May 092014

Welcome to another edition of Channel Chaser! Few characters in television have received more attention in recent years than one of the most iconic super-sleuths of all time: Sherlock Holmes. Following the wildly successful revival films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, a host of other shows have sprung up around Sherlock characters: most notably, the BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary.

I suppose it’s only fair to start with Sherlock, seeing as it came first. After initially being put off by the first episode and refusing to watch more, once I gave Sherlock a chance I had to admit that it was a well-crafted show…for the most part. As much as I dearly love Steven Moffat for his work on Doctor Who and think he has great skill as a writer, the same problems with his technique are present in some parts of Sherlock.


Moffat excels at constructing impossible situations it seems his characters will never escape from, but when it comes to endings he occasionally drops the ball, resorting to using conveniences and deus-ex-machinas to resolve the plot. And let’s honest here: is there really any greater deus-ex-machina than Sherlock Holmes’s intellect in this show? While I understand that Sherlock is supposed to be a man unlike any other, his deductive prowess and observational skills are pretty much superhuman, raising the bar to near ludicrous levels.

On the other hand, the acting and casting in Sherlock is superb; Benedict Cumberbatch really makes you believe that he’s a high-functioning sociopath, and Martin Freeman brilliantly portrays the faithful but long-suffering Watson. I especially love how the minor characters like Mycroft Holmes, Irene Adler and Jim Moriarty are just as good, if not better than, the main cast, making the show extremely fun to watch. I just wish they had more to do, especially Watson. Freeman’s acting talent seems to be wasted a lot of the time as he is clearly not on Sherlock’s level and is confined to menial duties in investigations. This makes him a good foil to Sherlock in terms of personality, but not in action.

Sherlock is also much more faithful to the original Conon Doyle literature, as all the episodes are nearly word-for-word remakes of existing Holmes tales, minus a few modern-day updates. Elementary, meanwhile, is much more like a typical police procedural, plus a few Sherlock Holmes elements. The crimes described in the show, while they obviously take place in a different setting (New York versus London) are also relatively mundane in comparison to the elaborate plots devised by the bad guys in Sherlock. While they may not be as compelling, I think this makes the stories in Elementary slightly more interesting and original, in that the writers are essentially detailing real-world situations and thinking about how Sherlock Holmes would react to them. This pushes Holmes farther outside of his “comfort zone” and expands more on what his general character might be like if he were a real person.


Elementary does partially suffer from an overall weaker cast. Supporting characters like Thomas Gregson, Gareth Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes are dry, one-dimensional, and not overall very interesting. Even Irene Adler/Jamie Moriarty (yes, they are the same in this show, and yes, Moriarty is a woman) is potentially a very interesting character that just hasn’t had the chance to shine. I say this hopefully, but the fact is she just hasn’t wowed me yet. In Sherlock, when Jim Moriarty entered the scene, he inevitably stole it with his unbelievable charisma; and although Natalie Dormer is undoubtedly a great actress judging by her performances in Game of Thrones, she has yet to steal my attention as successfully.

I find the lead actors in Elementary are much more interesting. Although I was initially skeptical, Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson is sharp, sensitive, and keeps enough of a healthy dose of skepticism to keep Sherlock Holmes’ eccentricities in check while still being a much more active and helpful companion than her male British counterpart. Liu’s Watson even seems to be taking on the role of Sherlock’s apprentice, almost an intellectual equal to the great detective, something I don’t ever see Freeman’s Watson doing.

While I’m sure personal tastes will differ from person to person, I in many ways prefer Johnny Lee Miller’s version of Sherlock Holmes in Elementary to Cumberbatch. While Miller’s Holmes retains all the social ineptitude and genius of his British counterpart, his intellect is toned down a bit–let’s say to just genius rather than superhuman. He is also a far more emotionally open character, showing on multiple occasions that he has human flaws and really does care about the people he works with. I understand what Cumberbatch and Moffat are trying to do with Sherlock in the British series, but there is a limit to my tolerance of Sherlock’s arrogance; from the awful way he treats others much of the time, he seems meant to be an essentially unlikeable character.

The closest comparison I can draw with Miller’s Sherlock is the Doctor from Doctor Who. While he obviously has a good heart and is opposed to violence in almost all cases (something Cumberbatch seems to have no problem with, by the way), he can be self-absorbed, tactless and vain, needing some kind of “companion” to keep him balanced and away from his self-destructive tendencies. Lucy Liu’s Watson appears to be merely the latest in a long line of such companions, including Lestrade, who warns her that people who get to close to Sherlock, much like the Doctor, have tragic endings. Also, when Sherlock is roused to anger, he does so in such a dangerously calm and menacing way that it is infinitely more terrifying to me than Cumberbatch’s relatively simplistic and loud outbursts.

