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.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Penny Dreadful 3x05 Review: “This World Is Our Hell” (What’s Past Is Not Forgotten) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


“This World Is Our Hell”
Original Airdate: May 29, 2016

Last week was all about Vanessa, but this week focused on Ethan. Ethan’s fathers — Sir Malcolm, Kaetenay, and his birth father — are all battling for Ethan’s soul, but Hecate is the one who wins Ethan’s devotion.

THE PAST


Ethan and Hecate are still wandering in the desert, running from the law and toward Ethan’s father. As Ethan faces death in the desert with Hecate, he must face his past to move forward. Ethan and Kaetenay finally discuss their relationship to each other — and this explainer for all of Ethan’s relationships was very welcome.

Apparently, when Ethan was younger, his father signed him up for the military. His cruel commanding officer led his troops to slaughter an Apache family while they were sleeping. When the killing was over, Ethan washed his hands of blood in the river. But like Lady Macbeth, his hands will never feel clean of the blood he has spilled. After his officer killed a young boy with a rock and bragged that this massacre would get them medals, Ethan killed him. And then Ethan went to the Apaches and begged to die.

The family Ethan killed was, of course, Kaetenay’s family. Kaetenay thought it would be crueler to let Ethan live with his sins than to kill him. So the Apaches took him in and forced Ethan to fight for them to atone for his actions. His Apache father, Kaetenay, taught Ethan the Apache ways, and the former enemies formed a sort of bond. But the U.S. government kept sending the military to kill members of the Apache tribe, and Ethan’s new family was killed one by one. Facing extinction, they turned cruel.

Ethan suggested they get weapons and supplies by raiding his birth father’s home in a plan that was only supposed to involve stealing, not killing. But when his Apache family arrived at Ethan’s former home, they tortured and killed Ethan’s family, leaving only his father alive.

Meanwhile, back in London, Frankenstein and Jekyll also battle with sins of the past – but the sins of others, not their own. Frankenstein has developed a serum that will make Jekyll’s experiment subjects forget their bad nature forever. By forgetting their past, the men will wake up truly innocent. Only when faced with the option to take the serum himself, Frankenstein says he wouldn’t do it.

Which is the real difference between the two friends. Jekyll would want to forget the racism and cruelty he has been subjected to. Jekyll and Frankenstein have a complicated history, and even though Frankenstein says he wouldn’t want to forget his past, he certainly isn’t learning from it. He is still doing experiments that remove the parts of men that make them who they are, and he still wants to apply the serum to his love, Lilly.

THE PRESENT


Ethan, on the run from the government and his guilt, has nowhere to run except back to the place that birthed his worst memory. He and Hecate head to his father on horses that are dying of thirst. The sheriff and his men are following Ethan, and Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay are following them all. When they fall, they fall like dominoes — one after the other, when Ethan chooses to knock one down.

Hecate wants to liberate Ethan’s truest self — and coincidentally also sign him up for a lifetime of serving the devil. Maybe Ethan is weak in his dehydrated state, but all it takes is for her to flutter her eyelashes to convince him that the best way forward is to give himself to Lucifer so he will never feel guilty again.

Tired of feeling shame, and also just plain tired, Ethan agrees. He cooperates with Hecate and gives his blood so she can cast a spell on the sheriff’s men. When Hecate is done, snakes come out of the ground to kill them all. But their spell is thwarted because they didn’t account for Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay, who were descending on the men at the same time. Kaetenay was bitten, but Malcolm and the two British officers are still alive and still chasing Ethan.

Sir Malcolm and Kaetenay turn up right when Ethan and Hecate are about to die of thirst. Unfortunately, Ethan’s father’s men turn up then, too. They bring Ethan home and give him water and rest so that he can face his father once more.

THE FUTURE


When Ethan wakes up at his father’s, he says he is ready to put his plan in action. He means to kill his father and devote himself to Lucifer. Only his conversion isn’t all that convincing. Part of what makes Ethan who he is is his guilt as he grapples with the evil that comes out during the full moon. He struggles with his mistakes and his choices because he is a good person who wants to do good. Like Vanessa, he makes choices every day to stay away from the darkness. It seems hard to believe that he, after a lifetime of choosing the light, would turn to the devil so easily. I don’t know if Ethan is gaming Hecate or if he really is ready to become Lucifer’s servant. Only time will tell what Ethan’s future will be.

But he better make a decision quickly, because his father has made him face the slaughter of his family and is holding a gun to his head.

Post Script:
  • This episode was full of necessary exposition, but there’s not too much else going on. 
  • Ethan, when will you realize that Vanessa can help you turn to the light!
  • I missed Vanessa in this episode. Hopefully next week we will see her and Lily again.

Outlander 2x08 Review: “The Fox’s Lair” (Old Habits Die Hard) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]


“The Fox’s Lair”
Original Airdate: May 28, 2016

Claire and Jamie are back in Scotland, enjoying the calm domestic life, which of course can’t last for long. The two easily slip back into their old life and back into their old ways.

The Fraser family — including Jenny, Jenny’s husband, Murtagh, and Fergus, who did come back with Jamie and Claire — looks like they truly enjoy each other’s company as they harvest some very large potatoes. Jenny and the cook are unfamiliar with the spud, so Claire and Fergus tell them how they are cooked. Fergus’ way is my favorite: baked, with some butter and salt. Claire and Jamie share an adorable kiss after he needles Claire about her cooking abilities, and that’s how you know it’s all going to go downhill quickly. When the mail comes in, Jamie finds out that his cousin in Paris forged his signature on a document that supports Charles Stewart’s divine right to the British throne, making Jamie a traitor to the crown.

When talking over their options, Claire and Jamie decide they can’t run away. The only option they can live with is to stay and fight for Prince Charles because if they can’t stop the uprising, they can at least try to win it. This is not exactly a twist, since it would be very unlike Jamie and Claire to leave their family and community to be annihilated without at least trying to help, and I am not looking forward to the pain and suffering that I know will come for Jamie and Claire.

To give themselves their best shot at winning this war, Jamie decides he needs to ask for help from his grandfather. (I am definitely going to start calling all grandpas “grandsires” from now on.) His grandfather, Lord Lovat, is a monster, willing to do anything to get what he wants, including threaten to rape his grandson’s wife. Even Claire and Jamie, who are experts now at political maneuvering, can’t keep up with Lord Lovat’s manipulation.

The political calculations in this episode were not my favorite. Tough to follow and mostly dependent on despicable people, it felt like Jamie and Claire were in back in Paris trying to change the outcome of a war. After everything they’ve been through, Claire and Jamie easily fall into their old tricks and it’s tiresome to watch. It’s a familiar story now: Claire is threatened with rape, Jamie tells people Claire is a witch to scare people into leaving them alone, Jamie and Claire attend a disastrous dinner where they try to manipulate everyone into doing what they want.

Claire did show that she learned to leave some things up to Jamie’s discretion, especially when it comes to his family. When she first visited the Frasers, Claire’s outspokenness got her and Jamie into trouble. But this visit to Jamie’s family, Claire leaves the room when Jamie asks her to and she keeps silent at dinner. It’s frustrating to be subject to the kind of sexism where women are considered decoration at the dinner table, but it’s smart political tactics to sit back and observe and allow Jamie to lead discussions with his grandfather.

By staying out of Lord Lovat’s way, Claire is able to help put together a plan. Laoghaire — another unwelcome blast from the past – has traveled with Colum Mackenzie to Lord Lovat’s unofficial war conference. Colum is on the opposite side of Jamie and wants Lord Lovat to sign a pact of neutrality rather than support the rebellion. Lord Lovat’s son Simon is infatuated with Laoghaire, and Claire convinces Laoghaire to help build Simon’s confidence. With some newfound gusto, Claire hopes Simon will stand up with his father and convince him to send men to fight for Prince Charles.

While working on this plan, which seems iffy at best, Claire also learns that Lord Lovat’s seer has had a vision of Lord Lovat facing an executioner. But who holds the axe — the British or the Jacobites — is unclear.

When Claire’s plan of confidence-by-seduction doesn’t work, Jamie thinks he will need to sign over Lollybroch to get Lord Lovat to agree to send men to the cause. In a Hail Mary pass, Claire interrupts Jamie and pretends to have the same vision the seer told her about. Only Claire changes the outcome to look like the Jacobites are executing Lord Lovat. Lord Lovat gets predictably angry and heads toward Claire with a knife in his hand – only to be stopped by his son. Simon declares his father and Colum to be old fearful men, and he says he will fight with Jamie because it’s the right thing to do. It looks like his newfound confidence did something after all.

After this display, Lord Lovat still decides to sign the neutrality agreement. However, he also decides to send men with Jamie and Simon. By doing both, Lord Lovat thinks he has both sides covered no matter who wins the war.

This episode moved Jamie and Claire toward the inevitable war between the British and the clans, but it was more full of plot mechanics than real emotion. And honestly, if I never see Laoghaire again it will be too soon. I don’t get why she’s still obsessed with Jamie, and I don’t much like this one dimensional character.

