Game of Thrones, Season 7 Premier: Snap Reaction

Winter is here, and it’s about damn time. Daenerys sailed west, and it’s about damn time. Game of Thrones has always been thrilling and intriguing, but after six seasons it was time for the over-arching story to pick up speed. The time for pissing matches was over, the time for war had come.

The season six finale brought that speed and put the three characters in place who will fight to keep, hold and entrench power during seasons seven and eight. Jon Snow is King of the North, Cersei sits on the iron throne and Daenerys is about to make land in Dragonstone.

Good. It’s time for what we’ve been waiting to arrive and for the wait to pay off.

And now, thoughts.

Arya Stark is a serious bad ass. “When people ask you what happened to you, tell them the north remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.” Well alright! Arya’s mask is going to make her ultimately powerful, and I like the addition of more magic. But I hope the writers use it sparingly. A character with the ability to be any character is easily abused. I don’t want to sit her wondering if I’m looking at Arya or the real character.

Jon Snow as mining industrial dictator is going to cause problems, as is Jon Snow the king of equality. If his decision to not exact homestead revenge on the Karstarks and Umbers doesn’t cause unrest that undermines his kingery, these two acts will.

I look forward to watching Littlefinger (my favourite character on the entire show) try to fan the flames of a divide between Sansa and Jon. He enjoyed seeing her combat Jon over the traitorous Karstarks, and the look on her face after Jon declared that yesterday’s wars don’t matter betrayed more disagreement than their one-on-one conversations let on.

That’s Petyr’s influence, but don’t count on Sansa to knuckle under to his manipulation. She’s strong as ice, as evidenced by the way she told him off in front of Brienne.

Speaking of Sansa, I’m curious to learn more about the things she learned from watching Cersei. Sansa’s tough and Cersei’s cunning would be a formidable combination. I look forward to seeing that play out. Perhaps this “murdering whore” will get to confront Cersei and take vengeance on the evil queen.

The death of Jamie’s children falls almost entirely at Cersei’s feet. I’d love to see her relationship with Jamie broken and Jamie turn against her. The Lannisters are fiercely loyal to each other…well all except for one and Jamie hasn’t turned his back on Tyrion the way his sister has. Their conversation about dynasty shows he feels their deaths more than she does. It’s almost the reverse of the stereotypical war-mongering father and emotional mother.

Poor Tarly. All he wants to do is read but here he is cleaning shit pans. What’s his role here? How does book boy fit into the bigger battle? Does he figure out some historic secret to defeating the white walkers? He will bring the one who begins the memories to the war. Or find a mountain of dragon glass. That’ll do.

God I hate celebrity cameos. We all know that was Ed Sheeran. And it ruined everything.

What’s the legal drinking age in Westeros anyway?

Arya says she is going to Kings Landing and kill the queen. The boy soldiers laugh, but the audience believes her.

Oh yeah, the Mother of Dragons.

House of Cards Season 5: The Underwood split begins

 

I’ve always thought House of Cards was about relationships. Frank and Claire, Frank and Doug, Frank and Catherine, and on and on. But Frank and Claire above everyone else. After watching season five during baseball’s All-Star break I still think this is true, but I have a more refined view of what it means. The story isn’t simple about relationships. It’s about dominance in relationships.

Frank dominated Claire in the early seasons. She thought they were equals, and he willingly let her think so. That caught up with him through seasons three and four and it nearly broke their marriage. It wasn’t until Claire orchestrated a race scandal to damage his primary campaign that Frank truly viewed and treated her as an equal partner in their marriage. Claire got on the presidential ticket, and their marriage was restored.

For a while.

Dominant Frank returned in season five, asserting his own will and making decisions that contradicted or ignored Claire’s input. His ultimate show of dominance came, ironically, when he resigned the presidency and demanded – without consulting her first – a full pardon from his wife-turned-president. Claire hesitated and vocalized her obvious realization to Frank that he left her no choice. In that conversion she revealed, however subtly or not, that she knows the equal partnership is over.

Season five ended with the new President Underwood ignoring Frank’s calls and declaring to an empty Oval Office, “My turn.” In season six I hope we’ll see the complete and final sundering of the Underwood marriage.

What would that look like?

We know what we get from House of Cards at this point. Frank and Claire never really resolve any of their problems. They just get past them by creating a new, more chaotic problem. When that fails, they kill people. Witness Zoe Barnes, Peter Russo, Tom Yates and (possibly) LeAnn Harvey. So expect the same rolling cavalcade of chaos as we’ve seen for five seasons, with each decision leaving trace elements of explosives that will go off at the wrong time in the future, forcing still more wild decisions that force them farther apart.

House of Cards has always been a show devoid of any happiness within its characters. I hope and expect that to continue. I don’t see a fitting end with Claire – or Frank – reclining behind the Resolute desk in comfortable power. Both are almost certain to fall with their lies and misdeeds exposed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if either ends up dead.

