road trip

Summer Ends, Real Life Begins

Oh, world, how is it possible that my summer is already over? Wasn’t it just May?

Okay, I’m whining, but the prospect of returning to school this Monday, even though I’m pretty well prepared, just isn’t my idea of fun at the moment.

I’ve definitely reached the point in my summer when I need school to start back because I’m feeling especially lazy lately. Who says it’s wrong to watch an entire season of a TV show in a day? Sometimes that’s exactly the kind of day I need to rejuvenate, but I should probably get some real work done before I deserve a day of laziness.

In my final weeks before real life resumes, I haven’t totally wasted my time. In fact, only a few hours ago I returned home from a quick road trip up to Chautauqua, NY with my mom to visit my roommate, Ryan, during the final days of his internship at the Chautauqua Institution. Our visit to Ryan wasn’t entirely selfless, though; since Ryan has interned for the Chatauquan Daily, he was able to score us free passes to a sold out event at the Institution. That event just so happened to be An Evening with Carol Burnett, a woman who doesn’t need much introduction. My mom has loved Carol Burnett for most of her life, so the opportunity to see her on stage was one we couldn’t miss. We attended a Q&A featuring classic clips from “The Carol Burnett Show,” and Mom was even lucky enough to get to ask a question (Q: If you were making your show today, who would you want to work with? A: Steve Martin, Kristen Chenoweth, and George Clooney for obvious reasons).

We had a whirlwind of a trip, particularly because we woke up this morning at 5:00 AM to get an extra early start to our drive home, but the satisfaction of seeing a TV legend was totally worth it. Here are a few photos from our time.

A lovely sunset on Chautauqua Lake

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Enjoying our tour of the grounds on a chilly evening

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A failed attempt at finding an appropriately lit setting for a portrait

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The incomparable Carol Burnett taking her bows  


Now, onto the sad news: like I said, this summer is breathing its last, so my time will be far less available for my own entertainment. Sigh. In my attempts to soak in as much as possible before reality sets in, I’ve done my fair share of reading and watching lately. Here’s an update on all things pop culture in my life.

Books — I’ve been a bit slower than usual with my reading projects of late, but the fact that I only have 5 more books to read before reaching my goal of 50 books in 2015 seems like something to be happy about. I just wrote my reflection on reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicidesand prior to that I worked quickly through Tim O’Brien’s war novel The Things They Carried I’m still working my way through Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the Outlander series. I still have a bit over 300 pages left, but in a book of 947 pages, that seems pretty doable. I’m looking forward to dedicating my free reading time to finishing this one before moving onto something else (if there’s any time for personal reading this semester).

Movies — I don’t have anything terribly interesting to report in my movie-watching life, though I’ve been doing plenty of it. I’m just 5 movies short of my goal to watch 100 new (to me) movies in 2015, so it won’t take me any time to finish that list. I’m still lacking in one area, though; I hope to watch 8 movies I’ve never seen from the AFI Top 100 list, but I’ve only done 3 so far this year. I plan on dedicating some of my next movies to hitting that goal.

The one movie I do have something to say about is the German indie Wetlands. Wetlands screened when I went to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, but I didn’t watch it until Wednesday. A good friend of mine saw the film while we were at Sundance, and she recommended it, but told me some of it could be embarrassing to watch with other people. I wholeheartedly agree, but I really enjoyed the film. Essentially, Wetlands tells the story of a neurotic teenager exploring her sexuality and body in disturbing, hilarious, and rather repulsive ways. This is not the kind of movie you watch with family, but I still totally recommend it (to the strong-stomached, anyway). I also thought Carla Juri was superb in the film’s starring role. If you’re will to spend a sometimes uncomfortable hour watching a funny/sweet/sad film with subtitles, Wetlands is for you.

TV — If I’m good at anything, it’s watching TV. Though I’m still keeping up with a handful of TV shows this summer, I’m anxiously awaiting the return of real TV in a few weeks (I really need more “Empire” in my life). My favorite show of the summer was Lifetime’s UnREAL,” which sadly ended a few weeks ago. If you’re looking for some high drama binge-worthy TV, devote yourself to a day of “UnREAL.” You won’t be disappointed. I’m still keeping up with MTV’s “Teen Wolf” and “Scream: The TV Series” as well as NBC’s “Hannibal” and “Hollywood Game Night.” I’m wishing I was more interested in these final episodes of “Hannibal,” but mostly I’m just hoping for a satisfying conclusion at this point.