Un Petit Mot:
  • I suppose I should change the title of this section now that Claire and Jamie aren’t in France anymore. 
  • I guess Jamie and Claire are just leaning into Claire being a witch now. 
  • Claire and Jamie are now convincing people to fight in the rebellion, which in itself could change the course of history and lead the rebellion to actually happen. Maybe if they had sat this one out, it would have fallen apart before it got going. Time travel! It’s tricky!
  • Simon was a delightful doofus, and Laoghaire should get some points for not running away when Simon started reciting poetry at her. 
  • “My grandfather is not opposed to decoration at the dinner table, as long as the decoration doesn’t speak.”

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 40


We have come to the end of our TV MVP Series for this television season! This week, most primetime television shows ended with some pretty epic (and, in some cases, rather tame) finales. With the ending of our shows comes the ending of the series for a few months. In the interim, be sure to check out our Summer Lovin' Series each week, where we will post what pop culture phenomenons, television shows, movies, and books are on our radars during any given week. Before that, however, check out which performers we think deserve MVP status. Joining me this week are:

Here we go!

Friday, May 27, 2016

5 Things Arrow Could (And Should) Do in Season Five


It’s no surprise to anyone that I think the fourth season of Arrow steeply dipped in terms of quality and character development. The season began with so much promise — Oliver and Felicity were called back to their old lives in Star(ling) City by their team. Domestic bliss interrupted, the pair would have to learn how to become new heroes and different versions of the people they left when they retreated to Ivy Town. Oliver began to embrace a new way of doing things — namely, of doing them in the light. He donned a new costume and spoke in front of the city. And the other persona of the hero, Oliver Queen, also took a bold step into the light in running for mayor. The team, though fractured, was slowly learning how to rebuild itself and its trust in one another. Felicity adjusted to her new role as CEO. Thea grappled with the darkness and anger within her. Diggle learned how to cope with his anger over Oliver, you know, using Lyla and his daughter during Al Sah-Him shenanigans.

But then the season took a turn for the worse and never recovered. Instead of introducing organic conflict between Oliver and Felicity, and Oliver and the team, the show chose to use the oldest and most obnoxious cliché in the book: the secret child storyline. I understand that the show introduced Baby Mama during the previous crossover with The Flash and therefore felt the need to address that particular storyline. But take it from the failures of How I Met Your Mother’s series finale — just because you introduce something into your show doesn’t mean you have to return to it in the end. Instead of adding depth to the characters and show, this particular plot made no sense from the standpoint of characterization or larger narrative.

I’m going to have a brief interlude here to tell you exactly how this story could have added layers of depth to characters and plot, while also providing an organic source of conflict for Oliver and Felicity (and growth for Felicity, rather than her unfortunate end-result status of being “the woman who got duped by the love of her life”): In the season premiere, Felicity nearly chokes when her and Oliver’s neighbors discuss the idea of having children. She’s younger than Oliver, and though she’s experienced a lot of the world’s heartbreak, she’s also not quite ready to raise a family. The idea clearly freaks her out, which is understandable. Heck, I’m 27 and the idea of raising a child right now scares me.

In introducing Baby Mama and William into Felicity’s life, we could have seen this conflict play out, both in Felicity’s own heart and mind and in her relationship with Oliver. The latter would have come forward at some point midseason and told Felicity about his child. Felicity would be shocked, but understanding and embrace Baby Mama and William into her life. Because Felicity is a secure and confident woman and Baby Mama poses no threat to her relationship with Oliver — she knows he loves her and cares for his son. But seeing Oliver have a son would provide this subtle little wedge. It’s one thing to talk about being hypothetical parents with their obnoxious Ivy Town neighbors; it’s another to actually see Oliver already moving forward in an area where she is not confident.

Felicity would have struggled, then, with accepting the fact that while Oliver is ready to be a father — and is — she is not sure whether she is ready to be a mother. The story could have evolved their relationship, leading to some deeper questions for Felicity and insight into her psyche (again, this is all canon — raising kids freaks the heroine out) as well as some great material for her and Oliver. This would have added some depth to the Donna/Felicity relationship too, and allowed us to know more about Felicity beyond just her hacking abilities and role on Team Arrow.

(And then if the show had wanted to really jam in the knife here, we could have still had the limo accident at the end of the midseason finale and then the big reveal would not have been Felicity briefly paralyzed, like the Arrow writers took ideas from Glee’s Quinn Fabray story, but that emergency surgery left her with the inability to have kids in the future.)

THAT would have been a compelling story, where Oliver is forced to grow and Felicity is forced to grow and they might grow separately during points in the season (and maybe even just the pressure of Felicity’s grief would drive them apart for a while), but within the realm of what we know to be true of their characters.

What was the point in this little detour into “what could have been”? Well, simply to prove that Arrow had some pretty great material to work with this season that they easily could turned into equally great stories. Unfortunately, the show chose to careen down the path of no (easy) return with Oliver and Felicity’s romance, interjected pointless flashbacks, and stretched characterization to fit the writers’ whims. The failures of season four, however, are not impossible to fix in season five. If the show manages to do a few things right, I think that they can reconstruct their narrative into something resembling the show that we all fell in love with.

Here are five ways Arrow can become great again in season five:


5. Tighten up the flashbacks, or remove them altogether.

Oh, flashbacks. Last season’s Hong Kong flashbacks were terrible, but at least they featured some interesting characters. The same cannot be said of the flashbacks this year. Other than set up Darhk’s magical idol and introduce Constantine, the Lian-Yu return did absolutely nothing in the way of paralleling a theme or serving any purpose whatsoever. In fact, Amanda Waller did a succinct job of summing up the point of the flashbacks in the finale — sometimes you have to kill people. That’s it.

That was the whole purpose of the flashbacks this year. I spent half of the season complaining about them and their pointlessness, and the other half muting them altogether. No, seriously. And the worst part is that I lost zero of the narrative while doing this. I lost nothing from muting the flashbacks and if that isn’t a sign that something is wrong, I don’t know what is.

In order to create flashbacks that are engaging, the show really needs to cast likable (or at least engaging) actors and actresses to fill roles, as well as weave them strongly into the present-day narrative. The flashbacks in season two were the last that were purposeful and engaging, and as the seasons wear on, they seem to be used to simply fill time and not much more. If this season’s flashbacks will take place in Russia and incorporate a Bratva storyline, there better be some sort of important tie-in during the present. I don’t know what that looks like because I’m not exactly a writer on the show, but I’m sure that the staff can come up with something that is far more interesting and purposeful than they did this year. And if they can’t? Ditch the flashbacks and spend more time constructing a present-day narrative.

We promise we won’t miss the flashbacks if they disappear.

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4. Pick a central theme and focus on it better.

The theme of season four was supposed to be “hope,” but Arrow did such a horrible job of threading that throughout the season that they literally had to repeat it about fifteen hundred times in the finale. Moreover, the longer this show wears on, the more difficult it is becoming for the writers to come up with any other conflict for Oliver besides: “Oliver struggles with the darkness and light within him,” or some variation of that. The finale attempted to re-address that theme, giving Felicity a line about a schism within Oliver.

But if I’m being honest, in spite of how rocky and absurd the back half of season three was, it actually did a pretty great job of addressing the theme of identity — a theme which is essentially the exact same thing as “schism.” There are so many more plots that the show could delve into, chief among them being addressing Oliver’s PTSD. In fact, addressing the issue of trauma, in general, could be a really compelling narrative throughout season five. String through that the flashbacks of Bratva!Oliver and the things he had to do in order to survive, and you’ve essentially got a tightly-packed and engaging narrative.

(I’m available for hire, Arrow writers.)

The point is that this show has so much potential, because its characters are rich with backstory. Instead, the past few years have seemed to be a “let’s see how many Easter eggs and fun comic book heroes we can integrate,” which caused the show to lose its central focus. And I think that Arrow has so much potential — if only it decides to tap into it.

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3. Provide a relevant Big Bad.

“Relevant” is a word that might baffle you here, since Damien Darhk and Ra’s al Ghul were both pretty relevant to the plot happening in the past two seasons. And as much as I love Damien Darhk and Neal McDonough, when you examine what the Arrow finale (and season at large) accomplished, you’ll find that it spent most of the year spinning its wheels. In fact, the Legends of Tomorrow/Arrow/The Flash universe has seemed to have this problem lately: they spend their seasons hyping up a Big Bad; their intelligent team of characters can’t seem to defeat the Big Bad at every single turn; the seasons end with the team finally defeating the Big Bad (unbelievably); the Big Bad’s purpose is left far too obscure.

Vandal Savage wanted to take over the world because... well, ask anyone who watched the first season of Legends of Tomorrow (including myself) to try to explain exactly WHY he wanted the world to burn. There was no real reason given to us by the show apart from just “because” and “he can.” The same holds true with Arrow. And the problem with constructing a Big Bad who becomes more and more powerful and less and less beatable is that you have to severely dumb down your team, and spend most of the season writing them chasing their tails.

At some point, Damien Darhk literally became impossible to stop. We knew this and the team knew this, but apparently the team also did NOT know this because they brought in every person from Constantine to Vixen to a magical lady to help the team defeat him and no one was able to do so. The show had to make the Big Bad last until the season finale, but at that point, it was literally pointless and everything happened suddenly. With the hope of an angry mob, Oliver stripped Darhk of his magic (I think? We actually don’t even know) and managed to beat him up (okay) and kill him (yawn). I loved Darhk because I thought he was interesting and that destroying the world had something to do with his daughter. I thought Arrow was going to reveal to us that she had some sort of incurable cancer and was slowly dying and Darhk wanted to form a protective bubble around her, to somehow save her life.

