Sonic Bliss #12: My favourite songs of the week

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It has been one of those weeks where I got a dreadful cold and didn’t do much besides sleeping, reading, and eating of comfort foods.

So my choice of songs is resting heavily on music I heard last week. But hey they’re great songs and I would like to think that the zeitgeist hasn’t quite got to the over-frantic point where a week-old song is considered passe.




Freelance Whales 2012
Freelance Whales (image via


With a new album, Diluvia, beckoning with promise and due for release on October 9, Freelance Whales, an indie rock band from Queens, New York,  have kicked off proceedings with lead single, “Locked Out”.

It’s a beautiful track, suffused with the band’s penchant for interesting melodies, tight interwoven layered vocals and a sunny demeanour that suits its release in the northern hemisphere summer. Possessing an almost orchestral lushness, it ambles along for the most part, this pace belies a driving presence which resolutely pushes the song forward, dragging any listener along with it.

It is the sort of song you can lose yourself in. By that I mean, it’s not the sort of song that glances off the peripheries and makes little impact. Rather, it is substantial and impactful, underscored by a delightful urgency and an emotional truthfulness that really connects with you.

It draws you deeper and deeper into its rich harmonies, and joyful vibe with each listen. It is the sort of song you can happily fall into over and over again, and not tire of the experience.

This bodes well for Diluvia, which much like Passion Pit‘s current release, Gossamer, will likely flout the idea that albums as a cohesive grouping of songs are dead. I certainly hope so. I could do with losing myself in some long-playing bliss.





Bat For Lashes Laura 2012
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Natasha Kahn, better known by her musical nom de plume, Bat for Lashes is a woman with a gift for haunting melodies – which is appropriate given that her album due out October 15 is called The Haunting Man – and a voice evocative enough to bring them to life.

She is able to plug into emotions so painful and searing, or mysteriously dark, that you are left gasping for breath at the beauty of her delivery.

Her new single “Laura” is no different. The spine-tingling melancholy of the song, which nonetheless carries with it a lyrical hopefulness, sweeps over you in powerful waves. But rather than feeling weighed down, you are instead uplifted by it raw power and beauty, in much the same way that Kate Bush’s songs entrance and delight, no matter the gravity of the lyrics or the minor keys driving the of-kilter melody.

It is a gorgeously affecting affirmation of friendship, and the innate worth of a person in the face of regret, and the remorseless march of time,  and is simply astonishingly, heart-rendingly beautiful.





Walk the Moon
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I am a teensy-weensy behind the luminous curve of the zeitgeist with this one. Like 2 years out of sync. “Anna Sun” was released by this Cincinatti, Ohio-based band way back in November 2010 but it just came my way via one of those YouTube “Hey you like Bat For Lashes, you’ll love these guys” suggestions.

Let me start by saying they are not alike at all, save for sharing great pop sensibilities, so you could question whether YouTube’s suggestion algorithm has sprung one almighty leak somewhere, or is having a HAL-esque 2001 Space Odyssey moment where it totally and comprehensively losing the plot and linking whatever it damn well pleases.

Or you could say that in its random madness, it has found a gem of a song that shimmers with summery joy and happiness and celebrates the innocence of carefree existence before the heavy weight of adulthood saps much of it out of you. Says one member of the band, Nicholas Petricca:

 “It’s about college, about maintaining that little bit of being a kid,” Petricca said. “Don’t be afraid to play.” (interview with Carson Daley on 4 November 2011)

Don’t be afraid indeed. All work, no play is no way to live so take heed of this song’s lyrical encouragement and bouncy music and take some time out to play a little.





Sheila McQueen
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Paris is a gorgeous city so I am told. While I have yet to walk its famously romantic arrondissements, I have seen enough to know that it likely deserves its fabled reputation as the city of romance. How could all those lights not induce a sense of otherworldly bliss? What … are you made of stone?

So it makes perfect sense that this talented sisterly duo from the UK – known to friends and family as Genevieve and Jessica Arnold; but to a soon to be welcoming world by the glam musical moniker, Sheila McQueen (a name evocative of 50s Hollywood starlets and a world of glamour long gone) – would want to pay tribute to Paris with a song that bounces along with joyful abandon and a glowing synth-rich admiration for a city that has obviously made its mark on them both.

What is most impressive about the song is that even though it is perfect pop of the highest most musically contagious order, it is not a slavish copy of a thousand other wannabe pop hits. Rather, it wears its slightly quirky unique sensibilities with pride, and stands out not just as a luscious ode to the City of Lights but as a strong melodically-rich, toe-tappingly unique slice of pop loveliness.

So while I may not have made it to Paris the city yet, I have found “Paris” the song and that will be delight enough for now.



NO DOUBT: “Settle Down”


No Doubt 2012
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They walked the pop stage of the 90s like Ska gods, their insistently catchy songs rarely off the airwaves, a soundtrack for millions of people looking for a feel good, up-and-bouncy soundtrack for life.

Then life kind of got in the way. Lead singer, Gwen Stefani tried her hand, very successfully as it turns out, at a solo career, everyone else in the band – Tony Kanal, Tony Dumont and Adrian Young –  got busy doing their own thing. They all married, had kids, lived mostly separate lives until …

… they realised they wanted to be a band again. The result is new single “Settle Down” which captures the fun and exuberance of the band’s heyday without sounding like a paint-by-numbers copy churned out by committee. It’s loud, its brash, it bounces along like jellybean-filled kids on a trampoline and is the perfect way to announce the arrival of their album, Push and Shove which bows September 25th.

Want to restore a skip to your step, and some fun to a dreary day? This is the song to do it. Even better with a trampoline I’m sure!



So what track/s will be joining the soundtrack of your life?

Book review: “The Long Earth” by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

 The Long Earth book review MAIN


The Long Earth, the first in a planned series of novels by these two giants of the British publishing scene is an expansively imaginative work.

Flavoured more by Stephen Baxter‘s high-concept reckonings of future realities, with only traces here and there of Terry Pratchett‘s warmth and whimsy, it is nevertheless a  successful collaboration between the two authors which draws on the strengths of both.

It traces what happens to a stressed, but thankfully not dark and dystopian Earth (it is refreshing to have a novel where our beloved home planet isn’t an irredeemable wasteland) when plans are released on the internet for a device, which comes to be known as a “stepper” which allows people to travel between alternate versions of our planet as easily as they pop down to the shops for milk and bread.

Been there, read that, you think cynically? Well, the twist here my friends is that none of these Earths have a single person on them. Not one.

Only our reality is stuffed to the gills with an overabundance of Homo Sapiens, and so a great land grab ensues as people quickly wake up to the fact that here is a chance for riches, and advancement on a scale no longer possible on what becomes known as Datum Earth.


Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (image via Paul Kidby)
Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (image via Paul Kidby)


But while there is an avaricious rush for the glittering jewels of new possibility, with corporations and entrepreneurs rushing for their slice of the pie, so too are there are many disadvantaged or world weary souls who see the chance for a fresh new beginning on planets unaffected by mankind’s proclivity for self-destructive behaviour.

Of course, this being a book partly by Stephen Baxter, a man who while not inclined to wallow in the despairing realms of dystopian bleakness, nevertheless doesn’t shy from being frank about mankind’s true nature, that genius for self-sabotage is acknowledged and factored into the narrative.

But by and large, this headlong rush into the Long Earth, which consists of infinite earths stretching on into the horizon, results in largely positive outcomes. Since the new earths are essentially unending in number, and can theoretically accommodate Earth’s population many times over, there is room for everyone and so people are able to set off to pursue their own dreams for the future with stepping, literally and figuratively, on anyone’s toes.

Seen primarily through the eyes of Joshua Valiente, who through a quirk of birth, is what is called a “natural stepper” – one of rare and hitherto unknown breed of people who can step without a “stepper” – the journey through the many variations of Earth is an illuminating one. We are able to see the plethora of evolutionary possibilities that might have taken place had mankind never cast his shadow over the planet.

He joined by Sally, who is the daughter of the man who makes it possible for non “natural steppers” to slip adroitly across the paper-thin dimensional divide, and Lobsang, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) deemed human by virtue of possibly being the reincarnated embodiment of a Tibetan motor mechanic (here Terry Pratchett’s gift for quirky characters is fully realised), and representative of the Black Corporation, who are, like most businesses, eager to make money from the infinite planets now in our reach.


The Long Earth book review promotion


Of course, it is not necessarily a Utopian delight.

Extremists, largely made up of those who, steppers or no steppers, are physically unable to travel between the worlds (and are thus denied the benefits of the new worlds) and led by a poisonously charismatic Brian Cowley agitate for governments back on the Datum to cease supporting those who risk it all for a better life. It is a realistic depiction of what could happen now if some new beneficial development excluded a certain sector of the population, who thus disenfranchised would go to great and destructive lengths in order to obtain some form of restitution.

And naturally what book of this nature would be complete without a gathering storm, a sense that the limitless possibilities of this infinite Nirvana may be threatened by unnamed forces sweeping in from the far reaches of the alternate universes. There is a distinct sense of “something wicked this way comes” in the book, but in the end it fizzles out a little, becoming more an intriguing possibility of what lies out there than a palpable, possibly terrifying threat.

It is one small misstep in what is in every other regard a superlative book that skillfully, and satisfyingly countenances the what-ifs of troubled but not endangered Earth offered a new unexpected chance for renewal, and examines both the fault lines, and nobleness of spirit running through the DNA of mankind that would be exposed if such a scenario were to come to pass.


Review: Opening ceremony of London Olympics 2012

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I did an extraordinary thing this morning.

I set the alarm on a Saturday morning for 5.30 am, at my boyfriend’s behest, so we could lie in bed and watch the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics 2012.

It wasn’t so much the early hour of our “rising” (to be fair we stayed in bed and watched the ceremony while cozily snuggled under the doona) that was the rarity. After all, I regularly get up that early to go walking of a week day morning. Granted it’s not something I habitually do on a weekend but it’s hardly noteworthy enough for remarking in a blog post.

No, what was truly remarkable was that I went out of my way, albeit with some encouragement, to watch the opening ceremony of a major sporting event. I hadn’t planned to. Frankly while I enjoy a piece of momentous spectacle as much as the next person, I had grown tired over the years of theatre that promised much, looked magnificent but was as hollow as thinly-shelled Easter Egg.

That is why, while I watched all of the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, and Charles and Diana’s wedding, of late I had declined to watch events of a similar scale, especially ones as hyped as Olympics Games inevitably are. It wasn’t hipster ennui, or jaded sensibilities that drove this refusal to partake is colossal public events; more a sense that there was so much else to see and do and why waste my time watching something that had been done to death a thousand times before?

So honestly, while I wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming to watch London’s attempt at creating a defining Olympics moment, I was hardly turning on the TV expecting anything more than a been-there done-that replay of all the ceremonies past, save for a few more spectacular fireworks and iconic British image or two.


Englishman playing a bucolic game of cricket as part of the "green and pleasant land" tableau that led the start of the Opening Ceremony (image via


I love having my complete lack of expectation thrown back, ever so politely (this is the British Olympics after all), in my face.

What I got for my troubles of getting up at such an ungodly weekend hour was a transcendent tableau that sought to tell a story as much as it tried to impress us with viviv imagery and colourful spectacle.

Certainly there was no mistaking that this was an ambitious undertaking. Danny Boyle, acclaimed British filmmaker, responsible for Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Sunshine, created a tableau that was every bit as rich and complex as the country it succcessfully sought to represent.

Here was an Opening Ceremony stuffed to the gills with every iconic British image known to man, and the kind of potent symbolism and imagery that the British conjure up so expertly, and yet at no time did it feel hackneyed, twee or drowning under the weight of its own earnestness.


Rowan Atkinson earning himself much applause for his comical turn as a bored Mr Bean (image via


In fact, at times, it was positively mock-reverential such as when Rowan Atkinson, channeling his impish Mr Bean persona performed a series of slapstick-inspired manoeuvres while he coped with the boredom of hitting the one note over and over as his modest contribution to the performance of Vangelis’s inspiring and goose bump-inducing music, Chariots of Fire.

