Monthly Archives: April 2015

Ross Cooks: Chorizo Stir-Fry

I hesitate to call my son a “picky eater”. It’s really more that he’s a dinnertime-reluctant, spontaneously declaring on a day-by-day basis things that he doesn’t like despite having always liked them before, often that same day. There are few enough things that he’ll outright refuse (Mostly legumes), but it’s hard to get him to eat an entire meal at dinnertime (But on schooldays, he usually eats breakfast twice so that makes up for it). But, kind of inexplicably, he liked this one, the result of me throwing together the leftover odds and ends from Leah spending a day preparing frozen slow-cooker meals. A better mix of vegetables probably wouldn’t go amiss here, but really the key thing to this is the chorizo-mushroom sauce, which is incredibly rich and tastes kind of like a slightly spicy demi-glace. In general, I don’t like frying things, especially stir-frying, because it makes a mess and because the smell permeates the house and gets into my CPAP machine filter, but this was absolutely worth it.

There’s a lot of back-and-forth in this recipe that you could streamline, particularly if you’ve got a second wok (I actually do have a second wok, but I try not to use more pans than I absolutely have to), but my method had the advantage of everything being the right amount of hot at the right time.

For The Stir-Fry

  • 1 lb pre-cooked Iberian-style chorizo, cut into rings.
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • ½ can beef broth
  • 2 tbsp white truffle butter
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ½ of a jalepeno, diced
  • Slices equivalent to 1 bell pepper, assorted colors
  • 1 lb white mushrooms, washed and salted
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 sprigs of parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp capers, because why not

Additionally

  • 1 pt. white rice, steamed and chilled (ie. “leftovers from Chinese take-out the previous day”)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Soy sauce
  • 2 tsp corn starch

Melt the butter in a large wok. Add the onions, peppers and mushrooms. Dylan asked me to leave the mushrooms whole instead of slicing them. They’re hard to cook that way, and I have no idea why I would listen to him since he had absolutely no intention of eating mushrooms, but it came out okay. Drizzle with olive oil and sautee over medium-high heat until the onions just start to turn translucent. Add everything else except the beef broth, and stir-fry until the onions are fully translucent and the mushrooms are giving up liquid. Add the beef broth, reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook until the mushrooms look cooked, about 5-10 minutes, stirring infrequently.

Put a colander inside a large bowl and dump the wok into it. Return the wok to high heat and add the vegetable oil. When the oil gets hot, scramble the egg into it, then hack the egg to pieces with your stirring implement. Add the rice and a few spoonfuls of liquid from the stir-fry and soy sauce to taste. Fry the rice, stirring constantly, until lightly golden-brown. Remove the rice to a serving bowl. Put the rest of the liquid back in the wok and whisk in the cornstarch. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently until it thickens. Transfer it into a serving dish and return the stir-fry to the pan for a minute to warm it up.

Thesis: The Resurrection, Continued (War of the Worlds 1×01)

Previously…

History Channel Aliens Meme

And now, the conclusion…

While Harrison and Suzanne have been patiently waiting in the woods outside an alien-infested ghost town, Ironhorse and his sidekick have been tracking the “terrorists” using the more conventional means of interviewing drunken rednecks who show up at police stations with wild stories of hairless gorillas or people speaking in tongues. War of the Worlds: Richard Chavez as Paul IronhorseI like the way this plot is set up. As I said before, the direction, the audio and a lot of the acting in this is terrible, but the actual structure of the show is really fantastic. You basically have Harrison and Suzanne in one plot pursuing one track, while Ironhorse and Sgt. Reynolds are in an independent plot pursuing another track, both converging on the same place. I wonder if there were plans early on for Reynolds to be a regular character, because he works well enough as someone for Ironhorse to order around. He’s the one whose job is to dismiss the crazier parts of the story as drunken fantasy, while Ironhorse stays overly intense and military. Instead, Reynolds is going to buy it later in the story, which I guess kinda presages Jessie in the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Ironhorse and Harrison finally collide after his nap, when Delta Squad catches them in the woods near the ghost town. Harrison isn’t able to persuade Ironhorse that he’s making a huge mistake sending his men in to raid the place, and it turns into a bug hunt. Game over, man, game over. After a few minutes of dutch angles as Delta Squad is systematically murdered by aliens, Ironhorse decides it’s time to have a crowning moment of badass as he rushes in with a grenade launcher and manages to kill half a dozen aliens before he’s dropped by a three-weighted bola. He manages to get off one more good shot, which is snatched out of the air by a possessed redneck, though he just stands there staring at it until it blows up in his hand. A second bola restrains Ironhorse’s arms, forcing Harrison to come to his rescue on an ATV. Unable to find Suzanne after their escape, they dig in for the night, then search the re-abandoned ghost town in the morning, fearing she’s been taken. Fortunately, Harrison refers to her as “uptight”, which,War of the Worlds: Jared Martin, Lynda Mason Green and Richard Chavez in accordance with the laws of dramatic necessity prompts her to come out of hiding to chew him out over it. We also get our first look at what happens to the aliens when they die, as Ironhorse’s kills of the previous night have melted into white, foamy puddles dotted with human remains. There’s certainly some unreality to it — the identifiable human bits all look more than a little like discarded disguises from Mission: Impossible, but rather than looking cheap and fake, the rubbery skin and lack of blood or organs serve to reinforce the sense that the human victims have been, in essence, hollowed out and taxidermied.

