Not My Father’s Perry Mason

Supercharged 1935 Auburn

Tonight, Anne has her Chicago night, but for me Monday night is Perry night. HBO’s TV series Perry Mason airs each week’s new episode on Monday. This is not my father’s Perry Mason, which is now in its second season. Its first season was fine. Its main purpose seemed to be to introduce the audience to this quite different version of Perry Mason, which is more closely aligned to the original written material. Set in Depression era LA, Mason, a PTSD afflicted WW I vet, is a mess, always on the verge of losing it. Unlike my father’s Perry Mason, here each season is devoted to one murder case, instead of the more familiar Raymond Burr MO of one case an episode and where the real perpetrator was always telegraphed by whom Perry called to the stand after the last commercial break. In this new series, defendants are not sprung through a climactic on stand confession of the real murderer (Except in one of Perry’s fevered dreams). In fact, they might be the murderer, but only in the most innocent of ways.

Outer Banks

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

My latest guilty pleasure is the YA suspense-comedy Outer Banks. How did I get here? Well, it is the end of the month, which is always a lean time for streaming. I had been watching the new National Treasure teen suspense series on Disney+, but it only dribbles out, one episode per week at a time. I needed more content if I was going to make it into February. Somehow, Outer Banks popped up. I guess one treasure hunting set of teens are as good as another. In National Treasure the kids are seeking the treasure of the Aztecs that was hidden from Cortez. In Outer Banks, it is a 200-year-old treasure ship that had grounded ashore, ladened with gold. Here the treasure is just the McGuffin, the hook to lure you in. The true pleasure of this series is seeing a bunch of beautiful people, enjoying themselves in a warm and sunny locale. Did I mention that it is January? There were already two seasons out, with a third one scheduled to drop next month. In this series the protagonists are a group of local poor kids called the Pogues, who while away their time, skipping class, drinking, and running from the local County Mounty. The Pogues are the people who work to maintain the seaside mansions of the seasonal rich, the Kooks. In this class struggle the Kooks are the antagonists. Head Pogue, John B, had just lost his father at sea, leaving him orphaned, underaged and hunted by family services. It seems that being voted off the island like this is the ultimate form of Pogue punishment.

This raises a point of contention that I have with the show. The Pogues are supposed to be sixteen but are played by actors in their twenties. I should overlook this point, especially since the characters act much older than high school students. Almost immediately, nameless baddies begin to chase these kids, who are at first trying to solve the mystery of John B’s father. This soon morphs into a full fledge treasure hunt, in which seemingly everyone on the island knows more about this treasure ship than these kids trying to find it. Another quibble that I have with this series is that no one of note ever truly dies. Their body is not recovered. That is because they are awaiting the next season ending finale for their big reveal. Still, quibbles aside, it was an enjoyable time waster, if not exactly high drama that I burned through in just a few days. No one ever gets hurt, at least no one of note. In about a month, the third season will drop, and I will pick it up where I left off. One of the advantages of coming late to the party is not having to wait too long for the next season. 

Good Night Oppy

Rover Stand-In at the Smithsonian

Good Night Oppy is the title of Amazon’s new documentary about the twin Mars rovers, Spirit, and Opportunity that landed in 2004. Warrantied for only ninety Sols, both rovers “lived” years beyond all expectations, with Opportunity functioning until 2018. It was also the daily signoff message to the rover, from NASA’s control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. To conserve power, the robots had to shut down during the cold Martian nights and in the morning, just like human astronauts before them they were greeted with a wakeup song. Although twins, Spirit was always the older of the two siblings. Throughout mission workup, Spirit was always first during each development phase and the lessons learned from it, were then applied to Opportunity. Spirit launched first, followed in a few weeks by Opportunity. Both rovers landed successfully on opposite sides of Mars and began their 90-day missions.

The original ninety-day warranty came from the expectation that Martian dust buildup would degrade and then render the rover’s solar panel’s ineffective over time. Fortunately, the phenomenon of Martian dust devils kept the solar panels clean, giving the rovers a chance for unexpected longevity. Both rovers performed admirably, but like everything else, eventually they died. Spirit was the first to go. It had always been dealt the tougher hand to play, landing further north and closer to the pole of the two. It had to deal with harsher and colder weather than Opportunity met, which landed close to the equator. By the time Spirit passed, one of its six wheels had jammed, forcing it to only drive in reverse, dragging the broken appendage. After one cold night, it never woke up, but Opportunity kept going.

The show unabashedly anthropomorphizes these bots, and it is not hard to do that in an era of R2-D2 and Wall-E, but it is the reaction of the JPL scientists and engineers to these machines that lead us down that path. The movie covers decades of work, from initial design to the ending of the program. Only a handful of individuals spanned this period. We see young engineers grow old and aspiring high school students mature and then eventually join the program. Towards the end, Oppy was experiencing two common signs of old age, arthritis, and memory loss. It had to drive with its camera arm fully extended all the time, for fear of one of the arm’s gimbals seizing up. Also, every night its memory had to be downloaded back to earth and then in the morning reloaded. Gimbals be damned, one of the last things that Opportunity accomplished is taking a selfie. Not a bad movie, but then it was made by Amblin.