Why were Darhk’s true motives never addressed? Because they never needed to be. Because the show only needed Darhk to be “bad” — they never had to come up with a reason as to WHY. But the problem, of course, is that we needed the “why” answered. In order to care about a hero’s journey, we need to care about his adversaries, too. Look at Fisk and Frank Castle in Daredevil. We care about Matt Murdock and therefore we also care about these characters. How does a show with thirteen episodes per season manage to construct better, more well-rounded villains with engaging ande compelling backstories than a show that has almost double that amount of episodes?

So in season five, what I would love to see from Arrow is a villain whose motivations are rooted in something fundamental within Oliver and Team Arrow. I need a villain whose story intersects with Oliver’s and makes sense. I need a villain who is believable and also able to be stopped, at some point. And please, for the love of God, don’t make their whole quest about destroying the world.

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2. Deal with the problem that is Malcolm Merlyn.

At this point, I’m convinced that Arrow will end with Malcolm killing everyone in the show and John Barromwan breaking character and looking directly into the camera, saying: “SUCKERS.”

I love Barrowman so much, but I have absolutely no idea why Malcolm is still alive on this show. He’s betrayed everyone — literally everyone — about a hundred times in a hundred different ways, and yet he’s still survived. He sold out Oliver’s child to Darhk in exchange for he and Thea living in The Dome. He brainwashed his daughter to kill. He’s the reason Laurel died. He continues to play both sides without any sort of remorse or a moment of hesitation. So why doesn’t Oliver want to kill him? Because he’s technically Thea’s father?

I understood his reasoning for not killing him when Nyssa demanded that he do so. I get that Oliver Queen is all about finding another way and he managed to do that, without any sort of help from his team.

But there’s a time and place for niceties and there is a time and a place for Malcolm’s demise. Honestly, I was extremely baffled as to why or how he became a part of Team Arrow taking down Darhk during the season finale. Did I miss something or was anyone else confused as well? When did he switch sides? Why does Team Arrow not seem to bat an eye that he’s in their lair again? Malcolm has been playing both sides to get what he wants. And I, quite frankly, just don’t see how he will be useful or relevant to the story next season.

There are only so many times Malcolm can betray and then un-betray a team, confess he loves his daughter and then literally brainwash her. And even though I absolutely love John Barrowman’s performance in this role, I can’t fathom how he’ll be necessary moving forward. The show’s purpose in all of this isn’t to keep Malcolm Merlyn alive — they’re simply intent on keeping John Barrowman employed.

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1. Rebuild its central relationships.

I’ll be clear here: I don’t want Oliver and Felicity to get back together until at least midseason. And here’s why: anything earlier would cheapen the betrayal that Felicity felt. She still has to process a lot of what has happened to her in the past few months (directing a nuclear warhead to a small town; watching two people she cared about die; Oliver’s betrayal; her dad leaving town again; loss of her company, etc.). Honestly, this girl has so much to deal with personally and professionally, Oliver should be relegated to the backburner. Now, this doesn’t mean I want the two to remain isolated. I think that Felicity has proven she can compartmentalize better than she thinks she can. Working together doesn’t mean Oliver and Felicity should (or have to) fall right back into a relationship (#sorrynotsorry, shippers). But because Arrow chose to leave Felicity behind — a decision I’m not entirely on board with, to be honest, given the sheer amount of trauma Felicity experienced in the city this year — they need to be very careful how they tread the relationship between these two in season five.

I want Oliver to work to earn back Felicity’s trust, and I want Felicity to take some time and headspace to properly deal with the pain that she briefly mentioned to Oliver earlier this season. If breaking up with Oliver was the hardest thing she’s had to do, I want to SEE that and not be TOLD it, show. I think we’ve all learned the value of showing rather than telling. Furthermore, I don’t want a love triangle and I know that I don’t control the Arrow writers, so there’s no need for me to tweet that to them. Let me repeat that: I don’t control what they do. I am, as a fan of the show, not in any way believing that I make things happen or that the executive producers choose to do or not do things based on how I feel any given Wednesday.

Like I said in my review of the finale: I don’t want the show to listen to every whim that I have or story I think works. That’s why I’m a fan, not a writer of the show. I digest and interpret their stories; I don’t make them.

With that said, again, I think that the show will be headed into some pretty dangerous waters if it decides Felicity needs a non-Oliver love interest. They tried that in season three with Ray, and nothing about the relationship felt true to Felicity’s character. We know that these two love one another. Oliver and Felicity’s love for each other is not the problem here. The problem is whether or not Felicity and Oliver can grow enough separately and together in order to permanently repair a relationship that was fractured.

And I think that the show can. But I know that they need to do so slowly and intentionally — something that was not done this season. Oliver and Felicity were not treated with delicacy, nor was the baby mama drama storyline given any sort of consideration in terms of how it might impact both characterizations. But if it takes the time and slowly (and organically) rebuilds Oliver/Felicity in the same way that it built them up the first time, we’ll be okay.

But more than just that, I would love to see more relationships explored this season that have been pushed aside for annoying drama. Thea and Oliver’s relationship is super important and the most important on the show (they’re the only real family each other has left, guys) and it hasn’t been explored enough this season. With the loss of Alex, Laurel, and Roy as well as her rocky relationship with Malcolm, Thea is just wandering and lost. I want her big brother to take her under his wing and to be vulnerable with her. I want both of them to talk about their trauma, or at least share some scenes together that evolve their characters. The same holds true for other pairings on the show as well, but none more so than the Queen siblings.

(And please, for the love of all things good and holy Arrow, never — EVER — have John Diggle or Thea Queen blatantly excuse Oliver’s deception again. You warped your characters in order to serve this shoddy story and that is one thing I cannot completely forgive.)

With all of that said, what do you think Arrow should do in its fifth season to save the sinking parts of it? Hit up the comments below and let me know!

The Mindy Project 4x20 Review: "The Greatest Date in the World" (Mindy in the Wrong) [Contributor: Anne]


"The Greatest Date in the World"
Original Airdate: May 24, 2016

Hey there, hi there!

I have been saying a lot of similar things the past couple in my reviews of The Mindy Project, and I am very excited to try something new this week: breaking down, character-by-character, what I thought of the episode.

I think that the basic "gist" of this season has been so consistent — and I don't think “The Greatest Date in the World” changes what I've been thinking about the season as a whole — that more interesting insights may be generated by looking at the episode piece-by-piece. I will summarize what I thought about this episode, though, if you're curious: as Ne-Yo said, this episode wasn't the best in the world, but it was pretty fun. I'm still enjoying the Danny-less episodes (they tend to be lighter-hearted without sacrificing interesting/meaningful storylines), and I did love Ne-Yo's run on the show as the first mature boyfriend Mindy's ever really had.

But I think that the overall quality was a little lacking. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but despite how much I like Jody — more than the average viewer, it seems — his presence is kind of like a rebound after a particularly nasty break-up with someone you really cared about and who let you down.

But anyway, here we go!

MINDY


This episode was one of the first times Mindy got berated, reasonably, for doing something wrong — reasonably. I say “reasonably” twice because this episode does provide rationale behind Eden, Jody, and Mindy's mindsets. Eden likes Mindy, but it's not unreasonable for her to be angry at the boundaries clearly crossed; Jody like-likes Mindy, but his objections towards Mindy's behavior are based in her professional misstep rather than a way for him to vent his feelings; and Mindy is a good doctor, but is certainly not perfect, and has all the reason in the world to project her experiences onto a patient she cares for.

I've definitely mentioned that the problem with so many Danny-and-Mindy plots in the past two seasons was that Mindy was so obviously in the right all of the time. When Danny's justification is “I am domineering because you make bad decisions!” despite trying to trick his wife into pregnancy, it's not hard to take Mindy's side. However, this becomes boring in the long run. We would see Mindy be wrong in so many silly ways, but when it counted, she was in the right.

This situation adds nuance because Mindy's point-of-view is as a caretaker (both as a mom and as a doctor), and by telling her about Jonah, Eden shows how grey the line between mom and doctor is for Mindy and how others reflect that back to her. Mindy's not 100% wrong for meddling because, I mean, her patient did drop all her baggage in the examination room and did ask her doctor to pick up her boyfriend's semen sample at his house. It's not like boundaries aren't being crossed there!

But of course, as Mindy yells to Morgan at Jonah's house, it's different when you, a medical professional, overstep boundaries, because you are a medical professional and you should know better — not to mention that Mindy's prime motivation was as a result of projecting her problems onto her patient. So while Mindy might not be 100% in the wrong, she is definitely not even 5% right here.

I just really appreciate that despite how irrational Mindy acts in this episode, both with Marcus (“I like that that happened. It's smart” in response to getting an egg on her head) and within her profession, that she remains grounded. She gives Marcus a shot because she likes him, but stands up for herself and the kind of person she is as well; when things hit the fan with her and Eden, she protests with emotion, not with the purpose of making me laugh. A little of that goes a long way in making Mindy Lahiri the nuanced character that Mindy Kaling so much wants her to be.

JODY


Jody confuses me. He's obviously too old for Mindy. He obviously has no chemistry with Mindy, and I have no desire to see them kiss in any way, let alone give this thing a real shot. But I would be lying if I didn't have some morbid curiosity as to what the show's building to with this fella, and how this story will either resemble or diverge from the Tale as Old as Season Two.

What muddles the waters is that Jody, for being as similar to Danny as he is, differs in very significant ways, mainly by his respect for Mindy as a professional. (I know — Danny used to share this quality — making this appraisal more complicated for me!) Jody sees Mindy not as someone to be helped along, but as someone who is his equal. Jody challenges Mindy, yet he supports her and believes in her professional success. Mindy claims that Jody thinks her life is a “mess,” but my reading of the scene was that Jody recognized that Mindy was no less amazing for her imperfect life and character, because no person's life is un-messy or perfect.

Put another way, I don't think Jody is disappointed in Mindy's handling of her life; I think he just recognizes that she is in progress and, through the specific events of the episode, proved that progress still continues. But that could be just me.

I think a lot of people are grossed out by this crush, and I don't blame them. There are so many shades of former Danny in what's going on with Jody. However, I think that what this crush has done at least in the short term has made Jody sympathetic and vulnerable. Even if he doesn't get the girl, knowing that he is capable of feelings like these is another instance where a little could stand to go a long way. (Based on the treatment of his last few girlfriends, I'm not committed to this viewpoint, but who knows what will happen?)

TAMRA, JEREMY, AND MORGAN


The B-plot was pretty basic, although structurally sound. I say that a lot and as I type it, it kind of looks silly. What I mean when I say that is that I think it is a good enough use of the characters that we have. It allows them to be funny, it is grounded in a problem that does not surprise me based on what I already know of the characters (that they don't like their jobs/that they demand everyone love their job), and by mixing together the funny and the groundedness, I feel as if I have a better read on all of the characters. Jeremy's type of desperation is so generally expressed in just one way that I like to see him react in a work situation, and I like that the nurses are underappreciated because I have friends in nursing and I hear about the doctor-nurse relationship all the time! (Guys, for real: appreciate your nurses — they are underpaid, overworked, and literally save lives on the reg.)

COLETTE


Still isn't doing it for me. I barely tolerate Morgan; why did they think that I wanted another one? Fortune Feimster seems so happy to be on the show that I can't be too distressed by her presence. But her character is so unfunny and so underdeveloped that I'd rather she left.

MARCUS


I liked Mindy's story with Marcus for the simple reason — well, one, I love Ne-Yo. Why couldn't there be a Ne-Yo song in this episode?

Sorry, I got off track. What I meant to say was that I liked her story because I think more love stories could stand to end with two people mutually agreeing that they are just not right for each other. I think that The Mindy Project, which has a revolving door of dudes, is in the best position to tell that story and tell it well; relationships make you grow no matter how they go, and I liked that this episode told a story about how Mindy's expectations are different than Marcus's. Like with the story with Neel, I find that the season four dating stories are less about wacky schlubs finding their way into Mindy's life and more about Mindy evaluating what she wants, what she expects, and what she deserves.

Stray Observations:
  • Jody did look cute this episode, though, which was another layer that complicated things for me. Mindy's got eyes too!
  • Mindy's look at the end wasn't charmed, more confused — I would guess she knows with certainty that Jody is positioned oddly in her life, and I would imagine that upcoming episodes will confront that more certainly.
  • I don't know if this was done on purpose, but Eden's saying that Mindy was her favorite doctor reminded me of her time on House. Not surprised she picked Mindy over House or Wilson, all things considered!
  • I thought that the "best in New York" phrase, repeated, was kind of hammy. As I mentioned, as far as overall quality goes, this episode felt kind of undercooked or something, lacking the sharper jokes that make this show such a draw for me. (I've been skeptical of Wigfield episodes since her peak, "Christmas Party Sex Trap," and her nadir, "L.A.")
  • KUDOS to Mindy Kaling for calling out people wondering where Leo was this episode: "People ask where Mindy's baby is when I'm on a dating story. He's off playing with the children on male-driven comedies no one ever asks about."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blindspot 1x23 Review: "Why Await Life's End" (Creating and Obliterating Blindspots) [Contributor: Jen]


"Why Await Life's End"
Original Airdate: May 23, 2016

Blindspot finishes their first season with a stellar finale in “Why Await Life's End.” They answer a bunch of questions while simultaneously creating even more in the process. Most importantly, they show how the concept of “blindspots” will continue into next season.

CASE OF THE WEEK


So... there wasn't a case of the week! Essentially, “Why Await Life's End” is the fallout from a nuclear bomb. However, there is resolution behind the tattoos. Jane's tattoos were insurance, essentially — a way to guarantee Weller enough “wins” that when Mayfair was finally removed from power, he would be the automatic replacement.

What's surprising about the tattoo reveal is how pragmatic it is. They are resume builders for Kurt Weller. Shouldn't it be enough that Kurt is a good agent? Yes it should, but therein lies the catch-22: Kurt Weller isn't the problem; the FBI is. Jane needed a way to ensure that he would get the job, no matter the corruption. The best way to do that is to make the FBI look really good via the tattoos. Essentially, it's a masterful ego stroke to the higher-ups in the FBI. Jane plays politics with the tattoos so Kurt Weller didn't have to.

That said, the pragmatism of conquering office politics is a bit like deflating balloon. I wish the reason for the tattoos would be a little fancier than job security, but it is what it is.

TEAM BLINDSPOT


Reade and Zappata spend most of “Why Await Life's End” searching for Mayfair. They discover something pretty grizzly when Patterson CSIs the warehouse for blood. She finds blood. A lot of it. Too much for any person to survive. Even though I believe Zappata and Reade conceptually understand Mayfair is dead, the grief over the loss of their friend is stopping them from accepting what the physical evidence is showing.

Also there's no body, so that didn't help matters.

Patterson is MVP of Team Blindspot consistently week after week, but this episode exemplifies why. After Reade and Zappata come clean with all of their secrets, Patterson is furious with them. Furious enough to give them the silent treatment, so Patterson is apparently channeling my mother.

The reasons for her anger are simple. Reade, Zappata, Weller, and Mayfair are her family (I would include Jane in that as well, but that is going to change next season). Where the team goes, so goes Patterson's nation. She is willing to do anything to protect her family, including breaking the law. The fact that Reade and Zappata tried to shield Patterson infuriates her because it means they are stopping her from helping. The only way Patterson can deal with the daily dangers her family faces on a daily basis is by helping to ensure their safety. If Reade and Zappata, or any team member takes that from her, she can't cope. It's like having five Davids on her hand. It will break her.

“She’s my person. If I murdered someone, she’s the person I’d call to help me drag the corpse across the living room floor. She’s my person.”  Dr. Cristina Yang, Grey's Anatomy

Essentially, Patterson is telling Zappata and Reade that they are her people. If they need help dragging a corpse across a living room floor, she's down. Name the time and place. But they have to ASK. That's her only request.

That's what matters with family: truth. Secrets and lies only work to sever the bonds between loved ones. The team clings to one another by clinging to the truth.

It's something Mayfair recognized in her final moments. She knew there was a chance she was never coming back by chasing after the photograph lead. So, she gave her team access to all the secrets she tried to protect them against. In the end, Mayfair realized that she couldn't really protect them from Orion, and perhaps the only way to arm them against the danger was to give them the truth.

So now Reade, Zappata, and Patterson are all in on Orion, but at least they are all in together.


KURT AND JANE


The season finale is primarily about Kurt and Jane, and with good reason. The fallout from Mayfair's death and Bill Weller's confession is monumental. Watching Kurt and Jane search for the truth and finally get it is like watching a car crash and being powerless to stop it.

Bill Weller's “I killed Taylor Shaw” confession is eating Kurt alive. He runs it past Dr. Borden and his sister. Both have reasonable explanations as to why Bill could confess to something untrue. Sara, in her infinite wisdom, knows the “what if?” will destroy Kurt eventually. She's watched this question eat away at him for years. Even Sara wants to put it to rest.

So they drive out to their childhood home and dig under the fort. There's nothing there. The wave of relief I felt (and the sheer terror when Kurt hit that rock) was overwhelming. It is just the ramblings of a confused man in his final moments.

The minute Kurt left for the garage for more beer, my heart sank. I knew there was something I was missing; something HE was missing. He sees the camping gear and it hits him like a truck. “Fort” has more than one meaning. Yes, they had a fort in the back yard but Bill Weller also took Kurt and Taylor camping to a beloved location: Fort Boone.

When Kurt pulls up to the campsite, we already know what he's going to find, but it doesn't make it any easier. Kurt digs in the rain. His boots become muddy just like his father's did the night Taylor disappeared, and then... he pulls Taylor's rain boot from the ground. A human bone is inside.

Kurt dissolves into screams of despair. It is a devastating moment and Sullivan Stapleton does an exceptional job. Sometimes lies feel like a gift because the truth is so horrific, but this is a truth Kurt Weller has to face head-on.

Jane didn't need to be Taylor Shaw for Kurt to love her, but the reason I fell in love with the idea of Jane being Taylor Shaw is because it gave a happy ending to something that typically ends in tragedy. Most kidnapped children don't return home. Most kidnapped children are never seen again. If they are, it is only a body that remains. It's a horrific reality of the world we live in and, as a parent, it is the nightmare that keeps me up at night. If Jane is Taylor Shaw, then that innocent little girl is saved from the horror. Taylor Shaw can be Elizabeth Smart and not Madeline McCann or Amber Hagerman.

