0 The Awesomes: All Name, No Game
During the taping of Episode 94 (available on 8/2/13), I had given an honorable mention to “The Awesomes”, a new animated comedy available exclusively on Hulu, and created by Seth Meyers, as the two-part pilot was released today, and, in doing so, gave a skeptical review based on the trailers I had seen.
I was right (so far).
I watched the two twenty minute episodes last night, and again this morning for review, and there was little-to-no draw for me to invest any additional time in the program at all. The animation lacks style beyond Flash-based shorts, the plot is predictable, and the writing left out that whole comedy thing.
I’m really making an effort not to write off the show completely, as I am a big supporter of original content for streaming services, but there are no visible saving graces to even entice me to give “The Awesomes” another shot. The cast is comprised of NBC (primarily “Saturday Night Live”) talent, including Meyers, Rachel Dratch, Bill Hader, Rashida Jones, Taran Killam, Kenan Thompson, and others, but the voice acting sounds like … well, it sounds like those actors reading lines (with Hader as the exception) versus voice acting.
It’s also unfortunate that the premise is also mismanaged, where utilization of super powers lacks originality, creativity, and, essentially, necessity. Meyers’ character, Jeremy “Prock” Awesome, has the ability to freeze time, a la Zach Morris’ “Time Out” power of “Saved By The Bell” fame, but, rather than using it to thwart danger, or swing favor in his direction, it is used primarily to provide Prock with asides during social situations. That, and it is mentioned that said power is harmful to Prock’s well-being, but after that reference, we never see further evidence to support it. The rest of the team is fairly standard in the superhero world: there’s super speed, super strength, a Hulk, a techie, a Green Lantern-esque conjurer, and a hot girl.
Until additional episodes are released on Hulu.com, there’s not a lot I can really discuss further, but I will remain optimistic that we will find more depth in the Awesomes well as the story continues.
2 “House of Cards” – First Steps
Despite the availability of the new Netflix original series’ 13 chapters, I’m going into this with just a toe in the water to start: exposure to just the first 50+ minute episode, and hesitation from even glancing at episode summaries so not to alter my perspective, reactions and expectations.
(And I will try my damnedest to refrain from making card-related puns, but no promises)
“House of Cards” is Netflix’s second bout in the original, big-name, episodic entertainment arena, but you probably know about the background by now, especially if you’re reading this, so we can skip THAT battleground and dive right into the show. Plus, with all of the announcements and news surrounding more green-lighted original streaming shows coming out daily, we’ll tackle that luchador soon.
It’s a good show. I probably should rephrase that as “It was a good episode”, as no series is given the free pass from putting a bullet in its foot in the initial, but it was enjoyable. Even coming from a short-attention-spaned, would-rather-watch-nostalgic-childhood-programming 20-something, there were enough moving parts to keep me interested … but it’s not without its bumps.
To launch us into the fray, I really enjoy the style of HoC. When the initial trailers/previews came out, I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing, which included a lot of on-screen narration and fourth-wall breaks by Kevin Spacey, was original promo material, or actual content, and I’m happy to say it is a reoccurring device in the show. A lot of people aren’t a fan of programming that tells a story, rather than just showing them, but it is incredibly effective for HoC to introduce a lot of characters and ideas without starting at character development square one. It also doesn’t feel like a spoon-feeding of facts and details, due to Spacey’s genuine delivery, as if he’s narrating for himself in the anticipation of the onset of Alzheimer’s, or something of the like. It feels like he’s addressing someone on his level when it occurs. Spacey’s character’s dry wit also seeps in from time to time to lighten transitions between overlapping plot points, and draws a nice sweet to sour line drawn from the tenser material.
The pacing is also well-managed, while David Fincher sits at the Directing (Chapters 1 & 2, exclusively) and Executive Producing helms of the program. Minimalistic lulls in the perpetuation of Spacey’s drive to achieve allows for fast-paced exchanges and hand-offs. Think of it like the pacing of Fincher’s action movies, but without the action bit. “Fight Club” meets “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with a dash of “Our Town” (if “Our Town” was the epicenter of the free world). You won’t be able to multi-task stream to this one.
I also believe that casting choices have been strong so far, regardless of role size, but leads Spacey and Robin Wright are definitely the break-aways on this one. The pair (playing husband and wife) starts strong and does not dial it down. Even one-on-one scenes have a certain cadence and tone that remains consistent throughout, creating silhouettes of very, very aggressive characters. Kate Mara joins the first chapter as a hungry reporter in D.C. looking for some sort of angle to lift her above council meeting articles, and does a great job as a neutral underdog character, but I may have ruined a bit of the series for myself by reading on IMDB.com that she only appears in two episodes*, despite my enjoyment over the dynamic of her character’s interactions with Spacey. Her capacity for an outsider status with insider know-how makes her the easiest to root for in my opinion (but that perspective is clouded by a journalism minor) since her actions are, in all rights, legal. Either way, Mara is great with Spacey, Wright is great with Spacey, and Spacey is … great.
