All posts by Heather

Best of 2017: Shows

This was easily the hardest list to make and the one that changed the most as I was making the list and writing. There was so much I loved that I once again couldn’t narrow it down to just ten, and the honorable mentions are as solid as my actual list. It was a year where I wanted comedies and stories about women finding understanding and joy with each other. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and they warmed my heart.

If you are looking for some more end of the year reading, head over to MGCircles to check out their Best Of lists and Nerdy Girl Notes for her thoughts on hope and new ways to be a hero in The Last Jedi.

1. One Day at a Time Since watching this show in January, it has been my pick for the best show of the year. This is how you reboot a show and make it feel fresh and relevant. Norman Lear’s style of socially conscious comedies is one that already appealed to me (though I will admit I’ve never seen any of his original shows, just those who have been inspired by his work) and I loved Mike Royce’s previous comedy Enlisted so I went into the show ready to love it. It exceeded my already high expectations. I mind multi-cam comedies far less than most people but this is an example of the form at its best. The writing is clever and hilarious and took full advantage of this cast’s considerable talents. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno were terrific casting choices and they play so well off of each other. They are both so well-rounded as actors and this show understands how to use that. They both made me laugh a lot but they were also responsible for many of the moments that made me cry and tugged at my heartstrings. I love this family full of strong women who support each other through anything life throws at them. I love that they gave both Elena and Penelope female friends who were there for each other when they needed it most. I love that they made me love Schneider and Leslie so much because it felt like they tried. They wanted to do better when they messed up and owned their lack of knowledge and unintentional blind spots. Everyone on this show cares so much and that warmth comes through in every moment. Each episode had something smart to say about a current issue, whether it was mansplaining and sexism, immigration, a lack of support for returning veterans, or coming out and telling the world who you are. This show was everything I love about television and what I can be all wrapped up in an entertaining package and I need everyone to watch it before it returns at the end of January.

2. Playing House Sometimes the simplest concept can lead to the greatest results. Playing House has never tried to be anything other than what it is, which is a beautiful tribute to two lifelong best friends and the unbreakable bond they share. It’s not high concept or serialized and it’s a relatively small cast with simple sets but it is intimate and honest and genuine. This season was the most ambitious with the overarching plot about Emma’s cancer diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. It was telling a real story and I loved that we got so many episodes to explore the healing process and how that looked for both Emma and Maggie. As good as all of that was, it’s always been the relationships and the small moments that make this show so special. It’s Maggie leaving Emma a “congrats on the sex” cheese plate and then attacking her as she eats it. It’s Emma being Tina’s biggest cheerleader and helping her find something she’s passionate about. It’s Mark’s coworkers showing amicable exes and co-parents who love and support each other and the new relationships they’ve found themselves in. They’re one big, weird family kept together by actual affection for each other and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wish that we were getting more seasons with this show but it went out on a high note.

3. Big Little Lies Until recently, “prestige” dramas have been all about the antihero. They were very masculinely focused and often involved isolation from those around them. We’re slowly moving away from that concept but there was still a bit of a battle for Big Little Lies to be taken seriously because it focused on the lives of women. It could be fun and frothy and Madeline had some endlessly quotable lines while also addressing domestic violence, the way we shield our truths from our loved ones and ourselves, and our expectations of women and the roles they inhabit. Celeste is kept at home out of Perry’s need for control, Renata is happy to be CEO but feels judged by the stay at home moms, Madeline is desperate for something to give her the fulfillment she’s not getting at home even though she feels like it should, Jane is a financially struggling single mother in a town full of wealthy two-parent households, and Bonnie is one of the few women of color in this very white town. No one feels like they are meeting all the expectations placed upon them. But other the course of the season, they find each other. It’s easy for Celeste, Madeline, and Jane. This is in large part to Madeline’s forceful personality and need to take Jane under her wing but these ladies develop a true friendship. With Perry’s death, Renata and Bonnie are drawn into the fold as now it is up to each one of them to stay silent and protect the group. They find their strength when they stand together and it made for a refreshing change. We were encouraged to take these women and their struggles seriously. We were supposed to find the power in their combined forces. And it was rewarded with critical acclaim and a lot of award nominations. I hope it is the start of more “prestige” dramas about different types of women finding their strength in each other and joining together in different ways to overcome different struggles. I’m never confident that networks take away the right reasonings for a show’s success and I’m not sure we needed a second season of this show, but at the end of the day, I know I will always be ready for a show about women supporting and encouraging other women.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Shows

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Best of 2017: Fiction Books

As I said in my list of my five favorite non-fiction books, this was a big reading year for me. I read more than I have before and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to try out new genres and expand my reading comfort zone. Not everything I read was a success. This was also the year I finally learned to give up on a book rather than see it through to the bitter end and I think I was happier for it. The following list weren’t all necessarily my favorite in the moment (though I rated all of them 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads) but they are the ones that stayed with me the most. They are full of the worlds and characters I see myself most wanting to revisit in the future and share with those I love.

1. Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin I couldn’t pick just one book in this trilogy so I picked them all. With Hugo awards for the first two books with a definite possibility for a third next year, this series has gotten a lot of praise and attention. It deserves every bit of it.  The world that Jemisin has built is unlike our own while simultaneously being informed by our own. The blend of science and magic is so cleverly and vividly sketched out. There is so much lore and history of this other world contained in these books and it is fascinating. Where I feel this book really shines, however, is in its understanding of humanity. It understands our psychology in all its beauty and ugliness. It understands the worlds we built for ourselves and how those worlds could fall. It’s a story about oppression, survival (both physical and emotional), anger, and the lengths a mother will go through for her daughter. It takes some time to adjust to the structure of the first book and orient yourself within the world but once it hooks you, you won’t want to put it down. You may want a highlighter or notebook handy, however, because there are so many lines that are beautifully insightful and resonant that’ll you’ll want to save. It’s diverse, incredibly plotted, and explicitly political. This is what the sci-fi and fantasy genre can be at its very best and I am thrilled with the success it’s found.

