican drug lord Don Eladio. The home once again features a swimming pool that soon features prominently as the final resting place of Gus Fring’s partner as he’s laid waste by the ruthless cartel. In an ironic twist of fate, this same swimming pool becomes the tomb of Eladio as Gus returns to Mexico in S4′s ‘Salud‘ to exact revenge on those that killed his friend. The drug cartel reaps what it sows as we see lives slip away in the cool, blue waters.

Gillian also slips subtle references about the symbolic blue meth into the show’s dialog in several episodes including S5′s ‘Dead Freight‘. When Walt, Jessie and Mike plan to heist hundreds of gallons of methylamine, the crucial chemical needed to cook meth, Lydia explains that the train they’ll be hitting holds enough of the compound to “fill a swimming pool.”

Lest there be any more doubt about what pools represent, we have S5′s incredible episode ‘Fifty-One‘. The entire White clan gathers to celebrate Walt’s fifty-first birthday poolside. As Walt talks to his in-laws at a nearby table, his wife Skyler stands staring into the bright blue water, filled with dispair. She fears for the safety of herself and her children because of the monster her husband has become. As Walt speaks, Skyler slowly steps, fully dressed into the family pool. She descends to the bottom, floating like an angel in the cool water, literally drowning in the blue poison Walt has forced upon her and her family. Her sister and brother in-law beg her to get out, to save herself but they’re voices are muffled by the water and Skyler’s contentment with her plans to get her children out of the house and to safety.

There are lots of other examples of the meth/pool symbolism in the series, but one of my favorites is the cold open for S5′s ‘Blood Money‘. In a flash forward, Walt, deposed from his drug lord throne, returns to his condemned home to find his house in ruins. He watches a band of kids use his now empty swimming pool for skateboarding. He stares helplessly as strangers run rampant on his former property, his crystal-blue empire has turned to dust and he his powerless to stop it.

I love symbolism in television and films. Clever use of symbolism adds depth and meaning to storytelling and Breaking Bad has been one hell of an awesome story. I still have a few episodes to go before tonight’s finale (hopefully I’ll catch up in time!) but I hope this small insight into the shimmering blue waters of Walter White’s world has increased your appreciation for what Vince Gilligan and his Breaking Bad team of writers has given us these past five seasons. I for one am glad I decided to dip my foot in Breaking Bad’s pool.

Rooting for Shamy

My favorite television comedy, The Big Bang Theory, returns to TV on Thursday, Sept 27th on CBS. To get ready, I’ve been going back and re-watching many of the season 4 and 5 episodes that I love the most. The Alien Parasite Hypothesis (the one where Amy gets the hots for Penny’s friend Zach) and The Shiny Trinket Maneuver in which Sheldon buys Amy a tiara as a transparent attempt to sooth her relationship anger (the ep earned her an Emmy nomination) are two stand-outs. As the series has progressed, my favorite part of the show has morphed from watching the male leads interact to the relationship that has developed between the three female leads – Penny, Amy and Bernadette. The way Penny and Bernadette adopted the socially awkward Amy into their group is adorable, as is the crush Amy has on Kaley Cuoco’s character, Penny.

Of all the relationships Big Bang has featured, I think the Sheldon / Amy duo has to be the best. They are two wallflowers who are brilliant in their respective fields but who are children when it comes to their emotions. This has changed over the course of the show as the writers took definite steps to move Sheldon & Amy’s (Shamy for short) relationship forward. Over time, Sheldon has elevated Amy from a “Girl who happens to be his friend” to his actual girlfriend. In the season 5 finale, Sheldon incredibly took Amy’s hand as they watched their friend Howard boldy travel into space. If you are a fan of Big Bang, this moment probably gave you goose bumps as it did me.

I love The Big Bang Theory because I can often relate to the geeky jokes and situations the writers create for the characters. The show is ripe with Star Trek, comics and video game references, but it is the characters and their relationships that give the show the deep, emotional satisfaction I love so much. Like many fans, I’ve been rooting for Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Folwer to get together, and I believe that one day they will.

In a wonderful season 4 interview between Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik, they reveal their working relationship, how they prepare to film a script and that they too are rooting for their characters to make it. Often times we as fans forget that an actor ultimately doesn’t have the final say in what happens to the characters they portray, the writers and producers do. If any of the show’s writers are reading this, all I can say is keep up the great work. We love how Amy & Sheldon have grown closer towards each other and we want more. Just not too fast, getting there is more than half the fun! Tune in to the season 6 premiere of The Big Bang Theory on CBS on Thursday, Sept 27th. Go Team #Shamy!

