Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, the New Series Starring Bryan Cranston, Anna Paquin & Steve Buscemi, Now Streaming Free on Amazon Prime

Do I like Philip K. Dick? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Honestly, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to answer such questions about the subjective experience of artificial beings. But I know for certain that I like Philip K. Dick. Deeply admire, respect, fear, even… there are many words I could use to describe the way I feel about his imagination and vision. And I could say much the same about the film adaptations of Dick’s work, up to and including Blade Runner 2049, which wasn’t as visually overwhelming on the small screen after its release on streaming video but still as emotionally captivating in its narrative, pacing, score, and director Denis Villeneuve’s fidelity to, and expansion of, the original film’s use of color and monumental, future-brutalist architecture to tell a story.

Though he very much wanted to break out of science fiction and achieve the status of a “literary” writer—the distinctions in his day being much harder and faster—Dick’s fiction has provided the ultimate source for the cinematic sci-fi epic for several decades now, and shows little sign of falling out of favor. The commercial and creative question seems to be not whether Dick’s stories still resonate, but whether they translate to television as brilliantly as they do to film. Critical opinion can sharply divide on Amazon’s adaptation of Dick’s alternative history novel The Man in the High Castle (about a world in which the Axis powers triumphed), which might be “ponderous,” “boring,” and—in its second season—“the worst TV show of the year,” or “the second best show Amazon has ever made.”

How much this latter judgment conveys depends upon how highly, on the whole, one rates the quality of programming from that corporate mega-juggernaut threatening to overtake nearly every aspect of consumer culture. To say that I find it ironic that such an entity possesses not only one Philip K. Dick property, but now two, with its latest Dick-inspired anthology show Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, would be to grossly understate the case. The author who imagined an intrusive internet of things and a dystopian world where advertisements appear in our minds might also find this situation somewhat… Dick-ian (Dick-like? Dick-ish?). But such is the world we live in. Putting these ironies aside, let’s revisit the question: do Dick's stories work as well on TV as they do on film?

Find out for yourself. The first season of Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams is now streaming on Amazon (see the trailer above), and you can either purchase it by episode, or binge-stream the whole thing gratis with a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime. Given that the series, which adapts stories from a collection of the same title, is not the product of one singular vision but a different creative team each time, you may agree with Evan Narcisse at Gizmodo, who writes that the episodes “don’t just vary in aesthetics; they vary widely in quality.” It has a star-studded cast—including Anna Paquin, Janelle Monae, Terrance Howard, Steve Buscemi, and Bryan Cranston (who co-produced)—and some impressive production values.

But Electric Dreams also has a significant challenge set before it: “to show both new viewers and conversant fans why Dick’s oeuvre matters, which is hard in a world where we’re eerily close to some of his fictional realities.” Indeed—as we ponder whether we might be characters in a simulated reality, our thoughts and beliefs manipulated by powerful companies like those in Dick’s unsettling Ubik—watching the show might add yet another layer of bewilderment to the already very strange experience of everyday life these days. But then again, “if you feel weirded out while watching, that just means the show is doing its job.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Binge-Watch Carl Sagan’s Original Cosmos Series Free Online (Available for a Limited Time)

FYI. Carl Sagan's 13-episode series Cosmos originally aired in 1980 and became one of the most widely watched series in the history of American public TV. The show also won two Emmys and a Peabody Award.

Right now, you can watch the original Cosmos episodes over on Twitch.TV. From time to time, Twitch airs marathon sessions of old programs. They did Julia Child's "The French Chef" back in 2016. Now it's Sagan's turn.

Usually the videos are only available for a few days. So you might want to start your binge-watching session now. If you miss the boat, you could always pick up a copy of the show on Blu-Ray.

Twitch.TV originally aired the Cosmos series last spring as part of a Science Week celebration. Read their press release for more information.

Update: Neil deGrasse Tyson just coincidentally announced this on Twitter: "Yup. We got the band back together. Another season of Cosmos is officially real. COSMOS: Possible Worlds To air on & in a year — Spring 2019. Be there."

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via BigThink

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Watch an Episode of TV-CBGB, the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Sitcom Ever Aired on Cable TV (1981)

For a good long while, or at least a few decades, the best things on TV in the U.S. happened outside the major broadcast and national cable networks. And like a great many other cultural happenings of the previous century, you would have to live in New York to experience them. I mean, of course, the weird, wonderful world of Manhattan public access cable TV. Here you could watch, for example, Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, created by the titular host as “a drug-fueled re-interpretation of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy After Dark”—as we noted in a recent post—and featuring the most cutting-edge artists and musicians of the day.

