I caught the news about the passing of Jeopardy!‘s own Alex Trebek an hour after it hit the mainstream press. An hour after that, I had to be the one to inform my wife. I let her finish her nap first rather that spring a rude awakening upon her. If there’s any emotion that should never be associated with Trebek, it’s rudeness.
Once upon a time in 2011 I was in the mood to follow a TV show on CBS, of all channels — Person of Interest, the latest project from Jonathan Nolan, best known for writing or co-writing many of his brother Christopher’s films. The first seven episodes were one part above-average hard-boiled CBS procedural, one part very-near-future SF drama. Then the show began skipping weeks, returned without notice, and skipped more weeks. When I realized new episodes were airing, catching up was impossible because some miserly executive forbade it from being available On Demand, on CBS.com, or anywhere else for streaming after the fact. I gave up on following along as it aired, but vowed I’d catch up one day when the time was right.
At the end of 2013 our household joined the Netflix achievers. I added PoI to my queue as soon as I saw it was available, and looked forward to catching up at long last.
Then, because I’m old and forgetful and surround myself with far too many hobbies and to-do lists and internet distractions, seven years blinked by.
Longtime MCC readers know the rule: every film I see in theaters gets its own entry. That rule hasn’t come up much lately because (previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover) our last theater experience was the first weekend of March. Entries about my home video consumption tend to be a no-fly zone for any kind of inbound traffic, but every so often I’ll ignore my blog stats and go for it anyway. Then again, that’s my approach to 90% of what I post here, so why hold my viewing habits to a tougher standard?
I do miss theaters. To a lesser degree I miss racking my brain for the occasional movie entry. I do go out on a limb for the occasional Netflix Original. And though I’ve only seen six previous Spike Lee films (that really should be higher), it seemed remiss to watch his new joint Da 5 Bloods and then do nothing else to engage with the experience.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: a while back I spent an entire weekend watching the first episodes of twenty different series across multiple platforms. That experience provided us a blueprint for our binge-watching over the subsequent months. I haven’t written about everything we’ve watched, but since that entry my wife Anne and I have gone through Netflix’s Unbelievable (harrowing and unforgettable), Wild Wild Country (surprising and at times Too Much, by which I mean too much padding, but altogether illuminating), the first two seasons of House of Cards (despite potentially tossing fifty cents into Kevin Spacey’s tin cup), a wholly unrelated and regrettable detour for Tiger King (now we get all the references, but at a steep cost to our souls), and, far less dishonorably, all three seasons of The Crown.
My brief thoughts on the latter’s pilot:
Some early reviews had led us to believe writer Peter Morgan’s longform follow-up to his Best Picture nominee “The Queen” amounted to “Royal Sexytime”. Perhaps later down the road, the sight of Queen Elizabeth II snogging Prince Philip may be lying in wait to drive us to the brink of horror, like that one Marvel miniseries that dared readers to visit Aunt May’s heyday as a horny teen. Mercifully the first chapter didn’t go there and seemed much like any other British costume drama, save a few expletives and the Eleventh Doctor’s bare butt. Bonus points for casting consummate professional Jared Harris to take over for Colin Firth as King George VI. A pity Elizabeth herself hardly figured into her own story at first. Presumably Claire Foy has more lines later?
Thankfully she did, except in scenes where she consigned herself to historically accurate silence for the sake of burying feelings like true British royalty. Thirty episodes later, we’re caught up with other viewers and ready for more. Until season four presumably hits the broadband waves later this year, all we can do for now is ruminate on what we have on hand.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: for the past several years my wife Anne and I have made a tradition of going somewhere — anywhere but home — for each of our birthdays. One-day road trips and events, such as last year’s tour of the Art Institute of Chicago, give me the gift of new experiences and distract me from the physical decay at hand. It was a nice tradition while it lasted.
For my 48th birthday we had hoped this weekend would see us returning to Motor City Comic Con up near Detroit. Our first trip to Motor City in 2017 was a fantastic experience, and this year’s guest list had a few larger-than-life personalities we would’ve loved to meet. Then, much as has happened to You, The Viewers at Home, our best-laid plans gang agley. In the wake of COVID-19, businesses closed or severely restricted their services, workplaces were scuttled, my employers enacted strict rules about out-of-state travel, and any and all events involving two or more people were canceled. All one-man events, such as the worst YouTube channels ever, were allowed to continue on schedule. I haven’t had a birthday party in years, but the state of the world has derailed our road-trip tradition for my big day. Whether we can resume our practice on Anne’s birthday in October will hinge on a number of variables, none of them within my personal control, though I’d totally be on top of that for her sake if I had Dr. Manhattan’s powers.
Anne and I were determined to line up an enjoyable weekend for ourselves anyway. Between the two of us we made the most of these past two days with the resources safely available. We found a way to recreate ten (10) commonalities we’ve encountered at various entertainment conventions over the past several years. Welcome to what I nicknamed “TakeoutCon 2020”, which included the following comic-con-esque features:
Our family prides itself on not being early adopters of new technology or services. We prefer to let upstart projects and products get up and running, figure out their processes, work out their bugs, set a price point that’s worth the venture, and build up a reputation, preferably a favorable one. Then we might give them the time of day. Maybe. Sometimes.
Streaming services are subject to the same vetting procedure. We ignored Netflix until the advent of the Google Chromecast (later renamed “Googlecast”) dramatically improved our streaming capabilities. Also motivating us: we reached the point in our newfound Doctor Who fandom at which the only episodes we hadn’t yet watched up to that point were in their clutches. For years we likewise lived well without Hulu despite a few temptations, until an outrageous Black Friday sale in December 2018 (99¢/month for 12 months!) lured me into their den.
The internet’s Baby Yoda obsession notwithstanding, we have yet to pull the trigger on Disney+. Star Trek in and of itself is not enough to justify CBS All Access. I refuse to pay a monthly price for shopping privileges and am therefore one of six people nationwide who doesn’t have Amazon Prime. Every single detail I’ve heard about Quibi implies it’s my exact anti-matter opposite. And as for YouTube Red…is that still a thing? Not for us, it isn’t.
The next contestant up in these highly competitive lockdown-era streaming wars is Peacock, a product of the NBC-Universal-Viacom multinational conglomerate. In a world where “cord-cutting” has been the trend because everyone thought that would be cheaper, Peacock is my favorite kind of service: bundled.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: our family doesn’t subscribe to HBO, but from time to time our cable provider will offer free preview weekends that let us watch all we can within 72 hours that are meant to entice us to add it to our already overstuffed lineup. Instead we save up our HBO watch-lists, pace back and forth waiting for those rare weekends, then see how much we can speed through whenever we’re granted the opportunity. It’s a bit like composing lunches entirely from free samples handed out at the grocery, but in the proper frame of mind, satisfaction can be found in limited quantities.
At least, all that had been our usual approach. Among the more recent developments in the interim normal is both Hulu and our cable provider are now offering access to the HBO libraries for a nonspecific “limited time”, presumably with an end date their corporate overlords can shift back and forth as the winds change. Until then, we plan to see what we can work in while we’re busy catching up on other watch-list materials.
Naturally for us, priority #1 was a recent show that brought back memories of our old jobs.
I’m sorry, I just…I can’t with this anymore.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: months ago my wife Anne and I had blocked out this past weekend on our calendars for attending C2E2, but ultimately bowed out due to a confluence of funding issues and insufficient guest-list temptations. We kept the weekend free anyway, determined to do something with it, even if it amounted to little more than watching lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of TV for the sake of saving on travel and leisure costs. Sometimes when your brain’s being crunched more than usual at work during a time of year that’s historically, inevitably rough, taking days off from the rat race and other responsibilities for mental health is a helpful, virtually medicinal move to recharge these flawed, fleshly vehicles of ours.
As someone who’s a bit too project-oriented when it comes to parceling out my free-time usage, naturally I spent days beforehand pondering what exactly to watch, which shows to binge or which movies to pull from various unwatched stacks, be they DVDs or streaming-media queues. Then I remembered an idea I’d had years ago: given the hundreds, potentially thousands of TV shows I’ve missed throughout my lifetime, why not have a marathon of first episodes only? Line up the pilots and premieres of various series and miniseries across the entertainment spectrum, watch them one by one, resist the urge to move on immediately to any episode 2 for the duration of the marathon, and see what happens? Create my own A/V sampler platter. A bandwidth buffet. A television Tour of Italy, for the shameless O.G. fans out there.
If “binge-watching” is sitting through several episodes of one show in a row, then sitting through one episode each of several shows might be “graze-watching”.
At a not-too draggy 215 minutes (give or take three), the 92nd Academy Awards once again sped down the same host-free track as last year, but allowed slightly more room for filler. After an intricate, audacious opening number by Janelle Monae and that Billy Porter guy who tends to wear the loudest outfits at any given awards ceremony, the audience was allowed one (1) segment for stand-up comedy, tag-teamed by former hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock in a joint achievement in short-term blame-shifting, before the rest of the night barreled onward through the 24 aired categories and an offhand shout-out to the four winners whose lesser Oscars were deemed not fit for telecast. Considering those names included Geena Davis and David Lynch, that was one heck of an inconsiderate yadda-yadda.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. Picking up where the preceding installment left off, in which we covered this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Feature but took an intermission before proceeding with these, the currently accessible Best Documentary Short Film nominees:
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. In this batch: the past month’s worth of comfy-chair viewing as prep for next Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. Every year I chase down all the Best Picture nominees whether I want to see them or not, and nearly always catch them all before the big day. (Sole exception in the past twenty years: when Ray was nominated, it was 100% rented out for weeks from every Blockbuster near our old apartment. Yes, it’s been a while.) But in recent times, I’ve also been exploring the fun to be had in chasing down other Oscar nominees for extra credit.
For the second year in a row I decided to see how many nominees I could watch from the Best Documentary Feature and Best Documentary Short Film categories, either free via legal means or via my existing streaming-service subscriptions. Last year I managed to catch nine of the ten nominees on time. The standoffish exception, National Geographic’s vertiginous climb-along Free Solo, aired the following Sunday night once they’d secured their statuette. This year I’ve managed to see eight available out of ten. Of the two holdouts, MTV has their very first nominee St. Louis Superman on lockdown for the time being, with some alleged special presentation in the works TBD; the other, The Cave, is another National Geographic entrant obligated to follow their stingy playbook.
My sincerest gratitude goes out to the rights-holders of the other eight, who actually want their works seen in this critical moment when people are most curious about them. First up are the four viewable nominees for Best Documentary Feature:
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home.
It’s Oscars season once again, which I began preparing for weeks ago after seeing film critics online buzzing back and forth about Netflix stepping up their game in the awards field. I watched three Netflix Originals back in December mostly because I was genuinely interested in them and partly because I knew they each stood a good chance of garnering some nominations, particularly in the Best Picture category. As it happens, two of the three made the list with ease, while the third one picked up three nods in other categories. A fourth Netflix Original is included in this entry for the opposite reason.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the landmark 1985-1986 maxiseries Crisis on Infinite Earths left such a massive impression on me as a young teen who’d been collecting comics since age 6, it changed the DC Universe forever as promised and factored into the naming of this very website 7½ years ago. It wasn’t easy for older fans to watch fifty years of comics canon and continuity get shredded and/or remixed, but youngsters with less of an emotional investment had front-row seats for The End of, and the subsequent rebirth of, the DC Universe as we knew it. Between Crisis, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, 1986 was a grandly historic time for DC on multiple fronts. And I was there for it.
Fast-forward 34 years later: I’m a different, older, creakier guy, but I’m still at the comic shop every Wednesday, and still partaking in superhero fare, albeit decreasingly in moderation. DC is still here, still banking on superheroes and trying much harder than I am to stay young-looking. They’ve spent the past eight years unleashing hundreds of their characters onto The CW across six TV series and counting. Here in 2019 going on 2020, it’s their turn for a Crisis.
(Let me throw a courtesy spoiler warning up front: this entry isn’t a full recap, but remarks are up ahead about plot points, surprises, and possibilities in the fourth and fifth chapters that’ll conclude the major crossover event on January 14th. If you’re planning to catch up on your own between now and then, the exits are clearly marked on your browser.)
