Episode of the Week: 9/21-9/27

Now that TV season is fully underway, it’s time for the return of my Episode of the Week posts! I’ve taken the slightly easier option of choosing the episode that most deserves to be spotlighted this week, whether I thought it was the best or it did a good job being creative and unique.

This week, my TV world was a busy one for the first time since May. I was introduced to Elizabeth McCord on Madam Secretary, worried about Cary being in prison on The Good Wife, rejoiced over the return of Sleepy Hollow, met the young Bruce Wayne on Gotham, was disillusioned with the start of s8 of The Big Bang Theory, fell in love with Schmidt again on New Girl, loved the way Mindy takes care of Danny on The Mindy Project, sobbed over the loss of Shay and the beautiful friendships between her, Severide, and Gabby on Chicago Fire, had my heart broken by Juliette on Nashville, met the Johnson family on the very funny Black-ish, cheered for Olivia’s return while grieving with Mellie on Scandal, learned How to Get Away with Murder, cried over the loss of Sweets on Bones, and began the final season of Parenthood.

There was a lot of TV I really enjoyed this week. The Good Wife is off to what looks to be a very exciting season and Eli Gold and his daughter are a wonderful treat. The Mindy Project continues to be fantastic at navigating Danny and Mindy’s relationship and premieres were strong this week. But nothing on TV thrilled me as much this week as the return of Sleepy Hollow.

It’s been a long wait for Sleepyheads (which is an adorable fan group name, btw). The s1 finale aired in January with basically all the main characters in some sort of trouble or danger. Irving was in jail, Jenny was in a car accident and we were uncertain of her fate, Katrina was taken prisoner by the Headless Horseman, Ichabod had been buried alive by his son (the 2nd Horseman of the Apocalypse), and Abbie was trapped in Purgatory. Many of these problems were resolved in the second season opener and while it was appreciated, it wasn’t what made the episode great.

I have said it many times and I will continue to say it as long as the show runs. This crazy show, with it’s blend of historical figures and Biblical end-of-times mythology, probably shouldn’t work. The plotting isn’t always tightly controlled and things can sometimes be a little too convenient, but none of that matters. The characters are what make this show a joy to watch. It’s the surprise party that scares Ichabod, and the way Ichabod and Abby hugged when they were partially reunited in Moloch’s lair, and Jenny and Ichabod trading places in the ambulance because he didn’t know how to put it in reverse that make this show work.

The chemistry between Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie is as usual, nothing short of spectacular. They sell Ichabod and Abbie’s happiness at being reunited (more than once) and really make you feel how important these characters are to each other. There is an easiness and comfort that pours out of every scene they share and even if that connection was a little rushed plot-wise last season, it works because of everything Mison and Beharie put into it.

I am also really looking forward to seeing Jenny join the team next season and be a bigger part of things. Lyndie Greenwood works so well with both Mison and Beharie and it makes her character seem like such a natural fit with the team. I want more moments between the sisters as they heal and build a new relationship moving forward and I need more of Ichabod calling her “Miss Jenny” and seeing a friendship develop there.

What was your favorite episode during this first full week of TV?

New Fall Shows: What Are You Watching?

It’s officially September and that means new network TV and lots of it. Below are the new shows with air dates, trailers and descriptions (along with links to the pilots on Hulu if applicable). If you already know what you want to see, skip to after the list for my take on this year’s new shows and head to the comments to share what new shows you’ll be trying out!

September 17th

Red Band Society (FOX) Trailer/Description

September 21st

Madam Secretary (CBS) Trailer/Description

September 22nd

Gotham (FOX) Trailer/Description

Scorpion (CBS) Trailer/Description

September 23rd

Forever (ABC) Trailer/Description/Pilot

NCIS: New Orleans (CBS) Trailer/Description

September 24th

The Mysteries of Laura (NBC) Trailer/Description

Black-ish (ABC) Trailer/Description

September 25th

How to Get Away with Murder (ABC) Trailer/Description

September 30th

Selfie (ABC) Trailer/Description/Pilot

Manhattan Love Story (ABC) Trailer/Description


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Badass Women and the Shows that Celebrate Them

I finally got a chance to watch the Badass Women panel from the weekend and like many others, I absolutely loved it. The women on the panel are all fabulous, both on screen and off. I love that a panel like that exists because it means that more people are taking an interest in the way women are portrayed on TV and in the movies. I love that sexism and racism in the entertainment industry can be discussed in two very popular panels during Comic Con. What I loved most of all is that it celebrates so many different ways to be strong. Sansa Stark is very different from Sarah Walker and Donna Meagle but all three are equally badass. I was so inspired after finishing the panel that I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate shows that focus on all types of female strength. Many of these I have already discussed this month (I may have a slightly obvious preference in my TV) and I would love to hear your thoughts on strong female characters and the shows that portray them.

