Best of 2019: TV Series

I feel like I complained a lot about TV this year but despite some disappointments and hurt, it was probably overall one of my most enjoyable in quite a while. Whether it was because I was better at stopping shows that ceased to make me happy or because I discovered so many great new things, I can look back at this year and find so much to appreciate. Once again, half hour shows are where it’s at right now for creative and unique storytelling whether its in the format of the show or the types of stories being told. As evidenced by this list, it was a terrific year for female creators telling very specific stories and doing so incredibly well and a terrific year for compassionate storytelling. It wasn’t always nice and happy but so much came from a place of love and care for its characters and their world and that’s what I want most.

Thanks for hanging around for another year and don’t forget to check out the many wonderful lists over on MGCircles and a fantastic year-end essay at Nerdy Girl Notes!

1. Fleabag Season one of this show is good and creative and rightfully brought attention to Phoebe Waller-Bridge for what she created. Season two is extraordinary. It is emotionally resonant, creatively efficient storytelling and it deserves every one of the accolades it’s received. It’s simultaneously soothing and unsettling, which makes perfect sense for a show that is about connection. It’s a season of healing and acceptance, particularly self-acceptance, and the fucking terrifying nature of vulnerability and letting yourself be seen. It’s raw and visceral but not in a way that screams at you. It’s a seductive whisper instead of a roar. It asks you to open your heart and experience the exhilaration of falling in love with someone who is everything you need but that you ultimately can’t have. It’s not anger that ends the season and it’s not even really heartbreak, although that is a component, it’s learning to be present and to sit with your emotions instead of shoving them aside. There’s not a quippy joke meant to deflect and for the first time, Fleabag is going somewhere we can’t follow. She’s ready to be alone now, knowing that she is capable of connection and that she can love and survive even after the loss of that love because she’ll carry it with her. She doesn’t need to run from her own mind and pain to keep going. It’s powerful and deeply affecting in a way that is really only possible when something is as well-constructed as this season was. Everything about it is thoughtfully chosen and led to a whole that was somehow even stronger than the sum of its parts. 

2. Good Omens This show came at precisely the right time. After a spring season of television that was once again rough on my emotions in an unplesant way (seriously shows, stop doing this), Good Omens came along with a terrific adaptation of a book I already loved, with a terrific cast, a ship to fall head over heels for, and a celebration of humanity and our ability to choose a path other than the one seemingly laid out for us. The love Neil Gaiman put into this show to make it something his best friend and co-author Terry Pratchett would have been proud of is evident in every choice and especially in interviews. The humanism that is a hallmark of Pratchett’s work is all over the show. It sees who we are, for better or worse, and says that we can choose better. The Them standing up for the world they want to be grow up in against the Four Horsemen and Adam telling Satan that he’s not his real dad despite that being his whole purpose of creation are a demonstration that we don’t have to accept what we’re told is the way things should work. We can rebuild something of our own, something that makes space for all the things we’re told are impossible. We can make a world where an angel and a demon can dine at the Ritz because the side they’ve chosen is the one they can be on together, where a witch burns the prophecies that are her legacy in order to discover a life where she makes her own choices. It is a show full of hope and love that I will cherish forever. 

3.  One Day At A Time Look, this show has been at or near the top of my lists for the past two years and this year is not going to be an exception. I love this family, the ethos behind the show, and the cast and writers too much for it not to appear. It continues to be smart and full of laughter and warmth and love in its third season as we see Schneider relapse, Penelope become a Nurse Practitioner, Elena and Syd becoming more serious, and Alex trying drugs and promptly getting grounded. It handled things like street harassment, addiction, mental health, and sex with it’s typical consideration and compassion for these characters and lets them have their own perspectives and challenges. They feel like real people that you might know and want to spend time around and you can’t help but love them and root for their successes. It’s not easy to make characters that feel so well-formed and each choice they make feel like it comes from who they are and not whatever topic they want to address, plot point they need to squeeze in, or punchline they need to hit but they have consistently done a terrific job from both a writing and acting perspective. This show is incredibly special to me and PopTV swooping in and saving it was a highlight of my year.

4. Vida This is a show with a vision and a fierce pride and joy in the communities it represents. It also has a deep compassion for who these characters are and what they have been through. As a result, it feels unlike everything else on television right now. Everyone is allowed to be full of contradictions, no one can easily be defined as good or bad. It allows space for complicated issues and is content to sit with the lack of easy answers. Above all, it’s a show about family and learning how to connect and come together after time and distance apart. Emma and Lyn’s relationship with each other and their complicated memories of their mother and her legacy are the backbone of the show. The grace it gives them to navigate that space even when its ugly and come to terms with the loss of a woman who raised them and influenced the person they became, for better or worse, while recognizing that they didn’t truly know her is extraordinary. I can’t speak to the specific ways it portrays Latinx and specifically Mexican culture but every choice they make feels like it’s one made from love and care. It doesn’t feel made to explain things to others, I know I only pick up about 75% of what’s being said when the characters are speaking Spanish, and it’s stronger for it. I love everything Tanya Saracho has created in this show and cannot wait for whatever s3 brings. As long as it maintain its compassion, and I have no reason to believe it won’t, I’m in until the end. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: TV Series

Best of 2019: Romance Books

This is the year I really got into the romance genre in a big way. Nothing brought me as much comfort and happiness as I read more of authors I’d previously enjoyed and found several more (often with extensive backlists) for me to read through. It’s been a tiring week for many of these authors as they’ve dealt with bullshit from their major professional organization but it’s so clear to me that these authors represent a new way forward for this genre and I am thrilled to be getting into it at this moment in time.

