Correction to last post

OMG, a friend has graciously pointed out that it’s Graceland not Southland (a fine cop show featuring Ben Mackenzie from The OC and Gotham).  Also, I believe I failed to mention that Falling Skies returns to Superchannel this week.  Also, I will actually be away in Cape Cod for the next week or so, so you are on your own figuring what to watch or not watch on TV this week!  For heaven’s sake, go out and enjoy summer, should this rain ever stop.  I think I have finally OD’d on TV and Internet surfing.  I thought this day would never come, but cabin fever has set in!

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Summer TV starts to look more promising!

I have managed to catch up with a few new shows that show promise.  Although I will never be a fan of The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), to the despair of my sons who tried to force me to watch Fast and Furious 7 (I’m still too sad about Paul Walker’s untimely demise to watch it), I did sit through Episode 1 of the new series on HBO Canada called Ballers.  It stars Johnson as a former professional footballer based in Miami, who is hired by a financial planning firm to attract star athletes as clients.  He becomes a fixer who will do almost anything to secure new clients.  I did enjoy The Brink (also new on HBO Canada) which is a satire about the new cold war between the US and Russia (as well as new hot war with the Middle East).  Great cast with Tim Robbins, Jack Black, Aasif Mandvi, etc.  Intriguing premise reminiscent of an updated Dr. Strangelove. I also watched something called Complications on Bravo, a new series starring Jason O’Mara as an ER doctor whose life changes when he intervenes in a drive by shooting.  Dunno about this one, but I will give it a second chance and watch Episode 2.  After that, who knows…  There’s also a new series called Proof starring Matthew Modine and Jennifer Beals about proving that there is an afterlife, that put me into a coma while I was watching it.  Don’t think I will stay with this one.

I am enchanted with Poldark on Masterpiece Theatre PBS on Sunday nights.  English accents and 18th century costumes in Cornwall, England. Very Outlander in its unabashed romanticism.  Aidan Turner, its star (former vampire on Being Human and Kili the Hobbit  from the most recent Hobbit movie – I get them all mixed up as I tend to snooze through them on airplane flights) is tall, dark and handsome.  It is followed by The Crimson Field about nurses working in France during WWI.  More accents and costumes! Reminiscent of Call the Midwife (which I adore) in its handling of touching stories.  It stars Hermione Norris (of Spooks) as a very strict head nurse and Kevin Doyle (Molesley on Downton Abbey!) as a sympathetic doctor in an age where shell shock/PTSD was considered cowardly and treasonous.

This past week has been remarkable for the number of news stories (escaped convicts, gay marriage, Obamacare approval, the murders in Charleston and the ensuing Confederate flag controversy and Obama’s funeral oration for the victims) that hit the political comedy shows and made Jon Stewart, Larry Willmore, John Oliver and Bill Maher must see TV.  Vice TV (HBO Canada) aired a special edition on Russia and the escalating conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s political and PR war against NATO’s strengthening presence on its borders. Very frightening TV.

I finished watching New Worlds (life during the reign of Charles II) on Superchannel.  Even though it stars Jamie Dornan (The Fall, 50 Shades of Grey), it was a bit dull.  I am searching for its predecessor, The Devil’s Whore which starred Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Andrea Riseborough, etc. about the times of Oliver Cromwell. Supposed to be much superior.

I managed to watch all 6 episodes of BBC’s Catastrophe series online.  Brilliant comedy about an unlikely couple in London who decide to stay together after an unplanned pregnancy.  So grown up, this series is a very wry look at an outsider from America adjusting to British life, and pokes fun at all the tropes around “geriatric” pregnancies (as the couple’s obstetrician refers to the 41 year old mother-to-be).  Also the obstetrician is played by Tobias Menzies (Black Jack Randall from Outlander!) and he manages to be just as villainous even in his supposedly kindly doctor role as he displays the worst bedside manner imaginable. I loved Season 1 of this series and anxiously await the next season.

