Dear TV Writers: Your Fear of the Moonlighting Curse is Killing Your Show

What is the Moonlighting Curse, and why is it such a big deal to television writers? Read this in-depth look at the crippling phenomenon and find out!

Getting Rid of the Stigma: Mental Illness in Young Adult Fiction, by Megan Mann

In this piece, Megan brilliantly discusses the stigma of mental illness in literature and how some young adult novels are helping to change the landscape for this discussion.

In Appreciation of the Everyday Heroine

A mask does not a hero make. In this piece, I discuss why it's wrong to dismiss characters without costumes or masks as superheroes.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jenn's Pick: Top 15 Jeff/Annie Moments (Or, If Being #Pathological Is Wrong, I Never Want to Be Right)



Months ago, a Twitter blowup – for lack of a more eloquent term – occurred when some Community fans began to pester Andy Bobrow to the point where he grew defensive of his work, his unaired episodes, and his decisions as head writer in the absence of Dan Harmon.

These fans were shippers. In particular, they were Jeff/Annie shippers – a handful of them, to be exact – who wanted answers that Bobrow could not give them. As the ladies of Hot Switch and I explained in a recent episode (and I believe it was Jaime who made this observation), there are moments that cause dysfunction and dismay within a fandom. These moments occur when the image that the fandom has created in their minds of a particular character, including their wants, desires, dislikes, likes, etc. does not coincide with the character that the writers create on paper. Bobrow told us, in the final lines of his explanation on Twitter the following:

And can we at least agree on one thing that I hope and pray you can all see as clearly as I can? That Jeff Winger sabotages his relationships, and that Jeff Winger, deep down, doesn’t think he deserves happiness? Do you guys not buy that?

In our episode of Hot Switch, I argued that Bobrow was incorrect… or at least, the intention of the writers to convey that persona of Jeff Winger had failed. Because when there is a disconnect between the way that characters are written and the way that they are either acted or perceived, THAT is when things like our affectionately named “Bobrowgate” occur. See, it doesn’t matter in this scenario if Andy Bobrow is right or if Jeff/Annie shippers are right.

What matters, I’d argue, is that what the writers believe to be true about their characters are not what the actors and then, subsequently, sect of audience members (“shippers”) believe to be true about them. THAT is why “Bobrowgate” occurred and will never truly be resolved. We can argue and tweet and apologize all we want, but that will never solve the underlying issue – the truth of the matter is that the writers still see Annie Edison as an eighteen-year old schoolgirl with a “crush,” and Jeff as a creepy, smarmy ex-lawyer who will never find true love or happiness in a relationship. And the audience sees Jeff as a maturing, albeit flawed man and Annie as a 22-year old, self-possessed woman.

But that, as Joey Tribbiani would say, is a rather “moo” point. So instead of debating the merits of “Bobrowgate,” let’s take some time to discuss fifteen instances in which Jeff and Annie were NOT creeped out by their feelings for one another, shall we? I ship Jeff/Annie, and I feel like a vast majority of the people I know and follow do as well. What is their reasoning for doing so? Well. For starters, these two characters complement one another’s personalities so seamlessly – Annie is Jeff’s conscious; he talks her away from the edge. She forces him to buckle down; he causes her to loosen up.

Joel McHale and Alison Brie have fantastic chemistry together as Jeff and Annie. Granted, either actor could have chemistry with a ROCK, but the fact of the matter is that this chemistry – this attraction or pull or gravity that keeps bringing Jeff and Annie back to one another – cannot be ignored. It cannot be swept under a metaphorical rug. When these actors portray their characters as having a genuine and true connection with each other, the most offensive thing a writer or producer can do is insist that their audience is somehow wrong or warped for picking up on that chemistry.

#Pathological started out as – per his words – a way for Andy Bobrow to hurt the feelings of the Jeff/Annie shippers the way his had been hurt during the Twitter debacle. I’m not saying that either side was right: Andy shouldn’t have engaged the fans and spurred the dissention as much as he did, but the handful of Jeff/Annie fans should not have pestered the writer, nor should they have taken up arms when he didn’t respond the way they wanted him to.

