Underneath my yellow skin

Category Archives: TV Shows

How I Digest Popular Media

I just finished my umpteenth rewatch of Poirot (David Suchet. He is the only one in my mind), and I have a few thoughts on it and my popular media consumption in general. I wrote a post about the show specifically, so I’ll keep that part brief and move on to the broader issues in general in this post.

First of all, Curtain, the final episode (and final novel in the series. Fun fact: Agatha Christie wrote it in WWII in case she got killed, and it sat in a vault for thirty years before being published.) It’s interesting to think about the fact that she wrote it before she wrote roughly half of the later novels. I cried buckets watching Curtain–again. The last few series were darker than the originals in general, and the final episode was drenched in melancholy. I’ve written before how Curtain is the perfect episode. From the oppressive atmosphere to the exemplary acting across the board to the fact that for once in the later series, they stuck pretty close to the source material, it’s a solid ten.

I need to talk about Hugh Fraser in this episode. During the whole series, he’s our eyes and ears as the affable, hearty, naive, tenderhearted but thoroughly English Captain Hastings. He is our stand-in, and he grew into the role over the years. If David Suchet IS Poirot, Hugh Fraser is equally Captain Hastings. I’ve written before that the allies in the series haven’t gotten the credit they deserve, and the series really wasn’t the same without them. They brought back Hugh Fraser for Curtain, and from the first second we see Captain Hastings, it’s clear that the ravages of time have visited him. He’s still a fine figure of a man, but there’s grey in his hair, and there are lines on his face that previously weren’t there. There’s also a sadness in his eyes because of the death of his wife. The grief is heavy on his ramrod straight shoulders, and it’s not helped by the fact that his daughter is a more modern woman who doesn’t have time for useless emotions like grief.

The look on Captain Hastings’ face when he realizes that Poirot is dying/dead still haunts me. It’s the one still from the episode that stays with me long after I watch the episode (and makes me bawl my eyes out). As much as I adore David Suchet as Poirot, it’s Hugh Fraser’s Captain Hastings who carries this episode. Usually, he’s a bluff, hearty man who’s ready with a smile and a quick joke, but in this episode, he’s a shell of his former self.

In the last post, I wrote about my issues with the book series and a few with the TV episodes as well. I think it’s important to be aware of these issues, but it’s also inhibiting at times. I like to say that I don’t like movies, and while it’s not strictly true, I do find it an inferior medium to books (same with TV). I don’t like TV and movies in general because I find it difficult to believe what is happening on the screen is actually real. I rarely get lost in a movie or TV show the way I do novels, and I think it’s, ironically, because I’m being given too much detail whereas in novels, I have to imagine them myself. In fact, I don’t like books with too much description and just skim those sections.

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Resting My Little Grey Cells With Hercule Poirot

People who know me might or might not know something rather strange about me–I am a rabid Hercule Poirot fan. I say it’s strange because my tastes run more towards the contemporary and what some would call noir or ‘gritty’. Poirot is none of those things, though later in the TV series, they tried their damnedest to make it so. I want to make it clear that I read the stories voraciously when I was a teenager, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I’ve read each at least three or five times, and some up to dozens of times. My two favorites are The Big Four and Curtain, and I’m trying my own hand at writing a Poirot story. It’s dashed hard, though, to write in someone else’s voice and not make it sound like parody. There is someone who has written two new ‘Poirot’ novels with the blessing of the Christie estate (money already running dry?), and I tried to read the first one. It wasn’t Poirot at all, and I didn’t make it past the first few pages. I didn’t even try to read the second one. Anyway, writing a Poirot story has been a good exercise, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it.

Back to the books. I loved Poirot’s finickiness, his preciseness, his ego, and his little grey cells. I didn’t care how ludicrous his denouements were. In fact, the more ludicrous, the better. I love modern murder mysteries, but I do have to say the insistence on verisimilitude can get tedious. I love the internet, but it makes it far too easy to check up on the details. “There’s no such place as Shop and Cop in Boston!” Who cares, really? It’s funny, but it even happened in the days before the internet. Agatha Christie had a character in her later novels named Ariadne Oliver whose famous detective is a vegetarian Finn named Sven Hjerson. Ariadne is clearly a stand-in for Agatha Christie, and she’s always lamenting about how she shouldn’t have made him a Finn and that people in Finland have too much time to read. It’s hilarious, and I’m quite sure it was Dame Christie’s way of venting her frustration because it’s said she came to hate Poirot by the end of her career.

I started watching the Ustinov movies, but he never really was Poirot to me. Funny note: David Suchet played Chief Inspector Japp in one of the Ustinov movies, and, um, let’s just say it wasn’t the right role for him. He IS Hercule Poirot, and there shall be no other. Yes, I will watch the (ugh) Kenneth Branagh version of Murder on the Orient Express, but I won’t like it. The trailer is atrocious, Kenneth Branagh couldn’t be more wrong for the part, and everything about is wrong. Then again, all three of the prior versions of the movie are terrible, too (including, sadly, the David Suchet version which got all Catholique at the end), and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better as a novel. Interestingly enough, even though it’s one of the more famous novels, it’s not one of my favorite. It’s too convoluted, even for a Poirot novel, and there’s no way to cram it in an hour and a half to two hours. Anyway, I don’t think there should be any more Poirot portrayals unless it’s done by an actual Belgian. It’s time to let it go and let David Suchet remain the gold standard.

I know as I watch that there are problems with the series. One, the way they portray the working class, often making them appear thick, slow, and conniving. Another is using English actors for other nationalities. Speaking of which, Dame Christie had some pretty provincial ideas about other nationalities, which is one of my least favorite part of the books. In watching the series again, I’ve been wincing at some of the portrayals (both as how they are written and the English actors portraying them). The biggest strength is also the biggest problem, and I hate having to talk about it, but talk I must. It’s David Suchet as Poirot. Now, my admiration for Suchet as Poirot knows no bounds. I am currently watching the first episode, and how he grew into the part until he embodied the character is amazing. He is Poirot to me that any time I hear him speak in his regular voice, I am jarred. It is a performance of the lifetime, and I adore every aspect of it.

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Too Tired to Think–and Dark Souls III

I’m writing this on Christmas, and I’m feeling out of sorts. Not as bad as in past years, but there’s still a vague ‘I should be celebrating, but I’m not, and that makes me a bad person.” As I said, it’s much more subdued than it has been in past years, but it’s still there. I like to say I’m immune to advertising*, but there is still enough societal pressure that makes me low-key feel bad for not celebrating.

I still feel like shit with congestion and cotton in my brain. My ears are scabby and gross, and if I pick the scabs (I know, I know), pus oozes out. My lymph node is almost not-swollen any more, which is good, and it’s barely tender. I’m still going to go to the doc after the holidays, though, because I need to get a grip on this. I also need to get my thyroid meds checked, which may help with the sinus crap.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve cut out gluten and dairy, and I can honestly say I don’t miss it–except for cheese. God, I love cheese, but it doesn’t love me back. As Tim Minchin says, “I cannot Camembert any more.”

Why does cheese have to be so goddamn delicious???? And why is it so hard to duplicate? “I love cheese, but it’s plain to see, that cheese doesn’t love me. I am such a fool in love; I just cannot get enough, but it’s an unrequited love!” Sing it, Tim! The rest of it, though? Not. I’ve gone back to my Taiwanese roots and reacquainted myself with rice. Which, by the way, smells so delicious while cooking. And, PSA: rice cooker all the way for a perfect cook every time. Anyway, rice is way tastier than bread, and it’s way more versatile. I’ve also discovered non-gluten tortillas, bread, and bagels which are all nearly as good as the originals.

