'New Girl' 4x01 Review: "The Last Wedding"

'New Girl' is back with a bang as the loft crew heads to the last wedding of the summer. There, Jess learns how to put herself back out into the dating world, Nick and Schmidt have their weirdest test of friendship yet, and Cece teaches us how to dance. I'm thankful for this comedy's return, how about you?

Character Appreciation Post: Felicity Smoak ('Arrow')

What is a strong female character, exactly? And what makes Felicity Meghan Smoak - the blonde IT department genius on the CW's smash hit 'Arrow' - such a strong character? Is it because she fights crime? Is it because she is never weak? Or, perhaps, is it because she is hopeful and kind and loyal? I explore what makes Felicity one of my favorite television female characters ever in this post.

Jenn's Pick: A Definitive Ranking of 20 Disney Heroines

Whether you agree or disagree with the Disney princesses and heroines I've ranked in this list, we can all agree one thing is certain: Disney has a lot of female characters to choose from!

Will-They-Won't-They: A Study in the Success and Dangers of This Trope

It's a sitcom cliche, really: the "will-they-won't-they" relationship. In examining a few of the more popular versions of this genre of relationship, I took to a blog post to discuss what works and what doesn't. The answers will hardly surprise you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New Girl 4x01 "The Last Wedding" (Getting Back In The Game)

"The Last Wedding"
Original Airdate: September 16, 2014

Were you ever told as a child or, perhaps, an adult that in order to win people over all you had to do was “be yourself”? I’ve always found this to be interesting and in light of New Girl’s season four premiere, I think it’s even more intriguing. Following your heart and being yourself is all well and good… as long as you know who you are. But what happens when you’re exhausted from a summer packed full of weddings and still getting over the demise of your relationship? Do you like who you are after that? Moreover, do you even know WHO you are anymore, when you separate yourself from those things and the dust finally settles? What happens is this: you throw everything you are and everything you have into a singular project and then you strive for success. But frequently, there are obstacles and sometimes you fail. What Jess Day learns in “The Last Wedding” is that the whole clich├ęd idea of “putting yourself out there” isn’t for that other person you’re trying to woo – it’s really for YOU. And, ironically, the person who teaches her this lesson is the person whose mouth she last kissed four months ago. (More on that later.) Elsewhere in the episode, everyone is struggling with the end of summer and strives to make the last wedding of the year really count for them, especially romantically. The theme of identity is going to be one that New Girl focuses a lot on this season, I can tell already, because “The Last Wedding” seems to beg the question: “Who ARE these people now?”

Who are these crazy, weird, occasionally raunchy, sometimes childish 30-something year old friends now that they are all single again? When Liz Meriwether was interviewed about season four, she noted – astutely – that some things had gone awry in season three. I don’t think that season three of New Girl was horrible. I don’t even think it was BAD, necessarily. I think that the show was so ambitious in season two with considerable payoff that they wrote themselves into a bit of a corner. How could they ever possibly top the perfection of episodes like “Cooler” and “Menzies” and “Parking Spot” and “First Date”? Ironically, I think they doomed themselves because of that near-perfection – because audiences expected too much from a show that is still made by humans. But what I truly admired about Meriwether as a showrunner was that she admitted to those flaws. Where a lot of showrunners would have become brash and defensive or else skittish and cowardly, Meriwether noted that both she and the writers had failed to do everything well. She expressed regret over Schmidt’s characterization and a desire to move back toward the season one dynamics of the series come season four. While some worried that Meriwether meant regression, I took the statement for what it was: an acknowledgement that the heart of the show has been and always will be Nick/Jess but that the SOUL of the show and its origin story is the loft.

New Girl started out as a story about the dynamic between an intensely optimistic girl and three very different men. It’s always been this story, really: what happens when you live with people who are vastly different from you? Can you ever understand each other? Can you ever LIKE each other? And if you can… HOW? How do you form those relationships and how do you grow as a person when it seems like you already should be a grown-up? The beauty of the show is that everyone is messed up. Every character is still trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and how to get there. And though there is character progression and bursts of that “grown-up” attitude, I think these are characters who are still deeply flawed, deeply lovable, and deeply scared. They’re trying to navigate the mess that they call life, but the beauty is that they don’t do it alone: the show is always at its best when it focuses on relationships and togetherness.

