Archive | Television RSS feed for this section

Land Wars in Asia, Sicilians, and Buildings in the UK

29 May

You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”1

-The Princess Bride (Movie)

My wife and I have got hooked on watching shows on the idiot box2 about restoring old buildings in the UK. There’s Restoration Home, which we like, and Restoration Man, which we like even better. (The first seasons of the latter have this cool Monty Pythonesque animation, that is, sadly, absent in later seasons.)

animation

Gotta love that animation

North America lacks any really old buildings, but the UK apparently has scads of ‘em, some of which date back to before the time of Shakespeare. Now, some UK folks with more enthusiasm than sense (or money) fall in love with one of these derelict, falling down hulks and vow to restore them, turning an old ice house, or water tower, or church, or mill into the home of their dreams. We’ve watched multiple episodes of these shows, and this next bit is for you if you’re one of those UK folks bitten by the “I can restore this old ruin” bug:

This next bit:
Run away! This will make you crazy! It will cost more than you ever dreamed, take far longer than you thought, and the UK planning commission folks will be arbitrary- they’ll impose rules that make absolutely no sense! Build a new house or buy an existing one – it’ll cost less! Take a cold shower! Sober up! Run away!

OK, if you’re not one of the UK folks bitten by the restoration bug, I can explain. Watching a few of these shows doesn’t make me an authority, but patterns have emerged. The restorers frequently say the same things:

1. “We have budget of X thousand pounds to complete the project.” (Double it!)

2. “We will be in by Christmas.” (It’s not gonna happen!)

3. “I think the planning commission will accept my proposed design and extension.” (These folks are bonkers! They’ll reject stuff for no apparent reason!)

OK, I’m not against preserving the past – I like the fact that there’re folks willing to take on these arduous projects. However, if preservation comes at the cost of peoples’ mental and economic health, then some of these old structures can sink back into the bogs from whence they came, in my humble opinion.

Many of these old structures are “listed”, which means that they’re part of a national registry of old buildings. You can’t do anything you want to these buildings – a commission has to give the go-ahead. Some of these commissions seem reasonable, while others seem downright despotic. An episode we watched recently (shot in 2008, I think) showed a couple with four daughters who restored a building that dated from 1632. The timbers were in good shape, and they’d installed a beautiful new thatched roof. The rub was that the existing structure was inadequate for six people, so they’d designed a two-story extension to be connected to the original building. (This is apparently not uncommon and such additions are often approved if something, say, a glass-enclosed corridor, separates the old from the new.) For no discernible reason, the planning commission dictated that the extension’s size be reduced by 40% and that it not be as tall as the existing structure. If this were, say, Tokyo, where every square foot of space is precious, this might make sense. However, this was a rural part of England, with no other buildings in the vicinity. Go figure.

This couple were lucky in that the original timbers were still in good shape. Many of these folks find to their horror that deathwatch beetles3 have eaten the wood, or the house is plagued with ‘rising damp’ (whatever that is) or some other unforeseen calamity.

Having said all this, the restorers are often amazing. Experienced builders may find themselves in over their heads, while novices determined to make a go of it often learn quickly and do the work themselves.

For me, the appeal of these shows is in seeing several years of hard ‘graft’ (in the UK it apparently means ‘work’, but in the US anyway, it means ‘corruption’) distilled down to about 40 minutes of screen time in which we follow a couple (usually) from the rapture of finding their dream ruin, though trials and setbacks (on the job site, in the pocket book, the relationship, and/or in the bureaucracy) to the payoff where we get to behold the completed structure. Or not – in several episodes (a Restoration Man with a hapless chap trying to restore an ancient tower comes to mind), the work never even gets off the ground.

As usual, I don’t know where I’m going with this, except perhaps to say that I find the concept of a “dream home” a bit dubious. Having a nice view, or energy efficiency, or clean tasteful lines all make a house a more pleasant place to live. However, in the end, it all comes down to the people in it.

1. Only slightly less well known than that is “Never restore a listed building in the UK when your sanity and finances are on the line.”

2. A lot of these episodes are on You Tube, but we’re watchin’ You Tube on our idiot box. Is this You Tube stuff bootlegged? I have no idea.

3. Xestobium rufovillosum, if you wish to be pedantic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deathwatch_beetle

Advertisements

God Bless You, Fred Ianelli, Wherever You Are!

21 Dec

We’ve wanted to say “God Bless you, Fred Ianelli, wherever you are” for a while now but we didn’t for several reasons:

  1. Fred Ianelli is the name of an actual guy that we knew, though not well.  We weren’t (and still aren’t) sure about how he’d feel about our use of his real name (assuming he ever even sees this.)
  2. We thought that the gang down at Atheism, Inc. might boycott us if we invoked the Diety

We’ve long known from personal experience that sometimes a comment made during a brief encounter can make a big difference, as Fred’s did for us on a Friday many autumns ago.

We majored in Communications at a university in the Midwest. (Upon graduation, we were all set for a career in broadcasting in the 1950s – unfortunately, it was the late 1970s.)  Back in those halcyon days, we were taking this 400 level TV  directing class.  The first assignment seemed simple enough: theme music, fade in on a title card, cut to the talent (the person in front of the camera is called the talent, even if that person has none), let the talent speak about a subject, cut to an object or diagram, back to the talent,  more talking, fade out. The whole thing is over in 3 minutes.

tv_camera

All set for the 1950s

Each student was to direct a talent and also be the talent for another student’s segment. The chap slated to be our talent proved a bit elusive – he didn’t seem to want to meet with us, and the most we could get out of him was that he’d be talking about stereo stuff – woofers, tweeters and the like.  He said he’d refer to a diagram to augment his short spiel. The diagram worried us – graphics must be bold to be visible on camera. We offered to take his concept and produce the graphic ourselves, but he assured us that he would take care of its creation.

On the day of the class our worst fears were realized – far from creating a graphic that would show up well on camera, our talent had created an ill-defined diagram that we knew instantly would display as washed-out white with faint dark lines. It looked like a kid in grade school had made it. Oh, well, nothing to do but tape the segment. Needless to say, the result was underwhelming. In his critique, the instructor stressed that the graphic was poor and needed to be visible to the viewing audience. We got a C.

On the trek back to our dorm, we happened to encounter the eponymous Fred, with whom we exchanged a few words of greeting.  We mentioned our less than stellar experience in  the TV directing class, which he had also taken in the past. As we finished our tale of woe, we saw that Fred seemed really amused.  He clapped us on the arm and said “Don’t let them mindf**k you, my man! And that’s what they’re going to try to do.  Don’t let ’em.”  The “they” he was referring to was the entire Communications department at our august institution.  We realized that he was right, and it cheered us up immensely.  We’d taken the whole thing way too seriously. By the time we got back home, we were smiling.

 

Outlander, Dr. Who, Star Trek, and Brigadoon

28 Apr

We were at a bachelor party some years ago (a rather sedate one) where a chap gave us his observations about the difference between Star Trek and Dr. Who.  Star Trek, he explained was the “American Male Fantasy”, whereas Dr. Who was all about “Labor Relations.” Dr. Who, he observed, mediated quarrels between bellicose aliens, whereas Captain Kirk got all the women.

We wonder if Outlander, now in its second season, functions as Star Trek for women – a not-necessarily-American female fantasy. Even the show’s  theme  song  muses “Say, could that lass be I?” After falling through a stone into 18th century Scotland last season, the main character Claire is unfazed by the era’s lack of modern plumbing. This season, she and her husband Jamie travel to France where they make their entrée into the French court with surprising ease. All the while, Claire runs around in the haute couture of the day. If she has to make that temporal jump to the left, a woman could do worse. And like the proverbial hedgehog, Claire knows one important thing; the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 must not happen.

