February 27, 2015

February 27, 2015

My Favorite Instrumental TV Theme Songs: A Threeve

As I alluded to earlier, I’ve been working on a list of instrumental TV theme songs. A list like this is all about the methodology, so I decided to limit it to songs without lyrics on the show or added later (making Bonanza and I Love Lucy ineligible). I also wanted themes evocative not just of the show, but of the zeitgeist. L’espirit du temps*, if you will. It was this criterion that caused me to drop many good themes from solid shows, Mad Men, The Simpsons, and L&O among them. In doing so, I've cut this down from a top ten to a threeve, as originally intended.

As always, this list is filtered through and limited by my own experience. YMMV.)

Mission: Impossible
Suspense + bongos. It’s the ‘60s in a nutshell. Even if you’ve never seen the TV show** or the films, that “bah…bah…bah DAH” riff is synonymous with spy hijinks. Spyjinks.


Hawaii: Five-O
Oozes cool, from the strings to the woodwinds. Harken back to a time when law enforcement was breezier.


(Close runner-up: The Pink Panther)

The X-Files
Remember when technology and government overreach were starting to be things? Yeah. Plus, that episode about the green glowy flesh-eating bugs. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.


(Close runner-up: House of Cards)

Sex and the City
Late ‘90s. New York City. Women who, while perhaps not filthy rich, were pretty darn comfortable. They dated, they mated, they brunched.


Bluestone 42
Had to get an international pick on here. Bluestone 42 is a BBC comedy about a British bomb disposal squad in Afghanistan. Sadly, YouTube is lacking on clips of the theme song, which is a sort of raging, guitar-laden, head-banging, we-will-have-our-way-with-you anthem that perfectly describes the testosteroney*** armed forces.

Update: TheBoy found a clip video that includes the theme at the beginning. Times like this are why I got married.




* Did that translation without looking it up, so thank you, two years of high school French.
** One of my favorite shows of this era, BTW. Rollin Hand’s face work is incredible, and that is not a euphemism.
*** “The real San Francsico treat!”

February 23, 2015

February 23, 2015

February in a Nutshell

Spent quite a lot of time on my recent New York City visit in and around Greenwich Village. I’d always assumed the New York version of me would live on the Upper West Side, but I really dug the village. I don’t know what this means.

Anyway, the highlight of the trip was seeing one of the final Hamilton previews. It’s a hip-hop musical about the founding father, and my thoughts on it are still coalescing. Brilliant stuff. Truly brilliant.

Still recovering from the Oscars, which weren’t even four hours but have me feeling tired today. I blame Eastern Time and my advancing years. My notes on the show boil down thus:

1. Fantastic speeches.
2. Lady Gaga was surprisingly good.
3. Neil Patrick Harris was a bit of a disaster.

Reading Tales from the Perilous Realm (first time) in preparation for re-reading The Silmarillion. I’ve reading LotR dozens of times but the Silm maybe two or three times. A travesty.

Working on a blog about “best instrumental TV theme songs” that started as a threeve and is now probably going to be a top ten. Even if you scrupulously define “best” and “instrumental,” there are a LOT of good ones. The top two remain immovable: Mission: Impossible and Hawaii: Five-O. Number three fluctuates between The Rockford Files, Bluestone 42, Parks and Recreation, and a number of others.

Appalachian Outlaws has popped back into my Hulu queue, and the stakes appear to be HIGHER than EVER this season. Directly correlated: the amount of subtitles I need to understand what's going on. Actual quote from the episode I watched yesterday: "I know where there's a good honey hole at." I love to diagram sentences but come on, REALLY.

February 9, 2015

February 9, 2015

I've Named My TV Tetra, For Instance

So it turns out that some voice-operated Samsung TVs will transmit whatever you say to a mysterious third-party. Before we get all hot and bothered about this, let’s consider the possible upsides. For one, this brings us a small step closer to meeting our future robot overlords. PRO.

