Category Archives: General Thoughts

On the Edge of Something Wonderful: The Power of Passion

There are TV shows that we enjoy watching but don’t give much thought to when they end. Then there are those shows that shape who we are forever. Over the past six months, I’ve fallen in love with Girl Meets World. I fall well outside the target audience for the Disney Channel, as I grew up with Boy Meets World reruns on the network. The lessons that show taught me have stayed with me as I’ve aged and have meant even more when I look back at them. Just as Boy Meets World taught me to do good all those years ago, it’s successor is proving equally valuable for all those growing up with Riley and Maya.

When news of Girl Meets World’s cancellation broke a little over a week ago, fans proved just how much they have taken the message of the show to heart. In “Girl Meets Pluto”, they learned how to hope and hold on to dreams. They learned that it is up to them to decide what is important to them and what will become a part of their own personal histories. In “Girl Meets Creativity”, they learned to fight for the things that matter to them. They learned that it was important to find and hold on to the things that inspire them and to carry those things with them. That is exactly what they have done.

Fan campaigns aren’t uncommon in the world of television. Jericho fans sent peanuts to CBS, Chuck fans consumed a lot of Subway, and CSI fans sent in money and hired planes to do a banner flyover of the studios to convince them to keep Jorja Fox on the show. Hashtags asking networks to save shows pop up every spring before upfronts. In this new media environment, there is more hope than ever than a cancelled favorite will be picked up by another network. Yahoo acquired Community, Hulu got The Mindy Project, Netflix continued Longmire, and CMT gave Nashville a new home. Despite these successes, it’s still a long shot. But these fans didn’t let that stop them.

Continue reading On the Edge of Something Wonderful: The Power of Passion

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Life Lessons and Friendship: A Reflection on the Legacies of Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World

Sometimes we look back on the pieces of media we loved in our youth and wonder what we ever saw in it. Others become even richer when revisited as adults. I tried Girl Meets World when it first debuted in 2014 because I loved its predecessor, Boy Meets World. The first episode was clearly geared toward a younger audience so I accepted that it wasn’t for me and moved on. I enjoyed seeing clips of familiar characters when they visited this new world, but I had little intention of watching until two of my friends shared their feelings on the series. One is my age and like me, watched the reruns of the original series growing up. The other is a bit older and watches the series with her daughter, who is a few years younger than Riley and Maya. Despite their different experiences, both have found something to enjoy about the series and it prompted me to give it a second chance. I’ve spent the past month catching up on the series and though I may not be in the target audience, I’ve now joined the group of people eagerly awaiting new episodes.

Watching Girl Meets World has made me think back to my time spent watching Boy Meets World and the way I learned from Mr. Feeny just as much as I learned from my actual teachers at school. He didn’t just want his students to pass their tests and graduate. He wanted to give them a strong foundation that would carry them through the rest of their lives, not just academically but morally as well. He guided them and showed them that the most important thing was to be a good person who cared for others and who made a difference. I would imagine there are few fans of the original series who can look back on his final lesson of “Dream. Try. Do good” and not get a little teary-eyed.

It was a show that wanted to teach you something, even if the impact on you wouldn’t be understood until much later. Katie and I came across an episode of Boy Meets World a couple summers ago when I visited her. It was a very early episode that I must have seen several times before but this is the first time I’d seen it as an adult. Mr. Feeny was trying to teach the students about prejudice by assigning them the Diary of Anne Frank. Cory originally found the topic outdated, as surely the same hatred couldn’t exist now. Partway through the episode, he learned he was wrong. Eric’s girlfriend came to the house in tears because someone had called her a racial slur. It opened Cory’s eyes to a world he had never known because he had never been subjected to it. He admitted he was wrong and implored his fellow classmates to be aware and to do better. He encouraged them all to stand up and say something when they witnessed prejudicial behavior.

I don’t think I gave it much thought on my earlier viewings. I probably thought it was a nice message but that was it. From an analytical perspective, the message was probably a little heavy-handed. But this was never a series that intended to be subtle about the messages it portrayed. But on that day a few summers ago, I was stunned. I had forgotten this particular episode existed and I think for the first time, I really appreciated what this show was trying to do.

