Thursday, February 21, 2013

What I Watched/Am Watching/Will Watch

Hello my dear friends -

Since I am often asked what TV shows I watch now that LOST has been off the air for a while, I intended to give a rundown of my favorites, oh, I don't know... back when the fall season started in September. Six months have passed, which should give you an idea of how things have been going around here.

BUT, since I know many people are like me and don't always watch shows/series in real time and since I've already spent a few weeks cobbling together this post, I thought it would still be fun to go through my list. I've grouped it by days of the week, although I hardly watch anything live. Following the day-by-day lists is a section for the shows I've watched or am currently watching via On Demand or DVD.


Gossip Girl 
... because he's Chuck Bass. Do I need to say it again?This was one of the few shows I tried to watch the night it aired because I need me my teen/20-something angst! Alas, its run has now ended (and for what it's worth, I LOVED its finale, especially the last ten minutes) and there's no way in hell I'm watching The Carrie Diaries (a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere), so now there's a huge hole in my life. I'm hoping a new series in the vein of The OC and Gossip Girl will pop up before too long. But there will never, ever be another Chuck Bass. Because he's Chuck Bass.

Currently I don't watch any shows that air on Mondays—it's usually a "catch-up" night for DVR'd or On Demand shows if I have some spare time. I did try Revolution for the first five episodes, but it just wasn't my thing. I considered The Following because of all the hype, but then I decided against it because I get too freaked out by that kind of show and am just looking for happy escapism.


How can we get people to watch our show? This sucks.Smash
I LOVED the first season of Smash. Honestly and truly. I have fond memories of tuning in during those precious few weeks I wasn't working right after Des was born. So there was no hate-watching going on over here. (Although I agree with many of the complaints in that article, they never overwhelmed the rest of the show for me).

I was prepared for the worst with the Season 2 premiere, however, as I knew that the show had undergone dramatic changes during the break, including the departure of its creator. But I still enjoyed it, and remain hopeful despite the fact that I've heard things get a little messy once there are a few different productions (Bombshell, Jennifer Hudson's character's, and that bitter bartender dude's) in the mix. I like the British guy (Derek) SO much, though, that I'll keep tuning in just for him, no matter what.

Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan 
I've only watched the premiere so far and liked how it's a lot more about travel and different countries and cultures than just, you know, bugs and creepy crawlies. But I find those fascinating, too, so I'll be saving this series for a catch-up evening.


Our DVR works hardest on Wednesdays, and therefore I usually try to watch at least a few of these shows that same night. One that's not listed below is The Americans. I watched the pilot and thought it was OK, but not compelling enough to stick with at this point (as you'll see, I'm not one for dramas).

American Idol
4 Divas and KeithI have never been a Mariah Carey fan, didn't know who Keith Urban was until he married Nicole Kidman and then judged him by his ridiculously girly hair, could take or leave Randy Jackson, and thought I would despise Nicki Minaj. But I also had doubts about J Lo and Steven Tyler when they came on board a few years ago, so I decided to at least give the new judges a chance.

I'm really glad I did, because I think Nicki is the best judge they've ever had. Yeah, I said it—even better than Simon. She has really grown on me, and I truly like Keith as well. The faces he makes when someone he likes is singing are hilarious. Mariah... well, the jury's still out on her. Mostly I wish both she and Nicki would stop faking British accents so much.

As for the contestants? It's always too hard to say this early on. I've been rooting for Lazaro Arbos because I think his story (he's the one with the heavy stutter) is inspiring, he seems like a genuinely nice kid, and because he reminds me of a Cuban version of my cousin Brad, I can't lie.

Malcolm in the middleSurvivor Caramoan: Fans vs. Favorites
I was a huge, HUGE Survivor fan when the show first premiered back in 2000. I stuck with it for several years, then stopped for quite a while (I think I skipped seasons 9-14), and was finally drawn back in for the China season in 2007. This show never fails to fascinate me—I think it's one of the best displays of the human-nature spectrum there is. Plus, there's something oddly reassuring to me about hearing Jeff Probst holler "Come on in, guys!" and declare "With that, it's time to vote," and all of his other catchphrases week after week. I can't explain it.

