Nothing is More Indicative of a Completely Adrift Generation and a Civilization in Decline Than the Glut of Premium Pet Food Commercials

Everyone is a cord cutter anymore. Being more selective about what you watch and how, or even paying a premium, means one can avoid television advertising a lot easier than before. Commercials, once a ubiquitous fixture for most people and likely the closest modern society got to a shared popular culture, are now skippable before they can even hook you or entirely absent if you’ve got a few dollars (or a generous friend) for subscriptions. A few avenues of media still remain on the failing model (it’s proven catastrophic for journalism in regards to papers and magazines) but if you want to watch sports or most news, you’ll be subjected to commercials trying to capture your attention.

Just as the collective labor of enduring through commercial breaks and the shared experience of watching all of the same marketing firms meticulously craft spots built a kind of pop culture in the age of audio/visual mass media, it also lends insight into what the firms have determined is most grabbing: an algorithm that’s determined where and what the largest portion of its target population is experiencing in the given epoch in an effort to meet that population’s “needs,” consumerist whims, or fleeting, impulsive desires with a more-than-likely ephemeral product. This kind of glimpse is something that’s lost when you’ve atomized and alienated yourself from the sales specters into a curated cycle of King of the Hill reruns and HBO releases, until you’re wolfing down half of a DiGiorno’s Rising Crust™ pizza 45 minutes before work, boot up the YouTube TV app you got from a colleague’s family plan for sports and the brain hemlock of cable news, and turn on Jumanji on AMC to avoid silence in your living room like I did yesterday evening. The lost art of settling during channel surfing uncovered in the unkempt jungle beard of the late Robin Williams while freeze-dried pepperoni burns the roof of your mouth.

Somewhere between the introduction of David Alan Grier’s policeman character and the small boy viewer-surrogate character gaining ape features, during the ad breaks I noticed a phenomenon that’s been remarked upon enough towards my age bracket. No less than three spots aired advertising premium dog food in a single flight of commercials. One even flaunted that it was food “tested on humans” as it featured a small boxer leaping in ecstatic joy as its “dog dad” carried a full dish of honestly delicious looking food to its designated spot on the kitchen floor.

Living in a city, I’ve observed far too many people and their dogs. Even under quarantine, they lap past my house while I smoke on the porch and shit in my little patch of grass before scooping it into a specialized, dog-shit-sized bag. I’m no monster: I say hello to the dogs and greet the people. I don’t see a lot of strollers, just as on the television, I didn’t see any diaper commercials or Gerber food advertisements. Ostensibly, Jumanji is a movie that was marketed to children like me when it came out, and the advertising could reflect that maybe it’s shared viewing between millennial parents and their offspring. Instead, there were ads seemingly targeted to my age group, but whose main concerns regarding any dependents were geared towards dogs. Continue reading →

Could Coronavirus Kill the Regional Sports Network?

It might seem a little callous to speculate on implications for entertainment industries while thousands of people die every day from the COVID-19 pandemic and millions lose their jobs, but as Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to restructure a 2020 season, the NFL opts to draft from Roger Goodell’s basement, and the NBA throws together a H-O-R-S-E tournament, I’d argue that the issues are out there and worth exploring. A disclosure: I work in broadcasting, and so much of the following article’s main points certainly fall under my personal livelihood just as much as my interests as a sports fan. There’s absolutely a conflict of interest here, but I have zero ability to change anything about the present status quo within the industry, so this is merely an opinion of someone within the trade. I’ll also be using Colorado as a bit of a microcosm for the rest of the sports broadcasting industry, as it’s my understanding the business model is generally similar to most other areas.

Since MLB Spring Training was halted, not a day has gone by where I didn’t mourn the lack of baseball or think about my beloved New York Yankees. After last season, I’ve spent the off-time oscillating between chomping at the bit for the fellas to get back on the field and worrying about injuries and contracts, like any fan. I count myself lucky that this virus has yet to touch anyone close to me and I’m an “essential worker” that’s thankfully avoided layoffs, so it feels okay to lament about how much easier a quarantine would be if there was a realistic and safe way to distract a terrified, shut-in America with a couple of its favorite pastimes. A big part of feeling like things have “gotten back to normal” will be having sports and their corresponding large gatherings back again.

