Monday, December 31, 2012

12 Things I Liked In 2012

In no particular order:

Carey Price at the All Star Game.

P.K. Subban being a celebrity off the ice: from his appearance on Strombo to his fundraising efforts to his new job as a SportsNet analyst. All of it.

NHL players making their yearly holiday visit to children's hospitals despite having no obligation to do so.

Saturday Night Live knowing both when and how to be serious: the children's choir singing Silent Night in honour of the victims of the shooting in Connecticut, the adorable send-off for Kristen Wiig, and the simple memorial for the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch after he died: just a clip from a past episode where they performed "Sure Shot," in which he calls out the hip-hop world on their disrespectful treatment of women.

The second season of Episodes, which could have been a disaster but was just as awkwardly funny as the first, and a welcome change from most other summer TV programming.

The time I met Jack McBrayer. (Not so much met, as saw him, walked past him, said "Hi welcome to Montreal I'm a huge fan" and he thanked me and walked away and I freaked out a little.)

The time I met Adam Baldwin. (I don't think I met any hockey players this year. Sadly.)

The fact that I got to see this Key & Peele sketch performed live, and now everyone knows how funny it is.

The Habs drafting Alex Galchenyuk, and then the 2012 NHL Draft ending promptly after that, and the Bruins didn't draft anyone. (For the sake of pageviews, I'll mention his name a few more times. Galchenyuk. Alex Galchenyuk, good Gally miss Molly.)

The opening scene of the Mindy Project's pilot episode. A bunch of people didn't like it, and then begrudgingly admitted in, like, DECEMBER that the show was getting better. Clearly they didn't see the same pilot I did. (Honourable mention to Ben & Kate, which did actually have an awful pilot episode, but won me over when I gave it a second chance.)

The AHL games at the Bell Centre that brought Ben Maxwell and J.T. Wyman back to town, and introduced me to my new silent enemy, Eddie Pasquale.

Knowing that I'd see hockey, even if there was a lockout, even if I was out of the country. Two of the first things I saw when I arrived in Italy in October: a guy wearing a Detroit Red Wings track suit, and a store whose windows were dressed with pictures of the Vancouver riot couple. I am not making this up. (One of the first things I heard was a Chuck Berry song on the loudspeakers at a train station. Italy is a weird and wonderful place.)

Oh, and a 13th for good luck: Basketball.

Wow, when I look at it this way, 2012 wasn't a complete bore. Then why am I so glad that this year finally moved its lazy ass out of my way?
Best wishes to all of my readers (all one of you) for a happy and, most importantly, healthy new year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "Ariel"

"The next time you stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face."

I'm back from my trip and catching up on the nerd initiative to rewatch the brilliant-but-cancelled Firefly, to mark the show's ten-year anniversary. This week: "Ariel." Original air date: November 15, 2002.

I don't remember having seen "Ariel" before. And now, I don't know what to do with myself. It feels like I just watched two feature-length movies in the last 44 minutes. One was a brilliant adventure movie and the other was some kind of Greek tragedy set in the future. Let me just note that this episode was supposed to air after "Out of Gas," which decimated me emotionally. In this case, I'm kind of glad that Fox decided to ruin the show's intended and logical order of episodes, if only because I wouldn't be able to handle so many emotions right now.

I love the way this episode opens - with the whole crew in the kitchen. There's a real sense of camaraderie, and it follows the end of the last episode, "Safe," quite nicely. It looks like Simon and River really are at home on Serenity - until River slashes Jayne with a knife, possibly in a misguided attempt to defend her brother. Somehow, Mal is able to be the perfect captain following an event like this and settles things with both Jayne and Simon.

Since Serenity has to land on the shiny, rich core planet of Ariel to drop Inara for her annual Companion physical, Simon takes the opportunity to set up some work for his shipmates and try to help his sister at the same time. He hatches a plan - yes, Simon, the straight-laced doctor, maps out an entire criminal scheme - for the crew to sneak himself and River into the hospital. I know, I wouldn't expect it from Simon either, since he talks all pretty and boring, like all the other rich people we see in the core in this episode.

