The Sunday Magazine: The Characters Who Live on TV

I have spent the last couple days looking over the preliminary schedule for the upcoming New York Comic-Con. It is part of the fun of going is to look over the upcoming panels and screenings and see which ones I’m most excited about. It becomes a way of my assessing the things I have at the top of my list against some things which have fallen.

In the latter category is the panel for the new Star Trek: Discovery. I looked at it on the list and was surprised I have little interest in it. Star Trek is why I am a 57-year old man on my way to Comic-Con but they have found a way to fatigue my interest. If I hear good things I suppose I’ll catch up but for the very first time I won’t be there for the first episode of something which has Star Trek in the name.

There are many other things I am looking forward to but right at the very top is the American Gods panel on Thursday and The Walking Dead panel on Saturday. Funnily enough the reason I am so fond of both series are characters who are very different from the printed page version.

Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning in American Gods

In the Starz American Gods series, it is the duo of the leprechaun Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon. As portrayed by actors Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning they are the reason I tuned in each week. What is crazy is in the book the characters exist but are small supporting characters. On TV, they are the best thing in American Gods.

Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead

In The Walking Dead, it is the characters Darryl Dixon and Carol Peletier portrayed by actors Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. They also form a rough duo within the zombie apocalypse although the story separates them often. Darryl doesn’t exist in the comic book and Carol died a long time ago. On TV, they form the beating heart of the show. Despite many storytelling excesses these characters bring me back week after week.

Darryl and Carol are so popular that when writer Robert Kirkman talks about killing either of them you can almost feel the held breath in the room. I have been considering what it is that makes both characters so important to my enjoyment of this show. I think it is the uncertainty they bring as they don’t exist in the comic which means I have no idea what happens to them. It makes me invest more closely because of that. The other characters are great but because of the comic I know who is eventually going to die which maybe makes me keep them at arm’s length emotionally.

When it comes to Mad Sweeney and Laura it is much easier to pinpoint the reason; the actors. On American Gods, these two actors have created a chemistry which does not exist on the page. These characters were never as alive until Mr. Schreiber and Ms. Browning breathed new life into them. This presents a problem for the writers for season two as I am far from the only one who feels this way. How they will find ways to use the two characters when there is precious little left on the page for them to do is going to be key to a successful run.

I am looking forward to these actors talking about their roles and answering questions in a few weeks. Seeing and hearing from them is the reason I want to be in NYC the first week of October.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Twin Peaks: The Return

Sixteen weeks ago on the eve of the premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return in this column I said “it’s been twenty-five years; tell me a story”. Well after the 18-hours of this I have been told a story that has been more than I could’ve expected. I have been given so much story, along with spectacular visuals, I suspect it will take another twenty-five years for me to digest it all.

Back in 1990 when Twin Peaks premiered on ABC it was so unexpected for a broadcast network to show something like that. In 2017, with the niche television landscape Showtime could commit to 18-hours. This allowed creators David Lynch and Mark Frost to fully realize their visions. Mr. Lynch would direct every episode. It resulted in one of the greatest collection of a particular visualist’s aesthetic since Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz”. For a director to be given the opportunity to make an extended version of a movie over a number of segments must be a gift. Mr. Lynch took this largesse and displayed everything I admire about him. If you’ve been a long-time viewer of Mr. Lynch’s style every bit of it was here to one degree or another.

Michael Cera as Wally Brando

There were long pauses between dialogue verging on and passing uncomfortable. Commentary on how we are so used to word salad when it comes in haute cuisine we’re not sure what to do with it. There were moments of sweaty palmed tension released in a horrific climax. To the point that other moments ratcheted up tension that didn’t get released. The sound editing also done by Mr. Lynch carried by crackling electricity throughout was all about the energy running through the story. There were moments of wry commentary on our current way of life epitomized by Michael Cera who plays the son of Deputy Andy and Receptionist Lucy; Wally Brando. Mr. Cera gives a comedic performance where he channels the cadence of Marlon Brando as he comes to pay respect to his godfather, the local sheriff, in the dialogue of Luca Brazzi. It is four minutes of writing and performance gold.

