Monday, March 19, 2012

Wandering with An Idiot Abroad




'When [Michael] Palin went around the world in 80 days, I wonder if that was the scheduled time or if he just said "I'm sick of this, can we speed it up?
"'








An Idiot Abroad documents unwanted travels by an unwilling participant. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant decide to send their friend Karl Pilkington around the world to broaden his horizons. In the first series-I haven't completed the second yet- Karl drags his feet to the Seven Wonders of the World (the Colosseum is swapped with the Pyramids because he'd be too comfortable in Rome). Each episode typically features Karl going off to see a 'Wonder' with minimal information about his trip while his friends back in the office(1) routinely derail his journey by creating diversions and adding new tasks- a visit to the Kumbh Mela (a Hindu pilgrimage on the Ganges river), wrestling lessons in Mexico, dancing the Samba in the Rio Carnival, and in the extreme case, a mock-abduction in Jordan. It's basically a human experiment, or as Gervais puts it, an 'expensive practical joke'.

Karl Pilkington himself is chronically glum, difficult-to-impress and so utterly disinterested that it is painfully funny to watch him, to the extent that many people are convinced he's playing a character (he isn't). His unsuitability for the role of presenter makes this a travel show that's not travel show-y. You won't find him waxing(2) poetic about local food (watch him in 'China') or dancing with abandon ('Jordan', 'Brazil'). Words like 'vibrant', 'exciting', 'adventure' never escape his lips- the one time he used 'magnificent' was part of a tactic to convince Stephen Merchant that the view he had of Machu Picchu was just as good as being there. He has none of the joy of living that oozes from the pores of many presenters and consequently, this is a refreshingly frank show. More importantly, whether he's downgrading the Great Wall to 'the alright wall of China' or making helpful suggestions for Christ the Redeemer's beard ('They could have just done with chipping a bit more, making it a bit more hairy'), by making him the 'idiot' in the title, the joke is always on him.

This can make for uneasy viewing. While it's exciting (vibrant! adventurous!) to see the next mad thing that they'll have Karl do, there are moments when it's borderline mean. Stuck in the Amazonian rainforest soon after being on a plane for hours, in the heat, with no food but insects (and crisps, he always brings crisps), he stares into the camera and says that he's genuinely angry and upset and doesn't know how he can convey this. We are suddenly reminded that he is enduring quite a bit for our amusement. I won't call it bullying, as many people are almost conditioned to say when it's anything Gervais, but there's certainly a trade-off to be made between entertainment and complicity.

Because of course, he isn't an idiot. A lot of the observations he makes are searingly accurate- that the cemetery in Mexico suggests that death can be celebrated, and a lot of his concerns valid and sensitive- if he's not a believer, won't attending the Kumbh Mela be disrespectful to those who are? It also strikes me that this show can also be valuable source of information for students of anthropology, religion, sociology, history. Travellers aren't all curious, truth-seeking adventurers, 'heritage' may not be palatable, and encounters can expose prejudices. It's not that we don't already know this but it's rare for a travel documentary to lay them bare.

So yes, there's a lot about Karl and the show that can impress us. But what is Karl not impressed by?

  • Karl is not impressed by the Great Wall of China: 'You can see it for miles. Like, it goes over the hills and stuff for miles...but so does the M6.' (3)
  • Karl is not impressed by devotees at the Kumbh Mela: 'I thought they'd be sort of more religious looking, you know, prim and proper. This one hasn't even got pants on.'
  • Karl does not find Mexican jumping beans in Mexico: ' I can't understand why no one's ever heard of them... You're all stood around here, nothing to do, you'd love these things.'
  • Karl is not impresssed by the Chichen Itza: 'It's alright, yeah, it's just a big pyramid.'
  • Karl not impressed by the Petra audioguide: 'He said Petra is Latin for... I've forgotten what it is.'
  • Karl is not impressed by the Pyramids: 'I'm not worried about who built them because it's ages ago, really. When I first bought my first house, I didn't go: 'who built it?' I want to know: 'is it safe?'
  • Karl is not impressed by Christ The Redeemer: 'From a distance, Jesus, top of a hill, looking like he's about to bungee jump. You pass it, you go: 'great, there he is, what else are we doing?'
  • Karl is momentarily impressed by dolphins in the Amazon but... 'It still all gets on my nerves how people say they're really intelligent because I've never seen them do anything that's blown me away. The way they get raved about... that's what annoys me, because everyone's always calling me a div.' (4)
-
(3) Finally, some proper footnotes. The M6 is the longest motorway in the UK.
(4) And here's what div means.

