Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gone, But Not Forgotten (At Least by Me)...

A recent post on one of my favorite blogs, kenneth in the (212), focused on short-lived television shows he remembered from years past. As a huge television fan growing up and a total pop culture savant, of course I remembered—and probably watched—99 percent of the shows he listed.

The post, of course, got me thinking about which shows made an impression on me but never hit it that big. Given the networks' penchant for pulling shows off the air fairly quickly, I could probably list a ton of these shows, but I decided to come up with my top 10, in random order:

1. Better off Ted (2009-2010): Easily one of the funniest and most well-written shows on television in the last 5-10 years, I've waxed poetic about this show before. Despite a terrific premise (heartless and soul-less corporation is forced into caring about its employees and the products it develops) and a fantastic cast, highlighted by Portia de Rossi in a truly Emmy-worthy role, ABC shuffled the show from night to night and time slot to time slot. The show is available on DVD and is worth watching for just the fake commercials for Viridian alone.

2. Parker Lewis Can't Lose (aka Parker Lewis) (1990-1993): This was a slightly kooky show that was a bit ahead of its time, given its unique camera work. Like Ferris Bueller, Parker Lewis (played by Corin "Corky" Nemec) was a popular high school student obsessed with being cool and beating authority at every turn. However, his schemes were often thwarted by his super-smart younger sister, his principal and run-ins with Kubiac, the school bully (played by Abraham Benrubi before his turn as Jerry on ER). Really fun show.

3. It Takes Two (1982-1983): I have a confession here. I don't know if I liked this show, which starred Patty Duke and Richard Crenna as a busy couple (she's a lawyer, he's a doctor) who barely have time for each other or their family, because of the performances, the fact that a young Helen Hunt and Anthony Edwards played their kids, or the 80s soft-rock theme song. Whatever the case, the show only lasted a season.

4. Throb (1986-1988): This show started out on NBC on Saturday evenings and then was moved to syndication after it didn't succeed in its first season. Diana Canova starred as a recent divorcee who gets a job at an "edgy" record label, where she works for a younger boss, played by Jonathan Prince. A pre-Frasier Jane Leeves played the "punk" receptionist, Blue, and future hottie Paul Walker (of Fast and Furious fame) played Canova's son in the first season. A much better show than it sounds, although it definitely seems dated now.

5. Brooklyn Bridge (1991-1993): Gary David Goldberg followed Family Ties with this semi-autobiographical look at a Jewish family in 1950s Brooklyn, living with their grandparents. The main character, young teenager Alan, is in love with Irish Katie Monahan (played by Rilo Kiley lead singer Jenny Lewis in her acting days), which causes his grandparents great consternation. This was a fantastic, well-acted show that should have lasted far longer than it did. Marion Ross gave an Emmy-worthy performance as Alan's grandmother.

6. The Powers That Be (1992-1993): This is another one of those shows that might have turned out to be really funny if it had been given a chance to flourish, as I remember laughing out loud during one scene. Senator William Powers (John Forsythe) is fairly clueless, but his career is run by his maniacal wife (Holland Taylor), his chief-of-staff/mistress, and his political aide (Peter MacNicol). David Hyde-Pierce played Powers' depressed and suicidal son-in-law, who was secretly in love with the family's maid (a little Frasier foreshadowing, perhaps?), and Robin Bartlett played Powers' illegitimate daughter, Sophie Lipkin, whose Jewishness causes Powers' wife to come unhinged.

7. Oliver Beene (2003-2004): Another show with a nostalgic bent, Fox aired this for 1-1/2 seasons, although it was moved from time slot to time slot. Set in 1962, the show followed the adventures of 11- and 12-year-old Oliver Beene, his wacky parents, his dumb, girl-crazy older brother, and his friends, including his flamboyant friend, Michael. The show was narrated by an older Oliver (given voice by Arrested Development's David Cross), and the action would often be stopped by flashbacks or flash forwards. Grant Shaud, who played Murphy Brown's high-strung Miles Silverberg, tried a new, crazier persona on this show. Like many other shows on this list, I thought it could have gone somewhere if given the chance.

8. Angie (1979-1980): One of my earliest experiences with getting hooked on a television program and having it be canceled, Angie starred Donna Pescow as a coffee shop waitress who falls in love with, and eventually marries, one of her regular customers, pediatrician Brad (Robert Hays). The clash of social classes, particularly as Angie's mother (Doris Roberts) and sister (Debralee Scott) related to Brad's snooty relatives, caused much of the hijinks during the first season. And then, like many shows, once Angie and Brad got married, the show declined, in part because it kept trying to reinvent itself. Its theme song, Different Worlds, sung by Maureen McGovern, became a minor pop hit.

9. Square Pegs (1982-1983): Nearly 30 years after this show premiered, I still can quote back pieces of one episode (and even sing a song featured in that episode). Yes, that's scary, but it just proves how much I enjoyed and related to this show. Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker play high school misfits (get it, square pegs?) who want nothing more than to fit in with the "in-crowd," which includes Valley Girl-wannabe Jennifer (Tracy Nelson) and preppy Muffy Tepperman (Jami Gertz). Who would have thought Sarah Jessica Parker would turn into a fashionista? Extra points for the theme song by The Waitresses.

10. Voyagers! (1982-1983): This sci-fi show combined history and adventure, and was a whole lot of fun. Hunky Jon-Erik Hexum (who would die in 1984, in a tragic accident on the set of his next series, Cover-Up) played a time traveler responsible for revisiting historical events and fixing them when necessary. When he accidentally winds up in 1982 (he was only supposed to be able to travel as far as 1970), he encounters 12-year-old Jeffrey Jones (Meeno Peluce), and winds up having to take him on his time travels. Most people have never heard of this show, but those who have really enjoyed it.

I could have added so many more shows—Grand, Hope and Gloria, Love Sidney and Homefront, to name a few—to this list, but this is a good start.

Do you remember any of these? What short-lived shows do you miss?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review: "Before I Go to Sleep" by S.J. Watson

Imagine waking up every morning and not knowing who or where you are. Every morning you are shocked to find out that you're in your mid-40s and married, but you don't recognize your husband or the house you're in. That is reality for Christine Lucas, the main character in S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep. Suffering from memory problems as the result of head trauma, she lacks the ability to retain memories from one day to the next. She doesn't remember whether she loved her husband, she doesn't remember her friends or anything momentous in her life; each day she has to be reminded of everything that happened to her.

One day Christine meets Dr. Ed Nash, a neurologist interested in her case. He encourages her to keep a journal about what she remembers each day, and then he calls her each day to remind her where she can find her journal. He also takes her to places he hopes might trigger her memories, and little by little, they start coming back—and Christine realizes that regaining her memories opens her up to the realities of how she was injured and what her life was like before she lost her memory. Much of the book is composed of accounts from her journal, as her memories—or what she thinks are memories—start coming back, and she doesn't know who to trust.

This was a really interesting concept, similar to movies like Memento and 50 First Dates. There were a lot of twists and turns in the story which kept me guessing, and many of my suspicions about where the story would go were proven wrong. Ultimately, however, despite the inherent tragedy of Christine's story, I didn't find any of the characters particularly sympathetic, so I couldn't get myself fully immersed in their lives. But if you enjoy fast-paced mystery/thrillers, you'll enjoy this.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Weighty Matter...

As I've discussed a number of times before on this blog, I've struggled with my weight more times than I can count. Because I wasn't an athletic child (and that's an understatement), and really enjoyed junk food, I had a weight problem almost constantly while I was growing up. Then, when college brought the tantalizing possibilities of drinking, all-you-can-eat meals on campus and late-night deliveries of pizza, wings and Chinese food, I didn't have a prayer.

At certain periods of my life, I took control over the situation. I lost a good deal of weight in the late 80s while on Nutri-System, but eventually gained it back. In the late 90s I got quite thin on Jenny Craig (and even needed my gall bladder removed because of the weight loss' effect on my body), but by the mid-2000s, I was back where I started.

As I've written before, about three years ago I took control again, this time simply by watching what I ate and joining a gym. I even ran a half-marathon in December 2009. But during the race I tore my hip flexor muscle, so I've never been able to exercise with the frequency I used to, and as life became more stressful, the eating followed.

At this point, I'm probably heavier than I've ever been and I'm not really sure what to do. I mean, I know what I need to do, but don't know how to do it this time. I wish there was just some simple way to take control once and for all. I know diet and exercise in the right combination is the best way, but given my hip, I just can't commit to as rigorous a physical activity regime as I used to be able to. And of course, it's a catch-22: I'm willing to bet my hip will be improved if I lose weight, but if I can't use my hip I can't exercise to lose weight.