Fixing Home Sharing’s TV Troubles

iTunes Home Sharing is a wonderful feature that’s designed to let you share media libraries between multiple Macs, iOS devices and Apple TV. If you have Home Sharing turned on and a solid Wi-Fi connection, you don’t need to fill your iPad with movies and TV shows you’ve downloaded to watch them. Simply connect to your Mac’s media library via the Videos app, select the shared library and iTunes will present you with a list of all of your movies and TV shows. I own lots of TV show episodes, some I’ve ripped from my DVDs and some purchased directly from iTunes. Home Sharing should allow me to get quick access to all of them any time I want. At least that’s the theory.

The Problem

When browsing music and movies via iTunes Home Sharing, media is displayed as one would expect. Movies are listed alphabetically by title and music arranged into playlists that can be navigated and played easily either via Apple TV or an iDevice. Unfortunately, TV shows are a whole different story. TV shows don’t always display in the proper order when browsed on Apple TV or iDevices via Home Sharing. Furthermore, certain TV show seasons will display multiple times or even worse, simply not appear at all. When this happens, it’s impossible to select the series and episode you want to watch making Home Sharing effectively useless. So what’s going on?

The Cause

I recently spent several long nights experimenting with my iTunes media library learning what was causing some TV shows to appear multiple times, others appear out of order and some just not at all. I read several support threads at Apple that explained how a TV show’s meta data can confuse iTunes’ Home Sharing feature if not set correctly. What is metadata? It’s the information that is assigned to a file in iTunes such as the show’s title, season number, episode ID and so on. Selecting a song, movie or TV show in iTunes and then getting information on it (cmd-I) will reveal the file’s metadata and allow you to edit it.

The root of the trouble seems to be that unlike movies which are stand alone entities, and songs, which can be part of an album, TV shows are not only broken down by series title (the TV version of an “Album”), but also by season. This two-tierd level of sorting can be extremely confusing for the user since it’s not always obvious how iTunes decides what comes first, second, third and so on. In addition, there appears to be a quirk in iTunes where if values of a television show’s metadata (like episode ID) conflict with other episodes of that same TV show, the series simply won’t display in Home Sharing. Finally, to make matters worse, often times the metadata of a TV show isn’t set consistently by the publisher from season to season or even from episode to episode. Mis-numbered or conflicting episode ID’s, especially within the same TV series across multiple seasons, throws iTunes into a tailspin and leads to problems.

In the above example you can see that I have downloaded two seasons of the BBC series Sherlock. Both season 1 and season 2 have the correct season metadata set, but the individual episodes have duplicate episode ID’s. Season two’s episode ID’s are labeled “1, 2, 3, 101 and 102″ when they should be labeled “201, 202, 203, 204 and 205″. Because the season 2 episodes use ID numbers that conflict with those in season 1, Home Sharing freaks out and in this instance displays the series out of order. Making matters worse, some publishers include the season number in the name of a show’s title, like “The Walking Dead; Season 2″ which causes problems when an iPhone or iPad polls for how to display the program.

Lastly, the strangest thing I learned in my investigations was that it appears improperly labeled metadata for one show can affect the display properties of a completely different television show as well. So until you correct the metadata of every single TV episode in your iTunes library, random problems may persist when trying to display them. It really makes no sense, but in my testing this was the case.

The Fix

The solution to the problem lies in making the show’s title, season numbers and episode ID’s logical and consistent throughout your entire iTunes library. If you have a fairly large collection of television show episodes it will take you some time to edit them and correct the display problems, but it is indeed fixable.

Follow these steps:

• Select tv episodes (one at a time or in batches) & press command-I
• Select the “Info” tab
• Set the show’s “Name” field to the title of the episode itself
• Set the “Album” field to the name of the series

Note: When naming a series with multiple seasons, it’s important to use the same naming on each episode. For instance, don’t name one episode’s Album “The Big Bang Theory” and another’s “Big Bang Theory”. Pick a naming convention and use it for all episodes of that television program to help eliminate problems.

Next:

• Select the “Video” tab
• Set the “Show” field to the name of the series (the same one used in the Album field) & remove any qualifiers like “Season 1″ etc
• Set the “Season Number”, episode ID and episode number to their proper values

Note: When setting episode ID’s, each one should be unique to that series. Typically, 101 would be season 1, episode 1. 202 would be season 2, episode 2 and so on. It’s crucial that each episode within each TV show has a unique, and logical ID number or the show won’t display correctly and could affect other show’s listings as well.

Lastly:

• Select the “Sorting” tab
• Make sure that the Album name matches that in the Video tab
• As a precaution I also removed any information contained in any of the sorting fields of this tab. The album name seems to be enough for iTunes to find and display the show correctly so the rest is unnecessary

Once you have updated all of the metadata on all of your TV shows, each series should appear only once and in the proper season order in Home Sharing. You may need to exit and kill the video app, relaunch it and re-connect to your shared media library to actually see the changes take effect. If a show is still out of order, or doesn’t appear, then an offending bit of metadata is still out there. You’ll need to hunt it down and correct it, but when all is said and done your TV show library should look something like this.

Conclusions

As frustrating and time consuming as this process can be, seeing a properly ordered, shared TV show library is extremely satisfying, especially if you’re as obsessed with organization as I am. I’d write a developer radar report for these issues but honestly, I’m not even sure why it occurs, or even if it’s really a bug. It seems more likely iTunes is just finicky about logical, non-conflicting metadata. Unfortunately, each file has so many fields of data it’s difficult to tell which one should be set to what value, resulting in user frustration. The good news is that armed with the information above, and a little patience, you too can whip your Home Sharing library into tip-top shape. Just be sure to bring along some popcorn and a sense of humor.

Why Won’t TV Sports Blackouts Just Die Already?

I live in Greensboro, North Carolina which is located approximately 330 miles from Baltimore Maryland, home of the Baltimore Orioles. I’m so far away from Baltimore in fact that I don’t even receive their local television or radio broadcasts. I don’t know the local sportscasters, the best places to eat or even how to get to Camden Yards. Yet, whenever my beloved Red Sox (or any other team for that matter) plays the Orioles, Major League Baseball blacks out the broadcast for me here in Greensboro. Greensboro. North Carolina.

Since they were first televised in the late 60′s and 70′s, sports such as baseball and football have been subject to broadcast blackout restrictions. Originally designed to get people up off the couch, sell tickets and into the home team’s stadiums, blackouts were designed to help ensure a healthy bottom line for both league owners and those with a stake in local television markets. Stadiums cost millions of dollars to build and back in the day blackouts made sense, but not any longer. In today’s age of interconnectivity, smart phones, place-shifted broadcasts and on-demand programming, fans are fed up with the NFL & MLB’s blackouts.

Making matters worse, each league as their own set of rules and restrictions for how blackouts are applied. The NFL’s “75 mile” rule is fairly straight forward. If all tickets of a home game are not sold out, the broadcast is blacked out for a radius of 75 miles from the stadium. Seems reasonable, but given how few games are actually played in a regulation season of football, having even one or two games blacked out is upsetting to die hard fans. In comparison, Major League Baseball’s blackouts are a veritable rat’s nest of regulations that are so convoluted, even team owners don’t understand them. In Las Vegas for example, no less than 6 baseball teams (Dodgers, A’s, Giants, Padres, Angels, and Diamondbacks) are regularly blacked out from television viewing. Sometimes these blackouts aren’t announced until just minutes before the game. If I loved baseball and lived in Las Vegas, I’d probably have a major heart attack about once a week. Thankfully, hope seems to be on the horizon.

Back in February, the Sports Fans Coalition assembled a petition to the Federal Communication Commission outlining fan’s anger at the NFL’s blackout restrictions. Five Democratic Senators joined the petition and urged the FCC to eliminate the rule arguing that taxpayers have helped pay for stadiums and should not have their home games blacked out. They also added it was “a regulatory backstop to an obnoxious and outdated league policy … At a time of persistently high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and consumer uncertainty, the sports blackout rule supports blatantly anti-fan, anti-consumer behavior by professional sports leagues.” Well said.

This perspective is especially true today since the bulk of sports revenue now comes not from tickets, but from internet and television. Given this reality, it’s difficult to justify withholding broadcasts from fans willing to pay for it. The petition is now a matter of record and a final decision regarding NFL blackouts is expected soon. One hopeful byproduct of the petition is that the F.C.C. may require Major League Baseball to finally document and explain it’s own complex rules for applying blackout restrictions, something fans and owners have asked for repeatedly. Forcing MLB just to explain the rules may push blackouts over the tipping point and finally put an end to them.

In an age when we can watch our favorite movies and television shows whenever we want, wherever we want (mostly), sports blackouts are a slap in the face of the consumer. Fans have put up with these Orwellian restrictions for years but the increasing popularity of smart phones and tablet computers like the iPad have begun to put enormous pressure on leagues, team owners and even government. Social networking and digital connectivity have made this country, indeed this planet, a very small place where all forms of information can be accessed from anywhere. If the petition filed in February simply forces MLB to explain why I can watch the Red Sox kick the tar out of the Yankees but not the Orioles, I’ll be happy. Personally, I’m hoping the F.C.C. takes the TV blackout rule out back for a trip to the proverbial woodshed. One can dream.

Update: In yet another blow to baseball loving fans everywhere, the U.S. 4th District Court of appeals upheld a ruling preventing Time Warner Cable from offering the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and its sister station, MASN2, from being added to its cable package in North Carolina. The reasoning the government decided to hang fans out to dry? The Orioles and Nationals have been “so bad” in recent years that no one would want to watch their games anyway. Yeah, never mind that occasionally those teams play OTHER teams like the Yankees or Red Sox, or that as I write this the Orioles are sitting in first place in the AL East. MLB Needs a serious kick in the ass.

