Television: Elementary, "The Long Fuse"

Ah, here we go: Watson confronts Holmes with the fact that her time as his companion is coming to an end in a few weeks and he must find a sponsor to take her place. Meanwhile, a bomb goes off in a Web site design firm, which prompts Holmes to suggest to Watson she'll be happier when she no longer has to follow him through violent crime scenes. And she agrees she won't miss it. (A marked difference from the take on adrenaline-junkie John in Sherlock. For those keeping score.)

The bomb is four years old, hence the episode title (very nice of the newspaper that was part of said bomb to save a dated header intact—seriously, Art couldn't make it look a little more realistic?). And for more pseudo-Sherlock Holmes connections, Lisa Edelstein from House M.D. is a guest star on this episode too. The semi-flirt between her and Holmes echoes her role on House as well. Although her very quick answer to Holmes's question about who might want to bomb her company tips her hand early. (As does the flirt for that matter.)

At least we manage to identify and then almost immediately eliminate a number of potential perpetrators; it was a nice change in pattern and pace from more or less every previous episode. But we're still stuck with the fact that the writers continue to try to "spring" the answer on us long after we've figured it out and can no longer be surprised.

More interesting is Holmes's separation anxiety. How it must rankle him to know his condition is "quite common" as Watson points out. Holmes hates to be common. But he can't resist Alfredo's suggestion that he at least attempt to break into a car with a top-rated security system. And like a proud mama, Watson watches her boy go out to play with the other addicts kids. Cute. I might have a small case of separation anxiety myself.

Entertainers of the Year

Entertainment Weekly just put out their annual "Entertainers of the Year" issue, which of course prompted me to think first about how irritating their online surveys have become* and then to wonder who would make my personal list.

You'd be surprised (if you happen to know me, or even read this or PepperWords on a semi-regular basis) that I'd count Steven Moffat as one of my Entertainers of the Year. Go ahead and rub your eyes, blink a few times, and read that again. Look, I know I'm harsh when it comes to Mr Moffat, but I'm only ever hard on the ones I think have genuine talent and can do better than they have done. (Rob Thomas and his bandmates would agree.) Steven Moffat takes the easy way out a lot of the time, but I think—at least in part—that's because of how hard he's working. He's producing two television programs (though only one on a semi-regular schedule, come to think of it, Jesus, what is he doing with his time?), and whatever else I may say or think, I'm still watching both Doctor Who and Sherlock, so that must count for something. So here is my one and perhaps only nod to Mr Moffat. I hope he enjoys it.

I think Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu also make my list. No secret I like Sherlock Holmes, and I really enjoy their chemistry on Elementary. And Zachary Quinto on American Horror Story who, despite it being a bit of a drag to see him playing yet another villain, still does a fantastic job. And Billy Burke and Giancarlo Esposito, the only two truly compelling actors on Revolution. Though David Lyons, too, is doing his best with the little they've given him.

That's television, but what about movies? I'll side with EW and count Ben Affleck as one of the Entertainers of the Year thanks to his great work on Argo, both acting and directing. Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Javier Bardem in Skyfall also make my list; that movie was the epitome of "entertaining." Haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, so I can't speak to that. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey might also fit in here, but I don't know yet (though I do have IMAX 3D tix for opening night, and at the HFR viewing, too, so stay tuned).

I have to admit to being a bit outside of things when it comes to music this year. I listen to my iPod more than the radio, so I seldom hear anything really new. I liked that "One More Night" song by Maroon 5 and thought the new Matchbox Twenty album was okay . . . Don't know that I'd call them "Entertainers of the Year" though. I think that honor goes to Train for "50 Ways to Say Goodbye" and fun. for "Some Nights."

Books! I'm almost done with Anatomy of Murder by Imogen Robertson, and I think she'd make my list; I'm really beginning to love Mr Crowther and Mrs Westerman as protagonists. Ben Aaronovitch, too, for Whispers Under Ground. And Adam McOmber for The White Forest.

So that about sums it up for me barring any late entries in the month of December. Or anything I've simply forgotten. It has been known to happen, particularly when I'm hungry (which I am).

*EW has a habit of sending online surveys which first ask me whether I'm interested in [insert egregiously long list of television shows, movies, actors, musicians], then asking me effectively the EXACT SAME QUESTION by forcing me to choose AGAIN whether I'd like to read about [long list of television shows, movies, actors, musicians] in their magazine. Dear EW: you can safely assume that IF I am interested in something or someone, I would also be interested in reading about it, AND if I am NOT interested in something or someone, I do NOT want to read about it. And yet, despite my telling you these things REPEATEDLY and CONSISTENTLY, you still shove stuff like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey (more or less the same thing given the origins of the latter) under my nose on a regular basis. DO NOT WANT. Are we clear?


Television: American Horror Story: Asylum (revisited)

I'm only just catching up with this show (only just watched "The Origins of Monstrosity"), so bear with me. And be warned there are spoilers in the following text.

While it came as no surprise to discover Zachary Quinto's Dr. Thredson is at least one of the major villains of this season's AHS, I'm still disappointed. Quinto does evil quite well, it's true, but that's exactly why I wanted to see him do something different. I really wanted things to go in a more unexpected direction.

I do also find it a bit of a cheat on the part of the writers or directors or creators (whose fault it might be is unclear) since early images of Bloody Face showed someone with blue eyes and Quinto's are brown. Now maybe this will be accounted for later in some plot twist—they may yet surprise me, which would be delightful—but if not, then that's a foul on the creative team for leading viewers astray. (ETA: While my first thought had been Quinto, someone pointed out to me that the voice on the phone in the modern-day frame story may be Dylan McDermott's.)

Meanwhile, along with Thredson's evil turn, still more of the plot has become predictable as it relies heavily on the most oft-used tropes of horror. The devil (or at least a devil) possessing a nun. A creepy, murderous child that speaks in monotone. An ex-Nazi performing experiments on people. Aliens. ::shrug:: None of this is terribly inspired, and it's becoming increasingly pedantic as things drag on.

Particularly atrocious in "The Origins of Monstrosity" was the flashback to when Monsignor Timothy (Joseph Fiennes) encounters and more or less hires said ex-Nazi (James Cromwell). The dialogue in all this was especially clunky, the whole thing handled in a ham-fisted expository way. That more than any of the "horror" in this show made me gag and want to be violently ill.

Still, I will admit I want to see how things end and where everyone ends up. I wouldn't call AHS: Asylum "compelling," and yet it must be, since by definition it drives me (and ostensibly others, since its ratings are good) to continue to watch. I'm still hoping for some big, amazing twist. We'll see what they serve up.


Movies: Running Time

This article in Variety talks about how a longer-than-average running time for a movie can sometimes work against it when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing (and yes, word of mouth is a kind of marketing, the best kind because it doesn't have to be paid for by the studios, and also the worst kind because the studios cannot ensure it will go in their favor).

I think the key point in the article is that movies whose reviews are already middling to bad tend to punch up the whole "and it's also too long!" argument. However, a really good movie can be long (the article mentions The Dark Knight Rises, which I haven't seen yet, but I know it was pretty well received) with very little grumbling about the running time. There's no great amount of logic required to figure this one out. After all, you may want more of a good thing, but no one asks for more of something they're not enjoying.

Some of my e-books are really e-stories, and even though the estimated page count is available right there on the download page, I still get people who review the books and say they're too short. I suppose I should be flattered they want more and grateful they aren't saying my 30- and 60-page publishings are too long. And since they continue to sell well, I'll labor under the assumption word of mouth is working for me.

I don't suppose there are very many films that get called "too short" though. If it's really good and people want more, they don't immediately wish for more of that particular movie so much as for a sequel—basically, no one says, "It should have been four hours long!" They instead say, "Let's have another two-hour installment!" Because let's be honest, after one of those huge sodas in the cinema? No one wants to (few are even able to) sit for that long.


Television: Revolution, "Nobody's Fault but Mine"

Okay, so the episode begins the way the show as a whole should have been written: the story of Bass and Miles fighting alongside one another, the story of how they go from gung-ho idealists to dictatorial bastards—that's what would be truly entertaining to watch. I realize this is the tale they intend to give us in flashbacks (which is why I'm still watching), the same way Lost writers gave us everyone's pre-Island histories. But what was novel on Lost has become rote, or at the very least the way it's been handled on Revolution is far less compelling.

Of all the characters, Captain Neville probably has the most depth, although his speech to Aaron boils Neville down to a man with a chip on his shoulder, which I feel does him a disservice. I've long said Billy Burke is the best thing about Revolution, but I think Giancarlo Esposito holds his own as well.

Meanwhile, Bass' man crush on Miles is both cute and squeamy. And the way people get that far-off stare as they remember something (cue flashback) is reminiscent of Highlander. Which, while I can feel nostalgic for it, I can also say it's probably not a comparison for which the writers and directors should be aiming.

Sometimes when my mind is wandering I like to think the Doctor might show up with his sonic screwdriver and turn the lights back on and cut the whole series short.

We knew, of course, that it would have to come down to Bass and Miles in hand-to-hand combat because that's how these things are done. More Highlander. Except if someone got a Quickening, maybe there would be a way to generate electricity . . .

At the end of the day (and month and year, since the show doesn't return until next March), despite the promises of big changes, I find myself far from the edge of my seat, nor am I impatient to find out what happens next. Okay, so now everyone is out of Bass' clutches. And now Bass has power (of some kind, though its duration and extent is questionable). So now . . . ??? I'm starting to find I care very little one way or another. Bass will wage war on Georgia? ::shrug:: He'll chase down Miles & Co.? ::shrug:: Whatever. It would have been a much bigger and more interesting twist to have Miles be in on the whole thing, or at the very least have him [pretend to?] rejoin the Militia. Having characters that don't change—which is what has happened here, as we are faced with a bunch of static personae—is far from revolutionary.


Movies: Argo

Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman
Directed By: Ben Affleck
Written By: Chris Terrio (screenplay), Joshuah Bearman (article)
GK Films, 2012
R; 120 min
5 stars (out of 5)


I think it's funny—in the sense of interesting rather than amusing—how in grade school, in the years we took American history (which wasn't every year—sometimes it was world history, sometimes state history), we always started and ended in the same place. One supposes this is because the school year was only so long, but I always thought maybe they should plan it so that you did up to one point in one grade, then followed in the next grade with only a little review before going the rest of the way. Or maybe it's just that all the textbooks were old, and it being too expensive to print more current ones, we simply never made it past the election of Jimmy Carter.

And we didn't. We'd get as far as Kennedy being assassinated, Nixon resigning after Watergate, and Carter being elected and history would then stop. And even then, that last bit was rushed. By the time we finished World War II, the teachers were scrambling to cram in as much as they could before summer break. So everything after D-Day is really something of a blur. (And yet, in Texas history we had entire chapters on the different varieties of cattle . . .)

What does all of this have to do with Argo? Well, I just want to say it was pretty brilliant of them to encapsulate the history in the opening so those of us with less education on the matter (and no memory, thanks to our ages) could understand what was going on.

But more than a history lesson, Argo is an extremely well-made movie. It is intense and absorbing, amazingly well written and well edited to heighten the tension. I can't remember the last time a movie really made me clutch my seat with anticipation. So kudos here to Affleck and company on that score.

I do realize, of course, that liberties were taken with some of the history, but that's fine. I still walked away more educated about a point in my country's history than when I walked in. I also walked out satisfied at having been entertained. Win-win!

For anyone scratching their heads because they don't know what Argo is about, here's a thumbnail sketch of the story: Affleck plays a CIA agent sent to get six embassy workers out of Iran by prepping them to pose as a film crew on a location scouting trip. I won't say more than that because to explain it too much would (a) ruin it for anyone who wants to see it, and (b) require more typing than I feel like doing at the moment.

Certainly I think Argo will get some Oscar attention. I'd love to see Alan Arkin get a nod for supporting actor, though I feel that might be a long shot. I think picture and director are safe bets though. Possibly screenplay as well. And I think there's a fair chance Argo may even walk away with a few statues despite what promises to be a crowded field this year. It's that good. And that deserving.


Television: November's Winners & Losers

Does anyone even watch FOX any more? I can't remember the last time I watched a show on that network. Maybe back when Bones was still good? Back when 24 was still on? Back when I still watched House (though I ditched those last few seasons) and American Idol? When The Simpsons was funny and sometimes even relevant?

I'm asking because FOX was fourth out of the four big networks in November sweeps. (Yes, I know November's not actually over, but for all intents and purposes, the numbers are in. As Thanksgiving gives way to holiday episodes and winter hiatuses, there is likely to be little change until after New Year's.)

NBC had been last for several years and hadn't been first in nine. But look at that Peacock strut. With powerhouse The Voice and new shows like Revolution pulling in the viewers, NBC has taken top spot in the 18-49 demographic.

CBS, meanwhile, has most overall viewers. Elementary has been relatively solid for the Eye—and CBS is giving it the sweet spot after the Superbowl, though I have to wonder at this counter-programming attempt because it seems a bit off the mark to me—and, really, CBS has all those other shows that the old folks at home so enjoy. 60 Minutes. That Hawaii 5-0 reboot. The Mentalist. All those CSI shows. Yeah, when I think of CBS, I pretty much think of my parents (who are closing in on retirement age) . . . I'm almost embarrassed to admit I watch a show on that network. Makes me feel like I'm getting old, too.

As for ABC, which came in third in 18-49 but second in total viewers (though virtually tied with NBC, so don't breathe too easy there, ABC) . . . Modern Family continues to top the ratings for Wednesdays, and shows like Once Upon a Time and Revenge also pull in good numbers. But new dramas like Last Resort and 666 Park Avenue fell flat and so were a bit of a drain on the network's momentum.

Of course the nets are also always battling that slow bleed toward cable. With so many more channels to choose from, the nets must fight ever harder to catch and hold viewers' attention.

I don't watch anything on FOX at the moment, but as we all know, this could change season by season. My viewing is split pretty evenly amongst the other three nets, plus FX's American Horror Story and HGTV's House Hunters. What do you watch? Network television or more cable shows? Which networks do you watch most often?

Concerts: Counting Crows at Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium (San Francisco)

Despite only recently overcoming a fever, Adam Duritz brought a good game to San Francisco on November 20 by playing a fair mixture of upbeat and soulful tunes.

But first, the opening acts. Mean Creek hails from Boston and played a number of loud and rousing tunes probably meant to foster the energy of the crowd, but unfortunately for the bad, the arena was still half empty at the time they took the stage. Still, they made a fair attempt, and the lead singer took the time to talk about what each song was about before singing, though there was something preacher-like in this; I half expected a sermon.

Then Tender Mercies, who started in San Francisco and whom Duritz claims has had great influence on his own music, took the stage. One can definitely see the, er, "family resemblance" in the musical styles? "Four White Stallions" is a Tender Mercies song that Counting Crows has covered; Tender Mercies took it back for this show and did a really nice job over all in numbers like "Ball and Chain." Didn't much care for "Scarecrow," but that seemed to be the odd one out for me; most of their music, while not something I would necessarily hunt for, was not unpleasant.

In short, both Mean Creek and Tender Mercies made fine accompaniments to Counting Crows' own style. On the whole, it was like a well-planned meal in which all the flavors work.

Then the main act took the stage, starting with "Round Here," which is kind of a slow build, but it worked. If Duritz's goal was to get everyone in the same headspace, this song did it by setting the tone. Far from dragging everyone down, though, the band followed up the opening number with something much faster and upbeat, and that became the story of the night—a slow one here, a fast one there, but done so well that instead of feeling like a see-saw, it was more like a conscientious balancing act.

Counting Crows has such a huge catalogue of hits that of course they couldn't touch nearly all of them. "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" was probably the one song that really got the audience excited, though "Rain King" (which was cut in with a take on "Someone to Watch Over Me") was also very well received, and "Omaha," and certainly "A Long December," for which Duritz had the piano rolled out onto the stage. I would have liked to hear them to their cover of Pure Prairie League's "Amie," but one can't have everything; they chose to cover something by Teenage Fan Club instead.

Duritz did a fine job sticking the night out, but by the end of it all it was clear he wasn't completely over whatever illness had felled him a day or two before, and his voice was beginning to give. They ended with "Holiday in Spain," which is a favorite of mine and a good closing number.

I wouldn't say the concert was transcendent or anything (I've been to some like that, though I suspect that feeling might be directly related to how much weed the people around me are smoking at the time), but it was solid, a very enjoyable show.


Television: Revolution, "Kashmir"

Charlie's endearing faith in her uncle Miles puts pressure on him to live up to her expectations. Somehow, despite all she's seen and lived through, Charlie continues to have a utopian sensibility of the world and believes it will all turn out right in the end. Or maybe she's simply aware she's one of the chief protagonists on the side of the good guys and therefore cannot die. Even stepping onto a mine is not a problem, though we the audience were still treated to a fun (if delayed) explosion.

And once again Nora is the person to ask when you need exposition and backstory that cannot be handled in flashback form. This time Nora explains Miles' and Bass' friendship-turned-falling out. Something that would have been waaaay more compelling as a flashback.

On the other side, Rachel is also filled with explanatory dialogue about how the pendant works. Thanks for that!

"Kashmir" eventually devolves into a series of hallucinations and a Led Zeppelin tribute. (Which might be redundant.) But this was probably the only way to get Miles and Bass in a room together without it being a flashback or a fight to the death. And of everyone on this show, they have the most chemistry. Still, Bass' saying that Miles might consider rejoining the Militia was far from convincing given all we've seen of Miles' character. The writers have worked hard to make him "conflicted" but nothing really sticks. It becomes difficult to imagine Miles as a ruthless general; we really need to see those flashbacks to make it believable. And even then it might not be.

I think, on the whole, it's tricky to write a hero who has a compelling dark side. Viewers (or readers, if it's a book) want to trust their heros and feel betrayed if there's any real chance of them slipping into the shadows. So the usual thing is to give the hero a past, either tragic or evil, and introduce them as reformed in some way. But it takes really great writing and/or acting to pull off that kind of complex character, and while I think Billy Burke is the best thing about Revolution, Miles is still pretty rote.

Also, the almost dead character (Charlie) seeing a dead character (her dad) but then returning to the land of the living? So overdone. (Remember that episode of MacGyver? "Passages" or whatever it was? Yeah. That.)

If we were supposed to be shocked at Rachel's willingness to commit murder, well, we weren't. I really want this show to surprise me in some way, and I'm giving it until the holiday break to do something amazing, but if it doesn't, that's one less night I have to stay up late for a TV program.

My Doctor Who Movie Treatment

I actually posted this on PepperWords a little over a year ago, when David Yates had said something to Variety about planning to make a Doctor Who movie. (And then Steven Moffat threw one of his tantrums, but whatever.)

Anyway, disputes aside, it was fun to think about a possible movie and how to approach it, and here is what I came up with, which I think is actually quite viable:

Okay, so this is just off the top of my head because of course I've had a phone call: "All right, M, what would you do with this?" And I haven't had any kind of time to really think about it, but . . .

We'll skip Gallifrey for the moment. These things just tend to come off as cheesy anyway and will limit the audience potential. Also: budget concerns. So let's get right to the Doctor being on Earth. Wherever, doesn't matter, pick a place to film (a city, though; the more people in harm's way, the better our hero comes off when he saves them).

So what's he doing? Trying to fix the TARDIS, I suspect, so we'll start him off gathering parts somewhere—a junk yard, a landfill, a Dumpster, doesn't matter, just somewhere there might be, say, bums or homeless people or sanitation workers because here comes our inciting incident: the Doctor is going to do something strange and amazing that will set off a sort of panic. Pretty soon authorities will be hunting for him, and meanwhile he's desperate to fix the TARDIS and what? Get back to the Time War maybe, something like that.

Yes, yes, so then we need to introduce our companion. Probably female. Someone who recognizes him from the news reports or the YouTube footage or whatever is going around. Ready to call the police when she runs into him, but of course he does something either to save or impress her, and she takes that split second to rethink things. Curiosity, cat, satisfaction, etc.

There will be the whole bit in which she's not sure if he's crazy or what but finds herself helping elude the authorities anyway because he swears that blue box can time travel—if only he can fix it.

We'll want another threat as well, something unfriendly coming at the planet. The Doctor will get the TARDIS up and running, and he's all ready to get back to that Time War, but finds himself unable to leave Earth in peril. So he takes up precious minutes/hours/days thwarting whatever threat we've stacked against the humans, and only then will he be able to get back to Gallifrey . . .

But he's just slightly too late.


He's a homeless drifter, has a working TARDIS and a companion, and off we go to the next film (assuming there is one).

See? Not bad for sitting at my desk while two small children scream at me to help them with their puzzles and can they please have some doughnuts.
I'd sit down and write the actual script except (a) I've got a million other projects on my plate, and (b) the idea of a movie seems to be dead at the moment. But Mr Yates, if you're still thinking about it, give me a call; I can always push this to the top of my to-do list. *wink*


Movies: The Muppets

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper
Directed By: James Bobin
Written By: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller from characters created by Jim Henson
Disney, 2011
PG; 103 min
4 stars (out of 5)


A hugely self-aware and cameo-laden reboot of the 70s-80s property (now held by Disney), The Muppets is nevertheless charming and entertaining and a worthy heir to the dusty throne.

Segel plays Gary, whose younger brother Walter is, well, "different." (He's a Muppet, looking for his place in the world.) Walter becomes obsessed with The Muppet Show, and when Gary takes his girlfriend (Adams) to Hollywood for their 10-year anniversary (of dating?), Walter tags along in hopes of experiencing the Muppet Studio.

Of course, what they find is a decrepit backlot that has long been abandoned. Kermit and the gang have gone their separate ways. And so would they still be, with the evil Tex Richman (Cooper) demolishing said studio if not for Walter's devotion.

The whole of the movie is merely a metaphor for Disney's attempt at making a new Muppet movie to see if the brand contains any life. The Muppets hold a telethon to raise money to save their studio, and we the viewers are shown many living rooms filled with families laughing and watching television together, a kind of harkening back to the "good old days." The character of Walter, meanwhile, acts as stand-in for new youngsters who, like him, are getting their first taste of Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and the others. Will kids seeing this movie be as hooked on the Muppets as Walter? And the idea that the Muppets must make a certain amount of money to win back their studio can be likened to The Muppets needing to make a certain amount at the box office to win a second shot at life in the big time.

Despite my seeming cynicism, I found The Muppets thoroughly entertaining, with exactly the right amount of nostalgia ("The Rainbow Connection" never fails to give me chills). I can't imagine my kids wanting to run away and join the Muppets the way Walter does, but my daughter has a love of Jack Black that this film will satisfy. (Note to all filmmakers: abuse of Jack Black is comedy gold. Please work it into your scripts whenever possible.) On the whole, The Muppets is poised for broad appeal to all ages. Here's hoping Disney gives them another outing.


Movies: Rock of Ages

Starring: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russel Brand
Directed By: Adam Shankman
Written By: Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, Allan Loeb
Warner Bros., 2012
PG-13; 123 min
2 stars (out of 5)


This movie could also be called How Tom Cruise Stacee Jaxx Got His Groove Back. But that's only one part of the multi-layered plot that probably worked better on a theatre stage than it does here, despite the production values and multiple locations.

Set in 1987, the stories include that of Sherri and Drew, aspiring rock singers who work at a Hollywood bar called The Bourbon Room. Then there's the story of the mayor and his wife who want to shut the bar down because they feel rock and roll promotes evil thoughts and deeds. (Different, as I understand, from the staged version, wherein the bar is in danger of being torn down by a developer?) Really, it's just the wife who wants to rid the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and of Stacee Jaxx in particular; meanwhile the mayor, as cardboard a character as any other in this film, carries on a clandestine affair. And then, certainly, there's the Stacee Jaxx plot line about a wayward rock star looking for the real thing when it comes to love.

With so much going on, none of the multitudinous threads in this film are done particularly well or with any real depth. Rock of Ages is all show; it's a soundtrack with some caricatures thrown over it. Any one of the plot lines might have been interesting if fully explored, but none of them are. Rock of Ages relies on stereotypes as shorthand for real personalities, therefore avoiding (so the writers think anyway) the need to create compelling characters with anything unique to say. Even from the nostalgia angle, this film serves up the stalest pieces of the 80s: the music, the clothes, the pedantically plotted films (which is what this is).

Why two stars then? Because there were, in fact, at least one or two entertaining moments. And because, although the soundtrack was relatively rote and offered little in the way of "deep cuts," I liked a lot of the songs. I figure since this is a musical, that must at least count for something.


Television: Binge Viewing

I was reading this article in Variety today and it made me pause to think. Yes. Binge viewing is on the rise, at least based on my extremely unscientific analysis of my Facebook page, wherein many of my friends post about weekend-long sessions of television gluttony, watching entire seasons in 24-hour blocks while sustained by chips and ice cream (depending on the program). Just yesterday, while getting my nails done, the barber across the room and I had a conversation about his preferring to hold off watching American Horror Story because he felt it was "more cinematic" to watch it uninterrupted by ads, and the same could be said of shows—especially the hour-long dramas with overarching plot lines: that it's more like watching a very long movie if you wait until the season is over and queue up the episodes for a marathon run.

The television landscape is changing, thanks in large part to DVRs. A program's ratings can often appear poor when viewed mere hours after the original airing, yet add seven (what's called Live +7), or even three (Live +3) days to see who is watching the shows via DVR or On Demand within that first week of the original airing, and those ratings can change drastically. Something that appeared to be a poor performer becomes an after-hours champion.

But television (in America at least) makes its money by selling ad time. And advertisers aren't interested in DVR ratings because they can assume DVR viewers are fast-forwarding through the commercials. So what's a network to do when the live ratings are low?

Well, as the Variety article points out, nets like ABC refrain from ordering any additional episodes of slacking series. Which means viewers hoping to store up Last Resort or 666 Park Avenue for a rainy day pantry raid will find a shortage of fare. So viewers, take note: if you wait too long, the shows you're hoping to catch up on later will have passed their expiry dates. Maybe instead of eating entire gallons at one go, a pint now and again will serve everyone better.


Television: Elementary, "One Way to Get Off"

Holmes ditches Watson in the wake of her (by his perception) invasive query regarding Irene Adler, in effect resetting the relationship. Is this a ploy to prolong the storyline? Surely the six-week arrangement is nearing its end in any case and Holmes and Watson will have to deal with their pending separation? Then again, Holmes's method of "dealing" with anything remotely emotional is to deny or suppress it. At least in this incarnation (though also in many others). What's interesting about JLM's portrayal is that his Holmes still quite clearly has feelings, he's simply resolute in refusing to acknowledge or discuss them.

Meanwhile, Watson digs herself in deeper by visiting Holmes's old rehab clinic and polling the administration and maintenance staff about her client.

The attempt to suggest Gregson might have done something immoral to close the case on a series of murders was not terribly believable given how solidly Gregson's character has been established; the seeds of any potential for him to be underhanded would have had to be planted well in advance in other episodes for that particular plot line to work. However, the introduction of an ex-partner made the question a no-brainer. Still, nice to see them give Gregson a little more meat.

I do take issue with the rather convenient device of having Holmes leave personal letters from Irene at the clinic. Traditionally, Holmes is something of a pack rat; anything worth keeping he would have taken with him, and anything else he would have destroyed.

Also, what grown woman has such loopy writing? I haven't seen any female write like Irene Adler (based on the writing on those envelopes) since my school days. Maybe some "big girls" have handwriting like that, but I'd hazard it shows a mark of immaturity on the part of the addresser. Or was the art department just trying to make it very clear it was a female's writing?

While slightly better plotted than most recent episodes, the hallmarks remain the same: the criminal is the person we meet briefly and are meant to have forgotten by the time Holmes hits upon the solution. Then we can all go, "Ooooh! It was him!" And didn't we just do a story about a mentor/student relationship back in "Child Predator"? Even if it was backward, the fundamental stories were similar. Hey, and I did the eye color thing in "The Adventure of Ichabod Reed" so . . . Please tell me the writers haven't already run out of ideas.


Books: My Current Stack

I got happy when, after a meeting at the library today, I was walking through the stacks and found Imogen Robertson has written something new. I really enjoyed Instruments of Darkness (which I reviewed some time back); this one is called Anatomy of Murder, and I'm looking forward to joining Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther once again.

I've also dug up, from the stacks that still abound in my not-quite-unpacked office (the hazards of a cross-country move), Smiley's People. I didn't even realize I had a copy of it; I'd checked all the other John le Carré books out at the library. Oh, God. I hope it wasn't a library book that stowed away . . . I only just thought of that. I started it last night, am only six pages in, but will probably move over to Robertson first (which most definitely is a library book) before finishing this one.

And I still have PDFs of a review copy of a book I meant to take a look at . . . And there are any number of titles on my Kindle, but last time I perused them, none caught my fancy. (Sometimes I download free copies of things, or books I've read decent reviews of, and then realize I have no interest in them. At least at that moment in time.)

And then again, I also have books of my own. To write. Which I should probably get around to right about now.


Television: Revolution, "Ties That Bind"

Oh, look. Another cliché title for me to hate on. And more predictable ways for our protagonists to behave.

Truly, the greatest sin Revolution commits is that of the one-dimensional character. We know Miles, though easily the best character, plays the knight-errant—he's the man who has a past he feels he must atone for. Nora is the almost-too-principled kick-ass female with a hair-trigger temper; she's fighting for her beliefs. Charlie is our earnest, family-loving, save-the-world girl, the adolescent who is still learning things the hard way. Aaron is the Cowardly Lion, the homebody who now finds himself far outside his comfort zone, continually dealing with situations that force him to build a spine.

The fact that these core characters are so predictable is what makes it easy for the bad guys to set them up and spring traps on them. The Militia know Nora won't allow them to hold her sister. Duh.

"Ties That Bind" is, in fact, the Nora Episode, featuring flashbacks of her and her sister in the aftermath of the blackout. But hey, times were hard all over, and I've ceased to be impressed with these stories. Though it does make one wonder how much younger than Miles Nora is, exactly, since he was already an adult (and not by a little) when the lights went out.

[And now allow me a moment to cheer for the California Commonwealth.]

On the flip side, it was also a given that the sister was really working with the Militia. (Sort of a Romancing the Stone thing: "You. And your sister. Can go!") I knew this the minute they succeeded in rescuing her, and it was only that much more certain when the Butcher guy didn't mount a full search through those woods. A guy like that? He'd have sent every man out after them if the circumstances had called for it. So clearly they didn't. Ergo: the sister was an inside [wo]man.

In the end, it all boils down to some sloppy writing. Very rote and unimaginative. Nothing new under this sun . . . Maybe they should look into solar power?

Though I have to say: nice job of reducing the amount of Charlie this week.

Movies: The Pirates! Band of Misfits!

Voices By: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant
Directed By: Peter Lord, Jeff Newitt
Written By: Gideon Defoe
Sony, 2012
PG; 88 min
3.75 stars (out of 5)


Well, my seven-year-old can identify Martin Freeman at one hundred paces, and in animated form to boot ("That's the guy who's going to be Bilbo! It even looks like him a little bit!"). Hmm.

In short, a cute movie that I probably enjoyed more than my children, their chief pleasure seeming to be that I was amused. They didn't at all understand the bit about eating endangered species, but became very excited over Ham Nite (because they all like ham). Also, my two youngest couldn't read the signs Mr Bobo held, and my oldest couldn't read them quite fast enough, so I spent a lot of the movie translating. (I would have tried to explain that Queen Victoria wasn't quite the villainess the movie suggested her to be but decided that was a rabbit hole I wasn't willing to start down.)

Still, in all a win. My kids like Wallace & Gromit and find the stop-animation/claymation style visually interesting. It was probably more their lack of pirate knowledge that worked against this film on the whole. But none of it was very scary, which was good for the little ones, and there were still just enough tense moments to keep my oldest engaged. I don't know that I'd bother to add it to our DVD library or anything, but The Pirates! is a safe bet for, say, something to watch in the car or on a plane. At home the kids might not care to sit through it again—they'd likely go find something else to do—but when captive, as it were, they'd willingly watch it once more.

Music: North by Matchbox Twenty

I think I've finally heard all the songs on this album. I have not, however, sat down and listened to the album from start to finish, which is usually how I do things. I'm not sure why I haven't felt compelled to do this with North.

In any case, keep this in mind as I go over the songs here. Because I do like the album (mostly, as Cartman would say), but I also get the sense it's the kind of record that works well—if not better—when listened to straight through.

Because I haven't listened to it in order, my sense of the songs are a jumble, and I'm relying on online information to tell me the actual track order. Does "Parade" really open the album? It sounds more like an ending than a beginning to me. I like the song well enough, but always assumed it was somewhere near the end.

"She's So Mean" is, of course, the big radio hit. It's catchy and kind of dumb, and my kids think it's about me. But at least we can all dance around the living room to it.

I wrote more extensively about "Overjoyed" in another post, and I'll admit I haven't gone to watch the "official" video yet, but I do like the song now, though I didn't at first.

Okay, "Put Your Hands Up." Something about this song screams old-school Richard Marx to me. And I like Richard Marx . . . Or I did. When I was a pre-teen.

"Our Song" and "How Long" are tied for my favorite on this album. "Our Song" sounds like something that could have been on Thomas' solo album Cradlesong. "How Long" has an old Hall and Oates vibe. Somehow I can respect that more than the Richard Marx thing.

Okay, but I've skipped over "I Will" and "English Town." I'll start with "English Town," which was the first song from North my iPod pitched at me. I was like, What the hell is this now? But I have one of those nifty cars that tells me the song and artist my iPod is playing, so that answered that. Kind of. I didn't like "English Town" the first time I heard it, but it grew on me. Maybe just because of my overriding love of England. But really, the tune is rather haunting. It captures a sense of England in the rain in the plinking of the piano.

As for "I Will," I'm less of a fan. It's a pretty, sweet song but does little for me on the whole. (As we all know, I'm not sentimental enough for such a song.)

"Radio" is like an old J. Giles tune or something. I like the beat but think the lyrics are really stupid.

I don't like "The Way." It has a lack of flow, like starting and stopping in traffic.

"Like Sugar" I like. It's practically begging for a video treatment.

"Sleeping at the Wheel" is a solid finishing number. Except I have a couple bonus tracks: "I Believe in Everything," which sometimes gets stuck in my head (I don't mind, it's a good song that sort of harkens back to "Parade" in my mind, though I like this one a bit better than "Parade"), and "Straight for This Life"which vies with "Sleeping at the Wheel" for tone and aftertaste. And also reminds me a bit of "You Won't Be Mine" (from Mad Season).

I don't have "I Don't Wanna Be Loved" or "Waiting On a Train" so I can't speak to those.

So there. Now people who have been e-mailing me can stop because I've given you all my notes, such as they are. I'll admit it's mostly a sketch. Take it and do with it as you will.


Television: My Little Pony, "The Crystal Empire, Parts 1 & 2"

I realize it's not entirely fair to deconstruct and critique a show primarily designed to amuse children. I mean, surely we should be aware of the content aimed at our youth, but shows like My Little Pony are hardly designed to stand up to deep probing. And yet I feel compelled to poke at this two-parter that opened the third season.

Here we are introduced to the Crystal Empire, of which no one (viewers nor chief characters) has ever heard, for it has been missing for 1000 years. But it has reappeared! In the arctic north of Equestria!

Now Princess Cadence must work to protect the Crystal Empire. Unfortunately, she's wearing down, and so Twilight Sparkle & Co. are sent by Princess Celestia to figure out a way to protect the Empire without relying so heavily on Cadence's magic. A quick canvass of the locals reveals no one remembers their history (of enslavement by King Sombra), which means they may be doomed to repeat it. Lucky for them they have a library, and thanks to a history book, it's discovered that what everyone really needs is: A FAIR.

This is the bit that I find interesting. There is, after all, a long and rich history of pleasing the masses with bread and circuses. How many times has a king or queen lifted the spirits of his or her populace by throwing some kind of jubilee or other party? Particularly during times of discontent, economic or otherwise?

Apparently, the protection of the Crystal Empire—like any other empire in the world, really—depends on the love and good nature of its citizens, things an annual fair are designed to promote. Also, they need a crystal heart. But the heart is really just a way to collect the "light and love within" the crystal ponies and concentrate it, thus ridding the Crystal Empire of its would-be despot and keeping its people free. In the end, it is the collective will of the population, rather than reliance on a ruling figure, that saves the Crystal Empire and serves as its foundation. It takes a[n] village empire and all that.

I get that the cartoon means to engage children with thrilling stories wherein goodness and friendship defeat bullying and malice. The task given to Twilight and her friends here is designed with a sense of urgency: the empire will fall and the consequences will be grim! If we forget our roots, we will be unhappy and also fail as a society! We all must work together for the good of the empire! We must save our sovereign by taking on a share of the burden! Being happy citizens means our country will be happy, too! . . . Well, you see where this goes. Though I don't think My Little Pony is aiming for patriotic indoctrination, one has to sometimes wonder at the undercurrents.


Movies: Skyfall

Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan (from characters created by Ian Fleming)
MGM, 2012
PG-13; 143 min
5 stars (out of 5)


A near perfect movie, at least for its genre, and better than a lot of movies from other genres besides.

I'll admit I don't remember much of Quantum of Solace, but lucky for me it wasn't necessary for this film to recall exactly what had come before. Skyfall is something of a reboot (again) of the Bond franchise, and the film wholeheartedly embraces itself as such by making that the central theme.

Note: key plot points are discussed below, so if you don't want to know, go see the movie and then come back later for my take.

The core story is of Bond (Craig, now decidedly my favorite incarnation of the famous spy) tracking a leak in the MI6 system—namely, undercover agents that have been sent to infiltrate terrorist cells are being posted online, and the result is messy, particularly for M (Dench), who sits in the hot seat as these agents are killed, buildings are bombed, and the world watches a British Intelligence implosion.

Bond's hunt leads him to ex-agent Silva (Bardem, with orange eyebrows) who apparently has had some kind of psychotic break and is out for revenge against M. It seems everyone thought Silva was dead, but MI6 has a less-than-perfect record when it comes to keeping track of these things . . .

In any case, the plot eventually comes to a Mummy-likes-me-best sort of tension between Bond and Silva. But more than that, the fight is about old ways of doing things versus new. Early on in the movie M is primed by Mallory (Fiennes) to prepare for retirement, which he tells her will be expected of her in two months' time. Bond, meanwhile, is left to deal with a new Q, much younger than any other (played brilliantly by Ben Whishaw). This makes sense when you think about it, since in this day and age the technological innovators continue to get younger, though I like that Bond points out, "Youth is not a guarantee of innovation." But the final fight comes down to an old house in Scotland, and an even older gamekeeper, a kind of living relic from Bond's childhood. And of course, at the end of the day, the old dogs' old tricks win the day.

