Lunchtable TV Talk: BrainDead


I was not sure what to make of the show BrainDead. But I am enjoying it immensely as it goes along. But will it be long for this world? If ratings are any indication, no. You can see the fingerprints of Robert and Michelle King (responsible for The Good Wife) all over it. Will that pedigree change anything? The Good Wife suffered from low ratings throughout its entire run. BrainDead shares some casting overlaps, stylistics, and a superb cast overall, just stuffed with talent. I hope it gets a longer chance to prove itself. It’s a timely commentary – and tonic for the times.

Aaron Tveit (from Graceland) is charming and smooth; Mary Elizabeth Winstead – I finally get it. She had been talked about a lot but I could never see the “it” that made people talk about her. Overall I did not care for the English-language remake/version of The Returned, and she was one of the central characters (no one really looked great in that near-train-wreck). Also the formidable Margo Martindale. Brandon J. Dirden, who was one of the FBI agents (Stan’s partner) in the most recent season of The Americans and so much more. And Johnny Ray Gill, the guy who was Sam in the ambitious and rewarding Underground. The great Tony Shalhoub, who needs no further introduction because he is the best. And Danny Pino, the dude who left Law & Order SVU and came to BrainDead from a role in Scandal.

The contentious nature of politics is ratcheted up a few million notches in this dark-comedy drama. A lot of crazed making up facts. Only at least there is an explanation: some bugs – literal insects – are taking over people’s brains. In our ‘real’ world, I guess we don’t have an explanation for the extremes. Politics is rough enough without erasing facts (or losing half your brain to a parasite and suddenly listening to The Cars’ “You Might Think” on repeat).

It’s a hyperbolic mirror of our current situation – Tony Shalhoub’s character wants to name a kiosk after Ronald Reagan (a WWII veteran! Only he’s not – he just feels like one because he made a movie in which he served in WWII) – and Shalhoub’s opponent wants to call the kiosk after Emma Goldman. There is no middle ground and no compromise.

Photo (c) 2009 Neil Conway.

Lunchtable TV Talk: The Night Shift


Sometimes the stuff television offers feels like it’s churned out on a conveyor belt in a factory. Some time ago I watched the previous season(s) of The Night Shift, about a bunch of doctors working the – duh – overnight shift in a Texas hospital. It was not anything special – in fact when I picked up watching the latest season, I did not even remember that there had already been two, not one, seasons. But… I still kept watching.

Between seasons of The Night Shift, I started watching the Chicago juggernaut (Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago P.D.). Not only did Chicago Med (and all its gratuitous crossovers into the other Chicago properties) wash away all memory of The Night Shift, when The Night Shift returned, it felt and seemed a lot less interesting than it had been because it was a lot like watching more Chicago Med, only with characters I no longer remembered or recognized. (Weirder still, they are all on NBC in the US, so… burnout, anyone?

Despite the American appetite for medical, legal and cop shows, I’d think the idea of getting lost in the oversaturation of the theme(s) would be enough reason to look at different topics. I don’t know – despite the “danger” in being lost in a sea of sameness, people keep introducing new shows in the same mold, and some catch on while others don’t. I don’t know why. I tried to watch Code Black, but holy shit – I could not even get through one episode (it seemed badly miscast), but it was renewed – multiple times, maybe. I thought Monday Mornings was a good premise, and I liked it, but it didn’t last and its decent cast landed elsewhere (e.g., Jamie Bamber had a great turn in the deeply unsettling but immensely satisfying British crime drama, Marcella, and prolific and interactive Tweeter – she seems exceedingly generous with her time – Jennifer Finnigan is a lead in Tyrant). I thought a Jennifer Beals-led medical-supernatural drama, Proof, was overegged, and it too was canceled. Go figure.

The Night Shift, being rather lacklustre and lacking in any real hook, seemed like it might suffer a similar fate. Maybe watching Scott Wolf be an alcoholic surgeon “working the steps” (in The Night Shift) rather than Oliver Platt being a particularly intuitive psychiatrist (in Chicago Med) is the kind of thing that makes the difference. I don’t know. It’s not like either show is must-see… it’s just that this is what is on in the background as I am working on a million other things. It takes something really remarkable to make me look up from my work and pay close attention (and there are very few of those things right now).

