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Tag Archive: PBS


Review by C.J. Bunce

Once every 176 years a window opens whereby humans can send spacecraft in a trajectory that would include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.  Scientists knew of this pathway for centuries and the time for this window was approaching as 1970 arrived.  To act, with achievements in rocketry, aeronautical science, and experience in space travel, decisions needed to made quickly.  When President Richard Nixon was told this–and that the last President who could have done this, Thomas Jefferson, missed his opportunity–Nixon authorized the creation of two spacecraft to make the journey at a cost of about $1 billion.  The result is considered by many scientists to be the greatest space mission ever devised by humans.  The information recorded on the grooves of the accompanying golden records will survive intact for at least a billion years, making ours the first generation to create something that will not only outlive us, but will outlive our star.

One of the highlights of the year from NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and PBS that we previewed in January here at borg.com has arrived.  An excellent, and surprisingly poignant and even epic journey of exploration as exciting as any voyage you’ve ever read about or seen awaits you in PBS’s new documentary The Farthest–Voyager in Space.  You will be hard-pressed (and must be made of some substance not found on this planet) to watch this film and not find yourself joining the Voyager project members in shedding a tear or two as you follow along in the amazement and surprising emotion of the Voyager missions, their euphoric highs and nearly devastating lows.  Should it surprise us that scientists and retired scientists saw their mission as so personal and yet so global in scope, to get so emotional when discussing the Voyager probes 40 years since they left the Earth?  Individual experts in all aspects of science, from NASA engineers to imaging specialists, describe their creation in terms like they would a child sent off into the unknown, never to return, but that would keep sending postcards and messages home for decades to come.

The film’s journey chronicles benchmarks of the Voyager spacecrafts as the individual scientists who were there from conception of the idea in 1972 to the 1977 launch of the first ship, Voyager II–which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year–to its arrival at Jupiter and Saturn, to Voyager I’s arrival at Uranus and Neptune, to its emergence beyond the magnetic bubble that defines our solar system and entering interstellar space and beyond.   The probes were the first manmade objects to do many things, among them the first to observe volcanic activity outside of Earth, to discover moons which may contain life, and to leave our solar system.  The Voyager space records that humans have been so fascinated with since 1974 are explored in the film, too, as well as the afterparty attended by Chuck Berry, whose “Johnny B. Goode” continues its voyage into the unknown every day.  Standing in for Carl Sagan–who directed the creation of the two physical Voyager records (plus a few extras to keep for Earthlings) and their contents in less than six weeks–is his son Nick Sagan, whose greeting to possible alien life as a young boy was included on the records.

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It’s the latest sensation.  This generation’s Beanie Babies.  Like last year’s Pokémon Go, collectors just “gotta catch ’em all.”  And Funko, the toy company that makes them exclusively, has licensed seemingly any and every property on Earth for their POP! line of bobblehead dolls.  Almost.  Funko is always reaching for the next great franchise, the next cool character, the next thing for fanboys and fangirls to go nuts for.

Really.  They’ve secured the licenses for nearly everything.  Challenge us on that?  How about Tupac Shakur?  They made him into a vinyl POP! figure.  Michael Jackson?  Yep, in multiple outfits.  Invisible Bilbo Baggins.  The creature from Sharknado.  Duck Dynasty?  They made ’em.  How about 1970s Elvis?  Yep.  Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, The Muppets, and Game of Thrones?  Of course.  The Golden Girls?  Nah…. yep!  They made those, too.  Piglet from Winnie the Pooh and Butters from South Park.  The Elf on the Shelf?  The cast of Friends?  They’re just toying with us now.

