Television

Vintage Test Pattern

Television is no longer television. At least, what we think of as “television” is no longer confined to whatever your cable box or bunny ears spit out on the boxed screen that sits on your Swedish-made entertainment center or hangs on your wall (you swanky person, you). “Television” as we recognize it now seems to fall under the extremely large umbrella of “continuing stories that are not movies.” While some constraints remain relatively constant (most “television” won’t premiere in a movie theater, though damn if any number of film festivals, especially SXSW, are turning that on its head), other rules are becoming increasingly more flexible (you might be able to watch all of a show in one sitting, or see it via DVD before it even bows on a small screen near you). But if “television” is now the kind of thing you can watch on a phone or on a computer or on an actual television set and that comes to you by way of “networks” that are also no longer confined to the traditional terminology that encompasses “network,” what should we be calling it? We’ve got some ideas.

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Breaking Bad

Spoiler Warning for all both of you who haven’t yet seen Breaking Bad‘s finale. There’s something a little bit curious about a series that gave us one of cable’s most definitive male anti-heroes seeking absolute resolution and closure upon its final hour. But that’s exactly what Breaking Bad did Sunday night, with Vince Gilligan repeatedly pronouncing The Sopranos’ ambiguous ending as its prototype-for-opposition. It’s telling that, amongst all the finales of comparably beloved 21st century cable dramas, Gilligan steered the conversation about the end of Walter White so directly through the terms of David Chase’s game-changer. Sure, both shows have clear points of comparison, as each are violent, regionally specific contemporary tales of a paterfamilias’ less-than-legitimate business tooled toward the visage of a “normal” domestic life, and both shows carried some debated expectations that their respective underworld kingpins would find their demise by the last musical cue (be it provided by Bad Finger or Journey). But more appropriately, these two shows can be seen as bookends to the same greater phenomenon: the golden age of cable’s repeated focus on male anti-heroes to drive their narratives. As many have noted, this trope has brought us some great – or, at least, compelling – shows, but now with the calculated (and certain) death of one of its most celebrated manifestations, it’s time to give this trope a rest and see what else television can do.

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Mad Men Split Season

This past week, AMC announced that it will split Mad Men’s seventh and final season into two 7-episode increments to air in 2014 and 2015, similarly to the way that Breaking Bad has been careening to its much anticipated yet seemingly breathless finale. On the one hand, this represents a business move that exists anywhere between shrewd and shameless, but one that is unlikely to anger fans who would be happy to follow Don and Roger well into the disco era, even if they’re ultimately only getting one extra episode as a result of the wait. But the decision has convincingly been perceived as an act of desperation on behalf of a network whose two brand-making critical darlings of original programming will soon see their end, with no surefire successor to take their place (perhaps Low Winter Sun should create a crossover story with The Killing). But what I find most striking about this decision is the fact that, perhaps more so than any recent quality cable show, Mad Men has done of great deal of work to identify itself through – and, in the process, help to define – what a television season means in the age of binge-viewing. By separating each season by discrete gaps in the historical procession of time, Mad Men has overtly defined each of its seasons as characterized through changes in its characters’ associations, lives, relationships, locations, business affiliations, etc. So, will each “part” of Mad Men’s final season take place in a separate […]

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mad men header

This week’s Mad Men, entitled “The Flood,” brings us to that pivotal point in history when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, viewing how the tragic event brought out the best and the worst in people. Some used the event to their gain or resented it for putting a stop to the normal routine. For others, it made them appreciate the important things in life, like family and friends. Written by showrunner Matthew Weiner and Tom Smuts and directed by Chris Manley, this week’s installment was hardly perfect – it had a few unusually cheesy moments – but it was thought-provoking and featured a powerhouse performance from Jon Hamm. The title of the episode comes from Ginsberg’s father saying, “In the flood, the animals went two-by-two,” as he sets his son up on a surprise dinner date with a comely teacher, eventually passing off MLK Jr.’s assassination as a good time to play matchmaker. The date goes pretty well – though Ginsberg is apparently a virgin – and the girl admits that she is also just going along for the matchmaking ride. While Ginsberg’s father helps to enunciate the episode’s theme – the quest to find companionship in a scary, uncertain wolrd – the Ginsberg home life is somewhat corny and melodramatic. Ginsberg sews for his father on a sewing machine! They bicker about dinner! And matchmaking! This tale of a Jewish émigré and his son holed up in a small apartment reads like something out of The Jazz Singer, […]

