Tag Archives: the good place

Best of 2017: Shows

This was easily the hardest list to make and the one that changed the most as I was making the list and writing. There was so much I loved that I once again couldn’t narrow it down to just ten, and the honorable mentions are as solid as my actual list. It was a year where I wanted comedies and stories about women finding understanding and joy with each other. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and they warmed my heart.

If you are looking for some more end of the year reading, head over to MGCircles to check out their Best Of lists and Nerdy Girl Notes for her thoughts on hope and new ways to be a hero in The Last Jedi.

1. One Day at a Time Since watching this show in January, it has been my pick for the best show of the year. This is how you reboot a show and make it feel fresh and relevant. Norman Lear’s style of socially conscious comedies is one that already appealed to me (though I will admit I’ve never seen any of his original shows, just those who have been inspired by his work) and I loved Mike Royce’s previous comedy Enlisted so I went into the show ready to love it. It exceeded my already high expectations. I mind multi-cam comedies far less than most people but this is an example of the form at its best. The writing is clever and hilarious and took full advantage of this cast’s considerable talents. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno were terrific casting choices and they play so well off of each other. They are both so well-rounded as actors and this show understands how to use that. They both made me laugh a lot but they were also responsible for many of the moments that made me cry and tugged at my heartstrings. I love this family full of strong women who support each other through anything life throws at them. I love that they gave both Elena and Penelope female friends who were there for each other when they needed it most. I love that they made me love Schneider and Leslie so much because it felt like they tried. They wanted to do better when they messed up and owned their lack of knowledge and unintentional blind spots. Everyone on this show cares so much and that warmth comes through in every moment. Each episode had something smart to say about a current issue, whether it was mansplaining and sexism, immigration, a lack of support for returning veterans, or coming out and telling the world who you are. This show was everything I love about television and what I can be all wrapped up in an entertaining package and I need everyone to watch it before it returns at the end of January.

2. Playing House Sometimes the simplest concept can lead to the greatest results. Playing House has never tried to be anything other than what it is, which is a beautiful tribute to two lifelong best friends and the unbreakable bond they share. It’s not high concept or serialized and it’s a relatively small cast with simple sets but it is intimate and honest and genuine. This season was the most ambitious with the overarching plot about Emma’s cancer diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. It was telling a real story and I loved that we got so many episodes to explore the healing process and how that looked for both Emma and Maggie. As good as all of that was, it’s always been the relationships and the small moments that make this show so special. It’s Maggie leaving Emma a “congrats on the sex” cheese plate and then attacking her as she eats it. It’s Emma being Tina’s biggest cheerleader and helping her find something she’s passionate about. It’s Mark’s coworkers showing amicable exes and co-parents who love and support each other and the new relationships they’ve found themselves in. They’re one big, weird family kept together by actual affection for each other and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wish that we were getting more seasons with this show but it went out on a high note.

3. Big Little Lies Until recently, “prestige” dramas have been all about the antihero. They were very masculinely focused and often involved isolation from those around them. We’re slowly moving away from that concept but there was still a bit of a battle for Big Little Lies to be taken seriously because it focused on the lives of women. It could be fun and frothy and Madeline had some endlessly quotable lines while also addressing domestic violence, the way we shield our truths from our loved ones and ourselves, and our expectations of women and the roles they inhabit. Celeste is kept at home out of Perry’s need for control, Renata is happy to be CEO but feels judged by the stay at home moms, Madeline is desperate for something to give her the fulfillment she’s not getting at home even though she feels like it should, Jane is a financially struggling single mother in a town full of wealthy two-parent households, and Bonnie is one of the few women of color in this very white town. No one feels like they are meeting all the expectations placed upon them. But other the course of the season, they find each other. It’s easy for Celeste, Madeline, and Jane. This is in large part to Madeline’s forceful personality and need to take Jane under her wing but these ladies develop a true friendship. With Perry’s death, Renata and Bonnie are drawn into the fold as now it is up to each one of them to stay silent and protect the group. They find their strength when they stand together and it made for a refreshing change. We were encouraged to take these women and their struggles seriously. We were supposed to find the power in their combined forces. And it was rewarded with critical acclaim and a lot of award nominations. I hope it is the start of more “prestige” dramas about different types of women finding their strength in each other and joining together in different ways to overcome different struggles. I’m never confident that networks take away the right reasonings for a show’s success and I’m not sure we needed a second season of this show, but at the end of the day, I know I will always be ready for a show about women supporting and encouraging other women.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Shows

