Ted Lasso, Rom-Coms, and Emotional Vulnerability

Why is it important that a show about men who play soccer did a rom-com homage?

Dickinson Behind-the-Scenes: An Interview With the Artisans

Meet the artists who brought the Apple TV+ series to life!

If You Like This, Watch That

Looking for a new TV series to watch? We recommend them based on your preference for musicals, ensemble shows, mysteries, and more!

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.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Emmys Fashion 2014: The Good, The Bad, and The Meh

As I said in my Oscars post, the main reason I watch awards shows is for the fashion. I don't watch the Emmys because I am desperate to know who will win (usually the awards shows are so predictable that I could tell you without even watching), but because I am desperate to marvel at the beautiful gowns that the celebrities don. I love fashion. I don't have the luxury of spending a lot of money on clothes, shoes, or accessories because... you know, rent and low-paying job. But I have a stack of InStyle magazines on my bedside table for a reason. I like to know what's trendy. I like to bookmark items I would buy. I like piecing outfits together.

And so, I decided to discuss some of my best and worst (and simply "meh") looks from last night's Emmy awards. Enjoy!

*all photos are credit to hollywoodlife.com & nydailynews.com

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Take a Deep Breath... It's My 'Doctor Who' Premiere Review

When you’re an English major in college and take writing workshops, your professors will utter words to you that you will never forget. They’ll become a cliché, honestly, and you’ll find yourself repeating them for years to come in social and academic situations. Sometimes these words will weave themselves into your high school career, long before you’ve even approached college life. They are the following mantra: “Show, don’t tell.” They’re simple words with a profound meaning within the context of writing. When you’re in high school, they’re used to prevent over-explanation. In college, they’re used to prevent both over-explanation and heavy-handed writing. You don’t need to tell an audience that characters are in love – you can SHOW it. You don’t need to tell an audience that a character has matured – you can SHOW it. You don’t need to tell us, as audience members, that a character is worthy of affection – you can SHOW it by how you write that particular character. Let’s briefly look at Community as an always apt example: Dan Harmon did not need to tell us that Jeff Winger has grown. Characters occasionally make reference to the fact that he has changed but the primary vehicle for that character growth has been for Dan Harmon and the other writers to SHOW us how much Jeff has grown through his actions and his words. That is what writing – good writing – is: “show, don’t tell.”

No one likes to be berated and no one likes to be talked down to. Furthermore, I know of very few people who like being told how to feel about a character or characters within the context of anything, be it literature, plays, or television. It is our natural human tendency to bristle at the command; it is our tendency to rebel. Why not, instead, let us fall in or out love with characters without any demand to feel a certain way by the writer? Wouldn’t that make more sense? Wouldn’t it lend your audience to a different sort of intimacy with those aforementioned characters? (The answer in my opinion is unashamedly “YES!”)

I’m going to preface this post by saying this: I had zero problems in “Deep Breath” with Peter Capaldi or Jenna Coleman. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m absolutely smitten with Clara Oswald as a character and her status as “the impossible girl.” She is immensely talented and can elevate any scene she is in. Peter Capaldi’s debut proved that he’s a force to be reckoned with in Doctor Who as our beloved Time Lord. He is, too, able to chew any scene he is in no matter how absurd, silly, serious, or emotional the moment. He proved that in “Deep Breath.” And since I presume you all are waiting for a “but…”, here it is: the writing did not do these characters justice at all. It was erratic and bizarre at points. At best, it was a romp into an adventure with a semi-tied bow ending; at worst, it was a two-hour lecture from Steven Moffat about all of the reasons we need to accept Peter Capaldi’s age and status as The Doctor.

So, let’s explore some elements of “Deep Breath” that I think worked and a lot that I think did not. My best friend and I explored these themes and problematic issues when we spent an hour after the episode discussing them last night, so I have a LOT of feelings. And perhaps you do too.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Suits 4x10 "This Is Rome" (And We Are Gladiators)

"This Is Rome"
Original Airdate: August 20, 2014

When I was in high school, I watched Gladiator for the first time. I was intrigued by Rome’s history and culture and the history, in particular, of the Colosseum. I had the opportunity to visit Italy and the Colosseum a few years ago. It was the hottest day of our trip – 105 degrees – as we toured the massive structure that used to house gladiator fights. If you think you know what it feels like to be inside of that arena, about how vast and large and intimidating it is compared to how small and weak you are, multiply that feeling by twenty. Then and only then will you come close to feeling what I felt in that space. Gladiators were fighters – they were resilient and fearless and when everyone was yelling insults at them, when the animals they were fighting against bared their teeth, the gladiators did not back down.