I don't think that's the message, though. I think the idea is that, in order to succeed, there must be a kind of blending of old and new. You have to have old techniques to fall back on when the new stuff fails. And sometimes less (as with gadgets) is really more.

It stands to reason this is a not-so-subtle look at the Bond history, with its ups and downs (near bankruptcy of studios), the way Bond has been made and remade . . . And Skyfall becomes that perfect balance between old-school Bond, the slick ladies' man, and the newer, grittier, somehow more "real" version that Craig has come to personalize. Skyfall has plenty of nods for the classic Bond fans, but those less versed in Bond lore will still find it immensely enjoyable. This is 50 years of Bond, and Skyfall is golden.


Television: Elementary, "Flight Risk"

This show can no longer surprise me, it seems. Actually, come to think of it, it never has. At least not as far as plotting goes. But it's a bad sign for a Sherlock Holmes show when the audience thinks well ahead of the protagonist.

[Spoilers Ahead.]

We all knew the murder victim wasn't killed on the plane, right? Kind of a given? He wasn't even strapped into a seat, nor was there a seat anywhere near his body. Basic physics, even giving leeway for scatter, which there didn't seem to be much of at that particular crash site.

And we all knew it was Cooper, too, didn't we? Anyone who quite happily volunteers his security camera footage is already planning to throw someone off a scent. (And that scent was evidently model glue, but whatever.)

What I didn't enjoy this episode—and what heretofore I have enjoyed on this show—was the Holmes-Watson interplay. The dinner prank played false in my mind, though I knew, of course, it wasn't really going to be Holmes' father at the restaurant. They'll hold back that card for some time and play the hand very, very slowly (if past performance is any predictor of future gains). Still, Holmes as I know him in all his various forms literary and cinematic, isn't quite so malicious as this practical joke suggested. If it were meant to be funny, it failed, and maybe that was what the writers were going for, but if so there was an error in the fielding. A more likely scenario would be for Holmes himself to let Watson wait some time at the restaurant then turn up later himself . . . After all he is technically "Mr Holmes" as much as his father. As a stunt, that would have worked and still preserved his character as it has thus been understood. (Also, would Holmes willingly put Watson in contact with someone who knows even part of his history? Are we supposed to believe he has a secret desire to be found out?)

An argument might be made that Holmes is acting out of character here because of his father. But that in itself would be out of character, since Holmes tends not to get emotional about such things. Or at least not so visibly emotional.

I'm supposing, however, that what the writers needed was another source of information for Watson to tap into. If Holmes (either Sherlock or his father) refuses to be forthcoming, she will need to find people in the know. Allistair provided handy backstory, and brought us around to the infamous Irene [Adler] first hinted at as "a woman" (if not "The Woman") in the series pilot. It was only a matter of time, after all.

Well, always nice to see Roger Rees back on telly, though.

In overall scoring, the episode was a miss for having not only a hugely predictable plot outcome—a shame because a plane crash can make for an interesting starting point, and here it was wasted—but also that misplay of the prank, Watson's slightly over-prissy reaction to said prank, and the manipulated device of introducing an "old friend" for Watson to tap into.

One interesting bit, though: at the crash site, Holmes says to Watson, "There's a story here." At what point will Watson begin writing these down, hmm?


Television: Revolution, "The Children's Crusade"

I am finally getting a little bit bored with the overtly manufactured elements of this show. If it were done well, subtly, that would be one thing, but the problem here is in how every plot point falls like a hammer. Sometimes the writers strike more than once in the same place, too, like having Nora explain to Aaron exactly why Miles is reacting the way he is. You know, just in case the viewers somehow failed to connect the planet-sized dots.

Meanwhile, Charlie remains as irritating as ever. And can we go even one week without her throwing herself into some kind of situation, using herself as bait or whatever? Last week it was the Irish people, this week the conscription ship . . . A few weeks back it was to get the gun . . . (Where is that thing, anyway? Do we need that back?)

Fine, fine. So in this episode Our Gang witnesses the capture by the Militia of a teenage boy only to discover this boy had been the primary caretaker for a band of orphans. We get the sad, sad story of how the Militia had come and killed all these kids' parents. Based on the ages of these kids, some of them were what? Only a few months old at the time? Anyway, Charlie is in her element as she insists they must save the abducted boy, and for once Miles agrees. Now, it wouldn't take any kind of mental math to figure out why, but for the remedial class, Aaron asks Nora, and she points out that Miles had been head of the Militia at the time the kids' parents were killed and therefore feels responsible for their situation. Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

Turns out the abducted boy, whose name is Peter, has been sent out to a conscription ship to be basically reprogrammed into becoming a member of the Militia. Is there a Nazi metaphor in here somewhere? Probably, but the fabric of this story is so thin as to make analysis a waste of time and effort.

Of course, Charlie then volunteers to get captured and sent to the ship so she can rescue Peter. The typical series of events follows, including Charlie needing to be rescued by Miles and Nora, and Aaron once again summoning something like a backbone. Seriously, we just did almost the exact same story the week before. The only exciting thing about this week was a lighthouse.

I don't know. I feel like this show could be good if the writing were clever and there was far, far less of Charlie. But as it stands, it's becoming stale. Someone please save it . . . Preferably by not sending Charlie in as a decoy.


Lewis Black: In God We Rust

One has to admire, I suppose, the time and energy Black devotes to being pissed off all the time. It has to be exhausting. In fact, for this particular outing, Black shows far less of his typical rancor. So maybe he's tuckered himself out.

I've seen Black perform live twice, both times in Boston, and this was some years ago (early naughts). I remember him being funnier than In God We Rust (of which I viewed the recorded version). Maybe he had more to be angry about back then, more material handy. President Bush sure did offer a lot of opportunity.

As it is, In God We Rust is somewhat misleading as a title, since Black doesn't talk about religion at all. (He's leaving that to Bill Mahr.) A lot of the routine is given over to discussion of airport security. And there's a fair bit about the economy, and Facebook, and Farmville. The best bit, though, is about mobile phones. Despite his protestations, Black spent a goodly amount of time fiddling with and fondling his phone during this part of the show, to the point I began to wonder whether he had an app with his routine on it, or maybe it was just in the Notes.

And Apple stores. Black's description of them as being otherworldly is spot on, and he gives a plausible excuse for why the employees stand so close when they're talking to you. (He did not, however, explain why the male employees insist on assuming I know nothing about electronics or technology. I have to say, though, that I'm kind of glad of that because I enjoy the looks of surprise when I begin speaking knowledgeably about my various Mac products.)

Still and all, on the whole this particular stand-up outing by Black is weak. I'm used to stronger coffee; here I feel like I've been offered the cold dregs. And kazoos. Lots and lots of kazoos.


