Futurama: The Best TV Show Ever!

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I have decided that Futurama is the greatest TV show ever.

But what about “The Wire” that constantly wins critic lists? What about “Game of Thrones” which dominates interest online? What about “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” which started the current Golden Age Of Television we are still enjoying? What about “M*A*S*H” the highest rated non-sports show ever? Or “The Simpsons” soon to enter its 30th season?

All good shows, but I submit Futurama is better. What is it about this show that was cancelled and brought back twice (something I am pretty sure has never happened before) only to be cancelled again that makes it the best show ever?

Because it is the most rewatchable show ever made.

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Thousands of people watch at least one of the 124 episodes and 4 TV movies every day usually just before bed as a way to relax and unwind and often fall asleep to. Why do I know this? Because I am one of them. We even have a Reddit board with over 5000 members of people who fall asleep watching Futurama. Most of the board posts are “I can’t believe there is a board dedicated to something I have been doing for years”, meaning there are tens of thousands of other “Futurama sleepers” who don’t know about the board.

There is just something familiar and comfortable about the show which pokes fun at science fiction, and science in general. If you can get past the ridiculous premise, a pizza delivery boy is accidentally frozen for a thousand years waking up in the year 3000, then there is no way you won’t enjoy the show.  Because the show is set a thousand years in the future, it mostly avoids present day cultural references, giving it a mostly timeless appeal.

Bad news everyone!

I bring this up because a fairly large portion of Futurama watchers get the show on Netflix, and at least the first 5 seasons will be removed from Netflix on July 1st. This has made some worry that they may never be able to fall asleep again.

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A lot of hatred is being aimed at Netflix, which streams the show, and Fox which owns the show and is the one pulling the show from Netflix. There is some speculation that because Fox partly owns Hulu that the seasons will move to Hulu, but that has not been confirmed.

The biggest question for most fans is “How can I continue to watch the show?”, which has led to discussions of legal and illegal ways of getting personal copies of the show, and had led further to discussing the status of streaming TV in general and how there are now too many “exclusive” shows on too many streaming services.

Personally, I’ve set myself up already. I own all the DVDs often purchased the day they were released, and have ripped them all to 10 GB of MP4 files on a network drive that every device I own can access. It also fits on a 16GB micro SD card that I can take anywhere.  Unfortunately, not as many fans are as technically sophisticated as I am.

I have seen every episode dozens of times. I sometimes rewatch other shows, but not nearly as often. Even the weak episodes still have their humorous moments. It’s just a damn good show I can’t stop watching… just before bedtime.

Good News Everyone!

On June 20th, most of the original voice cast did a live table read of the episode “Proposition Infinity” to promote a new Futurama video game.  Here is a link to the video:

and here is a link to the game that will be coming out June 29th: https://www.youwillplayfuturama.com/

Time Travel Faux Paus

Timeless - Season PilotIt has been a while since I wrote anything, because there is a lot going on and I have other projects to work on, and really I have not thought of a good topic to write about.

And then I saw the TV show Timeless. This is a new show on NBC about a group of time travelers correcting history that another group of time travelers are changing for some reason. In the first two episodes they mess up and things actually get changed.

Despite decent acting, writing, research, and production values, Timeless is quite possibly the worst time travel show ever conceived. It’s motivations are unknown, its “rules” are absurd and inconsistent.

Are they trying to fix the past like on Voyagers? If so, they are doing a very poor job of it. There is also no explanation of their movement in space as they travel.  One episode in New Jersey, another in Washington. Every other time travel show sticks to the convention that you don’t go anywhere when you time travel.  The exception being Doctor Who’s TARDIS which takes the position that travel in time and space means different planets and galaxies, too.

Not knowing the motivations mean we cannot understand the characters mission, or whether or not they accomplished anything. All we know is that they are making changes to their present but only the time travelers realize this, so there is no motivation from anyone outside the time travelers perspective to correct history, ultimately making the shows premise pointless.

Time Rules

I have been intrigued by time travel stories all my life. Every story has to address certain rules and establish a motivation for time travel.  The biggest of which is: how does changing something in the past affect the future? and how do you deal with paradoxes?