We know that it’s going to happen, though. The show removes all doubt with the opening sequence of the first episode of the second season.  Claire’s back in the 20th century asking a passing motorist who won the battle of Colloden.  (Hint:  it isn’t the Scots.)  In stories involving time travel, at least two schools  of thought contend. One is the “Watch out – the slightest thing you do in the past will change everything in the future” school.  (Think  Ray Bradbury’s  “A Sound of Thunder”, for example.)  Another is the “No amount of meddling in the past changes the future one bit” school.  (Think Alfred Bester’s “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed.”)   Outlander seems to be in the latter camp. (By the way, we took issue with the fact that Claire’s 20th century husband is upset that she’s been away for two years –  just because she’s spent two years in the past does not mean that two years have passed in the 20th century.  However, that’s how author Diana Gabaldon apparently chose to do it, so we shouldn’t quibble.)

The show is a bit of a mixed bag – it’s a romance, but it’s punctuated by scenes of ultra-violence that would give Sam Peckinpah pause. Production values are high, and the acting is top drawer. We particularly like the scenes with Simon Callow, who plays the Duke of Ham Sandwich or the Duke of Sandringham or something like that.  Also high on our list this season is Andrew Gower, who plays  Bonnie Prince Charlie with dotty fervor.  He can hold forth on how it’s the will of God that he should reign while delivering this heartfelt speech in a bordello.

Bonnie_Prince_Charlie

You’re a dotty one, Bonnie Prince Charlie!

As per usual, we don’t know where we’re going with this.  We started watching Outlander because our spouse was watching it, but we’re not sure if we’ll be able to stay with it – it’s a show that makes one uneasy (we’re wusses, what can we say?) Our adult youngest daughter perhaps said it best: “I can’t watch Outlander for the same reason I couldn’t watch Brigadoon as a kid. It’s a story about being trapped in the past.”

Celebrity and the Scarlet Letter

26 Feb

We’re hardly the first to remark that American culture (no, that’s not an oxymoron, though it may sound like one) places a high value on celebrity, and on the whole, we’re pretty forgiving of celebrities.  An actor may have a bout with drugs or alcohol, but after getting clean, he or she is welcomed back into the fold (as was Robert Downey, Jr, for example.) 

There is one thing, however, that even (or perhaps especially) celebrities must not do. Any celebrity who breaks this taboo will be cast out and made to wear a scarlet ‘A’.  We simply will not allow celebrities to age.  If a celebrity stubbornly insists on aging, she (the feminine pronoun seems most apt here; unless you’re Mickey Rourke, women are judged more harshly than men) had better do so ‘gracefully.’  Don’t believe us? Do a web search (we’re old school; we won’t let ourselves use ‘google’ as a verb) on “celebrities age gracefully.”  You’ll get hits for celebrities who have supposedly aged gracefully, but you’ll also get just as many for those who supposedly haven’t. There’s an unspoken assumption that those who have aged gracefully are somehow morally virtuous, while those who haven’t have somehow brought it on themselves. (Sure, Keith Richard may fall into the latter category, but we think that someone who’s lived the life he has looks pretty darn good today.)

Those who attempt to prolong their youthful appearance through plastic surgery had better choose their surgeons carefully.  The price of failure is ridicule. Those who choose well pass unnoticed (or perhaps get into the ‘aging gracefully’ camp) while those whose surgeries fail are given the scarlet letter.  Poor Meg Ryan is lumped in the latter category, but we wonder why.  We’ve seen her ‘post-surgery’ photos, and to us she looks fine, surgery or no surgery.  It’s become so ridiculous that Brigitte Bardot has ended up on someone’s ‘not aging gracefully’ list.  She’s 79 years old, for crying out loud, cut the woman some slack. We saw that the late Farrah Fawcett wound up on someone’s list.  We’re not making excuses for her appalling lack of good taste in not looking like she was still twenty years old, but she did have a few other things on her mind at the time (like coping with cancer.)  Again, we’re not excusing the behavior, just explaining it.

There is more we could say on this topic, but if we don’t leave for our liposuction appointment now, it’s going to take months before we can reschedule.

Yoda

Get an eye lift if you want to keep working, Yoda,

TV News

21 Sep

Newscaster in Television StudioWhen you watch the news on the idiot box, all the talking heads use the same script when they sign off, which is something  like: “Join us tomorrow on Action News at 11:00.  Until then, I’m Sue Glotz.”  It always makes me wonder who she’s gonna be after that …