Life and Things

I opened up the wordpress dashboard today to write a post and noticed I had a post pending from June. So, uh… here’s that post so I can get it out of the draft section:

It’s June, so I should probably write something, but it feels like my life has been a whole lot of The Same™ for the past few months (and years), so I’m not sure how much interesting there is to write about.

Well, I guess there are two things.

The first is that we attended a wedding (Lea and David’s) for the first time in something like three years, and it was simultaneously amazing to do something that felt almost normal and terrifying because COVID is still a thing and numbers are going up again at the moment. I guess we’ll know later this week if we got out unscathed.

As far as weddings could have gone though, I think this was the most low-risk it could have been. It was local (so no travel required), they required at-home tests the day of (a few hours before) from all attendees, the venue was largely outdoors, and the indoor portions were in a room where one side was almost entirely open to the outside (with good air circulation).


The second is that my mom came to visit for a week last month, on her way to DC to see my uncle, who hadn’t visited the US since the pandemic began. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the trip with her (work obligations and also a bit of fear of travelling, still), but it was amazing to see her again. I think the 2.5 years was the longest I’ve gone without seeing her in real life, although we have been sporadically Facetiming.


In any case, in terms of December updates, I guess there’s a few things?

In the world of TV, we finished Deep Space Nine and started The Original Series, and I’ve also started watching my way through Community with small interludes into a small SciFi show called Dark Matter and an attempt at a series called Under The Dome, along with finishing a series called Second Chance. Let’s tackle these in a fairly random order?

DS9 as a whole was much, much better than I was expecting. I think, of all the Star Trek series, it has by far the most coherent overall narrative, best character development and growth, and the general feel of realness that none of the other series really have. I think they did just about everything right within the context of the series and, except for a few really bad episodes (why does everyone like “Move Along Home” and “Take Me Out To The Holosuite” so much?!), has outstanding episodes that deal with difficult issues (like war) in depth.

Unfortunately, that’s also a lot of why I think Voyager is still my all-time favorite series? As a whole, I would say I watch TV (and entertainment) to ignore the realities of life and the world at large. There are a few exceptions (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend arguably being one of them, but it’s a show I have no urge to return to at the moment despite my love for it, so maybe that just reinforces the point), but there’s something about being able to jump into Enterprise or TNG or Voyager provides an escapism that DS9 just doesn’t, even though it’s obviously not contemporary.

This leads to maybe why Dark Matter and Under The Dome just didn’t click for me, and maybe some of that is thanks to the depressing state of the world at the moment. Dark Matter is a well-done SciFi series that strikes me a lot like Firefly or BSG (closer to the former than the latter). Under The Dome is a town sealed off from the world where people start fighting amonst themselves and, uh… yeah, too close to home for the pandemic-laden world. I didn’t watch beyond the first few episodes of either series. Maybe I’ll come back to them later.

Not much to say about The Original Series of Star Trek. It’s about as bad as I expected it to be, so far. I guess I can understand how it was groundbreaking at the time, but yeah… in today’s world, it’s sexist and strangely acted and has honestly irritating sound effects. We’ll watch it just because I feel like we have to, but we’ll see how that continues to go.

Second Chance is a decent show. It was apparently billed as “a modern take on Frankenstein” and, uh… I guess you could call it that? It’s really just an investigative-themed show (like White Collar or kiinnndddda like Psych) that has techy elements around it. Not a huge fan of how the series ended, but it was an enjoyable enough watch through.

Community though… is a gem. Its first season was great, its second season is better, and even its special features (with a deadpanning Dan Harmon interviewing cast members) are hilarious. It’s exactly the kind of light-hearted escapism that still tackles serious issues that I need right now in the screwed-up pandemic-laden world. I’m looking forward to bingeing through the remaining seasons.

Speaking of the pandemic-laden world, I feel like that’s all I ever write about anymore, but everything seems like it’s going backward. No one masks up anymore, anywhere, even though there are new and still more contagious variants spreading. Everyone’s living their lives as if the world is normal now, and it’s really, really not. It’s both infuriating and depressing at the same time.

I haven’t flown since February 2020. I’ve eaten in exactly one restaurant in the past three years. I can count the number of non-home indoor places I’ve been maskless in on two hands (in-laws’ house, dentist, hair salon, the one restaurant once, one friend’s house to play with his cat while he was not home, and “Lea/David wedding venue even though that was basically outdoors”). Even my friends who I consider to be careful people have stopped masking when we stop in places to grab takeout. It makes me feel like I’m one of very, very few sane people left in the world who actually consider covid a threat.


Anyway, life goes.

