Sunday, June 14, 2015

Series - Summer Lovin': Week 3

I keep saying that it's almost officially summer, but next week that will ACTUALLY be true as we roll into the official summer calendar. I hope that you all have been spending ample time by the pool, catching up on some reading, or taking vacations with your friends and family. Since this is the third week in our series, you probably don't need much of an introduction to it, so I'll just take the opportunity to say this: I'm so thankful we have diverse and amazing women who write for this site. I like to brag on them as much as I possibly can and I still don't think I do it enough. We're not professional bloggers -- no one gets paid to do this, even though I wish I could pay them -- and most of them have full-time or part-time jobs, or else a ton of other things they could be doing with their time. But they choose, actively, to be a part of this site and to trust in the vision of it. And for that, I literally feel like The Grinch when his heart swelled three sizes.

Anyway, that's all the bragging I will do for today's post. But take some time -- especially if you like what one of the writers does here -- to engage with all of the lovely ladies at Just About Write. They're good people. Seriously. And speaking of good people, here's the good ones who will be joining me today:

  • Hannibal guru and fashion expert, Rae Nudson
  • Lover of all things related to movies, Lynnie Purcell
  • Newest writer and resident lover of The X-Files, Lizzie
  • My favorite college student and TV romance lover, Ann
  • My BFF, partner-in-crime, and all-around favorite human being, Jaime Poland
  • Jaime's greatest nemesis and a champion cheerleader of this site, Chelsea

What Jenn's lovin': The four female leads of Pretty Little Liars

Why she's lovin' them: Okay, so I totally and freely admit that Pretty Little Liars is my guilty pleasure television series. I usually don't look to it to provide the kind of depth that I watch in shows like The Flash or Doctor Who. But I love it, unashamedly, and we're only two episodes into season five of the series and I'm convinced that it's the strongest opener yet, thanks -- in huge part -- to the four amazing ladies who lead the cast. This week's episode, "Songs of Innocence" was SO good and it was because all four women brought amazing emotional vulnerability to their respective characters. I typically find myself only relating to Spencer Hastings (because Troian Bellisario is just utterly astounding and so powerful in the portrayal of this character, I cannot even tell you), but this week, I found myself compelled by the journey of each of the characters. 

After being rescued from abduction by A (and suffering extreme psychological torture), the four girls are trying their hardest to cope and adjust to a new normal. Spencer isn't sleeping and she very nearly returns to sleeping pills in order to help her do that. The entire episode, Spencer looked worn-down and I was impressed by just how much vulnerability and pain Troian was able to express through her facial expressions. Hanna, meanwhile, was determined to completely remodel her bedroom (A tortured the girls by locking them in models of their own home bedrooms) and I've always admired how Ashley Benson portrays Hanna -- as sharp, quick-witted, stubborn, and yet unsuspecting in her intellect -- and this episode was so amazing to see how much frustration and pain she has bottled up inside of her. I never relate to Aria or Emily, but Lucy Hale and Shay Mitchell did exceptional jobs this week in rectifying that. Shay's story was my favorite in the entire episode, as she is desperate to feel a sense of wholeness and control of her life again after being tortured. So she returns to the firing range her father used to take her to and fires round after round. She dons his military jacket, too, throughout the episode in order to physically feel comfort. Shay did a wonderful job in the scene where Emily explains to her mother that shooting a gun is supposed to take away the pain and the fear, but it doesn't; it just intensifies it. Seriously, Shay is my MVP for this episode because she made me connect with a character I don't ever connect to. And Lucy Hale slayed it as Aria -- Aria's not scared, necessarily, in "Songs of Innocence." She's angry. She's bitter. She wants justice or vengeance and she really doesn't care if there's a difference. She wants to implicate Andrew even though she knows it probably wasn't him who did the abducting. She feels helpless and hatred is her default response in this instance. But I loved that we got to see snippets of vulnerability in her, too: her guilt over so easily lying about seeing Andrew was really simple and very powerful.

All of the women in this show are fabulous and this week, I was reminded how even though PLL may be a guilty pleasure, the acting is actually really exceptional.

What Jenn's (also) lovin': The new season of The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy

Why she's lovin it: Okay, lean in close, friends. I'm about to tell you a secret: I started watching the webseries The New Adventures of Peter + Wendy because I had a teeeeeeeensy bit of a crush on the lead, who was in another webseries (Welcome to Sanditon). I may have started watching because I thought Kyle Walters was endearing, but I kept watching because the writing was compelling and the series was funny in a way that didn't feel forced, like a lot of webseries do. It's a series about Neverland, Ohio and its residents (Wendy Darling who writes for her family's paper and answers advice columns, her brothers Michael -- a weird, wonderful, zany character -- and John, who's permanently stoic and thinking about business; Peter who is... well, a dreamer and a bit of slacker) and its second season just kicked off this week with new characters, new locations, and lots of laughs already.

The series introduced Hook and Smee (who's played by Satya Bhabha, aka Shivrang on New Girl) and Billie (a delightful, sharp blonde) and the patriarch of the Darling clan (and founder/editor of the newspaper), Mr. Darling (also known as Jim Beaver, of Supernatural fame) this season and though there are now about as many new characters as there were current season one cast, the show doesn't feel remotely overstuffed. Wendy's departure from Neverland and her relationships with the other characters -- established off-screen -- feel natural and Paula Rhodes continues to be the absolute perfect Wendy Darling: her sweet, high-pitched voice is totally adorable and she brings heaps of charm and comedy to the role. All of the cast is stellar, really: Kyle Walters is a great, fun-loving Peter (and, to reiterate, adorable) and you'll fall in love with Brennan Murray's quirky, child-like character as well as Graham Kurtz's rigid John.

(Plus, the theme song is SO CATCHY AND FUN. You'll find yourself humming it.)

Seriously, if you aren't watching this series already, catch up and join us as we watch season two!

What Rae's lovin': Lifetime's UnReal

Why she's lovin' it: Summer means reality TV marathons and summer romances and staying out too late with your friends -- at least, that's what it means on UnReal, a new show on Lifetime about what it takes to produce a dating reality show similar to The Bachelor. On UnReal, it's called The Suitor, and it is just as cutthroat, back-stabby, and disgusting as you feared and hoped it would be. I'm sure the antics on UnReal are exaggerated for TV -- not unlike what The Suitor does with its contestants -- but it's still a crazy look at what it takes to create moments of drama with a group of presumably logical adults.

Rachel is a star producer who is back on the show after a breakdown last season led to a DUI and grand theft auto. To pay off the damages from her drunken joyride, not to mention her legal bills, she takes a job back on the show and competes for the cash prizes her boss offers for things like causing 911 calls and finding a villain for the season. Rachel is great at her job, which means she is a master manipulator, but taking advantage of the contestants wears on her. And her outrageous bosses (who are having an affair with each other) and ex-boyfriend who also works on set don’t exactly help her get her Zen back.

The further Rachel falls back into this world, the more she seems to embrace being the bad guy. She tells everyone, and herself, that she is trapped into doing what she’s doing, but she seems to be too good at ruining people’s lives not to be enjoying it at least a little bit. And who could blame her for having a little fun when the Suitor himself turns his charms toward Rachel.

UnReal is sort of a parody of The Bachelor franchise, and while the characters do callous things, it doesn't paint them as empty, callous people (except for maybe Shia, a rival producer). Their motives are believable, even when their choices are horrifying. And their horrifying choices make great TV.

This show satisfies every gossipy bone in my body, and I'm totally loving it. The first four episodes are available for free on iTunes, On Demand, Amazon, and the Lifetime website, so go! Watch!

What Lynnie's lovin': Netflix's Daredevil

Why she's lovin' it: It’s a story as old as time – young boy meets toxic chemicals while trying to rescue an old man, young boy loses his eyesight, develops supernatural abilities to see the world around him in a new way, and grows up to fight crime with equal parts Parkour and martial arts.

Daredevil is a look at everything right in superhero television. The clich├ęs that are inherent in the hero arc are overshadowed by the fact that the writers take the plots and the characters seriously. They give every single character depth, backstory, and just the right amount of crazy. Matt Murdock is on a mission to right the wrongs in his city – to protect the weak and use his abilities to make a difference in the darkness that is Hell’s Kitchen. Wilson Fisk is a shadowy criminal with the same urge to change Hell’s Kitchen for the better, but through gentrification and domination. Their ideology diverges mostly in that Matt believes that every life is sacred and Fisk sees every life lost, every crime committed, as a small price to pay for a bigger victory.

Murdock is haunted, jaded, conflicted, smart, and underestimated. Charlie Cox plays the unrepentant Catholic with a hero complex with ease and likability. Vincent D'Onofrio imbues Wilson Fisk with eerie calm, vulnerability, hopefulness, and the right balance of uncertainty, fear, and determination.

The plot is tightly balanced, everyone feels real – poised on the edge of larger mistakes and really bad ideas that will most definitely bite them in the butts at one point or another – Matt Murdock is easy to like, and Wilson Fisk does not feel like a caricature. There were times when I found myself rooting for Fisk. Other times I wanted to slap Murdock right across the face. No one is perfect in the series, no one is easy, the choices are complicated, and the only sane character in the entire show is probably Claire. (After patching Matt up one time too many she promptly holds her hands up, shakes her head with a flirty smile, and says, “I’m out. Peace, idiots.” It’s glorious.)

Also, a man gets beheaded by a car door… so, there’s that.

