Tag Archives: COVID-19

Pandemic Binge Watching and The Walking Dead

Every so often when we’re looking for shows to watch I dig into award winning series and put them on the list for potential viewing.  In the past this has sometimes been a bit of wrestling match with my wife who, for example, had no interest in watching The Wire or Breaking Bad. I had to start watching them myself and let her come in and settle in after a few episodes, like luring a wild animal.  I actually went back and re-watched the first four episodes of The Wire because it took that long for her to find something interesting and then she wanted to start from the beginning.

But that was fine.  I could watch the first two seasons of The Wire on repeat.

That history helped me lever in The Walking Dead (TWD going forward) once I had mentioned it was long running, award winning, popular, and all of that.  It helped that she knew people who were into the show.

TWD is here

Her primary objection was that she wasn’t all that into horror movies and the like.  I am not really either, not any more, though I did stay up and watch Night of the Living Dead back when Bob Wilkins ran it on Creature Features and one of my brothers, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, expressed a desire to live in some sort of Dawn of the Dead mall scenario.  So I am at least versed in the zombie genre and the George Romero zombie rules, which TWD mostly sticks to.

On the other hand, TWD is a series which has run ten seasons so far, has an eleventh season filming, and a spin-off series that is into its sixth season, all of which means that, unlike a movie, which has to come to a resolution in 90-180 minutes, TWD has to keep the party rolling.

Somewhere into the second season my wife commented that the story certainly didn’t seem in any hurry to get anywhere fast and I responded that this was, after all, the “walking” dead and, as such, speed was not on the table.

The Story

The tale starts of with sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes who, in the first few minutes of the show, gets shot and ends up in a coma.  He later wakes up and the zombie apocalypse has already hit and so the view is on a voyage of discovery with him.  And that is a decent vehicle to bring the viewer into the world of the show.  That lasts for about a season.  Another season or so goes by where zombies are really the main antagonist of the show, after which the real villains emerge; people.

People are just horrible to each other in stressful situations, like zombie apocalypses.  The show is then less about the zombies which, while always a looming threat, can go missing for long stretches while the humans battle each other and make each other miserable.  Basically, at any point in the show where the situation of the main cast seems to have settled down, some other group is going to show up and bad stuff is going to happen. (Unless they’ve decided to suddenly inject a back story episode, which happens now and then.)

I will say, however, that TWD has few compunctions about killing off members of the cast.  It wasn’t too far into the show when I remarked that after Game of Thrones got a reputation for killing off main characters, TWD clearly said, “Hold my beer!”  That said, once they establish that reputation, they play on it a few times by setting up a character who looks like they are as good as dead at the end of an episode, only to find out they had a miraculous escape.

Zombies

Zombies are, of course, the raison d’etre of the whole show.  It is the zombie apocalypse.  And, as I noted above, they remain a looming threat all the time.  Early on the show cannot resist putting zombies around just for mood.  There will be a lone zombie in a field or a couple shuffling along in the distance, which really adds to the creepiness.

But after a couple of seasons zombies are more like the weather.  It only rains or zombies only show up when the plot requires it or if the writers feel we need to be reminded that they’re around.  Some main character is going into an empty building, well we had better put some zombies in there.  They go from constant menace to plot device.

The zombies follow the “Romero Rules” for zombies.  They are slow, hunger for human flesh, and can only be killed by a blow to the brain.  Anybody who dies becomes a zombie, and being bit by one gives you the zombie fever, which kills you and then you become a zombie.  A fair number of cast members who die get their turn in the makeup chair to be the zombie versions of themselves.

Other than that, they tend to be whatever the plot needs them to be.  The shamble slowly and make lots of noise… except when the plot needs them to be silent or move quickly or whatever.  They are dumb and get caught up on very simple traps and get stuck behind waist high walls… unless the plot needs them to be wily and able to climb, jump, or otherwise demonstrate exceptional athletic feats.

We eventually had to set a house rule about not trying to evaluate or define zombie logic.  And both of us seriously have to be reminded of this rule now and then as we’ll get that sudden indignant rush when a zombie is suddenly driven by the plot outside of the usual behavior pattern.  The other just has to say, “zombie logic” to shut that down.

Cars

Lots of old cars.  I realize the show started in 2010, but as something of a car buff in my youth, I keep spotting a lot of cars from the 80s and 90s rolling around. (And not a few from even the 70s.)  I am kind of used to that being a thing living in California where the main weather effect on cars is fading paint from all the sunshine and I get that if you want cars as props you go to the junk yard and not a dealership, but still… there seemed to be an unlikely over representation of cars that were 25-30 years old on set, even in a world where the average age of cars on the road is something around 12 years.  Of course, I am that person who feels they need to ID every car I see on screen that is older than 20 years, so I might be on the rare end of noticing this.  Or it could be my own bias in noticing every old car but passing on anything new.

Guns

Guns, the acquisition there of and the use against zombies and other people make up a key part of the first six or so seasons.  This is not surprising.

The surprising bit is the marksmanship performance of various cast members depending on the target.

A neophyte shaking a revolver with a 2″ barrel vaguely in the direction of a zombie seems capable of putting a shot through its eye at a distance of 20-50 feet on the first try.

But give a trained police officer a fully automatic AK-47 with a full magazine and a human target ten feet away and they’ll blaze away all 30 rounds and not hit even once most of the time.  Along with “zombie logic” I have been known to say “plot armor” as well.  Seriously, I was reminded of The A-Team, a show where people would expend huge numbers of rounds and would never hit anybody.  The phrase “A-Team violence” became a derisive term for that sort of thing among my friends at one point.

Basically, there is a whole lot of silly going on with guns, and it keeps escalating until everybody seems to have a fully automatic weapon and, despite the scarcity of ammunition and the previously demonstrated uncanny accuracy against zombies with single shots, everybody commences to blaze away, emptying full magazines at everything, zombies, humans, or shadows in the night.

Also, there are a lot of “that’s not how guns work” moments.  Sheet metal tables and filing cabinets are not, for example, bullet proof.  Nor are most car doors, sheet rock panels, and a lot of other things people hide behind only to have squibs go off against them.  And most of the guns don’t make a loud, audible click when you pull the trigger on an empty magazine.

Eventually I think even the writers started to realize they had gone over the top on guns and there is a sudden change between seasons and guns disappear for the most part, though not before a horrible gun plot point that made my eyes roll one last time.

Hair

Everybody in the apocalypse seems to have enough time to keep their hair looking good.  Seriously, where do they find the time and the product?  Even Daryl, whose hair is always a mess and hanging down in his face, always has exactly the same style and hair in his face… and the same level of stubble on his chin… even as we get years into the story.  Yes, I get this is television and everybody has their level of vanity, but still.  Also, shoes seem to be fashionable and longer lasting than any pair I have ever owned… and some items of clothing.  Only Bart Simpson’s clothes have lasted longer.

Actually Watching the Show

The first nine seasons were available on Netflix when we started, which was a big reason why we dove right in.  The episodes, without commercials, tend to be about 43 minutes long and, skipping the opening and end credits, get close to 40.  There are occasional long episodes that ran in 90 minute time slots for season openers or mid-season events.  Those run close to an hour without commercials.

The first season is just six episodes and fairly well concentrated.  Things move along.  After that the seasons expand to 13, then 16, then 22 episodes and you end up with a lot more of what I call “bridging” episodes where not a lot happens other than wrapping up the previous episode, setting up the next, and characters expressing their feelings about this or that.

There are often a couple of story lines… or at least points of view on a story… running and the writers are very good at ending episodes on a cliff hanger on one line, then spending the next episode on something else before getting you back the resolution you were waiting to see.

And then there is the tenth season, which you can buy on other services or watch for free, with commercials, on AMC’s streaming channel.  However, this is worse than it sounds.

