Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Flash - Duet

I had been advocating on Twitter for a musical episode of "The Flash" since about the beginning.  I was aware for obvious reasons that Joe (Jesse L. Martin) could sing.  As an avid Disney channel movie watcher of a certain era, I also knew that Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) could sing.  I assumed the rest could too. (Nice people later pointed out to me that Grant Gustin had been on "Glee", that there had been a musical episode of "Ed", and of course, with my Disney movie experience, I knew about Victor Garber. And then, for a side project, Jesse L. Martin, Rick Cosnett, and Carlos Valdes sang the Firefly theme song (video here) and I was all in.  Oh, who  am I kidding, I had already been in. 
I do not believe that every show needs a musical episode.  I think more shows should think seriously about doing on.  Or coming up with an excuse to get them to sing.  "Ground Floor" and "Ally McBeal" never did an actual musical episode. But both shows made use of the singing talents of their cast members in ways that advanced the plot.  And yes, speaking of "Ally McBeal", I'm a little sad "Supergirl" didn't follow my advice sooner.  (Also, you may recall that Jesse L. Martin guested on "Ally McBeal", and I would have love to have seen Martin and Flockhart together again.  Ah well.) 
So, when Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin (along with Stephen Amell) did a joint interview with Conan O'Brien who asked them about the fan desire for a musical episode, and Benoist said she didn't know if there was fan outcry, I might have tweeted at her that hello, there was.  (I assume this question was planted since the episode was already in the works.)
Anyway, I was excited about the musical episode, even though I was a little bored with "The Flash", and their constant mucking with the timeline.  "Supergirl" I remain more attached to, although this year's Kara tries to be a reporter even though her boss is mean had, in my opinion, been a terrible waste of Ian Gomez. 
But singing. 
Making use of Darren Criss as the Music Meister, he whammied Kara on "Supergirl" causing Mon-El and J'onn to track him to Central City, where it turns out he whammies Barry too and they collapse but both wake up in a old school musical where they work as singers in a Club run by a dude named Cutter, in case you didn't think that there might be danger in the musical dream world. They hammer Kara's love of "Wizard of Oz" to remind you why all the characters in this world look like people that Kara and Barry know, Joe, Merlin, Iris, Mon-El, Winn, Cisco, and Doc are all there.  If you think I'm still miffed that Caitlin wasn't - you might be right.  There is at least a passing mention that HR can sing, so I'm guessing time and/or budget constraints were the issue, but I think they could have tightened up the Wally, J'onn, and Cisco capture the bad guy plot and saved us all some time for more songs. 
So, Kara sings "Moon River".  The Music Meister leads the club members, including alt-Cisco and alt-Winn in a group number of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart". Kara and Grant get kidnapped by alt-Doc and alt-Joe to find their daughter, who turns out to be alt-Iris who has been hooking up with alt-Mon-El, which throws both our superheroes who have both just kind of ended things with their significant others. Kara and Barry convince them to tell their parents about their love, and Kara and Barry each follow their alt-love back to witness this.  The dads, because alt-Mon-El is of course Cutter aka alt-Malcolm.  After singing "More I Cannot Wish From You" (trading verses, that's right Garber, Martin and Barrowman - together!), the dads hug their kids and then go off to declare war.  Oblivious to the oncoming war, Kara and Grant ask alt-Winn if he can help them with the prior instruction they received to do an original number, and he presents them with a song that any "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" fan will recognize as having the wry sensibility of one Rachel Bloom.  The song is called "Super Friend" and in addition to having references about not mucking with the timeline, it also is incredibly fun, and the characters go full on dancing on furniture and tapping throughout.  
This is what I love about musical episodes, they are often a bright spot.  Also, it's why I tend to like Barry better when he hangs with Kara, even when they are griping about their love lives, Kara is so bright, that she lightens Barry up.  (I think "The Flash"/"Arrow" crossovers reinforce what a serious, boring doom and gloom dude Oliver is compared to "The Flash" team, but on the peppy hopeful spectrum, "Supergirl is definitely the peppiest of the three.) 
Shots break out as the previously mentioned war breaks out, dream Kara and Barry race out and realize that without their powers they are not much help and both get shot.  And of course, dying in this dream would mean they die in real life. Back in Central City, Caitlin notes their dropping vitals, and Iris and Mon-El, with a nudge from the now captured Music Meister, try out the true love's kiss methodology and save them.  
And the Music Meister reveals that his point was to teach Kara and Barry that even superheroes need to get saved sometimes, and that's what love is about. 
But, you might have noticed, gee, the hour's not up yet, but we...seem to be done?  And if you had been stalking interviews you might have recalled that there was supposed to be Benji Pasek and Justin Paul song (the now Oscar winning duo who also worked on "Dear Evan Hansen").  So, perhaps it was less of a surprise to you when Barry pulled out his phone and triggered some background music so he could sing "Runnin' Home to You" which was sappy but still nice, especially as a lead up to Barry re-proposing to Iris.  (It also reminded me a bit of "You Will Be Found" although it's not like the idea of people being there for you isn't littered across the musical landscape. This isn't a knock, more a statement that this song felt very Pasek and Paul to me.) 
So, am I happy?  Sure. Overall it was great, and certainly proved that the cast has the chops to do this. I think that it suffered from trying to not be an all out musical episode.  It also had a jukebox musical feel, in that it was clear that the songs were written by different people and had different sensibilities, and not always in ways that made sense.  
But in the end, for all my quibbles, if all we got out of this was the "Super Friend" song, it was worth it.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Let Me Share My Wisdom

