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.

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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.