A Reader Suggests: Fictional Restaurants

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It’s been a while since we’ve done a reader generated topic, mostly because no one has been submitting any ideas. Believe me – I’d love to let you guys to the work for me; coming up with blog topics is harder than y’all think. A few months ago, my pal Dino sent me this article from The A.V. Club about fiction restaurants that their writers would want to patronize as possible fodder for the blog. It was a great topic, but I wanted to mull it over since they highlighted some of the more obvious choices. Los Pollos Hermanos from Breaking Bad? Of course! Who doesn’t want some fried chicken with a side of meth? I’m fascinated by the burger of the day specials on Bob’s Burgers, so I would absolutely drop in for a bite if I was able. A chance to experience Luke’s gruff demeanor and watch some classic Lorelei and Rory banter at Luke’s Diner from Gilmore Girls – count me it! I’m positive that a night at Jack Rabbit Slim’s (Pulp Fiction) would be memorable; I’d absolutely order a $5 milkshake. The A.V. Club writers know their way around pop culture references, so if I was going to add anything to the conversation I was going to dig deep to think of some other fictional restaurants where I’d like to dine.

But I love a challenge, so I’ve been mulling this around in the back of my mind. I wanted to pick restaurants that I actually wanted to frequent – either because of the food, the ambiance or the people – rather than simply restaurants on shows that I like. They had to actually serve food as their primary purpose, so as much as I would love to hang out and throw some back beers at Paddy’s Pub it couldn’t make the cut.

So with those limitations in mind, here are some of the pop culture eating establishments where I’d like to spend some time:

The Dream Café (Seinfeld)

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I bet you thought I was going to say Monk’s, which wouldn’t have been a bad guess. I am, after all, a little obsessed with Seinfeld and the diner was one of the gang’s favorite hangouts. But other than spending some time with Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer, there isn’t much to recommend about Monk’s; the food never looked that appetizing (especially when Paco was working) and fittingly not too much really happened there.

Instead, I would rather dine at the establishment run by Babu Bhatt. The Dream Café had something for everyone; where else are the specials tacos, moussaka and franks and beans? Nowhere! No matter what you were craving, they had it on the menu – until Jerry came along and ruined the whole thing. Plus there were never any other customers, so I’d have the run of the place and it would be nice and quiet. On a good day, you might even get to help someone cheat on an IQ test.

 

Merlotte’s (True Blood)

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True Blood is borderline unwatchable at this point, but I still think Merlotte’s Bar and Grill might be a fun place to grab some onion rings. Seriously – I don’t know how they film those things, but they look delicious. I have no idea if Lafayette is actually a good cook or not, but I don’t know that it even matters – just to see him back there, throwing around some witty one-liners would be reason enough to give them my business. I imagine that the service sucks – one waitress in particular is always late to work or distracted by some drama – but the  visits from supernatural creatures and the cold beer would make up for it. You literally never know what is going to happen while you’re there. Sadly, Eric Northman makes fairly infrequent appearances at Merlotte’s which is probably the biggest mark against the establishment

 

Desautel’s (Treme)

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I am way behind on Treme, but one of the things I enjoyed about the show is learning more about the culture of the city of New Orleans. Not only has Treme expanded my knowledge of music, but it has also made me want to make a trip to the city just to taste some of the food thanks to the story lines involving chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens). When the show begins, she is struggling to keep her restaurant afloat after Hurricane Katrina and anything that she makes always looks delicious. I’m not even sure if I would actually like some of the food – I’m a total wimp when it comes to spiciness – but I’d be willing to give it a try. I’m craving crawfish and muffuletta just writing this – two things I’ve never actually had to eat.

Mel’s Diner (Alice)

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This one makes the list simply so I can hear Flo say “kiss my grits.” End of story.

 

Freddy’s BBQ Joint (House of Cards)

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Good BBQ is hard to come by and apparently there is no finer BBQ than Freddy’s. If Frank Underwood is willing to take time out of his plotting and scheming for some ribs, that’s some good eats.

