E: Thrills!  Chills!  Backstabbing and guns and – frontstabbing?  Was that supposed to be a body?  What on earth?  Lots of good stuff this week on V – pocket sized recap and spoilers after the jump.

Actually, before I get into all that, who else is shocked to find that next week’s episode of V is going to be the last until March?!!!!!  We are NOT pleased.

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This is our 111th post – Relatively Entertaining turns eleventy-one posts old today!  In honor of this special occasion, we’d like to chat about one of our Family Favorite authors: the gateway drug for fantasy literature, scholar J. R. R. Tolkien.

E: I was the first person in our family to read him, and I’m honestly not sure if the recommendation came from a friend or one of our town’s children’s librarians.  We’re all pretty gratfeul to whomever that was, though. What I do remember is this – though he wasn’t the first epic fantasy writer I encountered (that’d be Lloyd Alexander with The Prydain Chronicles) he will always be the best.  His language is precise and beautiful, and there’s humor as well as darkness.  There are glorious heroes and heroines, villains both weaselly and terrifying, unimaginable odds, and great victories.  But perhaps Tolkien’s genius lies in his ability to evoke both the larger sweep of events and the torments of an individual soul.  The small and particular is never trampled over by the grandiose.  Humility is not insignificance. Tolkien’s characters and readers always know what they’re fighting for: the pastoral vision of the Shire.  And everyone can play their part; each one can make a difference.  That gives great hope and inspiration, even if (later on – I read these in junior high) it can make you a bit dissatisfied with your 9 to 5.

I passed the virus on to M (“Why doesn’t your brother read?  Give him something to read!”) and he took it to new depths.

M: I’m not sure I’d say new depths, but certainly to different depths.  Much like E, my first foray into fantasy literature, and really into literature of any kind, were the Prydain Chronicles, and it was my love for those stories that led me to be accepting of E’s suggestion of reading Tolkien.  As the reference to my mother’s words suggests, I wasn’t much of a reader (being the more math/computer/sports focused sibling, while each of my sisters were English majors).  But I have always found that when I connect with an author I will read their works voraciously.  Alexander was first, reading the Prydain and Westmark series, followed by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and long after discovering Tolkien I delved into pop authors like Grisham and Crichton.  But Tolkien is the one that I connected with the most.

I tore through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings the first time, though I was so emotionally drained by The Return of the King that I couldn’t pull myself to read the scouring of the shire (E: I HATE the scouring of the Shire) until the next time through.  (C: I’ll confess, I’ve only ever skimmed it.)  I have read and re-read them, dissected them, studied the indices, read The Silmarillion, his Bible-like history of Middle Earth, and even took a class in college on Tolkien’s sources (in which I excitedly found that some of his influence came from the same Welsh mythology that Alexander drew from for Prydain).  As I mentioned in a prior post, when they announced the movies were being made, I obsessed (there is no better word) and found every bit of information I could about the production from the time it was just a couple sketch drawings and a loose agreement with New Line Cinemas, to their release and on after.

C: I remember that time vividly, from the excitement of seeing Ian McKellen’s face with a Gandalfian nose and hat drawn onto it, to the announcement of each cast member and endless discussion with roommates, friends, and of course siblings on whether they fit our mental images of the characters.  Yes, we were big dorks, but this was our book!  That we cared so much about!  It mattered that they get it right!

E: I was such a trembling blend of fear and hope about those movies!  Peter Jackson was so untested!  And in the end, they were such a masterly portrait of Tolkien’s intent.  (Well, except for Faramir, who was – painfully – not the unqualified hero of the books.)  I mean, we loved the Rankin Bass cartoon (“Where there’s a whip, there’s a way!”) but Jackson did Tolkien justice.

