"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Friday, October 31, 2008

My Name Is Earl: The Magic Hour & Monkey Take a Bath

The last time I saw Earl, his marriage had ended and he’d vowed to focus on his list, which was a good move for the show. This season opened with Joy behaving in typical fashion: making her kids wear Make-a-Wish t-shirts so she doesn’t have to wait in line. This takes Earl back to the time he got drunk and stole a pony that was, unfortunately, part of little Buddy’s wish. So Earl and Randy go to Buddy’s house, and discover that Buddy is very much alive. Buddy, played by Seth Green, has a new dream now: to make a movie about a giant squid that tries to destroy the world and kill the president. (It’s called To The Max, and I am not ashamed to admit I really want to see it.)

Buddy and Earl go around town to cast the movie. Randy is cast as the President, Joy is Max’s wife, and Catalina is a “ruthless terrorist.” Randy actually does a great job, and then Ethan Suplee gives us an excellent Buffalo Bill impression that was my favorite part of the show. Buddy makes Joy kiss him in the “magic hour” scene, and she reveals that she “only does tongue if it’s Brad Pitt or Eric Roberts,” and I learned that once again, Joy has hit a new low. After the movie’s climax, a shot of Max karate-chopping a giant squid, falls apart, everyone quits the movie. Earl throws a premiere party anyway, but Buddy, it turns out, has died of his illness. But he did get to follow his dreams, which leads others to do the same. Darnell paints himself and Joy into American Gothic, Joy steals clothes, Randy makes a door sign, and Earl takes up the xylophone again. All seems to be right in Camden County.

In the premiere’s second half, Earl and Randy have to buy back all their childhood belongings from their parents at a yard sale, including a hand puppet that makes Randy tell the truth. Joy finds an “IQ machine” and tries to con Earl’s dad into selling it to her. At the yard sale, the puppet makes Earl decide to cross #87 off his list: scared away his parents’ friends.

Earl and Randy had made Clark Clark cry repeatedly, and thought that this had made him move away. So they go to the Clark’s new house and Mr. Clark reveals that he’d moved because of an affair with Earl’s mom that had happened “because the A&P had a sale on wine coolers.” Earl and Randy make their mother tell their dad, who leaves screaming that his “wife is a whore!” Dad comes to stay with Earl, and they decide to go beat up Mr. Clark.

Despite Earl singing “Eye of the Tiger,” the plan fails, and they are beaten savagely by Mrs. Clark. Earl’s father then decides to get revenge he has to get laid, which makes Earl vomit. Back at the Crab Shack, Randy doesn’t fare much better when his mother tells him how unsatisfactory her sex life was, and Randy says my favorite line: “yeah, that guy sure is bad at touching moms.” A disgusted Randy tells Joy what his mother did, and Joy goes to fight her, but loses when Mrs. Hickey kicks her in the face.

Earl’s father has no luck picking up women at the pharmacy or the bank, but Patty from the diner agrees to sleep with him. Not because she likes him, but because she’s a “daytime hooker and a nighttime waitress.” Dejected, Earl’s dad cries. Earl reveals that “there are two things I never thought I’d see with my own eyes: a real bear carrying a picnic basket and my dad crying.” This brings back the pain of Joy’s infidelity, and the two men spend the night crying and talking. This changes things, and Earl’s father goes back home. Earl forgives Joy for cheating, and she returns the postman’s glass eye.

I thought it was a great premiere, and I’m glad to see the show back on form.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bones: The Perfect Pieces in the Purple Pond

Zack is gone, leaving a huge hole in the team. The premier was set in London with Booth and Bones cracking jokes and flirting with their British counterparts. While in America, Angela’s husband showed up to win back her hand but in the end granted her the divorce, slept with Cam, and broke her and Hodgins up. Each episode has featured a Zack replacement who points out how strange their work relationships are and promptly quits.

A dismembered body is found in twelve parts, with the head missing. The victim is Jared Addison an Obsessive Compulsive Science fiction writer, who lived with his mother. He was dating a women 28 years his senior, he recently overcame his disorder, had confrontations with his publisher, his coffee man, and his girlfriends son. As they investigate, Booth is having back pains and Bones gets to drive the car.

Meanwhile the latest Zack replacement worries that Bones wants him to be her boy toy and Hodgins is butting head with Cam over moving into Zack’s working space. We see him visit his best bud in the hospital and giving him the file in case he can find something they overlooked.

At the very end after Zack strolls out of the Mental Institution and pinpoints the mother as the murderer, he admits to Sweets that he did not stab anyone. I feel so much better about the whole thing. He refused to allow Sweets to tell his friends, because he feels that given the order he would have killed him. Kudos to the writers for revealing that Zack would never kill anyone but it was possible he could be persuaded to a certain way of thinking.

Zack!!! I was pissed when he was revealed to be Gormogon’s apprentice, but this episode soothed my aching heart. I loved how he switched the barcode strip on Sweets ID with the one on his library card. Absolutely awesome. How sad was it to see Hodgins visiting his best friend in a mental institution?

The scene with Zack, Cam, Angela, and Hodgins in the restaurant. It was bittersweet as they will probably never get to hang out like that again. It’s too bad Bones wasn’t there to complete the team.

Sweets on the Case. In this episode he actually had something to do, instead of tagging along and making remarks about Booth and Bones relationship. When he analyzed the victims room I burst into laughter, I don’t know what it is about that character but he just cracks me up.

I really didn’t like the Bones/Booth subplot. The whole ‘you’re always defending me’ and ‘I’m a man, its what I do.” just fell flat. And I am really tired of Sweets sticking his puny little head into their conversations to say.. “This is an interesting development….”

I was so happy to see Zack but please. Zack escaped from the hospital and just walked into the Jeffersonian? I mean c’mon, he helped them out, went to dinner, and then strolled back into the Institution..... A little too easy.

Sweets: "What if he overpowers me?"
Bones: "Zack? I think you can take him."
Zack: "I’m stronger than I look."

Zack to Sweets: “Hodgins assured me I would not do well in prison."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Wonderful Playlist of "What a Wonderful World"

The news of Forest Whitaker's Louis Armstrong biopic immediately made me think of the last time I heard the song that will be the movie's title: "What a Wonderful World." My ears pricked up when I heard the song as covered by Joey Ramone in the recent Simon Pegg comedy How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. I wasn't thrilled with the movie as a whole, but I like a lot of the music in it — especially this track.

Nobody can do "What a Wonderful World" quite like Louie did, but that hasn't stopped a bajillion musicians from trying. Just doing a quick search on imeem brings up many varied covers, from Ghoul's death metal version (which doesn't sound like a wonderful world at all), to Eddy Arnold's lovely version that is currently being used in a teaser trailer for Oliver Stone's movie, W.

I sifted through the extensive list and picked out my favorite versions of the song and still, no matter how many times I hear it (which is many now), it brings a dippy smile to my face. It's so warm and life-affirming, no wonder everyone wants to cover it. Want to hear "What a Wonderful World" this is, with covers ranging from rock, jazz, bossa nova and more? To check out the playlist, click below.

What a Wonderful World Covers

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fringe: The Ghost Network

"I'm making my own medication in the lab." -- Walter Bishop

I've passed through the third episode of Fringe, and I'm still grooving on the show. What I love best about it isn't the X-Files-type storylines, it's pretty much all been done before. But I love the characters, especially the talented John Noble.

I'm betting Noble will find a way with his scattered, brilliant character of Walter Bishop. He can knock your socks off with just one look or movement, and he has plenty to work with in the character of Walter -- whether he's making his own medication in the lab or trying to navigate a cell phone. He remembers where all his crap from 17 years ago is stashed, but can't remember that they put the family dog down two decades ago.

Not exactly the kind of guy you want doing brain surgery on you, but that's just what tonight's subject has to endure. Well, that is, after Walter sends Olivia and Peter on a mission to find a device he made in 1983. It's buried in the wall of their old house in Cambridge, so of course, the pair break in there and retrieve the device, which looks like something out of a Mystery Science Theater movie.

It's all centered around some research that Walter did years ago on the "Ghost Network," a sort of inter-cranial way to listen in on other peoples' conversations that puts the Patriot Act to shame.

Peter and Olivia are growing on me, too. Olivia seems like she could be your next-door neighbor. Well, an intense, Type-A neighbor who gets up and jogs at 5 a.m. I appreciate the interactions between the characters, as well as Peter and Walter's surprising talent as pianists. Peter's version of "Someone to Watch Over Me," as agent Broyles meets with Nina Sharp, was spot on.

And what's up with that meeting anyway? Either Homeland Security is working with Massive Dynamic, or perhaps Broyles is actually a double agent of sorts.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Eureka: From Fear to Eternity

Another episode, another pregnancy. In a move that shocks probably nobody, Allison Blake is pregnant. Okay, so that wasn't the main point of the episode. The main point was Zoey started to age rapidly due to the radiological exposure she suffered in a previous episode. Carter had a couple staredowns with Eva Thorn but not who turned out not to be so evil after all. She helped Carter save Zoey and Zane save the town (and his relationship with Deputy Lupo). Oh, and they had this really cool nano-foam. And did I mention Carter got fired?

