"Dammit! I can't find my driving moccasins anywhere!" "Jar!!"

TV used to be something I loved. Then, sports notwithstanding, I all but stopped watching it. Then HBO and The Sopranos and The Shield and The Wire and Six Feet Under happened and I kind of fell in love with it again. Now I think I’m back on the down-swing. I didn’t think I watched many shows anymore, but when I looked at the full lineup it seemed as if I must like a shit-ton of TV…until I categorized them.

Shows that I still watch pretty regularly, but if they went off the air tomorrow it wouldn’t really bother me: The Big Bang Theory, The Daily Show, Modern Family
TDS is still the best news/satire on TV, but it’s got to be wearing on Jon Stewart to keep beating his head against this wall. At this point I think it’s wearing on me. Modern Family makes me laugh, but more often than that it makes me miss Arrested Development. And really, at this point the only funny things on The Big Bang Theory are Melissa Rauch, Mayim Bialik and Kaley Cuoco.

Shows that are basically just playing out the string now but I still feel compelled to watch: 30 Rock, The Office
Jack and Liz are no longer funny enough to offset my hatred for Tracy and Jenna. And The Office is liked a corpse, shocked momentarily by the EMT paddles of Mindy Kaling, Creed Bratton or James Spader.

Shows that I’m still watching, but which are on a very short leash: Californication, The Killing, True Blood, The Walking Dead
Californication has always won because of the dialogue and the sweet relationship Hank has with his daughter, but now the other shit is just out of hand. The Killing was yanking my chain halfway through the first season, fer chrissakes. True Blood used to be at least mildly interesting with the politics and the interesting Russell-inspired mayhem, but now it’s just Twilight for old(er) ladies. And The Walking Dead had me in the first season, but lost me in the second season right around the time it put me into that coma.

Shows that I wish would just freaking come back from the off-season already: Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, Mad Men, Nurse Jackie, Sons Of Anarchy, Treme
Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones and Mad Men are pretty much the best things on TV right now. Nurse Jackie, Sons Of Anarchy and Treme aren’t quite in the same weight class, but they’re still better than most of the dreck that happens when I stray outside south of channel 1300 (TMN) on my guide.

New shows that I just started watching, and have pretty much written off already: Alcatraz, House Of Lies
I wanted to like the both of you, really I did. But House Of Lies, you’re so smug and intent on showing us this quirky world of consulting which, let’s face it, is nothing like that you portray…and I hear quite enough of that doublespeak from consultants at my day job, thank you. And Alcatraz, you’re just formulaic.

Shows that I just started watching, and love: Homeland, New Girl
Let’s be clear, I’ll watch anything with Damien Lewis or Zooey Deschanel. But so far (we’ve only watched the first 8 episodes of Homeland, and the first half-season of New Girl) both shows have been really good. The question for both will be whether they have any staying power.

Shows that I just started watching, and love, but are already off the air: Party Down
Dammit!!!

Shows that I’m expecting to like, but haven’t started watching just yet: Justified, Luck
I don’t even know what Justified is about, but it’s a recommendation from a pretty trusted source. Luck is directed by Michael Mann, written by David Milch and stars Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte. I don’t care if they break into song each episode, it’s getting a least a season with me just based on that pedigree.

"I enjoy being around cookies. I like their energy. Did I steal your cookies? No."

Our friends MLK asked us last week if we’d like to join them for M’s birthday celebration. “Of course,” we said. “Where?” Turns out the birthday boy wanted wings, so we suggested the Crown & Dragon, a pub in our old neighbourhood famous for their wings. We met there last night, along with CBGB and some friends of MLK’s.

We knew they’d have generic beer and great wings, and that we’d have lots of laughs. What we (or, at least, I) didn’t know was that Saturdays at the Crown & Dragon are standup comedy night. And the mic was directly next to our table, in a…um, storage nook. Auspicious!

So we did wolf down many, many wings (14 pounds all told, I believe) and a bunch of meh beer, and we did have some laughs…though it looked shaky at first. No disrespect to the first couple of comics, but it was a little painful. But then it got better, and the host (who was quite funny) kept things moving and kept our party’s heckler in line. Some of the comics who came on later were very strong, especially Arthur Simeon and K. Trevor Wilson, who did a longer set to close out the evening. Wilson delivered what was, to me, one of the two funniest lines of the night: “It will be a thrust-kick of respect.” That won’t make a lot of sense out of context but it was damned funny. The other top line for me was delivered by Ryan Horwood, one of the pub’s very over-tired waiters who did a set but didn’t get too many laughs…and the awkward silences after his jokes led him to describe himself as “like, a big condor of weird.” That got a spit-take out of me.

