Category Archives: TV

Sunday Salon/Currently … Be Here Now

Currently …
Happy Sunday, everyone. It’s another cold one here in Pittsbrrrrgh today. We’ve had several consecutive days of temperatures in the 20s, making this weather somewhat a shock to the system. It feels like we went right from late summer (a few weeks ago we had a string of gorgeous days in the high 70s) to the dead of winter. Looking back at my Facebook memories tells me that on this day four years ago we had our first memorable snowfall of the season, so I suppose we can count ourselves lucky.

I’m not much of a fan of winter and cold weather. I can handle the cold but it just means that the snow and ice isn’t far behind. Ugh.

Today, I have to work this afternoon and help out at a special event (a lecture and VIP reception) for a few hours. The Boy is a bit under the weather. Nothing major, just the usual change of season congestion and sore throat. Young Living oils to the rescue … I’m diffusing eucalyptus radiata for him and have rubbed Thieves on his throat.

Weekend Recap …
Last night The Husband and I went out for what passes for a big night on the town to us. The Girl was attending an event in the city and it didn’t make logistical sense to drive all the way home and back, so we turned it into an actual date night. We wound up going to The Butterwood Bake Consortium in Lawrenceville for dessert and coffee.

I’ll do a full review of the experience in a separate post, but suffice it to say we enjoyed it.

Reading … 
I didn’t finish any books this week and the book I’m currently reading is a review book, so I can’t say much about that right now.

Listening …
Current audiobook is H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald, a memoir that has been on my TBR list for awhile.

Be Here Now …
The subject line of today’s Salon post has several references. I loooovvvvveeeee the TV show “This Is Us” and on Tuesday’s episode they played a George Harrison song “Be Here Now” from 1973. I didn’t immediately recognize it until I checked the Spotify playlist (did you know there’s a “This Is Us” Spotify playlist with all the songs from this season and last? You’re welcome.)  I mentioned it to The Husband, who loves everything Beatles-related. The next day, it came up on his Spotify, totally at random, and then I stumbled on a friend’s blog post with that title. It just feels like a message being sent, a reminder for me to … well, be here now. It has relevance for a lot of things lately.

OK, time to wrap this up if I’m going to be at work on time. Here’s George to take us out.

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Review: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show A Classic (Encore Post)

In honor of the groundbreaking work of Mary Tyler Moore, who died today at age 80, here’s my book review of Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All The Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic. Originally written and posted on 3/4/2014.  

As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

There’s a good reason for that.  When this groundbreaking sitcom premiered in 1970, I was not quite 2 years old – not exactly the target audience. But I was a stubborn enough toddler (or so I’ve heard) that, had I understood what “MTM” was all about, I bet I could have made a pretty convincing case to my parents to let me watch it.

Instead, I saw it during its resurgence on Nick at Nite in 1992, when I – as someone with my first job out of college – could appreciate it much better. (Never mind that I usually watched Mary and Rhoda while my fiance watched sports with his best friend in the other room, but that’s besides the point. I was happy, he was happy, and we’ve been married ever since. We must be doing something right.)

It helps to have some knowledge of and appreciation of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” when reading Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, but this isn’t your usual television/celebrity retrospective. Sure, there’s a decent amount about the actors, which was interesting. But this is mostly about the women who wrote for the show and why having a team of female comedy writers was so groundbreaking in 1970.

In today’s anything-goes television environment, it’s almost quaint to remember just how revolutionary “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was. The idea of Mary being divorced and having a career was – to put it mildly – a hard sell to network executives. The CBS execs replied with, “American audiences won’t tolerate divorce in a series lead any more than they will tolerate Jews, people with mustaches, and people who live in New York.

Yeah. Those were the good old days, right?

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted explains how the writers and producers got around that (some reviews suggest that the book should be called “Jim and Treva and Allan and Susan,” for the writing and producing team that made the show happen). It also explains how having a female writing team significantly shaped the issues portrayed on the show – as well as the edgy ones on future shows produced by MTM Enterprises.

Ironically, my childhood dream was to grow up and be a screenwriter for “St. Elsewhere” – the critically-acclaimed medical drama that, like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” also saw its share of firsts and also was produced by Grant Tinker’s company MTM Enterprises, named for his then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore.

(In high school, I entertained the crazy idea of sending Mr. Tinker an unsolicited script. I talked about this a lot. Now, after reading the story about how superfan Joe Rainone would write detailed, weekly letters to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” cast analyzing each week’s show and how Marilyn Miller from Monroeville, PA (just outside of Pittsburgh) wrote a spec script for MTM and became a writer for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I kind of want to kick my own ass.)

