Friday, January 30, 2009

¡Viva España!


Quite possibly the best Aussie Open match I have watched so far. It ranks up there with the other epic five-setters of all the Grand Slams. Rafael Nadal finally made it to the Australian Open Final, but at the expense of an equally deserving Fernando Verdasco. So deserving, that in fact, Rafa announced later that "He deserves this win, too. I want to congratulate him for everything."

Truer words have never been spoken.


I woke up early to catch the third set and watch Fernando and Rafa see-saw their way through the match. It was a fantastic display of tennis. They were compatriots and friends, and yet there was an element of competition. There was no dillydallying with the towel-offs or the slow lead-up to service. Every point had a quick pace to it, and safe play was never an option with these players. They rallied long and hard, produced intelligent shot-making, and volleyed with a purpose. There was no trash-talking or pomposity or preening. Though saddled with injury and stress, the two plodded on and gave the performance of their lives. Even in the fifth set, they never leveled off, nor did they ask for timeouts. They were competitive and inspired and motivated for all of five hours and could seemingly taste a slot in the finals.

In the end, it was that rare Verdasco double-fault that finally clinched it for Rafa. And true to form and friendship, he clambered over the net and gave his opponent a well-deserved embrace.

I was actually rooting for Fernando to win. I have this soft spot for the tournament strugglers, and this was his first Grand Slam semifinal ever. But Rafa was not to be denied. Although the tempo was seemingly set by Verdasco, Nadal stuck with him and never backed down. I was never a Nadal fan, but he just got my admiration for his on-court performance and behavior. You could tell he wanted this. During changeovers, I found his frustration very evident, verging on the disheartened. He clearly wanted to get this over with but couldn't seem to find the answers.

Verdasco likewise was a solid competitor throughout. But alas, he fell short. I felt for him when he double-faulted that one last time. And Rafa did, too, as he hugged him and kept his spirits up as Saturday morning crept in. I love that he did that. It was so nice to see such a friendly spirit of competition pervading throughout the match. And Fernando, bless his heart, admitted that he felt guilty for stretching Rafa to the extremes that night, but that he will be rooting for him come Sunday. "He's a big friend. I wish him the best of luck."

Me, too, Fernando. Congratulations to you both.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Aww, Jeff...

From another mind-blowing episode of Lost, I saw a rather heartbreaking episode of Top Chef.

Last night saw my favorite contestant, Jeff, eliminated. While that in itself made me sad, what made me sadder still was the fact that Jeff seemed very upset about it.



Jeff was my favorite not just because he's a nice-looking guy (yes, I'm shallow that way), but because he immediately distinguished himself as a skilled chef with a distinct cuisine. Not only was he technically proficient, but he was a risk-taker. Week after week, he created complex and seemingly flavorful dishes (the latter I cannot guarantee, but I will take the judges' word for it). As a chef, he was the only one who went for the challenge instead of going for simplicity (coughLeahcough). Granted he sometimes fell short of great execution (having been in the bottom a couple of times), but I felt his desire to impress was, of course, impressive.

As a contestant, he amused me with his time management, as he constantly zipped by sinks and burners and stations looking a tad panicky. But I think he really is like that, and with the way his mind works – with the complexity of his dishes – his body needed to catch up. Hence the constant movement in the kitchen. And the irony was that he does have an organized mind, as evidenced by the Craft and Foo Fighters challenges. He impressed me as a leader and that meant that he ran an exceptional kitchen.

The sad thing was that his steadfast refusal to do a simple dish would be his downfall. It didn't help that Colicchio constantly misunderstood him. As a competition, I did expect creativity and risk-taking to be rewarded more often than not. But it seemed that Jeff fell short of the mark.