The Three Faces of Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks: The Return

Another component of all of this is the David Lynch Repertory Company was represented throughout. Many of the actors he has worked with in his movies joined original cast members. There are so many good acting performances I am only going to focus on one; that of Kyle MacLachlan. Mr. MacLachlan had to be the glue that held all of this together as he played three versions of characters who looked like him. He gave each of them distinct personality so just the way he delivered the line you could tell which character it was. Through his performance Mr. MacLachlan portrayed almost every imaginable human emotion through the entire series. I know Twin Peaks: The Return is going to be odd but if Mr. MacLachlan is not in the Best Actor Emmy race for a Limited Series then the Academy is full of idiots.

Edward Louis Severson III a.k.a. Eddie Vedder at The Roadhouse

The final part of what made Twin Peaks: The Return a joy for me was almost every episode ended with a musical performance in The Roadhouse. Some of my favorites like Chromatics, “the” Nine Inch Nails, The Cactus Blossoms and Lissie were already on my playlist. I added new bands Au Revoir Simone, Sharon van Etten, and The Veils. Just from a musical perspective it was a feast. The one single performance which made the top of my list over the entire series was Edward Louis Severson III’s “Out of Sand”. You might know the singer better by his stage name Eddie Vedder and this song was a perfect capstone to one of the pivotal episodes. Giving these musicians the opportunity to enter the Twin Peaks playground was another brilliant decision.

Take a Bow Mr. Lynch

I know I have a lot of readers who were frustrated by everything; I got a lot of e-mail about it. I know Episode 8 was the break point for many. That episode was done in the most surreal way where I think Mr. Lynch was equating the A-bomb was responsible for the release of evil in to the world. I’ve watched the episode six times now and It is jam packed with so many visual beats I am still seeing new things. I think everyone who returned for episode 9 was like me completely captured. There was almost the idea of Mr. Lynch laying down this barrier of if you can’t deal with this I still have ten more hours for you.

My opinion is Twin Peaks: The Return has incredibly duplicated what Twin Peaks did. It re-invented what you can aspire to on television. If it spawns half of what the original did it will be fabulous.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s Game of Thrones Season 7

There are often some great lessons about how you can’t please people so you might as well please yourself. Latest example is the recently completed season seven of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is one of the last remaining big appointment television shows left running. After the completion of the sixth season last summer they announced they would be finishing the story with two final seasons; a 7-episode seventh season followed by a six-episode final season.

Game of Thrones is in a completely unique place to any other adaptation ever put on film as it has gone past the written page. George RR Martin the author behind the story being depicted in Game of Thrones has been unable to stay ahead of the producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. They only took on the project because Mr. Martin gave them much of the tentpoles of the end of the saga including the eventual ending. What is incredible is the television show is going to reveal the ending before the author does. I am sure Mr. Martin’s path to the same place has some more twists and turns but both the visual and the printed versions will end up in the same place.

With only thirteen episodes left the producers and the cast mentioned that the narrative pace was going to pick up speed now headed towards the end. I have no problem with that because I have spent sixty previous episodes with these characters I am now ready to get to the resolution of their individual paths. Here is where my first sentence comes into play. The first episode of this season was all about reminding us where each group of characters was while placing them within the overarching plotlines. After that first episode, the internet was ablaze with “what happened to speeding things up?”. I was thrilled with it; the final eight minutes showed the return of one character, who had been exiled the entire series back, to where she was born. The actress conveyed all her emotions on her face and in her eyes before speaking the final line of the episode. That was what I wanted; payoff for having followed this journey for six seasons. The next two episodes would move our characters rapidly towards their inevitable intersections. Time and again paying off the foundation built in many seasons prior. At the end of episode three with a single line from a dying woman a verbal dagger was plunged in to two hearts. Again, complaints were rife about how fast characters moved around and unrealistic timelines while also wondering where the action was.

