Archive for the ‘Classic Television Shows’ Category

Opening Lines

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

How’s this for an opening line: My first elective class has finally started, and it has me thinking about what makes for a good opening line.  As homework for a creative writing class, I am attempting to develop a story from a single opening sentence.  I have come up with a pretty good opener and the rest of the story is coming along nicely, but this assignment had me thinking throughout the week about good opening lines and why they stick with the reader or listener long after they have been given.  I have often heard it said that a good first impression goes a long way; here’s a few iconic openings from television and movies that have made a great first impression on me and which I would like to emulate in my own work.

“Space: the final frontier.”  Star Trek

I can only imagine what viewers must have been feeling the first time they saw a field of stars shooting at them from their TV screens while William Shatner intoned this famous four word phrase.  My thoughts of it are shaped a bit more by Patrick Stewart’s version from Star Trek: The Next Generation which has a few more planets from the solar system flying by, but its effect on me was just as powerful as Shatner’s probably was with my mom and dad.  The implications of this phrase run very deep with me, hinting at a greater unknown universe just begging to be explored via a cosmic Oregon Trail.  The rest of the opening narration gives in more detail the general premise of the series (the voyages of the Enterprise and her space-bound sisters in orbit), but these first four words are, I think, sufficient enough to bring to mind a whole universe of possibilities.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” Star Wars

This opener reminds me of how a typical fairy tale might start out, as viewed through the filter of a science-fiction storyteller.  Taking its cue from lines like, “Once upon a time in a faraway land,” the piece of text that pops up on the screen before the opening text crawl of the Star Wars films might seem a bit old-fashioned for a high-tech world full of laser blasters, laser swords, wise puppets, etc.  Hey, I think it sounds a bit corny, too, but it does give me comfort heading into the show.  George Lucas isn’t about to drop you into a full-fledged space battle without settling you in for the ride first.  I  imagine Princess Leia might use this line at the beginning of telling her kids about the fantastical adventures of crazy Uncle Luke.  It just seems to me like the perfect start to a rip-roaring bedtime story, for better or for worse.  Good night, sleep tight, don’t let Vader bite!

“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity.  It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.  This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call… the Twilight Zone.”  The Twilight Zone, Season One opening narration

I couldn’t stick with just the first line here; I think the entire paragraph needs to be given to get the whole effect.  Of all of the different openings The Twilight Zone used over the course of five seasons, it is this first one which has always been my personal favorite.  When I first started watching Rod Serling’s masterpiece of a TV series on DVD, before I knew anything else about the show, I first encountered this opening monologue which Serling intones in a deep, deliberately paced voice while images of rolling fog, unearthly landscapes, and a twinkling starfield fill the screen.  This blew me away when I first saw and heard it; it instilled in me a feeling of uncertainty, but also of wanting to find out the cause of that uncertainty, not unlike the battle against fear many of the show’s various lead characters fight against.  It remains my favorite part of the show, even more so because it was only used during the first season, making it something of a unique snowflake among iconic TV moments.

I hope that in the future I will be able to come across other beginnings that are just as memorable to me as these are and that I, as a writer, can come up with openers that other people can be inspired by.  What are your favorite opening lines?   Leave them in the comments and don’t forget to identify where they’re from so I can find them, too.

Looking Forward to The Next Three Days

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Sorry I haven’t been blogging too much this week, guys.  I’ve been a little busy writing my next column for AutismAfter16 and getting started preparing a speech I’m going to give at a meeting of a local special education group.  I’ve wanted to write some more blog posts, but I also want to tighten up these other pieces of writing and they took a bit more time to work out than I anticipated.  I’m still looking forward to this weekend and this coming April Fools Day, though, because there’s a lot of other stuff coming up during that time which I am really excited about.  Here’s a few of the reasons why I’m so pumped for the next three days.  (And before you mention that Easter Sunday falls on this weekend, yes, I’m aware of that, and it is certainly very important to me, but I want to focus on some other stuff you might not know about.)

Syracuse is in the Elite Eight!

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is in full swing, and heading into this weekend’s games, my hometown team, the Syracuse Orange, is in the quarterfinals.  I caught small portions of the team’s first few games on TV, but I haven’t watched a full game yet.  I intend to take a little time to watch their quarterfinal game against Marquette on Saturday and see how they do.  I’ve watched a few college basketball games in recent months, and I really appreciate how quickly they can go, unlike football and baseball games which, to me, seem to move at a snail’s pace and sometimes even slower than that.  I think the Syracuse game will be a fast and fun diversion for me, and I might check out the other Elite Eight games, too.

Two of my favorite game shows are doing special episodes on April Fools Day!

