Dan Le Batard, Alexa, and Me

Alexa and the Amazon Echo always kind of freaked me out.  Amazon is pretty direct in admitting that the Echo is always listening for “Alexa,” its activation phrase.  And then, about a year ago, stories started circulating that people could hear a faint laughter emitting from it.  This unsettled me to the point that it inspired a horror story.

However, some family members recently bought a few Echos for their house and, admittedly, they were super cool.  My kids loved asking Alexa questions and, personally, I found the option of just asking about the weather or any other kind of information without having to run to my phone or laptop pretty enticing.

Unfortunately, the idea of that thing always “listening” still gave me the creeps.

I bet you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Dan Le Batard.

If you’re not familiar with Dan Le Batard, he co-hosts a program called The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio.  I discovered these guys a few years ago and I listen to them almost religiously.  Dan is a former sports writer who ventured into TV and radio as he foresaw the decline of print.  I find Dan’s sense of humor clever, but he’s also very insightful and, in my opinion, often calls things correctly.  He recognizes the ridiculousness in sports and isn’t afraid to contradict popular talking points.  Half of the time, he doesn’t even talk sports even though it’s technically a “sports” show.

Stugotz is every boneheaded sports fan to have ever existed, and we love him for it.  He speaks in cliches, he wins arguments by making you prove him wrong, and if you haven’t done anything for him lately, then what have you really done for him?  Jon Weiner is playing a character with Stugotz, but mostly in the same way your teacher plays a character.  Stugotz is Jon Weiner, and Jon Weiner is Stugotz.  I imagine that Stugotz is just Weiner enhanced and unfiltered.  The guy is so popular, he has his own army.

I listen to these men virtually every night as I cook and wash dishes.  Their radio show ends around noon, but they strip the morning program down to it’s best moments with a podcast available on ESPN.com.  You can find their archives here: http://www.espn.com/espnradio/podcast/archive/_/id/9941853

So what does this have to do with Alexa and the Amazon Echo?

Often, when I’m doing dishes and enjoying the show, one of my children comes into the kitchen and asks me a question.  Because I listen to it loudly enough to overtake the sound of water, pots, and pans, I have to dry my hands, go to my phone, and then hit pause.  After I deal with whatever they need, I then push play again and go back to my dishes.  This typically happens a few times a night–night after night.

I got to thinking … wouldn’t it be nice if I could just say “pause” or “volume down” instead of going through that whole process?  There was just one problem.  I didn’t think ESPN entertainment would be available through Alexa. I kind of figured the whole Amazon and Disney competition would render that an impossibility.

However, I did a little research, and it seemed that because The Dan Le Batard Show With Studgotz is available through many podcasts outlets, it should be generally retrievable by Alexa via the internet.

There was only one way to know for sure.

The next time I was at my family’s house, I approached their Echo.  I said, “Alexa, play The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz.”

A half second passed.

It felt like a century.

And then … I heard that wonderful music coupled with Papi’s introduction.

I ordered my Echo that night.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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A Few Thoughts Regarding Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Series

By now you’ve probably heard about Amazon’s original series titled Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.  You know Jack Ryan.  You might think you don’t know him, but you do.  If you’ve seen The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears, or Shadow Recruit, then you know this character.  He’s been played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine.  The character has also been featured in twenty-one novels, the first of which debuted in 1984.  In other words, this guy has been around for awhile.

I liked those movies, but I didn’t love them.  Actually, I never saw the last two.  I also have to admit I haven’t read a single Jack Ryan novel–ever.  (Keep in mind that I’m a a fairly avid reader.)

The truth is, when I heard about this new series, I wasn’t particularly excited to watch it.  It looked exciting, don’t get me wrong, and I like John Krasinski well enough.  I didn’t have any qualms about Krasinski playing Jack Ryan.  Even though he’ll always be Jim to many of us, we’ve seen him do enough since The Office to realize he’s multifaceted and more than capable of playing almost any role.  This is the guy who turned down Captain America, after all.

However, a lot of people kept telling me that I needed to watch it.  A few added that it had a few plot holes, but most were very enthusiastic about the show.  So at long last, my wife and I decided to give it a try.