 

JJ’s Diner (Parks and Recreation)

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Like Leslie Knope, I am a girl who loves waffles. I would eat waffles multiple times a week if it was socially acceptable. I’ve been known to give waffle irons as gifts, even to people who don’t really want them (I’m looking at you, dad). So if JJ’s Diner waffles are good enough for an overachieving perfectionist like Leslie, then this is a place that I need to be. And if I ever tire of waffles (heresy!), I can always try the heart-attack inducing The Four Horse-Meals of the Egg-Pork-alypse (a twelve-egg scramble, bacon, sausage, ham, hash browns, chicken-fried steak, and a giant tower of buttermilk pancakes).

 

Nuovo Vesuvio (The Sopranos)

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The Sopranos is one of my all-time favorite shows; not surprising given the brilliant writing, the gifted cast and its unflinching look at the mafia. But somewhere around the second season I noticed an interesting side effect – this show was making me hungry. By the time each episode was over, I was starving. I’m not even a big fan of Italian food – well, American Italian food – but all the meals on the show looked amazing. This was especially true of the Artie Bucco’s Nuovo Vesuvio, a frequent hangout of the Soprano crime family. Not only is the food mouthwatering – at least in the beginning – but there is always the possibility that you’ll be the witness to some illicit mob activity. That might not be appealing to everyone, but that’s a fun night for me.

 

Joe’s Pie Diner (Waitress)

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I’ve always thought that the 2007 film Waitress is underrated and deserved a wider audience. In the movie, Jenna (Kerri Russell) is stuck in an unhappy marriage and banks on winning a pie contest with one of her creative concoctions to earn her the money she needs to flee her husband. Her pies are regularly served at Joe’s Pie Diner and have secret names related to what is going on in her life. The marshmallow mermaid pie is called “biblically good” in the film, which is a pretty sound endorsement. Plus you get to hang out with Andy Griffith and that’s always a win.

 

Phil’s (Murphy Brown)

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The bar and grill frequented by the staff of the television newsmagazine FYI, I’m not sure if the food is the real draw. As a political scientist, I’d love to hang out at a watering hole frequented by DC insiders and politicians. Yup – I’m a government nerd, but I’d have a grand time speculating on all the backroom deal and political intrigue that was occurring in this Washington institution.

 

Steak Me Home Tonight (Happy Endings)

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I’m a big fan of food trucks; I was frequenting them way before it was trendy to do so. Back during my ill-fated tenure at UConn, one of the few things that really made me happy was a food truck on campus that made what seemed like the greatest breakfast sandwiches of all time. I looked forward to grabbing a bite there once a week – my treat for making it another week in the program – and I would be so bummed out if I missed them. That’s part of the thrill of food trucks – their unpredictability. There’s a burgeoning food truck scene here in Albany, which is quite the positive development. So it’s no surprise that I’d want to swing by Dave’s Steak Me Home Tonight from Happy Endings (R.I.P. – still not over it). I love me some cheesesteaks, which happen to be Dave’s specialty, and who doesn’t love some punny word play with their sandwiches. Plus he won the coveted “Truckies” award for best sandwich in Chicago – and those are people that know their sandwiches – and Colin Hanks has been known to drop by, so you know this place is legit.

Now it’s your turn – what fictional restaurants would you want to break bread? Sound off in the comments section. Bon appétit!

Got an idea for a blog post? Let me hear about it!

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A Reader Suggests – Once Upon a Time

The title of this should probably be multiple readers suggest, since Once Upon a Time was among the most suggested shows. When I was fairly lukewarm about Grimm, people encouraged me to check out the other fairy tale inspired show of last year. They suspected that I would like Once Upon a Time more.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical. Once Upon a Time seemed a little too romantic and fantastical for my taste. While I didn’t love Grimm, I do tend toward the darker version of fairy tales than the princess Disney-fied interpretation. And from the commercials I had seen, I figured that Once Upon a Time would fall into this latter category. But I’m willing to give things a try and am occasionally surprised, so I gave Once Upon a Time a whirl toward the end of the summer.