The latest season just kicked off two weeks ago, and I'm not too thrilled with the "Favorites" who returned. A lot of them weren't very memorable to me... or I just didn't like them in their original seasons, which means they're kind of the opposite of a Favorite. But my boy Malcom is there, so I'll keep watching.

Modern Family
I only started watching Modern Family last year, and really only because my husband started watching it, and he only did that because of how many awards it was getting and how many people were talking about it in the early seasons. I have a feeling it's not as good now as it was when it first hit the scene. I like it, but I could do without the three young kids. They are just very stiff and unnatural to me... but then again, I've been known to be especially hard on kid actors. Sofia Vergara also bugs that crap out of me. But everyone else is so funny that I guess they outweigh my annoyances. Needless to say, this isn't a show that I consider "must-see TV" when it airs.

They're BOTH Aussies!I had zero intention of watching this series because: 1) I'm not a country music fan, 2) Hayden Panettiere has always bothered me for some reason (and I didn't even watch Heroes), and 3) I had no idea who the lead (Connie Britton) was because I didn't watch Friday Night Lights (something I plan to remedy eventually).

However, I did hear all of the glowing reviews, and so did my husband. He is a musician, loves guitars (but is no country fan, either), and wanted to at least tune in to the premiere. So we did... and we were hooked. There are a few things that bug me about the show, however: Rayna's whiny squirrelly husband, and everything about Scarlett except her singing voice (I especially can't stand her nasally speaking voice and pinched-up face and maddening expressions, but am chalking it up to the fact that she's Australian in real life and must be trying reeealllly hard to nail a Southern accent).

But the music. Oh, THE MUSIC. The music is what keeps me coming back, and the guitars (and the music) are what hooked my husband. He's always shouting out "That's a [some kind of guitar]! That costs like $45,000!" and stuff like that. Anyway, we have fun watching this one. And Gunnar and Scarlett's duets kill me. All of them. So, so good. I've downloaded two from iTunes and am sure I'll buy the whole lot eventually.

Top Chef: Seattle
I don't cook at all (seriously—nothing), am vegetarian, and although I like Tom, Padma usually annoys me because she just NEVER seems unrehearsed or natural. But I do appreciate high-end restaurants and cuisine and learning who the best chefs around the world are, so I keep watching this show. I used to spend a lot of time in Seattle, so it's been cool to see places like Pike Place Market again. I'm now lucky enough to have THREE previous Cheftestants' restaurants right here in my 'hood! And word is they'll be coming back to Chicago next year, so I will of course have to tune in for that.

Stefan was my favorite this season, so now that he's gone I'm not really rooting for anyone in particular in the finale. (Not sure if the finale was last night or if it's next week. But I haven't watched last night's episode yet, either way!)


The Office 
I keep DVRing this even though I haven't watched one episode all season. I'll probably forward through the last few right before the finale. Steve Carell's Michael Scott annoyed me for the last couple of years of his run, and then the show only went downhill afterward. The original British version remains superior! David Brent was a madman. And their Jim (Tim) is now Bilbo Baggins. You can't really top that, hellloooo.

All of the GE jokes were spot-on, too. (My husband works there.)
30 Rock
I thought its final few episodes were great. When Liz met her twins? Just PERFECT. Brilliant stuff. So was the final final scene with Kenneth. But it was time for this show to end, so I can't say I'll miss it.

All I've EVER done with Glee is forward through to the musical numbers. From what I can tell, I don't like any of the new cast members. But it's really not about the acting and storylines for me with this one.


Nothing—this is a true catch-up or watch-a-movie or read-a-book night. And no, I never watched Fringe. That's a choice I regret because there are so many people who share my tastes that loved this series. It sucks because now I already know what happens throughout each season, thanks to Twitter. But I still do intend to watch the entire series one day after the final season is released on DVD or Instant.


