Exploring Cemeteries

Last weekend, after the Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival, I drove home by way of Eldersburg, mainly because it was easier to head north to Liberty Road instead of south to I-70.  As I approached Eldersburg, I decided, entirely on a whim, to visit the church graveyard where my great-uncle and great-aunt are buried, coincidentally quite close to the anniversary of my great-uncle’s death.

I patted the headstone, like an adult patting a child’s head, put my hands on the ground where they were, sort of my way of saying “you’re remembered,” and continued on to home.  And I decided that I would visit my grandfather’s grave in Baltimore the following Saturday, yesterday; the anniversary of his death was coming up, too.

I had the idea of making a day of it in Baltimore.  I could do some other things I’d been meaning to do, and maybe I could go to the Orioles game and get the free Maryland flag jersey they were giving away.  Well, going to the Orioles game didn’t happen; tickets for that game have been sold out for weeks, and though I checked Stubhub, Standing Room Only for 70 dollars-plus was flat out insane.

So, what were those “other things”?

I’ve wanted to visit Loudon Park Cemetery, where my grand-grandfather Allyn, after whom I’m named, obviously, is buried.  I had been there, as best I can remember, once in my life, shortly after my grandfather’s funeral, a day or two later, when my mom and my grandmother took flowers from my grandfather’s funeral to my great-grandparents’ grave.

And I wanted to go to Peabody Heights Brewery, a craft brewer on the site of Oriole Park, the home of the International League Orioles, a minor league team who won seven consecutive pennants in the 1920s, a feat never repeated in professional baseball.  They brew a line of beers called “Old Oriole Park.”  Beer and baseball — how could I not?

Well, Saturday turned out to be the eighteenth anniversary of my grandfather’s death.  Not in the ballpark.  The exact day.  So I was doubly glad I went.

Continue reading “Exploring Cemeteries”

Reflections on Ten Years

Wednesday marked my tenth anniversary at Diamond Comic Distributors.

Part of Diamond’s culture revolves around the daily “Service Anniversaries” e-mail.  HR sends out an e-mail to the entire company acknowledging those employees who are celebrating an anniversary, and then people throughout the company, some you’ll know, some you won’t, will send you congratulations.  Suffice it to say, my email inbox was overflowing with congratulations on my ten years on Wednesday.

Some people reply to these congratulations individually.  Others wait and send out a group thanks.  I’ve done both over the years; it’s easier to keep up with the former, the latter takes a little work.  Heck, some people don’t even acknowledge the congratulations at all.

I sent out a group reply at the end of the day.  I’d finished writing a catalog section for the July issue of PREVIEWS — my one hundred and twenty-first issue — and, without any other pressing task, started to compose.  I had a rough idea of what I wanted to say on the occasion of my tenth anniversary — I knew the anniversary was coming and had pondered it for a few weeks — but when I knuckled down to write I struggled to begin.  I don’t know how many openings I tried, nor did I keep track of the material I discarded, but the openings were many and the blind-alleys were extensive.  Eventually — two hours later! — I had something I was happy with, though I see now that it needed a little more polish.

What follows is that group response:

I wanted to take a moment and thank you for the congratulations and well-wishes on the occasion of my tenth anniversary with Diamond.  I spent part of the day trying to think of something profound and witty to say, but in truth words fail me.  Marketing gave me a card this morning, and I truly had to fight back tears; it wasn’t the kind of thing I expected.

When I think about when I started with Diamond a decade ago, I couldn’t have imagined being here ten years later.  Honestly, I thought I’d stay six months, leaving when my grandmother died.  But she lingered on, I had a talent for the work (writing at the scale that I do doesn’t daunt me and I learned more about VBA programming than I’d have ever learned otherwise), and after she died I’ve stayed.

I would struggle to point out things that I’ve worked on these last ten years that I’m truly proud of because I’ve worked on so much over the years that they recede into the distance; I finish something, I’m already into something else, and the feeling I remember is not the satisfaction of completion but the stress of the process.  I’m very self-critical, as anyone who has read my self-appraisals knows, and I almost always feel better about what I’ve done, once I’ve had time and distance to reflect; I may hate what I wrote in PREVIEWS one month, but if I reread it two months later I find it’s nothing to hate at all.  I think that I make what I do look easy, when it’s really nothing of the sort, or like magic, when really all I did was to solve a problem that anyone could have solved given the time and understanding.

