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Sunday, September 30, 2018

This Is Us 3x01 Review: "Nine Bucks" (Counting the Cost) [Contributor: Jenn]

“Nine Bucks”
Original Airdate: September 25, 2018

“Count the cost.”

It’s a phrase we hear pretty often in terms of sacrifice — things in life have costs attached to them, whether explicit or implicit. When we make decisions, we have to count what we’ll be giving up and what we’ll gain to decide if the cost is worth it. Whether it’s evident or not, “Nine Bucks” is all about our characters in flashbacks and present-day counting the cost in their decisions and relationships. So let’s discuss what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to gain something of value.


I love Randall, but in “Nine Bucks” we finally get to see how Deja feels about being essentially told that she is “the same” as Randall just because he was also adopted. After the fallout of Deja’s destructive behavior in the season two finale, we learn she’s been in counseling. Her mother officially signed away Deja’s rights, and that clearly affects the young woman. On Randall’s birthday, he vows to try and talk to Deja about being adopted into the Pearson family. While Deja is appreciative of all that Randall and Beth do for her, she still doesn’t think Randall gets it: they’re not the same.

And she makes a very valid point, honestly — he had two dads who loved him, and a mom who did too. He might have gone through difficulties as a child, but they paled in comparison to hers — and he always was surrounded by those who wanted and loved him. Deja, on the other hand, had one dad who she never knew and one mom who abandoned her. Not exactly an apples to apples comparison, right?

Deja has a choice to make — she can decide to close herself off to the Pearsons and isolate herself in her own story, or she can choose to take back some agency. See, Deja has lost almost all of her agency. Her mother never allowed her to meet her father, and Deja was stripped of her familial identity. She’s been shuffled around and is not even sure who she is. That internal struggle manifested itself externally last season. Now, Deja decides that the cost (the pain) is worth it in order to gain the closure: So she visits her biological father. And she has a conversation with him that allows her to finally place her past firmly in the past. Randall, for all his well-intentioned monologues, would have never been able to give that to Deja — she had to choose it for herself, and it was something even he’d never be able to truly understand.

The cost of something of her own — a choice she made in her story instead of one being made for her — is what spurs Deja to confront her father, and then allow Beth and Randall to sign the adoption papers. Deja’s choice came with a cost, but it was worth it in order to feel a sense of agency in her life.


Let’s talk about the most awkward date in history. Jack literally has $9 to spend on his first date with Rebecca, and it’s a disaster from start to finish. It didn’t begin that way: remember that Jack and Rebecca saw one another (him being drawn to her singing) and they had some sort of magical connection. But when Jack realizes how little he has in order to take out this beautiful woman, he’s already insecure. Starting from a place of insecurity on a first date is not a great place to start.

Nevertheless, Jack takes Rebecca to a carnival. Between the tickets and food, Jack is awkwardly trying to spend as little money as possible. The cost here is obvious — physical money. But the cost of prioritizing insecurity over connection and honesty? That cost Jack a few hours of uncomfortable conversations (where Rebecca brings up Vietnam, and the pair realizes they love none of the same things). Rebecca is not feeling the date either, but finally at the end of the night, Jack decides to be honest.

That honesty is what actually causes Rebecca to connect with him and see his true self. He admits to her that there are things in his past that are difficult to talk about, but that there’s something about Rebecca that makes him want to open up. It’s a really sweet moment, made sweeter by realizing that Jack’s decision to allow emotional connection in spite of his trauma is his “count the cost” moment — had he chosen to stay closed off, Rebecca and he might not have ever ended up together. Because he sacrificed the little bit of money he had and his emotional comfort zone, he gained the great love of his life.


Toby and Kate are facing fertility issues when we pick up their story in “Nine Bucks.” And unfortunately, the more time that passes without a baby, the more despondent Kate grows. She’s up against PCOS, which makes it often difficult to conceive naturally, and her weight issues as well as Toby’s own reproductive struggles. When they meet with a doctor to discuss IVF, the response is… well, kind of terrible. For any doctor, really. The doctor essentially tells them that there’s no real chance of them conceiving, and she wouldn’t ever take that risk in order to accept them as patients. It’s incredibly harsh and Kate leaves in tears.

Then she shows up at her birthday party and more awkwardness ensues when Kate reveals all of the drama and disappointment she’s faced in her quest to have a baby. I’m going to be honest: I struggle the most with Kate and Toby as characters. Heck, even Kevin was easier for me to connect with this episode (and he’s been a character who’s been difficult to love). Kate’s entire story has been about her weight — and all of her successes and failures seem to be weight-related (meeting and falling in love with Toby, her relationships with both Jack and Rebecca, her desire for a baby/inability to have one, etc.). While I understand that this will be a significant plot point in Kate’s past and present, I don’t even feel like I really know Kate and we’re three seasons into the show. So when the writers ask me to empathize with Kate at her birthday party, I struggle. The same is true for Toby: I’ve never really liked him as a character. At the beginning, he was obnoxious and abrasive. His inability to give empathy when it was necessary was troublesome. And the writers chose to redeem him the easy way — by pairing him together with likable characters (like the bachelor party episode) to make him more palatable. But Toby’s depression has yet to be explored, and we know it’s a significant hurdle in his life. So when Toby decides — without telling Kate — that he’s “counting his cost” and decides that Kate having a baby is more important than his mental health, I know we’re in for drama and struggle. For one thing, does anyone else feel like Toby doesn’t want a baby as much as Kate does? Kate’s whole world is centered on the quest for this baby.

But I still don’t know WHY. Do you? I wish I had more insight into Kate as a character to know if she wants a baby so she can pour love and attention into someone else (in hopes it’ll help her become a better version of herself), or if she genuinely has always wanted to be a mom. As it stands, I think Kate will know pretty soon that Toby is doing whatever it takes to please her — regardless of whether or not it’s in his own best interest.

Counting costs doesn’t mean things are bad, or even wrong. It’s important to get a realistic picture of what you’ll have to sacrifice in order to gain the thing you want. Right now, the Pearsons — past and present — are sacrificing to gain what they think will satisfy and sustain them. As their stories continue to unfold, we’ll see the consequences (good and bad) of their decisions.

And now, bonus points:
  • Zoe and Kevin are dating and have been since the season two finale and it’s ADORABLE. Interestingly, when Beth discovers what’s happening, she tells Kevin that Zoe will break his heart — not the other way around. I guess we’ll have to see whether or not that happens. I’m rooting for those adorable kids.
  • “... You hung up on ‘fine,’ didn’t you?”
  • “Did you see the game?” “What game?” “She’s new to America.”
  • “I don't know how you're gonna make this right with Oprah.” “I made a donation to her foundation.” “Well, it's a start.”
  • Who’s the guy who showed up at Rebecca’s door?! And why is he waltzing up and just kissing her like that?
Stay tuned for next week’s drama (and probably tears too)!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Good Doctor 2x01 Review: "Hello" (Learning and Adapting) [Contributor: Araceli Aviles]

(Photo credit: ABC)

Original Airdate: September 24, 2018

The Good Doctor is one of a few shows that has managed to grab hold of our hearts, without clinging larger-than-life catastrophes. This show doesn’t need gimmicks, which we should all appreciate. Instead, its focus remains on the premise — that of a young, autistic doctor trying to be accepted as an equal in a demanding profession. Some shows switch up the direction as time progresses, straying from the pilot’s central question. For The Good Doctor, that question was whether or not a person with autism can thrive in a demanding profession. He can do the job, and he can be taken seriously in the job, but can he succeed long-term? That ends up being the central question for all the residents, which is the point. At the end of the day, there is no difference between all of the residents’ struggle. They’ll just go about getting to that end goal in different ways.

Which brings us to season two. Each second year resident has their own weaknesses that they have to work on. The path for each resident was laid out by Dr. Andrews, who has now taken the hospital presidency from Dr. Glassman. The advice is as you’d expect (Morgan lacks compassion, Claire lacks initiative, etc). Everyone knows that Shaun needs to work on his communication skills (though he actually works quite well with the homeless community).

