Pilot Reviews: ‘Ringer,’ ‘Up All Night,’ ‘Free Agents’

Note: do not read this if you have these shows on DVR and don’t want to read about plot lines!

I normally don’t opine on entertainment, especially pilots for a new fall lineup. However, because I didn’t want to have to create yet another log-in to comment with my thoughts on the new NBC shows and Googling “free agents” doesn’t really get you anywhere, I decided to go ahead and create one long comment right here on the blog.

That’s what this thing is for, right?

First up, I’ll talk about Ringer with Sarah Michelle Gellar. I think Buffy fans everywhere have been ever so patiently waiting for SMG to return to television and have another smash hit show. I know I have. She’s even on The WB again! Except now it’s called The CW and it’s harder to remember. SMG is still as pretty as ever, though her voice sounds a little huskier. I think romance novel writers would describe it as a “whiskey voice.”

The premise of the show is that SMG will be playing twin sisters, one of whom is a recovering addict, seems down-to-earth, a little tired, and oh by the way, she witnessed a murder. She lives in Wyoming. This is the Bridget character. The other twin lives in NYC, lives the life of a spoiled, hardened “Real Housewife,” and has no personal relations with anyone. She is married with a stepdaughter, whom she apparently loathes, sleeps with her best friend’s husband, and is all evil and conniving. Her character’s name is Siobhan. The way you can tell the two apart is that Bridget wears her hair down and loose, while Siobhan prefers to wear her hair up in a nice, coiled bun (and has fancy pants designer clothing).

Bridget and Siobhan have been estranged for years but have agreed to meet in New York.  At their reunion meeting, Bridget tries to bring up the incident that occurred with her and her nephew, Siobhan’s son, but Siobhan dismisses the apology. We know there’s more to this but will have to wait for future episodes. The kid isn’t around, that’s for sure, and I suppose we can surmise that the incident is what is to blame for Siobhan’s hardened heart.

Fast forward to when Bridget thinks Siobhan is dead (supposedly suicide) and assumes her life, thinking it’d be easy peasy. We can all groan at this decision but of course, as she plays her sister for all of a few days, we come to find out the kind of life Siobhan leads, namely with lots of lies and fake smiles.

The pilot definitely sets the tone for lots of soap opera-ish drama, as we now have to try and figure out who Bridget is at any given moment – is she playing herself or playing her sister? People are after Bridget, who witnessed a murder, and people are after Siobhan because she screws people over. Plus, the people in Siobhan’s life who enjoy her cold character start questioning what’s up with her when she’s nice or even smiles at people. (Her husband and her boyfriend, to name two. It remains to be seen what the best friend sees in her.)

I adore SMG and I think if anyone can make this show interesting, it’s her. My only issue with the show, and it promises to have a new twist every week, is how long can it tug at this one plot line? It’s Good Twin vs. Evil Twin and it’s the inevitable waiting game to see who discovers the truth and when, and it wouldn’t be a good show if the characters didn’t cross any boundaries. For example, will Bridget acting as Siobhan fall in love with Siobhan’s husband? Will Siobhan come back into the picture or will she continue to try to destroy her twin from afar? (We learn at the end of the pilot that, of course, Siobhan isn’t really dead.)

I want the show to be a success if for no other reason than I love watching SMG in action; I just hope the plot threads won’t jump the shark too early on. (We love you, Sarah!)

Next, we have Up All Night, a new comedy (sans laugh track) with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, who star as new parents to their sweet baby Amy. I couldn’t have been more excited about this new show because I have loved seeing Ms. Applegate in primetime but she hadn’t found anything that was making it long-term. Mr. Arnett’s appeal is obvious, especially for Arrested Development fans. I honestly think his voice and comedic delivery are what make him stand out so well. I wonder if he and Amy Poehler are just constantly laughing at their house, because the two of them are just so damn hilarious.

Maya Rudolph also stars in the show as Applegate’s boss at a production company. She’s the inconsiderate Friend Boss. More on her in a sec. Applegate’s Reagan goes to work while Arnett’s Chris (an attorney prior to baby) stays at home.

I loved and still love the preview for the pilot, which aired last evening. The laugh out loud moments are still there for me. The full episode is linked below. I’ll continue after the link.

http://www.nbc.com/up-all-night/

Welcome back. You laughed, right?

So for me, the funniest moments of the pilot were in the previews. There, I said it. There was one other side development going on in the pilot, and that was with Chris, where he’s developing a relationship over his gaming console with another stay-at-home dad and they talk through their headsets. I don’t know why this really tickled the funny bone but I hope they show more of that. That is definitely “keeping it real,” speaking as a woman who has an ex who played tons of video games.

I think the chemistry between Applegate and Arnett is really there and I love that the focus isn’t all about the baby. It’s about adapting to being parents and not necessarily leaving behind everything from their former lifestyle. The scene where they’re hungover and dealing with just-woken-up Amy was hysterical and probably my favorite bit.