Since one of the other comics (Becky Bays) was celebrating her birthday that night, at the end of the show they called Becky, Matt and some other comic whose name escapes me up to the mic where we sang Happy Birthday to them, and then all shared birthday cake. It was a nice little night. It was like serendipity, but with frosting. Four of our group left shortly after that, but MLK joined Nellie and I for one last pint so that we could introduce them to the Rebel House. We sat at the bar; M and I chatted about business strategy and east-coast life (as we often do), and who the hell knows what Nellie and L carried on about. We finished our pints and walked into the snow, wishing M the happiest of birthdays.

Cheers, buddy.

Swirl / Goods & Provisions

Last night we struck out to the east, just across the river a little into Leslieville in the hopes of trying a few new places.

Our first stop was Swirl Wine Bar. No store front except a single door leading up a flight of stairs, into what felt like…well, at the time I tweeted that it felt like a broke sommelier’s basement. Which I guess might’ve sounded insulting, but wasn’t meant to be. It was also inaccurate; given the climb and lack of mildew smell, it was decidedly more like an attic than a basement. An attic where some sommelier had stored a collection of old tables (ours: an old wooden door; next to us, an old Singer sewing machine table like my grandmother’s) and mismatched chairs and ancient board games and some of their favourite wines. You know, as sommeliers do. So the layout and decor were quirky, no question. But it wasn’t precious or cloying…it was struck me as one of the rare tiny, quiet, near-secret places in this city to really relax, and listen to music (Moby! Wyclef! Salt n’ Pepa! Beatles! Queens Of The Stone Age slow jam!) and drink amazing wine and eat tasty meat & cheese boards. Speaking of the wine, there were lots of interesting options by the glass. Nellie’s Viognier and Syrah were excellent; her caub sauv was just okay. And while I didn’t think through the order in which I…um, ordered, my Zweigelt, Malbec and Carmenere were all excellent.

After we  paid our bill (which came inside a spy-style hollowed-out book) we walked a few blocks further east to Goods and Provisions. I was going on gut feel alone about this place; without a website we didn’t even know what their menu was like, going only by what I had seen on Chowhound and various blogs. We had a five-minute wait for a table so we squeezed into the last available corner at the bar, enjoyed the 13th Floor Elevators coming from the speakers and took advantage of their excellent whisky and bourbon collection. I had an old favourite, the Balvenie Doublewood; Nellie ordered a glass of Yoichi. I had a sip of hers, and can now tick Yoichi off the list of the 101 whiskies to try before I die. 16 down, 85 to go. Yay.

Once we got to our table we got down to the business of picking out dinner. The menu is short, simple, and very heavy on the meat. One of the commenters in the links above described it as high-end comfort food; I’d heard the term used a lot before and usually scoff, but it really fit at Goods and Provisions. Our starter was a small plate of smoked pulled pork croquettes, which were amazingly rich but didn’t overpower our glasses of (dry white) wine. Nellie’s main was a flank steak with duck-fat frites; I had a meat pie absolutely loaded with venison and flaky pastry. We shared a bottle of Bordeaux. There was nothing fancy about it — it was simple, serious food done elegantly and skillfully.

Clearly we need to get to Leslieville more often.

Planning for my future

I bought one of these bad boys today. The reviews I’ve read suggest it’s well worth the high price. Still, thank the maker for LCBO gift cards.

The recommended time frame for drinking is 2016 through 2022. It’s killing me to put it away for four+ years. But goddamn-and-a-half, it is gonna taste good when we finally crack it.

Crescent City

Last Friday we got together with our friends CBJ+M at C’est What, in our quest to reacquaint them with Toronto’s best beer joints. We were also doing a tiny bit of preparation for an upcoming trip we’re taking together: the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans. This will be my first time back since 2000, back when I had no idea how to travel, so I’m treating this like pretty much my first time there. For Nellie it really is her first time.

For quite a while I was excited mainly about watching the games, and will be doubly so if Duke should make it to the final four. But lately, as I read more about the city, and think about how the city comes across in Treme (obviously a fictional and romanticized version, but less so with a David Simon TV show than most) I’m getting more excited about New Orleans itself. It won’t be our biggest trip this year, and may not even be our most interesting (we’re returning to Europe in the summer) but it’s shaping up to be the most fun.

The downside of planning this trip? I can’t get Johnny Horton out of my damn head.