In the end, while Elementary appeals more to me personally than Sherlock does, I can certainly see the merits of both and must admit that both are spectacular shows. I honestly can’t wait to see what the future has in store for Sherlocks of all stripes.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website. Check back every Friday for new articles.
May 072014

You’ve found the perfect introductory anime series or movie and talked your friend into watching it. Only one step remains: making a one-time experience into a regular hobby. This is the part over which you’ll have the least control, since most of it comes down to what happens in your friend’s mind. However, there are a few simple steps that you can take to help the world of anime put its best foot forward.

As anyone who’s ever pitched a creative project or business plan will tell you, presentation matters. When it comes to anime, this means finding the highest quality, most reliable media setup that you can. To show off the sights and sounds of your chosen title, a decent television and set of speakers are preferable over a computer. Streaming video has a habit of failing at the worst possible time, so go for download-to-own content or physical media whenever possible. I once spent five minutes staring at a progress bar halfway through the final episode of Madoka Magica; don’t let such a fate befall your friend’s first taste of anime.


I wish I’d just bought the freakin’ Blu-ray. AM I A MAGICAL GIRL NOW!?

Good technology is a big part of the viewing experience, but you have a role to play as well. Even the most accessible anime can occasionally require a bit of explanation, and it’s your job to be your friend’s tour guide. Watch the show you’ve chosen ahead of time and try to spot any scenes that might not make sense to an inexperienced viewer. This little bit of preparation will help you give clear, concise answers when needed. Be as helpful as you can, but remember not to get so carried away that you end up talking over half the show.

It’s also important to remember that not everyone approaches the viewing experience in the same way. Some people like to talk about a show as they’re watching it, while others prefer to treat the living room like a movie theater and keep quiet. It’s best to let folks experience anime in their own way, even if it’s not your preferred atmosphere. You’ve probably watched TV with your friend before, so you should have a good idea of their ideal viewing environment. Letting the other person set the level of conversation will help keep the focus on the anime.

Once the final credits roll, it’s time to read the room. Is your friend bursting at the seams to talk about That Awesome Scene Where That Character Did That Cool Thing? Good! Dive right into the geek-outs and exaggerated re-enactments. Did something remind them of another movie that they’ve seen? Let the comparisons begin. As you chat, you’ll get an idea of how much your friend enjoyed the experience. Figure out what parts of the show stood out, and use that knowledge as you move on to the final step: the follow-up recommendation.

Channel the spirits of Amazon and Netflix, because it’s time to point out that people who liked one thing also liked another thing. Maybe it’s another movie from the same director. Maybe it’s the next episode in the series you just watched. Maybe it’s a different work with a similar main character. Whatever it is that your friend enjoyed most, be ready to supply more of it. Set up another viewing, or lend out some discs. Hopefully, this first experience has sparked your friend’s interest in anime. Now all that remains is to feed the flame. Before you know it, the student will become the master.


You can read Part 2 here.

Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime and manga on Twitter. Check back every Wednesday for new articles.

May 062014

You’ve finally made it. Another grueling school year of classes, projects, papers and tests is finally almost over. But if you’re like most “model” students, you’re going to want to avoid the panic-inducing stress of your greatest obstacle, the dreaded final exams, for as long as humanly possible. Luckily for you, there are far too many video games that are all too perfect in aiding your habits of procrastination. Without including mobile games (We all know the addictive powers of Flappy Bird and 2048), here are five of the best, in no particular order:


The Binding of Isaac


With its incredible replay value, The Binding of Isaac had to make this list. Even after getting every ending this game has, there are so many items and achievements to unlock under very specific circumstances that you will find yourself returning to Mom’s basement over and over again to inch ever closer to gaining “Platinum God” status. If you really commit yourself to Isaac, you’ll have procrastinated so much that you’ll realize you never showed up to your American Civil War exam… three months after it happened.


Grand Theft Auto V


Sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto (and Skyrim, a close alternative for this list) are so full of content, how can you not find ways to procrastinate playing them? Even if you’re not doing any of the seemingly endless missions in Grand Theft Auto V, you can even goof around with friends online doing some crazy things that you probably saw first on Achievement Hunter. If you really don’t want to study for your chemistry final, here’s an idea: find something crazy to do in Grand Theft Auto Online that the guys at Rooster Teeth haven’t tried yet.