It's tempting, as you get older and figure out stuff, to share your wisdom as absolutes. Don't major in this. Only take notes like that. Real writers do this. It ignores the following.
1. Some lessons have to be learned. listened to a "Love and Radio" episode with someone who thought they were trans only to discover they "just" had gender disphoria, and one of the things asked was what do you think you would have listened too, and their answer was - I'm paraphrasing here - nothing.  I would not have listened to someone telling me I maybe wasn't this. In those cases, sometimes all you can do is share your story and hope it helps someone.  Not everything we share and do has to provide an absolute right answer for a younger version of 
ourselves. 
2. I realized when talking to a younger cousin who was looking at some colleges my sister had applied to that my first response was to tell her to talk to my sister.  But that...my sister had already (as have I, since I'm older) been out of college for some time.  It's a natural reflex.  So-and-so went there, worked there, looked at that, you should talk to them.  But let's face it.  Since I graduated college, even putting to the side the huge ginormous shifts in the economy, many things have changed.  The SAT has changed.  I applied before the common app was the big thing it is today. I mailed my college apps in.  There are things that are still the same about the college experience.  But there is a lot that changed.  So, my ability to advise incoming freshmen based on my path and my college experience is limited. 
3. Talk to enough authors and you will find there are a trillion different paths.  (I'm using authors as an example here.  Watch a "Chopped" marathon.  You'll see the same.) There are authors who got their first contract while in high school.  Authors who had six or seven careers before even trying to write.  Authors who wrote for ten years before self publishing.  Authors who published the first thing they wrote.  The point is there are lots of ways to become an author.  I can share my advice, the advice I would have given myself, but it may not be the best advice for you.  In fact, one of the things I look for in writing workshops is people who offer disclaimers.  Because people who think there's one true path are almost always wrong about how that path will work for me. 
4. My two siblings are both employed in a job that matched their college major.  However, my sister changed her major three times.  I changed my major from a more specific choice to general (aka liberal arts) because I figured out I could save myself a year of school and still have the qualifications needed to get the further degree I had planned at the time.  Having a plan is good. Being open to opportunities and figuring out what you want is an ongoing process not limited to college majors. 
5. As with so many things in life, people often tell you what they did as if it was an absolute.  I didn't major in English, they say, because what would that have done except teach me how to read, write, and communicate well.  Who needs those as job skills?  If anything the last decade or so should have taught us, it's this.  I have no idea what the job market will look like in four years. Social media jobs didn't use to exist.  Ride-sharing has changed drastically.  There are all types of jobs and skills that rise up and change.  Some of them will last.  Some won't.  Pursuing things that make you curious and interested can be satisfying in itself. 
6. People's brains are different.  Therefor the tools and techniques that are great for you, may make me bang my head against the wall.  And vice-versa.  So presenting your life hack as as all successful people do X, assumes that all successful people are like you.  And hi, I don't know you, but I'm pretty sure that's not true.  
7. People's bodies are different.  I write using a combination of handwriting (with a tech enabled pen), typing on a word processor, and touch typing on my phone.  I know folks who use dictation, do the whole first draft on their phone, do the whole first draft by hand.  How is kind of the least important part.  Getting the words down is what counts. If you do that typing with your nose, then, I raise my glass to you.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

"Greenleaf" Returns

I confess the episodes of "Greenleaf" stayed stacked up on my DVR for a bit and I only just finally got the first season completed last week, so I have not yet watched the start of season 2.  "Greenleaf" is about the Greenleaf family, who happen to be headed by a Bishop James Greenleaf and let's just say, the family business is church.  The catalyst for the first season was Grace, the lone Greenleaf who left not only the family business, but the family home and the town, but has at long last returned for her sister's funeral and bringing her daughter with her.  As you might suspect, since there were thirteen episodes in the first season, she and her daughter do not immediately return home, as Grace discovers that her sister's death was, as she had suspected, tied to having been sexually abused by her uncle, who was recently accused by another young church female.  
There are lots of other family secrets, affairs, conflicts about one's sexuality, jockey for coveted positions in church, and a secret illness.  Grace has two more siblings, both married, and they are all living in a large house together, which is very convenient for awkward family dinners. As with any family drama, there were storylines I cared more about than others, but, with the exception of Mac - the sexually abusive uncle - most of the people mean well.  They don't all want their secrets out sure, but they want good things for each other and the church, their approach to getting these things differ.  But Merle Dandridge, as Grace, is an amazing performance.  In fact there really isn't a weak link in the cast, which is full of faces that are familiar (Lynn Whitfield, Keith David, Gregory Alan Williams, Oprah Winfrey) and those that are likely new (Desiree Ross, Tye White, Benjamin Patterson). 
The other thing that I find clear, is much as USA had a run of lightly serialized shows that all took place where you might want to vacation, this fits well in the OWN brand.  The show is full of fully realized characters, and there is time in the show for characters to fully react to things.  There are moments where they sit, and process what is happening in their lives without talking.  
One of my favorite moments of the first season, happens with very little dialogue.  First season spoiler's ahead. 

Grace, before she left, was considered a wonderful preacher by many, including her father. In her absence her brother Jacob has been taking on the role of the preacher in the next generation. But Bishop James is worried Jacob's not being leaderly enough.  Then, James shoots uncle Mac in the church, and well, you can understand that the church board thinks James should take a little leave of absence.  Once of the church matriarchs suggests that Grace should step in to Grace's mom Mae, who has been convinced all along that Grace's return would spell ruin, so is not on board with the idea.  At her lady's day, Mae makes a speech, addressing the church's recent troubles and leading up, the audience knows, to her suggestion of herself for the new church preacher in the interim (she even points to herself as she references the need for a virtuous woman).  However, said church matriarch jumps to her feet in applause and turns and smiles at Grace, who is sitting in the audience, and many of the other women follow suit.  It is hard to say who is more uncomfortable, Grace or Mae as they both try to smile like this is what they wanted. 

So, I am in for the next season and ready to see what happens.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. NPR had access to the cast album from "Come From Away" (which I did not manage to get tickets to during it's DC run, and yes, I am still a little sad about that, thanks for asking), prior to it's release (it is now out and likely available on your favorite music service) and Playbill had footage of the cast recording of the song about actual real life female pilot Beverly Bass which is hopeful and, erm heartbreaking.
2. I am not thrilled to learn that US Soccer has made standing during the anthem a rule.  I wonder if being present during the anthem is also a rule for players.  And look, this is a small thing, and sure, there are rules in my job about where and when I have to be places, but legislating false patriotism is just unnecessary in my opinion, and honestly the anthem, and the flag (which is the part we're supposed to be honoring) are not made stronger by requiring that people pretend their aren't problems.  And I'm still way more irritated by flags left up in the rain. 
3. We're getting bodega cats!  The Humane Rescue Alliance has launched a program focused on cats who are not necessarily snuggly but great at deterring rodents for homeowners and businesses who have been having rodent issues. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Angie Thomas at Politics and Prose

