Blog: Entertainment

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Disappointed in Netflix

Me: Opens help chat with Netflix (there is no email option).
Chatbot: Title?
Me: Accessibility options for choosing shows

Chatbot: Sends links to irrelevant articles I already had to click past to get to the contact link.
Me: Clicks "chat with an agent".

(Opening handshake.)

Agent: Can you elaborate the issue that you are facing?

Me: When browsing shows, either on my TV or on your web site, you only show graphics for the shows. I don't see very well and the art is often hard to see, particularly if the show uses small or fancy fonts. Is there a way to see a text list? You used to have that for the web site (but not the TV) but that's been gone for a while. I do not want to have to hover over or navigate into each thing when browsing -- too many to do that. I'm looking for a way to scan a list of titles I can actually see.

Agent: The list is not available anymore

Me: Is there some accessibility setting I can change? It's really frustrating to not be able to navigate your offerings.

Agent: I understand, but there is no setting

Me: Thank you. I understand. How can I escalate my concern? I know that you cannot fix it but somebody at Netflix should be concerned about ADA/accessibility. How do I reach that person?

Agent: There is no one that can resolve it. I can pass on the suggestion and the feedback to our team. And they will look into it.

I suspect I know how that will go. I have the impression that all the streaming services are anti-accessible like this, though I've only done cursory browsing. They probably all think it's ok because everybody else does it. Netflix has had this problem for a while; I don't often use the service because of that, and every time I go to watch something I am reminded of how hostile it is. (In case you're wondering, my Netflix subscription comes bundled with something else; otherwise I probably would have dropped it by now because of this.)


Last night we saw the Broadway tour of Hadestown, a musical retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice (and Hades and Persephone). I'll assume my readers know (or will Google) the Greek myths, so in that sense there are no spoilers, but this show puts an interesting spin on it. Narrated by Hermes and with active participation by the Fates, we see both Orpheus and Eurydice "up above" and Hades' realm "down below", which is reached by a train. The train motif shows up in the music, the staging, and (I kid you not) the lighting. The company is smaller than many musicals and put to effective use. I enjoyed the music and don't have a good way to describe it.

Eurydice's and Oprheus's world is harsh from climate change, the program notes, though I might have missed that specific angle otherwise. Orpheus is focused on writing a song that will bring the world back into balance, but it's slow going. In this version Eurydice isn't bitten by a poisonous snake; starving and cold in the midst of winter and unable to find work, she is lured to Hadestown by promises of work and shelter. But the workers there toil away in misery in a factory, building fortifications for Hades' domain. ("Why We Build the Wall" resonates well beyond this show, I assume by design.) When Orpheus shows up to rescue Eurydice, the other workers are taking note too. Meanwhile, Persephone, whose marriage with Hades is rather rocky (shall we say), is also taking note of the power of love.

The story is a tragedy; we know it from the myth and we're told so by Hermes in the introductory stanzas of the show. But it has a positive vibe, too. I don't want to say more about that for people who haven't seen it yet.

Orpheus's music calls for falsetto in some key places -- whole passages, not just a note or two -- and the actor in this production pulled it off very smoothly. At the other end of that, uh, scale, I find myself wanting to catch a glimpse of the score, because Hades has some very low bass notes, also performed well in this production. C2 maybe???

I don't see a lot of Broadway-class shows so maybe this is normal, but I was very impressed by the staging and especially the lighting. There's one set, used throughout, that evokes the different settings just through the movements of small items (by cast members, not gophers) and changes of lighting. The lighting in this show is very active; I commented to Dani that the lighting operators deserved cast credit. It's that integral to the show, and it's not a small effort. One warning, though: there are strobe effects, and there were times when lights were pointed at the audience for brief periods.

There were some sound problems in the show we saw -- engineering problems, not cast problems. When things got loud, they spiked the levels and we got some distortion, making it hard to hear the lyrics in a few places. I'm told by somebody who sees a lot of shows there that this is not uncommon in that venue (Benedum Center), alas.

I enjoyed the show, even with those sound issues. I wasn't familiar with the show and hadn't heard the soundtrack before seeing it; this was very much an "I've heard good things about it" outing.

Survivors: new chapters

In the late 1970s there was a BBC series, created by Terry Nation, called Survivors. A devastating plague has ravaged the world, killing almost everybody; the show follows small groups of people who survived that only to have to cope with the new state of the world. I enjoyed the show (much later, when I came across it on Netflix), though it started to meander as time went on. (I later learned that Terry Nation had left the show after the first season -- probably related.) Later there was a remake of sorts, with some significantly different plot points. Both versions ended before being resolved.

Terry Nation wrote a novel, presumably the story he had intended to tell. I read the book during this current pandemic, and yes, it's a much tighter story than the TV show. I enjoyed it. It has an ending. I will not spoil it in this post (no promises about comments if you click through to the source).

A few months ago I learned that there was a sequel to that novel, not written by Terry Nation. Genesis of a Hero, by John Eyers, logically follows Survivors and shows other parts of this post-apocalyptic world. I thought some things in it happened too quickly and too tidily, that real people are more complex than some of the ones we saw in the novel, but it was worth reading -- I enjoyed spending time as an observer in the world it portrays. It ended in a good place.