Regardless of my lost dreams, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted was entertaining – and the audiobook proved to be a good choice as I lived vicariously through the characters on my way to and from my real life, slightly-less-exciting-than-a-scriptwriter-but-hey!-still-a-writer! job as I listened to this on my commute to work.  I enjoyed this for the inside stories and especially the focus and perspective on the writers. I was glad that they included what they – the writers and the actors – have done since “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” went off the air.

It was also so goddamn nostalgic, almost sad to a point. So many magnificent shows of television’s Golden Age of Comedy are referenced in this book as well as how the show that almost wasn’t going to be on the air wound up inspiring so many others.  The end of the book gives a nod to Mary Richards’ “cultural daughters” like Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon of “30 Rock” and “power ensembles” as found in “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “The Office.” Truly, Mary Richards’ influence and that of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is more far-reaching than anyone probably ever imagined.

Still, although we have indeed come a long way (baby) from the days when a writer couldn’t pen an episode about a New Yorker who was divorcing someone who was Jewish with a mustache, it makes one wonder if all the hard fought gains are truly appreciated by the talent we have today. Probably by some, yes. But I think the further we get away from television’s Golden Age, and the less communal our viewing experience becomes, the fuzzier those golden days will seem.

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic
by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong 
Simon and Schuster
2013 
298 pages
Narrated by Amy Landon 
11 hours, 22 minutes 

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Currently…Hibernation Sunday

Currently
It’s a day for staying indoors, given that it is all of 11 degrees outside as I write. Such is January in Pittsburgh. I skipped church because of the weather and a morning migraine that has, thankfully, subsided. We de-Christmased the house earlier, then I spent most of the day on the couch with a cup of rooibos tea with the Steelers-Miami game on as background (whooooo hoooo, Steelers!) while I caught up on some blog reading and perused Pinterest for some meal planning ideas. You know, the usual lazy Sunday.

The upcoming week will be busier than usual because I’m immersed in a big project at work. This will likely require a few later evenings, on top of several hours of work yesterday during a rare Saturday in the office to try and get ahead of the game.  I took today as a break from the work project which will wrap up this coming Friday the 13th … hopefully a luckier day than the date portends). The intensity is a short-term thing, but this has been in the works for a year, so it will be good to have some semblance of completion.

Reading …
I need to spend some time this evening with a new short story collection which I’m reviewing. (That deadline is Friday, too.) This one will be my first book of 2017, not to be confused with Sheila from Book Journey’s annual First Book of the Year project. I had all good intentions of participating in that but had to temporarily set aside my choice (The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes) to focus on the review book.

Watching…
I spent a good chunk of my two-week Christmas break binge-watching “This Is Us” and am completely hooked on this show. I don’t watch much TV to begin with and I certainly didn’t need a new obsession, but here it is.  I have two more episodes to watch, which I plan to do right after hitting publish on this. Perfect timing for the season premiere this Tuesday.

Blogging … 
I’m planning to participate in the Winter 2017 Mini-Bloggiesta, scheduled for Jan 14-15.  If you’re new to Bloggiesta, it is described as “a blogging marathon revolving around ticking off those items on your to-do list and improving your blog while in the good company of other awesome bloggers doing the same thing.”

The timing is great because I’ll have a four-day weekend, thanks to the MLK holiday and a vacation day that needs to be used this month. To-do’s for this Bloggiesta include updating my Book Review page (and revising some others) and writing some posts. If you missed it last week, I shared my selections for the Best Fiction books of 2016 (meaning, those I read in 2016, not necessarily ones published during the past year). Even though the window of time for 2016 wrap up posts has pretty much closed, I still want to finish my Best Nonfiction post. I read a lot of stellar nonfiction last year that I’d really like to share with all of you.

OK, I’m off to finish watching “This Is Us” with a case of Kleenex at the ready. Hope your Sunday is going well and that you have a great week.

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may we all have our hopes, our will to try

“Sometimes I see how the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives in the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool and he thinks he’ll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay, never knowing he’s astray
Keeps on going anyway…”

“Happy New Year” – ABBA

You know how much I love ABBA and how they have a song for every possible situation and event in life. “Happy New Year” (recorded in 1980 for the “Super Trouper” album but not released as a single until 1999) feels apropos at the conclusion of this godforsaken year. And before you chastise me for being one of those miserable souls complaining how horrible 2016 was, I know it wasn’t entirely awful; some good things did occur. I’ll get to those in a minute.

