Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's SUGAR, not crack. Calm yourself.

You've probably noticed I haven't been around a lot lately. My mother has been going through some serious health problems, and I've basically spent the last few months back at home helping her out. But she's starting to feel better which means that I can start to get back to life as usual. So here I am! Back and ready to talk about two of my favorite things: television and baked goods. Ahhhhh, yeeeeeah.

I've been watching a lot of Food Network lately. For the most part, the shows are mindless and filled with food porn. So you know, perfect for me. Your brain doesn't need to work hard while watching, and beyond thoughts like, "my God, how much butter is the Pioneer Woman going to put in this recipe?" or "where does the network find chefs for all these stupid cooking competition shows?" I don't get very engaged in the Food Network programs.

With one exception.

Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship. It is the cooking competition to end all cooking competitions. I'm not sure exactly how it manages it, but the show has hit upon the perfect mix of fun personalities, clever challenges, amazing food, and fair and entertaining judging.


I'll have one of each, please.

I was hooked from the first episode (which you can watch online here): Holiday Cookie Madness. 8 bakers compete in various cookie challenges, including having to make their best cookie recipe using a specific tool (some have to make drop cookies, some rolled cookies, etc.).

All episodes follow the same format; there's a pre-challenge where the bakers compete to win an advantage in the main challenge of the episode. Three judges, including Duff of Ace of Cakes, taste the results, pick a winner, and eliminate one of the bakers. The last baker standing at the end of the six episodes will walk away with a sweet $50,000.

The challenges have included the aforementioned cookies, holiday pies, a yule log (bouche de noel, if you're fancy), holiday cakes, and baking with certain classic holiday flavors like peppermint. In the final episode, which airs this Sunday evening, the bakers will be constructing gingerbread worlds. I repeat: GINGERBREAD. WORLDS.

I was having trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year. Chalk it up to exhaustion, both emotional and physical. But dammit, if the Holiday Baking Championship hasn't turned things around for me and made me excited for Hanukkah and Christmas. And for that alone, I'm thankful.

Also, just seeing all the baked goods is pretty freaking awesome.

 It's log!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Enough Phantom. There Is Other Broadway.

Hello, chickens. What have you to say for yourselves? I've been mainlining Elementary and Gracepoint for my Murder Thursdays, but most of my attention has been concentrated on watching bunch of figure skating. A. Bunch. Of. Figure. Skating. The return of figure skating season, of course, means the return of commentary by Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. 


Hello, darlings. Did you miss me?

What can I say about the overall theme of the Grand Prix of Figure Skating? Well, if you're super patriotic and you're looking to watch Americans succeed, perhaps this isn't the sport for you. 

Oh. I still have this on my hard drive. Do not even think for a moment I would delete this.

I freely admit that I am a bit hard on Ashley. I think she is overrated and I find her competent but not terribly interesting. I much prefer Gracie Gold (who has withdrawn from the Grand Prix final due to an injury), and skaters with less brouhaha surrounding them, like Mirai Nagasu and Samantha Cesario. Anyway. Enough about me. To the skaters.

Ladies' Singles

As was the case in Sochi earlier this year, the story is Russia, Russia, Russia. Four of the six ladies' finalists are Russian. They are ranked as follows: 

1. Elena Radionova
2. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva 
3. Anna Pogorilaya
4. Gracie Gold (W)
5. Yulia Lipnitskaya
6. Crashley Ashley Wagner
7. Rika Hongo (JPN)



Anyway, Ashley has more to contend with than the Russian ladies if she wants to find her way up onto that podium. Her teammate Gracie Gold has withdrawn, but Gracie actually got a gold medal in a Grand Prix event this season, and while Ashley qualified, she has not won any event. Gold's replacement, Rika Hongo, is someone Ashley needs to be concerned about. Forget beating the Russians -- the Japanese ladies' field is DEEP. DEEP LIKE A DEEP DISH PIZZA PIE ON A TUESDAY.  Rika is an amazing skater in the vein of the awesome Mao Asada and IMHO she has more of a chance to contend with the Russian girls than Ashley does. She is technically and artistically pretty sound, and she beat the Russian girls at home at the Rostelecom Cup just a few weeks ago.  No, she is not the complete package yet, but look out Pyonchang in 2018. Rika is my dark horse pick to win the Grand Prix final.

Yes, mama.

Elena Radionova has a gold medal from the 2014 Skate America and 2014 Trophee Eric Bompard. 

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva won the bronze medal at the 2013 European Championships and won gold at the 2014 Nebelhorn Trophy.  

Anna Pogorilaya placed first at Skate Canada and Cup of China. 

Rika Hongo placed first at the 2014 Rostelecom Cup and received the bronze medal at the 2014 Finlandia Trophy. She replaces Gracie Gold, who won a gold medal at the NHK Trophy, and bronze medals at Skate Canada and Nebelhorn Trophy. 

Yulia Lipnitskaya placed second at the 2014 Rostelecom Cup and also won silver at the Cup of China. The darling of the Sochi Games, Miss Thing has found herself some real competition in Elena Radionova. It's a good thing she's found something to light a fire under her, because homegirl has mad talent, but she has been falling all over the place since the team competition in Sochi. Get your head in the game, Yulia! 




Ashley Wagner is the silver medalist from the 2014 Skate Canada and the bronze medalist for the 2014 Trophee Eric Bompard. 

My overall comment on the Russian ladies is thus: They are good. They are very, very good. My favorite of the Russian girls, Alena Leonova, did not qualify, but you should totes check out her Charlie Chaplin routine from Skate Canada. Supes cute. I sort of find Elena Radionova and Yulia Lipnitskaya to be very similar in terms of technique and choreography. Elena thus far has been a bit more consistent, and Yulia kind of falls apart under the pressure. Anna Pogorilaya I feel is a bit overrated, because I don't feel her programs have been entirely clean, but I also realize that the judging doesn't severely penalize a lot of minor mistakes. That said, she is technically advanced. The only time her program actually grabbed me was earlier this year at Skate Canada, and at Cup of China she was artistically and technically meh. So we will see.

