Put a Ring on It

Mood always affects how entertainment strikes us. Something that seems dumb and pointless when I'm feeling grumpy may come off as silly fun when I'm in a better mood. Looking back at Season 7 of How I Met Your Mother, I wondered if I would have been kinder to it if I hadn't been slogging through Serious Life Stuff. Probably not, as it turns out. I've been feeling just fine lately, and when Season 8 became available on Netflix instant streaming, I was happy to sit down and shotgun it.

Nope. It looks like my argument that this show hit its peak in Season 6 is gaining strength, because while Season 8 wasn't actively bad or anything, it never comes close to capturing the breezy tone it had back then. Part of the problem is the well-worn trope of writers attempting to shake up the group by adding a baby. Has that ever worked, by the way? I know that Alyson Hannigan's real-life pregnancy needed to be handled in some way, but including baby Marvin on the show quickly slowed the early episodes down to a crawl. No pun intended. There was nothing about Marshall and Lily's approach to parenthood that we haven't seen before, and I could feel myself glazing over when the episode conflict centered around finding a babysitter or whatever-the-fuck.

I've also never really bought Robin and Barney as a plausible couple, but to my surprise, Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders made it seem a lot more natural. Barney trying to reconcile his horndog ways with his impending nuptials was expertly mined for some snappy comedy, and throwing in Patrice as a possible spoiler to the relationship was genius. That just leaves Ted, and of course, he's still the weak link. I can't really hold that against Season 8, though, since he's been the worst for the past several seasons. I'm not sure how many idiotic grand romantic gestures we're supposed to find lovably misguided rather than asinine are yet to come, but he really needs to stop ruining weddings and job interviews in his quest for The One.

I'm being hard on this show, because it used to be one of the cleverest comedies I watched, and for two seasons in a row, it's tipped into overly-emotional melodrama. That doesn't mean I won't watch the final season when it becomes available to stream. I definitely want to see the closing chapter in these character's lives, and I'm sure there will be plenty of heartwarming moments. I just hope they remember to aim for the funny bone, as well.

How I Met Your Mother - Season 8: C+

Food Morning, Vietnam

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 4

Man, it's been too long since I've had some good Vietnamese food. It's time. And hey, getting a table at a Vietnamese restaurant should be pretty easy while the World Series is going on. Nobody's catching the game over a bowl of pho.

Vietnamese Barbecue Shrimp with Creole Spice Butter

So if the thought of fish-head soup and black pepper squid draws you in as much as it does me, go check out Episode 4, which is now up at What'ere, Jane Eyre. With fourteen chefs still remaining, it seems like we haven't made much of a dent in this season's contestant pool. But at least I can match faces with names now.

(F)ine Arts

I am not, by nature, a competitive person. I can get a little wrapped up in trivia contests, but other than that, I don't much care whether I win games or contests. If handled well and fairly, though, it can be entertaining to watch other people compete. A lot of reality shows bank on this, but sometimes they really fall down on the whole "handled well and fairly" aspect. Documentary films about competitions tend to put more thought into the process, and generally come off a lot better as a result.

When I read the plot summary of First Position (2011), which involves six kids training for the Youth America Grand Prix of ballet dancing, I was immediately on-board. It sounds like the love child of Every Little Step, and Spellbound, both of which I really liked. Unfortunately, this film doesn't come close to reaching the heights either of those two did. It starts well, though. We dutifully follow these dedicated youngsters as they put themselves through physical and emotional hell in order to have a shot at a scholarship or job offer. Ballet dancers have short careers and must begin when they're young, so none of the kids have much of a life beyond dance; it occupies all of their time and thoughts.

Where the film starts to lose me a bit is the realization that these competitors are all so...similar. One of the great things about Spellbound was how kids from all walks of life were represented, and how their approaches to spelling bees were so vastly different. First Position can never quite separate out its competitors to an appreciable degree. The film tries to get around this by featuring kids of different races. White, Latino, Asian, and Black competitors are all featured. There's a girl adopted from Sierra Leone. An immigrant from Colombia. A kid from a military family stationed in Italy. But despite their physical differences, all of their processes are the same. All of their goals are the same. They all have coaches and supportive parents willing to pour money and attention into their child's aspirations. It's heartening to see, but not especially exciting in a movie that's ostensibly about competition.

