Distractions, Diversions, Books, Wines, Whiskeys and Other Stuff To Think About When You Should Be Doing Something Else.

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Diversion and Distraction of the Amusing Kind: The Killing and Firefly

I was watching the first episode of the new season of The Killing on AMC. We meet Detective Holder’s girlfriend played by Jewel Staite (who played Kaylee on Firefly) who reveals Holder’s “Serenity” tattoo.

I had to pause my DVR. That’s just about as funny as Richard Castle (played by Nathan Fillion) dressing up as Mal for Halloween.

By the way, though the first two seasons of The Killing seemed to drag on interminably, the third season starts a whole new case and it is looking incredibly interesting based off just the first two episodes.

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The 2012 / 2013 Jericho Award

Jericho AwardFor those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jericho Award, that honor is bestowed, by me, upon the best new show of the season (starting in the summer and ending with the close of the spring finales) that was cancelled. Granted, it is kind of an ignominious award to win but, it is also intended to point out injustices and frustrations with “The Powers That Be” who decided what shows live and die even apart from their respective, and sometimes rabid if small, fan bases.

This year I even kept track of all of the new shows I started watching to make my selection process even easier! In no particular order:

Defiance on Syfy

I don’t play the game so I’m not exactly sure how it ties in but the show has… potential. I kind of like it because everything isn’t explained right away, avoiding hours of exposition for the sake of explanation. I also dislike it because we, the audience, need some exposition from time to time to figure things out. A note to the writers: a lot can be learned just by showing the audience a map, no dialog needed.

The Following on FOX

The only problem I have with this show is suspension of disbelief, otherwise it had some pretty good entertainment value. If think were it lost me most was watching Kevin Bacon personally end a cult member or two in virtually every single episode. Actually I think he did shoot somebody in every single episode.

Ripper Street on BBC America

Why did I start watching this one? I have no idea except to explain it as the curse of the DVR. So many shows, so much memory. I actually kinda liked it. I’m pretty sure it is a cleaned-up depiction of Whitechapel in that era, but the acting is good and the writing doesn’t assume the audience is stupid. Check it out on DVD if you run across it.

Revolution on NBC

You know what? I don’t like this show and yet I continue to watch it out of sheer stubborness. I haven’t even watched all the episodes and I’m pretty sure I know how the season will end (the last episode is either on my DVR or will be soon). I so wish it had hewn closer to S. M. Stiriling’s “Dies the Fire” type of world, but it didn’t, it has guns. I’ve got news, guns pretty much killed any reason to carry a sword that you actually fight with. Aside from that, the plot is so convoluted and contrived in order to put a dozen people at the heart of every single major event before and after the power went out it blows my mind. Seriously, aside from these dozen people nothing else has or will happen in this world. Everybody is just waiting for them to get near so they can actually do something.

Elementary on CBS

Far and away my favorite new show of the season. I wasn’t sold on Watson being a woman at first but I really like the juxtaposition. The writing is smart. The acting is great. Above all Holmes isn’t single-handedly solving every crime for the NYPD. My only complaint is that Moriarty was introduced way too early in the series. I could happily have watched whole seasons without bringing in the arch-nemesis. Make him go away for a few years then bring him back when you know you only have a few seasons left.

Copper on BBC America

A gritty and brutal period show. The crimes and mysteries and situation seem believable and the acting and writing is very well done. Another show to watch on DVD.

Arrow on CW

Another show I liked quite a bit. Granted, it is on the CW so there is a fair amount of “pretty people doing pretty things” but the action is good and you need a little bit of brain-candy every now and again. It also did a really good job of working in the back-story all through the season instead of dumping it in all at the beginning. Some of the acting is good, some is pretty rotten but hey, how many other live-action super hero shows have made it on TV without being really weak in writing and acting or just  too campy. I think Arrow will avoid both of those things.

Continuum on SyFy

I started out not liking this show, probably because the main character relied very heavily on her future tech at the beginning. As episodes went on it gradually was whittled away from her and the show got better. You get to see her actually being a policewoman and a detective. Great job writers! (Everybody else take notes, Bond has toys because he is Bond and he is awesome. Your characters need to be characters first and use gadgets second). I like where this show is going. Lots of potential.

Perception on TNT

Sherlock Holmes meets A Beautiful Mind. Yeah, I can watch that. The imaginary people seen by the main character are more interesting than most of the other characters on the show but I’ll take what I can get.

