Return of the trilogy — March 8, 2023

Return of the trilogy

As I settled down to watch TV one evening last week, I realized I needed something familiar, so I decided to start a rewatch of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Here’s some breaking news – I still consider the films, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga of the quest to destroy The One Ring and, in the process, the ring’s evil creator, to be fantastic.

When the first film in the trilogy – The Fellowship of the Ring – was released in 2001, I paid it no mind. This was, in part, because I confused it with Lord of the Flies, which I have never and will never read or watch. I still didn’t care when the second movie – The Two Towers – was released the following year. I still didn’t care when the third movie – The Return of the King – was released in 2003. After all, the only fantasy adventure that interests me involves my move to Cicely, Alaska.

But also in 2003, someone recommended I rent the first two LOTR movies. I don’t remember who made this recommendation, but it had to be someone whose judgment I trusted, because I made my way to the video store and rented a VHS tape of The Fellowship of the Ring that I played on my VCR.

Although I must have been skeptical, the movie captivated me within minutes. I enjoyed it so much that I returned to the video store as soon as possible to rent The Two Towers. Then, I waited impatiently for The Return of the King to be released on video because I had missed its theatrical run.

Through the years, I’ve caught the movies on the TV, but enough time had passed since my last watch that I felt I could view them with fresh eyes. As I mentioned earlier, they’re fantastic. I love the music and, with one exception, the cast, and the grandness. At times, it’s over the top, but it’s a story about mind-reading elves, an all-seeing eye that corrupts a wizard, and a self-aware ring that’s trying to get back to its master. If that story doesn’t deserve and demand theatrics then I don’t know what does.

Ultimately, though, as a friend notes when explaining why the trilogy constitutes her favorite movie, it’s a story about working together and helping one another for a greater good or simply for friendship. As a teary-eyed Sam tells Frodo, he can’t carry the ring, but he can carry him. And he does.

Here are more of my thoughts on the trilogy, in no particular order of importance:

  • The Shire is beautiful. It’s no wonder most Hobbitses don’t leave.
  • I love the way the elves don’t seem to move when they move.
  • Much like Éowyn, I fell in love with Aragorn on first sight.
  • I’m sure this is offensive to Tolkien fans, but I couldn’t finish the books. They were hard to follow and boring.
  • Whenever the characters worried about the lack of troops, I shook my head. They just needed Aragorn and his sword, Legolas and his unending supply of arrows, and Gimli and his axe. Well, those guys, their weapons, and a little of Gandalf’s magic.
  • This might be an unpopular opinion, but the Orcs are scary and creepy.
  • If I had the ring and that screaming wraith showed up, I’d throw it to him.
  • Smeagol makes me sick to my stomach, but he had some good lines. Indeed, stupid fat hobbit is one of the greatest insults in cinematic history. Poor Sam. Not only did he accompany Frodo on his perilous journey over Middle Earth, he did so without po-tay-toes, and he endured fat-shaming. It’s no wonder Tolkien considered him the story’s true hero.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Universal coupling — February 1, 2023

Universal coupling

Ken Burns’ aptly-titled 2019 Country Music documentary renewed my semi-obsession with the life of Tammy Wynette. Tammy, as she will be referred to in this-here post, was known as the First Lady of Country Music due to the string of hits she accumulated in the 1960s and ‘70s. In addition to her songs and her success, the country music doc delved into her personal tribulations. As a friend and I discussed the doc, I said that Tammy’s life deserved an updated movie. (In 1981, Tammy’s life was made into a TV movie.)

The universe listened.

Well, sort of.

Late last year, I learned of a limited series called George and Tammy, which would chronicle the lives and careers of Tammy and her third husband, George Jones aka the greatest male country music vocalist of all time.

A six-episode series about Tammy and George? The universe not only listened, it improved on my request.

There was only one problem. The series would be shown on Showtime, and I didn’t have Showtime. What’s that? Showtime was offering a 99-cent-a-month deal through my streaming service. Heck, I find that much change on floors and in parking lots every month. Sign me up, Showtime.

