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Things That Make Me Smile

Things have been getting me down lately but there are a few things that will always make me feel at least slightly better, no matter what. (These are in no particular order).

  • Hugs from my husband
  • Watching Fred Astaire dance
  • Seeing growth in my gardens
  • The fact that my dog is excited to see me every single day when I get home
  • Messages from friends and family
  • Listening to popular standards (songs) from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s
  • Watching escapist science-fiction and fantasy films/television

 

What I’m Watching, May 2011

What I'm Watching, May 2011

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, we don’t have cable and we live too far out in the country to pick up any digital signals with our antennae, even with a converter box. So, we watch things on video and through Netflix instant streaming. (The instant streaming is awesome, by the way. It’s no extra cost to us and we can finally watch shows we missed.)

So, here’s a list of TV shows I’ve been watching in the past few months

  • That 70’s Show
    We watched the first few seasons of this show when it originally aired and liked it well enough. We moved a few years into its run and since we couldn’t get Fox to come in at our new house, we never watched it again. So, when we saw it was on Netflix instant streaming, we put it on the queue. 

    It’s not the best or most original situation comedy, but it was enjoyable enough and despite some pretty bad acting (especially in the beginning) there were some very memorable characters.

    We watched it all the way through to its last season. It had its ups and downs but pretty much kept a consistent quality throughout. Losing its two most popular teen characters in the last season did hurt it a bit but not as much as I expected.

  • Bones
    When this procedural show premiered, neither my husband nor I had much interest. I’m not a big fan of procedural shows unless there’s a nice twist or interesting characters (i.e. “Castle”) and my husband is not a big fan of David Boreanaz. 

    However, I kept hearing good things about the show and how well Boreanaz was doing (I do like him and have always found him quite charming despite the husband’s sometimes-intense dislike) so I tried out an episode on Hulu. I watched a few more and decided it was a show that I would like to try. I also thought that it was something the husband would like as well if he could get over his Boreanaz-hate.

    I finally convinced him and it didn’t take long for us both to become hooked. It’s a procedural but mixes the approaches of other crime-fighting shows. While “Castle” focuses on motive and “CSI” focuses on forensics, “Bones” focuses on both. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, finds the physical evidence while FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth focuses on the heart of the matter (murder).

    The other characters that assist Brennan are just as (and sometimes more) interesting as the two leads. We’re both eagerly waiting for the next season of the show to become available.

  • Flash Forward
    My husband writes a DVD Review column and he received the first half of this show’s one and only season for review on DVD so we checked it out. 

    The premise was very intriguing – everyone in the world blacks out at exactly the same time for a few minutes and sees the future for a specific date and time.

    The show focuses on the FBI agents in charge of investigating the incident, how it came about, who’s responsible and how to prevent future blackouts.

    I’m not sure that it deserved future seasons but I liked it well enough to finish the program. It’s not going to go on any of my favorites list but I don’t regret spending the time to watch it.

  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus
    I’ve been a fan of the Monty Python group since my college roommate introduced me to them in the early 1990s. They had my heart the second the Frenchmen flung the cow over the castle wall. 

    However, I had never seen the original “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” television program and that’s just inexcusable.

    So, we’ve been watching these sporadically over the last few months. Like any other sketch comedy some skits are good, some not so good, but more often than not these guys have me cracking up at the silliest things.

  • The Office
    I like Steve Carell. Some of his movies are shit (excuse my bluntness, but they are – Almighty Evan, anyone? Ugh.) but I like Carell despite some of his career choices. I honestly find him very sexy. 

    I had heard of “The Office,” of course, and knew that it was very popular but I never had the chance to watch it. Netflix has it available on instant streaming so we gave it a try.

    Ugh. That first season was so bleah. It wasn’t awful but neither I nor my husband could figure out what the big deal was. What is so funny about a man making a fool of himself and his subordinates making faces at a camera?

    But, we stuck it out and continued to season 2. (Fortunately, season 1 was very short). Starting with the very first episode of season 2 it all seemed to click and we’ve been hooked ever since. The characters started doing more than making ‘isn’t this guy an idiot?’ faces at the camera and became defined characters with their own strengths and flaws which, in turn, made Michael Scott (Carell) more tolerable.

    And not only is it freakin’ funny, it has a lot of heart without being sentimental. There’s always at least one moment in each episode that’s a bit touching and it never seems forced or unrealistic.

  • Party Down
    We checked this show out because of who created it and some of the cast members. We loved, loved, loved “Veronica Mars” and “Party Down” was co-created by Rob Thomas, the brains behind “Mars.” 