I splurged on seeing the Nuggets this year and was excited to get back to Coors Field and see the Rockies more regularly than my three or four games a season. The Avalanche were on a dominant tear that undoubtedly would’ve led to a playoff run, and like every year, I had resolved that the 2019-2020 season would finally be the year I got into hockey and follow the NBA closer than highlights and playoff games. Unfortunately, a contract dispute between Colorado’s regional sports network, Altitude Sports, and every major cable or satellite provider in the state meant games from the Rockies, Avalanche, or the Nuggets would have extremely little opportunity to be televised outside of national network showcases. This is still ongoing and has led to both a potentially landmark antitrust case and local bars pirating streams to keep up traditional revenue.

Before I go on to make the case that professional sports should be broadcast on local over-the-air signals, it bears mentioning that I side with Altitude in the contract dispute with the telecommunications infrastructure providers. Regional sports networks (RSNs from here on out), have their own employees and contractors for production and reporting and are giving cable and satellite providers one of the last products cord cutters can’t legally and reliably find an alternative for (yet). To squeeze the networks for a larger share of revenue when it’s only a matter of time before RSNs start fielding streaming deals independent of cable and satellite providers a la the YES Network’s presently-in-limbo arrangements with Amazon Prime seems extremely irresponsible and short-sighted.

Altitude was already likely taking a huge financial hit with its contract dispute before the pandemic hit. It’s not available over-the-air, with YouTube TV or other streaming platforms, and costs extra on top of the base cable package. This is the case with most RSNs. Other than the NFL, most professional sports are carried exclusively on a “premium” channel. Starving for content with sports cancelled, how long could an RSN remain solvent, and could they float for months or years until society is able to safely turn a corner on COVID-19? Broadcast television production and sports journalism are both specialized trades, and there’s surely been employee furloughs and layoffs, and non-renewals for workers on contract already. Those workers and personalities, vital to the quality of the network’s product as well as at the very least partially responsible to viewer retention, might not be back.

A larger question regarding the potential of floundering RSN might be should we even have them?  Continue reading →

True Detective Season 3 Episode 3 – “The Big Never”

*Spoilers for Episode 3*

Previous write-up here.

True Detective has always been more of a procedural and a character study than a whodunnit, watching a case unfold rather than stringing the viewer along with clues and giving them the satisfaction of solving the case themselves. Rather, the viewer is more encouraged to root for the detectives and stay eager for new breaks in the case, waiting for the investigation to turn and twist, certain that it will give fresh perspective to a genre that’s become stale with daytime cable. Tonight’s episode “The Big Never” certainly seemed to set the table for something interesting, adding dynamics new to the series and injecting some heart into the storyline.

Opening up on Dorrf’s Detective Roland West during his own deposition, who by 1990 has made Lieutenant (echoing earlier sentiment in Hays’s 1990 deposition scene that he goes on to “do well for himself”), he chastises his interviewers for the raw deal Wayne seems to have gotten: a desk job and lack of upward mobility within the department, even with the spreading of “affirmative action” in the department that he alludes to at the end of the episode sitting at the bar with Hays. He goes on to tell the interviewers that him and Wayne didn’t stay friends after their partnership ended, the circumstances of which remain murky.

Meanwhile, Hays and Amelia, assuming they’re fresh from their distant dinner and reeling with the news that Julie’s fingerprints have been found at the scene of a pharmacy robbery, drive down to the Walgreens in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. Hays feels that his reputation would precede him if he went to ask the local police department for more information, and Amelia, sensing a rift, asks Hays if they just want to get a motel, get hammered, and bang it out for a couple of hours before returning to their regular lives. She also offers to act as a kind of honeypot, feeling that her book about the case, which has a publishing deal, and her good looks and charm might be able to coax some information out of some of the detectives in the area. Continue reading →

Hey, True Detective is Back!

