Brandon's Journal

This morning, I opened up Feeder to see what my favorite bloggers had posted over the weekend. I skimmed the various titles and disregarded a few of them, but then I settled in to read up on some of the more interesting posts. My buddy Michael wrote about his love of The Muppets. I saw that Dino had picked up Elite Dangerous after I wrote about it a few months back. His screenshots are tremendous and definitely worth checking out.

Then I saw Rebecca Toh had posted ten recent thoughts. I'm a huge fan of her writing, but this short list of some random thoughts stopped me in my tracks. It stopped me so hard, I felt compelled to come straight over here and write something about it.

The problem is I don't know what to say. There is no commentary I can add to it that won't tarnish and already brilliant list of ideas. I guess, her thoughts really connected with me because some days I feel like I'm the only one who feels a certain way. So when I read something that mirrors a lot of the same conclusions that I've come to it feels good. I also love to see things in print, so I can save them and refer back to them later. It's sort of a reminder/guideline of the way things are and not to get too wrapped up into life.

I won't post the ten thoughts here, but I highly recommend you head over and check them out for yourself. I'm quite thankful Rebecca took the time to share these with the world.

#100DaysToOffload 67/100

I spent the morning browsing some old fan sites. I didn't mean to, I just ran across an article discussing USA's Blue Skies format and I wanted to research it more. Until earlier this year, I never gave any of the Blue Skies shows a chance. Then I started watching Psych and quickly fell in love with it. I'm hoping to check out some of the other shows once I finish.

Yesterday, I talked some about morals and television and while the Blue Skies shows at USA weren't full of moral messages, they were positive, thus the Blue Skies moniker. It sucks, because I feel like in 2020, we really could use these types of shows and there aren't that many around.

Anyway, I found myself on a Chuck fan site (another show I just gave a shot this year) and I had a lot of fun reading through it. I've only seen two episodes of Chuck, so it wasn't something I could completely understand, but it was great seeing the effort someone put into that site. From there, I clicked on some other links in the sidebar, then some more and more and so on.

Most of the sites I ran across have been dead for at least four-to-ten years. They remain on the web as remnants of a fandom once loved. A few of them grew into other sites, that have long been abandoned as well. One site author became a published author and left her fanfiction behind to write stories with original characters. It's so interesting to see how things evolved.

Reading over these sites really made me miss not having a sidebar. I love the simplistic look of my blog and I like having the ability to hashtag things, but one of my biggest issues with is the lack of a sidebar. It severely limits some of the organizational abilities blogs offer and make it more difficult to navigate in my opinion. Whenever my year subscription is up, this may be a deciding factor on whether or not I renew.

I miss reading fan sites and I wish I could find more active ones. I like the commentary, fan fiction, and episode synopsis. I love how parts of the authors personal life invade the page and the sites tend to stay on topic. But like the Blue Skies era of USA, I think these maybe something of a by gone era. A time when things weren't so dark and people were a little more optimistic. When people celebrated their love of things and didn't sling hate and disgust at one another. I miss those days.

#100DaysToOffload 66/100 #Reflection

Things I Can't Explain has gone full romantic comedy mode and I'm totally down for this. That's not something I ever thought I'd want in my life, but damn if I don't want a feature length romantic starring Melissa Joan Hart as Clarissa.

It's a bit predictable and a little over the top, but so was the TV series and I'm down for that. In a world where everything is so terrible all the time, its nice to read a little fluff.

It wasn't too surprising to see that Clarissa still has feelings for Sam and that she is a bit conflicted since life hasn't really gone her way. I think the author did a great job at capturing the feeling of people from my generation once all the dust cleared and we realized we weren't all going to be movie stars.

If I have any critique, I wished they would have backed down on the barista being a total Adonis. His rock hard abs, firm jawline, “butt like Channing Tatum” seemed a bit too much on top of his Harley riding and guitar playing. Clarissa never struck me as being quite so superficial, so this seems a bit forced.

I gotta say, I didn't see the girlfriend twist coming through. I anticipated Sam showing up and complicating things further, but I thought it was a nice touch.