So, as we spring into season four, we look toward season three with appreciation and remembrance because it led us here, to the final wedding of the summer, where all of the loft crew is trying to score. Oh, and Jessica Biel shows up, too.

The Mindy Project 3x01 "We're a Couple Now, Haters" [Contributor: Ann]

"We're a Couple Now, Haters"
Original Airdate: September 16, 2014

The Mindy Project is back! The Mindy Project is back!

After four-plus months of being without our fix of America’s favorite OBs, I watched the episode “We’re a Couple Now, Haters” with absolute heart-eyes. There is nothing quite like Min-day, and I was so excited to see what had happened to everyone over the summer that during my first viewing of the premiere, I thought everything was perfect.

On my second viewing, I realized that just calling an episode of TV “perfect” was probably not the best use of my writing capabilities. Also, it wasn’t "perfect." Even with this strong a showing out the gate, I know that The Mindy Project has the potential to be better. Interestingly, that might be the very best thing for the show and the most apt answer to how I would describe my feelings towards “We’re a Couple Now, Haters”: it was an episode that contained promise for the upcoming season. Color me excited.

When we last saw Mindy and Danny, they were discussing their future children and he was grabbing her tush atop the Empire State Building. That’s exactly where this season picks up, with Danny providing a voiceover (!!!) recounting his relationship with Mindy. “There were ups and downs, but we finally found each other,” Danny monologues. “Shut up and do me,” Mindy says in response.

Which, in a nutshell, is what the Mindy and Danny monogamy looks like: equal parts anger, sex, and love. What more could we expect from them? What I loved about this new dynamic was that, though Mindy and Danny have both found the love of their lives, they are not different people. Mindy still makes dramatic declarative statements during staff meetings and gesticulates like nobody’s business. Danny still wears his goofy red glasses.

Just because they are not different, though, does not mean they have not changed. In my season 3 pre-game I said that one of the things I wanted in this season was the development and expansion of character traits we had already known. When the past is alluded to in a television show, I get so excited—both because it makes the characters realistic and because it indicates to me that the writers treat their show’s mythology with care. (Take Mindy, who in “Wiener Night” professed Katy Perry was her favorite singer and, almost one year later, would donate soup cans to see her at a Q&A).

Or, of course, take Danny. We’ve known he could dance since “In the Club,” the third episode of the first season. We've known about his early money concerns, and his deadbeat dad ever since “Danny Castellano is My Gynecologist,” the fifth episode of the series. When the big reveal of the episode came (that “Diamond” was a reference to “Diamond Dan,” handsome stripper at Exquisite Butts’ Guy2K party), I was surprised at first, but as I thought about it, I realized that this reveal made sense. Despite being a private person, Danny is highly sexual, proud of his body, frugal, and would do anything for the people he loves. It is new information about him, but it is familiar information.

The writers flexed their knowledge of past Mindy events during this episode—I think because the episode was written by Mindy Kaling, who knows these characters better than anyone else. We had Danny’s piano playing (he sounds much better!), Peter’s sexual ineptitude, and some familiar-looking outfits from Beverly Something. As someone who has spent thousands of words analyzing this show, even small callbacks—either to flesh in the background, as Beverly’s wardrobe shows, or to be used as plot points, like Peter’s sex life—gives me confidence that this show will continue to remember its past.

Speaking of remembering the past, remember the classic Danny line "you know you’re right for someone when they force you to be the best version of yourself"?

Of course you do! As I commend The Mindy Project writers for expanding on their characters’ pasts, I have to also commend how the characters themselves influence those around them to grow and develop. This is true of almost all of the characters we see, but is especially so for Mindy and Danny.