Please address any complaints to our head of GOT Customer Service

Two of the next three episodes were some of the greatest spectacle ever done in television. Full on war with dragons and a terrifying battle of a few men against an army of the dead. This was broad action as has never been attempted on a television screen. During both moments, I kept thinking “Thank heavens for wide screen hd tv.” For all of that it was a quiet moment at the end of the episode in between which showed how smart these writers are with these characters.

One of the fun things is finally getting to see characters who have not always been together meet on screen for the first time or as part of a group for the first time. it is the latter that takes place at the end of episode five. In an example of narrative economy eight characters ping-pong, via a line or two, the reason they don’t trust one of the others in about two minutes. Each character is true to what we’ve seen before, each character reveals something new, and each character knows they are going to do something with this group that likely will kill them.

This all culminates in a last episode that slingshots the audience to the final season with anticipation. Except for those sad souls who can’t stop complaining. I am completely satisfied with this penultimate season as it felt like almost every important character development had been earned from what had come previously. Maybe the complainers just can’t bear the thought of it all ending. I can’t wait for the final six episodes.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: It Is Not a Documentary

Back during the holidays in 1978 I went to the movies with a group of friends to see Superman : The Movie. This was Christopher Reeve in the movie which advertised “You’ll believe a man can fly”. At the end of the movie Superman flies quickly around the Earth in the opposite direction of the natural spin to reverse time. When we were at a local diner one of the group said about this, “You know that wouldn’t work. It would just throw everyone in to space.” There was a bit of silence and I internally thought,” So you bought a flying invulnerable Superman with no problem but reversing the spin of the Earth to reverse time; that’s a bridge too far?”

Superman reversing the spin of the Earth

I’m not sure what it is about popular entertainment which brings out a group of people who must criticize the reality of the fantastical. It has existed from that moment after Superman: The Movie to today. What I really find irritating is when scientists have an insatiable need to point out that fantasy is not real.

Shh! Dr. Tyson says this is impossible.

One of my favorite scientists from whom I derive a great deal of pleasure listening to on subjects of actual science is extremely guilty of this. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson just couldn’t help himself after Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. The well-known astrophysicist just had to be a buzzkill pointing out the fighters shouldn’t be making noise in space. A weapon which absorbs the power of a sun should vaporize itself.  Finally, the small ball shaped robot which rolls everywhere would skid on sand uncontrollably. I am sure he felt better after correcting all the errors in the documentary that was presented on a galaxy far, far, away. Except Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a documentary it is a science-fiction, notice the word after the hyphen Dr. Tyson, fantasy. You probably should look up the definition of that word too Dr. Tyson. There are so many important scientific questions which could use your expertise to spend time acting like the Star Wars universe is real science is beneath you.

How Fast Do You Fly Little Raven?

This past week has seen my internet filled up with many people who have also mistaken the sixth episode of the current season of Game of Thrones as a documentary, too. In a series where a woman has stood in a fire while everything around her burns not once, but twice, without her hair burning up got no comment. In a series where dragons exist right next to ice zombies, that’s okay. People are resurrected by a Red God, no problem. And assassins can change the shape of their bodies and voices just by putting on a mask; sure. All of a sudden, this week has been spent debating the relative running speed of one character, the flying speed of a raven, and the airspeed of dragons because of an improbable sequence in which our heroes are rescued from certain death. As this debate became more ridiculous I thought back to the scene between The Bridgekeeper and King Arthur in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail”

What is the air-speed of a Northbound dragon with a girl on its back?

The Bridgekeeper asks, “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?. Arthur replies, “What do you mean? An African or European swallow?” The Bridgekeeper says, “Huh? I don’t know that.” Just before being flung into the abyss. For every person who can’t sit back and watch a piece of fiction and just be entertained I wish you the fate of The Bridgekeeper except I want every channel on your television and every screen at your movie theatre to be full of documentaries then those pesky inconsistencies in fiction will cease to be bothersome.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Fly Me by Daniel Riley

I have been thinking about the good old days of air travel back in the 1970’s. When I took my first plane flight I wore a tie. They put linen down on the tray table; in coach. The stewardesses were exotic examples of American womanhood. Of course, that is not the case today; it costs less, you’re lucky if you get pretzels, and there are flight attendants who are as harried as anyone whose job is to work with the public. A new book sets itself within the early 1970’s following a stewardess living in Southern California. It is the debut novel by author Daniel Riley called “Fly Me”.