I love my new phone whatever

About a month ago I got a new phone. But not really.

I’d held off on getting a personal smartphone for a long time, relying mostly on my work Blackberry and avoiding iPhones as only someone who hates locked-down ecosystems does. I knew I wanted an Android device because they integrate so nicely with Google applications (gmail, reader, docs, etc.) but was holding out for the latest Google OS. So in December, when the Galaxy Nexus came out, I held my nose on the 3-year contract and dove in.

The new hotness

Interestingly enough, I’m not using my new phone as a phone. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even given out the phone number yet. I use it as a highly portable, highly usable computer. And I don’t just mean that I’ve replicated my PC experience on a smaller screen — I mean that I’m taking advantage of the location-awareness and camera and gyroscope and all the other goodies that come with a new smartphone. Like scanning the barcode on a bottle of wine to see reviews or automatically add it to my collection. Like finding out when the next TTC bus or streetcar is arriving.

I’m not that excited about what I can do with it today — technology has basically just caught up to the efficiencies I’ve been picturing in my head for the last few years. I’m excited by fact that I’m not sure what will come next.

"I'm an okay mechanic with a GED. The only thing I do well is outlaw."

Because we don’t get a channel that carries Sons Of Anarchy (imdb) as it airs we’re forced to wait until the season is over and watch it all at once. Like we did this past weekend: we began watching season 4 Sunday afternoon and finished episode 14 late last night.

I know a lot of people haven’t watched it yet and I don’t want to ruin anything, so I’ll just say two things:

  1. Despite the fact that he’s in a supporting role on the show, Ryan Hurst (aka Opie) continues to be the best thing on the show;
  2. So many former cast members of The Shield have shown up that I kind of expected Michael Chiklis to walk into frame at any minute. And, in a way, I guess he kind of did. God, I miss that show.

"It's a bad day to be a rhesus monkey."

The movie-watching marathon continued well into the long weekend, though it seems to have stalled in the face of season 4 of Sons Of Anarchy. Here’s what the last few days hath wrought:

  • Martha Marcy May Marlene (imdb | rotten tomatoes)was an excellent film. And while it’s too dark and off-kilter to be considered for best picture at the Oscars, Elizabeth Olsen should be nominated for best actress. How the sister of the dreaded Olsen twins could pull off such a staggering performance, in what was only her second real movie, is mind-boggling. The movie is one of the best of the year and deserves to be watched on its own merits, but watching Olsen made it even better.
  • Buried (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was our only break from the best-of-2011 list. I know it got a lot of hype, but I think it didn’t have much going for it beyond the gimmick of being filmed in a box. I know we were meant to be rooting for the protagonist, but really…I didn’t care whether Ryan Reynolds got out or not. And that’s poison for a movie that only has a protagonist to work with.
  • I didn’t know what to expect from Drive (imdb | rotten tomatoes)since the last Nicolas Winding Refn film we saw was the savage, ploddingValhalla Rising. How that would translate to Ryan Gosling in a car we weren’t sure. But, uh…it was pretty goddamn awesome. There were brief flashes of pretty severe violence (though, nothing quite like One-Eye’s output in Valhalla) but a great story and just so much frigging style from Refn. The cars, the city (Los Angeles), the pseudo-80s credits, the scorpion jacket, the five-minute window…it all formed this fantastic portrait that seemed like it should have been old and worn out, but wasn’t.
  • Contagion (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was good, but couldn’t quite get over the hump to being great. Which is pretty much how I’ve felt about every Soderbergh movie since 2001. It did a very good job of setting me up for the big emotional kick that I should have felt with this kind of outbreak, but the kick never quite came. I wasn’t looking for something formulaic; I was looking for something that made me understand the fear that would have gripped the planet in this case. But it never came. It just danced around the edge of it.
  • I was surprised when I saw the rating Warrior (imdb | rotten tomatoes) had earned on rotten tomatoes. It seemed like a predictable, by-the-numbers movie about underdog fighters, boozy dads, estranged siblings, blah blah etc., and those movies don’t have 80%+ ratings. But it was just really well done. The fight sequences were really well done, and Tom Hardy was…I was going to say unrecognizable, but he seems to relish taking on parts in which he is unrecognizable. Either way, he was outstanding. While everyone fawned over The Fighter, I was underwhelmed…it just seemed like a showcase for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale to chew the scenery. Given a choice between the two I would take Warrior and its pained, understated performances every time.

And now…back to Jax and SAMCRO.