Facebook is Sinking

So. After being told by all the presenters at SFWC that one must have a Facebook presence . . . Other writers are announcing they're leaving and/or at the very least reducing their usage of the site.

Also, teenagers no longer think Facebook is cool.

Well, that's the problem with catering to a fickle consumer. And teens are terribly fickle.

Meanwhile, I've been doing less and less on Facebook and Twitter because, hey! Real life! It's out there, keeping me busy. So busy, in fact, that I can't actually be bothered to take the time to tweet or post a status about everything I'm doing. Funny how that happens.

And I'm not interested enough in what other people ate for dinner, or what cute thing their kids did, or in seeing pictures of places they went, to check in as regularly as I used to when I was bored, either.

Let's face it (and I've said this before): Much of social networking is about hearing yourself "talk," and being the star of your own show. It's reality TV in cyberspace, everyone editing their lives to showcase the greatest possible amount of drama. Or, alternatively, boring their presumed audiences with narratives about their housework, errands they've run, etc.

Then there are the people who use social networks as a platform for causes, or to shill their wares. (I'll admit I'm guilty of this one in terms of promoting my books, scripts, sites. But I try not to be too obnoxious about it . . . And as an aside, did you know it takes an average of seven discreet moments of exposure to prompt someone to act on something? That means it would take some combination of a tweet, a Facebook post, a magazine ad, someone mentioning it, seeing it in an e-mail, reading a review, and seeing it mentioned on a blog to get someone to buy a book or see a movie or contribute to your Kickstarter or whatever.)

Anyway, is it any wonder Facebook is sinking? Everyone is tired of everyone else's drama or lack thereof, and they are dissatisfied with the lack of interest everyone shows in their lives. You do the token "Like" thing now and then, but really? You don't much care, right?

The one thing I've found Facebook good for (besides letting people know when and where my books are coming out) is keeping up with people at a distance. Now instead of typing a bunch of e-mails, I can post a succinct status update that lots of people can see. And I can customize who sees it, too. (Apparently a common reason for leaving Facebook is lack of privacy and/or control of one's data.)

But that's a personal thing. I abandoned my "official" author Facebook site because I couldn't get any use out of it. I'm sure that's my fault somehow, not understanding how to "leverage" the system and bend it to my will, but whatever. My book sales are good, my screenwriting is going well, so I can't complain that no one "Liked" my Facebook page. Well, I can, but to what purpose?

Facebook will really need to rethink its uses, and its users, if it wants to survive.


Television: Smash, "The Song"

Apparently the titular song has pretty much one lyric: "I got love."

But we've also got old jokes: "You're the musical director; you don't call breaks . . . Okay, everyone, take a break!" (Gone With the Wind starts almost the exact same way.)

And use of dialogue for exposition: Jimmy saying Derek won't produce his and Kyle's show, Kyle remarking that Derek has at least given them guidelines for development.

The episode picks up with rehearsals for Veronica's one-night show. None of Tom's songs are working for Derek, so Karen calls in Jimmy and Kyle as backup. Alas, Tom doesn't find their work "Broadway" enough for Veronica. They get one more shot, if they can come up with something by the end of the day. Karen's muse powers get called on again as Jimmy taps her to sit beside him at the piano while he writes . . . Only to have Kyle walk in and find himself supplanted.

Meanwhile, Ivy and Ronnie catch up as old friends. Nick turns up at Eileen's. Derek tries to take Veronica's concert in a more sultry, grown-up direction, but Ronnie is so used to her sweetheart image, she (and her stage-managing mother) is uncomfortable with the changes and Derek is forced to step back. He turns down Jimmy's new song and Jimmy disappears.

Oh, and here is foreshadowing from Ronnie's mother right before the big concert: "Now is not the time to go changing things."

So guess what?!?!

I do enjoy Smash, and think it's a shame it won't see another season. (That's not official, but it might as well be considering how low the ratings have become; I can only hope NBC will at least let this season play out.) But it's so predictable, in all the worst ways.

Anyway. Karen finds Jimmy, who is very high. So of course she kisses him. (Well, he kisses her, but still. She lets him.)

And by getting Julia drunk on wine, Peter is able to redirect her vision of Bombshell. Soon the two of them are pulling books off the shelf in order to re-imagine and rewrite. Sexy, no?

Ronnie defies her mother by dressing more tart than sweetheart. She tells her mother she loves Derek's work and wants to do things his way. Which apparently is cabaret rather than Broadway. Because really, even the reworked "I Got Love" is far from steamy.

And of course Veronica ends the show by singing Jimmy's new song.

Backup singers should not sit, btw. I realize it's meant to keep the focus on Ronnie, but I find it really distracting, far more than if they were standing.

Peter suggests he and Julia go away to his house in the Berkshires to finish the rewrite.

Eileen is forced by the Feds to step down as producer of Bombshell; Jerry will take over (cue sinister music and name check the reviled Ellis). The show can now go to Broadway, and the question becomes whether it can recover from the bad press it has received due to the investigation.

And so things go . . .

It is unfortunate how very little depth some of the characters of Smash seem to have. They each suit their archetype and so come across as less human and more plastic. For a show meant to give a grittier look at the behind-the-scenes lives of would-be stage stars, it's very shiny. It's a soap opera, of course, at least of sorts. But even so one needn't sacrifice character development for plot. As stage people (or wannabe stage people), you'd think the Smash writers, producers, showrunners would know as much. This may be why its star continues to fall.


Television: Elementary, "Possibility Two"

Watson's training in the arts of deduction begins.

