If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake

2 04 2018

Why didn’t anyone tell me about The Great British Baking Show?

Okay, yes, there all kinds of social media stories and tweets and whatnot about the show, but still.

I was scrolling through Netflix last weekend, once again failing to get into Jessica Jones, and thought, huh, this Brit bake bit, why not.

Why not, indeed. I slurped down that first season Fri-Sat, then on Sunday watched the entirety of season two. This past weekend, did the same with seasons three and four. (I was going to save that last available season until next weekend, but then thought, Who am I kidding, and binged away.)

I don’t know why I liked it so much. I have watched my share of cooking shows (tho’ I’m not much for cooking) and enjoy baking (tho’ rarely do), and even a few competitive cooking shows, but nothing about all of the media around the show made me particularly want to watch it.

The set-up (for the eight of you who haven’t watch it) is simple: 12 (in one season, 13) amateur bakers start in episode one; after 3 different bakes judged by two judges (and watched over by the mildly-comic-relief hosts), one person is declared star baker and one sent home. Episode 2, same as the first, on down to the last episode, in which the final three bakers compete for the title.

That’s it. Regular folk from across the UK watching their custards curdle and caramels crystallize and peering into their ovens for their goods to rise and bake in the too-little time left.

All the while trying to meet judge Mary Berry’s standard of “sheer perfection”.

It’s charming.

The bakers are both competitive and cooperative, aware of their own positions but also helping each other and teasing each other and sharing a kind of esprit de corps in the face of the judges oft bewildering instructions.

And withering criticism: Berry and fellow judge Paul Hollywood are unsparing, clear in what they like and don’t like.

That first season, I admit, I cringed at the criticism. I found it hard to watch the bakers as they presented wilted towers and underbaked breads to the judges, watched the color flow into or out of their faces as Berry and Hollywood noted precisely what was wrong with the bake.

Of course, there was plenty of praise for “good bakes”, too, but it was the criticism that got to me.

I’m terrible with criticism, more so now than I was when younger (when I was also not great with it). I have difficulty separating a critique of a performance or an essay from an evaluation of my very existence as a human being, which has meant, unsurprisingly, that I have difficulty putting forth anything which matters to me out in front of other people.

I have of course: am doing so now, with this blog. But it took awhile to get comfortable with this—early on I went to some effort to separate my give name from my chosen blog-name—and even now I oft say, Well, it’s not like any of this matters.

(Which is, of course, a dismissal of those of you who do read this. The joy of neuroses lies in the double move of magnifying the number of those who see one’s faults and diminishing those who see the good.)

Anyway, these firefighters and gardeners and stay-at-home moms and students are afraid—literally shaking afraid—and putting themselves out there in front of gods and country and having a go.

So there it is: not just charming, but inspiring.

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Doctor, doctor, give me the news

23 02 2017

Well, that’s been disappointing.

I’d loved the first half-season of Code Black, loved its bitterness and edges and the stumbles into sorrow, loved Marcia Gay Harden and Luis Guzmán and Raza Jaffrey and the adorably cynical Kevin Dunn. It slackened as the season went on, lost Dunn, softened up a bit, but it was still good, reminiscent of early E.R. and St. Elsewhere.

This season, uck. Harden’s tough-ass doc has melted into goo, and the über-obnoxious surgeon Will Campbell (Boris Kodjoe) has, of course, been revealed to have a heart o’ gold. Jillian Murray’s Heather Pinkey managed to hang on to some of her attitude right up to the moment they killed her off.

And Rob Lowe? Don’t really hate him, but his soul-wounded army doc character is a bit of a bore.

None of this means I’ve stopped watching it—I’m still watching Criminal Minds, for chrissakes—but it went off right quick.

~~~

I’m not really watching The Blacklist anymore, although I’ll probably dip in to watch the current season once it hits Netflix. I still enjoy James Spader enormously, but I just can’t get over that his objet d’art, Elizabeth, just. . . really isn’t any good at her job.

Still, I’ll probably take a peek at The Blacklist: Redemption when it airs.