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Too Elementary, My Dear Watson

While in my fevered state*, I’ve been re-watching a procedural I used to watch called Numb3rs. The basic premise is about an FBI agent (Don Eppes, played by Rob Morrow) who reluctantly at first  and then eagerly uses the math abilities of his genius brother (Charlie Eppes, played by David Krumholz), while both being clucked over by their caring, but somewhat neurotic father (Alan Eppes, played by the eminent Judd Hirsch). Charlie lives with his father, and Don is always hanging around the house. All the episodes end with a family or non-work-related scene, and I remember the creators saying the choice was deliberate as a way to balance the horrors of the FBI scenes. I really liked the math aspect of the show, and I was able to ignore the ludicrous premise. Look, I don’t care that Charlie already consulted with the NSA and had the highest level of security clearance. The premise is still ridiculous. But, as an aficionado of procedurals, I know that leaps of faith have to be taken and to accept a show on its own premises.

I loved the nerdier take on a procedural, and the relationship between the brothers and the father felt real-ish to me. Larry (played by Peter Nichols) is a delightful eccentric cosmic physicist, and sometimes flirts with being a stereotypical absentminded professor. Nichols performance elevates the role past that, however, and fleshes it out into an interesting person, but I could see it falling flat in the hands of a lessor actor. You may notice that I haven’t mentioned any female characters yet, and there’s a reason for that. The female characters aren’t nearly as fleshed out and often seem to be appendages to the male characters, unfortunately. Plus, one of my biggest gripes is that all the girlfriends of the main characters (save Alan, but more on that in a bit) are hotties, whereas both Charlie and Larry are…not. I don’t think Don is hot, but he’s good-looking and charming, and he has a nice bod.

It’s not as simple as the female characters are bad, however. They’re not. They’re good on paper, and I like many of them in and of themselves, but in the whole gestalt, they paint a broader picture of subtle sexism, both intentional (meaning, trying to highlight sexism) and not (reinforcing societal stereotypes of heteronormative gender roles). First, is Navi Rawat as Amita Ramanujan. In the first season, Charlie is her adviser, but it’s clear that there’s chemistry between them. Mostly because they stare longingly at each other. Navi Rawat is insanely hot, by the way. Is it inappropriate that an adviser and advisee have a romantic relationship? Of course it is. But, they hold off until afterwards, so technically, it’s fine. Amita has her own life, but most of it is takes a backseat to her helping Charlie do his brilliant work. She’s a low-key manic pixie girlfriend, and she’s portrayed as every nerd’s wet dream. Incredibly hot and insanely smart, plus she has no problems with Charlie being consumed by his math and being a flake. She’s the ultimate Cool Girlfriend, and the few times she raises concerns, she’s easily fobbed off. Any outburst by Charlie is swept under the rug with the excuse that Charlie is a genius, so we can’t expect him to react like a normal human being.

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Lip Sync Battles: You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman

When I’m feeling down, I watch clips of the show, Lip Sync Battle, and it never fails to cheer me up. It’s just loads of fun, and it’s great to see the contestants go all out for the second performance. One thing I started to notice is that a lot of the guys like to do songs sung by women. I don’t know why that struck me, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time, so I decided to do a thinkpiece about it because why the hell not?

I think it has something to do with it being a safe way to express their femininity. In addition, most of them are actors, so they’re probably more flexible in their ideas of gender fluidity–at least the ones who dressed up to some degree as the singer (or as a woman in general).

I consider myself a Lip Sync Battle connoisseur since I’ve watched so many clips (and repeatedly). It’s not a guilty pleasure because I feel no guilt at all while I’m singing along. There are several categories of men lip syncing to women singing, so I’m going to tackle them one by one with examples before presenting you my top five fave performances in this genre ever.

The first category is guys who don’t change their appearances at all, but simply lip sync to the song. Dwayne Johnson singing Shake It Off by Taylor Swift is one such example. He’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but the joy with which he bounces around and shakes his shoulders is infectious. In addition, there’s something sublimely silly about a musclebound man like ‘The Rock’ imitating a teenager’s giggle.