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Over at IndieWire, A.D. Jameson has written a compelling article about whether or not GIFs (the bitmap image format known as Graphics Interchange Format) can be considered cinema. The piece is miles from a imminently clickable gimmick made to start an argument – Jameson’s case is intelligently and thoroughly argued, and he trots out everything from Bruce Conner’s A Movie to Charles and Ray Eames’s Atlas to make it. While far from a heated question (as Jameson points out, the question of whether or not gifs are movies presumes an argument that does not, in fact, exist), it’s an important one. With something as seemingly simple and trivial as the gif, we can ask not only what something called cinema means in and for the 21st century, but also how moving image communication in the age of the Internet communicates in particularly cinematic terms. So I offer something of a refutation, or perhaps a clarification: gifs are certainly cinematic, but they are considerably more than cinema.

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The Walking Dead Blog

So, it would seem the prison is really close to Woodbury, right? If traveling to and from Woodbury is less than a day trip for Andrea? And given the high gates around each community and their respective surveillance abilities, why didn’t they notice each other way earlier? The logic behind The Walking Dead can be questioned for days on end, but at least this week’s episode, “I Ain’t A Judas,” had a theme – loyalty – and concluded with a Tom Waits song, which is always a major plus. Andrea questions her loyalty for The Governor versus Rick, and Daryl’s loyalty is questioned for his brother versus Rick. Rick also snapped out of the crazy, Daryl and Hershel rose up as leaders, and Milton was also featured, so, on the whole? With a few exceptions, namely involving Tyreese and his crew, this week was just fine.

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The Walking Dead Blog

Author’s Note: There were issues with my cable last night, hence why this is posting a bit late – I had to download the episode this morning. Barring further cable-related issues, future episode reviews will post Monday morning, per usual.  The Walking Dead returned last night after a midseason hiatus, and it came back with an above average episode, “The Suicide King,” directed by television director extraordinaire Leslie Linka Glatter, of Mad Men and Twin Peaks. This episode was important in the course of the show as some of the gang finally started to question the Ricktatorship and new leaders, other than Daryl, are beginning to emerge. There were some issues, but this return episode was successful on the whole as it planted seeds for many interesting happenings to come. Both Rick and the Governor lost their shit in front of their respective followers! The Dixon brothers are out on their own! Allen and Ben pose a threat to the group… kinda! And Beth is crushing hard on crazy Rick!

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HOUSE OF CARDS

Television-after-television had to happen at some point. Of course, television-like content that is exclusively available on the Internet isn’t anything new – webisodes have been a thing for quite some time now. What is new about Netflix’s House of Cards is the fact a program under the rubric of “quality television” – a category of prestige televisual entertainment established by HBO, Showtime, AMC, and some broadcast programs – has now been made available exclusively on the Internet. Not only is House of Cards exclusively on the Internet, but it’s only available via a single subscription outlet. Now that it’s premiered, what could its existence (and potential success) imply for the future of both television programming and what’s now expected of audiences? Furthermore, if a program exists independently of televisions altogether, what exactly do we consider to be “television” now? House of Cards has all the trappings of a heavily promoted HBO program. It’s got high production value, a name cast, and a well-known director at the helm. In other words, like anything from Luck to Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards has cinematic credentials: sleek, medium-shot-heavy cinematography, and marquee names like Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and David Fincher. It’s television tailor-made for the age of letterbox HD broadcasts and DVR. It just isn’t on television.