2. A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas To give you an indication of how much I enjoyed this book, I read it four times over the course of the year. I love the characters in this book more than any others I encountered this year with the exception of the Leverage team. Within pages of meeting them, I felt like I had a sense of who they were and the bonds they shared. Each member of the Court of Dreams has survived cruelty and cages of various sorts and disregard and it didn’t break them. It made them stronger and it made them kind and it made them the sort of people who dreamed of a better future. Who would fight and give their lives for that future because of how strongly they believe it is worth it. They are all extraordinarily powerful but that’s not what defines them. It is their heart that draws me in everytime. This whole book is about finding your inner strength and learning how to fight for yourself and the life that makes you happy all while finding people who will love and support you through it. Who will take your blows and carry you to freedom and open their arms and embrace you for who you are rather than what you can do. It’s a book that makes me feel from start to finish, from heartache to utter delight and everything in between.

3. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera In life, we don’t always get closure. We imagine possibilities for ourselves that never come to pass, things are left unspoken, and we can be left with regret over the things we didn’t do. But as Griffin and Jackson learn through this book, those regrets and unfilled promises don’t mean we can’t move forward. As they learn, it’s sometimes the most unlikely people who help us to do that. Griffin never wanted to like Jackson. He was the boy who was dating his ex-boyfriend. The last boy who would ever date him. In the aftermath of Theo’s death, however, they feel like the only two people in the world who understand what it meant to lose him. They became friends and got lost in their grief together. They isolate themselves and make bad choices. It’s only after they confront their histories, the real history and the version they imagined for themselves, that they can begin to move forward. It’s about first loves, grief and healing, and living with OCD. I love the way this story is told, with alternating chapters between the past and present. We see Griffin and Theo fall in love and fall apart and everything leading up to the phone saying that Theo was dead, bringing us back full circle to the start of the present in the beginning of the book. It’s a gorgeously written book that draws you into Griffin’s emotional world so effectively. It’s the first book of Silvera’s that I’ve read but it won’t be the last.

4. One Salt Sea (October Daye #5) by Seanan McGuire This particular book encapsulates two of my favorite things about McGuire as an author. First, I love her vivid world-building. This book expands our knowledge of Faerie by introducing us to the Undersea and gives us more backstory on the Luidaeg and in doing so, we start to see the scope of the world she has created. Her background in mythology and folklore shines through and brings these characters and this world to life in a fantastic way. Second, I love her ability to make me yell at my Kindle and feel all of the things. Because her characters feel so real and developed, we feel each victory and failure keenly. We’ve had four books up to this point to get to know and love these characters and everything builds so naturally on what has come before. It makes perfect sense for Quentin to want to be Toby’s squire (and for May to take bets about it) and for Raj to be as much Toby’s apprentice as he is Tybalt’s heir and for Tybalt to know how much Toby would want his leather jacket back. They made me emotional because they felt right, like the emotional was earned. On the flip side of that, Toby’s devastation after losing Connor and Gillian also felt earned. I was admittedly less invested in Connor but Toby’s realization that Gillian had been pulled too far into Faerie to come out of this unscathed caused me to curse at the book. I want that kind of engagement from my books, I want them to make me cheer and cry and most of all, believe in the emotions of the characters. And for me, no one does this better or more consistently than McGuire.

5. The Rewind Files by Claire Willett You can always tell when someone gets to write something they are really passionate about and that’s exactly how I felt reading The Rewind Files. I knew going into the book that Willett was a big fan of All the President’s Men and the Watergate scandal and that natural love and large amounts of research make this book pop. It’s an area of history I know little about but this book made me want to learn more, which I feel like always speaks well of any historical (or historical-adjacent) fiction. But the detail that went into reconstructing the fall of Nixon’s presidency is only one part of what made this book great. The time-travel portion is really solidly done and takes great care to address time loops and paradoxes and cause-and-effect. Basically all those things that make time-travel such a difficult thing to write and maintain some sense of rules and logic. But not only is the science and internal logic written well, it also dives into philosophical issues. It brings up interesting questions about fate and the ripple effect actions, both big and small, can have on the future of the world. Finally, and probably most importantly to me, these characters are amazing. I love Reggie Bellows so much. She is sarcastic and doesn’t really like people but will fight to the death to save them and she is fantastic at her job. It’s a job that I find super appealing for my particular skillset and strengths for all the reasons Reggie loves it and I loved seeing that part of myself reflected in her. Her relationships with the other people in her life feel authentic and draw you into a beautiful group dynamic that blends biological and chosen families. Honestly, the best evidence for how much I loved these characters is the fact that it made me care enough about them and what they wanted to cry over them. They came to life and I won’t forget them.

6. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie This is a beautiful story about a teenage girl discovering freedom and the life she desires in the midst of an oppressive father and regime in Nigeria. It’s a story that works on several levels. It’s perfectly enjoyable if you just look at the emotional journey Kambili goes through in this book to realize the way her life had always been at home wasn’t normal. Life could be full of joy and play and mistakes and love that wasn’t contingent on your achievements. Her father is a respected member of the community and the church, but he was also a tyrant who demanded strict adherence to his views. Those who don’t fall in line, including his own father, should be shunned. He rejects his own culture and their traditional beliefs in favor of the Catholicism brought to Nigeria by the British. Growing up that way caused Kambili to shrink. Her own wishes were minimized and the only goal was to prevent her father’s displeasure. But when she goes to stay with her aunt and cousins after it gets too dangerous to stay at home, she blossoms. It’s a slow process but she learns how much more can be accomplished and enjoyed in life than what she had been taught. People could differ but still be good and valued. She is encouraged and falls in love and learns to think for herself for the first time and it’s tremendous to watch. I imagine this book works even better when read with more knowledge of postcolonialism than I currently have. It would provide a richer understanding of Eugene and the underlying political structure of Nigeria that is a secondary feature in the book. It’s a terrific debut and I can’t read to read the rest of Adichie’s fiction books.

7. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant In the process of reading this book, I had a moment where I genuinely forgot that mermaids weren’t real. I was marveling how cool mermaid anatomy was and was completely engrossed in the science before realizing that it was all made up. The science (I think) was sound and reasonably plausible, but it did in fact come out of the genius mind of Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire’s sci fi & horror pseudonym).  Her ability to blend scientific research and fact with just enough fiction to make it believable is incredible and it’s all borne out of a love for all the weirdness and possibilities that science offers and the people who are discovering it. She writes and understands scientists so well and brings their passion to life. As much as I love the scientific elements of a Mira Grant story, they are just one element that makes them great. I am not ordinarily a big fan of horror and suspense but I loved every moment that made me curl into my hoodie in anticipation. Since her Newsflesh trilogy, she has only gotten better at creating tension through her words and the atmosphere she creates. As a giant fan of her work, both as Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire, it excites me to see her continually strive for better. Finally, it has all the diversity and character development that is the other defining characteristic of her works. She wants to make a world where more people can be seen in the fiction they consume and she actively takes steps to make that happen. People are never tokens, they are complex and treated with care. It doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to them (this is a horror novel, after all) but it does mean that they’re allowed to be people rather than concepts. The protagonists aren’t saints and the antagonists aren’t faceless evil. Everyone is nuanced while never falling into the trap of making everyone equally morally gray. Some people are better humans than others and as is often the case in Grant books, the bad ones often get eaten. I may never want to go into the ocean again but I do hope we’re able to return to this world in the future.

8. Kindred by Octavia Butler While this is technically a science fiction book (or at least it involves time travel, classify it as you wish), it is mostly an unflinching look at slavery in America through the eyes of a young Black woman in the 1970s as she is pulled back through time to save her ancestor. Octavia Butler’s straightforward prose is the perfect fit for this story. Nothing is sugar-coated or needs to be embellished, we experience Dana’s horror at the life her ancestors experienced right alongside her. The exploration of Dana’s complicated relationship with Rufus is incredible. He was her great-grandfather and until the point that he fathered a child with her great-grandmother, Dana needed him alive for her own history. He was also her master and sometimes friend. He could be cruel, as his father was before him, and manipulative. He was entitled and despite Dana’s best efforts to make life for herself, her fellow slaves, and the children he would bear better, he never really outgrew the person his father and his time taught him to be. Equally well-explored was Dana’s relationship with her husband Kevin. On later visits, he was pulled back through time with her, but as a young white man, his experiences were very different. Understandably, this sort of life changes a person. Dana carries the physical and mental reminders of her time in the past with her, even as she is finally able to stay in her correct time. Similarly, this book is one that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.

9. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker Through no choice of their own, two mythical creatures find themselves transported to New York City in the early 1900s and into communities where they sort of fit in but find something lacking until they meet each other. Despite the presence of mythical creatures who can do some extraordinary things, this book feels very rooted in its time and place. It’s a story about immigrants and a tribute to the communities they’ve always built for themselves in new lands. It’s a story about feeling understood and connected to another person. Chava and Ahmed are fascinating characters on their own and through them, we are able to explore and question things about humanity as a construct. We see our contradictory desires and the pain they cause. We see the desires we impose on others to make them fit exactly as we think they should. Their independent storylines kept me engaged as they learned about their new world and found a comfortable place for themselves but it’s the slowly growing friendship and love that shows the book at its best. By their natures, they were very different. Chava is made of earth while Ahmed is made of fire. Together, they teach each other and push each other and get each other to a place where they are no longer constrained by their natures. It’s a beautifully written book that made me feel like I was getting a glimpse into a world that could have existed, unseen to our eyes.

10. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein I don’t fully know how to talk about this book without spoilers but I think it’s one that benefits from allowing yourself to be taken through the ups and downs and twists of the book as you experience it for the first time. I suspect it will be a rewarding book to reread when I get back around to it. What I can say, however, is that it is a story about two young women who take part in World War 2. When we think about the war effort, we often think about all the brave men who served around the world. We tend to overlook the contributions that women made so to read a book centered around them was a refreshing change. They fought to the best of the ability and were brave even when they were scared. They rose to every challenge placed in front of them. They were also best friends. This is among the best depictions of a life-changing female friendship I’ve seen in a novel. As Julie says, “it’s like being in love, discovering your best friend”. Their love for each other will grab hold of you and refuse to let you go. The style of the book takes some getting used to and made it initially difficult for me to fully emotionally invest in the story but by the end, I cared so much about these girls and their story that it had me in tears. Even if historical fiction isn’t your preferred genre, this book is one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.

Honorable Mentions: The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Emily M. Danford), Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli), Nimona (Noelle Stevenson), Shadowshaper (Daniel José Older), Room (Emma Donoghue), Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Helen Simonson), The Color Purple (Alice Walker), Redshirts (John Scalzi), Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Seanan McGuire), Uprooted (Naomi Novik)

Best of 2017: Episodes

Unsurprisingly, many of my favorite episodes this year dealt with the idea of connection in some way (or the lack of it). There’s our connection with ourselves and our desires, connection with our friends and family, and connection with our cultures. They are about seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole and the confidence and power that brings. No one does anything alone, we need each other to create a better and functional world. That will always be my favorite kind of fiction and it was a good year to see that reflected on TV in a variety of ways.

