I Have More Faith in Peanut Butter than Television These Days

A couple years back I wrote something for a different blogging site stating that for the first time in a long time I had hope for television.  It just so happened that year there were a lot of creative shows with great concepts or writing that had me excited to watch them on a weekly basis.  I thought great storytelling was gaining ground back from reality television and it was such a relief.

Well, gentle and not-so-gentle readers I have to admit something: I was wrong. That hope I had back then?  Fairly diminished.  I’m not saying hope is gone; I believe somehow or another, someday we have to hit rock bottom and at that point entertainment, in whatever form it takes, will start elevating again. But at this moment… it’s not a pretty picture.

Of the shows I blogged about back then, the only one that’s still on the air is How I Met Your Mother.  I’m not going to climb on the bandwagon with a lot of people on the internet and say that the show has jumped the shark.  I think it’s still good.  I look forward to watching it every week.  Neil Patrick Harris  is still one of the most brilliant comedic actors ever and the show continues to bring the funny while occasionally kicking me in the shins with a sad moment.  Here’s the problem: One of the things I like most about the show, the storytelling frame, has become a trap. I think the writers are afraid that the day Ted meets the mother of his children the show is over.  My advice to them?  It doesn’t have to be.  Come on, you really don’t think Ted has more stories to tell?  How he convinced her to go out with him.  How she convinced him to marry her.  How they decided to become parents.  I think it’s time we start telling at least one of these.

Now I must admit, for someone who says she’s losing hope in the genre, I watch a lot of television.  There are other shows I like.  There just aren’t a lot I love.  The rundown:

One Life to Live.  Okay, actually, OLTL is great.  Best it’s been in years.  I’m excited to watch it every day.  Why it’s making me lose hope?  Oh yeah, because it’s going off the air in a month.  To be replaced by yet another show telling women that if we lose weight and wear different clothes everything that’s wrong with our lives will disappear.  (And because Brian Frons has still not been fired.  Oh yes, I’m still bitter.)

General Hospital. At the moment this show is not just bad, it’s offensively bad, but it’s still in my DVR because I feel like I need to support the few remaining daytime dramas while I can.  (I’m not in the least concerned it will be around next year to suck)

Castle.  I like Castle.  But the only thing that separates it from hundreds of other procedurals is Nathan Fillion.  And as Richard Castle has become slightly more tortured in the past season, he’s lost a little of his energy.  I’m not saying the character shouldn’t evolve, I’m just saying… as a whole, the show is not nearly good enough to make me break my ABC boycott starting in January.

Ringer.  I really want to like this show.  It has actors I like and my old roommate’s names, but… it’s about one hectic week away from being taken off my DVR.  There’s a difference between building suspense and just not telling the story and with regards to the real Siobhan, I don’t think this show knows that.  Also… I like Sarah Michelle Gellar just fine, but she’s not doing enough to delineate her portrayals of the two sisters.

Glee.  Again it’s a like, but not as much as I want to kind of thing.  The weird thing is, it’s the closest depiction of high school as I actually experienced it that I’ve ever seen.  Yes, including the singing.  This show is good at bringing the funny, I’m just not invested emotionally in many of the characters.  I will be interested to see what happens when a lot of the cast “graduates” at the end of this year.  Can the pull off a Degrassi style slow transition?  I’m curious enough to stay tuned, but if I miss an episode, I don’t freak out.

Psych.  Okay, weirdly, if anything is giving me hope on television it’s this show.  Not that it’s that amazingly well done, but they’ve managed to take the procedural format (which as a general rule I dislike) and make me enjoy it.  They also continue to bring the funny.  But most impressively, they’ve let the characters and their relationships evolve (and let Shawn and Juliet get together) and it hasn’t ruined anything.  My only concern is the recent obsession with big name guest stars.  Some are great, but I feel like it indicates they don’t think the regular characters are enough to sell it, and they’re wrong.

Bones.  I dunno.  I like that Booth and Brennan are together and still have drama.  I like that Hodgins and Angela are together.  I just… feel like the show is becoming a little too formulaic in its episode style.  Way too many of them are defaulting to the Law and Order standby of “people doing random thing find gross body, they freak out, cut to our investigators.”  They’ve always used this, but it just feels like they’re using it more and more.  I still like it, but I’m not as excited about it as I once was.