Of course, Andrews is more of a managerial type of doctor. Every hospital — especially one that needs funds to not only thrive, but provide outreach programs — needs one. But like his residents moving into their second year, he too has things to learn. If he hopes to keep this job as long as Glassman did, he has to push his doctors into trusting their abilities. In a weird cyclical way, that is how Andrews will learn to trust them in return. It would be nice if he could have done this before prematurely creating buzz for a major cardio surgery before its risks were properly assessed, but live and learn.

Dr. Andrews proved he was more than an antagonist by chastising Dr. Kalu’s actions last season, and he was right. Kalu compromised himself in more ways than one, and he used a false claim of racial discrimination to minimize his own mistakes. In the long sequence of events, you could pick apart the why and the good intentions in it all. But ultimately, Andrews was right — and Kalu knew it. It doesn’t invalidate all of Kalu’s good work, but he could use a fresh start. Not before pushing for one last case, and one final lesson, with his friend though.

Everything that Jared Kalu did in this episode was bittersweet and completely right. He was right to stand up for himself and his right to treat a patient. He was right to stand up for Shaun with Andrews, asking the man to respect Shaun when he is trying to speak, in his own way. And Kalu was also right to turn down Claire’s request to stay. It was made out of guilt more than anything else. Living in a fantasy world of "what if’s" helps no one. It just makes you twitch to realize that Kalu displayed his best self once he had one foot out the door. At least he was able to leave Shaun with some food for thought.

For the first half of this episode, Shaun refused to see Dr. Glassman. Since he can’t physically do anything, he doesn’t see the point. "Just being there" is an abstract concept. And this point, I cannot stress enough: The first rule to understanding someone with autism is that they have trouble with abstract concepts. It does not make Shaun obtuse or unaffected. It just means he has feelings he cannot adequately make sense of, so he keeps things in practicalities.

Even when Shaun finally does go see Glassman, he is quickly inspired into action regarding his homeless patient. This leaves Glassman to the mercy of his oncologist, Dr. Marina Blaize (House alum Lisa Edelstein). She is also one of Glassman’s former mentees — one who won’t take his pushy self-treatment. She’s the kind of doctor who has the strong spine to treat other doctors. Between her putting her foot down, and Shaun keeping his mentor focused on the facts, Glassman is in for a rough road ahead.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Good Place is Back with Twists, Laughs, and More Blake Bortles Jokes [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: NBC)

The Good Place became one of the breakout and darling hits of NBC, with good reason. Its sharp, bright humor was a stark contrast to so many dark and cynical comedies that have circulated television in recent years. While dark comedies have value and some truly are exceptional, there is something to be said for watching a show where characters learn to become better versions of themselves through unlikely friendships.

I've had the privilege of watching the first four episodes of the newest season of The Good Place (the premiere on September 27 is an hour and therefore two episodes), and am constantly impressed with this show's ability to tackle overarching plots while also seamlessly blending in the smaller plotlines of the season. Expect there to be some time jumps (that are well-handled), and revelations that will ensure you stay off Twitter if you're unable to watch a live airing of the episode.

I won't spoil anything for you, but I'm going to talk about a few of the reasons why this season of The Good Place is still great.


Like any good Mike Schur comedy series, the heart of The Good Place has never been the actual afterlife. While the jokes are funny and there are meta references aplenty, what keeps audiences returning to the comedy series is its heart and core — namely, the relationships between Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Michael, and Janet. In season three of the series, we get to see Michael and Janet's connection and dynamic develop, while we also watch the relationship between four virtual strangers re-develop.

The great thing about The Good Place is that even though the characters have already been through resets before, watching them rediscover their friendship is never dull or wearisome. I feel like in a show with literally thousands of resets, we should be bored by now. We should be exhausted of the same game. But we're not. Or at least, I'm not. And I think it's because with every reset, there is a purpose. The Good Place delivers incredibly well-developed twists that are character-centric and advance the plot. They're not just cheap ploys. Because of that, watching Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason find each other on earth and learn to be better versions of themselves doesn't feel like a rehash of the past two seasons — it's new.

And that's truly what allowed me to realize the core and heart of the show was the characters. I knew this, of course, but in season three of The Good Place, we're largely back on earth where there are no flying shrimp or trains to a "medium place" or cosmic tricks. Because the core characters are so well-developed though, this fact doesn't feel boring or dull. We watch our characters study and succeed and fail and experience their own sets of difficulties that can only come through being alive and breathing in a less-than-perfect world.

(Image credit: NBC)

What drew us all in to The Good Place was the brightness of it all — the beautifully weird, wonderful world that Mike Schur and his team imagined. But when this make-believe fades away, the characters themselves still shine brightly. In a lot of ways, we're getting to glimpse them for the first time; or at least we're getting to glimpse the characters in their new/old earthly lives. I love that Eleanor is still the deeply-sarcastic loner, but we do away with watching her eyeroll through Chidi's lessons and see what led her to want to become a better person by actually SEEING her become a better person. We get to watch Chidi's life actually unfold, as he deals with decisions and consequences of decision (or indecision). We see a different side of Jason on earth in certain moments than we've seen in the past, and we get to understand more about Tahani as a person — including a kind of compassion and truer happiness than we've witnessed thus far.

What really is fun (and I don't think this is spoiling anything) is that Michael and Janet have their own stories but are constantly overlapping in fun, unexpected ways with the rest of the characters. Speaking of: I love the way that Ted Danson has played a very complex being like Michael. There's a sort of desperation in him that you'll witness in this season's first few episodes that begins to unravel a little into madness.

(Image credit: NBC)


But what would heroes be without villains? The Good Place has always been great at constructing external villains while also reminding its audience that internal villains (or at least forces of opposition) are just as damaging. You'll see both in season three, and I think the most interesting thing to me thus far is that some villains are clear-cut but some villains — like our personal insecurities, pasts, the struggle to try and be a good person in a very flawed world, and traumas — are a lot more difficult to spot and label as "bad."

Take note of some of those internal villains, because they're really what shape the core characters and cause them to make some of the decisions they do. 

(Image credit: NBC)


Have we run out of Blake Bortles references yet? Nope! Don't worry — there are plenty of them within the first few episodes alone. As is customary in The Good Place, some of the funniest jokes are the ones that take a re-watch to spot. (See if you notice some of those when characters go to an American-themed restaurant in Australia.) What makes the show funny is its absurdity, coupled with realism. Nothing brings those two things together quite like season three which boasts jokes and one-liners and physical comedy from everyone (Chidi loses sleep during one episode and what results is that William Jackson Harper gets to deliver some of his funniest lines and physical comedy bits to date). 

The Good Place's comedy is still diverse in form — Jason is funny because no one plays well-meaningly dumb quite as perfectly as Manny Jacinto. Tahani is funny because of her matter-of-fact way of delivering lines (shout-out to Jameela Jamil for a lot of things, like "I Weigh" but also her ability to name drop as Tahani with flair) and inability to relate to anyone because of her status. Chidi's ability to go from zero to panic button is still funny, and no one can do "Arizona trash bag" snark quite like Kristen Bell. Ted Danson's wonderful, as always with Michael's intense energy, and D'Arcy Carden gets to do some fun work as Janet adjusts to new people and scenarios.

The Good Place is still absolutely delightful — with twists, laughs, and even more jokes about Florida. I'm just as enamored by it as I was two seasons ago, and I think you will be too.