Off Course: The Masterchef UK Final

(Spoilers)

I didn't think I'd write a post about the final because, well, what is there is to say? But it might be a good way to round-off the half-baked (1) series blog I kept. So here's a goodbye Masterchef UK post.

On the result
Completely unsurprising, of course. Shelina was always going to win. The only unexpected thing was that nothing unexpected happened to her. Given how obvious her victory was from the start, I thought it was too easy a call, that surely something would happen to upset the flan(2), leaving someone else at the top and the viewers stunned. But slow and steady etc. except that she doesn't have steady hands (she told us so herself) and she's always the first to finish.

On Tom and Andrew
I'm happy for Tom because he got a near-perfect result, and he needed to because his run-up to the finals wasn't as smooth as Shelina's or Andrew's. His dishes looked spectacular. Andrew didn't have as good a day as he could have, did he? He is the sort of cook who experiments though, so if you have to go out on a flaw, at least it's a characteristic flaw rather than a generic 'potatoes didn't boil' situation. But this may not be my finest theory.

On something weird
I didn't like what happened from the time the winner was announced. From a nervous collective, suddenly it was just Shelina, Greg and John in their exclusive champagne party (no plebs, please). I suppose they wanted to avoid the melodrama that Masterchef Australia is sometimes accused of. But would it have been so terribly unfashionable to invite some of the old contestants back-maybe even the judges- and to not push Tom and Andrew out of the room like dregs(3)? The whole two months were condensed into the winner's moment and it's sad that a series that bubbled as nicely as this one did, ended with a squeak(4)

But let's remember
Shelina and her well-deserved victory, Tom against the flattering pastel shades of plastered walls, Peter Griffen, Angry Bird and Lady Grey at the critics table, Scary-Jay at the gym, Afsaneh cackling, Emma improving, Miso ice-ream and whiskey fish. And in-line with the show's obsession with Coldplay, let's end with Greg's epic poem sung to the tune of The Scientist:

Zip Up Yer Boots (Bo-ots if you're singing it properly)
Back to your roots
to the place of your birth
back down to earth.

Bye.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Go Read: Wife in Space

As the BBC in its infinite wisdom has still not put up the final episode of Masterchef on iPlayer (the original transmission would have ended at 10, it's now 11.48) and I'm tired of growling at the screen and refreshing the page, here's a recommendation I've been meaning to make for a while:

Adventures With The Wife In Space: It's a blog based on a simple premise. In the words of the creators- 'A ‘not-we’ wife watches Doctor Who from the very beginning with her fanboy husband.'

Neil and Sue Perryman begin at the very first episode of the show, aired in 1963, and move through all of the 'classic' series. What we get to read are transcripts of Sue's commentary, with interjections (often in the form of trivia) from Neil, as they watch the episodes. The experiment began just over a year ago and they're halfway through the classic series now, having just completed the Jon Pertwee era.

Usually fixated on some detail of carpentry or set-design, often unimpressed and always entertaining, Sue gives us a way of looking at a wonderful show through someone else's eyes. Don't worry about how much of the classic series you need to have watched- remember, you're in the same boat as she is. It's a great way to get acquainted with episodes you haven't seen and to revisit the ones you have- and you'll be laughing throughout. So if you're in any way a fan of Doctor Who, go do some reading. (Even Steven Moffat's doing it).