Grimm.  My mother’s friends convinced me to give it a little longer trial.  I want to support fairy tale inspired shows it’s just… there’s nothing new about this show.  I stand by my initial assessment that it’s Angel with less funny and a less charismatic cast.  Honestly, there’s only one character who interests me at all and he’s our domesticated Big Bad Wolf.  Even the villains aren’t fun to hate.  They’re just… meh.  And at the end of the day, it’s just a procedural with a twist.  Which isn’t even a well executed twist.  Also… it’s a little rapey.

Fringe. I was really excited for this season to start.  And I’m excited for it to come back from hiatus.  I like a lot of things about this show—genuinely creative plots, characters I care about, good acting and dialogue, plus it brings the right amount of funny.  But I’m starting to have concerns that recent plot twists are kind of just JJ Abrams being weird because he can be, not because it pertains to the overall integrity of the story.

Once Upon a Time.  Okay, I figured out why I like this show.  Because I like when shows do alternate reality episodes, and essentially, this show is a giant alternate reality episode.  So it’s fun.  But again, I’m not invested.  I don’t care if Snow White gets her prince back.  I don’t care if we “bring back the happy endings.”  I enjoy watching it, but again, it’s not going to be worth violating my ABC boycott come January.

So yeah… it’s not that television is all bad.  It’s just… I’m not seeing things going in positively creative directions.  There are a lot of things I like—there just isn’t a lot I love.  And given I’m a broke graduate student it’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder whether that cable bill is actually worth it… Am I missing something, readers?  Is there great television out there somewhere I’m missing?

Time Vampire: Magic Pen

I need to find another addictive online game about as much as I need another 6 inches of snow to shovel off my driveway.  But, like the weather, some things are just beyond my control.  The latest in the list? Magic Pen.

The object is simple–which is always key in the addictiveness of a game–you get the red ball to roll across the little flags.

You, armed with a crayon and some vague idea that making things bump into a ball will make it roll, are in charge of drawing in whatever shapes you need to guide that red ball as well as figuring out how to get that ball rolling.  It’s the most subtle lesson in Newtonian physics you’ll ever find yourself loathe to part from.  It’s so addictive that I actually found myself paying more attention to manipulating the path of that stupid red ball than I did to the new episode of Bones (which is unheard of for me).

And with that, I will leave you to get your own ball rolling.  I have a game to get back to.

Tossed around by a Time Vampire

Tonight’s Time Vampire isn’t so much a Time Vampire as me overreacting (maybe) again.  Me being really annoyed with something.  But I would argue that this thing has eaten up enough time in my life that I can kind of classify it as one.

What am I steamed about this time?

Football.

Why am I particularly steamed about football tonight?

Because I live in Indiana which means that the last Bones episode of 2010 was preempted for the Colts tonight.  Now I should take it as a sign from above that I should be writing papers instead of watching TV, but I had it all planned out.  I was going to watch while eating dinner tonight.  I was going to start it late on the DVR so I could fast forward through commercials and it wouldn’t take a full hour.  I go to turn it on at 8:40 and it’s not on my “Recorded Programs” menu.  Thinking my DVR malfunctioned I go to check the listings and make sure I didn’t have the time wrong or anything.  No, I was right, but there was football on instead.  Grr….

I haven’t been having a good week, and while I was quite sure tonight’s episode would involve Emily Deschanel kicking me in the shins (emotionally speaking) I was looking forward to it.  Now I have to wait until Saturday (they are airing it on Saturday afternoon).

But my loathing of football goes further back.  And it’s really not with football, hell, I don’t know enough about football to hate it, I hate the culture that surrounds it.  I’m from a family of Texans, which means I’m something of a heretic for not liking the sport.  For years my mother bought me Dallas Cowboys merchandise for Christmas every year, as if she believed somehow that would make me into a fan.  It didn’t.  And I had to deal with the fact that money on my Christmas gifts was going towards and industry I dislike.

I hate even more the money universities spend on the sport.  Most universities give at least a quarter of their budget to athletics and a huge chunk of that goes to football.  And while they’ll tell you about all the money athletics bring in to the school, in most cases that all goes right back to the athletic department.  And they admit students who don’t meet the academic requirements of the university because they can throw a ball well.  And those kids spend their time at the university wasting space in class, knowing they really aren’t there to learn.  And as someone who has had to teach those kids?  It pisses me off.

And now this?

Also… what does it say about a country that won’t allow gays to marry, won’t allow them to serve in the military, that it spends hours and hours watching men in spandex rolling around in the mud with each other.  Talk about mixed messages!

FYI:  Folklorist Alan Dundes basically said that last paragraph in an academic article (though in more scholarly words) some years ago.  He got death threats.  Srsly.

On the Subject of Grilled Cheese

One of my favorite moments ever on Bones was when Hodgins offered to make Angela an orgasmic grilled cheese.  Can I tell you how much I want a guy to make me an offer like that?  Can I tell you how much I want Hodgins to…?  No… I should not finish that sentence out loud.

Bottom line?  I love grillies!  Have since I was a child.  And if you need proof of my lack of discerning tastes, as a child my mom used to make grilled cheeses with Velveeta and margarine.  We always used to eat them for lunch after church on Sundays.  So there’s a whole nostalgia thing to them.  I was never terribly good at making my own grilled cheeses in a skillet, but a few years ago I picked up at used Foreman grill at a thrift store.   Or as I like to refer to it, “a grillie maker.”

Turns out I’m fairly good at making them on the Foreman grill.  And once I realized I could make a good standard grillie I started experimenting.  What happens if you use fancy cheese?  What about if you add ham or spinach?  What about spreading condiments on the inside side of the bread?

Some conclusion:

You can add most anything to a grillie, as long as it’s delicious.  Most of the time I go for pepper jack and spinach with spicy mustard or barbeque sauce.  I’ve tried using grated cheese as was suggested to me by the food network and I honestly find that it causes difficulties which negate its superior melting qualities.  What is a help is the combination vegetable peeler/cheese slicer I got for Christmas last year which enables me to always slice the cheese thinly for optimum melting.  I really like fresh spinach in my grillie, but there’s a technique to this.  You really need thinly sliced cheese here to make sure it melts before your spinach is overcooked.  Cucumbers are surprisingly good in a grillie, but there’s the same issue.  Also, they require garlic salt.

My latest grillie obsession is a grilled spinach and cheese with habañero cheese and cheddar with spicy mustard and marmalade (courtesy of faithful reader and domestic goddess Christina).  Tonight there was also leftover Thanksgiving ham in there.  Cammy thinks this sounds disgusting, but… Cammy can be kind of segregationist with her foods—she’s not into mixing sweet and savory, fruit and veggies.  It’s boring.  It should also be pointed out that Cammy’s never had Christina’s marmalade, but since she keeps calling it “jelly,” I’m certain she doesn’t deserve any.)  Anyway, Cammy’s crazy, it’s delicious.

So… is there a point to this?  No, not really.  Other than to ramble on about how much I love you and to urge you, our readers to get creative with your own grillies.  Even if you don’t have Dr. Hodgins to make one for you.

A Very Minor Mystery

Note:  No film review from me this week.  Sadly, school has inhibited my Netflixing and I’ve run out of reviews.  How sad!  (for me, I doubt you care that much)  Anywhozel, we’ll talk television instead.

I wouldn’t call myself a mystery fan.  Not any kind of active hatred, I just don’t seek them out.  Don’t spend my free time reading them.  My mother has spent years trying to get me hooked on CSI and those type of shows (Mom loves mysteries), but I just can’t get into it.  Old Roommate Bridget used to watch some of those Law and Orders which actively freaked me out (I got her back by watching paranormal shows which evidently freak her out.)  (Off topic note:  Did you know that Animal Planet has a paranormal show now?  It’s basically “people who live in haunted houses and have pets.”  Even I have to admit this had gotten out of control.)

Anyway, long and short of it is, if you asked, I’d tell you I don’t watch mysteries on television.

Except I’d be lying.

I’ve just realized that three of the shows I’m currently following most closely are all mystery shows:  Castle, Psych, and Bones.  Hmm.  What’s that all about?

I don’t think I’m a particularly good mystery show viewer.  I don’t even try to figure out whodunit.  I don’t often care.  I just kind of sit there waiting for it to be spoon fed to me.  So why am I watching these shows?

Well, the first one’s easy.  I watch Castle for Nathan Fillion.  I have loved Nathan Fillion since his days on One Life to Live (best Joey Buchanan ever!) and a big part of my geek cred is tied up in the fact that I watched Firefly from the first episode.  There are other aspects of the show I enjoy (the familial relation between Castle, his mother and daughter is delightful), but it’s really all about Nathan Fillion.

As for Psych, it brings the funny.  In spades.  It’s got a great ensemble cast.  And I’m a sucker for an ensemble cast.  Also, the only theme music I can never make myself fast forward through.  It’s too much fun to bop along to.

I’m almost contractually obligated to watch Bones on account of it’s one of few television shows featuring anthropologists; as a folklorist I must support my cousin discipline.  Also, the whole ensemble thing again.  Also, Hodgins.  Who sometimes takes off his shirt .  And makes orgasmic grilled cheeses.  Mmmm.  Grilled cheese!