As he goes off into the Miami sunset (or into the banalities of the sequester house), I will always remember him as that exceptional chef who earned the respect of his fellow contestants. He did not talk badly about others or their dishes. He was a fantastic team player. He was sociable and personable and handled himself well in front of the camera. He was not a douchebag (like Stefan was). He did not get into a distracting flirtation (Leah and Hosea). He was self-aware of his zealous over-thinking (I love that it has become a joke among the chefs). And despite his obvious talents, he was neither misguided nor arrogant, like some contestants were. He was firm but nice when he was being tested (with Stefan, Radhika, and Jamie). He was refreshingly drama-free, and was simply the opposite of what reality TV show contestants are. I loved his dry humor, his hilarious "magic trick", and his unassuming demeanor.

Nice qualities like these are what made his elimination painful to watch. I literally put a hand over my heart as he gave a final, sad interview. He thought he could make it to the end, and I thought so, too. And while he doesn't seem like he needed the money, I could tell it would help him a lot. While I'm sure his Miami restaurant is a fantastic opportunity for him, I can tell that a chef of his caliber would want to be independent and open up his own. Because that is what creativity does to you. And I wish he had won just so I can see what he can do with a $100,000. However, I love that he has a future, and that he's got his profile out there and people (like me) will be encouraged to see him and what his restaurant has to offer.

People could argue that he needs to learn simplicity and nuance and to keep his head focused. That may be true of some instances, but Jeff's success in large part has been due to his creativity and his social successes. Let's hope he never stifles that. One of these days I will afford a trip to Miami and see what surprise his restaurant has in store for their guests. Knowing what kind of a chef he's shown to be, it will be quite an experience.

For more information on Jeff, click here.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Other Castro (why I'm reserving judgement on Michael Castro)


Well, since it's a given that I am a huge Jason Castro fan, I believe it was inevitable that I would write about the American Idol auditions last night in Kansas City, MO. Only I wouldn't be writing solely about Jason this time. Last night, his younger brother, Michael, auditioned and claimed a spot in Hollywood.

I have sort of mixed feelings about this. I watched the show last night, and came to a myriad of conclusions. So I decided to sleep on it and write about it the next day.

I woke up to a still-ongoing debate in my head about Michael and thought of heading over to TelevisionWithoutPity, my American Idol constant. I've read the weecap (Jacob was, as always, on fire) and perused the forums, and I think I'm ready to figure this all out on paper.


I like Michael Castro. I do. But, as with all things that come secondly to us, comparisons are inevitable, and he will probably never reach Jason Castro-levels of likeability to me. I find it hard to say that, because I don’t feel like saying something bad about someone else's family member, especially if that family member is one I have been so over the moon about in so many ways even up to now.

So this is the Michael I have heard so often about. The brother Jason talks about who's better at singing than him. The brother he watches AI with, and talks about auditioning with. (I will skip over what was said in the episode, because I know they love to be funny, those Castros.) I've been told that he's a different kind of card. He is not Jason, and I will keep that in mind – despite the unavoidable comparisons that will be made. That being said, what is it with these Castros and the hair and the interview frights?? Anyway…

He sang Gavin deGraw, who I love so much. In that audition, he defied people's preconceptions about him –with a style bordering on the punk side, a wider vocal range, and better projection. In an instant, he showed people how he is different from his brother – our Jason with the dreads and the organic dress-ups and the laid-back attitude and the sweet sentimental voice. Vocal-wise, he certainly is a lot different than his older brother. In addition, Michael is younger and could even possibly be more relevant to the pop-seeking hitmakers in the industry (you can actually see Kara DioGuardi's mind working, as if she is trying to match Michael with a song she just wrote). Best of all, Michael seemed like the kind of person who could be molded to fit the hit of the day. He can be Gavin, he can be Miley Cyrus' brother, he can be Billie Joe Armstrong – heck, he can probably kick the asses of all three Jonas Brothers combined. And this is probably the reason why Simon Cowell has yet to figure Michael out. Because Michael sounds like possibly any generic pop act in the sun, with a few extras on him.

Now, this is not a bad thing. But neither is this a good thing. And more importantly, while he has a great voice and a pleasant enough personality, I think Simon nailed it on the head when he said "I never know with you Castros if you're in it or not". The reality is he seems like the kind of younger sibling who wants to try everything under the sun. His ballsiness, his "chutzpah" as Kara called it, seems to stem from his youthful exuberance. To paraphrase Michael, "if Jason can do it, I can".