With this new perspective, I could look back and see other specific episodes or stories that looked at big ideas that I may have recognized at the time but didn’t think much about. “Chick Like Me” tackled sexism and the ways women are treated than men don’t notice. There was the role of faith and family in “Cult Fiction”, one of the best episodes the show produced. There was Tommy’s adoption arc, which looked at what it meant to love someone enough to let them go when necessary. In what may be one of the more memorable episodes of the series, “Seven the Hard Way” looks at the importance of friendship and how the people in your life shape who you are and the life you lead. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, this show was opening my eyes to things and presenting a set of principles that was being incorporated into my own worldview.

Continue reading Life Lessons and Friendship: A Reflection on the Legacies of Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World

I Will Remember You: A Look Back on American Idol

As soon as the final season of American Idol was announced, I knew I wanted to write something about the show. This show had an enormous impact on pop culture and gave FOX several years of incredible ratings. It gave them a platform to launch new shows, it inspired several similar competition shows, and while it didn’t make as strong of an impact on the music industry as it may have liked, it did launch the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, and many more. From that perspective alone, the fact that the show is ending is a big deal, even if it doesn’t draw the same attention it used to. But while I love it from a TV history perspective, that not why I needed to write about the show. In fact, the reason I needed to write about it has little to do with the show itself. Instead, in honor of its finale, I want to talk about what one season in particular brought to me as an individual.

It seems that most American Idol fans have one season they love just a little more than the rest. Maybe it was the first they watched. Maybe it was the one in which their favorite won. Maybe it was the one that had the best vocalists. Maybe it was the only one they watched. For me, that season is season 8. It’s not the first I watched (that would be the first season) and honestly, I didn’t even watch all of season 8. But it was the one that will forever be a part of my heart and an important part of my personal history.

As has been the case of most of the media I hold close to my heart, season 8 of American Idol came to me at the start of a transitional time in my life. I was getting ready to start the process of applying to graduate school and deciding whether I wanted to pursue psychology or pop culture studies. I was in the process of defining my own identity and beliefs distinct from the one that had been taught to me through 13 years of religious schooling. I was still struggling with the loss of a few old friendships and was very hesitant to let new people into my life. Then in blazed Adam Lambert.

My mom has been a fan of the show for as long as it has been airing so I would often hear pieces of songs when I went to get a drink of water or ask her a question. If I’m remembering correctly, I wandered through during Adam’s performance of “Ring of Fire” and I was intrigued by him. Then I happened to be back next week for “Mad World” and I was hooked. If I didn’t see an episode, I asked her how he did. There were other contestants I liked but he was my favorite. While both Kris and Adam had strong final performance nights (except for “No Boundaries”, congratulations AI, you found a song that fit neither of their strengths), my prior love for Adam won out and I voted for a performer for the first time since season one. He didn’t win, but I wasn’t concerned. I’d been aware enough of the show and the success (or lack thereof) of the winners to know that the top 3-4 was usually guaranteed to release at least one album. For any other season and any other time, my interest probably would have stopped there. I might have enjoyed a song on the radio by a contestant and that would be it.

But once again, it was Adam that kept me invested. His Rolling Stone cover got so much press, both the fact that it was the runner-up on the cover and not the winner as well as the admission of his crush on Kris. At some point that summer, I stumbled across a Livejournal post celebrating Adam and Kris’s friendship, which led to a fan community, which led to a year I won’t ever forget. 

Continue reading I Will Remember You: A Look Back on American Idol

Thoughts on The 100’s Character Death and The Reaction To It

Over the past year, I’ve not hid my love for The 100. I sung its praises and encouraged others to watch, it was one of the most featured shows in my Best of 2015 series, and I was excited enough to want to try my hand at weekly reviewing for the first time. As you may have noticing, that hasn’t worked out so well. There were some other, real life factors, that went into my decision to stop but even more than those, it was because I no longer knew what to say. Unlike the first two seasons, which had the characters moving the plot forward with logical development, this season has taken the opposite approach. Pacing issues and pivotal moments happening off-screen has led to a show that moves characters around to suit the plot, with much less thought to their overall development.  It has left me with much less desire to talk about the show as a whole but given the events of last Thursday’s episode, there are a few things I’d like to say.