The dances are all fun to watch, and very impressive, given the ages of the dancers. There's nothing very attention-grabbing or new - Pina really spoiled me on that front - but everyone is clearly very talented. As we reach the end of the movie, though, it once again loses some punch, and once again, it's because the urgency of the competition is lacking. We've been told throughout the film how the competitors have poured years of work, sweat, blood, and tears into just one opportunity to wow a panel of judges, and how few people are rewarded for that effort. So what happens? Everyone wins. Well, not "wins", but not a single featured dancer walks away empty-handed. Everyone gets recognized in some way, be it with a medal, a job offer, or a scholarship.

If this were a documentary about the stress that children have to go through in order to make it as a ballet dancer, I'd be thrilled that all of the subjects come out ahead. I'm glad that good things are happening for them. But this film is billed as a competition, and if you're going to market your film like that, not everyone can get a blue ribbon and a hearty handshake. First Position won all sorts of festival prizes and is generally regarded as a real crowd-pleaser. Crowd-pleaser it may be, but I'm afraid I can't be as effusive. This is the Hallmark card of documentaries - it's capable of being cheerful and sentimental, but warm fuzzies are pretty much all it has to offer.

First Position: C+

Bitch Craft

People use the word "hivemind" in a derogatory way, and rightly so. Usually. While I'm all about taking hiveminds like partisan political websites to task, there is one area where coalescing opinions tend to help me out. On the entertainment websites I frequent, The Wisdom of Crowds Rule frequently applies. Sure, I'll like things that other people hate, and vice versa, but if the bulk of commenters start talking something up, that means it's worth checking out more often than not. So when Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 started getting slathered in praise over at the A.V. Club, my interest was piqued. When Netflix added it to instant streaming, it sealed the deal.

This was not a show that lasted long - only 26 episodes. ABC canceled it in the same purge that took out Happy Endings. I mean, why wouldn't they? Gotta make room for gems like Lucky 7! The name certainly didn't help. Beyond involving a mild swear and then taking it back by referring to it as "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23", it simply takes too long to say. I took to referring to it as "Bitch 23", which saves all sorts of time. If that wasn't enough, ABC decided to jumble the airing order of episodes, causing characters to jump wildly in time. It was a mess.

All that said, it wasn't a bad show. It deals with fresh-faced naif June, who moves to New York and becomes roommates with the drunken, pathological liar Chloe, who's best friends with James Van Der Beek. At the outset, the plotlines deal with a cheery June trying to befriend an evilly selfish Chloe. As the show settled, though, it expanded to embrace fun side characters like Eli, the pervy next door neighbor, and Luther, James' devoted assistant. Naturally, with stories like Chloe intentionally sleeping with June's fiancee on her birthday cake in order to expose his infidelity, the show veered into the cartoonish at times, but that's not a detriment. Despite Chloe's psychotic tendencies, she and June do forge a friendship, of sorts, and it was fun to watch their habits rub off on each other.

Did the show deserve the critical tongue bath it got, though? No. It was a perfectly decent comedy that probably would have developed into something even better had it been given more time. As with all short-lived shows, its legend grows over time until it becomes hailed as a perfect entity. Sometimes, I share in that delusion (Better Off Ted, Dead Like Me), and sometimes I don't (Freaks and Geeks, Terriers). Bitch 23 falls squarely into the latter group; it was a pretty good show that made me laugh out loud a handful of times. Sure, it's kind of a bummer that it got canceled so swiftly, but not to the point that we should be rending our clothes or anything.

Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23: B-

You Suck

Two things drew me to Austin Grossman's 2013 novel You before I had heard even the basics of the plot: I really enjoyed Grossman's debut novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, and my sister mentioned that You involved video games. Sold and sold. I dove in with unbridled enthusiasm, ready to enjoy another sharp, witty novel - and giddy over the possibility that it would have a bunch of gaming in-jokes.

Oops. I'm at a loss, here. There's no way to fully explain how stultifying, how pointless, how shockingly... bad this book is. I can't understand how someone who came out of the gate so capably turned around and wrote such a plotless, meandering, wall of stream-of-consciousness text. The fact that it's based in the world of video game production didn't help at all. This book could have taken place at a pie-eating contest, and still been unforgivably boring. I've seen some comparisons to Ernest Cline's Ready Player One flying around, and yikes. While I enjoyed Cline's book, it was not without some problems. Compared to You, however, it's Twelfth freaking Night.

The narrator is uninteresting and unfocused. All of the side characters (save one) are utterly pointless, and the one that has a glimmer of promise is underused. How much more can I really say? It all comes back to the same point. This book is akin to listening someone tell a two-hour story about parallel parking. Dull, dull, dull. Listen, there's no shame in having only one celebrated work; it's a damn sight better than having zero. We think nothing of pasting a one-hit-wonder label on musicians that have only one good song in them, and maybe it's time we started realizing that authors can have the same limitations. If Grossman can bounce back with the next one, great. But I've got only one thing to say to him for now: I hate You.

You: D

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 3

Not to give too much away, but every season of Top Chef develops a natural subtitle, and this one is quickly turning into Top Chef 11: Dudes Getting Eliminated For Being Dumb. Not that I'm complaining. People should get eliminated for making dumb mistakes. As usual, all will be revealed at the What'ere, Jane Eyre recap for Episode 3.

Rice Congee with Shirred Egg, Soy Sauce, and Sesame Oil

In more tangential news, Patty looks pretty with her hair down. I've developed a protective soft spot for her, even if there's no way in this universe or any parallel ones that she's going to win.

Rock Stars

As I promised long ago, I have been patiently waiting (well...somewhat patiently waiting) for Netflix to add the final season of 30 Rock to their instant streaming catalog so that I could shotgun it. I was pretty turned off by the sixth season, but not to the point that I decided to jettison the show altogether; I did want to see how it wrapped up.

Netflix finally did get around to adding the final season, and I shotgunned it over the course of a weekend. It was pretty good, if not the height of hilarity like Season 3 was. The plotlines went a bit overboard in the zany department (Kenneth is president of NBC! Colleen is a lesbian!), but the jokes are as snappy as ever.

As with a lot of shows, the addition of kids or stories revolving around the acquisition of kids kind of threw a wrench into the works (that would be How I Met Your Mother's ears burning right about now), but Season 7 had its strong points, too. Jenna shines this season, from her following of Floridian hick fans deciding the presidential election to her increasingly hysterical wedding plans. The celebrity cameos were excellent as always, especially Octavia Spencer's turn as a female version of Tracy. Not everything worked, of course. 30 Rock has always been sharp and merciless when it comes to political satire, so I was surprised at how toothless the jokes about the 2012 election were. Liz's quest for children has taken up so much time and been built up so much that when they finally arrive, it's a bit of an anticlimax. Still, the final scenes that wrap up the series are adorable.

Over the course of seven seasons, 30 Rock established itself as one of my favorite television shows. Though its final seasons weren't as strong as the earlier ones, it's still a must-watch for comedy fans, and I'm pretty sure we won't see anything like it for a long time to come. And not just because NBC is imploding.

30 Rock - Season 7: B-

Pod People

I have a reputation to maintain. Not one of those personal reputations for being a man of integrity and noble character. Heaven forfend. No, I mean that I have a reputation for winning the annual Oscar Pool. That and trivia contests are the only competitions I have any sort of aptitude for. Those Oscar predictions aren't the result of any inside knowledge on my part, nor are they exhaustively crafted by dissecting all the nominees' chances. It's just that I listen to a lot of entertainment-themed podcasts, and when you do that over the course of a year, favorites tend to emerge. Since a large number of film critics and reviewers were talking about Argo on their shows, it seemed prudent to change my choice from Lincoln to that, and lo and behold, it paid off. Lots of podcasts go in and out of the rotation, but the ones that have managed to stick it out deserve a mention.