Off course: Masterchef UK, before the final

I couldn't be happier and I couldn't be more excited. When this series of Masterchef started, I'd predicted quite early on that Tom, Shelina and Andrew would make it to the final four (Aki was the fourth). This isn't to showcase my own prediction skills- they're usually rubbish- but to say that I really think the best cooks are in the finals. That doesn't always happen so it's great when it does. [Hello, Masterchef Australia, season 2; I liked Adam and Callum but Marion should have satayed (1) a little longer].

The last few episodes were a great way to remind those who already knew, and convince those who didn't, of how good they all are. I didn't know there was an episode yesterday, by the bye, so I sauntered off to iplayer only to find that I was already one episode behind. And the finals tomorrow makes it three this week. I think there's someone over at the Beeb who picks a number from a box and that's the number of episodes we get for that week.

But what a good two episodes we just saw. Andrew got hugged like he's never been hugged before by the frightening-looking chef at the restaurant in Amsterdam. The French chef in Dorchester even got his own subtitles only to have them mysteriously disappear while he was speaking. And we met a couple of 'regulars' at Shelina's Bruges restaurants who pop in now and again to have a 90 euro starter. This is where I do some good old proletarian sour-grape(2) throwing: O.O.O.

Everytime I see a clip of Tom running around, a part of me dies. Really, why does every 'it's all going wrong' sentiment have to be backed up by a clip of him running around? He's my favourite of the three but I don't think he's going to win. He's inventive, skilled and worked exceptionally well in the most recent episode, but timing has been a consistent problem of his and it's amusing (3) no one. He's also not been the most consistent cook. Imagine a graph: x axis- inventive, y axis- reliable. Whatever position Jay's on, Tom's would mirror him. No, I don't think it'll be him though I'm desperate to be proved wrong.

My money's on Shelina. She's my least favourite of the three- her canned (4) giggling annoys me to no end. And the exchanges between her and Greg (John too, but more Greg) are becoming more and more embarrassing to watch. But she's the cook who has grown most from the start of the show. She used to be criticized for not being refined enough and playing too safe; she's really moved on from there and I can't remember her having had even one disaster in the kitchen. Also, based purely on pragmatics, since the winner is very likely to start their own restaurant, the fact that she does Mauritian food (or hadn't you noticed?) means she automatically has a niche. But someone please tell her to stop eating into (5) the whole island's supply of mangoes. I can never find any at the shops and it's probably because she's used up the lot.

But Andrew is the best. I think the show can safely release a small stuffed toy of Andrew and it would be best-seller (6); I'd buy hundreds and thousands (7). It could have this string that, when pulled, makes the corners of his face go up, down, up, down, as though he's smiling, then crying, smiling, then crying. He and Tom have a similar cooking profile: Tom's better with desserts, Andrew's more reliable with the staid-cooking stuff, Tom's been more consistent with flavour combinations, Andrew's been better with not repeating mistakes. But he really has a counting problem, doesn't he? With timings, and then with thinking that one mouthful is basically the same as four. Though a close-up of Greg's mouth may justify that.

But here's a question: which person on the show had the biggest transformation? No, it's not Shelina. It's not Tom, it's not Andrew. Hello, MBE for dessert-making woman. Why are you masquerading as Meryl Streep gone to seed (8)? For goodness sake, take that honeycomb Tom made and stick it on your head like a hairband. Ooh, voice spot: hers and that of Joanne Froggatt- Anna in Downton Abbey.

What a lovely chef they had in the kitchen though- Restaurant Gordon Ramsay's way of giving the world something other than a foul (9) tempered (10) nut (11) to listen to. She was helpful and encouraging and, unlike Mike/Jason Atherton, didn't just pay lip service to being strict about what leaves her kitchen. And she seemed very impressed with Tom so I dare say he's got an internship waiting for him when he's done.

Which brings us to tomorrow's episode: Fire Walk With Me. That went fast. The only things I can think of that they should do differently in the next series are: 1. Have a few more contestants to start with. This lot felt two too few. But that was because Emma may or may not have masterminded the disappearance of Ashvi and Jonathan, remember? 2. Bump it up to a consistent two episodes per week once we're at, say, the final six or so. One a week is peanuts (12). 3. Instead of having three different challenges/segments packed into one episode as they had in the earlier rounds, to keep it to two and show more of the actual cooking rather than just starting points and comments.