My TV-streaming life still consists of powering through “Frasier,” of which I’m proud to say I’ve watched 206 episodes so far. I had no expectation I’d get this far before starting back to school, but I definitely expect to finish the series sometime in September. Though I’ll feel accomplished in finishing such a big series, I’ll certainly be sad to say goodbye to such a thoroughly entertaining show.

While I’ve spent most of the summer watching only “Frasier,” I added a second streaming project on a whim last week, and so far I’m pleased with my decision. On Tuesday I started season 1 of the Sundance Channel’s Rectifyvia Netflix and I’m really liking it so far. The show is dark (it tells the story of a man who’s just been released from prison after 19 years on death row and his extended family) but it’s got a good balance of drama and humor to keep it from seeming to heavy. I’ve heard and read good things about the show in the past, so I’m glad I’ve started. There are only 16 episodes of the show on Netflix since its third season just finished airing, so I expect to finish watching it all pretty quickly.


All right world, now is the moment of truth. I have to face the reality that soon my time won’t always be my own, which sadly means I won’t have so many chances to fill my life with good books and movies. What are you watching and reading in these last weeks of summer? If nothing else, I hope your lives keep you entertained.

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ATX Television Festival: A Time of Highs and Lows

Sometime last Monday night my mom and I pulled into the driveway after what ended up being a pretty insane whirlwind of an experience. 2,200 miles, 6 states, 9 TV panels/screenings, 2 historic home tours, 46 celebrity encounters, 2 sketchy hotels, 5 days. Yeah, I think whirlwind is the right word.

We left home early on Wednesday, June 3 with the short-term goal of reaching Graceland in Memphis for a quick tour. Despite the shocking absence of a single billboard advertising Elvis’s home, we made it to the estate and enjoyed our weird little tour. Here are a couple of my favorite features of the incredibly lavish home.

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After Graceland, our only intention was to make it to somewhere around Dallas. The drive from home to Austin, TX is 15 hours, so we figured stopping in Dallas (a mere 3 hours north of Austin) would be an appropriate end to our day. This was a fine goal, but we unintentionally ended up in a shady hotel that reeked of smoke. Note to self: if a hotel is the only one available at a given exit, keep driving.

THURSDAY

After departing Thursday morning, we drove the final three hours to Austin, stopping only for a quick breakfast and trip to IKEA. We headed into downtown Austin to register for the festival. Here’s a rundown of the highlights of what happened that afternoon and evening:

  • First celebrity encounters: seeing Todd Lowe, Keiko Agena, and John Cabrera (all of Gilmore Girls) and having a quick conversation
  • Ran into Sabrina Carpenter and Rowan Blanchard (stars of Girl Meets World) for the first of about a million times
  • Talked to Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights) and took a photo, bonding over our mutual love of our pets and the gross Texas heat
  • Saw and talked quickly to Liz Torres (Gilmore Girls) — she looks awesome, by the way
  • Attended the premiere screening of Complications, a new USA show
  • Had a moment with the show’s stars, Jessica Szohr and Beth Riesgraf, on our way into the theater and they were really cute
  • Other celebrity sightings for the day: Wilmer Valderrama (That 70s Show, From Dusk Til Dawn), Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights), Nick Wechsler (Revenge), Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), Sutton Foster (Broadway star, on TV in Bunheads and Younger), Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life), Sarah Ramos and Miles Heizer (Parenthood)

Here are some photos of the people and places mentioned:

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FRIDAY

Friday began bright and early with our first real panel of the festival: “A Conversation with Marta Kauffman,” plus a screening of her new Netflix show, Grace and Frankie. In case you aren’t aware, Marta Kauffman is part of the creative team responsible for Friends, which is my favorite TV show ever (and probably yours, too). It was a pretty big deal for me to sit in a room with her.

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Here are some other highlights from Friday:

  • Running from one Marta Kauffman panel (pictured above) to another — she spoke with the creators of Justified and Queer as Folk in a panel on final episodes
  • Accidentally becoming part of a mob formed around Ben Savage (Boy Meets World), who is tiny, friendly, and left-handed — we also saw the girls of Girl Meets World again and snapped a few pics

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  • Running into Marta Kauffman and saying something kind of dumb to her but I STILL TALKED TO MARTA KAUFFMAN, PEOPLE
  • Sitting front row at the panel called “Drunk History‘s History,” featuring the show’s creator, Derek Waters, and two of the narrators from the upcoming third season, Duncan Trussell and Dan Harmon (the creator of Community)

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  • Meeting Nick Wechsler, star of Revenge, after the Drunk History panel

