What I Read July 2020

I spent the whole month studying for the bar exam, so not a lot of reading happened. I finished up a couple of books I mostly read in June and that’s about it. Next month hopefully I can read more.

The Color of Law

Richard Rothstein

This book is infuriating. Not because it was poorly written, but because the truth of the law and history it explicates is so frustrating. I don’t know what I have to say about it. I think it is an important book, one that people should read if they want to understand why certain things in the US are the way they are. The Color of Law lays out the stark reality of how racism has embedded itself in the history of American housing policy. The fact is that policies like segregation were deliberate government policy, and remained such long after most people think that stopped.

Cold Magic

Kate Elliott

I was a little disappointed with this. Mostly because it was sold to me as a mix of a Gothic romance and a fantasy, but I don’t think it really delivered on the romance part. It starts with a very romance-y set up, with protagonist Cat forced into marriage with a mage by her aunt and uncle. Her parents died when she was young, so she was raised with her uncle’s family. While it starts with that romance but, the whole novel doesn’t really slow down enough at any point to let the reader get comfortable with its characters. It kind of follows the outline. At first her new husband is short and peremptory, quickly rushing her from place to place and seeming completely unrelatable. That facade starts to crumble the further on they get, and protagonist Cat starts to show her mettle.

Still, I enjoyed this book well enough. Elliott sets up a very interesting world and some interesting characters. It is just that this book seemed to end just as the revelations were starting. I am already on to the sequel; hopefully it follows through well after this fine but introductory feeling first volume.

What I Watched July 2020


Godzilla: King of the Monsters – I don’t think my thoughts have changed since first seeing this last year. I find it delightfully ludicrous. ****

Scoob – This certainly was a choice. I would be more than happy to watch a Scooby-Doo movie. It has a brief origin story, unnecessary but inconsequential. The stranger choice was to use the Scooby-Doo characters to try to springboard a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe. Not just bringing in some other HB characters, but making it as much a Dynomutt and Blue Falcon movie as a Scooby-Doo movie. It doesn’t quite work, but there are still things to enjoy about it. **1/2

Ford v Ferrari – Another rewatch. This is still a very entertaining film. Just a solid and well-made movie; proficient in every way. For me it lacks the tiniest thing to take it from a movie I really enjoy and respect to one I love, but I was more than happy to watch it again. ****1/2

Hot Rod – Still one of my favorite comedies of the 00s. I can watch this any time. *****

Palm Springs – review coming, I swear ****1/2

The Old Guard – review coming, I swear ****

Three Musketeers – This is the 90’s Disney version of this movie. It is not as good as I remember it being. The fencing is not as good as I remember and the movie, though it tries very hard, is not as ‘cool’ as it wants to be. Still, I generally enjoyed it, and it is hard to not enjoy Tim Curry having as much fun as he was here. ***

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace – I think I liked this movie on this watch more than I ever have before. All it took was challenging some of the common criticisms I’ve seen of it and actually experiencing a truly bad Star Wars movie. I am thinking of doing some Star Wars posts, maybe one for each of the trilogies, but for Episode 1 two things stood out to me. The first is how great a character Qui-Gon Jinn is and how tragic his death is at the end of this movie. The other is just how much of a discordant miscalculation Jar Jar is. I see how Jar Jar is intended to be this replacement for C-3P0 and a bit of Chewbacca, but there is simply too much of him and he constantly draws negative attention to himself. Still, I really liked the movie. ****

Jaws – This is a perfect movie. I can always watch Jaws. *****


Star Trek Deep Space Nine S3-4 – I was not fully in on this show early. It was darker than I wanted out of Star Trek and honestly, the cast did not grab me initially. But the show really finds some depth as it goes on, and through three full seasons has continued to get better and the addition of Worf in season 4 brings in a well liked old friend. The Past Tense two-parter in Season 3 is among the prescient sci-fi I’ve ever seen. I hope to get through the back half of this show pretty quickly.

Better off Ted – An old favorite. This is a show that should be rated up there with Arrested Development and 30 Rock as great shows of the 00s, but I don’t think near enough people have watched it. I’ve written about it before, and I don’t have anything new to say. It is a great show.

Home Movies – HBO Max has Home Movies. That almost justifies a subscription for me. This show, something of a predecessor to Bob’s Burgers. I know I’ve written about this show before. It is one of my all-time favorites and was really easy to just put on in the background as I did other things.

Brave New World – Peacock’s prestige launch show seems to have gotten a pretty mixed reaction, but I really enjoyed it. It does its best to stay true to the source material while both adapting it to a new medium and making its future fit a little more sensibly with the now. It takes a little bit to find its grove, but eventually it really finds itself. I think I need to do a full rewatch to make sure I fully understood what I watched, as much because I watched while distracted as because of any real complexity of the show, but there is complexity there. I especially like Alden Ehrenreich, who is the closest thing to an audience stand in as the newcomer to New London, but is far enough from any real connection to the viewer. His is not the greatest journey on the show, but his relative relatability works to compare the journeys of the other against. I think the show works really well, and hope it gets another season or so to tell its story.

