Sweet/Vicious

If someone had tried to tell me that, in 2017, I was going to be inspired, empowered, and downright in love with an MTV show, I would have side-eyed the hell out of them, laughed, and said “my MTV phase ended about 8 years ago, thank you very much.” See, the only other experience I have with that channel was during my obsession with Laguna Beach and The Hills. PLEASE DON’T STOP READING! I know, I know, those shows were vapid, and horrible on countless levels. Once I realized what actual good TV looked like, I kicked my “reality” TV habit to the curb and never looked back. Needless to say, MTV hasn’t exactly been on my radar, and I sincerely doubted it ever would be again, but here we are. Maybe it’s a fluke – the right showrunner met with the right execs on the right day – but an MTV scripted series has secured a place in my top ten TV shows, of all damn time.

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Jules & Ophelia. Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/SweetVicious/media

Sweet/Vicious is the story of two, badass young women, Jules and Ophelia, who see a problem in the way legal systems fail the victims of sexual assault. They decide to take matters into their own hands, and deliver vigilante style justice to the accused rapists on their college campus. For Jules, a bright and seemingly sociable sorority girl, these acts are personal; she was raped and this is her form of therapy. For Ophelia, a clever and quick-witted weed dealer and hacker, it’s a much-needed sense of greater purpose. The first season, which just completed its run last Tuesday*, is a thought-provoking, sincere, and emotionally complex narrative.

It explores the beauty of female friendships, the reality of being a sexual assault survivor, and the systematic inadequacies of the institutions that are supposed to protect us but so often don’t. The show handles rape and rape culture with the respect, nuance, and honesty they deserve. Every episode is full of commentary on a variety of topics – ranging from sexism and racism, to body shaming and victim blaming – delivered in both subtle and overt ways, while always managing to steer clear of After School Special Territory. Despite it’s grim subject matter, Sweet/Vicious is highly entertaining.

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Ladies of Zeta. Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/SweetVicious/media

It’s genre mixing is masterful. Sweet/Vicious is part superhero story; part odd couple comedy; part young-adult drama, without all the melodramatic pitfalls; and even part murder mystery, though the audience, Jules, and Ophelia know the truth. It’s a perfect blend of light and smart humour, with dark and harrowing seriousness; it quite literaly embodies the show’s title. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud one moment, only to be in tears the next, an apt reflection of how most of us are currently living day to day. The show’s tone does get bleaker as the season progresses, but it’s a tonal shift you can prepare for thanks to its, relatively, sunnier beginnings.

The first few episodes do contain some heavy moments – kudos to MTV for always beginning the hour with a trigger warning – but it’s mostly about getting us familiar with the characters and their world. Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the show’s creator, allows us time to ease into this story, while also keeping a steady pace and never allowing the overall plot to become sluggish. Robinson allowed the characters room to shine, making it almost effortless for us to connect with (most of) them; resulting in a palatable form with in which to deliver this subject matter. By the time we get to the traumatic details of what happened to Jules, you’re as ready for it as you ever could be. The show would likely still have been great had it come on strong from the start, but this style had a way of both capturing and maintaining a broader audience.

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Jules & Kennedy. Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/SweetVicious/media

The female friendships on display are just as vital, if not more so, as the show’s genre and tonal balancing act. Though TV has become much better in the recent past, female characters with female friendships that are real, complicated, and most importantly, positive, aren’t always easy to find. Jules and Ophelia may be an accidental pairing but they have major chemistry, and their blossoming friendship is genuine and heartwarming. The circumstances under which they meet force a sense of trust to be forged rather quickly. It feels organic, then, to have them form a bond where neither of them takes bullshit from the other. They see one another in a different light than their other friends, which makes for a very unique relationship.

Throughout the season, Jules and Kennedy’s friendship isn’t exactly in its best place – we see a much different, happier, dynamic via flashbacks – but by the end their bond is stronger than ever. In the finale they share a beautifully moving scene together, where each of them is fully honest with the other. They both attempt to put their friend’s pain before their own, proving the emotional strength of a woman can’t be beat. Their connection is something to be envious of, something you hope for in your own life. And it’s uplifting to finally see that on TV.

Some of the male characters are great, too – Harris & Tyler, specifically – and super cute, but this article isn’t about them.

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Ophelia, Jules, & Kennedy. Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/SweetVicious/media

To be honest, I was initially very skeptical about Sweet/Vicious, which I think is a natural response to any TV show promising to tackle this kind of sensitive subject matter. Robinson and her team, however, proved time and again they could handle these issues in an appropriate way. No scenes containing assault were ever gratuitous; in fact, nothing was ever sensationalized purely for dramatic effect. The only glossy detail about the show was the highly stylized sets, from the sorority house to Ophelia’s apartment, – but this feels inevitable and appropriate for a show about college kids.

Even the morally ambiguous nature of Jules and Ophelia’s actions is called out – and not just when the system momentarily works in their favour – and there are emotional consequences for the both of them. It may be extremely cathartic to watch rapists get their assess kicked, but it may also not be the exact right path to follow. The impulse to take matters into your own hands when the system fails you, and so many others like you, is an entirely relatable concept. But, as we eventually see, it’s not a perfect solution in this case. Their vigilante activities never truly offer Jules (or any of the other victims) any sense of peace or true justice, and the sense of purpose it gives Ophelia surely can’t be sustained long-term.

All of these ethical conundrums only add to the show’s sense of authenticity. This might be a fictional tale, but it’s heavily, and unfortunately, rooted in truth. To have Jules’ rapist be a young man who was not only her friend, but also the boyfriend of her best friend, was a bold and valuable choice. Bold because this subject matter is rarely, if ever, afforded this dynamic. The majority of stories about sexual assault depict the rapist as being random to his or her (but mostly his) victims. They are the boogeymen waiting in the shadows at night in abandoned alleys. And while there’s no doubt this kind of thing happens in the real world, its rate of occurrence is much higher in TV. Around 80% of assailants are friends or family of the victim.** There’s a tremendous amount of value to be gained from a story with such real-world awareness, especially in these increasingly uncertain and troubling times.

With all that said, Sweet/Vicious isn’t perfect and certainly has room for improvement. A show with such honest and progressive values should be way more diverse than what we saw in season one. Yes, there are two amazing people of colour in the main cast, as well as a few sprinkled throughout the secondary and guest characters, but that’s just not enough. I want to see more attention paid to the distinct stories and experiences of people of colour. The show did try its hand at a plotline concerning racial profiling, but it was wrapped up in about 2 minutes, which is basically an insult to the complexity of that issue. I don’t know much about the crew working on this show, but perhaps more diversity behind the camera will be the best first step in this case.

Let me tangent here for a moment to emphasize even further why diversity of colour on and off screen will be essential to the future of this show. Jules and Ophelia are white women. If/When they are ever caught for their crimes, the show is going to have to find a way to present that storyline in as honest a way as they have with everything else. The fact is, Jules and Ophelia will no doubt be treated MUCH differently than if they were women, or even men, of colour. Sweet/Vicious manages to get so many things right when it comes to sexism and sexual assault; it would be a grave disappointment to see them fail on issues of race. I hope (if they even get a second season) they create a working environment that includes a wide variety of viewpoints, allowing future stories to be as accurate and representative as possible.

The bottom line here, is the stories at the centre of this show are way too universal to only be told from the perspective of two white women. Sweet/Vicious also needs to create space for characters from the LGBTQ community. While it was hinted that Ophelia might identify as bisexual, there was never any solid confirmation of it. She doesn’t need some grand coming-out-scene, but if the hints prove be true, acknowledgement of that fact would be great. And as much I like her and Evan, a little friendly competition from a lady would be enjoyable. Or, just introduce new characters who identify as something other than cis-gender or straight.

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The Rape Wall. Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/SweetVicious/media

There’s a lot more to discuss when it comes to Sweet/Vicious – I’ve honestly only barely scratched the surface here – but I hope it’s enough to encourage you to check it out. Week after week it struck the best balance between distraction and reality check; you could get lost in its fiction while never losing sight of the issues we need to keep fighting for.