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Girls, It

It’s only appropriate on the morning after Lena Dunham‘s Girls picked up two Golden Globes and the HBO series debuted its second season opener that Rob Hunter and I unveil our new Girls column. And, here it is! Just kidding (only sort of). In this new feature, Rob and I will break down the latest episodes of the scripted hit and then talk about them via email for as long as we can stand talking to each other about a scripted television show via email. We know you can’t wait to get inside our heads when it comes to half-hour series about unhappy twentysomething scraping by in the far reaches of Brooklyn, and we can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this new feature. Much like a still-blossoming Brooklyn twentysomething, this column is still in development, and we appreciate any feedback, hate mail, and demands you feel like sending our way. Or cake. We like cake, too. Without further ado, after the break, Rob and I share our thoughts on the first season, recap some of our favorite bits from last night’s episode, and get deep about Adam finally getting honest.

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The Walking Dead Blog

Editor’s Note: These blog entries are meant to be a discussion of the most current episode of The Walking Dead, so we recommend you watch said episode before reading to avoid spoilers. Keep your eyes peeled for them every Monday morning. On last week’s episode, The Governor was revealed to have a zombie daughter, Michonne left Andrea behind at Woodbury, Rick went into shock after Lori’s death, and Daryl and Maggie went on the search for baby formula. This week’s installment, “Hounded,” was another inconsistent one – somewhat of a mash-up between an existential one man show, a middle-aged romance film, and violent revenge flick. Revenge flick worked… the others didn’t… although this episode is important in setting up the eventual coming together of Rick and The Governor, finally marrying the prison and Woodbury. Fingers crossed the payoff will be worthwhile.

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The Walking Dead Blog

Editor’s Note: These blog entries are meant to be a discussion of the most current episode of The Walking Dead, so we recommend you watch said episode before reading to avoid spoilers. Keep your eyes peeled for them every Monday morning. On last week’s episode, Andrea and Michonne happened upon The Governor and his dystopian community of Woodbury, where Andrea was reunited with Merle. Andrea was swayed by The Governor’s charms, while Michonne remained skeptical. The Governor killed a bunch of National Guards, and was revealed to be keeping zombie heads in many fish tanks. This week’s installment, “The Killer Within,” brings us the deaths of two main characters and juxtaposes the two The Walking Dead universes of Rick/The Prison and The Governor/Woodbury. This makes for quite the eventful and perhaps a somewhat cluttered episode as so much is jammed into one and certain happenings are perhaps worthy of more attention than they received here. We open with a mysterious party baiting zombies into the prison with cut-up deer carcass pieces. Can it be whoever was watching Rick et al in the prison in that long shot the other week? Probably!

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Editor’s Note: These blog entries are meant to be a discussion of the most current episode of The Walking Dead, so we recommend you watch said episode before reading to avoid spoilers. Keep your eyes peeled for them every Monday morning. On last week’s episode, Rick wasted some prisoners, he and Lori pretty much got a verbal divorce, and that pesky Carl slipped away without anyone noticing to get medical supplies. Oh yeah – and Hershel is still kickin’. A recap of last week has little to do with this week’s installment, however, seeing as we are completely taken outside of the prison milieu as we follow the ongoing adventures of Andrea and Michonne and how they become entangled with The Governor (well-played by David Morrissey of Basic Instinct 2 fame). While Michonne and Andrea remain flawed, this week’s episode – “Walk With Me” – succeeded on many levels where last week’s did not. New and very interesting characters were introduced in The Governor and Dallas Robert’s Milton, Season One’s Merle came back to serve up some redneck badassness in his brother Daryl’s absence, and some of the principle characters actually came off as multilayered. This episode also does it darndest to deliver the desired gore factor. The Governor is also a more-than-formidable foe for Rick down the line – he also is aware that everyone is infected – and perhaps has the advantage of being somewhat of a sociopath.

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Junkfood Cinema - Large

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; even our coach potatoes are fried and covered in gravy. You have flopped yourself down on to the Internet’s second most comfy food-based movie column; damn you, Lay-Z-Boy’s Overstuffed Film Blog. Every week, while barely moving at all, we rerun another bad movie that always manages to get low ratings…everywhere…from everyone. We will flip through all the reasons for its poor reception and then, interrupting our regularly scheduled snark, we turn the volume way up on our irrepressible love for said movie; hoping to make you laugh until it megahertz. Then we bring you a message from our sponsors, morbid obesity, and offer a junkfood item paired to the film. This week’s episode features a lost gem of a middling early 90s comedy: Stay Tuned. The film stars John Ritter (damn you for taking him from us, god) and Pam Dawber as a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks thanks to Ritter’s obsession with television. He literally can’t turn himself away from the TV long enough to notice he’s married to 90s-hot Pam Dawber for crying out loud. One night a terrifying figure appears at his doorstep, and not just because he’s played by Jeffery Jones. Spike, as he is called, is an agent of Satan and offers Ritter a satellite TV package so affordable it’s criminal…in fact it’s pure evil. In short order, the unhappy couple is sucked into the diabolical broadcasting system known as Hellvision through their satellite dish; sort of […]

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Culture Warrior

Last week, Thomas Catan and Amy Schatz of The Wall Street Journal published an article about the Justice Department’s antitrust investigation into whether or not cable companies are manipulating consumers’ access to streaming competitors of television content in order to reduce competition. The investigation’s central question is this: are cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner setting data caps to limit download time, speed, and amount of content in order to stave consumers off from using alternatives like Hulu and Netflix? Furthermore, the DOJ is investigating whether or not selective data limits applied to certain streaming outlets (like the fact that Comcast’s data limits can apply to streaming Hulu, but not Comcast’s own Xfinity services) violates Comcast’s legally-binding oath to not “unreasonably discriminate” against competitors. According to the WSJ, “Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday suggested he had sympathy for those who want to ‘cut the cord’ rather than paying for cable channels they don’t watch. At a Senate hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) said cable bills are ‘out of control’ and consumers want to watch TV and movies online. Mr. Holder responded, ‘I would be one of those consumers.’” What’s most important about this story for TV consumers is not so much the specific outcomes of this investigation (though that will no doubt have wide-ranging but uncertain implications), but the fact that lawmakers, regulators, and the industry will continue to be forced to recognize new distinctions being made between cable companies, networks, and individual shows as citizens increasingly […]

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When best-selling author Nick Santora wanted a way to get fans and entertainment industry officials excited about “Fifteen Digits,” he became a director. The result is a short film pulled from the book featuring Jimmi Simpson and Gino Anthony Pesi. Of course, Santora has a background – writing for shows like The Sopranos, Prison Break and Law and Order. He also wrote Punisher: War Zone and created the show Breakout Kings. He’s firmly entrenched in a world where everything is caught on camera, but he’s using that experience in a unique way when it comes to wearing his literary hat. We talk with the newly minted director about how turning to filmmaking to sell a book (and himself) has worked out. Plus, Jack Giroux and Rob Hunter face off in the Movie News Pop Quiz and then debate the merits of Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus. Download Episode #137

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Boiling Point

It seems that we are living in a golden age of television. With shows ranging from Mad Men to Game of Thrones or Modern Family to Dexter, Breaking Bad, or anything else garnering epic amounts of hype, one might view Battleship or its ilk and come to the conclusion that TV is better than the movies. James Wolcott at Vanity Fair came to that conclusion, as did the folks at IndieWire (although Cole took a somewhat different stance). Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how wrong it is. While there is certainly a lot of great television out there, the theater experience still trumps all. Television will never usurp the cinema just as crude sex robots will never usurp hookers. When someone wants to describe a really great looking television show, they say it “feels like a movie.” No one ever describes great films as “being like television.” Television aspires to be film and in some instances, comes close. Film, safely perched on its tower, has no desire to be more like TV.