The way Lexa’s death was handled was a disgrace. I can understand the need to work with Alycia Debnam-Carey’s schedule on Fear the Walking Dead. I can even almost understand the need to kill Lexa at all, though I can think of ways that could have eliminated the need and kept her character off-screen in a believable way, as it did give us a significant piece of information that should have a large impact on the show moving forward. However, what I won’t accept is the way they chose to kill her.

Lexa, the Commander of the entire Grounder nation and proven warrior, deserved more than a stray bullet. Had she died protecting Clarke from Titus or at the hand of one of her people who was unhappy with her rule, I could have accepted that. That would have allowed her to go out on her own terms or at the very least, in a way that recognized the cost of her leadership position. If the show is considered entirely on its own, it was a bad decision and just another one of many missteps this season.

I was spoiled for the ending of this episode. Being the fangirl that I am and knowing what a character death does to fans, I took a look at the Clexa tag on Tumblr to see how fans were doing. I expected sadness and anger at the specifics on how the death happened. I didn’t expect the personal heartbreak. I didn’t expect the resignation and the loss of hope that I found there.

I love TV. I’ve seen a lot of it and I’m continually striving to see more. I also know the importance of representation and it’s something I feel passionately about. I’ve written an entire post about the importance of media literacy. And I failed at it. I was thinking about The 100 in a vacuum and the loss of Lexa as just another character and I was wrong. I had the luxury of overlooking the history of killing lesbian women on television, often right after happy moments. It wasn’t ignorance, I’ve seen more than one show do it and have known of more. But they weren’t the first things that popped into my head. They didn’t have to be because I’m not a lesbian. I haven’t seen characters like myself die with alarming frequency.

Continue reading Thoughts on The 100’s Character Death and The Reaction To It

Fall TV, We Need to Talk

At the beginning of every September, I get very excited about the upcoming television season. I want to try out new shows and welcome back old favorites. This year, however, while the excitement was there, the payoff has been lacking. While there are some new shows that I enjoy, I’ve failed to find one that I really love. And though many of my shows are having phenomenal second seasons, many that are older have fallen flat.

With many of my favorite cable shows airing in the spring, my falls are primarily driven by broadcast networks. While often derided in favor of their more niche cable counterparts, I tend to genuinely enjoy many of the shows they have to offer. Until this year. Whether it is an inexplicable writing choice in the hands of new showrunners, a lack of momentum and cohesion, or the choice to make every single character on your show miserable, several of my network shows have lost the things that made me love them.

Even though I have many options when it comes to things to watch, it makes me sad to drop a show I used to love. In some of these cases, I would have counted them among my favorite things to watch. It’s been wearing on me a little as the season has progressed, even if I’m not watching them. I know the medium and these shows are capable of great things. I’ve seen some really good work on all of them. And actually good work, not good for a network show or good for a procedural or whatever other qualification others may want to add. I know they can do more and all I ask is that they remember and believe that too.

So, since I’ve been disappointed in many shows this season and I know I’m not alone in that, I’d like to provide some alternative shows that I am very happy with in case you need to fill a recently developed hole in your viewing schedule.

Sundays

Once Upon A Time I love what the Dark Swan arc is bringing out in this core cast. Jennifer Morrison in particular has been absolutely fantastic bringing out all sides of her descent into ultimate darkness. While this season has been heavy on Emma and Hook’s connection, if you’re not interested in that, there is still plenty more to love with the best versions of Snow and Charming (individually and together) that we’ve seen in quite some time and some wonderful moments for Regina.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine I will love Mike Schur and the things he creates until the end of time. He writes such wonderful characters and ensembles and never fails to make me smile. This season has gotten off to a great start with Jake and Amy entering into a solid relationship that remains one aspect of their characters, rather than the entire focus. With Holt and Gina back at the precinct, I have no doubt this show will continue to do even more and be one of the bright spots in my week.