During my first watch (yes, I’ve already started a re-watch) I kept thinking, “I hope a lot of young, high school and college-aged people are watching this.” And while I still hope that’s true, I believe almost anyone, at any age, can get something out of Sweet/Vicious. If nothing else, you’ll have a few laughs, but you may also find it broadens your horizons on the very real epidemic of sexual assaults happening today. If you’re already aware of that horrible fact, perhaps you’ll find it provides you with a sense of community. A feeling that you are not alone; that someone will always be there to believe and support you. Despite the tough themes – and the many tears I cried – I always felt an overall warmth and safety while watching this show. We need Sweet/Vicious, and other shows like it, now more than ever. I’m so grateful people are out there, willing to bring this kind of art to life and this current life to art.

 

*All episodes are now available for streaming at MTV’s website.

** http://www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm

This Week in TV: Oct. 2-8 Part #2

This Week in TV: Artificial intelligence in the Old West, and yet another procedural about the legal system. While both shows present concepts and questions already explored by countless other stories, only one of them is truly breathing life into these familiar themes.

* These are merely my thoughts and feelings on all the new television we’ve been blessed with, and my opinion on whether or not they are worth a watch. These are not scene-by-scene recaps, so it’s a relatively spoiler free zone – but NOT completely. Continue at your own risk!

Westworld (HBO) 9.5/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis

A futuristic theme park populated by beings with artificial intelligence, and the exploration of what happens when these beings start to adopt sentience.

(This article only discusses the premiere, “The Original.”)

How far is too far when it comes to technological advancements? What can we learn about humanity, morals, and ethics when we create beings so similar to us? And what does it say about humans that we could be so uncaring towards these beings? Pop culture certainly has no shortage of stories that ask us these questions. So while Westworld may not be the first to present them, it sure is doing so in a highly enjoyable, visually stunning, and intriguingly complex manner. From the moment the opening credits roll, we already get a sense for what the show is going to offer; a tone is quickly set. Westworld is going to be as intricate as the production of a lifelike human, as sinister as the music playing from an unmanned piano, and, hopefully, as captivating as the entire title sequence itself.

It’s impressive to witness what was accomplished in just one episode. The possibilities of where this show could take us feel endless, yet not overwhelming. Though most of the characters still feel like sketches of what they will become, they’ve been developed just enough to know they aren’t stereotypical or hollow. There are still a ton of questions about the operational logistics of the theme park itself, and the different meanings it holds for the hosts, guests, operators, and the corporation that owns it. But the world building we got was incredibly satisfying; the park feels like a character unto itself. Where a great many pilots would fail by throwing this amount of information at a viewer in one sitting, Westworld succeeds thanks to its excellent plot pacing. It’s perplexing in all the right ways; its cryptic nature leaves you wanting more, without the common side effect of feeling strung along.

Even if there wasn’t any value to the story it was telling – and there’s an abundance of it – “The Original” was one of the most visually striking pilots I’ve ever witnessed. From the cinematography, to the art direction, to the acting – every single aspect was a feast for the eyes. The contrast in scenery and color between the inside and outside of the park was a beautiful detail. The majestic and seemingly endless countryside, cliffs, and desert, and the saloons fit for any gunslinger, were filmed with a brighter palette with just a hint of sepia tone to give it an authentic Old West vibe. While the headquarters, with its rows of glass walled rooms and various machines, was infused with blue-grey tints, giving it an almost futuristic, and sterile ambiance.

All the actors involved in this star-studded project brought their A-game, but one in particular truly stole the premiere. Evan Rachel Wood was superb at transitioning from the extremely life-like and hopeful Delores, to the emotionless and mechanized robot that’s being debriefed by her makers. It’s so hard to tell whether she truly doesn’t question the nature of her existence or if she’s just excellent at fooling the park operators. Notice how she dipped back into her southern accent after being given an order not to? So far, I’m the most interested in her character, who claims she would never hurt a living thing, and then kills a fly with a smile on her face. Also noteworthy, the jittery yet animated motions and gestures from Michael Wincott’s Old Bill, was absolutely flawless. If you had told me they actually made a crude version of a robot to play the part, I would have believed it 100%. I hope it’s not the least we’ve seen of him. Maybe he’ll play a role in the inevitable AI-led revolution? It’s likely he knows all about the park’s critical failure from 30 years ago.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music, – from the songs that replay as the park’s loop resets, to the instrumental versions of “Black Hole Sun” (Soundgarden) and “Paint it Black” (The Rolling Stones) – all of it was perfectly paired with both scene and overall tone.

With all that said, I do have a couple of gripes with the show thus far. The first is one that could easily vanish with a few quick explanations, or become a bigger problem if left unaddressed. It strikes me as very strange that Harris’ Man in Black is able to run wild without catching the attention of the park operators. With all that surveillance and attention to detail, it seems like a very large oversight. Could it be that Harris is acting on behalf of someone running the show, allowing him to “play the game” undetected? It seems impossible that the Man in Black could be a host, as we’ve seen him get shot without consequence, but I’m open to this being a possibility if it’s explained well. Either way, some acknowledgement of his existence and search for a “deeper level” must be addressed.

The second objection is far more disappointing, but could easily stop being a problem depending on what course the show takes. It’s possible the violence depicted against Delores is going to have some greater meaning or payoff later on – though, unfortunately, I doubt anything nuanced will come of the hosts who wanted to rape Delores’ dead mother – but I’m beyond bored with television using this technique to illustrate how malicious a character is. Furthermore, if sex-workers are going to be involved in this narrative, why not add some males to the line up? As accurate as brothels may be to the days of the Old West, this is TV, where almost anything is possible. I mean, this is a show about robots for fuck sakes; why can these writer’s imaginations extend so far in that regard, yet remain so restricted in others? One thing’s for sure, Westworld theme park is (chiefly) concerned with catering to male fantasies. If nothing else, this line of dialogue is proof of that, “A hooker with hidden depths. Every man’s dream.” (I mean, c’mon.) Let’s hope Westworld the show doesn’t strive to fulfill only that same goal.

Conviction (ABC) 6.5/10 – I’ll be back for two more episodes, then, we’ll see.

An attorney is blackmailed into running NYC’s Conviction Integrity Unit, where she and her team investigate cases that may have handed out wrongful convictions.

I’ll be honest, this could have been scored lower but I’m a sucker for Hayley Atwell. Even when she’s given the worst material, she does everything and more with it. Agent Carter had a fantastic first season, which was almost entirely overshadowed by the failures of its follow-up, but Atwell remained the shining light throughout its run. When I learned AC was cancelled, I held out hope for Conviction, which Atwell had already signed on for. After seeing the pilot, I’m left disheartened to see the folks at ABC give her yet another project where her talents are being so terribly squandered.

The biggest problem, in regards to Atwell’s character, Hayes, is that she’s expected to be so many contradictory things at once: ethical yet shady, self-hating yet self-confident, political pawn yet Queen of the game. Atwell does her best to pull it off, which she kind of does, but there’s a limit to what even the most skilled actresses could accomplish amid such chaos. At the very least, I’m grateful her overall character is different from Peggy Carter; seeing how the rest of the show is so lazily constructed, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Atwell essentially reprising that role.

Unfortunately, Atwell’s chops aren’t the only thing wasted in the premiere. The premise for Conviction is intriguing and has the potential to prompt conversations about a variety of topics, both challenging and worthwhile. Too bad this potential is largely sidelined by the surplus of secondary plots. There’s Hayes’ strained relationship with her mother, Hayes’ sexual-but-not-sexual-tension with her boss, the somewhat secretive motives of everyone involved in the CIU, and the second-in-command who’s still salty over losing his position to Hayes. Oh, and let’s not forget that each case must be solved in five days, for seemingly no other reason than to amp up the dramatic stakes. Yeah, I need to catch my breath, too.

What we’re left with is a show that’s trying to be too many things at once. I was getting vibes of both How to Get Away with Murder minus the engaging cast and lively story pacing, and Serial (the podcast) sans the necessary time for a thorough, and therefore credible, investigation. I’m hopeful Conviction is merely suffering from a rough start. If it only ever manages to cross the threshold into B-list TV, I’ll take it as a win. At least then I can watch Atwell without having to excessively torture myself in the process.

This Week in TV: Oct. 2-8 Part #1

Apologies for my absence last week; things got pretty hectic around my household with the ending of regular season baseball, and the debut of Luke Cage. I was taking part in the coverage of Netflix’s newest release over at Project Fandom. Check out what a few other ProFans and myself thought here: http://projectfandom.com/category/tv/recaps/luke-cage-s1/

This Week in TV: Two newcomers add their takes to the ever-growing trend of time travel TV shows. Each one presents its own method for exploring the past, but only one of them truly exhibits promise for its future.

* These are merely my thoughts and feelings on all the new television we’ve been blessed with, and my opinion on whether or not they are worth a watch. These aren’t recaps, so it’s a relatively spoiler free zone – but NOT entirely. Continue at your own risk!

Timeless (NBC) 6/10 – I’ll be back for two more episodes, then, we’ll see.

A time travel procedural, where a trio of experts journey back in time to stop a group of criminals from changing history as we know it.

As much as I talk about the importance of, and excitement in, bringing something new to today’s saturated TV scene, there are a handful of shows I watch that are as simplistic and derivative as they come. It’s kind of nice to have a show capture my attention for 30-60 minutes, and require no further consideration until I realize another episode is airing – or, for the most part, has already aired. There is, of course, a line I draw in terms of what’s acceptable in this sense. Settling for mediocrity in a select few shows doesn’t mean I’ll ever give a pass to something offensive, where there is nothing more to the joke or statement than laughing or pointing the finger at the Other. Simply put, there is never a good reason for punching down. I’ll also never allow myself to become complacent with gimmicks and tropes, or the various ways in which a show can sometimes handhold or nudge the audience. As long as I can point out the flaws and realize what kind of B.S. the show is trying to pull, I feel like I’m still making an informed viewing choice. For example, The Walking Dead, it used to be great, I know it’s not anymore, but I’m still on board.

Based on its pilot, Timeless feels as though it’s going to settle nicely into this category. The premiere was trying to be part sci-fi, part historical drama, and part mystery, which left it feeling wholly vague. I’m certain this genre mash-up is possible, but this particular attempt was unsuccessful. In part, I feel this has a lot to do with the pace at which the show was moving. While the sense of urgency for the situation at hand did lend itself to creating an atmosphere of heightened conflict, it sacrificed time that could have been better spent developing the characters. It’s worth saying that other shows (like the other one covered in this article) have been effective at throwing the viewer right into the action of its pilot, while utilizing that time to develop its characters. Timeless’ main trio, though, remain superficial by the end of the episode. It’s possible the purpose of Timeless’ pilot was to immediately immerse us into its week-to-week procedural format, thereby helping us cultivate a quick understanding of it, and leave the development of its characters for later. That’s fine, but it’s a contributing factor to it not ending up on my A-List of TV.

Another aspect, one that, should it be repeated, would forcibly remove Timeless from my B-List, was the way in which I feel racism was used for a laugh. Rufus, a black man, was forced to wait outside of a bar because of the looks he was getting for simply being black in the 1930’s. If the moment was meant to be profound it failed, and if it was meant to be funny it really failed. It was uncomfortable, cheap, and tacky, to say the least. Women weren’t fairing too well either in the 30s, and it would have been nice to see some solidarity from Lucy. There’s a missed opportunity in here for saying something deeper about our horrible collective history. Since I doubt the show will be making any such statements, though, at the very least it could have been used to foster some connection between Rufus and Lucy. The one saving grace here – and this could easily be tarnished as the season progresses – is that, seemingly, there’s a more meaningful reason for Rufus’ travels with Lucy and Wyatt, other than his ability to pilot the time machine. Hopefully Rufus and Connor Mason’s ulterior motives can offer more complexity to the character, so he doesn’t wind up being the butt of jokes.

For now, Timeless can stay on my B-List, because the seeds of future storylines planted during the pilot were just intriguing enough. I want to know more about Lucy’s notebook, and what’s going on between Rufus and Connor. Also, I must give credit to the fact that there were immediate consequences for the revisions they made to history. Even though it seems like they won’t be a problem for too long – the episode ends with Lucy being called back for another, possibly history-altering, adventure – at least they didn’t slack on that fundamental rule of time travel.

 

Frequency (CW) 8.5/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis.

A detective discovers she can speak with her deceased father via a ham radio, and the two of them work together across time to solve a decades-old murder case.

This was the biggest surprise of the week. In fact, it might be the biggest surprise of the new TV season thus far. Having no knowledge of the film that inspired it, I was entirely unsure of what I was getting into with Frequency. Though the trailer had done its job in enticing me to check out the show, I never expected to like it as much as I did. Some combination of the actors involved, the knowledge that time travel stories are high risk, and the idea that a ham radio was somehow the link between people living decades apart, didn’t inspire much faith for the project. Obviously, I need to stop judging books by their cover, or, more appropriately, TV shows by their 2-minute trailers.

Honestly, by the end of this pilot only one of my previous judgments remained an issue: having to accept that a ham radio struck by lightning could create a supernatural channel – a frequency, if you will – for conversing with the dead. But, hey, I’ve blindly accepted shakier premises – a virgin gets pregnant with artificial insemination, a bunch of teenage offenders are struck by lightning and develop superpowers. So, once you move past that, the episode has a number of things to offer. The first of which, was the time afforded to developing the characters’ own acceptance of the unbelievable thing happening to them. Unlike Timeless’ characters, ample space was provided for the growth of Raimy (Peyton List) and Frank (Riley Smith) as individuals, and to their process of finally accepting they were communicating with one another across the barriers of time.

Part of what helped convince Frank, was his and Raimy’s amusing baseball banter. I love how this dialogue served a dual purpose in both persuading Frank, and building a relationship between father and daughter. It’s interesting to see how much chemistry these two actors already have, despite not having a single scene where they’re actually together. List & Smith are impressing on all fronts; they’re each infusing a much-needed depth to some fairly stock characters. Perhaps some of that can be attributed to the change in dynamic from the 2000 film Frequency, which featured a father and son instead. Considering the superfluous amount of father-son relationships already explored on TV, I’m relieved the show is trying something different. Several details, both big – the change from son to daughter – and relatively small – using an Oasis song during Frank’s 90’s timeline – encourage confidence about the future of this show.

Most importantly, however, Frequency offers significant consequences for messing with history. Though hundreds of stories about time travel have taught us to beware the Butterfly Effect, the vast majority of shows and films rarely dish out the proper ramifications. Yes, Raimy no longer being engaged to Daniel was predictable. However, as I was patting myself on the back for correctly guessing this, the show swiftly redirected my hand to my face, when it revealed Raimy’s mother had died and the Nightingale Killer was still an on-going case. These unforeseen repercussions bode very well for the emotional impact, and overall wow-factor, Frequency could continue to hit throughout the rest of the season.

This Week in TV: Sep.18-24

This Week in TV: Two new dramas try their hand at “twist endings” and both are successfully handled, but only one of them seems to hold promise for the future. NBC’s afterlife comedy needs a little fine-tuning. A classic horror film is remade for TV, but even I, the wimpiest wimp who ever wimped, wouldn’t call it scary. 

In other news, this past week was jam-packed with new premieres and returning favourites – so exciting! However, because the idea for This Week in TV was primarily born of a desire to explore new shows, I decided to make that my sole focus for this week. Stay tuned for more pieces on ALL the TV once we get Pilot Season under our belts. Thanks for sticking with me!

* These are merely my thoughts and feelings on all the new television we’ve been blessed with, and my opinion on whether or not they are worth a watch. There will be very little focus on story or plot points, so it’s a relatively spoiler free zone – but NOT completely.

The Good Place (NBC) 6.5/10 – I’ll be back for two more episodes, then, we’ll see.

*Three episodes of The Good Place have aired, but I’m only covering the first two here.