~~~

Watched the first season of Breakout Kings, which is basic and fine in the best possible way; second season TK.

Watched a few episodes of Containment, which has been compelling, if not exactly enjoyable.

Two episodes into  Travelers, which, we’ll see. I mean, I’ll think I’ll like it (presuming it doesn’t go to shit), and it is nice to catch all those Canadian actors.

Gotta be better than The OA, of which I saw 2? 3? episodes? I don’t know why I watched even the entire premiere.

~~~

Still haven’t gotten all the way through Person of Interest. I really like this show, but knowing that things are going to get very bad. . . well, I just can’t handle that right now.

Conversely, I don’t think I’ll be re-watching any of The West Wing. Yes, it was a fantasy and yes there were some truly, truly awful episodes and story arcs, but man, that was a hell of a cast, and CJ and Toby were two of the best characters ever to walk and talk. Anyway, can’t watch (the honestly not-that-great) Bartlett in the t.v. White House knowing who’s in the DC version.

No, my comfort watching of late are the crew from Leverage. Nate and Sophie and Eliot and Hardison (“Dammit Hardison!”) and Parker (Parker!) are exactly who I need to get me through.





We do what we’re told, told to do

4 01 2017

Downfall was very satisfying.

Like every other person with an internet connection, I’d seen all of the dubbed parodies of Bruno Ganz’s Hitler in the bunker, but not until tonight did I finally watch the real (well, as-filmed) scene.

There are a fair number of things which I am just not in the mood for, namely, anything in which women have to put up with shit or where shitty people are coddled, and I don’t know that I could deal with even a really good noir flick in which the good are vanquished.

I want the shitty people vanquished, and, really, there are few people shittier than Nazis.

That said, it was discomfitting having some sympathy for Traudl Junge, Hitler’s young secretary. No, she didn’t kill anyone, but she was excited to work for a man who had dragged Germany and much of Europe into an inferno, and stayed with him to his end. That later in life she came to see that she willed her own ignorance does not erase her responsibility for that will. You can’t volunteer to work for Hitler and come away innocent.

Anyway, Ganz was terrific as Hitler, and if he seems histrionic in the role that is likely because by all accounts that’s how Hitler was in life. Ulrich Matthes, who played Goebbels, didn’t really look like him, but he captured his weaselly-ness; Corinna Harfouch, as Magda Goebbels, also doesn’t much resemble her character, but she was magnificent in her fanaticism.

And while I don’t know if it was only Magda who killed their six children, as was portrayed in the film, it seemed fitting that Joseph is depicted as shirking this duty, and thus deserving of her contempt.

Some critics thought the film too sympathetic toward its characters, and there’s something to that: Junge, Schenk, Haase, and Mohnke each come across, in her or his own way, as not thoroughly corrupted. Speer, on the other hand, seems appropriately self-interested, and Eva Braun, as determinedly frivolous. I did feel bad when Blondi the dog was killed.

But I don’t know that there’s much danger of the film’s distorting Hitler’s, for lack of a better word, reputation. If you don’t know much about him or the war, you’d probably find Downfall boring and not worth the two-and-a-half hours it takes to get through those last 10 days of Hitler’s life: as good as Ganz’s performance is, it won’t resonate if you know little about what had happened outside of and before the bunker.

And if you do, and you come away saddened at Hitler’s and the regime’s end, then Jesus Christ you are a terrible (or, at best, a terribly deluded) person and I’d prefer it if you never read my blog again.

As for me, I had some sympathy for the German women (knowing what the Soviets would soon do to them), but was otherwise, as mentioned, thoroughly satisfied by the Nazi downfall.





Achtung, baby

28 12 2015

Finally made it to the Neue Gallerie for the Berlin Metropolis exhibit.

Verdict: Ehhhhhh glad I went, slightly disappointed not more Otto Dix (tho’ this work is great), but taken with the work of John Heartfield (about whom I knew nothing prior to this exhibit) and pleased to see some of George Grosz’s work up close (although I didn’t know that there was more than ‘Metropolis’ painting: I was thinking of this one, but the Gallerie hung this one).

