Tag Archives: Downton Abbey

2012: What I’m Excited About

Here’s a random list of some of the stuff I’m hoping will entertain me in the new year:

Books:  I’m on a long library waiting list for PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley.  It’s a murder mystery featuring the characters from Pride & Prejudice.  Mr Wickham gets bumped off, and I’m sure everybody is a suspect.  It fascinates me that the reviewers at Amazon are equally split between rating this book brilliant and awful.  I myself have tried many P & P sequels and failed to finish them.   I’m also looking forward to a book that’s coming out in spring, but I don’t even know the title or author.  All I know is that the cover photo will be one of my images of Ireland, posted last year at the beginning of January.

Television:  Downton Abbey Series Two begins a week from today.  Also this month, Ian Tracey guest stars on Supernatural (January 6th) and in the pilot for the new Fox series Alcatraz (January 16th or 23rd, or perhaps both?).   A friend just told me there’s a new Doc Martin series coming later in the year, as well as Sherlock, Great Expectations, Wallander, Endeavor, and Inspector Lewis.  Finally, The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert will get a PBS airing.

Movies:  2012 will be a countdown to The Hobbit and the movie version of Les Misérables.  While waiting for next Christmas, I am curious about The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, both actors I enjoy watching.  For March, I have a hugely expensive ticket to the silent masterpiece Abel Gance’s Napoleon, restored by Kevin Brownlow.  It will be shown on a triptych of three screens with a full orchestra.  This five hour epic at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre includes a dinner break!

DVDs:  February brings The Phantom of the Opera to the US, months after the folks in the UK got their DVDs.  I’m looking forward to The Help, since I missed it in the theatre.  Of course, that’s true for most of the other good movies in 2011.

Theatre:  The touring productions of Les Misérables and War Horse are coming to San Francisco.  I’ve got to get tickets, which means being more careful with my entertainment budget.  Damn you, Amazon and ebay!  No more impulse buying!

More New Year’s Resolutions:

1.  Keep better notes for next year’s Wrap Up.

2.  Read more, surf less.  (I’ve been on the computer way too much lately.)

3.  Get out to see more films in the cinema.

4.  You may have noticed a change in how I’m posting photographs here.  I’ve switched to slideshows in a effort to save on scrolling, but it also makes it harder for people to steal my images.  My goal is to take more photographs in 2012 and to see less of them posted on other sites without credit.

This is my 200th post at The Ugly Bug Ball!  I’m not planning to post more often in 2012, but I do hope to keep things going steadily along, with lots of new topics and not too much repetition.  Suggestions are always welcome.

Please share some of your resolutions and anticipations for 2012!

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Filed under Literature, Movies, Television, Theatre

My Year End Wrap Up 2011

Another year comes to a close, so now it’s time to reflect back over what entertained me in 2011.  I just looked at the wrap up from last year, to get an idea of how far I’ve come in twelve months.  It’s clear that my focus has shifted in two directions.   I spent a large part of this year with my head in London, after watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables in March.  I also headed back to the past in a big way, once I started watching RetroTV and MeTV during a summer of unbearable television on the big networks.   These two obsessions have a major influence on my best and worst list of 2011.

Best Books:  Most of the novels I liked this year were written for children and teens.  I particularly enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (the 2011 Newbery Award winner) and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.  Guitar Boy by MJ Auch and Countdown by Deborah Wiles weren’t perfect, but they each stayed with me long after reading.  My favorite non-fiction book was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, which managed to make the periodic table interesting to someone who barely paid attention to science in high school.  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was a little book filled with some gems, and it goes into the “hard to categorize” category.  The funniest books were Demitri Martin’s This is A Book, and Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward.  The biggest disappointments were The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.  The lesson here is to give up on Sherlock Holmes in books and stick to the BBC.

Best Television:  The Big Bang Theory remains my favorite sitcom, just for being consistently funny.  The best line: “Let’s hurry up and watch this Star Wars blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!” (Sorry for the paraphrase.)  NCIS consistently underwhelmed me, and I’m can’t help wondering if I’ll give up on it soon.  In spite of my declaration to boycott Masterpiece on PBS, I still watched and enjoyed Downton Abbey, Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, Jason Isaac as Jackson Brodie, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.  I spent my summer wrapped up in the old series Da Vinci’s Inquest, and my winter has been dominated by reruns of The Rifleman.  Overall, the television program with the biggest impact this year was the Les Mis concert on PBS.

Best Twitter:  Last year, Matthew Gray Gubler was my favorite tweeter.  He’s still whimsical and original, but now most of his tweets are links to his tumblr page.  I hate tumbr, so this is a big strike against him.  Sorry, Gube.  West End performer Hadley Fraser can be great on twitter, but he goes quiet for long stretches.  Ramin Karimloo tweets with sincerity, but all those tattoo photos freak me out!  Matt Lucas, Josh Groban and Yigit Pura have been consistently entertaining, and Shah Rukh Khan’s twitter feed has a good balance of the personal and professional.

Best Movies:  I did slightly better than last year getting out to see new films on the big screen.  I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class, The Descendants, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.   I’m not sure The Phantom of The Opera 25th Anniversary simulcast even counts in this category!  At the Frameline Film Festival, I enjoyed Kawa and Spork.  I have many more late 2011 films to see on DVD when they’re released in 2012.

Best DVDs:  I watched a lot of bad DVDs this year, just because they featured actors that I liked.  I really need to get over this habit!  While not necessarily bad, I endured a lot of fighting and CGI in movies like Thor, Captain America, and Centurion, just so I could see actors Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, JJ Feild, and Michael Fassbender.  I tried to watch all ten Best Picture Oscar nominees on DVD, but I faltered at 7½.  I did love The King’s Speech.  I hate to admit it, but I think my most entertaining DVD experience this year was re-watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with a friend.

Best StreamingDa Vinci’s Inquest and The Rifleman on hulu were great, even though I was also watching these series on broadcast television.  The worst: when Netflix split their charges for DVDs by mail versus streaming.  I tried a month of streaming only.  It was a disaster.  Nothing I wanted to watch would play without long pauses to reload.  Now that I’m getting DVDs only, the Netflix site doesn’t tell me what is available streaming only.  Netflix, you’ve got a long way to go before you win back my trust.  One free DVD rental for Christmas isn’t enough.

Best TheatreLes Mis and The Phantom of the Opera, obviously, even though I didn’t see either show live in an actual theatre.  I had some fun at San Francisco’s BATS Improv, especially seeing their Spontaneous Broadway.

Best Music:  I’ve spent most of my time listening to Josh Groban, Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo), and Johnny Crawford.   Another favorite is the song Electricity from Billy Elliot (the stage musical).  Still, nothing beats Hadley Fraser singing Again.  The worst music this year?  Whatever was playing in the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Gack.

Best Music Video:  It really doesn’t count, but I can’t help it.  I love Josh Groban Sings Kanye West Tweets.

Best Entertainment News:  Following the news from London about West End performers from the Les Mis concert has entertained me at least as much as the concert itself.  It brought me new friendships with fellow fans from all over, and it kicked off the practice of having guest bloggers here at The Ugly Bug Ball.  If I’m blogging less about the West End, it’s only because things are pretty quiet right now.  2012 promises some guest reviews of Ramin Karimloo as Valjean.

Entertainer of The Year:  Last year was easy.  This year, it’s difficult to choose.  Johnny Crawford is great, but he came along late, at the end of November.  I blogged the most often about Hadley Fraser.  He provided me with a rich variety of entertainment, between the Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera performances, the online news and tweets, the music recordings and the YouTube videos.  Still, Ian Tracey beats Fraser out for sheer volume.  Tracey has been working steadily since he was a teenager, and even without an online presence (no tweets, fansites, or facebook page) he provided me with the most hours of entertainment.  I’m going to have to declare a tie between Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey.  Congratulations, guys.  There’s no prize, but you get my sincere thanks.  I’m sorry I can’t promise you my exclusive loyalty, because there’s always going to be a Johnny-Come-Lately waiting in the wings!

Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey

Hadley Fraser as Grantaire in the Les Mis concert; Ian Tracey as Adam Worth in Sanctuary

Next: What I’m excited about in 2012.  Happy New Year, everyone!

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Filed under Actors, Literature, Movies, Music, Television, The Internet, Theatre

No Masterpiece

When I was in fourth grade, my class had a geography bee with another fourth grade class.  It was held in their classroom, and one by one the kids were eliminated when they couldn’t find a country or city in the allotted time.  I won by finding Argentina.  The other teacher was in charge of the prize, and as I stood watching, she began to reach for one book on her desk.  She hesitated, then quickly grabbed a different one.  It was a well-worn Childcraft volume.  When I got it home, I discovered it was the free sample volume,  filled with illustrated stories and poems….but just the beginning of each.  If I wanted to find out how a story ended, I had to buy the set of books.  I was so frustrated I cried, because I knew that teacher had a real prize if one of her own students had won the bee.  What a cruel thing to do to a child, especially one who loved to read.

This is how I feel now when I try to watch Masterpiece on PBS.  I suppose over the years the dramas from the UK have had a little bit trimmed here and there to fit into a 90 minute time slot, but the cuts haven’t been noticeable.  Starting for me with Downton Abbey, I was painfully aware that 2 full hours had been trimmed from the US broadcast.   You have to order the DVD to see the full version that the Brits viewed.   The new Upstairs Downstairs had approximately 30 minutes trimmed from an already rushed series.   Masterpiece itself is now only 60 minutes instead of the usual 90, although I don’t know if this is temporary.  South Riding has lost one hour, or 25% of its original four hours.  It’s not quite the same as my geography bee prize—they’re not showing us the beginning and then making us order the DVD to see the end.   In some ways, it’s worse.  By editing scenes throughout the program, we don’t know exactly what we’ve lost.

Besides, it’s even more complicated than that.  There’s no guarantee that the DVD you rent or buy will be the full version.  It depends on who produces and releases it.  If it’s a BBC release, it will most likely be the full version.  If it’s a WGBH release, it will probably be the cut version.  With some titles, you can only get the full version if you order a region 2 DVD from the UK.  I have a region-free DVD player, a necessity for an anglophile, but money is tight and I’d rather rent than buy.  Not an option.

So, for now, I’m boycotting Masterpiece.  I don’t want to watch DVDs of programs I saw on Masterpiece trying to figure out which scenes are the ones that were missing.  I want my first exposure to these programs to be untainted, so I can sit back and get lost in the worlds they create.

My geography bee story had a happy ending.  I went to my own teacher, lovely Miss Daigle, and tearfully showed her my prize.  She understood perfectly, and she gave me a real book.

Update:  I found out later than Downton Abbey did not lose 2 hours from the US television broadcast.  It was bad math and bad reporting on the part of The Daily Mail and Telegraph.  South Riding and Upstairs Downstairs felt choppy to me, so I’m not sure about those programs.  I’m back to watching Masterpiece, but with caution and an eye on the DVDs available.

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Filed under Complaints, Television