The Dissolve: The A.V. Club was, until very recently, my go-to review site for all things movie- and TV-related. Site and staff changes have killed a big chunk of my interest, so when several respected staff members that had jumped ship formed "The Dissolve", a site for intensely-focused film discussion, I was immediately on-board. The Dissolve staff really know their stuff when it comes to movies, but have a ways to go on producing a podcast. The sound quality is regularly terrible, and the staff often discuss topics in a flat monotone. Sometimes it sounds like I'm listening in on a conference call, rather than an episode ostensibly produced for an audience's entertainment. So what keeps me listening? Well, the topics are reliably fascinating, such as a recent discussion of how much a film's "extratextuals" (behind-the-scenes fights, media interviews with the stars, opinions of real people that characters are based on, etc.) should affect your opinion of the film itself. The staff really knows their stuff, and I'm always interested in what they have to say. I have no qualms with the content; I just wish they'd get a decent producer.

The /Filmcast: I've peppered mentions of this podcast throughout my blog, and have been a regular listener for a long time. Its strong points are similar to the Dissolve podcast's: Hosts David Chen and Devindra Hardawar are intelligent, knowledgeable, and obviously care a lot about the movie-going experience. Their segments are well-produced, too. There's a natural progression from the film and television they've been watching lately, to news stories about the film world, to the main review of the week's big release. Spoilers are efficiently segregated into a a separate section so that I never need worry that a movie I haven't yet seen will be ruined. They're able to have impassioned, but polite debates when they disagree, which is a lot more interesting than hearing everyone parrot the same opinions. In fact, my only real complaint has developed because I'm such a loyal listener. If you hear enough of someone talk, their conversational habits start to stick out, and if one of those patterns is annoying, too bad. Nothing can be done. This is my roundabout way of saying that every time Devindra sneers "Come on..." in a derisive tone (as shorthand for something like "Come on, you couldn't possibly think that,") it drives me batshit. And it happens about three times a week.


Extra Hot Great: I have a long history with this podcast's producers. They've built some of my favorite websites over the years, from Hissyfit to Fametracker to Television Without Pity. All of those websites are dearly departed (or in TWoP's case, was bought out and became terrible), but the creators are back with another website and a rebirth of their podcast, "Extra Hot Great". Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get into the website at all, but the podcast is as entertaining as ever. It used to cover movies as well as TV, but its new focus is purely television. Of all the podcasts on this list, it has by far the highest production value. The segments are extremely clever, whether they're little asides like "Is This Worse Than Jazz?" or more integral to the podcast as a whole, such as "The Canon" (in which an argument is made for why a particular episode of television is worthy of being considered representative of the best a show - or television in general - has to offer). They also include a weekly game segment that's always fun to play along with. Sometimes the hosts are a little too impressed with themselves, but as long as they're able to keep from jumping up their own asses, this podcast is a pretty indispensable listen.


The Gameological Society: I have yet to find a good match for video game podcasts. I gave "The Indoor Kids" a whirl, but there wasn't enough of a focus on games. It was mostly just a series of tangents and interruptions and banter, with not enough real content. I try to listen to every episode that "Gameological" puts out, but I don't know that I can recommend it just yet. It's a very thoughtful podcast, and I admire the hell out of host John Teti. "Gameological" certainly covers game topics and news, but like "The Dissolve", the production is pretty terrible. Bad sound quality, irregular scheduling, and choppy segments turn what would be a very entertaining show into kind of a mess. With a decent producer, I can see it becoming a great show, but for now, there's a lot of chaff to sort through before you find the wheat.

I'm always looking to try out new podcasts, so if you stumble across this entry and have a recommendation in any of these categories, by all means, let me know. In the meantime, I'll give you a freebie for your upcoming Oscar Pool. Watch out for Gravity. It's going to clean up.

Save the Date: Watch Dogs

Event: Watch Dogs U.S. release date
Date: Tuesday, November 19

Open world games can be a little intimidating. I have yet to get through Skyrim, simply because there's so little structure that I'm a bit at sea as to where to go and what to do. So the limited information I've heard and seen about the new game Watch Dogs makes me a little anxious. Need to get into a guarded building? Take out the guards. Or hack the security system and sneak in. Or set off the sprinklers to scatter everyone standing nearby. Or distract the security guys by overriding the controls of construction equipment. Or don't even go into the building, but steal the information electronically. There's just so many options, and I worry that it'll be overwhelming.

Why, then, does Watch Dogs get a rare Save the Date entry? Cause it looks like SO MUCH FUN. Many games are split into two distinct gameplay styles: Go in guns blazing or get in and out without leaving a trace. This game offers the player a lot more tactical options, several of them dealing with clever trickery over brute force or convenient hiding places.

You play as a hacker in a future Chicago that basically runs on a centralized operating system. While this offers a lot of convenience and security, it means that once you're in the system, you're essentially granted access to the personal lives of everyone around you. Every bystander's dark secret pops up on your phone. That lady has a restraining order against her estranged husband. That guy was arrested for vandalism. As with a lot of modern games, morality is up to you. When you're not running missions, you can spend your time protecting people that crime statistics predict will soon be victims. Or you can hack into an innocent's bank account and drain their funds.

I've spent some time watching gameplay demos of this game, and it drew me in instantly. I like games that make you think out creative solutions (as long as they're not too far-fetched), and the potential to play as both a noble vigilante and a greedy cyber-thief is pretty magnetic. So let the internet keep wetting its collective pants over their GTA V selfies. While they beat up hookers with a baseball bat, I'll be stalking the streets of Chicago with nothing but a cell phone and a list of access codes.

UPDATE: The release date has been pushed back to spring of next year, which is a bummer, but at least it gives my wallet time to recover from the beating it always takes over the holidays.

Ocean Eyes

In this age of constant access to information (not to mention marketing), I'll never want for entertainment options. There are more movies, shows, games, and books on my radar than I'll ever have the chance to get to. It's kind of depressing, actually. But no matter how many properties catch my eye, I'm always going to miss some that I would have wound up enjoying. This is where it comes in handy to have friends and family that are equally invested in pinning down quality entertainment. Not all recommendations pan out, but the lion's share do, so I always perk up and take notice when someone whose taste I trust (or are at least interested in) start talking something up.

So, I went to the library and picked up a copy of Carsten Jensen's 2006 novel We, the Drowned, based solely on my friend Kevin's Facebook status mentioning it. I didn't know anything about the story. I didn't know it was a Danish book translated into English in 2010. I certainly didn't know it was 678 pages long. I doubt it ever would have caught my notice without an outside push, but once I started reading it, I was riveted. We, the Drowned is an epic tale about Danish sailors from the small town of Marstal. While it spans the globe and a hundred years of history, it still manages to tell small, intimate, and often heartbreaking tales of hope and cruelty.

We often romanticize the lives of sailors, but this book certainly takes care of any lingering fantasies of the freedom and adventure that a life at sea entailed. From a protracted war, to revenge against a hated schoolteacher, to the precarious position of women both on the ships and on the coasts, this book doesn't sugar-coat how brutal life can be. But buried underneath the horrors of human nature are stories of bravery and love, too.

Though it's a thick book with a lot of weighty stories, it was never a chore to read. It made fictionalized people from faraway places and times seem more real than a lot of novels set in contemporary times do. I've always loved the ocean, and although this book depicts the lives of those who made their livings by risking life and limb to cross it with unflinching grimness, it made me pine for the sound and smell of the waves. I think a really good miniseries could be based on this book, but in the meantime, Jensen's novel sparks the imagination just as well.

