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How to fix Touch ID purchasing after Apple ID unlock

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on August 14, 2018

Touch ID App store purchasing no longer works after your Apple ID is unlocked? How do you get it working again? Let’s explore.

Apple ID Locked

I’ve recently begun having problems with Apple locking my Apple ID account about every 3 weeks with no explanation. After I’ve unlocked my account, I find that the App store app refuses to use Touch ID and forces entry of my password to download an app. Hey Apple, I set up Touch ID so I don’t have to type in a password.

I’ve called Apple twice about this problem and they are of no help. I had to figure this one out on my own. Thanks Apple… not!

Not only does Apple have no logs to determine why the account is locked, they simply don’t care about this problem. Their login system has become shit in the last few months beginning in June of 2018. I have no explanation for this lockout problem except that Apple needs to get their shit together. I’ve never had this problem before this point. Anyway, once an Apple ID is locked, you’ll need to unlock it to proceed cleaning up the mess Apple leaves behind.

Note, I have no problems unlocking my account. In fact, it takes about 5 minutes or less. However, there’s a bunch of crap to do to clean up Apple’s mess.

Unlocking an Apple ID

To unlock your account, go to appleid.apple.com. Note, I have chosen not to linkify in the address in this article for security reasons. This is why it’s not clickable in this paragraph.

Instead, simply select the text => appleid.apple.com . Then copy and paste it into your browser’s address bar. Or better, type it into your browser’s address bar manually. Next, browse to this destination. Because this is Apple’s security site which manages your Apple ID security settings, I urge you to make sure you type it in exactly and carefully. If you mistype this address, it’s possible that you could land on a malicious web site that looks identical to Apple’s site and which could collect your Apple ID and password. Alway be cautious, alert and careful when visiting sites which manage the security of your account(s). Here are the steps to get you started:

  • Once you’re on the Apple ID site, under the ‘Manage your Apple account’ text, enter your Apple ID username and click the arrow pointing right →
  • Now enter your current password and click the arrow →
  • It will tell you your account is locked
  • At this point, follow the prompts to unlock your account

You’ll need to need to know the following info (as of 2018) to unlock your account:

  • Birthdate
  • Answers to the security questions you set up previously

This section assumes you have not set up two-factor authentication. You can choose to unlock by email or by answering security questions. It’s up to you which path to follow. Whichever path you choose, complete the process to unlock your Apple ID. After unlocking, here’s where the fun begins. /sarc

If you can’t remember your security questions or birthdate, you’ll need to contact Apple Support and request for them to help you with unlocking your Apple ID. If you have set up two-factor authentication (2FA), you will need to know your recovery key. If you’ve lost you recovery key and access to your trusted device after setting up 2FA, you’re out of luck. If you have access to your trusted device, Apple can send you a text to finish the unlocking process. You cannot recover your Apple ID when using 2FA if you have lost the recovery key and lost access to your trusted device. For this reason alone, I cannot recommend setting up 2FA on your Apple ID. Stick with a strong password and avoid 2FA.

Note, I strongly recommend unlocking your account via this web browser method only. Even if your iPhone or iPad prompts to unlock your account directly on your device, don’t. Do not rely on the methods built into iOS devices as I have found them to be problematic and unreliable. Using the browser method, you will have no troubles.

Account Unlocked / Touch ID problems

Once your account is unlocked, you’ll find that all devices that were formerly logged into this account will have been force logged out. This force logout method is different than the method you would use to logout on the device. If you log out of the device, you will be prompted for both the account name and the password. With Apple’s force logout due to a lock, you are only required to reenter your password. Your login ID will be remembered and cached.

An account lockout wreaks havoc on certain features in iOS like Touch ID. Because the account was force logged out, then unlocked, Touch ID will fail to work on both the Music and the App store app. As I said above, you’ll find that the App store now prompts you to enter your password rather than using Touch ID.

Worse, you can go to settings and clearly see that Touch ID is still enabled for the App store app, but it is not working. This is demonstrably a bug that Apple simply won’t fix. How do we resolve this? Let’s continue.

Fixing Touch ID in the iTunes and App store app after a lockout

Here are the steps to fix this problem:

  • Kill the Music and App store apps on your iOS device. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. You do this by double clicking the home button. Then scroll through the apps running, then drag the app up to the top of the screen with your finger until it disappears from the list. This will kill that app. It’s always a good idea to periodically kill all running apps on your phone to improve performance. Be sure to kill the App store app before proceeding. If you have many apps in the list to scroll through, you can bring the app to the front of the list easily by launching the app before trying to kill it.
  • Once the apps are killed, proceed to the Home screen and touch the Settings app
  • Scroll down to Touch ID & Passcode and touch it
  • Enter your pincode (if requested)
  • This is the screen you’ll see next
  • On this screen, you’ll see the iTunes & App store is already enabled (green). This setting is a lie. After a force lock and unlock, Apple automatically disables this feature internally even though the button shows green and enabled. That this button remains enabled is a bug and is the reason Touch ID doesn’t work.
  • Click the green slider button next to iTunes & App Store to disable this setting.
  • Wait for a moment for this to register and turn grey, like so 
  • Now, click it a second time to re-enable it. This time, it will prompt you for your Apple ID password.
  • Enter your current Apple ID password in the password prompt
  • Wait for the button to do a little jig before leaving this screen. The jig is described like so: the button starts off green, then turns grey for a moment, then slides back to green. This jig confirms that Touch ID for the App store is now truly enabled
  • Exit to the home screen and launch the App store app
  • Browse to any free app in the store and click ‘Get’. Touch ID should now prompt you for your fingerprint instead of prompting for your password.

If you skip killing the apps where I asked you to do that, you’ll find that the App store app still prompts for a password. The reason for this is that the App has cached the forced logout. To break that cache, you perform all of the steps described above. Following the order of these steps is important.

If you leave the App store app running when you reset the Touch ID settings, you’ll find that the password prompt problem remains. You may find that killing and relaunching the app even after resetting the Touch ID after-the-fact also won’t work. That’s why the order the steps is important.

Stupid Problems, Debugging and Network Settings

Problems this stupid shouldn’t exist on iOS devices, but here we are. I’ve already discussed this issue with Apple Support, but they simply won’t do anything about it. In fact, because this problem was formerly a rare occurrence, Apple Support isn’t even aware of this workaround.

In fact, while on the phone, Apple Support “recommended” that I reset my network settings. Never reset network settings as a first step. Resetting network settings should be the absolute last step and only when nothing else resolves a problem. The difficulty with resetting network settings is that it wipes all iCloud stored network passwords and access point information, like WiFi passwords. Not only does it wipe all WiFi networks and passwords on iCloud for the device where you wiped network settings, it wipes it for every device also using iCloud. This means if your Apple ID is being used on a MacBook, an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod or any combination of several of these devices, you’ll have to reinter the password on every device manually. It will also have forgotten all of the access points that iCloud formerly knew. Each new device will need to relearn them all.

You can somewhat solve this problem by first signing your device out of iCloud before wiping network settings. However, when you log your device back into iCloud, it might still wipe some settings from iCloud once logged back in and synced with iCloud. Be cautious with doing this.

I’ve been there and done that. This is a pain-in-the-ass. If Apple Support ever requests you to wipe network settings, tell them politely but firmly, “No.” Then state, “I only wipe network settings as a last ditch effort. Let’s exhaust all other workarounds and possibilities first.”

Wiping network settings usually only resolves actual networking problems, such as the phone refusing to connect to a WiFi access point. Touch ID has nothing to do with networking. Be wary of Support Team members requesting you to wipe network settings to help resolve non-network problems. The last thing you want to do is spend hours fixing all of your other devices in addition to not resolving the original problem. The Apple Support team is very good at causing more problems without actually solving the original problem. It is up to you to always exercise your best judgement to prevent Apple Support slip ups.

I really wish that Apple would just fix these stupid bugs. I also wish that they would tell me why my account keeps getting locked out.

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Workplace Crime: Should I talk to HR?

Posted in best practices, business, Employment by commorancy on August 10, 2018

This is a common question and doesn’t have a fast answer. Let’s explore.

Sexual Assault in the Workplace

I’ll talk about this one right up front as it’s front and center news. While this tends to be more common for females than males, both genders can experience this issue. What should you do if you’re groped at the workplace in an inappropriate way? The first question you’re probably asking is, “Should I contact HR?”

The answer is a resounding, NO. Do not contact HR and try to complain there first. In fact, unless you’re a manager, you should entirely avoid complaining to HR. Why? Let’s explore deeper.

Human Resources works for Management

This is an important concept to understand about corporate business. The HR team works for management, not the employees. Many people have a misconception that the HR team is an advocate for the employee. This is entirely false. The HR team members, no matter how friendly they appear, are not and will never be an employee advocate. Only you can be your own advocate (and any attorney you hire). Your employer’s HR team looks out for #1, which is the business and management team.

If the activity you experienced is sexual misconduct and resulted in bruises, marks or injury, then visit a hospital and take photos of the injuries first. Call 911 if necessary. If situation involves rape, then you’ll need to have the hospital perform a rape kit. When you are able and out of immediate danger, you should call the police and file a police report against the person by describing what happened to you in the police report. Always ensure you are out of immediate danger before contacting anyone.

Next, find a lawyer who can represent you in this matter. If the lawyer finds merit in a lawsuit against the accused (or your company), it’s up to you to decide or not to proceed with the case. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you understand the consequences and the monetary costs of pressing such legal action, particularly against high paid executives and your employer.

Once you have filed both a police report and you have a lawyer, only then should you involve the HR team and give them notice of the event. Even then, you should only contact your HR team after discussing this strategy with your lawyer.

The HR team’s responsibility is always to find reasons to discredit you and sweep the event under the rug. Once a police report is filed and you have a lawyer, the HR team can no longer play the protect-the-company game easily because the police are now aware. The HR team is not law enforcement, but they always want to avoid lawsuits at all costs. They exist to make sure the company’s image remains clean and friendly. If it gets publicized that staff are being sexually assaulted in their workplace, their hiring efforts will cease. No one will want to work at a company that wilfully puts employees into harm’s way while on the job. No, it is in HR’s best interest to ensure the employee making the accusation is terminated and discredited. HR may or may not terminate the accused depending on the position held within the company.

For example, if the person being accused of sexual misconduct is a manager, director, VP or C-level exec, it’s almost certain the accusing employee will be targeted for termination. The accused will likely remain at the company. As I said, it’s important to understand that the HR team’s obligation to the company is to protect the management team and the company against lawsuits.

Targeted for Termination

While whistleblowers have protection when working in government jobs, no such protections exist for private corporations. If you whistleblow as an employee of a private corporation, the company is well within their rights to terminate your employment with or without cause. This is particularly true if your employment is considered AT-WILL. Of course, you can also sue the company for wrongful termination. The HR team is well aware of this position as well.

To avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit, the management team will sideline you into a position where you cannot succeed. This will then force you to perform badly and force management to put you onto a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Because you have no way to succeed on this PIP, you’ll fail at all of the success goals while on the PIP and, at the end of the improvement period, you will be ushered to the door. This is a common practice to get rid of troublemakers and avoid wrongful termination lawsuits.

If you whistleblow and end up on a PIP, you’re being groomed for termination. You should take this as a huge hint to move on.

Termination and Lawsuits

When you’re terminated, you may be asked to sign legal documents stating you won’t sue the company or that you’ll agree to arbitration. Simply ignore the documents and don’t sign them. The company cannot withhold your pay as extortion for signing those documents. If they try this, this is illegal and you can sue them for withholding your earned pay. A CEO can even be personally jailed for willfully withholding your pay even if it was someone else in the organization who made that decision. Your company must pay you the hours you worked regardless of what you sign going out the door.

Also, being terminated doesn’t absolve the company from any legal wrongdoing. If you have a pending lawsuit against the company, being terminated doesn’t change the status of that pending lawsuit. You are still free to pursue any lawsuits you have open. In fact, being able to document termination in a retaliatory way may even strengthen your lawsuit.

Guilt, Lawsuits and your Career

If you witness or you become a part of an illegal activity in the workplace (i.e., sexual misconduct), it is on you to determine how you want to handle it. You can do nothing and let it drop or you can take it to the police. It’s your choice. Too many companies get away with far too much. If you witness or experience anything illegal while on the job, you should report it to the police and consider a lawsuit.

As I said above, if you attempt to go to HR first and ask them to address your concern, instead you will likely find you are being accused, sidelined and treated as the criminal, not the person who performed the misconduct. Why?

The HR team and its management is hired by the CEO and executive team. The HR manager likely reports directly to the CEO or the CFO. As a result, they take marching orders from the CEO. If an employee makes an allegation against a manager or above, the CEO will want to quash this as quickly and as quietly as possible without investigation. To do this, the HR team will state they are investigating, but instead they will begin watching the employee who made the report closely. Even the tiniest slip or mistake will be blown way out of proportion and the accuser be reprimanded. This may lead to a PIP as described above or possible immediate termination.

Basically, if you reach out to the HR team for help, you may find that it is you who are now the target against the ire of the company. Unfortunately, once the executive team paints a target on the back of an employee, it’s only a matter of time before the accuser is gone.

Throw Away Employees

Unfortunately, corporate business is cutthroat about making money and ensuring that that outcome continues. CEOs and the executive team will stop at nothing to make sure business continues as usual. The executive team is not your friend at any company. They are your boss. As a boss, they will do whatever it takes to make sure their business succeeds, regardless of what that means to you.

The only employee in any organization considered important enough to keep on the payroll is the CEO. All else are expendable… and this is especially true of troublemakers. By making an accusation of sexual misconduct against anyone, you may be labeled a troublemaker in your personnel file. If your position is easily replaced, you’ll soon be gone and they’ll fill it with someone else.

For this reason, if you’re alleging sexual assault, you have to make sure to legally document everything including physical evidence of it. The only way to do that is contact the police. Then, hire a lawyer. Only a person whom you are paying can help you to bring justice. The HR team has no incentive to bring justice on your behalf as they are not paid by you. The HR team has every incentive to ignore you and maintain status-quo because they are paid by management.

Illegal Activities

Illegal activities are not limited to sexual misconduct. It also includes embezzlement, money laundering, insider trading, cooking the books, theft, vandalism and any other willful act by an officer of the company. If you witness any of these, you should still file a police report and then talk to a lawyer.

Skip talking to the HR team as they will only cast suspicion on you, try to turn it around on you and/or target you for termination. It is their job to kill these problems as quickly and as quietly as possible using any means necessary. Being able to get rid of problems quietly is the difference between a good and a great HR team. Don’t ever think the HR team is on your side.

HR Perks and Employee Happiness

This goes hand in hand with all of the above. Unless you’re on the management team, the HR team is not your advocate. Yes, HR is there to keep the employees happy, but only on their terms. When a non-management employee brings a problem to the attention of HR, watch your back. This means, never disclose your internal company problems to an HR team member. Sure, you can be friendly and sociable, but always keep the HR team at arm’s length when discussing personal or job related matters. This also means you need to know whom is married to whom in your organization. You don’t want to vent a bunch of personal issues to a co-worker only to find out they are married to the an HR manager or HR employee at your company. Word gets around fast in HR.

As an example, if your company offers company paid counseling as a perk, you should avoid using it. Instead, you should find your own personal counselor and pay them for services yourself. If you disclose anything to a company paid counselor which could be misconstrued as a problem for the company, the HR team may be able to obtain this information outside of any doctor-patient privilege. Because of this, this could give the HR team ammo to terminate your employment. Always be very, very cautious when using such company sponsored counseling services. When the company is paying the bill, they may have made legal arrangements to obtain information that an employee might disclose.

This information can be kept in your employment file and potentially used against you should the need arise. Careful what you say, particularly to company paid counseling services.

Managers and HR versus Employee

Yes, the management team and HR will gang up on you. As an employee, the HR team always takes the word of a manager over the word of an employee. This is fact. There is no such thing as justice or equality in corporate business. The HR team represents the management team without question. If, for example, you accuse a manager of sexual misconduct and that manager tells HR that the accuser made it all up, that’s where the accusation ends. Worse, the manager can then retaliate against you through the HR team’s blessing. There will be no further investigation nor will your accusation receive any further review. However, your work efforts might find undue scrutiny, micromanagement and manager meddling. If you press the point, the HR team will likely begin the sidelining and termination process at the manager’s request.

Even if the HR team requests such complaints come forward, never assume that submitting your complaint to the HR team will result in any satisfactory outcome for you. It won’t. Instead, you will need to rely on the legal system to work for you. This is the reason you should make a police report as soon after the incident as possible, preferably the same day. Visit a hospital if you are injured so they can medically help you and document your injuries. Then, find a lawyer who specializes in whatever you witnessed or experienced and talk to them about your case. If you have been assaulted or raped in the workplace, you should visit the RAINN web site or call RAINN at 1-800.656.HOPE to find out what to do next.

If you choose to try to reach out to the HR team and find that it all backfires on you, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Disclaimer: None of this article is intended to be construed as legal advice. If you have legal questions, you should contact an attorney near you who specializes in the crimes you have witnessed or experienced. If you are a victim of sexual assault and/or rape in the workplace, visit RAINN to find out what to do.

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Disney Vacation on a Limited Budget

Posted in disney, travel by commorancy on August 8, 2018

Is it possible to plan a budget vacation to a Disney theme park? That’s what this article intends to determine. Let’s explore.

Vacation Costs

Your primary costs for any Disney vacation include the following:

  1. Airfare
  2. Hotel
  3. Transportation
  4. Park Tickets
  5. Food
  6. Souvenirs
  7. Incidentals

Airfare, Hotel and Transportation

These costs can be negotiated at the time you book your vacation package. If you purchase these together as a bundle, you can save substantially booking them together. You can also get additional discounts if you utilize AAA or AARP at the time of your booking. You may see better discounts by booking off-season.

If you’re planning to rely on Disney transportation throughout the trip, ensure that your hotel is within walking distance of this transportation or that the hotel offers a shuttle to and from Disney. Any hotel near to Disney is likely to offer a shuttle, but be sure to call the hotel in advance to verify that they offer a shuttle and how often the shuttle runs. You should also confirm how long it will take to get from the hotel to Disney to plan timings. If your hotel is 30 or more minutes away from the Disney by driving, you may want to consider a somewhat closer hotel, but that may cost more money. I always recommend staying as close to the park as you can afford.

Don’t assume that using Disney’s vacation booking system will get you the best pricing. If you have AAA or AARP or Costco or Sam’s Club membership, you should try booking your vacation through their vacation site then compare it to Disney’s vacation booking system. Also compare it to other services like Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com,  Hotwire and Priceline. You may even be able to insert your AAA or AARP membership number into many of these sites to receive discounts. You should check all of these sites to see what your best cost is.

