Saturday, February 25, 2012

Missing Downton Abbey? Try The Buccaneers.

"There may be fewer of us, but we can STILL
make really bad relationship decisions!"
Like numerous Yanks, I have become obsessed with the UK import, Downton Abbey. You're either a fan or you're not, so I won't expound its merits. That would take too long. Anyone who's watched knows it's incredibly soapy for a period piece: dead sexual partners in beds, blackmail, secretly gay footmen, miscarriage-inducing ladies maids, cartoonishly evil ex-wives, cross-class affairs resulting in pregnancy, miraculously cured paralysis, and let's not forget...long lost heirs with amnesia and 100% disfiguring facial burns. I'm leaving off, like, 20 other plot lines from that list.

With Downton's second season just ended and the third season not due to return until, gasp!, winter 2013, where is an Anglophile to get her Brit drama fix on a Sunday evening?

May I suggest, turning to Netflix Instant and queuing up The Buccaneers, a 1995 mini-series from the BBC? Oh, but of course I shall.

You guys, nothing is going to be Downton, but this series is its entertaining older cousin. It focuses on four nouveau riche American girls (of Lady Cora's generation!), 'invading' England to make brilliant aristocratic marriages. Included among the young ladies is Nan St. George, an innocent dreamer played by Carla Gugino, and Conchita Closson, a 'wild' girl of 'exotic Brazilian blood' played by Mira Sorvino with a cheese-tastic accent.*

The TV series is roughly based on American author Edith Wharton's unfinished final novel. Edith knew her turn-of-the-century high society bizness; she grew up in the thick of it. Years ago I read a version of The Buccaneers that was finished after Wharton's death, based on her notes. I remembered very little from that reading except that the ending was happy-ish for a Wharton novel. Highly uncharacteristic. See: The House of Mirth, re: definition of ironic titling. that I think about it Wharton may be the perfect forerunner of Downton. Her books collectively feature upper-crust snobbery, suicide by drug overdose, paralysis (not temporary), people running up crippling debt on frivolous things, illicit sexual affairs, and marriages of (in)convenience. If that's not a predecessor of soap opera drama, what is?

I digress.

Lest you worry that a TV series based on a novel of society manners will be too dull, let me assure you that the screenwriter of The Buccaneers took some modern liberties with the original plot. The show is plenty melodramatic and filled with, "Oh, girl" moments.

I won't totally spoil how things develop for the fearless American four-some, but how is this for some Downton-like temptation...

1) Beautiful people in beautiful costumes
2) A socially-savvy governess fulfilling the role of the "downstairs" folk
3) Gossipy, condescending English families
4) An aging mistress scorned for a loveless financial marriage
5) A SYPHILIS plot line, at a time before there was penicillin for that shit
6) Out-of-wedlock fetuses
7) A closeted, gay husband who is also OCD (!)

So what are you waiting for, Downton lovers? Get your fix.

Tip: Don't worry about the abundance of grating American accents at the beginning of the first episode. They make it to England soon enough. ;)

* Double bonus points for any British aristo trivia lover: The character of Conchita is loosely based on American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the 9th Duke of Marlborough (cousin of Winston Churchill). Her godmother was half-Cuban. **Triple bonus points: Winston Churchill's mother was also an American buccaneer, which probably fed Winston's friendship with Consuelo, even after she and her Duke scandalously divorced. BETTER THAN FICTION!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Quasi-hipster siblings in the City

Who is this handsome, nerdster gent trying on Buddy Holly frames in a SoHo yurt?
Why it is City Dangers' very own, Andrew Peters!, buddy! You made it! And a cameo mention of our mother it's a family affair.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ghost of Christmases Past

Don't let her size fool you; she is evil.
This week sibling and I are back in Cleveland, celebrating the holiday with our family. The semi-annual pilgrimage to my old bedroom provides a good excuse to rifle through the closets and become reacquainted with the ephemera of childhood. My mother has painstakingly wrapped and stored most of these things in the decade since I left home, but that never stops me from tearing into boxes of tchotchkes. During this year's digging, lurking under a box containing old dance shoes, yearbooks, MASH notes, and The Unauthorized Biography of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, I found her.

Elizabeth. We meet again.

Elizabeth was the she-devil doll that haunted the dreams of my most impressionable years. My parents brought her back from a U.K. vacation when I was a toddler. I'm sure she cost a pretty shilling and getting her delicate porcelain back to the States in one piece was a challenge. Oh, how life could have been different had she shattered over the Atlantic.

No such luck. Proud of their gift, my mom and dad put Elizabeth in a place of honor atop a tall bureau in my bedroom ... where she proceeded to terrorize me for years to come. At night, lady Elizabeth cast a haunting silhouette against the wall, forcing me to sleep facing the opposite wall to calm my panic. Since she was perched too high for my smaller self to reach (and destroy), the S.W.A.T. team was eventually called in each night. At bedtime Dad would place a hand towel over Elizabeth's glass display dome, shielding her eerie shadow from view. That is both the mark of a very patient father and a cruel one ...

Recently as I was telling this story, a friend asked, "Why didn't your parents just put her away if you were scared?" Huh. Why not indeed?! I'd never asked myself that question before. Today my mom insists that they "didn't think it was that big of a deal", but I'm sure that the low-grade psychological warfare was tantalizing to exhausted parents of two young kids. "Remember when you threw that tantrum at the hairdresser's, Young Amy? Payback's a bitch. And by bitch I mean this creepy doll."

And stay she did. My family moved when I was five and like the Chucky doll she was, Elizabeth reappeared on the bureau in my new room. It took a couple more years until my mom finally retired Elizabeth to the cedar chest, probably because she was tired of folding hand towels every morning. (By "she" I meant my mom, but I would not be entirely surprised if Elizabeth herself came alive, lifted the dome aside, folded the towel, climbed down to stare coldly at my sleeping form, and then retreated to her lair at dawn.)

Elizabeth was gone but the damage was done; terror of nighttime remained. As the years went by, Bloody Mary (gah!), It, and every plot line of Are You Afraid of the Dark? taunted my overactive imagination. I'm the ultimate scary story wuss. Bloody Mary was so traumatizing that, even approaching 30, I still rush to turn the lights on in the bathroom at night lest she jump from the mirror and hatchet me, or whatever it was that she was supposed to do.

I was so anti-mirrors at night that I refused to have one in or near my bedroom, which lead to my habit of climbing the ledge of the bathroom tub to get a look at my outfits in the morning, which finally lead to a multi-fractured nose ... but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Holiday Gift to You: Buttersweet Cookie Recipe

Oh yeah.
This evening a friend is hostessing a retro-themed Christmas potluck: Jell-o molds, cheese balls, and all. What to bring? It's the perfect excuse to trot out my grandma's buttersweet cookie recipe.

The secret to this recipe is no secret, use real everything, no "healthier substitutes". My Grandma Peters did not cook often, but when she did her desserts were amazing because she had no qualms about fat or calories. These little guys are rich and filling, though always a hit. I've only made the recipe twice, but on my first attempt a couple of years ago, they blew away the competition at my office cookie contest. Never underestimate the power of butter, sugar, more butter and sugar, coconut, nuts, cream cheese, and chocolate in one bite. Om, nom nom. 

My gift to you readers this Christmas is her old recipe, modified to modern proportions. If you do give it a go, let me know how they turn out. :) On a sidenote, I'm also bringing deviled eggs to the party this evening, so I hope there is a defibrillator on the premises.

"Read more" for recipe.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Law & Order: SVU (Salon Victims Unit)

"In the criminal justice system, the people are
represented by two separate yet equally
important groups..."
Having officially made the commitment to streaming only Netflix I have been watching A LOT of Law & Order recently. Between eight available seasons of the original show and 12 of the Special Victim's Unit spinoff, that's roughly 320 hours of procedural drama at my fingertips and man do I love it. So much so, that I decided to start at the beginning ... to go back to the season that started it all, way back in 1990. These early episodes don't seem to pop up in syndication very often. My guess is that's because watching them is too much like opening a time capsule.

In 1990, my TV lineup got about as hardcore as forest gnomes on foxes, but over in the New York featured on Law & Order, weird $#** was going down. It was a place where cops used payphones and typewriters, nurses actually wore those little hats and white dresses, Times Square was still home to prostitutes, and sexism/racism/homophobia had yet to be more fully edited out of TV scripts. And in "ripped from the headlines" fashion, the first season is absolutely riddled with plots concerning crack and AIDS. In the first six episodes alone, those two topics came up six times combined. YIKES.

But ... let's put all those serious 20-year-old signifiers aside. Far and away the most laughably dated thing about the first season was THE HAIR. Oh my goodness, you guys. Get a load of these head cases:

The People vs. Male with Curly Bangs
Charges: Your honor, Mr. Curly Bangs is charged with ocular assault and his partner, Ms. Mushroom Head, is charged with aiding & abetting. In no time or place was a front sprout of permed and dyed bangs an appropriate hair style.
Verdict: Guilty on all charges. Sentenced to 7 years in Vidal Sassoon Penitentiary, no chance of parole.

The People vs. Cynthia Nixon in Feathered Mullet 
Charge: Your honor, Ms. Nixon is charged with trafficking & distribution of illegal hairstyles. Every woman at her NYC dance studio has been coerced into participating in her crime.
Verdict: Not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Then again, those coiffures she sported as Miranda were mostly heinous. Released on probation.