    It starred Ryan Hansen from VM along with several other actors that we like (Martin Starr, Jane Lynch, Adam Scott, Ken Marino and Lizzy Caplan) so we decided to check it out.

    It’s not great, but it has some truly funny moments. It follows the (almost always pathetic) lives of a group of caterers and the hijinks that ensue at their various jobs around Los Angeles.

    It’s not a laugh-out-loud type of comedy but it can be quiet entertaining.

  • Penn & Teller’s Bullshit
    I’ve only seen a few episodes but so far I’m liking this one. Penn Gillette can be rather acerbic, but he seems to be honest and fair when he tears certain things down such as the Boys Scouts, the Obesity epidemic and Prostitution. 

    It certainly helps that more often than not, I agree with them 100 percent.

  • Phineas and Ferb
    I’ve written about this show on this blog already, but I have to mention it again. 

    Pure Awesomeness. (Yes, I meant to capitalize both words.)

  • The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
    Being fans of the original films (I don’t even hate the third) this was a no-brainer. Closely following the film’s continuity, this show covers the time between the second and third films following the adventures of Sarah Connor, her son John, another Terminator sent from the future to protect them and John’s uncle also sent from the future to help. 

    What I particularly like about this show is that it shows how John Connor turned into the hero that we all know he is to become. I like him on this show much more than any of the movies in which he appeared.

    (NOTE: I have not seen the fourth movie yet, with Christian Bale. That’s on our list and we plan to see it after we’re done with the series.)

We have recently (last night, actually) started watching “Primeval” but I’m not sure if I like it yet or not. The premise is interesting but so far, I don’t like the characters very much. They’re all very cliche right now but I’m hoping that will change soon.

New Entertainment Discoveries

When we moved to Maine, the husband and I decided not to get cable. This was before the digital conversion so when the weather was right we could sometimes get the three major networks to come in, but this was rare and it was always static-y. After the conversion, and even with a digital converter, the only station we could get was Public Television.

The point to this rambling is that we don’t keep up with new programming. If we hear about interesting shows we’ll wait for the DVDs and rent them through Netflix. So, even if we do like ‘new’ stuff we’re always at least a year behind everyone else. Now that we have Netflix streaming it’s easier, but we’re always somewhat behind.

In the past few months I’ve discovered a couple of shows of which I now consider myself a big fan.

Community

We actually checked out one episode of this online shortly after it aired – the Paintball episode – and while we found the plethora of pop-culture references amusing, we didn’t really see why the show was getting so much buzz. It seemed pretty typical.

But, we decided to give it another go and rented the DVDs through Netflix.

So, yeah, those pop-culture references are great – especially since they reference things older than 10 years – but it’s really the characters that make this show so good. I have my favorites, but there isn’t a character I don’t like and that’s pretty amazing for me since the core cast is so large and some of those characters can be really irritating. I admit that I can be pretty judgmental with fictional characters (see my previous post about Amy Pond and don’t even get me started on Tasha Yar) but the writers of Community have, so far, been able to make these deeply flawed characters likable.

This time when we got to the Paintball episode (which is late in the season) it was hilarious because I knew the characters and their dialogue had a context past the obvious pop-culture references.

Phineas & Ferb

I had heard of this Disney-Channel cartoon in passing but didn’t pay it much mind. The only Disney cartoon I can remember really liking was Kim Possible and new cartoons for kids just don’t interest me much. From what little I’ve seen they all seem to rely on crude and really stupid humor and I have always hated insulting childrens’ entertainment.

The only reason I even tried Phineas & Ferb was because I read that Michael J. Fox would be doing a voice for the cartoon in its upcoming season. I knew that I would at least be watching that episode and I knew that Netflix had it available for streaming so I decided to watch a few episodes to see what it was all about.

Premise: There’s 104 days of summer vacation and Phineas & Ferb are determined to savor each day to the fullest. The boys – step-brothers – are probably around 10 years old (I don’t remember ever hearing a definite age). They have a teenage sister, Candace, whose main goal in life is to ‘bust’ her brothers and get them in trouble with their parents. This never happens because as soon as their mother glances into the back yard (or wherever their project of the day happens to be) all evidence of the boys’ shenanigans are gone.

After I watched the first episode, which consisted of two stories, I was glad to see that it lacked the bodily-functions humor and that the main characters were smart and creative but I didn’t really see anything special. Even the fact that their pet duck-billed platypus was a secret agent spy didn’t really intrigue me all that much.