I have also belatedly started to catch up on Borgen (3 seasons of it), a fine Danish series that is now showing on TVO on Sunday nights.  As different as night and day from Rita the wonderful Danish comedy I saw last week on Netflix, this series is a great backroom view of politics (watch Veep for the best US political satire), and also looks at the social mores of Danish life as a highly ethical moderate politician mom becomes Prime Minister, unreservedly supported by her professor husband.  I am only 2 episodes in (30 in all), but I look forward to the rest of the series.

I have now decided to stop watching Hannibal (so murky, dark and horribly violent despite the adorableness of its star Hugh Dancy), and Killjoy (so derivative of fine shows like Firefly about intergalactic bounty hunters).

I caught up with the season 2 premiere of Southland on Bravo, featuring a cast of attractive ethnically diverse DEA and FBI agents cohabiting in a California beach house.  Totally a guilty pleasure show!!  Also saw the recent season 5 debut of Suits (filmed in TO and featuring many Canadian actors).  I love this series about a brilliant young man who is masquerading as a successful Harvard trained lawyer despite his lack of legal training or indeed any university degree.  Great office politics, romance and GQ type wardrobe (referred to in its eponymous series title) on its two leading men, Gabriel Macht as the mercurial Harvey Spector and Patrick J. Adams as Mike Ross the faux lawyer. Love it!!

There are a few new sci fi/fantasy themed series debuting this week: Humans (futuristic robots!) and Zoo (animal behaviour threatens mankind).  Ooh!!  Extant returns (Halle Berry in her most ludicrous role as a woman impregnated by an alien).  I am still watching The Whispers, the Steven Spielberg produced series about an evil imaginary friend causing children to commit unspeakable acts.  Ooh!!  As you can see, I have a soft spot for sci fi and am anxiously awaiting the return of Teen Wolf for its season 5 debut this week on MTV Canada.  OK, I know that this series is aimed at 14 year olds but I can’t help myself.  I have always enjoyed a good vampire/werewolf yarn.

I did watch the sci fi film Ex Machina last night.  A haunting film about a mad computer scientist (portrayed by the intense Oscar Isaac, star of Inside Llewyn Davis, as a menacing Larry Davis/ Sergey Brin/Bill Gates/Mark Zuckerberg amalgam), who invites a computer nerd employee to his magnificent country retreat to determine whether his gorgeous female robotic creation meets true Artificial Intelligence standards.  A hi tech retelling of the Frankenstein story that has an aura of doom about it from the opening frames. Stars the amazingly luminous Alicia Vikander (she’s beautiful and Swedish and I first noticed her in Anna Karenina and she’s about to become a huge star as she has leading roles in about 5 films coming out this year – phew, that was an exhausting run on sentence fragment) as the robot and Domhnall Gleason (son of Brendan) as the nerd.  A bit gloomy but haunting as you think about it afterwards.  Will robots take over the world?!!  Ooh…

I have still yet to watch on my PVR (The Astronaut Wives Club, Dark Matter, Under the Dome, Father Brown, The Doctor Blake Mysteries).  Meanwhile, don’t forget to watch Tyrant on FX Canada.  Got to love this show about political intrigue in a fictional Middle Eastern country starring the delectable Adam Rayner. So much to watch and it’s raining cats and dogs in Thornbury!!  Ooh….

Early summer TV Doldrums

We’re at that point in the TV season where many shows have had their season finales, and new summer replacement series have just started to begin their seasons.  The scarcity of new programming has forced me to take a look at Netflix to see what I’ve been missing there.

I rediscovered the Danish TV series Rita about a free spirited high school teacher.  I had watched season 1 some time ago and this time caught up with seasons 2 and 3.  Rita is a very confident woman who speaks her mind and doesn’t suffer fools.  She is totally sexually liberated and has raised 3 children as a single mom.  She’s not an easy person to live with but she is admired by her colleagues and beloved by her students.  She is a truly original character.  It’s a great portrayal of Danish society whose social mores are much more liberal than we are accustomed to in North America.

