Saturday, June 29, 2019

MIXED BAG BLOG #19: "THE BIG BANG THEORY" ENDING REFLECTIONS, "GAME OF THRONES" THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS and ALBUM REVIEW of LEONARD COHEN'S "POPULAR PROBLEMS"!

Alright, sorry I've been so delayed in even trying to get a blog out these days. I'm hoping these delays in my life are temporary. In the meantime, during those times when I don't get to, or don't feel it's worth writing an entire review on, what I do is a little Mixed Bag Blog, where I discuss a few different issues that have been percolating in the entertainment world. In this case, I'm gonna take one last shot "The Big Bang Theory" critics, the most obnoxious ones at least in light of their finale episode, I'll discuss some scattered on "Game of Thrones" in light of their recent finale episode, and I'm gonna do another random album review, in this case, Leonard Cohen's "Popular Problem". Hope you enjoy.


THE BIG BANG THEORY: FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE NERD CULTURE BACKLASH AND HOW TRULY STUPID IT WAS.

You know, I wasn't going to do a summary or final roundup piece on the ending of "The Big Bang Theory". For one thing, I have discussed it enough. I've written on the series several times over the years in one capacity or another.

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-big-bang-theory-upcoming-final.html
https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-big-bang-theorys-3-year-extension.html
https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/11/good-on-tv-communitys-hiatus-and-why.html

Pretty much every time, I've gotten shit for it by someone, some vocal minority who see "The Big Bang Theory" getting,- I don't even think they care if it's getting praise, I think they just care that it's getting noticed at all, and they insist on calling me and any other fans of the show out on it, for being this indisputably horrible series and how I can possibly give it the slightest bit of attention, much less continually praise the series. The only series I've gotten more crap for liking and praising regularly is "Girls". (And seriously, screw the haters of that show too.)

That said, frankly, I think I said everything about the show that I wanted to say. Then something caught my eye.



Lately, I haven't been keeping up much with Brad Jones's work as much as I used to, for several reasons..., but this one I couldn't pass up. For one thing, I knew how it would end, 'cause anybody who actually sits down and watches the series will realize how good the show is, at least compared to the backlash of the series, and while I'm not as impressed as others might be, 'cause I've done this several times myself already, but knowing my reaction and others to the series and how it's grown and evolved over the course of the series' run, I knew it's be fun to see somebody go through that, especially when you know things ahead of time that one person probably doesn't. I certainly essentially knew how it ended, but-eh, don't get me wrong, it's not like it's complete praise. He makes a lot of valid points and criticisms, most of which I actually agree with, some I don't. That wasn't the part that made me want to write this though.

He mentioned a term at the end during his summation that,- I probably have heard it before, but suddenly it kinda rubbed me the wrong way. I'm gonna quote here,:

".... Having watched the entire series, the amount of hate that's thrown at the show, is a little unfair. Even when the show announced it's ending, people rejoiced by saying things along the lines of, 'Our long national nightmare is over!' Yeah, I'm sure that it really effects you that a show that you didn't watch, is ending. For the past 12 years, I've heard countless times, from countless people, saying that this show is nothing but, quote, "Nerd Blackface". Stop! Okay, just stop! Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot that "Geek Culture" is above jokes! The characters in the show are highly intelligent, they have successful careers, many of them are doctors and most of them have successful lovelifes and families. You know, "Like Blackface"! I work online, so trust me, you do not actually want to see a show that actually does focus on extreme negative stereotypes of geek culture. Do you know how cynical and depressing and hate-filled that would be, for a light-hearted sitcom? These characters relish in the things that they love, they get excited for new content and they are there for each other throughout their lowest of lows. Most of them completely grow as people in their professional lives and in their lovelifes as well as learning to communicate better and to be more human. Is the show stereotypical? Yes, why wouldn't it be? It's a sitcom! The question is whether it does it well or not...."

Basically he said everything I've said about it, only somewhat more condensed and articulate. That said, NERD BLACKFACE?! Are you fucking kidding me?!


I've long despised those who hate "The Big Bang Theory" because of how they supposedly negatively display "Nerd Culture", partly because, I'll be honest, the more I think about it, the more skeptical I get that that's not even a real thing to begin with, but even if it was, comparing actual racist stereotypes like "Nerds" as though they are somehow a race and that it's culturally insensitive to make negative depictions of them,- boy that's wrong on so many levels I don't even really know where to begin on that one. The more I thought about that term, the more it just pissed me off more.

People who hate "The Big Bang Theory" because of how they depict so-called "Nerd Culture", whatever-the-hell that even is, are fucking assholes. Seriously, if they want to call it not funny or whatever, fine, I can understand differences of opinion on humor, and if you can do it critically, then I can appreciate a differing of opinion and analysis, but seriously, they basically act like because they like some of the same things as the characters and that they don't see themselves elsewise in those characters that they must believe they're being made fun of. That's such crap, that's like people who go out to bars in Boston complaining that "Cheers" doesn't get bar culture right?!

Well, actually, maybe I am a bit out of line on this. You see, at first, when I was planning this piece, I was going to go on how ridiculous it is that there's this geek or nerd culture, well, culture at all. When I often condescend to this "group", I often compare their behavior to that of a sexual fetish, as in it's just something they like because they like and that's not a good enough reason to have so much power and influence over media, or exist really, or-eh, what's-the-word I'm looking for, be so protective of pieces of media, as though somebody else's word is a major identifier of one's own? But, maybe I'm being too dismissive, to prejudicial, if you will. 

I mentioned "bar culture" above, now if I question where nerd culture exists, shouldn't I also question bar culture? I mean, wouldn't that be just, people who like going to bars? How is that different than people who like nerdy things? 


