Friday, October 29, 2010

Sherlock: The Game is On

Even though I'm a big fan of mysteries and of all things British, for some reason I've never gotten into Sherlock Holmes. I haven't read any of the stories, I didn't watch last year's movie (because I can't stand Robert Downey, Jr.), and honestly my favorite adaptation so far had been the Wishbone episode of The Hound of the Baskervilles. But after watching the first installment of Sherlock on Masterpiece Mystery this week, I think I finally get it! This is a modern-day adaptation and obviously I can't really comment on how faithful or accurate it is to the original source material, but it was just FUN (especially after three weeks of the very good but very depressing Wallander with a very mopey Kenneth Branagh). I definitely need to check out Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories.

Our new 21st century Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch (best name ever) and Dr. Watson is played by Martin Freeman (the future Bilbo Baggins) and they're really great together. This week's episode, "A Study in Pink," showed how they initially met. Watson is just back from a tour in Afghanistan, and though his therapist thinks he has post-traumatic stress syndrome and encourages him to write in a blog, it turns out that he actually misses the action of war. In a chance meeting with an old friend in a park, he mentions he's looking for a flatmate and gets introduced to Holmes, an unofficial police consultant who describes himself as a "high-functioning sociopath." Holmes has just rented the infamous 221B Baker Street and without really knowing what's happening, Watson quickly finds himself as both Holmes' flatmate and sidekick. (The two of them get hilariously mistaken for a couple on a few occasions. Holmes' sexuality seems to be ambiguous, while Watson is definitely straight and keeps unsuccessfully trying to pick up women.)

So Sherlock Holmes is pretty...weird. His hallmark is deductive reasoning, which he uses on everyone in every situation, even when not investigating a crime, and it tends to piss people off. Detective Inspector Lestrade (played by Rupert Graves, who is everywhere these days) calls on Holmes because he knows what he's capable of and has some measure of respect for him, but the rest of the police force is openly hostile. But as the audience we see him more through the eyes of Watson and can't help but like him. He's brusque and socially awkward (characters like Brennan on Bones clearly owe some debt to him) but his eccentricity is amusing and almost endearing.

The series is from two guys from Doctor Who and I can see a lot of similarities, which isn't a bad thing. Sherlock and the Doctor are both brilliant and quirky, and Dr. Watson, like a companion, is our window into their worlds. The writing is sharp and London manages to look contemporary but have that moody period feel. Another touch I liked was in scenes where Holmes is doing his observation thing, little bits of text pop up on the screen to show what he's thinking.

There are two more installments for this first "season," and I believe a second season of 3 "episodes" has already been ordered. (Each episode is 90-minutes without commercials, so is basically a movie.) Highly recommended!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Talk: Living Vicariously...

M: What TV show/book/movie do you love because you enjoy living vicariously through the lives of the characters? What TV show/book/movie do you love because it reminds you so much of who you are/your life?

Jennifer: Tough question! Madeleine L'Engle's characters Vicky Austin and Polly O'Keefe are the ones I loved living vicariously through. I'm not very much like either of them, but both got to do such interesting things. Vicky took a cross country road trip with her big family, lived in a farm town and then in Manhattan, swam and communicated with dolphins, and went to Antarctica. And even though she was kind of a "plain Jane" type, she was always having guys fall for her! As for Polly, she lived on remote islands and went to Venezuela and Greece and Cyprus. I guess I mostly have travel envy! As for the second question, Office Space? I remember watching it for the first time during college with two fellow engineer friends and while we laughed through the whole thing, at the end we were all kind of quiet, thinking "Um, this is going to be our lives!?"

Mira: Living vicariously through... the ABC Family shows: Make It or Break It (Like most other little girls I grew up adoring gymnastics and imagining how I wanted to grow up to be an Olympian. Too late now, darn!) and Greek (It almost makes me feel like I really missed out of a very unique undergraduate experience.)... Real life reminiscent, I'd pick Gilmore Girls just because similar to Rory and Loralie, a lot of my childhood was just my mom and me. And though she wasn't super young like Loralie when she had me, I'm definitely more the reserved and studious type like Rory and she's the crazy and carefree but dependable when needed like Loralie.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gossip Girl: Reasons to still watch

Mira and I are always kind of groaning over how bad Gossip Girl can be sometimes. It seems like she's always contemplating dropping the show but then getting sucked back in, whereas I've kind of just given in and am probably just in it for the long haul. Because, I mean, it's really not all that bad. Some things will always suck (like Vanessa) but there are still some things that the show does well. Here's my list:

Blair and Serena. They were my pick for favorite best friends and this season they're living together, going to Columbia together, and have seem to put their jealousy issues and catfighting aside for the moment. They're both really always better when supported by the other.

No Jenny! Okay, this actually ends tonight. But the first five episodes of the season were so blissfully Jenny-free.

Katie Cassidy. I dropped the new Melrose Place reboot after just the first episode, but Katie Cassidy was one of the only things I liked about it. She fits in perfectly here as Juliet, and of course, Nate is dumb enough to fall for her despite her shady behavior. I still have no idea what's going on with her vendetta against Serena but I'm enjoying the ride and hopefully the payoff won't be lame.

