In less than a month, my most anticipated media of the year will be debuting on IMDB TV and I will get my beloved Leverage team back in my life with new content. It’s something I have not let myself think about too much because I will reach an unfunctional level of excitement and I am an adult with things that need to get done. I watched the original show at the start of 2017 and knew by the 2nd episode that I had found something that would stay with me forever and since then, have been very loud about my love for the show on both Twitter and Tumblr. This is a post that is four years in the making and now that the show will be getting a second life became something I needed to write so I can drag as many more people into this fandom with me as possible.
So, starting extremely basic. Leverage is a heist show. It is a modern day Robin Hood-esque band of criminals who steal from the rich and powerful for the benefit of those they have harmed. That means we get 77 episodes (plus 16 new episodes this year!) of heist goodness along with the catharsis of seeing bad people suffer the consequences of their own greed and callousness. It is a glorious fantasy that has only continued to be more compelling as time goes on, especially as it becomes increasingly clear to anyone paying a modicum of attention that it normally doesn’t happen that way.
It’s a show that understands the world it was created in but also says that we don’t have to accept it as it is. John Rogers, the creator and one of the two showrunners for the original, described it as “an uncynical show made by cynical people” and he’s not wrong. The targets and their crimes are all at least loosely based in reality, sometimes after being toned down because the actual crime was too unbelievable for television. As a result, there’s an anger that simmers under the surface of the show. It exposes our broken systems for what they are but never in a way that feels hopeless. It is a show about taking back power and doing what you can to make the world work a little closer to the way you want it to work. It is driven by the belief that change is necessary and the hope that it can be possible, even in small ways.
It finds a really wonderful balance between a fun heist-of-the-week show (which would still have made it a solid show, this team of writers understands grifting and cons extremely well) and having something to say if you’re willing to look beyond what we’re taught this format should be. It loves the fact that it’s largely non-serialized and especially as the show goes on, revels in getting to play with format and structure. But what makes this show continue to stand out is that it understands that nothing matters if you don’t care about the characters. That they shouldn’t just exist to make the plot happen. That it should be them driving the story, not being wildly steered around at the whims of a story that doesn’t fit.
Continue reading Why You Should Watch Leverage (and Leverage: Redemption)
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!
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.
Show Title: What We Do In The Shadows
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.
Book Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
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.
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.
Show Title: Schitt’s Creek
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.
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.
Show Title: Leverage
Where to Watch: IMDb TV (included with Amazon Prime)
This isn’t the first time I’ve recommended this show by any means. But now that it’s streaming again on a platform that more people have (albeit with ads), I’m bringing it back as this month’s recommendation. The premise of the show on its own, that a group of criminals would get together to con a bunch of terrible CEOs who are taking advantage of people out of their money and positions, is incredibly cathartic for this particular moment in time. It’s gloriously angry without ever crossing over into despairing and is well worth the time for the individual episode plots alone. But on top of all that is a commitment to character work and this group of 5 people coming together as a family and healing. It is smartly handled and impossible not to love them just as much as these writers and this cast did. Throw in some incredible relationship development and an OT3 that is showrunner-confirmed but ambiguous in the show itself and you have this beautiful show that stole my heart and has so far refused to let it go. It’s an incredible journey with one of the most satisfying finales I’ve seen and I want everyone to watch it and be comforted by it like so many of its fans still are.
Book Title: A Duke By Default
Author: Alyssa Cole
It’s been a few months since I’ve recommended a book that wasn’t sci-fi or fantasy and it felt like time to once again recommend an Alyssa Cole novel. This time, it’s a contemporary romance and is the second book in her Reluctant Royals series. I loved Portia instantly. I loved her desire to choose an emotionally healthier life for herself and do better for herself. I loved her willingness to call Tavish out when he was being a jerk and demand that he treat her with respect. Most of all, as with all my favorite romance novels, I love that throughout the book, she learns how to love herself. After years of feeling like a failure, she discovers that she has ADHD and better learns how to work with her brain to get the results she knew she was capable of. She finally has an honest conversation with her sister and they work through their issues. She has a solid group of friends who may be an ocean away but still a present part of her life thanks to the wonders of group texts and she quickly befriends Tavish’s sister-in-law because a trademark of Alyssa Cole books (at least the few I’ve read) is women who love each other and have each other’s backs. On the romance front, I cannot resist a man who is utterly dazzled by the woman he loves nor can I resist him getting a swift kick in the ass when he needs an attitude adjustment. Once he gets over himself, he thinks the world of Portia and it is truly adorable to experience. It’s the perfect book to make you smile and cheer and feel for these characters and exactly what I needed this month.
Show Title: Good Omens
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Look, if you follow me on either Twitter or Tumblr, you’re well aware that this is my latest obsession. I read the book about 6 years ago and loved it so I was already the target audience for this show. But thanks to some brilliant casting choices and shifting the story just enough to primarily be a love story between Aziraphale and Crowley on their mission to avert the apocalypse, it beyond delivered. From the outset, it was conceived to be a tribute to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s friendship with him and that care came through in everything they did. It’s a celebration humanity’s ability to choose paths other than the ones seemingly ordained to us and to make the world something we can be proud of. The Them standing up to the Four Horseman because they know they deserve better than a ruined world and Adam standing up to the devil to point out that biology doesn’t determine parentage are gorgeous moments in what was actually one of the weaker points of the show. Where it truly excels (and what has caused the bulk of the media attention) is in the developing relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley as they forge their own side out of a shared love of humanity and each other. The cold open of the 3rd episode is 28 minutes long and entirely devoted to their history with each other over 6000 years and it was brilliantly done and acted. They put in the time to develop their relationship so that you really feel the impact of their fight at the end of the same episode and it’s that dedication to character work in a 6 hour long show that I appreciate so much. While this isn’t fully a story about them, they’re the hook and in order for everything else to land (and to overlook things that may not have been as strong), we had to believe in their connection and they delivered. After a frustrating spring of uneven character work on other shows, this was exactly what I wanted.
Book Title: The Luminous Dead
Author: Caitlin Starling
It can’t be easy to write a book in a very confined setting with only two characters but this debut manages to do just that in a compelling way. Em and Gyre are full of secrets and past pain that both drives them and holds them back from truly living and to see them be confronted with those pasts and also begin to find healing in their initially reluctant friendship and growing feelings was incredible to read. Yes, it’s a story of exploration and the drive to push on despite obstacles and the gradually unfolding story surrounding these particular set of space caves is interesting, but it’s the revelations each girl has in the process that will pull you in the most. They had to put their life (in Gyre’s case) and their hopes (in Em’s) in each other’s hands and that’s no easy task. It required vulnerability and trust that neither of them knew how to give when they started this journey and at the end, there was no one else who could fully understand what they’ve been through. To have to anchor someone and fight for them when their senses could no longer be trusted. To accept the help when it seems so much more seductive to let go and lose yourself in the pain. The character work is the focus and while that may not be what someone is looking for in a horror book, it was absolutely the right choice for this particular story and I really enjoyed it.
Show Title: The Expanse
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
I might be slightly hesitant to recommend an ongoing show with a stellar season three after I was so disappointed by The Magicians last month but no matter where Amazon takes the show in season 4 (and hopefully beyond), I can’t regret falling in love with the Roci and pretty much everyone who has ever set foot on it. Even when you aren’t invested in the plot, you can’t help but invest yourself in these characters. You want to love them and root for them because that’s what they do for each other. Whether it’s Amos’s loyalty to Naomi (and then the rest of the crew) or Alex doing everything he can to make the Roci feel like home and for its crew to be a family, the show offers more than lip service to the idea that these people care about each other. Their relationships drive their actions going forward and in doing so, affect the plot. That’s what I need from my TV shows and why I am so ready for this show to be back.
Show Title: Fleabag
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Yes, I know everyone TV-adjacent is talking about this to the point that it risks becoming oversaturated and pushing people away. And yes, I also know with certainty that it’s going to end up all over my Best of 2019 posts and I will therefore have other opportunities to write about it. But I also haven’t been able to to stop thinking about season 2 and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ability to craft a show and therefore it deserves a rec for this month. I liked season 1 a lot – the structure was intriguing, I loved Fleabag for all of her flaws and pain, and Olivia Coleman is clearly having an incredible time playing the deliciously wicked stepmother. Season 2 turned my appreciation into a full-blown love affair by giving me a story about healing and being able to move forward despite the tragedy of one’s past as well as the power in letting yourself be seen. It is impeccably constructed, features a relationship with so much chemistry and potential that you’ll root for it even knowing it’s probably doomed, and while it’s probably not a show that will appeal to everyone (much like Waller-Bridge’s other creation, Killing Eve), if it works for you, it will probably really work for you. It was one of my most anticipated returns of the year and it surpassed all my expectations.
Continue reading May 2019 Recommendations
Show Title: All-American
Where to Watch: Netflix
If you miss old-school WB teen soaps, All-American is the show for you. Despite the football-heavy promos, it’s not Friday Night Lights. The football team is a part of it but more for what it represents to Spencer. It’s a character-focused soap and it’s best when it isn’t trying to be anything else. It does a decent job of weaving in more socially conscious stories and highlighting the differences in the characters from Crenshaw and Beverly Hills based on their economic privilege but it mostly wants to make you fall in love with these characters and root for their success and you can’t help but do so. Even when they are being messy and making bad choices out of pain or sometimes just because they’re human, you want the best for them. You want them to make good choices and grow into better people and find their place in the world. It’s may not be groundbreaking or revolutionary like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or Jane the Virgin, but it’s a solid non-genre addition to CW’s lineup and I couldn’t be happier that it’ll be back for a second season.
