Category Archives: Television obsessions

Getting too involved in a series can be time consuming

Hanks and I

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Last night, after months of New York City living, meeting many of my screen and stage heroes, I finally got to sit in a Broadway theater and watch my lifelong love Mr Tom Hanks.

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From Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle

For a hint to my emotional state, minutes before the curtains went up on Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy, I refer you to an older blog post.

Tom Hanks’ Thumb

Well then. Now you can better picture the smile on my face when that familiar Tom Hanks voice hit me in real life. A smile that remained planted there for nearly 2 hours as I sat marveling at how close I was to someone so strangely valuable from my childhood memories.

The play itself was OK. Based on the true story of 1980s tabloid news journalist Mike McAlary, we were told the tales of his rise to fame and Pulitzer through the anecdotes of his peers. I quite enjoyed that format. The characters were strong, easy with the swearing and played by well established and professional actors (Courtney Vance– brilliant, Christopher McDonald– amused). However, I am not sure I was able to sway from the inherent decency we associate with Hanks, to accept him whole-heartedly into this role of an ambitious, arrogant and at-any-cost tabloid hack.

I wanted to believe him because he plays a good part as always, but a tiny (but oddly loud) voice inside of me screeched,

“NO NO NO. Tom Hanks is a lovely guy. A lucky AND a lovely guy. I will not believe all this swearing business. And I certainly will not believe he is not absolutely dedicated to his marriage and family life. I WILL NOT”

But then I found myself smiling again as his silky voice wins me over. And the giggling scene. Oh how that made me happy.

Thanks Tom. That’s another bucket list tick for me.

The End

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I find it is almost always best to write a blog post with a splitting headache, very puffy red eyes and tear stained cheeks. It adds an element of the ridiculous and you’ll probably agree, when you hear why I find myself in this state this Sunday evening as the Oscars play on TV from California State.

3 minutes ago I closed a window on my laptop rolling the credits to the last episode of the seventh and final season of The West Wing.

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Is it my blurry vision or is this image a little misty?

Slow off the mark, I began my adventure with the Bartlett Administration only a few months ago. It has taken me much less time than the American public (it took them 7 years of course) and I cannot possibly imagine the personal strain such an investment would have had on the general public: the avid, passionate viewers of this drama series that is.

I have laughed at the sparky speedy wit of my favourites: President Bartlett, Toby, CJ and Joshua Lyman to name a few. I have gasped at the twists and turns, the shocks and surprise attacks, the near deaths, the possible frauds, the loves lost and finally realised. I have cried. Well a lot, so the list would be less blog post, more government legislative document. And I have gradually increased my consumption of episodes to a whopping 7 or 8 a night as I powered through to the end, a bittersweet undertaking that had me hungry for more and clear that at some point there would be none. I don’t want to reveal anything specific, because well that is unfair, but let me say this. In the final episode that just had me heaving and rosy cheeked, I felt like my heart was being stripped out of my chest, as President Jed Bartlett strode the halls of his West Wing one final time. Mr Aaron Sorkin has a lot to answer for. I know most of my friends will be relieved to know it is finally over, and for them too. It is not right to talk of these fictional characters as if they were real and living. But I couldn’t help it and for that I apologise. My sort of family will be greatly missed and I must take a few days to breathe deeply and take a step back from this overblown intensity and hope that I can go on with life as normal, without my President and his impressive team.

Too much? Possibly. But did I mention that I am an emotional dribble on my sofa right now? So a little bit of dramatic rambling should be expected.

I also think a lesson should be learned here. If I discover a quality drama series has finished long ago and so offers all episodes to me back-to-back, then I should slowly step away. Resist any urge or well-intentioned advice, and go for a run instead. Yes. Good idea me.

A Quartet of two

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Now it is Sunday and the New Yorker Festival has been going on without me for two days. Well I cannot bear it anymore. I must attend at least something. A festival of Q&As is right up my alley and already I have let the likes of Ben Stiller, Viola Davis and Lena Dunham pass me by. But no more I tell you.