Continue reading Fall TV, We Need to Talk

Everything is a Story: The Importance of Media Literacy

One of my least favorite things to hear in regards to fiction is “It’s just a show/movie/book”. It’s usually being said for one of two reasons. First, it’s in response to someone writing a social critique of the work. It occurs every time diversity in Hollywood is brought up. It occurs when critics and viewers get tired of the depictions of sexual violence on TV. It occurs every time someone is brave enough to share why a work hurts and belittles them and their struggles. Second, it’s in directed toward fans who get emotionally attached to their media. While I also have plenty to say about the second usage in particular, the motivations behind the two aren’t so dissimilar and honestly, are just plain wrong. Nothing fictional is “just” anything. It reflects a particular viewpoint. It provides a narrative. It teaches us what to expect.

One of the things in life that I am most passionate about is the idea of media literacy. For those unfamiliar with the term, the Center for Media Literacy defines it as “a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.” It’s a form of critical thinking that specifically asks us to look at the messages that are being produced by our media – both fictional and non-fictional.

When we write or speak, we create a narrative. We’re filtering our opinions through the specific lens of our past experiences, beliefs, and values. We filter them in a way that reflects our intended audience. It’s easy to see this in non-fictional examples. This is how two different news sources can tell two drastically different stories about the same event. Each cater to specific viewpoints and will resonate with particular types of people. We can tell this story both with the words we choose and the amount of attention we pay to a given topic.

Presidential elections will be held next year in the US and throughout the primary process, I urge you to look for the narrative the candidates and the media are presenting to you. What are their views? Not just the ones they will come out and say directly on camera but the underlying beliefs that underlie those views. Look deeper at the words they use to sell you on themselves. Look at the way their statements are used and interpreted in the media then decide for yourself if that is really what they are saying or if it’s all spin.

The same is no less important in fictional media. When something is created, it tells a story that goes beyond the plot. It’s a story that says what is acceptable, what is normal, what is worth focusing on. It teaches us about beauty, about acceptable behavior, about how big we should dream. It says a lot about sexuality and gender expression. It provides example about what is possible.

Continue reading Everything is a Story: The Importance of Media Literacy

The Same but Better: How The Mindy Project Transitioned from FOX to Hulu

Yesterday, The Mindy Project made its online debut. After being canceled by FOX at the end of its 3rd season, the show found a new home on Hulu to go along with their exclusive streaming rights to the first 3 seasons. It’s not the first loved-but-low-rated comedy to be rescued from cancellation by an online service. Netflix started the trend when they revived Arrested Development and Yahoo jumped on the bandwagon with Community last year. However, based on the first episode, I would argue that The Mindy Project is the show that has best made the transition.

Transitioning a show between broadcast and streaming not only gives its creators and stars a second chance to tell their story but also comes with some creative perks. Online services tend to give fewer notes on individual scripts meaning that more of the creative control rests in the hands of the showrunners. They are also not tied to traditional episode lengths of 21-22 minutes for a comedy. They can get away with racier or more controversial material because there aren’t concerns about the FCC or, I’d imagine, quite as many viewers complaining about the content.

As the first up at bat, Arrested Development had a lot to prove. It had been years since the last episode had aired and just getting the cast back at all and coordinating filming schedules was a feat in itself. As a result, we ended up with a season that produced mixed reactions. In order to work around external complications, they had to change the basic format of the show so that it could be told by as few actors as possible at any one time. It took me a while to get through the 13 episodes and ultimately, I appreciated what they tried to do with the show more than I actually enjoyed the results. I hear it works better on a second watch, but it’s not a high priority for me to test that claim. It was much more of a reboot as opposed to a pure transition.

Continue reading The Same but Better: How The Mindy Project Transitioned from FOX to Hulu

Being a Consumer in the Time of Peak TV

During the Television Critics Association press tour last month, FX president John Landgraf made headlines with his pronouncement that we are experiencing the peak time for television in terms of the number of scripted shows being produced. Estimates put the total number of original shows airing in 2015 above 400, continuing the increases in TV quantity seen over the past few years. It has inspired a slew of articles by critics about the truth behind the statement and their own feelings on the matter, all of which I would recommend to all interested.