Let’s get to something I didn’t like about this season: The introductions of Mark Usher and Jane Davis. Both characters are “fixers” orchestrating things outside of what we see in each episode. Mark feels slightly more two-faced than Jane for the way he turned on Will Conway. Does anyone really think Frank would let someone so close to him who so easily broke his candidate’s trust? Unless Frank had Mark in place from day one for exactly that purpose, I highly doubt it. The contrast between Usher and Doug Stamper is enormous.

But both Usher and Davis strike me as too convenient in a show that needs to avoid convenience as much as possible to maintain its credibility. Jane knows exactly the right foreign player at exactly the right time and Mark’s loyalties shift in the right direction at the right moment. I think there’s a lot to yet learn about both of them (how did Jane get LeAnn’s gun?) and I hope they explore it more in season six. If they’re both working for Frank – entirely possible – I could accept it but I would have to be really thrown for a loop to buy into anything else.

This is a minor quibble. There’s plenty the show still does right. I enjoy the way it jumps ahead of scenes and events so we don’t have to sit through inevitabilities. Catherine falling down the steps is a good example. There’s no need to show us Frank feigning dismay when security crews get there. We know he’s a liar. Skipping the second election day is another one. I also loved the way it split season five basically in half between the election and the aftermath, using the former to lay the groundwork or the later.

I think it ultimately laid the groundwork for season six, making season five a transition season. This whole story has been the odyssey of the Underwood’s pursuit of incrementally more power. Now that they both achieved the most powerful office in the world, there’s only one type of power left for conquest: Power over the other.

Big Little Lies Review: Wow does this show suck

HBO’s Big Little Lies starts with a view of the Bixby Bridge, so I’m thinking it can’t be that bad. I’m a sucker for anything set in California, it’s true. Bosch, 24, Goliath. I’ll like anything that’s set in LA. Except for NCSI: Los Angeles. I have standards.

This show doesn’t meet them. It’s garbage. Hot, hot, there must be an empty package of chicken in there and I should have emptied it before I left for work, garbage.

Did you see that movie Passengers? With Jennifer Lawrence and some beautiful guy? Remember how bad that was? How it was like, “Let’s make a movie about two beautiful people acting out some lines. Doesn’t matter what lines. Any lines. Add a space ship.” That’s Big Little Lies. But they swapped out the space ship for California and its Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Plus a Laura Dern character that is so stereotypical it makes, nah. Let’s not go there.

My theory is that Reese Witherspoon has never played a character with a personality that exists in the real world.Then again, you meet people in California who make you think, “Wow. That personality does exist. Hollywood didn’t just make it up.” Still, her character’s dialogue is so inauthentic that I can’t get past it to even care about her rolled ankle and her—get this—kid that is way smarter and more aware than a kid would normally be. Groundbreaking concept.

The first two episodes have this thing where they jump from the show to these interviews with the peripheral characters. We learn in the big reveal that they’re police interviews. Yeah, that’s the big reveal. They talk about someone who died but they don’t actually show you who died.

That’s supposed to be the thing? I’m supposed to wonder who died?

Did I mention someone choked a kid, and it might be another kid who’s psycho.

No, this show is terrible. The characters aren’t likable, hateable or interesting, which means they’re boring and you don’t care about them or the story they’re involved in. Which isn’t even really a story.

The only good thing about Big Little Lies is that the terrible character played by Laura Dern lives in the same house Nolan Ross lived in during season on of Revenge.

Oh, so this husband randomly loses his temper when talking about a kid losing his temper. That’s out of nowhere and there’s more of it in the second episode. It’s so forced. I can’t even write about this show anymore because it’s so bad. Life is too short.

MLB At Bat Has A Season To Forget

Oh, the promises were there in spades. When Apple announced its revamped and much improved Apple TV on September 9, 2015, MLB Advanced Media was there to showcase a brand new MLB At Bat app for tvOS. 2-in-1 viewing. 60 fps video. Tech Times loved it, and who could blame them? We all salivated over how we’d watch baseball in 2016.

So how’d that work out for ya?

Almost from day one, the new MLB At Bat app on Apple TV was an utter disaster. To understand how, let’s look at some of the best features of the previous app:
Hide scores. Hide scores let you toggle the scores on or off so you’d never be spoiled if you joined a game late.
Inning select. A simple click on the old Apple TV remove brought up a marked line for jumping from inning to inning. Couldn’t have been easier.
Game events. Likewise, keep clicking and you’d get a menu that let you jump from one big play to the next. Awesome for reviewing games.
Runs scored. A third click brought up the runs scored menu. Another great way to zip thru a ball game.

It wasn’t perfect. The previous generation Apple TV had some limitations. But it worked, reliably, and provided cool features that made it easy to watch the games you want.