What will I choose?

Oh. I see there is a new film, directed by Dustin Hoffman (his directorial debut), supported in part by BBC Films and starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly. Seems utterly British. Just the way I like it then.

So, I add the final touches to an ongoing experiment and rush off to Midtown West and the Director’s Guild Theater to try my luck at getting rush tickets. This 4pm preview + Q&A session with Mr Hoffman will be highly popular, I fear. So I am prepared for a queue. As I bluster up to the stage door, I stutter something to the organisers. Something about a queue to get rush tickets for the Hoffman piece in a few hours time.

They point to a yellow stand reading “Line for non-ticket holders”. There is no one there. Not one soul. I AM the queue. Marvelous. So now I only have 2.5 hours to wait. And when did Autumn arrive I wonder? I have not transitioned to coat wearing yet as my mind and heart are still firmly lodged in summer. Oops. It seems I only have the legend Streisand to distract me from the now shivering state I find myself in. So that is a relief then.

At 3pm I successfully purchase the ticket and now I am in the home straight. It is only an hour more and Hoffman will be there, chatting to me. Can’t wait.

Soon enough I am taking my seat in the second row (strategically placed on the edge to minimise chances of tall or fat head issues) all the while taking this opportunity to regain feeling in my icy fingers. I am amused by my passage of luck this weekend and glance about the room taking in all the faces. But wait. Who’s face is that? Sitting only seconds away from little old me. Is that Billy Connolly of comedy fame? That Glaswegian funny man who regularly has my family in stitches at any and all family gatherings? Number two in the list of all time greatest welders (my father takes the top spot for the 29th year running)? It most certainly is. By Jove my luck just keeps a-coming.

Sat in the middle of the second row, Mr Connolly is ready for the film. And so am I.

Quartet is a gem. Set in a beautiful mansion somewhere in Fair Old England, this elderly residence houses aging musicians of all specialities. Opera singers, violinists, jazz trumpeters and singers in their 70s and beyond. A bunch of divas, their future in this magnificent setting is at risk. Charity funding is depleted and survival rides on the Annual Gala, where they all perform, so that monies raised can support them one year more. But they need a star to reach that target. Cue Maggie Smith. Arriving just in time to jostle her peers with her bristly manner. She of course refuses and the likes of an old flame Tom Courtenay, a wonderfully amusing Billy Connolly and a magnificent Pauline Collins displaying increasing signs of dementia throughout must convince Maggie Smith that she has to perform. For the sake of Beecham House, their home.

When Dustin Hoffman comes out on stage I am still wiping my eyes and wishing I was home in a field. With about 50 films to his name, one forgets how many classics this treat of a man has created. Kramer vs Kramer, as he learns to bring up his son in the day to day business of life. I just get goosebumps thinking about those kitchen scenes as he tries to make breakfast. A task he has never had to do until his wife (Meryl Streep) leaves them. And after a brief browse on Youtube I found this clip of Mr Hoffman winning the Oscar for Kramer vs Kramer. That voice!

Yesterday I sat in a room for nearly 2 hours listening to this man and his unbridled enthusiasm for life and art. His respect for opera singers, at one point, brought him to tears as he struggled to express their passion and “ferocity” in hitting those notes and hitting them again. He repeatedly punched the air as he tried to articulate the ambition and animal-like instincts to make those notes.

For Quartet he wanted his set to swim in an atmosphere of freedom and artistic openness (he didn’t say it exactly like that I promise). To achieve that, he (and his casting director) filled their beautiful mansion with real life retired musicians. Musicians who have not had a call to work for possibly decades and yet still have their abilities in abundance. Hoffman is moved as he describes their feeling of gratitude to work every day for sometimes 14 hour shifts on set creating the tone he was looking for.

One aspect of the film is the build up to the finale of the gala. Will Maggie Smith perform with her one time colleagues, Pauline Collins, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly in their famous quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto? In fact, the story was based on a mansion Verdi had built for himself in Milan. When he died he donated it to retiring opera singers. This place really existed! Take me there?