Being a traditional cable TV show, TWD is set up in acts that break for commercial breaks… again, often on a point of suspense.  But the method used to inject commercials into the streaming service ignores that and just cuts off the show to feed you two minutes of ads… often the same ad repeated… in the middle of somebody speaking or an action sequence or some other point when there was clearly not a commercial break set.  So, in addition to stretching the episodes from 40 minutes to an hour, we also had to sit through the same five commercials over and over an badly timed intervals.

After two episodes we were willing to pay money.  Lucky for us, AMC had a 7 day free trial for their premium service and we were able to grind through the remaining 20 episodes in season 10 before that expired, though we may have wasted most of a Saturday getting there.

Overall

It’s good…. or good enough.  It is, as noted, much more of a zombie apocalypse soap opera where living are far more of a problem than the dead.  We enjoyed it and obviously kept watching to the end through all 153 episodes currently available.  It is easy enough to knock out two or three episodes with dinner… though maybe dinner isn’t the best time to watch as somebody will inevitably disembowel a zombie as I am taking a bit of food.  And we will probably set aside time at some future date to watch season 11, another 24 episodes, which will finish the series, though we will probably wait until it is done and binge it.

That said, I am not sure it is a great show, at least after one pass.  Unlike, say, The Wire, I cannot see myself going back to re-watch any of it.  A lot of the show is less interesting and more about finding out what happens next.  Once you know how any situation gets resolved there isn’t a whole lot of other substance holding things together.  It isn’t all that memorable and the characters are not as deep.  It is a soap opera in that it is always moving towards the next problem or conflict.  Seriously, as I said above, any time things seem peaceful or settled in an episode, or the characters have time to sit around and talk about their feelings, you know something new is coming.

But for a one pass show it is good.

 

Friday Bullet Points with a Sore Arm

It is time for some bullet points again.  My arm is sore because I managed to get my first COVID-19 vaccine shot this week.  How easy it is to get an appointment for a shot varies from place to place, but here in Silicon Valley it was rather like trying to get Madonna or Lady Gaga concert tickets… only there were about half a dozen different web sites to check.  The state had one, my healthcare provider another, and then a few different store chains with their own.

Several times I had an appointment slot, but by the time I filled out the necessary form, all the appointments had been taken.  I finally lucked out on Safeway’s site and ended up getting my first shot on Wednesday at the store I worked at back in college.

I’m a bit tired still, which is a common side effect, and my left arm hurts.  But I still have enough in me to write up some bullet points.

  • Diablo II Resurrected Alpha

We first officially heard about Diablo II Resurrected at BlizzConline back in February, with a promise that it would ship at some point in 2021.  This weekend is the start of the technical alpha and it is getting some buzz.

The testing has begun

Some of the buzz is due to Blizz doing a give-away for access, but there does seem to be some general excitement about the remaster of this classic ARPG.  For this stage those invited to participate will be able to play the amazon, sorceress, or barbarian, single player, through acts one and two, with no level cap restrictions.  Acts one and two are the best of the game, so I am feeling a bit jealous that I opted in for testing and didn’t get picked. (Invites were all sent by 7am PDT and there was nothing for me.)  But I’ll be able to play soon enough I guess.

  • Enad Global 7 Completes Another Acquisition

I alluded to the fact that EG7 was buying another studio in my EverQuest at 22 post in March because Daybreak titles are now highlighted when EG7 speaks about the IPs they have.  They have now closed the deal, announced back in February, to acquire Innova, a publisher that runs MMORPGs in the EU and Russia.  The price was 109 million Euros (and not $109 million as was reported elsewhere.  The dollar amount is closer to $130 million.  But what’s ~$20 million between friends?)

Crowfall released in 2018? Who knew?

While the titles they have listed do not excite me, Daybreak having access to people on the ground to run games further afield than the greater San Diego metropolitan area might mean something good for them in the long term.  It would certainly be a better plan than selling their players to Pro.SiebenSat.1 or the like.

  • CCP Talks About A Shooter They’re Not Talking About

About two years back CCP said that their planned shooter, Project Nova, which they had been hyping up as late as EVE Vegas 2018, when we were encouraged to sign up for alpha, was going into a transitional stage.  It was going to get a new name and they would not be telling us the name or talking about it until it was ready.

Project Nova no more

Well, now CCP is talking about it, whatever it is now, again.  Sort of.  There are no details, but the new head of the UK studio that is working on the project, Adrian Blunt, gave an interview where he brags that they’re working on a “hugely ambitious” and possibly “genre defining” shooter.  The Nosy Gamer took a look at the whole thing and, so far as I can tell, the only solid information was that 40 people are working on the project.  I’ll be impressed when they have something to actually demo.

  • Runes of Magic has More Things for You

I wrote a bit about Runes of Magic and their twelfth anniversary on Monday, and they were soon back with an addition.  Later that day a message arrived with an offer of more goodies.

You actually have no idea how fast I have leveled up ever

Clicking on the “collect your gifts” link got me to a page that said they had given me a advanced experience charm, a potion of some sort, and 250 gold.  However, where all of that was delivered remains a bit of a mystery.  It wasn’t on my character on the super new EU server.  A friend suggested that it might be a US server thing, but it wasn’t on my character there.

At this point I suspect it went to my old account, which I mentioned they managed to block me from accessing, so the charm and the potion are probably hanging out with my lost diamonds wondering when I will return.

And that is all I have.  I get to head back for my second vaccine shot on the 28th.  Until then, I am still staying home and safe.

Pandemic Binge Watching as We are All Still at Home

Back again for more shows we have binged through as we stay home, waiting for the vaccine queue to finally get down to reasonably healthy non-essential workers in their 50s.  It seems like forever-ago that we were watching Tiger King.  ?Anyway, there is still likely time for a lot more TV before we’re going out again.  But on to what we’ve seen.

The tale of Assane Diop, a Frenchman of Senegalese descent who models himself on the Lupin books of Maurice Leblanc, which makes him a one-man Ocean’s Eleven at times, and his search to find evidence to exonerate his father who was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.  Fun, stylish, compelling, and the dub into English over the French was very well done.  A bad dub can be a distraction, but I barely notice this one.

However, there was one huge problem with the series… we only got half of it.  We went in not knowing that we were getting five episodes now and five at some point in the future.  So now we wait.  Merde!

Cynical, biting, and funny by turns, this look at public relations focuses on Robyn as US born PR exec living in London trying to balance her love life, family, friends, addiction, and self with a job that doesn’t want to allow time for any of that.  And then there are the clients, as she spends times spinning stories to bail them out of their own self-made messes.  Probably the most compelling episode takes place with her sitting on a trans-Atlantic flight next to a client who tells her about a problem after take off that she needs to solve before they land.  Quite enjoyed the whole thing.

What?  A lawyer show from David E. Kelly?  Crazy, right?

This time around we have Billy Bob Thorton playing cynical, brunt out, alcoholic lawyer Billy McBride who lives/works out of a motel by the beach near the Santa Monica pier.  When he isn’t in his room/office, he is drinking at the bar next door, only occasionally heading down to the court house to find clients like “Slippin’ Jimmy” McGill.  And then a case he doesn’t want to take gets under his skin and we’re off to the races as he comes out of his daily routine to fight against his old partner.  Billy Bob Thorton excels in the part.

There are three seasons, and the first two don’t have much to do with each other, but then we get to the third season where the past comes back on Billy in unexpected ways.  Good, in a strange way, and season 3 involves irrigation rights in the California central valley, which is always an issue when we have a drought… and we’re pretty much permanently in a drought at this point.

My desires for The Expanse at this point are pretty simple.  I want some spaceships, some Earth/Mars/Belter politics, a few dramatic visuals, an existential threat, Amos being Amos, and an elegantly dressed Chrisjen Avasarala swearing at inappropriate moments.  Give me that and I am set.