We, the Drowned: A-

Disaster Relief

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 2

I chose three for the over/under on number of episodes before chefs in New Orleans were asked to make gumbo. I was close! Head on over to What'ere, Jane Eyre for the Episode 2 recap.

Spiced Grilled Lamb Salad with Cucumber and Asian Pear

I can't imagine how much deodorant the chefs must be going through. Between the swamp and the food trucks, one wonders if these poor people will ever get the chance to just cook in a kitchen, for Pete's sake.

Sophomoric Humor

We're definitely in a busy time of the year, television-wise. Not only are there all those new shows to consider, but Netflix chose now to get off its ass and add more seasons of my backlog shows to their instant streaming catalog. I just wrapped up the second seasons of two of those backlog shows, and came to the conclusion that I can free up some time by not moving on with one of them.

One of the shows was Season 2 of Happy Endings (which is actually not on instant streaming - I got the discs). I remembered Season 1 as being very good, and was looking forward to another batch of episodes. It did not disappoint. The season started off being a bit too zany for my tastes, but once the characters settled down, it went back to being one of the fastest, sharpest comedies I've seen in a while. All six friends got a chance to stretch the characteristics that make them funny, with Most Improved definitely going to Alex, whose food-obsession and general dimness could have easily come off as a lazy, female Joey Tribbiani knockoff. Instead, Eliza Coupe makes it feel very fresh and impossibly charming. Happy Endings should also get credit for Brad and Jane's marriage, not only because it totally normalizes interracial relationships, but because they're one of the few couples on TV who don't stop at loving each other, but actually like each other. Brad and Jane interplay scenes are some of the best of the season.

Though it had a slow start, the second season really built on the first, and I'm already giddy to watch the third (and final) one. On the flip side, the other sophomore season I delved into kind of devolved. That would be New Girl, which I was lukewarm about, even in its first season. It was often amusing, but never what I'd consider good, and in the second season, all of my problems with it got amplified. Its sitcom strings are very visible. Rather than feeling like natural characters, it comes off as very stagey. Though I have no issues with Lamorne Morris, Winston is a totally useless character, and never seems to fit into any of the storylines - even the episode about his roommates forgetting his birthday barely found time to include him. And hey, quick side-note. Is it this show's intention to make Los Angeles look like a terrible place to live? I don't think they mean to do it, but they somehow manage to make the City of Angels seem like a soul-sucking, depressing place to wait out the clock. Listen, I don't want to give the impression that the show or its second season is terrible; I can see why people enjoy it. I laughed a few times. The actors are perfectly adept. But with vast amounts of television available, to the point that I could never keep up with all the shows that interest me, I think it's time to give in and admit that this is the end of the line for Jess and the gang.

Happy Endings - Season 2: B+
New Girl - Season 2: C+

Space Race

One of the easiest identifiers of a well-made movie is a film that takes a subject I'm not very invested in, and manages to turn it into a story that I still find compelling. For instance, if you had told me years ago that one day I'd be singing the praises of a movie about a typeface font, I'd have thought you were crazy, but here I am, proudly stating that I really enjoyed Helvetica. Be it fiction or non-fiction, there are a multitude of ways to make a good movie out of a seemingly dull premise. Well, over the weekend, I saw two movies that dealt with subjects that don't ever top my wishlist of discussion topics: The dangers of space exploration, and a real-life rivalry between two Formula 1 racecar drivers. To my delight, one of them now holds a firm spot in my top five movies of the year. The other one depicts a real-life rivalry between two Formula 1 racecar drivers.

I doubt I have to preface Gravity much. Anyone who pays attention to movies has gotten an earful lately about how beautiful and thrilling Alfonso Cuarón's latest drama is, and I am not going to disagree. In a movie slate filled with remakes and sequels and re-imaginings, this original drama with only two onscreen speaking characters is cleaning up at the box office, and it's not difficult to see why. This movie is gorgeous from beginning to end. It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts (he's a veteran, she's a newbie) who are doing routine maintenance on some equipment. Debris from an exploded satellite starts orbiting straight into their path, and the story becomes a desperate bid for survival in the cold emptiness of space. This is one of those movies that vastly benefits from a viewing on the largest screen possible. I saw it in IMAX 3D, and have been trying to decide if I would have liked it as much as I did if I had seen it in a less spectacular format. Maybe I wouldn't have been as swept up in the visual beauty, but no matter what screen it's on, this was still a tight, tense, hopeful movie with zero filler scenes. It's a really stunning film that everyone should make an effort to see.

On the flip side of the coin, I was invited over to a friend's house for barbecue and movie night, and when you get an invitation like that, you don't turn it down, no matter how disinterested you are in the movie. This one was Ron Howard's latest, Rush. It's a biopic, of sorts, detailing the Formula 1 championship in the late '70s. Why does a movie need to be made about this? Good question! It did have its good points. Chris Hemsworth seems to be getting better and better with each movie that he does, and he's effortlessly believable in this, playing the rakish bad boy James Hunt. Daniel Brühl plays rival Niki Lauda, and he capably handles a more difficult task, playing a condescending (but often correct) jerk with heaps of talent, but no ability to relate to other people.

There is one event that sets this apart from any "normal" sports movie when something life-changing befalls one of the racers. I won't spoil what that something is, but suffice it to say that it didn't bring enough to the table to make the movie appreciably more intriguing to me. The intense rivalry that makes enemies of Hunt and Lauda while simultaneously bonding them together is neat, but not enough to base a movie on. The women characters have nothing to do but be arm candy and stare worriedly off into the middle distance. There are some very pretty shots towards the end, but in the final analysis, there's not enough there to bring this real-life story to life in the entertainment sense. In a technical sense, it's a very proficient movie. In an entertainment sense, it's hollow. Throughout Rush, there are tons of news reports and article headlines screaming about what is going on in the world of Formula 1 racing. It's a disingenuous trick, because to my understanding, Americans don't really care much about the sport. And frankly, this American didn't care much about a movie based on it, either.

Gravity: A
Rush: C

Swamp People

Top Chef - Season 11, Episode 1

Did you know I just mentioned in the Fall TV Preview that I used to recap Top Chef? I did! While I doubt I'll have the time to get into it on the same granular level I once did, it may be worth attempting to get into the New Orleans season on an episode-by-episode basis.

Poached Frog Legs with Oyster Emulsion and Cold Zucchini Salad

To that end, feel free to wander over to What'ere, Jane Eyre, where Episode 1 has been posted. If the food in this first challenge is any indication, it just might be a pretty promising season.

Pilot Light

I've been doing pretty well at keeping up with the fall television schedule so far, and in another bit of happy news, culling the obviously weak cows from the herd is comparatively easy this year. As I suspected, it's shaping up to be an overall weak season for new shows. Some of the ones I was curious enough to check out were drearily unappealing, and some have such terrible ratings that the characters may as well have "Dead Meat" branded on their foreheads.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

This...may be my favorite new show of the season. I'm as surprised as you are! The true test of any comedy is if it makes me laugh out loud, and in two episodes, this show has already accomplished that many times over. Andre Braugher's gravitas is the perfect foil for the workplace wackiness, and all of the secondary characters are already settling into their roles nicely. If the show continues to focus on the ensemble as a whole and doesn't get too Samberg-centric, I'm definitely on board.

Pilot: B+
Will I Be Watching Again? Oh, yeah.

Sleepy Hollow

I've largely been in agreement with most of the online chatter about the shows I've watched so far this year, but here's one where I break from the masses. Everyone seems to be really digging the insane plotlines this show delves into, but it just didn't appeal to me. I appreciate the experiment; it's certainly a new premise, which is a refreshing change from the glut of rehashed bullshit like "We're dudes who can't relate to women, but have to live with our parents! Wacky!" So I'm genuinely glad this show has found a following. I'm just not in it.