If all of that makes very little sense, forgive me. It was, in fact, not a bad episode, but the events did run together a bit. I actually found it enjoyable, and it was nice to see the Thorne story get resolved. But the resolution underscored a major problem with this series this season: as a villain, Eva Thorne was just not terribly interesting.

That is not to take away from the fine acting of Frances Fisher, who was excellent in the role all season (or half season, if this is the mid-season finale). It’s just that while the role allowed Thorne to be mysterious, I don’t think anyone ever believed that she was truly evil. In fact, it turns out that Thorne herself was a victim back in 1939, when she was exposed to the same radiation that accelerated Zoey’s aging. It just happened to have the opposite effect on Thorne. No real reason was given—just a one in a million exception. Guess the writers couldn’t think themselves out of that scientific puzzle.

Overall, I’d call this episode a success, but I can’t help but wonder where Eureka goes from here. While I like Zane as a sidekick for Carter, I can’t help but miss the tension and the petty jealousy that Stark brought to the show. While they’ve replaced Stark’s roles in the show, they’ve not been able to replace his presence or the dynamics he brought to the relationships.

That’s not to say I want Stark to return. In fact, a major part of the problem I had with Eureka so far has been the utter predictability of every episode and event. I’d rather see the writer’s adapt to the changing landscape of the show, develop a couple of new and interesting villains, while continuing to create scientific puzzles worth pondering.

What Worked
The acting of Frances Fisher. Now that the Thorne character has reached the end of her arc (for now), I now appreciate the subtle glimpses of good that was hidden under the cutthroat corporate veneer throughout the season. Nice work, Ms. Fisher.

What Didn’t Work
The bickering between Jo and Zane was inane, pointless, and irritating. I am certainly not out of touch with the dynamics of dating relationships today, but the whole issue just didn’t make any sense to me at all.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Worst Week: The Pilot

On a whim I recorded "Worst Week", a new sitcom about a guy who gets into ridiculous situations and in trying to get out of them makes it even worse. The premise could be very mundane, but the execution is phenomenol. This is the under the radar show this season. You must watch it.

The entire show was not only sort of funny, but unrelentingly hilarious. No laugh track, no cheesy set ups, just pure unadulterated gag after gag. A lot needs to be said for the cast, most of whom play straight man to the show's main character Sam, a guy with the absolute worst luck on the planet.

All of the events, as preposterous as they may be, play realistically which is part of the charm and guffaw inducing nature of the show. I somehow wish poor Sam wouldnt be so nice and get himself in these terrible situations but then there would be nothing to laugh at.

The one concern I might have is the ability of the writers to keep up the pace of the gags. As I consider what happened in the pilot, there is a lot going on there and I would be amazed if they were able to keep that sense of momentum going.

As odd as it may sound this show is the closest thing I have seen to the pacing of 24 since that show began. Things just keep happening and happening, adding to this is the fact that the first episode ends so abruptly with another "oh no, NO WAY!" moment and it would seem to indicate that the show is called "Worst Week" because the entire season takes place in one week.

I know I review a lot of stuff on here, and that I sometimes have unique taste, but I am begging you to check out this show. It is worth your time and your laughs. So give it a shot.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Prison Break: Safe and Sound

On this episode of Prision Break, a third Scylla card was targeted, Michael continued to hide a secret from Sara, and T-Bag's cover began to unravel.

First off, a moment of silence for the news that William Fichtner has landed the lead in a brand-new TNT pilot. Great news for Bill, but a seeming omen for the Break. Sure, "technically" Night and Day is second position to Prison Break – meaning, if Mahone and the show stay alive, Fichtner has to take a knee on the new series – but that rarely happens.

Speaking of Mahone, I liked how the show opened with Alex and his wife reuniting, and her urging him to find and slay the "monster." She wants normalcy as much as he does, and knows the things he must do to get there. What a cool couple they are.

How "fitting" that T-Bag's fortunes changed some more thanks to a tea bag. So, the already random bird book has even-more-secret messages that can be revealed by water. OK…. Sucre and Bellick went looking for Teodoro, but busty receptionist kept him hidden — for now, and in exchange for three percent of, well, nothing. Now, though, she's having second thoughts about perhaps giving Brad a ring.

Phone numbers that could or could not be called was a theme this week, as the motel clerk nearly ratted out Mahone, but how awesome was it that Alex stayed a step ahead and instead emerged as the one with a bead on Cress Williams' killer. (Name, please?)

This week's card theft was "fine," though I think I have seen the Faux Maintenance Guys Shtick played once too often elsewhere. That secretary was remarkably patient with the guys' noisy, noisy wet-vac. And I was curious how the interior of the safe would look once the guys opened it from the other side. Did I not see any indication of a sawed-and-plugged hole?

So here it is, three cards down, three to go. But the bad news for the boys is that the General is onto them, and Self is about to get intense face time with… Cress Williams' killer. Meanwhile, Gretchen – plucky, plucky Gretchen – has overpowered her captor and looks very, very mad. Watch out for her… Cress Williams' killer!

The whole Laos thing that Sara was Googling on her PDA, while Rolland kept a wary eye on her? Zzzz. Not sure what that taught me?

What is the deal with Michael's nose bleeds?

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Mousetrap

Is it me, or have the Terminators gotten more sophisticated since Arnold's day? Arnold never would have set a trap. He would have just pursued until terminated.

The opening of this episode was reminiscent of the closing of the first Terminator movie when Linda Hamilton was driving in the desert.

It's funny how the actor whose life Cromartie stole ended up being (sort of) famous. Usually they try to keep a low profile. Also, despite being the future savior of humanity, John Connor is not above stealing cable. This is a lesson for the rest of us.

My favorite line from the episode came from Busy Philipps: "This town can screw you up." There's an irony there that I'm missing.

Catherine Weaver is easily becoming the most sophisticated Terminator ever. She can even drink water. Apparently, she's a T-1001. She acts like a T-1,000,000.

If Riley is a Terminator, then she IS Catherine Weaver. It's the only explanation.

How good are a Terminator's abilities if John is capable of losing Cameron? I got a chuckle from the scene when she's in front of that guy dressed in silver doing the robot.

The future leader of the human resistance has got to learn that if you're being chased by a killer robot, run AWAY from the pier, not towards it. Also, a hat and sunglasses can still fool the killer robots.

I recognize that this is television, but unless Terminators are getting more concerned with human life, I expected a bit more of a gunfight. The moment they both hit the water, I said to myself "Cromartie is going to sink like a stone". I was right, but he did stay afloat longer than I expected. It almost looked like he could swim for a moment. I did enjoy the "red eye" effect as he sank.

I enjoyed the episode but thought the ending was somewhat predictable, particularly considering that Dean Winters is still a regular for the season and his wife isn't. It's cute how they showed a fundamental difference between humans and machines: prayer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Music Video: The New Pornographers, "Mutiny, I Promise You"

The New Pornographers' latest album, Challengers, really is the gift that keeps on giving. More than a year after the album hit stores, the supergroup has just released a video for "Mutiny, I Promise You," a bouncy Challengers track that gets the full-out fantasy treatment here.

This video envisions a world full of murderous bears, creative but possibly vengeful unicorns, cardboard harps, and one twisted caper involving some special guests. The Pornographers cram together in a cardboard box to play their tune and later celebrate with the various costumed animals to whom "mutiny" has been delivered.

Quirky? To say the least. But I like that this group always seems to be having a good time, so to watch them rock out on their cardboard keyboards and guitars, just click below.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Song of the Day: Andrew Bird, "Oh, No"

Way back in April I got a taste of "Oh No," one of the tracks that will be included on Andrew Bird's next album, Noble Beast, from a video of Bird playing the song live. Now that it's all produced and polished, I'm love-love-loving it.

It is signature Andrew Bird — whistling, strings, dark lyrics accompanying a buoyant tune — but this one's got a fun little drumbeat and hand claps and I think some tambourine. It cheered up my Wednesday afternoon big time, so to see if it'll do the same for you click below.

Oh No - Andrew Bird

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pam's New Music Downloads

Sonya Kitchell "This Storm" - The singer-songwriter's angelic voice and sharp lyrics make this versatile set of folk, rock and alternative songs a compelling listen. One standout? "Here to There," a country-tinged musing on the meaning of life.

Jonatha Brooke "The Works" - The folk-pop singer's new album seamlessly pairs her original music with previously unreleased Woody Guthrie lyrics. Brooke reigns supreme on the touching love song "King of My Heart."

Brian Wilson "That Lucky Old Son" - Brian is back and if his gifts for melody and vocal harmony are not restored to the majestic heights of old, they're close to it. "Going Home" is pure rock-and-roll redemption.

Joan Osborne "Little Wild One" - A Kentucky-born New Yorker who famously imagined God riding a bus on her hit song "One of Us," Osborne returns with a winning album that celebrates the sacred in the city. Her rich vocals, pitched between church soprano and downtown contralto, soar on arrangements that mix old-timey mandolin with the urban pulse of electronic instruments. "Hallelujah in the City" sounds like salvation.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Supernatural: Lazarus Rising

"Why’d you do it?” “Because God commanded it. Because we have work for you.”