Saturday Night Live
What I do with this one is read reactions on Twitter, read my girl Claire Zulkey's recaps for the L.A. Times and my man Ryan McGee's recaps on Hitfix, and then forward through to the best skits based on their takes.


666 Park Avenue
Sob. This was my favorite new show of the year, but it was cancelled. And I swear I didn't like it solely because it starred LOST's Terry O'Quinn. I REALLY loved it, and so did my husband, who's waaaaay pickier than I am.

The special effects left something to be desired, but this show had a great cast (meaning they were all really good actors), an awesome soundtrack and cranked out the suspense and creepiness week after week. I was 100% prepared for it to be, dumb, too. On that note, I think it suffered from an awful title that deterred people. I mean, *I* almost didn't want to tune in, and I'm one of Terry's biggest fans! They should've just called it The Drake.

Ah, well. Apparently they're going to air the final few episodes this summer. I'll find a way to watch them one way or the other in order to get some closure. But I really wish The Man had given this series a chance and had marketed it better. If there ends up being a way to watch all of the first season, you should check it out.

He's really not that charming. Let's be honest.
Once Upon a Time
My feelings about this show haven't changed a ton since I wrote about it last season. I'm glad they toned down all of the LOST references since then, although I almost died laughing with Belle was watching Exposé in the hospital a few weeks ago. A sly nod like that I appreciate, just don't bang us over the head with it.

This current season has been dragging a little for me... until the most recent episode ("Manhattan"). I think it might've been the best of the series. I'm still no fan of Henry, Emma, or really any of the characters on their own, but I continue to love the twists on classic fairy tales and appreciate the overall sense of hope and optimism in the series. My husband won't come near the TV when I watch this show, though. I married a cynic.

The Amazing Race
I haven't watched this season's premiere yet, and bowed out of last season about midway through. I mostly watch this series for travel ideas and to learn about new places, but if the teams aren't interesting to me, I lose enthusiasm quickly. Here's hoping there are some people worth rooting for this time around. Phil's eyebrow can't do ALL the work.


Jesse = the bestBreaking Bad
Since I already wrote about Breaking Bad here and intend to write another post before its final episodes start up again this summer, I won't say a ton more today except that this is my new favorite show. Nothing else that's currently on the air even comes close to touching Breaking Bad. I'm still surprised that I started watching it at all, but I'm so, so glad I did. And did I call how the midseason finale would end or what?

I am kind of depressed because I have no more new episodes left to watch. I had caught up with the series completely out of order, and until last weekend still had two Season 4 episodes ("Box Cutter" and "Thirty-Eight Snub") outstanding. I waited to watch them for a while because I knew I'd get all sad afterward, and I was right. Now that I've seen them, it just reminds me that I don't watch anything right now that can even remotely hold a candle to this show.

(If you're like I was and are still reluctant to watch this series, you really need to read this post of mine.)

Lucky girl.
My birthday present to myself last month was to spend 45 minutes on the phone with DirecTV, negotiating a way to get HBO and Showtime for "free" in order for me to be able to continue my Homeland binge. Unfortunately my husband didn't get my several hints that this was something I wanted him to take care of... either that, or he resented my inappropriate crush on Officer Brody. By the way, does ANYONE else think it's weird that people only call him Brody? Even his wife does. That's his LAST NAME. I don't get it. And while I'm venting, can I ask if it's weird that I like the bad-guy characters more than Brody's mopey stoner daughter? I seriously can't stand her.

Anyway, I'd watched Season One on DVD and the Season Two premiere was available on the Showtime site for free, but then I was jonesing for more. I couldn't take waiting—I NEEDED TO WATCH THE REST RIGHT NOW. And so thankfully I got my cable deal and am all caught up. I'd say that while it's not on the same level as Breaking Bad, Homeland is still up there and is probably my #2 favorite show right now. It's another one I didn't think I'd like before I started watching it. But it's hard to resist Inigo Montoya.

