“Your Inner Fish”: Neil Shubin’s Love Letter to Science

Neil Shubin, author of "Your Inner Fish" and host of the PBS show by the same name

Science has long held a solid and pretty prominent place on television. And while TV’s science shows usually appeal mainly to audiences who are already partial to biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and other such disciplines, the most special and magnificent of science shows can excite even the least science-minded among us. They key to making this special kind of science show has always been in picking the right host; the one whose personality is so magnetic and whose enthusiasm is so contagious that you just can’t help but get excited — even if that host is trying to teach you about the geologic composition of a 200 million-year-old river basin. The right host can turn abstract science into real life magic, the stuff of dreams, and can make even the most self-centered viewer give a sh-t about the world around them.

There was Carl Sagan’s calm, measured delivery of complex subjects on Cosmos, Bill Nye’s goofy skepticism and patient explanations on Bill Nye, the Science Guy, Adam Savage’s go-go-go enthusiasm and Jamie Hyneman’s stony-faced logic on Mythbusters, and Ms. Frizzle’s infectious sense of fun and adventure on The Magic School Bus. There have been so many fantastic men and women who have guided us through the magic of science on the small screen, but I think I may have a new favourite science show host: Neil Shubin. This author, paleontologist, professor, and all ’round adorable guy might be the best thing to happen to scientific television in a long time. He’s got exactly the contagious passion and palpable energy needed to pull the average person into full-on archaeological obsession. He’s got the charisma to make people care about rock density and scale shapes and prehistoric bone structures, and I think he could have a long career in television (if he wants one). His new PBS series, Your Inner Fish (based on his book by the same name), wouldn’t really be anything special compared to other skillfully produced series about biology and nature if it weren’t for Shubin himself. Shubin himself is special. Seriously, I dare you to watch the first episode of this series (below or here) and not fall in love with him based solely on how much he loves fossils. Continue Reading

“Everest Jump Live”: The Problems With Sensational Event Programming

Joby Ogwyn of Discovery Channel's event program, "Everest Jump Live"

I’ve said before that I don’t like to sh-t on things, but that sometimes, I just can’t help myself. Some things are just so ridiculous, so overblown and meaningless and dripping with self-important narcissism that I just can’t help but pipe up with my own self-important opinions on the matter (which is exactly what blogs are for, right?). And right now, I can’t help but sh-t on the bloated, shiny carcass of Discovery’s latest event program, Everest Jump Live.

There are “television events” and then there are “event programs”. The former are things that matter because viewers and critics decide they matter; the latter are things that network executives and marketers try to make matter. Television events are culturally important, they reflect a deeper societal message, and they prompt unprovoked, passionate feelings in people.  Event programs are big, fake gems that networks spit-shine till their brightness and grandeur are so blinding that you can’t look away, even if you want to. Event programs are motivated by money and ratings and Twitter buzz, not actual meaning or cultural relevance. They are fake and hollow, and it’s embarrassing to watch TV’s behind-the-sceners try so hard to convince us otherwise.

Everest Jump Live‘s problem isn’t that it’s so overly big, but that it’s so falsely big. It’s trying to be big. Real bigness doesn’t have to be manufactured or teased with trailers or pumped for buzz on Twitter, it just IS BIG. Real bigness is big because it matters. A man jumping off a high place doesn’t really matter — not in a global sense. Everest Jump Live is not the moon landing. It’s not a broadcast of the protests in Tienanmen Square or the 1948 Olympic Games. It’s not even the episode of Pretty Little Liars where you finally find out who A is. It’s just the network television equivalent of clickbait — a vapid plea for eyeballs, dressed up in sequins (or Gore-Tex) and a misleading air of importance. Continue Reading

“The Sidekick Series”: The Only Thing You Need To See This Week

When was the last time you got all mushified looking at a cute little aminal that you just wanted to grab and squeeze till its cute little eyes popped out? If it was any more than five minutes ago, you really need a dose of The Sidekick Series. As a way to raise awareness about the rewards of adopting companion animals, documentarian and animal lover, Emily Sheskin, started this video series to spotlight a series of happy human-animal unions. And it’s basically the best thing ever.

