Saturday, October 20, 2007

TV Online—Amazon Unbox and Netflix Watch Instantly

After a lot of waffling, I finally decided to take the plunge and try out Amazon's Unbox, as well as Netflix's Watch Instantly service. Overall, I'm fairly pleased.

The bad: The waffling came about because of system requirements. Netflix requires Windows Media Player 11, with all its DRM "improvements," which had me leery. I don't really trust Microsoft to have my best interests at heart as regards management of my digital media, so I didn't really want to install their upgrade. However, on reflection, I realized I don't use WMP that much, anyway, so I figured it wouldn't be an issue. The biggest problem I have with Netflix, though, is that it requires use of Internet Explorer as a browser in order to watch their offered video. I'm a dedicated Firefox user, and IE frankly gives me hives. But if it's just for that service, I can deal.

It was my understanding that Unbox requires use of the latest WMP version, as well, though I don't see it on the system requirements list at Amazon. In any case, it at least doesn't force me to use IE, since their player is independent of the browser. While Netflix runs streaming video, Unbox works with downloads, which are limited to use on 2 computers. Neither system is Mac compatible (boo).

The good: Netflix has a very good selection of movies and TV shows available for viewing--over 5,000 according to the website. If you're a member, you can use one hour of viewing time per dollar you pay for your monthly membership. So if you have one of their basic subscriptions, you're looking at 5-10 hours of viewing/month. If you're a spazz like me and have a grandfathered (from *ahem* years ago) super duper membership, you're allowed, well, a lot of viewing time. I'll never use it all up, but at least it adds a bit more value to my membership, since I have a bad habit of leaving movies laying on top of the DVD player for months before I get around to watching them.

Anyway, I first set the system up on my son's computer so the kids could watch the Sonic the Hedgehog animated series. They finished that up and then apparently couldn't find the time to look through for other shows they might enjoy, so I went ahead and set up the system on my own computer and started watching The Office from Season One. The software was easy enough to install once I'd gotten my Windows updates finished, and runs pretty smoothly. Netflix seems to feel my DSL connection is on the low end, speedwise, so it delivers the lower quality versions of the available movies, but it's not bad--definitely on a par with the free streaming service offered by the network websites.

Also at Netflix, they're offering new episodes of Heroes the day after network broadcast, I guess to make up for NBC's pulling the show from iTunes. They also offered the premiere of Californication before it was broadcast on Showtime, and Dexter's Season Two premiere for a limited time.

At Amazon Unbox, you can download episodes of a good number of TV series for $1.99 and episode--the same price as at iTunes. NBC's shows will continue to be available here even after they pull everything from iTunes at the end of this year--I guess NBC was happier with the DRM at Amazon than they were at iTunes. They also have movie "rentals" for $3.99 each. These have to be viewed within 30 days or they will explode. Actually, they automatically delete themselves. Once you start playing them, you have 24 hours to finish watching, so if you have to leave on an emergency trip to Zimbabwe in the middle of your movie and you won't be back for a month, you're out of luck. If you have a TiVo, you can watch downloads on your TV. You can also hook the TV into the computer to watch, or watch downloaded video on a select number of portable devices (iPod not included--another boo). Portable video files come with your download.

My experience with Unbox so far has been limited to free content. I "purchased" (can you call it purchasing when it's free?) three supplemental videos for Bones ("Couples Counseling" videos--short and fun little asides to the story as it's playing out on the series). At first I had some difficulty using the software--it wouldn't download my videos. I had a suspicion I'd entered the wrong password, but couldn't find an option in the software to correct the issue. After an uninstall and reinstall, I was able to enter the right password and download the videos. All that went swimmingly, so I suppose my difficulties could be attributed to user error. It was a bit frustrating, though, to not be able to figure out how to fix my password without uninstalling.

In any case, both these options seem to be very viable for catching up with shows online. If you want DVD quality viewing, you're not going to get it here, but if you can't wait for the DVD releases, both Unbox and View Instantly can help you keep up with your viewing, or check out samples of shows you might not watch otherwise due to scheduling conflicts.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Night Lights—Are You Ready for Friday Night?

In tonight's episode, Tim wears sweat pants hanging so low they would fall off if he breathed wrong. This makes me happy. Very happy.

Oh, and then there's plot. Because the new coach, while being more poetic, is still mean, and works Tim so hard Tim has to be taken to the hospital.

Dear Mr. Mean Coach--Do not mess with My Boy Tim and his Fabulous Sweatpants of Guh. I will cut you. No love, TC.

Lyla continues to be annoying in her attempts to recruit Tim to her church. Tim's at the end of his rope--he's drinking heavily again, Billy has taken up with Jackie, and Jason, trying to do his job as assistant coach, tells him he's a screw-up. So Tim goes to church with Lyla. He seems to have found God now. Which is okay as long as he still wears the Fabulous Sweatpants of Guh. But in the end, he heads off on a road trip to Mexico with Jason, who's not getting along with Coach McMean, either.

Coach Taylor continues to struggle with his job and family obligations. Friction grows in the team as Smash aggrandizes himself to reporters. MacGregor has established him as go-to guy, and his coaching techniques are tearing the team apart rather than pulling it together. Buddy Garrity tries to reassert his power over the team. He pulls Coach Taylor in on this scheme, using some pretty low tactics. Unfortunately, what he says about Tami and Julie is true--they really are having a hard time without the Coach. And so is the team, as Taylor witnesses when he watches the Panthers play from the sidelines. But it's Tami finally allowing herself to fall apart that makes up his mind--he's going to take Buddy's deal and get his old job back. Wow, I didn't see that one coming...

Landry and Tyra remain great characters stranded in a bad plot, unfortunately. I still hold out hope that this will improve, but at least by now it's become a relatively minor blip in a show that's starting to look like my old Friday Night Lights again.

Viva Laughlin

Okay, so, what is this show? It's a drama about a guy trying to get a casino built in Laughlin, Nevada (or at least the pilot is--I assume the casino gets built at some point), and every once in a while people burst into song. Except apparently the producers don't trust the actors to carry the musical aspect of the show, because they sing over the original produced performances of the songs so you can't really hear the actors singing at all. I don't get it. I mean, if you're going to do a musical, then get people who can sing. Or, more to the point, they have people who can sing so let them. Hugh Jackman can sing his tight little silver suited ass off and we all know it, so let the dude sing ferpetesake.

As far as the characters and the story and such, that's all fine, but really, they just lost me by not having the balls to actually, you know, do a musical.

Oh, but Jackman? Smokin' hot. And so is DB Woodside.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Supernatural—Bad Day at Black Rock

Tonight's episode is by Ben Edlund. I really shouldn't have to say anything else about it. I mean, this is the guy who brought us "Simon Said," and "Hollywood Babylon," and, a few years ago (has it really been that long?), turned Angel into a puppet. And tonight he's going to construct an entire Supernatural episode around a rabbit's foot. Which seems odd, but not as odd as turning Angel into a puppet, and that was one of the highlights of my TV viewing history. So yeah, looking forward to this one.

Before we get to the bunny toes, we catch up with Gordon, who's still in prison, but getting outside info from another hunter about the devil's gate fiasco at the end of last season. Gordon still seems to think Sam needs to die. But didn't he do that already? The hunter, Kubrick, joins forces with another hunter and goes in pursuit of Sam, who's collecting more Satanic nicknames as Kubrick starts calling him the Adversary. I think he paid a little too much attention in Sunday School. Heck, by the end even Gordon thinks Kubrick is taking his whole mission from God thing a little too seriously, and when Gordon thinks you're off your nut, you probably have some serious issues.

Dean isn't too happy about Sam's chatting up Ruby the demon last week. I'm kind of surprised Sam told Dean about that. It seemed like he was playing his research cards close to the vest since Dean told him about the loophole. Although it's probably good he's opening up to Dean. At this point I'm wondering, though, if he's told Dean about Mary's history as revealed last week via Ruby.

They get a call on John's old cell phone about a storage container being broken into. They go to investigate and find the container filled with childhood memorabilia (Sam's soccer trophy, Dean's first sawed-off shotgun) as well as a potentially useful arsenal and a collection of curse boxes filled with bad mojo, locked away for protection. One of them has been stolen. I liked this scene and what it revealed about John and his love for his sons. I also liked that John is in many ways still an active character in the show, much as he was in the first season before the boys caught up with him. Tying family backstory into this episode was a great move on Edlund's part--it added a layer that made it feel that much more accessible.

Sam and Dean chase down the thieves and aquire the rabbit's foot that was inside the curse box. Dean, seeing the effects of the artifact, buys lottery tickets, because he's Dean. Sam, though, is certain the artifact is cursed. Which of course it is, as evidence by the really gross death of one of the men who initially stole it. Seriously, how do they come up with all these inventive yet really repulsive ways to kill people off? And this one had the added bonus of being funny. Anyway, the bunny foot was made to kill people--when you lose it, you die in less than a week.

And a waitress in the restaurant where they stop to eat lifts the rabbit's foot out of Sam's pocket. Sam and Dean now have to figure out how to break the curse so Sam won't die. And the restaurant's publicity shot of Sam and Dean as their one millionth customer leads the hunters straight to their prey.

Poor Sam gets saddled with the bad luck, which leads to lots of pratfalls for Padalecki, who is as hysterical in this turn as put-upon Sam as he is scary when he gets to tackle demon-possessed Sam. Seriously, I've been watching Gilmore Girls and Padalecki has come a long way, and is developing some serious talent. Fearing for both their lives, Dean leaves Sam in the hotel room ("Don't even scratch your nose"--so of course Sam's nose immediately gets itchy) and pursues the thief, a new hot chick named Bela who apparently specializes in this sort of thing.

While Sam is afflicted by more and more off-the-wall accidents (the air conditioner catches fire while he just sits there trying not to do anything dangerous), Dean regains the rabbit's foot and manages to make me laugh hysterically while at the same time being completely hotass. "I'm Batman." Yes, I rolled right off the chaise. Sam's death seems to be inevitable when Kubrick catches up to him, but Dean makes use of the rabbit's foot's powers while luck is still on his side. It's this kind of assured competence in the most bizarre of situations that makes me want to lick Dean all over. Did I say that out loud? In the end, he tricks Bela into touching the rabbit's foot, so she'll be forced to let them destroy it. But she gets her revenge by pickpocketing Dean's scratch tickets.

I have to say I'm very happy with my show so far, even with the changes that have been introduced. I had high hopes for the new cast additions when rumors first hit the internet over the summer, and so far Bela and Ruby are playing out quite nicely. I was afraid Sam's storyline might fall by the wayside, but instead it's just gathered more layers. And Dean's impending death, while it continues to color the tone of the show, was more or less set aside this week, which I think was a good thing. While it's an important subplot, it doesn't need to be explicit in every episode. Kudos once again to Edlund for a stellar hour (well, okay, about 42 minutes) of TV.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Heroes—The Kindness of Strangers

(Blogger won't let me upload an image tonight so picture Naked Peter in this space.)

Mr. Bennet is still freaking about the painting of Claire, and Mr. Muggles is apparently a power-walking Pomeranian. That dog is scary. Dad gives Claire the "outsiders are a threat" speech again. Claire reassures her dad that there's no boy for him to worry about. At school, she's still being pursued by the cheerleaders. Their lockers are outside, and I swear I've seen this school before in another show or a movie. What do they do when it rains, if the lockers are outside? See? I remember thinking the same thing when I saw this school before. West and Claire have an awkward conversation with lots of subtext, but he asks her out anyway. Claire says she's going to the library to study for a paper and sneaks off to see West. Her dad stalks them but doesn't see West and Claire flying away. They sit on the Hollywood sign and chat. West tries to convince Claire she should trust him. I don't trust him. I think he's kinda creepy. He convinces her to jump off the sign to prove her trust. Of course he catches her in mid-air. Maybe this is all supposed to be romantic but he still seems kinda stalkery to me. They stay out too late (there's a shocker), and he encourages her to lie to her father to cover up. Claire tells her dad she made the cheerleading team, instead of telling him she was out with Creepy Flying Boy. In fact, she's all manipulaty about it to get Dad to let her be on the team. He says she can cheer but she can't date. Hm. How is that gonna work? I think Claire and Julie Taylor (Friday Night Lights) should hang out, because they're both being annoying with the teenage rebellion stuff. The Haitian arrives and says he and Bennet have to go to Odessa, in the Ukraine, to follow up on the paintings. They still haven't given the Haitian a name, have they? Maybe we can call him Mr. Haitian McHottypants.

Maya and Alejandro are still traveling with Derek, who speaks English, which allows us to abandon the subtitles, thank God. They're slightly less annoying without subtitles. They find a body in the road. Oh, and I spoke too soon. More subtitles. The body in the road is Sylar. Whee! Boring characters + interesting character =.... well, I guess we'll find out. Maya shows Sylar the book and Sylar gets all curious and creepy and offers to help them find Dr. Suresh. Hm. Nice trick since Sylar killed him. Derek finds a "Wanted" ad (as opposed to a want ad) in a newspaper with pictures of Maya and Alejandro and shows it to Sylar, who says "golly." Derek goes to call the police while Sylar confronts them with the newspaper. Maya gets agitated and starts to infect Sylar, but Alejandro calms her and stops the process. Sylar is, of course, very intrigued by all this, and helps them escape. In the meantime, Derek has dropped dead of brain hemorrhage...okay, how did that happen when he was quite a distance away from Maya when she had her meltdown?

Elsewhere, Micah is being tormented by the other kids living with Lieutenant Uhura, who is apparently Micah's grandmother, so I guess the other kids would be his cousins. Micah uses his powers to get his cousins Pay-Per-View so they'll stop tormenting him. Cousin Monica has tested into a management training program so she can go to school to help her family recover from the hurricane. It appears she might have some power, but it involves cutting tomatoes into roses and I don't see how that's all that useful. Maybe she just learns things really really fast. Anyway, she doesn't make it into the management program. And her friend looks like somebody cloned Molly Ringwald. Monica is attacked at the hamburger joint and takes out the burglar using a move she saw on TV. Yep, apparently she learns by watching. Handy skill.

Molly wakes up screaming after a nightmare and is comforted by her two daddies Matt and Mohinder. Nathan sneaks a visit with his kids, who mock his beard. Poor Nathan's not allowed to be around his kids. That's not good. I wonder what pieces we're missing here. Angela Petrelli confesses to the murder of Mr. Nakamura to Matt, who's interrogating her in the hospital. She tells Matt telepathically to accept her statement and let it go. Otherwise, digging into the case will expose our Heroes. Nathan, who has shaved now--yay!--confronts Matt about his mother's "confession." I guess Nathan took his kids' mockage seriously. Matt tells Nathan about Molly's dreams and the symbol common to the dreams and the investigation.

Nathan goes to chat with Mom. Mom mocks his shaving. Wow, he can't win with the whole facial hair conundrum, can he? Angela sticks to her guns about her confession. Nathan and Matt compare notes about the older generation of folks, including Angela, DeVeaux, Linderman and Nakamura, and find a picture with a good number of them all together. We get a bit more information about Matt's situation--his wife's baby wasn't his. Back at 3M HQ, Matt tells Molly and Mohinder that he needs Molly to help him find his father. Molly is freaked out by the picture and says Matt's dad is the nightmare man. Okay, there's an interesting twist. Nathan continues to see visions of Peter with his face horribly burned. Matt pushes Mohinder to let him get Molly to continue to help track down his father. Mohinder doesn't like the idea, but Molly says she'll do it. She does, but comes too close, and is thrown into shock, but Matt can still hear her screaming.

Wow, what a freaky way to end it. Most of the storylines seem to be ramping up nicely. I'm most interested in the 3M team and the Petrellis right now. I missed Peter tonight but I can't say I missed Hiro. His storyline isn't doing much for me right now, and I hope when he comes back they've added something to that plot to make it a bit more interesting. Maya and Alejandro are still boring to me but adding Sylar to the mix at least adds some interest there. I'm still not terribly invested in Micah's situation, or in Monica yet, and Claire is really annoying me. Although I'm starting to really like Mr. Muggles. He should get a spinoff.