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Boiling Point

A few weeks ago I wrote about Live Tweeting television. At the time, my focus was on how you end up spoiling a lot of stuff for a lot of people. Time zones and the rotation of the Earth and that sort of stuff, all very fascinating. Well today I’m going to revisit Tweeting what you’re watching and expand it to include other activities you do while watching television or a movie of some sort. Studies show that as a people we are increasingly addicted to our mobile devices, whether they’re smart phones or tablets. Unofficially, the study also concluded that we are all now assholes of a much higher order. Forty percent of respondents acknowledge that on a daily basis they use their smart phone while watching television and even more people used their tablet, inconclusively proving people with iPads are the biggest assholes around. I do have a point here – when you’re watching something, watch it.

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Jim Henson and Kermit The Frog

“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending”. ~ Jim Henson When Jim Henson died in 1990 there was speculation about the fate of Kermit the Frog. Had Kermit died with his creator? Could Kermit, Henson’s alter ego, survive the sudden loss of the man who had lent him his voice? The answer was Kermit and his Muppet family would carry on, even without the brilliant creative force that was Jim Henson. The art of puppetry goes back thousands of years, but it’s an ancient art that Jim Henson revolutionized. What makes the Muppet world so believable even when we know we’re looking at fabric creatures? For starters Henson’s use of fabric made his puppets malleable and expressive; the faces of his puppets aren’t static. Henson also understood the power of television. On stage the puppeteer is hidden behind a curtain in a puppet theater environment. That carried over to television with, for example, the classic Kukla and Ollie puppets of Kukla, Fran and Ollie fame. Henson was inspired by them, but he didn’t use the static traditional puppet theater. He opened it up by having the cameras focus on the puppets. By keeping the puppeteers out of the frame, Henson liberated the puppets and their puppeteers, allowing them to move more freely and take on a life of their own.

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Boiling Point

So it’s October and that means only one thing – it’s Anytober at Subway, where any regular Subway sub is just $5. Wait, we’re not sponsored by Subway? Fuck that then, it’s October and on AMC that means the return of the critically acclaimed series The Walking Dead, based on the tremendous Image comic series. I say critically acclaimed because most critics don’t really enjoy horror movies and for some reason they can stomach The Walking Dead and are celebrating it. As a dyed in the wool horror fan (blood red), I’m not afraid to say that The Walking Dead on AMC is tremendously boring, not good horror, not good zombie action, and not even close to being a good adaptation. To fans of the graphic novels, what’s transpiring on the screen is bordering on being offensive. AMC has made a lot of great television, but this ain’t it.

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In a recent Movie News After Dark, good ol’ Neil Miller posted a link to an article explaining that the modern cable box is one of the most power draining items in the modern home. While this is not surprising in the least, it did get me thinking. Why hasn’t the way television is delivered to us moved to the “cloud” yet? Now, the “cloud” is a word that gets kicked around a lot in modern computing, and I’m sure if you’re reading this you already know what it is. But in case you don’t, in a nut shell (at least defined by Wikipedia) the “cloud” refers to  “access of multiple server-based computational resources via a digital network.” In other words, if I put my new Limp Bizkit album on one computer, I can then access it on another computer or mobile device. So what about television? I think we can all agree that unless you’re over the age of thirty five, you probably don’t get your television delivered to you in the traditional sense. That traditional sense being the formula of you + couch/bed/chair + remote + TV + (depending on your servce) receiver box = entertainment. No, for the new age the formula is iTunes/Amazon/Hulu/Netflix/any other VOD service you use + internet + mobile device/computer + (any location on earth) = entertainment.  And that’s what this is all about.

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