If you want more year end fun, be sure to check out all of MGCircles’s lists as well!

1. You Wanna Roll With This (Playing House) This episode is perfect. In 21 minutes, there is not a single misstep. This show is always full of warmth and laughter with just the right amount of weirdness but this episode goes above and beyond. This cannot have been an easy experience for Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham to relive and fictionalize but the fact that they had just been through this together makes all the emotion that much more real. It’s a serious episode and a serious arc but the show never gets too bogged down in worry and unnecessary drama. It’s always treated as something Emma will survive, even when characters give into their natural concerns. The guest casting in this episode is flawless. Laurie Metcalf makes an appearance as Emma’s oncologist and Michaela Watkins as her plastic surgeon, both of whom are the sort of doctors anyone would want on their team. They are the best at their job and their bedside manner is the right amount of comforting but firm (especially on the “no Googling” rule) and I can’t imagine anyone else more fitting for the roles. I’ve already talked about Emma and Maggie but this episode really shows that these two are the best. They are on each other’s team forever and it’s consistently beautiful to watch. Similarly, Emma and Mark are so easy and free together. It’s the natural extension of where they’ve been headed since Emma moved back and the history between them just makes this second chance even sweeter. They know each other and have seen each other at their worst and weirdest and they still love and chose each other. No one ever compared to the other and all those years apart didn’t chance that. They tease each other with the ease of people who have known each other for a long time. It’s completely without venom and so full of affection that you can’t help but smile watching them. And those are just the main relationships! Even in the minor characters like the rest of the police squad and Dr. Ericson, there is so much love and kindness toward Maggie and Emma that makes me cry every time. I cannot say enough good things about this episode, it truly is the best of an incredible show.

2. You Get What You Need (Big Little Lies) Everything about this episode is stressful as the lies and secrets that these women are keeping from the world come tumbling out. While Madeline’s breakdown during the fundraiser is important as she confesses her infidelity to a supportive Jane and it gets everyone in one place for the extraordinary conclusion to this episode and season. But the star of this episode is Nicole Kidman and everything she puts into her role as Celeste with a strong but terrifying supporting role from Alexander Skarsgård. From the opening scene, the tension builds as Celeste comes to the realization that she has to leave. She can’t pretend things will get better any more, not after it’s clearly starting to have a negative impact on the man Max is growing up to be. By the time Perry calmly tells her that she missed a call from her property manager about her apartment while calmly checking Max’s loose tooth, the tension became nearly unbearable and stayed that way until the end. Things were reaching their boiling point and there was no going back. We got momentary bouts of relief as other characters pulled the focus away but it isn’t fully released until the beach scene. It is masterfully done. As Celeste stands her ground, Jane recognizes the face of the man who raped her. The horrified look on her face clues in Madeline who gets Celeste’s attention and it is the three of them against the world, with Renata joining their union. Seeing these women stand together is an emotional experience. No matter what has happened in the past, they are united in their attempt to stop Perry. Bonnie is finally the one to get rid of him and their group expands once more. And by stopping this man together, they find unity, peace, and freedom. They found they are stronger together and its together that they will build a better future for their children, without the petty rivalries of the past. Watching these women support and care for each other was beautiful to watch and I am so glad it got the recognition that it did. We don’t see enough of it but it’s a start.

3. Late (The Handmaid’s Tale) This was a fantastic episode of television that I never want to watch again. This episode was designed to be chilling and horrifying and it accomplishes that goal well. Alexis Bledel is the best she has ever been as Ofglen is forced to watch her girlfriend hang before forcibly undergoing female genital mutilation surgery. It was intentionally one of the most upsetting moments on TV this year and both Bledel and director Reed Morano deserve the praise they received for creating it. Regardless of anything else, that portion of the episode was always going to be hard to watch. But there was a world where the rest of the episode would still have been powerful but had a less visceral impact. The nature of this book and similar dystopias is that something in them will always feel relevant. They are a critique of one or more aspects of our current society and those often change pretty slowly. This book felt resonant when it came out in the 80s, it felt resonant when I read it in 2012, and it still feels resonant today. However, seeing the way the US turned into Gilead may have felt less timely if we didn’t have a Speaker of the House who belongs to a party who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade who says we need to get our birth rates up or a Vice President who won’t be alone in the room with a woman who isn’t his wife. Nothing changes instantaneously but more and more freedoms are stripped away until we realize we no longer live in the world we thought we did. Seeing that change and hearing all the things that the citizens of what was now Gilead let slide was a stark reminder of how easily we can be led down a dangerous path as long as a nice justification is given to us. I wouldn’t have minded this portion of the episode feeling a little more theoretical but that’s not the world we ended up in. It was also a stellar episode for Yvonne Strahovski, who gave us a nice look at life as one of the privileged women in Gilead. She has more perceived freedom and actual power over the Handmaids and she will use every bit of that when she isn’t given her way, but even when it isn’t her body, she’s still defined by her ability to bring children into the household. The change in her attitude when she learns that Offred isn’t pregnant is scary, but unsurprising. There is no solidarity between them, Offred exists only as a means to get what Serena Joy desperately wants. That kindness she displayed wasn’t genuine and was easily ripped away. We can feel her longing for a child and have sympathy for her while also being disgusted at her attitude and Strahovski finds that balance well in her acting. The acting, writing, and directing are all extraordinary in this episode which only served to make it more difficult to watch.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Episodes

Best of 2017: Non-Fiction Books

As much as I enjoyed television over the past year, 2017 was the year I returned to books in a big way. I have always been a voracious reader but a difficult personal year in 2016 made concentration difficult. I read a lot this year, enough to make choosing my top books of the year difficult because there were so many I loved. So while this is a television blog, these lists are also a way to share the things I love with everyone else and it didn’t seem right to leave out the books I connected with this year. I’ll share my top 10 fictional books next week but today the focus is on the non-fiction that inspired me throughout the year. Looking through this list, it’s very clear where my interests lie this year and where I could expand the perspectives I read for the upcoming year. I’m always looking for more non-fiction recommendations in any area, so feel free to share some of your own favorites in the comments!