Maya Rudolph’s character seems a bit shallow at this point. I didn’t laugh at anything she said or did, which flies in the face of most of the reviews I’ve read. I just wasn’t on board. I was just bored.

I like her a lot and she is a very talented comedic actress, but I felt like her boss character was just an amalgam of some of her SNL characters, so she came off as more goofball and annoying. I’d love to see more depth with the character and I hope the writers give her some good lines to deliver from her perspective of someone who doesn’t have children. As someone who doesn’t have children, I can relate to that. There is so much potential there for her to just “not get” what all goes into being a new parent. So writers, if you’re reading this, more of that please!

I really believe this show has the potential to be a big hit. One thing I want them to nix immediately is the cheesy instrumental music underlying a few of the scenes. Both Kevin and I noticed it and it really detracted from taking the show more seriously. It was way too Full House.

I’d probably give the pilot a grade of a B+ but it could easily move up to a solid A or A+ with more character develop and zingers. Zoe Recommends watching this show!

Last but not least, we have Free Agents, starring Hank Azaria as Alex and Kathryn Hahn as Helen, who have a working-sleep-together relationship as coworkers at a PR firm. They’re each getting over a previous relationship – one by divorce and one by death. I had the preview listed below but naturally, NBC yanked it shortly after, so you’ll have to watch an episode from the link:

http://www.nbc.com/free-agents/

In my opinion, the pilot was funny throughout and it expanded on the released preview. Though I was ready to see the familiar jokes in the pilot, having been watching the promos in anticipation for a few weeks, they still made me (and Kevin) laugh.

Three standout moments for me: the safe word, the Executive Assistant character Emma Parker (portrayed by Natasha Leggero), who has sass coming out of her pores, delivering her line of, “You do get EXECUTIVE Assistant, right? Not personal, not for your personal problems” with biting panache, and Azaria’s line, “Because I have no plans to DJ at an Armenian gangster’s acquittal party.” If the writers and actors keep that up, they will have a loyal fan until the end of this show.

The fact that Anthony Stewart Head (who played Giles on Buffy!) plays the boss adds an even stronger likelihood that this show can stick out the first few ordered episodes. When in doubt, add an experienced British actor to your program.

From what I was reading, a lot of people didn’t find this show funny but if I’m being honest, I thought Free Agents‘ pilot was funnier than the Up All Night pilot. I believe they do well being placed back to back, at least in the beginning. I am sure the execs over at NBC will move one or both when they develop.

Azaria’s character Alex has some growing to do but he plays up the self-deprecation bit really well. Hahn’s Helen brings some excellent line delivery and she’s not as acerbic as I thought she’d be, as someone who is grieving over a deceased fiance and sleeping with an always-crying Alex. The bit about her excessive wine consumption was very good; I just hope the writers will give her more to do than that when we see her doing scenes alone.

So can I recommend watching this one? I surely can. It gets the Zoe Recommends stamp of approval. If I were to grade it, I’d also give it a B+. I will continue to record the episodes for sure.

Like with anything, I think we as the viewers need to familiarize ourselves with the developing characters and let things simmer a bit. There is plenty of room for development in both sitcoms (or are they dramadies?) and even Ringer. If you think it has to be a hit right out of the box, just go back and watch the pilot of Friends. That is one of my all-time favorite shows but the characters we grew to love like family were definitely not present in the very first episode.

Did you watch any of these shows? If not, do you think you will now?

Update: October 18, 2011 I have learned that Free Agents was cancelled after a mere four episodes aired. I was actually really upset because I found it to be really hilarious and wanted to see where it would go. I’m also hoping that the actress who played Emma, the snarky Exec Assistant, will find herself another similar role so we can witness more of that. Ugh, it’s seriously depressing.

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Mandatory: cleaning with music

Happy Labor Day!

I hope all of you are enjoying some (much needed) time off. Out here in my neck of the woods, we’re enjoying some spectacular autumn weather. It’s sunny and breezy and in the high 60s. It doesn’t get much better than that for a day off.

While a certain law student I’m dating is at the library studying, or whatever it is that law students do on the weekends, I’ve been occupying myself at home. I edited some photos, answered some emails, Facebooked, Google Plussed, let the dog out to play in the backyard where he wooed at our neighbors’ dogs, and then I got tired of sitting at the computer and decided I should straighten up a bit.

I grabbed my ‘Pod, attached it to the stereo and cranked up the tunes while I went to work in the kitchen.

This is something that has been an absolute must for me since I was a wee tween. (Well, I wasn’t “wee…”)

I can not do housework without listening to music. It is absolutely impossible. Maybe this is why so many people hummed and whistled back in the day. It really helps keep up one’s motivation. I’m not a fan of doing dishes, vacuuming, or folding clothes, but if there is a fine beat pulsing throughout the house (or my ears, if I’m ear-budding it), it makes it just shy of enjoyable, if mindless work can be considered enjoyable.

There is something to be said for blasting music throughout the house more than just listening on headphones, especially if I’m by myself and it’s not going to bother anyone else. Pro to living in a non-metropolitan city: no one lives above or below me and won’t come knocking on my door because of a high noise level. Win.