I knew I would love George and Tammy within the first few minutes of the first episode when I spotted actor Walton Goggins in George’s band. Goggins has been in oodles of movies and shows, but I know him best as Shane from The Shield and Boyd from Justified. In George and Tammy, he plays Peanutt. Yes, with two tts.

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain play, respectively, George and Tammy. I have mentally sent both actors – and Goggins – bouquets of their favorite flowers to express my appreciation for their performances. Chastain’s Tammy comes across as so vulnerable and so seeking of love and a home. Shannon does such a good job as George that I alternated between wanting to push him off his riding lawnmower to wanting to hug him to wanting to ask for home décor advice to wanting to give him a high five. Their performances, especially Shannon’s, in the final scene brought tears to my eyes.

Except for that final scene, when the leads and others perform a singalong of Lost Highway, I wish the actors hadn’t done their own singing. I legit thought my friend and I were going to throw hands over this subject, but I do not like hearing actors perform songs made famous by others. It triggers me. For some reason, their duets weren’t as triggering, but I fast-forwarded the show during some of the solos. It was either that or overturn a table.

Anyway, when I heard about the series, I wondered if it would cover the reasons I became semi-obsessed with Tammy’s life – her “kidnapping,” her fifth husband, her health, her hair. Once again, the universe listened.

I thoroughly enjoyed George and Tammy and highly recommend you find a way to watch. You don’t have to be a fan of theirs or of country music to appreciate the series. Keep in mind, though, that since it’s not a documentary, they do play fast and loose with the timeline (and perhaps some facts) for dramatic effect. Oh, it’s based on a book by George and Tammy’s daughter, Georgette. Keep that in mind, too, and keep your eyes and ears out for her. She appears twice in the series as a backup singer.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

All you have to do is stream — December 7, 2022

All you have to do is stream

One of the absolute best things about streaming services is that subscribers can watch shows whenever they want. I believe that’s why they call it on demand. This also means I can wait until all episodes of a season or series have dropped before tuning in. That’s how we watched TV in the olden days. Back then, we had to wait an entire week – seven long days – or an entire summer – three long months – for the resolution of a Knots Landing cliffhanger. I’m here to tell you, I’m not sure how I survived the perils of Valene Ewing.

Anyway, some of my best friends still watch shows week-by-week. Not me. That’s why I am just now encouraging you to watch Andor, a Star Wars story, and giving you a tepid recommendation for The Crown’s fifth season.

Andor begins five years before the events of Rogue One, which by the way might be my favorite Star Wars movie. The 12-episode first season – a second season is scheduled for 2024 – depicts how Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) evolves from a cynical thief to the passionate rebel who makes heroic sacrifices in Rogue One.

If you’re a Star Wars galaxy fan, you’re probably already aware of this. If not, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, why do I want to see a Star War? I won’t understand anything.”

No worries. You don’t have to understand a gosh dern thing about the Star Wars galaxy to dig Andor. I didn’t know who the heck most of the characters were or what was happening in the first couple episodes. But the third episode was spectacular and it legit gave me chills. In fact, I couldn’t wait for the fourth episode – and I didn’t have to wait because it was already streaming.

You can and should watch Andor on Disney+. For what it’s worth, my favorite parts of the show were the prison scenes. Yes, those are words I never thought I would write.

I also never thought I would be disappointed in The Crown. Still, I tuned in to all 10 episodes of this season like it was my job, but something was off. Perhaps it was the actor who plays King Charles III or as I refer to him, KCIII. Dominic West, best known for his performance as Jimmy McNulty on The Wire, is charming and attractive. KCIII is not. An actor doesn’t have to be a real-life counterpart’s clone, but Jimmy McNulty, I mean West, is so charming and attractive that his performance as the then-Prince of Wales and the now-KCIII took me out of the story.

Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Diana, Princess of Wales, sounds so much like her that I couldn’t understand a word she said. Although I applaud her for learning Diana’s voice, as well as her mannerisms, it seemed like she was doing an imitation instead of giving a performance.

