Monthly Archives: July 2013

Five Mistakes that The Walking Dead Needs to Avoid in Season 4

The trailer for Season 4 is out, and I am pumped.

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The Walking Dead is not the best show on television, but it is my favorite show on television. Its nerve-racking twists and emotional depth make it one of the most entertaining programs on the small screen and invigorate the tired zombie genre. Still, the show has had its flaws, but we all know that the fastest track to improvement is learning from past mistakes. Here are the top five errors that the show really needs to correct:

SPOILER WARNING: The rest of the article contains major spoilers for the first three seasons of The Walking Dead. If you haven’t gotten all the way through the existing episodes, I recommend you stop reading to avoid colossal disappointment.

 

1. Avoid a Static Setting

One of the best things about the first season was its exploration of the post-apocalyptic world. The survivors not only had to struggle with the constant threats of death and infection, but also with the horror of living amongst the ruins of their former lives. It was a constant scramble to stay alive.

In more recent installments, however, the writing staff constrained Rick and Co. to the much-maligned farm in Season 2 and the prison/Woodbury in Season 3. While an interesting, dynamic setting is a necessity for any decent show, trapping an entire season within a limited environment makes for boring television. Let’s hope for a more mobile fourth season.

 

2. Give the Characters Some More Credit

I hate it when people complain about how stupid TV characters always are—they, just like their real-life counterparts—make mistakes and do not always think clearly under pressure. However, the thick-headedness of some characters really detracts from the show. Much of Glenn and Maggie’s inane shouting matches bothered me this past season, but they were hardly the main problem. We’re looking at you, Andrea. Could someone really be so unwilling to hurt anyone in a zombie universe that she would enable a violent sociopath to nearly wipe out two communities? The answer is no, unless she is also sleeping with that sociopath. I hope the writers don’t damage a promising character like this again. At least they were reasonable enough to know that she couldn’t possibly survive the whole ordeal.

 

3. Don’t Try to Focus on Every Character in Each Episode

When a show like this has such a great cast of characters, it’s easy to try to include everyone in each episode. What the writers have to realize is that their show doesn’t have to be like a fourth grader’s birthday party—not everyone has to be in the mix. My favorite episode from last season was “Clear,” in which Rick, Carl, and Michonne were the only three main characters to appear. It gave the show way more time to focus on evolving character relationships and thematic elements, and less time for Beth to sing. Every character has his or her own story, but trying to present them all at once just results in clunky storytelling. Better to take your time than to cram everything into one 45-minute block. The survivors deserve better than that.

 

4. Don’t Fear the Climax

The Walking Dead is great for its misdirection and keeps its captivated viewers unable to guess what will happen next. Unfortunately, this technique sometimes spirals off into the dreaded anticlimax, wasting months of carefully constructed rising action. For example, AMC teased the Woodbury Army coming to face the prison group in an all-out battle for the Season 3 finale. Instead, they ended up fleeing from a simple diversion and being massacred by an enraged Governor. Although this ending certainly surprised audiences, it also disappointed them. The show can’t allow itself to spoil the big moments just to keep us guessing.

 

5. Use the Walkers

For a show about the zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead doesn’t seem to utilize its eponymous characters very often. I have to give the special effects crew a lot of credit for coming up with fascinating new ways for the undead to appear (Well Walker!) and be killed, but the walkers need to feature more in the actual plotline. Let’s see some more zombie-related casualties and/or transformations, so every walker encounter features into the story, not just giving a quick break for violence sandwiched by two giant halves of dialogue. Flesh-eating monsters should pose more of a threat than just the occasional nuisance. The good news is that the new season is reportedly going to feature smarter zombies, which should certainly make things more interesting. Looks like Darwinism even pertains to zombies.

 

Any other thoughts on what the show needs to do better? Post them in the comment section (but please, absolutely NO comic spoilers.)

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Do What I Tell You to Do!

Hey, follow me on Twitter. I’ll find you if you don’t.

@DannyFitz1020

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Live Performance of the Week: “Badge” by Eric Clapton

Some call him “Slowhand.” Others simply refer to him as “God.” All nicknames aside, music fans know Eric Clapton as one of the greatest guitarists to ever walk upon this earth.