So what was Hoffman’s Rigoletto? Death of a Salesman, he says. He tells us that even meeting Arthur Miller was a dream come true. It was the first play he had ever read, he felt it was his life. He was Happy. His brother Biff, the successful one. His father a salesman. It was his life. He has the best stories. In preparing for the role he remembers Miller telling him how he wanted it done.

It is like jabbing. Miller told him. You jab the audience, making them laugh with Willy Loman’s contradictions. With his ridiculousness. And then when they are not expecting it. You knock them out. Make them laugh and then make them cry.

Hoffman absorbs this and exiting the stage after the first act, he asks Miller.

“How was it? Good wasn’t it?”

“You were 3 minutes over”

“But they were laughing? Everyone was laughing. I have to wait until it dies down a bit otherwise they will miss the dialogue”

“Let them miss it. Talk through it. I want my audience here (Hoffman perches on the edge of his seat, eagerly anticipating what is before him). I don’t want them there (Hoffman leans back, relaxed in his chair).”

Dustin Hoffman of Rain Man, Tootsie and Meet the Fockers fame (don’t tell me you didn’t love that cast) is telling me (OK us) about Arthur Miller’s directions. I am so happy to be here right now I might burst into a million pieces.

And I could have sat there all night. So too could Dustin it seemed. But apparently the stage people needed to tidy up. It was a Sunday night after all. As he wrapped up his never ending stream of brilliant stories of some of the most influential moments of film gold he brought Billy Connolly up on stage.

At the end the duo just didn’t want to leave. They had enough time for everyone in the room. In order to avoid stuttering something embarrassing to Dustin Hoffman about him being a legend I turned to Mr Connolly, hoping I would fare better here.

“Please can I shake your hand Mr Connolly? I have some of the best lifetime memories sitting in my living room in Newcastle laughing with my family at your stand up, and I want to thank you for that.” (my hands shaking as he grabbed them, happy with the compliment).

“Oh Newcastle. Newcastle is great. I was pinball champion in a pub opposite the railway station for many years.”

“I think we will get your DVD out at Christmas and have good giggle Mr Connolly” and with that I smiled and took my leave.

My sister does a magnificent impression of this Mr Connolly. Often without any warning.

It took me a whole hour, possibly more, to come back down to Earth. I did wash my hand though, which is progress in my obsession with “meeting” celebrities, at least.

The Greatest Fool

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I felt a bit icky on Sunday. I was not ill per say but I definitely think I was fighting something. I had been feeling nauseated (I just looked it up and nauseous is when you make other people feel sick and so I do try to be grammatically correct since coherent is not always an option) from about Friday night onwards. And so when I woke up on Sunday, with those muscle locking cramps in my right calf, I decided my body was trying to tell me something.

It was trying to tell me to rest up and watch the final 6 episodes of “The Newsroom” while positioned firmly on my sofa. My body is very specific. I had been recommended this show by my mother, and indirectly my father too, who I was informed was a keen observer of the show on his weekend trips home. I had managed to sneak in the first 4 episodes over the past two weeks and was now well positioned to complete the first season. Horizontal in fact.

To say that this show is realistic might be pushing it. To say it has bundled me into its clutches and run away with me is the absolute truth.

As a summary and to get you all up to speed, Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, an anchor for a fictional nightly news show. The season begins with him losing his composure and manners at a female student who has posed the question, “What makes the United States the greatest country in the world?” He proceeds to rant about how this country is in fact not the greatest, all the while seemingly hallucinating that he has seen Emily Mortimer in the audience.

McAvoy is allowed/instructed to take a break. To recover from his meltdown and allow the fickle US public to forget his misdemeanour so that ratings do not tank any further. On his return to the office he is greeted by his “boss” and friend whose role I didn’t quite grasp but he seems to be running the network on some level. He is a big shot, but a really nice guy with incredibly honorable morals to boot. And a bow tie, which is just too cute. McAvoy is informed that his Executive Producer has been shifted to the 10pm show and he will be getting a new EP. Hello Emily Mortimer. Hello McAvoy’s romantic past.

