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.
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”.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Convention season is here again!
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last year we attended our first HorrorHound Cincinnati, an annual convention in honor of the scary, icky, disturbing, stabby, psychotropic aspects of pop culture. The folks at HorrorHound Magazine orchestrate the festivities so loyal fans of the deadly and the dead can enjoy a themed geek space of their own apart from Star Wars and Star Trek and whatnot. (Well, mostly.) We’ve attended four of the same company’s HorrorHound Indy shows in our own hometown because, even though horror isn’t a primary focus for our entertainment habits, their overseers have a flair for assembling a top-notch guest list filled with actors we’ve seen in a lot of great works throughout our lives…and who also just so happen to have one or more Halloween-apropos movies or TV shows among their IMDb credits.