So I guess the outcome to this mystery (which I’m guessing all of you figured out by the second paragraph, because I don’t write good mysteries either) is: my ability to enjoy these mystery based shows without liking mysteries is that I just don’t care that much about plot.  I’m all about character.  And these shows do character well.  I assume they have plots, but clearly I haven’t been paying attention to them.

The Spoiler In the Hiatus

It seems like just yesterday (or maybe more like just last week) that I was posting about the impending end of the TV season.  And yet, here we are on the cusp of a new fall season.  As usual we take stock of which of our favorites survived the cut, although, unlike the pre-net days, we all pretty well know who’s dead long before they start firing up the season premiere previews.

My favorites fared quite well.  No losses.  And while I’m glad for the comeback of Castle on Monday, and new Big Bang Theory (though I HATE its new time-slot), I’m most stoked about Bones returning on Thursday (hence my hating the Big Bang Theory move–I still don’t have a DVR and now I have to figure out how to handle this).

I’ve already been spoiled for the big stuff coming into the new Bones season.  I’m no spoiler-phobe (and fear not, I’m not actually revealing the spoiler here if you ARE a spoiler-phobe), but I actually decided at the end of last season I wasn’t going to actively go out and seek hints as I so often do.  Unfortunately, I finally realized that my method of coping with the summer hiatus is directly linked to the reason I always wind up caving and reading spoiler blogs:  fanfiction.

Yes, my Secret Heresy is my primary coping mechanism for the lack of new episodes.  It’s particularly comforting right after those cliff-hangery finales.  Seeing how other people write characters out of those corners they were placed in by show creators is enjoyable as hell to me.  But–and this has gotten worse as spoiler blogs have become more prevalent–by about a month after the finale, you start to notice a pattern to all the post-finale fic.  Certain ideas and themes show up in one too many fics to be a coinky-dink.  At first you try to write it off as The Universal Unconscious working at peak efficiency.  But then you realize that none of the other indicators of The Universal Unconscious are showing up (like mentions of Little Richard).  If you’re really dense, you can skim past it, but most of us start to realize there’s a grain of truth out there somewhere.  A spoilerly grain of truth.  , I usually find myself driven to go out to my favorite purveyor of spoiler goodness and pick up the fix I know is waiting for me.

And so it went with Bones.  By July I knew at least the highlights of what is going to hit me Thursday.  And even if I hadn’t gone out to that spoiler blog, the dearth of fics on the subject would have been enough.  It’s a good thing that I don’t get hives over spoilers like some folks.  But I feel for them.  What do you do on a hiatus when you are allergic to spoilers?  How can you get your fanfic-fix?

Of course, the soothing effects of that fix have diminished.  By this point in the summer break we have hit the wall.  The spoiler topic has saturated everything, and it’s not even being handled well anymore.  You’re left with the trite, fluffy, shippery drivel which has extended out to chapter 37 with that Dickensian desperation to milk just one more chapter out of a story that should have been put out of its misery in the first paragraph.

It no longer matters that I know something of what will hit me on Thursday–because at least it won’t be another bad fic…..or will it be?

Girls Just Wanna… Say Happy Birthday

If Wikipedia is to be believed, today is Cyndi Lauper’s birthday.  Also, Dan Brown’s, but we’re not going to talk about him.  We’re going to talk about Ms. Lauper.  Hmm… that sounds weird.  Should I call her Cyndi?  That feels presumptuous.

Well whatever we call her, she’s fabulous.  Most people in my generation will remember her for almost unfortunate, but always original wardrobe choices.  And for singing some of the most iconic songs of the 80s:  “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” “True Colors”… Those with better memories or who watched too much Pop Up Video might also remember that she pushed the envelope and raised eyebrows by singing about female masturbation in “She Bop.”  If you didn’t know that’s what that song was about you may now pick up your jaw.

But all of those things pale in comparison to the main way she influenced my formative years.  She also starred in the 1988 Vibes.  If you don’t know how delightful this movie is you either haven’t seen it or you have no soul.  Or sense of humor.  A soul is really not a requirement for enjoyment.

The film tells the story of a couple of psychics played by Cyndi Lauper and Jeff Goldblum hunting for some lost “room of gold” in the Andes at the request of Peter Falk.  In reality, the plot is incidental.  The movie’s charm lies mostly in its mastery of the funny.  And its cast.  Trust me, I wore the tape out—it rocks.