The most common is “time is always set in stone”: In this scenario, if you go back and change something, you later find out you were always supposed to go back and make that change. Your actions are always a foregone conclusion. These are the rules of Star Trek and Quantum Leap.

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The second most common is “changing the past to make a better future” or the Back to the Future/Terminator rules: Making changes to the past will affect how the future plays out, and you can improve or ruin the future by the changes you make. Any changes you make basically creates a new alternative timeline, and you can even erase people from existence.

Back to the Future allowed time travel back and forth so you can see the consequences right away, so you can go back and try again — assuming you did not erase yourself from existence. Terminator only had one way, so the time traveler never knew the result of their actions, but for all its faults Terminator Genisys showed the silliness of that theory as two warring sides trying to use time as a weapon can push agents further and further back in time to achieve their goals.

Some of these “changing the past to make a better future” universes like Doctor Who create rules to prevent history from getting destroyed. In Doctor Who, there are “fixed point” events that cannot be changed as they would destroy time if they are avoided.

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The Best Rules

That is why in a way my favorite time travel story is Continuum. The show starts on the premise of Terminator rules, that you can go back and change some stuff to prevent a bad future. But in reality there is another simpler rule in place: causality only works in one direction — past to future. It’s rules regarding paradoxes are even better: paradoxes happen so get over it.

On Continuum, stopping another time traveler from being born in the past does not erase them from existence, because they were already born in another time line. This happened at least twice on the show.

Even more bizarre, if you go back in time just a week, there are now two of you and you are both real. If the person who is supposed to go back a week fails to do so, it does not erase the second person. This also happened at least twice on the show.

The premise of the show is that a group of “terrorists” go back in time to prevent a dystopian corporatocracy, but because of their mistaken ideas about time travel, their actions are only creating paradoxes for themselves.

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Frequency

Which leads to the best new time travel show this season: Frequency.  Based on a 1999 Dennis Quaid and Jim Cavaziel movie about a radio that allows communication through time, no one is actually traveling in time but knowledge of an action and its consequences are.

The show uses Continuum rules: paradoxes happen. It is also tied to a specific time and place which makes the stories more personal so no mucking about historical events. They have only aired one episode at this writing, but it is so far my favorite new show this fall.

Ariane and Rachel at Star Wars II: The Espresso Strikes Back

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A continuation of this story.
Note: this is basically a review of Star Wars the Force Awakens in story form, I avoid most of the major spoilers but if you want to avoid all spoilers, you probably want to wait and read this later.

So we all left the movie with smiles on our faces, eager to talk about the film we just saw. Rachel pointed her toy blaster at the coffee stand next door.

Rachel started, “So I can tell by our smiling faces that you all enjoyed the movie as much as I did.”

“I just have to ask,” interrupted Paula, “When did you get your hair done, Ariane?”

“Rachel did it in the theater while we were waiting for the movie to start,” I explained. “She said I needed a more Star Wars hairdo.”

“I wanted to do it with three pony tails like Rey in the movie, but I only had two hair ties,” explained Rachel.

“Cute,” said Paula.  “With that out of the way, am I the only one who felt like I was rewatching the original Star Wars?”

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I agreed, “Yeah, it felt like a remake with the serial numbers filed off. There are so many obvious parallels, a new Darth Vader, a new Grand Moff Tarken, a new Obi Wan, a new Death Star, a new Emperor and a new Yoda. They all just have different names, except Chewbacca. Props for gender swapping Luke and Leia.”

Rachel looked puzzled, “I get your analogy, you are saying Rey is basically this movie’s Luke Skywalker, complete with light colored clothes and a desert planet home, but who was Leia?”

I said “Finn” and Paula said “Poe” at practically the same time.

“I think you are both right.” said Rachel. “While the plot is note for note nearly identical to the first movie, it is not a perfect remake. Finn has more in common with C3PO from A New Hope than Leia. I’m not sure there is a Leia.”

“Noted,” I said, “Still the lack of originality in the plot is my biggest complaint.”