War of the Worlds The Series: Alien RemainsIronhorse is finally willing to believe that there’s “something” weird going on, what with the bolas and the terrorists melting when shot, but he still maintains that, “I don’t believe in ghosts and I sure as hell don’t believe in aliens from another planet.” Keep in mind, he is literally the only person in the show who has come right out and said he doesn’t believe in aliens.

They meet with General Wilson again, who plays really coy. He rambles a bit about how little they know about the capabilities, resources, intentions and strategies of their adversaries, then insists that their eyewitness reports still don’t count as “evidence”, especially as Ironhorse still thinks it’s just terrorists with magic powers. But then he does a weird about-face and admits that, yeah, it’s aliens. In exchange for being discrete about it, Wilson hires Harrison, Suzanne, and Norton and gives them unlimited funds, a secret base, their own private supercomputer, and Ironhorse.

At this point, they strike the sets, fire the minor cast members, and pack everyone up for a government property called “The Cottage”. This is about the one-hour mark of the show, and there’s a big transition at this point. It wouldn’t surprise me if the last third of the episode was filmed much later. The supporting characters vanish: Charlotte, Harrison’s colleagues, Ironhorse’s subordinates. Rachel Blanchard gets some lines. There are subtle shifts in characterization too, with Harrison becoming less of a jerk and Ironhorse being more personable and less shouty. And Norton’s got a mild Jamaican accent for a few scenes. Perhaps at this point they told him to tone it down, and it was mild enough that they didn’t need to redo it?

Ironhorse provides concierge service for Harrison and his team, following them around to make sure they don’t need anything. Norton falls instantly in love with having his own personal Cray. Suzanne laments about the difficulty of engineering a radiation-resistant bacteria. Suzanne: Someone sure spent a fortune.
Ironhorse: Well, the government wants to see that everyone’s happy, doctor.
Suzanne: Now all I have to do is find, no, better yet, create bacteria that is impervious to radiation, lethal to aliens and absolutely harmless to humans. Maybe I could just cure the common cold in my spare time.
Ironhorse: Well if you find yourself with any spare time, doctor, you must be doing something wrong. Have a nice day. 
Harrison has a very mild freak-out when he discovers that they’d decided the set they built for his office in the first half of the pilot was too expensive to tear down, so the government inexplicably decided to painstakingly recreate it in ever detail at the cottage (“I have two offices which are absolutely, disconcertingly identical,” is a cost-saving measure I have seen a handful of times in the history of TV). Ironhorse is confident that their stay here will be a short one, since the aliens lack significant resources, weapons, or numbers. It’s a reasonable conclusion for anyone to draw, particularly someone whose role in the show is mostly to be a reasonably-minded military man who is nearly always wrong because he thinks he’s in a world where the laws of probability are more powerful than the laws of dramatic necessity. But it seems kinda cold given what happened to Delta Squadron a few scenes ago.

Debi, who I would not blame you for having forgotten, turns up again to complain about having to move and leave all her friends, because they’ve forgotten that she’d already moved once this week and is not nearly charismatic enough to have made any new friends yet. War of the Worlds: Rachael BlanchardThen she sees that they keep horses at the compound and is instantly okay with moving here and wants to take riding lessons. Because she’s a little girl and little girls are fickle and shallow, amirite? Oh, the hilarity! Debi isn’t much of a character this season, existing mostly just to occasionally pop up and complain about things, and once or twice to be a peril monkey. It’s hard to justify the character’s existence at all. She seems like one of several elements of the show that don’t serve any real purpose, but which they keep coming back to for some reason. My best guess is that they were concerned the show was tacking too dark, and wanted something to lighten the mood a little. Debi is here to be a character that the rest of the cast can show their softer side around. For example, that evening, they all gather around the fireplace, and Ironhorse, who spent most of last week’s segment barking orders, tells an endearing folk story from his native american heritage as a sort of ghost story for Debi, which is so cute that I forgot to check my watch and make a note of how long it took them to get around to having Paul Ironhorse dispense a bit of native american folk wisdom, in keeping with the fact that as of 1988, Graham Greene is the only indigenous person of the Americas who is allowed to hold a speaking role without breaking into folksy native wisdom. And that’s just because he only had like three lines of dialogue.

It is, at least, a plot-relevant folk tale, about his grandfather, a shaman, (because every native american has a shaman grandfather) encountering some prime grade-A Von Daniken bullshit an ancient petroglyph depicting what might possibly be an astronaut. Once Debi’s gone to bed, though, he dismisses the story as, “Indian folklore, nothing more, nothing less.” There’s just a hint in his expression, though, that he might have some regrets about the extent to which he’s forsaken his cultural heritage. This is a theme with Ironhorse’s character that will come up perhaps as many as two more times in the series.