1. Reluctant Royals by Alyssa Cole The first book in the series (A Princess in Theory) made my list last year and if possible, I liked books two and three even more and loved the side stories in the two associated novellas. I couldn’t choose between them all for this list, so I’m including them all. A Duke by Default gave me a main character I absolutely adored in Portia and an internal journey for her that I loved even more than I loved her relationship with Tav (which is also very good because I am weak for grumpy people falling in love with someone who is pure sunshine). I loved watching her gain confidence in herself and her abilities as she realized she had ADHD and used the tools she had available to find a way to work with it instead of constantly fighting against it. That journey to self confidence was also what I loved about A Prince on Paper. Nya fighting for herself and pushing back against her abusive upbringing was incredible to read and you couldn’t help but cheer for her every step of the way. I adore this series and the intermingled friendships that formed as friend groups merged and became stronger with the new additions. It is full of tropes I love, incredible women and the men who love them, and so many moments of growth for everyone involved. No one is the same at the end of their book as they were in the beginning and the courage and work for each of them to get to their better place was everything I love about romance books. None of it was easy but all of it was worth it. Growth and healing are processes that are made easier with a strong support system and that is what this series provides in abundance. 

2. The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai You know a book and its main character resonated with you when you kind of want to fight all the people who didn’t like her. I perhaps related too strongly to Rhi’s tendency to throw up emotional barriers around herself and run away at the first hint that she might be hurt again all while refusing to allow herself any sort of emotional expression for fear that it made her look weak. It may not be the healthiest long-term response but it was a survival response that kept her going after an emotionally abusive relationship with her boss nearly left her blacklisted from the industry she loved. I enjoyed Rhi’s relationship with Samson and how easy it was for them to care about each other despite Rhi’s insistence that it was only going to be a casual sex and mutually beneficial work arrangement because those are romance tropes I will fall for every single time, but as always, I loved the emotional journey Rhi went through most of all. I loved her finding the strength to speak out against her former boyfriend and lending her voice to the other accusations against him. I loved her realization that she had a whole lot of people who loved her and had her back, that she didn’t have to fight and go through life alone. It was incredibly rewarding and the perfect example of why I love Alisha Rai’s books so much. Her heroines are all so complex and have been scarred by their past but find ways to heal and thrive regardless and she always manages to throw in a line or two that are exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in time. 

3. Tempest by Beverly Jenkins Beverly Jenkins is legendary in the romance world and this book made the reason abundantly clear. I am not going to write a better summation of why I loved this book than the first line of KJ Charles’s Goodreads review, “Honestly, any book where the heroine semi accidentally shoots the hero and then tells him off for not accepting her apology with sufficient grace is a winner with me.”. Regan is an absolute joy to read about from moment one. She’s incredibly competent and ready to defend herself from perceived bandits and willing to apologize when she messes up but also demand respect and basic human decency from others when they fall short. I love her immediate desire to nurture Anna’s good, curious mind and protect her from people who would force her into a strict definition of what a “good woman” should be that doesn’t allow for either childhood or self-sufficiency. I love a good grumpy guy who falls head over heels for a kind, strong woman despite his best attempts to keep her at arms length and Colt more than delivers. The character dynamics were everything I could want and I loved the look at the Wyoming frontier at a time when women were starting to be allowed to vote and formally shape their society. 

4. Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert After a near-death experience, Chloe decides to make a more exciting life for herself by creating a checklist to follow. First of all, I love that her solution was to choose a handful of things and insist that she’d be a more exciting person if she completed the list. It’s very me and I love her for it. Second, I love romances where both people have past issues to overcome and are actively taking steps to do so and this book celebrates the process of working through your trauma in order to find a fuller life for yourself. Third, this book is really adorable. There’s a rescued cat, flirty emails, and a whole book of two characters finding someone who sees and cherishes them for all they are. There is so much care that she manages to convey between Chloe and Red in ways both big and small. They’re not perfect and both mess up, but they apologize and work to do better. Sometimes their sore spots come into conflict and it’s painful but it’s also an opportunity for each to grow and learn for the future. Finally, this book is very hot. Hibbert is very good at her sex scenes and the chemistry she managed to convey on the page was explosive.  

Continue reading Best of 2019: Romance Books

Best of 2019: Episodes

As much as I enjoy cliffhanger-driven television for encouraging me to keep watching a series, I will always prefer shows with slightly more discrete and distinct episodes. The ability to craft a good story that satisfies in 22-60 minutes that also ties into the season or series as a whole is a difficult one that not every show can manage, but when they do, it stays with with you. Some of these episodes, I liked simply because they did a good job doing exactly what they set out to do, others had something more profound to say that spoke to me on a deeper level, and I think both types are important to me as a viewer.