Name checking "The Musgrave Ritual," a wealthy philanthropist named Lydon tries to convince Holmes to take his case: he's convinced the fatal, hereditary disease he's suffering from—one of which his family has no history—has been somehow introduced into his system as a biological murder weapon. Since the first symptom is dementia, Holmes feels it's more likely there is no underhanded plot involved and turns the case down.

But when Lydon murders his driver, Holmes is prompted to investigate which geneticists in the world might be able to synthesize the disease. A scientist (Natasha) who texts Holmes to say the disease can be induced agrees to meet with Holmes and is then found stabbed to death.

The obvious suspects are Lydon's sons who stand to inherit quite the fortune. But the DNA at the stabbing scene matches a street thug with a history of stabbing. (My guess, going in? Anyone who can induce a rare disease can probably figure out how to plant blood DNA at a crime scene.)

Holmes sends Watson on various dry cleaning runs and taps the various worldwide geneticists for possibilities. Or really, he just needs one possibility: Possibility Two. Which turns out to be that a DNA match can be fabricated. And this one from the crime scene was fabricated by Natasha's fiancé, employee at a high-end pharmaceutical lab. But said fiancé has no idea what might be going on with Lydon. I guess he's smart but not that smart.

As it turns out, more than Lydon are being poisoned with this disease, all of them regulars from the society pages. Why? Because rich people who have a disease will give lots of money to fund research for cures for that disease.

Oh, and the dry cleaners get arrested.

A neat idea, but too slick in execution and too hastily wrapped up. And less fun interactions between Watson and Holmes this week. So I found this episode subpar on the whole, even though the core plot was unique.

A [S]Pot of Deduction

If Sherlock Holmes were to look in my kitchen cabinet, he might deduce at least one person in the house is left-handed.

He'd be wrong, but it wouldn't be a bad guess.

That's because right now my pots look like this:

The handles are turned to the left, as they would normally be for someone who uses his or her left hand to grab them or put them away.

But my pots aren't normally turned this way. Before, they looked like this:

But I needed to put the steamer into the cabinet. Since I use the steamer less often than I do the pots, I wanted to put the steamer behind the pots and keep the pots easily accessible. So:

You'll see that the pot handles now stick out of the cabinet. I was standing up at this point, and to save time and effort, I merely reached down (without bending) and turned them the only way their was room for them to go—left. Then I shut the cabinet door.

I would say to Holmes, "Never discount the laziness of the average person."

Of course, the pot behind these has its handle turned to the right. So Holmes would at least correctly come to the conclusion one or more people in the house is right-handed. (In fact, we all are.) None of the other pots has handles that would be likely make a difference under the circumstances. It's a corner cabinet, so there's little to glean from where things are except to say the most-used items are in front, and on the higher shelf, and everything else gets pushed to the back corner where they're more difficult to reach.

A fun little exercise designed to show that even the greatest of detectives could possibly be tripped up by a mild variance of everyday circumstance.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle @ UT's Harry Ransom Center

Well, at least some of his papers are.

The HRC is the reason I chose UT; I visited when I was nine and saw a replica of the Nike of Samothrace and fell in love (never mind that Gutenberg Bible, which is what I was supposed to be looking at). One of my favorite professors—who became a dear mentor of mine—Dr. Douglass Parker had two offices: one in Waggener Hall and another in the HRC. Both were stuffed so full of papers and books and odds and ends that you could hardly enter.

Well, now HRC has some papers belonging to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of that famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes (and Watson, too, of course). And the one posted on the link above, courtesy of Slate, is quite telling of Doyle's frame of mind. I think he must have been a very interesting person, but also the kind that you would have to get in at the right angle to penetrate his personality. Anyone else would be shut out, prevented, rebuffed, would bounce off and walk away either bewildered or chagrined, maybe even angry.

In any case, an interesting insight into his character.


Television: Parade's End on HBO

For those who didn't get to see it when it aired in the UK, the miniseries Parade's End is coming stateside to HBO next week. Though instead of showing it in one-hour blocks over five weeks, HBO is cramming it down viewers' throats in three days' time . . . A morbid curiosity is tempting me to watch it to see what edits, if any, have been made for the US audience, but the better, stronger part of me is certain I could go the rest of my life without ever having to watch it again. And there are better things airing those nights anyway.

Variety liked it perhaps a bit more than I did, but even still found it a slog. As you may recall, if you read my commentary (and you can always search this blog and find it; oddly enough, it's one of my most-read series of posts), I had to resort to making my own fun while watching because the characters are somewhat unbearable, especially when one is exposed to them in large quantities.

It's been suggested Downton Abbey fans will enjoy Parade's End, but my guess is the main audience here will be the growing list of Cumberbatch admirers, people who are willing to sit through just about anything he's in. And they'll get their fill. Well, so much as bottomless pit fans ever can.

Go on, then. Gorge yourselves. I'm off to have a doughnut. And to watch something with characters I can stand to spend any amount of time with.


Television: Smash, "The Dramaturg"

Karen tries to convince Derek to meet with Jimmy and Kyle in hopes of promoting their work. Eileen tells Tom and Julia she's bringing in a professional dramaturg for Bombshell. And Ivy asks a director for a shot at a key role in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. And Derek turns around and asks Veronica to set up a pseudo-audition with the producers of The Wiz in attempt to get his job back.

So things begin, and it's a much better (and quicker) setup than the back-to-back airings two weeks ago. Also, Julia and the dramaturg (Peter) have more [love-hate] chemistry than pretty much anyone in the show thus far.

Of course Derek is forced to cancel on Jimmy and Kyle, giving the increasingly irritating Jimmy lots of reasons to stalk around and be snarky and Kyle just as many reasons to be optimistic as he insists Karen is not a phony.

In terms of staging moments, the things between Kennedy and Marilyn move too fast to be believable as part of a musical; the jump to "our host wants to see you" and "I had to get you alone" was too quick. Even by Broadway standards.

