Monday, 2 September 2019

The Underlying Cause

There has been yet another shooting in the United States that has left several people dead. Once again everyone is debating on how to deal with the aftermath and what to do in order to prevent a recurrence.  More than likely, nothing will change.

I've been asking myself the question: what is the real cause of these events? Most believe that it's a combination of several things.  The high availability of guns, lax regulations for possessing guns, not enough checks and balances that would prevent unsuitable people from owning them.

What if the reason goes deeper than that?  Some people have placed the blame on mental illness.  While it's true that a number of those who perpetrated mass shootings were mentally ill, not all were.  Violence in media and video games has been blamed as well.  While the media can negatively influence those who have some form of mental condition, it's not the sole factor.

One mass shooter posted on social media that he felt left out because he couldn't get a girlfriend.  Another wrote that he believed that white people were being destroyed by the influx of non-white immigrants.  The suspect in the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting had financial difficulties.  The most recent perpetrator had been fired from his job only hours before his rampage.

The common denominator here seems to be anger and hatred.  Anger toward a world that doesn't fulfill their needs or conform to their perceptions of what it should be.  Hatred toward certain people in the world and casting blame for their own failures upon them.  Not to mention the inability or unwillingness to adjust themselves to a world that is constantly changing.

Sadly, the only way they could deal with their emotions was to kill.

The anger is growing.  From political leaders who rile up their supporters with Mark Antony style rhetoric, to common people who believe that their ideals are being threatened by change.  If not dealt with soon, there will be an inevitable explosion that will threaten to tear us all apart.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Limitations to Acting Out

Many of us remember what's it's like to be a kid having "acting out" games, whether it was playing house or cops-and-robbers.  That play acting has translated into many types of games, from Dungeons and Dragons to The Sims. There's one subject however that is unacceptable in any game.

One of the Dungeons and Dragons forums of which I am a member recently contained a (now-deleted) thread about how many game masters should immediately ban any players who sought to act out sexual assault.  By convention, consensual scenes are usually done in the "fade to black" scenario; anything other than that has no place at a game table.

For the most part the comments were supportive but of course there were a few dissenters, predictably male players.

"All right, so if I'm ever stuck in one of your boring games, I know how to get out of it."

"Fifty percent of the players I know, including myself, have or are raping in Dungeons and Dragons.  It's cool and it's fun, okay, but the really funny part when we usually cry from laughing is when we torture with raw supreme fantasy.  Those are some of my best moments, when everyone finds out a new kind of sick torture."

"It's a fantasy role playing game. Why is killing okay but raping isn't?"

Most role-playing games are built on the trope of Good Versus Evil.  If the character you play is a good person, it's expected that you perform good acts.  Wipe out the squad of goblins that's terrorizing a village.  Hunt down the Black Knight who is trying to take over the kingdom.  That sort of thing.  In rare games where the players and the Game Master have agreed that their characters will be evil, the tone will change accordingly, but there are still rules that should be followed.

One person was quick to point out that people who fantasize about such things often end up doing so in reality. "One guy I knew was known for playing characters who would go out of their way to assault NPCs.  Five years later he was picked up by the police for, guess what."

I've heard the excuse many times about how men who role-play sexual assault in games are merely channeling their fantasies in a productive manner.  Wrong.  Like real-life bedroom role-play, such a thing requires the consent of all involved, from the Game Master on down.  Otherwise it makes players uncomfortable and might even dissuade them from further play in the future.

I'm no stranger to this myself.  In my very first role-playing game experience, my character was captured and assaulted.  To add insult to injury, the child she bore as a result of that assault turned evil despite her efforts to raise it properly, and became a recurring villain of the piece.  Eventually the game fell apart; the Game Master had too many work commitments at the time, and I was tired of having my character taken advantage of.  It was a relief.

A good Game Master builds drama within the campaign by having consequences for all of the characters' actions.  Wiping out the goblin squad might attract the attention of a larger force of goblins that is nearby.  Bringing down the Black Knight might cause an even worse evil to fill that void.  But there should be consequences to negative actions too.  The rules state that certain types of characters lose their powers if they commit acts that are against their code, for example.

Therefore there should also be rules that if a character commits an act beyond what is considered acceptable in game, that character is punished accordingly.  The player should be talked to, or even removed from the game entirely if applicable.  No exceptions.  Only then will players realize that they can't get away with it.

The following was suggested by a player who had attended a recent convention.

"The X/O Method. Each player gets a blank index card with an X on one side and an O on the other.  If someone gets really into character and gets upset they can flash the "O" to let everyone know that they are okay and it's all part of the character.  It a player gets uncomfortable for any reason at any time they can throw the "X" card. If they do, everything stops and gets retconned [reversed and replayed] immediately.  Anyone who doesn't abide by this is not welcome at our table."

Good call.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Corrupting the Punisher

The following post was written by the owner of Randomology, a web site dedicated to art and the world of geek.  He is a writer and teacher based in Laredo, Texas.  Shared with permission.

-~-

Whenever I see military or law enforcement members using the Punisher logo, I immediately think one of two things about them. Either they lack critical analysis skills, or if they do have such, they are someone you want to avoid at all costs.

The Punisher, Frank Castle, in virtually every single version of the character, is a vigilante who works outside the law and hands out lethal justice. While some of his targets could hardly be empathized with, I'm thinking primarily of human traffickers and sadistic killers; the people who post this image as an emblem of how they see themselves are not Frank Castle.

These are the same people who will either say or have somewhere on their person or car a variation of the saying: it takes a wolf to guard the sheep.

No.

A wolf does not guard sheep. A sheep dog guards sheep. And the fact that you consider the people you are sworn to protect as nothing more than sheep goes to show how little you think of them and how powerfully you think of yourself. Because once the "bad" wolves are gone, we still have a wolf...

The Punisher is one of the iconic anti-heroes. In fact, his status as a hero is highly debatable. It's not a stretch to say that Frank Castle is a man consumed by war. Many versions even show that Frank Castle is a man incapable of moving on and lives in a constant state of warfare. As much as he grieves his family, he is more at peace in a war zone than he ever was as a family man. This is a truly Broken Man. And the only thing keeping him from being labeled a serial killer is... actually, there really isn't anything that differentiates Castle from a serial killer.

And for anyone about to tell me that I don't know what it's like to be on the streets with a target on my back like police officers, I'd like to remind you that law enforcement is not even the deadliest profession in the country. And if you are so trigger-happy that you can't help but pull your gun and shoot someone for the perception of a threat you're not even sure is real, you have no business wearing a badge. Same thing goes for lunatics who join up to fly across the world so they can justifiably shoot at other human beings.

Monday, 20 May 2019

The Scientific Method

The following is by Marc Proulx, a Montreal-based technical writer.

-~-

Few things concern me more than the growing trend of ideology superseding established facts (which I largely trace back nearly 4 decades to the campaign strategy and resulting election of Ronald Reagan). I find it worrisome because it is the cause of, or prevents the solution to (or reduction of), many of the greatest threats facing humanity.

And I want to be clear that neither those leaning politically right or left have a monopoly on engaging in this. Each side of the aisle has beliefs they cling to in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (In my list below, I've tried to include an even number of traditionally left and right sacred cows.)

While few things can ever be absolutely proven in science, there does exist a scientific consensus on some questions that was achieved through decades of well-designed large-sample studies, replication of results, meta-analysis, field study, etc.

Some examples of questions for which a scientific consensus has been achieved are:

- Man-made climate change exists and is worsening.

- Vaccines do not cause autism (and are the single most effective tool ever invented in the fight against disease).

- Glyphosate is one of, if not the, safest herbicides.

- The earth is an oblate spheroid.