All of that is irrelevant, or at least not as important as this, however: the Jeff/Annie majority managed to do something pretty exceptional – we took #pathological back. What was originally utilized as a weapon turned quickly into a battle cry and a badge of honor that I wear proudly. If being #pathological when it comes to Jeff and Annie is somehow wrong, well… then I don’t want to be right. So I’ve decided to compile fifteen of the best #pathological moments beneath the cut to discuss. If you’re ready, don those shipper caps because we’re about to set sail on the S.S. Milady/Milord!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Girl 3x06 "Keaton" (Our Heroes Are Never Who We Want Them to Be)


"Keaton"
Original Airdate: October 22, 2013

I remember being an elementary and middle school student during the first day of classes. Every year, at least one of my teachers would ask each of us to fill out a sheet of paper – it was a “getting to know you” form, peppered with questions ranging from our favorite colors to our favorite board game or hobby. One question that I always remember existing on these forms, no matter what grade or class I was in, was this: “Who is your hero?”

Without fail, I would write down the same answer year after year: “My mom.” And truly, my mom was and is my hero. In the eyes of the world, she’s nothing quite extraordinary. She’s not famous or wealthy. She hasn’t done anything extremely significant to be recognized. She never went to college and was a stay-at-home mom when I was younger. Yes, in the eyes of our culture, my mom is nothing to marvel at. But to me, she was always special: she was loving and kind; she read me bedtime stories every night; she let me be creative and use my imagination to play dress-up or tell her stories. Now, as a 24-year old, I use the word “hero” to describe her because she represents how I want to be, someday, as a mother.

A lot of us have our own personal heroes, whether they are family members, friends, or complete and total strangers like actors or athletes or musicians. There are people in life we aspire to be, surely, but that’s not all that a hero is. A hero isn’t just someone you marvel at, in my opinion. A hero is someone who is representative of how you want to live your life – how they handle circumstances in their lives speaks more to us, I would argue, than the circumstances themselves. My mom is my hero because of how she responds to the issues life throws at her. And interestingly enough, the Halloween episode of New Girl this season addresses the low point in Schmidt’s life and how the resurfacing of his own personal hero affects him and his attitude.

“Keaton” is an episode that focuses on the relationship between Nick and Schmidt, which is really quite fantastic in and of itself, but a lot more touching when it is revealed that NICK has been taking care of SCHMIDT for twelve years. The last time we truly got a glimpse into the Nick/Schmidt dynamic was in “Tinfinity.” In that episode, the pair was celebrating ten years of friendship… with Schmidt essentially proving to Nick throughout the entirety of the episode, that HE is the more responsible of the two (arguably, Nick does have a lot of issues with responsibility). Schmidt hits a low point in the evening, however, when Shivrang proposes to Cece. He hits a truly low point, and the one person who is there for him when he hits the bottom is Nick. What a beautifully ironic moment too, right? Schmidt spends the whole episode convinced that he always has to pick up Nick’s slack – that he never, in their ten years of friendship, anticipated Nick following through with anything. But it is Nick in “Tinfinity” and Nick again in “Keaton” who picks Schmidt up. Whether or not it is intentional, I love the image of arguably the most broken character in the loft being there to support and rescue one of the most stable.

But before we discuss Nick and Schmidt’s relationship, Jess’ amazing costume, and the end-of-episode twist that everyone saw coming (but that I still loved anyway), let’s talk about the rest of the episode, shall we?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

New Girl 3x05 "The Box" (The Right and Wrong Question)


"The Box"
Original Airdate: October 15, 2013

When Harry Potter was concerned that he was becoming bad – that his connection with Voldemort was somehow turning him angrier and colder – his godfather Sirius Black spoke these words in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

“I want you to listen to me very carefully, Harry. You're not a bad person. You're a very good person, who bad things have happened to. Besides, the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters. We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.”

That particular passage in Harry Potter has always resonated with me, and never more so than after seeing the latest episode of New Girl. “The Box” is an episode that raises an interesting question: how do you know if you’re a good person? Schmidt spends the entire episode begging for the approval of others. He NEEDS them to affirm that he is good because he feels like he is not. But Schmidt doesn’t get the answers that he wants in this episode, and that is mostly because he spends the entire time asking the wrong question. And we, too, spend our entire lives fixating on this same incorrect question.

