Friday, May 27, 2011

Misc.: Critics Challenge, San Diego and top 10 TV shows

As you read this I'm heading to San Diego to take part in Critics Challenge, an interesting wine competition run by Robert Whitley.

The antithesis of the Concours Mondial, which uses statistics to de-emphasize the human element, Critics Challenge is all about individual taste. Any one taster can give any wine a gold medal, but you have to provide tasting notes, which is what the entering wineries are paying for.

Last year I shared a table with Rebecca Murphy. We were each poured the same wines, and if either of us thought a wine was medal-worthy, it got the higher of the two medals, along with a description written by the judge for use on websites, shelf talkers, keepsake lockets, whatever.

With a different set of judges this would be a very difficult competition in which to avoid all sorts of ethical problems. But the reason I look forward to Critics Challenge is the roster of judges; this is the most knowledgeable group of wine people I'll be around all year, all with impeccable credentials.

And now I'm going to see San Diego in a new light, thanks to the book I'm plodding through, James Michener's Iberia. Published in 1968, it's dated in some ways, but follow Michener's meandering style through a few hundred pages and you can't help learning some fun facts. I tweeted this one to an unamused Whitley earlier this week, and now I want to share it with you:

How San Diego Got Its Name
Many people know that the city was named after the flagship of Sebastian Vizcaino's fleet, which "discovered" the city for the Spanish in 1602. But how did the ship get that name?

Turns out it was named after a 100-year-old corpse believed to have cured the Spanish crown prince of a brain injury.

Here's the story, courtesy of James Michener. In 1562, King Felipe II (whose short-sightedness would reduce Spain from world power to poverty) had sent his son Carlos, the crown prince, to university in Alcalá.

On April 19, Carlos was sneaking out at night to visit "the attractive daughter of a porter" when he tripped on a broken step and fell down the stairs. He seemed to recover, but after 10 days he showed alarming signs of pressure on the brain.

With the crown prince ill, the country's leading medical experts converged. But remember, this was 1562. A famous Flemish doctor wanted to cut Carlos' skull open to "let out the bad blood" -- faulty reasoning, but not far off from what doctors would do today. A Moorish doctor arrived with two unguents, one black and one white, claiming the black unguent would "have a repercussive action" but the white unguent would attenuate it, and using both in combination would save Carlos' life.

While the doctors were debating, a group of peasants arrived bearing the 100-year-old corpse of a Franciscan friar named Diego. They said the corpse had worked miracles in their community and they believed it could save Carlos.

The first two doctors both took a shot. The Flemish guy cut Carlos' scalp to the white bone but thought that the blood oozing through his skull seemed healthy, so he stopped there. The Moorish guy used his unguents, but Carlos got worse.

With hope almost gone, the corpse of Friar Diego was placed in bed with Carlos for a night together. Carlos woke up the next morning with a clear mind, saying he had seen a vision of Diego lying in bed beside him in his friar's outfit, and this had cured him.

Felipe II and Carlos both petitioned the Vatican to make Diego a saint. Three different popes passed, but the fourth, Sistus V, announced in 1588 that San Diego was indeed a saint, proclaiming his official day to be Nov. 13, which it still is.

Ironically, by then Carlos was long dead, having been killed by his father Felipe II in 1568. Carlos hadn't really recovered from his fall and had spent six years as kind of a hunchbacked lecher, though what really did him in were rumors that he was considering becoming a Protestant. But Felipe II still appreciated the work of the dead San Diego, and less than 400 years later, a baseball team logo was born.


In theory, one kick of having your own blog is you can write what you want. This tends to work only if you don't have any readers. Whenever I stray from beverages, I get somebody commenting in a negative way about it.

So if you don't want to read about my 10 favorite TV shows, run away now ...

These are shows that are still extant; most are on hiatus between seasons, but none have been canceled. Most if not all have strong language, violence and nudity, which is only partly why I love them.

As you'll see, I don't watch reality TV (though I did like "Conviction Kitchen"), rarely watch sitcoms (but enjoy "30 Rock" when I do see it) and much prefer shows with a continuing story to one-offs where everything is solved in 42 minutes plus commercials. And I don't get HBO or Showtime, so while "Game of Thrones" is on my radar, I won't have an opinion on it for a long time.

