Monday, January 12, 2009

A series of series, flicks & food finds

Let me begin by sending out kudos to Gabriel Byrne for his Golden Globe/Best Actor in a Mini Series award. His show (In Treatment) is exceptionally well written, and he does a wonderful job in the role of Dr. Paul Weston, a phychotherapist with an interesting assortment of patients.

Truly a mini-series (the first season was a brief seven weeks from start to finish,) it was so habit forming that I would devour the entire week’s half-hour episodes in one gulp.

The show is built around the old 'fly-on-the-wall' concept, as the viewer gets to sit in with Dr. Weston as he talks with his various patients. Season two is headed for the small screen later this year, so now’s the time to play catch-up, although the only returning characters are the good doctor, his therapist (Dianne Wiest - a Woody Allen favorite) and presumably Paul's wife, Kate (Michelle Forbes.) Produced by AMC, the first season is now available on DVD.

The series is uniquely scheduled for nighttime TV - even by cable standards. Each weeknight, a different patient comes calling, returning each week on the same day of the week for another appointment. During the first season Monday was Laura's day, Tuesday brought Alex, Wednesday, Sophie, and so on. Or was it Sophie who came on Tuesdays? I can't remember now, but you get idea. Seven weeks, seven visits from five different patients (or groups of patients.)

Blair Underwood, Melissa George, Mia Waskikowska (an amazing young actress) and others, took on the roles of these complicated and not always likeable characters who were trying to deal with everything from parental love or the lack of it, to post tramatic stress, adultery, and erotic transference. Some sought help others raged against it, while Paul struggled with his own problems.

The show was originally produced in Israel with a totally different cast, and Americanized for the HBO version, which is interesting in that several of the HBO actors― including Byrne―were born and raised in other countries.

In the past few years, several wonderful TV series have come our way from both here and abroad. There was HBO’s Six Feet Under – the story of the Fisher family and their Los Angeles-based Funeral home. The last few minutes of the final episode were amazing, but would mean nothing unless you were familiar with the characters. That said, the last year of the show got a bit dark for my taste, but the first few years were wonderful, and as I said, it went out in grand style.

Many of the actors in this award-winning series went on to star or appear in other, decidedly more main-stream movies and TV series, including Peter Krause (Dirty Sexy Money), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Frances Conroy (Maid in Manhattan, The Aviator, Broken Flowers), Rachel Griffiths (Brothers and Sisters), Ed Begley Jr. (Living With Ed), Richard Jenkins (There’s Something About Mary, Rumor Has It, Burn After Reading. The Visitor), Jeremy Sisto (Waitress, Law and Order), Freddie Ridriguez (Ugly Betty) and others, including Rainn Wilson (The Office, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, CSI, NUMB3RS, and, in a blink-or-you’ll-him miss performance, Juno.)

Another great American TV series - Dead Like Me – (are we seeing a theme here?) was funny and odd and just a pleasure to watch. I came across it long after its initial Showtime run. It, like Six Feet Under, is available for rent at NetFlix.

The series centers around an eighteen-year-old girl named George who was killed by a flying toilet seat and brought back to life (sort of) as a grim reaper. The young reaper doesn't look like her old self to the rest of the world, but she feels like herself, despite the fact that she can’t go home again (sort of). If I’m not making much sense, it’s because this quirky little comedy is anything but grim. The cast features veteran actors Mandy Patinkin and Jasmine Guy along with lesser known faces like Ellen Muth as George. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

If you prefer more realistic fare you’ll want to rent a wonderful British series called William and Mary. It’s the contemporary tale of two everyday, thirty-something Brits who meet via a dating service, and slowly but surely fall in love. This is not a mushy, glossy, Hollywoody series, neither in the way it is filmed or cast. Martin Clunes, who plays William, is no Brad Pitt. He is as average looking as they come, and yet, as in real life, the more you know William, the better he looks. Similarly, Julie Graham, who plays Mary, has a bit of a gap between her front teeth, but she is far from a Lauren Hutton-type.

It is because of this, rather than in spite of it that we are drawn into their lives and the lives of their children, in-laws and co-workers. They looked like an average couple. No size zero’s here. No sex symbols. Just decent people – both of whom are single parents, dealing with the day-to-day challenges that come their way. Did I mention that she is at one end of the life cycle, being a midwife, and that he is at the other?