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Best of 2017: Episodes

Unsurprisingly, many of my favorite episodes this year dealt with the idea of connection in some way (or the lack of it). There’s our connection with ourselves and our desires, connection with our friends and family, and connection with our cultures. They are about seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole and the confidence and power that brings. No one does anything alone, we need each other to create a better and functional world. That will always be my favorite kind of fiction and it was a good year to see that reflected on TV in a variety of ways.

If you want more year end fun, be sure to check out all of MGCircles’s lists as well!

1. You Wanna Roll With This (Playing House) This episode is perfect. In 21 minutes, there is not a single misstep. This show is always full of warmth and laughter with just the right amount of weirdness but this episode goes above and beyond. This cannot have been an easy experience for Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham to relive and fictionalize but the fact that they had just been through this together makes all the emotion that much more real. It’s a serious episode and a serious arc but the show never gets too bogged down in worry and unnecessary drama. It’s always treated as something Emma will survive, even when characters give into their natural concerns. The guest casting in this episode is flawless. Laurie Metcalf makes an appearance as Emma’s oncologist and Michaela Watkins as her plastic surgeon, both of whom are the sort of doctors anyone would want on their team. They are the best at their job and their bedside manner is the right amount of comforting but firm (especially on the “no Googling” rule) and I can’t imagine anyone else more fitting for the roles. I’ve already talked about Emma and Maggie but this episode really shows that these two are the best. They are on each other’s team forever and it’s consistently beautiful to watch. Similarly, Emma and Mark are so easy and free together. It’s the natural extension of where they’ve been headed since Emma moved back and the history between them just makes this second chance even sweeter. They know each other and have seen each other at their worst and weirdest and they still love and chose each other. No one ever compared to the other and all those years apart didn’t chance that. They tease each other with the ease of people who have known each other for a long time. It’s completely without venom and so full of affection that you can’t help but smile watching them. And those are just the main relationships! Even in the minor characters like the rest of the police squad and Dr. Ericson, there is so much love and kindness toward Maggie and Emma that makes me cry every time. I cannot say enough good things about this episode, it truly is the best of an incredible show.

2. You Get What You Need (Big Little Lies) Everything about this episode is stressful as the lies and secrets that these women are keeping from the world come tumbling out. While Madeline’s breakdown during the fundraiser is important as she confesses her infidelity to a supportive Jane and it gets everyone in one place for the extraordinary conclusion to this episode and season. But the star of this episode is Nicole Kidman and everything she puts into her role as Celeste with a strong but terrifying supporting role from Alexander Skarsgård. From the opening scene, the tension builds as Celeste comes to the realization that she has to leave. She can’t pretend things will get better any more, not after it’s clearly starting to have a negative impact on the man Max is growing up to be. By the time Perry calmly tells her that she missed a call from her property manager about her apartment while calmly checking Max’s loose tooth, the tension became nearly unbearable and stayed that way until the end. Things were reaching their boiling point and there was no going back. We got momentary bouts of relief as other characters pulled the focus away but it isn’t fully released until the beach scene. It is masterfully done. As Celeste stands her ground, Jane recognizes the face of the man who raped her. The horrified look on her face clues in Madeline who gets Celeste’s attention and it is the three of them against the world, with Renata joining their union. Seeing these women stand together is an emotional experience. No matter what has happened in the past, they are united in their attempt to stop Perry. Bonnie is finally the one to get rid of him and their group expands once more. And by stopping this man together, they find unity, peace, and freedom. They found they are stronger together and its together that they will build a better future for their children, without the petty rivalries of the past. Watching these women support and care for each other was beautiful to watch and I am so glad it got the recognition that it did. We don’t see enough of it but it’s a start.