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RuPaul’s Drag Race: You Better Work!

I’ve heard raves about RuPaul’s Drag Race but never watched it, mostly because I’m not into fashion at all. I’m the diametric opposite of a glamour girl; indeed, I don’t wear makeup at all. For whatever reason, I decided to watch it one day, and the earliest season available on Amazon Prime is Season 5. I was immediately annoyed by the whole Coco Montrese/Alyssa Edwards rivalry because it seemed so childish to me. I could see both sides, and I could see how both sides did wrong. And yet, each one wanted to play the victim. Hm. It’s a lot like Twitter fights, come to think of it. It’s why I don’t watch reality shows in general. I don’t like witnessing other people’s drama because it makes me tense while simultaneously boring me.

Then, the whole Rolaska Tox thing happened, and I started rolling my eyes. Hard. Roxxxy Andrews, Alaska Thunderfuck, and Detox Icunt (only called Detox on the show) bonded and quickly became a clique. They got it into their heads to hate Jinkx Monsoon and to get her off the show. Again, it was very mean girlish, and as Jinkx was my favorite (except Vivienne Pinay, but she was booted off rather early), watching the other three gang up on her was infuriating and curdled my stomach. To be fair, Alaska extracted herself from the group after giving a warning by Michelle (whom I hate, by the way, but I’ll get more to that later) that cliques can harm you. Alaska also seemed like the nicest of the three, and she wasn’t too mean to Jinkx except once throwing her under the bus along with the rest of Rolaska Tox.

I also felt like there was way too much filler in that season. They dragged out the finals for two weeks, which was not needed. I was so glad Jinkx made the final three, but it was hard to see Detox leave notes for the other two (Alaska and Roxxxy) when Detox was outed as the fourth girl left, and she didn’t leave one for Jinkx. I identified so strongly with Jinkx, being the weird one, the outsider, and not a glam girl at all. Watching her breakdown was hard, although I loved her mantra, “Water off a duck’s back.” I don’t know how she hung in there with so much hate flowing her way, but much props to her for sticking it out.

Let’s talk about Michelle Visage. I wish she wasn’t a judge on the show because she really drags it down, no pun intended. She’s a hanger-on and a RuPaul-wannabe, and you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of the girl. She’s so much a pageant girl, and she wants everyone to do glam all the time. Big hair, cinched waists (which is not good for your innards), heavy makeup, and glitter. She wants the prom look magnified, and it gets really fucking old. I liked Santino Rice even if he did kiss ass as well, but it was clear he and Michelle did not get along. There’s a clip of the two of them talking about something, and Michelle is saying brocade as if it rhymed with odd. Bro-COD. She says it a few times while Santino looks puzzled, then he says with contempt, “You mean brocade?” She looks furious and says it’s pronounced bro-COD in France. He says clearly, “It’s brocade.” #TeamSantino in the house. She is way too prominent in Season 5, and she tries so hard to be RuPaul, it is embarrassing. There is one time when she has to do the pep talk before a challenge because Ru was doing something else, and it is embarrassing to hear her deliver Ru’s signature, “Don’t fuck it up” line.

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Pop Culture, Emphasis on Pop

don't try this at home.
Let me entertain you!

In the past week, I’ve been sucked into the talent show videos rabbit hole. It started–oh, hell. I don’t know how it started, but I began compulsively watching the best and worst auditions of Britain’s Got Talent, then it widened out to America’s Got Talent, X Factor, and whatever else I felt like watching. There’s something compelling about the best and the worst, duh, for respectively, the spine-chilling, ‘holy shit!’ factor and the, ‘I cannot believe what I’m seeing/hearing right now. This is a train wreck’ impulse.

I’ve learned a few things watching these audition shows (and followup clips when I really like an act). One, there are a lot of deluded people out there. I’m not talking about the people who are decent at what they do, but don’t quite have the ‘it’ thing, but people who have no talent whatsoever. There were a few I was convinced were doing it as a joke, but many were so sincere.

Side note: I started watching Season 8 of American Idol, and any time they would take a closer look at a contestant, I knew the person was either going to be terrific or terrible, usually the latter. Any time a singer said, “I know I’m going to win,” I knew they’d be awful, but I rarely was ready for how terrible they would be. Then, most of them would be shocked that they weren’t given a golden ticket, and some of them explosively so. I couldn’t help thinking, “Where are your friends? Your family? Isn’t there anyone to give you some tough love?” I know some of them probably just ignored their family (one guy explicitly said his mother told him he couldn’t sing) and friends, but others had family and friends with them that told them they were the best and shouldn’t give up! I understand wanting to support your loved one, but it’s cruel to give hope where there is none. It’s like telling me I could be a WNBA star if I just really tried hard enough. Or I’m going to be president. It’s. Not. Going. To. Happen, and my friends would be doing me a disservice if they encouraged me to pursue either of these activities.

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*Cough Cough* Go On Without Me

Still feeling squidgy and squicky. Oh, sorry! I’ve been binge-watching the Great British Bake Off and just finished the first season, so I still have my British slang on. I really like the show for several reasons. One, I love baking shows. I used to bake now and again, and it’s much more pleasing to me than cooking is. Two, scrumptious desserts. Enough said. Three, there’s none of the American machismo and grandiosity of, “I’m going to win, shove it in your ear!!” Yes, it’s still a reality show and scripted in a way, but it’s more laid-back than American reality cooking shows. There’s no faux-ginning up of the tension or false bravado. In fact, it’s quite endearing that the competitors were all rooting each other on*, and they were genuinely distraught when it came time to cut a contestant. Also, none of the contestants will actually say they think they’ll win. The closest they’ll come is, “I quite think I might have a chance.” I had fun trying to figure out who would be cut at the end of each episode, and I was usually right. The tells aren’t as obvious as they are in, say, Chopped, but I’m catching on to the British way of doing things.

The one thing I really didn’t like, though, happened in the final episode. There are three contestants (seven have already gone home), and they have one round as a semifinals before one is cut. Paul Hollywood is a master baker and one of the judge. Mary Berry is a baker and a food writer–called the Queen of Cakes–is the other judge. In the final episode, Paul was very dismissive of one of the women for choosing cupcakes as her mini-cakes (for a special tea). He called it childish even before she made them. Then, when she presented her cupcakes, he was still adamant they weren’t for an adult tea, even though he admitted they tasted fantastic. He also didn’t like the decoration of the other woman’s mini-cakes, calling them too girly. It was very off-putting, and it was even worse when he and Mary were discussing who should be cut. It was very evident that he wanted to cut Miranda (cupcake woman), whereas it was equally obvious that Mary wanted to keep Miranda. The minute I heard Paul’s critique, I knew Miranda would be cut.** When she was, I was irritated. It’s not that I thought the other woman or the man should have been cut, but just that Paul’s bias was so clear and that I knew he would get his way in the end.

Anyway! It’s still an addictive show, and I find myself watching episode after episode while sipping my tea and resting my tired body. I’m frustrated that I can’t kick this flu or cold or whatever it is. It’s been almost a week, and I had hoped it’d be done by now. Here’s a video of Maru getting into things. I love this cat.

*At least in the first season. I’m on the first episode of the second season, and they’ve expanded the contestant pool, so we’ll see.

**It was between Miranda and the other woman. The man was clearly safe.

Get Chopped!

chopping makes me feel good.
Chop ’til you drop!