Sure, its servers are oversaturated with nine-year-olds nowadays, but in single-player mode Minecraft is procrastination paradise. I don’t think too much needs to be said because most people should get the idea; when you’re in a land that is essentially made of virtual LEGO blocks you can quite literally make whatever the heck you want. If you want a bonus procrastination challenge, sketch out an elaborate structure to build then see how long it takes you to build your dream home in Survival mode, or better yet, Hardcore mode.




It doesn’t matter what generation; just pick up a Game Boy, 3DS, or whatever Nintendo handheld you have nearby and start an adventure in the world of Pokémon. Within minutes, you’ll be far too busy leveling up your Magikarp to evolve it into Gyarados that you won’t be worrying about that 25-page research paper you have due on Friday. The Pokémon universe has such an innocent, child-like charm to it, it is one of the best places to escape to when the real world stresses you out. Whether you’re journeying across Kanto or Hoenn, Unova or Kalos, you won’t be able to put down your Nintendo handheld until final exams are all over.


RollerCoaster Tycoon 


I had to throw one classic game into the mix. The RollerCoaster Tycoon games still hold up as some of the best time-wasters gaming has to offer. If you’re a huge theme park fan, you may spend hours trying to build your dream park, full of thrilling rides and scenery so immersive it makes Disneyland look like a Six Flags. Or you’re one of those assholes who likes to make a park full of clever “death trap” rides designed to murder as many helpless Peeps as possible. Whichever floats your boat, the RollerCoaster Tycoon games are still perfect games to kill hours of precious study time with, while arguing the “Super High-Speed Collision Bloody Murder Coaster 3000” you’re designing is educational for boosting your creativity.


Of course, this list only scratches the surface of all the games you can play to procrastinate on those pesky exams. It really comes down to personal taste. You may play a few games of Madden 25 to ease that exam stress, or take out some Nazi Zombies in Call of Duty. Maybe you’ll spend hours looking for one more Riddler trophy in Batman: Arkham City, or propel Wallace Breen across a field in a rocket-powered bathtub you built in Garry’s Mod. We all procrastinate in our own unique ways, but we all have one thing in common: at the end of the day, we’re just trying to get through the stress, and those lovely diversions we call video games, though distracting, can help us relax and think clearly in the long run. Whatever game you choose to procrastinate with, may it be your companion as you battle through the toughest week in academia.


The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter. Check back every Tuesday for new articles.
May 022014

You’ve done it. After hours of pondering, inspiration has finally struck like lightning. You’ve come up with the ideal series or movie with which to introduce your reluctant friend to the wonderful world of anime. There’s just one tiny little problem: you still have to convince the lad or lass in question to sit down and watch it. It’s time to sell your hobby like it’s a parking lot full of used cars.


You want me to watch WHAT!?

First of all, picking the right moment is key. To use a first-person shooter analogy, think of yourself as a sniper instead of a heavy gunner. Rather than unleashing a barrage of recommendations as soon as you see your friend, it’s best to hang back and wait for the ideal opportunity. Some conversation topics let you naturally bring up the idea of watching the movie or series that you’ve picked out.

One of the best times to make your pitch is when your friend is talking about a movie or TV show that he or she enjoys. Find a connection between their favorite thing and bring up how it reminds you of the anime you have in mind. Talk about an especially memorable scene, a compelling character, or whatever you think makes your choice sound like it’s worth watching. If your friend sees a connection with something he or she already enjoys, this one recommendation will be far more effective than a constant barrage of “OMG YOU MUST WATCH KILL LA KILL RIGHT NOW.”

A common mistake is to wave the anime banner immediately and passionately in these situations. Rather than announcing your noble intention to get your friend hooked on anime, it’s best to limit the sales pitch to a single movie or series. People are understandably wary of taking on a new, time-consuming hobby, but they’re happy to watch a cool movie with a friend. Send an ambassador, not an army.

On the off chance that your friend isn’t swayed by your recommendation, be prepared to back off and try again some other time. Anime is awesome, but it’s not worth annoying someone your care about just to bring in a new fan. A little persistence can turn the tide in your favor, but make sure you don’t end up sounding like the annoying guy at every anime convention who never shuts up about his favorite harem comedy.

Finally, trust your instincts and be confident. You know anime, and you know your friend. You’ve already picked out a show that’s sure to be a hit. In all likelihood, there’s not a whole lot of convincing to be done. As long as you can make it seem like a fun thing to do, your friend should be naturally inclined to say yes. After all, the reason you’re friends is because they enjoy hanging out with you in the first place.

Once you’ve made a successful recommendation, it’s time to move on the final step, and the last part in this series: turning an enjoyable experience into a hobby.


You can read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime and manga on Twitter.