One of Our Experts Is Missing

If you’re a fan of the break-out TV hit that is Pawn Stars then you’ve probably noticed something strange is afoot. One of the best parts of this guilty pleasure from the History Channel is when the gang at the World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop call in experts to appraise rare or exotic items. Chumlee and the Old Man are wonderful TV personalities but so are many of the experts featured on the show. I always enjoy seeing Drew Max pull out his over-sized magnifying glass and confirm the value of Babe Ruth’s signature, or Danny Koker break the bad news to a customer that their custom-built trike just isn’t worth the $30,000 they were asking for.

Lately however, one of the show’s most well-known and loved experts has gone missing. Sean Rich is a Master Antique Gunsmith and has appeared in over 50 episodes of Pawn Stars since it debuted in 2009. He’s usually called in when the gang needs antique guns, swords or other armory appraised and his visits are always fun. For the last two seasons Rich has been the go-to guy for these types of appraisals, but he’s been completely absent from season 5 (and much of the last half of S4 as well). The producers started substituting other experts when Rick needed firearms appraised but they’re just not Rich. I knew something fishy was going on when Mark Hall-Patton, the beloved curator of the Clark County Museum System, was called in to appraise a rare LeMat pistol from the Civil War. This was an item that would have made Sean positively dance with glee, and yet here was Mark at the pawn store, looking over an item that was clearly out of his area of expertise. So what’s going on?

The last expert on Pawn Stars that suddenly took a hiatus from the show was Rick Dale, now the star of the spin off show American Restoration. Rick and his shop proved so popular that producers gambled viewers would watch a show just about restoring antique items, and they were right. American Restoration is a great show and Rick is a wonderful TV personality, but is the same thing about to happen with Sean Rich? I think it’s more likely that Sean is simply busy with another project that’s filling his time. Sean worked as a consultant on some of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and so I’m hoping that he’ll eventually return. In addition, Sean’s business Tortuga Trading Inc., is run out of his home and doesn’t have a traditional shop like Rick Dale that could be used as the basis for a new show. The only other explanation is that Sean and the show’s producers had a falling out, and I really hope that didn’t happen.

One of the things I love the most about Sean is how excited he gets to see a genuinely rare piece. He obviously has a great appreciation for history as he often explains in geeky detail what makes a firearm valuable and I must admit his enthusiasm is infectious. Before Pawn Stars came along, I really didn’t know anything about antique guns or why they were awesome but thanks to Rick Dale and Sean Rich I now have a greater appreciation for the value of these fine pieces of history. Here’s hoping Sean eventually emerges from some dusty tomb or secret Hollywood film set and takes his occasional place along side Rick, Corey and the Old Man yet again.

Update: Thanks to an email sent by another curious fan, we now have the answer of what happened to Sean on Pawn Stars. Seems as though the executives at the History Channel and the production company behind Pawn Stars wanted to lock Sean down into an exclusive arrangement for his appearances and offered him little or no money. He refused and so they replaced him. Damn shame, I was afraid of something like this. Thanks a lot History Channel, this is why we can’t have nice things. :-(

Amazing Race Revs Up Again

Season 15 of CBS’s Emmy Award winning reality television series, The Amazing Race, beings this Sunday, September 27th at 8pm est. As usual, 12 teams will compete in a race around the world for a chance to win $1 million U.S. dollars and in the process explore new cultures, foreign traffic jams and maddening airport delays. I’ve been watching The Amazing Race since season one and despite an unchanging formula, it remains my favorite reality series ever.

This season’s field of entrants include a pair of Harlem Globetrotters, former (now unemployed) executives for National Lampoon, a duo of professional poker players and the usual assortment of dating, engaged and married couples. Over at the Iconfactory, I start a pool at the start of every season of the Amazing Race to pick the show’s winning couple. Judging these human books by their covers, one could easily pick Sam & Dan, brothers, to go all the way. They look like they’re in good shape and they’re brothers so there shouldn’t be any unknowns between them. It’d be poetic justice to see the Globetrotters trounce the other teams on a world wide race, but something tells me they won’t last beyond episode 5.

No matter who wins, I’m just happy that The Amazing Race has returned once again to fill my Sunday nights. The show is exciting, dynamic and this season promises to offer new, unseen twists and turns. I’m so addicted to TAR that I’ve been filling the down time between seasons with showings of The Amazing Race Asia. The show “can be found” on the tubes if you know where to look and offers much of the same frantic travel goodness as it’s U.S. counterpart. It may not have Phil Keoghan, but the host obviously enjoys his job and the non-US centric cast and locations is a welcome change of pace. In the meantime, head on over to CBS.com and meet this season’s teams, check out Phil’s video diary and then be sure to tune in Sunday night for one wild ride. Remember, travel safe!

