Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Sherlock" Episode Ranking

To quote my friend Kyle’s complaint about the latest season of Sherlock….”remember when he used to, you know, solve mysteries??”  Kyle’s original complaint may have also included an expletive.

This post could very easily be a top-13 list of reasons why Sherlock is a strange show to properly review, or why it’s a show I enjoy and often champion to friends looking for a Netflix recommendation despite the fact that (as you’ll see) I have major issues with most of the episodes.  Wonderful acting, a very stylish presentation and clever (if not necessarily good) writing often papers over the fact that Sherlock is often all sizzle and no steak. 

Granted, it isn’t easy coming up with fresh ways to present the all-too-familiar adventures and character beats of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  It’s also worth noting that Doyle’s original stories had their share of odd characterization and “can’t they just go back to solving mysteries?” diversions like Holmes getting involved in international espionage, not to mention the fact that many of Doyle’s mysteries are hard to translate to the 21st century due to modern technology.  Still, I definitely feel that this series too often cheaps out when all the ingredients are here for a truly great show.

Onto the episode ranking!

UGH
13. The Empty Hearse….The central crime of this episode (a threat to bomb Parliament a la Guy Fawkes) is so massive in scale yet so totally underwritten and treated as an annoyance by Holmes that it almost felt offensive.  Also, I guess we’re supposed to infer that Holmes’ “nobody will ever believe you” explanation to his superfan about how he faked his death was the actual answer, though the fact that the show was so hand-wavey about Sherlock’s trick was pretty annoying.

12. The Abominable Bride….An “imaginary episode” in the 1890’s should’ve been a slam-dunk.  Instead, it absolutely fell apart in the final third of the episode and turned into an incoherent Moriarty fan fiction.

11. The Final Problem….If this show had a ‘first problem,’ it was that Moriarty was both directly introduced into the series too soon and made into such an enormous threat that he had to be dispatched almost as quickly.  The writers have been trying to fill Moriarty’s shoes as the show’s Big Bad ever since, first with Charles Magnussen and then with Eurus Holmes.  There is no finer example of the show’s laziness than the fact that they introduce the game-changing idea of Sherlock and Mycroft having a sister, then making her into even more of a ludicrous supervillain than Moriarty ever was.  Also, if the timeline is to be believed, Eurus was also seemingly responsible for “creating” Moriarty in the first place, another annoying narrative cheat that undercuts the rest of the series.

10. The Blind Banker….On the one hand, it’s the sort of stand-alone mystery I wish the show would do more of.  On the other hand, it’s not a particularly good mystery and it’s kinda racist.

PROBLEMATIC

9. His Last Vow….Back to the “Big Bad” complaint, it’s also a little weird that Holmes never really seems to defeat his arch-enemies.  I guess you could argue that Moriarty was ultimately outwitted since he ended up with a bullet in his brain and Holmes disproved the fraud allegations, though it was presented as more of a stalemate.  Everything Eurus did was ultimately reduced to a cry for help, as it was clear Sherlock was no match for her on any level.  And here you have Magnussen, who just completely outwits Sherlock and forces Sherlock to cut the Gordian Knot by just shooting him in the head.  Having Sherlock Holmes resort to murder when faced with an unsolvable problem is such a character cheat that I’m almost tempted to rank this episode even lower.

8. The Six Thatchers….Can we talk about how weird it was that Mary Marston was turned into a retired international assassin?  Like, what?  The writers needed something major for Magnussen to blackmail her over but THAT was their decision?  N.B. the original “Adventure Of The Six Napoleons” story this episode is inspired by was the first Doyle mystery I ever figured out before the ending.  Nine-year-old Mark was so pleased to have finally cracked a case before Holmes could explain it that I assumed I was developing a Holmes-ian logical mind that would allow me to also become a world-renowned detective.  And that totally happened!

7. The Reichenbach Fall….The episode where Moriarty went from cunning mastermind to cartoonish Joker-esque supervillain.  It begs credulity that Moriarty, whose entire deal was that he was the “criminal consultant” working within the shadows and never involving himself directly in the crimes, would so publicly connect himself to any hint of wrongdoing.  Also, to complain again about Magnussen’s murder, it should be noted that Moriarty seems to easily have the resources and opportunity to kill Holmes a thousand times over, but prefers to try and beat him with wits.  Very weird that Moriarty seems to have this level of moral high ground over Holmes.  

