KRISTEN VALENTINE

Reader | Writer | Bourbon drinker | Author of Gone Cold.

Reader | Writer | Bourbon drinker  Author of Gone Cold. 

Time warp

I feel like this summer is flying by. I guess it always does, but this year it seems compounded by the vacation-followed-by-moving time warp. But I've also been pretty busy:

• Finished a new short story, "Infinity Sky," which I'm pretty excited about. This one one of those completely fulfilling writer moments, because I started this story a few years ago but couldn't get it to work: an aging rock star finds herself playing at a wedding reception and then getting mixed up in some shady business at the hotel. Then, when I saw that Grift magazine's next issue has a music theme, it all clicked into place. I submitted yesterday--we'll see. If I start writing something and abandon it, no matter how much I like it, I can almost never go back and finish. So this is especially sweet.

• Sent out The Highest Order of Angels to about twenty literary agents. Still waiting to hear back from most. I did this mainly as an experiment, because I'm totally happy with being an indie, self-published author, but I wanted to see what the experience would be like.

• Continued hate-watching Taxi Brooklyn, because I have a problem. This week's episode only featured one on-screen Surface (the tablet for people who hate fun), but they actually went for something way more blatant;

Yes, I replayed it on Hulu just so I could record this gem with my 16gb iPhone 5. (See what I did there?) There is something so awkward about how they wrote this in. It would already be suspicious if they just name-checked the Surface, given that the show's premiere was basically one long Surface commercial as it is. But the way this character says, "my Surface tablet" instead of just "my Surface" or "my tablet" seems to simultaneously convey that the show doesn't care how obvious the product placement appears, and that they're worried the Surface doesn't have enough cred for viewers to even know what it is. I mean, I think it's believable enough for a person to namecheck electronics, a la my Galaxy, my Wii, my iPad. But I don't think anyone would realistically say "my iPad tablet." Oh, but don't worry, this particular Surface turned out to be a clue in the show--they also managed to plug the fact that you can get something engraved on the back of one, should you dislike someone enough to give them one as a gift.

• Read Steven James' excellent Story Trumps Structure, which is basically a writing craft book for people who hate craft books. James advocates intuitive, "organic" writing rather that highly methodical, organized plot outlines and characterization exercises. I loved this, because nothing can kill my enthusiasm for a project quite like outlining it before I write it. Plus, unless you're writing a series with all the same characters, you can't know what someone will do or how the characters will feel until you spend time writing them--so in this way, rigidly conforming to an outline that you created before you started writing might actually keep you from seeing how the characters really should behave. Anyway, that's always been my experience, and why I usually hate craft books. James is a suspense writer, which is pretty clear throughout this book because many of his examples relate specifically to the suspense genre, but Story Trumps Structure is worth a read whether or not you're a suspense writer, whether you're an outliner or an intuitive writer, because it does give chapter after chapter of tips on how to create natural, compelling fiction without just "winging it." Especially useful is his advice on "character status" (here's a teaser--read #6)

(The writers of Taxi Brooklyn could learn a thing or two about status, quite frankly).

 

Surface Cop Cab

Let's talk television for a moment, shall we? There are many ways you can enjoy a TV show. You can love it more than life itself (Mad Men, The Wire), you can get pretty excited when your coworkers start talking about it (House of Cards), you can look up with a bit of interest when you find it on air without necessarily wanting to put down the book you're reading (Motive, Castle), you can continue to claim you like it in homage to the fine show it once was (Law & Order), or you can watch it religiously just to make fun of it. Now, come on, you know you've reveled in some so-bad-it's-good hate-watching before. (I have to admit that sometimes, I enjoy hate-watching something more than watching something better in earnest. You too, right? I won't tell anyone if you won't.) 

Chicago Fire is a current hate-watch favorite of mine. It's a perfect example of pure C-list entertainment: beautiful people, cheap daredevil thrills, soap-opera drama, and every single episode features at least one important personal conversation getting interrupted by the station house alarm bell. Chicago Fire doesn't take itself too seriously. It doesn't pretend to be the next great American TV drama. It just embraces its own mediocrity, and I love it for that.

But Chicago Fire is on summer hiatus, so there has been a hate-watching void in my life. That's why I was so excited when I saw a preview for a new NBC "action-comedy," Taxi Brooklyn. Based on a French movie from the nineties, the premise of the show is this: Detective Cat Sullivan is such a terrible driver that her captain takes away her license. She then must rely on Leo, a French cab driver, for transportation while she solves crimes, evades her FBI-agent ex-husband, deals with her free-spirited mother, and attempts to solve the murder of her father.

It looked like it would be complete nonsense, and it is. Oh, God, is it ever. From its awkward title,, to its terrible acting and writing, to its use of gimmicks like text messages, stopwatches, and yellow motion-type lines popping up on the screen, the show is a just train wreck. It is far, far worse than Chicago Fire, dangerously close to veering out of so-bad-it's-good territory and directly into bad. (Variety hates it too, for what it's worth.) It also seems to borrow heavily from Castle: spunky lady detective, bizarre arrangement with jokester partner who is not a cop, obsession with the murder of a parent? Sounds familiar.

But beyond all of that, something weird and sinister lurks in its heart: it's also basically an hour-long commercial for the Microsoft Surface tablet. No, really. I would not be surprised if the entire show was developed by Microsoft in the first place (in about five minutes in a cab on the way to the meeting with NBC, naturally). They probably wanted to call it Surface Cop Cab but someone in development talked them down (I, however, plan to call the show Surface Cop Cab in my own head forever). Here's a selection of gratuitous Surface shots from the pilot:

Less than 1 minute into the show.

Less than 1 minute into the show.

The Surface is extremely useful when you're being carjacked. 

The Surface is extremely useful when you're being carjacked. 

In case you weren't sure if this is a Surface or not, they show us the home screen again.

In case you weren't sure if this is a Surface or not, they show us the home screen again.

This is the Subtle Surface treatment.

This is the Subtle Surface treatment.

Surface Skype call! 

Surface Skype call! 

Another Subtle Surface. See it? 

Another Subtle Surface. See it? 

Oh snap, now it's over there!

Oh snap, now it's over there!

Surface in a cemetery.

Surface in a cemetery.

Martini shot.

Martini shot.

This is weird, right? Given that the show is only 42 minutes long minus actual commercials (and,  of course, every break did indeed contain an actual Surface commercial), that's less than 5 minutes of show for each time the Surface appears. There are actually more Surface sightings than there are clues!

The show's second episode reigned in the Surface porn, showing it only 3 times. But this time there were gratuitous shots of what can only be a Windows phone.

I can't imagine this show will be long for this world. If it aspires to be inconsequentially amusing, like Castle, it's missing a few notable elements: watchable acting, sexual tension between the stars, Nathan Fillion's ceaseless charm (although, to be fair, Jacky Ido as Leo the cab driver is easy on the eyes himself and is definitely the best part of Taxi Brooklyn). Cat Sullivan is hugely unlikable--rather than "spunky" or "feisty," she comes across as disagreeable and mean. She's also a terrible detective: two armored car drivers get shot right next to her while she is bitching on the phone to someone about her crappy cell signal. Thank God she has the Surface to solve her cases for her. 

If you haven't seen it yet, treat yo' self. If you happen to own a Surface, though, you probably should watch, lest it create some kind of Surface Inception.

Does it even need to be said? I'm a Mac girl :)