But Jane is not Taylor. Taylor Shaw is dead. Bill Weller killed her. We may never know how or why Bill killed her, but the truth of Kurt's world isn't the miracle. It's the nightmare.

Jane gets answers too. She tries to bring Oscar in to face justice for killing Mayfair. It leads to a bit of a cliché villain information dump as Oscar FINALLY gives Jane some real answers. He's about to wipe her memory again, so essentially he's figuring, “Why not? She won't remember anyway.”

Jane used Taylor Shaw as a way to connect to Kurt Weller — as a way to infiltrate the FBI and gain his trust so he would use the tattoos. So they could remove Mayfair and replace her with Kurt.

There's no way to sugarcoat this. Using Taylor Shaw to manipulate Kurt is cruel. It shows a complete lack of regard for his feelings. He's simply another casualty to whatever war Jane is fighting with the U.S. government.

And yet I know there has to be more to the story. Somehow, I still believe in the goodness of Jane Doe. Whoever she is — whoever she was — must have a good reason for doing what she did. There's another side to this that I cannot see yet.

Jane refuses to let her memory be wiped again, so she fights Oscar. There's a flashback of the two of them sparring and “Jane” warns Oscar that it might come down to a life and death fight between them. “Jane” won't know who Oscar is. She won't trust him... and he may not be able to win her back. No matter how much he loves her, Oscar must be willing to do what it takes. Because Jane will.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, of course. Jane accidentally kills Oscar in the fight. I wish I could say that I mourn Oscar, but I don't. I know he loved Jane and when her memories come back, this will be a terrible loss for her. But Oscar is the cautionary tale. He was never going to win Jane back with lies and, in the end, offered her very little truth. Knowing her favorite tea was never going to be enough to win her back... or win me over.

It also means the only person who can corroborate Jane's story is dead. A fact that is not lost on her when she finally comes face to face with Kurt Weller.

Kurt is enraged, and rightfully so. He knows the memory Jane shared about fishing couldn't possibly be real which means that she's in on the manipulation. Kurt muses coldly about how they never stopped calling her Jane. It's true. The truth was always there in front of them, but neither Kurt nor Jane were ready to see it.

Kurt takes out the handcuffs and arrests Jane and the “blindspot” concept becomes blindingly clear. This show was never about Jane's tattoos. It's about the person Kurt Weller saw. We all have hidden sides, but loving means revealing all sides, seeing all sides, and accepting all sides of someone.

Kurt always had a blindspot when it came to Jane Doe. It's one Reade pointed out repeatedly. He refused to look at the whole picture, or even consider Jane was manipulating him, because he needed to believe Taylor Shaw was alive.

Now, Kurt believes he sees the truth. He believes the blindspot is gone. He sees Jane Doe for who she really is. She's not Taylor Shaw. She's a liar, a con artist, and someone extremely dangerous.

Boy, the Blindspot writers sure know how to blow apart a ship don't they?

So is that it? Kurt only loved Jane because she was Taylor Shaw? No, that's not where this story ends. We're just getting started.

“To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it.” – Rupert Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Jane has done a lot of damage. Damage she has a duty to repair, and trust she must earn back. There are mistakes she can never fix. Mayfair's death and betraying Kurt are things she can never take back, no matter how much she tries. But even if absolution never comes, Jane still needs to try.

And Jane will try because there is more than just one side to a person. The truth is, the memory wipe didn't erase what was instinctual in Jane. Her compassion and bravery are things that are innate. She has a need to do what is right and to help others. That's who the character is at her core. That's who came out of the bag. That's the woman who reached out to touch Kurt Weller's face, searching for a starting point.

That's who Kurt saw. That's who Kurt fell in love with.

That woman is still there, co-existing with the woman who lies and manipulates. Maybe whoever Jane was before the memory wipe doesn't deserve forgiveness, but maybe Jane Doe does. The only way Jane will find out is if she puts herself back in the driver's seat. Instead of looking to the woman she was for answers, Jane needs to be the woman she is. That's the only way to salvation.

As for Kurt, he thinks he sees the real Jane Doe now. Kurt believes he sees the truth. His blindspot for Jane Doe is gone. But it’s not true. Before, Kurt could only see the good in Jane. Now he can only see the bad. His love blinded him to the darkness in Jane. Now, his rage blinds him to the light in Jane. He's simply trade one blindspot for another.

This is how Blindspot's concept will continue on, even after Jane's identity is revealed.

Identity is defined as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” Who Jane is? Well, that is yet to be determined, but she won't reach any resolution on the matter until she knows and understands all sides of herself.

The same can be said about love. Falling in love with someone isn't about seeing one side. It's about seeing all sides and accepting them. Kurt and Jane will pull back the layers of who they are bit by bit, until there are no blindspots left. And when that day comes, they will find their way back to one another.

The show isn't just about creating blindspots. It's about obliterating them.

Stray Thoughts:
  • Yes, Jane had her memory wiped but she also got a way better haircut in the process. So it's not a total loss.
  • Those were some serious hoops Reade, Zappata, and Patterson jumped through to guess the code to Mayfair's safe.
  • “I'm sorry.” Ugh. Mayfair makes me cry.
  • Still no real answers on Orion, but we've waited this long, so I guess a couple of more months won't kill us.
  • So are the tattoos even necessary anymore? It'll be interesting to see how Blindspot uses them next season. Regardless of their reason, they still are clues to stopping crimes, which is always a good thing.
  • I bet Jane removes the tattoos next season though.
  • Great first season, Blindspot! Best new show of the season. Bring on season two!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Arrow 4x23 Review: "Schism" (Be Your Own Light)


"Schism"
Original Airdate: May 25, 2016

My favorite poem is one by Emily Dickinson, titled "Hope is the Thing With Feathers." The reason that I love it is two-fold: one, it's a really easy poem to memorize. And secondly, the lyrics are very rhythmic and soothing. "Hope is the thing with feathers," Dickinson writes, "that perches in the soul. And sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all." The imagery of hope as a bird is one that I've always really been drawn to (as evidenced, too, by my love for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings). And hope is an image that Arrow has laid as its base this entire season. The Green Arrow was supposed to be the very embodiment of hope — he was going to be the one to do things in a different way; to be the light that the citizens of Star(ling) City so desperately needed. And when the writers careened off the rails and decided that this season needed to be about magic, Team Arrow constantly failing, and a secret kid story, that hope got lost. The show tried to recover it in the final few episodes of the season, including its finale titled "Schism."

But while the show made some strides in its final hour, all of the themes ultimately felt a bit hollow and rather flat, and the show decided to return to the only plot that it will ever have for Oliver Queen — the tension between darkness and light. (Remember "The Calm," everyone? Remember how Oliver struggled to be both The Arrow and Oliver Queen? Well, we've returned to that. Sort of.)

So let's talk about Olicity, hope, and why I think it's best that (almost) everyone left town in the end.

The Flash 2x23 Review: "The Race of His Life" (A Spectacular Mess) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“The Race of His Life”
Original Airdate: May 24, 2016

"We know you plan to power up the Magnetar so you can destroy the multiverse!"

Ah, bask in the glory of that delicious, ridiculous comic book line. I’ve read and re-read (and listened and re-listened to) that line many times and it still entertains the heck out of me. I want it printed out, framed, and hung on my wall. I want a t-shirt with that line printed across it. I want it stitched onto a throw pillow and given a prominent display place on my couch. If I could pull a Barry Allen and travel back in time, I would make that line my senior quote in my high school yearbook.

(Actually, that’s a lie. I would make my senior quote a line from Hamilton — but the one about the Magnetars and multiverses would be a close second choice and, since I was on the yearbook staff, I’d probably sneak it into the margins of a page somewhere.)

And yeah, using time travel to go back and change my senior quote would be petty — but at least I wouldn’t be erasing any timelines or disrupting an entire universe by doing it, unlike SOME PEOPLE we all know, love, and once compared to puppies...

PLOT, THEN PARADOX


Magnetars first, contemplation of continuity-imploding, paradox-causing mistakes later.

The Flash starts where it left off: Zoom has killed Barry’s dad, except we get a few more heart-wrenching moments of Barry’s reaction and Zoom’s gloating than we got at the end of the previous episode. It’s pretty emotional — obviously, since Grant Gustin is aces at emotional acting — and, I guess, sets up Barry’s mindset for the rest of the episode. And for what he does at the very end of it.

Zoom’s goal is to race Barry, and I’m very confused by this guy’s obsession with racing until it’s made clear that Zoom’s got a world-exploding device called a Magnetar set up and he intends to use Barry’s speed to help him charge it. Not that he needs Barry’s speed, of course — like any good villain, there’s an emotional “win” in taking the hero down a few notches. He wants to make Barry more like himself, wants to prove that he and Barry are the same, regardless of how “heroic” Barry thinks he is.

Since Barry’s not in a good headspace at the moment — there’s a whole lot of talk about revenge and murder, which sends up some alarm bells — Team Flash decides to lock him up and deal with Zoom on their own. This plan goes into action at the halfway mark of the episode, which means it’s destined for failure.

It actually succeeds, though! Except, when Cisco opens up a breach to Earth-2 that sucks Zoom inside, Joe is taken with him. Oops! Understandably, Wally is upset by his newly-found dad getting sucked into an alternate world with a mass murderer. Because Wally is quickly becoming one of my favorites, he immediately releases Barry and tells everyone they’re getting Joe West back. You go, Wally.



