Breaking Bad’s Long, Long Rap Sheet

With AMC’s production of Better Call Saul in full swing, and Breaking Bad nominated for several Emmy awards, it seems like a good time to reflect on the show. Enter this cool infographic that outlines each of the main character’s criminal charges from the series’ run. Walter and his pals sure where busy little criminal bees, that’s for sure. Personally, I can’t wait for Better Call Saul to hit the airwaves, hopefully complete with key cameos from Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. As I’m sure Walter would say, you can never have enough of a good thing. Click the image to see the entire info graphic.

All hands! Fasten seat belts!

This page may take a few moments to load, but if you’re a Star Trek fan like I am, it’s worth it. Some geeks recently trained their image stabilization software towards the decks of the Starship Enterprise with hilarious results. These animated GIF’s show what the director and crew saw while filming these scenes for the various incarnations of Star Trek.

The original series used the shakey cam all the time so it’s really fun to see just how these shots were choreographed. I’m struck by the sheer number of people who were apparently on the bridge at the time of this impact. I love the blocking ballet that George Takei as Sulu has to do here to not only get out of his chair, but somehow hit the floor without breaking his neck. Well done, George, well done!

StableTOS2

Meanwhile on the set of 1982′s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise takes a hit and once again no one is wearing seat belts. DeForrest Kelly is in his usual position for bridge scenes (above and behind the Captain) and once again he goes flying on cue, but this time to the right. It is me or is Kirstie Alley kinda phoning it in here as Savvik? So much fun!

StableWOK

Fast forward to S7 of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s episode Force of Nature. I could watch this stabilized clip on a loop for days. I love how everyone’s doing their own little stylized dance to convey the rocking of the Enterprise. Jonathan Frakes clutches his chair and appears to simultaneously steady himself AND rock the chair convincingly for the camera. The Hekaran scientist with Worf on the 2nd level struggles to hold on while the ensign in the back lurches, helping to complete the illusion. Oh, and Patrick Stewart may be the only person I know who can make shaking for the camera actually look cool. Okay, maybe not.

StableTNG

I love this hilarious gif of Next Generation’s Brent Spiner as Data pilots the Enterprise through a particularly violent jolt. You can imagine the crew member standing just off camera waiting to give his chair and console a good WHACK! when the director calls action. I wonder how many takes this took to get through without Brent cracking up.

StableData

This last GIF is from the Original Series but it’s almost 5mb, so if you want to take a gander, click here. Classic TOS fun!

Fox’s Cosmos Isn’t About False ‘Balance’

degrassetysonquote_science_fullI really had to do a double-take when I read last week that the creationist group Answers in Genesis recently complained Fox’s prime-time science show, Cosmos, lacks scientific “balance”. The group criticized host Neil deGrasse Tyson and the creative team behind the show because it provides no alternatives to the theories of evolution or the Big Bang for like-minded fundamentalists like themselves. The irony is so thick in this story you could cut it with a knife. For those people who continually ignore the scientific method and established facts about our world and universe to suddenly complain because they themselves are being ignored is nothing short of poetic justice. What makes it even better is that Cosmos would indeed cover the creationist viewpoint if there was any scientific substance to it what-so-ever, but there isn’t.

Creationism is not science, it’s religion pure and simple. There is nothing that can be quantified, tested or proven when it comes to religion, by definition it’s a matter of faith. If science could be applied to the concept of an all-knowing intelligent designer, it certainly would have been, but it cannot and so a portion of religious believers cry foul. What I think truly irks them however is not simply being left out, but being excluded from such a genuine media event as Cosmos. Such science series air pretty much weekly on the Discovery Channel, the National Geographic Channel, the Science Channel and others but we hardly hear so much of a peep from the hard right as we have now. The fact the reboot of Sagan’s science series airs on a major network such as Fox, and in prime-time to such critical and popular success is the straw that broke the creationist’s camel’s back.

As far as I’m concerned Danny Faulkner and his creationists group have as much right to complain about not being given air time on Cosmos as flat-earthers have on the NASA channel. Evolution is a proven scientific theory. It happened and is still happening today. It has withstood decades of rigorous tests and is the fundamental foundation of all biology on earth. I’m personally tired of the pressure put upon the media by conservatives to give false balance to any and all issues in today’s society. 2 + 2 isn’t 5, men really did set foot on the moon and the earth isn’t a mere 6,000 years old. If you cannot understand those simple scientific facts, change the channel, Cosmos isn’t your cup of scientific tea.

UPDATE: The creationists are back after last night’s episode dealing with Edmond Halley and the origins of comets. Yes, they apparently even have an issue with the science behind comets. All kinds of problems arise when your belief system centers around young earth creationism. Anyway, head on over to Mother Jones to read more about it.

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.

Doctor Meh

The Eleven DoctorsToday Doctor Who fans around the world learned that 55-year-old Peter Capaldi has been cast as the 12th incarnation of everyone’s favorite Time Lord. While the choice of Capaldi will no doubt prove to be serviceable, I can’t help thinking that Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s lead writer and executive producer, blew a huge opportunity to take the show in fresh directions and gain scores of new viewers in the process.