Columbo S6-9 – Yeah, Columbo is great. I’ve transitioned from the original run to the revival, but the show doesn’t miss a step. I could watch Peter Falk as Columbo forever.

Now Playing July 2020


Final Fantasy Tactics Advance – full post coming soon. I don’t know that I am going to work it into my post about the same so this feels like a good place to explore my history with it. I was a huge fan of Final Fantasy Tactics. I had never previously encountered any kind of strategy rpg and was only vaguely familiar with the Final Fantasy job system before I stumbled upon a copy of FFT. I didn’t even own my own PS1 at the time, I had traded my cousin for my N64 for a couple of weeks. I instantly fell in love. When I heard that not only was Square coming back to Nintendo consoles, but they were doing so with a portable FFT follow up, I was over the moon. At first I was very resistant to the changes it made to the game, but I still enjoyed it. Enjoyed it enough that I snuck my GBA into school and played it behind my algebra book during class. I didn’t beat it, though. Sharing one copy of the game and one system between several brothers was a problem and my save got lost along the way several times. Despite being generally familiar with the game and having made attempts to play it numerous times in the last 15 years, this was the first time I actually beat it.


Final Fantasy 9 – I broke down and bought this for my Switch, about two days before it went on sale. I have since played through the first couple of hours. Final Fantasy 9 has long been a favorite of mine and I am enjoying this so far. I’m happy to have the port, but I wish it could get a fuller remake/release to fix some of the problems that are kind of inherent in designing around the limitations of the PS1 that it was pushing against.


Fire Emblem Three Houses – This is my reward for myself for taking the bar exam. I intend to get started and get into it real soon.

Yakuza 4 – I started this a little bit ago, and I want to get back to it. I don’t really think too highly of this particular entry in the series, but maybe a replay will change my mind. I will also probably move on to its sequel.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered – It doesn’t hit until late in the month, but I will be playing it.

More Final Fantasy – I’ve got FF9 going, FF7 about halfway done, I started FF2 a few months ago and made some progress, and a big plan to replay the whole series. I will keep working on that.

What I Read June 2020

Four books in June, and a good mix of genres and tones. It feels good to be back on pace.

A Memory Called Empire

Arkady Martine

Set in a vast, aging space Empire, A Memory Called Empire follows a new ambassador, Mahit, from an independent space station coming to the Teixcalaanli Empire to assume the place of her recently deceased predecessor. She has trouble adapting to her new post. Part of it is the suddenness of her having to assume that role. The bigger part of the problem is that her home station has technology to implant the memories and expertise of people’s predecessors in their minds, and Mahit is going in blind. It is especially hard because she has to keep the existence of that technology secret, unless her predecessor has already spilled everything.

Mahit is thrust into a swirling mix of colonial condescension, succession politics, and general intrigue. She has few, if any, allies and no real idea what is going on. She spent her life on her home station training for this job and learning all she could about the Teixcalaanli, but still when she gets there she is clearly an outsider. The book has her navigating these fraught waters just as the entire political makeup of the empire is starting to come apart, as the Emperor is getting old and someone will have to replace him. It is heady, heavy stuff, but wrapped in a propulsive thriller plot. I am eagerly awaiting the follow up.

Shades of Grey

Jasper Fforde

I wrote a whole thing about this book already. It is definitely one of my favorites.

In Farleigh Field

Rhys Bowen

This is kind of a spy/mystery set during WWII. At Farleigh Place, the home of Lord Westerfield and his family, an airman’s parachute fails to open and he falls to his death. This is tragic, of course, but it also opens up a mystery because no one seems to know what regiment the man is from. The family’s daughters are spread around, one still living in Paris, trapped there while studying when the war began. The youngest is the one who stumbled upon the body in the field. Another, Pamela, is aiding the war effort in London. Family friend Ben Cresswell, injured himself as a young man, works for MI5 and is tasked with finding a German spy in Britain. That search ends up bringing him close to home.

There is the mystery of the spy and the dead man. There is also a romance between Ben and Pamela and Jeremy, an RAF hero pilot. There is some more political and family stuff in the background. It is a book with a lot going on, but none of it hits quite as hard as it could. It all feels just a little vague or insubstantial. Still, the central characters are likable enough. I’m trying not to spoil anything, but the answers are a little too obvious from the start, taking any kind of surprise out of the mystery. Still, for a bit of light reading I enjoyed it enough.