There’s a pit bull fighting persecution, a pirate tuxedo cat, the official World’s Teddy Bearest Dog named Huckleberry, and a ton of humans who love their furbabes way too much (but in, like, a good and non-creepy way). Trust me when I say that if you are petless right now, The Sidekick Series will send you running to the closest animal shelter where you will enthusiastically ask for “one of your most pathetic and unloved animals, please!” Watch the video below to get your ugly cry on, and I dare you to not to want ALL THE HOMELESS BABIES.

“Glee”‘s Top 5 Showtunes

Glee showtunes

 

I have an admission to make: I’m a bit of a musical traditionalist. I prefer guitars to keytars, pianos to synths, and Les Miserables to Lady Gaga. My desire to live in the musical past often threatens my ability to enjoy Glee; though it’s one of my favourite shows on the air right now, it sure does revel in pop music on the regular. So, grump that I am, I grit my teeth through the Madonna and Britney episodes, knowing that eventually they will do one of my all-time most-loved numbers – the showtunes.

Click over to Lydia Mag to see which of Glee‘s showtunes made the list, and to revel in Kurt’s impressive use of eyeliner.

The Office Time Machine Will Make You Feel At One With Everything

Y’know those moments in life when you suddenly get the feeling that everything that ever has been, everything that is, and everything that will be is all connected by the glowing, ethereal threads of universal understanding? Well, the latest project from media obsessive and incredibly dedicated Office fan, Jo Sabia, will make give you that feeling big time. It will make you realize that human culture is an ever-evolving, outer-limits-reaching web of cosmic joy; and many of the strands in that web of cosmic joy lead back to The Office.

Check it out for yourself. If you’re an Office fan, browsing through nine seasons of wide-reaching cultural references will remind you of all the little things you loved about the show — how it could keep you humming that weird ’80s tune for weeks, how Dwight gave you an education on ping pong, and how obsessed the writers were with Tom Hanks, Charlie Brown, and Outback Steakhouse. If you’ve never immersed yourself in the world of Dunder-Mifflin, then The Office Time Machine will be more like a motley collection of culture’s most popular and obscure references, all imparted to you by an equally motley collection of characters dressed in business casual. Either way, it’s golden.

So what are you waiting for? Kick it off with my birth year, why don’tcha?

“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”: The Best of Season 3

Honey Boo Boo's alien mask

A third season of Honey Boo Boo has come and gone, gleefully flitting through our lives trailing a stream of farts and happiness. When this season’s final special aired last night, it meant it was time for my third annual tradition of crying and reminiscing to commence. I did all the crying last night (the holidays always make me weepy), so let’s get right to the reminiscing, shall we?

We were subjected to so many wonderful things this year that I almost can’t narrow it down into any kind of list. The general feeling of the season seemed to be one of growing familiarity. Like, we know this family on a basic level; let’s dive a little deeper. Let’s talk about the girls’ futures, the Shannon-Thompsons’ place in the canon of reality TV families, and the clan’s dead (and ghostly) relatives. Even though the producers and editors seem to be getting increasingly lazy with the show (we get it — Mama sneezes a lot and there is a train track right next door), the Shannon-Thompsons will always know how to entertain. My personal highlights:

Sugar Bear’s Spotlight, Cont’d. Boy, has Shugie ever turned into a ham! Back in season 1 — when everyone was still weirded out by the cameras, and June was all quiet, and Alana was the only one who really wanted to joke around — would you ever have imagined that we would see Sugar Bear naked in a bubble bath?

Sugar Bear in the bath.

We got to see more of Shugie than ever this season (perhaps more than we ever wanted to). We got to see him enjoying his Manper of Solitude. We got to see the world’s largest collection of tattered fire department t-shirts displayed on his body. We even got to see him cry again. Shugie 4 Lyfe. Continue Reading

“Broad City”: Inside the Scandalous Imaginations of Abbi and Ilana

 

Broad City finale

Broad City is a special show, mostly because it’s nothing like it looks on the outside. It may be about 20-something New Yorkers struggling with underemployment, but it’s not a slacker comedy. It may feature people who spoke a lot of pot, but it’s not about potheads. It may focus on a couple of young female friends, but it’s far from girly. In its first season, Broad City has managed to capture the magic of its web series incarnation and do exactly what its fans were hoping for: do the same awesome thing, just do it MORE, and do it BIGGER.