But who am I kidding? It's been a good run (13).

-
P.S. Some tricky ones to make up for the long silence: (5) Celery (13) Runner beans.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Silence In The Library-

Explains why there have been no new posts in a while and why there won't be any for a few more days. Masterchef fans, this does not mean that I've stopped following the series or that my love for Tom and Andrew has waned. Doctor Who fans, this does not mean that the Eleventh has reached Trenzalore and that The Question has been asked. Arrested Development fans, what this means is that I've started attending the Milford School ('Where children are neither seen nor heard').

Back soon.












You can always tell a Milford Man.


Fallen Silence.
(source)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Masterchef UK, Episode 9: Taste Test

We're at a difficult stage in the competition because although no one really deserves to leave, someone has to each time. Tata Aki, you PhD comic.

As a break from all the intensity, here's the ninth
episode in the form of an exam.
--

Q1. How many plates of food did the contestants have to make?

A. 230 plates of exquisite, posh food (Greg)
B. It's now gone up to about 280 (Ian the Overall)
C. We're doing two hundred and...I don't know how many (Aki)
D. Two hundred and thirty, forty, five, sixty, seventy, whatever it is (Eamonn)

Answer: No One Knows.*

Q2. 'There are lots of judges sitting here on the high table and if they're not pleased...' What might happen?

Answer: 'Goodness knows...' (Sadistic lawyer, 19.17). We will not accept 'No One Knows'.

Q3. How long does it take to prep vegetables?

A. At least 3 per person, so take 700. I've done 2 in the time I've been talking to you so 10-15 seconds each. (Andrew)
B. Everything we do, got to make 280 portions. Even if you do, like, three a minute, we're not going to get it done. (Andrew)
C. But that takes, you know, a couple of seconds each one and when you're doing 600 of them, that's a lot of minutes. (Andrew)

Answer: Andrew, just stop talking.


Q4. Who or what is always helpful?

A. Mousse being mousse.
B. Mouse being mouse.
C. Mice being mice.
D. Eamonn and Aki in group challenges.

Answer: Mousse being mousse as in 'The mousse is a mousse, which is always helpful'. (Shelina, 25.49)

Q5. What is wrong with this statement by Aki- 'Fingers crossed- I don't freeze my fingers with the nitrogen.'

Answer: If your fingers are frozen, you would not be able to cross them. (Congratulations to Bernard Woolley of Whitehall for being the first to answer this.)

Q6. What is not an appropriate response to Greg saying '[You're] pushing yourself, mate, really going for it- why?'

Answer: I have to make sure that mine's not the worst dish of the day. (Tom, 37.21)

Q7. Complete the analogy. If Jay: You know what I mean :: Eamonn : _____?

Answer: I'll be honest with you.

Q8. In food mythology, who is known as 'destroyer of the wave of smiles'?

Answer: Aki (30.24). But half-points if you said Eamonn. The 'wave' greeting Michel Roux Jr. begins with Tom at 30.04. Watch it- really.

Q9. How did this difficult exam make you feel?

Answer: Like a little ant climbing up a Mount Everest of potatoes (Aki, 14.41).

*Inside joke, but feel free to laugh. Hahaha.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Downton Abbey Trading Cards



To mark the end of the US transmission of the second series of Downton Abbey, Vanity Fair has released a set of trading cards featuring characters on the show. Rad (1) like socialist chauffers, evil like scheming ladymaids, funny like Hello Shrimpy, you'll want to share this with mamma and papa. Here's the link, but remember that there may be spoilers for the second series.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Best songs in tv shows: It's the Gremmies!

What do you mean, you've never heard of them before? Have you been living in a box (1)?