When producers for The Wiz refuse to take Derek back, Veronica drops out, too, and pitches Derek on a one-night only show/concert.

Derek and Karen go to Jimmy's and Kyle's place to finally meet. And for the first time, as he pitches their story Hit List, Jimmy shows spark. And Derek digs their ideas.

Oh, and Ivy gets the role in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

A lot of moving parts, but it adds depth to the show that the first season didn't have. Instead of being inside just one musical, we're in several, and like threads in a tapestry, these contribute to the overall texture. Certainly this episode improved on the previous two of this season; let's hope things continue to move in the right direction.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame

At the risk of sounding a little like Andy Rooney . . .

I don't know how much of this signifies a change in policy versus ignorance just being bliss, but it seems like just about anyone can get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame these days.

When I was a kid, I had this notion you had to have worked pretty long and hard for such an honor. Being in one or two television shows or movies didn't make the grade (unless maybe one of those shows had been on the air for 20 years). A star was a kind of cap to a career. Not that you were ready to retire, but you had more behind you than you might ahead of you.

So how much of this stems from a childish view and how much of it indicates a change in the way stars are awarded? I really have no idea. But Richard Burton isn't getting one until next week, whereas Simon Baker got one last week. Really? Simon Baker before Richard Burton?

Seems a shame to devalue these things. There can only be so much available pavement after all. Maybe they should raise the standards a bit, give these actors and musicians something to aim for.


Television: The Following, "The Siege"

More teen angst and drama are dialed up for the "killer cult" kids by way of a threesome. Alas, if this was meant to be steamy or shocking, it failed on both counts. But it gives Joey the opportunity to sneak a phone call to his mother, and by extension the audience is given hope that the whole kidnapping plot may yet end.

Meanwhile, Carroll apparently holds enough sway over his former attorney that he's able to force her to read some Masque of the Red Death at a press conference, thereby setting more of Carroll's followers in motion. Then she goes to tell Claire that the only way to see Joey is to be at a certain street corner at a certain time—but, of course, don't tell anyone, and come alone. Anyone else think Carroll might just want another shot at killing his ex? He has no way of knowing Joey has already called his mom, after all.

The key peeve for me in regards to this show is that no one makes sensible decisions. Even just common sense ones. If any one of these people thought about things for two seconds, Carroll would not appear like such a mastermind. (He isn't, by the way.) And so: Joey, having overheard Paul say they were lying to him, runs away and yet is still completely willing to believe Emma when she says he can call his mom if he'll just come back to the farmhouse with her.

Equally stupid: Claire's believing she's actually going to get to see her son when she should know he's at a farmhouse in New York. It's not even that she should or could believe that the FBI is misinformed—she got the phone call herself. And yet she gets into a stranger's car . . . Even though her "brilliant" ex husband has been known to set elaborate traps in attempt to kill her.

Now I could guess I'm supposed to believe that, as a mother, Claire is willing to try anything, but really?

I would say I'm pretty much finished with this show. I will watch one more episode. But if they don't manage to get the kidnapping thing resolved in the next hour, it is over. I will follow nevermore.

Television: The Americans, "Pilot"

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, undercover KGB agents living in the D.C. area in 1981. Grittier and more grown-up than, say, Alias (and also told from the point of view of "the bad guys" if one assumes the Russians must be), the pilot is both tense and deliberate in setting up the series. And yet perhaps a tad too deliberate—at times it did seem to drag as we waited (along with the protagonists) for something to happen. Maybe that was intentional; maybe the viewer is meant to feel the long, slow strangle.

Here's the gist: Elizabeth is the one with the total buy-in to the Russian side. Phillip thinks it might serve them better to defect to the U.S. and make some extra money so their kids can live the good life. He begins to panic and press his case a bit more when a mission goes wrong, leaving them saddled with someone they were supposed to ship home on a boat and an FBI counterintelligence agent moves in next door. Elizabeth vetoes the suggestion.

In short, it's clear Phillip is softer and Elizabeth is the hard core one. Oh, but also the guy they got stuck with raped her once, so she has that bone to pick too.

Still, even with that as an excuse, it's nearly impossible to find Russell's portrayal of Elizabeth sympathetic. And again, maybe we aren't supposed to. She's Russian, after all. When she has her moment of pseudo-redemption and lets the man live, Phillip kills him anyway. And you still like Phillip more than you do Elizabeth. You can feel that he really has come to care for her, regardless of their having been thrown together by their work; it's less clear that she has any real feeling for him (even though she defends Phillip to their boss). It's almost like one-way chemistry.

Elizabeth finds the American people weak and complacent; Phillip thinks Americans' lives are better—and that their lives are better for living in America.

On the plus side, the music for the show is very good. Besides the 80s pop tunes, the incidental music is done well, too. And Noah Emmerich as the FBI agent neighbor is truly creepy. It's easy to believe he's a significant threat to the Jennings.

I'll watch another episode to see if it picks up pace at all. The acting is good, but I'm having trouble caring about the characters, or even paying complete attention . . . It remains to be seen if the show can up the stakes in such a way as to rectify these problems.


SFWC: The Best Books So Far

I just have to say, I've met so many amazing writers at this conference. But here's a book I can recommend just from having heard the first page (and I'll be reading the rest of it soon): The Kismet Blade by Terry James Easley. First in a series, he's working on the second now, and from the little I've heard and read, it's a fabulous thriller. If you like Dan Brown's stuff, if you like Indiana Jones, this book is probably for you.