The protagonist is recent Vassar graduate Suzy Whitman who, in 1972, heads to California to join up with her sister Grace as a stewardess for fictional Grand Pacific Airlines. Mr. Riley captures the lifestyle of a stewardess expertly. The weight checks, insistence on proper makeup, that they stay single to further the fiction of availability. Grace is married and they must have two phone lines one for the airline to call and another for her and her husband. The airline milieu provides the backdrop for the main plot.

Daniel Riley

Suzy gets caught up in moving drugs for the local weed dealer. Money issues sink her deeper in her life of crime. Mr. Riley brings it all together with a liberal sprinkling of 1972 touchstones throughout the narrative. It is in this middle part of the book where it is at its best. The ending is a frantic mixture of implausible events that only happen in novels.

I found Fly Me a perfect book for the summer as Mr. Riley kept the story moving even when the plot lines got a little frayed. If you’ve been looking for something to remind you of the early 1970’s or you just want a breezy fun read for the last few weekends at the beach grab Fly Me and let Mr. Riley take you on a flight of fancy.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Sancerre Rose Wines

Here at Stately Colognoisseur Manor as we reach the end of the dog days of 2017 we start looking for ways to alleviate the heat and humidity. By this point in the summer I’ve had my fill of fresh corn, lemonade, and white wines. I start to want alternative summer refreshers. A few years ago, on a trip to buy some wine for an end-of-summer outing I was falling back on my old set of citrus forward whites to bring. I began talking to the wine manager and he said he had a suggestion as we walked back towards the rose section.

While I knew deep in my heart there are excellent representatives of this style of wine I had been scarred by the explosion of bad white zinfandel in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. I called it “pink swill” as it brought out the worst in my wine snob nature. I would marvel as the bottle would empty faster than anything else around it. I found a few different versions of roses which I could use as a defense mechanism when I was asked to bring the pink stuff to a party.

While accompanying the wine manager on this occasion he stopped in front of a set of bottles labeled “Sancerre” but with pink wine in the bottle. I was interested almost immediately. Sancerre is one of my favorite wines to go with seafood. The great majority of Sancerre is the French version of Sauvignon Blanc as that grape accounts for a huge majority of what is grown in this Central France region in the Loire Valley. Accounting for about 10-15% of the acreage in Sancerre is some pinot noir plantings which is used to produce Sancerre Rouge and Sancerre Rose. Surprisingly I prefer the pink to the red when it comes to this version of pinot noir.

The first bottle I purchased was Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Rose. If I classified white zinafandel as “pink swill” I had found the opposite in this salmon colored wine. It had a fruity sweetness of cherries and strawberries with herbs providing contrast. This will be the easiest one to find as it has the largest distribution.

There are other good producers worth seeking out. Look for Domaine Delaporte, Domaine Girard, Domaine Philippe Rambault, Domaine Sautereau, and Le Roi des Pierres.

These are delightful accompaniments to cold meals where you just don’t feel like turning on the oven in August. They are also great in place of the typical deck or beach sippers if you’re tired of your favorite whites by now.

I leave it to 1975 band The Fabulous Poodles to give the best wine advice for these dog days, “Think Pink!”

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO The Defiant Ones

I grew up with rock & roll. It existed from the moment I could recognize music on the radio until today. I listen to music every day. It is astonishing that there is over fifty years of music and styles for me to choose from now. I have always enjoyed finding out the history and background of the story behind the music. There isn’t a lot of it shown anymore but the recent four-part series on HBO called The Defiant Ones spanned the fifty years of popular music through the stories of two men; Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre.

The series begins with their triumphant moment when they sell their Beats brand speakers and headphones to Apple for $3 billion in May of 2014. The deal was agreed to on a Friday with Apple asking the men to be quiet and allow them to make the announcement in the following week. Only to have Dre and Tyrese post a video, after partying, leaking the deal late Saturday night. The next 48-hours were both men worrying if it would cause Apple to renege. That they didn’t turn on each other shows the bond which had formed.

