Some TV Highlights of 2013

Extra long post!  My personal TV Highlights of 2013, which isn’t really a best/worst list (or maybe it should be) and it doesn’t help that I’ve really cut back on tv viewing (shocking, I know), I don’t have Showtime and HBO (so, no Damian Lewis and Homeland or Boardwalk Empire or Games of Thrones), and I have not pursued the streaming trend (so, no House of Cards, no Orange is the New Black, and no Alpha House, which I’d really like to check out, since it’s the Garry Trudeau project inspired by the trivia that a bunch of real US Senators and Congressmen are roommates).  And I’m not still on the Downton Abbey bandwagon (still shocking).

In no particular order:

1. Fringe (FOX) – the series finale in January 2013 was sad, yet resolved stuff to some extent.  See here on my commentary/analysis on that series finale.

2. Elementary (CBS) – Jonny Lee Miller as the tragic, flawed, brilliant man (who is ridiculously that resistant to acknowledging how human he is).  Yes, a show about Holmes will be predominantly be a Holmes and Watson show, but I wish the show would be more of an ensemble – why waste Aidan Quinn by not giving us more Capt. Gregson?  And, when Detective Bell  (Jon Michael Hill) has his sarcastic moments, he’s hilarious (that moment when Holmes gave his backhanded compliment about the NYPD, Bell was drily along the lines of “We were all going to quit because we couldn’t make arrests until you came along” – the deadpan look was probably the best one could do with Holmes).

Watson is also turning out to be more enjoyable than I’d ever expected; even if she isn’t the army medical doctor returning from Afghanistan in this version, that she’s so strong as Holmes’ partner in detecting is great (Joan Watson is no buffoon and will NOT be treated that way).

I enjoyed the fall season premiere in 2013, when it introduced Inspector Lestrade (played by Sean Pertwee, in fine wacky grim form, and clearly not the humbler version of Lestrade played by Rupert Graves from the BBC’s “Sherlock”) and Mycroft Holmes (played by Rhys Ifans).  Mycroft finally appeared!  And, I hope he comes back, but please, gods of tv, don’t make him evil.

In a triscribe relevant item: they filmed an episode at our alma mater law school, Brooklyn Law School, as a stand in for One Police Plaza, and used the Moot Court Room as a hearing room for One Police Plaza (I can’t believe that real One Police Plaza has that nice a hearing room, but it is tv). The episode aired the same night as the Sound of Music Live! on NBC.

Caveat: don’t ask me to choose between “Elementary” and BBC’s “Sherlock.”  They’re two very different shows about the brilliant Sherlock Holmes.  On the other hand, I will admit that, in 2013, I was pretty very fond of Jonny Lee Miller Holmes, since there was so much more of him (American tv gives us many more episodes) and I preferred Holmes in the version who’s a drug addict, since canonic Holmes was indeed a druggie (even if it wasn’t that obvious; but an addict who is a mess makes for gripping tv (ex., Jeremy Brett as Holmes, Hugh Laurie as Dr. House (who really was Holmes as a doctor)).

3.  Community (NBC) – that season 4 of 2013 was uneven and while I didn’t totally hate it, I can’t even remember if I watched the season finale (I think I did).  But, I did like the Halloween and Thanksgiving episodes (which NBC aired in the spring because NBC is cruel).  The Halloween episode was where actor Giancarlo Esposito reappeared as Gilbert, Pierce’s half-brother, and the jokes were funny.  The Thanksgiving episode had Shirley trying to have her Thanksgiving with her two divergent families (her community college gang and her husband, kids, and that extended lot) and Britta making sure that Jeff goes through with meeting his long-lost dad (played by James Brolin).  Jeff was finally dealing with his daddy issues!  I’m not sure how 2014 will be for “Community,” but I can keep hoping that it won’t be a total disaster.  I just want some laughs and character moments.

4. PBS’ Masterpiece – no, I’m still not on the Downton Abbey bandwagon (gasp!).  But, if Series 6 of Lewis is indeed the last season, I’m glad that Inspector Lewis and Dr. Hobson finally got together as a romantic couple, but was sad that Lewis and his sergeant, Hathaway, were giving up as police detectives (while not giving up their friendship).  And, in a way, “Lewis” ended where the old Inspector Morse series ended too – with the background of Oxford, England.