War of the Worlds: Alien Cave

While Team Earth does some endearing team-building exercises, Team Alien has moved into an abandoned nuclear test site in a cave in Nevada a leftover set from Land of the Lost complete with matte painting, where they prepare their next move, namely, “Justify a cameo from those martian war machines from the movie which literally everyone watching this show has been waiting to see, and is going to be kind of disappointed when they show up for thirty seconds then are never seen again.”

War of the Worlds: Lynda Mason GreenThe plot kind of spins its wheels for five minutes to make it look hard. Norton isn’t having any success decoding the alien transmissions until Harrison reminds him about the alien fascination with the number 3, citing the three-lensed optics and three-craft battle groups from the movie, as well as the three-weighted bola from the ghost town battle. Then Harrison compliments Suzanne on her work in a scene that is weirdly out-of-nowhere flirty. There will be a couple of hints throughout the series of the possibility of romance between Harrison and Suzanne, but they’re fortunately rare, and this is the last we’ll see of Harrison the Sex God for this episode.

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The Thing About Sheepdogs

If you had a sheepdog who ripped the throat out of a sheep on the assumption it was really a wolf, you’d have it put down. The first time it happened.

If your sheepdogs mistook sheep for wolves on a regular basis, or even just did it, say, two or three times a year, you’d fire your dog trainer.

And no one would call you unreasonable. No one would demand apologies to the sheepdog’s family. No one would go on Fox News and describe the sheep’s death as an unavoidable tragedy where no one was to blame. No one would go digging up dirt on the sheep, or suggest that the sheep brought it on themselves by acting aggressively.

If it turned out that it was pretty much only ever the black sheep your sheepdogs mistook for wolves, no one would say that it wasn’t about color.

And if you decided to plant a tree in memory of the sheep, no one would vandalize it.

Thesis: The Resurrection (War of the Worlds 1×01)

War of the Wolrds Premier TV Guide Ad

It is October 7, 1988. Robin Givens files for divorce from Mike Tyson. In the aftermath of Wednesday’s National Plebiscite, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet begins the process of transitioning his country into a democracy, culminating in presidential elections in 1990. I assume it took so long because he needed a couple of years to make sure he had adequate protections against prosecution once he was out of power. Also Wednesday, Senator Lloyd Bentsen famously told Senator Dan Quayle he was, “No Jack Kennedy,” shaming him so badly that afterward, he was only fit for the Vice Presidency of the United States of America. “Love Bites” by Def Leppard takes the top spot on the Billboard charts from Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.

ABC is in repeats. CBS and NBC show made-for-TV movies. Star Trek the Next Generation will not start its second season for close to two months. Keeping the time slot warm for them are Friday the 13th The Series, (which, rather than having anything to do with the films, is about a pair of cousins who inherit an antiques shop from a devil-worshiping uncle and subsequently have to track down the cursed objects he’d sold, typically antiques which bestow a boon on the user after they are used to murder someone. Like a garden tool that mulches human corpses into dollar bills. This week, Ryan and Micki track down a voodoo mask powered by a vengeful ghost) and the series premier of Sam and Greg Strangis’s War of the Worlds: The Series.

The basic concept is pretty straightforward: a small team of three scientists work together with an army colonel to thwart the plans of alien invaders who have recently awakened from hibernation after a failed attempt to invade the earth in the 1950s.

War of the Worlds 1x01 ATV Rider POVWe open on a truck and the words “The Resurrection”. After a night-drive, they approach an army base identified by signage as “Fort Jericho”. The guards on duty take them for a delivery truck, and are therefore surprised when the drivers shoot them, then open the truck to reveal some friends on ATVs who drive around the place shooting anyone they find and also taking random pot-shots at the many fine barrels full of radioactive waste stored therein. It’s a slightly strange scene, with a lot of angles shot from the ATV-rider’s point of view with just the handlebars and the barrel of his submachine gun visible. It gives the sequence a bit weird of an FMV on-rails-shooter look to it, set to the soothing sounds of Billy Thorpe (Anyone know if the stuff he did for this series was ever released on an album?).

The terrorist leader Urick was played by Ilse von Glatz, who would continue on the show through the first season playing one of the alien leaders. In interviews, she said that it wasn’t the sort of show she herself would watch, but she had been impressed by the production values. This is especially interesting since it’s pretty well known that War of the Worlds was shot on the cheap. She only appeared in a few things after War of the Worlds. Already trained at Maxim’s de Paris as a gourmet chef, in the 90s, she changed careers again, studying naturopathic medicine. While I’m not a big fan of naturopathy, she doesn’t appear to have been a hard-liner about it, as later in life, she participated in clinical research trials for new cancer treatments before losing her own battle in May of last year.The shooters, a multi-ethnic bunch fronted by a blonde woman with a German accent and a white guy with a faintly southern accent, helpfully explain themselves as terrorists from the Non-Specific People’s Liberation Party, who plan to broadcast some demands (including the resignation of the president) and threaten to blow the place up if they don’t get their way. They don’t actually use the term “dirty bomb”, but it’s clear that’s what they’re talking about: using conventional explosives to contaminate a large area with radioactive waste. This is a bit of a surprising thing to find hanging out here in 1988; I didn’t think the possibility of terrorists using dirty bombs was a thing that entered the public consciousness until the turn of the century. 1980s fears about terrorism was,  I think, more focused on the (much less realistic) possibility of rogue actors making their own Real Deal Nuclear Weapons. Some more research tells me that there was an incident in 1976 where hoaxers claiming to be terrorists purported to have placed explosive containers of radioactive water from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation around Spokane. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the direct inspiration for this set-up.

But that’s a bit of a side-show, since their plan will never get to that stage. While looting the corpses of their victims, the terrorists pointedly fail to notice that the white slime from the blue radiation trefoil-marked barrels is dripping down onto the black “CLASSIFIED” barrels, apparently turning their lids into silly putty, since a leathery, three-fingered hand pushes its way through it in a scene so shocking it causes the show’s title to appear and forces us into a commercial break.

War of the Worlds 1x01: Alien hand and logoThat image of the three-fingered hand is going to be the major icon of the series. There isn’t a lot of storytelling potential in this kind of ’80s action-adventure to be had out of the iconic 1953 war machines, so they just don’t come up that much. The alien hand, on the other, um, y’know, is something they can whip out whenever they like. The title screen used for the rest of the series, in fact, is going to show a computer-rendered alien hand wrapping around the globe, an image that’s iconic enough that Stephen Spielberg by a complete coincidence I am sure used the same concept in the art for his 2005 version of War of the Worlds. The hand itself is quite a bit different from the version in the movie, though. While it retains brown, leathery skin and three long fingers, the distinctive suction cups are missing, and the hand is larger and altogether more muscular. Ironically, the fingers look considerably more human, with joints and knuckles, the lines of tendons visible, running the length of the fingers, which are thick and long enough to wrap all the way around a man’s face.

We’re off to a strong start, introducing the heart and soul of the premise right up front. The terrorists themselves are a bit of a false flag, transparently coded as the villains of the piece in a pretty standard cold open of the sort you’d see on Knight Rider or MacGyver or even Columbo, where the first scene sets up the caper, then we introduce the hero in the next scene and get to watch him go through the process of figuring out what’s going on and putting a stop to it. And that’s basically the structure of “The Resurrection”, but the twist, of course, is that the caper they set up in the first scene isn’t the real one, and these terrorists are just a red herring for the aliens they unwittingly release. That, of course, is a traditional setup as well, as attested to by Mighty Morphing Power RangersPower Rangers Lightspeed RescuePower Rangers Mystic ForceJackie Chan AdventuresThe Real GhostbustersThe 13 Ghosts of Scooby-DooAdventure Time, Mighty Morphing Power Rangers: The Movie (Power Rangers really likes this trope), and about eight different episodes of Doctor Who (Not even counting the ones that never happened). But interestingly, it’s predominantly a kid’s show trope. Unless you count  Friday the 13th The Series, which can’t possibly be relevant.

So, having set up our plot, the obvious next step, in accordance with the laws of storytelling, is to introduce the hero. Our hero this evening will be Jared Martin (who, in 1988, I mostly remembered as the bad guy from an episode of Knight Rider) as Dr. Harrison Blackwood, an astrophysicist at The New Pacific Institute of Technology. War of the Worlds: Jared Martin as Harrison BlackwoodHis next three scenes (Which are intercut with the terrorists preparing to broadcast their demands) are a very dense, very effective introduction to the character. If I hadn’t watched the 1953 movie so recently and with a critical eye, I certainly would have missed some key elements of Harrison’s characterization at this early stage. Namely, the inspiration they take from his spiritual predecessor, Clayton Forrester. There are very clearly three major elements to the character of Harrison Blackwood that they want to get across to us right away:

  1. He’s a Man of Action
  2. He’s hella (“hella” is not a word I am normally inclined to use, but for some reason, I really like it in conjunction with “suave”) suave
  3. He’s kind of a weirdo.

And I’ll say this for them: two out of three ain’t bad. The mix of these three aspects doesn’t really work at this stage. A lot of his character arc in this episode in particular is driven by the notion that he’s kind of strange and off-putting and inconsiderate and obstreperous (He is called out on this. It is only the second time in all of television I am aware of the word “obstreperous” being used. The other is in Are You Being Served?), with a penchant for profoundly not-giving-a-crap about how his actions affect other people that presages The Big Bang Theory. But then they turn around and start intimating that he’s got himself a way with the ladies. On the one hand, they want us to believe that it never even occurs to him that he’s being a complete ass making unreasonable demands of the people around him, but on the other, they have him turn on the charm and convince non-load-bearing plot structures to bend to his will. It doesn’t work here. You can absolutely have a “weirdo” character be lucky in love, and why not, but trying to do it in the form of “He’s a weirdo who can’t interact with other human beings properly, except that he can go all Idris Elba when there’s a female guest star for him to bed,” just makes the characterization look inconsistent. Rather than just being a cloud-headed dreamer who doesn’t get ordinary people, it implies that he does understand how to interact with people and chooses to be a jerk out of selfishness. Worse, this frames his suaveness as an insincerity: he comes off as a seducer who doesn’t care about other people but is happy enough to manipulate them to get what he wants. Thankfully, most of this will be quietly dropped for the remainder of the series, where the idea of Harrison caring enough about something that isn’t work to form a romantic bond will be treated, in keeping with the cliche, as something very special and profound and cause for surprise from his friends. Dropping the ladies’ man angle

