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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Girl 3x22 "Dance" (Good Cop, Bad Cop, and The Dumbest Boys in School)


"Dance"
Original Airdate: April 29, 2014

When I was a kid in middle school, we had a lot of school dances. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, so there was a dance – if I recall correctly – every month. I mean, we were in a small school in a small town, so what else were we going to do on a Friday night when we couldn’t drive, right? I always had fun at these dances. I remember the gymnasium being dark and packed with students. I recall wandering around the perimeter, clutching at a good friend’s elbow so I wouldn’t lose her in the crowd. I clearly remember “Baby Got Back” being played at one of these dances. I never dated in middle school so I never had a boy to dance with during the slow songs but that was okay because none of my friends did either. High school dances were essentially the same routine but a lot less awkward than the middle school ones. Still, when I think of school dances, I think about them fondly because they were some of the more fun times that took place during those awkward 6th to 8th grade years.

This season’s penultimate New Girl episode is aptly titled “Dance” and focuses on Jess’ desire as vice-principal to make the Coolidge Middle School dance a wild success for her students. She’s pouring everything she has into this dance which is not unlike Jess, if we’re being honest. But everyone else knows WHY she’s so focused on making sure that this dance is extra perfect. She’s trying to force the perfection she didn’t have in her relationship with Nick into a project. I really love when in television shows, the characters confront a single character about an issue or their behavior because they know the reasoning for their particular actions. In “Dance,” everyone supports Jess and helps her chaperone, but they know the reason why she’s going overboard with the project. And at the end of the episode, she finally admits to herself (and to Cece) that she’s disappointed and frustrated with how her relationship ended so she’s trying to control something in order to distract her and give her a sense of power amidst feelings of powerlessness. It’s a beautiful resolution on Jess’ part, really, and I’m glad that Cece was there to witness it. Elsewhere in the episode, Coach has instructed everyone to assist in chaperoning the dance and things go awry. Shenanigans are had, people are injured, and there’s some rapping involved.

All in all, I thought that “Dance” was a perfect penultimate New Girl episode (major props to Rebecca Addelman and Ryan Koh who wrote the episode – your powers combined led to a hilarious, shenanigan-filled episode and I loved it), so let’s discuss it more beneath the cut, shall we?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Jenn's Pick: My 15 TV Boyfriends Throughout the Years


Do you remember what your bedroom was like growing up? Were you the type of kid whose room was meticulous and neat (like mine) or did you have to wade through piles of clothes and papers just to get to your closet in the morning? Was your room painted a certain color? Did you adorn it with posters? I was never the type of kid who hung a lot of posters on her bedroom wall, but a lot of my friends did. They were posters of boy bands and movie stars and athletes. When I was a kid, it was the golden age of the boy bands so we all would excitedly accompany our very befuddled mothers to the grocery store in order to scamper away and plop on the cold floor of the magazine aisle just so we could page through the seemingly endless colorful photos of Justin Timberlake and Hanson. It was a great time to be alive, quite frankly. As I grew up, I watched more and more television to the point where now – as a 25-year old single adult woman – I actually run an entire blog devoted to television. Who knew!

But what I remember pretty clearly about childhood, besides the boy bands and the digital pets and the creepy Furbies was this: I had a lot of TV boyfriends. I mean, I thought I would eventually become the future Mrs. Justin Timberlake so I wasn’t putting too much stock into marrying a fictional character (the delusion was still there, of course), but there were plenty of characters on television who wooed my heart and tried to steal it away from JT. In the spirit of nostalgia, I thought I’d compile a list of some of my television boyfriends across the years, spanning from the glorious days of the 90s and ending in the current era of television. So if you’ll indulge me, let me present to you all of the swoon-worthy guys on television who I had crushes on over the years.

… This may be embarrassing.

