Monday, August 22, 2016

"Game of Thrones," Year Six

Minor spoilers ahead.

The infuriating thing about "Game of Thrones" is that it gets away with turning in some pretty lackluster episodes because the finales are always exceptional. So Benioff and Weiss get away with shamelessly writing off the Dorne storyline, mucking up much of Arya's trip to Braavos, spending most of the Mereen story stalling for time, and continuing to portray Jon and Sansa as much duller than they should be, because the Battle of the Bastards and the breathtakingly destructive final episode are amazing, and get all the attention. It's a little infuriating, and yet I still end up eagerly anticipating the next round. Let's take this season storyline by storyline, working our way from worst to best:

Dorne has been a mess on every level, and I was glad to see it mostly swept under the rug this year. It's a heartbreaking waste of good talent, but at this point the less we see of these characters the better. Sadly, Arya also had one of the worst storylines, thanks to murky rules about the Faceless God and some downright clumsy writing. While I enjoy all the characters here, including the addition of Essie Davis as a new target, it's never clear what Arya's arc is supposed to be until some hasty retconning in the last episode. Also, while "Game of Thrones" often stretches credibility with regards to surviving injuries, Arya's fights with the Wraith push it too far.

In the mixed category, the Iron Islands are finally seeing some action. The writers reportedly apparently reduced a longer, more involved story into a very brisk one, and boy does is show. The new villain, Euron Greyjoy. scarcely has time to make an impression. At least this means more of Yara, who is a lot more fun when she has other scene partners beyond Balon. Then there's the Brienne/Jamie/Blackfish situation at the siege at Riverrun, which isn't quite its own storyline, but warrants a mention. Blackfish makes more of an impression than Euron or Coldhands in the Bran storyline, but he still feels wasted. The interactions between Jamie and Brienne, however, are good to see.

Faring a little better are Bran, Meera, Hodor, and the three-eyed raven north of the Wall. I like this one mostly for being a source of some really satisfying answers to some of the show's big questions, even if a lot of it was filler. I respect the creators' decision not to have many flashbacks, but the jaunts to the past were sorely needed. It's also fun having Max von Sydow around for a few episodes. I'm also going to put Sam and Gilly here, since their storyline may have been low-key, but there was a lot of character-building for Sam in it. These two have slowly grown to be a comforting fixture in the "Game of Thrones" universe as everyone else is in so much constant turmoil.

Cersei and the Faith Militant at King's Landing built up to something quite memorable, but it felt like a story stuck on the backburner for most of the year. Characters like Jamie and Olenna came in and out, and there were multiple people to follow, making the story one of the more sprawling ones. it was also one of the most narratively inconsistent. I dreaded any time that Tommen had any significant screen time, though Margery and the High Sparrow mostly made up for it. As happy as I am with where the story ultimately took us, I'm very glad that we can put the bulk of this one firmly behind us as the series ramps up towards it finale.

I had some issues with Daenerys and Tyrion, but the highs of their stories were high enough to win me over. Occasionally it felt like they were treading water, replaying the duller parts of previous Dothraki and Mereen arcs, but they're also finally working up some momentum and are on their way out of Essos. Also, I'm so glad that Dany has cut ties with several characters who have been emotionally holding her back for far too long. I'd be happy to see them back eventually, but only after a long break. Dany's messiah moments haven't always worked in the past, but here they're deployed exactly when necessary, to pretty great effect.

And finally, the Battle of the Bastards may be one of the most satisfying episodes of the series. It's epic scale, cinematic as hell, and justice is served on someone who richly deserves it. The lead-up had some vast logic gaps - Sansa and all her allies make some egregious mistakes, and the Davos and Melisadre beef is put on hold for far too long - but I think it works overall. The Starks' luck has been so bad over the past few seasons, I'm automatically suspicious when anything turns out well for them, but this pendulum shift was long overdue.

So now the board has been cleared of many more pieces, and the remaining ones rearranged in anticipation for the bigger battles to come. With only two seasons and a limited amount of episodes left, the end game of "Game of Thrones" is in sight. Things are moving faster, and the fat is getting trimmed everywhere. I have my own theories abut how this is all going to turn out, but as more and more characters cross paths and the scope begins to narrow, I just hope that Benioff and Weiss don't pull their punches.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Person of Interest," Year Five

Spoilers for the entire series ahead.