Tee Vee

Work continues to be a thing. The more senior architect in my area left the company recently, and it feels like I’ve been taking on at least some of his duties in his absence. This has meant that I’m involved in significantly more high-level planning conversations and discussions, leaving even less time for me to spend on actually dealing with coding-level things across my (increasing) teams. I suppose this is technically a good move for me, and it’s actually felt less stressful now than in the past because it has come with an increasing number of strong technical leads across my teams (and the other remaining amazing architects I have the pleasure of working with) that allow me to increasingly delegate team-level duties outward.

It’s weird, and I’m still not sure how much I really like not being an IC anymore, even though that change has been years. But it feels like it’s working. So it goes.

Other than work, life continues. We’ve been taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to host cheese parties on our back deck, as well as taking opportunities for outdoor dining while they still exist (because the pandemic is still a thing despite what everyone else seems to think). Oakland trips over the weekend to grab food from various places and eat it out in Schenley Plaza (or similar), followed by bubble tea from Fuku, has also been a thing. So that’s been nice, at least.

I’m fully expecting the election this upcoming week to send me down another depressive spiral of despair, so before then, I figured I should make a post about something less negative.

A large part of my free time lately has been spent watching (old) TV shows. The biggest one recently was Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which was a recommendation from a friend, and it’s also become one of my all-time favorite shows. (How many does that make now? :P) I was immediately drawn to it because it’s a musical series (and Glee, despite its many, many, many flaws, still holds a special place in my heart because of that), and I’d previously seen many of the music videos online. But the show itself is… ridiculously, amazingly, unbelievably good. I feel like it approaches characters and relationships and sexuality and mental disorders in such a responsible and caring way, and it also is ridiculously fun, besides. (It’s also ridiculously cringe at parts, but uses that discomfort as a narrative tool so well that I couldn’t stop wanting more of it all, even the cringe parts.)

The music videos also hit very differently in context, which I don’t think I really appreciated (or thought I would appreciate) until I actually saw the first one I recognized. Not only do they all stand on their own as extremely well-done and entertaining pieces, they also are incredibly well-blended with the plot and episode and characters around them.

The show didn’t quite leave me a sobbing mess in the same way Schitt’s Creek sometimes did, but it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath anyway because it is truly a masterpiece, and I’m so thankful it got its full four-season run, because I think ending at any of the other points would have been an utter travesty given the character arcs and development.

I recommend checking it out, but if you don’t, you should at least look up some of the music on YouTube because it is glorious in its own right. Highlights for me include (in no particular order): A Diagnosis, I’ve Always Never Believed In You, No One Else Is Singing My Song, I Hate Everything But You, Let’s Generalize About Men, The End Of The Movie, The Moment Is Me, This Is My Movement, Let’s Have Intercourse, Face Your Fears, and I Gave You A UTI. (As I said, responsible and caring about sexuality. :P)

Speaking of music and musicals, I also finished watching through the two seasons of Smash today. I approached it with a small bit of context from seeing a couple of the songs on YouTube previously (primarily Rewrite This Story and Caught In The Storm, via YouTube recommendations after a bunch of Jeremy Jordan videos, but a few of the others as well), and with knowing that critics had largely panned the show and its plot and characters (but without knowing any details of those reviews). And I have to say… I was pleasantly surprised by the entire thing. The songs here also hit differently in context, and are tied in beautifully with the plots and characters. While I would generally say the first season of Glee was better than Smash as a whole, Smash is significantly more cohesive, consistent, and overall better than Glee as a whole (which quickly derailed during its second season and became unwatchable during its third and onward).

The consistency is particularly important to me, and Smash does switchups in a way that feel significantly more natural and believable. For example, in Glee, we always have “new songs” for the big competitions, often justified in the narrative in the flimsiest possible ways (“show up in New York with no songs written and write them, instrument them, and choreograph them the night before!”), while in Smash the “new song” was done in a narratively-consistent way (“hey, experienced songwriters who have been working on this already, you have a few hours to figure it out and finish it, and also stage it as identically to the opening number as possible to make it learnable, and also all the other show songs are ones we’ve seen already”). Not to mention that Smash also does a ton more original numbers, and they connect in-universe with the characters and stories much, much better than any original songs Glee ever did, even though those were supposed to be “from the heart” and “what’s going to win us Regionals”. It just flows better, as a show.

Catching up on the critics’ reviews afterward, I find myself agreeing with a lot of it (yes, I noticed that Katharine McPhee wasn’t the best at emoting, even while watching it myself, and yes, the show does a lot of “telling but not showing”), but actually disagreeing with most of it. No, both actresses were reasonable choices for Marilyn in different ways. No, Katharine McPhee is actually hella talented and can sing really damn well. No, some of the “super cringe” story elements (particularly with regard to Kyle) weren’t actually that bad. No, the “wandering plotlines” in the first season were not out of place because they gave each character a plot point and some focus. No, Dev actually served an important purpose in the first season.