If you’re not already, be sure to check out the year-end reviews over at MGCircles and continue to celebrate the things that you enjoyed the most this year!

Episode One (Fleabag) Everything about this episode is brilliant and absolutely riveting. The jumps between scenes, the choral backing, the most satisfying punch in the history of television, the introduction of Hot Priest, and the complication and devotion that can only exist between sisters. It’s a fantastic reintroduction to the series after three years away and the whole episode is infused with a frantic energy that sucks you in and won’t let go. The family dinner after over a year apart where they are so desperately trying to appear normal in front of this outsider and utterly failing because they are absolutely not functional as a unit. The writing and acting are both terrific and Andrew Scott slid so seamlessly into this world and immediately feels like a natural fit for the off-kilter, fast-paced banter that helps define its style. It’s a masterclass in efficient, dynamic television and I cannot possibly say enough good things about it. 

The Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (Game of Thrones) In a season that was mostly filled with disappointment and horrible writing choices, this episode feels like a gift from Bryan Cogman. In this precursor to the battle against the White Walkers, the characters and the viewers were given a chance to breathe and to take stock of what was important. And this import was found in each other – the history they’d shared, the bonds that had formed, the trusts that had yet to be shaken. This show is plot-heavy, it always has been. But just this once, we got a look at a version of the show that wasn’t. Yes, there was some necessary battle prep like the shots of Gendry making weapons and the war council, but really, it was a change for discussions and decisions and declarations. It was only right that Cogman wrote this episode after gifting us with “Kissed by Fire” and “Oathbreaker” in previous seasons. This was the culmination of Jaime and Brienne’s arc that started so many seasons ago and I could not have wanted anything more. Regardless of their ending that I will be mad about forever, this is who they were to each other. The person they chose to fight and potentially die alongside. The one who had their unquestioned trust and loyalty. The one they loved. There are three separate points in this episode where that subtext nearly ticks over into actual text and for as much as I love these two, it was the better choice to leave it unspoken but still heard. Then we cap off the episode with Jon and his terrible timing but as a result, we headed into battle with all the cards on the table for the most important relationships on the show. 

Anxiety (One Day at a Time) This episode is so well-made and the care that went into its creation is so apparent in every choice. As always, Justina Machado is incredibly talented and I will never understand how every awards body isn’t showering her with accolades and she grounds her performance in something compassionate and real. I love that the bulk of the non-flashback portion of the episode takes place at group therapy. We absolutely need to normalize getting help like this and the benefits of having a supportive community around you and there was something special in seeing this group of women come together around an issue that affects them all in very different ways. There’s not one way for anxiety to present and not a single coping mechanism that will work for everyone and it feels like the writers of this episode wanted to be extra sure that the viewers knew that. It was an outstretched hand saying that we aren’t alone and there is possible relief. This episode also really demonstrates what’s so special about Penelope and Schneider’s relationship. We all need that person in our life that we can be honest with and trust that they will be there in response with whatever it is that we need. Just being able to tell someone “I’m having an anxiety attack” and putting a name to the feeling is an important step and allowing yourself to lean on someone else when shame would have us isolate and hide away is a powerful and healing part of the process and this episode demonstrated that perfectly. I’m so grateful for everything that went into making this episode what it is and hope that it started conversations and fostered a little more understanding in the world. 

Who’s Got the Pain (Fosse/Verdon) Coming together and falling apart. This episode is Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s relationship in a nutshell. From their first meeting, you see why they connected both personally and professionally. It changed nearly everything for them, they found someone who instinctively understood them creatively and worked to make them shine even brighter. It invigorated them in every way. But it didn’t change who they were. Fosse wasn’t capable of a monogamous relationship with anything, he was always looking for something more or new or different. We see it as his marriage with Joan falls apart and we see in the fight in Majorca. He undoubtedly loved Verdon as much as he was able and it was never going to be enough. She needed more of him than he had to give and sometimes that made her walk away but sometimes she stayed anyway because some of him made more sense than none. This episode is brilliantly directed and edited, the camera angles in their pre-rehearsal fight are tense and suffocating, William’s line delivery of her stage directions for their fight on the beach are brutal and cutting, and the dance scenes are all filled with chemistry and a natural intimacy. Every element of it was perfectly executed and it’s the episode I’m most likely to keep coming back to as an example of who these two were and how the show captured them. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Episodes

Best of 2019: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books

I love the possibility that sci-fi and fantasy offer and there’s really never been a more exciting time to love this genre. All but one of these books were published in the last two years and the wealth of talent in the genre at the moment is ridiculous. There’s truly never been a better time to fall in love with these very wide, diverse genres and dream up a better future with them. If you want stories about hope, healing, and compassion, this list is a good place to look. Those were the stories I wanted to hear most this year and these books delivered.

1. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal When a meteor strikes the Earth, causing initial problems as well as long-term climate change, the need to get to space and establish a colony becomes increasingly critical. This alternate history takes place in the 1950s and centers around Elma York, a member of the WASP program during World War II and a scientist, who dreams of becoming an astronaut. But it’s still the 1950s in America and thoughts on what’s acceptable for (certain types of) women are what we know them as. She gets to struggle with the roles she’s placed in as well as becoming aware of the advantages she had in comparison to other women at the time. We get to see her learn and grow and struggle and overcome as she reaches toward and achieves her dream. It’s a story of drive and longing and friendship that I enjoyed from start to finish. 

2. How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin I am not always a fan of short stories – it’s a format that I often struggle with, even when the work itself is good. With that said, this is an incredible collection. I didn’t love everything, as is to be expected, but the writing is undeniably strong. Most of the stories are standalones with one set in her Broken Earth universe (which I was delighted to return to) and another in her Dreamblood universe (which immediately got moved up my TBR list). Some of the highlights include “The Ones Who Stayed and Fight”, an interrogation of the concept of utopia that was no less enjoyable for the fact that I hadn’t read the Ursula LeGuin story it interacts with; “Red Dirt Witch”, which blends the Fae with the Jim Crow South and is above all about the necessity of hope; “The Trojan Girl”, a AI story about dreams helping to make us human; and “Cuisine des Mémoires”, which muses about memories and getting stuck in our past through the use of a restaurant that can recreate any dish so long as you know the place and date on which it occurred. 

4. The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley I had previously read and loved Hurley’s nonfiction essay collection “The Geek Feminist Revolution” but hadn’t read any of her fiction yet and WOW was this a good way to be introduced to it. This is what I want my science fiction to be. Yes, it’s bloody and dark and the world created is both grim and all too believable, but in the end, that darkness doesn’t triumph. There is hope and people and things worth fighting to keep. The non-linear construction of the book is brilliant as Dietz jumps around time seemingly without rhyme or reason (with smart, thought out time travel!) alongside the interview snippets talking about a future event that gradually coalesce into a single narrative. It’s sharp, incisive, powerful and I need it to be nominated for awards next year. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books

Best of 2019: Moments

There were a lot of noteworthy bad decisions written for television in 2019, often with cringeworthy interviews that followed that doubled-down on the poor choices. But sometimes, writers got it exactly right. They gave us moments that reassured us, surprised us, spoke to important societal topics, and made us feel. They were the ones that understood their characters and the contexts in which they operate and created worlds we wanted to be a part of. They gave us something to aim for as we make the world around us a more compassionate and inclusive place. They valued relationships and emotional history. They were the moments that reminded me why I love television even when it’s frustrating me.

1. Jaime knights Brienne (Game of Thrones) This moment, even more than their sex scene, is the culmination of five seasons worth of character and relationship development. It is everything Brienne has secretly wanted for so long yet it felt outside of her grasp because of her gender. Until Jaime (thanks to a good idea from Tormund) decides to change it. There was no way for this scene to be any more meaningful. It needed to be Jaime that gives this to her. He has seen very clearly who she is for the past 5 seasons and been grateful for and humbled by her sense of honor and duty. It’s her firm belief in the vows of knighthood that reminded him of his own and called him to fight for Winterfell and humanity. It’s a moment that only Nikolaj and Gwen could have made together. Their love for these characters and their ability to have full conversations with nothing more than a look were absolutely essential. There is love and admiration and gratitude and the terrifying and healing nature of being so clearly seen. I love how thrilled everyone else in the room is for Brienne (especially Pod) but it’s evident how much they all faded away during the actual knighting. It was Jaime’s declaration of love and something that needed to be said on what they thought could well be their last night alive. For one moment, Brienne of Tarth got everything she wanted. She got the honor of being called a knight and a man who genuinely cared for her as the extraordinary woman that she is and she deserved nothing less.

2. Aziraphale and Crowley Through Time (Good Omens) TV shows spend time on what matters and too often, that’s used as an excuse to forego character moments in favor of plot. But that character and relationship building matters, it’s why viewers care about what happens. The episode three cold open told us what Good Omens valued. They spent half an episode (about 8% of the total show runtime) dedicated to Aziraphale and Crowley’s incredibly slow courtship. The bond and trust between them and shared appreciation (or at least lack of disdain) for humanity is vital to understanding why they make the choices they do in the following 3.5 episodes of the show. It is an utterly delightful half hour as we fast forward through history including the Flood and a production of a struggling Hamlet and watch these two settle into their roles as something approximating allies and friends. We see the moment that Aziraphale realizes that he’s a little in love with Crowley, not after he rescued Aziraphale from the Nazis but when he saved the books from the ensuing bombing, and the moment where it all gets to be too much with Michael Sheen’s devastating line reading of “You go too fast for me, Crowley”. These actors are fantastic together and by the end, we’re rooting for them to succeed in their mission to avert the apocalypse and settle down together. That is the whole point of that cold open and it’s perfect. 