Forty years passed. And then John Eyers wrote a sequel to that, called Salvation, published a few months ago. If you liked Survivors, and if you read Genesis of a Hero, then, I implore you in the strongest possible way, stop there.

I don't know what led the author to return to the series after such a long time. I don't know why he decided to, essentially, tell a related-seeming story in a different world -- a problem which did not become apparent until after the halfway point. Much of this latest book deviates far too much from the baseline, some key plot points just do not make sense, and the story, characters, and writing are nowhere near compelling enough for me to overcome those faults.

He should have stopped at one sequel. Since he didn't, I should have stopped reading this one at the first improbable left turn instead of reading on to see how he would resolve it because surely he would, right? Uh... if you do start reading this book (or if you already have), when you get to that left turn, I urge you to close the book and do something you'll find more rewarding, like scrubbing your kitchen floor.

Stowaway (Netflix): meh

The premise of Stowaway, a new movie from Netflix, as shown in the teasers: a crew of three leaves for a two-year mission to Mars, and after departure discover an injured worker from the launch pad onboard -- not really a stowaway in that he didn't plan for this, but there he is. But the safety margins don't account for an extra person.

I immediately thought of "The Cold Equations", a classic SF short story. It seemed clear that there could not be a happy ending, but I was curious which of the several possible outcomes we'd get. IMO they chose the wrong one.

Spoilers below. Read more…

Surprise vacation

A couple years ago friends of ours took a trip with a "surprise travel agency", which was not a thing I had previously known existed. Basically, you give them dates and a budget, fill out a dating profile interest survey, tell them what cities you've been to recently or visit regularly already, and they plan a trip for you. A week in advance you get a long-range weather forecast and some packing suggestions/hints. The day before you get an updated forecast. At the time they tell you to be at the airport, you get email with your boarding passes and find out where you're going.

(Ok, they also send you a paper packet a few days in advance, containing things like attractions at your destination, where your hotel is, information about your return flight, and so on. They tell you not to open this until you get to the airport. You could cheat, but we didn't.)

The folks we used, Pack Up & Go, describe what they do as "weekend getaways", but somewhere in the FAQ is the information that, yes, you can tell them when your weekend is, so we were able to book a Sunday-through-Tuesday trip. They did a good job of planning an interesting trip that took into account our survey responses including write-ins. We used write-ins to flesh out broad categories that were checkboxes: yes we like live music but not loud music, yes we like museums and we are, in particular, science and technology geeks and prefer history to paintings, and a couple other things like that. With our survey we sent a pretty strong "culture good, learning great, beaches and sports not interesting" signal. We also noted that we needed vegetarian food options; by saying "options" we meant to convey that one of us cares, but we learned that we should be more explicit next time. (Not bad -- just that Dani would not have otherwise gone to a vegan restaurant, I don't think.)

So, with that preamble, we went to... Read more…

Captain Marvel (short, no spoilers)

I'm never going to look at my cat the same way again. Just saying...

The Orville: Primal Urges

All of the humans in The Orville seem to have a shared fascination with late-20th-century American pop culture, which is pretty lame for a show set in the 25th century. I mean, do you and your coworkers all share an interest in one specific historical period several centuries ago? Unlikely.

Until last night's episode I didn't realize it ran deeper. (Maybe it was a subtle clue!) Their ideas about computer security also run to the late 20th century. shudder

Sheesh. First I wanted to yell at the officer who did the moral equivalent of plugging in a USB device of unknown origin labelled "free porn!". Then I really wanted to yell at the ship's IT department for what came next.

Kids, don't learn security practices from those guys. Just don't.

(So far the new season is at "eh, wait and see". It's nice to see followup on that one controversy from season one and I realize that all episodes can't be "Majority Rule"- or "Mad Idolatry"-quality, but I was hoping for a stronger start.)

I've avoided spoilers in this post, but if you're on your own for comments.

Between (Netflix)

Over the last few days I watched the Netflix show Between, which ran for two (six-episode) seasons. (It was a collaboration between them and some other studio.) When looking for some stuff about it online I came across several "where is season 3?" threads -- apparently they never formally cancelled it but the last episode came out in 2016.

I, on the other hand, am fully satisfied with the ending, and while there's definitely more story that they could tell, I think another season would feel like a bolt-on taking things in a different direction, kind of like that terrible telepath plotline that filled half of Babylon 5's fifth season. I'm glad they seem to have decided to leave well enough alone here.

Between is set in the fictional town of Pretty Lake (um, ok); they don't say where, but it feels like the midwest. (I thought Ohio because we see Mennonites, but a government official is Minister so-and-so, so maybe Canada?) A plague strikes, killing all the adults (and making me immediately think of Jeremiah), and the government quarantines them. The show takes place in the weeks that follow. Some of the characters start out rather two-dimensional, but we see growth, especially in the second season. There's the spoiled rich kid who sees himself as the natural person to lead the town now, and the smart kid who tries to figure out what's really going on (and learns he has a special connection), and the farm kid who turns out to be a paladin to the detriment of his younger sister, and the druggie and the brother who tries to protect him, and the gangs, and the pregnant teen with the sanctimonious sister, and the guy who's locked in prison when the outbreak hits. And there is the infrequently-glimpsed government that isn't playing straight, which plot develops more in the second season.