He texted on his iPhone, used an umbrella to keep hitting the one note he has been allotted while he rummaged in his bag for a hanky, even imagined himself running along the beach with all the athletes from Chariots of Fire, all the while subverting it like only Rowan Atkinson. It rightly earned him a standing ovation and it is a wonder that famed British conductor, Simon Rattle, managed to keep a straight face as he conduced the London Symphony Orchestra with Atkinson’s comic genius in full play before him.

It wasn’t the only light moment.

The depth and breadth of Britain’s modern musical heritage was powerfully displayed by the playful courtship of Frankie (Henrique Costa) with a young man she gets to know via the power of social media (a sequence which included the appearance of Tim Berners-Lee, widely hailed as the creator of the World Wide Web) was accompanied by giant text messages writ largely across a giddily colourful scene of night club dancing. It was accompanied by songs from a rich cross-section of British musical royalty including The Beatles (Paul McCartney closed off the ceremony too with a rendition of “Hey Jude”), The Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols (performers bouncing along in giant crazy-faced Vivienne Westwood-esque masks were a highlight), Boyle collaborators Underworld, and the Eurythmics.


The "Queen" leaps from a helicopter making a dramatic faux entrance to the ceremony.


And none of us are likely to forget the Queen and James Bond (Daniel Craig) parachuting into the stadium after a dramatic helicopter ride from Buckingham Palace. While this playful segment marked the Queen’s acting debut (when she uttered the lines “Good evening Mr Bond), and it has to be said, that of her three corgis, it did not signify that the British monarch had taken up extreme sports of any kind (with obviously an actor doing the actual skydiving), with the real Queen preferring to walk to her seat, prior to opening the games a little later on in the ceremony, by more conventional means.


Some of the colourful dancers who performed during the gloriously colourful tribute to modern British music (image via


These lighter moments, which were still vital components of the wider story Boyle wanted to tell, and not simply throwaway scenes for the sake of light relief, punctuated a ceremony that was rich in meaning and import without being dull and earnest.

Commencing with a stone plaque that marks the origin of the mighty Thames River in Kemble, Gloucestershore, Boyle whipped us along the route of this iconic waterway with breathtaking speed, slowing only to hone in on scenes of British life such as village cricket (reinforcing the anchoring theme of poet William Blake‘s “Green and Pleasant Land” refrain) or rowers at Henley before descending into the stadium where a romanticised vision of Britain unfolded across the stadium.

It harkened back to an age when Britain was largely rural before the advent of the Industrial Revolution which profoundly altered the union. As chimneys rose where green fields had been, and an army of grime-caked workers flooded out onto the stadium floor, forging the Olympic rings that were then dramatically hoisted aloft, this transformation was powerfully conveyed with elegant potent imagery that didn’t seek to belabour the point.


London 2012 Opening Ceremony Olympic rings aglow
The rings, forged in the steel mills of Industrial Revolution Britain, rise from the fire (image via


And that was the beauty of the ceremony throughout. From his recognition of notable British achievements, which included the National Health Service (with a particular tip of the hat to the Greater Ormond Street Hospital which is funded largely through monies earned by J. M. Barrie‘s Peter Pan), its film and music, its contribution to children’s literature – a treat here was Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling reading from Peter Pan while notable villains including Cruella de Ville and Lord Voldemort cavorted around children on hospital beds until they were seen off by a host of Mary Poppins dropping from the roof – he reminded the world how great Britain’s contribution to the culture of the world has been (without resorting to naked jingoism).


Mary Poppins en masse to the rescue! (image via


He also tugged at the heart strings but again not in some manipulative way, during his evocative 27 million pound love letter to Britain, when he paused to remember the dead from two world wars, or when Emile Sande beautifully sang “Abide With Me” as images of loved ones no longer with us, sent in by Londoners, were shown on a screen while 50 dancers, led by Akram Khan, graphically illustrated the titanic balance between life and death.


Dancers, drenched in fire-like colours of orange and gold play out the struggle between life and death (image via


With contributions from the likes of Kenneth Branagh (who recited a passage from Shakespeare’s The Tempest), Mike Oldfield (playing his hit “Tubular Bells”) and deaf drummer Dame Evelyn Jennie, to name just a few, this was spectacle with meaning and message, poetically conveyed with emotion writ large.

It was also unconventional in some ways with people like Ban Ki Moon, U.N. Secretary General, and various other fighters for freedom and justice in the world carrying the Olympic flag to waiting members of the British armed forces who raised it up alongside the previously raised Union Jack.


Seven young athletes carry the Olympic torch into the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012 (image via


The flower-like petals of the cauldron catch fire and rise up (image via


The lighting of the cauldron also followed an unexpected pattern. Composed of a series of metallic urns, one of which had been given to each country (204 in total, with each one returning to the country they have been given to, which means the cauldron will cease to exist at the end of the games, much like a flower which it resembled), it was lit, not by five times gold medal-winning Olympian, Steve Redgrave, who greeted the arrival of the flame at a jetty but by seven up-and-coming athletes handpicked by seven of the UK’s most famous Olympians.

It confounded those who had been guessing the identity of the person who would light the cauldron, and provided a pitch perfect crescendo to a night full of surprises, meaningful heartfelt spectacle, in the process confounding the jaded expectations of people like me who thought they had seen it all.


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* Here’s a wonderful recounting of the night by

RETURN TO: “Parks and Recreation”

Amy Poehler stars as Leslie Knope in "Parks and Recreation" (image via

It’s been three years since this superbly-written show debuted as a mid-season replacement on April 9, 2009, its initial six episodes introducing us to the perky, optimistic and ambitious Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her almost Herculean plan to turn a giant pit in Sullivan Street, Pawnee, Indiana into a community park.

Its use of a faux-documentary style, much like The Office (it was originally intended as a spin-off of this show), and Modern Family, allowed insight into what the characters were thinking, as much as what they were saying, and its this to-camera honesty that is one of the cornerstones of the show.