Here is yet another example of a show I really like in theory, but just can’t quite get on board with in practice. I’ll give almost anything involving Kristen Bell a shot; she always does the most with the material she’s given, and she’s doing just that in The Good Place. While I think it’s fairly safe to say this will not be the role of Bell’s lifetime, her first-rate comedic timing and exceptionally engaging presence is nothing to scoff at, either. In fact, she’s essentially the only thing keeping TGP from being a complete waste of time.

Honestly, I can’t muster much positivity about this premiere. It’s a shame too, because I think a few small changes could have improved it a great deal. The runtime, for example, is baffling to me. This double-episode debut feels bloated and excessive – the amount of integral material conveyed here certainly did not warrant the hour-long time slot. By trimming some of the filler and focusing in on what was most important, TGP could have showcased a much tighter, half-hour narrative, which left the audience wanting more, rather than wondering when the hell it would be over.

I think they need to dial back the overall “cutes-y factor” as well. The particular neighbourhood we’re introduced to in TGP has all the feels of Who Ville or some other Dr. Seuss-ian type world, without the quirks that make those worlds work; like wacky rhyming schemes and curious looking characters. The soul-mate-for-everyone concept is similarly irritating, and reeks of an overt plot device created for pushing romantic relationships. How long until we see Bell’s character and her “soul mate” get together despite their clear lack of connection? One semi corny thing they can totally keep though, are the jokes about curse words being censored, because Bell’s delivery is genuinely forking hilarious. Here’s hoping The Good Place convinces me to stick around for longer than I expect to.

 

This is Us (NBC) 7/10 – I’ll be back for two more episodes, then, we’ll see.

What an utterly perplexing premiere, one that’s left me with completely conflicting feelings. On the one hand, there was a solid story with engaging enough elements to bring me back for more. On the other, I’m still not exactly sure what this show is, or what it’s trying to be. It reminds me of the way I felt after seeing the newest Mad Max film, I knew I liked it but I couldn’t comprehend why, or what the hell I had just watched. (To be clear, this show and that film have nothing in common aside from the feeling it produced within me.)

It’s not as though the premise for This is Us is overly complex, it’s actually quite simple: it follows a small group of people who share the same birthday. The beginning of the episode sets us up for something more, however, by suggesting that these people may have something more meaningful in common than the shared birth date. Still pretty simple, except now we have something more focused to explore. But wait, by episode’s end the connection is revealed through a fairly well executed “twist.” I won’t deny that I was intrigued by the reveal – I wasn’t blown away by any means, but looking back I can appreciate the subtlety of the clues given throughout the episode, and the fact that my imagination was not required to stretch to any unreasonable limits. I’m just not sure how the story can continue from there because it feels somewhat complete. To say anymore would ruin the entire central conceit of the episode, so let’s shift gears.

I wish I could say that I’d at least made a connection to the characters. Usually, that’s enough to keep me on board with even the dodgiest of plots; if there’s someone I can root for or strongly identify with, I’ll stick around. So far, I haven’t made that kind of connection to anyone in This is Us. Unfortunately, I feel that most of these characters have already fallen into a very trope-y place, which will require some fancy footwork from the writers in order to develop them into something more nuanced. Kevin is the typical, good-looking guy who is deeper than he appears. Jack is the overly optimistic and completely unrealistic type. Rebecca was nothing more than a woman who gave birth. Kate runs the risk of becoming a story only about her weight, rather than her person as a whole. Randall, encouragingly, may be the exception here as he was afforded the opportunity to deal with some interesting conflict right away. Let’s not discount the fact that Sterling K. Brown, who portrays Randall, is also arguably the best actor in the mix.

Again, here’s hoping this is another show that convinces me to stick around for longer than I expect to. There’s a lot of convincing to be done, though. Especially given that they pulled the tired scenario where the regular doctor couldn’t make it to the birth because of some sudden emergency. Really? Been there, done that – this is 2016, do better, please.

 

Pitch (FOX) 8.5/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis.

From the moment I saw this trailer I was ALL IN. Baseball is the only sport I keep up with, and the only thing stopping me from being a die-hard fan is the absence of female players in the majors. So, until the MLB gets their shit together in real life, I looked forward to living the dream through Pitch. I knew it was going to be a little corny, I knew it wouldn’t be the greatest show I’d ever watched, but I also knew it was going to be worthy of my time. Turns out, I was right and wrong – it was absolutely worth every minute, but it was also far less corny than I expected. In fact, I seriously underestimated the level of quality, in both storytelling and acting, that Pitch would able to throw our way. Ginny’s character still needs a lot of development – to be honest, everyone is just a little more than a sketch right now – but I’m convinced there’s a ton of potential, especially with the added layer of emotional depth that the “twist’ ending offered up. Without spoiling it I can say that, in direct contrast with This is Us, this reveal actually propels the story forward and opens up a great deal of opportunity for both story and character exploration.

There are a couple of changes I am hoping to see, the first of which is regarding the sexism and generalizations about women as a whole. Look, I can’t deny that the attitudes of everyone in Pitch are a fairly accurate representation of what would be happening in the real world. I just worry that it’s going to get real tiring, real quick. This is still fiction after all; it doesn’t have to be a constant mirror image of our world. While I do agree that a lot more women would start watching baseball if there were female players, there are already thousands of women, if not more, who do love the sport and there’s no need to erase our existence to keep harping on the same point. Similarly, it’s not hard to believe that Ginny would be catching a lot of unwarranted BS for being the only woman in the change rooms, but, again, I hope they don’t visit the same well too often. Of course, completely doing away with any sexism would be unreasonable – and it would force Pitch into an entirely different drama, like sci-fi or fantasy – so a fine line must be walked between realism and the threshold of what audiences can tolerate. At this point, I’m optimistic they can do so.

Secondly, let’s hope they refine some of that over-the-top dialogue. I’m not sure if the problem originated on the page or with how it was portrayed, but there were some truly cringe worthy lines. The one exception: “You can’t aim your pitches if you’re aiming to please everyone.” This is corny brilliance, and it’s officially made a home in my TV Quotes I Use on a Regular Basis roster.

I’ll be covering this show weekly, along with a fellow ProFan, at the amazing website Project Fandom. You can check out the first episode’s review here: http://projectfandom.com/pitch-series-premiere-review/

 

The Exorcist (FOX) 6.5/10 – I’ll be back for two more episodes – keeping a blanket to hide under close by, just in case – then, we’ll see.

Full disclosure: though I have knowledge of the overall concept, I have never seen any of the Exorcist films. So, I’m coming at this with a relatively neutral set of eyes – with no attachment to the films, I have zero investment in whether or not this story resembles or holds true them.  

As I added this show’s premiere date to my TV calendar, I shook my head in disbelief. I do not watch horror – see above about me being a wimp – and I couldn’t believe I had been intrigued enough by the trailer to actually give it a shot. Looking back, I’d say it was about 90% interest in Geena Davis and 10% interest in the story itself that convinced me. After watching the pilot, those percentages have shifted to around 75% Geena, 25% story. This is not a reflection on Davis’ performance – though we didn’t see as much of her as I would have liked – but a result of the fact that I’m actually semi-interested in this plot.

Was it groundbreaking? No. Was it as scary as it should have been? Probably not. Was it completely predictable and a little cheesy? Yes! Despite all of that, I still see some potential. There are a lot of intriguing questions surrounding the Rance family – each member seems to have a secret of sorts. And those “dreams” Father Tomas is having; what was the stimulus for him to begin seeing an event that happened over a year ago? I’m ready to watch these characters head down what seems like a very dark path.

With that said, I hope to see more restraint in terms of jump-scares. Why Angela would follow Father Tomas into the pitch-dark basement instead of just waiting for him upstairs is beyond me. The show will be far more successful at freaking people out – and telling a good story – if they focus on creating an eerie tone without immediately undercutting the mood in the process. I will admit though, the way that girl was “running” in the attic was creepy – the way her body was bending and contorting all over the place was just NOT right.

This Week in TV: Sep.11-17

This Week: Queen Sugar continues to be spectacular; Better Things gets a bit, well, better; and HBO’s first of two web-to-TV series gets off to a dope start.

First Impressions

* These are merely my thoughts and feelings on all the new television we’ve been blessed with, and my opinion on whether or not they are worth a watch. There will be very little focus on story or plot points, so it’s a relatively spoiler free zone – but NOT completely. Same goes for the other sections, continue at your own risk!

High Maintenance (HBO) 10/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis.

We live in the age of peak TV; in 2015 alone there were over 400 scripted programs flooding our screens. It’s nice to know there’s at least one show out there for everyone to enjoy, but I do sometimes wonder about whether we’re inevitably going to hit a point where every show feels like something that’s already been done. Of course, a handful of new shows every year – Stranger Things and Queen Sugar come to mind for 2016 – continue to prove that it’s still very possible to create fresh and original scripted programming, despite the saturated landscape. High Maintenance, at least based off of its premiere, is now another example of the shows that keep me hopeful.

As a fan of the web series, I tried to remain only cautiously optimistic when I learned High Maintenance would be making the jump to TV. (Though I was grateful to know it would be on HBO and not something like, say, CBS. What a disaster that would have been.) I was mainly concerned that it might be “repackaged” for television and transformed into something that bore little resemblance to, and lacked all the charm of the original series. Thankfully my concern quickly dissipated as I came to realize they were staying true to the source material. Now I’m no longer cautious; I’m genuinely excited.

High Maintenance feels as though it’s blazing the trail for a different kind of TV experience. In a world of serialized dramas, it’s kind of fun to step into a space for 35 minutes and then leave it all behind forever. This is made possible here because the only aspect that remains constant in the show is the drug dealer – sometimes known as The Guy – and he mostly plays a peripheral, if not ancillary role in each episode. The Guy and his weed are the only serialized part of High Maintenance. Every episode allows us the opportunity to explore an entirely new set of characters, his clients, – who, by the way, aren’t just throw away one-notes or tropes, though that would have been easy to do – and it feels somewhat liberating. As much as my heart belongs to ongoing, serialized TV – I love the character growth and story payoff that can only be gained after watching multiple seasons of a show – bringing something different to the table in the aforementioned saturated landscape is not only tricky, it’s important to the progress of TV as an art form.

This next thought may wind up relating to no one, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. This, essentially self-contained, form fits kind of perfectly, too, with what the show is about on its most superficial level: smoking weed. I’ve found that when I, ahem, partake in such activities, I have a series of fleeting, random thoughts. Many of which I will likely never think of again. It’s almost as if, each episode represents one of those random thoughts, just explored in a little more depth. I don’t know, maybe I’m just trippin’?

Second Chances 

Better Things

Well, this was certainly an improvement. There was a much tighter story structure in the second episode, and I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud a handful of times. A deeper, yet still fairly shallow, dive was taken into Sam’s character. Particularly concerning the suggested tension between her and her ex, and the toll that takes on the relationship between Sam and her kids. Sam’s mother was an absolute delight, and arguably the most interesting character thus far. What struck me specifically about the mother was how quickly her character developed and became identifiable, and how I still don’t feel that sense with the main character.

Similarly, I feel zero connection to the daughters. In fact, they irritate me to the point that I’m not even bothered by the lack of it. The scenes this week between Sam and Max, and Sam and Frankie were utterly grating. (I don’t understand how these children aren’t being punished at all for what they did.) By the end of the argument between Sam and Max, I was completely pulled out of the show because of how annoyed I was, and that’s not exactly encouraging. I’m so tired of pre-teens and teenagers being given one-note characters, who are forced to just do their best with the annoying and bratty dialogue thrown at them. It’s trope-y and it’s lazy. Give these children some nuance – they are people, too!

I have a feeling this show is really resonating with some folks, though. I’m sure there are plenty of mothers, single or otherwise, who can easily relate to Sam or at least some aspects of her character. And it’s great to see this kind of story being told from this particular perspective. For me, however, it’s just not doing it. I’m going to keep watching – though probably not live, and mainly because I want FX to know that women-run shows are important. It’s just not the kind of show I’m longing to talk about each week. So, maybe I’ll check in if anything really remarkable happens. For now though, I have to make room in This Week in TV for all the amazing stuff that’s still to come this season.

Returning Favourites

Atlanta

So, I’m a little infuriated with how Van’s character is being written. She’s not wrong to want Earn to find a job and be responsible for their daughter. She’s clearly a very patient and forgiving person to allow Earn so many chances. And yet, because Earn is essentially in the “hero” role, all of Van’s virtues aren’t seen as such. Instead, she’s the wet blanket, the nagging girlfriend, and I’m sure many are finding it difficult to root for her. I fear Van’s character is headed down the same path as Skyler White, and that’s a damn shame.

Though Earn and Van’s date did provide a few laughs and some significant exchanges between the two, Paper Boi and Darius’ adventure into the woods was by far the more interesting storyline. The way these two actors play off of one another is great, and though there’s still plenty of room for character development, I’ve become pretty invested pretty quickly in these men. Was it immediately predictable that Darius would forget the key to his handcuffs? Yes. It didn’t matter, though, because it heightened the tension of their situation while also creating the opportunity for some very funny physical comedy from Darius. In fact, all of the amusing moments during their drug deal managed to deliver laughs while never lessening the severity of the situation at hand.

Queen Sugar

Part of me wishes this show were on Netflix or some other streaming service, because at the end of every episode I just want more. That said, I would have undoubtedly finished Queen Sugar in a day or two and then the experience of seeing it for the first time would be over. So, I’m mostly glad I have to wait every week for more greatness. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again if necessary: the only valid reason for not watching this show is because you don’t get the channel and you haven’t yet figured out another way to watch it. So, go on, figure it out, I promise you won’t regret it.

As with last week’s episodes, “Thy Will be Done” was absolutely breathtaking. Here are my two favourite moments from episode 3.

Blue

This beautiful little boy stole my heart this week. The way he said, “c’mon pop” while trying to persuade Ralph Angel to drop the gun, was equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming. In a lesser show, Blue’s character would merely have existed in the scene, looking worried for his father. Not only did Ethan Hutchison nail his dialogue, he managed to layer it with a tone that informed a great deal about his relationship with his father. Blue really understands Ralph Angel, and in this small yet powerful scene, he was able to reinforce the genuine dynamic these two characters possess. Well done, casting directors, well done.

Aunt Vi’s Shade

Blue may have stolen my heart, but Vi made me chuckle and fist pump the air. This small injection of humor was a much-welcomed break from the heavy material of the first two episodes. Her attitude towards Davis was so perfect, and I’m actually surprised Hollywood and Ralph Angel had the nerve to act any differently. (If I were savvy enough, I would have made a gif of Vi letting the door shut on Davis. Let’s just pretend it’s here.) The best part about Vi’s shade is how it’s only an aspect of who she is; she’s not defined by it. TV has given us enough female characters that only play this one note – she’s feisty, that’s it, that’s all. Since the show is technically centered on the Bordelon siblings, Vi didn’t necessarily need any nuance. But by balancing her character and allowing us to see the different sides of her – the loving, the grieving, the smart, and the loyal sides – it makes her shade throwing even more delicious. We can understand her motivation for it, and it’s not just played for laughs.

Honorable Mention

When Charley and Nova tell Ralph Angel they’re going to keep the farm, my heart melted. I’m fairly certain this is the first instance where we’ve seen them happy and smiling with one another, and it was a beautiful way to end the episode.

 

This Week in TV: Sep.4-10

What happens when we start to see more diversity both on and off-screen? We get a whole lot of fabulous, fresh, and exciting TV, that’s what. Can we all just finally agree that art needs and thrives on diversity? That if we want TV to keep getting better, keep pushing the limits of what’s possible, it means we need people of all genders, races, classes, etc., etc., to be given an equal and fair chance at producing it? If nothing else, this past week in new TV is surely evidence of that fact.

First Impressions

* These are merely my thoughts and feelings on all this new television we’ve been blessed with, and my opinion on whether or not they are worth a watch. There will be very little focus on story or plot points, so it’s a relatively spoiler free zone – but NOT completely.  

*At the time of writing, I had only seen the first two episodes of both Atlanta and Queen Sugar, and the first episodes of Better Things and One Mississippi.

Atlanta (FX) 9/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis.