Sex and the City This show is fantastic about showcasing different types of women and the relationships between them. The show never demonized any of the women for their beliefs or actions or tried to elevate one above the rest. Charlotte wasn’t the uptight prude that everyone hated, Samantha wasn’t the slut that everyone secretly talked about behind her back, Miranda wasn’t the cynical, career-driven bitch, and Carrie wasn’t the slightly naive one who made bad choices. They were all fully formed women and appreciated the differences in each other and that made it truly special. 

Gilmore Girls This is my go-to show for their depiction of a strong women whose strength had nothing to do with physical abilities and everything to do with dedication and drive. Lorelai was emotional, occasionally irrational, independent and determined. She got to be sensitive and competent and while that might not seem like as big of a deal now, it was a big deal in 2000 to my teenage self and it’s still a portrayal I deeply love. The show also featured a myriad of other fantastic women, from Miss Patty to Emily Gilmore, who all had different approaches to life but who each had something we could learn from them. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel/Firefly/Dollhouse I’m just going to lump all of Joss’s shows together because he is known for the strength of his female characters. Unlike Gilmore Girls and Sex and the City, many of the characters on his shows are also physically strong. Buffy is a vampire slayer and therefore good in a fight. Faith, Zoe, and Echo are also characters who aren’t to be messed with because they are capable of kicking your ass in a fight. But there are also characters like Willow, Kaylee and Fred, whose strength comes from other areas. What is most remarkable is that all of the characters, regardless of their variety of strength, aren’t only defined by it. Buffy is still a regular teenage girl. She has crushes, she makes bad romantic choices, and she just wants to go to college with her best friend. Kaylee is a sweetheart and emotionally vulnerable but is also a highly gifted mechanic. They are all well-rounded and full characters, not stereotypes that can easily be placed into a box. 

Battlestar Galactica I love that this show can contain all of the awesomeness that is Kara Thrace, Laura Roslin, and Six. All equally strong yet all diverse. Kara’s approach to her femininity isn’t the same as Six’s approach. Roslin’s strength of conviction and leadership skills aren’t the same as Kara’s physical abilities or her confidence. Then there are the rest of the women who fall somewhere in between these divergent characters to occupy a space that is all their own. 

Once Upon a Time Like Jennifer Morrison said, this show is a great one for female characters. All are allowed their own identity and a space to call their own. They don’t need to be alike and they don’t all need to occupy traditionally female narratives at all times while not needing to occupy a more masculine narrative in order to be strong. There is strength in their vulnerability. There is strength in Snow’s continued hope. There is strength in the protectiveness that come’s from Red’s wolf side. There is strength in Regina’s growth as she opens herself up to others. There is strength in the forgiveness that has had to come as characters have hurt each other, whether intentional or not.

I want diverse examples of women on TV. I want young girls to be able to watch a show full of female characters and be able to find a character or even a combination of characters who have traits they can identify with. I want all women to feel like there isn’t a wrong way to be a strong woman. Physical strength isn’t a necessity, but it’s ok if you do have that. Women don’t have to express their emotional strength by being kind and nurturing, but it’s ok if that’s how you choose to be. We don’t have to be one extreme of the gender role spectrum, we’re allowed to occupy multiple roles at different times and even at the same time. Our identity is what we make it and our strength comes from being honest about who we are and being brave enough to share that with the world. That’s what I want when I say I want strong female characters on TV and that’s what was represented by this fantastic panel.

What shows do you love for their portrayal of female characters? 

Even More TV Options: Non-US-Made Shows

It is truly a great time for television. While most of the focus of this version of the Golden Age of Television (and all of the previous versions) has been US-centric, there is an increasing interest in non-US made TV. So today we are going to look at some of the best TV made outside of the US.  

British TV has always been slightly more accessible to Americans through PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre, but it’s really become popular thanks to Downton Abbey and Sherlock. BBC America has also brought over shows like Doctor Who and Top Gear and introduced them to a larger American audience.

Similarly, Broadchurch got so much positive attention for its first season that it is now being remade by FOX (which will hopefully introduce people to the original). Despite the common language, it’s not too uncommon for British shows to be remade in America. Sometimes, it is a horrible failure (see The Inbetweeners, Coupling, and Skins). Other times, the show comes into it’s own and departs enough to find a voice to appeal to its new audience (The Office, Shameless, and Queer as Folk).

