AUTO: Seek and you shall find

Nissan’s modern-family-friendly Quest: Finally a minivan that’s (almost) cool

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LIVE LIKE A DUNPHEY | Driver’s seat styling doesn’t take a backseat in the Quest LE ... though the backseat, with built-in DVD player, may be too good for the kids. (Photo courtesy Nissan)

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer
crwauto@aol.com

Whenever my partner and I watch Modern Family, we see too much of ourselves in Mitchell and Cam’s relationship. We debate which of us most resembles the characters — my partner would be the one to present our baby as The Lion King,  and I can completely queen out over something trivial. However, it’s another star of the show that would be welcomed by double daddies.

Nissan’s product placement of the all-new Quest mini-van was uber-smart. Although driven by Claire in the show, it’s easy to imagine two dads and their adopted offspring heading off to a fabulous vacation in that sleek bus. The streamlined toaster’s distinguished wrap-around rear glass sits atop creased bodysides, 18-in. alloys and a chrome grille that could part wind for an Infiniti or two flaming queens.

As big as the Quest is — and it is huge — it comes off as a much smaller vehicle until you creep upon it.

Nobody thinks minivans are cool nowadays … not that they ever did. But the joy of owning one sneaks up on you. The Quest’s interior is absolutely dance-club spacious with seating enough for seven. If little ones are in your future, six of your nearest and dearest friends will love going anywhere with you. Point the nose in any direction and slide aboard.

Friends slip through the power sliding rear doors, open either of the dual sunroofs (rear riders get their own), and climate control their individual zones. You could throw Manny in the back and never hear his adolescent pontifications again. Front passengers have heated seats and ride in thrones that smell like cow butter and are more luxurious than those in a Gulfstream jet; rear seats fold flat to throw in bicycles, a Nelson credenza or enough regalia for a production of La Boheme.

Play a CD of the opera through the van’s 13-speaker Bose audio system, recline your seat and pretend you’re there. Or put in a DVD to see it on the roof-mounted flatscreen. In-dash navigation, rear camera, blind spot warning system, Bluetooth phone connections, USB input for MP3 players and XM Satellite Radio bring you back to the current time with a full suite of toys.

My sister, who has three kids, was impressed with the Quest. Under the rear floor is a deep well to store valuables out of sight. Wide pockets in the doors are big enough for baby gear and have places to hold water bottles. Consoles between the front and middle-row seats hold drinks, iPads or anything else a modern family carries. If you can carry it, this van will haul it.auto-02

When Claire needs to make a quick get-away from another awkward situation, they’ll throttle down on the standard 260hp 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine, connected to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Most CVTs reel up and down their gear ratios maintaining a shrill somewhere between a Weed Eater and a screaming cat. Not so the Quest’s. It’s quiet, smooth and enables excellent 19/24-MPG city/hwy. ratings — not bad for a 4,500-lb. truck.

“Quiet” describes the overall experience. Large mirrors are separated from the body to minimize wind noise as the aero body slips through air without causing a stir. The chassis absorbs bumps without drama, steering is tight and power is always at the ready. Cruising beyond 80mph was easy. I even took down a pickup truck on a hilly two-lane. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, and electronic stability control quiets the mind’s fears.

Like Jay and Gloria’s house on Modern Family, the overall sense of the Quest is understated quality. The seats feel and smell like they could be in a Bentley, padded materials cover even the rear doors, the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels expensive, and the woodgrain and silver finishes on the center dashboard are nicely styled. My partner and I found ourselves really enjoying a long drive, ready to head out into the vastness of America to find ourselves again, knowing full-well at any time we could stop, flip the seats, and find ourselves finding ourselves.

As everything about the Quest is tech-laden and high quality, it comes with a price tag that only a loaded modernist can afford.

Base prices start at $27,750, but our well-equipped test model came to $43,715. Still, you won’t find a luxury SUV so well equipped with half the interior space for less. Minivans aren’t cool, but the Quest is a fab choice for any alternative family.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Fur the boys

Andy Stark brings reality TV to bear — with sights set on the networks

 

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BEARS ON FILM | Andy Stark, left, created the reality show ‘Bear It All’ with a mostly Dallas-based cast including Matthew Moriarity, right, who has already made quite an impression. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

On shows like The A-List or Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, TV audiences get a peek into the inner workings of gay men (at least the ones Logo thinks represent us). But Dallasite Andy Stark isn’t so sure the current crop of reality shows profiles our community in the best light — or in all its glory.

He’s not the only one. Where those series may rely on caricatures or fabricated storylines, Stark is delivering his own show that he sees less as a drama fest and more as just a good time.

“The show is going to be a positive natured show,” he says. “I want it to be appealing across the board.”

Stark is talking about his reality/travel series Bear It All, which follows a cast of hirsute gentlemen in different cities around various bear events. Clips of the show have made their way online, with some containing footage taken at this year’s Texas Bear Round Up, but it makes its full-episode debut at a screening party Sunday at the Round-Up Saloon.

“The idea originally came up at Southern Decadence last year, so it’s almost a year old,” Stark says of the germ of the series. “I didn’t think it would take that long, but it’s nice. You know, we had the idea and the tools to make it and just said, ‘Let’s do it — we don’t need money, just the will to do it.’”

Pulling together a cast of mostly locals — including Butch Compton, Charlie Himmler and Michael Herrington — Stark pulled in Philadelphia-based bear Barney Philly and Indiana native Matthew Moriarity, who just might be the breakout star of the show.

“The one bit of feedback I always get is how adorable he is,” Stark says.

“I got involved with it when I was in North Carolina,” Moriarity says. “I didn’t really go to a lot of bear events or gay events, but I got in contact via Facebook.”

Initially, Moriarity hadn’t heard anything back other than “stay tuned.” But as TBRU approached, he received a call: He was now in the cast as he was making his way to Dallas for the bear event.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he laughs.

As the Dallas-based episode came together, Stark entered Moriarity in the Mr. TBRU contest. Figuring on his random entrance into the contest, Stark had developed the arc of the episode and began planning the rest based on Moriarity not winning.

Only he did win.

“I had to rethink the entire thing,” Stark cries. “But we ran with it.”

The show has cemented a certain foundation for Moriarity. He moved to Dallas at the end of June, found a job as a bartender three days later and now finds himself a recognizable face among the local community. Of course, he’s modest about it and steers the conversation away from himself.

“The show is a great portrayal and good-natured of just us regular guys,” he says. “I think its great to bring that certain community to the frontlines. You don’t see that too much in mainstream portrayals.”

Andy Stark has the cred needed to produce his own show. He does production work for HDNet and MavTV so this isn’t some guy with a camera and an idea. Stark has a plan.

“I’ve had the idea of what I wanted in my head, but also it’s been an experience that we’ve manifested ourselves,” he says. “I wanted the travel documentary built into the concept of the show and so perhaps we’ll highlight cities and bear events as well as meet interesting people from all around. Hopefully we do something awesome with it.”

While Stark and Moriarity have only experienced positive feedback so far, they got a big push from the bear-oriented phone app Scruff. In one episode, Philly is wearing a shirt with the app’s logo on it; founder Johnny Scruff noticed and posted a notification so when people clicked onto the app, they were served with a pop-up announcing the show and its Facebook page.

Stark and Moriarity are affable guys — the kind that good luck seems to follow, which seems to be the case here. With the help of producer J. Louie Partida, Stark feels that the only way is up after Sunday’s screening. He’s even planned to have the show adjustable for different networks should they be interested.

“I’m aiming for the 25-minute mark. We call the show ‘bear-satile’ because it can be formatted to any network,” he laughs.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s better Stark stays behind the camera.

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Eligible for a reason: Obnoxious

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Here’s my big problem with reality TV: Most of our lives aren’t scripted, but they are made to seem so if you watch too many of these shows. It’s not a problem on competition-based series like The Amazing Race or Survivor (how many of us get to travel that much anyway?), or even episodic series with a sense of humor, like Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List (Kathy’s inherent wittiness feels authentic). But the Bravo-style throw-six-people-together-and-pretend-they-are- the-shit egothons like The Real Housewives and The A-List? They are merely soap operas where the actors are underpaid. And not very good actors.

Add to that list the latest little disaster of preening incorrigibility: Most Eligible Dallas.

It’s one thing to cajole your way onto America’s Got Talent by wearing goofy clothes or exaggerating your personality for a performance; it’s another when what sells you as a TV star is being the biggest asshole you can be. I don’t wanna sound like a curmudgeon blaming TV for the ills of society, but when I see drivers who take left-turns from right lanes with arrogant disregard for the rest of humanity … well, it’s difficult not to think that because they see everyone on the tube behaving the same way.

Most Eligible takes a half-dozen single 20somethings from Dallas and follows their appallingly wonderful singleness. There’s Drew, pictured, a car-loving gay guy who self-medicates with female hormones to keep from getting fat again; Glenn, the muscle-bound football wannabe who’s been passed around more locker rooms than a Kardashian; Matt, the obnoxious “playa” who goes on dates with multiple women; and Courtney, the big-haired bimbo who has such a blatant unacknowledged crush on Matt that her venom forms the basis of the Sam-and-Diane (or Reichen-and-Rodiney) thread on the premiere.

The calculated way the series tries to create personalities — Drew is, to my knowledge, the only person who has ever been shown smoking a cig in the address-the-camera interviews, just to show what a rebel-outside-the-box-gay he is — feels incredibly fake, exacerbated by the over-reactions to banal activities (Glenn in particular seems like a real drama queen). Easily the best thing about the series is seeing local landmarks. The rest just perpetuates negative stereotypes about Dallas.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Premieres on Bravo Aug, 15 at 9 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Shop’ keeper

Little Shop of Horrors may have the catchiest pop score composed for a Broadway musical in the past 30 years. There has been rock-ier, toe-tapping-er, more bombastic music written in that time perhaps, but for the sheer joy of storytelling through sprightly, smart songs? I can think of no comparisons. It remains the only cast album I ever purchased during intermission of its performance; even if there were no songs in Act 2, I reasoned, Act 1 was a worthy investment, starting with the anthemic fugue “Skid Row” and continuing through its pastiche of doo-wop choruses and power ballads like “Suddenly, Seymour.” (The team that wrote it, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, went on to be Disney’s resident writing geniuses: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin.)

The production by WaterTower Theatre, now onstage in Addison, doesn’t do full justice to its very able source material. Long before Avenue Q, Little Shop pioneered the use of puppets to turn kiddie entertainment into something adult and disturbing: It’s Sweeney Todd with jokes.

Or it should be. There are missed comic opportunities in the story of schlubby floral shop worker Seymour (Jason Kennedy) who cultivates a man-eating plant to win the affections of abused shopgirl Audrey (Mary Gilbreath Grim, pictured with Kennedy). There are missteps in the design as well (the normally reliable Aaron Patrick Turner eschews character-appropriate costumes — Audrey for one should be a lot trashier — for pretty, tailored pieces that make no sense). But the magic of the show works its way through.

Grim does an admirable job turning Audrey, so closely identified with Ellen Greene’s idiosyncratic charm on film and stage, into her own creation, and the tango between Seymour and his boss Mushnik (Randy Pearlman) is winsome. But the star of the show is Alex Organ in a host of roles, most notably a sadistic dentist. Organ (gangly, limber, rubber-mugged) commits fully, throws himself physically into every scene. He’s funny, cruel, goofy, protean — and, along with the score, an excellent reason to patronize this Little Shop.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Through Aug. 21. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens