Notes to Self

Every once in a while, I need to be reminded where I’ve been. So I’m starting a new series of short posts called “notes to self.”

My inaugural note on this Throwback Thursday:

May I never forget that I auditioned seven times before I got into Washington Improv Theater’s company ensemble, Caveat.

The troupe has since disbanded, but holy crap was it a lot of fun. Here’s our demo reel from 2011:


Happy Anniversary to My Hot Cuban Sandwich

A year ago today, I married my best friend in an epic 80s extravaganza. Below, my vows:

My boobear:

Your smile lights up a room a hundred times over. You light me up enough to last a thousand lifetimes. You are my energon cube, my all-spark.

You are the cataclysmic lightning bolt that creates Kelly Lebrock, the enchanted necklace that brings Kim Cattrall to life, the splash of water that turns Gizmo into a rambunctious Mogwai party.

You are a gift from God, the answer to a question that I never posed.

I am blessed beyond blessed that you give life to mine.

I promise to be, like Richard Marx, right here for you — right where you want me, but more important, right where you need me.

I promise that we will watch terrible, bad, stupid TV and movies until we’ve killed off most of our brain cells.

I promise that our inside jokes will keep us laughing until we’re old.

I promise to support your dreams, no matter how hazy, no matter how hard, no matter how high.

I promise to hold your hand and take every step of our crazy adventure with you.

Whether it’s navigating Jareth’s insufferable labyrinth, smuggling an illegal extraterrestrial on a bike, or quitting our high-paying, high-stress jobs so we can launch our gourmet baby food business… I will go there with you.

Teej: You are beautiful and adorable and all sorts of scrumptrulescent. You are the nicest, most kind-hearted person I know.

You are also complicated and emotional and loud.

There are so many ways that you and I are the same.

And there are many ways that you and I are different.

And it’s easy to say I love you anyway.

But I don’t. I love you because.

On True Blood’s Series Finale

I’m still Monday morning quarterbacking the series finale of The X-Files.

That should tell you something about my love/hate relationship with the final episodes of my favorite TV shows. This implies, of course, that the show has an actual finale, something not all shows—even the good ones—have the luxury to do these days. But in those rare cases that they do, I giddily watch final episodes to see how the writers decide to end the series.

So I watched the finale of True Blood on Sunday after a season-long hatewatch.

I’ve been falling out of love with True Blood for a while, but this season tested my patience like a dying vampire in a lawyer’s waiting room. I was having flashbacks to the nightmarish-in-a-bad-way final season of Dexter. SHUDDER.

T.J. introduced me to True Blood a few years ago. The first episode I saw was the season finale with Maryann the maenad. I had no clue what was going on — wild and crazy dancing; claw handed monsters — but I was immediately hooked. I’d always loved the show’s unapologetic, crazy, throw-everything-on-the-wall weirdness, with storylines that meander and characters that inexplicably take screen time. And this was well before American Horror Story, so WTF? moments were genuine. Alan Ball was the pre-Ryan Murphy.

Even if it was 50 shades of soapy Southern Gothic fantasy, the show had relevance. It was an ostentatious feather in pop culture’s cap. It even earned a place as a punch line on Family Guy.

Brian: What is that?
Stewie: It’s True Blood.
Brian: Yeah, no one knows what that is.
Stewie: Rich gay people do.

And True Blood paraphernalia litter our house: Fangtasia and Merlotte’s pint glasses, a Bon Temps Football shirt, even a cookbook.

But over the years, TV storytelling evolved, and more interesting characters were doing more interesting things on other shows. True Blood didn’t seem to notice that the TV landscape was changing until it was too late. Alan Ball left after five seasons, and it became obvious that Brian Buckner, the new show runner, wasn’t quite as audacious.

Even though his character was completely wasted, here’s Robert Kazinsky as Warlow, shirtless and tied to a tree:

rob kazinsky shirtless true blood

The show picked up on the zombie storyline (marauding Hep V-infected vamps) about three years too late. They kept focusing on new characters we don’t care about (Violet, Adilyn, Bridget), when more interesting stuff could have been mined with characters we’ve loved for a long time (ahem, Lafayette). They painted themselves into corners so there was practically nowhere left to take once-compelling characters (Bill/Billith, Alcide, Tara, and poor, poor Sam). And don’t get me started on Bill’s death wish and supposed motivation for not taking the vaccine — and then asking Sookie to be complicit in his death when he could have walked out into the sun and turned to goo all by himself.

So what we got was an episode of lost opportunities, a bland mishmash of rote, “finale” events (wedding, death, a party, even a forthcoming baby) that had few stakes (ha!) and therefore packed very little emotional impact. I yelled “Finally!” when Sookie staked Bill.

In the final analysis, the last nail on the show’s coffin (!) was a proverbial whimper. I’m sad that we’ll no longer see the crazy residents of Bon Temps, but it seems they’ve run out of compelling crazy. True Blood will continue to exist in my pop culture lexicon for sure, but I’ll remember it as a fun, glorious, and sly expression of excess instead of the steaming, bloody pile of goo it was reduced to.

Thank You, Robin Williams

You didn’t know me, but you shaped me.

You practically raised me.

You made me laugh.

You made me think.

And you made me believe that I, too, had a boisterous, unbridled light inside, and that I should do whatever it takes to let it shine.

You didn’t know me, but I thank you for your divine genius. Thank you for your boisterous, unbridled light, which illuminated the darkest corners of this shy kid’s heart and soul.

I’d Take Either Version of Chris Pratt

Come on! Wouldn’t you?

I have a theory (side note: I always have theories) about why we suddenly all want to be Chris Pratt’s BFFs and lovahs. Because we knew him first as this adorable, hilarious, huggable bear, we actually liked him before his transformation into a muscle god hunk. And now that he’s got both personality *and* six-pack abs, he’s become exponentially more irresistible. You can take him home to mom and also have him squeeze you with those gunz.

It’s like that friend you think would actually look hot if s/he lost a couple of pounds, got a haircut, and took a shower (cf. Cousin Barry from Will & Grace, all the dudes that came on What Not to Wear).

And now we’re all squarely in Mr. Pratt’s charming, hypnotic gaze. He could do anything (e.g., kill a baby llama, cheat on Ana Faris with one of the Kardashians) and he’d still have America gladly eating out of his hands.

And that, my friends, is the long game of those of us who’ve learned to lead using personality rather than looks.

Bring on Jurassic World!

Unsolicited Endorsement: The Quest

Are you a nerd? Of course you are. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t.

Then you probably already know about The Quest, ABC’s new fantasy-based reality competition that airs Thursdays at 8. (Thankfully, Hollywood Game Night is currently in re-runs, so you won’t miss out on Jane Lynch’s Emmy-nominated funstravaganza.)

If you haven’t checked it out yet, here’s a one sentence summary to hook you: It’s awesomely nerdy LARPing brought to vivid life by a superawesome executive producer of The Lord of the Rings and the crazy gamemakers behind The Amazing Race.

Twelve ordinary people—called Paladins on the show—are sent on a, uh, quest to save the mythical kingdom of Everealm from an evil dude named Verlox. The contestants are thrown in a fully immersive environment, complete with actors performing an established storyline. There’s a queen (who just got poisoned! dun-dun-DUN!), a Jafar-like Grand Vizier, a demanding but dreamy head of the royal army, and the Fates. Plus, there are village people (sadly not those Village People) and goats! GOATS!

In each episode, the Paladins have to perform certain challenges—some physical, others strategic—called for by the story. (For example, evil dude Verlox may attack at any moment, so the Paladins have to prepare. Cue training montage!) And true to the rules quickly established by this fantasy world, the challenges involve things that most normal people don’t do, like attempting to crush a skull with a hammer whilst speeding by on a galloping horse. (Totally happens on Wall Street, right?)

Those who are in the proverbial “bottom three” after each challenge don’t lip sync for their lives, but they do have to perform one final challenge to prove themselves worthy. One gets saved; the other two must be voted on by the remaining Paladins. And instead of the quasi-anonymous write-in votes that Survivor uses, on this show, your supporters physically line up behind you if they don’t want you banished from the kingdom. So you get to see who’s got whose back. Literally. The one with the fewest supporters gets kicked off and sent back to the real world of traffic and mortgages and broken dreams.

The genius of this show, other than the pure fun of watching the bewildered Paladins collide with established characters and storylines, is watching the actors react to the contestants’ choices and behaviors in character. As an improviser, I can’t think of a more awesome challenge. It’s like being a Disney princess and having to deal with 35-year old gay dudes who line up with the ten-year old girls for a photo.

Archie and Rapunzel

The other genius part is the writing. One of the producers mentioned having to do regular late night rewrites of the storyline based on what happened during the day. (The producers were also apparently *IN COSTUME* when they were around the contestants. Gaaaaaaah. How cool.) From an artists’ perspective, the pure creative genius involved in conceptualizing something like this and then ACTUALLY PULLING IT OFF is beyond amazing.

(I also have a theory — still unproven — that one of the Paladins may be a plant, a kind of subversive villain character who’ll shake up the game from the inside. If that does happen, I will gladly buy the producers a drink for the genius twist.)

If you think this show isn’t your cup of mead, I’d suggest checking it out. The show oozes nerdiness from all pores, and unashamedly so. After watching an episode, I’d challenge you not to yearn to be either a Paladin or an actor in the fully realized world of Everealm. Few reality competitions allow you to live out your nerdy fantasies with costumes and weapons and goats. This show gives those to you, and more.

Plus, it’s the perfect segue to Project Runway.

Lost Stars

This song has been stuck in my head since I saw Begin Again and found out after the fact that it was written and directed by John Carney, writer and director of the brilliant Once. 

Do yourself a favor and see this film. It’s a love letter to the audience. It disarms you, wins you over, and makes you hope. I haven’t smiled at the movies in a long, long time.

Kiera Knightley version:

Adam Levine version: