Victorian Slum House

I discovered the absorbing Victorian Slum House series last night and was blown away. It’s a British reality show, which like PBS’ Frontier House took a number of modern people and put them back in the past. The participants of Victorian Slum House go back to the late 19th century to live in poverty in a Victorian slum.

One family  of 5 lives in a one apartment. Another is a tailor’s family and the four of them live in two rooms. As a tailor, they expected to make clothes from scratch. What they learn is their assigned to buy highly worn used clothes and fix or modify them. During the 1860s, when episode 1 is set, poor people didn’t buy new clothes. They bought what was patched up.

There’s a single man who’s a rent collector and also does some woodwork. He did opt to switch his modern protheses for one that resembles what was used back then. The producers did add some material that made it more comfortable than what people of his class had. There’s a couple that are shop keepers and they live on the top floor of the slum. They have better clothing and furnishings. Yet their finances are precarious because they depend upon their customers being able to pay up at the end of the week. No one knows for sure what they’ll earn in a week so their fear is real.

sleep rope

Sleeping on benches, Victorian era

Finally there’s a single mom with ten year old twins. Her lot is the most precarious. She works from home making fancy gift boxes. She starts with lots of optimism, but bought more food on credit than the others and her earnings fell far short of what she planned. So she’s very close to being evicted. In fact, in the 1860s, my guess is that she would have been and she’d have wound up down stairs in the sleeping room, where people slept on benches sitting up.

The program is full of interesting facts and the participants comments are enlightening.

Mr Selfridge: Favorite New Character

Note: Since new actresses are playing Violette and Rosalie I’ve included them.

Basically “China’s Got Talent”

I know cute baby and kid videos can be rather too cutesy and maybe this is, but it did make me smile and there are subtitles so you get a glimpse into Chinese culture via the judges and the boy.

Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 1

Sherlock Series 3

Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have returned after a too long Sherlock hiatus. Like all Sherlock fans I was eager to learn how on earth Sherlock survived. My book club read “The Empty House” this month in honor of Sherlock’s return and I’ve got some thoughts on that here.

PBS has a thorough synopsis here so I won’t offer one. I will have spoilers so watch the episode first online if you can.

I did like the parallels I noticed in the modern “The Empty Hearse” episode. While in the original, Sherlock doesn’t fall all the way down the falls and his death is faked, there’s a modern equivalent solution. This modern fall was also faked for the same reason: Moriarty and his cronies had to see Sherlock was dead. The screenwriters Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss accomplish this with a plot wherein Molly Hooper gets Sherlock a body to use to replace his corpse and a set up of 13 eventualities that have Watson’s view obstructed and manipulated. It’s clever and does work.

In the original story in which Roger Adair is murdered in a room that seems to not have been entered by an murderer. In the television show the screenwriter replaces the unentered room with a subway car that is entered but mysteriously exited. The last train leaves one station with a sole passenger, but that man has disappeared by the next stop. Quite clever.

I was delighted to see Sherlock, Watson, Molly, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson again. I welcome Mary, whom Watson is going to marry, as he was in the originals. However, there was one odd point in the story when she’s teasing John about shaving his mustache, which is just awful. The actress seems to take on Moriarty’s tics as she teases. It’s a bit odd and I blame the director – and I suppose the writer too.  I’d like to see Mary have her own career rather than just being Dr. Watson‘s assistant. It is 2013 after all. If John had the wherewithal to set up a practice and is bored with his work, he would have had the energy to date, maybe not the first year after Sherlock died, but later. So give him a girlfriend with her own profession.

I didn’t buy how Anderson, the forensic specialist who dislikes Sherlock, now has become a scraggly fan who leads a Sherlock groupies in conspiracy theory meetings. Also, I miss Moriarty. There will be a new villain, but Jim Moriarty was perfectly despicable and two seasons wasn’t enough.

I wish there was more time given to solving the crime and developing the character of this turncoat terrorist. He didn’t get so much as a line of dialog. A lot of time that was spent on jokes that winked at the fans could have been sacrificed to flesh out the criminal.

The scene on the subway when Sherlock and John must defuse the bomb was tense, but it whimpered at the end when Sherlock saved the day by simply flipping the off switch. Too far fetched for me.

The Office – A Long Goodbye

the-office-season-9

I just saw the finale of The Office, a show that was one of my favorites until a couple years ago. I’d hoped that the episode would feature the kind of writing that made me love the show, but it didn’t.

Early in the season someone commented that “watching The Office had become like seeing a good friend on life support. You felt sad and wished for the end.” Very true, I thought. Also, very sad.