In short, we really enjoyed it.  The show is so fast-paced that it will make your heart race.  It’s got lots and lots of action, and has a habit of ending each episode with a cliffhanger.  John Krasinski got in very good shape for this role, and they made a point to let you see his abs at every opportunity.  However, Krasinski also brought a certain level of humanity and humility to the part that I personally appreciated.  He convinced me that he’s both new to the CIA, but also a seasoned veteran of war.  Of course, he’s also extremely likable.  He is John Krasinski, after all.

Be aware, though, that there are definitely a few plot holes that, if you think too hard about them, will leave you scratching your head.  There’s also some flat-out unbelievable moments, and I don’t mean that as a compliment.  I mean that as in, “this is impossible.”

It’s easy to ignore these things, though, because the show moves at a red hot clip.  It also knows exactly how to manipulate your emotions.  It reminds me a little of the early ER shows in that regard.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is fast, intense, and visceral.  It will push aside your rationale and latch onto your pathos.  It’s a thrilling ride, and I honestly am looking forward to the next season.  John Krasinski has made me a Jack Ryan fan.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Read Mother’s Day – A Short Story

MOTHERSDAY

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Thunder roars, lightning flashes, the rain plummets. Ursula Buckley’s dog, Lady, is in her nook beneath the trailer, but it’s quickly filling with water. Ursula can’t figure out why the dog isn’t getting to safety. Does the old woman dare brave the storm to find out? (Holiday/Suspense/Family Life)

“The One True” – My Latest Short Story

The One True: A Short Story by [Foley, Scott William]

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In these troubled times, would we even recognize a hero if one walked among us? Such is the premise of “The One True.” Part social commentary, part magical realism, this is a story that will resonate deeply.  (Social Commentary/Fantasy/Magical Realism)

Why the Amazon Show Fleabag Deserves Your Attention   

I first heard about the Amazon comedy Fleabag from Glen Weldon during NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.  Weldon made a point to let the listening audience know that Fleabag is so much more than it seems.  He referenced in particular the final episode, which, according to Weldon, proved especially poignant.

What can I say?  Weldon’s praise captured my interest.  Best of all, the first season is only six episodes long, with each episode averaging not quite half an hour.  That’s the sort of fleeting commitment I adore in a show.

I introduced the possibility to my wife.  I sold it to her much the same as Weldon sold it to me, and she also seemed interested in the concept of the show.  Plus, we agreed that if either of us didn’t care for the first episode, we would jettison it from our lives and move on.

We obviously both liked it or I wouldn’t be writing about it so exhaustively and, perhaps by the time you’re done reading, exhaustingly …

The show features a British woman in her early thirties in England.  She is never mentioned by name, but the summary of each show refers to her as “Fleabag.”  Yes, “Fleabag.”  Only as “Fleabag.”  She has a habit of speaking to the camera with brief asides and explanations, letting us in on a particular joke or an integral piece of information.  When we first meet her, she is having sex with a man while offering us a play by play of the activity and even adding in a few predictions of what’s to come.  When the man rolls her over in order to use a different <ahem!> … orifice, “Fleabag” reacts unexpectedly, hilariously, and in such a way that we learn everything we need to know about her.

Or so we think.

The actress playing “Fleabag” is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and she is absolutely charming, which is astounding because she’s playing a character that should be utterly unlikable.  Her little quips to the camera are typically biting, but it’s her facial expressions that won my wife and me over.  She will deliver the most amazing joke with nothing more than a lift of her eyebrow.  She will let you know exactly what she’s thinking with a quick glare.  Honestly, Waller-Bridge entertained to no end and enriched a character that really wouldn’t work if played by someone else.

Be warned, though, this is a raunchy show.  There are many sexual situations, loads of suggestive dialogue, and ample visits by sex toys.  The language is rough, very rough, with “f-bombs” galore.  However, I wouldn’t describe it as a “dirty” show.  There is virtually no nudity by actual human beings.  If I remember, there was an errant breast coming out of a shirt and a few shots of men’s rear ends.  The most explicit things on camera were often, again, the sex toys (which were not actually in use).

So while this is a comedy, it slowly revealed itself to be something far more, just as Glen Weldon said.  I want to offer caution here, because while I will not explicitly spoil anything past the second episode, you will more than likely be able to connect a few dots.  It’s just that I can’t really address what moved me the most about this show without getting into a few specific details …

You learn early on that Fleabag (I’m dropping the quotes from here on out) is fairly amoral.  She’s not necessarily out to purposefully hurt anyone, but her impulsivity and lack of forethought to both word and deed often upsets someone in her immediate vicinity, whether strangers, friends, or family.  Actually, she doesn’t have any friends.  More on that later …

She has no qualms in taking advantage of someone to meet her own agenda, nor does she mind being taken advantage of so long as that also ultimately suits her base desires.  I wouldn’t call her a master manipulator, but she is a manipulator, to be sure.

Fleabag sleeps around, steals, drinks too much, curses, degrades people, and cuts corners whenever possible.  It’s no wonder she’s friendless.

But she hasn’t always been.

In fact, we learn through flashbacks that Fleabag had a wonderful friend, one whom she loved dearly.  They opened a café together.  Sadly, though, her friend died, leaving Fleabag with the failing café, no other real friends, and a spiraling case of depression that becomes more and more obvious as the series progresses.

Her sister, Claire, humors Fleabag as best she can.  Claire is also a complicated person, though, with issues of her own.  Though very successful, Claire cannot seem to relent control to anyone, cannot navigate a dubious marriage, and cannot achieve enough introspection to glean what she really wants from life.  She has much in common with Fleabag, but she manages normalcy in the outside world far more productively.

Her father has remarried after the death of Fleabag’s mother due to breast cancer.  His new wife is actually the sisters’ godmother, a family friend since their childhood.  The stepmother is the portrait of passive aggressiveness as she makes the sisters feel unwelcome all the while with a smile plastered across her face.  The sisters hate her, she hates them, and the father seems too meek to confront either situation.  In the process, Fleabag appears, though she never gives voice to it, to feel as though she’s lost her father as well as her mother.

The show achieves originality when you slowly begin to realize that Fleabag’s abysmal behavior is absolutely the byproduct of guilt, anger, depression and low self-esteem.  It never crosses over into cliché, it never dives into pop psychology, but it does become very apparent that she only feels of value when someone sexually craves her.  She uses sex as therapy for all of her issues, but never realizes the promiscuous sex is only compounding her problems.

Yeah, pretty deep territory for a comedy.

Furthermore, we can relate to her.  I think we’ve all done something we wish we hadn’t in the hopes of acquiring someone’s approval or favor.  She’s a likable person doing very unlikable things, and I know I personally can say I’ve been there as well.  Haven’t we all in some facet or another?

This character has lost her best friend.  Her sister doesn’t trust her.  Her father will not stand up for her.  Her stepmother detests her.  She’s losing her business.  She can’t pay her bills.  She has every reason in the world not to give a shit about anything.

Which she doesn’t.

Until … she does.

The beauty of that sixth episode is what happens when she does finally care.  How will her family react when she actually tries to engage them meaningfully?  How will she respond when she finally faces the truth of her friend’s death?  What happens when she gazes within and attains a manner of self-realization?

Comedy!

Honestly, Fleabag is hilarious, but it doesn’t shy away from these profoundly important moments.  It never feels heavy even as it’s dealing with incredibly troubling material, and it always prompts an uncomfortable chuckle, an awkward giggle, and an inappropriate laugh at just the wrong time.  It is a serious show wrapped so deeply within a comedy that it’s not until you think about each episode afterwards that you realize its gravitas.

Glen Weldon, you were right.  Fleabag is definitely worth a watch.

P.S.  I know I didn’t discuss her timid boyfriend, whom she pushes away at every opportunity.  I’ve written over a 1,000 words at this point, and frankly, he would require another 1,000, and I won’t be presumptuous enough to believe I deserve that much of your attention.  Plus, it’s late.  And, I’m tired.  Good night.

Halloween Is the Perfect Time To Read The Dr. Nekros Series

I can’t think of a better time to read all eighteen episodes of the Dr. Nekros series.  It’s got humor, drama, action, adventure, and best of all, I like to think it can be downright creepy.  Follow the address to find links to the entire saga.

https://scottwilliamfoley.com/dr-nekros-occult-aficionado-e-series/

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Ready For Football? Check Out This Short Story – “Why We Won”

I love football, and I love to write short stories.  Why not blend the two?  A while back, I did just that.  Now that football season is upon us, I’d like to remind you that “Why We Won” is available for download to your Kindle for ninety-nine cents.

Though very short, I’ve been told that it punches the reader in the gut by story’s end.

Here’s what it’s about: After five years of winning football state championships, a quarterback laces up for his last game. He and his team are brothers, and they know how much rides on each and every game. For them, winning is very much a matter of life or death.

Read it now by clicking HERE.