By Scott Murray
My wife and I try to go to Orlando at least once a year. We love the parks, and we have some family who live there as well. The prospects of going in 2020 seemed to drop dramatically when the pandemic hit. However, we stayed optimistic and kept an eye on things as places started to re-open over the summer.
A few weeks after Disney World and Universal re-opened, I started to consume content from park bloggers and news about the safety precautions. Things looked pretty good, especially after talking with Tessa Smith about her nine-day trip to Disney World, and seeing that there were no outbreaks tied to the theme parks.
We knew things would be different, but we were more than ready to get away. So, we planned a nine-day trip of our own. It included Disney World, Universal, Discovery Cove and Sea World. Here are some of the highlights, pros and cons of our pandemic vacation.
CON: They are not running trams from the parking lot to the park/transportation center. During this trip, it felt unseasonably humid and hot (more like August than October). The humidity was heavy, sweat down your back brutal on most days. This was true on some cloudy days as well.
Even getting there early, it was a loooooooong walk to the transportation center from the parking lot.
In prior trips, we would park hop at least twice during the day. With park hopping suspended, we were looking forward to slowing down and indulging more in the day.
The brutal humidity made that impossible. We were able to fit in Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, and Thunder Mountain before running back to the hotel to cool off and clean up.
Jenn knew about Discovery Cove before I did. During some of our previous Orlando trips, we heard people talking about how much they loved their experience and were ready to go back. We had our first experience there in 2018, and were pleased we could include it on this trip.
PROS: We felt safe. Protocols were in place that focused on distancing and masks. They also allow you to pull your mask down when taking photos.
CONS: However, at times, you did have to work to keep your own distance. You obviously didn't have to wear masks when snorkeling in the reef, and people weren't always being vigilant about keeping their distance. I loved swimming with all of the sea life in the reef (especially stingrays), but it sucked to have to keep an eye out for obliviots who didn't watch where they were going. I got kicked in the head and even had a guy bump into me while recording video underwater.
Nonetheless, we want to go back when we visit Orlando again.
I'm always excited to go to Hollywood Studios - the park with two of my favorite fandoms (Star Wars and The Muppets). Since you have to wear masks while taking photos, I was glad I got to go to Galaxy's Edge in Disneyland before the pandemic hit. I was anxious to return to Batuu and build another lightsaber.
PROS: They have the distancing worked out really well. They can snake lines for things like the Millennium Falcon ride and Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Train. However, I do NOT think the runaway train ride is worth a 60+ minute wait. It's a cute little trackless ride, but not much more.
CONS: The Rise of the Resistance virtual queue is not the way. We tried FIVE times to log into the app and compete with everyone else to get a boarding pass to ride Rise of the Resistance. Each time, it filled up in seconds. To increase our chances, we were advised to have Jenn also login to the app and try to get into a group.
For a moment - it looked like she got through. However, when she attempted to confirm, it said every member of her party was not in the park. That was obviously an error...and another failed attempt.
For a company that is dedicated to the customer experience - there has to be a better way. I was disappointed to miss this. In fact, we CANCELLED our last day plans to Animal Kingdom to go back to Hollywood Studios a THIRD time to try this, only to fail again.
However, it was good that we did that because when I brought my lightsaber back to the hotel (after our second trip), it was malfunctioning. I was easily able to come back and get it fixed without issue.
We LOVE the Food and Wine Festival, and we were so pleased that it didn't get cancelled this year. We went to Epcot on Wednesday, and the crowds weren't that bad. It felt like the least crowded day of the trip, and it was easy to walk on to Journey Into the Imagination, Soarin' and The Seas.
PROS: The food was awesome (as always). Also, I was so pleased to see more Figment merchandise this year. My birthday was a week away, so Jenn got these as birthday presents for me.
Sleepy Figment now sleeps on top of my CPU. However, he uses his imagination and turns it into a cloud.
CONS: The lack of merchandise at The American Experience. It's incredible the amount of stuff you can buy at other countries...but not the home country. The old store is now an art store and the kiosk outside of the attraction was shut down. We were told it's been shut down since the re-opening.
Some of the coolest Disney merch is the USA-themed stuff. However, that's not the most disappointing thing. When they converted the restaurant into a Sam the Eagle-themed barbeque place, I was stoked. I was especially excited to see the t-shirts and glasses that came with it. I was REALLY looking forward to getting my hands on those, but I couldn't.
Not only because the kiosk was closed, but they didn't bother to sell them anywhere else. The Muppet store at Hollywood Studios was closed, and with the park's insane history of not having much Muppet merchandise, this was really disappointing.
It's also really, really confusing.
We're not always able to incorporate Universal Studios into our trip, but we did this time. I was interested to see how they were handling things during the pandemic.