There was a lot of good skating during the Grand Prix series, and a lot of talented skaters who didn't qualify for the final. 

May I have a moment before I move on to the men?

ENOUGH WITH PHANTOM. ENOUGH ALREADY. ENOUGH PHANTOM MEDLEYS. ENOUGH PHANTOM ROUTINES. ENOUGH. 

Quoth the Tara, "There is other Broadway." See what you've done? You've upset Tara! 


There, there, Tar-Tar. Johnny will comfort you. 

If you aren't aware, the Powers That Be in the figure skating community have changed the rules and they are allowing all the skaters to perform to music with lyrics. I'm not entirely sold on this concept yet, but I think the idea would get more steam if people stopped doing fucking Phantom. I mean it. Everyone did Phantom, and the first year they let you use lyrics, what do you do? PHANTOM WITH BLOODY LYRICS. WHY???? When there is Chicago! Like. I mean. Why. Just a little more variety here, people. That's all I'm sayin'. 

Okay. The dudes.

Men's Singles

The leaders after the Grand Prix events 

1. Maxim Kovtun (RUS)
2. Javier Fernandez (SPN)
3. Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
4. Takahito Mura (JPN)
5. Sergei Voronov (RUS)
6. Yuzuru Hanryu (JPN)

As you can see, the Japanese men are pretty much dominating the field in terms of numbers in the Grand Prix final. Gold medalist Yuzuru Hanryu has been struggling since the Cup of China, after a hilarious unfortunate collision with a Chinese skater.

I'm looking for Javier Fernandez or Maxim Kovtun to win this event. Have I told you how much I love Maxim Kovtun? I effing love Maxim Kovtun. Look how adorable he is. Look at his little Spiderman jammies.



Javier Fernandez is awesome and does quad after quad. But he does not have Spiderman jammies. Thus, I pick Maxim. Well, really, I think it could go to any of these guys. I really love Javier and Maxim, but the Japanese men are very technically sound. I'm not a huge fan of the Japanese men. For me, they are kind of like Elena Radionova and Yulia Lipnitksaya -- very similar technique, music, and costumes. I don't see a whole lot of uniqueness among any of them, and I'd like some of them to start standing out artistically. However, I do like Daisuke Murakami, who trains with Gracie Gold and Frank Carroll, but skates for Japan. To me, he stands out a little more with a bit of his own style. Unfortunately, he did not qualify for the final, in spite of winning the gold medal at the NHK Trophy, so I'm hoping Maxim or Javi take gold. 

But no more Phantom. Seriously, you guys.


No. Just...no. (And no, that is not Charlie White.)

Pairs

1. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS)
2. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN)
3. Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov (RUS)
4. Peng Cheng/Zhang Hao (CHN)
5. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN)
6. Yu Xiaoyu/Jin Yang (CHN)

The highest-ranking American pair, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, came in eighth overall, and did not earn a spot in the final. They are the second alternate for the final.  

For me, the pairs event is pretty up in the air. Stolbova and Klimov are the top-ranked pair, but they have Canadians Duhamel and Radford hot on their heels. However, I've watched all of these pairs this season and I feel the top two are pretty evenly matched. I mean, we're not looking at the difference between two Rob Lowes here



so the pairs event is anyone's game. If Stolbova and Klimov skate clean, they will win. But then again, if Duhamel and Radford skate clean, they will win. Or, it's entirely possible one of the lower ranked teams will come out swinging and end up with the gold. If I had to bet money, I'd put it on the Russians coming in first and the Canadians second, but anything can happen in competition.

Ice Dance

Okay, may I start with how utterly and completely blown away I was by the French pair of Papadakis and Cizeron?



I just can't even with these two. I just can't. He is so handsome, and she looks so much like Liberty Leading the People, and they are just ethereal. They came out of nowhere this season to win both the Cup of China and the Trophee Eric Bompard. 



If they skate the way they've skated this season, you will understand what I mean. Their free dance is so gorgeous, if it does not move you to tears, then you are dead inside. DEAD I TELL YOU.

However, it's not like this is a runaway. Like the Olympics, the only area where the Americans are excelling is in the ice dance. Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States are ranked first, with the Shibutani siblings also qualifying for the final. The rankings going into the final are as follows:

1. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA)
2. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN)
3. Gabrielle Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
4. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA)
5. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN)
6. Elena Ilinykh/Ruslan Zhiganshin (RUS)



And featuring Johnny Weir as Sparkly Loki! 

Like the Olympics, the only event where the Americans have a chance to win anything is the ice dance. Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the top-ranked ice dance pair, and they have every reason to expect a win in the Grand Prix. 

The Grand Prix of Figure Skating starts Friday at 8 p.m. on Universal Sports and at various times on NBC. It runs the whole weekend. I recommend Universal Sports for more complete, if tape delayed, coverage. I've been promised that Johnny and Tara will commentate. 

I leave you with pictures of Johnny Weir.

The Bride of Tarastein.

I give you evil alien Star Trek queen realness.

A star is born! 

Fosse, Fosse, Fosse!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Making a Run (heh) at The Flash

My name is Clovis and I’m the fastest blogger alive.

Okay, so that’s clearly not true given how long it’s been since I’ve published a post, but I couldn’t resist the into when talking about yet another of the pantheon of new comic book properties that are showing up on our airwaves. I speak of The Flash, of course; The CW’s Arrow spinoff chronicling the story of Barry Allen, the Fastest Man Alive.