Around the same time, Andy Warhol conducted his version of a celebrity interview show on local cable, and as the banal infotainment of daytime talk show and 24-hour-cable news developed on mainstream TV, a dozen bizarre, hilarious, raunchy, and ridiculous interview and call-in shows took hold on New York cable access in the years to follow (some of them still exist).

I happened to catch the tail end of this golden era, which tapered off in the nineties as the internet took over for the communities these shows served. But oh, what it must have been like to watch the thriving downtown scene document itself on TV from week-to-week, alongside the legendarily flamboyant Manhattan subcultures that found their voices on cable access?

Quite a few people remember it well, and were thrilled when the video at the top emerged from obscurity: an episode of TV-CBGB shot in 1981, “an odd glimpse,” writes Martin Schneider at Dangerous Minds, “of a CBGB identity that never took shape, as a cable access mainstay.” It is unclear how many episodes of the show were shot, or aired, or still exist in some form, but what we do have above seems representative, according to two Billboard articles describing the show. The first, from July 11, 1981, called the project “the first rock’n’roll situation comedy on cable television.”

Created by CBGBs owner, Hilly Kristal, the show aimed to give viewers slices of life from the Bowery institution, which was already famous, according to Billboard, as “the club that pioneered new music.” Kristal told the trade magazine, “There will always be a plot, though a simple plot. It will be about what happens in the club, or what could happen.” He then goes on to describe a series of plot ideas which, thankfully, didn’t dominate the show—or at least what we see of it above. The episode is “90% performance," though "not true concert footage,” Schneider writes.

After an odd opening intro, we’re thrown into a song from Idiot Savant. Other acts include The Roustabouts, The Hard, Jo Marshall, Shrapnel, and Sic Fucks. While not among the best or most well-known to play at the club, these bands put on some excellent performances. By November of the following year, it seems the first episode had still not yet aired. Billboard quotes Kristal as calling TV-CBGB “one step further in exposing new talent. Radio and regular tv aren’t doing it. MTV is good, but it’s showing mostly top 40.”

Had the show migrated to MTV, Schneider speculates, it might have become a “national TV icon,” fulfilling Kristal’s vision for a new means of bringing obscure downtown New York musicians to the world at large. It might have worked. Though the sketches are lackluster, notable as historical curiosities, the music is what makes it worthwhile, and there’s some really fun stuff here—vital and dramatic. While these bands may not have had the mass appeal of, say, Blondie or the Ramones, they were stalwarts of the early 80s CBGB scene.

The awkward, strangely earnest, and often downright goofy skits portraying the goings-on in the lives of club regulars and employees are both somehow touching and tedious, but with a little polish and better direction, the whole thing might have played like a punk rock version of Fame—which maybe no one needed. As it stands, given the enthusiasm of several YouTube commenters who claim to have watched it at the time or been in the club themselves, the episode constitutes a strange and rare document of what was, if not what could have been.

via Dangerous Minds

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Ian McKellen Recites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, Backed by Garage Rock Band, the Fleshtones, on Andy Warhol’s MTV Variety Show (1987)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Every Episode of Bob Ross’ The Joy Of Painting Free Online: 403 Episodes Spanning 31 Seasons

Whether your New Year’s resolution involves taking up painting, managing stress, cultivating a more positive outlook, or building a business empire, the late television artist Bob Ross can help you stick it out.

Like Fred Rogers’ Mr Rogers' Neighborhood, Ross’ long-running PBS show, The Joy of Painting, did not disappear from view following its creator’s demise. For over twenty years, new fans have continued to seek out the half-hour long instructional videos, along with its mesmerizingly mellow, easily spoofed host.

Now all 403 episodes have been made available for free on Ross’ official Youtube channel. That covers all 31 seasons.

It’s said that 90% of the regular viewers tuning in to watch Ross crank out his signature “wet-on-wet” landscapes never took up a brush, despite his belief that, with a bit of encouragement, anyone can paint.

Perhaps they preferred sad clowns or big-eyed children to scenic landscapes of the sort that would not have looked out of place in a 1970's motel.... Or perhaps Ross, himself, was the big draw.

Like Mister Rogers, Ross spoke softly, using direct address to create an impression of intimacy between himself and the viewer. Twenty years in the military had soured him on barked-out, rigid instructions. Instead, Ross reassured less experienced painters that the 16th-century ”Alla Prima” technique he brought to the masses could never result in mistakes, only “happy accidents.” He was patient and kind and he didn't take his own abilities too seriously, though he seemed like he would certainly have taken pleasure in yours.