Clarissa's job searching commentary is some of my favorite so far. I loved how she described Craigslist as: “Please for the Love of God Hire Me.” I can relate to that so much!

The Sabrina/Salem mention was subtle and work really well.

The end of chapter six slowed to a slog, but at least the chapter ended with a little action to make me excited for what's to come.

Be sure to check out Michael's thoughts on Things I Can't Explain at his blog Random Thoughts and Ponders.

#BookClub #ThingsICantExplain

If you've read any of my writing in the past, you may have come across a time or two when I've mentioned how my moral compass was developed by television and the like. In a nutshell, I don't come from the best family. In fact, their morals are very questionable even today. So growing up, they weren't all that active in my life and I spent a ton of time in front of the TV or with my nose in books. I learned to mimic the things I saw in entertainment and I feel like a portion of my moral fabric was made up thinks to the likes of Stan Lee, Batman, Star Wars, Full House, and the like.

Now this may be a stark difference in writing compared to my recent posts about watching gritty and violent films, but one of the things that I'm discovering as I age is that in order to be whole you need to embrace both sides. For every dark side is a light, and for every up there is a down. I know I'm going all Taoist on yall, so I'll stop there, but I'm really beginning to embrace this idea of there being being a need for both sides of the spectrum.

Alright, back to the topic at hand... morals and television. Needless to say, I'm not so sure I would have developed a decent moral compass if I was raised on television today. Sure, I love Breaking Bad, Yellowstone, and even the ocassional bad reality TV show, but these shows don't really offer those same positive moral messages that the 70's, 80's, and 90's presented. Now, comparing Breaking Bad to The Brady Bunch is not fair, because obviously the audiences are very different, but there really aren't many run of the mill family sort of a shows. There is no Fraiser, MASH, Friends,* or even Star Trek of this generation (although I have high hopes for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds). The closest I've seen to this old school morale storytelling is the CW Arrowverse shows, Stargirl, and random one offs like Fuller House or One Day At A Time.

So, why don't we have those type of shows anymore? Well, for one, they could be very cheesy. Full House can be sickening sweet at times, and Fuller House wasn't much better.

Two, they just don't pull in the ratings like they used to. Everyone wants dark, dreary, and dangerous, and that's what sells.

Three, optimism for things working out sort of died with 9/11 and as an American society we've struggled to grasp ahold of that ideal again.

I'm sure there are other reasons, but those are the three that came to mind.

I wonder if this is a bad thing though. I wonder if the lack of moralistic tales does a disservice to society. I mean, for generations we were raised on fairy tales and mythology that taught us how to act. It taught us what was considered right and wrong. Now, in the world of the anti-hero, things aren't so clear cut. Being selfish and shitty is commendable and makes for great television (see Seinfeld and It's Always Sunny).

But what happens to those kids like me, who didn't have the proper home life to guide them? Is it televisions responsibility to provide inspiration and guidance on how to live? Or did I just get lucky, and was raised when this sort of storytelling was popular? I don't really know. I wasn't able to come up with a great argument either way.

I guess, like most of my nostalgia, I feel like we've lost a little something with all the changes. I'm sure this is the way that everyone feels as they get older. They miss the “simpler” times, however that can be described for them.

I just know that when I go back and watch an old sitcom, I have this weird, calming sense of peace when its all over. Everything feels like it's going to be okay and I like that. I hate to think that other generations won't experience that same feeling.

#100DaysToOffload 64/100 #Television

Recently, I've been watching Married with Children on Hulu. Growing up, I'd occasionally watch it, but I haven't seen too many episodes. In fact, when I started watching it a few months back, I was confused because I had never seen an episode with Steve (Marcie's first husband) in it. I thought maybe he was replaced after the pilot, but I was quite wrong since Steve hung around for first three to four seasons.

Married with Children seemed to be on quite often in syndication and that's where I saw it the most. Like most boys/teenagers of the 90's, I had a crush on Christina Applegate and I got a kick out of Al Bundy's hand down his pants routine. But besides that, I didn't find much to enjoy about the show.