3. Queer Gatekeeping (Vida) I wish that this scene was available somewhere as a clip but in lieu of that, each word is link to a different tumblr gifset and that will have to do. Before we get to the content and why it’s remarkable, I want to take a moment to point out how gorgeous the lighting in this scene is. Their designer did a terrific job fitting the mood of a wedding but also making everyone look incredible. I absolutely adore Emma’s righteous indignation at yet another group of people trying to police her identity and her expression of it and Nico’s use of sarcasm to rebut all the ridiculous gatekeeping present in this scene. It’s cathartic for anyone who has ever been worried that they’re somehow not queer enough because they don’t tick certain boxes or for anyone who has been explicitly excluded from a community in which they’d hoped to find acceptance based on appearances or snap judgements. It’s an incredible scene and I so appreciate the writers for very clearly pushing back against that sort of judgement and policing.

4. Jimmy’s non-vows (You’re the Worst) I cannot thank Stephen Falk enough for this moment. Nothing about Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship has ever been conventional. In their words, it’s “ugly and uncomfortable and haunting and brilliant and thrilling”. But it’s theirs and its what’s right for them as people in this moment of time. Their happy ending isn’t necessarily a wedding and kids and promises to be together forever. Instead, Jimmy promises to love Gretchen and commit to being with her every day until they decide otherwise. It doesn’t require long-term commitment on either of their parts but does ask them choose each other over and over again. And that is perhaps one of the most romantic things I’ve seen a show do. Gretchen has never been convinced that she’ll be anyone’s choice nor has she believed she should be. As she mentions prior to this moment, she can’t promise Jimmy forever when she’s not convinced she can promise herself forever. But they can give each other one day at a time. They get an ending that feels right to them, not only to honor the characters and the journey they’ve been through over five seasons but also to honor the attachment the show has cultivated to them. Falk never ended to pull the rug out from under them and have them end up alone and miserable because it felt cruel to the audience and in a year where that seemed all too common because of “clever writing” or “realism”, I appreciated it more than ever.  

Continue reading Best of 2019: Moments

Best of 2019: SORTEDfood Videos

These lists are my way to look back on the things I loved and the reasons I loved them in any given year and as a result, the categories shift a little depending on what captured my attention the most. So this year, we have a new category that I suspect will be of interest to few people but few things brought me as much joy this year as the SORTEDfood YouTube channel and corresponding club which makes it more than deserving of a special bonus list this year. I love watching and listening to these guys and the ways they’ve already changed the way I think about cooking and the types of things I try and hope that maybe someone will read this and learn about them for the first time and be similarly inspired. It’s truly a celebration of food, travel, and friendship and there’s something for everyone to enjoy about the channel.

1. Sake Series (SORTED Goes to Japan) Including the two battles, this is a series of seven videos and one of my favorite things this channel has done to date. Before watching the first episode, I didn’t know anything about sake and wasn’t particularly interested in trying it (partly because of my lack of knowledge and I felt overwhelmed). I still don’t entirely know where to start with it but now I’m excited to try it the next time I go out for sushi. That open-minded approach to food is the kind of thing SORTED encourages in its audience and one of the best things about the ethos behind the company. They love food and want us to love food with them. Their trip to Japan looked truly incredible and I’m glad it’s something the five of them got to experience as a team. Their friendship will always be the backbone of the channel and to see them collectively step outside their comfort zone to learn more about the culture and food of Japan in order to create a meal that honored that history was a gigantic source of pride as a viewer, especially one with (admittedly rather distant at this point) roots in Japan. 

2. Chefs “Remote Controlling” Normals Mike is a genius for this new format and how perfectly it works as a promo for their new Packs app. The food looks amazing and like ideas I should keep in mind for future holiday leftovers (or just a weeknight dinner tbh). But even more than that, I love the friendship dynamics that shine through here. You can tell Jamie and Ben have known each other for most of their lives and how often James and Barry have to coordinate their respective efforts on projects like the cookbooks. I will forever love Ben trolling his friends while managing to look perfectly innocent so radio-speak with Jamie was everything I could have wanted from them. I would also love to see this with competitive Ben, he’s so good at explaining things and walking people through cooking after 10 years of this channel and would be a force to be reckoned with. Then with James and Barry, their natural styles are incredibly well-suited to working together. James calms Barry’s panic and is good at knowing when to push and when to provide encouragement. It’s the Pizza Nachos video all over again and it’s just soothing to watch. I can’t wait to see more of this format and to see how they change it up in the future but this is a terrific start to these videos. 

3. 2 Chefs Review Classic French Cookbook I am pretty sure this is one of my very favorite SORTED videos (and still it ended up 3rd on this list, so you can see what a great year they’ve had). I love the concept of this reference book even if I would never want to cook from it and seeing the different interpretations of what is a very short and vague dish description is fascinating. Anything that brings out the differences of opinion between Ben and James is pretty much automatically going to be great (as is Jamie’s reaction whenever such a disagreement occurs) and the teamwork needed to create a finished dish, especially one that James was so pleased with, was both fun and educational. Both of them are very good at what they do and I loved getting to see them show off a bit. 

