Saturday, September 27, 2014

What I'm Watching this Fall (Part 2 - Returning Favorites)

I love summer, but the upside about is ending is the return of favorite shows.

  • Nashville (ABC) and Arrow (CW) - These both premiered in 2012 and were my favorite two new shows that season.  An odd paring perhaps, but what can I say, I have eclectic taste.
  • Once Upon a Time (ABC) - Can't wait to see how it takes on Frozen
  • Sleepy Hollow (Fox) - I have to admit that when I first saw the trailer for this show last summer, I thought how did this show ever get made?  This is the dumbest concept ever in the history of television.  At first I watched it to laugh at it, but after two or three episodes I was hooked.
  • The Blacklist (NBC) - Last year Castle, Hostages, and The Blacklist were scheduled in the same time slot.  My DVR only allows me to watch or record two shows at once.  I have long been a fan of Castle so that was one.  With Dylan McDermott, Toni Collette, and an interesting premise, Hostages was my second choice.  I gave up Hostages after two episodes and switched to the The Blacklist and wondered what I had been thinking.  James Spader is spectacular as Red Reddington.  I really hope we find out more about Elizabeth's husband this season.
  • Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC) - People had mixed reactions about this in the beginning but I liked it from day one.  So glad it was renewed for a second season.
  • Sons of Anarchy (FX) - I bet a lot of people would be surprised that I watch this show, but I do.  This is its 7th and final season and I expect the bloodshed to reach epic proportions, which if you've seen the show, is saying a lot. This season is going to be hard to watch but unlike many of the characters, I expect to make it to the end. 
  • About a Boy (NBC) - Loved Nick Hornby's book, loved the movie, and loved the show.  Enough said.
  • Grimm (NBC) - This started the same year as Once Upon a Time.  Like that show, it takes on fairy tales.  Grimm's take is a combination of horror and police procedural.  Kind of love it.  Hope Nick recovers his powers as a Grimm.
  • Scandal (ABC) - I think Scandal might be the epitome of what people mean by "jumped the shark."  It is completely insane, soapy and over the top, and oh so much fun!
  • Doctor Who (BBC) - Not sure if this should be considered a summer show since the new season began in August, but in any case, I love it!
  • Elementary (CBS) - It is Sherlock Holmes in New York.  It is basically a police procedural.  I like it best when the focus is on Sherlock and Watson's relationship, and each's relationship with Sherlock's brother, Mycroft.
Maybe Not a Favorite, but I Like It
  • Haven (SyFy) - This was inspired by a short story by Stephen King called The Colorado Kid.  It is set in a small town in Maine that is beset by "troubles," strange and sometimes scary phenomenon that no one can quite explain.  The new woman in town, Audrey, seems to be able to help somehow. I really like this show but wonder how much longer it can go on.  The thing about shows whose premise centers on a problem is that at some point the problem has to be resolved, one way or another.
  • The Good Wife (ABC) - This got really boring for awhile.  I almost stopped watching, but then Alicia left one firm, started another, Will suddenly died, and the show got good again.
  • The Mindy Project (Fox) - I don't know why I don't watch many comedies anymore but this one is pretty good.
  • Chicago Fire (NBC) - My mom and sister watched this so I started watching it and never stopped.
  • NCIS & NCIS: Los Angeles & Criminal (CBS) -  These are all more or less crime procedurals.  Mystery is one of my favorite genres to read, so I guess it is no surprise that I like mystery type shows.
  • Hawaii Five-O (CBS) - A crime procedural set in Hawaii, so instead of the gritty streets of New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, you get beautiful Hawaii - what's not to love?

Still Watching for Now, but Losing Steam
  • Castle (ABC) - This started as a crime procedural that had a mystery of the week, an overarching mystery (who killed Beckett's mother) and a will-they-or-won't-they romance.  Beckett's mother's murder has been solved and Castle and Beckett are together, so all that's left is the mystery of the week and I can find that on multiple shows.
  • Revenge (ABC) - This has the same problem as Haven - a problem that needs to be resolved sooner or later.  At some point Emily/Amanda needs to get her revenge or give up and move on. The longer it takes, the more Emily/Amanda becomes like Victoria.  The more Emily/Amanda becomes like Victoria, the less sympathetic she becomes and it ends with everyone just running around in circles.
  • Grey's Anatomy (ABC) - This show began with a new crop of interns at a Seattle hospital.  Now the interns own or are otherwise running the hospital.  They have grown up, gotten married, had kids, gotten divorced, and watched friends and family die.  Kind of feels like this show has just about reached full circle.
  • The Vampire Diaries (CW) - Vampires, werewolves, romance - this is a teen dream.  Only none of the characters (or actors playing them) are teens anymore and it shows.  They have all dated each other, in some cases multiple times.  They have saved the town (aka the world) multiple times.  Many, actually maybe all of the main characters, have died and come back to life at least once.  Vampire Diaries used to be addictive but the high just isn't the same anymore.  Unless something truly new and spectacular happens this will probably be my last season watching it, assuming I make it through the end of the season.
Am I missing anything?  What shows are you watching?