Movies: The Campaign

Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott
Directed By: Jay Roach
Written By: Chris Henchy & Shawn Harwell
Warner Bros., 2012
R; 85 min
1.5 stars (out of 5)


Dylan McDermott is just about the best thing about this movie, and that's saying something. Bad. That's saying something bad. Because McDermott is hardly in the movie at all.

The Campaign simply isn't funny. One would think with Ferrell and Galifianakis to tap into, this movie would have at least a handful of laughs in it, but it doesn't. Most of the jokes fall flat. Many more are stale. The politician caught with his mistress? Puh-leez. Big money funding a shady campaign? This is me rolling my eyes.

I will say The Campaign starts weak and gets slightly stronger as it goes on, to the point that the end is the best part (and only partly due to the fact that it's a relief the movie is over). Unfortunately, by the time things start to get even a little more interesting, the viewer's attention has already wandered.

The plot itself is cardboard: Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a North Carolinian congressman running for his fifth term. He's slated to win despite his known nasty habits because he's running unopposed—until Galifianakis' Marty Huggins throws his hat in the ring. Huggins is something of a local bumpkin, the sweet-natured son of a local bigwig. Alas, despite his meaning well, Huggins is unwittingly backed by big business looking to sell the 14th district to China.

There's something about the movie as a whole that smacks of too many creatives dipping their balls in the soup (if you'll pardon my words, but I figure I might as well be in keeping with the crude humor The Campaign leverages in place of anything that's actually funny). I can't tell whether the writers were inexperienced, or the actors and director simply strong-armed the script, or both, but the result is—as Huggins would say—a mess. I typically enjoy Will Ferrell's movies, but this one is a bust.


Television: House Hunters

I don't know why I watch this show. I'm not looking to buy a house. The house I do have, I really like. But I also know what it's like to live someplace you detest.

I'd say it's the various locations that draw me in, but I'm just as interested in seeing episodes that take place in our area as anywhere else. Maybe you have to take it on the whole, that the interest comes from seeing different houses in a lot of places, seeing the various markets and architectural styles. I love House Hunters International as well, though I'm sick to death of places in Mexico and Peru and Australia. I guess there is such a thing as too much of one location.

There's that threshold of tolerance, too, for watching obnoxious people make demands about where they want to live and what kinds of homes they expect to have.

And then there's the production's need to create some kind of drama for the house hunt. This is usually done by pitting a couple against each other (SHE wants a big kitchen! but HE'S all about having a man cave! And what about the DOG???) . . . When there's a solo hunter, the drama often comes from a personal backstory, whether the person is a single parent, or moving far from home, or moving back home after being away, or getting some kind of job transfer, etc. Barring any of those avenues, the show falls back on the tried and true: He must get out of this apartment because it's driving him crazy! But can he find a house that will work for him, within his budget and close to his favorite restaurant? (Cue the incidental music.)

Meanwhile, the show's voice-over narration is borderline ridiculous. Who writes it, I wonder? Whoever it is has a tendency to misuse adjectives. I think they may be using a thesaurus and picking a word that has similar meaning to what they want to say, but in actual connotation is very different. Between that and the false sense of dramatic tension, the show is pretty silly as a whole. And yet I still watch it. And I know many other people equally addicted. Why?

It is, perhaps, in human nature to compare oneself to others. Reality programming as a whole allows this on a grand scale. Seeing others shop for houses makes us feel better (or worse) about our own abodes. Maybe it gives us ideas, inspires us to do things. Or on the flip side makes us complacent with ourselves and our lives.

Maybe we feel we're getting a kind of education. Sure, a lot of the "rules" on House Hunters are the same from show to show—managing expectations is the key to a successful house hunt. Versed viewers can sit back and say, "No way she's going to find three bedrooms, modern construction, in Virginia  for that budget." It's like The Price is Right, where we feel that our consumer knowledge is somehow rewarded or vindicated. And just as with The Price is Right, the more we watch House Hunters, the more educated about house hunting we become. We find ourselves participating vicariously. And our "education" is rewarded when we choose the "right" house. (Whether or not the actual house hunter on the show chooses the right house is always up for debate.)

I know I pay more attention to the show when the location is either one I'm personally familiar with or one  in which I'm particularly interested. For instance, I've lived in Boston and Texas and California, so those locations hold interest for me because I can feel even more "educated" while watching. Episodes located in London, where I hope to buy a flat at some point, or other European places I might consider living, capture my attention because I want to add to my store of information about those places.

The final reason I sometimes choose House Hunters over the dozens of other options after a long day is simply because I find it less taxing than narrative shows that require my full attention. I can sit down with soda and a snack, surf the Web, and only half acknowledge the presence of my television. House Hunters requires only as much from me as I'm willing to invest, which after a tough day is quite the relief.

Meanwhile, has anyone done a parody of this in which people are trying to shoot Hugh Laurie? That should have happened by now, right?

Television: Elementary, "Lesser Evils"

Ah, we're back to abusing corpses, which Holmes fans have seen in Sherlock as well. Although the beekeeping morgue attendant falls short of Molly Hooper. Thus far. He may turn out to be awesome; who knows?

And no one quite scores a show like Sean Callery.

The thing about procedurals in general is their need for misdirection to prolong the story. The pattern is more or less like this: Here are your main characters, and here is a situation. They must find who committed the crime. Here now are a number of tangential characters (in this episode, hospital workers). The writers will now lead you toward a conclusion. It will not be the correct conclusion. After viewing a few episodes you will know the first/primary suspect is never the actual perpetrator. In fact, it will usually be someone who is introduced and then quickly shunted aside, dropped from the viewers' temporary memories. An incidental person. This is because the writers seem to associate springing these people on the audience as the killers with "twist" or "surprise." Most of us have caught on, though, and are no longer surprised. In fact, it's become rote and boring.

Meanwhile, Holmes's little speech to Watson about trusting her instincts? Interesting. He's not wrong, of course, except Holmes is traditionally known for logic not gut feeling. Here the tables were turned: Watson was being rational and Holmes was the one prompting an emotional connection.

It's cute that Holmes gets invested in Watson's situation. "Victory?" he asks when Watson tells him she went to talk to her friend about a patient. And then redirects the conversation when she demurs. Could he be trying to make her feel better by turning her mind toward other things? Or is it simply that his interest has fallen off already in that manic way he has?

It really is the subtleties in this show that make it work. The stories themselves are not stellar, but the interplay between Holmes and Watson, their ever-so-slowly strengthening bond, is done extremely well. Every week I think I may give the show up, but then every week something about the minute progress in the characters' relationship keeps me coming back.