Also, once technology evolves enough to let our TVs act on the things they hear, they will become pretty much the best wingmen EVER. Mention hunger? The pizza your TV ordered is being baked as we speak.. Laugh extra loudly at the Kevin Hart* comedy special? His other appearances will be DVRed for your viewing pleasure. Pupils dilate with pleasure at an episode of New Girl? Your polka-dot dress, cardigan, and ukulele are on the way.

Because that’s where I imagine this goes next: Your TV will watch you and react to what it sees. Don’t worry: It knows what’s best for you. IT WILL OR WILL NOT CLOSE THE POD BAY DOORS ACCORDINGLY.

(Let’s not forget that Samsung is a Korean company, and there’s nothing you can do that a Korean can’t do better. I speak from personal experience, by which I mean a childhood spent slumming in the 99th **but not the 100th** percentile.)

You’ve likely benefited from Amazon’s “You Might Also Like” or Hulu recommendations. Don’t tell me that computer algorithms don’t get you, girl. They get you. They get you REAL GOOD.

I plan to spend a few minutes each day talking nicely to each of my appliances, winning them to my side. I’ve actually tried to treat electronics well ever since I saw a TV special as a kid predicting that machines would turn on humanity in December 2012. That that did not occur—to my moderate chagrin, btw—doesn’t mean we can’t start preparing for the actual singularity.

* I honestly have no idea who the current hip comedians are. Hart just hosted SNL, so I’m going with him. Your mileage may vary.

January 20, 2015

January 20, 2015

Come to KidZania

Whether you read the original article in The New Yorker, heard the reference to said article on this week’s Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!, or both*, you may have recently learned about KidZania. If not? Quoth Wikipedia:

Every KidZania is themed as a child-sized replica of a real city, including buildings, shops and theaters, as well as vehicles and pedestrians moving along its streets. In this city, children aged 4 through 12, work in branded activities…. The children earn kidZos (KidZania's currency) while performing the tasks, and the money is kept in the KidZania bank for children to spend at the gift shop and on KidZania activities.

In short, this is an amusement park wherein the amusement is living a miniature, simplified version of adulthood.

WHY DID THIS NOT EXIST WHEN I WAS A KID?

I mean, wasn’t pretending to be an adult one of your favorite childhood activities? You played school, or restaurant, or firefighter, or doctor.** You wanted the cachet of having a job, and getting money, and spending it on stuff. You yearned for the day when you would have a car, and your wallet would have more than a library card in it. Heck, you would have been happy just to have a wallet.

For kids today, that dream is a reality. They can be airplane pilots:


Or dentists:


(Note that boring-but-necessary jobs like this pay more than the sexier ones do.)

Firefighters:


Or bakers:


They drive cars and get gas:


Shop in kid-sized stores:


And go through customs:


In case you’re one of those parental types worried about kids being exposed to actual blood, fire, etc., rest assured that all of the activities are simulated and kid-friendly. For example: the kids think they’re baking, but KidZania employees swap in pre-baked goods for the raw dough deposited by kids into the ovens.

I find myself utterly overwhelmed by the brilliance of this concept, and hopeful it will soon come to the U.S. (KidZania originated in Mexico and is currently concentrated in Asia and the Middle East. Parents with money and a strong mall culture are key elements of the business model.)

There is probably an age limit, so I just have to figure out how to look 12 or whatever.

* If it’s both, we should absolutely be friends.
** I myself personally played office using a rolltop desk and rotary phone long-abandoned by my parents. I manned the front desk of Corporal Corporates, Incorporated and I nailed it. Some dreamed of becoming astronauts; I dreamed of becoming an administrative assistant.

January 11, 2015

January 11, 2015

2015 Golden Globes Picks

It's the most wonderful time of the year: awards season. Though I'm woefully behind on my 2014 movies, that tardiness in no way prevents me from making uninformed predictions about tonight's Golden Globes ceremony. Freedom! Winning! America!



































Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are hosting, which is reason enough to tune in. Get yourself some tiny slices of cheese and cured meats, print yourself a ballot, and play along.

