Category Archives: Lists

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

Advertisements

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

100 Days of Fan Favorites: Day Six

It is a tale as old as time. Two people, who meet under less than ideal circumstances and each with misconceptions about the other, embark on a journey together that reveals their truest selves. This journey changes them and forces them to reevaluate what they once believed about the world. It takes them from antagonists to allies to friendship and love that is based on mutual respect and trust.

It’s a ship type that I will never get enough of and for me, there is not a better example than Jaime and Brienne. Where there was once contempt and insults, there is now the highest regard and belief in the other’s honor. They have come a long way from their initial meeting and the early part of the journey to King’s Landing and each of their reunions has only served to reinforce their bond. 

Just as a side note, while I have loved these two since I read the books, it’s also been a very long time since I have read them and as they’ve taken rather different paths, I largely opted to stick with the show for this piece. 

Throughout the Seven Kingdoms, Jaime Lannister’s name was synonymous with betrayal. He was the Kingslayer – the member of the Kingsguard who murdered Aerys Targaryen. It’s an identity he took on as a shield, turning himself into the cruel, honorless person everyone assumed him to be. He openly scoffed at the idea that vows could mean anything, after all, they would only inevitably conflict with each other. Keeping them was impossible, so why bother trying. He was cynical and fatalistic in his beliefs and no longer believed in idealistic notions like honor and loyalty.

Brienne is looked upon with similar disregard and distrust. Women in Westeros, especially the daughter of a Lord, weren’t supposed to be fighters. They weren’t supposed to feel more comfortable in armor than in dresses and more at ease with a sword in their hand instead of a polite smile on their face. They were supposed to grow up wanting to be princesses and ladies, not knights. Brienne’s physical appearance and interests made her an outcast, someone to be mocked and sneered at. She dedicated her service to Renly Baratheon, becoming a member of his Rainbow Guard. He was kind to her and she loved him for it. When he was murdered, she was the one blamed as she had been the one with him. She failed at her oath. But it didn’t stop her from believing in their power and worthiness. She didn’t stop believing in honor. Even as she pledged her loyalty to Catelyn Stark, it was on the condition that she could one day avenge Renly. She meant to keep her word, even though he was no longer there to hold her to it.

Even if we disregard the fact that Brienne is working with Jaime’s captors, it is natural to see why the two clashed when they met. Jaime stood against everything Brienne believed in. The idea of betraying your king to his death was unfathomable to her, as was the notion of conflicting vows. Brienne was a shining example of everything Jaime had turned his back on. She was true to her sense of self and the values of a knight, despite the mockery of everyone around her. It made her an easy target for him to provoke and for a time, he was more than happy to be the arrogant lion he was raised to be.

Continue reading 100 Days of Fan Favorites: Day Six

What to Watch (and Read): Summer Recommendations 2017

Now that summer has started (at least in terms of TV seasons), it’s the perfect opportunity to start the shows you missed out on over the year or already canceled shows you’ve been meaning to get to but don’t have time to watch over the regular season. It’s also an excellent time to catch up on some reading and discover new favorites. I started these posts last year as a way to share some of my own favorites with you (and I stand by all of those recs if none of these appeal) but this year, it’s also given me a chance to examine what it is that I’m looking for from my fiction right now.

To put it simply, all of these shows make me feel hopeful in some way. Many of these stories involve people fighting back against oppressive or unjust systems. Many involve characters figuring out who they are and learning to love that person. All of them show that we’re better with others, that vulnerability and connection are our best strengths. Those are the messages I want to hear. I want to remember that we can all make a difference and leave the world and people around us better because we’ve been there. I hope you all can find something to enjoy and potentially try in this list, and if you do, I’m always here for discussions about them either in the comment section or via Twitter.

Shows

Sweet/Vicious You could isolate a lot of the different components that make up this show and it would still be good. Jules and Ophelia being paired together as roommates or lab partners who become friends would still have been an entertaining show. The concept of women teaming up to be vigilantes who target men who assault women is still appealing even if the only focus was the job and not on their friendship. The story of a young woman recovering and beginning to heal from her own sexual assault would still have been powerful and compelling on its own. To combine all of those elements into the same show and to blend them so well is nothing short of masterful. It was a show that could make you laugh, make you cry, and make you angry (at the characters, not the writing) all in one episode and it is better for it. It tackles rape culture head on and does so through these compelling characters and their relationships with each other. It was a special show and deserved more than one season but it achieved a lot in only ten episodes. It will be a show that stays in my head for a long time to come.