One of the greatest character strengths the Doctor possesses is the ability to regenerate. When the Doctor dies, he is reborn and played by a new actor, sometimes for an entire generation of fans. Yet, in the entire illustrious 50-year history of the BBC show, the part has yet to be played by anyone other than a white male. The actors who play the Doctor have varied in age and style and each brought their own wonderful interpretation of the Doctor to the small screen, but the general dynamic is always the same. The Doctor is always male, and although his companions sometime vary, the are typically young, pretty females.

Imagine the storytelling possibilities that would present themselves if the Doctor regenerated as a woman. Thanks to the spirited portrayal of River Song by actress Alex Kingston, we have a hint at just what such casting could be like. Much like the Doctor, River was a strong-willed, cocky scientist who was always in the thick of trouble. But River is not the Doctor and a true portrayal of that ancient Time Lord by a woman would instantly add interest, drama and a breath of fresh air to the series. Moffat could have broken with tradition and cast a woman as the Doctor or gone even further and cast a new, male companion for her as well. Suddenly all the old stories would be turned on their head, new character interactions could be explored and we might even have a reversal of sexual tension in the TARDIS.

Even if Moffat chose not to explore those themes or kept a female companion for the Doctor, how much more interesting would a female / female dynamic be when chasing down Daleks and saving the universe (yet again)? I always loved the interplay between female leads on shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I think it could work wonderfully on Doctor Who. It would also give girls the world over a new female role model that they could look up to and be inspired by.

The forward-looking nature of science fiction shows like Doctor Who, demand characters and stories that make us stop and think. Star Trek portrayed its first black Captain twenty years ago in 1993 when Avery Brooks played DS9′s Captain Sisko and just two years later Voyager cast Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway. Sooner or later the character of the Doctor will be played by a woman. When that day comes I’ll stand up and cheer loudly for a show I’ve loved since childhood. With the news of Capaldi’s casting I’m buckling down for more of the same kinds of stories we’ve seen for the last 50 years, and that’s a shame. Today I wish I was shouting “Geronimo!” instead of merely muttering “Meh.”

COSMOS Is Coming

I’ve been a fan of the late Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking PBS TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, ever since it first aired in 1980. When the news came last year that FOX was teaming up with National Geographic, executive producers Seth MacFarlane, Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow and Neil deGrasse Tyson to remake the series in 2014, I was over the moon. Now we have an official trailer that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con and it’s positively astounding. From the trailer we can see Neil will re-introduce viewers to the Spaceship of the Imagination, the cosmic calendar and other scientific concepts that made the original both fun and educational. Because the series will air in prime time, FOX is giving Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey an amped up, epic treatment that’s sure to lure new viewers both young and old. As far as I’m concerned, 2014 can’t get here fast enough!

Star Trek: TNG 25th Anniversary Posters

If you’re heading to San Diego Comic-Con this year, then be sure to stop by CBS’s booth (#4129) for some awesome Star Trek related goodies. To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Next Generation and release of season 1 on blu ray, CBS has released a set of graphic posters any Trek fan is sure to love. You can follow the official StarTrek.com twitter account for updates on when they’ll be giving away postcards and prints at SDCC or just order them online. The posters come in different sizes and although they seem a bit pricy, they just may be your cup of tea.. Earl Gray, hot. Engage!

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.

Double Standards for Chopped All-Stars

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for ep. 1 of the new season Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars. If you’re a stickler for spoilers, leave the kitchen now.

If you’re a fan of Food Network’s reality TV competition, Chopped, then you’re no doubt you’re relishing the new season of all-stars which started this past week. The show pits the biggest names of the network head to head in the Chopped kitchen to see who stands above the rest. The All-Stars edition is a great opportunity to see how talented chefs deal with the pressures of limited time and crazy mystery ingredients in a creative and professional manner. Or so one would think.

In the first episode of Chopped All-Stars, two of the competing Iron Chefs, Marc Forgione and Michael Symon each drank from a bottle of coconut rum they were given and then proceeded to pour the ingredient from the same bottle into their pots. As any fan of the show can tell you, whenever competing chefs commit a cooking no-no like this, they are always called out by the judges at the end of the round. Always. Judge Scott Conant is a stickler for cleanliness and has made many competitors feel 10 inches tall after having tasted from a spoon and then used the very same spoon to stir their creations. Mysteriously, during the all-star edition no one called out either Forgione or Symon for their un-professional behavior.

Another tidbit that’s just as telling is Iron Chef Cat Cora’s use of raw red onions in one of her dishes, an ingredient Conant is infamous for hating. His dislike of red onion is legendary on Chopped but for some reason he didn’t seem to mind Cora’s use of the onion at all. These details are nit-picky to be sure, but are important none-the-less. Speaking as a fan, it rubs my rhubarb to know the Food Network’s talent is put on a pedestal instead of the chopping block where they belong.