So in order to keep my cleaning mojo going, I’m going to go crank up the tunes once more and tackle the virtual mountain of clothing there is to be folded. I know, it’s Labor Day, and I’m working. But at least I’ve got a few weeks’ worth of music ready to accompany me.

Zoe Recommends: listening to music while you clean/do chores/tend to your home. It soothes the weary soul – especially if you’re like me and this lady.

The Magic Formula

Having made it through my ‘deathly’ illness, I am thrilled to tell all you lovely readers about my joyous discovery. This must be what Indiana Jones felt like when he sipped from the Holy Grail and knew his face wouldn’t be melted off. Yes, it’s that good.

After months and months years of searching and much trial and error, I have finally found my “magic formula” in the realm of moisturizers and SPF.

I’ll wait for anyone who thinks skincare is boring to click away now. Really, it’s okay.

***

This discovery definitely does not pertain to everyone, since mostly it will only work for those with oily skin, like myself. Actually, combination skin people could benefit from this, too. Being a fair-skinned woman who gets pink easily and wants to properly defend my epidermis in these harsh ozone times, I have been slathering on moisturizer with SPF since I was a young adult. I got a vicious sunburn when I was 17 and the bridge of my nose took years to heal from it. Apparently I thought I was invincible and thought I could force my cells to produce melanin and I’d tan. My skin promptly burst into flames and said, “Screw you.”

Since then, I have devoutly worn my moisturizer and facial sunscreen. I have lost count how many brands I’ve tried, each with their pros and cons. But for whatever reason, the skincare gods decided it was time for me to stop floundering and answered my prayer to find exactly what I needed. Us Oily Skin People have it rough because it usually means we’re contending with easily clogged pores and/or acne, looking shiny in photos, and sometimes forgoing wearing SPF because we’ll find a perfect moisturizer that doesn’t grease up our faces but then we expose our skin to the damaging rays of the sun.

In the last year, I have tried moisturizer/sunscreen products from Lancôme, Mary Kay, Olay, and Mario Badescu. They all have their pros and cons but the one common denominator amongst all four was how the SPF affected my skin.

I actually really like the Mary Kay moisturizer for oily skin but don’t even get me started with what’s wrong with Mary Kay. Another post for another time. However, when you add in their separate SPF product with the moisturizer, it negates the lightweight feel and I’m back at square one sopping at my face with Clean & Clear Oil-Absorbing Sheets multiple times a day. Lancôme is okay but very pricey; the scent is nice, albeit a little strong, but it’s only SPF 15 and the moisturizer is heavier than I can tolerate. Olay’s SPF 30 is really thick but I have been wearing it because it’s not too expensive and doesn’t clog my pores too much. However, my pores swim throughout the day. Lastly, when I tried the Mario Badescu Oil-Free Moisturizer with SPF 30 (something I thought really might be the ticket), I was soaking through two oil-absorbing sheets sheets by 11am, two hours after putting it on. It went back.

Finally, after having my 4,280th conversation with one of my good friends on skincare and this plight we find ourselves in on the regular, I decided to take yet another risk and buy two more products that I prayed would work. They are:


I mean, Clinique of all products! For whatever reason, Clinique has always flown under my radar. I never liked their facial soap or toner and I think perhaps once when I was a teenager, I used some of their Dramatically Different Moisturizer in the small square bottle. It never stuck in my mind that it was something that worked for me. But when I saw that they made a gel that is even lighter and specifically for oily and combination skin, I pounced on it. Also, my friend reported that City Block Sheer was really good stuff and had a mattifying feel, not to mention an SPF of at least 25 (and in fact, you can get a tube in SPF 40).

The angels sang when I began using these products. The moisturizing gel is absolutely perfect for oily skin. You feel like you’re giving your skin a drink but it absorbs really quickly and leaves your skin soft with no heavy perfumes. The fact that it’s lightweight means I don’t worry about my pores throwing up oil on me throughout the day.

And what can I say about the City Block Sheer? It’s absolutely perfect. It is lightly tinted, which normally I shy away from, but even on my fair skin it goes on sheer. It lives up to the hype! Unlike most SPF moisturizers where I rub it into my palms before applying it to my face, there is no need to do that with this one. It actually goes on better when applied directly from fingertips to face and you only need a nickel’s worth. Because of the tint and matte feel, it actually makes for a great makeup base. And last but not least, I can choose whether or not to wear bronzer, blush or mineral powder without feeling like I HAVE to in order to absorb the inevitable ooze. I can like, you know, wear makeup for makeup’s sake without wearing it to compensate for protecting my skin.

When I have had to use a blotting sheet, it has been ONE in the middle of the day. But there have been days when I haven’t had to use any and you can’t put a price on that. (Well, you can, it’s the price of this stuff.)