Blair and Chuck. I didn't really buy Chuck's new identity or his thing with Eva (I kept wanting to call her Fleur because she was in Harry Potter) because Blair and Chuck are just always better in storylines together, even if they're feuding and not a couple. I don't know how long this latest "war" will last, or how much more back-and-forth the audience will be able to handle, but as long as we keep getting scenes like that gorgeous one in the train station in the season premiere, I'll be happy.

Chuck and Lily. For some reason I find it kind of touching that Chuck seems to still trust Lily, and that Lily is still interested in being a parent to Chuck despite everything. Lily is so not the paragon of motherhood but I'm glad they remember that this relationship exists. Also, I hope that we've left any and all Lily and Rufus drama behind us, but maybe that's wishful thinking.

Dan staying in Brooklyn, for the most part. Surprisingly the whole thing with Dan being the father of Georgina's baby didn't come off as ridiculous as it sounded like it was going to. Vanessa's annoying as usual, but they kind of deserve each other and I prefer when they stick to their own storylines. Although, I do love it when Dan helps Blair with her scheming...

Serena getting called out. She does always find herself in the most ridiculous situations and it was kind of hilarious when the dean warns her about the drama that always surrounds her. Also hilarious how she takes cabs to class and can never be on time.

If you're still watching, what things are keeping you interested?

Top Chef: Just Desserts

I haven't written about Top Chef in a pretty long time, even though I've continued to watch and, for the most part, enjoy the show. I think the reason is that, after 7 seasons, there isn't anything really new to talk about. Some seasons have immense talent, some are duds, some challenges are really cool, others are totally lame, but the overall effect is kind of just more of the same. I was thrilled to see that it finally won the Emmy for reality competition show this year but it definitely felt kind of…late.

But Top Chef has spawned a couple of spinoffs, Top Chef Masters and Top Chef: Just Desserts. Masters has been pretty fun because the caliber of cooking is obviously elevated but also a little less fun because these chefs, while still competitive, don't see the show as make-it-or-break-it, and are so respectful of each other that there's kind of no drama.

Just Desserts though? Drama drama drama!

I hate to stereotype, but it seems that there are more women and gay men who are pastry chefs. This gives the show kind of almost a Project Runway feel, as someone pointed out. And more drama! Although, the biggest drama queen in the first half of the season was Seth, who's actually straight. His antics were all over the place…from crying because he couldn't finish a Quickfire dish that was "for his mom," to freaking out over an ingredient he couldn't find and then lashing out at the other cheftestants for cheering him on to ignoring challenge rules when he didn't like them. And then…he has to leave the show in episode 4 because of a panic attack! I don't even remember if he had good food or not because of all the craziness!

As for the actual basics of the show, they're pretty solid. I love the premise of the show because dessert has always been sort of the ugly stepchild on the normal Top Chef. No one wants to do it because they're not pastry chefs and it's a risk. But here, everyone's a pastry chef, and maybe more than other courses, dessert is something that can definitely be eaten with the eyes. Also, I personally am more of a baker than a cook, so I was excited at the prospect of being able to make more recipes from the show. I've already tried Eric's Peanut Butter Krispy Bars (a big hit at the picnic I brought them to) and have bookmarked a few others as well. It's interesting also to see the contrast between the trained pastry chefs who know how to do plated desserts where presentation is almost as important as taste, and someone like Eric, who's strictly a baker and had never plated in his life. Dessert is definitely much more than just cakes and chocolate!

Gail Simmons, who I've always liked, is the host, and she's pretty warm and natural. Johnny Iuzzini is the head judge/mentor and I was surprised to like him here. He's been a judge on the regular Top Chef and I remember thinking he came off as really arrogant. But I think that might have been because in the past he was judging regular chefs attempting to do desserts. Here, these are people who ostensibly know what they're doing. The other rotating judges are familiar face Hubert Keller, and Dannielle Kyrillos, of DailyCandy, who's generally bubbly and pleasant.

I'm not sure if I have a favorite yet...Morgan is one of the frontrunners but he's rather douchey and Heather H. has maybe the best technique but she's bitter and catty (she and Zac and Yigit have named themselves Team Diva, which makes me want to hate them too). I wouldn't begrudge either the win though. I think it's still a pretty level playing field and am looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

The next season of Top Chef is going to be an All-Stars edition though, and I have to say they did an excellent job with the cast, and I think it's coming at the right time after a pretty lackluster season in DC. Can't wait for that!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Talk: Halloween!

J: Halloween is coming up soon. What is your favorite Halloween-themed episode of a TV show?

Jennifer: My favorite is still the Halloween episode from season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where everyone becomes their costumes: Buffy a damsel in distress, Xander a solider, and Willow a slutty ghost. Although last year's Community episode was kind of an instant classic, with Britta's super cute squirrel costume, Abed's Christian-Bale-Batman, Pierce's psychedelic hallucination of Annie hilarious!