I enjoyed going to the Retailer Summit in Chicago this year.  As I said to anyone who asked, it was my first Diamond trip in my ten years here.  I didn’t know what to expect, I wasn’t always sure what to do when I was there, I certainly enjoying signing copies of PREVIEWS for people who came to the booth at C2E2, and I saw some things that we can do better in the future (things that I’ve made notes on but haven’t yet turned into anything coherent).  But what I enjoyed the most came when we were handing out the exclusive comics to retailers after the dinner Friday night.

I handed the retailers three comics — two Dark Horse titles, one IDW title — but that wasn’t, for me, anyway, the thing that truly mattered.  What mattered was that I said, to each and every retailer, “Thank you for coming.”  Sometimes, “Thank you for being here.”  Or, “We couldn’t do this without you.”  Our retailers are our customers, we’re in business thanks to them, we value them, and it was important to acknowledge that and say that.  The thing I always tried to instill in my staff as a manager for EB Games (where our company value statement was “It’s all about the customer”) was to treat our customers like they were friends, to welcome them into our space, and to thank and appreciate them.  It’s a little thing, and those little things go a long way.

I’ve rambled on a fair bit, as anyone who knows me knows I’m wont to do.

Again, thanks for your kind wishes.  I couldn’t do this without you.

Revisiting the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

With Disney’s recent announcement that the fifth Indiana Jones film is due out in July 2020, I decided I should revisit the last Indiana Jones film, 2008’s The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Crystal Skull has a reputation of being a bad film — an over-reliance on CGI effects, a nonsensical story, “nuking the fridge,” a really old Harrison Ford (he was in his mid-60s) who lacked the physicality of a 40-something Ford, and the enduring presence of Shia LeBeouf.

I remember feeling quite good about the film when I left the theater back in 2008 (though what I wrote on my blog at the time is a bit more mixed), and I hadn’t seen it since then.  To eBay I went, bought the DVD for dirt cheap, and sat down yesterday (rainy and drizzly and especially gross) to watch the film.

I thought Crystal Skull was tremendous fun!

My only issue, really, was that Crystal Skull was basically a remake of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, except with a MacGuffin taken from Mayan instead of Christian mythology.  (And pedants would note that Last Crusade is itself broadly a remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  There’s an Indiana Jones formula.) The stories follow similar beats — the conquistador grave sequence reminded me greatly of the Venetian catacombs, the jungle fight was very similar to the desert tank fight, and the alien even gives Cate Blanchett a look of disapproval that might as well say “You have chosen poorly.”  The characters don’t entirely align; the characteristics of Marcus, Sallah, Professor Henry Jones, and Dr. Elsa Schneider are tossed in a blender and doled out to Marion, Mutt, Mac, and Ox in different proportions, and that’s perfectly fine.  The way Crystal Skull used its elements worked for me.  Sure, maybe there could have been more to the FBI subplot, but it served its purpose in taking him out of Marshall College and throwing Indy out on his own for an adventure.

Otherwise, the things that are commonly used to flog the film didn’t bother me.

Take the “nuking the fridge” scene — Indy survives a nuclear test in Nevada by hiding inside a lead-lined refrigerator, which is then thrown a few miles by the blast’s shock wave, and walks away.  As improbable as it might be, the scene is every bit as improbable as Indy, Willie, and Short Round escaping a crashing airplane in an inflatable life raft in Temple of Doom.  The Indiana Jones films have never comported to reality.

CGI?  That’s just how films are made today.  Harrison Ford?  He played an older, wiser, and slower Indy, as one would expect.  The Beef?  I had no problems with him as a 1950s greaser.

Like I said, Crystal Skull was tremendous fun.  I didn’t need an Indiana Jones film to make me feel like it was 1989 — heck, even 1981 — again.  I needed an Indiana Jones film that entertained me in 2008 and today.  Crystal Skull did and does that.  And whatever Ford and Spielberg do with Disney in 2020 — and it’s going to be strangely weird to see an Indiana Jones film not open with an old-school Paramount logo — I’ll go into it wanting to be entertained and not measure it against nostalgia.

An Unsatisfying Star Wars Salute to the Beatles

We need to talk about Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about and haven’t read vearious articles about it (like NPR‘s or Slate‘s), PLSDSP is an album that retells the story of Star Wars using the music of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The Lennon-McCartney and Harrison lyrics are rewritten and replaced with lyrics that tell the story of various scenes from the original Star Wars, and the instrumentals are recreated to the point of getting many of the nuances of the original Beatles recording right. PLSDSP is a remarkable salute to Sgt Pepper on the occasion of its 50th-anniversary and Star Wars on the occasion of its 40th. I marvel at the artistry.

But PLSDSP is a tribute to Sgt Pepper that also completely misunderstands Sgt Pepper.

Pepper is often called a “concept album.”  Many words have been written, many gallons of ink spilled, many pixels illuminated, over the last fifty years about Pepper as a concept album.  The thing is, Pepper isn’t a concept album at all.  Except for three songs, out of the thirteen, there’s no common theme, and there’s no narrative throughline at all.  Pepper began as an album with a loose theme about Liverpool (hence, “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane,” which were released separately), and the released album has a loose concept of a vaudevill troupe (the title track and “With a Little Help From My Friends” and the reprise), but beyond that there’s ten more completely unrelated songs.  The Abbey Road medley coheres more than Sgt Pepper.

I’m not saying that Pepper isn’t an amazing, incredible album.  It is.  (Personally, I put Revolver ahead of it in the Beatles canon, but I see the point of those who put Pepper first.) But it doesn’t tell a story, it’s not built around a central idea, not in the way that, say, The Who’s Tommy was. Hell, The Who Sell Out has more of a central theme and stronger concept (pirate radio) than Sgt Pepper does.

And this is how Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans misunderstands Sgt Pepper — it rewrites the music to tell a story and frequently trivializes the original music in the process.  Casting Darth Vader in Ringo’s cheerful voice is profoundly disturbing, and the tragedy of “She’s Leaving Home” is twisted into a song about a whiny, emo Luke Skywalker.  “A Day in the Life of Red Five” seems especially misguided; in telling the story of Luke’s Death Star run, the song is focused on a singular character in a way that the Beatles’ original “A Day in the Life” is not, and in making the “Woke up…” section of the song simply a part of Luke’s story the song loses Paul’s jaunty counterpoint to John’s fatalism.  The Star Wars lyrics are frequently tonal mismatches with underlying Beatles music, creating a muddled emotional tableau.

In paying tribute to Sgt Pepper, I feel that the musicians behind PLSDSP bought into the mythology of Sgt Pepper rather than the reality of PepperPLSDSP is essentially a well-produced filk album, and the result is a piece of work that is clever but ultimately dissatisfying.

I applaud the musicians for spending the time and energy on this project.  It’s very well done.  But Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans doesn’t work for me at all.

The Sights and Sounds of Wrigley Field

Diamond Comic Distributor‘s 2017 Retailer Summit was held last week in Chicago, in conjunction with the C2E2 convention.  I had long been asking to go on some sort of work trip like this — I wanted to see a different side of the industry and meet the retailers — and this year the production schedules on the catalog aligned in such a way that I could attend a Diamond retailer event.

Before the Summit began, some of us from the Marketing Department made a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field to see the Chicago Cubs play the Milwaukee Brewers.  I’ve been a Cubs fan for a very long time, and while I’ve seen the Cubs in person at Nationals Park, this was the first time I had ever been to Wrigley. Continue reading “The Sights and Sounds of Wrigley Field”

A Facebook Doctor Who Survey

Over the weekend a Doctor Who preferences survey wormed its way around Facebook — what do you like, what don’t you like, what’s overrated, what’s underrated.  Seemed like fun.  Here are my answers, and if you have comments on any of my choices, leave them at the bottom —

DOCTOR WHO SURVEY

FAVOURITE TV DOCTOR: The War Doctor.

FAVOURITE AUDIO DOCTOR: The sixth Doctor.

FAVOURITE COMIC STRIP DOCTOR: The fifth Doctor.

FAVOURITE NOVELS DOCTOR: The eighth Doctor.

BEST TV DOCTOR WE NEVER HAD: Hugh Grant.  Series 1 would have been vastly different with Grant instead of Christopher Eccleston, but damn, I would have liked to see it.

FAVOURITE TV COMPANION: Sarah Jane Smith.

FAVOURITE AUDIO COMPANION: Charlotte Pollard.

FAVOURITE BOOKS COMPANION: Fitz Kreiner.

FAVOURITE COMIC STRIP COMPANION: Izzy Sinclair.

MOST UNDERRATED DOCTOR: The third Doctor.

MOST UNDERRATED COMPANION: Steven.

FAVOURITE CLASSIC SERIES STORY: “Pyramids of Mars.”

LEAST FAVOURITE CLASSIC SERIES STORY: “The Mark of the Rani.”

GUILTY PLEASURE CLASSIC SERIES STORY: “Planet of the Daleks.”

MOST UNDERRATED CLASSIC SERIES STORY: “Battlefield.”

MOST OVERRATED CLASSIC SERIES STORY: “Tomb of the Cybermen.”

FAVOURITE NEW SERIES STORY: “The Girl in the Fireplace.”

LEAST FAVOURITE NEW SERIES STORY: “In the Forest of the Night.”

GUILTY PLEASURE NEW SERIES STORY: “Planet of the Dead.”

MOST UNDERRATED NEW SERIES STORY: “Nightmare in Silver.”

MOST OVERRATED NEW SERIES STORY: This one was hard, and it’s either “The Doctor’s Wife” or “The Waters of Mars,” depending on my mood that day.

FAVOURITE AUDIO STORY: “Doctor Who and The Monopoly Pub Crawl of Doom.”

LEAST FAVOURITE AUDIO STORY: “Zagreus.”

GUILTY PLEASURE AUDIO STORY: “The Holy Terror.”

MOST UNDERRATED AUDIO STORY: “Death Comes to Time.”

FAVOURITE COMIC STRIP STORY: “The Land of Happy Endings.”

LEAST FAVOURITE COMIC STRIP STORY: Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2.

GUILTY PLEASURE COMIC STRIP STORY: “Abslom Daak… Dalek Killer.”

MOST UNDERRATED COMIC STRIP STORY: Winter’s Dawn, Season’s End.

FAVOURITE NOVEL: The Infinity Doctors.

LEAST FAVOURITE NOVEL: Legacy of the Daleks.

GUILTY PLEASURE NOVEL: The Coming of the Terraphiles.

MOST UNDERRATED NOVEL: Asylum.

FAVOURITE SHORT STORY: None spring to mind.

LEAST FAVOURITE SHORT STORY: None spring to mind.

GUILTY PLEASURE SHORT STORY: None spring to mind.

MOST UNDERRATED SHORT STORY: None spring to mind.

FAVOURITE TARDIS INTERIOR: The 1996 Gothic Cathedral

LEAST FAVOURITE TARDIS INTERIOR: The Pertwee era.

FAVOURITE MONSTER: Ice Warriors.

LEAST FAVOURITE MONSTER: None spring to mind.

FAVOURITE REGENERATION SCENE: “The Caves of Androzani.”

LEAST FAVOURITE REGENERATION SCENE: “The End of Time, Part Two.”

FAVOURITE DOCTOR DEBUT STORY: “The Eleventh Hour.”

LEAST FAVOURITE DOCTOR DEBUT STORY: “The Twin Dilemma.”

FAVOURITE MULTI-DOCTOR STORY: Cold Fusion.

LEAST FAVOURITE MULTI-DOCTOR STORY: Prisoners of Time.

FAVOURITE UNIT STORY: “The Invasion.”

LEAST FAVOURITE UNIT STORY: “The Android Invasion.”

FAVOURITE PLANET NAME: Trenzalore.

FAVOURITE MASTER: Sir Derek Jacobi (“Utopia”).

LEAST FAVOURITE MASTER: Eric Roberts.

FAVOURITE DALEK STORY: “Evil of the Daleks.”

LEAST FAVOURITE DALEK STORY: “Into the Dalek.”

FAVOURITE CYBERMAN STORY: “Earthshock.”

LEAST FAVOURITE CYBERMAN STORY: Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation2.

CHARACTER WHO SHOULD HAVE BEEN A COMPANION: Princess Mary from The Tudors, as played by Sarah Bolger.

COMPANION WHO SHOULD NOT HAVE JOINED THE TARDIS: The Ben & Polly team. I have no real affection for either.

WHO SHOULD PLAY THE 13th DOCTOR?: Romola Garai or Laura Carmichael.

The Last Jedi Teaser

The Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer left me cold.

It’s pretty.  It’s well-made.  It’s nice to see Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.  It’s nice to see Rey swinging a lightsaber.

But there’s no emotion to it.  Nothing hooked me.  No image made me go, “I have to see that!”

If you loved it, go on loving it.  If it made you cry, go on crying.  And I’ll be glad to know that the teaser did something for someone.

I only wish it did something for me.

Of Stumptown and Opening Day

It’s April.  Spring is officially here.  Baseball is back.

Opening Day is more like “Opening Days” — three games yesterday, a few more today, a few more tomorrow, and then the season and the daily grind begins in earnest on Wednesday.

Nothing says baseball more than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, what with Charlie Brown and his baseball team.  Heck, the day I was born, the day’s Peanuts strip was about baseball.

The official Peanuts Twitter account posted this:

When I shared the image on Facebook, I added a caption: “There’s always hope on Opening Day, even for Stumptown in the Green Grass League.”

The baseball legend of Joe Shlabotnik goes through Stumptown of the Green Grass League.  Shlabotnik was a fringe player at best; after batting an astonishing .004 in a season and being sent down to Hillcrest, he’s later traded to Stumptown, a team that sinks ever deeper in the standings of the Green Grass League.  When it’s clear his playing days are over, he accepts the managerial job for the Waffeltown Syrups and, when that doesn’t pan out, he travels the sports memorabilia circuit.

Where was the Green Grass League based?  Where wss Stumptown?  I have no idea.  Charles Schulz never said, as far as I can tell.

Last summer, when listening to A Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor’s monologue, one that involved a baseball game played by the Lake Wobegon Whippets, Lake Wobegon’s minor league baseball team, I decided then and there that it made perfect sense for Stumptown and Lake Wobegon to be part of the same league.

There is, of course, no reason why the Lake Wobegon Whippets should play in the Green Grass League against Hillsdale and Stumptown.  It seems quite improbable, and the facts we have are few.  Hillsdale and Stumptown are clearly part of organized baseball, specifically the farm system of minor leagues that support the major league teams, since Joe Shlabotnik was “sent down.”  But Lake Wobegon?  They could be part of the affiliated system, or they could be a semi-pro town team made up of local players who play for the sport of it, for the love of the game, instead of the dream of reaching the big leagues and playing in the big cities in stadiums that seat tens of thousands under the lights.  It’s likelier than not that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon would never meet on the fields of green.

Yet, in my imagination they do, for no better reason that Charles Schulz was a Minnesotan and Garrison Keillor was a Minnesotan.  The absolute silliest reason in the world, absolutely no evidence whatsoever, but it made a kind of intuitive sense, that these two great storytellers who worked in two very different mediums could share a common mythology, one that arose from minor league baseball teams in the backwaters of America, played in small towns in front of tiny crowds, in places where baseball was pure and simple and innocent.  That sufficed for me, and I will forever think that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon have played an intense rivalry for at least fifty years in ancient wooden ballparks that were throwbacks to an earlier time even when they were built before the war.

No matter who you root for, whether it’s Stumptown or the Chicago Cubs, Opening Day brings with it the promise of hope and the belief that anything is possible.

Play ball!

The Fourth Doctor and the Curator: What’s the Connection?

Earlier this week, Lance Parkin and Lars Pearson’s Unhistory, a chronology of the apocryphal (and sometimes impossible) Doctor Who stories, was released as an ebook.  Like the previous Ahistory (a chronology of the “real” Doctor Who), Unhistory has essays on various topics that deserve greater exploration and insight.  Notably, Unhistory has an essay titled “Old Tom,” an exploration of the white-haired Doctor portrayed by Tom Baker in the video release of “Shada,” a series of New Zealand television commercials, and “The Day of the Doctor.”

Unhistory explores three possibilities — this Doctor is a future Doctor (a possibility that Unhistory dismisses for a variety of reasons), this Doctor is a ghost of the fourth Doctor created as a byproduct of the Watcher’s influence in “Logopolis,” or this Doctor was resurrected by the Time Lords during the Time War (much as they did with the Master) when the eighth Doctor wanted nothing to do with the conflict.

I was musing on these possibilities this morning while I was drinking my coffee, when my brain wasn’t quite in gear.  And I had an insight.  “Old Tom” may explain how the Doctor both has and doesn’t have pre-Hartnell incarnations.

“The Brain of Morbius” shows that the Doctor’s life didn’t begin with William Hartnell’s Doctor.  We see that the Doctor had eight lives before Hartnell, and Hartnell was the ninth Doctor, making Tom Baker the twelfth incarnation.  This then became a data point that Doctor Who then dismissed; Peter Davison is clearly several times the Doctor’s fifth incarnation.  At one point in time, William Hartnell, though he was the first actor we saw as the Doctor in Doctor Who, Hartnell wasn’t the first Doctor.  But, then Hartnell was both the first actor to play the Doctor and the first Doctor.  How did this happen?  How can both be true?

Here’s my hypothesis.

During the Time War, the Time Lords didn’t so much resurrect the fourth Doctor to act as their agent as they pulled him out of time and duplicated him.

Perhaps the Time Lords couldn’t resurrect the fourth Doctor because the Doctor was still alive, so they had to do something else, something desperate — they found a point in the Doctor’s life (perhaps when he was timescooped and trapped in time during “Shada”/”The Five Doctors” — a result not of a faulty Time Scoop but the War-era Time Lords intercepting the Time Scoop) and, to duplicate him, they took his biodata and overwrote it onto another Time Lord’s life, transforming this sacrificial Time Lord into the fourth Doctor and, as far as he’s aware from this point forward, mentally and biologically he always was and is the Doctor.

But, this process also truncated the duplicate Doctor’s life; perhaps it used a regeneration cycle (or three) of the sacrificial Time Lord in their efforts to transform him into the Doctor.  As a result, the Doctor, who had been in his twelfth incarnation when he was taken out of time and duplicated, is duplicated into a Time Lord who was only in his fourth.  And so, the duplicated Doctor only remembers his preceeding three lives with any certainty and things before that uncertainly or not at all.

Now, this is where it gets tricky or strange.

The “real” fourth Doctor would be the one who fights the Time War, introduces “Shada,” and eventually retires to become the Curator of the Undergallery.  If the Time Lords went to this end to pull the Doctor into the Time War, they would want to make sure they had the “real” deal.  This Doctor would remember his pre-Hartnell lives with great detail.

The “duplicated” Doctor, then, is the one who was freed from the Time Scoop, continued to travel with Romana, regenerated into Peter Davison, and so on.  When he meets his wife, Patience, after his regeneration, it’s no puzzle why he can’t entirely remember her; his memories of his pre-Hartnell lives don’t really exist for him anymore.  He may suspect at times that part of his life is gone, but eventually his mind forges false memories to cover over the gaps, and as far as he’s concerned his life always and ever only began with William Hartnell’s Doctor, and when Matt Smith rolls around he is legitimately the thirteenth and final incarnation of this Doctor’s cycle of regenerations.

None of this means that the Doctor we’ve followed on Doctor Who since “Shada” is a different Doctor than we saw before.  A difference that makes no difference is no difference, and as far as the Doctor is concerned, as far as biology is concerned, as far as the universe and history is concerned, there’s no difference to who he is, even though he’s been duplicated by desperate Time Lords far in his future.

As strange, weird, and downright niche this is, this hypothesis feels intuitively right to me.  Of course, there’s no way to test this hypothesis, but now I can imagine a multi-Doctor story set during the Time War with an older, white-haired fourth Doctor and the War Doctor, perhaps still in his relative youth after his regeneration.

Taken: Why Am I Even Watching This?

Why do I keep watching Taken, the NBC television series ostensibly inspired by the Taken film franchise?

I use the words “ostensibly inspired” because I have absolutely no idea what this series has to do with Taken.  Clive Standen can’t be playing a young Liam Neeson for the simple fact that the television series takes place now, not thirty years ago.

Really, it’s more like what a Rainbow 6 (or maybe Splinter Cell) television series would be like — a super-secret government hit squad operating out of Washington, DC.

Which brings up another problem with the series.  It’s clearly -not- filmed around DC.  (It’s filmed in Canada.) At least once a week there’s an establishing shot that shows a familiar DC landmark, but the close-ups don’t make any sense.  A few weeks ago, Bryan Mills was running near the Capitol building, because it could be seen over a park and trees… but I can’t think of where he could have been running.  It certainly wasn’t the Mall, nor the park between the Capitol and Penn Station.  And then, last night, there was a conversation that happened on a bench outside the Lincoln Memorial… but where is this bench?  For that matter, what was that columned building at ground level behind the bench?

And!  We’re now five episodes in, and I have no idea what most of the characters are named!  Christina… is the head of the team?  I think her name is Christina.  And there’s Riley; I know her name because last week sort of focused on her.  After that… I don’t even know the name of Bryan’s sort-of girlfriend.  The characters on Bryan’s team of government super assassins are supposed to the best-of-the-best, but they’re generally unimaginative idiots.  (Bryan is the only person who shows any initiative or creativity on anything.) Standen’s portrayal of Bryan seems fine, but there’s not a lot of range to the character, which goes from glowering to intense with a stop at angry.

I know the team behind this is largely the team behind Lie to Me, the FOX series starring Tim Roth from about ten years ago, and I know they’re capable of doing really good things.  I know Standen is a good actor (as Rollo, he was a favorite of mine on Vikings), and the supporting cast seems generally solid.  There’s a lot of talent being thrown at Taken, but the result is dull, dull, dull.

So why do I keep watching this?  The vague hope it might improve?  The wish that I’ll finally learn the characters’ names?  The occasional DC establishing shots?  Why, oh why?