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

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

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

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

In Appreciation of the Everyday Heroine

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Series - Summer Lovin': Week 1


Between Frozen and Grease, I assure you that I'll have summer lovin'-related songs stuck in my head for the next few months. Welcome, dear readers, to our brand spakin' new series for the summer! If you've read our TV MVP Series (which, let's be real -- you all should), you'll know that I value the diversity of our writing staff. It's really amazing to see how many of us watch certain shows together and how many of us actually don't. That series was great because each week, I would get the chance to read about at least one performer on a show I didn't watch. It made me appreciate how vast and wonderful television really is. What is so great about the summertime though is the fact that -- with very little on television -- that vast world is opened even further. Summer is the chance to catch up on all of those shows we've been told we need to watch by others. It's the time to go see summer blockbusters and read a few books or binge-watch an entire show on Netflix. If the normal television season is ripe with diversity of entertainment taste around here, then summer is overflowing.

Our new series will focus each week on one thing -- be it television show, book, movie, web series, etc. -- that each of the participants are loving that week. It's hopefully a series that will inspire you all to read and watch some of what we are this summer and also heighten excitement for the upcoming television season. So, without further adieu, here are the writers who will be kicking off this week's first installment with me:

  • Delightful human being, first full-time contributor to the site, and writer extraordinaire, Ann!
  • My favorite person to gush about superhero television shows with, Constance Gibbs
  • Newest contributor and novelist, Lynnie Purcell!
  • Jaime's greatest nemesis, my favorite feminist, and lover of all things wonderful: Chelsea
  • My BFF, partner-in-crime, and the reason I know so much about One Direction: Jaime Poland!
  • Precious tropical sunfish, my forever cheerleader, and soul sister: Jen
  • Our weekly Hannibal expert and lovely writer, Rae Nudson!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

'Hannibal' Season Three Pre-Game [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


The rose colored glasses everyone sees Hannibal through are shattered at the end of season two...  much like the window Alana Bloom also went through. The truth oozed out and spilled over, the presumed dead were walking again, and even after every sacrifice, Hannibal got away.

The carnage Hannibal left when he escaped with Bedelia is impressive: Jack was stabbed and left for dead, Alana crashed through a second-floor window, Abigail came back from the presumed dead only to be slashed in the throat yet again, and Will tried to save her while fighting for his own life. Hannibal had killed before, but never so many, or so violently, on screen for the audience to see. Just like Alana, Jack, and Will, we too now see Hannibal for what he is, in no uncertain terms.

It wasn’t an easy road last season for the trio to see the truth. Will started the season arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. As he began to uncover his memories, with help from Dr. Chilton, Will began to recall what Hannibal did to him. Privately, he held firm in the truth, blaming Hannibal and trying to find ways to stop him (including hiring a killer to end Hannibal once and for all). Publicly, Will knew no one was going to believe him until he got some proof. So he hatched a long con with Jack to catch the Chesapeake Ripper. A con so good that no one knew what was real and what was a trick.

After the charges against Will were dropped and he was released from the hospital for the criminally insane, he pretended to return to a normal life. Will helped on cases with the FBI, and he resumed his therapy with Hannibal. He played with his dogs. He met and formed a relationship with Margot Verger, another of Hannibal’s patients who might be better off without his specific brand of treatment.

But life as usual is not really on the menu (haaa) when Hannibal is involved. At the earliest opportunity, Hannibal started manipulating again, coercing Margot to get pregnant by Will in a plan to produce an heir for the Verger fortune. It might have worked, if Margot’s abusive brother Mason didn’t catch Hannibal’s attention. Hannibal hated his rudeness.

So Margot, Mason, and Will became pawns in Hannibal’s game. Every time Margot made a move to escape Mason, Hannibal made sure she was trapped even further. She got pregnant so her son could inherit the fortune that she, as a woman could not. And so, Mason forced her under the knife for a hysterectomy. Will began to love the idea of being a father, then was forced to mourn the idea of a child. Hannibal pushed them all so hard they broke—this was his design.

When Will told Mason that Hannibal was responsible for everything, Mason tried to kill Hannibal, but somehow it was Mason instead who ended up with a broken neck and a scarred face (in a scene that disturbed me so much it took me weeks to get over). Hannibal saw Mason coming—he sees everything that’s coming—and he can orchestrate others’ pain just as easily as a new song on his harpsichord. ... Which is also how he played Alana. Fed up with Will, believing he was denying reality, Alana turned to Hannibal. What she found instead was a smokescreen. Hannibal got close to Alana and used her for alibis and cover stories, and Alana was happily taken for a ride.

Crime reporter Freddie Lounds was able to see through the smokescreen, and fortunately for Freddie, her fake death may have precluded her real one (how could Hannibal kill her for knowing the truth when she’s already dead?). Will and Jack faked Freddie’s death so that Hannibal would believe Will killed her. As she became part of Jack and Will’s plan, Freddie learned a lot about Hannibal, which will ultimately go into a best-seller, no doubt.

The FBI, however, was left in the dark. When Jack and Will’s plan finally came to light, Jack and Will were accused of entrapment and Will charged with the murder of a man he killed in self-defense after Hannibal set him up to do so. Jack bent the rules of the FBI with Miriam Lass, and he bent the rules for Will. Death follows Hannibal, but chaos follows Jack.

When Jack knows he is running out of (semi) legal options, he goes to Hannibal himself. Last season opened with a fight between Jack and Hannibal, and the season finale is where that fight ended. Hannibal knew they were coming for him, so Hannibal did what he always does when he is forced into a corner. He fought his way out. And Jack, Will, Abigail, and Alana—all those who saw the truth about Hannibal with their own eyes—are left dead or dying in Hannibal’s pristinely decorated home. Although Hannibal’s former friends (frenemies?) are left for dead, the truth finally lives. Jack and his team now know for sure who they are looking for, but will they be able to find him? Will they LIVE to find him?

Season three of Hannibal seemingly will be focused less on searching for the truth and more on literally searching for Hannibal. His escape with Bedelia, his former psychiatrist and ice queen of my heart, sets up the show for a new dynamic. The pair is on the run, living—and likely killing—in Europe together. I can’t wait to find out more about Bedelia and her reasons for helping Hannibal, and I am dying to see how Jack and Will can act now that hiding the truth isn’t holding them back. Presuming, of course, that they are still alive to search.

What are you most excited about this season? I love Bedelia and can’t wait to see what she is wearing on holiday in Europe—and who she and Hannibal might be having for dinner.

Hannibal comes backreturns Thursday, June 4, at 10/9c on NBC. Meet me back here for weekly reviews! I’ll bring the dessert.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#SummerRewatch: The Flash 1x01 "Pilot" (Run, Barry, Run)


"Pilot"
Original Airdate: October 7. 2014

I don’t know what kind of hero I am but I suspect that I’m more like Barry Allen than any other fictional hero. Barry is optimistic. He’s driven. He’s fun, lighthearted, cares about his friends and family deeply. He wants to protect others and he hasn’t been jaded by the world as much as some people have. He didn’t have to be forged in fire or life experience. He literally woke up one day with a superpower. He didn’t ASK to be a hero; he was CHOSEN to be one. In the pilot episode of The Flash, we see and hear this quite clearly: when the particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs explodes, it hits the crime laboratory where Barry is working. A bolt of lightning hits him, sends him into a coma, and when he awakes – nine months later – he’s the fastest man alive and, as he soon discovers, not the only one of his kind.

But before we dive into a discussion of Barry in the pilot, let’s talk briefly about what makes The Flash so different from Arrow and what makes Barry and Oliver Queen such different kinds of heroes. I love Barry Allen because he’s got a good heart. He’s always concerned about other people and that is always his first instinct. His first instinct is not self-preservation. That’s always Oliver’s first response and it’s natural, given the amount of time he spent on the island and in Hong Kong, forced to do whatever it took to survive. Oliver was forced into becoming a hero, his soul blackened and body bruised and soul scarred because that was the only way. Before the island, Oliver was… well, making some morally questionable decisions. Barry, though not a saint, seems to generally make the right decision – he’s the do-gooder. The Flash is constantly a show about optimism and hope; Arrow is a show that is often very gritty in its realism. There are no characters who laugh as they name and label “metahumans.” In Arrow, everything is always dark and dire (with some exceptions). Even the humor on the show is often more biting and sarcastic than the goofy humor on The Flash. It doesn’t mean that one show is better than the other and it certainly doesn’t mean that one hero is somehow better than the other.