Mira: My favorite Buffy Halloween moment was season 4, "Fear, Itself" when Anya dressed up as a bunny. (I just did a bunch of searching to pinpoint that episode and verify that it was a Halloween episode. LOL.) Okay, apparently today I cannot remember individual episodes of any show, let alone the Halloween episodes... So I'll mention my favorite series of Scooby Doo episodes from when I was in... uh, second grade?: The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby Doo! That's Halloween-y enough, right? I dunno why but each of these episodes had me scared and I remember really enjoying the series. On a non-tv show Halloween, I particularly love the Halloween scenes in the movie Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan's character learns that American Halloween's aren't about being as scary as you can be, but for girls to be as slutty as possible and get away with it. :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thursday Talk: Canceled Already?

M: With a few shows already hitting the chopping blocks, what's a show that you're sad to see going (or on its way out) this season? (Realize that we had a similar question earlier this year about shows that ended too early...) What show are you surprised to see going so strong?

Jennifer: I haven't picked up too many new shows this season, but I was really disappointed (but not surprised) to see Lone Star get cancelled after only two episodes. It's really a shame because the critics really loved it and I definitely wanted to see where it was going. As for shows that I'm surprised are doing well...I guess Hawaii Five-O? But then again I don't watch procedurals or cop shows...

Mira: I'm a bit disappointed to see that Outlaw got canceled already. I kinda liked the premise of a mavericky former Supreme Court Justice, played by Jimmy Smits, taking cases that seem random but actually all hold meaning for him. Jesse Bradford was interesting as the recent Ivy League grad who thought he was getting a job with the Supreme Court Justice but ended up getting something far below his standards; the blond chick who is a lawyer afraid of public speaking and in love with her boss; the chick from Popular, Carly Pope?, as a pretend badass private eye (not quite Kalinda from The Good Wife but good in her own way)... I liked it! I am surprised by how much I like Hawaii Five-O, personally, so given that, I'm not surprised it's doing well. I'm more surprised that The Whole Truth hasn't been canceled yet but perhaps that's just a matter of days. The premise of No Ordinary Family is great but it definitely has its really annoying moments so I'm wondering if it will last, too...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Thursday Talk: Fake bands!

J: TV and movie characters (especially teens) seem to like to form bands. What are some of your favorite fictional musical groups?

Jennifer: My first TV obsession was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I loved Dingoes Ate My Baby, which was Oz's band (music provided by the real band Four Star Mary...I actually have some of their CDs). Recently I got really into Scott Pilgrim (both the graphics novels and the movie) and Sex Bob-omb (music provided by Beck for the movie soundtrack). Oh, and I love the "band" formed in Once for the recording session and also Where's Fluffy? from Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, even though we never actually see or hear them...

Mira: Aww, Oz! I never knew that was the name of the band. I really like That Thing You Do! and The Wonders. It's just one of those movies that for whatever reason I've watched over and over again and enjoy each time. And they're "one hit wonder" band had a fantastically catchy one hit wonder. :) Another favorite fictional music group.... well I loved TeenNBC so... California Dreams. :)

By the way... HAPPY BIRTHDAY JEN!!!!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fall TV: No Ordinary Family

I think this definitely has potential. It has a little bit of The Incredibles, a little bit of Heroes, a little bit of Sky High. I'm not yet sure where it's going, but I'm interested enough to find out.

Our family is the Powells: Michael Chiklis as the dad, Jim; Julie Benz as the mom, Stephanie; and Kay Panabaker and Jimmy Bennett as teenaged kids Daphne and JJ. On a business trip turned family vacation to Brazil, the Powells crash in a small plane into some weird phosphorescent water and discover that they've gained superpowers! Jim, a police artist who considers himself to be kind of a failure, has super strength. Stephanie, a rising scientist who struggles to balance her work and home lives, has super speed. Daphne, dealing your normal teen girl stuff, can now read minds. And JJ, who has trouble in school and thinks he's dumb, is now super smart (though his parents don't know yet).

The parents each have their sidekicks: Jim's is George, an assistant DA who even builds him a high tech lair, and Stephanie's is Katie, her lab assistant played by the adorable Autumn Reeser (love her!). George and Katie are both more enthusiastic about the powers than are the Powells themselves and provide some comic relief. Not that the show is super of the things I hated about Heroes was that almost everyone found their powers to be a burden. Remember those mournful videos Claire was making of herself falling off towers and stuff? Here at least we have Stephanie happily speeding through chores and eating a whole plate of muffins (she also has super metabolism) and JJ getting excited reading advanced math books. They're all still figuring out what's going on and having some fun with it.

After two episodes, I think the show is heading towards a Heroes-like mythology, which maybe worries me a little. There's already a bad guy with powers too that has some connection to Stephanie's boss, and Stephanie wants to find out where the powers came from and how to "cure" them (Mohinder Suresh, anyone?). But Jim seems to actually want to, like, catch bank robbers and turn his power into sort of a career, and I'm not sure where they're going to go with the kids. So I'm cautiously optimistic...