Fighting The Good Fight

Having been a huge fan of The Good Wife during its seven-season run on CBS, I was excited to hear that a spin-off, The Good Fight, would be airing almost immediately following that show’s end.  I was even more excited when I learned that the show would center on Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), one of my favorite characters from the first show.  The Good Fight was the first show to debut on CBS All Access, the network’s answer to the proliferation of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.  This meant that, aside from the pilot, the entire show would be streamed on their All Access app.

Story-wise, The Good Fight picks up a year after the events of the The Good Wife.  Diane is a partner at what has grown into a firm with eight named partners (Lockhart, Deckler, Gussman, Lee, Lyman, Gilbert, Lurie, Kagan, Tennenbaum & Associates… I’m convinced the long name was their attempt at parodying law firms).  Diane tries to retire, but her retirement funds are frozen after a ponzi scheme perpetrated by her longtime friend Henry Rindell is uncovered. Henry’s daughter Maia has just passed the bar and is a junior associate at Diane’s firm.  Diane, who is Maia’s godmother, brings her along when she eventually leaves to join Reddick, Boseman, & Kolstad, an all-black firm in Chicago (one of my favorite jokes of the season is when Adrian Boseman says that Diane, who is white, is their “diversity hire”).  In many ways, their attempt at starting over is similar to Alicia Florrick’s situation as The Good Wife starts, where she is forced to rebuild her life following her husband’s public sex & corruption scandal.

The incomparable Christine Baranski returns as Diane Lockhart, who has to deal with some difficult events during the pilot.

Spinoffs can be difficult because it can sometimes be a hard task to carry over the energy and synchronicity of the old show into a new context.  But The Good Fight hardly misses a beat.  The cases-of-the-week continue to be interesting, and just as before, many are ripped from the headlines to give the show a fresh and relevant feel.  This is true even in the pilot, where a police brutality case is brought up.  Other episodes also deal with trends in clickbait “fake news,” as well as sexist/racist social media posts.  The ongoing season-long arc of Maia and Diane dealing with the fallout from Henry’s ponzi scheme is also compelling, and because the season is only 10 episodes long, it forces the writers to advance that storyline more quickly and smoothly.

The acting is also top-notch.  Several Good Wife characters return for another go, including Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo), Alicia’s tough-as-nails partner who ends up at Reddick/Boseman with Diane.  Diane also recruits Marissa Gold (Sarah Steele), who had appeared in several episodes of the previous show, as her assistant.  I actually think Marissa’s character is the most improved between the old show and the new.  As a series regular, Steele is able to flesh out her character more and her charming and whip-smart nature is able to be fully realized.  Diane’s husband Kurt (Gary Cole) also makes several appearances, and they appeared to make up from the fight they had at the end of Good Wife, which made me happy :).  Guest stars from before include Matthew Perry as the villainous prosecutor Mike Kresteva, and the hilarious Carrie Preston as Elsbeth Tascioni, who was probably my all-time favorite character from the old show.  Part of me wishes she was a series regular, but her personality and brand of humor might not be appreciated as much if she appeared on the show every week.  I would love to see Julianna Margulies come back as Alicia Florrick for a guest appearance, and since his daughter is on the show, they just need to bring back Alan Cumming as Eli Gold too.

I also enjoyed the new characters brought on for this show.  Rose Leslie does a fantastic job of portraying Maia’s nervousness and wide-eyed-new-girl persona during the season, but she also shows signs of growth and progress in the season finale, so it will be interesting to see the extent to which she finds her sea legs in season 2.  Delroy Lindo injects energy, passion, and fun into his portrayal of Adrian Boseman.  He and Diane both seem like the types of people I would love to work for had I become a lawyer.  Justin Bartha plays Colin Morrello, a lawyer in the State’s Attorney’s office that has something of a romantic entanglement with Lucca.  Theirs was the only plotline this season that I wasn’t a huge fan of, more because it seemed tired and not particularly interesting.  At least it didn’t sink to Kalinda-and-Blake levels of weirdness.

Lastly, The Good Fight also carries on The Good Wife’s tradition of excellent music.  There are several examples in my music collection of songs that I downloaded because I first heard them on The Good Wife.  The new show takes this a step further.  One of the songs that recurs during the season is “You Were Right About Everything,” by Erin McKeown, and that song is responsible for my current obsession with McKeown’s work.  This may be the first example of a situation where I bought entire albums based off a song I heard on a TV show.  “You Were Right About Everything,” especially resonated with me because it mirrored a struggle I was going through at the time I discovered the song.  I’m thinking about doing a “from the vault” review of the album that song is on, We Will Become Like Birds.  Regardless, McKeown’s music is definitely worth a look.

Rose Leslie is probably the best new addition to the Good Wife/Good Fight universe, playing Maia Rindell

All of this adds up to a show that is absolutely a worthy successor to The Good Wife, and I can’t wait to see what bold twists and turns this show has to offer.  If you were a fan of the old show, or if you simply are a nerd like me and love lawyer shows injected with politics and current events, definitely make some time for The Good Fight.

Posted in TV

A Celebration of Star Wars

Back in 2012, Star Wars Celebration, that four-day extravaganza for fans of the galaxy far, far away, was held in Orlando.  The only trouble with that was that I was a first-year teacher with nowhere near the financial means to get myself to the convention.  Fast forward to last year, and my insurance underwriter’s salary and benefits ensured that I could grab the tickets when it came back to Orlando.  Celebration 2017 finally happened last week, and I thought I’d do a reaction post on it, like I normally do when Dragon Con happens each year.

The main difference between Celebration and an event like D*C is that the entire con takes place in a single large building, in this case the Orange County Convention Center.  Dragon Con, on the other hand, is spread out over five hotels and spans many different genres of geekdom, as opposed to just Star Wars.  The main drawback with this is that for major panels and events, the entire con will converge on one place, and only the most hardcore fans will be able to enter.  For the panels commemorating the 40th anniversary and talking about the next Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, the lines were such that in order to get in, one basically had to camp out starting the evening of the previous day.  As anyone who knows me can attest, I was not having that.  The price of going to sleep and getting up at a reasonable hour was a two-hour line just to get into the show floor that greeted me on the first day, making me uneasy about the rest of my Celebration experience.  However, once I actually got in, the crowds weren’t as bad.  The organizers also opened up additional entrances on future days, making those lines much more bearable.  The only other line-related snafu came when I tried to get into the show floor on the second day, and ended up not even being able to watch the live stream of the Last Jedi panel.  But it ended up on YouTube, which was a decent simulation.  Otherwise, I was able to get into and/or watch basically any panel I wanted.

Speaking of panels, the ones I went to were pretty enjoyable.  The 40th Anniversary panel featured almost everyone who was anyone in Star Wars that was there: Kathleen Kennedy (president of Lucasfilm), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and Dave Filoni (Star Wars Rebels producer) were all there, along with a few surprise guests.  I expected George Lucas to ride off into the sunset after selling Lucasfilm to Disney, done with Star Wars for good.  But he showed up!  Another surprise guest was Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), from the “dreaded” prequel era.  I was happy with the warm and enthusiastic reception he got at the con, despite being associated with what many describe as a low point in Star Wars history.  Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn) and Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) recorded video messages for the fans.  Finally, Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford, who has never been to Celebration, made an appearance at that panel.  It was great to reminisce about some great movies.

The panel that discussed The Last Jedi was also interesting.  Rian Johnson (director), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), and Hamill all showed up, along with a new actress, Kelly-Marie Tran, who plays Rose, a maintenance worker for the Resistance.  Possibly the most interesting part of that panel was the debut of the movie’s first trailer.

The two most interesting moments in that trailer for me were the scene with Kylo Ren’s crushed helmet, which may imply something about his fate, and Luke’s words.  Many fans have speculated that Luke will either fall to the dark side, or become a “grey Jedi,” one who uses both the light side and dark side, while becoming fully invested in neither.  His quote, “I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end,” as well as Rey’s talking of seeing the balance of the Force, light and dark, serve to fuel this theory.  Now, this could just be something he says in the beginning of the film that ultimately amounts to nothing after he agrees to train Rey, but it’s fun to speculate.

Other fun panels were the Star Wars Rebels panel, at which Dave Filoni revealed that the fourth season will be the last for the beloved animated series.  Mark Hamill did a moving tribute to Carrie Fisher on the second day.  Daisy Ridley crashed the Heroines of Star Wars panel, along with Filoni and Rebels voice actresses Tiya Sircar (Sabine Wren) and Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka Tano), and the audience got to watch the first of the new Star Wars: Forces of Destiny animated shorts. David Collins analyzed the music of Rogue One in an interesting way at that panel, analyzing the themes of hope in them and connecting them back to the music of the original films, and also talking about the “Dies Irae,” musical device, which symbolizes death.  Had you been listening for it in Jyn Erso’s theme, you would have known that she would die at the end, as it is repeated four times within her leitmotif.  There was a similar panel about the making of Rogue One, where the filmmakers showed several digital sets that were built but not used.

Mark Hamill gave a sweet tribute to his friend, Carrie Fisher

The show floor featured the usual combination of shopping and art that you would find at a place like Dragon Con, but it also had some more unique areas.  For instance, there was a section devoted to new Star Wars games that had a digital pinball machine you could try your hand at, and there was one section entirely devoted to people who had tricked out their cars with Star Wars stuff.  Toymakers like Lego and the prop replica companies had cool displays.  But the king of all of those might be Nissan, who as part of their “Go Rogue” promotion had a booth where congoers could experience using the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality device which I had never tried before.  I will be very interested to see what is done with this technology going forward.  And, of course, there were many, many great costumes.

Mace Windu has always been one of my favorite Jedi.

My experience was capped off by getting to meet two of my favorite actors from Star Wars: Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams.  The baseball card company Topps worked with the Celebration organizers to make almost all of the celebrities there available for photo ops and autographs.  While the autograph lines could be somewhat mismanaged (sensing a pattern here?) it was worth it in the end.  All of it added up to a fun experience.  While it probably isn’t as relentlessly well-run as Dragon Con, it was great to be surrounded by Star Wars fans and even to run into some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile.  Hopefully, Star Wars Celebration 2019 will also be in Orlando, cause I’d definitely go back again.

Goodbye…?

Girl Meets World brought the whole gang back for the final (we think...) episode

Girl Meets World brought the whole gang back for the final (we think…) episode

Girl Meets World’s third season ended yesterday.  I’ll get to the sad part later, but let’s not think about that for a minute.  The season opened with a 9-episode arc that, while not without its issues, showed off the potential of what the show could be.  The series’ titular girls, Riley Matthews and Maya Hart (Rowan Blanchard & Sabrina Carpenter), entered high school along with the rest of their friends: Farkle Minkus (Corey Fogelmanis), Lucas Friar (Peyton Meyer), Zay Babineaux (Amir Mitchell-Townes), and Isadora Smackle (Cece Balagot), Farkle’s onetime rival who received an expanded role in the show after audiences responded well to her character in previous appearances.  The arc showed them going through the usual growing pains of high school, and then finally resolved the “love triangle” between Maya, Riley, and Lucas.  The show’s creators had always insisted that the triangle wasn’t really a triangle, which didn’t seem to make sense, as it clearly seemed that way.  The explanation that slowly unfolded was essentially that Maya had taken on Riley’s personality, which involved developing feelings for Lucas, to make sure Riley would be safe with him.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking… I thought it was a little weird too.  But the episode still ended up being special, and while the girls fostered relationships with others (Maya explores her feelings for Riley’s uncle Josh during the arc as well), the show kept the central focus on the two girls’ friendship at all times.

After that arc concluded, though, the show kind of drifted.  We never got to see Riley and Lucas really act like a couple at all (forget kissing, they barely even held hands).  This was especially odd given that they did kiss way back in season 1.  Most of the rest of the seasons’ episodes were unremarkable, and while they did address some relevant topics (cultural diversity, growing up, parental relationships, etc.), there weren’t that many standout episodes like in past seasons.  Some of the other plotlines, such as when Riley “meets the real world” and suddenly understands there’s evil in the world (which she somehow didn’t realize before she was 14) were weird and badly executed.  Sure, there were some highlights.  “Girl Meets I Do,” featured the marriage of Shawn Hunter to Maya’s mother Katy, which I liked but that probably pissed off plenty of fans who wanted to see him reunite with college girlfriend Angela Moore, who appeared in an episode last season.  In “Girl Meets Her Monster,” Topanga and Riley got a rare a-plot together.  “Girl Meets a Christmas Maya” featured a touching moment between the series’ central friend group.  But I’d be hard pressed to find an episode that really impacted me the way some in previous seasons did.

I think it’s telling that possibly the most poignant moment in the season happened when the girls were out of character.  In the episode “World Meets Girl,” the cast did a sort of behind the scenes/audience participation special.  One of the segments they did was called “Bay Window Confessions,” where they selected groups of friends to sit in front of GMW’s iconic bay window and tell the stories of their friendships.  At the very end of the show, Rowan & Sabrina did their own version, and it was the most emotional.  Sabrina was already in tears before either of them had said a word, and you could tell that the actors love each other in real life just as much as their characters do.  This was especially significant given that some online trolls had been questioning their friendship for whatever reason.  Watching that scene knowing that the show was about to be canceled just wrecked me.

Rowan Blanchard and Sabrina Carpenter's real-life friendship created great chemistry when they played their characters on Girl Meets World.

It’s been a joy watching these two grow up on Girl Meets World.

The season finale was a fairly standard “Is my friend gonna move away?” plotline (following a weird one that involved the girls wanting to throw a Sweet Sixteen party before they turned sixteen).  The highlight of that show was that the creators, maybe sensing that the show was about to be canceled, brought in a slew of Boy Meets World characters to make one last guest appearance.  Cory’s parents Alan and Amy, his brothers Eric and Josh, his sister Morgan (featuring both actresses that played her, in a funny fourth wall joke), Mr. Feeny, and bully-turned-janitor Harley Keiner all came back.  At first, I thought the Matthews family was going to move away, and I was really really hoping that I wasn’t going to be left with a sad ending in the final episode.  Fortunately, I wasn’t, but man I got worried there for a moment.