It's possible the impending storm kept the crowd size down a bit at the Politics and Prose event at Busboys and Poets last night, although given the audience members who mentioned they had driven from Alabama or were from California or Hawaii it's hard to say.  (At least one of those folks had family in town.  Nonetheless, it was a long trip.)  But the room was full as Alexandria librarian Rose Dawson asked Thomas about her now officially bestselling book, The Hate U Give.  She talked about the title (which is also explained in the book), and that she had started writing it as a short story in college, after the Oscar Grant police shooting and looking at the difference in how it was being discussed at home in her neighborhood, compared to in her predominately white classes.  Her creative writing teacher told her it was too much, not the subject matter, but she was adding too many layers and plot elements to explore in the short form, that it looked like she was building a novel. 
Thomas put it to the side a couple of times, and then kept pulling it back out when the world made her mad.  She talked about her intentional use of a blended but strong family in the book, and that she wanted to give Starr a great relationship with her dad. (I will say one of the things I loved about the book is the adult characters are as wonderfully layered as the teen characters while the focus of the book is still firmly on Starr.)
There was some discussion of movie casting which was purely speculative, but some YA books are great reads, but so much of that is the internal monologue, that you have no idea how it would be a good movie, this one has enough externality, that I think it will be great.  
Thomas also talked about having a fangirl moment with Jacqueline Woodson, when one audience member asked what writer she'd love to have brunch with.  Thomas said, if she could figure out how to speak in the presence of Woodson, she'd pick her.  
All in all, it was a great night. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

NoVaTeen Book Fest

This past Saturday was NoVaTeen Book Fest and well, I can't tell you which event had my side of the metro packed, but I ended up having to wait for a second train, and as such got there a little later than planned.  But, I made it to the Stranger in the Strange Land panel with Natalie C. Andersen, Leslie Livingston, Lindsay Smith, and Ibi Zoboi.  They talked about their characters straddling worlds and cultures.  Andersen's story is about a refugee, Livingston's a young woman who is kidnapped and enslaved, Smith a Japanese American young woman sent to Japan for the summer, and Zoboi's a young woman who has just immigrated from Haiti to Detroit. 
The (Don't Fear) the Reaper Panel had Zoraida Cordova, Brendan Kiely, Nina LaCour, and Lance Rubin talking about how death featured in their books.  Cordova's features a Death Day for each bruja, Kiely's was looking at the love that you remember at the end of your life, LaCour's story is about grief, and Rubin's is about a world where we get death dates in advance.  The death date idea led to soem really intersting discussion on the panel and in the audience. 
For the mini panel segment, I went to the Q&A with Jaye Robin Brown and Katie McGarry who both talked about their books and their process to publication.  McGarry also mentioned that she had written Pushing the Limits as a standalone, but the publisher wanted it to become a series and had proposed two characters they thought would be the next couple.  (These two characters did not fall in love in the series. As a huge fan of the series, I would say that this works out fine for us all.)
The Love of the Rocks panel had Julie Buxbaum, Katie McGarry, Rafi Mittlefehldt, and Caleb Roehrig.  There was discussion of who was into mushy, smoochy stuff, and who wasn't - Buxbaum really is. Roehrig came into this more from a thrille rbackground. I confess I have grown wary of audience questions, but the teens in this panel (and others throughout the day) had good stuff.  One asked if the authors with queer characters had worried about that.  They had not, and Roehrig and Mittlefehldt both said they found writing stuff that was meaningful to them worked better and was easier to write. Another audience member asked McGarry what inspired her to write female characters that were confident in their sexuality. She thanked them for noticing and said it was important to present female sexuality as a normal thing and that people are ready to explore it at different rates and times, and that she also wrote male characters who respected that. 
The Reflection panel had Jaye Robin Brown, M-E Girard, Tiffany D. Jackson, and Will Walton, talking about the role of the perception of others in each of their books. Brown's book has a teen moving to a small town her dad warns her will not be as accepting of her out lesbian self, Girard's book is about a genderqueer teen finding that she's hit the point where everyone around her wants her to stop being who she is, Jackson's book is about a teen who was convicted of murder at age nine, and Walton's is about a teen working on coming out as gay to his family. 
And Nina Lacour did the keynote about seeing yourself reflected in fiction, about how Walter Dean Myers' Hoops had spoken to her in ways she hadn't necessarily expected and that reading widely and learning about many different kinds of people makes us all better people, people who know that we need to stand up and fight for others. 
It really is an amazing event, and I appreciate the works of the volunteers who make it happen and keep bringing authors I knew about and authors I didn't know to have on my radar but now are new faves. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Let's Talk "Powerless"