My problem with him is that he doesn't seem to be in it for the long haul. Unlike his brother, who we all knew auditioned for the chance to make music. (And, as we all knew, came out disillusioned yet – God bless him – continues to plod on.) I WANT SO BADLY TO BE PROVEN WRONG ON THIS. I have yet to find out what he has under his belt – if he struggled with his music just like his brother, if he sang in public just for the love of it, if he really is serious. He shouldn't be doing this just to prove he can, he should be doing this because he believes he should. As far as I can know, he has sung covers (available on the Internet), and he has a mySpace page. But who doesn't these days? He's selling posters of himself on brother Jason's website – a demo would be much better, though, like David Cook and Brooke White have done. Has he hit the club scene? Tried to get his music out? Because a mySpace page doesn't really count. Because if you are serious and you have the chops, you will do more than just go online. You will try to go EVERYWHERE (which is what Jason did).

If Michael does prove to be serious about the music, then I will happily throw my hat in the ring alongside him and cheer him on. Otherwise, his brother's earnestness will never be a match for him, and he will always have doubters in his corner.

That being said, I was definitely glad that Michael auditioned that day, or I would have forgotten how much I missed Jason so bad. I read somewhere that he will be coming out with material very soon. And I am so excited. Seriously. His fans will love him more for it for sticking it out in spite of the craziness in the industry. I cannot wait.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Benefits"


Oh Barney.

He finally told Robin he was in love with her and she remains painfully (and yet delightfully) oblivious.

That tiny headshake Neil Patrick Harris gave after saying "I love you" was probably the most heartbreaking thing I have ever seen on this show. Even sadder than that "look of love" he was giving off at MacLaren's at the end. Given Barney's history, it was probably the bitterest rejection (for lack of a better term) he'd ever had. Neil Patrick Harris should get an award for that headshake.

I love that this show has the best comedy writers who are so great at mirroring reality. That things don't always have to end in angst and drama all the time. That friends do fall in love with each other – that it doesn’t have to be love at first sight. And that yes, there are people in this world who really are nice. I'm happy that Ted Mosby is one of them. I'm glad he stepped aside for his best friend.

Here's hoping the chase ends up well for all of them.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

NPH on SNL


Last night’s Saturday Night Live was one of the few episodes where I enjoyed it immensely. Huge props go to nineties teen icon (well, to me, at least) Neil Patrick Harris.


I’m so proud of Neil Patrick Harris. I grew up on “Doogie Howser, MD”. He kind of taught me an efficient, and more thoughtful way to maintain a journal. With his short but sweet entries, he sort of blazed the trail for all PC bloggers out there. His character was smart and yet incredibly flawed by youth – which everyone who were in his or her teens at the time could definitely relate to. His character basically defined youth life in the nineties for me. Not “Beverly Hills 90210” or “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose”. It was Doogie himself.

I was also proud of the name he carved for himself. He tried the stage, which I hadn’t known until I saw him perform during the Tony Awards. He was one of the characters on “Assassins”, and I remembered just feeling awed by how incredible he sounded. He really is an amazingly well-rounded and gifted performer.

“How I Met Your Mother” is basically the Barney Stinson Show. But I loved how incredibly tight and clever the writing is. It’s not just funny – it’s CLEVER. You rarely see that kind of sitcom on TV these days. Probably the only other funny show that comes close to clever is “Pushing Daisies”. HIMYM made me fall in love with Neil Patrick Harris all over again. He might never get industry recognition, but he will always get ours, the fans’.

