Category Archives: Television

Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, A New Crew Went Boldly, Where No One Had Gone Before.

In place of the post I’d write if I wasn’t on vacation, I offer the following:

Today, Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 25 years-old.

When the show started, I looked like this:

and I couldn’t find a warp core with both hands.

Today, I look like this:

And I got a course you can plot.

Star Trek has been a huge part of my life, and a huge part of who I am, over the last 25 years, and it wasn’t always awesome.

But you know what is awesome? Talking to my friends and family from the cast today, celebrating not only that it’s been twenty-five years since we first Boldly Went When No One Had Gone Before, but that we still love each other, and still care about the time we spent together exploring the galaxy on the best starship to ever carry the name.

I know that Star Trek: The Next Generation has meant a lot to more than one generation since we debuted a quarter century ago today, and it means a lot to me in a lot of ways … but the thing that means the most to me, the thing that I cherish the most, is my family from the Enterprise D.

Happy Birthday, Next Generation. I’m proud and honored to be part of you.

New #Tabletop: Elder Sign (or, in which I have a tentacle party with Felicia Day)

The newest Tabletop features a really fun dice game set in the Arkham Horror universe called Elder Sign.

Fantasy flight Games publishes an epic game called Arkham Horror that I just love. In the game, the players assume the role of Lovecraftian Pulp Investigators who are all working together to stop one of the Great Old Ones from devouring the world.

You know, like you do.

Arkham Horror is a complex, intricate, incredibly difficult, beautiful game. It's more like a guided role playing game where the board itself is the GM, and there really isn't another boardgame out there (that I can think of off the top of my head, anyway) that plays like it does. I would love to play it on Tabletop… but it takes a minimum of three hours, and if I put it on the show, I wouldn't do the game justice. There's just no way to edit a 3 or 4 or 5 hour game into 30 or even 45 minutes, while staying true to the heart and soul of the game.

Luckily for us, Fantasy Flight also publishes a cooperative dice game set in the Arkham Horror world called Elder Sign. Designed by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson (who also designed Arkham Horror), it takes about an hour to play, and while it isn't a scary and complex as Arkham, it is still beautiful and challenging. It was perfect for my show.

Follow this link, if you don't see the embedded video above, to watch Elder Sign at YouTube.

While I have your attention: 

At GenCon last weekend, the most frequently asked question I got was "When do you start the second season of Tabletop?"

The next most frequently asked question was, "What are you going to play on the second season?"

My answer to both of these questions is: "I have no idea, because we don't know if YouTube is going to fund a second season."

What usually followed was a series of confused noises and some stammering before the final question was asked: "How do I help you get a second season?"

Here is the answer:

The best and most effective way to support Tabletop — in fact, the only way that Google even cares about — is to subscribe to the channel, like and comment on the episodes (if you, you know, actually like them) and encourage everyone you know to do the same thing.

Google cares about interactions like that on their Premium Channels (like G&S), and while we all know we're never going to get the same numbers as the longtime YouTubers who are getting five million views per video, I think that if we can stay up in the six digits, we'll get another season.

It's amusing to me that we're not dealing with a studio or a network, but we still have to hit certain numbers to get more funding (just like we would if we were on broadcast television.)

Finally, I'll leave you with this:

image from 25.media.tumblr.com

You'll have to watch Tabletop's Elder Sign episode for context. But beware… there are some Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.

Answering a FAQ: “Why do you play so many evil characters lately?”

Every actor has a particular type they can play well, for some reason or another. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with who we are in real life, but it's just what we do well.

Example: Travolta is amazing as the Lovable Loser. When he's in Welcome Back Kotter and Saturday Night Fever in the 70s, he is the biggest star in the world, because people can identify with him in a way they may not be consciously aware of.

Then, in the early 80s, the industry decides to make him The Leading Man. They put him in films like Perfect and Urban Cowboy, and his career tanks. Nobody can connect to those characters, because it's not the right type for him to play. He does those talking baby movies for awhile, and then he explodes back to the top of the A list when he plays a junkie hitman in Pulp Fiction. He's back to being the Lovable Loser, and audiences go crazy for him, because that's the type he's meant to play.

You can do this with just about every actor if you look hard enough and spend enough time on it. It's all about Jungian Archetypes and Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces.

So why do I play evil characters? When I was a kid, I played the sensitive, awkward kid full of self doubt who really wanted you to like him*. When I was in my 20s, I kept getting auditions for those roles and never booking them, because it's just not the type I'm meant to play. When Kim Evey cast me as a douchey agent in Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show, and Felicia wrote me into The Guild as douchey Fawkes, things started to turn around. I realized that I'd found my type, and I started looking for those roles.

It turns out that my type is the Villain You Love To Hate, so that's who I am in The Guild, Leverage, Eureka, and Big Bang Theory. I don't think it's a coincidence that, once I started playing these types of characters, my acting career began to come back to life, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life to Kim and Felicia for taking a chance on me.

I really don't know why this is my type, but whenever I try to figure it out, I start to feel like Lenny with the rabbit, and I really don't want to break something that's working out pretty well for me right now.

I do know this, though: the whole point of being an actor is to portray characters who are different from who you really are. The most important thing in the entire universe to me is kindness, so it's really fun to play characters who are antithetical to my personal ideals. Exactly why I seem to be so good at doing that, though? I'm not going behind that particular barn.

 

*Incidentally, that's pretty much who I've been in my real life since I can remember.

I’m hosting Falling Skies: Second Watch

 

Wil Wheaton hosts Falling Skies Second Watch for TNT

Two creators, one geek.

 

Remember when I said 

I don't cancel convention appearances lightly, because I know how disappointing it is for the people who are attending. I assure you that this isn't a ploy to win a game of Mystic Warlords of Ka'a, or even a bowling match… this is just something that happens from time to time when someone like me is lucky enough to land a dream job that conflicts with a planned trip out of town.

This is what I was talking about:

TNT announced the launch of a new web show, 2nd Watch, hosted by Trek and Leverage star Wil Wheaton. The show will air on http://fallingskies.com with a live premiere episode on Sunday June 17 at 11pm ET – following the two-hour East coast season premiere of Falling Skies.

I love Hardwick's show Talking Dead (even though I wasn't crazy about last season's Walking Dead), so when TNT asked me if I was interested in hosting a similar show for Falling Skies, of course I said yes.

I mainlined Falling Skies over two days, watching every single episode from the first season and everything that they gave me for the second season. Also, [REDACTED]. 

I'm really excited about this for a few reasons: Number one, it's online, so you can watch it anywhere in the world whenever you want to see it. I believe that this is a fantastic step in the right direction for TNT (and all networks) because — let's face it — online is the future where everything is happening right now, and making it easy for fans to gather in one place and geek out over the shows they love just makes sense.* (Now if HBO would only listen to all the cord cutters who want to give them money… but that's slightly off topic.) Number two, I get to spend a ton of time geeking out with writers and actors who make a show that I love, and I get to ask them pretty much whatever I want. Number three, I'm standing on the shoulders of Chris Hardwick, which is always a nice place to be**. 

Most of the episodes are taped, but the season premiere and season finale will be followed by a live show (this is why I can't go to the Denver Comicon, and why I may have to miss GenCon this year.) I really want to say a lot more, but the NDA I have with TNT is terrifying, so I'm going to err on the side of shutting the fuck up, which is a new thing for me.

* I see in comments that you have to be a cable subscriber to get access to the show. Damn. Well, baby steps, I guess.

**I love this guy!!

This is my new show, Tabletop

Last summer, Felicia Day asked me if I wanted to develop a show together for her new premium YouTube channel, Geek and Sundry.

Spoiler alert: I said yes.

She asked me if I wanted to do a show about gaming, maybe a review show or something like that. 

"I think it would be more fun do something where we play games," I said. Then, the light bulb went off.

"Oh my god," I said, "What if we did something that was like Celebrity Poker meets Dinner for Five, where we got interesting people we know together for tabletop games?!"

Felicia thought it sounded awesome, I was really excited about the idea, and we got to work. It took a few months to develop, and in December we finally shot our first block of episodes. In February, we got the band back together and shot another block of episodes, and just last week, I finished locking down the final edits for all the shows (that's why I couldn't come to Wondercon on Friday.)