Out-of-context quotes and funny things:
  • " ... Sorry, I've been flying for like, 40 hours. This is Australia, right?"
  • Ted Danson has an Australian accent in an episode for a bit and it's great, and then a British accent for another.
  • "One of them is hot enough to be on The Bachelor AND smart enough to never go on The Bachelor!"
  • "Good luck, dad. Nope, also weird. Just go."
  • "Are you from Florida?" "Jacksonville." " ... Yeahhhh."
  • "Do you think taking a spider in an MRI machine will give you superpowers?"
  • There's an American-themed restaurant in an episode that nails everything terrible about America.
  • "That is... technically an idea."
  • "I guess I could kick him with my soft feet."
  • You'll come to understand why The Greatest Showman exists and why the Jacksonville Jaguars are actually good in our version of reality.
  • There's a giant stuffed bear named "Blake Beartles" in an episode. That is all.
Be sure you don't miss the one-hour season premiere of The Good Place called "Everything is Bonzers" on September 27 at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Million Little Things is No This Is Us — But That's Not a Bad Thing [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: ABC)

Trigger warning: Brief discussions of depression and suicide to follow.

If you're anything like me, you probably watched the first trailer for A Million Little Things and thought: "Did ABC assume I needed another This Is Us in my life to emotionally compromise me each week?" The good news that I have for you with this advanced review of the new drama series is that while there are shades of a This Is Us-esque penchant for making you reach for the tissues, that's about where the similarities end.

Because where This Is Us is all about what connects us, A Million Little Things is all about the secrets we carry — and how they separate us from people. Now, don't get me wrong: that might seem like a cynical reading of the new ABC show, but it's not. I quite enjoyed the pilot, in spite of some of its issues. While both dramas tackle similar topics, tonally, the execution of A Million Little Things is distinct enough from This Is Us that you can watch both shows without a feeling of whiplash or deja vu. Within A Million Little Things' pilot alone, you'll be able to feel the weight of soapy drama — a titular feel for most ABC dramas.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though: let's backtrack momentarily to discuss the plot of the pilot. A Million Little Things focuses on four people who became friends because they were trapped in an elevator together years prior. The group consists of Gary (James Roday), who has battled cancer, Rome (Romany Malco), an aspiring filmmaker, Eddie (David Giuntoli), a recovering addict and guitar teacher, and Jon (Ron Livingston) who, as you might know from the trailer, takes his own life at the start of the series.

Most of the pilot hinges on Jon's suicide and how it impacts his friends and family, including wife and two children. In the pilot, at least, Jon's decision to take his own life seems to be linked to depression, and there is a scene featuring a frank discussion between the core characters about how they could have missed depression and its signs in Jon's life. Some characters acknowledge that depression doesn't often manifest itself in the ways that we expect and we can't blame ourselves for not seeing or noticing signs.

I'd forewarn anyone who is sensitive to suicide and/or discussions of it and depression — or any similar subject matter — to avoid watching the pilot. Though A Million Little Things doesn't necessarily try to sensationalize suicide (this certainly is not 13 Reasons Why), the show does fall back on a character's cliche of, "everything happens for a reason" in order to make sense of silent struggles and Jon's death. While it was a trait and line given to the character, I might be a bit too cynical in hearing it associated with suicide and mental health to see it as significant. To me, that statement is just as empty as "thoughts and prayers" are without action tied to them.

Speaking of cynical: Gary is the group cynic, but Jon's death causes him to make a pretty bold statement about the friendship between him, Rome, and Eddie — they're only friends because they (along with Jon) got trapped in an elevator one day, and that since that day, they never talk about anything real with one another; they haven't in years. A Million Little Things is centered on friendship and connection in relationships: it opens with a quote that says, "Friendship isn't one big thing... it's a million little things." While that sentiment is accurate and pretty, Gary is also right when he drives home his cynicism in the pilot. Each member of the group has kept their fair share of secrets; their friendship, while real, has become more shallow over time — and Jon's death is Gary's reminder of that.

(Image credit: ABC)

Jon's life and death affect everyone differently. As the series progresses, I am sure we'll begin to learn the extent to which his life impacted others, but in the pilot we get glimpses into how each friend and family member handles his passing. And this is where ABC's knack for soapy drama and air of mystery kick in. Though I won't spoil exactly what each person's dark secrets are (some you know through the trailer, others you might be surprised by), A Million Little Things is as much about what happens when we don't share our burdens as what happens when we do. While Gary notes that the group has slipped into surface-level friendship pretty easily (and surmises that this is why none of them knew or saw what Jon was going through), it'd be easy to end the narrative there.

But when people unburden themselves to those they're closest to, healing and transformation happens. There's an especially powerful scene toward the end of the pilot that's evidence of this. The characters we meet at the beginning of the pilot are a lot more complex than just their baggage or issues; you might form different opinions about them by the end of the episode, honestly. And though I'm not entirely sure exactly how far down this road of soapy drama the show is headed (but because of the network and the set-up in the pilot, I suspect my answer is "pretty dang far"), the drama is also not without purpose. Secrets and lies (even ones of omission) will illuminate the character of these individuals.

By far, the performances of James Roday (those who watched him in Psych will notice a similar biting sarcasm and wit of Shawn Spencer; I'm beginning to assume this is just Roday's natural persona because of the ease with which he slips into it) and Romany Malco are stand-outs, and I look forward to seeing them grow in these roles.

A Million Little Things is not a perfect series, and it'd be easy to write it off as a series trying to be This Is Us. But because there are so many little intricacies and complexities to the new ABC series, give it a chance — as long as you feel you are able to do so, safely.

Pilot Grade: B+

A Million Little Things premieres September 26 at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Cute, Heartwarming Ensemble Comedies Still Exist! Exhibit A is Single Parents [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: ABC)

I'm a sucker for an ensemble sitcom.

Case in point: my favorite comedies of all-time include Parks and Recreation, Friends, Scrubs, and New Girl. The Office is in my list of favorites too, and How I Met Your Mother (before its disastrous finale). The trickiest thing about an ensemble comedy is that the characters — while needing to function as a group — need to have enough autonomy to be able to carry scenes alone and with any other character in the ensemble. The ensemble is both, in a sense, its own character and also a collection of separate ones.

A true ensemble comedy mirrors real-life, reflecting the fact that we have inclinations to gravitate toward certain people in our friend groups more than others, while also recognizing that part of the reason a friend group exists is because the group itself — no matter how close an individual is to any one person in the group — manages to click, somehow.

Single Parents is already off to a great start with its pursuit of becoming a true ensemble. (ABC has a habit of cancelling my favorite comedies, so hopefully this little sitcom manages to stay around long enough to fully explore how funny everyone on the show can be — and that includes the kids!) In addition to its talented cast, at Single Parents' helm as its creators are Liz Meriwether and J.J. Philbin of New Girl fame. As someone who absolutely loved New Girl and found its comedy to be hilarious and delightful, a pilot written by those two women — and a series created by them — is right up my alley.

The plot of the series? Will Cooper (Taran Killam) and his daughter Sophie (Marlow Barkley) are new to school. Will is a single parent and he's... well, overzealous in throwing his entire life into caring for his child. Even though he's new, Will suddenly takes up the mantle of room parent and he's pretty intense about it. That doesn't sit well with the single parent crew in our series, and they decide that they need to do everything they can to avoid serving Will's agenda.

Angie (Leighton Meester) serves as sort of a "room parent destroyer," and a quasi-ringleader for our ragtag group of single parents. Then there's Douglas (Brad Garrett), a politically conservative dermatologist who really doesn't do emotion or affection. Poppy, an outspoken feminist, (Kimrie Lewis) serves as the heart of the group who watches out for everyone and isn't afraid to drop in tough love on the adults when necessary. And as the newest member of the single parents club, Miggy (Jake Choi) is just trying to figure out to be a 20-year old and also raise a baby.

Within the first episode alone, we get some solid Will/Angie and Douglas/Poppy stories, and that leads me to believe that the show recognizes the ability to play around with groups and pairings within the ensemble to see what clicks and where there is story or depth. Single Parents doesn't just succeed because of the talent of its adults, but also of its children. On shows with kids, it's often easy for writers to make them props or background actors; kids are unpredictable, after all. But Single Parents utilizes its concept in order to expand upon the idea of an ensemble — one that includes kids. The premise of the show is just as it sounds: all of the children are used to having one parent raise them. But because all of the parents are friends, it stands to reason that the kids see their single parent's friends pretty often. In the pilot, that leads to small stories between Angie's son and Will, and Poppy's son and Douglas.

