Text

Breaking Bad

If you’re anything like me, you heralded the final return of TV’s greatest show as some kind of super holiday, greater than Halloween, your birthday and Christmas combined. You tried to track down blue rock candy and yellow jumpsuits for the premiere and you probably had a crudely drawn Heisenberg marking August 11 on your calendar for weeks.

Breaking Bad tells the story of Walter White, mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher cum sociopathic murderous drug lord. Faced with lung cancer treatments that threaten to bankrupt his family, Walt teams up with underachieving former student and current drug dealer Jesse Pinkman and uses his chemistry knowledge to cook and sell meth to pay for chemo and support his family after his death. (There are spoilers ahead, including Season 5B, so tread lightly).

image

In its early seasons, the show follows Walt and Jesse as they take one step forward and two steps back trying to sell enough of their signature blue meth to create a nest egg for Walt’s family, all while trying to keep their operation secret from his wife Skyler and DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schraeder (other stuff happens too, but there’s just way too much to get into here).

As the show progresses and the stakes begin to get higher, the show’s tone shifts – from dark to way darker. We watch as Walt changes seamlessly from a submissive family man trying to secure his family’s financial future, to a sociopathic, pride-fueled monster who is hell-bent on maintaining his empire at almost any cost.

image

I admittedly came pretty late to the party and only started watching the show in January of this year. I made it to episode two a couple years ago, but the bloody bathtub torso scene did a pretty thorough job of scaring me off.

I’m glad I came back to it though, because (with the possible exception of Lost) no other TV show has been as addicting or elicited such extreme emotional responses. I’ve watched whole scenes perched on my tiptoes at the edge of my couch unable to breathe – like Hank’s showdown with the dead-eyed Salamanca brothers in “One Minute” or the final five minutes of “To’hajiilee.” And the only way to sum up my feelings on “Ozymandias” is as follows:

image

To mirror Viv’s concerns from her Game of Thrones entry, I’m well aware that everyone on the Internet has already written about Breaking Bad and there’s not much new ground I can break here. But I will press on regardless, because I CANNOT stop talking about this show. Give it all the Emmys. I love it more than Marie loves purple or Junior loves breakfast.

All of the acting on Breaking Bad is phenomenal. If you don’t boil with rage when Walt starts on one of his manipulative, lie-weaving tangents or if your heart didn’t break during that phone call to Skyler (you KNOW what phone call I mean) then you might just be as sociopathic as Todd. Aaron Paul is a dreamy genius, Bob Odenkirk is a hilariously convincing scumbag lawyer and even Anna Gunn has managed to win me over to Team Skyler, especially with that last episode (seriously, did I not mention that “Ozymandias” just broke my brain?)

I love its focus on the complex relationships that exist between the characters too, namely the central relationship between Jesse and “Mr. White.” Their relationship has so many layers and changes so much: from reluctant business partners, to mentor and protégé, to father and son, abuser and victim and finally to hated enemies. Walt’s initially reluctant and later spiteful decision to have Jesse killed (and his murder of Jesse emotionally by revealing the truth about Jane) is what brings their unlikely and hard-won relationship as “family” to a close, because, as we all know, family is a line Walter does not cross.

image

Another part of the show’s power is in its unpredictability and willingness to confound viewer’s expectations. No character’s fate has felt safe throughout the entire series and I’m surprised by how far some of the main characters have made it alive. The show also has some of the cruellest cliff-hangers that I think are humanly possible (I sent about six “HANK KNOWS” texts once I finally caught up to the show and understood the pain everyone else has been enduring since last summer).

I also appreciate how it plays with format with the wrap around teasers (Season 2’s pink teddy bear, Season 5’s flash forwards), and the amount of levity it weaves into the bleakness. He’s so hollowed-out and gutted now that you almost forget how funny dumb-ass Jesse and his friends used to be.  

image

Alrighty, so there’s my first post. I maybe should have waited until this show ended to write this one, but I had to get “Ozymandias” out of my system. Maybe I’ll write an update on the show as a whole after September 29’s “Felina.”

But for now, regardless of where you stand on the pro or anti Walt debate, can we all just agree that Breaking Bad’s biggest villain is the American health care system??

-Ali

Text

The Killing

I only recently learned that the Pacific Northwest is considered the serial killer capital of America, which will go as #3 under the list of things I know about Seattle after 1 - Starbucks and 2 - Frasier. Now that you’re armed with that little factoid, you’re ready to dive into the dark and grim world of The Killing.

image

The Killing takes place in Seattle after the mysterious murder of a teenage girl. Fans of Twin Peaks will probably love this show, as I’ve been told, but since I’ve never consciously sat through a full episode of Twin Peaks, you’ll have to take my word to take someone else’s word for it. I’m not sure what it is about The Killing that grabbed my attention more than Twin Peaks did, I always thought the reason I never got into Twin Peaks was because a whole season for just one murder mystery was 11 episodes too long. Yet The Killing takes a tremendously long time for the mystery to unravel itself and still remains engaging.

To be fair, there’s a lot more to The Killing than just a single mystery. The characters are complex and always developing, as you follow the detectives around Seattle in search of clues, or the family as they come to the realization that perhaps they didn’t know their daughter as well as they thought, or the politicians who are struggling to capitalize on this tragedy then end up turning it into a scandal. There are so many conflicts going on at any given moment that half the time, you could almost forget there’s a murder to be solved.

image

In complete contrast to the Frasier world of Seattle, The Killing takes the audience through the grittiest neighbourhoods and introduces them to the most broken people who live in them. That yuppie hipster vibe that is normally associated with Seattle hardly exists if not for the scenes involving the politicians’ swank apartments and offices. The third season is especially grim as it takes place in the world of unwanted runaways and child prostitutes. But there’s a certain haunting romanticism that comes through in scenes overlooking the misty forests and the evening skyline. The Killing may feel grim and almost desperate, but never uninviting or hostile.

It’s unfortunate that the series is being cancelled, but not entirely surprising. The unraveling of Rosie Larsen’s murder which kicked off the series was so incredible, with just the right amount of tragedy and optimism - Rohinton Mistry’s fine balance. Season 2 and 3 have not been able to replicate that mood. It isn’t necessarily all bad, considering it’s probably better to end a show upon a down turn but before hitting rock bottom (hint Dexter). I think it’s also typical for shows like Twin Peaks and The Killing to do spectacularly well on their first mystery but then lose the magic when they try to do it again with a second. It may be better for writers to start seeing these shows as mini-series rather than lengthy dramas. I would definitely prefer more shows like The Killing instead of watching them try desperately to one-up themselves in successive seasons.

Text

Hustle

I can really appreciate a good, formulaic show, especially when it’s cheeky and British. A good looking cast with sexy accents and a few good plot twists, that’s really all it takes to hook me in, which is why I love Hustle.

image

Hustle is about a group of con people, or “thrifters” as they call themselves. Every episode features a “long con”, which is an elaborate plot to part greedy, selfish people with their money. But the brilliance in these cons aren’t about the money, but the method and the fall out. The confidence with which they pull off these schemes are almost unbelievable, and the most cheeky thing about each con is the way they walk away from it. The beauty of the long con is that they don’t cheat honest people, only the greedy. There’s a certain amount of liability built into each con such that the victim can’t report to authorities without incriminating himself. It’s brilliant and leaves you always rooting for the team in all their Robin Hood-sense of justice. Except instead of giving the money to the poor, they use it to buy a bar and fancy expensive clothes.

image

I love some of the crazy stunts the team pulls to grab cash, like when Emma pretends to be Kylie Minogue to fool a rich man of paying for a private concert. Or the one day challenge between Danny and Mickey to see who could get the most cash after being dropped in the middle of London, completely naked. And like I said, it’s very formulaic, with a set up and a plot twist at the end when they show you how they pulled off the stunt, but thoroughly enjoyable.

They also tend to break the fourth wall a lot, which often comes across cheesy in other shows, but works really well in this one. Mickey’s sexy little smirk and Ash’s clever wink gets me every time. Plus, if you make it to Season 5, there’s this handsome devil:

image

I think it takes a certain type to get into the dorky BBC shows. Some people just don’t have the patience for that kind of humour or the light dramas, but I can pretty much guarantee if you know who the following actor is (he does cameo in one episode), then you’ll probably love this show.

image

Text

Game of Thrones

I don’t think there are enough Internet posts about this show, why aren’t more people talking about it? That is, of course, absurd, I’m just going to be another voice in the echo chamber, and I am okay with that.

image

If you haven’t heard about Game of Thrones by now, then you’re probably one of those people who brag about not owning a tv, and you should probably unfollow me. Here is a quick run down of the show. The setting is a fantasy medieval land with factions and kingdoms that are all fighting for their own interests. There are dragons and alchemy and sorcery, and in classic HBO style, sex and violence. There’s politics, backstabbing, and conniving people manipulating people to try to get to the throne. If you take away the period costumes and voodoo magic, it could very well be Gossip Girls.