There's a saying, I can't remember where from, that civilization is seven meals away from breaking down into chaos. That's very evident here; we have a quarantined town that has only the food they had on hand, and the conflicts between the "I've got mine (and will defend it violently)" folks and the "we need to help everybody" folks (and the "we need to break out of here" folks). This town is full of teenagers, so we get the angst that goes with that too.

I found that I very much needed to suspend disbelief on the plague itself; without spoiling things, let me just say that so far as I know, biology doesn't work that way. No, really, some of this does not stand up to even minimal scrutiny. If you watch the show you just have to roll with that.

It's a decent show, not a great show; the characters take some time to settle in and the acting isn't great. For me that broader plot scenario laid an interesting-enough foundation, and there good strong moments and arcs within the larger show. It's about a 9-hour investment to watch the whole series, which I found worth it.

In response to a comment about biology:

I might have been insufficiently clear. During the show we find out more about how the plague works, and biology really doesn't work that way. The disbelief you suspend for the initial premise isn't the only disbelief you'll need to suspend, I'm afraid. :-)

There was a show about 15 years ago written by JMS (of B5 fame) called Jeremiah, which had a similar starting premise, but the plague there was not contained. That show was set 15 or 20 years later, after civilization has largely collapsed and competing groups are trying to rebuild it. I quite enjoyed that one, which focused on the societal aspects and didn't get into much detail (as I recall) about the plague itself. So it was still a "wait, really?" premise, but easy for me to set aside.

The Orville

I know I'm behind the times here. I missed the start of The Orville, but heard good things about it and have been streaming the season to catch up to where my DVR starts. I'm about six episodes in.

How are the The Orville people not getting sued by the Star Trek people? I can't tell where on the line between clone and homage it is.

I find it refreshing that we don't always get the pat human-centric happily-ever-after ending. Starfleet The Union doesn't get to impose its morals and values on the rest of the universe all the time ("About a Girl") -- but sometimes they intervene in other societies and it turns out to be the right thing to do ("If the Stars Should Appear").

There's quite a bit of humor, some of it "adult", and some of which works. I'd prefer to see fewer current cultural references in a show set 400 years in the future. So far the humor is mostly staying at the right level for what's trying to be an SF adventure show, but it's a risk. Please let's avoid too much slapstick and frat-house "humor".

The jury is still out on some of the tropes. The not-a-Klingon second officer from a planet whose main industry is weapons and whose people value machismo? Check. Android science officer who's smarter than everyone else put together but is challenged to learn human culture? Check. Captain who's all too susceptible to a pretty face? Check. (But he couldn't make his marriage work. But we might see another shot at that yet.)

With some other things, it's too early to tell. The female security officer who's barely more than a hundred pounds dripping wet, but super-strong, seems a little too cardboard so far; I want to see less "but she's a girl" and more competence. And the male couple worked better for me before I learned that they're basically an all-male race, so they aren't actually showing a gay couple being perfectly normal after all.

The same person created the show, writes a lot of the episodes, and stars in it, and that could throw an ensemble show out of whack. The captain is not the most interesting character on that ship, and I want to see some of the others get some development. So far at least one is being played entirely for laughs (Yafet), and the show would be stronger if they didn't do that.

But I'm still wondering what's going on with whoever owns Star Trek these days.

Arrival (no spoilers)

We saw Arrival this afternoon and quite enjoyed it. No spoilers in this post, though I can't make any promises about comments.

The movie is based on the short story "The Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. Even if I hadn't heard positive things about the movie, I might well have gone out of extreme curiosity about how they would translate the story to film. The short story is a thinky, introspective tale with a decent amount of linguistics as a core part of the story. Linguistics, unlike physical sciences, doesn't translate as easily to the screen (i.e. it doesn't explode). So the movie tells a slightly different story, with some different focuses, and that's ok. It's a good, solid movie that shows us truly alien aliens, all-too-human humans, and a linguist and a physicist who take center stage in a first-contact situation. The physicist is there to try to learn their science; the linguist is there to figure out how to communicate with them when there is no shared language upon which to build. (They could have afforded to spend a few minutes less on the visual effects to introduce the aliens.)

The alien language is very cool. And it reveals one of the things that makes them alien. Learning the language entails learning some of that alien-ness, too.

The linguist, Dr. Louise Banks, is the point-of-view character through whom we see everything else. It's nice to see linguistics get some love in popular fiction. (And I also learned a thing about the Sanskrit word for war.) I wish the character had come across as strong in the movie as she did in the book; it took a while for her to find her stride. The main story is interspersed with flashes into other times in her life, and that's all I'll say about that because I promised no spoilers.