Sunday, February 27, 2011

Still Fresh

In early 2003, I worked at a PR firm that promoted BBC Video. Not a bad gig for a somewhat-recent college grad. Especially if you like British humor (oh how I still think it's a tragedy what the USA did to Coupling. And don't even start me on my thoughts on the original British version of The Office...).

There was one DVD release, though, that took me by surprise. I had never heard of The Singing Detective. Our product managers on the client side spoke well of it... very well. And, when a member of the PR firm spoke to then-TV critic at the New York Daily News David Bianculli (he's now a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air and founded, the well-respected critic referred to the 1986 BBC production as one of the best bits of dramatic TV ever. He ended up writing the DVD liner notes.

Most of you have likely encountered Michael Gambon in the Harry Potter films. A younger Imelda Staunton (who also made her way to Harry Potter) has a role. There were plenty of reasons to watch.

It took me until this weekend. For years, I had kept it on the back burner. Countless weekends of time to myself passed with other diversions taking its place. Maybe there was a game on. Maybe I went out with friends. Whatever the case, I couldn't find the six hours needed to burn through the series.

Side note: thank you to our British and Canadian friends at the BBC and CBC, respectively, who don't use the season-based method of shows. By opting to air series of episodes -a format HBO, Showtime and AMC use masterfully today - the concept of good TV writing can be preserved.

Good writing positively abounds out of The Singing Detective.

One of the most challenging and rewarding bits of TV I've ever watched, The Singing Detective holds up masterfully as it approaches its 25th anniversary. The story mixes three somewhat complex threads effectively, even though they are permitted to intermingle throughout and, at first, confusingly. The viewer is left to sort out what the "reality" of the situations are and, as the story develops, the payoff is wonderful. A complex work that challenges us all psychologically, The Singing Detective forces us to live with some severe gray area. As the main character notes:

"All solutions and no clues. That's what the dumbheads want. I'd rather it was the other way around: all clues, no solutions. That's the way things are. Plenty of clues. No solutions."

Things get tied up in the final episode. But the ending, like all good pieces of art, begs questions in its resolution. Something that will keep many a modern viewer uncomfortable, to be sure.

So, as much as I think you should check the series out (not the more recent Robert Downey Jr. movie of the same name), one thing sticks out from the whole experience that I can say whether or not you think a six-hour psych-thriller is you bag of donuts: what are you putting off that you should check out?

It took me nearly eight years to fire up these DVDs. The entire series of Lost started and ended in that time. It pains me to say it, but the Red Sox won the World Series (twice) in that time. The whole time, it was right there, asking for slightly more of me than the time it takes to fly across the country.

If there's something you've been hearing is worth it, break your routine for once and see what awaits. Perhaps, even do so with The Singing Detective.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Last week, for the second time in my life, I found myself in Las Vegas.

A side note: both times, my trips to Vegas have been for Ragan/PRSA social media conferences and they have both been amazing. These haven't been two days of listening to presenters pat themselves on their backs about what a great job they're doing. These have been real-time forums and discussions of using social channels as communications tools. I cannot recommend them enough.

Anyhow, back to the story...

I kind of hate Las Vegas.

I am all for societies having their places of ill-repute. I just always thought Los Angeles fit that bill nicely. I challenge any group of frat boys to have a bachelor party in Los Angeles that doesn't go as well as one in Las Vegas. Hell, minus the gambling, it might go better in LA.

And therein lies my first issue with Vegas: the assumption that you are up to no good. Usually, I go to conferences and it's easy to network and meet people. In Vegas, if I start talking to a woman, chances are, she wonders what my agenda is. Vegas makes people assume the worst. So, as a very social person, Vegas puts me at unease. I want to be myself, but any time the social norm is to put anyone through a lens of "this guy wants to hook up," it's tough to talk to people.

Fortunately on this latest trip I 1) met a few people who were honest enough to avoid the trouble of assumed innuendo so we could simply hang out worry-free and 2) ran into my old boss and spent time hanging out with her.

But even hanging out is an ordeal in Vegas.

Whoever designs casinos... those people are smarter than you and me. They are designed to separate you from your money one way or another. And it's brilliant. You don't want to gamble? Fine, head over to the bar over there. Or that other bar. Or the other other bar. Or get some food. Or, hey, why not go shopping?

This weekend, I will be alone in Seattle and I will likely choose to do something outdoors. I'm not counting skiing. I mean, I might go take a walk on the water or sit in a coffee shop and read or any number of "I just want to be low-key and cheap" activities.

Such things do not exist in Vegas. If you are not out and about, you are in your hotel room, thinking you really should be out and about. The irony is there is some beautiful stuff around Vegas. Mt. Charleston. The Grand Canyon. Hoover Dam. These are stone's-throw places that are worth seeing. But despite the proximity, you don't see ads for those. You see ads for Cher's nightly show.

I realize not everyone has world-class restaurants at their fingertips. I get the allure to some of gambling (though it amazes me how people flock to the games the casino has a huge advantage on you. Try craps, people.). And yes, if you are some sort of repressed person, Vegas offers the perfect excuse to act out in discarding your inhibitions, I suppose. So yes... I get why people go there.

But for me, I see nothing that would get me on a plane there except for another conference. Or as a cheap place to fly to go to the Grand Canyon.