Okay, so Barry uses Cisco’s vibe powers to project himself over to Earth-2 and tell Zoom he’s willing to race, in exchange for Joe West — unharmed. Zoom agrees, they meet up at the Magnetar, and a race happens. Barry splits off into a time remnant version of himself, who sacrifices himself to stop the Magnetar from exploding and destroying the planet — and connected Earths in other universes — so, yay! Time Wraiths come out and kill Zoom, too, so double yay!

Everything is bright and beautiful. The Earth-2 Wells Family goes home. Joe’s alive. (A version of) Barry’s alive. That guy in the iron mask who’s been a mystery for most of the season is alive. Heeeey, so this means we can open up that mask and see who’s on the inside! How exciting!

Iron Mask Guy turns out to be an Alternate Earth version of Henry Allen, the Real Jay Garrick. It’s apparently the sight of this parallel version of Barry’s dead dad that makes Barry do the stupidest thing he’s ever done.

THE STUPIDEST THING BARRY’S EVER DONE


Barry and Iris have a mature and understanding heart-to-heart, where Iris tells Barry that she’s more than willing to wait for him to be okay emotionally and mentally before they get together. They have a very pretty, backlit kiss (HUZZAH!) and then separate, sadly (NOT-HUZZAH!) and when Iris is gone, Barry give her a Shakespearean Aside Apology and starts running. We see the familiar scene of Nora Allen’s death, and then Barry’s suddenly there — stopping Reverse Flash from killing his mom.

From the doorway, the Barry that decided not to do this stupid thing (we’ll call him “Smart Barry of Yester-season”) fades out of existence. Dumb Barry looks on, and I like to imagine he had a brief moment of clarity in which he realized how epically terrible a decision this was.

As a fan of this show and this character, I don’t have any idea why Barry’s ethics and consideration for others would shift so dramatically in this way. I can excuse a lot of it as Barry being a mourning son with the ability to go back in time, but... did he think about the consequences of his actions at all?

Barry had no idea what saving his mother would do to his life, or the lives of all the people around him. Everything he and Team Flash accomplished during the two(ish) years they’ve been working together relied on the fact that a series of events happened exactly how they happened. Barry getting his powers, fighting metahumans, saving lives, stopping Reverse-Flash, finding the alternate Earths, stopping Zoom — all of it hinged on Barry’s timeline following the path we’ve seen him follow since the first episode, and Barry saving his mother could affect any aspect of it.

He could have just caused the deaths of any number of people. He probably just brought Zoom — the villain Barry has been single-mindedly dedicated to stopping almost all season — back to life, thus damning all of Earth-2 to fall to Zoom’s reign again. So many things could go wrong, because Barry chose this moment to be unbelievably, insurmountably, agonizingly selfish.

Holy crap, Barry, what on Infinite Earths were you thinking?

“TIME TRAVEL IS REALLY HARD TO WRITE ABOUT.”


There are a couple ways the show could progress without absolutely destroying everything. No matter what, it’s going to take some really good writing to weave this development into the next season in a way that doesn’t make fans feel like they wasted their time with the first two seasons. The Flash is toeing a dangerous line, teetering toward the awful “it was all a dream” cliche, and it needs to think carefully about how to balance what's to come with everything that came before.

It’s not impossible to make this work. Although much of Barry’s life was orchestrated by Eobard Thawne, the existence of speedsters — and Harrison Wells’s particle accelerator explosion — on other Earths means that Barry can still be in the right place at the right time and get his powers. Nora Allen living does not mean that the Flash can’t live alongside her, so the show’s main premise is already pretty safe.

But all the relationships that have built up so far, all the character development we’ve witnessed during the past two seasons? None of that’s safe, and that’s actually pretty sad. I don’t like thinking about a version of The Flash where Joe isn’t basically Barry’s dad or Cisco and Caitlin aren’t a part of Barry’s inner circle. I don’t want the third season of the show to be a reboot of the first season in terms of building relationships. I'm not interested in a revisit of Barry keeping his powers a secret, or learning to trust these people he should already trust because sweet heavens, we’ve all known them for two years and it’s not compelling to us, as viewers, to see our hero mistrust his entire team.

While I question the logic behind the writers creating such a massive headache for themselves, the bottom line is that I don’t hate this finale. When I think about it, there are just as many ways this could go right as there are ways this could go wrong. If the writers are careful and thoughtful about what they’ve done to these shows’ timelines (because, yeah — The Flash is connected to three other shows, so there should be some consequences elsewhere) the third season has a chance of being incredibly compelling and fun to watch.

I mean, Flashpoint is a thing. It’s not like they’re flailing in open waters, here.

BARRY ALLEN PUPPY GIF OF THE EPISODE:
YOU DONE MESSED UP, PUPPY!


Other Things:
  • The messier these timelines get, the closer we all get to a TV version of Crisis on Infinite Earths. If the Monitor shows up, you know what’s in the works, folks.
  • I never get to talk about Wally much in my recent reviews, but let me just say that he has grown so much since he first appeared. He’s so likable and heroic and wonderful now that I genuinely hope none of that changes next season, and that we can still see him a lot. Him trying to comfort Barry after the funeral was just wonderful.
  • “It’s like I’m watching Transformers in 4D — but, like, ten times more realistic. And with much better acting.” Hee. Cisco.
  • "Barry has an ample number of fathers to kill." Haaaaarsh, Zoom.
  • Joe laughing as he says, "It was killing you!" to Hunter Zolomon is my favorite. I love you, Joe, please don't let the messed up timeline change you.
  • "Don't worry, I'm gonna save your dad." "No, you're gonna save our dad." I hate that, in the newly-created universe, Joe will no longer be Barry’s “dad.”
  • "Ramon, you're gonna be great." And infinite sad-faces at the lack of Cisco and Harry friendship in the new universe.
  • “Have you ever worked with a tool before?” “I’m working with one right now.”
  • "My dad told me his mother's maiden name was Garrick!" You gotta pay attention to the foreshadowing in your life, Barry.

The Bachelorette 12x01 Roundtable: Bring on the Men [Contributors: Chelsea, Alisa Williams, Rae Nudson]


Welcome, welcome, welcome to our Bachelorette roundtables. After every episode this season, Chelsea, Alisa, and Rae will breakdown what happens on JoJo’s journey to find her one true love. So far the men have made their introductions, and Jojo met a few guys that made a great first impression. And, of course, she met some that definitely did not.

Who do you think did the best introduction or had the best gimmick? What about the worst?


Chelsea: So I before the episode, my friends and I printed off and filled out two brackets — one for the entire season, one for week-to-week viewing. I had done my research going into the premiere and was happy to see that most of my initial reactions to the guys were spot-on. Wells is already a favorite of mine and his gimmick worked. It was just cheesy enough to capture my heart and hopefully JoJo’s. Luke also had a very sweet gimmick going for him.

For the worst, it was easily Sal. Nobody wants to hold your balls. Also, Chad is a sociopath.

Alisa: I have to agree with Chelsea. Wells is adorable, and who wouldn’t choose a guy who brought an acapella group with him? And even though Luke looks like a super villain, riding in on a unicorn was a super cute nod to the terrifying unicorn head JoJo donned to meet Ben. And, being one of those people who’s obsessed with all things Christmas, I have to say I actually adored Nick B. dressing up as Santa and passing out stuffed animals. Though I think staying in the Santa costume the entire night and getting all sweaty and gross was a bit much. But A for effort!

As for the worst, I am not a fan of any guy who references his junk when first meeting a girl. So, I was glad that Jonathan and Sal didn’t make it through the first night. Later, boys. Try again when you grow up a bit.

Rae: I loved the entrance on a unicorn for JoJo since it was a callback to her entrance on the show, and it showed Luke paid attention. It was playful. I also liked that he actually works with horses, so it felt less gimmicky and more like showing JoJo a part of his life. I did not like Santa, mostly because it was very difficult to see his face, and I think that would make it a lot harder to connect with him. Also, he got real sweaty. I didn’t get the guys hating on Jonathan because of his kilt — he’s actually Scottish! Kilts are a thing that people actually wear! — but he definitely should have been hated on for telling a complete stranger he wasn’t wearing panties. I think JoJo is a very generous person in that she always kind to the guy, no matter how weird his entrance was.

Chad is 100% the absolute worst. I don’t know what came out when he was talking with JoJo (other than the weird hint about how he has money now?), but I hope he reveals his true colors soon, and it looks like he will. Toxic masculinity hurts everyone, and Chad is its poster boy.

I know some people would eat it up, but a date introducing himself by singing me a song on his guitar is like the worst thing I can think of for myself. Sorry, James Taylor. Also hilarious that the show went with his entire last name when they usually skip last names or just use an initial.

Okay, Hipster Brandon, you do not get any cool points for not knowing anything about the Bachelorette. You are on the show.

Who would you give your first impression rose to?


Chelsea: I am so okay with Jordan getting the first impression rose. He’s already in my top four for the season. Personally, I would have went with Wells or Luke, but Jordan is adorable and that kiss was perfect.

Alisa: I would have given the first impression rose to Jordan’s hair for defying the laws of nature and all things holy. But if I have to choose an actual person to give the rose to, then it would be Christian. He seems like a genuinely good guy. I don’t know how much of that came out in his conversations with JoJo that first night but I hope he sticks around for a while so she can see his amazingness!