Longmire on A&E

My second favorite show of the season. The acting is super. The writing is spare and elegant (Walt Longmire is a man of deep introspection and few words).  This is the kind of show where something happens and it seems at first to be straightforward, but Walt gets those narrowed (or more narrowed) eyes and you know there is something else afoot and the next hour of TV is going to be interesting to watch.

Hannibal on NBC

This show has grown on me. I started off not liking it simply because of Lecter’s terrible accent. I still don’t like that accent. It is Scandinavian meets Scottish and somebody is making him hold a marble under his tongue. Otherwise, since they are going to be using many elements from the books it looks like something that will get better. I hope so.

Last Resort on ABC

This was a terrible, terrible show and I’m glad it was canceled without finishing. Not even the phenomenal actors and great locations it had available could rescue the ridiculous premise or the horrific writing. Seriously, if all you see is Andre Braugher’s speech in the first episode you have seen the best this show has to offer. Everything else is downhill from there.

Robot Combat League on SyFy

I don’t even know if this is a show that will come back but I really liked it. Actually I liked parts of it. I really liked the fighting parts. I couldn’t have cared less about the reality-show parts of it. I hope that this season will serve as a proof of concept and next season, or even a new show, will feature robots that follow game rules but are designed and built by the teams themselves (A whole other show I would watch). Even if the network bankrolls the production costs I want to see teams that are invested personally through blood and sweat in their bots and who will innovate nifty ways of beating the hell out of each other for my personal amusement.

So, who wins the Jericho Award for 2012/2013?

Nobody!

Only one of these shows was cancelled and that was Last Resort and I refuse to give an award of any kind to that show. Really this is congratulations to all the other shows I listed here. I enjoyed watching your first seasons and you remain programmed into my DVR for this coming season. Hopefully your freshman compatriots of 2013/2014 will be able to follow in your footsteps and get picked up for a season 2.

On the Bookshelf: Alpha by Greg Rucka

Alpha

by Greg Rucka

I have been a fan of Greg Rucka since picking up the first Atticus Kodiak novel Keeper on a whim. I have followed him since then and the guy is honestly a really good writer. Over the years he has mastered what really makes action novels work, pacing and the ability to describe actions that happen all at once in a way that the reader can follow along and not get confused.

Alpha starts a new venture for Rucka, a new world and a new cast of characters. In the world of Alpha the war on terror is ongoing and there are dangerous men lurking in the background eager to exploit paranoia and catastrophe for their own financial gain. Standing against these villains, and also the ideologues who would like nothing better than to wipe the Great Satan off the map, is Delta Force operator Jad Bell. Bell, whose callsign is Warlock, leads an elite group of three other Delta operatives with equally colorful monikers like Chaindragger, Bonebreaker and… Cardboard. Okay, I don’t get the last one but I’m sure there is some in-world story that goes along with that nickname, but then again I really don’t understand why the novel is called Alpha either. I don’t even remember the word Alpha being anywhere in the book. Maybe the next book will be Beta or Bravo or something, but I digress. This group seems to be outside the normal military chain of command and apparently reports directly to the President.

In Alpha, Bell must face a nightmare scenario that I’m sure keeps plenty of people up at night in the real world. Intelligence has determined that there is a possible terrorist attack being readied against a theme park in the United States (duh!) but they don’t know when or where. To keep tabs on the goings-on at the threatened parks, agents are placed undercover among their staff. When one of those agents is murdered at the Disney-esque Wilsonville mega-park, Jad Bell is sent in as a park security supervisor in order to be point-man. What follows is a run and gun adventure that is worth a mega-bowl of popcorn.

I enjoyed Alpha. It is the kind of novel that scratches that itch you get for a good thriller that has plenty of guns blazing. Like I said, the pacing is great and the action has just the right balance of technical savvy to make it believable and understandable. I also liked the villain (the only person I can think of that might be referred to as Alpha), his motivations and actions bring an interesting twist the usual psychotic super-villain trope. In all he is very human. My only real complaint is that Alpha feels like the third book of a series rather than the debut. I feel like a lot of back story and characterization is somehow missing (like why is his callsign Cardboard?). Bell also seems to be in the twilight of his career and we hear he has a lot of scars, but we have never seen him earn them. Except for a “badass-credential” scene at the beginning of the book we just have to take it on faith.  I also think it was kind of a cheap coincidence that some of the people taken hostage in the attack would have such close ties to the Hero (especially among the thousands and thousands in the park when the attack goes down). It is kind of like wondering how Lois Lane always seems to be the one trapped in the mine/lab/stadium/office building/restaurant/bank that is about to be robbed/blown up/attacked by aliens/whatever. It’s a quibble but I think the action would have happened just as fast and hard without it. I’m still looking forward to the next book.

On the Rocks: Collingwood Whisky

I don’t have very many reviews of Canadian whisky because, honestly, there aren’t that many new ones hitting the shelves. Lately though I’ve had several new bottles to sample and I thought I would share my impressions.

Collingwood Hand Crafted Blended Canadian Whisky

Toasted Maple Wood Mellowed

The story on this whisky that comes out of Brown-Forman’s Canadian Mist distillery in Collingwood, Ontario (but don’t worry it isn’t just an expensive version of Mist), is that it is aged in white oak barrels and then mellowed with toasted maple wood. I also understand that it is bottled on the Woodford Reserve line in Kentucky. That makes sense because the bottle also has, with its cap-under-a-cap / three-times-as-wide-as-it-is-deep, the same footprint as that bourbon’s does. The bottle does look cool but let’s be honest, it is what is under the cap that counts.

The aroma is very nice. Sweet woody notes dominate as they do with most Canadian whiskys but the maple finish shows through nicely without being overwhelming. The nose also display notes of what I think of as candied orange peel and ginger snaps.

The flavor itself is nutty, and woody and has a mouthfeel that is very, very smooth reminiscent of an Amontillado sherry, warm but light. Additionally there is a faint red stone-fruit and graham-crackery brown sugar flavor hovering in the background. The finish continues to show the nutty character with lingering hints of toffee.

Overall I would say that this is a very nice whisky worthy of devoting some space in your liquor cabinet to it (and it will take up some space). If I could find any fault with it I would say that the finish felt somehow slightly grainy on my tongue but that may have been just me.

You Could Call it a Quartet. I Call it a Rum Line.

Usually my spirits posts are titled “On the Rocks” but for this one I couldn’t resist.

Ron Zacapa 23 year old Sistema Solera Rum, Guatemala

This sugar cane rum from Guatemala has a rich, buttery, nutty, toffee-like aroma. The flavor, though, is much more complex than even the nose implies with nuances and character that comes from many years exposed to wood. Those 23 years bestow upon this rum a uniquely smoky, earthy almost peated scotch-like character that melds with the bright classic rum flavors to create something new and different. A real treat.

El Dorado 12 year old, Guyana

El Dorado has a sharp, apple butter aroma to go with its smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Its flavor is much more rum-like than the Zacapa having only (Only!) aged for 12 years. El Dorado is very rich and seems as if it should be thick and viscous but manages a lightness to its mouthfeel that is refreshing. It finishes with very nice white stone fruit, honey and caramel notes.

Cruzan Single Barrel, U. S. Virgin Islands

Probably the easiest of these rums to get your hands on it pours a pale, pale straw color and smells like smoky roasted cashews and buttery toffee. The taste, however, has an herbal, almost vegetal cast that carries through to a pleasant finish that seems almost slightly salty.

Diplomatico Reserva, Venezuela

The appearance of this rum is incredible. It pours a wonderful, warm honey color that looks very inviting. The smell is also unique, a blend of caramel and cinnamon hard-candy with a nice nutty background. It is very, very smooth. The flavor starts off with a medicinal twang that mellows quiclky on the mid-palate. After that is a very rich, liquid-peanut-brittle-in-a-bottle flavor that is delicious and extends through the loooong warm finish.

One the Bookshelf: Soft Target by Stephen Hunter

And so begins the Ray Cruz era of Stephen Hunter’s excellent sniper thrillers.

Now, I don’t know if Stephen Hunter ever reads the reviews for his books, much less any reviews that I might have put together, but I thought this coincidence was pretty cool

(From my review of Dead Zero):

“Ray Cruz really doesn’t have all that very much screen time in Dead Zero, but my read on him is that he is much more like Bob Lee’s father Earl Swagger. He is a powerful warrior who makes sacrifices for honor, duty and justice. In a sense, Earl and Ray are like Hercules and Hector to Bob Lee’s Achilles. Each of them are powerful warriors and heroes in their own right, but Earl and Ray do violence to serve a greater purpose, while Bob Lee is a killer because killing is what he is best at.”

In any case the torch has officially been passed to Ray Cruz. Bob Lee only appears in this novel in spirit.

