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Archive for the month “January, 2014”

THERE’S NO POINT BEING GROWN UP IF YOU CAN’T BE CHILDISH SOMETIMES

“There’s no point being grown up, if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

– The Fourth Doctor, Doctor Who, “Robot”

I have a birthday coming up. Every year about this same time it comes around.

When I was a kid, birthdays meant indulgen meals, chocolaty cake with some sort of cool topper – a wind up Snoopy, matchbox cars, whatever – and anticipation about what’s in those shiny, wrapped packages. As a special treat, my birthday might come with a trip to the toy or bookstore or maybe I’d get to have some buddies sleep over.

I’m a lot older now. I’m a mature, responsible, father and husband. And as such, I’m done with toy stores and sleep-overs. My special trips now are to treat myself to a good wine or bottle of whisky. I still covet a good cake topper though (one year, my wife made me a TARDIS cake!) and would not be surprised – even kind of look forward to – something immature hidden among the “grown up” gifts. A Doctor Who “collectible” maybe. Or some Superman socks.

I figure, if you have to see more and more gray when you look in the mirror every birthday and inch ever closer to the Age of Prostate Exams and Other Indignities, you deserve a TARDIS console room playset or two.

The Fourth a Doctor, he’s a pretty wise dude.

BLACK HOLE-Y CRAP

Conventional physics says if you fall into a black hole, you’re one unlucky bastard.

Wait. That’s not right.

Oh, yeah. What physics actually says is that if you fall into a black hole, everything is pretty cool – all things considered – until you pass the event horizon, a/k/a the point of no return. Then the shit hits the fan. The elongated, squashed, gravity smooshed (I think Stephen Hawking coined that term) shit hits the fan.

There’s a new school of thought, though, that says this long-standing idea about blackholes is just crap. The new theory is that when you fall into a blackhole, you aren’t actually squished into paste and left to spin in an endless void for all eternity, but rather, you’re squashed into paste…because you slam headfirst into the end of space itself. Literally. The border between everything that is and absolutely nothing. Then, some sort of quantum particles grind you up into literal nothingness.

This sort of goes against the idea that matter can’t disappear, just change forms. Also…eww.

Well, call me old-fashioned, but I’m old school. Yep, a big fan of the old-timey ways. (Full disclosure: I get kickbacks from the AARP. $1 for every time I use the word “old”. Of course, they pay in, half-gone, bottom of the purse Wint-o-green Life Savers.). The reason I know that matter continues to exist even after falling into the blackholes is because…

I know what’s in there. Stephen Hawking told me not to tell.

But I’ll tell it to you. Screw you, Hawking!

So here’s what’s floating around inside your neighborhood black hole: *looks over shoulder to make sure Hawking’s hit squad isn’t waiting to take out a blogger with the Death Star laser cannon*

A Starbucks (no surprise there)

“The Simpsons” episodes from back when they were funny.

The Millenium Falcon I played with as a kid, back when Star Wars was brand new. Had it one day, gone the next. Used to think this other kid stole it. Now pretty sure it was the black hole.

The ending that “Lost” should have had.

All the time I’ve spent waiting in line for people ahead of me to figure out the intricacies of a deli menu.

The last slice of pizza you were sure was still in the fridge.

Congress. (The quantum nothingness that black holes supposedly kick out is what’s governing us right now)

My downy innocence.

Pennies. Lots and lots of pennies.

Maximilian Schell. (Boom! Fairly obscure 1970s movie reference! That kind of stuff is really what blog are for.)

Don’t taken any wooden nickels. Don’t step in any black holes.

WHY IS CABLE TV SO MUCH COOLER THAN NETWORK AND BRITISH TV SO MUCH COOLER THAN EVERYTHING?

TV watchers have been saying for years that American network television, well, sucks.  The good stuff, they say, is on cable. Mad Men. Breaking Bad. The Walking Dead, The Newsroom. Dexter. On and on.

Network? Well, they’ve got a whole litany of tired police procedurals – about ten for every “Big Bang Theory” or “Modern Family”. Even their most popular stuff like The Simpsons or Family Guy has been around a long time mostly because of their legendary status and not much more. They’re not exactly raking in the Emmys or topping any critic’s “best of the year” lists.

None of this is new. When there was no cable, everyone said TV was a vast wasteland anyway. When cable first came along, it was pretty lame. Then someone realized that not that many people were watching cable, so they could do pretty much what they wanted. So they experimented. At first, no one cared. But then people started catching on that cable was producing shows unlike the bland stuff on network. The Shield. The Wire. Deadwood. Shows that took risks; not just with language and sex, but with topics and characters. Does network have shows like these? No.

Just look at what shows scoop up accolades at award times.

And now there’s British TV. Okay, British TV has been around a long time, you know, in Great Britain. Sure, Benny Hill and Monty Python and Fawlty Towers made it across the pond, but those series are pretty old. But it seems like in the last few years, interest in British TV has taken off.

Should we thank Ricky Gervais for this? The original “The Office” was the first modern hit to cross the pond. Now British TV is all over American TV and streaming on our computers. Now some BBC shows are more popular here than American shows: Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Luther, Orphan Black, Broadchurch, Sherlock.

Why? Is it the accents? Is it the thrill of seeing people drive on the left side of the road? Is it David Tennant? (Isn’t he dreamy? Yeah, I said it. Look at him and tell me I’m wrong.)

I don’t really know the answer. But I think it comes down to a passion for story that’s lacking from a lot of American TV. Over here, we’re good at fast-paced, big budget, laugh track-fueled events. Shows from Britain can do that too, but these that I mentioned sort of eschew (yay me for finally having a good excuse to use that word) the glittery trappings of TV shows that American productions, conversely, rely on too much.

Consider: there have been lots of workplace comedies in the last decade. Most of them were downsized in the ratings. But when Americans set about remaking “The Office” in the mold of the British original, it was a monster hit.

In 1996, an American network tried to reboot British Sci-FI institution Doctor Who and it crashed and burned. British writers and producers took on the challenge in 2005 and now Doctor Who is a global phenomenon.

So, American network TV, here’s what you need to do to have a ratings and critical hit: take a chance on a truly unique character. Not a detective with a whacky quirk. An original take on humanity like Walter White or Don Draper or The Doctor. Once you’ve got your character, give Him or her a real story to tell. Only once you’ve got that story down can you pile on the glitz and special effects and ONLY THEN if story demands.

Okay, now that we’ve fixed TV, get to work.

DOCTOR WHO SERIES 8 WISH LIST

This post could be a tad bit spoilery, so if you’re not all caught up through the Christmas 2013 special, then perhaps you just want to bookmark this one for another time.

Right. Off we go then.

2013 was a big year for Doctor Who. Not many new episodes, but what we got, packed a punch. Out with the Ponds. In with Clara Oswald – the impossible girl. Nods to classic Who were woven into the various episodes, and put full frontal in “An Adventure in Space and Time.”

We found out about a whole other incarnation of the Doctor we never knew about – he’d be #9, then, or maybe just “other” Doctor or “the war Doctor”. It’s all very confusing.

“Day of the Doctor” marked the show’s 50th anniversary with a teaming of Doctors 10 and 11 and the war doctor (if you want to keep the original numbering system). And Tom Baker as…the curator! Or an alternate 4th Doctor incarnation…or something.

And…Gallifrey falls…no more!

And, of course, we got a regeneration. A whole new life cycle of 12 new regenerations lay in front of the Doctor.

Time Lords live. The Doctor has a whole new set of lives before him.

It’s a whole new era for the show. Maybe.

New shows won’t air until fall. Production has begun already, but just barely. We know a few things: Capaldi’s Doctor will have a Scottish accent. He’s gonna be a darker, grumpier Doctor than 10 or 11. Clara’s still on board. (For now anyway.)

Beyond that, we don’t have many details about the adventures. But it seems to me now, perhaps more than ever with the momentum of the 50th anniversary pushing the bounds of creativity, is a great time to give the show some new stuff. Keep the old stuff that’s good, mind you, but add in some things we fans of all these decades maybe haven’t seen.

By the way, I had a geek-moment today, when I read an article attached to this picture:

_72124518_peter-capaldi-and-jenna-col

The picture shows Capaldi and Jenna Louise Coleman on the first day of production on Capaldi’s new era as the Doctor. The article I read noted that the BBC had been at great pains to say that Capaldi’s outfit is NOT his Doctor’s costume, which is something that is usually kept an even bigger secret than who’ll be playing the Doctor. The article went on, however, to praise Capaldi for his snappy sense of dress, as if these were his own clothes off the street.

PLEASE! This is obviously Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor costume that Capaldi is wearing because the regeneration just happened. Duh! If you’re going to write about Doctor Who, at least get your basic facts right. (I pulled this from BBC News, which captioned it correctly. The article I read, elsewhere, did not.)

Okay, the nerd-out is over.

Here’s a few of the things on my Doctor Who wish list for season 8:

  • A Turlough-esque companion. Or at least not a hot young sassy someone in love with the Doctor. The modern series and, really, most of the classic series, featured companions who were brave and funny and quirky and would pout and argue occasionally, but, for the most part, no one really challenges the Doctor and certainly doesn’t work to undermine him. Fifth Doctor companion Turlough did (though it was not really written all that well). How great would it be to see that sort of thing now?
  • A Cyberman origin story. I really liked Handles, the decapitated Cyberman head who is the Doctor’s unofficial companion all those centuries in “Time of the Doctor”. The Dalek origins have been gone over a lot. But, as often as Cybermen have appeared, we know very little about where they came from. Whose idea were they? What did the original cyborgs look like when they were only partly converted? Lots of questions. Let’s get some answers.
  • An epic, battlefield story. Not necessarily the Time War, but it would be compelling to see the Doctor in the trenches somewhere. One of my objections to the Martha Jones era is that she was a doctor (medical doctor) who never got to actually treat anyone. How cool would it be to see the Doctor in a battlefield hospital – Civil War, alien war, whatever – or on the front lines?
  • Take another crack at displaying the TARDIS interior. “Journey to the Center of the Tardis” just didn’t do it for me. If the finished product doesn’t match my vision, that’s okay, but at least give the TARDIS the courtesy of spending a little more time there.

What would you guys like to see?

MY SON, FUTURE AMERICAN HACKER

Recently, the four-year-old asked to play on my iPad. There are some games on there just for him and sometimes he just likes to open Pages or something and type seemingly random strings of letters and numbers. It’s sort of like how I write this blog.

Everything is secured on the iPad so he can’t go where he shouldn’t or blow his college fund purchasing the “women in Viking helmets shooting things” game apps that inexplicably appear in ads for otherwise g-rated games. I said, “Sure. Go ahead.”

He picked up the iPad and announced proudly, “I know Daddy’s number”, then proceeded to type in my iPad passcode. My wife and I just looked at each other bewildered. The little turkey that I have to ask ten times to find his shoes before he actually concentrates enough to know what I said, had, over time, slyly spied on me entering my passcode and memorized it.

You can’t really punish him, can you? Seriously, can you? I’m totally okay with letting him eat nothing but fresh-baked bread and perfectly chilled water and limiting him to only nine hours of cartoons a day. Never let it be said I’m not a strict parent.

The thing is, he’s not trying to get away with anything. He doesn’t even know what a passcode is. There’s no thievery intended. The immediate reaction, though, was to go in and change the code. Problem with that is, the iPad is set up so that if you type in the code incorrectly ten times, it wipes out more or less everything on the iPad as sort of a scorched-Earth security system. I could envision a nightmare scenario where I’m busy doing something and the boy grabs the pad and starts trying to enter what he thinks is still my code. It doesn’t work so he keeps trying. And trying. And trying. Then suddenly, my life is reduced to factory pre-sets. Wonder if that means I’d look younger…

So the code remains what it was. The boy entering my passcode has just become another part of the ritual of pre-school iPad time. Someday, when he’s older and, let’s face it, more interested in screwing with Dad, I’ll have to clamp down on the security. But for now, my boy has (largely) unfettered access to that portal to the Information Super-Highway. (They still call the Internet that, right? Groovy.)

I want my kids to be up on technology. People like to go on and on about how remarkable it is that “kids today” pick up on technology so much faster than we did. That’s largely bullshit. We didn’t have the Internet and iPads and blu-ray DVD players and video game consoles you need advanced degrees and a hell of a lot more patience than I have to master. But we had other stuff (Rocks. Sticks. The rotted carcasses of various marsupials) Whatever technology was around when you were a kid, you mastered it because it was your world. And you did it so fast, that YOUR parents marveled at it, just like I marveled at the boy. I guarantee it. Every generation does it. I did it. My kids do it now. Their kids will do it to. So will I, probably, as that technology could include a way to preserve my talking head in a jar, “Futurama” style. I’ll have a front-row seat to my grandkids taking over the world, just as predicted – every single year since the first generation of humans that didn’t get squished by dinosaurs. (That sound you hear is the world’s scientists’ brains exploding.)

BUT, if I handed my kids my old Atari 2600 (yes, I still have it), I bet they wouldn’t have a clue. Score one for the Old School.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to wrestle the iPad away from the boy. He’s Face Timing Putin.

SO, WRITERS, DOES IT GET ANY EASIER?

In 2007, on a whim, I wrote two short plays and submitted them to an open call for submissions to a playwright’s festival at a local college; one comedy and one more serious piece. I’d acted in several plays before this, and done lots of other writing, but I’d never written a play.

To my surprise, the festival accepted both plays. The night of the performance was…amazing. I’d been on stage a lot before this and had many other types of writing praised or criticized. But this night…this night hearing my words, words I wrote, characters I created, brought to life…well, it was a weird mix of frightening and giddy, out-of-body surreal-ness. It was a rush at least equal, if not perhaps even greater than the thrill of acting.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of other plays I’ve written at festivals since then, most recently this past weekend when my play “Calling Home” was given a public reading, which could lead to a full production in the future.

One of the other playwrights, Michael Carron, made his playwriting debut at the event with his work “A Decent Interval”. He also acted in the reading of my play and the third offering of the night, “Wheelies” by Shea Doyle. When the event was over, Michael was elated and relieved. The experience was, he said, the most frightening thing he’d ever done. Here was a guy who has been on strafe thousands of times – doing Shakespeare, no less. And even he was intimidated by the experience of watching an audience watch lines he wrote be performed.

I totally understood that sentiment. And yet, I surprised myself when he asked me about watching your work Be performed, “Does it ever get easier?” I said, “yes”.

I have no idea why I said that. I was just as stressed this weekend as I was that first time years ago. The rush of seeing your characters come to life. The joy of the audience laughing where they should and being reverent where they shouldn’t. But still…the stress was, I dunno, differentthis time. Unlike crust first night years ago, this night I was thinking more about technical things – tweaks to lines and characters I might want to make. Tightening to be done, points to be clarified.

So, in that sense, I guess it is easier now, the playwriting, because I don’t worry as much about the act of putting work in front of an audience as I do about what that audience will say about it.

As I write more and put more out there for public consumption, if the fear wants to continue to evolve, that’s fine with me. But I hope it never goes away, not completely anyway. I kind of feel like if the process of writing for the public gets easier, the work will suffer.

Am I wrong about that? What say you?

HEY, I’M DOING ANOTHER PLAY THING

So, I wrote another short play. This one is called “Calling Home” and is pretty funny (if I say so myself) and coming up on January 11, New Ground Theater in the Quad Cities is going to feature it, along with several other awesome short works by local playwrights. These are not full productions of the works – not yet anyway. But they will be each by read by an ensemble of very talented local actors.

Doors open at 7:00 p.m.

Did I mention admission is FREE?

Oh, and there will be CHEESECAKE (I’m told) and beverages, including wine and beer. So, even if the plays suck, there’s that.

Did I mention admission is FREE?

So what’s the point? Well, these are all plays that likely will have full productions down the road. This is an opportunity for me and the other playwrights to get some feedback from potential future paying audiences about what in our scripts work and don’t work. Here’s your chance to play theatre critic for a night.

AND HEY! IT’S FREE BY GOD!

January 11, 2014 at 7:00. New Ground Theater in Davenport.

What the hell you waiting for? Mark your calendar NOW.

SHERLOCK HOLMES FAN-FIC

A US federal judge recently declared that Sherlock Holmes works – stories, the characters, setting, whatever – published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain, meaning they are no longer covered by US copyright law and therefore can be used by anyone without paying royalties to the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author who created Holmes. There are some technicalities to this – like anything that just appears in the Holmes universe after 1923 is off limits. But, basically, it’s open season on the world’s greatest detective. Time to rock, intellectual property Moriartys of the world.

So! Enjoy this take on the classic consulting detective, secure in the knowledge that I worked as hard on it as one can expect on something that cost absolutely nothing to produce.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE THING THAT SOUNDS KIND OF LIKE THAT OTHER HOLMES STORY YOU LIKED, OR AT LEAST CLOSE ENOUGH TO THAT STORY THAT YOU’LL BE FOOLED INTO BUYING THIS ONE

An early morning fog rolls in across the moor, engulfing Baker Street in – what else? – mystery. (No, we don’t know if the moor is in anyway adjacent to London. How much did you pay to read this? Well, then, hush and keep reading.) A carriage comes to a halt in front of 221B Baker Street, location of the famous rooms occupied by the world’s greatest consulting detective: Dr. Gregory House.