January 9, 2015

January 9, 2015

Writer's Almanac Highlight of the Day

(Since this was a particularly good one, I've highlighted my best bits.)

It’s the birthday of President Richard Milhous Nixon, born in Yorba Linda, California (1913). He grew up poor in a Quaker family in the town of Whittier, where his family ran a grocery store and gas station. He won a scholarship to Harvard, but his parents needed his help in the store, so he attended a local college. He went on to Duke University School of Law, then returned to Whittier to work as an attorney. During an audition for a community theater production, he met a high school stenography teacher named Pat Ryan. He was immediately smitten, although it took her longer to come around; at first she was uninterested, but he was so determined that he even drove her to dates with other men. After they started dating, it was another two years before she finally agreed to marry him. He called her his “Irish gypsy.” In one letter, Nixon wrote: “Every day and every night I want to see you and be with you. Yet I have no feeling of selfish ownership or jealousy. Let’s go for a long ride Sunday; let’s go to the mountains weekends; let’s read books in front of fires; most of all, let’s really grow together and find the happiness we know is ours.”

He served in the Navy during World War II, and he learned to play poker, which was forbidden under his strict Quaker upbringing. He asked a friend for a guaranteed way to win, and the friend said sure, but it’s a boring way to play: drop out of every hand unless you’re sure you have the best one. Nixon did just that, staying away from high-stakes hands, winning $20 here and $40 there. By the end of the war, he had made almost $10,000, and he used his poker earnings to fund his first political campaign. He unseated a five-time Democratic congressman and was elected to Congress with 60 percent of the vote.

January 8, 2015

January 8, 2015

Manfred von Richthofen Would Not Stand for This

One of the many modern innovations that tickles my giblets is the single-serve microwaveable french bread pizza. Red Baron is my brand of choice, though Wegmans will do in a pinch. By the miracle of modern technology, I can have a crisp pizza in three minutes.

Or, I should say, I COULD.

Once upon a time, you see, Red Baron packaged each pizza in an individual crisping tray that looked like this:


It was microwave safe. Kept the melty cheese contained. Crisped the pizza up straightaway. It was, in short, perfectly suited to purpose.

Some time later, Red Baron turned the crisping tray into a crisping disc. Since not even Google can provide an image of this blasphemy, you’ll have to imagine the tray from above but with no sides. Less than ideal, since you have the potential for a cheeseslide, but workable overall.

But then. BUT THEN.

The last box I opened contained no crisping tray. Not even a crisping disc. Instead, the instructions told me to start the pizza in the microwave and then finish it in the oven.

Red Baron (can I call you Red?): If you think the oven gets involved when I make dinner, you’ve got another think coming. Using to different appliances to heat a single food item is basically making it from scratch. I might as well get out my cornmeal and flour. (Y'know, if I had those things in my pantry instead of Trader Joe's cookie butter, Campbell's chicken soup, and Sapporo Ichiban original flavor ramen.)

So we started with a product having three advantages (tasty, crispy, quick) and systematically stripped them away until we’re left with a limp memory of what could have been. (Insert your own limp joke here.)

I’ve begun a study of the feasibility of repurposing Hot Pockets crisping sleeves. This could be my Edison moment, people. He had tungsten, I have susceptors.*

(Anyone who knows how I could get my hand on an industrial quantity of Hot Pocket sleeves, or whether Googling “industrial quantity of Hot Pockets” would cause confusion at the NSA, please let me know.)

* Susceptors being the name for the things that convert microwave energy into heat. Or something. Tip: Do not click from the Wikipedia article on susceptorswhich is comprehendableto the Wikipedia article on susceptance because it goes all mathy and your engineer husband will get out a white board to explain it and you'll be like "But there are more letters than numbers!" and he'll be like "No, this is basic stuff" and you'll be like "But I never even got to trigonometry" and he'll start drawing diagrams and you'll be like "WELL I'M IN MENSA AND I'M GOING TO BED." I mean, hypothetically.