"Powerless" apparently went through some production changes, and well, I don't know what the show looked like before, but I like what I see now. I think it's making excellent use of it's cast, and using a fun twist to make what is an office comedy.  "Powerless" takes place in Charm City, and the employees are working for a subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises (a business you may have heard of before) focusing on creating products for use by people who live in cities where sueperhero/supervillian fights mean your commute was delayed, or there's falling rubble to deal with.  Sure, at it's heart perky newcomer to the office butts up against less competent than he thinks he is boss, and sardonic but competent fellow employees and team members isn't unusual, but the superhero adjacent twist gives it enough.  This show is fun.  I am a person who has watched every iteration of "High School Musical" and still thinks Vanessa Hudgens has a narrowly specific talent.  (This is not a knock, lots of actors have narrow lanes, the trick is recognizing how best to make use of it.) And this works well, I believe her as the perky new manager with great ideas about energizing her new team, who is slowly coming up against the realities of large corporate structures.  
Alan Tudyk, Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, and Christina Kirk are all great too.  The disclaimer I should perhaps offer is that I am pretty so-so about most superhero shows (they should sing for me more, I'm just saying) so people tuning in for more superhero stuff, probably won't like this.  People who wish "The Flash" just did a whole episode with Cisco and Caitlin chit chatting as they solved a problem might find this up their alley.  
So far episodes on doing things like creating rubble umbrellas, or dating when the dating pool is full of henchmen have provided enough of a superhero slant for me. 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. In my podcast mania, I had heard about Missing Richard Simmons, this article looks at the reason behind and the focus of the podcast. 
2. Having read on unusual flag use in European games before, I read this piece about the use of the Confederate flag in Italian games, which I confess produced more mixed feelings for me. (other examples I have run into before (in reading) include Israeli and Palestinian flags.)
3. And on a similar theme, English Rugby fans have apparently adopted "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" as their anthem which is strange and proof that people just like singing good songs in stadiums and care very little what the words mean.  (I mean "Flower of Scotland", Scotland's sporting song of choice is not cheery, but it's about war, which seems a more apt metaphor, than funerals, but I mean, okay, it's still about death, so fine.) So, sports fans are weird.  I think that's what we've learned now.  

Monday, March 06, 2017

Fun Book, but the Setting

I mentioned on Twitter I found a DC area set modern day retelling of "Much Ado About Nothing" set in DC and was going to read it.  The book is Carla De Guzman's We Go Together, and as a retelling, it's super fun.  I enjoyed it.  It had been on sale when I bought it, but it looks like it's $1.99 now, , so a great deal for a sweet retelling with fun characters.  Hiro and Claudia have gender swapped names, but for those familiar with the source material, the roles themselves are not gender swapped.  

I do however have nitpicky DC area thoughts:
1. These folks are all secretly rich, living in Old Town Alexandria, and an and having an M Street storefront in Georgetown.
2. They have terrible taste in cupcakes.
3. Ben runs into the middle of M Street at which point I assume he was run over by a cab and existed through the rest of the book as a ghost. The other characters never make fun of him for being a ghost.
4. It's Washington Monument not Washington Memorial, but I actually think it's meant to be the Jefferson Memorial since they are near the cherry blossom trees. (There's no other setting description in that scene, no description of the memorial, the tidal basin or anything else to orient it so it's hard to say. There are trees nearish the Monument, and also the FDR Memorial.)
5. People who have store fronts in Georgetown, do not get to call "DuPont" the ritzy side of town.
6. These people find parking instantly. In Georgetown. In front of museums. On a Sunday. In spring.
7. There's a few great mentions of the National Gallery and yet, in one scene the implication (as one of the characters is in Paris) seems to be that the National Gallery has only American artists, even though in another scene there's reference to non-American artists.  (I mentioned this was nitpicky, right?)  