Maybe I just watch TV for fun too much to be quite that critical of it, and can forgive a ton of plot or character issues as long as I’m enjoying myself and it all makes reasonable sense, for some definition of “enjoying myself” and “reasonable sense”.

I’ve also watched through Lower Decks, also at the recommendation of a friend, and also partially because we’re working our way through all of Star Trek (currently on season 7 of Deep Space Nine). It is… not good, which is maybe amusing given the paragraph immediately before this one. Season 1 was okay enough, I suppose, and had a lot of good moments (including one or two where I actually laughed; almost every appearance of the doggo in “Much Ado About Boimler” was gold), but it as a whole just feels too fast-paced and a lot of it feels like it falls flat for me. Season 2 just feels like a lot of really cheap jokes that don’t really land and also feel even more out of place in the Star Trek universe.

Contrast that to Better Off Ted, another comedy series that I think lands every episode and nearly every joke. It has some cringe-worthy moments, but as a whole it’s witty and funny and feels overall well-written. It seems like a huge shame that Better Off Ted only lasted two seasons, while Lower Decks is ongoing (four seasons, now), in the same way that it feels like a huge shame that Smash lasted two seasons while Glee did six.

I’ve also watched some other things that aren’t worth commenting on quite as much, and have purchased a couple more series on DVD that I’ll need to start soon (primarily Warehouse 13 and Community). I suppose that’ll be my entertainment for the next however many months, and what’ll help get me through the mess that is sure to be next week.

Anyway. Happy continued pandemic, everyone. :\

Adirondacks, Schitt’s Creek

We did another cabin trip! This one was a far one, to a little cottage in the town of Keene, New York in the Adirondacks.

There was the usual hiking and lounging around the place.

We also got to see Mark on our drive back, which was nice.

But I spent most of the week at the cottage bingeing Schitt’s Creek, which I think is my all-time favorite show now. It’s been sitting and simmering for a bit over half a week, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that it

  • Has some of the most consistent characters I’ve seen in any show… there’s very visible character growth through the seasons, but the characters never act in a way that seems “off”… every change makes sense and feels earned
  • Starts consistently good, instead of having a first few seasons that are easily skipped (such as Parks and Rec or Star Trek The Next Generation)… I think the cast is a large part of this, because it feels like they all come in the right way and changes are character growth rather than the actor growing into the role
  • Has the best pacing I think I’ve ever seen in a show… it never tries to do too much within an episode or season, and gives events the time they need to sit and simmer
  • Left me an emotional wreck starting in the fourth season, and especially into the later part of season 5 and season 6, but did an amazing job interspacing levity with its emotional moments so it didn’t get overwhelming
  • Doesn’t really feel like it has “filler” or bad episodes, because there’s always some important development or insight happening in every episode… I think the only one I can think of is “Roadkill”, and I wouldn’t even call that episode “bad”
  • Had I think the all-time best final episode of any show I’ve ever seen… it gives closure in the right ways and (as noted above) everything feels like it’s happening at the right time with no sudden unexpected storylines to tie up
  • Ends at the right time, instead of dragging on into bizarre later seasons like we see with House or much of Glee or getting cancelled prematurely like many other series, which overall makes for an extremely satisfying watch
  • Does such a good job of developing all of its characters and giving them important moments… for example, I think Maybe This Time is a great example of how to properly tie in music and performance into a show, because that entire scene is such a great epiphany for the character… it reminds me of how Glee actually did a good job tying its music into the plots in most of its first season
  • Is amazing because it gave us A Little Bit Alexis and the beautiful cover of The Best

I’m so glad I was able to consume the entire show in one go instead of having to wait for it week by week. At some point I’ll need to find some time to rewatch the entire thing again.

Star Trek and Christmas

After finishing all of Voyager a couple years back, and then all of The Next Generation earlier this year, we’ve started on Enterprise.

We’re now most of the way through the second season, and although I really like the less-polished more-modern crew, I feel like there’ve been a lot of opportunities that the writers have squandered, lately.

In particular, we just finished a couple of episodes (The Crossing and Horizon) where they had such a great opportunity to show that human biases aren’t always right when encountering new species, and you can’t just go imposing your will and ideals somewhere else. And in both cases the plots took the more stereotypical turn of “Of course human intuition about danger was right” and “Of course making changes that no one asked for ends up saving everyone’s lives”. It’s honestly disappointing, for stories that had so much great potential.

Speaking of disappointing… Christmas this year is feeling very different. Without the usual pomp and circumstance, it’s been feeling like a rather sad week. Even though I’ve known for months that we wouldn’t be travelling this year, the reality is finally setting in now that it’s three days before Christmas and we’re still at home.

So 2020 goes, I suppose.