Which is why season 4 was kind of a let down for me.  We spent most of the season with Holden and his crew on a planet on the far side of the ring, away from our solar system, trying to remake Prometheus.  Or maybe it was Defiance.  I don’t know, but it wasn’t all that satisfying.

Season 5 though was back in the black, with spaceships and Belter plots and and Holden trying to get the band back together and what was hiding under Fred Johnson’s bed this whole time.  Good stuff… only now we have the long wait until season 6.  I hate that part.

Billed as a documentary about Elizabeth Carmichael and her attempt to create a lightweight, fuel efficient car in the 70s, if that was all it was about it wouldn’t have needed four hour long episodes.  I am pretty sure John Oliver could have given us all the relevant facts, made it funny, and still had time to review the new and have two “and now this…” segments without going over his usual 30 minutes.  But this is also the history of a con man with ten kids, trans gender acceptance, and where all those guys selling flowers on the side of the road in Texas came from.  Strange stuff, and oddly illustrated, but after seeing Tucker Carlson’s dad one can at least say that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the asshole tree.

A detective in Japan, his dead brother, a murder in London, a missing family sword, and a bunch of actors that might wife and I kept identifying from other shows from which we knew them.  The whole thing doesn’t quite fit together into a story that I was willing to believe in.  Too many complications that worked themselves out, too many “no person in position x would do that right?” moments, too many people suddenly willing to work against interest.  It was kind of forgettable… proven by the fact that I forgot all about it until Netflix reminded me about it under the “watch it again” header and I suddenly went, “Oh, right, the one with the woman from Boardwalk Empire, the acolyte from The Fifth Element, and the “I’m a Mac” guy!”

That said, we did watch the whole thing.  So there was enough there for that.  And that makes me wonder if I should do a post about the shows where we watched an episode or three and said, “Nope!”

A Grim Anniversary

A year ago, on February 6, 2020, the first person in the United States died of Covid-19.  She lived in Santa Clara County in California, a place usually referred to as Silicon Valley, which is also where I live.

We did not know about the death at the time.  The cause of death was only determined via an autopsy, so it was announced at a later date.  But it was the start of things in the US and here where I live, which was one of the first hot spots in the country.

By that point in February the pandemic was already in the news, but everything was still pretty normal.  A few days after that first death we went on a trip up to Oregon to tour universities.  There was a bit of nervousness in the air, but that didn’t stop us from taking a plane flight, driving around the state, going on tours in big groups, staying in various motels, or going out to eat.  Nobody would have suggested wearing a mask and my hands were not yet raw from constant washing.

Johnson Hall at University of Oregon, where the horse scene from Animal House was filmed

Things would change quickly.  Cases would start to appear and people would start dying.  There would be deaths in nursing homes and on cruise ships in the headlines soon.  The Carnival Grand Princess would be docked and isolated at the end of the cargo handling area at the Port of Oakland, visible to flights leaving Oakland Airport.

Visible tied up at the dock in the lower right

March 16th would turn out to be my last day working in the office.  That Monday the counties in the SF Bay Area issued a stay at home order for all save essential workers. This is when many retail employees started to wonder why essential jobs are so low paying.

I only went back to the office three times after that date.  Twice I had to go in and fix network issues that required somebody to be physically present to push a button.  The third visit was to take my desktop computer and personal belongings home because the company decided that we were fine working remotely (a dramatic turn for our HR department, which hates the thought of unsupervised employees) and let the lease lapse on our office.  We would be working from home permanently.

In removing my stuff from the office we were assigned scheduled times over the course of a week.  When I went in warm ash from the Santa Cruz fires, a few miles away at that point and not yet contained, was raining down on the parking lot.  People scheduled for the next day were postponed because the fires were too close.

I am lucky that I have a job that I can do remotely.

And, in the mean time, unemployment jumped, the economy slid into a recession, and people started dying.  In a completely predictable fashion, the pandemic receded during the warm summer months, then came back in the autumn, just like it did with the Spanish Flu just over 100 years ago.  The parallels are eerie at times, right down to people angry about being asked to wear masks and stay home.

According to Johns Hopkins total US deaths will pass the 460,000 mark today, and the virus is not done yet.  Researchers are talking about another surge of cases coming.  We have been lucky that nobody in our family has contracted the disease, but deaths have started to come closer.

Vaccines are on the way.  We’re very lucky on that front that research into combating corona virus related diseases had been going on since the bird flu outbreaks and that researchers had essentially figured out the pattern and just needed to apply it to a new strain.  The testing took time, and now the ramp up to create and deliver vaccines is the primary issue.  Logistics problems are solvable.

On the next anniversary, if things get sorted and mutations of the virus stay under control, we might be in whatever passes for normal again.  But it won’t be the same.  This experience will have changed us and society.  We will have to see what that really means.

Reviewing my 2020 Predictions

It is that time of year where I go back to my post from the first of the year where I have generally thrown out some rash ideas as to what might come to pass over the next twelve months.

2020 banner by my daughter

There is a long history of this around here:

I am generally wrong on most of my predictions, though I usually excuse/rationalize those predictions as just a thought experiment as to what might happen.

This year however, I ended up being more wrong than usual, and that is in part because I failed to predict the global pandemic.  COVID 19, the Cornavirus, has done me in, figuratively if not yet literally.

Anyway, it is still that time of year, so I’ll go through the predictions and see if I managed to score any hits at all and where I was thwarted by the ‘rona.

Each prediction is worth 10 points if correct, unless otherwise noted, and partial credit is available.

1 – Daybreak Up

When your predictions don’t come to pass… well, maybe you were just ahead of your time.  So I am going to recycle this one.  By the end of the year Daybreak Games won’t exist in its current form.  New owners, new acquisitions, new partners, or just spun out into a couple smaller studios built on geographical locations (San Diego and Austin being the basis), there will be drastic changes.

Not so much.  I mean sure, they did their little internal studio division thing, and tried to declare them “indies,” so now we have Darkpaw, Rogue Planet, and Dimensional Ink “studios,” but they’re all effectively the same company.  Daybreak even acquired another studio this year.  No parts were sold off… individually at least.  We’ll get to the who shebang later.  But otherwise they seemed to hang on.  Did they even have a layoff in 2020?   If not I suspect that was due to the ‘rona boom in video games.  0 points.

2 – Norrath Forever

Pessimism about the company overall aside, I expect the EverQuest franchise, fresh off a couple of big anniversaries, to continue humming along as before no matter where it lands.  There will be the usual content updates mid-cycle, a special server launch for each, and then the standard end-of-year expansions for each game.  You don’t mess with things that are working.

This one on the other hand pretty much came to pass.  I guess I covered myself both ways, but I have to have a gimme or two so I don’t completely zero out.  10 points.

3 – Struggling Royales

H1Z1 and PlanetSide Arena will both be toast on the PC platform.  I wrote this before we got the word on PSA.  I won’t take half credit up front.  The burden will just be on H1Z1 or Z1 Battle Royale or whatever it is called now, to prove me wrong.

How is H1Z1 still alive?  I guess it is still rolling okay on PS4, but I can’t even take some partial credit for the PC side getting shut down.  More ‘rona bonus?  0 points.

4 – PlanestSide Promises

Daybreak has been telling people they will have a big PlanetSide 2 related announcements in the new year.  But no matter what they announce, it will fall flat.  Daybreak has another game in decline and cannot figure out what to do about it.  I guess when your only answers in your bag are “battle royale” and “retro server,” you are kind of stuck.  What else do they have?  PlanetSide 2 on the Switch?  Expect little and you won’t be disappointed.

PlanetSide 2 seems to be rolling along under the Rogue Planet banner.  It got some updates over the year.  I don’t think there was anything that qualified as a big announcement. I mean, they were hinting that PlanetSide Arena would lead to PlanetSide 3 and we’re nowhere close to that.  Do outfit wars and shattered warp gates get there?  I think the biggest surprise was how many people actually play the game… and how few pay.  I’m giving myself 5 points here as it was just business as usual.

