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Law & Order: UK

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve never been a Law & Order fan. I’ve watched it. How can one avoid it? But it was never part of my regular TV viewing repertoire, never a show I would think over the course of a day that I was looking forward to watching that evening. And the same goes for its offspring.

Earlier this month, Gail discovered one of its younger children, Law & Order: UK. We don’t get BBC America as part of our cable package. We are, however, able to catch up on the episodes after the fact using On Demand, and we’re quite enjoying them. Looking over the website just now, I see that what we’ve managed to see are the last few episodes of season one and, just two nights ago, the first episode of season two.

I’m still trying to make sense of a line we heard in one of the episodes. It would be the episode called Sacrifice, #11 of season 1. Like the original Law & Order, the UK version features two police officers and their boss on the Order side, with a parallel pair of prosecutors (or whatever they’re called) and their boss on the Law side. In this episode, the chief prosecutor decides to take a temporary leave in order to serve as defense attorney for an old friend. As befits someone of his talent and stature (it’s not by chance that he got where he is today), he is extremely effective in court. And as he muses on his experience at the end of a day in court, he comments, “I didn’t remember how much I missed this.”

Now, I know they use the language a little differently over there. But could this really be what the writers intended? And did no one — actor, director, whoever — think to question it? Surely what has happened is that two more plausible sentences got blended to produce this. Wouldn’t one say “I didn’t remember how much I enjoyed this” or “I didn’t realize how much I missed this”? Or am I missing something?

Categories: Language, Television

In Praise of Lindsey Vonn

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

At Val d'Isère

[Enrico Schiavi, Associated Press]

I don’t often watch skiing on TV. I like it and all, but it’s not exactly the perfectly designed competition for TV viewing pleasure. Nor is it broadcast at any regular, predictable time. Or live. And let’s not even get started on the madness of not being able to see the glamour events of a Winter Olympics live. Every so often, though, I stumble on the tape-delayed broadcast of a World Cup race and I pause to watch.

Saturday was such a day. I got on the treadmill, turned on the TV, and found that it was tuned to the CBC, on which I had been watching a hockey game a couple of days before. In place of hockey, I had stumbled on coverage of the women’s downhill from Val d’Isère. And what perfect timing. We were in the middle of Swiss skier Nadja Kamer’s run. She would finish in 1′ 52.10″ to take the lead. She was immediately followed by young Swiss skiing sensation (I couldn’t resist the alliteration) Laura Gut, who in the 2009 World Championships two seasons ago had taken silver in both downhill and super-combined. This at the age of 17, and at Val d’Isère. Gut skied well, but couldn’t overtake Kamer, taking over second place just .12 seconds behind.

And then we waited for Lindsey Vonn, as assorted other women took their shots but couldn’t displace the Swiss duo. This, of course, is part of the problem of watching skiing on TV. Since it’s tape-delayed, you see a few runs, then break for ads, then a few more, then more ads, losing any feel for the rhythm of the competition. Rhythm or not, I was hooked. I wasn’t going to stop watching until I got to see Lindsey.

She was worth it. She had a breathtaking run, seemingly flawless (what do I know?), finishing in 1′ 51.42″ to take the lead by .68 seconds. And that’s how it ended, with Vonn, Kamer, and Gut taking the top three spots and arch-rival Maria Riesch over 2 seconds behind Vonn in 24th.

A day later, Vonn would win the super-combined to take over the World Cup overall standings and be named the AP female athlete of the year. Regarding the weekend, she explained:

First of all, I’m really honored to win the Associated Press female athlete of the year award. I feel so lucky to be the first skier to win it, male or female. It’s just been a great year. To win the Olympic gold medal and now this, it just reaffirms dreams can come true if you keep working hard.

I won both of my races over the weekend, and Ted Ligety won a giant slalom on Sunday in Alta Badia, Italy. It’s so cool that we both won on the same day. He took the overall lead, as I did. It was a great day for American skiing. I watched Ted’s second run, and he’s skiing so well right now, it’s amazing to watch him.