Pilot: C
Will I Be Watching Again? I may check in with it again someday if it gets a full season, but I'm letting it drop off the radar for now.


I knew going in that this one would be a challenge. A Chuck Lorre CBS sitcom already has two strikes with me when it steps up to the plate. I do tend to enjoy the two main actresses in it, though, so I was determined to give it a fair shake. Imagine my surprise when the pilot was... Well, not good. Not even very amusing. But decidedly not as terrible as I feared. To continue with my baseball analogy, it hit a foul ball, which bought it enough time to take another swing. So I watched the second episode, which was exactly as terrible as I originally feared. Swing and a miss.

Pilot: C-
Will I Be Watching Again? Hell, no.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I will often give leniency to pilots that have to stuff a lot of exposition or mythology into a relatively short amount of time, so while this show didn't blow my mind as much as I was hoping it would, it was definitely entertaining enough to continue with for the time being. A couple of characters could use some tweaking, but the basics are solid, and the dialogue was typically well-written and well-paced for a Whedon show. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Pilot: B
Will I Be Watching Again? Yup.

Trophy Wife

Sure, the title is terrible. But so is Better Off Ted, and that show was terrific! I only watched this because I read some pretty glowing reviews of it, and hey, I liked it quite a bit. Its pilot wasn't laugh-a-minute like Brooklyn Nine-Nine was, but it was pretty clever, all things considered. I'm sticking with my original pronouncement - give it three episodes to draw me in, and then reassess.

Pilot: B
Will I Be Watching Again? Yes, for now.

The Crazy Ones

This is the most confusing show of the season, and the pilot resolved nothing for me. Parts of it are hackneyed and dumb. Parts of it show real glimmers of promise. None of the main cast seems like they belong in the same show together, but the pilot certainly held my interest for the full running time, which a few of these other shows couldn't manage. I can't say it was good, and I can't freely recommend it to others, but something about it still fascinates me.

Pilot: C
Will I Be Watching Again? I'll give it one more episode to see if I can figure out what the holy hell is going on.

The Michael J. Fox Show

It's hard to describe what seeing the strings of a show feels like. If the actors aren't natural enough or the plots are too contrived, the fact that you're spending time in a fictional universe becomes overly obvious, and it takes you completely out of the experience. I'm afraid that this is exactly what this show feels like. No matter my warm feelings for Michael J. Fox (or Katie Finneran, who plays the wacky aunt), this was a really stilted pilot, and the second episode was no better. In fact, it was worse. I don't want to give the impression that it's bad television, because it's not. It's just crafted weirdly, and I found it actively unsettling. Oh, and the kids are awful.

Pilot: C+
Will I Be Watching Again? I feel bad for saying it, but no.

Lucky 7

ABC Executive: "So, the premise of this show is really good. I have an idea. Let's cast it with a bunch of hammy actors who chew the scenery to shreds, and make sure to toss in unrelated plot contrivances to make this as unappealing and needlessly complex as possible. Great. Time for lunch!" What a disappointment. This show had such promise - there are a million interesting stories that could be told about the unexpected pitfalls of instantaneous wealth. But instead of exploring any of those, this show opened with bungled robberies and squabbling in-laws. And maybe they could make the excuse that they're just laying groundwork, but that doesn't mean the groundwork has to be so relentlessly obnoxious.

Pilot: D+
Will I Be Watching Again? Ha, ha! Good one. Even if I wanted to, the ratings are so abysmal that it's actually in the running to be canceled before any of the more obvious targets, like We Are Men.

Other Castoffs

The TV preview posts suggested I was considering catching the pilots of Hostages, The Millers, and Super Fun Night to see how they went. Since then, I've read enough about all three to pretty much dismiss them out of hand. I may take a peek at Super Fun Night out of morbid curiosity, but as far as the rest of the Fall 2013 Season goes, it's looking more and more like there's not an awful lot of wheat in this chaff.
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