What We're Loving: Exclusive Meals, Old TV Formats, Illusions

Each Friday, DCH performers, teachers, and students offer their recommendations for what to watch, read, see, hear, or experience. This week Ashley Bright eats well, David Allison puts up with dancing, and Amanda Hahn visits the world of illusion. 1357889532_franklogotranspFood really resonated with me this week. I had one of the best meals of my life and now I'm going to tell you about it, mostly so that I can re-live it as I type.  In fact, I was so detailed in my re-living of the meal that my first draft of this piece was almost 400 words and I had only made it through the amuse-bouche and the first course.  How can I only hit the highlights if the whole meal was so bright? I'll try.  FRANK Underground is a private dining experience where you sign up to be on the invite list, get invited, sign up again, get on a lottery for that week's meal, and hope to be chosen.  We've been signing up for the past few months and finally got picked.  (By we, I mean good pals and fellow DCHers, Rob and Mariam.)   Days before our dinnertime, they emailed us the secret(ish) location and revealed the menu: "con gusto."  So, I had about four days to periodically look at the menu and drool over it.  Cut to  evening.  That night's location was in a loft at Adam Hat's.  Walking into the loft, there was a giant window giving a perfect view of Dallas Comedy House.  I'd never seen its roof before.  The chefs were plugging away at the meal in the homey kitchen.  All fourteen or so of the diners were asked to sit at the long table built by one of the chef's from salvaged barn wood. The chefs told us the story of the table and FRANK's conception; and they also explained that this Mexican inspired menu is one they've been wanting to do since they started two years ago.  Our first course included huitlacoche or as Americans call it 'corn smut.'  Don't google it, it is very unappetizing.  But it is so very delicious when stuffed inside of a squash blossom.  In our third course, there was an egg cooked at 63.5 degrees for an hour.  It was like no egg I've ever had before.  The yolk was the same texture as the white.  Absolutely incredible.  Okay, I could easily write a novella on this meal.  Please come ask me about it, so I can describe every bite and sip to you with insane detail.  Please.  I haven't even told you about the dessert yet. - Ashley Bright

The Maya Rudolph ShowThe variety show is back! This past week, The Maya Rudolph Show debuted on NBC, finally ushering in the return of one of my favorite television show formats. I love variety shows, their combination of comedy, music, dance, and overall show polish makes for a really enjoyable viewing experience. Now I understand that some of you aren’t dorks and may not be as familiar with what the general structure of such a special is, but fret not, I’m gonna help introduce you to what a variety show looks like. Also, I’ll let you know how The Maya Rudolph Show did in regards to each of these tropes, just in case you weren’t part of the 2.2 they pulled.

Trope 1- Tone I’m sure there was some bullshit Greecian theatre example of a dramatic variety show, but any successful one nowadays is going to be light, upbeat, and fun. Also, the humor is very specific, many times arising from quick banter back and forth between the players or audience interaction. Check out this clip of The Smothers Brothers on The Judy Garland Show to see what I’m talking about. The Maya Rudolph Show did pretty well with this in general, but she could really use a full time sidekick to bounce dialogue off of.

Trope 2- Dancing Ugh. So much dancing. Honestly, this is the part that I care the least about because dancing is boring. Generally speaking, it’s part of a variety show because old people find it graceful. In fact, I can only think of two examples of funny dancing, one is the classic bit “Fat guy is fat but watch out, he can get down!” and the other being the would be the way Rudolph danced on her program this past week. With that said, it’s become so ingrained in what a variety show is that it can’t be eliminated. The Maya Rudolph Show featured some dancing, but that was mostly because of the talents of Sean Hayes who, by the way, should be on every episode.

Trope 3- Celebrity Special Guests The only thing better than watching a famous person host an hour of television is watching a famous person host an hour of television with their famous friends! Mostly, these other celebrities come in the form of featured players that guest star in the sketches. It’s much like Saturday Night Live except it’s almost always self deprecating or physical (Example: “Ha ha, look at this oversized hat I’m wearing!”). Occasionally you’ll see a musical guest like The Maya Rudolph Show did in Janelle Monae’s performance, but most of the time the special guest either acts in the sketches or does stand up. You gotta keep the funny train moving. Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg, Sean Hayes, Chris Parnell, Kristen Bell, and Craig Robinson dropped by the set on the Maya Rudolph show, so they more than filled the celebrity quotient.

Trope 4- Music Any variety show worth it’s salt must have a few musical numbers. There has to be an upbeat opener featuring lots of singing, which The Maya Rudolph Show definitely included with the opening number and a closing number that is more somber and heart felt. My favorite play on the closer comes from Paul F. Tompkins’ variety show, with his stirring rendition of “Skyfall.” On The Maya Rudolph Show this week, they ended with this great lullabye featuring her and Chris Parnell.

At the end of the day, not only did The Maya Rudolph Show nail pretty much every trope, it did so in a refreshing way. I really hope this gets ordered to series, but I’d take any variety show at this point. Except this one. - David Allison

HahnI spent the beginning of this week at a Vision Sciences Society conference. It’s an annual meeting where a bunch of graduate students, professors, and researchers get to together by a beach in Florida. We mainly go to get tan, but we also present and discuss research relating to all things vision. As part of the conference, there is a Best Illusion of the Year Contest. It’s a one-night event where contestants present their illusions, and the audience votes for the best one. It was personally special to me this year because my lovely friend and former lab-mate at Rice University, Kimberley Orsten, was presenting an illusion of her own (and won 3rd place!). Kim’s is a simple one, but it’s also one of the more fun ones to watch. I’ve watched the little roads move back and forth for what feels like hours now. Plus, hers and the rest of the illusions in the contest come with short explanations of why they are able to fool you (fair warning: some descriptions are better than others). The explanations are my favorite part because illusions can teach you so much about how the visual system works. That’s what I love about seeing these illusions presented live, right in my face, by vision scientists at the contest. They present the illusions, induce “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd, and then tell you why you saw what you saw. It makes learning about your visual system even more interesting (take notes, Miss Frizzle). Even if you aren’t a vision nerd, they’re just fun to look at. So if you want to see research’s latest mind tricks and learn a little something about why you see what you see in everyday life, pop on over to the Best Illusion of the Year website and view the top ten illusions. (Kim’s is the road one). Have fun, and find me later to let me know if any of them made you say “whoaaa.”- Amanda Hahn