You can save on airfare if you drive and save on hotel and airfare if you drive a recreational vehicle (RV). See camping below.

Park Tickets

Tickets to any Disney park are a fixed cost. You’ll pay whatever Disney is currently charging for the calendar year you plan to attend. However, you may be eligible for discounts on tickets if you buy them in advance through vacation booking sites like AAA or AARP. Always plan to buy your park tickets in advance rather than at the gate. Purchasing tickets at the gate will cost the most money… so buy them in advance.

However, Disney is constantly changing its arrangements with these membership services. You should always check these membership services when you plan to book your vacation to determine if these sites still offer the most effective discount tickets.

With all of that said, if you have a family of four and you’re wanting to buy 5 days of park access, you should expect to spend over $1200 for four 5 day base passes. AAA typically offers up to a 10% discount which might save you up to $120 on that $1200. A base pass will allow you to enter one park per day. If you want to hop between parks during the same day, you will need to add the Park Hopper option to each ticket (about $100 additional per ticket on each 5 day pass at Disney World). Note, prices are somewhat cheaper for children under 10. To save money, you’ll want to skip the park hopper option and simply plan one park per day. This is the best option anyway because trying to move around between the parks in the same day consumes a lot of time that you could be using at a park.

The Park Hopper option only works between Disney parks including (Florida) Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom and (California) Disneyland and California Adventure. If you want to visit Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, Knott’s Berry Farm or any other non-Disney parks, you’ll need to pay for access to these separately. You’ll want to plan for access and transportation to any non-Disney parks as part of your budget planning.

Food

Save on food costs by stocking your hotel fridge with sandwich ingredients. You can then make sandwiches to bring with you to the park rather than spending for meals inside the park. A park meal might cost $10-15 where a sandwich and water might cost you $1-2. You can save a lot if you make your own food and bring it with you or leave the park for lunch at the hotel and come back later.

Souvenirs

If you want to buy souvenirs, then you’ll need to budget for them. T-shirts, for example, usually start around $20 and go up from there inside the park. Instead, I might suggest asking the concierge at your hotel if the hotel’s shuttle can drive you to local businesses in the area, like a close Target or Walmart. Because these shops are close to Disney, they likely have a better selection of Disney souvenir merchandise than stores outside the area. These stores know that Disney park stores are expensive and that shoppers will, instead, frequent the close proximity stores looking for better prices on souvenirs. Take advantage of these lower prices at places like Target and Walmart.

Visit these local stores outside the park to buy souvenirs. Sure, you didn’t get it in the park, but you did get it while you were on vacation. The souvenir still counts as a souvenir. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with budget shopping at local retail businesses near the park to save on souvenir costs.

Incidentals

Try to bring as many incidentals with you as you can to save money. These include items like:

  • SPF lotion
  • Hats
  • Coats
  • Batteries (bring rechargeables and charger)
  • Sunglasses
  • First Aid Kit
  • Camera
  • Medicine (i.e., Pain Reliever, Imodium, Antacid, Cough Medicine, Prescriptions, etc)
  • Chapstick
  • Phone charger and cable(s)
  • Computer power cable
  • Power bank for phone charging
  • Misting fans / cooling devices
  • Bug Repellant
  • Towels
  • Reading Glasses

If you have to locate any of these items inside or outside of the park, you’re likely to pay more than you expect and paying for these will kill your vacation budget in the process. Shove as many of these into your suitcase and bring them with you to the hotel and into the park as needed.

Choose your Park destination

You can save some pennies by choosing your Disney vacation destination wisely. Many people automatically assume Disney World for their Disney vacation. If you must visit Epcot or Animal Kingdom, then Florida is your only choice. However, Disneyland exists in Anaheim, California and it’s not as captive as Florida. It can also save you some pennies depending on where you live. Southern California offers many options which are as much fun as seeing Disney World. With Southern California, you also have the option of not only the Disney parks, but non-Disney parks, Hollywood tours and the local sights (i.e., Hollywood Walk of Fame).

Choosing Disneyland in addition to all of the parks that Disney offers (i.e., Downtown Disney and California Adventure), non-Disney parks include Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and if you’re willing to drive a bit, Great America and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Of course, Universal Studios also exists in Florida, but also requires driving. Tickets to Disneyland are a bit less expensive than Disney World because there are less available parks (Disneyland, Downtown Disney and California Adventure). You want to consider this option to reduce costs in your vacation planning.

Choose your hotel carefully

It’s very tempting to stay in the Disney resort hotels. However, these can be very pricey whether in Florida or California. Consider how much time you plan to spend in the hotel room and on the hotel property. If you plan to visit the park the majority of the time, then you’ll be out and away from the hotel property. The only thing the hotel is good for then is sleeping at the end of the day. Unless you plan to spend a day or more to take advantage of the resort amenities, staying at a resort hotel is an unnecessary extra expense. Instead, choose a less expensive standard hotel with fewer amenities. This can save you money that you can put towards food, souvenirs or transportation.

Plan out your park visit

If you plan your park schedule in advance, this can help minimize your expenses. For example, if you bring your own food to the park, you can eat that instead of spending for expensive in-park dining. If your hotel is close enough, you can always take a break, head back to the hotel and eat food there. Many hotels offer both fridges and microwaves (usually on request). You can head to a supermarket and stock the fridge with sandwich fixings for the duration of your stay. Making your own food in the hotel room is the least expensive way to eat food that’s healthier and reduce your expenses. If you visit one park per day, you can save on ticket costs and reduce transportation expenses.

If you do decide to dine at a restaurant in Disney, expect to spend more than you might think. Disney’s dining experiences aren’t inexpensive affairs. You’ll also want to make sure to make reservations in advance. You don’t want to arrive at the restaurant and have to wait and hour or two just to get a table. Reservations save you a lot of time… time that you can better use in the park and get the most out of your tickets. To save the most on food expenses, head to a local grocery store and stock the fridge at your hotel and eat your meals there.

If your hotel offers free continental breakfast or a free breakfast buffet, take advantage of this food and eat breakfast there.

Breakfast with the Characters

If you want to spend a little money on food, this is one of the better ways to do it, particularly when you are with children. You can buy Breakfast in the Park with Minnie and friends. This breakfast experience, while tremendous fun for the kids, can cost between $20 to $40 per person. This breakfast experience alone does not allow you to take advantage of the 1 hour early park opening. You will have to buy the Magic Morning option separately. The Minnie and friends breakfast offers usually around 8 different characters who will interact with you while eating breakfast.

Extra Magic Hour / Magic Morning

One of the perks for staying at a Disney resort hotel is that you automatically get the Extra Magic Hour included with your stay. This means you can enter the park one hour early in the morning and take advantage of select stores and attractions. If you don’t stay at a Disney resort hotel, you can buy the Magic Morning option for each 3+ multi-day ticket. Magic Morning and Extra Magic Hour are available at both Disneyland and Disney World parks. You’ll need to consult the current schedule at the park to determine which parks open early on which days as the early openings change based on the day of the week. If you choose to stay in a Disney resort hotel to obtain the Extra Magic Hour benefit, you will want to call the hotel and confirm that your stay includes this option. Don’t just assume that it does.

When planning your visit in advance and you intend to take advantage of the early park opening, always confirm which park is open on what day so you can plan to visit that park on that day. This is especially important if you’re intending to visit one park per day to avoid the park hopper charge.

Take a Break

There’s always lots to see and do at any Disney park, but it gets tiring walking around the park and standing in lines. When it reaches the hottest part of the day, you’ll want to take a break and head back to the hotel for a few hours to cool off. If you’re at a resort hotel, you can use this time to take a swim, relax in the room or take advantage of other hotel amenities. This lets the heat pass and gives you time to energy up for the evening hours. It also gives you some time to catch late lunch or early dinner and avoid paying in-park food expenses. Taking a break is the best way to enjoy the park.

Carry a water bottle, bag and medicine

You’ll want to take a water bottle and a small bag with you into the park for keys, phone, medicine and flavoring powders. It’s easy to get ice and water from a restaurant to fill your bottle. Then, flavor the water with a flavoring packet you have with you. This saves on buying expensive sodas and drinks in the park. These flavoring powders are packed in small packets which are easily stored in a small bag. Because the packets are so small, you can carry a lot of them. You can sometimes find soda water and make your own soda with a flavoring packet.

You’ll also want to carry a small amount of medicine like Tylenol or other pain relievers, antacid and diarrhea medicine. If you realize you need these while in the park, you’re going to pay a lot to buy a tiny single dose container that may not be a brand you like or be effective. Instead, carry your favorite medicines with you in your luggage when you travel. If you buy your favorite brand medicine before you depart, you can be sure to get the best deals and use brands familiar to you. Having this medicine with you in the park, you’re prepared if your favorite ride jostles you around just a little too much or a food you consume doesn’t sit well. If you or your child has the possibility of anaphylactic allergies, be sure to carry at least one Epipen with you into the park. I’d also recommend avoiding eating foods made in the parks to avoid accidental exposure.

It’s always best to buy your medicines in advance of travel because it’s the least expensive way to get them. And, you may already have them in your cabinet at home which will save you money buying medicine in the park, at the hotel or at a local pharmacy.

Shop Around

Before buying souvenirs willy-nilly inside or outside of the park, shop the stores and see what you like. Visit as many stores as you can in the park, then outside of it. Compare prices and buy the souvenirs that fit within your budget. Keep in mind that the stores in the park carry items that you typically can’t find anywhere else. In fact, Disneyland has merchandise exclusives branded to Disneyland. Disney World has merchandise exclusive to Disney World. You won’t find any Disney World merchandise in Disneyland and vice versa. You’ll want to weigh this when you visit the stores and when planning your vacation. If you plan to buy in-park souvenirs, you’ll want to set a maximum limit to spend. Your souvenir budget is likely to stretch farther if you’re willing to buy items at discount stores outside of the park.

Keep a list or take pictures of merchandise+prices you might want. If you take pictures, you can remember both the style and price when you go looking for a similar item at Target or Walmart close to the park. For items like small pins or buttons, you likely won’t find these outside the park. You’ll want to buy them at the store in the park. For T-Shirts or other clothing items, these are usually cheaper outside the park.

Laundry Facilities

When you’re staying for 5 or more days, you’ll probably need to do laundry at some point. Many hotels offer full laundry service. You’ll want to ask the hotel if they have a self-service laundry room. This can save you money instead of using the hotel’s much more expensive full service laundry. If you can plan your hotel stay at a hotel with a self-service laundry room (call and ask before you make the reservation), you can save money by doing your own laundry. You’ll just need to pick up a small container of laundry soap or carry some with you in your luggage.

First Aid Kit

Bring a small first aid kit with you that contains adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment and cleaning wipes at a minimum. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can shove these into a small zipper lock bag which fits easily into luggage. If someone in your party is scraped or cut while in the park, you can visit the first aid center, but you’ll also want to take care of it when you get back to the hotel. I’d suggest carrying a few bandages and ointment to the bag you carry with you, but it’s not strictly necessary as the park’s first aid center can help you take care of it right away. It may take some walking to get to it. I can be faster to take care of if you have bandages and ointment with you. If you need to locate a first aid kit while on vacation, it will dig into your budget if you end up at the hotel’s gift shop or, worse, you end up at some all night drug store because nothing else is open.

SPF Lotion

Bring this with you in your luggage. Not only can it be difficult to locate a quality brand in the park, it’s likely to be very expensive for a tiny bottle. You’ll want to carry a small TSA authorized and sized container with you. This allows you to carry it into the park and also carry it on a plane. This likely means transferring some of the lotion from the original container to a TSA sized container. Be sure to label what it is. If you have to go shopping for this later, this will eat into your budget. SPF lotions are not always inexpensive even at the best of times. If you have sensitive skin and need a specific brand, be sure to carry this with you as you may not be able to find the brand you use at your vacation destination.

Hats and Sunglasses

This should go without saying, but bring your hats and sunglasses with you from home. This will save your vacation budget. Of course, if you’re looking for a souvenir hat, then fine. Sunglasses won’t be cheap inside the park. If you can get to a Target or Walmart, you can likely buy a cheap pair. Again, that eats into your vacation budget. Save this money by bringing these items with you from home.

You’ll also want to keep your sunglasses on a string or take them off and hold or secure them inside the bag when riding rides. Same for hats. Hats and sunglasses tend to sprout wings and fly on rollercoasters. Be sure to hold onto them well. This also includes cell phones. If you can rent a locker before heading onto a rollercoaster, you can lock these items up to avoid losing them while riding. Though, you should always hold your cell phone in your hand tightly while riding. You shouldn’t leave your phone in a locker.

Phone charger, cable and power bank

If you know that your phone is likely to run out of power quickly, you’ll want to carry a fully charged power bank and charge cable in your bag (and in your luggage on your trip). If you forget to bring these items with you, you’ll pay $30 to Disney to get a power bank and cable. That’s $30 you could have used to help pay for dinner or a souvenir. Of course, you might be able to run to Best Buy or Target and pick one up for slightly less, but that’s still an expense you can avoid by bringing one with you. It also means you have to leave the park and go run errands, wasting time.

Yes, the TSA allows you to carry a power bank in your suitcase or carry on bag so long as it is inside of a bag that prevents accidental discharge. Purchasing a power bank or cable is one expense you’ll want to avoid.

You may be able to find power outlets inside of Disney to plug in your charger, but that means you’ll be sitting around waiting. If you have a power bank battery in your bag, you can charge your phone while you’re walking around the park. Be sure to remember to charge the power bank each night at the hotel. You’ll also want to have a battery that can charge your phone at least twice or carry two batteries.

Strollers

If you’re traveling with children who need a stroller, you are permitted to bring your own stroller as long as the stroller is less than 36″ x 52″ in size and is not a wagon. Wagons are not permitted. You can rent a stroller at the park, but these obviously cost money. If you’re trying to save on costs, plan to bring your own stroller with you. This means checking the stroller as checked baggage at the airport.

However, many airlines today are now charging for checked bags with fees up to $50. If the checked stroller cost ends up higher than the cost to rent a stroller, renting a stroller may be worth the expense at the park. For example, if you plan a 5 day trip to the park, your rental costs will be $65-75 depending on discounts. This is higher than $50 to check a bag. In this case, it’s worth it to bring your own from home. If your trip is 3 days in the park, then it might be less expensive to rent a stroller in the park.

If you simply don’t want the hassle of carrying a bulky stroller with you while traveling, then renting a stroller is your only option.

Fireworks Show

This tip isn’t really a money saver, but it does let you take better advantage of the money you spent on your tickets. Always take advantage of the fireworks display and other large crowd attention gathering shows (i.e., parades). You’ll want to watch the fireworks show once while you’re at the park. Skip the fireworks shows on the rest of the days. Instead, use this time to ride the long wait time rides.

Because the fireworks show is a huge crowd draw, many people leave the rides to go watch the show. This gives at least 30 minutes to make haste and ride some of the more popular rides like Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain. These line wait times can drop precipitously during the fireworks show. Take advantage of this. You can sometimes  ride these popular rides more than once in that 30 minute period. You’ll want to find which rides have the longest wait times, then plan to visit these rides during the fireworks show each successive night.

Because this window of opportunity is 30 minutes with the fireworks, you’ll need to plan which rides in advance. For example, riding Space Mountain, then traversing half the park to ride a different ride could lose you 10-15 minutes in walking time. Try to keep your rides close together to maximize this 30 minutes of short lines.

Note that this window of opportunity isn’t always a sure thing. It all depends on how many people realize this drop in wait times and take advantage of it. If you’re in the park on Halloween or Christmas, for example, these are times when the park is excessively crowded. Waiting for fireworks on these nights may not reduce the wait times simply because the crowds are already excessive.

Also note that as soon as the fireworks end, the lines go right back to the length they were before it started.

FastPass

If visiting Disney World, Take advantage of FastPass to reserve times in advance on popular rides. Note that you don’t necessarily have to reserve times the day before. If you’re diligent enough on the phone app, you can sometimes find cancelled reservations that you can immediately take advantage of (within 15-45 minutes). You just need to keep polling the FastPass app looking for cancelations.

Unfortunately, FastPass requires adding the MaxPass option to your tickets which is at least $50 extra per ticket. FastPass is worth it if you intend to ride the most popular rides in the park. Otherwise, you can find yourself standing in line for several hours to ride… or you’ll have to wait for the fireworks show later in the evening and hope the wait times temporarily subside.

Note that FastPass works somewhat differently at Disneyland than at Disney World. You’ll need to download the app on your phone for Disneyland to use FastPass.

Costs

For any Disney vacation, you’ll have to expect to spend around $1200-$1500 for a family of 4 just on tickets. This is pretty much the same cost at Disneyland vs Disney World. Depending on your distance from California or Florida, your airfare may vary. If you live in California and travel to Disneyland, it will be less expensive than traveling from New York City to California. The hotel and airfare might knock you back an additional $1400 to $2500 depending on hotel, airline and time of year.

You’ll still need to plan for food, souvenirs and incidentals. This will probably be another $1000. Overall, expect to spend $2500-$5000 for a family of four not including food or incidentals for a 5 day vacation. Disney World will be slightly more costly than Disneyland. By slightly, I mean several hundred dollars more costly as Disney World ticket prices are higher and hotel costs seem a slightly higher in Florida than in California.

Can you visit a Disney park with less money? If you drive, you can save on airfare. If you have an RV, you can live in that and save on hotel costs. Driving an RV, you can save on both airfare and hotel fees, but you’ll need to pay for RV rental space. Having an RV can substantially reduce your travel and stay costs, but this also means having access to an RV. If you have to rent an RV, per day rental fees can be very similar to hotel room rates and an RV is much more cramped. You may not save much money by renting an RV. You also likely won’t want to use the RV around town, so you’ll need to rent a car when you get there adding to the costs of the vacation.

Camping

If you’re willing to rough it a bit when at Disney World, you can camp at Disney’s Fort Wilderness. You can check this page to determine the going campsite rates. The cheapest rate I’ve seen is $55 a night before tax. There may less expensive non-Disney RV parking and campsites available (i.e., state and national parks). Check Google for details. Parking off of Disney’s grounds means you’ll need to find your own transportation to and from the parks.

Camping near Disneyland is limited considering it’s in the middle of Anaheim, CA. There are several RV parks not far from Disneyland, but you’ll need to find your own transportation to and from the RV park and Disneyland.