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

As You Like It (No Fear Shakespeare) One of the reasons I do the Literary Exploration Challenge is that it gets me to read things I would probably not otherwise read.  Admittedly, most of the genres in the challenge are ones I am already familiar with and would have read anyone.  Mystery, romance, fantasy, urban fantasy chick-lit, paranormal/supernatural, to name a few, are all things I read all the time.  One genre I don't read all the time, or ever really, is drama or plays.  Reading a play for me is like using muscle I forgot had.  I can't say I love it, but I like the challenge of using a rarely used muscle.  For that I am grateful for the Literary Exploration Challenge. 

With the Challenge, I am slowly making my way through Shakespeare.  Last year I read Macbeth; this year it was As You Like It.  As with most plays, it is probably best enjoyed as a performance than as a book. As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's comedies and it was kind of funny, but not laugh out funny.  It is the one with the "All the world's a stage" line.  One thing I like about reading Shakespeare is discovering the text where so many common phrases and literary tropes came from.

The edition I read is part of the No Fear Shakespeare.  If you're intimidated by Shakespeare, try these editions.  The original text is on the left side of the page and a modernized version of the same is on the right.  It makes it so much easier.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What I'm Watching this Fall (Part 1 - New Shows)

I am a reader, no doubt about that.  I am also a television watcher, too much so perhaps.  Now that fall has arrived it is time for cool temperatures and sweaters, rust colored leaves, and a crop of new shows to sample.  Okay maybe the weather is still a warm 84 degrees and there are no rust colored leaves here in Southern California, but there are definitely new shows.  Side bar – Isn’t it interesting how much television and movies informs our sense of things?  On screens big and small, fall means piles of leaves and sweaters and winter means snow storms.  I still think of those as hallmarks of the seasons even though I grew up in a city and currently live in a city where it never snows.  I did grow up in a place that has an actual fall season, complete with multicolored leaves and warm coats.   

But back to TV…Every fall I look forward to what new shows the networks have to offer.  My sister and I both have a habit of making charts so we don't miss anything good. Some shows I will end up obsessing over, others may not rise to the level of of obsessions but will become comfortable and reliable go-tos, and some I will drop before the season ends.  This season the shows I am setting my DVR to record include: Gotham (Fox), Scorpion (CBS), NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), The Flash (CW), The Jennie Garth Project (HGTV), The Mysteries of Laura (NBC), Red Band Society (Fox), Stalker (CBS), Bad Judge (NBC), Gracepoint (Fox) , How to Get Away with Murder (ABC), Madame Secretary (CBS), Forever (ABC), and Constantine (Fox).

Shows I’m Really Excited About or at Least Intrigued By
The two shows I’m most looking forward to are Gotham and The Flash.  I have long been fan of all things Batman and The Flash is a spinoff of Arrow, one of favorite shows since it debuted, so these are no-brainers for me.  Even if the first episodes are not great I am more than willing to give them multiple chances to get good.

I expect NCIS: New Orleans to be much like NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles, which is to say a comfortable and reliable cop procedural.  I started watching NCIS: Los Angeles because LL Cool J was on it. Then I started watching NCIS, and expect I’ll like the New Orleans version too, or not.  I used to watch CSI.  Then there was CSI: Miami and CSI: New York and it got to be too much of the same thing.  I can’t but help but wonder if the NCIS franchise is headed for the same downward spiral.  Then again I think some version of CSI is still kicking around so maybe not everyone sees it as a downward spiral.

The Jennie Garth Project I watched on a whim and really enjoyed it.  The premise is simple – Jennie Garth, with the help of a contractor and several others, is remodeling her recently purchased Los Angeles ranch house.  I discovered the Property Brothers this summer and have been watching remodeling shows ever since.  What I especially enjoy about this show is how much Garth gets involved and gets her hands dirty.  She’s no diva, barking orders and outrageous demands.  She has a budget and is more than willing to roll up her sleeves and participate in the hard work.