I was really happy with Saturday’s downhill. I made a really big mistake at the top of the course, but was able to make up the time at the bottom.

In the super-combined on Sunday, conditions were really bad for later numbers (in the start order), but I tried to make the best of it. The super-G wasn’t a perfect run, but it was solid and I won it, giving me a good chance in the slalom.

In the slalom I skied a little bit conservatively on the top, because it was getting somewhat rutty in soft snow conditions. But on the bottom I let it go and was able to make up some time.

I chose a good day to watch skiing.

Categories: Skiing, Television

Big Night

April 5, 2010 Leave a comment

So much to watch on TV tonight. What to do? We are 14 hours into the final season of 24, and tonight is the night FOX has chosen to broadcast two episodes back-to-back. It’s also the night of the NCAA men’s basketball championship game between Duke and Butler, now underway, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. For several years now (except when 24 wasn’t on a couple of years ago because of the writer’s strike), the Monday night broadcasts of the NCAA championship game and 24 have created an annual conflict, but the double 24 episode only exacerbates the problem. On top of that, it’s opening day of the baseball season, and the Mariners, rather than playing a daytime opener like most teams, are playing tonight against the A’s. The game would have just started 5 minutes ago.

Earlier today, Joel and I watched bits of two openers, on ESPN and ESPN2 — the Reds hosted the Cards and the White Sox hosted the Indians. We got to talking about whether it would be worth paying $200 ($180 this week, with a special opening week discount) to get the season’s baseball package on cable. Joel has paid the much smaller fee the last two years to be able to follow the games on the web, and last year I paid $20 or so to get the MLB app on the iPhone, which let me follow feeds of every game — not video, but pitch-by-pitch accounts in real time. The cable package lets you see TV broadcasts of every game except on Saturday afternoon, when there’s a blackout to avoid conflict with FOX’s national broadcast, and on Sunday evening, when there’s a similar blackout to avoid conflict with ESPN’s national broadcast. Joel pointed out to me that the Sunday blackout isn’t so bad, since games on Sunday nights are rare, but the Saturday blackout is an annoyance.

Then we remembered that there was a special first week promotion– the MLB cable package is free this week. We immediately switched from the ESPN games to all the other games being played at that time, to get a taste of what life could be every day if we buy the package. Marlins at Mets, Phillies at Cardinals. Rockies at Brewers, Tigers at Royals. Tigers-Royals meant an opening day matchup of Zach Greinke and Justin Verlander. Just think. I could be seeing baseball’s top pitchers every time they face off, and for less than a dollar a day. Maybe this isn’t a tough decision.

Meanwhile, what about tonight? How do I choose? And why am I writing this post instead? Better go.

Categories: Sports, Television

Arts on PBS

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal’s drama critic, also writes a bi-weekly arts column in the Saturday paper. In yesterday’s column, he discussed the years-long decline in arts programming at PBS. To illustrate the decline, he reviews the 2009 programming on Great Performances, PBS’s “flagship performing-arts telecast.”

  • The San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker.”
  • A pair of Christmas concerts by Andrea Bocelli and Sting.
  • The Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Day concert.
  • Two Broadway musicals, “In the Heights” and “Passing Strange.”
  • Three Metropolitan Opera performances, two of operas by Puccini and one of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”
  • A feature-film version of Puccini’s “La Bohème.”
  • A concert by Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
  • A documentary about Herbert von Karajan.

  • Teachout observes that this “lineup of shows is both inadequate and unserious, especially when compared to the high-octane arts programming that PBS was airing a quarter-century ago.”

    I agree with his criticism, to which I would add that when Great Performances isn’t on, we have to watch endless replays of rock groups from the 1960s in a compendium of highlights fromThe Ed Sullivan Show, or Celtic Woman, with that fiddler bizarrely dancing all over the place amongst the singers. At least we no longer see Roy Orbison over and over in black and white. (Please understand, I love seeing the Rolling Stones singing Satisfaction; the fiddler is stunningly beautiful; and who doesn’t love Roy Orbison? But must I see them several nights a week?)

    Teachout has a wise suggestion for improvement.