Rae: I also like Jordan! I think he is potentially a good match for JoJo, especially since her life after the show will be dabbling in celebrity, and he’s been dabbling in celebrity for a while now. Plus, they could go on double dates with Aaron Rodgers and Olivia Munn. I give him points for not dropping that he’s Aaron Rodgers’ brother on the first night.

But I think if I were picking, I would give my first impression rose to Luke. He seems like he really has his it together and feels sure of himself. On his bio, he lists his three best attributes as “competence, patience, empathy for others,” and those are honestly the sexiest qualities I can think of, though I know I am lacking in them myself.

If you had to call it right now, who are the four men going to hometowns? Let’s check in on our predictions later in the season.


Chelsea: On my entire season bracket, I have Wells, Jordan, Derek, and Chase for hometowns but now I’d swap Chase for Luke now. I’m pretty comfortable with those picks right now. You know ABC isn’t going to miss a chance to have Jordan’s famous brother on the show if they can but also, Jordan is just so cute and sweet. They’re both coming from a place of heartbreak and I could see it working out well. All those boys are cuties though.

Alisa: With the disclaimer that my predictions tend to be totally wrong, I’m going to go with Nick B. (a.k.a Santa!), Christian, Jordan, and Wells. Personally, I’m not a fan of Jordan and I feel like ABC is already setting him up to be the next Bachelor, but the other three men seem like good guys so far and I’d like to see them stick around. Especially Christian — I mean, we got that glimpse of him roughhousing with his younger brothers and we know they live with him. I want to hear more of that story.

Rae: I agree, Alisa, I think Christian seemed great in his promo. I hope more of his personality comes out to Jojo (and us!) soon. And that is a great point about ABC grooming him to be the next Bachelor. I think I’ll go with Jordan, Luke, Wells, and... I’m not sure. I’ll go with Christian.

What do you think of the introductions? Let us know in the comments! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What Happens Backstage: An Interview With the Series’ Creators [Contributor: Melanie]


Webseries are a booming breed. The freedom and fairly cheap nature of their creation and distribution has made them a hot commodity for those who scour the Internet for content. And coming soon to you is another addition to this new breed of creative entertainment: Backstage. This comedy series is set in the rehearsal halls and common haunts of a group of college theatre students in the middle of their production of Hamlet. It stars virtually every theatre kid stereotype you’ve seen and follows the process of the show, from auditions to rehearsals to cast parties in a Parks and Rec-inspired mockumentary style.

I’ve read all the scripts for season one and can promise you it’s a funny batch of episodes with characters who have got some serious breathing room to win your heart. I got to get some details on the show and the process behind its creation from writer/director Lauren Johnson, producer Erin K Snider, and Just About Write’s own Chelsea Eichholz, also a producer on the series.

Where did the concept for this show come from and was it always meant to be a web series or where you playing with other possible mediums during development?


Lauren: The concept of the series came from a combination of ideas that my co-writer Christian and I came up with. I originally wanted to do a web series about a high school theatre department, Christian wanted to do a mockumentary web series about life in college. We combined what we thought was the best of the two concepts: a mockumentary-style web series about a college theatre department.

Have you written a web series before? What's the biggest challenge (or challenges) that come with it? And was the added element of comedy (one of the hardest genres to write) help to get a flow or did you find yourself with writer's block at times?


Lauren: I’d played around with webseries concepts before, and had even written some dialogue for some, but this was the first full series that I wrote and finished. One of the biggest challenges of writing a web series is the time restriction. With TV shows you’re usually aiming for 21-30 pages or 40-55 pages. Webseries need to be short, so most of the episodes were between 5-8 pages. I personally find comedy easier to write, my favorite thing to write is funny, witty dialogue and this show is all about that.

Webseries are everywhere currently, and you guys have the incentive of being an original show as opposed to the plethora of shows based on classical material (Lizzie Bennet, Carmilla, etc). What else do you think makes this project unique from some of the webseries you've seen?


Lauren: Webseries like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Carmilla are really great shows that have made all webseries more popular on the Internet over the past few years. However, I’ve noticed that most have followed that format: a vlog-style show that’s based on a classical piece of work. I believe this webseries is so different because all of the characters and the plot are completely original, and we’re doing it mockumentary style. So although it’s not a vlogger talking to a camera, we still have talking heads where the characters talk to the camera directly, so it still has that personal feeling that the vlog-style webseries have.

Chelsea: Our format really does set us apart from a lot of other webseries and the fact we have an original concept. We are a college production. What really sets us apart from others though is that we are such a big female crew both in front of and behind the camera. It kind of just came together that way when we were getting a team together, and we love that the overall project will have a female voice.



Along with that, because webseries are everywhere a lot of people undertake producing them thinking they'll be quick or easy. What's production (or at this stage, pre-production) like for a webseries, and what do you think is the biggest misstep someone could take when developing one?


Lauren: I can assure you that producing this series has not been a quick or easy task. We’ve had our fair share of troubles and bumps in the road already, but with each mishap we learn more about how to make the production run more smoothly. I think the biggest mistake anyone can make when trying to make a webseries is think that it’s going to be easy and to expect viral success. We are going into this production with no idea how the public will perceive the series, or even if it will be noticed at all. But we are not making this series to become wildly famous or rich; we are making it because we want to and we all have a passion for it.

Chelsea: Producing any sort of web series or TV show is never an easy task. I think the biggest misstep any production can make is not taking enough time for pre-production. You can never take too much time to plan a production because there is always so much to account for before you can begin shooting, and generally anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s not something that you can just go shoot for a couple days and expect it to be good. Luckily, our crew is great and we’ve been spending the better part of the last year preparing everything for a smooth shoot this summer.

I understand the writer is also the director. Does that change your directing or writing approach at all? Did you know while writing that you'd also direct it? And were there any surprises already at the table read that you didn't expect while writing?


Lauren: Writers who direct have a reputation for not being very lenient on changing the script. However, on the day of the table read, I had an actor ask me, “Are you open to us doing improv?” to which I said “YES!” Of course there are certain parts of the script that the actors will need to stick to, but this show is a comedy and sometimes some of the funniest moments on screen aren’t planned out. My hope is that the actors will have fun playing around with the script and coming up with new ideas and jokes of their own.

While I was writing, I had no idea I would be directing. I didn’t even know if the show was ever going to be made, or if it was, I wasn’t sure if I would even get to be a part of making it. I am very thankful though that I not only get to be a part of making the series, but that I get to have a huge hand in it. The table read was a wonderful experience, and hearing the actors bring the characters to life was nothing less than a dream come true. One of the actors in particular at the table read played one of the main characters in the show completely differently than what we had originally planned, but we loved it!

You guys launched an Indiegogo page for the series to fund the production. And along with Kickstarter, Indiegogo essentially turns the Internet into your sponsor instead of companies. What's it like pitching ideas to that type of group versus a more traditional sponsorship type?


Erin: Anytime you are asking for money, you have to appeal to them in some way. When talking to sponsors, you have to give them something in return such as their logo on your website or their product in your film. With Indiegogo, it's similar. The people still want something in return; it's just what they want is your final project, and also maybe a T-shirt or poster. Indiegogo is a great tool. Not only does it help you raise money, but it also helps you build brand loyalty among your audience.

Chelsea: I think for the size of our production, Indiegogo is the perfect source to raise funds for production. We get to keep a lot more creative control than we probably would if we were to partner with a brand. It’ll help us build a relationship with our audience, and it’s great to know that they believe in us and the project enough to give us anything.

I love that this cast and the characters are predominantly women, and that it even features budding friendships between women in a situation where competition is inherent. Was this intentional or an organic way the story started to flow?


Lauren: This was both organic and intentional! Regarding two of our lead characters, Amanda and Rachel, Amanda is the new girl who immediately gets thrown in the spotlight whereas Rachel is the upperclassmen who runs the department. It would be easy to make Rachel hate Amanda immediately, as most shows would do, but we felt that this wasn’t realistic nor did it feel true to the girls' characters. Instead, Rachel immediately wants to take Amanda under her wing and help her, which Amanda is frightful of, but this causes the two girls to form a friendship. My co-writer, Christian, and I both really believed that this was one of the most important aspects of the story.


What are you hoping people take away from this webseries?


Lauren: I hope that anybody can laugh and enjoy the series, but I especially hope that theatre kids can find the series relatable. There’s a lot of theatre jokes, and we tried to make the series realistic to how a college production of Hamlet would really go. Hopefully people can recognize that and relate to it, and even those who know nothing about theatre can learn to have a new look on it and can still find the series hilarious and relatable.

Erin: The one thing that I hope people will take away from this is that no matter how much of a human disaster you are, you can make things happen. This production started off with a script and three people who just wanted to make something. Now we have a full cast and crew and are looking forward to a successful season!

Chelsea: I obviously hope people laugh and fall in love with the show but are also inspired to go out and make content of their own. We all are just friends that came together to make something because we thought it was special and we hope other people can find that as well.

Below are some bios on the interviewees and the link to find the webseries when it finally graces our eyeballs on YouTube. For now you can check out their official social media accounts for more info!