But I watched another episode, with two more stories. Candace started to annoy me and I figured this would be my last episode to watch. It seemed to be falling into a formula that would get old fast and even though I really did appreciate the premise I didn’t want to see the same thing over and over again.

But then, the formula was shaken up. A song was added. It was funnier. I watched another episode. The formula was altered – just a bit – and it got even more amusing. And this just kept on going.

I’m almost done with season 1 and I absolutely adore this show.  It’s a celebration of imagination, ingenuity, intelligence, acceptance and all without an ounce of saccharin. The overall formula is still there but someone on the writing staff realized that doing the same thing over and over will not hold anyone’s attention anymore, not even kids (maybe especially kids). The small, subtle tweaks to this formula keep it interesting. The in-jokes aren’t necessary to enjoy the show but make it hilarious for those keeping up.

But I think my favorite thing about the show is the fact that Phineas  & Ferb don’t have an ounce of malice in them. They aren’t doing these experiments and projects behind their parents backs. They aren’t doing anything to break the rules – they’re just trying to have fun and always invite everyone else to join in, even Candace. I can’t remember any fictional characters who are just so ‘nice’ without being insufferable goody-goods or just too sweet to tolerate.

If I had kids, this would be required viewing.

At least I’m not apathetic about the apathy

It’s kind of a dark time for me right now – which is kind of ironic. For the first time in five years I’m out of debt to anyone who can sue me and overall things are going well. I have a job, I recently got a (small) raise, the car is still running and we even had enough from our tax return to get the hi-def television we’ve wanted for ten years now.

But I’ve been overwhelmed by apathy for a few months now. I have trouble motivating myself to get work done at home as well as at my job. I’m only doing what I have to do and letting the rest slide. I feel like that little prick on the next-to-last season of Scrubs whom Doctor Cox fired because he was so damn lazy. I’d go look up the character’s name, but I just don’t feel like it.

I can’t really tell if the apathy is stemming from burn-out or from a deeper depression. I’ve always struggled with depression, but usually I had a reason for being depressed. Right now, things are looking brighter than they have in a long while but it’s just not sinking into my brain.

Maybe that’s what’s causing the apathy. The nightmare is mainly over and I don’t have nearly as much to keep me worrying and my brain is saying, “All right, it’s safe to shut down for a while. What? You don’t have vacation time until June? Well, sucks to be you, but I’m switching off. See you in the Spring.”

The only thing that gets me out of this funk is thinking about and planning my gardens, and I won’t be able to even start implementing those plans for at least a month. Cleanup could possibly start in a couple of weeks, but we still have at least two feet of snow out there and the temperatures are staying right at freezing. And it just will not stop snowing.

I just checked. It’s going to be in the low 40’s this weekend. Maybe the end (of winter) is near.

And maybe I’ll get lucky and this will all just be seasonal depression. I certainly hope so. I haven’t written anything substantial since I failed to win NaNoWriMo last November.

Yeah, this was a downer post for which I apologize. So here’s something to lighten the mood. Because, as we all know, Fez hats are cool.

Fezes are cool

The problem with Pond

Amy's Choice

Amy's Choice

Last year, soon after it was released, the husband and I picked up the first Matt Smith series of Doctor Who. From the beginning I liked Matt Smith. He’s quirky, like David Tennant, but a bit more old-fashioned and aloof like past doctors. He has the exuberance we’ve come to expect since way back during the 8th doctor’s one time offering but he’s not quite as willing to get overly-close to the humans he picks up.

Which leads us to his newest companion. I have to say it. I don’t like Amy Pond. I adore Amelia Pond, but I loathe Amy Pond.

I’ve been trying to figure out why. My husband likes her and I think the public in general does as well. I have heard a lot of idiotic bleating about how she dresses and that it’s too sexy for Doctor Who. As the Brits would say, this is total rubbish. It’s obvious that the complainers either have a short memory or they have never watched any Doctor Who episodes before Christopher Eccleston. Teagan, who travelled with Peter Davison’s Doctor, wore very short skirts and Peri’s first appearance was in a skimpy bikini. And then there’s Leila who was most at home in her primitive and rather revealing animal-skin outfit.

So, no, unlike those prigs, my dislike of Amy does not come from her short skirts or because she’s very pretty. I’m not in high school anymore.

I think it boils down to the fact that she has no respect for anyone. If something conflicts with her ultimate goal, she seems pretty damned eager to just dismiss whatever it is that’s in her way without any regard to anyone else’s desires and/or feelings.

I think it most hit me at the tail end of ‘Flesh and Stone’ when the Doctor returns Amy to the same evening that he picked her up. As soon as they step out the T.A.R.D.I.S. Amy forcefully attempts to bed the Doctor.