The Gremmies are long-standing awards for songs in television shows that I definitely haven't just made up. They recognise excellence in song-writing and performance and only consider material that originated on the show. No soundtracks, no covers, only original songs performed by a character on the show, qualify. There's no 'first prize' either- we're not base (2) enough to keep score (3). The award is like a badge of recognition, to be shared equally. This week we cover vocal performances. Up next are the Gremmies for instrumental performances but we'll cross that bridge (4) when we come to it.

A caveat: remember that even the most entertaining nomination-snippets can't convey everything that made that scene great. And no matter how funny a song's lyrics are, a lot of the humour comes from the situation, the character, the audience. So if you recognise the songs, or feel you want to check them out, watch the episode to do them justice.
But I can see you trilling with impatience already (5); don't quaver (6), we'll announce this year's recipients in a minuet [sic] (7).

This edition has picked three songs as being superlative, symbols (8) of the musical talent in the television industry. Lifetime Achievement Award holder Phoebe Buffay- famous for smash hits such as Your Love (Is like a Giant Pigeon), The Woman Smelled Like Garbage and the blockbuster video Smelly Cat- will do the honours. The recipients of the Andante Con Spirito (like Dante on booze) are:


Freelove Freeway
David Brent, The Office

Oh, the inappropriateness of a boss hijacking someone else's staff meeting to sing suggestive songs to a guitar that he went home during office hours to fetch. David Brent has just finished singing Colourblind (it's 'racial'), and gets started on this one. It's a peppy tune with catchy lyrics but sung to a sea of glum faces. And just as he's getting into the groove, faithful sidekick Gareth Keenan chimes in with unwanted back-up vocals:




I got some-
Hot love on the hot love highway/
Now I'm goin' home cause my baby's gone/
(She's dead)
She's not dead.


Have a listen
: from 15.44. Series 1, Episode 4. As a bonus, here's the longer studio version (She said Por Favor/ Can you pump me up/I said Muchos Gracias/and Adios).

LinkIn The Moonlight (Do Me)
Dylan, Modern Family

It's the first time Dylan the Boyfriend is meeting the extended family. There's just been a violent quarrel, Dylan's helped resolve it, things are looking up. So he decides to sing a song he wrote for the daughter of the house. It starts off romantic ('The stars are falling from the sky') and then he takes it up a notch as the camera spans the room, reminding us who's watching: parents, grandparents, uncles...




Cause maybe baby/
I just wanna do you, do you/
Do you wanna do me, do me/
Underneath the moonlight, moonlight.



Have a
listen: Season 1, Episode 4. There are no decent clips on youtube of the actual bit in the episode but here's the music video version.


It Ain't Easy Being White or Brown
Gob and Franklin, Arrested Development

It's only a four-line song but each one is solid ebony and ivory. Gob and Franklin nail the always-difficult ventriloquist/dummy duet as they lay bare the Human Condition. Gob does the soulful white-guy singing parts, Franklin takes on the pained yelping of the Ethnic Minority. In our other entries, the audience is a large part of what makes the songs funny. In this, our sole member of audience- Studio Guy- has made his exit before the song is over.




It ain't being white/
It ain't easy being brown/
All this pressure to be bright/
I got children all over town.



Have a listen:
Season 2, Episode 18. Again, no decent clips from the episode itself but here's the disembodied song.

--

What do you think? Any omissions? It's a long way to the top (9) but we have some Spirito Con Andante (booze, drunk at a leisurely pace) titles left in the bag.

Coming soon: The Gremmies for instrumental performances.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beginners' Guide: The Yes Minister Alphabet

A minister

Begins his

Career in the

Department of Administrative Affairs.

Enter: the Civil Service.

Forget the manifesto, Minister!

Get hold of a baby and

Hold it up to the cameras

Instead.

Just leave the work to

Kingmaker Sir Humphrey,

L
ike a runner passing the baton.

Minister, Kingmakers can't run...

No, you see, they have these long robes and in the original Latin...

Okay Bernard,

Please sit down.

Quite so, Minister,

Remarks

Sir Humphrey,

The Independent Committee has deliberated on the defense and feel that

U
nauthorised and independently-worked speeches are unneccesary, indefensible and

Veering towards the unwelcome, making an authorised

White Paper resolution neccesary and welcome.