I'm mostly looking forward to watching this one with the rest of the world in real time going forward... but part of me is sorry I'll no longer be consuming episodes in a vacuum. I thought Season Two was just fine, and I feel like if I'd been keeping up with Twitter while I watched it I would've had my opinion swayed and would've been more sarcastic and negative about the show as a result. Twitter is dangerous that way—for me, at least. I don't like to feel stupid or wrong for enjoying something.

Oh, and I didn't realize until I watched the extras that both Brody and Estes are British in real life?!?! That blew my mind.

And never forget: Mandy. Patinkin. HOLLA!

Seriously. TOO evil.Game of Thrones
I read the first Game of Thrones book and then saw Season One on DVD. Now that we have HBO, I just caught all of Season Two via On Demand a few weeks ago. Now I wait with everyone else until Season Three premieres at the end of March.

I enjoy Game of Thrones, but not as much as everyone else seems to. I think it's because the stuff Joffrey does makes me physically nauseous most of the time. I know it's Not Real and all of that, but come on—killing babies? Torturing women? It's too much. I just wanna see the dragons grow up and then torch him. (No spoilers there: I only read the first book so I don't know if that's what will happen. I actually think they'll never kill off Joffrey because he's too good of a villain. But if they do I hope it's Arya or Sansa taking care of business!)

Anyway, I thought the Season Two finale was totally anticlimactic, especially following the very tense "Blackwater" episode. And I think all those zombie soldier things are lame, so I hope that's not going to be a huge storyline next year. BUT I enjoy the majority of the cast and this series is still better than 99% of everything else on TV, so obviously I'm going to keep watching. Tyrion 4eva.

Good luck, guys.
The Walking Dead
I've only watched the six episodes of Season One so far, so I feel like there's not much I can say about this series just yet. I liked it, but since I almost had a heart attack when the DVD menu popped up featuring a bloody zombie girl and have now suffered a few restless evenings filled with zombie nightmares, I'm not sure if it's a good idea that I keep watching this series.

I know everyone else loves it, though, and I AM curious to see how things progress for the poor survivors. So odds are I'll watch all of Season Two via On Demand, continue to have bad dreams, and then be bitter about how there's no way for me to watch the first half of Season Three right now. (If there IS a way that I don't know about, please tell me!) I am DVRing the last half of Season Three that recently started up again. Perhaps they'll have a marathon of Season Three sometime soon? Does AMC do that?

(P.S. If zombies ARE your thing, you should check out The Harvesting by fellow LOST fan Melanie Karsak, who contacted me about reviewing her book a loooong time ago. I still intend to (I read it and liked it, just haven't had time to put down my thoughts in a post), but in the meantime you should give it a whirl—the sequel's coming out soon!


As I mentioned above, I intend to watch all of Friday Night Lights at some point. And Fringe.

I tried out Mad Men and it's just not my thing, so there's no going back with that one. I also have no interest in Downton Abbey (my general avoidance of period pieces and dramas is kicking in), despite everyone trying to convince me otherwise. I don't want to watch Girls (I'm just not that cool) or Sons of Anarchy (too violent) either. What else have I missed? I need guidance. And quick, before the spring/summer movie season heats up and I have even less time at night to watch TV!

- e

Saturday, February 02, 2013

56 Up (and the entire "Up" documentary series)

Hello my dear friends -

I spent a good chunk of the past two days searching and searching and searching the bowels of this blog because I could have SWORN that I'd written about the Up documentary series before. But if I did, that post has been sacrificed to the Blogger demons and I just can't find it. It's gonna drive me nuts.

Since I can't reference the post I thought I wrote in order to give you some background, let me start out by saying that the Up series is — by far — one of the best, if not THE best, film-viewing experiences of my life. It has affected me profoundly, and I think it will do the same for you, which is why I chose to not only fire up this long-neglected site today, but also promote a competitor's product (56 Up is now in select theaters, but Netflix has all of the past Up movies on DVD and Instant (as you guys all know, I've been a freelance writer for Redbox since 2008) Also, since I first posted this an hour ago, others have let me know that the past installments are often at public libraries as well).