Leverage This show was everything I could have asked for in one beautiful package. It was only supposed to be one job. They were hired for a purpose and that was gonna be it. Seventy-seven episodes later (with more cases implied that we never see), Leverage came to an end. There were heists and cons and trying to bring bad guys (often the heads of corporations) to justice. People fell in love and discovered the person they wanted to be. They found acceptance and family and purpose in each other and in the acts they did. It was a remarkably consistent show, even in later seasons as it played around with its general format. As a showrunner, John Rogers understood that people are often there because they’ve become invested in the characters and he rewards that investment. This show doesn’t lose sight of who they are and the emotional payoff is truly wonderful. It is one of my favorite pieces of media I have ever consumed and I would love for everyone else to see and enjoy it too.

Queen Sugar  If a show can make me cry in its first episode, I’m probably gonna be sold and that’s exactly what Queen Sugar did. This show is beautiful, both in its cinematography and its content. After losing their father, the Bordelon siblings come together to save his struggling sugarcane farm. It is a story of perseverance, of rebuilding after varying struggles. It’s about coming to terms with who you are and reclaiming your history and your story. In addition to saving the farm, each member of the family (along with their Aunt Vi) has their own personal journey to undertake. This is a show of incredible empathy that it extends to each of its characters. It understands that people are never just one thing and are more than the mistakes they’ve made and the hurt they’ve caused in the past. They are allowed complexity. They have strengths and flaws and sometimes those are the same thing. While more dramatic (and a little faster paced) than Rectify, it shares a similar core of humanity that touches me deeply.

Superstore Nothing on TV makes me laugh harder than this show. That would be enough for me to recommend it since there are very few shows that actually make me laugh out loud, especially not multiple times an episodes. But it’s merits don’t lie solely in the comedic moments. From the first episode, it’s shown a willingness to wear its heart on its sleeve. It’s those moments of beauty that drew me in but it’s the characters that keep me invested. They can be completely ridiculous, as many comedy characters are, but they are more than just caricatures. They feel lived in and real in a slightly over-the-top way. This is the show you should start if you need more laughter in your life, and really, who doesn’t?

Legend of Korra I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender last year and fell in love with this universe. The beautiful animation, worldbuilding, and wonderful characters have made it a show for both children and adults to love and much of that is continued in Legend of Korra. Though they occupy the same universe and events in Avatar are referenced and certain characters make an appearance, you don’t need to have seen Avatar to watch Korra. The series is quick to catch new viewers up on any important mythology and quickly establishes a tone of its own. The characters in Korra are older, as was the intended audience, and it’s reflected in the topics it takes on (though Avatar didn’t shy away from heavier topics either). It looks at prejudice and oppression throughout the series and spends the best arc of the series looking at healing from trauma and reclaiming your power and identity. This is a female-centric show that shows us so many different types of women all with their own strengths and abilities in a way that few other shows do so if that appeals to you, I would encourage you to try out the show even if you’re not typically a fan of animated shows.

Continue reading What to Watch (and Read): Summer Recommendations 2017

100 Days of Fan Favorites: Day Five

I really will finish these one day. 100 Days of Fan Favorites is back with a whole lot of feelings about a couple who captured my heart last summer.

In case you do feel like clicking on the links, YouTube and I weren’t getting along this morning and I couldn’t cut clips the way I would have liked and the video they are pulled from is a very long compilation so once the scene changes, feel free to click out of it.  

We’re told a story of destinies and fates growing up. The one we’re supposed to be with will come to us in a big moment that changes the course of our lives. They’ll be the one rescuing us from the monkey bars and our first crush can stay with us forever. It’ll be just like a fairy tale, with the beautiful princess who meets her Prince Charming and they’ll live happily ever after. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?

Boy Meets World gave us a story of happily ever after. Yes, we know that Cory and Topanga had their share ups and downs; there was a ski lodge and an art museum and times of doubting it was really right. But early in their lives, they knew they were it for each other. Topanga knew she was in love with Cory Matthews, and most importantly, she wanted to be. He knew their love would survive, even when no one else did. They did end up together and it was beautiful. Loves like theirs happen. It’s been 13.5 years since I started dating my high school sweetheart, the boy I knew I loved with as much certainty as Topanga knew she loved Cory. But they aren’t the only love stories worth telling.