Xplain what on earth you mean that, Humphrey!

Yes Minister, I simply mean:

Zip it.

Off Course: Masterchef UK, Episode 8

(Spoilers)

Yes, I know it goes 5, 6, 7, 8 (I heard it in a song), but I was doing other things so we're missing a step (1) and moving on. But before we do:

1. WHAT?! How could Emma have outlasted Afsaneh?! Maybe they felt that the show wouldn't be the same without every episode ending with Emma pledging to do better. But I'm sad Afsaneh's gone.

2. Shelina tells us that what differentiates Italian chefs from others is their love of food. It puts an interesting spin on other styles of cooking. For instance, when a Spanish chef says 'beat an egg', could she actually mean 'beat an egg?' And is grilling chicken an expression of hatred?

Back to this episode:
Aaaand Emma's out. I don't want to say I'm happy because if she's on the show, she must be good; and what do I, or anyone who isn't actually in the kitchen, know about how difficult it is? But I am surprised it took so long and annoyed that she took out Afsaneh. The downside is that I like all the remaining people so every dismissal will break my heart like an egg on the side of a bowl.

On the topic of dismissals, due credit to Emma for her masterful delivery (2) of cricketing metaphors: 'I hate being on the back foot, I want to be on the front foot. And at this stage of the game, I might not have done enough'. That turned out to be true for almost all the contestants in an unexpectedly difficult round. I think it was collective nervousness. They've cooked for chefs in their own kitchens and been judged in the studio by chefs they’ve worked with, but Tom Kitchen was an unfamiliar in a familiar space. Even Andrew struggled to impress his semi-likeness, though narrator India Fisher calling it 'Andrew's Whiskey Disaster' suggests a different problem.

She can join Greg and John in the unfortunate-phrasing corner. Greg demonstrated his disregard for personal pronouns when he told us that his favourite dish was- 'Shelina' (25.16). Not to be bested, John made his contribution to continental philosophy, telling Jay: 'Try and cross the bridge before you come to it'. Happily for us, we can apply this principle of pre-emption to answer a question that Jay likes to ask a billion times each episode (I counted four in this one). Jay, we know what you mean.

Back in the Greg-John contest, victory rested with John on account of this entry about Aki: 'She took some onions and some cheddar cheese and then she turned into a tart.'

Maybe he was thinking of her enthusiastic declarations of love for the judges? But the father-daughter vibe they have going is cool. Watch him scolding her for the mess she's made in the barn between 44.25 and 44.45, guest-starring Tom as ‘mischievous brother’. Oh, did you notice that Tom didn't get a Kitchen comment (4) during his prep? They probably couldn’t fit it in what with all the screen time Shelina gets. Judging by her prominence on the footage, she’s either going to win or gets booted in a shock decision. And while she’s obviously good, her quiet, coy smugness is getting to me. But I’d probably be coy too if my dish looked like a homage to Freud. Go on, take another look at 22.17.

Good to see that the barn challenge went better; they seem to work well together. Tom was being more assertive which is nice to see, more sizzle (5) between him and Shelina at 46.16, Jay and Eamonn were joking around, Aki and Eamonn resolved the dessert problem without squabbling (She’s really a team-player. Remember the Austen episode?). Oh, and they'd better get a new praise-clip for Eamonn or I'm going to drown in the mouthful of sea that the oyster-eating green woman from episode four keeps banging on about. I think she’s the past-series winner whose victory precipitated a fall-out between the judges.

Pity about Aki's oven problem. To be fair, if we'd been watching, we'd have known it was imminent. Here she is at 43.27:

‘I think I’ll use the oven’.

Pause.

‘How do you use the oven?’

And then, mystery of mysteries! Who turned down the oven to 120 degrees? That's low (6) by any standards. Going by Shelina’s furtive look at 46.02, I’d say it woz her wot did it. Somebody give that oven its own show.