His hosting SNL was a long time coming. I hadn’t realize that he was almost up to it when Doogie Howser was still hot then (although I thought Fred Savage was a good enough pick – he was popular back then, too – and he’s still another 90s teen icon that’s slowly making his own good way in the business). But his episode last night was just that rare SNL episode. It garnered laughs off of the HOST and not off of some returning former cast member (see Tina Fey’s Palin skits, or Will Ferrell’s Dubya). The writing was really good, and successfully straddled the line between deliciously obscure (Paul Lynde, all the zingers in the Save Broadway sketch – especially the snark at “Stomp!” being relevant), nostalgic (the digital short on the Doogie Howser theme), and irreverently current (Frost/Other People). Neil Patrick Harris was just awesome. From his self-deprecating intro, to his first skit as a hilarious thrusting fitness trainer (spoofing Bob Harper much?), to his other turns, including his Mark Cohen-with-the-theatrical-arms and his David Frost with the eyebrow and the hair... it was a FANTASTIC episode, a great way to open 2009.

Taylor Swift was surprisingly good, too. One can imagine the feeling of being a teenager and being asked to be the musical guest AND to perform on one of the SNL skits. She gave this unabashed joy at the end of her first number, like she was overwhelmed and it was honestly a sincere and cute emotion. Loved that.

I also found it somewhat sad that Seth Meyers was hosting Weekend Update all alone, but then you recall all those years when that portion of the show has always been hosted by a single person beginning with Chevy Chase. Watching Seth Meyers handle the news by his lonesome kind of filled me with a sense of pride, knowing that he was fantastically funny enough to handle this (and he was!). Great job, Seth.

But of course, the whole show was definitely anchored on Neil Patrick Harris’ shoulders. And he was such a great sport and gifted comic. I loved him on it, as I have with his other projects. Here is hoping for more success for him!

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Goodbye, Grissom


Come Thursday, January 15, it will be the end of an era.

For CSI fans (of the original series set in Las Vegas, and not of the spinoffs), it will be Gil Grissom's last episode as a series regular. It will be William Petersen's last. As a fan for all of its nine seasons, it came as a sad surprise.


I remember the first time I got hooked on this show. My older sister had beaten me to the TV and I was forced to wait it out by watching along with her. I felt that if I waited long enough, she would tire eventually and hand me the remote. It turned out to be a CSI episode

To me, it was a procedural unlike any other. It presented science and technology, forensics and psychology. It was all about the CASES. It was very different from any other procedural that I grew up with – although, looking back now, I don't think I remember any procedurals like this on television. Early procedural dramas such as Homicide and the Law & Order series were not heavily immersed in the science lab like CSI was. Those TV shows that did – Cold Case, NCIS – were based off of CSI's success. CSI made science and pathology cool again.

In CSI, the regular characters were secondary only to the killer and the victims. The science was explained, and helped unravel storylines such that it became a mystery-thriller, a kind of old-school whodunit bathed in blue light. It was like a Discovery Channel show with actors. The mysteries intrigued me enough to capture my attention, and to make me a fan for life.

It is a wonderfully different show in that its cast of characters took a backseat to the mystery of the week. But each episode brought out a subtle quirk, an emotional story, a little backstory of what that character was like. Warrick's gambling history, Gil's predilection for insects, Catherine's Vegas stripper roots, Sara's childhood abuse, Nick's empathy, and Greg's eagerness to impress. Little by little, as the years went by, we were able to look at the character with a little more depth. Continuity and surprises abound for the regular viewer – and the honest truth was, to truly appreciate this, the show and its characters (down to even the lab rats and police detectives!), you had to have been a fan, a regular viewer. So that, as the series progressed, when the characters started getting their own story arcs, you were immensely invested.

No other show, save for "House MD", has created characters with so much depth to them. Of course, the long history on the air helps, but I think the show has got a formula that works, that allows fans to continue to watch. There is more to CSI that just intriguing storylines, good writing, and great directors. The action on the screen progresses quickly, but the character story that unfolds is a whole lot slower. As a result, the viewers' investment is not only with the show itself (whose quality is superb), but also with the characters themselves (whose lives are just as flawed and imperfect as ours are).

Eventually, the show brought the characters to the fore. They were no longer secondary to the cases. Sometimes, they were involved with the cases. Catherine falls in love with a suspect. Warrick threatens a corrupt judge. Grissom stresses out over his team's internal politicking – a plot point that was played very very subtly by the writers (e.g., Sara's disappointment over Nick's promotion, or Catherine being upset when Gil bypasses her). Sara's credibility getting shredded in court. Greg getting beaten to near-death by a drugged-out mob. And Nick being buried alive. And heck, even I got upset when Detective Lockwood got killed during a bank robbery episode!