6. A Scandal In Belgravia….This episode would be higher on the list had it not severely shortchanged the character of Irene Adler.  In the stories, she gains exalted status for Holmes since he greatly respects her mind (if I recall correctly, she is the only character actually shown to fool Holmes in one of Doyle’s stories) and her general character.  In the show, however, Holmes outwits Irene and she is essentially just a tool of Moriarty.  There is little evidence presented within the episode to argue why Holmes would still consider her to be “The Woman” that so piques his curiosity. 

PRETTY GOOD

5. The Lying Detective….A fine episode somewhat undermined by the final big-picture-for-the-season twist of Eurus pretending to be Faith Smith.  I guess, Eurus knew about Culverton Smith’s crimes and just wanted to test her brother?  Well, ok, maybe it’s more than “somewhat” undermined, but the hell with it, I liked this one.

4. The Hounds Of Baskerville….This episode is generally not considered to be one of the series’ better offerings, so I’m one of the few who would have it this high in a ranking.  In my view, however, this is the best case of the series successfully taking a classic Doyle story and giving it a proper, semi-realistic (well, as realistic as possible given the subject matter) update into modern times. 

3. A Study In Pink….The pilot that was so clever and so well-done that it allowed us all to keep making excuses about the series for the next seven years!  Yay!  Even this one, however, had some hints of the underlying dissatisfaction yet to come; you would’ve thought that Holmes would’ve come to the “it was a cabbie” conclusion much sooner, and I’m still not exactly sure how the cab driver’s trick worked.  Was he poisoning both pills?  Is it something super-obvious that I’m dim enough to have overlooked?  (Spoiler alert: I didn’t actually become a world-renowned detective.)

THE CLASSICS

2. The Sign Of Three….Speaking of me being dim, halfway through this episode, I was foolish enough to believe that it was actually going to be all about John and Mary’s wedding, and not an actual mystery.  Oops!  Admittedly, the criminal’s plot is ludicrously complicated and it is the height of coincidence that Holmes and Watson’s recent unsolved crimes were both related to the wedding, but again, the hell with it.  I’m more than happy to accept some level of narrative foolishness within this series as long as it’s done in a clever and non-character destroying way.   

1. The Great Game….Essentially the perfect modern Sherlock episode.  Sherlock “f***ing solves mysteries” (thanks Kyle!), the cases are all interesting, Moriarty is presented as a great looming menace, Lestrade’s exasperation level is off the charts…it’s all good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Even More NFL Playoff Predictions?!

* Patriots over Steelers
I was about to say, “familiar matchup here,” except this is only the fifth time these teams have met in the postseason, and the first time since 2005.  Also, the Patriots are 9-3 against Pittsburgh in the Belichick-and-Brady era.  Look at Mark with all the fancy research!

Recent pwnage aside, I still have to favour New England since it doesn’t *feel* like they’re going to lose this game.  (Look at Mark with all the fancy going with his gut!)  The narrative of the Pats overcoming the Brady suspension to get to the Super Bowl, win, and force Roger Goodell to hand the trophy to a smug-as-humanly-possible Bob Kraft is hard to overcome.  As threatening as Pittsburgh is with the Killer B’s (Ben/Brown/Bell) attack on offense, I’m not sure their defense is particularly threatening.  The Pats at least have better cornerbacks who can slow down the Steelers’ offense, while Pittsburgh may not have much of a curtain at all (let alone a steel one) to halt Tom Brady and company.  It sounds weird to be so confident of a result yet equally confident of a close result, though I’d be surprised if the margin of victory is more than seven points. 

* Falcons over Packers
That win over the Cowboys took years off my life but man, what a win!  Aaron Rodgers’ toss to Jared Cook is just the latest in a series of jaw-dropping signature throws for Rodgers, and best of all, this one actually came in a win!  (Pour one out for the hail mary against the Cardinals last year in the playoffs.)