5 – Unexpected Party

Standing Stone Games will take a page from their… well… we still aren’t sure how Daybreak and SSG are connected so lets just say “partners” for now… partners in San Diego and roll out a new special rules Lord of the Rings Online server.  Like Blizz, SSG needs something splashy for LOTRO for its non-expansion years and the 2018 LOTRO Legendary server went pretty well for them.  However, rather than just replaying the nostalgia card once more they will make up a much more convoluted rule set for this new server.  It will go badly.

Nope.  SSG just goes on and on telling people that they can’t make a real retro server while they let the current one languish.  Instead they wrapped a game update and a quest pack with a $99 bow and called it an expansion.  0 points for me, though we do know how they are connected to Daybreak now.

6 – Avatar’s Shroud

Lord British has washed his hands of the whole thing and the new company (Catnip Games, no doubt because you’d have to be on drugs to think things are going well) has already reneged on more promises, a sign that times are bad for this strange, very much not for everyone title.  I expect that online play will be shut down before the end of the year, leaving backers with local single player as their only option.

Once again I see the hand of the ‘rona here saving another title that seems to be slipping into oblivion.  Lord British is still long gone, but the servers still seem to be up.  This will probably be the last time I ever mention this game in a post, unless it falls over dead.  0 points.

7 – Shadowlands Forseen

I am calling an August 18th launch for the next WoW expansion, Shadowlands.  That month has become the Blizz sweet spot for WoW launches.  Not a lot else tends to launch in August, there is the summer for pre-expansion events, and things tend to settle down by BlizzCon when the company likes to start talking about the next thing.  2 points lost for every week I am off the date.

Not even freaking close.  Who knew back in January that Blizz would decide to break the “time between expansions” record for the franchise?  Not me.  I can’t even blame the ‘rona for this… much.  I guess work from home might have slowed down progress.  Still, 0 points.

8 – BlizzCon Announcements

Read my lips: No new games.  Just reworks, remasters, and expansions of the current games and franchises.  Maybe a mobile version of something… a tablet version of StarCraft or a watered down phone game with a Warcraft theme… but nothing new.  Need more pylons.

No BlizzCon, no BlizzCon announcements.  My cynicism was wasted as the ‘rona did for this event.  0 points.

9 – Diablo Before

At BlizzCon there will talk about Diablo IV, along with some art and a bit of game play video.  What there won’t be is a release date announced in 2020.

Again, no BlizzCon, 0 points.

10 – Wait of Immortals

For reasons that will not be disclosed, Diablo Immortal will fail to ship again in 2020.

Hah!  Cynicism pays off this year at last!  10 points.  Booyah!

11 – Classic Future

At BlizzCon, and not one minute before, Blizzard will announce a very conservative, no dates given save for maybe with a hint towards summer of 2021, plan for a classic server based on The Burning Crusade.

No BlizzCon… have I said this enough already?  0 points.

12 – Activision Encroachment

By the end of the year the Battle.net launcher will feature the Activision logo more prominently as it becomes the Activision-Blizzard launcher.  No need for the team in Santa Monica to roll out their own launcher when the team in Irvine already has one.

No logo change yet… but there are FOUR freakin’ Call of Duty titles on the launcher.  I’m giving myself 2 points for that.

13 – New Eden in Decline

As mentioned before, CCP has gone into a very tactical phase of development with EVE Online.  That isn’t a bad thing.  The game needs it.  But there is no vision for the game, no future path being sketched out, and space nerds require optimism and forward motion.  Retaining another percent or two of new players won’t help much if the old guard can’t pass on enthusiasm to them.  I expect the 2020 PCU and MER numbers to show a slow, consistent decline.

It was looking this way… and then came the ‘rona surge and the PCU popped through the 40K mark for the first time since 2017.  0 pointsEVE is dying, but not any time soon.

14 – The Eternal POS

CCP will fail to remove the storied Player Owned Starbase from New Eden yet again.  They are growing exceedingly rare, but they are still out there.

I’ll be going on POS shoots until I retire it seems.  With the war on they aren’t even all that rare.  10 points.

15 – CSM XV

The usual round of CSM election nonsense will carry on.  In the end, it will be eight null sec representatives dominating the council again, with any null sec incumbent that runs getting returned.

Well, seven null sec representatives dominating the council in any case, and one incumbent, Sort Dragon, didn’t make the cut, though he was an alternate and only got on after Killah Bee dropped out.  3 points for being somewhat close.  I don’t think the ‘rona had any influence here, except for increasing voter turnout.

16 – HyperNet Relay End Point

CCP will shut down its HyperNet Relay within a  year of it launch due to issues related to local gambling regulations, which will be spurred by the situation in the next prediction.  It is always a risk to chain predictions together, but I’ll go there yet again.

Nope.  The in-game gambling mechanism has turned into an in-game scam machine where the people listing buy most of the tickets, get their item back when they win it, and make some ISK from the few suckers who bought in.  There is nothing EVE players cannot corrupt.  0 points.

17 – Gacha Movement

After predicting no movement on lockboxes and gambling for a few years now, the pot seems to have heated up enough that the frog might be in trouble in 2020.  My assumption up to this point has been that the industry wouldn’t be dumb, that the ESA would promise that the industry would police itself with a few concrete proposals while dumping a lot of contributions on key political players.  But the industry has been greedy and dumb and arrogant and even antagonistic, what with “surprise mechanics” and trying to upstage hearings on the subject by loudly announcing a set of empty promises.  You have to look contrite and helpful in order to give politicians the cover they need to roll over and take your bribes contributions.  Also it is a presidential election year in the US, so politicians will be looking for softball issues to champion, and when the NRA is telling you that video games cause violence…  Anyway, the industry is going to have to actually put up something real to avoid regulation beyond Belguim.  Look at what happened to Juul when politicians decided it was a safe vote getter to jump on vaping.

Turns out politicians have better things to do during a global pandemic that worry about video games.  The ‘rona strikes again.  The world was distracted enough that EA thought it was a good idea to put a lockbox ad in a kids toy catalog.  Way get attention back on the topic.  Still, nothing really changed.  I should have kept betting against Gevlon on this.  0 points.

18 – Guild Wars Decline

With the contractions and departures at ArenaNet, Guild Wars 2 will potter along with small updates, bits of content dressed up as living story seasons, and replays of tried and true things like the Super Adventure Box.  The game won’t be in “maintenance mode” the way Guild Wars is, but it will be clear a year from now that its heyday has passed.

Everything got a boost during the ‘rona, but then Mike O’Brien left to form a new company called Mana Works and… well, I don’t pay close enough attention.  I know the Super Adventure Box came back for another visit.  But there was also that End of Dragons expansion thing, so I guess that was a “no.”  0 points.

19 – City of Villains

NCsoft will finally make a public announcement about the City of Heroes servers out in the wild using the original code.  It will come from a lawyer and will include the words “cease” and “desist.”  NCsoft will attempt to stomp out these servers and will force them to be much lower profile than they have been in 2019.  But they won’t go away.  Software, once freed, is very difficult to contain.

Nope.  Can’t even blame the plague.  0 points.

20 – New World Order

Amazon’s New World will be delayed past May to launch in the fall.  Once launched it will be… fine.  An Ark: Survival Evolved kind of game, probably what Smed wishes H1Z1 had been like at launch.  It won’t break any new ground and after a flash at launch will fade into the crowd, successful but not headline worthy.

I actually thought about starting to write this post back when New World was delayed until fall.  I seemed to be right on the money.  And then the can got kicked down the road again, this time into 2021.  5 points for being right for half the year.

21 – Won’t Ship Yet Again

The following titles won’t go live or otherwise be available to customers in any way that we would agree on was complete.  Early access, open beta, or eternal alpha states do not count.  Two Points per title.

  • Camelot Unchained
  • Crowfall
  • Torchlight Frontiers
  • Dual Universe
  • Anything at all from Chris Roberts

I’ll go negative points on that last one if he ships two things.  But I think we all know that isn’t going to happen.

I could argue that nothing called Torchlight Frontiers shipped, but there is that pesky, and apparently mediocre Torchlight III running around.  Still, the others were not a tough call.  This is sort of me annual “I dare you to ship!” category.  8 points.

22 – GameStopped

The only way GameStop is going to be around a year from now is if they shed enough weight to make it into the Christmas season.  Black Friday might as well be “life or death” Friday for them.  But I don’t think they will make it that far unscathed.  In order to get the freedom of movement required to get that far they are going to have to declare chapter 11 bankruptcy.  That will let them get out of store leases and give them the breathing room to carry on.  But even then they will be a shell of their former selves by the time I write up the results post come December.

I thought this one was a freakin’ shoe-in back in January.  GameStop looked to be on its last legs.  And then the ‘rona hit and video games became essential toward maintaining our sanity.  GameStop, like gun stores, was on the essential businesses list.  And now Microsoft has invested in them.  They live to fight another day.  0 points.

23 – Steam Engine

Life as usual for Steam.  The four usual seasonal sales.  Epic will keep sniping away and trying to get people to pay attention by throwing free games at them while most people will still see Steam as the default source of PC games.  It is the post office of gaming.  Steam will continue to revise their game acceptance policy, but otherwise carry on as always with no big changes in 2020.

I guess.  This gets back to the idea that predictions, like team goals, should be measurable.  Maybe if I paid closer attention I could make a hard call one way or the other, but I am going to just go with the fact that it feels like this happened and give myself half credit.  5 points.

Bonus Prediction – Guild Wars 3 Announced

Sure, why not?  Guild Wars 2 is slowly ebbing, NCsoft needs something to keep fans in that area happy, and I am sure there is a crew around that believes they have learned enough from GW2 to do it RIGHT this time!  They don’t have to ship anything.  At most they have to do some hand waving about another monuments thing for specific achievements, which will get people grinding away again.  Give me 10 bonus points if this comes to pass, though it is so out there that I ought to ask for more.

Ha ha ha ha… no.  0 points.

Super Double Bonus Prediction – PA buys Daybreak

This one came up a couple months back when Daybreak was registering new names for itself and CCP announced that EVE Vegas was going to become EVE San Diego.  The obvious (to me) conclusion was that Pearl Abyss MUST be buying Daybreak and then merging their fan events together.  I left this as a comment and it became a post over at Massively OP.  I figured I ought to codify it here as a prediction.  Have a couple of drinks and say it three times fast and it sounds pretty logical.  And if it comes to pass I want 20 bonus points.

It was a wild conspiracy theory when I made it, but I still had a hope that it might come to pass.  But no, Pearl Abyss did not bit.  But then EG7 came along and bough them!  I am going to give myself 1 Point for at least being right about them being acquired in 2020.

That gives me 59 points out of a total of 230 possible, not counting bonus points against me.  That gives me a 26% correct ratio, which is pretty bad considering how many of those picks I thought were gimmes back in January.

But it is still a tiny bit better than my 2017 picks, so not my worst year ever.

And now to consider what 2021 will bring.

Will the ‘rona boom continue for a while?  What will happen if the vaccines are a success and we can all go back to work, school, travel, and the other activities we’ve been denied over the last year or so?  Are video games going to take a hit when we can all go out to eat and see movies again?  Will there be any theaters operating in 2021?

Pandemic Binge Watching with More New Seasons

And we’re back with more TV that we have watched while the pandemic has kept us home… not that we would have gone out all that much, but we used to go out to dinner and a movie one in a while.  Anyway, some new seasons from older shows and some first seasons from new shows to talk about.

The Boys Season 2- Amazon Prime

I loved season one of this, with the super heroes as real people run by a corporation focused on profit and image and putting out the next film starring their heroes.  Heroes are not uncommon, and the prime group is The Seven, seven heroes who represent the top of the brand.  It is a gritty world where those seven all have their own personality issues and problems with the job, the public, and the company itself, while the company will do anything to protect their image.

I won’t spoil season one with too much detail, but it builds the world where a group led by Carl Urban… The Boys of the title… are trying to expose the whole thing for what it is.  And then, in season two, they have to kind of run with the big build up behind them and… it kind of falls a bit flat.

The problem is, after the first season, our ability to be shocked that, say, a super hero is a legit Nazi, has been expended.  We know they and the company are bad, we’re now just haggling over how bad.  I think the writers/producers knew this, because they dialed up the sex/violence/gore meter a few notches over season one, but that doesn’t really offset the fact that we get the situation already.  Meanwhile, The Deep joining a cult was a bit of a drag on the plot.

Still, the second season isn’t bad, and I’ll watch the third season to continue the crazy, frenetic soap opera that the show can be, but it is now hard for them to shock the audience after the first season.

The Mandalorian Season 2 – Disney+

Okay, I know, we’re not even done with the full season yet, but after episode 5 I am ready to pass judgement.  This is the way.

Unlike The Boys above, season one only laid the groundwork for the show.  There is a lot more to explore and discover in the post-Endor galaxy far, far away.  The season starts a little slow, but the show has already decided it moves only at a walking pace as we go from adventure to adventure.  We’re happy with that at our house as long as the quips are good and baby Yoda is cared for.  But then, in episode five, things get real and the connection to the rest of the Star Wars universe is well and truly establish.  And then episode six comes along and doubles down! This is the show that Star Wars fans deserve.   I don’t want to spoil it, but it is pretty cool.

Anyway, we’ll keep subscribing to Disney+ so long as they keep making this show.  I might also have to go back and watch Star Wars: Rebels while we’re subscribed.

The Crown Season 4 – Netflix

There was word that the royals were not fully happy with how they were portrayed in season 4, to which I respond with, “Are you serious? This monarchy porn isn’t fawning enough for you?  Try making your own!  Oh, right, you did that in season 3, didn’t you?  And it sucked, didn’t it?”

The lot of them should be grateful for the casting alone.  It wouldn’t take much for this to have turned into a live action Spitting Image.

That said, season four was kind of a transition for us, as we moved from “things I read about or knew from history” into things we remember from the news coverage at the time.  My wife got up at 3am to watch Charles and Diana get married.

The time frame is essentially the Margaret Thatcher era, who is portrayed by Gillian Anderson with a hard shell of hair and a back brace to keep her posture as rigid as possible. (That last bit is conjecture on my part.)  She looks and sounds contrived, but so did Thatcher at the time, so spot on I guess.  She is shown in the mix of her achievements.  She is a heartless conservative who could care less about apartheid or the poor.  But she is also of middle class origins, believes in her cause, and works very hard relative to the indolent royal family (and pretty much everybody around her), whom I honestly expected to reprise the Maggie Smith line, “What is a ‘week end’?” when the Thatcher’s are invited for dinner.  They disdain her and her middle class ways.

(And word is that conservatives in the UK want the show conspicuously labeled as a “work of fiction” because they too are not fully happy, this time with how Maggie was portrayed.  I suppose one could allow that many of them are experts on fiction.  Just look at the Brexit campaign.)

Much of the season is the poor royals, trapped in their roles and longing to be free… so long as they can keep their titles, wealth, and privileges.  The Queen, Anne, and Margaret are probably the most sympathetically played this season.

Charles and Diana make up much of the season.  Charles is probably the most likely to be aggrieved by his portrayal as they push his slouch and mannerisms to exaggeration, and he comes off immature, petty, self-absorbed, and uninterested in much beyond polo and Camilla.

