Tag Archives: Phil Plait

Weekend TV Double-Alert: Peter O’Toole and Bad Piloting

I’m going to suggest that you watch two things on TV this weekend. One of these recommendations is in your best interests and the other one is in mine. Does that sound fair?


Photo of Peter O'Toole from "The Stunt Man"

Turner Classic Movies is showing Peter O’Toole movies all day today. I’m confident that no further explanation is necessary and that you’ve already broken the news to your 18-year-old daughter that she’ll have to find somebody else to drive her to college this weekend. There isn’t a bad movie in the whole day’s schedule, which is to say: no, they aren’t showing “Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage.”

Which is a real movie:

But I’m singling out “The Stunt Man,” which airs at midnight. It’s far and away my favorite Peter O’Toole performance and the movie itself is always a contender for my personal top ten favorite films.

It also presents me with a problem, each and every time I try to get someone to see it: I won’t tell you anything about this movie.

“The Stunt Man” is best seen cold. If I describe the plot, if I describe Peter O’Toole’s character, if I even give you the genre of this movie ahead of time, I think I’ll diminish the your experience. It’s a brilliantly manipulative screenplay. Richard Rush has a keen awareness of how an audience watches a movie.

Read nothing about it. Tune in to TCM just a minute or two before midnight and leave the sound off, just in case Robert Osborne is wandering through his little fake library saying something unhelpful, such as the whole plot of the film.

Portrait of Phil PlaitOnward to the selfish recommendation.

My buddy Phil Plait shot a three-episode pilot for The Discovery Channel and the first show airs Sunday night at 10 PM. “Phil Plait’s Bad Universe” is an astronomy-oriented science show with the usual Discovery Channel spin: “if at all possible, shoot some video of the host in a blast shelter cautiously pushing a very serious-looking button.”

It’s all part of the very laudable goal of making science programming watchable. Real science is a lousy spectator sport. Even the most earth-shattering discoveries usually involve a graph with a spike right in the place where the math predicted it would be. If your mission is to communicate the significance of that spike to a lay audience, you might have to do some literal shattering of the earth. You need to blow some stuff up.

Phil’s science blogging has always been eminently readable and I whenever I finish one of his Bad Astronomy posts, I feel a little less dumb than I was before. Judging from the teaser, his TV show will be just as successful. The pilot episode talks about all the stuff in space that could collide with Earth, and the things we can do to prevent it.

(My suggestion: a series of local referenda banning asteroid strikes in individual communities. Look at Berkeley, California. They ┬áhaven’t been struck by a nuclear warhead even once in the years since they passed a resolution banning them from city limits.)

Watch the show and write your local congressperson.

I do want my friend to succeed, of course. But I’m also aware that if his show gets greenlit for a full-season order, I’ll also be one step closer to getting invited to a Discovery Channel Christmas party. Assuming that his wife can’t make it and he needs a new Plus One.