In my season 2 recap, I talked about how I thought Peyton Meyer’s acting ability had come a long way since the previous season.  This season, the actors I thought made the biggest strides were August Maturo and Ava Kolker, in the roles of Auggie Matthews and Ava Morgenstern.  Most of that was probably simply due to their gaining three years’ worth of maturity, but I enjoyed their chemistry and friendship a lot more this season than any other (and I didn’t even like Ava that much at first…).  They even have a sweet moment of their own when Auggie helps support Ava in the season premiere following her parents’ breakup.  Kolker in particular showed a lot of versatility, and I hope she keeps acting, because I think she could be a comedic tour de force by the time she’s an adult.

August Maturo (Auggie Matthews) and Ava Kolker (Ava Morgenstern) have grown a lot as actors this season.  Their characters' romantic-ish friendship has gone from cute sideshow to just as strong and valuable as the main characters' friendship.

August Maturo (Auggie Matthews) and Ava Kolker (Ava Morgenstern) have grown a lot as actors this season. Their characters’ romantic-ish friendship has gone from cute sideshow to just as strong and valuable as the main characters’ friendship.

But, sadly, as I alluded to above, this looks like it this will be the last season of Girl Meets World.  As is typical for Disney Channel shows, it was canceled after three seasons.  However, overwhelming fan response to the cancellation (which involved fans mailing paper airplanes to networks), has led executive producer Michael Jacobs to say that he is “making an attempt to find a home for the evolution of the franchise,” whatever that means.  So there is a small glimmer of hope that we may get more of the show.  While Netflix has said they’re not picking it up, other streaming services such as Hulu always could.  If they’re lucky, they could even get on another network.  I hope they do, because I think these characters and stories have a lot of potential, and I would be excited to see how they chose to approach different topics.  I do feel that part of the reason we got some watered-down stories was because of Disney Channel’s insistence on keeping the show aimed at a younger demographic (which was something I feared from the start) .  On a streaming service, the show would hopefully be able to appeal to a wider audience, just as Boy Meets World did.  But even if this is the end, I enjoyed getting to relive my childhood and watch another generation of kids grow up with these characters :).

Posted in TV

The Dragon’s… Tentacles?

20160904_004052It was Labor Day Weekend in Atlanta, and you know what that means… football!  But it also means that weird, wild, and wonderful gathering known as Dragon Con.  This year was Dragon Con’s 30th anniversary, and it celebrated by expanding into two more buildings in downtown Atlanta, making an already big event even bigger.  This inspired me to quip early on that “the dragon has grown tentacles,” and made me wonder if it can expand even further next year.  The programming even expanded, bleeding into the preceding Thursday more than ever before.  In a similar vein, I expanded my reach into other fan tracks and events that I hadn’t explored before, and discovered some hidden gems.

Highlights:

-I got to meet Eric Matthews!  So, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a pretty big fan of the Boy Meets World/Girl Meets World universe.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I realized that all three of the panels that Will Friedle (who plays Eric Matthews) was in conflicted with other things that I wanted to go to.  On a lark on Sunday afternoon, I decided to peek into the Walk of Fame to see if he was there.  Having just experienced some amazing luck with panels (more on that later), I felt good about my chances.  Lo and behold, there he was.  Not only did I get to meet and take a picture with him, I was in and out in time for my next panel.  He had the same goofy, heart-of-gold persona that his character does (well, for at least the minute or so that I interacted with him), and it was one of D*C 2016’s best moments.

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-Crowds?  What crowds?!  I took a bit of a calculated risk on Sunday morning.  Generally, if a panel has a lot of famous people on it, I won’t schedule another panel right before it, for fear that huge lines will result in me not getting into it.  I was originally going to do so with the Firefly panel, which (as predicted) drew a huge line.  But I really wanted to attend a previous panel with the actors from the TV show Gotham (which I had missed last year).  Luckily, both panels were scheduled to be in the same room (along with the one right after it too, in a weird coincidence), giving me an advantage.  Not only did I get into both, I got to witness the angelic Summer Glau in a witty repartee with her Firefly costars Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher.  Then, after a surprise appearance from singer Jonathan Coulton (I rather thought he had outgrown an event like Dragon Con), I attended a panel with some actors from Power Rangers, which again filled me with nostalgia-induced smiles.  I had similar luck when a panel about the web series Con Man (starring another Firefly alum, Alan Tudyk) turned out to not have a line at all.  It’s things like this that make me think that the people who grouse about the crowds at Dragon Con either aren’t trying hard enough or are just blowing smoke.

-I went a little more low-key at night, and it largely paid off.  The one more raucous event I went to was on Thursday night, a sing-along which featured songs from the full range of geekdom, from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog to TV show themes (“you can’t take the sky from me…”) which even included the theme from “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”  This brought out out the 8-year-old in me.  I did finally get to hit some of the “after dark” panels, which generally feature more adult themes, like Metricula’s Dirty Campfire Sing-Along.  I met Metricula at last year’s Con, and she performed a nice mix of old and new songs.

-The Battlestar Galactica panel this year featured both levity and poignancy.  Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck) provided the laughs.  She was hilarious in a “say whatever pops into your head” way that I’m sure doesn’t always endear her to her fellow actors, but makes for great panels.  She even coined a new word, describing the character of Felix Gaeta (played by Alessandro Juliani, who was also at the panel) as “Cysexual,” for his brief romantic fling with a Cylon.

But the most powerful moment came when Kandyse McClure, who played Anastasia Dualla, was asked a question about her character’s suicide on the show.  She talked about the research she had done for that story arc, talking to people who had once considered ending their lives, and counselors who had worked with similar people.  Many viewers were puzzled by Dualla’s feelings of joy and happiness right before she kills herself, but according to her research, that’s usually what happens.  When someone makes the final decision to commit suicide, they are usually quite happy, because the weight of the decision has been lifted.  She also related her own struggles with depression during Battlestar’s filming, and how it had convinced her not to take the same action.  It was the first time I’ve ever seen a guest get choked up in a panel, and was moving to see.

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Kandyse McClure (left) and Alessandro Juliani

-I played the National Security Decision-Making Game for the first time.  The game, which is run by a retired Navy Captain, is incredibly intricate and interesting.  Those who were on Model UN teams in high school will appreciate it.  Players were divided into three “cells,” which represented countries.  Each member of a cell played a different role, such as the US Secretary of State or the Russian manufacturing sector.  I ended up with a faction, non-Russian ethnic minorities, that made it difficult to exert much influence over the game.  I often found myself in information overload as well, and unable to process exactly what to do next once my plot to overthrow the Russian government with the aid of Chinese peasants and the CIA failed.  It was still fascinating and fun, though.  The NSDMG exists within a fan track called the War College, and it has interesting panels I’d like to check out next year.

