Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Okay, so far too long since I’ve actually written anything of substance here. And I’m not about to start now... :)

Been sidelined by life for the past few months, and just haven’t had the energy to write anything, to be honest. Well, not entirely true. I’ve been writing anime reviews for a soon-to-be-launched website that some friends and I are starting, and that’s taken up all of my available attention span. However, with the launch of that site approaching--sometime in August, I believe--I figured it was about time to start posting stuff here again, in hopes that readers from that site might find their way here.

So I’ve been averaging about one anime DVD a week the last month or two. I won’t go into what all they’ve been, or what I thought, since that’ll all be on the site, obviously. But what I’m going to try to do here is talk about other TV shows, books, movies, and comics that I’m reading or watching, to supplement the reviews on the site.

I always enjoy the summer season of TV, because there’s so much less pressure to watch everything I want to see. (The answer, of course, would to be to watch fewer shows during the course of the year, but the thing is, there’s just less I want to watch in the summer.) Currently enjoying:

Deadwood on HBO. Probably the best series on TV, as far as I’m concerned, so of course it’s coming to an end. But at least HBO is wrapping the story up in a pair of TV movies, instead of just leaving it hanging. (Yes, whoever decided that Carnivale had come to a natural end, I’m talking to you.) Definitely the most idiosyncratic writing and acting of any TV drama, possibly ever, but no less hard-hitting or dramatic as a result. Definitely one for the ages. (And thank you to Fox Home Video for getting David Milch’s NYPD Blue DVDs coming out regularly again after too long a hiatus. Please keep it up.)

Rescue Me on FX. Deadwood may be a better show than Rescue Me, but they’re both so good, it’s hardly worth making the distinction. I had drifted away from this one towards the end of last season, just from the weight of too much TV, but I do have the DVDs to catch up. Meanwhile, this season has been fantastic. By turns hilarious and tragic, Denis Leary’s Tommy Gavin is every bit as complex and conflicted as Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen on Deadwood, and just as fascinating to watch. Even if sometimes it’s like watching a train wreck.

Hell’s Kitchen on Fox and Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America. Bad boy Brit chef Gordon Ramsey’s two TV series return, and it’s almost like watching two different guys. In Hell’s Kitchen, he really seems to be playing up his meanness for the American audience, as if he’s been instructed to out-Cowell Simon Cowell. He’s more balanced and reasonable on Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, but still not soft-spoken. Sadly, this season’s competitors on Hell’s Kitchen aren’t up to par compared to last year’s. There’s nobody this year that I can see running their own restaurant, and it feels like they’re more into playing the game than they are trying to forge a career. So it’s harder to find someone to root for. Still, it’s worth watching, if only because it’s one of the few reality shows that has a tangible prize that the players have to prove themselves worthy of winning.

Hustle on AMC. Who would have thought that the third season would make it to the US so close on the heels of its British airing? It’s still the most fun show on TV, as far as I’m concerned, and really points out how last year’s American thief/caper shows got it wrong, and why they failed.

Waterloo Road on BBC America. Very much in the mold of the idealistic young teacher coming in to reform a tough school genre, but the cast makes it watchable.

Hex on BBC America. Trying so hard to be Buffy, but replacing the soul and imagination with sex. But it’s sex with hot chicks, and it’s the summer, so I’m okay watching it for the time being. (It was touch and go during the two-hour premiere, but the hour long episodes end before they wear out their welcome.)

Sharpe on BBC America. I never watched these movies, starring Sean Bean as a soldier during the Napoleonic Wars, when they aired on PBS. But I’m loving them now. Very straightforward, macho, swashbuckling adventures, with charming actors playing charming characters. A new favorite.

The 4400 on USA. The surprise science fiction hit that just crept up on me. It’s doing a good job balancing stand-alone episodes with an ongoing arc, and definitely has me coming back to see what happens next. Too much of the dialogue is a little too TV-unnatural, but it’s got a good enough cast and a twisty enough plot that I’m willing to overlook it. And this may be the first science fiction series ever with a kid who isn’t annoying. Go figure.

The Dead Zone on USA. Now in its final season, it also alternates nicely between stand-alone episodes and its ongoing arc. If it’s guilty of anything, it’s of underusing its supporting cast (series regular Nicole de Boer hasn’t appeared in any of this season’s first three episodes) but I suppose that’s better than shoehorning someone into an episode just because they’re under contract. I suspect there’s been a certain tightening of the belts at USA, since The 4400 lost a major cast member at the beginning of this season as well. (And if the promos are to believed, they’ll lose another one next Sunday.)

And I’m also watching the new series of Miss Marple on Mystery on PBS, and the Crimes of Passion movies on BBC America. I’d never really watched a Marple story before, but the season premiere featured new crush Sophia Myles, so I had to watch it. And I’m hooked. They’re light and fun, and apparently not particularly faithful adaptations of the original novels. (The second one, By the Pricking of my Thumbs, shoehorns Miss Marple into a Tommy & Tuppence novel, for example.) But I haven’t read any of the books, and I’m enjoying the series on its own merits. So there. (I also caught a Poirot movie last night, Murder on the Blue Train, because it guest-starred Hustle’s Jaime Murray, and enjoyed that quite a bit. So maybe I needs to read me some Agatha Christie.)

Speaking of reading, I’m just scratching the surface of Charles de Lint’s latest novel, Widdershins. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and this one looks like it’ll be just as good as the rest. He apologizes for using this novel to follow up on and--possibly--wrap up an ongoing story line from his short stories and a previous novel, since he prefers his books to completely stand alone. But all of his novels set in the fictional city of Newford make all sorts of references to earlier stories, so I think he may be deluding himself a little here.

Most likely to be read next: the second book of Abadazad by JM DeMatteis and Mike Ploog. Spun off from their failed comics series (well, the comic didn’t fail; the publishing company collapsed out from under them), this series is a great mix of prose and comics, trying--and mostly succeeding--to create a modern-day series with the flavor of L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books. Bursting with color and imagination, I’m hoping for a long, long run of books.

And the next comic I’m planning on reading is Love the Way You Love by Jamie S. Rich and Mark Ellerby. The last book I read before starting the de Lint one was I Was Someone Dead by Rich, and I also really liked his first novel, Cut My Hair. This comics series ties into the characters from Cut My Hair and his upcoming novel, The Everlasting, and he’s becoming one of my favorite new authors. He started out as an editor at Oni Press, and I had a negative opinion of him there. As much as I loved the comics he was editing, in his editorials and everything, he seemed to have an air of, “Oh, look how hip and cool I am.” And I had the sense that Cut My Hair was very much a “Hey, let’s talk about the music that I like” sort of book, and if you weren’t into post-80s punk, there wasn’t much point in reading it.

Well, I did end up reading it, and it didn’t end up being much like I had expected. It was much better, and pretty much spoke to me and my thoughts and fears about loneliness and relationships and all that. And I Was Someone Dead even more so. So now I’m a fan.

(Plus a new issue of Love As a Foreign Language. Does it get any better than this? Well, I suppose it does if Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's Casanova manages to come out every month...)

Okay, all caught up now, I think.

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