No.  The other fastest man alive.  The white hipster-y one.

Like Arrow before it and Gotham alongside it, The Flash is another of DC Comics’ superhero stories.  Barry Allen is a forensic scientist working in Central City when he is working one night in his lab and is struck by a stray lightning bolt and falls into a wall of chemicals.  When he comes to, he finds himself with the ability to move at super speed and quickly becomes a crime fighter facing off against other oddly-powered individuals.  As with my Gotham review, this one is going to get nerdy, folks.  If you’d prefer to skip all the comic book talk and jump straight to the TV show, you can jump ahead.

Wow, what a flashy character!

The Comic Book
So here’s the fast and dirty (get used to it guys, the puns are irresistible on a topic like this) on The Flash:  Barry has super speed.  He can run faster than anything else on the planet, fast enough to run on water and generally muck about with physics in all sorts of fun ways.  He can vibrate his atoms to allow him to do things like pass through walls.  He can also, on rare occasions, transcend and travel through time due half to Einsteinian physics and half to comic book hand-wavium.  He is motivated by an almost naive desire to do good partially stemming from seeing his mother murdered mysteriously as a boy.  He is also always, ironically, late to everything.

The character is actually one of comic books longest-running legacy characters.  It’s also notable for being one of the first comic book characters to introduce the idea that a super hero could age out of his or her role and be replaced.  The character of The Flash originally dates back to 1940, the Golden Age of comic books, and was a college student named Jay Garrick who gained his super speed after inhaling water vapor. (Yes, really.)  In 1956, DC Comics streamlined its storytelling process, the first of MANY times it would do this, and integrated all its separate characters into a shared universe.  In the process, The Flash was given a different identity, costume, and background and was now Barry Allen, forensic scientist who gets his powers through that aforementioned lightning bolt.  Barry Allen would later be replaced by Wally West, the character’s nephew in 1986.  I bring this up because each time The Flash became a different man, the other characters still continued to exist.  This made The Flash as an identity something that could be passed down, a radical concept to comic books.  For a sense of perspective, consider that with a few stunt-stories, Batman has always been Bruce Wayne, Superman has always been Clark Kent, Iron Man has always been Tony Stark, and Peter Parker has always been Spider-Man.

The people who make red spandex are basically kept in business by these guys.

This sense of legacy in the comics is what has always given The Flash a certain emotional heft to it.  Barry recognizes Jay as a predecessor, while Wally comes to utterly revere Barry after becoming the Flash himself due to, shall we just say, unfortunate events related to Barry.  As such, The Flash as a character is always imbued with the notion of time being a precious commodity and the idea that we’re all racing toward an ending that’s coming faster than any of us would like it to.  Despite that gloomy notion, The Flash as a character is almost uniformly written as an optimist.  In all iterations, from Jay to Wally (and beyond, but that’s getting more detailed than you want, trust me), The Flash represents the character who, possibly more than almost any other super hero, does what he does because he believes in the best of people and just wants to do the right thing.

Okay, non-comic books fans.  You can come back now.

"Faster than a speeding bul... oh hey wait..."

The TV Show
I’ll say right away, like Maggie Cats said a few weeks ago, The Flash had one of my favorite new pilots this season.  Almost everything about the way the show has presented its key characters and its premise has been on pace right from the start.  Barry (Grant Gustin), initially introduced last year as a guest character in Arrow, is established at the start as a forensic scientist working for the Central City police department.  He’s been drawn to a life in law-enforcement after seeing his mother murdered under HIGHLY mysterious circumstances as a young boy.   With his father convicted of the murder, Barry was raised by family friend and police officer Joe West (played by Jesse L. Martin) who raised Barry as a sorta-sibling to his own daughter, Iris (Candace Patton).  Barry’s father, btw, is played by John Wesley Shipp who played The Flash in the short-lived 1990s era TV version of the same character.  In the pilot episode, Barry is struck by a stray bolt of electricity as the result of a catastrophic accident at STAR Labs, a sort of CERN-esque research facility headed by Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh).  When Barry awakens six months later, he finds that he has acquired super speed as well as an enhanced physiology that has increased his endurance and his ability to heal.  What is a young man to do in this situation?  Fight crime, naturally.

From there, the show plays out as you’d expect from The CW.  We’ve got your over-arching mystery (what was that strange yellow blur that killed Barry’s mother in their own home all those years ago?), your healthy dose of love-triangle (Barry is, natch, secretly in love with Iris who sees him like a best friend and is herself involved in a secret relationship with her father’s rookie partner at work), an assortment of enemy-of-the-week villains (turns out that stray bolt of electricity didn’t just affect Barry), and a possible twist (the good Dr. Harrison who helps Barry establish his heroic identify may not be all that he seems to be).  The thing that makes all of this work, honestly, is the speed at which this story progresses.  There’s no denying it – The Flash moves quickly.

Pictured: Rush hour in the speed lane.  I'll stop.

Unlike Arrow’s season-long brooding, Barry gets into this hero thing before the end of the first episode. All the major plotlines are introduced, the outlines of each character’s development are laid out, and we’re, well, off and running.  Seriously, more happens in the first thirty minutes of the pilot episode than you see in most seasons of an HBO series.  The show is also undeniably fun.  The Flash as a character is universally depicted in the comic books as someone with a sense of humor.  He’s Peter Parker without all the personal hard luck.  In keeping with that, you’re not going to find much in the way of personal agonizing or tortured development here.  Barry wears bright red and yellow and speeds around at 300mph in the middle of the day.  Unlike Arrow’s Oliver or even any of the numerous iterations of Batman, there’s no need to only operate at night.  In a cameo scene with Oliver Queen, Ollie even calls this out when urging Barry to use his powers to help his city.  “You can inspire people in a way I never could,” he tells Barry.

The Easter Eggs
Of course, in addition to all this actual mainstream drama and adventure, there are TONS of bones thrown for nerds like me.  After the STAR Labs accident, a broken gorilla cage bears the name “Grodd”, implying something has gotten out.  Barry’s first speed tests occur at a Ferris Air testing field.  One of Barry’s superhero support team members is Francisco “Cisco” Ramon.  The other is Caitlin Frost.  Caitlin’s fiancĂ©, tragically killed during the STAR Labs explosion, was Ronnie Raymond.  In the comics, every issue begins with the same phrase: “My name is Barry Allen and I am the Fastest Man Alive.”  Because every episode begins with a brief recap of what’s come before, take one guess what the voiceover begins with?  And at the risk of avoiding spoilers, I won’t even mention several other major plot points and characters introduced in the first few episodes that potentially point to some MAJORLY big (and spoiler-y) things that DC Comics and Warner Brothers appear to be ramping up for all their comic book properties, including a few possible implications for those big movies that you might have heard were recently announced.

Um. Spoilers?

Bottom line? Watch this damn show.  It’s fun, it’s adventurous, it’s breezy, and it’s got some great action with a nice dose of frothy character mush.  Nerds will feel respected, everyone else will just enjoy a good story playing out. 

The Flash airs Tuesday nights at 8/7c on The CW.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Death Becomes Pemberley

A murder, a ball, a ghost story, a secret romance, and a possibly rabid woman running amok in the woods. It must be...Jane Austen!


Look at this stuff! Isn't it neat? Don't you think my collection's complete? 

Because OF COURSE Lizzie and Darcy could not just live their 1% lifestyle without being troubled by Lizzie's batshit sister and her good-for-nothing husband, Wickham. Because you know all of what I'm about to tell you more or less happened barely after the last paragraph of P&P was written, Jane Austen put down her quill pen, and the ink dried. Do not front and say this isn't canon. You know everything went immediately to hell after the wedding. JANE AUSTEN IS A LIE. You guys, this is hilarious. Actual real JA fan fiction brought to a teevee or computer screen near you.

The action actually begins a few years into Lizzie and Darcy's marriage. The Darcys have spawned a boy named Fitzwilliam (natch). Lizzie and Darcy are planning a ball, and then Captain Denny is mysteriously (and quite inconveniently, I might add) murdered, which basically strands everyone at Pemberley until the MUHDUH is solved. So, get ready for some Regency Clue realness. 

Fine weather for a MUHDUH.

The plot will be familiar to those who have read the novel of the same name. It begins with two Pemberley servant wenches, straight of out of Downton Abbey central casting, who claim to have seen the "ghost of Mrs. Riley" in the woods. Mrs. Riley is an unfortunate figure whose ghost reportedly haunts the woods around Pemberley after she committed suicide because her young son was hanged for poaching a deer on the Pemberley property. According to the legend, her appearance foretells the onset of tragedy. Wooooooooo. Unfortunately for the veracity of the ghost tale, Lizzie encounters this same woman in the woods, and when Lizzie attempts to restore the lady's lost bonnet, she straight up hisses at her. At which point, Anna Maxwell Martin is Deeply Confused.


Is she Catwoman or WTF? Wait, which Jane Austen fanfiction am I in? Is this the vampire one? Shit.

Georgiana Darcy has grown about ten feet, and she is in the lovez with a socially awkward lawyer, which makes total sense for her, actually. However, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was such a sweetie in the novel, is hot for Georgiana and has apparently morphed into a real shady character since we last saw him. I blame Lady Catherine. So anyone who has a real stick up their bum about Jane Austen canon should stop watching RIGHT NOW.

You mean this didn't really happen in the book? You mean they made it up? Wait...

Things are going along swimmingly in Lizzie's tricked out life, until she is unfortunately reminded of her genetic and marital ties in the form of her sister Lydia and her dastardly rake husband, Wickham. WICKHAM. MISTAH WICKHAM. 

We see Wickham arguing with Captain Denny over Something, and Denny appears to be trying to talk Wickham out of some sort of deceitful behavior (because he is the most appalling rake), and Wickham is insisting that whatever it is that he has done or wants to do is no big deal. They are interrupted by the appearance of Lydia and HOLY SHIT IT'S CLARA!


You think you've got problems? Girl, please. I have, like, no idea where I parked my Tardis.

Lydia and Wickham's story, as it is revealed, is that they were planning to crash the ball at Pemberley, since they weren't invited because awkward. They are not received at Pemberley. They're just classy like that. Denny accompanies them, and midway on their journey, the coach stops and Denny gets out and goes into the Pemberley woods. Wickham, angry, gets out of the carriage too, and follows him. What happens after that remains the mystery that we must unravel.

Lydia's story is that she heard gun shots, immediately freaked out, and ordered her coachman to complete the journey to Pemberley, leaving Wickham and Denny behind. 

She bursts into Pemberley, creating all the drama that she so dearly loves, and announces that Wickham is dead dead dead alack alack he's dead. Mrs. Bennet helpfully suggests that it might be fine because Wickham might have died in a duel, and that sends Lydia into a fresh round of hysterics.


No, no. Tell the nice man from the newspaper I'm your momager, honey. 

Darcy and the other menfolk launch an expeditionary force to find Wickham and Denny, and they find Wickham sobbing over a super dead Denny. The game is then afoot! Wickham is, of course, the main suspect.  This is where things get mysteriously mysterious because everyone agrees that Wickham -- cad, reprobate, dipsomaniac that he is -- is not a murderer. Everyone also agrees that Lydia and Wickham probably know a lot more than they are telling.

Wickham: He's literally wearing a red, shirt.
Lydia: I know, right.