And if you’re looking for more television content to enjoy, MGCircles and Nerdy Girl Notes have you covered with their own end of the year lists.

1. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley This is an incredible collection of essays. As Kameron Hurley is a sci-fi and fantasy author, it is geared slightly toward people who are familiar with some of the recent issues and discussions within that community but I don’t think it’s a requirement in order to get something fantastic out of this book. Things like GamerGate and the Sad Puppies takeover of the 2015 Hugos and the idea of representation and the need for more diverse voices are issues that have recently and are still being addressed within SFF fandom but they aren’t exclusive to that fandom. Those attitudes are found everywhere and we’ve seen the entitlement, resentment, and fear that drove those movements in a wider political and cultural sphere more clearly than ever this year. Claiming our voices and widening a narrative that has been largely geared toward a very narrow market are part of a larger cultural revolution. Changing the stories that we tell and the people those stories are told about matter and Hurley does a fantastic job showing us how and why. If you have any interest in the power of story to change the world, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

2. Shrill by Lindy West Even more than the humor or the sharp insights into fat shaming, mysogyny, and rape culture, I appreciated the openness and candor that underlies the entirely of Shrill. Throughout the book, Lindy West unapologetically owns her life and her opinions and there is a tremendous amount of power in that. To be a loud woman can by a scary proposition. You are stepping out of the bounds society has tried to construct around you. You are rejecting a culture that wishes you would just be quiet and leave the status quo alone. You are claiming your voice when women weren’t even legally considered independent beings in the all too recent past. West is deeply familiar with the hate that brings. But she continues to fight and do it anyway. Her memoir is funny, heartbreaking, angering, and above all, honest. I finished it feeling braver and more inspired to find and amplify my own voice.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Non-Fiction Books

Best of 2017: Moments

One moment can say so much. It can fittingly conclude a character arc, provide a moment of sweetness, move characters forward, and capture the theme of a show. We remember the ones that touch us in some way and carry them with us as we remember the show and its impact on us. As always, there were too many to choose from and my final selections are all over the place as far as tone goes but I feel like they are a good representation of what I loved most about TV this year. There is so much character growth and catharsis in these scenes as I watched the characters I love move forward in much-awaited and surprising ways.

1. Philip and Elizabeth get married (The Americans) It was never supposed to be real. They were put together to have children and spy for Mother Russia. They weren’t supposed to fall in love along the way. But they did and we’ve gotten to watch it happen. At a time when Philip is drifting further away from the cause and even Elizabeth is getting tired, they chose to make a vow to each other. They pledged that no matter what happened, their love was real. It’s a simple scene. There aren’t elaborate vows, a wedding dress, or even very much light. No one else is there, it is just the two of them and a priest performing the ceremony entirely in Russian. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’s performances are so understated but moving. This is something neither of them thought they would ever have. It’s not something they’re supposed to have, even now, but they are so sure. The love on both of their faces is impossible to miss. There is a peace and vulnerability in Elizabeth’s expression and it’s all the more beautiful for its rarity. She lives in a world with carefully constructed walls, full of identities that allow her to be whoever she needs to be to get the job done. But here, with her husband, they all fall away. She’s allowed to just be Nadezhda. She doesn’t have to play a role with him any more because it’s real now.

2. Donna and Cameron imagine their next company (Halt and Catch Fire)  One of the most important relationships on this show was the one between Donna and Cameron. After a shaky start in which both pre-judged the other, they came to an understanding and found something each needed in the other. They cared for each other and became a part of each other’s families then both got stubborn and Donna broke Cameron’s heart. The trust they had in each other was shattered and they couldn’t even occupy the same space without fighting. Gordon’s death reminded them that life was short and they didn’t want to spend it fighting. They apologized for everything they had done to each other although they were still hesitant to ever mix their personal and professional lives again. But that fear didn’t stop them from dreaming together. They visited the former Mutiny office and reminisced about good times before taking a leap into an imaginary future where they built a second company, fixing many of the mistakes the made the first time around. They dreamed of a company where they could be true partners, where they were still the same people who made the same choices but didn’t let those choices break their friendship. They gave themselves a second chance to do better. This time, in their new history, they walked away together. It let them heal some of those old wounds so that when inspiration actually did strike Donna, they were ready to face it together.

3. Jules confronts Nate (Sweet Vicious) Eliza Bennett is extraordinary in this scene. She is angry and hurting and raw in a visceral way that I felt deep in my gut. Rape is used as a device on television far too often but we rarely get to see the lingering effects on the person raped. It may fuel someone else’s revenge arc or simply be dropped all together, but viewers aren’t forced to confront the fear and anger and pain felt by the survivor. Especially when the person responsible remains in your life in some capacity, as Nate has for Jules. He can lie to himself and everyone else that it was consensual but Jules refuses him that comforting lie in this moment. She tells him she said no. She tells him he physically kept her from saying no again. She tells him exactly what he took from her and who she is now. It is honest and brave and powerful. Nate had convinced himself both that he had gotten away with it and that Jules wanted it. Both those illusions are shattered here. And none of it was for Nate’s benefit. He’d already proved that the desires of others meant little to him if it meant getting his way. This was a moment that was solely for Jules and what she needed to say. The focus was exactly where it should have been and it’s stronger for it.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Moments

Best of 2017: Episodes that Didn’t Air This Year

Good television doesn’t stop being good after some time has past. While we are in the midst of Peak TV and there is more new scripted shows on television than anyone can keep up with, there is also a lot that aired in the past that I missed out on the first time. I always try to have at least a couple older shows that I’m slowly working through and this year, they were among some of the best things that I watched. This collection of posts is all about celebrating the things that brought me the most joy this year and these 10 episodes definitely qualified.

Libertus (Spartacus) The last 15 minutes of this episode are such a glorious spectacle that only Spartacus could pull off. Not that the rest of the episode isn’t fantastic but the arena battle has stayed on my mind for the past 9 months. Starting with the most human of the battles, the fight between Oenomaus and Gannicus had so much emotional history behind it. They were best friends, they were brothers in arms, and both slaves to the House of Batiatus. They were also in love with the same woman and Oenomaus’s wife died in Gannicus’s arms. There was pain and anger and betrayal that infused each blow and it was captivating to watch these men fight each other and Gannicus being unable to take that final killing blow. Oenomaus always represented the best parts of Gannicus, the parts that he lost when Melitta died, and it was only right that he gave up freedom to save his brother. Then there was the larger plan on Spartacus’s mind. He wasn’t just going to free his men, he was showing up to the arena that day to burn it all down. Just as far as plotting go, it’s a brilliant move that opens up a whole new future for the second half of the season. It was a blow to the heart of Rome at the hands of the slave rebellion. It also solidifies Glaber’s status as a legitimate villain and not just a bothersome antagonist. Killing his father-in-law and the chilling way he reminds his wife that there is no longer a way out of the marriage she came so close to leaving is really the first time we see him as the monster he is. It’s his personal uprising and he will use his newfound freedom to crush all those who sought to belittle and undermine him. But what made it truly remarkable to me is the deeper level on which this show works. Yes, there is a lot of over-the-top violence and nudity and delightfully campy dialogue in Spartacus, but at its heart, it is a story about oppression and freedom. And in this episode, the oppressed rose up and burned down the institution that was used to justify their enslavement. They sent the message that they would no longer be used for the gain of others. Their bodies would no longer further the wealth of others. It’s a powerful message, not just within the show but also for the viewers. In the spirit of resistance that has characterized much of 2017, I can’t imagine a more mood-appropriate episode to have seen for the first time.

The Queen’s Gambit Job (Leverage) Narrowing this down to one episode of Leverage was nearly impossible because there are so many that I love. There are three things about this episode that make it one of my favorites (four if you count Sophie’s especially fabulous outfits). First, Sterling is such a compelling antagonist and his relationship with Nate is fascinating. These two have an underlying respect for each other even if it is coupled with a lack of trust. There is no one else Sterling would have gone to in order to get his daughter back and no one who would have understood why he needed a con to do so better than Nate. Second, there are few things I love more than Eliot Spencer being a disaster when it comes to his feelings and never has that been more apparent than in this episode. Only he would unthinkingly hug Hardison and then immediately be annoyed that he did and try to pretend that Hardison initiated the hug. The lingering effects of the drugs lowered his inhibitions and walls and his instinctual response was to be as affectionate as Hardison would probably prefer. But he won’t let himself have that because he doesn’t think he deserves it and attachments are dangerous and whatever else he needs to tell himself to maintain that grumpy facade. Finally, Hardison is one of the best fictional boyfriends in the history of television and this episode is the reason why. He lets the hug thing slide and recognizes that Eliot would probably feel better if he beat some people up and finds some for him while they rescue Sophie, which is delightful on its own. But where he really comes through is with Parker. When we’re at our least confident, we revert back to old and familiar tendencies. So when faced with a heist that made her doubt her ability to get the job done, Parker lashed out and yelled at Hardison about things weighing her down (physically and metaphorically) and killing her. And he responds with understanding and kindness. That was true for much of Parker’s life and he’s never expected her to resolve her past issues immediately. He knows that trust doesn’t come easy for her. So he reassures her that she’s not alone any more, that’s he’s got her back and will be looking out for her. He calms her and refocuses her, not just in training but in the middle of the heist when she starts to doubt again. He plans ahead and makes sure he’s not leaving her without an escape route so he gives her a parachute and the opportunity to jump from one of the tallest buildings in a row. It’s the best gift he could have gotten her and one that comes out of the deepest understanding of who she is. They aren’t just words to him, he’s gonna back it up with his actions and do whatever it takes to help Parker feel safe and comfortable. I need more men like Hardison and more relationships like this one on TV because they are perfect.

Punchline (Take My Wife) I was really mad when I watched this for the first time because I didn’t watch it in time to include on my end of the year list for last year. This episode wasn’t the primary motivation for starting this new list but it was certainly on my mind as I did so. I love everything Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher wanted to do with this show and this episode in particular. In 22 minutes, they talked about the Bury Your Gays trend, the proliferation of rape jokes in comedy, and misgendering issues in bathrooms all while being funny and in love and Cameron meeting her fictional celebrity crush. In the midst of all of the greatness, there are two moments that stand out for me. The first is Cameron telling Rhea that she loves hosting their show with her and that she loves her. These two are wonderful together. They have so much love and admiration for each other and that naturally bleeds into the fictional versions of themselves and their relationship. It’s authentic and sincere and still not something we see very much of on television. The second is the Me Too moment that comes near the end of the show. I watched this episode a few months before the Harvey Weinstein article came out and raised the cultural awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. It wasn’t something that was being widely talked about at the time and was (and would continue to be if someone wanted to pick up the show and put the first season back online) a powerful and important moment to see on screen. As a whole, this is an episode I couldn’t get out of my head and a show I loved with all my heart. It was special and its voice will be missed.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Episodes that Didn’t Air This Year

Best of 2017: Relationships

As much as I love individual characters, it’s the relationships those characters form that are the most interesting to me. Whether they are familial, platonic, romantic, or antagonistic, I need interesting characters interacting in interesting ways to truly be invested in a show. This year, I was all about the found families and groups of people taking on the world together. In a year where it seemed more important than ever to find your people to stand with you against whatever life and world may throw at you, it seems like no surprise that it was a dynamic I craved in my fiction.