I find the scene disturbing to watch and at first I thought it was just because I don’t like overly-forward people. But after thinking about it for a while, I realize it makes me uncomfortable because if it were the other way around – if the Doctor, or any man, was chasing Amy around her room trying to force her into bed after she repeatedly says no – would that scene seem so damned funny or whimsical? No, it would be disgusting and creepy. And that’s what that scene is to me – disgusting and creepy. I can’t even see it as an aggressive seduction because it is so very clear that the Doctor has absolutely no interest.

Fortunately, Amy does back off in subsequent episodes but she’s continues to make these comments about how she’s still trying to choose between the Doctor and Rory, her fiance. Rory obviously loves her – they are engaged – but the Doctor has never done or said anything to make her think he wants her around for anything other than friendship and to see the universe through her eyes. Perhaps it’s just the way Karen Gillian plays it – and let’s face it, she’s not much of an actress – but the fact that she just assumes there’s a definite opportunity with the Doctor is the height of arrogance and I find it very distasteful.

Amy Pond is pushy, arrogant, rude and insensitive. One or two of those traits may have been acceptable to me, but all together? No, I don’t like it.

Still, even with her awfulness, that’s not enough to make me stop watching the show. As long as the Doctor is intriguing I’ll watch the show. But I sincerely hope either Amy Pond leaves the show after this next season or they at least tone her down. Perhaps having her husband along for the ride (who I like very much) will humanize her and make her more likable to me instead of the bitch companion I just want to slap.

Not even Adric was this annoying.

Looking for the spare key?

Looking for the spare key?

The art of silent comedy

From the 6th season episode “Three Valentines” from the situation comedy “Frasier.”

Featuring David Hyde Pierce

Things I Have Learned

No resolutions this year. I know what needs to be done, I know what I want to do and making a list won’t help me accomplish anything other than making yet another list to add to the plethora of lists I’ve made every year for decades.

Plethora. I’ve always liked that word, although I have never personally had a plethora of piñatas.

Anyway, so instead of a resolution list, I’m going to make a list of things I’ve learned over the past year. Yes, I will still be adding to my abundance of lists but at least this one is different. Some items will make sense only to me, some will be depressing and I have no doubt that most of them will be pop-culture related.

So, let’s get on with it.

  1. I have learned that the following are cool: Bow-ties, Fezzes and Stetson hats
  2. I have learned that people will believe any lie put before them if it affirms their fears
  3. I have learned that the only Tea Party worth paying attention to occurs in Wonderland
  4. I have learned that gold is not a good skin tone for Peter Cushing
  5. I have learned that Star Trek: Enterprise got a lot better after it’s first season
  6. I have learned that Pecan Pie is good for the soul
  7. I have learned that the Harry Potter books stay good, no matter how many times I read them
  8. I have learned that putting your faith in others’ intelligence and reasoning will only lead to great disappointment
  9. I have learned that Wil Wheaton is a very funny individual and that his pets are freakin’ hilarious
  10. I have learned that none of my family reads my blog
  11. I have learned that the first Doctor was awesome and that Ian and Barbara are now in my top five favorite companions, third to Donna Noble and Ace
  12. I have learned that Amy Pond is my least favorite companion and I sincerely hope she’s gone before Matt Smith finishes his run as the Doctor
  13. I have learned that despite it’s rather weak last episode, Lost was still one of the best shows ever produced
  14. I have learned that Danny Kaye was a pain in the ass to work with but that I still love watching and listening to him
  15. I have learned that when it comes to growing flowers, my gardening skills are sorely lacking
  16. I have learned that I like Hydrangeas quite a bit
  17. I have learned that putting a bird bath in the middle of your garden will cut down on the number of nasty bugs on your plants
  18. I have learned that Craig Ferguson is the coolest late night talk show host ever
  19. I have learned that Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants equals true genius
  20. I have learned that Spider and Scorpion does not update often enough
  21. I have learned that watching a meteor shower with my husband is now one of my favorite things to do
  22. I have learned that I still do not like Jonah Hill and don’t understand why Apatow (or anyone else, for that matter) continues to cast him in movies
  23. I have learned that I can lose hours of a day playing Roller Coaster Tycoon
  24. I have learned that J.J. Abrams relies on lens flares WAY too much
  25. I have learned that you apparently never stop missing your favorite Kitty
  26. I have learned that no one but my husband gets my Eurotrip references
  27. I have learned that no one but my husband gets me, which is why I love him so much
  28. I have learned that my tolerance for people is at an all-time low
  29. I have learned that I find physics difficult to learn
  30. I have learned that my grasp of World Geography is shaky at best
  31. I have learned that some movies/mini-series are MUCH better than the books upon which they’re based (North and South trilogy)

I’m sure there are things missing from this list – I certainly hope so, anyway – but that’s all I could think of for now. My memory isn’t what it used to be…which is another thing I learned this year.

What a perfect summation

This is a few weeks old but I wanted to post it anyway.

Craig Ferguson recently had Matt Smith, the current Doctor of BBC’s Doctor Who, as a guest on his nightly late-night talk show. (The only one I even bother trying to watch). Ferguson likes to do little musical and puppet-show intros for his cold open and that night they did a number to the theme song of Doctor Who. Because of some music rights issues it wasn’t aired but was eventually leaked to the internet.

I think Ferguson sums up the show perfectly: The triumph of intellect and romance (not lovey-dovey romance, but the other meaning of romance) over brute force and cynicism.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Star Trek: Enterprise Crew

Star Trek: Enterprise Crew

I never thought I’d ever say this but…I’m going to miss Star Trek: Enterprise.

So, let me back up and explain.

Back when Enterprise first aired, my husband and I gave it most of its first season to impress us. It failed, miserably. We didn’t hate the characters – which made it a huge step up from Star Trek: Voyager – but it was nothing like the advertised premise. There was nothing here about starting the Federation or the history of the Star Trek universe.

Instead, we got Star Trek: The Next Generation – light. Any of those first season plots could have happened on ST:TNG. Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some ST:TNG, but that’s not what we were promised. And, quite frankly, Enterprise was damn boring. We never watched it again.

I did hear rumors about it getting better but by that time three seasons had passed and I just wasn’t interested in getting back to it. Well, in the past year, my husband started hearing even more about how it got better so we decided to watch it, from the beginning all the way to the end.

With our expectations much lower now, it wasn’t quite the disappointment it had been when it first aired. Again, we liked the characters so that helped keep us watching through the boring, generic first season and the forgettable second season (honestly, I can’t tell you without looking up episode descriptions about anything that happened in season 2).

Then we got to the third season and something finally happened – an intergalactic war with…a race we’d never heard of.

Enterprise pretty much wrote in a fail-safe from the very first episode – time travel. The writers could get away with anything and in the end fix it all with time travel and that is exactly what they did. It was a major cheat and we knew it was coming without even reading up on future episodes.

But, that didn’t make season 3 un-enjoyable. in fact, it was the first season where something happened. The Expanse, an area of space that didn’t follow the known laws of physics, was new and having a large, overarching storyline was welcome after the rambling of seasons 1 and 2. There was character development, questionable actions on behalf of the greater good and consequences to those actions. Boyishly optimistic Captain Archer became disillusioned and even bitter.

And it got exciting. Even though this still had nothing to do with the real Star Trek universe, we cared enough about these characters (and most of them are really great for Star Trek) that watching how they handled this war was fun and even nerve-wracking.

And now, we’re in season 4 and suddenly, it’s what the show had been promised to be. We’re not completely done yet, but so far in this season we’ve learned why Klingons looked more human in the original series. We saw how Vulcan society as we know it was formed. We’ve seen the start of the United Federation of Planets. We’ve learned more about Andorians and Tellurites than every before. We’ve even met the Romulans – and they haven’t been  ruined by letting any other races see them. (If you don’t remember, in the original series it was a shock to find out that Romulans looked very much like Vulcans).

And even with all this plot, the characters have gotten even more interesting. This is solid Star Trek writing almost up to par with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, my favorite series of the franchise. It’s a shame that Scott Bakula doesn’t have the same gravitas as William Shatner or Patrick Stewart, but really, there aren’t many actors who do.

Even T’Pal became a character I’m fond of. I never hated her and I thought Jolene Blaylock played it well but in the beginning she had no personality at all. The only thing that really annoys me about the character now is that she still won’t wear a damn Starfleet uniform, even though her character joined Starfleet in season 4. I know it was to please the fanboys who tuned into Voyager simply for curvy Seven of Nine and were now tuning into Enterprise for the same ‘feature’ but even on ST:TNG they finally put Deanna Troi in a uniform.

And now we’re down to about five episodes and I can tell I’m going to miss it when we’re done. It’s a shame that it was cut short just when it got really good. All other non-original series, no matter how bad they were (Voyager was awful, people, really really awful) got seven seasons but Enterprise only got four. At the time of its cancellation I didn’t care at all, assuming it was just as bad as season one.

I almost wish I had been right.