I’m on Cloud 9 with these two products and if any one of you out there has been in my shoes on that Eternal Search, go to your favorite makeup store (I got mine from Sephora) and get your hands on these miracle workers! The best part is, they’re worth every penny but the price doesn’t break the bank.

I guarantee that you will have chosen…wisely.

Maybe you’ve listened to a little album called “Born This Way.”

Have you been asking your friends, “Have you heard the new Gaga album?” or “So, what do you think of the latest Gaga?” No? Then you might not be interested in this blog post. However, several of my friends and I, as well as millions of others I can’t possibly fathom, have been doing this exact thing.

I know there are many, such as myself, who find it annoying when someone on iTunes/Amazon/Other Music Store I’m Not Aware Of puts the entire track listing down as part of his/her review of an album s/he’s downloaded. I can’t say I won’t be doing that in my review of Born This Way. There’s just too much to say about an, I’m sorry to put it this way, epic album such as this one. That isn’t sarcasm, either.

I know that Lady Gaga has famously predicted that this is the “album of the decade.” Considering her surreal rise to fame in the last 2.5 years, I think she’s probably earned the right to a little bit of ego. Didn’t The Beatles have their “more popular than Jesus” moment? Yes. I think most people know by now that that didn’t dim their star in the eyes of their fans. So, as an extreme fan of Gaga, her comment doesn’t faze me. Who’s to say it won’t be the album of the decade? Maybe she’ll have two. Who knows? I guess we’ll find out by 2020.

Anyhow, as far as this author is concerned, this album delivers. Like many others, I was extremely impatient for the album to drop and couldn’t understand why it was taking so long. When the single “Born This Way” came out in February, I said to myself, “I have to wait more than three more months to hear the whole thing??” It seemed a bit ludicrous. But now that it’s here and I’ve had it on non-stop repeat (iPod, car, iTunes at home, rinse, repeat), I can say that it was worth the interminable wait.

I’ll put it this way: I haven’t listened to an album this many times in a row without getting sick of it since 2006, when I had Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor playing absolutely non-stop between my stereo at home and my iPod. And those songs still hold special meaning for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I was obsessed with The Fame Monster, too. Those songs fully converted me to being a Gaga fan more than just The Fame, but to each her own. On Born This Way, Gaga did not lightly write her songs. Not a single fluff piece exists on this thing (especially “Scheiße”). The lyrics are important, absolutely, but anyone who was alive in the 80s can hear the strong musical influences that lie within this pièce de résistance, e.g. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and a plethora of 80s rock bands who were huge.

Let’s get to the tracks, shall we?

“Marry the Night” – I’ve always been one to believe that an album can be as strong as its opening song. I like that not one of the four singles released prior to the album dropping was the first one listed. This one gets your toes tapping, head nodding, and you singing along to the chorus with one short listen. This song also told me that despite what I may have heard and liked about the released singles, that this album isn’t effing around. It’s a completely different sound and vibe altogether. Gaga took this rebirth seriously. This song is a fantastic freedom anthem or, at the very least, could go right up there with one of my favorite road trip songs, “Running Down a Dream,” by Tom Petty.

“Born This Way” – I don’t think I have to go into too much detail about this one, since it was the first single out and  we all knew it was coming and what the message is. Whether you believe or not it sounds “exactly” like “Express Yourself” is up to you. The most Madonna-esque thing about the song, in my mind, is at the way end when the music stops and she’s singing the chorus on her own and then it goes out completely while she whispers, “Same DNA…but born this way…” And I thought that before the video came out and there is a quick shot of her doing her very best Madonna impression (via makeup).

“Government Hooker” – I was actually surprised I like this one as much as I do. Though it might have a funny beginning, it sounds really good when the beat hits. My favorite part is when she sings the reprise, “I’m gonna drink my tears tonight…” I was listening to it in the car the other day and it occurred to me that while she may have written it about politicians’ wives, it could also be about the politicians themselves. We elect and pay for them to be in office and more often times than not, they turn around and screw their constituents.

“Judas” – This one had to grow on me but grow on me it did. One of my friends has said that this is her favorite song on the album. I can’t say that for me but it is definitely good. From the very start, you’re in for a ride on this one. Although I can appreciate a song about loving the wrong man, I don’t read too much into the religious overtones of it, but I do like it. This one ends as it starts – abruptly. It’s like going on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

“Americano” – I know only one other person who likes this song as much as I do. It kind of made me think it was “Alejandro II” but it’s definitely got its own flavor, and it’s not about loving the wrong person. A few friends of mine don’t like the “mariachi” sound but I really like the fast-pacedness of it and it has its special message(s), of course. (I had to look it up but it’s about immigration/law in Arizona and gay marriage.) This one has a decisively less 80s flavor to it but keeps up the pace, if not sets it, for the rest of the album. No slowing down here!

“Hair” – How can you not like this song? It has a classic feel to it about rebelling as a teen and, well, being free as your hair! I feel like if there was a modern day version of the movie Grease, this would be in it.

“Scheiße” – Um…I really don’t like this song. I can’t get past the manic German-speaking. I skip it when it comes on now. I know, I’m not a purist. I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, however. I still adore this album. I just couldn’t get on board with…whatever this song is about.

“Bloody Mary” – Gaga is quoted as saying that this song is about living between fantasy and reality. Makes sense, considering some of the distorted sounds that come out while she’s singing. To me, the song’s chorus has a very “come hither” sound to it. It’s kinda trance-like. I can’t explain it better than that. More Jesus/Biblical references. I haven’t delved into the deeper meanings.

“Black Jesus+Amen Fashion” – This one sounds the most Michael Jackson-esque, at least in its opener. The folks over at Palace of Gaga have said that this one tells us that putting on a new spirit is as easy as putting on fashion. It’s super catchy and has a little autobiography in it about her rise to stardom. Love it!

“Bad Kids” – Gaga sings to us about loving your perceived flaws in this somewhat unusual sounding track. Here’s a good article that breaks it down. This song has a sizzling electric guitar playing on the main verses. The chorus gets super 80s and reminds me of a Whitney Houston song or something.

“Fashion of His Love” – The tribute to Alexander McQueen. I don’t “know” fashion so I am not familiar with McQueen’s works but I know from paying attention that he had a massive influence on the world of fashion. Lady Gaga sings about this topic on pretty much all her albums and it’s a nice token to McQueen’s memory. To be honest, I thought it was about Jesus when I listened to it the first few times, and it sat well with me. I like that there are moments when we can hear Lady Gaga sing on her own before the drumbeats or guitar get going. This chorus, if you can’t hear “I Just Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston when it comes on, go listen to that song and then listen to this one again! It’s uncanny. But also awesome.

“Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)” – One of my favorites from Born This Way. You hear the chorus first and then she sings deeply with a strong beat that builds to the high chorus. This one can easily go on repeat until you learn every last nuance. There’s still no sense of stopping – the energy keeps flowing.

“Heavy Metal Lover” – Strong contender for my favorite song, though I’ll tell you soon which one I think steals the title. To me, the song is the slightest of nods to The Fame Monster but it retains this album’s flavor. Heavy synth and more pop. Great to blast in the car, especially with friends, since the song discusses how sometimes a crowd does it better.

“Electric Chapel” – After listening about 100 times now, I believe this one takes the place as Favorite. It’s such a tough call, though. Who knew that organ and church bells could sound not only cool but NECESSARY on an album? I can’t say enough how much I love this track. The opening guitar makes me think of the movie Top Gun. It has a nice story within it, though.

“The Queen” – Such a freaking awesome follow-up to “Electric Chapel!” Honestly, it’s the third in a row on this section of the album that I think was just genius to put together. This one has a lot of different meanings and you can certainly look them up…I think it’s kind of fun for this one to remain subjective. Can’t go wrong with this one – fantastic guitar solos.

“You and I” – I have a bitch of a toothache going on right now so I didn’t bother to Google the word You that has the umlaut over it. Cute way of putting it, though. (Better than U ‘n I or something.) Just when I think there can’t be a fourth song in a row that is going to blow my mind, this one kicks down the door with its Queen-esque vibe. The drums take this one. You could totally see Gaga singing this in some dive bar somewhere. It’s just overall fantastic and a great love song. I believe this is the only one that Gaga wrote on her own for the album. Not 100% on that, though.

“The Edge of Glory” – Um, yeah. Out of the four singles released prior to the album dropping, this one stole my heart. I didn’t think anything could top “Born This Way,” but this one just managed to do it. I like the more dancey feel to it and could totally see people going crazy in a club or venue somewhere – even me, who is not a self-proclaimed awesome dancer. She performed this on the finale of American Idol and I thought she did a fantastic job. I am waiting on pins and needles for the music video of this to come out and based on what I’ve read, the speculation is rampant as to how it’s going to look. I’m probably as excited for this one as I was “Telephone,” and that video was mind-blowing, let’s face it.

I’m not going to review the bonus tracks but I will say that The Country Road version of “Born This Way” makes you fall in love with this song all over again. It’s quite amazing how she was able to spin it two totally different ways. This has a bluesy, Springsteen-like feel to it. Even Kevin, who is decidedly not a Lady Gaga fan, has said that her and her music doesn’t completely suck. This is coming from a die-hard Bruce fan. So props to you, Lady Gaga! As if she needs more.

I know this was long. I felt it towards the end there, if you couldn’t tell. I probably haven’t done this long of a post since my very first one. But I can’t sing its praises enough. I know millions of others out there love it just as much as I know there are at least half as many who can’t stand it. One review I saw called it “schizophrenic” and an overall “disappointment,” which I couldn’t protest vehemently enough. I love that she reinvented her sound for this album and I hope she’ll continue to do so. The artists who do stick around for a very, very long time. (Hello, Madonna knows that formula all too well!)