That exchange between Dean and Castiel ended the premiere of Supernatural's fourth season. The episode, entitled "Lazarus Rising," signaled the show going in a more biblical direction. After Dean dug his way out of the pine box that was his grave, he was reunited with Bobby and then Sam. The big news: I learned Sam started utilizing his powers and Dean was saved by an angel named Castiel.

The Resurrection

I saw flashes of hell and then I saw darkness. All of a sudden I heard Dean breathe back into existence. He was conveniently (too conveniently) buried with a lighter. I guess Sammy was thinking ahead. And Dean quickly dug his way out of the pine box Sam and Bobby buried him in after he died. I was worried about how Buffy Dean’s resurrection and then his escape from his grave was going to get. Any fan of the vampire slayer knows Buffy was pulled out of what I later learned was some heaven-like place. But her escape was pretty brutal as she clawed her way out of her grave.

As for Dean, other than his raspy voice and some smudges on his face and arms, he really wasn’t that bad off; a fact which was scary in its own right, since I know the guy was in hell for four months probably being continuously tortured. At the gas station, Dean gathered supplies and wondered why he didn’t have any scars from those vicious hellhounds that tore him apart. However, he did have a mysterious hand print on his arm.

The Reunions

How great was Dean’s reunion with Bobby? I have always loved any scene that involves those two — they’re unexpectedly emotional. When Bobby finally realized he wasn’t talking to a Dean shapeshifter or revenant, that this was the real deal, it was just awesome. Bobby dousing Dean with the holy water was cool too. But as great as this reunion was, I was waiting for the one between Sam and Dean. After Sam got over his doubts about who turned up at his hotel room door in Pontiac, Illinois, the two brothers hugged. My top three Sam and Dean moments during "Lazarus Rising" were:

1) The hug. Duh.
2) Sam gave Dean his amulet back.
3) Sam and Dean ogled Pamela Barnes (the psychic) together. I liked this scene because Sam and Dean both appreciated Pamela’s "assets." Sam wasn’t just about the case; it was a lighthearted moment between the brothers.

The Brothers' Relationship

Even though Sam and Dean shared some touching moments, all was not right in their world. They’ve always kept a secret or two from each other. After all, Dean still hasn’t found out about Mary recognizing the demon that killed her. But what transpired in this episode has really set the brothers on two different paths. Sam told Dean that Ruby was dead. I know that she never died. She just switched bodies (more on that in a little bit). Sam was pretty vague about what he did during his four months without Dean. And he certainly lied about using his powers. Dean told Sam he couldn’t remember anything about hell. But I know he’s been getting some flashes (not much, but it was still something). He also lied about going to summon the thing that pulled him out of hell. I’ve got lies, half-truths, omissions and differing agendas threatening to separate the Winchesters.

Plus, Sam has been working with a demon (Ruby) and tapping into the dark side in order to do some good: saving people and ridding the world of demons. Dean, on the other hand, may end up working for an angel who has proven to be more than just a halo and fluffy wings. In this episode, he was fierce but also destructive. Just ask Pamela. In the past I’ve always been wary about anything that splits up the brothers. I haven’t changed my opinion on that subject, but I have to say I don’t mind the brothers keeping secrets from each other this season.

Other thoughts:

The classic rock recap was back: AC/DC’s "Shook Me All Night Long" started Season 4 off with a bang.

Loved Dean at the empty gas station. He quickly went for candy, water and a copy of his favorite porn mag.

Wedge Antilles is a Star Wars reference.

Sam drove the Impala!

The new Ruby: the jury’s out for me. To me, she felt like a whole new character. Katie Cassidy’s Ruby was as sarcastic as Dean, could give as good as she got, and was pretty questionable morally even if she was doing something good. While I watched and liked Genevieve Cortese, her Ruby seemed pretty tame. She also seemed too nice. Ruby offered to step back, although I do think it has something to do with who pulled Dean out of hell. But it was weird to hear her say she didn’t want to come between the brothers. So I’ve decided to reserve my judgment, because who knows what will happen in the future with this character.

Castiel: I liked this guy immediately. Misha Collins is definitely a keeper. And mighty sexy too. Sorry, I just had to go there. But I can’t wait to see how things develop between Castiel and Dean in the future. I loved that shot of Castiel's wings, by the way.

Pamela Barnes: Her scenes with Bobby, Sam and Dean were great. Hope to see her again.

Dean couldn’t see Castiel in his pure form. I wonder if we’ll ever meet anyone who has the power to see him.

Sam’s turned into a much better liar.

Dean finding the Impala equipped with an iPod dock and playing Sam’s emo music was classic. What was that song anyway? Loved when he threw the iPod in the back seat.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bones: The Finger in the Nest

The Case: Starts out when Parker (yay!) and Booth are playing football. Nice moments. Parker finds a human finger in a birds’ nest. He thinks it’s cool. Booth thinks he’s scarred for life. When the body previously attached to the finger is figured to be veterinarian Seth Elliott, the gang gets involved in figuring out how he could have been killed by a dog. Quite a few suspects, and once again, I was surprised by the outcome. And…for the time in a row, Bren figured out the murderer before Booth.

The Squints: LOVED the new guy. Sad he’s not going to be around (I assume). I think the J-team could use a ‘Dad’ like figure around to help them talk things through.
  • Cam: Meh, she was good, but, nothing new.
  • Angela: Kind of the same, and I totally got how she wanted to quit that job and move to somewhere glorious with her art. I get that. Her moment with Hodgins was sad and nice…which brings me too…
  • Hodgins: Stole the show. Hands down. Loved him. Love his hate and anger and broken heartedness (is that even a word?), and I loved his butting in to say the answer first on the phone. I especially loved his end session with Sweets….which brings me to
  • Sweets: Hmmm…I like Sweets. I just feel that when he’s in his office, or even the FBI building, then he is in the zone. His work with and about Parker was great, and his conversation with Hodgins was terrific. But when he’s at the Jeff? He annoys me and everyone else there, too. Don’t know if it’s on purpose. Thoughts?
Booth and Brennan: I love compassionate Brennan. She does have a big heart. This time she displayed it toward the dogs, and that was nice. Her end speech was great. People should take a lesson about seeing the good in others. I felt sorry for her that she opened her heart toward Ripley and planned to give him a home, only to have that taken out of her hands. I think Ripley represents Zack. That explains why Booth felt so much compassion for her…which brings me to….

I love Booth. I especially love casual dad Booth and kind, dog grave digging Booth. He is good. Not much more I can say but this….this blog was brought to you by his warm, reassuring, brown eyes…

Fave line of the night: “I’d say ‘King of the Lab’, but that just depresses me.” Holler, Hodgins, holler.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Wests Head East to Germany - Week 1 East Germany

Castles, Cathedrals & Cuisine was the title of the 2008 Phi Mu Foundation trip. And the title lived up to its name as we saw many castles, tons of cathedrals, and ate like we were kings. My parents traveled with me on this two week adventure to Germany in early September.

After landing in Frankfurt on Sunday, September 7, we took a three hour train ride to Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia, which Martin Luther described as "in the center of the center" of Germany. Erfurt is an attractive, lively city where we lingered for several days before heading for larger cities such as Dresden and Berlin. The night we arrived we attended the premier of The Tales of Hoffman at the Erfurt Opera House. Richard Carlucci, son-in-law of fellow traveler Marilyn Mann, was singing the role of Hoffman.

Our walking tour of this beautiful city included the Domplatz, or cathedral square, which is also the site of Erfurt's main Christmas Market. Above the Domplatz are the Cathedral of St. Mary (Mariendom) and the St. Severus Church, which are reached by climbing a flight of steps from the 14th Century. Not far from the cathedral hill is the Petersberg citadel, which is said to be "the only extensively preserved Baroque city fortress in Central Europe." We were treated to an underground passage tour of the citadel.

The Krämerbrücke, or Merchant's Bridge, is an Erfurt landmark. The sandstone bridge is nearly 400 feet long, with 32 houses (many containing shops on the ground floor) on both sides of its cobble-stoned pedestrian street. The bridge, which was built in 1325 and widened in the late 1400s, is said to be the only inhabited European bridge north of the Alps.

We found medieval and Renaissance houses throughout the city center, including some that have been put to other uses. The Fischmarket, site of the neo-Gothic town hall, is lined with beautiful Renaissance houses from the 1600s. We also walked along the riverside park below the Krämerbrücke, where we had a nice rear view of half-timbered medieval houses that line the bridge. The Anger Square was worth a visit, both for its historic buildings and its role as the shopping center of downtown Erfurt.

We spent the day exploring the city with Reiner Bosecke, a local guide and musician who treated us to a trumpet concert at St. Michael’s Church, and Hannas Schmidt our guide for our first week in Germany.

Tuesday, September 9, we said goodbye to Erfurt and headed east to Dresden. Dresden is the capital city of the state of Saxony. Our first stop when we arrived was a leisurely paddle wheel steamer boat ride up the Elbe River.

The best way to start off a trip through Dresden is by taking a walk through the Old Town. Many of the main tourist attractions in Dresden can be found under a mile from there. Old Town suffered heavy damage during World War II, but since reunification, efforts have been undertaken and Old Town is in the process of being restored to its former elegance.