Compared to some other Hunter novels Soft Target is fairly straightforward. In fact, to me it reads more like Mr. Hunter started out writing a character development story that put Ray in a dangerous situation to explore how the character would think and act. Lucky for us he got carried away and we ended up with a new book for the shelf.

There is some good action here. Everything revolves around a terrorist takeover of a mall at the height of the Christmas shopping season, a situation that personally fills me with dread because it is so plausible. While gunmen roam we get to meet Ray’s girlfriend, if briefly. We get to see his half sister Nikki in action as a hot-shot news reporter. We also get to meet State Police Commandant Douglas Obobo who takes a position of empathy, understanding and reconciliation in his negotiations with the gunmen who have taken over the mega-mall based on the Mall of America (Mr. Hunter, your politics are showing and I bet we get to see him in later books).

I liked Soft Target. I’ll admit it probably wasn’t the greatest book Hunter has ever written but they can’t all be the best. It was a good read though and I enjoyed it.  If anything I guess it goes to show that those Swaggers do tend to be in the bad place at the right time. Or I guess the wrong time if you happen to be the bad guys. Dead bodies of people with bad intentions do tend to turn up fairly often in those circumstances.

The 2011-2012 Jericho Award

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Jericho Award, that honor is bestowed, by me, upon the best new show of the season (starting in the summer and ending with the close of the spring finales) that was cancelled. Not very prestigious I’ll admit, but since it is awarded to the show that I like the most, I would like to think that it serves to point out an injustice or two.

This season has a few shows to nominate. I didn’t really like all of them all that well, but I did watch all of their episodes. There are other shows that failed after their first season, but for one reason or another, I didn’t watch them. You may think they are much better but if I don’t watch them they don’t get nominations.

And The Nominees Are:

The River

For all of the times that I rolled my eyes at the rampant stupidity of the people on the Magus the show really hooked me with the first episode and finished just as strong. Granted, in between there were a lot of moments where it was kind of painful. I think the weakest point was with writing that had to be, well, convoluted in order to get the group to go in a certain direction or down a particular path. On the whole I didn’t think the show had more than a season in it based on its premise but after the finale I could see potential. I also liked how it ended with a soft cliffhanger. Maybe it will get picked up by TNT or Syfy, but I doubt it. Too expensive. Not enough cult following.

Alcatraz

In spite of never being a Lost fan (I only watched the first season and that on DVD) I really enjoyed this show. The back and forth between the two timelines to tell the story and bit-by-bit reveal new aspects to the mystery worked for me. If anything I think the end of the first season was too ambitious and may have killed its chances of getting picked up by a cable network like Syfy, though it would still suffer from fewer problems than some other shows. I really though FOX would have brought this one back. Oh well.

The Finder

Ok, I don’t watch Bones so I don’t really understand the tie-in beyond being in the same narrative universe, but I am a sucker for quirky detective stories. This one was about as quirky as it gets. To tell the truth, I was a big fan of Walter logic and the ensemble cast really worked and was interesting. Each of the characters seemed to really effortlessly bring their particular skill-set to the table, though Walter was the one to tie them all together. If there are any of the nominated shows that I think should be picked up on cable it is this one. Personally, I think it is a natural fit for USA or A&E. Both of those networks already have quirky detective shows in Psych and The Glades (respectively) but I don’t think another would hurt either of them and may actually help to pull audience from one to the other.

Terra Nova

Ok, to be honest I didn’t like this show, but since I did watch all of the episodes I decided to include it with this season’s nominees. Honestly, the premise was weak. The plot was contrived. The special effects were gratuitous. The writing was tortuous. The acting was weak (I know, I already said weak but it fits here too). I am appalled that this is the show that is getting the most traction for a bid to go to cable. Seriously? I know Terra Nova had fans, but I just don’t understand what people see in this show.

And The Winner Is…:

Well, I am really tempted to declare a tie, but I think the show that I am going to miss the most is The Finder (whose potential Jericho-mate is Alcatraz). Both of these shows were solid all the way through and seeing as how they were on the same network, and that House is coming to an end, I don’t see why FOX would want to discard both of them while keeping the terminally stupid Touch. I could only stand two episodes of that piece of garbage.

Like I said, winning the Jericho Award is kind of ignominous. The reall winners this year are the shows that I watched that did get picked up for another season and that deserve a look from those of you who missed them. Here they are in no particular order (probably missing a few too):

  • Person of Interest
  • Hell on Wheels
  • Alphas
  • Grimm
  • Homeland
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