- GMO's are safe (far safer than the previous popular method of crop improvement, used since the 50's, of irradiating seeds and hoping some of the random mutations are beneficial). Among their many benefits for humanity will be a large reduction in the number of poor people (and especially children) suffering from blindness and death resulting from malnutrition (specifically Vitamin A deficiency) through the widespread distribution of Golden Rice. In 2012 the World Health Organization reported that about 250 million preschool children are affected by VAD, and that providing those children with vitamin A could prevent about a third of all under-five deaths, which amounts to up to 2.7 million children.

- All living things evolved from simpler lifeforms over billions of years.

Of course any and all questions in science are subject to change due to the discovery of new information (that is why science is the most effective tool we have for discovering truth, it is continuously self-correcting) however the way a greater and greater consensus is achieved is through many scientists attempting and failing to prove the consensus wrong, thus it has a greater and greater likelihood of being correct.

-~-

Footnote: I disagree on his glyphosate statement but that's another issue entirely.

Friday, 17 May 2019

A Woman's Rant

 The following was written by Wendy White, an entrepreneur from British Columbia.

-~-

I’m not even going to sit here and calmly try to explain why the (majority of the) female population is in an uproar. If you genuinely don’t understand at this point, you’re flat out stupid.

There is no discussion to be had. It’s not a debate. There’s no more acting stupid or pretending you don’t understand why women are angry.  If you’re silent on this, you’re complicit.

There is no neutral.  There is no comfortable medium. It’s all fun and games until it’s YOUR fundamental human rights that are being f***ed with.

Women’s rights are NOT optional.  Bodily autonomy is NOT optional.

Abortion is not the only thing being criminalized with these bills passing in Alabama, Ohio, and Georgia.

Birth control? Punishable by prison time.
Miscarriages? Punishable by prison time.
Traveling to another state where it is not a felony to have an abortion, to have a safe abortion? Punishable by prison time.
A 12 year old girl was raped, impregnated, and is now being FORCED to co-parent with her ATTACKER.

Are you f***ing kidding me?

How do people not see the price tag that old, white men have put on women? We are so insignificant that we are viewed as only being good for pregnancy. They believe we only take birth control to prevent pregnancy. They believe we can CONTROL miscarriages. They believe we are so useless and small that our rights aren’t as important as a man’s.

Nothing is more violating and dehumanizing than being told what you can and can’t do with your own body.

So how about this:

Men who wear condoms during sex will be sentenced 10 years minimum in prison with the possibility of the death penalty for conspiracy to commit murder for preventing semen from fertilizing an egg.
Oh, what’s that? You‘re outraged that you’re being punished for practicing safe sex?

How about mandatory vasectomies to prevent pregnancy and avoid abortions altogether, since a vasectomy can be reversed?
Oh, that violates your human rights and bodily autonomy? You’re a grown man and can make your own choices when it comes to your body?

Keep that same motherf***ing energy.

How twisted and corrupt do you have to be — not even exclusively as a politician, but — as a HUMAN BEING, to prioritize an UNBORN, or in recent bills, UNFERTILIZED “life” over the lives of REAL, LIVING, BREATHING, WOMEN?

Women’s rights who? Human rights who? Sorry, the United States government doesn’t know her.

The government would rather a TWELVE YEAR OLD CHILD carry her rapist’s spawn to term and GIVE BIRTH than allow her to have a safe abortion.

The government would rather a grown woman DIE carrying a parasitic pregnancy to term than allow her to have a safe abortion.

This is not about saving lives at all. This isn’t about safety. There’s no regard for women, their rights, or a fetus. This is about winning a political battle and retaining power over the oppressed. This is about possession. This is about patriarchy. This is about control.

The fact that anyone still believes this is a topic to argue over absolutely blows my f***ing top back. You don’t like abortions? Don’t have one. You don’t like birth control? Don’t use it.  But your personal opinion doesn’t give you authority over another person’s rights to their own body.

Oh and another thing, if you are pro-life (which is really just pro-birth because you don’t care for the lives of the women dying, or the life of the 12 year old rape victim, or the hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system, or the lives of the people being shot down in schools and clubs and concerts), you are NOT a savior. You are NOT a “voice for the unborn”. You are as ignorant as it gets, f*** off with your holier-than-thou s**t. Nobody cares. You’re not impressing anyone. Especially not me.

All in all, ladies: speak the f*** up. stop allowing your fear of coming off as an angry, irrational woman stop you from vocalizing your stance. And if you’re a man and you’re not fighting in this battle alongside the women in your life, get your s**t together. Your mama raised you better than that.

These laws are a violation of our Constitutional rights and they’re dangerous. Women’s rights are human rights.

Educate yourself. Stand for women.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Republican Logic

The following was written in a Facebook post by Lilyana Valdivia-Hursey, a student nurse from Chicago IL.  This was in response to a meme that stated the only lives that the Republicans care about are those of six-week-old fetuses, which referred to recent anti-abortion legislation in several states.

-~-

"Tell me why, in America, people will go absolutely f***ing bananas when anyone even suggests any kind of sane legislation that may infringe on their personal right to own a thing that was made for the sole purpose of killing more efficiently; and in the case of high capacity weapons, killing as many things as possible in the least amount of time. Guns are for killing. That is why they were created.

Save me the "target practice / collectors' items" bull****. Guns are weapons. For killing living things. "How dare you take away my personal choice to own a weapon? Never." is the battle cry of gun owners.

How dare you say that a heart beat is the definition of life; that all life is sacred (although I think forced birth people really only mean white human babies) and then go out and intentionally kill with your weapon a deer, or a sleeping lion, or a baby elephant, all of which have heartbeats. All of which are alive and sacred. The hypocrisy is foul and vile.

What about all those people slaughtered in temples and schools... they had heartbeats. They were sacred life. Are they not worth saving? Apparently our legislators think not.

But a woman's right to be able to make a private personal.choice with what to do with her body? Those same die hard Second Amendment a**holes are ready to put her in jail or put her to death.
What the actual f***."

-~-

Here in Canada, abortion has been legal since 1969, and is governed by the Canada Health Act. The procedure is provided upon request as well as during emergency situations, is required to be performed in a hospital, and is covered by Medicare.

In Canada, to own a firearm one must be licensed and certified in its use and there are strict controls on certain types, especially those capable of firing in a semi-automatic or automatic manner. There are also precise laws on the transport, handling, and storage thereof.

Much more civilized.

But the Republican influence is slowly creeping up to make itself known here.  The Conservative Premier of Ontario has slashed funding for education, child care, and public health (among many other cuts).  The leader of the federal Conservative Party has shown himself to be anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ. 

So it falls on the people to continue their vigilance against the oppressive and the radical.


Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous

Many people seek their "15 minutes of fame" and Zach Stone is no exception.  The titular character of this show is a young man who decides to pursue a dream of becoming rich and famous instead of going to college.  To that end, he uses his savings to hire a film crew to follow him around and record his quest to become a celebrity.  Unfortunately he has little talent and all of the schemes that he comes up with fall flat, with often hilarious results.

The wild ideas that Zach tries on his journey range from getting a makeover to emulating a celebrity chef to faking his own disappearance.  In the process of all this he manages to alienate most of his friends and family members.  When he realizes what he has done he makes amends, decides to ditch the cameras and go to college after all... until a chance news report catapults him into the fame he has craved all along.  But it comes with a price.

Critics gave mixed reviews of the series.  Some described it as "fresh and timely" as well as praising its satirical spotlight on fame and the warped ideology it can cause, while others were scathing and noted the stereotypical parodying of reality shows.  However many fans were extremely positive, calling star Bo Burnham "a comic genius".

Twelve half-hour episodes aired on MTV during May and June of 2013.  Its initial viewership dropped to half by the time the series was midway through the season.  The network shifted the time slot in an attempt to gain more viewers but that failed, so the last few episodes were burned off before the official cancellation.  Zach Stone appeared on DVD in late 2013 and is also viewable on Prime Video.