I also didn’t feel like I got to know Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II aka QEII, in part because she wasn’t on screen much, but also because this season’s writing did her no favors. Nevertheless, you can and should watch The Crown on Netflix. Start on season one, though. If you start on season five, you might not know who the heck most of these characters are.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

That’s comforting — October 12, 2022

That’s comforting

I’ve needed comfort food of late, so I’ve turned to two staples – mashed potatoes and Bewitched.

As my bowl of mashed potatoes and I settled in to spend time with my old friend, Samantha Stephens, I said to myself, “Self, skip ahead to the second season of Bewitched so you can avoid the black and white episodes.”

Before anyone has a virtual breakdown and accuses me of being too uncouth to appreciate black and white media, you can simmer down. I have written before about my appreciation for shows like Leave It to Beaver as well as early seasons of The Andy Griffith Show. What’s more, I love old Hollywood aka classic cinema. In fact, you could describe me as a devotee of black and white movies.

But I didn’t grow up watching black and white episodes of Bewitched. When I think of the show, I see Endora, Samantha’s mom (played to perfection by Agnes Moorehead), resplendent in a green and purple robe as she glares at “Durwood” with eyes made up with bright blue eye shadow. Black and white does not convey Endora’s essence as good as color does.

Anyway, after I watched three episodes of season two on the Roku channel, I consulted our friends at Wikipedia because I had a question about the show. There, I read the following words, which rocked my world: “Later, seasons 1–2 were colorized and made available for syndication.”

As Sam would say, “Oh, my stars!”

As you might have gathered from the aforementioned paragraph, neither season one nor two were filmed in color. But there’s more. My memory of growing up watching only episodes in color was accurate. Once again, I’ll let our friends at Wikipedia explain: “The cable television channel WTBS carried seasons 3–8 throughout the 1980s and 1990s…”

At some point, though, I became aware of the existence of the black and white episodes. Indeed, I remember watching part of the first episode, in which Sam and Darrin wed, probably on TV Land. I didn’t finish watching. If I turned the channel to Bewitched and saw that a black and white episode was airing, I continued flipping the remote.

So, even though I’m a traditionalist when it comes to film and TV and even though I don’t really understand when this colorization took place, I am thrilled to learn that it happened. I don’t care if you accuse of me of being uncouth.

I plan to mash some potatoes and spend more time with my old friend, Samantha, starting with the colorized season one episodes.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Know your limits — September 28, 2022

Know your limits

As I’ve noted before in this-here space, I’ve become aware that my tastes have changed.

Indeed, I’ve realized in the past few years that, for the most part, I have trouble getting into a new TV series unless it features stories or characters with whom I’m already familiar. The Crown sheds a light on the British Royal Family, whom I’ve followed since the Diana years. The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi continue the Star Wars saga, which I’ve followed for decades.

Occasionally I find myself enjoying a new show (see last week’s review of Abbott Elementary). Other recent exceptions are Hacks and Only Murders in the Building. But those last two feature actors I grew accustomed to dozens of years ago. Hacks revolves around Jean Smart, aka Designing Women’s Charlene Frazier Stillfield, whilst veteran actors Steven Martin and Martin Short lead the cast of Only Murders.

Anyway, I’ve also noticed that I avoid shows and movies with dark or disturbing themes. I’m not talking about the horror genre. I’ve never been a fan of that.

Here’s an example of a recent show I vetoed watching. Steve Carell, aka The Office’s Michael Scott, can currently be seen in Hulu’s The Patient. When a friend asked if I planned to watch the psychological thriller, in which a therapist is held captive by a patient who wants him to help cure his homicidal urges, I said no.

I’ve seen the ads for the show and it looks amazing. But I can’t watch things like that anymore.

I considered watching Yellowstone, but when I remembered that someone told me there were a lot of killings on the show, I decided to turn to my comfort zone — sports — instead.

Knowing that I watch Dateline and 48 Hours, folks recommend true life documentaries. I also pass on those because there’s only so much murder I can take.

But here’s what stumped me: I can still read books with dark or disturbing themes.