The top credited person on the show gave me some hope that I may like the show more than expected. I have had a total girl-crush on Ginnfer Goodwin since her days on Big Love; it was actually my enjoyment of her that kept me with that show much longer than the quality dictated (though even her adorableness couldn’t get me to tune in for that final season. Woof!). So a show based around her was a step in the right direction. I was, however, much less enthused about the second billed actress. I am much less bullish on Jennifer Morrison. She was tolerable on House, which I only watched briefly, but I haven’t liked her in anything else that I have seen her in. I partially blame her for my rapid disinterest in How I Met Your Mother as her character Zoey was dreadful. I just don’t think she is a very good actress. So her prominence in Once Upon a Time gave me pause. It’s probably good that I didn’t know that Morrison was in the show until I sat down to watch it; that might have prevented me giving the show a chance.

And that would have been a shame, because I absolutely love Once Upon a Time. Once again, my friends know me better than I know myself. It’s a really fantastic show.

The basic premise of the show is straight out of the pages of a book: The evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla), in her quest to destroy Snow White (Goodwin), casts a spell that sends the characters from fairy tales to our world, where they have no idea of their fairy tale past or real identity. Snow White is now an elementary school teacher named Mary Margaret, Red Riding Hood is now a waitress named Ruby and her grandmother runs the local inn. All the characters reside in the same town, Storybrooke, Maine, and are ruled over by their mayor, the evil queen. Regina’s adopted son Henry is the only one who senses that something is amiss and guesses people’s true identities. He searches out his birth mother Emma (Morrison), who he believes is the key to unlocking the mysterious past of all the residents of the town.

What I really like about Once Upon a Time is that it shares a lot of characteristics with Lost, which should come as no surprise as it was created by two of Lost’s writers and producers. Both shows are structured in a similar fashion, at least in the first season; though there are many characters in the cast and there is an ongoing narrative that runs throughout the season, each episode tends to focus on one character and developing who they are and their back story. They achieve this the same way that Lost did with flashbacks to that character’s life as a fairy tale character paralleling with current events. In my mind it is a very effective tool and since I tend to be more interested in character development than mythology (which is why I didn’t hate the Lost finale as much as everyone else – though I did still hate it), I am especially drawn to this storytelling technique. The overarching story lines keep the show moving forward, but the character development is what keeps me interested.

And what a cast of characters they have assembled. I really enjoyed figuring out just who everyone was and their fairy tale alter ego. Some of the characters were pretty obvious – naming Little Red Riding Hood Ruby isn’t exactly a difficult nut to crack – but others were not as clear and it took several episodes before you discovered who they really were. It drove me nuts trying to figure out who the mysterious August was; I kept looking for clues and was coming up empty. It was a slow burn, but when his back story was finally revealed, I was delighted. It was unexpected and well executed and I was glad that they took their time with that particular discovery.

A show about fairy tale characters that don’t know they are fairy tale characters could be incredibly hokey. While Once Upon a Time does have its moments, the acting is generally top notch. This isn’t to say that it isn’t occasionally campy and over the top, but it is done skillfully and with just the right level of seriousness. Even Morrison became less annoying to me as the show progressed, which it the true testament to the other actors and the writing. Parrilla is wonderfully evil as the Queen and Goodwin is very solid, as expected, as the sweet Snow White. The only true week point on the cast is little Henry; though the child actor has some top notch experience (he was Bobby Draper #2 on Mad Men and mad some waves when he didn’t have the nicest things to say about TV mom January Jones), I just don’t think he is very good. He doesn’t have much of a range and is a little whiny.

My favorite character, hands down, is Mr. Gold. Being evil is just way more fun than being the good guy and Robert Carlyle just seems to have a great time playing the many facets of this character. He’s a great foil for Regina, but he isn’t totally evil. Over the course of the first season you see that there is more to this character than meets the eye. Carlyle deftly handles humor and evil plotting with the same ease and is just a lot of fun to watch.

Because Once Upon a Time has such a large supporting cast, it has also been enjoyable to see a lot of actors that I know from other things turn up for an episode or two. The show really has a pretty impressive roster; every episode I wind up thinking to myself “Hey! There’s ______ from ______!”  No recurring character made me happier than seeing Giancarlo Esposito turn up as Sidney Glass. It’s a role that has absolutely nothing in common with his portrayal of Gus on Breaking Bad and it was a little jarring to see him do something that was a lot more lighthearted. It was also exciting to see Kristin Bauer van Straten (Pam on True Blood) pop in for a few episodes. Most episodes send me to IMDB to figure out why an actor looks so familiar. Because the commitment for most of these roles is pretty minimal, the show is able to get some really outstanding people to participate.

Once Upon a Time isn’t flawless. As much as I enjoy the show, I was a little fatigued from a murder storyline that dragged on far too long toward the middle of the first season. I’m not the biggest fan of the character of Prince Charming; he’s not terrible, but at times I find him a little selfish and wishy-washy (though he is charming; I’ll give him that). Sometimes the show is just a little on the nose for my personal preferences; I’m a bigger fan of subtlety, which does not always jibe with the show. These issues didn’t detract much from my overall enjoyment of the show, but were noticeable.

Once I got a few episodes into Once Upon a Time, I was all in. In fact, I was mainlining episodes like they were heroin; I’d come home from work and watch as many episodes as I could before it was time to go to bed. And I actually had to force myself to go to bed rather than keep watching episodes all night. I was totally immersed in fairy tales and loved every minute of it. I watched all 22 episodes in a fairly short amount of time and I’m sure I annoyed one of my friends with my constant texting of my thoughts about episodes (sorry L).

I was a bit nervous about the second season, which debuted last night. Would I still like the show when watching it weekly, rather than consuming an entire season all at once? Would the premise still be interesting for a second season? The finale of the first season was good, but I wasn’t quite sure where they were going to go from there. Had they painted themselves into a corner?

Turns out I shouldn’t have been concerned; I watched the premiere episode last night and was just as invested as I had been with the first season. They kept the premise fresh and took the show in what I think will be an interesting new direction. I’m looking forward to meeting new characters, though they are going a little deeper into fairy tale lore than I am familiar with. One character introduced in the premiere episode I am not all that knowledgeable about – knew the name, but not much else. This is one of the few returning series where the new episodes actually excited me. I’ve been fairly meh on the season premieres of some of my shows this year, but Once Upon a Time made me really energized for the episode next week. It’s a great way to kick off my Sunday night block of television.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • I’d love to know the budget for hair extensions on this show; it’s got to be more than I make in a year.
  • The special effects are better than I expected for network television, but could still use some work.
  • It was nice to see a Lost alumni appear in some episodes, but I am very excited that another alum is signed up for season 2.
  • If they are going to raid the Lost cast for guest appearances, can’t we find a role for Josh Holloway? Pretty pretty please?

This is really just an excuse to post a picture of Josh Holloway.

  • Another similarity to Lost? Once Upon a Time also has an actor that appears to be wearing eyeliner. Jefferson (OUAT) and Richard (Lost) could swap make-up tips.
  • Since ABC is owned by Disney, I’m just waiting for the inevitable marketing crossover. Maybe the show will become a ride at Disneyland.
  • Grimm’s grasp on my TV viewing schedule is tenuous at best. A woman in her mid-thirties should probably only be watching one show about fairy tales and Grimm isn’t going to be that show. Sorry Monroe – I think your days are numbered.
  • I’m really dying to know who Dr. Whale’s fairy tale alter-ego is. I’d actually forgotten that we never found that out in the first season, until they reminded us in the season premiere. The names that they have assumed in this world tend to be a clue, but I’m coming up empty. Any ideas?
  • I was waiting for some on-line verification that the man in the opening shot of the premiere was Michael Raymond-James, who I am always glad to see. He was the co-lead in Terriers (R.I.P), but it probably known to more people from his role in season one of True Blood (as Rene) or from his guest appearance on Walking Dead. He always brings something interesting to the table and I am intrigued what that opening scene meant and what his role will be in the show in the future.

So a tremendous thanks to everyone who encouraged me to watch Once Upon a Time. You all were absolutely right in your estimation that I would enjoy the show; sometimes other people have a better idea what is up your alley than you do. If you haven’t watched the show, I would strongly encourage you to check it out, though it’s probably best to start at the beginning. It’s worth your while, dearies.

Once Upon a Time airs on Sundays at 8 pm ET on ABC.

A Reader Suggests – Grimm

As I mentioned in my post about Snow White and the Huntsman (now we know why Kristin Stewart looked so happy in that movie!), even though I am a grown up without kids, I still like fairy tales. Like most things in my life, I tend to be more attracted to the darker versions of these tales; I am more Team Grimm Brothers and less Team Walt Disney. I like the monsters and the creatures much more than the idea that every little girl is a princess that will need to be rescued by her prince.

So when some readers suggested that I might like Grimm, they weren’t too far off base. On paper, the show would seem to be right up my alley. Last fall when Once Upon a Time and Grimm debuted, I was interested in both of the shows. However, because of my aversion to investing time in a show that may not get picked up for a second season (or that might not even make it through its first season in its entirety), I was hesitant to watch either show when they debuted. I already have a more than full plate when it comes to television shows, so I have to be more discerning when adding new ones. I decided to give them a year and see how they did; if they were renewed for a second season and I heard some good buzz about them, I would check them out. I finally had some down time to work on my summer viewing projects and decided to start with Grimm, as its second season had an earlier premiere date. After watching all 22 episodes of season one, I have to say that I was ultimately disappointed in the show. It turned out to not be as great of a fit for me as I would have predicted.

Grimm’s concept is, all things considered, pretty straight forward: Portland cop Nick Burkhardt discovers that he is a “Grimm,” a guardian that is in charge of maintaining the balance in the world between humans and the mythological creatures (referred to as “Wesen”) that most people associate with Grimms’ Fairy Tales. These creatures appear as humans, but Nick is able to see them for what they really are. Nick receives help in his duties from a Wesen named Monroe, who has reformed his previous bad behavior and forms an unlikely friendship and partnership with Nick. Nick struggles to keep his Grimm identity a secret from his partner Hank and his girlfriend Juliet.

I have to say that I enjoyed the pilot episode and thought the show held some promise. The concept of a Grimm hunting down rogue fairy tale characters in and of itself interests me. My problem with the show is that underneath the original cool idea, this show is basically a police procedural. For the most part, Grimm is a “bad creature of the week” type show. Every episode features a new case for Nick to solve, always tied into a murder investigation for his day job, with results in mostly contained plots. There aren’t a lot of story lines that run through the episodes. Each week, the viewer is introduced some new variation of mythical creature – there seems to be an endless supply – that we don’t seem to ever hear about again after the case is solved. Murder, creature discovered, determine how to capture said creature, solve case. Lather, rinse, repeat.

As you can probably tell, as a rule I’m not particularly interested in procedurals. I find them boring and predictable. They are basically the same show over and over again. I like my dramas to be more complex in their plots – I prefer shows that have storylines that run through episodes and that reward viewers for watching every episode and for paying attention. When things are wrapped up neatly in a box every week, I tend to lose interest. I didn’t know that Grimm was a procedural going into the show. I guess I was hoping it was going to be more like Lost and less like CSI: Insert City Here.

I will tune in to a procedural, however, if the characters are particularly compelling or interesting. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit had characters and actors that I enjoyed, so I watched the show for years despite its crime of the week structure. The show wasn’t about just a series of horrific crimes, but how Benson and Stabler and the rest of the SVU crew reacted to these crimes. There was character development in the episodes; most cases also pulled back another layer of the characters’ personalities. Unlike most of the Law and Order brand, the viewer got to know the investigators and the baggage that they were bringing to these cases and their interactions with each other.

In my estimation, however, Grimm doesn’t have very compelling or interesting characters. Most of the characters on the show are pretty vanilla; they don’t have much depth to their personality. Nick is the star of the show, but I find him kind of boring. After 22 episodes, I don’t feel like I really know anything about him. He’s a bit of a blank slate. But he’s Mr. Personality compared to Juliet and Hank, who I find beyond boring. At least Nick has something of a back story that has the potential to be interesting. The story arcs that have centrally involved Hank were my least favorite, because I really didn’t care what happened to him. Hank and Juliet are just kind of there.

The one character that I do really like on the show is Monroe; he makes up for what all the other characters are lacking. He is funny and I feel like we know and understand his character most clearly. When Monroe is in danger, I am incested. My favorite scenes are inevitably ones that he is involved in. When Monroe is on the screen, I pay more attention. When he isn’t, I’m more likely to pick up my tablet and play Scramble with Friends.

I was tempted to bail out on Grimm after the first 13 episodes. I must confess that when I started the project I thought that there were only 13 episodes – for whatever reason in my mind, Grimm was a midseason replacement show. But I was compelled to finish the first season; I hate to quit things before they are completed. I’ll read a book to the end that I hate, simply to finish it and see if it can somehow redeem itself. I’m a bitter ender. I stick with things longer than I should; my only regret about leaving my doctoral program is that I didn’t do it sooner. So I soldiered on and watched the rest of the episodes and have to say that the series improved a lot in the last half. While the show is still overall episodic in nature, they have begun to develop some story lines that are running in the background of multiple episodes. There are hints to a mythology being developed that might actually be pretty exciting if done right. I’m curious at the motivations of one of the supporting characters and am hoping that story is more fully developed. The finale featured a kind of played out development – the big finale twist has been done 100 times before – but at least it was a development. I’m not all in on Grimm by any stretch of the imagination, but the improvements as the series continued made me at least set the DVR to record the first few episodes of season two. There is no guarantee I’ll stick with it once my regular programs return, but I’m at least willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for a while longer and to see if it continues to improve.

Some other thoughts on season one:

  • Portland seems to have more than your average Wesen per capita, since it seems like just about everyone that Nick meets is some sort of mythical creature. The Pacific Northwest seems to be ground zero for fantasy characters – you have the vampires of Twilight hanging out near Seattle and a lot of Wesen hanging out in Portland. Maybe they all like the coffee.
  • I will say this for the series – it has made me more interested in going back and reading some of the original Grimms’ tales. I clearly do not have the working knowledge of their stories that I thought as I didn’t recognize a lot of these creatures or the tales that inspired them.
  • I’m a little confused by how some creatures know that Nick is a Grimm and why others don’t. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of consistency with that. They all know once he can see them in their creature form, but some of them have him pegged as a Grimm before that.
  • Also, I am a little perplexed about why they are all so terrified of Nick. I get that Grimms have been hunting their kind for centuries, but it’s not like Nick has any special powers other than his ability to see their true form. He’s not super strong or anything. He has to do research on how to capture/kill each creature. A guy that needs a trip to library to defeat me just isn’t that intimidating.
  • While I get a big kick out of Monroe, I also enjoy the brief appearances by Sergeant Wu. He is also a good source of comic relief.
  • Can we retire mythological explanations for Hitler?  Hitler is so overused in conversation – see Godwin’s Law – that is loses all effectiveness at this point. I don’t care if he committed horrific acts because he was a human, vampire or a Wesen.
  • I watched all of season one on Hulu plus and they really need to get more commercials. I saw the same 3 commercials 20 times. I’m so sick of them I have no intention of ever buying any of the products featured.
  • I did appreciate the Voodoo Donuts reference in the pilot. Someday I will have one of those donuts. They are on my food bucket list.

While ultimately I was disappointed in Grimm, I’m holding out hope that some of the promise I saw in the later episodes of season one will be more fully realized in season two. I don’t know that I will ever become a loyal viewer, but it might be a show I check in on from time to time. I understand that the show will never evolve to what I want it to be – it is probably always going to be a procedural at its heart – but some more interesting story lines that carry through multiple episodes might keep me interested. I’d like to think that some Wesen aren’t so easily caught. Build up the mythology and give some of the characters more personality and I can think of worse options for a Friday night show. Or just give Monroe a spin off – that I would tune in for.

Season two of Grimm debuts tonight at 10 pm ET on NBC and will rerun on Friday at 9 pm (its usual time slot).  This schedule will continue until Grimm resumes its regular Friday night time slot on September 14.