TV Review: Gotham

Gotham is a prequel series for the Batman universe that follows the exploits of a young detective Jim Gordon, seemingly the only good cop in Gotham City. In the pilot episode we see the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and are introduced to young versions of some of the villains we’re familiar with, including Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, and Poison Ivy. They don’t go by those names yet, but we know its them.

I never had a lot of enthusiasm for this show when it was being teased for months before the premier. I’m not generally a fan of prequels, and this seemed like a Warner Bros. cash grab. That said, I’ve now watched through the first four episodes, and it’s more interesting than I thought, though that’s largely due to me setting the bar pretty low in my own mind. I never have a lot of hope that a show like this will make it, but Gotham might just be the right balance between a genre show and a procedural drama. The fact that it features the origin story of one of the most popular comic book characters can’t hurt.

The biggest problem I have with the show is one of the biggest problems I have with most tellings of the Batman story: I can’t figure out why anyone would want to live in Gotham City. As presented in the show, Gotham is completely corrupt from top to bottom. The mob controls the mayor, the city council, and the police department. Police detectives are sometimes required to murder people for the mob. Jim Gordon is presented as seemingly the only decent person in the city, certainly the only good man on the police force. The characters ponder whether or not Gotham can be saved, but we’re never really shown any good reason why it should be saved. Apart from Jim Gordon we never see anything of virtue in the city. Even Bruce Wayne’s companion Alfred is occasionally abusive toward young Bruce! On top of that the show wants to work in comic-book style villains, some we’re all familiar with, most we’re not. I almost wonder if the campy 60’s Batman isn’t the only real way you can portray this kind of material onscreen. Comic books work well with abstraction and it doesn’t seem out of place to portray a city like Gotham or over-the-top characters like the traditional Batman villains. When you put a real city on screen and get real actors involved it’s very tough to make it work, and I’m not sure Gotham is pulling it off.

Honestly if I were running the show I would have the series start out as a pretty traditional procedural drama. Depict Gotham as being very close to real life New York. Make it gritty, but allow it to also feel realistic. And then slowly over the course of the series transform Gotham City into an ever more corrupt and violent environment. Let young Bruce Wayne see the city he loves descend into violent chaos to give him a reason to save the city and bring it back to what it once was. Instead, the show tells us that the big plan Bruce’s parents had to restore hope to the people of Gotham was to re-open an insane asylum! Seriously.

Oddly, the series makes it very vague as to what time period the show is set in. The cell phones you see look at least ten years old, and the detectives all use big, bulky CRT computer monitors. On the other hand, the cars all look like they’re from the 1970s and 80s. I’m not sure why they don’t just set it in the present day, unless they’re trying to foster the illusion that this is actually a prequel to the Christopher Nolan Batman movies.

The actors are mostly good, but Robin Lord Taylor, who plays the young version of The Penguin really steals the show. He’s sort of a mix between Joaquin Pheonix and Elijah Wood, and he’s consistently the most interesting character on screen. The others are mostly just depicting one archetype or another. 

I can’t say I honestly recommend this show to anyone, but if you’re a big comic book fan or a fan of the Batman universe specifically, you’ll probably find some things to like. I plan to stick with it for now and see where they take it.

Tags: Gotham TV Batman

Adam Grossman Of Dark Sky Offers Thoughts On iOS 8 Widget Design

Adam Grossman, writing on the Forecast.io blog:

Widgets are a bit tricky at this point; they’re so new that we as developers haven’t had the time to figure out proper design etiquette, or even determine what widgets are really for. The temptation is to make them big, gaudy affairs, and several weather apps have gone in that direction.

One of the new features of iOS 8 is the ability for developers to create widgets for their apps that appear in the pull-down notification overlay. This has allows the user to selectively customize their notification screen with important data relevant to them. Given that it’s early days for widgets, there are a lot of different ideas on how to implement them. One of the earliest I added was the Yahoo Weather widget that Grossman calls out as bad design in his piece. I quickly removed it for the same reasons Grossman cited in his critique. I think the folks at Dark Sky have the right idea: Keep it as simple as possible, focusing on the data without calling too much attention to itself. Dark Sky has done this and added some really nice but subtle details to provide both brevity and clarity. This is how you should do it, developers.

Macminicolo Has A (Mostly) Positive Review Of The New Mac Mini

Macminicolo is a company that lets you send them your Mac mini and place it in their data center to use as a server. As such, they have a great interest in the health of the Mac mini as a product and were probably more delighted than anyone to see it get an update last week. They’ve put out a blog post outlining the good and the bad news about the new model, and it’s well worth a read. From their blog:

We’ve been working extensively with Mac minis for nearly 10 years. (Yes, we’re nearing the tenth anniversary for the more-popular-than-you-think Mac.) When a new machine gets released, we often get asked for feedback and any opinions on the new hardware.  So below are ten things we noticed about the new Mac mini. (We’ll add a tear down of the Mac mini on this post as well as update with benchmarks compared to all the past Mac minis. Be sure to follow us on twitter so you know when that’s posted.)

They’re less bearish on the new Mac minis than I am, but they re-iterate some of the negatives such as non-user-upgradeable RAM and 5400 RPM hard drives. They also offered up a tidbit I hadn’t seen anywhere else in this tweet (embedded in the blog post) from Macminicolo owner Brian Stucki:

Ouch. That’s going to make it more difficult (though not impossible) to remove the foot for wall-mounting purposes.

Again, I’m glad to see the Mac mini get an update. I’m not happy with many of the changes it has received.

If You Really Want To Understand Yosemite, Read John Siracusa’s Review

John Siracusa, writing at Ars Technica:

To signal the Mac’s newfound confidence, Apple has traded 10.9’s obscure surfing location for one of the best known and most beautiful national parks: Yosemite. The new OS’s headline feature is one that’s sure to make for a noteworthy chapter in the annals of OS X: an all-new user interface appearance. Of course, this change comes a year after iOS got its extreme makeover.

Ah, the old tension: which platform does Apple love more? iOS continues to dominate Apple’s business in terms of unit sales, revenue, and profits. Last year, some Apple watchers had openly wondered whether Apple would even bother updating the look of OS X. And yet for the past several years, Apple has loudly and publicly insisted that it remains committed to the Mac as a strong, independent platform. Yosemite aims to fulfill that commitment—but in an interesting way.

If you’re at all interested in OS X or Yosemite in particular, this is must read. John Siracusa has been writing the most detailed, in-depth reviews of new OS X releases since OS X was in developer beta a decade and a half ago. His reviews aren’t for the faint of heart (his Yosemite review is 25 pages), but they’re written in an engrossing way that the layman can follow. Everything from the tiniest visual change to new underlying technology features is discussed. Poring through Siracusa’s review is one of my favorite things about a new major version of OS X.

Marco Arment Has Some Thoughts On Whether You Should Buy An iMac Or A Mac Pro

Marco Arment, writing at marco.org:

The 5K Retina iMac is out, and it looks incredible so far on paper — so incredible that I’m seriously considering selling my new Mac Pro to get the Retina iMac instead. In fact, the case for the Mac Pro for anyone but advanced video editors, 3D modelers, and heavy OpenCL users is now weaker than ever.

Marco was one of the many Mac users who longed for Apple to release a major update to the Mac Pro. After all, it was a good couple of years between the last major update to the old “cheese grater” Mac Pro and the introduction of the new “trash can” Mac Pro. Now that Apple has released the new 5K Retina iMac I think a lot of creative professionals in design, video, and animation are going to have to sit down and think long and hard about which machine is right for them. If you’re one of them or even just curious, I’d strongly recommend reading Marco’s thoughts.

He also has a lot of interesting things to say in the piece about whether or not Apple will ever release a 5K stand-alone display, and what might be stopping them from doing so now. Here’s just a taste of what he has to say:

If I had to guess, you’ll have a long wait, and they won’t work with any Mac sold to date.

