Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Middleman - Like Men In Black Meets Venture Brothers

After two episodes, I'm really enjoying The Middleman, ABC Family's new sci-fi series. Like Men In Black which takes the conceit that tabloid stories about aliens living on Earth are true, The Middleman takes the conceit that our world really does work like comic books—it's full of super villains which must be stopped by The Middleman. And like Venture Brothers, The Middleman takes a satirical look at the superhero world.

The story of The Middleman starts with his future sidekick, Wendy Watson working as a temp in a genetics laboratory. This being a sci-fi adventure, one of the genetic freaks (which looks like it wandered off from the set of Men in Black) in the lab escapes, trashing the lab, and nearly killing Wendy before The Middleman puts it down. This is where the MiB similarities end as The Middleman instead of zapping Wendy so she'll forget her experience instead threatens her and frames her so she gets fired and can't get another job until he chooses to recruit her as his sidekick. While it seems like a pretty "dickish" thing to do, as The Middleman is so straight-laced that he talks like teenager from the 1950s and never shows signs of anger.

The second episode alludes to a possible reason why this might be the case. The Middleman tells of being an offensive limeman on his high school football team. During one game, he was so anxious for it to be over so he could be with his girlfriend that he let his opposing lineman get past him and sack his quarterback. This caused the young quarterback to suffer a career-ending injury which haunts him to this day. In other words The Middleman is essentially a G-rated version of Brock Sampson, the Swedish killing machine from Venture Brothers. Like The Middleman, Brock is haunted by something he did while playing football—he killed a quarterback during practice by snapping his spine, the school takes away his scholarship and Brock joins the army. And again like Brock Sampson, The Middleman served in the military—in the pilot, he recalls a story of decking his superior officer who ordered him to leave his men. Brock Sampson has similar problems with authority which manifest themselves in a much more adult way on Venture Brothers.

And like Brock Sampson, The Middleman likes the ladies as he flirts shamelessly with Wendy's roommate—of course Brock does a whole lot more than flirt with women....So in my mind it's impossible to look at The Middleman without thinking about Brock Sampson. Each of these men is like the other's evil twin. Brock is the id unleashed, always acting on his impulses, killing, maiming, and bedding every woman meets. The Middleman on the other hand, is the id firmly suppressed by the super ego, he never swears, he never hurts anyone who isn't "evil," and he never gets past the playful flirting stage with a woman. Both characters are products tailored to the audience that they're aimed at on their respective channels—The Middleman for kids on ABC Family and Brock Sampson for adults on Adult Swim. It's rather ironic and says a lot about the diversity of today's entertainment when I can sit here comparing a cartoon to a live action show and it's the cartoon which is the violent, sexually explicit show which caters to adult audiences and the live action show is the kid friendly fun adventure.

There is also one big difference in tone. Venture Brothers skewers the Saturday morning cartoons that it spoofs, for example turning a beloved character like Johnny Quest into a pill-popping psychopath. The Middleman by contrast is practically a love letter to the comic books and television sci-fi which it lampoons. Filled with loving homages to sources as diverse as The Avengers and every big gorilla movie ever made, The Middleman is a gentle, fun adventure that can be enjoyed by all but the grumpiest members of the whole family can enjoy.

Will Dr. Horrible Be A Breakout Hit?

I've always been a huge fan of the work of Joss Whedon. So I've paid attention to Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, a new web-based project of Whedon's which features Neil Patrick Harris and web show veteran Felicia Day. It also includes Nathan Fillion from Whedon's wonderful but short-lived series Firefly. And Day was also a minor character on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, the show that made me a fan of Whedon's work in the first place.

But what prompted this post was a post on TV Squad asking if Dr. Horrible could become a big hit that transcends the web and achieves mainstream popularity. My first instinct is a resounding "no." I'm not saying that Dr. Horrible won't be good, I'm saying that it will be too weird, too geeky, and too cynical. Judging it just from the teaser video, I see a farce—probably a hilarious farce if Whedon's record is any indication but a farce never the less. While I don't think it will be a huge mainstream success, I'm definitely convinced that it will be a cult classic like just about everything that Joss Whedon has ever done.

Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

Is AVG Bad For Websites?

A new website called AVG Watch claims that a component in AVG's antivirus product can overwhelm web servers by hitting them hard and downloading pages in an attempt to determine if they are hosting malware that can infect your computer. Another website complains that this component also hurts websites financially by skewing their traffic statistics which affects their ad revenue.

The component is called LinkScanner:
"LinkScanner works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox, and consists of two features, AVG Active Surf-Shield and AVG Search-Shield. AVG Active Surf-Shield prevents you from accidentally becoming infected by drive-by downloads and other exploits, ensuring the web pages you visit are safe at the only time that really matters - when you are about to click the link. AVG Search-Shield works with Google, Yahoo and MSN search engines to deliver a real-time safety verdict on all search results, including search ads, displaying an icon to show the safety rating for each site."
That's a direct quote from the documentation of AVG Anti-Virus Free 8.0 describing LinkScanner.

AVG Watch seems pretty steamed about the practice, comparing comparing it to a Denial of Service Attack. They claim that according to their own tests LinkScanner will download a page it encounters during a Google search hundreds of times more than necessary, leading to a lot of stress on webs servers as the number of people using the latest version of AVG Anti-Virus grows.

This seems like a worrisome possibility for me since I've always sworn by AVG for protecting my computers from viruses and other malware. Recently, AVG has been giving me problems with false positives and now this....

There is one ironic post-script to this episode. I have been using Firefox 3 as my main browser since its second Beta version and right now AVG Safe Search, which presumeably allows AVG to run LinkScanner within Firefox, is not compatible with the latest version of my favorite browser. So it seems that none of this applies to me right now. I'm neither "protected" from accidentally clicking on evil websites and I'm not inadvertantly "attacking" good websites either. Still, it's an interesting issue.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Boing Boing has a video of Cylons explaining Digital Rights Management. So that's why the Cylons wiped out humanity—they were protesting DRM.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dwight Schrute Action Star

Here's a cool mash up of The Office done as an action movie with Dwight Schrute as the main antagonist.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Barack Obama on the Role of Religion in the United States

PZ Myers is a very smart man. He is an evolutionary biologist and a professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He's also a very angry atheist who rails against religion in his blog. He's also fairly humorless and prone to getting into long silly fights with people like cartoonist Scott Adams because he's unable to tell when he's being trolled. He's been having a lot of trouble warming up to Barack Obama because of his religious beliefs. So it was interesting to see him linking to this video of a speech by Barack Obama on religion and diversity which shows a surprisingly smart and nuanced view on the role of Christianity in the United States:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Text Message From Space!

As part of an attempt to reach out to young people, NASA has put the Phoenix Mars probe on Twitter which makes it possible for cell phone users to get text messages directly from the red planet. Not wanting to be left behind, The European Space Agency has also put its Planck spacecraft on Twitter. Perhaps due to its more esoteric mission, Planck is much less popular on Twitter than Phoenix. I can't help but wonder how this development affects that the recent claims that an SMS message is four times more expensive than the cost of getting data from the Hubble Space telescope.

Star Trek Cartoon Parody

Crunchgear has a hilarious video mash up of scenes from the animated Star Trek series set to William Shatner's spoken word version of "Common People."

Top Ten Movie Monsters

I found this video on Scienceblogs. The final winner is a joke but it's a pretty good list.