What if the right person isn’t the girl who falls in your lap and changes your world? What if the right person is the one who pushes her?

Welcome to the story of Maya Hart and Lucas Friar. It’s not an easy story and I still firmly believe the show left off in the middle of it, but it’s a story that stole my heart and let me reflect back on my own teenage years and the all too confusing process of trying to figure out what love really was.

Continue reading 100 Days of Fan Favorites: Day Five

Best of 2016: Shows

There were 455 scripted TV shows that aired in 2016. No one could watch them all and no one save for critics could watch even a significant fraction of them. We have so many options now and a decent portion of them are really solid choices that are capable of exciting and enchanting us. This is always a hard list for me to make because I watch so much TV and I really love most of what I watch. So in addition to my top 10 that I’ve briefly talked about, I included an additional 10 honorable mentions that I would recommend just as enthusiastically as my actual top 10. Especially since when I finalize these lists, I always feel like I have more to say about my dramas so my comedy favorites get a little neglected.

1. Rectify (Sundance) What a beautiful, special show. Over the course of four seasons, this show has treated its characters with such empathy and grace. It has been a slow and thoughtful journey all leading up to the finale and an important realization. Mistakes of the past can’t always be rectified, but we can still grow and move past them. We can become better. We can heal. Daniel’s imprisonment and subsequent release are moments that will shape not only his life, but the lives of each member of his family and the people drawn into their world. But they do not have to define them any longer. There is room for hope and all the messy emotions that accompany it. There is a place for dreams that take you far outside your comfort zone. There is a place for family and love, for forgiveness and understanding. It is a time for rebirth. This show has been one of the most emotionally satisfying I have ever experienced and I will always be grateful that it existed and went out on its own terms.

2. The Americans (FX) This show just keeps getting better as the seasons go on. It’s in the act of maintaining the tension and the emotional release that I find the show most impressive and it did that better than ever this year. After years of service with little break, the Jennings finally got to step back from their duties and truly be a family. It was a peace that couldn’t last as they still have a job to do, but that small bit of relief made all the difference. This could be a dark and depressing show. It’s full of lies and secrets and pain, inflicted both intentionally and unintentionally. But just as Philip and Elizabeth’s break helped bring them back from their breaking point, this show finds ways to prevent itself from becoming unbearably bleak. It’s a show that loves and honors the connections these characters make, even if those connections ultimately end in heartbreak. It recognizes their value and the way Martha shaped Philip and Young Hee shaped Elizabeth. Just because they started as assets to be manipulated didn’t mean that was their full value. We were encouraged to love them and care for them just as much as the Jennings did even when we knew we shouldn’t. It’s remarkable storytelling and I could never recommend this show enough.

3. American Crime Story: People vs. OJ Simpson (FX) I can’t speak to the authenticity of this series but I do know what it has done to re-contextualize this trial and the people involved in it. The original was such a media spectacle that it seems a perfect fit for a television show like this, especially when combined with a talented cast such as this one. We got to see the role racism and sexism played, the way it became a media circus, and most importantly, we saw a show that never forgot the victims in this case. Yes, the trial was technically centered around OJ Simpson but it never felt like he was the star of the show. It was a battle of the lawyers and we saw how deeply the outcome of this case affected Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. They wanted to win it for the Brown and Goldman families. They may not have won then and they have been mocked for it ever since, but I appreciate what this show has done to make people see how wrong they were to do so and for ending the show with Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, who somehow got lost amongst the madness of this trial.

4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW) This show could have made the list for the music alone, which continues to be fantastic, but even beyond the clever songs, this is one of the most confidently made shows on TV. It always feels like it always knows where it wants to take these characters. It knows when to lean into expectations and when to run the other way from them. The second season has been especially smart in ditching the love triangle in a believable way while focusing on the real relationship of the show, the messy friendship between Rebecca and Paula. The supporting characters round out the cast in the most delightful ways and the show has become even better as more of them are able to be highlighted.

5. Person of Interest (CBS) I would have loved a longer final season but there were so many outstanding episodes in the one we got. This season gave us a look into Shaw’s mind and the depth of her love for Root. No matter what happened, in any scenario Samaritan could dream up, Root was her constant. Her touchstone. She is her safe place and the only thing on the planet she would die to protect. I think the writers would have loved to give these two more time, but maternity leave made that impossible, so we were given this beautiful gift and I’m grateful. We got some truly lovely moments of Team Machine coming together to protect The Machine and Finch. We saw to see the people the Machine had saved and later recruited to her cause come together to save the people who originally saved them. We saw this family come together to save each other and save the world. However unrealistic, I would have loved if they could have done it all without any losses. But I know that was never in the cards. John’s death was always coming and I’m sure he’s in the Machine listening to Root call him a big lug and having all those conversations with Joss they never got to have while she was alive. These characters will live on and the memory of this show will live on in the hearts of the fans and create new ones as people discover it through Netflix.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Shows

Best of 2016: Episodes

It’s been another outstanding year for television. With so many truly great and memorable episodes to choose from, I had to find some sort of logical way to whittle down this list to my top 10. This year it seems, I really loved episodes that wanted to be about something. I want my TV to take a hard look at topics that can be uncomfortable and shine a different light on them. I don’t want them to gloss over the uglier or more painful sides to humanity in service of a story. At the same time, I don’t want that ever be the whole focus. The best episodes are the ones that show a light ahead and connections being made between people even in the bleakest of times. The idea of connection and focus on relationships is so prevalent on this list, in both the top 10 and the honorable mentions. I love that this is the direction television seems to be going after the age of the solitary antihero and look forward to more fantastic episodes in 2017.

1. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia (American Crime Story: People v. OJ Simpson) This show tried to address a lot of things, many of which are found in this episode and all of which I find fascinating. But when I look at this episode in isolation and not part of the larger whole it is contained it, one thing stands out most in my mind. I remember Marcia Clark (as I should, given the episode title). I remember the sexism that surrounded her during this trial that manifested in ways large and small. While also prosecuting the biggest trial of her life, Clark was facing another battle. She was in the middle of custody and child support disputes. She wasn’t a good enough mother to her children because she wasn’t there enough. She wasn’t sufficiently attractive and well-dressed enough to win the public’s approval. And when she tried to change it, she didn’t do a good enough job there either. She dared to have her husband (at the time) take photographs of her naked on a beach, where they were presumably alone, and his decision to profit from their release became another flaw in her character. She failed to uphold traditional gender ideals and was punished for it. Yes, as a prosecutor, she and Chris Darden failed to convict OJ Simpson for a variety of reasons. But it would be foolish to act as though her gender didn’t hurt the way she was perceived in the years that follow. Sarah Paulson is simply incredible here in the way she portrays the toll things like this take on a person’s psyche. Her haircut made her feel confident. She was asked to care about it so she made a change and she felt beautiful. That confidence was quickly burst by the reactions of everyone in the courtroom, save for Darden. It was humiliating and hurt but she couldn’t show it because it would have made her weak. It would be yet another example of her failure to compose herself and be somehow unfit. So she blinked back those tears and pressed forward, knowing that the room and the world were now laughing at her. During all of this, she even had the pleasure of interacting with a store clerk who is so awful that I thought he was made up for the show. He wasn’t. Of almost everything she faces in this episode, all of which is gross and unfair, the period joke made by the cashier makes me the most mad. It is so intrusive and reiterates the idea that hormones and emotions make women unstable for a quarter of their lives from around the age of 13 until they hit menopause. The idea that you would make such a comment to a stranger as a joke is appalling to me, even more so because I know it’s not an isolated attitude. But even in the midst of all the awfulness, all is not dark. In the hardest times in our lives, sometimes we’re lucky enough to find someone who will hold us up when the burden in too much. In this episode, we see how much Darden was that person for Clark. He supports her, encourages her, and makes her laugh at a time she felt most alone. That connection is something special and beautiful and important and I love that it was highlighted here as well.

