I wrapped up my summer adventure last night at our sailing class “graduation”, which was more of a social mixer than an event with caps and gowns.
Despite not being all that into racing when I started our class regatta last week, I became intensely interested in our ranking, especially after we crossed the finish line first. However, the Time Correction Factor Gods didn’t bless us, and after taking the normalized times into account, we finished third. However, the evening wasn’t a total loss - while we didn’t win the race on Heartbreaker, I did discover that we set a program record two weeks ago in terms of boat speed at 9.9 knots as we were practicing our jib and spinnaker maneuvers. Which in the end I liked more. I’d rather have a speed record (for however long it lasts) more than a first place finish for a single race. The fun part of being a complete newbie is that you have ZERO ability to recognize the difference between doing something notable and something pretty routine.
As for the rest of the summer, my plan (starting next week) is to make a point of getting out to the docks on Wednesday to do some beer can racing. I’d like to get to a point where I can enjoy a race and not experience it as a series of one nerve-wracking task after another. (Seriously, I thought we had whole other leg to go in our race last week, given that I was so preoccupied releasing and grinding lines as we tacked our way through the course.)
However, I’m currently running on a fuel tank with a gauge hovering over the middle of the empty indicator at the moment, so I’m giving myself the rest of the week off (from busy extracurriculars) to catch my breath and regroup. Last weekend was no good for that with our crazy weather and monthly data-entry marathon, so I’m hoping to save a few moments for myself this upcoming weekend.
Checking in on the Streaming Wars
One of the greatest competitive broadsides against the tech-giant Apple happened on November 12, 2019. Less than two weeks before, after years of anticipation, the iCompany finally closed the entertainment loop and launched their Apple TV+ service. It looked like a launch with a promising line-up, with Ronald D. Moore’s For All Mankind about the space race, The Morning Show as a spiritual successor to HBO’s The Newsroom, the Jason Momoa post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama See, and some stuff from Oprah. While Apple still had not yet released its mythical television, it was well on its way to becoming the leader of the next generation of streaming services after Netflix and Amazon Prime.
While Disney’s service was set to launch a couple of weeks later with its vast archive of Star Wars and Marvel content, Apple was riding high on its original content efforts. It was surely going to be THE service of holiday 2019. Unfortunately (for Apple), none of us were paying attention to the fact that the same fellow that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe - Jon Favreau - was about to play Hulk to Apple’s Loki when it came to holiday TV ambitions in just one scene:
In less than 90 seconds, Disney+’s new Star Wars series went from being a well-executed curiosity to the relaunch of the Star Wars universe that we all wanted and J.J. Abrams failed to deliver. In all the excitement around Baby Yoda, Apple TV+ went from the next greatest One More Thing to an afterthought after that first episode of The Mandalorian.
I stumbled into my Apple TV+ subscription by accident after losing an iPad on my way back to Chicago after our JoCo cruise before the Pandemic began. I used the device for testing and reading comics, and I purchased a replacement unit when I got back and my calls to United’s lost-and-found department failed to find my missing tablet. Included in the purchase of the device was one year of Apple TV+, which I pretty much ignored for months with the world coming to a screeching halt around us. I had an Apple TV device in my office, but the building was shut down, and in my old age, I don’t do a lot of video watching on portable devices.
When I was allowed to return to the office in August, I didn’t have a lot of the distractions around the house that keep me occupied during attention lulls (such as my Xbox). So, when I was doing a bit of dull sloggy work, I finally signed onto the streaming service and started streaming For All Mankind.
As a space nerd, I was hooked and binged the series pretty quickly. At that point, I was hooked on the service just for that one show, but I didn’t watch much else on the service. The issue was a lack of content that hooked my interest, and that I could only watch it in my office. A couple more months went by.
On November 10, 2020 Apple TV+ graduated from being something intended to sell more Apple hardware to a bonafide TV network in its own right when they launched streaming clients for other platforms (I was waiting for the Xbox app), and it became possible to watch their shows outside the Cupertino Walled Garden. My wife and I quickly fell in love with Ted Lasso:
From there, we drifted to Mythic Quest:
Our latest Apple TV+ addiction has been Physical, which seems to be developing into an almost Breaking Bad-ish take on the origin of home exercise videos:
So, after a slower than expected start, Apple TV+ appears to have found its groove with a pretty eclectic pipeline of strong content that will keep it around as a serious streaming competitor. It’ll be a keeper for us for sure.
Some other services I’ve tried in the past year includes the Criterion Channel from the folks that bring us the Criterion Collection of home videos. Rather than leverage the strength of their collection and make all the Criterion films available to stream, it’s much more like a curated film museum where you can find interesting stuff, as long as your definition of “interesting” lines up with the creators and themes that their curators are promoting that month. Given how little my schedule lines with theirs, this one will likely be getting the axe once that subscription runs out.
I don’t have much to say about Peacock, other than I get a version of it for free with my Comcast subscription. I may appreciate it more when I’m in the mood to do another run-through of Cheers and Frasier. Paramount Plus enjoys a similar position - I was highly engaged with it when I was catching up on Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, but it’s faded into the background for me until some new Trek shows become available. That said, I will be hopping back aboard soon to catch the latest season of Evil:
HBO Max has been a solid surprise over the past year, when Warner Brothers dropped some of their theatrical releases on the service (WW84, Mortal Kombat, Godzilla v. Kong) as well as introducing some great original content, including That Damn Michael Che:
In addition to the the original content, theatrical releases, and the current month’s HBO line-up, HBO Max may have the strongest back-catalog library. Between re-watching the Matrix films and finally getting on-board the Rick and Morty train, HBO’s service seems to be the one service where I can successfully browse and find something interesting to watch. The only strike against HBO Max is that while it includes a ton of the older HBO original content (I’m going through Tenacious D at the moment), it does not include episodes of Tales from the Crypt, apparently due to the rights minefield that show lives within.
In terms of the classic streamers, Netflix has dropped down between HBO Max and Paramount Plus in my personal rankings. I enjoy their original content, but Netflix takes a shotgun approach to their shows - very eager to try something new for the first season, and just as eager to cancel later seasons - that I have a bit of hesitancy getting too involved with some of their shows. Jupiter’s Legacy is a great example of that. It told a decent superhero story in the popular deconstructionist mold, but Netflix axed it just as it was about to find its legs. This is pretty common over there (R.I.P. The OA), and after killing enough shows too soon, you get a bit gun-shy investing time and attention into stories and characters there. (The same is true of the broadcast FOX network). Netflix still has a way to go before being dropped off my subscription list, but it is sinking.
As for Amazon Prime Video, I think that they stole the content crown from Netflix in the past couple of years by adopting The Expanse after the Sci-Fi Channel tried to drown it in the river, and it’s been very strong in terms of other genre entertainment with shows like The Boys and Invincible. Their feature film game is strong and I think that they’re about to supplant HBO as the must-watch network for fantasy fans, given how many dump trucks of cash they’re dropping on their Lord of the Rings adaptation. And the great thing about this service is that if you can’t stream for free what you’re looking for, it’s usually available for purchase for a reasonable amount, effectively serving as this era’s Blockbuster Video.
As for the assassin droid that double-tapped Apple’s 2019 ambitions, Disney+ continues to be very strong when they have new original shows, such as their Marvel and Star Wars series, but reverts to an also-ran when there’s no new content to consume and it has to compete on the strength of its archives. Make no mistake - the various Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and classic Disney films are great - but they’re really not fodder for visits back to the service, when you have services like HBO Max providing a wider variety of content.
Now, what about traditional terrestrial television? In my case, we have Comcast service and we’re in the middle of the summer slow season. I usually get excited about the fall television line-ups, but I still haven’t gotten a good handle on whether things will be “back to normal” and we’ll get a decent lineup of new broadcast comedies and dramas, or whether we’re in for another COVID-impacted stunted season of shows. As a fan of broadcast sitcoms, I’m hoping for a strong showing this year, especially after CBS cancelled my ongoing favorite, The Unicorn.
What are you watching and where?
I finally finished a book and hopefully I’m on my way to catching up!
The Black Stone: Stories for Lovecraftian Summonings by Raffaele Pezzella (★★★★★): As mentioned in an earlier Note, I’ve been stuck on this book for pretty much all month and I finished it earlier this week. I’d forgotten how much longer it can take to read anthologies over novels - between the changes in tone/story/author and the ready availability of break points, it took me roughly 27 days to finish the 27 tales in this book.
Now, Lovecraft anthologies are not to me, and this one was easily one of the strongest collections that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. There’s a great variety in terms of themes, voices, and styles and none of the short stories were weak. I was fortunate that several of the stories built off of the The Music of Erich Zann, one of my more favorite Lovecraft stories about a French violinist playing to keep the chaos at bay. It was great to see contributions by my friends Russell Smeaton and John Chadwick alongside paragons of the weird fiction realm like Ramsey Campbell.
Overall a very solid entry and one that I recommend highly.
In terms of my overall reading goal, I am nine books behind of schedule (40 of 101). Look for a few more le Carré novel reviews here next week as I dig myself out of my self-excavated hole.
Schwarber reaching levels of Sosa, Bonds (MLB.com)
“Tales From the Crypt” Rights Issues a Complicated “Nightmare” (Bloody Disgusting)
Christian America’s Must-See TV Show (The Atlantic)
BOE botched NYC mayoral primary results by including ‘test’ run (New York Post)
Over the weekend, I spent a decent amount of time in my Diamondback Explorer traveling up the Orion Arm on my way to Colonia. I’m about half-way there, but we’re supposed to get a software update tomorrow that will fix my Detailed Surface Scanner. This will be a massive quality of life improvement when it comes to mapping larger planets on my way to the galactic core.
Any exciting weekend plans in your region of the Milky Way galaxy?