Panel yields may be tight for a while, and external displays are a low priority for Apple. The original 27” iMac’s groundbreaking LCD panel wasn’t available in an external display from Apple for almost a year after its release. But that’s not the biggest problem.

Pushing this many pixels requires more bandwidth than DisplayPort 1.2 offers, which is what Thunderbolt 2 ports use for outputting video signals. (I wrote about this a few times.) Doing it right will require waiting until DisplayPort 1.3 in Thunderbolt 3 on Broadwell’s successor, Skylake, which isn’t supposed to come out for at least another year — and Intel is even worse at estimating ship dates than I am, so it’s likely to be longer.

And he goes on from there with even more thoughts on the technical reasoning behind his argument. 

Recapping The October 2014 Apple Event

So… The whole “It’s been way too long” headline was a joke after all? My suspicion going into the event was that it was a reference to the fact that there would be a stronger Mac focus at the event, and there was, but there was nothing that stood out that really was a long-time in coming. In the end I think it was just a sarcastic joke about the fact that really we just had an Apple event last month. Oh, well. Overall the event was pretty much what we all thought it would be. Let’s go through some of the announcements:

Apple Pay. They officially announced that Apple Pay would debut on October 20 alongside iOS 8.1. It’s going to be really interesting to see how well it does. They also announced a bevy of new banks and retail partners for Apple Pay.

Yosemite. Craig Federighi recapped a lot of the key features and did some demoing before finally announcing that it would be available for download later that day. I’m now writing this from Yosemite, and can’t wait to start exploring it.

iPad. Kind of what we all expected, and it didn’t help Apple’s element of surprise that they accidentally announced these through a product guide ebook ahead of the event. The iPad Air 2 is thinner, faster, and with a better camera. It also features Touch ID at last. iPad mini got a similar update. The iPad updates are incremental improvements over last year’s models. Nothing earth-shattering, but very nice updates if you’re in the market for a new iPad. Perhaps the most interesting update is that Apple has built its own SIM card that lets you choose which carrier you’d like to connect to without having to actually swap SIM cards. Here’s what Apple says about it:

The new Apple SIM is preinstalled on iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular models. The Apple SIM gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers in the U.S. and UK right on your iPad. So whenever you need it, you can choose the plan that works best for you — with no long-term commitments. And when you travel, you may also be able to choose a data plan from a local carrier for the duration of your trip.

Pretty incredible, and I think a lot of people are going to love it. Interestingly Verizon isn’t currently available with Apple SIM. It doesn’t appear to be clear from the website, but I would guess that there’s either a separate Verizon model of the iPad that will be available, or you’ll be able to insert a Verizon SIM to be able to use with their network. Like the new iPhone models, the entry iPad is still limited to 16 GB. Not good, Apple. 32 GB should definitely be the bottom rung.

iMac. As rumored, Apple announced a 5K Retina iMac. The rest of the iMac line stays the same as far as I can tell with the new model sliding in at $2499, or $500 above the top-of-the-line non-Retina iMac. Not bad really given how amazing that screen is. It’s going to be particularly useful to designers and video editors and I suspect a lot of would-be Mac Pro users are going to be buying this, at least until Apple releases a stand-alone 5K display. Interestingly the iMac didn’t get any kind of visual refresh. That’s not to say the current iMacs aren’t still very nice looking products, but I’m a little surprised Apple didn’t use the opportunity to make a change.

Mac mini. I literally raised my arms and shouted for joy when the new Mac mini was unveiled. After all, it had been a couple of years since it got a meaningful update. The form factor did not change. Apple’s clearly comfortable with the current design. The price was lowered to $499, but you really want to stay away from that model. It packs a 1.4 GHz processor and only 4 GB of RAM. Shockingly (and a bit insultingly), even the $699 model includes a 5400-rpm hard drive. There is no excuse for not including a 7200-rpm drive here. This machine is going to feel slow even with a decent processor and 8 GB of RAM. Also, as AppleInsider points out, Apple no longer offers a Mac mini server model with 2 TB of storage. I’m glad to see the Mac mini remain in the lineup and get some attention, but this is not how I wanted it to happen.