       

But it doesn’t stop there.  There’s Bob’s Big Boy and Bob’s Burgers.  Parks and Recreation.  BBC’s Sherlock.  The cast from Lost.  Universal Monsters.  My Little Pony.  NFL football.  The Gilmore Girls.  The A-Team.  Pewdiepie from YouTube???  Gremlins.  The Walking Dead.  Power Rangers.  The Exorcist.  It goes on and on…

Is there no end to the properties that the Funko toy company will rematerialize into bobbleheads?  They’ve got Santa Claus, Homer Simpson, David Bowie in Labyrinth, Breaking Bad, and the kids from Twilight.  And the band members from Metallica.  Thankfully they don’t yet have The Twilight Zone or we’d have to witness a frightening POP! of Billy Mumy’s victim Dan as the jack-in-the-box from “It’s a Good Life.”  [[shudder]]

       

But this week’s release tops them all.  Truly there is now one Funko POP! to rule them all.  The real Top POP!  But who could it be?  Who is the big surprise?  Drumroll, please…. The One POP! to Rule Them All is…

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cernan-2017

Yesterday the last man to walk on the Moon, Apollo 17 commander Capt. Eugene Cernan, passed away at age 82.  Of the 24 men who visited the Moon and the 12 that walked on its surface Cernan leaves only six remaining men who actually walked on the Moon’s surface: Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Dave Scott (Apollo 15), John Young (Apollo 16), Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).  A three-time space traveler, Cernan was the pilot on Apollo 10 and had previously flown on a Gemini mission.  He served as backup crew for Gemini 12, Apollo 7, and Apollo 14.

“Curiosity is the essence of human existence and exploration has been part of humankind for a long time.  The exploration of space, like the exploration of life, if you will, is a risk.  We’ve got to be willing to take it,”  Cernan said.  Cernan passed away on the annual day America observed the contributions of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he, too, recently recounted a dream.  “I was just a young kid in America growing up with a dream.  Today what’s most important to me is my desire to inspire the passion in the hearts and minds of future generations of young men and women to see their own impossible dreams become a reality.”

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The best tribute to Cernan and his contemporaries is the continuing exploration and discovery missions of NASA, which will be the subject of several documentaries this year on PBS.  In particular, August will be a big month for space aficionados.

The documentary The Farthest will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Voyager space program.  As discussed extensively previously here at borg.com, the Voyager probes continue their role as the farthest humans have stretched their technology into space.  The only objects to ever enter interstellar space are Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.  Voyager 2 was the first to launch forty years ago, on August 20, 1977.

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victoria-coleman

Actress Jenna Coleman’s Clara, the cheery and sweet companion on BBC’s Doctor Who, moves on this year as a new companion joins the series in her place.  But Coleman is already off to new things, and first up is portraying young Queen Victoria in a new BBC series beginning tonight on PBS’s Masterpiece.  Victoria is a large-scale costume drama focusing on 18-year-old Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent and from her rise in power through her marriage to Prince Albert.  It includes an extensive romance thread–the unrequited love between Victoria and Lord Melbourne, played by Rufus Sewell.

Coleman’s Queen Victoria is both strong and passionate, and Melbourne as played by Sewell–known for countless roles in productions including Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Zen, Eleventh Hour, The Legend of Zorro, Pillars of the Earth, A Knight’s Tale, Dark City, and most recently, Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle–exhibits those good qualities and the more frustrating bits found in Jane Austen’s Lord Darcy from Pride & Prejudice.

victoria-pbs

The costumes, props of royalty, location filming, and production sets are not surprisingly lavish.  Victoria has the hallmarks of another successful BBC/PBS series, taking on the popular Downton Abbey timeslot.  Episode One tonight is 120 minutes, and the first season of the series continues for seven episodes this year.

Here are previews for BBC’s new series Victoria:

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murray

Tomorrow night Public Television stations will broadcast Sunday’s Kennedy Center ceremony honoring Bill Murray for his unique blend of comedy and social commentary.  The Mark Twain Prize, first given to Richard Pryor in 1998, is the nation’s top honor for comedians.  Everything’s coming up roses for Murray this week as his favorite team the Chicago Cubs gained their first win of this year’s World Series, and Murray was a trending topic for a photo he took in Scotland in 2012 wailing with a toddler–a photo mistaken for Tom Hanks by many.

The 2016 awards event features Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver, and David Letterman, among several other celebrities mildly roasting the actor/comedian/golfer/celebrity and saluting his work.  In the show Murray gives his own salute to one of his five brothers, the well-known character actor Brian Doyle-Murray.  Two other brothers, Joel and John, are also actors.

So what’s Murray’s best work?  Is it his classic comedy skits or Weekend Update work on Saturday Night Live?  Or his assistant groundskeeper from Caddyshack?  What about his Dr. Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters?  You can’t forget his Army soldier John Winger in Stripes.  Or how about his weatherman in Groundhog Day?

caddyshack

Murray is known for continuing to surprise us.  Like when he earned an Academy Award nomination for his drama Lost in Translation, when he played Dustin Hoffman’s friend in the Oscar winning Tootsie, and when he gave us his own take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in Scrooged, portraying FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson, and a war hero in Monuments Men.

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Sherlock season 4

First off, Sherlock Clue is real.  Keep reading.

From the new trailer PBS Masterpiece released this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con it appears we have a dark season ahead as Sherlock enters its fourth season.  Unfortunately, like Doctor Who the wait seems to be endless.  Those British production companies sure aren’t in any hurry to supply fans with new content.  We won’t actually see the next season of Sherlock until sometime next year.

The good news is Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and all the key players are back.  The bad news?  Moriarty might be back.

Toby Jones plays a new menace in season four, Culverton Smith, an original Arthur Conan Doyle character in his original story “The Adventure of the Dying Detective.”

Amanda Abingdon Sherlock season 4

And that’s Secret Agent Watson (onscreen and offscreen partner to Martin Freeman, Amanda Abbington) with a gun.

Check out the trailer straight from SDCC 2016:

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Great British Baking Show judges

It is really hard to rival the greatest foodie show of all time–Iron Chef.  A palpable battle to the death of sorts, or at least that’s the way it made us all feel.  International theme and haute cuisine met flying five-finger, one-armed shaolin exploding death touch style, with expert chef Alton Brown at the helm of the American version of the show, teaching us how to make our own meals better with a shuffling cast of interesting judges including Jeffrey Steingarten, Ted Allen, Mo Rocca, and even Jeri Ryan.  And it gave Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Masaharu Morimotu the status of food royalty.

Other shows are watchable in their own right, inspired by Julia Child’s original idea they expand what we think about food, how we serve it and what ingredients we use.  These include Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, a show that allows us to go local or travel to test the best food around (I eat at one of the featured dives at least twice per week), No Reservations with Anthony Bordain takes us on a tour with a not particularly pleasant foodie to see what’s good around the planet, and no show since Julia Child educates us more than Alton Brown’s Good Eats.  The most fun seems to follow dessert shows, with Chef Duff’s merry band of friends who ran Ace of Cakes making for a great, almost utopian fantasy workplace show and then there was the great Mark Sommers’ run on Unwrapped, where he showed the business of scrumptious candymaking.  My strawberry rhubarb pie is all the better because of these shows.

British baking Show tent

When you bring the “reality show” or cooking competition show into the mix, you get some of the fun of Iron Chef, but at a different level of entertainment.  Top Chef and The Next Food Network Star featured rival food channels showing the ugly side of competition as most reality shows offer these days, with competitors becoming more of caricatures than anything tolerable in real life circumstances.  All but one, that is.  And that show is the gem of a cooking show in its second season in the States on public television, The Great British Baking Show.

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Gruffudd star of ABC Forever

We love good TV.  Nothing is better than looking forward each week to a show you can trust to have great writing and great acting.  We’ve made our way through several series again this year, trying out pilots for new shows and adding them into the DVR queue–if they made the cut.  Many didn’t.  We also re-try series that didn’t prompt us to watch in prior years.  Most lose out because they rely on shock over substance and storytelling.  Where we ended up was a list of what we love, and what we have recommended all year.  These series are our Best of the Best for 2014.

Our biggest disappointments?  The cancellations of the brilliant, futuristic Almost Human and the reboot of the TV classic Dallas–these shows were written by the best script writers around and will be sorely missed.  We hope you’ll give some of the following shows a try next year, or catch them on streaming media, if you’re not watching already.