The issue that I do have from the get-go is that there are a few lesser plot points that have the potential to grow as the game goes forward, but are hard to stomach in round one. For example, the storyline featuring an irresponsible Representative brought into Spacey’s fold, played by Corey Stoll, carried a lot of sex and scandal (yes, in the first episode) but it came off as somewhat unnecessary. It was an attempt to provide background for the character to depict where his morals lie, but they almost served more as commercial breaks for me. The character is effectively portrayed as smarmy, but, until he gains relevance within the series (many a seemingly unneeded scene from his introduction) there’s little put forth to get me to care. Had there not been a number of exchanges about his character to reveal a larger part of the whole in the future, I would rule him out, but I’ll give him a stay of execution … for now.
The show is pretty, smart, funny, deep, interesting, timely, and such and so on to include a long string of compliments. I do think it’s worth your time to investigate. Political-drama fan or not, it’s worth an hour. From here on out, I’m left with an interest and inclination to continue down the rabbit hole, but not so gripping that I was able to sit down and power this out instead. I wouldn’t say, “Sign up for Netflix in order to get access for ‘House of Cards’ exclusively”, but I am willing to wholeheartedly endorse it.
*Author’s note: I am incredibly happy to say that IMDB.com was not factual at all based on what I have seen, having viewed additional chapters in the series. I cannot say why IMDB is inaccurate at this point, but I blame that on the fact that this is a new playing field for IMDB. (Of course I wrote this after watching Chapter 2. It even sounds like a politician’s statement. Rest assured that if you enjoyed Kate Mara in Chapter 1, you will get more soon)
0 Soundtrack your life with Songza
Originally, the article was going to include a sub-title: “Why don’t you have Songza yet?”, because, really, why don’t you have Songza yet?
During a conversation in Episode 62, Matt Walstead mentioned that he was using Songza (www.songza.com) as one of his recent primary streaming services, and based on his description, I decided to investigate.
I had mentioned Songza on the show before, from a news story long past (most likely a launch story, or something of the like), but I had never played around with the iPhone app or the web site.
It’s AMAZING. It’s what a song discovery service SHOULD be. It’s the contextualizing of music into the rest of your life, based on “Playlists by Music Experts”, as the site claims, and, honestly, they are not giving the playlist generators enough credit.
For example, there are SEVEN different ways you access these playlists, including lists based on Genre, Activities, Moods, Decades, and Culture. After messing around with this app, I’ve determined my favorite playlist group is aptly named Record-Store Clerk, as its suggestions of playlist sub-groups include “Dance Music That’s Not Assaultive”, “Indie Music That’s Not Too Weird”, “Mustache Music (Or: Cool In The ’70s)”, and “This Will Piss Your Parents Off”. It really is that organization of music that you expect to find in the hipper realms of metropolitan areas, in the mostly deserted record shop where the staff knows exactly what you’re looking for, based on the two notes stuck in your head.
ON TOP OF THAT, there’s MORE. I know what you’re thinking: “But Dan, there are TOO many features already. This is too good to be true.” And you would be wrong, generic infomercial seeded audience member. For there’s the Concierge service. Based on time of day, with a dash of societal paradigms, the Concierge service will suggest genres FOR you. For example, I am writing this on a Friday night, and the Concierge is offering me the following options: “Bedtime”, “A Sweaty Dance Party”, “Pre-Gaming with Friends”, “Putting on Your Party Dress”, “Creating a Cool Atmosphere”, and “Unwinding”. Seeing as I already have my Party Dress on, in a manner of speaking, I went with the Cool Atmosphere one, and, as a result, it is narrowing down the tunes I should listen to into ANOTHER six categories, this time based on genre.
I spent the work day today bombing through the multitudes of dubstep available, to give it an honest chance, and I was really impressed by the volumes of music available in these playlists. But that’s the catch that I’ve mentioned a number of times: it’s a pre-set collection of playlists. You don’t experience the flexibility of Pandora’s lists, or the “control EXACTLY what you want to hear” of Spotify, but when used properly, it fits comfortably into most situations.
Like most streaming music sites these days, there is a social media aspect included, where everyone on Facebook knows you’re listening to the “Cry Yourself to Sleep” playlist, unless you disable the feature. It isn’t as invasive as Spotify’s “POST EVERY TRACK” setting, but it’s also not a feature I’d actively seek out.
There are also a few extra clock-related features, where you can set a specific playlist to start playing as an alarm at a certain time, and the ability to play music while displaying the app’s built in clock, but they aren’t anything to write home about. I imagine you could go through the Concierge service (which you can also set different days of the weeks, and times of day, kind of like looking at future traffic on Google Maps) and set certain appropriate playlists to pop up when you expect to be commuting to work, or doing housework, or what have you.
Right. So it’s great, right? Now let’s get down to brass tack. It’s available for iPhone, Android, Kindle, and computers for free (with clickable, but not audible, ads). So far, I’ve played with the iPhone app and the web site, and the user interface is nice. Not too complicated to navigate; not to noisy to sift through. “Nice” is really the most appropriate word for it. It also has the Pandora “You’ve Skipped Too Many Tracks For Now, But If You Switch Over To Another Playlist, You Can Keep Skipping” license restrictions, but with the number of playlists available, this shouldn’t hold you back.
I don’t think it’ll replace my iCloud use, or the occasional Spotify use, but I do think this may replace Pandora in my eyes, at least until I exhaust the playlists I am actually interested in hearing. I say it’s worth checking out to see how well the Concierge matches your moods, and to laugh at some of the playlists and categories. It’s not like it’ll cost you anything. I’m with the folks on the Apple App Store: 5 Stars for this one.