-Alex Kingston was charming as hell.  Kingston plays River Song on Doctor Who, everyone’s favorite British time-travel sci-fi show.  She started the panel with her signature phrase, “Hello sweetie(s)!” and charmed the hell out of a bleary-eyed Monday morning crowd for an hour.  More interesting than her relating her experience on Doctor Who were her memories from her time in the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as some other projects she’s working on.

-I explored some new bands and musical acts.  It was actually a bit of a study in contrasts, as the first one I checked out, Nerf Herder, got together in 1994 and have been flying the geek/punk rock flag ever since.  Rather than the funny/quirky weirdness of acts like Jonathan Coulton or They Might Be Giants, Nerf Herder’s songs explore themes like love and loss interspersed with nerdy themes (lyrics like “You and me/like Ghostbusters III/never gonna happen.”).  While their sound is more refined since the early days, the guys are in their mid-to-late 40s now, and there was a sense of “You’re too old for this now…” permeating the performance.  But it was still fun.

The second act, Geekapella, had a youthful energy (and some girls who were easy on the eyes :P).  Probably the highlight of their performance was their covers of TV show themes.  I personally flipped out when they went into the Captain Planet and Pokemon theme songs.  They also had some funny spins on popular songs, such as “Batman Knows What You Did in the Dark.”

Sing to me, then take me home.  Please.

Sing to me, then take me home. Please.

Lowlights:

-The Late Night Puppet Slam and Geek Singles Mixer were busts.  The Puppet Slam, billed as one of the Con’s signature events, was plagued by a ballroom with bad acoustics that prevented the audience from hearing most of what was going on.  The skits that I could hear were also… just okay.  One of them felt mostly like a poorly written piece of Doctor Who porn fanfiction.  The singles mixer also suffered from some room issues, as the chairs in the room limited movement.  The two girls I talked to gave off the vibe that they didn’t want to be there, too.

-I was reminded of why I’m not involved in any Star Wars fan groups.  The SW fan groups that come to Dragon Con are largely great, but there were a few moments during the Han Solo Forever panel that bugged me.  This one woman got so indignant over Han Solo being killed in The Force Awakens that she said, “I refuse to give money to the [Disney] machine that killed him.”  A few other panelists had outsized reactions to his death (I get it, but he’s a fictional character, guys…), and reminded me of the fans that turned up their noses at the prequels.  I love Star Wars more than any other movies, but I feel like the fans can be more nitpicky and whiny than most.  Witness the avalanches of rage every time George Lucas dared to change anything in subsequent versions of the movies.  Though, that panel was followed up with another that critically analyzed the music of Star Wars, and that was very interesting.

-I attended a live recording of the Politics Politics Politics podcast and it was rather unconventional.  The host takes more of a “carnival barker” approach to political analysis, but not in a partisan way.  Rather, he tries to inject humor and craziness into what can be a staid and buttoned-up world.  In doing so, though, he sacrifices analysis, often repeating media narratives without any indication that he’s thought them through.  While it was enjoyable and I respected what he was trying to do, Nate Silver, he ain’t.

To-do list for next year:

-Basically everything I put on this list last year.  Lots of new stuff caught my attention, so I wasn’t able to go to an InstaFilk session, the Night at the Georgia Aquarium party, or the Armory programming.  The Filk track also did a panel on music theory this year that I hope they bring back so I can go to it.

-The Skeptics track does nerd comedy, and I’d like to get to one of those.  Their comedians this year were Leighann Lord and Ian Harris, and they had another session where they teamed up with a college comedy group.  I neglected the Skeptics track entirely this year, and I’d like to return at least once.

One of my favorite costumes... Calvin & Hobbes!

One of my favorite costumes… Calvin & Hobbes!

Fuller House and the Power of Love

fuller-house-cast-netflixSo, this week I just finished watching Netflix’s Fuller House, the sequel to the 90s sitcom Full House, and I’m sure you have a few questions.

Was it schmaltzy and stereotypical?  Yes.

Did the jokes get worse as the show went on?  Yep.

Did it shamelessly recycle plots from its predecessor?  Hell yes.

Has anything really changed it all in this show’s universe in the last 21 years?  Not really.

So why is anyone watching it?  And, more importantly, why was I giggling like a little girl for most of it?

Because, my friends, love is blind, deaf, and sometimes a little dumb.

Let’s face it, we all loved Full House, whether we admit it or not.  But not because it was groundbreaking TV that challenged you or made you think.  That was Boy Meets World’s job.  We loved Full House because it was a way to escape.  For 30 minutes every week, the world seemed simpler, nicer, and a whole lot cleaner, thanks to Danny Tanner going psycho with a dust mop.  And let’s face it, it was hard not to be endeared by these characters.  Stephanie was the cute younger sister when the show opened, a role that was gradually assumed by Michelle as the Olsen Twins grew up.  DJ, the older sister, had a charming wholesomeness about her.  Then you had Danny, the loving OCD father, Uncle Jesse, the motorcycle-riding rock star, and Joey, the silly comedian.  What’s not to love?

Fuller House has a lot of the same archetypes, except gender-flipped.  DJ plays the loving mother, Stephanie the party girl rock star, and DJ’s best friend Kimmy Gibbler assumes the Joey role.  Kimmy was actually one of my favorite parts of the new show, as they made her sillier with less emphasis on the weirdness that made her character a little off-putting in the original show.  The comedy was also a little more versatile, with just a tad more willingness to “go there” where it wouldn’t have before (jokes about Stephanie’s immense cleavage, for instance).  The evolution of Stephanie’s character was also interesting, and provided the show with one of its few genuinely emotional moments when she reveals that she is infertile.

Stephanie makes a surprising revelation in the episode "Mad Max," that she cannot have children.

Stephanie makes a surprising revelation in the episode “Mad Max,” that she cannot have children.

DJ’s ex-boyfriend Steve Hale is also a recurring character, and the love triangle between him and DJ’s co-worker Matt Harmon is handled exactly as awkwardly as you think.  In a move that will annoy any Full House  fan, I actually found myself rooting for Matt by the end, as Steve’s attempts to win back DJ’s heart just seemed a little pitiful.  The new child actors also do a decent job.  My favorite was probably Max, played by Elias Harger, who had some of that 1987-era Stephanie Tanner charm mixed with Danny’s OCD tendencies.

As I allude to above, though, all the flaws of the original show are very much still there, but give credit to Fuller House’s showrunners.  They knew exactly what show they had to make.  You can see this by comparing it to Girl Meets World, that other high-profile 90s revival.  It’s clear that Girl Meets World is focused on attracting a new generation of fans, with the kids getting most of the a-plots in the episodes and the adults playing supporting roles.  While they bring back plenty of stars from Boy Meets World, and have enough callbacks to keep the old fans happy, they are fairly judicious in their approach to that (though the recently-released opening sequence of the third season breaks that rule a bit).