3. Late (The Handmaid’s Tale) This was a fantastic episode of television that I never want to watch again. This episode was designed to be chilling and horrifying and it accomplishes that goal well. Alexis Bledel is the best she has ever been as Ofglen is forced to watch her girlfriend hang before forcibly undergoing female genital mutilation surgery. It was intentionally one of the most upsetting moments on TV this year and both Bledel and director Reed Morano deserve the praise they received for creating it. Regardless of anything else, that portion of the episode was always going to be hard to watch. But there was a world where the rest of the episode would still have been powerful but had a less visceral impact. The nature of this book and similar dystopias is that something in them will always feel relevant. They are a critique of one or more aspects of our current society and those often change pretty slowly. This book felt resonant when it came out in the 80s, it felt resonant when I read it in 2012, and it still feels resonant today. However, seeing the way the US turned into Gilead may have felt less timely if we didn’t have a Speaker of the House who belongs to a party who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade who says we need to get our birth rates up or a Vice President who won’t be alone in the room with a woman who isn’t his wife. Nothing changes instantaneously but more and more freedoms are stripped away until we realize we no longer live in the world we thought we did. Seeing that change and hearing all the things that the citizens of what was now Gilead let slide was a stark reminder of how easily we can be led down a dangerous path as long as a nice justification is given to us. I wouldn’t have minded this portion of the episode feeling a little more theoretical but that’s not the world we ended up in. It was also a stellar episode for Yvonne Strahovski, who gave us a nice look at life as one of the privileged women in Gilead. She has more perceived freedom and actual power over the Handmaids and she will use every bit of that when she isn’t given her way, but even when it isn’t her body, she’s still defined by her ability to bring children into the household. The change in her attitude when she learns that Offred isn’t pregnant is scary, but unsurprising. There is no solidarity between them, Offred exists only as a means to get what Serena Joy desperately wants. That kindness she displayed wasn’t genuine and was easily ripped away. We can feel her longing for a child and have sympathy for her while also being disgusted at her attitude and Strahovski finds that balance well in her acting. The acting, writing, and directing are all extraordinary in this episode which only served to make it more difficult to watch.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Episodes

Best of 2017: Moments

One moment can say so much. It can fittingly conclude a character arc, provide a moment of sweetness, move characters forward, and capture the theme of a show. We remember the ones that touch us in some way and carry them with us as we remember the show and its impact on us. As always, there were too many to choose from and my final selections are all over the place as far as tone goes but I feel like they are a good representation of what I loved most about TV this year. There is so much character growth and catharsis in these scenes as I watched the characters I love move forward in much-awaited and surprising ways.

1. Philip and Elizabeth get married (The Americans) It was never supposed to be real. They were put together to have children and spy for Mother Russia. They weren’t supposed to fall in love along the way. But they did and we’ve gotten to watch it happen. At a time when Philip is drifting further away from the cause and even Elizabeth is getting tired, they chose to make a vow to each other. They pledged that no matter what happened, their love was real. It’s a simple scene. There aren’t elaborate vows, a wedding dress, or even very much light. No one else is there, it is just the two of them and a priest performing the ceremony entirely in Russian. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’s performances are so understated but moving. This is something neither of them thought they would ever have. It’s not something they’re supposed to have, even now, but they are so sure. The love on both of their faces is impossible to miss. There is a peace and vulnerability in Elizabeth’s expression and it’s all the more beautiful for its rarity. She lives in a world with carefully constructed walls, full of identities that allow her to be whoever she needs to be to get the job done. But here, with her husband, they all fall away. She’s allowed to just be Nadezhda. She doesn’t have to play a role with him any more because it’s real now.

2. Donna and Cameron imagine their next company (Halt and Catch Fire)  One of the most important relationships on this show was the one between Donna and Cameron. After a shaky start in which both pre-judged the other, they came to an understanding and found something each needed in the other. They cared for each other and became a part of each other’s families then both got stubborn and Donna broke Cameron’s heart. The trust they had in each other was shattered and they couldn’t even occupy the same space without fighting. Gordon’s death reminded them that life was short and they didn’t want to spend it fighting. They apologized for everything they had done to each other although they were still hesitant to ever mix their personal and professional lives again. But that fear didn’t stop them from dreaming together. They visited the former Mutiny office and reminisced about good times before taking a leap into an imaginary future where they built a second company, fixing many of the mistakes the made the first time around. They dreamed of a company where they could be true partners, where they were still the same people who made the same choices but didn’t let those choices break their friendship. They gave themselves a second chance to do better. This time, in their new history, they walked away together. It let them heal some of those old wounds so that when inspiration actually did strike Donna, they were ready to face it together.