Or how about car culture? I grew up with some friends and family members who had a great affinity for motorcycles and classic automobiles, I'm not as intrigued, but I still know some people who are, that's just liking something, and yet it doesn't seem that unusual or unhealthy. I watch "Counting Cars", hell, I'm fairly sure I've known some people who've worked on the show; it seems like it's not only doing okay for all of them, but a lot of people turn that hobby into a passion and that passion into a career on some level. I'm sure that's not everybody who loves cars and bikes, but that doesn't necessarily bother me as much. 


Although that would bother me a bit with "bar culture" 'cause if you're not working or owning a bar in some way, then, you're just a drunk, most likely? Okay, that's a cheap shot, there's plenty of reasons to go out clubbing and people can drink alone if they just want to get drunk. 

Perhaps it's that it feels like an invasion on my own territory, which is selfish on my part to presume that I am the sole proprietor of film/tv/media, etc., but maybe that's a bias that I should analyze as well. (Shrugs) It might be honestly, one of the reasons I did go into this medium honestly, is that I thought it was being inundated too much with some of the worst of supposed nerd media and culture and I wanted to play some role in making sure good work comes in and makes it to the masses while mitigating or eliminating the influence of the ones I deemed the bad. Yes, I was, and am in many ways that petty; I can honestly say that I probably hated "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" so much, that I went to film school to figure out how to eradicate it from the world. Only to, find a bunch of people who were inspired by it, determined to continue it's influence, and it made me tread in fear honestly. I do believe media is powerful and that mistreating it, is something to go to war over. Maybe it isn't, maybe some things are just television shows and people who like them are just fans, and I should leave it at that.


Then, I come back to "NERD BLACKFACE!" and I immediately think my instincts my instincts are right, especially since none of those groups or any other subculture of a subculture like that would think of themselves as a goddamn race!


That's what pisses me off the most I think, that they take ownership of a comraderie that's basically just, liking the same things, but most of the time, I don't feel it's deserved. More than that, I don't believe what one likes, should necessarily help define oneself as a person. 


I know, they feel like there's more to it than that, that somehow liking these things helped them cope with similar difficulties, and maybe true for some of them, but you know what, I had just as many, if not more similar difficulties growing up. I got bullied quite a bit. I felt ostracized from the world at times, hell, I was felt alienated from the people who seemed alienated from the world. (I mean, okay, granted it was the nineties, and everybody felt that way, but just trust me, even for that time, I was outside for a lot of outsiders to understand,...) I went through a good deal of these things, and I never found myself connected to a culture of people who've based there self-identity around things they happen to like, if anything, the friends that help me get through most of my difficulties, I had pretty little in common with them. They weren't all just other social outcasts or whatever either, some of them were pretty cool with everybody and fairly popular in several different social groups.


And when it comes to this aspect of the positive sides of being apart of Nerd Culture or Geek Culture or Fan Culture or whatever that so many of them try to defend as apart of this culture,  I've seen just as many eclectic kinds of people from vastly different backgrounds who engage in stuff like, role-playing games, and love superhero comics or films, found escapism into fantasy; they're not the osctracized outsiders that they claim to be. Much of the time, they were the people who were bullying and making fun of me! Sure, some of them struggled with talking to others or trying to find romantic partners and had issues that I would decree were/are similar to mine, but, others I kept insisting they stop showing pictures of the drunken orgies they'd have at their D&D games after Bible class. Some were athletes, some went to the military, some became more actively political, others just want to do nothing but get high and waste the days away getting into trouble with the law. 


So, why is it so unpalatable for them to see "The Big Bang Theory" characters and feel that they're not relatable to them, or worst, feel like they're desecrating some abstract part of them that, frankly even if I cared as much about some of the trivial stuff they do, I certainly wouldn't place so much of myself towards that, that I would consider it a major part of my identity, and I think there's an argument that these characters don't do that. They might've have had some of these nerd traits, but they didn't simply let what they thought about certain movies or games or whatever define them. Inspired by them, maybe, appreciative, sure, but these mostly just come off like personal interests and hobbies to me for them, ones that they can devote time and money too because of their lives and careers and the advantages those can have.


And that's another thing, Brad Jones touched on this a bit, but for all the Nerd Community people who complain how their depicted on the show, I don't see too many people from the science community saying much bad about it. I'm sure there's some if I look deeply enough, but considering the high-profile stature of some of the big named modern scientists that have appeared or embraced the show, it seems they pretty much accept it, while I'm certain that many of them see these characters and have trouble relating to certain aspects of them as well. Or how about the fact that they're all professors at a major college, a real major college at that. They teach, work and study at Cal Tech, are they accurate portrayals of the lives of some of the science and engineering faculty at that school? I don't know, are George & Martha and Nick & Honey accruate portrayals of New England professors and wives who live on campus accurate to those who actually have those jobs too? 

Like, they're angry at a show for how poorly it truly represents the nerd culture that they're apart of, when I frankly think that there's a better argument out there then the fact that "The Big Bang Theory" characters aren't in their culture to begin with, so claiming they're poor representations of it is just stupid. It's like seeing a fire hydrant bitching a stoplight is a poor fire hydrant; well no fucking shit it is! So what? They like some of things you like; I like some of the things they like!!!!!! If more fans appreciated and respected film media the ways that the characters on the show do, I probably would have more respect for fans than I do. They care, yes, but it's ultimately trivial and they have far greater desires and goals than to simply give that big of a shit over whether or not a series finale of a show was good or bad. Or at least they overcome those desires to overly-appreciate those kinds of media in order to progress in the real world. Basically, they treat entertainment with the seriousness of appreciation and criticism that they should, but also with the understanding and appreciation that it is just entertainment that's meant to entertain us and little-to-nothing more, even if one can be overly-inspired from that media. 