Apple TV. No, we didn’t see any Apple TV specific announcements. That truly would have embodied “It’s been way too long.” But Apple did announce that Macs will be able to AirPlay to Apple TVs without wifi. Of course, you’ve got to have a pretty recent Mac to do it and your Apple TV has to be the 3, Rev A model, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Apple Accidentally Revealed Its New iPads

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:

An official user guide for iOS 8 (and 8.1) in the iTunes Store has updated its screenshots ahead of schedule; both new iPads are pictured, and the images reveal each will have a Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

Definitely an unusual slip-up for Apple. Of course it’s possible Apple just doesn’t care about letting the iPad news slip out early, but I can’t imagine that’s the case. Apple loves secrecy ahead of events, even for a device we all know is coming, and for which we don’t expect any real surprises. If you’re interested in downloading the user guide (assuming it stays available), click here

It’s Been Way Too Long

This Thursday, Apple will be holding its second event of the Fall. Last month’s event was a doozy with the announcement of Apple Watch, iPhone 6, and Apple Pay. While I don’t expect the October event to be nearly as dramatic, Apple has teased the event with the headline, “It’s been way too long.” What could they mean by that? Here are a few possibilities:

Sarcasm. Could it be that simple? A little joke about the fact that it’s really not been that long at all since Apple addressed the world, and in a major way? I don’t think so.

Apple TV. It’s certainly been a long time since Apple addressed the platform in a meaningful way. Oh, sure, they’ve been slowly but steadily pumping out new apps/channels and features. Most recently they rolled out a slightly tweaked UI that brings the look more closely in line with the iOS 7/8 aesthetic. But they haven’t given the physical design a rethink in a few years, and they haven’t addressed my main wants: universal search across all apps, an App Store, and a better-designed UI. Could this event finally be the event that ushers in all of our Apple TV hopes and dreams? It’s possible, but I doubt it. I’ve gotten my hopes up at event after event for years now with nary a peep from Apple about my second favorite Apple device/platform. I no longer allow myself too much Apple TV-hope.

The Mac. This feels like the most likely thing Apple could be referring to, particularly given that, as many noticed, the invitation features the original six colors from the old Apple logo. While not as blatant as calling the event “Back To The Mac”, I think the event could have a big Mac focus. For one thing it’ll likely be the launching point for the latest version of OS X, Yosemite. There have also been heavy rumors about a new 5K Retina iMac. If that winds up coming to pass I’d bet that Apple keeps the current iMacs around at similar prices and debuts the 5K iMac as a higher-end model. I’ll go out on a limb and bet that the design won’t be radically different, but will look new and fresh. Could we see the black finish that the Mac Pro has? I’m also really hoping for a new Mac mini. I could definitely see Apple making a significant design tweak to it as well, namely making it either thinner (but diagonally the same width), or simply making it a smaller device diagonally. Not Apple TV small, but heading in that direction. If they do redesign the Mac mini I would expect it to follow Apple’s recent (and somewhat regrettable) Mac design direction and make it non-serviceable/upgradeable. If there is a new Mac mini, would it get a mention or demo at the event, or simply magically appear on Apple’s online store with no fanfare?

If the meaning of “It’s been way too long” is Mac-related it’s certainly curious given that we’re all also expecting Apple to release updated iPad and iPad mini lines. I’d expect to see Touch ID and Apple Pay come to both devices, at least at the higher end of the ranges.

Of course, this could all be much ado about nothing and Apple’s just trolling us with the teaser on the invitation. We’ll find out soon enough!