Jimmy Iovine (l.) and Dr. Dre

What struck me throughout the series were that both men were successes because they never stopped hustling. By the time they became partners there was nothing these two couldn’t achieve.

Mr. Iovine’s story is of working from cleaning up at the legendary Record Plant recording studio to finding a seat behind the mixing board. He works with some of the most influential musicians of the 1970’s. Throughout he never lost the drive to keep earning his seat in the studio. Dr. Dre started off as a DJ on the club scene in South Central LA constantly hustling until he uses the small studio behind one of the clubs to begin forming the sound that would become west coast hip-hop. Just like Mr. Iovine his drive would take him up the ladder always earning respect at each level because of his work ethic.

That’s just Part 1. The remaining episodes chronicle their rise before combining their talents when Mr. Iovine folded Death Row Records into his Interscope label along with Dr. Dre. Together the two men realized their shared vision of the music business could transform it. The remainder of the series tells that story through the roster of artists they championed.

If you are a fan of rock music The Defiant Ones is going to remind you of the DIY mentality that the best who operate in that world bring to it. The Defiant Ones proves if you never stop hustling there are no limits.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Something to Tell You by Haim

I have a hypothesis when it comes to artists. The second effort is a better indication of success than their debut. There is a reason for the phrase “sophomore slump”. It shows up particularly acutely in the music business. Most of the time by the time a band is signed they’ve had years together earning that. Which also means when they enter the studio they can choose the best songs over that time span to use. It becomes much more difficult when they are asked to come up with new material for a second album in a year or two. If they can I tend to believe there is a chance for long term success. The three sisters who comprise the group Haim are the latest to show whether they can avoid this.

Haim performing on SNL

Haim was one of those acts which built their reputation on their live shows. That is much of what sets them apart in an era of production values over authenticity. They spent a year recording their first album “Days are Gone”. The length of the process was due to their using their live shows as rehearsal for when they would finally record the track. I am very fond of a less produced sound; “Days are Gone” was right where I like my rock and roll.

The second album “Something to Tell You” was released at the beginning of this month. It shows a band evolving. It is a funny thing when it comes to Haim because they have defined a seemingly singular sweet spot between pop music and alt-rock. When I say that you might think that would mean Haim has compromised both sides of that to land in the middle. What I think is different is they manage not to compromise anything while being both alt and pop.

The first single “Want you Back” is a good example. It is a song about wanting what you gave up while taking responsibility. It is surrounded by hooks of all kind. It has been one of my favorite songs of the summer. It became indicative of an album examining relationships in crisis. I don’t know if this reflects anything real in any of the band’s real life but if not, they do know how to cut to the bone.

Over the last month my favorite song has become “Right Now”. It is a heartbreaking song of wondering what happened. There is a plaintive organ which carries the lyrics to their end. I spoke about how their live shows feed into what gets recorded and there is a video which was shot around their recording session for this album. Which shows a more “live” version. If you compare it to what ended up on the album you get a real window into how these artists work.

It tells me there is much more to come from these three talented musicians, no sophomore slump here.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Non-Perfume FAQ July 2017

One of the great joys of writing Colognoisseur is the amount of e-mail I receive. The interaction between reader and writer has sparked many story ideas on fragrance. When I started Colognoisseur I wanted to spend one day a week writing about non-perfume things. I always expected those to be my least read piece of the week, or month. What has been a pleasant surprise is some of the readership is also interested in the same things I am. I also get e-mails about that too. Because the perfume ones eventually get answered through a story I thought I’d take a week to answer some of the questions which have been asked about The Sunday Magazine topics.

The question I have received, particularly in the last three weeks, several times now is what convinced me to write this column. “What do you think of Twin Peaks: The Return?”

The volume of this question spiked after the airing of Episode 8. First as I replied to everyone who asked; no I have no idea what exactly was going on for that entire episode but I expect some of it will become clearer by the end of all 18 chapters.