I also took a look at some Indy movies, including Hateship Loveship, starring Kristin Wiig, which I hated. I tried to watch a British TV series called Wolf Blood (about teenage werewolves,as I love Teen Wolf), and I deemed this show Not Suitable for Grown Ups. Friends have praised the Aussie series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which I had watched a couple of episodes a few years ago but hadn’t persevered with, so I caught up with one episode about Latvian emigre anarchists in Sydney in the 1920’s.  Love the costumes and setting, but this series is a bit slow for me. Essie Davis is lovely as the prickly lead character, Phryne Fisher.

I caught up with HBO’s The Last Man on Earth (starring Will Forte from SNL) and I loved it.  I have been a big Kristen Schaal fan from her work on Jon Stewart and she’s wonderfully annoying in this as she is determined to repopulate post virus apocalypse earth with Will Forte’s character.

I took a look at the first episode of New Worlds on Superchannel, a British historical fiction series about the efforts of Charles II of England to punish the group that executed his father including those who have emigrated to America.  It stars Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Grey) and a host of British actors (Jeremy Northam plays Charles II).  Great for afternoon snoozing as it contains my requisite elements of costumes and British accents.

We had a family get together last Sunday to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones.  What an ending!  (no spoilers) For those of you who want to catch Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) in a different role, he will soon be seen in the feature film, Testament of Youth, based on a classic British memoir about life before, during and after World War I, and the effects of that war on British society.  Can’t wait! British accents and costumes in Downton Abbey territory.

Last week also saw the season finales of 3 other HBO series:  Silicon Valley, Veep and Nurse Jackie.  All are terrific shows and all had momentous finales (no spoilers).  They are all very cleverly written series.  The first two are social satires with great writing and performances.  Nurse Jackie stars the incredible Edie Falco (best known for her performance as Carmela Soprano) as a drug addicted nurse who struggles with her love life and career. Great supporting cast.  Very poignant story lines. This series has great depth for a comedy!

Tyrant has returned for its second season on FX Canada and it is a wonderful show set in a fictitious Middle Eastern state ruled by the Al-Fayeed family dynasty.  Trouble ensues when a prodigal son, Barry (played by Adam Rayner) returns from his comfortable life in LA as a pediatrician to attend a family wedding and he becomes embroiled in political intrigue.  Very entertaining, especially for the performance by the character Jamal (played by Ashraf Barhom) who is the loose cannon dictator and the brother of the doctor.

I attempted to continue watching the second season of Power on Superchannel.  Somewhat similar to Empire, Fox’s hip hop musical juggernaut series, this one is much darker.  It is about a nightclub owner in NYC who is really a drug kingpin and the DEA/FBI’s attempts to take him down.  Not very much fun and I think I will sit out the rest of this series.

I have recorded the most recent Hannibal episode but haven’t had a chance to catch up with it yet.  Similarly, I have also recorded the season debut of The Astronauts’ Wives but haven’t watched it yet either. I caught up with the new Steven Spielberg ABC series The Whispers which is an intriguing look at an imaginary friend who gets children to do terrible things and may be a space alien.

This Sunday, the series True Detective returns to HBO.  Supposedly even darker than season 1, it stars Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and Taylor Kitsch.  Sunday nights will continue to be overloaded with great shows like HBO’s Penny Dreadful, Poldark on PBS Masterpiece, The Crimson Field (also PBS), Borgen (another great Danish series) on TVO.  Defiance, the sci fi series on Showcase about a post-apocalyptic Earth returned for its second season last Sunday. I believe Salem (the bonkers show about witchcraft in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, is nearing its season finale on Sunday nights on Space channel. Under the Dome, the CBS series based on a Stephen King storyline (which I vowed never to watch again as last season went completely bonkers) does make its return on Thursday.  Wayward Pines continues its mysterious dark journey on Fox on Thursday.  Our local PBS affiliate is running two back-to-back cosy British mysteries, Father Brown and The Doctor Blake Mysteries on Thursday nights.