I recently shared the discovery of my aversion to watching shows and movies with dark or disturbing themes with a friend. When I told her that I can still read those kinds of books, she said, “Hmm.” Then, she studied on it and said it probably has something to do with seeing the action presented visually.

I studied on that and came up with a perfect case in point. I previously recommended to you, dear readers, Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty. The book delves into the damage wrought by OxyContin. It’s a great book. But you already know that if you followed my recommendation and read the book.

There’s a series on Hulu called Dopesick. Based on another book about the opioid industry, Dopesick fictionalizes the damage wrought by OxyContin. Michael Keaton, aka a Batman and the Beetlejuice, stars in the ensemble cast.

I will not even try to watch the show because I know my limitations.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Back to school — September 21, 2022

Back to school

When I saw commercials for the first season of Abbott Elementary, a comedy on ABC, I chuckled. I didn’t, however, consider watching the show. After all, it’s on a network. With the exception of the CSI reboot, which I only watched for Gil Grissom, I haven’t tuned into a network show in eons.

But last week, three things reminded me of Abbott Elementary’s existence: I saw commercials for its upcoming second season; I heard that the show won some Emmys; and my streaming service emailed me, suggesting that I check out the show.

So, I watched an episode with low expectations. After all, it’s on a network. How good could it be?

Pretty expletive good.

Told in a mockumentary style and set in a fictional Philadelphia elementary school – hence the title – the show follows Janine Teagues, a young, idealistic second grade teacher, as she navigates the harsh realities of the classroom. No matter how many setbacks she encounters, Janine keeps trying, even when she gets electrocuted.

Janine strives to be as good as Barbara, a veteran teacher who has command of her classroom and who possesses a presence that inspires respect. Other characters include Jacob, a history teacher who is as idealistic and awkward as Janine; Melissa, a teacher who wears lots of animal prints; Gregory, a substitute teacher who has a crush on Janine; Mr. Johnson, the eccentric custodian; and Ava, the unprincipled principal.

Ava deserves a separate paragraph because she’s my favorite character. She’s terrible and I mean that in the best possible way. She makes fun of the other characters to their faces. She’s selfish, self-absorbed, and shallow. She’s horrible at her job. She knows nothing about the students or education. She passes her days by making personal videos and wasting school funds on ridiculous projects. Gregory justifiably despises her because he knows he should be the principal and because Ava constantly harasses him. But when she shows up on screen, I go ahead and start laughing because I know she’s going to deliver. This is due, in part, to the writing, but mostly to the actress. She is just so funny.

Of course, the entire cast is funny. I enjoy them separately or in pairs, but I prefer scenes that feature most of the ensemble. My favorite scene of the first season was the one when Gregory admits he doesn’t like a particular food that is enjoyed by most Americans. The look of shock on the other characters faces made me laugh and laugh. What’s more, as a picky eater who has been poked fun of her entire life for her food preferences, I felt Gregory’s pain when he finally makes the admission.

Abbott Elementary’s second season begins Wednesday, Sept. 21 on ABC. I hope the show doesn’t suffer a sophomore slump. Maybe it’s because of Janine’s optimism and the general goodness of the characters (well, except for Ava), but the show seems so wholesome. And not in a way that makes you want to vomit. Instead, in a way that makes you smile.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The good old days — August 10, 2022

The good old days

Last week NBC announced that it’s moving Days of Our Lives to the streaming service Peacock, ending the soap opera’s 57-year run on broadcast television. Days will switch to Peacock starting Sept. 12.

I have not faithfully watched Days in dozens of years, but my mom and oldest sister offer occasional updates on the goings on in Salem, the town in which the soap is set. So, I still have a general idea of what’s happening with characters like John and Marlena and families such as the Hortons and Bradys.

As I’ve mentioned previously, some of my first memories are of watching Days and other soaps. Whilst other kids learned certain life lessons from Mr. Rogers and Big Bird, I learned entirely different lessons from Stefano.