My only wish is that Lady Gaga doesn’t completely abandon the sounds that have been a success for her. For example, Kelly Clarkson hasn’t done a single song similar to those on her first album Thankful, ever. And I really really like that album. If she did another pop/R&B album like that, I’d pre-order it, even. Now I have to wait for Clarkson’s albums to hit and test out each song before I commit. I love Kelly Clarkson and own all her stuff but I still go back to songs from Thankful and ask, “Why isn’t there more of this?”

Okay seriously, I need to be done now. If you’ve read all the way to the very end, I applaud you. Hell, I applaud me for finishing this tome of a blog post. I welcome any and all feedback if you’ve listened to this album and care to share!

Dear Wendy’s, I love ya but you’re not a bistro.

On a recent excursion to the sole Wendy’s in my fair town, I had the opportunity to try their new line of French fries. These new fries are supposed to call forth healthier images of a fried treat (more like a staple) that is consumed daily around the world as if the next potato famine will start any second now.

Made from Russet potatoes, left with some critical minimal amount of skin on for a more natural effect, and seasoned only with sea salt, Wendy’s portends that this is the new standard of fry that is going to beat out McDonald’s’. <~~~~I swear that that is the correct way to properly put McDonald’s in the plural possessive. Those two apostrophes are annoying, however.

Before I cite some other articles on this topic, I’m just going to give my totally subjective, casual opinion on them. Which is….they’re really not all that good. Honestly, what peeves me more than anything else is that these new fries completely took over the old ones, and I happened to like their classic yellow, thicker cut fries. We had no choice whatsoever in this matter. The old ones tasted great with ranch (quelle surprise) and Kevin liked to dip them into Frosties. I’m a big fan of Frosties. Big time. Chocolate, not vanilla. Their coffee chocolate dessert thingy is good, too, where they mix in candy and stuff with it. But in a pinch, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Frosty. Mmm.

Okay, back to the fries. We were mourning the old ones. Quite frankly, if we just had the option of choosing between classic and these new “bistro” fries, I’d be okay with that! I’d just never order the bistro fries. I mean, even Arby’s and Jack in the Box have multiple fry options. Curly vs. classic. Why can’t they get on board with this? Yeah, it’s one more thing to fry up but it’s just potatoes and chicken nuggets in the fryers over there. BFD, ya know?

These new fries are skinnier, the ends burn more easily, and I don’t know if it’s the 1% skin on them or what, but the flavor just isn’t….”Hurry up and eat me!” like I do with other places’ fries.

I love me some sea salt. But there’s no way that these fast food fries are potatoes + salt and that’s it. And I surmised correctly! Check out this article on all the crap that the fries are processed with – I’m telling you, it’s nasty. And if you have some extra time and wanna see what an actual food blog wrote up about the fries, check out what Serious Eats had to say about them.

I disagree that the old ones had no merit but I do agree that they were inconsistently cooked.

In summation, I’m sorry to say it, Wendy’s. The new fries are more a fail than a success. Please stick to what you do best, which is make above average fast food. And your new salads are bomb, too. But your thinly veiled marketing campaign to disguise your fries as anything but regular, same-old processed ones is lame. Bring back the old fries that never pretended to be anything than what they were – mediocre and bad for you!

Best Coffee Flavor? Creamy Chestnuts.

It occurred to me that I have yet to write about one of my favorite websites on my blogroll: Coffee Fool. If you love coffee and you’ve never heard of this website, I urge you to go there immediately and browse their insanely good selection of coffee. Then buy some.

It’s not just the flavors, though they are my favorite out of the kinds they have. It’s the joy and caring they put into their roasts, as well as a very detailed explanation of how they get their coffee a certain way. They also help you understand that most store-bought coffee is not freshly roasted and therefore is stale. If you’ve ever smelled ‘fresh’ coffee grounds and thought it smelled kinda ashy, like cigarettes, then yeah, they’re bad.

Big K and I like to get the beans because when we grind them ourselves, the powerful smell of truly fresh coffee hits you over the head. It’s akin to wine. You can inhale the scent up to your eyeballs and before you even brew the stuff, you feel more awake. I wish I were exaggerating but it’s really true.

To that end, we discovered that our favorite part of Coffee Fool’s website is the Friday Flavors. There, they “experiment” with different flavors and usually keep the roast at on the lighter, American side of things. (Don’t get me wrong – their Italian and French Roasts are like dark silk. Try one if you have any semblance of loving a rich roast.) Anyway, in Friday Flavors (which have now been incorporated into their regular line), they have many delicious concoctions but my favorite “potion” – and I’m talking all-time here – is Creamy Chestnuts. There is just something about this nutty flavor that keeps me buying pound after pound. I could probably get on their auto-delivery program for it because it’s that good. Every single person who has ever had it at my home thought it smelled amazing and tasted just as good. You don’t get that all the time with coffee – just sayin’.

I don’t know if they still do this but if you buy enough coffee from them, you earn a permanent discount with them. Needless to say, I get a slightly discounted bag of coffee each and every time I order. They also have wonderful staff and customer service. I really hope their whole business plan stays exactly the same.

