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The Friday High Five
On Cozy Murders, Armchair Generals, and Raylan Givens as the New Luke Skywalker
Every Friday I share 5 things that brought me joy this week. Also, high fives are inherently cool, and I think we can all agree Friday is the bestest day. Hence the Friday High Five. 🙏🏻
5 Things I Enjoyed This Week:
Only Murders in the Building
Vent Air Deflector
Mega Axis & Allies
Justified: City Primeval
Last Saturday I conducted a panel as part of Medium Day, a 12-hour online conference in celebration of Medium’s 11th anniversary. My panel—Writing About Movies for Fun & Profit—went really well. Like, surprisingly so, especially since I’d never done anything like this before and also because I was slowly unraveling.
I felt super anxious beforehand. I’ve been nervous before about giving a presentation or just generally speaking in public. But this was a different breed of anxiety. It shook me wide-awake at 5 AM. It whispered poison in my ears to keep me from sleep. It pissed in my Cheerios. It was basically Grima Wormtongue, and it left me feeling like a supernaturally addled King Théoden.
But the stream was by all accounts a success.1 It was fun, in retrospect. The whole experience reminds me of something George R.R. Martin once said about writing: “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” Yeah, that about sums it up.
If you registered for Medium Day, you can watch the session on hopin via replay. For everyone else: Medium will upload panels to YouTube at some point. I’ll drop a link when that happens.
What other newsletter makes an analogy between anxiety and The Lord of the Rings?
Only Murders in the Building
I somehow slept on the fact that season 3 was coming out in August. I only became aware of the new season due to a promo while watching Justified: City Primeval. This is how you know we are living in the era of Peak TV—amazing shows just sort of fall out of the sky because we’re busy watching other amazing shows.
Though the premise is starting to show a little strain—the show only concerns murders taking place in the apartment building where the principal characters live, which shortly is going to put the Arconia in the Hill House tier of multiple homicide residences—I greeted its return with great relish. Only Murders is a quirky show. Not quite a cozy mystery, but sorta? All that murdering aside, I just get good feelings from watching it.
Season 3 adds Meryl Freaking Streep and she’s incredible, as one would expect. But I’m mostly here for the trio—Charles, Mabel, and Oliver. I just love the wacky energy of a Millennial chumming around with two Boomers. Or, as she calls them, two olds.2
After watching the first episode, my wife and I spontaneously started talking about which of the three was our favorite. She picked Mabel. I get it. There’s a lot to love. But my heart belongs to Oliver. I just love his flamboyance. He’s fabulous. (I’m also a big Martin Short fan, so there’s that.)
It occurs to me that this might make for an interesting experiment. Which character is your fav?
Vent Air Deflector
We have a forced-air central heating system, which means we have a bunch of floor vents all over the house. They are mostly unobtrusive. You don’t even notice them until something falls through the slats.
We have big windows in all the bedrooms, which therefore require curtains that stretch nearly to the floor. As Biff once said, “This ain’t no peep show.”3
Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this.
The vents distribute their payload directly into the curtains. And, because curtains move around when you blow air at them, often the vents distribute heat or A/C directly at the window, which is suboptimal and also how you get stuff like moldy windows.
We had just been dealing with this situation by propping something up against the curtains to force them against the wall. Living like suburban neanderthals. And then we stayed at an Airbnb this summer and I noticed all their floor vents had some nifty plastic shielding that redirected the airflow into the room. It was like discovering fire.
There are still a few things you can buy for $5 that legitimately improve your life.
Mega Axis & Allies
I have always had an avid interest in history, and I love strategy games. When I was 13 or 14, I saved up to buy Axis & Allies—which at that time was like $50, an unfathomable cost for a board game—just to setup the game and play by myself. I got a charge out of seeing the world laid flat and teeming with plastic armies.
It’s an affliction I’ve passed onto my son. We’ve met on the field of battle in Axis & Allies, RISK, Star Wars: Rebellion, and at least 5-6 other strategy games, all of which are built around a simple premise: Annihilate the other guy.
A large box arrived from Amazon a couple of weeks ago. My son hastily ripped it open and pulled out two Axis & Allies boxes, one representing the European / African theater, and the other concerned with the Pacific. As he explained it, you could combine the two games into what we later dubbed Mega Axis & Allies—9 countries, hundreds of units, same overall goal.
He spent hours setting it up. This is a game in which a single turn—which entails every country buying units, moving units, engaging in combat, and deploying their new units—takes 2 hours.
We’ve played two turns so far. My son is playing the Axis (Germany, Japan, Italy), and I’m the Allies (UK, France, USSR, USA, China, Australia/New Zealand).
It’s interesting how the game almost encourages you to follow history. For instance, Germany has the first turn and they completely rolled over all of Western Europe in the span of that turn. If you look at the picture above, the few scant, scattered blue units are the remnants of the French forces, and they’re only still around because they weren’t in Europe for the slaughter. All at once, the fate of Europe rests in the hands of the UK. Russia is too busy fighting a protracted retreat. Meanwhile, the US can’t declare war until the third round.
Unless they are attacked directly.
During turn two, my son launched a two-pronged Japanese attack on the Philippines and Pearl Harbor. He was victorious in both cases, but I subsequently smashed his fleet at Hawaii and now am steaming toward a lightly-defended Japan with an armada. As my son said upon digesting this shocking development: “Perhaps I should’ve waited to attack the US.”
Justified: City Primeval
There are two types of people in this world: People who are happy to have Raylan Givens back, and miserable SOBs.4 City Primeval is not the same as Justified. It can’t be. Not when it’s set in Detroit and Raylan is the only returning character. It feels like it occurs in the same universe, which is really the only thing that matters to me. But there’s a subset of fans who are pissed off because Raylan isn’t the same character he was on Justified. You know—perpetually angry and half-cocked.
And to that I say: Good. If Raylan was the same character after 6 seasons of Justified and everything that entailed, it cheapens Justified. How could that experience not change him? The fact that Raylan is now grayer and less likely to draw down on someone—but still willing, if it comes to it—is exactly what I want for the character. It’s a reflection of strong writing and good character work.
This discourse reminds me of the backlash after The Last Jedi, when people lost their minds that Luke Skywalker wasn’t the same character he’d been 20 years earlier. If we are interested in telling the truth in our stories, we have to acknowledge that characters are not trapped in amber until we see them again. They go on living, and living means making mistakes, growing, changing. For Luke, it meant making the ultimate mistake and then choosing to walk away. For Raylan, it meant maturing into a better man.
Sadly, the real lesson from City Primeval, and The Last Jedi, is that there are certain fans who can’t deal with any new iteration that doesn’t resemble the old thing. They’d rather have the hits repeated ad nauseam, like a pop culture comfort blanket, than delve into the murkier area of truth. They want myths, not people.
Anyway, this whole thing has irritated me enough that I’ll probably write a longer piece about it next week.5 You have been warned.
Did you vote for a favorite Only Murders character? Justify your selection!
Have you discovered a handy yet cheap item that makes home ownership easier?
Think I’m wrong about City Primeval and The Last Jedi? Let’s talk.
I had at least 5 people tell me the Medium Day panel was really good. I was only related to 2 of them.
Mom—will you be offended if I start saying, “I’m going to hang-out with the olds,” when I come visit?
Interesting that Biff was fine with sexual assault but drew the line at people watching it.
I guess there’s a third type of person: The kind that doesn’t know who Raylan is and doesn’t care. But such a prospect is too depressing to consider.
A bit of insight into ‘how the sausage is made’—the inspiration for most of my work comes from one of two places: love and joy, or disdain and disappointment. There has to be a strong emotion underpinning any work, in order to see you through to the end. Also, if you as the writer don’t care about the subject, why should anyone else?