Category Archives: TV shows

The Great British Bake Off

I thought I would take a momentary break from all KonMari stuff.

On a friend’s recommendation, I gave The Great British Bake Off a try and I loved it.

Amateur British bakers compete in a series of skill-based challenges for a trophy and apparently the honor and glory of winning. That’s it.

There’s very little in the way of staging/shaping a story that you’d see on a similar American show. If they are doing it, it’s being done in an incredibly subtle fashion. Nobody is sabotaging anyone. The presenters seem to be very kind people who want the best for the contestants. And the judges are pretty fair and so far, compassionate.

It’s civilized. The food is mouth-watering. The contestants are interesting and clearly talented. And it’s watchable.

When some TV exec decides to make an American version (and they will–it’s inevitable), you can bet all of that will fly out the window.

Life without TV

Fifteen days ago, I contacted the blood suckers at Time Warner and canceled my cable TV subscription.

This is old news to those of you who are friends with me on Facebook (I feel compelled to share the details of my life there whether you care or not).

I was prompted to do this by the realization that I no longer watch TV the way I used to.

Way back in the dark ages when I was a kid, my parents had one black and white set. I remember the day my father came home from some conference with a color set–it didn’t matter if the programs were broadcast in color or not, you needed a special set to see color.

We had no cable. We had rabbit ears and occasionally there were fun adventures with coat hangers and tin foil. I have fond memories of being told to stand exactly in one position so that the picture would stay clear. I watched a lot of stuff in French in the early years–we lived near Canada and occasionally we could get the broadcasts from French Canadian stations (trust me, you haven’t really experienced Star Wars until you have heard some squeaky voiced actor dubbing Darth Vader saying “Luc, je suis ton pere”)

We didn’t have cable till I was in my twenties and my brother and I paid for it myself. I still remember the first thing I ever saw in my own home on cable. It was Lionel Barrymore in drag as a French peasant woman. And as Dave Barry is wont to say, “no, I’m not making that up.” (See below)

But that was over twenty years ago and I don’t use my TV the way I used to. I had digital cable and it cost me an inordinate amount of money. As much as I liked certain channels, when I sat down and thought about it, out of the over 200 I was paying for, I was probably watching 5 of them. It’s not possible to pick and choose. You have to get one of those stupid packages and along with the 5 you want, you have 195 you never touch.

I watch most of my content via streaming or DVD. I mainline TV shows now. There are only a handful of things I was watching through traditional appointment TV.

So fifteen days ago, I canceled it. I really don’t miss it. I bought an antenna and a digital converter box, but I think I’ll be returning them to the store.

The Time Warner person who handled my order to disconnect sounded resigned. I get the feeling I’m not the only person moving in this direction.

Snow on my set is not such a bad thing.

Game of Chairs

Another pop culture post (I’ll get back to the cooking soon, I swear!). My current obsession is Game of Thrones. It’s medieval politics, sex, and violence with a soupçon of fantasy thrown. Really good acting, high production values, and a compelling story. I’m hooked.

Season 3 is airing. Don’t click or read any more if you’d rather not be spoiled.

This gem of a scene encapsulates what I love so much about this show.

Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) is holding a meeting of the Small Council. There’s a king who could attend if he wanted, but he doesn’t generally. These are the people who make the decisions in his name.  For nearly two minutes, there’s no dialogue. Who wants to sit where; how each person gets to where they are sitting; and why they want to sit where tells us everything we need to know.

Nostalgia

Once upon a time when I was small, I was an avid viewer of Emergency! Every week paramedics Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto (Locke’s dad on Lost and quite a looker back in the day) answered emergency calls all over Los Angeles County. With the help of Drs. Kelly Brackett, Joe Early, and Nurse Dixie McCall at Rampart Hospital, they were able to provide urgent medical treatment to a variety of patients.

The first thing I ever remember wanting to be was a paramedic. We lived next door to a retired fire chief and several of the neighbors were volunteer firemen. My brother and friends would race up and down on our big wheels pretending to be transporting patients (Barbie was quite accident prone as I recall) back and forth.

Imagine my joy to discover the whole season available on Instant Netflix (there until Dec 12th at which point I’ll add anything I’ve miissed to my physical queue).

As with many childhood pleasures, it’s a bit strange to watch this as an adult. For instance, I now know that Jack Webb’s (my name is Friday. I carry a badge) production company produced Emergency! His ex-wife Julie Lord played Nurse Dixie McCall, who happened to be married to Bobby Troup (Dr. Joe Early).

It holds up surprisingly well as a television show. Although the makeup is bad. Robert Fuller wears more eye shadow than Julie Lord, but it’s a pretty tight show. I no longer want to be a paramedic, but I am glad I found this again.

Top Chef Masters

Bravo has given their Top Chef franchise a bit of a spin with Top Chef Masters. Instead of a bunch of newbie chefs, culinary school students, and whatnot, the contestants are world reknowned chefs who don’t need to prove anything. They’re not competing for money for themselves; they’re competing for a charity of their choice. There’s no living together. No having their every move filmed.

It’s a better show for all of that.

Couple of things have been markedly interesting. First of all, a lot of the contestants have acted as judges on the show. All of them have commented on how much harder it is to compete in this format than they thought. There have been chefs who haven’t managed to plate in the allotted time. Chefs who have had their dishes turn out badly. Chefs who have experienced the fun of malfunctioning product placed appliances.

The judging seems less erratic also. Although the Food and Wine judge shows up now and then, it’s mostly been really good food critics who know their stuff.

All of this has provided for a really stellar program. The manufactured drama is so not missed–at least not by me. There’s a genuine pleasure to be had watching experts working at their craft.

Plus watching Hubert Keller cooking in a dorm room in and of itself was worth my time.

Cutting the cable

I called Time Warner today and scaled down to Basic Cable. I’m still getting quite a few channels (my beloved TCM among them), but not nearly the number I had before and no more HBO. The latter is going to hurt quite a bit–not for the movies, but because some of the best series in the past few years have come from HBO. Lost aside, I’m not seeing anything significant from the regular networks.

My reason for this decision was mainly financial, but to be honest, I reached it after having several successive nights flicking through the insane amount of channels I had access to, as well as on demand options, and realizing that the only thing worth watching was “Cesar Milan, Dog Whisperer.” Reader, I knew that was a sign from above.

Be seeing you


Patrick McGoohan passed away today. I’ve been a fan for a long time. In fact, I’m probably the only person in America who went to see Braveheart because I found out he was in it.

He left some really good work behind in assorted films and television appearances (his work on Columbo was really good and he got two Emmys for it), but I think my favorite McGoohan shows were Secret Agent and The Prisoner. Especially the Prisoner. He didn’t just star in it. He wrote and directed episodes (some under pseudonyms). The show was very much his baby. Nobody made anything like it before its debut in 1967 and I would argue that it’s never been equalled or approached since.

He will be missed.