Recently I decided to watch an episode of the AMC show Hell on Wheels onNetflix. I had not heard anything positive or negative about the show, but I was in the mood to watch a modern production of a mid-1800s western. Over the next week or so I watched all of the first two seasons. The show captured my attention, and here is why (speaking in generalities to avoid spoilers).
The series is the story of a railroad company building tracks across the untamed west. Hell on Wheels is the name given to the settlement near the end of the rail line where most of the story takes place. Around this story of railroad enterprise several other stories are told.
I really liked the complexity of many of the characters. Noble traits are mixed with shameful traits. No one is portrayed as all good or all bad. Along the same lines, weakness and strength are often not far apart. Because all this character development occurs, there are many characters that could conceivably be viewed as a favorite. I particularly enjoyed the way Thomas Durant, Lily Bell, Elam Ferguson, Mr. Toole, and Eva’s characters were developed (but discussing these characters would involve major plot spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that).
The series has a raw brutality and directness. Scenes of injuries show blood. Many deaths are not quick and quiet. And it’s not just limited to the humans, a scene from the butchers shop shows where bacon comes from in more detail than I’ve ever seen on a television show (the show has a “no animals were harmed . . .” statement during the credits, so I guess the gutting and slicing scenes were all with props). What I like about the blood and violence in this show is that it is not glorified, it’s ugly.
One disturbing aspect of the show is the portrayal of Christianity. Some of the characters make good statements, but the role of the church and the behavior of proclaimed Believers is an example of misplaced faith and misguided motivations.
After seeing the first two seasons I suspect this show will see a large fall in viewership due to its reluctance to embrace normal Hollywood plot lines.
Season 3 started recently on AMC. I don’t have cable television, so I’m out of luck as far as watching the show in real time. Maybe I’ll catch up when the third season hits Netflix. . .
Normally when a network promotes an upcoming show excessively with commercials I develop a revulsion for the show before it even airs. Examples from the past couple of years include Frank TV and the George Lopez Show (I have not watched either, I decided I did not like them based solely upon the barrage of promos). Most of my television viewing is baseball related, which is new-show-advertising-blitz free during the regular season. Then the postseason arrives and things change. TBS and FOX will do their best to make me hate a new show.
This year I have found the Conan promos to be much different from previous campaigns. First of all, there is a large variety of them, which means individual clips are not seen with mind-numbing frequency. Second, many of them are legitimately funny. Third, Conan O’Brien introduced me to the song Missing You by John Waite through one of the promos.
I can’t believe I had never heard Waite’s Billboard #1 hit from 1984 before. I thought I was familiar with the 1980’s pop and rock scene, but somehow I had missed Waite’s solo work (I only knew him from his brief Bad English days). When I heard the chorus of the song in the Conan promo the voice sounded familiar, but I didn’t know the song. A quick YouTube search led me to the music video.
There is so much to like about it. The song has a classic eighties feel with a muted guitar, a big snare , and some kind of synth among other things. The melody is pure musical genius. I love the space Waite leaves around the chord changes. He uses silence and rests perfectly. It really amuses me that Waite would later form a band called Bad English, because his grammar in this song has a few rough spots (“I ain’t missing you at all, since you been gone away”).
A few quick thoughts:
That dangling earring screams rock star, eighties rock star.
I fully expected him to remove his hand and be bleeding at the 0:43 mark.
Did anyone else immediately have to identify the flowers in the art gallery at 0:52? It might just be a horticulturist thing.
Based upon the line “I’m lying to myself” towards the end of the song and the behavior of the protagonist I’m assuming he really does miss her a lot. But then he misses her returning because he’s listening to a song about trying not to miss her while missing her. It’s actually pretty sad.
TBS is almost finished televising postseason baseball for 2010 and I don’t hate their new show. That’s a first. I watch very little late night television, and when I do it’s usually Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, so I doubt I’ll watch Conan very much. Odds are I’ll look up highlights and excerpts on TBS.com or Hulu.
During the summer a Travelers Insurance commercial featuring a rattlesnake and a rabbit began airing. The snake has lost its rattle and has a makeshift repair job composed of a child’s toy rattle and duct tape. A rabbit encounters the snake, initial fear is followed by laughter as the rabbit mocks the snake’s inferior rattle. In the end the snake is embarrassed and the rabbit is amused.
A voice over presents the following: Close enough just isn’t good enough. If your car is in an accident make sure it’s repaired with the right replacement parts.
And then this little catchy slogan is delivered: Travelers: Take the scary out of life.
It’s a terrible commercial. The snake is just as dangerous–I would argue even more dangerous–without his rattle. As the rabbit laughed the snake should have used his still-working venom. The rabbit is an idiot.
Now the slogan Travelers uses is “Travelers: Take the scary out of life.” However, in the commercial if the snake had used their product he would have had his rattle replaced with a first class prosthetic, allowing him to strike fear into the heart of the rabbit. Thus Travelers would help put the scary back in life.
This commercial also raises an interesting question: how did the snake apply the duct tape?
Sometimes a television show just grabs me. Especially when it is in cable reruns and I stumble across a block of many consecutive episodes. I’ve accidentally dedicated evenings to watching blocks of CSI, Myth Busters, Man v. Food, and Pawn Stars. Tonight Monsters Inside Me was added to the list.
Early in the evening I turned on CNN to watch some discussion on the Amanda Knox trial verdict. After the segment I wanted to hear was over I switched the television to the Travel Channel and watched Man v. Food at a low volume while I worked out some final details in my musical arrangements for Sunday. By the time I finished my arrangements another show was coming on (some nonsense about ghost hunters or something), so I reached for the remote to shut off my television. And then I committed a grievous error. I decided to channel surf for a moment before shutting off the TV.
As I wandered past the Discovery Channel I saw Monsters Inside Me in progress. Three episodes later I finally shut off my television. The show is about parasites. It is educational, interesting, and terrifying.
Why do I say terrifying? For several reasons. The footage of the parasites, in both real life shots and CGI images, is enough to make you imagine your skin is crawling. Most of the people suffering serious infestations of parasites were exposed to them through very normal activities. All of those people had at least one misdiagnosis of their condition and some had many misdiagnoses.
A rat lungworm hatches (Image via Discovery Communications, LLC).
You can check out the show on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel. Or if you just want a glimpse of it, here is a link to the AnimalPlanet Youtube channel, which has a series of clips from the show (link).
Last night I watched the first two episodes of the NBC show Parks and Recreation at Hulu.com. I’m a fan of Michael Shur (AKA Mose Shrute or Ken Tremendous) and he’s one of the creators, so I thought I’d check it out.
The show is a mock documentary. I like the cast, which is headlined Amy Poehler. Others include Paul Schneider (I liked his character in Lars and the Real Girl, and in Parks and Rec his character is very promising), Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones, and Nick Offerman.
I’m not sure if the first two episodes would have grabbed my attention as solidly as they did if I had not had a preconceived bias toward it. Admittedly I plan to watch the entire first season no matter how much I like or dislike it just because Mike Schur is involved in the project.
If you haven’t seen Parks and Recreation yet you should check it out: Hulu Page.