Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Veronica Mars mystery: stick a unicorn in it

This week's episode was the finale for the rape mystery and also for the year, and it definitely didn't disappoint. I'm pretty pleased with the outcome of the mystery, and I love that the prisoner experiment had something to do with it. There were a bunch of red herrings in the beginning of the episode, including Tim the TA, but then the reveal with Mercer was entirely too early for that to be it. (That was a bit of a bummer too though, I'd kind of started to like him.) So when Veronica was in Moe's room and he said that she'd be safe, I totally yelled at my TV, "it's the tea!!!" (Yes, I was watching it by myself in my apartment). Also love that Parker was brought back into the mix and saved the day. I was a little afraid that it was going to have to be Logan yet again, or worse, Piz.

I have to say, though, Veronica, will you never learn to take backup into obviously dangerous situations??

The ending was a bit of a shocker. I was just starting to kind of warm up to the guy, even though he really didn't seem to have a handle on the college or his personal life. Nice setup for the next mystery, as there are definitely tons of suspects and motives arounds.

Finally, we get to the Logan and Veronica breakup. It was inevitable, and really well done. Definitely fitting that Logan was the one to do it, and I liked that it was different from last time in that neither of them was angry at the other for it and their feelings are obviously still there. The later scene at the party confirmed to me that Logan/Veronica angst is just so much more compelling than them actually being together. I really do want them to be together in the long run but maybe they need to both grow up a little. Was really happy to see kickass Logan back at the end of the episode, though. We haven't seen that side of him recently and it's definitely a welcome return. Mercer, you've so got it coming to you.

In other news, the show got picked up for a 20-episode season, which is 2 short of the standard order. This is a bit weird, it's good news in that it hasn't been cancelled, but it doesn't exactly show confidence on the part of the CW. I kind of feel bad for Rob Thomas...he has to keep writing each season as if it could possibly be the last.

A Top Chef Thanksgiving

I've been looking forward to Anthony Bourdain for weeks now and I have to say that he didn't disappoint. He has this hilariously funny but biting way of describing bad food and the chefs this week gave him a reason to be out in full force.

This episode was pretty enjoyable, but it didn't really have much to do with the food. One of my complaints about Project Runway this season had been that they didn't show the designers having enough fun. But Top Chef has quite a lot of fun, maybe because cooking tends to be fast and furious, leaving a lot of time for other stuff. I wasn't too big a fan of letting the top contenders have a day off in an effort to whittle down the people that have no chance of winning, but I liked that they had to cook in their own apartments, because that's kind of the spirit of Thanksgiving. Elia's "chocolate meltdown" cracked me up, Mike brought the funny as usual, and of course, poor Tom Colicchio reacting to Anthony Bourdain's criticism of "what kind of crackhouse are you running here?" Gotta love it.

As for the challenges, the canned food quickfire was better than some of the other recent ones, but the fact that they only had 15 minutes just meant that people had to make salads, and I'm not a big fan of salads. The elimination challenge could have been great, but the chefs didn't exercise their creativity enough. Mike didn't bother with the cutting edge part but produced way more than everyone else and managed to save himself. Carlos took the easy way out and paid for it. Marcel was just being Marcel but I gotta give him props for doing something interesting at least. The roulade didn't look too appetizing to me but that cranberry gelee looked tasty. Then again I like cranberry sauce from a can, so yeah. Betty has started to annoy the heck out of me and her dessert was just silly. Why does she keep doing dessert? And Elia won merely because her soup actually tasted good. I think that's kind of saying something.

I don't know, the food this season hasn't been too mouth-watering in general. Are the challenges too restrictive? Are the chefs just not on the same level as last year's? Or is it still too early in the competition? I think even Gail Simmons said that she felt like there was better food earlier last season. Also, it's hard for me to say what everyone's strengths and styles really are. Come on, Top Chef, show us something yummy!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Top Chef goes low and high

Episode 4:
This episode was overshadowed by a supposed cheating incident (yes, just like on Project Runway!). This time though, no one was eliminated because there was no "hard proof." Kind of anti-climactic if you ask me.

The quickfire was stupid. Although who knew that you could get hard-boiled eggs from a vending machine? A bit sketchy if you ask me. I'm surprised carlos won. Maybe it tasted great but the presentation wasn't attractive and I thought it looked kind of gross.