If that Dallas game wasn’t bonkers enough, the NFC Championship is going to be a shootout par excellence.  These teams can both put a lot of points on the board, particularly Atlanta.  Put it this way; the Seahawks have a better defense than both Green Bay and Dallas, and the Falcons carved Seattle up something fierce last week.  Given how the Packers’ D wilted badly in the second half against the Cowboys, it doesn’t bode well for this game.  Dom Capers seemed completely unable to adjust beyond a swiss cheese zone defense when Dallas started running the ball last week, and that absolutely won’t cut it against a Falcons team that can more or less score at will.  Keep in mind that Dallas basically spotted the Packers 30 minutes thanks to lots of dumb penalties and seemingly being unprepared for a big playoff game.  The Falcons won’t make that same mistake.

Jordy Nelson expressed some confidence in being able to return from bruised ribs, though if he’s still out, the Packers are probably done.  I have visions of Green Bay’s 2009 playoff loss to Arizona dancing in my head, when Rodgers was scoring points like mad but an overextended Pack defense couldn’t keep the opponents off the board.

I mentioned narrative earlier as a reason to pick New England, so here I’m going in the opposite direction and ignoring Green Bay’s great “run the table” storyline in favour of the Falcons’ quiet dominance.  Atlanta just kept flying under the radar, putting up mad points, going from “hey, the Falcons look pretty good this year” to “hey, the Falcons are making the playoffs” to “wait, the Falcons got a first-round bye?” to “holy smokes, the Falcons might bludgeon their way to a Super Bowl!”  In a season that has seen so many of the NFL’s national-fanbase teams (the Patriots, Steelers, Raiders, Packers and Cowboys) all enjoy big seasons, it would be ironic if a fairly unheralded franchise won it all.  That might be the upending storyline of an overall pretty weird NFL season.

Friday, January 13, 2017

More NFL Playoff Predictions (Round 2)

* Chiefs over Steelers
The weekend's first twist has already taken place, as this game has been moved from Sunday afternoon to Sunday night due to an ice storm in the Kansas City area.  With weather an issue, you'd think this would favour the team with a power running game, i.e. the Steelers.  But, part of me thinks that home teams generally get a bit of help in bad weather, plus Andy "Why Can't There Be Two Bye Weeks?" Reid is always tough with an extra week to prepare.

I could hedge a hundred different ways in this game since it's a total tossup.  No result here would surprise, even one side totally blowing out the other, as both Pittsburgh and K.C. are prone to those outta nowhere "everything goes wrong" games every six weeks or so.  The Steelers, of course, have been quietly unbeatable for weeks now, while the Chiefs just go about their business, winning games despite never once being taken seriously as Super Bowl contenders due to the presence of a) Reid, b) Alex Smith at QB and c) the franchise's under-the-radar jinx.  Assuming they won't win this year, it'll be 47 years and counting since the Chiefs' last Super Bowl title.  The 13 teams who have never won a Super Bowl at all are playing the world's tiniest violin for the Chiefs' troubles but still, 47 years is nothing to sneeze at.

So, in the spirit of the Cubs and the Cavaliers, I'll very lightly pick Kansas City and be fully prepared to be wrong come Sunday afternoon night.  Then again, The Ice Storm starred Joan Allen and Marcus Allen had some fine years for Kansas City, so I like my pick.

* Patriots over Texans
Oh, what a beating this will be.  The Patriots actually could start Joan Allen in this game and still win.  This is less a competitive matchup than an open question about when Brady will be rested in favour of the backup QB.  I give it halfway through the third quarter than Brady calls it a day and looks ahead to the AFC title game.

* Falcons over Seahawks
You'll notice that I'm picking both Atlanta and Kansas City, two teams with a long history of playoff failure, over the much more reliably "safe" picks of both Seattle and Pittsburgh.  Part of me feels like I'll go 1-1 at best no matter which two teams I pick in these games, so what the heck, let's go with the fresh blood.