I don't know if it's because I've been watching better shows, or if "Person of Interest" has slipped so much in quality, but its final season felt awfully dumbed down compared to previous years. The bits of exposition to help catch audiences up with the plot never felt more blatant or clumsy. I wasn't even bingeing episodes, and the hand-holding was obvious. And for a show that used to be so good about bending and evolving its formula, it was disappointing to find that much of the writing has gotten positively formulaic - Reese's deadpan quipping, Fusco's bluster, and Root's thinly disguised flirting. There were some bits of plotting that felt positively sloppy - the repeated emphasis on the simulated battles between the Machine and Samaritan really didn't lead to anything, for instance.

Or maybe it's the portrayal of the Machine. I've read several opinion pieces praising the lack of humanization of the A.I. in "Person of Interest." That all went out the window at the end of last year, when the Machine started communicating directly with its assets, and in increasingly emotional terms. This year, adopting Root's voice and much of her persona, it became practically human. Or maybe it was simply that the format of the show changed again, leaving aside all the government conspiracy and local organized crime storylines to focus on the final battles between the weakened Machine and the oppressive Samaritan. The Machine had to become more vulnerable in order for the potential loss of it to feel greater. Maybe I just wanted an ending with more finality than the one we got, which felt more like the end of a season and storyline rather than the end of the whole series. Even with the multiple deaths. Note that we've seen multiple fake-outs too recently for the resurrection of Reese not to be an option.

I liked individual episodes and individual performances though. Shaw's time in the Samaritan simulations was a highlight. So was Finch's solo mission to acquire the Ice-9 virus, holding existential conversations with the Machine on the side. He's still my favorite character, and his happy ending was the only part of the finale I really liked. It was a relief when Lionel finally got full Team Machine status at long last, but there wasn't enough time to indulge in the full comic potential of the idea. There wasn't time for a lot of things this year, with the shortened episode order. So many developments felt hurried. After all the dramatics around the capture of Shaw last year, the deaths of Root, Greer, and Elias felt positively brisk. The biggest victim was the season's only new villain, a Samaritan recruit named Jeff Blackwell (Joshua Close) whose loyalties are ambiguous, but not for long. I also can't help wishing we'd seen more old faces. It was great checking in with Zoe and Control last year, and I still can't help wondering whatever became of Leon.

As a fan of hard science-fiction and cyberpunk, I'm still happy with the show overall, but felt it made too many concession to the mainstream CBS audience in the end. Sure, they killed off some major characters, but once the stakes started being more about the survival of Team Machine and less about the frightening Samaritan takeover the planet that was so nicely set up last year, it lost a lot of teeth. We never did find out the extent of Samaritan's plans beyond sinister mentions of "sorting," and that's a shame. It's little boy avatar didn't appear at all. And frankly, the final showdown turned out to be a series of awfully simple action beats with very little time devoted to the larger questions about AI, privacy, security, and morality that were always the best part of the show. "Person of Interest" was excellent when in was operating in the gray areas, but everything in the finale was starkly black and white. The answers that were given felt too easy, and in some cases unearned.

I wanted too much, I suppose. Truthfully, it was a miracle that "Person of Interest" ever made it to air on a major network, or lasted as long as it has, while maintaining its high quality almost all the way to the end. The fifth season was problematic, but it was a decent enough conclusion - especially in light of the non-endings that crime procedurals usually get. The show introduced me to so much good talent, and had some of the best characters I've ever seen in this kind of show. Root and Finch are going to stay with me for a long time. I guess all I can do is look ahead to "Westworld," where a good chunk of the creative team seems to be headed. And prep my top ten list for "Person of Interest," which you should be seeing next month.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Eye in the Sky" Has a Pointed View

The subject of drone warfare has been addressed by films before, but never quite like this. "Eye in the Sky," a new military thrilled directed by Gavin Hood, neatly sets up a familiar moral dilemma - British and American forces have the opportunity drop a bomb and kill a collection of dangerous terrorists, but in all likelihood the bomb will also innocents. What's novel about "Eye in the Sky" is the presentation of all the players and the information that they have access to. The military, operating on different continents, are only able to see the situation though the camera in the drone, looking down from miles above, and a tiny surveillance camera that an operative sneaks into the house. However, the audience is given a fuller picture.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) of the British armed forces is in command of an international mission intended to capture several members of an extremist terrorist group who are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. The initial plan is to use ground forces, but when the terrorists change locations and begin preparations for what appears to be an imminent attack, the situation changes and only a drone bombing is considered a feasible method of stopping them. Doubts are raised by the drone pilot, Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), targeting tech Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox), and by Powell's superior, General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), who is observing the mission with members of the British government, Brian Woodale (Jeremy Northam) and Angela Northman (Monica Dolan). There are legal, political, and ethical considerations to using the drone attack, especially in the middle of a civilian population. The situation becomes even more intense when a little girl, Alia (Aisha Takow), starts selling bread in the street outside the house, directly in the predicted blast radius.