With the hope that this confession may help persuade others to think twice about this show, I think it’s important I say this right up front: I don’t totally “get” Atlanta. There are some aspects of the show that just miss me, but that’s ok. Not everything on TV has to be made for me, or made for white people in general. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t watch it, or at the very least give it a shot. That would be similar to ignoring all British television because you can’t appreciate every cultural reference, and sometimes have to use closed captions to understand the dialogue. You’d be missing out on a lot of great TV, and the same is true about Atlanta.

It’s worth checking out just to see Donald Glover flex his acting chops by portraying someone other than Troy – he’s got range! It’s worth coming back to, however, for myriad reasons. The incredible balance struck between narrative complexity and levity, the music, the consistently thought-provoking character that is Darius, the understated yet often laugh-out-loud humour, and, arguably most importantly, because there hasn’t really ever been anything like this on TV before. It’s a chance for TV fanatics to experience something new. Sure, we’ve seen similar characters, but I highly doubt they were written from the perspective of men of colour.

The one glaring issue in Atlanta is the lack of fully developed female characters. Basically all we have, so far, is Earn’s girlfriend, and her dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. It’s hard to separate my knowledge of Glover’s attitudes toward women in the past, with what’s happening in Atlanta. I’m hoping one of two things will happen: the female characters get better as the season progresses, or Glover gets enough pushback about the issue and corrects the problem in future seasons.

Queen Sugar (OWN) 10/10 – I’ll be checking in on a weekly basis, but I wish I could watch this everyday.

This show has been on my must-see list since I found out that women of colour were creating it, and that every single episode’s director would be a woman. I mean, how could I say no to that? I couldn’t it, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Right out of the gate, Queen Sugar has the potential to be the best new series of the year. With the way I feel about it right now, after seeing only two episodes, it might even make my list of top 10 shows ever. Yep, it was really that good. I mean, when you hear the words “Oprah Winfrey and Ava Duvernay are creating a TV show together” it’s obvious that greatness will follow. But, honestly, I didn’t expect that it would be so, SO great – shame on me.

I cannot remember another premiere episode of television that got me so thoroughly invested in each and every character, and the story itself so damn quickly. By the end of the first episode I was a crying mess, and it was because I cared so deeply for these people, despite having only spent an hour with them. Duvernay and her team were able to inform so much about Queen Sugar’s world and its characters, and not just through dialogue and acting – though ALL of that was on point.

It was in the way each shot was so thoughtfully framed, giving you the feeling that there’s a purpose to everything in focus and everything that remains subtly in the background. It was the songs and score that matched so perfectly with what was happening at every second. It was the overall tone, which they wasted no time in establishing with pure precision in the very first scene. All of these factors worked in beautiful harmony to paint a very clear picture of not only who these people are, but of exactly what kind of world they are living in. And I’m hooked. Of course, the characters and the show will likely change and evolve as the season continues, but the foundations already laid are so strong that it can only get better from here. How lucky are we?!

Better Things (FX) 6.5/10 – I’ll be back for at least two more episodes, then, we’ll see.

I really want to love this show. It’s created by a woman, its lead character is a woman, the cast is largely female, and the trailer suggested this was going to offer a different, more authentic take on single motherhood – likely because it’s coming from a female’s perspective. (The one thing it seemingly, and disappointingly, lacks is racial diversity, though that could change, fingers crossed, as the season continues.) Unfortunately, as far as premieres go, this one was just OK.

The narrative wasn’t exactly cohesive, several jokes just didn’t hit their landing, and, regrettably, I found myself checking the clock to see how much longer it would be on. While the episode served as a decent enough introduction to Sam and her three kids, it all felt very basic, and a bit hollow; nothing about what I’ve seen has me the least bit invested in the story or characters. Overall, I feel pretty indifferent right now about Better Things.

On the other hand…

There was an immediate and enjoyable chemistry between Sam and her daughters. I liked the subtle way in which possible future storylines were hinted at – I’m hoping both the mystery text relationship, and the flashback to Sam’s father are explored further. And, though it was but a minor part of the episode near the end, I found Sam’s struggle between the need to take acting gigs in order to pay the bills, while simultaneously only wanting to accept parts that help maintain her good-mom-role-model status, fairly intriguing. These few aspects are enough to make me give the show a second chance.

One Mississippi (Amazon) 8.5/10

Wow. This was not at all what I expected. To be fair, I knew very little about One Mississippi prior to watching the first episode, aside from the fact that it was created by and stars Tig Notaro. And all I really know about Notaro is that she’s a comedian. So, naturally, though quite naïvely in retrospect, I went into the first episode expecting a comedy; I assumed I would be laughing. Now, the show does have a few funny moments. Those moments aren’t necessarily laugh-out-loud ones, and they’re certainly nothing to slap your knee over. But, there is definitely a subdued and, for lack of a better word, dark sense of humor present throughout the half-hour premiere.

Regardless of what I thought One Mississippi was going to be, I’m pleasantly surprised with what it is. In just one 30-minute episode, I already feel a strong connection to Tig, and want to see where this next journey in life takes her. The one true problem I had with the premiere was the lack of character development for the people in Tig’s life – the one exception being her stepfather. Considering how small the main cast actually is I think this problem could correct itself fairly quickly. I’ll definitely be giving this a couple more episodes worth of my time.

All episodes of One Mississippi are currently available on Amazon, so I won’t be checking in on a week-to-week basis. Instead, I’ll report back on this when I’ve seen the entire season, or I’ll let you know why I’ve given up.

I’m Totally in love with Agent Peggy Carter

Peggy

I came to the Marvel Cinematic Universe late: during a two-week stretch in the summer of 2014 I watched every available title, from Iron Man to Guardians of the Galaxy. I had resisted watching the films sooner because I was never any good at watching action-adventures, I always get lost in the plot. While I’m still a little fuzzy on the exact details of those movies, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the universe itself and the characters within it. Thor was the standout for me, I promise you it’s for more (and better) reasons than Chris Hemsworth alone, but ultimately my favorite character – a highly underrated one at that – was Agent Peggy Carter.

Peggy’s is a rather cliché tale, albeit true to life; she’s a woman trying to make it in a man’s world and she’s constantly underestimated by those men even though she’s proved herself to be more than qualified. Nor is she a unique character; the badass who can kick ass while also being beautiful and feminine. Nonetheless, through some combination of dialogue, the marvelous acting and comedic timing of Hayley Atwell, and the sheer fun of watching her move through this world while maintaining the confidence and determination that she has, Peggy ends up shining through the familiar narrative to be an engaging and enjoyable character.

I was thrilled to learn that Peggy was going to get her own show! My biggest problem with the MCU is the lack of female characters, and I feel lucky to have joined the fandom when awareness and change is on the rise. I can only imagine the excitement that some women must have had after following the movies and comic books for much, much longer than I have. I did have a few reservations though, in particular about how they would address the rampant sexism of the era in which Peggy’s story takes place.

With a few exceptions – like that of superheroes being a real deal – the Marvel Universe’s history looks a lot like that of our world. Unfortunately that means that sexism was (is) also a real deal, so it can’t be ignored. My only hope was that it didn’t eclipse the story itself, or worse, be played for laughs. My uncertainty grew when the first trailer for Agent Carter was released because it was accompanied with the tagline, “Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman.” Huh? What does that even mean? I assume it was meant to make us chuckle – exactly the type of thing I had feared – but it came off as lazy and in poor taste.

I’ve also been worried about the pressure being placed on the series itself. Being that it’s the first female-led installment in the MCU people have high hopes for it. I fear that if it’s not perfect or popular enough it will be deemed as a failure for women-centered stories and that it will set some weakened precedent for future female-led MCU endeavors. It’s unfortunate that we can’t just be excited and let it be what it will be, considering that this degree of pressure is rarely placed upon a male-centric story. That’s likely because stories featuring men are still very much the norm, and so while I do understand all the hype and expectations that Agent Carter is acquiring, I hope that this too does not eclipse the story itself.