Single Parents is sweet and heartwarming (a scene toward the end of the pilot will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside), but it's also funny. And the show utilizes my favorite kind of comedy — character-centric comedy. What New Girl, Friends, Parks and Recreation and many other ensemble comedies did well was recognize that situations are funny because PEOPLE are funny; and people with quirks who have to interact with other people with quirks? Even better. Taran Killam has always been funny to me — I've watched his comedy evolve from the days of The Amanda Show to Saturday Night Live and everything in between — and his interactions with Leighton Meester (whose ability to so succinctly and effortlessly deliver sarcasm is sorely underappreciated) prove that they have comedic chemistry.

The show is about trying to retain your identity as an adult while struggling to raise children — about the sacrifices you make for them, and the mistakes, bad advice, and silly things that happen along the way. But Single Parents also seems to be about the same sort of central concept New Girl was: friends are family too, and it's crucial that we rely on others for help and to make us better.

It takes a village to raise a child, and I definitely want more of the Single Parents village.

Out-of-context dialogue teases:
  • "Are you whisper-singing Moana at me?"
  • *sighs* "Like coconuts and safety."
  • "Is he wearing a necklace made of garbage?"
  • "He knows he's white, right?" "Everybody knows."
  • "My dad is kind of a garbage human."

Pilot Grade: A

Single Parents premieres September 26 at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Universal Story: An Interview with Tight Author Torrey Maldonado [Contributor: Megan Mann]

(Image credit: Penguin Random House)

When was the last time you sat down with a book and reading it felt like reading an intimate conversation? Has it been a while? If you are looking to dive back into this kind of reading experience, look no further than Torrey Maldonado’s newest release, Tight.

Tight follows Bryan as he navigates the Brooklyn projects where his dad reigns supreme. He’s a quiet kid who likes hanging out at his mom’s office and keeps to himself — that is, until his parents decide he should befriend the new kid named Mike across the street. What starts out as a fun friendship full of comic books and banter turns into a test of who Bryan really is, and a lesson in standing up to a bully.

The story that Tight tells is a universal one, and it is one that I think a lot of people need to read. So I discuss this, the writing process, and the great battle between Marvel and DC with Torrey Maldonado!

Congratulations on Tight! How does it feel to have it out?

Torrey Maldonado: Thank you. It feels like Tight being out answers so many questions. I wondered, “Can I overcome the sophomore slump?” Another question that I got from everyone since my debut of Secret Saturdays was, “When will we see your next book?”

So I feel good — James Brown good — to get to finally say: “Tight is out!” And people feel Tight is tight, so YES!

What was the inspiration behind Bryan’s story?

Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse # 8 Production, a School Library Journal blog, told me that she wants to steal a phrase of mine: the bully spectrum. My whole life, and my two decades as a teacher, have taught me that there is a spectrum of bullies.

I want readers to finish Tight and plot the bullies of their lives on a spectrum like: “Okay, the one who pushes people against a wall goes here,” and “I’ll plot the one who is like Mike who steals your heart over there.” I hope that through Tight, my students and other kids learn that there is a mix of bullies on the bully spectrum so that they can better respond to that mix in their lives. And I definitely hope they see the hero Bryan as themselves.

If readers know that they can be heroic like him, then that’s a win.

What I really enjoyed about the book was that it felt like someone was telling you a story. It didn’t feel like a book, in a way, which made it such a great book to sit down with and get through. Did you want to make the language and the references timely? If so, why?

Dang. You said, “It didn’t feel like a book, which made it such a great book to sit down with and get through.” Can I turn your praise into a cup of coffee and drink that daily? I appreciate you saying that. Yours is high praise because many kids I write for are allergic to books. Since they aren’t feeling books, I hoped Tight wouldn’t feel like one.

About the language and references, I see books set in New York that don’t feel like New York. I’ll read books with tween dialogue and tweens don’t talk that way. Those books are off. I’m glad you feel Tight is on-point. As a tween, I needed timely accurate books that were both windows and mirrors so I that’s what I write.

What’s great is that while Bryan’s culture is evident, his story of doing things he doesn’t want to do in order to impress someone else is entirely universal. Was that dichotomy important to you?

Jay-Z has a rap line: “He’s got skills but he’s not real.” As a writer, my goal is to make a book so real and accurate that I get reviews like the one that I just got for Tight. Someone said, “You had to live this book to write it.” So, it’s a mirror book. Now, as a middle school teacher, I know that it is a universal theme that the middle school years are “crossroad years” where tweens spend a lot of time trying to impress others. So I wanted to craft a window into that universal struggle. I appreciate you saying I achieved that dichotomy because I want Tight to sit on shelves with other books that are both mirrors and windows.

Why did you want Bryan to always feel like he had to be tough instead of “soft” and that he couldn’t show his emotions?

Since before the 1960s when Frankie Valli sang “Walk Like a Man”, males have been told to “man up” and to hide their emotions and not be “soft.” In tough neighborhoods, toughness is admired and tweens like Bryan need tough friends like Mike who protect them. Mobb Deep, the rap group, has a lyric: “We livin' this til the day that we die / Survival of the fit only the strong survive.” In my Brooklyn hometown where I was born and raised — and in lots of neighborhoods — urban Black/Brown boys who don’t project toughness get called “soft” and get bullied. It happened to me. Through Byran we see the pressure boys feel trying to balance their emotions with a survival skill of showing toughness.

On the flip side, Mike is Bryan’s exact opposite. He acts nice until you get to know him, and then he’s more concerned with being the baddest kid on the block. What was the thought process behind making them both such polar opposites while still sharing interests?

The stereotype of enemies being total opposites is so cliché and overdone. I wanted to Mike to be real. In real life, we deal with ambiguous friendships and people. We all know that likable, interesting person with great qualities who is nice until you get to know them. Then we learn that everything that glitters isn’t gold. With Mike, I show the truth — people who are like each other tend to like each other and we tend to get hurt by those in our circle.

The story essentially showcases how your environment and your upbringing can influence who you become and how you react to certain things. Would you say that’s true?

Yes, Tight is about what your environment presents and how you react. And, the book acts as a timely version of the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken. Bryan knows what’s tight, in good ways, for him but two roads diverge in his hood and he’s in a tight squeeze. He has a choice — take the road less traveled, which will make all the difference, or follow in the footsteps of toxic masculinity.

Okay, let’s move on to some fun questions. What’s your writing process like?

Listening to music makes writing so much better. It has to be the music that my students and I love, but the instrumental versions. Otherwise, the song’s words mess with my typewritten words. I wrote a chapter while listening to Childish Gambino’s lyrics and I almost typed “This is America” over and over.

What would you say is your best advice to any aspiring writer who feels like they’re stuck or faces writer’s block?

My best advice to any aspiring writer who feels like they’re stuck or face writer’s block is to replay the ending of the last episode of season two of Daredevil on Netflix. Karen Page has writer’s block and her journalist boss tells her to write something new and different that only she can write. He tells her to write her truth — all of it and everything she’s been through and not to pull any punches. He tells her to tell people something they don’t know. That unstuck me so many times with Tight.

What are you reading now?

Right now, I’m following the advice of writers who have published way more books than me. They say keep writing so a book comes out each year. That means I have a list of what I want to read once I’ve caught up to publishing all of the stories I feel need to be told.

What are five books you would recommend?

The five books that I would recommend are:

  1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  2. Night by Elie Wiesel
  3. A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson
  4. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
  5. The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker

Lastly, since it was so heavily discussed, are you DC or Marvel? Who would you be and why?