I think "The Big Bang Theory" could've lasted another five years if they wanted, but frankly I'm glad the series has ended now, because I can finally stop hearing about the bullshit from people these people who do exactly the opposite of what the series does. And maybe if one of them becomes an astronaut or wins a Nobel Prize, maybe I'll listen to them about why the show portrays them inaccurately, in the meantime, I don't care. 



GAME OF THRONES: NOT FINAL THOUGHTS, BUT RANDOM OBSERVATIONS FROM A WATCHER WHO ISN'T A FAN. 


Well, I guess since I just so thoroughly bashed one vocal group on internet, the anti-“The Big Bang Theory” people, I guess I should talk about the other major event in nerd television culture recently, the controversial finale to “Game of Thrones”. Yes, everybody’s been talking about it, everybody’s got thoughts and opinions on it, and I’m sure some people are curious about mine. Well,- um, I haven’t seen it yet.

Yeah, I don’t have any thoughts on it yet. I haven’t seen it; I haven’t caught up with it. I’m actually a season or two behind to be honest. Um…-

Well, I mean, okay, I’ve been behind on many shows before, especially cable series since I don’t always have the cable channels I need, and right now I don’t have the internet, so of course, I’ll do what I always do and have the last word when a great series ends, and I finally catch up and watch it properly and…- (Sigh)

Okay, you know, I’ve done that several times before, but I’m-, I’m not doing that with “Game of Thrones” either.

I do have a lot of thoughts on “Game of Thrones” though, so I guess since it’s still somewhat still in the zeitgeist, let’s gets some of this out of the way. First of all, despite what you might be expecting with this long intro, NO, I don’t think “Game of Thrones” sucks. It’s a good show, very good at times. But I’ve never thought of it as a great show however, and probably won’t ever, and it certainly looks like people have started questioning the show’s greatness recently since there’s a-, there’s been some divide amongst fans on the last season, apparently. I’ve watched it when I can, usually on DVD; I’ve rarely sat through an episode of it as it aired, and if I do, I’m usually just waiting for “Last Week Tonight…” to start. I often talk about the constant critical struggle between “Good” vs. “Like”, well, this is a good example of it, in my view. The shows is good, which is why I sit through it, but no, I don’t like this show. I like it a lot better than most fantasy, it certainly does have some stuff that I will remember forever, but ask me to explain any major plotpoint in the series, that’s when I get lost, 'cause I find very little in the series to actually grab me enough to care enough, or even understand it half the time.

I’m not alone in this either; I know quite a few people in my position, who have tried to sit through the show, and- just can’t follow the damn thing, but I don’t think I know anybody who thinks it’s a bad show either, it’s clearly well-made and well-done, I’m not at all surprised that this series broke every Emmys record you can think of, starting with all the major technical awards. However, it’s overwhelming. I’m forcing my way through it, ‘cause well-, well, I don’t look for things that are good, not things I like. I get bored when it’s just the things I like all the time, and if it’s good, I will give it the time of day. But, god is this show a chore.

Let me start with my original experience; first of all, I’m not familiar with “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, which, as far as I’m concerned, I shouldn’t be; the TV show should hold up on it’s own first.

You know what screwed with me too much with "Game of Thrones"? The first season DVDs. That's how I first watched it, and it was a copy from the library, and I don't know if HBO still does this with their DVDS or not, but there used to be an option to watch some of their series on DVDs, where at certain points, a button will appear and it'll give you extra backstory to what's happening and why, or dive deeper into side characters that you might not realize have deeper stories. The 2nd season of "Rome" did this well, "True Blood", I remember them doing it really well during one of their seasons, but "Game of Thrones" had that, but like three times as elaborate and included animations and narrations to talk about the past, plus a map and multiple booklets to tell who each character is, and what house, and all these, goddamn extra things, and- like, when those others DVDs did those extra, they were extras. They enhanced the series but they didn't change or alter the series in any way. With "Game of Thrones", it's almost required knowledge in order to fully understand the whole thing. Like, I didn't want to put on the extra background option, I needed it, 'cause I can barely follow these characters on the scorecards they gave me and since it's fantasy, I still gotta learn the rules of this universe on top of why everybody's trying to kill each other in it. Eventually, I just gave up and just decided, "Alright, this is too good to ignore completely, but I'm not gonna diagram this whole thing just to...- I like these two or three characters, wake me when they're back on screen."

And I stand by that approach. I always tell people who are like me that, the best approach to the series is to simply pick out a few characters that you like, and just follow them and their journey, and-, well, don’t worry about anything else. Cause if it’s gonna go over you anyway, just let it go over you. I betcha a lot of people have watched the show that way, only I think too many of them picked the wrong characters, ‘cause so far, nobody who I’ve really cared about has died yet, which…-, I guess surprises people? I don’t know, I like Tyrion Lannister, and I like Dragon Lady Bitch, which-, I don’t remember her character name, but that should totally be her name anyway, Ms. Dragon Lady Bitch. (Seriously, women, tell me you wouldn’t want that as your name? There is literally no situation in the world that wouldn’t be more awesome if your name was Ms. Dragon Lady Bitch.) and eventually I liked following King Joffrey, but I didn’t give a shit if he lived or died, but he was a fascinating villain, one of the really few memorable ones. That’s an issue with this show, there’s a lot of characters, which, is something that I think of as being bad enough with fantasy, but also, not good enough distinctive characters. That’s why I had trouble following everybody, even with the scorecard I kept trying to follow, I could barely tell characters apart, and frankly I just stopped trying at a certain point.