In this episode, both Mindy and Danny are forced to confront flaws in their character. Mindy is too gossipy and Danny is too closed-off. These are problems that you would expect to arise in a couple that once broke up because of the stress of keeping a relationship secret. These are even problems you would expect based off of the most superficial elements of their personalities: think of Mindy storming into the office in “Be Cool” talking about her apartment being robbed, or of Mindy bragging about her relationship with arts and culture editor Jason Richmond in “Wiener Night.” Or take Danny’s “at work, you work” philosophy from “Hiring and Firing,” or his anxiety when Mindy checks out his room in “Pretty Man.” That the show has found real characteristics, rather than contrivances, to base conflicts off of proves that the show has grounded its relationships in reality. This is an aspect of the show that is surprisingly not often seen in television, and one of the reasons this show is so special to me.

What is great about the Mindy and Danny relationship is that we are not promised that Mindy and Danny will change overnight. Mindy stresses when Danny asks her to “change the very core” of who she is, and they both yell at each other more than once, for equally valid reasons.

The fire escape scene in this episode has to be one of my favorite The Mindy Project scenes ever. Another hope I voiced in my season 3 pre-game was that Mindy and Danny would retain their affection for each other—the affection that is responsible for them being together at all. The entire fire escape scene is enriched by their last fire escape scene in the season 2 premiere. Heck, it is enriched by their long-term past with each other – the past we have been privileged enough to share with them as we watched them fall in love. When Danny says “this is real” to Mindy on the fire escape, it’s more than a cheap callback to this couple’s most lasting sentiment; it’s true, and we know that it is. He says “it’s real” to Mindy with the weight you would expect from someone who, not that long ago, got hit by a car in his pursuit of her and did not stop running. Or from someone who kissed her on the plane. Or from someone who heard those same words at the exact moment he first realized it, too.

And that is really why Mindy and Danny’s display as a couple was so successful to me. It is silly, and it goes new places, but it explores coupledom with total acknowledgement of the past. Mindy and Danny love each other. They want to kill each other sometimes, too—but, driven by love, they continue to better each other, which is really what the “project” is all about.

Speaking of the “project,” I found that “We’re a Couple Now, Haters” in general succeeded in establishing a new focus for a show that had previously been preoccupied—sometimes to a fault—by one person’s dating life. What was once just Mindy’s project of self-improvement has now been expanded to include the rest of the cast. The Jeremy-Lauren-Peter love triangle excites me for that reason; it gives both Jeremy and Peter the opportunity to acknowledge that they need to improve upon themselves. (And it makes them both relevant!).

Everyone in the cast really impressed me. Not that I had ever doubted their acting abilities—but, with material that is now streamlined (bye bye, Betsy), these characters have distinct roles to fulfill. At one point Tamra was only defined by her sing-songy-ness, at another by her inability to distinguish Dr. L as a woman. In this third season premiere, I admit that there’s so much more I do not know about her, but now I feel that what characterizes Tamra is not going to be just an idea on a whim. She is starting to make sense—same with Jeremy, who in his involvement with Lauren will hopefully become an interesting character.

And same with Peter, who has come so far since suggesting that Mindy was a plus-sized model. The development of Peter’s character over the second season, as well as his relationship with Mindy, is so admirable to me because it happened so incrementally, but I love that this premiere shows that he is not done developing—that now he is the one that has to navigate the dating world. (P.S. I hope we get to meet Becca this season!) He has never been more sympathetic or relatable than he was in this episode, and none of that occurred at the expense of what makes Peter who he is.

As I talk about the ensemble, I want to address the one problem I found with “We’re a Couple Now, Haters.” While the cast was pretty well-integrated in this episode—the charity event made sense, Lauren’s inclusion made sense, and the office dynamic was used alongside the romantic one—I was a little bit disappointed that the title didn’t really coincide with what we saw on our screens. Who are the haters? In fact, what is the office’s reaction to Mindy and Danny getting together? The office gossip plot is not bad, but it’s also a strange note to begin the season with when there are so many questions that want to be answered from the second season finale. What does Jeremy think of Mindy and Danny finally getting together? Do Mindy and Danny act differently in the office because they are together? Outside of the cold open, the events of this episode could have happened at any time, not necessarily being tethered to the start of their relationship. (In contrast, think of the pilot—which begins this story at one of the lowest points of Mindy Lahiri’s life, and think of “All My Problems Solved Forever,” which begins with Mindy’s return to Haiti).

