Slammer Time

Britt, Anne and Dan via Donald Judd

We started late, finally getting to the art museum, with only two hours before closing. It being New Year’s Eve, the place closed earlier than usual. Stopping off at Kaldi’s first, for coffee and a little something probably didn’t help. Still, it was enough. We eschewed the Rembrandt show for touring the galleries. It was in the contemporary wing that I coaxed everyone to pose for a photo-op with the pictured Donald Judd piece. After art, we drove down to Midtown. Our destination was Black Market Eats, for sushi burritos, but it too had closed early for the holiday. This was probably a good thing, because I’m always leery of landlocked raw fish. Especially, at a place that normally caters to SLU students, all of whom are on break. Heading home, we stopped off at Fozzie’s the neighborhood sandwich emporium for some eats instead. They were both good and filling. After consuming and before the kids split for the night, we all settled down for a little TV time together.

We watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is on Amazon. First, Dan educated me that Google and Amazon had patched up whatever corporate squabble they had had and that now we could Chrome-cast Prime to our big screen. Both Dan and Britt had seen the episodes that we watched, but they were new to both Anne and I. In some of his NYC travails, Dan had done set dressing for this show, but that was in its third season. We started at its beginning.

In this 1950s period comedy-drama Midge Maisel is an upper-class Jewish housewife living in New York’s upper westside, who has it all. Until one night, after her husband bombs, while pursuing his dream of being a standup comedian. While having always been supportive of him, she is shocked to find him packing her suitcase. He’s leaving her, for his much younger secretary. Later that night, in a drunken rage, Midge returns to the same comedy club where her husband had previously bombed and brings down the house, before being hauled off to the slammer for lewd and indecent behavior, a star is born.

This much acclaimed TV series has garnered numerous accolades that are all well deserved. In this #MeToo era, mad Maisel is the perfect counterpoint to that similarly period placed TV show Mad Men. Its writing is to die for. We watched half of the first season, before the kids jetted. Then Anne and I binged the rest, finishing the first season at 12:05. It was the new year, 2020 and not 1958 anymore. Yesterday, I had forecasted my planned New Year’s Eve scenario. So, much for my 20/20 vision. Still, it was a grand evening and I was right about one thing, I did get a kiss or two.

On Witches and Faries

2019 has been a banner year for television. As the numerous streaming services compete, we the subscribing audience were left with a bounty of TV series to enjoy. This is most true in the twin genres of sci-fi and fantasy. This year has seen the conclusion of HBO’s epic Game of Thrones saga. While its ending may have disappointed some fans. Its true climax at the Battle for Winterfell remains an enduring favorite. In 2019 Disney debuted its own premium streaming service, headlined by a new Star Wars franchise, The Mandalorian. Mando as he is called by his friendimies, is a bounty hunter in the mold of the original Star Wars trilogy character Boba Fett, but with a heart of gold. Featuring an adorable Baby Yoda, this marquee effort bodes well for the launch of yet another pay-to-watch platform, in an already crowded market. There is now so much good TV to see that a journeyman effort like The Witcher hardly stands a chance.

Dropped on Netflix this month, this sword and sorcery offering stars hunky Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia and is based on source material created by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. Basically, a witcher is like a warlock and Geralt is also a “good” bounty hunter. Hunting only bad monsters. He co-stars with sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), and princess Ciri (Freya Allan), who find that all of their destinies are tied together. Lacking the production values of either Thrones or The Mandalorian, Witcher compensates with a certain campiness and a sense of not taking itself too seriously. It comes across like a playing of the game Dungeons and Dragons.

Think of the actors as knights of the dinner table, inhabiting their characters, with adlibs and asides. Like in any good D&D story, there is a fair amount of bumbling about, as the characters go hither and yon, questing for whatever each episode has served them up. There is an underlying story, the arc of which is eventually told across this show’s eight episodes of season One and nicely tees-up season Two, which has already been green lit. Witcher is not as good as its better competition, but is still enjoyable and not worthy of just discounting.

Unlike the Staten Island Ferry, Netflix isn’t free. It has held the lead in the race of competing TV subscription services, but everybody and their brother is in the race now. It remains to be seen how well it will perform in the future. Striving for king of the hill shows may not be their forte and the network might be better suited to utility programing, relegated to living on the margins with short haul successes, getting one from place-to-place.

