My Favorite Current TV Show Character

All too rarely, a TV sitcom character strikes just the right chords, and manages to capture something special.  Think of Norm on Cheers, or Kramer on Seinfeld.

In my view, we’re seeing that happening right now with the character of Bertram Gilfoyle on HBO’s Silicon Valley.

dinesh-gilfoyle-featureFor those who don’t watch the show, Gilfoyle (who’s always called simply “Gilfoyle,” by the way) is a software engineer for Pied Piper, the high-tech start-up that’s always teetering between the promise of fabulous riches and impending, crushing failure.  He’s got to be one of the darkest, most cynical comedic characters ever written — which shouldn’t be surprising since he’s a satan-worshipper.  With his unshaven, shaggy dog appearance, his cut-rate glasses, his gravelly bass voice, and his utter lack of sensitivity to the conventional niceties of the modern world, Gilfoyle is always ready to convey a devastating, usually vulgar put-down or offer a crucial comment while coming up with a technological way to save the day.  Often, the target of his ripostes is his fellow engineer, rival, and foil, Dinesh — who’s also hysterical in his role as the hopeless geek who desperately tries to be cool and gladly follows all of the trends that Gilfoyle then punctures with deadly, deadpan zingers.

How can you not like a character who says things like “I’m not one to gush, but the possibilities of your consequence-free reality are darkly promising,” or “If my mother was naked and dead in the street, I would not cover her body with that jacket”?  Or engages in dialogue like this:

Dinesh: “Did you see that? She gave me her hat.”

Gilfoyle: “Pretend you’ve seen a woman before.”

Bertram Gilfoyle is a rare mixture of paranoia, unconventionality, casual disregard for the law, wariness, technological savvy, and general nuttiness.  Given what’s going on these days, he’s a pitch-perfect character in our modern world.

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Rating The Captains

Kish and I have been spending the last few months working through the Star Trek TV shows.  We began with Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, after Richard recommended it as an interesting and thought-provoking show.  Kish, who just does not like science fiction and never got into the original Star Trek, gritted her teeth and agreed to watch a few shows.

To her surprise, and my surprise, too, Kish liked the characters and some of the plot lines on Deep Space Nine, so we watched every episode.  Then, after we finished that series, we turned to Star Trek:  The Next Generation, and now we’re on to Voyager.

star-trek-captains_610I think one of the things that we’ve found interesting about the different Star Trek shows is the different styles of the captains.  Deep Space Nine‘s Benjamin Sisko, stationed out on the frontier, was brave, tough and aggressive, with a sense of humor and a ready smile and a very strong mystical side.  In many ways, Sisko is the most outwardly human of the captains.  The Next Generation‘s Jean-Luc Picard, entrusted with the command of the Federation’s powerful flagship vessel, was formal, reserved, and by-the-book, an intellectual who was far more comfortable mediating a difficult dispute between warring alien races than dealing with the personal problems of his crew.  (Thank God Counselor Deanna Troi was on board to deal with those troublesome personal issues!)  And Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, trying to unite a patched-together crew and get them home after being thrust 75,000 light years away by a powerful alien, is careful and decisive but with a decided warmth and obvious interest in the individuals who make up her crew.  Sisko, Picard, and Janeway all can deliver a reprimand, but she’s the captain who is most likely to take a moment to offer a compliment.

Which captain is best?  Kish started out advocating for Janeway, then switched to Picard, and now is thinking maybe it’s Sisko.  Each of them has their own style and their own strengths and weaknesses, and each of them engendered great loyalty among members of their crews for different reasons.  I think your choice might depend upon the specific circumstances.  If you had to select a captain to make a decision that would decide the fate of the universe, I’d definitely pick the careful, thoughtful Picard.  If you needed a captain to try to beat the odds and come up with an imaginative solution, I’d go with Sisko.  And if you had to pick a captain to be your boss and colleague, day after day, I think I’d opt for Janeway.