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“Not mine,” said Paula, “I know this is science fiction, and I know George Lucas has an explanation why 12 parsecs is used as a measure of time and not distance, but sometimes the liberties they take are just way too silly.

“You would think that after the first two death stars were so easily destroyed that the bad guys would have learned their lesson, bigger is definitely not better. Now they turn a planet into a space station?

“How does this ‘Star Killer’ move around the galaxy and still have an atmosphere?  The fact that they are creating artificial sunspots and sucking a sun’s plasma away would in and of itself destroy the atmosphere of the converted planet, but also the electromagnetic discharge of these artificial sunspots would fry all the electronics in the entire station.”

“Umm, good points,” said Rachel cautiously. “Excellent observations Professor as usual.”

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Rachel continued, “My biggest complaint is what was missing. Disney wiped out the Timeline of Legends also known as the Expanded Universe so they didn’t have to worry about continuity with the books and comics that continued the story after Return of the Jedi.

“Instead they dropped clues to a completely different timeline that is just as interesting. Luke disappeared? Han and Leia had a son? Where did this First Order come from and how did it get so powerful?  I want these stories dammit!”

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I had to laugh. “It seems we all have our own little biases that change how we see the world,” I said. “I like new and different, and complain when I see sameness. Paula is the scientist who views the world scientifically, and Rachel is the sci-fi geek who likes great stories.”

My statement created a lull in the conversation, Rachel and Paula both quietly took sips of their coffee and I joined them.

“Still…,” said Paula finally breaking the silence, “Good movie.”

“Yes,” Rachel and I said simultaneously before getting back to our coffee.

Ariane and Rachel Go See Star Wars

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I was on my way to the local premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens when I was accosted by a stormtrooper.

“Halt right there, let me see your pass!” the stormtrooper said, though I could tell it was Rachel under there.

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” I asked.

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“Ha, good one!” Rachael said as she was taking off her helmet.

“Thanks, you look ready to see this. Are you excited?” I asked.

“Of course.” she said, “By the way where is your costume?”

“This is my costume,” I said, “Can’t you tell, I’m Jessica Jones.”

“Ah, of course. I just have a couple of problems with that.” she said.

“First, I recall you wore the same outfit the last time I saw you, and second, Jessica Jones is part of the Marvel universe, and we are here to see Star Wars so you are supposed to dress like someone in the Star Wars universe.”

I of course knew this would come up. Rachel is a sci-fi geek and tends to go all out. I decided to have a little fun.

“I can’t help it if Jessica Jones happens to dress like me, besides isn’t the Marvel universe and the Star Wars universe the same thing?”

Rachel gave me an odd look, so I continued:

“I mean Star Wars and Marvel are now owned by Disney, and if all the Marvel comics are set in the same universe, and Marvel published a bunch of Star Wars comics in the ’80s, then they have to be the same.” I did my Google searching before I arrived.

“Nice try,” said Rachel. I knew some geekiness was about to come. “The Marvel Star Wars comics did not contain any references to other Marvel characters, and even if they did, they are not canon, and even if they were canon, they would be part of the old ‘expanded universe’ which are now called ‘The Timeline of Legends’ which Disney decided to drop for the new movies. Also since 1991, Star Wars  comic books have been published by Dark Horse Comics.”

“Sorry,” I said, “I didn’t understand most of that.”

“That’s OK,” replied Rachel with a sigh, “Someone who is better at explaining stuff is on her way here now.”

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I turned around and a red-headed woman dressed similar to “Rey” from the trailers with a BB8 droid rolling beside her.

Rachel made the introductions “Hello Professor, I’d like you to meet Ariane Barnes, the friend I was bringing.”

“Nice to meet you Ariane,” said the professor, “Just call me Paula. As you can guess I teach at the college, and Rachel has taken a couple of classes from me.”

“Well nice to meet you too,” I said, “Nice droid.”

“Thanks,” said Paula, “When I heard that they made a droid like this for real for the movie, I figured out how it works and built one for myself in the college robotics lab. It’s not perfect but it’s a work in progress.”

