Category Archives: TV

Game Show Review – Winsanity

I love general knowledge-based game shows. But what I especially love are game shows where the questions are too difficult/obscure to feasibly know, and you have to use logical reasoning and deduction to estimate an answer.

So I’m enjoying the new GSN show Winsanity. The premise of the show is that contestants will get a list of ten descriptions of numbers, and have to put them in numerical order. The questions will be things like “Weight of the Titanic in pounds,” or “Number of eggs that IHOP uses in a year,” or “Number of active Girl Scouts in the US,” or “Lifetime posts on Kendall Jenner’s Instagram account.”

Obviously you aren’t going to know these facts off the top of your head. So you have to think about them, come up with a basis for approximating them, and figure out how to rank them. And I find that really interesting and fun to play along at home.

The downside of the show is that there is way too much filler padding out the episodes. There’s all this nonsense about people in the audience having light up bracelets, and randomly sharing prizes with the contestants, and blah blah blah… I’m getting bored just writing about it. They only get through one board of ten questions in a half hour show, when they could easily get through four boards if they cut out all the crap. So the show is only watchable if you DVR it and fast-forward through the lame pointless boring stuff.

But I find the questions interesting enough that it’s well worth the six to eight minutes it takes to watch an episode when I skip past the garbage time, and I would definitely recommend it.

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GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS – A Yelp Review of Winterfell Kennels

Game of Thrones Spoilers if you haven’t seen Season 6 Episode 9 below.

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Random text to keep spoilers from showing up in previews:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

Okay, here are the spoilers:

A Yelp review of Winterfell Kennels

By Huge Black Dog

I’ve been a fan of the Winterfell Kennels since I was a puppy. I think they serve the best human south of The Wall. So I was quite concerned to hear that Chef Ramsay had been replaced.

Still, I wanted to give Chef Sansa a chance, and I’m glad I did! I came hungry, and was excited to see my food already prepared for me. There was no chasing down my food like I sometimes had to do with Ramsay’s dishes.

Chef Sansa had prepared a delectable Tied Up Man’s Bloody Face. Let me tell you, I’ve always dreamed of the Face Buffet at the House of Black and White, but I’ve never been able to make it to Braavos. It was amazing to be able to eat face here in Winterfell!

It smelled scrumptious. I took one lick, and I was in love. It was as if she had taken the essence of Chef Ramsay and distilled it into this one wonderful dish. Then the food tried to give me commands, which made it even better! Let me tell you, there’s nothing better than chowing into food that thinks it’s your master! It was still screaming as I ate its face. Even better, the face had been pre-tenderized for me.

In her first try, Chef Sansa managed to top Chef Ramsay’s signature dish, Live Fat Woman With Newborn Baby. This was the best human I’ve ever tasted!

I considered taking a star off for the long wait, but the food was so good that I couldn’t bring myself to do so.

Five stars, must try!

[Someone has asked a question about this review]

That does sound delicious! Can you tell me if the faces are filleted like they are at the House of Black and White?

A Bear

[Huge Black Dog has responded to this question]

No, the face was still attached to the skull. However, some of the bones were pre-broken. Personally, I like a bit of crunch when I’m eating faces.

Huge Black Dog

[A bear has responded]

The crunch is nice, but if you’ve never had a face fillet, you’re missing out. You have to try the House of Black and White some time.

A Bear

[Huge Black Dog has responded]

I’d love to, but it’s difficult for me to book passage to Braavos, because I’m a dog.

Huge Black Dog

Scooby Doo and Shared Cinematic/TV Universes

News recently came out that Hanna Barbera is going to have a shared cinematic universe. I’ll get to my thoughts on that specifically in a bit, but this is a good opportunity to talk about shared cinematic universes and shared TV universes in general.

While I did enjoy the Avengers movie, I think that for the most part a shared cinematic universe is a bad idea. It undercuts the focus on who the movie is supposed to be about, creates all sorts of logic problems, and leads to movies being dumb.