It’s so strange, because, as I’ve mentioned, The Mindy Project writers know their characters and are so good at detail work, but often they will ignore major events because they doen’t tie well enough into the main plot, even when the audience still holds questions about those major events. (Betsy’s disappearance, like Shauna’s and Gwen’s, will almost certainly not be mentioned).

As a result, there is still a chance that The Mindy Project season 3 could be more aimless than what I want, because I have no idea what arc the show is building. But I’m not worried. This episode is the beginning of a new era for Mindy—its end goal may not be apparent yet, or may not even exist, but if the show continues to be this funny, thoughtful, and streamlined?

Screw it, I’m sold.

Some little additional notes: 
  • I loved “More Than a Feeling” and wish it were the theme all the time. I did not realize how annoying the original theme was until Boston was playing. 
  • Speaking of the theme, however, how much did you guys love the new intro?! The kiss was in there and everything! 
  • I also loved: the playing of Frozen, Rob McElhenney who, though only just mentioned now, KILLED IT as Cousin Lou (“I’m taller, I’m jacked, I got calves that could crack nuts”), Pink Shirt Danny was out of control hot, and… am I forgetting anything…?



Here’s to a great season 3! Can’t wait to see where it goes! :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

'The Mindy Project' Season Three Pre-Game [Contributor: Ann]

If you haven't yet welcomed Ann to the blog, please do! She's our newest member and resident savant of The Mindy Project. Before we kick off season three tonight (9:30 EST on FOX, don't forget), Ann has a pre-game thinkpiece for you all and a wish-list for the season. And be sure to keep returning to the blog as she'll be reviewing this season for us. :)
Well, the day has finally come upon us.

Felt like long enough, right? To be honest, though, the hiatus between The Mindy Project’s second season and its third went by much faster and much less painlessly than the hiatus between its first and second seasons, or even the hell-atus between January and April of this year.

For many shows, this would be an indicator that its time has passed, that its ability to make me go insane has worn out, that my interest has waned. Not the case with The Mindy Project.

It’s a different feeling heading into this season than in the show’s other two major hiatuses. With those two hiatuses, I was a frantic fan, basically rabid. I wanted any details about the show and I wanted every spoiler or every spoiler theory associated with The Mindy Project, especially if those spoilers pertained to Mindy and Danny will-they-ing.

I’ve made it no secret that my interest in this show is anchored to my passion for writing. I think Mindy is brilliantly written, and I think the writers are so aware of how their characters would act and are so skilled in making a plausible story. This is so important to me—in a show that is about relationships, the development of Danny and Mindy has become a major focus, and I think this show has succeeded 100% when developing their love story. These are two people who could actually exist falling in love. They are less falling in love as a result of their proximity and more falling in love because they are actually meant to be (even if that drives them crazy).

At the end of the episode “French Me, You Idiot”—when Cliff is out of the way and there are no obstacles or misunderstandings keeping Mindy and Danny from each other—Danny asks her: “Now what?” As in: “We’ve made it this far, overcome so much... what happens next?”

That is the focus of this third season. I could talk for ages about what I think the first season offers (in terms of being a great character arc) and about the love story the second season provides, but now in the great romantic comedy that is Mindy Lahiri’s life we should be post-credits. Our heroes found love at the top of the Empire State Building. Now what?

I am going into this season of The Mindy Project in a way that is different than the past two. In the past, I was trying to paint a picture of a love story that had not yet crystallized (“See how Danny looks at her there? That’s indicative of his denial of his feelings for her!” and so on). Now that we have the love story set in place, that puzzle has pretty much been solved for me.

What am I expecting from this show this season? Despite knowing as many spoilers as are available to me, I really know so little of what it will be. I know that it will be sexy. I know that it will feature more of the cast.