There’s one thing about me that people may not know–I love cooking shows. My family thinks this is hilarious because I don’t cook. What’s more, I don’t like to cook. I can cook, and I have cooked, but I much prefer having other people cook for me. So, I guess the fact that I get a kick out of watching cooking shows is amusing to my family. My rebuttal is that tons of people watch home reno shows and have no intention on doing it themselves, so what’s the difference? I don’t have cable, but it’s not necessary these days as many shows are online. I don’t remember why I looked up Chopped, but then I realized that the Food Network website had full episodes available. You only have to watch a fifteen second ad every now and then. No biggie. I can either suffer through it or mute when it comes on. What I didn’t realize, however, is that it’s the same ad every goddamn time. Marie Callender’s. I think they go back and forth between two different ads, but the one I remember most vividly–and, by the way, I hate that ads are louder than the actual show–has an oily sounding narrator crooning, “Marie starts her chicken pot pie with a crust made from scratch”, making me want to shout, “No you don’t, Marie! Don’t you lie to me.”

Ian and I had a game we used to play in which we’d watch Chopped together and tweet imaginary baskets because there’s always one heinous ingredient with three decent to great ones. So, I’d tweet something like, “Mustard greens, braised duck, garlic naan, and shoe polish.” Ian would add something amusing such as, “Chicken wings, beetroot ketchup, shoestring potatoes, and the tears of angel babies.”  We’d hashtag it #ChoppedBaskets, and we’d get several people joining in. There was one basket in which every ingredient was disgusting, and I tweeted that it must be an April Fool’s Day joke.

A few things about the show itself. I think the structure of the show is genius. For those who have never seen it, the show starts with four chefs. They have twenty minutes to cook an appetizer with the ingredients from the mystery basket. Then, one of them gets chopped, and three chefs have thirty minutes to cook an entree. Rinse, lather, and repeat, and two chefs have thirty minutes to make a dessert. The winner get $10,000 and bragging rights. There is tension in every round because you know that one person is going home. It’s hokey, sure, but it works. There are three judges, all of them famous chefs. There are the regular judges, and then there are special judges when they do a themed show. Ted Allen is the host, and he can be sympathetic or acerbic depending on the situation. By the way, Michael Chernow, one of the co-owners of The Meatball Shop, was a guest judge on the meatball episode, and he’s insanely hot. Like, make me forget my own name hot. Like, I would shiv a perfect stranger to kiss him hot. Like, the things I would do to his meatball–ahem. Sorry.

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Going Down the Netflix Rabbit Hole

cuff 'em and stuff 'em!
You have the right to remain silent.

When I finished binge-watching Poirot episodes, I struggled to find another crime series to watch. I gave a half dozen a try, but I didn’t like any of them. The gritty, realistic ones were trying to hard, and the quirky one was too twee for my taste. The latter wasn’t bad, and I might revisit it, but it didn’t really hold my interest. Before I went on the Poirot rampage, I had been watching Criminal Minds. I stopped during Season Four when I hit the ‘that darn internet’ episode, but out of desperation, I started watching it again from where I left off. Let me be clear. I think Criminal Minds is a mediocre-to-competent program. Production is slick, and the acting is competent for the most part, but it’s basically the fast food of TV shows. Comforting, deep-fried, and unthinkingly consumed. It’s especially noticeable when you binge-watch the show and see how same-y every episode is. Horrific crime shown in the first five minutes. Obvious suspect introduced within the next ten. The team flies out and is often greeted with hostility. The case touches one of them in a personal way, and they have conflict over how to deal with it. Then, after more gruesome scenes, they figure out who the real culprit is and arrest him/her. The suspect rarely escapes, unless it’s one of the nemesis enemies.

The episode that caused me to stop watching the show actually turned out to be OK. It wasn’t an indictment on the internet as much as it was an indictment on the twisted individual who was using the internet to wreak mayhem and destruction. I started watching again, and I plowed through the whole series.* I noticed that as the seasons progressed, they started running out of ideas. That’s not uncommon with a long-running series, and it’s even more apparent when you watch the episodes back-to-back-to-back in a fairly short amount of time. I would say that when Paget Brewster was written off the show was the time it went off the rails. She was never my favorite character because she was too good at everything, but the team chemistry did take a hit once she was gone.

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