If Stefano helped me see the world for how it is, the woman he dubbed Queen of the Night, Dr. Marlena Evans, helped me develop self-awareness. Even as a kid, I appreciated how Marlena, a psychiatrist, would tilt her head and ask her patients (or friends and family members), “How did that make you feel?”

I wanted, no I needed, a Marlena in my life, someone to pop up when I was stressed or after I had experienced a slight and ask how the situation had made me feel. Then, I had an epiphany and realized I could ask myself how that – whatever that was – had made me feel. A therapist once congratulated me on my self-awareness and on being able to look at things from other people’s perspectives. We have Doc to thank for that.

Speaking of Doc, I will always consider the man who gave Marlena that nickname, Original Recipe Roman, one of my all-time favorite soap characters. That is why I loathed John Black for the longest time. He was an interloper. Sure, it wasn’t his fault. He thought he was Roman because of Stefano’s machinations … I’m not getting into all of that. There’s not enough time or space. I’ll just say that a few years ago when I was still tuning into the show every now and then, I finally warmed to John’s character and his portrayer’s, well, let’s call it acting. He really is a gift, and I was a dumb expletive for not accepting that gift sooner.

I don’t watch Days now so I’m not going to follow the show to Peacock. But I would embrace the opportunity to re-watch classic episodes of the show. I could finally make amends to John Black.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Be careful what you wish for — June 1, 2022

Be careful what you wish for

I have clear memories of longing for à la carte TV offerings. Indeed, I can remember saying on multiple occasions back in the day that I wanted the satellite or cable service to provide à la carte menus.

By the way, Merriam Webster defines à la carte as “according to a menu or list that prices items separately.”

You might be saying to yourself, “Self, who doesn’t know that?”

Well, I didn’t know the meaning until I was a grown adult and established in my career. One day, when I invited a friend to lunch at a cafeteria, she asked, “Is it à la carte?”

You live and you learn. You also start sprinkling conversation with new phrases you’ve learned. Hence, my yearning for à la carte TV.

Back to that. I sort of got what I wanted. I cut the satellite and cable cords and added a streaming service. By doing so, I saved dozens of dollars and rid my life of channels I never watched. I told myself I’d occasionally add and drop streaming channels, aka apps, for something like five bucks a month and have access to oodles of content.

I didn’t do that. Primarily because I’m cheap. Whenever someone suggested I watch a series, I’d perform a search. If said series wasn’t on my streaming service or one to which I had access, I’d hesitate. Then the suggesting someone would screech, “It’s only five dollars!”


That’s just one channel/app, though. Each one you add is roughly five bucks. Captain Obvious popping in to let you know those five bucks add up.

But it’s more than the money. All those years ago, when I longed for à la carte, I saw a future where all these channels were already on my TV, and I simply clicked on what I wanted to watch. I did not realize I would need to create accounts with passwords and payment information.

I also did not see a future where creating an account and password would be the proverbial straw that broke my proverbial back. I don’t just have to want to watch something before I’ll go to the trouble of creating an account. I need to watch it.

So, yes, I did add another app a few months ago. I should also share that it was on sale, that the series that drew me in was merely meh, and that another account user and I have found oodles of other stuff to watch on this app.

Otherwise, as of this writing, I’m even hesitating to add a free trial for another app.

It requires the creation of an account and password.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

You never know — February 16, 2022

You never know

Last week I shared my thoughts on the first few days of the Olympics. But guess what, dear readers? There’s been an entire week of the Games since I penned those thoughts. You know what that means.