The plan is laid out in the kind of montage you usually see in heist movies. Obviously, not everything goes as planned. Things go wrong in the most engrossing way possible. Mal and Zoe encounter a minor roadblock in their plan to steal meds from storage. Unfortunately, Jayne, Simon, and River are stopped by an even bigger hurdle. Which is Jayne's fault - he calls the Alliance to turn in the two fugitives, hoping for a payday and a more serene Serenity, and ends up being arrested, too. (You know, harboring fugitives, trying to outwit an evil empire, the kind of stuff that'd get anyone in trouble.)

Now Simon has to save his sister from the same people he already worked so hard to save her from, and it must be even harder for him to do so after he found out just how much damage they did to her. This is not a good day to be Simon or River. The bad guys who caught them, that they escape from, aren't even the real bad guys! I was scared enough of the men with the blue gloves just knowing that they had lobotomized River multiple times. Watching them make sure that their search for Simon and River leaves no survivors was terrifying. I know that in television, usually everything gets wrapped up all pretty and the main cast isn't usually in danger of being brutally killed, but somehow in this episode, I wasn't so sure. (And yes, spoiler alert: I know that not everything will be okay after this episode.)
"She feels everything. She can't not."
In this episode, Jayne wasn't the quip-ready, smirking tough guy I've come to know and love. He was unpleasant. I can't say I was surprised that his greed took over and he turned in River and Simon, but I can't believe that he actually went through with it and showed so little regard for them and the crew. The fact that he realizes he's done something wrong at the end of the episode, and shows remorse for it, was stunning. If I had been watching this episode when it first aired, my mind would have been blown.

If I had watched it back then, there are so many things I would have missed: the sharp editing, the stunning use of dialogue, and the way that colours are used. The scary steel grey of the Alliance, the crisp, sterile hospital whites, the bright colours of the 3D scan technology... Visually, this was such an impressive episode. I have no idea if the set designers and special effects people were just that good at making a lot out of a little, or if the show was so expensive that it just had to be cancelled. Then again, the latter would be ridiculous, since I'm sure that at least some money had to be spent on Temptation Island, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, that dating show hosted by Monica Lewinsky, and any lawsuits that may have followed the production of such shows.
But what do I know, right? It's not like I work for the TV network that cancelled this show. I'm just one of many fans with access to the episodes that were produced, and an appreciation for the people who made them.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

We Don't Know What We're Missing

I don't need to tell anyone what the disadvantages of the current NHL lockout are. You already know. Business owners are struggling to make the kind of money they'd usually make on game nights. The worst of the NHL's fans are just as insufferable and bitter as ever. Heck, some of their best fans are just as bad. On good days, I work on a draft of an optimistic piece about the lockout that's been in development hell for weeks now, if not months.

But lately, there haven't been that many good days. I have nothing to look forward to, hockey-wise, but waking up early to read uninspired tweets about World Juniors games. My New Year's Day will likely be boring as hell as I prepare to go back to work, where small talk will (as usual) consist of banal questions about the lockout. The only inspiring thing to happen to NHL fans, through this entire lockout, has been (of all things) a commercial:

It proves that hockey players and fans aren't just in love with their sport: they're determined and stubborn in the best way possible. Two sentences basically say it all:
Take away my pads? I'll just wear thicker socks.
We don't care about the industry or the business of hockey. We don't even care if we get a little more banged-up than usual on the ice. We just care about the game.

But if there were an NHL season right now, this ad proves that Steven Stamkos would be a force to be reckoned with. Just look at him. I've always thought he was an impressive player, but I've never actually been scared of Stamkos until now. Here, he's just as much of a threat on camera as he would be on the ice. He's staring into the camera like he's watched too many Clint Eastwood movies. Just watching him, you're squirming in your seat, hoping for NHL hockey, for one of two reasons: either just to placate him before he gets angry, or to see what he's going to do once he puts on his skates. Somehow you can tell that he's itching to get back on the ice and start lighting the lamp in every arena in the NHL. He's coming off of a 60-goal season. He's ready. He's angry.