Another book I'm stoked about isn't out yet. The author's name is Steven (and I'm so sorry, Steve, I didn't get your card!) and he's doing a book about George Washington from age 14 to about 28 IIRC. For people who think of Washington as a stuffy old man, this is the young heartthrob version, all based on fact. Steve was a great lunch companion; I learned a lot. Did you know Washington was 6'2" at a time when the average man was 5'2"? No wonder he was such a good leader: you could spot him in a crowd, which made him easy to follow! But Steven's book focuses especially on Washington's relationship with Sally Fairfax.

So, so many great pitches. I've got a stack of cards to go through, so I'm looking forward to finding more gems to read. This is stuff you won't find anywhere else—at least, not yet. Real treats!

San Francisco Writers Conference Coverage

Is being posted on PepperWords.

Day One
Day Two (Part One)
Day Two (Part Two)
Guy Kawasaki's Keynote
The Fiction Agents
Day Three: Populating Your Tribe
Pitching to Agents


Television: Elementary, "Details"

Time to learn more about Detective Bell. He becomes the target of a drive-by shooting and Holmes and Watson are put on the trail of a drug dealer Bell had once investigated, but they'd only been to catch the guy out on a lesser charge.

Things get flipped when the dealer turns up dead and Bell is the primary suspect.

Also, Bell's older brother Andre is an ex-con.

Meanwhile, and far more entertaining: Holmes periodically assaults Watson in an avowed attempt to teach her some self-defense. (Though when Watson mentions it to her therapist, the shrink tells her to run and find another client because this "grand adventure" is over.)

Holmes informs Watson he knows she's lied about his father keeping her on as a sober companion for him and—in what will probably be JLM's Emmy clip for nomination consideration—proposes that she drop the "sober" and just become his companion. One of the best acting moments on the show thus far and JLM nails it; he has remarkable range and gives the character of Holmes a far greater spectrum than many incarnations. Some notes are easy to hit but not all. JLM hits more than most.

Going back to the crime of the week . . . It's almost not worth the effort, actually. Once it becomes a question of who might have a key to Bell's apartment, it's pretty obvious who is the guilty party. The rest is the same maze of would-be perpetrators and dead ends as ever. And yet despite the formula, the show continues to get better thanks to the careful construction of Watson's and Holmes' relationship. So many shows and movies leapfrog straight into Holmes and Watson being besties (or start with them having been together a long while); here is the wonderful and compelling slow build. And it's done well. One supposes it's all in the details.

Writers & Libraries

So I guess Terry Deary, who authors those Horrible Histories books, said something about how libraries are outdated and cost taxpayers and authors money. And then big authors like Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris stepped out to say, "Oh, deary! No, Deary!" or something along those lines.

Okay, I'm not going to defend Deary. I understand his argument, but I do still believe libraries fill a certain place in society. They're where people who can't afford books can borrow them. Because these people can't afford Kindles either or whatnot, so, you know . . . And we do want them to read, don't we? I was pretty sure that was one of society's goals (or at least authors' goals, considering readers are our bread and butter), but . . . Whatever.

My question lies in bestselling authors defending libraries. Because, really, these people have made a ton of money already. So they don't have as much reason to care if they're "losing" money in having people borrow their books rather than buy them. So while I understand their influences, too . . . And the idea that they will use that influence for good and not evil (and defending libraries is one of the ways they do that) . . . The cynic in me can't help but want to pinprick their balloons.

Of course, pretty much any writer will tell you all he wants is for people to read his work. Writers don't go into it for the money, or at the very least they shouldn't because (for most of us, anyway) there isn't a lot of money to be had. And most of what is available goes to people like Neil Gaiman, so . . . yeah. And I'm pretty sure no author says, "I hope libraries don't carry my book." Because as an author you pretty much want your book on as many shelves as possible. Including library shelves. Even if you don't get any money for that, people might find your book, and then go looking for more of your books, and there you go: you've added another reader. Always a good thing.


Television: The Following, "Mad Love"

Also known as: the episode with people strapped into chairs.

But seriously, folks. Here we have that crazy Maggie girl from the previous episode trying to get revenge on Hardy for the death of her husband Rick. As it turns out (thanks, Exposition Joe!) Maggie is that rara avis known as a female serial killer. Joe Carroll didn't find her so much as she came looking for him. And apparently this girl really loved Rick because she was willing to toss all those carefully laid plans out the window for a shot at Hardy.

Which is surprising since I never really saw or felt the love between Maggie and Rick. Note to the writers: you gotta makes us see and feel the relationships, too; we're not just going to take your word for it.

In any case, this episode introduced us to Jenny, which the writers cleverly (no, not really all that clever) tried to first make us think was an ex-girlfriend before springing the whole "It's his sister!" thing on us. Maggie's idea of revenge is to hold Jenny hostage so that Hardy must go to Brooklyn to save her. Then Maggie plans to stop Hardy's pacemaker so he dies slowly. For someone who usually just stabs people, it's a wonder Maggie has the patience for this scheme. But it does give Weston time to skulk in and shoot her, then save Hardy and Jenny.

We assume, of course, that Maggie is dead? We don't see her body and only have her cell phone for evidence. The episode ends with the FBI narrowing down the location of phone calls to possible places Joey may be being held. Yeah, remember? This whole show is really just about finding a little boy? With a lot of crazies on the way? I'm so over the find-the-kid plot that I do hope they finish it in the next few episodes.

Oh, but back at the ranch . . . The girl Paul kidnapped is in the basement and it's down to Jacob to do the dirty deed of killing her and burying the body. Why? Because as it turns out, Jacob has never actually killed anyone. So he's not an official member of this "kill club" yet. Honestly, it's like there's a CW show happening half the time over here while the grown ups are doing big boy (and girl) stuff over there. Long and short of this whole plot for the evening is: Jacob can't do it and lets her go, Emma and Paul track the girl down, and kidnapped girl ends up right back where she started, tied to a chair in the basement.

