An occasional look into the television habits of your blogger

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, March 15, 2017 10:46 PM

The last few years have produced some exceptional television, some of it on networks and others on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. For Kevin and I, the great era of TV started with the first episode of The West Wing. It remains a favorite in this household and still holds up well. It’s more aspirational now than ever. We were also fans of The X-Files, and later 24. We loved ER, and Grey’s Anatomy; earlier there was Thirtysomething and then Once and Again. On pay channels, we fell in love with Homeland and The Newsroom. We found Longmire one Memorial Day weekend when A & E was running a marathon. We liked The Killing which started on AMC and then moved to Netflix. Recently, we’ve found House of Cards and The Fall also on Netflix. We have in the cue Bloodline, Narco and others I can’t remember right now.

Network TV takes a beating with pay channels and streaming, but in the past years they’ve put out some decent stuff. The Good Wife comes to mind, as does Parenthood. I loved Parenthood, which is interesting because I didn’t ever love the film on which it was loosely based. I think I started watching it because I loved Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore on Gilmore Girls. I didn’t think she was great in Parenthood, but the show was phenomenal. I remember crying like a baby at the incredible finale.

This year, my favorite new show has been This Is Us. I know I’m not alone in this. It is, evidently, quite the phenomenon. We watched the first episode because it was so hyped. We liked it; didn’t absolutely love it. Though interestingly we both thought it deserved at least another episode or two before making the ultimate decision. For no reason that I can think of, we never watched that other episode or two.

I’m online all day every day. I work, crafting whatever I need to craft for whichever client is screaming the loudest. And once I email said craft, I tend to surf through some of my favorite news sites to check on what’s happening and to clear my head. I write for different industries and it can be difficult to go from health care to asphalt paving to makeup without taking a brief interlude. One of the consistent stories I’ve seen, in addition to the horror that is the toddler in chief, is This Is Us and how phenomenal it is.

Last week while I was working on a big content upload project that required little creative brain power, I pulled the show up on Hulu. Hulu, like Netflix, is set for autoplay so as soon as one episode is over, it automatically starts the next and so it continues until I manually stop it. And I became completely hooked. Totally in love with the dysfunction and love and wonder of the Pearson clan, much like how I fell in love with the Parenthood Bravermans. Completely flawed individuals, people who are simply living their lives with no more or less drama than the rest of us. It’s incredibly written, beautifully acted, and very believable. 

Last night was the season finale. I watched it today while I was checking and answering emails. Nobody died even though everyone expected at least one of the characters to bite the dust. I guess we’ll have to wait until next season. 

Kevin Fallon who writes for The Daily Beast wrote this: “That’s been This Is Us’s strength all season, creating emotionally huge moments that should be manipulative and off-puttingly earnest, yet pinpointing their universality, no matter how ugly or devastating, and playing them in ways that we relate to in our lives. It’s why we can’t help but cry along. It was wonderful. But we still would have rather watched him die.”

We never watch television shows when they’re actually on for two reasons: we’re on Central Time which means shows start an hour earlier than they do on the east or west coast; and we don’t know when anything is actually on. We record a couple of things to watch later (Madam Secretary, SVU, Shades of Blue) but mostly we just watch on Hulu. This is one of the reasons we can get rid of satellite. We don’t need it. Television viewership has changed. Even ratings factor in both live watching as well as those on DVD or streaming. We’re part of the new way of watching, or not watching. We find what we like, we watch it when we want. And I like it. A lot.

Losing the idea

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 18, 2014 12:17 AM

It occurs to me that I haven’t had a good idea in a long time. This is quite disturbing to me. I used to have ideas all the time and while not all of them were good, many of them had potential to develop into something decent. They would simply appear to me, these ideas. I would be sitting on the back of the motorcycle as we zoomed through the back canyons in the sunshine and I would have an idea for a short story. Another time, I had an idea for a novel. I’ve written neither but the ideas are good, they’re sound, and I have extensive notes.

I would wake up sometimes and have to reach for a pen and paper because I had an idea. Sometimes before I went to bed I would do the same, have an idea and scribble it down before sleep. Lately it seems that I lie in bed and do things like stare at the ceiling fan as it spins lazily. No ideas are presenting themselves and if I try too hard to have an idea, I feel as if I might rupture something. Maybe the fan is taking my ideas and lazily spinning them out into the ether where someone else will have them.

It scares me, this lack of good ideas. Not scares me in an I-better-get-a-gun-in-order-to-protect-myself kind of way; more in the holy-crap-what-happens-if-I-never-get-another-idea-then-what kind of way.

I voiced this concern to Bobbi today. I felt stupid as I typed the words. I feel stupid now. I’m in an idea rut, I’ve lost the idea, I said. What do I do? Naturally, she didn’t have an answer, nor did I expect her to. I think I just needed to vocalize my idea deficit in order to make it real because if it’s real then maybe I have a chance of turning the deficit into a surplus.

Years ago when I watched The West Wing, Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler, played by Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff respectively and scripted by Aaron Sorkin, discussed how they felt they had lost their talent. It was during the first season of the show, in an episode entitled Enemies. In it, Leo gives his daughter Mallory tickets to the Chinese opera and Mallory promptly asks Sam to accompany her which leads Leo to give Sam the assignment of writing a birthday message for someone. There is this exchange between Toby and Sam:

Toby: All right… It couldn’t have gone far, right?
Sam: No.Toby: Somewhere in this building… is our talent.
Sam: Yes. 

They’re obsessed with writing this message and it’s not coming out as lyrically as they’d like. I get it. There are many times when I write something and I know it’s fine. It’s just not great; it doesn’t sing. I think what Sam and Toby had really lost was the idea. The talent was there. If you have it, it’s always there. But without a means to express it, without the idea, it too seems lost.

My stream of ideas has become more of a trickle. Maybe it’s because we’re experiencing such a horrendous drought out here in the west. Maybe if we get some more rain my ideas will begin to bloom again.

I know this is all just temporary and that it happens to all writers, artists, musicians. A dry spell; that’s all it is. Bobbi thought maybe it was because I saw Alice Hoffman this weekend. Maybe. It makes sense when you see someone you so admire, someone who does what you do and so much better, that you suddenly feel inadequate. The problem is that I started feeling this way long before this past weekend.  

How is this good? Why am I writing about it on a blog that shouts “celebrate something?” I suppose it’s because it gives me an opportunity to think differently, to try harder, to strive for better. And that’s always something to celebrate because all three – thinking differently, trying harder, striving to be better – have to lead to something new, toward somewhere I haven’t been before, preferably to the ideas I have somehow lost in the last few months. We’ll see, but I’m open to having those ideas back, if the ideas are open to coming back. If they are, I’ll be living it out loud again soon. 

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live out loud


by Lorin Michel Monday, February 3, 2014 11:57 PM

I am not one to engage in activities in excess. I like to exercise but I don’t go nuts. I like to drink wine, but I don’t ever drink too much. I rarely drink hard alcohol. I like chips but I can’t remember the last time I sat down and ate an entire bag of chips in one sitting. In other words, I don’t binge.

Bingeing is defined as a brief period of excessive indulgence. There are many who binge drink and binge eat. I don’t do those things. But I have discovered, as have many others, the absolute wonder of binge viewing. This is defined as the act of watching several episodes of a television show one after the other after another. Evidently it’s a relatively new phenomenon and people everywhere are partaking in the act. Of course, television channels like SyFy and USA have been engaging in the art of encouraging binge-watching for a while when they run marathons on Saturdays or Sundays, or in the case of SyFy, on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. USA regularly runs an entire day of NCIS or Law & Order: SVU, and now Modern Family. SyFy runs The Twilight Zone. They also used to run The X-Files.

ABC Family used to do Gilmore Girls marathons on special occasions like Mother’s Day. Bravo used to run The West Wing marathons on holidays celebrating presidents long past.

We were in Dante’s Fire a few weeks ago. It was a Friday night and fairly quiet in the ‘hood. We sidled in and up to the bar, ordered a drink. One of the waitresses stopped to talk to us and somehow we got on the subject of Sons of Anarchy. I honestly have no idea how we got there. But someone had told her that she should be watching it and so she had finally decided to dive in. Now she was binge watching through Netflix.

We have binge watched House of Cards, also on Netflix. It was so good we fairly devoured it, watching at least two and sometimes four episodes at a time. Keep in mind that each episode is nearly an hour in length. We couldn’t wait to see the next episode. When we got to the last of the first season, we actually waited to watch it knowing it would be a while until we could see more. We were addicts; we needed a fix.

The second season can be streamed starting on February 14. The entire season will be available on that day. I predict we’ll be done by February 16. This is the issue when one is addicted. It is impossible to stop at just one.

I watched the 21st century version of Battlestar Gallactica the same way. We watched Wallander and The Fall that way. It's also how we came to love A & E's Longmire. Lately, I’ve found myself sucked into – and don’t laugh – Magnum PI and the simple fluff of it. I stream it through my PC on my desk while I work on my Mac. It’s not great, but it’s surprisingly not boring. I only have to half listen to it and not really watch it. It keeps me company, and the backdrop of Hawaii is lush and soothing. One episode follows another. It’s easy.