RV Parking at the Parks

If you intend to also use your RV as your vehicle, RV parking is permitted at the all Disney World parking areas for a fee. This fee is higher than for a car. RV Parking is only permitted in the Toy Story parking area at Disneyland also at a higher fee. You’ll need to plan for this daily fee in your vacation budget if you want to use your RV to transport you to the park(s) each day.

Tips and Traps

This section is both about saving money and about not losing your money to scams. It’s pretty much common sense, but these are always worth saying.

Avoid Ticket Scams

Don’t buy your park tickets through eBay, Craigslist or other similar classified sites or sellers. Always use reputable sites authorized to sell tickets on behalf of the Disney parks. A few of these reputable sites include:

You may find some people claiming to sell partially used tickets. DO NOT buy these! Tickets, once used, are tied to an individual’s fingerprint and cannot be transferred. There’s no way for you to make use of a anyone else’s used ticket. Also, once a multi-day ticket is used, the clock is ticking. Multi-day tickets also expire 13 days after first use. Used ticket sales are always a scam. Don’t even consider this as an option.

However, if a ticket has never been used, these are valid tickets. The problem is, if you’re not buying the ticket from an authorized channel or from someone you absolutely trust, it’s very likely a scam. It’s easy to counterfeit e-tickets and paper tickets to look legitimate. You don’t want to get to the front gate and find out what you bought was counterfeit, then be stuck paying full price at the gate. Always buy through reputable booking services. Don’t get scammed by buying tickets from a classified ad or an individual.

Use your own camera

When in the park, take photos with your own camera. Don’t fall for Disney’s photographic services. Disney will always try to entice you into using their services to take pictures of you with the characters. This is a costly service. Simply ask a cast member to take the picture with your camera or phone.

For safety reasons, only ever ask a cast member with a name badge to take a photo with your camera. Never ask another guest whom you don’t know to handle your property. They can easily run off with your camera or phone and you’ll never see it again. In a place the size of Disney’s parks, you can’t trust anyone to hold your property. The only people in the Disney parks that you can trust to hold your property are cast members. Better, bring along a telescopic selfie stick and hold the camera yourself.

Carry only what you need

This goes back to carrying a small bag with you. If you carry a small zippered bag, you can contain everything you’ll need for a day at the park and not have to carry it in your hands. Because Disney crowds can be varied and large, avoid flashing money if you don’t have to. Also, a small bag allows you to stow your camera, hat and sunglasses when you ride rides. Be sure to secure your bag when you take it onto a ride or use a locker.

Go Cashless

If you have a MagicBand wristband (not available at Disneyland) or room card and you’re staying in a Disney resort hotel, you can charge purchases to your room. I’m not a big fan of doing this because you end up with a whopping bill to pay at the end of your stay. There’s also nothing available to allow you to budget your spending. However, you can go this route if you like. I already don’t trust hotels to tally up the correct amount when the bill is due. Why convolute the bill further by charging in-park items to the hotel room?

You can still go cashless. Because Apple Pay is available within the Disney parks, this means you’ll have flexibility in using your Apple watch or phone device to pay for items within the park. Of course, you can also use a credit or debit card. This avoids cash transactions and it avoids pulling out your wallet for all to see. Unfortunately, it seems that Samsung Pay is not available at Disney. Google Wallet may only be available for use at Disney World. Apple Pay seems to be the best choice for either Disney World or Disneyland. Unfortunately, these cashless options don’t allow for easy budgeting.

Even though Apple Pay is accepted at Disney parks, it may not be accepted at stores outside of Disney. Always carry an alternative payment method when your preferred method is unavailable. For example, Target and Walmart don’t accept Apple Pay. Also, some smaller food carts in the park may be cash only.

Gift Cards and Budgets

If you want to stick to a strict budget while at Disney, buy and fill a Disney Gift card. If you have a $100 a day budget, then add $100 to a Disney gift card. You can use this card when purchasing anything at any Disneyland park, Disney World park or even at a Disney store. Using a gift card avoids overspending in the park and allows you to stick to your daily budget. Buying and using a Disney Gift card is the best budgeting choice at Disney. Note that you can only refill the cards at a location that sells them. There are refill and purchase locations in the park. Online refills are not available. This means you’ll need to buy the card(s) at a Disney Store before you travel or buy them in the park when you get there. You’ll need to allot time to refill the card each morning or before you leave the park each night. Disney gift cards have no fees. Even though the gift cards never expire, you’ll want to use up any remaining balance before you leave the park on your final day.

Protect your gift card like you would any other credit card. However, if it’s lost or stolen, you will need a copy of the original purchase receipt to freeze the account and transfer the remaining balance to a new card. Call 1-877-650-4327 to report a lost or stolen card. You will need to provide the first 12 digits of the Disney Gift Card account number to the agent to freeze the account. You can then visit a gift card location and they will transfer the remaining balance to a new card. Be sure to take a picture of the card number on your phone or write it down and take a picture of the receipt so you always have a copy of both the card number and the receipt on your phone. It’s also a good idea to back up these photos to Google Drive or iCloud just in case you lose access to your phone.

Non-Disney Parks and Cards

If your vacation plans include visits to non-Disney parks, then a prepaid Visa or MasterCard is the more flexible option even though they have fees. With a prepaid Visa or MasterCard, you will need to keep close track of the balance available on the card. Unlike gift cards that let you use every last penny on a transaction seamlessly, prepaid Visa and MasterCards don’t work like this. If you have a balance of $1.22 on the card and you attempt to spend $1.25, the payment will decline. It doesn’t automatically give you the option of spending $1.22 and then making up the difference in cash like a gift card. You’ll need to continually check the balance of the Visa or MasterCard so you know exactly how much you have left.

To work a payment similarly to a gift card, you’ll need to ask the cashier to ring exactly $1.22 onto the card which will succeed, then pay the difference with cash or another payment method. The merchant has no way to tell you how much balance remains on a prepaid card. You’ll have to check the balance online through your phone or computer. However, unlike Disney gift cards, you can refill your prepaid Visa and MasterCard cards online.

Lost or stolen Visa or MasterCard prepaid cards are more complicated. You will need to write down the phone and card numbers listed on the back of your cards or take a photo of the front and back of the card so you have it on your phone. You can then call the number on the back of the card from the photo if your card is missing. Getting a replacement card is not nearly as fast as a replacement Disney gift card. Be prepared to wait for a replacement. You might be able to request Visa or MasterCard to provide emergency cash that you can pick up somewhere close to your location until your replacement card arrives.

Stick to known payment methods

Avoid using odd payment cards like AmericanExpress gift cards, Visa gift cards, MasterCard gift cards, Visa TravelMoney (traveler’s check cards), Traveler’s Cheques (they’re old and antiquated) and other oddball payment methods. These payment methods are not always accepted everywhere and may cause you no end of trouble. The last thing you want is a bunch of vacation frustration because you chose a payment method or card that few places accept. Undoing a mistake like this can be costly and time consuming when you should be enjoying your vacation.

Stick to mainstream, well known and accepted payment methods for your vacation. If you’re unsure about a payment method, call the places you intend to visit while on your vacation and ask if they accept a specific payment method. Keep in mind that not all employees are well versed in what their employer accepts and may tell you, “Yes” just to get you off of the phone. Always ask to speak to a manager to confirm the accepted payment methods. To avoid this possible source of stress, stick to well known, modern and accepted payment methods.

Emergency Cash On-Hand

Always carry emergency cash on your person for obvious reasons. If you need a cab or similar to get out of the park, having cash will get you out of there faster.

Overall

Can you spend less money on a Disney vacation? To a degree, yes. It also depends on you. If your family is up for roughing it outside in a tent, you can save money by staying at a campground rather than at an expensive hotel. You can also save money on airfare by driving to the resort.

If you set a strict budget on your in-park spending, you can reduce your incidental and food expenses.

With that said, if you intend to fly and stay at a hotel along with visiting the park for several days, expect to spend about $300-$400 per person for 3-5 days just on tickets to get into the park. On top of that, add your airfare, hotel and food and incidental costs.

For example, to plan a Walt Disney world vacation stay in Orlando, expect to spend around $3000-$5000 for four people over 5 in-park days. You can reduce this some by reducing the number of days you stay. You may be able to get a discount if you use AAA to book your airfare and hotel rooms. Your costs may be $200-800 lower if you choose to visit Disneyland in California because hotels are somewhat less expensive and the tickets to enter the park are also somewhat less expensive. Airfare is whatever it costs to get your family from your current location to any of the parks. Note that you can have just as much fun at Disneyland as you can at Disney World. It’s just that there’s a bit more to see at Disney World because there are more parks to see.

If you choose to add on Universal Studios or other parks, the costs go up… but you can sometimes get additional park bundles that offer discounts. You’ll need to shop around and compare to get your best deals.

You may be able to get better deals on lower attendance days. You can view the expected Disney park attendance by visiting the Attendance Calendar at Undercover Tourist. Off-peak season begins when the kids have gone back to school and right after the holidays are over. While you may not be able to take your children out of school to go during off-peak, this is the best time to visit Disneyland or Disney World. If you book your trip on lower attendance days, you may also see better deals and discounts. The worst time to book a vacation is within a few weeks of when you want to go, during peak season (June and July) and during the Halloween and Christmas holidays. You’ll get the least discounts booking during peak season.

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Carrie Fisher to appear in Star Wars: Episode 9

Posted in business, movies by commorancy on July 27, 2018

star-wars-e9It was announced today by LucasFilm that J.J. Abrams has come up with a way to include Carrie Fisher in the upcoming Star Wars Episode 9 installment. Let’s explore.

The Force Awakens

Every film has outtakes and footage that doesn’t make the final cut. So, where does that film end up? It seems that the outtake footage of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens will end up in Episode 9.

What does this mean for Episode 9? It means that J.J. Abrams will need extraordinary writing and editing efforts to shoehorn this existing footage into a cohesive narrative for Episode 9.

Will It Work?

This is, unfortunately, a constraint that the saga doesn’t need. I realize that Carrie Fisher’s untimely death left the Star Wars franchise with a dilemma. I also realize that the filmmakers wanted a way to properly close Leia out from this Saga. I further realize that the story needs to be cohesive and round out the ending of this already perilous trilogy after the divisive The Last Jedi.

On the one hand, I’m like any other fan. I want to see Leia complete her role in the final installment. On the other hand, I realize this isn’t possible because Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. I also realize that the series needs to honor Carrie’s and Leia’s legacy in these films.

At the same time, The Last Jedi arguably one of the worst Star Wars films ever made and it needs to be forgotten as we try to ignore (as best we can) the crap that Rian Johnson introduced. With that said, J.J. Abrams needs to try and salvage and close out this trilogy in some befitting way.

By grabbing random film stock of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens, it is intended to do one thing, honor Carrie’s memory… something this franchise does need to do. However, there are many ways of honoring a person’s memory without resorting to fitting …

Square Pegs in Round Holes

This is where I believe J.J. Abrams has just tied his own hands. J.J.’s abilities to write solid functional stories for film is difficult enough at the best of times. When trying to honor Carrie’s and Leia’s memory at the same time using this old stock footage, I’m highly skeptical that J.J. is actually proficient enough at screenwriting to pull this final installment off with these constraints. I’m not saying that J.J. can’t pull it off, but his ability to pull it off successfully has just dropped dramatically.

Final Trilogy Installment

We all know that this trilogy (and the Star Wars franchise in general) is already in serious trouble. I’d personally consider using Carrie’s The Force Awakens footage as a highly risky move for this film. Yes, we do need to close out Leia’s involvement, but I’m uncertain that this existing footage will even make sense in the context of a new story.

Considering the performance of the Solo movie, I wouldn’t have suggested making an announcement that this possibility exists at all. Just let it happen organically. If it works, so be it. We’ll see it when the movie is complete. Since the principal photography is to begin in August 2018, it’s way too premature to know if what Carrie filmed in 2015 will even work. And, if it doesn’t work when a rough cut is viewed, it could end up on the cutting room floor again. After all, it was already on the cutting room floor. Having announced it in the press means fans will expect it to be in the film. If it’s yanked because it doesn’t work, that choice will be reflected in the movie’s box office receipts. This announcement seems way too premature.

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Remembering the 80s: Moonlighting

Posted in botch, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 24, 2018

MoonlightingIn 1985, Moonlighting began as a show TV viewers seemed to both love and hate. I personally became very fond of this show at the time. Today, it is simply a product of its time period. Let’s explore.

80s TV

After coming out of the 70s, where crime dramas tended to rule the roost, the 80s spawned more lighthearted comedy to balance out those 70s serials. In fact, the 80s spawned a lot of TV shows that are fondly remembered. One of these is the screwball romantic comedy Moonlighting produced by Glenn Gordon Caron.

Moonlighting hearkens back to screwball comedies of the 40s with a straight man (or woman) character Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) to the cuckoo character David Addison (Bruce Willis). At the time, Willis was an unknown. I’m sure the TV executives weren’t sure he could pull off the role at the time, but once the chemistry between Bruce and Cybill became palpable, all executive misgivings evaporated.

Moonlighting and Chemistry

Like Charlie’s Angels before Moonlighting, this cast was as tight on chemistry as they come. The on-screen chemistry between these two actors was amazing to behold. Unfortunately, what made the show a winner would also see to its demise. The quick and witty repartee between Maddie and David would become deeply symbolic of what went on behind the scenes. After the second season, the apparently deep and constant bickering between the two actors would ultimately end up in tabloids, tarnishing this series irrevocably. However, what ultimately did this series in was its writing, production in-fighting and Cybill’s pregnancy.

Biting off more…

The witty rapid fire repartee of the Moonlighting character dialogue wasn’t without peril. Oh, it was most certainly fun to watch. Apparently, each script required double the amount of written exposition found in a similar series. This meant writing double the amount of pages in a script. Effectively, each episode was two episodes worth of material. Instead of cranking out several episodes rapidly, writers were only able to produce half the number in the same period. Because of the quick witty interrupting repartee, sometimes with Maddie and David talking over one another simultaneously, this would only serve to delay how quickly an episode could be shot.

At the time, it was said that it took upwards of sometimes 10-14 days to complete one episode of Moonlighting when most series with half the dialogue took about 5-7 days.

For both filming and writing reasons, trying to reliably release one episode per week was a chore for the Moonlighting team. This meant that episodes didn’t reliably show up every week. Usually there was a rerun in between new episodes. This also meant you’d never know if the show that week would be a rerun or a new episode until it showed up in TV Guide. This didn’t happen during season one and two because these seasons had many episodes in the can by the time the show aired. However, once the series airings caught up to the currently filmed episode, they never could get ahead again.

For a viewer, this unknown led to a lot of disappointment after finding out that this week’s episode was a three or more weeks old rerun. That’s not to say that those episodes weren’t funny, but they were way too recent to rewatch. This problem stagnated the series and was Moonlighting’s first blemish. More blemishes would show as time progressed. Though, the reruns were helpful if you missed that episode.

First Two Seasons

For the first two seasons of this series, which encompassed a total of 24 episodes (6 in season one and 18 in season two), the series kept its chemistry entirely on track. The writers kept Maddie and David in check and at just the proper distance from one another as Maddie constantly played hard to get. The constant keeping-David-at-arms-length premise kept the sexual tension at just the right level. It’s what kept people coming back week after week to see if Maddie finally gets together with David. Between the magic of the witty repartee and keeping David and Maddie at arm’s length, this was the show’s mojo. However, the witty rapid dialog and sexual tension began to wear a little thin by season three. Viewers wanted to finally see David and Maddie get together. Careful what you wish for.

Season Three

In Season three, when Maddie and David finally hook up in the episode I am curious… Maddie, the series deflates like a balloon. That episode singlehandedly took the wind out of the sails of Moonlighting. Not only did the sexual tension vanish, the constant rumors of the on-set fighting between Cybill and Bruce began appearing in tabloids and only served as a major distraction to the series. This coupled with Cybill’s real life pregnancy and Bruce’s leave to be in Die Hard left the series in a quandary:

  • Incorporate the pregnancy into the show or go on without her
  • Go on with or without Bruce

This is also where the actor’s real lives intruded into the production of this fine series. This season also marks when the series ran off the rails.

Season Four

At this point in the series, had I been the producer, I might have opted to create episodes with other characters while Cybill takes maternity leave if Bruce had been available. However, because both lead actors were otherwise tied up with outside commitments, the choice should have been to delay any further production of the series. The network apparently didn’t want this which led to a bad decision.

After the series introduced Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) as more than just a charming rhyming receptionist and brought in Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) as her love interest, the series tried expanding on these two characters in their own episodes while waiting on Bruce and Cybill to be available. This really didn’t work. Beasley and Armstrong had very little on-screen chemistry leaving the episodes flat and boring. Beasley was charming as the rhyming receptionist role, but she wasn’t in any way able to carry the series in an expanded role. Neither could Armstrong. Together, they simply had no chemistry together nor were the characters leading character material. They simply could not carry this series.

By this point, I felt that the series was way offtrack. At the time, I knew it was only a matter of time before Moonlighting was cancelled. Not only was the sexual tension lost, the series began focusing on forgettable side character arcs that didn’t matter. This all happened simply because the two lead actors were unavailable. You can’t run a series when your leads are missing in action. While I understand Cybill’s pregnancy, I can’t understand why the series allowed Bruce Willis to sign a contract to be in Die Hard while the series was still in production. This just makes no sense.

Without its leads, the series should have taken a hiatus. Coupled with the slow shooting schedule, the longer than typical scripts, the show just couldn’t make any headway. If this had had a normal filming schedule, they could have put a few (or many) episodes in the can in advance of both Cybill’s and Bruce’s departure and then had them to fill out the time slots when the actors were unavailable. Because of the size of the scripts, this was impossible. Though, they did get pre-work from Cybill before her maternity leave and before season four began. But, this pre-work was filmed before the full episodes were fully scripted or shot.

By the time Cybill went on leave with her pregnancy and Bruce was tied up with Die Hard, this meant that a lot of season four was created by the actors phoning in their parts. As stated above, Cybill had pre-shot her dialogue scenes separately which had to be worked into as yet uncreated episodes. Because the leads were never seen together in scenes, the series ratings continued to decline. You can’t exactly create sexual tension between two characters when they’re talking to each other over the phone and not in the same room.

The ratings didn’t improve when the series tried focusing on DiPesto and Viola in an attempt to carry the series. In season three, not only had Maddie and David come together and split, the series introduced Sam Crawford (Mark Harmon) as Maddie’s new love interest. By season four, Maddie gets pregnant (assumed to be by Sam, but could have been David), thus integrating her pregnancy (and the unnecessary Sam character) into season four. It was a horrible plot choice, particularly the ambiguity of the father of the baby.