Louis declares that he is a gladiator in “This Is Rome,” Suits’ midseason finale. And though Louis has been pretty great in the past few weeks, I doubt that I would ever have classified his behavior as gladiator-like until this episode. Louis is intelligent but he often lacks the ruthlessness that is required of those who fight on the front lines. … Until this episode, however. Do you know what drives people to madness, to bitterness, and to ruthless ambition alike? Desperation. It takes Louis literally losing everything he cares about to awaken that animalistic fight within him that a gladiator does. And what happens at the end of the episode is explosive, to say the least. But it’s important to note that nearly everyone in “This Is Rome” is fighting for something and the majority of them are fighting for, not against, Louis Litt. That proves to be a mistake at the end of the episode as we will see.

Armed with that knowledge, let’s discuss the episode a bit, shall we?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jenn's Pick: My Top 15 Oliver/Felicity Moments

I really like it when my friends find a new television obsession because it usually means that there will be a trickle-down effect throughout the rest of our friend group shortly thereafter.

If one person starts a show and talks about it enough, inevitably we all will slowly become involved in it too. This is what usually happens with my friend group. But then, there was Arrow. Instead of a trickle-down effect, the rapid succession with which seemingly all of my friends became involved could be classified as more like a waterfall. One person started a domino effect, and the rest of us soon followed. We were binge-watching the first season on Netflix and falling in love with the characters; we were rooting for Oliver and marveling over the stunt coordination. We all, too, fell in love with Oliver/Felicity as a romantic pairing and bonded over the characters’ growth (both as individuals and a pairing) and certain “shipper” moments.

That’s right, friends and faithful readers. I have a new “ship” and it’s delightful and complex and layered. In essence, it’s everything I desire from a relationship – romantic or platonic – on a television series. There’s no doubt in my mind that Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards have chemistry. They do – just like Joel McHale and Alison Brie, just like Jake Johnson and Zooey Deschanel, just like Gabriel Macht and Sarah Rafferty. Chemistry is so vital in order to truly sell a pairing, but that’s not all that is necessary. What I love about Olicity can really be summed up by what I love about Amell and Rickards as individual actors, just as it can be summed up by all of the actors and actresses I listed previously: they understand their characters. It’s one thing for an actor to play a character. There’s a distinct difference that you feel as an audience member, watching an actor’s dialogue or action in a scene. You don’t feel connected to them and if you do, you don’t feel that the connection runs as deeply as it should. But when Amell and Rickards are on screen together and separately, you get the sense that they just don’t play characters, but that they KNOW their characters.

A decent actor will play a character, like a child playing dress-up in her mother’s closet. You’ll believe them, perhaps, but there will also be a part of you that knows it’s a ruse; that it’s not real. And then there are the good and great actors who you can tell have evolved from playing a character to embodying and becoming that character; they understand what makes their character nervous and afraid, what fills them with joy, what they’re thinking at a particular moment. You can see, in Amell-as-Oliver the intensity and hesitancy and disappointment in himself when Felicity confronts him about Isabel Rochev. And that’s just one example of a moment where you can see that Amell understands his character so deeply that it doesn’t matter if something is written explicitly in a script or not – he just knows Oliver; he knows exactly what he thinks and feels and he acts not as Stephen Amell playing Oliver Queen but AS Oliver Queen. (The exact same thing holds true for Emily Bett Rickards because she just absolutely and completely understands Felicity Smoak and her emotions and motivations for everything and anything.)