Review: The Flash TV Series Pilot

I hadn’t quite turned nine in 1990 when The Flash debuted on CBS, but I remember it pretty vividly. That series only lasted for one season, but I absolutely loved it. It was for sentimental reasons more than anything else that made me want to check out the new CW Flash pilot episode. It was far from perfect, but I must say I found it enjoyable. Grant Gustin, who plays the title character in this new series was born in 1990 when the previous Flash TV series first aired. Yeah, that makes me feel old. Much to my delight, they got John Wesley Shipp, who played the Flash in the 1990 series, to play the father of Barry Allen/The Flash in the new series. Well played, CW.

In part, the new Flash series reminded me a lot of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, particularly with the Barry Allen narration at the beginning and the end. He has his own “Who am I? I’m Spider-Man” moment. And in large part it also reminded me of the CW/WB series Smallville. I absolutely loved the first three seasons of Smallville and to this day it might be some of my favorite television of all time. I stopped watching sometime soon after season four when they went in the weird supernatural direction, but I digress. Smallville’s solution to giving Clark Kent villains to fight was that the Kryptonite meteor shower that brought Kal-El’s ship to Smallville also brought Kryptonite which mutated some of the town’s people, giving them super powers and invariably leading them to a life of crime. The Flash has a similar theme, but instead of radioactive meteor rocks, it’s a particle collider explosion that gives Barry his powers as well as others in Central City. The other parallel with Smallville is that Clark Kent didn’t fly (at least during the time I watched it), and instead much of his crime fighting was done via his super speed, which of course is Flash’s main power.

The pilot episode of this new Flash series was fun, but a little rushed. They decided to introduce us to Barry’s backstory which involves him witnessing the murder of his mother and the framing of his father; his being raised by the father of his best friend, a Central City cop; his adult job as a member of the police forensics team; his unrequited love for his surrogate father’s daughter; the accident which gave him his powers; his first bad-guy take-down and introduction to the team at S.T.A.R. Labs that will be supporting him as he fights crime; the introduction of his suit; and his place in the larger D.C. Comics TV universe. All in forty-four minutes. That, plus some fore-shadowing about what’s to come.

One breath of fresh air is that this is by no means going to be a dark show. Of course, there are dark elements (do all superheroes need to have murdered parents?), but this is definitely a show that’s going to keep it light. Definitely felt like the tone of Smallville. There was an awkward scene where he visits Green Arrow to get some advice on how to be a super hero. It was brief, and really served only to tell the audience that The Flash and Arrow are part of a shared universe. It really left me scratching my head on how these guys know each other. Then I noticed on IMDb that Barry Allen had been introduced last season on Arrow (which I haven’t seen). That made it click for me, but as a newcomer to the series it felt odd for that to not be explained in episode. That said, I’d love to see them tie Smallville in. It would be great to see Tom Welling reprise that roll. I’m not sure Smallville is part of the current shared universe though.

In summary, the pilot episode was a bit shaky, but was good enough to make me want to watch more. I definitely plan to stick with it, at least for now.

Apple Confirms October 16 Event

Andrew Cunningham, writing at Ars Technica:

If the rumor mill is to be believed, new iPads will be the headlining item for the event, and we’ll also supposedly be getting the public release of OS X Yosemite. Both the iPads and Yosemite will reportedly be accompanied by iOS 8.1, the first major update to iOS 8. Other rumors also suggest we’ll be seeing new Macs at the event—the most interesting ones suggest a new Retina iMac, but several other computers in Apple’s lineup (including the Mac Mini and Mac Pro) are ripe for a refresh.

In his post, Cunningham included an image of the invitation that Apple sent out to select members of the media. The invitation has the big headline “It’s been way too long.” That’s certainly an intriguing phrase. We can all probably think of things that Apple has neglected that we’d like to see addressed at the event. For me number one (by a vast margin) would be Apple TV, followed by Mac mini. Of course, Cunningham’s right that the big headliners will likely be iPad, Yosemite, and iMac, but we’ll just have to wait and see what Apple has in store.