There’s no way faster to lose the hot model image than by knocking up your main character, particularly if by a transient and unnecessary character. This third character also transformed the series from a twosome into a threesome, which also didn’t work. The chemistry between these three did not work at all. This further served to degrade this series into a train wreck about to crash. Not only had Maddie and David gotten together and split forever, Maddie takes on a new boyfriend which is assumed she consummates that relationship with a baby. It was the wrong play. It added a new character dynamic at the wrong time into a series that least needed it. It also implied that Sam, not David, was the father of the baby. As well, having characters phoning in their parts didn’t make the episodes great. It would have been a better choice not to incorporate the pregnancy or Sam at all. The best choice was hiatus.

By halfway through the season, I’d grown tired of seeing stories about DiPesto and Viola and Maddie and Sam. The series was originally about the detective agency and the relationship between Maddie and David. We lost that when the series began focusing stories away from Maddie and David and more on other characters. The magic, at this point, was irreparably lost and the ratings continued to reflect that change in creative direction.

As for Maddie’s baby, just think what would have happened to the Charlie’s Angels ratings had one of the main characters gotten pregnant on Charlie’s Angels? That series would have tanked harder than when Farrah Fawcett left the series. The Charlie’s Angels story is about hot female detectives performing detective work. Not about rearing children or getting knocked up. Same for Moonlighting. Moonlighting was about a hot model owning a detective agency. It’s not about getting knocked up and rearing babies.

By season four, the writers had lost their way with the plots. This was in part because, according to the tabloids, the actors were not only fighting with each other, they were also fighting over what they were being paid. It was also in part because of the lack of their lead actor’s availability to film episodes.  It was also in part due to the writers strike. This led to poor story choices and a swirl of tabloid gossip.

Season Five

By this season and after the writers strike concluded, which cut short the final episode of season four, the writers and producers seemed to have realized the error of their ways with Maddie’s pregnancy and penned a season opener that sees Maddie miscarry and lose the baby. It was too little, too late. It was also a bad idea overall. Setting Maddie up to have a baby, see her carry it and then miscarry? This isn’t a topic for a comedy show. This topic on this show misfired. This is a detective show, not a home and family show. The damage was already done.

By season five, the show couldn’t get its mojo back for a number of reasons. The first reason is because of the lack of enthusiasm by the show’s stars. Bruce had further created a successful new franchise in Die Hard. Cybill now had twins and wanted out of the long working hours to be with them. The second reason is that the writing failed to go back to Blue Moon cases with Maddie and David in the office trying to rekindle the sexual tension spark with witty repartee instead of dealing with Maddie’s personal life. This change in show direction was due to Glenn Gordon Caron’s departure. The creative team was gutted. The episode that attempted to reignite the sexual tension spark failed and tanked the ratings further. Ultimately, season three showed it had entirely spent its mojo capital when it got Maddie and David together. Everything after that point couldn’t save the series from cancellation. If season four was the purchase of the coffin, season five nailed it shut.

Aresto Momentum…

Even still, the show did reach two more seasons after David and Maddie got together.  That’s respectable, but not necessarily unexpected. Some of the episodes in seasons four and five were okay, if not a little tired. However, the show still had a lot of momentum going into into the fourth season if only the actors had been available to shoot every episode and keep that momentum going. Unfortunately, Moonlighting just couldn’t withstand the turmoil, chaos and the cast unavailability. The series eventually succumbed to its ratings slump and the eventual loss of Glenn Gordon Caron, the series creator by season five due to a rift between Cybill and Glenn. That change in the creative team didn’t help the stories in any way.

The Fourth Wall

By the third season, the shows regularly opened with David and Maddie staring directly at the camera offering some kind of message. Usually the message existed simply because the show ran short on time and they needed to fill it. These messages made no bones about it. These show opening messages would become the first salvo in fourth wall breaking that the series would begin exploring.

Personally, while I didn’t mind the show openers, I didn’t want to see fourth wall breaks within an episode. It is what it is. The show would take this to the extreme in the final episode. The series ending in season 5 shows the crew breaking down the entire set while David and Maddie are still trying to play their detective character roles while the producer states that the show has been cancelled. It was somewhat funny to watch, but it really dissed the show. Sure, it’s fun for shows to poke fun at themselves, but this went way beyond what I thought was appropriate for a professional series.

Everything that went wrong with the series was pretty much summed up in the series closing episode by breaking down that set.

A product of its time

Moonlighting was cute, funny and endearing when at its best. It was a hot mess when at its worst. However, it was also a product of the 80s in which it was spawned. Time has not been kind to this series. Producers today reference this series as something to avoid when creating new productions. They simply don’t want to revisit what happened when Maddie and David finally got together. That single episode is now considered the poster child of what not to do with characters in a TV series.

Because Moonlighting never went into syndication in the traditional way, it simply hasn’t had the power of reruns on its side. I don’t think syndication would have helped this series much, anyway. Unlike I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, which saw continual and never ending reruns, Moonlighting never got that chance. It’s probably a good thing.

The series was fun to watch during its era, but today the show’s comedy and antics seem antiquated and pretentious. Where I Love Lucy is mostly timeless, Moonlighting is a time capsule out of time when watched today. This show was definitely a product of the 80s with its shoulder pads and dated hair styles and clothing. If you like 80s TV, it’s a must watch. However, if you’re looking for something modern and relevant, you won’t find that in Moonlighting. The stories are definitely dated to its era.

If you really want to watch this series at its absolute best, I suggest watching seasons one and two and season three up to I am curious… Maddie and stop there. The last episode of season 5 is fun to watch if for no other reason than to watch the cast break through the fourth wall. Though, you can watch season four and five, don’t expect much from these two final seasons. Season three is ultimately where the series should have ended.

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Unlimited Vacation: Blessing or Curse?

Posted in best practices, business, vacation by commorancy on July 23, 2018

I don’t usually get into discussing workplace stuff because it’s relatively boring. However, Unlimited Vacation is one perk that is really, really needs discussion. Let’s explore.

Perks and Jobs

I get it. I understand why companies offer perks. They have to offer perks for talent acquisition reasons such as:

  1. Companies must keep up with competition — If a company doesn’t keep up with what other companies are offering, they lose talent during recruiting
  2. Companies must offer perks that seem inviting — Again, this is a talent acquisition feather-in-the-cap sort of thing. It’s something the HR team can cross off the checklist of things to entice candidates
  3. Companies must offer perks that are inexpensive — Companies don’t want to give away the farm to offer a specific perk

What kinds of perks can you typically find in tech companies? You find perks like the following:

  1. A stocked kitchen — This includes soda, coffee, tea, milk / cream and then for food, this can include fruit, nuts, chips and cereal
  2. Bagel Friday — This perk includes donuts and bagels on Friday
  3. Lunches — Some companies offer subsidized and/or free lunches one or several days of the week

Those are all food related, however, other perks include:

  1. Day Care or reimbursement
  2. Commute expenses
  3. Free parking
  4. Tuition Reimbursement (job related)
  5. Training / certifications (job related)
  6. Paid sick days
  7. Paid vacation
  8. 401k
  9. ESPP (if public company)
  10. Company holidays

These are the HR type of benefits that many companies offer. Many of these have a real dollar based cost to the business. However, there’s a new perk that seems great, but really isn’t for several reasons. That perk is ….

Unlimited Vacation

This ‘perk’ (and I use this term loosely) is now becoming popular in businesses. Why? Because it doesn’t cost the business anything to implement and may actually save the company some money (or so companies think). On paper, the idea seems enticing, in reality it’s a pointless benefit to employees and actually encourages more employees to take vacation which may hinder productivity and deadlines.

Why is this benefit so bad? This benefit is pointless because there is no way any employee can actually use it in its unlimited capacity. If you were to try, you’d be fired and walked from the building. I don’t know of any business that doesn’t require approval for vacation from a manager. Even if you could request excessive amounts of vacation, it’s unlikely your manager would approve it. But, within reason, you can request time off and here’s where it begins to break down for employers.

The only people who can even use this benefit as unlimited are those who are in management positions, who don’t have to report their own vacation usage. In other words, subordinates won’t be able to use it, but managers will (and they will use it frequently).

This is one of those perks that will be abused by those in charge. Those not in charge will be penalized whenever they attempt to use it in any unlimited way.

Vacation Time

In general, asking for vacation time off is tricky. It must always be coordinated with ongoing projects, team commitments (i.e., on-call), other team member time off and holidays and requires manager approval. Even people who end up out sick can interrupt or force rescheduling of vacation time off.

Don’t be tricked by this perk, it doesn’t make vacation time off any more accessible and, in fact it is entirely designed entirely for …

Ripping off Employees

There are two fundamental problems with Unlimited Vacation. The first problem is that the benefit (ahem) is being implemented as a cost saving measure to rip off employees when they leave a company (and is designed to appear to save the company many thousands of dollars). This issue really only affects long term employees. You know, the ones who have devoted several years to your business. But now, you’re going to give them the finger on the way out the door? Smart.

With standard paid time off (PTO), you are allotted a certain amount of hours that accrue over time. Let’s say for every year of service that you complete, you will accrue up to 1 week off (with a maximum of 2 weeks that can be held in total). After 2 years of service, you’ll have those 2 weeks accrued, assuming you never take time off. If you leave the company after 2 years without taking any vacation, you’ll be paid out your accrued PTO balance for the 2 weeks that you didn’t take. That’s two weeks worth of salary you’ll receive upon exit, in addition to any other salary owed.

With Unlimited Vacation, that vacation payday goes away. Since it’s now unlimited, there’s no more time accrued and no more PTO to pay out for any employee. The only thing that payroll needs to keep track of is how much time you’ve used solely for timekeeping purposes. When you exit a company offering Unlimited Vacation, you won’t receive any vacation pay because they are no longer accruing any. This means that when you were formerly paid 2 weeks of PTO, with Unlimited Vacation you now get $0.

Unlimited Vacation is then an HR cost-cutting measure entirely designed to screw exiting long term employees over so companies no longer need to make any vacation payouts.

Here’s where the second problem begins. As employees realize this screw-over job and to make up for the lack of accrued time, this means employees will need to take as much vacation as is allowed without getting fired in the process. Since you can’t accrue, you now need to use.

Accrued PTO vs Unlimited Vacation

Businesses don’t seem to understand the ramifications of this perk on its workforce. The first ramification is that employees with accrued PTO no longer get the exit vacation payday. This is significant when exiting your employer and moving on. But, this only occurs on a termination event. Employees should remain cognizant of this event, but even more employers should remain cognizant of how this will change how vacation is used. As an employer, it means you need to understand how to retain your workforce better.

Here’s the second problem in a nutshell. PTO encourages employees to stockpile their vacation and rarely take it. Up to 50% of the workforce does this. However, Unlimited Vacation encourages employees to take as much vacation as they can legitimately get away with.

With PTO, employees might work and work and work with little time off. With UV, more employees will take more time off, thus working less. This is something that HR and management will need to understand about this benefit. If the point is to get people to take more time off, then UV is the answer. If you’re trying to encourage people to stay at their desks and work, PTO is the answer… but has the end payout.

It really all depends on how you want your staff to work. If you want people at their desks not taking time off, then PTO is your answer. If you want people constantly taking time off, then UV is your answer. Sure, UV saves you on the exit payments, but at the cost of people taking more time off throughout the year. It does one more thing.

The up to 50% of employees who rarely take time off will change their work ethic to include significantly more time off. Since they know can no longer stockpile and get that payday when leaving, they will now be encouraged to take time off to make up for that loss of money. This means that a workforce that you relied on to work excessive hours to make ends meet will no longer continue that trend in your business.

If you think that people will continue the same type of vacation behaviors they used with PTO when on UV, you’re mistaken. People will use what they are owed. If they are encouraged to take time off, they will whenever possible. This means that for the folks who rarely (if ever) took PTO days will now begin scheduling more time off throughout the year. That’s not because it’s unlimited, but because they understand that they no longer get the payout at the end. This compromise ensures they get the equivalent benefit and that means scheduling and taking time off. There’s entirely nothing the HR team can do about this change in vacation usage behavior when on the Unlimited Vacation plan.

It’s a use-it-or-lose it situation. If you never take vacation with PTO, you can justify it with the payout at the end. If you never take vacation with UV, not only do you get no time off, you get no payout at the end. It’s simple math. No payout at the end means using more vacation time to get the equivalent benefit. Employees aren’t stupid and they will realize this paradigm shift and compensate accordingly.

This outcome will happen. You can even watch your employees behaviors after you convert from a PTO to UV system. I guarantee, your employees will notice, understand and modify their vacation schedule accordingly. This may impact your business, so caveat emptor.

Good or Bad?

That’s for each company to decide. More employees taking more vacation is good for the employee and their morale. But, it may negatively impact the productivity of your business. With PTO, people not taking vacation means more productivity. With UV and more vacation time off, this likely means less productivity. It might mean a happier and less stressed workforce, but it likely also means less work getting done.

I’m not saying any individual will take excessive time off. No, I’m not saying that at all. That’s simply not possible. What I am saying is that if 40-50% of your workforce never takes time off under a PTO plan, you will likely find that number reduces to less than 10% of your workforce not taking time off with a UV system. That’s a significant amount more people taking time off throughout the year than on a PTO system.

If you delude yourself into thinking employees who don’t take vacation time off will continue a PTO trend on a UV plan, your HR team is very much mistaken. I can also guarantee that if managers deny vacation requests to keep employees at their desks, this too will backfire and your talent will leave. This will become a catch-22 problem in your business.

As an employer, you spend a lot of money hiring talent. You also spend a lot of money holding onto that talent. Why jeopardize all of that with a policy like UV that won’t really do what what you hoped it would? On paper, it seems like a great cost saving policy. In practicality, it will likely backfire on your company’s productivity efforts and cost you more money in the end, but not for the reasons you think.

Conversion Process

You may find that if you are converting from some other vacation system to unlimited that people do continue their traditional habits. However, that will change over time both as turnover happens and as people realize their loss of PTO payout. Once employees wake up to the realities of the new system, the amount of employees requesting and taking vacation will increase.

A UV policy will make it more difficult on the managers to juggle vacation timing, fairness and who can take what when. This will increase manager load by taking them away from managing projects and deadlines to managing the minutiae of juggling even more staff vacations.

Hourly Employees versus Salary Employees

This type of perk works best in salaried environments. With hourly employees, trying to offer a perk like Unlimited Vacation won’t really work well. This is particularly true of employees working in a call center or similar type environments. With salaried tech workers, this kind of benefit may work for you with the caveats that have been thus far described.

Startup or Established Company

If you run a startup, you should stay away from the Unlimited Vacation policy entirely. It won’t do your business any favors. Sure, it’s more cost effective, but only when long term employees leave. If you’re a startup, you won’t have long term employees to worry about for a while. Your duty is to entice your talent to stay, not leave. If you have a problem with a revolving door of staff, then you have a much bigger problem than a benefit like Unlimited Vacation. The problem for a startup is that a UV plan encourages more people to take vacation more often rather than stockpiling it for use later. Again, more workload for a manager to juggle vacation schedules rather than handling projects and deadlines.

In a startup, a UV policy means more people taking time off. This isn’t what you want when you need all hands on deck to keep the business afloat. You want most people at their desks and readily available at all times. When people take vacation, they expect to be cut off from their job including no email, no pager and no contact. And, rightly it should be. If you’re on vacation, you’re on vacation. PTO plans encourage staff to accrue now and take time off much, much later, perhaps years later. With a UV plan, this  encourages more people to take vacation regularly. Not exactly what you need in a startup. PTO works for a startup because employees stockpile and then once the business is off the ground years later, they will then take their vacations. This is why PTOs are actually better for a startup than a perk like UV.

If your business is established with 500 or more employees, then implementing an Unlimited Vacation policy might be worthwhile depending. With larger numbers of staff, there’s more opportunity for someone to cover an employee who’s out. This means if your 40%-50% staff who are stockpiling decide to start taking vacation in increasing numbers, you can withstand this change in your workforce behavior.

It’s up to you to decide how to operate your business, but PTO vs UV is one perk you should thoroughly investigate and then weigh all pros and cons before implementing it. Don’t do it simply because it might (or might not) save you some cash when employees exit. Do it because it’s the right plan for your business’s current operating goals.

 

How to fix: controllers won’t pair with PS4

Posted in repair, video game console by commorancy on July 19, 2018

Indemnification Disclaimer: By proceeding, you agree that the information contained herein is provided AS-IS with no warranty expressed or implied. You further agree that the article’s author and site owner are providing this information solely to aid in diagnosis and troubleshooting only. You agree that if you choose to undertake repair of your PS4 console, you assume all risk, liability, void warranty and damage. You agree that you (the reader) is solely responsible for any repair or replacement costs at your expense. The author of this article has made every effort to provide this information as accurately as possible. You agree to indemnify and hold harmless the site owner and article author from all claims due to your attempt(s) to repair your PS4 regardless of where the repair information was obtained or as a result of any article inaccuracies. Attempt repairs on your PS4 at your own risk. If you cannot agree to these terms for any reason, do not continue reading.


As a follow-on to my How to pair your PS4 controller wirelessly article, this one talks about a separate but related issue when a DualShock 4 controller refuses to pair or work wirelessly. Let’s explore.

Controller refuses to pair or work

You’ve walked through the steps in the Randocity article How to pair your PS4 controller wirelessly and this doesn’t work. The trouble may not be with your DS4 controller. Start by testing with a second controller. If the second controller also won’t work or pair, this trouble may not be with your controllers.

Instead, you’ll need to look at the possibility the problem is with your PS4. These symptoms include that any DS4 controller won’t work wirelessly and/or that the controller must be extremely close to the unit. This article covers the case when no DS4 controller pairs or works with your PS4. If you find that one controller works, but another one doesn’t, that isn’t the problem described here.

The Problem

There’s a small wire that leads from the WiFi controller to the WiFi antenna in the PS4’s case. On the antenna, the exposed portion of the end of the wire must bridge a small gap between the antenna sides. This small bridged gap is handled by the wire itself with a small blob of solder. If the unit is bumped, jostled or simply gets hot enough, the wire may come loose between the gap. This can cause the WiFi to work sporadically or not at all.

The Solution

Thankfully, there is a fix for this. The ifixit.com site has a reasonable repair guide to walk you through how to fix it.

Before you begin, if your PS4 is still under warranty or you don’t feel comfortable doing repair work, you should contact Sony about repairing this problem to prevent voiding your warranty or damaging your PS4.

Tools you’re going to need

Steps to Fix the WiFi Antenna

  1. Open your PS4 console by removing the rear stickers to expose screw(s), then unscrew screws and lift top off
  2. After top is open, locate screws for the power supply and unscrew them placing the screws aside separately
  3. Carefully unscrew and lift out the power supply (avoid stress on any cables) to expose the antenna wire connector
  4. Disconnect the WiFi antenna wire from the board using ESD-safe tweezers by pulling straight up
  5. Pull the now loose wire free from the chassis, then…
  6. Follow the wire to locate the WiFi antenna in the corner of the PS4
  7. Unscrew and take out the WiFi antenna being careful not to pull the wire loose
  8. Identify the gap between the antenna segments looking for two solder points
  9. Make sure that the antenna wire is long enough to span the gap
  10. Pull the wire to bridge the gap between both both solder points
  11. Solder the wire down on both sides of the gap making sure the antenna wire spans the gap
  12. Reassemble the PS4 in reverse being sure to thread the WiFi wire back through where it was and reconnecting it

For a follow-along visual reference, visit the ifixit.com guide or download the PDF:

The Design Problem

The small gap between the two sides of the antenna is spanned by the wire itself. This wire is fairly fragile and is prone to easily coming loose. The wire may come loose for many reasons. It could be because of an assembly problem. It could be because the solder came loose on its own or from heat buildup. It could be that simply jostling the unit worked it loose. It could be that you dropped the PS4. Whatever the problem, it’s a relatively easy fix.

Notes

The follow-along guide misses a few tools needed for this repair. Please see the above for the full tool reference you will need before beginning. Also, the follow along guide shows pliers being used to pull the antenna loose from the board. Don’t do this! Use ESD-safe tweezers (included with the soldering iron kit listed above or purchase separately) to properly disconnect this wire from the board.

If you don’t feel comfortable opening up your PS4 or performing this procedure, then you should contact Sony to discuss having this repair completed by a Sony repair center. If your PS4 is under warranty, I’d suggest having Sony repair this problem to avoid voiding your warranty by opening the unit.

If you have any questions about this guide, please leave a comment below.

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How to create Amiibos cards

Posted in Android, video game by commorancy on July 12, 2018

amiibo-logoTired of lugging all of your big plastic Amiibos around with you? Now you can carry them around on flat cards. Let’s explore.

What you’re going to need

Why an Android Phone?

Why not a tablet or other Android device? Other than phones, few other devices offer an NFC reader / writer. Some older tablets may have this capability, but the TagMo app may not work if the device is too old. Stick to a recently released phone with NFC (newer than 4 years).

For example, I picked up a Samsung S5, but there are other phones that also support NFC besides this specific model. You can even find budget Android phones (less than $80) that contain NFC capabilities. I specifically chose the Samsung S5 because it’s got an OLED screen (read awesome), fully supports the most NFC formats and it is fully compatible with TagMo and the rest of the software needed.

Why not iOS / Apple?

The TagMo app must be side loaded onto the device rather than obtaining it through a ‘store’.  Because Apple phones are almost impossible to side load apps, these devices are excluded from using TagMo. Sorry Apple fans, no TagMo for you. It’s also very unlikely Apple would ever approve such an app to be in the store… hence, side loading.

This leaves Android as the only platform that has the necessary phone features and also allows for app side loading. If you don’t have an Android phone, then you’re going to need to go get one to use with TagMo.

Installing the App

Before you attempt to download and install the app, you will need to prep Android so that you can install software outside of the app store and side load the TagMo app. This setup is done through security settings.

After having set the security settings, using a browser, go to the app download link above on your phone device. Choose the latest version. Once the file is downloaded, clicking to open it will prompt to install it. You will then need to allow access to parts of your device for this app… specifically, the NFC hardware and anything else it might request. Once installed, the app will appear in your apps list like any other app. You can drag it onto your desktop like in the video above.

Setting up Keys

After the app is installed, you’ll need to set up keys to allow it to read the Amiibos properly. If you don’t perform this step, you can’t backup your Amiibos and create cards from them. The two file names are unfixed-info.bin and locked-secret.bin. You may or may not be able to download these directly onto your Android device from Google Drive. It seems that Google Drive doesn’t download properly with Android devices when the files are not part of your own Google Drive account. Instead, you may need to download them onto a computer, then upload them into your personal Google Drive using the Google account connected to the phone. Then, download these two files from your personal Google Drive account to your phone. Or, alternatively, you can use DropBox or other similarly supported file storage sites.

You can’t USB load or use a zip unarchiver to place them into the download area of the phone. This won’t work because Android requires the DownloadManager service to register the files into the downloads area. This is only done if the files are actually downloaded. If you side load the files via USB or by placing them onto the microSD card remotely, the files won’t be registered in Android and, thus, won’t appear when you click to install them in the TagMo app.

These two files are required to enable TagMo to work with Amiibos. This download task is not hard, but thank Google for making this task more complicated than it should be. I’ll leave it to you to determine the best way to get these two files onto your phone. Once you have the files onto your phone or on your own Google Drive, continue to the next step. If you get stuck at this step, please leave me a comment and I’ll help walk you through it.

Once you have the keys ready to go, launch TagMo and your screen should look like so stating ‘Amiibo keys not found’:

AmiiboKeysNotFound

With your keys ready, install the the keys like so:

Scanning your first Amiibo

Now that you have your keys installed, you can scan your first Amiibo. So, the TagMo app should look like the below with the SCAN TAG button now enabled (be sure to have NFC turned on):

Screenshot_2018-07-12-06-17-29.png

Grab any Amiibo you own and click SCAN TAG like so:

Here’s what a scanned tag screen looks like:

Screenshot_2018-07-12-07-22-31.png

To save the tag you’ve just scanned into the phone’s database, click SAVE TAG. Let’s go through the screen above to understand what each button does:

  • LOAD TAG — Loads a tag from the phone’s tag database
  • SAVE TAG — Saves the currently loaded tag to the phone’s tag database
  • VIEW HEX — Not really needed, but let’s you view the HEX value of the tag
  • SHOW QR CODE — Let’s you show a tag QR code for another phone to scan easily through the camera
  • SCAN TAG — Turns on the NFC reader to read an Amiibo (card, figure or NTAG215 stored Amiibo)
  • WRITE TAG — Turns on the NFC writer to write the currently loaded Amiibo shown at the top of the screen to an NTAG215
  • RESTORE TAG — Let’s you restore SSB data from one Amiibo to another, but this only works if it’s the same Amiibo on both tags.
  • SCAN QR CODE — Lets you scan a QR code from another phone and load it into your phone’s TagMo database… for easy sharing.
  • Checkbox “Auto save scanned tags”, when checked, will automatically saved tags when scanned. This Checkbox does not stay checked between application runs. If not checked, you must save the tag manually after it’s been scanned.
  • Checkbox “Allow restore to different tag” — When checked, allows you to attempt to restore one tag on top of a tag with something different. May not work.
  • EDIT SSB DATA — Lets you modify the level and various limited data of your Amiibo before saving it to your TAG. If you want to level up a character to maximum, this is how to do it before writing a new tag out. This means you can fully level up your character without having to grind it.

Amiibo Database

As you scan your Amiibos and save each one to TagMo’s database, you’ll always have them available to create a card at any time. This means you don’t really even need to carry the pre-written cards around with you. You’ll just need to carry around some blank NTAG215 cards. You can then write out any Amiibo stored in your phone’s database at any time.

However, having pre-built Amiibo cards makes using them a lot faster. It also means you don’t have to rely on the phone to create a new card when you need it, especially if you’re borrowing someone else’s phone to do this.

The database screen looks like so:

Syncing the AmiiboAPI Database

Sometimes if you scan an Amiibo, the app won’t recognize it and it will appear on the screen with a red title and labeled as ‘Unknown’. If this happens, simply click the gear icon on the main screen with the SCAN TAG button, scroll down and select Sync Amiibo info with AmiiboAPI. This setting updates and syncs your TagMo database with what’s in the AmiiboAPI database on the Internet. When you pull down the screen to refresh your Amiibo phone’s database, your recently scanned Amiibo should now show a proper name. If it doesn’t, it may mean the Amiibo is too new and hasn’t yet been added to the AmiiboAPI database.

SSB Data

As mentioned just above, you can edit the SSB data to increase the level and features of your Amiibos. This allows you to customize your backed up Amiibo without having to modify your original.

Amiibos and Backups

TagMo allows backing up and restoring any Amiibo of any type. This includes the plastic figures as well as cards or any other type.

NTAG215 and Reuse

An NTAG215 is simply known as a tag. A tag can be written once with a single Amiibo. If you attempt to write to it a second time with an entirely different Amiibo, this won’t work and will likely destroy the tag. Tags are write-once. Get a new unused tag if you want to write a new Amiibo. With that said, an NTAG215 can write SSB data multiple times because only the values are changing, not the entire character. So, a tag Amiibo will function just like a plastic figure Amiibo on any game that supports them.

Purchasing NTAG215 Tags

Now that you have the app installed and functional, you’ll need to head over to Amazon and place an order for some NTAG215 tags and some blank white playing cards. Optionally, if you choose to buy a Polaroid Zip printer, you can print a nice looking image to stick on the card to identify what Amiibo you put onto the tag. The Polaroid Zip printer is a little expensive at around $99 + paper, but they do make the cards look and feel a whole lot more professional.

If you’re feeling creative, you can buy some markers or colored pens and draw the character onto the reverse side of the card. I prefer the Zip printer approach as it takes about 2 minutes to print an impressive image of the Amiibo. The print will then cover over the tag.

You can skip buying the playing cards. However, without cards, keeping track of your Amiibo tags becomes more difficult and the tags can be easily damaged. The cards help reinforce the tag to keep it from bending and make it easy to scan them into the games. The cards also fit nicely into a card binder. Though,  if you really want, the bare minimum to get a functional Amiibo is just the tags.

Types and Sizes of Tags

You may also notice that there are many types and sizes of NFC tags (like NTAG213 and NTAG216) that you can also find on Amazon when searching. You don’t want these as they won’t work. Be sure to buy only NTAG215 tags. The NTAG215s hold a maximum of 540 bytes of data. The other tags are either larger or smaller, but these won’t work as an Amiibo. Only buy NTAG215 tags. Note, some sellers may mix up tags with the wrong size, so be sure to test your tags immediately when you get them. If they don’t work, the seller may not have sent you NTAG215s even if the listing said that they were.

If you’re unsure if a tag will work as an Amiibo, read the listing closely. Most of the listings will tell you if it works as an Amiibo. If not, check the questions and answers section of the listing. If it’s not there, then ask a question or email the seller and ask. However, the link I give here are tags I’ve personally tested and know that they work. I also prefer the smaller physical sized tags over the larger ones. The physical dimensions of the tag don’t matter, what matters is that they are formatted as NTAG215. As I said, I prefer the smaller physical size tags because they fit on the blank playing card better and are more easily covered by a printed Polaroid Zip sticker.

Happy Carding!

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Review: Law and Order Special Victims Unit

Posted in entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 10, 2018

When Law and Order: Special Victims Unit began in the late 1999, I only watched it sporadically… basically whenever it was on. I’ve continued that same viewing behavior throughout the years. I’ve recently found that Hulu has 19 seasons streaming and I’ve decided to start watching it from the first season. So far, I’m now watching the 17th season. Let’s explore.

Sometimes silly with repetitive plots

The first season for this series started out extremely rough. Not only did the show not really know how to handle each of the characters in the squad room or how often, this season focuses almost entirely on Olivia Bensen and Elliot Stabler. It also didn’t really nail down its visual format until episode 3. It’s understandable I guess when it’s a new show. I’m uncertain how this show has managed to make it to 19 seasons considering the show is limited to sex crime which includes, rape and statutory rape and rape and rape. Did I mention rape? Sure, the circumstances are different in each episode. Sometimes the victim is dead, sometime the victim is alive. Sometimes the victim is alive, but then gets killed. The base stories are always similar. The perp might be the guy next door, a priest, a friend, a co-worker, a rich kid, a poor kid or whomever makes the most sense for the episode.

Cases that don’t belong in SVU

I also find that there are many cases that end up on the SVU desk that have no place being there. They aren’t even sex crimes, S5 E2 for example. I thought that when SVU determined the case wasn’t a sex crime that it got handed over to another appropriate division? Why would you waste valuable SVU resources (which are quite limited) on a case that isn’t sex related when there are other cases that need SVU’s attention. SVU has certainly had cases handed to them mid-investigation when a sex crime was uncovered. Why doesn’t this go the other way? Just have the writers hand it over to another division and introduce a new plot at that point. Just be sure to do it early in the episode. If you want realism, handing over unrelated cases certainly fits that bill. Having SVU hang onto a case just because they started with it makes no sense. See BAD writing below for more about this.

Early Seasons

The first season is both a mix of sex crimes and personal stories, sometimes intermingling. I thought the show might continue heading this direction, but it’s moved away from this direction as the seasons have progressed. Even by the second season, the stories mostly focused on sex crimes. I also thought the show’s writing would have stabilized into a regular format. Not really. Not only is the writing inconsistent in quality, the show displays a number of fairly egregious technical problems (booms in camera, booms in reflections and even a sound guy captured in frame — S2 E21). I’ve watched a wide array of series and have not encountered this many egregious technical snafus by halfway through third season. You’d think by the third season they’d have solved all of these silly filming problems.

I am also surprised to find the writing in many episodes is subpar. It’s a police procedural, how hard can it be to sweat the details?

When the writing is bad, it’s B A D …

Throughout the seasons leading up to this point, the show has touted each of the detectives to be the best and the brightest at what they do.. ‘An Elite Squad’ as the show announcer states. While I realize as a detective you can’t do anything about the things you don’t know, glossing over details you do know is not only stupid, it’s negligent… and it can get people killed. I realize this is “just a show”, but each episode attempts to tell a story that purports to be realistic (at least by Hollywood standards).

Well, this next episode’s writing is particularly awful, though it’s not the only episode. Not only does it show that the detectives are insanely inept, they probably shouldn’t even be detectives when they gloss over such visibly simple, but incredibly important details.

S3 E17 – Scourge

As a synopsis, in S3 E17, Emily Deschanel’s character ‘Cassie’ is assaulted and potentially raped in her own apartment. The detectives come to find that her apartment is bugged with 4 cameras watching her every move. How the cameras got there is a mystery yet to be solved. Over the course of the episode they find a stalker named Terry who’s been stalking her since college. He’s recently moved into secretly filming her by bugging her apartment with cameras using the stolen credit card of the landlord where Terry lives. After being let into Terry’s apartment by the female landlord and discovering a shrine to Cassie, Benson and Stabler have a conversation with this female landlord, who claims to be Terry’s girlfriend.

Okay, stop right here. This is major story strike #1. Not only did Benson and Stabler choose to ignore this statement from the landlord, they proceed on the assumption that Terry is the attacker based on the shrine alone. Not following up on this landlord conversation is not believable, but I’ll let it slide for the moment.

Later, the detectives grab Terry from Cassie’s viola performance at an arts center and pull him into the interrogation room at the station. During the course of the interrogation, Terry states that he is not the landlord’s boyfriend. He also states that he loves Cassie and would never hurt her. Strike #2. The guy’s been stalking her since she left college. If he wanted to hurt her, he would have done so long before she (and he) moved to NY. So, right here Benson and Stabler should have stepped out of the room and had conversation discussing the inconsistent statements between Terry and his landlord “girlfriend”. She says he is, he says she isn’t. The first thing this says to me is that the landlord girlfriend is either lying or she has a personal vendetta. Whatever the reason, it’s definitely now suspect enough to follow up on this lead. The landlord “girlfriend” is also very likely a stalker intent on going after Terry. On that new information, the investigation should have turned attention to the landlord girlfriend and brought her in. Who would have more intent to harm? Terry, who idolizes Cassie and who’s been stalking her for years or a distraught woman claiming to be a “girlfriend” and who’s seems angry at Cassie? This is where this episode writers jumped the shark. Strike #3. Also, where was the psychologist in this episode?

Not only do Benson and Stabler miss this crucial clue that practically slaps them in the face, what does it say of their detective skills? This missed detail makes them seem like rookies. This TV show, up to this point, has prided itself on making these detectives, particularly Stabler, look to be articulate, intelligent investigators and sticklers for details. So, how could they possibly miss this clue? It’s one thing if the writers don’t tell the characters (or us viewers) crucial details and, instead, reveal them at the end. It’s entirely sloppy detective work when the characters have the information in hand and do nothing about it. Both Stabler and Benson have followed up less important clues in other episodes. They should have followed up on this one. Bad writers, bad.

Benson is also particularly sensitive to missed clues leading to the death of someone. She continually beats herself up about these. Yet here, not only did the show not acknowledge this missed clue leading to the death of Terry, it ends before we find out what happens to the perpetrator. The show also, way out of form, treats Terry with all the dignity and respect as that of a piece of human garbage. Prostitutes in other episodes have gotten more respect (and coffee and donuts) than Terry. This show, up to this point, has always been sensitive to any victim. Terry didn’t deserve his fate, even though he had stalked Cassie. Terry’s death could have been prevented if Benson and Stabler had simply followed up on the inconsistent statements back when Terry was in the interrogation room. The show didn’t even acknowledge this deficiency of the detectives.

S5 E2 – Manic

And the inconsistent writing quality continues… I don’t understand why in S5 E2 that the episode opens with Stabler breaking down doors with cops (even before Benson arrives). What’s the deal with that? I thought they were detectives, not street cops. The point to becoming a detective is to sleuth the situation after-the-fact. Are the NYPD cops somehow now so short-handed that they need help from detectives in breaking down doors and apprehending suspects? Also, why is Stabler the one there doing this? Is he getting so disenchanted with being a detective that he feels the need to go back to the front line? Also, he’s in a hoodie seemingly without wearing a bullet-proof vest. Seriously? He’s also the one taking the lead and calling the shots.

Worse, after all of the breaking down doors and entering, we find a kid who’s head has been grazed by a bullet and who has not been sexually molested and is very much alive. We come to find that the kid had taken a drug that caused him to go manic and kill two kids. At this point, Captain Donald Cragen (Dann Florek) should have referred this case to appropriate Narcotics division and gotten it off of SVU’s desk. Does he hand it off? No.

Horrible writing.

Continued Bad Writing

I don’t know what Dick Wolf is thinking with this series, but he’s definitely put some questionable episodes on the air. However, I will say that from seasons 5-7, the stories were acceptable with the occasional stinker, usually related to the personal lives of Stabler. In fact, the Stabler household stories are usually some of the weakest and most predictable, with Elliot usually abusing his shield to get one of his kids off of some kind of charges.

I don’t even fully understand why Dick Wolf added the Lake character to the cast for season 8. This character was absolutely not needed. He did nothing to fix a perceived squad shortage condition. In fact, the stories never once showed that the squad was short staffed. As an adjunct SVU Bronx character for a single episode, fine. As a recurring character given main title billing, what? This guy can barely act with his incessant mumbling. The only thing he had going for his looks… and even that wasn’t enough. This actor had zero chemistry with the rest of the cast. Worse, Wolf decided to push Munch aside and partner Tutuola with Lake even though Tutuola could barely work with the guy. It was like oil and water between the original cast and this new guy.

By Season 9, the series takes a serious turn for the worse. At the end of 9, there’s a continuous string of poorly written episodes that show, once again, not only just how green and novice Stabler and Benson are, but also Munch, Tutuola and even the absolutely useless and newly introduced Chester Lake (Adam Beach) character. Starting at S9 E17 to the end, these three episodes are possibly some of the worst writing I’ve seen so far in SVU and is at least as bad as the writing in seasons 14 and 15.

Thankfully, Lake lasted two seasons and departed at the end of season 9 along with ADA Kasey Novak. While losing Lake was actually a benefit for the show, Kasey Novak’s departure handling was surprisingly atrocious. As seasoned a lawyer as Kasey was, she knew the Brady law. Kasey wasn’t at all this level of stupid. Yet, the show treated her like a rookie green lawyer just out of college. It was a cheap and stupid story move. If you’re planning to have an important character like an ADA leave, have them leave of their own accord because they’re a victim. This is Special Victims Unit. Let her become a victim of a crime that leaves an emotional scar so intense she has to move away from the city. This is a fitting reason to leave the series. Using a stupid rookie maneuver to ruin her career says the writers are hopelessly amateur.

S9 E15 – Undercover

I know the stories have been a lot the same and Dick Wolf wanted something different in this episode. Well, this episode is totally improbable and unnecessary.

Despite being strongly advised not to do so, Olivia chooses to infiltrate a prison to find a guard who is raping female inmates. Yet more bad writing starts right here. Even Cragen says that its not NYPD’s job to police the prison system. That should have been a done deal, yet Cragen still allows Olivia to go into the prison undercover? Under any other circumstance, Cragen wouldn’t allow this of one of his top detectives.

This is a stupid story from the get go. Not only is the setup implausible, why would Olivia ever consent to put herself into such a degrading position? Why would Cragen even allow this? This is a woman who is intensely private and unwilling to share much with even her closest friend, Stabler. She won’t even share that she has a boyfriend. Yet, she’s willing to go into a prison knowing she’s going to be entirely degraded, humiliated and beaten? No, I don’t think she would have agreed to that. This episode is entirely out of character for how Benson had been portrayed up to this point. Then, when the perp takes Olivia down to the rape bed, she’s not raped, yet she’s left with severe mental anguish? And this piece they decide to carry into future episodes? Dumb writing at its best (or worst?).

S9 E17 – Authority

This episode features Robin Williams as a guy who always seems one step ahead of the detectives. Unfortunately, instead of the story making the Robin Williams character look he’s intelligent, smart and outwitting, it makes Stabler and Benson look like rookies just out of the academy. At every step, Benson and Stabler are played by this guy… not once, but many times. Never did Benson or Stabler make the observation that they’re being played.

If this story had had an element like one of his kids involved, I could understand how Stabler’s personal interest might heavily cloud his judgement and put him into an emotional rage. I know that the writers were trying to use Benson to play the personal clouded judgement card, but it just doesn’t work against Stabler with Olivia. Stabler is definitely fond of Olivia, but he’s not so fond of Olivia as to go manic like he does with his family.

The writers attempting to play this Stabler clouded judgement card here just doesn’t work. There were so many times that Stabler and Benson could have apprehended this guy, yet the story has him walk away. And, it makes both Stabler and Benson appear inept. For one, I thought cops were supposed to carry tasers for non-lethal take downs? Seriously, how hard is it to take down a suspect and cart him in? With a taser, it would have taken all of a few seconds. I also find it terribly hard to believe that Benson, as capable as she is, would simply allow herself to be carted off to an abandoned recording studio and be hooked up to wires without any kind of a struggle. This episode was so far fetched as to be stupid. It once again shows how rookie Benson and Stabler are. And, of course, this series will never bring this story arc back around. This Robin Williams character will simply be forgotten in among many hundreds of other forgotten stories.

S9 E19 – Cold

This episode is convoluted, hard to follow and entirely implausible. This episode starts out with us finding out that Detective Lake likes to solve cold cases through an outside advocate group consisting of off duty law enforcement officers from all over. An advocate group that NYPD is aware of and dislikes. Upon leaving this particular advocate group meeting that we see him attending, he gets into a gun battle with two other people leaving another detective dead. In the process, Lake is injured and hospitalized. Lake also invokes a 48 hour NYPD policy that he cannot be questioned about the incident during that 48 hours. This 48 hour period conveniently overlaps with the 48 hours when the crime scene is the most fresh and when evidence can be lost. Convenient. Apparently, this policy trumps all other policies and even laws and prevents Stabler and Benson (or anyone else) from questioning Lake about the incident. Also, that Lake invokes this 48 hour holding period does not in any way prove innocence or guilt. Stabler comes dangerously close to having questioned Lake during this period and Novak calls this out. If Stabler had gotten anything out of him, it would have been inadmissible. Yet, Novak seems to be under the gun to determine what happened and get this case in front of a judge in less than 48 hours.

*needle rips across the record*

Wait.. what? Why would anyone want to get the case in front of a judge in 24-48 hours without having the detectives do their due diligence? How can the ME properly investigate the body, let alone the crime scene evidence and document it properly in less than 48 hours? How can the detectives even know what’s going on while within Lake’s 48 hour silent period? The writing on this episode is so intentionally atrocious as to be trite. Lake later escapes from the hospital and tries to run away, still during his 48 hour silent period. Up to this point, SVU has tried to remain reasonably believable. This one, however, is so unbelievable, it’s trash writing.

At the end of the episode, Lake is dismissed from SVU along with Novak who is to be hauled in front of the bar questioning her license over a Brady violation. A violation, I might add, that was not even of her doing. We’re talking about taking a case to court in less than 48 hours that had no business being there before all of the evidence and testimony was in. Talk about premature. How can you possibly take a case to trial without getting a statement from the one witness (Lake) who was there? I’ve seen Novak prevent trials for less than this. How can a medical examiner even rule on what happened in less than 48 hours? What DA would ever intentionally do such a piss poor job? If there was a Brady violation here, it wasn’t Novak who caused it. It was her superiors who set her up to fail by forcing the trial to proceed before all of the evidence was available. There was no Brady violation, only stupid superiors who rushed the case to trial before it was ready. Let’s not even discuss the weird editing and convoluted story pacing. Horrible episode through and through. Why are so many of SVU’s season enders so bad?

S12 E9 – Gray

In among the never ending parade of ADAs through Seasons 10, 11 and 12, Sonya Paxton (Christine Lahti) makes her first reappearance after alcohol rehab in this episode. Unfortunately, this episode’s writing is so atrocious, it makes the above episodes look great by comparison. I’m not particularly a fan of the ADA Sonya Paxton character. She is self-righteous, abrasive, condescending and she’s not a very good attorney. It’s one thing to be good at your job and have an attitude (i.e., Novak or Cabot). It’s entirely another when you’re bad at your job and have that same attitude. I don’t fully understand why Dick Wolf keeps bringing this character back. She’s a bad attorney and doesn’t do any favors for this show or this episode. Sorry, Christine. I know you put a lot of work into this character, but a crap written character always remains a crap character.

This episode features a college rape case. A girl claims rape against a guy she met at a college party. Later, after a series of convoluted scenes that slowed the pace, we find that she had been pregnant and miscarried a baby from the rape. Further, we find that her rapist came back a second time to have sex again… Wait what? *** hold it right there ***

The show has now gone painfully off the rails. If a female is claiming rape, why would she ever let her rapist back into her bed a second time? And, 8 weeks later? She willingly let him into her bed and willingly allowed him to use “Love potion #9” while she was pregnant ?!?

At this point, this is no longer a case of rape. It is consensual sex. If she willingly allowed this guy into her bed a second time, she willingly allowed him into her bed the first time. You can’t have it both ways here, writers. Let’s continue with this crap story…

Then, the episode turns away from the victim and plows forward with a trial against the male rapist based on evidence given to Stabler by his daughter from the University where Stabler’s daughter attends (conveniently, the same school as the victim). Yet, Stabler being a seasoned detective doesn’t even put 2+2 together to ask his own daughter if she knows the victim or the rapist? He only finds this out after the college’s psychologist points Stabler to his own daughter? *eye roll*

Anyway, Kathleen Stabler (Allison Siko) obtained that file of information from a guy she likes who works in the Dean’s office. Once again, Stabler acts like a rookie and doesn’t tell anyone about where he got this information and, of course, no one asks… not even Olivia… you know, the partner who questions everything? And, Stabler takes solely the word of his daughter (you know, the one who got arrested for a DUI) that the information he receives from her is admissible. Really? Kathleen Stabler is now an expert on all things law? So anyway, the victim claims that the second round of (ahem) consensual sex with her rapist, she miscarried the following day after having that sex.

After some investigation into the evidence, it’s uncovered that the rapist used a drug called Misoprostol in his “love potion” that the rapist’s attorney alleged was used to treat his erectile dysfunction symptoms, even though he had no troubles ‘getting it up’ during the alleged rape or during the second round of consensual sex. While the defense attorney claims he used Misprostol for E.D., the prosecution claims it is being used to abort the fetus… which, of course, it did. After all, that’s what the drug’s primary use is.

Later in the episode, the victim dies because the miscarriage was incomplete and caused a systemic infection which killed her. Even a quick search on Google demonstrates the number one use of Misoprostol is for pregnancy termination, not E.D. Further, if this guy had a problem with E.D., why choose Misoprostol over Viagra? A pill is a whole lot easier to consume and would have lasted a log longer than using Misprostol when combined with a vacuum pump. A lot less trouble too and wouldn’t have endangered the fetus. This was a slam dunk case that this rapist kid intentionally used Misoprostol to force terminate the pregnancy. A good ADA with should have been able to prove this beyond a doubt. Yet, we have Sonya who’s just out of rehab, not sure on her feet and not a great attorney. I can’t even fathom why the D.A. would consider rehiring her after that drunken stunt she pulled in the courtroom in S11 E4 – Hammered.

All other above stupidity aside, let’s cut to the chase on crappiest part of this episode which is also the worst part of this episode’s writing. Against all of SVU’s training which the 11 other seasons have proven, the detectives did not have the victim go to the hospital to be checked out… particularly after finding out she had miscarried about a week before they talked to her. In fact, her death was entirely preventable had Olivia followed her training, had been sympathetic to the victim… and escorted her to a hospital to be examined. If a hospital had examined her after Olivia’s prompting, they would have caught the incomplete miscarriage, then admitted her and treated her for it. Yet more rookie moves by SVU’s most seasoned detectives. A rookie move, I might add, that resulted in the death of the victim… a preventable death. Yet, once again, neither does Olivia nor does Stabler recognize their egregious mistake… because, you know, writers. Of course, her death conveniently leads to the close of the episode by getting her (ahem) rapist behind bars for manslaughter… or at least, we assume this to be true as the episode closes with yet another cliffhanger and no closure. Such crap writing.

S12 E24 – Smoked

While this episode’s writing is particularly bad, this episode just covers as an example for a lot of really bad season enders. I’m unsure why the season end episodes are so bad, but here we are. I could call out more than this one, but I let the other ones go simply because they were better than these I list. This one, however, most certainly deserves to be on this worst written list.

Suffice it to say that a rape victim is killed while walking down a street with her daughter a week before her trial to convict her rapist. Convenient… at least for the rapist. Of course, the kill is pinned on the rapist, but predictably he had help. As the plot thickens, we come to find that the FBI is involved in, of all things, an illegal cigarette tax evasion sting. Here’s where this one goes off the rails. The FBI snatches the alleged killer from SVU’s lockup and takes him to an FBI facility. Because, you know, the SVU is so excellent at all things cop, they pose Stabler as a shop owner looking to score cigs from this ring that the FBI wants to bust. This all goes down because, hey, can’t we all get along and because SVU needs this killer back in custody and the FBI isn’t willing to give him up before this sting goes down. Enter Stabler posing as a shop owner… as if SVU detectives can just do anything in the cop world and be great at it.

So, this FBI arc is entirely stupid and unnecessary filler. Anyway, Stabler goes in with the rape victim’s killer (???) as his sidekick to pull off this cigarette sting. Why would Stabler ever go along with this shenanigan? Seriously, just take the perp back to SVU by force and leave the FBI high and dry. They can get him back after they’re done arraigning him. Anyway, the cigarette sting goes bad because, you know, bad WiFi reception and the killer gets away.

Fast forward. The killer is found again and put in custody at SVU, along with the FBI guy who gave him the gun and the rapist who set it all up. Yes, three different perps in this one.

The daughter of the rape victim waltzes into the SVU station and, after asking Olivia to take her to the lockup to see the killer, she pulls out a gun and attempts to kill everyone in the lockup and also kills Sister Peg and injures a few blue shirt cops. Because she finds that after nearly entering a full clip into the lockup hadn’t killed her mom’s killer, she attempts to shoot him only for Stabler to shoot the grieving daughter. She dies in Stabler’s arms. Fade out.

Once again, they let anyone into the precinct without any kind of search? Really? After a number of previous gun shootouts in the SVU offices, how did this happen again? Seriously, how many times does a grieving relative have to come into SVU offices and shoot up the place before they institute some security measures before being allowed into the building? Worse, Olivia didn’t even notice that the rape victim’s daughter was not only distraught, but agitated. The show has continually put both Olivia’s and Stabler’s victim sensitivities on parade for all to see. Yet, at the end of this episode, where was Olivia’s sensitivity awareness? Why was Olivia so oblivious to the this girl’s completely obvious anguish. Worse, it’s SVU’s job to keep anyone in their custody safe from harm. Yet, this precinct has continually put people in their lockup in harm’s way time and time again. And, for whatever reason, this lockup is right out in the open next to all of the detectives desks where anyone can take a pot shot.

Why hasn’t One Police Plaza stepped into shut down this precinct? With so many egregious and fatal mistakes, this entire precinct needs to be furloughed and re-hired. Reassign those people who can be and let the rest go. This precinct is a disaster. I can’t even imagine what the Bronx and other SVU teams think about the Manhattan SVU team with as many mistakes and deaths that this precinct has intentionally caused by its mistakes. The writers should be entirely ashamed at writing this dreck.

S14 E24 – Her Negotiation and S15 E1 Surrender Benson/Imprisoned Lives (two parter)

I’m clearly unsure what’s going on in the writer’s minds in SVU at this point. Sure, this one is a two parter that spans two seasons. I get that. I also get that it was likely trying to boost ratings. But, instead of writing actual detective stories, the writers appear to want to write IAB driven stories about dirty cops or prosecutorial misconduct or the personal lives of the detectives in the squad room. It’s less about doing their detective jobs and more about everything other than detective work. In this two-parter, Olivia is kidnapped by a guy named William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) who gets off on serial sexual assault possibly leading to death of the victim at the “end”. Not only is Pablo Schreiber’s acting work laughable rather than menacing, the story is contrived, trite and stupid. Olivia taunts the guy in the interrogation room in the first part who then later kidnaps Olivia (end of first part) and sets out to “make her dreams come true” in a sadistic torturous way. Let’s forget that Olivia is a seasoned detective. Let’s forget that she carries a weapon that she failed to use when she heard a noise in her apartment. Let’s forget that she failed to call for backup when she heard the noise.

I’m sure when this episode was on, many people ooo’d and ahh’d it. I just want to roll my eyes at it. How many of these silly episodes do we need to endure? Yes, this sadistic character is a butt. Yes, he needs to be taken down. Yes, there are at least 3 or 4 times when someone could have popped a bullet in him and yet they let him live over and over. Even when Olivia has the chance to wound him, she doesn’t even after the beating she has taken.

Don’t even get me started on the ludicrous setup when the William Lewis character burned his finger tips off to prove a point to his roommate at a halfway house. Ok, let’s. Seriously, he turns the grill on and 20 seconds later we’re led to believe it’s hot enough to burn his fingertips? No, I don’t think so.

Then after about 1/3 of the way through S15 E1, a new episode begins and we’re seeing a story about a guy who abducts kids and then raises him in another house somewhere else and keeps them locked up in cages in the basement? Because it was only given about 25 minutes of a 40 minute episode, this partial episode just didn’t work. Why didn’t the writing team just make the entire episode about Olivia and William? I’d have been more interested to see the William Lewis character take her on a very long outing forcing her into Stockholm Syndrome. Then once she’s back, require her to be deprogrammed before being allowed back onto the squad. If you’re going to take Olivia to Victimsville, let’s take her all the way there.

S15 E5 – October Surprise

Once again, the writers surprise us with yet another weak and horrible story idea that doesn’t belong under the purview of SVU. Yet, here we are and here they are investigating a story about a mayoral candidate who is not only a close friend of Barba, but who also has lifelong friends who also are. It also seems that this mayoral candidate’s wife may have had an affair with Barba. However, Barba refuses to recuse himself from this investigation, allegedly at the DA’s prompting. I highly doubt that.

Anyway, the mayoral candidate Alejandro Munoz is apparently paying off women he’s slept with or otherwise had indiscretions. SVU comes to find after tremendous digging and way, way later that Munoz has some kind of sexting fantasy and, in that process, he received nude pictures of a 12 year old girl from the Internet.

Hold it right here… There’s no rape victim, no one claiming to be a victim, no one coming forward as a victim… So, why again is SVU investigating this?

Overall, this episode was another non-starter and shouldn’t have even been handled by SVU. I still don’t understand why Cragen refuses to punt these back over to other teams. This one had nothing to do with special victims as Munoz’s worst offense was possessing pictures of a 12 year old girl when he likely didn’t even know her age. Not once did he rape any of these women. Not once did he assault any of the women. The 12 year old girl consensually sent him the photos. Sure, it’s pedophilia by the legal statutes, but SVU wouldn’t have even known if they hadn’t been told to intentionally go look for dirt on Munoz by the DA. If anything, this seriously shows that the DA led some kind of conspiratorial effort against Munoz to try to get him removed from the running… and SVU colluded with the DA in these efforts. This is one of those episodes where the writers were entirely misguided by the story’s idea and misguided in how SVU works.