My personal picks for favorite British shows are a little less known. First is an older comedy entitled Waiting for God. It takes place in a retirement home and revolves around the lives of Diana and Tom, two residents who have very different ways of seeing the world but find a solid friend in the other.

Second is a more recent comedy entitled Miranda, after its star and creator Miranda Hart. Miranda is the very tall, socially awkward owner of a joke shop (which she runs with the help of her best friend). Miranda is a bit eccentric and clumsy but a good person and she speaks to the part of us all that doesn’t quite feel like an adult yet.

Finally, there is Merlin, by far the best known of my favorites and as far as I am aware, the only one that also aired in America. Merlin tells the story of the famous magician and Prince (later King) Arthur as young adults. It is full of plot holes and characterizations that go a little astray, but when they get the relationships on the show right, they get them really right. The friendship between Merlin and Arthur is fantastic, as I have mentioned, as is the relationship between Merlin and Lancelot and the other Knights of the Round Table.

Recently, American audiences have been introduced to remakes of shows made in other parts of the world. In the case of the French show Les Revenants (The Returned), the original was aired with subtitles on SundanceTV and is in the process of being remade for A&E.

The Danish/Swedish show Broen/Bron (The Bridge) never aired on TV in America before its remake but is now available on Hulu Plus. It has also been made into the British/French show The Tunnel. Each features a different set of border relations, which has allowed the adaptations to be more familiar in their new country.

Finally, the German show Borgen has received a lot of positive critical attention in America. It only airs on LinkTV, but the episodes are available online for two weeks after their broadcast. The network seems to cycle through the show, starting back at season 1 when they finish season 3. The first season just started again and I do intend to start watching, so if anyone else wants to join me, I’d love to have more people to discuss it with!

I’m excited by the availability of TV from around the world and look forward to watching the shows I’ve mentioned that I haven’t gotten a chance to start yet. The TV nerd in me wants to see what other countries are doing and look at the differences and similarities to the shows I’ve grown up watching.

What are some of your favorite shows made outside of the US?

 

Attack of the Feelings: Friday Night Lights

I am most attracted to shows that make me feel things. Well-thought out plots are good and an interesting premise certainly helps, but I want my TV to make me have some sort of emotional reaction. I want to be connected to the characters and their lives and invested in their present and future.

One of the show runners most known for making his viewers feel things (and cry a lot) is Jason Katims. He builds such believable characters and worlds and draws the viewer into those lives and worlds. Today I’ll be focusing on one of the shows he is best known for – Friday Night Lights.

I never expected to love Friday Night Lights as much as I do. I have never been a big fan of sports and this is a show that is at least partly about a football team and their season. That being said, it was the football game that made me cry during the very first episode and a football team that made me cry during the first season finale. What this show does better than nearly any other that I’ve watched is create a very detailed world and dropped the viewer into it. I went to a small high school and visited many towns much smaller than Dillon during my four years of high school cheerleading. The towns weren’t even big enough to have football teams, so basketball was the sport of choice. On game days, those bleachers were full of people who weren’t so dissimilar from the fans of Dillon. They were passionate and invested in their high school teams and a win meant a lot. So the portrayal of the town’s relationship to the team felt right. It felt real.

The same can be said of the moment in the pilot when Jason Street was injured. Fortunately, no one was ever too seriously injured during any of the games I cheered for. But at the moment when the star of our girl’s basketball team tore her ACL, the gym felt an awful lot like the stadium in Dillon felt. It’s a hard feeling to put into words but it’s a collective sense of worry and sadness that impacts everyone, regardless of what team they are on or are there to support. Once again, the emotion produced by the show felt right.

In addition to the strong sense of place, Friday Night Lights had a lot of well-rounded, fully-developed characters. The writing for them was strong but what has impressed me is the freedom the actors had with their characters. Scene blocking was minimal and so long as the overall plot wasn’t hindered, they were encouraged to change lines to better fit the characters if necessary. It resulted in a group of talented actors who knew and were comfortable in their roles and it showed on screen.

It gave us characters like Coach and Mrs. Taylor, Matt Saracen, Tim Riggins, and Tyra Collette. Characters we could look up to and invest in. Characters who we might like to know in real life. Characters that grew and changed while never losing what made them great. It gave us characters who didn’t always do the right thing. Who weren’t always very good people. Who hurt the people around them. But they were real. It gave us characters like Buddy Garrity, who started out very unlikeable, became more understandable as we learned more about him and as he was forced to grow throughout the series, we were forced to reevaluate our initial impression of him.  No one was perfect, everyone made mistakes. But they were never made to be unredeemable by those mistakes. They could still be characters we loved and cheered for. They were always characters we wanted to see happy.