The tension in "Eye in the Sky" is ratcheted up slowly, but believably. Delays are caused as decisions have to be run up the chain of command, and officials need to be tracked down and informed. Confirming the identities of the terrorists targets requires a local undercover agent, Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), to sneak into a restricted area, where his ability to act is severely limited. As the Westerners in the UK and US argue thousands of miles away, their sophisticated surveillance technology ensures that they know exactly what's going on in Kenya from second to second. However, it also underscores how little control they really have over the situation despite so much power at their disposal. There are a few characters who make grand, broad statements about morality and ethics, but it's clear that the situation is a murky one, and there are no right answers. There are, however, very real consequences, and no one is in a hurry to take the responsibility.

At times "Eye in the Sky" reminded me of "Lebanon," a 2009 movie where we see everything through the gunsight of a tank during the Lebanon war. Through the drone camera, we can only see the people from overhead, their features barely visible. Alia appears on the military's screens only as a tiny red dot in her headscarf, perhaps making her easier for them to write off. Gavin Hood, however, refuses to let the audience do the same. The movie spends many of its opening scenes acquainting us with Alia's life in detail - her home, her parents, and the less-than-ideal environment she's growing up in. And without her saying a word, she serves as a devastating counterargument to the way that the Western characters are using the drone.

It was a canny decision to cast well-known and well-liked actors including Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman as the ones in charge of the mission, keeping them sympathetic in spite of their actions being so morally troubling. Mirren is especially good as the single-minded Colonel Powell, who uses every ounce of authority she has to try and steamroller all doubters and get the job done. From a few unguarded reactions, she clearly does have a heart, but if the film has a villain, it's her. Or maybe she's the hero - it's awfully hard to tell. This is also the first significant film role I've seen Aaron Paul in, and he's note perfect as the inexperienced American drone pilot who does all he can to buy Alia more time.

I'm a little conflicted about the way the film operates as an action thriller, how many of the close calls and moments of suspense are dramatically played up in the same way you'd see in a typical "Die Hard" movie for the audience's enjoyment. And I have to say it's a really effective thriller. However, I think that the way the film ultimately subverts the formula is very strong. Anyone who comes into this movie expecting a typical dumb action flick is going to be sorely disappointed, or at the very least conflicted. For those of us who want something more substantive to chew on, though, it delivers.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Into "The Embrace of the Serpent"

It's easy to become intimidated by the sheer otherworldliness of Ciro Guerra's "The Embrace of the Serpent," which was Colombia's first Best Foreign Language Film nominee at the last Oscars. It was shot mostly in black and white, deep in the Amazon jungle, and ten different languages are spoken by various characters. The action is set in 1909 and 1940, but the film feels timeless. There are very clear comparisons to be made to "Apocalypse Now," "The Mission," and "Aguirre the Wrath of God," all nightmare journeys into the jungle that highlight the horrors of Western colonialism. However, the central figure here is not the white man grappling with his morality and sanity as he plunges deeper into the natural world, but a native shaman, Karamakate, who has his own demons.

Karamakate, played in 1909 by Nilbio Torres and 1940 by Antonio Bolívar, is the last of his tribe. He lives alone in isolation in the jungle, until one day a sick German explorer, Theo Koch-Grünberg (Jan Bijvoet) arrives seeking a cure for his illness. Karamakate is reluctant, but agrees to journey with Theo an his Colombian guide Manduca (Yauenkü Migue) in search of the yakruna, a holy plant which is the only thing that can save Theo. In 1940, the now aged Karamakate is sought out by an American scientist, Evans Schultes (Brionne Davis), who has come to the region to study plants. He has read of the yakruna in Theo's published diaries, and has come to investigate, hoping for a cure for a different kind of sickness. Karamakate, his memory now spotty, agree to retrace his steps with Evan on a parallel journey upriver and into the past.

The film's final intertitles reveal that Theo and Evan were based on real people, and their writings are the only record of many of the peoples they encountered in the Amazon. Karamakate is fictional, but he's far more complex and interesting than either of the Westerners. We see him at two different times in his life, first as a younger, bitter man who is openly hostile to Theo and Manduca. He is quick to blame them for all the crimes of the destructive rubber barons and their Colombian allies, who have been steadily encroaching on the natives' lands, and slaughtering everyone in their path. He forms a grudging friendship with Theo as their journey progresses, though he remains prideful and demanding throughout. With Evan, thirty years later, Karamakate has become old, haunted by years of guilt and failure. He is far less antagonistic, more thoughtful, and perhaps ready to make amends.

And it's Karamakate's point of view that is vital to the film, that recontextualizes the events to chart the tragic destruction of the native cultures and the decline of its peoples. His is a world that is steeped in lore and mystery, where nature must be respected or the consequences are grave. Spirits and unseen forces hold sway, communicating with humans through visions and dreams. This is key to understanding his motivations. At the same time, Karamakate is a stark departure from the usual portrayals of native peoples, very active in the story and very self-possessed. He is quick to point out hypocrisies and flawed assumptions, clearly on the same intellectual footing as the Westerners, even if the kinds of knowledge that they possess are very different. The two actors that portray him are both excellent, especially Nilbio Torres. He makes Karamakate deeply sympathetic, even at his most disdainful.

The black and white cinematography of the jungle landscape by David Gallegos is mesmerizing, often dreamlike. According to the filmmakers, the lack of color was meant to evoke the ethnographic images created by the original explorers. However, it also helps to blur the lines between the time periods, and between the characters as the two storylines slowly merge at the climax of the film. The filmmakers also display a strong commitment to historical and sociological accuracy, even though Karamakate's tribe is a fictional one. Their accounts of the production are fascinating in and of themselves. The logistics of filming in the jungle with native non-actors must have been daunting, but clearly the film could not have been made in any other way.

Most of all, I appreciate the film for its humanization of a lost people, and for shedding critical light on a terrible chapter of human history largely unknown to the rest of the world. It's difficult at times to figure out exactly which conflicts are being referenced if you don't know much about South America in the early 20th century, but the filmmakers are merciless in their portrayal of its effects. Karamakate and his travelling companions come across many dangers in the jungle, but the worst are those wrought by Western commerce, in the form of the rubber plantations, and Western morality, in the form of a mission that Karamakate visits in both stories.

I expect that this will be a film that will be impossible to avoid talking about in any discussion of South American cinema going forward. Colombia's really only had a film industry for about a decade, but they've already made a masterpiece I'd put on equal footing with any other film released in this decade.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Missmediajunkie v. Pokémon

There's really no stopping them, is there? Almost twenty years after the original "Pokémon" craze, those little pocket monsters are back with "Pokémon Go," and everyone is out to catch 'em all, all over again.

My first exposure to Pokémon was the cartoon, which aired in syndication on the early weekday mornings, before it got snapped up by Kids WB in 1998. The animation was terrible, the characters were dull, and it was obvious that it was only made to promote the video games. Since I had younger siblings and cousins it was impossible to avoid watching it completely. So I learned about Ash, Misty, Brock, Team Rocket, Officer Jenny, and Nurse Joy. I recently quizzed myself and can still name about forty of the original Pokémon. And, of course, I can recite the Team Rocket motto and all the words to the Jigglypuff song. As the craze went on, it invaded all areas of American pop culture - the "Pokémon" movie broke a few minor records, and there were news reports about the first Pokémon Happy Meal tie-in madness. Christmas of 1999 was the height of Pokémania. And I just kind of learned to live with it.

Despite what certain nervous Christian groups maintain, "Pokémon" games and shows are fairly harmless. I can see how the cockfighting aspect might concern some parents, but it's couched in so much fantasy that it's difficult to really draw real world parallels. You could make the same arguments about the Ninja Turtles or the Gi Joes. I found the Pokémon critters themselves to be bright, silly, and appealing. I got used to seeing Pikachu pillows around my college dorm, and the stuffed animals being toted around by my youngest cousins. One year my mother, a music teacher, even let her younger group classes sing the "Pokémon" theme song for the big finale of their winter concert. The one aspect of "Pokémon" I had no connection to were the video games, which were numerous and apparently very addicting. And yet, the original Pokémon fans have grown up into perfectly normal, well-adjusted adults.

