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Overrated/Underrated: 'Alexa' and our voice-driven machines, and a fond farewell to Joe Frank

Overrated/Underrated: 'Alexa' and our voice-driven machines, and a fond farewell to Joe Frank
The Echo, left, and Echo Plus during an Amazon event in 2017. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

UNDERRATED

Joe Frank: If you moved to Los Angeles at a certain time and of a certain temperament, Joe Frank was the voice in your head offering an immersive, vaguely unsettling welcome. A distinctive, dryly authoritative radio storyteller whose spoken-word series for Santa Monica's KCRW from 1986 to 2002 were among the inspirations for "This American Life's" Ira Glass, Frank's dark narratives touched on the meaning of life and death with surreal imagery, absurdist wit and often hypnotic musical backdrops. Frank died last week at 79, but the marks he left behind still resonate among those lucky to fall under his spell.

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BBC America's 'Blue Planet II': Produced by the same team that delivered last year's consistently awe-inspiring sequel to "Planet Earth," this second installment to a sprawling yet intimate look at the goings-on within our oceans begins this weekend. In addition to fanning out across various underwater and under-threat habitats such as the coral reefs and our coasts, the seven-part documentary series backed by the music of Hans Zimmer provides enough remarkable glimpses at the alien and unforgiving world churning along just off our shores to fill any viewer with a much-needed dose of wonder and, better still, humility.

OVERRATED

Our digital plastic servants: Good news for those who enjoy ordering around inanimate objects: Google and Amazon are upping their efforts to infiltrate our lives with their Home and Echo products (respectively), which soon will be part of our cars, appliances and, in the case of Amazon's intrepid Alexa, the innards of the bathroom. While this is a boon for increasingly isolated home lives that cry out for the conversational sparkle of speaking to someone that's incapable of leaving the room, it's worth considering what a future of never having to research an answer or push another button looks like. Anyone see "Wall-E"?

Jack White's "Connected by Love": As one of the supposed last rock 'n roll stars, White maybe has some unfair expectations working against him for this song, which comes from the upcoming album "Boarding House Reach." And sure, if he wants to pitch his voice to a well-short attempt at Freddie Mercury drama amid dim, quasi-anthemic lines like "Let's take the worst and somehow turn it into the best" and back it up with a brooding keyboard, overblown guitar and a paper-thin drum track, that's his right. But for one of the last giants standing, this overlong, overheated track sure falls flat.

Follow me over here @chrisbarton.

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