Some of the highlights included many historic structures. Built during the 18th century, Zwinger Palace today houses several museums and contains more than 2000 paintings; the foremost among the paintings is the famous Sistine Madonna by Raphael.

The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is definitely one of the most popular tourist attractions in Dresden. Built in the 18th century, the church features a large 314 foot high dome. The dome weighs 12,000 tons and contains no internal supports. However, the Frauenkirche was destroyed during World War II. Reconstruction was attempted throughout the years, but it wasn’t until 1993 that the revival actually began. The price was steep, over $200 million, but by 2004 the outside of the church had been restored.

Perhaps the single greatest hardship suffered by the citizens of Dresden was the firebombing that took place toward the end of World War II. On Valentine’s Day, 1945, Allied planes carpet bombed the Altstadt (Old Town). Dresden was not considered militarily strategic, but the allies unleashed a bombing campaign because the Soviet army was merely fifty miles east of the city. The bombing was to stop the advance of the Red Army. The goal was to create a fire storm amidst the factories and buildings and prevent German resistance. However, ideal weather conditions caused a massive inferno that gutted tens of thousands of buildings and killed many innocent people. Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" is based on this devastation in Dresden.

Wednesday we drove a short distance to Meissen. As the story goes, King Augustus the Strong ordered his subjects to find a way to manufacture gold. After much experimenting, scholars finally discovered the next best thing - "white gold" or porcelain, which proved a blessing for both the King and Meissen. The first porcelain in Europe was produced at the 300-year-old porcelain factory in Meissen. The factory brought fame to the town through the porcelain it exported around the world featuring the hallmark of two blue crossed swords.

In the afternoon we stopped at the Moritzburg Palace. The baroque palace of Moritzburg, which sits in a lake, much like an island, is one of Dresden's most charming recreation spots. In the 18th century, it was used as a hunting lodge by Augustus the Strong. The palace's collection of beautiful baroque leather wallpaper is second to none. But the “feather“ room was spectacular with a bedspread, wall hangings, and pillows all covered in beautiful bright feathers. The palace terrace is adorned with a number of sandstone statues dating from the 18th century.

Thursday we loaded up and headed towards Berlin, located in the north east part of the country, which is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg. Originally the capital for Prussia, Berlin has served as a cultural center for hundreds of years. The first written information of the city comes from as early as 1244 A.D. Berlin has swung between times of flourishing and times of darkness. The Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century saw a third of the homes damaged and half the population was lost.

However, following this devastating blow, Frederick William—a Duke, and later King of Prussia—instituted a policy encouraging immigration and religious freedom. A great number of people moved to Berlin in the following years and the city quickly rebounded. Following the dissolution of the Empire, the Weimar Republic was proclaimed in Berlin. The seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933 saw Berlin as a focus once again by declaring it the capital of the Third Reich. Following the end of World War II, the city was split into two halves—East Berlin was held by the Russians and communism while West Berlin was held by the allies and democracy. In 1961, the infamous Berlin Wall was constructed, further separating the two halves. However, the wall was torn down in 1989 and the country was unified once more.

All these different events have had a profound effect on Berlin transforming it into a unique and beautiful city. Its mix of the past and the present creates a feeling of magic and wonder as I walked through the streets. We paid a visit to the Charlottenburg Palace, home of the first Prussian King; Checkpoint Charlie, Potsdamer Square, Reichstag, Bradenberg Gate and many more attractions.

Of course, one cannot mention Berlin without speaking of the Berlin Wall. There isn’t terribly much left of the structure that split the city in two, but the Brandenburg Gate still stands, serving as a reminder of the past. To have a better understanding of the history behind the wall, we visited the Berlin Wall Museum.

Thursday evening we cruised along the canals of the city for an evening boat trip. The city has more bridges than Venice - 3000 total.

Friday we began our day by venturing to nearby Potsdam to tour Sanssouci Park and the designated “world cultural heritage sites” of New Palace and Sanssouci. The New Palace was begun in 1763, after the end of the Seven Years’ War, under Frederick the Great and was completed in 1769. It is considered to be the last great Prussian baroque palace. Sanssouci is the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. It is often counted among the German rivals of Versailles.

We dined at Cecileinhof Castle, which in 1945 was the site where the victorious allies negotiated the ‘Potsdam Agreement’. Just think, I was sitting in the same place as Truman, Churchill and Stalin.

The late afternoon was spent on Museum Island in Berlin. The Pergamon Museum is one of the best attractions in Berlin, probably the best museum on Museum Island. It features a wide variety of archaeological treasures from around the world, but the two truly exceptional ones are the Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, Turkey, and the Ishtar Gate from Babylon. The Pergamon Altar is both impressively huge and well-preserved, and features a long frieze depicting the battle of the gods and giants. The Ishtar Gate, built by the Biblical king Nebuchadnezzar, is beautiful with its blue glazed bricks. We also stopped by the Altas Museum to see the bust of Queen Nefertiti.

Enjoy my photos from East Germany:

The Wests Head East to Germany - Part 2 Mosel River Cruise

On Saturday, September 13, we met up with the rest of our travelers in Frankfurt for the second half of our trip – the Mosel River Cruise. We arrived in Koblenz, at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. It is a charming town, with cobbled open plazas and narrow streets. It was almost completely destroyed during WW II, but they rebuilt it in the original styles, which dates back to Roman times.

An aside, according to our guide, the original Katzenjammer kids were brats from Koblenz, whose names were Max and Moritz. They are immortalized on the outside wall of a restaurant by the same name. In typical German fashion, the mischievous deeds of Max and Moritz caught up with them, and they were thrown into a grain hopper, adding to the flavor of the local beer.

On Saturday our barge stopped in Cochem and toured the Reichsburg Castle. The castle has been on top of the hill for at least a thousand years, but was razed by the French about 350 years ago, and eventually rebuilt by a German millionaire using drawings and paintings of the original. It's a great tourist attraction, and lots of people visit each year. Only seven rooms have been re-furnished; the original furniture was sold when the owners were forced to sell it to the German Republic in 1942; but gradually the castle is acquiring items from the periods, and someday hopes to open more rooms to tourists.

A couple of us walked down the hill through the cute "old town", which was also razed by the French, so the oldest buildings are less than 350 years old. The town is characterized by shops for tourists: shoe stores, souvenir shops, restaurants of all cuisines, wine shops (selling Reisling, what else?) and hotels.

Tuesday was spent on the barge nearly the entire day. The river had risen and widen overnight due to heavy rains further upstream so we were unable to dock at any of the ports. By this time, I have had enough of going through locks. At first it was fascinating to watch, but after four or five a day, I’d grown bored with them. I did have a fun afternoon sitting in the wheel house with the captain and learning everything there is to know about sailing a barge. And who could forget our special cooking lesson with Mario. A Black Forest Cake will never be the same again.

We made a very quick visit to Trier on Tuesday, a 2000 year old Roman city where I was able to see the oldest Roman Ruins in Germany known as the Porta Nigra (the Black Gate). We did a lot of walking around the historic city center, took the cute little tourist tram and saw the main sights of Trier, as well as some old churches and quaint old neighborhoods.

Can you tell though that we were getting to that point in a European tour at which all cathedrals begin to meld together into one giant old Gothic Romanesque Neo-Whatever...it's not what we are supposed to do, we tourists...I think we're supposed to dutifully attend to the uniqueness of each site, but after a while the phenomenon sometimes called "museum fatigue" sets in, and so it was for us in Trier.

Wednesday we stopped in Remich, Luxembourg and took a bus to the City of Luxembourg. Raise your hands if you knew there was more than one city in Luxembourg. The state of Luxembourg is trilingual. French, German, and a bastard combination of the two. God bless the German language. Luxembourg City is a bit odd. There's a huge crevasse that runs near the center of the city, and one would think that a river would be at the bottom. No river, just miles and miles of urban forest and hiking trails. It's quite striking. The people are nice; the food was good, and the shopping not bad at all. I have now been to a Lush store in...let's see... Croatia, Luxembourg, and the U.S....A fun fact I realized today.

Thursday found us in France. Metz (pronounced 'Mess'), capital of Lorraine, is often dismissed because we think it must be an ugly, industrial town like so many in Northern France. Metz, however, surprised us all with its Roman origins, riverside parks, historic centre and attractive architecture. It made for a pleasant place to visit. Metz was an independent republic during the Middle Ages, before joining France in the late 16th century. It was annexed by Germany in 1871 and released back to France once and for all in 1944.

Metz's centerpiece is the Cathédrale St-Étienne. Under construction from 1220 to 1522, it is renowned for its wonderful 13th - to 20th-century stained glass, including some by Chagall.

Our barge trip was over too soon. Friday, we were dropped off in Mainz for our last night. Mainz is a beautiful city in Germany just a few miles away from Frankfurt. Mainz also has many parts where old buildings from before the war are still standing. These are filled with boutiques, and restaurants, and there is a lovely romantic atmosphere to them. Mainz's Old City, or Altstadt, runs along one main street from the Cathedral (surprise, surprise) about three city blocks. The Gutenberg Museum is in Mainz, but my brain was too overloaded to visit another museum.