As there are many series that debut this summer I am including some important dates compiled by a friend  (Thank you Eric!)  Apologies as I’m a bit late getting this out because of travel, but hopefully you can stream or find shows you’d like to catch on demand plus there are a couple of links to other guides of season debuts included in the list.

Spring/Summer 2015 Broadcast and Cable Premieres

This year, there has been no attempt to list the myriad reality programs like Keeping up with the
Kardashians. I am making an exception for the Caitlin Jenner reality series. I am Cait is making its debut on US TV on E on July 26. I really did find her Diane Sawyer interview very moving and I found the Vanity Fair cover story absolutely fascinating.  Her journey has opened up the conversation around gender issues. If you are interested in the many other reality series that are airing this summer, the source material for many of these programs can be found at:

http://www.cinemablend.com/television/
2015-Summer-TV-Premiere-Schedule-Dates-Returning-Shows-70993.html
http://www.tvguide.com/special/summer-tv/calendar/
http://www.metacritic.com/feature/tv-premiere-dates

Global Rookie Blue May 21 +5 wks in US
NBC Aquarius May 28 21:00 2hr premiere
(Eps 3-13 dumped to the Web, which could be a bad sign)
AMC Halt and Catch Fire May 31 22:00 Lifetime Devious Maids Jun 1 21:00
Bravo Royal Pains Jun 2 22:00
Superchannel Power Jun 6 21:00
Superchannel Major Crimes Jun 8 21:00
Bravo Murder in the First Jun 8 22:00
Netflix Orange Is The New Black Jun 12 00:01 PT Binge watch
Superchannel Rizzoli & Isles Jun 16 21:00
FX Tyrant Jun 16 22:00
TNT Proof Jun 16 22:00
ABC The Astronaut’s Wives Club Jun 18 20:00
Showcase Complications Jun 18 21:00 Mat Nix
Space The Last Ship Jun 21 21:00 2hr premiere
HBO True Detective Jun 21 21:00
Comedy Another Period Jun 23 22:30
Bravo Suits Jun 24 21:00
USA Mr. Robot Jun 24 22:00
CBS Under The Dome Jun 25 21:00
ABC Rookie Blue Jun 25 22:00
Bravo Graceland Jun 25 22:00
AMC Humans Jun 28 21:00
Space The Last Ship Jun 28 21:00 Regular slot
Superchannel Falling Skies Jun 28 22:00
CBS Extant Jul 1 21:00
CW Penn & Teller: Fool Us Jul 6 20:00
SHO Ray Donovan Jul 12 21:00
FX The Strain Jul 12 22:00
HBO Masters of Sex Jul 12 22:00
AMC Hell on Wheels Jul 18 21:00
NBC Welcome To Sweden Jul 19 20:00

Most TNT shows can be seen in Canada on Bravo, Superchannel or Showcase.

Enjoy the summer viewing!!

Jetlagged but back home again

Our journey home from Bunratty, Ireland via Dublin to Toronto was as smooth as silk.  I knew I would have trouble adjusting to life without bus ride assisted naps, but the jet lag from this particular journey has been very tiring.  I am still waking up very early in the morning and then feeling very weary all day.

My last thoughts about this trip are as follows:

Scotland was incredibly beautiful, but chilly as hell! Loved all our destinations and would return to Edinburgh in a heartbeat.  It is a lively, gorgeous city, built with a park running through the centre of it.  Our afternoon spent walking the Royal Mile with my friend Catherine was a sheer delight.  The mountains, glens, and lochs of the countryside were incredibly scenic.  St. Andrews and Falkland were like Outlander episodes come to life.  The Isle of Skye was hauntingly beautiful and shrouded in mist. I love this video from Youtube which includes some beautiful scenes from the highlands and the islands.

