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Reaper

Movies, Music, and TV

Reaper cover

If we are in the golden era of television as many (probably rightfully) declare, then there was a handful of shows that had to sacrifice themselves to get us to where we are today. Shows like Better Off Ted was not long for this world, but it gave its life to allow other smart programs to make their way onto the small screens.

To me, the greatest of these was Reaper, which ran on The CW for two seasons between 2007-2009. Had it been released today, it likely would have found a good home on Hulu (where the old episodes currently reside), but Reaper never had the mass appeal to make it on network television back in the late aughts.

The premise of the show is simple: Sam learns on his twenty-first birthday that his parents sold his soul to the Devil before he was conceived (under the belief that they would never have kids), and he now will have to eternally work as a reaper, bringing escaped souls back to hell.

It’s an amusing concept, and the situations Sam and his two friends, Sock and Ben, get themselves into while hunting souls are imaginative. It’s one of those simple ideas that quickly can be tossed aside if one does not take a step back and see the promise it brings. (Which was clearly what America decided not to do.)

Yet, great as the writing is, the essence of the show is Ray Wise as the Devil. Ray Wise, what a class act! It doesn’t matter what role it is—big, small, cameo—Wise always brings it, and Reaper serves as a showcase for the trifecta of what makes him him. Do you like his genuinely menacing presence as Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks? You got it. The earnest, charming humor from Fresh Off The Boat? It’s here in full force, all neatly packaged in the suave swagger we saw in Mad Men. This is the Ray Wise mother lode, and we are all richer because of it.

(Frankly, as far as television goes, if there is a good show out there, odds are Wise guest-starred in it: Anything from Psych to Fargo to Gilmore Girls have been blessed with His presence.)

The casting, in addition to the principal characters, is inspired. The escaped souls are mostly high-concept—e.g., convicted murderer returning to kill those who prosecuted him—and they serve as playgrounds for a host of contemporary greats. Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino appear semi-regularly as a demonic couple, and Patton Oswalt brings comedy gold. Armie Hammer and England’s national treasure, Lucy Davis1, both deliver. Back in the day when we actually had to wait for these things to come on weekly television, one of the small joys was the anticipation of who the next guest-star would be, and rarely did the wait not pay off.

During its run, Reaper was pitted against Chuck in the battle of winning the hearts of those who at the time was referred to as the geek-chic. Fair or unfair as it might have been, that was how the media framed it, and Reaper lost. I still feel the world was big enough for both shows, and Reaper deserved better than what it got. I don’t know how it fares these days, but a part of me hopes streaming at least has elevated it to a cult-hit status.

And Chuck? Well, no prizes for guessing who made a guest appearance in that show.

Bonus fact!

Sam and Sock appear in an episode of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. It was created by the same people who made Reaper and it, too, was canceled.

1 I will defend Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina to my death.

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Apple HomePod

Movies, Music, and TV

I have previously noted I’m a big fan of AirPods for music on the go, but how about in-home audio? For the Tortillaphilia Editorial Board™, it’s all about HomePod.

Apple does not profile HomePod as a smart-speaker, but rather a premium audio device that comes bundled with Siri. Evil tongues would suggest the reason is that Siri isn’t too smart to start off with, but I don’t really buy into that. One thing is that Siri has overtaken Alexa and is gaining rapidly on Google Assistant—check out Loupventures for more—another is that Apple always has had music in its D.N.A. The iPod is the example that first comes to mind, but I also recall my musician-cousin switching from a PC to a Mac in the mid-nineties. That was before Jobs came back to the company. Positioning a speaker as a speaker for a company like Apple, in other words, makes sense.

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It should come as little surprise, then, that HomePod’s sound quality is top notch. Much has been made about its spatial awareness capabilities, and for good reasons. The speaker can learn the optimal way to play audio as it is moved around (compared to Sonos which requires some crazy phone-waving configuring), and it sounds as good in a bookcase as it does out in the open, creating lush soundscapes with a well-balanced bass.

Streaming sound from Apple TV, too, creates a depth usually associated with expensive soundbars. Even if you’re not a huge audiophile (which would put you in the same category as me), you’ll notice how good HomePod sounds, right off the bat.

And Siri… I’m not sure how most people use their smart-speakers, and maybe my usage is more on the fringes, but I find what I get from Siri to be fully adequate. Should I not recognize a song from a playlist, I can ask Siri about it, and it will not only serve up the name of the track but also give optional information about the band behind it. Simple functionalities like asking for background music or electronica work just fine, as do requests like never, ever play Michael Bublé. Inquire about the latest news, and HomePod will default to N.P.R.—other outlets like C.N.N., Fox News, and Washington Post are also included.

Driving directions for take-out spots can be sent to your phone, and if you have a smart-home, anything that works with the Home app can be controlled through Siri. Podcast integration works as expected.

Perhaps most impressive is how well HomePod can pick up on your voice. I’ve been on the other side of the house and barely raised my voice to ask Siri to play the news, no problem.

Not that there aren’t any hick-ups and downsides. HomePod is tied to the Apple ecosystem, and an iPhone (or iPad?) is required to set it up. Only Apple Music works seamlessly with it, though you can use the iPhone (or iPad?) to stream Spotify and Pandora through AirPlay.

HomePod also only works with one iCloud account, with no voice recognition, That can cause some issues. If you have your messages connected to HomePod, anyone within talking range can ask for them to be read out loud. And, while it’s nice that HomePod can learn about your musical tastes to help curate recommendations, odds are different people in the household like different music. The single entry recommendations for everyone can end up skew any which way, and even if you have banned Michael Bublé, an outsider can still come in and request him, just to soil your history.