I'm thinking Weight Watchers might be the answer. I need to learn how to eat better and I need to be accountable for what I eat. Of course, when you're both a foodie and a compulsive snacker, this is no easy feat.

Sigh. I'll keep you posted on my continuing adventures...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review: "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett strikes again. The author of several sensational novels, including Bel Canto, as well as Truth and Beauty, a moving and inspiring memoir recounting her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy, has written another thought-provoking and beautifully told novel, State of Wonder.

Dr. Marina Singh is a pharmaceutical researcher working for a major pharmaceutical company. After her close friend and colleague dies under mysterious circumstances in the Amazonian jungle while on company business, her employer sends her to the jungle to complete his assignment—track down Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned and reclusive gynecologist whose research into the reproductive habits of a local tribe the company has funded for years. (The women of this tribe can continue to bear healthy children long after mid-life.) The company is interested in determining the status of Dr. Swenson's research; Marina is interested in collecting her friend's effects. Neither task goes as smoothly as hoped, as Dr. Swenson doesn't appreciate the company's desire to monitor her work, and the jungle proves to be both mentally and physically harrowing for Marina. And encountering Dr. Swenson, who supervised Marina's residency a lifetime ago, brings back to the forefront memories she has tried to suppress.

This is a tremendously fascinating story, populated with characters who are far more complex than they appear to be when you first encounter them. More than simply a story of woman versus jungle or woman versus her past, State of Wonder explores the creatures—both physical and metaphorical—that frighten, challenge and could potentially harm us, and the ripples that one action can cause many people. I was gripped from start to the finish, and found myself surprised even when I didn't think I could be. This is beautifully written and very affecting—a definite must-read.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I Love New York...

I was out of town at the end of last week so I couldn't post after New York lawmakers finally voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Friday evening, following several extremely contentious weeks. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had been urging lawmakers to take this step even before he was sworn in earlier this year, quickly signed the bill into law.

New York is now the largest state to allow equality, and is one of five states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont) and the District of Columbia to legalize same-sex marriage.

For some lawmakers, there was no question of how to vote, whether for or against. Some felt every citizen was entitled to the same rights regardless of whom they loved; some objected on religious grounds and/or felt that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to the destruction of the "traditional" family. But in order for the measure not to meet the same defeat it did when then-Governor Paterson brought it before the legislature, some bipartisan cooperation was needed, because one Democratic senator, Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx, is violently opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage.

"God, not Albany, has settled the definition of marriage, a long time ago," Díaz said Friday night.

Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo who had sought office promising to oppose same-sex marriage, was moved to vote in favor of it. "I apologize for those who feel offended," Grisanti said. "I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife."

And Senator Stephen Saland, a Republican from Poughkeepsie, said, "Struggling with my traditionalist view of marriage and my deep-rooted values to treat all people with respect and as equals, I believe after much deliberation, I am doing the right thing in voting to support marriage equality."

In all, four Republicans voted to legalize same-sex marriage, and the bill passed 33-29. Ironically, I was sitting in a parking lot at a Dairy Queen in Roanoke, VA, when the vote happened, surrounded by more than a few cars with conservative-leaning bumper stickers. But I followed the progress on Twitter and Facebook. (What would we do without social media?)

New York is generally viewed as a liberal state, so I don't know if this decision will truly convince other state legislatures to take similar actions, especially with a presidential election looming next year. But it appears that now, more than ever, a majority of Americans believe that all should be entitled to the same rights where marriage is concerned.

Hopefully, if the decision to legalize same-sex marriage comes to other states, proponents will be more passionate and less complacent in seeing the legislation pass. The time has come to embrace equality, not run from it or claim to stand on moral ground.

In the end, society will celebrate those who support equality and treat with disdain those who do not, much as those opponents of civil rights were treated in the last few decades of the 20th century.

It is not wrong to love who you love and want to spend your life with that person. If our nation was built on the pursuit of happiness, what brings more happiness?

A Bit of Radio Silence...

Yeah, I've been a bit neglectful of the blog lately. It hasn't been for lack of trying, nor lack of material. As usual, I have had a ton to say and have thought over and over about how I'd like to share it, but between starting a new job, attending the US Open golf tournament last week and attending the Miss Virginia Pageant in Roanoke this weekend, any time I've sat down to write I've fallen asleep.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. I promise to be much more diligent moving forward, because I want you to come back!! :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Super "Super 8"...