As I wrote last week, Seattle's success comes down to whether or not their offensive line manages to be only mediocre instead of outright terrible.  The Falcons don't exactly have a thunderous pass rush (with the major exception of Vic Beasley) or a big defense whatsoever, so the Seahawks could certainly get away with one here.  On the flip side, you also have the somewhat undermanned S'hawks defense that would clearly love to have Earl Thomas in there against the high-powered Atlanta offense.  My vibe on Seattle, however, is that they're a still-dangerous team but desperately in need of a roster reload.  They need to reinvest in the O-line this offseason to really make another proper run in 2017-18, and thus they're ripe for a newer team (i.e. Atlanta) to pick them off.  Don't forget that Dan Quinn is Seattle's former defensive coordinator and knows how his former charges operates; that might be all the difference the Falcons need in this very tight game.

* Cowboys over Packers
For years, "Green Bay at Dallas" was the bane of my existence.  During the Cowboys' glory days in the early 1990's, the quirks of the NFL schedule and Dallas' regular-season superiority meant that for what seemed like seven straight Packers/Cowboys matchups, the game always took place in Dallas.  And, thus, Green Bay always lost.  By the time the Packers finally got to host the Cowboys (in the 96-97 season), Dallas had already started to fall apart, so it wasn't *quite* as satisfying watching the ascendant Packers knock off the old kings.  Not nearly as satisfying as, say, watching the Packers pull off that 30-point comeback in Dallas behind Matt Flynn a few years ago, or watching Green Bay beat the Cowboys in the playoffs a couple of years ago when Dez Bryant made that absolutely no-doubter of a dropped pass (HAHAHAHAHA).

So recent history has somewhat swung back in Green Bay's favour, though the Cowboys did beat the Pack earlier this season in that stretch of time (uh, is ten games too long to be a 'stretch'?) before the lightbulb suddenly came on for the Packers and they started steamrolling everyone.  If my beloved Packers exercised one set of demons in beating the Giants last week, can they keep it going over the Cowboys?

I'm doubtful.  Jordy Nelson's absence is an enormous blow, and it's almost enough to write Green Bay off immediately.  Beyond Nelson, Dallas' grinding offense is almost perfectly-built to run through the Packers' D.  It can't really turn into a shootout since the Cowboys can take forever to score but they'll still score, and this ability to control the clock and keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers' hands is just too powerful.  As much as I hate to admit it, it'll take a miracle for the Packers to upset the Cowboys.  A real Hail Mary miracle.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Anniversary

 Twenty years ago today, I read that John Cleese and Michael Palin were going to be making guest appearances that evening on Saturday Night Live.  This was during the height of my Monty Python fandom, and thus there was no way I was going to miss seeing two of my comedy then-idols.  (Pfft, then?!  I can still trade Dead Parrot lines with the best of them.)

At this point in my life, I was a fan of Saturday Night Live in theory, in the sense that I obviously knew of the show's long history, its actors, its biggest sketches, etc.  Wayne's World, for instance, was one of my favourite movies.  A fan in theory, though not in practice, as I'd never actually watched an episode of the show.  What can I say --- being something of a nerdy 15-year-old, it was pretty rare that I even stayed up that late.  My Saturday nights usually extended until around 11pm, when I hit the sack after either a wild night of watching a movie with friends, or staying home to watch random comedy shows (usually CODCO, Full Frontal*, or Red Dwarf) on Showcase.

* = Full Frontal the Australian sketch comedy program, get your minds out of the gutter!

I'll pause for another moment while you all go "Actually Mark, admitting you watched the lead-in programming to the Drambuie Showcase Revue sounds right in line with your personality.  Have you not read this blog before?"

So anyway, to stay up until 11:30pm and beyond, I needed to find something to occupy my time. Showcase was showing a movie that night, so the usual sketch comedy was out. So instead I watched MuchMusic, specifically the old 8 PM-10 PM show called something like 'Much Rocks' or something generic.  This was back in the olden days when Much actually aired music videos, rather than the absolute hodgepodge of teen-and-hipstercentric programming it does today.  'Much Rocks' was a stand-alone show that it was devoted solely to rock videos for two hours, so I figured I'd kill some time watching the show and listening to some new music.

As it happened, 1/11/97 was a day or two after U2's video for Discotheque was released, and thus to mark the occasion, "Much Rocks" was devoting the entire two hours to a U2 career retrospective.  While I was familiar with a few U2 songs, I wasn't really a devotee, but still, I had nothing better to do.

