Mead, Vikings and Television


So last Tuesday, Dan came over and we bottled up the mead pitch that finished fermenting. It had been sitting a month and it’ll be another six at least until it’s ready for tasting. The smell was so powerful… the sheer alcoholic content dizzying. And it isn’t anything special either, just six pounds of Safeway brand honey and water with Kolsch yeast. Nothing else. We’re not even carbonating it, as I want to drink it in the traditional manner. It should be ready just in time for birthday-packed November.

As I set to work, my interest in viking culture flared again, enough that I decided to later sit down and watch a single, mid-stream episode of the History Channel’s Vikings. I managed to get fifteen minutes into it before turning it off, with the intention of watching it from the beginning later. I just wanted to take a measure of the series first, and the taste I took suggested a slower historic drama piece that mixes Game of Thrones with the characterization and story telling pace of Breaking Bad.

What’s interesting to me is that this is another example of cable television jumping on the historical drama bandwagon. They won’t jump into the violence and sex that HBO or Showtime can pull off, so they instead invest in story telling in the past, just as with Downton Abbey. (Another fine show I’ve fallen behind on…) And it’s not hard to imagine the value of it. While no one should expect a hard history lesson, these shows do convey a sense of cultures of antiquity.

Television, as a medium for story telling, has grown again in the last couple of years. Our last TV renaissance brought us great shows like The Wire, The Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica. A lot of that era was brought to us by HBO. These days, we’re seeing great shows come from very unlikely sources. AMC alone brought a handful of great shows out. PBS and the History Channel, of all people, each have one great show worth watching. I don’t watch Scandal regularly but I do respect that it’s a good show. And now Netflix is changing the game, bringing back shows thought dead like Arrested Development and The Killing, whenever they’re not blowing our minds with original series like House of Cards.

It’s not hard to wonder why. In the past, television actors have tended to be less skilled than their movie counterparts, with a few talented individuals who managed to find work in the multimillion dollar roles later. These days, the stigma of being a television actor are gone, as Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright play the Underwoods and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson shock us with True Detective.

I suppose one reason for this is simply because television, at least as of late, tends to allow for internal promotions as an actor becomes central to a show.

If you take a look at opening credits in later episodes, it’s very common to see one of the main actors being listed as an executive producer, likely working to develop their own characters and some of the scripts. There is likely creative growth there, as power slowly shifts from the director to the actor. Directors frequently shift and share their positions on television, but the actors are seldom replaceable, recasting being a caution inducing move even between movie sequels. This credit can be very valuable as a means to pave the way into becoming a regular producer of future projects.

The downside I feel is that television, unlike a movie, can be really be difficult to keep up with as a pop culture topic. All you need to do is sit down for two hours and you’re caught up on the latest movie. Television frequently takes six to thirteen hours per season. If you choose the wrong television series to invest in, your friends might go on talking about season 3 of some series you haven’t even tried. As more great television comes out, it gets more and more difficult to keep up with it all. It’s even worse when you have someone you want to share television with and they’re not interested, or they’re behind.

I don’t think the good TV train is going to stop for a while, making it all the more easy to lost in it.

The Marchly Happenings

Monday night, I brewed my first pitch of mead with my buddy Dan. I opted for a very basic recipe of just honey with a kolsch beer yeast. The effort went with only one hitch: I couldn’t find the stopper for my fermentation lock. Fortunately, Dan had a spare I borrowed. If you’re reading this, thanks Dan.

I was forewarned that to make it great, it’ll have to sit once bottled for about 6 to 12 months. If I do this again, I’m going to get a smaller (say 3 gallon) carboy and do some experimentation with various yeasts. A lot of sites and people insist that wine yeasts are the way to go. Perhaps next time.

While we were waiting for a few odds and ends, Dan and took to watching episodes of Firefly. Something tells me that I’m going to constantly get, “Do you watch Firefly?” often in response to my most recent short story. I’m certainly enjoying the themes of the show, but every once in a while they kind of settle into a Bones like sense of whimsy.

During the last episode I watched, Christina Hendricks of Drive and Mad Men guest starred as a village girl who tricks our Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) into marrying him. Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is desiring of this girl where as the captain is not, such that Jayne attempts to barter with the captain: A high powered, customized rifle for the doe eyed village girl.

You got to admit that pictures like this made the show look like some WB50 teen drama.

You got to admit that pictures like this made the show look like some WB50 teen drama.

I’m sure that anyone with an anti-slavery sentiment would be glad to know that our dear captain decidedly turned down Jayne’s awful offer, as well as pushed the girl to be independent and null the marriage. The offer was in the spirit of comic relief: not so much in the offer itself (if it had, it would have been in very bad taste), but because the offer was given following a tense, potentially violent moment between the captain and Jayne, followed by what would otherwise have been a commercial break (thank you, Netflix). It also served to highlight a moral difference between Jayne and Captain Mal, which relatively made Captain Mal look like a high angel.

I’m not entirely familiar with Joss Whedon’s work outside of The Avengers, truth be told. But I was left wondering how often he flirts with disaster. Done well, it makes for great fiction. But passion can be as blinding as anger if not guided. Based on his interview with the NY Times involving a cut scene involving Captain America and healthcare, it seems Whedon has the gift of discipline and moderation, knowing exactly when and where to draw the line.

Speaking of which, my thoughts turn to another show and drawing a line. Homeland. Currently, work is underway for season 4, but just about anyone who has seen the last three seasons knows that they’re at a great stopping point. Almost all the story threads have been closed and season 4 would have to be a reboot of the series under the same name and same characters/actors.

When I look at Homeland, I feel as though there was no forward thinking beyond season 3. There weren’t many new characters introduced, and no threat beyond Tehran. At this point, we’re getting a whole new show with the same name and likely the same characters.

When they wrote it, did they worry that they might be cancelled this season? Quite possibly. United States of Tara received several nominations and rewards and was well loved by critics before ultimately being cancelled.

Odds are against Homeland being good after this season. We’ll see.