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Renting Music December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Morality, music, Perception, Tech, TV.
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As previously stated, I have a short, circular kind of attention span. Games come and go for me in an arc, which starts with mild curiosity, builds to an earth shaking hunger, then blazes into triumphant addiction for varying lengths of time, before sputtering out into ash and disdain 75% of the way through. Thus, a huge collection is not necessary for me, but getting ripped off by high-end pawn shops isn’t an appealing alternative. Gamefly (or any forthcoming competitor for that matter) is a great solution, because I get to play any game I want, basically when I want. I adopt a similar philosophy for music.

As someone who digitally came of age in the golden years of Napster and Kazaa, well, let’s just say we all did things we weren’t proud of back then. They were simpler times, what can I say? Now, I’m legit, though still short on means. The middle ground is a subscription to what I think of as music on demand, in the form of Rhapsody. I’ve used iTunes, of course, hasn’t everyone? But still, a dollar a song is pretty steep, regardless of what Doug Morris says. Anybody can do the math to see that for the 15 songs you buy in one month you could have gotten (mostly) unlimited downloads from any of the current competitor music stores, with the caveat that you don’t explicitly own the song. This is pretty much the future of entertainment, however, as most major networks have followed this model for their most popular shows (ad-supported rather than subscription based.) When bandwidth undergoes another paradigm shift over the next 10 years, and the line between computer and TV is blurred by the invention of new set-top boxes, consoles, and designer desktops, we’ll be getting all of our media this way.

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The Vernacular of Heroes December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Comics, Perception, TV.
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PetrellisGames and comics have a common characteristic: no matter how diverse the genres, level of quality, or creative talent behind them, repeated experiences will build a “vocabulary” of commonly used devices. This is how life long gamers can almost immediately decipher what on a given screen is interactive, or how a reader can easily follow comic panels with varying layouts. This even extends to within genre specific standbys and cliches, such as sniper rifles, loot, and super powers. The problem that faces Heroes is that the show must account for a large number of viewers who already know words like technopath, as well as a general audience completely naive of, say, the ins and outs of time travel.

While I think the writers handled this task quite well last season, that fact made it so much harder to see them lose their way in Volume 2. It’s not worth trying to point out the myriad examples of shoddy writing and plot holes. (Okay, just one: how do you manipulate a man who can read your mind?) I tried to isolate the general causes of this drop in quality, in the hope that the show could be saved through amputation.

1. Poor use of powers. Low budgets may account for the lack of special effects shots this season, but even the zero cost abilities saw little to no use in situations where they could be of great use (i.e. invisibility.) Obviously more time needs to go into considering what difficulties may assail the protagonists and the most logical way they would tackle said task. Also, do they even have a list of powers for Peter? It was definitely a mistake to give him the powers of anyone he comes into contact with, and I honestly think that if the show is to be saved, the prime-time viewing public is going to be introduced to one of the aforementioned comics staples: the retcon.

2. Lack of character development. Amnesia. Adolescent rebellion. Alternate personalities. In the museum of television, these things ought to have their own wings. Sometimes they can work, sometimes they are boring. Stagnant characters filled our screens this season, while a certain niece and uncle apparently just decided to have the same exact crises they’d had four months previously.

3. Sylar. I’ve previously gone on record saying Sylar isn’t evil. This was wishful thinking on my part, as the writers have turned what could have been something really unique into just another megalomaniac without a heart. Before, I saw madness, tragedy, hunger, and yes, even a chance for redemption in young Gabriel. Not rehabilitation, of course, but perhaps down the line some meaningful sacrifice could have brought him back from the dark hunger that transformed him overnight from a humble watchmaker into a wanton killer. Now this was the guy to give amnesia.

This is too long-winded, I could go on for pages. My main point was the show suffers because it’s like trying to translate an epic poem into junior-high reading level prose; the subtleties of the source format yield a far richer story when coupled with the experience of classical scholars. In the meantime, I feel like a history buff watching 300, unable to keep my mouth shut.

Ps: the good this season: Adam, Elle, and Matt freakin Parkman. How long after realizing he can control thoughts is he using it to brainwash his boss and rape dark secrets from people’s minds? So perfect. As long as Volume 3 follows this totally obvious and completely un-Professor X-ish descent, I’ll tune in every week.