Lauren Johnson is the co-creator of Backstage, and will also be working as the director for the show. She has worked as a producer and editor for various other projects, including the reality television competition show Show-Me Chefs and the short film Mind Over Chatter. In high school, Lauren was very active in her theatre department, performing in a variety of shows, including Grease, Steel Magnolias, Beauty and the Beast, and of course, Hamlet. In her free time she likes to read, knit, and re-watch episodes of Parks and Rec.


Erin K Snider is one of the producers for Backstage. Although Missouri State University keeps telling her she’s a senior by credit, she’s actually a junior who doesn’t want to graduate early. That’s why she has two minors — one in art and the other in advertising and promotion. Not to mention her major is media production. You might be thinking “What is she going to do with that?” Well, her plan after graduation is to work at an advertising agency and eventually work her way up to creative director. Maybe she will even create a Super Bowl ad one day. But for right now her life just consists of endless amounts of meetings and the rare Netflix binge­a­thon.


Chelsea Eichholz is one of the producers of Backstage web series. With a mass media production degree from Missouri State University, she is currently pursuing her master’s degree at MSU. Aside from Backstage, she produces the cooking competition program Show-Me Chefs. In her spare time, she loves watching award shows and writing about TV and film on Just About Write. She one day dreams of producing and directing film, but in the meantime, she plans to watch The Golden Girls with her dog, Snoop Cornelius Dizzle.

A New Kind of Rom-Com: An Interview with You Me Her's Melanie Papalia [Guest Contributor: Cammien Ray; Contributor: Meredith]

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/W8MHYwZu5P2oYlou8gRi4ZZiivjtK4EoytdQqya3_qIooppuK1NFJ1XNNqD56KEagX3WN7hzNk4luqBn8U2GZQG0H88kLDAJXt_cylY5LsFkXopWaGCghjLhSiFs9_XAUYzOc14

You Me Her is a DirecTV original series that blends the raunchy and relatable into one polyamorous romantic comedy. Starring Greg Poehler, Priscilla Faia, Rachel Blanchard, and Melanie Papalia, this series has delivered several fresh takes on what a love story can look like, glued together with enough witty banter to make even its primary subject matter seem light. Characters in this story feel engaging and real; we meet a less-than-charmed married couple (Poehler and Blanchard as Jack and Emma) willing to go to some last ditch efforts to fall in love again. And we meet a set of incredibly charming grad student roommates (Faia and Papalia as Izzy and Nina) putting themselves through school by working as escorts. The combination of these four, some nosey neighbors, a few friends with questionable advice, and a high school bully results in a series that has left many wanting season two even before the season one finale has aired.

A clear stand-out in the series so far has been Nina, played by Melanie Papalia (The Den, Suits), who began the season as the enviously confident and ridiculously funny character in charge, and has slowly become one of the most layered and empathetic characters. Nina can slay a male classmate with a well-placed quip, deliver some hard truths to the frazzled Jack and Emma, and provide supportive comfort to Izzy all in the span of one episode. Many who love the character joined for the wild outfits and the creative cursing, and stayed for the fierce protectiveness and intelligence that unfolds, particularly in Nina’s relationship with her roommate Izzy. The relationship between these two women, in a way, mirrors the marriage of Jack and Emma. But the show still manages to present this friendship in a totally unique way.

On a series that focuses a lot on the topic of sex, the relationship between Izzy and Nina is one that so far stands completely outside that realm, providing both the characters and the viewers with an entirely different perspective on relationships. Throughout the series, the unfiltered view that Nina has of Izzy’s arrangement with Jack and Emma allows for a raw but fair take on what could easily be a difficult relationship topic to handle with both comedy and emotional depth.

Cammien Ray and Just About Write contributor Meredith were so pleased to be able to talk to Melanie about this show and her fantastic character.

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/cCImSK6CtNRmDnqFkr8OMssAEwNbXHdmZcNzQdItRWsGPC8OrRG8eI0GtJ--FHxB1LS9ikmxgbFvypJQx4CnRiSP2TpoX6uLHiad4Bto2DsR7XvO5M8R0FN20num4PYbRUSTwcU

You Me Her holds nothing back when talking about the topic of polyamory, but through all the drama, it still manages to have fantastic comedic moments. What's been the most surprising or interesting thing to you about the direction of the story so far?


Melanie: How grounded all the performances are. When I read the script I couldn't stop laughing. John Scott Shepard is a great writer. When filming it (with our magical director Nisha Ganatra) we found so much truth. Which in turn made a lot of my scenes dramatic and funny. I mean, I would be crying during a scene on set and when I watch it back, I laugh. I guess in life, when everything goes to s--t, you just have to laugh and I'm so delighted that we all portrayed that.


It’s been a wild ride seeing Nina grow from a quirky filter-free bestie to one of the most emotionally invested (and amazing!) characters on the show. What initially drew you to this character?


Melanie: Just that. That Nina has no filter and she is a badass in her own right. I felt so much freedom as an actor playing Nina. She does and says some questionable things, but her heart is so there. I want a friend just like her — honest and always there for you.

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/MhE7RixqzCKHl9CXSPGWgC-C-tSGVEEh79Lxe9yiL0n1UDYs7dC3rRQpOrlS0BmFYtFmqOFqIKjmNAQOb705-1IbC28Kwlh_9gI91lCcgpyAXAPA39PL9fwfuZHzzcUWKMIgf9w

Nina and Izzy have had some of the most intense fights — literally — and also the most heartwarming emotional scenes. Where would you like to see these two end up at the end of this season and going forward?


Melanie: Well I sort of know where they end up at the end of this season [winks], so it's hard to say where I want it to go because I just want to be open to anything happening. I will say whatever does happen, I know Izzy and Nina will always keep it real with each other. That's what makes them relatable and lovable together.

We recently got to see Nina finally meet Jack and Emma — and her reaction to them was just as intense and hilarious as we all hoped! Is there anyone you’d like to see Nina interact with going forward?


Melanie: I'd love to see more of Nina with Jack and Emma. That dynamic is hilarious to me because Nina is probably their worst nightmare as a friend. I mean, I'd love her to interact with everyone in the Jack/Emma world. Nina should just go door to door on that street and terrorize the neighborhood. [laughs]

Playing a character who is eccentric, confident, and who also happens to be an escort means that you've had some wild outfits on this show. What are some of your favorite examples of Nina's fashion so far? Have you ended up borrowing anything from her sense of style?


Melanie: She wears some wild stuff, but some of the more tame everyday things, I would totally rock myself. I'm a girly girl so I love dresses and skirts. The higher the heels, the better. I really wish I [had taken] a backpack from set because I am in need and Nina's were awesome. I always travel with a carry-on that's a shoulder bag, so let's just say I'm regretful. [laughs]

There is a LOT of relationship potential on this show, and we all love a good romance that we can root for. Are you rooting for any “ships” on the show so far, for Nina or anyone else?


Melanie: I haven't even thought about that! Recently on Twitter I saw #IzNi. And I love Izzy and Nina so I'll root for that.

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/YrviSQ07gKzHAvo2CLVGoRKp9PRF6nbVIXOvoV0AlzyxkQNbtwDAgjOG4i2Cd_epZCBcypzobuaEtL9Ji6KkTuvhcWoc5iHN-sc0yUIwF-q5ulOeJC7sHsJkmGRNwblceMWNIBY

We’ve also been enjoying all the fun behind-the-scenes friendships in this cast — particularly all the talented strong ladies representing (like director-extraordinaire Nisha Ginatra)! What have been some of your favorite moments working with this team so far?


Melanie: I had such a great experience working with everyone, and there is so much support behind the camera! Our creator JSS was so game for having fun and really set the tone for a good environment. This team allowed for so much freedom in the acting. Priscilla and I had great chemistry from the start, and it was so easy just to play around with her. Nisha is the type of director that you just trust. She is right there with you for every moment and her instincts are unparalleled. Every favorite moment I have involves her. She is just my favorite director. The trust she has in her actors creates the perfect environment for you to give it all you've got. That is rare. Very rare. I've created some friendships on this show that I will have forever.

Your filmography includes everything from horror to comedy to sci-fi (we loved The Den in particular!). And now with You Me Her, we see sort of a comedy-drama hybrid. Do you have a favorite genre or character type you like to play?


Melanie: Nope. Sometimes I think I'm gonna hate something and then end up loving it. I just want to be open to anything and be surprised by how much fun I have.

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/ycFtsjtz6Wo2_NLU6TIF2C_ls8nZkS5K2LawAUFCST1FrUJmX_7NJdgHIBkRmaQfPubl54ADGeL5RplJm_VayAXT42l1nWGs_nutbvtuvoe7awVKHSelxSa78L1RB0xuQJqz0Io

The finale of You Me Her airs tonight, and we are already looking forward to season two! In the meantime, do you have any other shows or projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?


Melanie: At the moment I'm working on a Netflix series playing an FBI agent. I've ever done that before, so it's keeping me on my toes!

Thanks to Melanie for talking with us and sharing her thoughts and experiences! We’re dying to see what comes next for Nina, the rest of the characters on You Me Her, and for Melanie herself. 
If you’re looking for a quirky, intelligent, outside-the-box character, and show, do yourself a favor and binge watch You Me Her. You can also catch the season finale of You Me Her tonight (May 24th) at 9 PM EST on DirecTV. 
And be sure to follow Melanie and the show on Twitter for more updates!