Archive for the 'television' Category


Great moments on the Street

When Jan and I decided to introduce our daughter to television a couple of months ago, we thought that Sesame Street would be a good choice. But not the Elmo-infested crassly commercial stuff on the airwaves today–we wanted the old stuff. (My hatred for Elmo, a.k.a. the Red Menace, burns hotter than a thousand suns. He’s like Wesley Crusher and Rachel Ray combined. [shudder])

So we went to the video department of our local Barnes and Noble and asked, “Do you have a boxed DVD set of Sesame Street episodes without Elmo?” The clerk looked at us funny, and said, “Gee…I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before.” He tapped away at his computer (and may I just mention here how incredibly annoying that B&N doesn’t have publicly accessible search terminals in the store, and instead they force you to track down an unfindable employee if you need help with anything?) for a few seconds, then said, “You’re in luck! They recently released something called Sesame Street Old School.”

We were indeed in luck. Sesame Street Old School, Vol. 1 (1969-1974) includes the first episode (in its entirety) from each of the first five seasons, plus several “greatest hits” segments from that period. The gems include songs by Bud Luckey (“The Alligator King,” “Ladybug Picnic,” and “Martian Beauty“), Listen My Brother singing about counting to twenty (with a cowbell!), and Johnny Cash singing about “Nasty Dan” to Oscar. For Jan and me, this DVD set is a real trip down memory lane–“Oh! I totally remember this song!”–and we’ve really enjoyed sharing it with Sylvia.

One of our (all three of us) favorite segments is the one called “Handclapping Number” on the liner notes:
So clever! And creative! And exciting! No one does this sort of thing any more, it seems. The new programming targeted to children these days seems be to all CGI or bad cartoons, with quick editing (I think of it as the seizure-inducing Wang Chung Effect) and aggressive marketing tie-ins. There’s something so pleasant about a conversation or a song or a camera shot that takes its time and really tries to get kids interested in what’s going on rather than lull them into a semicatatonic state.

How many puppeteers do you think are working here? One set of four in three different shots? Jan and I keep trying to figure it out, and we can’t. As a magician, Jan is especially good at looking at physical movement things like this and knowing what’s going on that the viewers can’t see, but even this has him stymied. Now that’s some good puppetry!

I have the “Handclapping Number” on my mind today for two reasons. One is that for the last week it has been Sylvia’s favorite and most-requested (“I want to see the clapping, please!”) scene. The other is that I just came across (via Ze Frank) what struck me as a grown-up version of this number. But with one person. Take a look.


Review: The Life of Mammals

Growing up, I watched a lot of PBS: Nova, Nature, and all sorts of stuff. This was before all of the quasi-educational channels hit their stride on cable television. (I find the History Channel and the Discovery Channel particularly bad, with their low-information-density programs full of fast editing, far too much use of unnecessary–and bad!–computer graphics, and dramatic voiceovers. And is it just me, or does anyone else think that the History Channel is way too fond of bad reenactments, usually involving scowling men in sandals pretending to be Roman soldiers, splashing on foot through streams while invading some dark and foggy land?)

I have particularly fond memories of watching David Attenborough‘s programs. So I was pleased when, looking for some animal documentary footage that might be fun to show my daughter, I came across his series The Life of Mammals. I just watched the first disc (thank you, Netflix!), and all I can say is “Wow.”

It is good stuff. Phenomenally good. The content is fascinating, of course, but what’s even more striking is the presentation. In addition to Attenborough’s avuncular style, there is the best wildlife cinematography I have ever seen. Ever. Take a look at this clip:


(It doesn’t hurt that I have long been interested in sloths. Amazing. Top speed 0.3 km per hour, yet the species has managed to survive.)Now that I think about it, this is some of the best cinematography I have seen period, wildlife or no. Some of the shots are jaw-dropping–for example, a bat flying at nighttime approaches a spider web and, with a skin “pouch” between its feet, delicately scoops up the spider at the web’s center without getting ensnared in the sticky silk.(How do they film something like that? Jan hypothesized that they probably used gobs and gobs of film, with the camera at high speed. He’s probably right. I’m not sure that digital has the clarity that the close-up shots demanded. Or maybe it does–I really don’t know anything about cinematography.)

Disc one goes in the mail tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.

Oh–and it gets Sylvia’s stamp of approval, too. She was especially fond of the bats, the giraffes, and the elephants. And the hedgehogs (which are currently among her favorite animals, thanks to this book)–she loved the hedgehogs


This one is for Katie

Giles: We may, in fact, stand between the earth and its total destruction.

Buffy: Well, I got to look on the bright side: maybe I can still get kicked out of school.

Xander: Oh yeah, that’s a plan, ’cause a lot of schools aren’t on a Hellmouth.

Willow: Maybe you could blow something up. They’re really strict about that.

Buffy: I was thinking of a more subtle approach. You know, like excessive not studying.

Giles: The earth is doomed.

Happy tenth anniversary (today), Buffy.

« Prev