Friday, December 13, 2019

Star Trek: Datalore

Episode: "Datalore"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 18, 1988
Image result for datalore
via Memory Alpha
Data gets an origin story and a brother.  The Enterprise visits Omicron Theta, the planet where Data was first found by Starfleet.  In a hidden lab, the away team discovers a disassembled android essentially identical to our friend.  They bring him back to the ship and put him together.  He is just like Data, except evil...

The idea of an evil twin was actually Brent Spiner's.  The initial plan was a female android who would become his love interest, an idea which would be reworked as Data's child in "Offspring,"  The Lore concept is fun, sort of a "Mirror, Mirror" story for a single character.  However, much as with Q and Lwaxanna Troi, I find the character grating - a bit of a theme with Season 1 and recurring characters thus far.  It's fun to watch Spiner switch back and forth between the two brothers and the camera and editing work are effective in generating a believable double.  The scene where Data finds his own face mold is genuinely goosebump-inducing.  Even so, I can't help wishing Lore was permanently removed from the saga as promised.  Future Lore stories will be better.  I know that.

We've gotta talk about the contraction thing.  Much is made in both this episode and Season 3's "Offspring" of the fact that Data cannot use contractions such as you're, we'll, I'm, etc.  Both Lore and Lal (from "Offspring") can which is meant to establish them as more advanced androids.  The thing is, Data uses contractions all the time.  He even does so in this episode.  It's the sort of character wrinkle that could have been really cool if they'd been consistent with it.  But they weren't.  Writing staff fail.

Acting Notes

Image result for young biff yeager
via Memory Alpha

Biff Yeager makes the second of two TNG appearances in "Datalore" as Lt. Cmdr. Argyle, the chief engineer who oversees the reassembly of Lore.  Other television appearances include The Wonder Years, Scrubs, Seinfeld and Gilmore Girls.  Film credits include Repo Man, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Edward Scissorhands.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Squid Mixes: Old Overholt vs. George Dickel

Let the whiskey battles begin!

We picked up a bottle of George Dickel rye this weekend in order to commence side-by-side comparisons.  Dickel is the challenger in this case, the defending champ our long-standing favorite, Old Overholt.  Three rounds: the Manhattan Test, the Highball Test and the On the Rocks Test.  Important weigh-in factor (can you tell I'm reading a boxing book right now?): the Dickel costs $8 more for a 750 ml bottle.  However, it is on sale this month.  So if it is better, is it $8 better?  Or is it wait for it to go on sale better?

An important bias going in: my wife recently learned, or just recently told me, that the Old Overholt formula changed when Beam Suntory took over the label.  Basically, it's not much of a rye anymore.  There's only enough rye wheat in the recipe now for it to qualify as such.  Dickel, on the other hand, is 95% rye.  The bottle claims that's one of the highest percentages on the market.

For whatever it's worth, Dickel has a higher alcohol content.  Dickel is 90 proof (45% alcohol).  Overholt is 80.

On the Rocks Test

This was the last round we performed but it seems appropriate to begin the narrative here.  My analysis, beginning with the reigning champ...

Old Overholt is smoother with a more floral flavor and a bitter finish.  George Dickel is darker in color, a touch more reddish.  It's bigger, with more dimension.  There's more of a burn, probably due to the higher alcohol content.  The taste is sharper, spikier, though that was more evident in the Manhattans than it was drinking it straight.  Both whiskies had a sweet aftertaste, though the Dickel expressed more vanilla.

The Manhattan Test

My wife wanted a blind test for each.  She is the supertaster, after all (see here) and tasting is actually part of her job.  She was able to pick out the Dickel each time and for me, too, this is the test in which the differences were most evident.  That sharpness came through most pleasantly, not unlike rye bread.  I'm not sure it would be for everyone and to be completely honest, I don't know if I'd want my drink so sharp all the time.  But it's certainly fun for variety.  Forced to choose, I would have to say that yes, the Dickel Manhattan was superior.

Side note: we also tried Luxardo cherries with this most recent round of Manhattans - lovely indeed!  Are they worth four times the cost of a cheap jar?  Probably not.  But they're fun to try.  If nothing else, they've furthered our curiosity about making our own.

The Highball Test

With a strong flavor heavyweight such as ginger beer to compete with, neither of us could taste much difference in the whiskeys.  The lessons here: where highballs are concerned, picking the right ginger beer mixer is the more important consideration.  We used Otto's this time as it's what we had on hand.  It's fine but a little too sweet.  As for the whiskey, no it's definitely not worth spending more if you're only going to use it to make highballs.

The Decision

George Dickel is the more interesting rye whiskey.  There is simply more flavor and I like flavor.  I would say it's wait until it's on sale better.  My wife concurs.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Star Trek: The Big Goodbye

Episode: "The Big Goodbye"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 12
Original Air Date: January 11, 1988

"The Big Goodbye" is the first major holodeck episode.  Captain Picard is a fan of the Dixon Hill stories, a meta-fictional mystery series.  The newly updated holodeck generates an entire 1940s San Francisco scenario for him to explore as Hill.  Data, Dr. Crusher and Dr. Whalen (David Selburg), a visiting historian, join Picard on the adventure.  Naturally, something goes wrong.  First, our heroes are trapped in the holodeck.  Then the safety controls go off.  Whalen is shot by one of the gangsters in the story and is left in genuine peril.

The episode was the first of three in TNG's first season to win an Emmy, in this case Outstanding Costumes for a Series for Bill Theiss.  It's interesting that he should win for this one as his creations for the story are uncharacteristically modest by his standards.  Maybe it was the Academy trying to tell him something as it was the only Emmy he ever won over a long career in television.  "The Big Goodbye" is also the only episode in the entire Star Trek run to win a Peabody Award.

Screenwriter Tracy Tormé - son of legendary songwriter Mel - incorporated film noir elements drawing most of his inspiration from the classic Bogart movie, The Maltese Falcon, in turn derived from a Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name.  The title, however, is likely a mash-up of two Raymond Chandler books: The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.  

The holodeck episodes are fun.  It's amusing to think that people embarking on what could only be one of the greatest adventures imaginable still have need for an active fantasy life.  It's interesting to learn over time, too, of the many practical applications for the technology.

Acting Notes
Image result for cyrus redblock
via Memory Alpha

Lawrence Tierney (Cyrus Redblock, the gangster boss) was born March 15, 1919 in Brooklyn, New York.  He made a long career out of playing mobster tough guys and the like.  He broke through as the title character in 1945's Dillinger, bookended near the end of his career with the role of crime lord Joe Cabot in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1991).

If anything, Tierney was even scarier off the screen than he was on.  He battled alcoholism for years.  As he put it, he "threw away about seven careers through drink."  He also had numerous arrests with charges of assault and drunken disorderly.  In 1951, he spent 90 days in jail for breaking a man's jaw.  Late in his career, he made a much-heralded appearance on Seinfeld as Elaine's father.  While he was considered for a recurring role, everyone was terrified by him so they never asked him back.  Apparently, at one point he pulled a knife on Jerry.  In jest?  I don't know.

Tierney passed away in 2002 at age 82 in a nursing home in LA.  He'd been in poor health for many years after a mild stroke in 1995.  Pneumonia was the cause of death.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Squid Mixes: The Right Balance and a Good Rye

Image result for dad's hat rye
via Dad's Hat
Thanksgiving is, of course, a grand harvest feast.  Alcoholic beverages are by no means necessary accompaniment but they're certainly enjoyable.  We went to visit English Prof for the holiday and, as luck would have it, she loves a good Manhattan almost as much as I do.  She also had a fine whiskey to try...

Dad's Hat hails from Bristol in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Their rye is their flagship product and a fine, flavorful liquor it is, too - great in a cocktail.  Alas, it is not available for sale back here in Vermont!  Vermont, you see, is a control state which in our case means the state has a wholesale monopoly over liquor.  If the state stores don't sell it, there are no other options.  It may be just as well.  Looking online, it would appear Dad's Hat is significantly more expensive than Old Overholt, our standby.  I suppose it is good to know that the difference in price could be worth it.

I feel I have settled on a good proportion for my Manhattans: 3:1 rye to vermouth.  That's the same as in The New York Bartender's Guide but I've upped the bitters to 3 dashes rather than 1.  Against the Dad's Hat, I could probably have gotten away with more but then I think one risks making it syrupy as it is in many restaurants.  I might have to go down to 2 with the Old Overholt.

It's definitely time to start experimenting with different whiskeys, though better to focus on ones easily acquired, I think.  I have my eye on George Dickel, which costs a bit more than Old Overholt, and Ezra Brooks, a new product to Vermont stores, which costs a bit less.  Stay tuned.

Squid on the Vine

Château Combel la Serre, Le Pur Friut du Causse Chors Malbec 2017
My Rating: 8.1
Starts sweet, then a little sour.

Free Run Cellars, Dry Gewürtztraminer 2017
My Rating: 8.5
Grape juicy
Starts bitter, finishes sweet.
We visited the winery in Michigan last summer.  That's right, Michigan.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Star Trek: Haven

Episode: "Haven"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 11
Original Air Date: November 30, 1987

Image result for tng haven
via Memory Alpha

Surprise!  Deanna Troi is to be married.  Her mother, her betrothed and her future in-laws come aboard the Enterprise for the festivities.  None of her colleagues had any idea this arranged marriage was coming and it's instantly clear she's long been dreading it herself.  Good half-Betazoid that she is, Deanna expresses willingness to set aside her own career to meet the obligation.  It helps that Wyatt, her intended, is awfully dreamy.  Unfortunately, he's in love with some girl out of a cheesy music video.

"Haven" gets mixed reviews but it is important long-term for several reasons:
  1. It's a good development episode for Deanna.  For the first time, we get to meet one of the TNG principals' families.  The only family we met with the originals was Spock's and that didn't happen until Season 2.  We learn of her difficult relationship with her mother and her personal dilemma of meeting the contradictory expectations of her chosen career and her culture - not a sci-fi contrivance.  Real people, especially women, face that dilemma every day.
  2. The introduction of an important recurring character: Lwaxana Troi, Deanna's eccentric and overbearing mother.  Lwaxana is performed by our old friend, Majel Barrett, wife of Gene Roddenberry and a Star Trek veteran from the very beginning (see here).  Also introduced is her attendant, the enormous and mostly silent Mr. Homn (Carel Struycken).  As with Q, I find Lwaxana annoying - too much like people I've actually known.  But just as with Q, life is never dull when she's around.
  3. Development of the Troi-Riker relationship, to this point the closest thing to genuine office romance among the TNG principals (the Tasha-Data tryst clearly a one-off).  We know from the first episode that there's a history but details are scarce.  They still are but we see the emotional landscape, ultimately more important.  There was sex.  There are genuine feelings still, likely stronger on his side than hers.  There was a career/relationship choice for him, too, once upon a time and he chose the job.  Being just friends is a challenge - again more for him than for her.  Long-term, it's admirable that they're able to set it all aside in their working relationship.
Always appreciated, genuine comedy:

Acting Notes

Robert Knepper (Wyatt) was born July 8, 1959 in Fremont, Ohio.  He went to Northwestern for college but dropped out to pursue a full-time acting career in New York.  While he does have some film credits, most of his high-profile work has been on television, especially the role of T-Bag on Prison Break.

Image result for robert knepper young
via Wikipedia

Full disclosure... in 2017, five different women came forward with allegations of sexual assault against Knepper.  The incidents cited spanned several decades.  Knepper denied the accusations and nothing has been proven.  I am not going to imply judgment one way or another.  However, this is a reflection of an important reality for TNG, especially as we get towards the end of Season 1: television is a very tough industry for women.  It was in the late '80s and it still is.  Maybe the #MeToo movement has improved the situation or at least brought more awareness.  Regardless, there have long been men willing to take advantage of a perceived difference in status for their own sexual gain.  It's disgusting and it's real.  There are other ways women are marginalized, of course.  Sexual assault is one of the uglier means.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

On the Coffee Table: The Fade Out, Act Two

Title: The Fade Out, Act Two
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips

Image result for fade out act two
via Amazon
The Brubaker/Phillips 1940s era film industry-based comic noir continues (see my thoughts on Act One here).  This is the second of three books, collecting issues 5-8 of the original series.  The murder mystery introduced in book one proceeds relatively slowly here in favor of much needed development for Charlie, our protagonist.  He falls in love with Maya, the blonde starlet who has risen to take the place of Valeria, the murder victim.  The portrayal of the naivety of new romance is quite convincing.  A blackmail subplot is emerging as well.

I'm waiting for the twist.  Charlie's suspicions have yet to move beyond the obvious and there has to be a twist at some point.  I'm looking forward to Act Three.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Squid Mixes: Hunter Variations

Last week's Hunter's Cocktail was highly successful in that my wife asked for the same a few days later.  I'm always happy to take requests, though I had in mind a couple of variations.  One was out of necessity.  I only had rye enough for one drink so the second would have to be bourbon.  Also, I wanted to include Angostura bitters this time.

A rye, bourbon side-by-side comparison is always meaningful.  My wife definitely preferred the rye and chose that one as hers.  The bourbon felt bigger, more bitter perhaps.  I went with one dash of the bitters for each and didn't really taste it - might try two next time.  It might also be interesting to toy with the whiskey/brandy proportions so as to bring out more cherry flavor.  I don't mind the whiskey taking prominence but it might distinguish the drink more from others with a stronger cherry flavor.

Now the question: does altering the ingredients change the name of the drink?  In this case, I would say no.  Looking online, I found Hunter Cocktail recipes with bourbon and with bitters, though interestingly orange rather than Angostura - something else to bear in mind for next time. 

It did make me wonder, though, is there a word for a bitter hunter, one who didn't come back with anything to show for his/her efforts?  I couldn't find such a term.  Does anyone know of one?

Squid on the Vine

La Masseria, Puglia Primitivo 2017
My rating: 8.2
Jammy nose
Opens sweet, then bitter.
Sweet aftertaste