So I decided, in the spirit of setting sail on a new “ship” (just roll with the imagery) that I would count down my fifteen favorite Olicity moments before season three’s premiere on October 8th. Join me below the cut and see if your favorite moments made my list!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Suits 4x09 "Gone" (Goodbye to You, Goodbye To Everything I Thought I Knew)

Original Airdate: August 13, 2014

I’ve always been an emotional person. My sister makes fun of me for this sometimes, especially when we go to movies together. I wipe tears away and sniffle and she shoots me a glare, judging me because I’m crying at a Disney movie or the end of The Fault in Our Stars. She’s not an extremely emotional person unless she’s angry and that’s okay. But it’s important that she knows – and that everyone else knows as well – that emotions aren’t a sign of weakness. In fact, quite the opposite is true: emotions are a sign that you are a living, breathing, human being who experiences and responds to pain and circumstances. Jessica Pearson is not an emotional person. This has never been more evident than in the most recent Suits episode titled “Gone.” Mike and Harvey even joke about their inability to imagine Jessica holding hands with her beau or being overtly affectionate. Jessica is a strong woman, but she’s also a stoic and rather unemotional one. If a job needs to be done and it’s difficult, Jessica is the person to approach. She is bold and unabashed and that’s why she is the boss. I’ll admit – I find people like Jessica to be abrasive and difficult to get along with in real life. As an extremely emotional human being, I would balk at Jessica’s statement to Louis that his emotions made him weak. The fact of the matter is that everyone at Pearson Specter is a human being wired with emotions, thoughts, and feelings but everyone expresses these differently. Louis Litt and Rachel Zane tend to fall toward the “emotional” end of the spectrum with Donna and Mike trailing behind them. Harvey would fall slightly behind that duo and then there’s Jessica at the complete opposite end.

Emotions aren’t bad and I don’t think that “Gone” insinuates that they ARE. I think that the characters in the series may have presumed Louis to be weak, to be a liability because of his desperate desire to please Jessica and Harvey and to earn their favor and recognition. And while I will admit to not always being the biggest supporter of Louis Litt, season four has actually allowed me to understand more fully his character, his desperation, his passion, and his heart for the people around him. There’s something truly universal about wanting to feel accepted and beloved. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting those things. The problem for Louis, of course, is that he’s often blinded by his desire to be accepted that he gets himself and others into trouble. But before I discuss Louis more in-depth and before I talk about how the end of “Gone” made me sniff back tears, let’s talk about the other characters, shall we?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Robin Williams & The Real Pain Within Each Of Us

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

When I was in high school, I was fascinated with psychology. If I’m being honest with myself, it’s the only career path I’ve ever considered apart from writing. I remember sitting through my AP Psychology lectures, reading the textbook and completing projects all the while thinking: “This is such interesting stuff.” People always assume that the heart is the driving force of the body. And most people would be correct in that assumption because when you think about it, the heart is probably your most vital organ: it gives life to the rest of your body. You need your heart. But what people often don’t realize is that your mind is, in many ways, a more powerful organ than your heart. It’s amazing that human beings get the distinct honor and pleasure of being wired with synapses and memories and emotions and neurons that all exist within our minds. The mind is a powerful tool and it’s also a powerful weapon.

You see, when people are sick, that sickness manifests itself – quite usually – externally. For instance, I am a runner and have had the distinct honor and pleasure of experiencing leg cramps and Charley horses. (I’m being sarcastic about the “honor” and “pleasure” part.) If you’ve ever had a Charley horse, you are probably reading this and cringing because it is a painful sensation in your calf that causes you to grip your muscles, grit your teeth, and pray that the pain dissipates shortly. Charley horses are painful. But what I think too many people forget is that not all pain is physical. Pain is mental. Pain is emotional. Pain is spiritual. But for some reason, a vast majority of our society – either consciously or unconsciously – ranks the physical pain above the mental, emotional, and spiritual pain in legitimacy. If your bones are broken, people tell you to see a doctor or rush to an emergency room. If your mind is telling you that you are worthless, that life is pointless, people tell you to suck it up and just be happy. It’s funny – no one would ever dare to look someone in the eye with a broken bone and tell them: “Just suck it up. Your bone is fine.” And yet, so many people dismiss mental illness that same way.

Remember how I said that the mind is a powerful tool and that it’s also a powerful weapon? It’s because it’s true. Our minds are beautiful, wonderful, amazing things. I mean, let’s contemplate the complexity for a moment: you’re sitting and reading this because my brain transmitted signals to my fingers and to my eyes and allowed me to form words and thoughts. But your brain can turn against you. It can lie to you. It can fill your innermost being with worries and anxieties. It can shut down and tell you that you are worthless. And just like cancer can cause our physical bodies to shut down because it is a sickness that invades every part of us, our brains can shut down too, a mental sickness spreading to every part of you.

