A week of catching up with new and old shows

And now for a recap of what I’ve been watching this week:

At the movies

Saw The Martian with Matt Damon. An inspiring look at how using science and tenacity we can solve most problems. Also saw Bridge of Spies, a wondrously old fashioned Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Hanks. I loved the way this film showed how using principles and tenacity (again) we can resolve incredibly difficult moral problems. This is Tom Hanks’ Atticus Finch role and he is terrific here.

Discovering US delights

Now ensconced in Naples for one week after a 2-day drive from Toronto, I have managed to play my first 3 rounds of golf and have also discovered some tv shows that I might not have accessed so easily in Canada.

Amazon Prime
The Man in the High Castle is a high concept British miniseries made as original programming for Amazon Prime. It hypothesizes a future in which the Nazis won WW2. A fascinating dystopian tale.

BBC America
The Last Kingdom is a BBC miniseries that tells the story of England’s struggle to become a nation. It will have wondrous appeal to Game of Thrones fans, but sadly, there are no dragons.

Netflix
Beast of no Nation is an original Netflix film starring Idris Elba that tells the story of child soldiers in war torn Africa. Incredibly moving, very disturbing and unforgettable images of children who lose their childhood and are forced to commit atrocities.

W1A is a BBC comedy series in 4 parts that takes satirical aim at the BBC with a hilarious parody of its groupthink mentality as it installs a Values chairman as a kind of ombudsman to ensure that BBC programming correctly embodies British values. Downton Abbey fans will get a kick out of Hugh Bonneville’s very befuddled Values chair role.

Still watching:

The Middle, Modern Family, You’re the Worst which all make me laugh.

Fargo, The Bastard Executioner, Gotham, The Flash, IZombie  (which featured a delightful cliffhanger ending) and Arrow continue to intrigue. I watched the season premiere of Supergirl and found it delightful. I am hanging in with Blindspot and The Player because of my devotion to their two leads, but I have pretty much given up on Blood and Oil and Quantico. The soaps Empire, Nashville (which included quite the shocker ending for Jeff) and Scandal still manage to entertain me despite their incredibly over the top and unbelievable plot lines. I have fallen in love with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which is a 1 hour musical comedy series featuring parodies of Broadway style musical numbers incongruously set into this tale of a Harvard educated lawyer who follows her old boyfriend from her teen years from NYC to suburban California.  The Good Wife continues to intrigue with wonderful story lines and terrific acting.  Somehow this show retains its quality after 6 seasons.  Chicago Fire is my guilty pleasure show featuring hunky firemen (I’m talking about you, Casey) in scene after scene of deadly jeopardy.  Its appeal is inexplicable, yet undeniable.  Also cliffhanger ending for Dawson who so deserves some happiness!

I have also fallen in love with the PBS Sunday night lineup, starting with Home Fires, the coziest of stories about the wartime activities of British women on the homefront.  Indian Summers is my snoozing show and I manage to stay awake for most of Julie Walters’ scenes.  The Guilty, a BBC miniseries about the disappearance of a toddler, now follows Indian Summers and was very intriguing in its first episode.  It stars Tamsin Greig (Episodes, Friday Night Dinner) in a most unlikely role as the lead investigating detective.  She is equally talented at drama and comedy!

This week was quite the cliffhanger on The Walking Dead and viewers are still reeling in shock from the cliffhanger ending for Glen (sorry slowpokes, you must keep up with the show!) The Leftovers continues to mesmerize me with its dreamlike qualities as Justin Theroux and his family work their way into a new life in the apparently idyllic town of Miracle, Texas (or is it, as the disappearance of 3 teenagers undercuts the peaceful facade of the town). I am sadly missing Homeland and The Affair as they originate on pay networks in the US to which we do not subscribe and I shall have to hunt them down on the Internet at some point.

I am still loving my regular political comedy series: Real Time with Bill Maher, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Also, don’t forget about CBS Sunday Morning which is the most relaxing and inspiring hour on television.  We have just subscribed to PBS On Demand and are now catching up with the many Frontline and Nova episodes that we have missed.  Entertaining, informative television at its best.

It is another glorious 85 degree blue sky day here in Naples (I almost passed out on the golf course yesterday as my Canadian constitution hasn’t quite adjusted to the heat).  It is Halloween, which they take very seriously here,  and we are headed into town for the Halloween festivities tonight which feature the best dog costume contest I have ever seen.  Last year’s winner was The Poopmobile which featured a costumed chihuahua as the Pope driving a motorized Popemobile.  Adorable!!  There are also numerous families with young children who attend the Fifth Avenue event which restores my faith in the fact that there are absolutely normal families who live in this town and we’re not all retirees mobbing the shops, theatres, beaches and restaurants.

In the meantime, stay warm my friends in the north! Take comfort in the fact that it can actually get uncomfortably warm here.

So many shows, so little time….

I must admit, that it has been a little tricky catching up with my regular shows after returning from our trip to England.  Not only have the recent Blue Jays games disrupted my regular TV watching, but there has also been a general election.  Yay Justin!!  I think you’re ready and I have fallen victim to full fledged Trudeaumania, just like back in 1968 when I worked in Pierre’s campaign.

As we are preparing for our drive to Florida this week and will be on the road again for a few days, my TV watching will be pretty limited for the balance of this week, so I have only had a chance to catch up with a few of my shows.  I am finding that I now understand my many friends who watch very little TV and who can’t understand how I can possibly watch as much as I do.  It’s been a very hectic last couple of weeks and it’s forced me to be very selective with what I’ve been able to watch, so this week I’m just going to make a few recommendations:

Netflix

Beasts of no Nation is a film that stars Idris Elba as an African war lord who uses child soldiers.  I haven’t had a chance to watch this yet, but it is next on my list when we get to Florida.  Elba has been suggested as a likely Oscar candidate.  This feature film marks a first for Netflix as it is original programming that is also having a theatrical release.

Father Brown which has aired on both BBC Canada and PBS is the ultimate cozy British mystery.  A period drama featuring a crime solving priest who is very sweet.

Network and Cable TV

PBS has won my heart with Home Fires about the women on the homefront in Britain during WW2.  It has actually given me some insight into my own mother’s war years where she spent 6 years raising my brother and sister on her own while my father fought in North Africa. This series is followed on Sunday nights by Indian Summers set in India during the 1940’s as the Indian campaign for independence catches fire.  Complicated and dark, it’s filled with mystery surrounding the English community that has taken to the Himalayan foothills in the heat of the summer.  Following this series, there was a terrific 3-part mini-series called The Widower that told a true story about a ladykiller who travelled from Scotland to New Zealand and back again preying on women and murdering them.

Sunday nights are filled with great shows as usual.  The Affair ( HBO Canada) continues to intrigue as does The Leftovers  (HBO Canada) which has developed some heart in its second season.  The Good Wife  (CBS) has gotten off to a great start and The Walking Dead  (AMC) continues to find new ways to terrify us. Homeland  (Superchannel) is back!  Carrie is in Berlin and in peril as usual.  Watch out for Quinn who has become a CIA hitman this season.  Mandy Patinkin has a very complicated love life.

Fargo has returned  (FX) for a second season and is very much a prequel to season one.  Great cast  featuring Jeffrey Donovan, Jean Smart, Ted Danson, Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson and Keiran Culkan.  I do feel that the Minnesota accents are a little over the top, but they add some levity amidst the relentless violence and mounting suspense.The Bastard Executioner (also  FX)  is a dark tale of the middle ages in Britain where a former knight is forced to become an executioner. Produced by the same team as Sons of Anarchy, this show is unrelentingly grim and violent in an era that was incredibly brutal. Starring Australian actor Lee Jones. Katey Sagal and Kurt Sutter (both Sons of Anarchy)and Stephen Moyer (True Blood), this show is not for everyone.  It will really appeal to Game of Thrones fans, although sadly there are no dragons, just witches. Two other FX series I really enjoyed this season were You’re the Worst, a very naughty comedy about two LA hipsters and Married, a naughty comedy about an LA couple trying to survive in a difficult economy.

