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Monday, September 29, 2014

Strong Women Series #1: The Women of 'Arrow'


STRONG WOMEN SERIES #1: The Women of Arrow

When I was at LeakyCon, there was a panel titled "Leading as a Lady." At this panel, a handful of female actresses from all mediums -- television, web, movies -- had the opportunity to discuss what it is like to be a woman in their craft. It was an enlightening panel, as everything from racial identity to sexism was discussed. But one of the most interesting questions at the panel and one that has resonated with me ever since was this: "Do you think 'strong, female character' has become a buzz word in the business?" It was an interesting question and one that piqued my interest at the panel. I had to wonder... is it true? Has the phrase "strong, female character" become a fad? Or, worse, has it become just a string of words that people tack onto a character description without fully recognizing what they mean? Is "strong, female character" the new "gluten-free"?

I said in the opening of my Mona Vanderwaal Appreciation Post that I like my villains the same way I like my Starbucks order (complex), and the same holds true for not just villains but heroes as well. I like complex characters. I like layered characters. I like rooting for a character and watching them stumble; I like hating a character and watching them prove me wrong. As a woman who avidly watches television critically because she has a background in English and therefore cannot help but see characters and story as anything but complex, I've become frustrated when those who write about television completely dilute what the phrase "strong, female character means." When I become enraged, however, is when these people only classify certain females as strong and deem others to be weak or inconsequential simply because they do not fit a stereotype or a preconceived notion.

Before I get to the ladies of Arrow, let me first attempt to define what makes a "strong, female character" and why this terminology is constantly misused and mishandled within the scope of pop culture criticism. In order to explain what a strong female is, let me first explain what she is NOT: a woman is not strong because she wields a weapon; a woman can be strong if she wields a weapon but that is not what classifies her as "strong." A strong woman is not someone who merely serves to overpower men or take their positions of authority. In example: Oliver Queen still has near-ultimate authority in Team Arrow, but Felicity Smoak is a strong female character without ever directly opposing him or overpowering his position as "leader." A strong female character is not just a person who yells or who sits on a throne or who knows how to put a man in a headlock. We tend to think of "strong" as a masculine term which is problematic when we attach it to the phrase "female character," because then the presumption is that a woman has to have the physical strength or stamina or attributes that a man does in order to be worthy of the term. (And this is understandable because when you look up the word "strong" in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, the first definition references physical strength.)

But what if... what if the phrase "strong, female character" simply meant "a complex, multi-layered female character who does not serve as a prop for a story, but an anchor." Strong women can be vulnerable. Wow, that's shocking, right? Strong women can be romantic. Again: are you surprised? Strength is not inherently tied to invincibility, nor should it be. A woman should be considered strong if she triumphs in the face of adversity, no matter what that looks like. She should be considered strong if she is flawed -- if she falls and makes mistakes and sometimes says the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong moment. A woman should be considered strong if she changes the course of her own future and destiny. A woman should be considered strong if she allows herself to love and to be loved because when you fall in love, you are allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable and that kind of decision requires enormous strength.

Are you beginning to see a clearer picture of this "strong, female character"? If Hollywood wants to present us with these types of women -- these multi-layered, complex heroes and villains and antiheroes -- then I would not be more thrilled to embrace them. But -- and this is a BIG but -- if Hollywood continues to decide that in order to placate women, they must construct a "strong, female character" and do so by handing a female character a gun or a sword, slapping a label on her one-dimensional personality and calling it good, then I will continue to take offense. Give me Felicity Smoak. Give me Leslie Knope. Give me Jessica Day and Merida from Brave and Donna Paulsen. Give me Abbie Mills and Laurel Lance and Annie Edison and Elizabeth Keen. Present me with examples like Lizzie Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, Clara Oswald, and Moira Queen. Take women like Thea Queen and Britta Perry, Lindsay Monroe, Sara Lance, Liz Lemon, and Monica Geller and show them to me -- all of their faults and flaws, their hang-ups and quirks, their strengths and weaknesses and let me embrace them. Because within each of those women listed is a kernel of strength that blossoms and grows because it is unique, just like them.