On Tuesday night when Peggy made her debut, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The premiere was so much fun! In addition to Carter’s character being a treat to watch, the set pieces were stunning, the costumes were gorgeous, and the plot – while a little fast-paced for a relative newbie like me – was more than appealing! Peggy Carter as a double agent? Yes please! My one criticism would be that while Peggy is at the center of this story, the majority of the secondary cast is men. Hopefully Angie, the waitress at the local diner who I’m already in love with, and the all female apartment building where Peggy is about to reside will help to equalize the gender ratio.

I was hooked within the first ten minutes and there’s a particular scene that really did it for me. One of the bumbling male agents makes a misogynistic remark to Peggy and a fellow Agent, Daniel Sousa, defends her. Though she’s not ungrateful for his act of solidarity, she makes it clear to Sousa that she can handle herself. I love that Peggy recognizes that she has an ally in Sousa but that it doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice her own autonomy. I am pleased that the writers didn’t allow Peggy to be dismissive or callous about Sousa’s defense, nor did they allow her to be passive in that moment. It’s only a small beat but it makes a big impact and there are a few more subtleties similar to it – like when Jarvis opens Peggy’s car door only for Peggy to open another on her own – that allow her to assert her independence without it being a big deal.

Can’t wait to see what the series has in store for us!

 

 

Favourite Female TV Characters of 2014

The following is a list of my top five favourite female characters from the television of 2014. There’s no particular order here, I was unable to pick favourites within my favourites. If you haven’t seen these ladies in action I hope that this will inspire you to do so.  Enjoy! Oh, and beware of SPOILERS for all of the shows these characters are from!

Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead

The Waking Dead gives viewers a chance to see a world that we, in all likelihood, will never have to be a part of. As an audience it’s rewarding to have a diverse set of characters within which we can see similarities with ourselves, and differences, in order to gage how we would react if we did find ourselves in a zombie apocalypse. Though Carol and I have very different pasts – and futures presumably – I can relate to her and she represents the person I hope I could be in a world like that.

Her character arc is one of the most compelling and thought provoking of the show. The fact that she’s the only remaining female survivor from the original cast of season one is not lost on me. Carol transformed from a submissive & fearful background character to an assertive & courageous leader. She’s smart & resourceful and in a world where you are often faced with split-second decision-making, she has the ability to be very forward thinking.

Plus, she’s an all around BADASS as evidenced by her raid on Terminus and the way she strolled out of that hospital like falling off a bridge and getting hit by a car the day before was just no big deal!

Annalise Keating – How to Get Away with Murder

Annalise is an especially complex woman who I’m still trying to figure out. Given that How to Get Away with Murder is only halfway through its rookie season – and has been jam-packed with plot twists and character surprises – I don’t think we’re supposed to fully understand her yet. What I can say is that she is downright mesmerizing; it’s difficult to peel your eyes away from her for even just a second while she’s on screen. She has a demanding presence and rightfully so.

Not only is Annalise a highly sought-after defense attorney, she’s also a criminology professor who has students that simultaneously fear and revere her. An intern position in her law office is highly coveted amongst her students. There is no question that this woman is tough as nails but we’ve also seen a few glimpses of her softer side, which offer an important nuance to the character while also adding to the uncertainty of who she truly is.

While I’m not sure Annalise and I would be best pals, I absolutely love the character and the fact that women are getting more opportunities to portray the antiheroes that we all love to hate.

Nora Durst – The Leftovers

Nora suffered the greatest loss of anyone in the fictional town of Mapleton NY when her entire family – a husband and two children – were taken from her in The Sudden Departure. One minute she was preparing breakfast and the next, total silence. We meet Nora three years after the disappearances and without having gained any closure she’s simply going through the motions of life, not truly living anymore.

Sincerely believing that there is no future for herself she lives in the past, frozen in that time frame, stuck in a loop. She still buys enough groceries for four people, right down to the specific cereals that her children would eat. At the end of each week she throws it all away and fills the spot with a replacement. Her existence is robotic, void of any emotion besides pain. Nora goes to great lengths – dark and shocking lengths – to continue feeling that pain. She’s not willing to let the loss of her family stop hurting her because if she does, then they truly are gone.

Even in the face of her unimaginable loss Nora still tries to find some meaning in her existence. Her job is to help others who were affected by The Sudden Departure and she also speaks out about her situation at conferences. Nora exemplifies the type of endurance that I hope I could have if left in the same situation.

Find out why I thought The Leftovers was the best new show of 2014 here: http://projectfandom.com/profan-best-of-2014-tvanime/

Bonnie Bennett – The Vampire Diaries

This is the kind of woman you’d want as your best friend. Bonnie is compassionate, intelligent, and constantly sacrificing herself to save those she loves. She’s a powerful witch who’s fearless in the face of grave danger. She’s suffered countless tragedies including but not limited to: the deaths of her grandmother, father, and herself; being resurrected from the dead in order to become an anchor to The Other Side, where she had to feel the pain of all dead supernatural beings who cross over through her; and at present, she’s been stuck in some alternate reality of the 1990’s for the past six months.

Now granted some of the time stuck in said alternate reality has been spent with Damon Salvatore (total babe) so it wasn’t all that bad but, c’mon, she’s been through worse than hell! At the end of the day Bonnie is one of the most hopeful, empathetic, and courageous women I watch on TV. Sometimes I wish Bonnie would get angry with her friends for the way they take her for granted but she has a lot more patience than I do!  To top it all off this girl is so quick-witted you never see her quips coming!

Check out my reviews of The Vampire Diaries season 6 here: http://projectfandom.com/category/tv/recaps/the-vampire-diaries-s6/

Claire Underwood – House of Cards

At first glance one might think Claire is nothing more than a charming and loyal politician’s wife. She’s visually appealing, exceptionally charismatic, and seemingly harmless. But make no mistake about it, Claire is far from innocent and she is every bit as cold and calculating as her husband, Frank. She is willing to do whatever it takes to get to the top, even if that means taking action when her husband won’t.

Prior to House of Cards I’d never seen a relationship like the one Claire and Frank have. They’re so in love and so honest with one another and yet unbeknownst to everyone else they are lying, murdering, criminals. I was nervous that this would be yet another story of a power-hungry man who cheats on his wife and commits unspeakable acts, all the while playing the role of devoted husband. I could not have been more thrilled – and I’m not sure what this says about me – to find that, while the Underwoods do take part in extramarital affairs and heinous criminal activity, they do it together and only if the act will benefit them! It’s refreshing to see a woman be just as complicit as a man in this type of story.

Claire is the Devil wearing Angel’s wings and she’s one of the finest villains ever to grace the small screen.

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 6: “Consumed”

We Ain’t Ashes

First off I must tell you, without hesitation, that Carol & Daryl are my favorite characters on The Walking Dead and that I used to want, more than anything, for them to be together romantically. I’d been rooting for them ever since he gave her that Cherokee rose as a token of hope for Sophia. I giggled nervously when she, in what I now realize was only a joking manner, asked him to screw around. I cried when he found her in the tombs of the prison and brought her back to safety. Finally, the time she called him “pookie”, though it wouldn’t have been my choice of nickname, made me squeal with delight! Every part of me wanted to see them get down and dirty, or at least kiss each other!

That version of Carol and Daryl seems like another lifetime. Now I just want to see the two of them on screen together because for a while there, I thought it might never happen again. During their long and painful separation throughout season 4, I was preparing myself for the worst. When Carol told Tyrese about Karen & David, that could have been sayonara for her and when Joe’s group (the claimers) got the jump on Daryl I was quite worried for him. Then there was Terminus, who knew it would be just outside its gates where the two would reunite. When they did, I lost my shit! It was all I could think about for days! The way Daryl ran to her, that hug, the smiles, the way he drops his head to her shoulder, this still plays in a loop in my head sometimes. I was more than satisfied with this, I never dreamed of asking The Walking Dead Gods for an entire episode dedicated to these two!

So, there was a lot riding on this episode for me and for others who love these characters and thankfully, it didn’t even come close to letting me down. The shared history between Carol and Daryl – remember they’ve each been around since season one with the Atlanta survivors – is evident on the screen. One line of dialogue shared between these two can have 4 seasons of meaning behind it. The writers don’t need to worry about filling in the backstory, it’s already there, making their conversations much more impactful. Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride have immeasurable chemistry to lend their characters and they were fully in-sync for the hour, except for maybe their taste in art!