In season one of the show, we play games like Settlers of Catan, The Last Night on Earth, Munchkin, Small World, and Alhambra. Some of the players include Grant Imahara, Sean Plott (better known as Day[9]), Dodger Leigh, Ryan Higa, Beth Riesgraf, Phil Lamarr, Morgan Webb, Garfunkle and Oats, Veronica Belmont, and Colin Ferguson.

My ulterior motive with Tabletop is to show by example how much fun it is to play boardgames. I want to show that Gamers aren't all a bunch of weirdoes who can't make eye contact when they talk to you, and that getting together for a game night is just as social and awesome as getting together to watch Sportsball, or to play poker, or for a LAN party, or whatever non-gamers do with their friends. I want to inspire people to try hobby games, and I want to remove the stigma associated with gaming and gamers.

I'm pretty sure we succeeded. By the second day of production, our crew was grabbing games out of our games library to play at lunch. All of our interns and production assistants have become complete game fanatics, and whenever I edit a show, all I want to do is go home and play that game until my face falls off.

I hope you'll subscribe to our channel, and please tell your friends about Tabletop.

If Robocop was a bad 80s sit-com

I am easily amused, so earlier today, when my brain said, "You know what would be funny? If there was a Robocop sit-com, where he was always screwing up. Every time he did something, the other officers would put their hands on their hips, cock their heads to one side, and do this sing-songy "Robocop!" catchphrase. Then he'd just shoot everyone."

I mentioned this to Twitter. A few people quickly replied with funny ideas of their own… then I got excited and made a thing:

 

INT POLICE HEADQUARTERS — DAY.

Robocop comes toward camera, doing that weird marching walk thing. He stops in front of a vending machine, and precisely turns to face it.

FLASH TO:

ROBOCOP POV

Through Robocop’s HUD, we see the nutritional information of the various items in the machine as he scans them. A can of soda has a mouse in it, a chocolate bar has traces of cocaine, a bag of chips is actually a bag of fingernails. All that skips by so fast, though, the audience doesn’t really notice it consciously. A crosshairs appears on the HUD and selects a bag of OIL-FLAVORED MICROCHIPS. They’re actual chips, with a cartoony, smiling Robocop drawing on the front. He’s giving a thumbs.

BACK TO SCENE.

Robocop puts a crumpled dollar into the machine, which spits it out. He does this three or four times.

ROBOCOP

Dead or alive, those chips are coming with me.

(Laugh track)

ROBOCOP

Accept my money.

You have ten seconds to comply.

He tries to put the money into the machine. The machine spits it back out.

ROBOCOP

I have ordered you to accept my money.

You have seven seconds to comply.

He tries to put the money into the machine. The machine spits it back out. It falls to the floor.

(Laugh track)

ROBOCOP

You have attempted to assault

a police officer with his own money. 

You are under arrest.

 

An older, grizzled SERGEANT comes out of his office down the hall.

SERGEANT

Robocop, what the hell are you doing?

ROBOCOP

Making an arrest, sir.

The Sergeant rolls his eyes and shakes his head.

SERGEANT

Would you mind tellin’ me how you’re going

to arrest a vending machine?

(Laugh track)

ROBOCOP

By. The. Book.

 (Laugh track)

SERGEANT

Robocop, you crazy. Let me help you.

The Sergeant picks up the dollar bill off the floor. ROBOCOP pulls his gun in a flash! He points it at the sergeant!

ROBOCOP

You are tampering with evidence.

You are under arrest.

 

SERGEANT

You can’t arrest me, Robocop! I’m your boss!

 

ROBOCOP

You. Are. Under. Arrest.

 

SERGEANT

Robocop, I ain’t got time for this. I retire in two days!

(Laugh Track)

ROBOCOP

Arrest. Arrest.

Arrrrrest. Arrrrrreeessst.

 

SERGEANT

(sighs)

Aw, dammit. You’re stuck in a loop. I’d better reset you.

The Sergeant makes a move toward Robocop.

(Audience: Ooohhhhhh!)

The Sergeant puts his hand on Robocop's shoulder. Robocop snaps out of it.