It was August of 2015 the last time True Detective was on, so its season 3 return requires a bit of commentary on television, the history of the show, and some other things I’d want to touch on before I shift into a more reviewing/recapping/investigatory gear regarding the two-episode premiere last Sunday. Just in time for episode 3, which I will be reviewing night-of or on Monday morning, it’s time to talk about True Detective. 

The first season of the show might be one of the most lightning-in-a-bottle instances of TV in history. Although HBO has undeniable cultural reach, I don’t think anybody had any idea how magnetic Matthew McConaughey would be in the role of Rust Cohle investigating cult murders in Louisiana with a cynical Woody Harrelson. The Yellow King/Crooked Spiral story came from a novel several years in development and it showed in the plotting, characterization, and dialogue.

r5zlja0It also came out at the same time as Rick & Morty‘s debut, and there are a lot of similarities between Rust and Rick as characters. Drunk, misunderstood genius white men, previously fueled by a passion towards their work acting as a mask to hide the personal tragedies that really drive them. Vulnerable nihilists just waiting for a little prodding to drop the facade, abusing substances, engaging in ultraviolence, and detaching themselves from meatspace’s reality to hide from their feelings.

They’re two characters that I feel get interpreted wildly differently depending on who is watching it, sometimes for the absolute worst, but for people with similar characteristics and outlooks, it was damn near jarring the sudden level of representation of not just the misanthropic outlook and behavior, but the philosophical frame of reference. Big-N nihilism is not something you see on television very often. “Losing your religion” without a church being involved, as both Rust and Rick have, and watching the fallout of failed idealism, self-destruction, the second-guessing, is something that I think hit the “No Child Left Behind” generation pretty hard. The bleak, post-Katrina Louisiana landscape, framed so well by season 1 director Cary Fukunaga, underscored why I think the series resonated with that coveted 18-35 demographic at the time. Despite the age difference and throwback to the early 90s as a setting, people saw a lot of Rust in themselves, or at least they thought they did.

To have to follow that up a year later was going to be a struggle. You’ve reinvented an actor in a way nobody this side of Tarantino can and ushered in a whole new phase of an underrated but arguably typecast career that they had to call it “The McConaissance.” Season 2 is met with middling reviews. Colin Farrell, in almost a rebuke to the soused superhero Rust Cohle, is even more broken, but not in a way anyone would want to identify with. Rachel McAdams, a good protagonist, channels the same coldness as the first series’s wife but it’s obvious creator Nic Pizzolatto might have listened to criticism that the female characters were too foil-y and thin (Taylor Kitsch is also the boys do cry anti-machismo CHP war veteran) and she’s (rightfully) criticized as a Mary Sue due to some hamfisted arc plotting. Vince Vaughn, running neck-and-neck with Farrell for the breakout, career-redefining role, comes across as wooden, but it’s integral to the story and character and I feel like he was unjustly panned.

It’s sophomoric and seems a little rushed, but once it ties together in the end, it felt a little unfair from a critical perspective. The week-to-week mystery solving pacing wasn’t there, Los Angeles didn’t have the swampy, nearly Eldritch-horror atmosphere of Louisiana, and a story about railway zoning, a dead city manager, and institutional corruption didn’t hold a candle to The Yellow King. It shouldn’t have had to, but with season 1 making such a splash, it was inevitable that in an anthology series, that second season had to be really strong. They tried to do something different with it, likely in an effort to prove they weren’t a one-narrative-gimmick show, and it fell flat with audiences. Standing alone, it’s very much watchable, well-acted and directed, but lacked the iconoclastic, page-turning clout that carried the first season.

Season 3 episode 1 & 2 spoilers after the jump!

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The Contractually-Obligated-by-Blog-Law Lists of Shit I Enjoyed in 2018: Television

Oh wow, really dropped the ball a little bit on finishing this year-end-review shit before the end of the year, didn’t I? I got in the music and film pieces in under the wire but here we are, two days in 2019, and I’m still talking about old news TV from 2018. I’m generally pretty diligent about my television writing, offering seasonal reviews and previews for fall and winter as well as spring and summer. I also try and keep track of stuff I’ve been rewatching, so this should be quick and dirty, a little critical summary of what came out this year that I think was notable. Continue reading →

It’s the Spring/Summer Television Review Guest Starring the Fall Television Preview as ‘Cousin Oliver’

As the leaves begin to change and it starts to get darker earlier, fall feels nearer and nearer which means it’s prime television season. So we find ourselves once again looking back at the last several months of stuff I watched and stuff I might watch in the coming months. Looking back at my spring and summer lightning round, I’ve been putting off trying to wrap my head around what was evidently an extremely confusing second season of Westworld and even Jessica Jones can’t draw me back into the Marvel universe. Everything I did watch was mostly miserable or paranoia inducing.

It Sure is Tough Being a Lady: The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 and Sharp Objects

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After a promising and critically-acclaimed first season, The Handmaid’s Tale returned to Hulu at the end of April with enough piss and vinegar to fill three quarters of a fourteen episode bottle. Despite possibly proving to the rest of the streaming services that releasing all of your episodes at once might not be the best idea when you’re trying to keep a viewer’s head in the long-term buzz game, I’d say my biggest complaint with the second season was that it suffered from wheel-spinning endemic of a show with too many episodes ordered by the network. Plot threads went nowhere or consistently stalled and started, MacGuffins were abound, and while wishy-washy emotional decision making might let a show feel more “true-to-life”, it makes for infinitely frustrating television watching. While remaining almost oddly politically prescient from a writing perspective, it’s a show carried primarily by fantastic acting from the cast and was a great week-to-week watch I scheduled my Tuesday nights around. Generally, unless I thought about plot holes and character motivations for more than ten or fifteen minutes after it was over, it was riveting. With the longer season issues and a lack of real concrete “wins” for the oppressed women in a United States overtaken by right-wing religious fundamentalists, I fear unless some aspects of the plotting are changed, it will devolve into a feminist version of The Walking Dead: circular, aimless misery porn disguised as prestige TV. June and escaping Gillead is the new Sam and Diane. (Pam & Jim?) 7/10

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Personal bias: watching Amy Adams drive around in a shitty Volvo, smoking Parliaments and drinking vodka out of a water bottle while listening to moodier, late-period Led Zeppelin is my idea of a good television show regardless of where it’s set or what the story is. Based on the debut novel by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Sharp Objects was about a St. Louis reporter returning to her small hometown to investigate a murder. Criticized for pacing issues, which I considered interesting scenery chewing and some creative if-at-times confusing editing tricks, it was a fairly straight-forward character study about toxic femininity, family dynamics, Southern manners, substance abuse and mental health issues. Like the first season of True Detective, the show kept you invested enough in the mystery’s red herrings as a procedural, but ultimately was anchored by wonderful performances from Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Eliza Scanlen. Mercifully, it’s been marketed as a miniseries, ensuring that it likely won’t return for a second season and suffer a loss in quality with no source material to draw from. Cough. 7.5/10 Continue reading →

It’s The Fall/Winter Television Review feat. Special Guest: The Spring Television Preview!

In an age where “binge watching” is common parlance, my television habit still stands out like the gnarliest drifter at Alcoholics Anonymous. I get to watch a lot of TV. Get yourself a multi-monitor set up and you can, too. I’m in the middle of an Oz rewatch, I just finished The Sopranos again, which I’ve done once a year for basically forever, and I’m readying a long-form, one-episode-per-sitting rewatch of The Wire for this spring. That’s the holy trinity of HBO’s entrance into the Golden Age of Television in less than six months. Never have children.

Those are just my idle hands! I still keep up with what’s in season for watercooler zeitgeist purposes. Here’s what I watched, what I didn’t, and what I’m going to be watching. Spoilers after the jump.

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