Darcy is forced to set off for the magistrate, an aging hippie named Mr. Hardcastle. Hardcastle and the Darcys have bad feelings between their families, because Hardcastle's father was responsible for prosecuting Mrs. Riley's son, and who had pushed for the boy's hanging. This was against the older Mr. Darcy's wishes. Hardcastle requests to see the sleeping Wickham, and then goes to meet the local barber veterinarian butcher doctor, to inspect the dead Denny. They determine that Denny died not from a gunshot wound, but someone gave him a jolly good whack on the back of the head. Ouchie. If it hadn't happened in the woods, I would have guessed it was the professor in the wine cellar with a candlestick.

Cause of death: Being an ancillary.

Wickham is later arrested for the murder, sending Clara, I mean Lydia, into further hysterics. The trouble is, no one really believes that Wickham committed the murder, and it may be up to Lizzie and Darcy to solve the murder, probably primarily Lizzie since she was on Bletchley Circle and so she has practice with that sort of thing. So now Lizzie is going to have to Do The Right Thing and clear the name of a man she hates. Is this going to be the redeeming of Wickham? Does he really need to be redeemed? Can't he just be a giant asshat? I haven't read the book, so I have no idea how it ends. I may or may not be hoping that the twist will turn out that Mr. Darcy killed Denny because he's a robot alien sent to destroy us all (much like Tom Hiddleston).


You think he's real, ladies? Come. On. Clearly aliens sent him to take us down.

In that case, I'm hoping that it's revealed that The Doctor sent Clara into Pride & Prejudice to pretend to be Lydia in order to catch the Darcybot before he can destroy Pretend Regency England. And Fantasia as well.


Exteerminate! Exteerminate!

But the real enemy, as it turns out, is not the Darcybot, but Lady Catherine, who is, of course, the Giant Cockroach Queen.

A girl can hope.

My overall reaction is that I thought this was really fun. If you really take Jane Austen seriously, then perhaps this isn't the movie for you, but if you are all about murder mysteries, costumed aggression, and people sobbing in corsets while flailing around big, fancy houses

#Swag

then this is right up your alley. Maggie Cats says she has actually been to the P&P house, which makes me jelly. I kid about Jenna Coleman as Lydia, but I really think she is a brilliant choice for that part. She is not a person I would have thought of immediately to play Lydia, but seeing her in the part makes total sense. I also enjoy the casting of Rebecca Front as Mrs. Bennet. She is the no-nonsense Chief Supt. Jean Innocent on Inspector Lewis and it's fun to see her take on a role as removed from her Lewis character as the flighty and clueless Mrs. Bennet.

The next installment of Death Comes to Pemberley airs on PBS during Masterpiece Mystery. In my area that means Sunday at 9 p.m. EST. Check local listings for dates and times. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Criminals Are a Superstitious, Foreshadowing Lot

I’m going to get this out of the way right at the beginning:  I’m a huge Batman fan, but I hate seeing his origin story.  The reason is because I’ve seen it so. Many. Damn. Times.  And now, come to your television and mine, is Gotham; yet another origin story for Batman.  And as the TV Sluts most dedicated comic book nerd, I’m here to break it down for you.  Fair warning: I’m getting Bat-nerdy ALL OVER THIS MOFO.  I won’t feel badly if you need to turn back now.

I"m so desensitized to this image that for all I know, this could be from Modern Family.

The saving grace of this take on Batman’s origin is that it is told through the eyes of a young Lt. James Gordon, the man who will one day become Gotham City’s famous Commissioner of Police.  As we see how Gordon will eventually become the paragon of law and order, the show is promising to focus more on the development of the various rogues and ne’er-do-wells that will eventually becomes Batman’s famous villains than on the Dark Knight himself.  As such, it’s sort of Batman without the Batman, though a young Bruce Wayne is a regular character.

The first episode sets the stage for us with a variety of characters good, bad, and ambivalent react to the shocking murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, the wealthiest couple in the city and, obviously, parents to young Bruce.  We see the reaction to the crime from the three different factions of people Gotham has laid out for us: the police investigating the crime, the mob factions who see it as a potential leverage point, and the people caught up in between, most of whom have rather familiar names.

They're like the Brady Bunch.  With more secrets.  And darker clothes.  

And that’s where Gotham earns a lot of its nerd street cred right off the bat.  Seriously, you guys, there hasn’t been a finer collection of Easter Eggs in one place since the last White House Easter Egg Roll.   All the mainstays of the Batman universe are here:  Sarah Essen is Jim Gordon’s captain.  His partner is Harvey Bullock.  The CSI-guy who helps them understand the ballistics of evidence is Edward Nygma.  Bullock and Gordon, who work in Homicide, are envious and jealous of two other cops always showing them up from Major Crimes, ReneeMontoya and Crispus Allen.  And that’s just the police force.  The show opens on a teenage Selina Kyle just learning how to be a thief.  The daughter of a mob lackey is a young Poison Ivy.  Mob boss Fish Mooney’s underling is none other than Oswald Cobblepot.  Right off the bat (heh), your Batman geeks are SQUEEE-ing all over the place.

The risk for the show, then, is how to tell a major story that everyone knows, how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, with this many characters, most of whom are the ones that are usually in the periphery.  Gotham aims to tackle that problem by running largely like a police procedural with an emphasis on the job that James Gordon has fallen into as the Last Good Man in Gotham City.  We can only presume that the deeper stories, already starting to be seeded in the pilot episode, will begin to fill in the holes that a Law & Order: Gotham would be unwilling to.