Ha! You know Tight like the back of your hand. Fist bump to you. Mike asks Bryan the same question. I’m like them, but I won’t pick their heroes. Their “who” changes and so does mine. So I’ll list the top five powers I want. From Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ghost’s power to turn myself and any objects I touch invisible or intangible. From Wolverine, Logan’s regenerative healing ability. From Professor X, his incredible ESP, psychic, telepathy, and mental-manipulation powers. Fourth, the ability to control air the way Magneto controls metal. And finally, the fastest Flash’s speed.

Tight is available now through Penguin Kids. It’s a great read!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

How Jacqueline Woodson's Harbor Me Perfectly Depicts Adolescent Friendship [Contributor: Megan Mann]

(Image credit: Penguin Random House)

"Once there were six of us. Once we circled around each other, and listened. Or maybe what matters most is that we were heard."

Within the first few pages of Jacqueline Woodson’s stunning new novel Harbor Me, Haley lets us know that back when she was in fifth grade, everything changed. After being placed in a specific class with five other kids, their teacher, Ms. Laverne, takes the children into the old art room and tells them that every Friday, the group would meet for the last hour of school and talk. Just talk. The subject matter was irrelevant, but they had to talk. When Haley gets the bright idea to bring a recorder and to capture what’s said within those walls, the group opens up and realizes that without that room, their lives would be different. Without each other, they would be different.

Being an adolescent is tough. Anyone who’s been through middle-school and experienced rapid change knows that those were not the greatest years of our lives. You worry that people will judge you and believe that no one wants to hear your story — that no one wants to know what’s going on with you. You hide parts of yourself you would rather not talk about. You’re worried about being too different and just want to be “normal.”

This notion — this thought process of just wanting to be “normal” — is perfectly exemplified in Harbor Me. The six students come together in this defunct art room, now renamed ARTT (A Room to Talk), and realize that they don’t know where to begin. What do we talk about that won’t make the others look at us funny? they wonder. But when Esteban steps up and talks about how immigration has taken his undocumented papi, the conversation opens the floodgates.

Amari talks about the scrutiny that young African-Americans suffer from and how his dad recently talked with him about no longer being able to play with his Nerf guns outside of the house. This opens a dialogue about racism in America that it takes Amari’s best friend Ashton time to fully understand. Tiago opens up about how fearful his mother is when she’s speaking in Spanish, since someone has yelled at her to go back to her country. He says that having to “learn American” is hard, but that the group makes him feel like he’s more than just the language he speaks or the color of his skin.

Ashton talks about being bullied, which leads the group to banding together to protect him from attack by a trio of eighth graders. He also discusses how hard it was to move from Connecticut to Brooklyn when his dad lost his job. Holly admits to hating that people call her “rich girl” when the money is her parents’, not her own. She also confesses that she wishes she didn’t have such a big mouth and wasn’t always so fidgety.

While everyone talks, Haley sits and soaks it all in. She waits to tell her story until the very end. She doesn’t want others to make assumptions about her when they find out that her dad is in prison for vehicular manslaughter. She has all of these memories stored up and is afraid of how they might see her after she spills them.

But what each of the kids learn is that these stories — all of these things that make up who we are and how we view the world — these things are what link us. Sharing their stories draws the group even closer together. Because the stories we share with each other, the memories we create, and the shoulders we lean on help us realize that we’re not that different. If we open up and let go of the fear of judgement, we discover bonds we might not have known were possible.

Friendship is crucial at a time in life where change is inevitable. For tweens and teenagers, this is even more important. Jacqueline Woodson makes it clear that isolating yourself isn’t worth it in the end. What matters is finding your tribe and relying on them to understand you and hear you when you need it most (which Haley brilliantly points out at the beginning of the book). When friends act like a safe harbor, it’s easier to walk through life’s hardest moments and share in its best moments.

A story like Harbor Me reminds readers to pay attention to those around us, and those that we hold close. Each of us is going through something and we need to find our own anchors. This book proves that friendship is important at every stage of our lives. As Jacqueline Woodson says: “Always remember, when you are with your people, you are home.”

That’s something we can all believe in.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson is out now from Penguin Kids.

Witches, Cowboys, and Burying the Trope that Buried Decades of TV’s Gay Characters [Contributor: Melanie]

I’m not really of the mind that we need to crucify older media for its lack of foresight or the era that it appeared in (the exceptions to that being something obviously racist or otherwise hateful, of course). We can certainly look at it and critique ourselves and the way we continue to engage with it. The media can’t change, but we can. And while I’ve been a staunch supporter of Joss Whedon’s choices when it came to Buffy the Vampire Slayer — specifically Tara and Willow's relationship — experiences with recent media make it look, for lack of a less brutal term, pretty bad.

Wynonna Earp is a show that owes so much to Buffy that you could simply replace “revenants” with “vampires” and “heir” with “Slayer” and you’d essentially have yourself a Buffy sequel set in the Canadian Rockies (to be fair, there are vampires this season so here we are). It’s not a bad thing. After all, some of the best work out there came from directors and writers obsessing over something and finding places to improve it. And there are more nuanced similarities that are, either by purpose or simply organically, undoing some of the frustrating turns and missteps of the past.

Know Your (Gay) History 

Tara and Willow were among the first lesbian relationships on TV — and the first on a major network that included it as a main story instead of a punchline (looking at you, Friends). Willow meets Tara Maclay after the heart-wrenching break up with her high school sweetheart. Tara is the only other person in the Wiccan group at Sunnydale U who seems to take the concept and practice of witchcraft as seriously as Willow. They form a close friendship and then, largely off-camera and mainly implied to us and other characters, they begin a romantic relationship. It shocks and confuses their friends before it becomes a staple of their world and (I cringe as I use this term) normalizes the relationship.

For almost three seasons they’re in static happy land. And then comes season six — effectively Willow's big season — where Joss Whedon seemed to realize he could utilize his once-progressive female relationship for fridging and plot purposes. As Willow’s addiction to magic grows, Tara offers Willow consequences and refuses to enable her by breaking things off. Tara and Willow rekindle their relationship when Willow’s effectively able to stay “sober.” Tara gets main cast billing for the first time in her three years on the show, and all seems right with the world.

But then dead lesbian syndrome comes blistering through the Summers’ front window in the form of a crappy pistol shot from a misogynistic a-hole. 

Tara was not the first martyr of this trope, but she retroactively became the poster child for it (after Joss Whedon purposefully lead the audience to believe she was joining the cast as a long-term main character, only to have her fatally struck in a freak accident by the end of the same episode). Tara drops dead. Love story over. It’s angled as a way to justify the anger and rage Willow goes through. Despite Joss Whedon’s (perceived) best efforts, it was part of a larger cultural history of unfairly representing gay characters and then finding excuses to kill them off.

Several queer female characters have suffered a similar fate, with a lot more clumsiness involved. In fact, an entire convention was founded as a way to bring awareness to the presence and popularity of queer, female-driven media after a particularly viral response in 2016. And then there’s Wayhaught (which, you’ll note, came away with Gold in our shipping category for the Golden Trio Awards).

To give context on how popular this pairing is: before I actually sat down and watched Wynonna Earp, I legitimately thought one of these women was the title character because they were the only two characters I ever saw in pictures, recaps, and fanwork. As it turned out, they weren’t the titular character but were a large reason the show took off and maintained a steady following and steady ratings. I can say that with certainty. Emily Andras and her writing team managed to handle a complex queer relationship — with all associated tragedies and high points — without cheating the audience, insulting viewers’ intelligence, or robbing the show of its representation.

Connected at the Hip 

Like Tara, Officer Haught enters the show as a love interest. For a while, she is only contextualized by Waverly’s role and plot lines, though she has the functionality of being a cop, allowing the writers to bring her in through different ways and give her minor storylines. In season two, she’s expanded and given room to breathe a bit. She and Waverly work through the kinks of the post-honeymoon phase and go through (perhaps) even a mini break-up before Nicole is on the receiving end of a fatal wound that kicks Waverly in the pants.