It’s been a tradition for the past few years for The Price is Right to air special episodes on April Fools Day in which things get a bit weird.  For instance, the 2009 edition saw everyone on the show from host Drew Carey to the models and even the contestants all wearing Groucho glasses, Drew’s friend Kathy Kinney making a cameo appearance as Mimi Bobeck, her character from The Drew Carey Show, to serve as a model, and one of the Showcases at the end featuring all of the items facing away from the camera, even the car!  The 2010 show , the first April Fools show I remember seeing, featured Kathy Kinney returning as Mimi to act as an executive producer for the day and going on the ultimate power trip; the highlight was probably the Showcase round with both contestants bidding on the exact same prizes, except that the second contestant’s version had an added Mini Cooper.  The 2011 show (here’s part 1, part 2, and part 3) was easily the weirdest game show episode I have ever seen, where just about everything on the show managed to go wrong in some way, and the special “ten thousandth thing” Drew kept saying was going to happen on the show never actually occurred.  It was one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, and I’ve wanted to see something like it again ever since.  I missed last year’s show, but I hope to see what they will do this year.  From it’s description, this year’s April Fools show sounds a little less weird to me; Drew and announcer George Gray will serve as models while the regular models take turns hosting the show.  I sure hope things will be stranger than normal.

On the same day, Let’s Make a Deal will have a special April Fools episode.  I don’t recall Deal ever doing an April Fools’ show before, so their first try should be very interesting.  Several contestants who got losing “zonk” prizes during past episodes will return in this show to try to get something better, and host Wayne Brady has promised to do a special group deal involving the entire audience.  If it’s as strange as the Price is Right April Fools shows have been, then I’ll be quite the happy camper.

Sale of the Century is coming to GSN!

A couple of weeks ago, I was perusing one of the game show news websites I have bookmarked on my iPad, when I saw a breaking news story on it that took me quite by surprise.  I thought it might be an early April Fools prank, although it was further supported by an ad that started airing on GSN (the name Game Show Network has gone by for the past few years) which said the same thing: Sale of the Century is coming to GSN on April 1st at 9:30 A.M. Eastern time!  I really hope this news is true, because over the past few months, Sale has become one of my favorite game shows ever.  It feels like Jeopardy crossed with Let’s Make a Deal.  Some general knowledge questions are asked with correct answers earning contestants a bit of money.  Every so often, the contestant in the lead has the opportunity to “buy” luxury items such as furniture or exotic trips at the cost of a portion of their earnings.  The contestant with the most money at the end gets a fabulous prize like a 52-day cruise, a ten thousand dollar check, or even a new car if they stay on the show long enough.  I’ve watched a few episodes of Sale on YouTube, and it looks like it could be a really fun show for me to play along with.  There’s also a bunch of new episodes of other classic game shows on GSN on April 1, so that could be a really good day for me to “call in sick,” at least in the morning.  I sure hope those new shows aren’t an elaborate prank.

These are a few things I’m anticipating over the course of the next three days, and I’m sure there will be a few surprises along the way.  Leave your thoughts in the comments, and have a great weekend, everybody!

Thomas the Tank Engine: A Sodor Sing-Along

Monday, March 25th, 2013
All aboard!

Rolling along the tracks of life…

I’ve been on a bit of a “Thomas the Tank Engine” kick lately.  Since the recent announcement of a new Thomas movie coming out in 2013, I’ve been hunting for Thomas videos and DVDs at garage sales and  bargain bins, looking to reconnect with a cherished piece of my childhood.  I’ve also tuned in weekly to the Thomas & Friends TV show to see what all the engines look like now that CGI is being used instead of the old model trains (I prefer the models, but the computer animation isn’t too bad).  I have rediscovered many wonderful friends on the island of Sodor, and I love seeing them all.  A couple of days ago, I bought a DVD full of songs from the TV show and spent a bit of last night appreciating just how good the songs were and the great memories they brought back.  Here’s a few of my favorite songs from the show along with links to YouTube videos featuring them.  Credit for most songs goes to series composers Mike O’Donnell and Junior Campbell who I feel gave just the right kind of lighthearted feel this series called for in terms of music.  The one exception is “Hear the Engines Coming” which was written by Robert Hartshorne.  Feel free to share them with your kids; I think these songs are too much fun to keep to yourself.

“Toby”

This song features one of my favorite engines in the whole Thomas universe (other than the big blue guy himself, of course).  It’s a three minute retelling of the story of how Toby the tram engine came to Thomas’s railway after being shut up in a shed for years.  That story almost always makes me cry a little at the thought of Toby being cut off from everyone for so long.  The song makes this thought even more unbearable for me because the kids singing it soon start wailing, “Toby, oh Toby,/What will become of you?/The world’s much nicer whenever we see you.”  I agree with them wholeheartedly: the whole world does seem a lot nicer whenever I see Toby’s big square body and cute little smile, and I’m glad that the song ends with him going out into the world again.  It also has a great melody taken from Toby’s signature upbeat musical theme which always precedes his appearances in the series and which I never tire of hearing.  No matter how old I might get, I’ll always cherish Toby’s presence in my life.  Like the song says, “Oldies but Goldies, we still care for you.”

“Sir Topham Hatt”

Please note that this is the 1994 song, not the 2010 rendition which covers virtually the same territory but with a light jazz motif which I really don’t like much at all, so, in my opinion, the lesser said about that one the better.  The 1994 song is a musical tribute to the big guy in the top hat and black coat who runs one of the most famous parts of the Sodor railway system.  Basically, the song covers Hatt’s rotund figure, his control of the railway, and recounts a few of his more iconic moments in the series.  It’s all sung to a melody that throws its weight around through heavy percussion beats and loud brass notes, just like the character it is dedicated to.  If you ever wanted to explain to someone who has never heard of the Thomas franchise who Sir Topham Hatt is, this song would be a good place to start.