Let’s start with the flashbacks…

I actually screamed “YES!” at my TV when the cold open started and it was a flashback to Rick’s exile of Carol, it was the first of many rewarding moments. I loved seeing how smart she was using all the survival skills she had acquired. She was planning on setting up camp, evidenced by the rainwater catcher she was fashioning, but the moment she saw the smoke coming from the prison she didn’t think twice about getting in her car to go and help her friends. This reaction combined with the scene of her crying in the car gave me a new perspective on who Carol is. Last year I had assumed that she was too hard, too tough to let being ousted from the group get to her but clearly she was distraught, consumed with grief. In the end though it didn’t cloud her judgment and she still went to the prison to help. I appreciated this new awareness into her character.

The remaining flashbacks give us further insight into certain moments from the last couple weeks in Carol’s life. We see her looking mournfully at Karen and David’s bodies, the burying of Lizzie and Mika, and how she got so clean for her reunion with Daryl after storming Terminus. While these scenes didn’t necessarily give us any vital information, they undeniably gave us a better understanding of Carol and provided the fire and smoke imagery so fundamental to this episode. Should she die, whether sooner or later, this episode will serve as a well-earned tribute to her.

On to the rest of the episode…

With the exception of a few quick glimpses in the Bethisode from this season, we haven’t seen what’s going on in Atlanta since the very beginnings of the show. Season one had an entirely different feel; there was a greater sense of urgency and terror to everything because it was all so new and unknown. This episode was successful in conjuring those feelings from so long ago and being back in the city gave it some serious edge. Sure, an abandoned house in the countryside has a significant creep factor but it doesn’t come close to the eeriness of an entire city – one that used to contain hundreds of thousands of people – being utterly abandoned, complete with discarded vehicles and severely burnt buildings. Just the shot of them driving towards the bridge on the highway, with everything so dark, desolate, and foreboding, that in itself was enough to instantly encourage anxiety.

Episodes such as this one tend to divide The Walking Dead fans and I have seen a variety of reactions to it. We all tend to love the fast-paced action-packed episodes like “No Sanctuary” when our entire group is together, fighting the bad guys and saving the day. But when it comes to episodes like these where we see only some members of our group and the story is character rather than plot driven, as a fan base, we’re separated. Some of us feel that it was boring and slow, while some of us (myself included) loved it for its subtleties and character development. For some people the quiet ambience was boring, for some it was stressful and nerve-racking. My palms were sweaty as I waited for someone – walker or otherwise – to pop out from around the corner, I almost wished for it so some of my tension could be relieved.

One of my favorite aspects of this episode was how Daryl tried to drive home the point to Carol that she can have a fresh start. He wouldn’t allow her to dispatch the walkers in the temporary housing, insisting that she doesn’t always have to be the one to do those deeds. He stops her from shooting Noah, which could potentially have been another dead body on her hands. Even though she believes that you can’t save people anymore, Daryl continues to remind her that, “you’re here and you’re trying.”

There’s a brief moment when Daryl decides to leave Noah for dead and maybe he thinks Carol’s plan to shoot him wasn’t so terrible and yet, in the end he kills the walker and saves Noah. Who would have guessed that hardcore, backwoods Daryl Dixon would become one of the most admirable and loyal people in the world? I was a little teary-eyed when the book about surviving childhood abuse fell out of his bag; his character arc has been so enjoyable to watch.

As for Noah, some folks may have thought that him being able to ambush two bad-asses like Carol and Daryl was not plausible and while it did feel predictable in the way it was shot – Carol putting the gun out of the door first without checking – I didn’t think it was unreasonable. In fact, I thought it was a nice way to establish that Noah is a smarter, tougher character than we all assumed.

Yeah, let’s talk about that damn van…

The scene with the van falling off the bridge has, most likely, an impossible outcome. When the van starts to fall it looks as though it will rotate and fall on the roof, the quick scene we get inside the van makes it look as though it’s going to land on the front end, and yet, in the end, the van lands upright on its wheels. Ok, I’m calling bullshit. BULLSHIT! There I did it, I hated it and, I wish I didn’t have to but it’s a glaring problem that I just can’t look away from.

In a show about zombies, which probably don’t and will never exist – probably – there are certain merits to making everything else in the story hold up factually. As an audience we’re asked to suspend our disbelief in order to trust the main narrative that this is a post-apocalyptic world where people who die reanimate and eat the flesh of the living. So, in my opinion, it would be beneficial to have more than just a shred of truth to the stories being told.

With that said, and remember I gave in and called bullshit, in the end I think that more good than bad came from this scene and I can therefore give it a pass. I could have done without the first instance of them being in the front on the van together. I assumed that when Daryl went to the front to look for clues, Carol would act as a weight at the other end, *sigh*, alas no, she walks to the front as well. That part was indeed useless and rather senseless. But when the two of them buckle up and prepare themselves for the fall, I was a mess of feelings. My stomach dropped to my knees when Carol grabbed Daryl’s hand and he told her to just hang on.  I was nervous, sad, scared, even angry, and I felt the bond between them in that moment was stronger than it ever had been. Plus, who could deny that the walker smashing into the windshield and then the subsequent ones who rained down on the van’s roof wasn’t cool? No one could because it was fucking awesome! Even Daryl later admits to how stupid it was when Carol shows him the damage to her collarbone. Oh well, they survived and it only added more fuel to their badass fires!

Speaking of fires…

The Walking Dead has seen its fair share; this episode though, had a very evident focus on it. Not only were there literal occurrences of fire, 7 to be exact, the dialogue contained some very figurative language and the title of the episode itself, Consumed, is rather suggestive. This was by far the most perplexing and yet stimulating facet of the episode. What did it all mean? There are so many things that fire could represent ranging from death and disintegration to life and regeneration. Though fire can be destructive it can also bring about renewal, like in a controlled forest fire, which at first glance would seem damaging but ultimately results in purification and the stimulation of new growth.

The more I pondered all this imagery the more I realized that there simply wasn’t one interpretation to take away from it all. A particular concept that kept coming back to me though, was the idea of this comparison between the fire and Carol’s personal evolution. There are several instances in her past where she could have been consumed, whether it was by grief, hatred, or the total bleakness of this world, and yet she wasn’t. She continued to rekindle herself by burning away the old versions of her.

The episode provided glimpses into the many different sides to Carol that we’ve come to know. There’s the cold and calculated Carol who killed Karen and David and who might have killed Noah. The pre-apocalypse Carol, embodied by the mother and daughter walkers at the temporary housing. The softer side of Carol who wants to save Noah and who cries alone after being exiled. Finally, there’s strong and determined Carol who somehow finds hope after the deaths of Lizzie and Mika and goes on to obliterate Terminus. She’s constantly reinventing herself, just as a fire helps to reinvent the forest.

Carol and Daryl’s dialogue about who they once were, who they are now, and about how they can start over, also further demonstrates this idea of the evolution. Fire was the symbol of how Carol, time and time again, has risen from the ashes to reclaim her new self. As Daryl, rather appropriately, reminds her “we ain’t ashes.”

Overall I think this episode was important to Carol’s evolution, we gained new insight into her motivations and the emotions she portrayed offered so much depth to the character. I think it was imperative for us to know that what happened with Sophia, Karen, David, Lizzie, and Mika, doesn’t sit lightly with her, she’s shackled to these memories and will carry them with her forever. Literal proof of this is shown when we get a glimpse into her backpack and see that she’s still holding on to Lizzie’s copy of Tom Sawyer.

 

I’m going to go on record saying that this is, hands-down, my favorite episode ever of The Walking Dead, which truthfully, makes me really concerned for the future of both Carol & Daryl. I think those hospital jerks hit her on purpose, similarly to how they “saved” Beth from walkers. Daryl keeps losing people; will he sacrifice himself for the ones he loves? Or will Carol, as a final step in her transformation, be the one to lay down her life for others? Here’s hoping they both stay alive…and then make sweet, fiery, nasty love in the streets of Atlanta!