I’m also getting on board with the prequel series, Endeavour (Series 1), even though I still quibble that anyone would ever dare call Endeavour Morse by his first name (it’s just… not the way it was in the old Morse tv series or in the books).  Detective Constable Morse had that too-book-smart and tragic quality that Hathaway had (well, Hathaway had it some 50 years later), and yet Morse clearly couldn’t figure out what good policing meant (totally what his future self, Detective Chief Inspector Morse in the book version, never really figured out either).  Young Morse clearly needed the mentoring of his boss, Detective Inspector Thursday (much as Hathaway needed from Lewis; all Lewis had to do, when he was Morse’s sidekick, was keep doing the legwork and maybe get the killer for Morse – Lewis probably would’ve gotten along fine with Inspector Thursday).  Series 1 of “Endeavour” also brought Police Constable Strange, the younger version of Superintendent Strange of the Morse tv series – finally bringing context for why or how on earth did Strange put up with Morse in their old man years (their friendship of bailing each other out when they were young policemen – awww…).

Caveat: none of the above about Morse-Lewis-Hathaway probably made a lot of sense unless you followed the shows and the original Morse book series by Colin Dexter.  But, check them out, if you like British mysteries.

5. Broadchurch (BBC America) – actor David Tennant (the ex-10th Doctor of “Doctor Who”), as flawed and tragic Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (in Scottish accent glory), would seem to be the protagonist, but this series is really about Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller and her realizations about her town of Broadchurch.  Brutal and beautiful series, with acting powerhouses and so much tragedy.  It’s also not the usual British mystery, taking a more sociological/community approach, especially following the storylines of the victim’s family, the Latimers (honestly, the usual British mysteries would have solved this one far faster; then again, Inspector Lewis might have been no less hard on the Latimers and the crazy journalists).  Ridiculously good tv of 2013.  I’m impressed that BBC America outbid PBS for this series.

6. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN) – I really liked this series in 2013.  It’s probably the only thing I watch on CNN (no offense, Anderson Cooper).  Bourdain’s storytelling, food, and travels – just great tv.  The season finale episode on Detroit – that was powerful stuff.

7. Doctor Who (link to BBC America’s site)- I watched a bunch of episodes on BBC America in 2013 and I’m still behind (like with everything else I watch on tv).  But, there was a real thrill in watching “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th anniversary episode, on same time simulcast as the rest of the world (breaking records!).  The 50th anniversary episode was such a powerful heartbreaker, as John Hurt played the War Doctor, the incarnation who dared not use the name of “the Doctor” as he considered the ultimate scenario to end the Time War – the annihilation of his own kind, the Time Lords, and their home planet.  David Tennant returned as the 10th Doctor, and Matt Smith was in his next to last episode as the 11th Doctor.  10 and 11 were cute together, as they try to face the soon-to-be and already done sin of the War Doctor.  I actually got all teary when the three Doctors joined together and pondered pressing the button of the Moment, the device of mass destruction and consciousness.

And, the Christmas 2013 episode, “The Time of the Doctor,” was a bittersweet farewell of Matt Smith as 11.  Putting aside any and all confusion and plotholes (all of which are many in “Doctor Who,” I’ve noticed), I thought both episodes were worth watching and pretty enjoyable.  Also: time traveling is nuts, I tell you.

By the way, the webisode of the 8th Doctor (on the BBC website or YouTube), played by Paul McGann, was terrific transition to “The Day of the Doctor” (I believe people blame BBC for the lack of opportunity with the 8th Doctor, but I blame it on FOX – and I actually did watch that McGann movie when it was on, years ago; it was fine, really, just not what either FOX or BBC probably really wanted and with no real (American) ratings).

8. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart / Colbert Report (Comedy Central) – summer 2013, Jon Stewart was substituted by John Oliver, who brought a twisty British thing behind that desk.  Hilarious, especially as New York City was in the ridiculous mayoral primary election.  Overall, both Stewart and Colbert gave us good tv in 2013.

9. The Americans (FX) – actress Kerri Russell is as far from her old character Felicity (from the old WB’s “Felicity”) as she can be, in this spy series.  Matthew Rhys as Philip and Russell as Elizabeth, as sleeper Soviet agents during the early 1980’s – boy, that was one powerful series premiere, more striking than I’ve ever seen.

10. The Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon) – the Avatar universe continues.  Korra had to tap into her spiritual powers as the multi-reincarnated Avatar.  Some episodes were a little uneven (plotholes galore, also).  But, the episode where Korra visited the 1st life as Avatar, Wan (voiced by Steve Yuen), was just amazing art on television.  Also, teenagers with superpowers (or without powers) and having a hard time growing up and being in love – they can be a problem – a moral we must learn every single time.