Make no mistake, though: count me among those glad to be drop-kicking 2016 into the ether of time while remaining vigilant of the dark days awaiting this brave new world arriving in 2017. I speak of the political, of course, since such events have been so dominant this year and will be into the next. As focused as I am on that (and will continue to be), this was an extremely difficult, stressful, overwhelmingly hard year for our immediate family on many levels. There have been a lot of losses — namely the financial and professional, but also changes with longtime friendships and some emotional and medical setbacks. I’ve gone into this in previous posts and most of it is better left off the blog, but suffice it to say this year has been a tough one.

Jing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-ling
The silver lining of not being able to afford a summer vacation means that I had an abundance of “use them or lose them” vacation days from work. So, I’ve been using them to catch up on TV shows, read a book or two, and spend some time with friends and family.

I’ve been binge-watching “This Is Us” and all of you who were telling me how much I would love this show were absolutely right. I know it’s been compared to “Parenthood”, but for me, it feels more like “thirtysomething”, for those of us who are old enough to remember watching that show, which was set in Philadelphia and ran from 1987-1991. Ken Olin, who played Michael Steadman on “thirtysomething” and directed several episodes, happens to be the executive producer of “This Is Us.”  Regardless, this is my kind of show and I love everything about it — the writing, the actors, the music, and (of course) the Pittsburgh setting.

Over Christmas, we spent some time back in Philly. It was a trip heavy on the nostalgia factor, which can be both good as well as unsettling. I had long, heartfelt conversations with two special people who I don’t see nearly enough, drove streets I haven’t been on for more than a decade, attended the Christmas Eve service at my former UU congregation with people who sustained us during some tough days long ago.  The Girl and I visited the family at the cemetery and I told her stories of those long gone. She and I had a delicious mother-daughter Christmas Day dinner at my all-time favorite restaurants, an unassuming gourmet Chinese place tucked in a suburban Philadelphia strip mall, the scene of many a date night back in The Husband and my glory days.

Moments That Mattered
So much of this holiday season wasn’t perfect (what is?) but many moments were pretty good. And that’s what I think I need to focus on more in 2017 — the moments themselves. Otherwise, the weighty expectations, anxiety, and emotional quagmires become too overwhelming. This isn’t a new realization or epiphany — just one that’s become more clear to me lately. Because yes, even in this craptastic and depressing year, there were some good moments. There’s always some good. Sometimes it’s hidden and hard to find, which means we need to look closer, go deeper.

Here’s some of what was good about this year:

I stepped up my writing game a bit this year with several book reviews published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and on Shelf Awareness.

Both kids made the honor roll this past semester.

I spent an inspiring and joyful day in my hometown connecting with my MRKH sisters.

I started running, at age 47, and discovered it’s not like high school gym class after all and, as such, I really like it.

Related to the running, I’ve lost 11 pounds.

A friend sent a generous gift.

I got to see Hillary Clinton the day before the election, and was close enough to wave and holler thank you.

Our cat made it through her dental surgery. (All of her teeth, sans two, needed to be removed.)

I went back to church.

And this. Oh my God, this … this absolute highlight of my year.

Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh 2016 cast, pre-show toast before our May 6, 2016 performance. Photo credit: Ashley Mikula Photography.

Being in Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh is one of my most significant and personally meaningful accomplishments — not only of 2016, but of my LIFE — and it will remain that way for me forever. I stepped way, way out of my comfort zone by auditioning for a chance to tell 500 strangers the most personal, intimate, defining story of my life in a performance shared via YouTube. (No pressure or anxiety there.) It was an experience that changed me. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of my year.

I hope that 2016 held some good moments for you, too. Without a doubt, it has been quite the year — and the one we’re headed into is, I’m afraid, going to be one where we will see some unprecedented moments that will change all of us. We will keep on going anyway, because, really, what other choice do we have?

Happy New Year, my friends. Here’s ABBA to take us out.

Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have a vision now and then
Of a world where every neighbor is a friend
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
You and I

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We Could Sing a Rainbow: Remembering Captain Noah

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If you were a kid growing up in Philadelphia during the 1970s, chances are you watched Captain Noah and His Magical Ark starring W. Carter Merbreier as “Captain Noah” and his wife Pat as … well, Mrs. Noah.  Along with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company, Captain Noah was must-see TV for the elementary-school set.

(Those of you who lived in other parts of the country may know Captain Noah, too; at one point during its history the show was broadcast to 22 other markets.)

But Captain Noah was ours because Philadelphia was home to Captain and Mrs. Noah.  Carter Merbreier grew up in Delaware County, attended the University of Pennsylvania followed by seminary school at Temple. He and Pat lived in the area. Their appearance in Philadelphia’s annual 6ABC Thanksgiving Day Parade was almost as highly anticipated as that of Santa Claus, who could have passed for Captain Noah’s twin.