The series began in 1964, when a British filmmaker decided to test out the maxim "Give me the boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man." Ten seven-year-old boys and four seven-year-old girls were interviewed that year to establish their attitudes about certain issues, their dreams and their life plans, and then these same individuals were revisited every seven years since to see how they've changed and how things actually turned out.

TOTALLY AMAZINGLY, all but one of them have remained a part of this grand cinematic experiment for nearly half a century. (And happy spoiler alert: they're all still alive, which I guess is also pretty amazing.) The great irony is that the one guy who dropped out, Charles Furneaux, went on to become a documentary producer himself.

Michael Apted, who was a researcher on the first film (entitled Seven Up!), took over the reins with the next installment (7 Plus Seven) and has stayed with the project ever since. While you can't see him in 56 Up, you can hear him — and the age creeping into his voice (he's 71). Thankfully he has made arrangements for the series to continue on when he is no longer around to do the interviews.

My hope is that the interviewees will want to continue on after that point, too. The series was enormously popular in Britain, and the participants experienced a strange sort of fame. Almost all of them have struggled with how their "characters" have been depicted, and they clearly have a strong love/hate relationship with the project — and I'm sure with Apted himself to some extent.

Despite the negatives that have come with the series for the thirteen participants, after watching 56 Up my husband and I were talking about how cool it would be to have your life documented in this way. What a gift these people have for their children, their friends and their other family members! And really, themselves, too. How many of us would jump at the chance to see and hear what we were like at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 and 56? To be reminded what we thought about the issues of the day and what are dreams were at that point in time? It would be nothing short of extraordinary. It's not the same as home videos.

So now I guess I better talk a little bit about why I feel so strongly about the Up series, besides the Cool Factor mentioned above.

I love these movies because — for the most part — they radiate a sense of hope, a sense of peace, a sense of happiness, and a sense that everything's going to work out. However, they accomplish this in a way that is very much NOT what the original filmmaker planned. He seemed to be out to prove that a British family's educational, class and social standing would ultimately determine how their children ended up. That's true for some of the participants, but couldn't be further from the truth for others—coming from money didn't always guarantee happiness, and growing up poor didn't always prevent success. Luck, determination, optimism and personality have played HUGE roles in the interviewees' lives. Perhaps they, too, have realized this at age 56, because few of them have any real regrets (even when what's happened to them isn't all rainbows and puppy dogs). The general sense seems to be "I've done the best I could, and for the most part I'm happy."

One of the most memorable interviewees is Tony, whose boundless energy has hardly waned since he was a wee lad. Here is a person who had big dreams, went after them, and achieved almost all of them despite great odds. But he's not perfect, and his many personal and professional missteps have been documented right along with his achievements.

Tony through the years

Then there's Neil—one of my favorites from the original installment—who was just a bundle of personality at age seven. But at some point before he turned 21, things went horribly off track. His is the most concerning of the updates in 56 Up, though my hope is that he's currently more content than he lets on.

Neil, now and then
If you are able to watch the very first film in the series, I'll forewarn you that there's lots of talk about the British school system, and all of that went over my head. But you'll still get the point the director is attempting to set up for the rest of the project, and the UK-specific parts lessen as the series progresses.

You don't need to see all of the other films first because they recap the life story of each of the interviewees and show clips from all of the previous Up films ... BUT I think if you have some time, I would do everything you can to at least try to catch a few of the early installments beforehand. It would be hard to have much of an emotional connection to the group otherwise. Though make no mistake, if all you can make time for is to only see 56 Up, do it. It will still be an incredible and moving experience.

If you're here in Chicago, 56 Up is playing at the beloved Music Box Theatre all week.

If you're not in Chicago, you can see when 56 Up is coming to a theater near you here.

I'd love to hear from anyone who's watched any of the Up installments. Are you as obsessed with them as I am?

A trio of friends from the series