As an anime fan, I have a lot to thank "Pokémon" for. The cartoon was such a massive hit in the United States, it led to a big surge in other anime imports in the late 1990s. And while I didn't like "Pokémon," I have a tremendous fondness for the much weirder "Digimon" and "Cardcaptor Sakura" that followed in its wake. The downside was, of course, that all anime was suddenly "Pokémon," or for the slightly more informed average citizen, anime was either "Pokémon" or ultraviolent "Akira" cartoons. A well-intentioned co-worker, upon learning I liked anime in the early 2000s, gave me several pieces of "Yu-Gi-Oh" merchandise, an especially ghastly series based on a trading card game aimed at twelve year-old boys. I was in my early twenties at the time, watching "Cowboy Bebop" and "Ghost in the Shell: SAC." It would take a solid decade of Miyazaki movies and Adult Swim action shows to undo misconceptions.

Eventually, like all the kids' crazes, "Pokémon" subsided as the fans grew up and the next wave of kids decided that SpongeBob was more their thing. However, it never really went away. The anime is currently in its twentieth year and still airing on Cartoon Network and other channels. It's up to nearly a thousand episodes if you add up all the different series and spinoffs. The animation has improved, but not by much. The Pokémon games, of course, are still going strong, though there hasn't been anything to rival the overwhelming success of "Pokémon Go." All the fuss actually reminds me of the original furors in the '90s, when people were scouring stores for Pokédexes. It's oddly heartwarming to see so many people connecting over a shared love of cute anime monsters.

Oh, and no, I'm not playing "Pokémon Go" myself. Plenty of my friends and relations are, but Pokémon was never my thing and never will be. I'm really fascinated by the new AR component of the game, though, which recalls the obscure AR anime "Denno Coil." I suspect that when there are future AR games featuring different IP, I can be convinced to give it a try. Heck, if Disney ever does one, I may actually buy a smartphone.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Revisiting "The Little Prince"

I first read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's "The Little Prince" as a preteen, after hearing praise for it for some time.  My older cousin owned a copy in French, and had let me look at the pictures when I was younger.  It seemed like my kind of book, full of fantastic concepts, but I came away confused, unable to get my head around the sad ending.  I saw bits and pieces of the various media adaptations over the following years, including Rachel Portman's opera, but they didn't help spur much affection for the story.  So I'm glad that Mark Osborne's 2015 animated film about "The Little Prince" takes some time to acknowledge that this can be a difficult story to connect to.

This version of "The Little Prince" isn't the straightforward adaptation that I had been expecting.  Instead, the movie is chiefly concerned with a precocious Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) of about the same age that I was when I first read the book, who is told the story of the Little Prince (Riley Osborne) by the eccentric old Aviator (Jeff Bridges) who lives next door.  The Little Girl is being exhaustively prepared by her micromanaging Mother (Rachel McAdams) to be a success in the upcoming school year and beyond, but she slowly becomes friends with the Aviator, and then part of the story of the Little Prince.  Most of the film is rendered in CGI animation, but the stories of the Little Prince are in stop-motion animation.

I can't emphasize enough how lovely and evocative the stop-motion segments are, which directly adapt the Saint-Exupéry novel to film.  There's such a warm vibrancy and tactile delicacy to the characters, the simple designs reflecting the original watercolor illustrations beautifully.  The CGI animation is good, but not at the same level - there's something a little off about the character designs of the Mother and the Aviator - but there are a lot of ingenious visuals here too, in the glum conformist neighborhood where the Little Girl lives, and the cheerful clutter of the Aviator's home.  It surely made a difference that the director is a veteran of both mediums.  Mark Osborne is a familiar name to animation buffs, having come to prominence with the stop-motion short "More" in 1999, and then as co-director of the first "Kung Fu Panda" movie for DreamWorks in 2008.

The story is a little ungainly, with an extended third act sequence that imagines a nightmarish additional chapter of the Little Prince's adventures that is jarringly modern.  However, the film does an admirable job of showing how the present-day woes of the cynical Little Girl are relatable to the journeys and lessons of the Little Prince. There are a few moments where the fit is awkward, and some of the references and callbacks are awfully twee, but overall this feels like a very personal, genuine exploration of the book's themes and ideas.  I like that the film isn't too precious with the source material, being very faithful to it in one context, but then goes off on some wild tangents through the Little Girl's processing of it.  I haven't seen a children's film so boldly anti-establishment and anti-conformist in a long while - but remember that Osborne did direct "More."

You'll notice a lot of celebrity names in the cast, but most of them make only very brief appearances.  The big exception is Jeff Bridges' as the Aviator, who is a major character in the Little Girl's story and narrates all the Little Prince's adventures.  His performance is fantastic, often acting as a bridge (no pun intended) between the two sides of the movie.  Mackenzie Foy is also very good as the Little Girl, a little abrasive and a little incredulous in just the right proportions, but I think she may have been a bit too old for the role.  The production certainly does a good job of pretending that it's from one of the major Hollywood animation houses, but this was animated at several smaller studios including Montreal's Mikros Image, and was a co-production of several French production companies - which is very appropriate, given the material.  I'm curious about the French language version, where André Dusollier plays the Aviator.

I think that the best thing I can say about the new "Little Prince" film is that I wish I'd seen it when I was younger, and still stewing over the ending of the book.  I think this movie would have gotten me to go back and try reading it again.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Wait, What am I Watching?

The last regular network show that I was keeping up with, "Person of Interest," has ended. Also, "Preacher" recently wrapped up its first season, leaving me without anything serialized to follow at the moment. And it occurs to me that there' not much television that I'm actually watching anymore. To get a better picture, I went and took stock of every television series that I'm still committed to following for at least another season. Leaving out the Netflix shows to simplify this, I ended up with the following list:

"The Daily Show," "Game of Thrones," "Orphan Black," "The Leftovers," "The Venture Brothers," "Preacher," "Fargo," "Rick and Morty," "Doctor Who," "Review," "Humans," "The Expanse," "Top of the Lake," "Steven Universe," and "Sherlock." Not sure about "Mr. Robot" at the moment. I suppose we can also add "Twin Peaks" at Showtime, "Westworld" at HBO and "American Gods" at Starz, which I've been anticipating for a while. At most three of those series will be premiering new episodes before 2017, which means I've got an awful lot of room on the schedule at the moments.

It's a good time to try out some new series, but I've almost completely stopped following the development of upcoming shows. I went back and looked at all the coverage of the upfronts and the new fall shows, and there's not a single thing that I'm looking forward to. Instead, I'm just marveling at the repetitiveness and the dullness of the new programming. Kevin James is getting a new sitcom? "24" is back? And "Prison Break" too? I don't know how you turn "The Exorcist" or "Frequency" into series, but I don't trust the networks to do it right. And of course they're rebooting "Macgyver" and turning "Taken" and "Lethal Weapon" into cop shows. Of course. There are only two sitcoms that Iook vaguely promising based on the talent involved: "The Great Indoors" with Stephen Fry and Joel McHale, and "The Good Place" with Kristen Bell. I have no problem writing everything else off sight unseen.

I should note that cable premieres are relatively sparse during this time of year. Aside from a few miniseries, the biggest new title is probably the "Van Helsing" series on Syfy. I'm not interested, as I haven't seen the movie and have no desire to. However, Syfy produced a good number of series over the last year that have been promising - "12 Monkeys," "The Magicians," and the "Childhood's End" miniseries. I'm still onboard for "The Expanse" after the first season. As you can probably tell from the list above, nearly all the television I'm still watching consists of niche genre shows and a couple of prestige projects. And the shows only come from a handful of sources: Comedy Central, FX, AMC, BBC America, Syfy, Netflix, or the Cartoon Network. I feels strange, because I can still clearly remember a time when premium cable shows were completely inaccessible to me, and now HBO Go and season passes are a thing.

I think my tastes have just fundamentally changed over the last few years as I've changed the way I watch television. Over the past few months I've started a few network shows like "Lucifer' and "Last Man on Earth" that I liked, but not enough to sit through weeks of formulaic filler. If I hadn't already read the series and had a good idea of where the creators were going, I'd have probably dropped "Preacher" after four episodes too. I know bingeing is in, but I rarely have the time to watch more than two or three episodes of something at once. So the bar is much higher and I've gotten much pickier.

But that said, I still enjoy watching great television, and we're living in an undisputed Golden Age of it. So what am I going to watch? Well, I heard that the O.J. Simpson documentary was pretty good. And "Penny Dreadful" ended at three seasons, with twenty-seven episodes, which makes it look much less daunting. "The Night Manager" and "War & Peace" only have six. I guess there's still time to catch up on "Daredevil," "the Affair," or "Broadchurch" if I'm feeling ambitious, or "The Americans" if I'm feeling really ambitious. Or I could pick up a show I quit like "House of Cards" or "Louie."

What am I watching? Whatever I want, but on my own terms.