I am still watching Gotham (Fox), The Flash  (CW) and Arrow (CW).  It would appear that I am hooked on superheroes!  I must catch up with IZombie  (the CW) which I really enjoyed last year, but keep missing.  Another CW show I just caught up with is the very amusing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – a musical comedy about a Harvard trained lawyer who leaves her fabulous job in NYC to follow a teenage crush to suburban California!!  Chicago Fire (NBC) is  featuring Casey, my favourite character.  The Middle and Modern Family  (both ABC) continue to make me laugh.  Nashville (ABC) and Empire (FOX) are my favourite night time soaps, and I can’t look away from Scandal  (ABC), no matter how ridiculous it gets. Blindspot, Blacklist, and The Player (all NBC) are generic crime series that all trade in spy craft cliches with engaging casts. Blood and Oil (ABC) is absolutely ridiculous, Quantico (ABC) is too complicated for me, Strike Back (HBO Canada) has come to an end with its two engaging lead actors off to new adventures on their two new NBC series (the aforementioned Blindspot and The Player).

I am still loving my regular political comedy series: Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO Canada), The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS), The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Network) and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO Canada) which featured an astonishing segment on the Canadian election this past Sunday night which can be viewed on Youtube.  My favourite moment of zen continues to be CBS Sunday Morning.

Wish us luck as we hit the road this week.  Fingers crossed for no snow flurries, road construction or traffic jams as we head down through Buffalo on the I-77/ I-79 route.  It’s 85 degrees Fahrenheit in Naples, Florida right now and after last week’s early snowfall in Thornbury we’re ready for beach walks and sunset drinks.  Next time I write it will be from the sunny south.

Oh what a lovely fortnight!

On October 3rd, we had a wonderful time celebrating our son David’s wedding to Candice Biddles, the girl of his dreams. It all took place at the Lambton Golf Club which hosted both the ceremony and reception. The ceremony was presided over by a suave Welsh officiant with a mellifluous voice and the processional and recessional featured some surprisingly suitable cinematic music by John Williams (Star Wars for David, the ultimate fan, and some beautiful music from the Jurassic Park score). It all went off without a hitch (well, the gloomy weather could have been a little less windy, cold and damp), and everyone (including George and I) had a wonderful time toasting the happy couple (our son Jonathan’s speech about his brother David was particularly well delivered), and dining and dancing.

This week I have been writing from London where we have been having a whirlwind mini theatre trip and have been taking in museums, galleries and walking tours as well. We stayed at 1 Aldwych, a trendy hotel located about a 15 minute walk from Leicester Sq. We came to London for the wedding of our dear friends’ daughter which will take place near Windsor on Tuesday Oct 13.

On the flight over I watched Love and Mercy, the story of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and his life long struggle with mental illness. A wonderful story about the fine line between madness and genius, it portrayed Wilson as a tremendously gifted artist and musician who like Beethoven, could hear entire scores of music and orchestration completely in his head. Paul Dano plays Wilson as a young man and John Cusack plays him in his middle years. Both are extremely touching.

We saw 3 wonderful theatre productions including The Commitments (full of great Motown tunes), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (a mystery solved by an autistic teenager), and Close to You (a jukebox musical based on Burt Bacharach’s music). All 3 were totally enjoyable. We’ve also enjoyed going back to one of our favourite London restaurants, The Wolseley, a very hip and trendy spot in Mayfair favoured by a very diverse crowd.

Our first museum outing was to the London Film Museum where we saw an exhibition of the vehicles used in the Bond films. James Bond mania is rising to a fever pitch here as the film opens in late October and many of the newspapers and magazines are running features on it. Each display at the exhibition featured film footage of the vehicles being used in each film (as well as the actual vehicles) and it was a wonderful walk down memory lane to revisit each of the Bond films as the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, the first Bond film, was celebrated a couple of years ago

We then spent some time at the National Portrait Gallery where we saw an exhibition of Audrey Hepburn photos and The Victoria and Albert Museum where we saw an exhibition of Indian fabrics. We had a wonderful lunch in Harrods and enjoyed walking through Knightsbridge.