The question that we asks ourselves shouldn’t be “am I a good person?” Because the truth of the matter is that this question is rooted entirely in comparison. Being a “good person” is comparative. I, for instance, am certainly a “good person” when I compare myself to a convict on death row. But I’m not, perhaps, a “good person” when I compare myself to a pristine nun or missionary. This question is entirely based on comparing ourselves to others. “Well, I’m not as bad as THAT person,” we argue. Asking this question, though, allows us to give ourselves a false sense of self-worth and security. As long as we are better than someone else, we reason internally, it doesn’t really matter if we are “good” or “bad” – we just have to be better than the next person.

Asking “am I a good person?” is the wrong question to ask because it requires a selfish answer in response. The question we should be asking ourselves – and that Schmidt should be asking himself – is this: “Is what I did GOOD?”

(And Winston Bishop, eternal voice of reason, recognizes that this is Schmidt’s issue and confronts him about it at the end of the episode.)

“The Box” focuses a lot on this idea of being good – of being a “good person” or a “good steward” or a “good, functioning human being.” We’ve always known Nick Miller to be a bit immature. Okay, we’ve all known him to be VERY immature. It’s not that he’s stupid. It’s not that he doesn’t know better. He does, I would argue. He’s just lazy. His box is both physical and metaphorical. If I’m being honest with myself, I have totally put people and situations and feelings into a “box” and shoved it into the recesses of my mind. It’s easier to place your bills in a box and shove them into the back of your closet. That prevents you from seeing and dealing with them.

It’s easy to shove your problems into a box, too.  It’s easy to bury the issues you know that you need to deal with and tuck them far away. Dealing with bills, problems, and emotions is difficult. It might even be painful. Nick doesn’t like confrontation (remember that this theme keeps cropping up this season) and confronting his box is the last thing he wants to do in this episode, not because it requires money.

Nick doesn’t want to confront his box because doing so means he has to confront every time he has failed. That box is a constant reminder of his shortcomings – every unpaid bill, every failed project, every lost cause is documented and stored in that box. It’s understandable, then, that Nick wants to keep that part of himself, that extension of himself, as far away as possible from everyone. If he can’t see it, it doesn’t exist and he won’t have to deal with it. Right? And if Schmidt can convince himself that he’s a “good person,” then he won’t have to actually deal with the guilt and anguish over what he did to Cece and Elizabeth. Right?

Wrong.

Nick and Schmidt have Jess and Winston, respectively, to instruct them and help them grow as individuals. And by the end of the episode, I think that all of these characters have a better understanding of what it means to be good, what it means to be stable, and what it means to grow.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

New Girl 3x04 "The Captain" (In Which Sabo is Still Short for Sabotage)


"The Captain"
Original Airdate: October 8, 2013

I’m a pretty emotional human being.

I chalk this up partially to the fact that I am a woman, but more so to the fact that I am sensitive. I like having deep conversations with friends over coffee or homemade dinners about life. I recently had dinner with my best friend of eleven years – a nice, simple crockpot dinner at my apartment – and as we sat on the couch discussing society’s expectations for us (and our parents’ expectations of us) as young, single woman. After a moment, Simi paused and smiled. “I like that you know exactly what I mean.”

And of course I know exactly what she means. We’ve been friends for half of her life, after all. But it’s more than that, really, and we both understand that in order to have a successful relationship, we have to let one another in. We have to be vulnerable from time to time. And we have to communicate.

Nick and Jess are one of my favorite romantic pairings currently on television. But every romantic pairing, I realize, has flaws and one of the flaws of Nick/Jess is that they are both so fundamentally different and so very stubborn. Jess is a giver, emotionally. She lays her emotions bare for everyone around her. She told Sam that she wanted a relationship with him, even though he rejected her. She admitted that she didn’t love Paul. She walked away from Russell because she wanted passion in their relationship. And, before any of the others came along, Jess was rejected by Spencer. So Jessica Day realizes that there are highs and lows associated with being an emotional giver. And yet… she continues to express herself. She’s not afraid of how she feels.

But Nick is an emotional… well, turtle. Conversing about feelings and emotions and thoughts sends him into short circuit-mode. No, literally, he merely twitches and mumbles incoherently and avoids the topic altogether. And Nick is this way because his relationships have drained him, emotionally. He was rejected by Caroline. He was never shown a lot of love by his father. He bounced from woman to woman without committing. If Jess is an emotional giver, then Nick is an emotional hermit. He recognizes the truth that emotions and feelings make relationships complex. They can often, even, cause aforementioned relationships to go awry and dissolve. Nick, then, in his typical Nick Miller-ness, would much rather avoid confrontation (of any kind, as we saw in last week’s episode) because it preserves him.

