January 17, 2019

Schitts Creek, Canadian comedy series on Netflix

One of my sisters has been raving about the comedy series, Schitts Creek on Netflix, but the show title was enough to put it on the bottom of my list. That was a mistake.

Canadian Eugene Levy of Waiting For Guffman and Second City Toronto fame, has teamed up with son Daniel Levy to create a laugh-out-loud comedy series set in the fictional town of Schitts Creek. Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), former video king magnate, bought this small town as a joke for his son’s birthday. The Roses lose all of their money and are forced to move to their only remaining asset, Schitts Creek.

Daniel Levy, Eugene’s real life son, plays the pan-sexual male progeny of this fish-out-of-water family. Mother Moira Rose is played by comedic actress Catherine O’Hara, a frequent collaborator of Eugene’s. Her parade of black and white designer duds and various wigs is almost worth the price of admission. The fourth in this comedic quartet is Annie Murphy playing self-absorbed, jet-setting daughter Alexis Rose.

As in most successful tv comedies, the supporting roles are equally engaging including Emily Hampshire playing deadpan hotel worker Stevie Budd, Chris Elliott as mullet-wearing Mayor Roland Schitt, along with his style-challenged wife Jocelyn portrayed by actress Jennifer Robertson. Other quirky side characters include the handsome local vet, a waitress at the only diner in town, the owner of Bob’s Garage and the only real estate agent in town.

At first, I thought the only joke was how cluelessly sophisticated the Rose family was in comparison to the seeming hillbillies of Schitts Creek. It becomes apparent that this new constellation of friends and acquaintances is a big improvement over their previous big city community in loyalty, generosity and heart.

For every biting bit of humor, there is a warm fuzzy realization that family and real friends help us get through any catastrophe, including losing our bank accounts, our possessions and our social standing. Laughs plus the occasional “Aw….” in Schitts Creek makes for the perfect end of day viewing.

Two Girls Down, thriller fiction by Louisa Luna

Two types of books find space on my night stand, literary works and lighter fare such as the thriller, Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna. I have book maven, Jenny Riddle to thank again for this suspenseful novel about Jamie Brandt, a distracted mother with two missing young daughters.

Enter bounty hunter Alice Vega and private eye, Max Caplan who unexpectedly join forces to solve the riddle of the absent girls.

The inquisitive duo meet more unsavory characters who may or may not be involved in the disappearance. Drugs, pedophilia, mental illness and other cases of kidnapping are uncovered by Vega and Caplan. This is a page-turner that may turn the stomaches of some readers, but crime, as they say, is not always pretty. Although sometimes entertaining.

If you need a pulp fiction fix, Two Girls Down by Louis Luna may be the remedy.

Pachinko, a 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee

A book club-loving neighbor handed me a novel that received much critical praise in 2017. The book was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and was a National Book Award Finalist. In all honesty, a family saga book set in Korea and Japan did not initially scream “Read me,” but I am so glad I read the first chapter which begins in 1910. We are introduced to Hoonie and his wife, Yangjin who are living in a Korean fishing village. Their teen-aged daughter, Sunja takes up with an older shady man named Koh Hansu. Pregnant, Sunja agrees to marry a tubercular Korean Protestant minister who is on his way to a job in Osaka, Japan.

So begins a four generation saga that will take place in a Japan of wars, poverty, illness and Korean discrimination, all the way to 1989. The Korean game of pachinko, a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine, is a thread that runs throughout the story.

Pachinko not only has stellar writing but it magically puts you into a world that is unlike anything one has experienced, yet universally so familiar as well. I came away wanting to know more about Chinese, Japanese and Korean history. Min Jin Lee has opened that window for me with her gem-like novel, Pachinko.

The Iron Giant, an animated classic

I was nosing around for a movie that might appeal to family members of varied interests. The Iron Giant, a 1999 animated film hit the jackpot.

This was Brad Bird’s first directorial outing and was not deemed a financial success at the time. Thankfully, he continued working and has added movies like The Incredibles 1 and 2, Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol to his catalogue.

Due to DVD distribution and streaming, this almost 20-year-old animated work has arrived at cult status and rightfully so. The animation looks like it was done by a Japanese manga artist and a really quirky comic book illustrator. The voice-over actors include the late John Mahoney, Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, Harry Connick Jr., Eli Marienthal and Jennifer Anniston. Even Cloris Leachman has a bit role.

There are definitely two tracks to the production, one a basic “boy helps monster” plot line for kids, and an adult deeper examination of prejudice, fear of the Russians, secret government doings, guns and war. Brad Bird manages to entertain both age groups with wit, artistry and heart.

The Iron Giant deserves wider acclaim. This 1999 animated feature is currently streaming on Netflix.

Frieda’s Sunchokes

The new year finds me wanting to investigate some new food items. I ran across Frieda’s Sunchokes at Mariano’s and could not resist trying them. You will find them in the refrigerated produce area along with other exotic food stuffs.

Some people refer to these gnarled roots as a Jerusalem Artichokes, but they are neither from Jerusalem nor related to the artichoke family. Instead they resemble ginger root in appearance and potatoes in taste. Unlike ginger root, one can eat the skins of sunchokes, and while potatoes need to be cooked, sun chokes can be eaten raw, as well as baked or fried.

I tried these Native American tubers baked with olive oil, salt and pepper and fell in love the nutty and comforting flavor. Nutritionists say sunchokes contain the carbohydrate inulin which gives them a sweeter taste than potatoes and are considered a folk remedy for diabetes, keeping one’s blood sugar stable.

Finding a sun choke soup recipe is my next order of business since this produce item promises a sweet, velvety texture. Sun chokes can be grated or sliced for salads, too.

Specialty produce purveyor Karen Caplan is carrying on the family business started by her mother Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan. The Caplans have been challenging our palates one vegetable and fruit at a time.

https://www.friedas.com/sunchoke/

Bag Man podcast on Agnew’s departure as VP

Sometimes I just want to get away from current political news and escape to……political history.

I confess to being quite ignorant of what happened during Watergate so I’m always open to learning more about that storied time in our country’s history.

I knew even less about Spiro T. Agnew’s departure from the Vice Presidency.
Along comes Rachel Maddow with Bag Man, a seven-episode podcast shedding light on this constitutional crisis that happened 45 years ago.

As Nixon was teetering towards impeachment or resignation, it came to light that our second-in-command was a big-time crook having taken bribes in Maryland and subsequently as VP in DC. Justice Department professionals were horrified at the possibility that Nixon could be ousted, only to have another suspect person slipping into the White House.

Bag Man not only recaps what happened but sheds new light on who was involved and how decisions were made. Particularly fascinating are interviews with members of Agnew’s defense team and the prosecutors who faced off with Nixon, Agnew and crew.

You can download the podcast app on your phone or find Bag Man at the MSNBC site to listen to the recordings or read the transcripts. However you access this fascinating story, you will feel just a little bit more “in the know.”

https://www.msnbc.com/bagman