So how does it do in its first four episodes?  All told, not too bad.  Let’s start with look and feel.  Production value is high and the show looks slick.  The show gets a lot of free atmosphere simply from filming in New York rather than Los Angeles or Vancouver and as such, Gotham City looks and feels real.  New York is stylized, blending the actual architecture of a gritty city with enhanced fantastical elements to give it a more gothic feel.  The skies are always moody, the streets are always dirty.  To a comic book nerd like me, it looks very close to how Gotham City is supposed to look.  Denny O’Neil, one of the all-time greatest Batman writers who help shaped the character, once described Gotham as looking exactly like New York below 14th street at 10 minutes past midnight on the coldest, wettest night in November.  The show has followed that lead, effectively making Gotham City a character in and of herself.

So how about the story?  Wisely, the central mystery that we’re given (who actually killed the Waynes?) is carried through the first four episodes without being overbearing.   The show is devoting much more time to showing how corrupt Gotham City is and what it means to try to keep this city, built on a precarious system of checks and balances between the warring crime families, the police, and the emerging underclass of citizens who are taking matters into their own hands, from falling into chaos.  The writing itself is, for the most part, good while obviously trying to find its pace and hit its stride, a common issue for new shows.  Some truly clunky dialogue in the first episode is thankfully significantly improved by the third, which gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season.  (Though for the sake of full disclosure, I would watch this show no matter what just because of the topic.  I’m a sucker.)   

This course of action is not uncalled for in my case. 

The performances vary from middling to fascinating.  Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock and Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot in particular steal just about every scene they’re in.  Taylor lets his proto-Penguin be sleazy and slimy while at the same time making you want to know more about this kid who is so clearly set on a bad path.   By episode four, Oswald has already started to become a minor player in the nascent gang war that has started to erupt since the death of the Waynes.  Likewise, Logue nails Harvey Bullock as the cop who is just going along to get along in a city as corrupt as Gotham is, despite the fact that underneath it all he really wishes he could make a difference.   The actor having the most fun with a role, however, is clearly Jada Pinkett Smith, cast as a mid-level mob boss named Fish Moody who nominally is in service to Carmine Falcone, the head of the most powerful mob family in Gotham, but scheming to improve her own station.  Watching Jada Pinkett Smith as she Eartha Kitts al over her scenes is legitimately fun.   And while Ben McKenzie is solid as James Gordon, it’s hard to get too creative with a hero character who has to carry all the action.  His best scenes so far have been playing off young Selina Kyle, cast here as a street orphan who’s ridiculously talented at getting by on her own.  (Selina is perhaps the character that the writers have nailed most solidly.  Every line she has absolutely sounds like something the 13-year-old version of Catwoman would say.)

"Purrrrrfect?"

That kind of devotion to the comics without being hemmed in by them is part of what makes Gotham so enjoyable for me.  The writers are playing with any number of nerdy references: Gordon and his FiancĂ©, Barbara, live in a curiously lavish penthouse apartment with the main feature being a huge clockface that doubles as a window.  Comic readers know that this couple’s future daughter, who becomes Batgirl, is frequently drawn in her own high-tech apartment in a prominent clocktower somewhere in Gotham.  Episode four revolves around a development deal to bring back the abandoned Arkham Asylum.  (A map showing the neighborhood even refers to the area as “Arkham City.")  Characters meet at the corner of Fourth and Grundy.  The dancers at Fish Moody’s night club are dressed curiously as harlequins.   There's even a struggling comedian who auditions at the same club.  (The producers have stated that they will tease exactly who becomes the Joker over time, and likely ambiguously owing to the ambiguous nature of the character's origins in the comics.)  

A Batman TV show has been something of the Holy Grail for both networks and Warner Brothers for some time.  For as popular as the character is, there are a dozen reasons why the last time Batman was on live action television, he was played by Adam West.  And while Gotham bears no resemblance at all to the 1960s Batman, fans of the Bat universe will be more than pleased to see it brought to them each week.  Whether or not it can win over more casual viewers is now the question.

Gotham airs Monday nights at 8pm on Fox.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fall Shows Yayayaya...

Hello, my children. How are you wayward delinquents today?  

Here are three shows that have been somewhat occupying my attention in recent days and weeks. 

Gracepoint

You know that I love me some MUHDUH mysteries. Normally, I watch British mysteries, including the delightfully wacky Miss Marple series. That said, I am probably the only person on the planet who hasn't seen Broadchurch, and I am thus intrigued by the American incarnation of the David Tennant series, Gracepoint. So, if you're reading this post and hoping it will contain a comparison of Gracepoint to Broadchurch, culminating in the hipster assertion that the American version WILL NEVER BE AS GOOD AS THE BRITISH VERSION, I advise you to quit this post posthaste and make some artisan cheese to assuage your frustration. Maggie Cats has written her take on Gracepoint, so I shall add my two cents.

I watched the season premiere of Gracepoint and I was pretty engrossed, and that's saying a lot since I have the attention span of your average house cat. I am stoked for all things British, but thus far I cannot say that Gracepoint is better or worse than the British version.




The plot is pretty simple and will be familiar to those who have seen Broadchurch.  David Tennant stars in a role based on his role on Broadchurch. He portrays Emmett Carver, your stereotypically grizzled and disillusioned detective. Carver has a Past that is haunting and threatening to catch up with him.  Butting heads with him is Detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn), who learned she had been replaced by Carver when she returned from family vacation. So there's already tension there. From Wikipedia:


Detective Ellie Miller is upset when Emmett Carver is assigned as lead detective while she was on vacation. Carver's first case is a cut barbed-wire fence. Twelve-year-old Danny Solano goes missing, and his body is found at the base of cliffs overlooking the local beach. Beth Solano sees her son's body on the beach and breaks down. Having known the Solanos for years, Ellie deals with her own personal struggles as well as the Solanos'. A crime scene officer says the crime scene was altered to look like an accident, and the pathologist says Danny was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Carver and Ellie disclose the cause of Danny's death to the Solanos, and Mark identifies the body. Ellie's nephew and ambitious reporter Owen Burke extracts information from Ellie for a Twitter report, causing tension with the police and upsetting the Solanos. Ellie takes the blame for Owen's action. Carver is asked if he wishes to withdraw from the case, but he does not. Renee Clemons, reporter for the San Francisco Globe, arrives in town without her supervisor's permission to try to get an exclusive on the death. Beth visits the crime scene with Ellie, and Ellie expresses her grief to her husband Joe. Ellie tells their son, Tom, about Danny's death, and he then secretly wipes his mobile phone and computer to remove evidence. Owen unwittingly provides Renee with a link to Chloe Solano, and CCTV footage shows Danny skateboarding down a street on the night of his murder. Ellie notes that Danny's phone and skateboard were not recovered at the crime scene and are missing. At a press conference, Carver urges anyone to come forward if anyone they know is behaving differently and remarks: "We will catch whoever did this."


This is one of those shows that you either commit to and follow through to the end, or you give up after the first couple of episodes. It's only 10 episodes, so the usual multi-season formula so common in American series is being put to the test here. It will be interesting to see if the British series formula works in the United States. The first episode was actually pretty engrossing, and I will continue to watch it unless it completely goes off the rails. It's my understanding that Gracepoint is a point-for-point copy of Broadchurch, so is that a good thing or a bad thing? Will they change things up and do a musical episode? I hope so. I guess Fox is trying to cash in on this critically acclaimed drama award-winning stuff. We'll see if that pans out for them.


"Just get back in your Tardis...or mope around your castle...or sweep a chimney...or something."

I enjoyed the pilot because it was full of intrigue and I like intrigue. Also, being from a small town in the Midwest has given me a healthy appreciation for small-town hypocrisy, Dirty Little Secrets kept by "elite" members of the social hierarchy, and community tragedies revealing cracks in the idyllic veneer. It's sort of my milieu. Yes, I used milieu in a sentence.

British Columbia stars as Northern California.

Gracepoint airs 9 p.m. EST Thursdays on Fox.


Inspector Lewis

Okay, so ITV and PBS totally LIED about last season being the last season ever of Inspector Lewis. It was probably just a conspiracy to get us all to go console ourselves with Endeavour, which is great, don't get me wrong, but ZOMG Lewis & Hathaway. 


Our conclusion: The pints were MUHDUHED. We MUHDUHED these mofos.


It is really good to see Hathaway and Lewis back together solving MUHDUHS again. At the end of last season, Lewis (Kevin Whatley) was set to retire and go shack up with and/or marry the Lady Coroner, Laura Hobson. A disillusioned Hathaway was quitting the force to pursue that most common of affluent white people past times, to Find Himself.  Anyway, Hathaway decides that himself done got founded and returns to the Oxfordshire PD, as Detective Inspector Hathaway. Superintendent Jean Innocent asks Lewis to return as a consultant, even though he is retired. For plot reasons. It is called Inspector Lewis, after all. Continuity, people. Continuity.

Hathaway has a new underling, Detective Sergeant Lizzie Maddox, A Lady. I ship them.

Other than the changes, it's the same academic MUHDUHS and high-jinks in the homicide-laden Oxford.

Inspector Lewis generally airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on PBS. 

The Paradise

As you may recall from my post last year, I was all aflutter about The Paradise, BBC's answer to ITV's Mr. Selfridge and Downton Abbey.



"Okay, so. For this scene, girls, think Clueless."

I am including it in my post about MUHDUH because THE BBC MUHDUHED THIS SHOW. They MUHDUHED IT.  

I'm not sure when and where this crime occurred. I think it happened when the BBC realized they could tart up trashy soap operas with crinolines and a few bustles and call it art. THANKS DOWNTON ABBEY. The Paradise has lost its soul. I think mayhaps the writers are searching high and low for material. The show is still pretty good, but it's not AS good as the first season. Perhaps its just the sophomore curse, but BBC of course canceled the show so there will be no season 3 of The Paradise. More Big Brother UK coming to a tele near you, Britons. 

After Moray and Katherine Glendenning's marriage plans fell through at some point after the end of last season, she (Bitchtits) banished him to Paris and away from his True Love, Denise.

Denise and Mr. Moray have consecrated their luvz for one another (not in that way; get your minds out of the gutter) so as they are no longer gazing longingly at each other over a window dressing 


I want you to dress me like one of your French girls.

the tension between them has lessened somewhat, shall we say. Since Bitchtits is now married to a philandering gajillionaire widower, and is no longer overtly trying to rape Moray, the show has had to create drama elsewhere. I was underwhelmed by the season premiere, and I was left perplexed by the second episode of the season. 

A couple of new characters have joined the cast. Katherine aforementioned hubby, Tom Weston, is a psychologically scarred war veteran whose first wife died, leaving him with his young daughter, Flora. Katherine has decided that Flora makes a nice pet, so she has showered her with attention and fripperies and furbelows from the store. Since Moray ended up losing the store ownership to the Glendennings, to whom he owed money, Katherine and Tom now own the store, since Katherine's father died. Weston constantly cheats on Katherine and brazenly makes passes at everything in a skirt, including shop girl Clara, and Katherine is probably scheming to destroy Moray while pretending to have forgiven Moray for his betrayal and to also destroy Denise for a-stealin' her man. Yeah, yeah. Katherine says she's reformed but considering how batshit crazy she was on Season 1 I'm guessing she's got something up her finely laced sleeve.

INTRIGUE!

Another new character is the scullery wench/cook/token Cockney, Myrtle. Myrtle works in the kitchen at The Paradise and shouts at everyone loudly in an accent indicative of the lower social orders. She generally looks unkempt, sweaty, and as she is working class, she is more than a little bit slutty, indicated by her low-cut frock, messy hair, and boobs jacked to Jesus.