I can’t help but wonder if this is casting-related. Just as Gene Barry’s wheelhouse was playing smooth, wealthy ladies’ men with a connection to law enforcement, Jared Martin was at the time pretty famous from his stint on Dallas as Sue Ellen’s lover Dusty. You can kind of imagine Greg Strangis selling the part to Martin, saying, “We were watching the old tapes of that Fantastic Journey thing you did back in the ’70s, and we were thinking your character would be kind of like that. Sort of an otherworldy, new-agey pacifist type. With a tuning fork.” And Jared Martin wold be all like, “Well, I can do that, sure, but you know these days people mostly think of me as this suave ladies’ man type from Dallas.” And pere Strangis nods sagely and says, “It’s a bit of a stretch, but how about we just throw in a couple of scenes to indicate that your character is really good in the sack? Like really good. Like Scott Baio good.”

Because that’s what it’s like. In a few scenes, we’re going to meet Harrison’s fiancee, Charlotte, played by our old friend, Freedom One herself, Gwynyth Walsh (You know who else she was, I just realized? Jared Martin and Gynyth WalshRobot Aunt Em in Tin Man). And he is basically a jerk to her at every turn, then just pulls some John Hughes Movie bullshit and shows up at her door and kind of smugs at her for forgiveness after she breaks up with him and stops returning her calls — and she just instantly caves and lets him in and bones him. Harrison loves her because she’s “funny” and “smart” and “beautiful” and “has great legs”, but I think we’re also meant to dislike her because she’s trying to tempt him away from academia and into highly paid private industry and she doesn’t accept the importance of his work, man. But she keeps right on forgiving him because she’s infatuated with him. Their banter is surprisingly sexually charged, and I keep wanting to shout at her that he’s just not that into you, because he has less than no interest in any of the things that are important to her, but expects her to bend over backwards to accommodate what’s important to him. Also, he expects her to bend over frontwards for much the same reasons.

But that’s a couple of scenes down the road. In our first scene with Harrison Blackwood, the first priority is establishing the “weirdo” bit. This is pretty efficiently conveyed by having us open on him delivering a rambling lecture on the philosophy of science, which a change of camera angle reveals at the end to be delivered to a class of tweens on a field trip. Harrison’s cleverness, his sense of humor, and his lack of concern for the feelings of others are compactly expressed when he predicts to within a few seconds the angry entrance of one of his colleagues who’s just fallen prey to the classic “Bucketfull of confetti perched atop an ajar office door” practical joke. Doctor Gutterman’s humiliation and subsequent sputtering of vengeance threats is witnessed by two other colleagues, Doctor Ephram Jacobi, the department chair, who himself seems slightly smitten with Harrison, being weirdly deferential and implying that he basically gives Harrison free reign not only to terrorize his coworkers but also to use university resources however he likes. Hence the other character introduced in the scene, Dr. Suzanne McCullough, a microbiologist recently hired by Pacific Tech and handed over to Harrison because he’d asked for one, for reasons which take him an inordinately long time to get around to explaining. I’ll say this for Harrison at this stage: though he doesn’t immediately assume Suzanne is the microbiologist he asked for, he never expresses any surprise or reluctance at a female microbiologist, unlike everyone else in the show, who immediately insists that all microbiologists are nearsighted and balding (As of 2012, about 30% of all full-time academic faculty in microbiology were women, slightly more among PhDs).

Structurally, this is a really good scene, and it gets better as I mull it over in my head. In a very short space of time, we introduce two of the four major characters of the series and give us a lot of insight into Harrison and a pretty good feel for the character, and he’s certainly likeable by ’80s adventure show standards (Even if with distance and age, I’m inclined to view this version of the character as kind of a jerk because I am now old and bitter. And they do file the rough edges down quite a bit as the show goes on). It’s not at all frontheavy with exposition: at this point, we don’t know what Harrison’s deal is exactly, or what he’s interested in, or indeed how this could tie back in to the plot established in the first scene. There’s enough going on that, if you remember what movie this is ostensibly a sequel to, you can put the pieces together and make an educated guess though.

Unfortunately, though it gets better as I think about it, it gets worse as I actually re-watch it. On a technical level, it’s a mess. The biggest problem is the audio. That’s a problem for this whole episode, in fact. Dr. Jacobi’s delivery is weird and stilted, like he learned his lines phonetically, but I suspect the real problem is that they’ve dubbed him with different dialogue in post and the words don’t fit quite right. Suzanne’s lines also sound poorly looped. It’s going to get worse later, with the background sounds cutting out suddenly when a looped character speaks, or the audio quality and even volume varying considerably between shots. And there’s worse still a few scenes on. The shot composition isn’t great either, with Harrison frequently having part of his head chopped off. And then there’s Lynda Mason Green…

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About the Hugos

As it turns out, one of this year’s nominees is a very dear childhood friend of mine.

