Tag Archives: television shows

Time Travel, History and Romance

outlanderdvdWhen a good friend of mine found out that I was a fan of Game of Thrones, she turned me on to Outlander after it had aired last year. Although comparisons have been drawn to Game of Thrones, these two series are not entirely similar (admittedly, both of the book series were difficult to market, were “word of mouth” books and took a good while before being translated to screen). But Game of Thrones is epic high fantasy that takes place in a world nothing like our own and is dependent on magic, dragons and family sagas. Whereas Outlander takes place in a historically accurate Scotland and is more historical fiction/romance with a twinge of science fiction thrown in the beginning.

Our story opens with the heroine Claire Randall, a former British Army nurse seeking to reconnect with her husband Frank after a WWII-induced separation. Their story begins on their second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland, where Frank indulges his passion in genealogy (which you can do with the Library’s resources), while Claire focuses her energy on botany. After witnessing a pagan ritual at an ancient stone circle with her husband, Claire ventures out alone to gather some specimens. She’s drawn to a standing stone and, as far as her husband in 1945 is concerned, vanishes without a trace. This serves as the jumping-off point for her adventure as she struggles to grasp what’s going on around her, when she is and where she is.

Though she quickly realizes she’s still in Scotland, she can’t quite figure out how she landed on a cinema set for a costume drama. However, she soon gathers this is no set when she notices that the actors are firing live ammunition. Through a stroke of bad luck, she runs into Captain “Black Jack” Randall and is almost raped, but is saved by Dougal McKenzie’s band of Scots and taken hostage. It is at this point that she discovers she has fallen through time to 18th century war-torn Scotland, where being an Englishwoman isn’t always a great thing to be. Her captors lead her to Castle Leoch, the heart of the McKenzie Clan. She is suspected of being a Sassenach spy and tasked with the unpaid job of healer, while they try to figure her out. If you expected a damsel-in-distress story, this isn’t it. Claire is a capable, clever (and thanks to her husband Frank, knows her history), complicated, independent and stubborn modern-day woman (for 1945 at least).

outlanderDevoted fans of the Outlander series who have been waiting (… and waiting … and waiting) for these novels to be successfully translated to the small screen, have had their patience rewarded tenfold with the Starz series. There is demonstrated effort to keep the series as faithful to the books as possible.  Created by Battlestar Galactica show runner Ronald D. Moore, this series enlisted author Diana Gabaldon as a consultant, thereby assuaging any anxieties that Gabaldon’s loyal fanbase may have had. If nothing else, watch for the great scenery, fantastic costumes and dedication to historical accuracy. Mr. Moore has an amazing team of costume designers, set decorators, writers, weapons and riding experts and Scottish Gaelic language coaches for the actors that would rival Game of Thrones any day (well, except for the dragons …).

If a bit of adventure, time-travel, history and romance are your thing, by all means check out the DVD sets (volume 1 and 2) today. In the meantime, take some time out to brush up on your history of the Jacobite Rebellion and Bonnie Prince Charlie. If you want to take it to a whole new level (and please do!), you can also learn a bit of Scottish Gaelic using the library’s resources. Season 2 of Outlander begins in April on Starz.




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A Shameless Plug About Shameless

shameless-us-5358c4707987aWhile my regular TV shows are still on hiatus, I thought that I would get into some TV shows that are on my long to-watch list. One of those is Showtime’s Shameless. The show stars William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher, the patriarch, so to speak, of the Gallagher family. Frank spends a lot of his time at the bar so he doesn’t take care of his six children.

The real leader of the family is Fiona Gallagher; she’s the oldest of the children. She’s the mom & dad to the rest of the kids. There’s Phillip (Lip), Ian, Debi, Carl and Liam. This family is no Brady Bunch. Each family member has their own quirks. I’m only halfway done with season one, but I love this show. My favorite characters are Veronica, Fiona’s friend and next door neighbor, Fiona, Lip, Debi, and Ian. This family has a lot of issues, but there’s a lot of love and they are willing to help each other whenever and however they can.

We have seasons one, two, three, four, and five available in our catalog. Season six starts Sunday, January 10th at 9 pm on Showtime. If you have Hulu, you can add Showtime to your plan and watch all of the seasons on there as well. Happy watching!



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It’s Criminal

Navigating the vicissitudes of modern popular culture can be tricky.

I think it might be fair to say that for a long time I came off as a bit of a snob when it came to a lot of books and TV. (I mean, I used the word ‘vicissitudes’ just now…) I have always appreciated pop culture and how important it can be for reading mass culture at large, but when it came to TV over the last few years I didn’t watch too much of it, and with that limited knowledge, I assumed I never LIKED a lot of it.

That said, maybe some of you read that a while back I got sick and missed a week of work, and in that week I started a bit of an obsession with the early seasons of Law & Order. Well, coming out of that experience, I listened to the many, MANY people who told me that I should probably watch Criminal Minds as well. I tried. My amazing wife was pretty obsessed with this show and for months I tried to watch it with her, but each time I bailed. I would leave the room. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief quite enough. Then, something happened. I decided that I WOULD watch this show.


I did, and, for better or worse, the same thing happened to me that happened with Law & Order. I’ve gotten rather obsessed with it. But believe me, I can quit any time. I mean, I know I watched the whole second season as well…

I must say that it takes quite a bit of disbelief suspending to believe that pretty much ever serial killer and mass murderer ever are out there now, doing their worst. It also takes a bit of disbelief suspension to be OK with Garcia’s supercomputer that can do anything/find anything, anywhere on the planet in less than five seconds and immediately send it to a mobile phone.

Even with all of those reservations I have to say, especially the first season (which starred the brilliant Mandy Patinkin as FBI profiler Jason Gideon), has some really interesting moments. Sometimes I run across things that everyone seems to be talking about.  I sometimes shy away from those things. Maybe it’s me being a contrarian. Maybe it’s me being a snob. I don’t want to be a snob! I never want to succumb to the tired old idea that “if it’s good it’s not popular and if it’s popular it isn’t good.” I took the plunge with this show, and it was worth it. Give it a look, if you are so inclined!

–Eric (who is currently on *gasp* Season 3 of Criminal Minds…and has just discovered the brilliance of Burn Notice. Who knew?)


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Reading about TV

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos to The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin is an interesting read for anyone who wants to hear more about how some of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of the past fifteen years were made. Martin refers to the time we’re living in as the “Third Golden Age of TV” (the first being the earliest days of television and the second being the 1980s) and Difficult Men gives you access to the process of writing, selling, and producing a TV show. The title is not only about the characters in the TV shows it mentions (Tony Soprano from The Sopranos, Vic Mackey from The Shield, and Walter White from Breaking Bad to name a few), but also about the (mostly) men who brought these characters to the screen.

I learned quite a bit while reading the book. For instance,

  • The Sopranos was shopped to CBS, NBC, and ABC who all passed. I can’t imagine how that show would have even worked on those networks and HBO picking it up was the spark that led to some of the best TV shows we have today.
  • Ed O’Neill, who played Al Bundy on Married with Children was the first choice to play Deadwood’s foul-mouthed saloon owner Al Swearengen (portrayed excellently by Ian McShane). That sounded amusing to me until I remembered Katey Sagal who played Peggy Bundy on Married with Children does an amazing job on Sons of Anarchy playing the occasionally foul-mouthed wife of a outlaw biker.
  • AMC executives didn’t think Jon Hamm was sexy (WHAT?!?!) and had doubts about casting him as Don Draper in Mad Men.
  • For me, the best sections of the book discussed David Simon, creator of two of my favorite TV shows, Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire. Martin writes about Simon’s dismay that people viewed The Wire as entertainment and didn’t focus on the political message he was trying to get across. He said, “It’s our job to be entertaining. I understand I must make you care about my characters. That’s the fundamental engine of drama. It’s the engine. But it’s not the purpose.”
  • One of my favorite quotes from the book is by Martin who writes about fans of The Wire trying to get their friends to watch it by overcoming “the suspicion that it was homework, TV that was good for you but not at all a good time.” He then goes into a paragraph about season four of The Wire which is the one I always tell people I’m recommending the show to to “email me when you watch that. You’re going to need someone to talk to.” That season wrecked me. I’ve rewatched The Wire twice and skipped that season because I could not handle it. (It’s excellent writing and acting and you should watch it.)
  • Books led to some of these shows being made. Simon’s books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner were the influences of Homicide and The Wire. The books The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford and The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch influenced Alan Ball’s creation of Six Feet Under.

Even if you only enjoy one or two of the shows Martin writes about, this book would still be a wonderful read because it illustrates much of what it is to create and the various ways in which some of the really dark and complex TV shows that are popular now came to be.

Here are some other books about TV that you might find interesting:

Happier Days     Television's Second Golden Age     Those Guys Have All the Fun      Top of the Morning

Happier Days : Paramount Television’s Classic Sitcoms, 1974-1984 by Marley Brant

The Revolution Was Televised: The Crooks, Cops, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever by Alan Sepinwall

Television’s Second Golden Age: From Hill Street Blues to ER : Hill Street Blues, thirtysomething, St. Elsewhere, China Beach, Cagney & Lacey, Twin Peaks, Moonlighting, Northern Exposure, L.A. Law, Picket Fences : with brief reflections on Homicide, NYPD Blue, & Chicago Hope, and Other Quality Dramas by Robert J. Thompson

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James A. Miller

Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must-See TV by Warren Littlefield

Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter

What Would Murphy Brown Do?: How the Women of Prime Time Changed Our Lives by Allison Klein



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Like Chocolate And Peanut Butter

When a TV show or movie is based on a book, there’s always the debate of which is better and why. Issues like if the actors look the way the characters are described, scenes that may be left out or added in, and other issues of fidelity to the story are discussed. But something I never really thought about until recently is how a TV show or movie can complement the book it’s based on and actually enhance a reader’s/viewer’s experience.

That has been my experience with the Song of Ice and Fire series and the TV show based on it, Game of Thrones. I had not planned on reading the series, mostly because it’s fantasy (I’ve never really been into reading fantasy) and they’re really, really long (I may have a problem with commitment). The TV show premiered in 2011, but I didn’t get around to watching it until January of this year. For reasons I’ve not yet analyzed, I love fantasy/sci-fi TV shows (Battlestar GalacticaBuffy the Vampire SlayerFireflyFringe, Quantum LeapTorchwood, the list goes on), but don’t normally read any fantasy/sci-fi books other than the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (I checked my Goodreads account and the only fantasy/sci-fi books I have rated other than the Dresden Files books and the Song of Ice and Fire books are To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.).

I liked the show and watched two seasons pretty quickly. Even then, I still had no real desire to read the books. But I had two friends pushing them on me. “Read them!” they said. “The books are better than the TV show!” “If you’re concerned about the length, each chapter is from a different character’s perspective so you can skip ones you don’t want to read!”  “READ THEM!” I broke down and checked out A Game of Thrones at the beginning of June, started the second book, A Clash of Kings, in mid-June, and just started the third, A Storm of Swords. I obviously enjoy them.

Game of Thrones

One doesn’t have to be better than the other.

Game of Thrones

They can complement each other.

If I absolutely had to decide which I liked better, the books or the TV show, I’d probably say the books, but I would say it with reservations since I don’t think I would have read and enjoyed the books had I not watched the TV show first. I tend to be more visual. I’ll remember your face long before I remember your name. Being able to see the characters on the TV show has helped me put faces to names while I’m reading the books. Had I not seen the TV show and for some reason, decided to read the books, I probably would have frequently used the appendices Martin puts in the backs of the books to remember who is Tywin and who is Tyrion, who is Varys and who is Viserys. I also think that listening to their voices and seeing their faces has given me an emotional foundation for reading the books. I feel more invested in the characters than I might have been with just reading the books.

I am interested in how this might work for other books made into TV series. Justified is based on a character in Elmore Leonard‘s books, Riding the Rap and Pronto, and a short story, Fire in the HoleThe Vampire Diaries is based on the series of the same name by L.J. Smith. Rizzoli and Isles is based on the Tess Gerritsen series. I enjoy all those TV shows so would having the knowledge of the TV shows enhance my enjoyment of the books? I don’t know. I may give it a try.