What show(s) make you feel deeply about the characters and their fictional universe? What show will always find a way to make you cry both happy and sad tears?

The Flaws of Fictional Characters and Personal Healing: My Cristina Yang Story

No one likes to watch perfect characters. They are unrealistic, can be hard to relate to, and just aren’t as interesting. It’s in the flaws that we get to understand the whole of the person. Sometimes these flaws are of a sort that could be turned into strengths, depending on how you look at them. Other times, they are things that make characters more unpleasant to the viewer or something the character struggles with that makes their life in-universe more difficult. These flaws don’t prevent us from liking a character and sometimes these flaws make them all the more relatable as we see our own struggles reflected in them.

For me, the character who I love, flaws and all (and maybe especially for her flaws), is Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy. I admire her strengths and the way she uses things that can be perceived as flaws (like her competitiveness) as a strength to accomplish her goals. But it’s her stubbornness, guardedness, and desire to control the environment around her that draws me toward her because I understand that. It’s where she is the most relatable to me.

I just started watching Grey’s last month, so I apologize that all the examples I’m going to be using are 8-10 years old since I’m only near the end of the second season. It leaves a lot of room for future characterizations and growth but just in these two seasons, Cristina has become one of my favorite characters of all time.

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I Feel Strongly: My Top 10 Parks and Recreation Episodes

By the time this posts, I will be on my way to visit Katie! She was the person to introduce me to the show and I quickly fell in love with it. So today, in honor of my Leslie, I want to take the opportunity to talk about my favorite episodes of Parks and Recreation.

Freddy Spaghetti (2×24) This is the episode that Ron makes it clear that there is no possible world in which the Parks department will run without Leslie. When Chris wants to reassign her, Ron stops him saying that no one else is losing a Leslie because no one else had her to begin with. It’s a beautiful example of the affection Ron has for Leslie, despite their differing philosophies on government work. It is also one of many episodes where Leslie pulls off something wonderful for the town even when everything is working against her. And for the first time, Ben gets to see her passion in action. He’s still largely the slightly cranky guy that wants to shut down Pawnee at this point, but we get glimpses that he could be so much more as a character.

Flu Season (3×02) Welcome to the episode that Ben Wyatt fell for Leslie Knope and it was beautiful. Nothing, not even a terrible case of the flu and extra flu medication, could stop Leslie Knope from saving her beloved Parks department. She pulled off her presentation perfectly because that’s what she needed to do and in that moment, Ben fell in love with her drive and passion. His face during his post-speech talking-head segment said it all. He was amazed at what this woman was capable of and he wanted to know her more. So he brought her waffles and homemade chicken soup (which was of course ignored in favor of the waffles) when he told her that she got all the sponsors she needed and acting like an adorable dork who didn’t entirely know what to say to her. On top of the greatness that is Leslie and Ben, this is also a hilarious episode. Leslie on flu medications is fantastic, Andy’s talk with April at her bedside is hilarious, and while not one of my favorite lines, Chris’s “Stop pooping” line has become a classic.

Soulmates (3×10) This is the first appearance of Leslie and Ben being adorable in front of the mural and also the episode that makes it very clear these two are made for each other. As we learn early in the episode, the wildflower mural is a place that’s very special to Leslie. So when Ben suggests meeting in front of that same mural to eat their hamburgers together, everything is perfect. This episode also features a classic Chris vs. Ron showdown, which is always fun to watch.

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A Celebration of Friendships

So far this month, I have celebrated individual characters and touched a little bit on other types of relationships but I haven’t had much to say about friendships on TV yet. I love seeing all the different ways that friendships are portrayed on TV. I love them in all their forms and amount of emphasis on any given show. Some of the ones I’ve chosen to highlight today can also easily be construed as romantic but as they are non-canon and I am of the strong opinion that the best romances grow out of friendships, I’m including them in the friendship category. In (mostly) no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite friendships on TV, past and present.

Leslie and Ann (Parks and Recreation) It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever spoken to me that this is my favorite friendship on TV. The bond and love that these two share is so special and genuine. Ann grounds Leslie. She acts as an anchor in times of crisis and shares in her joy in times of happiness. She gives her balance and an outlet for all of her passion and excitement for everything. Leslie believes in Ann. While Leslie is very good at knowing who she is and what she wants, it’s something Ann has been working on since the show began. By the sixth season, she had figured out something to make her happy and then pursued that idea to completion despite negative opinions and setbacks, just like Leslie would have. Like any true friendship, they are there for each other in the big moments (like having a baby or buying a house) and the small (sharing opinions about Jennifer Aniston). They may not be alike but they complement each other and help each other be their best self. Above all, they love each other and know the other one is always just a phone call or text away.