So congratulations.

Unfortunately, he was nominated due to the machinations of a racist, sexist, homophobic, dominionist Men’s Rights Advocate who has literally called people of color sub-human, claims that acid attacks on feminists are “a small price to pay for lasting marriages,” and once called the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai, “perfectly rational and scientifically justifiable.”

All the same, congratulations on your nomination. I wish it had been under better circumstances.


 

I mean seriously. All I want is to be happy for an old and dear friend who’s accomplished something very prestigious. Only a bunch of fucking fascists have tainted the whole thing.

Fucking Rabid Puppies.

Deep Ice: To Them and Not To Us is the Future Ordained (Frank Mancuso Jr.’s War of the Worlds: The Series)

War of the Worlds Season 2 DVDIt is October 2, 1989. For good this time. Since the first season of War of the Worlds wrapped up back in May, the Tiananmen Square protests took place in Beijing, resulting in my website getting blocked by the great firewall of China. The B2 Stealth Bomber makes its first flight. The Nintendo Game Boy, the most popular computing device in the history of the planet, was launched, as was the Sega Genesis, which did what Ninten-Don’t. F W de Klerk becomes the last president of South Africa under Apartheid, having run on a platform, near as I can tell, of “Look, we all know this system is ridiculous and untenable, let’s try to wind it down in a way that doesn’t end with the giant bloody massacre most people reckon we’ve got coming to us.” That pretty much covers the sentiment of the whole world at the time, as Poland reestablishes diplomatic relations with the Vatican, Vietnam ends its occupation of Cambodia, and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs opens a restaurant in Moscow. It is the waning days of communism in countries whose names don’t begin with the letter ‘C’. The last-ever large-scale anti-communism protest is held in East Germany. Last, because in a month, it’s going to be a moot point.

Ayatollah Khomeini, Lawrence Olivier, Mel Blanc, Jim Bakus, Irving Berlin, Ferdinand Marcos, Graham Chapman and Bette Davis die. Daniel Radcliffe, Joe Jonas, Carlos Pena, Hayden Panettiere, Avicii, Jason Derulo and Brie Lawson are born. The big films of the summer were License to Kill, Ghostbusters II, Batman and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Seinfeld, Hey Dude, Saved by the Bell, Tales from the Crypt, BaywatchDoogie Houser MD, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and Captain N The Game Master premiered, as did ABC’s new Friday night “TGIF” programming block, bringing with it Family Matters (The rest of the block consisted of returning shows Full House, Perfect Strangers and Just the Ten of Us).

And War of the Worlds is back. Sort of. I’ve had a hard time turning up sources, so I’m mostly going by hearsay, rumors, and mailing lists from the ’90s. This being syndication, ratings are more complex than usual, but the show had pretty good distribution through Paramount’s syndication mechanism. But there had been complaints against the show, mostly centered around the level of gore. Stuff like alien arms bursting out of chests, ripping holes through the faces of their victims, and messily dying in a pool of white foam and rubber skin was the sort of thing that only interested a subset of the mixed-demographic audience they were shooting for with Star Trek The Next Generation. Besides, the writing was on the wall for the Cold War that had informed so much of the style and theme of War of the Worlds. Glasnost and Perestroika were in full swing, Poland, Hungary, Albania and Bulgaria were already backing away from communism, Czechoslovakia, Romania and East Germany would join them by the year’s end. The Soviet Union had held its first and last comparatively free elections back in March and had formed an opposition party over the summer. So if it’s surprising that for the fall 1989 TV season, it seemed like a good idea to retool War of the Worlds away from being an obvious Cold War analogy, that’s only because it shows a certain amount of insight from the same class of people who come up with ideas like Dog With a Blog.

So the network executives reasonably declared that season 2 of War of the Worlds would be less gory and less Cold-War-y. They less reasonably also declared that it would be less Strangis-y, as Sam and Greg Strangis were out. Replacing them was Frank Mancuso Jr., whose qualifications included having made Friday the 13th parts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7, and the strangely unrelated TV series Friday the 13th The Series, one of the few TV series on the air that had less to do with its namesake than War of the Worlds The Series (The only contemporary show I can think of based on a movie which had less is Mr. Belvedere). Now, it may strike you that this resume makes him a somewhat strange choice as a showrunner for their new less-explicit retool, but Frank Mancuso Jr. had one other important qualification: his dad was Frank Mancuso Sr., who was president of Paramount at the time.

What we find as he takes over the helm of the series is something interestingly paradoxical. Though the per se gore is toned down — the aliens, for example, now evaporate when killed, leaving only a puddle of glow-stick fluid, and carry weapons which vaporize humans — this doesn’t mean that the second season isn’t scary. In fact, if anything, the show tacks more toward horror tropes now, with the aliens portrayed as actively sadistic, rather than just utterly lacking in humanity.

Everything else about the show has changed too. I mentioned in my previous article that one of the fundamental oddities of the first season of War of the Worlds was that it didn’t feel like a world that had suffered a massive alien invasion thirty-five years earlier. It’s forgivable, I think, that the world would put itself back together fairly quickly, but very strange indeed that the configuration it would assemble itself into is so indistinguishable from the 1980s of the real world. After all, Europe and Japan put themselves back together after the world wars, but the world that resulted was very different from the waning 19th century colonial empires that had seen the century in. That’s one of the things that, say, Goliath came very close on (Even if it didn’t have time to really see it through): their world of 1914 is one that’s rebuilt itself after the war, but it’s one that’s still quite askew of the real world in many ways.

Mancuso felt much the same way. He found it implausible that the “world outside your window” could follow on a few decades later after a global war against the unstoppable alien invaders. Because I have the perspective of not living in the 1980s, I don’t think his alternative is the most plausible, but it’s within the bounds of reality. He proposes a straight-up ’80s dystopia. There’s little arable land left in the continental US due to pollution. The ecosystem has largely collapsed, most kinds of manufacturing have become economically unfeasible, violent gangs of Punk Rockers maraud the streets. Drugs are legal (And because this is the ’80s, this is taken to be one of the big contributors to the collapse of civilization), food and water are in short supply, income inequality is at an all-time high, the police have militarized and poverty is universal. So actually, Mancuso didn’t really propose a world all that different from the real world after all.

He also felt that the aliens were too alien; it was hard for the audience to get any sort of handle on them. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing per se, but it’s a storytelling problem when you’re a jobbing writer for a weekly action-adventure series and not, say, Stanislaw Lem. The aliens can’t simply be distant, bizarre and irascible, because we have to cut to them plotting at least once an episode in order for the story to make sense: the design of an action-adventure plot means that we need some scenes from the “Villain Point-of-View” because one of the major sources of tension comes from what we know that he heroes don’t. So Mancuso retooled the aliens. Rather than a faceless horde with no sense of individuality, individual aliens are given names and personalities. Some of them are sympathetic at times. Rather than the millions-strong armada we’d been promised, the invasion force is whittled down to only a few dozen survivors, who are now more desperate and therefore more dangerous. Very presciently, given the arc of world history after the end of the Cold War, the new aliens are patterned not after the threat of invasion by the faceless conformity of communism, but rather after terrorists: specifically, they’re depicted as religious extremists who don’t merely want humanity destroyed to make room for their own kind, but who view genocide as a holy crusade against the infidels. That’s the biggest single thing Mancuso’s aliens add: they’re a theocracy, their leader serving as the high priest to a powerful, semi-corporeal being they worship as a god.

Now, just laid out on table like that, it doesn’t really sound bad, does it? I mean, it’s an ’80s dystopia, and I do love me my ’80s dystopias. But Frank Mancuso had a kind of a New Coke problem: he’d come up with what was, on paper, a good formula, one that addressed some of the weaknesses of the existing product. But he utterly failed to take into account the fact that there was an existing fanbase that was already invested in the show as it had existed, and who had specific things they liked about the first season.

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Tales From /lost+found 2: Doctor Who and the Encyclopaedia of Doom

After the recent collapse and subsequent rebuilding of reality, I found a few random bits left over, which is always the way when you do it yourself.

As part of my campaign to ensure that the respectable bits of Doctor Who fandom won’t have me back, I shall from time to time post without (much) comment these little snippets from a universe that wasn’t.

Wikipedia article on Doctor Who

Click to Embiggen

 


This not-for-profit art project was inspired in part (That part being “What if I push this joke past just being an offhand reference in my April Fool’s post”, which I wrote back in June 2014) by The Day of Doctor Who by Colin Brockhurst, which is absolutely fantastic and well worth looking at and/or purchasing.

It is also inspired a bit by An Alternative Program Guide by Charles Daniels and The Professor X Programme Guide (via Wayback Machine) by Stephen Jenkins, Darrel Manuel and John H Toon.

Some random bullshit is the fault of The Nth Doctor by Jean-Marc L’Officier.

Deep Ice: Only a reprieve (Sam and Greg Strangis’s War of the Worlds: The Series)

I’ll explain… Now.

War of the Worlds 1988 Promotional PosterIt is October 7, 1988. In the six months since Captain Power went on hiatus, the Governor of Arizona was impeached and removed from office. Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs. The Soviet war in Afghanistan wound most of the way down, proving for what surely will be the last time that it is stupid to get involved in a war there. Windows 2.1 was released. A third of Yellowstone National Park burned down. A NASA scientist testified before the US Senate that man-made global warming was a thing that was happening. The upcoming presidential race is whittled down to Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush. The Iran-Iraq war ended. Tom Browning pitched a perfect game. The Summer Olympics were held in Seoul. “Terminal Man” Mehran Karimi Nasseri got stuck in Charles de Gaulle airport, where he would remain until 2006. Space Shuttle Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39, the first shuttle launch since the Challenger Disaster two and a half years earlier.

Magnum, PI ended its run, as did The Facts of Life, JemMax Headroom, Cagney and Lacey, St. Elsewhere and Punky Brewster. Family Feud returned to TV. Denver, the Last Dinosaur, China Beach, Just the Ten of Us, Garfield and Friends, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Fun House and Monsters premiered. George Michael and Steve Winwood are the only musicians to hold the top spot on the billboard charts for more than two weeks.

More locally, I started fourth grade. This doesn’t seem quite right in my memory, the way everything lines up, but I can’t really dispute the evidence of the calendar. I remember fourth grade a lot better than I remember the years before it. We read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Westing Game and Tolliver’s Secret. I made a really fancy volcano for science class. There was a standardized test we had to take and one of the reading comprehension passages was about the Black Death, which is where I learned literally everything I know about Y. Pestis to this day. I had a spiral notebook where I’d design marble race courses based on a game from LoadStar.

And, of course, I was eagerly anticipating the return of two shows: Star Trek the Next Generation and Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Cheerios had run a contest for a cameo in an episode in the former where you got these stickers with pictures of the actors on them. I got Geordi LaForge and Wesley Crusher, but I traded the Wesley with my friend Shelly for one of the Enterprise-D, which you could redeem for a tiny little 4-inch Enterprise-D model, which I still have the back half of.

Of course, as we all know now, only one of those shows was destined to return to the airwaves that fall, and it was–

/dev/reality0 REBUILD COMPLETE. REMOUNTING RW. PLEASE ENJOY REALITY. WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE

— pretty obvious that it was going to be Star Trek. It took me quite a while to realize that Captain Power wasn’t coming back. I mean, the internet wasn’t a thing the way it is now, so unless you read entertainment-focused media (Which back then would have probably meant either TV Guide or the actual industry press), when a minor show died, you didn’t so much hear about it as just never see it again. I do remember at one point asking my parents when it was going to come back, but I don’t recall if they had an answer to give me.

My squirrely sense of time is an issue here. According to IMDB, Captain Power aired on Sundays and Star Trek the Next Generation on Mondays. But I’m absolutely sure they aired back-to-back. Syndication is, of course, funny like that. And the most sense it makes is to assume that Star Trek and Captain Power both aired on Mondays in my viewing area. Now, my sort of gut feeling is that they both actually aired on Friday, but that’s just because my memories of Star Trek are tangled up with eating pizza, which was obviously a Friday night thing (At a guess, I would imagine that Pizza on Fridays evolved out of a half-assed observance of Lenten fasting). But the more I talk about it, the more I suspect there may have just been a period when we moved pizza night to Monday to accommodate watching Star Trek on the color TV in the living room.  Which of course eventually evolved into having all our meals at the coffee table, but that was still years away.

This whole lead-in is because according to IMDB, the second season of Star Trek the Next Generation aired on Saturday nights. Now this doesn’t make any sense at all, because I’m absolutely 100% certain of what show aired right before it, and IMDB gives that one as airing on Mondays, and this time, I have twenty-five-year-old off-air VHS recordings of the original airings with the commercials left in to back me up. (I also have some old forum posts which suggest, at least in one viewing area in California, they did air back-to-back, but on Sundays).

In any case, I’m pretty sure that I was half-expecting to watch an episode of Captain Power in the fall of 1988 when I saw something else instead…

Did you know they made a TV series out of Blade Runner? No? Well, that’s okay, because you wouldn’t really, unless you had actually watched it.  Because in 1999, a Canadian production company decided it wanted to make a TV series based on Blade Runner. Total Recall 2070But they couldn’t get the rights to Blade Runner, so they went and did it anyway. And since Blade Runner was based on a book by Philip K. Dick (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”), and Phillip K. Dick had also written a book (“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”) which had been adapted as a movie called Total Recall, which they could get the rights to, they called their Blade Runner adaptation Total Recall 2070 instead.

I mention all this because in 1988, I kind of suspect that Sam and Greg Strangis wanted to make a TV series based on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but couldn’t get the rights, so they did it anyway and called it War of the Worlds instead.

As you may have guessed by the way I’ve been telegraphing it for six months, I really like War of the Worlds. Which is sort of weird, because as a novel, it encapsulates about three fourths of what I hate about golden-age Science Fiction: a total disregard for character and plot, total reliance of exposition dumps, and an interest more in proving the author’s thought his science all the way through than in telling a story. And yet, I really like War of the Worlds. And even though back in 1975, George Pal couldn’t manage to get a TV continuation of his 1953 film, in 1988, veteran producer and production manager Sam Strangis (best known for his work on the Adam West Batman series, The Brady Bunch, and more other shows than I can name) and his son Greg Strangis (Whose resume is a bit less august, but still contains some high-profile entries such as Falcon Crest and Eight is Enough) were somehow able to get Paramount on-board with the idea of bringing War of the Worlds to the small-screen when Paramount’s first choice, a big-screen remake helmed by George A. Romero, didn’t pan out.

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