My Top 10 Sci-Fi / Fantasy Shows

The writers over at IO9 recently put together a mega-post of their top 100 sci-fi and fantasy shows of all time. While I agree with many of their selections, the top 10 left something to be desired. They say if you want to build a better mouse trap you had better do it yourself so I’m only too proud to present you with my list. Here is my definitive collection of my 10 all-time favorite science fiction and fantasy television shows. Some of these may very well be your favorites too so I encourage you read on and then post your personal list in the comments below. Engage!

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains both minor and major spoilers for the TV shows discussed. If you don’t want to know key plot points, then you should skip the series you’ve not watched. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

• • •

Xena: Warrior Princess

1995 – 2001

When Xena: Warrior Princess first hit the scene in 1995 it seemed like little more than a cheesy ode to the likes of Conan the Barbarian. But as the story lines and the characters evolved, Xena quickly amassed a large fan following. The on-screen chemistry between Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O’Connor as Gabrielle was undeniable and the writers took advantage of it whenever possible. The “close” relationship between the lead characters became a rallying cry for gay and lesbian fans of the series and helped boost Xena beyond mere comic book camp. No matter what outlandish villain the duo faced, their strengthening love and loyalty for each other always felt real. Add in some serious amounts of action, on-location cinematography and the show’s ability not to take itself too seriously and you have a fantasy adventure that lands Xena in my number 10 spot.

Favorite episodes:

A Day in the Life
The Bitter Suite
A Comedy of Eros

• • •

Mystery Science Theater 3000

1988 – 1999

“If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts… LA LA LA then repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should maybe just relax!” Fans of MST3K have no doubt that it’s one of the best television shows ever to grace the airwaves. Granted the science fiction aspect of Mystery Science Theater was simply a vehicle for heckling old cheesy movies, but the hook worked. Each week we’d tune in to see the latest invention exchange followed inevitably by the stinker movie that Joel or Mike & the Bots would be forced to endure.

MST3K always played to the intelligence of its audience and threw out obscure references that only the most hard-core geeks would find funny. I am proud to say I was one of those geeks and so the show never failed to please. Japanese monster movies were always a sure fire winner, but so were the plethora of public service films that MST3K loved to roast. Who can forget A Date with Your Family? Salad needs more butter, mother!

Favorite episodes:

Invasion U.S.A.
Space Travelers
Boggy Creek II: And The Legend Continues

• • •

Doctor Who

1963 – Present

Doctor Who holds the distinction of being the longest running science fiction show on television. The British born sensation has been a favorite of mine since I first started watching the series in the Tom Baker years. Through the decades the writers behind Doctor Who have managed to keep audiences coming back for more thanks to the cleverest plot device in sci-fi history – regeneration.

When the character of the Doctor “dies”, his body regenerates into a new form, conveniently played by a new actor. So even though the infamous Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans may be retreads, how the Doctor deals with them constantly feels fresh. Add in an ever evolving set of traveling companions played by a wide range of actors and you have a creation loved by fans around the world.

Doctor Who occasionally flirts with “monster of the week” syndrome, but more often the writing, acting and stories all form a cohesive whole that is the stuff of science fiction legend.

Favorite episodes:

Bad Wolf
School Reunion
Blink

• • •

Farscape

1999 – 2003

Although Farscape held obvious similarities to an earlier sci-fi favorite, Buck Rogers, it was ultimately the show’s attention to detail, snappy writing and marvelous aliens that made it such an endearing series. Conceived by Rockne S. O’Bannon and produced by Jim Henson Productions and Hallmark Entertainment, Farscape went out of its way to create characters and aliens the likes of which, no audience had seen before. From the living space ship Moya and her admirable companion, Pilot to the gorgeous blue-skinned Zhaan, Farscape bucked Star Trek’s trend of portraying aliens as humans with “bumpy noses”. The incredible special effects were indeed awesome, but it was frequently the complex relationship and sexual tension between the lead characters of John Crichton and Aeryn Sun that made Farscape one of the greats.

When it was suddenly and unexpectedly cancelled by Sci-Fi Channel CEO Bonnie Hammer in 2003, fans like myself were devastated. Luckily Farscape has survived in various forms beyond its cancellation and continues to be a source for stunningly original story lines and strong female characters.

Favorite episodes:

Crackers Don’t Matter
Out of Their Minds
Revenging Angel

• • •

Futurama

1999 – 2004

If ever there was a television show created by geeks for geeks, Futurama would be it. Futurama was penned by Matt Groening of “The Simpsons” fame and developed for TV by Groening and David X. Cohen. Both men have a huge admiration for science fiction in film and TV and every episode oozes with reverence for those that came before it. Futurama also boasts some of the most versatile voice actors ever to hit the small screen such as Billy West and Lauren Tom. The original animated series is among my all time favorites to watch over and over with quotable lines of dialog and characters that often leave me in stitches. The show is also notable for its frequent celebrity guest appearances such as Al Gore, Stephen Hawking and almost the entire cast of the original Star Trek.

Comedy Central recently announced it is bringing Futurama back from the great beyond with an entire run of all-new episodes. As far as this geek is concerned, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of animated aliens, robots and disaffected starship captains. Oh my, yes!

Favorite episodes:

Love’s Labours Lost in Space
Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch
Parasites Lost

• • •

Star Trek: The Next Generation

1987 – 1994

In the late 80′s Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, finally managed to launch his sequel to the original Star Trek. As Gene penned an update to the Trek universe, he cleverly kept the best parts of the original (the struggle to understand humanity, exploration of the unknown, loyalty & morality) and jettisoned the rest. Roddenberry also knew he didn’t want retreads of Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy or Mr. Spock, but he did want characters that were just as strong and vibrant.

Instead of a youthful man of action, Roddenberry invented Picard, a captain based as much in exploration and intelligence as Kirk was in machismo. The character of Spock was reinvented into that of the android Data, played masterfully by Brent Spiner who should have easily won an Emmy for his work on Next Gen. The design of the Enterprise, the crew’s gadgets and even the look of the bad guys radically changed. While the resulting effort was impressive (especially for Trekkers), the show stumbled for the first two years.

The Next Generation started to hit its stride with the Emmy Award winning season three cliff hanger “The Best of Both Worlds” and really didn’t look back for the rest of its seven year run. By any measure the acting, special effects and stories behind Next Gen were always top notch. Unfortunately the show was saddled by the very element that gave it life – syndication. Since the show’s time slots varied from market to market, producers frowned on having multiple episode story arcs that audiences would have to keep track of from week to week. Instead Paramount pushed Roddenberry for compartmentalized plots that didn’t require continuity or audience loyalty. While Next Gen did occasionally dabble in long-term story development, it wasn’t until its successor, Deep Space Nine came of age, that writers were able to take advantage of season long arcs. The need for Star Trek: The Next Generation to fit neatly into 45 minute stories is what keeps it from being higher on my list of favorites. Everything else about TNG earns the show my number 5 spot.

Favorite episodes:

The Best of Both Worlds Pt 1 & 2
Yesterday’s Enterprise
Data’s Day

• • •

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

1997 – 2003

To say that Joss Weadon, creator of shows like Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse has a rabid fan base would be an epic and geeky understatement. Weadon’s fictional universes are intricate, compelling and crafted with cauldrons full of love. Such was the case with Buffy the Vampire Slayer which began life as the TV reboot of the failed movie of the same name. Starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy, Joss later admitted none of the film’s characters were what he had envisioned.

What Joss created with the help of Sarah Michelle Gellar and the rest of the WB’s Buffy cast were stories and characters that quickly became a cult hit. Teenagers all over the country easily identified and thrived on the every day problems of these high school students who just happened to live on the Hellmouth. As the show progressed, the relationships that Weadon built between Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander and the rest gave the Buffyverse a strange sense of familiarity even in the face of utter fantasy and chaos. Like Xena, Buffy was one of the first weekly TV shows to portray a strong, gay main character, that of Willow Rosenburg which reflected America’s growing comfort with such issues being portrayed on national television. Other controversial topics tackled on Buffy included drug addiction, school shootings and even rape, all cleverly framed and discussed within the guise of a fantasy setting.

Those who watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer will often cite it as one of their very favorite shows. Sadly, there are scores of people who won’t go near it simply because they judge the book of Buffy by its cover. To these people I say – give the Slayer a chance. The show was smarter, more poignant and often more entertaining than any police, medical or legal drama it aired against during its entire six year run. Yes, it’s that good.

Favorite episodes:

Hush
Once More With Feeling
Tabula Rasa

• • •

Star Trek (Original)

1966 – 1969

IO9 listed the original Star Trek as their number one scifi show of all time and I can certainly understand why. Back in 1967 audiences had never seen anything like it. The show as dreamt up by Gene Roddenberry, envisioned a future where man had learned to put aside his differences and work together in harmony. The crew of the Starship Enterprise was populated with every facet of the human race and even one very special Vulcan. Lead by the courageous Captain Kirk, Star Trek boldy went where no man had gone before and set the pattern for a billion dollar science fiction franchise in the process.

Many people have tried to articulate what made Star Trek so popular. Some have theorized that at a time when social and political turmoil was at its height, Star Trek’s positive outlook for the future gave audiences something hopeful to grab onto. But for many kids like myself growing up in the 70′s and seeing Star Trek in syndication, it was always about the relationship between the three friends – Kirk, Spock and McCoy, that made Star Trek such a childhood favorite. As a kid I could never stand the episodes where Kirk and Spock, either via alien influence or shared misunderstanding, were pitted against each other. My favorites were always the stories that allowed Kirk and Spock to team up and solve problems, be they alien, moral or spiritual, together.