4. Beat the Chef: Mystery Box vol 5 This video is utter chaos and I love it. First of all, I applaud Ben and Jamie for opting for what was probably the harder route of a dessert instead of the steak + jam combo. They stepped outside their comfort zones and suffered for it in the moment, but it made the video more interesting. I would have genuinely been happy to eat either of their dishes and experience the flavor pairings for myself. Second, James and Barry’s glee at their friend’s panic is the best. Whether they’re being judgy over plating choices or laughing so hard they’re crying, it is hilarious to watch. Finally, the “interesting” counter during Mike’s judging as he attempts to find words for these very unexpected dishes and be upbeat about them was a terrific editing choice. It’s entertaining to watch from start to finish and always leaves me with a smile on my face. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: SORTEDfood Videos

Best of 2019: Relationships

So much of my interest in television (or really any fictional media) is due to the relationships between characters. I want the friendships that steady people and make them better, the sweet love stories, the complicated love stories, and the families (biological or chosen) that form. I want characters and the dynamics between them to matter to the story, to help drive their choices. No one does anything alone and the relationships we form with others matter. That’s the TV I’ll come back to again and again and for all its disappointments on that front, something I managed to find a lot of in the shows I watched and loved.

1. Aziraphale and Crowley (Good Omens) After a spring where two ships I completely adored went in directions that were the exact opposite of what I would have liked (and in ways that didn’t really work with the writing that came before it), Aziraphale and Crowley were a breath of fresh air. The angel and demon who fell in love with humanity and with each other in the process. They managed to combine the best elements of a slow burn romance with a comfort and ease that normally only comes with married couples thanks to the 6000 years they spent knowing each other. I love that Crowley is incapable of giving Aziraphale anything he asks for, whether that is a miracle to make Hamlet a success, a clean jacket, or stopping time so the Antichrist they misplaced can save the day. For someone who shouldn’t be capable of it, he loves Aziraphale so purely and it’s beautiful. On the flip side, you have Aziraphale who is a being of love and he’s terrified of what loving Crowley means. He does, how could he not after everything, but he’s the one who isn’t ready even after all this time. So to watch him be able to take that final step at the end is everything I needed. They got a happy ending and to finally be on their own team and brought me an incredible amount of joy. And if you haven’t seen this fanvid, the scene choices and timing are flawless and make me emotional every time I watch. 

2. Fleabag and Hot Priest (Fleabag) To be seen for everything you are is a powerful thing. To find that person who sees through all your defenses and taps into that vulnerable part of you that’s real and that you’ve kept hidden because you don’t truly believe anyone could love that piece of you is terrifying. Especially for someone like Fleabag who perpetually feels alone and like there is something fundamentally wrong with her and the way she exists in the world. And along comes Hot Priest with his slight awkwardness and fear of foxes and desire to truly know her. Their chemistry is intense and all-consuming and too much to experience alone. We know it can’t last. But wow do we want it to. In less than 3 hours, we get to see and experience every stage of this relationship from meeting to its dissolution and it is one hell of a journey. It’s painful and hopeful and beautiful and tragic all rolled into one. It gave them both something they had been searching for and they’ll both go off changed because of what they shared. It affirmed something in them and they’re better because they loved each other in a way that won’t ever really pass. Not entirely. And that’s what hope looks like. The possibility of a new future, even when it’s not a shared one. 

3. David and Patrick (Schitt’s Creek) These two are a warm hug (or an oversized black sweater). They are solidly together and in love for the whole of this season and it is beautiful. You feel the ease and comfort and casual intimacy that comes from feeling free with another person and I can’t thank Dan enough for intentionally choosing to write them this way. Being in a committed relationship didn’t take away from either character or suddenly make David boring or a different person, it enriched both their lives and hasn’t changed who they are. Patrick is still going to love baseball and hiking more than David and think tax seminars are an important thing to attend and David will have none of it but they will love those things about the other. Patrick’s proposal is absolutely perfect and for him to be in a place where he can be sure and unafraid and David able to accept and trust in that love is beautiful. They’ve both come a long way to get to that point and it has been so incredibly satisfying to watch. 

4. Nadia and Guzman (Elite) These two hit all my narrative kinks. I am a sucker for guys that are kind of terrible but fall in love with strong-minded, incredible ladies who they think are the best thing in the entire world and who want to be better for them. Both of these two were in difficult emotional places this season as Guzman grieved for Mariana (then found out one of his best friend’s killed her) and Nadia felt the increased pressure to be the perfect daughter her dad thinks she is after her brother left home and a sex tape of her made its way around the internet. Neither reacted overly well and attempted to shut out any of their own feelings and everyone else along with them but they also managed a few moments of genuine connection where Nadia was able to admit to both of them how much she wanted this and Guzman continued to be his utterly besotted self and also finally break up with Lu. And those moments were magic. Their chemistry is off-the-charts ridiculous (and it’s really a wonder all of our screens didn’t combust during Nadia’s sex dream) but we also see how good they could be for and with each other if they could find a way to get through everything internal and external holding them back. There is real care and affection between them and I need them together for good by the end of s3. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Relationships

Best of 2019: Miscellaneous Books

My first list of fiction books this year is kind of a grab bag. This is everything that didn’t fit neatly into my two dominant genres – sci fi & fantasy and romance (those lists are coming later in the month) but that I still wanted to talk about in some way. From award-winning short stories and classic novels to YA mysteries, there’s a little for everyone on this list and I hope you find a new book you want to add to your list! What did you love reading this year?