Sheepdog training in Scotland  
Ireland is somehow entirely more complicated than Scotland.  Our trip to the north, especially Belfast and Derry, was troubling as we did get the sense of a country that is still recovering from a long bitter civil war.  The council chamber in Belfast is still divided along religious lines with the Sinn Fein side being completely Catholic, and the opposite side filled with all the Protestant factions. As our guide in Derry told us, the two sides will never see each other’s point of view while their children are still all educated separately.  The parts of the south that we did see, Connemara, Donegal, Galway, Westport, the Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty, were charming and we had some partially sunny days. On the whole though, I think the almost continuous rain and wind we experienced there coloured our view of the island.  There’s a reason it is emerald green!  George returns to the south for eight days of golfing in September and I look forward to his reports from there.  I was sad not to see Dublin, so I will experience it vicariously through George.

 The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland


Since coming home, I’ve had a chance to catch up with some of my favourite shows:  Nurse Jackie, Veep, Silicon Valley, Game of Thrones.  I will have to rewatch the last episode of Outlander, as I had a terrible internet connection in Ireland and missed the last few minutes of the incredibly moving and suspenseful story.  I spent a few hours of my life (that I will never get back) catching up with Aquarius as I have an enduring fondness for David Duchovny.  This wacky show, which is a fictional version of the police hunt for Charlie Manson, actually ends up being more a picture of the flower child/Viet Nam war era than it does a coherent story about the Manson crimes.  The music is very nostalgic, as are the costumes and makeup. I have seen a number of episodes of Wayward Pines (very reminiscent of Twin Peaks with an undertone of The Prisoner) starring Matt Dillon and have found it to be mildly diverting.  Not sure if I am intrigued enough to stay with the entire series. I watched the premiere episode of Between (a Netflix/City TV co-production) and have found it to be a little mediocre, low budget and very Canadian (and not in a good way) in tone. I doubt I will persevere through the series.

On Netflix I’ve been watching Sense8 (a new original series airing in its entirety) and I am warning you now, if you make it past the first two episodes you may be hooked for the entire series.  A project of the Wachowskis (formerly referred to as the Wachhowski brothers before one of them transgendered), this series is reminiscent of The Matrix (also from the Wachowskis), Lost, Heroes and several other ensemble cast intertwining story films.  On first viewing it appears to be completely bonkers, but it does grow on you.  There is a particular focus on gay and transgendered characters and on people who do not fit in to societal norms.

I watched the Ben Stiller/Naomi Watts film While We’re Young last night (or rather tried to stay awake during it), and found it a little dull and less than funny.  On the plane home, having seen all the English language choices, I watched Winter Sleep (3 hrs 15 minutes) about a Turkish hotelier in Anatolia with a miserable sister and an estranged young wife. This film won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2014 and is a mystifying meditation on class differences.  Kind of mesmerizing, but awfully long and slow.  I also watched the South American film set in Uruguay called Mr. Kaplan.  It is a comedy about a Jewish senior citizen who becomes convinced that he has come across a wanted Nazi fugitive.  This film was very intriguing and featured a wonderful performance by Hector Noguera as Jacob Kaplan who is inspired by the capture of Adolf Eichmann to pursue his target.  Very funny and poignant at the same time.

For those of you who enjoyed Orange is the New Black, it returns tonight (after midnight) to Netflix for its third season.  Personally, I believe that it is cruel and unusual punishment for Netflix to air two new original series back to back (including the aforementioned Sense8) in two consecutive weeks.  For those of us with no self-discipline, it is far too easy to ignore household chores, sports commitments,  and important errands, once the bingewatching has begun.  Here in Town of the Blue Mountains they are forecasting the second severe thunderstorm and tornado warning in two days.  Time to batten down the hatches and continue watching!!

Final tour day: Galway City and Cliffs of Moher

Enroute to Galway we passed through the charming village of Cong, location for the classic film, The Quiet Man, directed by John Ford.  We spent some time touring in Galway City before driving along the southern shores of Galway Bay, traversing the Burren region and viewing the magnificent (and extremely windy) Cliffs of Moher. We are headed off to a Traditional Night at the Corn Barn in Bunratty Folk Park for our final evening. 

Statue of Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne (stars of The Quiet Man), in Cong

  

Beautiful Burren region with Galway Bay in the background 
  

Connemara

Connemara remains one of the wildest and romantic places in Ireland. We enjoyed a visit to Kylemore Abbey on the shores of Kylemore Louch where we explored the beautiful gardens, stately home and little church. The rest of our afternoon was spent exploring our lovely little town of Westport. 