ROBOCOP 

Assault on an officer.

Use of deadly force is authorized.

Robocop shoots about a thousand bullets into the Sergeant, blowing him across the hallway where hits the wall and slides to the floor, leaving streaks of blood behind.

SERGEANT

(gasping, dying, yet somehow still alive)

Dammit… Robocop… I had…

two days… until… retirement.

The Sergeant dies.

 

ROBOCOP

Thank you for your cooperation.

I am not arresting you any more.

(Laugh track, cheers.)

Dozens of officers rush into hallway, stopping short of the grisly scene. They look at Robocop, incredulous. Robocop turns back to the vending machine.

ROBOCOP

Your move, dirtbag.

Suddenly, the bag of chips drops from the vending machine for some reason, startling Robocop. He whirls toward it and destroys it in a hail of epic gunfire.

POLICE OFFICERS

(sing song, in unison)

Robocop!

Robocop turns to the camera and innocently shrugs.

FREEZE FRAME as the synth-tastic theme music plays.

(Audience cheers)

 

I’m on a boat: Stupid Cell Phone Videos

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

Today, I'm linking to the first stupid cellphone videos I did. If you're as easily amused as I am, you can watch them all on my YouTube channel.

We Can't Rewind, We've Gone Too Far

Originally published September 2010.

I'm home for a few days before I go back to Vancouver to finish out the season on Eureka. It's nice to sleep in my own bed, actually see my family, and work in my actual office, instead of sitting at a desk in a hotel.

Doctor Parrish was very heavy in the last episode I shot, so I worked 5 of 6 days, an average of 14 hours each day. It was exhausting work, but I loved every second of it. I wish I could get into the details of it, but that is right in the middle of Spoilertown, so I'll just say that it was a lot of fun, and I got to do a lot of origami.

There's this saying, possibly apocryphal, that actors work for free and get paid to wait. One of my days last week, I was called to the studio early, and then ended up not working for about seven hours. This sometimes happens when the scene before me takes longer than anyone expected, or it turns out that they're not going to see me in the background of a shot like they thought. Rookie actors tend to bitch about this sort of thing, but salty veterans like me have learned to be grateful for the job, appreciate that I'm getting paid to wait, and pack a Bag of holding that's filled with books and games and diversions. (Back in the old days, I'd bring tons of stuff, but now I just bring my iPad and a book.)

On this particular day, I played the hell out of Plants Vs. Zombies HD, re-read Metatropolis, spent some time looking for the end of the Internet, and actually started to get bored.

Once I started to get bored, my brain spit out an idea, that went something like this: "Hey, your cell phone has a video camera on it. You should make stupid videos with it, and upload them to YouTube!"

This sounded like a brilliantly stupid idea, so I did as my brain commanded, producing this:

I told Twitter about it, and there was much rejoicing. A few hours later, I did this:

Then I was finally called to set, where I was no longer bored, and my cretive energy was directed into the very useful and productive task of bringing Doctor Parrish to life.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that my stupid videos had been viewed about 7,000 times. "See, we're entertaining more people than just ourselves," my brain said, "let's make more stupid cell phone videos!"

"Yes, sir, Mister Brain," I said. I enlisted the help of some friends, and made this:

I don't know how long this will last, but it's easy, it's amusing to me, and it's a lot of stupid fun, so I'll keep doing it until I lose interest or get distracted and chase a red balloon down the street. If you want to see these stupid things as they become available, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel.

 

I’m on a boat: On the Delivery of Technobabble

I’m on JoCoCruiseCrazy 2, and I’m taking an Internet vacation until I get home. So every day while I’m gone, something from my archives will post here automatically, for your entertainment. I had a lot of fun picking these different things out, and I hope you enjoy them again, or for the first time.

On the Delivery of Technobabble

Originally published May 2011.

I was in three scenes yesterday, one of which contained a massive amount of technobabble.

For those who don't know what that is: on a sci-fi show, technobabble is what we call pseudoscientific dialog like "I'll have to run a level four diagnostic on the antimatter inversion matrix to be sure." It's pretty much the worst dialog an actor can have to deliver on a show, because it's rarely connected to anything in reality, and if we're talking about the inertial dampeners in a scene, we're pretty much infodumping to the audience, instead of doing something interesting with our characters.