May 022014

Welcome back to this week’s edition of Channel Chaser! So maybe it’s just me, but I think that so far I’ve been pretty charitable in my reviews of TV shows, and I’ve tried to point my readers toward shows I think they might enjoy. Well, it’s time to change that. This week, I’ll be talking about a program that you should probably avoid, but that happens to be a guilty pleasure of mine. Okay, a very, very guilty pleasure. Let’s talk about Steven Spielberg’s epic alien apocalypse, TNT’s Falling Skies.


Depending on whether you watch it or not, I’m sure many of you are probably wondering in varying degrees, “What’s wrong with Falling Skies?” A fair question, and I’m here to tell you that there’s plenty to talk about. First of all, the historical metaphors: Falling Skies is, for all intents and purposes, a modern-day retelling of the American Revolution–well, plus alien invaders and big freakin’ space guns. And the show seems to get a little too excited in shoving the symbolism down the viewer’s throat.

The main character of the show, Tom Mason, is a history professor-turned-freedom fighter in the post-invasion world specializing in–guess what–the American Revolution. The alien bad guys, casted in the role of the British oppressors, are frequently trying to crush the human rebels of the “2nd Massachusetts” regiment, another obvious effort to draw the historical parallel.

The unfortunate truth is that the Revolutionary metaphor isn’t even that strong to begin with; after all, fighting a controlling foreign power was only one small part of why the Revolutionary War took place. The producers of the show conveniently overlook the need to establish more support for this overarching theme other than “We’re the Resistance, and we’re the good guys.”

I’m actually kind of annoyed by the flagrantly patriotic and preachy tone the show takes sometimes when the characters talk about the need to fight back, and Falling Skies seems almost intentionally to avoid any outside influence on the story–meaning, from countries other than the U.S. You would think that in three seasons of a story that saw aliens invading the entire Earth, someone would have at least once mentioned another world nation, but if you did, you’d be wrong. Maybe this will change in the upcoming fourth season, but I’m not hopeful.

The show also commits the unforgivable sin of casting great actors in mediocre roles. Noah Wyle, the show’s star and by all accounts a capable actor, is probably the only exception to this rule; his character, Tom Mason, is probably the only truly dynamic person in the show and the only one I can really find it in myself to care about. He has a very believable arc from his first introduction as a mild-mannered academic used to sitting on the sidelines to a battle-hardened and cynical leader who sometimes lets his emotions get too much control over him.

The other characters I’m a lot less crazy about. Veteran star Terry O’Quinn gets introduced at the end of season two as Arthur Manchester, the power-hungry and paranoid president of the New United States with close personal ties to Tom, but his role is relegated to about three episodes when it could and should have been developed for at least a season or so. Moon Bloodgood, who plays Tom’s love interest Dr. Anne Glass, is pretty one-dimensional and bland, as are Tom’s band of kids.

Familiar TV face Colin Cunningham should be interesting as John Pope–a former convict and anarchist who serves as Tom’s personal nemesis–but his character frustratingly rejects multiple chances to prove he has even an ounce of decency. Maybe this is on purpose, but regardless, it really ticks me off. Even Karen Nadler, who was transformed into a mediator for the alien overlords in an attempt to put a human face on the invaders, is an incredibly cheesy villain who might as well twirl a mustache, shake a fist and yell, “I’ll get you next time, Tom Mason!” What is this, the 1950s?

Finally, the truth is that while Falling Skies tries to be edgy and suspenseful, the so-called “plot twists” are generic sci-fi fare that seasoned viewers can see coming from a mile away. Who knew that the Skitters were humans transformed by the Harnesses? Actually, I did. The Volm betraying their would-be human allies? Saw that coming. Weird baby with alien DNA? Totally called it. You get the idea.

The one positive thing I can say about Falling Skies is the great special effects. Then again, it’s a Spielberg series with a huge budget, so it had better at least have that. Although I seem to recall another big money series that was hailed for its revolutionary visuals–anyone else remember Fox’s dinosaur blockbuster Terra Nova? Oh, right; that was a terrible show, too. Oops.


My rating: 2/5

The logic behind Falling Skies seems to be that if you wow the audience with CGI, they’ll manage to forget that fact that the story is about as dry as the Sahara Desert. I really, really want to like this show more than I do, but I just can’t. The wooden acting, predictable plotlines and problematic symbolism all combine to make a program that’s trying way too hard to be a hit to be good. That being said, I will almost certainly keep watching Falling Skies just because I want to see what they do with the sci-fi elements. One can only hope that maybe they’ll find it in their massive budget to hire a real writer at some point.


Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website. Check back every Friday for new articles.