The finale follows the cast a year after the documentary has aired. Dwight’s going to marry Angela, whose little boy has not aged at all since the previous episode, though a year has gone by. (Wake up writers. The child should not have been in the episode. He wasn’t crucial.)

PBS was holding a panel for the documentary in Scranton so Toby, who’s given up his steady job and moved to New York to write a novel. Who’d buy that? Why move to the most expensive city in the country just to write? Stanley who’s retired, and Darrell who’s with the successful marketing company that Jim quit, all return to Dunder Mifflin. Even Michael Scott, albeit without Holly, which just seemed unreal and cheap on the part of the producers, was back.

the-office-season-3

Better days

The PBS documentary became a big part of the second half of this final season. I think that was a big mistake because while the insights from the individual worked well in the show, giving more attention to the doc made me think about it more. That makes the wheels come off the wagon as it would cost millions to staff such a project for 9 years. At most it would be a 9 hour program and just would not fill an auditorium a year after it’s aired. Downton Abbey could a documentary won’t. Besides a PBS documentary would criticize as well as praise its subjects. It would leave viewers thinking that some of these people aren’t worthy of respect and that incompetence is rewarded if you’re surrounded by nice people. PBS’ Frontier House and other similar documentaries showed some people to be noble and others far from it.

Towards the episode’s end, various characters opine about how great their time at Dunder Mifflin was and ponder the obvious Hallmark versions of carpe diem. The problem I have is that Americans, who watch PBS, aren’t be so banal that they’d sit through 9 hours of a documentary (or over 100 hours of a sitcom, I hope) just to hear that it’s important to value the “good times.”

There was little from the interactions between the staff or the audience at the panel to show that anyone felt they got a raw deal. Hard to believe. Someone would have, there’d be some villains because unlike sitcom writers documentarians don’t need you to laugh or feel warm and fuzzy. These reality shows aren’t hagiographies. As time went on many of these characters became more and more neurotic or in the case of Dwight, quite possibly psychotic.

The finale of the British The Office was sadder and more true to life.

Things I didn’t buy this season:

    • That it wasn’t malicious for Oscar to lie and steal Angela’s husband, that no one at the office caught wind of it and turned on Oscar. Someone should have learned of this and rightly turned on Oscar.
    • That Angela married a state senator was far fetched – a minor complaint.
    • That after leaving the senator, Angela, a shrewd accountant, would be destitute and have no where to live other than Oscar’s place. (So contrived.)
    • That Angela’s baby would be talking at about one year old.
    • That Creed, who’s got a regular paycheck, would live in the Dunder Mifflin men’s room and no one would know. I figured out a professor was living in his office in a far shorter time.
    • That Jim and Pam’s marital problems weren’t contrived for the sake of the plot. His taking the job in Philly and her insisting on staying in Scranton never rang true. Her selling the house without his knowledge even though she reminded him that he bought the house without asking her. It’s all so out of character.
    • That Andy’d be and remain the manager even after leaving for months at a time. His character was always bizarre in a pathetic, yet scary way. Actually, it’s hard to believe he was chosen as manager. It made sense that Michael was. He was a great salesperson and the Peter Principle is based in reality.
    • That Ryan would return (with a baby!) and then run off with Kelly, who was a head case, which he knew.
    • That Jan didn’t show up. She’d have had a bone to pick with the documentary.
    • That many of these people function and
      That during the country’s biggest recession in generations no one of consequence was let go. America was cheated on that count.

I felt the writers ran out of ideas and talent. They may be new to the show and inexperienced as they relied so much on psychosis and obvious, contrivances to further each week’s stories.

What about you?


You Are a Crime Drama


You may seem quiet and withdrawn, but you’re paying attention to every single thing around you.

You intuitively understand people. You are an amazing listener.
You are very tightly-wound. You can get completely wrapped up in your job.
You’re the type of person who always finishes what you start. You like to wrap things up completely.

the good wife: kalinda’s storyline

In season 4 of The Good Wife, we’ve been introduced to Kalinda’s husband. He’s a seedy, violent character just out of jail. He wants Kalinda back because he likes control. She’s playing him and it’s quite weird. She’s troubled by him but yet doesn’t take any definite steps to keep him away legally. It’s a very weird game she’s playing and ultra-creepy as CBS has ventured into a very suggestive S & M vibe.

I really don’t like this story like and would be delighted if it stopped. But the writers seem to think this is good for the show and I don’t know how they’d get out. Yet they are professionals and some of the best on American TV, so if you’re reading this Good Wife Writers, please cut this storyline short.