“Hear the Engines Coming”

As I hinted at above, I generally don’t like a lot of the newer songs that have been written for the Thomas series.  Most of them tend to be written in Broadway, rock-and-roll, and light jazz styles which I think clash a lot with the old-fashioned setting of the series.  I do like this song from 2011, however.  It turns the puffs, whistles, clanks, bangs, and bashes of the engines’ work day into a fun, noisy song that made me smile the first time I heard it, possibly the first time I’d cracked a really big grin at anything I’ve seen during the CGI era.  I’ve always liked songs and stories that turn noise into a fun rhythm game, and this song hits that sweet spot for me.  I don’t think of it as a classic like the songs from when I was growing up, but it’s not half bad.

“Island Song”

I had actually never heard this song before (or at least I didn’t remember it from my childhood) until I picked up the DVD I talked about at the beginning of this post.  I felt myself crying a little bit as this song went on because it reminded me of why I fell in love with the Thomas the Tank Engine show in the first place.  In fact, that was pretty much how I felt after hearing the first verse: “Picture a land where the sky is so blue/A storybook land of wonder/A magical land just waiting for you/Island of Sodor will make your dreams come true.”  The show’s depiction of Sodor as a perpetually green in the summer (pristine white in winter) land full of talking train engines definitely left a strong impression on me when I was younger and has stayed with me for years.  As new generations discover Thomas for the first time, I feel compelled to join in with the chorus and tell those kids, “Children follow the dream/To the land of make believe.”  I am sure that dream will live on forever as long as kids care to dream it.

“Thomas’ Anthem”

We started with a song about one of my favorite engines, so now I’ll close with my absolute favorite song from the series, which coincidentally happens to be the first one ever featured in the series.  Like the title indicates, this song is pretty much the original Thomas theme song, using the music from the opening title sequence to back up its chorus, “Thomas the Tank Engine rolling along,/[whistling part – I don’t quite know how to do it all that well either for this post or in real life; you can hear it for yourself in the video, so bonus points if you can replicate it on your own]/All of his friends will be coming along/Thomas, we love you!”  I was actually surprised the original title sequence even had lyrics, but when I heard them, I thought to myself, “Yup, this one’s going to stay with me.”  I also kind of like the new intro song it’s been replaced with since my childhood, “Engine Rollcall,” but there’s a part of me that will always like the original theme the best.  I didn’t hear it until well after my formative years were over, but it reminds me of when I first saw the show, and that’s a great thing in my book.

These songs always bring back my childhood whenever I hear them, and I hope you enjoyed them, too.  What did you think of them?  What songs do you like?  Let me know in the comments, and keep puffing along!

Random Top Five: My Favorite Fives

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
One, two, three, four...guess what's next?

Coming in at Number Five!

Five is a number that is less than six, more than four, and number one in my heart.  The number five also turns up a lot in popular culture.  I wonder why that is.  I want to find out someday, but until that day comes, here are five of my favorite fives.

5. Subway’s “Five,  five dollar,  five dollar foot-long” jingle

I haven’t taken advantage of the deals being advertised in the Subway commercials featuring this jingle, but I do find the tune itself to be very catchy.  It’s got a simple thumping rhythm that makes me feel like I belong to something bigger.  Not bigger in a religious sense, mind you, just bigger in the sense that the jingle is welcoming me in.  It’s still “…g-g-going strong” for me!

4. The five starting members of the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

Whenever I think of this exciting action show that I loved watching during the ’90s (even though I didn’t really understand what was going on), I tend to think of the five “teenagers with attitude” who were first selected to be on the team.  Jason, Kimberley, Zack, Trini, and Billy were a diverse group who always tried to do the right thing and made kicking alien butt in multicolored superhero costumes look very, very fun.  Tommy joined later as the Green Ranger, but I always viewed him as a side character whereas the other five kids were on the show all the time.  Ironically, Tommy is one of the few Power Rangers characters to have continued to make appearances in the franchise much later than his heyday and modern groups of Rangers have initially had as few as three members, but I feel those original five Rangers formed the blueprint for the team’s balance and will continue to inspire new groups well into the future.  Whatever happens to the Rangers next, I’m sure it will always be “Morphin’ Time!”

3. Counting by fives with Schoolhouse Rock’s “Ready or Not, Here I Come”

The video accompanying this song features a group of kids playing hide-and-seek in a field of rolling hills, grass, and trees while practicing counting by fives all the way up to one hundred.  I can’t really remember much about the song itself beyond the numbers being delivered very fast.  The video doesn’t have too many standout moments for me either beyond the setting and the kids recalling the numbers using their fingers.  I do find myself singing the “counting by fives” part for no particular reason sometimes, however, so I guess it must have worked its way into the deep recesses of my mind somehow.

2. Numbuh Five from Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door

The Kids Next Door are a group of kids who carry out secret-agent/commando missions to stop the fiendish plots of evil adults.  All of the members are very cool in their own ways, but in my view, Numbuh Five, Abigail Lincoln, was practically the definition of “cool.”  She always looked confident whenever she headed into battle, and her signature red hat and blue coat made her seem, to me,  able to handle the pressure, even if she may have actually felt scared or uncertain.  The other KND members often experienced embarrassing moments, but at least Abby was able to keep a level head most of the time.

1. Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”

Some might call this song annoying (it ended up in AOL’s Top 100 Worst Songs list at #95), but it’s one of my favorite songs to listen to.  Whenever it comes on the radio, I turn the volume up and enjoy the awesome audio samples of brass bands which back up Lou’s vocals.  I’ve never been too crazy about the lyrics but I do feel they go perfectly with the music, making it sound like a lost Roaring Twenties jazz love song that somehow time traveled to 1999.  My favorite part comes when Lou calls for, “The trumpet!”  Some awesome horns are played in that section, probably the reason I love this song so much.  Incidentally, there’s a version of the song that played on Radio Disney back in the day where all of the girls’ names are replaced by Disney characters like Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.  I’ve listened to both and I prefer the original version (I don’t know why), but either way, the brass band still sounds good to me.

Do you have any favorite fives?  Give me your five cents’ worth of thoughts in the comments.

Pop Culture Questions (and My Answers!) 3: Stopping Crazy Things

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
How did that other question mark turn upside-down anyway?

Some questions turn you upside-down and inside-out.

For those of you who were looking forward to another edition of Pop Culture Questions on Tuesday, I apologize.  Due to circumstances beyond my control (and also because I hadn’t really thought of any good questions yet, and also I was kinda tired), I decided to do a shorter post, the first ever Random Top Five list.  I’m feeling a bit more at the top of my game, now, though, so let’s get back to exploring the nooks and crannies of pop culture for new queries to consider.

How come no one trips on the moving sidewalks on The Jetsons?

The future world presented on The Jetsons is one of my favorite TV environments.  I love seeing all of those high-rise buildings and flying cars and imagining what it would be like to live there.  One part of the show I think I would absolutely hate, though, would be the “moving sidewalks,” those conveyor belts on the floor that the characters are always stepping onto to save time from walking everywhere.  George Jetson, his family, Mr. Spacely, and just about everyone else in the universe seems to manage just fine in handling these sidewalks, a phenomenon which I took for granted when I was younger but which greatly bugs me now. 

No one trips on the sidewalks and ends up having their feet crushed under a doorway or wall or wherever those sidewalks start or end.  The sidewalk never moves too fast and sends someone hurtling through a glass window and falling hundreds of feet to the planet below (if there even is a planet down there).  Every other machine seems to go haywire at least once an episode, but those moving sidewalks always work the way they’re supposed to.  Even during the closing credits when George gets caught on the treadmill (“Jane, stop this crazy thing!”), he just keeps going around and around, the forward momentum always carrying him but never throwing him off.  I would be terrified out of my mind if moving sidewalks became a common mode of transportation in real life; I have seen a few in action in various places, but I still feel uncomfortable about getting on one myself.  I feel a bit more comfortable with escalators and elevators, but not by much.

How come there are so many turtles and walking mushrooms in Super Mario Bros.?

My favorite enemies in the Mario series are none other than the first ones I ever saw, the turtles (Koopa Troopas) and walking mushrooms (Goombas).  I’m still curious, though, as to how their numbers became so big.  They seem to multiply like rabbits with each new game that comes out.  It’s come to the point that I’ve seen them start long Broadway-style chorus lines in my dreams.  What has caused this surge in their populations?  Sure, they are pretty cute, and I guess they’d have to be popular if they keep showing up.  Real turtles do produce a lot of baby turtles and you can find mushrooms just about everywhere.  But still, these guys show up everywhere in Mario’s universe, whether they’re in grasslands, underwater, in frigid snowscapes, and even in outer space.  To me, it can seem a bit like overkill at times.  I’d like to imagine that King Bowser has a section of his castle estate designed to be a huge breeding ground and training center just for Koopas and Goombas.  They are probably subjected to all sorts of rigorous tests to make sure they can survive in any type of environment, and luckily for Bowser, most of them do pass with flying colors.  It’s too bad Darth Vader never turned these guys into his stormtroopers; who, besides Italian plumbers, could possibly fight back against turtle shells flying right at their heads?                  

How come the song’s called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

I think love is one of the greatest things a person can experience in this world.  No wonder so many songs have been written about it!  Through these timeless tunes, we’ve learned that love “is a many-splendored thing,” “takes time,” is “hard to find,” “knows no season” or “clime”, and, in short, “does exactly what it wants to do.”  Obviously, love is very demanding, so maybe there’s a good point to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ age-old musical question, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”  Still, I feel there’s a negative tone to the question that Lymon and the Sour Bunch raised, because I’m sure most people don’t feel like fools when they fall in love with someone.  They probably think all is right with the world and that nothing could possibly go wrong.  Even though I do think that is a foolhardy way of thinking, that doesn’t make lovers fools.  Some pretty smart guys have fallen in love, too.  Just look at Peter Parker (you know, the Spider-Man guy) who has fallen in love with Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Felicia Hardy, and a bunch of other girls over the years.  Of course, some of the girls he has gone out with later turned out to be bad eggs, but that doesn’t make him a fool.  I haven’t even fallen in love with anyone yet, but does that make me a fool?  Let’s just agree to disagree here, Frankie Lymon and the Funky Bunch: everyone, including fools, smart guys, and everyone in between, can fall in love.

So, did you love this question-and-answer session?  Did it help you to come out of your shell?  Did it move you like the sidewalks on The Jetsons would move you?  I wait with bated breath for your comments.

Weekend Thoughts: March 2-3, 2013

Monday, March 4th, 2013
My days truly are numbered.

Time to check what we learned today.

This blog entry is very special for all of us here at Kellogg Thoughts.  This is the tenth official entry I’ve written for this site:  we’re into double digits now!  Even better, this is the second entry dedicated to my Weekend Thoughts, reflections on things I noticed or learned during the two days I normally do not write or upload material to this blog.  However, as you may have noticed if you checked this site during the weekend, I actually did do some work on the blog for reasons which I feel obligated to explain to all of you below.  So, without further ado, my most prominent thought during the weekend was…

 

Sometimes, I will have to work on this blog during the weekend, but that’s not a bad thing.

The second Real Advice for Fictional Characters entry was originally supposed to appear on Friday, but I had a little trouble with making the entries come out the way I wanted, so I thought a bit about it overnight and finished it up on Saturday.  My main objective with these “advice” entries is to make sure that all of the jokes are genuinely funny and the references to characters and the works they appear in aren’t too obscure.  Working on this particular entry proved more difficult than usual; at the beginning, I kept thinking about how advice columns usually look and I guess I forgot to put in funny jokes.  I had to go back several times and edit, rewrite, and replace the “mail”  until I had something I could genuinely call funny.  I now believe the old saying is definitely true: Laughing is easy, but comedy is hard.  I think writing comedy might be the hardest of all!  But, I like seeing the results of my efforts. 

 

Even the shortest of journies can be epic.

I downloaded a free iPad game over the weekend called MicroVentures which quickly became one of my favorite new diversions.  You play as one of three different heroes: a knight, a rogue (basically a medieval ninja with very strong attack power), or a wizard, all with their own styles of gameplay and storylines, and take them through randomly-generated worlds full of monsters and treasures.  Each gameplay session lasts about five minutes as you explore the world, make your character stronger through weapon upgrades and helpful items, then tackle the gigantic boss monster waiting at the end to either, depending on the story driving your current quest, collect the most valuable treasure or rescue an important character.  This formula did get a bit stale once I figured out how a lot of things in the game worked, particularly with the storylines which read a lot like Mad Libs stories filled out during a few games of Dungeons and Dragons.   But even then, there is a bit of variety to the environments you can go through, the monsters you fight, and the items you collect which kept me coming back for multiple play sessions.

I’ve played through about twenty-five adventures in this game already, and I feel like I have mastered two of the game’s three characters.  The basic strategy for the knight is to collect anvil power-ups to increase his strength so he can take care of most monsters in one or two hits, and the rogue’s strategy calls for collecting potions to keep her strength up while her aptitude for critical hits keeps you mowing down enemies through to the end.  The wizard is still a mystery to me because the spells he casts don’t seem all that effective to me and it takes a while for him to build up good offensive capabilities.  I’ll keep playing to see if I can figure him out, too, and to see if I can clear the new two-part quests I apparently unlocked during my last few gameplay sessions.  This game still surprises me with each new world it creates, and exploring them is still very fun.

 

I’m still not sure what to think of History’s The Bible.

The big highlight of my weekend was watching the premiere of the History Channel’s ten-part miniseries, The Bible, with my mom.  I had heard about it a few months ago and was looking forward to it to see just what kind of adaptation it would be.  There were some parts I liked about the show and how it faithfully depicted Biblical events, but I was disappointed by other aspects of the production which I felt could have been done better or should have been included.  While this topic could pretty much take up an entire blog entry on its own, I’ll just make three small observations here.  They are all related to the show, not the work it adapts; please don’t interpret anything I write here as a comment on the Bible itself.  I love it with all my heart, and I just feel that the show could have done a lot better in terms of faithfully adapting it for television.

1. The stories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark were not covered in any particular depth.  They were pretty much relegated to a five-minute introductory sequence before moving right into Abraham’s story.  I was highly disappointed with this detail because the previews had made me believe that these stories would be a bigger part of the show than they turned out to be.  I was looking forward to how the show would interpret them, too, so to see them treated as mere window dressing felt to me like I had been ripped off a bit.  I think these two stories are some of the most famous and important parts of the entire Bible, so it feels strange to me that a major TV show whose main purpose is to faithfully present the Bible would basically skip them.

The show also skipped over the forty-year period between the Exodus and Joshua’s invasion of Jericho when the Israelites were wandering in the desert.  I can understand how this might be hard to adapt into a television show, but I was surprised when it did not even provide so much as a brief explanation of this jump in time or any mention of the wandering period at all.  That’s three whole books of the Bible they jumped over (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

2. There are no “talking heads” on this show.  The Bible presents all of its material as straight adaptations of Bible stories accompanied by an off-screen narrator.  I think this kind of show could easily have been done on HBO, Showtime, AMC, or any other network, but I was expecting something a little more special from the History Channel.  I kept looking for signs that the show was going to bring in Biblical scholars, people of faith, skeptics, any and all manner of experts to talk about and make sense of the stories being presented.  I love shows with that kind of informative discussion, and I feel that the Bible would lend itself to a very interesting conversation.  I was disappointed to see that it shied away from this approach, as it has done for a lot of the other shows on the network.  I feel like this show lost out on a big opportunity to present an honest discussion that you do not see very often on regular television, one I would eagerly look forward to.  Perhaps the show’s producers are expecting viewers to have that sort of discussion among themselves, but I would have liked to have seen informed professionals take a crack at it. 