Diana is a bit of a mystery.  Being from a similar background, she fits in with the royals initially.  She is one of them and her first weekend with the royals juxtaposes the Thatcher weekend.  But after the wedding that seems to stop.  She is lonely and the fairy tale is a sham, so she starts to find ways to fill her own needs even as she starts to outshine Charles in the public eye.

Anyway, it was all charming and well done and I await season five when the Queen orders the SAS to kill wayward Diana… or however they’re going to play that.  Didn’t we have a whole movie about the aftermath from the same person?

Roadkill Season 1- PBS via the UK

I am pretty sure I read somewhere that the stated objective of PBS’s Masterpiece Theater is to get us to fawn endlessly like stricken colonials over all things British.  And it seems to be a viable plan, since it has kept going as a show over here since the early 70s.

This time we’re back with Hugh Laurie whom I think I first saw when Masterpiece brought over Jeeves and Wooster back in the 80s, long before he showed up in House which, when I first saw it, made me ask, “Why is he speaking with that horrible parody of an American accent?”  But I gather I was in a minority on that front.

Anyway, we like him around our house, so we decided to watch this when it came up and… it is kind of hard to peg.  We have him as Peter, a British politician in some political hot water who is part of the cabinet and everything seems to be working against him, including the Prime Minister, and then things just sort of work out in the end for him.  While the journey had its interesting points, it is sort of like House of Cards... original or remake, take your pick, right down to a dead female investigative reporter… with all the hard edges sanded off.

Is it a commentary on ruling class privilege, the nature of politics, how some people can get away with anything and still succeed?  And what does that title mean?  And what was going on with the Prime Minister’s right arm?  I really don’t have any answers.  I realize everything doesn’t have to have a universal message at the end, but you want something to hang your hat on.

Finally, while I liked Hugh Laurie in it, this did feel like more of a Hugh Grant role, where just a bit more charm would have had it all make some sense… maybe… but I guess he was busy using that charm to hide malice in The Undoing.

Away Season 1 – Netflix

This follows an international crew on the first manned mission to Mars.  There is the brash American who is leading the mission, because the Americans are clearly paying most of the bills for this, the salty Russian who has more time in space and feels he should be leading, the handsome Indian Air Force Group Commander who is also second in command, the unsmiling Chinese chemist there to represent the party, and the Brit botanist who was probably as surprised as the rest of us that the UK was even included.  But he makes up the majority who force English to be the language for the mission.

This is less science fiction and more space soap opera.  There are some science bits and problems to overcome, but the show is mostly focused on the personal strengths and weaknesses of the crew and how they cope together locked in a metal cylinder headed towards Mars.  Not a bad show, but it was cancelled after the one season, so you can imagine this as the prequel to some more exciting movie like The Martian or  Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

Treadstone Season 1 – Hulu

Time to try and capture some more of that Jason Bourne magic, so Project Treadstone has been shaken back to life as we discover there are all sorts of other sleepers like Bourne out there, called “cicadas,” and somebody is waking them up for some sinister purpose.

On the upside, the show is well acted and has excellent production values.  USA, where it was original aired, and the crew that created the show can be proud of that.

The downside is that it the plot itself is a confused mess that has at least three major plot lines that never quite run together, including a diversion back to 1973 and the Soviet program that inspired the Americans to create Treadstone.  So you get tense situations and some very good action, but you’re left wondering how that connects with the guy back in the US and the woman in Korea and the woman in Russia on the farm with the missile that the woman in London was talking about and what that part from the 70s added to anything.

So the show was cancelled, though I am sure the real reason why it got shut down wasn’t its complexity, but its failure to adhere to the Robert Ludlum rule: Three Word Titles.

Pandemic Binge Watching and Some More Shows

The pandemic is still here… and it has been getting worse rather than better of late… so we’re still spending a lot of time at home in front of the TV consuming huge servings of streamed shows.  You can look at the Binge Watching tag to see this and other posts on the topic.

We started watching this because it had a bit of the same vibe in the ads as Succession, the HBO series that we both enjoyed.

It features the ongoing struggle between the CEO of an investment firm, played by Damien Lewis, and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, played by Paul Giamatti.

Unlike Succession, which was about a rich and powerful family being horrible to each other, and fully deserving it most of the time, Billions tends to be more about the rich (Lewis) and powerful (Giamatti) abusing their power for their own agendas, which is less fun, being closer to the reality where the everyday person just gets crushed if they get in the way.

Also, the show doesn’t really go anywhere.  There are four and a half seasons available on Showtime and when we got to the end of season four I commented to my wife that after 48 episodes everything was pretty much back where it started.  A lot of details changed, but the essential conflict remained practically as it began.

The redeeming grace of the show is the supporting cast, who are often more fun an interesting than either of the two primary characters.

A science fiction series originally aired on Starz, the premise is that in the late 80s in Berlin some scientists broke through a barrier and discovered a parallel, identical Earth.  Or maybe they created it, as everything was exactly the same there.  And everybody has a double on the other side that is an exact copy of them.  But then the two worlds began to diverge.

30 years down the road, the two worlds are very different, with research and technology having progressed differently.  The two worlds maintain embassies with each other and negotiate trades of information, but the relationship is tense.  Both sides distrust the other and spy while trying to keep their own secrets.  The whole thing has been kept under wraps from the general public and is run by a group referred to only as “Management.”

The show only ran for two seasons, which I suspect may have been due to a lack of “stars” to bring in an audience.  I mean, I like J. K. Simmons a lot, but stars maybe don’t do insurance commercials.  Or maybe the slow pace did it in.

But the two season thing turned out to be a bit of a benefit.  I think they knew going into the second season that they would have to wrap it up, so they did.  The first season brings you into the conflict between the two worlds and sets a plot in motion.  The second season resolved the plot, answers a bunch of questions, and tidies things up at the end, making it a 20 part story.  And it is all kind of fun because a lot of the actors get to play two versions of themselves.

Ewan McGregor is back with his childhood pal Charley Boorman for another motorcycle adventure.  It has been a long time since they did Long War Round and Long Way Down, but the two are back again for another adventure, and one I figured they would do eventually.

Sort of.

I figured Alaska to Tierra del Fuego would be a natural.  However, that is another “down” journey, so they decided to start in Tierra del Fuego and go north, thus the title.

The big twist, besides everybody being older, grayer, and less spry, is that they decided to do the ride on electric motorcycles.  They got two prototype electric motorcycles from Harley Davidson for the run.  And, to go with them, were two prototype electric trucks from Rivian. (An old friend works for them, so I’ll have to ask if he got to meet Obi-wan.)

That is kind of an interesting twist, but it also meant that the first three episodes were largely focused on battery life charging time, and whether or not they have the right plug adapter.  The vehicles all run down at some point, but they have a van and a generator truck on call at times.

After that it settles down into the usual routine from the earlier shows, where they alternate between cool local sights and culture and figuring out how they are going to overcome some obstacle or make it in time for a ferry.

Also, they don’t go all the way to Alaska, settling on LA to end the trip, which is where Ewan lives.  Driving up Interstate 5 to Canada and then the ALCAN Highway to Alaska is probably less exotic than they wanted.

Basically, if you like the first two shows, this is a bit more of the same.

I didn’t have any background on this one, but it had John Cusack in it, so we gave it a watch. Starting off it felt very much like a comic book adaptation, with the over the top graphic violence and crazy conspiracy theories… oh, and it revolves around a pair of comic books which a group of “enthusiasts” believe foretold and can foretell disease outbreaks in current times.

But it is actually a remake of a British show of the same name from seven years back.  I suppose the source material doesn’t matter, but it felt like what it felt like.