PROS: We felt safe. Like Disney, there were distancing and mobile food ordering processes. Also, they had employees sanitize everyone's hands before getting on a ride. You get your own cabin when riding the Hogwarts Express, and they tell you you're being watched via a small camera. That way, they can see if you pull your mask down. If you do, the train won't move and/or they will call you out.
I will say there didn't seem to be as many staff members monitoring lax mask wearing like they have at Disney.
We were also pleased to find out there was no virtual queue competition. So, I was able to get on the new Hagrid-themed ride, and it was crazy-fun! Also, while Disney hasn't reinstalled its Fast Pass system, you can get Universal's Express added to your ticket. This allows you to get into an Express line for every ride (except Hagrid).
CONS: The merchandise in the warehouse. When I returned from my trip, I added several new fandom-themed masks to my inventory. However, a Ravenclaw mask was not one of them. I saw people wearing them, but I only saw them in one store (and they were the wrong size). I was told they're in the warehouse and they didn't know when they'd get them in the stores.
This was disappointing, especially when you consider that Universal doesn't add a lot new Harry Potter merchandise anyway. I see the same stuff almost every trip.
The rest of the trip
There were limitations and disappointments, but there was also a lot of fun, and it was good to get away. Lines weren't all that bad, and distancing makes the waits shorter than expected at times. However, the heat made us skip some that were listed at 70+ minutes.
I think we'll continue to keep an eye on things before planning another Orlando trip. That includes considering the humidity factor.
By Dan Ortiz
Amid the ongoing streaming "platform wars," - NBC Universal's Peacock entered a crowded fray inhabited by Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, and Amazon Prime, among others. As each platform continues their unyielding quest to draw viewers with a mix of original programming and library content, the results for viewers can range from bona fide pop culture hits like The Old Guard and The Mandalorian to costly misfires (see: Quibi's mixed bag of offerings).
Luckily for sci-fi fans, as these respective libraries open for consumption, a treasure trove of old and new geek-friendly programming has become available at a time when as some say there's almost too much to watch. So, in an effort to help cut through the clutter, here's a guide to geek favorites on Peacock that are helpfully divided into the following categories: Bingeable, New & Notable, Worth a Re-watch, and Deep Cuts.
Brave New World
An adaptation of the Aldous Huxley novel, Brave New World is probably one of the more prescient programs on the platform at the moment. Set in the near-future city of New London, the show focuses on a seemingly idyllic but ultimately pharmaceutically-controlled utopian society where monogamy, privacy, money, and family are strictly outlawed.
The series begins with a somewhat slow burn, but quickly amps up the storytelling pace and character development once series lead Jessica Brown Findlay's Lenina finds herself stranded in The "Savage Lands". This shattered remains of the United States has become an adventure park where New London denizens gawk at how savagely Americans live. From there, the story continues unspooling the mythology of New London as seen through the eyes of John (Solo's Alden Ehrenreich), a refugee from the Savage Lands struggling to fit in with New London's rigorous utopia.
The nine episodes are easily bingeable, and the promising cast brings the right amount of nuance and mystery to the proceedings. Demi Moore is especially enjoyable in a surprising star turn as John's mother, and Blade Runner 2049's Hannah John-Kamen is New London's mysterious romantic relationships czar.
New and Notable
In a near-future London, DI John Major is shot dead during a botched police operation. Luckily for John, he becomes a candidate in an experimental program to revive him using Artificial Intelligence.
One year later, a new and improved John seemingly returns from the dead to find life has moved on without him. As John becomes acquainted with the life he left behind and his new body, the series evolves into Six Million Dollar Man meets Law & Order with a healthy dose of dry British humor to smooth out the rough edges.
It's essentially British Robocop at its core, but John's relationship with partner Roy (Stephen Graham of This is England) creates an enjoyable brotherly dynamic that offsets some of the series' shortcomings, such as the hackneyed plot and by-the-book good guy/bad guy dynamics meant to underscore John's search for the truth of who killed him.
This British export centers on The Good Wife's Archie Panjabi as an investigator for Britain's air transportation investigative bureau. She's looking into the disappearance of a transatlantic airliner with 256 passengers aboard.
While there isn't anything overtly Sci-Fi about the series at face value, Departure does feel like Lost re-envisioned for 2020 without all the baggage of smoke monsters, Others, and convoluted theories that ultimately lead to one giant MacGuffin.
While the ultimate direction of the series is murky (I don't know how it has the legs to be a multi-season show), the cast is enjoyable, and the mystery is captivating enough to stay interested as the mystery unfolds.
In the show's talent roster, watch for sci-fi favorites like Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), Peter Mensah (300), Shazad Latif (Penny Dreadful), and Sasha Roiz (Caprica).
This is an angsty teen-oriented series focusing on a group of wolves inhabiting a British high school. The only catch is that these wolves are humans with wolves' blood, not conventional werewolves.
