"1989" Album Review

I reviewed Taylor Swift's new album track-by-track and talked in-depth about the beautiful vulnerability and rawness that separates this album from any of her prior albums. See if you agree with any of my opinions!

The Strong Women Series

Here, you'll find a collection of posts from my talented female friends, each defending the women in their favorite television series. These posts contain some of the most intelligent discussions ever featured on this website. I highly recommend that you read them all.

Jenn's Pick: My Top 15 Episodes of 'Psych'

Do you like meta humor? Movie references? Pineapples? If you do, you were probably also a fan of USA's hit comedy 'Psych.' In this post, I count down my fifteen favorite episodes of the series. Do your favorites make the cut? And, bonus: Can you find the pineapple in my post?

Character Appreciation Post: Felicity Smoak ('Arrow')

Felicity Meghan Smoak is one of the most captivating, optimistic, endearing characters on The CW's smash hit 'Arrow.' And in this post, I list all of the reasons why she is. Read, dear friends, and fall a little bit more in love with our blonde hacker.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Arrow 3x07 "Draw Back Your Bow" (Love Is A Dangerous Game)

"Draw Back Your Bow"
Original Airdate: November 19, 2014


Isn't it interesting that a four-letter word has such an impact on us as individuals? Love means something different to every single person on this planet; it looks different to every person, too. There are different categories of love and different scales. We say that we love cheese fries but then we also say that we love our husbands or our families or a television show. It's the same word, though, each time. The fact of the matter is that we love to love and we love to be loved and gosh darnit, we just love the IDEA of love so much that it infiltrates every piece of our lives whether we recognize it or not.

I'm not a stranger to unrequited love, by any means. In fact, unrequited love and I are kind of BFFs. In high school, I was in love with a guy for four years. The moment I finally got over him, we ended up slow-dancing at prom together (to Alicia Keys' "Fallin'" because the universe is cruel and ironic) and then BAM. I was hit again with those feelings. You know the ones: nervousness and giddiness and fear. I was in love with him for so many years and he never saw me the same way. I eventually moved forward with my life and now I look back on that love as a nostalgic twenty-five year old woman. But it sucks, let's be honest, to feel something for someone so deeply and know that they don't feel the same about you. Unrequited love can make us self-conscious. It can fuel depression or anxiety. Conversely, it can motivate us to be stronger, more self-aware, more confident.

Or, in the case of Carrie Cutter, it can cause us to do some crazy things. I think love is one of the most powerful weapons we've been given -- it can do so much good or bad in the world; people do some crazy things in the name of it, after all. But I don't think there's any love quite as dangerous as the unrequited kind. Oliver and Team Arrow learn this in "Draw Back Your Bow" when The Arrow's number one fan shows up. She's head-over-heels in love with him and she has a great way of showing it (that was inflection: she shows it by killing people). Love is as much of a theme in this week's episode as guilt was in last week's, so let's talk about that little four letter word as it pertains to Oliver, Ray, Felicity, and Cupid, shall we?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

New Girl 4x08 "Teachers" (This Far, No Further)

Original Airdate: November 18, 2014

I've always been a rule-follower. I blame it on my birth order, as I'm the oldest of my siblings and was always terrified of disappointing my parents. But it wasn't just at home that I followed the rules. I was a goody two-shoes at school, too. I never talked out of turn. I always turned in my homework on time. I never goofed off. I was (and still am, even as I approach my twenty-sixth year of life) a "good girl." Being a rule-follower doesn't seem like it would present any actual drawbacks, but in the case of Jessica Day, it does. "Teachers" finds our favorite vice principal struggling to avoid spending any quality or alone time with Ryan (who she has a crush on) during a retreat because her principal forbids any romantic relationships between administration and teachers. Jess has always self-identified as a rule-follower and a "good girl." And we have always known this to be true of her. She has a very healthy fear of authority and a commitment to both her job and to the promises she makes to others. What is so great about this episode though was that we got the opportunity to see Jess take a risk and not a reckless one. Not really, anyway. We, instead, see her take a very bold and brave risk not against her boss but FOR herself and for her heart. Season four of New Girl finds Jess back in the dating game, but more importantly, it finds her back in the realm of possibilities -- it finds her in an exhilarating and scary place. And Jess is not the type of woman who openly embraces those places. She's more likely to run away from her feelings than run toward them. But in "Teachers," we find Jessica Day learning what it truly means to be vulnerable with someone again. And it was lovely.

Elsewhere in the episode, the theme of identity is also prominent. With Coach and Jess out of town on a retreat, Winston, Schmidt, and Nick are left at home to have a boys weekend (which hilariously goes slightly awry) where they have the opportunity to teach each other things and really be vulnerable with one another too. This story wasn't just hilarious; it was also extremely insightful and really touching. Meanwhile, at the retreat, we learn more about Coach's fears and insecurities as a teacher (wow, the theme of identity and vulnerability really WAS prominent, wasn't it?) and though a lot of the story is played for laughs, as is typical with New Girl, nothing is ever quite as shallow or cut-and-dry as it seems.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Once Upon A Time 4x08 "Smash the Mirror" (And Scatter the Wreckage)

"Smash the Mirror"
Original Airdate: November 16, 2014

I've always been ordinary. And ordinary is pretty good, actually. I've always been smart, but never too smart. I wasn't valedictorian or a high-scorer on standardized tests. I've always been talented, but never exceptionally so. I've had my poems published in journals but I've never been nationally recognized or seen my work in The New Yorker (yet). I'm ordinary and ordinary is, actually, what most people are. There are a few people who become extraordinary in their lifetimes -- a few Hollywood success stories for the thousands that graduate with degrees in theatre; a few recording contracts for those who spend their lives making YouTube videos and singing their hearts out; a few million dollar book and movie deals for the countless others that spend their lives trying to get their work accepted by a publisher.

Emma Swan has -- up until very recently -- been rather ordinary. Even when she first entered Storybrooke and became the savior of the town, she was still an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, dealing with the seemingly impossible. But then Emma's powers came into play and suddenly, she's on par with Regina and Rumple in town. Everyone else is a fairytale character, right? They've done the impossible: fought giants and survived, battled magical creatures, traveled to exotic locations and seen amazing sights. But they've never had the kind of power that Emma currently possesses in Once Upon A Time. And when Emma can harness that light magic within her, amazing things happen.

But when she cannot -- when she begins to lose control of her emotions and herself -- people, people she loved and trust, begin to fear her. "Smash the Mirror" is a huge, two-hour episode that deals with a lot of themes (ordinary vs. extraordinary; hope vs. hopelessness; predestination vs. free will; seclusion vs. invitation; lies vs. truth; love vs. self-love, etc.) and I'll try to tackle the most important ones as they relate to our characters throughout this episode. So let's begin, shall we?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Mindy Project 3x07 "We Need to Talk About Annette" [Contributor: Ann]

"We Need To Talk About Annette"
Original Airdate: November 11, 2014

Why did I like this episode more than others this season?

Like those other episodes, this episode featured a Mindy and Danny A-plot, and a Peter plot related—albeit indirectly—to Lauren and Jeremy. Both had similar rhythms, similar plot structures, and recurring jokes (Morgan is dirt poor; Dot is a frank and sassy BFF). Why do I like this one, penned by Alina Mankin, especially so? A part of it is definitely subjective. Week-by-week I struggle with how to watch this show; I pride myself on being analytical but sometimes let my expectations impede on my assessment of an episode’s quality. So maybe you’ve just caught me on a good week, when I appreciate this show for what it’s doing right—it’s becoming tighter by the week, and is still very funny—rather than harping on it for what it could do better.