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  • Stumbling upon Judy Greer (Married) doing an interview outside the women’s restroom
  • Walking behind a man and commenting on his terrible hair before realizing said man was Denis Leary (to be fair, he was there to promote his new show Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll which I think is the reason for the hair)
  • Running into Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights) in the hotel lobby and getting a photo, taken by her daughter, as well as signed and personalized postcards she’d had made at Kinko’s

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  • Attending the wonderful Friday Night Lights tailgate and being smart enough to sit in the shade directly in front of the special reserved section for the show’s attending stars
  • Seeing Amy Sherman Palladino (creator of Gilmore Girls) just before a surprise performance from Hep Alien, the fictional band from Gilmore Girls
  • Other celebrity sightings for the day: James L. Brooks (creator of all important television), Danny Strong (actor on Gilmore Girls, writer of Game Change, Mockingjay, Empire), Jackson Douglas (Gilmore Girls), Adrianne Palicki, Derek Phillips, Stacey Oristano, Angela Rawna, Libby Villari, Katherine Willis, Stephen Walters (all of Friday Night Lights)

Here are some photos from the tailgate:

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SATURDAY

Saturday started with a low: not getting into the “Coffee with Amy Sherman Palladino” panel, because the line had started at 5:00 AM and the panel was in the smallest venue at the festival. Not perfect planning. On the upside, our minutes spent wasting time were quickly filled by the appearance of Scott Patterson (Gilmore Girls). He pulled us in for this “mother-daughter picture” (his words), so that was pretty cool.

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Other moments from Saturday worth remembering:

  • Finding Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls) outside and taking an accidentally dramatic black-and-white photo with her

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  • Attending one of my favorite panels of the weekend: “Empire: The Creatives” featuring the brilliant Danny Strong and the beautiful Wendy Calhoun

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  • Sitting front row for the presentation of the ATX Award for Excellence in Television to James L. Brooks, the man responsible for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons, and Taxi, among many others. This was MAJOR.

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Now things turn in a bit of an upsetting direction, and I’m going to do my best to condense this story. Our main reason for attending the festival was the Gilmore Girls Reunion panel, held at 7:00 PM Saturday night. This was going to be the highlight of our weekend, though we were plenty excited for many of the other panels and events, too. The line for the GG reunion was supposed to start at 5:00 PM, and the festival’s Head of Security promised us that anyone attempting to get in line ahead of this time would be sent to the back of the line. She also told us that staying in the hotel lobby until 5:00 was a good idea, and we’d be fine to still get into the reunion.

This turned out to be a big lie. We anxiously waited until 5:00 to go to the line, at which time we found that the line had already wrapped around two street corners (though it wasn’t yet 5:01). The big mob at the front of the line wasn’t sent to the back as promised; instead, we at the end had to continually move back further so space could be created at the front of the line. Counters came by more than once, and still told us we should be fine to get into the event. We waited in line for two-and-a-half hours in the 90-plus degree heat, and sometime around 7:30, just as we approached the theater’s front doors, we were told that the reunion had already begun and all seats were occupied.

So, we didn’t get in.

There were tears and lots and lots of frustrated fans. We heard from several people inside that there were, in fact, empty seats. It was generally a giant bummer. I’m doing my best in retrospect to keep it from clouding my overall experience. If we’d known earlier that we wouldn’t get in, we would’ve at least gone around the building to watch the red carpet, but we were stuck in line. We ended the night trying to hang around any entrances/exits we thought the GG cast might use, and ended up only seeing the very tall Jared Padalecki from a far distance. Not the best end to an otherwise good day.

Other celebrity sightings for the day: Yanic Truesdale, Jackson Douglas, and Milo Ventimiglia (all of Gilmore Girls).

SUNDAY

As far as the festival was concerned, we really only had one thing on the agenda for Sunday: attending the Dawson’s Creek script reading of the show’s pilot episode, featuring special guests. This was actually the best thing we did at the festival on a purely entertaining level. We ended up waiting in line for 2 hours for the event, but it was worth the wait, and we also saw Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, The Good Wife) walk by, so that was fun.

The primary four cast members were all gender swapped, which obviously provided for some pretty blatant fun, and the level of drama found in basically any Dawson’s Creek script provides the perfect backdrop for a live script reading. Kevin Williamson, the show’s creator, also served as a narrator of sorts for the reading. I truly hope this is an event the ATX Television Festival can do every year, because I loved being part of it.