Whoops! Sorry. We meant, of course, Magnum P.I.

Dammit.

Anyway, inside 221B, Holmes and his trusted friend Watson are awaiting the arrival of their new client.

“Watson, my dear chap, whatever are you doing?” Holmes asked.

“What the devil do you mean, Holmes?”

“The sweat on your brow, the dishevelment of your cravat, and the rhythmic grunting emanating from your well-fed torso tells me you are exerting yourself mightily. But what, pray tell, are you doing?”

“Twerking, Holmes,” Watson replied. “I thought it would stimulate your deductive reasoning.”

“Well, it’s no morphine…but, well, the violin is way over there…”

“I should think you’d want to be clear-headed given the imminent arrival of our new client.”

“Watson!” Holmes marveled. “You impress me.”

“Why, thank you, Holmes. I have been laying off the extra servings of mutton lately…”

“Pray, how did you deduce that a new client is arriving?”

The twerking halted abruptly. “Oh, right. The deductive reasoning thing. Well, clearly a new client will grace our door. The clues abound. You put on pants, for one.”

Holmes threw back his head with laughter. “Brilliant, my good man! What else?”

“You tidied up the papers and other detritus on the table to make room for  the bowl of blazin’ sexy hot ranch Doritos brand tortilla chips.”

“Well, given how much Lestrade has vexed our new client, he has earned at least a zesty, cheesy snack available wherever snack chips are sold,” Holmes explained. “Is that all?”

“Well, also, you told me earlier that a new client was coming this morning.”

“Damn. Forgot that. Maybe I should lay off the morphine.”

Before Watson could reply, Mrs. Hudson – who will be played in the Netflix original production of this story  by Sofia Vergara – came in. “Your guest has arrived. He’s coming up the stairs.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson,” Watson said, when he noticed his friend had submerged into a gloomy bit of reflection. “Pray, what’s up with you, Holmes?”

“It’s our imminent client, Watson. This promises to be a devil of a case, friend. Our new client is a legendary figure, known across the continent and beyond. He has fame, wealth, and is beloved by millions.”

Watson set the two-liter of Coca-Cola in the ice bucket on the table. “Surely, a man such as this can’t have need of our services. What evil has befallen such a man?”

“He has become a victim of his own ubiquity, Watson,” Holmes said. “He is, in short, too famous. Everyone wants to take a shot at him. His overseers have sold out his position, if he is to be believed, and he is along in the wood, an endangered species. Soon to be exposed and exploited for material gain. “

“Surely, you don’t mean that literally!”

“Well, Watson. Only time will tell. The game is afoot…and also a bit gamey, come to think of it.”

“Well, I don’t know if I can bear much more anticipation, Holmes.”

A knock at the door.

“Wait no more, Watson. Prepare to meet our new client.”

The door swung wide, a slight squeak in the hinge topped only by the less-than-subtle squeak in our guest’s voice.

“Hi! I’m Mickey Mouse!”

If the newspaper The Strand, where the Holmes stories were originally serialized, is ever revived, we’ll finish this exciting tale.

Coming soon: When Holmes Met Watson: The Sing-along Musical

HOLIDAY AFTERMATH

Thanksgiving.

Hanukkah.

Christmas.

New Year’s.

The holiday season blazed through on a comet’s tail of sugar and other assorted calories, endless reunions with relatives, alcohol and credit card debt.

But now it’s over. All around us are pants that don’t fit right, new toys were stumbling over and others – still in their packaging – that you just haven’t had time to open. Gift cards fill your wallet and you’re still snacking on leftover holiday cookies. A lot of kids are still off school, which means so are a lot of their parents.

It’s sort of like it’s still the holiday season only without the paid days off.

Remember how after M*A*S*H got cancelled in 1983, there was short-lived sequel called AfterMASH about the exploits of Potter, Klinger and Mulcahy? The post-holiday season is a little like that. The same stuff is around you. It looks sort of the same. But it’s not the same. You can put Klinger in a dress in Missouri instead of Korea or turn on Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” on December 28 but it’s not the same. Everything belongs where it belongs, when it belongs there.

Wait. That’s a crappy comparison. Must be tired from all the celebrating. Why try to extend the holidays past their normal expiration dates anyway? They’re exhausting. And expensive. (Put those words together and you get “expen-ting”. Just a little bonus blog-nugget for you.)

But, hey, January’s here. Time to relax.

So…how many days until Memorial Day?

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