On our last day in London, we took a walking tour of some of the highlights of London’s East End, spent some time walking around the Imperial War Museum and then headed over to Leicester Sq to see Tom Hardy play both Kray brothers in Legend. His performance was astonishing in a longish gangster film set in ’60’s London. The film is being shown at the headquarters of the London Film Festival which is happening right now and as we left the theatre, we were suddenly in a massive crowd of fans who patiently lined up to see the stars of Black Mass, including Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch, entering the theatre.

The weather in London was beautiful and sunny for our entire stay there, so we hoped it would stay beautiful as we headed to Berkshire on Monday for a wedding celebration for our longtime friends’ daughter Emily Mockler to the man of her dreams, Andrew O’Bourne.

After 4 nights in London, we travelled out to Coworth Park in Berkshire (southwest of London) for our big fat English wedding. The setting was idyllic, located on the edge of Windsor Great Park and the hotel was elegant and comfortable, part of the Dorchester Collection. The ceremony was held at the very charming Royal Chapel at Windsor and it was very traditional yet very intimate with a lovely choir and an Anglican service. The reception afterwards started with champagne, h’ors d’oeuvres and acrobats and was followed by a sumptuous dinner in a beautifully decorated dining room and dancing into the wee hours. I doubt that I will ever have the good fortune to attend such a spectacularly elegant wedding again!

The next morning we went for a lovely walk on a beautiful fall day around the lake at Virginia Waters which is part of Windsor Great Park and then caught our flight back home.

I just have a few quick notes regarding TV, as I, for obvious reasons have not had much of an opportunity to keep up with my favourites:

I’ve enjoyed watching the first three episodes of Downton Abbey which have already aired in the UK. I won’t spoil it for any of my friends, except to say that it is a wise decision to end the series at the end of this season as it has descended into self parody at this point and is unintentionally hilarious. I saw the Toronto theatre production of Upside Downton last week where 1 actor plays all the roles in the series, and now I can’t take any of the actors seriously, especially Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) with her very strange mid-Atlantic accent!

I loved the return of Homeland. Carrie has a gorgeous new partner, her child appears unharmed, she has a new security job in Berlin, Saul is mad at her, Quinn has become a hitman in the war against ISIS… Good start!

The Leftovers is back and seems to have tried to take on a more positive note as Season 1 was truly all about the despair of those left behind after the inexplicable departure of their loved ones. Season 2 sees our main characters move to Miracle, Texas which mysteriously and miraculously didn’t lose any inhabitants to the departure.

I loved Home Fires on Masterpiece. It is about women on the homefront in pre WW2  Britain. Such a time capsule! Those of you who liked Jam and Jerusalem, the Jennifer Saunders comedy about this women’s institute, will love this series, which is an adaptation of the book Jambusters.

I watched three films on the flight home. Suite Francaise with Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas. It seemed very different to the book which I had read a few years ago. It seemed to boil down to a romance between a French girl and a German officer which I didn’t recall at all. Suspenseful yet humdrum at the same time. I then laughed the entire way through Spy with Melissa McCarthy. A very broad parody of every spy thriller ever made with Jason Statham and Jude Law providing surprisingly comic turns. The last film, Testament of Youth, was based on a classic British memoir by Vera Brittain about the loss of Britain’s finest young men in WW1. Touching and featuring fine performances by Alicia Vikander and Kit Harrington (aka Jon Snow from GOT, and very beardless, short haired and adorably pouty looking in this film). I enjoyed this film which chronicles the lost generation of those who didn’t return from the war and the impact this had on their families.

Arriving back in Toronto on Wednesday evening, we are now getting ourselves ready to head to Fl for our Oct/Nov stay. I will, of course, be madly catching up with all the shows I have missed this past fortnight (look how British I’m becoming!) of non-stop touring and celebrating.

PS, I feel duty bound to report that during all of the above, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the crime novel, The Black House by Peter May.  Set in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, the book made me feel like I was back in Scotland (in even worse weather than we had in June).  May is a crime writer who tells stories very well and really delves into the psychology of his characters, so that the book is a great combination of character and plot. I am now reading Lawrence Hill’s latest novel, The Illegal, a fable set in a fictional island off Africa about a marathon runner who scrambles to remake himself as a refugee in a mostly white and racist nation.  Very timely.

In the meantime, enjoy this beautiful fall weather.  I suspect winter will be rolling in before we know it!
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The New Season continues!!!

As our son’s wedding is happening on Sat Oct 3, I am working to a Friday deadline this week. We will be having a rehearsal dinner, lots of overnight guests, and a post wedding Sunday brunch. Not to mention a very big day on Sat.!  We will be leaving Oct. 7 to spend a week in the UK where we will attend the wedding of the daughter of very good friends. As a result, this will be my last blog for a couple of weeks as I will be unlikely to be watching much TV while we are going to be touring around London.  I hope to see lots of plays while we are there and will report back.

Premieres this week:

Code Black – CBS Wed nights at 10; a by the numbers medical show with an ensemble cast that includes Marcia Gay Hardin. Cliche ridden and all stuff we’ve seen before.
The Widower –  PBS Sunday nights; a true story about a British nurse who controls his wife with sedatives
Home Fires on Masterpiece –  PBS Sun nights; pre-WWII period drama about a Women’s Institute in a rural British town
Dr Ken –  ABC Fri nights at 8:30; Ken Jeong gets his own show where he’s a doctor (which he was in real life)
Season Premieres:

Saturday Night Live – NBC Sat 11:30 pm; Miley Cyrus hosts
The Leftovers – HBO Canada Sun 9 pm; more misery in the saddest show on TV
The Good Wife – CBS Sun 9 pm; Alicia starts again as a lawyer
The Affair – HBO Canada Sun 10 pm; a divorce is in process
Homeland – Superchannel Sun 9 pm; Carrie is in Berlin

In Progress:

Gotham – Fox Mon at 8; loving this back story on the rise of the villains

Scandal – ABC Thurs at 9; the “will they/won’t they” dance continues

Empire – Fox Wed at 9; the madness continues

Nashville – ABC Wed at 10; the madness continues

The Mindy Project – on the Internet; still so funny

Blindspot – NBC Tues at 10; OMG is Jane Doe related to Agent Webber?

The Player – NBC Thurs at 10; what a mess

The Driver – CHCH Thurs at 10; this show is so sad and noirish that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch episode 2

Blood & Oil – Sunday nights at 9 on ABC; so cliched yet so fun; a modern western

Quantico – Sunday nights at 10 on ABC; attractive young FBI agents, one of whom is a terrorist

Indian Summers on Masterpiece -Sunday nights on PBS I confess that I snoozed through much of the opening episode

Fear The Walking Dead – Sunday nights on AMC; short season finale this Sunday
The Interceptor – Thurs nights on BBC Canada; The Wire English style

The Middle – Wed nights on ABC; I love this family’s struggles

Modern Family – Wed nights on ABC;I love this family’s misunderstandings

Miss Fisher Murder Mystery – Thurs nights on PBS; I have a girl crush on Phryne’s madcap fashion styling so

Strike Back – Fri nights on HBO Canada; still loving these two violent lugs

Real Time with Bill Maher – HBO Canada Friday nights;  Maher is the snarkiest man on TV

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – CBS Mon- Fri at 11:35; Colbert is doing a great job being himself

The Daily Show With Trevor Noah – Comedy Channel Mon – Thurs at 11; I like this charming young South African

CBS Sunday Morning – CBS  Sundays at 9 am; the most relaxing and informative show on TV

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Sunday nights on HBO Canada; Oliver does a brilliant job dissecting and satirizing major world issues

Enjoy this beautiful fall weather and enjoy the new fall shows as well.  I hope to post lots of wedding pictures very soon!!