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid This book ticked all the right boxes for me. I loved the memoir-like writing style to tell Evelyn’s story interspersed with Monique’s personal life growth and the introspection that arose as a result of Evelyn’s past. But mostly, I fell in love with the complicated story of Evelyn’s past and the choices she made to have the life she wanted. There was so much more to her life than the snippets of news articles the world saw of her or the characters she played in movies, there was a real person who schemed and wanted and hurt behind every decision she made and its those complications that made her so fascinating. She wasn’t nice by her own admission. She could be cruel and manipulative and hurt the people she cared most about to achieve a very specific end but she also loved deeply and was trapped by a world that only wanted her to be one thing. They wanted the glamour of an actress not the real person behind it, they wanted a white movie star instead of her biracial heritage, she needed to pretend to be straight instead of revealing her bisexuality and that her final act was to proudly declare that she was both and all of it was remarkable. If you loved complicated women making difficult choices, read this book and come cry over it with me. 

2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri This is a stunning collection. It was my first introduction to Lahiri’s writing and I was instantly taken in by the mood and style of these short stories. They were emotionally evocative and made you feel so much for these characters in a small space and to be able to accomplish that so effectively takes an incredible amount of talent. There’s a sense of melancholy as many of these characters look for a bigger world. Circumstances and choice have left them feeling boxed in by expectations or obstacles in their path and there’s a sense of emotional and sometimes physical isolation that runs through these stories that really resonates. The writing is beautiful and the collection as a whole is smartly chosen and flows together to create a cohesive whole. If literary short stories are something you’re even a little interested in, give this book a try. 

3. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel Stories that center around food in some way are likely to work well for me but the particular way that this book blended the recipes with magical realism was perfect. Tita’s connection to food and the way she is able to (quite literally) pour her emotions into her cooking when they become too overwhelming to keep inside was the perfect vehicle to tell this story of her life and forbidden love. I was not actually a fan of Tita and Pedro’s love story and preferred her relationship with John but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the storytelling and the lives of Tita and the rest of her family. The fairytale-like feel combined with the beautiful writing made this something memorable and unique in my reading this year and I’m so glad I picked it up on a whim. 

4. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid A bittersweet love story about two people who see and understand each other in beautiful, profound ways but can’t be together for a variety of reasons is so entirely up my alley and sure enough, I could not get enough of this book and the overwhelming number of feelings it delivered. First of all, emotional pain aside, I really love the format of this as an interview-style retelling of memories. The individual perspectives and how they overlap and differ work perfectly to tell this story of this band and these people. Second, for anyone who has ever shipped a slowburn, doomed ship (or dabbled in any sort of RPF fandom) will see exactly where this is headed and Jenkins Reid completely nails the set up and feelings payoff. These characters all jump off the page and feel like they could have really been a band in the 70s. It has excitedly already been optioned for Amazon as a miniseries and should translate onto screen beautifully. I cannot wait to hear these songs for real and experience the pain all over again. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Miscellaneous Books

Best of 2019: Characters

This is always one of my favorite categories as I get to see the types of characters I was drawn to over the past year. There are usually trends that can be picked out (and that’s certainly still true this year) and it’s a good look back at the arcs that shows were able to pull off particularly well.

Who were your favorite characters this year?

1. Emily Foster (Chicago Fire) Chicago Fire has successfully added a lot of new characters in the past year and a half but none have reinvigorated the show quite as much as Emily. With her arrival, we’re seeing a shift toward celebrating the women on the show and the camaraderie that they’ve made in their very male-dominated profession. We’re seeing what three talented women who support each other and champion each other are capable of tackling together and it’s been wonderful. While that’s a choice the writing team has made, it’s one Emily would be proud to take partial credit for if she were real. She is all about ensuring the ladies in her life are taken care of in the manner that they deserve to be and she wouldn’t hesitate to stand up for them personally or professionally. It was Emily that told Kelly that he needed to step up and be better if he thought he wanted to try to fix his relationship with Stella (or leave her alone if he couldn’t or wouldn’t do that) without prioritizing his feelings or her tone and Emily that recognized Sylvie wasn’t happy and needed to come home and led the charge to bring her back. Her girls are everything to her and we could all use someone in our life who fights for us as much as she does. 

2. Stevie Budd (Schitt’s Creek) It was a really great year to love Stevie. She took changes on herself and let herself be vulnerable, first with Emir and then with Cabaret, and while her romantic relationship didn’t work out the way she might have liked, she was an amazing Sally Bowles and her performance of “Maybe This Time” was nothing short of remarkable. Even more than that, Stevie was so loved. She’s a part of the Rose family now and every single one of them got to had moments where they supported and believed in her in a way that she’s never really had before. Her friendship with David continues to be a highlight of the show and I love that it was her blessing Patrick wanted before the proposal. She may feel like she’s behind or that everyone is moving on in life while she’s standing still but she has come so far and I cannot wait to see what the final season has in store for her. 