11. Dancing With the Stars (ABC) – this Season 17 was one of those “I can’t stop watching” – but it was fun to watch Corbin Bleu (a borderline ringer, along with Elizabeth Berkley Lauren (who even had to bring back a little “Saved By the Bell”)).  Great that Amber Riley (“Glee”) won with pro dancer Derek Hough.  Bill Engvall and Jack Osbourne brought great enthusiasm.  Valerie Harper was also inspirational to watch, just for trying.

12. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (ABC) – not terrific, but one of those “Okay, it’s harmless, but when is it going to get good?” – Agent Coulson is alive, but so far, SHIELD has not yet lived up to expectations as the “what goes on behind the superheroes,” considering that SHIELD is supposed to be the guys behind the Avengers.  But, Joss Whedon’s production people ought to keep at it; it is only season 1… I mean, really, who expected that “Arrow” turned out to be so much fun by season 2? (and, no, I’m not yet on the Arrow bandwagon).

13. PBS Newshour – made history in 2013 with officially making Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff the full-time anchors, making them the first pair of women to be anchoring.  Also, by expanding to PBS Newshour weekend, we have an Asian anchor (surely that’s historical?!) with Hari Sreenivasan manning the desk on weekend nights.

14. Sound of Music LIVE! (NBC) – was it great?  No.  Carrie Underwood sang fine as Maria, but she couldn’t act.  Stephen Moyer (“True Blood”) had a decent voice as Capt. Von Trapp, but he was not Christopher Plummer in the smoldering level.  And, when you have such experienced Broadway people as Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and Christian Borle – well, the differences of quality were noticeable.  And, I didn’t realize that they were using the original musical as the adaptation to follow, because I knew the movie so well, and just about everybody online was comparing it to the movie, and really, Underwood can’t live up to Julie Andrews.  I kept wondering what if Kellie O’Hara or Sutton Foster had been given a shot at the Maria role, but I understand that NBC wanted a big star.

But, having a musical on television was great and it got everybody watching (especially because it was live tv).  PBS is just about the only avenue for musicals on tv, so maybe the broadcast networks might want to consider musicals to bring the audience out there together, more than cable can.

15. Last but not least: Breaking Bad (AMC).  What a final bunch of episodes!  I obviously have to go back to the beginning to get the full “Breaking Bad” experience, but that was excellent and depressing as hell stuff.  But, for Walt and Jesse – fate is a weird thing and can you really beat fate?

Honorable Mentions:

The Walking Dead (is everyone but Rick going to die on this show?  And, Steve Yuen – thank you for representing Asian Americans in the zombie apocalypse on this series, and for so far not dying (yet)).

Archer (ridiculous as ever).

South Park (Comedy Central) – yeah, usually not one I’d pick for any list, but that season finale, where poor Wendy learned a hard lesson on the female body image was just heart breaking.

Key and Peele (Comedy Central).  They go where no one has gone before, as I would like to think…

Nova Science Now (David Pogue as host still isn’t quite Neil deGrasse Tyson, but still science on PBS continues well and alive).

Shakespeare Uncovered (PBS) – wow.  I watched this back in January/February 2013.  A great way to get the flavor of Shakespeare.

On a last but not least honorable mention item: Ken Tucker moved on from Entertainment Weekly, both on the tv blog and in the dead tree magazine since 2/13, but he was a great read.  I missed reading his writings on television stuff in 2013.

I’m probably forgetting other notable stuff of 2013, but I never promise to be comprehensive!

A Review of Reading/Literary Highlights of 2013

A little belated, but here it is: my review of my reading/literary highlights of 2013, as a follow up to my prior posts of 2011 and 2012.

As already noted, I have a lot of left over unfinished reading from 2013 that I’m hoping that I will finish this January.

As usual, thank you, Brooklyn Public Library and New York Public Library for allowing me to borrow ebooks and regular books from you! (I made my year-end donations awhile ago; hope you all did the same in time for your public library systems).

In 2013, I read a total of 63 books, which is almost the least since I’ve started keeping track of the books I’ve read since 2009 (excepting 2009 itself, since I started the list late in that year and couldn’t reconstruct what I was reading earlier that year).

I was hoping to read 75 books in 2013, because I didn’t hit that number in 2012.  But, life had a way of getting to me first, and so like in 2012, the magic number of 75 books didn’t happen.  I could blame my slower reading on my shorter commute, but I don’t know.  2013 was arguably a better year for me than 2012, but for various personal reasons that are not relevant here, I can’t quite say that.  Well, here’s hoping that 2014 will be a far, far better year.

