Category Archives: television

Monthly Recommendations: February 2021

I’m going to be honest, this wasn’t a great month of media consumption for me. I had movies and TV shows I wanted to watch that just never happened. I am also in a reading slump and only got through one book this month and it was only alright for my personal tastes. So this is a little bit of a lean recommendation post but feel free to leave the things you enjoyed in the comments and send me some secondhand joy along with things to add to my list that maybe I can actually get through in March.

Show Title: The Expanse

Episodes: 56

Where to Watch: Amazon

I recommended this show in a post just like this two years ago but with two more seasons completed and a final one announced, it feels like time to bring it back. Even if it’s only so I can tell you that the fifth season of this show featured some of the strongest performances on television and I am going to be eternally frustrated if/when (listen, I am under no illusion that Emmy voters even know this show exists) Dominique Tipper isn’t given every possible acting award. I will admit to struggling a little with this season because I missed having the Roci fam together and have had enough bad experiences with sci-fi and fantasy shows that separate their characters only to never really put them back together again. But I shouldn’t have worried, this show knows where its emotional core lies and the good these people have done for each other. Even with my slight disappointment at the separation, it led to two phenomenal stories for my two favorite characters. We got to see Naomi stand tall and take pride in the woman she has become and in the knowledge that she made the right choice for herself. She owned her past and her truth in the hopes of reuniting with her son and when that wasn’t possible, she did what she needed to do to save herself and was brilliant and brave and driven by the love she has for the family she’s made for herself. We saw Amos revisit his past and realize just how far he’s come and how badly he needs his family to be the person he wants to be. We saw his loyalty and drive and love alongside the brutality he’s capable of and it was everything I could have wanted from him. For a show that is telling a much wider story, it never loses sight of its intimate character moments. It is deeply concerned with making its characters feel like fully formed people and making you understand their perspective, even when you disagree. It’s a style of storytelling I will always appreciate and I’m grateful to them for doing it so well. 

Continue reading Monthly Recommendations: February 2021

Best of 2019: TV Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2019: TV Series

Best of 2019: Episodes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2019: Episodes

Best of 2019: Moments

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2019: Moments

Best of 2019: Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2019: Relationships

Best of 2019: Characters

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

Who were your favorite characters this year?

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2019: Characters

Best of 2019: Actors

Welcome to the kickoff of my Best of 2019 month! I have 10 posts planned for the month covering my favorites in the world of television and books and a bonus post about my favorite YouTube channel, so I hope you’ll stick around and share your own favorites with me. In addition, be sure to keep an eye on MGCircles and Nerdy Girl Notes for their own end of the year content and enjoy all the enthusiasm that comes from people sharing the things that most resonated with them.

As always, these lists are less about crafting an objective list on the best/highest quality things of the year and more about reflecting who I was in 2019 though the things I love. So let’s get started with a list of the actors and actresses who gave standout performances to me this year!

1. Michelle Williams (Fosse/Verdon) For eight episodes, Michelle Williams was Gwen Verdon. She so fully inhabited the role and brought a woman who was a powerhouse of talent to the forefront of the relationship that defined her life. You can see the passion and love that went into this role and how Williams, along with the writing team, wanted to do right by Verdon. She is complicated and feels so deeply and conveys so much by small gestures and facial expressions. She nailed the dancing and the singing despite neither being her main skill and the end result was brilliant. We understood who Gwen Verdon was and the choices she made in her life because of the time and energy that Williams put in. I knew nothing about her going into this show but I feel like I do now, not just on stage but in her personal life as well. That’s not easy to do, to make sure a real person maintains all the nuance and history and complexity without becoming a symbol of something greater. But she did and it was truly spectacular to watch. 

2. Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) I could never have chosen a better actress to play Brienne of Tarth. The amount of love and effort that Christie put into the role gave Brienne the complexity that I suspect the scripts were lacking but that the story needed. Her ability to have full conversations with just her facial expressions alone is remarkable and all of that was on full display in the final season. From her initial defense of Jaime to Daenerys and the way we get to see her physically draw herself up and ready herself to speak to her queen on behalf of someone who had caused a lot of harm to the Targaryean family to the combination of hope and honor that blooms across her face during the knighting, all of Brienne’s emotions are right on the surface and that’s a perfect character choice. She never learned to bury her feelings and deny them to even herself. It makes her very bad at the politics of Westeros but it’s what allows her sense of goodness and honor to shine through. It’s also what made her choice to cry as Jaime left and seemed to confirm her worst fears about him so good. It was talked about and picked over so much but it rang true to me and I don’t think the woman who had to go for a walk because she was so upset about this choice for Brienne was going to do anything further that felt wrong for her. She let her guard down and was disappointed in the worst way and that needed to be written all over her face and body language. We felt it and Nikolaj felt it and it was a choice that felt like it was coming from a deep place of understanding and grief rather than one made as a reductive act for the character. Christie was consistently brilliant throughout this season and I was so thrilled to see her get the recognition she deserved, even if it didn’t come in the form of an Emmy. 