Forever De la Garza and Gruffudd

ForeverBest TV Series, Best TV Fantasy Fix, Best Actor (Ioan Gruffudd), Best Actress (Alana de la Garza), Best Supporting Actor (Judd Hirsch), Best Villain (Burn Gorman).  Contenders for the year’s best series were easy to spot:  ABC’s Forever or NBC’s Gotham.  In years past at borg.com we have favored cable programming, yet this year the networks surged ahead with these two superb series.  Forever nudged out Gotham for top prize because of its straightforward storytelling, small talented cast, superb dialogue, and fun situations.  Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower, Ringer, Fantastic Four) and Alana de la Garza (Law and Order) were perfect foils for each other in the lead roles, and each created compelling characters.  Judd Hirsch played son to younger Gruffudd’s unsinkable doctor and gave us the best father and son team on TV in years.  Burn Gorman’s chilling performances toward the end of this season were a great addition, setting us up for more fun next year.

Gotham clip

GothamBest TV Series Runner-up, Best Supporting Actress (Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney), Best Supporting Actor Runner-up (Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock).  NBC’s Gotham did many things we normally wouldn’t like, including taking source material and standing it on end and adding new characters to a classic story’s established cast.  Yet it all worked somehow with this intriguing re-imagining of Bruce Wayne’s backstory.  Catwoman and Batman were friends as kids?  The Penguin was a mole and stooge for key crime families?  Commissioner Gordon took Bruce Wayne under his wing as a child?  All of this worked, yet the best view into Gotham life was provided by Gordon’s partner, played by Donal Logue (Life, Vikings), and Jada Pinkett Smith’s sultry and ruthless gangster Fish Mooney.

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Smee as Richard III

Three huzzahs for historical re-enactor Domenic Smee, a 26-year old from England who has become part of the coolest event in non-fiction television in years, revealing that a skeletal deformity may not necessarily result in a disability, and a king may have been equal to the legend that he left behind.

You may recall the September 2012 archaeological dig in a parking lot that resulted in the confirmed find of the bones of King Richard III, who was said to have died bravely during the Wars of the Roses at the Battle of Bosworth Field against Henry Tudor and the Lancasters.  The discovery pulled together nearly every branch of science, and scientists even were able to create a 3D image of the famous king from Shakespeare’s play (“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York”).  We at borg.com listed the discovery as the Best Science News of 2013.

King Richard III printed bust

Now scientists have gone even further to get us to the truth behind the legend of this great king of 1485, revealed on Public Television’s Secrets of the Dead series episode “Resurrecting King Richard III.”  We thought the initial story from February 2013 that used DNA from a known distant descendant of the King’s royal line to prove the bones were indeed Richard III’s was incredible enough–the odds of locating a discarded or misplaced body and finding it 500 years later and not only identifying it, but identifying it as a famous king… it’s astronomical.

The bones of Richard III included a very disfigured spine–scoliosis.  Was the legendary story and contemporary accounts accurate?  Could he really have led the battle and fought so well in armor with such a condition?  When a researcher was airing a show in England on the king’s scoliosis, Domenic Smee was watching.  Turns out he has the rare scoliosis the king had, and he volunteered to be tested to see what physical limits the king may have experienced.

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bionic pig

If you want to see a bit of faith that there is some goodness in humanity, you’ll want to check out a new show this Wednesday on PBS.  My Bionic Pet tracks down the efforts of some compassionate, superhero humans who have used their imaginations and energy to make the lives of several animals better through prosthetics and other means.  Ignoring the old cliché of “putting down” an animal for having a lame limb or otherwise non-life threatening malady, the show recognizes the value of animals’ lives and their contributions to those around them.

bionic animal legs

My Bionic Pet looks at an alligator with a prosthetic tail, a swan with a prosthetic beak, as well as a pig, a pony and dogs with bionic limbs.

Check out this preview of My Bionic Pet:

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