Awhile ago I wrote a piece that criticized the fantasy genre in general for way too often having way too many characters. The link to that is below: 

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2016/05/fantasy-has-too-many-characters-yes-i.html

I get the reasons why fantasy is often an overpopulated genre, it’s apart of world building, and when you’re literally building an entire world, most of the time you need to create a bunch of characters to live there among several other things, that’s the conventional thinking but, after I thought about it, I question that train of thought. I usually find it annoying, first having to learn about this world to begin with, and now I gotta care about a bunch of others? I actually challenged the genre to come up with something that had a complete fantasy that worked an didn’t overwhelm you with characters, and actually, shortly after I wrote that piece, I found one.



Yeah, “Kubo and the Two Strings”. It’s completely a fantasy story by every measure. Takes place in a fictional world, and worlds within worlds even, but it’s integral to the plot and the story and it’s got all the other hallmarks of the genre. Family lineage drama, fantasy characters with magical powers and weapons and tools, and an integral part of the narrative is how powerful someone is when they control certain objects, and all that, and yes, they create enough of a world, it’s populated with people and side characters, but how many are really important to tell the story? Five or six, most of them compelling ones at that. So, it can be done and done well! I’m not requiring it in the future, if something with dozens of characters is important and part of the fantasy story you want told, I might be more annoyed, but do it well. Do it great! I think “Game of Thrones” did it great sometimes, mostly I think it did it, eh, average-to-pretty good. Like I said, I could only, stand/follow a few characters, but maybe that’s me.

And in fact, it probably is. One of the things a few people who read that piece said was that, one of the favorite things about fantasy for them was the fact that they got to be introduced to all these worlds of characters and that was part of the journey. Which, um…,- (Sigh) I don’t really know how to respond to that, ‘cause that’s-, that’s not really a fantasy trait to me. Like, that’s something that can happen in any genre. You come up, you meet new characters, and then you follow their adventures, while you’re often on your own, or they join you? Like, why is that something that’s distinctly appreciated in fantasy but not in others? To me, the distinction of fantasy is always the world that’s created. You can tell any story you want, within the world of fantasy, and long as it’s within that world and the world makes sense, then it works to me. There is this cliché of traditional fantasy being based on the ideas and themes of medieval Europe, King Arthur era tropes only with fantastical elements. I guess there’s something steampunk about that today, but I always thought that idea itself was kinda limiting, but more than that, there’s a lot of kinds of stories being told within fantasy. (Hell, “King Arthur” could be example A in that.) Revenge narrative, romances, adventures obviously, political intrigue and deception narratives,- “Game of Thrones” is a good example of all these, and it shows that nothing is off-limits in fantasy. The only thing off-limits is if what happens in the fantasy world, has to be consistent with the world. To me, if the world doesn’t completely work, then nothing else matters. So, if you’re not putting in the effort to make a real new world/universe for these interesting and compelling new characters to run into and be infatuated with, then you might as well not put them in a fantasy world! They can be just as intriguing in a period piece, or modern day, or anywhere else that’s identifiable as a world that once really existed on Earth. (Or you can go Sci-Fi, I guess, but for this example, let’s eliminate sci-fi for the time being)

Which also brings me to one other weird thing about “Game of Thrones”, ‘cause, while this is good fantasy, it’s not actually that fantastical, ‘cause, well, it’s based on real events, the Wars of the Roses. That’s partially why the show is as good as it is, ‘cause it was directly inspired by a fantasy novel that was directly inspired by real events. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s actually a good way to create good fantasy and good fiction in general, I’m just not sure, why that story had to be turned into fantasy to be told. I mean, it could’ve been historical retelling or fiction? I mean, not that “Game of Thrones” fits in with the rest of the Primetime television lineups; it really doesn’t, but would it be that weird if they instead George R.R. Martin just created a straight-up TV series on the Wars of the Roses? We’ve had in recent popular drama series about, Ancient Rome, Henry VIII and the Tudors, multiple series about the Borgias, a series about the Romanoffs, historical fiction series about the Nazis taking over the world, a sci-fi romance series about a modern girl time-traveling to Scotland a few hundred years earl-lier…- (Okay, somebody’s gotta explain to me the appeal of “Outlander” at some point too.), would a Wars of the Roses series be that odd in that landscape? So why fantasy to tell this story? Is it just because Martin thought it’d be better with dragons? (Shrugs)

Maybe? And that’s a fine reason to do it, I guess. Literature, film and television are filled with examples of stories that are taken out of their original meaning and context and then placed into another world in order to make the tales more compatible, or to tell them in a different way, make a larger point, although usually they have something to tell us about the world we live in today. I don’t know if “Game of Thrones” has that, per se. Maybe they do, and that’s for better analysts than me to uncover, but they certainly don’t directly have it. I’ve never felt that there was something deeper going on with “Game of Thrones” in that regard. Not as deep as other great shows that I can think of anyway.

You see, the parts of the series that I always loved weren't really the characters' struggles and all the double and triple backstabbing and murders and rapes and incest and all the other things like that. I was more interested in the exploring of the universe parts. Those discoveries of those ghost zombies in the lake or whatever-the-hell those were. That sky prison scene in the beginning, the dragons; the three bells at the end of the third season finale! Those aspects of the world itself is what really appealed to me. Discovery is so underrated in terms of fantasy, and yet, it's the most interesting part that should be exemplified the most.