Friday, April 18, 2014

5x13 "Basic Sandwich" (I'll Be A Story in Your Head)


"Basic Sandwich"
Original Airdate: April 17, 2014

"I'll be a story in your head. But that's okay: we're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know. It was the best." -- Doctor Who

When you think about your life being a story, the most important question is this: what story do you want to tell? Sometimes I think about (when I’m feeling extra morbid) what my friends and family will remember about me after I’m gone. What kind of story did I tell during my life on Earth that would echo long after I’m gone? The Eleventh Doctor made the wise observation that we all – each one of us – are just stories in the end and it’s true. So if today was your last day, what would you want remembered? Or, alternatively, if this your last episode as a television show, what message would you want to send? At this moment in time, it’s uncertain as to whether or not Community will be returning for that fated sixth season (and a movie). So “Basic Sandwich” is meant to serve as both a season finale and potential series finale. When you have a show runner with his own story circle, there’s a lot of pressure to tie up loose ends, mend fences, and bring closure while still remaining true to your characters in every episode, but there’s this added pressure for Harmon going into “Basic Sandwich.” It’s the question that I asked at the beginning of this post: what story do you want to tell? Do you want to tell a recycled story of a group of ragtag friends who manage to band together, outwit the bad guys, and save the day? Do you want to bring closure to your audience in terms of romantic pairings? Do you make your final episode an adventure or a subdued tribute to your characters? How do you handle the final page when you’re not sure if there will be an epilogue or not?

I’ve thought a lot about the fifth season of Community and I’ve made my feelings pretty clear: I don’t think it was astounding. I don’t think it was superb. Heck, I don’t even think it was GREAT. It was an okay season with some stand-out moments and some stand-out performances. But the writing was uneven. The characters never progressed beyond the assigned personalities and tropes that made them who they were in season one. Troy left. The dynamic shifted. Community is not the same show that it once was but this season felt like… it felt like it was a middle-aged woman who was still dressing like the twenty year-old she once was. The clothes didn’t remotely fit anymore, but she still tried to squeeze into them. Community evolved over the years and while last season was rocky at its best moments, I expected more from this season because of Harmon’s return. I expected a central theme that progressed the characters. I expected them to learn and to evolve, not to merely circle around the same themes and plots from years past like a hamster on a wheel or a person on a gym treadmill.

So if “Basic Sandwich” is the series finale of Community… what did I think of it, exactly? I thought it was a decent farewell to an okay season but that it was – when it boiled down to it – reminiscent of a hamster on a wheel. The study group returned to their old habits: Jeff being insecure and then needing the study group to remind him of what love really is, Britta being… Britta, Abed being meta, Shirley being a sidekick, Hickey being gruff, Annie being hung-up on Jeff, Dean being slightly-less-creepy than usual actually, Chang being evil (again). The season finale though does have some added bonuses that I enjoyed: it clearly explains exactly why Jeff and Britta acted the way that they did and it explained who Abed and Annie were in relation to those actions. There was meta commentary, which I appreciated, and there was SOME closure on the romantic/character development fronts. (In my opinion, it was too little too late with the characterization of Annie Edison.)

Overall, we were left in the same place we started and the same place we’ve always started: these people need Greendale because they’re terrified of who they are without it. And that’s fine… for a year. But after five years it becomes a bit more than worrisome that they cannot function as actual and real members of society without the school. And what, exactly, has Jeff learned if he is supposed to be in this “having changed” stage at the season’s end?

These questions and more ponderings as we discuss the plot below the cut!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Girl 3x21 "Big News" (Breaking Up Is Hard to Do)


"Big  News"
Original Airdate: April 15, 2014

No one is fine after a break-up.

If either party had any emotional attachment to the relationship whatsoever, no matter how miniscule, there is no way that you can magically be “fine” after the relationship ends. Whether you’re drowning yourself in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, cutting him out of all of your photographs, playing “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” on repeat or – in the case of Jessica Day and Nick Miller – watching Dirty Dancing and drinking, respectively, everyone deals with a break-up in their own way. There’s no right or wrong way to handle the demise of a relationship, but recognizing that it ended can be painful at best and downright devastating at worst. Our central New Girl couple realizes this firsthand in “Big News.” In the wake of their very recent break-up, the two attempt to navigate the awkward morning after-waters.

One thing that inevitably occurs post-break-up is something that we see very prevalently in this New Girl episode: the attempt to convince your ex that you’re just fine without them and that your break-up? Well, it wasn’t THAT devastating. You’re fine. You don’t know why it’s coming out all loud and squeaky. Nick and Jess, rather than admit that their break-up is both devastating and impactful, decide to put on the common fa├žade of “fine.” Nick’s fine. He’s handling everything well and isn’t curled up on the floor, sobbing and drinking. And Jess is fine. She’s not watching Dirty Dancing a dozen times in a row on the couch. They’re both fine. Totally fine.

Except that they’re not even remotely fine as they soon admit to other people. Pride has always been a common theme in the Nick/Jess relationship. Jess has never wanted to be the first to admit something, nor has Nick. So they dance around their issues constantly, tip-toeing where they should be having open and honest conversations. It’s this lack of communicating feelings that affected them pre-relationship (we see it in “Quick Hardening Caulk,” “Elaine’s Big Day,” and “First Date” most notably). They’ve often played emotional chicken with each other and “Big News” is no different.

But before I delve too deeply into the themes of the episode, let’s discuss the plot, shall we?

Friday, April 11, 2014

5x12 "Basic Story" (To Live Is To Change, To Acquire The Words Of A Story)


"Basic Story"
Original Airdate: April 10, 2014

"Listen, to live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. In perfect stillness, frankly, I've only found sorrow." - The Poisonwood Bible

There are a lot of us out there who want to settle down someday. I’m one of those people and as I roll through my 25th year of life, I’m realizing how weird it is to actually BE at the age where people start settling down and having a family all around me. They’re falling slowly, like time-lapsed dominoes, but I think the majority of us desire some sort of settling down, even if it isn’t marriage and kids. We desire a steady career or a happy existence. We desire the word that unsettled Abed in the episode: contentment. We want to buy the house and the dog and wake up in the morning to sip coffee on our front porches. So we work our crappy part-time jobs to put ourselves through school and we work through school to get a full-time job and eventually we find ourselves at the place in life we hoped we would be, even if it wasn’t where we anticipated we would be. The Greendale gang realizes in “Basic Story” that their time at the school they always presumed would be their destination in settling down was drawing to a very real, very unpreventable close. And everyone handles dealing with the loss of Greendale differently, some in more mature ways than others.

But before we get to that, let’s discuss the plot of the episode, shall we?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Will-They-Won't-They: A Study in the Success & Dangers Of This Trope


My darling friend Julieta tweeted something recently that really made me think. She wrote: “I don’t understand why TV writers in general are so scared of having their characters fall in love and then be in long-term, committed relationships.” Rather than, as Julieta noted, have characters fall in love and be in committed relationships, most comedies fall into the largest pothole in the world (reminiscent of this one): the hole of the “will-they-won’t-they” relationship.

Now, these relationships have both merits and drawbacks. A good television series won’t drag out the “will-they-won’t-they” for seasons upon seasons without any seeming conclusion, be it good or bad. A good television series will recognize the fact that this relationship is a tool and a powerful one at that: it provides the show with an added layer of tension that lures audience members in and promises them romance and intrigue. A good television show will use this relationship to its advantage by having it GO somewhere. A good television show will realize that there is a precise and delicately balanced window of time in which their characters need to act on their romantic tension, lest the audience feel deceived at best and downright infuriated at worst at a lack of development. A good television show cannot draw out a “will-they-won’t-they” forever, because if they do, they won’t be a good television show anymore.

Relationships are the hinge on which all of humanity swings, so it makes sense that it is the hinge on which television sitcoms seem to swing as well. There are friendships and families and romantic relationships on television just as there are in real life. The problem, however, is that television writers often find it so difficult to mimic real-life relationships. Why is this? Because writers are afraid that their audiences are restless and fickle and if they commit to one thing for too long – one character or one romantic pairing or one plot – that their fans will lose interest. “Will-they-won’t-they” relationships are the obvious (quick) remedy to this fear of audience boredom and subsequent abandonment if, and only if, they are executed correctly.

