Things you learn when you have broadcast TV on in the background

I learned pretty quickly that if I leave broadcast TV on in the living room while I am trying to get things done (housework, etc.) Otto the Rescue Pittie will sleep for far longer periods of time before he comes to find me and be as irresistibly needy as he always is.

But having broadcast TV running means there are all sorts of things that air which you’ve never heard of before.

Such as: How did I miss the fact that Lorenzo Lamas had a TV show called Renegade that ran for five seasons (!!) between 1992 and 1997?

Also, I had forgotten how central Lorenzo’s hair was to his persona back then.

Lorenzo Lamas (left) in a scene from Renegade.

I still love “The West Wing,” despite — or, perhaps, because of — its earnest hokiness

I loved the old series The West Wing, although some argue that it now seems hokey, dated and, most critically, it’s a show that depicts how a narcissistic Democratic Party establishment sees itself. This is why so many Bernie Sanders people (and Republicans) find the show revolting.

But I think the show has held up well. Which is why I found this Matty Yglesias piece today interesting:

The West Wing’s earnestness is probably the most distinctive thing about the show and why it is liked by a lot of people who work in politics.

Most fictional depictions of D.C. life show it as a super cynical place full of power-hungry schemers who don’t care about anything. This is a convenient device for a certain kind of thriller, but it’s extremely fake. The smart and accurate thing to say is that real-world politics is more “Veep” than “House of Cards,” which is extremely true. But “Veep” is satire, exaggerating for effect and fundamentally also overstating the level of cynicism in Washington.2 One of the guys who consulted for “The West Wing” is Gene Sperling, who worked on the Dukakis campaign in 1988, was an economic advisor to Mario Cuomo, and served as Deputy Director and then Director of the National Economic Council under Bill Clinton. After being out of government for eight years, he came back as a counselor to Tim Geithner at the beginning of Obama’s presidency and then did another three-year stint as NEC director. Now he’s a senior advisor in the White House charged with American Rescue Plan implementation.

Whatever criticisms you may offer of the guy, Gene Sperling is clearly sincerely very committed to his ideas and to the idea that by serving at a high level in government he can nudge public policy in better directions.

And something “The West Wing” deeply gets about politics is that there are a lot of people like that kicking around. Are there kooks and grifters and opportunists and criminals and morons? Sure.

But you genuinely can’t understand key developments in American political history — good ones like the Affordable Care Act or bad ones like the Dobbs decision — without understanding the large and often critical role played by earnest people who sincerely believe in what they are doing. Even a lot of the really bad characters in politics — Paul Ryan, for example — are extremely sincere. And when you look at someone who is both bad and also non-sincere like Donald Trump, you can’t understand Trump’s successes without understanding the sincerity of many of his collaborators. For better or worse, helping Trump beat Clinton seemed like a good way to try to advance the causes of making abortion illegal and taking health insurance away from poor people, and unless you grasp the sincerity with which lots of Republicans believe in those causes, you won’t be able to make sense of how he related to the party’s professionals.

I agree. There are an awful lot of people who are in government for all the right reasons. I know because I ran into them all the time when I was a newspaper editor.

The Republican Party wants all of us to believe that everyone in government is self-interested, because the more they can convince us that government is broken and populated by people with only their own interests at heart, the more they can dismantle government and put Wall Street in control of more facets of our public life and institutions.

Incidentally, you can watch The West Wing on HBO Max (with commercials), and without commercials if you pay on Amazon video and Apple TV.

Below is a scene from the show that captures its brilliance, as President Bartletts tears a new a-hole for a smug, self-satisfied and cruel right-wing radio host in attendance at a White House function.

Ready or not, the Golden Globes will be back

That didn’t take long.

The Golden Globe Awards telecast, which sloshes money through the entertainment economy, will return in January with an even bigger platform. NBC canceled the show in 2021 amid an ethics, finance and diversity scandal that continues to simmer.

NBC said on Tuesday that it would broadcast the 80th Golden Globes ceremony on Jan. 10, a prime spot on Hollywood’s awards-season calendar. (Oscar balloting begins on Jan. 12.) For the first time, the show will also be available simultaneously online, through NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock.