This was particularly beneficial for viewers in the case of Leslie,  a mid level bureaucrat in the city’s Parks Department. She is one of the few people – perhaps the only one really – left among her colleagues who truly believes in the power of government to do good, and it was this passionate belief in the face of all evidence to the contrary that got me attracted to this show very quickly.

I decided to re-visit season 1 of the show and was reminded (not that I really needed reminding!) that the show is brilliantly funny, incisive, and brutally honest in its assessment of the bureaucracy, peoples’ hopes and ambitions, and life’s way of not always giving you what you think you want pretty much straight out of the gate.

The real joy of Leslie Knope, whose character was re-tooled slightly in season 2 to meet claims that she was a little too ditzy (I didn’t see her as ditzy at all; she is idealistic and naive true, but she has proved time and again, that she is an intelligent woman, both intellectually and emotionally) is that she’s honest. Delightfully, smile-inducingly honest.

“This is huge. I am barely 34 and I have already landed a Parks department exploratory sub-committee … I’m a rocket ship.” (Leslie Knope, pilot episode)

Her unedited  and oft-repeated happiness at being named to head a sub-committee, which to most people would seem like an unalloyed waste of time, is contagious. She has had just as much thrown against as anyone else in the Pawnee bureaucracy but she bounces back every time, determined to fight the good fight and make a difference and isn’t embarrassed to articulate that.


The season 1 cast of "Parks and Recreation" - Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz, Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins and Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson (image via


She doesn’t care if other people snigger or jest – frankly I think she is probably too wrapped up in her Walter Mitty-esque world to even think that people would be cynical – she plows on, happy in her small parcel of the world, and it is this that makes her such an engaging character and one that you warm to very quickly.

“I would say I lost my optimism in about two months. Leslie has kept her’s for six years.” (Mark Brendanawicz, played by Paul Schneider, a close work colleague in the pilot episode.)

She is not even persuaded to forgo her giddily upbeat view of the possibilities of her position by her boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), who is the director of the department, a confirmed cynic (albeit one with a heart of gold) and a man who as a Libertarian believes strongly in the smallest governmental oversight of the populace as possible.

“There’s a new wind blowing in government and I don’t like it. All of a sudden there’s all this Federal money coming in and Paul the city manager is telling us to build parks. Start new community programs. It’s horrifying.” (Ron, episode 2, season 1)


Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford (image via


One person who almost gleefully stands in direct contravention to Leslie’s pure belief in the goodness of government is Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) who subscribes to all the cliches about government employees.

It’s like the writers have happily tipped every last prejudice people have about people working in a bureaucracy into this one feisty on-the-take guy – he does as little as possible, he is outwardly supportive of Leslie but does as little as possible when she’s not looking, is always looking to cheat on his wife (and failing miserably), loves playing politics (going so far as to lose every Scrabble piece he plays with Ron), and can’t be trusted as far as you can thrown him (although he is a genuinely charming, and yes, witty guy making him hard not to like).

One person who isn’t fooled by Tom’s act is Ron. He knows Tom is more than able to win every Scrabble game if he wants to, and in one piece to camera sums him up like this:

“I like Tom. He doesn’t do a lot of work around here. He shows zero initiative. He’s not a team player. He’s never one to go that extra mile. Tom is exactly what I am looking for in a government employee.” (Ron, episode 3, season 1)

One of my favourite characters is Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), the every woman who is introduced in the first episode as a nurse living with her goofy musician boyfriend, Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt – he was intended as a guest character but worked so well he was made permanent in season 2) near the pit that Leslie wants to turn into a park, red tape be damned! She confronts Leslie at a town meeting demanding that something be done about the park into which Andy has tumbled and broken his legs.


Leslie ends up looking a tad manly after using The Modern Barber Shop that all the male ruling elite of Pawnee patronise, leading to Ann's uncomfortable realisation that she is being viewed as Leslie's date to the Tony Tellenson Awards where Leslie's mother is due to get an award


Leslie, looking like a deer in headlights at Ann’s willingness to speak her mind – I don’t think she is used to someone being this direct; she may be honest about her feelings but she is used to the obtuse way things are said and done in local government so Ann’s policy of saying it as it is is a shock – decides to make Ann part of the solution. She is placed on the afore-mentioned sub-committee with Tom, Mark, and April the slacker summer intern (who is actually quite smart) so there is an outsider’s perspective on the park project.

Ann’s involvement in the sub-committee allows the laughably slow progress of the pit’s progression into a park, and the attendant wheeling and dealing, to be exposed in all its frustrating lack of glory, which is good since Leslie, as part of the system, is charmingly blind to it.

Ann is also the voice of reason when Leslie’s grand dreams tend to overtake what is humanly, or physically possible:

Leslie Knope: Dream with me for a second, Ann: doesn’t this neighborhood deserve a first class park? Imagine a shiny new playground with a jungle gym; and swings; pool; tennis courts; volleyball courts; raquetball courts; basketball courts; regulation football field; we can put an ampitheater with ‘Shakespeare in the Park’…
Ann Perkins: It’s really not that big of a pit.
Leslie Knope: We can do some of those things.”


Leslie Knope Parks and Recreation
(image via


But in the end the show revolves around Leslie, dear sweet honest Leslie who approaches each and every moment of her working life as if it will be the best one ever. She is the emotional core of the show and the one upon whom this beautifully written and exquisitely acted show hangs.

She deserves to be President one day if only so we can have a sitcom about it.

Book review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

(cover image Penguin Australia)


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon was published in 2003, and since then has sold more than two million copies making it the third best-selling book of the last decade in Britain, sandwiched, somewhat uncomfortably you would think, between four Dan Brown novels. It has been much awarded, winning the Whitbread Book of the Year in its year of publication, and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.

It has been on my shelf since 2003, it’s inventive cover, and idiosyncratic title begging me to read it … and yet I have only just managed to read it. No fault of the book itself I assure you – more my inability to stop buying books while  a veritable mountain of books build up on my shelves mocking the finiteness of the time I have to read them.

