Entry for August 15, 2008: Hard times, easy viewing

The past few weeks have been rainy in the U.S. Northeast and rough at work, with the deaths of some close co-workers' family members, chronic illness of a few former colleagues, and now some layoffs. Our ongoing war in the Middle East and Russia's offensive in Eastern Europe are also worrisome. I can only hope that the autumn is more pleasant.

I've been watching the Olympics on most nights lately. The opening ceremonies in Beijing were truly impressive. Amid the athletic feats, it's hard to tell which is more annoying: getting glimpses of an authoritarian and increasingly plutocratic People's Republic of China (for which I blame the government and multinational corporations, not the people), or the ever-present smug nationalism of NBC/Universal's commentators.

As usual, while I can't help but root for superswimmer Michael Phelps and beach volleyball players Kerry Walsh and Misty May-Trainor (who were surprisingly challenged by the Belgian team), I'd like to see more prime-time coverage of other sports, including those where Americans aren't favored to win medals. I plan to record some cycling, equestrian, fencing, and table tennis events, which are broadcast on various cable channels at odd hours. In addition to my DVD backlog, I'll have a lot to watch!

Still catching up, last weekend, Janice and I went to Wild Willy's, a restaurant that just opened in Needham, Massachusetts. While it's not as good as Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage in Harvard Square, Cambridge, or Fuddruckers, it's nice to have a burger joint in walking distance of where we live, especially since the local Bickford's burned down and Ground Round recently closed. We also have a Friendly's relatively nearby.

In genre television, I enjoyed the Season/Series 4 finale of Doctor Who. It's not too much of a "spoiler" to say that the good Gallifreyan and his numerous companions finally get together to try to thwart the apocalyptic schemes of the dreaded Daleks. However, uncertainty about the casting and production into 2010 have hurt the BBC's long-running time-travel drama.

Continuing with British shows, the second season finale of Robin Hood was decent, including an appearance of King Richard and a breaking of the fellowship in the Holy Land. Despite this version's many anachronisms, I've enjoyed the acting and wonder how the merry band will return. Given the negative buzz around Ridley Scott's Nottingham, I'm glad that the movie has been postponed. Enough damage was done to the legendary hero in the popular imagination by Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves.

Similarly, while there have been numerous bad movies using comic book superheroes, it's not fair to blame the source material, even if print publications of all kinds are struggling. It's interesting to note that the cinema is bringing this modern mythology to a wider audience, although I'd hesitate to put the stylish Hellboy 2: The Golden Army or even the upcoming Watchmen on a pedestal.

The animated Spectacular Spider-Man and upcoming Wonder Woman are probably closer to their creators' original intent, just by being graphical storytelling. There are no doubt important comics, but entertainment value is what brings me into comic shops. Speaking of which, as I gradually read through my piles of recent issues, I've been enjoying the various Superman and Spider-Man titles, which have returned to a Silver Age sensibility. The Batman family and espionage take on Captain America remain reliable, even as DC Comics' Final Crisis and Marvel's Secret Invasion crossovers drag on.

Although my D&D4e "Vanished Lands" game keeps me from watching ABC Family's The Middleman right away, I'm still digging the ratings-impaired comic book adaptation. I've compared Middleman to Nickelodeon's cartoons of the past decade and to the recent spate of prime-time genre comedies, but watching the latest fun episodes reminded me of two other underrated television shows: The Chronicle and Special Unit 2.

Speaking of blasts from the past, has anyone else noted the voice of genre vet Jeffrey Combs in recent advertisements for presidential candidate John McCain? I'm not sure an endorsement from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Weyoun and Brunt, Enterprise's Shran, or Justice League Unlimited's Question is a great idea. On the other hand, stung by early criticism, celebrities seem to be avoiding McCain's rival Barack Obama.

I haven't yet seen the computer-animated Wall-E or cliffhanging sequel Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which has gotten mixed reviews. However, I do hope to catch the pilot of space opera Star Wars: Clone Wars (which will be a series on the Cartoon Network this fall) this coming weekend.