In this 1977 performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, Clapton and his band pull out a Cream classic from “Goodbye,” the supergroup’s 1969 farewell album. He even manages to work the word “badge” into the lyrics. The original song was not so. Frustrated by the hostility between bandmates Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, Clapton sought help with the composition of “Badge” from best friend George Harrison, whose poor handwriting led Clapton to misread “bridge” as “badge.” The name stuck.

The two musicians shared similar taste in music as well as women–Clapton would go on to steal Harrison’s wife Pattie Boyd in 1979 after nearly a year of secret courtship. But Boyd also had an affair with Ronnie Wood, and Harrison with bandmate-in-law Maureen Starkey, so it seems that it all evens out in the end. Still, it is always better to focus on a virtuoso’s musical achievements over his personal life. So please, enjoy the clip and try not to cheat on your spouse in the meantime

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MLB Starts Fictional Race War for Cancer Research

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that sports merchandising has finally jumped the shark, even if it was for a good cause. On Wednesday evening, the Philadelphia Phillies submitted the following post on their official Facebook page:

“The Phanatic and Mr. Met put aside their differences and Stand Up to Cancer.”

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“About time. Things between those two were really getting out of hand,” said nobody at all.

Major League Baseball has a bit too much invested in fan loyalty on this one. For one thing, it’s really hard to celebrate the end of a war when you were never aware that there was any combat in the first place. As a lifelong Phillies fan, I have always known that the Mets are a main (and usually pathetic*) rival, but I never realized that the conflict extended to the mascots’ relationship. Who knows, you have an anthropomorphic baseball and a pot-bellied seahorse creature—who is to say that they are not mortal enemies? Perhaps each is the last of his species, the lone survivor after millennia of galactic warfare, and that is why the team rivalry exists in the first place, just to satiate the timeless bloodlust of two dying alien nations.

That is the kind of backstory we need. Instead we have nothing but a history of the two dancing on dugouts and falling over at comically inopportune moments. Not quite the kind of behavior that leaves a whole lot of room for political analysis.**

The bigger issue, however, is that their reconciliation supposedly has some impact on the global quest for a cure for cancer. You would almost think that their fighting has been the only thing holding us back. As if these are the medical messiahs we’ve been waiting for. All we ever needed to do was stick these two in a room together overnight with a blackboard and—PRESTO—magic would happen. We had the right technology all along, but it wasn’t until we taught two enemies the meaning of friendship that we were able to put it all together. Bravo!

But in the end, the feigned camaraderie of sweaty men in cartoon suits does offer a feeling of unity for a worthy aim. Besides, what else could these two provide for humanity? Advanced technology? Groundbreaking philosophical insight? Teams with decent records? No on all counts, but it could be worse. At least we’re not relying on the Miami Marlin, who’s likely living under a bridge and pooping in a cardboard box right now. And for that, we are thankful. God bless America, and God bless baseball.

 

 

 

*Zing!

**Unless you host a cable news talk show!*

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Volutobol

Volutobol. Some call it the greatest game ever played, the only sport capable of matching the complexity of the human spirit. Of course, others insist that it is less of a sport than it is of a way of life. But what is volutobol, you ask?

Let’s jump back in time–I believe it was in the summer of 2008. The sun sparkled on the lush Pennsylvania grass. It was a simpler time. An ordinary boy hit a volleyball back and forth with his sister in their backyard, but he soon became annoyed by his inability to hit the ball straight. He realized that the Neanderthal conventions of the game held back not only his potential, but also that of every person that is and ever will be. That is when this ordinary boy had a big idea. He began inventing new rules, few of which made any sense, and soon enough his spark of invention gave birth to a new cultural phenomenon.

This was how volutobol came to be. I know this because I was that boy, and perhaps I still am somewhere. I knew I had to somehow share my creation with the world, so I went on the Wikipedia page entitled “Volleyball Variations” and submitted the following text:

Volutobol can be played on virtually any surface or location. It usually involes two players, the Volutor and the Quaffadocio. The Volutor is the dominant position in the game, being able to control the boundaries of the court as well as keeping a dead ball in play. However, the Quaffadocio has an extremely powerful advantage. Constant conversation must be kept throughout the entire match, and if the Volutor is discourteous or somehow impolite to his/his opponent, then the Quaffadocio has the ability to call the point and become the volutor. The game takes place in three rounds: the first just being straight out play, the second being each player choosing an advantage based on their environment, and the third and final being the players switching advantages. Each round is played until one player can no longer stand, resulting in their loss of the round. Any vomiting or profanity results in immediate disqualification.

