Sometime the Show Should be Cancelled

I went to Geva for the script-in-hand reading of The Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence. I've been to readings like this before and I've almost always enjoyed it. To put an optimistic spin on it, I speculate that playwright Madeleine George started with a functional script a few weeks ago, but in the process of tweaking it, the changes started to get quite radical. By the time it was time to get ready for a performance, it was nowhere near ready. As such, the whole play made little sense.

I think I understand what she was getting at: it seems an inordinate number of assistants happened to be named "Watson". There's Thomas A. Watson of Alexander Graham Bell fame, Sherlock Holmes assistant Dr. Watson, and most recently, the name of IBM's artificial intelligence computer that competed on Jeopardy. And looking back, all the Watsons as assistants share a certain privacy of personal affairs, and share being remembered as nearly machines — as tools that helped others complete their projects.

In drawing that parallel, she wanted to make some kind of literal comparison to the mechanical nature. As she mentioned in the discussion afterward, we continue to flock to technology and that makes us more mechanical than if we didn't.

But aside from an interesting premise, the play was severely lacking. Not only was the plot (two and a half intertwined stories) barely tied together, but I couldn't bring myself to get fully engaged because I found all the characters consistently more unlikeable than likable. But the biggest problems were numerous unresolved allusions: who, if anyone was actually artificial? if the intent was to show the parallels between various Watsons, why did they grow ever disparate? does George know that Eliza shares the name with an early computer program that eerily mimicked talking to a person (what we might call a chatbot today)? if Eliza and Merrick were supposed to be reasonably competent, why were they both portrayed as pathetically helpless? how could Eliza and Merrick have had a relationship she is a cutting-edge programmer from the 2010s but he appears to exist in the world of rotary phones and typewriters like he never left 1977?

It was like going to the shooting range, throwing a bunch of bullets on the ground and asking, "so how's my accuracy?" In the talkback, the audience barely said anything about the play. I think it's because nobody had a clue where to start — the only thing that came to my mind was to say that I thought near-genius computer scientist Eliza welcomed her nerdy stalker into her bed far too easily.

I am hopeful, however, that George can turn this around and make something interesting an enjoyable. But sometimes despite the aphorism, the show should be cancelled.

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Zenith SM3287BT: June 3, 1995 to October 18, 2012

On June 3, 1995, I walked out of Rosa and Sullivan $875 poorer and one Zenith 32" television heavier. I moved it from my apartment on Burkhard to my house now, and it's been around for everything from MST3K nights to screenings of Battleship Potemkin. I bought it a digital TV tuner in 2009 so it could still display off-air TV, although I haven't watched in a while. It's been at least a couple years since the red gun would come on when I turned it on — these days I have to let it warm up and cycle the power before I can watch movies in anything but dingy cyan.

But tonight, 17 years, 4 months, and 15 days later, I turned it on for the last time. Zenith Model SM3287BT, Serial Number 581-35141883, you will be missed.

I was going to watch Paris, Texas so I turned on the power strip and hit the on-off button. The degaussing coil kicked on, and then it made a hideous — quite loud — electrical crackling noise. I stepped back in surprise and the crackling continued. I inched forward and shut off the power strip. I gave it a tenuous second try but it would do nothing.

Needless to say, I found this to be the funniest thing that has happened all week. Finally: television surprised me.

I think my cat thinks I'm crazy.

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