I’d much rather have a straightforward case of rape than dealing with these sideline non-starter stories. I know that the writers are trying to freshen up the series with interesting stories, but these kinds of stories aren’t the answer. It’s no wonder why John Munch (Richard Belzer) left SVU during season 15 with these trite, horrible plots. Hey, at least they gave John Much a proper send off (S15 E5 – Wonderland Story), unlike how they handled Elliot Stabler’s departure, who got absolutely nothing (S13 E1 – Scorched Earth).

S15 E9 – Psycho Therapist

I debated about even watching this episode because I knew the writers would screw the pooch. I wasn’t wrong. William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber) is now standing trial and he’s up to all his courtroom shenanigans again… first by self-representation, next by playing games, then by making wild accusations all while ADA Rafael Barba (Raúl Esparza) sits there and does nothing about it. But, that’s not the primary problem with this episode.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Barba was colluding with William Lewis. Why? At one point it becomes known to Barba that after Benson had broken free from Lewis in the final act of her abduction, Benson ushers an immigrant maid and her daughter out of the house quickly. But, that’s not the problem. We’ve already established just how much of a loony psychopath that Lewis is.

Why then do I think Barba is colluding with William Lewis? During this episode and after one segment of a day’s trial, Barba asks Benson, “Why weren’t [the maid and her daughter] in the house when the police showed up?” Barba, what are you, stupid? Seriously? William Lewis is the very definition of a dangerous psychopath who would kill anyone who got in his way. Lewis had already proven this mental state several times in both the S14 and S15 episode. If the maid and her daughter weren’t in the house when the police arrived, it’s because Benson told them to leave because of danger. It’s 2+2, darlin’. Yet, Barba asks the question in some kind of accusatory fashion like Benson did something wrong simply by asking them to leave the house? Benson had already told you she broke free just as Lewis pulled the maid and her daughter inside. The question Barba should have asked Benson is, “Why did you ask the maid and her daughter to leave the house?” Even then, it’s still a stupid question with an obvious answer.

This Barba story point in the way it’s written makes no sense at all. If anything, it points to Barba’s collusion with Lewis. Are the writers so blind to their story creations that they can’t see proper story logic? There’s no other explanation for this silly question except that Barba is helping Lewis go free. In fact, I’m also seeing more and more of Barba helping Lewis win this case. That’s not what an ADA is supposed to be doing. Of course, nobody recognizes this collusion.

This next story point (which happens before the maid incident) corroborates Barba’s collusion. Lewis dismisses his lawyer and requests self-representation. Yes, defendants do have the right to self-representation… but, the judge can also curtail it “…when self-representation is [excessively] disruptive of orderly procedures…” In this case, based on past Lewis antics in (and out) of the courtroom, his request to self-represent fully falls firmly under ‘excessively disruptive of orderly procedures’. Barba should have argued this point vehemently by showing past courtroom examples when Lewis requested to dismiss his attorney and self-represent. What the hell, Barba? Of course, the writers would make Lewis win no matter what just to prove this point.

I’m actually tired of the unrealism of the William Lewis character. There is no way that this person would have this much continual dumb luck and be this bad of a person. That is unless he was continually drinking Felix Felicis (Harry Potter luck potion). Lewis’s luck had to change. Seriously, with the amount of luck that William Lewis continually has, he should screw banging people over the head and go into a casino and rob them blind. Play the lottery. Then, go into bank and jewelry store heists. Anyone with THIS MUCH dumb luck should be able to do all of that, get rich and never get caught at it.

All the while that Lewis is tormenting Benson on the stand, Barba sits there saying absolutely nothing. What the hell, Barba? He should have been objecting every other word coming out of this guy’s mouth.

Worst of all, when it comes time for Barba to make closing arguments, the episode conveniently skips this. So, we get to watch the defense’s demeaning closing arguments but not Barba? Then he gets 25 to life. Then he fakes a seizure with his attorney? Really? There is absolutely no way they would transfer a 25 to lifer outside of the prison. He would get medical aid in the prison or die there. The writers seriously want us to believe this trash? SVU has seriously jumped the shark here. I’m surprised it wasn’t cancelled in season 15.

Oh, and I should also mention that Pablo Schreiber’s one-note scenery-chewing smirk-acting in this episode is actually worse than in previous episodes. If I never see this guy in any other program, it’ll be too soon. Pablo, find another profession.

S15 E19 – Beast’s Obsession

As we continue the saga with *eye roll* William Lewis, we find that he died and couldn’t be resuscitated, but then mysteriously comes back to life in Bellevue, then conveniently escapes without being seen. This episode also introduces the new ‘acting’ Captain to take Cragen’s place. This new boss pops up without showing so much as a shield and everyone just accepts him at face value without checking with One PP? Yes, they were little suspicious of him at first, but how is it they all seem to just know this guy? Rollins knows him and so does Amaro and Benson, but the rest?

*sigh* This ludicrous story arc has become the bane of SVU. It has nothing whatever to do with SVU and simply exists in some fantasy world that resembles SVU. Let’s just say that, for whatever reason, Benson decides to forgo better advice and her two person protection detail to gallivant off into the waiting arms of William Lewis, yet again. It’s almost like she likes doing this or something. This story arc is so completely ludicrous and unbelievable as to be intentionally this level of stupid. Seriously, Benson is still recovering from her previous ordeal. Why in the hell would she do this once again? Lewis has captured a little girl (predictable) and takes her off to some place somewhere. He lures Benson to him with the promise of getting the little girl back.

Anyway, long story short. Lewis, once again, sets Olivia up to take the fall for his suicide in a nebulous way. He sets it up so that it could appear incriminating towards Benson, as the ME rules the death as caused undetermined (CUPPI). Basically, his death could appear as his own suicide just as Benson describes or it could appear as if Olivia intentionally pulled the trigger on him. Fade out.

Actually, the writers and cinematographers for this episode attempted to be too smart for their own good and made a tremendous mistake. The medical examiner, Melinda Warner, states there was gunshot residue on both Lewis and Benson (S15 E20 – Post-Mortem Blues). However, this statement was so casually tossed out and not at all examined properly that when coupled with the screenshot below, this is a serious writing blunder.

img_3833.jpg

This is a screenshot moments before Lewis pulls the trigger. As you can so clearly see, only Lewis’s left hand is on the gun, not Benson’s. The medical examiner didn’t have this screen shot to examine and had to work strictly from gunshot residue (GSR). And, the GSR tells us (and the medical examiner) exactly what happened. While GSR might be sprayed onto Benson based at the angle and proximity of Lewis to Benson, the GSR would not have appeared on Benson’s free right hand in the correct pattern. The only way Benson’s hand would have had GSR consistent with firing this revolver would have been if Lewis had forced Olivia to hold the gun along with Lewis’s own hand and they pulled the trigger together. Lewis didn’t do this.

One might argue that they played Russian roulette. Well, yes they did. However, Olivia didn’t fire the weapon during this game otherwise she’d be dead. Olivia also didn’t fire this revolver at any other time during this scene. She held this revolver, yes. Yes, her fingerprints would be on the revolver. Since she never fired this revolver (or any gun during this scene), she wouldn’t have GSR blowback residue on either of her hands. This also reiterates the writing blunder.

This means that Benson’s free right hand would be entirely free of gunshot residue blowback in the quantities necessary to prove that she held the gun when it fired. The GSR pattern would have conclusively proven that Lewis held the gun in his left hand alone when it fired, which then conclusively proves that Benson was not holding nor was her hand anywhere near the revolver when it fired. This further means that the medical examiner should have ruled Lewis’s death a suicide. The medical examiner was either colluding with Lewis (or someone else) to hide this GSR evidence or this has to be one of the biggest forensic blunders in the history of SVU. Melinda Warner should have her license revoked. Everything that happens next to Benson (accusations from IAB and the Grand Jury) after Melinda Warner’s inept report is entirely the fault of Melinda Warner.

I’ll reserve further judgement of this arc until after ….

S15 E20 – Post-Mortem Blues

Here’s where the fallout from Lewis’s suicide takes shape in the form of legal problems for Benson, singlehandedly because of Melinda Warner’s inept handling of the GSR forensic evidence. Benson is thrown into a long arduous IAB investigation which eventually leads to a Grand Jury hearing regarding Benson’s actions. Since the police headquarters at 1PP are looking for a scapegoat to hang out to dry, Benson is being set up for the fall. The prosecutor in the Grand Jury hearing, Derek Strauss (Greg Germann), appears to intentionally throw out only one-sided arguments regarding Benson’s actions, disregarding all else at the expense of throwing Benson under the bus.

As the hearing progresses, it’s clear this is entirely a fantasy world. Lewis has intentionally left a wake of raped and dead victims all along the way. He’s an escaped convict who is now at large and considered armed and dangerous. He’s also kidnapped a little girl and is now holding her hostage at gunpoint. Oh, but let’s forget all about those pesky details and focus on how Benson lied when she claimed she beat Lewis within an inch of his life while he was cuffed to a bed OR how she *might* have pulled the trigger on this known serial killer, kidnapper and rapist, which the evidence shows she didn’t.

No, let’s simply ignore this killer’s heinous acts, his escape from prison and focus on the red tape to convict Benson by completely disregarding any of those pesky Lewis details that just get in the way of this crap storytelling. Wait what?

What the hell Dick Wolf? You really expect us to swallow this trite, unrealistic, pretentious bullshit?

You can damned well bet that any prisoner who manages to escape from prison will be considered as top priority and not just by SVU. An escaped armed prisoner is well beyond a handful of sex crime detectives to be tasked for recovery. No, his recovery to prison would be top priority by law enforcement throughout the state. When prisoners escape, they aren’t allowed simply to gallivant off into the sunset freely. Worse, after he shot and killed several people at the hospital to escape, he would be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Lewis’s recovery would have been ordered as apprehend by deadly force, if necessary.

Based on this order, whatever it took for Benson to subdue Lewis would have been considered reasonable and appropriate force rather than suspicious. Not only was Benson robbed of her kill. She was then hung out to dry by the Grand Jury for doing her police duty against an escaped and dangerous prisoner. The medical examiner, Melinda Warner, also egregiously failed to do her forensic duties properly with the GSR evidence, which would have clearly exonerated Olivia Benson entirely. Worse, it was an entire slap in the face when the Grand Jury hearing completely and conveniently ignored Lewis’s heinous acts, including the little girl’s abduction and kidnapping let alone his prison escape and his killings along the way.

And here I thought seasons 13 and 14 were bad. Season 15 is the single worst season of SVU by far. But, that’s pretty much because of the William Lewis story arc, which was not only the single worst story arc in the history of SVU, it also has one of the worst casting decisions ever made on SVU with Pablo Schreiber. Schreiber couldn’t act to save his life. This guy simply has no talent, unless you count his incessant one-note stupid smirk-smile as acting talent. In fact, placing this guy into any scene drags down the acting talent of anyone around him.

The second worst casting decision was the introduction of Lt. Declan Murphy (Donal Logue) as Cragen’s SVU replacement. He simply has no charisma at all and no chemistry with the rest of the cast. It was entirely no consolation to the viewers when he steps in and defends Benson in one of the worst monologues in SVU’s history at the Grand Jury. Seriously? You’re going to pick the second worst actor ever in SVU to be the voice of reason and pull off a Benson save? Why couldn’t it have been Tutuola, Cragen or Munch. You know, someone we actually care about and have invested time in, not some random actor you’ve picked up in Toronto. Heck I’d even taken Cassidy, Rollins or Amaro in a pinch. Why choose this guy who’s been on maybe 3 episodes and in whom we have no interest to become Benson’s savior? The is so unsatisfying on many levels.

I realize the show started this story arc and needed to end it. It’s clear, the writers on SVU simply don’t know how to handle anything but fantasy writing with long arcs. There is absolutely nothing realistic at all in the William Lewis story arc… which then led to an entirely unsatisfying conclusion. Sure, he died (or did he?). If we’re going to get into the situation where people can now magically come back to life on this kind of series, then there’s no reason to continue it.

I’m entirely surprised that Mariska Hargitay has stayed with this series after this trash arc. We’ve gone from being a decent police procedural early on with Benson and Stabler to a Buffy the Rapist Slayer wannabe. What’s next? Cartoons running around with the main characters? Or, Superheroes?

The Multi-show Crossover Episodes

For whatever reason Dick Wolf and crew decided to link the his police and fire procedurals together through several different crossover narratives between seasons 15 and season 17 of SVU. This is frustrating on so many levels, particularly if you’re binge watching. The binge watching problem forces you to stop watching SVU and then go find the Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. Episodes to complete the narrative. Hulu doesn’t have them. You’ll end up over at Amazon buying the episodes to complete watching the full narrative. THIS is a primary reason the crossovers are frustrating. I’m sure it was fine when they were aired on TV, but when you’re binge watching later on streaming, there is no warning about these in the SVU episodes. They just happen and you’re expected to figure out what the CF and CPD episodes that match are. Otherwise, the episode is just lost on the viewer.

The other problem with these crossovers is the change in show format between the storylines. If you’re used to watching SVU’s way of doing things, you’re in for a culture shock when you watch Chicago P.D. Not only is the entire series format different and, of course, the characters, but the way the story unfolds is also entirely different.

The first three-show crossover between Chicago Fire, SVU and Chicago P.D. saw the worst of the narrative on Chicago Fire. Not only did the writers wait until practically the last second to introduce the crossover narrative in CF, what they did include was pointless. In fact, the tiny segment on CF can entirely be skipped. The SVU episode was average, but not outstanding. The conclusion on CPD was horrid because of not only the change in show format which is jarring, the way the story unfolds is entirely unsatisfying. I mean, you get used to seeing the conclusion in SVU based on the way SVU does things, yet you’re robbed of that conclusion because it ends in CPD with CPD characters using CPD style endings. I didn’t bother to watch the second three-show crossover because, at the time, I hadn’t chased down the other episodes until just now while writing this update. The first crossover was just not worth the time to go watch the second one.

Here are the crossovers if you’re interested in watching:

Crossovers in order of appearance

  • SVU S15 E15 Comic Perversion and CPD S1 E6 Conventions
  • CF S3 E7 Nobody Touches Anything, SVU S16 E7 Chicago Crossover and CPD S2 E7 They’ll Have to Go Through Me
  • CF S3 E21 We Called Her Jellybean, CPD S2 E20 The Number of Rats and SVU S16 E20 Daydream Believer
  • SVU S17 E14 Nationwide Manhunt and CPD S3 E14 The Song of Gregory Williams Yates

Enough with the crossovers already, Dick Wolf.

Season 13

This is the first season sans Detective Stabler (see Stabler’s badly handled departure) and the show feels empty without this character’s presence. Worse, the episodes are now slow and oddly paced. SVU now feels more like a soap opera than a detective show. Clearly, the creative team has changed and not for the better. As this season progresses, the writing takes a terrible turn towards the last half of the season. SVU supposedly has one of the highest conviction rates of all SVUs in New York. Yet, you wouldn’t be able to tell this by season 13. This is particularly true of S13 E18 entitled Valentine’s Day. This episode is about an sociopathic nymphomaniac who, in her own trial, tampers with one of the jurors. Yet, even with all of the evidence, Novak (who’s back again, by the way) can’t even get a conviction of this manipulative woman. Who writes this stuff?

If the there’s even a hint of jury tampering, Novak should have called to have the entire jury replaced with alternates. That’s her right to ask for this. Why didn’t this happen? Seriously, let that suspected juror continue? No, I don’t think so.

Worse, episodes which would have been written for Stabler are now being given to Benson and which make her look like a stubborn unwavering cop. Stabler had a temper, could be stubborn and didn’t always follow the rules. Olivia simply wasn’t like this. However, in S13 E17 entitled Justice Denied, this episode sees Olivia wrongfully imprison a suspect 8 years earlier based on a 9 hour coerced confession. That’s not a Benson tactic. That would have been a Stabler tactic. And, 8 years earlier Stabler would have been in the room with her. Where the hell was Stabler during that 9 hours of coercion? If you’re planning to write an episode 8 years in the past, then you better hire in the cast that would have been there at the time… yes, this includes Elliot Stabler.

Additionally, not once in the 12 previous seasons had we seen an interrogation last more than a couple of hours. There were none that took 9 to get a confession. And, if it had taken 9, the DA couldn’t have used the confession because it would have been considered coerced. Further, why wasn’t this given to Munch or Tutuola? They’ve been with SVU long enough to have had such an incident take place. And, both could have been placed in the room at the time. In fact, it would be nice to see old cases before Tutuola or Munch joined SVU to come back and haunt them. It would have fleshed out more details about Munch and Tutuola both whom we rarely get to see much of their past. In fact, we know so little about Munch, it would have been better handed to this character. We already know what we need to about Olivia, there was no need to add this to her repertoire of character development. Giving it to Munch would have worked far better.

Then there’s the episode with Olivia’s half brother, Simon Marsden in S13 E16 entitled Child’s Welfare. We see Simon back creating more havoc for Olivia. Here Simon and his fiancé are being investigated by child services for alleged brutality of his kids. The kids are taken away. Olivia is pulled in by Simon to help him get his kids back. Olivia makes a bunch of stupid decisions again and so does Simon. The episode is a non-starter and really shouldn’t have been greenlit.

Also, why has the series abandoned having a shrink in the precinct. If George Huang had been watching the conversation given by the alleged rape victim in S13 E18, he would have seen how manipulative she was and could have given the detectives advice on how to break her down.

Season 13 is overall poorly written and out of place for SVU. I hope the subsequent seasons after this one get better. I’m unsure why this show has continued beyond season 13 all things considered. This season is a serious low point for the SVU series.

Season 14 and 15

These seasons continue the trend from season 13 and perpetuate the odd, disjointed and poorly written episodes. The introduction of ADA Barba was an odd choice. The departure of George Huang didn’t hurt the series directly, but the show should have replaced the role with a new psychologist character. Without this character in the series, the stories are much less credible. The psychologist who can sit outside the room psychoanalyzing both the suspects and the victims gave immense insight to both the audience and the detectives. Without this crucial bit of information, the detectives seem trapped by their own preconceived notions, which don’t always turn out for the best.

Unfortunately, many of the episodes within seasons 14 and 15 continue the downward writing trend which began in season 13 compared to season 12 and earlier. It seems the show is still reeling from the loss of the Stabler character dynamic whether the creative team recognizes it or not. And as such, they keep giving Olivia all of the weird episodes.

Season 15 is also seeing main character cast departures. With both Munch and Cragen leaving, the show is, yet again, losing more of its mojo and charisma. It’s not that Benson can’t be acting Captain, it’s that it’s way too early after her Lewis ordeal for that to happen. This show just seems to rush things along without thinking the story arcs through. It’s just another form of the World Reset problem.