3. Jules confronts Nate (Sweet Vicious) Eliza Bennett is extraordinary in this scene. She is angry and hurting and raw in a visceral way that I felt deep in my gut. Rape is used as a device on television far too often but we rarely get to see the lingering effects on the person raped. It may fuel someone else’s revenge arc or simply be dropped all together, but viewers aren’t forced to confront the fear and anger and pain felt by the survivor. Especially when the person responsible remains in your life in some capacity, as Nate has for Jules. He can lie to himself and everyone else that it was consensual but Jules refuses him that comforting lie in this moment. She tells him she said no. She tells him he physically kept her from saying no again. She tells him exactly what he took from her and who she is now. It is honest and brave and powerful. Nate had convinced himself both that he had gotten away with it and that Jules wanted it. Both those illusions are shattered here. And none of it was for Nate’s benefit. He’d already proved that the desires of others meant little to him if it meant getting his way. This was a moment that was solely for Jules and what she needed to say. The focus was exactly where it should have been and it’s stronger for it.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Moments

Best of 2017: Relationships

As much as I love individual characters, it’s the relationships those characters form that are the most interesting to me. Whether they are familial, platonic, romantic, or antagonistic, I need interesting characters interacting in interesting ways to truly be invested in a show. This year, I was all about the found families and groups of people taking on the world together. In a year where it seemed more important than ever to find your people to stand with you against whatever life and world may throw at you, it seems like no surprise that it was a dynamic I craved in my fiction.

1. Sensates + Allies (sense8) Yes, this is basically everyone on the show. I could have just picked the sensates on their own but excluding Amanita, Hernando, and Dani would have been disappointing, let alone everyone else like Bug and Detective Mun who I also adored. In any combination, this show does relationships well whether they are romantic, platonic, or somewhere in the middle. They would never have known each other without this bond between them, but now that they do, they couldn’t get away even if they wanted to. They are each other’s family and have each other’s backs no matter what. The core of the show will always be the connections these characters have with each other and it is better whenever it embraces that. It’s Amanita cancelling date night the second she hears Sun needs help, Wolfgang popping up to help Lito fight Joaquin, everyone showing up to support Capheus during his campaign speech, and everyone immediately dropping everything to save Wolfgang. Their love for each other is unbreakable and they are all better for it, as are we for having the chance to see them.

2. Emma and Maggie (Playing House) Look at what can happen when you let real life best friends write and star in a show where they get to play best friends. You get this beautiful friendship with all of its supportiveness and weirdness. These two are the kind of lifelong friends who can and have dropped everything in an instant when they other has needed them. The show started with Emma moving home for Maggie and ended with Maggie supporting Emma through breast cancer and recovery. They are sisters in all but blood and you can feel the love and history between them. It feels honest and real and there really is little else like it.

3. Ruth and Debbie (GLOW) To contrast the sweetness of Emma and Maggie, we have the infinitely more complicated friendship between Ruth and Debbie. Once again, there is a lot of history there. They were each other’s best friends but then Debbie got an acting job and husband and baby and Ruth had nothing. She got jealous and insecure and slept with Debbie’s husband. Naturally, Debbie found out and their resulting fight got them both a job where they would be forced to work together and be a team. Zoya and Liberty Belle are easy antagonists and it just makes it all the more apparent how much messier this actual relationship is. Despite the hurt, Debbie misses Ruth. It would be easier if she could just hate her and walk away but life doesn’t always work like that. Ruth is still the person who understands her the most and still the one she wants to talk to, which just makes her angrier that she can’t anymore. While they find a way to work together in the ring, repairing their personal relationship will take time and it’s the arc of the show I am most excited to return to next season.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Relationships

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