Binge watching is one of the new pleasures in life. We don’t go to the movies. When we watch movies on HBO or Showtime or The Movie Channel, the pay channels we get, we’re usually disappointed. We like; we don’t love. So we binge. The good thing is that, unlike an alcohol binge, we don’t feel badly in the morning. Unlike a food binge, we don’t wake up bloated. Binge watching can make you feel like you’re waiting an enormous amount of time. Then again, you’re absorbing some quality story telling.

TV lately is much better than film. And if you can watch a film for two plus hours, why can’t you watch TV for at least that long? It’s story telling, it’s fulfilling. It’s indulging in the best possible way. So I guess I – we – binge after all. 

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live out loud

TV or not TV

by Lorin Michel Monday, May 14, 2012 11:56 PM

One of my guilty pleasures in life is television. I love the telly, the idiot box, the TV. I especially love reruns of shows that I’ve seen a dozen times; ditto movies. Nothing thrills me more than finding an X-Files marathon on SyFy, or a West Wing or Inside the Actor’s Studio marathon on Bravo, a Law & Order: SVU marathon on USA or a Gilmore Girls marathon on ABC Family. I love good television, familiar television, fun television and especially bad television.

I’m not sure where this pleasure came from. Perhaps it is rooted in my childhood when I would rush inside from playing to watch Dark Shadows or Lost in Space. Or even earlier, when we’d watch cartoons on Saturday nights. Or earlier still, when I’d watch The Wizard of Oz on the couch with dad. I never liked that movie, but for some reason, we watched it. Elmira Gulch scared the crap out of me, even more so than the witch (I didn’t know until I was much older that the same actress, Margaret Hamilton, played both parts). Or watching the perennial showing of the Ten Commandments on Easter with my grandmother though I always lost interest after Moses found out he wasn’t a prince of Egypt. I guess, even then, I wasn’t very religious. I just liked all the class warfare and strife, even though I never did much care for Charlton Heston. In fact, I can’t remember a single movie I ever saw him in that I liked. There was the equally religious Ben-Hur, and then the disaster flicks of the 70s. Take Earthquake. Dog! Or that horrendous Airport movie. Was it ’75? I can still remember cringing when he croaked “climb, baby, climb” as his girlfriend, a moronic flight attendant, was flying a 747 over the mountains in Utah. Double dog!

Back to television.

When I was in college, I had an old black and white television that I placed on the top of my dorm room closet. I could climb up into my loft, sit back against the wall and watch any of the two channels I got via rabbit ears. One was the public television station, which coincidentally was broadcast from Durham where the University of New Hampshire was located. That station came in fairly well, clean and crisp. In those days, the channel didn’t broadcast 24 hours a day, at least I don’t think they did. But they often broadcast movies. I remember watching Julia, seeing Reds for the first time, and many old, black and white movies – a plus, since it was the color my television most liked. I watched Vivien Leigh in Waterloo Bridge on a rainy Saturday, perched up on my loft wrapped in a blanket. I think part of me liked the escape.

Part of me still does.

When I was single, I would often have a television on in the house even though I wasn’t watching it. The voices kept me company. I do the same in my office sometimes. The television is behind me so I can’t actually watch it but if I’m having a lonely day, which happens sometimes when you work alone, and especially when I’m having one of those days where nothing is coming easily, quickly or good-ly. It makes me feel like I’m part of society. It’s also another way to escape when I need to.

This morning, I was in my office before 7, yawning already, never a good sign. I turned on the television while my computers got themselves ready for the day. FX was running a movie I’ve seen before. It’s not very good but it was good company. Frequency, with Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel. I love Dennis Quaid, I always have. He has a disarming smile, more of a mischievous grin, and he’s almost always good, though rarely great. Maybe that’s why I like him. I’m also partial to more rugged guys and Quaid is most definitely a rugged guy. He’s good even in bad movies, like The Day After Tomorrow, a horrid film about an important subject that was just trivialized. But he was good, even with wooden dialogue. He was great in the remake of The Parent Trap which remains one of my favorite guilty kid movies. He was just charming, plus he had a vineyard in the film, and you know me and wine.

I turned today’s film off fairly early. I didn’t need to see it again. And I was busy and trying desperately to get some good copy done. I didn’t need any distractions; I didn’t need to escape. I needed to concentrate.

That’s the other thing about TV. It’s wonderful when you don’t really want to concentrate and just want to veg. It’s not so good when you need to focus. It’s the age-old dilemma, now in HD, wide-screen, plasma, 1080p color and hundreds of channels. To teevee or not teevee.

But I’m not going to deal with it now because Stage Door is on, with Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Lucille Ball. And later, on PBS, is American Masters. I think tonight they’re profiling Johnny Carson. I was never a fan, but Kevin was. We have a big night ahead of us.

Living it out loud. On the couch. With a glass of wine. Feet up. Vegging in front of the tube. 

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