Seasons 16 and 17

If Season 16 was the return of some sanity, then the insanity returns in season 17 with all of the unnecessary and frustrating Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. crossover episodes. Season 16 was at least somewhat better than the bottom of the barrel season 15. However, many of the Season 16 episodes were average with many unsatisfying conclusions. If you like SVU, season 16 isn’t a horrible watch. However, Season 17 is terrible with its incessant crossovers. So far, I’m only halfway through Season 17 and there have been 3 crossover episodes. Give it a rest Dick Wolf, will ya? I mean, one crossover episode… okay. But three?

Personally, I find Chicago Fire to be a snorefest. Watching the characters bicker about their problem-of-the-day is about as much fun as burning myself with a lit cigarette. The crossovers were entirely unnecessary.

Arrests and Asking for a Lawyer — Plot Conveniences

This show started off by making a big deal about not being able to arrest people in their own homes. Also, when a suspect asks for a lawyer in interrogation, the detectives must stop what they are doing and walk out of the room. By season 13 and above, these concepts are mere plot (in)conveniences. There have been many times when they have arrested people in their own homes without showing a warrant (one example, S16 E3 — Producer’s Backend) when Benson (of all people) arrests a Lindsay Lohan clone in her own home without asking her to step outside first.

This convenience problem is even worse when it comes to suspect interrogations. I’ve lost count of the number of times that the detectives have continued to interrogate the suspect after the suspect has asked for a lawyer. If the writers can’t even follow the real laws of NY when writing scripts, then why is this show still on the air?

Weird Endings

One of the things that irks me of this show is the odd cliffhanger endings. I’m guessing that this is a thing that the producers like. Well, I dislike it… A LOT. We watch through an episode where Benson and Stabler, Tutuola and Munch run around chasing and apprehending the perpetrator, yet at the very end, the screen fades before we find out the perp’s fate? Isn’t this supposed to be Law and Order? We get the Law part, but where’s the Order? Meaning, once the show catches the perp, aren’t we supposed to get see the adjudication proceedings? That’s the payoff. We want to see exactly how the perp gets sentenced. We don’t want to be left hanging after the fade. When we don’t get to see this payoff, as viewers we feel robbed. This makes watching seasons SVU frustrating and unsatisfying.

Character Musical Chairs

The ADA characters seem to come and go. At first it was Angie Harmon as Abbie Carmichael as a crossover from Law and Order, then she disappears in replacement with Stephanie March as Alexandra “Alex” Cabot. Before March joined on, it was a random array of ADA characters in and out with Angie Harmon in a lightly recurring role. In fact, I would have preferred to see a guest star in the ADA role every week. It’s not realistic, but it allows the show to hire a guest star whenever an ADA character role is infrequently needed. It’s not that I don’t like Stephanie March as an actress, I just don’t like the Alex character who’s ideas blow with the wind… or more specifically, whichever the way the writers need her to blow to make the episode work.

Stephanie’s acting of Alex certainly comes across as staunch, righteous and indignant as a DA’s office defender, sometimes to the point of endangering people’s live. I always felt that ideology was wrong for the role. Angie Harmon’s character was a whole lot more right for it. Not sure why the show went with March over Harmon in the early seasons.

Then there was detective Monique Jeffries (Michelle Hurd) and several medical examiners before the show settled on Melinda Warner (Tamara Tunie).

Also, the first psychologist Emil Skoda (played by J.K. Simmons) disappears for a random second replacement with George Huang (played by BD Wong)? In fact, I liked Emil Skoda better because he at least he acted normal with reasonably normal dialog. The George Huang character has both an oddly soft speaking style, a condescending tone and pretentious dialog as to be distasteful. Why the producers thought this character might be a better choice, I have no idea. You do want your main characters to be likeable, right?

What’s with the introduction of Detective Lake in Season 8? I know they trialed this character in an earlier episode. I didn’t like him then. Yet, Dick Wolf decided to bring him back in as a regular in season 8. He lasted two seasons before being given the boot. This character was a horrible addition to the squad room. Not only was he now the odd man out, the actor Adam Beach had no chemistry with the cast. Whenever he was featured in an episode, I found it excruciating to watch. The actor mumbles and chews his words badly. It’s not a good trait in an actor. I know he has other acting gigs under his belt, but Adam Beach was way out of his element in this role. It’s good thing that Dick Wolf dumped him at the end of season 9. He should have been dumped earlier.

Next, it’s Declan Murphy.

Elliot Stabler’s Badly Handled Departure

This one goes hand-in-hand with the musical chairs of cast. While it’s always up in the air what happens behind the scenes with an actor’s contract negotiations, it’s crystal clear what happened (or, rather, didn’t happen) with the exit of Elliot Stabler. Basically, Stabler is there one episode, gone the next. The all of about 5 minutes of screen time devoted to the memory of Elliot Stabler was so tritely handled in S13 E1, the show should have convicted itself of a crime. Considering how long this character had been with the show, Stabler deserved a properly crafted longer story arc exit. Instead, we get the most minuscule thing possible in the opening of Season 13. This crap treatment treats Elliot with all of the grace as one time throw-away characters. Even Sonya Paxton’s ADA character got a more befitting exit from the show than Stabler.

I can’t understand why the show runner didn’t at least have Olivia stop by Stabler’s house and have the tiniest bit of a conversation. Heck, even if Stabler did quit the force, that wouldn’t have quit Olivia’s friendship with Elliot. She should still occasionally stop by on her off time to catch up. Eventually, they might grow distant and lose touch, but not right away. And, what about Stabler’s wife and kids? That whole family was a staple on the show… and then what? They’re just gone? How hard would it have been to at least contract Christopher Meloni for one episode in Season 13 to give proper closure to Elliot Stabler and family?

What I will say about this is that the dynamic of SVU changed dramatically (and not for the better) after Christopher Meloni’s departure. Mariska Hargitay just doesn’t have the same chemistry with the then new rookie cast members. Season 13 simply doesn’t have the same feel as previous seasons for many reasons beyond just cast. Stabler and Benson were the cornerstones of SVU. To kill the show’s chemistry so completely by not keeping Elliot is just stupid. Even beyond Stabler’s crap departure, it also doesn’t help that the episodes in Season 13 are much slower paced and oddly off-key than in previous seasons. That’s partly because it seems they also changed the show runner. It also seems they try to give stories which would have been better handled by Stabler to Benson. The stories just don’t work. Let’s just hope that from here the show gets better again in later seasons, but I’m not holding out much hope.

Duds

With any series, there are always duds. In the case of SVU, there’s a first season episode that stands out: S1 E12. In fact, it’s so bad I couldn’t make myself watch the whole thing. It’s about a rich guy who gets killed leading to some Russian females as suspects. This episode is jam packed with Russian stereotypes.. to the point that they hired white American actors and asked them to put on fake Russian accents. It was not only cringe inducing to watch, the episode was highly boring. Skipped this one. If you can’t do it right, don’t bother. This is not the only episode this bad. I’ve skipped 2 others in addition to this one in 3 seasons. I guess that’s not a bad track record, but a good TV show shouldn’t have any worth skipping.

World Resets

More bad writing here as this style of episodic TV is one of my biggest pet peeves. Here we have a story about Stabler who assigns a protective detail to Benson (against her wishes and unknowing to her) because a former case perp has come back to haunt and target her. When Benson finds out about the protective detail, she becomes distraught and distrusting of Stabler (her partner) to the point where she avoids him. By the end of the episode, Benson isn’t on speaking terms with Stabler and she is sitting at home alone crying, fade out. The next episode, Stabler and Benson are happy as larks working together just fine like nothing ever happened. This lack of continuity in character relationships drives me nuts. How can you have two characters who have this level of falling out and then the next episode it’s like the world has reset and nothing has happened? There has also been no further mention of this issue in later episodes. So, what gives SVU? If characters have a falling out, then carry it over into the next episode…. or fix the problem before the episode ends.

Note that similar issues occur between many episodes. This example above just happens to be one of the most egregious I’ve seen to this point. What’s more frustrating about this situation is the randomness at which the writers choose to or not to world reset. Sometimes the show continues to carry forward plot ideas, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s entirely random.

Overall

Many of the stories are watchable if not predictable, but be prepared for the problems described. Also, how many stories can be written about rape? Most SVU stories are about female rape victims. Even in the 3 seasons that I’ve watched, I feel the stories are already treading dangerously close to one another. I’m unsure how the show has managed 19 seasons worth of original stories. Though, the episode about a male being raped by 3 women brings up a very good point at a time when it wasn’t considered possible. This story is a bit hackneyed. I would have preferred a more legitimate story rather a private male dancer who took money to please the women who allegedly raped him. Ultimately, because he was a male dancer for pay, the women got away with the rape. This episode would have been far more interesting to watch if the male could have conclusively been found to have been raped without the extra mitigating circumstances.

With SVU, it seems the writers like to add circumstances to the plot to intentionally make it more difficult for the DA to prosecute or simply to further convolute the plot. I’m not trying to imply that cases of rape are easy to prosecute in any way. But, some cases are likely to be easier than others depending on the circumstances. SVU should show cases of all difficulty levels. Some unwinnable, some practically handed to them on a silver platter and many somewhere in between. It seems the writers preferred creating stories about the most difficult end of the spectrum (i.e., extremely hard to impossible to prosecute).

I’ll need to watch more seasons before I can give a conclusive rating. However at this point, I’ll give Law and Order: SVU a 2.5 out of 5 star rating. Most of the positive portions of this rating is due to the stellar cast up to season 13. At season 13, the stellar casting breaks. While the story writers may not get the stories right each time and there have been a number of technical filming problems, up until season 12, these well cast actors have amazing on-screen chemistry and give it their all each and every episode. They also do a spectacular job even with the crappiest of stories and dialog. Even as good as the actors perform and as decently written as a few of the stories are, the mounting technical problems combined with too many sucky stories, poor endings and near constant cast changes drags down this rating and the series.

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Fan Backlash: What’s wrong with Star Wars?

Posted in botch, business, california, movies by commorancy on July 6, 2018

the-last-jedi-theatricalI’ve been watching several YouTube channels recently… yes, I do watch YouTube. And yes, there has been a huge fan backlash against the latest Star Wars installment, The Last Jedi. Some of these channels outright blame the social justice warriors for the fundamental problem. I don’t agree. The SJWs aren’t to blame, Disney and Kathleen Kennedy are. Let’s explore.

The Original Trilogy

Episodes 4, 5 and 6 are arguably the best of Star Wars. These films were created and conceived by George Lucas. We got a tiny taste of the cutesy characters the Jawas and R2D2 in A New Hope and again with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, but these characters were tempered to avoid becoming cartoons. As fans, we were able to mostly ignore these cutesy characters because they were limited in scope and/or served a genuine purpose (more than being cute). George then pushed the bounds again in Return of the Jedi with the Ewoks. These little cutesy bundles of fur were almost entirely “for the kids” and very much cartoons. Thankfully, the introduction of these cuddly characters didn’t entirely ruin the plot of the film. Yes, they were cute, but most of us were able to get over the cute-cuddly teddy bear nature of them. However, George was skating on thin ice with these characters. Many fans weren’t impressed. Still, Return of the Jedi worked as a sufficient ending to the original trilogy.

Thankfully, at the time, social media was non-existent. The only people who could effectively and loudly complain about it were the newspaper critics. The fans had no outlet for their own outrage. The Internet was just budding, email didn’t exist and neither did Twitter, Facebook or any other social site. Fan complaints traveled almost entirely by word of mouth (or via the convention circuit).

The Prequels

By 1999, when Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace premiered, email, text messaging, blogging and even early versions of social media began their rise to becoming ubiquitous. This is the time when fans finally had not only an outlet for their words, but people to read them. Not long after this period of time is when the term ‘social justice warriors’ would be coined. At this time, they were simply called, ‘keyboard warriors’.

When George introduced Jar Jar Binks, he took the cutesy cartoon idea to extremes producing one of the biggest pop icons of the era and simultaneously one of the most derided characters ever to grace the silver screen, let alone a Star Wars film. Many people have a love-hate relationship with Jar Jar.

Not only is Jar Jar very much a cartoon character, he’s also a politically incorrect figure in so many different ways. Not only in his voice, but in his manner of speech and in simply what he says. This is through no fault of the voice actor who portrayed Jar Jar. This is the fault of George Lucas. This is also where Star Wars effectively “jumped the shark”, but not solely because of Jar Jar. Oh certainly, Jar Jar heavily contributed to this, but writing a trilogy long story about the origin of Darth Vader is, well, pretentious. It really doesn’t take 3 films to show the entire Anakin Skywalker story.  That could have been condensed into one film leaving two others to show Darth Vader doing nasty things and birthing the rebellion. Instead of boring senate scenes about trade blockades (*yawn*), we could have been watching Darth Vader and the Emperor fighting the beginnings of the rebellion (much more interesting).

This is where George has not only fallen on that thin ice, he fell through it. This is where George finally got a taste of fan backlash. Backlash that he would have gotten a whole lot faster had social media existed when the Ewoks showed their cute little faces on screen the first time. No, he had to wait until the prequels were released to finally get a taste of what would become Social Justice.

It also didn’t help that George’s revisionist tendencies led him to re-release the original trilogy with updated CGI visuals and modified scenes. In combination with the prequels, this led fans to begin their disenchantment with the direction of the Star Wars film universe. Did it really need to be revised who shot first in the cantina scene?

The Disney Films

Because of George’s less than stellar trilogy story in the prequels (Episodes 1, 2 and 3), George felt downtrodden and unable to produce more Star Wars films. Ultimately, he sold the franchise to Disney.

By 2015, with the release of The Force Awakens, fans were more excited than skeptical. By this time, not only had social media well matured, we now have instant access to it anywhere. Yes, even in the theater while watching it. It was inevitable that people would post their reviews within minutes of exiting the theater, possibly writing it while they were watching. Initially, fan reviews of The Force Awakens were positive. However, as fans mulled over the film on social media and via other means, it became clear just out vacuous this first new installment really was.

Yes, The Force Awakens feels like a Star Wars film, but it isn’t a Star Wars film in structure. It’s a J.J. film. After a few months of mulling over what The Force Awakens meant, it was quickly clear that it simply wasn’t what fans wanted.

Hollywood’s Affirmative Action Plan Initiative

Since at least 2014, the gender and ethnic equality war began in Hollywood in earnest. Since then, Hollywood has been sacrificing its screenplays and film profits (and projects) to the Hollywood Affirmative Action Plan Initiative (HAAPi — pronounced “happy”). Instead of telling stories as written with characters as created, directors and producers now feel the need to rewrite and cast politically correct ethnic and/or gender bending casts at the expense of producing a high quality entertaining film that will become a box office success.

Here are are two examples:

  • 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot was recast entirely with women in the lead roles
  • 2015’s Johnny Storm was recast as a black male against his white female sister in the latest failed Fantastic Four… not how the comic was written.

Both of these films I’d classify as box office bombs sacrificed to HAAPi. Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have additionally been sacrificed to this movement. I’m not sure if the women of Hollywood intend to bring down the entire film industry or what exactly is their agenda, but trying these silly shenanigans in an effort to force a cast of women and ethnic minorities at the expense of a logical story is insane.

I am 100% for gender and ethnic diversity in casting … When. It. Makes. Sense. Don’t do it because you can, do it because the story requires it.

Do you want to make money or do you want to make a point? Let’s hope this trend ends before all of the studios in Hollywood end up bankrupt. On the other hand, perhaps it is time for Hollywood’s day to end.

The Last Jedi

To some extent, The Force Awakens’s sacrifice to HAAPi was both inevitable and thwarted. Because this was the first installment and these were brand new characters, we ignored HAAPi (for the most part). As excited fans, we were able to look past HAAPi and ignore any specific casting defects in starring roles.

However with The Last Jedi (helmed not by J.J. Abrams like The Force Awakens, but by Rian Johnson), this film not only succumbed to HAAPi, but slapped us fans in the face with it like a dead fish. Instead of casting smart, Johnson (and Kennedy) cast HAAPi. With Rose Tico, we ended up with an Asian female. There’s nothing specifically wrong with this casting choice if it had happened in The Force Awakens. Instead, because of HAAPi, this character was shoehorned into a main character role at a time when the character was not needed. This character was also shoehorned into a plot device that just didn’t work. In fact, the entire romp between Finn and Rose was entirely pointless for this film and wasted about 15-20 minutes of screen time. Perhaps the resistance ring Rose handed to the boy may have some level of significance in the final film… or it may not. That ring could have been given to the boy in so many other better ways by already established characters.

Also, why introduce Rose at all? She’s a wrench jockey who fixes things. She doesn’t appear to have force powers. What is she likely to bring to the story of any real importance? You can introduce a Rose-like character in a series like Clone Wars or Rebels because it’s a multipart series. There are so many episodes, characters need to come and go. In a trilogy, every character introduction counts. And, such an introduction takes away character development time from other characters. We already don’t know enough about Finn, Poe and Rey, we don’t need yet fourth character to have to get to know.

The reason Star Wars the original trilogy worked is primarily because of the triangle lead roles of Luke, Leia and Han. We had that triangle going with Finn, Poe and Rey. Yet, now we have Finn, Poe, Rey and Rose (?). This character has upset that triangle. If you’re going to do that, then the story should have introduced this character in the opening film to this trilogy.

The Rose problem exists entirely because, like 2016’s Ghostbusters and 2015’s Fantastic Four, The Last Jedi has been sacrificed to HAAPi to solve a perceived film deficiency, not because the story needs it. This time, however, fans were able to lift the HAAPi veil and see through it for what it is… sad. And so, the fan backlash ensues.

Star Wars is a fantasy series. Bringing Hollywood casting agendas into a film’s story isn’t what fans want to see. This not only insults the fans’ intelligence, it insults the fans. What else would Disney expect to happen? Using a franchise like Star Wars to further a Hollywood agenda is entirely insane. Disney and Kathleen Kennedy, you need to get your shit together and wake up. HAAPi is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and it doesn’t belong in Star Wars.

The Final Film

This film has not yet released as of this article. However, it’s almost certain that not only will this film bomb at the box office, it may end the franchise entirely. Disney would be wise to shelve this last film and any future Star Wars film projects until this whole thing blows over… and Disney, you need dump the current team working on it including Kathleen Kennedy.

Let the final film stew for a few years. Make the fans wait until they clamor for it. Make the fans want it. Putting it out right now is a recipe for box office failure. This franchise is already skating on thin ice because of HAAPi. It’s almost certain that the final film will also be sacrificed to HAAPi. Abusing HAAPi makes me (and many other Star Wars fans) very, very sad.

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