Don't 'it me!

Anyway, I will continue to watch and see it through to the end/death of the series. I'm sorry to see the series go off the air. It had a solid first season and this season is entertaining if a bit silly.

Catch The Paradise on PBS. It generally airs on Masterpiece on Sundays, but as always with PBS, check your local listings.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New Fall Shows, Round 3!

The hits keep on coming, and by "hits" I mean shows that will likely get cancelled in another few weeks. Sorry for the delay in this latest round-up of capsule reviews, but I'm doing my best to make it up to y'all by being particularly clever and insightful with this latest batch.

That last part is a total lie, btw. You get your usual tired jokes and awful puns. You know you love it.

Anyway, let's get to it!

Selfie: The internet decided that this show was going to be terrible months before it even aired. After all, the main character, Eliza, is pretty much a walking example/cliche of everything that is wrong with our narcissistic, self-involved, tech-obsessed culture (despite being portrayed by the delightful Karen Gillan from Doctor Who). And based on the first 5 minutes, which were to be perfectly honest, horrifying, I would agree with the internet. But then a weird thing happened: Eliza (and the show) displayed some moments of genuine pathos that hit me in the gut. And then all of a sudden, I was rooting for Eliza to get her shit together and you know, become a real and likeable person.

Selfie is based on the play Pygamalion (though you are probably more familiar with the musical, My Fair Lady). In this version, Eliza seeks out the "rebranding" skills of her coworker and marketing expert, Henry, to teach her how to connect with people and make real friends...rather than just friending people on social media. What is surprising (and smart) is that Henry isn't set up as an all-knowing perfect example of normal humanity. In his own way, Henry is just as incapable as Eliza when it comes to making connections, so you know--they'll be able to learn from each other. I know, it sounds lame and it's definitely not an original idea, but Karen Gillan and John Cho are inherently likeable and I'll keep watching for now.

Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn they ain't.

Bottomline: If you can look past the vulgarity, there's some real meat and emotion to this story about the difficulty of connecting with others in our self-absorbed culture. Karen Gillan and John Cho are also both great in their respective roles. Selfie airs Tuesdays at 8:00 on ABC.


Gracepoint: The consensus on this one seems to be a general feeling of "....but why?" For those not in the know, Gracepoint is an Americanization of the British mystery series Broadchurch, about the murder of a young boy in an English village. In typical BBC fashion, the British version was nuanced, well-acted, and focused on not only the whodunnit aspect of the story, but also the secrets everyone in the small town kept from one another.

Usually when a British import is adapted for American television, people who are fans of the original wail and rend their garments lamenting how much worse the US show is in comparison to the British one. That's not the case here--Gracepoint is similarly atmospheric, similarly well-acted, and well, similarly everything good about Broadchurch. In fact, THAT's the problem. Gracepoint appears to be almost a shot for shot remake of Broadchurch--including the brilliant long tracking shot in the early minutes of the first episode that introduce the main players in the mystery.

They even got David Tennant to reprise his role as the police detective in charge of the investigation,  playing the exact same character, just with a cheesy American accent. Of course I don't know if the show will have the same killer as the British version, but to be honest, I'm not going to stick around to find out. I've seen this story already. I understand wanting to adapt the story for an American audience, especially given the high quality of the original, but as someone who has seen both, you gotta give me something new to keep me interested.


Even the actors are like, "why are we here?"

Bottomline: If you haven't seen Broadchurch, Gracepoint is a dramatic and intricate story about a murder  in a small town with excellent acting, atmosphere, and twists and turns. If you have seen Broadchurch, then you've also seen Gracepoint. Gracepoint airs Thursday evenings at 9:00 on FOX.


Manhattan Love Story: It's cute. It's too cute. It's another one of those annoying romantic "comedies" where he's a handsome bro, she's an adorable and quirky gal with bouncy curls, they're not perfect but they might just be perfect for each other!

Gag. Me.

It's too bad both the leads in this show are so annoying, because the supporting characters, especially girl best friend Amy (played by Jade Catta-Preta--a dead ringer for Lady Gaga when she looks normal), are actually really funny. But I don't think I can get past the cute. It's just trying too hard. Both the leads showed some promise of actual personality, but I'm not sticking with it to see if those hints of promise are explored.

Oh, and if I see one more show where the writers/producers try to make a gorgeous woman seem more "real" by having her unable to understand how a smart phone/email/Facebook work I am going to lose it and Hulk the fuck out.


She even bites her lower lip. You guys, I CANNOT EVEN.

Bottomline: Plays up every current rom-com cliche and the supporting actors deserve way better. Manhattan Love Story airs Tuesdays at 8:30 on ABC.


The Flash: One of my favorite pilots of the season, The Flash has a sense of fun that can be lacking in Arrow (don't get me wrong though--I love Arrow) but still maintains enough action and drama to keep your eyes glued to the television. It passed the smart phone test--meaning I wasn't reaching for my phone to fiddle with it while the show was on. 

But it's not all fun and games, there's also an underlying sense of stakes and peril; I wouldn't be surprised if some of the characters from the pilot get bumped off in the coming season. Special bonus points for giving Tom Cavanagh a role he can really bite into (is he a good guy? A secret Evil Mastermind? I don't knoooooow!) and putting Jesse L. Martin back on my tv. Do you think he will sing in an upcoming musical episode? God, I hope so. This is a short review, but that's because I don't really have anything negative to say. The Flash is just good old-fashioned comic book fun. 

"Wheeee, I'm super fast! And bouncy!"

Bottomline: The Flash impresses with its ability to combine the fun of superpowers with a real sense of darkness and danger for the characters. One of my favorites of the season, The Flash airs Tuesday evenings at 8:00 on the CW.