To me, the real comparison is to “The Handmaid’s Tale”. I know, that's sci-fi at best, and alternative future worlds political sci-fi at that, but the reasons "The Handmaid's Tale" is great and "Game of Thrones" is just pretty good is because of how that series is about discovering this world/universe. What are the rules of it, what happens if somebody does something wrong or different, or why would they, how would they? Hell, where are they is an interesting question on that series; when season two began at a hanging at Fenway Park of all places, I thought was a helluva reveal. It's not just a whole world to discover how it became this way, but a whole different and unique world to see. 
It's not a fantasy world, but it is a different world than our own, (So far.... [knock on wood]) but instead of knowing everything about it ahead of time, we're always discovering more about it slowly. It helps that it's mainly through one character's eyes in that show, although not entirely, but the best moments from "Game of Thrones" that stick with me, were always those same moments of discovery, finding out what else is here! Like, "Holy fuck, this girl's got dragons!" or  "Wait, three horns means, what,... Oh shit!" or, when those riverblobs ghost-zombie things start attacking Tyrion when he was traveling down the river with that older man. Those were the things I remember, the fighting and the character's own dramas and all the characters dying, eh, those things I never found as compelling, 'cause I always felt like I was trying to catch up on some other family's narrative past.

(Shrugs) I've always thought it was overrated. I've never thought it as bad, per se, but at no point have I ever once thought, "This is the best show on television." Maybe that's why I'm not as taken back from some of the criticisms of the series that mostly have perpetuated the final and in fact many recent seasons. Recently, I heard it mentioned that the show was "Fantasy for people who don't like fantasty", and I don't understand that observation at all honestly. This was always too much fantasy for me but I thought it was pretty much, good fantasy for all intensive purposes. I think it could've been better, and I always thought that. I appreciated a lot of it, because for the most part, it's a good show, and groundbreaking for more good reasons than bad, something that I haven't said that much for a lot of these popular prestige drama series that I usually only was only lukewarm about at best.


ALBUM REVIEW: LEONARD COHEN's "Popular Problems". 

Alright, let’s do something fun and try another of these minor album reviews of CDs that I own, but have never listened to, thing. Now, last time, I went a little bit outside my alphabetical order, which I’m a little regretful of, but now going in the correct order, let’s pull out from the CD drawer, eh, here we go. 

(Pulls out CD) 

Leonard Cohen’s album, “Popular Problems”. So reminder, I’m not a natural music person, this isn’t going to be the more thought-provoking or articulate analysis, I’m just trying to get around to listening to all my CDs, yada, yada, yada, this is a just-for-fun review, don't think too deeply about it; I'm not overtly knowlegeable in music and I don't pretend to be. That what my film reviews are so, so take review with a grain of salt.

As to Leonard Cohen, um, I certainly know of him, obviously I know the song, “Hallelujah”, and I know, he’s written a lot of famous or popular songs that were sung by other artists. I know he has a really unique voice. I know he’s a bit of an eclectic artist who works in several genres, probably most notably, blues I believe. That said, I don’t actually know a lot about his music. I’ve listened to him occasionally, the comparison I tend to think of with him is Tom Waits, but I get the feeling that he’s a little more soulful than Waits is, although Waits has his soulful moments too, but that’s-, that’s kinda how I think about him. I never really sat down and listened to an album of his though. I don’t know if this is a good album choice in that regard, or to begin listening to him in album form. I believe it’s one of his more recent albums, which happens often when you buy CDs from the libraries, you either end up with some older album that I missed out on owning in my youth, or, you get-, at least in my library, they’ll finally start collecting albums from major, important artists, but they’ll be the later albums from these artists and not necessarily the albums those artists are most known for. I own a couple later Paul Simon albums like that for instance, or a Peter Gabriel one, although I don’t think I bought that particular one at the library. There’s exception to this too, I did find Joni Mitchell’s “Court & Spark” at the library one day, kinda randomly; so, you do get stuff, and sometimes that later stuff can be great too. I never bought it outright, but I borrowed Bob Dylan’s “Love & Theft” CD from the library, which is one of my favorite Dylan albums, multiple times over. So, you never really know. So, I’m hoping this is a later album from a great artist in that vain, like “Love & Theft”, or-eh, what I have listened to of Leonard Cohen, does remind me a bit of some of my favorite Mark Knopfler solo albums that I own, so if ends up reminding me of something like that, I think I’d be very happy. That’s my high-end expectations coming in. Admittedly, I really should know more about Leonard Cohen, and his music, so either way, this is a learning experience that is worth it to increase my music knowledge. Let’s pop it in and lister.



LEONARD COHEN 
"Popular Problems"

★★★

Okay, first thing, I wasn’t expecting backup singers. I’m used to thinking of Cohen as having this gravelly voice and just these quiet, melodic songs that he sings/talks through, mostly alone. It’s kinda weird to hear these backup singers on most of the songs. Not that I’m complaining, it just caught me offguard. After that, there is a little Tom Waits here, and it’s definitely blues-inspired, especially in his lyrics which are both raw and classical in structure strangely enough. He’s a very interesting storyteller; I totally get why people are inspired by his music. Little bit of a country undercurrent to some of his songs but eclectic, the song “Nevermind” even has a Arabic verse in the background. “Born in Chains’ feels more gospel. It’s kind of a short album, nothing’s longer than five minutes and there’s only nine songs. I think I would’ve liked it a little more if it was, maybe 10-15 minutes longer. 

There’s a lot here though. It’s not as ambitious musically as I perhaps imagined, but I get it, the words and lyrics are the thing and the less there is elsewise, the more they stand out, so I get it. This is definitely an album I’d listen to again; I’d probably put it on repeat ‘cause I’d want more of it. It’s elegiac, it’s pretty. I like a lot of the songs, “Nevermind”, “Almost Like the Blues” “Samson in New Orleans”, in particular. I guess I just expected more from the album. I don’t know what his normal album lengths are, but he’s so interesting and distinctive, I feel like I just want to be overpowered by his work.