Sunday was not a kind day for our favorites in the entertainment world. Mere hours after the passing of Caroll Spinney, the kind soul behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, we were further saddened to hear about the passing of actor Rene Auberjonois from lung cancer at age 79. Many a youth cackled at his small but lively role in Disney’s The Little Mermaid as the French chef who tries to turn Sebastian the crab into an appetizer, but he’s been around since I was a kid. His repartee with Robert Guillaume on ye olde sitcom Benson (among other fine costars including Star Trek: Voyager‘s Ethan Phillips) taught me the comedy value in sparring opposites and well-timed barbs. It probably also taught me that haughty, no-nonsense stuffed shirts had much to learn about being kinder to coworkers, so there’s that value.
Sunday morning I was saddened and shocked to learn of the unexpected passing of Caroll Spinney, that dear absolute giant from the original cast of TV’s Sesame Street who brought to life two of that avenue’s great yet opposite creations: the childlike Big Bird, patron saint of friendly innocents; and the ornery Oscar the Grouch, a benign symbol of our selfish dark sides. He threw himself into both roles with gusto and aplomb for decades, and left his imprint on millions of kiddos.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. Plan A for Thanksgiving weekend had been a combination of reading, writing, and watching. One of those three won out thanks to a confluence of unrelated factors, all involving TVs and streaming media.
Anne and I are old-fashioned cable subscribers, but I cut all premium channels from our lineup over a decade ago for (mostly) cost-cutting reasons. A few times per year, our provider will allow limited access to one or more of those high-falutin’ deluxe stations for the space of an entire weekend, a taste of what we’ve been missing to lure us into throwing more monthly money at them because only they have the cure for TV FOMO. For me those free weekends represent surprise binge opportunities, an indulgence that staves off any temptation of permanent signup. For this past holiday weekend they granted us free HBO from Thursday through Monday. I could’ve picked up where I left off on the previous “Watch-a-Thon” and continued my dive into Flight of the Conchords…but I decided to go with something a bit more current, much harsher and a lot less melodic.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. The last installment was eight months ago because I’ve found myself pretty easy to distract this year. Time flies when I’m going to bed earlier every night due to encroaching oldness, depriving myself of precious writing time, barely making a dent in my topical backlog, and therefore not yet forcing myself into a corner where I have to mine everything I do for creative writing fodder. Plan A for Thanksgiving weekend had been a combination of reading, writing, and watching. One of those three won out thanks to a confluence of unrelated factors, all involving TVs and streaming media.
We thought we’d seen the last of our favorite early-20th-century British property owners, their splendidly ornate possessions, their struggle to maintain their lifestyle even as all their peers fail in droves, and the working-class employees who were more like us. Even though the series finale brought closure and a happy ending — without the doom and gloom that traumatized us in earlier years, no less — leave it to writer/creator Julian Fellowes to confound those expectations and serve one last course of fan service for Anglophiles.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. We’ve taken two trips by airplane, but are much happier when we’re the ones behind the wheel — charting our own course, making unplanned stops anytime we want, availing ourselves of slightly better meal options, and keeping or ruining our own schedule as dictated by circumstances or whims. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’d been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we aimed for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness. Before we went to D*C, there was the road trip to get there, and the good times to be had before the great times at the big show.
Atlanta is home to a few major companies with international reach and historical impact. Among them, CNN was closest to our hotel. The 1980 brainchild of local media mogul Ted Turner, best known to our generation as the guy who brought us Turner Classic Movies and who thought it would be cool to have It’s a Wonderful Life garishly colorized, CNN was the first 24-hour all-news channel, back in the days before every hobby, profession, concept, or word had its own dedicated 24/7 cable channel out there.
The building has been around since 1976, but it’s been the CNN Center since 1987, when CNN and its eldest offspring CNN Headline News relocated and made it their broadcasting home. CNN’s primary programming now shoots in NYC, LA, and DC, but HLN and other CNN offshoots still call ATL home. As it happens, the CNN Center offers tours to the public. We thought it sounded fun. Neither of us watches CNN regularly, though Anne dabbles in HLN’s true-crime programming. Sadly, our tour did not include a meet-and-greet with the narrator of Forensic Files.