I struggle more with anxiety than with depression, if I’m being completely honest. And it’s something that I’ve struggled a lot with recently because a part of me knows that something is wrong, but the other part of me wants to placate our society, the society that says “you’re fine.” Have you ever noticed this prevalence? The most superficial question you can usually ask as a human being is this: “How are you?” Because in our society, you’re expected to answer that question whether you’re at home or in school or at work or in church the exact same way. You’re supposed to paint a smile and reply with either: “Good!” or “Pretty good!” I’ve found very few people in my life who ask how I am with the intention of actually sticking around to listen if, by chance, I should say: “Not great” or “Hanging in there.” But we desperately NEED those people in our lives: we need the ones who will sit and listen to us when we explain that we feel off, that we feel inexplicably lost or hopeless or sad or anxious. We need people who won’t judge us when we cancel plans but who won’t leave us, either. We need people who keep trying to fill us with hope when all hope seems lost. We need Doctors and Amy Ponds.

One of the most fascinating and heartbreaking episodes of Doctor Who was one titled “Vincent and the Doctor.” It’s the reason that I’ve included van Gogh’s painting at the beginning of this post. In the episode, a fictionalized Vincent van Gogh is assisted by The Doctor and Amy Pond as he battles monsters. The episode is so extremely poignant because no one believes van Gogh. There are monsters that are plaguing him and attacking things but he cannot see them, nor can anyone else. Similarly, van Gogh was battling his own inner monsters. He was fighting a seemingly losing battle with depression and Amy Pond – brilliant, beautiful, extraordinary Pond – was determined to end his story differently. So when The Doctor and Amy take van Gogh to the future, to a gallery displaying his work in abundance, Amy is hopeful that this journey will inspire van Gogh to continue living and painting. When The Doctor and Amy return to the present, however, Amy learns that van Gogh still killed himself because of his mental illness. She’s extremely heartbroken and this is what happens next:

Amy Pond: We didn't make a difference at all.
The Doctor: I wouldn't say that. The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey. [hugs Amy] The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.

Amy mourns van Gogh and believes that because he succumbed to his mental illness, she made no difference in his life. But The Doctor is right – they HAD made a difference. They had reminded him of his purpose and his creativity; they had given him slivers of hope and rays of sunshine in his darkest moments. When someone’s physical body inevitably fails to fight off illness – when the cancer spreads or the pain intensifies – it doesn’t mean that the doctors and loved ones have failed; it simply means that the body could not withstand the illness anymore. It was done fighting the battle. When someone succumbs to their mental illness, it doesn’t mean that they are weak or that you have failed them: it means that their mind simply become too weary to fight the illness anymore.

In September of 2011, I struggled with a bout of depression. No one, apart from my best friend, knows this because I didn’t tell anyone. The only reason that I remember the exact date is because I have a note in my iPhone from a particularly difficult day. I remember it clearly, too. I was walking around Borders (may it rest in peace) on my lunch break and I was feeling lost. Not lost in the sense that I didn’t know where I was, but lost in the sense of I didn’t know WHO I was anymore. There was no reason for me to feel this way – as if people who battle depression HAVE to have a reason – but I did. And for a few months, I continued to feel this way. I didn’t understand it but you often don’t understand illness. There isn’t always a reason that people get sick, you know. I remember grappling with a sense of darkness and hopelessness. And then… I was better. Not healed, but better. And each day after that continued to be better. But for a lot of people, depression is not a bout. Depression is a life-long illness, chronic like arthritis or asthma.

When I was eighteen years old, my grandfather committed suicide. It was the summer before I went away to college and I was standing in the hallway between our living room and my bedroom when my mother got the phone call. I’ll never forget that moment because it was terrifying. My mother screamed like I had never heard her scream before – a sad, desperate wail that permeated every single bit of my body and made me back slightly away in both fear and sorrow. I only remember her yelling: “How could he do this?” and repeating it over and over.

My grandfather battled depression for most of his life. I never remember really seeing that depression manifested, but people with depression don’t often manifest symptoms. You don’t know that someone has asthma or arthritis until something around them causes their bodies to plunge into pain. I flew up to Pennsylvania a few days early to stay with my grandmother and my mother in my grandmother’s house. I remember being in her living room, curled up on the couch and listening to the cars outside whiz by on the street. I remember her asking me – me, a teenager – this question: “Why would he do this?” And I remember softly explaining to her that depression was an illness, a chemical imbalance. It was not anyone’s fault. It was not for anyone to take the blame. He was sick and that sickness overtook him.

Depression isn’t about trying to be happy. Depression isn’t sadness. Depression, in fact, is a complexity that resides within the brain, as the Harvard Medical School explains in this article. Depression is an ailment and an illness and it’s just as painful and damning as any disease that you can see physically manifested in individuals. It should be, therefore, given the same weight that physical disease but it often isn’t. People with mental illnesses are often dismissed and oversimplification is applied. People with depression are just “sad.” People with anxiety are just “worried.” People struggling with self-harm and suicide are labeled everything from “attention-seeking” to “selfish.” No one would ever think to, as I noted earlier, criticize a cancer patient for not trying hard enough to rid their bodies of their disease or tell someone with a broken bone to will themselves healed. Just as physical sickness is complex, so is mental illness.

Suicide is painful. There is no other way to describe it. People automatically question how someone could be so selfish as to take their own life, but I think that the question shouldn’t be centered on selfishness but sickness and hopelessness, instead. It’s okay to question the motivation for suicide. It’s okay to wonder and to grapple with its reality and the decimation that follows. It’s okay to feel lost and confused and angry and scared whenever you encounter the loss of a loved one or even a complete stranger. No emotion is wrong; no emotion is insignificant. But let me tell you this right now: if you are reading this and you think that life would be better off without you – that the world would be better off without  you – you are wrong. If you are sitting there thinking that you don’t have it in you to carry your burden anymore, that the weight of the world is pressing down on you so hard that you feel you might drown: let someone else help you carry it. Let people come alongside you and lift your arms.

There’s a Biblical story that I love (hear me out, even if you aren’t religious, just for a moment). It’s the story of Moses and the Israelites on the day that they fought and defeated the Amalekites:

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. [emphasis mine]

The reason that I love this story so much is because it is a clear example of what we are meant to do in life: Moses’ arms were held up by Aaron and Hur because he began to grow tired. Moses couldn’t hold his arms up anymore – he simply did not have that kind of strength. He NEEDED to be propped up by other people; he needed them to hold him up when he couldn’t hold himself anymore. We need other people. We were not meant to do life alone. We were not meant to exist alone, without the support of community. When we are weak, we need to rely on others to help strengthen and uphold us. We cannot do it alone. The problem is that so many of us try to. We think that we are islands, that no one else understands our problems or our struggles. We think that others will see us as weak if we ask for assistance. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Asking for medicine when you are sick or for people to bring you tissues and movies and sit with you on the couch is not weak. Similarly, asking for help if you struggle with mental illness or thoughts of suicide? It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. It’s a sign that you know what you are battling and that you cannot do it alone. There are amazing organizations devoted to helping individuals who struggle with depression, addiction, mental illness, and suicide but none of whom I love more than To Write Love on Her Arms. If you have never heard the story, please go and research it because it is amazing. If you are struggling and need help, their website has some amazing resources available.

I’m writing this post because Robin Williams struggled with depression and suicide and his mental illness claimed his life yesterday. It was really difficult to believe, reading the tweets and news stories, that such a part of my childhood was gone. He was my Genie in Aladdin. He was the amazing and crazy ball of energy in The Crazy Ones. He made me laugh and cry in Flubber. He was heartwarming and heartbreaking in Jack. He was adventurous in Jumanji and slap-stick silly in RV. He was known for his amazing impressions and voices, for his kindness and generosity, for his humility. Looking at Robin Williams’ career and life, you wouldn’t think that he would struggle with depression. As if depression means that you have to wear dark clothing and brood and become a hermit, right? Depression is a mental illness which means that it is unseen to the human eye, but its effects are not. Depression is a weight that you carry around with you, even when you are working. Depression isn’t sadness, like I’ve said before, and it’s not weakness. It’s a burden.