    What should PBS be doing instead? For openers, it should air fine-arts programs that encompass the full range of the performing arts. That means not just “The Nutcracker” but ballet and modern-dance masterpieces of all kinds. It means not just ultrafamiliar operas but solo recitals and chamber music. It means not just Broadway musicals but performances of classic and contemporary plays. And these performances should take place not just in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco but in cities throughout America.

    If I were put in charge of arts programming on PBS and had unlimited funds at my disposal, I’d start by ordering up a monthly series called “Art Across America,” whose raison d’être would be to introduce TV viewers to the full range of fine-arts performances in their own land. None of the episodes would originate in New York, and all would feature works by American artists. Instead of showing a Broadway musical, I’d fly out to Seattle and tape an Intiman Theatre performance of Kate Whoriskey’s staging of “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer-winning 2007 play about life in a Congo brothel. Instead of showing Andrea Bocelli, I’d telecast David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony performing Samuel Barber’s “Prayers of Kierkegaard.” Instead of showing yet another “Nutcracker,” I’d put Carolina Ballet on the air dancing Robert Weiss’s “Messiah.”

    Would I watch all these shows if I had the opportunity? I don’t know. I already noted last April, the day Ruined was awarded a Pulitzer (Teachout appears to err in calling it a 2007 play), that we had a chance to see it in Chicago the previous November, but instead chose to hear Lang Lang in concert. Perhaps that’s forgivable.

    As for Celtic Woman, they’re coming to Seattle in May. Three nights at the Paramount. We better get our tickets.

    Categories: Arts, Television

    Olympics Coverage

    February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

    I don’t seem to have written about sports in a long time. Not for lack of paying attention. I’ll make up for it tonight. Rather than watching NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, I’ll blog.

    One thing I haven’t wanted to blog about is the Olympics, since I can hardly think of anything to say that hasn’t been said elsewhere. Plus, I feel silly sitting here in Seattle when they’re taking place just a little bit to the north. If I’m going to pay attention, I should be there rather than reading and blogging about it. Then again, I was away for a few days last week, and now Gail’s away. It wouldn’t have worked out.

    What would I say if I did write about the Olympics? I’d start, of course, by complaining about the coverage. Let me touch on the few essential points that come to mind.

    1. Yes, NBC’s coverage is inane. But it’s always inane. Why would this time be different? One reason might be that with each passing Olympics, availability of information increases, so their penchant for tape delaying and dramatizing gets sillier and sillier. The real problem for us, though, is that our usual antidote to NBC is gone. When we got sick of it, we would just switch to CBC. We’d get to see the major events live. We’d get a little less drama, though they did follow the NBCs script (or, really, Roone Arledge’s ABC script from long ago, to give credit where it’s due) of up close and personal background stories. Alas, the CBC did not win the contract for Canadian television coverage for this Olympics. Cable network TSN did, and they’re not available as part of our cable package. We are reduced to watching on NBC or not watching at all.

    2. Given that we’re stuck with tape delay, what I find most annoying is how little of the major events NBC shows. Even if I know the results ahead of time, I might still like to see an event unfold in some semblance of real time. Package it as you wish, give us little bios and mini-dramas, but at least let us see the action. Especially for alpine skiing! Especially for the downhill!! How hard can that be? How about a little respect — for us and for the sport itself? What could be simpler than showing us every run of the first 30 or so downhillers, men and women? I know, it would take too much time. So show it later on another NBC-owned channel, after the NBC package treatment, and let me record it.

    3. Second in my list of annoyances is the tape delay of the tape delay. We west-coasters are disrespected twice over. The east coast sees NBC’s package starting at 8:00 PM, but we have to wait until 8:00 PM arrives in our time zone, which just happens to be the time zone that the Olympics are happening in. Some events take place in prime time in the east, so eastern and central viewers get to see them live. Imagine that. Not us though. We wait 3 hours, ensuring that we will see no action on NBC live. The figure skating is an example. It happens to be an example I’m not overly interested in, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about it. The east coast is treated to skating as it happens. We wait three hours. Which is one reason I’m blogging now rather than watching the final six women in their silly costumes do their long programs. (I am, as it turns out, following the NYT live blog of the event. We seem to be down to Canadian Joannie Rochette and the genuine drama of how she’ll do in the wake of her mother’s death a few days ago.)