The elimination challenge was actually pretty interesting and once again put the chefs out of their comfort zone. (I kind of laughed when Ilan said that he's never counted calories while he was cooking because the man puts bacon in everything. And his amuse bouche had a deep-fried piece of salami!) I did like the low-calorie idea but I kind of wish that they were serving adults instead of kids, because it would have opened up the options a bit more. I mean, Betty and Frank were really smart for choosing to make pizza, but in all honesty, it's still a pizza. With the grilled cheese sandwich winning last week and the pizza from this week, you'd never guess that this is a competition for professional chefs. I mean, I know that the Top Chef challenges are about testing the chefs' versatility and creativity and all that, but really, can we let the chefs get back to what they're good at?

Anyway, onto the cheating thing. While I find it suspicious that Betty was the only one who didn't know that they weren't allowed to modify their recipes, I thought that whole rule was stupid to begin with. Could they not have had like one nutritionist there on the second day available for consultations? It's sort of ridiculous to tell a chef that if they see their dish not working out that they can't made adjustments.

Oh, and was the camp really called Camp Glucose? That's both hilarious and horrible at the same time.

Episode 5:
I remember Michelle Bernstein from her outing on Iron Chef against Bobby Flay (which she won, if I remember correctly) and I loved her because she spoke really intelligently about her food and what she was trying to do with her dishes. So when she showed up at the beginning of the episode, I knew that it was going to be a great challenge.

I like watching Top Chef while eating dinner because the show makes me hungry (event though in a lot of cases my food probably doesn't taste nearly as good as the stuff on the show). That kind of backfired on me this week though, because the shots of all those "leftover" animal parts just made me feel queasy. I'm a very non-adventurous meat-eater, and like a lot of people the only weird things I eat are ones that are familiar from my childhood, like Korean oxtail oxtail. Oxtail soup is a tradtional Korean soup and I love it, even though if you think about it, it's not really any less weird than other kind of offal. But I guess back then I didn't really realize what it was made of because we called it by its Korean name and I didn't associate it with its English translation, which is literally "tail soup." Anyway, because of the nature of the challenge I was all that excited about any of the dishes because I probably wouldn't have eaten anything on that table.

The elimination challenge was much more interesting but I was a little disappointed. Despite billing the challenge as working with "leftovers," it was leftovers at a well-stocked high end restaurant which pretty much meant that they had free reign to do almost anything. This is what I've been waiting for, a chance for the chefs to really show what they could do and impress the judges. What happened instead? Nobody collaborated on the menu so nothing really made sense. Most of the courses were these duos and trios of tiny pieces of STUFF. If I was eating at that table I would have kept waiting for like a hunk of meat that never would have come. After 6 courses I probably still would have been hungry!

I'm glad Marisa's gone. Sorry to say but a pastry chef just doesn't really belong on the show, and she annoyed the heck out of me, especially because she seems to think that she's hot and I don't know what guys think but she's really not. I'm more sad about Josie because I thought she was going to stick around longer, but I was a bit turned off by her post-elimination proclamations of her immense talent. Their course was just a disaster though. I laughed when Gail pointed out that they hadn't really cooked anything.

So funny to see that Mike was on the winning team. Ilan and Mike might have seemed like an odd pairing, but I could see it. Ilan's the youngest chef there and he's pretty easygoing, which was perfect for Mike, who needed someone who would force him to focus without being nagging. Cliff and Sam were the dream team, and I wasn't surprised to see them do well. Betty and Mia went too high-concept, and Carlos and Elia? I have no idea what they were going for in general.

Still a lot of chefs left, but I think that Cliff, Sam, and Ilan are now at the top of the pack. Carlos, Elia, and Betty have potential. Frank, Marcel, and Mia haven't impressed me yet, and Mike, despite being on the winning team this week, really has to step it up if he wants to stay in it.

Next week is Anthony Bourdain!!!

The Office does the impossible

Am I crazy or am I not really a Jim/Pam shipper anymore? Last I was just constantly itching for something to happen and I still think their scenes from last season's finale were some of the best ever, but this season, somehow I just don't feel the urgency anymore. I was sort of indifferent to Karen at first, but now I think she's great. She's really normal and isn't being painted as the "other woman" because she has no idea of Jim and Pam's history. I mean, I'm really glad that Jim is dating someone who actually admits to liking him. Maybe Jim and Pam are meant to be together, and maybe they're not. If they are, then it'll happen eventually. But for now, I think it's kind of fitting that their situation is reversed and now Pam is the one who's going to have to be secretly pining for Jim.

Geez, the Office is so brilliant that they've gotten me to stop shipping! And not out of bitterness!

As for the rest of this "super-sized" episode, I have to say that I'm starting to agree with Michael Ausiello and Dwight is just getting to be too much. I don't know, for some reason I can buy Michael as genuinely just being crazy, but Dwight is just way over the top. And you know, I think Angela's getting to be in that same category. I used to think her uptight-ness was amusing but now she's just plain mean.

I thought Andy was great though. He's Dwight-ish, but we know his reasons behind it: he's a huge suck-up. Oh, and I loved that thing with the other black guy trying to buddy up with Stanley and Stanley rolling his eyes. And Kelly saying that celebrity news was her news. And Kevin getting too excited over the paper shredder and shredding a credit card. And Pam tricking Dwight into running around the building.

Welcome (back) to the OC, bitch!

Everyone needs to start watching this show again now because it is AWESOME!

Things that were awesome last night:
- Summer going through the five stages of grief (anger twice because she has rage issues)
- Ryan's seriously intense beach workout
- Sandy trying to ask his co-worker on a guy date
- Kaitlin and Julie making a vow to stay away from trouble and men, respectively, failing miserably and seeing eachother at a club as a result (man, was Julie really going all out on that dance floor)
- Summer trying to reconcile her two selves and Seth actually being supportive
- Che being wacky and not introducing any annoying triangle-ness

And finally, RYAN AND TAYLOR!

This is possibly the most random couple since like, LC and Jason, but it is just AWESOME. It is pretty soon after Marissa for Ryan to get another girl, but I think that's kind of what's so great about it: it's completely unexpected. Man do I love Ryan for deciding to help Taylor and deciding the easiest way would be to just go up to her and kiss her in front of the lawyer. And that nose tap after? Hilarious! We all know how persistent Taylor can be so I'm totally looking forward to her being all obsessed with Ryan and him not really knowing what to make of it.

Man it's such a shame that no one's watching anymore and the ratings suck. It is mostly the show's fault for being so crappy the past two seasons but I'm glad they've decided to pick it up and go out on a high. Seriously, this season has been so awesome that if it stays like this I am definitely going to buy it on DVD.

Gilmore Girls - the stupid proprosal episode

I wasn't even going to waste space on this horrible episode, but at least there was some Lane and Zack in it. Luke was so adorable being protective of Lane, and Mrs. Kim was awesome as usual. Mrs. Kim moving in with them might seem a bit horrifying to a lot of people, but my grandmother lived with my family all throughout my childhood so it doesn't really seem weird to me at all. Personally I think Lane and Zack are going to need all the help they can get. Again, I hate this storyline, but they continue to handle it well. Oh and how funny was the scene with Brian and the Koreans?

The rest of the episode was just dreck. Lorelai, who are you and what are you doing? She had that same look at the end of the episode that she did at the end of the finale last season when she woke up in bed with Christopher. If you know that this isn't right, then why are you contining to go along with it? I have to say, I think I feel a little bad for Christopher. I think a breakup is inevitable (or maybe that's just the Luke/Lorelai shipper in me in denial), and poor Chris, who's really into this relationship and making it work finally, is going to get shafted yet again.

And geez, can someone fire the CW's promo people? Do you not understand that most people really don't care about Lorelai and Christopher and billing this as a very special "The Proposal" episode makes people just want to hurl? Even Lorelai/Christopher fans have to admit that they aren't exactly the fairy-tale couple that you'd expect this kind of promotion for. UGH.

Veronica Mars - what happened to you?

I was trying to multi-task and do some homework while watching this episode, which is never a good idea during Veronica Mars, so I will probably re-watch it again this weekend, but what I do want to say is that Veronica kind of sucks. I know there have been people saying it for a long time, how she's basically a smart-ass, judgmental bitch, but for almost as long I kept defending her as just being regular smart and snarky. I'll admit that she'd been getting on my nerves a bit more this season, but this week was the first time I was really like, man, she's just MEAN. And the problem is that I don't feel like it's all that warranted. At Neptune High she was an outcast and her attitude was kind of a defense mechanism. This season, she's definitely making enemies at Hearst, but I feel like there isn't really as much reason for her to have that chip on her shoulder. I'm not saying she should go back to being the vanilla Veronica we saw in the Lily-era flashbacks, but does she have to be so unpleasant?

This makes me pretty sad because I was a huge fan of her during first
season. I mean, check out this post I wrote back then. I'm not going to say her recent behavior is out of character, but it's just gotten way too extreme and the writers need to lighten her up. I'm far from Rory levels of hatred, so hopefully something will change soon.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The critics take on Gilmore Girls

A couple of recent articles blasting this season of Gilmore Girls:

While I'm kind of glad that some critics out there are finally picking up on how horrible the show is lately, what I don't get is why they're blaming it all on the new executive producer, David Rosenthal, and not acknowledging that the show had a problem long before the Palladinos left. Rosenthal had a lot of crap on his plate to deal with. Who was the one who introduced Luke's long-lost daughter? Who was the one who made Luke and Lorelai pretty much sabotage their own relationship? Who was the one that had Lorelai sleep with Christopher the second after she broke up with Luke? Not Rosenthal. And yeah, I agree that having Lorelai and Christopher embark on a full-blown relationship doesn't really help matters, but let's get it straight here. The Palladinos are as much to blame as Rosenthal, especially since they caused this whole problem by leaving the show in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I agree that Amy Sherman Palladino created a great show with two really great lead characters. Obviously I loved the show in the earlier seasons for a reason. But anyone's who's saying that the show was great last season and now suddenly it's not is really just looking for someone to blame and Dave Rosenthal is the easiest choice. What he's really guilty of is taking a crappy show and making it crappier.

Finally, I'd just like to say, I don't really like Virginia Heffernan's writing (second article I listed). I mean, I know that she's very successful and that she must have got where she is based on talent, but I feel like she takes the big vocabulary words and symbolism a little too far. I find her articles to be almost unreadable. Her language is kind of pretentious and convoluted, and it's difficult to figure out what she's really trying to say. I don't know, maybe she's just too smart for me or something. But while I appreciate that there are people out there treating TV in an intellectual manner and not just as trash, I don't know, when you're writing about pop culture, don't you think you should be well, a little more accessible?

Friday, November 03, 2006

A book update

Two books I've read recently:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - This won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction last year, and it was really different from other books I've read. It's in the form of very long letter written by a Kansas pastor, Reverend John Ames, to his young son. Ames is aging and knows that he and his son will not really have a chance to get to know eachother, and this letter is a sort of autobiography and history for the boy. He is writing the letter in the 1950s and he recaps stories of his grandfather and father, both ministers before him, as well as his godson and namesake John Ames Boughton. It's a sort of rambly novel, without a whole lot of plot, but it's written beautifully and powerfully. It's incredible how well the voice that Robinson gives Ames evokes his generation, his occupation, and his life. There are lot of musings about religion and Christianity, and as a Christian, parts of it really spoke to me. I highly recommend this book. It's not a page-turner, it's much more of a book to linger over, and it left me feeling really warm and satisfied.

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill - I had an almost exactly opposite reaction to this book. It left me feeling somewhat unsettled. It follows the life of Allison, who runs away from home as a teenager and finds herself in Paris as a model, then in New York, where she meets the title character, Veronica, who dies of AIDS. It's hard to describe this book. Allison looks back on her life very frankly, even though it's filled with quite a lot of dark experiences. Somewhere in there I think the book was trying to say something about beauty and love and stuff like that, but I had trouble grasping it, and I found the book to just be depressing in general and I just couldn't relate to it. Perhaps I'm just not at the right stage of my life to really appreciate it or something.

What's hot in alt rock

One of the radio stations on my rotation is Y Rock on XPN. It's the more alternative of the stations I listen to (the rest of are more indie-obscure). Anyway, every week they do a list of the Top 11 songs of the week and it's a pretty good indicator of what's popular in the alt rock world. Here is this week's list and my thoughts.

1. Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars. Soooo overplayed. Bah. It's not a bad song but it kind of annoys the heck out of me.
2. Death Cab For Cutie - I Will Follow You Into The Dark. Not my favorite song on the album, but it's definitely a good one.
3. Silversun Pickups - Lazy Eye. I'd heard of this band a couple of months ago and I kept meaning to check them out but never really got around to it. I love this song though, so I'm definitely going to listen to some of their other stuff.
4. Brand New - Sowing Season (Yeah) The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me. Hm, I don't remember this song. I kind of like Brand New though.
5. Incubus - Anna-Molly. I find the title of this song to be really annoying because it's really anamoly in the song. Oh, well. I think I'm kind of over Incubus in general.
6. The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy! I like this band. They're a little weird, but I guess I like my bands a little weird I guess.
7. My Chemical Romance - Welcome To The Black Parade. Meh. I liked My Chemical Romance's I'm Not Okay and Helena, but after that I've been underwhelmed.
8. The Decemberists - O' Valencia. It took me awhile to get into the Decemberists but they're really good. I like this one.
9. Muse - Starlight. Ummm no clue what this song is.
10. Beck - Nausea. I like Beck's new album. It's probably the closest thing to hip-hop that's I'll ever like.
11. The Dears - Ticket To Immortality. They sound a lot like Interpol, but that's not a bad thing. I listened to their whole album recently and I like it a lot.

Top Chef goes to TGI Friday's

This week's episode put a lot of the chefs out of their element: cooking for the general public. I applaud this effort, because it's true, a large percentage of Americans don't eat at fine dining restuarants, and sometimes it's just because it's not really an option. I live in the suburbs, where it seems like nearly every restaurant is a chain, even the higher end steakhouses. If you look at where the Top Chef contestants are from, nearly all of them are from New York, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles, because that's where fine dining is concentrated. And then there's the monetary side. I grew up in New York and go back to visit often, but I just don't have the money to eat at the more expensive places. Luckily there are tons of great cheap eats in New York too. But to be honest, I like eating at generic chains too. TGI Friday's, Applebees, Olive Garden, Red Lobster...there's something comforting about how you pretty much get what you expect at those places.

I didn't like the ice cream Quickfire very much. It wasn't very much about creating something new and different, because they were going to be feeding it to kids! Of course Cliff won, his ice cream was the most normal and kid-friendly, with cookies and marshmallows. Just because they put avocados on the table doesn't mean you have to use them.

The elimination challenge was interesting. Of course I can't speak to taste, but if all the chefs' dishes were on a menu, I think the only ones I would even consider would be Cliff's fish sticks, Elia's fish tacos, Josie's BBQ Skewers, and Carlos' chicken fried shrimp. I'm sure Betty's tasted great, but I would never order grilled cheese at a restaurant. I can make that at home. Overall, I think I was kind of dsappointed. A lot of the chefs were obviously out of their element and even though they had been instructed to recreate a childhood favorite, I feel like they kind of went a little too simple.

One last thing: what is up with the recipes on the Top Chef website? The recipe for Ilan's corn and bacon dish indicates that you basically fry up some bacon and cook some frozen corn in the fat drippings and mix it up. That definitely can't be right. I'm pretty sure he started with fresh corn on the cob, and one of the bonus videos also shows Ilan making some compound butter that he told Tom Colicchio that he was going to freeze and shave over the dish, which I imagine enhanced the dish quite a bit. I don't know how Bravo gets the recipes or if they do any editing, but it's a little disappointing that they're not all that complete.

Veronica Mars - A note to Wallace

Can I just say how excited I am that Wallace is studying engineering? Okay, it maybe doesn't make a lot of sense since he didn't seem too interested in his physics class in high school, but it's kind of refreshing to see college kids on TV taking classes other than English and psychology and chemistry. And it was nice to see that Wallace is actually studying, unlike Veronica who seems to have massive amounts of time to do all her sleuthing and working for her dad. Anyway, that said, I'm really disappointed that he resorted to cheating. I did know a lot of kids that breezed through high school and then faced a bit of a wake-up call in college, especially if they were taking engineering classes, so that part was realistic, but dude, walking out of the test that early? I guess we don't know if he actually cheated or just gave up or something else, but the indication is that something not so good is going to result. Wallace, if you really want to be an engineer, go make some friends in your classes and work together! Go to office hours! You don't have to cheat!