Those, dear friends, are the "strong, female characters" I need to see more of. And, transitioning away from my diatribe of an introduction, let's discuss some of the characters that I noted above from The CW's colossal hit Arrow. Each woman at the beginning of the post is is strong: Laurel, Felicity, Sara, Moria, and Thea alike. Their strengths are rooted in different facets of their personality, so if you don't mind, I would like to take time throughout this post to explain what each of those facets are. Ready? Let's do this.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Once Upon A Time 4x01 "A Tale of Two Sisters" (Monsters vs. Heroes)

"A Tale of Two Sisters"
Original Airdate: September 28, 2014

Heroes bore me sometimes.

Okay, let me rephrase that: flat heroes bore me; complex ones never disappoint. Thankfully for me (and everyone, I suppose) most writers present their audiences with complex heroes and heroines. These are people who come from interesting backgrounds, overcome obstacles, and are layered throughout the process. Antiheroes interest me more than any sub-genre, to be quite honest. Heroes who are perfect are boring; heroes who have both darkness and light inside of them are complex, interesting, and REAL. Once Upon A Time's journey as a series has always been one that focused on the idea of what constitutes a hero, "happiness," and villainy. What we've discovered as we've progressed is that characters cannot be relegated to boxes. Regina is both a hero and a villain; Rumpelstiltskin is both self-sacrificial and selfish; Elsa is both careful and self-sabotaging.

The theme in "A Tale of Two Sisters" is that our heroes (Regina, Elsa, and Rumpelstiltskin) believe that they are monsters. There's this constant dichotomy within each of these characters -- darkness and light; goodness and evil. The beauty of heroism is that it is not a one-person journey. Everyone within Storybrooke who considers him or herself a hero is who they are not just because of the decisions they've made, but because of how beloved others view and treat them. Regina may believe herself to be a monster, forever trapped in darkness, aching to be a hero with a happy ending rather than a reformed woman whose good intentions are met with nothing but heartbreak... but that's not how Emma sees her. Emma vows in the premiere to fight for Regina's happiness. Elsa -- as those of us who watched the film saw in Frozen -- was told that she was a monster because of her powers. That isolated Elsa from everyone and everything she loved, including her sister, Anna. But Anna always saw the good in Elsa, the light and the hope, and THAT is what keeps Elsa going, even when everything else is bleak. It doesn't prevent her from self-sabotage, but that love -- that completely sacrificial, beautiful and pure love -- from Anna is what makes Elsa who she truly is. And Rumple? Well, this man has been called a monster more times than anyone on the series, to the point where I do believe a part of Rumple will always believe he is that. His new life with Belle, however, and Neal's death have convinced him that he needs to become the man Neal died for... the man Belle deserves.

So, if you're ready, let's check in on the residents of Storybrooke and see what we learned in "A Tale of Two Sisters," shall we?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

New Girl 4x02 "Dice" (Friends Help Friends Do Stuff)

Original Airdate: September 23, 2014

Friends help friends do stuff.

Friends help friends move (my roommate and I have really awesome friends who have helped us move our entire two-bedroom apartment - twice - in less than three hours). Friends help friends when they get their hearts broken. Friends help friends when their cars break down. Friends help friends when something terrible or tragic happens. Friends just help friends -- it's that simple. I've been blessed in my life to have some pretty amazing friends. They've helped me through tragedies, encouraged me through half-marathons, and supported me even when I didn't know I needed their support. In "Dice," we are reminded that these crazy thirty-somethings are actually really good friends with each other, above all else. And they do silly, seemingly inconsequential things to help each other out. Because that's just what friends do. Friends show up at a party with you and try to bump up your credibility among your new police academy comrades. Friends help introduce you to the modern era dating world because they know you deserve to put yourself out there but are scared to do so.

