Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: It’s Bad… in a Great Way

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CXG) is my favorite current TV show. That might sound like much, given that we don’t have a TV, but please stay with me for a paragraph or two and perhaps a video.

The CXG is question is Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who leaves a successful career on the east coast to move to West Covina, California, the home town of a guy she had a summer camp fling with years ago. That makes it sound as though the show focuses on Rebecca and Josh Chen (the guy from camp). But it’s about Rebecca and her many relationships: with boyfriends, colleagues, etc., and most of all with herself.

One of the distinctive things about CXG is that, a couple of times an episode, a character or characters burst into song, often busting out dance moves. I’ll include a few examples. First, at the risk of spoiling: Rebecca realizes that she has invested in romantic/sexual relationships at the expense of other aspects of life.

That’s from season three, which I’m currently watching on Netflix. It looks as though there will be a fourth and last season. The plan from the start was for a four-season arc. The show changes a lot over the arc.

One of the changes was the departure of Santino Fontana, who played one of Rachel’s boyfriends. I think he was superb in the show. Here’s one of his big numbers.

While Rebecca does not lack for contact of various kinds with guys, perhaps the second most important character in the show is her friend Paula, played by Donna Lynne Champlin. Here’s my favorite of her numbers.

CXG reminds me of Breaking Bad, in at least two ways. First, each is great, and would be on any list of my favorite TV shows of all time. I particularly admire the writing, but I shouldn’t neglect other aspects of the show.. Second, each is an ensemble show with a great lead. Bryan Cranston was incredible in BB, but Rachel Bloom co-created, stars in, sings and dances in CXG, co-writes scripts and songs…

I am crazy about this show. How about you?

Black Mirror Season 4

Black Mirror is among my favorite TV shows ever: it’s up there with The X-Files, The Simpsons, and a few others. I’ve just watched season 4 of Black Mirror on Netflix.

Upon first watch, this is the weakest of the first four seasons. The writing just isn’t up the standard set by much of the first three seasons.

On a positive note, I watched all six episodes, and I regard it as six hours (or so) well spent. Each episode was very well done, in terms of performances, and thus probably in terms of casting and directing.

Here’s my current ranking of the episodes.

  • Best: Hang the DJ (episode 4). A clear winner. The best script of the season. I loved the chemistry between the leads.
  • Black Museum (episode 6). I suspect that Douglas Hodge’s riveting performance carried me over some flaws.
  • Arkangel (episode 2).
  • Callister and Metalhead (episodes 1 and 5 respectively). Possibly the two most different-from-each-other episodes of the season, which makes it hard to say which I preferred.
  • Crocodile (episode 3), a distant last, despite a good cast making the best of the script.

At most one of these episodes would make my “Best of Black Mirror” top ten. It’s not that the season was bad, it’s that it wasn’t Black Mirror great, or early X-Files great. Perhaps Black Mirror is one of those shows that should stop while it’s ahead, after a few (four?) seasons.

What did you think?

We don't need no stinking cable

I can’t cut the cable. I just can’t drop my subscription to cable TV! Why not? Because I’ve never had one. Neither have I ever had satellite TV.

So when I read something about cutting the cable (e.g., a recent post at RWW), I like it, but as a defensive measure against my family deciding that we need cable. And actually, adding TV to our Verizon phone/FiOS service wouldn’t be ruinous.

Right now, I expect to be able to get through my life without ever having subscribed to cable TV. We don’t even have a TV. I expect we’ll get one soon, but I don’t think we’ll need cable to get good content for it.

Bart Beats Balloon Boy

When I heard that balloon boy was safe, because he’d never been up the balloon in the first place, my first reaction was one of relief.

My second reaction was that this whole incident is uncannily similar to the Simpsons episode in which Bart seems to get stuck down a well. If you remember, Sting guest-starred as himself, contributing the song “We’re Sending Our Love Down the Well” to the apparently good cause of getting Bart out of the well down which he has fallen. Reaction 2.1 was that others must have noticed and written about the resemblance before me.

Indeed Phil Rosenthal, blogging at the Chicago Tribune, pretty much nailed it. He even included the very clip from the episode I’d have used.

At least I’m not as far behind Phil as balloon boy was behind Bart. I’m a day behind, BB was 17+ years behind Bart. The episode in question, “Radio Bart,” aired in January 1992. Its Wikipedia page provides further details, answering questions such as: on which 1951 movie is the plot based? who got the first shot at guest starring and declined, thus leaving the door open for Sting? how come the episode didn’t win an Emmy.

Converting to DTV

We’re now ready for digital TV. I just put in the Tivax STB-T8 Digital to Analog TV Converter Box we ordered from Amazon, using the government-supplied $40 coupon. The range of channels we can get hasn’t changed a lot: it remains pretty much what’s listed at

The two differences I’ve noticed so far are both positive. First, reception is better, much better for some channels. Second, we can now get multiple channels for some stations, notably WGBX. We’re still using the same rabbit ears as before. Your mileage may of course vary, depending on your location (we’re in Roslindale), rabbit or other receiving critter, converter box, etc.

That said, it seems likely that analog TV types will have an extra four months to get ready. It also seems that over 6 million consumers aren’t ready yet. That surprises me, given that the converter boxes seem to stock out frequently at Amazon and other online retailers. Maybe more people than expected are sticking with their analog TVs rather than buying a new digital TV.

Weather Again

Since my wintry words of yesterday, it has occurred to me that the few inches of snow we got in Boston really doesn’t qualify as a storm, yet is less snow than it took to shut down London.