I probably need a few more listens, but I feel like this is a minor but interesting work of his. He’s definitely,  a guy who aims for the emotions of the lyrics in his voice and vocals. I can totally how he wrote “Hallelujah”, I prefer the Jeff Buckley version of that song, but every song has a narrative and an emotion cord to them that’s striking, and that’s what makes that song so great and versatile. That said, I like his more, not-so-versatile and universal songs best. Like, I see somebody, covering, say “Slow” and making it a hit, but I want hear hours of stuff like “Samson  in New Orleans” and “A Street” that are just so distinctively narrative that only he could’ve written and performed them. So, a bit of a mixed review for me, but for my first Leonard Cohen album, I’m happy and I want to listen to it again, although I suspect if I dive into his discography more thoroughly, I'd find albums I'd vastly prefer to listen to instead. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

"GOOD ON TV?": They've been around forever, but maybe that means we should reevaluate them. What are "JEOPARDY!" and "WHEEL OF FORTUNE"?




I've talked about my love and fascination with game shows several times before here; 


I think it’s a truly great and undervalued TV genre. Just when we think we’ve gotten enough of them, there’s usually something new and unique that brings us back to them. Like any other genre, there’s good and bad and yes some bad game shows just truly be awful; you should seek out GameShowGarbage.com and their Youtube page to really see the horrors of some of these, but I certainly don’t understand people who don’t like game shows the most, more than any other genre. What’s there to hate, usually. It’s just a game, let’s play. They have their ups and downs and sometimes game shows are more popular, sometimes it seems like they’re almost a dead genre, but they always seem to stick around somehow, and the two that have stuck around the longest are “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”. 

Okay, “The Price is Right” has actually stuck around longer, but anybody my age understands that the two big game shows are “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”. They’re the most-watch syndicated shows around, they’re still popular after 35+ years, they’ve spun off into hugely successful popular versions all over the world, both were/are created by the same person, Mr. Merv Griffin and both are usually distributed by the same groups and companies, and they’re almost always paired together on television stations, usually somewhere after the six o’clock news and before the Primetime lineups start. Hell, one year, they actually tied at the Daytime Emmys for Best Game Show. That was hilarious. 

And these two current versions in their modern forms have been around all my life and are still present even today. They did exist in original versions earlier, but I know the day will come when Alex Trebek, and Pat & Vanna won’t be around, and I hope the series will survive that day, but maybe not. I hope so, especially since, these are two television shows that I would absolutely love to get a job as a writer on some day. (Being a game show writer under the best of circumstances, has to be a pretty cool and underrated job. Under the BEST of CIRCUMSTANCES at least. [Yeah, I’m looking at you, “Temptation”!])

Now, as a game show lover, and I still am, I always keep that BUZZR channel in regular rotation, I used to watch "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" pretty religiously every day. In fact, in 1st Grade, I dressed as Alex Trebek for Halloween. True story. A lot of that was my Grandmother's love of them, but I loved watching them with and I stuck with the shows after her passing. 

That said, I have essentially, grown apart from them. I don’t watch them all the time like I really should, especially since I do take the “Jeopardy!” online test fairly regularly. A lot that’s just, growing up and looking for evolution and other things to watch and study, “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”, like most game shows, they haven’t changed all that much over the years. (Well, I mean, I'll talk about a lot of the changes, but still, essentially they're the same game and the same show.) Still though, they've been on so long that perhaps it's time to give them a real evaluation. 

I certainly will seek them out when I do hear about something that happens on them. Recently, I’ve been watching “Jeopardy!” much more lately. There’s several reasons for that, and I’ll get into a few in a minute, but honestly, I usually don’t even bother with “Wheel of Fortune” anymore. I don’t know when exactly-, I guess I started getting a bit turned off when Pat Sajak was suddenly getting more political. I mean, it’s subtle, but yeah, it got noticeable. Of course, most game shows hosts have traditional been a bit more conservative, despite some moderate efforts recently to switch that up considerably, so that really doesn’t bother me that much. That said, the few times I’ve tried watching “Wheel of Fortune,” recently…, I hate to say it, but they’ve gotten a little unwatchable. 

There’s a few reasons for this, for instance that really dumb Crossword Puzzle category, where the words are both horizontal and vertical across the board and the clue is like, _____ Something and all the words pair with the Something. They use that puzzle almost every show now, and I hate it. Just bring back Megaword if you’re gonna do something gimmicky like that.

Actually, the show is just a bunch of gimmicks now. There’s the prize puzzle, there’s the jackpot round, the 1/2 cars on the wheel, there’s the continuously guess letters thing, there’s the wheel of like fifty prizes, there’s the ridiculously difficult $1Million Dollar Prize that you need to win…- I remember when everybody when like amaze at the Free Spin option. We were all like, “WHAT!?!?” They get to go again, despite Bankrupting! Also, the Buzz-In Puzzles for everything. I’ve been to a “Wheel of Fortune” taping, I know how long it takes for the show to stop so they can load a puzzle into that board, it must take for fucking ever to shoot an episode now that every little thing begins with a Buzz-In Puzzle. Also, there’s something else they did, that in hindsight, I think was a gigantic mistake: they got rid of the Returning Champion. 

The ideas of the returning champions for "Wheel of Fortune" had always been sporadic although they got rid of them entirely by 1998. Sure, “Wheel of Fortune” is more of a luck-based game show than “Jeopardy!” or most other shows, but I can remember some memorable “Wheel…” champions from my youth, and taking that away gives you much less of a reason to keep watching, and “Jeopardy!” has definitely been the greatest example of how amazingly compelling Returning Champions are, but we’ll get to that.

As to “Jeopardy!”, it’s changed considerably as well, I must say, but not in any ways that hinder the show’s appeal the way “Wheel of Fortune” has in recent year. I kinda do wish that they might go back to more straight-forwards categories like they used to and not be so clever with some of them, but I can accept that, cause something like "VWLSS BBL GSPLS" does make you think more obscurely and not simply just allow one to recall memorized facts. And besides, the whole premise of the series was how it subverted the traps of the quiz show format to begin with by giving us, the answer, and then having us come up with the question, so yeah, why not. The money’s gone up on that show too over the years. They’ve had an occasional gimmick and sometimes a failed category experiment as well, but most of the time, the only real twist or anything is, there might be a tournament of a certain group of people or some other thing where basically it’s other people just playing “Jeopardy!” and testing their knowledge and skills at a very difficult game.

The old joke used to be that you’d watch “Jeopardy!” to make you feel stupid, and then watch “Wheel of Fortune” to make you feel smart. As much I love the sense of schadenfreude you get when somebody on “Wheel…” is clearly the last person around who hasn’t solved the puzzle, I can’t say that’s entirely accurate. At least, for me. I was always felt smarter watching “Jeopardy!” Hell, I usually learned something. I don’t remember the first puzzle I solved on “Wheel…”, but I damn sure remember the first time I got a “Jeopardy!” answer right before anyone else on TV or in my house did. Nowadays, I generally know I would’ve at least known ¾ of the answers and at least get 20 of them right when I play with my nearest clicky-top pen. It’s fun solving a puzzle too, and sometimes when somebody does manage to solve it so fast it makes your head spin, I’ll seek that out on Youtube or something, but I’m definitely not tuning in to find that rare puzzle solve anymore.

Especially with the no Returning Champions thing, “Wheel of Fortune” feels empty to me. They can go have the show in some other city or have as many special themed weeks that they want, but none of it feels special anymore. I often find myself just watching to see, like the details on the edge of the screen these days. Mostly having to do with trying to figure out Vanna’s age based on how many years she’s been doing this puzzle thing, or how much less she claps during spins then she used to. (Seriously, that used to be her thing; she was in the Guiness World Records for clapping her hands the most on TV, but you watch the show now and she’s barely clapping at all.) I’ll still solve a puzzle or two, but it’s not the same. Especially considering how half the puzzle are buzzer puzzles I feel like I’m getting cheated out of the game.  The show needs to get back to its roots. I mean, I’m not saying go back to ceramic dalmatian or anything, but it really needs to be much more game and a lot less show, ‘cause honestly, and I hate to be this bean, but I’d legitimately would much rather find a friend and a pen & paper and just play Hangman with them than watch “Wheel of Fortune” right now. Sorry. I'd still say to watch it everyday if you have a young kid, they need exposure to letters but, yeah, it's not as endearing as I feel it used to be. 

“Jeopardy!”, however, I keep finding new reasons to go back and watch it myself. They do try weird experimental things occasionally. During the summer, they tried a team format for the first time, complete with past legendary “Jeopardy!” champions having a fantasy draft of other Champions, and teams incorporating strategy for when they’d play what rounds. It even including “Jeopardy!” legends Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings renewing their rivalry as to of the great Champions.
Shortly after that fun little experiment ended, Alex Trebek announced that he had stage 4 stomach cancer. Trebek is over eighty years old, he’s basically been around in some capacity since the beginning of television; he’s become one of the greatest of pop culture fixtures and on top of that, he’s just one of the greatest game show hosts of all-time. “Jeopardy!” is his baby, but I might argue that his best hosting gig was in the ‘70s when he hosted “High Rollers”. Seriously, if you can find an episode or two of that, it’s surreal how different he can be hosting that show. Or, I’ve been rewatching “Classic Concentration”, lately, he was great with that; he’s great with every show he’s hosted. (That game is way-the-fuck harder than “Jeopardy!”. Don’t let anybody B.S you into thinking that “Jeopardy!” is the most difficult game show, it’s just answers and question, “Classic Concentration” involves trying to solve a rebus that you can’t see and half the time you couldn’t solve it even if you did! People who use emojis should be tied up and force to marathon “Classic Concentration” as punishment.) This honestly depressed me for a bit, and several others knowing that there is going to be an ultimate end to the show. I made it a point to watch more “Jeopardy!” if it happened to be on a little bit more often. Obviously, I didn’t continue every time, and I really wouldn’t want to think about that being the last reason to watch “Jeopardy!”. I secretly know that this would be the end of “Jeopardy!” as we know it. We know Alex’s health is limited, and they had just done that ultimate champions team; they’d basically done everything you can think of. They even had a computer play on the show. There really much left for the show without the series falling into its own whole the way “Wheel…” basically has over the decades. It might always be around, but I can’t imagine any scenario anytime soon where “Jeopardy!” would suddenly come back into my more typical vision of thought, outside of that inevitable day where we’d one day have to figure out who would indeed go and replace Alex Trebek as host, and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to that at all.
And then, a curious thing happened…

(A Few weeks ago)

Goddamnit Phillies! Can you hold one fucking lead- What the-! Wait, why’s “Jeopardy!” showing up on ESPN.com’s newsfeed?

https://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/26483284/professional-sports-bettor-sets-jeopardy-record

(Clicks link)

HOW MUCH!?!?!?!?!




Just when I thought I’d seen it all…. Now, “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” did use to both have returning Champions, “Jeopardy!’ would have a five-day limit while “Wheel…” would have a three-day limit, before they switched first to a weekly tournament structure that culminated in a Friday game with the Top Three players competing before they finally just gave up on returning champions altogether. “Jeopardy!”, when they shifted to a larger dollar amounts, eventually went the opposite direction and got rid of the retiring champion entirely and let people remain on the show until they lost. They did have Tournaments of Champions regularly for the five-time winners yearly and still do, but it was always one of the great mysteries of “Jeopardy!”, just how long some of those older contestants would’ve lasted on the show if they could’ve kept going. Frank Spangleburger’s five-day record seemed to remain forever, until they increased the dollar amount and then it got broken in three days. Of course, Ken Jennings’s 75-day record is the biggest and most influential streak as he still holds basically every all-time game show record you can think of now. Jennings though, was mostly just a great “Jeopardy!” player, a guy who was quick on the buzzer and had incredible knowledge recall and deciphering skills; one of his more unique figures was how he often risked ringing in before being entirely sure of the answer, but knowing he had the time to think of it before ringing in.

Holzhauer is different. I’ve seen people break a game show before, like Michael Larson figuring out the “Press Your Luck” game board patterns but “Jeopardy!” being broken was just unfathomable! He came as close as anybody ever has, and he’s certainly changed the game forever. He did in half the time what took Ken Jennings over two months to do. Jennings single-game record of $77,000 in an episode, was demolished over ten times over by James Holzhauer. The numbers are just staggering when you look at them, like how Babe Ruth hit more home runs than any other team when he hit 54 in 1926, and then you remember he hit 60 the next year; like that shouldn’t happen in regular sports, much less for a game show that’s been around for 35 years, not including the original Art Fleming years. And yet, here it was happening. And even when you realize what he’s doing, to figure out how he’s doing it, you still gotta sit back and realize that, “Yeah, but he still has to know all the answers. He still has to ring in fastest!” I’m not at all surprised he’s a professional sports bettor in Vegas, he’s a professional strategist, who understands the importance of game theory and he figured the strategy aspects of the game and just demoralized and destroyed his opponents. He did break the game enough that they’re going to have to eventually re-evaluate certain parts of the game, goodbye to everybody starting with the least dollar amounts, gotta adjust the questions for that. Those Daily Double are gonna become doubly-valuable than they ever were before. Can you imagine how demoralizing it must be, to be playing pretty damn well at the game as several of his opponents were against him, even adjusting to his strategy only for him to get the crucial Daily Double and then for the opponents to look up at the board and see nothing but $400 or $800 questions left and knowing that even  if they managed to get every one of those answers, that it’d still basically be impossible for them to win the game unless James Holzhauer suddenly turned into Cliff Clavin, which was not gonna happen!? There’s a beauty in the destruction that he's thrusted on people the show. It was fascinating to watch. 

Sure made “Jeopardy!” more fascinating now than ever.

Also, apparently Alex Trebek’s Cancer treatments are doing incredibly well and he’s making an amazing recovery. Perhaps that’s a coincidence, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the game now has a new wrinkle in it that’s going to effect it for years. The quiz game that becomes more strategic than previously planned, that’s put a whole new light on the game. Made the simple question and answers game more fascinating than ever. Maybe it’s the last major shift in the show but it might be the best.

It’s truly amazing just how simple it is, thirty-five+ years and it’s just answers and questions. “Wheel of Fortune”’s just solving word puzzles, this isn’t amazingly grandiose or unique or anything. Even great game shows usually have fairly limited runs and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten myself caught up in the next great game show only to find it fluttering into irrelevancy or cancelation. I mean, look at how many different runs “Family Feud”’s had-, I wasn’t even alive for the Richard Dawson original version, and I’ve still lived through, depending on how you count, at least two runs of the series and like, eh, Combs, Dawson, Anderson, Karn, O’Hurley, eh, like five or six hosts and each hose has their own distinct variations and distinction from each other outside of the hosts. (And I know I’m in the minority on this, but I can’t stand this Steve Harvey era. He’s not a terrible host although in “… Feud”’s history he’s probably fourth or fifth in my book, but the whole show is now just trying to make him shocked and amazed at the answers and I’ve just grown tired of that conceit. I think him and Alec Baldwin should change gigs for a week, have Harvey host “Match Game” and Baldwin host “Family Feud”, I bet that would be interesting.) And that’s just one show. 

At different times, the hot game show on TV has been "Supermarket Sweet", "Debt", "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", the "Twenty-One" revival for like two months, "Are You Smarter than a 5th Graged", 'Street Smarts", 'Ca$h Cab",  the new “Match Game”, “Celebrity Name Game”… there’s many others that have been the cool new it game show- hell, I’m not even counting reality-competition shows, which some might and that would make this list 2X longer. Still, I’ve gone through them all and I love this new era of game show revival that’s being pushed along by ABC, but you what has never needed a revival? “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”; they’ve just always been there. (Alright “The Price is Right” has been there too, but, ehh, I’ve expressed my critiques of that show already. Link below: )

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-price-is-right-rants-and-ravings.html

All this time, and they’re still around. They come and go in waves in terms of importance and pop culture relevance and popularity, but they’re always around and they’re still here, as strong as ever. Look at the ratings if you don’t believe that, their only competition in syndication are "Judge Judy", "Family Feud" and maybe if a show like "The Big Bang Theory" hits huge in reruns, they'll get competition, and they’ll thrive past that too, and worldwide, their reach is particular undeniable. I’m clearly more in the “Jeopardy!” camp, but I can easily understand why “Wheel…” is still dominant too. Even original versions of these shows didn’t survive longer than eleven years! And I'm damn sure grateful. Hell, I learned my alphabet by watching “Wheel of Fortune” and I doubt I’m the only one. They’re institutions the world over. I don’t know how or when that’ll stop but it won’t be anytime soon and I’m not looking forward to it happening when it does. Whatever the magic formula they hit on, they hit on it hard and despite some positive and negative tweaks over the years, they’ve never strayed enough from it to matter to the Public. I can only speculate on why that is, (Shrugs) I assume though that we just love these games, or that we just love these games presented this way.