Not only is this different from Tara and Willow’s situation because Nicole didn’t actually die, but it lacks the aftertaste of fridging. Why is this? Well for one, both Waverly and Nicole are agents in the situation. Rather than Tara being victimized by bad luck for the sake of Willow’s arc, Nicole is injured during a scuffle helping Waverly, who was, in turn, protecting her. It’s a fight scene choreographed to hand the action off between them. Nicole was just unlucky.

But in Whedon’s narrative, it had to be Tara because she was disposable. This, of course, makes one nervous to see Katherine Barrell with a main cast credit, but Emily Andras seems aware of her audience’s anxiety (in a big wink to the audience back in season one, Nicole was shot only to reveal she was wearing a bulletproof vest, ba dum tss). Nicole now has her own stories, she recently appeared in her own episode, with Waverly largely sidelined. She’s got her own Tragic Backstory™, her own arc, and her own position of leadership in town.

Witches and Angels 

There is another factor here as well: Tara and Willow’s sexuality and relationship was played against the backdrop of their practice as witches. Sure, the 90s saw a revival in witchcraft with neopaganism in the mainstream, but that doesn’t erase the centuries of persecution of witches. (Fun fact: it’s believed that the root of evil connotations with witchcraft can be traced back to what essentially amounts to a medieval big pharma smear campaign against rural medicine women). Sure, there’s some take-back-the-night energy in having Willow and Tara part of the reclamation of witchcraft, but it also induces a bit of an eyeroll because of course the two gay chicks are witches, right?

Wynonna Earp takes the opposite stance. While Waverly wrestles in much of season two believing she’s actually demonic in origin, it turns out that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Waverly’s real father wasn’t a demon or the drunken Ward Earp, but an “honest-to-God angel.” And while we don’t know the full extent of Nicole’s connection to our Big Bad (some have speculated a familial connection between her and the demon Bulshar), we can at least say that Waverly Earp is perhaps subverting one of the oldest tropes in the book: gays are evil.

Avoiding getting deep into religion here, if this story comes to fruition, it has a chance to be one of the most well-orchestrated, positive movements for queer characters. Between the predatory lesbian motif and depraved gays trope, gay characters are almost always outsiders — people with a streak of villainy, or outright dangerous to our protagonists. (And, of course, there is the constant rhetoric around where some elements believe homosexuals go when they die.) Emily Andras, however, has created a queer character who is, quite literally, holier than thou, and described as “coming out of the light” on the day she was born.

It’s a subversion we shouldn’t sleep on.

Defining Your Own Normal

It’s a phrase we hear a lot when it comes to any form of queer relationship: normalizing it. And it means different things to different people, but ultimately gets down to creating situations where the relationship feels real and is treated on the same level as the “baseline” relationships. It can, obviously, cause some bad tastes in some people's’ mouths.

For Tara and Willow, there was not a huge sense of this. The two talked about witchcraft, argued about magic, and discussed demons and vampires. Just as we didn’t get to see their relationship outside the context of each other, we also didn’t get to see their relationship outside of the context of their supernatural activities and the mythology of their world. No fights about dinner or doing the dishes. But Wayhaught finds themselves fighting about very normal things: Nicole’s job and how it interacts with Waverly’s, dishonesty with each other, angry drunk texts and minor bouts of infidelity (still yikesing over that one, tbh), and there was that comically awkward moment where Waverly thought Nicole was proposing at their dinner party — oh no, it was just that demonic ring you were bending down to pick up, okay.

They interact, argue, and have intimate moments as you expect couples to do so.

Even Waverly’s journey into her own sexuality wasn’t heavily focused on, likely thanks to writers actually listening to queer audiences when they say they’re ready to move beyond coming out stories. Waverly’s realization of her feelings for Nicole comes on the tail of an arc about getting out and beyond her lifelong role as the girl next door who “tailors herself to the people around her.” She leaves her crappy high-school sweetheart boyfriend, quits her dead end job as a bartender, and — to cap off her burst of freedom — very calmly walks into the police station, shuts the blinds of the sheriff’s office, closes the door, kisses Officer Haught, and that’s that. There’s no long, drawn-out discussion about identity or a speech about a confused childhood. She simply realized that life is funky — and maybe compulsive heteronormativity was part of the world she was living in that was safe but unreal. A relationship with Nicole was simply part of breaking free from the big lie she’d been hiding in her entire life.

Let’s See How Far We’ve Come; Let’s See How Far We’ll Go

The lesson here is that Tara and Willow was a great stepping stone, and a great moment in TV history that needed to happen. And it didn’t have to be perfect, even if the TV that followed invoked some of its worst components as well as its best. But what Emily Andras and the writing team at Wynonna Earp have created is perhaps the best modern representation of a queer female pairing — in the middle of a show about cowboys killing zombie demons. They’re a power couple, they’ve got their own relationship rollercoasters, no one’s dead, and they’re real characters on equal terms.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

How Mayans M.C. Forges Its Own Path in the Sons of Anarchy World [Contributor: Megan Mann]

(Image credit: FX)

Four years ago, one of FX’s most popular endeavors and dramatic television’s greatest triumphs in the last decade came to a devastating close. Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy took the motorcycle club image and — still maintaining the intensity and carnage that you associate with the outlaws — stripped it down to its bare essentials: it was a family and a community — a group of people you could count on no matter what happened.

Sons of Anarchy was, and still remains, my favorite TV show of all time. Despite its often gruesome nature, what the show boiled down to was a theme of love and the sense of belonging. The show holds a special place in my heart and a certain character’s unexpected death in the fifth season still fills me with anger and sadness: a testament to the incredible writing.

It was no surprise then that when it was announced that fans of the series would be treated to a spin-off, I lost my marbles.

Enter Mayans M.C.

Mayans M.C. carries the same vibe its predecessor did; it visually feels similar and also involves a motorcycle club. Thankfully, the series and plot is not a total shock to fans; our Men of Mayhem often dealt with the Mayans in Oakland. Alvarez — a character who will continue to pop up throughout the season — was at the head of the table. The thread of continuity between Sons of Anarchy and Mayans M.C. allows viewers to fall back into this universe without having to fully displace them with newness.

Mayans M.C. also similar tonally to Sons of Anarchy. It’s about a rebel motorcycle gang who has a front for their criminal activities so that they can carry them out without drawing any attention. However, instead of focusing on someone who has been involved in the MC for his entire life, like Jax Teller, the show switches its focus to a prospect who is fresh out of jail and looking to find his place within the Mayans.

Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes went to jail eight years ago for a crime that, as of the pilot, we’re not yet sure of. But we are lead to believe that it is in conjunction, somehow, to the passing of his mother. After cutting ties with everyone — including his girlfriend — while behind bars, he gets out and becomes a prospect for his brother, Angel, who is already a member of the club. EZ’s tasked with his first drug run for the cartel and things go awry. What follows, I can assure you, is not for the faint of heart and follows in the Sons of Anarchy tradition.

Over the course of the first episode of Mayans M.C., we realize that all is not what it seems with EZ, and this is where it becomes a much different show from its predecessor.

But in order for the series to stand on its own and move out from under the shadow of such a colossal hit, the twists we discover within the first hour and ten minute episode were necessary. It’s clear that the information viewers are given in the pilot of Mayans M.C. is going to create the drama down the line. But instead of predictability, viewers will be swept up in the ride.

JD Pardo shines as EZ and proves he’s just as a formidable force as Jax Teller was before him. His brother Angel is played by Clayton Cardenas, and his father by Edward James Olmos. EZ's ex-girlfriend — who we later discover is a major player in this story — is played by Sarah Bolger. While some may feel that this love story is similar to Jax and Tara, I would advise you to keep watching — it’s anything but that. Meanwhile, Danny Pino plays cartel leader Miguel Galindo and is incredibly intimidating at it.

As a super fan of Sons of Anarchy, I will say that I absolutely enjoyed the pilot of Mayans M.C. I thought it stayed true to the former's tone and style, while also managing to set itself apart within its predecessor's universe. The cast of the series is fantastic and the writing is just as amazing as it was on Sons of Anarchy. I’m thrilled to see where the writers take this show and can’t wait to watch how this all unravels.

And yes, for those of you wondering, there were sweet little nods to the original series that had me maybe jumping out of my seat. Trust me; you’ll see.

Mayans M.C. premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on FX.

The Rookie Tackles the Question: Who Do You Want to Be? [Contributor: Jenn]

(Image credit: ABC)

"A walking midlife crisis" is how John Nolan (Nathan Fillion) is described by his sergeant in the pilot of The Rookie. And though there is definitely truth to that statement — truth that Nolan admits to by the episode's final moments — that is not all that John Nolan is, nor is it truly why he chose to become a police officer at the grand 'ol age of 40.

But let's back up a minute: The plot of The Rookie is pretty simple, at first glance. It's about a man named John Nolan who works in construction and is also recently divorced. While he's at a bank, putting items in his safe deposit box, two men burst through the front doors and attempt to rob the bank. What John does begins his career path as a police officer. Nine months later, he's traded in his old life for a new one as a rookie at the L.A.P.D. Of course, he's the oldest rookie in the ranks and is constantly made fun of for his age and perceived athletic ability or lack thereof. There are actually two other rookies that the pilot focuses on, too: the driven and dynamic Lucy Chen (Melissa O'Neil) and a "legacy" wonder kid named Jackson West (Titus Makin Jr.). Each rookie is paired up with a more experienced training officer, and the pilot follows all three pairings as they embark on their first two days on the force.

If you're expecting a standard procedural drama, there are definitely elements that will make this new ABC series feel like home (alongside some elements that give it the distinctly ABC soapy touch). One of the most interesting elements of the series so far is a visual decision — since the officers on the show wear body cams, the pilot integrates scenes and shots that appear to be pulled straight from their cameras. It's not excessive, and was an interesting choice when used sparingly. I enjoyed the fact that it allowed us to personally connect with the characters wearing the cameras, thrusting us into more of a first-person viewing of the events.

There are a few plot twists that you might not expect from the pilot, and while Nathan Fillion is definitely the star of the series, it appears — at least from the way that the pilot went — that the show will be more ensemble-centric. We get brief glimpses into the lives of the rookies and their respective training officers. Jackson West might be a golden boy on paper and the kid who broke all of his dad's records while at the academy, but he encounters an issue while in the field that he didn't anticipate. And Lucy Chen seems like a take-no-nonsense, tough young woman but we learn that having two psychologists as parents might have taken an emotional toll on her.

The training officers each have their own personality quirks, too. Officer Tim Bradford (Eric Winter) is Lucy's training officer, and he's... well, a psychological minefield. He plays horrific mind games with Lucy on her first day than most people will ever experience — forcing her to doubt herself, question whether she can trust him, and shrink back in certain circumstances. At one point, he gives permission for a drug dealer to attack her in order to see if she can fight back and cuff him. Yeah, not your warm and fuzzy training officer.

For most of the pilot, in fact, you'll probably think that Tim is about the biggest jerk there is (you'll likely use stronger language), and you'd be right. In spite of his entire demeanor, questionable methods and personality, the show still reminds us that he is human. There's a scene where Lucy sees, firsthand, what kind of demons Tim has to face and why he commands such an icy, emotionless exterior. Granted, I still think he's a horrible human being for the way he treats Lucy (and just because he has things to deal with does not make his actions sympathetic), but at least Eric Winter gets to do some nice acting work.

Officer Angela Lopez (Alyssa Diaz) is paired with the golden boy, and we learn from the very beginning of the pilot that Officer Lopez and Officer Talia Bishop (Afton Williamson), who is assigned to John Nolan, are vying for the role of detective. Both are looking to get out of the fieldwork — Talia mostly so that she can use the step up to detective to continue her career climb at the L.A.P.D. Officer Bishop is tough, but she's also the only one of the training officers who acts like a true teacher for her rookie. She lets John take charge when she feels he's capable, and also instructs him when he makes a mistake. When John celebrates a victory, Officer Bishop commends him for his heroics but also points out the mistakes he made in the field that could cost a life in the future. She is skilled and passionate about what she does, and I'm interested to see how the mentor/mentee dynamic shifts and evolves between her and John Nolan.

What I like so far is that The Rookie will seemingly focus on those dynamics — the ones between the rookies and officers — more than anything else. While this is a show that involves the good guys solving problems and taking down bad guys (within the first episode alone, there are more than three separate calls that the officers respond to), it's also a show about what the job does to people. John Nolan is humanized and deeply affected by something that happens on his first day, while Lucy and Jackson realize that the academy is way different than being out on a call (and Jackson gets threatened by Officer Lopez at the end of the episode for how he handles something in the line of duty).

Ultimately, the pilot of The Rookie wraps up with John Nolan trying to answer the question of who he wants to be. John's sergeant, Wade Grey (Richard T. Jones), doesn't like him very much. And Wade makes a valid point earlier in the pilot to Officer Bishop that "rookies" who are as old as John Nolan is don't do well because they're so sure about what is right and wrong that there is no hesitation; there is only action. And that kind of action often leads to people being killed. At the end of the episode, Wade and John have a sort of heart-to-heart in which John admits that before entering the academy, he was in a place in his life where he's looking to reinvent himself. He didn't realize all that it meant to become a cop.

But what John Nolan says next about himself is integral to the series: he might have been looking for reinvention, but he is good enough as he is. He was good enough at the academy, and he doesn't need to change from who he has been the past 40 years in order to do his job.

The Rookie seems like it will be a series about identity — not necessarily about "finding yourself," per se, but understanding what makes you the strong, resilient human that you are and fighting to make others (and sometimes yourself) believe it.

You're never too old for that lesson.

Pilot Grade: B

The Rookie premieres October 16 on ABC!

12 Shows to Binge-Watch Before the Fall TV Season Begins [Contributor: Megan Mann]

Image result for tv watching gif

After months of unending heat and humidity, the summer is starting to come to a close which means that all of your favorite shows will soon be returning! But before that, we have this small window of time where nothing is airing and we’re stuck wondering, “What should I watch now?”

Luckily, I am here to help you with that quandary!

I myself have often wondered over the summer what I will watch next. With so many streaming services available to us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and find ourselves watching the entire series of 30 Rock or House all over again. But fear not: I have compiled a list of some of the best and easiest shows to entertain you over the next few weeks before our DVRs are full all over again.

Animal Kingdom (TNT)

If you’re a big fan of family drama and maybe a little bit of crime, this is the show for you. Based on the Oscar-nominated 2010 Australian film of the same name, Animal Kingdom follows the Cody family as young J discovers the family his recently-deceased mother had kept him from. J is thrown into a world of wild partying, crime, and family drama that has you wondering how many more episodes you can squeeze in each night. All episodes are streaming on the TNT app or Amazon Prime.

Insecure (HBO)

I could literally scream from the rooftops about how amazing Insecure is and still be amazed at the fact that so many have yet to discover this gem! I recently wrote about all of the reasons why you should watch it (seen here), so I cannot stress enough how amazing this show is. It follows Issa as she tries to figure out her life in terms of job, friendships, relationships, and who she is as a person. It’s hysterical and relatable and I cannot imagine why anyone isn’t watching this. Stream seasons one and two, and the episodes of season three as it airs now on HBO. Each episode is only 24-28 minutes! Where’s the downside?!

Humans (AMC)

If you’re fearful of the future involving artificial intelligence, maybe don’t tune into this show. If not, I assure you that you will not be disappointed watching this amazing series. The premise of Humans is this: in a not-so-distant future, synths have become the norm. They’ll do your shopping, clean your house, and tend to your children. But what if the creator of the technology managed to take it what step further? What if he figured out how to create a consciousness in synthetics that replicates the human consciousness? Humans is so good, and each season is only eight episodes. Stream it on Prime or the AMC app.