Although I hate the title, I’m really excited about to How to Get Away with Murder.  Viola Davis is going to be great in this, I just know it.  Gracepoint also looks promising, especially since David Tennant is in it.  It is bit worrying that it is basically a remake of Broadchurch which I loved and saw just a year or so ago, but rumor has it that the story has been changed for the new series and that except for the first episode, it won’t just be a repeat of Broadchurch with American accents.

Shows I’m Cautiously Interested In

A blog I occasionally follow likened The Red Band Society to the eighties move The Breakfast Club, except in a hospital.  There’s a mean pretty girl who’s a cheerleader, a shy smart/arty girl, a pothead, a rebellious boy, the new kid, well you get the idea.  After watching the first episode I’m interested but not yet captivated.  My favorite character is the nurse played by Octavia Spencer.  The kids are a little too on the nose.  I mean the mean pretty girl needs a new heart, literally.  Apparently subtlety and nuance won’t be making an appearance on this show.

Scorpion sounds interesting but also seems to be a new twist on what used to be known as the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold trope.  You know the story where there is someone whose occupation is kind of bad, perhaps even illegal, but when you really get to know the person he or she is really sweet, smart, and otherwise a really good person.  The modern take on this trope seems to people who are emotionally deficient in some way but also brilliant and at times, sweet in their own way.  Scorpion involves a group of really smart people who aren’t good with people.  In the past they have used their intelligence to do questionable and sometimes illegal things like gambling and hacking into government databases.  Now they’re working with the FBI.  In the opening episode, the lead character breaks up with his girlfriend who in the past has accused him being emotionally inept.  He tries to compensate for this by drawing up a list of the emotions she’s likely to feel in the time following their breakup.  Why he does this isn't clear - to let her know what's coming?  It could be interesting to see him and his cohort of high IQ / low EQ friends grow, or it could be annoying.  Time will tell.

Stalker has Maggie Q kicking ass. Sounds like a winner to me but it hasn’t gotten mixed review so I’m cautiously optimistic.  Bad Judge stars Kate Walsh as a judge whose behavior off the bench seems to be a paradigm of bad decision making and inappropriate behavior.  Looks funny but some in some trailers she appears to be semi-adopting a poor kid.  It made me think of Diff’rent Strokes, which I find funny for its time but also patronizing.

Madame Secretary and State of Affairs both look good but I’m not sure if I can deal with two shows about government and politics in D.C., where war and other horrible things are always on the brink.  Of course I watch Scandal which is also a D.C. show with politics and government, but really it’s all about the scheming, the adultery, and well, the scandals of D.C.  It’s fun.  Madame Secretary and State of Affairs look serious and heavy and interesting, but they do not look like fun.  

Constantine is a great comic.  I’m a little skeptical of how it will play out on a major network.  I imagine many changes were made to make it acceptable for display on network television. 

Shows I’m Worried About
The Mysteries of Laura has been called the worst new show by multiple people.  I’ve seen a couple episodes and while it may not be the best show, I didn’t hate it.  It has a lot of actors I like in it, so there’s that.

Forever didn’t last more than an episode for me.  The premise centers on a guy who has been around for a few hundred years and can’t die.  He doesn’t know why he can’t die.  His day job is involves helping the police solve crimes in his capacity as a medical examiner.  I could swear there was another show a couple years ago about a guy who couldn’t die who solved crimes, maybe he was a private investigator.  That show didn’t last long and I can’t imagine this one will either.

So those are the new shows.  Next: returning favorites.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

The Descendants  I recently went to Hawaii for the first time and since then have been eager to learn more about the history and culture of the islands.  I am especially interested in the monarchy that once ruled the islands, how the monarchy was ousted leading the way for Hawaii to become the 50th state (it is not a pretty story) and Hawaii during World War II.  As I was looking for histories, the fact that The Descendants is set and was filmed in Hawaii kept popping up.  I had seen the movie but thought it would be cool to read the book now that I had some sense of the geography and history of the land (admittedly a very small sense).

The Descendants is told from Matt King's point of view.  Matt is soon to be a widower.  A boating accident has left Matt's wife Joanie in a coma and left Matt to raise their two daughters.  In the voice over for the movie, George Clooney (who played Matt), remarks that he had always been the back-up parent.  Joanie was always the primary parent and with her on her way out, Matt is more than a little bewildered by his daughters, 10-year-old Scottie and teenager Alex. 

Joanie's coming death is not the only matter on Matt's mind.  The descendant of the long gone Hawaiian monarchy and missionaries, Matt is one of the state's largest landowner.  With his father's death a year earlier the trust through which much of the land was held is about to be dissolved, leaving Matt (the largest interest holder of the trust) and his cousins with some decisions to make about the future of their land.  If that wasn't enough to deal with, Matt learns that his comatose wife had been having an affair.

The Descendants is packed full of drama and yet is strangely sedate.  Perhaps this is because the story unfolds through Matt's eyes.  Matt never really gets angry, not even when he finds out about the affair.  It all seemed too calm given the circumstances.  His daughters certainly were angry, or at least upset.  Joanie's father was upset.  But through it all, Matt remained eerily calm.  I kept waiting for him to explode.  There were other characters who showed some emotion.  Scottie, desperate for attention and unsure of what was going on, kept trying to come up with the perfect story to tell her comatose mother.  Alex, a recovering addict, alternated between surly and caring older sister.  Both girls were figuring out who they want to be.  Added to the mix is Alex's friend Sid, who offers moral support to the family during Joanie's last days.  His character is one of the funniest in the story.

Overall, the novel felt a little flat, probably because of Matt's calmness.  The story sort of quietly simmered but never came to a boil, leaving an unsatisfying taste behind.  Matt was just so distant from his own life, which in turn made the story seem distant.  There needed to be something more, something to grab onto. I kind of liked it, but certainly didn't love The Descendants.  I am looking forward to reading more books about Hawaii.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

Barracuda: A Novel  Danny Kelly, aka Barracuda, aka the main protagonist of Christos Tsiolkas' novel Barracuda, is a guy I both understand and don't get at all.  Danny is an outsider at school.  As a kid from a working class family, one generation removed from immigration, he never quite fits in at the rich school where he got a scholarship for swimming.  Teen years spent in such an environment gives Danny a well-earned chip on his shoulder.  He uses his anger as fuel to succeed, to be the best, the strongest, and the fastest.  That was understandable. 

He has a dream to become an Olympic swimmer.  It is not a childish dream, the kind where a kid says I want to be a princess, and a fireman, and everything else under the sun.  No, Danny Kelly is good.  Really good.  But the moment things don't work out, Danny falls apart.  That's the part I didn't get.  Bad things happen.  You fall down, cry, then get up again and keep going.  Danny has a difficult time getting going again.

Literary fiction is one of those things that is hard to define, but one knows it when one sees it, to badly paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.  Barracuda is it.  There is something of a plot, but that's not the point.  Tsiolkas does good a job of getting underneath Danny's skin and showing what's hidden there.  Danny dreams of being something and somebody.  He's a boy trying to be a man; a boy deathly afraid of failure and not sure what to do when plans go awry.  He's feels misunderstood by his parents.  He is apart of a family but doesn't always understand what it means to be part of a family or a friend.  When Danny makes a life changing mistake, he is even more confused.  It makes it that much more difficult to let anyone else get too close.  In short, Barracuda is an intense character study.  It was difficult to read sometimes because it is so real.

It is hard to know to say about this novel, except to read it.  This is the second book I've read by Tsiolkas.  He is a writer that intrigues me.  He also has me intrigued about Australia.  His novel paints a critical, yet mesmerizing picture of life in modern day Australia.  I want to know more.  Who knows, maybe Australia will be next destination. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Three Musketeers (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) The Three Musketeers is one of those books that is so pervasive in culture that I felt like I knew the story even though hadn't read the actual story.  I'm pretty sure I read an abbreviated version of this as a kid and have seen various versions movie and cartoon versions of the story, but figured it was about time I read the source material.  BBC America's The Musketeers series further motivated me to move this up on the to-be-read list.

Reading classics can by risky, especially well known ones.  Stories that have been around a long time, that have been so built up in the imagination of pop culture, have a lot to live up to.  I need not have been worried about a book from the man who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo, one of my favorite books.  Seriously, Alexandre Dumas did not disappoint.  The Three Musketeers is the soapiest of soap operas.  There's romance and secret affairs, sword fighting and duels, and innocent damsels and scheming vixens both of whom are equally beguiling to knights and other men who come into their orbit.  It's all set against the political and royal intrigue of 17th century France and England.

Dumas takes historical events and then ups the drama to level 10.  His work is a textbook example of popular fiction in the best way possible.  It's fun and has made me interested in learning more about the history behind the story.  Highly recommended.