Here’s an example: Captain America is someone who is exceptionally strong and athletic, and highly skilled at throwing an indestructible frisbee. You can tell a lot of interesting stories around that. But when Captain America’s buddies are someone who is strong enough to throw around tanks, a super-genius billionaire with high powered armor who can fly, shoot death rays and exploder rays, and psychically control an army of flying killer robots, and a literal god, what’s the point of Captain America? What possible mission could Captain America actually contribute to? Is there anything that the Avengers would be able to accomplish that Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor wouldn’t be able to do minus Captain America?

So Captain America either becomes superfluous to his own movie, or his friends are inexplicably absent during some huge crisis, off eating shwarma while the fate of the world hangs on Captain America struggling to complete some herculean task that would be trivially easy for a higher powered superhero.

And don’t even get me started on how the Avengers also include a chick who doesn’t have superpowers at all and is just pretty good at fighting, and a non-super-powered dude who is just good at shooting arrows.

(This SNL skit kind of sums up my feelings on that.)


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/54079263″>JR-SNL The avengers</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user14827238″>Andrew</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The Avengers was entertaining as a novelty/spectacle, but studios have taken the exact wrong lesson from that and are trying to replicate cinematic universes. Also, note that most of the Marvel movies since The Avengers have been disappointments, as the filmmakers struggle to find good stories to tell that fit into the broader context that has already gotten too complicated to handle.

I won’t bother joining the gajillion people tearing into Batman vs. Superman. But I will point out that because it’s part of a shared universe, it has already ruined the Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Batman, and Justice League movies are are going to come out over the next few years. These movies, which might have worked on their own, will be saddled with the legacy and dreadful story points that Zack Snyder crapped onto them.

On the other hand, I do think that shared TV universes work. TV shows have a broader range of stories to tell, and can take the time to service many characters over many different episodes. Putting The Flash and The Green Arrow together in a movie would be dumb, because there’s absolutely nothing the Green Arrow can do that the Flash can’t do better. The Flash could pick up an arrow, run over, and then stab someone with it, faster than the Green Arrow could shoot it. But in a TV show where there’s more time to breathe, the writers can come up with a handful of stories where it makes sense to put them together, while keeping them separate and in separate cities for most of the stories.

(The Marvel/Netflix shared TV universe shows are on my queue, but I haven’t had a chance to watch them, so I can’t comment. However, everyone seems to think Daredevil and Jessica Jones are pretty good. And it does seem like these shows are using heroes with a similar power level, which avoids some of the silliness from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)

Then there’s the upcoming Hanna Barbera cinematic universe, which is just bizarre. How does it make any sense for Scooby Doo to meet Fred Flintstone or George Jetson? What would that possibly contribute to a story, and how twisted will they have to make the rules of the world to bring those characters together? This really feels like a studio jumping on the shared universe bandwagon just because it’s trendy, rather than anything that was the result of someone having a good story to tell.

On the other hand, there aren’t any Zack Snyders involved in this. The Hanna Barbera Cinematic Universe is being done under the direction of the creative team behind The Lego Movie, which was excellent. And they’re starting with a Scooby Doo movie directed by the director of the Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated TV show, which is probably my all-time favorite show that you’ve never heard of and would be shocked to learn is good. (Seriously, check out Scooby Doo Mystery Inc on Netflix. It’s amazing. Unlike every other incarnation of Scooby Doo, it has real character development and ongoing stories. Imagine Scooby Doo done by Joss Whedon, without Whedon’s malevolent sense of life.)

So as wary as I am over the Hanna Barbera Cinematic Universe, I am excited to see a movie follow up to the best version of Scooby Doo.

The Personas of the Current Saturday Night Live Cast

My wife and I were recently discussing Saturday Night Live, and she was explaining why she disliked the late 90s/early aughts era cast centered around Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Jimmy Fallon. She felt that they were just so incredibly smug. They had the attitude that the show was lucky to have them, and the audience was lucky to be able to watch them, and they weren’t shy to make you aware of that.

I felt like that was accurate. I wasn’t a fan of that era of the show either. (Though I do love the Celebrity Jeopardy skits.)

But it got me thinking about the personas/attitudes of the current cast. SNL frequently has skits where cast members appear as themselves, and also a lot of light characters where the underlying personality of the performer shines through. For most of them I couldn’t say whether these are their genuine personalities or are carefully crafted personas. If they’re phony personas, they’re consistent enough to be believable. (Except for Kyle Mooney.)

Here is how I would describe the on-stage personas of the current cast:

Vanessa Bayer: She comes across as insecure and ditzy, but manages to use that as a source of comedy.

Beck Bennett: He’s as smug as the late 90s/early aughts cast, without the talent to back it up. (In my opinion, he’s among the least funny of the current cast. Only Kyle Mooney is worse.)

Aidy Bryant: Like Vanessa Bayer, she’s insecure, but instead of being ditzy she’s more indignant about the way the world mistreats her.

Colin Jost: He’s like the overly eager smart kid who has been invited to dinner with his professors and is trying to impress them.

Taran Killam: He can’t believe he’s actually on Saturday Night Live, and is simultaneously thrilled and nervous about it.

Kate McKinnon: She always seems to be in character of whatever she’s playing, and doesn’t really have a persona of her own.

Kyle Mooney: He tries to play the socially awkward nerd, but does a bad job of it, so it seems horribly disingenuous. It’s like he’s playing the socially awkward nerd in an amateur musical. I always feel like at any moment, he could instantly cease his nervousness, say something pithy, wink directly at the camera, and then burst into song. As a real-life socially awkward nerd, I find this obviously fake portrayal to be condescending and grating, and think Mooney is actively anti-funny. Like, he sucks the humor out of any sketch that might otherwise have been good without his presence.

Bobby Moynihan: He always seems like he’s getting away with something, isn’t sure how long it could last, and is terrified that at any moment someone could yell, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be on Saturday Night Live!” and then drag him off the stage.

Jay Pharoah: Like Kate McKinnon, only plays characters and doesn’t have a persona of his own.

Cecily Strong: She shows up as herself, but when she does she’s kind of bland and doesn’t really have her own persona.

Kenan Thompson: Like Killam and Moynihan, he can’t believe he’s on Saturday Night Live, but he finds it ridiculous and amusing that they’re letting him be there. (Even though he’s been on the show for like half his life.)

Sasheer Zamata: Doesn’t show up enough to have her own persona.

Michael Che: He feels like he just doesn’t care and is phoning it in. Like he’s giving a presentation at a job he knows he’s about to quit. He doesn’t want to be a dick about it and is still going through the motions, but in his heart he’s checked out.

Pete Davidson: He shifts back and forth between being terrified that someone will figure out that he’s high on pot while on national live TV, and realizing that everyone already knows he’s high yet somehow he’s totally getting away with being on SNL while high as balls.

Leslie Jones: She’s an odd one because she has two entirely distinct personas. When she’s doing commentary on Weekend Update, she’s high-energy, fun-loving, and amuses herself by making people uncomfortable. (Especially Jost.) Outside of update, she’s angry and won’t take anyone’s nonsense. I have no idea if one or both of these personas are an affectation, or if they represent different sides of her genuine personality.

Jon Rudnitsky: Hasn’t been on enough to establish a persona.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with these descriptions?

Xena: Warrior Princess Reboot

This is the first I’ve heard of the Xena reboot. Normally I’m skeptical of this sort of thing, but I think this could actually work out.

The original show had a fun camp factor that is sorely lacking from today’s media landscape. At least, it did until it went off the rails in its later seasons, as the show started taking itself seriously, tried to take a darker tone, and collapsed under the weight of its own mythology.

Hiring Javier Grillo-Marxuach is a good sign. His show The Middleman  is possibly my all-time favorite obscure show you’ve never heard of, and is exactly the right tone that would make Xena work.

So I’m looking forward to this.

Survivor – The Best Show on TV

Are any of you still watching Survivor?

For those of you thinking, “What, that show from 15 years ago? That’s still on?” you should definitely give it another chance. I think it’s the best show currently on TV, and it’s coming to the exciting conclusion of it’s all-time best season.

The thing about Survivor is that it’s constantly evolving. Contestants figure out winning strategies, other contestants figure out strategies to beat those, and the producers come up with ways to shake up the game and force the contestants into entirely new strategies.

If you care at all about psychology, strategy, game theory, or behavioral economics, you definitely need to be watching. There are all sorts of open questions in these fields that would be impractical to study in a lab. But CBS has been kind enough to spend millions of dollars running an ongoing experiment for us.

The first season started off being about personalities rather than strategy. Contestants voted to get rid of the people they didn’t like. Then someone figured out that if he got four people to vote as a bloc while everyone else was voting for whomever, they could control the game. Thus the concept of alliances was born, which laid the foundation of the game for the next 15 years.

The next several seasons were all about alliances. Whoever formed the bigger alliance and kept it faithful would eliminate all the other players, until they were the only ones left, at which point whichever sub-alliance was biggest would take over. This made the show predictable and boring, and you all stopped watching.

The producers recognized this was boring, and figured out ways to shake it up. They started having people swap tribes early on, to keep them from maintaining an alliance. Would people stick with an alliance from their original tribe, or stick with their new tribe, or pull in some of each? They also introduced a bunch of smaller features to add new twists and wrinkles to strategy. Hidden immunity idols, returning players, special advantages, Redemption Island, Exile Island, rewards that involve picking a handful of people to be physically separated from everyone else, a Final Three instead of a Final Two, etc.

Partly in response to these shakeups, and partly out of the idea that in order to win you need a strategy better than everyone else’s, contestants evolved. Instead of sticking with an alliance until they were the only ones left and then scrambling for a suballiance, contestants started thinking, “If I wait until there’s a few people left outside of my alliance, I can recruit them to knock off the strongest people in my alliance but outside of my suballiance. The target will never see it coming, and the people who are out of the alliance entirely will be thrilled to go along with me because it means they aren’t the ones getting voted out.” This became known as a blindside.

That become the norm, at which point strategy evolved again, as the smarter contestants said “I better pull off that coup earlier, so I can do it before someone else does it to me.” So alliance infighting kept happening earlier and earlier.

This season we’ve reached a point where the intra-alliance battles spark up before the alliance can even form. In other words, there aren’t alliances at all. The entire concept of an alliance has been replaced by temporary voting blocs, which last for at most one vote, and often don’t even last that long. A bloc will form, and then people will change their mind and form a different bloc a few hours later.

Another evolution of strategy is that contestants used to have the attitude of “I’m in my alliance and sticking with it, so if someone outside my alliance tries to talk to me, I’ll just tell them to buzz off.” But then they figured out that they want to preserve their options for a coup, or make sure they’re on the right side of things if someone else tries for a coup, so it’s much better to talk to everyone and be open to whatever they propose. Also you never know who has a secret hidden immunity idol, so it’s better to keep someone comfortable even if you’re planning to vote them off immediately. So now whenever anyone proposes a plan, everyone they’re talking to will generally say, “Yes, I will definitely go along with that,” regardless of if that’s a complete lie. Combine this with the demise of alliances, and it creates a wonderful chaos. Nobody, including the viewer, knows who is really in whose voting bloc, and none of the contestants have any certainty of what’s going to happen at any vote.

And all of this plays out in the pressure cooker of physical deprivation, having to deal with the elements and lack of food, while performing in incredibly demanding physical challenges.

It used to be that you could predict what would happen 4-5 episodes in advance. Now you can’t predict 4-5 minutes in advance.

The show has become completely brilliant, and I highly recommend you watch it. Also, let me know if you’re interested in joining my discussion list for the show.

Quick thought on the Utopia TV show

I started to watch the first episode of Utopia, only to discover that it primarily consists of unpleasant people screaming at each other. I turned it off after half an hour.

But it occurs to me, unpleasant people screaming at each other is also a perfectly apt description of real politics. Only in real politics, when a bunch of obnoxious jerks band together to force their will on a different bunch of obnoxious jerks that are slightly fewer in number, it has an actual impact on our lives.

Just a thought.

(My apologies for this post being a week late. I’ve been too busy with that life stuff to blog.)