…or so I thought until yesterday.

The thing about technobabble is that it isn't usually connected to reality. By that, I mean that though it does follow the logical rules of the show's universe, and references things the fans know about, for most actors, it's like being asked to perform in a foreign language that you barely understand (if you understand it at all.)

The other thing about technobabble is that the character delivering it is supposed to be an expert on the subject, and should have a point of view about it that stays alive through the whole scene. For example, maybe Doctor Hoobajoo is the leading expert in the galaxy on ion resonance within the subspace induction processor core, so when Doctor Hoobajoo talks about that subject, she's an expert. You can't ask her a single question about the subspace induction processor core that she can't answer. But for the actor playing Doctor Hoobajoo, she has to deliver a bunch of dialog based on something that doesn't even exist as if she's been studying it her whole life.

This is a tremendous challenge for the actor, because, unlike normal dialog that comes from an emotional place, technobabble comes from memories that don't exist. While the actor who plays Doctor Hoobajoo can draw on the emotional memory of being betrayed, or being afraid, or being in love to inform a scene, she can't draw on the memory of studying and mastering the twin fields of ion resonance and subspace induction. As an actor, it's easy to fall into the trap of delivering technobabble by rote, and for a lot of us, it's the only way we can remember those lines at all.

But sometimes, a scene is emotionally important, and is filled with technobabble. That's just the reality of working in science fiction. So when Doctor Hoobajoo is trapped in the power conduit with Commander Framitz, her former lover from her first deployment who left her for an android, and can only save them from certain depolarizaion by repairing a malfunction in the subspace induction processor core, the actor has a lot of work to do. Not only does the actor have to be an expert who can solve the problem and save their lives, she has to be emotionally connected to the scene and the history between the two characters. Oh, and she has to remember that the stakes in this case are pretty high. And she has to do this over and over again for several hours, during the master shot, the VFX shots, and all the coverage.

Boy, writing those three paragraphs just exhausted me. I'll be back in a little bit.

Okay, some coffee and steel cut oats seem to have revitalized me, so I can get to my point now, about what I realized yesterday:

I had a scene that was almost entirely technobabble. It sets up a lot of the action for the episode, tells the audience what's at stake, and gets them excited enough to sit through commercials for MegaSomething versus Giant Other Thing to find out what happens next. I drove the scene. Everyone else was reacting to me and the information I gave them, and I think I had one line in two pages that wasn't technobabble. It was challenging, and I knew from experience that I was going to have trouble remembering the jargon, so I did a lot of extra homework to make sure I was totally prepared. 

As I did my preparation, I realized that while the technobabble is just a dump of information, it's information that Doctor Parrish has an opinion about. The function of the scene is to get the action going and give the audience some important information, but that doesn't mean it has to be an infodump. The way Doctor Parrish feels about the other characters affects the way he talks with them regardless of the words. It affects who he chooses to give certain bits of information to, and it affects how he delivers the information. So I found ways to be emotionally connected to the scene and the characters, while caring about the information I was giving them, so it wasn't an infodump. A scene that could have been tedious and boring became a scene that was a lot of fun to perform.

Still, it was really hard to remember all the technobabble I had, and at one point, when I blanked on a line, my Star Trek skills automatically sprung to life, went into failsafe mode, and made me say "blah blah emit blah pulse blah blah blah." (The fun of technobabble is that a lot of the words are interchangeable. The frustration of technobabble is that we can't paraphrase or use any of the interchangeable words, because a subspace matrix is different from a subspace array.)

It honestly could have been boring and exhausting to spend much of a day delivering technobabble, but when I realized that I could keep it interesting by endowing the technobabble with emotional resonance, the whole thing came to life in a surprising and unexpected way. It was like I'd detected anomalies in the starboard neutrino emitter, and instead of adjusting the warp plasma induction subroutine to compensate for multiadaptive fluctuations, like you'd usually do, I thought about it, and equalized the portable phase transmission with a self-sealing warp core transmuter.

I know, right? I bet you never thought to do it that way. Well, I did, and it worked.