But this episode’s merit exists outside of my subjective opinion, obviously. It is technically sound. Its characterizations are consistent with what we know—Danny’s not calling himself “Daddy,” for instance—but also ambitious, teaching us more about these characters (and their relationships with each other) without threatening their fundamental self.

Maybe it’s that this is Annette and Dot’s second time up to the plate, but this butting-heads with Mindy was much stronger because so much less time was spent on introductions and exposition. Now that we know who these people are, they can be fleshed out. What makes this interesting to me is what we learn about Mindy and Danny in the process. One method of characterization is seeing how a character interacts with someone else; in the past, that “someone else” was generally an ex.

Now it’s Annette. For Annette, we get a new adversary for Mindy to charm—in many ways filling a role that her son filled in the past two seasons. Where Danny and Mindy are equals professionally, Mindy and Annette are equals in their love of Danny; where Danny and Mindy are dysfunctional in a complementary way (they fulfill each other in specific ways), Annette and Mindy are complementary in their relationship with Danny (that is, they fulfill Danny in specific ways). They are, after all, his two favorite girls.

While this theme has been introduced in previous episodes, “long-term Mindy” is so well-executed here. Mindy and Danny are all in, and the way she interacts with Annette indicates this; an opportunity for the two to connect is equally anticipated by Mindy and Annette, and their banter—such as Annette’s passive-aggressive prayer—is not a “it’s either me or you” fight. It’s the type of fight you have with family. Which Mindy certainly has realized when she helps Annette escape from the store. Throughout the episode, she oscillates between taking the higher road and confronting Annette—she’s torn between what she must do to make people happy and what she must do, period. Neither option is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; what the episode concludes is that Mindy is growing up and Mindy is sticking around. More than “Annette Castellano Is My Nemesis,” (though probably from the foundation set by that episode) this episode proves that Mindy is not like other girlfriends. She is family, and it feels real, earned.

What we learn about Annette’s relationship with Danny is a little less overt, but what I loved about this episode was that it challenged me to think within these implications to reach a conclusion about Danny’s characterization now.

I complained in the last episode that Danny’s “Ghostbuster” anecdote didn’t do it for me because it was too on-the-nose; it was a story we’d never heard about that became the vehicle for the entire episode. (P.S., your comments on the last episode were so smart, and I did soften on this issue considerably based on the connection you all made between this anecdote and Danny at the Empire State Building; upon further consideration I think I would have liked how everything tied together if Danny had recounted his dad leaving rather than his dad leaving him at a movie—that’s the “on-the-nose” part I’m talking about.)

In this episode, we’re not really asked to reconsider Danny’s character in inventive ways; his “sometimes breaking rules can be fun” is a theme of “The Devil Wears Lands’ End,” and almost every episode (if not every episode) inevitably ends with Danny admitting he was wrong about something or another. Maybe it is the subtlety that hides behind the loud “Danger Zone” gag that I love so much; for how reliably funny Danny’s enthusiasm was, the entire thing connects to his childhood in a reasonable way. That he wanted the bomber jacket and is so excited about it now indicates many, many things: he used to use a garbage bag (and therefore always wanted to rise above his financial circumstances); he is so openly enthusiastic about it in the office (demonstrating how Mindy has helped him open up considerably from his rough childhood); how it is not “all the same” to him that Annette shoplifted it (that she thinks she’s a burden when all he wants to do is prove himself to her and, by extension, to himself—that it is not necessary for her to do this); and that family comes first.

A little bit more on the last one. In a previous episode, Mindy and Danny used one of my favorite tropes, which is to casually discuss BIG DEAL FUTURE EVENTS (“Annette Castellano is My Nemesis”). In that episode, though, it was mostly written off as a joke: Danny doesn’t understand Mindy’s religion, LOL.

Here, Mindy’s “what will you do if our son gets in a bar fight in the Hamptons” means so much more. Yes, it’s funny—and it made me imagine a Mindy-Danny son, who so would get into a bar fight based on his parents’ temperaments. But it also reminds us that Danny’s father didn’t save him in any circumstance, that his leaving made Danny into the person he was in the pilot: someone arrogant and cold and aloof not because he wanted to be, but because being otherwise would result in too much pain.