3. I was very impressed with the show’s depiction of Moses and the Isrealites and the story of the Exodus.  The segment with Abraham was a bit hard for me to take because of the massive death counts and hard decisions of faith which seemed to come every few minutes or so.  The first portion of the Exodus story was like that, too (I never thought too much of what Pharaoh and the Egyptians went through during the ten plagues until now), but at the end where the Isrealites had successfully escaped across the Red Sea, I felt like celebrating along with them.  After watching a lot more death and misery than I had expected, I thought about how the Israelites must have felt  after they had left behind hundreds of years’ worth of suffering.  It must have been exhilarating. 

 

That was my weekend in a nutshell.  If you have any thoughts about what I experienced that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments.

Real Advice for Fictional Characters No. 2: Me Need Help

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

question-mark-63979_150For the second installment of the feature in which I give famous (and occasionally infamous) fictional characters some sound advice, we have a mix of characters from film and television.  As with last week’s letters, the writer’s identities have been replaced with nicknames, but those nicknames will be linked to Wikipedia pages about the real McCoys for everyone playing along.

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I’m feeling a bit down in the dumps right now (literally; I live in a dump, you see).  For over thirty years, I’ve been stuck in the same dead-end job.  I was actually very happy with it at first because it paid very well (lots of quarters) and it was easy work.  Now, however, I’m getting tired of the daily grind.  Sometimes I feel like all that I’m good at is punching the clock (and bricks, and walls, and pretty much anything else you put in front of me).  I want to think outside the box and broaden my horizons, to break away from the same old routine.  I’ve been beating myself up about it for a long time, but now it’s time for some action.  Do you have any suggestions?  Don’t say, “Make some friends,” because I tried that already with some people at work, but I don’t think they really appreciated anything I had to offer.  Signed, Nervous Wreck 

Dear Nervous,

I’m not surprised at all that you’ve become tired of your work routine after thirty years; a lot of other people have, and sometimes sooner than you.  I’m going to level with you: I actually was thinking about suggesting a healthy friendship, even if you seem to have already lost a few points in that department; one good friendship is all some people need to improve their lives.  I agree with you that heading out into the world would be a good thing, too, but there is one question I have about your case.  Has all of your time just been spent at your job?  It seems to me like you’ve never even been more than ten feet from your house!  If you are as keen on heading outside as you say you are, then please, for the sake of your co-workers, bring a buddy along who knows the ropes.  Also, try to find a more worthwhile avenue for your aggression.  Too much pent-up anger can be quite unhealthy.  By the way, what does your family think about all this?  I don’t think you’d make your mother very proud with all of the sulking you’re doing right now.  Go grab life by the bullhorns and make something of yourself.  Enjoy the sweet things life has to offer, and don’t be too concerned about rewards or honors because life isn’t always centered around getting medals.  Put family first and find somewhere you belong, and you should do all right after that.  Thanks for writing, and game on!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I have recently been swept off of my feet and into a new place I never would have dreamed existed.  It’s the most wonderful place, all emerald and yellow, very pretty colors.   I’ve met some great friends along the way, too, but now I want to go home.  We were going to see someone who I think can help me get back to my family (I think he’s going to be simply wizard!), but there’s just one problem.  There is a really mean woman trying to stop us from reaching our goal, and I fear she’s going to do something horrible to us (but especially my dog; she seems to have an unhealthy obsession with him) if she isn’t stopped.  I’m telling you, she’s a real witch!  I wish I could just click my heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home,” and then I’m home, but that only happens in fairy tales, right?  I’m so confused, and I feel like a raging tornado of emotions inside.  Please help me!  Signed, Twisted with Toto

Dear Twisted,

Your letter has given me a lot of questions, but very few answers are coming to me.  Are you sure this “witch” (Such a derogatory term!) is really as bad as you believe she is?  Have you tried talking to her yet?  Maybe she just wants to compliment you on your dog.  It couldn’t hurt to ask.  Even if she turns out to be a jerk, don’t let her get in the way of enjoying your time in this new land.  You’re only feeling homesick.  Making good friends seems to have made you feel a little better, but you can do more.  Go around and see the sights.  Go down the yellow brick roads less traveled, look at the cities glowing like emeralds.  I can’t guarantee you’ll see any flying monkeys or anything like that, but what you do see should be very magical.  Enjoy your stay, and have a heart (and some brains and steady nerves while you’re at it)!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

Me writing because me had massive hunger attack this morning shortly after breakfast, but there nothing me want to eat!  Me okay with fruits and veggies most of the time, but right now, me want something sweet, daring, practically forbidden!  Me been considering cake, but that leave frosting all over me fingers, very messy.  Cupcakes and muffins no good, they too small.  Me out of options!  What me do? WHAT ME D…  What that?  On dat table over dere?  Big plate full of chocolate chippy, round, delicious…  YES!  COOKIES!  That what me been looking for all this time!  This gonna hit the spot!  Cowabunga!  Please kindly disregard this letter.  Signed, (there’s a huge hole at the spot where the signature would normally go; all that remains is a big letter C that looks vaguely like a crescent moon-shaped cookie with a huge bite taken out of it)

Dear whoever you are,

Ummm… thanks for solving your own problem, I guess.  I’m craving something myself after reading your letter.  I think I’ll have a plate of little peanut butter and cracker sandwiches to tide me over until dinner.  Thanks for writing in, and remember to write to us again if life ever bites back!  Ben    

Well, that’s it for this week folks!  Did you like the advice I gave?  What would you suggest to these characters?  What other characters would you like to see in this space?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Pop Culture Captains: Leaders and Inspirations

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013
If you can find the captain's quarters, congratulations! You have X-ray vision!

A mighty ship, perfect for a captain.

I have noticed that pop culture has a lot of captains in it.  Most of them are capable leaders who inspire greatness in the people serving under them as well as in the people observing them on the other side of the screen or page.  Others seem to just enjoy the power that comes with their position, willing to abuse that power for their own benefit or amusement.  I have had the pleasure of encountering some unique and colorful captains in my time, some more competent than others, but all having something important to add to the fabric of pop culture.  Here’s a brief look at some of my favorite captains.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

My mom once told me that most nights when I was a baby I would cry for hours on end, but when the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme started playing on TV, I would immediately stop crying and then start crying again when the theme was over.  Later on in life I started watching the Star Trek: TNG complete series DVD collection my dad and I had given my mom for Christmas, and while I still loved the theme, there was something else about the show that stood out to me now.  It was the bald guy in the captain’s chair with the baritone voice, always telling his crew members to “Engage,” “Make it so,” and boldly go where no one (besides Kirk and his crew) had gone before.  He looked like a nice guy, someone who you could tell was a capable leader just by looking at him.   After seeing him in action for seven seasons and a few movies, I can safely say he definitely lived up to my first impressions.  I’d like to have a long chat with him about in living in outer space; of course, my beverage of choice for this conversation would be, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” 

Cap’n Crunch, cereal mascot

This captain is, I feel, a bit less inspirational than Picard or Kirk, but he does serve an important purpose: making sure tasty cereal is part of your daily breakfast.  I always smile a little when I see the Cap’n’s big, wide grin on a cereal box; there’s just something about his face that makes the whole world seem brighter.  I’ve also noticed that he looks a little bit like the Quaker guy in the corner of the box: they both have white hair, wear blue hats, and sport smiles more innocent and sincere than the Cheshire Cat’s.  I don’t care if there’s more nutritional or better-tasting cereals on the supermarket shelf, because his smile always draws me in and makes me feel at home.

Captain Tenille, MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge

This captain does not belong to any particular navy, although he apparently does own a few ships.  In fact, his official role on this Japanese game show parody is “field marshal.”  Captain Tenille (known in Japan as General Tani; I’m still not sure why he went down in rank when the show was exported) is the guy the show’s producers turned to when they needed someone to shepherd contestants through the toughest obstacle course on television.  I think he does a decent job in this regard; he certainly does lead dozens of contestants to near-constant pain and  injury over the course of a half-hour.  However, Tenille does this with a certain degree of aloofness.  His signature taglines are “Let’s go!” at the start of the show and “Get it on!” at the beginning of each new set of obstacles, and he delivers these lines in a way that, to me, indicates he doesn’t really care what happens to the contestants just as long as he gets to continue enjoying the game.  He has been known to push contestants out onto the course in order to keep the show moving.  He has even manipulated the teams’ scores a few times to serve his own interests.  For instance, in an episode pitting Democrats against Republicans against Independents in which no one scored any points during the entire show, Tenille gave the GOP team a point at the end because that was the party he voted for during the election.  Yes, he’s a deplorable figure, but, in my opinion, he’s one of the most entertaining characters on the show, and a hard person not to like.

Captain Underpants, children’s book series star and superhero

As with Captain Tenille, this gentleman is a captain in name only, but I think he lives up to his moniker.  I have read his adventures for many years now, and I think he does look the part of an inspirational and heroic figure, despite the fact that most of the time he is wearing just some tighty-whitie briefs and a red cape (tastefully rendered by author and illustrator Dav Pilkey, no less).  He is also a very well-meaning hero, fighting for truth, justice, and improving readers’ literacy in the face of overwhelming odds.  When you’re going up against armies of talking toilets, aliens disguised as cafeteria ladies, and evil professors trying to give everyone in the world embarrassing names, you need all the courage and self-esteem you can get, so thank goodness Captain Underpants has that in spades.  Of course, his young sidekicks George Beard and Harold Hutchins take care of most of the day-saving while the Captain stands around giving speeches about never forgetting the power of underwear, but what’s wrong with that?  Don’t most great superheroes have young sidekicks for juvenile readers to look up to?  Think of Batman and Robin, Captain America and Bucky, Flash and Kid Flash, Superman and… wait a minute, Superboy was just Superman as a kid, wasn’t he?  Anyway, Captain Underpants provides hope for people everywhere that their kids will have fun while learning to read, and I think his stories are still just as fun to read  now as they were when I first discovered them.