So, to Coffee Fool: I salute you! Keep up the outstanding work and thanks for brightening my life with your creativity in a product as necessary as coffee. The variety and quality boggle the mind! At least mine.

Here are a few of the other flavors I’ve tried and my two cents on them:

Boolicious: they keep this one a ‘secret’ but Kevin and I have definitely discerned that it’s a mixture of blueberry and other flavors. This would be great for most people, since there are an odd number of folks out there who enjoy blueberry flavored coffee, but I do not. So while I do not recommend it, Kevin would.
Chocolate Pumpkin Pie: I like this version better than their regular Pumpkin Pie flavor. I found the latter to have too much pumpkin spice.
Cremera: Don’t bother. It literally tastes like a weird, subdued, creamy coffee. Wouldn’t buy twice.
Egg Nog Royale: I don’t like egg nog flavored things but my dude loved this one.
Santa’s Cookie Coffee: I bought two bags of this and liked it initially. Then when I tried it again, I didn’t like it enough to buy it again. It’s VERY popular, though.
Turtle Gone Nuts: This is pretty good. I love me some chocolate and caramel.
Vanillamykahlua: Give this a whirl if you like mild vanilla. (I can also highly recommend their French Vanilla, since it’s French roasted coffee with vanilla. YUM.)
Bacon: You’d think this one would have blown us away. The ‘bacon’ flavor was so mild that it didn’t blow our hair back. We’ll just stick with regular coffee and frying up some bacon.
Chocolate Espresso: Self-explanatory. And delicious.
Chocolate Raspberry: This stuff is amazing. Conversely, I tried the Raspberry Squared and wanted to throw up. I couldn’t drink the stuff. Too berry-y.
Creme Brulee: I can’t attest to this one but K-Dawg loves it.
English Toffee: very tasty! I’d buy this one again.
Maple Walnut: a new flavor that is really good. I think out of the “nut” coffees, it goes Creamy Chestnuts, Pecan Supreme, then Maple Walnut. This is a really nice flavor and can be mixed with others if it’s too mapley for you.
Melted Marshmallow: I wasn’t a big fan. It was just kinda ehhh for me. But I’m picky about marshmallow stuff.
Pecan Supreme: REALLY good. Not as good as Creamy Chestnuts but up there!
Pacific Espresso: I really adore dark roasts but I do not like this one. The best reason I can come up with is that it’s too bitter. Their Italian and French roasts are great for me, though.
Smooth Sailing: this is a reduced-acid coffee and has a wonderful flavor. It’s what “regular” coffee should taste like. And I can have multiple cups without having a Tums. Bonus!
Snoodle Doodle: One of my favorites. I have ordered this multiple times and would get this more regularly if it weren’t for Chestnuts eeking out the competition.
Highlander Grog: Also one of my favorite repeat orders. I like it because it’s not super hazelnut. It’s got a good blend of butterscotch and the hazelnutflavors.

Flatpicker Fuel, Fool’s House French, Fools’ House Italian Dark, Lock & Load and Velvet Hammer are all of the dark roasts I’ve tried. They’re really good about keeping the descriptions accurate so just double check what they say about each before picking. It’s almost hard to pick one you won’t like! (My God. I just went over to the Light/Medium roasts and realized I’ve tried a bunch of those, too. I really am a fan!)

R.I.P. to Two of My Faves

Some things are absolute in this world; this is both good and bad.

The good part is that when you find something that is the best, you can rely on it and you get satisfaction from it, whatever “it” is, every time.

The bad part is that if it disappears, you’re screwed. Such is the case with two of my beloved favorite things going extinct.*Sniffle*

Some of you may remember the brand Mentadent. They had that weird toothpaste where when you pushed down the top of the plastic dispenser, the baking soda combo would come out one side and the fluoride and other goop would come out the other. They’d mix together on your brush to create their magical form of teeth cleaning excellence. Right.

Well, one thing they got right were their toothbrushes. Specifically, their Pro Care line with the flexible handles and array of beautiful colors, not to mention full and soft bristle heads. Can you tell I’ve used these for years? They’re seriously fantastic and I have yet – YET! – to find a toothbrush as good in all aspects. Allow me to show you so you can oooh and aaah, as well.

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They first started being hard to find back in 2005. I just couldn’t find them at the drugstore anymore. I had a roommate that found them for me in NYC at a Rainbow store. I’m pretty sure Rainbow is a New York thing but it was a mixture of hardware and household goods. And they had my toothbrushes! I would buy four or five at a time.

Later, I found them at Drugstore.com. I was so happy! I conservatively purchased two of them upon my last order.

Then: disaster struck. They are now completely gone from Drugstore.com. Frantic, I searched Amazon but found them only in bundle packs for over $50. Someone clearly knew they were a popular item. As much as I adore them, I cannot bring myself to pay that much for toothbrushes.

Inside, I am mourning. I have to say goodbye to a true hero of dental hygiene. I don’t know why other companies can’t replicate this ergonomically sound, pretty, effective tooth tool. But they do not. Instead, I will have to resort to finding something that will have to serve as second best (if that).