Stamkos would have been a sight to behold this season, but there is no season. And now we'll never know what we've been missing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "Safe"

I'm back from my trip and catching up on the nerd initiative to rewatch the brilliant-but-cancelled Firefly, to mark the show's ten-year anniversary. This week: "Safe." Original air date: November 8, 2002.

I should probably preface this by saying that this was a great episode for people who love staring at Sean Maher's face. It appears that I am one of those people. I will try very hard not to make this entire post about how much I enjoyed looking at Sean Maher's face.

But I will say this: If social networking had existed in 2002 the way it does now, things would be incredibly different. You'd check your Tumblr dash on a Saturday morning and find photosets from the previous night's episode. People would live-tweet their favourite bons mots. Sean Maher's face would probably be a hashtag (#SeanMahersFace) and have its own page on Facebook. Or, it would have, after this episode aired.

It was great to finally get a little bit more backstory on River and Simon. Eventually, the few minutes per episode where you notice just how badly off River is, and why that might have happened, and someone says a bit of heart-wrenching dialogue, just aren't enough anymore. They and Shepherd Book had spent enough time in B-plots, so I'm glad that they finally got their due.

In this episode, the cargo from last week's adventure (a herd of cattle) are to be dropped off and sold on a planet called Jiangyin. So, at least there's SOME continuity there. The fact that Simon is not at all the same as he was in "Jaynestown" doesn't really make any sense, but Fox wasn't thinking of that, probably. Anyway, it doesn't take long for the crew to get into trouble soon after they land. (It seems like they always get in more trouble outdoors than in, which might be why every outdoor scene in this show seems so off-putting.) Simon angers Kaylee, loses sight of River, and gets kidnapped. Mal and Jayne get caught up haggling with some undesirable types, who promptly get arrested. A shootout breaks out, and the Shepherd is caught in the crossfire.

What to do when your onboard medic is missing and one of your crew has been shot? Other than have Zoe take the bullet out of him, of course? You listen to Inara and take him to the Alliance, because you have no other choice. Doing so made the crew realize that the Shepherd might be keeping secrets from them - who is he, that the Alliance immediately took him to emergency care after saying that they wouldn't? And why wasn't Inara there when they showed up? (Because this is an extremely necessary plot point? Oh, okay.)

As for Simon and River, they were left abandoned on Jiangyin, which is apparently a world in need of a doctor. So, naturally, after River's few minutes of dancing and happiness, after she immediately stops the exact moment that Book gets shot, some of the townsfolk (is that the correct term here? Worldsfolk? Spacefolk?) abduct Simon. Of course.

His medical assistant, a local teacher, seems to think that Simon has found a new home. She was probably just trying to convince him to stay, but during this episode we realize that Simon is a misfit, just like the rest of Serenity's crew. He doesn't fit in with a crew of bandits, but he isn't exactly the kind of haughty bourgeois robot his parents so wanted him to be. He doesn't really know where he fits in, and he's been too busy taking care of his sister to really think about it. And then, as cheesy as this sounds, he realizes that where he belongs is wherever River needs him to be.

He bravely threatens to go up in flames with the sister who's about to be burned at the stake as a witch - which, yes, is a plot point in this episode. I'm not sure how I feel about the show taking an unexpected paranormal turn, but it's handled really well. I most certainly wouldn't expect River to be called a witch, but the people of Jiangyin suddenly turned into an angry mob and River needed saving. So Simon did what needed to be done. And the Serenity showed up right on time, because they're big damn heroes. (Ain't they just?)

I didn't remember this episode as well as I thought I did - which is a pleasant surprise, because it was almost like watching it for the first time. Plus, I got to make it through the whole episode without realizing that young Simon was played by Zac Efron, which meant I got to save my inappropriate guffaws for the end credits!
I think it was the hair that distracted me.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "Shindig"

"Up until the punching, it was a real nice party."

I'm back from my trip and catching up on the nerd initiative to rewatch the brilliant-but-cancelled Firefly, to mark the show's ten-year anniversary. This week: "Shindig." Original air date: November 1, 2002.