Nominations will be announced on Dec. 12.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), long noted for its lack of diversity, has made some changes:

The foreign press association has overhauled membership eligibility, recruited new members with an emphasis on diversity, enacted a stricter code of conduct, elected a new president and largely ended its tax-exempt status, transforming into a for-profit company with a philanthropic arm. Last month, the H.F.P.A. sent a letter to studios that pointed to “transformational change” in the areas of “diversity, transparency and accountability.”

The 108-member foreign press association now has six Black voters — up from zero last year — and has added 103 nonmember voters, a dozen or so of whom are Black.

Some publicists, stars and filmmakers are satisfied, or at least ready to end more than a year of behind-the-scenes bickering over the degree to which the H.F.P.A. needed to reform. Others are holding their noses, unsatisfied but willing to re-engage with the Globes as a promotional platform for Oscar campaigns. Another contingent remains adamant that the foreign press association has not done enough, and that the Globes should perhaps be retired forever.

“There isn’t a consensus,” said Amanda Lundberg, chief executive of 42West, a Hollywood public relations firm that represents stars like Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks and filmmakers such as Baz Luhrmann and Martin Scorsese. “Everyone will make up their own minds. Some feel good about it and some don’t.”

Hollywood businesses, however, are almost universally aligned: Please, pretty please, let the Golden Globes champagne flow again.

I think it’s one of the more entertaining awards shows precisely because it’s not taken as seriously as the Oscars. Therefore, more interesting — if unplanned things — are likely to happen. Too bad Ricky Gervais won’t be host again.

Now the racist incels are coming for House of the Dragon

I watched the first two episodes of House of the Dragon last night, and I was so impressed I did something I told myself I would never do: I shelled out for a subscription to another streaming service, HBO Max. Just so I can continue to watch HOTD.

It’s very much like Game of Thrones. It even has the same theme music. Still set in Westeros. Many of the same family names. And it has even more dragons, which I always felt were the most thrilling non-speaking “roles” in the original series.

It never crossed my mind that the new series seemed at all “woke,” a catch-all term that Republicans and white supremacists — very often the same thing these days — use to describe books, school curricula (and now fantasy TV series) as having too many consequential Black people and powerful, non-submissive women.

Imagine my surprise to wake up this morning to read two articles in major news sources that examine whether HOTD is too woke.

The better of the two pieces is a New York Times op-ed written by Jeff Yang, a comic book nerd who is co-author of “Rise: A Pop History of Asian America From the ’90s to Now.”

Will a slightly more sensitive Westeros give us enough to talk about? It’s hard to tell so far. The new series certainly didn’t open with anything quite as gasp-inducing as a pair of twins having sex in a tower, then throwing a child out of a window, as “Thrones” did. And there’s some validity to complaints about how much time “House” spends on “tense bickering at a big table.” But to suggest that a less raunchy Westeros is necessarily less compelling does a disservice to the original series by assuming that sexual brutalization and normative whiteness were its core appeal.

It’s also a rather patronizing assessment of the show’s fans, many of whom weren’t there for the full-frontal nudity and titillation. I’d argue that the success of “Thrones” had more to do with the complex dynamics of its political and family intrigue, its top-tier acting and its immensely detailed world-building — all of which “House” has already offered in abundance.

George R.R. Martin, the author of the source books, who was involved in creating both HBO series, has defended the treatment of race and gender in “Thrones” as grounded in historical reality. He told Entertainment Weekly in 2015: “The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism.” To a fan wondering why there seemed to be no Asians in the series at all, he responded on his personal blog in 2014: “There weren’t a lot of Asians in Yorkish England either.”

Of course, there weren’t ice zombies, giants or, ahem, dragons in Yorkish England, either. Given that the land of Westeros is a wholly imagined fantasy, it could’ve been anything its creators imagined it to be — and in “Game of Thrones,” a white male author and white male showrunners imagined it as a place where people of color are mostly servile, silent or absent.

But as [HOTD] showrunners Mr. Sapochnik and Mr. Condal note, “House of the Dragon” arrives in a very different era. Mr. Condal put it bluntly in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “It was very important for Miguel and I to create a show that was not another bunch of white people on the screen.” Mr. Sapochnik cited the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements in an interview with Jeremy Egner of The Times: “It’s a radically different world from what it was 10 years ago,” he said. “We have to reflect the changes in the world before us — not because somebody told us to, but because we actually feel like there’s a point.”