Young Blades

I enjoy reading fan-fiction and often I see stories that feature the children of the original characters from that particular universe.  The trouble is that very few such stories are as good as the original.  Such is the case for Young Blades, a historical fantasy series created by Dan Angel that followed the adventures of the son of one of the original Three Musketeers, Count d'Artagnan.

The younger d'Artagnan, played by Tobias Mehler, seeks to gain as much recognition as his illustrious father by training with the Musketeers, along with his friends Siroc (Mark Hildreth) and Ramon (Zak Santiago). It doesn't take long for the trio to run afoul of the evil Cardinal Mazarin (Michael Ironside) as they harbour a young woman who has disguised herself as a man in order to escape persecution.

The show boasted some illustrious supporting actors, from Michael Ironside as Cardinal Mazarin to Bruce Boxleitner as Captain Duvall.  Unfortunately a low-budget production quality and at-times problematic writing made it difficult for it to keep the interest of audiences.  Still, fans described it as having "personality and charm" and praised the efforts of the actors to keep things fresh. 

Thirteen episodes aired on PAX Television (now Ion Television) from January to June 2005.  The series has not been officially released to DVD but bootleg DVDs have been seen online, and clips are currently posted on YouTube.

Monday, 29 April 2019

The XYY Man

The purpose of entertainment is frequently to present fantastical or scientific concepts in a way that appears believable.  Adapted from a series of novels by English author Kenneth Royce, the 13-episode British series The XYY Man claimed that the main character's genetic abnormality made him incapable of rescinding his criminal lifestyle. 

William "Spider" Scott, played by Stephen Yardley, is a career criminal who has just finished his latest stint in prison and has vowed to go on the straight and narrow.  Unfortunately his burgling talents are such that the British Secret Service and various criminal elements want him to work for them.  Hardened police detective Sergeant George Bulman, played by Don Henderson, wants nothing more than to see Scott back in jail.

Given the 1970-1977 time period during which the novels and series were originally written, the erroneous premise comes as little surprise.  Soon after the series aired, an academic paper stated that the conditional probability fallacy concerning the explanation of the genetics was the cause of the myth having become conventional wisdom until scientific studies proved otherwise.

The characters of Detective Bulman and his assistant Derek Willis were so popular that they earned two spin-off series: Strangers in 1978 and Bulman in 1985.  Kenneth Royce penned three followup novels featuring the characters in 1986 and 1996.  As for the show itself, all 13 episodes were released as a DVD box set in 2007 but this set was encoded for Region 2 only.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Wizards and Warriors

This short-lived series was clearly inspired by the sword-and-sorcery games that were gaining mainstream attention at the time.  Also known as Greystone's Odyssey (a reference to the name of the protagonist), the show was directed by Bill Bixby and Richard Colla, and starred Grease alum Jeff Conaway.  It debuted on CBS as a midseason replacement and ran from February to May of 1983.

Prince Erik Greystone has a promising future: he is engaged to King Baaldorf's daughter, the somewhat spoiled Princess Ariel (played by Julia Duffy) and is in training to eventually become king.  However the neighbouring kingdom's Prince Dirk Blackpool (Duncan Regehr) holds a deep grudge and plots with his evil wizard Vector (Clive Revill) to destroy Prince Erik and his squire Marko (Walter Olkewicz).

What made the show good was that it never really took itself seriously and it injected a lot of humour and over-the-top acting, particularly by the villains.  However its mix of comedy and adventure was ahead of its time and it had trouble finding an audience.  Plus, creating a convincing fantasy setting was expensive and the network wasn't willing to continue a show without the ratings to back it up.  Only eight episodes were produced.

Despite its brief life it gained some recognition.  Critics praised the series as being "witty" and having solid directing and writing.  Costume designer Theadora Van Runkle won the 1983 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Series and hairstylist Sharleen Rassi was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling.  There is a "manufacture on demand" DVD release available through the Warner Brothers online store and Amazon.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Voyagers!

When people are young, they tend to discover at least one movie or TV show that inspires their interest in a particular concept or subject.  Voyagers! was one of several shows during the 1980s that sparked my enthusiasm for the concept of time travel (and ultimately led me to my long-time fandom for Doctor Who).

In the far future, the Voyager Academy educates people in the many eras of Earth's history.  Upon graduating, a Voyager is issued a guidebook and a watch-like device known as an Omni, which enables its bearer to time-travel to a certain range of dates.  Their job is to monitor history and ensure that events unfold as they should.

One such Voyager, a charming but ignorant man named Phineas Bogg (played by Jon-Erik Hexum) accidentally lands in 1982 when his Omni malfunctions.  He appears in the high-rise apartment of twelve-year-old Jeffrey Jones (played by Meeno Peluce), the orphaned son of a history professor.  Jeffrey's dog grabs the Omni after mistaking it for a toy.  During the ensuing struggle to get it back, Jeffrey falls from a window, forcing Bogg to jump out and use the Omni to save him, leaving his Guidebook behind.  Thus begins their adventures of bouncing through time, with Bogg's charisma and Jeffrey's encyclopedic historical knowledge helping them to become a formidable team.

Each episode features two distinct storylines based on events in different parts of the world, the situation sometimes requiring one or both travelers to hop between the two.  Once in a while they would meet other Voyagers whose mission happened to intersect with their own.

NBC ran Voyagers! from October 1982 until July 1983 for a total of 20 episodes.  Given its good ratings it seemed likely to be renewed for a second season, but instead the network chose to cancel it and replace it with a news program.  The following year however it was rerun on Saturday mornings as part of a children's programming lineup.

In 1985 following the accidental death of star Jon-Erik Hexum, the pilot and episode 15 "Voyagers of the Titanic" were edited into a commemorative television film, with new effects and voice-overs.  This film was released to VHS but has long been out of print.  The series in its entirety was released on DVD in 2007 and all episodes are currently available on Amazon Video.

Undeclared

A bunch of college students walk into a dorm and hijinks ensue.  Until the father of one of them shows up and attempts to deal with the loneliness of his divorce and mid-life crisis by trying to hang out with people half his age.

This one-season Fox sitcom was created by comedian Judd Apatow as a follow-up to an earlier television series called Freaks and Geeks in which a gifted student befriends a bunch of "slackers".  Starring Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, and other notables, the show's title refers to the main character Steven's unknown college major.  Each episode highlights a common problem that college students face, along with cameos and guest appearances by many artistic and comedic personalities.

Much to the dismay of the producer and cast, the episodes were aired out of chronological order during their initial run from September 2001 to March 2002, confusing fans and reviewers alike.  However critics did react positively, and the show was later described by Entertainment Weekly as one of the "25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years".  Still, as if to add insult to injury, the original DVD release mistakenly placed the episodes in their production order.

More recent versions of the DVD set have restored the correct episode order as well as added an alternate version of Episode 2 and other special features.  The series also ran for several years in syndication, producing a sizable cult following.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The Tick

It's rare for a successful animated series to be translated into a live-action film or series that's equally as successful.  In the case of the 2001 iteration of The Tick, the four main writers from the 1994 animated series, Ben Edlund, Randolph Heard, Richard Liebmann-Smith, and Chris McCulloch were heavily involved in the production.  Producer Larry Charles noted: "What's great about the comic book and what was great about the cartoon also has to be great about the live-action show, which is the characters and the interaction of the characters, and creating a world that you believe is real. It's a world in which the characters being superheroes is almost a secondary consideration, so that the characters are more important than their costumes."

Unassuming accountant Arthur Everest (David Burke) has a dream about becoming a superhero but is uncertain how to go about it.  Then he meets The Tick (Patrick Warburton).  After having protected the clientele of a small-town bus station and irritating the employees in the process, the bumbling but enthusiastic Tick has recently moved to the City and quickly gets Arthur embroiled in various crime-fighting shenanigans.  When Arthur loses his job, The Tick takes him on as a sidekick.  However Arthur's family is unimpressed, believing The Tick to be a figment of Arthur's imagination.