These are all software limitations, mind you, and it’s entirely possible they will be taken care of down the road.

At $349 (plus a highly recommended $40 AppleCare+ plan) HomePod is not a cheap pleasure, but it’s worth the price of admission for anyone who wants to invest in top of the line sound from a speaker that also is a good listener. Importantly, it is frequently on sale from outlets like BestBuy for $100 off. At $249, it’s a no-brainer if you’re in the market for this kind of product, provided you’ve bought into Apple’s ecosystem. It is, of course, also beautifully designed hardware, and it’s incredibly straightforward to use.

Bonus!

Looking for some sick beats to blast through your HomePod? Look no further than the seminal Easter Hour classic, Booty Go Thump!

For more audio hardware, check out our AirPods write-up.


Fredagstacoen: The Friday Taco

Recipes

Norway loves its taco. This might come as somewhat of a surprise to those who associate the country solely with lutefisk and lefse, but here we are, and so is life. The taco has become a part of Norwegian culture, or as it is, an appropriated offshoot of it has: Fredagstacoen, or The Friday Taco, is the country’s third most popular dish after pasta and pizza.

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Fredagstacoen is, as one would assume, enjoyed on Fridays. Sure, you could make it on Thursdays or Saturdays like a philistine, but you’re better than that. Friday Tacos should be made on Fridays, that’s just how it is.

But, is this something you can prepare at home here in America? Yes. Kind of.

See, Fredagstacoen is more of a facsimile of the Americanized grocery-store taco than the traditional Mexican variety. You know, hard shells, ground beef, and all that. And while both share similarities, there are some curveballs to be aware of. Follow this recipe, and you can get close to a Friday evening of Norwegian proportions:

The predictable part

  • Taco shells — From Old El Paso; nothing else will do, except for a lompe, which is a personal, regional favorite.
  • Salsa — Again, Old El Paso, preferably the mild Thick ’N Chunky. (Medium if you want to go crazy.)
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce
  • Ground beef — The high-fat stuff, with a pinch of Old El Paso taco seasoning mixed in. Don’t settle for cheap meat — Europe is all about the quality.

It gets strange

  • Shredded cheese — But only Jarlsberg will do. Only. Jarlsberg. Try anything else, and you might as well go to the Bell.
  • Canned corn
  • Diced red pepper — I’m reasonably certain jalapeños weren’t a thing when the taco initially hit Norway.
  • Diced cucumber — I kid you not, but it truly adds a dash of freshness to the palate.

Where it gets tricky

  • Sour cream — I’m not talking just any sour cream. Norway knows its dairy, and as far as sour cream goes, it’s hard to beat the potency of Seterrømme. It’s thick and hearty, traditionally used to make rømmegrøt. The closest equivalent I can think of is Tillamook, but you might have to hunt down a boutique variety for the real experience.

The Tortillaing™

Shell; meat; cheese; lettuce; corn; cucumber; red pepper; sour cream; salsa. A pretty predictable assembly.

Pair with a Solo

You can find Solo in many Scandinavian import stores. It’s an orange soda, and uniquely so, though I suppose a Fanta will do in a pinch.

Fun Norway-taco fact!

The first grocery store to sell taco ingredients in Norway was in Stavanger during the oil rush of the late sixties. Apparently, your regular Norwegian fishballs and fårikål would not do for the American oil tycoons. Read the full story at NRK, provided you know Norwegian.


Dolls

Movies, Music, and TV

Dolls cover

They Walk. They Talk. They Kill. That is Dolls’s tagline, which puts it neatly in line with other misleadingly marketed doll-based movies.

Dolls is the first horror movie I remember actually loving as a young’un back in the eighties. I don’t know exactly what attracted me to it, though as someone who today has a fondness for gothic ghost stories, I would imagine Dolls being a foundation. A large mansion with killer — though barely walking or talking — dolls must have left some sort of mark.

Has it held up, though? That’s tough to say. It might have, but there is a disconnect between what Gently Matured I would have thought had I first watched the movie in 2018, and me now reliving my childhood.

Thirty-one years after its original release, Dolls looks and plays like a product of its time. The eighties were built on the premise of clueless dads with new, heartless significant others, using their kids as pawns in divorces. Granted, more-so in comedies (likely starring John Candy) than horrors. Being shacked up in a mansion with creepy hosts and a group of other stranded guests is a bit more sixties in style. It was overplayed already in 1987, but it at least throws us into the action without much pause for subtleties.

There are few surprises in Dolls, but that might have felt differently back then. Pre the Child’s Play-s of the world, killer dolls at least felt somewhat novel. The effects — all practical, natch — look dated these days, but they’re still charming. Antique dolls attacking those who have lost their inner-children holds up well and is creepy. Stuart Gordon’s direction is stylish, and though Dolls isn’t up there with Re-Animator in substance, it is in a different league than the nine-years-out Pinocchio’s Revenge.

There isn’t a whole lot of depth to the story, but the fairytale celebration of childhood, and a fable-esque punishment of those who have grown cynical has a gleeful menace to it. The cast, too, is serviceable. Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason, old pros as they are, are probably the more familiar faces, though model Bunty Bailey is recognizable from A-ha’s Take On Me. It isn’t an ensemble dreams are made of, but it works well enough.

Maybe what it all came down to for Young Me was just that: Elements that worked well enough, and a gee-whiz factor that was eerie rather than scary. It was something to watch, rooting for the girl and her protector while boo-hiss-ing those who wouldn’t let kids being kids.

It looks slick still, Madonna-like fashion aside, and it’s grotesquely fun. Today, it is, to me, more a celebration of my childhood than it is of filmmaking, and that’s OK. What Dolls would mean for you, though? I honestly have no idea.

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