In no particular order, regarding my personal reading/literary highlights:

1. Breakdowns.  Of the 63 books, 17 were ebooks; 48 were fiction, 13 non-fiction, 2 poetry.  I’ll post the list, but it came down to the following: other than the 2 poetry books, there were 7 mystery/thriller/espionage; 3 comedy/parody; 10 romance; 7 books on writing; 11 comics compilations/graphic novels; 3 plays; 2 sci-fi/fantasy; 4 literary criticism type books; 3 literary fiction (one of which was Raymond Carver anthology); 1 politics/law (Jeffrey Toobin’s The Oath); 1 history; 2 literary historical fiction; 6 children’s lit; and 1 miscellaneous (I’m not sure where/how to categorize William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, the book that inspired the movie).

2. I really tried to read to catch up with my book club, rather than totally bypassing missed readings as in the past.  That turned out to be better than I expected, since I ended up really enjoying Barry Unsworth’s The Quality of Mercy and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  I’m going to have to miss this January 2014’s meeting, where we’re going to discuss Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but I might just read it anyway to make up for the dearth of sci-fi/fantasy in my reading diet.

3. I really want to read more Star Trek books again – only one in 2013 was read, but… well, we shall see.

4. I binged on reading a bunch of writing books, since I had collected a bunch of ebooks on writing when Writer’s Digest had a great deal for NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago.  I’m not sure if reading the writing books helped my fiction writing at all this year, but at least I tried to read more on writing.

5. Buying books at the independent stores – I’ve been trying to be more of a real supporter of other sources of books.  Purchases in 2013 were made at Strand and Book Court, even if I did continue buying from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

6. Finally read Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener.  I might have to read it again in 2014 – what a read, and I still can’t quite digest how I felt about it (I mean that in a good way – the kind of reading where the food for thought just keeps going).

7. Brooklyn Book Festival!  I never did get around to writing up a post on that, but I had attended two panels and bought at least three books.  Gene Luen Yang signed my copy of his book Boxers at the Brooklyn Book Festival!

8. It’s sad that we’ve lost quite a lot of great authors, i.e., those who passed away, in 2013, like Elmore Leonard (my post here) or Barbara Mertz (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters) (my post here).  But, books – we still have their books.

9. I had attended the New York Public Library’s exhibit on children’s literature, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.”  (now still going on through 3/23/14).  Such a terrific exhibit – I highly recommend it.  I read some of the children’s books at the exhibit – there is something to be said about the simplicity and richness of writers of children’s literature – and that made me pore through a couple more thereafter elsewhere.

10. I’m still into my favorites – Eloisa James and Batman.  But, thanks to venturing into reading Gene Luen Yang, I might get into more graphic novels.  Re-reading Colin Dexter’s The Wench is Dead was more fun than I expected, but I couldn’t get myself to read Dexter’s The Remorseful Day, even though I bought a copy in 2013 – it is the last Inspector Morse book, i.e., the death of Morse (not the spoiler; the spoiler is the murder case itself, but still: the last Morse book, even though the beauty of books is that we can keep re-reading and reviving our favorite characters).

On a last but not least item of note, which I’ll note again elsewhere (my television review post, likely): Ken Tucker moved on from Entertainment Weekly, both on the tv blog and in the dead tree magazine since 2/13, but he was a great read.  I missed reading his writings on television stuff in 2013.

I’ll probably still put up a post or two from the more recent reads from December 2013.  Otherwise, here is a compilation of my 2013 posts on reading/literary ventures (or you could click for the reading or lit tags on my tumblr):

First Readings of the Year 2013 (Agatha Christie and… Stephen Colbert).

A consideration on the Coverage on the Poet Ricardo Blanco, who gave a reading of his poem on the occasion of the 2nd Obama inauguration back in January 2013. (I’m noting it because I really liked that poem).

My take on having read Jeffrey Toobin’s The Oath, his sequel to his prior book, The Nine.

My take on half-way through reading Shakespeare’s Othello.

I’ll throw in this reblogged post on Kafka, since that’s where I had added my opinion on having read Kafka’sThe Castle.

My summer reading of 2013, to whatever extent.

My November reading of 2013.

My take on reading Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty is Dead.

My post on Jane Austen’s birthday – and the already slow reading of Northanger Abbey.

My Christmas reading of 2013 (which is now going to be carried over into 2014; I read ebooks so slow, and how I just put down my ereader and just not properly get through an ebook; it’s kind of embarrassing).

(cross-posted at

New Year’s Message 2014

Happy New Year! After entirely being negligent in posting here, thanks for keeping up with SSW’s contributions. As usual, I’ll provide some stats, a resolution and my usual short piece of creative writing.

Customary Annual Statistics

  • Email: 4.82 GB (up 41.76%) (Inbox 19.32 GB)
  • Miles in a Zipcar: 1,124 (down 13.3%)
  • Miles in a rental car: 275  (up 10 %)
  • Mles on a plane: 9,131 (down 22.6%)
  • Places this year: Colchester/Uncasville (Mohegan Sun), CT (Vicki & Dan) ; Trinidad, WI (Chen/Chin clan); Miami, FL (connection) ; Kansas City, MI & KS (NAPABA folks, Roxanne & John & family); Topeka, KS (Sherry and Rich); Dallas, TX (connection); Newark, NJ (APALSA folks); Edison, NJ (Irene & Jerson). Very sorry to not make it to Minneapolis, MN (James & Trisha) because of new baby.



Crazy internet appearances:

  1. Chorus member, CDZA’s “Opus No. 20: Epic Key Changes” (I’m the Jedi in the back to the right of the albino gorilla suit guy)
  2. NPR Weekend Edition playing the Governor of California and some Chinese immigrants, all from the late 1800’s in a historical trial reenactment of “22 Lewd Chinese Women” led by the Hon. Denny Chin.
  3. Short film, “Border Crossing”, Honorable Mention, 2013 72 Hour Film Shootout Competition 2013. What if you had a work romance in an office building that shared a border between New York City and Bangkok?

New family member: A., 6 lbs., 8 oz, 17 ins. long at birth

New apartment: After 14 years, we’ve moved back to the neighborhood of my youth, Kensington, Brooklyn, to have room for our new addition. We still have stuff in boxes, but love the opportunity to have people over.


My three year resolution was to learn Chinese, which in year 2 I had specified Cantonese. I have to say it is not an unqualified success. I am not on my way to being fluent in any particular dialect of Chinese conversation; it will take many more years and much more commitment than I was able to muster this year.The free language classes held by at the Chinatown Y are an incredible value if you are able to put in the time and commitment. I did finally receive a foundation where I can start to build on grammar and core vocabulary.  I was able help to translate some English dialogue in the historical reenactment from #2 above into Cantonese, which was then converted to Mandarin. I also picked up little bits of Vietnamese from the class that was held in the next period after the Cantonese class, which helped me to make a few more connections to my family’s history. I’m eternally grateful that I have something I can can share with my new daughter, who probably already knows more Cantonese from my mother-in-law who has moved in to take care of Abby during the day. I’m picking up more things organically each day as she interacts with A., and I get to be like a child with her.

This year’s resolution is to get more involved in my new old neighborhood, Kensington, Brooklyn. Except for at birth for two days in a Manhattan hospital, I’ve grown up in Brooklyn, and I’ve either lived or visited my parents in this neighborhood, so when we moved back this May after 14 years downtown, it was at once very familiar and very weird, as many things have changed in the ensuing years. I haven’t figured out what that means – it may just mean organizing a food crawl, but anything within 15 minutes walk or bus ride is fair game. I’ll let you know over the course of the year on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #resolution2014.


One of my favorite father-daughter play activities is A. trying to crawl on the mat in the living room. She hasn’t quite figured out how, but she’s trying. As for now, it invariably ends in a dramatic slow-motion faceplant, followed by crying. I’m sure she will figure it out soon. The one thing that soothes her is rolling her over on her back on the mat and lying beside her. Because of this, I spend a lot of time staring at the ceiling.

Actual photo of my living room ceiling.

Actual photo of my living room ceiling.

Now this ceiling is very beige and it is very plain. We’re on the top floor in our new circa 1950 Mad Men-esque apartment complex, so it is the only thing between us and the black-top roof. From a distance, the ceiling is very regular, but if you look closely you can see the smallest imperfections and irregularities in the plaster.

Ceilings have become associated with limitations and obstacles, but they are only insidious  when they are invisible.  We don’t spend the time to look up – everyone likes to keep their head down to the grindstone of everyday life. Only when we are somewhere different that we take in the full measure of the space. We need ceilings to literally keep us warm and dry as we are starting out, and figuratively as a milepost as we reach for the stars. If we can see it, we can one day surpass it.

So as I’m lying down and looking at the ceiling on a freezing New Year’s Day, I am thankful that it is there, but also look to go beyond it, for myself or for the next generation.