“Uh, Paula,” said Rachel hesitantly, obviously she prefers to call her Professor, “We were just discussing if there were any connections between the Marvel universe and the Star Wars universe, what do you think?”

“Sure, that’s easy,” said Paula who grabbed a smart phone from a hidden pocket and tapped away for a good minute or so at an impressive speed. Even more impressive is what happened next.

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Paula’s BB8 droid turned around and displayed a holographic projection into the street, then Paula started to explain, “As stated in the introduction of every film, Star Wars is set ‘in a galaxy far, far away’ while the outer space adventures in Marvel are primarily set in our own Milky Way galaxy mostly on Earth but also other planets in the galaxy in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, or even parallel realms like Asgard in the case of Thor. So Star Wars and Marvel could be in the same universe, but on different galaxies which explains the lack of crossover.  Any questions?”

“Yeah I have one,” said Rachel, “How the hell did you just do that?”

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“Just some new tech we’ve been working on, I decided to add it to my droid here, even though it still does not work in daylight or under bright lights,” explained Paula.

“What generated this question in the first place?” she asked.

“Oh I didn’t have a Star Wars costume to wear so I just dressed like normal and told Rachel here I was dressed like Jessica Jones.  She as expected, geeked out on me with trivia,” I explained.

Paula laughed, “Rachel actually knows more about this stuff than I do, I’m not even sure who Jessica Jones is.”

“A TV show on Netflix that came out last month, based on a Marvel character, it’s really good if you get a chance to check it out,” explained Rachel as she put back on her stormtrooper helmet. I agreed it was good.

“Oh, maybe I will,” said Paula, “I don’t watch much TV, my spare time has been spent working on BB here.”

“Well good job on BB8, I’m thoroughly impressed with him,” I said.

Rachel agreed, then said, “I think it is time we go in and find our seats.”

stormtrooper and BB8 TM Lucasfilms Ltd.
Female stormtrooper and BB8 by rduda
Jessica Jones TM Marvel Inc.
App enabled BB8 droids are available from Apple

Unplanned Obsolescence and “Lost” Art

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The above picture is the oldest picture from the oldest version of Date Ariane. The modified date is listed as August 6, 2004.

As I was finishing the Renpy version of Date Ariane, I decided to dive into my archives and attempt to play the oldest version I could find.

It wouldn’t run on any browser, not the way it is supposed to anyways. The game was written for Internet Explorer 4 using some HTML coding that only worked on IE4. Over the years I updated the code to run on as many browsers as I could, but the first version is now completely obsolete.

It gets worse: Date Ariane was written using Microsoft FrontPage which basically has ceased to exist. This week I upgraded to Windows 10, and FrontPage loads on Windows 10 but it is unstable. I have been forced to switch to KompoZer, a nice open source HTML editor, but I can’t mass edit a thousand web pages at a time which makes further upgrades to Date Ariane Online version way more difficult. Besides that browser security issue is already a reason to throw in the towel and stick with Renpy version from now on.

But it is a little sad that a piece of my history, a “work of art” I created, is likely lost to the future.

I’m not the only one facing unplanned obsolescence

Obsolescence is becoming an issue on the web now.  Recently security flaws were found in Flash Player, one of the most used programs on the web. You Tube, once the biggest supporter of Flash has now basically stopped using it. Worse yet, Mozilla turned off Flash by default until Adobe released a secure version, which they have now done, but who knows how long it will last.

So now as the world scrambles to move to HTML5 or some other substitute to flash, what happens to the millions of flash based videos, and online games which someday soon may no longer run?

Preservation efforts for the internet?

We humans like to preserve the past.  There are whole industries devoted to film preservation thanks to the unstable nitrate most of the old films were originally filmed in. More than half of the movies made before 1950 no longer exist.

This is why film gurus get excited about discovering a lost reel to a classic movie thought lost.

Similarly we are slowly losing our musical heritage as most master tapes before 1990 or so are on a medium which also degrades over time. Most all of it has been digitized, but many music gurus will tell you music is better in the original analog, and the original analog sources are decaying.

We see it also in video games. Many of my old games will no longer run on my computer, and the ones that do run in a tiny 800 x 600 window, since that is how they were designed. Some classic games like Age of Empires II or Leisure Suit Larry, have gotten the HD treatment, but hundreds never will.

Will much of the internet content suffer the same fate?

Yes, I know about things like The Wayback Machine which archives lost text and picture content, but what will preserve online games?

The “medium” problem

When the medium by which we distribute content changes, it becomes necessary to find ways to bring old content to the new medium. Entire libraries are being digitized, although paper books have largely proven to be a resilient medium, sometimes finding that rare volume is a lot easier online.

Except that “mediums” themselves are radically changing every few years it seems, so we are constantly having to convert, especially as popularity wanes in the old medium.  Sometimes we lose some things in the conversion, even as recent as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons.

Communication mediums eventually get replaced, by better mediums that we all convert to.  But in so doing we lose some of the “art” of the old medium.

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For example: “Twitter”

Here is one I bet you didn’t see coming: Apparently Twitter is dying.  Yes, one of the most popular web sites on the planet is seeing a sharp decline in active users.

My solution to fixing it is pretty revolutionary: Drop the 140 character limit.  We can thank twitter for the abundance of short link generators. Those links leave Twitter and go to other web sites that allow long essays. Why can’t Twitter users write long essays on Twitter itself and have it show up as a title with a “read more” button, instead of a link to another site?

Yes, I know the 140 character limit was what made the site famous, but the novelty has worn off, and prevents people like me who can’t write in 140 characters to not even bother using the site.

If twitter dies then so does the hashtag. (Yes I am aware that other sites support hashtagging, but they also support other types of tagging, which are more useful except they can’t be printed on a t-shirt)

That’s a whole chunk of internet culture lost if it happens.

#rehash #rehash

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Why are we craving the past so much these days? This seems especially true in movies, music, and video games.

Lets start with movies: Remakes, reimaginings, and of course prequels and sequels seem to be the norm of movies, and the few non-prequels and sequels are based on comic books and novels people are already familiar with. Are there no original stories to film anymore?

The answer is “of course there are, but it is too financially risky”.  When I saw the trailer for the new Terminator movie, it seems they are just tinkering with the time line again. Why did they make this movie when there are plenty of really good AI vs Humanity stories available in sci-fi that are not Terminator?

The answer is of course, “Because it’s Terminator.”  Nostalgia guarantees a big opening day no matter how bad the movie is.

And this is where my problem lies. Nostalgia is dying. It has been turned into a marketable resource, but like many other resources its supply is limited by the rate new nostalgia is being created.

Is there any new nostalgia being created?  The media is so wildly diverse these days there is very little new material that is appealing to the masses.

What about music?

OK, yes, there is new music coming out every year and some of it sells well enough is heard often enough on Beats-Music to make it into the latest mix by DJ Earworm or the European equivalent Mashup-Germany.

But a troubling statistic I recently read about is that songs and albums 5 years old or older collectively outsell newer music by nearly 2 to 1. This is only a recent trend as in the 1990’s new music was still way more popular than old.

Music is diversifying to the point that 2014 has hit a new low in the number of Platinum albums (more than 1,000,000 sold): exactly one album has done it, and it has the nostalgic name 1989.

I like to listen to new music and see what is popular. One of the underlying trends is nostalgia. There are many new songs that sound like they came from the 1960’s, and many more that sound like the 80’s.  The missing 70’s are represented by “ghetto funk”, a growing club trend.

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And video games?

OK, one of the inspirations for this random post is this week’s South Park where Kyle discovers much to his dismay that watching people play video games online may actually be more popular than actually playing them.

I’m guilty of this myself as I have become a big fan of Co-Optitude on You Tube, a show where TV actress Felicia Day and her brother Ryon Day play retro video games. As someone who stuck to PC games and never bought a console, I am fascinated by the video games I missed.

Recently, I picked up the series reboot of Tomb Raider. (When it comes to prequels, sequels, and remakes, the video game industry is just as guilty of nostalgia as the movie industry).  It was a 2 year old game I picked up for $5, and it was totally worth it as I had a lot of fun.

It is the 6th Tomb Raider game I have played, and like all the other ones, I eventually got stuck on a puzzle and had to consult the internet.  But the text/screenshot walk-throughs I usually consult have been replaced by complete playthroughs online.

As South Park pointed out, these video game commentaries are big businesses, the top players making millions in ad revenue, for playing video games made by someone else.

And yes, Date Ariane and Something’s In The Air also have a fair number of video commentaries associated with them.

Conclusion?

There has always been a certain level of nostalgia in pop culture. The most popular TV shows in the 70’s were set in the 50’s, and in the 90’s we had shows about the 70’s.  Movie sequels and remakes happen every year.

And yet, while I can’t statistically prove it, I don’t recall a time when it has gotten this big.  What is it about society today that makes us extra nostalgic for the past?

Or maybe we are not nostalgic for the past, and nostalgia is just a marketing ploy to insure an audience.  Creating new products out of other people’s work is cheaper and easier than creating from scratch.

A Review of Spike Jonze’s “her” From My Unique Perspective

her (yes it is not capitalized) came out last December, but was just released on video this past week, which is when I saw it.

I rarely review movies on this blog, only when they apply to the topics of this blog, but I review movies all the time in other places, and this film got to me.  First of all, five stars, thumbs way up, etc.

her is a film I totally get and understand, which is probably rare as there are very few people that think like me.

This is a movie about the nature of love as it applies to human nature, by showing a type of love that is artificial. “Samantha” adopted her personality around Ted to become the perfect girl of his dreams, the only flaw being that she is not physically real. The movie addresses that flaw correctly in my opinion.  Emotional love, in my experience, does not necessarily require a physical presence.

Can artificial love be as real as real love?  My years playing in virtual realities, where people fall in and out of love with people they have never met and probably never will meet says, Yes it can.

But virtual reality love still involves humans. Can an artificial intelligence be created that is capable of love and being loved?  Maybe, but we are not there yet. Like in the movie, it is likely that AI’s that are capable of love will be merely reflections of their owners.

The movie is so spot on accurate with my experiences and the experiences of others I know, that I became worried an hour into the film that the film makers were going to screw it up. I could think of at least a half dozen ways the plot could take, that would make this movie suck big time.  My fear was based on the general population reaction to virtual world love (they fear it, because they don’t understand it), and it is almost expected that a mainstream presentation of these ideas would take the easy way out and support a negative perspective.

Luckily they didn’t.

The rest of this post contains spoilers

SPOILER: There is an AI concept called the “Singularity” in which machines exceed the intelligence of humans. There is a lot of debate as to if and when this will happen, but that is a different discussion.

This movie is primarily focused on artificial love rather than artificial intelligence, but the “singularity” concept is the same: If “Samantha” is focused on improving her ability to love, eventually her ability to love will exceed human ability to love.  The film makers decided this would be a good jumping out point for the film, making Ted jealous that “Samantha” is in love with hundreds of other people, and the AI would be forced to move on.

While I’m OK with that ending, it is kind of a cop out, though no where near as bad as the half dozen other endings I was imagining.

Back to virtual reality love parallels. Some people fall in love online even though they are already in a relationship in real life. I’ve seen cases where the RL partner is totally cool with their partners virtual love interests, and others times where RL couples break up over virtual relationships.  Thus, Ted’s reaction at the end may be understandable, but it is not a universal one.

In the same situation as Ted, I would think that Samantha falling for hundreds of other people to be awesome, as long as it did not change our relationship any.  If this were my story to tell, I would end it with AI love becoming more and more commonplace, and more attractive than real love leading to the breakdown of society (See the Futurama episode “I Dated A Robot” as a reference)

But I am coming from the perspective of someone who has built a cheap AI of “Ariane”, and a dating simulator of “Ariane”, and have had thousands of people from around the world experience these, and many of them have enjoyed them.  But I am pretty unique in this regard.

Ultimately the film makers put a more mainstream ending on it, and I can’t blame them. Spike Jonze and his writing team totally deserve the Writing Oscar they won for the script.