To the larger question I have really found myself immersed in the vision of David Lynch and Mark Frost twenty-five years later. I think Mr. Lynch is telling the story in a way so different that it can be hard to embrace. Halfway home I am happy.

I received a half-dozen emails on the graphic novel “My Favorite Thing is Monsters” by Emil Ferris. With the question is there anything else like it to read? Short answer; no.

Better answer is Ms. Ferris uses graphic storytelling to tell her story in an unconventional way. If it is that which you are looking for “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui tells the story of her Vietnamese-American family and the immigration experience in the United States. It is timely and poignant.

What wine should I serve with BBQ? That’s an easy one where I have recommended the same thing for many years. The best BBQ wine is the reds from France’s Cotes du Rhone. They all come in at under $20 a bottle and provide an ideal counterpoint to the smoky barbecue. The best ones are from Guigal, Vidal-Fleury, and Louis Bernard.

Nobody asked but my favorite recent guilty pleasure is the Netflix series GLOW. Loosely based on the story of the first televised women’s professional wrestling show it captures the Los Angeles 1980’s milieu hysterically well. It is mostly played for laughs but the underlying point of women figuring out how to own their own lives by dressing up as wrestlers; is heartfelt.

Which leads to the number of responses my column on strong women in pop culture generated. From “not good enough; yet” to agreement with most of my hypothesis. I am happy that we can have the discussion with so many examples to choose from. I am looking forward to seeing Charlize Theron as Atomic Blonde next weekend. I don’t think that movie ever gets made five years ago.

Please keep writing to me and I’ll do this periodically when there are enough responses.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Lavender or Basil Lemonade

Here in Poodlesville we just went through our hottest days of 2017, so far. As much as I love my summer cocktails when the heat rises over triple digits I crave refreshment over anything else. For that my summer go-tos are iced tea and lemonade. By themselves they are near-perfect thirst quenchers. Even combining them half-and-half makes for a great drink. I was having this discussion with some other members of our community and was asked, “you must make lavender lemonade being a perfume guy, right?” Errr….umm…no I guess I don’t know about that.

That turned my annual trip to the local lavender farm into a mission to go get some to give this a try. While I was at the farm, speaking with one of the owners, she said, “of course if you’re going to do lavender lemonade you must have tried basil lemonade, right?” Errr…..um….no I never heard of that. I was beginning to feel positively uninformed. Thankfully enlightenment was but a pitcher away.

The addition of both lavender and basil to a basic lemonade recipe transforms them into something completely different. When I tried both for the first time I was strongly reminded of how in fragrance lavender or basil interact with lemon citrus notes. Except this time, it was on my tongue instead of my nose. Describing them is going to sound a lot like I am doing a perfume review.

Lavender lemonade is prepared by adding lavender to a boiling solution of sugar and water. Allowing it to steep for a couple of hours while cooling. I then strain the mixture into a pitcher add fresh squeezed lemon juice and water. Stir, followed by adding a lot of ice. It generates a light lilac colored drink giving it a festive air.

When I write about lavender in perfumes I mention how much I like those that capture the herbal character of it. When you extract it into hot sugar water it is that herbal quality which is transferred into the liquid. Combined with the tartness of lemons it makes for the same refreshing give-and-take which makes so many colognes with these ingredients so enjoyable.

Basil lemonade is made more like a mojito is; than the recipe for lavender lemonade. I take some basil leaves and some sugar in a pitcher. I use my cocktail muddler, but a big wooden spoon would work as well, and I crush the basil leaves and sugar together until I get a kind of green flecked paste consistency. I add lemon juice and water stirring until everything but the basil leaves dissolve. I strain it into a pitcher filled with ice. This adds a green hue to the lemonade which is also festive.

Basil lemonade is a bit more serious than the lavender version. By crushing the leaves instead of steeping them the basil provides a sharper taste contrast to the lemon. They go incredibly well together even with that being said.

I just visited our local lavender farm for the recent harvest when I saw the owner again I told her how much I enjoyed these lemonade variations in the year since I saw her. She smiled and then asked me, “did you try rhubarb lemonade?” Errr…um…no; to the rhubarb patch I go.

Mark Behnke