Submitted for your approval:

My 10 Favorite Current TV Shows

1) Breaking Bad (AMC)
Everything I know about meth, I learned from this show. Great acting has helped the lead character believably evolve from a dying innocent trapped in crime to a compelling anti-hero.

No. 2? That's all? Nurse, prep this blogger for emergency surgery
2) Childrens Hospital (Cartoon Network)
I'm running this list today so you can DVR this bizarre, sick, live-action comedy on the Cartoon Network; season 3 starts next week. It's a parody of ER, Scrubs, My Anatomy and all those other medical shows. Many full episodes are on Youtube, so check them out. Cartoon Network shows rarely maintain their brilliance for long ("Metalocalypse," for example), so my fingers are crossed for season 3. Stay away from my fingers with that scalpel.

3) Mad Men (AMC)
The period costumes and details are great, but what makes the show brilliant is its subtlety, its finely drawn characters and the internal logic of its office dramas. Pretty thrilling for a show without much if any action.

4) Justified (FX)
The first season was decent; the just-concluded second season was a must-see backwoods cop epic in which the best acting (outside the lead) was done by superb guest stars. Took a big run up my personal list; hopefully season 3 will be just as hot.

5) Community (NBC)
This is no ordinary sitcom. A daring show that earlier this season promoted an episode as a Pulp Fiction parody, but it actually was a My Dinner With Andre parody with characters wearing Pulp Fiction outfits. I don't laugh out loud at it often, but intellectually I'm often astonished.

6) Robot Chicken (Cartoon Network)
An 11-minute show with maybe 30 gags per episode, of which about half I don't get, 10 I don't laugh at and 5 I think are hilarious enough to want to show all my friends.

7) The Walking Dead (AMC)
Only 1 six-episode season so far: great pilot, lousy episodes 2-4, very strong finish. Show runner Frank Darabont fired all the writers, a good move, and it's hard to say what season 2 will be like. But Darabont directed that great pilot, so I'm hopeful.

8) Archer (FX)
From here it's all spy comedies. This is the most clever, and has the least gunfire because it's animated. That doesn't make it remotely family-friendly though; I'm always amused by the pre-show warning about nudity and/or sexual situations in an animated show. Why this is great: It's really a bizarre office-politics show that just happens to take place at a private spy company.

9) Burn Notice (USA)
I go back and forth between this and the fairly similar Chuck as to which has jumped further over the shark, but haven't stopped watching either, in part because they're my wife's two favorite shows; she loves tough women characters, and explosives expert Fiona is her favorite character on TV. Light spy drama/eye candy with great central cast, and I wish I had Michael Weston to narrate my life.

10) Chuck (NBC)
The best TV critic in America, Alan Sepinwall, led the charge to save this show from cancellation. Reading him turned me onto it. But after four seasons, it's getting tired, though Timothy Dalton's brilliance as a guest star kept all the episodes he was in this year interesting. Surprisingly renewed for a final 13-episode Season 5, and that's a positive, as the writers will have a few months to plan instead of doing two "are-we-canceled?" quasi-finales per season.


Wine Harlots said...

When you go off-book, you really go all the way.

Loved the San Diego story -- as my birth certificate say Seattle, but the rules are after five years of living in California, you're a native. Enjoy your weekend in San Diego.

Love "Breaking Bad" and my guilty pleasure is "Burn Notice" -- a girls gotta keep up her spy-craft skills! Do you watch Sons of Anarchy? Totally awesome.

Cheers! (Or should I say, "Dude! Surf's up!)

Nannette Eaton

W. Blake Gray said...

Nannette: Sons of Anarchy's second season was my favorite show on TV that year, even better than the AMC-power-duo of Breaking Bad and Mad Men. But I hated the third season so much that I don't think I can go back. I endured through the finale, which was significantly better in that they finally bumped off a character who had gotten unbelievable. But the showrunner's arrogant comments on his own blog about how those of us who didn't like the third season "really hate babies" irritated me as much as the season itself.

Anyway, thanks for reading; sounds like we have more than wine in common.

kschlach said...

And here I thought San Diego meant a whale's vagina...

Anonymous said...

No, not a whale's vagina. Haven't you ever dropped your toaster waffle at the beach before?