There are threads woven together in Nick and Jess’ story that continue to surface. And they’re not plot threads, per se: they’re character personality traits. Nick expressed in “All In” that he did not want to lose Jess. In “Nerd,” we saw how he protected her – how she was his “old lady” and that meant he had to do everything in his power to keep her safe and happy. In “Double Date,” Nick avoided confronting Schmidt about his infidelity, but did so once he realized that – if he didn’t – Jess would be the one to suffer. In “The Captain,” we see this aspect of Nick’s personality surface which I think is truly intriguing: his desire to preserve his relationship with Jess.

Now, Schmidt’s arc this season has also been about preservation. But, it is important to note that Nick’s arc centers around the turtle-faced bartender trying to preserve the joy and stability of his new relationship with Jess. Schmidt, however, is focused entirely on self-preservation which – obviously – is selfish and only destructive in the end. But I truly appreciated the depth that this arc is providing me with in terms of Schmidt’s characterization. There were some truly fantastic moments in “The Captain,” which I’ll discuss in a bit.

Returning to our Nick/Jess conversation briefly, it’s important to understand how fundamentally different Nick and Jess are as characters in order for us to comprehend the weight that the resolution of this episode provides. I think that I, often times, know how different Nick and Jess can be as characters, but beyond that I tend to forget that they not only have different personality types but process information differently and handle conflict differently and see the world differently. The question then arises: how can Nick and Jess have a lasting, substantial relationship if they are so different? The answer to that is not as simple as the question, of course. But the simple answer is that compromise is both an inevitability and also a necessity.

So let’s discuss Nick and Jess’ relationship in “The Captain,” Schmidt’s attempt to sabotage it, and the possibility that Winston was the most sane person in the loft this week, shall we?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New Girl 3x03 "Double Date" (And That's The Way the World Works)


"Double Date"
Original Airdate: October 1, 2013

The best television shows always center around one important concept: stakes.

Whether the stakes are small (like that of locating a missing purple pen in a study room) or life-altering (such as preventing the world from being destroyed by a fleet of Daleks and Cybermen), the fact remains that they are necessary in order to make a television show relatable and successful. If there are no stakes, we feel no connection to characters as audience members. We coast from episode to episode, from season to season without any investment. How can characters possibly grow if they aren’t forced into situations that allow them that opportunity?

New Girl has never been a high-stakes series, but there’s a shift that is pretty evident in its most recent episode – “Double Date” – that propels the characters from a low-stakes situation (a double date) to a high-stakes one (Nick and Jess learning that Schmidt is cheating on Cece with Elizabeth). And truly, this is what the series needs in order to progress in a natural, logical manner. As fun as self-contained episodes are within a show, there are usually themes that bridge episodes and span seasons which serve to connect the audience to a larger narrative. These themes are what really capture our interest as viewers, and they’re what allow the characters we love to either progress or regress.

The first season of New Girl introduced us to Jess and it was focused primarily on her life transition – how would she form relationships with these three complete strangers she met on the Internet who happened to be her new roommates? The second season’s progression, in terms of Jess, was focused primarily on self-discovery and re-branding. She lost her job and was forced, headlong, into an identity crisis. She spent most of the season trying to figure out her purpose in life and in her romantic relationships. And, of course, the back half of the season was spent exploring the Nick/Jess dynamic. Threads of truth about love and life and how you can be a thirty-something and still not have it all figured out wove their way into these episodes and keep us invested.

Schmidt began the series a rather douchey but lovable loft roommate. I was talking to my friend Kim yesterday regarding his characterization (which she laments over the past few episodes). She noted that when he was introduced, he always had a “heart of gold,” even when he made poor decisions. And while I agree, somewhat, with that sentiment, I have to argue something about Schmidt’s characterization that I know to be true and that has always been true, especially after seeing “Double Date”: Schmidt loves his friends and the people placed in his life… he just always loves himself MORE.

I’ll be talking a lot about Schmidt during this post, because I think it’s important that I walk through my own dissection of his characterization (and perhaps you will find it useful as well) as this cheating storyline draws to a close. I’ll also discuss my ever-growing fondness for Nick/Jess and why the Winston storyline was both sad and wonderful this week. So let’s head below the cut for some analysis!