A Peek Inside Peacock

Peacock!

We named it after the old NBC mascot, but instead of a bird we thought a cooler image would be…this glow stick?

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.

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Leaping Off the “Tiger King” Circus Wagon

I Saw a Tiger!

Out-of-context snippet from Netflix’s sing-a-long lyrics-video version of Joe Exotic’s “I Saw a Tiger”. Follow the bouncing tiger cub head. Yes, really.

I’m sorry, I just…I can’t with this anymore.

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20 Pilots Down: A Special Graze-Watching Weekend

Queen Sono!

Bond? Bond who? Pearl Thusi and Loyiso Madinga in the action-spy series Queen Sono, which premiered on Netflix last Friday.

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”.

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Video Scorecard #22: Oscar Quest 2020 Animated Extra Credit

Klaus!

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night nor facing off against Disney and DreamWorks films for an Academy Award…

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. As usual I’ve been preoccupied with my annual bout of Oscar-mania to the consternation of MCC readers who show up here for any other reasons.(I promise we have a road trip miniseries coming soon, with some light travel, history, and a tribute to one astronaut. Honest!

Before tonight’s big Academy Awards ceremony on ABC, there’s one last category in which I managed to catch all the entrants thanks to the wonder of today’s sometimes generous streaming services. Thus we present in brief the three nominees for Best Animated Feature that I didn’t see in theaters:

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Video Scorecard #21: Oscar-Hopeful Mini-Documentaries 2020

Skateboard in a Warzone!

Now I kinda want skateboarding lessons too.

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:

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #20: Oscar-Hopeful Documentaries 2020

Honeyland!

In a fairer world the stars of Honeyland would be dividing up this year’s Oscars like this, not honeycombs.

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:

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #18: Temporarily Free HBO Presents “Watchmen”

Sister Night!

Sister Night and the tea. Your move, Baby Yoda.

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.

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #17: My Thanksgiving Letdown with Baby Yoda

Baby Yoda!

“Only begun, the meme wars have…”

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.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: HBO’s “Chernobyl”

Chernobyl!

Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, and Jared Harris handling the truth.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. Veronica Mars season 4 had its mad-bomber mystery and its upsetting finale. Season 2 of Hulu’s Light as a Feather made teen horror out of a slumber party game. The Netflix documelodrama The Last Czars reminded us Russian history is more fatalistic than many of our TV stories. Season One of Chopped revealed its secret origin as a parable of man’s inhumanity to man.

I had expected this special MCC miniseries to conclude with the Chopped entry. Then one unexpected August day our cable TV provider announced their next annual or semiannual “preview weekend”, that generous time of year when all subscribers are allowed to watch HBO free for a limited span to see what pop-culture touchstones they’re missing. We haven’t subscribed to any premium channels in ages. We live on, find other things to do, and satisfy ourselves with the money that our uncoolness saves us. But we will occasionally brake for free prestige TV when opportunities intersect our path and trip us up.

Apropos of too many things, we ran right back to the subject of Russian history. This time, though, it was ripped from the headlines within our own lifespans.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: “Chopped” Season One

Chopped season 1!

Aphrodisiac or poison? YOU make the call!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. Veronica Mars season 4 had its mad-bomber mystery and its upsetting finale. Season 2 of Hulu’s Light as a Feather made teen horror out of a slumber party game. The Netflix documelodrama The Last Czars reminded us Russian history is grimmer than many of our TV stories, and trying to cheer your audience up with cult orgies doesn’t help.

This summer we’ve even managed to find oppression and despondency in the things we’ve loved and watched for years. We expected nothing less from Veronica Mars. It paled before the dark side of Chopped.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: Seven “Black Mirror” Shards

Black Mirror!

Toby Kebbell watching his own lifelong YouTube channel inside his artificial second eyelids in a Black Mirror oldie.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. As I wrote at the time, Veronica Mars season 4 fit right in once we finished the finale. The second season (part 1) of Hulu’s Light as a Feather broadened its scope and tightened up its ensemble interplay, but still had Death lurking around every corner. The Netflix documelodrama The Last Czars was a downbeat bummer in its subject matter as well as its various letdowns.

I’ve been selective about which new shows I add to my docket. I’ve skipped many a popular show over the years, which means I stay ostracized from all the best online discussion groups. Among those I’d been procrastinating till now was Black Mirror. The base concept of “Twilight Zone, but cutting-edge and extra nihilistic plus F-bombs” wasn’t an easy sell for me. Also, I heard about that first episode. My son, aghast at the repressed memory of it resurfacing, recommended I skip it and just watch the rest. The suggestion was wise and tempting.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: Hulu’s “Light as a Feather”

Light as a Feather!

Once again McKenna (Liana Liberato) faces DEATH FROM ABOVE! OR AT LEAST SCARINESS!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. As I wrote at the time, Veronica Mars season 4 fit right in once we finished the finale. The Netflix documelodrama The Last Czars couldn’t help but depress with its take on Russia’s traumatic early-20th-century history, though it would prove the most unintentionally funny show we’ve seen in ages about war, revolution, murder, and gloomy orgies.

Meanwhile on Hulu, I caught a supernatural thriller in its second season that was easily the youngest-skewing show I watched this summer, possibly this year. But I had a pretty good reason.

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Our Dark Summertime Binge: Netflix’s “The Last Czars”

Last Czars!

Rasputin (Ben Cartwright) and Alexandra (Susanna Herbert) oblivious to Russia’s coming vicissitudes.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: with weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife Anne and I have been bingeing a few different shows together, while I’ve done some additional grim watching on the side. Certainly not through careful planning on our part, each of the shows has had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. As I wrote at the time, Veronica Mars season 4 fit right in once we finished the finale. Shocking developments notwithstanding, it wasn’t the gloomiest show on our scorecard.