As you might suspect, the rest is history.  Throughout the program, I kept saying "Wow, I didn't know they did this song..." and by the end, I was enthralled.  Not by the videos themselves, of course; U2 are known for many things, but good videos aren't one of them.  It's ironic that the Discotheque video was the impetus behind the special, since a) it's one of the lamest videos ever recorded by man, and b) is often regarded as the biggest reason that the public turned on U2's Pop album. For some reason, dressing up as the Village People and Bono thrusting his groin into the camera made people think U2 were getting full of themselves. Who knew?

So that propelled me through the rest of the night, onwards to SNL.  The 1/11/97 episode ended up being the perfect way to hook me on the show, as it ended up being one of the most heralded SNL episodes of the era, wall-to-wall with classic sketches and great impressions by Kevin Spacey, who did so well he purposely didn't host for almost a decade in order to keep the mystique alive. The weakest part of the program, ironically, was Cleese and Palin, who did little more than a half-assed rendition of the Dead Parrot sketch.  That was my first SNL episode and I haven't missed one since.

So there it is, one big day.  January 11 will forever be tied to both the discovery of my favourite band and (while not technically my "favourite") the show that has probably done more to shape my love of comedy more than any other. 

So Jan. 11 holds a noted place in my personal history. My favourite band and (one of my) favourite shows were born on the same day. I think I'll celebrate by listening to Achtung Baby and watching some Will Ferrell sketches.  Or, by tracking down a set of Red Dwarf DVDs.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Talking Funny

Here's a show I re-watch every year, just as a comedy refresher.  Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Louis CK and Ricky Gervais, just sitting around, chatting about making people laugh.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

NFL Playoff Predictions

* Steelers over Dolphins
My original feeling was that there’s a decent chance of an upset here, since Pittsburgh has a few inexplicable losses on their record this season.  Then I actually went back at looked at their schedule and realized that their only real “inexplicable” loss was a 34-3 drubbing to Philadelphia in September.  The other four losses on their schedule (one to Miami in the game when Jay Ajayi went off for 204 yards) can be written off as either Ben Roethlisberger being not entirely healthy or outright injured, or just a close loss to the world-eating Dallas Cowboys.  Since the Steelers have gone on to win seven straight games and are at home against a somewhat-reeling Dolphins team that will be without Ryan Tannehill, this should be a fairly comfortable Steelers victory.

And now let me undermine my prediction by noting reasons why an upset could still happen.  Pittsburgh’s seven-game win streak includes a lot of close results and two wins over the Browns, so it’s really a five-game win streak and two exhibition games against a local high school team.  Losing Tannehill isn’t *that* big a deal in my view since I’ve never thought the guy was particularly good; the downgrade from Tannehill to Matt Moore is maybe a C+ to a C.  It’s not nearly as bad as…

* Texans over Raiders

…the dropoff from Derek Carr to Connor Cook.  Man, poor Oakland.  They’re enjoying a dream season after years of futility and have legitimate hopes of making the Super Bowl when Carr gets injured in the second-last game and it all goes to hell.  And consider that Cook isn’t even the second-string quarterback, as Matt McGloin got hurt last week too; there’s not much evidence that McGloin is better than Cook, though McGloin’s name is infinitely more hilarious.

So without their MVP candidate quarterback, the Raiders now face the bitter pill of very possible scenario of losing a gimme game.  The Texans are a mediocre team that are only in the playoffs by dint of winning the league’s worst division.  Getting to face them in the first round was a sought-after consolation prize for whichever team didn’t win the AFC West, and yet now the Raiders are Carr-less.

It’s almost enough to write Oakland off entirely, were it not for the $72 million sinkhole known as Brock Osweiler who will be back under centre for the Texans.  Osweiler is back at QB in the wake of a Tom Savage concussion, so Osweiler will have to perform in front of the same home fans who raucously cheered when he was benched a few weeks ago.  Methinks the Houston fans won’t give Osweiler much of a leash.  The first incomplete pass will unleash the boo-birds again, and if the Raiders have a chance here, it’s that Osweiler totally melts down under the pressure (and Khalil Mack being all up in his grill).  For all I know, maybe Cook takes everyone by surprise and pulls a Dak Prescott to lead the Raiders to a victory.  It’s not like there’s a lot of tape on the guy. 