Robin Williams was such an amazing part of everyone’s life. I have never seen so many tweets or Facebook posts or articles than I did yesterday when news broke. Everyone had the same reaction: stunned silence and heartbreak. It’s weird because a lot of people don’t know how to grieve celebrities. There are three camps: those who grieve openly and publicly, those who grieve privately, and those who look at celebrity-induced grief as something of a weakness or irritation. Celebrities are people, too. Does it make me sad that I have to type that out? Yes. Celebrities are human beings with family and friends and social circles and influence. Robin Williams meant so much to so many of us. He was a figure in our lives, just like our cousins or our parents: a presence that existed there that you would never think would be taken away so suddenly and harshly.

I grew up remembering re-runs of Mork and Mindy being played on my television. I was born seven years after the show ended, but I remember – vaguely – the series. I remember it being funny. I remember Robin Williams. I grew up, like most little girls of my generation, obsessed with Aladdin. It was my go-to videotape. I barely cared for Cinderella, I was blasé about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. I liked The Little Mermaid. But I LOVED Aladdin. I don’t know how many times I watched that movie as a child, but suffice it to say that it was a lot. Genie always made me giggle. Robin Williams had such a spastic, lovely energy to him. You could almost hear him bouncing around while he recorded his voices for the movie. He seemed like that kind of person – the one with all the energy. It’s tough to reconcile the image of Robin Williams being so energetic and making so many of us laugh with the idea of him being depressed and struggling to hold onto hope.

He was Mrs. Doubtfire, to me, a childhood memory of laughing hysterically and crying profusely. The movie was and continues to be an astounding glimpse into the range of Robin Williams’ acting. He could do that, you know: he could make us laugh one moment and weep the next because of his succinct ability to be so intentional and profound with his acting choices. And then there was Jack (more weeping – I remember sneakily watching this film because I was young and it had more mature content than my parents were ready to expose me to as a seven-year old) and Jumanji (to this day, this movie still makes me jump) and Flubber (so hilariously zany and yet also so moving because THAT SCENE WITH WEEBO, YOU GUYS) and Happy Feet and RV (silly and delightful). And then, most recently, there was The Crazy Ones. To me, Robin Williams wasn’t just “that guy who can do impressions.” He was that actor whose work has literally spanned the entirety of my life, every significant film and role dotting my own timeline. When you feel close to an actor like this, their death hits you in a place that you didn’t expect because you’re literally losing a lifelong friend. And while it’s true that I’d never met Robin Williams in person, it’s also true that you can feel emotionally connected to people you’ve never met. We’re human beings, after all, designed to feel emotions and connections and to forge them with those within our lives.

I remember the night that I received my first and only tweet from Robin Williams. I had just finished the episode “Sydney, Australia” of The Crazy Ones and thought it was hilarious. It was honestly the best episode of that short-lived series, so I tweeted how in love with the show and its amazing ensemble I was. Robin Williams responded and I proceeded to freak out because… well, I freak out when famous people tweet me. His response, I believe, is an example of his life:

He was gracious and humble – he was complimentary of other people and kind. The fact that he took time out of his day to tweet a response has never been lost on me. And just because tragedy and depression marked the end of Robin Williams’ life, it doesn’t mark his entire life. It doesn’t negate his generosity or humility. It doesn’t mar the way that he made millions of people laugh, made them feel a connection to him and his work. It doesn’t erase those qualities or attributes that made him so amazing. If anything, Robin Williams’ life should be a celebration: we should laugh and live just a little bit more because of what his impact has done.

Depression and suicide are tragic. I’m not going to sugarcoat the reality of how horrifying, how terrible, and how utterly sad these things are. But it’s not the end. If you are struggling through the darkness, weighed down by things – by stress or your inner demons or an unspeakable horror in your past that you cannot get rid of – it is not too late for you. Listen to my words carefully: you ARE enough. You are worth it. You have meaning and have purpose. The world is slightly better because you are in it. And I know that if you’re really struggling, you may not believe it. You may believe the lies in your head that tell you you’re sick and sad and hopeless. 