They have all made some great insights about the way that having such a bounty of television means that stories by and about different sorts of people are able to make on air when they may have previously been looked over and how small shows have been allowed to thrive on networks just getting into the scripted programming race. 

Rather than simply recap their opinions, I wanted to take a look at what the era of Peak TV means for consumers. In a time when even people who are paid to watching television and share their thoughts with us are unable to keep up with the quantity of good shows, how are the rest of us dealing with Too Much TV and what does it mean for the list of shows we want to watch that I know we all have?

Continue reading Being a Consumer in the Time of Peak TV

What is Television?

If you haven’t been following along, NPR’s Linda Holmes has been writing a wonderful series about the current state of television today. As is typical for me, it’s inspired a lot of my own thoughts about the state of television today and how it’s evolving as a medium. I’ll be exploring some of those thoughts over the next month before we are all deluged with more TV than is easily kept up with.

As I’ve been reading the comments on her posts, I’ve been struck by a question that hadn’t occurred to me before. What do people associate with the term “television”? Is is the physical machine that sits in a living room or bedroom that one watches various programs on? Is it the programs themselves, but only during their first run when they could be conceivably watched via the aforementioned machine? Is it any series that started its life through that machine but has now found a second chance to be seen via streaming services like Netflix? Do Netflix (or Amazon/Hulu/Yahoo) shows also count as television, despite only living online?

In my opinion, it is all of the above. The machine with which we often watch shows is referred to as a television so the answer to that question is technically yes, but when someone says that they are a television fan, they aren’t here to argue about the relative benefits of a Samsung vs. a Vizio branded machine. They are here to talk about the relative merits of a style of audio visual storytelling in which content is broken down into smaller segments that historically have come out on a weekly basis over some segment of a year. Sounds exciting when you put it that way, doesn’t it?

Regardless of whether you are watching a show live on the piece of electronic equipment known as a television, the next day on your computer through a service like Hulu or your cable/satellite providers On Demand service, or years later on a service like Netflix, or if you combine the two methods and watch something on your television after it airs live through something like a Roku, you’re watching television. It doesn’t matter if the show originated on NBC, HBO, or Netflix, it’s all television.

So why is this even a question? Why are we confusing the concept of television as a medium and distribution methods? Why is the statement “I don’t watch television, I watch Netflix” meaningful to some people, as ridiculous as it sounds to me?

My best answer for this comes from the history of television and its interaction with American society.

While such views are becoming less common, there is still a knee-jerk reaction to television as a whole. I understand that in the past, it has been a signifier of class and intelligence to distance oneself from television. We’ve all heard the arguments. It is mass marketing and caters to the lowest common denominator. It rots our brains. It’s a passive media used by people who are too lazy to pick up a book. It’s all a ploy to get us to buy products and feed into our consumerist mentality. Some of these complaints may be legitimate, if not a little overblown. But largely, these concerns were a way of signifying your social distance from the people who enjoy it.

That mentality is slowly disappearance with the rise of (this iteration) of the Golden Age of TV and shows such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and season one of True Detective. Television has become cool to watch and its artistic merit is becoming more recognized. There is no longer a need to look down your nose and dismiss an entire method of storytelling as garbage because you heard about a show that didn’t suit your preferences because there is an abundance of options that cater to all tastes. It’s time to admit and embrace your love of television, no matter how you choose to watch.

New Fall Shows 2015: What Are You Watching?

It’s getting closer to a new season of television! It’s always an exciting time of year to discover new shows and fall back in love with some old ones too. We’re still nearly two months out, so if you need something to fill your time, check out my most recent batch of show recommendations. If you’re looking to plan your viewing schedule, I recommend TVLine’s day-by-day grid or something like EpisodeCalendar or TraktTV. If all you want to know is the premiere dates of the new network shows, then this is the post for you. I’ve listed all of the new shows below with links to the trailer and a description if you haven’t had the time to check them out yet. This post will be stickied until we get midseason/spring premiere dates and will be updated with links to pilot episodes and reviews from me as they become available. Happy planning!
Continue reading New Fall Shows 2015: What Are You Watching?