I really liked "Dice" because it reminded us that no matter what has happened romantically between the group, no matter how much or little history there is, these people care about each other and want happiness for them. It doesn't mean that they always make the RIGHT decisions, but that's kind of what New Girl is about if you really think about it: a bunch of weirdos who are friends and who sometimes make bad decisions that also nearly always come from a good place. Technically, "Dice" worked for me because it eliminated a C-story, instead focusing just on the A-story of Schmidt/Jess (which was SO welcome and I truly hope we see more of them together in the future) and the B-story of Nick/Coach/Winston/Cece which was absurdly comedic and played to all of the actors' strengths who were in that story. This episode was written by Matt Fusfeld and Alex Cuthbertson who a) used to write for Community and b) wrote one of the best episodes last season ("Menus") and I think that they did a fantastic job. They always excel at making these characters hilarious in their flaws and so utterly lovable. They truly understand the group and individual dynamics which makes me happy. Great job, guys!

So, if you're ready, grab your phone and that adorable dog at the party, and let's talk about "Dice"!

The Mindy Project 3x02 "Annette Castellano Is My Nemesis" [Contributor: Ann]

"Annette Castellano Is My Nemesis"
Original Airdate: September 23, 2014

There’s a point in "Annette Castellano is My Nemesis" where Mindy, after offending Annette so much that she storms away from lunch, turns to Danny and whispers: “I think that was an A-.” The joke, obviously, is that the lunch did not go that well, but Mindy wants to pretend it wasn’t as bad as it was, so she only offers it the minimum demerit. A- would only mean light nitpicking, but the truth is that the lunch deserves more criticism than what Mindy assesses.

That’s kind of how I feel right now. I love this show, and it would be preferable for me to pretend that its faults didn’t exist. But it would be most preferable for me to have a show that doesn’t have these faults, and with that ideal in my head I have to say that I did not like "Annette Castellano is My Nemesis" at all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why 'You're the Worst' is the Best [Contributor: Ann]

First and foremost: Happy blog birthday, Jenn! You, like this show, are the absolute best.

I should preface by saying that I am one of the laziest and pickiest TV watchers ever. That isn’t to say that I don’t love and appreciate TV; it’s that I have a huge list of TV shows that I will never have the time or energy to watch, despite my appreciation and understanding of the show itself. Like House of Cards. I know what happens, but man, I am watching roughly one episode every six months right now. It is not easy for me to latch onto a TV show because my staple shows are so rewatchable that I kind of don’t see the point of adding new ones.

When there is a show that captivates me, then, I feel the need to aggressively tell everyone about it. This show tore down my walls. This show got me hooked when so many other shows couldn’t.

Hi, You’re the Worst.

Quick summary about what You’re the Worst is, for those of you—probably most of you—that have never heard of it. It is the love story between two people: Gretchen Cutler, a publicist kleptomaniac who dismisses relationships because she’s "scared of [that] shit" and Jimmy Shive-Overly, a mediocre novelist who does not believe in relationships, especially given his romantic past.

They meet at a wedding held by Jimmy’s ex Becca and have sex that night. “I’m not even attracted to you,” Gretchen says while they’re doing it, between chews of gum. “Does that really matter?” Jimmy counters. Gretchen shrugs.

It’s funny—actually, it is hilarious—but You’re the Worst is most distinguishable by the honesty and the realism of the situations that Gretchen, Jimmy, and their respective friends Lindsay and Edgar get into. As a show called You’re the Worst, there is no hesitation here in making the characters flawed, in less endearing ways than what is traditionally seen on television. Sometimes Gretchen and Jimmy treat each other badly for no better reason than that they are flawed people, and, as a flawed person myself, that is refreshing.

The romantic comedy and the love story is always my absolute favorite—I’m sure it is for so many people, given a fall pilot season that includes Manhattan Love Story and A to Z. Unlike those shows, though, You’re the Worst acts as if love is not the antidote that it has always been presented to be. Love betters, and love cures, but love is not necessarily s superhero. In a sense, this portrayal is better—love should not, in reality, be an end goal, nor should it be its own entity, because then it lends itself to becoming generic, trite, and stale. The best love stories are the ones that involve their characters and elevate how great they already are, and You’re the Worst succeeds for this reason. Jimmy and Gretchen are both fully fleshed-out characters before they start falling for each other, and they remain fleshed out throughout the entire season. Love does not consume them or the story, which is refreshing! These people have lives to live, after all.