By all means, don’t go the obvious route of having Kalinda murder him and then having the firm come to her aid. A season of that will get me to change the channel.
On another note, I did enjoy the non-Kalinda plot with the case against a Google-ish search engine that manipulated the search results to hurt a voice recognition software product. Very cutting edge.

The Glee Project, Season 2 so far

The Glee Project is off to a good start this summer. The contestants have a wide range of personalities and life experiences, yet after watching 3 episodes I don’t have the same familiarity as I did with the first season’s cast.

As in season 1, Individuality was the first episode’s  theme and the week’s video would be to “Born This Way.” I was just getting to know the 14 contestants and you know that one show is not enough to show your real potential and ability. Yet someone had to go and it was Maxfield, a country singer with charm. Compared with the Tyler, the transgender teen, and Alyn, a spitfire Muslim of Turkish descent, Maxfield didn’t inspire the same story possibilities for Glee. While that reason wasn’t stated, I think that was what it came down to for the first episode. The other two offer story possibilities that inspire Ryan Murphy so it seemed to early to let them go.

Apart from my thoughts on their talent, I do begin to get some definite preferences. Lily comes across as narcissistic and shallow. She lacks concern for others and is rather open about that. I wouldn’t miss her. Alyn has a charming vivacity. Nelli’s quiet, but that makes me think she’s got depth and potential. Tyler reminds me of Urkel from Family Matters. 

I was surprised to see Dani go home at the end of Dance-ability, but then again I wasn’t. She’s a talented, likeable performer, someone who’d make a good friend, but she doesn’t fit into the bold colors and emotions of Glee. To become a Gleek, Dani would have to distance herself from all her strengths and best traits, to morph into a caricature as I’m afraid we’re seeing Sam and Damien do.

I was quite surprised and sad to see that Taryn decided to leave the show in this episode. While talented, Taryn admitted she felt it was too much to live in the dorm and participate in this show. I can see how someone could feel that way and reality TV isn’t the only on ramp for a career in music. I wish we’d have gotten to see more of her, but she probably chose wisely.

Boss

If The West Wing offers the kind of politics, I dream of, Boss shows the kind of politics I fear we have, i.e. Tales from the Dark Side of Power, Greed and Lust. 

On my flight from Beijing I discovered Kelsey Grammer’s Boss, a high testosterone drama about a fictitious Chicago mayor trying to control city and Illinois politics while hiding his degenerative neurological disorder. Longtime mayor Tom Kane (Grammer) combines Richard Daley and King Lear. Kane’s wife Meredith is a cold-blooded daughter of the former mayor. His daughter has a character that I couldn’t buy. She appears to be a Presbyterian minister who runs a free medical clinic, uses heroine and has sex with her drug dealer. Her theology is quite severe and Biblically literal, yet she only lives out an isolated form of social justice. She seems to have no friends and the mentality of a schizophrenic. I found her character a set up for audience stimulation with little believability, though the actress is compelling.

His staff consists of a taciiturn chief of staff, who has thugs on speed dial and a blonde bombshell with a highly calibrated libido so she can up the show’s heat.

More intriguing characters are a reporter who’s sniffing around sensing that something’s wrong with the mayor’s health while also investigating corruption and wrong doing emanating from the mayor’s office. The Illinois governor and his up and coming challenger illustrate how the mayor is the most influential politician in the state.

I watched four episodes so I was pulled in despite my the female characters. I pretty much figure that the writers are going to fall short of Shakespeare in their ability to write about both genders.

exporting raymond

If cross-cultural endeavors interest you or if you’re an Everybody Loves Raymond fan, Exporting Raymond should tickle your funny bone. The documentary Exporting Raymond follows executive producer Phil Rosenthal to Moscow as he consults with the Russian team that plans to bring this down-to-earth American sitcom to an audience that loves over-the-top comedy, like the Russian versions of The Nanny or Married with Children.

Rosenthal’s witty and approachable. I empathized with him as he tried to convince the intense looking costume designer that Debra shouldn’t be dressed in white cashmere when she’s spent the day cleaning This formidable woman wouldn’t hear of it. Style was everything in her book.  When Rosenthal tried to figure out whether his driver really was in the hospital or whether he was lying and just on vacation, I smiled with recognition. Yep, one never knows what the real story is, just roll with it, Phil.

I found it all fascinating from the grim, decrepit studios to the stone faced execs — all very telling. I liked the documentary so much I watched the special features and deleted scenes.