But read it I have finally and what a delight it has been.

It tells the story of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15 year old boy who describes himself as having “behavioural difficulties”, which may or may not be Asperberger’s or some other form of autism. It is never explicitly stated and frankly it really doesn’t need to be. It is enough to know that Christopher doesn’t see the world, or react to it, like anyone around him and that colours everything that happens to him in the book.

He is a perennial outsider, always detached from the events swirling around him (even though he is intimately involved in them), always at emotional arm’s length from his family, and teachers. He doesn’t really have any friends to speak of, save for Toby his rat and he inhabits an insular sealed world where order is paramount, chaos is recoiled from with horror (and screaming), and colours carry a potent symbolism (for instance if he sees 5 red cars in a row from his school bus in the morning he will have a good day).


Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
(image via


What would be an instinctive reaction by any one of us does not come naturally to Christopher. Anyone he doesn’t know well is a “stranger” – this includes neighbours he has known all his life in passing (such as kindly Mrs Alexander) – and even if they prove themselves to be worthy, upstanding members of the community, with only the best intentions, he never warms to them, preferring to stay in contact only with those people who has proved themselves over and over such as his para-professional at school, Siobhan, who is trusted as a guide to the complexities of a world that Christopher is a part of but doesn’t fully understand.

He is a remote character in many ways, aware his father loves him – who tells him his mother is dead although the truth, as is so often the case, isn’t quite that simple – but unable to reciprocate in kind, even though Siobhan has schooled in the appropriate ways to react. He is a boy removed and not the kind of protagonist you would think you would warm to.

But warm to him you do as he recounts finding his neighbour, Mrs Shear’s dog Wellington dead in the garden with a pitch fork through him, and his subsequent efforts to find out who committed this crime. He is fond of quoting Sherlock Holmes, and decides writing a book and keeping track of his endeavours in the best way to follow in the esteemed detective’s footsteps.

What impressed me the most about this book, which is told in the first person by Christopher in his matter-of-fact way, uncoloured by any prejudices or emotions (but chock full of his black-is-black and white-is-white opinions), is that Mark Haddon manages to get you engaged with Christopher and his unexpectedly tumultuous journey of self-discovery in ways that would be foreign to the boy himself.


Mark Haddon, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon (image via


I think it has much to do with the way Christopher simply tells it like it is. He doesn’t attempt to dissemble the truth; if it happened then it happened, and that’s that and there is something refreshing about his candour. In a world where we tell lie upon lie each day – mostly innocent white lies of no real account – his inability to lie, or fabricate the truth, or represent something as anything other than what it is draws you to him in profound ways.

You really care about this boy, his hatred of foods touching on the plate, his predilection for mathematical problems, his willingness to tackle things head-on, and his inability to understand why this might upset some people. I grew to love his openness and honesty, which while not intentional (being honest is as natural as breathing to him so he would never see as anything other than natural; that’s of course he ever thought about it at all which is unlikely), allowed so many issues to be discussed.

Specifically what happened between his mum and dad before she left his life.  Christopher’s reactions to the things he discovers about his family, quite by accident but triggered by his detective work,are gut-wrenchingly emotional. He doesn’t sugarcoat what he is feeling, and this exposes a pain so raw and palpable – in himself and those around him – that you almost feel it.

And it’s that searing honesty of experience that makes this book work. It surprised me that someone so lacking in self-awareness could be so intimately aware of what’s important. While reacting instinctively got him into trouble on occasion – such as when he is taken into police custody after discovering the titular dog dead with a rake through him – it also means anyone dealing with him gets the unvarnished truth, whether they like it or not.


A gorgeous illustration of one line from the book by a fabulous mixed-media artist, Ashley Clarke (image via


There is a lyricism to Christopher’s otherwise bare-boned utterances, a cadence of honesty that pushes you along through a story where honesty from most people is in very short supply.

And that is this book’s chief joy. In a world where honesty is in critically short supply, and anyone who is unabashedly honest is viewed as some sort of oddity, Christopher is the real deal, his raw pronouncements a soothing balm for a soul pockmarked by one too many hurtful lies (though many initially see it as a hurtful irritant).

He is also the one best placed to reveal the fissures of dishonesty that run deep through our families, our society and our own unexamined lives. It’s an uncomfortable revelation and most people in the book don’t enjoy being exposed in that spotlight, but it’s one that’s needed and ultimately brings a resolution of sorts, however imperfect.

You finish the book convinced that it is Christopher, and not the flawed world around him, who has the better end of the deal. He may occasionally be disadvantaged by not being able to read emotions, or people’s obscure facial or linguistic references, but ultimately he is true to himself and others, and in his wake flows an honesty that, to this reader at least, was an authentic, much needed breath of fresh air.



Theatre review: “Entertaining Mr Sloane” (New Theatre)

Entertaining Mr Sloane, New Theatre (image via


Entertaining Mr Sloane by the oft-acknowledged master of black comedies, Joe Orton, is a journey to the dark side of humanity.

Albeit one disguised with such witty, euphemism-laden banter that you’re apt to forget you are witnessing people, desperate for the best in life, behaving at their very worst.

And Kath (Alice Livingstone) and Ed (Pete Nettel), in New Theatre’s production of the classic play, directed by Rosane McNamara, are behaving as badly as anyone can, all the while dressing up their behaviour in a see-through thin veneer of flimsy middle-class morality.

They have more reason than most to reach brazenly for the brass ring. Kath and her father, Kemp (Frank McNamara) live in a rundown house on the edge of a rubbish dump. Plans to build more houses were shelved decades before, and they remain socially and physically isolated, holding on to middle class aspirations while all too aware they will come to naught.

Flamboyant Ed (whose homsexuality is accorded the same treatment as everything else in the lives of this blighted family; that is conveniently ignored), who has not spoken to his father in 20 years after he was discovered committing a “felony in the bedroom” as a teenager talks big, extolling the vast extent of his business success at every turn.