I definitely see a theme here. But please don't let the fact that William is a funeral director stop you from seeing this really incredible series. William is - at heart - a musician, forced to be a funeral director by circumstances beyond his control. I adored this series, which led me to rent another British series (this one, a comedy) featuring Mr. Clunes in a totally different role as one of several chaps off on a day-trip in the ultimate (sort of but not-really) "buddy" movie, Cheers and Tears.

If you like off-beat, grown-up comedies you’ll truly enjoy this trio of adventures, delivering far more cheers than tears, and lots of chuckles. Mr. Clunes is only in the first of the three episodes, but all are full of good fun and characters you’ll grow fond of in spite of themselves. If, by the time you have seen William and Mary and Cheers and Tears you are not totally won over by Martin Clunes, rent Doc Martin. William and Doc are about as different as - I don’t know – Soupy Sales and Sir Laurence Olivier, and yet both characters have something in them that makes them worth watching and remembering.

AND NOW, A LITTLE FOOD FOR THOUGHT, and some great products that are too good to keep to myself.

My first offering is so common, you’re going to probably dismiss it as being just that- common. And yet, over the past year or so I have introduced at least a dozen people to this uncommon common product, and nearly all of them have gone on to buy it over and over again – stocking up when it goes on sale, which it does, fairly often. It’s by Dole – of canned fruit fame, but Dole Sliced Peaches do not come in cans.

They come instead in plastic, see-through jars that sit on the supermarket shelf beside the usual fare of canned goods. DO NOT look for these jars in the refrigerated section. If you do, there's a good chance you’ll mistakenly buy another similarly packaged product that is vastly inferior. Look instead for Dole's thick, luscious slices of yellow peaches in the canned fruit aisle, where they sit with their not-nearly-as-delicious comrades, Mandarin orange slices, pineapple chunks and mixed fruit. When chilled, these peaches are divine, and unlike their canned counter-parts, they are not immersed in a heavy, overly-sweet syrup, or even worse, bland thin juice just a step or two above tap water.

The wonderful thing about these peaches is that you can eat one slice right out of the jar as a snack, and then screw the lid back on and put it back in the frig for another time, or you can eat the whole thing in one sitting. I’ve done both. What’s more, the price is nice… less than $3.00, and as little as $2.20 on sale. You may even find them for less.

My second food find is a soda/pop/soft drink - (whatever you call it in your part of the country.) This one is by Jones, and it comes in a glass bottle. I say this because Jones also has a line of soft drinks that come in cans. I think Target or Walmart sells them. While they're okay (I've tried the Cream Soda and Root Beer), they're nowhere near as tasty as the bottled Crushed Melon drink I'm talking about.

Tasting remarkably like fresh honeydew, Jones Crushed Melon soda is devoid of the usual sweet, tart or bitter aftertaste found in most melon-flavored products. I think this has to do (at least in part )with the fact that Jones uses pure cane sugar rather than syrup as a sweetener.

Admittedly pricey – about $4.99 for four bottles - Jones Crushed Melon soda is caffeine-free and very delicious, although it may take a few sips to fall in love. I say that because the taste is definitely different.

Where can you buy Jones Crushed Melon soda? The only place I know of here in town that sells it is Miss Cordelia’s. The little Harbortown grocery/cafe sells it both by the bottle or 4-pack. They even keep a few bottles chilled and waiting in the refrigerated section of the store. Jones has this thing going on where you can send them a favorite photograph, and if they like it, they'll put it on the bottle! You can get all the details on their web site.

Well, that's about it. Hope you check out all or at least some of the above flicks, and pics soon. Incidentally, I receive no money or free stuff for mentioning these products or where to get them. I just do it because I like to let people know when something comes along that's truly special.

A final note:

Several folks have written or contacted me via telephone or in person to say that they wanted to comment on something I said, but were'nt sure that they wanted to sign up with Google (which is free) in order to have their comments appear on the web site. If you don't want to go through that process, but would like to share a thought or two, email me directly at and I'll pass your comments and/or suggestions on in the next installment. Sound good? Hope so.

Till the next time...

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