So now we are in the thick of it. McAvoy hates Mortimer (MacKenzie), but we all know he doesn’t really, and he is helpless to stop her rolling in with her band of journalists and her new vision to “fix” McAvoy and the news. McAvoy is a genius, we are told, despite losing his way with his greed for viewers and adoration. He has succumbed to the trash that is Justin Beiber, Kim Kardashian, anyone’s current and past weight change, anyone else’s relationships that last all but two minutes and the group of people who were not famous yesterday but suddenly find themselves so because of a Youtube clip that went “viral”. MacKenzie despises this culture. She wants to reform the news and she wants to set out new rules to achieve this. Rules where the world of Snooki/Kardashian go unreported and where global issues that affects mankind in a real way headline every night. Noble behaviour from the Brit. I for one want to be saved so let’s go.

The Newsroom is filled with a lot of gushy big statements about saving civilization as we know it and annoyingly wonderful love interests that just don’t quite get together even though everyone knows, including them, that it is inevitable. I managed to power through 6 hour long episodes of back to back Newsroom on Sunday and I was not even remotely pooped at the end of it. Although it was dark outside.

However, in hindsight I think watching 6 hour long episodes in one day is unhealthy. For one I am easily influenced by quick witted unrealistically intelligent repartee and two, I start to lose a grasp on my own reality as a result. For instance, on Monday morning I woke up thinking I worked in a newsroom and was an investigative reporter. I was so excited to go at the news and tackle the big stories that I nearly wandered over to Bryant Park to try to get in the offices (that don’t actually exist as it is Aaron Sorkin’s fiction).

It was very confusing to re-address my actual reality where I measure telomere length in double cord blood transplantation (we don’t talk about the “other” project).

Now it is Tuesday and I have slowly come down from my role as global educator and noble informer to the misguided masses. I certainly achieved a lot, in my dreams on Sunday night, and want to thank everyone who supported me and made this “World’s Greatest News Anchor/Investigative Journalist” award (fictional award) a reality. I want to thank my parents who taught me right from wrong. My sister who goes around saving the world on the front line and my teachers for versing me in the skills of thorough research and truth. I could not have got this far without every one of you. I hope to continue my role as Greatest Anchor ever known to man (or woman) for as long as you will have me, but a special mention must go out to my crew, because without them our show would just not be as award-winning as it clearly is. We just want to bring you the news people. The real life world news as it happens. And we will never rest until we do.

Thank you, and good night.

The London Olympics (and all those gushy ads)

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So I really enjoyed the Opening Ceremony last night. Well done Danny Boyle. It was ever so British. Highlights for me included those Industrial Revolution towers rising out of the Olympic Stadium, the Mary Poppins’ floating down from wherever all those Mary Poppins come from, Mr Bean and his rubbery expressions and the lovely copper petal things making the Olympic cauldron.

Loved David Beckham on his speed boat and of course the Queen/James Bond scene. It was emotional (not that it takes much with me) when Steve Redgrave ran that torch into the stadium and gave it to the lucky 7 youngsters who finally lit the cauldron. That was the beginning of the choking up I would say. So today, lying on my sofa and watching the ad-overflowing coverage of specifically the Women’s Volleyball I continue to be plagued by a couple of juicy eyes. Nope I am not over-reacting and I’ll prove it. The tear-jerking success stories have been narrowed down to two biggies. Enjoy a good cry to the P&G ad for mums (moms technically)

Want to just go find a “mom” and hug her. Nearly did in the lift earlier when collecting my laundry. Probably would have been one of my more awkward moments so I decided to store that hug up for Thursday when I see the original mummy. Mine.

And now for the Nike contribution to the weep fest. hashtag find greatness. Yes very good.

Probably should sneak out to the kitchen for a distracting tea break when the ads come round. Otherwise this mascara on my lashes won’t be here for much longer!

