BINGE WATCHING “OUTLANDER” by ELLIN CURLEY

I am currently binge-watching a show called “Outlander” on Starz. I’m late to the game on this one.  It is in its second season and has legions of loyal fans.

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It takes place in the lush and magnificent Highlands of Scotland and the time period switches back and forth between 1945 and 1745. I am a huge time travel fan so this is a big draw for me. However the butterfly effect is totally ignored. No attention is paid to the fact that the main character would be changing the timeline right and left as she went through each day two hundred years in the past. This is not an intellectual or theoretical endeavor.

The story centers on a married, British WWII nurse who is sucked back in time to 1745 Scotland. She ends up married to and madly in love with (in that order), a young Scottish gentleman who has a price on his head by the British occupiers.

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For me, the key to “Outlander’s” success is that it focuses narrowly on these two main characters – the nurse, Claire and her 1745 husband, Jamie. The subsidiary characters have few plot lines of their own. They are almost exclusively seen with and in relation to Claire and Jamie, which intensifies the viewers’ connection with them. They are both richly complex and appealing characters, played by extraordinarily talented and attractive actors. They are riveting to watch and their fascinating relationship changes and deepens as time goes by.

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The show highlights period costumes and period customs. There is also plenty of romance, nudity and beautiful sex scenes. The writing is fantastic although the heavy dialects often make it hard to understand all of the dialogue. The balance is spot on between high drama and intimate moments; between politics (at all levels) and personal relationships; and between heavy, dark plot lines (including lots of sword fights) and humor and humanity.

On top of everything else, the theme song is permanently stuck in my head as well as my husband’s. The melody is a lyrical old Celtic tune and the lyrics used here are based on a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. The song permeates the lush background music and adds atmosphere throughout the series.

I’m usually circumspect about what I recommend to other people on TV, especially when it requires an investment of 16 hours, just for the first season! However, the variety of people who have extolled this show to me makes me confident that it will appeal to a wide range of blog readers as well.

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If you’ve already seen it, tell me what YOU think of it. If you watch it in the future, you’re in for a real treat.

NOTES FROM THE HOLODECK

For a long time, I followed writing prompts. I liked the challenge of finding something to say about a random topic. And I was interested to see the commonalities and differences between my thoughts and everyone else’s.

REUTERS/Noah Berger

REUTERS/Noah Berger

Lately, though, I want to write about other stuff. The crazy political stuff. The insanity of our failure to make any changes to our gun laws. The wild weather.

Talk about crazy. Insect plagues (not just here … all over the country) … and temperatures so high they turn forests to tinder. Flooding down the middle. Drought out west. Tornadoes threatening Chicago. Chicago? Mother Nature, like Howard Beale in “Network” screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

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Network is a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky. Directed by Sidney Lumet, it’s the story of a fictional television network willing to do anything and everything — including assassinating one of its own anchors on live television — to get better ratings. When the movie came out, it was almost science fiction. Now, except for not yet assassinating a reporter or anchor live during prime time, the rest seems tame compared to what’s truly going on.

Sometimes, I wonder if maybe Donald Trump was invented by TV network executives to get higher ratings for the news. It worked around this house. We hadn’t watched news on television — except for sports and weather — since Garry stopped being part of it.

Now, we watch the news every day just to see what new madness is in progress. “The Daily Show” seems more attuned to the surreal nature of current events than any of the standard stations.

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Not all that long ago, I had no trouble figuring out what was real and what was not. Now? There’s such a massive crossover between reality and “art,” I feel as if I’m living in the holodeck. In case you don’t remember (or never knew), the holodeck was a virtual reality facility on the Enterprise (especially on “Next Generation”). It was used to recreate environments — real and fictional — via “hard light” (solid and touchable) holograms.

holodeck

In our world, no such technology exists. Yet. So they tell us. Except that I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe this entire year is a creative exercise by some mad computer genius designing a world that could never be. Except … it does. Exist. And we are all living in it.

Or … maybe … we’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Because this world cannot be real.

TACHYON WAVES, WARP DRIVES, AND A TOASTER OVEN

Garry and I binge watched the entire “Star Trek: Next Generation.” On Netflix. We had missed the show’s initial run. 1987 through 1994 were busy years full of work, moving houses, digging into careers. Getting married. Moving again. Watching TV wasn’t a priority back then.