Every character got a story arc that was faithful to how they were initially portrayed at the beginning. And that went on for many years, seeming to reward fans who stayed with them.

A very good example was Sara and Grissom's relationship. It started out in Season 1 and took baby steps – steps so small that even I wasn’t sure whether the writers were toying with us. Until an episode where Sara was called to the stand and the defense drilled her as to the status of her relationship with Grissom – listing those instances in previous episodes that seemed vague to me at first but was made fully clear by then. To me, it was a reveal that was both surprising and organic, a sort of a prize for sticking it out with the show. It was only five seasons later when their coupling became official – and even that was implied. No passionate kiss, or romantic conversations. It just happened.

I loved how the writers didn't need to put Sara and Grissom in acts of intimacy just to clarify their relationship. The same goes for the other characters. Even the downspiral that was Warrick's marriage was relegated to a background phone conversation here, a throwaway line there. I appreciate that the writers know that the power of the show is in its implied meanings – no sap or cheese like in "CSI Miami", and none of that brutish mentality that permeated "CSI New York". The original CSI was built on implications and subtlety, which was more often than not provided by its fearless leader, Grissom.

To me, Gil Grissom – William Petersen – was the anchor of the show. He provided it with a gravitas, a snark, and an intelligence that pretty much shaped CSI and distinguished it from its other spin offs. And now he is leaving it. After nine years of hard investigative work, he leaves behind an era of procedurals that were founded on science, a hip locale, and an edgy soundtrack.

In actuality, the era started its end when Warrick died. Poor Warrick and his gorgeously intense eyes – the tormented CSI who lived hard and found no solace outside of work. He was loved by fans, and so his death signaled a passing of sorts. Nick lost a friend to banter with, Catherine lost a colleague to flirt alongside with, and Greg lost a colleague who would call him out on his odd predilections. There was a new girl, Riley, but it will probably take me ages to accept her character. One might think that the end actually began with Sara's leaving – but her gloomy disposition and prickly demeanor lost her a lot of points with the viewing audience. And so her leaving wasn't as difficult to consider as when Warrick was suddenly shot by the Undersheriff. Warrick had just been exonerated, and had left a cheery team breakfast when tragedy befell him. So it was more painful.

But Grissom leaving will be even more painful. The first parter already left me with a genuine sadness. And the varied reactions to his leaving were very telling of that person's character. And seemingly real, too. They also seemed to mirror us viewers' feelings. David's literal sadness. Doc Robbins' subtle desire to know why. Hodges' moping. And, next episode, we will see Nick's and Greg's farewells in the form of sincere gratitude. But I think the best kind of moment I have seen so far was between Grissom and Catherine. Those two have been like a Mulder and Scully but without the sexual tension. The moment Catherine appeared prior to Grissom's ear surgery in Season 3 was when I realized that these two have a great friendship that went beyond the lab. And it was the best – and realistic – relationship ever depicted on the show, I think. Catherine's beautifully rueful smile when she told Grissom that she "knew before he did" broke my heart a little. Here was a friend who was happy and sad for him at the same time. And we all felt that sort of mixed feelings at one point in our lives, and Marg Helgenberger did just the right amount of perfect. I also felt the same way for William Petersen – happy and sad at the same time.

The figurehead and father figure of the CSI team will leave behind a huge void – that even an Oscar nominee will find difficult to fill. But I am happy that he is leaving to pursue something that only a true actor would find more fulfilling than a lucrative TV career. Theater is that one branch of entertainment that has stood the test of the ages, and I respect so much those actors who continually succumb to the pull of the stage. (So few TV actors I know of do this on a regular basis, such as Robert Sean Leonard.) I only wish William Petersen the best, albeit with a heavy heart. And here's hoping that Gil Grissom pops into the lab from time to time.

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