Unlike its comic-book and animated predecessors, some of the backstories and characters were different due to rights issues.  However the basic tone remained similar to the source material, with over the top characterizations and "genuine human lameness" as described by Ben Edlund.  After over a year and a half in development the show was broadcast on Fox from November 2001 through January 2002.

Sadly the show didn't have much of a chance, for despite fan and critical praise, Fox chose a weak time slot and rarely ran promotions.  High production costs were another factor in the series' cancellation after eight of the nine existing episodes were broadcast.  Star Patrick Warburton heavily criticized the network's blatant mismanagement, saying that they "apparently didn't have a clue."

In 2002 the show was nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award for Excellence in Costume Design for Television.  All nine episodes were released on DVD in 2003.  As a final note, this live-action series has served in part as a jump-off point for a new web television series currently available on Amazon Video.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Street Hawk

Developed by Bruce Lansbury, younger brother of actress Angela Lansbury, Street Hawk is a "concept" show in which a top secret weaponized motorcycle is introduced into a present-day urban environment.

Police officer Jesse Mach, played by Rex Smith, is injured during a raid on a drug-smuggling facility, and his partner is killed.  To help him take down the ones responsible, government agent Norman Tuttle (Joe Regalbuto) recruits Jesse to test a new computerized ultra-fast motorcycle.  While keeping his day job as a police PR officer, Jesse assumes the identity of a vigilante crime fighter known as Street Hawk by night.  He quickly becomes an embarrassment to the police force as his methods ultimately bear more fruit than the normal channels.

The series required a great deal of stunt work, naturally resulting in the motorcycles needing constant repair or replacement.  Several bikes were used; the ones usually seen on the streets were a custom-built 1983 Honda XL500 trailbike or 1984 Honda XR500, while the turbocharged Honda CX500 was used for performance sequences.  At least half a dozen bikes were kept on standby as parts were frequently flying off the hero's bike during filming.

Originally planned to air in the fall of 1984 by ABC, the series was pushed forward to January 1985 as a mid-season debut.  Thirteen episodes were broadcast, after which Target Books in the UK published four adaptations in novel format, and a die-cast replica of the stunt motorcycle was produced.  Unfortunately a second season was never ordered, likely due to the high cost of the equipment needed for the stunts.

The 90-minute pilot episode was released to VHS twice, from Canada and the U.S., with short pieces of footage that were unique to each release.  The complete unedited series was released to DVD in 2010 by Shout! Factory, including a 41 minute documentary on the making of the show.

Monday, 22 April 2019

The Renegades

Having bad boys turn good for their own purposes is a heavily used trope in Hollywood, particularly in police serials.  The Renegades is an example of this, being a somewhat edgier version of Aaron Spelling's 1968 drama The Mod Squad.  Airing on ABC as a mid-season replacement in the spring of 1983, the show was described by producers Lawrence and Charles Gordon as a combination of a police squad with the youth gang concept from the successful 1979 movie The Warriors.

Patrick Swayze starred as "Bandit", the leader of a gang of street punks.  He and his posse are caught up in a sweep by police and given a choice: go to jail for their gang-related crimes or become special police informants.  Being smart young people and valuing their freedom, they choose to help the police with their knowledge of the streets and certain criminal elements.  They proceed to crack increasingly difficult cases, from ferreting out a car stripping operation to protecting a young witness to a murder.

Weak ratings contributed to the series' cancellation after only six episodes.  To date there has been no release to home video but clips from the pilot are watchable on YouTube.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

The Quest

The main reason that shows are cancelled was and continues to be low viewer ratings on the network.  However it's more complicated than just that, as the causes for low ratings in the first place can range from poor writing, a bad time slot, or low interest in the show's concept.  In the case of the 1976 series The Quest it was the fact that the Western genre had fallen out of favour with audiences.

Created by Tracy Wynn son of character actor Keenan Wynn, The Quest told the story of two mismatched brothers who traveled across the country while searching for their long-lost younger sister.  Morgan "Two Persons" Beaudine, played by Kurt Russell, was captured by the Cheyenne at a young age, and was raised by them until freed by the United States Army.  After being reunited with his physician brother Quinton Beaudine, played by Tim Matheson, the two head into the wilderness on a quest for their sister Patricia, helping people along the way.

The show's concise writing, notable guest-stars, and the beautiful Arizona filming locations weren't enough to gain the show a foothold, especially since the NBC network chose to air it opposite the more popular Charlie's Angels.  After running from September until December 1976 it was cancelled despite having been nominated for a Prime Time Emmy Award for costume design.  Four of the fifteen produced episodes didn't make it to air.

The entire series was never released to home video, but the two-hour pilot episode was edited into a film format and released on DVD by Sony in 2011.  This DVD is rare and likely out of print.  The opening titles and clips from episodes are currently viewable on YouTube.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The Phoenix

Many television shows in the 1980s and 1990s were what I called "concept shows", that tried to insert a technological or supernatural concept into an otherwise mundane reality.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't, depending on the writing and the willingness of the audience to suspend disbelief.  One of the idiosyncrasies of such shows was to have an opening monologue that briefly explained said concept or backstory.

Unfortunately for The Phoenix, its monologue gave too much information, which spoiled the plot entirely.  The concept itself was interesting enough, one inspired by the books of Swiss author Erich von Däniken: an alien known as Bennu of the Golden Light (played by Star Trek veteran Judson Scott) was prematurely awakened from his mystical sleep by archaeologists and now searches for his lost wife who had also landed somewhere on Earth.  Bennu has great mental abilities, amplified by his Phoenix Amulet that absorbs energy from the sun.

Aided by sympathetic scientist Dr. Ward Frazier (E.G. Marshall), Bennu travels across the world and manages to barely stay one step ahead of his antithesis Yago, who draws his powers from the moon.  Another pursuer is government agent Justin Preminger (Richard Lynch) who is determined to prove to his superiors that Bennu is more than what he appears to be.

The show aired on ABC from March 19th until April 16th 1982.  Like many of its contemporaries it had a solid plot and characterizations, with a main character who had some viable opinions about his surroundings and how to preserve them for the future.  Despite its promising start, ratings were low enough to cause its cancellation after only five episodes.  Four more episodes were known to have been scripted but were never filmed.

To date the series has not been released to home video, but the opening sequence and clips from several episodes are viewable on YouTube.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Once Upon A Time in Wonderland

This spinoff of the popular Once Upon A Time series aired on ABC from October 2013 to April 2014.  It takes place in the same universe as its parent show, but is based on the Lewis Carroll stories Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

A now-adult Alice, played by Australian actress Sophie Lowe, has returned home to Victorian England following the apparent death of her true love, a genie named Cyrus, played by Peter Gadiot.  Her family believes her to be insane and place her in an asylum, where the doctors propose a radical cure for her: lobotomy.  Fortunately the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha) and the White Rabbit (voiced by John Lithgow) rescue her and spirit her back to Wonderland with the news that Cyrus is in fact still alive.

From there the series goes into an intense and well woven story, centered mainly around Alice's quest to find Cyrus, and the machinations of the evil Jafar (Naveen Andrews) who wants to get his hands on the genie's power.  Supporting characters include Whoopi Goldberg as the voice of Mrs. Rabbit, Barbara Hershey as Cora Mills/Queen of Hearts, and Iggy Pop as the voice of the Caterpillar.

Despite the splendid rendering of the CGI elements and the good chemistry between the various cast members, reviews were mixed.  Some critics didn't like the convoluted plotlines and the unlikeable inhabitants of Wonderland in general.  Executive producer Edward Kitsis stated: "However many [episodes] we wind up doing this season, what we're planning to do is tell a kind of complete tale with a beginning, middle and end.  If it does well and people like it, hopefully we'll come back and tell another adventure with this cast." 