How do these three stack up against Captain James T. Kirk, the swashbuckling adventurer who invented the captain’s role on the original series?  Well, he’ll always be my favorite because he was the captain of my youth, but the episode-by-episode nature of the original shows and the movies never allowed his character to be developed with the same care and consistency as the others.  One thing’s for sure — if you were one of those anonymous red-shirted security guys who got killed every episode on the original series, you’d prefer anybody but Captain Kirk.

The Split-Screen Stare

The other day I was in an airport, waiting for my flight.  It was one of those airports where, unfortunately, there are TVs located at all of the gate areas, and the TV was tuned to CNN.  On the screen was the standard shot of modern television journalism:  a split-screen view of two people staring intently at the camera — one talking, the other listening.

150204204906-ac-anderson-cooper-interview-with-dan-burton-00033008-large-169Somewhere, somewhen, when it became clear that TV news would be filled with “coverage” that consists primarily of one person with a generic, blue news room background talking to another person with a generic blue news room background, some anonymous producer decided that the best way to present that “story” to the viewer would be to use the split-screen approach.  The two faces are staring directly into the camera — that is, directly at us, the viewer — but are supposed to be talking to each other.

It would be interesting to know why this shot has become so ubiquitous.  Why do we need to see the face of the interviewing reporter at all?  Did somebody think that the reactions of the reporter would be part of the story — which is a little weird and contrary to the professed objectivism of the news, if you think about it — or do the networks just want to get the mugs of Anderson Cooper and their other high-priced “talent” on the air as much as possible?  As a reluctant viewer, I find the effect off-putting.  Who wants to have two people staring right at them?  If an actual human being was sitting at the airport gate area, unblinkingly eyeballing you, it would be unnerving.  The fact that the gapers are on TV doesn’t really lessen the intrusive impact all that much.

I also find myself feeling sorry for the reporters on the split-screen.  They don’t get off-camera time, when they could consult their notes to figure out the next question or scratch their noses while the person being interviewed yammers on.  Instead, they have to be on-screen, with a bland expression on their faces, trying to look attentive and thoughtful and mildly concerned at all times.  It must be exhausting, but I guess that’s why they are high-priced talent in the first place.

If it were up to me, I’d nix the split-screen shot and eliminate forever that split-screen stare.

The Din At The Gate

Yesterday I was flying back home, connecting through O’Hare.  As we sat at our gate, crammed in the overcrowded, narrow seating area, there was a small child screeching somewhere nearby, three guys in the next row over were talking loudly, and a woman sitting two seats down was speaking into her cell phone.  And above all the din was a TV set tuned to CNN, broadcasting at sufficient volume so that anybody who was interested could hear talking heads yammer about Stormy Daniels and her alleged tryst with President Trump.

Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly a peaceful, relaxing waiting area.  Instead, it was close to the exact opposite — an area seemingly designed to jack up the tension and general unpleasantness that could have been made worse only if somebody was dragging their fingernails against a chalkboard or running a dentist’s drill with that high-pitched whine over a loudspeaker.

There’s not much you can do about a crying baby, or the talking habits of your fellow passengers.  Those are things that you just have to endure when you travel.  Notably, however, so far as I could tell nobody in our cramped waiting area was watching the CNN broadcast on the TV monitor overhead.  It was just a big part of the background racket contributing to the general unpleasantness.  And while you can argue about whether following the news at all these days is good for your mental health, do we really need to have the TV news on in public areas, bombarding us with more noise during every waking moment?  At an airport gate waiting area, at least, there’s no way to turn the TV off to try to minimize the tumult.

Finally getting on the plane, where it was a little bit quieter, was a relief.  The experience made me appreciate our Columbus airport, where there aren’t TVs blaring at every gate area and you actually can sit quietly while waiting for your flight.  I don’t know if the O’Hare airport authority gets paid something by CNN for broadcasting the news in every waiting area, but I’d sure appreciate it if they junked the TVs and reduced, at least a little, the noise pollution and the din at the gate.

 

Why I’m Not Watching The Winter Olympics

I’m not watching the Winter Olympics.  Apparently I’m not alone, because the ratings are abysmal. On some nights, the Nielsens have been the lowest for an Olympic broadcast in more than a decade.