Book Title: Heroine Worship
Author: Sarah Kuhn
Genre: Urban Fantasy
I’ve already talked about my love for Heroine Complex, the first entry in this series, but I finally got around to this book and it only amplified my love for this series. Unlike other UF series, the protagonist of each book shifts, much like it would in a romance trilogy. It allows for a new exploration of the world but more interestingly, it allows for a strong character arc in each book. After the events of Heroine Complex, Aveda Jupiter is struggling. She’s no longer the star superhero in San Francisco and if she isn’t a superhero, who is she? She is forced to examine and reconcile competing portions of her identity, to recognize that she can be a protector and vulnerable at the same time. So much of this book is about Aveda and Evie learning how to be best friends again as adults and their relationship dynamic is unlike anything else I’ve seen. They have to learn to choose each other again, not in the archetypal roles that had defined their relationship as children but as grown women full of complexities. They got stuck and had to find a way to get unstuck because at the end of the day, there isn’t anyone they would rather have by their side. It’s about learning to embrace yourself and all the multitudes you contain and trust that there will be people to love and accept you once they’re allowed to truly see you. This series holds such a special place in my heart after only two books and I can’t wait for this journey to continue.
Show Title: One Day At A Time
Where to Watch: Netflix
This isn’t a new show by any means. I’ve talked about this show in nearly every end of the year post I’ve written since the show debuted in 2017 and I will almost certainly continue that trend this year. But once again, it faces an uncertain future with Netflix’s opaque standards and an outside production company, so once again, I will ask that you give this show a chance if anything about it even sounds a little appealing to you.
This show is the new standard for how to do a smart, funny multicam sitcom well. The cast is terrific, the writing is sharp, and you can feel how much everyone involved loves what they are doing. You can feel Norman Lear’s continuing influence on this show and variety of timely comedy that blends laughter with discussion of serious topics like addiction, mental health, and consent. It’s a show that will make you cry because it’s genuinely touching but also because you love these characters and want their success and happiness.
Todd Grinnell is particularly exceptional in the third season throughout Schneider’s relapse and once again, I will be needing Justina Machado to be showered in every award possible. Every member of the main cast is doing truly incredible work and the amount of care that has gone into crafting these characters is evident. Elena gets to be taken seriously as a feminist teenager with a lot of opinions and her relationship with her Syd-nificant other is unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV. Alex gets to be a teenager who makes mistakes but is also a tremendous source of compassion and emotional support for his family. He’s not a warning (although the show is quick to point out the discrepancies in the way drug offences are treated by race in this country), he’s just him. And Lydia is as fabulous as any character played by Rita Moreno should be. She sparkles and is full of life and love for those around her and is a delight every moment she is on screen.
I could gush about the wonders of this show all day because it is incredibly special to me and it means so much to the communities that it represents. It deserves many more seasons and now is the time to start watching it on Netflix and fall in love with it as so many have.
Continue reading February 2019 Recommendations
Over the course of a year, I watch and read a lot of things that I love. Some make it on to my year-end lists but others (like the two shows I mention today) aired last year or earlier and I didn’t get to them in time for them to make my list. There is so much content out there and depending on who you follow on social media, you may or may not see any buzz for an individual show or book so I wanted to draw some attention to things I enjoyed in the hopes that someone will find something to add to their TBR or to-watch lists. What good things did you read or watch this month?
Show Title: Élite
Where to Find It: Netflix
If you like high school dramas and don’t mind subtitles, this is the show for you. Part Gossip Girl, part Riverdale, this teen soap is full of characters trying to figure out who they are, budding and faltering romances, and lots of bad decision making skills. If that weren’t enough to deal with as a teenager, there’s also a murder mystery that’s told in flash-forward glimpses of the investigation and interrogations. Secrets are unraveled and alliances are formed as the final episode reveals the culprit and sets up what is sure to be an equally entertaining (and most importantly, already ordered) season two.
This sort of show is an easy sell for me. I love a well-made teen soap and the added suspense of the murder mystery makes it all the easier to binge. What I wasn’t expecting was to love these characters as much as I did. No one is entirely what they seem and as walls come down and circumstances shift, we get to see new sides to everyone that don’t make them better people necessarily but do make them more complicated and less archetypical. They are messes but they’re now my messes and I can’t wait to see more of them next season.
Continue reading January 2019 Recommendations