Now that I'm a bit older, I appreciate the show a lot more. I can relate to it in some ways, and really laugh at all the absurdity in other ways. I find the cruel insults and over-the-top humor perfect for some of these bad days I've had lately.

A few weeks ago, I watched the first episode of season three and Al went on a rant to the librarian who'd tortured him as a child. It cracked me up, because I related to it all too much. That quote has been on my mind lately, so I thought I'd share it here.

So you think I'm a loser? Just because I have a stinking job that I hate, a family that doesn't respect me, a whole city that curses the day I was born? Well, that may mean loser to you, but let me tell you something. Every morning when I wake up, I know it's not going to get any better until I go back to sleep again. So I get up, have my watered-down Tang and still-frozen Pop Tart, get in my car with no upholstery, no gas, and six more payments to fight traffic just for the privilege of putting cheap shoes on the cloven hooves of people like you. I'll never play football like I thought I would. I'll never know the touch of a beautiful woman. And I'll never again know the joy of driving without a bag on my head. But I'm not a loser. 'Cause, despite it all, me and every other guy who'll never be what he wanted to be are still out there being what we don't want to be forty hours a week for life. And the fact that I haven't put a gun in my mouth, you pudding of a woman, makes me a winner.

Also, there was a fantastic breakdown on reddit on whether or not Al could have supported his family on a shoe salesman's budget in the late 80's and early 90's that is totally worth your time reading.

In the sitcom Married... with Children, protagonist Al Bundy is able to support himself, his homemaker wife, and two children on the income he earns as a shoe salesman in a strip mall in the suburbs of Chicago. Was this at all realistic for the late 1980s/early 1990s?

#100DaysToOffload 63/100 #Television

So, I'm loving this book. I'm just in awe at how much I'm loving it.

Before I started these chapters, I was struggling through the first Firefly novelization, Big Damn Heroes and it wasn't going well. I was flustered, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to read next. I decided I'd go ahead and knock out these next two chapters and it was like a breath of fresh air. It truly let me know that I was wasting my time reading Big Damn Heroes when I could be reading something more enjoyable like Things I Can't Explain.

I wasn't sure if I was going to like Clarissa's parents showing up in New York, but the storyline was perfect. The improvised date, the fantastic chart of her past relationship with Norm, and even the disasterious ordering of prawn at dinner was all brilliant. Despite not having seen the show in many years, I was immediately able to recognize both Marshall and Janet's voice coming from the characters and it amazes me how well the author was able to capture their sense of humor and nuances.

It's also nice that we got to hear the backstory about what happened between her and Sam. It was probably my biggest question as soon as I started the book, so I'm glad it was addressed. I can't say I'm not a bit bummed it didn't work out, but I have a feeling Sam may be showing up in the future.

#BookClub #ThingsICantExplain

I first watched Wargames sometime in the late 90's. It was recommended to me by a friend I had met online who knew I had a growing desire to see more 80's movies. I remember him saying that out of all of the movies he recommended, he thought I'd enjoy Wargames the most. He was right.

I'm going to assume you've seen Wargames, but if you have not, please note this post will ruin the ending of the movie. Also, it's a great movie that I highly recommend seeing at least once, so check it out if you get a chance.

We all know how this movie ends. WOPR is about to bomb the hell out of Russia when Falken and David convince WOPR to play tic-tac-toe. They do this to show the AI that in some games the are no true winners, which is enough for WOPR to call off the attack. Afterwards WOPR says:

The Only Winning Move is Not To Play

As I've gotten older, I'm not sure another quote has been quite as relevant as this one in my life.

It's taken me several years, but I've come to learn that you do not have to participate in everything. Anything from the office potluck to social media can be opted out of. I guess you can call that the power of saying no.

But in a society that preaches progress, self-improvement, and constant change, you can find yourself easily straggling the line between coming and going. There are so many people pushing for why you should or shouldn't do something and this paradox of choice leaves some of us paralyzed. We overthink and try to find out how to have our cake and eat it to. We create extra stress over the stupidest of decisions, all because of social norms or expectations.