As someone who usually finds the whole slacker trope off-putting (spare me the torture of watching another Workaholics-style loser waste every ounce of possibility in his life), allow me to reassure you that Abbi and Ilana have too much spunk to be considered lazy, do-nothing stoners. Their wildly imaginative dreams in life, their ability to bounce back from failure, and their refusal to view life through any lens other than their own crazy eyes are all things that prevent these women from falling into pothead loser territory. Abbi and Ilana lead lives that, while the opposite of aspirational, are pretty damn inspirational. The may not have steady jobs, and they may spend a little too much time and effort procuring marijuana, but we all wish our lives could be as much fun as an episode of Broad City. Continue Reading

CBC Cancels “Cracked”, Rogers is to Blame

Cracked

CBC crime drama Cracked has been cancelled, along with a few other shows on the network. This is sh-tty, and it’s all Rogers’ fault. Allow me to elaborate.

First off, regardless of why the series is being cancelled, it’s a shame to see the disappearance of one of TV’s only shows highlighting mental health issues and their impact on crime. Sure, other crime dramas may feature a schizophrenic victim on one episode or a serial killer who’s “crazy” in some vague and disrespectfully undefined way, but Cracked was the first crime drama I know of that made a point of exploring mental health in every single episode. Instead of making mental illness into a scapegoat of evil, Cracked sought to demystify (and thus de-villainize) it. Rather than portraying people with mental health issues as spooky and icky, the show tried to explain why certain illnesses make people act the way they do. Unlike just about every other crime drama ever, Cracked tried to treat its criminals with respect, medical knowledge, and emotional understanding. The show wasn’t the best thing on TV (and truthfully, it’s ratings were not great), but it was refreshing in its level of basic human decency. And now it’s gone, thanks to Rogers’ continued quest for media domination.

See, all these cancellations are part of the fallout of a deal that happened way back in the fall. When the NHL’s Canadian broadcast rights were up for renegotiation in November, instead of renewing their usual structure — which saw the CBC buying the rights to broadcast and monetize hundreds of games per year — the hosers decided to take a major buyout from Rogers for exclusive rights. So ever since the fall, Rogers has basically owned all of hockey in Canada. And the CBC is left sitting in the corner with their little sub-letting deal from the media conglomerate to keep Hockey Night in Canada and a total of 320 hours of hockey programming on the air for four years, with no revenue being gained at all. Continue Reading

On the Incredible Consistency of “Bob’s Burgers”

Bob's Burgers

Pretty soon, we’ll be forced to bid farewell to the fourth season of Bob’s Burgers. Looking back on its run so far — nearly 60 episodes and counting – all I can think is, “Holy sh-t, is this show ever consistent.” Consistently, reliably, unfailingly amazing. Of all the shows currently airing that I am completely in love with, Bob’s is one of the few that I’ve never complained about to anyone. I’ve never watched an episode and been irked by a turn of plot or wondered why a character choice was made. The show is actually bad for me as a critic because it’s so good that it disables by ability to think critically. The show is so seamlessly and effortlessly awesome that it paralyzes my analytical muscles. When I watch Bob’s, I’m not really capable of thinking consciously about it; all I can do is sit back and enjoy in a state of glassy-eyed euphoria. It’s actually kind of embarrassing. Is this how normal, healthy people watch TV all the time?

Even as I write this, I’m having a hard time assigning order to my swirling feelings of love and appreciation.The show is so perfectly crafted that it’s hard to even pick out the individual bits of greatness that make up its whole, but I’m gonna try. For one, there’s the fact that they haven’t f-cked around with the showrunners, which has kept the show’s greatness consistent. And those showrunners? Yeah, they are of excellent pedigree.

There’s the fact that the casting was done right, with some unexpected choices setting a charmingly oddball tone for the show. Having female characters voiced by men is the kind of casting choice that is weird enough to draw attention, but is so perfect for the characters that instead of feeling like a stunt, the weirdness just feels right.  Continue Reading

The New “Veep” Trailer Is So Much!

HBO released the trailer for season 3 of Veep the other day, and it is SO MUCH. It prompts so many questions! Will Selena continue to be her own worst enemy? Will everyone be fired? Will Mike get sh-t on once again by life? Will Jonah ever have a single person be nice to him, ever? Will Sue turn out to be the biggest power player in all of the Veep’s army (as we all suspected)? Will Gary’s arms fall off? Will we ever be able to trust China? Did that thing you’re remembering happen in real life, or in a cartoon? Ahhhhh, April 6th cannot come soon enough!