Fuller House, on the other hand, makes it abundantly clear from the start that this show is nothing more than a giant nostalgia trip, right down to Carly Rae Jepsen remixing the original theme song, “Everywhere You Look.”  Their opening sequence is chock-full of flashbacks, and almost every episode brings back at least one of the characters from Full House.  The adults get most of the a-plots as well, with the show focusing on DJ’s juggling work, three kids, and a social life.  It’s as if the show’s creators are saying, “We are making this for the old fans, and if you don’t like it, we don’t particularly care.”  To its credit, the show was able to poke fun at itself.  Jesse makes a funny joke about the schmaltzy music that plays during Full House’s resolutions, a device that Fuller House thankfully abandoned.

All this boils down to one conclusion: if you thought Full House was corny, don’t watch Fuller House.  But if you liked escaping into the world of the Tanners as I did, you might get a few laughs out of it.   

Posted in TV

Bold Ending, Bolder Show

Last week, one of my favorite shows, The Good Wife, called it quits after seven seasons.  For the uninitiated, the show tells the story of Alicia Florrick (played by the crazily talented Julianna Margulies), who works to rebuild her life after her husband Peter (Chris Noth), the State’s Attorney of Cook County, IL, resigns amid a sex and corruption scandal.  The show follows her return to the practice of law, and the various ups and downs in her relationships with Peter and others.  While the finale has enough material in it for an entire post, I’d like to zoom out a bit and talk about all the things that made the show one of my favorites, and why it deserves to be remembered well.

Probably what I most liked about The Good Wife was its boldness.  Many content creators choose to play it safe, telling a story or creating music that while compelling, is fundamentally inoffensive and will infrequently challenge fans (the band Daughtry has built a career out of this, and Royal Pains is a good TV example).  But Robert & Michelle King, the husband-wife duo behind TGW, did exactly the opposite.  In the later years of the show, they made some risky moves that kept the show fresh and interesting, but likely alienated some fans. One example was Alicia’s starting a new law firm and poaching several clients from the firm she currently worked at, Lockhart/Gardner.  This plotline produced one of my favorite scenes in the entire series, where an enraged Will Gardner (Josh Charles) confronts Alicia in a scene that is made all the more charged by their characters’ romantic history.

"I took you in.  I hired you.  I pushed for you."

“I took you in. I hired you. I pushed for you.”

A far bolder move came just ten episodes later, when Gardner was killed off after Josh Charles’s contract ran out.  One of his clients, traumatized by abuse he suffered in prison, grabs a policeman’s gun and shoots several people in the courthouse.  Will’s death came completely out of nowhere and sparked a revolt among some fans, but it definitely prevented the show from stagnating, which I feared it was in danger of doing after a series of weird plotlines which I’ll elaborate on below.

"He doesn't look like himself."

“He doesn’t look like himself.”

The somewhat ambiguous ending to the show may have been the creators’ most daring move of all.  Rather than tying everything up with a neat little bow and giving Alicia her happy-ever-after in which she divorces Peter and runs off into the sunset with new lover Jason Crouse, the audience is instead forced to confront the person she has become over the past seven years.  When the series started, Alicia was a broken woman.  But after she returns to her law career and gains confidence, there are hints that she has become just as ruthless and manipulative as Peter.  None more so than when she betrays her co-worker Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski)  by undercutting her husband’s expert testimony and revealing that he had an affair.  While this was an important scene, I found it a bit disjointed, mostly because it wasn’t clear how Alicia knew about the affair and Diane didn’t.  Maybe she took a gamble and it paid off, who knows.  But Baranski’s performance in the scene where the betrayal is revealed was Emmy-worthy.

This brings me to another favorite part of the series: the characters.  Baranski’s performance as Diane was a great example of the sort of smart, strong female characters that are beginning to show up more and more in pop culture and media.  But she wasn’t just a “cold hard woman” stereotype either.  She had a good sense of humor too, and possibly the best laugh on television.  Her chemistry and repartee with Charles was electric, one of the best depictions of a platonic male-female relationship I’ve seen.  Rumor has it that a Diane-centric spinoff is close to happening at CBS, and I think that would be a brilliant idea.

But honestly, the character I’ll probably miss most from this show is one who was only in a handful of episodes.  Carrie Preston’s performance as irrepressibly quirky lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni was so good that I literally cheered every time I saw she was in an episode.  She had a way of lulling people into a false sense of security before flashing her steel-trap mind to beat them in court.  And she produced some of the series’ funniest moments too.

And then we have Kalinda.  Lockhart/Gardner’s investigator was more of a “cold hard woman” than anyone else on the series, but she had many layers that kept her interesting.  Archie Panjabi did an excellent job in her first year of the show, winning an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and putting her on the map as one of the show’s best characters.  But while her performance didn’t suffer, the writers didn’t use her well, featuring a weird rivalry with fellow investigator Blake Calamar (played by Scott Porter) in the second season, and another weird plotline involving an ex-husband.  She exited the show in season six amid tensions with Margulies, and remains one of the few examples of a situation in which The Good Wife didn’t quite live up to its potential.

The character of Kalinda Sharma was a rare example of a wasted opportunity by the show's writers.

The character of Kalinda Sharma was a rare example of a wasted opportunity by the show’s writers.

Finally, I’ll also miss Eli Gold (Alan Cumming).  While he was introduced in the first season as Peter’s slick campaign manager in season one, he became much more multifaceted and likable as the series went on.  He even fell in love in the last season!  But probably his best moments were his verbal takedowns, such when he confronted Becca, the girlfriend of Alicia & Peter’s son Zach, who was damaging Peter’s campaign to return to the State’s Attorney’s office through a series of damaging tweets.

Many police and courtroom procedurals bring current events into their stories, but The Good Wife was especially adept at it.  They managed to weave them in without feeling like they were pandering to their audience, and also helped the audience learn more about a particular issue.  Two of my favorite examples of this were when they tackled the digital currency Bitcoin in a season 3 episode, and when they addressed the Planned Parenthood undercover video controversy when the firm represents a conservative group that sues the organization on the show.  In a twist, Diane, a Democrat, is forced to defend the conservative side of the case that her client is on.  This would be a recurring situation throughout a few episodes.

So, in short, I thoroughly enjoyed The Good Wife’s seven-season run.  Sometimes, it feels like smart, sophisticated shows are in short supply, and only more so now that this show is gone.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend binge-watching it, especially if you’re a legal/political nerd like myself 🙂

Posted in TV

Growing Up

This past Friday marked the end of the second season for your favorite sequel show and mine, Girl Meets World. After introducing the audience to the characters in season 1, season 2 got a little more ambitious, and the results were mixed. Let’s start with a review.

You’ve come a long way, baby. Show creator Michael Jacobs said that the general theme of season 2 was growth. Not only did the characters grow, but their actors’ abilities and talents grew with them. Perhaps the biggest example of this was Peyton Meyer, who plays Lucas Friar. I’d criticized him in the past as wooden, and the “pretty face” of the series. Right away in season 2, there were signs of his growth as an actor, particularly in a scene from “Girl Meets the Secret of Life” which explores his troubled past and why he moved from Texas to New York. In it, he pins a bully against a locker in defense of his friend Zay, who has also moved to New York in this season and joins the regular cast. Meyer provides a glimpse at another element of Lucas’s personality, and does so convincingly. His comedic acting is also better, such as a scene from the season finale in which he robotically reads lines from note cards, because he is unsure how to talk to his friends about his feelings.

Peyton Meyer (Lucas) came a long way in the acting department this season.

Peyton Meyer (Lucas) stands up for his friends in “Girl Meets the Secret of Life.”

Rowan Blanchard (Riley) also expanded her acting range this season. We always knew she was good at physical comedy, and she still is. But she also had some more poignant and emotional scenes that we didn’t see from Riley last season. In “Girl Meets Rileytown,” she breaks down when telling Maya about an unnamed bully who is tormenting her. Very rarely do shows like this deliver a truly jaw-dropping performance, but that minute-long sequence was one of them.

Rowan Blanchard delivers a raw, emotional performance in "Girl Meets Rileytown."

Rowan Blanchard delivers a raw, emotional performance in “Girl Meets Rileytown.”

Corey Fogelmanis (Farkle) even got better, with an assist from the writers. About halfway through the season, Farkle’s character decides to be more “normal” and less awkward and geeky. This made his character a little less stereotypical and a little more relatable, and also allowed him to show off his acting talent a bit more rather than having to stay in a narrow box. The progression of these characters meant that Sabrina Carpenter (Maya) didn’t have to carry as many scenes. She’s always been a cut above the rest due to having a little more experience, but the cast was on more equal footing this season. Heck, even Ava Kolker (Ava Morgenstern) got better, and her chemistry with August Maturo (Auggie) is great now. She also had an assist from the writers, who made her character a little more likable this year.

-Nothing is (still) easy. Girl Meets World once again refuses to tie every plotline up neatly, like sitcoms often do. One of the big story arcs was the budding romance between Riley and Lucas, which is completely thrown for a loop when Lucas realizes he also has feelings for Maya in “Girl Meets Texas.” The relationship between the three characters remains largely in stasis after that episode, as none of the trio wants to hurt the other two by beginning a relationship. It’s messy and complicated in a realistic way, but sometimes that succeeds too well, leading me to my next point…

-There were some storytelling issues. Particularly in the last third or so of the season, GMW struggled with storytelling. The aforementioned love triangle arc has been explored in five episodes now, with no meaningful advancement of that plot since it started. It’s almost like the writers can’t decide what to do with it, so they’re content to string the audience along until they figure it out in season 3. This actually was the most disappointing part of an otherwise sentimental and funny season finale.

Further, a lot of the episodes seemed disjointed and the messages were odd or not properly conveyed. In “Girl Meets Rah Rah,” for instance, Riley tries out for the cheerleading squad and, despite her clumsiness and lack of talent, makes the squad despite there being little to no evidence she actually put in the effort and work to get better and earn her spot. I think they were going for a “keep trying” message, but I don’t think that’s how it came off. “Girl Meets Bay Window” suffered from this as well, with the girls arguing about redoing their special bay window to being in sentimental tears the next. A lot of these episodes had the feel of the writers trying to cram an hour-long story into 30 minutes.

-That said, there were some very good episodes. The aforementioned “Girl Meets Texas” three-parter, and “Girl Meets Rileytown” were some of them. “Girl Meets Mr. Squirrels Goes to Washington” featured the return of Tommy, who Eric befriended as a little kid in Boy Meets World. “Girl Meets Hurricane” saw the evolution of the relationship between Shawn Hunter and Katy Hart (Maya’s mother), and unfortunately ended any hopes of a Shawn-Angela reunion. “Girl Meets the Forgiveness Project” was probably Sabrina Carpenter’s best episode, in which Maya confronts her anger at her father for abandoning her.

Maya confronts her father over his abandonment when she was a little girl.

Maya confronts her father over his abandonment when she was a little girl.

Fortunately, GMW was renewed for season 3, so we’ll get to explore this world further starting this spring. I’d like to submit, for the writers’ approval, some topics that I’d like to see them explore in future seasons. Note: I don’t think all of these should be explored in season 3. In fact, one of the weaknesses of season 2 was that the writers tried to do too much, and some of these topics wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss just yet. But I’m taking the optimistic view that the show will continue on for 6 or 7 seasons like Boy Meets World did, which would give them plenty of time to work with. I feel like, with Rowan’s budding activism, many of these will inevitably be explored.

I’d like to see an episode about body image. I think this is essential for GMW to tackle, since the main characters are girls. Boy Meets World couldn’t address this as effectively (yes, I know boys have body image issues too… it’s just way more common with girls), and I think GMW could confront it head-on this season, with the transition to high school providing a good opportunity for it.

-I want to see them include a gay character in some way. This would not be unprecedented for a Disney show, as Good Luck Charlie did it a few years ago. It would also aid the diversity of the show, whose main characters (aside from Zay) are largely white, suburban, and straight. Rowan herself even self-identifies as queer on social media, so you have to think this is coming. I think it would be cool to see the “core four” characters help someone come out of the closet. I think, if done well, that could have a really good message.

-Teen drinking was addressed really well on Boy Meets World, and I want to see that at some point. This would probably make more sense in season 4 or 5, when they’re in the later years of high school. I think it would be very useful to explore this from a girl’s perspective, because their experiences often differ from boys’ in this area. They could even wait till Riley’s college years to tackle this, and pair it with…

-An episode about teen sexuality. This seems like it will eventually happen, but not in season 3. Issues of peer pressure and giving consent could be talked about from a different perspective. Actually, I think a good (and potentially funny) way to address this would be if Riley and Lucas are in a relationship down the road and Riley really wants Lucas to take that step, but Lucas wants to wait. That would fit both of their characters’ personalities, and would gender-flip the typical situation, where boys are typically the ones more eager to have sex.

All in all, while season 2 had its issues, I largely enjoyed it and am looking forward to season 3 🙂

Amir Mitchell Townes was a welcome addition to the cast as Zay Babineaux.

Amir Mitchell Townes was a welcome addition to the cast as Zay Babineaux.

Posted in TV

Early Returns on “The Late Show”

Colbert Late ShowSo, once my late-night mainstays The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart ended, I decided I needed a new place to indulge my penchant for staying up too late. After finding The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore unsatisfying, I decided to follow Stephen Colbert to his new digs on CBS’s Late Show, where he took over after David Letterman retired. I’ll admit, I was a little reluctant about the change, despite being a huge fan of Colbert’s. For one, his brand of comedy on The Colbert Report was somewhat intellectual and nerdy, and I wasn’t sure if his style would appeal to a mass audience. He also relied on his over-the-top conservative character he’d played for years, and his abandonment of the character for his Late Show gig contributed to the uncertainty surrounding it. Now that he’s finished his third week, I feel I’m in a position to talk about my first impressions of his tenure as host.