There's more to it, like the fact that Joey overhears some stuff and Emma makes a move on Paul, but whatever.

And questions continue to linger over Parker's true loyalties, but now I have to also question Weston. I want to like him, but Parker asks at an odd moment, "How are you doing?" in such a way that suggests maybe—just maybe—he's on Team Carroll. (Assuming Parker is, of course. Hard to tell.) If so, one has to guess Weston's job is to bond with Hardy—he even mentions it in passing, saying to Hardy, "But we both know you don't bond." And yet still Weston continues to work his way into Hardy's good graces, tagging along, trying to draw Hardy out and talk about family.

Certainly we have to go into this story working under the premise Carroll will have put people in place within the FBI, people who can work with Hardy and keep tabs on him, guide him where Carroll wants him to go so the book is written the way Carroll wants it to be. Yes? Otherwise he'd be just about the worst mastermind ever, going to all this trouble but overlooking a huge hole plot hole. So maybe Parker and/or Weston are his people. Because someone has to be.

Just a thought.

Actors: Christopher Walken

Sent to me on Facebook;
if you made this, I love you forever.

Christopher Walken is a character actor with a twist: no one else does what he does. There have been imitators, but Walken is truly unique. You look at the roles he's played, and there it is: No one else could have played them.

I love Christopher Walken, and I don't even know why. Because honestly, he makes me a little uncomfortable. Or, to be clear, his characters do. He is, as I understand it from those who know, a very nice man. Maybe a little weird. But mostly harmless. And he can cook!

I've written about The Prophecy, which I think was the first Walken film I saw where I knew who Walken was as an actor. And that twist on Archangel Gabriel . . . It was magnificent. And sure, some of that is the writing, but I'll say it again: No one else could have played the role quite the same way. No one else could have gotten the same effect.

Really, Walken pretty much improves any film he's in. Even the bad ones. They'd be way worse without him there to up the entertainment value.

And that's maybe my only beef with Mr. Walken, that he doesn't always choose very good films to be part of. But the roles are always his. He owns them. So good for him.


Television: House of Cards (American Version)

Now I'll admit I've only watched the first "chapter." I was drawn in by all the phenomenal reviews, and I have to say it is very good. But you have to like complex stories of political machinations, and you have to be willing to keep track of many people and moving parts. Otherwise you'll be lost or bored or both.

This first episode was directed by David Fincher, and it looks it. I swear that man never met a camera filter he didn't like. But it works here, and I have to wonder whether, having set the tone thus, subsequent episodes from other directors will have the same look.

Anyway, for those who might be wondering, House of Cards stars Kevin Spacey as South Carolina Congressman (and Majority Whip) Francis Underwood. With a new president in office that he helped get elected, Francis has every expectation to be nominated—and, one assumes, eventually confirmed—Secretary of State. So it comes as quite a blow when President Elect Walker doesn't keep his promise.

And so Francis decides to take matters into his own hands.

This is Netflix's take on the BBC series, produced by Netflix for subscribers of its streaming video service. I haven't seen the original, but there is definitely something vaguely Shakespearean about the whole story. Well, and Mr. Spacey does run the Old Vic nowadays. In any case, however, despite the British roots, the plot transplants nicely to American soil. Reminds me a bit of Stuart Woods' novels, too. Grass Roots. Anyone remember that one?

In short, an engrossing program for anyone with the concentration and interest to follow along. I don't have the stomach to "binge view" this one, but I expect to finish it off in a timely manner.


Matchbox Twenty's "Smooth" TV Show

No, not really. Which is probably a good thing. Click here for the link.

I love you, Rob, but Paul, Kyle, and Brian are better at this than you. Just sayin'.

And I realize the funny part is supposed to be that the song lyrics are the dialogue, but . . . It's really just kind of painful. I'd file the whole "case" under: Nice Ideas, Potential Not Entirely Realized (I won't go so far as to file it under Nice Ideas, Poorly Executed because I think it was pretty well done, just needed a little something . . . Well, let's forget about it.)


Television: Elementary, "A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs"

It seems wrong somehow to show that a woman being careful about not allowing strange men into her home at night is at fault. I realize they didn't say as much, but women living alone should be careful. Even if and when the man at the door is sincere. (And I do realize it's possible the show only meant to make the point that even being careful sometimes isn't enough. Sad but true.)

Turns out our kidnapped girl from the cold open is Emily, daughter of Rhys, one of Holmes's ex-drug dealers. "I believe in Sherlock Holmes," Rhys tells Watson, and hey! I once saw some Sherlock graffiti to that effect:

Of course, that was all about "The Reichenbach Fall." But whatever.

Meanwhile, this week Elementary has Holmes describing "The Adventure of the Crooked Man" to his addict group and name checks "The Blue Carbuncle."

It was a nice change of pace to have Holmes working a case outside the police department. Of course the traditional Holmes took cases from all quarters, so it's only natural this incarnation should, too, but until now we haven't seen much of that. Not a big call for consulting detectives in New York these days, one supposes. Most people go straight to the police. Except, of course, drug dealers who can't go to the police . . . And who have reason to believe in Sherlock Holmes besides.

In a moment reminiscent of "The Cardboard Box," Emily's finger arrives in a box on the doorstep. Better than losing an ear? In any case, evidence under the fingernail gives Holmes more to work with than a lobe might.

Timing being everything, the fact that the second phone call comes after the confrontation with Emily's step-father is suggestive. Why does no one ever consider these things?