As of this writing there has been no planned release of the series on DVD.  However all the episodes are available for purchase through iTunes and Amazon Prime.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

No Ordinary Family

This series that aired from September 2010 to April 2011 on ABC answered the question: what would happen if an ordinary family suddenly gained superpowers?

The Powells are a typical California suburban family.  James Powell (Michael Chiklis) is a police sketch artist, his wife Stephanie (Julie Benz) is a scientist, and their two children Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and J.J. (Jim Bennett) are in high school.  In an effort to help solve their family troubles they embark on a vacation to Brazil, but their plane crashes en route.  Miraculously they all survive the crash, and shortly thereafter they all discover that they have developed superpowers.

James gains super strength and near invulnerability.  Stephanie becomes a speedster.  Daphne develops telepathy, causing her much distress since she has difficulty controlling it at first.  J.J. was thought to be unaffected but it turns out that his brain has been supercharged, enabling him to speed read and comprehend large amounts of information.  As the family becomes more familiar with their powers, they find out that others also have superhuman abilities and they wonder if being heroes is the right thing for them to do.

Throughout the series the spotlight is shone on each member of the Powell family and the people they interact with, showing their motivations and difficulties regarding the appearance of super-powered people in the community.  Eventually, Stephanie Powell's boss Dr. Dayton King (Stephen Collins) becomes aware of the family's powers, and it's revealed that his company's CEO Helen Burton (Lucy Lawless) is intent on finding the source of the super abilities and using it for nefarious purposes.

With a star-studded cast and a premise that appealed to fans of the superhero genre, the series was thought to have enormous potential and received favourable reviews.  It was nominated for Favorite New TV Drama in the 2010 People's Choice Awards as well as for other awards for Outstanding Visual Effects and Compositing.  However warning signs started in February 2011 when ABC network cut back their series order from a full season to 20 episodes.  Then in May it was announced by ABC that the show was cancelled due to low ratings.

As with many such shows its reception was much better outside the U.S., airing in Latin America, several European countries, Australia, and New Zealand.  It was quickly released to DVD by Lions Gate Entertainment in September of 2011.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

The Master

"John Peter McAllister, the only Occidental American to achieve the martial arts discipline of a ninja.  Once part of a secret sect he wanted to leave, but was marked for death by his fellow ninjas.  He's searching for a daughter he didn't know he had; pursued by Okasa, once the Master's student, now sworn to kill him."

So states the opening monologue of NBC's 1984 action series The Master, starring the prolific "Spaghetti Western" star Lee van Cleef as John Peter McAllister and Timothy van Patten as Max Keller.  McAllister, a veteran of World War II, chose to stay in Japan after the war and train as a ninja.  However when he receives a letter from his daughter, he returns to the United States in search of her.  His departure is seen as a great dishonour to the ninjas and Okasa (Sho Kosugi) is ordered to track him down.  Not long after he arrives in the States he meets Max Keller.

Max is a drifter, estranged from his father following the deaths of his mother and brother in a plane crash.  He drives around in a customized van and takes odd jobs where he can get them.  After meeting McAllister in a bar, he asks to be trained in the ninja arts to help him survive.  The series follows their travels across the United States as they search for McAllister's daughter while trying to stay one step ahead of the assassin Okasa.

The Master appealed mainly to those with an interest in action, martial arts, and Japanese culture in general.  Throughout the series there are many nods toward the actual practises of ninjutsu and the fight scenes are highly realistic.  Sho Kosugi who played Okasa also served as the stunt coordinator as he had extensive training in several martial arts.

A number of notable guest stars appeared in the show, including Demi Moore, Clu Gulager, George Lazenby, and Doug McClure.  Unfortunately the show didn't attract a large enough audience and was cancelled after 13 episodes.  In the mid-1980s the show was released on VHS, re-edited into a series of 90 minute movies containing two episodes each.  In 2018 all the episodes were released in their original format on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Logan's Run

Logan's Run was a spinoff of the 1976 science-fiction film of the same name, itself being an adaptation of a book by William Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.  Produced by Charlie's Angels creators Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, the show boasted the writing talents of D.C. Fontana, David Gerrold, and several others from Star Trek.

In the City of Domes, the population and resources are managed strictly.  On the day a person turns 30 years old, they must accept the Rite of Carousel and a promised rebirth, which in reality is execution.  Logan 5 (Gregory Harrison) is a member of an elite police force known as Sandmen whose job is to track down and kill Runners, people who reject Carousel and attempt to leave the city.  After terminating a Runner, he discovers a symbol for a secret group whose members are searching for a mythical city known as Sanctuary.  When he reports this information and questions the need for Carousel, he is ordered to find Sanctuary so it can be destroyed.  Logan rebels, and is forced to become a Runner himself along with another citizen, Jessica 6 (Heather Menzies).  Both are pursued by Francis 7 (Randy Powell), Logan's former partner in the Sandmen.

The series depicts Logan and Jessica's adventures as they search for Sanctuary while on the run.  The world outside the City of Domes has become a wilderness dotted with the ruins of once-great cities (such as Washington D.C.) and is home to societies of humans, robots, and aliens.  Along the way they are joined by an android named Rem (Donald Moffat).  The main differences from the original film include: the City is run by a secret cabal of older men instead of by a computer, and the characters' motives are different.

Fourteen episodes aired on CBS from September 1977 to February 1978.  One reason for the cancellation was thought to be the lack of budget for special effects; many props and effects had been recycled from the film.  Star Heather Menzies said in a 2017 interview: "I think they needed to spend more money on the visuals. Star Wars came out around that time and we couldn’t really compete with that."

It's interesting to note that several of the episodes were revised repeatedly before and during filming.  Episode 5, "Man Out of Time" was originally written by David Gerrold, but he became so annoyed after its revision by someone else that he refused to put his name on it, instead using the pseudonym "Noah Ward".

The complete series was released on DVD in 2012.


Structural History

This is not part of the A to Z Challenge; I just had to write this because the news was so saddening and the ensuing commentary was so stark.

The Notre-Dame de Paris, a medieval Catholic cathedral and one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, burned yesterday.  Renovations on the structure caused the centuries-old wood roof and spire to catch fire and collapse.  Initial investigations indicate that the fire was an accident and that the majority of the structure and the relics were saved, but that's cold comfort to the millions of people that are in mourning.

Of course the cynics of the Internet came out in force.  Below are a few samples (with names removed) where a discussion on the perceived value of historical structures devolves into interpretation of historical events.

-~-

- So... Notre Dame was undergoing renovations, a fire started in the attic, half the cathedral caught on fire... No one died and they'll likely rebuild it.  Why are people crying and mourning, am I missing something?

- Meanwhile the Archdiocese of Paris has been turning to U.S. donors to raise $185 million since 1981 to help renovate Notre Dame which had been in a structural crisis due to decades of neglect.
  • The real question is, do most people value structures, particularly Indigenous structures? It could be argued that Americans don't, considering how we've let our nation treat our Indigenous people.
  • Exactly. Mount Rushmore was a sacred mountain to the Indigenous people before white people defaced it with their leaders.
- I don't get this, is the fact that they have been asking for millions of dollars from donors for renovation proof that they *don't* value history?
  • Without the USA, France would still be under Nazi control, so shut up.
  • Without France, the U.S. would still be paying taxes to the Queen. Your point?
  • Freeing France from the Nazis has more historical importance.
  • By the time the U.S. felt like doing anything for France, the Germans were already collapsing on the Eastern front. The only thing D-Day changed about the outcome of the war is give people like you that argument.
  • It was an Allied effort; yes, the U.S. had a very large portion of it. But it was the Allies, including sections of free French, and free Polish military on land, sea, and air that won the day. Moreover the U.S. would not exist as it is without France. So really, we are even.
  • Y'all shut up.  The history that is taught to children in school varies from country to country. Especially when it comes to wars. So none of you are probably 100% right. In all reality writing history is a form of art.
-~-

Historical facts aside, my take on the matter is that structures teach us about who came before us: who they were, their perceptions of beauty and function, and their determination.  It's not just a building: it's an icon of design, construction, and faith.  That's why people mourn a building's demise.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Kings

Set in an alternate reality and loosely based on the biblical story of King David, the 13-episode series Kings aired from March 3rd to July 25th 2009 on NBC.

King Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane) of the Kingdom of Gilboa believed that he had been chosen by God to unite three warring kingdoms and become their monarch.  However, it is his wife Queen Rose (Susanna Thompson) who is the true power behind the throne.  Their son Jonathan "Jack" Benjamin (Sebastian Stan) has only complicated matters with a flamboyant and womanizing attitude that he uses to conceal his homosexuality.  None are aware that the kingdom's politics and finances are being manipulated by the king's brother-in-law William Cross (Dylan Baker) who is using the royal treasury as well as his own business for profiteering.

Prince Jack is captured by enemy forces and sealed inside a seemingly invincible "Goliath-class" tank.  He is rescued by a young soldier named David Shepherd (Christopher Egan), which sets off a chain of events leading to an upheaval of the kingdom's hierarchy.

The show weaves some complex storylines using both historical and biblical references.  Scriptwriter Michael Green described it this way: "I want to take one of the classic stories that no one has ever retold, and find a way to re-conceive it while still being faithful to the original material but at the same time exploring the themes, modernizing it in every way."  Filming was done in and around New York City, showcasing both older and more modern architectural styles to complement the narrative.

Early reviews were generally positive, with particular attention given to the acting and writing.  However actual ratings for the two-hour premiere were considerably lower than expected, and media complaints about the series' four million dollars per episode price tag contributed to NBC pulling the show after only four episodes.  The remainder of the episodes were eventually aired a few months later during the summer.  The series was released on a 3-disc DVD set in September 2009.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Jennifer Slept Here

Have you ever moved into a new place and discovered that something wasn't quite right?  For example, a pet would react to something non-existent, lights would turn on and off randomly, or small objects seemed to move from where you were certain you put them?  Perhaps the place is haunted, like the Elliot house in the fantasy sitcom Jennifer Slept Here.

Lawyer George Elliot and his family have moved from New York to Los Angeles, settling into the former home of Jennifer Farrell, a once-popular movie actress who had died tragically several years earlier.  The elder son Joey (John P. Navin Jr.) quickly finds out that Jennifer's ghost (Ann Jillian) is still around and he's the only one who can see her.  She takes on the role of mentor and confidant to Joey, helping guide him through his awkward adolescence.

The show is quite funny and emotional at the same time.  Joey's frustration mounts over the fact that he can't convince his family that he truly does see Jennifer's ghost, culminating in episodes where they suggest that Joey needs psychiatric help, and then hire an exorcist in an attempt to get rid of Jennifer completely.  (Ironically, the actress who played the exorcist was Zelda Rubinstein of the Poltergeist horror series.)

Sadly the series didn't have much of a chance, its first run airing on Friday nights from October 1983 to May 1984 opposite The Dukes of Hazzard.  The second run during the summer repeats found it on Wednesday evenings, which gained it a larger following and a nomination for a 1984 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Technical Direction, but it wasn't enough to secure a second season.  To date there has been no official release of the 13-episode series to DVD.  Several episodes are currently viewable on YouTube.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Invasion

Something strange is happening in the town of Homestead, Florida.  As the town works to rebuild itself after a hurricane, people begin to notice lights under the water and that other townsfolk are behaving oddly.  After the sheriff quarantines the town, two colleagues investigate the mysterious lights.  Eventually they become aware that the lights are related to sea creatures who are gradually hybridizing the townspeople, and that the government is trying to cover it up.

Creator and main writer Shaun Cassidy ('70s pop artist and co-star of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries) envisioned five seasons for the show, with focus on certain characters and an ultimate reveal of the mastermind behind the invasion and its nature.  Cast member Tyler Labine mentioned in a 2010 interview: "The idea of the show was we never going to win.  What was happening was not a invasion at all, it was an evolutionary step.  So we're basically going to spend five seasons trying to win this battle we can't win."

Airing on ABC from September 21st 2005 to May 17th 2006, the show had mostly positive critical reception and was nominated to the 32nd Saturn Awards for both Best Network TV Series and Best Television Actor.  Unfortunately the ratings were such that the network decided to cancel it.  There were rumours of a move to The CW but a deal was never reached.  Shaun Cassidy commented after the cancellation: "I think there were unrealistic expectations that any show following Lost should do better."

As with many series, Invasion did somewhat better in the European market, airing in several countries between 2007 and 2009.  By that time, all the episodes had already been released as a  DVD box set.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Hawkeye

No, not the Avengers hero or the Alan Alda character.

The 22-episode show Hawkeye aired from September 24th 1994 to May 14th 1995.  Produced by Stephen J. Cannell and filmed in and around Vancouver, Canada, it was based on a set of novels by James Fennimore Cooper called the Leatherstocking Tales.  These followed the adventures of a woodsman during the time of the French-Indian War of 1755.

Nathaniel Bumppo (played by Lee Horsley) lost his parents to a raid when he was 13.  He was raised to adulthood by Native Americans and Scottish missionaries, and is known among them by several names including "Hawkeye".  He and his Mohican companion Chingachgook (played by Rodney Grant) encounter the strong-willed Elizabeth Shields (Lynda Carter) who is trying to free her merchant husband from the French forces.  After helping Elizabeth rescue her husband, they remain in New York's Hudson Valley to help other people who are affected by both sides of the conflict.

The pair of protagonists come across as being similar to the Lone Ranger and Tonto, although it's believed that they were in part inspired by the famous American explorers Daniel Boone and David Shipman. 

The series was extremely well written, with memorable characters, outstanding cinematography, and a dash of history.  Unfortunately several reasons forced its cancellation after only one season: high production costs, harsh weather, and many viewers had difficulty becoming invested because episodes were not airing in a consistent time slot.  However the interest in it was such that it was released to DVD by Mill Creek Entertainment in 2011.

Galactica 1980

As frequently occurs with a popular show, some characters from said show go on to have their own spinoff.  The Jeffersons were originally neighbours of Archie and Edith Bunker.  Rhoda was a neighbour of Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  However not all spinoffs enjoyed as much success as their parent: AfterMASH lasted two seasons as opposed to eleven for M*A*S*H.  A spinoff of Doctor Who featuring the characters of Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 only had one episode.

Such is the case for Glen A. Larson's Galactica 1980.  Lasting ten episodes, as opposed to 24 of the original Battlestar Galactica, this continuation retooled the series concept somewhat and dropped several characters with no explanation.  After fleeing the tyrannical Cylons for a generation, the Colonial Fleet arrives at Earth in the present day, to discover that Earth's technology isn't advanced enough to help them.  So covert teams are sent down to integrate with the population and work with the scientific community in the hopes of advancing the technology enough to repel the approaching enemy.  One of the teams consists of the adult grandson of Fleet Commander Adama, his best lieutenant, and several Colonial children posing as a Scout troop.

The new concept might have worked had the writers not included some of the more fantastical elements.  For example, the children began to exhibit superhuman powers because of their different physiology in Earth's lighter gravity - something within the realm of possibility but taken too far.  Another strange twist was that Commander Adama, played by Canadian actor Lorne Greene, relied a great deal on the advice of a teenage prodigy who seemed to have complete knowledge of a planet that he'd never seen.

Reception of the series was poor: fans of the original didn't like many of the changes or the lower production quality.  After running on ABC between January 27th and May 4th 1980, the show was cancelled during the filming of what would have been the 11th episode.  All ten episodes were subsequently rolled into syndication along with the original series.