Why is ANY of that controversial? I mean, I get why it annoys misogynistic racist incels. But why must those of us who live in a world that is not exclusively white and heterosexual and male explain to so many others why fantasy milieus ought not be mostly made up of white heterosexual males?

That this “controversy” is happening to both HOTD and the new Lord of the Rings series (see this, yesterday) is a sign that the forces of racist heterogenity are experts at banding together and making noise, thereby getting the attention of the mainstream media. But the only review that matters will be how many people watch these two series, and the LOTR series on Amazon had the best opening in the history of the streaming service.

I suspect this will all soon be background noise; resentful caterwauling from a bunch of misogynistic racist incels on Gettr and TruthSocial, while the two series go on to be as hugely popular as their opening days suggest they will be.

Actor Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon: Known as the “Sea Snake,” he is the head of House Velaryon, the wealthiest and most powerful clan in the realm, and is the most famous seafarer in Westerosi history. The fact that he is also Black hasn’t come up in the first two episodes of House of the Dragon.

Alt-right upset that new Lords of the Rings series has people of color

Not that we needed any proof that the alt-right really is about white supremacy, but whining about the new Lord of the Rings series from Amazon because it contains non-white characters and women of power, is peak MAGA nonsense:

Brandon Morse has read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” the “Lord of the Rings” series and watched extended editions of Peter Jackson’s ring trilogy so often that “I can almost quote them all line for line.”

But Morse is dreading a new addition to the Middle-earth canon that he says “perverts and corrupts” Tolkien’s mythical medieval universe because TV showrunners have committed this storytelling crime: They are trying to “woke-ify” Amazon’s new series, “The Lord of the Rings: “The Rings of Power.”

Morse is deputy managing editor of RedState, a conservative news site. He says “The Rings of Power” producers have cast non-White actors in a story based on European culture and who look wildly different from how Tolkien originally described them. He says it’s an attempt to embed “social justice politics” into Tolkien’s world.

If you focus on introducing modern political sentiments, such as the leftist obsession with identity issues that only go skin deep, then you’re no longer focusing on building a good story,” says Morse, who wrote an impassioned essay about his misgivings. “You’re effectively making propaganda, or art meant to fit a message, not a message to fit the art.”

Hey, Brandon, you dope, these worlds aren’t real. Characters in fantasy movies about elves and orcs can be whatever color anyone wants them to be. (Why does anyone have to point this out?)

Not only that, but Tolkien was born in Victorian England, when non-white people by the millions were still used as cheap colonial labor. Of course he wouldn’t have people of color in positions of leadership among, say, the human race in Middle Earth.

Nonetheless, Tolkien had complicated views on race. He despised Nazi race theory, for instance.

Which is more than I can say about RedState.

In any case, the mere fact that some people are upset that a fantasy movie has Blacks and female leaders, yet is located in a place that doesn’t really exist, just proves how utterly ridiculous and grasping the alt-right movement really is.

CNN actually does a pretty good job of covering these issues and showing how dumb it is to listen to a bunch of racist incels lecture anyone about how to build “realistic” (ha!) fantasy worlds that are, by definition, whatever the writer wants them to be.

This movie that scared the bejeezus out of me when I was young is still pretty darn scary

It’s rare that films which scared me a kid — especially made-for-TV films — can be just as scary when watching as an adult. But I just re-watched 1979’s Salem’s Lot with David Soul and Lance Kerwin. It’s really held up all these years. Not as actually scary because I’d seen it before. But still creepy as hell.

It was the film (miniseries, actually) adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name.

I’d read the book on-the-job as a night watchman at a 20-story bank downtown. Once every two hours over each 8-hour shift I had to walk 20 deserted, darkened floors in the midst of reading this terrifying book. Of course, I thought I was hearing noises, and seeing things move in the shadows, the entire time I was patrolling.

At the time I wasn’t expecting much from the movie because I thought it would be difficult to capture on film the creepy, otherworldly things that spring from the mind of Stephen King. But the director and special effects people managed to do a lot with the relatively few (compared to today) tricks they had in their arsenal.