2. Twenty-Two (You’re the Worst) This episode is the best that You’re the Worst has and possibly will ever create. It’s episodes like this that make me love the show so fiercely, even when Gretchen and Jimmy are being nearly unbearably awful. In 25 minutes, Stephen Falk’s directing and Desmin Borges’s acting give us the most visceral example of PTSD that I can remember seeing on television. We not only see what Edgar is going through with the action onscreen, but we are put in his shoes with the ringing in his ears that never quite goes away and the lack of focus. We feel how broken down and exhausted he is by trying to survive day to day in a world where everything around him feels threatening and takes him back to his days in the military. Despite the heaviness of this episode, all hope isn’t lost. Just when Edgar is at his lowest point, he finds something that gives him a reason to hold on. It leads him back to his car, which is in the process of being towed, and he finally finds someone who is willing to listen to him and who can truly understand what he’s going through because he’s been there before. It’s a moment of pure connection that brought tears to my eyes. On a character level, I love that this moment made Edgar feel like he had the power to make changes for himself. It’s scary to know that you’re the one who is ultimately responsible for changing your life. But it’s scarier to believe that it’s entirely out of your hands. We can’t always fix the broken systems that surround us but we can do what we can to make a better life for ourselves despite their limitations. It was the message Edgar needed to hear. He was hoping that there would be a magical fix that could make him feel alive again because it’s exhausting to exist as he does. But letting go of that idea and committing to fixing yourself as best as possible is the only way to get the power back to truly start living. On a larger scale, I love the compassion that this episode has for veterans and the systems that may be well-intentioned but fail them anyway. It never loses sight of the twenty-two veterans who commit suicide daily and give this episode its name. It extends empathy for their struggles and shines a light on what they face after returning from war. It’s not always comfortable for civilians to think about and their struggles often get overlooked once they’re home. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t take episodes of television to make us care about real world issues like mental illness or police violence. But to deny the power of this medium to make abstract struggles personal and understandable to people without direct experiences with them would be a mistake and it is my hope that this episode made people think and feel and care just a little more than they did before.

3. The Threshold (Halt and Catch Fire) What a magnificent episode. As is not at all atypical for me, this one’s a tough one to watch and I love it. It hurts to see these characters implode. It hurts to see the relationships these characters have formed explode. I will admit to not being much of a Joe McMillan fan. I am aware that he has a story line in this episode but for me, it pales in comparison to what happens at Mutiny. No matter what combination you put them in, the actors were magnificent. We saw the entangled weave of personal and professional connections among the core four of Mutiny and how that became their undoing. We saw relationships solidify or come back together only to be destroyed in the end. In the hands of lesser actors or writing, it could have felt manipulative. For Halt and Catch Fire, it felt right. The characters all made the decisions that made the most sense for them and their development. Had it strictly been a business dispute or a personal fight, it would not have had nearly the same impact. No one exemplifies the lack of separation between business and personal than Cameron Howe. She was Mutiny. It was her. She had a vision of what the company could be and she poured her entire being into making that vision come to life. It didn’t always make business sense. She was terrible at delegating and there was no way to create what she wanted in the time frame she was given. So to reject that vision instead of a deal that seemed to make more business sense was to reject her and what she had given to the company. And when everyone voted against her, she felt that loss on a personal level. She lost a partner, a mentor, and a friend. All she had left was her husband, who she spontaneously married during a time of emotional distress. While the relationship wasn’t terrible, it lacked the foundation she had with Donna and Bos. Donna tried to keep things separate at first. She thought she could have Cameron’s friendship and also her own vision for the company, knowing it conflicted with Cameron’s. But when the disagreement about the business became heated, the attacks quickly became personal. The choices made in that room on that day broke what they once shared. When no compromise could be found, all that was left was destruction. It took out Cameron and Bos’s recently repaired relationship and what was becoming a sweet friendship between Cameron and Gordon with it, but at the end of the day, those severed bonds were only casualties of the rift between Cameron and Donna. It’s tense, painful and brilliantly constructed and acted.  

Continue reading Best of 2016: Episodes

Best of 2016: Relationships

In my list of my favorite characters of 2016, I talk a little about the fact that strong, well-written characters will always take priority for me over plot on TV shows. If a character arc makes sense, I’m happy. But characters can’t stand on their own. It is their relationships with others that help define them and give them what they need in order to grow. In the words of Cory Matthews, “people change people”.

These people have all been permanently impacted by the people they have chosen to let into their lives. For better or worse, they have played a significant role in the way they interact with the world. Those are the kinds of stories I will never have enough of, in all their possible forms. Whether they are familial, platonic, romantic, or exist somewhere in the intersection of two of those forms, these are the relationships that I will remember from this year.