Flinx in Flux

Alan Dean Foster

Flinx in Flux is one of a series of space adventures following a young man named Flinx. He has a telepathic collection with some kind of venom spitting, flying space snake. In this book, he encounters a young woman almost dead in the wild and tries to help her get back to safety. She is being hunted by some ecological terrorists who want her for her ‘gengineering’ expertise. That expertise makes Flinx wary, since he was genetically engineered, which is why he has telepathic powers and that is why he is not of the practice. Still, a bond forms between him and the woman, Clarity, as he tries to get her back home.

The book didn’t really do anything for me. The ideas it explores are not ones that greatly interest me. The adventure parts are fine, I guess. I assume that if someone read the whole series perhaps they would have greater affection for the characters and perhaps a greater interest in the setting. As it is, it is a perfectly fine piece of science fiction.


For the better part of a decade, NBC consistently aired a handful of all-time great sitcoms all on the same night. Starting with The Office in 2005 until Parks & Rec ended in 2015, sitcom greatness aired on Thursday nights on NBC. The Office, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and Community are all held up as exemplars of the form. As someone who was a big fan of three of those shows while they were airing, I somehow managed to never really watch Community. That is an oversight I’ve fixed over the last few weeks. I have friends and acquaintances who maintain that Community among the sitcom greats. After watching the whole series, I can’t agree. Among NBC shows of the time, I would rate it fifth, below the three previously mentioned shows and the criminally underrated My Name Is Earl.

Despite my reservations about the show, the first two seasons are really good. The cast and concept are impeccable. The show manages an excellent balance of high concept explorations of genre and character development. Really, the cast is what really pushes the show over the top. I am not going to go into everyone individually, but there is not really a weak link there. It gives a solid reason to gather this disparate group of characters and builds a compelling world for them to inhabit.

Then season 3 happened and the wheels promptly fell off. There is the occasional episode that shows the greatness present in the first two seasons, even surpassing it at times. Most of the season, though, has this feeling of sweaty desperation to it. In contrast with a show like Parks & Rec, which took two seasons to really find its footing, Community hit the ground running early but seems to have run out of gas by this third season. The characters get pushed further and further, and they start to fray. Character is sacrificed for the plot. Their relationships and mannerisms seem at least partly determined by the needs of the episode. If someone needs to act out of character to make an episode work, then that is what they do. That doesn’t mean there isn’t the occasional excellent episode, but you can feel the show straining.

Honestly, even if you had no idea about the turmoil going on with the show I think most viewers would pick up on the fact that something is not right in season 3-5. I include season 3 in with the troubled seasons, though I know many people count it among Community’s ‘great’ seasons. The behind the scenes troubles are well documented and come across in the show. Creator Dan Harmon did not return for season 4, in part because of conflicts with Chevy Chase. Chase had conflicts again and left during the next season. After that, Harmon returned. Then Donald Glover left early in the fifth season, though it seems his departure was amicable. While nearly everything about Chevy Chase’s career paints him as difficult to work with, I understand why he was not happy on this show. Not only is he stuck playing seventh banana on the show, his character is also hated by the rest of the cast and stupid racist. As the first three seasons go on, his character pushes deeper and deeper into his worst traits. A justifiable character development choice, but likely not a fun one for Chase. Season 4, other than leaning hard into the racism at times, actually lets him be the wise elder figure that usually uses him to mock. I’ll have some more to say about season 4 further on. With season 5, the show comes off pretty mean spirited, dumping on the whole previous season and on Chase personally.

The accepted narrative about this show is that season 4 is the weakest season, and it found itself again once Harmon returned. Maybe it is just a symptom of how the show does not quite work for me the way it does for its fans, but I think season 4 is better than the seasons that surround it. Season 3, as I said above, is a sweaty mess. Season 5 has some highlights, but struggles with how the show has really pushed beyond its original concept. And season 6, while largely enjoyable, feels like it has lost too much to be the same show it started as.

My real problem with Community, why I think of it as fine more than great, is that I just never really connected with the characters. The show, especially from season 3 on, seemed to treat the characters with contempt. And if the viewer was dumb enough to care about the characters, the show had some contempt for thta viewer as well. It is an understandable tough task to fit the characters into the shows frequent parodies and homages and keep them as distinct and clear. Instead, they become one or two traits that are hammered on repeatedly.

I feel like I’ve been pretty negative writing about this show, which is honestly not how I think about it. I really liked it in the first two seasons. After that, when it was good it was still really good. It is just that the quality was so variable. And the bad episodes are degrees worse than any of its NBC contemporaries. The post-Carell seasons of The Office are more enjoyable than the bad parts of Community. The show is really harmed by the inevitable comparisons to the shows that aired at the same time. Still, it is leagues better than anything on CBS. Community is a good show that doesn’t quite stand with the giants.