    4. A variant of my last complaint: it’s bad enough that NBC is so east-coast-centric. But why must so many sports and media writers be as well? Whenever they write about NBC’s coverage and mention tape delay, they rarely point out the plight of the west coasters. Do they not realize that we see nothing live? Do they not care?

    On the positive side, I love the NYT historical graphic in which one can follow the Winter Olympics from 1924 onwards, seeing how each country did in its medal count. Hit the play button. Or, better yet, use your mouse to click on the time bar, then use the left and right arrow keys to move through the years at your own pace. I fell in love with this feature two summers ago during the Beijing Olympics. (Hey, where did eighteen months go? Surely it was just the other day that I was studying Summer Olympics history.)

    And speaking of history, at the top is my favorite Winter Olympics memory. Franz Klammer, the greatest skier of his time, skiing in his home country in the premier event of the Olympics, with enormous pressure, and winning. I went out to dinner that night on the way home from school. There was a department colloquium dinner that night, at the Chinese restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge that we often used for group math dinners. A modest place, but just a 15-minute walk from MIT, and especially convenient for me since my apartment was another 5 minutes down the road. After dinner, I headed home, turned on the TV, and watched the downhill coverage. Perhaps it’s an illusion, but I picture myself watching all the runs, just the way I wish I could now. Tape-delayed of course, but great nonetheless.

    Categories: Sports, Television

    Thanksgiving Again

    November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

    Lefse

    [From http://tinyurl.com/ybhlppo%5D

    An oddity I’ve discovered as this blog works its way through a second year is that when certain cyclical events come up again, whatever I have to say isn’t as interesting as what I said the first time around. This year’s Thanksgiving, for example, was routine compared to last year’s. A year ago, as I explained in a post, Gail was working part-time as a chef in a residential treatment center for addicted women who had young children or were pregnant, and her part-time duties included Thursdays. Thanksgiving is on a Thursday. That meant she was working on Thanksgiving. I joined her for several hours as she finished cooking and served the food to the residents. See last year’s post for more. After a long day of work, she wasn’t about to cook at home, so we had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant with Jessica and Joel plus Gail’s sister and her husband.

    After last year’s less-than-memorable dinner, we were eager to return to tradition this year and eat a home-cooked meal. Which we did. Joel, of course, is in Grenoble, which meant that there would be one hole in our tradition. He had spent his first 22 Thanksgivings with us. He would not be spending his 23rd with us. (Joel, in turn, along with the other US students in his program, had his own Thanksgiving dinner, with each student preparing a dish. We haven’t heard how it worked out. Today they went off by bus to Strasbourg, where they will spend two nights. Then on Sunday they will stop in Colmar on the way south for a short visit. I’ve already urged him to see the Isenheim Altarpiece while in Colmar, if he has time, but time will be short and there will be other things to do. And I’m hoping he gets to see his cousin — my sister’s daughter — while in Strasbourg, which has been her home for over five years.)

    Joel aside, the rest of our Thanksgiving partners of a year ago came over to the house, as did our friends and frequent Thanksgiving partners the Williams and new guest Nancy. Gail made turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, and green beans with mushrooms. All wonderful. And a cranberry relish. The Williams brought additional dressing, more cranberry relish, and probably other items I’ve forgotten. Tamara and Jim brought a cold vegetable platter, pickles, and again probably something else I’ve forgotten. For dessert, everyone contributed a pie, resulting in a choice of pumpkin, pecan, sweet potato, and blackberry pies. Oh, and Gail made cinnamon ice cream, a perfect complement. For those who aren’t big pie eaters, it was perfect on its own. No need to serve as complement. (That’s a compliment.) There was, of course, more food than we could possibly eat, and it was a heck of a lot better than last year’s meal.

    We don’t seem to have a Friday tradition. We don’t shop. I did look at the Apple website to see what they had going on in their annual one-day sale, but I didn’t buy anything. (A year ago on this day, we bought our three iPhones. I’m ready to upgrade, but I’ll wait until I don’t have to pay the $200 upgrade fee that would be due now because not enough time has passed in our contract with AT&T.) The one special event of the day was the broadcast of my favorite TV show, Monk. It is as good as ever in this, its seventh and final season. Tonight, the first episode of the two-parter that will bring the series to an end aired. Sometimes, the show’s depiction of Monk’s compulsive behavior is intentionally over the top, played for humor, but other times, it is so perfectly rendered that I can almost think I’m watching myself in a mirror.

    Tomorrow we’ll make the drive 60 miles south to Lacey, to Gail’s cousin Mark’s home, to participate in the annual extended family celebration of their Norwegian background. I wrote about this, too, a year ago, in passing, in a post about making conversation. It’s a mystery to me why we hold this event two days after Thanksgiving. We’ve already eaten enough and seen enough family, but then we do it again. The day centers on the making of heavy boiled potato balls, some with ham and some without — kumla — and the preparation of flour pancakes — lefse — that late in the celebration Mark gets around to adding margarine and sugar to and rolling and slicing for our dessert. Mark is the oldest of the grandchildren of Gail’s paternal grandparents, a position that makes him, effectively, the patriarch of the family and the keeper of its traditions. I wonder how serious a celebration of Norwegian culture this is. If my old friend Sverre from Trondheim were in town during one of these events and we dragged him to it, I suspect he would be mystified. The best parallel I can imagine is if the extended family on my side mostly still lived in greater New York and got together every year to wear aprons that say “Oy!” (rather than “Uff Da!”), fry potato pancakes, and eat rugelach. Not that that would be a bad thing. Maybe my grandmother could make a surprise appearance from the grave to prepare her chopped liver. I’ll be there. Just say the word.

    Categories: Family, Food, Holidays, Television

    Home

    November 19, 2009 1 comment

    Risotto Milanese al salto

    I’m home. We’ve been home for three days, after 23 days of travel. It’s hard to get back into the blogging routine. It’s hard, in fact, to get into any routine as I try simply to catch up on various fronts.

    I’m getting there. We were gone for three weeks of NYT crosswords and the start of a fourth week. I did the Monday crossword that appeared online on the very first day of our trip, but none after that. They’re done now, the Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday ones at least. I did the remaining eleven yesterday and early this morning. I also passed on watching the NYT’s weekly Vows video, the online video piece that complements their featured text couple in the Sunday Weddings & Celebrations section. But this afternoon I watched the videos I had missed. And I’ve caught up on hundreds of blog posts.

    What’s left? Alas, a huge pile of magazines. The arrival today of this week’s New Yorker meant I’m making negative progress. There are four New Yorkers, two New York Reviews of Books, an Atlantic, a Harper’s, a Golf World, my Harvard and MIT magazines, and four Chronicles of Higher Ed. I don’t even know where to start. Maybe reading the latest ones and then working backwards. In that spirit, I did look briefly at the new New Yorker this evening. It’s the Food Issue. The only food-related article I’ve read is a wonderful short piece by Jhumpa Lahiri that, alas, is not available in full online except to subscribers. It’s just a page long. If you see a copy in a store, you might just read the piece standing up. In it, she writes about her father’s specialty, pulao rice. (See too Nancy Franklin on Glenn Beck and Jeffrey Toobin’s opening commentary on the larger significance of Stupak’s anti-abortion amendment to the House’s health-care bill.)

    And then there’s the TV backlog. NCIS. Monk. The one new show I’ve been watching this season, FlashForward. Maybe I should just pass on all this. Except Monk, in its final season. And NCIS, which I’ve already caught up on.

    I hope to write a few posts about our trip in the next few days. Keep watching. In the spirit of the New Yorker’s food issue, perhaps I’ll have something to say about our dinner in Milan celebrating Gail’s birthday, at Trattoria Milanese. I began with the risotto al salto, which looked a lot like the version pictured above (from here).

    Categories: Food, Magazines, Television, Travel