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“Veronica Mars” Season 4: Part of Our Dark Summertime Binge

Veronica Mars!

Are you there, God? It’s me, the annoying tiny blonde one.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: 2014 saw the release of the Veronica Mars movie, an unexpected follow-up to the acid-tongued detective show that undiscerning Nielsen families treated as persona non grata during its three-season run on UPN and The CW. The movie was made possible through a Kickstarter campaign made wildly successful by a fan base eager to see more, more, more. Honestly, every second of VM beyond the first season has been a sort of gift. Back in the day, shows with its kind of shaky ratings were often stood before a firing squad in five episodes or less. Fans appreciated the film as a Happily Ever After that we needed after season 3’s funereal cliffhanger, but we also assumed it was The End. We moved on, so sure that life in the complicated oceanside town of Neptune, CA, would remain copacetic forever as long as we all agreed never to look back again.

Apparently like Orpheus, someone must have peeked. Thanks to the magic of Hulu and a reunion of principals — creator Rob Thomas and some of the original writing staff, as well as stars Kristen Bell, Enrico Colantoni, and quite a few more — the titular teen detective and her equally-detective dad Keith Mars are back with an eight-episode fourth season that, of course, once again has Neptune in chaos, death at hand, and Happily Ever After wrested away from more than one beloved cast member. Though Hulu had announced a release date of July 26th, they uploaded it a week early amid the fun and busyness of San Diego Comic Con. It was either a pleasant surprise or a shocking downer, depending on whether or not you actually watched it this weekend.

With several weeks to go till vacation and no pressing obligations, my wife and I sped through all eight episodes on Saturday, because free time abounded for some of us who’ll never get to attend SDCC. Over the past few weeks we’d been bingeing a few other shows, each of which had their own depressing and/or tragic aspects. We set all those aside for one day and, by the end of said day, realized Veronica fit right in with all that bleakness.

Courtesy warning: spoilers ahead for thoughts after some 400+ minutes of viewing. Not everything is revealed here, but several tidbits yearn to be explored. The spoiler-free capsule-review version is: season 4 is far better than season 3, possibly better than season 2 (I need more time to evaluate this), and definitely not here to deliver more of the movie’s too-eager-to-please fan service.

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Random Spoiler-y Thoughts on “Stranger Things” Season 3

Stranger Things!

Scoops Troop: they sling ice cream, do maths, and fight Commies. As you do.

Judging by my Twitter feed over the past week, America’s biggest July 4th sensation this year was Netflix’s release of Stranger Things‘s third season for a massive fan base eagerly waiting to follow the further adventures of the pluckiest teens ever to come out of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. As you can imagine, there was no shortage of pre-release coverage, articles, and advertisement here in the good Hoosier state. I’m getting better at finishing new seasons of streaming series as they’re dropped and had this one wrapped up Saturday afternoon. My thoughts didn’t quite streamline themselves into a narrative, but I did have a few.

Most of them are SPOILERS AHEAD, so there’s that. Some of this also won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched it, especially if they’ve never seen an episode. This is virtually stream-of-consciousness, not a pro recap. It’s faster and more fun for me to get it out of my system this way.

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #16: Saluting the Oscar-Adjacent

Sorry to Bother You!

Sales and talking on phones? This job would crush me.

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. I could string together several entries out of the backlog I built up through 2018, but for now let’s settle for tackling a few recent catches from the past six weeks, when the Academy Awards were fresh in mind, whether relevant or tangential:

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #15: Oscar Quest 2019 Extra Credit

First Reformed.

Ethan Hawke isn’t a big fan of superhero films, but he’s perfectly okay with bold costumes.

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 as well as the previous one: the past few months’ worth of comfy-chair viewing as prep for this Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, except this year I went overboard and decided to see how many the nominees I could catch from other categories, either free via legal means or via existing streaming-service subscriptions. As it turns out, quite a few, mostly documentaries but that’s not a bad thing.

But first, an Original Screenplay nominee I’d been curious to see for a while:

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Former Kickstarter Junkie VII: An Oscar Would’ve Been Nice

Anomalisa!

Belated news for the record: the long-awaited code for my digital download of Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animated drama Anomalisa hit my email on March 15, 2016, forty-four months after its Kickstarter campaign was launched and thirty-four months after the original promised delivery date to backers who pledged at my level. Part of the delay was due to its expansion from the original proposed short to a full-length feature film. Part of it was because stop-motion is just really hard, probably. Part of it was because the subsequent, unexpected distribution deal with Paramount Pictures threw in a contractual complication that meant many of us had to wait till closer to the home video release date before our technically preordered goods would be distributed.

But it happened at last, and the thing really exists. They followed the wording of the pledge to the letter and delivered on their promises on their schedule. Unfortunately for me, the reward came with a catch. That’s why this follow-up was delayed.

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Let Me Know When “Community” Season 6 is on DVD

Community!

Abed and Jeff during the premiere’s Apology Montage. Maybe someday I’ll accept it, but I’m just not ready tonight.

The big television event is here! Except not on television. At last, the fabled meta-sitcom Community returned tonight with the first two all-new episodes of its sixth season, but not on NBC anymore. Instead, in what I hope was a self-aware feat of ironic self-handicapping, the show has relocated to Yahoo! Screen, which spent the past ninety minutes of my life acting like RealPlayer used to in the ’90s, except larger and hopefully with a little less spyware. Yahoo!’s entry into the internet streaming competition didn’t fare well in the test sessions I’d performed prior to tonight, but I wanted to persevere anyway for the sake of the show that’s produced four of the funniest seasons of TV ever.

I took performance notes during the experience for posterity and as an outlet for my disappointment. With the streaming results, I mean, not with the actual show.

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