A recent example I can think of is my relationship with social media. I enjoyed it, but I knew it was bad for me. It was a time suck and I grew frustrated with the drama and advertising. So, I took some time away and then came back under the impression that I'd limit the amount of people I followed, keep it friends only, and limit the amount of wastefulness. Did it work? Somewhat. But it didn't solve the advertising or privacy issues and since buying an ad free version wasn't an option, I decided to just not participate anymore. I had to opt out. No longer was I pulled by the social expectation that I should have a social media account nor was sacrificing my own personal morals on interacting with software that I didn't find ethical. I just stepped away from it all and you know what? Life is better. I'm no longer torn between the two worlds and none of it matters, because the option just isn't there. It truly was a case where the only way for me to win was not to play.

It's not just when dealing with social media though. I find it useful in relationships, arguments, petty drama, co-worker tiffs, and so on. In so many instances getting involved does nothing but bring on stress and pain, which can be easily avoided if you just shrug your shoulders and move on. I guess, its taken me a while to learn that you truly have to pick your battles. Fight the ones that worth fighting for and let the rest go. And if it's overly complicated or seems like a no-win scenario, then you can always take your ball and go home. There is nothing wrong with that sometimes.

#100DaysToOffload 62/100

I've been watching some dark movies as of late. I find that it calms me a bit. I mentioned it in this post and well... I've just been sprinkling in some darker movies along with usual cherry 90's stuff. One of the movies I recently watched was Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver from 1976.

I've seen Taxi Driver once and I remember being blown away by it. But it's been a good fifteen years since that first viewing and ever since I watched The Joker last year, I've had a craving to check it out again. This seemed like the perfect time.

So, last week, I found it on Netflix and I sat down and was blown away once again. It's incredible how well made that movie is. It transports you to a different time and era that feels so authentic. I couldn't possibly vouch for that authenticity since it was made before I was born and I've never been to New York City, but it feels like this horrible, dirty, lived in world where a man struggled to fit in.

A movie like Taxi Driver is almost more of an experience than actual great narrative. Sure, it has a beginning, middle, and end, but what I like about it is its just so off the rails you feel like you are on a ride that you can't get off of. You just kick back, let the movie take you, and once its over you think to yourself, “Damn, I'm glad I got to experience that.”

I did a few searches on the film and discovered it had a novelization written by Richard Elman. Being a huge fan of novelizations, I decided to seek out a copy which I had to do through alternate means because the book is very out of print.

Now, if I'm honest, most novelizations do not live up to their source material. They are fleshed out renditions of early scripts and they typically do not deliver. But this book... WOW does it deliver.

The book is written in the first person and comes off as a fractured running commentary from Travis Bickle's mind. There are punctuation issues, misspellings, and an overall awkwardness that takes you straight back to the movie, but does so much more. It loosely follows the movie, but is not a scene by scene recreation.

For example: in the book, Travis spends time talking about going to porno theaters and he discusses some moments he's experienced there such as falling asleep on a fellow viewer and being judged by the ticket tearer. In the same breath, he mentions also this one time when he tried to ask the candy girl her name and she was rude to him and told him she'd call over the boss. Then he goes onto to describe what he ordered and the price of it all.

It's a fascinating way to turn this movie into a novelization, that reads more like a a companion novella. I'm loving it.

On a somewhat related note...

While doing some research on Taxi Driver, I discovered that a video game was being developed on the property back in 2005. Development made it so far, an E3 trailer was released and some others videos were uploaded to IGN. You can read a short breakdown of what happened (In a nutshell, Majesco ran out of money) and see pictures and videos at Unseen 64.

#100DaysToOffload 61/100 #Books #Movies

This past Friday, the demo for Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2 was released. I anxiously waited for it to unlock at 11 AM and I started playing right away. The demo is very limited. It includes the Warehouse level from Tony Hawk Pro Skater and allows for a two minute single session playing as Tony Hawk. That means you can skate around get points and earn cash, but there are no goals to accomplish, tapes to collect, or boxes to hit.

I’ll be honest, I was a bit bummed they didn’t offer a few of the goals, but this truly is a demo that just gives you a taste of what is to come. The graphics look nice. They are crisp, run by a good frame rate, and are modernized, but not in a way that disrespects the original level design.