3. Aya Cash (You’re the Worst) My undying love for You’re the Worst has been discussed at length over the past few years and so much of that has to do with what Aya Cash has done with Gretchen. Gretchen is kind of the worst. She can be mean and self-destructive in a very real way and then instantly drop all of those defense mechanisms and show the very scared and damaged person underneath that is never sure in her self or that the people she loves feel the same way about her. So much of her character is a persona and if it stayed up, it probably would still be an entertaining, if more frustrating, show to watch. But Cash continually shows a deeper side to her that rips my heart out every single time and this final season was no exception. Any time Gretchen’s depression or fear or self-loathing got the best of her, you felt it and you hurt for her. Even at her worst, you love her because we’re given the chance to truly see her and that’s all due to what Cash has brought to the role. 

4. Todd Grinnell (One Day at a Time) Between finding a girlfriend, seeing his father again, and relapsing, it was a tumultuous season for Schneider and Grinnell stepped up to the challenge beautifully. He’s been a steady touchpoint of the show, simultaneously a source of humor and heart, but this season expanded on the character and gave him the opportunity to show us how much he’s capable of. Everything about the relapse arc broke my heart and I love that he was both given the opportunity to share his own history with addiction and brave enough to include so much of it in the role. I imagine it can’t be easy to get yourself back into that headspace and to occupy it with the compassion the show is known for. He’s vulnerable and hurting and that comes through even when he’s being defensive and lashing out to protect his addiction. He is terrific as a comedic actor but his dramatic skills can’t be overlooked and I hope to continue a little bit of that in s4. Also, as much as I love the idea Penelope and Schneider romantically on the show, you cannot deny how completely adorable he is with real-life wife India de Beaufort as his onscreen girlfriend. There’s a beautiful ease and lightness that he brings to all of their scenes together along with a truly excellent set of heart eyes. 

Continue reading Best of 2019: Actors

October 2019 Recommendations

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Show Title: All Rise

Episodes: 6 (at time of writing)

Where to Watch: CBS All Access

It’s been a long time since I started and stuck with a CBS drama but this one immediately captured me and became my favorite new show of the fall season. Probably my favorite fall show of the past few seasons, if I’m honest. It feels more like an ABC drama in some vague, undefined way with its emphasis on character development and their relationships with each other and less focus on the case itself and that’s absolutely for the better. The cases are designed to tell you something new about these characters and what they stand for, while being interesting in their own right. The choice to center the show around a judge and not a lawyer provides more flexibility in what they’re able to cover and means justice doesn’t have to look like a guilty/not-guilty verdict. But mostly, it’s all about the characters. I love that the majority of the show revolves around people of color and that there are so many women who not only respect each other professionally but champion each other in their personal lives. I love everything this show has done so far and I need it to continue for many more seasons, so if anything I’ve just said sounds appealing, please go watch this show! 

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Book Title: All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages

Author: Saundra Mitchell (editor) – anthology w/various authors

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

This anthology is packed full of incredible stories by many popular YA authors. I love the idea of a book designed to show that queer people have always existed even if our terminology has changed throughout time, especially one aimed at teenagers. It does skew very American and European and seeing something that takes place in 1999 in a historical fiction collection makes me feel ancient. However, as a whole, it’s a very strong collection and I really enjoyed the majority of these stories. Some particular highlights for me were “Roja” by Anna-Marie McLemore, which is exactly as beautiful and lyrically written as everything else she writes and starts the anthology on an extremely high note. “Burnt Umber” by Mackenzi Lee was very cute with a similar style to “Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue”, “Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake was a new take on Robin Hood that I adored, and “Three Witches” by Tessa Gratton was beautifully emotionally evocative. It was a great blend of known and unknown authors to me and one of the stronger anthologies I’ve encountered recently. 

September 2019 Recommendations

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Show Title: What We Do In The Shadows

Episodes: 10

Where to Watch: Hulu

The Halloween season has been well underway for a month already but as we head into October and our interest in all things supernatural grows, it is an excellent time to watch this wonderfully ridiculous show about vampires. I haven’t seen the movie (an oversight that needs correcting) but even without that prior connection, this show was a lot of fun. It has a delightfully weird sense of humor that is more than a little absurd and I absolutely recommend it alongside any other Halloween viewing you choose next month. 

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Book Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Contemporary

I couldn’t put this book down. The majority is set in the past and told memoir-style and it was the perfect stylistic choice. We get to experience the Evelyn the world saw through news snippets as well as Evelyn in her own words and all of the smart manipulation of the former that Evelyn used to survive an industry that asked her to deny large pieces of herself. I love a story about complicated women who know exactly what the world thinks of them and plays that to their own advantage. I love that through the release of her story, the world would finally get to see a woman who tried to cram herself into the various boxes Hollywood wanted to put her in only to find the most happiness when she broke free and lived her life on her own terms. There’s a melancholy to it as she reflects back on her life and what could have been different if she made different choices but there’s also a defiance as she insists on people’s ability to be more than one thing. Despite the narratives that Hollywood (and the rest of the world) wants to push, we  don’t fit in easy narratives and the truth of a person is often more complicated and deeper than the flattened version we present to all but those closest to us. I also love the impact that Evelyn’s story had on Monique, her biographer. There are some people who change our stories and the direction our life will take and Evelyn was one of those people to Monique and that portion of the story is equally as compelling. Other people sharing their stories gives us the freedom to be more open and contemplative with our own and that was captured really beautifully. This is easily one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year and I desperately need more people to talk about it with. 

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Book Title: The Unkindest Tide

Author: Seanan McGuire

Genre: Urban Fantasy

This is less a recommendation for this specific book and more a recommendation for the series as a whole (just in case I haven’t talked about my undying love for Seanan as an author enough this year). This is one of those books that came at exactly the right time. I love what Seanan is building as far as a long-term plot and overall world is concerned, things are revealed smartly and are seeded very skillfully throughout the previous books so that rereads are extremely rewarding and cause you pain when sentences suddenly take on more meaning. But most of all, I love the story Seanan is telling. It’s a story about hope and growth and healing from trauma. Each of these characters has been through a lot and will continue to go through a lot so long as they are anywhere near Toby and her job as Hero. But they aren’t alone and they don’t have to survive on their own. They are a family and family fights for each other even when someone can’t quite fight for themselves yet. Tragedy isn’t the end of the story and hope remains. That’s never been more clear than in this book, which made me cry multiple times in a very cathartic way. I didn’t think anyone could nudge Georgia out of her spot as favorite Seanan-created character but I think Toby has managed it by insisting the world be less unkind as her soon-to-be husband phased it. That’s a story I want to hear and I’ve never been happier I started this journey.  

August 2019 Recommendations

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Show Title: Schitt’s Creek

Episodes: 66

Where to Watch: Netflix + OnDemand

As with Fleabag and Good Omens before it, Schitt’s Creek is one of those recommendations that you probably don’t need if you’re reading this blog. It feels like half the internet is obsessed with the show and will bring it up all the time. Turns out, it’s for a good reason. While the first few episodes are a little abrasive (and I get why many quit during them), throughout the second season, you start to see what this show will become. The Rose family settles in. This isn’t the life they planned but gradually it becomes the one they will accept, if not fully embrace until later. If the early episodes aren’t appealing at all, the second season finale would make a good re-entry point to the show. The third season is full of growth and love and blossoms into the show that makes everyone rave about it and it only continues from there. The main love story is full of that Mike Schur sweetness and connection that I love and I can’t think of another queer love story like it on television. You can’t help but fall in love with these characters with their occasionally myopic and privileged view of the world but who also continually become better as they open themselves up to the love they’d previously kept at a distance. It’s a beautiful journey, full of laughs and moments that were made for reaction gifs, and so worth a watch. 

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Book Title: The Light Brigade

Author: Kameron Hurley

Genre: Science Fiction

If you’re a fan of The Expanse (at least the show, I haven’t read the books yet), The Light Brigade will probably be right up your alley. Set in a world controlled by a small handful of corporations, we experience a war from the perspective of Dietz, a soldier who signed up wanting to do good after losing everyone they cared about in an event called The Brink. It’s dark and bloody, as wars are, and full of striking quotes about the dangers of a world increasingly controlled by corporations and the loss of freedom and the overt and covert ways those in power exert that power over those without it. The interview snippets between an unknown person set in an unknown time that are sprinkled throughout the story give us a glimpse into a future event that comes together beautifully in the end. I am a big fan of Hurley’s nonfiction book The Geek Feminist Revolution and you can see some of the ideas touched upon in that book elaborated on and made richer by our investment in this fictional world. She understands that fighting for something, that fighting for those we love, will always be stronger than the choices we make as a result of fear. She understands the power that we have to change the world, even if (or especially when) it means tearing down the systems that brought us to this particular future. It’s that hope and belief in something better than takes this beyond a dark war story and turns it into one of triumph and fortitude. It’s one of the best things I’ve read all year and one that will stay with me for a long time to come.