Monday, October 26, 2020

California governor Gavin Newsom answers your questions about Thanksgiving safety guidelines

Dear Gov. Newsom:

I plan to comply with the safety guidelines you issued for Thanksgiving celebrations — the event should be held outside and last two hours or less, no more than three families can attend, no singing, six feet of distance between guests, and bathrooms must be sanitized between each use — but have a dilemma. My four children are married and all have children. Are they considered four families or are we one family?

JR in San Jose

Dear JR:  If they live with you, you are one family. If not, they comprise four separate families and don’t forget that you and those who reside under your roof are also considered a family unit by the State of California, so we’re actually talking about five families here. Tell the two children you are least thankful for that, under normal circumstances, they and their families are welcome but not this year. 

Dear Gov. Newsom:

I am confined to a wheelchair and unable to sanitize my bathroom between uses. If I rent a port-a-potty for my outdoor celebration, must it also be sanitized after each visit or does your edict apply only to indoor bathrooms?

Barbara in Santa Barbara:

Dear Barbara:

Thank you for pointing out this critically important omission my health experts somehow missed. I have extended the guidelines to require sanitizing port-a-potties and outhouses after each use.

Dear Gov. Newsom:

I’m planning a quiet Thanksgiving — only myself and my 99-year-old mother. We live in a cabin high in the Sierras where the average temperature in late November is near zero. Must we a) celebrate outside and b) sit six feet apart?

Mountain Man 

Dear MM:

Yes. Rules are rules.

Dear Gov. Newsom:

Months ago I invited 18 guests for Thanksgiving but the balcony of my condo is only 80 square feet so it will be impossible to seat them six feet apart. What can you suggest?

Beverly in Beverly Hills

Dear Beverly: Move your celebration to one of California’s beautiful open spaces, like Death Valley, where there is plenty of room. Be sure to provide each guest with a cloth mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Dear Gov. Newsom:

If a wildfire is raging near my home on Thanksgiving, must we still hold our celebration outside?

Nadine in Napa

Dear Nadine: Yes, but look on the bright side. You won’t have to turn on the oven to roast the turkey.

Dear Gov. Newsom:

My family traditionally sings “We Gather Together” before we sit down to dinner. Is it permissible to hum it if everyone is wearing a mask?

The Osmonds

Dear Osmonds: No. Humming would violate the spirit of my guidelines which are intended to protect all Californians. Planes equipped with listening devices will be circling our state's major cities and if we detect humming, you will be subject to arrest and/or fines. 

Dear Gov. Newsom:

I no longer want to live in a state in which my every move is controlled by despots like you. I am planning on jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge at noon on Thanksgiving Day. Any final advice for me?

GG in SF

Dear GG: Make sure you stand at least six feet away from any other Californian who is doing the same thing. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Four intelligent TV series to stream on Netflix

My wife and I have spent almost every night for the past seven months of COVID-induced isolation watching streaming video. We’ve binge-watched TV series on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Showtime, Acorn, Apple TV, HBO, PBS and Starz, even though we don’t like the same types of shows. 

She loves murder dramas. I hate them. If I want to watch victims being chopped up into little pieces by insane people, I could tune into the nightly talk shows on CNN or Fox News. 

I love WWII series. She detests them. 

We could, I suppose, watch the shows we each prefer in separate rooms, but we like to watch together with our dachshund and Jack Russell terrier curled between us. So we compromise about the types of TV series we watch. 

We are picky. We research shows that sound promising on the internet and are constantly asking friends whose judgment we trust for recommendations. Having been disappointed often, we tend to avoid much of the drek that comes out of Hollywood. For instance, we watched the first two episodes of the much-balleyhooed “Morning Show” on Apple TV before pulling the plug. Starring Jenifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, the 10-episode series purportedly cost $300 million to produce. Our dachshund could have written a script with fewer holes in it. We turned off “Ozark” on Netflix after a few episodes for the same reason. Though some of our friends say otherwise, we found it unbelievable and unwatchable.

And so, as a result, we watch lots of foreign series. Over the last few months, we’ve been fortunate enough to find not just one but four extraordinary foreign series on Netflix, all of them written for viewers with triple-digit IQs who eschew the sci-fi, teenage and/or vampire series that dominate streaming media. 

If the experts are correct, the second wave of the Coronavirus is going to be hitting soon and we’ll all be stuck at home again. So here is something to help you pass the upcoming lockdown — four outstanding series vetted by yours truly, his wife and, of course, our dogs, who can now bark in four new languages. 