I feel like I went back and forth about three times in that last paragraph, so I’ll just chicken out and pick the home team.  First team to score double digits probably wins the game.

* Seahawks over Lions
Somewhat similar to the Miami/Pittsburgh game, as you have a home favourite that has a couple of notable flaws, yet I’m hesitant to pull the trigger on actually predicting the upset.  Miami has a better chance of beating the Steelers than the Lions do of beating Seattle, though with any Seahawks game, it always comes down to their terrible offensive line.  If the O-line can just be blah instead of outright brutal, the Seahawks have enough overall talent to win.  I’m also not sure if Matt Stafford and his bad finger can handle playing in the noise cauldron that is the Seahawks’ stadium, so that’s another point in Seattle’s favour.

I’m just upset that my buddy Kyle is currently out of the country on vacation.  He and I get together for one NFL playoff weekend every year, and with his beloved Lions making a rare postseason appearance, this would’ve been an opportune time.  Dammit Kyle, I had to watch the Packers get eliminated on your TV for, like, three straight years — surely we’re overdue to watch a Detroit postseason loss together!

* Giants over Packers

To be frank, I’m shocked I’m even writing this post.  I wouldn’t have gone to effort of this many words about the NFL postseason without the Packers’ involvement, and six weeks ago, it looked for all the world like Green Bay had hit a wall.  Six straight wins in #RunTheTable mode turned that right around, Clay Matthews is finally healthy, Aaron Rodgers went supernova and got the offense back on track…all is good in Packerland.

So why am I still so weirdly pessimistic about both this playoff game and the Packers’ season as a whole?  Firstly, it’s the Giants.  Every five years they put together a team with an awesome defense and flawed offense and win the Super Bowl.  It’s going to happen again, “resistance is futile,” says Locutus Of Eli.  Secondly, it’s no secret that I’m not the biggest Mike McCarthy fan.  Part of me was hoping that, if Green Bay had totally bottomed out, McCarthy would’ve been fired.  I entirely realize that repeatedly calling for the firing of a coach who’s taken the team to eight straight (!) playoff appearances either makes no sense or seems like the height of ungratefulness but seriously, McCarthy is a borderline mediocre coach.  I’m tired of watching him get thoroughly out-strategized every postseason (uh, minus the Super Bowl year…man, I sound spoiled) thanks to his signature inability to make mid-game adjustments.

If Rodgers is going to pull a LeBron and single-handedly carry this team to a championship, nobody will be happier than me.  But as great as Rodgers is, I still feel like this team is a few pieces away from being legitimate contenders, and they’re a letdown waiting to happen.  The hangover from running the table will be a bitter one. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Romeo & Juliet (Shakespeare Re-Read #20)

So, first of all, let’s address the most common commentaries about Romeo & Juliet.  Yes, Romeo is a whiny emo kid.  Yes, Friar Lawrence and the Nurse should’ve had their own play, possibly the two of them teaming up to solve crimes, absolutely.  But where I put my foot down is the ridiculous “Juliet should’ve gone for the wittier Mercutio over Romeo” trope.  Mercutio is as long-winded as it gets, and I have to believe he’s incapable of loving any other person as much as he loves a wordy analogy.  He deserves the lack of respect shown to him by my word processor, which doesn’t recognize “Mercutio” as a legitimate word despite it being the name of a primary character from one of history’s most famous plays.  Take that, you hot-headed blabbermouth.

With that out of the way, Romeo & Juliet (a.k.a. “Rosaline Really Dodges A Bullet.”)  Even I, a hot-headed blabbermouth if there ever was one, can find little new to say about this most heavily-trod of plays.  I’ve read the play easily a half-dozen times in my life and seen it performed both on stage and screen multiple times, and while I’m more Shakespeare-ish than most, I’d reckon that basically everyone has read or seen some version of the story at least once in their lives.  It’s as inescapable as a Friar Lawrence tongue-lashing.