1. Dad!Kane and his children (The 100) In the course of building a new way of life on the ground, Marcus Kane inadvertently adopted several of the delinquents. It wasn’t intentional and it’s in no way official, as most of the kids are young adults and have been on their own for far too long. But he took them under his wing and mentored them and they developed a respect and love for him that no one could have anticipated. When the adults landed on the ground, Marcus was the authoritarian who still saw these kids as the rule-breakers he helped imprison on the Ark. But as he grew and learned that things couldn’t be so black-and-white on the ground, he saw the drive and skill it took for them to survive. He saw children who grew up under harsh conditions who have found their way but still suffer from the long-lasting effects of their culture. So he helped guide them. He was supportive of their emotional needs and made sure that they knew they could come to him. He tried to steer them back on the right path when they got lost in fear and anger and told them the things they needed to hear, even if they weren’t ready to hear it. There was never a doubt that he cared and it was the bond they had formed that helped Bellamy realize that the road Pike was leading them down was dangerous and to take the first steps toward making amends. As they all work together to save the world in the upcoming season, I can’t wait to see these relationships continue to grow. 

2. Riley and Maya (Girl Meets World) No matter who else comes into their lives, what these two girls share is extraordinary. This is the relationship at the heart of this show and these two are better because they have each other. Maya helps to ground Riley while Riley shows Maya that sometimes it’s OK to fly. These friends love all the parts of each other that others might consider flaws and want only the best for each other. They may not always know what the best is, as Riley ended up sending Maya into a bit of an identity crisis this year, but her heart was in the right place and she didn’t want to see Maya lose the parts of herself that were uniquely hers. When Riley gets to be too much for everyone else around her, Maya is there by her side. When someone implies that Riley’s made Maya weak, she’ll literally chase them away because Maya knows it’s Riley’s influence that has made her strong. When Maya gets scared of Shawn finding out that she and her mom can be kind of a mess, it’s Riley who gives her the confidence and trust that he loves them because what seemed like a mess was borne of a deep love. She gives up her traditional Christmas with her best friend because she knows that she needs to spend this one with her new family. It’s Riley who laughs at her boyfriend when he says that her relationship with him was more important than her relationship with Maya. These two are it for each other. No one else will ever hold such a special place in their hearts and that bond will keep them together no matter what comes. It’s friendship at its purest and it is a beautiful thing to see.

3. Donna and Cameron (Halt and Catch Fire) Give me more relationships like this on television. I want positive relationships between women on TV but I also want messy ones that don’t fit into easy descriptions. This season was complicated and so very painful for these two but I loved every moment of it. These two have been the highlight of Halt and Catch Fire since it realized what it had in them in season 2. Their friendship is strong and built on trust and respect for what the other has to bring to the table. They balance each other out and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But it’s not enough and it breaks, seemingly irreparably, because despite all that, there is an omnipresent part in both of them who think they are the person with the best vision and will forge ahead without any discussion. It’s fine when they are fighting for the same goal, but when they are on opposing sides, it’s brutal. They know each other well so they know exactly where to strike to hit each other’s insecurities. They had a tentative truce in the finale but I should have known it was too good to last. Cameron’s admission that she enjoyed working with Donna again but couldn’t ever trust her with another project was heartbreaking but fitting for these characters and their history.

4. Maya and Lucas (Girl Meets World) I seem to need a new pairing to fall incredibly hard for each year and in 2016, Maya Hart and Lucas Friar were that pairing. In them, I see the promise and potential of a deep, lasting relationship based on recognition and love for everything that makes these characters who they are. I see something that is too big for them right now and too overwhelming to really wrap their minds around. It lacks the ease of love at first sight, at least in their young minds. Maya keeps her feelings close to her, it’s only when she can no longer hold them back that they slip out at all. But Lucas has seen them. He knows the heart that lies underneath that tough exterior. He sees the girl who would do anything for her best friend, who will put everyone else in the world first because that’s how she believes it should be. He’s always been among the first to fight for the person that Maya is. That beautiful girl who scares bullies away by running at them with hammers. As someone who loves Maya, that is all I want for her. Lucas doesn’t have the same level of development as Maya. We haven’t gotten to see him work though the fact that the person he was in Texas is still a part of him today. It doesn’t seem that he’s allowed himself the same complexity he allows Maya. But with everything we know about Maya and how she loves, she would be the same supportive presence that he was while she doubted herself. Maya was right to end the triangle the way she did. Neither of them are ready for what the other has to offer right now. They have some growing up to do first but what they shared was real. It wouldn’t take much for them to discover it again when they’re ready.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Relationships