Speaking of, the two side characters—Gretchen’s friend Lindsay and Jimmy’s friend Edgar—are not treated, by the creators or within the show, as mere sidekicks. Both Lindsay and Edgar are given seasonal arcs that are separate from the main action, and at no point are they merely existing to prop up the lead characters. They’re real people, too, with conflicts that exist both with and without their friends. And because Lindsay and Edgar's lives do not revolve around Gretchen and Jimmy, their plots are more interesting — they are respected and have real opportunities for character development rather than serving as props or "best friend" tropes.

So, I love the characters. In part, that is because of the deft pacing of the first season. With only 10, 22-or-so minute episodes, there’s not a lot of time to pack a punch, and none of that time is wasted. The showrunner, Stephen Falk—who I have a major writing crush on—describes to the AV Club how he divided the 9 episodes post-pilot into three acts (each with its own director), as if it were a romantic comedy film. And the season comes across that way, as each episode can work individually, within its group of 3, or as one part of the major arc. This is true for the Gretchen/Jimmy story, Gretchen’s story, Jimmy’s story, Lindsay’s story, Edgar’s story, and everything in-between. The show is presented as an accurate portrayal of life, but that doesn’t mean it disrespects the structure of storytelling. In one of my favorite quotes ever, Stephen Falk says:
I pay a lot of attention to structure in television. What I love about shows like Breaking Bad is that they’re so good at making the audience feel like they’re in safe hands. In other words, if you introduce something, it’ll be used, it’s going to have an arc, and it’s going to come to fruition. So I was very careful to make sure that if I’m introducing something, for the most part, there’s an arc to it.
What a breath of fresh air, and extremely true, both in the development in characters and in the most minor of details, too.

If I have not yet sold you on this show—this hilarious, lovely, beautiful show—let me provide some Netflix-like “If You Like This” comparisons to try to hook you in.

If you like The Mindy Project, you will like You’re the Worst. There’s no shortage of "heart eyes" (actually, both Aya Cash and Chris Geere, acting-wise, nail it in every respect) or sweet romantic situations despite what Jimmy and Gretchen insist.

If you like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Archer, you will like You’re the Worst. These people are endearingly ‘the worst’. (Not as much as It’s Always Sunny—I don’t know if that limit exists…) The humor accompanies its characters—equally fearless in refusing to smooth its edges, and all the better for it.

If you like How I Met Your Mother or New Girl, you will like You’re the Worst. There is nothing like shows about people hanging out in elaborate ways, drinking a lot, and basically being silly.

If you like (500) Days of Summer, you will like You’re the Worst. Stylistically, You’re the Worst is reminiscent of the film, often using a split screen to capture the reactions of its leads. It also is a celebration of city life—to me, You’re the Worst takes place in a richly detailed and distinct setting, capturing the mood of—well, I’ve never been to LA, but assumedly it, or at least its fictional counterpart.

If you like Hello Ladies, you will like You’re the Worst. Obscure romantic-comedy shows with a handsome, albeit douchey, British male lead that takes place in LA? Wow, what a fit.

You’re the Worst is a success to me. I love the leads, I love the supporting cast, I love the world that Stephen Falk has created in only ten episodes. I love that its season has an arc that is both satisfying and realistic—that is, functional and thematically aware, but not 100% resolved. It is a remarkable piece of work that deserves more awareness for all that it has accomplished—by that I mean, sure, that it provided a new and fresh spin, but also that it got me into a new TV show. Talk about a lifetime achievement.

Happy 3rd Birthday to You, Blog!

Last year, I celebrated this blog's second birthday by writing a letter to my 2011 self. This year - today, in fact! - marks my blog's third birthday and I decided to write up a little post that takes you on a journey of where I've been for the last three years, where I am now, and where I'd like to be in three more years (when I'm 28, which is a scary thought). So if you would, join me as I celebrate the only baby that I have: Just About Write. Bust out those confetti canons and the birthday cake, because we're about to have some fun!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screw it, I’m sold.

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



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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Welcome to the Team, Ann!

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

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

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