Ross' Land of Make Believe was a character-free natural world, in which many of the same elements appear over and over.  According to Five Thirty Eight culture editor Walt Hickey’s statistical analysis, trees reigned supreme. The real life landscapes he observed as first sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Clinic at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska became his lifelong subject, and by extension, that of untold numbers of home viewers.

His devotees may be content just seeing "happy little trees” and "pretty little mountains” bloom on canvas, but in an interview with NPR, Ross’ business partner, Annette Kowalski, suggests that he would not have been.

The gentle, forest-and-cloud-loving host was also an ambitious and highly focused businessman, who used TV as the medium for his success. Every folksy comment was rehearsed before filming and he stuck with the permed hairdo he loathed, rather than scrapping what had become a highly visual brand identifier.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Watch all 31 seasons of Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting here, or right here on this page. Official Bob Ross painting kits are widely available online, or source your own using a cobbled together supply list.

Season Three

Season Four

Season Five

Season Six

We will continuing adding seasons to this list as they become available.

Season Seven

Season Eight

Season Nine

Season Ten

Season 11

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14

Season 15

Season 16

Season 17

Season 18

Season 19

Season 20

Season 21

Season 22

Season 23

Season 24

Season 25

Season 26

Season 27

Season 28

Season 29

Season 30

Season 31

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her resolution is to spend less time online, but you can still follow her @AyunHalliday.

Ian McKellen Recites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, Backed by Garage Rock Band, the Fleshtones, on Andy Warhol’s MTV Variety Show (1987)

80s revivalism can be done badly and it can be done well. Those old enough to remember the decade seem best placed to recreate it, but the success of Stranger Things offers an excellent counterexample. The millennial Duffer brothers did a marvelous job of conjuring the look and feel of mid-80s mise-en-scène by stitching together close viewings of a dozen or so films—from the massively popular E.T. to more obscure flicks like made-for-TV Mazes and Monsters (not to mention such precious archival footage as this.)

When it comes to music however, 80s retro tends to confine themselves to early hip and hop and electro, the synthpop of Gary Numan and Duran Duran or the cheesy hair metal of Mötley Crüe. But this lens misses the significant 60s revivalism that emerged at the time. Garage, surf, and psych rock and the jangly sounds of The Byrds inspired R.E.M., the B52s, the Replacements, the House of Love, and the Fleshtones, a much lesser-known NYC band who may never have gotten their commercial due, but who certainly appealed to 60s art star Andy Warhol.

When Warhol remade himself as a TV personality in the 80s with his MTV variety show Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes he cast the Fleshtones as the backing band for rising theater and film star Ian McKellen, a match-up that represents another hallmark of 80s pop culture—the postmodern juxtaposition of genres, styles, and registers which Warhol helped pioneer 20 years earlier when he brought kitschy silk-screened soup cans, sexy street hustlers, and the Velvet Underground into the art scene.

Warhol's television work turned this impulse into a multimedia circus featuring “The high and the low. The rich and the famous. The struggling artists and the rising stars,” as Warhol Museum curator Geralyn Huxley puts it. In this particularly fitting example, McKellen and the Fleshtones bring Shakespeare's racy Sonnet 20 to young, hip MTV audiences in 1987. L.A. Weekly lists a few of the “cool points” from the clip:

  • A young, hot, already insanely talented Ian McKellen
  • Wearing awesome New Wave fashions
  • At Andy Warhol's Factory in 1987
  • Backed by cult group the Fleshtones
  • Reciting a Shakespeare Sonnet

What's not to love? Start your 2018 with some Shakespeare-meets-garage-rock coolness from 31 years ago—and revisit more of Warhol’s MTV variety show at our previous post. For serious students of the decade, this is essential viewing.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Improbable Time When Orson Welles Interviewed Andy Kaufman (1982)

"Sitcoms are the lowest form of entertainment," declares Andy Kaufman as portrayed by Jim Carrey in Milos Forman's biopic Man on the Moon. "I mean, it's just stupid jokes and canned laughter." The scene comes in the period of Kaufman's life in the late 1970s when, growing ever more well-known on the back of acts like his "Foreign Man" character, he receives an offer to take part in ABC's Taxi. The real-life Kaufman, eventually convinced to join the show's cast, developed the Foreign Man into the unplaceable mechanic Latka Gavras. Quite possibly Taxi's most memorable character, Latka also won the appreciation of no less demanding a cultural figure than Orson Welles.

