I loved The Great British Bake Off (before the fuck up with the presenters. Haven’t watched since Mel and Sue quit) and watched all the series compulsively. It was quite different from most reality shows in that it didn’t seem exploitative or try to wring emotions out of the contestants. I learned why that is. Early in the series, the producers were trying to do that shit, and Mel and Sue said they would quit if it kept going in that direction. In addition, if someone was crying, they would cover the person with a coat or swear near them so the footage was unusable. Finding that out made my admiration of them double, and it only hardened my resolve not to watch the post-Mel and Sue (and Mary Berry) episodes.
I loved the chemistry between Mel and Sue and how sweetly goofy they were. I loved how much of a doyenne Mary Berry was, but how she was down for a swig of hooch or two. She was down to earth for the Queen of Baking, and who wouldn’t love to have a granny like her? As for Paul Hollywood. Yeah, I know he’s an arrogant, narcissistic, and a dog, but those blue eyes….Ahem. I loved the low-key nature of the bakes, the non-hatred among the contestants, and the mostly bonhomie feel that permeated the series.
I loved the amazing creations and how terribly wrong it all went sometimes. I didn’t always love the judging decisions, especially in the first season when it was clear that Paul Hollywood imposed his viewpoint on Mary Berry, but I thought they were pretty sound overall. I loved the imagination and creativity that the contestants displayed. I loved that there seemed to be a genuine connection among the contestants. I loved that they went to different parts of Great Britain in the first season and did bakes from those locales.
I am not a picky eater. At least, I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for my sensitivities. There are only a few things I don’t like, and the list includes kiwi, water chestnuts (I LOVE regular chestnuts, though), and coconut. I like coconut curries, but coconut itself? Not so much. Other than that, I’m pretty much a fan more or less of food. When it comes to the media I consume, however, it’s a much different story.
I once flummoxed a professor in my grad program ((Writing & Consciousness) by saying I didn’t like movies. She said that was like saying I don’t like sandwiches or soups–both of which I like, thank you very much. Part of the problem is that at the time, there weren’t many movies that reflected me. Taiwanese American bisexual fat woman? Yeah, good luck finding something with that, mate! In addition, I’m always conscious that I’m watching a movie. When I read a book, I disappear into the pages and am absorbed in the world. With a good book, I completely forget that I exist. With movies, I’m always removed from the action except on very rare occasions. My three favorite movies, Once, The Station Agent, and Japanese Story, are all movies I actually lost myself in, even if it weren’t for the whole time. Another difference is that I can read my favorite books a million times, but I don’t often feel compelled to watch a movie more than once.
I find movies limiting. When I read books, my mind provides the details that the book doesn’t give. With movies, it’s all on the screen, and I find it a much more passive way of ingesting media. I think there’s less room for error, too, because continuity can be a problem. I remember watching a movie (don’t remember the movie now) that was so bad, I noticed that the color of a shirt wasn’t consistent in what was supposed to be the same scene. I’m not that detail-oriented, so the fact that I noticed meant I was not into the movie at all.
Another problem with movies for me is that my brain can’t always differentiate between reality and fabrication, so horrific images in movies stay with me a long time in the way horrific scenes in books don’t. I know that seems counter to what I said earlier, but I never said my brain was consistent. There’s a suicide scene in Girl, Interrupted, that stayed with me for years afterwards. Any time I thought of it, I would feel as if someone had actually died. With books, the whole experience may stay with me, but I’m less likely to remember horrible scenes with such a vivid reaction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.