What I thought I might do is take a look at some of the “will-they-won’t-they” relationships that have piqued my interest over the years and discuss the merits and drawbacks of each as they affect the television comedy series as a whole.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World (But It Would Be Nothing Without A Woman)


I feel like the majority of the stories that I post here begin with "I was talking to my friend Kim." But I was talking to my friend Kim recently about Community and some qualms we have been having with the writing. I told her that what the show truly needs is to return to a balanced writing staff a la season one with an equal number of both males and females. That led me down an interesting rabbit hole in attempting to discover exactly HOW many episodes per season of Community were written or co-written by female writers. After I made a rather startling discovery, I decided to apply this investigative work to more of my favorite network television comedies and made some more pretty starling discoveries, as well as developed a hypothesis based on my raw data. (Look at me sounding all science-y and stuff! You'd hardly know this was a writing blog.)

So, before I break down each show and its seasons, let me explain what you'll be reading and how I recovered the data/what it means:

The shows: I studied Community, New Girl, Parks and Recreation, The Office, and (to a lesser extent) The Mindy Project.

How I came up with the data: I researched the episodes in each season that have aired. (*Now updated since the seasons are over, to reflect the final percentages!) If a single episode was written solely by a woman or by a pair of women, I counted it as 1 point. My reasoning, of course, is that I am mostly focusing on the number of episodes penned by women. It doesn't matter if one or two or a hundred women write an episode: it counts as one episode. If a single episode was written by a writing team consisting of a male and female, I counted it as 1/2 of a point. I gave women like Annie Mebane and Amy Poehler credit if they wrote with a partner because, duh, they still wrote something!

What it all means: This data is obviously a baseline, not an end-all-be-all set of numbers. A variety of factors played into the percentages -- the number of episodes per season is, of course, a major factor. The larger number of episodes in a season, the less likely that there is a large percentage of episodes written by females (as sad as that is to type). Additionally, the size of the writing staff and the diversity among the staff plays a factor in the number of episodes written by women. Shows with a high turnover rate among the writing staff will also factor into this number. Again: it's not a conclusive set of data, but it's definitely interesting to watch the trend among certain shows rise and fall.

And now, without further adieu, let's take a look at some of the shows on my list!

Friday, April 4, 2014

5x11 "G.I. Jeff" (Earning the Emotional Punch)


"G.I. Jeff"
Original Airdate: April 3, 2014

When I was a kid, the only cartoon I truly remember watching was Captain Planet. I wasn’t a huge Saturday morning cartoon girl, to be honest. I was much happier to be curled up with a book or outside in the back yard swinging on the swing set (a testament to my personality and how my parents never wanted us to be in front of a television set for too long, honestly). I know kids who grew up on Saturday morning cartoons and I know those, like me, who couldn’t tell you the plot of any cartoon in the 80s or 90s if our lives depended on it. All of this is to say that I was never familiar with G.I. Joe. Oh, sure, I know that he was an action figure. While boys went out and bought his toy and the accessories, I was playing with my Polly Pocket and trying to keep my Tamagotchi alive for longer than a day. The most recent Community episode titled “G.I. Jeff” was an homage to the G.I. Joe cartoon.

Now, here’s where I will be brutally honest and echo what I have read on Twitter: I did not like this episode. It’s not that I didn’t admire the work and effort that was put into recreating G.I. Joe and tailoring it to fit Community. Oh, that I totally and completely admired. But as someone who has never watched a moment of G.I. Joe in her entire twenty-five years of life and doesn’t intend to start now, the homage was lacking. And the reason why, to be honest, is because every other Community homage has been broad enough to connect with viewers. Even if you had never seen a moment of Glee, you could appreciate “Regional Holiday Music” because chances were you had seen a musical episode of SOME television show in your life. “Modern Warfare” was an action-packed homage: it didn’t matter what action movie, really, but you could connect with it stylistically and thematically. I feel like “G.I. Jeff” was not an homage to Saturday morning cartoons in general – it was a specific homage to one specific show that a lot of people (like myself) had never seen. And there is something lost on you when you don’t get the characters or the plot or the purpose of an homage. The point of “G.I. Jeff” is that you can regress and go back to your childhood and cling onto that in order to give you some sort of comfort. But in the end, that’s just futile. See, I get the underlying theme of the episode. What was difficult for me was to find any enjoyment in the story when all I felt was confusion regarding the premise and characters. That is to say that I felt, for the first time, what most people must feel whenever they watch an abnormal Community episode.

Even though this episode fell flat for me because I didn’t connect with or understand it, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy some bits of it. Before we delve into an interesting internal conflict or a resolution with the real-world study group, let’s talk about the plot and the fact that – for all of our insistence to the contrary – Jeff is likely the most mentally unstable member of the study group.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The 'How I Met Your Mother' Series Finale Was... (Wait For It)... Awful.


Kids, this is the story of how Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wrote themselves into a corner.

I’ve done this before, personally, and it’s not great. You create characters and construct circumstances and you intend for your writing to go a certain direction. But then the characters change or the circumstances become too complex and before you know it, you’re surrounded by walls that have been subtly growing for a while with no way to escape.

When I was in college, I had a professor for both my Creative Writing and Creative Writing and Publication classes. His name was David Athey and was, to this day, the best professor I ever had. I remember approaching him one day about a piece that I was working on. I told him that everything had been going well but that I had just hit a wall when I was writing. After a moment, my bespectacled professor smiled at me and uttered these wise words: “There are no walls in writing – only secret passageways.” That sentence has stuck with me ever since, and whenever I find myself backed up against a wall, instead of trying to break it down or run away, I look for the secret passageway behind the bookcase or beneath the rug.

How I Met Your Mother was a series that, from the very beginning, was constructed to end a certain way. The kids’ reactions were filmed years upon years ago, back when it wasn’t certain whether the series would last another thirteen or twenty episodes. Nine years later, Bays and Thomas discovered that they had written themselves into a corner by planning the ending from the beginning. But instead of finding the secret passageway, they charged forward, breaking and shattering every single wall of character development they had beautifully and intricately constructed over the course of nine years in order to salvage an ending that wasn’t even meant to be.

The fact is that they didn’t have to do that at all. Bays and Thomas didn’t have to use the footage they had shot back when Lyndsy and David were playing Ted Mosby’s teenaged children. Here are some alternatives that could have occurred. (Bear in mind that I just saw the episode twelve hours ago.)

Scenario #1:

[Ted finishes telling the story of how he met their mother. We have a shot of the kids just staring at him – it’s been nine years so I’m sure they have plenty of footage.]

[Ted, frustrated, enters his and Tracy’s bedroom] Can you believe it? Nothing. I got zero reaction from them. After all of that… zip. Zilch. Nada.

[Tracy, smiling, takes a hold of her husband’s hand] Ted, they don’t get it. They’re teenagers. They’re more e concerned with who gets booted off that one singing competition we both can’t stand because seriously, that thing has been on FOREVER. [Ted raises an eyebrow at her. Tracy smiles wider and slings her arms around Ted’s neck] They don’t get it. They don’t realize that the most amazing, wonderful stories are the ones that take a long time to get to the end. But it was worth it: every stupid little moment and bump, because it ended up here. With you meeting me.

[Sappy adorable and perfect music plays. The end.]

Scenario #2:

If Bays and Thomas were so concerned with Tracy dying, we could have still ended it with Ted exhibiting character growth because, you know, great love of his life.

[Voiceovers at the end of Ted and his children talking about the mother – flashbacks in hers and Ted’s relationship. Ted delivers a stunning monologue about how all of the pain was worth it because he met her and got them and he’ll love her “to the end of his days and beyond.” Bam. End with Ted at her grave with the back of the kids’ heads – not them, obviously – or something.]

Look – I just took ten minutes to come up with an ending for How I Met Your Mother that was worlds better than what Bays and Thomas concocted. Here is why, in a nutshell, I took such issue with the finale: