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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

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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: Moments

This is my fourth list of the year and the first one I’ve really had a difficult time ranking. Even more so than favorite characters or relationships, this list feels like a reflection of who I am and what I love about television. The specific moments and events that resonate with people are so individual and don’t always have the same effect out of context. Some stand on their own, but others are only pieces (often culminations) of a character’s journey over seasons or entire series. No matter how many of these moments you are familiar with, I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts about them and share some of your own favorites in the comments below.

1. Lorelai’s best memory of Richard (Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life) I’m not sure that Lauren Graham has ever been better than she was in this scene. Though time has passed since his death, Lorelai still hadn’t managed to fully process the realities of her father’s death. There was a loss in the general sense but the full force of her emotions had yet to hit her until she stood and looked at the wilderness. While Lorelai had a complicated relationship with her parents, she loved Richard. He was distant and not as involved as she might have needed, but he loved her and tried to show it as best he could. Teenage heartbreak is kind of the worst. Without any perspective, all you have is the fact that it hurts and is humiliating and makes you question everything. Richard knew where to find Lorelai and knew what would help ease the pain. He knew she wanted the pretzel and knew what kind of movie she would want to see. He knew she didn’t need a lecture, just some love and compassion. He knew she needed this to be a secret from Emily, who wouldn’t have understood either of their actions at the time. On that day, Richard gave Lorelai exactly what she needed. She needed to feel as though someone saw her and understood her just as she was. It wasn’t a feeling she got often in her childhood. Richard never intended to hurt his daughter or push her away. He loved her deeply even if he couldn’t always demonstrate it in a way Lorelai needed. But he left her with this memory, this secret between just the two of them. And by letting Emily in on the secret, by showing her that Lorelai was missing her father just as much as Emily was missing her husband, he helped repair the rift between them just enough to keep a relationship possible.

2. I’m gonna miss her (The Americans) For a scene with so few words, so much is said and expressed. For the first time in Elizabeth’s adult life, she had a friend. Though it started as an assignment and though Elizabeth could never be fully honest with her, she genuinely enjoyed Young Hee’s company. The laughter and friendship was real, even if it’s origins weren’t. I wish that there could have been another way, that Elizabeth could have kept this. The fact that she even tried speaks volumes about what this relationship meant to her. But there wasn’t, so after doing her duty for her country, she came home and let herself be vulnerable and comforted by her husband. She’s honest here, in a way she can only be with Philip. He’s the only one who gets to see this side of her, the fragile side. He can’t make it better but he can sit there with her so she doesn’t have to be any more alone than she already feels like she is.

3. It’ll always be yours (Game of Thrones) I stopped watching this show last season but this relationship is something that they are getting exactly right and that is all thanks to Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. They love these characters and their dynamic so much and it shines through in every scene they share. Every interaction is so layered and full of unspoken truths each are unable to give voice to. By allegiance, they are on opposing sides of this war. Jaime is loyal to his family and Brienne continues to honor her oath pledged to Catelyn and now Sansa Stark. That fact hangs heavy over their reunion. They recognize that there may come a day when they are asked to fight against each other and Jaime is doing is best not to think about that fact. Brienne tries to deal with it head on and essentially tells him that despite her love for him, her pledge comes first. It’s always the things that are unsaid that are most important with these two, especially when it comes to Oathkeeper. We know it symbolizes their relationship. It’s their unwavering faith in each other’s word and honor. They know it too and you see that in the scene where Brienne tries to return it. She’s terrified of what loving this man might mean and how she can reconcile that with her duties. She’s afraid to lose him but also afraid to have him. Jaime on the other hand, is more sure of his love, but not ready to face the consequences that love will bring. There is a tenderness in the way he says “it’ll always be yours” that leaves little doubt as to what he is actually talking about, a fact not missed by Brienne judging by her face. Every time Coster-Waldau and Christie share a scene together, I’m left in awe of their ability to convey so much in a look or change of tone. I may not care about much else on the show, but these two will always bring me back.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Moments