I was pretty resistant to start watching the show, partly because dragons and princesses sound really dorky, partly because risqué HBO period dramas are really overdone. After the Tudors, Rome, and the Borgias, I’m frankly kind of sick of looking at tits hotter than mine. But there are redeeming qualities, namely the fact that the show doesn’t rely on butchering history to create drama. That throws out any predictable ending or milestone events that the writers have to adhere to.

There are also so many players involved, and based on conversations I’ve had with people, there’s someone for everyone. Everybody is rooting for a character and there aren’t really clear favourites. And although there may be front runners at any point of the show, they switch often enough to keep you wondering.

image

Finally, the tits are actually interesting. I mean, not in any way more than regular HBO tits, but that the writers actually bothered to put personalities inside the bodies. Aside from the obvious strong female characters like Danearys, Arya, and Cersei, there are some great secondary heroines to root for as well, namely Shae, Brienne, and Osha. In fact, the only mindless female character is Sansa, which in and of itself makes her interesting.

image

There are, of course, the overall grand plot lines that drive the show, but they don’t interest me at the moment. I’m more curious about the secondary plot lines, like what is the deal with Theon’s sadistic torture, or what will happen to Brienne now that she’s in King’s Landing, or will Sansa ever lose her virginity?

I will express one concern, and that’s to do with the writer of the actual series, George R. R. Martin. The best series are the ones that were conceived from beginning to end before a single word has been written. But from what I’ve read, that’s not how Game of Thrones is written. I think the “I just write where the characters take me” spontaneity excuse is bullshit for sloppy writing, and it makes it hard to trust the writer to not deliver a lazy ending. But the shows are nowhere close to catching up with the books and the books don’t seem to be wrapping up, so time will tell. The next season premiere is going to be a big deal, and it doesn’t take long to plow through the series, so for those of you who haven’t started, do try to keep up.

Text

Cities of the Underworld

I know I’ve been on a Supernatural kick lately, but I have been watching other stuff. I like to intersperse documentary shows into my regular schedule of dramas and serials because it makes me feel like I’m occasionally still doing something with my brain even though all I’m doing is watching television. Also, I do have quite the travel bug so this show fulfills both those itches.

image

Cities of the Underworld is a program that focuses on one city in each episode, and examines the history that is buried underneath the ground. It is a mix of history, travel, and engineering. The show covers a pretty wide range of underground monuments, from Roman palaces under Istanbul, to prohibition era underbellies of Portland, to Hitler’s bunkers under Berlin. It is fascinating the way these major cities around the world can hold so much history and so many secrets right under its modern roads and buildings.

So let me geek out a bit here, I am a civil engineer and I can spend hours talking about the marvel in the hydraulics of the Roman aqueducts, or the centuries old columns and arches that hold up modern highrises, or even the central ventilation system built into medieval era underground cave dwellings. It’s no wonder that I can also spend hours watching this show as they explore the mechanisms of these underground cities, some of which used to be above ground but became buried as modern progresses took over, and others that were never meant to see the light of day but had to be built to be inhabitable by kings and rulers.

image

I try not to take my job too seriously, but there is pride in knowing that I’m practicing the same craft that helped in building these timeless monuments, that I am somehow related to the masterminds that gave rise to entire cities for people and emperors alike. At the risk of sounding like a real egomaniac, it reminds me that the civil in civil engineering means we are helping to build civilizations.

But if you are not an engineering nerd, there is still plenty for you in this show. The history is a bit touch-and-go, but it is enough to pique the curiosity and make you want to know more. I love maps and the show has great graphics that show expansion of empires and the expanding limits of the city as it grew from infant village into metropolis. I especially love how it will contrast the view from underground with what is currently above it. Anyone with even a vague interest in history would find something to love about this show.

image

Then on top of all that, there’s the travel aspect. I am currently planning a trip to Turkey and Czech in a month, and I’ve been rewatching the specific episodes of the cities I’ll be visiting. I’ve been taking notes of where I can access some of the underground and do a bit of exploring of my own. Even if I can’t get into some of the archeological sites, it is still so fascinating to know the history of a city before going there, and to be aware that a whole historic city is right beneath your feet. You can really appreciate how history has helped build the city into what it is today, how there’s whole city blocks of empires that rose and fell right beneath you, and how it’s not just modern engineers who have had a hand in building these modern cities but that they are building on top of their predecessors. It’s really quite inspiring to know that not only am I helping to continue a legacy in building cities, but that someday someone else will take over my work and build on it, perhaps even literally.