Spring training streams aren’t always the greatest, whether it’s due to the inferior ballparks or what I am not sure. So when the Dodgers broke camp for a freeway exhibition against Anaheim at Dodger Stadium I was blown away by the new 60fps stream.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”><a href=”https://t.co/SFvNePHcXp”>https://t.co/SFvNePHcXp</a&gt; picture quality on the new AppleTV is as if I have a new TV. Motion is so smooth. Blown away.</p>&mdash; Kevin Watterson (@kwatt) <a href=”https://twitter.com/kwatt/status/715731575158259712″>April 1, 2016</a></blockquote> //platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I am not a fan of the way modern TVs display artificially smooth motion, but this was different. It didn’t look artificial. My TV is a Sharp Aquos from 2006, and At Bat made it look like a top-of-the-line debut model.

That was late March. I’ve seen a stream at 60fps once or twice since. Where it went, I have no idea. I don’t know if they had to downgrade the app to handle poor performance issues or if they simply gave up on it. But it’s gone.

You might be thinking, “Okay, Watterson, maybe you’re just so used to it that now you don’t even notice the 60fps.” Nope. Whenever I pull up a stream on my iPhone 6 I’m mesmerized again, because that is consistently 60fps.

That wasn’t so bad. You can’t really miss a feature you never had.

What made the “new” At Bat app such a pathetic fail is that all those features I listed above disappeared. Flat went missing. POOF. Only the inning selection has come back – in June, three months into the season and 10 months after the app was displayed at the AppleTV announcement – and that in a way that spoils the outcome of a game even if you’ve hidden the scores. The rest are gone and MLB support has given no indication when, if ever, they will return.

Speaking of hide scores, that took months for MLB to iron out, too.

If you tried to get an answer from At Bat support you would get a copy-paste response that it would report your concerns to their development team. Then it would delete your question from their support forums. Over and over again fans would ask, and over and over again they would get deleted.

On top of the missing and slow-to-arrive features, the app’s new UI is somewhat poor. Customers with premium access to home and away broadcast streams lose the option to chose in split-screen view. I don’t know how an app gets released with a UI that takes away premium features, features that we paid to have. That seems to me to be the opposite of what should happen.

All of this sits beside the app’s incredibly inconsistent performance. For the first few months of the season it would freeze almost nightly between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. That eventually got resolved but I’m not sure if there have been any nights when it hasn’t crashed at least once. It crashed once while I was writing this column.

How did this happen? There’s a concept in development called MVP (minimum viable product). I won’t go into it but it basically says release your product at its earliest viable state and iterate, iterate, iterate. MLBAM clearly had access to the new tVOS long before anyone else, yet their flagship app seemed to be released to paying customers as an MVP. At best it was an MVP. I’d actually say from my experience it felt more like a beta.

If I were cynical I’d point out that MLB was forced to offer MLB.tv subscriptions at a lower price this year and say maybe this is why the app was so bad. Why bother refining a product you’re not able to charge full price for? But I’m not that cynical.

Missing features that customers paid for. Miserable performance. MLB Advanced Media owes its paying customers an apology for the product it gave them on Apple TV in 2016.

Save Yourself From The Exorcist

Ok let’s go on The Exorcist. I own the movie and wasn’t that impressed. I’m really down on this thing where FOX is bringing movies into TV shows. But hey it’s online and not locked behind a stupid paywall like CBS. I’m sure CBS has some great shows but if I miss them on their original air date I’m sure as hell not going to pay to watch them.

I’m curious if this will try to be a horror TV show. I think that would be very tough to bring on a weekly basis.

When I watch shows on something other than Amazon, I really miss the Amazon x-ray feature. Especially premieres.

Did they make this guy talking outside the church look like a clown on purpose? I don’t get the whole clowns thing but it’s pretty creepy.

Thinking. I loved Bates Motel, and that was a movie adapted to TV. Too bad A&E canceled Longmire and I pledged never to watch the channel again. Except for The First 48. I’m a hypocrite.

It’s hard to hear this dialogue. The background noises are too loud. It’s also very dark. Hard to see faces.

They’re clearly holding back the first shot of a possessed kid tied to a bed. It better be worth the reveal.

Marcus loves himself some Marcus. He’s quite poetic. It feels like a movie character, actually.

Plenty creepy!

This couple obviously has something we don’t know. What is it? A death? Feels like death of a child? When will they show us?

This is completely failing to keep my interest. But This Is Us and Pitch have shown that we need to stick around to the end of a pilot.

So there is something inside they’re house and that’s supposed to be interesting. “It’s a demon.” Well okay then. It’s trying to take your daughter? Well that sounds awful!

The thing with the crow was stupid as hell. I’m embarrassed that it happened.

I stopped paying attention. This show is crap.