I have an admission to make: "Shindig" might be my favourite episode of Firefly. It's my go-to episode whenever I see my DVDs sitting on the shelf and immediately need to go back to the 'verse. I don't think I'll ever tire of watching it. Directed by TV journeyman Vern Gillum (whose name sounds like he should be on the show, no?) and written by the fantastic Jane Espenson. She's worked with Joss Whedon since Buffy and has since lent her talents to top-notch sci-fi series and comedies. She's also a great follow on Twitter. But I think the main reason why I'm singing her praises is because she wrote this episode.

I wrote in my "Out of Gas" post that Fox made a sort-of bold decision in airing such a powerful episode so early in the show's run. Unfortunately, the contrast between "Out of Gas" and "Shindig" is proof that this show was mishandled. Sure, "Shindig" is a much lighter, less emotionally destructive episode, and a welcome change, but there's no continuity. Firefly may not need to rely on heavily serial storytelling, but there are literally no consequences following an episode in which two characters came very close to death. It just doesn't make any sense.

However, on its own, "Shindig" is pure awesome. There are so many things I love about it, mostly because all of the characters have a moment of their own. This episode reminds me why I love all of them.

I love River because of how completely unpredictable she is. In this episode, rather than just being taken over by the fear and paranoia that have ruined her, she verbally lays out the small-time crook that Serenity's crew didn't want to do business with.
I love Book and Simon because they take such good care of River. Such endless patience. It's incredible.
I love Inara because she's smarter and more refined than any of the men rich enough to pay her. Atherton Wing, her client in this episode, is a perfect example of that. He's so stuck-up and spoiled that he has to pay women to attend parties with him. He can't even rely on his fancy British accent to pick up girls, because every time he speaks he sounds like a moron. No wonder Mal spends half the episode wanting to punch him in the face.
I love Jayne because he never fails to make me laugh. Also because he is Jayne Cobb.
I love Wash and Zoe because they have the perfect marriage.
I love Mal because he's loyal to the people he cares about, no matter what. And because of his hilarious suit and tight pants.
And I love Kaylee because she's so honest. No filters. So true to herself. She loves getting dirty and fixing things just as much as she loves fancy buffet tables and fluffy dresses. And no matter whether she's fixing something or walking through a fancy party, she never even pretends to hide her emotions. Also, I love that she calls Mal "Captain Tightpants."

Since it took me so long to crank out this post, I rewatched this episode with the DVD commentary on. I learned that the show's costume designer loved this show maybe even more than fans do. She made sure that every detail was perfect, that every costume told a story. She made sure that all of the designs on Jayne's shirts said something about him. She borrowed a hoop skirt that had been used in The King and I to make Kaylee's pink dress. And she used the skirt from her own wedding dress for Inara's gown. No series before or since has looked quite like it, and it's a shame that it was cancelled so early, because her eye for costumes was incredible.

Mighty fine shindig.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

MOving on

The end of Movember is always a little bit disappointing. It reminds me of the first summer that I worked at the Just for Laughs festival - I spent a few days (in a uniform that was decidedly too big for me) greeting festivalgoers and supervising the grounds. I got to watch people laugh. And then the festival was over, and the only thing left to supervise was the demolition of the children's play park. Watching a crane take down a giant dinosaur statue built out of Lego blocks would have been awesome if it weren't so sad.

This was the first year that I raised money for the cause. I'd spent two years donating to the Mo Bros in my life and helping out in whatever way I could, but this year I decided to put other people's money where my mouth is. (That doesn't sound right, does it?) It took up a bit of my time, and maybe I made myself sick by worrying so much about my office bake sale. I wouldn't take back a minute of it, though.

I feel very grateful for all of the support I've received and all of the people who've helped me. Some of you made a donation even though you have rent and insurance and tons of other expenses. Some of you have been really lucky lately, and you've decided to put some of that back into the world by helping me out. Some of you sport fine moustaches year-round. Some of you helped me even though you were quite busy with your own Movember campaign. And some of you are actors much more famous than me and much friendlier than other people in your craft.

I look forward to not bugging everyone I know for donations and maybe relaxing eventually. I do not look forward to a steep decline in the number of mustaches I see. I will, however, keep reminding the men in my life to take care of themselves and remember that their health is important.

Thank you, everyone, for helping me (and millions of other Mo Bros and Sistas) make a difference.