Text

Favourite moments of Supernatural Season 4

Episode 6 - Yellow Fever

Episode 16 - On the Head of a Pin

image

Episode 18 - The Monster at the End of This Book

image

Text

Favourite moments of Supernatural Season 3

Episode 3 - Bad Day in Blackrock
When Dean gets the lucky rabbit’s foot and gets ungodly luck…
image

Episode 5 - Red Sky in Morning As Dean walks in looking dashing in a tuxedo…

image

Episode 13 - Ghostfacers. Just the entire episode.

image

And overall, the entire series can be summed up with…

image

Text

Girls Season 2

**Spoilers alert**
I just finished the season finale of Girls, and thought I’d write down quickly what I thought. I want to get this out before I spend tomorrow morning Facebook chatting with my girl friends about the episode instead of working.

Alright, so everyone I know who loves this show has pretty strong opinions about the couples. I think this can be chalked up to us finding the parallel between these couples and our past relationships. It’s easy to say “Marnie and Charlie don’t belong together” when you’ve been a half of that relationship and never looked back, but let’s put those aside for a second.

I love how cyclical the show has been. This season was such an explosion of experiences for the girls, which I suppose is what Hannah first told us it would be like. She was out for experiences, whether good or bad, she just wants to know she’s lived. I’m sure many of us feel that urge, feel that impulse to just experience everything as though our 20s are the only time in our lives we can be so reckless. Perhaps that’s true. But we see how they’ve all fallen back to the start, everything has come back to how season 1 started. Except somehow, everyone is just a bit more sure now, a bit happier and a bit more decided on the life they’re living.

Now I know how tongue-in-cheek this part of the show was. It showed up as a cheesy corporate motto that someone like Hannah would totally chuckle at, but I get it now. All the girls were either pushed or just propelled themselves outside their comfort zones, expecting magic to happen. It’s not the magic they expected, but something did happen, didn’t it? They somehow became more fully grown human beings, even though it sucked getting there. I almost want to put this on MY wall now, because it’s hilariously ironic. It’s like the genie that reminds you to be careful what you wish for.

I love the detail on Shoshanna. She’s supposed to be a few years younger than the rest of the girls, and everything she went through this season would have fit in perfectly with the rest of the girls from last season. Now she’s out to experience life herself. Does this mean that next season she’ll self destruct and find herself back with Ray? I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

If you’re still hung up on the girls getting back together with their exes, I understand. I mean, can’t everyone see Marnie just getting sick of Charlie again? It’s inevitable. But I do think something has changed. Charlie changed probably the most out of all the characters in this season, and I think it would be hard for Marnie to take him for granted again. She got sick of her idea of him, not who he actually was. She refused to see that he was his own person until she wasn’t a part of him anymore. I don’t think she would be so blind again. And if it does happen again, then I think they would just keep yoyo-ing on and off forever.

Now Hannah and Adam, the broken self involved needy baby with the  demented creepy psychopath artist. Don’t get me wrong, they have their nice qualities, but given how ridiculous both characters are, don’t they just deserve each other?

If the moral of season 1 is to show the unglamorous lives of young, overeducated, privileged girls, then I would say the moral of season 2 is to show the side of romantic love that isn’t always so sure, the relationships with doubt and uncertainties. The people who end up together that still have to prove they should be together, episode after episode. Forget happily ever after. Once again, Lena Dunham has broken another Sex and the City myth, and made clear that a lot of times, people end up with people who aren’t perfect. There is no soulmate, there’s just somebody who is as messed up as you, and accepts you, and loves you. At the risk of sounding like a romantic, maybe that’s all you can really ask for at the end of the day.

Text

Supernatural Seasons 1 and 2

Well I know this show has already been going on for almost a decade now, but I’ve just started watching with the Boyfriend and it’s been extremely enjoyable. So this post is going to be just on the first 2 seasons of Supernatural, which is how far we’ve gotten. Oh man it’s going to be hard finding images for this post without spoiling myself…

Supernatural is this fantastically campy show about two brothers who are ghost hunters. Well, that’s not completely accurate. They hunt everything that’s even slightly paranormal. It’s incredibly cheesy and tongue-in-cheek, the writers and producers seem fully self-aware of how ridiculous the premise for their show is, and they own it. Dean, the older brother, is almost constantly making pop-culture references to their cheesy predecessors and contemporaries. I pretty much died when Sam, younger brother, became a psychic and Dean just kept making J. Love references.