There Is Always One…

There Is Always One…

When taking group pictures there is invariably one in the group who is not posing sweetly. To them I say, go ahead and make my day. The four of us, Anne, Dan, Dave and I took Puck to the dog park, giving Maren a wee bit of a break. Years ago, on this holiday weekend, we were passed on the highway by an aging Volvo station wagon that had white shoe polish sign, painted on its back window with the message, “4 days with the FAM, Send Booze!” We have often wondered since, if that message was ever erased upon arrival, but I expect not. Not that that’s the situation here.

Anyway, at the dog park, it was all Puck, all of the time. The weather is nice today, sunny and warmish (50 °F). So, the dog park was chock-a-block full of other dogs, with their people. Puck was pretty much consumed with chasing balls and sniffing butts, dog heaven. We took a break from the dog portion of the park and walked a trail around a reservoir. Its water level was very low. The water had dropped enough to expose the remains of old stone walls, from ancient Pilgrim farms. Once our walk was done, we rejoined the furry fray and Puck got some running. Sometimes she was chasing other dogs and other times she was the one being chased. Puck is napping, mission accomplished!

In-between these little forays outside, most of our time is spent huddling around the full screen hearth/TV. FIFA’s World Cup soccer is playing from when we arise, until the mid-afternoon, when I guess it gets too late in Qatar, over on the other side of the world. The football highlight of this holiday weekend was yesterday’s 0-0 draw between England and the US. The hype for this game was already in overdrive and quickly accelerated to hyperdrive, before the first foot touched a ball. These two teams have only faced each other three times in World Cup play. There was yesterday’s draw and in their next previous meet that game was also a draw. They first met in 1950, when the upstart US team actually beat the heavily favored England. Saint Louis had a role in that win, because a sizable portion of the US team were of Italian descent and came from the Hill, the Saint Louis Italian neighborhood. 

The Golden Door

Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Menorah

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it—George Santayana

Ken Burns’ new documentary, The U.S. and the Holocaust, premiered this week on PBS. This three-part, six-hour series will remain available for free streaming through mid-October. It tells the story of the plight of Europe’s Jews, from the rise of Hitler’s Nazism, through the end of World War II. As the show’s title implies, special emphasis is placed upon America’s reaction to the Holocaust. The inclusion of this Smithsonian menorah’s photo seemed so appropriate for this post, since Lady Liberty stood as symbolic guardian of America’s golden door. Through a mixture of apathy, ignorance, antisemitism and white supremacy, America made the Holocaust so much worse than it would otherwise have been and America seems on the verge of repeating those same mistakes again now. When Burns recount’s American reaction to the Holocaust, the historical parallels between then and now seem scarily similar and begs the question, are we headed there again, to Déjà Vu, all over again?

One Ringy-dingy

Nashville’s Eye of Sauron

Last Thursday, the first two episodes of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power dropped. They represent the opening foray in what will be a multiyear project. Jeff Bezos is rumored to have spent $465M for this show’s first season of eight episodes alone. With each episode coming in at just over an hour that comes to almost a million dollars a minute, making this show, TV’s most expensive to produce, ever. This series is a prequel to the more familiar The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but due to the magic spells cast by the Tolkien estate’s wizardly licensing lawyers it is only based upon six appendences that appear at the end of the original trilogy. That’s a lot of money to bet on what is only a periphery set of writings. Rings of Power is Amazon’s bid for its very own Game of Thrones franchise, which itself has just begun airing its own prequel. With a whole new cast, Rings still has a few familiar characters. Galadriel and Elrond have already appeared, but for the most part the series’ characters are all new. Two episodes are hardly enough to judge an enterprise of this magnitude, but what I’ve seen so far sure is shiny.

In the first episode, Galadriel and her party of elves are ambushed by an ice troll. She kicks that troll’s ass, but that battle only served to spawn an army of Internet trolls. Chief among whom is Elon Musk. Reigniting his feud with Bezos, Musk complained that in Rings of Power, “Tolkien is turning in his grave, almost every male character so far is a coward, a jerk or both. Only Galadriel is brave, smart and nice.” It is for his ilk that Amazon turned off comments on their website for this series. The cast of Rings is quite multicultural, which serves only to inflame the racist hate that such a move engenders. Who is to say what color dwarves and halflings are? I remember from my old D&D days that there were even dark elves in that Tolkienesque landscape. Just because Peter Jackson in his Lord of the Rings movies cast only white actors, doesn’t mean that is how it has to be.

This post has been a little bit inside baseball, rather than explicitly about the finished product, but as I said before, two episodes is too little material to form an accurate judgement. I must say that I like what I have seen so far. Far better than the Thrones prequel. Spending almost a half-billion buys you quite the shiny product. Only, time will tell us just how precious that product really is.