By any of today’s television standards, the original Star Trek seems quaint. The show’s effects have been remastered, and the acting is often over the top, but the appeal of the characters and the strength of the underlying stories are undeniable. If they weren’t, Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Scotty and company would never have evolved to become the pop culture icons they are today. The show gave all of its fans hope for the future, inspired generations of youngsters to become doctors, scientists and engineers and preached concepts of tolerance and diversity. Not bad for what Gene Roddenberry once pitched to NBC simply as “Wagon Train to the stars.”

Favorite episodes:

The Ultimate Computer
City on the Edge of Forever
The Doomsday Machine

• • •

Battlestar Galactica (New)

2003 – 2009

If Ron Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had remained as strong throughout its entire run as it was in its first two seasons, the show would have easily been my number one choice. When it aired in 2003, BSG was met with a firestorm of criticism from fans of the original series for everything from cylons looking like humans to Boomer and Starbuck’s portrayal by women. Moore wisely ignored the critics and forged ahead with his gritty vision to bring us the story of the destruction of the Twelve Colonies at the hands of the merciless robot Cylons.

The show immediately delved into political and sociological intrigue as it gave us some of the most realistic characters ever to be written for a science fiction series. From the honorable Adama who struggles to lead his fleet to Earth, and Laura Roslin, the school teacher who has the weight of humanity thrust upon her, to the heroic Starbuck and conniving Gaius Baltar, Galactica is replete with classic archetypes. The show moved at lightening pace and wove themes of religion, genocide, sexuality and redemption with the skill of a master tailor.

The failure of Battlestar Galactica is one that often hits series riding high on a wave of popularity – it failed to adequately plan for its final destination. As the third and fourth season progressed, it seemed clear that Moore didn’t have a clear plan about where he wanted to take his characters. The show spent years building up questions fans were dying to have answered in solid, satisfying ways. Instead the audience had to deal with multiple “plot dumps” as well as characters like Starbuck and Cavil morphing to become shadows of their former selves. The writers concentrated story lines around discovering “The Final Five” and gradually turned the dreaded cylons into humanity’s tenuous allies.

Battlestar Galactica was at its best when action was high, characters were true to themselves and humanity’s survival was hanging by a thread. There were enough of these moments to push BSG all the way up to my second favorite sci-fi show of all time. If the final season of Galactica had been even 1/4 as strong as the first, I dare say it might have gone down as one of television’s best dramas. Instead it stands as an impressive example of how a talented writer can rework a strong, original concept and turn it into a compelling, epic story for our generation.

Favorite episodes:

33
The Hand of God
Exodus Pt 1 & 2

• • •

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

1993 – 1999

So here we are at my favorite sci-fi and fantasy show. Deep Space Nine holds this special place in my geeky heart for many reasons, some of which I’ve written about before both here and at the Sci-Fi Cast. Putting aside the top notch acting from Avery Brooks, Andrew Robinson, Nana Visitor, Rene Auberjonois, Armin Shimerman and the rest, Deep Space Nine dared to do things other scifi series, especially Star Trek, didn’t.

Also, unlike Battlestar Galactica which started out hitting on all cylinders, it took several years for DS9 to find its footing. Although looking back now, you never would have realized this because DS9 was an immediate hit with fans and critics alike. The show was nominated for Emmy Awards every year of its run in makeup, cinematography, art direction, special effects, hairstyling, music (direction and composition), and costumes. In 1999 Deep Space Nine was rated the #1 syndicated show in America. The cast was even featured on the cover of TV Guide a total of ten times during it’s seven year run. Not bad for a show that constantly struggled to emerge from the shadow of the Next Generation. Despite its success, looking back on the series now it is easy to spot how the writers struggled to find voices for Odo, Quark and even Sisko at the show’s outset. It wasn’t until Ron Moore joined the production in season three as a supervising producer that the show’s direction started to solidify.

From the show’s conception the writers had dared to mix a volatile topic like religion into the heart of Deep Space Nine. But as the seasons progressed, Sisko’s struggle to reconcile his position as a Starfleet captain with that of Bajor’s most important religious figure, the Emissary of the Prophets, provided the fuel for propelling his character forward. The continuing theme of the occupation of Bajor by the Cardassians not only gave the actors solid material, but it also stayed true to Roddenberry’s vision of Trek’s “mini morality plays”. The chemistry between DS9 duos Kira & Dukat and Garack & Bashir were a delight to behold week after week and kept the audience wanting more. Deep Space Nine also allowed Star Trek fans to get a peek at married life through the union of Worf and Dax, a highlight of seasons 5 & 6.

