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|Written by Lauren Cheal|
|Friday, 19 August 2011 14:39|
While some might retreat into a music cocoon for the summer, I prefer to stick with my first media love. Good ol' TV. For me, the summer television mix is more like a cocktail, and as with any good cocktail, the proportions must be just right. Let's consider the classic Manhattan.
2 ounces of Canadian rye whiskey
1/2 an ounce of sweet vermouth
2-3 drops of Angostura Bitters
2 maraschino cherries (for garnish)
Pour those ingredients into a highball glass, stir vigorously with ice, and you have a great cocktail. The mix of sweet and savoury, the harsh alcohol rye against the smooth vermouth, it all comes together into a boozy, but very palatable experience. The summer television cocktail is no different, really.
2 Ounces of Rye Whiskey
You may notice that I left the Canadian part out of this title. This is not the place for my diatribe on the state of Canadian television, but let's just say I am not a big fan. Add to that the fact that it is summer and the networks bring out their tier 2, 3, and 4 shows, and you can bet I won't be tuning in to see what the plucky but attractive female is doing over at CBC's latest lame dramedy. No, my whiskey of the summer is the great comedies that piled up on my to-watch list over the course of the year. This summer, I have been fortunate enough to get into Community, a show I didn't have time for during the rest of the year. It has really grown on me in a very short time. I have watched the entire series at least 4, possibly 6 times, and have also thoroughly enjoyed the DVD commentary for season 1 (it is totally worth buying the DVDs if you are a fan of the show—every single episode has a commentary with a good mix of actors and production people, and each disc has bloopers). My favourite episodes of the series to date are "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons", "Cooperative Calligraphy" and the two-part season 2 finale of "A Fistful of Paintballs" and "For a Few Paintballs More".
This is a show that really rewards intensive viewing with callbacks, call forwards and just a lot of great detail throughout about each of the characters that you might miss the first time around. Shirley (played by the talented Yvette Nicole Brown) is my favourite character (though I have come to love them all, and deeply), and she can often be heard murmuring about pepperjack cheese, if you listen for it. This great show, along with Parks and Recreation, Cougar Town and hints of Modern Family have made up the bulk of my summer viewing. The comedy in each of them is light enough to be enjoyed in pretty much any context, but it seems to fit nicely with the warm weather and lazy schedule summer is so great at providing. The complexity of these shows (mostly Community and Parks and Recreation, to be fair), also gives them enough weight to carry me through the television dearth left by a lack of solid drama in the summer.
1/2 Ounce Sweet Vermouth
As you can tell by the cocktail ratio here, a little goes a long way when it comes to vermouth. Too much and the drink becomes just overly sweet, but in the right context, and with the right accompaniment, vermouth is delicious. This summer, my vermouth has been the somewhat sappy teen drama and somewhat hokey sci-fi show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, before you Whedonites jump down my throat about those two criticisms of the show, please keep in mind that I am only at the end of season 3 right now (I know I am really late to this particular party), and that I am still open to the possibility that the things I don't love about these first seasons will change as the series moves on. What I really like about the story so far is escaping into the high school drama, and this is a show that represents those particular times really quite well. Our hero, Ms. Buffy Summers is plagued with the typical teen issues of defining herself, worrying about boys and sex, relating to her mother, and, oh yes, being responsible for slaying every demon that pops out of the hellmouth she lives on. If I am wearing my critical TV viewing hat while watching an episode, sometimes I can only see the hilariously old CGI technology and the horrible, horrible use of stunt doubles (it is a serious problem, y'all). But, if I am able to turn off that critic and just sink into the angsty teen drama of it all, I find it to be utterly enjoyable, escapist storytelling. Small doses seem to best, but perhaps that will change as the series ramps up. For this summer (get it?), Buffy has definitely been my vermouth.
2-3 Drops Angostura Bitters
Bitters are the strangest ingredient in the Manhattan, but, as I recently discovered when I tried to make one without them, they are an essential part of the flavour and experience. Bitters is a concentrated liquid made of herbs and spices, and the Angostura version is made of grain alcohol, gentian root and other flavourings (the exact recipe is, of course, a secret) by the House of Angostura in Trinidad and Tobago. Once used as a tonic, dropping Angostura Bitters into your cocktail glasses really makes you feel like you are some kind of apothecary, concocting your special brew. Like I said, these things are weird.
Only palatable in extremely small doses, the bitters of my summer entertainment schedule have undoubtedly been books. There, the cat is out of the bag. I really don't like reading (novels) all that much. I get easily bored with them and give up when they don't hold my attention. That being said, I have read two really great books this summer, each in a concentrated time period. The first book I really enjoyed was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is a true story about a black woman who died in the 1950s, but who's cell tissues from a cancerous tumour have lived on as a manufactured cell line called HeLa. Her cells changed medicine forever, but her family can't afford health insurance today because they weren't compensated for the cells that were taken and eventually sold. The book gives an impressive history of the woman, Henrietta Lacks (who was previously quite unknown), and her surviving family, along with information about her cells and the practices by which medical supply companies make money off tissue cultures. It is a fascinating read, and one I highly recommend.
The second book that I devoured and loved this summer was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Yes, the one that was just made into a movie. The Help is an interesting look at the life of black women in the 1960s who served as maids in upper-class white homes in Mississippi. It is a story that represents how a few women started social change in their community by telling their stories (the implication is that this activity was a precursor to the civil rights movement, but it is not explicitly connected). Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is how socially-taboo truths are brought to light (both in the story and through the story), and the willingness of a few women to change their lives for the better. As I freely admit, I just don't care much for the readin', but this summer, a few drops of these great books have rounded out my summer cocktail nicely.
2 Maraschino Cherries
Sweet, delicious, but somewhat inconsequential in the end, the cherries in my summer cocktail have undeniably been episodes of So You Think You Can Dance. The 8th season of this reality competition show has just ended, and what a run we have had with it. The stories of the dancers are always ultra-hokey, but you can see how very hard they work at what they do and how much they want to succeed at it, which makes the show just pretty sweet in the end. It is helped enormously by the charismatic and talented host, Cat Deeley. She somehow manages to represent the audience in her brief comments about the dances, conducts the physical production of the show by sending the multitudinous dancers in every direction around the stage and audience, and be utterly hilarious and charming the entire time. This season saw a major competition between two very talented young women, Melanie Moore and Sasha Mallory, and without spoiling anything for those who haven't got to it, I will say that my favourite dancer took home the prize, which was a lovely bonus.
So there you have it. The perfect summer cocktail. A large dose of great comedy, a measure of angst-ridden vampire slaying, a drop or two of reading about black women, and a fruity garnish of dance-based reality TV. Stir, sip, enjoy.
Tags: bitters, buffy the vampire slayer, cat deely, cocoon, community, dan harmon, egregious use of stunt doubles, free pizza, henrietta lacks, joss whedon, manhattans, modern family, obsessive watching, paintball, parks and recreation, pepperjack cheese, reading can be fun, sytycd, the help, tv