How about you? Have you ever had a TV show or movie enhance your enjoyment of the book it’s based on? Do you usually find yourself liking one more than the other?

-Aisha, very close to starting to panic that the sixth book isn’t out yet


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Following An Artist’s Vision

Just as certain authors have distinctive voices, certain directors and creators have distinctive visions and you can tell when you’re watching one of their works. For example, Michael Mann movies have a certain look about them and once you know what to look for, you can usually tell when you’re watching one of his films. When Hannibal premiered in April, I was intrigued. I enjoyed The Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter and was interested in seeing what this take on the character would be like. The cast, Hugh DancyMads MikkelsenLaurence Fishburne, and Caroline Dhavernas, were all people whose work I enjoyed. I watched the first episode and while I liked the acting and the story, the feel and the visuals of the show were what really grabbed me. They seemed familiar for some reason. In the second episode of Hannibal, a character from another TV show, Wonderfalls, appeared so I looked into who was writing and producing the show, found out it was Bryan Fuller, and understood why I was attracted to Hannibal. Fuller has created some of my favorite TV shows and while the story line of Hannibal is much more violent than his other shows, the look and feel are similar.

Found at imdb.com

Found at imdb.com

The first time I saw a Fuller production was Wonderfalls. In it, Jaye, the youngest daughter of Darrin and Karen Tyler (her other siblings are named Sharon and Aaron), works at a Niagara Falls gift shop and one day, a wax lion talks to her. This sets off a whole series of inanimate objects with animal faces telling her to do things that will, in some way, help her or others. Caroline Dhavernas (who’s in Hannibal) and Lee Pace (who might, fingers crossed, be in the second season of Hannibal) starred. I fell in love with the show immediately. Only a few episodes aired, but the entire show is available on DVD.

Dead Like Me

Dead Like Me, the first show Fuller created, aired before Wonderfalls, but I caught it after. In Dead Like MeEllen Muth, who guest-stars on Hannibal, plays Georgia Lass, a young woman who dies after being hit by a toilet seat falling from a reorbiting space station. Georgia becomes a Grim Reaper and works with a small group of other Reapers. It aired for two seasons (there’s also a movie) and also stars Mandy Patinkin and Jasmine Guy.

Pushing Daisies

The last show Fuller created before developing Hannibal is probably the most famous of all his creations: Pushing Daisies. It stars Lee Pace (another Fuller favorite) as Ned. As a young boy, Ned discovers he has the power to bring dead things (his dog, his mother, some birds) back to life with a touch, but if he touches them again, they die forever. As an adult, he brings his childhood sweetheart, Chuck, played by Anna Friel, back to life and they fall in love, but can’t touch because if they do, she’ll die again. This show also aired for only two seasons.

Found at fanpop.com.

Cast of “Hannibal”. Found at fanpop.com.

Fuller’s shows all have a sense of the fantastic, like some warped fairy tale. Wonderfalls has talking inanimate objects; Dead Like Me has Grim Reapers as the main characters; Pushing Daisies‘ main character has the power to bring back the dead; and Hannibal is about a serial killer. They also share a sense of sadness and loneliness. In Wonderfalls, Jaye’s ability to hear inanimate objects pushes her farther away from people she’s already distanced herself from; in Dead Like Me, Georgia watches her little sister grow up without her and realizes how much she loves her family; and in Pushing Daisies, two people who are in love can never touch each other.

I don’t want to say too much about Hannibal and its characters’ story lines since it’s just finished its first season, but it too contains a level of loneliness. Visually, Pushing Daisies is the show Hannibal reminds me of which may sound a little weird. The colors in Hannibal are more muted than the colors in Pushing Daisies, but there’s still a richness to them that I haven’t noticed in other shows. I can’t say that if you enjoy Pushing Daisies or Dead Like Me or Wonderfalls, that you’ll love Hannibal; it’s a completely different beast and very graphic, but if you enjoy watching how an artist carries his vision through different works, what Fuller has done throughout his career is worth looking at and Hannibal is an interesting part of that vision.


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