A Complete Waste of Time

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice* that my whole family loves fireworks. Why else would we freeze our hind ends sitting for hours on a cement planter on December 31 or a stretch of suburban tundra on July 4?

* Okay, considerably more often than that.

So these last couple of years have been tough. Granted, not the only way they’ve been tough and certainly not the toughest, but still.

And the workarounds have been, well, pitiful. Seattle, I’m looking at you here.

Historically, Seattle has had a fireworks display set off from the Space Needle, and it’s usually been a good show. Perhaps not world class, but well up in the ranks of civic displays.

Since a show was a no-go for 12/31/20, the city commissioned a “virtual” show. By which, they meant “Computer animated graphics added to actual footage of the Space Needle.” It kinda, sorta worked. Arguably better than nothing, anyhow. Some of the animations were entertaining. But somebody forgot that a big part of the fireworks experience is auditory. Way too much generic popular music (with Seattle ties, of course) and a notable shortage of “Boom!”

This year, there was an actual show. Nobody could attend in person, of course, so the city made a big deal about enhancing the display for TV. Much hype about the “first ever” augmented reality fireworks display.

Feh. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

And in this case, there was a big asterisk after the “can”. The computer graphics were definitely a step down in quality from the previous year’s offering. Worse, they frequently covered the actual fireworks. If you’re trying to enhance something, you don’t hide it, you emphasize it. And again, no “Boom!”, but plenty of instantly forgettable pop. (Sorry.) Not even some decent champagne could save this mess.

Even worse: the TV channel’s commentators desperately trying to sound enthusiastic about what they’d just seen.

We started flipping channels afterward, desperately trying to find something to eradicate the memory. Mixed results, obviously.

We spent a few minutes on the Nashville NYE Super Spreader Event–hundreds of sweaty, underdressed people, with not a mask in sight–before we found a channel showing fireworks displays from around the world.

And very interesting it was. Thank you, NBC News!

The show from Russia looked like it was probably excellent–fireworks blasting over onion domes is always aesthetically pleasing–but the poor image quality detracted greatly. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t an official Soviet broadcast, but a low-resolution cell phone recording, probably smuggled out via the Internet.

Oddly, neither India nor Pakistan came off well. Both looked like someone’s backyard display. The Greek show spent far too much time showing off the Parthenon and much too little showing the actual fireworks.

Hong Kong, fortunately, gave an excellent show, combining real fireworks with simulated displays on skyscrapers. Not, I don’t think, computer animated, but video projections. The displays were well synchronized, and it worked beautifully.

The real winner, though? Sydney, Australia. A massive display all around the harbor, combined with “The 1812 Overture” gave plenty of “Boom!” with lots of sparkle.

Hopefully we’ll get real fireworks here in the Bay Area (and Seattle!) this coming NYE. But if not, I know where I’m getting my fix, and it ain’t gonna be any kind of faked or “enhanced” display.

Educational

Ask ten people to name an educational TV show, and chances are good at least nine of them will say, “Sesame Street.”

Fifty plus years of embedding itself in the American consciousness accounts for much of its dominance, but it does mean that other worthy shows get short shrift.

And not just American shows (you knew this was where I was going, right? Anime non-fans can tune out now.)

Allow me to redress the balance slightly by introducing you to Hataraku Saibou, better known in the US as Cells at Work.

The concept is simple: present information about the human immune system by anthropomophizing the types of cells in the body*. We follow them around in their daily lives and see how they interact. Occasional popup messages on screen give details that can’t be directly animated. Our main focus is on a red blood cell, tasked with delivering oxygen throughout the body and returning carbon dioxide to the lungs.

* Though it does raise some disturbing questions about whether the components of a cell should be seen as characters in their own right. Anyone up for a “Mitochondria at Work” spinoff?

Blood vessels are depicted as streets of various sizes: main arteries are wide roads, capillaries are alleys that Red Blood Cell has to squeeze through sideways. Platelets are depicted as small children, white blood cells of various types have pale skin and generally dress in all-white clothing–a less than logical choice considering their primary responsibility is the bloody dismemberment of invading bacteria.

What makes the show work is that it’s not a simple travelogue: Red Blood Cell visits a new organ, bacteria attacks and is repelled, end of episode.