M: And the movies are great, ultimately, because the books are beyond great.  As E said, there is so much in the stories that draw me in.  From the grandiose scope of the adventure, to the tiniest details of each character.  From the marvelous maps (I LOVE maps!), to the amazing back story and depth of the world.  There is humor (like the title of the post, as Bilbo Baggins drunkenly celebrates his 111th, or eleventy-first birthday) and there is pathos.  One of the things that draws me the most is that you genuinely feel for both the good and evil characters.  Tolkien makes you hate characters like Boromir and Gollum, then gives you insight into why they are as they are, and you feel pity for them.  He makes you love characters, then gives you moments to doubt them (well, all but Samwise Gamgee.  How could anyone ever doubt Sam?).

C: It would be impossible.  His reflection on war, in the scene where he and Frodo witness the battle in Ithilien between Faramir’s rangers and the Southrons, is one of the most honest and moving things I have ever read.

E: That translated beautifully to the screen, too.  But you know what my favorite thing about the movies might be?  That they got our parents to read the books.  And help awaken a love of literature in our Dad, who hadn’t read anything but non-fiction for about 25 or 30 years.

M: One of the things that amazes me, having read so much of his work, is the range in it.  The whole world of Middle Earth started in Tolkien’s mind with the first line of The Hobbit, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”  From such a humble start, and through a love of mythology and language, he created first a lovely, lighthearted children’s book, that my 9 and 6 year olds are greatly enjoying as I read it to them.

C: Yes, and I think people undersell what an achievement that is.  To have this majestic grand scheme in the back of your mind, but to create a lighthearted yet engaging story with the feel of a classic myth or adventure tale, letting the darkness and subtlety inflect the background while you focus on celebrating the good things in life (like a good song and a warm fire and a kettle just beginning to sing!) is something few “serious authors” could succeed at.

M: Exactly.  And from there he created an entire world, a deep, and much of the time very dark, world that in the end had very little to do with Hobbits.  Hobbits were still central in The Lord of the Rings, a story much more intended for young adults and adults, more emotionally and thematically mature.  Everyone and everything in the story has a back story, and every story is fascinating either in the drama or action involved in it, or in both.  The Silmarillion is the back story, and even in college I had trouble getting through the first 50 pages or so, taking about three separate hacks at it before I was able get past that and read the whole book.

E: Now, gosh, I love love love the opening of The Silmarillion – the myth of the world being created through music?  So gorgeous.  I have lots of books of his ancillary notes and stories – it’s all unbelievably rich and detailed and thorough.

M: In the end, I could read these stories, especially The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, over and over and never once feel the slightest bit sick of them.  I find new details each time I read them, new ways to understand actions and meanings of conversations.  They are fantastical, and action packed, and adventurous, delivering spectacular battles between different races and species like the battle of Helm’s Deep.  Yet they are equally dramatic and philosophical, delivering such profound moments as Gandalf responding to Frodo’s wish that he did not have to deal with the evil of his time, replying “So do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Castle Review: “Love Me Dead”

C: So I’ve been doing a bit of research on what makes detective stories appealing, and one thing most people seem to agree on is that a great detective should always be one step ahead of the audience.  They have the facts, and you have the facts, but they put them together just a little bit faster – leaving you impressed and satisfied, like a magic show or any demonstration of talent.

This week’s Castle, “Love Me Dead,” tells the story of a D.A. thrown off a building, a prostitution ring, and in the B-plot, a mysterious secret Alexis is hiding from her family… but telling Beckett.  Which makes Castle a grouch!  The problem with this episode’s A-plot, though, is that the detectives take a lot longer to catch onto a major plot point than it takes the audience.  You’d think this would make us feel impressed with ourselves, but all it really does is make us impatient with our heroes.  Wasn’t it obvious…? Continue reading

ETV:Grey’s Anatomy: New History

E: Is it me, or is it you, Grey’s Anatomy?  Why didn’t I enjoy this episode more?  I’m not entirely sure I can put my finger on it.  Maybe because Joel Grey wasn’t that funny, and didn’t make me cry either (though the shot of him with his face on the floor?  Yikes.) Maybe because there was less Alex and more Percy. Maybe it’s just the normal balance of the show was out of whack for me – I don’t think I like it when they go into patients we’re not introduced to and invested in.