It’s smart, it’s edgy, it’s diverse, and the women are strong without being stereotypes. They’re allowed to be equal parts broken and put together. There’s no pandering to the audience or making anyone look stupid to prop the hero up. Matt is dressed down by his best friend, the gorgeously geeky Foggy and Claire in equal parts. It’s a master class in growing a hero into super territory. The fighting is flawless, and the fight scene in the hallways (you’ll know it when you see it) is perfection.

And Charlie Cox is shirtless. A lot. Good news for the world, humanity, and eventual world peace, I think.

The Netflix model is paying off, and they are doing all sorts of right by taking on Matt Murdock’s story. This week I’m in love with Daredevil, and I invite you watch it with me.

What Lizzie’s lovin': The Vampire Academy book series

Why she's lovin' it:
 Vampires and I have a rocky relationship. It all started with Angel, whom I loved till he ripped my soul (and Buffy’s!) out by going all evil, and whom I continued to love in all his tortured glory until the very end. Then came Spike, who I never really liked, until he sacrificed himself to save everyone and I sobbed like a baby. And, of course, there’s Edward Cullen, of Twilight fame, who I really, really, really, don’t like. Because he’s creepy. And controlling. And many, many other bad adjectives.

But I’m not here to talk about him. I’m here to talk about the fun vampires. Yes, fun! I never thought I’d be saying that either, because, when my sister first suggested the Vampire Academy book series, I ignored her. I was done with vampires. Didn’t care for them. Would never read anything else that included a vampire for as long as I lived.

Priorities have a way of shifting when you find yourself stuck in a boring place with nothing to read other than the aforementioned books.

So, I gave them a go. I figured, if they suck, I’ll just stop, and I’ll be able to rub it in my sister’s face.

Of course, I still haven’t stopped. I’m in the middle of book four, and there’s two more in this blessedly finished series. If nothing else excites you about fun vampire shenanigans set in an absurdly well-thought universe’s vampire school, with a spunky heroine, friendship that’s at the center of the whole story, and a rather feminist hero, then, at least consider this. If you find you like it… it’s ALREADY FINISHED. You don’t have to wait for the next book.

Young adult literature has, in the last few years, become much more diverse, and maybe because of that, it’s become harder to surprise us. If this book series was only about what I said before, I might still recommend it, but I wouldn’t be trying to find ways of smuggling the next book into my purse so I could finish it in the bathroom of the party I’m supposed to attend tonight. But this fun, light, and engaging series, is actually more than just brain candy. Which is why I’m here gushing about it. There’s a plan to everything. Even when you don’t think so. And that’s the best kind of book, in my opinion. The ones that catch you by surprise.

If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d be waxing poetic about a vampire book, I would have laughed. But, the best of us sometimes have to eat our words. So, this is my karma. There’s life to the vampire genre after Anne Rice. There’s a way to “adapt” the idea for a new generation that doesn’t involved TSTL (too stupid to live) heroines and creepy stalkerish heroes. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t have believed you either.  But go on, give it try. I’ll be here waiting for you, book in hand.

(There’s also a movie, but for your sake, and mine, ignore that. I repeat. Ignore that. Read the books. Always, always, read the books first)

What Anne's lovin': Nancy Drew PC games

Why she's lovin' it: Despite my Tumblr username, I don't think I am built for TV. I am a terrible binge-watcher, I watch shows out of order, and I am a spoiler fiend. My enjoyment of television is pure, but erratic and misguided, much like everything that I engage myself in.

It is with that reason that the thing that I am head-over-heels for is the Nancy Drew PC games, which should seem odd. It's a 32-game point-and-click mystery series that cannot progress in a nonlinear fashion, games where the enjoyment is very much related, inversely, to how much you spoil yourself.

But my love of Nancy Drew makes sense. It's like a television show where every episode is similar, comfortable -- so you can play them in whatever order you choose -- but also different, meaning that each one brings something singular to the table. It's a many-hours rush that you can play alone or with friends, and although it is a kids' game, I have yet to play an entire game all the way through without needing some assistance. Also, even though it is a kids' game, many of these are quite scary! These games are funny, challenging, and captivating.

On the HeR forum, they have a page exclusively for people who are looking for "which game to buy next." They prohibit users from posting on it because they know that everyone's opinions vary. Then they say, "If you like the historical, play these games. If you like the terrifying, play these games. If you like going to exotic locations, then play these." (I like the exotic locations ones the best myself.)

Some games aren't great to me, but it's the 'to me' part of that sentence that drives home what I love about the Nancy Drew game series. There is something for everyone to enjoy. EVERYONE CAN BE A SLEUTH.

(Also, the music in these games? Stellar. I am a big fan of the theme song myself.)

What Chelsea's lovin': This season of Orange Is The New Black's story arcs

Why she's lovin' them: 

*Mild spoilers ahead!*

Orange is the New Black dropped this weekend and, much like the rest of the good people on the Internet, I made it my mission to consume it all. Now, I love OITNB. I even went to a watch party where my friend was screening it on a big screen. I've been hyped for this season since last summer's stressfully awesome season two finale. I needed to know what would happen next. Would Alex find out Piper is the reason for her coming back to prison? Is Vee really dead? What's gonna happen to Daya's baby? After pacing myself and finishing the show over the course of a few days, I have to say that it did not disappoint. We got all of our favorite characters back, some characters left for good (BYE LARRY, NEVER COME BACK!), and we got to meet some beautiful new inmates that Jaime is gonna talk about. Unlike last season where we had Vee driving the big storyline of the season, this year we had a lot of smaller arcs with inmates coming and going. The prison almost shutting down then privatizing served as the major plot of the season but created all the smaller, more interesting plots that we loved. Here are my Top 3 ones of the season.

1. Big Boo and Pennsatucky's Friendship

Pennsatucky has come a long way since her villainous turn in season 1 and all of that can be credited towards her friendship with Big Boo. The two opposites were paired together in season 2 during the prison blackout and are gold together. They get into silly shenanigans together when trying to con a Westboro Baptist-esque church into supporting Big Boo in prison and have more heartfelt moments when Big Boo helps Pennsatucky get her revenge on a guard. Easily my favorite character duo on the show.

2. Piper's Prison Panties

With the prison privatizing, Litchfield found new ways to churn a profit from the prisoners in the form of a lingerie sweatshop. Piper, seeing that the new management could be using their materials more efficiently decides to make extra pairs of panties, wear them, then sell the used panties online. Bribing other inmates with ramen-flavor packets to help mask the terrible new food, she creates a mini panty empire and finds a new inmate friend Stella to help her run the business. With business booming, the panty girls try and make more demands with Piper and she finds out who she can and can't trust.

3. Suzanne's Time Hump Chronicles

Inspired to write a story for her drama class, Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren out-smuts E.L. James with her Time Hump Chronicles, a "kinky sex fantasy set in space". While her teacher refuses to let her act it out in the class, it gets passed around the prison and the inmates are hooked. She becomes the J.K. Rowling of Litchfield, with the inmate fans bombarding her with plot questions and harassing her about when the new chapters will be out. At first she loves all the attention but the pressure of keeping up with the demand begins to get to her and we get some new insight on Suzanne when one of her fans shows romantic interest in her. Being forced to stop writing the series when the guards discover it, she gladly gives up writing and discovers girls writing fan fiction of her characters and "destroying her legacy." Suzanne is always the perfect comic relief when we are on her side and this story was the perfect balance of silly and heartfelt.

Now those are just a few of the million arcs that happened this season. If you don't care about any of that then just watch for that beautiful face above that is Ruby Rose's character Stella Carlin. She's like sunshine and wonderful. I recommend setting aside a couple days and just binging. The show is just as good as ever and ends on a beautiful note.

What Jaime's lovin': Orange Is The New Black's characters -- new and returning

Why she's lovin' them: Season three of Orange is the New Black premiered this weekend, and like any self-respecting fan of a Netflix original series about women in prison, I spent thirteen and a half non-consecutive hours in bed watching them all.  The strength of this show lies in how it uses its ensemble cast, pulling them in and out of focus to make our sympathies extend to everyone in Litchfield Prison, not just the women whose names appear in the main credits.

With Orange is the New Black, you’re not really watching every episode waiting for a new plot development to shake everything up.  You’re watching to see the characters develop.  How is Daya dealing with the later stages of her pregnancy?  How are Taystee and Poussey going to treat each other now that Vee is gone?  And along the way, you find yourself caring about characters who previously were little more than filling the background, or comic relief.  The show has always used flashbacks to focus on a particular character during each episode, which allows us to see that character as a three-dimensional person.  Even if they don’t receive a huge amount of focus after that episode, for one hour-long period, they’re the star.  They’re just as important as Piper or Alex or Red.

Of course, my personal favorite character this season was Stella, because have you seen Ruby Rose?  But even without my ridiculous crush, Stella was such a great addition to this season.  She was a compelling plot twist for Piper, and their storyline allowed us to see just how much Piper has changed since she’s been in prison.  And really, that’s where Orange is the New Black shines – in using characters’ reflections and opinions toward other characters, not drawn out storylines or metaphors, to show growth.  Each character on this show has their own journey, and their own story.  The best thing about watching Orange is the New Black is sitting back and watching these stories overlap.

So what are YOU all lovin' this week? Hit up the comments below and let us know. And tweet the writers of the blurbs if you're lovin' what they are! Until next time, folks. :)


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