If we learned anything from The Flash/Arrow crossing over this year it’s that Barry can learn a lot from Oliver and needs to continue to allow himself the humility to learn from others. But Oliver can learn a lot from Barry, too. Barry still looks at the world and sees it as full of mostly good people… including Oliver. And Oliver? Well, he wishes he could be the kind of hero that Barry can be – the kind who didn’t have to suffer, who was chosen instead of forced to become “something else” (I couldn’t resist). Both heroes need each other for support, as the pilot of The Flash displays quite clearly. Who is the first person that Barry leans on for support when it comes to being a hero? Oliver. Remember of course, if you also watch Arrow, that this rooftop conversation takes place directly after the events at the hospital in “The Calm.” So Oliver is still fresh from his sort-of-breakup with Felicity. And yet, he manages to offer Barry words of advice: he tells him that he was chosen to become a hero and that Barry can impact Central City in a way that Oliver cannot – acting as a guardian angel, essentially. Where Oliver is a vigilante, roaming the streets during the nighttime to put away criminals, the implication here is that while Barry may want to invest in a mask, he’s going to be the kind of hero who watches over others and comforts them, protecting them, helping them.

But before Barry Allen is struck by that fateful bolt of lightning, he’s a relatively normal young man. There’s one notable exception: his father is in prison for the murder of Nora Allen – Barry’s mother and Henry’s wife. Because Henry is serving time in prison for a crime Barry is convinced he did not commit, Barry was raised by Joe West – the father of Barry’s childhood best friend, Iris. Barry and Iris are still best friends (more on them throughout this #SummerRewatch series) and rely on one another for support and encouragement and comradery. They’re yore than friends, actually: Iris is Barry’s family. And Joe is Barry’s family, too. Knowing what I know now, re-watching The Flash’s pilot was illuminating in terms of the relationship between Joe and Barry. There was a moment where Joe actually yelled at Barry and it was kind of jarring because I don’t recall too many moments later in the season where Joe acts this aggressively toward the young man. But despite their differences and disagreements, Joe and Barry love one another. Joe constantly supports Barry and treats him just like he does Iris – his own child. Joe may not be Barry’s biological father, but he’s still his parent: the one who keeps a watchful eye, the one who doles out advice and occasionally harsh truths. The one who supports and loves at the end of the day. That’s the kind of relationship that Joe fosters with Barry and it’s absolutely wonderful. I have no doubt that the combination of how Barry was raised up until his mother died and how he was raised under Joe’s roof allowed him to become the heroic young man that we meet in the pilot episode. Because even before Barry puts on a suit and a mask, he’s a hero. He’s doing what he can as a forensic scientist to help the world and make it better. He wants to solve his mother’s murder and prove his father’s innocence. He believes in happy stories. It’s why he and Felicity Smoak get along so well together.

But once Barry is hit by that bolt of lightning, he changes. He becomes The Flash: a young man with superhuman speed. And because of the coma that the lightning put him into, he’s monitored until – and after – he wakes up by a trio of S.T.A.R. Labs employees named Dr. Harrison Wells, Cisco Ramon, and Dr. Caitlin Snow. Do you ever go back and re-watch pilot episodes of your favorite shows? With Friends now readily available on Netflix, I did that recently and it struck me how young and how different everyone was. The same holds true in the case of The Flash, to an extent, even though the series is only a season old. Caitlin is much colder (pun intended for those who know what I mean) than she is during the later episodes and with good reason: at this point in the story of the show, it’s only been nine months since she lost Ronnie and since her career and boss deteriorated. Harrison is a lot harsher than I remember him, too, and a far cry from the man we meet early in the episode pre-particle accelerator explosion. That man was charismatic and charming. The man we meet in the wheelchair? He’s… curious. But he makes it clear that Barry is not a hero. Cisco is the character who changes the least in some ways: he’s still extremely energetic, fun, and doesn’t take anything seriously. At the end of The Flash’s first season, we still see that part of Cisco, but we also see a very serious, very determined, very intentional young man in the season finale. Cisco is brilliant, that much is certain, and he doesn’t take life seriously at all in the pilot which is – I think – his way of coping with all that happened. His boundless energy and enthusiasm is what keeps him going from day to day.

Unbeknownst to Barry upon meeting them, these people will change his life in ways he cannot even comprehend. And it’s fun to see little hints of that sprinkled throughout the pilot. Pilot!Barry and finale!Barry are similar in a lot of ways: both are desperate to save the people they love, both still believe in hope and goodness, and both fight for humanity and for themselves. That hope is what carries Barry throughout the entire season. It’s what causes him to realize that he has a purpose. It’s what gives him strength. And the support of Dr. Wells, Cisco, and Caitlin allow Barry to begin on the path that will lead him to growing and changing in the best possible ways.

The Flash’s pilot is important because it lays the foundation for the rest of this show: optimistic, fun, engaging, inspiring, and ambitious. What a way to begin a series.

Additional notes:
  • I love Barry's voiceovers. They're just so energetic.
  • “My dad gave me that pen. He fought and died.”
  • “The future will be here faster than you think.” HAAAAAAAA. *hums “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods* Also: isn't it great to go back and rewatch earlier episodes of this show, knowing what you know by the end of the season?
  • “Lightning gave me abs?”
  • “I need you to urinate in this.”
  • “That was quite the nap you took there, baby face. And you still look twelve.”
  • “You’re not a hero. You’re just a young man who was struck by lightning.”
  • “You can inspire people in a way I never could.”
  • “Now run, Barry. Run.”
  • Barry/Henry scenes are some of the best and most emotional in the entire series and the one in this episode at the end was no exception.
  • DUN-DUN-DUN. Sketchy Dr. Wells is being sketchy in the end tag!
Did you all enjoy rewatching the pilot of The Flash? Do you remember what your first impressions were of it? Hit up the comments below and let me know your thoughts. Until then. :)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

6x12 "Wedding Videography" (One Wedding and This Show's Funeral)


"Wedding Videography"
Original Airdate: May 26, 2015

Do you know why the third season of New Girl was problematic? 

It wasn’t, as many people surmised, because the romantic pairing of Nick and Jess sunk the show – that their will-they-won’t-they was more entertaining and engaging than the they-did. No, as I re-watched a majority of the third season recently, I realized that there were two main problems in that particular season of the FOX series. First, the story for Schmidt fell completely apart and turned him from an endearingly unlikable character to a borderline villain. He became abrasive and unbearable at points. The second problem was that in pairing Nick and Jess together so often in stories, the writers isolated them from the rest of the group, making episodes seem scattered and disjointed.

So in the fourth season, New Girl readjusted its trajectory and fixed the problems that originated the year prior. As a result, the series was one of the most consistently hilarious, heartwarming, and character-driven shows on the air last primetime television season. I admire Liz, Brett, Dave, and their team of writers not just for acknowledging that their show had missteps and problems that needed to be fixed, but also being willing to remedy those issues and knowing HOW they needed to be remedied. The producers and writers realized that the show needed to return to its origin: a group of messed up individuals who surround themselves with one another so that they can become better. The writers recognized the redemption in Schmidt’s arc and extracted every little bit of humanity and pathos that they could. This allowed Schmidt to become a fully-realized character who grew throughout the fourth season. His growth was real. It was earned, as was the rest of the growth exhibited in the characters (especially Coach and Winston) this year.


But what would have happened if New Girl hadn’t been willing to correct the issues that their characters had in the fourth season? Those characters, quite simply, would have regressed even further than they already had. This diatribe, as you might be able to surmise, brings us to Community’s penultimate episode of season six titled: “Wedding Videography.” I’m not going to be shy in this review (as if you all doubted I would be) and state that there was very little I enjoyed about the episode. In fact, I enjoyed the Glee re-run I watched this weekend more than this episode.

Yeah.

It was that bad.

It’s one thing to tell you that I thought an episode was bad. But it’s another to be able to articulate WHY it was bad. Let me take the rest of this post to explain what went horribly awry this season on Community and how – it’s very likely – nothing that the show does from here forward will be able to redeem it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Series - Frenemies Talk Film: #1 ("Pitch Perfect 2")


Frenemies Talk Film #1: Pitch Perfect 2

Hey everyone!  I’m Jaime, and you might recognize me from my occasional guest posts, best friendship with your amazing leader Jenn, or from my recaps of Parks and Rec’s final season.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, my greatest passion in life isn’t Ben Wyatt’s beautiful elf-like body, or One Direction’s evolving musical sound.  I’m a huge film buff, and the beginning of summer means one thing: a buttload of amazing movies are coming out soon.  Well, okay, maybe they’re not all amazing, but they’re all at least worth seeing and discussing.

I’m kind of a snob when it comes to talking about film, though.  I minored in film studies, and throughout my time as an undergrad, I pretty much went to one person to talk about what movie we’d gone to see that week: my worst enemy Chelsea, bane of my existence, soon to be known as the number one name on the list of my murder victims.  She’s terrible, but, I’m reluctant to admit, she knows her stuff when it comes to movies, both as an aficionado and as a fan.  So we’re going to spend the summer discussing movies here on Just About Write – most of our posts will probably be focused on a new movie we’ve both seen, but knowing us, we’ll probably have a few discussions about various film critiques and theory.  Because we love to be pretentious.

We’re going to kick off Frenemies Talk Film with the first of the high profile summer movies being released this year: Pitch Perfect 2.

(Before we continue, I need to clear something up.  My greatest passion is One Direction’s evolving musical sound.  I claimed otherwise for the sake of a solid introduction but I couldn’t let that lie continue.)

JAIME: So Pitch Perfect.  It's gotten some mixed reviews, and I can definitely see some flaws with its plot and characters, but like, who even cares?  I'm here to have fun and to see some synchronized lady-singing, and it delivered.  I wouldn't say this movie had as clear of an arc as the first one; we're not watching Beca (or any other character) move from Point A to Point B, but they're becoming more evolved versions of themselves.  There were already a ton of notable differences that show how they've grown in the three years since Pitch Perfect, so I think that did a lot of work in setting up everyone's storylines.  We're not necessarily seeing how all these conflicts began (Beca wanting to move away from the Bellas, Chloe refusing to move on, Amy hiding her feelings for Bumper, etc.), but in a way, that was better.  There was already so much going on in this movie that it didn't really have time to waste; it needed to jump right in and get moving.

CHELSEA: I mean sure, it had its problems but it's not trying to be the first one and establish all these characters. It's trying to be more 30 Rock with its ridiculous antics. We don't need them to hold our hands through all the "character development" because we already know these people & we just want to hangout with them now.

And I thought it was awesome that we weren't being led through each step of their journeys.  Because how many movies are there with male lead characters who we don't really get to know?  Where people say, "Well, it's enough to judge them based on their actions and what we see."  It's the same thing here - we get to see these awesome women and learn who they are based solely on how they react to this situation.  

And, like, it was hilarious.  I was crying with laughter the whole time, and if that doesn't make a good movie, I don't know what does.

Exactly. Like, every dude comedy does it so the ladies shouldn't have to coddle you. And it's the funniest movie I've seen since like 22 Jump Street so it's doing something right.

So what did you think of it as a sequel?  It was interesting because you could definitely feel the effects of the first one becoming a cult hit.  I mean, for one thing, when I saw the first film in theatres, it was almost empty.  My theatre for Pitch Perfect 2 was packed.  And then you had a lot of callbacks and attention placed on things people loved about the first one, like Fat Amy and Bumper, etc.

I was pretty surprised at how little Jesse was in the movie.  I would have liked more, but at the same time, I'm never gonna be mad about getting an all-female lead cast.  Especially because then not throwing in unnecessary drama for Beca and Jesse meant that there was room to see Emily/Benji (which was adorable) and Bumper/Amy develop.  Plus I think a big reason Jesse was so prominent in the first one was because they were kind of using Skylar Astin's talent and experience to help legitimize the whole thing.  This time around, they didn't need that, so they were free to put the focus where it belongs: on the Bellas.

I think it worked well as a sequel. It took the things that drew in the fans and gave them more of it. I think that's why there was less Jesse in this one, cause fans really wanted to see more of the lady adventures and it has a huge gay audience. And they had to give Rebel Wilson a bigger storyline since she was the breakout star of the first film. Same with Hailee Steinfeld since she's probably going to be leading this franchise should they make more and because she's an Academy Award nominated person. True Grit was a huge hit and they want to capitalize on her fanbase.

Yeah, I agree.  And by having Emily be a songwriter, and with "Flashlight" and how the Bellas used it, it opens them up in future films to stick less to a formula and really have freedom to do whatever they want.  Like, they got themselves out from under the pressure of trying to emulate the first one.

I want to talk about Pitch Perfect 2 as a summer movie, because it's kind of an interesting choice.  It's not even just a summer movie, it's one of the first summer movies this year.  Obviously that implies an attempt to have a wide appeal.  What do you think about that?  How does Pitch Perfect 2 stack up against all the other summer blockbusters we're going to see?  

It was such a simple thing to do making her a songwriter but it really did open a lot of doors for future sequels. Emily is essentially in charge of the Bellas now and is forging a career with Beca as her producer. I'm interested in seeing where they will go next with this and how they will bring the group back together.

I just remember hearing that it was opening in May & being worried. Now mind you, this was like 2013 me when the box office blockbusters weren't starting to fail. I think it was a smart counter programming move because it's become so obvious over the last couple of years that people have action film fatigue and smaller films with a follow like TFIOS last year and now Pitch Perfect bring a young female demographic that has been largely ignored. People are tired of the same old dude bro films and they are slowly realizing that they can make an insane amount of money with a smaller investment. Like, look at Mad Max. Cost $150 million to make and that doesn't include the marketing costs.  $45 million opening weekend, which is not a great start to recouping the budget.  All of their marketing was geared towards the typical male audience but then those people that did leave the film have nothing but wonderful things to say about its feminist message. Maybe if you tried to go after that audience and embrace them then you would have made more money. Learn from the mistakes Edge of Tomorrow made last year and don't be afraid to label your film a feminist and don't bury the fact in your marketing.

If you want me to see your movie then sell it to me. Pitch Perfect, TFIOS, and Maleficent on the other hand completely embraced their female audience and femininity. They weren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves and show well developed female characters. I saw the movie with my stepdad at his suggestion because we saw the first one together and he loved it. And there were just as many guys as I did girls in the theater during Pitch Perfect. I think Pitch Perfect is going to be one of the real highlights this summer because not only is it breaking down the barriers in the industry that I one day hope to be a part of but it's just a really hilarious FILM. Not a female film, just a film. There are very few other movies that I'm actually looking forward to this summer because they all look like more of the same old stuff.

What you said about the decline of summer blockbusters made me think - summer is obviously known for its action movies, but I think the other big genre that gets tons of attention during the summer is comedy.  Specifically, comedies geared toward dudes.  You have things like Pineapple Express, Neighbors, This is the End, all released during the summer and all marketed toward men.  And then of course you have movies like Bridesmaids and The Heat, which were marketed toward women and were successful, but it seems like there's still a divide.  Yes, Bridesmaids was a huge hit, but it was also very much considered a movie for women.  I mean, there's nothing about the movie itself that men wouldn't like, but because the lead characters are women, then the group that would most want to see this movie are automatically women.  

Pitch Perfect, I think, has mostly avoided that "for women!  This is a movie about women!  Come see it, women!" stamp.  It's there to some extent, of course, but I think it's been relatively free to be unapologetically about strong women (with the tagline "we're back pitches," which appeals to a female audience without limiting the audience to ONLY women).  Most of the discussions about Bridesmaids and The Heat and other films in that vein came up after they were released - after they were successful, and thus worth talking about.  But Pitch Perfect 2 had tons of promo behind it, and tons of people talking about their excitement for it and what the film meant, even before it was released.  It's probably too premature to say that it's a sign that attitudes are changing when it comes to female-led films; it could be just as likely that it's because Pitch Perfect has large crossover appeal, and so because men are interested in it, then men are starting conversations about it.  But it feels like a huge step in the right direction, judging by its box office performance and the way audiences are responding.

I think what helped it steer clear of that "female film!" title was the fact that it was a sequel. The first one had that stigma (I wrote a 30 page paper about it for crying out loud) but because it became popular through word of mouth and breaking HBO movie records, it had that gender crossover. So a sequel comes and it appeals to all genders in its marketing. And we can't forget that while it does have so many women in the cast, it also has multiple male characters that help drive the story. Jesse, Bumper, Benji, and other supporting male characters like Donald and Flula Borg's character that are important to the story.

And what's awesome about Jesse, Bumper, and Benji's roles is that they were basically just love interests.  They were there to help the heroes realize what they wanted, and propelled them along their journey.  In the first film, you had a little more with Benji and Jesse's friendship, and the dynamics of the Treblemakers were relevant since they were the Bellas' rivals, but in the sequel, they didn't have storylines of their own, really.  I don't think there were any scenes in this movie where Beca, Emily, or Amy didn't appear - you had the scenes with Gail and John, but I think that's it.  And still, you had Gail.  I don't think there were any scenes without a female character, and I'd be hard-pressed to think of any other movie that's come out recently that can say the same.