As if that weren’t bad enough, my favorite shampoo and conditioner brand is no longer found in drugstores. For years, I was using Sunsilk’s yellow bottles of Anti-Flat shampoo and conditioner. It had a punchy (but not overwhelming) citrus smell and the conditioner has yet to be beaten by another. It’s lightweight, gives the hair a boost, reasonably priced, and flat out smells terrific. This is the perfect combo for people like me who need volume but don’t want to leave residue on the roots. Here’s a photo:

Photo has been removed multiple times due to whatever glitch that prevents it from showing up. Maybe Sunsilk doesn’t like former product photos being out on the interwebs. It was a bright yellow bottle with retro font wording. I miss it.

Even the conditioner bottle is designed so that it’s upside down, giving you maximum usage. I have one bottle in my bathroom that is dwindling away. I’ve found packs of these online, too, but they are overpriced. I heard a rumor that Sunsilk was completely redoing the formulas to “improve” their line but I can’t even find the new line in grocery stores or drugstores. Have they gone out of business? I have no clue. I only know that another one bites the dust. I’ve been experimenting with Pantene and Clairol’s Herbal Essence line (another one that was overhauled and the original smell was taken away).

My question to these companies is, if you have a bestseller, why are you striving to improve it? Leave it the hell alone! I can see redoing the packaging and that there is probably some marketing research done that shows that sales are kept up with new packaging but really? Redoing the formula? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – because you’re not fixing it, you’re ruining it!

I need to get a hold of myself.

Some might say, “Who cares? It’s only shampoo.” Some would be right. Except that finding that perfect shampoo/conditioner combo is really important to women. And some men. Having good hair is a part of our daily lives. Having good-smelling hair is important to people like me. I’m a Super Smeller. That’s a whole other post for another time.

I wish these companies would check with me first before they try to reinvent the wheel and then inevitably go bankrupt. And what about the leftovers? I would have taken all the remaining toothbrushes and shampoo/conditioner off their hands!

Goodbye, Best Toothbrush Evar and Best Conditioner (and shampoo) Evar. You meant a lot to me. You will always be in my memory. Hell, I’ve dedicated internet space to you. You were simply the best.

Love,

Your Most Faithful Fan Zoe

Jenni’s Cookies – A Review

That empty bag up there represents all that is left of the cookies I ordered just a mere few days ago. My gosh, they were good. They make people say things like, “My gosh.”

Let me start over.

When I got my box of Jenni’s Cookies in the mail, you’d think it was already Christmas morning. I elected to receive them at work so they wouldn’t sit on my cold porch all day. Also, I really wanted to try one right away.

Get to know and love one Ms. Jenni of Jenni’s Cookies. The sister of a good friend of mine, she transitioned from hobby cookie-maker and decorator into her own full-time business this year. And may I say, she has found her calling.

Since I had it on good word that the cookies taste as incredible as they are adorable, I bided my time and placed an order. I was thrilled to be able to order my box right at the height of the holiday season, as well. Her holiday shapes are absolutely adorable and scream, “Eat me!”  But in a good way.

You might be thinking, can’t anybody frost and decorate a sugar cookie?

NOPE. I could never, and I mean never, do something this painstaking for a living. I just plain don’t have the decorating skills or the patience. Thus, I am grateful for people like Jenni.

Jenni rolls out each batch with loving care from a family recipe and takes great care to personalize your order. (If you haven’t clicked on the link to see the staggering array of things she is capable of, here it is one more time: www.jenniscookies.com.)

She will make just about anything for anyone, whether it is a corporate marketing event or one big party, but rest assured she owns or will possess the perfect cookie cutter shape, rendering the final product into a miniature work of art.

I chose the holiday cookies because this is my favorite time of year and, let’s face it, it’s cookie eatin’ season, but I know I will go back to her the next time I want to impress some folks with the perfect accompaniment for the occasion.

The cookies:

I had to have mine shipped to me since I no longer reside in the greater city of New York. They arrive in a very carefully and tightly packed box to prevent damage to your precious treats within. It was comforting to see the extra care she takes for those batches she sends out. On top of that, each cookie is placed in its own protective bag with a ribbon for easy distribution.

The cookies have a slightly crisp but chewy texture; this seems like an oxymoron but you’ll just have to try one to see for yourself. One can taste the vanilla (and the TLC!) in every bite. Because they are not overly sweet, the icing on top adds just the right amount of extra sweetness. No artificial flavors here, folks.

In summation: After taking yourself to the website, customizing and placing your order, and receiving your delicious bundles of joy, get yourself a tall, icy glass of milk and give your tastebuds the delight that they have been waiting for, ever since your eyes told your brain that you must try these handmade confections. I promise they are worth every penny and the wait, if there is one. (Even having placed an out of state order, they arrived very quickly for her having made me a customized, fresh batch.)

And then also feast your eyes on me and my dude savoring (and eventually devouring) these delectable things. Then get you some.

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