In 1981, three of the episodes were stitched together to create a movie called Conquest of the Earth that was shown in cinemas in Europe and Australia.  This film was released to VHS as a limited edition and has long been out of print.  Universal released a DVD set of all the episodes of Galactica 1980 in 2007.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Firefly

The premise of the show Firefly, according to creator Joss Whedon, was "nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things".  In a future where humans have left an overcrowded Earth and colonized new star systems, political and ethical problems remain pretty much the same as always.  Much like those of the post-American Civil War Reconstruction era, many of the characters in the show were on the fringes of society, losers of a war that they'd had little stake in.

Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, portrayed by Canadian actor Nathan Fillion, is a military veteran of a conflict between the powerful Alliance and a group of worlds that had tried to secede.  He bought his Firefly-class spaceship and named it Serenity after a battle which he and his first mate had barely survived.  The other crew members are fugitives or mercenaries, all with their own reasons to dislike the Alliance, and they support themselves by smuggling or running cargo.

The show blends space opera and Western genres, and is different from many other science fiction shows in that there are few space battles.  Instead, the focus is on the politics and culture of the region, with liberal use of the Chinese language and made-up words.  As one reviewer wrote: "The dialogue tended to be a bizarre purée of wisecracks, old-timey Western-paperback patois, and snatches of Chinese."

Aired on Fox from September 20th to December 20th 2002, the show was initially successful, but Whedon and his team came into frequent conflict with Fox executives.  Fox wanted a lighter tone to the show, particularly to Captain Mal's personality as he was thought to be too dark.  Another issue was the fact that the entire point of the show was seeing the struggles of the downtrodden; instead Fox wanted to see more of the actual policy makers.  Another blow was that many of the episodes were aired out of sequence, confusing viewers.

The show was cancelled after only 14 episodes, and a fan campaign to have it renewed or picked up by another network was unsuccessful.  However the fan support was instrumental in the release of the series on DVD in December 2003, as well as persuading Whedon to further develop the concept into a feature film.  The same cast reprised their roles for the film Serenity in 2005.

Monday, 8 April 2019

E.A.R.T.H. Force

Sometimes we have series that are so short that only a few episodes aired and were promptly forgotten.  E.A.R.T.H. Force is one such, having had only three episodes on CBS in September of 1990.  Made in a time when environmental awareness was on the rise, the show addressed serious issues while trying to leave viewers with a more positive message.

Gil Gerard, previously of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, starred as Dr. John Harding, a scientist and environmentalist that led an elite group of specialists who were brought together by dying industrialist Frederick Mayer.  With a base known as Earth Alert Research Tactical Headquarters, the team used brilliant and non-standard ideas to mitigate the crises they faced, such as animal poaching and landfill toxicity.  The series was filmed in Queensland, Australia, to emphasize the "green" objective with stunning landscapes. 

Despite the show being described by some viewers as "a merger of Captain Planet, Mission Impossible, and The A-Team with a plane instead of a truck", critical reception was not favourable.  To make matters worse, CBS chose to air the series on Saturday nights; a death sentence for almost any show.  One TV journal noted the conflict between the series' message and its medium: "Saving the environment can only be accomplished by changing the habits of consumption, but in television, encouraging consumption is Job One."

The show had a second life overseas, with all six episodes airing on several non-English TV stations in Europe, where it fared much better.  To date it hasn't been released on home video, but the pilot movie and parts of several episodes can be seen on YouTube.

Dinotopia

How often has there been a film or show that imagines an isolated island that is home to a species long thought to be extinct?  The short-lived Dinotopia TV series on ABC during late 2002 was intended to be a sequel to the Disney three-part mini-series of the same name that aired in May of that year.  Both are based on books by American author James Gurney.

Frank Scott and his teenaged sons, half-brothers Karl and David, are flying on their private plane when they are hit by a severe storm and crash into the ocean.  Frank drowns after saving his sons, who wash up on the beach of Dinotopia, an island inhabited by sentient dinosaurs.  There are a few humans also, the descendants of people who were marooned here in the past.  The boys quickly discover that they can't leave due to dangerous tidal currents that surround the island.

David adjusts to their new life fairly easily, but Karl is rebellious and tries to find ways to get back to the "normal" world.  Aided by a friendly Troodon named Zippo, the boys struggle to keep Dinotopia safe from factions of carnivorous Saurians and humans who want to use ancient artifacts to control the island for themselves.

The TV show picks up from the end of the mini-series, introducing new Saurian and human antagonists.  There was much potential for story development, and the CGI and animatronics work was well done for the time, but the series fell a bit short.  Not only did the network wait until Thanksgiving to launch the series instead of airing it in September, there was little sense of continuity from the mini-series, as none of the principals from the mini-series reprised their roles.

Only six of the thirteen episodes were aired on ABC, and the series was cancelled in December 2002 due to a lack of improvement in the viewing figures.  However all the episodes were broadcast in Europe in the summer of 2003, with a more favourable reception.  The series was released on DVD twice, the first time in 2004 (this edition is now out of print) and again in 2016.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

The Chicago Code

Among the large number of existing crime drama series, this one stood out because of its premise and the setting.  The city of Chicago is well known for being the backdrop for such films as Home Alone, Wayne's World, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and more.  Originally titled "Ride-Along", The Chicago Code series featured "the intersection of politics and its citizenry" according to the show's creator Shawn Ryan who had grown up nearby and was very familiar with the city.

Jarek Wysocki, a veteran homicide detective played by Jason Clarke, is assigned to an anti-corruption task force by the first female Police Superintendent, Teresa Colvin, played by Jennifer Beals.  Both are tough and ambitious, deriving their motivation from the fact that family members have been killed by corrupt elements in the city.  Matt Lauria plays Caleb Evers, the latest in a long string of Wysocki's partners who had been unable to keep up with him on the streets.

All the characters in the show are well fleshed out, having their own agendas and goals.  Even the corrupt alderman Ronin Gibbons, portrayed by Delroy Lindo, is quickly established as one of the most influential people in the city's political circles and he wastes no time in attempting to discredit Colvin and her efforts to clean up the streets.  A poignant moment in the series involves an undercover officer who comments that when one has been undercover as long as he has, it gets more and more difficult to separate the job from the role.

The show aired on Fox from February 7th to May 23rd 2011, and was lauded by critics as being well crafted, and effective in making use of the city itself as a character.  However it didn't draw the ratings that Fox expected and officials were concerned about the age demographics. Despite Shawn Ryan's submission of a Season 2 outline to the President of Entertainment at Fox, he received the news that the series had been cancelled before the final two episodes had been broadcast.

The Chicago Code was released on DVD in late 2011 but is out of print.  All 13 episodes are currently viewable on Amazon Prime.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Blacke's Magic

Blacke's Magic was another of those shows with a very different concept that didn't quite catch on.  Created by Richard Levinson and William Link, the same team of screenwriters and long-time collaborators behind "Murder She Wrote", it aired on NBC from January 5th to May 7th 1986.

Alexander Blacke, played by Hal Linden of WKRP fame, is a retired stage magician with a fondness for mysteries.  When a friend of his is murdered he recruits his father, con-man Leonard Blacke, played by M*A*S*H alum Harry Morgan, to help solve a real-life mystery.  Thereafter the two assist the local police with criminal investigations using street smarts and the art of deception.

In addition to the use of real stage illusions, sleight of hand, and connivery, the show frequently showcases the difficult relationship that Alex Blacke has with his father and his efforts to keep him in line.  Their differences are evident even to their clothing: Alex usually wears suits while Leonard wears a carnival-style jacket with a straw hat and bow tie.  The on-screen camaraderie between the actors makes it even funnier.

The series was a last-moment pickup for Harry Morgan. He had intended to retire that year but the death of his wife prompted him to go back to work, and he accepted the role of Leonard Blacke after reading the script because he liked the character.  He was described by many of the cast and crew as "a delight to work with" and "everyone loved him".  For his part, Hal Linden had been idle since the end of "Barney Miller" four years earlier and wanted a chance to do something different.  He even learned how to perform many of the illusions that were featured on the show, assisted by theatrical illusion designer Jim Steinmeyer.

The 13 episode season was fairly popular and was nominated for Outstanding Cinematography for a Series in the 1986 Primetime Emmy Awards, plus it earned a nomination for Best Television Episode in the Edgar Allan Poe Awards of 1987.  Unfortunately the show was caught up in a contract dispute between the network and the studio; in the summer of 1986, NBC ended up eliminating many of its shows that were produced by outside studios, including Blacke's Magic.  The series has never been released on home video, although the whimsical theme tune and snippets of several episodes can be found on YouTube.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

April A to Z Challenge

It's time for the April A to Z Blog Challenge!  This year I decided to focus on TV shows, particularly short-lived shows of one season or less that few people remember.

Let's start with Automan.

A mid-season replacment on ABC, Automan ran from December 15th 1983 to April 2nd 1984.  It was the brainchild of the prolific writer and producer Glen A. Larson, who also gave us Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I., and Knight Rider among others.  The concept was borrowed from the 1982 film TRON, and in fact, TRON producers Donald Kushner and Peter Locke were brought on board in an attempt to avoid plagiarism.  Instead of humans entering the computer world, a program from inside the computer was brought into the humans' world.

Automan combines a police procedural with super-heroic action, with a bit of situational comedy thrown in.  Over-eager police officer Walter Nebicher, played Desi Arnaz Jr., frustrated by his boss not wanting him to go on active duty, creates what he terms a "hologram": an electricity-based construct capable of affecting the real world.  After programming his hologram to act as a super intelligent crime fighter, Walter and Automan, played by Chuck Wagner, embark on a series of rather unorthodox investigations.

There are several unique elements to the show.  Automan had a sidekick called Cursor that acted like a paintbrush and could create almost anything Automan needed, provided there was sufficient electricity to do so.  The most frequently used items were vehicles such as a Lamborghini Countach LP400 ("Autocar") and a Bell Jetranger helicopter ("Autochopper").  Another feature that Automan had was the ability to "wrap" himself around Walter in order to protect him.

Chuck Wagner remarked in a 2012 interview that the show was CGI before there was CGI.  Cursor was hand-animated.  The objects that Cursor created were painted matte black with reflective tape to make them look computer-generated and were "drawn" with wireframe effects.  The Automan costume itself was created by designer Jean-Pierre Dorleac using 3M reflective material that was enhanced in post-production.

At the time, Automan was one of the most expensive series to produce, at over a million dollars per episode.  This plus its failure to garner enough viewers for the the network to justify keeping it, led to its cancellation.  Only twelve of the thirteen episodes were aired, but the final episode was included on the DVD release.


Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Politics in Memes

Someone I've known for a long time, who has described himself as liberal, recently posted a meme on Facebook that equated Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayana Press, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar with Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladmir Lenin, and Stalin.  His comment: "Bad commies all".

My first reaction was that whoever made the meme in the first place had to be horrendously racist and sexist.  All four women are elected Democrats and people of colour.  To put them on the same level with four white men who were noted communists seemed extremely over-the-top and a false comparison.

I was immediately called out on this viewpoint:  "These women are radicals, socialists, and aggressively pushing identity politics, which is just Marx class struggle rebranded around ethnicities. They are bad news."

I refrained from pointing out the obvious, that ethnicities have always had difficulty being heard and treated equally in an otherwise homogeneous society.  These women and their supporters are pushing back with the truth.

Not to mention, the concept of socialism has been bandied about for decades as an evil thing and something to be fought against.  Many people conveniently forget that it helped bring about some of our modern systems such as socialized health care and other tax-supported programs.

Someone else chimed in with the following: "(They) are advocating for a degree of government control that was never foreseen in the American Constitution; her crowd are OK with unequalled levels of government control."

A brief look at the Twitter feeds of the above Congresswomen shows none of this.  They are principled, understand the issues, and call out BS when they see it.  They are advocates for LGBTQ rights, equal pay, and immigration reform.  All of them are disdainful of corporate greed and blatant government cruelty.  Just because others gain equal rights does not mean that you lose your own.  So why is this considered by so many to be a bad thing?

Perhaps the men in power are afraid.  Afraid of the truth, of having to admit they're wrong, of losing their positions.  Perhaps they are angry because these upstarts aren't being meek and subservient; rather they intend to stop the men from doing whatever they please.  The men could be insecure because their standard tactic of doubling down on the threats and vitriol doesn't work any more.

One has to ask, do the men in power really want a world where capitalism and environmental destruction run rampant, where women and ethnics are inferior, and where they can do whatever they want to keep their hands on their money?  The answer seems to be yes - particularly since the president himself removes crucial protections and regulations while spouting lies every single day.

I've toned down my political discourse and stopped posting anti-Trump rhetoric on my social media feeds because I've been accused of lying and spreading hatred.  People whom I've known for decades have taken stances that surprised and disappointed me, and so I stopped talking to them on the subject.  Today's politics, particularly in the U.S., has become divisive and irrational, and the flood of memes on social media makes it worse.

As for my friend, well, I know he'll probably never change his mind.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Ancient History

Recently I was reminded that this year is an anniversary of several major personal events in my life that I've tried hard to forget, even though these were defining moments for my personality and overall outlook.  I've been told multiple times over the years that I need to "get over it" and "you shouldn't harp over stuff that happened that long ago" but it hasn't been that simple.   Healing proceeds at its own pace, no matter the cause of the trauma.

I took one step on January 1st, which was to permanently block the people involved from my social media feeds, even though I'd had very little contact with them anyway.  It felt good.  I speak about them frequently in various support groups, and I've touched on these events in blogs as well.  I don't mention names or give any defining characteristics, but it's likely not hard for people in the know to guess to whom I'm referring.

Now, long stories short:

In August it will have been 30 years since one of the best and the worst summers of my life.  I'd just finished a six-month stint at a community college in Ontario, I was preparing for university, and was head over heels in love with a man with whom I was strongly considering a more permanent relationship.  He went on a six-week vacation to Australia while I foolishly turned down an employment opportunity because I wanted to be available when he returned.

When he came back he threw himself into his work and wouldn't contact me.  After several weeks he finally got some time to take me out on a date, during which he dropped a bombshell: he had fallen in love and slept with another woman while he was in Australia.  He was now working three jobs in order to pay his debts and save enough money to move to Australia to be with her.

Devastated doesn't begin to describe how I felt, and this coupled with several other changes that summer caused me to lose trust in people and spiral down into depression.  The ensuing school year was fraught with difficulties and bad decisions stemming from this, leading to a "rebound" relationship with the man who ended up becoming my first husband.

Which brings me to the second story.  It will have been 20 years as of October since I left my ex-husband, who had turned out to be mentally abusive.  There are a few people out there whom I'm certain still believe that I was in the wrong for leaving.  But when I reread the post from yesterday, I am once again convinced that I did the right thing.

He expected me to be "perfect" but denigrated my efforts to be so.  He expected sex on a regular basis without regard for my comfort.  He rarely forgave mistakes.  My emotional needs were ignored.  I was called lazy, immature, prudish.  When I turned to his family for help and answers, they blamed me.

So I turned my back on them all, and I'm the better for it.

Even all these years later it's still a daily effort to deal with life through the dark cloud of depression that hangs around me, just waiting to be triggered.  Having a special needs child doesn't make it any easier but that also gives something to focus on other than my own issues.  Besides, isn't there a saying that "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger"?