Another wonderful Phi Mu Foundation trip that I’ll treasure forever. I was pleasantly surprised how beautiful the country was and will definitely visit Germany again. Vundarbar!

Enjoy my photos from the Mosel River Cruise.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fringe: The Same Old Story

"If you've read my file, then you know the truth about Peter's medical history." -- Dr. Walter Bishop

Ok, let's start with that quote. What the heck is he talking about? That maybe Peter is a clone or something? Seriously, that was probably the most interesting thing about this episode, and it happened at the very last second. I guess that's what they want -- to leave me hanging, so I'll be back for more.

I have mixed emotions about this episode. On the one hand, it seemed all over the place. There was the main plot about the baby that aged at a rapid rate and died, the killer on the loose who's stealing peoples' pituitary glands so he can stay young, the doctor who refused to talk about his previous cloning experiments, Massive Dynamic's Nina trying to recruit Olivia ... it all seemed a little scattered to me.

Aside from Dr. Bishop's ending words about Peter's medical history, my favorite part of this episode was when he removed the eye of the girl who died and was able to pinpoint the last thing she saw by projecting her retinal history, so to speak, onto a screen, thus helping Olivia and Peter track down the killer.

Scenes like that make me wonder if these things are in the works for real. Like, is someone working on this technology? Is it even possible? And are there people out there cloning armies?

The little scenes between the three main players are fun, too: Walter and Peter living together, Peter and Olivia making a tiny connection, Walter happily signing away his rights to the feds while Peter vehemently balks at the prospect, Walter fiddling with the seat warmer in the car ("It warms your ass! It's wonderful"). And then there's the cow. She and Walter seem to have a little connection going there. Really, all of this was a lot more interesting to me than the case itself.

And now, here's my question: At the end, Walter was lulling himself to sleep by counting numbers and Peter was singing, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," and then it cut to to the scene with the three guys lying on slabs in a lab setting. What does it mean?

I played it back on my DVR and paused the scene. Although I couldn't see the guy in the middle, the guys on either side of him looked like twins. So maybe it was a cloning experiment that Walter was remembering...? Which brings me back to my original question: Is Peter a clone?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Music Video: Rachael Yamagata Sings "Elephants"

I can remember first discovering Rachael Yamagata instantly falling in love with her music. "Be Be Your Love" remains one of my favorite songs (it still gives me chills!) and gets a lot of playtime on my MP3.

She has a new single out, "Elephants," which is included on her second full-length album, Elephants . . . Teeth Sinking Into Heart. The song starts out with delicate piano and surges into something more dramatic. The video for "Elephants" is desolate, and paired with her emotional lyrics about moving on from a relationship, the whole thing is pretty melancholic. If you're looking for a new break-up song, this would be it. You can catch Rachael live on the Hotel Cafe Tour this Fall, and to watch the video, click below.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Eureka: Here Come The Suns

The town of Eureka may be known for scientific work, but the people rally around other items, too. When a mayoral race comes up, more than a few citizens get involved. Zoey, daughter of Jack, wants her boyfriend, Lucas to win. Unreasonable? Maybe. They face some stiff competition, though. Vincent, owner of Cafe Diem, throws his hat in the ring too.

Perhaps the most qualified person running is Dr. Herrera, who certainly acts the part. Out of all three candidates, I was prepared for his victory speech. After Eva Thorne backs him, trouble rears its ugly head.

What is it with this woman? She came to town after an internal GD disaster, but she clearly has a hidden agenda. Eva Thorne is rising to the occasion if "villain" describes this character best. I don't have a problem with a classified agenda, after all, a lot of what goes on in Global Dynamics is classified. Technology, while often useful, can also be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands.

The problem lies in the word "hidden." She refuses to tell anybody what she is trying to do, even Dr. Allison Blake. The last time this town had a big secret, everyone in the entire lab nearly got killed, along with the sheriff. Oops!

By all means, thermal clean a lab. Just remove any bodies first. Should they be innocent victims, they can be buried. A trial is a little tricky if the defendants are deceased.

Now then, I wonder how long it will take before Eva finds out Henry Deacon got elected mayor. Zane Donovan got pulled into Eva's scheme simply because Henry refused to. He knows how secrets can do more harm than good.

Jack and Eva are adept at portraying two persons on opposite sides. Neither backs down, but they both want to keep others out of harm's way. Hearing the protest of "it's not what you think" sounds false to my ears, and I'm glad to see the disbelief in Jack's face when Eva delivers the line. All Eva needs to do is share a small part of her plan and she could be left alone. Good luck with the secrets.

Even the extra sun was not enough to overshadow the storyline which has run through all the episodes this season so far. Enough already. Get the truth out and send Eva packing. This town needs a breath of fresh air, and soon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Prison Break: Eagles and Angels

On Prison Break, the boys zeroed in on a second Scylla cardholder, a key piece of the puzzle was eliminated, and Sara neared a precipice as she came to terms with Bruce Bennett's death.

I reserve the right to single out the episodes that are clinkers. And this was one of 'em. While I am on board with this season's structure in principle, they're really going to need to shake things up with each cardholder to keep this from feeling like the same 42 minutes week after week.

I also have some requests to make moving forward - Give "the Device" that copies the Scylla cards a name. I do not want to hear it called The Device week after week. Surely, Roland, its creator, assigned it some wicked-cool acronym. How about the DUPER (Digital UPloader and Electronic Replicator?).

That said, do not name The Device anything close to "the Bird Book," aka the silliest-sounding MacGuffin any thriller/mystery has employed. I still roll my eyes that these beefy guys are in hot pursuit of… the Bird Book.

Speaking of the Bird Book, how utterly random is it? What, every step of T-bag's journey he will find a room number or phone number or name and somewhere in the book is a corresponding note? No correlating information/added info on the page, just that number or named scribbled down? To what end??

As for the balance of this episode, I must also admit that I'm not feeling the MiSara chemistry anymore. Maybe it's just because they are in an impossible/romance-deficient situation. Plus, with all that’s happened to her since Michael entered her life, she has got to feel like, "Wow, I have the suckiest life now." That said, I was glad to see she didn’t nip at the bourbon, though her very choice to hit a bar — and then get pick-pocketed, leading Cress Williams' stone-faced killer to her heels — could have just as dire consequences.

I'm glad to see Bellick play a greater role in things. He is right to be thinking ahead to the break-in that will actually end this mission. And the poor guy looked so distraught after knifing the guard who was about to pop Linc. Bellick to the rescue!"

The value of the kip is at 10 right now." Wha?!

"I like to think of myself as handi-capable." Oh, T-Bag, only you could make that line not sound like mocking.

Did the casting call for the GATE receptionist simply read: "Sunny disposition, oversized bosom"?

And lastly, toward the end, Roland outright lied about Lisa Tabak's cell phone. I freeze-framed his laptop screen before he closed the windows, and it was all address book and calendar info. Boys, have we got ourselves a mole?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Song of the Week: The Decemberists, "Valerie Plame"

Yay! New Decemberists stuff! And it's so fun! I know — lots of exclaiming here. I just can't get enough of this song, "Valerie Plame," because it makes me giggle a bit. According to a story I read, the song is sung from "the point-of-view of one of Plame's inside contacts upon discovering her true identity, the song is an amorous tribute to the onetime CIA operative." "Valerie Plame" is a part of the band's upcoming series of singles titled Always the Bridesmaid. The first volume of the series is due out on Oct. 14, and the Decemberists are scheduled to play "Valerie Plame" on Conan O'Brien the night before the election, Nov. 3.

Political context aside, "Valerie Plame" is a bouncy song with horns and some banjo and a sing-along at the end. It reminds me vaguely of the circus at times. I love this band's flair for the dramatic. To take a listen, click below.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Closer: Time Bomb

For the season finale, The Closer came up with an episode that was packed with a little bit of everything. There was high drama and suspense, real danger, inappropriate humor and gripping emotion. It wasn't a perfect blend of elements.

In fact, at times I was put off by the deception. However, there's an old adage in show business (or maybe it's just movies?) that says, audiences will forgive you for anything if you give them a good finish. The Closer delivered by that measure in every respect.

The seriousness of the episode was really serious. The seemingly strange actions of some Valley Oak high schoolers were tied to the original victim, a guy who'd blown himself up with a pipe bomb. In this first act, even as fear of the building going up in an explosion was real, Brenda's comical exasperation was disarming.

She was literally carried out of the building by Sanchez because she didn't want to stop investigating, and then defied every L.A.P.D. rule by sneaking back into the building for her purse. In Brenda's defense, I might have done that myself. Losing your purse is a bitch. Still, you know she knows better.

That funny business was then topped by the toilet humor as the squad learned how the deceased had once defecated on the principal's desk. After some bad jokes, the investigation went to Ridgemont High-circa 21st century, where the prime suspect turned out to be Johnny McFadden, a kid with a stash of pipe bombs and propane tanks, bulletproof vests and high powered rifles in the family garage. "So much for involved parents."

The creepiest scene of the show was McFadden's interrogation. I just knew something was going on, and it was more than the fact that Johnny was stoned and taunting Brenda. He gave them no information, which was frustrating. If anything, he mislead them. Also, it was never explained how he got the chocolate. Usually a suspect gets nothing. I wonder, did they provide him with the catalyst to commit suicide by letting him buy a candy bar from the vending machine?