But the Shakespearian phrase “the lady doth protest too much methinks” (Hamlet) applies to him more than most, as it soon becomes apparent that his wealth is built on more talk than actuality and may well have criminal underpinnings.

Long suffering Kemp is the irascible father contending with two avaricious and emotionally needy children who push him one way then the other as it suits them. Ostensibly they love him, or so they say, but it is very much a situational love dependent on what he can do for them. Such as when he is dispatched with 5p on the bus to fetch Mr Sloan’es bags, when he moves in from his previous digs by Kath who is more interested in bedding the youthful and charming Mr Sloane than she is about her aged father’s welfare.


Brynn Loosemore as the sociopathic Mr Sloane (image via

This is symptomatic of the effect that Mr Sloane, played to charming, and later, menacing, perfection by the gifted Brynn Loosemore, has on this hollowed-out family. They are willing to do anything to accommodate him and he uses this to his own ends, manipulating Kath and Ed, and intimidating Kemp, the one person who doesn’t buy his act, into silence … and worse.

While Loosemore’s British accent may have wandered in and out, his ability to portray a 20 year old orphan who has spent his life in state homes, and is willing to do anything to craft a better life for himself, was spot on through the performance. No matter how dastardly his acts, he managed to keep Mr Sloane as a somewhat sympathetic person whose actions were at least somewhat understandable.


A desperate Kath will do anything to keep the love of her "baby" including being the most Odeipal mumma around (image via


So too Alice Livingstone as Kath and Peter Nettel as Ed, the almost incestuous brother and sister act, who channel a craving for emotional intimacy so perfectly that their willingness to take all of Mr Sloane’s blatant lies as gospel truth if it keeps him in their lives makes sense. You cringe and recoil, and yes laugh uproariously, as you watch them be robbed by Mr Sloane, literally and figuratively, of the little sense of family they have remaining.


Mr Sloane (Brynn Loosemore) and Ed (Peter Nettel) grow closer to their relationship being more about pleasure than business (image via



It is testament to these gifted actors that you almost feel sorry for them, even as they twist themselves into ever more pretzel-like shapes to allow for Mr Sloane’s transparently self-seeking demands, convincing themselves that no price is too high to pay. They remain oblivious to the last they are trading off any semblance of filial piety and ripping the rags of their middle class morality to shreds in order to gain the dubious prize of shared “custody” of Mr Sloane.

For his part, the sociopathic Sloane takes full advantage of the siblings’ craven desire for his company by inciting them to ever more destructive acts all in the name of ensuring his  ongoing well being.

You realise early on, as you witness the downfall of this family – though they get what they want at the end of the story, it is questionable whether what they have is worth anything anymore; or indeed if it was ever worth anything – the gift of Joe Orton’s razor-sharp ability to dissect and lay more the troubled underpinnings of middle class morality.

Though the right words are spoken, and the right conventions observed, it is all done in name only – Kath worries almost reflexively though with little real concern about what people will think even as she wantonly seduces Mr Sloane, masking her naked lust with more righteous-sounding platitudes than a republican party convention – and Joe Orton exposes the unsavoury fact that all is not well in the hallowed bastions of Western democracy – the middle class family.

His observations remain bleedingly sharp in this consumption obsessed age, which is remarkable since the play is almost 50 years old, having debuted on 6 May 1964 at the New Arts Theatre in Central London.

It has held its age well, and as we laughed, cringed and at times looked away in discomfort, it became all too clear that with the right amount of prodding and poking, and the right inducements, that we too could descend into the uncomfortably rotten realm of Kath, Ed, and the duplicitous Mr Sloane, and be every bit as comfortable with the Faustian deal struck.


Kath seeks to get closer, much closer, to the charming but deadly Mr Sloane (image via



EMMY on down: nominations for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are in!

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… and Jimmy Kimmel wore pyjamas to announce them. As you do.

His unusual attire, which fits perfectly with the late night talk-show host’s larrikin spirit, was a joking reference to the fact that he was seconded at the last minute to assist actress Kerry Washington with hosting duties at 5.40 a.m. U.S. Pacific Time when original host Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman was delayed in New York by a cancelled flight.

Slated to present the actual awards on 23 September, Kimmel made a debonair, if unconventional host, joking, according to

“This [look] could be just as good at noon, really.”


Kerry Washington and Jimmy Kimmel (image via


Mr Kimmels’ wonderfully idiosyncratic fashion choice aside – I hope he goes with it for the awards themselves in varying colours and designs – the big news to come out of this year’s nominations is that the once mighty and dominant broadcast networks have all but lost the drama race to the nascent cable networks.

In some ways this isn’t a surprise. HBO has been long been known for its cutting edge, intense dramas that pivot on finely crafted characters, believable taut narratives, and a brazen willingness not just to push the envelope but to shred it into nano particles. It reflects the fact that cable television in the U.S. isn’t as constrained by what they can telecast since subscribers have to choose to take their service – unlike broadcast networks whose signal can be picked by anyone thus mandating strict content rules on what can go to air – but also HBO’s acknowledgement that true brilliance usually emerges when you take the reins off.


Blue HBO logo


It has now been joined in its aerie of quality drama by a number of other cable channels including AMC (Breaking Bad and Mad Men), and Showtime (Homeland). What’s remarkable about this is that up till now, the Emmys have largely given preference to shows from the broadcast networks over the cable channels but they now seem to have recognised that all the really daring creative moves are being made by HBO, AMC, Showcase and their kin.


Breaking Bad season 5 poster
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The only free-to-air player that made a showing in the Drama Series category was PBS with its period-piece soap opera, Downton Abbey which while not enjoying as strong a second season as its first, is nevertheless still an intriguing and well written show. Hugh Bonneville was also recognised for his leading role as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, in the show.

The one place where NBC and CBS did at least get a look-in in drama was in the Actress in a Drama Series where Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) and Kathy Bates (the now cancelled Harry’s Law) were recognised for their work, and again in the Supporting Actress in a Drama Series where Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), were given nods of approval by the Academy.