Rhys becomes increasingly disillusioned with Holmes's lack of results and tries to convince Holmes to prime his pump by taking some drugs. Weirdly enough, this sends Holmes off to call his daddy . . . To get money for Emily's ransom. Because it's worth more to Holmes to have Rhys and his druggy temptations out of his life than to solve the case.

By the way, remember that rule I once tossed out about how the perpetrator is often a character introduced briefly and early on in the hopes you might forget s/he exists, and then the writers will "surprise" you with the revelation that this person is really the bad guy? Yeah, that.

But progress is made. Holmes decides to go to a group session and discuss something more than his old cases. It's this kind of thing that is a testament to the writers' skills—the incremental changes in the characters' behaviors and relationships. Because people don't change easily, nor quickly, except when motivated. And seeing what motivates Holmes (and sometimes Watson) is what is fundamentally interesting in this show. Baby steps, Holmes. Baby steps.


Television: American Horror Story Format

My dad is 62 years old. He really likes American Horror Story, but he can't quite wrap his brain around why the story changes every season. I think it's even more confusing for him that a lot of the actors are the same, but none of the characters are.

And it's not like my dad is some doddering old man. He's actually (literally, quantifiably) a genius. But no other television shows do what AHS does. I mean, shows like The Twilight Zone did a new story each week, and then of course most shows are ongoing serials that don't do "fruitbasket turnover" after each season ends. Even crime-of-the-week shows keep the same core characters throughout their runs (assuming they aren't killed off). I guess the closest thing might be reality shows that spend all season in one location and/or with one team of contestants . . . But my dad doesn't watch those. And after using his amazing intellect all day, when my dad comes home and chills out with a mojito (his drink of choice) in front of the telly, he likes things to not require too much extra thought. Which explains why he watches a lot of sitcoms and mindless horror. And yes, a few procedurals that he has figured out by the first commercial break, but whatever. What I'm saying is he doesn't want to have to think about why this show just changed everything for no clear reason.

Anyway, in an attempt to put it into perspective for him, I used these metaphors to explain the way AHS handles each season as a separate story:
  • It's like a community theatre. You see the same actors over and over but they change up which plays their doing.
Except my dad doesn't really go to the theatre much. He's more of a reader. So:
  • It's like an anthology. Each season is a story. They're all the same genre but not one big novel.
That seemed to work. Dad reads a lot of Stephen King, after all. Loves Night Shift.

It's actually a pretty neat idea, when you think about it. The actors get a certain amount of security (the ones that get to come back anyway), plus the chance to do a lot of different roles. The writers, too, get to try a bunch of new things. Alas, it can cost a bit more when you're not keeping the same standing sets for multiple years, but if the ratings hold . . .

And here's another place where this format wins—or loses, depending. I actually tried watching the first season of AHS, but after three episodes was not engaged enough to keep tuning in. But when I heard the second season would be completely different (to coin Monty Python), I thought: Why not give it another shot? And the second season kept me interested.

But this can work in reverse, too. Someone who enjoyed one season may find the next unappealing and therefore drop the show.

AHS doesn't seem to suffer for any lack of viewers, however. If people are checking out, just as many are checking in. So this format is working for them.

I wonder in what other ways it could be applied?

A seasonal crime story? Think how much better something like Twin Peaks might have been if, instead of trying to keep the plot going, they'd just finished the Laura Palmer thing and started the next season with some other mystery to solve.

What about nighttime soaps? A new Desperate Housewives-type neighborhood each season? (Though this would require new cast members each season also.)

Could you do this with a sitcom? Focus on an apartment building filled with quirky residents and spend one season with each apartment?

It's kind of fun to think about.

Just don't tell my dad. He spends enough of his time thinking not to want to have to wrap his brain around a more complicated TV program.


Television: Smash, "On Broadway" & "The Fallout"

Admittedly, Smash had an uneven first season. But I found myself riveted anyway. Mostly by Derek. And his patented DerekVision(TM). Of all the characters, I've found Derek the most complex and interesting, even though many people seem to hate him.

The musical numbers are less amazing. Some are good, most are mediocre, and a few are downright painful (like "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"). I'd like to see those get better this season. Though the song that opened "On Broadway" gives me little hope. (Jennifer Hudson killed it on her numbers however.)

Additionally, Smash's soapy plot lines are sometimes—often—ham-fisted in execution. Okay, so Julia has an affair with a member of the show's cast. Simple enough story. But the way it was written and acted left viewers howling. Maybe this season will do better. Except text messages like "Time to move forward with the plan" don't bode well for that, either.

I'm not entirely sure, then, why I'm so compelled to watch this show. But there's just something so fun about it that overrides all the flaws.

The question for this season will be whether having a new showrunner will help or hobble Smash. That, and the move from Monday to Tuesday nights.

Meanwhile, onward with the plot: Bombshell has finished Boston previews and is poised to move to Broadway—until it comes under investigation because of those underhanded funds Eileen got from her boyfriend Nick.

In terms of relationships, Karen and Dev are through (Karen now has a sassy roommate), Ivy and Derek are through, Julia and Frank are through. Really, pretty much everyone is through except Tom and that guy whose name I can't remember. Tom and Julia's working partnership is also on the rocks. Derek is still attracted to Karen, but as she puts it, she's his muse . . . Hey, wouldn't Screwing the Muse be a good name for a rock band?

Karen is sniffing around a couple of waiters who are writing a musical. The writers are trying to work up some chemistry between her and this would-be composer Jimmy, but there's not a lot there. Karen is clumsy and unbelievable as a flirt and Jimmy is obnoxious and unlikeable.

Derek is in the midst of a sexual harassment lawsuit—probably deserved, but it's a bummer to see the writing reducing him to this Lothario again. But! More DerekVision(TM)! So there's that at least.