And yet as heralded as R&J is, it is possible that the play is a little….uh, unheralded? It sounds odd to say, but upon my latest reading (my first in at least a decade), it really struck me just how good a play this actually is.  I feel like this and Midsummer Night’s Dream are the ones generally as sort of “popcorn Shakespeare” due to their popularity and alleged simplicity, whereas heavier fare like Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, etc. are seen as the real classics.

Though really, “heavier fare” — my god, here’s a play about two teenagers killing each other out of grief.  It really is striking how the play’s tone so swiftly and entirely goes from great comedy in the first two acts to an unspeakable series of misunderstandings and tragedy in the final three, with Friar Lawrence’s line of “These violent delights have violent ends”* in Act II, Scene vi as the turning point.  The Winter’s Tale is still probably the gold standard for massive tonal shifts, but R&J is at least in the ballpark.  I’ve written before about how some Shakespeare tragedies could very easily be turned into comedies (or at least dark comedies) with broader acting and macabre humour, and while R&J maayyyyybe generally falls into that category if you turn it into “Heathers,” it really does work best as Shakespeare intended.  The first two acts build you up with joy, and the rest of the play drags you into the abyss.

* = fans of ‘Westworld’ just perked up their ears

In fact, one of the most interesting scenes of the last three acts is arguably the most superfluous.  The little coda of Peter bantering with the musicians seems totally out of place given the circumstances (the Capulets have just had to cancel the wedding upon finding out their daughter is dead), yet in a way, it serves a key thematic purpose.  It is Shakespeare giving us one sad little echo of the first two acts’ wordplay and its knack for giving even minor characters some fleshing out.

So, just throwing this out there, could Benvolio have spared everyone a lot of grief?  Could he have lied about the events of the Mercutio/Tybalt/Romeo brawl, perhaps leaving Romeo out of it entirely by just saying that Mercutio and Tybalt stabbed each other?  I guess you’d have to think there were too many other witnesses for that to work, but still, if my theory is true….wtf, Benvolio?  If everyone knows you to be so honest that they trust your account of the incident, this is where you take a page from Iago’s book and use your alleged trustworthiness to bail out your friend.  It really would’ve prevented things from escalating* out of control, and both Romeo and Juliet would still be alive and content…well, unless Romeo had tearfully confessed to her that he killed her cousin.  Which he probably would’ve, the dope.

* = The prince of Verona, who only appears when things really escalate between the two families, is named Escalus.  Even Mitch Hurwitz bows down to that level of naming punnery. 

Furthermore, the Mercutio/Tybalt tiff is written off as the final volley of the Montague/Capulet rivalry and the two families could’ve settled things right then and there.  It’s interesting to note that the elder Montagues and Capulets both seem somewhat weary of the whole dispute; consider that the elder Montague is willing to let Romeo remain at his party under the aegis of “eh, whatever, he’s supposed to be a good kid.”  Montague has the common sense that Tybalt lacks, and by extension, the elders have the greater sense of the big picture.  Tybalt, Mercutio and company were brought up in an environment where the guiding rule was just “(other rival family) is EVIL!!!” whereas the older generation is all too aware of the hell the feud hath wrought, though neither Montague nor Capulet want to risk looking weak by being the one to broker a truce.  

A word about the adaptations.  I had the pleasure of attending an outdoor production of R&J in a park in Oxford, England some years back, which is easily my favourite version of the play.  I enjoyed the Franco Zeffirelli film version from 1968 quite a bit when I saw it 20 years ago, though I’m somewhat curious to watch it again to see if my more seasoned eyes would be more critical.  The reason?  I saw the Zeffirelli version just days after watching the dumpster fire that was the Baz Luhrmann “Romeo + Juliet,” so anything would’ve seemed better by comparison.  Holy lord, was that movie ever bad.  DiCaprio had less chemistry with Danes than he did with the Revenant bear.  It seems like kind of a minor thing, but what always cracked me up about the Luhrmann version was the first names given to all the characters.  Suddenly it was Ted Montague and Dave Paris, of all things.  Mercutio never got a last (or first?) name, according to IMDB, which is a letdown.  I was fully prepared for something like “Harold Perrineau As Brad Mercutio.”  Or, since it was Perrineau in the role, maybe it should’ve been WALLLLLLLLLLLLT Mercutio.

To summarize, this play is a masterpiece.  (No duh.)  It’s worth every bit of critical ink ever spilled in praise.  It’s so good that it’s even been worth the 400 years of teenagers getting way too dramatic about relationships that it engendered.

Also, hot take: the Killers’ cover is better than the Dire Straits’ original!


OVERALL RATING: A

RANKING THE PLAYS THUS FAR

20. Pericles
19. The Taming Of The Shrew
18. Antony & Cleopatra
17. Troilus & Cressida
16. Love’s Labour’s Lost
15. As You Like It
14. Titus Andronicus
13. Much Ado About Nothing
12. Timon Of Athens
11. Coriolanus
10. The Two Gentlemen Of Verona
9. The Comedy Of Errors
8. The Winter's Tale
7. A Midsummer Night's Dream
6. Julius Caesar
5. Macbeth
4. Romeo & Juliet
3. Cymbeline
2. Twelfth Night
1. Othello

My New Year's resolution for 2012 was to re-read (and in some cases, read for the first time) all 38 of William Shakespeare's plays.  2012 has long since ended, but still, onward and upward.  And, since in these modern times it's impossible to undertake a personal project without blogging about it, here are a series of reviews/personal observances I'll make about the plays.  Well, 'reviews' is a bit of a stretch.  It's William freakin’ Shakespeare.  What am I going to tell you, "Don't bother reading this one, folks!  What a stinker!  Ol' Mark doesn't like it, so you should definitely believe ME over 400 years of dramatic criticism!"

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Pop 'Til You Drop

Like snowflakes, no two microwaves are exactly alike. I recently got a new microwave and have been faced with the question of figuring out how waved things get in how micro a time.

This conundrum is most apparent when making microwave popcorn. There is an art to finding just the perfect mixture of time within the microwave to achieve cornish perfection. Some might say that you just wait until you hear the bag stop popping, but I've learned this isn't true. Some popcorn continues to pop random kernels long after the whole shebang has been burned to a crisp. Others go through cycles where it will pop for a while, then no pops for 30 seconds or so, then a furious flurry of pops to finish things off at the end.

By the way, it's impossible to write at length about popcorn without greatly overusing the word 'pop' in its many contexts. I apologize.

Our old microwave took roughly three minutes to finish a bag of popcorn, while the microwave at my parents' house requires about 4.5 minutes. Some microwaves complicate things with a preset 'microwave popcorn' button on the control panel. Ostensibly you can just push this button and your popcorn will be taken care of for you, but just like HAL or SkyNet proved, mankind must never put too much control in the hands of machines. I tried this as a primer to my new microwave, and the clock set at two minutes and thirty seconds. The result was good, but not great. My popcorn was 85% fine, except for the kernels directly in the centre of the bag. They achieved the sickly greyish-brown hue of the slightly burnt. It was like the inverse of a medium-rare steak -- everything around it was perfectly cooked except the spot in the middle.

This led to the sad scene that is taking place as I type this post. I'm forcing to pick through my popcorn like a mother finding lice in the head of her hat-swapping fifth-grader. I have to be this picky since while some things taste worse than burned popcorn, few things carry as much lasting taste. Your mouth still carries that dirtily bitter taste for hours afterwards...sometimes not even a tooth-brushing can totally erase it. Dammit, if I'm going to eat pre-processed food, I want to totally turn my brain off. I don't want to LOOK at what I'm eating or play the Cletus game of 'what time and how burnt.' I want to pay it no attention as I shovel it into my mouth while staring blankly at a computer screen. Why hast thou forsaken me, Orville?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

George Michael

I could hardly hope to eulogize George Michael as well as Wesley Morris, though let me just add that George Michael could really sing.  He didn't have a 'unique' voice or whatever the euphemism is when you're trying to note that a popular musician has a kinda terrible voice --- GM could've sung in any genre, in any era of music, and it would've sounded amazing.

Case in point, his cover of Passengers' "Miss Sarajevo," which I somehow didn't know existed until five minutes ago.  What a voice.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Panda vs. Snowman

This is about as delightful as it gets.  This also MIGHT be the first 'cute animal' video I've ever posted, so I'm finally caught up to the rest of the internet.