I really need to rewatch this movie. Mostly to analyze the musical numbers but also to really look at some of the things we've talked about. Hell, there were cuts to Emily during the trebles one and only big musical number. I don't think the film passes the reverse Bechdel test.

I was thinking about that, and I don't think it does.  Maaaayyyybe the moment when Bumper talks about how he's close to being put on a shortlist for The Voice?  But otherwise, I think every other moment he had, as well as Jesse and Benji, was supporting Amy's storyline.

And the notion of a "strong female character," and having more powerful and believable female roles in film, has been so prevalent lately, but I think Pitch Perfect took a few steps beyond that.  They didn't just take the approach everyone should take when writing great female characters (that is, simply to write a great character and make her female); this movie was very much set up like regular movies for male audiences are set up.  Because the thing is, movies made for and targeted at women are pretty much immediately considered chick flicks.  No matter what.  An action-comedy like The Heat?  Chick flick.  A romance?  Chick flick.  No matter what.  Whereas "regular" movies, the ones that don't get labeled a chick flick, are still unquestioningly for men.  And many of them will be about the journey of a male character, who is guided and inspired by women, but ultimately it's all about his growth.

Here, it's completely flipped.  It is all about these women.  You care about the men, sure, but not on the basis of what's presented here - you care about them because of their storylines from the first movie.  Someone who hadn't seen the first one and wandered into the theatre to see Pitch Perfect 2 wouldn't care about Beca and Jesse, or about Benji falling in love.  Because the framework for those relationships was already built; this movie isn't about the girls falling in love.  Even Amy, who realizes she's in love with Bumper, seems to have done the legwork on that prior to the events of this film; it's implied that they've been seeing each other casually since the events of the first movie.  She fell in love with him a while ago; she just happens to realize it and get around to telling him in this movie.  Otherwise, the motivation of every character is abundantly clear from the first scene: make up for the mistake that was made, and show the world how they can be better.  There's literally no way to argue that this movie is a chick flick because it operates exactly how most movies (that are made for men) operate.

I don't think it does since he didn't talk about it for more than a minute with a male character. It was just a comment in passing. And like yes to all the rest. Nothing about this is a chick flick. It's like calling The Hangover a chick flick cause each film features a wedding. No, it's about these people fixing a problem.

Because, as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler so wisely said, bitches get stuff done.

What did you all think of Pitch Perfect 2?  What other summer movies are you excited to see?  And please, if you have any movies (or really any questions you’d like us to answer, or anything you want to see discussed), let us know!  The best part of the crop of summer movies, after all, is sharing in the experience with other people.  Chelsea and I will see you all soon (unless one of us snaps and murders the other)!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Series - This Week's TV MVPs: Week 14


Welcome to the fourteenth and final week in our TV MVP Series until the fall of 2015. Since all of our favorite shows wrapped this week, making way for summer cable or network series, we're going to be kicking off a brand-spankin' new summer series titled "Summer Lovin'"! In it, all of your favorite Just About Write authors will be back to discuss the best things we've seen on the big and small screen that week and what is worth watching. I'm so excited for the series and I know the other ladies are, as well.

But before we officially welcome summer around the site, we have one more TV MVP week to get to. I jokingly tweeted that we would make this final week all about The Flash's Grant Gustin and... well, half of the post is true to my word. Below, here are the lovely recruits that helped me out this week:

  • BFF, partner-in-crime, and girl who will always (always) be on my side: Jaime Poland
  • Lover of all things cute, cuddly, or related to Stephen Amell: Laura Schinner
  • My bespectacled New York queen and writer extraordinairre, Constance Gibbs!
  • One of the newest additions to the team and delightful human being, Alice Walker
  • Soul sister, name twin, human ray of sunshine, precious unicorn, and all things wonderful: Jen!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Supernatural 10x23 "Brother's Keeper" [Contributor: Deena Edwards]


"Brother's Keeper"
Original Airdate: May 20, 2015

“And yes, I know there will be consequences. But not you, not Dean -- not anybody can tell me what those consequences are. So I’m not gonna let my brother destroy himself on a guess.”

Most things have consequences one way or another, but in the Supernatural world, those consequences can often be a lot more than what you bargained for. One action, no matter how well-intentioned it was, can set off an unwanted ripple effect that leaves even the bravest and the strongest in some state of emotional disarray. Or even worse, the entire world in the midst of a screw-up of EPIC proportions.

In this incredibly intense and stressful season finale, we find our boys in not just the first situation, but also, by the end of the episode, the latter. However, epic proportions may be putting it lightly -- it’s more like biblical (can’t say they weren’t warned about that part, though).

Emotions are running high in the aftermath of the bloodshed in the previous episode. While Sam desperately refuses to let go of trying to get the cure for the Mark, even after his brother has taken off, Dean, it seems, has nearly given up on himself enough for the both of them already. He wakes up on the floor of a motel, likely after having passed out following a drinking binge. He’s always been a little dependent on alcohol at times (if a little means a lot), but this time it appears he’s really cut off all restraints, and not just with the drinking. The comments that come out of his mouth in most of this episode are utterly vile at times, and as much as I love our eldest Winchester, even I could feel the collective cringing of the entire fandom whilst tweeting during the episode. I even joined in, though keeping in mind the man before us now was merely a shadow of who he used to be.

“You worked some pretty dark stuff in your day, haven’t you, Agent? Must have left quite a mark.” 

“Oh, you have no idea.”

We meet a new hunter in this episode, though, like most, Rudy’s appearance is very short-lived. While working together (I use that term loosely, as Dean basically butted in and told him in less than pleasant terms to buzz off) on a vamp case, Dean’s recklessness goes a bit too far, causing a jumpy vampire to kill the hunter. Accidents like this happen all the time for other hunters, but this is simply Dean no longer caring, pushing his luck as far as he can just because he feels he no longer has nothing to lose. This only aids in Dean’s self-destruction, the guilt pushing him enough over the edge to trash the motel room he’s in (I swear, the lamp-fatality in this show may be even higher than the human death count, at this rate), and then he even goes as far as as to leave the Impala behind for Sam while he summons Death in an attempt to have him kill Dean.

Honestly, I know how strange it sounds to those who don’t watch the show when I say it, but I absolutely love Death. I love his uncaring sass, and his ability to put fear in everyone to the point they’ll literally serve him platters of his favorite foods in order for them to get on his good side. He’s the subtle kind of funny that still leaves you afraid of him, because, well, he is still Death, after all. He’s not got time for your human nonsense, unless there’s good food involved. I can respect that.

As it turns out, Dean cannot be killed, not even by Death, without unleashing a destructive force older than God himself, known as the Darkness. Not much is known about it, aside from the fact it played an important part in a war fought by God and his archangels. It’s unable to be killed, so it was locked away in the form of the Mark of Cain, which Lucifer had passed down to Cain, and from Cain to Dean. What kind of power the Darkness holds is also unknown, but the fact that the powers of God and the angels weren't enough to destroy it says a lot about its strength. Plus, the name “The Darkness” isn’t that cheery a name, so what should you expect, really?

Death offers to relocate Dean elsewhere -- not on Earth, but somewhere else (vague, huh?) where he’s still alive, but cannot cause any more harm to himself or others. When Sam shows up, begging Dean not to go through with it, Dean explains that his way out is through Sam’s death. Sam simply will not stop trying to save Dean, or, in Death’s words, “will not rest until his brother is free of the Mark, which simply cannot happen, lest the Darkness be set free.”

“Evil tracks us. And it nukes everything in our vicinity -- our family, our friends. It’s time to put a proper name to what we really are and we deal with it.”

“Listen, we are not evil. We’re far from perfect… but we are good. That thing on your arm is evil, but not you, not me.”

This scene, this is what kills me. Even before the Mark, Dean has constantly struggled with this image of himself: that he’s unworthy of forgiveness, unworthy of life, because he believes he’s not a good person. But Sam, he tries to see the good in everyone, so of course, even when Dean is blind to it, Sam sees the good in him, too. He’s his big brother; Sam looks up to him, and now Dean’s willing to stand down and let himself be killed -- he’s ready to die. He accepts his fate, because what else is he going to do? But Sam makes sure that before that happens, Dean knows that he’s always believed in him; that no matter what Dean thinks, no matter what Dean believes, they are both, deep down, good people.

“You’ll never, ever hear me say, that you -- the real you -- is anything but good.”

And then the thing with the family photographs -- okay, no, I’m gonna fast forward past all this before I start bawling again. Just before Dean lands the fatal blow with the scythe, he changes direction, instead killing Death. Or, well, it at least appears he’s killed Death. The whole “Death can’t be killed” thing seemed pretty straightforward, but no one said anything about what would happen if impaled by his own scythe. Just moments after that happens, Rowena succeeds in casting the spell that removes the Mark -- and sure enough, the cure literally flies through the roof, and in a flash of lights, the Mark has disappeared.

Before they even have a moment to appreciate that, to even be relieved, the Darkness is unleashed, no longer tethered to the Mark because the Mark no longer exists.



I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m so intrigued to see how this Darkness thing plays out, and I have SO many questions. How is it going to affect everyone? Is it going to have some kind of human form? Will people no longer be able to die due to Death’s (possible) death? Will Baby resurface from the smoke unscathed? ARE CAS AND CROWLEY OKAY?!?!

I have a dozen theories spinning in my head already relating to the Darkness and the creation of a certain virus, among other things. I’m so pleased with this season finale, I can almost forgive the frustrating cliffhanger. Almost.

See you guys in the fall for more Supernatural reviews when season eleven begins!

Memorable Moments/Quotes:
  • “Unless, of course, either of you have spent years of your life studying with the greats, mastering the intricacies of high witchcraft?! ...But forgive me, maybe you have.” Okay, I know Rowena can be absolutely terrible at times (she’s a witch, so duh), but I honestly still stand by my opinion of her when she first showed up on the show. She’s sassy, independent, and armed with such a fiery personality that you can’t help but pay attention every time she’s on screen. Just, y’know, try not to focus so much on the witchcraft, murder, and child abandonment, and she’s pretty cool.
  • “The third ingredient is impossible. Loosely translated, my heart.” “That’s not impossible at all.” I will never tire of Cas' subtle sass.
  • “Who summons anymore? Couldn’t you call?” “You’re not in my contacts list.”
  • “That’s right. Burn those eyes blue. Spread those broken wings and destroy me. Or… do it my way.   Now beg.” “What?” “Blast me, or beg.” “Crowley--” “King!” “...King. If you -- if you would -- if you would be so kind…”
  • “Don’t tell me that’s queso.” I wanna know when Dean had the time to make all this food -- I didn’t even know he could cook
  • “How do you know this?” “A hamster told me.”
  • “Close your eyes. Sammy, close your eyes.”

Problematic Palmer: What Went Wrong With This 'Arrow' Character


Have you ever done something that, in theory, seemed like a great idea but in practice was actually a horrible, horrible mistake? In your head or on paper, it appears smart -- it even appears logical. But in practice, you find that the exact opposite is true. I mean... New Coke, anyone? This applies to all aspects of life, not just marketing. It especially applies to -- as you might have gathered from the title of this post -- writing. Sometimes writers create characters who, on paper, appear to be perfectly fine. The actor or actress who portrays them may be great but there is something about the execution of the character that leaves a distinctly sour taste for viewers.

As is such in the case of one Ray Palmer this season on Arrow. I have qualms with how the show has handled (or not handled correctly) certain things over the years. There were problems in season three and a lot of those problems -- and the rage associated with them -- can be attributed to this character. Before I continue, let me just state this: I think that Arrow finally managed to construct the version of Ray Palmer that they had envisioned from the beginning of the season, but only during the final two episodes this year. I have nothing against Brandon Routh as an actor. I think he did a good job with all that he was given and he seems to be an overall decent human being.

No, my problem is the way that Ray was introduced to us, constantly forced upon us even when we resisted, and shoehorned into a season that already felt a bit fractured. Let's take some time to examine where, exactly, this character went wrong in order to understand better what could be done to prevent the same character defects and flaws in the future. As another aside: I'm not the first person to write about Ray Palmer's problematic characterization. I will point you toward Tumblr in order to read some more amazing critiques from other fabulous people. (Note: I inadvertently adopted the phrase "Problematic Palmer" from Tumblr user ah-maa-zing, so thank you for that and for your piece.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

6x11 "Modern Espionage" (That Was An Episode, This Is Paintball) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


"Modern Espionage"
Original Airdate: May 19, 2015

Ah, Paintball Assassin. The Community tradition that started with "Modern Warfare" and, in my opinion, reached maximum quality with the "A Fistful of Paintballs/For a Few Paintballs More" two-parter. This week, our dose of paintball madness has the shiny veneer of a spy movie, and we get to see (almost) everyone in formal wear. Huzzah! I have to be honest and say that I don't watch a lot of spy movies, so if there are references that are really clever for fans of spy movies, I'm sorry ahead of time for not getting them or mentioning them or recognizing them as noteworthy.

The Episode

This year, Greendale really wants to put paintball in the past - at least according to Frankie. She feels bad for the custodial workers who have to clean up after the chaos and also thinks, you know - destroying their school every year with a paintball war isn't the most mature, professional thing for Greendale to do. I can't say she's wrong about that, but if Greendale gets all mature and professional, will it still be Greendale?

That (plus a cash prize) seems to be the idea behind the underground paintball tournament that’s taking place during the episode: doing anything else - trying to be mature and professional - just wouldn't be Greendale. Jeff, at the very least, seems to be okay with putting paintball behind him – the rest of the group, not so much. Jeff is only really roped in when everyone realizes that there’s a conspiracy afoot on Greendale grounds, and they might be the only ones capable of stopping it. In an attempt to catch an underground paintballer who goes by the moniker “Silver Ballz” and possibly protect the custodial workers who appear to be the main targets for Silver Ballz’s silver (paint)balls, the group decides to join in on the fight in secret. They try their hardest to espionage their way through a gala for custodial workers and keep the paintball-shooting to a minimum around Frankie, who - as previously mentioned - seriously disapproves of Greendale’s paintball past. Stuff goes down at the gala and a shootout means that Frankie learns about the continuation of the secret underground paintball tournament before everyone - except Jeff and the dean – get taken out.

Jeff confronts one of the custodial workers who, we discover, started the underground tournament in order to keep their occupations necessary as well as a way to just accept that paintball war and weirdness is what Greendale is. Frankie is trying to change Greendale, and doing that wouldn't be honest or long lasting - so why let her try?

Apparently Jeff really believes in Frankie all of a sudden, because he has faith in her being able to turn Greendale from a "cigarette" to a "carrot stick" (which is the healthy form of a cigarette - I had no idea) and wants everyone else to just let her do it. I have no idea when Jeff and Frankie got so close, because I always just got the impression that Jeff acknowledged Frankie as a sane, competent individual but not a whole lot else. Now he seems to think very highly of her.

I don't want to imply that the "Core Four" are the only members of the group allowed to have meaningful connections with each other, but it kinda feels like, if things had gone a bit differently regarding character development this season, Annie would have been the one Jeff made his speech about in this episode. If Annie had continued the do-gooder leadership role she had last season, she basically would have been Frankie this season... But, alas. Frankie is the leveling force for season six, and even though Jeff's faith in her feels a bit weird due to the lack of interaction between the two characters, anything else would have made even less sense with the way the season has gone.

Overall, this was a fun episode. Had it been situated in a season with more arcing development and plot, it probably would have been one of the best episodes of season six. The problem is that - although the paintball specials of the past have seemed like out-there, stupid homage fun, there has always an underlying “real world” plot to them. There’s always something that still exists when the paint is cleared away and the Community universe gets (comparatively) more sane.

In the first season, it was pretty simple: the season-long “sexual tension and lack of chemistry” between Jeff and Britta had to break, soon, or the group was going to fall apart or kill them or both. In the second season’s paintball episodes, the mystery of what had happened before the game had started led into the realization that the group - minus Annie, the Ace of Hearts - no longer wanted Pierce around, something that the show had been working up to all season with Pierce’s increasingly erratic behavior. Season four had Jeff’s paintball daydream stem from fear of his post-graduation future, only to be broken by his realization of how much he loved his friends.

Season six’s "Modern Espionage" doesn’t have a revelation or big development that happens after a whole season of foreshadowing to make the episode more than just very entertaining TV. Although we get Jeff respecting Frankie and believing in her ability to make Greendale better, that is something that only exists within the half hour of this episode - not a culmination of season-long worries, grudges, sexual tension, or... anything.

It's paintball war with a spy twist, and it has some great moments and some funny lines but there's not a whole lot underneath all the neon and silver paint. Sadly, this is pretty much what I’ve learned to expect (and hope for) from season six and while I liked the episode, I still can’t help remembering when Community gave us a bit more.

Other Stuff:
  • "Occasionally our campus interrupts into a flawless post-modern homage to action-adventure mythology, mischaracterized by the ignorant as 'parody.'" Is it just me, or has there been a significant increase in meta references this season?
  • "I'd call him Silver Ghost, but that's probably already taken by an indie comic book or a terrible tequila." I’m not sure, Starburns, but I do know it’s a kind of Rolls-Royce car from like, the 1920s.
  • "WHAT THE HELL?!" I love it when Joel has to yell, because he gets all shrill and hilarious. [Jenn's note: I don't know why, but I always find it SO hilarious that his voice jumps 10 octaves to yell like that.]
  • "That was instinct. I can't help being a badass."
  • Jeff taking Britta's glasses to look at the computer made me laugh. It was really silly and I don’t know, I just liked it.
  • There's a Greendale club called "Club Club" where people "party the way they do in clubs."
  • Annie doesn't want to say "Silver Ballz." I don’t blame her. That name is dumb.
  • "Mr. Winger, you clean up nice!" "Oh, come on, I'm always good looking."
  • Apparently "Daybreak" is the only thing that plays in the elevator! It’s also the only thing that plays in my head for at least a day after hearing it.
  • The "Custodial Innovation Award" is a push broom. Never stop being Greendale, Greendale.
  • I really liked the exchange between Kumail Nanjiani's character and Abed during the gala, when Abed was heckling him.
  • "Did you do stand-up? Is that how you became a custodian?"
  • I’m assuming that Annie and Abed were doing a Mr. and Mrs. Smith thing, since they were spies dancing with each other at the gala, but I don’t think it landed as well as it probably could have.
  • Did I miss it, or was it not really clear who Silver Ballz was?
  • I like that they finally, FINALLY showed that getting hit with paintballs actually really, really hurts when Jeff, the dean, and Lapari all shoot each other.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Feminism, "Bad Blood" and The T-Swift Revolution


It's not a real surprise to anyone here that I love Taylor Swift. If I could figure out a way to become her friend, I would in a heartbeat. The truth is that the reason I love Taylor -- and the reason that so many people around the world do, too -- is because she's not afraid to be honest and vulnerable and to occasionally rub other people the wrong way, but do it with grace and poise. Taylor is the kind of person who you know you could curl up with on a couch on a Sunday morning and talk about your life over a steaming mug of coffee. She's the kind of person who will make you -- not buy you -- a Christmas card. She's the kind of friend who would send you a care package if you were having a rough week at work -- one that would have balsam candles and herbal teas. I've never met Taylor Swift, but this is the kind of person and friend she always appears to be. You can dismiss her as an artist if you want, but it would be extremely difficult to dismiss her good heart as a person and the countless things she does for her fans.

So when Taylor Swift embarked on a journey that moved her to New York -- a journey that didn't include a boyfriend -- I became even more impressed with her because slowly, but subtly, Taylor began to change in the best way possible. She did what we all do at some point in our lives: she began to surround herself with people who were different from her, but who challenged her. She focused on herself and her new adventures in life. She was focused on knowing more about who SHE was. And that was extremely admirable. Along the way, Taylor Swift began to slowly talk more openly about feminism and issues surrounding women.

I always thought that Taylor Swift was the kind of person who feminists should have rallied around. Instead, I found it fascinating that people -- women, particularly -- mocked her. They dismissed her, thinking her to be juvenile for writing songs about break-ups. They rolled their eyes whenever she was mentioned. They joked about what guy she must be dating and whether or not she would be writing a song about them soon. They, unknowingly, perpetuated a problem that has been in existence in the music world (and really, the world at large): a woman cannot write a break-up song without being deemed "sad" or "desperate" or "pathetic." But if a man writes a break-up song, it's heralded as "beautiful" and "emotional." I think I mentioned this before in another post of mine about Taylor Swift, but Maroon 5 literally has an entire album (Songs About Jane) devoted to one ex-girlfriend and I have never heard any -- any -- criticisms of that fact. And yet, I constantly hear snide remarks regarding Taylor's music, dismissing it while elevating the male equivalent.

What's that hashtag, again? Oh, right.

#WhyWeNeedFeminism


1989 is a fantastic and daring album. I wrote about it before, so I won't reiterate what I said in my review, but it truly is Taylor Swift at her best: being honest, raw, vulnerable, fun, and inventive. One of the songs on the album -- "Bad Blood" -- was recently released as a single and the music video debuted at the Billboard Music Awards. Taylor had teased the video for quite a while on her Instagram, releasing character images each day. The guest stars ranged from best friend Karlie Kloss to supermodel Cindy Crawford, actress and producer Lena Dunham, and actress Ellen Pompeo. I loved the music video on my first viewing. I thought it was visually stunning (with credit to Joseph Kahn for directing it). It was fun. Things blew up! Taylor got to have an army! There were SO MANY AWESOME WOMEN IN IT.

It was only on my second viewing that I actually began to really think about the message behind the video and the song itself. "Bad Blood" is a song about a female friendship that goes sour because there's a lack of trust and mutual respect. Someone is stabbed in the back. Sound familiar? If you're a woman, it probably sounds like half a dozen different relationships you've had in your life. "Bad Blood" is primarily interested in talking about the feeling of betrayal. It's a declaration song, really, bursting at the seams with emotion and pain. But it's more than just that -- the video sends a really powerful message about feminism.

Every woman should surround herself with female friends who challenge her, inspire her, educate her, and empower her. That is the essence of feminism, right there: ladies supporting ladies. Now, here's a kicker (and I've discussed this a lot with my friend Chelsea, who could talk for hours about feminism): not every woman will get along with every other woman. That's not what feminism is. Feminism -- and #LadiesSupportingLadies -- isn't about being friends with everyone. It's about not slamming other women so that men can be boosted. It's about respecting each other enough to either embrace one another or keep a respectable distance from each other.


So in the "Bad Blood" music video, it's really important that we see Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez's alter egos display this idea quite clearly. The video begins with Taylor Swift (Catastrophe) and Selena Gomez (Arsyn) taking out bad guys together. Let me repeat that: they're taking down men. Together. And they're strong and fierce and kicking a lot of butt. Why? Because they're doing it side-by-side. But then... then, Arsyn distracts Catastrophe and takes what she wants from her, literally killing Catastrophe in the process.

Poignant, no? There's a clear message here that when women seek to destroy each other (and what's SO important is that every woman in this video is a destroyer, an assassin, a warrior princess -- because EVERY woman has the capacity to fight and to be vicious), they end up killing each other in the process. Catastrophe is reborn with the assistance of a lot of female fighters, all with various skill sets and knowledge -- all extremely different women with unique personalities, too. Sensing the symbolism yet? I thought it was really interesting and telling that Taylor chose to spend 98% of the music video focused on these women: on these people preparing themselves and Catastrophe for battle.

Because isn't that, as I said above, what feminism is really all about? What #LadiesSupportingLadies is all about? This is an idea that each woman has something to offer the world and to offer other women. Women who are sympathetic by nature can teach women who are more jaded how to empathize with others. Women who are timid can learn how to stand up for themselves and find their voices if women who are opinionated and extroverted stand beside them. Women who are book-smart can help other women learn how to study. Women who are spiritual can help other women find meaning in an otherwise hopeless situation. Women need other women. Women can always LEARN from other women. But only when we allow ourselves the chance.

Catastrophe is taught by all kinds of women in the "Bad Blood" video. Even when she's dueling with others, she's not fighting with them -- she's learning FROM them. That's what's important. That is what the focus of "Bad Blood" was about. The song is about a woman who tears another woman down; the video is about that same feeling of betrayal but also about how to take your bitterness and turn it into something productive, something useful.


So when Catastrophe and her squad are finally prepared for battle, they approach Arsyn and her army from across a desert-like landscape and... the video ends just as the women throw the first punch at each other. If you think that's surprising, you'd be in the majority. In any other music video, at the hands of any other producer, the majority of the video would be focused on the battle and it would end with Taylor Swift's alter ego victorious, standing over her enemy. The message, then, would be clear: Taylor wins. If you mess with her and her friends, you'll be taken down every single time. She's the victor, never the vanquished. That's just how the story goes, right?

But that's not how the story goes in "Bad Blood," which is really important. Catastrophe and Arsyn approach each other equally -- they both have armies. They both are skilled. They both are powerful. There is equality even in adversity for these women. Here is the message of "Bad Blood" in a nutshell that Taylor Swift so accurately conveys: women are always stronger when they're together, no matter what their beliefs, ages, races, etc.

Women are ALWAYS stronger when they're together.

Catastrophe and Arsyn certainly are. Catastrophe is stronger because she surrounded herself with powerful women and learned all they had to teach her. Taylor Swift is stronger because of this, too. She's a stronger version of herself because of the women she's chosen to allow into her life. Love isn't what's most important in this life, friends. Our society makes it seem that way -- that the fairytale ending is what we should all strive to achieve. Love is important. Being in love is wonderful.

But being the best version of yourself for yourself and for the people around you? That is what is important. The friendships you forge during pivotal points in your life are the relationships that will shape who you are, who you become, and will cause you to realize how strong you are and, conversely, how much we all -- as human beings -- need friends.

Women need other women.

And that's what feminism is all about, Charlie Brown.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 13


We have a full house this week for the series, as the majority of our favorite television shows rocked us with their spring finales and many others aired emotional, compelling episodes. As we head into summer -- that vast desert where a few cable shows premiere (holla, Suits, Hannibal, and Pretty Little Liars fans) and all of our primetime shows leave us for months -- we were all impressed this week with our television series and the actors who delivered some really stunning, great performances. After thirteen weeks of this (can you believe we've done THIRTEEN of these already?), you guys know the drill already. So without further adieu, my team this week consists of:

  • BFF, partner-in-crime, and the Leslie to my Ann: Jaime Poland
  • Lovely human being and one of our newest writers, Alice Walker
  • Actual beautiful tropical fish and talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox, Ann!
  • Human ray of sunshine, reviewer extraordinaire, and one of my favorite people: Jen!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Supernatural 10x22 "The Prisoner" [Contributor: Deena Edwards]


"The Prisoner"
Original Airdate: May 13, 2015

You can go wherever you wanna go 
Go wherever you wanna go 
Fly up to the moon and say hello now 
You can go wherever you wanna go 
You don’t ever have to go to war no more

From the moment the strum of the guitar started playing, and the flashbacks of Charlie’s life and death began during her hunter’s funeral, I knew this episode was going to be a roller-coaster of emotions that would have us all reaching for the tissues and hanging off the very edge of our seats until the credits rolled by.

And boy, I couldn’t have been more right if I tried.

“You know what I think? I think it should be you up there -- not her.”

In Dean’s eyes, Sam is to blame for Charlie’s death. He’s not entirely wrong in a small way -- Charlie was dragged into helping Sam behind Dean’s back, and that, of course, led to her death. Now, this isn’t the first time that one of the brothers have said something hurtful they didn’t mean, something that they couldn’t take back -- please, this show is based on that. But it’s the way that he says it that has all of us dropping our jaws in shock, or, for some people, going into full-fledged hate mode toward the eldest Winchester (myself NOT included).

The way he treats Sam is cold, practically arctic in temperature. But for me, this isn’t our Dean anymore, not entirely. While Dean has always had a temper, and, yes, sometimes is quick to hold grudges, we cannot conveniently forget about the Mark of Cain which is slowly turning him into an angry, blood-thirsty monster. Now, I don’t know about all the potential angry, blood-thirsty monsters you’ve encountered, but I think it’s safe to say they aren’t rainbows, sunshine, and puppies when upset. All the real grief and anger Dean feels about Charlie’s death coupled with realizing his brother has gone behind his back, yet again, is multiplied and made so much worse by the Mark on his arm.

“I owe him this. I owe him everything.”

Sam, despite this, still isn’t giving up, even after being told to drop it completely. Dean has spent his entire life watching after his little brother and sacrificing everything to make sure he was the one who lived. This time around, it’s Sam’s turn. Charlie cracked the code, and now Rowena can translate the book. Sam can do this, he can save Dean -- or at least, that’s what he believes. But first, he has to kill Crowley in order for Rowena to hold up her end of the deal.

Any normal person would be rooting for him to succeed. I’m sure there are many people out there who are ready for the King of Hell to finally kick the bucket, but I’m not one of those people, not really. There’s something about this show that makes me love the bad guys just as much as I do the good guys. Crowley is literally the KING of HELL, and is responsible for so much death and chaos, even responsible for everything that is happening right now, and even so, I don’t think I’ll ever be quite ready to watch him go.

“You’re right -- I am a monster. And I’ve done bad. I’ve done things you can’t even imagine. Horrible, evil, messy things. And I’ve loved... every... damn... minute. ”


Sam fails, of course. Or specifically, the hex bag designed by Rowena fails, and Crowley walks away, quite possibly more terrifying than he’s been in a while. Something tells me things are going to change now, where he’s concerned. He’s going to embrace the “monster” title as Sam called him. As much as I loved the “softer, trying to be good” side of Crowley, I can't wait to see what he does next. (I will probably live to regret those words, I know it.)

Meanwhile, Dean finds himself under arrest, thanks to the Stynes being friends of the local law enforcement. It doesn’t take long for him to make his escape and leave a trail of dead Stynes all the way through their household and back to the bunker, arriving there moments before they are about to torch the place. He exacts his revenge on the man responsible for Charlie’s death with a quick bullet to the head, and then kills the young cousin, Cyrus. I can’t even begin to express how bad I feel about Cy; for a moment, I really thought Dean might spare him, but it just goes to show how far off the deep end Dean is going.

If all this wasn’t enough to have me freaking out, I definitely was after the final scene, when Dean nearly kills Cas. When he brought the angel blade down, I stopped breathing. I’m not kidding -- I literally stopped breathing and stared at my television not sure if I should start crying yet. Though, with the lack of bright angel-y grace upon impact, I quickly, with ridiculously immense relief, realized he had spared him. The whole interaction reminded me of back when Castiel had been going off the dark side himself, when he beat Dean into a bloody pulp, nearly killing him as well.

Needless to say, this episode left me reeling, and this time next week I’m likely to need medical attention after the season finale. Hopefully I’ll still be alive in order to attempt to write that review -- I can’t make any promises, though, you guys, as this one has been said to rival the intensity of season five’s “Swan Song,” and we all know how that turned out...

So, who wants to volunteer to call 911 for me next Wednesday?

Memorable Moments/Quotes:
  • “An angel that rejected Heaven. That’s like… a fish that wants to fly, or a dog that thinks he’s people.”
  • “I’d be happy to kill her. She just called me a fish.” You may be a fish, Cas, but you’re our fish.
  • “They’re practically gods around here.” “Yeah. Well I kill gods.” This is more terrifying than funny because it’s actually true.
  • “Now I’m gonna go check out their sex dungeon.”
  • “I don’t want to have to hurt you.” “I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem.” CHILLS.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Arrow 3x23 "My Name Is Oliver Queen" (What's In A Name?)


"My Name Is Oliver Queen"
Original Airdate: May 13, 2015

My parents had three different names picked out for me before I was born and they debated the merits and cons of each with their family members. Initially, my mom and dad liked the name "Jessica." My nana -- my dad's mom -- vetoed that one, saying that my nickname would be "Jessie" and that just sounded like a boy's name. My parents were also a fan of the name "Nicole," but at the time they lived in a little house on a street called Nicole Place, so that one was out simply because it was too ironic and could lend itself to confusion. And then, they settled on the name "Jennifer" and gave me the same middle name as my maternal grandmother ("Marie") in order to honor her. My brother, meanwhile, is "Daniel James" -- the first name was the name of my maternal grandfather; his middle name the first name of my father. By the time my parents named my sister, they didn't name her after any family members -- they simply picked out the first and middle names of "Kristin Leigh" because they liked how they sounded together.

We place a lot of importance on names, honestly, and it's not even just when we name our children. We have to pick out the perfect name for our pets, too, because we want the name to reflect the personality of whoever inhabits it. We know that names MEAN something to us -- not just that they have literal meanings and places of origin, but that they exemplify and embody the name they're meant to become. Nowadays, a lot of people -- especially celebrities -- name their children because they like the way a name sounds together. They like the flow of the first, middle, and last name. Some people name their children eccentric or odd names. Some name them after family members. Some after their favorite literary characters or an inspirational teacher or after a character on a television show. The reason that we choose a name isn't often tied to the actual origin of the name itself, not like it used to be anyway.

As someone who loves and is fascinated with the Bible, it's really cool to me that God chose and people chose to name their children very specifically. In Genesis 17, God changed Abram's name to "Abraham": because he would be the father of many nations. In Acts, Saul's name becomes Paul -- he transforms from a traditional Roman name and adopts the name of a Gentile instead after his conversion. Names in the Bible were really important. They told the story of who you were and who you would become. Jacob's name was both literal and figurative -- he grasped at the heel of his brother, Esau, but he was also a deceiver. Esther means "star" and she was a woman who saved the Jewish people. Moses was named what he was because he was literally pulled from a reed basket in the water.

Names are important and though your identity doesn't have to be inherently tied to your name, it is a part of you. And it's an integral part of the season finale of Arrow -- a season swimming with identity crises -- as the title "My Name Is Oliver Queen" might suggest. So let's discuss identity, what it means to choose your name and to choose -- actively -- who you will become.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2x21 & 2x22 "S.O.S" (Parts 1 and 2) [Contributor: Alice Walker]


"S.O.S" (Parts 1 and 2)
Original Airdate: May 12, 2015

What's the difference between having a goal and having a purpose? A goal is something you'd like to achieve, a box you'd like to check off. It's wanted, desired, but it's not urgent. It doesn't drive you or feed you. That's a purpose. It's the voice inside you that urges you on, propels you forward even when you'd rather sit down. Everyone in this episode had a purpose and it could all be boiled down to one simple statement:

Finish this thing.

This was a super-sized two hour episode and not breaking this up into two weeks really worked on all levels. It kept the stakes high, and it let us gloss over some of the fuzzier logic, not giving us a week to think-piece it out. I'd love for this to become a theme in TV shows now (cough:Arrow:cough) but for now I'm happy we got this with S.H.I.E.L.D. We had tons of pairings and teams-ups this week, so let's start with the star of the show, the woman everyone wanted to protect:

Skye/Daisy/Tremors 

Skye's purpose has always been finding her family. That's what brought her here, that's what triggered all of this. Now she's found them and it's not all roses, just thorns (but we'll get to Raina in a second) and her purpose changes quickly to stopping her mother, protecting everyone. Her S.H.I.E.L.D. is showing.

The premise of Skye trusting her double-crossing mother is one that could have played out for awhile, and I was glad that they ended it quickly. Once Skye saw Jiaying's true colors, she was quickly locked up, both physically and powers-wise.

Jiaying's manipulations were solid, first playing on Skye's inflated sense of responsibility and convincing the rest of the Inhumans to go along with her. Mack (who batted 1000 this episode and is rapidly becoming my favorite character) took her to the next step in this journey by busting her out and calling her "Tremors." It was a cute moment.

After all this focus on Skye's new abilities and her showcasing her amazing fighting skills, it felt like #throwbackthursday when Mack handed her a laptop for her to hack her way to saving the day. Girl's got skills to pay many sets of bills, and she needed all of them this week. After warning away the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. and making up with May (thank god) Skye went to stop her mother, only to have Jiaying try to literally suck the life right out of her.

And this, right here was my favorite part of the whole episode, maybe the whole season. Skye is beaten, held down by her much stronger mother, who is killing her. All hope seems lost. This is the point, in so many other shows, in nearly all action movies where the Big Strong Man would down the door and save her. Mack with his axe would come in swinging. Coulson would charge through. Ward would track her down and shoot Jiaying. But that did not happen. Skye dug deep and saved herself. Yeah. Sit with that for a moment. She pulled free just long enough to get her powers going and knock that aircraft into the ocean, saving everyone on the ship, completing her mission. Jiaying went back in for the kill and you could see it in Skye's face -- she was going to kill her mother. Cal comes in and saves her, but not from death not from danger or weakness but from the guilt that would always follow her. It's support, not rescuing and yeah, it's a big deal.

Next up for Skye seems to be a mini-Avengers covert ops, and what do you want to bet Lincoln will be the next person she recruits?

Raina

... It certainly won't be Raina, whose absence will be felt more than any other death on the show (even you, Tripp). Ruth Negga was stunning as Raina and her final, tragic realization that she was the thorn meant to protect the flower was an impressive mix of pride, heartbreak, and acceptance. Her purpose was to be a herald, an angel and at least in death she realized what she became. I could have watched her for years and if there is any way to get a Raina clone or twin in here, I'm ready.

Coulson & Cal 

At one point in "S.O.S.," Cal is on the Quinjet with the team headed to save the ship and Skye. Everyone is skeptical of his presence and Coulson tells them that he's a little unpredictable but he's constant in his need to protect Skye. It's true, and taken out of context could directly be applied to him as well.

Cal's purpose is clear: protect Daisy and reunite his family. He's so close that he just needs to finish this thing. Coulson's purpose is no less urgent: defend S.H.I.E.L.D. and keep it intact. The point is made many times in this episode that the S.H.I.E.L.D. motto is: "The lives of the many outweigh the life of one." It's fine in concept, harder when it might be one of his own to sacrifice. But Coulson is calmer now and acting like a true director assessing the situation, making tough calls and generally keeping a cool head. I thought this episode did a great job proving that yes, this is the man you want running S.H.I.E.L.D. (Sorry Gonzalez).

After a session of car-therapy with Coulson, we finally see the true balance of power with Cal and Jiaying. She had been playing him the same way she was manipulating Skye, and Cal finally calms down enough to realize that he is going to have to protect his daughter from his wife. It's a touching moment, not given much time, but in that instant you can see all of Cal's hopes and dreams washed down the gutter.

When he comes upon Skye and Jiaying fighting, there is a moment when we think maybe, maybe he's coming for Daisy, but he would never. He killed his wife, he's going to jail, his sunshine is gone. The TAHITI twist felt right. Seeing him blank and happy felt like a nice redemption arc for someone who was really trying his best. He gets to forget, and that  is the greatest gift they could have given him.
Coulson isn't so lucky. He made it out without losing his company or team, but he lost an arm in the process. A reminder that things are hard. I don't image that will change next season, though I am interested to see the super-team creation they're working on.

Ward & Agent 33 

Ugh, this episode is where my long cherished Skyeward dreams went to die. I held out as long as I could, but the torture and the murder finally took it too far for even the most forgiving fan. Maybe that was the point? It seemed a very intentional, winking nod to Brett Dalton's vocal group of supporters when Kara said she would always "stand with Ward." Was the whole point of this to drive him past the point of redemption?

Possibly. I'm certainly turned off (but the writers are forgiven because they gave me Mack) but there were still flashes of mystery, like Ward's face when Kara says that she loves him. It's sad and hesitant, not at all like the smug high-schooler whose been in a relationship for two months and thinks he expert on love he's been acting like. Does he know that this version of himself is also false? Am I just seeing what I want to see?  We'll find out, because we are not done with him yet. After the old fake-May bait and switch, he kills Kara (high death toll this episode) and is pissed. Seeing a power vacuum, he is ready to take over HYDRA and, ladies and gentleman, we just witnessed the genesis of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first super villain.

Hunter/Bobbi/May

One of my main issues with the show this season has been the Bobbi/Hunter dynamic. Individually, I liked them just fine. Hunter's got jokes; Bobbi kicks butt. Great. But right away, there was so much emphasis put on them and their love/hate/bicker routine. And frankly, I didn't know either one of them well enough to care. It felt forced and not genuine but I finally feel like "S.O.S." earned the relationship. We had real emotional moments from both of them and when Bobbi took the bullet for Hunter, it actually meant something.

I think that their last scene was the hint of their spin-off that will never see the light of day and honestly I am relieved. This universe is already huge and they are starting to click as supporting characters. Let's stick with what works.

You know what else I love? Bobbi ripping off those needles and beating the hell out of Ward. This show is amazing in portraying women who can fight for themselves.

Assorted Thoughts: 
  • Loved that Fish Oil is the big bad looming threat. 
  • What is it about the season finale that makes everyone so quippy? The humor was on point in this episode.
  • It sounds like Jiaying saved Lincoln the same way that Garret saved Ward. Why are the rescuers the ones who hurt?
  • I'll miss Cal. His singing and jokes were a breath of delightfully crazy fresh air. 
  • Is May going off with Andrew, who maybe sort of has a girlfriend? Or is this a solo trip to get her groove back? 
  • Oh, Fitz you should have kissed Simmons. We came so close to some real, live FitzSimmons action! Will the goo turn Simmons darker then she's already gone? Will we have to wait another full season before they hold hands? Tune in next time...
  • We now have (by my count) two characters trapped in alien goo. Jemma in the Kree rock and Dr. Franklin Hall in the Gravitonium
Quotes: 
  • Fitz: Science, biotch! 
  • Lance: Forget about the plane. Can you pull up the...? Fitz: Footage from Bobbi, of the base before she left -- good idea. Lance: You know, I am capable of finishing my own... Fitz: Sentences. Yes, you are. I'm sorry.
  • Coulson: You want to tell me what you're really doing here? Cal: Sure. I'm a present, a gift horse... a peace offering from my family. I'm also an excellent shanghai rummy partner.
  • Coulson: My understanding is you single-handedly killed a whole lot of people. Cal: Oh... I suppose that's true. Coulson: I'm curious how you did it. Cal: With style.