There were a fair number of movie stills and drawings for movie sets, which didn’t rock my world, but I’m sure would be of interest to film aficionados. There were a few fashion items (shoes, dresses, hats), and some architectural renderings. Oh, and Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis played on continuous loop; I watched about a third of it, but will catch the rest on YouTube.

I also checked out the (small) permanent collection, and, oh my, they have a number of Klimt’s—including the famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which is, as expected, completely astonishing.

But what stood me still was this smaller piece by Klimt, Girl in the Foliage:

As noted, it’s small—less than 13×10—but man, there’s something about that face, her eyes, that I couldn’t stop looking at. I stood back, I went in close, I stood back. I left, I came back, left again, came back again.

It’s just. . . I . . . I lack the words for this image, for how it affects me, not mesmerizing, maybe mesmerizing. . . I don’t know. I can only repeat: it stood me still.

I can ask for nothing else.





Paint it black

8 11 2015

Oh my Apollo, CSI: Cyber is so bad. So so so bad that I can’t even watch it.

I mean, I hated CSI: NY and I still watched it to its wretched, moralizing end, but Cyber‘s writing is so ridiculous that all I can think while watching it is why am I watching this?

So I stopped.

I do know exactly why I watch Code Black, however: because it’s good.

Again, a procedural, and, again, I started watching it because of Marcia Gay Harden and Luiz Guzmán—and they are terrific—but I keep watching it because I want to see what happens next.

Okay, so having Raza Jaffrey (a terrorist in Dirty Bomb, yet another sacrificial analyst in MI-5) doesn’t hurt,  and Kevin Dunn is amusing as the ER’s director—and Moesha‘s dad is there, too, with his son (on the show),  foxy character actor Cress Williams. And, slowly, I’m starting to warm to the various residents.

But I’m into procedurals because I like the cases, and Code Black does a great job with its cases. Okay, some aren’t great—the what-the-hell decision to unkink that woman’s ovary was a bit much—but they keep moving, moving, and in all of that movement you get to see the characters of the docs emerge.

It reminds me of early ER, where all of the action was focused on the work, and before it strayed from the fragile and weird in the ER and into the soapiness of life outside of it.

That the characters have lives outside is clear: Harden’s character, Lianne’s, family was wiped out by a drunk driver, the older resident’s son died of a glioblastoma, the asshole resident is a recovering addict, and you know there’s something going on with Jaffrey’s character to explain why he left surgery for emergency med.

Again, however, all of this is handled through the work, how their “outside” lives affect how they’re doctors. I like that.

But what I’m really impressed with is how they handle grief. It’s accepted that people will grieve in an ER, and the show let’s them do it. In one episode, a mother attacked her injured son for the drunk-driving accident which killed her other son. When one of the residents tried to intervene, Lianne said simply, This is what grief looks like.

Later in that same episode she tells the mother, who hasn’t left her dead son’s side, that she needed to be with her other son. He killed someone, Lianne said, and like any decent person who’s done that, he wants to kill himself. You need to help him want to live.

In another episode, a man comes into the ER to dry out, which he does, but by the end, he’s back, with Lianne stitching up his head. She’s gentle, matter-of-fact, when asked if she’s frustrated: No, a terrible thing happened; this is his grief ritual.

Sappy? I guess it could be, but I see it as a kind of rawness: a terrible thing has happened,  and sorrow follows.

And that’s it; the sorrow remains.

I hope the show, even amidst the predictabilities of the procedural, can keep that rawness, and that sorrow.





Shopping never end

30 03 2015

Bought the chair.

Assembled the chair.

Sat in the chair.

Adjusted the chair.

Sat in the chair.

Adjusted the chair.

Adjusted the chair.

Adjusted the chair.

Disassembled the chair.

Returning the chair.