"Hey, Sam, who do you think is a hotter psychic - Patricia Arquette, Jennifer Love Hewitt, or you?"

The correct answer is Sam.

I’ll admit that Jared Padalecki is not my favourite dude, not even in Gilmore Girls. His face is just perpetually pathetic puppy dog. Then he took his shirt off. You’re welcome, ladies. But chiseled perfection aside, I’ve been a Dean fan since the first episode. Not only does he get the best lines, this man is the sexiest thing on my television since Bear Grylls.

Now that we’ve covered the IMPORTANT points of the show, let’s talk about the actual content. So far, we’ve encountered demons, vengeful spirits, Native American curses, wendigo, werewolves, djinns, vampires, and the reaper. Sounds like pretty standard fare for the supernatural round-up. I’m still disappointed that there hasn’t been an angels episode. There almost was one, but he turned out to be a messed up spirit. I personally think it’d be absurd to have a show that has been 70% about demons, but not to have angels. Don’t they come hand in hand? The demons flinch at the name of God, how could there not be angels? Well keeping my hopes up for future seasons.

I also really like when they actually go into the lore of the monsters they’re fighting. I wish they would focus a little more on the research part before they start the real hunt. Not that I’m some weirdo spirit-worshiping fanatic, but it’s nice to see how certain demons and monsters seem to appear across different culture’s folklore, and that although a monster may have different names in multiple languages, that they really describe the same scary aspect of the darker side in human nature.

Despite how cheesy the show is, filled with puns and references, it’s genuinely scary sometimes. I definitely jumped a few times during the first episode, and some of the settings are downright creepy. I had a moment before going to bed last night that I thought a spirit was standing over me, but I was too drunk to move anyway so I just figured I’d just go with it. Turned out alright.

I’m excited to see what the next few seasons will bring. I managed not to spoil myself while searching for images, although I read something about dragons? Exciting. We basically spent the last weekend doing nothing but watching this show and pretty much flew through the first season. I’m sure it won’t take too long to burn through the rest. Good hunting!

Text

The Paradise

File this with Downton Abbey in the Anglophile period dramas. Remember when I mentioned that I was in withdrawal from Downton Abbey? This was one of my methods of coping.

image

The Paradise is a series by the BBC, based on the novel Au Bonheur des Dames, or The Ladies’ Paradise, by Emile Zola. Anyone who is a fan of period dramas and classic novel adaptations knows that nobody does a finer job than the BBC. The show takes place in a department store named The Paradise at the turn of the century. A department store was such a novel and innovative development at the time, and new ideas were being constantly developed and tested. It was an exciting time and The Paradise was a truly exciting place.

The story follows Denise, a young girl from a small town who came to the city to look for work. She becomes a shop girl at The Paradise and quickly catches the attention of Moray, the owner. Denise’s ingenuity and kind nature wins her quite a few friends, including Mr. Moray. At the same time, jealousy develops within her manager, another shop girl, and the rich and glamorous Catherine, who hopes to one day marry Moray.

I know the show sounds like the stuff cheap soap operas are made of, but it’s so captivating. As the audience, you can’t help but root for this hopeful, sometimes naive girl who is almost too clever for her own good. Then there’s all the mystery and intrigue surrounding Mr. Moray, and will he or will he not finally marry Catherine and put the poor girl out of her misery? Finally, there’s the Paradise itself. The setting is done so beautifully, and the way the characters speak of the merchandise, it makes you wish the store was a real place where you could go and shop and be bedazzled.

I don’t mean to suggest that this show is even close to replacing Downton Abbey, but it makes for a nice distraction as we wait for the season 4 premiere. It’s a simple show with a heroine that’s easy to fall in love with, and a dashing, mysterious male lead doesn’t hurt either. And of course, what you can’t forget in a period drama is the wardrobe. The dresses that Catherine wears are full of bells and whistles, and her hat collection - they’d make Kate Middleton envious!

image

I was glad to hear that the show has been renewed for a second season. You never really know with the Brits, sometimes they keep a show for only 2 seasons with 3 episodes each and sometimes they’ll beat it like a dead horse for 50+ years. I’m also quite curious about the actual novel now, which I might pick up just to see how the adaptation compares. Because, you know, I’m THAT kind of nerd.