Vegan cream of asparagus soup


What person doesn’t sit awake through an entire Friday night working, and relenting to a growing craving for cream of asparagus soup around 6 a.m.? Maybe it’s not the aspiration or habit of millions, but I’m working, blasting music, watching rain fall and waiting for my asparagus spears and onions to roast to perfection to make a vegan cream of asparagus soup for a transposed dinner-breakfast.

I go through soup kicks about once a year, and generally I don’t follow a set recipe. I just guess what I might like to taste. Last time I made some variation of asparagus soup, it was a green curry and coconut-based soup, but this time I was not really in the mood for curry (apart from shaking a tiny dot of curry powder into the garlic-laced vegetable broth).

Almost all my soups end up being vegan, too. I am not big on making meat soups or traditional kinds of bone broth. I barely know how to cook meat, let alone what to do with bones afterwards. I’ve become pretty good at roasting a chicken and then making chicken soup with what’s left, but that’s really only if I feel a physical need for it (i.e., I or someone else near me is sick). Roasted veg pureed with coconut milk is the best possible soup outcome I can imagine.

Today’s asparagus soup was made more or less as follows:

  • 25-30 asparagus spears, washed and cut into smaller pieces and thrown into a roasting pan with some olive oil
  • 3 red onions – two chopped up and thrown into the pan with the asparagus; 1 to saute in the pot on the stove with garlic
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can coconut milk

Roast the asparagus pieces with 2 chopped onions. While roasting prepare the vegetable broth base.


Saute the one remaining onion for about ten minutes in some olive oil on medium heat, throw in the garlic and stir constantly for about one minute. Pour in the two cups of broth, let simmer.

When the asparagus is ready, transfer it to the pot, stir, let simmer a few minutes. Use an immersion blender and blend until smooth.

Lunchtable TV Talk: American Crime, s2


The first season of American Crime was often hard to watch. It was challenging material, telling intricately interwoven stories that highlighted prejudice and different perspectives. It was good, but I was not sure it could stand for another season.

The second season is an even more tightly woven narrative, with more riveting performances from mostly the same cast and a few new faces (Connor Jessup, best known until now from Falling Skies has been particularly good, which isn’t a surprise when you consider that he was also one of the better parts of Falling Skies). Masterfully done – often employing images disconnected from sound, so you are never sure what has happened until it unfolds moments later. Fluidity, uncertainty, exceptional and brutal storytelling from different perspectives. Are you ever sure what has really happened? No. If anything the story in the second season punches you in the gut with the realization that there are no absolutes, yet we watch all the characters from their very different perspectives grapple with their own “absolutes” and the dissolution of those certainties.

The second season, as I write this, has been over for some time, meaning that I am left with very few details. The important point – and reason why I am writing about this so long after the fact – is that it does punch you in the gut and make you question what is true and real. The story revolved around feeling versus fact.

And, right now, America is faced with a high-stakes election in which “feeling” trumps (no pun intended but apt here) fact. Stephen Colbert revived his Colbert Report character to introduce the term “Trumpiness” and address this topic; John Oliver took it a step further, explaining that the theme of the recent Republican National Convention was “a four-day exercise in emphasizing feelings over facts”.

I highlight these timely things, despite their non-existent connection to American Crime (apart from the tangential Trump & GOP “feeling” that crime in America is out of control and crime rates are on the rise, despite the fact that data doesn’t support this “feeling”) because it is easy to lose sight of the fact that other people have completely different experiences of the world. What one person, irrationally or not, fears, is normal to someone else. American Crime excels at telling a complex story from fragmented viewpoints (in a way that our lacking-in-nuance political system never will).

Lunchtable TV Talk: Burnistoun


Watching the very Glasgow, very Scottish Burnistoun has been a bit spooky, as many of the sketches model near-exact conversations I have had, situations I have been in and linguistic bits I’ve noted. So many of the things I’ve long enjoyed and laughed at in everyday Scottish life, the Burnistoun sketches and their creators, Robert Florence and Iain Connell, have captured in comedic hyper-reality. It speaks for itself (or “itsel”, as the Glaswegians would say, because who needs the final “f”!). Just watch! Love love love.

(Makes me think of gone-Hollywood Gerard Butler and our discussions on how “Gerard” is pronounced GER-ard in Scotland and ger-ARD in the US)

(Hilarious take-off of TV historian-personality Neil Oliver, his dramatic delivery while the wind blows his flowing mane; something I’ve also long been having a laugh at.)

(Voice recognition lift in Scotland. Good luck with that!)

(Nae rolls! When all you wanted was a wee roll and sausage!)