3 seasons, 30 episodes

Birgitte Nyborg, the leader of a minor political party, unexpectedly becomes Prime Minister. She knows little about governance or behind the scenes political machinations, but episode by episode, becomes accomplished, confident and, at times, ruthless. As her career flourishes, her family falls apart — her husband leaves, her teenager has a breakdown. How she balances all these demands is the core premise of the show and it doesn’t necessarily end the way you think it will. Borgen’s secondary characters are also well developed. Kasper is the party’s spin doctor, who always knows what to do except when it comes to his own life. Catrina is a workaholic TV anchor, who, like Birgitte, wants it all — love, kids and a high-powered career — but keeps making questionable choices. Many cast members portray journalists and you’ll learn how the Danish media covers politics. For instance, when an issue arises, politicians representing all sides of it gather on a TV soundstage and debate. That’s an idea American politicians and networks should adopt. Borgen, by the way, means “the Castle,” a nickname for Christiansborg Palace, the house of Denmark's three powers: Parliament, the Prime Minister's Office and the Supreme Court. 

3 seasons, 36 episodes 

Fauda is Arabic for “chaos" which ensues in every episode of this taut thriller. A below-the-radar team of the Israeli Defense Force is assigned to infiltrate the West Bank. Their job: To identify and stop terrorists before they can strike. Like the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Fauda is violent — characters are blown to bits by bombs, stabbed, tortured, mowed down by Uzis and beheaded. There’s fanaticism on both sides of the fence and this series helps American viewers understand why. Filmed in Israel and its occupied territories, Fauda is, at once, fascinating, disturbing, thrilling and enlightening. If you liked “Homeland” on Showtime, you will love Fauda. It’s twice as intelligent, better written and the acting is superb. Lior Raz, who plays Doron, the protagonist, is a master actor. You feel his pain, rage, sorrow and loss. Another standout is Shadi Mar’i who plays Walid, a batshit crazy terrorist whose star is ascending until … well, you’ll have to see for yourself what happens. 

Call My Agent 
3 seasons, 18 episodes 

Four self-absorbed, ultra-competitive Paris talent agents learn that the owner of their agency, who kept them all in line, has dropped dead, leaving the firm and their futures in “fauda” (See? You’re already learning something new.) Each episode features a bona fide French celebrity who plays himself or herself as one of the agency's clients. The agents work to extract themselves and their entitled clients from difficult and often compromising positions while trying to balance relationships with spouses, co-workers who are current lovers, co-workers who were former lovers, potential clients, the French version of the IRS,  and a wealthy new boss who bought the agency on a lark, knows nothing about the business, and wears a man bun. The dialogue is witty and smart, and the characters are likable — even the ones you shouldn’t like, like Mathias who refuses to acknowledge the daughter he fathered during a one-night stand and is now diddling his spinster secretary while his wife tries to extract money from her wealthy father to buy him controlling interest in the agency. As someone who spent his career in creative (advertising) agency environments, I loved this show. Bet you will too. 

Bonus Family 
3 seasons, 30 episodes 

Mattress salesman Martin is bitter because his ditzy artist wife, Lisa, has left him and moved in with schoolteacher Patrik, who several years ago divorced his humorless architect wife, Katja. Between them, the four principal characters have three children including two boys the same age, one a Goofus, one a Gallant, and a rebellious teenage daughter. Martin has moved in with his widowed mother who, it turns out, has had a lesbian lover for the last 20 years. Lisa forgets to take her birth control pill and becomes pregnant while still married to Martin; she keeps forgetting to sign the divorce papers. Katja appears to be a cold fish but is having torrid nooners with her married boss. In short, everyone in this bonus family — the term Swedes call it when two families become one --  has issues. The characters navigate parenting, finances, housing, pregnancy, jobs, eldercare, medical care, marriages, divorces, new loves and former spouses, as American viewers get insight into Sweden and its unique brand of socialism. For instance, when Lisa and Patrik’s baby arrives, he has the luxury of leaving his job to stay home for 18 months because he’s being paid by the state to take paternity leave. You’ll care about these characters and, when the series ends, you’ll miss them because, like your family, they’re dysfunctional but good people muddling through, trying to do the best they can. 

Note: Netflix gives the viewers of many of its foreign series the option of listening to voices dubbed in English over the original actors’ voices. Don’t choose that option. Choose the audio in the language in which the original was shot, then select “English subtitles.” You’ll be surprised at how many words in, say, Danish are the same as they are in English. And you won’t be distracted by characters whose lips aren’t in synch with what they are saying. 

Funny, but my wife sometimes asks me to turn up the volume. I tell her she doesn’t speak the language anyway so what's the point? But she’s right. It’s great to hear the actors’ authentic voices, even if you can’t understand 99 percent of what they are saying.