Friend, let me tell you this: you are not alone. Let me repeat it: you are NOT alone. Let people come alongside you and lift your weary arms. Let us carry your burdens for a while. You’re not a problem and you’re not an unfixable mess. You are ill. But hold on, friend, because there is light up ahead. Robin Williams’ life is not a tragic story. His life is an amazing, colorful story of celebration and light and joy. He delivered the gift of laughter to so many people and that cannot – and should not – be forgotten or dismissed. He was, however, in more pain than anyone could have realized; this pain crippled him in the end and it’s sad and tragic but it can also serve as a reminder for us to live and to live boldly and to seek help when necessary.

J.K. Rowling once beautifully wrote the words of Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” 

Keep walking toward the light of hope, friends. Keep walking.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Suits 4x08 "Exposure" (The Other Shoe Drops)

Original Airdate: August 6, 2014

You know how there’s that cliché: “waiting for the other shoe to drop”? I feel like that cliché can be used to sum up last week’s episode of Suits titled “We’re Done” and this week’s “Exposure.” I didn’t have the opportunity to post a review of last week’s episode due to my escapades at LeakyCon, so let me sum it up for you: Rachel told Mike that she kissed Logan. Mike got fired and then punched Logan because of his kiss with Rachel. Mike moved out at the episode’s end because he couldn’t trust Rachel anymore (but not before he stayed at Harvey’s and Rachel stayed at Donna’s because those two are seriously like their parents). Louis made an illegal deal with Forseman that Jessica and Harvey did not know about. Jessica rewarded Louis for his work on the case and saving the firm by allowing him one wish (because apparently Jessica is a genie now). Louis decided, after listening to Rachel’s story about how she messed up her chances with Mike because of something she did, while Louis CHOSE to not fight for Shelia, that he would use his one wish to get more vacation time to see his former fiancé. However, with Mike at rock bottom and about to take a job with Forseman, Louis seizes the opportunity to save Mike, which was a brilliantly selfless move on Louis’ part. Louis uses his one wish to hire Mike back at the firm so that he will not have to sell his soul to the devil (Forseman) like he did. And that’s what you missed on Suits!

“Exposure” focuses on this really amusing tennis match – the firm fights Cahill, then doesn’t, then fights him, then doesn’t, then fights him… then doesn’t regarding obtaining the Gillis Industries takeover documents. The episode is peppered with the amazing banter that made me fall in love with it in the first place, and it also contains some serious and whiplash-inducing see-sawing in the plot. There is no REAL plot of “Exposure,” to be honest: what you see in the episode are the aftershocks of “We’re Done.” There is no new information presented, really. Mike gets a change of scenery by inhabiting Harvey’s old office, but that’s really all that changes between the previous episode and this one. It feels like this episode tries to play with viewers in terms of dramatics regarding Louis’ ill-advised and illegal decision with Forseman. Instead of being at the edge of my seat, wondering whether or not Pearson Specter’s documents would be turned over to Cahill and the SEC, I found myself caring less and less as we bounced between “we’re fighting him because if we don’t, he’ll just make something up to pin on us” and “we’ll give him ALL our documents” every twenty minutes or so.

That’s not to say that “Exposure” is a bad episode, really, but it doesn’t grab your attention and leaves you feeling rather lukewarm at the episode’s end because of COURSE the firm would finally make the absolute decision to turn over all of the documents; there’s no way the show would allow us to forget that Louis committed a felony and there is no way that they would allow him to get away with it without consequence. So while the episode was amusing in some aspects (Harvey/Jessica and Donna/Mike bantering has returned) and necessary in others (Mike/Rachel confrontation, bringing Mike back to the firm), I feel like this episode could have easily been five minutes and a coda on “We’re Done,” rather than an hour long. Nevertheless, let’s discuss some of the relationships within this week’s episode of Suits because there were some rather important ones.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Character Appreciation Post: Felicity Smoak ("Arrow")