These are the captains who have meant the most to me over the years.  Other captains came and went like Captain Kirk, Captain America, and Captain Nemo, but none of them had the staying power in my heart that the above captains possessed.  They helped me to sail to greater horizons (and in the cases of Captains Tenille and Underpants, great laughter), and they all left memorable imprints on me.  Do you have a favorite pop culture captain, and if you do, why do you like them?  Are there any other pop culture figures with military ranks you like?  Sail into the comments section and leave your answer at the docks.

Growing Up with Saturday Morning Shows

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
Life in a box.

Remember your favorite shows?

I have very fond memories of certain points in my life.  I remember waking up in my crib and, for the first time ever, being aware that I was in my room.  I recall being the ringmaster for a pretend circus in my preschool class, holding a portable microphone and announcing each new act.  I remember spending what felt like ages going through every book in my third-grade class’s computer reading program, astounded by the fact that some of my favorite stories were part of the offerings.  They play out in my mind as isolated incidents, feeling familiar yet distant from where I am today.  I can recall certain parts very clearly while the rest remains forever obscured from my memory.  

However, one area of my life which I remember with particular fondness and clarity is watching Saturday morning children’s television.  There were so many amazing moments which I laid witness to through this type of programming that it would be difficult for me to summarize the whole of it.  Instead, I have decided to address some of the more outstanding moments for me, what they have meant to me, and how they have shaped my life.

Whenever I think of the words “Saturday morning,” I cannot help but recall the opening title sequence to ABC’s One Saturday Morning programming block.  This one was a real eye-opener when I first saw it in 1996-97, and I thought it was the best part of the whole day.  The opening sequence was arranged around a song describing the excruciating torture of working through the week to get to the most fun part of the week, the “five hours of summer, once a week” filled to the brim with great entertainment that, to me, felt like nothing else on TV other than the Fox Kids and Kids WB weekday afternoon schedules (more on those later).  I thought the opening sequence illustrated the idea of Saturday being the most fun day of the week in a very novel way.  The rest of the days of the week were depicted as drab gray buildings filled with homework and assembly lines, signifying how boring and humdrum the rest of the week could be to a kid.  After the camera finished panning past all of these buildings, it zoomed through a dark door and into a sunny meadow where a large colorful skyscraper shaped like a number “1 ” grew up out of a box and a roller coaster expanded and wrapped itself around the building.  The camera then swirled around the “1” and went in through the front door to reveal a gigantic CGI set full of kids bouncing around the place.  This virtual set played host to short skits  in between shows, but I wasn’t as wild about the skits as I was about the opening sequence.  This sequence greatly shaped my perceptions of Saturday morning as a time to forget about my tensions from the rest of the week and have fun for a few hours.  The shows that aired during the morning did not always live up to the expectations established by the opening sequence, but it was still the most memorable part of the morning for me.

I watched the shows on Fox Kids and Kids WB more often than I watched those on ABC.  This was partly because in addition to airing on the weekends, both of these TV lineups also aired on weekday afternoons, giving me an opportunity to watch them more often.  Quite a few of the shows I watched on Saturday mornings were the same ones I watched during weekdays; the Saturday morning airings would usually be new episodes.  There were two shows I watched in this way which I still remember very fondly.  One of them was Histeria, an entertaining and educational show from the creators of Animaniacs which taught history in funny and sometimes controversial ways.  I remember learning a lot from it, and I was disappointed to see it taken off the air after a short time. 

The other show was Digimon: Digital Monsters, a series similar to Pokemon about a group of children adventuring with powerful transforming creatures.  I thought the series had some great characterization and plenty of action and humor which had much appeal to my eight-to-ten year old self.  During my prime days of watching Saturday morning programming, Digimon aired its first three seasons.  Of the three, my favorite was the third, also known as Digimon Tamers.  A more mature take on the show’s premise, this season showed what children with all-powerful monsters might do if they had battles in the real world (surprisingly, a city would not be completely destroyed unless a gelatinous goop with the color and consistency of strawberry jelly invaded).  The first season comes in second for me; it came shortly after I had been watching Pokemon for about three years, turning the latter’s formula completely on its head with humor and action which I thought the other show couldn’t quite equal.   The second season is a distant third in my book; while it was nice to see how the first season’s characters were getting along, I got the sense that there wouldn’t be much else you could do with that particular setting without making some major changes.

As time went by, I started watching less and less Saturday morning television, partly because it didn’t appeal to me much anymore and partly because most of what I had liked I could now find on cable networks.  Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network provided Saturday morning-type programming 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, accessible at any time of day.  Both channels carried old cartoons like Looney Tunes and Alvin and the Chipmunks as well as new cartoons like Rugrats and Dexter’s Laboratory.  Each channel also had unique features which kept me watching, such as Nick with fun game shows such as Double Dare and Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Cartoon Network with the action-oriented Toonami lineup hosting shows like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z.  There was something interesting to watch for seemingly every hour of the day. 

I was actually a pretty lucky kid.  I was able to get all of the major kids’ networks and both of the Saturday morning network lineups.  I watched the best of everything I could wrap my eyeballs around to the point that the way I watched television seemed like programming my own personal network.  In recent years, I have rediscovered many of the shows I enjoyed as a kid, and I have noticed new details and deeper themes in them which have made me appreciate them in a new light.  In a way, Saturday morning can happen for me any time of day now.  Regardless of what may change though, I will still remember when everything fun revolved around “five hours of summer, once a week.”