(Kenny Rogers impersonators: “That’s the Kenny Rogers I’m gonna marry!” Actually, after all the work the real Kenny Rogers has had done, these impersonators look more like the real Kenny Rogers…)

Lunchtable TV Talk: Motive


TV is a lot richer in summer these days than it used to be – we got a few seasons of some exciting new stuff, whole seasons of Orange is the New Black and BoJack Horseman on Netflix and quite a lot of “off-season” (if you can really even call it that any more) filler to carry us through until fall. In fact, you could almost argue that spring and summer bring some of the best stuff now. There are no boundaries to prime release time for TV shows (and, as I have argued, can you even call them “tv shows” any more, seeing as how they may fit the format but aren’t broadcast on any network and can be inhaled one full season at a time?

Because of that, addicts like me are spoiled – and never have to go through the withdrawals that generally accompanied the dry season of summer. Still, though, nothing is so abundant that I don’t end up seeking out filler beyond the filler I was already watching.

That’s how I ended up watching Motive. My mom told me about it, and apparently had been telling me about it for some time since I still claimed never to have heard of it when it was heading into its fourth season. Maybe because it’s Canadian and didn’t last in its big US network broadcast slot (and was eventually moved to USA), it was not a big title. Nevertheless, just before the fourth season kicked off, I watched all three of the preceding seasons. Why? Reason one: nothing much else to watch that weekend while I was busy with other things; reason two: Louis Ferreira. Who is he, you ask? Well, the only reasons I know and like him: he was Colonel Young in Stargate Universe (the only one in that franchise I cared for, largely because of Robert Carlyle) and was in Breaking Bad. There are worse reasons for watching a show. Reason three: I liked the idea of already knowing the crime and finding out the motive.

Oddly, for a Canadian police mostly-procedural, I have been pretty entertained. I raced through and didn’t pay rapt attention, so I can’t cite plot points or anything particularly notable. But I saw a lot of standard Canadian-actor extras and Battlestar Galactica alums, which is also fun. I didn’t remember at first that the lead, Kristin Lehman, had been a key supporting player in The Killing, which was also good – I like her a lot better in Motive as detective Angie Flynn. In fact, I came to like her a lot, and it’s the easy chemistry between Lehman’s and Ferreira’s characters that make the show as watchable as it has been. That is, chemistry based on deep friendship and respect between colleagues, not sexual tension or something similar. You don’t see that much on TV. In very subtle ways, stuff about Motive is different, and is why I keep watching.

Photo (c) 2014 Michalis Famelis.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Feed the Beast


Feed the Beast is one of those kinds of shows that could go either way. Based on a loosely classified ‘Nordic Noir’ Danish show (Bankerot) about a restaurant and the criminal underworld around it, it could have been quite a vehicle for storytelling and talent. It also appears on AMC, which has a history of mostly quality hits rather than misses (with a few exceptions, of course). But then, even though the show is watchable, it feels like it is always on the edge of comedy, and I don’t think it is supposed to. Maybe this is because everyone in the show feels like a caricature.

First and foremost, David Schwimmer plays, Tommy, a slightly angrier, more bitter and grief-stricken version of whiny, pathetic Ross from Friends. It’s not that he is incapable of something else – it’s just that this role requires it. And we know from the 12 or so years of Friends that he has mastered that role (incidentally I read an interesting take on Friends’ Ross and how he – and how he was treated and turned into a kind of cartoon – mirrors the way society treats and views intellectuals. And Schwimmer is probably underrated in general; as far as I was concerned, his performance in The People vs. OJ Simpson – as Robert Kardashian – was one of the highlights of that program). In any case, despite Schwimmer’s capability, his presence in a role that so closely matched the Ross role on some levels distracts and inevitably leads the Friends-soaked brain to scream out: “comedy”.

Tommy’s best friend, a low-level conman – and chef – “Dion” (an effective Jim Sturgess), who “bobs and weaves” his way through life, also feels comedic, mostly because his egregious actions don’t seem to lead to real consequences. Sure, he went to prison, but in his own estimation, he enjoyed it there because he got to cook. When he crosses bad guys, he gets a beat down, but nothing he doesn’t just walk away from. He keeps getting chances – and maybe that is what I find unbelievable, even if in real life I see people who get more chances than they deserve and more chances than I can count. It is not unrealistic at all; it just seems that way to me because my own view of the world is linear, and I am not a conman who counts on wriggling and wiggling my way out of every scrape. (And of course these scrapes the character gets into are all his own making; all get worse because of his propensity for piling shit on shit and promise on promise – none of which he can keep.)