  • Whilst penning the aforementioned thoughts, in which I wrote that I didn’t care for alpine skiing, I was literally watching alpine skiing. It gets better. I stayed up past midnight-thirty watching the sport…that I had stated in print I find boring. But I also find it strangely captivating. The athletes speed down mountains at 60 to 70 miles per hour. (Fun fact: Until my young friend pointed it out, I didn’t realize the graphic in the corner of the screen that legit features numbers and the letters MPH indicates the speed at which the skiers race.) Although the athletes look like they’re out of control, they know what they’re doing and I’m sure the poles serve some sort of purpose. Even if I’m not sure what it is or how the skiers maintain control. I know one thing, though. I wouldn’t even make it out of the gate.
  • I found a U.S. men’s curling match on the TV over the weekend. Recalling how much emotion I invested in the U.S. gold medal winning team (Shuster) in 2018, I told myself history would not repeat itself during this Olympiad. I lied. Twenty-four hours later, I have caught parts of two other men’s matches and one women’s match. As of this writing, I am concerned about both U.S. teams prospects for the Games. On an unrelated note, their uniforms are too busy for my liking.
  • This isn’t about the Games, per se, but NBC plays the same commercials over and over. They’re advertising movies and series that will soon make their debuts. For what it’s worth, I am not being paid to promote these shows. (Oh, how I wish I were.) But the dramatic reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air looks pretty good. I did not watch the original. I also did not watch that Tiger King nonsense, but they’ve made a movie about it, and the actress playing Carole Baskin sounds just like her. As I do not have Peacock, I will not be watching either of these programs. I am excited about The Thing About Pam, which dramatizes the 2011 murder of Betsy Faria and Betsy’s infamous “friend,” Pam Hupp. If you’re a regular viewer of Dateline, you know the thing about Pam. By the way, I’ll swear on a stack of photos of Viggo Mortensen that from the first Faria-based episode of Dateline, I knew Pam’s story did not add up. Too bad the authorities in Missouri didn’t do the math. Perhaps they could have saved one man’s freedom and another’s life.
  • Back to the Games. In separate conversations with my mom, my bestie, and my young friend, we’ve discussed the danger that looms over the winter Olympics. As my young friend says, when it comes to the Winter Games, it’s all about blades and speed, both of which can kill you. Think about it. The snowboarders jump, what, 50 feet in the air? But even when they fall, they seemingly hop up like they’re made of rubber. But under the category of you just never know: According to the medical examiner’s report, actor/comedian Bob Saget died after accidentally falling and hitting his head in a hotel room.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The Olympics now and then — February 9, 2022

The Olympics now and then

The winter Olympics started last week. As of this writing, I haven’t been able to devote much time and attention to the Games. With that said, I do have thoughts on the Olympics, which I will now share.

  • It seems like every time I tune into Olympics coverage, one of the networks is showing a women’s hockey game or the luge. And it seems like the voices of the female commentators commenting on the two disparate sports sound an awful lot alike. I said to myself, “Self, it can’t be the same woman. What are the chances that one person is that informed about hockey and the luge, and that the sports’ schedules allow her to call all these events?” Spoiler alert: It’s not the same woman. I can’t decide if the two ladies have vocal fry or if they’re just bored, but their voices annoy me.
  • Speaking of the luge…I’m not much of a fan of it or the bobsled or the skeleton. Or of alpine skiing. Make no mistake about it, I will watch the expletive out of all these sports during the Olympics. And I have mad respect for the athletes who spend decades training for these dangerous sports. I realize they’re competing at something like a million miles an hour and risking life and limb every time they squeeze into sleds or slip into skis. But watching the events is kinda boring. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow they’re going. It all looks the same to me. The luge/bobsled/skeleton would interest me more if they raced against one another. That’s why, when it comes to skiing, I prefer cross-country events like the ski and shoot aka the biathlon.
  • Whilst discussing the Games with a young friend at work, said young friend admitted she had only recently learned of the 2002 figure skating judging scandal in which the French judge alleges she was pressured to award points to the Russian pairs figure skating team. I congratulated her on educating herself on world history and told her the scandal consumed me back in the day. The Russians were awarded gold and the Canadian pair, who gave a flawless performance, the silver medal. After an investigation revealed shenanigans in the judging, the International Olympic Committee awarded a second set of gold medals to the Canadians. Separate Netflix and Peacock documentaries document the scandal. Anyway, when my young friend referenced the Canadians’ costumes, I asked, “Gray?” I cannot remember people, places, and things from my actual life circa 2002, but I can remember what color costumes the Canadians wore. I told you the scandal consumed me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.