 This game has spread rapidly across Europe, originating in an asylum in Venice. It has recently become popular among college students in the United States and is being petitioned to become an Olympic sport.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia refused to keep this information up for more than a few days at a time, regardless of how often I posted it. Vandalism, they called it, refusing to see the truth. Were they frightened, angry, confused? I do not know. Others, however, accepted the truth. Out of either laziness or appreciation, many website authors copy text directly from Wikipedia, meaning that volutobol soon spread across the far reaches of the internet. It looked like an unprecedented cultural renaissance was about to unite the human population. But then, without much reason, the growth stopped, and the boy grew up and moved on to other things. Volutobol was forgotten.

That is, until today. I received an email from my father bearing joyous news. Instead of actually doing his job, he decided to run a Google search of “volutobol,” and he found something incredible. The Wikipedia page for the Panachikkadu Temple lists this passage as its fourth paragraph:

Stone carvings on the walls illustrate Vishnu and his servants playing a game similar to modern day Volutobol. This competition is perhaps a physical presentation of Vishnu’s “Preservation of the Universe”, as Vishnu is clearly dominating the opposition with his many arms. These inscriptions also suggest that India, not Italy, is the birthplace of the game.

I have no clues as to the identity of this mysterious author, but I owe him or her my utmost gratitude. With this, we will start again.

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(I know not what this picture means, but it shows up in the Google Image search for “volutobol,” and that means something.)

This is a call to arms; what we have already is only the beginning. We need as many people as possible to spread the message of volutobol. It does not matter whether you blog, tweet, or post on Facebook about it, only that you get the word out. Contribute to the sport’s legacy in any way that you can. Copy and paste the existing text somewhere, or compose your own piece about volutobol’s history and practice. Our world is filled with questions, and the only right answer is volutobol.

Join this fight. Volutobol!

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A Limerick

There once was a man with amnesia.

He would try so hard to appease ya.

So he went to the store,

Then he went to the store,

Why am I lost in the mall?

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5 Ways to Make Your Run Easier and More Enjoyable

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The running community is a lot like a cult, and that’s not just because its members wear unusual clothing and drink strangely colored beverages. The spiteful non-running majority just doesn’t seem willing embrace our pastime. This does not make them bad people, however, just ignorant ones. Anyone can enjoy running; it’s just a matter of motivation and attitude. Whether you’re getting started or just looking to improve your experience, here are some insider tips:

1. Do an actual workout

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be training for the Olympics to throw a few workouts into your training schedule. Too often folks just decide to simply go out and run. Not only is this a boring option, but it also an inefficient way to build your speed and stamina. Much like your stock portfolio, your running plan should be a diversified investment. Include some hill repeats, tempo runs, fartleks (not as dirty as it sounds), or speedwork in your schedule, and you feel more motivated and ambitious as you train.

2. Listen to music

If you honestly haven’t thought of this yet, I applaud your efforts to read this far into the article. Still, it is a great option. Studies show that music blurs out internal signals of fatigue in the brain during a run, reducing perceived effort by roughly 10% (thanks, Runner’s World). I find that it can also set up a good rhythm for your pace on longer runs. Look to play catchy, upbeat songs—80’s hair metal is always a favorite. Just don’t try to pull this off during a group run, though. Very rude.

3. Find a training partner

No (wo)man is an island. Running is a lonely sport by nature, but that doesn’t mean you have to run it alone. Potential candidates are easy to find—you can easily ask a friend or join a local running club. What’s most important, however, is compatibility. You will want to find a motivated individual with a similar fitness level. It also helps if the person is both a decent conversationalist and comfortable with long periods of silence.

4. Play games

This doesn’t mean you should be bringing out Connect Four on your next morning run. Instead, make up your own simple games to keep your interest in the moment. Be creative. See that oncoming car up ahead? Race it to that telephone pole. Alternatively, a perennial favorite with my high school team was the Good Morning Game. It consists solely of wishing every passerby, “Good Morning,” which yields points if they respond in a similar manner. Extra points for strange encounters and weird physical appearances.

5. Enter a Race

Think you can beat me in a race, fatty? If so, then well done, but that’s not really the point. Many runners are averse to competition due to a fear of losing, but what they don’t realize is that the race isn’t about the other participants. It’s about the clock—stretching the limits of your own body and striving to overcome weakness. So find a race to motivate yourself for the next couple months. Don’t worry too much about losing to anyone else. And if you do, who cares? It’s more likely a 5k through your city park than a Saharan ultramarathon or nationally televised meet. Besides, there will always be another race. Learn from your shortcomings and push ahead to the next opportunity. Until then, run smart and run hard. And try to enjoy some of it along the way.

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The Best Possible National Treasure 3 Plotlines

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On the Fourth of July, we Americans take the time to celebrate things that mean a lot to us, like barbecues and colorful explosions. But there is more to our country than just the present. We have such a rich tradition of heroes and history-makers to honor on this day, but none of them come close to America’s greatest patriot, Benjamin Franklin Gates, protagonist of the National Treasure film series. So let’s unleash Ben from his (Nicolas) cage and review the most likely plotlines for National Treasure 3. It’s all I can do for the greatest country in the world.

 

National Treasure 3: Death Marks the Spot

While visiting a Chinese restaurant, Benjamin Gates mistakes a fortune cookie message for an encrypted Templar clue. Not being able to differentiate between different Asian cultures, he decides that the next cache of treasure must be in Japan, marked by a giant X in the ground. The X, however, is only visible under extreme amounts of radiation, because of science. So to recover his new fortune, Gates must do the impossible—hijack atomic weaponry and reenact the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Adventure awaits!

 

National Treasure 3: The Hidden Star

While studying a 5th grade history textbook in the Gates family library, Benjamin accidentally counts 51 stars on the American flag. He deduces that the extra star must pertain to the hidden state of East Carolina, the last remaining stronghold of the Confederacy and the greatest threat to his country’s freedom. Gates sets out to re-conquer this lost territory, boldly wandering out into the ocean at the border of North and South Carolina. After an hour and a half, he finds nothing and has to be saved by the Coast Guard.

 

National Treasure 3: Mormon-y, Mo Problems

Soon after he and Dr. Abigail Chase buy a set of china from Crate and Barrel, Gates realizes that his new dishes are none other than the lost golden plates of Mormon leader Joseph Smith. These treasures could hold secrets to the earliest civilizations of the United States, but to obtain them, Gates will have to raid the home of the world’s most dangerous man: himself. Did we mention that his house is made of mirrors and that he is afraid of his own reflection? Yeah, things are gonna get dangerous.

 

National Treasure 3: The Jaws of Victory

After smelling too many markers at the Sharpie factory, Gates has a mystic vision that there is a historic treasure buried in the sandbox of his community playground: George Washington’s wooden teeth. The next two hours of the film features a very sweaty Nicolas Cage stripping down to his underpants and digging up the entire sandbox with his bare hands. In the end, he finds nothing but a plastic toy tractor, but realizes that the teeth were more of a metaphor for the perseverance of American courage, or something like that.

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Live Performance of the Week: “Father’s Son” by Fistful of Mercy feat. Tom Morello

It’s folk rock with a twist. With a barrage of harmonies, string instruments, and hats, fledgling group Fistful of Mercy rocks the set of Conan in this 2010 clip. While the core trio of Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur, and Beatles progeny Dhani Harrison make most of the performance, it is the backing musicians that really fill out the song. The studio version can’t hope to match the depth of sound in this performance. Look it up to see what I mean.

Say what you will about Tom Morello–his style never really appealed to me–but his inclusion gives the song a kind of space rock element. It meshes surprisingly well with the acoustic-dominated group, building a palpable sense of urgency as the track’s narrator reveals his guilt.

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Argentinean Maps

At the 2012 Argentinean Cartographer’s Conference

“Alright people, we need some solutions pronto. How do we set our maps apart from the rest of the world?”

“How about we add helpful features like public transportation routes?”

“That’s the worst idea I ever heard. No more of this small-ball crap. We need ideas. Fernandez, give me something good!”

“What if we oriented all our maps with east or south facing upwards?”

“By gum, I think you’ve got something!”

“Or we could position them in a completely arbitrary direction–basically whatever we feel like.”

“My God, that’s genius! But would we make such a change clear to the map reader?”

“Absolutely not.”

“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the future is made. Let’s go home.”

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