Best on-cue eating award to Shelina at 35.18 for eating a leaf just after she spoke about how lovely it is to be outdoors in Cumbria. She shares the prize with John for his on-cue fake smile at 57.12. The what-were-you-thinking award goes to the editing/camera-work team for slipping in a shot of a cat as part of the ‘edible animals’ montage at 45.41. Don't worry, I'm sure they didn't actually cook the cat. Unless it was curious , in which case...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dunder Mifflin': The Office (US) comes home

I hadn't watched the two latest episodes of the US Office, partly because I was doing other things and partly because I wasn't excited enough about the way season eight is going to remember to watch them. But hooray for me being wrong! The episodes showed none of the tiredness of the series: the plots were zippier, transitions between scenes and to and from the 'talking heads' (when characters speak to the camera) were faster, and the energy in the direction and the acting changed the dynamic completely. Some samples:

From 'Jury Duty'
We learn that Angela has given birth and so some people from the office decide to visit her. Everyone's reluctant to go, but Gabe- that Samurai creepster from another planet- jumps up with an enthusiastic 'I'm in!' and explains:

"I love maternity wards. It's the perfect blend of love and horror. Things can go so wrong and so right." (3.19)

And, as his expression throughout the scene is some variant of the ones below, I think horror would be a better bet.


There's plenty more to clap about in that episode. There's a clever bit of mime with Dwight swallowing Andy's 'chill pill'- which I thought had the makings of a stand-alone cold open (that is, the pre-titles sequence) like the utterly brilliant one of Jim's brush with Pavlov (S3E16). However, the main storyline of Jim trying to cover up the extra leave he took for Jury Duty, while being decent enough is hijacked by another, better, storyline that I won't go into because it's a massive spoiler. Go and watch the episode, you lazie.

From 'Special Project'
Lots to pick from here but the most sound-byte worthy would be Dwight's exposition of his state of mind after he lands a promotion:

'The Schrutes have a word for when everything in a man's life comes together perfectly: Perfectenschlag... I am so deep inside of Perfectenschlag right now. And, just to be clear, there is a second definition- perfect pork anus- which I don't mean.'

If you haven't watched it and are bothered by spoilers, do not watch the video of that bit. But what's great about this episode is that it didn't rely on funny lines alone but on good story-telling. The montage of Dwight putting together his 'crack team' and the bits from the interviews of the candidates, worked as reminders of how much the characters on the show have to offer. Seen in that light, something Mindy Kaling (who writes for the show and plays Kelly) had said after Steve Carell's departure makes sense: that the show is so rich in oddities that it may not even need a replacement [for him] and can simply devote more time to the other characters.

Which makes me think: could it be that these two episodes are such remarkable improvements because they don't feature Robert California? Their writers have written for the show before and only one of the directors is new- so it can't really (or only) be that. James Spader is brilliant and his character is, too: unrelenting, unnerving, powerful. But the main difference in these episodes is the energy, the upbeatness. And when Robert California is in the room, the primary mood is slow-burning, tense comedy and the attention is on him. Maybe his absence takes the pressure off and quickens the pace?

This is an important question because the show needs to figure out what was holding it back and make sure that these are the kinds of episodes it's making . Viewer statistics may not bother committed fans but it's sad that 'Special Project' is so far the least watched episode of the show (so wikipedia tells me) and 'Jury Duty' is not far behind. No show should hang around for too long and it's possible The Office already has. But if it can still serve up episodes like this, no one's complaining.

Paper Promises
:
Dwight's working relationship with the new team is exciting and maybe one better than the Michael Scott Paper Company arc. This probably will be one to keep an eye on.

Angela and Pam's competitiveness in 'Special Project' sets an interesting dynamic that could resolve half of the what do we do with Jim and Pam now problem.

More of the beanie-wearing, spanish-translator warehouse man, please.

But I say No, No, No:
To Cathy (Kathy?) and Jim. The Office is not a soap or dear Kelly's fake pregnancy would have lasted a whole series. Go away, Cathy. No one will even notice.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Off course: Masterchef UK, Episode 6

(Spoilers.)

They are dropping like fries! (1) First Jonathan, now Ashvi. Is this the work of an evil participant looking to eliminate the competition (my money's on Emma)? Or is the show making up for the dramatique of the last series by urging people to quit so that the judges don't have to choose? Or maybe John and Greg have been stripped of their firing power (2) and don't want anyone to know. Yes- I've had a think and this is definitely what I think happened.

But I'm glad Ashvi's gone. I liked her at the start of the competition but she did poorly in the last challenge and was only a bit better in this week's mass catering challenge. It's true that chicken curry can have runny gravy, though, so one point to Ashvi the 'Authentic Indian' (as opposed to all the counterfeit Indians they keep rolling off the printing presses). One point added but ten taken away for being so unpleasant to everybody and for yelling at Andrew. No one yells at Andrew while I am around. Andrew is the best.

More samples of Afsaneh's terrifying laughter but she did make a moussaka all by herself and without any fuss, so she's allowed a cackle or two. So what if Greg doesn't actually know how to say her name and called her Asfaneh at 14.50? Ooh, another voice-resemblance spot: moussaka eater at 20.35 and Lock Stocks' Barry the Baptist.

Plenty of drama in that kitchen service, though- and not just because they were meant to be feeding three hundred workers. Tweedledum and Tweedledee were doing some passive-aggressive fighting, the best kind to watch. By that I mean that Eamonn and Jay were rehearsing that age-old debate: turnips or potatoes. Imagine the scene:

"I would like to put some turnips in this Lancashire hot pot."
"NO! NO turnips! Put in some potatoes!"
"Fine, I'll put some potatoes but I'm telling you know- I'll cut those beef pieces bigger than usual and there's nothing you can do about it."

Masterchef-it's wild.

The cinematic theme ran through the rest of the show, too. Back in the Masterchef kitchen, with the contestants cooking to stay in the competition, we were treated to two compressed romantic comedies. The first between Greg and Shelina (Come Away With Me: I'm serious) and the second between John and Aki (Lolita: Fire of my tenderloins). The two judges have obviously coordinated their moves because their looks of lechery are alarmingly similar. It appears that the show has decided to place the former story higher up in the pecking order (3) so between 43.33-45.10, we arrived at the climax of the movie: an exchange between an appreciative Greg and a bashful/knowing Shelina over dessert. Bubbling with tension, saccharine (4) and all-round cringe-worthy, it ended with our lovely heroine saying that 'it was the best feedback a girl could have'.

What else could match up to that, really? Even Tom's super souffle can't rise (5) to the challenge. Emma's onion ice-cream made her cry (onions do that), Jay blow-torched the beef while John made faces at him behind his back and Andrew went from pixie to Santa-elf. I continue to be ambivalent about Aki and I am annoyed that I used up my offal pun in the last post because that's exactly what Afsaneh served up.

But what the closing minutes of the episode demonstrated was the high standard of the competition this year. If Andrew, Afsaneh and Aki are in the bottom four of a group, it must be a pretty good group. Which brings me to: how come Emma's still here? I have nothing against her but so far she hasn't shown that she has the skills to pip(6) any of the others to the post. If Ashvi hadn't quit, I think it would have been her leaving. There's always hope, though, and maybe she's saving up for later. Or plotting to take someone else out.

Next person to disappear? Shelina. (Come Away With Me II: She did)

Beginners' Guide: The Doctor Who Alphabet

An alien in a

Blue box

Cruises through time and space.

Daleks! Oh no! His oldest

Enemies!

Fight he must! And of course he wins.

Gah, that was close.

He’s a Time Lord,

Intelligent, old, and

Just a bit mad, but

Kind- very kind.

Leaving his home to fight

Monsters with a screwdriver (it’s sonic).

Never wanting to interfere but

Olways interfering.

Presently, he looks

Quite young. It’s his party trick-

Regeneration. When he’s

Sick and going to die he

Takes another form:

Unreal?

Very.

We’re on number eleven now- Matt Smith

Xcellent actor, xcellent Doctor

You should watch him, you

Zebra eating monkey.