In knowing all of that, here is my season 3 wishlist:

Less stunt casting. When The Mindy Project wants to, it can hire the hell out of people. Ask Rhea Perlman, who is coming to the show as Danny’s mom Annette. Or the Glenn Howerton/Rob McElhenney combo that we will see in the third season. Or Tommy Dewey, or Seth Rogen, or Anders Holm.

The difference between great casting and stunt casting is not all in the name: it’s in what the star can contribute. If Timothy Olyphant plays a super hot skateboarder and nails it, then the show should be commended on finding the right fit for the part. But if James Franco or Dana White or anyone like them appear on my screen again, I will be exhausted. I am a huge proponent of the revolving-door universe The Mindy Project has, but only when it works. When it doesn’t, it’s a waste of everyone's time.

Real moments between Mindy and Danny. What we’ve heard about the show's season three is that it is wildly sexual and perverted. That’s great. We also know that we have a lot of strings to play with this season—at this point, with a re-calibrated focus (no longer about a girl who wants to find love, according to Ike, but about a girl who has found love with someone who drives her crazy) that could potentially go on forever, that is necessary.

However, Mindy and Danny’s appeal to me is that they grow with and truly do appreciate each other. My favorite moments between Mindy and Danny are not the comedic ones, really; they’re the ones that demonstrate the writers' understanding of the 46-episode foundation they’ve built the relationship on. I cannot wait to see their love deepen. I do not want to see it coast—I want to see it develop, because I know that the show still has the potential to do that, post-credits.

“Yes-and” characterization. This is such a weird thing of mine that I need to see in a show. This is, as I’m sure you know, a concept grounded in improvisation—that when one person introduces a fact to the scene, the next person needs to accept and then supplement that fact. I feel like it also applies to television shows, too. I need to see that the characters have more to them than their base characteristics. I need to see them grow. I need to see the writers expand on these characters’ backstories instead of going back to the same old wells. In the second season the writers fleshed out their characters in both good and bad ways; Danny gained red glasses, which is absolutely awesome, and Mindy ate a lot, which is completely annoying (I did once a list of statistics on The Mindy Project and one of the things I counted was ‘jokes about Mindy eating a lot’; in the first fourteen episodes of season 2 Mindy ate too much 18 times, where in the entire first season those jokes were only made 7 times).  Anyway, I hope that we see the writers expand on these characters. I want to learn more about them. I want what I learn about them to be consistent, but different, from what we’ve learned in the past.

Essential episodes and a seasonal arc. I loved The Mindy Project’s season 2 because I felt that almost every episode was essential. I don’t know if this necessarily applies to the plot itself of the episode—“Mindy Lahiri is a Racist” could have happened any time—but it does apply to the development of the characters. Whether it was the building tension leading up to “Sext” or the slow rekindling of Mindy and Danny’s relationship post-“Be Cool,” every episode pointed the characters in a clear direction. Their feelings evolved from episode to episode.  Mindy Kaling spoke once about the freedom she felt for having seven episodes post-hiatus and post-kiss to examine the Mindy-Danny relationship, saying that it felt more like HBO (a format she’d always envied). I agree with Mindy on this. Stories are nowhere near as strong if the sequence of events is easily changed; what book could you cut and paste chapters in? I hope The Mindy Project, being without the will-they-won’t-they crutch, will find another arc that will sustain it throughout the third season.

Stability. I love The Mindy Project but outside of the Mindy and Danny relationship I would not call it stable. Look at the complete overhaul of cast since the pilot episode. No more Shauna. No more Betsy. No more Dr. Shulman. Add in a Morgan, a Peter, a Tamra and you’ve finally got a core cast. Now that the show has the time to develop its characters—no longer needing to detail Mindy and Danny’s courtship as attentively—I hope that we see the dust settle. I want to get to know these characters who hang around Mindy and Danny. They’ll never be as important as those two—sorry, that’s just the case—but I would like the show to have a direction that is not 100% dependent on our two main characters. If it’s going to be a romantic comedy set in a workplace, I would like to see the latter integrated better with the former.