All of the typical clichéd high school tropes are on full display right down to the moody new kid who gets drawn into the affairs of the wolf pack. Fans of MTV's Teen Wolf will more than likely be ready to sink their fangs into this novel hybrid of Twilight: New Moon meets Degrassi.
Beyond the ropey visual FX, there is a genuine heart and soul to the show and the relatable family dynamics are possibly the series' only saving grace.
Worth a Re-watch
So say we all! It wouldn't be unfair to claim that 2020 has felt like the end of the world. So what better time to catch up with an actual "end of the world" event in the form of re-watching all 4 seasons of Star Trek TNG scribe Ronald D Moore's glorious Battlestar Galactica re-imagining and the miniseries that started it all.
Die-hard fans already know the setup but the time is now to relive the adventures of the last bastion of humanity's war with the Cylons and their grand "plan" for the galaxy ahead of the in-the-works reboot of Battlestar currently underway at Peacock.
Come for the Starbuck quips, stay for the excellent President Roslin performance by Mary McDonell and the TNG-like dedication to quality storytelling.
What better month than October to revisit the "Charmed Ones"? TV impresario Aaron Spelling's series spanned eight seasons, spawned a cult following, and defined a network (surely you remember The WB).
Though the Charmed reboot did not fare as well, now is the perfect time to get back to basics.
When this cheesy series debuted on FOX back in 1995, it was essentially a bargain-basement Quantum Leap focusing on a group of scientists "sliding" through interdimensional wormholes in the search for the slide that would bring them back to Earth. Along the way, there were plots ranging from inspired to just plain ludicrous, including a future where the United States lost the Revolutionary War to dimension-crossing aliens looking to invade Earth.
It's no surprise that the series, visual effects, and storytelling have not aged well. However, some episodes are worth a re-watch. Even though there are place where Sliders may have slipped, there's no denying it paved the way for superior weekly sci-fi shows like Fringe.
Was it flawed? Sure.
Was it a great step in weekly sci-fi on a broadcast network? Most definitely.
Is it available to watch again in all of it's flawed, overdrawn glory in order to reevaluate its impact and legacy?
While Netflix may have scored a run with its faithful reboot, there's nothing like the original classic mothership. You can relive all those creepy stories that gave you nightmares and make you look over your shoulder at night.
SeaQuest DSV/SeaQuest 2032
Star Trek: Underwater was the original premise. Helmed by a creative team that included Steven Spielberg, this NBC series followed the crew of the Seaquest DSV (Deep Submergence Vehicle) on its ongoing mission to protect Earth's oceans from threats ranging from pirates, sea monsters, and aliens.
Silliness aside, in retrospect the show can be admired for its moxie and mojo. When things worked, they sure worked, and when they didn't, it could sink like a stone.
Following a protracted contract debate, SeaQuest DSV star Roy Scheider was released from his contract and Season 3 of SeaQuestDSV was re-branded SeaQuest 2032. Scheider was replaced with a new captain of the SeaQuest, but it was too late.
The show's ratings entered a crash dive from which they were unable to recover, and the series was mercilessly put down halfway through its third season. Luckily, anyone who wants to watch SeaQuest DSV's funeral at sea has the opportunity for a front-row seat!
This SyFy series had an intriguing premise. It takes place aboard a "generation ship" (a space 'ark' launched in the 1960s) on a journey to a far-away Proxima Centauri. When some things with the ship go awry, the mishaps begin to reveal cracks in the overall mission at large, threatening to upset the balance of the ship and its residents.
One of the most fun aspects of this show was that the generation ship residents still retained a swinging 60s vibe. So, this was essentially Mad Men in space with a fun "what is reality?" angle to boot.
Colin Ferguson stars as Sheriff Jack Carter in the idyllic town of Eureka. However, as is the case with all idyllic small towns, there are mysteries afoot caused by the neighboring no-good technology company that causes things in Eureka to go haywire at an alarming rate.
It was always a quirky series, but one that in retrospect feels like a sci-fi blueprint for other future series about quirky towns like Schitt's Creek and Stranger Things.
Peacock's streaming app is available on Vizio and LG smart TVs, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices, Android TV, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Chromecast, and Roku.
The service is also available through its official website.
You can browse a full list of supported devices here.
By Tom Farr
Throughout Batman’s DC Comics history, The Joker has been the one villain to cause the Dark Knight the most grief. From murdering the second Robin (Jason Todd) to shooting and paralyzing Batgirl/Barbara Gordon, The Joker’s wave of terror has been consistently present in Gotham City. Strangely, however, The Joker’s personality hasn’t been consistent throughout history.
At times, he’s a murderous comedian, a crazy clown, or just a homicidal maniac. This is the premise behind Geoff John’s latest Batman story, Three Jokers, published by DC’s Black Label, with art by Jason Fabok.
In a single night, three heinous crimes are committed by the Joker at the same time. The Gotham City Police Department is baffled, as are the Dark Knight and Batgirl. Did the real Joker commit one of the crimes and copycats committed the other two? Could there are actually three Jokers, each taking on one of the personalities reflected in Joker stories of the past? Johns refers to these three Jokers as the Criminal, the Comedian, and the Clown.
More than one Joker the whole time?
Batman and Batgirl team up with Jason Todd’s Red Hood to solve the mystery of the three Jokers. This leads them on a journey of discovering that there may be more Jokers than they even realize. In fact, after two issues, it seems the original Joker may have somehow begun replicating himself long ago with a plan to overwhelm Gotham City with new Jokers.
The Joker’s Lasting Impact on Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon
Longtime Batman fans will enjoy the references to previous Batman stories, especially the exploration of Jason Todd’s death at the hands of the Joker and his return to the land of the living. Three Jokers implies that the Joker had a longer endgame in mind when he initially “killed” Jason Todd.
Plus, Three Jokers is an in-depth exploration of the effect the Joker has had on Jason Todd and his relationship with Batman. It also takes him in a new direction in his relationship with Batgirl. She also has to reflect on the Joker’s profound impact on her life after the events of The Killing Joke - the landmark Batman story in which the Joker shot her to try to break Jim Gordon.
A Closer Look at The Joker and Batman’s Origin
At the center of it all is Batman. The core event of Batman’s life is the murder of his parents, and that event seems to play a significant role in Three Jokers. In some iterations of the Batman story, the Joker himself is responsible for the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
This was the primary storyline of Tim Burton’s Batman film. In Three Jokers, the classic story of Joe Chill as a murderer is maintained, at least as far as we know. However, even that seems open for further discovery leaning into the upcoming third and final issue of the series.
Three Jokers is an impressive story so far on its own, but combined with the art by Jason Fabok, it truly stands out as one of the more groundbreaking Batman stories of recent years.
This isn’t surprising given its publication under Black Label, which seems to give writers and artists more freedom than with DC. Of course, the story could succeed or fail with the third and final issue that comes out on October 27.
For now, Three Jokers is a compelling story that takes a deep dive into some of the past's most iconic Batman stories.
by Tom Farr
Comic book writer Scott Snyder is probably best known for his work on Batman, especially his Court of Owls storyline, but he's also the writer behind DC's popular Dark Knights: Metal and Death Metal events. Charles Soule is just as prolific, having written for Marvel's X-Men, She-Hulk, and several Star Wars comics. They're both talented storytellers in the comic book medium, and together, they're a powerhouse creative force. Their creator-owned comic book series Undiscovered Country with Image Comics is currently eight issues in, and every issue is full of surprises and an invitation to keep going.
A United States closed off from the rest of the world
The story's premise is that the United States closed off its borders and walled itself off from the rest of the world over thirty years ago. The world has changed drastically in the three decades without American influence. Still, the most significant problem the main characters face is a global pandemic called Sky, which is wiping out the world's population. Charlotte Graves is a scientist desperately searching for a cure when she's invited to be a part of a team that includes her brother Daniel.
When they get a message from the United States, the first anyone has heard thirty years, it's from a mysterious Dr. Elgin. It comes with a promised cure for the Sky virus if they come to America to get it. Charlotte, Daniel, a journalist, an army colonel, American expert, and a team of diplomats embark on a journey to America. However, what they find is a shocking de-evolution of a civilized America.
In addition to discovering the mysteries of what's happened to the country and searching for a cure to Sky, the team must find a way to survive the deadly sci-fi landscape that Soule and Snyder created. The world of the story is made all the more impressive with the standout visuals created by Daniele Orlandini and Giuseppe Camuncoli
Exploring a future America similar to our own
Even though it's a sci-fi story set in the future, with Undiscovered Country, Soule and Snyder have been able to explore a United States that is sharply divided by vastly different worldviews over what being American is about, which is strangely relevant to the the divisions of today. It's also a story that is enriched by a cursory knowledge of American history and iconography. As an educator, I sincerely appreciate this aspect of the story.
There's only so far a story can be carried by sci-fi mysteries. However, the real strength of Undiscovered Country is the characters. Enormously complex, each character has a vested interest in discovering whatever lies behind the walls that separate the US from the rest of the world. Arguably, Charlotte and Danielle are the characters that drive most of the story with a complex history that includes their parents. They are somehow tied to the sealing of the US. Still, Soule and Snyder do a great job exploring the other characters' backstories in a compelling way.
Eight issues in, Undiscovered Country continues to deliver non-stop surprises, mysteries and complex character development.
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