Kylemore Gardens

  

Kylemore Stately home

 

Wednesday  Ben Bulben and Clew Bay

Yesterday we travelled south to the town of Donegal to tour a local woollen store and loom facility. There was a feeding frenzy for Irish woollens and jewellery there and we were all treated to Irish coffee. We then continued to Mullaghmore for a view of Donegal Bay and the home of Mountbatten. We then went on to Belleek got a tour of the famous porcelain factory and another feeding frenzy for Irish porcelain. We had a delicious lunch of fish and chips that were bought on the street and eaten in an ancient pub. We then drove on through the romantic domain of WB Years via Drumcliffe . We continued into County Mayo to 13th Century Ballintubber Abbey which was built on the site of a church founded by St. Patrick in 641. We then continued on to Westport to stay at the Castlecourt Hotel in the heart of town. 

Drumcliffe site of WB Yeats’ grave

  

Country home of Lord Mountbatten (uncle of Prince Charles, assassinated by IRA)

 

Giants’ Causeway and Derry

What a terrific day we had today! We left Belfast on a sunny morning and made our way along the north coast of Ireland through a beautiful national park and on to the Giants’ Causeway, an incredible rock formation that looks like the work of giants that is the result of ancient volcanic activity. After wending our way past the ruins of Dunluce Castle and through many picturesque villages we arrived in Derry (formerly Londonderry). Here we had the most fascinating local guide I can ever recall. Ronan Macnamara was a half Chinese/half Irish teacher, who was able to explain the “Troubles” of Northern Ireland to us in a touching and meaningful way. We walked through the old town with him as he pointed out historical points of interest. With his mellifluous voice and extremely charming manner he made history come alive for us as he took us through the ages in this town that was the flashpoint for the beginnings of the conflict filled years of the 70’s through the 90’s. He shared his hopes for his children and for the future of Northern Ireland with us so that we were able to end our tour of the despairing and bleak northern part of the country on an optimistic note before crossing the border into neighbouring Donegal and beginning our tour of Eire as the Irish call the Republic of Ireland.
  The Giants’ Causeway

   

Sat/Sun/Mon Welcome to Ireland

Saturday was basically a travel day as we flew from Efinburgh to Dublin. Our first night was spent in the charming suburb of Dublin called Malahide. Located right on the Irish Sea, our hotel was charming and amusingly was hosting lots of birthday and Christening parties. A bit of a mad house. On Sunday we departed Dublin and headed north through the rich pasturelands of the Boyne  Valley and visited the site of the famous Battle of the Boyne. This was the battle that determined that William of Orange was definitively the King of England over James ll. we arrived in Belfast in the late afternoon after a panoramic bus tour.

On Monday we started our day with a tour of Belfast’s beautiful City Hall, followed but free time in the city centre and then a tour around the Falls Rd/Shankhill Rd areas of Belfast where the sectarian troubles of the 70’s-90’s took place. Very troubling to see how this city is still very much divided along sectarian lines. Lots of murals and graffiti still expressing old hatreds. In the afternoon we visited the Titanic Experience which is an indepth look at the building and sinking of the Titanic. Very sad, given how proud the city had been of its shipbuilding success. Our evening was spent in a tour of the Crumlin Road Gaol with dinner to follow in the jail. An extremely unusual dinner venue.

All in all, I have to confess that Belfast is possibly one of the greyest and grimmest places I have ever seen. It has been windy, cold and rainy much of the time we’ve been here. It’s a relatively young city with a fair bit of Victorian architecture and a lot of fairly modern 50’s-60’s unattractive architecture. A huge amount of red brick in its residential areas. I was not enchanted by anything I saw. There was a lot of bomb damage during WW2 and the troubles, so many of its original buildings have been replaced. It just made me a little sad. 

   Belfast Council Chamber   

Gunman at the Battle of the Boyne site

 

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