Monday, December 22, 2014

Murder Ball

I took one for the team and watched Fox's American incarnation of the British murder mystery series, Gracepoint.

Look eeento my eeeeyyesss.

As I said before, I have not seen the British original, Broadchurch, so I am basing my overall thoughts on solely my viewing of Gracepoint. I read that the show has not been renewed for a second season (why would there be a need for a second season?), but I just wanted to state my thoughts and final impressions.


So I come to you now fully informed.

The series finale aired December 11, and while it was fun guessing who the culprit may have been, the final reveal was rather...underwhelming. The overall ending of Gracepoint is like Broadchurch, but they did add a twist to the end that differed from the Broadchurch ending.

If you haven't seen either Broadchurch or Gracepoint, I suggest you stop reading this now. 

It didn't really take a genius to figure out that Det. Ellie Miller's family was involved in the death of Danny Solano in some way. The writers kept dropping CONSTANT hints that Ellie's son knew something, and they dropped CONSTANT hints that since she was working all the time, she had no idea what was actually going on at home. (A win for feminism!) 

However, they heightened the creeper factor in a way that I didn't think needed to be heightened. Finding out that her husband Joe (Josh Hamilton, of American Horror Story) was a pedophile and wanted to get into Danny's 12-year-old knickers definitely upped the ewww quotient, but in this day and age of Law & Order SVU, a pedophile dad is pretty tame for prime time TV. Even cliche. They'd been dropping a lot of hints during the run of the show that Someone in Gracepoint was a sexual predator, so the fact that it was revealed to be Ellie's husband just made me kind of shrug. They advertised this as the "ultimate twist" but it wasn't really the biggest twist I could have imagined, honestly. So, I think they lost a bit of points in the creativity department.

  I'm not a creepy perv. I only play one on TV. 

I mean, everyone in this town HAD A SECRET or SOMETHING TO HIDE and the fact that we learned, yet again, that someone in Gracepoint was HIDING SOMETHING, just made me kinda go, "Ok, yeah. We get it. Everyone in this town is messed up and weird. Who cares who killed Danny Solano because honestly? These people are screwed."

Original filmed ending of Broadchurch.

I think it would actually have been a lot more tragic if Danny and Tom Miller had been out messing around and being boys, and Tom had accidentally killed Danny, and went to his father about it, and his father helped cover it up. Or if Tom had accidentally killed Danny, then spent the rest of the night freaking out and dragging his body down to the beach, then hastily trying to make it look like he fell. But yeah, point being. It was completely obvious, from the first episode showing Tom deleting text messages, to him trying to break apart his hard drive, that Tom was involved in Danny's death somehow. Also, his completely nonplussed reaction to Ellie telling Tom that Danny had died was a big clue. Having to wait nine more episodes to have my suspicion confirmed that he killed him on accident didn't really bother me so much as I think that they should have tried to make it a little less obvious from the get-go.

We've gathered some evidence and it seems to point to you being a terrible mother.

Another change they made was in the character of Paul Coates. In Broadchurch, Coates is harmless and adorable and RORY and is into the local hotelier lady. In Gracepoint, he is just downright creepy. So creepy, in fact, he was many of the fans' prime suspect for a while. Gracepoint Paul Coats is in love with Beth Solano, and is creepy and pervy and generally the cause of many an irk. I'm not sure why they made this change for the American version. As if that town didn't already have enough creepers.  I preferred the Rory version, because he wasn't weird, and he also developed a relationship bonding with the slutty hotel lady. I guess they had to try to do something with the Coates character because he was supposed to be a priest but, um, guys? There are Episcopalian ministers in the States, too. Just sayin'. He didn't have to be Catholic. I'm just throwing that out there.

DT: You a priest this time?
AD: Yeah. You?
DT: I'm a foul-tempered, lonely, bitter, jaded inspector trying to save these people from themselves.
AD: Way to play against type.

Overall, Gracepoint was not a point-for-point copy of Broadchurch beyond the first episode. Watching Broadchurch over this last weekend showed that while Gracepoint hit all of the main plot points and for certain scenes, the dialogue was verbatim, but other episodes and scenes things went off in an entirely different direction. The last scene of Gracepoint showed a Detective Carver (Tennant) calling Ellie, who was in a hotel with Tom, and had figured out through her super sleuthing skills that he had killed Danny, and Ellie ignored his call. So, they left the door open for a second season, but Fox chose to renew the series. That was definitely altered from the original. 

So...This blows.

That leads us to the manner of death. While on Broadchurch, Joe Miller strangled Danny Latimer in an act of desperation, and Broadchurch Joe was sad and pathetic and clearly mentally disturbed, Gracepoint Joe was totally predatory and a bit freaky. On Broadchurch, Tom Miller is a bit of a red herring, but on Gracepoint, Ellie figures out that Joe is covering for Tom. Gracepoint Tom follows Gracepoint Joe and as Danny is running away, Tom confronts his father and seems to be trying to protect Danny, and accidentally hits him in the back of the head with an oar. Then Joe tells Tom to go home, and proceeds to try to cover up the murder. 

One other change they made was in the character of the lady journalist, Renee Clemons (Jessica Lucas).  I dislike her character in Gracepoint, and I don't care for her on Broadchurch, either. She is the epitome of a bad journalist, making accusations about Jack without getting the (easily available) public records and back stories about his conviction. Just a crappy, crappy journalist, but a pretty good indictment of the laziness and sensationalism that our media can become prey to. They kind of redeemed her character on Broadchurch, but on Gracepoint her arc ended at Horrible Human Being. 

I'm going to work for cable news. You yokels aren't getting in my way.

My overall take is that Gracepoint, while being a very close copy of Broadchurch, is not an exact carbon copy of the British murder mystery. It was good, but not great, but it did create a bit of an addictive factor. However, there was something special about Broadchurch that I don't think the American version was quite able to capture.  One minor detail that I observed about the British version is that they definitely showed the change in seasons. I think setting this in NoCal (*coughcoughBritishColumbiacoughcough*) was a poor choice. It's scenically quite similar to the cliffs of Wessex, but it looked like it was cold and rainy ALL THE DAMN TIME. So, I didn't get the same sense of a passage of time between Danny being found dead and Joe's confessions. On Broadchurch, Danny died in summer, and Joe was caught in late fall. Again, a minor detail, but it made a lot of difference in terms of gauging how long this case was dragging on.

What time of the year is it? Dreary O'clock.

Gracepoint is still pretty engrossing, and it is stylish, sophisticated, and moody. It is definitely worth a watch if you like murder mysteries and horrible people. 

However, I do feel the American make-up team did a better job of making David Tennant look like shit. 

There was also this.


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?


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


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!