Finally, as Deep Space Nine’s run neared completion, the ever-worsening threat of the war with The Dominion proved to be a spring board for story after incredible story. It provided the ammunition the writers needed to to push the envelope with multiple episode arcs and skillfully allowed for the construction of dramatic plot points over the final four seasons. Unlike BSG which went out with a whimper, Deep Space Nine’s final season was a roller coaster ride peppered with humor, awesome character development and satisfying, emotional resolutions to long established plot points and questions.

Deep Space Nine is my favorite sci-fi show because it took all the best parts of Star Trek and combined them with all the best parts of a yet-to-be-written BSG. It wove these aspects together with incredible acting, masterful special effects, skillful storytelling and a respect for its audience. I’ve watched all seven seasons of DS9 at least five times and it keeps getting better every time I revisit it. The same cannot be said for Next Generation, the original Star Trek or even Battlestar Galactica and that’s why Sisko and company is at the top of my TV heap.

Favorite episodes:

In the Pale Moonlight
The Sacrifice of Angels
Trials and Tribulations

It’s All About the Twitter

News Channel 12′s Bill O’Neil gave the Iconfactory a ring this past Friday to get our input into a story he was putting together on the power and appeal of Twitter. Our schedules didn’t jibe, but fortunately Bill was able to hook up with some of Greeensboro’s best known bloggers and Twitter users for a piece called Bringing Business Through Twitter.

In the piece Bill interviews two new friends I met up with for the Tastecasting of Table 16 a few weeks back – Ryan Robbins and Danielle Hatfield. They’re joined by local blogger and internet strategist Sue Polinksy as they each discuss how Twitter is changing the face of communication in the Triad. I’m really happy I’ve gotten to meet so many of the local online community lately, mostly thanks to Twitter. If you want to learn more about how the power of Twitter is being harnessed in the Greensboro area, head on over to the WXII.com website and check the piece out.

To Thine Own Self Be True

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for season 5 of Bravo TV’s Top Chef. If you’ve not watched the finale episode yet, then you should stop reading right now. I really mean it. Just stop.

Part of the problem, and allure, of reality television is that it doesn’t always go how you want it to. Take the conclusion of one of my favorite shows, Bravo’s Top Chef. Season five of the hit reality series about a group of wannabe Julia Childs seemed to be full of promise. There were a number of chefs that really knew their way around the kitchen and were worth rooting for.

They ranged from fan favorite Fabio, a suave Italian competing to be Europe’s first Top Chef, to my personal favorite, Carla Hall, the eclectic cook who put a heaping tablespoon of love in each of her dishes. Like many others, I didn’t like Carla at first. She seemed too flighty to be a serious competitor and didn’t win any of the Quick Fire Challenges early on. Then a strange thing happened. Carla decided to make dishes from her roots and cook food she was passionate about. She began to earn the respect of the judges, edged out Fabio for one of the 3 spots in the finale and seemed to be poised to take the title.

I was sure the competition in the final round would be between Carla and Stefan. The other finalist, Hosea Rosenberg never seemed to have his act together, a fact illustrated when he crossed the line flirting with another contestant, Leah Cohen. In addition, despite owning his own seafood restaurant, Hosea lost a critical seafood challenge. So when Hosea managed to best both Carla and Steffan for the ultimate title of season 5 Top Chef, I was upset.

I was upset with Carla not because she cooked poorly or made mistakes, but because she let herself be second-guessed by her assigned soux chef, Casey Thompson from season 3. Casey convinced Carla to cook her main entree using a technique she wasn’t familiar with, sous vide. The meat was rubbery and didn’t have the soulful feel the judges had come to expect from Carla. In addition Carla took another bit of advice from Casey and changed her desert course from a tart to a much more risky soufflé. Carla didn’t pay attention to the oven temperature and the soufflés were ultimately ruined.

By taking direction from the person who was assigned to her, Carla effectively gave the $100,000 prize to Hosea. To add insult to injury, Hosea managed to pull an upset against the man who has served as William Shatner’s personal chef, Stefan. If anyone of the three deserved to lose Top Chef, it was Hosea, and judging from the polling that night about who the audience thought would win (Carla 65%, Stefan 20%, Hosea 15%), the final results came as a shock.

Carla doesn’t blame Casey for her loss, and although I was upset with Casey at first, I’ve come to realize it wasn’t her fault. Carla was the one who didn’t listen to her inner chef and follow through with her plans. Like so many of us in our day to day lives, Carla let hesitation creep in and as a result, her once strong plans turned sour. If there’s a lesson I’m going to take away from my latest bout with reality TV, it’s simply this – stay true to yourself. That plus don’t take cooking advice from runner-ups. Here endeth the lesson, we still love ya’ Carla.