Best of 2016: Characters

On television as in life, it does not do to stagnate. We must continue to change and if we are to become the best versions of ourselves. We won’t always change in positive ways, sometimes we end up in places we later realize we don’t want to be. But we must always believe that growth is possible and above all else, that hope can be found. Hope for a better life. Hope for peace. Hope for the chance to be a part of something.

I have always been a person who is more drawn to the characters on a TV show than the plot itself. My engagement rests on the ability of a show to create compelling arcs and believable characters and motivations. Whether it has been a striking change over the course of a season or the retrospective observation of a character’s full journey, these stories were the ones that most grabbed my attention and my love.

1. Maya Hart (Girl Meets World) I started watching Girl Meets World this year and Maya quickly became one of my favorite characters of all time. This year was one of great uncertainty for her. She and her best friend were caught in a love triangle with their first crushes. She temporarily lost her way and had to rediscover who she is and who she wants to be. She finally had something good happen that she had hoped for and she was so scared that it was going to go away that she tried to push it away so it couldn’t hurt her in the future. Compared to her growth and slow embrace of hope in season two, she backslid a little and it only increased my feelings of protectiveness over her. She’s a young teenager, of course she doesn’t have it all figured out yet. But that urge to run, to avoid hoping for things because it hurts that much more when they disappear, that’s something that can resonate with people of all ages. She’d rather hurt herself than let someone else hurt her but she’s growing. She’s trying and learning that it is OK to have hope and that good things can happen to her. It’s not a linear process and sometimes she needs a reminder but it doesn’t make the journey any less valuable or compelling to watch.

2. Kelly Severide (Chicago Fire) Kelly’s been my favorite male on the show since episode one and I could not have asked for more from him this year. Since Shay’s death (and even before, but at least he had her to call him out on his nonsense), most of his stories have involved him impulsively sleeping with someone in an attempt to run away from any deeper examination of his feelings. He doesn’t believe that he’s capable of forming any real romantic connections and is so concerned with losing someone else important to him so for years he’s pretended that he isn’t interested. Some of the fault lies with the show for not giving him more to do until this year but that self-doubt has been a prominent feature in his character arc from the beginning. This year, he decided he could do more. He deepened his friendship with Casey back to what I imagine they were before they lost Andy. He’s become one of Gabby’s sounding board as well when she has doubts. He made connections with people that had nothing to do with sex. And finally, in the 100th episode, he decided to become a bone marrow donor and save the life of a young woman with leukemia. He wants to be a part of something bigger than himself and is craving those connections with others. He cares so much, whether he will admit it to himself or not. He’s often self-destructive, but he’s a good man and it’s time for him to recognize that and move forward.

3. Vanessa Ives (Penny Dreadful) No matter how strong a person is, they need people by their side to love them and hold them up when they need help remembering who they are. Vanessa started the season alone and depressed. Her love had turned himself in for the crimes he committed in his home country of America, her surrogate father went on a voyage to Africa to bury their friend, and the comfort she once found in God’s presence was gone. It had been broken by the events of the previous season and she thought there could be nothing left for her. But even without those things, she was determined to press on. She found new friends and allies and remembered someone who showed her incredible kindness in the face of the brutality of the asylum. She was once again hunted by the forces of evil, by the twin forces of Lucifer and Dracula. She managed to be seduced by one of them, convinced that darkness was her destiny and fighting would only lead to more suffering. It was heartbreaking to see her give in to the force she’d spent so long fighting against. It was equally heartbreaking to see her summon the strength to fight it one final time, in the form of her own sacrificial death to rid the world of the evil contained inside her. I wanted a life for her, with Ethan and the children she longed for. I still wish there had been another way to end the series. But she chose the faith that defined her in her last moments. She knew Ethan loved her deeply and that she was not lost to God. She was at peace for once in her adult life. It was a bittersweet ending for a character who has touched me so deeply but I wouldn’t have traded the time I spent with the character or the lessons she taught me for anything.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Characters