The first few episodes felt very much like a watered-down version of The Colbert Report, as he stuck largely to his strengths with a lot of political satire. I hardly blame him for doing that early on, but he did seem to lapse into cycles of telling the same jokes over and over again, and most of them were Donald Trump insults that everyone had heard before (to be fair, he’s far from the only comedian or media personality doing that), which made me miss the old show a little. However, he has expanded the subjects of his jokes in the past week or so, talking about the Pope’s visit to America, viral YouTube clips, and “female Viagra.”

Jon Stewart made a cameo on Stephen Colbert's Late Show debut.

Jon Stewart made a cameo on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show debut.

Colbert’s interviews have probably been the best part of the new show so far. Highlights include a heartfelt talk with Joe Biden, a “silly walk” session with Lupita Nyong’o, and a laundry free-throw contest with NBA MVP Stephen Curry. He also hasn’t shied away from asking tough questions, such as challenging Ted Cruz on his idolizing of Ronald Reagan and his views on gay marriage and asking Jeb Bush how he’s different from his brother George W.  Jon Stewart was a brilliant interviewer on The Daily Show, and I hope that as the show goes on that Stephen is able to sharpen his skills in that area, now that he doesn’t have to play a character.

Stephen Colbert grills Ted Cruz on Ronald Reagan's policies and same-sex  marriage

Stephen Colbert grills Ted Cruz on Ronald Reagan’s policies and same-sex marriage.

Colbert’s house band is Jon Batiste and Stay Human, a jazz band from New York City. He frequently plays off them for comedic effect in a Leno-like fashion. He even did a bit with Batiste this week when he joked about a fictional “tell-all book” Batiste had written despite only having worked on the show for three weeks. The band’s theme song has just the right amount of jazzy energy and I enjoy hearing it at the start of every show.

Jon Batiste and Stay Human

Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Stephen Colbert’s house band

Overall, I think Stephen Colbert has had a largely successful debut so far, and I look forward to seeing what he can do with it once he settles in. I’m still adjusting to the new format, and learning not to expect a retread of The Colbert Report. The early episodes haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been encouraging enough that I want to stick around and see where this goes (at least until I’m too old to stay up till 1130 PM, haha).

Posted in TV

Homers!

HomeRunDerbyAs any regular reader of this blog knows, I often enjoy reliving my childhood. Recently, I did so again while watching Home Run Derby, a TV show that originally aired in 1959-60. When I was growing up, my family got ESPN Classic, and this budding sports nut couldn’t get enough of watching the historic moments that cycled endlessly on the channel. Reruns of Home Run Derby aired in the mornings, and I parked myself in front of the TV to watch with fascination. It was one of my first exposures to baseball history, and great fun to watch. When I saw that the show had gone onto DVD, I had to score myself a copy.

The basic format of Home Run Derby mirrored a typical baseball game in many ways. Two hitters would compete against each other to hit the most home runs in nine innings. Just like a typical game, a hitter would get three outs per inning. Any ball not hit out of the park for a home run was an out. A swing and a miss was also an out. Further increasing the challenge was the fact that the contestants had to swing at any strike. If you let a pitch go by that was in the strike zone, that was also an out. I happen to think that rule was kind of harsh, but at least it kept the game moving, right?

The games were played on supposedly neutral turf, Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, which for the majority of its life was host to a team called the Los Angeles Angels, which played in the Pacific Coast League. The PCL was the only professional baseball league in the region before major league teams started moving out west, after which it eventually became a minor league affiliate of MLB. Unlike similar contests of today, Home Run Derby games were played to an empty park. I can easily see how this might have made the contests a little dull, but fortunately, the show had a secret weapon up its sleeve.

Mark ScottMark Scott, the affable host who had been an announcer for another PCL team, the Hollywood Stars. He’d also had some minor roles in TV shows. Scott was in many ways the epitome of the 50’s Everyman… a clean-cut guy in a jacket and tie that looked like he’d been pulled out from behind a picket fence. But his friendly demeanor and jokes lent some levity to the proceedings. He would also interview the player that was not up to bat in every inning, asking them a range of questions about their playing styles, what ballparks they liked to hit in, and even sometimes asking them to analyze the tendencies of their opponents. The interviews lent a casual, “shootin’ the breeze” feel to the contests, which I think is one of the best things about watching baseball. It’s a way to sit back, relax, and while away an afternoon in a world where everybody’s rushing to the next thing all the time.

Hank Aaron, shooting the breeze with Mark Scott

Hank Aaron, shooting the breeze with Mark Scott

The best part, though, was the players. While Home Run Derby featured some players who were stars at the time but whose achievements aren’t as well-known now, such as Wally Post and Dick Stuart, many of the players on the show would go on to become legends. You could see hints of this on the show. For instance, the biggest winner on the show was Hank Aaron, who would go on to become baseball’s career home run leader until Barry Bonds surpassed him in 2006. Mickey Mantle hit many towering shots on the show, which when accompanied by Scott’s breathless calls such as, “He sent it into orbit!” were a joy to watch. Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, Eddie Mathews, and Duke Snider, in addition to the above sluggers, all went on to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after appearing on the show. Seeing these hitters in their prime in a golden age of baseball was incredible. The show also had its dramatic moments, with two extra-inning contests and a few dramatic rallies. One contest even featured a hitter widening his lead with five home runs in an inning, only to see his opponent do the very same thing in his half of the inning!

Sadly, Scott died of a heart attack shortly after the first season of the show wrapped in 1960. Rather than find a replacement for him, the show’s creators scuttled it, and it ended after only 26 episodes. Home Run Derby did help spawn the annual contest of the same name that has been played during MLB’s All-Star festivities since 1985. But I would recommend it to any baseball fan or student of the game, as it showcases the timelessness of the players and the game in a pure, unadulterated way that is rarely seen today.

Willie Mays at bat during an episode of Home Run Derby

Willie Mays at bat during an episode of Home Run Derby

The Dragon’s Lair

Sith Lord Kylo Ren, who will be in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with some First Order stormtroopers.

Sith Lord Kylo Ren, who will be in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with some First Order stormtroopers.

It’s that time of year again. A time for costumes, fanboys, swords, and spaceships. Oh, and some drinking, too… yes, you guessed it, Dragon Con 2015 wrapped up a few weeks ago, and it was a rollicking good time as always. I got to do and explore several areas of the Con that I hadn’t in past years, which, even though it was my third Con, made it feel like the first time (apologies to Foreigner 🙂

Me with Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis (D-GA)

Me with Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis (D-GA)

Highlights:

-I got to meet a Civil Rights leader. Betcha didn’t see that coming, huh? John Lewis, the only Big Six leader still with us, came to the Con to promote his graphic novel March. Written with the help of Andrew Aydin and Nick Powell, March chronicles Lewis’s experiences in the movement, including such pivotal moments as the Nashville sit-in demonstrations and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, chronicled in the 2014 film Selma. Lewis, who has been a Congressman from Georgia for my entire lifetime, came out to greet people waiting in line for his panel, signed books, and took pictures. The panel itself was emotional and powerful, with several great questions that tied the Civil Rights movement to the Black Lives Matter movement and other political issues of today. Several people tearfully thanked Lewis for his many contributions. At a time when many of us escape into fantasy worlds, Lewis’s panel was a stark dose of reality.

Filkers performing

Filkers performing

-The filk track was amusing. Filk, I’ve learned, is the music of fandom. Filkers write their songs about the things they love, such as Star Wars, Doctor Who, Firefly, and whatever else you can think of. Generally, filk songs are set to the tune of popular songs and are tongue-in-cheek, as one of the artists described herself as specializing in songs about “Star Wars and fornication.” I attended three of their panels on Friday, including an open filking session where filkers performed their songs for anyone who wanted to hear them. The filk track also sponsored Firefly Drinking Songs, in which Marc Gunn performed several hilarious songs about Firefly with the aid of an autoharp. I liked my introduction into the filk track, and I think I’d like to explore it more next year.

-Some of the night events I went to were cool. I finally made it to Gonzoroo on Saturday night, which basically consisted of several musical and comedy performances by the guests of Dragon Con. Some of the better ones included The Doubleclicks, a guitar and cello-wielding pair of sisters who weaved their fandoms into quirky, relatable songs. Joseph Scrimshaw was probably the best comedian of the night, making several hilarious Star Wars jokes. Paul & Storm were the only act there that I’d heard of previously, as I was familiar with the music they made as part of the comedic a cappella group Da Vinci’s Notebook. Friday night, I went to a show that the Animation track sponsored that was a takeoff on the TV show @Midnight. For those unfamiliar, @Midnight is hosted by Chris Hardwick on Comedy Central, and features comedians making jokes about memes and weird stuff on the Internet in a game-show format. Dragon Con’s version was similarly hilarious.

-I checked out several exhibit spaces for the first time, and they were really cool. The Armory featured many different historical weapons, and was like walking through a mini-museum. The Alternate History’s museum of steampunk and dieselpunk creations had a similar feel. I kinda thought the Comic & Pop Artist Alley was just going to feature several comic books I’d never heard of, but the “pop artist” portion of the proceedings was very interesting. The talent of the artists was pretty eye-popping, as many of them were able to fuse popular culture with a beautiful artistic style to a great result. I even wanted to buy one of the prints, but there are apparently still people in this day and age that can’t take credit cards for payment, so I was out of luck. The Art Show was less fandom-centric, and more, well, artistic. The art there was a lot fancier, and while it still featured goblins, dragons, and other mystical creatures, it was more focused on original work than on appropriating cultural icons.

Felicia Day

Felicia Day

-Felicia Day and Karen Gillan’s panels were positively charming. Felicia Day is the consummate geek actress, having appeared in such shows as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Eureka, and The Guild, a web series she created herself about online RPG players. She alternated funny moments with candid discussions of her struggles with depression and body image, that she outlined in her recent book. Karen Gillian, best known for her role as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, was similarly charming, and talked about her experiences there, and how she’s grown close to her costars Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill. She also shared some interesting stories, such as when she had to shave her head to appear on Guardians of the Galaxy, and she sent her hair to the Star Wars costume designers, who made it into a wig for her. Side note: I want to give a shout out here to the Doctor Who panelists, who always put together some great panels with some great conversation. That was true again this year.

-I didn’t venture into the Walk of Fame as much, but got to shake one new hand. That hand belonged to Edward James Olmos, who starred as Admiral Adama on Battlestar Galactica. He had that same “wizened old dad” persona that he had on Battlestar in person, and it was great to meet him. I also made a return visit to Richard Hatch’s booth, and talked Battlestar with him too. I also decided to drop all the money I’d saved for the vendors on one item: a signed photo of Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher from Return of the Jedi, my favorite Star Wars movie. I figured I should probably get my hands on some Star Wars memorabilia before the new movie comes out.

-The “edutainment” and other panels were fun too. The only panel I attended on the Electronic Frontiers track was an interesting (and thankfully even-handed) look at the debate over the Second Amendment. The president of American Atheists had a great presentation on the Skeptics track, and the Space track’s panels were very interesting, about life on Mars and the future of space exploration. The lady that runs the Space track infuses a lot of energy and excitement into it, and it is often infectious. The Star Wars track’s panels were also extra-good this year, reassuring fans about changes to the canon and talking about all we know about Episode VII thus far. There was also one panel that talked about the history of Star Wars video games, which I am (you guessed it) an avid player of.

This is a screen shot from Live Astronomy.  That white patch near the bottom near the center is the Pillars of Creation.

This is a screen shot from Live Astronomy. That white patch near the bottom near the center is the Pillars of Creation.

Lowlights:

-Some of the night events were kind of a bust. The Space track’s Live Astronomy event was cool in theory, as some attending astronomers showed us live feeds of space telescopes stationed in Chile and Arizona. Only problem is, since the objects we’re focusing on are so far away, you have to leave the telescope’s exposure open for a long time (and if it’s cloudy, even longer), so you can spend an hour or more there and only get to see one picture, as I did. But the picture was cool, showing a live view of The Pillars of Creation, the subject of one of the most iconic photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The Solve for X Science Show started out with a few comedians who were not as good as Gonzoroo’s offerings, so my friend Austin and I left to check out a party (where I discovered Apple Pie in a Jar, my new favorite drink). I’ll probably check out the show next year, as I’m sure it gets more interesting as the night goes on.

-The Star Wars trivia contest was way easier this year, and I should’ve done it. They restricted it to just the new canon, which is essentially the films, the TV shows, and a few novels. I thought it might focus on the more obscure parts, but I saw the qualifying test questions later, and I knew most of them. With my luck, they’ll make it hard again next year, when the new canon has had a whole year to grow.

To-do list for next year:

-I want to check out Dragon Con Night at the Georgia Aquarium. I’ve never been, and it sounds fun. The Georgia Aquarium has a really cool ambience anyway, but deck it out in sci-fi and fantasy stuff, and it’d be even better. It doesn’t cost much extra to get in, and would be interesting to check out. In a similar vein, I’d like to check out at least one of the adult-themed panels that go on at night, as well as the Skeptics track’s Nerd Comedy show.

-I’d like to do an InstaFilk session. InstaFilk is one of the filk track’s traditions, where a group of nerds get together and attempt to write a filk song on the fly. Several of the results have been good, and I think that could be a unique experience.

-Maybe I’ll explore the gaming area. I’ve never quite understood the point of coming to Dragon Con to play games all day, but the gaming track has some tournaments and such that could be fun. They also bring in these massive virtual-reality arcade machines that involve you controlling massive robots or something, and that could be fun to experience.

-The Armory, in addition to its display, has programming too. Most of the panels involve docents that teach about the history and use of certain weapons. Again, it’s a unique experience that, since I’ve never done it before, could be interesting.

In short, it was another great year! Here’s to one more!

This little girl cosplaying as Young Amy Pond made me want to melt into a puddle.

This little girl cosplaying as Young Amy Pond made me want to melt into a puddle.