8. They keep going into the Library of Congress and getting shushed.  There is no mention of where in the Library of Congress, there are reading rooms where you likely would be shushed, but there's also huge segments that are exhibitions, or conference rooms, so it feels a bit stuck in. 

Again, I enjoyed it.  But the DC stuff is something I have warned fellow locals about. 

Friday, March 03, 2017

Top Chef: The Finale

Let's just get this out there, while I had a stated preference going in, this was the least sad I could be where my personal fave didn't win.  There a clear parts in the show where they have sat the chefs down and said, talk about what's coming up, and you could see Brooke and Shirley, not struggling, but while they were sad to see Sheldon go, they clearly like each other, and are happy to compete in the finale, and if they had to lose to someone at least want it to be someone like the other, but also aren't going to throw it to be nice.  
So, they got to pick sous chefs from the eliminated contestants and while Shirley picked Casey partly to screw with Brooke, I don't think it's a bad choice, but I confess I still may be hanging on to Casey helping Carla in that finale which did not go well for Carla.  (Nothing Casey did contributed to that.  But just like they all started blaming Antonia for causing teams to lose, I have a similar probably entirely unfounded and unsupported by numbers other than these two times, well, and Restaurant Wars, theory about Casey.)
So Brooke chose Sheldon, which obviously is what I would have done.  (You know, if I was a restaurant level chef who had managed to successfully make it to the finals twice.)  And then Shirley chose Katsuji which was not what I expected but I think Shirley and Katsuji get along well, and he responds well to her in charge style, and as she pointed out, he speaks Spanish and will have input about Mexican cuisine, so it makes sense.  And Brooke chose Sam who is again not who I would have gone with (Sylva was right there, you guys) but certainly I agree with her assessment that Sam is a calm presence in the kitchen and given we have seen Brooke gets distracted that was a wise choice.  
And then the surprise sous chefs were each of their sous chefs from their restaurants which made both of them happy (although worried that the restaurant was untended).  And their spouses and Brooke's child were there for a pre-finale dinner so it did seem that knowing these two finale chefs were not likely to tear each other apart in their interviews, the show decided to overwhelm them with surprise people they love, which is the kind of thing I can get behind.  
There was some minor discussion about pork belly, which boiled down to Shirley had ordered some as back up in case her pigs weren't acceptable, and Brooke had short ribs but really wanted pork belly for that round, and Shirley was willing to share the pork belly, if the whole pig was okay, which after all that it was, so she shared the pork belly, but it should be noted said, well if I share my pork belly and you win, I want you to share the win.  So.  
The chefs came out to present their first course and discovered, in addition to their spouses their mom's were also there, which was lovely and emotional and really guys, I would be so there for less contestant sniping, and more surprise family. 
The thing with the finale is that they keep the judges commentary so close to the vest (especially, I'm sure when there's a chance the chef's family is listening) so basically, it appears everything tasted good.  Some courses one tasted a little better.  They didn't love the ramen broth that Shirley made, and they didn't love the flan that Brooke made so, in the end it comes down to subjecctive stuff, which isn't unfair, it just is what it is in these things, especially when we can't taste it.  
But Shirley's mom asking how to tell her daughter in English that she was proud of her, was seriously the most adorable thing, because she knew in this moment, in front of these people, to say that in English to Shirley was meaningful.  
Both of these chefs are great. I'm sure their food was great.  In the end the judges gave Brooke the edge.  And we all got a finale that was fun to watch. 

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I recently had a discussion with some folks about the twins who had different dads, and someone said, there's actually a theory that more fraternal twins might be fertilized at different times (usually close together though) and it's simply that in most cases, it's the same person providing sperm, so who would know.  Anyway, that conversation was brought back to me by this article about superfetation - which is more common in other mammals - but can happen in humans where the body just doesn't turn off the we're pregnant no new eggs stuff, and you can in fact get pregnant again while pregnant.  Super rare, but possible. 
2. DC has a third grader up for nomination in the Goodle Doodle competition
3. This story on a children's author who was detained on her arrival into the US to be the keynote speaker at a conference is a reminder that we don't have to deport people to make visiting us really, really uncomfortable.