There seem to be lots of reasons why people are tuning out the Olympics.  Some people aren’t watching because they think the NBC broadcast is dreadfully boring.  Other people are put off by the political overtones of the North Korea-South Korea storyline that apparently is a constant undercurrent in the broadcasts, or fawning coverage given to the sister of Kim Jong Un and the robotic North Korean cheerleaders.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter OlympicsI haven’t been watching because the constant efforts to jazz up the Winter Olympics with new “sports” really don’t make this seem like the Olympics at all.  I’m not a skier or skater or big winter sports participant, but in the past I’ve enjoyed watching traditional Winter Olympic sports like the bobsled — which is the best named sport, by the way — or the downhill, ski jumping, and hockey.  But when we were over at our friends’ house for a dinner party Saturday night and the Olympics was on the TV, it featured an event where snowboarders were jumping up and skidding on bannister-like contraptions and launching off of artificial hills to do spins and tumbles.  It was as if the Winter Olympics had mated with a circus act, and the next thing you know a performing bear riding a bike would appear.  That single hopelessly artificial, jazzed up event perfectly summarized the desperate efforts to make the Winter Games more exciting and appealing to the slacker kids down at the local skateboard park.  The X Games have invaded.

One of the other people at the party said my reaction reflects the thinking of old codgers.  No doubt that is true.  I’m not saying that people who can do skateboard-like moves on a snowboard don’t have some athletic ability, I’m just saying that such contrived events seem to reflect more of a desire to create ratings and interest, rather than the “Olympic spirit” that is supposed to be the underpinning of the Games.  And that’s why I’m not watching.

Cloudy, With A Chance Of Film

Have you ever felt like you’re reenacting a TV commercial in which you’re the baffled consumer unable to resolve a curious household problem?

Frustrated woman with haunted look as she hears mocking taunts of “ring around the collar!”: “I’ve tried scrubbing them out, and soaking them out, but nothing seems to work!”

Embarrassed woman who sees a cloud of gas with images of dogs and babies in diapers inside lingering in her living room as she prepares for guests: “What can I do to give my house that clean, fresh scent?”

Mystified Webners: “The glasses that come out of our dishwasher seem to be coated with some thin kind of film. How can we eliminate the scourge of cloudy glasses and make our glasses sparkling clean?”

In the commercials, at this point some officious busybody named Madge shows up and gives the answer that allows the grateful consumer to solve the problem of ring around the collar or reeking rooms. So far, though, no complete stranger, genie, or disembodied voice has provided us with guidance on resolving the cloudy glass conundrum, and none of the additives, rinses, or other commercial products we’ve tried have done the trick.

This isn’t an earthshaking problem, of course, but it would be nice to have glasses that are transparent. And while we could pre-wash or post-wash them, that defeats the point of a dishwasher, doesn’t it?

I guess all we can do is cast our gaze skyward, say “what’s a troubled dishwasher owner to do?,” and hope for the best.

Robots On The Air

The U.S. may be ahead of the rest of the world, generally, when it comes to innovation and invention, but Japan always seems to be a little bit ahead of America when it comes to the speed of acceptance and application of newfangled technology.

when-paul-met-erica-2So it should come as no surprise that the Wall Street Journal has reported that some Japanese TV network will soon employ a robot as a news anchor.  People are making a big deal out of it, viewing it as another sign of robots encroaching on previously human jobs — even though this development has been predicted for years.

The robot, named Erica, has been created to resemble a long-haired woman and looks like a Japanese anime character converted to corporeal form.  She/it — I guess we’re going to have to get instruction on the politically correct way to refer to a gender-specific robot, eh? — will be equipped with a form of artificial intelligence that will allow her/it to read the news, although the new stories she/it reads will have to be selected by humans.  Erica apparently will be the first “android anchor” in the world.

Hey, wait a second!  I just realized . . . does this mean that the people who currently read the news on American TV stations aren’t robots?  Who would have guessed?