1. Sensates + Allies (sense8) Yes, this is basically everyone on the show. I could have just picked the sensates on their own but excluding Amanita, Hernando, and Dani would have been disappointing, let alone everyone else like Bug and Detective Mun who I also adored. In any combination, this show does relationships well whether they are romantic, platonic, or somewhere in the middle. They would never have known each other without this bond between them, but now that they do, they couldn’t get away even if they wanted to. They are each other’s family and have each other’s backs no matter what. The core of the show will always be the connections these characters have with each other and it is better whenever it embraces that. It’s Amanita cancelling date night the second she hears Sun needs help, Wolfgang popping up to help Lito fight Joaquin, everyone showing up to support Capheus during his campaign speech, and everyone immediately dropping everything to save Wolfgang. Their love for each other is unbreakable and they are all better for it, as are we for having the chance to see them.

2. Emma and Maggie (Playing House) Look at what can happen when you let real life best friends write and star in a show where they get to play best friends. You get this beautiful friendship with all of its supportiveness and weirdness. These two are the kind of lifelong friends who can and have dropped everything in an instant when they other has needed them. The show started with Emma moving home for Maggie and ended with Maggie supporting Emma through breast cancer and recovery. They are sisters in all but blood and you can feel the love and history between them. It feels honest and real and there really is little else like it.

3. Ruth and Debbie (GLOW) To contrast the sweetness of Emma and Maggie, we have the infinitely more complicated friendship between Ruth and Debbie. Once again, there is a lot of history there. They were each other’s best friends but then Debbie got an acting job and husband and baby and Ruth had nothing. She got jealous and insecure and slept with Debbie’s husband. Naturally, Debbie found out and their resulting fight got them both a job where they would be forced to work together and be a team. Zoya and Liberty Belle are easy antagonists and it just makes it all the more apparent how much messier this actual relationship is. Despite the hurt, Debbie misses Ruth. It would be easier if she could just hate her and walk away but life doesn’t always work like that. Ruth is still the person who understands her the most and still the one she wants to talk to, which just makes her angrier that she can’t anymore. While they find a way to work together in the ring, repairing their personal relationship will take time and it’s the arc of the show I am most excited to return to next season.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Relationships

Best of 2017: Characters

This was an abnormally difficult category for me this year. While I watched about the same amount of television as I did last year and my overall enjoyment of them was higher (thanks to dropping some shows I wasn’t connecting with), there were fewer characters who really grabbed my heart. Part of this was almost certainly due to the fact that I watched Leverage for the first time this year and my love for those characters took up a lot of emotional space. I also seemed to be more drawn to found families even more than usual this year and connecting more with larger group dynamics than specific characters. But I truly don’t know how to watch TV without getting attached to characters and the emotional journeys they go through, so even in this harder year, there were still plenty of characters who inspired me and who I loved enough to want to recognize.

1. Sana Bakkoush (Skam) It’s been well-established by this point in time that I love characters who learn to let down their walls and find love and acceptance waiting for them on the other side. It is a story that will resonate with me every single time and this year, I got a particularly great one in Sana. She had already been my favorite going into the final season because of her loyalty, her fierce protectiveness of her friends, and her lack of interest in putting up with sexist or racist idiots. She seemed so confident in who she was and what she believed. This season, with her as the main character, we got to see how much of a front that confidence was and it only made me love her more. What we found underneath was a teenage girl who was torn between two worlds and two culture who couldn’t shake the idea that she was always coming up short and disappointing someone. She never felt like she could be enough of what people expected or needed her to be and so she stopped letting people see enough of her to truly know her. She gave so much and loved her friends fiercely but never gave them the chance to love her just as much. She was too ready to believe they would let her down and not accept the Muslim or Moroccan of her. It was hard to watch her continue to isolate herself as they seemed to validate every one of the fears she’d been holding on to, but a little communication goes a long way, and they showed her how important she was to their friend group. She came to realize that she was wrong and that her defenses were only holding her back and she decided to drop them. She showed them exactly who she was and revealed her vulnerabilities to them and they responded by loving her all the more. It’s often the characters we want to protect the most who reveal the most about ourselves and our own insecurities and who teach us the most and that was definitely true of Sana this year.

2. Nova Bordelon (Queen Sugar) I will never get enough of characters with soft, kind hearts who are also full of anger and drive to change their world and that perfectly describes Nova. She is so full of compassion and love for her family and friends and community and that shows in everything she does. It is the reason she gets up and fights every day and the reason she is the one they go to when they are looking for understanding and empathy. She is quick to celebrate the achievements of others and comfort them in times of sadness. She is a passionate activist who sees the wrongs that have been done to her city and her people and uses her voice as a journalist to speak out against those wrongs. She knows who she is and she knows why she fights and through it all, despite the things she has experienced, she has never let it make life hard or cruel. She doesn’t try to shut off her emotions when it all gets to be too much, she lets them push her forward and work harder. She can be stubborn and hard-headed which can be a problem when others disagree with her but it also makes her relatable to me. She is everything I want to be and a character I needed a lot this year.