Taste the Difference: Premium Channels October 23, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in TV.
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Dexter: Season 2 is here, and that means that once again my week will once again be a marathon sprint to Sunday nights for the next three months. While I’ve actually never seen The Sopranos, I’ve faithfully followed several “premium” series over the years: Carnivale, Six Feet Under, and most recently Flight of the Conchords. These shows have only one thing in common (besides Michael C. Hall), they’re too brilliant for network TV. Except Carnivale, that one was too brilliant for people. Buy the DVDs.

You can just sort of feel it when you watch an original premium channel series. For one thing, despite taking the same amount of time to watch as a regular show, the lack of commercials makes every episode a lot meatier. Like, your brain will tell you that the show should be done now, except there’s still more and you feel giddy from it. Secondly, and also obviously, the lack of censorship pumps up the enjoyment for any adult who thinks they should be allowed to choose for themselves what’s acceptable. Conversations in Six Feet Under feel real because that’s really how people talk. Thirdly, the concepts are so much riskier than what you get from networks. Who in their right mind gives a 12 episode deal to New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo?

I don’t know if it’s these or one of the many other little differences that make a premium series so scintillating, but whenever these shows return(ed) from hiatus, I feel it in my bones the same way as when you see an old friend or find a $20 on the ground. As long as they continue to deliver serial-killing with a conscious, I’ll buy into the schemes and fork over my hard earned dough with a smile.

Good and Evil September 26, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Morality, TV.
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This morning my mother asked me if I had seen the Heroes season 2 premier yet. When I replied that I had not, she asked me in a conspirator’s tone of voice if I had known that George Takei’s character was “evil.” I informed her that I did not consider anyone on Heroes to be evil, and not just because the writers delight in revealing the hidden motives of seemingly monstrous characters. The series deftly avoids clich├ęd super villain archetypes* but rather shows morally vacant individuals making abhorrent decisions that they see as necessary.

Story telling in new media can take this concept to their highest heights by allowing the reader/viewer/player to make their own shades-of-gray decisions. Or at least, they can potentially do this. It seems that far too often, games that feature morality systems take the easy choice of doing something obviously noble, or taking said noble thing, getting it piss drunk, tying it to a chair, and beating it senseless with it’s own mother’s cane. This is just a branching play style for people who know whether they are playing good or playing evil. In traditional story telling, I love it when it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad ones. What I want desperately from new media is to face the same conundrum when examining myself.

*Sylar is not evil. He’s a force of nature, trying to become king of the jungle because he just doesn’t know any better. He has sentience but no remorse, but I don’t think he even knows right from wrong in the first place.
**Check out the first episode of NBC’s Chuck for the first (and likely only) reference to Zork in prime time network TV history.

Rescuing Lost Pilots August 28, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Humor, TV, YouTube.
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Locating a bootleg VHS copy of the Star Wars Holiday Special after years of scouring tag sales remains to this day a delicious triumph of my youth. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, I have mixed emotions about how easy the internet makes rediscovering lost media that was better left forgotten. I do believe, however, that never-aired TV pilots deserve to be dragged out into the light, hissing like a wet cat. YouTube is the de facto home of many of these relics, copyrights or no. Found via 4cr, behold Heat Vision and Jack, staring Jack Black and Owen Wilson.

Where do these things come from? Are they sitting in some supply closet on some sort of ancient nineties storage device, just waiting for the loose cannon intern with enough free time on their hands to come along and recklessly release it to the hungry web masses? Or is it from someone creatively involved in the series who just wants the satisfaction of somebody seeing the fruits of their labor? I’m sure whoever is originally responsible for posting videos like these, and whatever their intentions, they must be making somebody mad. Who owns the copyright for failed TV pilots? Is it the network that commissioned them (if that is indeed how this process works?) or is it the studio that filmed it? While I have a hard time believing that these “one man’s trash” type films have been given freely to the masses, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be. Aquaman isn’t doing anyone any good just sitting in TV limbo, why shouldn’t I watch the amusingly campy pilot for free?