Mindy’s “what if” scenario is for both Danny and the audience a reminder of HOW FAR HE HAS COME and of WHERE HE HAS COME FROM. Danny was always a stickler for rules, but I have always felt the most fundamental part of Danny’s character is his capacity to love, which is why it was so great that those two are being put into contention in this episode in a way that is relevant to the rest of the series. (“Crimes and Misdemeanors,” in contrast, had a revelation from Danny that felt more tacked-on, a necessity to wrap the episode up neatly).

Again, this episode doesn’t do anything that previous episodes hadn’t, but it benefits from using what has previously been established to maximum effect.  The result? This episode made me think. This episode made me analyze! And what else makes a good episode of The Mindy Project than that it makes everyone the very best version of themselves?

(And, of course, that it is funny as hell. But that often is the case with this show.)

Stray Observations:
  • I didn’t mention the B-plot because I talked so much, but here’s what I have to say about it: technically competent, definitely. I wish that Peter’s epiphany would have come from a “I miss Lauren” than from the job he’s been doing for forever. Abby’s episode-to-episode characterization is a little jarring (she changes from someone who is lowering her high standards to someone who is inherently low-maintenance?) but I loved her character and am really sad to see her go.
  • Morgan is perfectly utilized, and I thought he and Tamra played really well off of each other this episode.
  • Jeremy is not perfectly utilized. Jeremy deserves so much more, as I continually say, because there is no delivery given to Ed Weeks that he doesn’t fucking demolish. “Aren’t we dreadful?” This season belongs to you.
  • Rhea Perlman is capable of making the most terrifying, intimidating face in existence. She has made it in both episodes when Mindy contests her, and I am so happy Mindy Lahiri is fictional because my sympathies would be endless otherwise.
  • Nitpick: Where is a good make-out between these two? It’s been too long.
  • "Goose, it’s Maverick. Wanna have sex tonight?"
  • Also MVP to the store clerk, who aces the “You get a fun birthday e-mail” line. And the other store clerk, who threatens the wrath of Gary. At least it’s not Jen from Appleton.
  • I think episodes succeed to me when I know characters are capable of being silly but also mature. Mindy was especially toned-down this week, which I loved. So was Danny—I mean, look at his face when Mindy talks about their son in the Hamptons.
  • P.S. - Mindy Kaling also deserves gold stars for this week. With the exception of the highly emotional episodes (“Be Cool,” “The Desert”) she has never nailed acting quite this way. Her deliveries were so good. My favorite is her “Thank you, thank you” and sip of wine when Annette concedes she stole the jacket.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Arrow 3x06 "Guilty" (Playing Judge And Jury)

Original Airdate: November 12, 2014

One of my favorite movies in recent memory is Inception. I love how beautiful and dark and mysterious it is, but mostly I love that it involves dreams. Dreams are such intriguing things. In the film, Dom says: "Dreams feel real when we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." I have very vivid dreams and remember them a vast majority of the time. I had a dream this week that James Spader sat and told me a monologue about his dying dog. I'm pretty sure I woke up in tears. I've had dreams about work and school, family and weddings and friends. The scariest part about dreams -- especially when they're bad dreams -- is that a part of your brain knows it's not real. But Dom is right; everything feels real when you're in a dream. And this week on Arrow, dreams play heavily into our plot. Dreams reveal bits and pieces of our subconscious -- they contain the last things we think about before we fall asleep or that conversation we had earlier in the day or that feeling that unsettled us at work. Dreams feel real because parts of them ARE real.

"The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" ended with the revelation that Roy believes he killed Sara. He's been dreaming about it recently and it's terrifying him because it feels more like he's remembering something and less like he's just making it up in his sleeping state. Because remember: Felicity never told Roy that he killed someone while under the influence of Mirakuru. Roy is fearful of what he's capable of because of flickering memories of how he felt; he has no idea what he did while under the influence. And in "Guilty," Roy believes that he killed Sara and the evidence is pretty convincing, but the feeling is more convincing to our young vigilante, which causes tensions to rise in the foundry as a result and difficult choices to be made.

So let's talk about Roy, about Team Arrow, and about Ted/Laurel, shall we?

New Girl 4x07 "Goldmine" (It's More Zany Than Sexy)

Original Airdate: November 11, 2014

My roommate eats pizza with a fork and a knife.

The only reason that she knows it's weird is because the first time I saw her do that, I stared -- bewildered -- and then asked her about it. As it turns out, she's always eaten her pizza this way. She's also always used raw honey on her breakouts. That's normal to her. To me, of course, it's weird. It's foreign. The thing is, you never know that what you do or believe or how you pronounce certain words is weird until someone points it out to you. Because the way you live life is -- obviously -- natural and normal. I have no doubt that Nick and Jess think their living situation is a tad weird, but quite frankly, I think they've accepted it as a baseline for normal. They lived together while they dated and now that they're broken up, they still live together. It's not uncomfortable for them; it's just a new kind of normal.

But Nick and Jess begin to realize exactly how weird their current situation is and how uncomfortable it can make others when they start seeing other people who... well, are not them. That's what "Goldmine" is about, at its core: how our baselines for "normal" behavior are subjective and how it's only when we introduce other moving parts into those scenarios that we realize how weird we actually might be.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Ruin A Female Character in One Easy Step

I love and staunchly defend female characters in my favorite television series. Why? Because they need defending, quite frankly. There are a lot of male writers and a lot of female writers who try to do justice to characters -- who portray women as layered, vastly complex, and intensely passionate. I love those writers. But there are a lot of writers who write the women in their television shows or movies more like archetypes than actual human beings. They write the mean cheerleaders and the nerdy girls and the "sluts," and the overachievers and if you line up these women from these movies and television shows side-by-side, you'll find that a lot of them look fairly identical. There is nothing that distinguishes one of them from another. That's when I get upset and frustrated and just plain sad.

Doctor Who has always had an array of strong female characters. There was Rose Tyler, a seemingly unassuming girl who worked in a shop and loved to eat chips, but who eventually became the defender of Earth. Then there was Martha Jones, brilliant and beautiful scientist who didn't abandon The Doctor in his time of need but ended up being brave enough to walk away from him. Donna Noble was loud and wonderful -- a woman who wanted to be something more than a failure in the eyes of her mother and who ended up saving the entire world and never remembering how remarkable and integral she was. Then there was Amy Pond, the girl with the dreams and her Raggedy Doctor; a woman who learned how to better love Rory and herself. And we had River Song, the kick-butt action hero of the group who also was vulnerable and cheeky. Then there was Clara Oswald, the souffle girl and the enigma and the sassy (tiny) woman who challenged and fascinated The Doctor. Now, none of those women was perfect. I'm not here to argue that Doctor Who always does a perfect job at portraying women -- sometimes it fails rather spectacularly, sometimes women are portrayed as just okay, and sometimes the female portrayal is awesome. But since the show is pretty vast, it DOES do a great job at incorporating an array of women at least.

Clara was in the running for my favorite companion (Rose Tyler will always, probably, be my favorite), and if you read that sentence again, you'll notice that I use the past tense. That -- as you also probably gathered from the title -- is because this season of Doctor Who ruined Clara Oswald for me (and my extremely intelligent best friend and co-Who viewing partner, Simi, who will be referenced quite frequently in this post). So below, I'm going to talk a LOT about Doctor Who, a lot about Clara, and a lot about the writing of this season. After all, series eight definitely followed a how-to book in the writing room: How to Ruin A Female Character in One Easy Step.

So how do you accomplish that? Let's begin!