Brad Root

The Staircase, the new HBO series that just wrapped up, was very entertaining. I didn’t watch the original documentary, but I had read an article all about “the owl theory”, which I had found very convincing, so I was vaguely familiar with the murder of Kathleen Peterson.

To someone unfamiliar with some of the details of the case, it was very easy to feel like the series was giving a lot of credence to the owl theory, by repeatedly showing Kathleen being spooked by owl sounds outside. Is the subplot with the bats a further allusion to Kathleen’s alleged issues with wildlife? Probably?

The series leaves out certain facts about the crime scene that can strongly influence your opinion about Michael Peterson’s innocence, and I think it’s extremely suspicious. I can understand that the show, for the sake of suspense, may want to paint an somewhat ambiguous picture of Michael early on, so they can hit you with more damming evidence later, but by the end I don’t think the show went far enough in this regard.

Before the last episode of the show aired, I did some googling and found a lot of people who were like me: people who felt like Michael Peterson wasn’t guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and the show didn’t help remedy this perception much. But after finding a very eye-opening post on Reddit about the case, all doubt was gone for me, and by the end of the show I ultimately felt like it was extremely misleading.

I felt the same way after the 2018 Waco series which portrayed David Koresh as a likable rockstar character and not the sociopathic child molestor he actually was. To the credit of The Staircase, it’s not as egregious as the Waco series in regards to making the psychopath at the center of the series seem super cool and hip, but I still call into question the compulsion to create media that feels a bit like the narcissist himself was involved in crafting their portrayal.

Sure, you could say it’s so that the audience can sort of feel what it was like to actually be there, and to be so thoroughly suckered by the charisma of these men, but I really don’t think that is much of a defense. At the end of the day, these were men who did bad things, and leaving out details and events so that the main character of the show still remains somewhat likable is just dishonest and manipulative.

The brouhaha over what percentage of Twitter’s users are bots has joined my internal list of the most frustrating stupidities I have seen on the internet. It’s such a clear example of how people’s perception of a thing totally ruins their ability to think objectively about it.

It’s an inarguable fact: if you look at the replies to popular tweets on Twitter, a lot of those replies are created by bots. That’s easy to see. The core problem is that people are taking the feeling “30% of the content I see on Twitter is written by bots” and turning it into “30% of all the users on Twitter are bots”.

There are a lot of people who “lurk” on Twitter. People who probably know better than to open themselves up to the kind of mean-spirited criticism that awaits you on the internet. These are real people, but to some of the studies that Musk fans have pointed to, an account that never tweets is possibly a fake account, or a possibly a bot.

The fact that 70% of Musk’s followers haven’t tweeted in more than 120 days isn’t any evidence that those people are bots, it’s just evidence that a significant majority of people who have Twitter accounts simply do not post. And good for them! I’m sure they are living happy, productive lives somewhere else.

I don’t know how I didn’t mention Outer Range in my last post. I enjoyed it as much as, if not more than, Severance. It’s an unabashedly & pretentiously weird and arty show that, based on what I’ve read online, is very divisive. I was honestly shocked at the negativity and hostility directed at the show online, because I never felt like it hit a wrong note. But on the other hand, I know when something feels that way to me, it’s probably going to really upset other people.

It’s got all the hallmarks of a future cult classic and I am totally there for it. I don’t really know how to say much else about the show. If you like David Lynch but think his stuff is too lacking in coherence, it’s great: dream logic, magical realism, science fiction all rolled up into one big beautiful package. I think you liked John from Cincinnati, which I love with all my heart and soul, you’d like Outer Range as well. How much that last sentence offends you should be a pretty good measure of how much you may like the show.

I’ve been watching season 3 of Westworld, because I watched the prior two seasons, for better-ish (season 1) and for worse (season 2). What a gorgeous, but insultingly stupid, show. I’m not done with the season so I can’t pass solid judgment, but there are writers who can handle deep concepts (like the nature of reality, the self, expansive future technology) without getting all tangled up in them, and then there is whoever is writing Westworld at this point. Yuck, but I’ll keep going…

We watched Belle over the weekend. I’ve been dipping my toes into Japanese culture over the past year or so, not really on purpose, but after playing Paradise Killer I’ve been on a journey to be less close-minded about Japanese stuff like, ahem, anime, JRPGs, little girl ASMR on Twitch (🤮), and so on. I saw that Belle was really well received online by sites that, I’m realizing, make a business about receiving anything well (Polygon, Verge), so I figured I would check it out. It was … okay. Visually beautiful, over-long, and mired further by the (shame on us) English versions of the songs. Wish we had watched it in Japanese; at least the stupid songwriting could be somewhat obscured by vocals we’re unable to understand. Shucks!

We wrapped up Ozark last week as well. This is another situation–like Westworld, like Weeds–where I should have just walked away at some point. With Ozark, hard to remember exactly what season first really started to lose me, I’m not quite sure. The show probably reached its peak when Ruth called Wendy “a bitch wolf” in a fit of angry hysteria. Little did anyone know that from that point onward “angry hysteria” would be the driving force behind many–if not all–of the characters, to varying degrees of outward flailing. What a painfully dumb and disappointing show. To its credit, and I say this as begrudgingly as possible, the show remains consistent up to the very end, despite (I assume) every single person on earth wanting things to go differently for the Byrdes just once.