Guest-hosting the Merv Griffin Show in June of 1982, Welles describes Taxi as a show that has "kept television from being a criminal felony" just before bringing Kaufman on for a brief (and uncharacteristically straightforward) chat. He heaps praise on Kaufman's performance as Latka, adding, "I want to know why it is that you go and wrestle with people when you can act so well." Kaufman had shown up wearing a neck brace, an accessory signifying the end of his stint as a professional wrestler, one of the many inexplicable but somehow compelling choices in a short career that blurred the lines between comedy, performance art, and life itself.

"Nobody ever came from nowhere more completely," Welles says, drawing a big studio-audience laugh with this description of not just Latka but Kaufman as well. Asked how he came up with such a distinctive character voice, Kaufman says only that he "grew up in New York, and you hear a lot of different voices in New York" ("You don't hear that one," replies Welles). He also cites the accents of a high-school friend from South America and a college roommate from Iran. Less than four years later, both Kaufman and Welles would be gone (and actor Ron Glass, looking on from the other side of the couch, joined them this past November).

Or at least both men would be gone if you don't credit the rumors about Kaufman having elaborately faked his death. "I don't know whether it's the innocence of the fellow or the feeling you have that he is not stupider than everybody, but maybe smarter, that adds to the fascination," Welles says. Again he speaks ostensibly of Kaufman's Foreign Man/Latka persona, but his words apply equally to the man who not just played but periodically — and sometimes unpredictably — became him. 33 years after Kaufman's death, or in any case disappearance from life, that fascination remains as strong as ever.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes: Discover the Postmodern MTV Variety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Television Age (1985-87)

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” said Andy Warhol. Actually, no, he didn’t. But Warhol suggested to photographer Nat Finkelstein that everyone wanted to be famous, to which Finkelstein added, “yeah, for 15 minutes.” It’s a slightly different meaning. (The idea first appeared in its well-known form in a 1968 program for a Warhol exhibition in Sweden.)

Is it true that everyone wants to be famous? It’s certainly true that Andy Warhol wanted to, and for much longer than 15 minutes. Like the hardest-working YouTube celebrity today, he didn’t wait to be discovered but set about making it happen himself.

But while he achieved pop art stardom in the 60s, Warhol truly longed to be on TV, a dream that took a little longer to materialize. His first program, a New York public-access interview show, debuted in 1979, then a second version in 1980 (see Richard Berlin interview Frank Zappa on Andy Warhol’s T.V. in 1983). Over a period of four years, he brought on a host of major celebrities, but attracted a necessarily limited audience.

In ’81, Warhol finally got a mainstream TV break when he “made his way to NBC,” notes Alexxa Gotthardt, “with a series of spots for Saturday Night Live…. Warhol’s foray into television allowed him to become even more of a celebrity himself." His persistent efforts paid dividends when he joined the nascent 1985 MTV lineup with one of its first non-music-video shows, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes.

As you can see in the promo at the top of the post, the show promised a “ride downtown” and a “ride to the wild side.” It did not disappoint. A sort of postmodern variety show, the program “put everybody together,” explains Andy Warhol Museum curator Geralyn Huxley, “The high and the low. The rich and the famous. The struggling artists and the rising stars.” Just above, you can see Ian McKellen recite Shakespeare while garage rockers the Fleshtones play some psychedelic grooves behind him.

Above, see Debbie Harry interview Courtney Love, “a flamboyant rising star,” just come from the success of Sid and Nancy.  Further down, the Ramones bitch about the state of rock and roll in 1987, then play “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” a scathing response to Ronald Reagan’s disturbing visit to Germany on the 40th anniversary of V-E Day. (The song contains the line, “You’re a politician don’t become one of Hitler’s children.”) These are but a tiny sampling of the many hundreds of artists who traipsed through the soundstage of Warhol’s show: dozens of people appeared in a single episode—as many as 30 guests in some of the later shows.

Running for two years, until his death in 1987, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes introduced millions of people to the artist in just the way he’d always wanted. “More and more kids were watching MTV,” says his producer Vincent Fremont. “I don’t know if they knew that Andy was a famous artist, but to them he was certainly a television personality.” And on TV, Warhol wrote in 1975, a person “has all the space anyone could ever want, right there in the television box.” If you're Andy Warhol, you also have all the celebrity guests anyone could ever want.

See a complete list of the five episodes that aired between 1985 and 1987—full of stars, rising stars, and scores of fascinating unknowns—at

via Artsy

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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