Esposito and Ryan (Castle) There are a lot of really great friendships on Castle but the one between Esposito and Ryan may be my favorite. Once again, these two are very different but there is a loyalty and love between them that can’t be beat. Their friendship got a brilliant showcase in season 6’s “Under Fire” as they tried to encourage each other not to lose hope as they were trapped. The small moments of friendship we get between them are often funny but have an underpinning of trust and respect that you can tell goes back a long way. These two are partners and always will be.

Severide and Shay (Chicago Fire) Like Castle, Chicago Fire has a lot of great friendships. The friendship between Severide and Shay has been one of the most constant throughout the first two seasons and one of the most endearing. Like most of my favorite friendships, this one is built on trust and loyalty. These two would do anything for each other and they both know it. They may disagree on the other’s choices at times but the rift never stays for long. It’s clear that they have each other’s best interest at heart and want them to be happy and safe. I would have loved for them to be able to start that family together, but maybe it’ll happen sometime in the future. Assuming that they both survive the events of the s2 finale, that is.

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Life’s Short, Talk Fast: My Favorite Gilmore Girls Episodes

I am currently enjoying my the first half of my vacation with my best friend, so I thought I would celebrate by talking about one of our shared favorite shows. We both watched religiously on Tuesday nights then talked about it before school Wednesday morning. We may not have always shared opinions, but this was our show. One Christmas, we both decided that it would be a good idea to buy a bunch of Gilmore Girls things off of CafePress, unbeknownst to the other. I don’t know what we liked more, the actual things or the fact that we basically got each other the same gift. So in airing order, here are my 10 favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls!

Pilot (1×01) While characterizations shifted a little (particularly Emily, Richard, Sookie, and Luke) this pilot is a perfect introduction to the world of Stars Hollow and the titular Gilmore Girls. The rapid dialogue, pop culture references, Michel’s less-than-stellar customer service, and Lorelai’s coffee addiction were all there from the start, compelling people to fall in love.

Forgiveness and Stuff (1×10) Who could not love the disgusting Santa Burger? This is really the episode where we see just how deep the relationship between Lorelai and Luke runs. When something happens, he drops everything to help her. As Lorelai told her mother, they weren’t on a date, he’s just Luke. It’s also a great episode to see the relationship between Lorelai and her father. It may be strained and they may have difficulty relating to each other but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about each other.

Love, Daisies, and Troubadours (1×21) Max was never my favorite of Lorelai’s boyfriends but the 1000 yellow daisies scene is still pretty spectacular. The look on Lorelai’s face is so beautiful and touched by the gesture and it makes me so happy. I also mostly liked Dean at this point, so I love Rory’s “I love you, you idiot”. It was a moment that made me smile a lot on first watch and that’s only been diminished slightly by knowledge of what was to come with them.

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Fictional Crushes and What They Say About Me

I spend a lot of time looking at the women of TV and they way various female characters have influenced and inspire me. But that’s not the only way TV can impact or reveal our beliefs and desires for ourselves. We can also learn about what we look for in a partner by the characters we develop fictional crushes on. We can start to recognize patterns (either physical or personality-based) and it can help us refine or better understand what it is we like. It’s a topic that satisfies my introspective nature as well as lets me focus on characters who I like because they make me happy.

My two current fictional crushes are Jack Hodgins from Bones and Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation. They have a lot in common, so I thought I would discuss them together and explain what makes me so drawn to them.

One of the traits that most defines both Hodgins and Ben is their passion and excitement for things. Nothing in this world, other than Angela and their son, will ever make Hodgins happier than a rare bug found at a crime scene or a new experiment he gets to try. His love for bugs runs so deep that only was he not grossed out by the fact that he was acting as a host for them after a bug laid eggs in his neck, but he was genuinely honored to have that privilege. It wasn’t a physically comfortable process but he recognized that it was necessary for the bugs and was happy and willing to be a part of it. He’s passionate about science and the work that they do about the Jeffersonian and it comes out in every scene he’s in.

Ben gets genuinely excited about numbers and solving problems with accounting. He’s also a huge, unapologetic nerd and he gets really excited about Batman, Game of Thrones, board games, Claymation and his Star Trek fanfiction. He embraces the things he loves and gets so much enjoyment out of them that you can’t help but love it.

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