The tragedy at Columbine comes back into the story when Fritz explains how the killers that day in Colorado had not achieved their objective. But it's Brenda's skills of observation coincided with her bad sense of direction that helps her figure out that the target of the bombs wasn't the school but the mall. By then, it was too late to stop the remaining Valley Oak kid from trying to succeed where the Columbine boys failed.

The climax at the mall was action packed, dangerous and lethal. The shooter was heavily armored so despite rounds of bullets being fired at him, he didn't go down. I kept wondering why nobody was aiming at his head, but I know cops are trained to shoot at the body. Still, I wanted to blow his head off.

In the melee, Sanchez saved Provenza's life, but took three shots in the process. Brenda and company finally blew up the shooter's duffle bag full of pipe bombs to kill him as he was going to reload.

A helicopter swooped down and Sanchez and Brenda were loaded on for a fast trip to the hospital. The unresolved ending begs the question -- did Sanchez follow Brenda's direct order to keep breathing and will he still be with the squad when The Closer returns this winter for some holiday episodes?

Other points of interest:

Brenda telling Gabriel to try not to look so much like a cop when they go to the McFadden house, so he introduces himself as Mr. G, everyone's favorite chemistry teacher.

Will Pope was back in uniform to meet the press, and as usual for Pope, he's too fast to wrap up the case and make everything look neat and tidy.

The bomb-disabling robot was called Babs, named for Saint Barbara, the patron saint of bomb techs according to Tao. It was probably a very accurate representation of a robot, but it sure looked like something you might make with an erector set.

It was funny how much Brenda disliked the mall and the idea of shopping for home goods. Fritz was ready to pick out wall paper swatches.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Automatic for the People

The plot for the series has become convoluted very quickly. I take that as a good thing since it means the series can potentially last a few years. My favorite part remains the flash forward in this episode, brief as it was. The rest of it was good but not particularly memorable.

Time travel has certainly become a revolving door in this show. It used to be more difficul. Now people are falling through time-doors that are powered by jet engines - much more easily. Maybe they've improved the technology in the future. This is getting to be a bigger time war than the one in Doctor Who.

I wonder what other people Cameron means when she says people will get worried. Does she mean herself? Is that John/Cameron romance looking just a smidgen more likely? Or does she mean someone else entirely? On a side note, Thomas Dekker looks very different with the shorter hair.

Consider John Connor jumped from 1999 to 2007 in the premiere episode and can't seem to stay in the same school, it's no wonder he can't connect with any other students. Why even register him in school? What time-traveling truant officer is going after him? I suppose attending makes him talk to people and remember who he's actually fighting for in the future. I did like Riley's modern example of courting: "you got $20? I'm still hungry".

More on Riley: it wouldn't surprise me if I learned later on that Riley is none other than Catherine Weaver. The character acts more human-like than any other Terminator I've seen thus far. And she now knows the safe word to talk to John.

Random thoughts:

Notice that the show still takes place in 2007 due to the shortened season last year? The code was "16 November 2007".

John Connor has an awesome bedroom. I'm just saying. Here I figured he'd lose his virginity to Cameron. He still might.

Is it me or does Charley's wife look a little like Linda Hamilton? Truly he missed Sarah Connor a lot when she disappeared. That was quite a bitch slap that the wife got in.

And today's blatant product placement is the Dodge Ram.

Sarah and Cameron are hanging out with each other so much, they're starting to dress alike.

Cameron was acting pretty slow this episode. I wonder if something is wrong with her programming. She's certainly endured a lot of punishment and did turn evil once. I did like today's nugget of wisdom, "girls are complicated".

I like how they examined Sarah's fear of the cancer that would/will eventually kill her by having the story take place at a nuclear power plant.

That dying man from the future sure had a lot of blood. He practically wrote a novel on that wall.

The story continues. While I felt it was middle-of-the-road in quality I do realize that it's part of a larger narrative and am looking forward to future episodes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mad Men: A Night To Remember

This episode of Mad Men shall henceforth be known as "that time Betty totally melted down," despite its official title. I've been hoping for a while now that she would finally let some of the air out of the repressed tension by confronting Don about his lies and I was granted this wish.

Meanwhile, Joan gets a taste of making a contribution to the business beyond her secretarial duties — and she likes it! I saw more of her fiance, who certainly has some strong beliefs about male-female roles. Finally, Peggy and her priest friend continue to bond as he works to gain her trust and talk about the deep secrets he knows she harbors (thanks to her lovely sister).

Betty Draper: Oh man, poor Betty! It started out with Jimmy blindsiding both Drapers in the previous episode, which made Betty throw up all over the new car. I was suspicious that Betty physically ridding her body of that nastiness would be the only expression of her shock upon learning of Don's infidelity, but thankfully I was wrong about that. I just wanted to scream or kick or cry for her last night. She confronts Don about his affair with Bobbie Barrett, spitting at him "You think you know me? Well, I know what kind of man you are." In return, Don continues to look her straight in the eye and deny, deny, deny. It's the kind of thing that makes a person feel completely insane and that's exactly what happens to Betty. She searches his clothes, his desk, looking for any sign that could confirm what she knows to be true. Later things get even sadder with Betty telling Don that she would "never do that" to him, and asking him, "Do you hate me?" Totally heartbreaking. I'm not at all sure where the Draper marriage goes from here.

Peggy Olson: Peggy is asked by the priest to create a poster for the church dance. Unfortunately, her mock-up does not allow enough "room for the holy ghost" and the church ladies are displeased. Was the priest flirting with Peggy? I sort of don' want to acknowledge this even though deep down I think it seems that way. At the office he pushes her to talk about what's goin' on and asks if she feels like she doesn't deserve God's love. Oh, and then Father Gill rocks out on the guitar.

Joan Holloway: Joan's storyline was totally unexpected and awesome. I love how naturally she helps out in the "TV department," openly sharing her insights about the scripts. But ugh, her fiance rubs me the wrong way. He expresses surprise that she likes to read, and tells her his impression of her role at the office: "You just walk around with people staring at you." Lovely. In the end, of course, a little nerdy guy takes Joan's spot even after she impressed clients, earning statements like, "I love what she says and I love the way she says it." She's obviously hurt and disappointed by being replaced, as was I. I really want her to keep using her real talents!

Some more thoughts:

The product integration department on this show outdid themselves. It's obvious Heineken is one of the show's sponsors, but in this episode the beer actually plays a real role. It was overt, but somehow not as obnoxious as some of the product placements in other shows.

Betty smashing the chair! Eerie and poignant. I think that's one of the creepiest moments of the show for me.

Also, how'd you like Betty's "trip around the world" menu? I know that women were expected to be good housewives and entertainers but I forget just how elaborate those requirements could be. Nowadays you can throw a dinner party for colleagues by ordering sushi, thank goodness.

For some reason the wasted lady at the Draper dinner party made me laugh. She walks straight into a wall!

Another funny moment is Father Gill hanging over the printer, marveling at its magical printing abilities.

I found this line from Betty really interesting: "How could you? She's so old." It's clear that this is all very confusing for her. She's given these requirements to fulfill: Be young, be beautiful, be a hostess with the mostest, raise the children, be perfect. And even when she accomplishes all that her husband still steps out on her with a not-so-perfect lady.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Monk: Mr. Monk Get Hypnotized

Monk should have wrapped the season with thelastepisode, ending on a high point, because this show was in many ways a downer. The case, such as it was, was pretty flimsy. The clues were presented so early and rather ungracefully that unless I was really unfamiliar with the Monk formula, it was a cinch to guess who was really the "guy."

The real novelty was Monk's getting in touch with his inner child. That and Tim Bagley returning as Harold Krenshaw. It's always fun when Monk's nemesis shows up, but this was a reborn Harold. Thanks to his new shrink, Dr. Kleinman, Harold wasn't interested in competing with Monk. He just wanted to embrace the wonders of life.

I get that Harold pushes Monk's buttons and therefore seeing him happy upset Adrian. But there was a lack of continuity here, because for no discernible reason, Monk was dissatisfied with Dr. Bell. After the submarine show, Monk and Dr. Bell were completely in sync. In this show, Monk complains to Natalie that he's getting nowhere in his therapy. "I've been talking for eleven years. I want to get better." Wow! That was a revelation. Perhaps it's the result of his inability to make a lasting connection with Layla in "Mr. Monk Falls in Love"? If so, it would show some growth, albeit painful growth, on Monk's part.

So after one session with Dr. Kleinman, played in a too brief appearance by The West Wing's Richard Schiff, Monk is hypnotized to a happy place. Ding, ding, ding -- Monk becomes a little boy. The Adrian as a child bit was rather gimmicky, but Tony Shalhoub played it to the hilt. You got to figure that all actors really enjoy the chance to become six year olds. It's a tried and true plot device.

Monk as a boy is free and goofy and a frog-lover. He finds a frog while working the case -- sort of -- and names him Hoppy (nearly Happy). He gorges himself on pancakes. He withholds nothing when confronting suspects. It was great that even though he was a boy, he still had the keen observational skills to see that Aaron Larkin was having an affair with his assistant. Of course, the observation involved the woman having "cooties," but he still saw what nobody else did.

Not surprisingly, Monk becomes bored with the case -- he's only six and grown up police work is no fun. When Sally Larkin is questioned, his misbehaving leads to him throwing a tantrum and saying he hates them all, but not before he finds the gum on her shoe, the key to solving the crime.

Perhaps it was fitting that it was Monk himself that brought him back to reality. In the playground, Monk saw his reflection and realized the truth. He takes Hoppy back into pond at the Larkin estate, saying, "At least one of us can be free." Freedom is something Monk cannot achieve because in the end, he's right back where he was. He can't embrace pancakes or the wonder of a mother bird feeding her chicks. He doesn't get it. Hypnosis wasn't the answer.

Other points of interest:

Monk's vision of childhood isn't his own. It's the childhood he always wanted.

Playing a boy, Monk did some really gross things, including the fart noises, commenting about Natalie's body odor, and speaking out. My favorite line from little Adrian was, "She's a liar, Stottlemeyer."

When Dr. Kleinman tells Monk to leap, he says that a net will appear. Monk wonders who's "Annette?"

The moment I saw the headline in the tabloid that Sally Larkin was an actress, I knew she was "the guy."

Disher mints, Randy's do-it-yourself gum making kit. The whole idea of gum on the shoe being re-eaten was disgusting. Monk being the one to eat it makes it twice as gross.

The first black and white reenactment of how Aaron was killed in the cabin was really funny. I'm used to Monk's "this is how he did it" moments to be completely factual and this was a goof on that.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Play Review: Bad Dates

My co-worker Kristen starred in the one-woman show "Bad Dates" at the Kalamazoo Whole Art Theater.

Shoes, everywhere shoes! They’re the most visible and defining element present onstage for “Bad Dates”, even before the play itself starts. Their very presence immediately defines their owner, but that woman, like “Bad Dates”, itself, can’t simply be taken at face value.

When Haley, the single working mom, spent the first 10 minutes trying on (and talking about) all manner of trendy shoes, I started to wonder what this play was all about. Fortunately that fear soon melted into enchantment as the very accomplished Kristen as Haley cast her charm and drew me into her perky – and downright quirky – world of divorce dating.

“Bad Dates” finds Haley at home fretting over her outfit (and her shoes) because she wants to make a good impression on this, her first real date in five years. Her last date, she confides, drew numerous comparisons between her life and the movie “Mildred Pierce.” She acknowledges there were some similarities - she was divorced, had a daughter named Vera, and was a waitress in a restaurant. She stresses, however, that she did not marry and subsequently kill her “Monte.” She simply chose never to see him again.

Now in a better frame of mind – her daughter is older, she has been promoted to manager, and she has the confidence that a successful career can bring – Haley has decided to try again. New attitude in hand (and well considered shoes on feet), she strides out the door to meet the challenge. Upon her return, she makes it eminently clear that the date went, well, rather badly.

With an adorable, playful, optimistic, and humorous quality, Kristen proceeds to amuse the audience with tales of her progressively more disastrous bad dates. She talks of Bug Guy and Wretched Companion, the first a Tibetan Buddhist she met on a retreat and the second a blind date arranged by her mother. In between she argues with her never seen daughter who plays rock music behind her closed bedroom door and spills all the gory details of her dates to her brother on the phone. She also shares her intrigue with the Romanian mob that owns her restaurant – as if there weren’t enough spice on the table already.

Perhaps what I learned about men from “Bad Dates” is in the shoes. The most attractive ones aren’t always the most comfortable. You have to find ones that fit and that complement your outfit. If they hurt and draw all the attention, get rid of them. After all, who needs to put up with a nasty blister when there’s a whole lot of walking left to do?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bones: Man in the Outhouse

The Case:
The host of a reality TV show that specializes in helping women catch their cheating men is found dead in an outhouse. I’ll spare you the particulars, even though the show doesn’t. It’s a grossie. Lots of suspects; I was actually very surprised by the outcome. I also thought (busted by) Bill was going to be a nice guy, but, he was kind of a turd sandwich. No pun intended.

I wanted to like the new girl, Daisy, but…she was just too annoying. I liked all the moments where Hodgins, Cam and Brennan put her in her place. Her moment of trying to pick up Sweets was off the charts cute, though.

Cam was back to her smart, fierce ways. I was happy about that.

Not really any Angela and Hodgins tension, which seemed weird, but…whatever.

B+B (Booth & Brennan):
Can I say I like Booth in his office? There’s a comfort zone there, and I find him attractive when he’s in the zone. On the other hand, Brennan does not find him attractive, funny, or anything nice when he’s all up in her business about the two guys she’s dating. I liked how he and Sweets interrupted her date, and I also like how Sweets kind of called him on it.

Fave lines of the night…both from my main man, Booth, straight to his girl, Bones:
“My gut says you’re going with your gut on this one, and we all know how that ends up. Not good” (cute finger waggle).

“Look, I’m sorry. If Mark and Jason don’t know how lucky they are; they don’t deserve you in the first place.” (Bren scoffs: All relationships are temporary) “Ah, no, that’s not true, Bones. You’re wrong, okay? There is someone for everyone. Someone you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with. All right? You just have to be open enough to see it. That’s all.”

Monday, October 6, 2008

MTTT - Craftsman Chop House

The September MTTT (M's Thirsty Third Thursday) was a little off schedule due to the planner extraordinaire being in Germany for two weeks in September. We actually held the MTFT (Fourth Thursday) back on September 25 at Craftsman Chop House.

Cheryl and Gary

This actually is one of my favorite places to stop in to have a drink and have a dinner. It is impressive all the way around, from decor, to steaks, chops and seafood to the attention owners give to patrons. Decor resembles the Craftsman style associated with Frank Lloyd Wright. They normally serve the house-made potato chips, but now that I think about, we were not served them for some reason.

Liz, Kenn, Pam

We quickly discovered that on Thursday's they have all drafts at $2.50 and a prime-rib dinner special for $8.99. Talk about a deal. I had two beers, a martini (drink of the month for $2.50), and prime rib all for under $17.00! Cheryl and Liz also had the same dinner. It was a delicious cut of prime rib. Poor Girts had two Bombay Sapphire Gin drinks and this came to $16 alone.

Gary, Maddy, Girts

I know I'll be back since it is such a cool place, close to my office, and a smart place to hang out when you are by yourself.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Eureka: Phased and Confused

"Who was that masked man?" -- Lexxie Carter
"Trouble." -- Jack Carter

So far, the third season of Eureka has been interesting. Both the "death" of Nathan Stark and the introduction of Eva Thorne and her mysterious mission have turned this show slightly on its heel.
This installment had a different vibe to it as there were many different things going on at once. Or, at least it seemed like there was a lot of stuff going on. Perhaps it wasn't the activity that changed the feeling of the show but rather the amount of characters that appeared this episode. Instead of the usual top three (well, top two now that Stark is gone) there were more meaty appearances by Jo, Zane, Zoe (and friends Lucas and Pilar), Lexxie (who had her biggest role so far on the show), Eva, Henry, and Fargo.

There were also a number of story angles, including Captain Eureka, the battle between Lexxie and Jack over Zoe, Zoe's adventures, and some further inroads into the reason why Eva is actually in Eureka. Actually, Captain Eureka wasn't the top story line. If anything it was a plot point that fed into the bigger story. It wasn't a big surprise that it was Chuck under that mask. The way that he fawned over Lexxie it was pretty obvious that he would do anything to impress her.

What Chuck's role as Captain Eureka did was set a scenario for Jack that he doesn't like to get into too often -- personally using Global Dynamics technology. Let me be clear: he'll let others who know how to use the technology utilize it to take care of a situation. When it is on his person it's a different story. Take the embedded communication chip as a perfect example of his dislike for this type of technology (being shocked any time he tried to call someone whose name started with a 'Z' didn't help in this case). However, when someone close to him is in danger, he'll do anything to keep them safe. Even it is means this quantum phasing shifts out of our plane.

And the reason why Jack had to walk through walls? Zoe and her version of the 'Scooby' gang decided to go exploring through an unknown portion of the town. Being that walking two steps in any direction in Eureka can cause bodily damage, taking a tour of a unknown space underneath the high school probably wasn't such as good idea. Then again, Zoe was just a bit miffed at her dad (again) for not allowing her to go to a Yoga retreat that Aunt Lexxie recommended. No shock that it led to a life-saving situation for Jack.

Speaking about Lexxie ... while popular with all the boys in Eureka, she is definitely not in Jack's good graces. Particularly since she has taken it upon her self to step in and be a surrogate mother to Zoe. Granted, Zoe needs a motherly influence in her life -- especially right now as she moves from teenager to young woman -- but Lexxie may be the wrong influence. Where Jack can be rigid at times, Lexxie has that hippie, live life type of attitude. So, there's really no middle ground for Zoe to latch onto. As the episode moved on it seems that Lexxie realized the path she was leading Zoe onto and stepped back a bit to let Jack do his job.