Here’s a list of the cast for the script reading:

  • Dawson Leery, played by Mae Whitman (Parenthood)
  • Joey Potter, played by Patrick J. Adams (Suits)
  • Pacey Witter, played by Abigail Spencer (Rectify)
  • Jen Lindley, played by Kerr Smith (original Dawson’s Creek cast member!)
  • Grams, played by Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights)
  • Mr. Leery, played by Derek Phillips (Friday Night Lights)
  • Mrs. Leery, played by Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights, Bunheads)
  • Tamara Jacobs, played by Arielle Kebbel (Gilmore Girls, The Vampire Diaries)
  • Bessie/Nellie, played by Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black)
  • Bodie/Mr. Gold, played by Nick Wechsler (Revenge)

Here are some photos from the script reading:

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You might also note that the last picture features Mae Whitman with a framed photo of Tim Riggins. This was a prop from the Riggins house on the Friday Night Lights set that Stacey Oristano brought as a special present for Mae. I’m kind of super jealous that she owns it.

After the script reading, we went back to the hotel quickly, where we found Liza Weil (Gilmore Girls, How to Get Away with Murder) and got a picture. We bonded over being lefties.

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Finally, I popped into a brunch sponsored by MTV’s Teen Wolf, where there was a photo booth set up for people to take photos with cast members Shelley Hennig, Tyler Posey, and Holland Roden. Tyler Posey told me I could sit on him or get on his shoulders for the photo, but I opted for something more normal.

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After this, we watched a few actors hop into a car headed for the airport before heading out of Austin ourselves. We took a different route on the drive home to spend some time in Louisiana, where neither of us had been before. After many hours driving in terrible traffic and construction, we got a hotel in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Monday morning we made our way out early, stopping for a bit in Oxford, MS so I could revisit the home of William Faulkner because I love him. About seven hours later, we made it home.

Our few days on the road were exhausting, exhilarating, and occasionally upsetting, but I’m happy for the experience. ATX Television Festival is young and still has many kinks to work out, but I hope I’ll be able to return in the future. Until then, you can find me in front of my own TV, soaking in as much of it as I can.

Ah, Summer

In the merest of blinks, I have somehow already completed my first year of graduate school. Actually, I’ve been done for almost two weeks now. How could that possibly have happened?

Maybe I haven’t really processed it because I haven’t finished any books since the semester ended (this is tragic and unusual for me, and a real sign that I’m spending my time strangely). But that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, exactly. Actually, I’ve been finishing up at work and managed to squeeze in a quick jaunt to New York last week. Weird.

Anyway, here are some of the things that have been happening in my life.

  1. School ended and many of my friends graduated. Hooray for them! The distance between me and undergrad life grows every day (but, like, it really does. That’s how time works). While they celebrate freedom, I find myself thinking more and more about how I’ll have students of my own come January. What a weird thing to be true.
  2. New York, what? I flew in for a quick visit last Thursday, meeting my dad and stepmom there. We had a fun whirlwind of a trip, but one that was long enough for me to catch up with them and spend a lovely afternoon with some super cool people. Also, this lady sat next to me in the airport with a carry-on bag which she promptly unzipped to reveal a mannequin head wearing a wig. Then she zipped it back up and walked away and I pretended I hadn’t jumped at the sight of it. Things can get pretty weird at Laguardia.
  3. Literarily speaking, I’ve felt kind of stagnant, but that’s actually not the case. I’ve been working my way through Outlander, but that is a long book, you guys. I’m close to finishing, but I just never seem to make as much progress as a expect. My goal is to finish by the end of this weekend. I’m also still inching along through Flannery O’Connor’s complete short story collection. My goal is to read one story a day, which works sometimes. This is bound to be my long-term summer reading project.
  4. As for TV, I’ve been a bit of a lost soul (pun kind of intended) since finishing Lost. This often happens to me after long TV projects; I spend so much time with one thing that I don’t know where to go. After toying with a few ideas, I ended up starting the HBO miniseries John Adams, of which I have watched three of the seven episodes. I’m really enjoying it, but it’s not a project I feel the need to speed through. I’ve also been watching Wayward Pines since summer TV is such a draught, and it’s fun enough to maintain my interest.
  5. I’ve not been doing much movie-watching, but EX MACHINA IS GREAT, YOU GUYS. Like, crazy-amazing-wonderful-I can’t stop thinking about it great. My thesis advisor recommended it to me because of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl presence, and that was really the only expectation I had going into it. I sat in the theater by myself in awe. Now I just need a friend to see it so I can discuss it.
  6. Friday is my last day in my current job, then I get to head home for the weekend before my mom and I head out on a pretty crazy road trip en route to Austin, TX for the ATX Television Festival and I AM SO EXCITED. The TV fest is our reason for traveling, obviously, but we’re going to make it interesting by heading to Graceland and finding reasons to drive through Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

All right, summer, you seem pretty cool.