The casting was masterful, but the film’s makers must have been especially thrilled when Richard Mason, one of Hollywood’s most distinguished actors, loved the script and signed-on to play the refined but malevolent antiques dealer Richard Straker. Straker is human, but Mason manages to make him just as scary as the vampires.

It helped that the film was directed by Tobe Hooper, the master of horror who also directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, Lifeforce and others. If you’ve seen and remember Poltergeist, it wasn’t all whiz-bang special effects. It was a lot of Hooper taking not-that-complicated concepts — little girl talking to TV, psychic spouting odd gibberish, coffins floating up out of the water — and making them scary through lighting, editing, music and talented actors.

If you’ve never seen the original Salem’s Lot (there was a remake with Rob Lowe in 2004) Halloween is coming up! Watch it in the dark some night when it’s cold outside and the wind is howling.

Interesting bit of trivia: Tobe Hooper had a really weird detour in his horror career when he directed the PBS documentary, Peter Paul and Mary: The Song is Love.

Salem’s Lot trailer below. You can also watch all 3.2 hours of it on YouTube and Prime Video.

Finally, there’s yet another remake coming out. You can learn more about that here. Note that the original release date was Sept. 9. That was moved to April of next year. However, any mention of it has also been removed from the studio’s release schedule, so who knows whether that April 2023 date will happen.

Are we moving closer to understanding some animals’ languages?

If you watch and love (as much as I do) the Amazon production of “The Boys,” the series about a world populated with deeply flawed superheroes, you’re no doubt familiar with the character called The Deep, the underwater-breathing, talk-to-the-fishies, self-involved numbskull who is pretty, but dim-witted.

The Deep is also wracked by self-doubt, as in this S1E4 exchange with his therapist:

The Deep: I mean, yeah, I can talk to fish. So what? How often do you need to be saved by a school of salmon?

Psychiatrist: Kevin, that’s just not true. Where would that Carnival cruise ship be without you?

The Deep: Yeah, I know.

Deep’s ability to talk to the animals presents him as a sort of perverted aquatic Dr. Doolittle.

That kind of animal-to-human two-way communication may never happen. But thanks to machine learning, we might not be that far off from understanding what some animals are saying to each other, as this New York Times article by Emily Anthes explains:

Machine-learning systems, which use algorithms to detect patterns in large collections of data, have excelled at analyzing human language, giving rise to voice assistants that recognize speech, transcription software that converts speech to text and digital tools that translate between human languages.

In recent years, scientists have begun deploying this technology to decode animal communication, using machine-learning algorithms to identify when squeaking mice are stressed or why fruit bats are shouting. Even more ambitious projects are underway — to create a comprehensive catalog of crow calls, map the syntax of sperm whales and even to build technologies that allow humans to talk back.

“Let’s try to find a Google Translate for animals,” said Diana Reiss, an expert on dolphin cognition and communication at Hunter College and co-founder of Interspecies Internet, a think tank devoted to facilitating cross-species communication.

The field is young and many projects are still in their infancy; humanity is not on the verge of having a Rosetta Stone for whale songs or the ability to chew the fat with cats. But the work is already revealing that animal communication is far more complex than it sounds to the human ear, and the chatter is providing a richer view of the world beyond our own species.

I find it really intriguing that machines might help us to feel closer to animate life, that artificial intelligences might help us to notice biological intelligences,” said Tom Mustill, a wildlife and science filmmaker and the author of the forthcoming book, “How to Speak Whale.” “This is like we’ve invented a telescope — a new tool that allows us to perceive what was already there but we couldn’t see before.”

Studies of animal communication are not new, but machine-learning algorithms can spot subtle patterns that might elude human listeners. For instance, scientists have shown that these programs can tell apart the voices of individual animals, distinguish between sounds that animals make in different circumstances and break their vocalizations down into smaller parts, a crucial step in deciphering meaning.

Interesting article that you can read in its entirety here.

The Deep, who is paradoxically not very deep.

Fox News owners, big-name stars, set to be deposed in $1.6 billion defamation suit

This couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people.

Some of the biggest names at Fox News have been questioned, or are scheduled to be questioned in the coming days, by lawyers representing Dominion Voting Systems in its $1.6 billion defamation suit against the network, as the election technology company presses ahead with a case that First Amendment scholars say is extraordinary in its scope and significance.

Sean Hannity became the latest Fox star to be called for a deposition by Dominion’s legal team, according to a new filing in Delaware Superior Court. He is scheduled to appear on Wednesday.

Tucker Carlson is set to face questioning on Friday. Lou Dobbs, whose Fox Business show was canceled last year, is scheduled to appear on Tuesday. Others who have been deposed recently include “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, Steve Doocy and a number of high-level Fox producers, court records show.

People with knowledge of the case, who would speak only anonymously, said they expected that the chief executive of Fox News Media, Suzanne Scott, could be one of the next to be deposed, along with the president of Fox News, Jay Wallace. Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, whose family owns Fox, could follow in the coming weeks.

The depositions are among the clearest indications yet of how aggressively Dominion is moving forward with its suit, which is set to go to trial early next year, and of the legal pressure building on the nation’s most powerful conservative media company. There have been no moves from either side to discuss a possible settlement, people with knowledge of the case have said.


Read the rest here.

Fox News host Jeanine “Box of Wine” Pirro is among the network’s stars set to be deposed in Dominion lawsuit.

AV Club has an interview with the woman who played the greatest Star Trek villain of them all

I think the best season finale in the entire Star Trek television franchise has to be the two-part “Endgame” for Voyager.

Capt. Kathryn Janeway in a battle across time with the Borg queen, a race to either destroy the queen and her empire-enabling transwarp hub, or get Janeway’s crew home safe, finally, to the alpha quadrant. (Or, rather, Janeways — her present and future selves.)

Truly one of television’s greatest finale match-ups between two strong, er, female characters. (The omnisexual Borg queen transcended gender, even back then.)

Of course, that episode would not be the same without the iconic Borg queen, played in the Voyager finale by the actor Alice Krige, who created the character’s malevolently sensual control freak aura. All the actors who subsequently played the Borg queen across the film and television series franchise had to emulate her performance.

AV Club interviewed Kriger about her many roles before and since the Borg queen, and about bringing the queen to life across mediums.

AVC: Your Star Trek experience was unique in that you were able to play the Borg Queen for more than one movie. How rewarding did it feel to stay with that character over the course of time and watch her evolve?

AK: It was very terrifying, frankly, to shift mediums, to shift from an enormous screen down to a television screen. I thought to myself, “Will she even work in this little space?” Two nights before, it dawned on me that I was working with two women and not two men. I called the producer and said, “She’s with two women.” He said, “Don’t worry. Think of her as omnisexual.” And I thought, “OK.” It was only after that I realized I didn’t know what omnisexual was. It was wonderful to experience her in a completely different context. And, quite frankly, no matter how many times they get rid of her, I think they are kidding themselves. She’s out there. She was created. She cannot be destroyed. What a fascinating character she is. I have never asked them, and I would love to know, if they had any idea she was going to become an absolute archetype. I had no idea whether they knew. I certainly didn’t. By the time they had put on the make-up and the suit, and I looked in the mirror, it wasn’t me anymore. I really did feel like I was just a channel and the Borg Queen walked up, did her thing and left.

AVC: Whether it’s a role like Veronica or the Borg Queen or the cat creature Mary in Sleepwalkers, how delicious is it to be around all the special effects make-up and the prosthetics and the gore?

AK: They have become so sophisticated now. The Borg Queen … what Scott Wheeler, who designed the head and the makeup, gave me … was an extraordinary gift. Think about it. You can’t imagine her separate from what she looked like. Not at all. I couldn’t have shown up and been the Borg Queen. That would have been ludicrous. That was who she was. I was given that. Film is the most collaborative of arts. I have been so blessed to work with the most generous and creative of collaboratives. It just goes on and on, the number of riches that I have been given by people I was working with. Special effects, prosthetics, if they are beautifully executed can be a doorway into a different reality.

You can read the rest of the interview at this link.

Below is a clip with the penultimate scene in “Endgame.” (Spoiler alert!)