Instead, the characters interact in ways that mirror actual body functions. We see, for example, that red blood cells are born in the bone marrow, grow up in groups, and are released into the blood stream to do their work.

The relationship between Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell* is obviously one of mutual love, but the writers spare us any hint of romance. Cells don’t leave love letters in school lockers, fantasize about happy married lives, obsess over breast size and/or inappropriately fondle one another.

* All the cells have distinguishing numbers, typically displayed somewhere on their uniforms, but they’re rarely used in conversation.

The result is a show that stands on its own as entertainment, but still delivers a healthy dose (sorry) of education in each episode.

Check out an episode or two on Crunchyroll (see the link above). You’ll look at your next bout of the flu very differently.

More TV Talk

I seem to have survived the holiday season, something I wasn’t sure I’d be willing to make bets on along about December 26.

While survival is gratifying, I am still playing catch up on many of the things I normally do on a more-or-less daily basis. Little things like reading the newspaper and checking on my online news feeds, taking pictures of the cats, and, yeah, watching TV.

Worst Cooks, for example. We managed to watch the first episode of the new season, and it was great fun. Alton’s slightly sadistic sense of humor was exactly the goose the show’s format needed. Telling a competitor “I’m confident this won’t be the worst thing I eat today,” is a great change from the usual focus on the good and bad points of each dish. Sometimes the contestants need a reminder that they’re competing against the members of their own team as well as the other team.

And forcing them to use pressure cookers in the first challenge? Evil genius!

I remain optimistic for this season.

On the other hand, I haven’t gotten to the first episode of the new Kids Baking Championship. As far as I know, there are no changes to the show this season–certainly nothing on the level of a new host–but that’s fine. The current format hasn’t gotten stale, so the show remains on my to-be-watched list.

Doctor Who is still on our schedule, too. We caught the first episode of the new season, only five days late. Naturally, it had to be a cliff-hanger episode, leaving us looking for a timeslot for the second episode. We’ll get there.

I continue to approve of Jodie Whittaker’s take on the Doctor and roll my eyes at the brigades of haters who believe the inclusion of anyone other than straight, white males in the show ruins their childhood.

How can a change now ruin something that happened twenty years ago? Or even just three? Sure, it’s a show about time travel–among other things–but nobody’s editing those episodes they remember fondly.

And if they honestly think Jodie’s Doctor is wildly different than earlier versions, they’re remembering those episodes poorly. “Spyfall, Part One” gave us classic Doctor. The whole business of her reminding her companions about “Rule One” before totally ignoring her own advice could have come straight out of almost any Doctor’s playbook, right back to William Hartnell in 1963.

And one of the key complaints they have about Whittaker’s Doctor, the one that poo-poos her emotional relationship with her companions, is utter hogwash as well. Every Doctor since the 2005 revival has been tightly tied to at least one companion.

Since the reboot, the Doctor has explicitly been written as an outsider looking in. Admiring humanity and wanting to be close to it, but unable to take that last step. Look at the Doctor’s relationships with Rose Tyler, Amy Pond, and Bill Potts. By comparison, Jodie’s attempts to including herself in with her “fam” are weak sauce–or, more accurately, slightly-used dishwater. (I’m looking forward to the inevitable point where the current companions start to leave her. From a writer’s perspective, the way the breakups are handled and whether we’ll get a series with only temporary companions will be fascinating.)

But enough ranting*.

* Okay, a little more. I’m well aware of the complaints about lack of LGBT+ representation and ageism. The difference between the complainers I’m bitching about up above and these is that the former group are looking backward, trying to force a reversion to a show that never was and wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as what we got. The latter group is looking forward, trying to make the show we have better and more in tune with the real world.

One group points to lower ratings and says, “Ha-ha! You’re getting what you deserve! I hope you get canceled soon!” The other group points to lower ratings and says, “Hey, fix this problem and the ratings will go back up, because I and my friends will start watching again.”

I know where my sympathies lie.

Rant over, now for sure.

And, to wrap this up on a good note (pun intended), “Spyfall, Part One” gave us one of the best musical bits in recent Doctor Who memory. Give another listen to the background music at the beginning of the “Going to the Party” scene and tell me it isn’t a dead ringer for every James Bond theme you’ve never heard.

I appreciate a show with a sense of humor.