The first two seasons of The Mindy Project were so exciting for me, and given how much I’ve annoyed friends with my gushing, I would say I’m very excited for the third season, too. More than that, though, I am curious. A will-they-won’t-they contains an arc that has been treaded infinite times. The same beats are hit—and Mindy hit all of those beats deftly. But now that we’re past the fanfare, The Mindy Project is in an area of complete, absolute creative freedom that asks the question: “Now what?” The answer? I don’t know. But I cannot wait to find out. See you guys there! :)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jenn's Pick: A Definitive Ranking of 20 Disney Heroines

Ever since I was a child, I have dreamt of being a princess. While I spent the vast majority of my childhood in Pennsylvania, my parents brought me to Disney World on vacation so many times when I was little that when we moved here permanently in 2002, I wasn't as fazed as many people would have been to be a mere half an hour away from princesses and fairy tales. But I'll let you in on a little secret: I still love Disney World. I still love princesses. I still want to BE a princess. I love sparkles (shout-out, Maggie) and I love gorgeous gowns and balls and the idea of living in a castle, happily ever after with a tiara on my head and a prince on my arm. I think that princesses and fairy tales awaken this desire within us -- this extremely human desire that wants happiness wrapped up with a neat little bow and a beautifully belted song.

And when I thought about the Disney princesses and heroines that I admired, I realized that I loved each princess for a different reason but that they also shared some similar characteristics. What makes a princess worthy of admiration? What really makes a hero or a heroine? What makes one character better than another? I don't know if I can answer all of these questions but what I CAN do is this: I can definitively rank twenty of my favorite Disney princesses and heroines. My list is final. There is no other list and none better than mine. Basically my word is law and everyone else is wrong.

(Kidding, totally kidding. Feel free to discuss which rankings I got right and which I missed the mark on and which Disney heroine YOU would add in the comments section. Ready? Grab your tiaras and kindly locate your dashing prince because we are counting down twenty of the best Disney ladies of all time.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Welcome to the Team, Ann!

Good Wednesday morning, everyone! There are few times at Just About Write where I write a blog post that is more of an announcement than anything else and today is one of those times. I've been doing this whole blogging thing solo now for almost three years. Nearly every review you read, and essentially every thinkpiece or listicle was written and edited solely by me. It's been challenging at times, to say the least, and I've had to forgo writing about certain subjects or covering certain television shows simply because I do not have the time to do it all myself. This year alone, I'll be writing reviews for New Girl, Arrow, Once Upon a Time, Suits, and Community (when the latter two return from hiatus). And that's not even in addition to the other posts and articles I'll be working on!

I've wanted to cover The Mindy Project for a while now, honestly, but I just haven't had the time and haven't been able to do it justice. That's where Ann comes in! I met Ann through Tumblr and through this website, too, where she posted articulate and challenging comments. She is an intelligent young woman who thinks about television critically. And that's why I've decided to bring her aboard to review The Mindy Project on a weekly basis, beginning in a few weeks. You've probably seen her defense of Danny Castellano (part 1 | part 2) posted on here and I hope you've gotten the opportunity to read it. As you might surmise, Ann is extremely passionate about the show and watches it more critically than anyone else I know. I'm so excited to have her aboard the team and I hope you all will welcome her warmly!

For a fun introduction, I asked Ann to fill out a little survey about herself, so here it is:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In Defense of Danny Castellano: Part 2 [Guest Poster: Ann]

In part one of Ann's defense of Danny Castellano, she discussed his characterization throughout the first season. The second part of her discussion covers season two and - in particular - Danny's growing relationship with Mindy. Ann is passionate and so very smart; I'm fortunate to have her guest posting about The Mindy Project, so without further ado, welcome her back to the blog by reading the final part of her defense!
Wow, it’s been a while! Sorry for spending so much time away, but now that I am back at school and The Mindy Project returns in less than three weeks (!) I am ready to defend my favorite character ever, Danny Castellano, just in time for season 3.

In my first post about Dr. C, I talked about how his past made his present understandable. Because the show did such a great and quiet job of establishing the sadness behind Danny, we understood his flawed behavior in season 1—why he was mean, stand-offish, and resistant (though not immune) to Mindy’s charms. Everything he did had a greater context that could make him, even at his most despicable, a sympathetic figure.

With the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 2—and as you will see in this post—there’s little use in defending Danny’s actions through only his past. That is because the focus of season 2 is much different than the focus of season 1. Whereas season 1 cracks Danny’s “gristle and icy exterior,” season 2 is where that exterior shatters and we see where his “warm heart” beats.

I’ve always believed the two season finales could have operated very well as series finales, as they tied up their seasonal arc so well. Season 1 ended with two people in a doctor’s lounge who, with the other’s help, had opened up: Mindy to a serious and committed relationship, Danny to the possibility of closure. If the series had ended there, we would have felt secure that Mindy and Danny, at least, had bettered themselves in major ways.

But we would have also felt an underlying melancholy, or at least I would have. It’s ballsy to me that the show could have potentially ended on so subtle a sadness, of these two people helping each other so much but not quite being on the same frequency as the other. Someone wrote on Tumblr once a very, very long time ago about the song “Midnight City” and its use in this scene and how the repeating motif of the song (from Mindy and Casey to the actual climax of Mindy and Danny) makes you realize how connected these two people could be. “What are you waiting for?” the song asks. If the show had ended there, we would have never been able to see that they were really waiting for each other. It would have just been an echo from a failed almost-kiss.

I mention all of this because I want to make this point first: in the first season I could defend Danny without making Mindy the central focus. In the second season, this is impossible, because the second season takes that question—“What are you, Danny Castellano, waiting for?”—and explores it until we end up on the top of the Empire State Building. The first season was mostly about moving on from neglect and hate; the second season is moving onto love.

Another difference you’ll see in this defense is that, while I was defending a general pattern of behavior from Danny in season 1, in season 2 I am defending specific actions that Danny took. I’ll partition it into, I think, five parts: the opening arc (“All My Problems” to “Sext”), the pre-kiss (“Racist” to “The Desert”), the short-lived relationship (“French Me, You Idiot” to “Be Cool), the aftermath (“Girl Crush” to “The Girl Next Door”) and the finale, during which so much happens that there’s a lot of ‘splainin to do. Within these four parts, Danny does certain actions that can make sense with help of the surrounding episodes or scenes.

Let’s begin! Did you miss me?!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Character Appreciation Post: Mona Vanderwaal ("Pretty Little Liars")

I like my villains the same way I like my Starbucks order – complex.

And I like heroes, too. In fact, I like both heroes and villains. I like antiheroes. I like characters who are diabolical, who are too intelligent for their own good. I like characters who are redeemable, who grow and change and develop over the course of their journey. I like characters who are humanized, who are fallible, who make mistakes and atone for them, who urge us to feel something be it compassion or anger or admiration. I like characters who constantly surprise me, too.

I like characters like Mona Vanderwaal. No, I love characters like Mona Vanderwaal. From the moment that she arrived on screen, I was instantly drawn to her. She's a dynamic presence, an unassuming character in the first and second seasons, and utterly brilliant. She is probably the most complex character to ever exist on Pretty Little Liars and in "Taking This One to the Grave," we saw the fatal end of Mona. It was sad (I knew that someone would die and had the distinct feeling that it would be between her and Melissa) to see this character depart from PLL but to be honest, she went out with a bang and in the best way she possibly could have.

So, in celebration of Mona's life on the series and her characterization, I thought I would take some time throughout this post to discuss the many facets of her and her characterization over the course of the last five years. And it's as much of a celebration of "crazy Mona" as it is a celebration of Janel Parrish who did some utterly fantastic work with portraying this character and her journey from "loser Mona" to queen bee to "A" to "crazy Mona" to redeemable genius.

If you're ready, let's take a deeper look into some of Mona's best and most interesting character traits.