Captain Noah — sorry, I mean, Carter Merbreier — died today, at age 90.  Yeah, for real. If you thought this post was one of those stories that people share with R.I.Ps and sad emoticons and hashtags not realizing that the subject had left this Earth several years prior, I thought the same thing. Even The Husband, who has a keen knowledge of celebrity recognition and obscure trivia, insisted that Captain Noah had sailed away long ago.  (We realized we were probably thinking of Mrs. Noah, who died in June 2011.) I verified all this with my sources —philly.com/The Inquirer/Daily News or whatever they all call themselves these days and 6ABC, which has Captain Noah’s death categorized as Breaking News, which strikes me as both odd and amusing only because there was nothing sensational or urgent or anything remotely breaking news-like happening on the Ark.

Indeed, Captain Noah and His Magical Ark was a simple show with simple things. Stories about animals. Life lessons told by puppets. Children’s artwork. (“Send your pictures to dear old Captain Noah … .”) As a kid, I remember being amazed that you could actually put something in the mail AND CAPTAIN NOAH MIGHT GET IT AND SHOW IT ON TEEVEE!  Sometimes, a celebrity would guest star on the show and it would be the coolest thing imaginable.

Eight years ago, I took my own kids to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. There among the exhibits was THE ACTUAL SET FROM CAPTAIN NOAH AND HIS MAGICAL ARK. I was reverent, awestruck — and yes, stunned that the set was so small. Part of me, I think, expected to see an honest-to-God real ark, like one of biblical proportions. After all, things seem so much bigger when you’re a kid, more magical.

We lose that as adults when the storms of life hit.

I remember staring at the animals, the TV cameras, the captain’s wheel. My kids were running all over the place, ignoring my insistence that they just had to come over and see the set of Captain Noah, right now, because here was my childhood, right here.  Needless to say, they were unimpressed and it occurred to me that there’s only so much of one’s experience and history that can be passed down to the generations after us.

I often think about the ways that stories and the personalities of a particular place have a way of becoming part of us as children, shaping us into the people we become later in life. I feel supremely lucky to have had the childhood that I did, and for having grown up in Philadelphia during the ’70s and ’80s.  In the span of two decades, the world has become a very different place and I wonder sometimes what cultural memories like Captain Noah my kids will carry from their early years, if any.  It makes me a little sad that they likely won’t have the collective shared history that The Husband and I share. That their memories will be more commercialized, so to speak, and less tied to an individualized, unique moment in time, a particular place or person, as compared to a generic, homogenized experience.

Given its beginnings as a religious program for children, Captain Noah and His Magical Ark probably would never be allowed on the air in today’s politically correct, hypersensitive, easily offended environment.  And today’s kids would probably be bored out of their minds. But I know I’m not the only middle-aged person who still has an enduring love and nostalgia for Captain Noah, and that has to mean something.

Maybe it’s a testament to the power of stories, of simple songs about colors and listening with our eyes to the world and being kind to one another.

Maybe those are the only things we need with us in our proverbial ark when the storms of life hit and threaten to destroy our world. 

Red and yellow and pink and green
Purple and orange and blue
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow too.

Listen with your eyes,
Listen with your ears,
And sing everything you see,
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing along with me.

Red and yellow and pink and green,
Purple and orange and blue,
I can sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow,
Sing a rainbow too!

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like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky

Storybook Ball (2)

“It’s not easy being green.
It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.
And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out
Like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky.” 
“Bein’ Green” – written by Joe Raposo, sung by Kermit the Frog

I hate television.

I really do.

And right now I hate it even more than usual because ABC cancelled “The Muppets” after only one season.

The MUPPETS, people.

Who the hell cancels The Muppets?! I mean, you really must have one dark, shriveled, corroded soul to pull the plug on Kermit the Frog.

According to Variety, along with “disappointing ratings” in the 18-49 year old market, critics said the series was “not family-friendly enough and out of step with the history of the characters, created by the late Jim Henson.”

That, my dear Kermie, is pure bullshit.

Having watched every episode of the newest incarnation of “The Muppets,” this show more than did the late Jim Henson proud. The irony isn’t lost on me, either, that this news comes on the heels of today’s anniversary of 26 years since Jim Henson’s sudden and heartbreaking death. What a way to remember and honor the legacy of this creative genius.

As for not being family-friendly enough, the new “Muppets” had plenty of innocent laughs for the younger set combined with an abundance of in-jokes for those of us who remember with nostalgia days when iconic performers like Carol Burnett, Milton Berle, Lena Horne and many, many more were sidekicks to floppy, colorful, zany characters.

And really, since when is “not family friendly enough” a barometer for keeping a show on the air? Have you seen what crap supposedly passes for family-friendly TV these days? If we’re going to make that a criteria, then all we’d be left watching is a blank screen.

Maybe “The Muppets” were doomed in this entertainment culture.  As The Husband wrote in this post (“Remembering Sammy and Kermit: When Entertainment Was the True Reality Television”) which I published here six years ago,

“They were part of an era when ‘entertainment’ meant more than watching some fat bastard try to lose weight, some chick with enormous boobs and not-so-enormous talent try to win a karaoke contest, or some incredibly dysfunctional psychopaths try to raise eight children on television in an attempt to become famous. 

It meant real talent. Real magic.”

Real talent, indeed.  Those Muppets had it.

And we’re not likely to see their real magic ever again.

photo by me, taken at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, Pa, May 2009 

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sunday salon/currently … wishing for spring and channeling my inner leslie knope

Sunday Salon banner

Currently
To borrow my friend Tiffany’s phrase, it’s been full on sloth mode for me this weekend.  I’ll blame it on the weather, which has been decidedly unspringlike. We woke up to snow Friday and Saturday morning, just enough to be a nuisance and to kill my poor daffodils.

Daffodils in snow 4-9-2016 - 2 Daffodils in snow 4-9-2016

Ugh, so depressing.

Aside from taking The Boy to an appointment, grocery shopping, and cooking dinner, I didn’t do much of anything yesterday. I’d planned to clean the house but only managed to wipe down the kitchen counter and table. Today’s adventure was a trip to Target, as The Girl needed some things for school. It snowed on the 10 minutes it took us to get there.  Of course it did.

Watching
At long last, I’ve finally started watching Parks and Recreation.  A lot of people have been telling me that I would like this show and they were right. The tipping point was this clip, which a coworker shared with me after I unknowingly was all Leslie Knope-fangirling about Joe Biden, who not only was visiting Pittsburgh this week, but who was speaking mere blocks from our office.

I’ve successfully gotten The Husband and The Girl into Parks and Rec, too (probably because they were annoyed at me laughing nonstop with my headphones on).  This was much-needed humor relief for all of us after yet another stressful week on the home front.

Reading
Hoping to finish Scorpion Tongues today.  I think I’ve gotten my reading mojo back.  Jane Mendelsohn has a new book out called Burning Down the House which I snagged a copy of from the library and I’m looking forward to starting this one.  I loved her debut novel I Was Amelia Earhart  and American Music (see my reviews here and here).

More Things I Loved Reading This Week …
Elizabeth Mosier announces and reflects on a new anthology, Fifty Women Over 50.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the music of John Prine. This piece in the New York Times (John Prine Endures, With a Half-Smile and a Song) explains why.

Listening
Still listening to a lot of Spotify, especially in the car. I’m a big fan of their Discover Weekly selections. Their algorithms are clearly under the impression that, musically, I’m back in 1977.  I’m loving Spotify because I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of artists who most people have been listening to for years.

I seem to have a bit of a consumption problem, though: when I discover someone I like, I need to download every note they’ve ever performed. Like, I need to have their entire oeuvre at my fingertips. Eventually some songs may be weeded out from my collection (I’ve deleted two in the course of writing this post) but only after I listen to them first. Similarly, I need to tell myself that just because I love a band or a particular artist, it’s really okay if I don’t like every single one of their songs. I mean, it’s not like their feelings will be hurt if I ax something from the rotation.

Anticipating
Next weekend is our second rehearsal for Listen to Your Mother.  (You’ve gotten your tickets, right? From what I understand, they’re going fast.)  I can’t wait to see these ladies again.  This is such a fantastic group. Our producers have been featuring profiles of the 2016 cast on the LTYM Pittsburgh website, which you can check out here.

Oh, and we got our official headshots back.  Here I am:

LTYM2016Headshots-63b8x12

I usually hate most pictures of me, but I love this.  Photo was done by the lovely Ashley of Ashley Mikula Photography. She was great to work with for this.

Cooking
Inspired by fellow Pittsburgh Blogger Alex’s #PghGBE post on Eat with Emily, I’m trying a new approach to meal planning. I’m creating a spreadsheet of dinners that meet with everyone’s approval in this house. As one might imagine, it’s a very short list. I’m also adding meals that I think might work for our family — things I’d like to try. The idea is that when I’m at a loss for dinner ideas, I can consult the list and add it to the menu lineup for that week. We’ll see how this goes.

That all being said, I should probably end this post and figure out what we’re having for dinner tonight ….

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