Better original songs, though. And nice of the writers to acknowledge the fan base and its bitter hatred of Julia's scarves by having Tom demand she retire them.

All told, putting up two hours for the season premiere was stretching it; Smash is better taken in smaller bites. I found my attention wandering because very little seemed to actually be happening. And then sometimes stuff was happening that just wasn't very interesting. So here's hoping they up the stakes and make the stories less juvenile on the whole, by which I mean the whole Karen/Jimmy "take your friends and go home!" and Eileen & Co. hijacking a gala. I know people in the biz can be childish, but this goes a bit far.

Also, "apology muffins." Let's retire those too.


Remember when I said I wrote a play with a young Ewan McGregor in mind as the lead? (It was just as an aside there, in that particular post.) Well . . . It's starting to look like that play might become a movie. I've been asked by a director/producer to hammer out a screen version of the script in any case.

Apologies to Ewan, though, because he's too old to actually play the lead. The characters in my play (soon to be script) are in their late 20s or early 30s, so . . . And the director already knows who he wants for one of the main characters. But that leaves three more up for grabs!

So I'm finishing up my novel and then shifting gears to this script.

But tonight: Smash. I've earned a break.


Television, The Following, "The Poet's Fire"

What, they're not just going to title each episode a chapter number? Would make it so much easier for viewers to catch up if they fall behind.

Wow. The episode begins the way the previous ended: with people in Poe masks setting fire to a guy buying a hotdog. What we didn't see last week: the really terrible dramatic interp of "The Raven." I've judged UIL tourneys in which middle school students have done better.

Best line: when the FBI cult expert remarks that Carroll wants his followers to exact revenge on his critics, Hardy says, "Yeah, that could take a while."

Enter Rick, another "kill club" member. Apparently our flame-throwing Poe. He's told Carroll he wants his "chapter" to be about revenge. Namely, Rick wants to take revenge on Carroll's detractors (critics, the dean who denied Carroll tenure).

Also enter Rick's estranged wife, the FBI's only tenuous connection to Rick, and therefore others of Carroll's cult, and finally little Joey.

Still, the whole "it's all for you, Ryan Hardy" schtick is getting a bit wearing. The "I'm helping you write another book, Ryan" thing . . . It can only hold up for so long. It makes sense, of course: Carroll must be terribly irked that Hardy's book did well while his own "masterpiece" was panned and ended up in the remainders bin. And to think Hardy stood on Carroll's shoulders to reach such heights! So Carroll wants in on the next big thing, wants to write the story himself, even as he pretends he's just helping Hardy out. So yes, I "get" it. But the constant references to this metaphorical book make it less impressive and/or interesting.

Meanwhile, the upshot of The Following is mostly an abiding sense of frustration at how badly botched the case has been by the FBI. And how obnoxious the little teeny bopper cult members are. And how the real story here seems to be an extended kidnapping search. I really wish they'd just find the kid and get on with things. But if the whole story is going to be about finding the kid . . . Sigh. Didn't Ashley Judd already do that? And get cancelled?

I want to continue watching (and hopefully liking) this show. But some of the dynamics are going to have to shift for that to happen. What started out as very promising is beginning to slide down that slippery slope. I'll give it some leeway, since it's difficult to maintain truly high quality indefinitely. But there is a threshold. Dip below it too often, and you'll lose your audience.

The Myth of an Unfeeling Sherlock Holmes

Cross posted from PepperWords

I think it's popular to characterize Sherlock Holmes as a man so logical he is almost inhuman, mechanical in his skill. But I also think this degrades the richness of character that is Holmes. It may be easier to sift him down to one or two traits, physical and intellectual: the hat, the pipe, the hawkish profile, and the quicksilver mind. But he's so much more than these things.

For one, keep in mind that Doyle's original stories are told through the filter of one Dr. Watson. (And again it's common to reduce Doyle's Watson to something of a buffoon who does nothing but utter his amazement at all Holmes does, but that is a ridiculous caricature when one is also supposed to believe the man is a veteran and a surgeon—he cannot be those things and also quite so stupid.) If Watson finds Holmes unfeeling at times, it is only based on Watson's own perceptions of Holmes's actions. He and Holmes are good friends, true, but Watson does not know the whole of Holmes's heart. How could he? Watson can only conjecture and assume.

The truth is Holmes is not some emotionless automaton. He has feelings, certainly, but he chooses—one might dare Holmes has, in fact, schooled himself—not to wear them on his sleeve. Surely in his line of work, Holmes has long since found it detrimental to allow his emotions to color his logic. Perhaps, too, in his very youth he found his feelings to be something he needed to control, and now after years of internal wrestling, Holmes has become very good at pinning them down.

Holmes is the type to take a feeling and examine it in private. "Is this useful to me?" He is, after all, a student of the human heart as well as mind—as many crimes stem from passion as from clever thinking. Holmes can take his own emotions and hold them up against what he knows of how people think, behave, and yes, feel. If his own feelings are different, if he is different, he is very aware. (He likes to trumpet his superior intellect, but perhaps he is covering just a bit for a small deficit of feeling.) Holmes might very well experiment with himself by testing his emotions. But it is a private game, not one Watson would be privy to.

We know that Holmes can be euphoric when in the grips of a good case, and certainly also when triumphant. He can be depressed when bored. He gets frustrated, even angry. Agitated. It's no stretch, then, to guess he feels affection, and even love. He may find such emotion distasteful, inconvenient. He may cut it out and put it away somewhere inside him. But it's there, as much as any other feeling.

Love is a vulnerability. A soft spot. It doesn't do to show a chink in one's armor. Holmes holds all his abilities up as a shield, he clads himself in the armor of intellect. But for him, even more than cocaine, love would be a terrible vice. His naturally addictive and obsessive nature would suffer under the weight of it.