 3. Charley Bordelon (Queen Sugar) I cannot believe it’s taken me this long to write about my undying love for Charley. She has been my favorite from the very beginning, even when she is making the worst choices and allowing the privilege she enjoyed from her marriage to Davis blind her from the harm she was doing. She is ruthless and willing to fight for everything she feels she deserves and has always been fascinating and complex. As the seasons have gone by, she’s become a part of the community of St. Jo and fought for its Black farmers with as much ferocity and certainty as she’s fought for herself in the past. This season, she ran for city council to push back at the Landry’s influence on the parish and won, despite accusations that she set her mill on fire and the revelation of past scandals and it was truly glorious to watch. She may not have won the long game yet but she’s undeniably a force to be reckoned with and I will continue to love watching her take people down.

4. Emma Hernandez (Vida) Emma coped with being kicked out of her house as a teenager for being queer by hardening herself so nothing could ever hurt her again. You don’t get second changes in her world and are frankly lucky if you get a first chance. People are there for a purpose and get dismissed when the purpose is completed or they fail to live up to her need for controlled perfection. And that goes doubly for herself. She’s the one with a plan who is going to go in and fix everything and to hell with anyone who gets in the way of that. But when that illusion shatters, when people and life don’t respond as they should, she breaks hard. But by the end of the season, we see her start to let her guard down. She lets Nico in, she apologizes to Baco for treating him terribly, and she gives Lyn some long overdue recognition. She still has things to fix and her own trauma and learned responses to contend with but she’s trying. I want to see what an Emma who is able to accept the vulnerability that comes with relationships and intimacy looks like and until then, will love her just as she is. She’s trying so hard all the time and I love her for it, even when she goes about things in exactly the wrong way. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Characters

Best of 2019: Nonfiction Books

I love nonfiction and seem to read a little more of it each year. I love the new ideas and new perspectives it gives me and the chance to learn about something I may have been less aware of. That said, I definitely have a strong preference for feminist nonfiction as you will see below. It ties into what I loved learning about most in school and getting a variety of opinions and understandings feels critical to me in order to be more comprehensive and inclusive with my own feminism. Not all of these books are recent but many have come out in the past couple years and while some of the topics discussed overlap, there is so much to gain by reading more than one.

As always, I want to hear your thoughts! Do you enjoy nonfiction? What did you read and love this year? What books should I add to my list to read next year?

1. Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly This was so extremely right up my alley and sure enough, I loved it. This book was often rage-inducing to read as it highlights all the ways our anger has traditionally been suppressed but also affirming in its understanding of anger as a tool for change, much like Rebecca Traister’s “Good and Mad” and Brittney Cooper’s “Eloquent Rage” and I strongly recommend that you read all three. This book in particular delves into the sociological forces that influence the expression of women’s anger. There is a lot of discussion of how emotion management (both our own emotions and those of the people around us) is tied to gender roles and the role violation that occurs when women are outwardly angry that is pivotal to understanding how this suppression occurs and how those role violations intersect with other aspects of our identity to create a multifaceted societal response. But it reminds us that our anger has power. Our anger is the reclamation of voices that many would prefer to stay silent and that demands a better world. We can use it as fuel when it is turned outward to push for change and there is strength to be found there, alongside others who have fought, are fighting, and will continue to fight. 

2. Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper In a similar vein to Traister’s “Good and Mad” and Chemaly’s “Rage Becomes Her”, Dr. Cooper reminds us of the virtues of anger and the importance of not settling for what’s been given to us. She writes exclusively about Black female anger and is a much needed voice in this area. The ways in which the anger of Black women is policed differs from the anger of white women and we cannot truly proceed and move forward until we acknowledge that along with the ways white women have been accomplices to this policing. It’s a phenomenal collection of essays that blend the personal and academic to create an incisive and powerful whole that ends in a beautiful benediction that’s stayed with me since reading this early in the year. “May you have joy. May you have gut-busting belly laughter every day. May you ask more and better questions. May your curiosity be unceasing. May your rage be a force for good.”

3. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde How many books, essays, and other internet articles have included Lorde’s quote about anger (“Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being.”) in some form? This collection of essays is a classic and for good reason. Lorde’s writing is stunning and powerful as she discusses the way her particular intersections of gender, race, and sexuality have touched her life and how to build a world where we can recognize and celebrate both our similarities and our differences instead of trying to move closer to the idea of a universal experience that can never exist. It’s about sitting with ourselves and our feelings, the good and the bad and learning how to use those feelings and what we can learn from them to create something better. It’s a stunning book that I really can’t recommend enough. 

4. Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom I love books that make me feel challenged to expand my thinking and that’s exactly what this essay collection did for me. It pushed me to think deeper about socioeconomic status and how capitalism works with and exploits existing hierarchies of race and gender. It unapologetically centers black women in its analysis and asks its readers to consider all the ways we and society have failed to do the same. It is an incredibly strong collection that introduced me to a writer I had been missing out on and I’m excited to dive into her other work. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Nonfiction Books