~~~

I did want to like this chair—and not only because I’ll have to schlep this sucker to a UPS store and eat the return shipping cost—but it did not work for me. I don’t know that it would work for any short person.

The flip-up arms I liked? Yeah, it was nice that they flipped up, but when down didn’t go down far enough. I had to put a cushion on the chair as a kind of booster seat in order to rest my arms comfortably.

Synchro-tilt? Yeah, no. I don’t know what I was thinking on this—I guess that the there’d be more “give”, or something, but as a lounger, I felt bunched-up.

Lumbar support? Feh. Again, I like lower-back support, but this was, I dunno, aggressive? Or just badly positioned for a shrimp? Either way, even with an added small pillow, it was a no-go.

By the way, have you noticed that with a new chair I needed a cushion and a pillow for it even to approach comfortableness? Riiiiidiculous.

There was one review from a guy who thought the chair seat could have been a bit larger, but said, hey, I’m a big guy (6’4″), so, y’know. Well, given how massive the seat was, he was probably HUGE.

Anyway, this would probably work fine for someone who is, well, bigger’n me.

I’m currently looking at these two chairs. The first chair is more expensive (tho’ it’s available for less thru a different seller), but it really well-reviewed. The second chair, well, the second chair has no reviews—and on the manufacturer web site notes both that is has asynchronous and synchro tilt, so, y’know. . . .

Blegh. I hate shopping.





Then we take Berlin

2 03 2015

Yet another procedural, but with a Euro-twist: Crossing Lines.

I know, pathetic. I did start watching Once, and liked the main character well enough and LOVED the bad gal, and maybe I’ll go back to it, but the whole kid-who’s-sussed-it-all-out trope is a bit much.

And I started Continuum, which is proceduralish, but I’m not crazy about the main character, and, having looked ahead in the plot synopses, I see they they fuck hard with the timeline—and that does not suit me.

I hate it, really. I mean, I liked the timeline-fucking episodes in Star Trek: Voyager and Stargate SG1 but those tended to be stand-alone things, not upend-everything-you-know-forever-with-nary-a-glance-backward (Fringe!). I was actually pissed when Eureka shifted timelines, but they handled it well enough, insofar as the five main characters had to come to terms with the shift, and do so repeatedly.

Why do I hate timelines-shifts? I (irrationally—do I need to put this in here?) take it personally, as if the producers are saying Oh, you got all invested in those characters and their relationships and that whole world? Psych! It also seems cheap, like We ran outta ideas, so. . . , but mostly I feel cheated.

Back to Crossing Lines. It’s got the same set-up as approximately 40.372 percent of all procedurals out there: one man brings together a disparate group of individuals, each with his or her own ISSUES!, and molds them into super-group of crime fighters. And the set-up itself is ludicrous on its face (which, oddly, makes it easier for me to ignore): the International Criminal Court authorizes this super-group to investigate cross-border crimes, apparently on the belief that Interpol and Europol are not up to the task.

Like I said, ridiculous, but the crimes are less pervy-gory (Criminal Minds) and more sober-serious (trafficking trafficking trafficking—except for that one episode about roadside forced-fight club), and the settings are awesome! The Hague! Paris! Prague! Rome! London! There was even an episode set in New York, which, while screamingly wrong*, was still enjoyable, largely because it featured Carrie Anne Moss.

(*As in, prominent shot of the Bergen Street 2-3 train in Manhattan—only there is no Bergen 2-3 stop in Manhattan, and the 3 was in a green rather than red circle. Green is for the deservedly-much-maligned G-line.)

And have I mentioned that Donald Sutherland lords over all of this, enjoyably pompous and given to uttering ridiculous lines with such grave sincerity that, once again, I find it easier to be charmed than put off?

There are only two seasons currently on Netflix, and I only have two episodes left. Who knows, maybe after these I’ll finally fire up Orange is the New Black—which is, it should be noted, not a procedural.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.