I’ve also found some clips of a BBC show from 10 years ago: Songwriters Circle. Here is the Crowded House song “Weather With You” done by Neil Finn, backed by Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera) on lead acoustic guitar and Graham Gouldman (10cc).

Hulu Sort of Scores in the Superbowl

Hulu is a web site where you can watch TV shows, and some other content. It is free and ad-supported. It was one of the web success stories of 2008. Like many legal sources of content on the web, it violates the spirit of the “world wide web” by being unavailable to much of the world.

So Hulu, the web site where you can watch TV shows, ran a TV ad during the Superbowl. It was one of the more highly-rated Superbowl ads this year (sources for this include Fred Wilson), and so many people will want to see it.

Now, it would make sense for Hulu to make it easy for people to watch its ad. In fact, Hulu has a gallery of all the Superbowl ads. Perhaps it is to Hulu’s credit that its own ad doesn’t seem to be particularly prominent in the gallery. But that’s another way of saying that Hulu puts up barriers to its own ad.

So if you go to in order to watch the ad the web site paid to run on TV, you have to first watch… a regular ad. That’s if you are allowed to watch the Hulu ad. If you’re outside the Hulu zone, you won’t be able to watch the ad.

I know that there are contractual restrictions on making content available across borders. But it would make sense for Hulu to not impose such restrictions when the content is its own ad. You can see more at Erick’s TechCrunch post. The “more” includes the Hulu ad itself… but of course, people in the USA will see an ad before the ad, and most people outside the USA won’t see much of anything.

By the way, I think that the Hulu ad is pretty good. “They say TV will rot your brain. That’s absurd. TV only softens the brain, like a ripe banana” is one of Alec Baldwin’s better lines. The Superbowl itself wasn’t bad either.

Oliver Noggin Pops His Clogs

There’s a lot of very good TV for kids. I’m not saying that just to comfort my parent-self, but also because of most of the kids TV shows on WGBH TV: Word Girl, Arthur, etc.

When I think back to the TV I saw as a kid, my fondest memory is of Noggin the Nog. Oliver Postgate wrote and told the stories, while his partner Peter Firmin did the visuals. If I had to explain why storytelling is so wonderful, I’d play the introduction to Noggin.

Let’s enjoy some Noggin together now, and then meet again after the video in for more Oliver info.

Oliver just died, at age 83. I found out his death via Nicholas. The BBC obit emphasizes some of Oliver’s other creations, such as Bagpuss and Ivor the Engine, but it is for Noggin that I will always remember him. I don’t think he’d object to my use of the Brit expression to pop one’s clogs.

Juliana Hatfield Blogs About My So-Called Life

That’s My So-Called Life the TV show, which would be on any top 10 TV list I made. It starred a young Claire Danes. There was only one series.

The Christmas episode featured Juliana Hatfield, who is still making music. She’s also blogging, and recently wrote a very interesting post about her MSCL appearance (link via Stereogum).

She was originally approached to write a song for the episode. This, by the way, was back in the day when TV and indie music didn’t know each other well.

The song would need to be mournful but also kind of uplifting, somehow; to express the angel character’s tragic circumstances and ultimate end, but also the spirit of Christmas — rebirth, hope, love, compassion and all that jazz… Did I think I could give them something like that? Something that was mine — my own distinctive voice — but composed using their guidelines.

I was game. I thought it would be a fun exercise. To be given a task with a blueprint was, for me, exciting and challenging, and also a bit of a relief. Having rules or limitations can be very liberating just as having total freedom to do whatever you want, however you want, can be sort of paralyzing.

I like the way that Juliana embraces the constraints as helpful. I also like her realism about being a musician these days.

So don’t give me any grief if you ever hear a song of mine in a car/shampoo/steakhouse commercial, okay? Not very many people buy music anymore so I might have to find other ways to pay for the making and promotion of my future albums.

As I write this, I’m enjoying Accelerate, which sounds on first listening to be more interesting than REM have been in a while. Did I buy it? Sort of, I’m streaming it on Rhapsody. I’ll probably check out some recent Juliana Hatfield next…

Terminator: Sarah’s Chronicles, Summer’s Season

The only complete TV season I’ve watched for many a year is season one of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Due to the writers’ strike, there were only nine shows. I watched them online, on Hulu to be specific. There is of course a lot of online activity around the show: fan sites, petition for there to be a season two, and so on.

There’s also a wiki, which includes a polls page. Here are some of my votes, with some stats that were current around the time I voted.

  • Favorite character: Cameron (who’s the clear leader, with 69% of the votes cast).
  • Favorite cast member: Summer Glau (74%)
  • Favorite episode: Demon Hand (9%). At the time of this writing, it’s still available on Hulu.

“Demon Hand” is the 7th of the 9 that made up the first season. It probably won’t be a surprise that the reason I like “Demon Hand” so much centers on Cameron, and on Summer’s Glau’s performance. Cameron takes dancing lessons, since the gang need to track down the teacher’s brother.

Cameron attempts a pas de chat, which TV Sans Pity tells us means totally graceful spins and ballet shit. Teacher tells Cameron’s that her lower body is fine, but that her upper body is rather mechanical. Sorry, but I just can’t get enough of this sly Terminator humor.

At the end of the show, Cameron is practicing ballet. That is at once another Cameron wants to be human moment, a reason for Derek, who sees her dancing, to wonder if he’s being too suspicious of her, and a good use of Summer’s background as a dancer.

Moving back to a different episode, the best quote of the season came in episode 4: “Heavy Metal.” “If you’re gonna be a hero, you gotta learn how to drive stick,” concerned mother Sarah told John.

Hey, here’s that pas de chat: