New Year, Coloring Around a Dead TV

Spending New Year’s Eve watching live TV. I’m struck by how this format, based on a shared experience at the same moment in time, is a relic from a previous media era. After a few hours, I feel dumber. I’m left with the feeling that I could live the rest of my life and not see any live television again, and I’d be better off for it.

Also, conversation is kind of a lost art. Coloring apps, on the other hand, seem the flavor of the moment. Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that there’s time to read, or do other things of value, but you have to choose them.

A Season Underground Eating the Pomegranate Seeds

“To be a ‘high functioning’ anything, let’s say, is just to know that you can work liberal subjectivity OK today but maybe not next week. A strictly finite talent for the long, merciless art of living in a house, speaking a language, and exchanging money, labor, goods, and services in that occult proportion that keeps you in circulation. We are probably past the last of our personhood already. We are probably running a credit line of brute executive function against minds and bodies that yield nothing anymore, depleted fucking soil. Some of us fall back on our families and renew ourselves. Some of us fall back on our families and don’t. Some of us fall into the hands of barbarism absent socialism, maybe making it back out and maybe not. Some of us have material recourse but die. It’s a weird “us,” built on material half-truths and asymmetrical feelings of symmetry—you won’t be shocked to learn intersectionality applies, and in particular the combo of middle-class roots and cis-ness is a hell of a good safety net—but I’ve made brothers, sisters, siblings in the mutual recognition of a season underground, and in the knowledge that we ate the pomegranate seeds. I think we sense each other with a kind of instinct, even online, and find ways to find each other.”

—Peli Grietzer, “A Season Underground: Russian Doll and Mental Illness.” Los Angeles Review of Books. May 6, 2019.

Public Service Announcement: TV KILL

Step 1. Buy or own a phone with a built-in infrared transmitter.

My preferred choice, at the moment, is a Samsung Galaxy S5, which has a removable battery, support for the newest version of Android (Pie) via LineageOS, and can be bought from eBay for <$100.

Step 2. Install TV Kill.

The app sequentially goes through the off codes of all major TV models. It even has a mode to keep cycling repeatedly through the codes until you stop it.

Enjoy the silence, and you’re welcome.

Watching Babylon 5 in 2018

Note: I’ve tried to avoid any spoilers, which significantly limits this discussion.

In June 2018, Babylon 5 became available on Amazon Prime. On Amazon Prime, the series starts with The Gathering, which is a 2 hour pilot that lays out the narrative framework with different actors from the main series. Then, it’s 5 seasons of 22 episodes of ~45 minutes a piece. So, if you want to watch it, you’re looking at investing about ~85 hours of your life. Is it worth it?

Babylon 5 was planned from the start to be a 5 season series. It has a multi-season narrative arc that uses an ensemble cast with characters and situations that evolve in a way that is interesting and engaging. From episode to episode, different characters are central to the story, which gives each character a depth that is unusual for any television series, even today.

It’s an epic science fiction story. It involves a couple of thousand years of history but is focused on just 5 crucial years within that span, with each season lasting a year. It’s a complete world, with multiple alien civilizations and individuals that are central to the narrative, where Earth is one culture among many. While evolving technology plays an important role in plot dynamics, it’s really the relationships and interplay between different people and cultures that drive the action. Every character and society has strengths and is flawed in some important way, which really breathes life into the series.

Clearly, Babylon 5 has had a major impact on rethinking what kind of story a television series could convey, and it was a precursor to the best television series of today. But, it does have some weaknesses.

The CGI from the mid-1990s has not aged well, but I don’t think it detracts significantly from the story. You could make the argument that while Season 5 ties up a lot of loose ends, it is the weakest season and could be skipped. Some of the acting is stilted. There are elements of the story that are reminiscent of a soap opera. There are also some story lines that end abruptly because of personnel changes or they are just left dangling. On the whole, Babylon 5 feels like an organic piece of story-telling, but it is a little messy. In many ways, it’s reflection of real life. It also explores universal questions about love, time, addiction, diversity, cooperation, brokenness, etc. There is much to consider beyond the story itself.

Watching it now, in the context of a global move to nationalist politics and fear of the Other, I found that there was much in the story that speaks to our historical moment, even though there is almost 25 years separating them. Despite its weaknesses, I enjoyed watching Babylon 5 in 2018. It may be eclipsed by the likes of The Sopranos, Band of Brothers, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and the many excellent series that exist today, but it is still good enough to be included in any conversation about important series worth watching. If you are a fan of other science fiction series beyond Star Trek variants and Star Wars, i.e., Farscape, Firefly, X-Files, Quantum Leap, Sense8 (also by J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5), etc., chances are good you will like Babylon 5.

If you’re on the fence, try the first five episodes of Season 1.

The Churn from the TV version of “The Expanse” – Season One, Episode Seven

Amos: I’m not gonna lie to you. Either way this plays out, you’re dead. And I’m the one that’s going to bring you the good news. You’re a loose end. Nothing personal.

Spy: Just like that, huh?

Amos: Like water’s wet. Sky’s up.

Spy: Must be nice to have life all figured out like that.

Amos: It has nothing to do with me. We’re just caught up in the churn, is all.

Spy: I have no idea what you just said.

Amos: This boss that I used to work for in Baltimore, he called it the churn, when the rules of the game change.

Spy: What game?

Amos: The only game. Survival. When the jungle tears itself down and builds itself into somethin’ new. Guys like you and me, we end up dead. 

It doesn’t really mean anything. 

Or, we happen to live through it, and well, that doesn’t mean anything either.