Country Music

Country Music Cajun Style

Anne and I have been watching the PBS documentary series, Country Music, which is produced by Ken Burns, the most distinguished of our high school alumnus. He graduated the year before us. We’ve watched the first four episodes and plan on tuning in again, when the series starts back up tomorrow. I’ve never been as big a fan of country music as with other musical genres. I guess that I’m just too much the city boy, but I do like the stories that they tell. From the country classics to the silly one off songs, there is something quintessentially American about their stories. In typical Burns fashion, he has segmented the bigger story into episodes that encapsulate the musical genre’s successive periods. Beginning with old sepia tone photos that are brought to life again with a panning camera, and which by episode four film has supplanted. I found the series playlist on Spotify and am listening to it while I write this post, except when Patsy Cline’s Crazy comes on and Anne demands a dance. One criticism of the series is that it is too personality driven, especially in the later yet unseen episodes. Even with sixteen hours of storytelling, not everyone’s favorite singer will get their due. Next time that we’re in Nashville, it would be nice to visit one of Broadway’s honkytonks again.

Nights in White Satin

Knights in Shining Armor

Last night, I watched Secrets of the Shining Knight, a PBS Nova show, where a modern day master armorer and his team recreate parts of a knight’s medieval armor and test its strength, while rediscovering centuries-old metalworking secrets. A knight in shining armor may sound like a character out of a storybook, but once upon a time, knighthood was serious business, and for countless medieval fighters, their armor was what stood between life and death. This show asks the questions, what was it really like to live beneath the metal? How was that shining armor crafted, and how strong was it? Could it withstand impacts from the lethal weapons of the day, like crossbows and early guns?

The photo is of the armory in the Tower of London, from our trip of a couple of years ago. Today’s highlight was dinner. Anne made Chicken Tartarin, which was yummy. After dinner Anne acted as impresario and squired her folks through a slide show of her mother’s European vacation, from the fifties.

Murder

Carmel Valley

We were checking out at Safeway and the couple behind us were commenting about Chip Gaines of Fixer Upper fame, who is now on the cover of People magazine, with the tag line, “My kids made me a better man.” They seemed somewhat skeptical of this assertion, but what really caught my notice were their accents. They were Australian. I assumed that they were just visiting, but they live in Carmel. We commiserated about the impending golf deluge and we got to regale them with the exploits of our sons. Of which they were suitably impressed, but before long, I was holding up the line and we had to move on.

Chris and my Dad are big fans of British murder mystery TV shows and their current favorite is another Australian import, Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries. This is a spin-off of the popular, similarly named mystery series, Miss Fisher. That show was set in 1920s, while this new one is set in the sixties. A niece of the original Miss Fisher carries on the crime solving. I especially love the series’ campy recreation of 1960s pop culture television. The heroine is always galavanting around in her James Bond style Austin Martin convertable and and her wild, beautiful, but completely impractical for crime fighting outfits. Interestingly, each episode features exactly two murders. So, not only do you get to guess who did it, you frequently you also get to guess who’s next.

Must See TV

Alarm Clock, Gabriel Manlake, Unsplash

We’ve come to the end of Game of Thrones. After tonight, there is no more. Except for the two more books that GRR Martin has yet to write, but will he? He is not exactly getting any younger. As popular as his books may be, they have been eclipsed by the TV show and that ends tonight.

Tomorrow morning, most people go to work. Among these folks will be two types of people, those that have seen the final episode and those that have not. In that Monday morning gathering around that metaphorical watercooler, there will be two camps, the haves and the have nots. Those who have watched, will participate in the discussions, while those who have not are confined to the periphery and can only listen. We humans are social animals. We require the company of others and will often do what is necessary to acquire that company, even it means subscribing to HBO.

Scoffs may claim that this too will soon pass, but not as quickly as they may hope. Part of the allure of Sunday night TV is that there are five days of follow-up. Networks have long since realized this and now choose Sunday for their best. Often promising series are moved to Sunday and that frequently bolsters their ratings. Shows jockey on Sunday not only for ratings though, but also for that greater prize of awards. In truth, Sunday’s shows are all about bragging.

I’d asked Anne to recap Game of Thrones for me, knowing that she has never seen a single episode. “It is about a bunch of families that don’t get along and dragons.” And to elucidate that her rather succinct color commentary was up to date with last week’s penultimate episode, she added, “and those parents who had named their daughters after Daenerys, might want to add as a middle name, ‘Before the 8th Season’.” I guess that even teachers have their version of that metaphorical watercooler. I think that they call it the teacher’s breakroom. In the future I can see a school discussion such as this, “Daenerys Campbell was doing fine until Johnny Smith pulled her hair and then she went full Targaryen and dumped a jar of gold paint on his head.”

Please don’t fret about any of this. Especially not in those wee small hours of the night. That is a time best left to stew about other more mundane problems. Work will begin in a few hours and with it will unfold a whole new week full of everyday crises. In a few days, YouTube clips will appear and you’ll get to see the highlight reel of what everyone has been talking about. Whatever happens tonight, it will eventually subside and melt into the broader culture. Pundits say that with the advent of binge streaming, this TV series might be the last of this episodic kind of show, the last watercooler moment. References to it may resurface over time, like inside jokes that you won’t get, until they are explained, but please don’t fret. Maybe you could read the books?