Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Live PD Phenomenon

The Bride and I are hardcore "Cops" fans, for well over two decades.  We have even had "Cops" parties watching best of tapes (yes, tapes).  The show is one of the reality television genre that actually is reality as cameras follow law enforcement as they do their jobs.  Certainly however there is an editing process to produce the half-hour program with its three segment formula. 

Still we love it, The Bride to see the good guys doing their job, and myself with the darker sense of humor just for the schadenfreude, a German word meaning taking pleasure in the misery of others.  I have no shame as I know I’m not alone.  If I was alone, no form of reality TV would thrive at all in this country.  We’re all sick voyeurs to one degree or another. 

This past summer we discovered a new series on A&E that goes "Cops" one better.  On Friday and Saturday nights, the busiest of the week for police officers, "Live PD" follows various law enforcement from across the country live as they do their jobs.  This is not an edited down version of a week spent on camera, this is the police on the job, live.

Hosted in the New York studio by Dan Abrams, a legal consultant for ABC News, and veteran police officer Tom Morris, Jr., the show is pulled from precincts across the country as they happen.  Dan and Tom are sometimes joined by Sean “Sticks” Larkin, an officer from the Tulsa Gang Unit and fan favorite, as well as officers featured on the show live, who offer color commentary and explanations during breaks. The hosts and the cops have become stars in their own right. 

The show has become so popular that A&E not only repeats it constantly but has also spun off two or three shows from it, some postscripts to what happened in the real show.  Ironically the show being live, sometimes it ends in the middle of it getting good.  We have waited a whole week sometimes to find out what happened after the cameras go black. 

The Twitter phenomenon of "Live PD" however is something else altogether.  Imagine if "Cops" was not only live, but interactive. That's what is happening here. On Friday and Saturday nights, Twitter is on fire with this show as thousands of viewers Tweet as they watch, they have even helped the police, seeing things on television the cops on the scene missed, like a baggy of drugs thrown out a window in a police chase. Don't forget to use the hashtag #LivePD.

Various places on the show, like bars and hotels and stores in the precincts monitored have become famous, and a bizarre and fun bingo game has developed based on what happens typically on the show. Google LivePD Bingo for a variety of different versions and cards to play along.

"Live PD" returns Friday, so get ready, get your phone out to Tweet along, and your Bingo cards printed up to play along. It's a blast!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Rest in Peace, Tom Petty

In the shadow of one of the worst shootings in American history, in between the news network full coverage, and the madness that follows such things, we have lost one of our great musical lights. Tom Petty was found unconscious yesterday morning, and finally, after much heartache and misinformation, pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at the age of 66, early last night.

The first time I saw or heard Tom Petty, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was in the movie FM, friends had referred to him as the new Mick Jagger. I don't know how accurate that is or was, but it was memorable. His music was the sound of my teens, my twenties, and so on, it truly mapped the 1970s, the 1980s, and 1990s for me. Hard Promises was one of three albums I bought with my very first paycheck. The great thing about Petty albums consistently is that you not only got the hits like "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" and "The Waiting," you also got AOR tunes and hidden gems like "A Thing About You," "Kings Road," and "The Criminal Kind." Yeah, I wore those grooves out.

I can remember having two, not just one, cassettes of Tom Petty's songs recorded from the radio when I first got a cassette recorder. He was an FM rock favorite and almost all of his music got airplay. Even before I graduated high school in 1982 (and Petty was white suburban FM rock and roll then) he had a catalog that included some of the best of the time, from "American Girl" and "Breakdown" to "Listen to Her Heart" and "I Need to Know." He was not a favorite, like Bowie or Prince, but man, he was always there, and always rocking. Yeah, he was a favorite, I just didn't know it.

Later favorite albums would include Long After Dark, which holds a special place in my heart for getting me my first date with a college girlfriend. She was a Petty fan, and my inside knowledge of when the album was coming out (easily found in Billboard magazine which I read obsessively when I worked at the college radio station) dazzled her enough to date me. This album also included Petty's move into the MTV era from that of FM AOR. I remember loving the post-apocalyptic music video for "You Got Lucky," the red vinyl single for "Change of Heart," and my favorite tune off the album, the B-side "Between Two Worlds."

My favorite Petty song comes from the next album Southern Accents, an album full of oddities mixed into the usual southern rock and roll highlights. This one had the hilarious country ditty "Spike" about a punk rocker, as well as the hit single with acid trip video, "Don't Come Around Here No More," coolly co-written by genius co-producer Dave Stewart from Eurythmics. But it was the weird dance vibe of "It Ain't Nothin' to Me," also with Stewart, that still blows me away. I don't know why, but I love this song even today and turn it up whenever I hear it.

Later Tom Petty, already a superstar in his own right, would officially go solo from the Heartbreakers, and also join with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Obrbison, and George Harrison to form the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. Petty, with and without the Heartbreakers, would continue to release albums and singles through to 2014. He was always producing and always innovating. We have lost another legend, a man who filled my life with music, creating a soundtrack of memories. We will all miss Tom Petty. Rest in peace, man.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere

Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere ~ I stumbled across this documentary the other night on one of the MTV channels, and it brought back some great memories.  The doc tells the story of the band Kansas from its beginnings to their commercial success through individual interviews with the original six members. 

I remember hearing Kansas on the FM AOR radio, mostly WMMR and WYSP in the mid-seventies, and thinking they were okay.  I wouldn't change the station if they were on, basically, but I didn't really appreciate their music or their artistry until I heard them played in a neighbor's basement that had a killer stereo system.  That brought Kansas to life for me. 

I also remember a trip to the Ocean City boardwalk and a busker who refused to play "Dust in the Wind" because it was 'the hardest song ever to play properly,' and he 'didn't want his fingers to bleed.'  He got booed by both those who requested it and wanted to hear it.  True or not, it gave me added awe for the tune. 

My favorite Kansas song was "People of the South Wind" from the album Monolith, a song and an album both considered failures, but its content pulled at me.  Native Americans shoved aside by the white man, and wearing space helmets on the cover of the album drew me just like the fantastical elements of the cover of Point of Know Return.  It's still one of my favorite songs from that time. 

The doc is compelling, and tells stories of their early days, composition of songs, dealing with Don Kirshner, fighting with Steven Tyler, and the internal struggles of the band.  This is one of the better rock docs I've seen, cool for Kansas fans old, new, or fans not at all.  Check it out.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Orville

Yesterday, I talked about how cool I thought "Star Trek: Discovery was, so today I'm going to talk about the other, unofficial, Trek show being talked about lately - "The Orville." There has been a very vocal group of Star Trek fans out there saying that "The Orville" is more Trek than "Discovery," and while that might possibly be true, you all know how I feel about Star Trek fandom.

The first hype that was out there about "The Orville," from creator Seth MacFarlane of "Family Guy" fame, was that it was a plagiarization of Star Trek, with fart jokes. But as reviews began to come in on "Discovery," with its wholesale changes to the Klingon mythos, weird ship designs, and shaky retcons of established Trek timelines… the Trek fans began to warm to "The Orville," almost as if in retaliation. Some may say it's about content, but I think it's about paying for it, because "Discovery" airs on the pay service CBS All Access. Apparently, Trek fans will take fart jokes as long as they’re free.

Personally, as I said yesterday, I think "Discovery" is brilliant, but, hold on to your drinks, so is "The Orville." I think with the involvement of Seth MacFarlane, most folks expected a big joke-filled parody of Star Trek, but the fact is, he is a huge Trek fan himself. He not only created a loving homage to Trek mythology, but did it so well, that when vulgar humor does show up, it feels out of place. Yes, it's true, MacFarlane has out-Trekked Trek. This show is damn good.

The humor has brought up situations that we know must happen in the Star Trek universe, but no one has tried to tackle before. Not only is it hilarious in those moments, it's thoughtful, refreshing, and in some cases, daring. In the space of three episodes, we have seen on "The Orville" both the best elements of the original series and TNG, with fart jokes. That is impressive. This is a show to watch, and you should watch it because it's good, not just because it's free. Two thumbs way up.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery

There have been reports before the fact about this series that are the stuff of nightmare, and there is of course the whole concept of having to pay for it as part of CBS' new All Access network, so even before it started, "Star Trek: Discovery" had a hard road ahead of it. First imagined as an anthology series, taking place at any time or place in the mainstream Trek universe (as opposed to in the Kelvin timeline of the last three cinematic films - here, here, and here), this series now might just be about one ship, one crew, and one time - time will tell.

I have been impressed with the previews myself, especially the acting and casting, but not so much with some of the designs, particularly the Klingon ones. Further while I was very happy with the casting of "The Walking Dead"'s Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham and one of my favorite actresses Michelle Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou, I was disappointed that Green would take lead as the POV protagonist with Yeoh in a more background role. That said, as with all such things, I should have an opinion until I actually see it, right? It's what separates the Trekkers from the Trekkies, I suppose, pre-perception.

I loved the opening of the first episode, "The Vulcan Hello," as well as the new theme. The composition by Jeff Russo incorporates elements of the original theme, and while it's no country song like in "Enterprise," which I found original, refreshing, and catchy, it is adequate. The visuals are much less exciting, and disappointing. But as noted, the acting and lesson of the intro with Green and Yeoh showed much promise and dedication to the cause. It had my hopes up that I was able to get through the less-than-stellar credit sequence.

Ten minutes in, introduced to Doug Jones' paranoid science officer Saru, and others in the diverse crew of the USS Shenzhou, this was feeling very Trek, from the dialogue, to the uniforms, to the procedural, and I was digging it. This crew gets along, knows each other's quirks, and has a camaraderie similar to later seasons of "TNG." There is however an annoying Motion Picture conceit of showing off special effects and model building, almost like a child jumping up and down and yelling, "Look what I can do!" and it results in scenes dragging and taking much longer than they should.

And then there are the Klingons, some might say drastically different in appearance and conduct to what we have known before. They have been known to change their physical appearance in the past, but this is quite different, and quite possibly what drove fans up the wall when images surfaced. We have more gothic, more bestial, more feudal Klingons here, with a darker, larger, more sinister and menacing bird of prey. I am willing to accept this, after all, who knows how much and how fast Klingons might evolve physically or change culturally.

A more sophisticated explanation from the showrunners suggest that the Klingon Empire is huge, and not all Klingons come from Kronos. Their various cultures and styles and even physical manifestations vary from house to house, their system of power, similar to that of "Game of Thrones" in a way. Just like a New York businessman would look different from an Aborigine shaman for instance, these Klingons are just as different as say Kang and Worf are to each other. Seems like a lot of dancing to just make more fearsome alien monsters and not change the name. And once the thought that they were more like "Doctor Who" monsters than "Star Trek" villains entered my mind, it would not leave.

The setting is ten years before the original series, and the USS Shenzhou has discovered a Klingon ship. Burnham, who has a history with the Klingons who haven't but rarely been seen in generations, goes to investigate and ends up killing one of their Torchbearers. Burnham, we learn was the only survivor of a Vulcan-Human space station attacked by Klingons. Her parents killed, Sarek (yes, that Sarek) took her in, educated, and trained her. So this discovery is a hot issue for Burnham.

As the episode continues we see more of Burnham, as well as Saru and Geogiou, all doing fantastic jobs. The performances are on mark. Meanwhile we are also learning of Klingon culture and how one house is trying to unite all twenty-four houses against the Federation. The cliffhanger on the first episode is a tight one, and must have been very frustrating for those not subscribed to CBS All Access. My take on this however, based on the first episode, would be it's worth it.

Lucky folks outside the United States got to see it on Netflix, it should be noted. And in watching the second episode, "Battle at the Binary Stars," it's evident that the structure of the show fits Netflix to a tee. This is a binge series, and watched best as a binge. It's episodic, with a binge-worthy flow, interspersed with character-revealing flashbacks - this is a Netflix show, and CBS couldn't have found a better formula to copy. It's damn good. I dug this a lot, recommended.