Tag: PBS

‘Victoria’ Season 3 Review

If you follow me on social media you know I am much more of a movie person than TV. I prefer the brevity of a movie with 2 hours of a story and then I’m done and can move on with my life. So if I stick with a television show for an entire season it is pretty compelling. If I watch it for multiple seasons than you know I love it. Well, I just finished season 3 of the PBS show Victoria, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Victoria consists of 8 episodes each season and tells the story of Queen Victoria beginning when she assumes rule at 18 in 1838 and her marriage with Prince Albert in 1840. Victoria and Albert were a real love match and had 9 children together.

The show does such a good job capturing the highs and lows of a marriage. Jenna Coleman is fantastic as Victoria and she has such chemistry with Tom Hughes as Albert. She is a strong woman obviously as the queen but he is not without his own source of strength. They feed off each other so well and it feels like they are actually married!

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Season 3 starts in 1848 and Victoria is facing a time of upheaval with a group called  the Chartists that are seeking better conditions for the working class.Victoria, believing they are a work of peaceful protest wants them to be able to deliver their charter while Lord Palmerston  (Laurence Fox) and others are against it. Members of Victoria’s own staff become involved when her handmaid Nancy (Nell Hudson) becomes engaged and then married to the cook Mr Francatelli (Ferdinand Kingsley). I also really enjoyed Abigail Turner as a castle employee (not sure what her role is) who is both intrigued and disappointed by the revolutionaries.

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The dreaded cholera comes into play and Prince Albert is very involved with a hotheaded scientist and inventor Henry Cole (David Newman). The Irish famine is ending and people are journeying to America. We get a little elicit side romance between Duchess Sophie (Lily Travers) and a footman (David Burnett).

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Finally there is lots of debate and conflict over how Albert and Victoria are going to raise their children and what their various roles mean. Albert becomes in charge of the Great Exhibition of 1851. This is all very compelling, well acted, directed and of course costumed! It’s delicious programming!

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The only part that didn’t work for me is a plot thread involving Victoria’s half sister Feodora (Kate Fleetwood). I know she is supposed to be selfish and devious but I found her character more annoying than a satisfying adversary. It just didn’t work for me and I found myself looking away whenever it got back to her story.

Other than that it was 8 episodes of great programming! I highly recommend it. It’s a rare show that has kept up its quality through 3 seasons. We will see if it can do 4 after what happens in the finale. A lot of the credit goes to writer and creator Daisy Goodwin who has read Victoria’s diaries and seems to have a real admiration and love for her. Jenna Coleman naturally deserves the other half of the credit. She’s remarkable in the role and deserves all the emmys if you asked me!

Have you gotten to see Victoria Season 3? What did you think of it? Let’s talk in the comments section.

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Ken Burns

I’m beginning to think this is a television blog; but, I suppose that should be expected as I was always the biggest TV fan in my family.  Neither of my parents have any interested in a single show on television. There were many years of my childhood we went without television (we had a TV for occasional movies but no cable or rabbit ears) and in general I am in full support of such measures. Children are far too reliant on media for their creative development and the temptation to watch can be the source of unneeded conflict in homes.   That said, I still grew up with a love for television?  Weird hah?

Anyway, I have been literally stuck in my house for the last three days because the Grabber employees are  using my car.  This has forced me into three days of  inside work (my friend Jill took me to meet with my trainer today and I did a full work out!  Wahoo! It was so hard but I did it!).  With 1099s coming due at the end of the month I have been particularly working on dry data entry accounting.  This does not require much thought- merely looking at receipts, spreadsheets, statements and then transferring the information onto Quickbooks.  One of my favorite things to do to help enliven such tedious work is to watch documentaries.  It is a good genre because I can phase out for a long time or just listen to the narration and be fine.  There is no intricate plot to follow that would require my full attention (for instance, Inception would be a terrible thing to watch while doing accounting).

One of my favorite documentary film makers is Ken Burns.  He makes documentaries for PBS that center around the American story.  The only series of his I have not seen are the entries on Jazz and Baseball.  Recently I have been moved to tears by his amazing series on the Civil War. It is overwhelming to think of the great sacrifice which was made for all Americans to be free.  I have not only cried but learned so much and I’m only half-way through.  For instance, did you know that General McClellan of the Union army stumbled upon a scroll with General Lee’s battle plans but he was too afraid to use the information? He could have ended the war years early but he failed to be bold. Interesting. I also learned about the Battle of Fort Wagner where in South Carolina one of the first black regiments fought bravely.  That’s just two of the wonderful things I learned from watching The Civil War.

Last year I enjoyed his latest series National Parks: America’s Best Idea centering of course around the national parks.  Even for a non-nature enthusiast like me, the cinematography was amazing, the history interesting but most importantly the stories of sacrifice demonstrated by those who cherished the parks was inspiring.  Some made it their life’s ambition to preserve the land they loved. Anyone who has a noble life’s ambition and carries it out I admire.

The previous year I was in awe at his series about World War II called The War.   I thought I was pretty well versed on WWII but I was constantly amazed at what I learned- especially about the Pacific theater.  For some reason the European conflict is more covered in the schools.  Why is that? I had no idea how brutal the Japanese were to our servicemen and how long it took us to get a real victory- over 3 years.  The stories of the Bataan Death March were gut-wrenching and poignant.  Some of The War is tough to watch and fairly graphic but it is a must watch for any American.

I’ve seen many other films by Ken Burns (including his small movie about the Shakers which is fascinating).  Each time he finds away to connect the viewer with ordinary American’s living through the American Experience whether it be the Civil War, WWII or visiting a national park.  He creates voices as clear as any in a fictional film and turns stale brown photos into people we care about.  The voice work he gets are always spot on and the music inspirational. The films by Ken Burns are works of art and I love them.  They are one of the few television programs I feel should be watched by every American.

As a side note- all of the films mentioned, including the Shakers piece, are available as a netflix free stream if you have that service.

Dolley Madison- A Modern Woman in an Old Fashioned World

Last week I watched a documentary on the PBS program American Experience about Dolley Madison.  Previous to that moment, I knew nothing about Dolley except that she had carried the painting of George Washington out of the White House when it was on fire in the war of 1812.  If you get a chance to watch the documentary do it.  See if you can get it at your local library.

Dolley was the wife of our fourth president James Madison.  The documentary has: historians, actors portraying key figures in Dolley’s life, her letters and even actual photographs of Dolley late in life.  Becoming first lady was only one of many fascinating aspects of her life.  She was raised as a Quaker with strict parents who monitored her social life, behaviors and even strongly encouraged, if not forced, her to marry her first husband John Payne Todd.

As a young married woman she had 2 boys and did the best to be happy and love her husband.  By all reports she was beautiful and vivacious.  However, just 3 years after marriage, in 1793, her husband and baby boy died from a yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia.  With another son to support Dolley knew that her only choice was to marry again.  Luckily she was charming enough to be highly courted and the government was still being mostly run out of Philadelphia bringing Congressman and other dignitaries calling on Dolley.  One of the men was James Madison.  A shy founding father who was 17 years older than Dolley.   Despite his non-quaker status (which meant Dolley was removed from the religious group) the two fell in love, married and rarely spent a day apart for the rest of their lives.  (It was interesting to see that Dolley and James have few letters because they were always together unlike their popular contemporaries John and Abigail Adams).

Unlike almost all women (and certainly all proceeding first ladies including Abigail Adams) Dolley became involved in the politics at hand and she did so in a very savvy way.  Instead of pounding the street corners or giving speeches, she held dinner parties, introduced friends, and forced sparring debaters to enjoy an evening together.  I admire how she used whatever power she had to make a difference- to make her stamp on the world.  One of the scholars in the documentary claims that Dolley was the first true grass roots campaigner.  This is significant coming from a woman with no formal education, in a time where a woman with political know-how was considered a scandalous notion.   One biography describes her as:

“Once Dolley Madison became first lady in 1809, her status as the central figure of Washington society was confirmed. The vivacious Dolley’s expansive memory for names and ability to make everyone at home in the White House attracted guests by the many. Her lavish dinner parties were noted for the surprise delicacies served.  She began holding Wednesday evening “drawing rooms”  (receptions) that became immensely popular with politicians, diplomats, and the citizenry. Not only was Dolley renowned for her charm, but her knowledge of politics and current events was significant as well. She proved an asset to James’s political career in two ways: her outgoing demeanor complimented his reserved and stonefaced disposition and her political insight influenced his decision-making. Undoubtedly, Dolley was one of the reasons James won reelection in 1812.”

Then there is the famous incident that I mentioned above- removing the artifacts and paintings from the White House before it was burnt.  The interesting thing I didn’t know is that the reason she was at the White House (most of Washington being deserted at that time)was due to her refusal to leave until her husband had returned from a meeting with his generals. With the British coming closer she realized that nothing would give greater glee to the invading troops than to lord over the documents of our founding and the painting of George Washington.  Deciding that such disgrace was not going to happen on her watch, she loaded a wagon full of such items and when her husband raced back they sneaked into hiding until the invasion was over.

I am sure I will learn much  more about Dolley as I read her biography, but what I have know so far gives me much respect and admiration for her spirit, spunk and determination.   All of the women in America owe a debt of gratitude to founding women like Dolley Madison, Abigail Adams and more.   Their husbands sometimes get all the glory, but we all know where most men end up without a strong woman to guide them (and vice versa- especially back then).  I highly encourage you all to find the documentary and learn something about a fascinating woman who made America great!  (Shouldn’t they make a movie about her?  Why does it seem like they only make movies about the scoundrels?)

Many Worlds in One

The other day I saw a fascinating NOVA program on PBS.  It is called Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives and it focuses on Hugh Everett and his son Mark. On the surface the two seem completely different but they are actually linked in an interesting way. In the end, the life of the father explains the life of the son.

In the early 60’s Hugh was a physicist for the Pentagon working as a cold war scientist.  Frustrated with the prevailing views of quantum physics (which I will not even begin to explain) he started exploring other types of particle theories.  Eventually he came up with the Many World’s Theory.  As best as I can grasp this theory looked at particles  at their own level- not at how they created larger phenomenon.  According to the NOVA program this view broke with tradition and was the beginning of Everett’s theories.  Looking at the world on such a small level he noticed energy behaving differently.  (Like I said I am way out of my element in explaining this).  Here’s how NOVA explains it:

Byrne: In order to demonstrate the consequence of this mathematically, Everett came up with a solution showing that the observer, the human being, correlates with every possible state that the gram of carbon, that pencil tip, could be in. So before the human being looks at the gram of carbon, the carbon is in all the millions or billions or trillions of possible states, and after the human looks at the gram of carbon, he or she is in one state. In Everett’s theory, what happens in between, as it were, when the human actually looks at the carbon—or a clock or any other object—is that he or she splits like an amoeba. (The act of looking, that interaction, is just exchanging energy. A person looking at a clock, for example, is an energetic interaction, with photons of light bouncing off the clock and going into the person’s eye.)

So, in Everett’s view, when the human correlates herself—that is, interacts, exchanging energy with the gram of carbon or a clock or whatever—she splits like an amoeba. She splits into copies of herself, one for each element in the superposition.

NOVA: And this split is what creates the “many worlds” of his theory?

Byrne: Yes. And wild as it sounds—a person splitting into numerous copies of herself—Hugh Everett’s theory has not been shown to be mathematically incorrect. God knows, people have tried. They have found some mathematical gaps, but you can’t fault his basic mathematical logic, which made a powerful case that every time there is an interaction anywhere in the universe above a certain size, one of the systems splits in order to accommodate all of the elements and the superpositions that are contained in the wave function that describes the observed system. In other words, the basis for having multiple universes emerges from his solution of the measurement problem.”

In other words, on a particle level atoms present possible outcomes and in a way those possibilities continue on whether the human participates or not.  Using the example above if the person looks at the pencil or not, the particle energy around the action still exists.  This is why Everett called it the Many World theory.  On a particle level there are infinite numbers of worlds created every moment which all react in different ways.

This is where the son comes in. Like I said, on the surface Mark has nothing in common with his father.  He is  a front runner for an independent rock band called the Eels.  According to the NOVA program much of Mark’s music is dark, focusing on mental illness, abuse, and death.  To give you an idea one of their most famous songs is called “Novocaine for the Soul”. Apparently much of the darkness in the music came from a lonely childhood with a father obsessed with work and science.  On the program Mark tells the story of a conversation over the dishes he had with his father just before he passed away.  Of this simple chat he says “We joked around a little and I remember thinking that it was the most human, real conversation I’d ever had with him. He even told me a joke.”

Later the next day his father dies, and he is devastated by the missed opportunities.  Eventually Mark tries to put his feelings to music and as he struggles he realizes something about his father.  He learns they had a key similarity:

“I realized that I had been feeling that same thing he must have been feeling all those years when he couldn’t be bothered because he always had some crazy ideas he was trying to sort out in his head. You’re just about to crack the code and the kid wants to play baseball. I get it now. We’re both “idea men” and anything outside of these ideas is a distraction.”

With this understanding Mark begins to learn more about the ideas of his father.  Finally it occurs to him that their lives are the ultimate example of the Many World’s theory.  Two worlds co-existing independently of each other and yet intrinsically dependent on one another.   It’s like the show’s title describes: Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives.  In the end, Mark understood his life better because of his father’s theories.  This to me is fascinating.  How often do we have answers staring at us in the face, yet we dismiss it as ordinary or familial? How often do we discount something because it is different, even offensive, and yet in that other world is the answer to our own happiness?

There are so many examples of parallel worlds, which if understood could enlighten both worlds.  Notice we aren’t talking about combining worlds.  They are inherently separate, but perhaps they could still teach us?  The NOVA program explores the worlds of father vs son, musician vs  scientist, and youth vs. age.  Religion would be another interesting subject for discussion.

Like I said, the science is a bit beyond me, so I hope I have done justice to the program.  If you get a chance, put it on your DVR or watch it on youtube.com . It kind of reminded me of a This American Life piece on television.- excellent and thought provoking. Check out the PBS website on the show for more information. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/manyworlds/.  On a final side note, this program would be great for teachers and homeschoolers who want to learn more about physics.  I know practically nothing and it explained complex concepts in ways even I understood.