3. Jacqueline Carlyle (The Bold Type) We’re all familiar with the horrible female boss stereotype. They’re successful but they are also cold and impossibly demanding, with little regard for anything resembling a work-life balance. They create an unpleasant environment for their (typically female) employees. The Bold Type chose to do something different. While Jacqueline is every bit as successful as the Miranda Priestlys of the fictional world, she doesn’t run Scarlet through fear. She’s a true mentor to Kat, Jane, and Sutton, pushing them and encouraging them to be the best they can be, both personally and professionally. She shows them how to find and own their voices. She has a supportive and loving husband, which is truly rare, and she’s unafraid to be vulnerable with her employees as the situation calls for. There is really no one else like her on television and I am so grateful that she exists.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Characters

Best of 2017: Actors

 

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s a time to celebrate the best the year had to offer and while much of the world seemed to bring about more anger and sadness, there were a lot of fictional things to love, both new and old. Over the rest of the month, I’ll be posting my lists of favorite things from this year. My normal categories of actors, characters, relationships, moments, episodes, and shows will be returning and I’ve added three new categories that I’m excited to share with you all. As always, this is a list that reflects more about who I am and what I enjoy in fiction than any attempt at an objective best. I find that I find a lot of thematic connections between the things that resonated with me in any given year and I hope that is true for many of you as well. It’s proved an excellent way to take a snapshot of the person I was when the list was written and I love being able to share myself with you all through these lists.

First up, it’s time to celebrate all of the wonderful performances we saw on television. Once again, it proved to be a stellar year for actresses with a wide variety of strong roles available to take on. In both comedies and dramas, it was often the women who stood out the most to me. The continued expansion of the types of roles we see women play excites me and I want to see it continue.

1. Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies) Hands down, this was the performance of the year. I was absolutely riveted every second Celeste was on screen. Kidman pulls off the combination of strength, fear, vulnerability, denial, and anger so well. We see the very careful facade she’s built for herself, especially during her therapy sessions with Dr. Reisman and we see the way her pain and fear shine through the cracks in the facade. We see her desire to free herself from the situation and her very real fear when Perry tells her he knows about her safe house. Above all, we feel everything because this performance is so transportative. It’s a deeply emotional role that I felt to my core and I can’t imagine anyone filling it as well as Kidman did.

2. Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) While this was a hard show and a hard role to watch at times, I can’t imagine a better casting choice. Moss is an incredibly expressive actress and the directing took full advantage of that fact in her many close-ups. In such a restrictive environment, small changes in facial expressions are all we have to know and understand Offred’s headspace in Gilead and how it changes as the season progresses. I’m not a big fan of enigmatic characters who can too often feel underdeveloped and I appreciated the fact that it was never the goal of the show to keep us guessing about June’s true feelings. We feel her anger, resentment, manipulation, and budding rebellion and would have even without the voiceovers. It takes a strong actress to convey so much with relatively little and Moss sold the performance, both on the show itself and as Offred to The Commander, every step of the way.

3. Matthew Rhys (The Americans) I’m not sure that there is anyone else on TV who can slowly fall apart quite as well as this man can. It’s happened over the course of the previous four seasons and it finally caught up to him. Philip was a man who was done with everything. He was done with the manipulation and sneaking around and the lies and it showed not just in Rhys’s expressions but his body language as well. Except for the wedding scene. It helps that he is acting alongside his actual wife, but it is the most at peace we saw Philip all season. This is why he keeps going in the morning, why he could never just walk away. There is a tenderness and love that is palpable between Rhys and Keri Russell that has always centered and informed Philip’s actions. We understand him through his love for his wife and his family and that is the part of the role that he has always played so exquisitely.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Actors

Emmy Predictions 2017

It’s Emmy night! It’s a time for celebrating when beloved favorites win and yelling at the television in irritation when they don’t. While I never manage to quite get over my disappointment that some of my own favorites were snubbed, it doesn’t stop me from becoming invested in those who were. Below are my hopes and predictions for tonight’s awards and for more prediction fun, check out Katie’s thoughts over on Nerdy Girl Notes.

Outstanding Drama Series

Better Call Saul (AMC)
The Crown (Netflix)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Stranger Things (Netflix)
This Is Us (NBC)
Westworld (HBO)

My Pick: The Handmaid’s Tale. This is easily my favorite in the category for it’s gorgeous production and the way it produced such a visceral reaction in me. It’s as haunting as it should have been and the acting is uniformly strong and draws you into the lives of these characters.
Prediction: This Is Us. I suspect this will go one of three ways. The Handmaid’s Tale has a very good chance for being both buzzy and politically resonant, This Is Us is the kind of big broadcast breakout hit that has seemed to connect with a wide range of people, and The Crown is beautifully produced and the sort of upper-class British spotlight that won Downton Abbey so much Emmy love. I think its broad appeal will give This Is Us the edge tonight.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series

Sterling K. Brown as Randall Pearson (This is Us)
Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Robert Ford (Westworld)
Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill (Better Call Saul)
Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings (The Americans)
Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan (Ray Donovan)
Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood (House of Cards)
Milo Ventimiglia as Jack Pearson (This Is Us)

My Pick: Sterling K. Brown. I just love him a lot. He’s one of the best actors on television right now and I always want to shower him in awards and praise.
Prediction: Sterling K. Brown. After his win for People vs. OJ last year and the great work he’s doing on This Is Us, I think Brown has his second Emmy all but guaranteed tonight.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating (How to Get Away with Murder)
Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II (The Crown)
Elisabeth Moss as June Osborne/Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy (Westworld)
Robin Wright as Claire Underwood (House of Cards)

My Pick: Elisabeth Moss. This is one of the roles of the year that I won’t forget and that is entirely due to Moss’s abilities. She conveys so much in her face and it’s incredible to watch.
Prediction: Elisabeth Moss. I think the acting categories are where The Handmaid’s Tale will shine the brightest tonight and that includes its leading actress in one of her strongest roles.

Continue reading Emmy Predictions 2017