But on the other hand, I really like the new cardio attending!  Maybe it’s just because I’m firmly in the Kim Raver camp (The Nine! The Nine!)  but I was thrilled to see someone actually teaching at this teaching hospital!  And I liked the funny that they did bring.  And there was a serious emotional wallop at the end, too.  A lot happened that was fantastic.  So why do I not remember feeling satisfied?

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ETV: Finale Part 1 of Project Runway and Models of the Runway

E: Thank God this season of Project Runway is almost over.  Can I get an Amen? We’ve pared things down to the only really interesting contestants (well, that is to say, the best three contestants who didn’t get ridiculously knocked out super early)  and that’s nice.  They’re all as deserving as anyone got.  But I’m so looking forward to the return to NYC in season 7!  Bravo is rerunning Season 4, flaunting Chris, Christian, Rami and Jillian in our faces.  Ah, the glory days – where have they gone, where diiiiiiid zay go?  (Points for the musical reference.  To someone not related to me.)  I’m also scrubbing my eyeballs after seeing Tim dance behind the screen.  Wrong wronggetty wrong wrong wrong!  The models, meanwhile, are as chipper as ever.  Do you suppose the producers wept the day that drama queens Fatma and Vanessa went home?  I don’t mind, though – it’s a weird and rare pleasure to see reality show contestants behaving so well.  Spoilers, of course.

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The Good Wife: Unorthodox

E: This week the writers decided to throw a little temptation Alicia’s way.  Ah, so Will made a move, did he?  Um, no.  Nothing so meaningful as that.   But ooooh, can I just say how much I love the dialog on this show?  I could just roll around in it, like George Costanza in velvet.

Erm.  Yes.  What was I saying?  Case of the week: mystery partner Stern has a daughter who’s being sued, and Will asks Alicia to sit in on the case (which is really about helping to protect her job from layoffs).  The lawsuit is what they call a ‘slip and fall,’ filed by a woman who slipped and fell in front of the former party girl/now devout Orthodox daughter’s house.  The daughter, Anna, had met the scholarly Mr. Loeb while she was in rehab, and unlikely as it may be, that was it: “that’s the problem with love – you can’t make it do what you want.”  There’s a complicated issue involving a wire which creates a sort of artificial community boundary, but the most important thing is, the eruv wire fell down on the Sabbath and the couple couldn’t fix it or even call someone to do so because that would constitute work.  And so – of course – a nice, super-sympathetic lady walks by after getting special groceries for her toddler’s gluten allergy, slips, and ends up in permanent agony. Ouch.  Sucks to be us.  And her, of course.

The lawyer already hired by the Loebs turns out to be this motorcycle riding, leather jacket wearing, Dennis Leary/Aaron Eckhart type in Patrick Jane’s clothing.  Meow.  You know, if you like that sort of thing. He is just the kind of rebellious idealist that rule-following smart girls love.  Anyway, he’s the unorthodox of the title, and he immediately sets about hostile flirting with Alicia: I do all the work, he says, “and here comes the 600 pound gorilla” to take over.  “That’s me, 600 pounds,” she tosses her glance over her shoulder.

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Dollhouse, Cancellations, and Other Bad News

E: Wednesday brought a bit of bad news to some TV viewers and reality contestants.  Today Robin was – finally!  shocking now that it’s actually come! – eliminated from Top Chef.  And sadly, the last tapper has left So You Think You Can Dance; Pauline and Peter got the boot.  I have to admit, I’ll miss them, and I’m really bummed the tappers didn’t last longer, but I’ll be most sorry not to hear Cat say “Paw-leen and Pee-tah.”  And poor Robin – what can you say?  I’m just praying Jen can get through one more episode of Top Chef and beat Eli to make it to the finals; she’ll get several months to rejuvenate herself, and get her groove back.  She’s just too damn brilliant to fall apart like this!  I certainly wasn’t surprised to here her tell Kevin she’s done, though.

BUT.  The big, bad, sad TV news is this.  Cancellations!  There’s Southland (too bad they never even aired the new season – so stupid of them, it was a smart, well-made show), Hank (good riddance to bad rubbish), Trauma (no surprise), Eastwick (no surprise), Monk (okay, that’s interesting – I’m honestly not sure I knew they were still making new episodes) (C: It’s their 8th season.  From what I understand, this is more of a graceful bowing out than a shocking cancellation) and – sniffle – DollhouseDollhouse, for those who are not devout Joss Whedonites or scrambling for something to watch on Friday nights, was a high concept show starring Eliza Dushku about beautiful people who could be used as, essentially, living dolls; programmed and sent out to fulfill the desires of well funded clients.  Then, when the “doll” returns, their memory is wiped, and they wait in a child-like state for their next assignment.  Prospective dolls come to the Dollhouse when they have no where to go, and then are returned to their lives afterward with generous compensation a clear conscience.  I don’t think the show ever found it’s footing completely, and of course there’s the ugly/titillating issue of so many of the ‘assignments’ being assignations.  (C: Yeah… reason #1 why the show creeps me out.)  Sometimes, sure, they get to be hostage negotiators or midwives or extreme sports experts or ninjas, but mostly, it’s about the sex.  No doubt that’s what sold it to the networks, but it places the audience in an odd position; we’re supposed to feel horrified by the abuse and, like Tahmoh Penikett’s FBI agent Paul Ballard, want to take down the Dollhouse, but clearly the show is doing its best to turn us on, too.  So, tough sell from the start.  Lots of interesting moral questions, no doubt, but there’s no casting stones about sin here.  Everyone’s tainted, including us.

Still, it’s far from dull.  There’s interesting mythology involved; where did the dolls come from?  There are moles sending out information to the FBI and to politicians.  Some of the dolls are retaining memories of their actual selves as well as their various “imprints” (i.e. imprinted personalities).  Some have gone insane or missing or both.  Agent Ballard failed to take down the Dollhouse, but now works for them (though he’s still trying to bring them down on the sly).  The end of last season was thrilling, and while this season hasn’t lived up to that yet, it’d barely begun. And Fox has at least made it clear that they’ll air all thirteen episodes ordered for this (half) season.

I’m sorry the show was cancelled.  Not devastated, not crying my eyes out, just a little sorry.  But this is the bit I think is really important.  Please, please please tell me we will get some sort of resolution here.  I think there’s very little more frustrating to a television viewer than to invest their time and energy into a show only to have it go out without being able to come to some sort of conclusion.  I understand why that doesn’t usually happen, and of course with a show that only airs a few times it’s not possible – and it’s not such a pressing issue, perhaps, for an episodic show like Southland where there isn’t (at least to my limited knowledge) any sort of overarching mystery.  But there’s a lot going on on Dollhouse.  I want – I don’t know, but something.  Were any of the episodes unfilmed when they got the news?  I truly hope so.  Perhaps there could be a move forward on Ballard’s (unrequited? weird?) crush on Dushku’s Echo?  The return of evil psychopath Alpha? Or my favorite character, the mysterious November?  News about the mole, or Echo’s past, or the exposure of the Dollhouse organization and its parent company?   Television at its best tells stories that make us think and feel.  Was Dollhouse perfect?  Hardly.  Was it Joss Whedon’s best effort?  Hardly.  Was it entertaining?  Sometimes more than others, but at it’s best, it was definitely enjoyable.  And yes, it made us think and it made us feel.  It was an original voice, and a fascinating (if deeply flawed) idea.  I just hope Whedon gets a chance to really finish off his story in a way that will make us feel like we got to hear him.  It can be a gift to know when your time is up.  I hope that gift was extended here.