The two friends reunite and open a restaurant, Thirio (‘the beast’, apparently, in Greek), which had been their dream along with Tommy’s deceased wife, Rie. This explains Tommy’s grief and anger – and increasing alcoholism, which he tries badly to mask (with his career as sommelier); the only thing keeping him going at all is his son, who has not spoken a word since his mother died.

Naturally the restaurant opening is much easier said than done and ends up involving Dion’s connections and obligations to underworld criminals (the main one is played by Michael Gladis, who is best known as Paul Kinsey from Mad Men – a character who always struck me as near-caricature tragicomedy, which contributes to my feeling about Feed the Beast) and Tommy’s racist, hateful father (to whom he has not spoken since sometime before he even got married). It all makes for what could be a compelling story – but it never quite does. I keep watching because I do get drawn in; yet, it’s never quite as good as it could be. I suspect this is because of this aforementioned hint of comedy I keep getting the scent of (and shouldn’t be).

Lunchtable TV Talk: iZombie


It’s no secret that I keep track of and write about a lot of my gluttonous overconsumption of television. I don’t write about everything I watch because some of it is not worth writing about, and some of it, like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, have been written about and analyzed to death. I’m not really interested in picking at the bones that remain of the overconsumed shows. I love them, anxiously wait for them, but I don’t have much to add to the discussion.

It’s the shows that people don’t watch and pick apart, those under-the-radar entertainment bits, that I sometimes feel an urge to write about. Often when I am surprised that I find myself watching a certain show (and liking it), it makes sense.

Recently I ran out of things to watch (summer is tv doldrums – with some highlights, but largely not as robust as other times), and scrolled through a number of “best things you aren’t watching” lists, many of which listed iZombie as a good choice. I had misconceptions about the show, much as I would about any show focused on zombies (a concept I am not fond of), and was pleasantly entertained when I finally did dig in and watch all of it. I don’t find the performances that compelling (they’re normal) but the inside jokes and references – and the Seattle setting – which too was part of the joke, as it is sometimes very obviously Vancouver, which they take no pains to hide (at least the cars have Washington plates) – kept me pushing “play” on episode after episode.

But that’s it – it’s mildly clever, pleasant … and not something I can summarize or from which I can pick out some unique aspect. (OH! Except that they mentioned Celtic FC of Glasgow, and what other American tv show would ever do that?) And, that, my friends, is probably the point. The show holds up a mirror: are we not all zombies, overfeeding on mindless tv and other vacuous entertainment (while the rest of the world burns down), despite not being “hungry”?

Photo (c) 2013 Mike Mozart.

Roasted tomato & garlic soup


With a whole lot of tomatoes and garlic on my hands, and a persistent hankering for soup, I decided to wing it and make a roasted tomato with roasted garlic soup.

Here’s about how I did it:

12-15 medium Roma tomatoes (tops sliced off; tomatoes halved widthwise)
1 full head of garlic (top sliced off)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil (I would skip this if you have fresh basil you can use later; I did not have any on hand)
1 large red onion, diced
1 cup vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 200C. Place the cut tomatoes in a pan lined with baking paper or foil, drizzle tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and the herbs. Roast about 35 minutes (or until the skins easily peel away). You can also de-seed the tomatoes when done, if desired. I did not bother.

At the same time, drizzle olive oil over your head of garlic, wrap in foil and also roast for 35 minutes.

Remove the tomato skins (and seeds if desired) and set the roasted goods aside.

In a medium pan, saute your diced onion in a tablespoon of olive oil (I did this, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes). Add the tomatoes and garlic, stir and then add the vegetable stock – here you can decide how much liquid you need. You might not want the full cup. Bring to boil, simmer for a while. When ready, blend.

To serve, I added a tiny splash of coconut milk and a dot of pesto to the top (lacking fresh basil as I was).

And it was delicious!

Workplace fire extinguisher


Sometimes you work with people who are natural firestarters – not in a good way. Everything they touch starts to burn, slowly at first, but eventually the flame turns into uncontrolled fires of epic proportions. Some workplaces have firewalls in place who protect most of the other people working there from getting burned too many times. And you really notice when those firewalls are absent.

In those times, you feel a bit like the guy in this Kids in the Hall sketch, following the pyromaniac with a fire extinguisher – frustrated both by the person starting the fires and by the boss who drags his feet doing anything about it.