Well, thanks to Zane (who I have seen very little of this season), more was revealed as to why Eva Thorne is really in Eureka. As I thought, the mystery revolves around the films that she discovered earlier this season -- the ones that showed potential atomic bomb tests in the 1930s. After Zane decrypted the locks' combinations I got a look into the underground facilities that Thorne has wanted to get into. Now, it looks like the next piece of the puzzle is being put in place with Eva displaying an old USB port key at the end of the episode.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fringe: Pilot

"I knew someone would come eventually." -- Dr. Walter Bishop

Similarities to Lost. I admit I was a little bummed when I saw the first scene. A plane incident? Really, J.J. Abrams? Are you that fixated on planes? But the scene truly does work to set the tone for the series. Why? Because there are all these people trapped in the sky. Something weird happens and their bodies go haywire. The plane lands safely on autopilot, and the agents find the grisly remains of their bodies. It sets up a whole bunch of questions. What happened? Why did it happen? Who is doing it? Where are they now? And how can Olivia and her team make it stop?

The set-up. They've packed just about as much into a pilot as humanly possible. There was the skewed romance between the FBI agents (which might not be over, even though one of them is technically dead), the "fringe science" around which everything else revolves, a looming government conspiracy with a robotic-armed woman, an emotionally unstable father and a distant son, an outsider who's being reluctantly pulled into a world he'd rather avoid, and Olivia, the glue that holds all of it together. And then there's the cow...

The cow. Did it seem a little over the top to you? I appreciate the presence of the cow even though it just seems weird to have a cow in the laboratory. Really, it's basically there for comic relief.

Suspending disbelief. I know the show is all about weird science, but I can't help scratching my head over the way some things went down. No, not the dream sequence. I'm actually ok with that. It's the fact that they had this ancient lab up and running at light-speed, even though it had been collecting dust for years (and why was it still there?). Also, how was Olivia able to recover from her drug-induced dream state and spring back into action so quickly? The cocktail they gave her had LSD in it, for cripes sake, yet she was up and lucid in no time flat.

The characters. With her furrowed brow and husky voice, Anna Tory has just the right personality for both her job AND this series. She's tough, but also vulnerable, as her first scene with John shows. Olivia, Peter and Walter are such different characters, and it will be fun to see them form an alliance of sorts to figure out what's going on. Joshusa Jackson has that every-guy quality that makes me really like him -- ok, fall in love with him a little bit. He's mild-mannered until things don't go his way, and then he unleashes the fire. In contrast, Olivia seems more even-tempered, not as willing to fly off the handle as Peter. John Noble as the kooky, emotionally scarred mad scientist is fun, too. What a complete thrill to see Blair Brown again. I loved her in The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, but wow, I'm feeling old, because she's showing some age and so am I. But the fact that her character is covering up something and she's not all she appears to be -- it's intriguing. Likewise, the jury's still out on Homeland Security Agent Phillip Broyles. He seems on the up and up, but is he really...?

The special effects. I'm completely mesmerized by translucent skin you can see through. I didn't care for the the little 3D location markers between scenes. But did love the pre-commercial visuals of frogs, leaves, apples, handprints and so on. Those are cool, even though they're Lost-like.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Prison Break: Shut Down

"Not every geek with a Commodore 64 can hack into NASA." - Roland

I think I'm already starting to see how much of this season of Prison Break is going to play out. A constant struggle for Scofield and his team to deliver while pressure from Don and his Homeland Security buddies continues to weigh them down. I doubt very much that this is the last time the threat of being shut down will be used. It wouldn't surprise me if there was a mention of it every week - I am talking about their freedom after all. With that in mind, get ready to hear something that I imagine I'll probably be typing a lot as I review this season: the hunt for the remaining Scylla cards continues!

OK, so first I want to talk about Wyatt and Bruce. Well, more so Bruce. How did Bruce know that Sara was in Los Angeles? I'm sure he knows Wyatt hit her house by now, but I don't think he knew she was in LA now. Regardless, that's what he told Wyatt after hours of truth serum injections. And now he's dead, so there's really no point in trying to fill in all the gaps. Swiss-cheese television my friends.

Moving on to T-Bag, who has quickly become the most interesting character on the show. While everyone else is busy being Don's gopher, T-Bag is hot on the late Whistler's trail. Using the information he found in that packet in the locker, he found a furnished apartment, IDs for Cole Pfeiffer (and alter ego or real name?), and work info. Specifically, for some nondescript sales corporation called Gate. Apparently Cole worked there and was one of the company's top earners.

So what's this all about? Was this what Whistler did for a living before The Company got to him? Or does Gate have some sort of connection to Pad Man's crew? Also, why is the CEO so anxious to meet "Cole?" To be honest, his enthusiasm seemed a little fake and I wonder if T-Bag is walking into some sort of trap?

More thoughts...

I know I shouldn't even bother asking, but how exactly did Michael know that all the people at Pad Man's meeting were indeed the final Scylla carriers? Did they all take their cards out of their pocket and raise them to the sky in some sort of evil pseudo-Captain Planet chant?

I loved when Scofield knew exactly where the server would be and Roland asked if he was some sort of engineer. Ha! Yeah... you could say that.

What exactly are Pad Man and Tuxhorn testing in Laos and why is 10,000 an acceptable casualty rate? What are they building or making? Advanced weaponry? Nukes? Some sort of super bug?

Who's the woman in the picture Don looked at? Wife? Sister? Did The Company do something to her?

So Pam Mahone is still alive apparently. Wyatt only killed the son. She's in protective custody now and I imagine she was able to ID Wyatt, which would explain how Lang was able to get Alex a file on him. It was good to see Linc finally cut Mahone some slack too.

Call me crazy, but shouldn't a multi-national, billion dollar funded, anti-US terrorist group have a better code system than what Michael figured out? First letters only? Putting one piece of paper over the other? I had more intricate codes when I passed notes in third grade.

Alright... ready for it... the hunt for the remaining Scylla cards continues! I honestly don't care about that right now though. T-Bag is who I am paying attention to. I want to know exactly what Whistler was up to in his pre-Sona days. The Gate Corporation? Cole Pfeiffer? How did he get tied up with Gretchen? What else is in that bird book? I need answers.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Closer: Tijuana Brass

With the end of the season in sight, "Tijuana Brass" started wrapping up the major ongoing story. The infamous Ramos article was finally published, and the the effects were many and varied. It couldn't have come at a worse time either, as Priority Homicide found themselves in the middle of a very delicate case.

Let's start with Ramos, and the reorganization of the department. There is still a little work to do with how things will shake out once titles and responsibilities are shuffled, but I have enough to pass a grade on the Ramos story. All things considered, it worked well. It was an interesting issue to tackle for the simple fact that law enforcement does have a very tenuous relationship with the media. It makes sense that I would see my favorite law enforcement officials struggle with it.

The addition of Ramos injected a whole new tension that I haven't really seen before, and it really spread. I could see the issues between Pope, Brenda, and Taylor coming as it all came to a head. But the entire team ended up being stuck in the middle. It also set the stage for the line of the night as Provenza cautioned Brenda, "Let's fight one Pope at a time."

I'm curious to see what it all means for the show as it moves ahead. It certainly seems that the reorganization will be largely cosmetic, as Ramos feared. Brenda is keeping her job, and her entire team. The crucial difference may be what kind of cases they are assigned. It's a clever move after fifty episodes. Opening up the story options to any "major crime" should offer some creative breathing room.

Getting back to the case, I really liked how this one played out. I was completely caught off guard by the opening, simply because they chose to cast Silas Mitchell as Father Donohue. The last two things I've seen him in were My Name Is Earl (Donny), and Prison Break (Haywire). Both were such over the top performances that his presence brings an expectation with it, for me anyway. It took a second to get on board with just what he was up to.

That's no reflection on Mitchell's performance, of course, just an odd artifact of modern television. He actually had a really good performance here, and his scenes with Brenda were my favorite part of the episode. It was given a little extra weight by everyone freaking out at the idea, given the post-article climate, of even going near the church. On a couple of different occasions, as the two went back and forth, neither really giving, it really looked like it would be a no go. The way they found common ground, and the confession at the end, were both really well done.

I was also tripped up when Fritz showed up to vouch for Mateo. The fact that he really was one of the good guys, and had given up everything to fight the good fight, was unexpected. Even with the FBI endorsement, it was still easy for the me to remain just as skeptical as Brenda and the team as the evidence piled up. The skepticism did start to wane rather quickly with the appearance of Commandante Vasquez.

It was pretty clear from jump street that he was going to be mixed up in the case somehow. When Donohue mentioned that a hit had been put out on Mateo, I had him pegged for that role. I didn't fully catch on to just how deep in it he was until everyone looked so surprised at who the owner of the truck was. Having the big gotcha scene on the other side of the glass was a nice change. And kudos to everyone for the take down scene. When Vasquez went after Brenda, that was truly frightening. But that's also right where they lost me.

The gambit of booking Vasquez as Mateo was the typical Brenda genius. And I was perfectly willing to go along for the ride as it led to him turning on his bosses and going away for a very long time. But to actually go through with it? Really? I can almost twist it to fit with Brenda's quest for justice, but this was conspiracy on the grandest of stages. It wasn't one person omitting a fact to send someone to death. It was a whole group of people. Despite that questionable ending, still a pretty solid episode.