This movie may or may not have influenced my decision to spend a summer in Peru.  But I don’t think I’m the only one influenced by the film:

In many ways, it’s kind of a predecessor to the X-Files:  short fair haired chick and lanky dark haired man investigate paranormal phenomenon.  Yeah, I’m on to you and your plagiarizing ways Chris Carter!

Of all the 80s references in Psych one of my absolute favorites was to Vibes (Juliet:  You’re going to have to do better than vibes.  Sean:  Why?  Jeff Goldblum couldn’t?)

Then Cyndi Lauper appears on Bones as a psychic.  Coincidence or Vibes homage?

Clearly the film has had more significance than others have credited it with.  So today we here at It’s My TV, It’s My Peanut Butter say Happy Birthday, Cyndi Lauper.  And we thank you for Vibes, and underrated bundle of fabulousness.

In Praise of Supporting Characters

I think it goes all the way back to my childhood.  I have vague recollections of reading children’s books where I was kind of annoyed by the main character, but loved the minor characters enough to keep reading.  I can’t list specifics, but I know it happened.  For whatever reason, I’ve always loved those characters who don’t overstay their welcome.  Who rarely get to be the center of attention.  The supporting cast.

Take Bones, for example.  Cammy’s a nice, standard issue Bones/Booth shipper.  Now I’m not saying I don’t love me some B&B UST (unresolved sexual tension for you non-fangirls out there) but my real concern on that show is that Hodgins and Angela get together and ten thousand weird but adorable multiracial children.  And while we’re at it, I’d rather have Hodgins make me an orgasmic grilled cheese than have Booth rescue me from near certain death.  Or grill for me.

But at least with Bones I like the main characters.  There are a whole group of shows I watch exclusively for their supporting cast.  The short lived and never better than mediocre series Moonlight was one example.  Alex O’Loughlin is sufficiently dreamy, but Mick was never more than a cliche.  And a bad one at that.  And Beth I wanted to smack in most scenes.  But Josef?  I would have kept watching if the show had centered on his character (yes, it’s in part my love for Jason Dohring, but it was also about the character.)  Even that cyber punkish chick who showed up in one episode who’s job it was to clean up after vampires.  I would have watched a show about her.  Hell, I would have watched a show about the Latino vampire morgue attendant.  Great supporting characters, even though the show as a whole was justly canceled.

Right now my supporting character show is Human Target.  Christopher Chance is okay, but sometimes I want to smack him in the mouth.  But I keep watching the show, because I love Winston and Guerrero.  Chi McBride is one of those actors who apparently shines as a supporting character as he was one of my favorite parts of Pushing Daisies too.  Allison Janney is another.  Have you seen Drop Dead Gorgeous or Juno?  She practically steals both of those.

I don’t know if this comes through to other people, or if I just have a personal proclivity towards supporting characters.  But it’s amazing how much they can improve a narrative, whether it was good to start with or not. What do you think internets?  Who are your favorite supporting characters?

TV Cliches We’re Sick of #1–Avenging Cops

Law Enforcement Professional who chose said line of work after family member’s unsolved/unpunished murder/disappearance.

The fact that I know this is cliche and I don’t even watch procedurals is a clear indication of how cliche it is. Seriously, I can’t watch crime shows, they creep me out. Keep me up at night. Working with extremely limited knowledge, I can name off the top of my head the following:

Fox Mulder (X-Files, Sister abducted by aliens)
Bruce Wayne/Batman (um… Batman, parents killed in mugging)
Peter Parker/Spiderman (Spiderman, Uncle killed)(I’m a little unclear on continuity, but this one may not count as unsolved)
Kate Beckett (Castle, Mother murdered)
Temperance Brennan (Bones, parents disappeared)
John McBain (One Life to Live, father murdered, fiancee murdered)
Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars, best friend murdered) (okay, that one might be a stretch)

Okay, they aren’t all television characters, but they’ve all appeared on TV at some point. I’m sure many of you can add a whole host of others. And I do get why writers fall back on this cliche. Not only does it work well for motivation, it provides built in plot lines for future episodes. And I’m sure there really are people who go into law enforcement for this reason. But I’m done with it. I’m over it. I want something a little more creative.

Real life if often more random than that. I want to watch the story about the cop that turned to the law because he couldn’t get into physical therapy school. I want to see the anthropologist who’s just a big Indiana Jones fan.  The Vampire Hunter who just really like Brad Pitt movies.   There’s no reason any of these things couldn’t further the plot. Come on writers, you can do better.