Long hours at work =

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Blog time! I know. Lucky you right!? Well I have a deadline on Friday. Hundreds of samples processed in triplicate need to be finished by the weekend and fully analysed. I am a little overwhelmed and so no adventures for me this week. Sort of. I am such a mysterious cheeky charlie am I not?

As my acrylamide gel runs steadily along I am reminded that my first trip back to the orthodontist on Monday is causing me more grief than face smashing ever did. In fact, Dr Orthodontist was so kind as to remove the surgical braces (=ugly) and replace them with the lovely, discreet white wire that I have grown to “love”. Nevertheless, she was a bit of a tease. In exchange for relieving me of the obvious metallic wiring in my mouth she put in place some unsightly elastic bands. Now I look like Fang. Rubbish.

Well one shouldn’t complain. Practicing all the talking is clearly going to go to waste now. My mouth tied back together and my teeth raw nervy prongs, I am back to the softest of soft food. A little step back from the impending modelling career (of toothpaste). But I am hopeful. As always, I hope you’ll agree. Of course, I can still afford posh deli goodness from Upper East Side establishments. Small blessings. Truly, I have soup coming out of my ears. Snazzy, luxurious soup that is. I drink chocolate milk as if my life depended upon it. Anyone see Men in Black 3? Will Smith and I have plenty in common and chocolate milk is one of them. Big arms is another. Only difference there is that we both prefer to see them on Big Willie Style.

This experiment is truly like watching paint dry. But luckily I have Gawker and despite not having HBO I really feel connected to that “Girls” show now. Not sure it is what Lena Dunham would have wanted as my only experience of her show is through the eyes of Hamilton Nolan . He does amuse me though, with his little rants about rich white girls and their connections in the biz of show.

Had a little trying on splurge in Bloomingdales. Second from the left is my current desire. Will just have to save up those cents then!

In other news my new obsession with nail polish is becoming troublesome. I am so intoxicated by my own finger nails I keep changing up the colour. The resulting mixtures are less than sublime. But these minor issues in the field of life are just some of the Wednesday thoughts I can/am choosing to share with you.

Who said blogging was trivial!?

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

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Tickets for this TV show filming are free. Sounds good right? Not so fast. These tickets are so free they are close to impossible to secure. However, my cunning plan to stay up to date with this allocation paid off and I was directed, thanks to facebook, to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart website and prompted to pick a date.

With no bookings penciled in my diary for Wednesday 28th September I eagerly clicked, while simultaneously calling and texting (don’t think too much about how I did this with one mobile phone) friends and acquaintances to get them mouse tapping with me; maximising our (my) chances of success.

The email confirmation arrived soon after and as I gasped for a quick shot of air at the utter joy of this triumph, I scribbled the event in my diary, clearly in pen.

Then on Tuesday 27th September, approximately 3 months later, it was the eve of the show, my show. One is always encouraged to plan ahead in the lab and it is certainly for moments like these. Jon Stewart shoots his nightly comedy news show at 4pm and guests need to be collecting their tickets at 2:30pm. Not optimal when most non-tourists are supposed to be at work. However, my next cunning plan was brewing and I set my alarm for 5:30am. If I completed my daily tasks in good time I would not suffer the wrath of gut-wrenching work-related guilt. But as with all best laid plans, a wicked bout of bad luck struck at the last moment. At around 5:45pm I received an email from my collaborator that a sample from the clinic would be winging it’s way to me at some time on Wednesday afternoon.

NOOOOOOO……. I hear you scream. (Don’t panic. This would be a poor blog post if the punchline was me spending the rest of the story in the lab. Now wouldn’t it?)

Deflated and motivated to play the game as originally planned, all I could do was hope for an early delivery from the hospital. Usually samples arrive in the late afternoon, in which case my chances of making the show would be well and truly scuppered, but miraculously at 11:45am the email arrived. The samples were ready. Fate? Almost definitely. The stars were clearly aligned, hidden from view by heavy cloud cover, for myself and Jon “the wit” Stewart to meet.

However, we had one more obstacle. The Daily Show gives out an excess of free tickets and so if you are not prompt, your free email confirmation printout would mean zilch. And you would be all the way on 11th Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen of all places, with absolutely no chance of getting up close and personal with the man himself. So Plan B. Send a messenger to secure tickets and plough through the sample processing, jump in a cab and hope for the best.

Any hiccups in the experiment and all would be lost. Again.

OK so now I am in the cab. A car in front is being loaded up with a buggy and shopping so that all traffic must remain at a standstill until this painfully slow procedure could be effectively completed. I have just purified mononuclear cells from an umbilical cord blood sample faster than this guy opened the back door of his 4×4.

But again we are on the move. Lights change to red more often than not and it seems the whole city is out in force, clogging up the streets in an effort to defy the stars. But as we all know, the stars are greater than you or I. We will succeed. And the only way to do this would be to hop out of the cab and sprint the last 15 blocks. So I did. And it was. The only way to see Jon Stewart “do his thing” was to run full pelt across Manhattan Island. And boy was he worth it.

Once seated we were delighted that there were no bad seats in the house. First up, a comedian came out to warm us up. Not that I needed any extra heat, as I brushed the sticky fringe hair off my glistening brow. Once warmER he introduced out host. Out he came looking magnificent and funny, he proposed we ask him any questions we wanted and so without thinking my arm shot upright. I was just so excited I could not control myself and really from the look on my face and me wriggling more than enthusiastically in my seat, it must have been clear to Mr Jon Stewart that is was in everyone’s best interests to let me speak.

Who is your favourite correspondent? (which was to be followed by “Is it Jon Oliver because he is so lovely and British?” But alas the comedian in him cut me off.)

“No idea, I have never met them. We don’t share the same washroom. I am in the executive bit” (everyone laughs)

And basically this is how it goes for the next 10 minutes or so. People quiz him rapidly and he responds at quickfire speed. Impressive is a word not effective enough to describe my respect for this man. Is there nothing or noone who can put him at a lost for clever wordplay? Not in this audience at least.

Typically the show is shot in 3 sections. The first covers the main source of news and they mock the likes of Palin or simply any Republicans for a good 10 minutes. Stewart is word perfect. Every nuance is performed to perfection and the audience roars with appreciation. Next up are further skits on political candidates and often includes a VT piece from one of his correspondents, again using the medium of comedy to make their serious political point. For example, tonight Samantha Bee compares a family to a corporation to make the not so subtle point that corporations get a good deal of leeway in certain areas such as paying tax. The camera not currently on Jon Stewart, we can see him giggling away, happy as a clam with his team and his job.

And finally, the interview portion of the night. We are lucky enough to see the ridiculous, yet surprisingly articulate Bill O’Reilly. Historically these two sparring partners have always offered interesting dialogue for the viewer, whereby Stewart commonly brings down the Fox Channel host in his usual faster-than-light witty manner, and Bill O’Reilly, with his conservative ideals, ends up looking like a fool. But tonight I was impressed. The rapport between these two men was one of respect and O’Reilly was quite amusing too. He still came out with insanities. In answer to why he thinks the rich should not be taxed too much he offered up a story of how, in a recent Federal Government conference, 250 muffins were ordered at $16 a piece. He suggested that between that muffin madness and the huge sums of public funding being pumped into renewal energy industry, in particular solar, he had lost respect for the government for mis-spending his well-earned Fox bucks. He then suggested if cocaine cartels were taxed appropriately then the US would have more in the coffers. Yes Bill. Illegal drug running is a taxable resource. Obviously Stewart had a field day. And we all laughed loud and long.

At the end he left us and the light went out. Not literally, entirely figuratively. As he exited the studio my full heart emptied and although there was significant residual joy able to propel me home, mostly skipping, I was hungry for more Jon Stewart time. That man is electric.

The new Alec Baldwin???