I watched the Reacher show on Amazon last week. It was actually really good. Felt a lot like a Hercule Poirot mystery, except in this case Hercule is a guy with muscles the size of his head who can beat people to death if he wants.

At one point Reacher says something like, “you better chose your next words very carefully, because they will determine how well your jaw works for the rest of your life,” and it basically paid for the whole show in my book. I’m a simple man: I like seeing dudes who can cash the checks their mouth writes.

If there’s one negative to Reacher, it’s that the show plays it pretty straight for the whole series until the last episode. Then it goes full on cheese-ball and not in a particularly graceful way. I also really wanted to see Reacher slowly beat the bad guy to death at the end. While the bad guy got a decently painful death, I don’t think it was enough. We should have gotten a shot of the bad guy spitting out their broken teeth, missed opportunity for sure.

I felt bad for not going to see The Batman in the theater. My main reasons for not doing so we’re that it is too damn long, and hell is (being around) other people (when trying to enjoy art). Well, glad to say, having seen the film now, I do not regret the decision.

The Batman is a beautiful movie (if, perhaps, far too dark) with some great performances, great set pieces, okay music, and an awful, poorly paced, terrible, no good, very bad screenplay. In a way it feels like someone tried to take a stereotypical terrible Marvel movie and dress it up to appeal to film buffs. Well, I’m sorry, I didn’t fall for it.

The movie really starts to take a dive around the time Catwoman kisses Batman for no apparent reason whatsoever. After that moment, the clumsiness of the movie is on full display. I can’t really remember all the moments that made go “this makes no sense”, but there were several, and the movie did not land it’s finale in any way.

There’s a lot of stuff to like about the movie compared to other Batman films. (Like: a true detective Batman, and a Batman with a decent character arc.) I think it was a lot better than the Nolan movies. But I still think, in the end, it was just another dumb superhero movie. Matt Reeves and Warner Bros really wanted to make us think this was some sort of high art take on Batman, but it really wasn’t.

I’m about 20 hours into Valhalla. In my circle of friends, I talk A LOT of shit about Ubisoft’s open world formula, probably the result of brainwashing by Yahtzee, but I am having a really good time. I find myself having trouble putting it down to play other games, which is a good sign.

The game smartly lets you set, to some extent, how much Ubisoft-style handholding you want. You can’t turn it off entirely, but you can tone down the icon fatigue quite a bit. I see they are positioning this type of thing as “accessibility”, and that’s a good thing: it’s no longer being forced on True Gamers™ like myself, who loved Elden Ring until it got too difficult.

However, Valhalla is annoyingly buggy when it comes to Quick Resume. It’ll resume and then say it’s unable to save, then if I quit to the main menu it forgets that it’s running in HDR mode, and I have to close the entire game and re-open it. Just annoying, makes the console experience feel like playing on Windows PC, which totally invalidates all the compliments I paid to the Xbox the other day.

I got an Xbox Series X last week. I’m not entirely sure why, as my PC is perfectly fine, but they went in stock at Walmart and I already pay for Game Pass Ultimate, so… why not?

I’m glad I did. It can run some recent games better than my PC can, and it runs them on my living room television at 4K in HDR which makes a very big difference. I’m not a fan of Windows in any way, and gladly the Xbox software doesn’t feel like Windows at all.

I haven’t owned an Xbox since the original, and this feels like an appropriate leap forward in time (all 21 years of it): Quick Resume, Game Pass, a fully digital game library, … this feels like the future of gaming for sure. I love my PC, but at the same time we’re at a place with technology where a console is finally beating out the PC in terms of ease of use and graphical power. Though, in some respects, that’s due to cheating: Microsoft is assuredly selling the Series X at a huge loss.

I’m really in love with this song. I’m not sure what is about young men writing songs about being with girls who have boyfriends, I assume it’s some sort of machismo thing. I should create a playlist of the ones I can think of…

I’m rapidly approaching 100 hours in Elden Ring. It’s impossible, due to its popularity, for me to say anything remotely original about it. I will repeat something I said elsewhere: Elden Ring is video game methamphetamine: soaring highs (“It feels so great to kill shit!”) to crushing lows (“I hate this fucking game and I hate myself and I hate everyone else”) back to soaring highs again.

In comparison to the MMOs I have been playing for the past two years, and even other recent games like the Final Fantasy 7 remake, it is genuinely refreshing to play a game that hasn’t gotten all the difficulty buffed out of it to ensure that even the dumbest gamer could play it without suffering from bad feels.

That said, at times I become extremely mad and doubt I will ever beat it. Then I’ll go somewhere else in the game, do some exploring, and come back and conquer whatever it was that was making me mad and it feels really good. For a first timer to the Souls formula, I’m having a great time.