Harrys Law
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Comedy-wise things are marginally brighter for the beleaguered broadcast guys. Big Bang Theory (CBS, which also got an expected nod for Jim Parsons who plays Sheldon Cooper in the Actor in a Comedy Series category), Modern Family (ABC) and 30 Rock (NBC – Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin were given nods in Actress in a Comedy Series and Actor in a Comedy Series categories respectively) were all recognised with HBO otherwise dominating the nominations with Curb Your Enthusiasm, newly arrived Veep, and Girls.


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Disappointingly, none of the shows that I consider to be pure comedy gold – as objective a qualifier as any if you think about it since award shows are, if nothing else, a subjective idea of what certain people think is good – Community and Parks & Recreation were given a nod. It’s puzzling because if you use the same yardstick as that clearly applied to drama, which is that is edgy, creatively daring and interesting shows made the grade, then both comedies would romp into their category.

One slight mitigation of Community‘s oversight was that Chris McKenna, one of the show’s writers got a nomination in the Writing for a Comedy Series category; similarly two writers for Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler – who also stars of course – and Michael Schure were recognised for their work.

But I was not the only one outraged by the snub to Community as the showed in their summary of the web’s reactions to the sitcom’s lack of recognition:

“I’m ‘super-pissed’ about the NBC comedy being passed over, again, says Michael Ausiello at TV Line. And ‘Jon Cryer getting nominated for Two and a Half Men over Community‘s Joel McHale’? Ridiculous. Yeah, ‘what’s going on here?’ says You’d think the series that won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for outstanding comedy would get a little love from the Emmys, too.”

The also collated reaction to Parks and Recreation‘s failure to get some Emmy recognition:

“Lots of great comedies got shafted this year — The New Girl, Happy Endings, Glee — but ‘perhaps the greatest outcry came from Parks and Recreation‘s snub,’ says the Connecticut Post. At least Amy Poehler got a lead-actress nod, but come on, ‘what’s it going to take for this show and its cast to get the recognition they deserve?'”



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It’s not to say that the comedies that were nominated aren’t worthy – Veep is inspired, scathing political satire of the highest order, and Modern Family continues to intelligently and hilariously re-invent the traditional family sitcom. It’s simply that the two shows I nominated, and to a lesser extent the very funny ensemble comedy, Happy Endings, consistently push the boundaries in the same way that the drama nominees do, and it’s a shame to not see that celebrated.


Happy Endings
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It’s in the Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series that NBC, ABC, CBS and to a small extent, Fox, really shine. They dominate the Supporting Actor nominations with Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Ty Burrell and Ed O’Neill (ABC’s Modern Family) and Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live which airs on NBC) and elbowed out everyone but Showtime in the Supporting Actress division which scored with the effervescent Merritt Weaver for Nurse Jackie.


Merritt Weaver, Nurse Jackie
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I was thrilled that an actress I adore, Mayim Bialik was given a nod for her superlative work as Amy Farrah Fowler in CBS’s Big Bang Theory.  She is the perfect counterpoint to Jim Parson’s Sheldon Cooper, and together they make one of the most unusual, and hilarious couplings in sitcom history.


Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik both nominated for their work in "Big Bang Theory" (image via


Otherwise, there were a few oddities in a list of nominations which was described by James Poniewozik of as “roughly the size of the Affordable Health Care Act”. In other words, BIG. (You can see just how big here.)

He summarises these “oddities” thus:

“There were some category decisions that left us puzzling over definitions this morning. American Horror Story, though a series, is a ‘miniseries’ because each season has a self-contained story with different characters. That seems fair enough to me. But then, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia, a feature-length episode within a series with continuing characters, is considered a separate ‘movie’. Meanwhile, Ashley Judd gets an acting nomination for Missing as a miniseries’, which was made ‘mini’ only by being cancelled. The upshot of all of this: TV makes fewer and fewer ambitious miniseries and movies these days, so the definition is flexible.”

So roll on September 23 and we shall see which way the dice rolls and who romps away with one of the soaring gold statues  … and who sits there gnashing their teeth but smiling away anyway …


Emmy statue
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Opera review: “Die Tote Stadt” (performed by Opera Australia)


Die Tote Stadt, by feted composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, which fell into obscurity for much of the 20th century after it was banned during the Nazi regime to Korngold’s Jewish ancestry, is one of those operas that is immediately accessible and attractive to anyone without a natural predilection for this art form.

Anyone like me that is. I will confess I am not a natural patron of operas. While I appreciate the lyricism inherent in the songs, and the grand orchestral movements are epically inspiring, and often profoundly moving, I will not naturally seek out operas, preferring cinema or pop music.

But Die Tote Stadt, which thanks to the success of three earlier works by the composer was the subject of a bidding war before it debuted simultaneously in two cities, Hamburg and Cologne on December 4, 1920, is the sort of opera that draws in both the ardent opera buff, and those who are largely opera agnostic like myself.

That was clearly the case on the night I went to see the opera. The audience looked to be a mix of opera diehards, thrilled to have the chance to see this long-neglected opera’s premiere in Australia, and people like myself attracted by the fact that acclaimed film director Bruce Beresford was directing another opera after last year’s collaboration with Opera Australia, Of Mice and Men.


Paul (Stefan Vinke) demands that Mariette (Cheryl Barker) leave his home at once (image via


So why is this opera such a drawcard to such a mixed group of people?

I think it is partly due to its emotionally involving storyline which focuses on the almost harrowing journey of one man into the long dark night of the soul following the premature of his young beautiful wife. Adored to an all-consuming degree by her grieving husband, Paul (played in this Australian debut performance of the work by Stefan Vinke), she has enshrined in their home in Bruges, her memory kept alive by a large ghostly painting on the wall, and a glass box that houses the long golden braid cut from her hair.

Paul, aided by his faithful housekeeper, Brigitta, is a man trapped in the past, unable to move beyond the death of his wife by a grief so compelling and overpowering it consumes every waking moment. Any attempt he reluctantly makes to move beyond this dark chapter in his life usually comes to nothing, founding on the rocks of an all-encompassing guilt that he is betraying the memory of his one true love.

So when he spies Mariette, whose name is eerily close to his dead’s wife’s name Maree, and who bears an uncanny likeness to her – something that stops her in her tracks when she sees Paul’s wife’s portrait gazing down upon her – he is consumed by desire.

But crippled by guilt, he is unable to act on his desires to get to know Mariette better, casting her out of his home almost as quickly as he invited her in. His enfeeblement by grief causes him to act out in his mind what he might have done had he pursued Mariette as he desired, and this projection of what might have been which takes places when he falls asleep after Mariette is gone (though it is never explicitly stated he was dreaming) occupies much of the opera’s narrative.


(Image via - image by Lisa Tomasetti)


And what he imagines himself doing is black, dark and quite horrific as he first murders his close friend, Frank (Michael Honeyman) in a fit of jealous rage believing him to be infatuated with the woman he loves and hates in equal measure, before turning the full blast of his grief-fuelled anger on the object of his desire, Mariette and killing her in his own home, in the “temple” to his wife no less.

He is clearly a troubled man, something he realises once he awakes. While he does not immediately agree to leave the “City of Death” to forge a new life as his friend Frank suggests, you can tell he is so shaken by the violence his sustained grief has given birth to, even though it was not actually acted upon, that he is considering abandoning Bruges and the painful memories it holds.

While this might seem like overly dark material to be exposed to for almost 3 hours, the dense narrative, which Beresford described as a study in “obsession, fantasy and delusion”, is leavened by some light hearted moments, usually supplied by the theatrical troupe that Mariette is a part of.


Mariette and her merry troupe who believe in wholehearted expression of their art


It is also offset by music that is so beautiful and lushly cinematic that it reminds me of those wonderful scores that accompanied movies in the 1930s and 1940s. There is such a richness of melody to the opera’s score that you are inclined sometimes to forget momentarily about the tortured emotional outpourings of the characters.

But the music is not so much a counterpoint to the lyrics as an enhancement to them. It underlines perfectly the sadness, and hope, the excitement of the new, and the suffocating ability to abandon the old that permeates this tale. It draws out again and again how each character in their own way is struggling to make sense of life – allowing each of them, even humble, devoted Birgitta the chance to lay their feelings bare.

For a narrative that is a dark journey into one man’s tortured soul, the music is surprisingly beautiful, and that was my greatest surprise.

What marked this production out too was the lush staging. The set design captured the darkness and sadness, the ghostly pallor of half-life that stalked many of the characters. The blues and browns of the backdrops were almost constantly dappled in fog and shadows, ripples of blurred blue and grey washing across them in unceasing waves. It effectively evoked a city of death, and the deathly existence of its inhabitants and was another tortured character in an opera overflowing with them.

According to my friends who came with me, and have been to the city in question, the “brick” buildings of the second act were accurate evocations of the city of Bruges and brought to life even more for them the sense that we had been transported to this astonishingly beautiful city in Belgium.


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At every stage of the production, you had a feeling you were in a real living breathing city, capable of great beauty, such as when Mariette’s troupe arrive for their party carrying brightly light celestial symbols, and great unutterable sadness, and it was all thanks to an elegant, beautifully realised set that felt like a real place.

Real sense of place. Real people who were living our real problems (in an operatically heightened way of course). Music to move the soul.

Die Tote Stadt was a glorious excursion into the drama, the beauty and utter sensuousness of a perfectly realised opera.

My great hope is that it doesn’t take another 92 years before it is performed in Australia again.


“Once Upon a Time” season 2 (Comic-Con)

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With the curse broken and the fairytale world and the “real” world crashing headlong into each other, much await our once amnesiac characters in this season of the show. While they may have recovered the full extent of their original identities, they are no longer those people entirely with their experiences in Storybrooke informing who they are now every bit as much as their fairytale selves once did.

It’s an intriguing idea and one that lets the show go in all sorts of exciting directions as the characters grapple with the fact that both their worlds, and identities are real, and will play a part in who they become in the future. It’s an exciting take on the what happens when the curse is lifted and frees the producers and writers from the inevitable “when the curse be lifted?” expectations that would have weighed down the show as it went on.

And much will be revealed.

Thanks to Comic-Con 2012, we know that the identity of Henry’s mysterious dad will be revealed, Dr Whale’s fairytale identity will come to the fore, and Mulan, Captain Hook (who you see in the sneak peek below), Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk will get their moment in Storybrooke’s sun. Even Rumplestiltskin’s son, Baelfire will feature, his fate finally known.



The cast also had a great deal of fun on their Comic-Con 2012 panel too. (Thanks to YouTube contributor, 3HeadedMonkey, for the awesome footage.)




“Grimm” news from Comic-Con

Yes I know you must appreciate the witty double play on Grimm which naturally has not been used by anyone else ever.

Now my startlingly original use of this show’s title out of the way – you can email and tweet your acknowledgement of my comic brilliance at some other time – the exciting news to emerge from last week’s Comic-Con Grimm panel was that … pretty everything is up for grabs!

Yes that’s right folks. The panel, though charmingly and delightful to a fault as you’ll see in the 4 panel clips below, did not let any stray spoilers pass their lips. What we ended up with as a result is mysteries wrapped in enigmas and shoved into a big bag of riddles (apologies to Winston Churchill for that over-creative paraphrasing of his famous phrase) and yes a sense of building anticipation for the new season of Grimm (lots of non-answers and a resulting air of pregnant mystery will do that to a fan boy).


The Grimm cast sign autographs at Comic-Con 2012


Thanks to the good folks at, the full list of people on the panel are:

The panel: David Giuntoli (Nick Burkhardt), Russel Hornsby (Hank Griffin, Bitsie Tulloch (Juliette Silverton), Silas Weir Mitchell (Monroe), Reggie Lee (Sgt. Wu), Sasha Roiz (Sean Renard), Bree Turner (Rosalee Calvert), Jim Kouf (executive producer/writer), David Greenwalt (executive producer/writer), Norberto Barba (executive producer/director), Sean Hayes (executive producer) and Todd Milliner (executive producer).