Holmes is a man who knows his own limits.

He is good, better than most, would be pleased to show and tell you as much. But some lines are dangerous to cross. And for Sherlock Holmes, to make a private love into a public show of affection? That's his line.

And so Watson, and subsequently his readers, may labor under the idea that Holmes is unfeeling. But it isn't true. Holmes' heart is not untouched, nor is it untouchable. It's just hidden.


Television: Elementary, "The Deductionist"

Violent criminal Howard Ennis is brought to the hospital to donate a kidney to his sister. Now I have some issues with the way the operation prep was handled; clearly there was much conveniently set up for sake of the plot, but whatever.

Hmm. Tall, blonde profiler. Doesn't that make her an obvious target based on the earlier description of Ennis' preferred victim type?

Holmes, meanwhile, has a past—both professional and semi-romantic—with said FBI profiler. It's always fun to have a little more meat to gnaw on when the writers choose to reveal more of his character. The episode title is derived from an article Drummond (the profiler) wrote after working with Holmes. So while Holmes professes a dislike of all profilers, he has reason to dislike this one in particular: like Ennis, about whom Drummond wrote an entire book, Holmes resents the idea he can be "solved" by a simple profile. (And he possibly also feels used by Drummond, with whom he shared a physical affair, if not an emotional one—at least not emotional in any way he's willing to admit; Irene Adler aside, it can be difficult to tell with Holmes how invested he really is.)

The case becomes a fight between Drummond's insistence that Ennis fits her profile and Holmes' equal insistence that Ennis is working to be "profile proof." No one likes to be reduced to something so simple as a checklist, after all.

In a climax reminiscent of Sherlock's pilot episode, Holmes faces Ennis over a kind of game: will Ennis choose the gun or handcuffs? Will he fit Drummond's profile or won't he? By breaking the profile, Ennis proves to Holmes' satisfaction that he is not predestined for self-annihilation the way Drummond predicted in her article about him. (Though unlike in Sherlock, JLM's Holmes is not so helpless as to need Watson to save him.)

Nice touches include Holmes selecting Watson's clothing for her in an attempt to urge her out of bed. In fact, on the whole, Elementary continues to get better, particularly in the past three episodes. They do best when delving into Holmes' past and psyche, and exploring the growing bond between him and Watson. But they've benefitted from slightly better plots of the week recently too. Still not five stars, but getting brighter.

Just as an aside—and this is me thinking like a television writer as much as a Sherlock Holmes fan—I have to wonder whether Irene is really dead. I don't think you go into a story by killing off a key character before you ever see her. And it leaves so many delicious possibilities: if Irene were to return unexpectedly, what would that do to Holmes? And if she were to, say, actually be working with Moriarty (maybe she was all along, maybe she's supposed to distract Holmes from whatever Moriarty is doing), what would that betrayal do to him? Certainly Watson would need to be on high alert; if ever there was cause for a relapse, that would be it. See? We could have lots of fun with this.

Books: Schroder

So I was reading People, and they really liked this book, gave it a great review. But when I read the description, it sounded to me like the author just took the Clark Rockefeller story and fictionalized it. You know, changed the names and "made it her own."

From what I read, Schroder is about a guy who lives under an assumed name and kidnaps his daughter after his wife gets custody. "Schroder" is the guy's real name; he's German. Well, "Clark Rockefeller" was really Christian Gerhartsreiter, also German. His true identity came out after he kidnapped his daughter because his wife had custody. So . . . Same story, right? More or less?

I'm not undercutting the author for using a sensational headline as a jumping off point. Television series do it all the time, especially the police procedurals. I was just surprised the review that so loved this book didn't bother to acknowledge the obvious parallels and likely source material. I'm sure the author is really good at putting words together or whatever (I haven't read the book, it comes out on Tuesday), but the plot isn't original to her. That's all I'm saying.

And there's nothing wrong with that, either. I write Sherlock Holmes stories, and the main characters there are certainly not original to me. But credit where it's due and all.

I might be interested in reading Schroder. Or I might just as easily go read a true account of the Clark Rockefeller/Christian Gerhartsreiter case. I suppose it would depend on whether I'm in the mood for nonfiction, or simply not-quite-fiction.


Television: Elementary, "The Red Team"

There's that word again: "disorientating." (I commented on it when Sherlock used it as well.)

Cute: Holmes' description of his love of conspiracy theorists as being like affection for "a barmy uncle or a pet who can't stop walking into walls."

Annoying: having Watson's therapist lay out the dynamics of the show and the main characters' relationship for those who can't think it through for themselves. Later in the episode, Gregson does the same in setting up Holmes' severing from the police department and by describing Holmes as "broken in a way that has nothing to do with whether or not he's getting high." On the whole, really, the writers have a bad habit of using dialogue for exposition instead of letting the audience work things out.

It is nice that JLM can take very predictable lines (like about turtle soup) and sell them. It's how matter-of-fact he is that does it.

Meanwhile, the episode plot itself was more interesting than some past previous episodes. Holmes working to unravel the murder of a conspiracy theorist which leads to his attempting to protect members of a war game exercise from 2009 . . . It bordered on X-Filian with shadowy government agents.

Unfortunately, once again the writers tip their hand a bit too soon and it is easy to pick out the perpetrator even before Holmes comes to the same conclusion. (Hint: it's usually the nicest, most sympathetic character.)

A nice touch came at the end of the episode when, without articulating it, Holmes made it clear that losing Gregson's trust is something he does actually regret. Kudos again to JLM for acting that emotion so nicely.

And I think having a pet will be good for Holmes.

Regular viewers: don't forget there's a new episode after the Superbowl Sunday night.