Anyway, conspiracies are true, diseases are planned, and an evil corporation has an evil plan to remake the world in a way that at least two Bond villains would approve.  The whole disease and vaccine and media influence aspect of it was very on the nose in 2020 I guess, but after a crazy and sometimes shocking start, the whole thing felt a little flat by the end.  It was only eight episodes, but it was no Umbrella Academy.

In the middle of the pandemic and the election and all of the rather tense shows we’ve been watching, it was nice of Netflix to import four seasons of silly sitcom for us.

The show feels straight from 70s/80s mold of family sitcoms.  It features the Kim family and centers around the convenience store they run.  The parents immigrated from Korea, but their two kids have grown up in Toronto and are much more Canadian than Korean in ways the second generation often are as part of the immigrant experience.

Light, airy, and easily digested in 22 minute doses, we ran through all four seasons pretty quickly.  It isn’t Derry Girls hilarious, but it is pretty funny.  You can get wrapped up in whether or not the ethnic humor aspect of it should be a thing, but at its core it is a family sitcom with many of the same setups as sitcoms from bygone days.

Also Mr. Kim, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, got his own sneak attack, appearing in last week’s episode of The Mandalorian.

Honest Trailers Looks at Streaming Services

I just want to point out that I wrote my two posts about streaming services, yesterday’s and the previous one, before this video came out.

That said, the profusion of streaming services and their popularity now during the pandemic makes it a timely topic, and the Screen Junkies teams looks into services beyond what I have explored so far.

 

Of course, since I just wrote about some of those services, it is interesting to see where my opinion aligns or diverges from theirs.  Also, I forgot that Netflix was no longer the place to watch Friends as HBO paid a bunch of money to have it on HBO Max.  I might know that if I could access HBO Max rather than whatever HBO service I’m allowed to have on the Roku.

Still, I feel solid with my own assessments.

And even Honest Trailers cannot plumb the full depth of channels out there.  My wife keeps asking me at bed time, when the lights are out and I have no electronics handy, if we can get Acorn or Britbox or some other oddball channel because she saw an ad for a show that we might want to watch and it is on that particular service.  And don’t get me started on trying to explain how the PBS app works.

If you are really hot on this topic, then you will probably enjoy the Honest Trailers Commentary video that goes along with the above, where they run through the trailer and talk about why they said what they did and expand upon their opinions.  I enjoyed it.

Pandemic Binge Watching and Some More Channels

Previously on Pandemic Binge Watching I wrote about the three long established streaming services that have been staples of our watching habits, even before the current series of unfortunate events.

Hulu is the little channel that could.  We originally got it in order to watch The Handmaid’s Tale, then cancelled.  But it is the service I keep coming back to.  I had to get it to get through all of Archer after that fell off of Netflix.  At one point a year of so back I had a plan to simply replace our Comcast cable lineup with the local channel and sports package you can through get through Hulu, but was brought up short on the details.

My wife is a hockey fan, and we can get the channel that carries all the Shark’s games, but on Hulu it runs 20-30 seconds behind the cable broadcast and my wife was quickly annoyed that her game night texting buddies would announce somebody scored before it ever made it to our screen.  That is literally a deal breaker here it seems.  A pity, because I was good with every other aspect of it, especially picture quality.  Comcast put in a really bad compression algorithm a year of so back, so their HD service barely looks like HD anymore.  The streaming services look much better.

Hulu has a lot going for it.

Upside:

Some very good original content.  I mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale already, and did a post previously about Catch-22.

The channel really excels at being the place to go watch seasons of things once they have wrapped up on cable channels that do not have their own streaming service yet.

Hulu has a bunch of subscription options.  You can go cheap if you can handle some commercials, or opt to pay a bit more to remove them, and add on a number of additional options, up to and including a basic cable replacement.

Downside:

Their interface hides the depth of the channel more so than some competitors I could mention.  If Netflix is a hyper puppy trying to get your attention, Hulu is an old sheep dog that can’t be bothered some days.

Not so much original stuff as you might imagine.

Really needs some of the features that Prime and Netflix have adopted to skip show intros and the like.  I realize this is related to the relationship they have with networks and what not, and that they are getting some of the features going, but still.  I do get a bit pissy when content from other networks won’t even let you fast forward past promos.

Current Status:  Subscribed and using the service to subscribe to Showtime rather than get into Showtime’s app.  Also still watching Bob’s Burgers.

 

On paper Disney+ should be a subscribe and never leave channel for our family.  It has all of the MCU movies, all of the Star Wars movies and (almost) all the shows, all of the Disney catalog that they’ll still admit to, and it has every episode of The Simpsons.  I should literally be parked in front of that channel forever.

Upside:

Inexpensive at $7.00 a month.  Can get it bundled with Hulu.

Literally everything 14 year old me could want.

The Madalorian was pretty good.  We watched that every week through its first season.

Downside:

The Hulu bundle made you take the ad sponsored version of the service last I checked, plus you have to take ESPN as well, in which I have no interest.  The faux seasons pro sports are putting on now are not enticing at all.

I’m not 14 any more.  I have seen almost everything on the service already.  Hell, I have a significant fraction of it on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Not much new/original content

No Star Wars Holiday Special?  Are you kidding me?

Current Status:  Currently not subscribed, but another season of The Mandalorian is coming up soon.

Starz came to us when they had an offer back in March to get 6 months of their service for $30.  The thought was that we could finish up Outlander, but that stopped clicking with us after a couple seasons.  We came for that, but stayed for The White Queen and its follow on series, which I mentioned previously.

Basically Starz is a lesser version of HBO, an old school cable movie service that has expanded into some original content and its own stand-alone streaming app.

Upside:

Always has dozens of movies available to watch on demand.

Some very good original content

Downside:

Really a lesser version of HBO in too many ways.  Not so many movies you’d watch, not so many original series that you’d stick around for.

The UI design of their app always leaves me feeling I need to press the button to start a show or movie one more time that other apps.

Easily the hardest app for me to read text on from the couch.  They expect you to read the show/movie titles from the thumbnail.

Current Status:  Just lapsed, but The Spanish Princess 2 is coming up, so could return I suppose.

Apple TV+ is the latest channel we’ve tried.  I have been wary of it in the past because Apple has run it like the iTunes store in the past, where it is essentially a store front to sell you content, and there are a lot of other options in that market.  Also, it required an Apple device in the past.  Recently they have made it an app that I can get on our Roku and they have added a subscription and some original content.

I have been tempted to try it if only to watch The Morning Show, which has gotten good buzz, but my wariness as to what else one gets with their subscription has left me cold.  It is easier to figure out the difference between HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO Max that to get that info out of Apple.

But then Long Way Up was announced and my wife is a big Ewan McGreggor fan and watched Long Way Round and Long Way Down, so suddenly we had to give it a try.

Upside:

At $5.00 a month, the cheapest subscription service so far.

Available soon in a bundle deal with Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and iCloud.

Some original content, including Greyhound.

Some additional content from other sources available as well.

Splashy fresh UI.

Apple has the cash to fund content worth watching.

Downside:

Easily the most annoying service to sign up for in my experience so far.  You cannot sign up through Roku… somebody tell Epic Games… their web site is barely functional, and it is unclear to me if you can even sign up if you don’t have an iOS device.  I mean, I think you can, but my experience suggest it won’t be easy.

The original content is extremely limited.  I think I’ve named most of it already.  There is not a lot of “there” there.

Plays like an old school service, metering out an episode a week for their shows… though I suppose they really need to, given how little of it there is, in order to keep people subscribed.

The additional content is nothing special.  I think it is literally a subset of what I get on Hulu as part of that subscription.

98% of the service is there to offer you up rent or buy options.  It is the iTunes store on your TV.

That splashy, fresh UI is overwrought and unclear at times and doesn’t always render correctly on the Roku.  But their website doesn’t always render correctly on anything besides Safari, so go figure.  But at least it mostly works on the Roku.  Apple does not make a Windows or Android client.

Hard to tell if it is a work in progress that needs more time or if Apple arrogance levels have exceeded their eWorld peak, back when I heard Apple execs saying they would own the online experience because they could rebrand a literal copy of AOL.

Current status: Subscribed at least until we finish up get the last episode of Long Way Up.

Pandemic Binge Watching and the Big Three Channels

Let me just get out the obligatory “TV was a lot different when I was young” before we move on.  I tell my daughter about the days before DVRs or VCRs, when you had to be there and ready to watch at a specific time in order to see a show or movie.  A whole weekly magazine was devoted to the TV schedule, which was kind of amazing logistically because the channels were different in every major media market.  The LA TV Guide was useless in Chicago or New York.

And don’t even get me started on the pre-cable days and fiddling with an antenna to get the TV signal.  And I am just old enough to remember pre-solid state TVs, where you had to turn them on and allow a couple of minutes for them to warm up before a clear picture would resolve itself on the screen.  Or a fuzzy picture, if the antenna wasn’t just right.  It was a different time.

Today we have a Roku Stick that juts out from the side of our 46″ LCD TV.  I bought that back in December because there was demand in our house for the Disney+ channel and the PlayStation 3, our streaming device up until that moment, was just seconds from being completely out of support, so no new apps were being made for it.  And, when I looked at it a couple month later, all the old apps were dead too.  So it was just in time.

And, as the pandemic has gone on, we have spent more and more time streaming content over the Roku and very little time watching traditional commercial television.  I’d cancel the cable TV service, but Comcast would raise my monthly charge to just have internet.  So we just leave it there, idle, though I may go in and trim some features, like the extra we pay for HD channels.  The Comcast Xfinity HD compression algorithm was changed a couple years back and what you get now looks pretty bad.  If it even qualified as 720p I’d be surprised.  Maybe sports will come back and we’ll want to watch something like that.

Anyway, this will be a few posts running down of the channels in order of length and depth of investment in each, and I will start with the big three staples of our house currently.

HBO, or Home Box Office back in the day, is probably the first premium channel I ever ran into.  Our friend Gary had a bootleg HBO receiver on their antenna mast back in the day when it was broadcast via line-of-sight transmission from Mount Umunhum into the valley.  It was just movies back then, and the occasional filler 30 minutes of Video Jukebox, which might have pre-dated MTV.

I have subscribed to HBO as part of cable or satellite or streaming a number of times over the years, and I always end up cancelling it after a while.  They never have many movies that interest me, and for a long time they only had a few shows, and none of this was on demand.  But that has changed.

Upside:

Usually has a couple of recent release movies we might want to watch.

Has a deep field of good TV series that they have produced on which to binge like The Wire, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Succession, Generation Kill, and a few others.  I could watch the first two seasons of The Wire on repeat.

Downside:

Priced at a premium tier.

Like a lot of movie channels, there are a bunch of movies you’ll skip right past because you’ve seen them or know you’ll never watch them.  Oh, and they come and go monthly, so you have to keep an eye on that.

Has some series that are decent but which got cancelled quickly, so you have a few episodes and a longing for more.

The UI of the app is not very sophisticated, though I will admit that the UI of none of the streaming apps are ideal.  We are once again up against the limitations of screen real estate and exactly how big things need to be to be able to see/read them from the couch.  But HBO, for all its prestige of being one of the elder services, is behind the pack when it comes to features, at least when compared to the two services below.

Has clung to the old school “episode every week” format for new show content.  This works for topical shows, like Last Week Tonight, and worked during Game of Thrones, when everybody was talking about that at the water cooler on Monday, but that was an exception, not the rule.  Most of the time it feels like they drag shows out week by week because they have nothing else new coming and just want to keep you subscribed.  Our general house rule is to let a series get at least six episodes in so we can watch them in pairs, though it is better still if we just wait until the season is over and watch at our own pace.

I also remain confused as to their branding.  I have HBO Now, or I did, but there is now HBO Max, which I cannot have because they are in a fight with Roku, though I can get HBO Max if I cancel HBO Now and subscribe to HBO via Hulu.  Or something like that.  I am not sure what I am missing by not having HBO Max.  Also, wasn’t there HBO Go for a while?

Current Status: Still subscribed.  Waiting for Lovecraft County to get further along.

Our original stop for binge watching, back when Netflix used to just send disks through the mail.  We burned through seasons of the show 24 three disks at a time.  With no commercials and using the chapter advance to get past the “previously” and the credits, each hour long episode boiled down to under 30 minutes, so we would watch a disk a night.

Eventually Netflix managed to get to the “net” part of its name and started streaming back before that was much of a thing.

Anyway, fast forward to today where Netflix is your prime location for streaming old episodes of Friends, a show we only used to watch because it was adjacent to Seinfeld at one point and the once place where you can watch Tiger King.

Upside:

Overall, lots of stuff available.

Lots of new and original content showing up all the time.  When they drop a new series, it is all episodes on the table, ready to binge.  And they have hit the mark multiple times with shows like Stranger Things and Tiger King.

Top of the class when it comes to features like “skip the ‘previously’ segment” at the start of a series show and “skip credits” so you can get straight into the content.

Tries really hard to flag content you might like based on your viewing, and isn’t that bad at it.  And it allows you to make profiles so when your daughter binges anime on her profile you don’t end up with the weeabo selection on your own recommendations.

Downside:

Has, over time, dramatically decreased the amount of third party content they have licensed.  There are still some good third party items in the mix, and of course Friends, but they are more about their own stuff these days.

A lot of their own content isn’t that great.  Some of it is okay.  I was good with a pass through once on things that otherwise got mixed reviews, but it can be really hit and miss.  A bunch of it is foreign television that has been dubbed in English and branded as “Netflix Original” and dumped into the listings.  Some dubbed stuff is okay, though a dubbed show really has to have a strong underlying plot for that not to become a distraction.

Really wants stuff playing on your screen.  The only service where I will leave something selected, walk away to do something, and come back to find myself starting episode three already.  You can tone that down some in the settings, but they don’t make it easy.

Current Status: Still subscribed, waiting for the next bit of binge fodder to drop while I get through Parks & Recreation.

Amazon Prime is the streaming service we sort of backed into because we had Amazon Prime for free delivery and suddenly it included a video service.

Upside:

Has content for Prime members, which occasionally has a movie I want to watch when I want to watch it.  I caught The Battle of Britain the other day.

Continues to ramp up some decent original content like The Man in the High Castle, The Boys, and Hanna.  If you’re going to dub something, Comrade Detective is how you do it.

Has caught up to Netflix on the “skip this” features without trying to start playing video at you every time you pause the cursor for a moment.  Also, just added profiles.

Can subscribe to a variety of other services like Showtime or Starz in their interface.  Also has a huge library of pay per view titles in its catalog.

Downside:

Not a lot of selection when compared to Netflix when you consider the price differential.  But maybe the free shipping takes a bite out of the content options.

Not as easy to navigate as Netflix.  Not that Netflix is great, but on Prime everything is smaller and less intrusive and feels like they are not trying as hard.  Prime also lists out each season of a show as its own entry, which feels like they are trying to look like they have more content than they actually do.

Searching for titles will lead you to a lot of things that are pay per view.  This sets it apart from the other two where everything you find on the service you can watch without additional payment.

The last time I tried a pay per view movie I had to get up from the TV and go into my office to order it on my computer before I could watch it on the TV.  I guess that keeps down the accidental purchases.

Some spotty or indifferent shows.  Also clings to the “one episode a week” idea of content deliver, except when it gets impatient and suddenly releases half a season, the doles out the rest more slowly.

Status: Still subscribed for free shipping, Twitch games, and other stuff, while finishing up Counterpart and waiting for all the episodes of The Boys season two to become available.

Next time I’ll look at Hulu, Disney+, and Starz.