At LeakyCon, I had a discussion with the cast of Emma Approved about the term “strong female character.” It’s a word that was thrown around in a panel earlier that afternoon, but it’s also a term that not many people understand. As we discussed the characters in the series, Joanna Sotomura and Dayeanne Hutton talked about Harriet Smith as a character. When I noted that so many people dismiss Harriet because she’s quiet and shy, they both astutely said: “She’s meek. But meek doesn’t mean weak.” I think too many people associate the term “strong female character” with Black Widow or Wonder Woman or Black Canary or Lara Croft. And that’s totally understandable: those women ARE strong women. But being a strong woman in literature or television or a movie doesn’t mean that you have to wield a gun. It doesn’t mean that you are a woman who takes over the jobs of a man. A strong woman simply means a layered and flawed woman. You can be a strong woman without ever taking a kickboxing class or knocking someone out. You can be a strong woman without having to wear spandex or jumping out of a plane or enlisting in the military. You can be a strong woman and be blonde and work with computers. The fact of the matter is that Felicity Meghan Smoak is a strong woman. Truthfully, not many people SEE that because of characters like Nyssa or Sara or Shado. And I applaud Arrow for portraying such a vast array of kick-butt female characters and giving equal weight to them all (Laurel and Thea and Mama Queen included). Beautifully, this is a show that celebrates the complexity and diversity of women and doesn’t fall into the same stereotypes and tropes that other shows do (more on that later on) in regards to women and women in romance, especially.

I knew that I would really like Felicity as a character based on the tweets and Tumblr posts that I had seen regarding her and her relationship with Oliver. I wasn’t entirely prepared, however, for how MUCH I would love her. Felicity is the perfect television example of a well-rounded and well-written “strong female character.” She’s vulnerable but determined; she cries and gets scared but also is fearless in moments of need. She’s – in a lot of ways – smarter than Diggle or Oliver. She’s from a broken family and still harbors pain but doesn’t let it cloud her optimism and bubbly attitude. She’s amazing and that is why I have decided to dedicate a post to my appreciation of her (and for Emily Bett Rickards who is absolutely and positively astounding, nuanced, and all of the other lovely adjectives).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In Which Jenn Goes to LeakyCon (Let's Geek Out!)

I’ve never gone to a convention before. I know, this may surprise you given my tendency to talk about fandom every and any chance that I get. When I heard that LeakyCon would be coming to Orlando for 2014, I knew that I had to attend it, if only to get the full and immersive “con experience.” What I discovered at the end of this convention was this: I love conventions. I love places that gather together hundreds or thousands of individuals. These are individuals from all across the country and the world. These are people who are all ages, ranging from teenagers to parents, ethnicities, religions, and personalities. And these are people who have one thing in common: they care about things deeply, personally, and passionately.

If I were to describe what it is like to be a part of a fandom, those are the words I would use, quite frankly. People who love and are invested in fandom are people who forge deeper connections with literature, television, music, and movies than average people. And though these individuals – these teenagers or young adults or adults – may feel like they are alone in their struggles and challenges and everyday lives, fandom is what they feel connected to. When people attend LeakyCon or any convention, it’s not just because they’re excited to see their favorite authors or actors. It’s partially because of that, but it’s because fandom makes people feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves – that they’re not alone. The feeling of isolation is terrifying and consuming. But the feelings of love and acceptance and equality are so much more powerful than the darkness.

Though I attended LeakyCon as press, I was able to see and feel those feelings – that love and warmth and complete and utter joy, as Dylan Saunders noted – that filled every crevice and corner of the Orange County Convention Center. It was beautiful and it was special and it was OURS. So, if you’ll indulge me, I would like to tell you all about what I experienced this weekend through panels and special events! Let’s geek out together. :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

LeakyCon Special Interview: The Cast of "Emma Approved"

(The cast and crew of Emma Approved. From left to right: Brent Bailey, Joanna Sotomura, writer/transmedia producer Alexandra Edwards, Dayeanne Hutton, and James Brent Isaacs)

I had the opportunity to take some time out of my Saturday afternoon at LeakyCon in order to sit down with the stars and one of the writers (and transmedia producer) of the webseries Emma Approved. The change of pace was actually quite refreshing for all of us, I think, as they (and I, as well) had been bustling back and forth to panels throughout the weekend. Sitting down in a quiet and more intimate setting allowed for everyone to have some deeper discussions about the characters on the series. My roundtable included Joanna Sotomura (Emma), Brent Bailey (Knightley), Dayeanne Hutton (Harriet), Alex Edwards (writer/transmedia producer), and James Brent Isaacs (Bobby Martin).

We discussed characters, storytelling, adapting literary canon for the web, and how females are portrayed on the series. If you’re ready, click below the cut for some awesome discussions!