BBC America showed the series last year, but not in order. When Netflix gave us the opportunity to catch up, we did, viewing two, three, four episodes each night.

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There’s a lot of tech talk on the Enterprise. No problem. Pass the warp drive. I’ll have a side of tachyon particles. I understand their science as well as I understand anything. Which is to say, not at all. I understand the engines on the Enterprise as well as I understand my toaster oven.

Tachyon energy is crucial to all kinds of weaponry and fuel. They are part of what powers the warp engines on the Enterprise. The warp engines are what lets the Enterprise be the Enterprise, travel at speeds faster than light … fast enough to explore the universe. Slither through wormholes. Travel through time.

For your information, a tachyon particle moves faster than light. The complementary particle types are luxon (particles which move at the speed of light) and bradyon (particles which move slower than light). If you live in the Star Trek universe, tachyon particles are as common as dirt. Or electricity.

enterprise next gen

Effectively, life and everything in it is a giant mystery to me, yet I feel as if I understand it. When they talk about it, I nod because I get it. I’ve been listening to this mumbo jumbo for so many years, it has achieved a pseudo-reality. Because when I look closely, there’s nothing there. I understand the technology of the 24th century exactly as well (and as much) as I understand the technology of the 21st.

How many of you know how the stuff you use works? Some of you do, but most of us know how to use our devices and gadgets, but have no idea why or how it works. I know how software is designed, how code is written and compiled. I used to know a little coding. In the end, though, I have no idea why code does anything. Why, when you compile a program, does it work? It’s just text. Why does it do what it does?

Why does anything work? Tachyon particles, warp drives, internal combustion engines, electricity, cell phones, WiFi. It’s all the same.

Magic.

And now, back to the Enterprise, already in progress.

TRUMPED: REALITY, REALITY SHOWS, AND REAL TV – TOM CURLEY

It’s Tuesday again. Surely a super Tuesday because this year, all Tuesdays have been super. To honor the day, I’m rerunning my favorite yet still relevant political post by Mr. Thomas Curley, News Guy Supreme and Chief Editorial Satirist at Serendipity.


Ellin and I were on a brief ski trip last April and were away for a couple of weeks ago in Vermont. We learned three things.

  1. We are still not too old to ski.
  2. Gravity is a harsh mistress.
  3. It’s getting harder and harder to figure out what’s real and what’s not.

Let me explain.

We were on our trip on a Tuesday. One of the Super Tuesdays. I forget which one because they’re all Super now. We’re both fascinated by this incredibly bizarre presidential campaign, so of course we were watching …

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indiewire.com

House of Cards on Netflix. We love that show.

In between binge watching episode after episode, we’d check in on the (real) election coverage. And that’s when I noticed that on House of Cards, the characters are constantly on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, CBS This Morning, and so on. All this stuff is shot on the actual news sets with real people playing themselves — while reporting on a fictional presidential campaign.

I’m not going to reveal any spoilers, but this season’s episodes were filmed way before the actual election began. Despite this, the show (House of Cards) contains a lot of surprisingly prescient plot lines.

We sat there watching CNN, MSNBC, CBS and all the other news shows interview and talk with Frank Underwood as he brilliantly manipulates the government and the world to get whatever he wants.

Then we’d change the channel to watch CNN, MSNBC, CBS and all the other news shows talk — with Donald Trump — where they were debating whether or not Trump has a large penis.

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washingtonpost.com

Then, a bunch of pundits complained this (real) campaign is nothing more than a bad reality show. They are correct. The Republicans are currently trying to throw their leading candidate off the island, but inextricably, he keeps winning the immunity idol.

immunity idol.jpg

survivor.wikia.com

The other questions everyone keeps asking is “How did a reality show star end up running for President?”

Good question. But I know the answer.

It’s all Dan Quayle’s fault.

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businessinsider.com

You remember Dan Quayle, the guy who was George Bush Senior’s Vice President, don’t you? Dan had a reputation for not being the sharpest pencil in the box.

He was famous for misspelling potato as “potatoe” at a campaign stop at an elementary school in 1992.

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Dailyhaymaker.com

Most people have forgotten the other important thing he did.

He started a fight with Murphy Brown.

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Murphy Brown was the fictional TV journalist and anchor. Played by Candice Bergen, she headed the cast in a 90’s sitcom about a fictional news show called FYI.

In one of the late seasons, she got pregnant and was going to be a single mother. Quayle gave a campaign speech (real) calling her out as being against “Family Values” because she didn’t have a husband. Murphy Brown was “mocking the importance of fathers” (an actual quote from Quayle’s speech).

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uselectionatlas.org

Here’s where it got brilliant. The producers and writers of the show didn’t put out a statement denouncing his speech. They had Murphy Brown go after Quayle on the television show. It made front page headlines (real) all across the country.

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So, now you had Dan Quayle fighting with — and being mocked by — a fictional character on a fictional show. And he fought back. In real life.

Pretty much nobody said “Has anyone noticed the Vice President of the United States is fighting with A FICTIONAL TV CHARACTER ????”

No one appeared to notice. Or care.

That’s was the beginning of the end, when American politics started down the rabbit hole. What began as a real-life politician appearing on a fictional TV news show, morphed into fictional politicians on real TV news shows. And real news shows showing up on fictional TV shows.

And a bad reality host running for President of the United States.

In the real world.

At least I think it’s the real world. I’m not sure anymore. I used to have to take drugs to get this confused. Personally I’d rather watch House of Cards. It makes more sense.

To paraphrase a quote from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest, our current reality is a poorly written episode. And it’s not over, not nearly.

MILLION-DOLLAR MEMORIES

Garry and I both grew up in New York in the 1950s. That was before cable. It even proceeded UHF. Television was black and white. We had seven channels: 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), and 7 (ABC), the network flagship stations. They remain the network flagship stations and of course, New York’s network affiliates.

Also playing was channel 5 (Dumont) which showed lots of old movies and channel 13. Today, 13 is PBS, but then, it was stuff so bad no one else would run it. Johnny Mack Brown westerns. Movies John Wayne wished he could forget having made.

Then, there was channel 9 (WOR RKO-General). It was the premium rerun and old monster movie channel along with channel 11 (WPIX). But channel 9 won my heart because it had Million Dollar Movie.

Ah, the memories. You could say the Million Dollar Movie was an educational channel, if you consider movies educational. Which I do. Old movies, all in black and white because television was all black and white. I was, later in life, surprised to discover how many of these movies are actually in color. Who knew?

My mother did not allow my brother and I to watch television on school nights. Nor were we allowed to watch television during the day, even on weekends. She believed in fresh air, sports, and reading. What it really meant was I had to go to a friend’s house to catch the Saturday morning cartoons and great shows like “My Friend Flicka.”

Eventually, TV won and we all watched whenever and whatever we liked, but that was years in the future. Even early on, there were exceptions to the rules. The main exception was if we were home sick from school, we got to watch television all day. Upstairs in my parent’s bedroom … and out of my mother’s hair.

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That was when Million Dollar Movie came into its own. They showed one movie a week, but they showed it all day until midnight. For seven days in a row. The theme for Million Dollar Movie was the Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind. The first time I saw Gone With the Wind, I practically leapt from my seat shouting “Hey, that’s the Million Dollar Movie theme.”

I got tonsillitis with boring regularity and it came with a full week at home. Antibiotics and whatever was showing on (you guessed it) Million Dollar Movie. Which is how come I saw Yankee Doodle Dandy several hundred times. My bouts of tonsillitis coincided with their showings of Jimmy Cagney’s finest performance.

I didn’t know he made any other movies until I was an adult. That was when I discovered he had played gangsters. I was surprised. I thought all he did was dance and sing.

Why am I writing about this? Because we are watching Yankee Doodle Dandy. After all these years, I can still sing along with every song, know every dance move, and each piece of dialogue. Remarkably, unlike so many other movies, it has remained black and white.

Does anyone know why the movie is in black and white? It screams for color. Just saying.

GERIATRIC COMEDY BY ELLIN CURLEY

My new favorite show to binge watch these days is “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix. The cast is amazing – Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston in the leads. The supporting cast, particularly the four adult children, are also pitch perfect. The characters are fully and thoughtfully developed, the writing is brilliant and the humor springs naturally from the characters and situations.

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The show begins when two 70-year-old men tell their wives that they are both gay, have been having a twenty year affair and are asking for divorces so they can marry each other. The Lily Tomlin (Frankie), Sam Waterston couple are Jewish, hippy, touchy feely, chanting, pot smoking flower children. The Jane Fonda (Grace), Martin Sheen couple are status seeking, uptight Wasps and Grace was a super corporate, super successful career woman. Now, the two wives, who are not fond of each other, for obvious reasons, have to move in together when the men take over one of the family homes.

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The issues are dealt with honestly and on a personal, emotional level. There is no hint of ideology or agenda (except for acceptance of gay marriage). You laugh at the straights as much as the gays, the hippies as much as the wasps, the older generation as much as the younger one. The relationships with the adult children are fully realized and quite varied so the humor always rings true there as well.

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The center of the show is the evolution of the friendship between the two women. It is beautiful and edifying to watch as they struggle to focus on their common ground and accommodate their glaring differences. It is a wonderful affirmation that people who are so different can bridge the gaps between them and forge a strong bond.I see parts of myself in both women so I’m laughing at myself a lot. At times I want to BE them and have a female friend who can share and support and help me cope and grow at the same time. At other times I just enjoy watching them deal with the major twists in the lives from the comfort of my thankfully “boring” life.

G&F women

Another reason I love watching this show is that it deals sensitively but bluntly with elder issues that are not often discussed. The retired women have to come to terms with their feelings of uselessness and invisibility. They have to find day-to-day meaning in a life without the structure of a full-time job or of a family to take care of 24/7. They talk about memory loss, arthritis and other indignities of an older body. There is also a lot of talk about vaginas and sex in your 70’s. Vaginal dryness has a whole plot line built around it!

Baby Boomers are becoming Seniors at warp speed. So there is now a big demographic of elders to sell products to and pitch movies and TV shows to. So expect to see more sagging bodies and forgetful minds on all forms of media. The Geriatric Baby Boomers are taking over so move over and remind me why I decided to write this blog.

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND THEY ARE US

In this insane political year, when many of us are wondering if Donald Trump is the Beast of the Apocalypse, the angriest controversy on the Internet is over the loss of Stana Katic (Kate Beckett) on ABC’s “Castle.” It’s huge. Gigantic. Cataclysmic.

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It’s more important than our lemming-like rush to national oblivion.

Although I watch more television than I did when I was young and working, I can’t imagine being so invested in a show that I would display such vitriol about it. Garry and I watch “Castle.” We’ve enjoyed it, but the show has been drooping for the last two seasons. It’s probably past its prime and deserves honorable retirement. Nonetheless, ABC is going to give the show a full face lift, starting by ditching one of its two primary players. I doubt it’ll work, but hey, it’s their show. If they want to give a try, what’s the harm, right?

But man, the people on all these TV web sites are frothing at the mouth. As far as they are concerned, this is personal. They’re ready to take up arms in defense of a character on a television series.


Everyone is in a state of rage about something. Constantly. What used to be minor annoyances are now reasons for killing rage. Road rage is a great example. When did fender benders become cause for violently attacking each other? Maybe that accounts for why we’re locked into a national political suicide pact.

It’s generational. Our younger generations from Gen X through my granddaughter and her crowd — all of them are convinced the world has cheated them. Stolen the good life to which they were (by birth?) entitled.

Things have been a lot worse in this country than they are now without everyone going wacko. We’ve forgotten how to lose, so every contest — political, sporting, or whatever — is life or death. Surely we know that in any contest, one side wins and the other loses. Why is everyone going ballistic if they find themselves on the losing side?

When did a sense of entitlement replace commonsense and reason? If the good stuff doesn’t happen, if life doesn’t go as hoped, we are angry. Enraged. Failure no longer is a spur to greater effort, to rethink career goals, go back to school, find a better job, or work harder. We prefer to look for someone to blame. We could hold a national “Scapegoat of the Year” contest. Vent our national spleen on whichever group is the current favored object of collective wrath. It would be the only contest no one would mind losing.

Muslims. Mexicans. Brown people. Asian people. Democrats. Atheists. Poor people. Disabled people. Old people. Those People. What potential!

Pogo - Walt Kelly

Pogo – Walt Kelly

Whatever is wrong with the world, it didn’t get that way without our help. We elected the morons who got us here. Time to look in the mirror, then point an accusing finger at the real source of our woes. Us.

Oh, and Beckett is leaving Castle. Get over it.

GENERATIONS