The gameplay is good, but also slightly different than what I expected. I guess, deep down, I thought this was going to be a re-skinned version of Tony Hawk 1+2, but it’s not. The skater plays more like the characters from the later games like Tony Hawk Underground, which means they have actual weight to them. The game moves at a solid pace, feels natural, and doesn’t remind me of the floaty, slow engine that Tony Hawk HD used.

My only true complaint in the demo comes with the falling off animation. The game utilizes this cool VHS glitch to put you back on the board, but it has a loud sound effect, almost like a record scratch. This really breaks up the awesome soundtrack and I found myself fuddling around in the settings to turn down the actual sound effects so that the music wouldn’t be so disturbed. It’s a small irritation, but an irritation nonetheless.

So far, I really like what I have seen from the demo and I can’t wait for the game to release on September 4th.

#100DaysToOffload 60/100 #VideoGames

Back in the 90’s, one of my favorite TV shows was Clarissa Explains It All. Clarissa Explains It All was a show on Nickelodeon that straddled the line between being a children’s show and a show for teenagers. Thanks to great writing and an amazing performance by Melissa Joan Hart, Clarissa Explains It All was quirky, fun, and never talked down to its audience. It also had one of my favorite openings to any TV show ever.

A few years back, I was doing some research on Clarissa Explains It All and that’s when I learned about a failed pilot for a spin-off series on ABC that was made in 1995, shortly after the cancellation of Clarissa Explains It All. The idea for the pilot was that it would pick up after Clarissa moved to New York to become a journalist and would follow her attempt to make it in the Big Apple. Similar to the original show, the show was made to straddle the line between two demographics, this time the teenagers who watched the original show and young adults who might enjoy the slightly more mature storylines.

The pilot was not picked up, and for good reason: it wasn’t very good. You can see for yourself here as it’s been streaming on YouTube for years.

I liked the concept and I would have loved more Clarissa stories, but it just didn’t achieve what it set out to do. Luckily, a few years later, Melissa Joan Hart would find herself in another show that set out to reach the same audience and it was massively successful. That show would be Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Something else I learned during my deep dive of Clarissa Explains It All was that the creator of the show Mitchell Kriegman, wrote a follow up novel that catches up with Clarissa in her late twenties titled Things I Can’t Explain. It seemed so random and so unknown, I knew I had to read it. So I bought a copy, and it’s been sitting for years as I proceeded to read all sorts of other books and not it.

A few weeks back, my friend Michael wrote a review on his blog about Clarissa Now, the unsold pilot. I was thrilled to see his post on Clarissa, since I had never heard of anyone who even knew that the unsold pilot existed. We exchanged a few messages regarding the book, Things I Can’t Explain and decided to have a little online book club. This is the first post of the book club. We agreed to read the first two chapters and just post our thoughts and commentary. Unless you are reading along, I’m sure some of the future posts will be incredibly dull and hard to relate to, but this seemed like a fun and easy way for us to interact and so here we are.

Chapters One and Two:

I haven't read anything about Things I Can't Explain since I first heard of it, so I went in completely open and with no expectations. I was surprised to find the novel taking place in Clarissa's late twenties and even more surprised to see it included Clarissa Now as canon! I had to stop reading and do an IMDB search to verify that the editor she wrote for was indeed named Hugh Hamilton and it really made me smile to see that much care and love be put into this novel. So far, it seems like a love letter to the fans.

I think it's great to have the book written in the first person and every line so far has seemed perfect for the character. I read it in Melissa Joan Hart's voice and it feels like a perfect extension of the show. I love how she hasn't lost her quirkiness and included lists and definitions of small observations in her life.

The Map of Coffee Comfort and the Micro Relationships List were two of the highlights for me.

I like how they are going with the fish out of water (small town Ohio girl in the Big City) story and I'm interesting in seeing how Clarissa navigates relationships at her current age. I'm also hoping for more random commentary on various things she encounters such as the subway in the first chapter.

So far, I'm digging it.

#BookClub #ThingsICantExplain

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