Even though it's only June 12, I've already seen some really enjoyable movies this year—The Adjustment Bureau, Thor, Win Win, X-Men: First Class and The Hangover II. And while there are some eagerly anticipated movies still to come this summer (not to mention for Oscar season later in the year), I can unequivocally say that one of my favorite movies of 2011 will be Super 8.

Many summer movies tend to be big, fast, loud and heavy on special effects. While there are parts of Super 8 that are all of those things, at its heart, this is a small movie about growing up in a more innocent time, when "rush" film delivery took at least three days, when kids knew how to drive a car at 12 or 13, when zombie and disaster stories still held power over kids. It's 1979 in the small town of Lillian, OH. Joe Lamb (played by film newcomer Joel Courtney) and his friends are making a super 8 movie when they witness a catastrophic train crash one night. They are both curious and frightened about what happened, and as things (and people) in Lillian start disappearing, and the military takes over the town, the kids don't know whether to keep what they saw a secret or tell someone in authority, like Joe's father, the deputy sheriff (played by Kyle Chandler). And then all hell breaks loose...

This movie startled me and even scared me in places, and it also left me laughing, emotionally drained and fulfilled. That's a tall order for a movie, but Super 8 accomplishes all of it, and does so by making you care about the characters as it rivets you to your seat. Definitely the best movie I've seen so far this year. See it!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sorry Seems to Be the EASIEST Word...

Last week, comedian and 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan brought his act to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. While Morgan is known for his fairly raunchy sets, that night, his routine veered a bit off course.

Kevin Rogers was an audience member that night, who wrote a Facebook account of the evening entitled "Why I No Longer 'LIKE' Tracy Morgan—A MUST READ." According to Rogers, while Morgan's "typical hysterical dick, cum and pussy humor" was expected—as were some gay jokes—Morgan's anti-gay routine wasn't very funny.

"He said if his son that was gay he better come home and talk to him like a man and not [he mimicked a gay, high pitched voice] or he would pull out a knife and stab that little N (one word I refuse to use) to death. Tracy then said he didn't fucking care if he pissed off some gays, because if they can take a fucking dick up their ass...they can take a fucking joke."

After public outrage followed accounts of Morgan's diatribe, he apologized for his "choice of words," saying that his remarks "went too far." Tina Fey and NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt denounced Morgan's remarks, as did GLAAD.

And then came Russell Crowe. Earlier this week, Crowe took to Twitter to express his outrage against those who circumcise their children. Crowe, who said he was taking a "stand for the perfection of babies," tweeted, "Circumcision is barbaric and stupid. Who are you to correct nature? Is it real that GOD requires a donation of foreskin? Babies are perfect."

While Crowe is certainly entitled to express his opinion, once he started questioning circumcision as a Jewish custom, he crossed the line, even tweeting actor/director Eli Roth to say, "I love my Jewish friends, I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats but stop cutting yr babies @eliroth." (Roth expressed anger that Crowe's tweets were being used to vilify him.)

Later, Crowe apologized for his remarks and deleted the controversial tweets, although he initially stood by his opinions. He took to Twitter again to apologize, saying, "This is a great forum for communication. Like any human have my opinions and you all have yours, thank you for trusting me with them."

He then continued with, "I have a deep and abiding love for all people of all nationalities. I'm very sorry that I have said things on here that have caused distress." He concluded with, "My personal beliefs aside I realize that some will interpret this debate as me mocking the rituals and traditions of others. "I am very sorry."

While I found Morgan's routine tremendously disturbing, especially in light of continuing anti-gay violence and young gay teenagers committing suicide, I didn't really have an issue with Crowe's feelings on circumcision until they took what appeared to be an anti-semitic slant.

My problem is that both Morgan and Crowe felt like simply saying "I'm sorry" could erase the impact that their words had, and that just apologizing would make it better. More and more we see athletes like Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah, or celebrities like Mel Gibson and Michael Richards, make bigoted and hateful statements; once they witness public outcry and then say "I'm sorry," we're supposed to think that an apology made everything better.

"I'm sorry" doesn't take away the words or the hurt they cause people. "I'm sorry" doesn't turn back the clock to a time before those words were never said or the actions were never done. To quote a friend, "you say 'I'm sorry' when you step on someone's foot, not when you criticize someone's sexuality or religion, or wish them harm."

Everyone makes mistakes in the heat of the moment. But it appears that all too often we're using "I'm sorry" as a get out of jail free card rather than an opportunity to reflect on your words or actions. And that just isn't a good thing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: "The Sisters Brothers" by Patrick deWitt

It is the 1850s in Oregon, and brothers Charlie and Eli Sisters have garnered a reputation for take-no-prisoners violence as henchmen for a local business tycoon known as "The Commodore." One day, The Commodore sends Charlie and Eli to San Francisco to hunt down and kill Hermann Kermit Warm, who is mining for gold. Eli and Charlie don't know why The Commodore wants Warm dead, but it's their job to carry out his orders. Charlie relishes this life, and leads Eli to track Warm down, but Eli isn't so sure this is the life he wants to lead, although his whole life has been spent following his brother.

The journey to San Francisco is a colorful and eventful one, laden with violence and whiskey. They encounter an odd bunch of people, and Eli even thinks about his desire for a romantic relationship at some point. But Charlie keeps drawing them back to their ultimate purpose, and doesn't want to discuss with Eli the possibility of living a different type of life. And when they arrive in San Francisco, everything gets far more complicated than either of them imagined.

I stumbled upon this book as I was looking at another, but I'm grateful to have found it. This isn't quite a "western," but more the story of a relationship between brothers as well as a man exploring what he should do with his future when his entire life has been pointed toward doing one thing in particular. I found Eli's character to be tremendously complex, Charlie's not as much so, and at times I felt the violence to be a little excessive, although I recognize this is a book about a pair of killers! All in all, I thought this was an enjoyable and captivating story definitely worth reading.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Weiner Takes it All...

The media has been abuzz since last weekend, when allegations first surfaced that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) supposedly tweeted a picture of his, well, weiner (albeit, umm, packaged in boxer briefs) to a college student. Conservative columnists and politicians, many of whom dislike Weiner a great deal, are salivating at the possibility that this scandal could force his resignation.

For someone as smart and supposedly media-savvy as Weiner, his responses to this issue have been scattershot and fairly ineffective. In addition to having a little fun at his own expense, Weiner has claimed that his Twitter account was hacked and then said he was a victim of a prank, there have been questions about whether he called the police (since tampering with online accounts, especially those belonging to members of Congress, is a crime), and, strangest of all, Weiner "cannot say with any certitude" whether the picture is of him or not!

While some in the political arena and the media have already found Weiner guilty, I am on the fence. On the one hand, Weiner's handling of the issue certainly leaves his innocence in question, but I can't help but wonder if he'd really be foolish enough to think that evading the questions will make them go away. How many politicians have fallen prey to scandals of some sort? Does Weiner think he's smarter than everyone and can fool the media and those already calling for his, well, head? (Sorry. As Jon Stewart says in the clip below, there are very few ways to deal with this issue without acting juvenile.)

It will be interesting to see how everything ends up in this case. Even Jon Stewart, who is a friend of Weiner's, doesn't quite know what to believe.

Book Review: "Faith" by Jennifer Haigh

While Jennifer Haigh's spectacular new novel takes on the child molestation scandal that rocked the Catholic archdiocese in Boston in 2002, at its heart, this is a book about the ties of family, hidden secrets and, of course, faith.

When Father Art Breen is accused of molesting a young boy, his devoutly Catholic mother is devastated but believes Art is innocent, his brother, a former cop (and father of three), instantaneously convicts him, and his sister, Sheila (who narrates the book), struggles with what to believe. As Sheila works to uncover the truth, she finds Art unwilling to defend himself or answer her questions, and she finds many other questions of her own. She also discovers that this accusation has ripples far beyond Art's losing his job and being maligned for the possibility of committing such a terrible act.

This is a fantastically written, thought-provoking book. Yes, the accusation of child molestation is troubling, but it is nearly secondary to the issues it brings to the forefront in this book. Faith is a complex story of family relationships. It is a suspenseful book at times; at times it can be frustrating, because you can see how certain characters' behaviors are behind different circumstances, but ultimately, it is really powerful and emotional. Don't be put off by the subject matter—this is definitely a book worth reading.