Amanda Gates
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A Musings - September 2011

My thoughts on the last half of the week.

The Middle: I wasn’t quite sure about this show when it first started two seasons ago, but it has Neil Flynn (Scrubs Janitor) and he’s hilarious, so. But now, this show has really grown on me and I actually find it refreshing. Here’s a family who’s pretty much like the rest of us – living paycheck to paycheck, making parenting mistakes, living in middle American in a tiny, rundown home, and just trying to get by. (All the Modern Family families live in huge houses and only one spouse works.) The kids are annoying but hilarious and I really feel for the parents. The season premiere was a classic episode – very entertaining.

Modern Family: So, while I can’t relate to the money these families enjoy, that doesn’t mean they’re any less fun to watch. I was so happy to see Julie Bowen and Ty Burell win the Emmy because they are a hilarious couple – my favorite couple on the show. Both new episodes were filled with the typical shenanigans and fights, with everyone making up in the end – but never in a cheesy way. I particularly enjoy watching Jay act like a father again to Manny; it’s very touching.

Community: This show is just so lovably weird. The musical opening was hilarious and John Goodman is definitely a great villain (but is he really a villain when the Dean is just so annoying?). I hope the group has the whole “who’s in and who’s out of the study group” thing figured out now and can just get back to entire-group shenanigans.

Parks & Rec: OK, I know Leslie should reach for her dreams over picking some man, but, ugh, I just love those two together! But, the show needed a little something else and a city council run should be quite entertaining. And I just love Ron Swanson. (Plus, new hair for Chris, Ann and April!)

The Office: This was a big worry for me. How would it feel without Michael? Well, it felt like an episode where Michael is on vacation. It will probably take awhile to sink in that he’s not really there; it wasn’t as funny for me, but I’ve always loved Michael Scott. Andy in the big office felt just OK. I was never sold on anyone else in the office getting the gig, so I’m kind of disappointed they didn’t find an outsider to fill it. Andy stood up for his crew in the end (though he was quite spineless otherwise), which felt Michaelesque. My husband and I both like Robert California. And why is Gabe still there? I’m on the fence, but rarely do I give up on a show that’s been my favorite for so many years. (I thought this review from Salon was quite good. Bringing back the fear couldn’t hurt.)

The Big Bang Theory: I’m pleased with the way the Penney and Raj situation turned out. Sheldon is his same old self. There was really nothing broken with this show, so the fact that it’s maintaining itself is fine with me. This show always makes me laugh and it has done a really great job of adding supporting characters who are very likeable, or at least likeable to watch (Bernadette, Amy, the mothers, etc.).

Whitney: With all the negative reviews, I couldn’t bring myself to watch. We just DVR’d both Big Bangs and got all five shows in before 9 pm.

Prime Suspect: I watched the first 15 minutes. Again, love Maria Bello, so I could see myself tuning in now and again, especially if it’s procedural and I won’t be missing anything by not watching every week.

Quickly, on second viewing:

Parenthood: The second episode was even better than the first. I’m happy with nearly everything that happened (yay for Sarah!) and I cried at the things in life that suck (mainstreaming Max).

Up All Night: The second episode hit home for us again. We saw ourselves in them as they spied on the neighbors and were upset with the loud music. Again, the home part of this show is great. The work part, Eh. I don’t enjoy Maya Rudolph’s Ava. She can do other characters/personalities so much better than this.

Free Agents: We watched another episode. While it was funnier than the pilot, I don’t see a reason to watch it anymore.

So, what are your hits and misses of season primeres?

Posted: Mon, 09/26/2011 - 14:33 | Comments: 1

We’re halfway through the first week of the new season of shows, and here’s what I’m watching;

Parenthood: The Bravermans return (how I love them) and it’s like they never left. The possibility of Crosby and Adam going into business together is too good to pass up. While I love Alex and Haddie, I knew having an older, sober boyfriend would put a damper on her fun. However, I hoped she would be a touch more mature than she proved to be in this episode. (And what’s with the hair?) My favorite moment, and it's moments like these that make this show so great, was when Camille reminded Sarah of Camille’s own 40th birthday party and Sarah's absence. Ah, parents… And then you become your parents… and the cycle continues. Love. (And where the heck was this show at the Emmys?! Lauren Graham deserves some Emmy love... Long overdue.)

Up All Night: I have mixed feelings. I enjoy the chemistry between Christina Applegate and Will Arnett. I like that they actually talk to each other and seem to want to do this parenthood thing as a team. The funniest moments were between the two of them. (“Are we dead?”) I can’t yet get onboard with Maya Rudolph’s character and the whole work environment. It just wasn’t funny. But, I’m still holding out hope for tonight's episode.

Free Agents: I didn’t have much interest in this show, but my husband wanted to DVR it. I half-watched it and wasn’t that entertained. The office environment just seems weird, Hank Azaria was annoying and I didn’t care about the characters.

HIMYM: Oh, I love this show. It so perfectly can flashback and forward and back further and forward just a bit, and you’re never confused. It’s so endearing. The season premiere was awesome in just this way. All characters are true to form: Marshall and Lily completely in love (and is that a little gray at Marshall’s temples?), Robin tough on the outside and soft on the inside, Ted is back to wanting to find true love, and Barney is the perfect mix of a womanizer with a sweet-soft spot in the center. And the possible return of Ashley Williams? A great, great surprise.

Two and a Half Men: We used to watch this show, but then it just got too raunchy and annoying for me. Only out of complete curiosity, I watched the first 15 minutes of the season premiere. The funeral, with all the jilted lovers was clever, as were the special guest stars (Dharma and Greg don’t look so happy anymore!) looking at the house that is now for sale – I just wish they’d thrown in maybe two more because that segment wasn’t long enough. Ashton Kutcher, though? Seriously, it’s like he’s a glimpse at what Jake will be like in the future: Stupid and whiny. Though, Jake would never have tons of money or be good with the ladies. It wasn’t even worth coming back to after the commercial break.

Glee: Like I said in an earlier post, Glee was losing it a little bit last year. The characters were becoming caricatures of themselves, and not nice ones either. The third season premier gave me a little hope. People seemed back to normal and things weren’t so serious. The songs were just OK for me in last night’s episode, but Sue was definitely back to her old self, which is great. I worry that with Blaine now being part of New Directions we won’t get as many Blaine solos (and I’m not quite onboard with the bow ties), but more Blaine can’t be bad, not at all.

New Girl: Oh, Zooey. She’s just so freakin’ adorable (as everyone thinks according to the New York Magazine feature), which makes this show very easy to like. While not very original in premise (a group of pretty young people sharing lives in a beautiful apartment), I really don’t think I can get tired of watching her solve her problems every week. (I wish Max Greenfield’s character wasn’t so d-bag-like because it’s bringing down my loving memories of his Veronica Mars character.)

Raising Hope: Best new show of 2010 and last night’s episode was a perfect welcome back. It’s just the right amount of quirky and ridiculous mixed with great emotion from a family who is always there for one another. I love it.

I’m already overwhelmed with the number of shows to watch. There were too many already, and throw in some new ones - plus Mad Men, Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad on Netflix! - and I just don’t have the time. I’ve already made the decision that I'll have to skip Prime Suspect (boo).

Looking forward to: The Middle, Modern Family, Big Bang, Community, Parks & Rec, The Office & Ghost Adventures.

Posted: Wed, 09/21/2011 - 13:43 |

Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption kept popping up on my Amazon recommendations. This book has 1,430 5-star reviews on Amazon. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Maybe that’s more common than I realize, but I, personally, have never seen a book that loved on Amazon before. I downloaded it to my Kindle and started reading.

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about World War II. I’ve read about the German, Polish, French, English, Russian, Chinese and American perspective. Most of the books I’ve read were about the war in Europe, though. Only Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, which I just read (it was good), highlighted the war in the Pacific. Until Unbroken. This book focuses on the Japanese part of the war and, oh my gosh, how interesting.

The book mainly focuses on Louis Zamperini, an Italian American ruffian who becomes an Olympic hopefully in the late ‘30s and then becomes a bombardier in the Army. The title alone tells you what this book is about: Survival, Resilience and Redemption. The things Louie suffered and survived are completely unbelievable. (He spent 47 days on a rubber life raft in the Pacific surrounded by sharks with little food or water. And that’s just one part.) The book had me on the edge of my seat with my heart in my throat clinging to the hope that Louie (and all his friends) would survive the war.

While Louie makes for an exciting and somewhat-famous hook for the story, Hillenbrand doesn’t leave out the other men in the war. We learn about so many of his friends, but also about so many of the Japanese soldiers. These guards were some brutal men. To learn that some 30 percent of American POWs in Japan died while in captivity - compared to less than 1 percent of those captured by the Germans – well, that’s insanity and it makes the survival of any POW from that time all the more amazing.

The other amazing part is the author herself. I never read Seabiscuit, but I knew it was written by Hillenbrand as well. In her acknowledgements of this book (I always read the acknowledgements), Hillenbrand thanks her husband for helping her “when she couldn’t get out of bed.” This made me research her more and I discovered all about her own story of survival. Hillenbrand suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and writes and researches mostly from bed. Can you imagine? A story like this, with all the sources located across the country, and all the library research that one would have to do? You need to go out and do these things, and she couldn’t. (The extent of research and time this book must’ve took reminds me of Henrietta Lacks and Rebecca Skloot traveled everywhere for that book.)

This book was terrific. While Hillenbrand’s writing is fairly simple and to the point (no long, beautifully written prose here), she can describe a dogfight in the sky to the last detail and it makes you feel like you’re watching it on TV. She can bring a character’s thoughts to life, even though she herself wasn’t even born yet when he was thinking them. I fell in love with Louie, too. What a hero, and he remains one to this day.

Posted: Thu, 09/08/2011 - 18:49 |