Poldark (Masterpiece on PBS/Amazon Prime)

If you like period pieces and shirtless men, I would suggest heading over to Amazon Prime or your local library to check out Poldark. It follows Ross Poldark, played beautifully by Aidan Turner, as he returns home from war to discover that he’s essentially penniless. Poldark shows how the titular character struggles to gain fortune and find a wife now that the woman he loved and was meant for is no longer available. In addition to Poldark, I would also suggest Victoria and Mr. Selfridge if you want to keep up the period dramas.

Riverdale (The CW)

Not on the Riverdale train yet? Well, hurry up and get your ticket! This gritty take on the Archie comics follows Betty, Veronica, Archie, and Jughead as they navigate the criminal underbelly of their hometown of Riverdale. There’s a murder, sultry drama, Cole Sprouse with dark hair, and the return of Skeet Ulrich to your living rooms. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to catch up on one of the hottest shows of the last few years? Did I mention it also eventually involves a cult? I know — you’re ready to watch now. Stream both seasons on Netflix now.

Pose (FX)

Pose is another show from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, but they seemed to have learned from their Nip/Tuck and Glee failings and they knock it out of the park with this one. It is for all of you who are obsessed with the counterculture of 90s underground New York, between its literary scene and ball culture. It’s a fascinating look at an era of New York that’s somewhat forgotten and deserves its due, and stars an LGBTQ+ cast. I’m purposely underselling it because the dichotomy between the underground and the economic boom of the city is just really great. Catch up now on the FX app.

Alias Grace (Netflix)

If you’re a fan of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, you’ll need to check out Netflix’s Alias Grace. Also based on a Margaret Atwood novel, the show centers on the 1843 murders of a farm owner and his housekeeper by the hands of his servants, James and Grace. While the murders are real, the story is a fictionalized version that gives the crime — and Grace Marks — life beyond the headlines. It’s a dark and twisted tale that leaves you on the edge of your seat wondering what is exactly going on. You’ll be blown away, I promise.

Mr. Mercedes (Audience)

I am not what you would call a big fan of horror, but the suspense and intensity of this Stephen King adaptation is so good that I am addicted. I’ve thought just last week, “I wonder how many episodes I can watch tonight?” This serial killer drama has so much going on between the killer and the retired cop who hates that he never solved the case. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how you can catch it unless you’re an AT&T customer (it’s on a specialty channel), but if you can find a way to watch, it is worth it!

The Magicians (SyFy)

Based on a series of books, The Magicians is often billed as a Harry Potter for adults. Well, yes and no. It’s about magic, but magic in the real world. It has spells and drama, tackles difficult subject matter and darkness and love. It’s got it all! But the conversations alone between Margo and Elliot are enough to make any pop culture fan die of laughter. If you like magic, but you wish it had a smidge more realism, this is the show for you. You can catch up on The Magicians now on Netflix.

Last Chance U (Netflix)

I love a good docuseries and this Netflix original is one of the best. Even if you’re not a sports fan, Last Chance U — which documents the lives of players and coaches and staff at two junior colleges — is enthralling. Most of these kids have come from major schools and are looking to reconstruct their image in order to take their football careers to the next level. The players and coaches come from all different backgrounds, and you’ll find yourself more connected and invested in these people than you thought possible.

Friday Night Lights (Netflix)

Speaking of sports though, this is hands down one of the best fictional series you’ll ever watch. Friday Night Lights follows the inhabitants of a small town in Texas — a state where football reigns supreme and the residents live for Friday nights. There’s so much going on and the cast (hi, Taylor Kitsch, Connie Britton, and Kyle Chandler, just to name a few) is absolutely perfect. I don’t even need to sell it more than this because it’s one of the absolute best shows to ever exist and the series can be found in its entirety on Netlfix. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

The Path (Hulu)

If you’re interested in cults, you’re interested in Hulu’s The Path. Aaron Paul plays Eddie Lane, a man who came into the Meyerist faith when he was on hard times and found the love of his life and his family. But he begins to have doubts of the validity of the faith and wonders if maybe it’s all a big hoax. However, questioning the faith can have dramatic consequences. Will he continue down the path toward the garden or walk away?

What shows are you binge-watching before fall TV returns? Sound off in the comments below!

Orange is the New Black 6x04 Recap: "I'm the Talking Ass" (Nut Up, Buttercup) [Contributor: Chelsea Cruz]

"I'm the Talking Ass"
Original Airdate: July 27, 2018

In flashbacks, a teenage Nicky reads her speech aloud to her mother, Marka, while she is trying on dresses for Nicky’s bat mitzvah. Marka shows animosity toward Nicky and a real lack of any motherly empathy.

On the day of Nicky’s bat mitzvah, Les is annoyed on how much Nicky’s speech is influenced by her mother. In the middle of her speech, she gets into her sassy self and speaks from the heart. She starts questioning why she should honor a mother and father who never gave a crap about her. After Nicky’s bat mitzvah, instead of addressing their daughter’s concerns, her parents are furious and embarrassed to the point where neither of them want anything to do with her.


In the present day, Nicky discusses the terms of her deal with Les and Michelle. Following their first encounter in the previous episode, Michelle tries to get Nicky consider her best way out. The cards are laid on the table for her; she has until 5 p.m. to either give up Red or 70 years will be added to her sentence on drug charges. Nicky and Red try to converse through code; Red asks for her loyalty but Nicky is lost. She finally tells Red about her possible added sentence, leaving Red speechless. Their relationship is in for a shake-up when Nicky is torn between protecting herself and the only family she’s really known.

Maria, Piper, Blanca, Hoefler, and Badison walk through the halls, having been separated into different blocks. We learn that Maria has an added 10 years to her sentence after taking a plea deal for being a riot organizer. She asks if Piper ratted out anyone but learns that Piper only received six months on her sentence (which she associates with Piper's white privilege). Maria moves on to Blanca, but Blanca resists discussing if she got added time. Knowing that Blanca stayed loyal to Gloria by giving her up, this is an added chip on Maria’s shoulder.

Piper, Flaca, and Hoelfer are placed into C-Block with Badison, who is given a warm welcome from her small crew. Badison is as much a leader as Daddy, answering to the block’s kingpin — or should we say, queenpin. This sort of entitled power she thinks she has gets on everyone’s nerves, most notably Carol and Piper’s. If we were to mirror Badison and Piper’s relationship to Daddy and Daya’s, Badison’s false sense of helpfulness might come as a twist in the series.

CO’s Luschek, McCoullgh, and Blake are now working in Litchfield Max, and the three of them are being invited to join in on Fantasy Inmate. Luschek is excited, Blake doesn’t want any part of it. McCoullgh jumps on the invitation, insisting Blake join as well.

Alex and Piper reunite in C-Block, and Zirconia finds out that Maureen Kukido was the real inmate who passed away. Upon learning that CO Piscatella also died, Piper realizes that she unintentionally ratted Red out.

While an attorney is reading all of Taystee’s charges, a startling revelation is brought up: she is being charged for second-degree murder for the death of CO Piscatella. The attorney advises Taystee not to take this case to trial since she is being used as an scapegoat for the governor. A very vulnerable Taystee, with the help of her old friend CO Ward, speaks to Caputo for any kind of help she can get.

Struggling to find a job on the outside, Aleida Diaz is given an empowering speech by a Nurti-Herbal saleswoman — who successfully sells her on becoming a saleswoman as well. During visiting hours, Blanca speaks to her boyfriend who wants a life with her but has been dealing with immigration issues on the outside. Daya and Aleida’s visit is a bit more heartbreaking; Aleida comes to terms with the fact that her daughter is now serving a life sentence.

Coates, Dixon, and Pennsatucky (in her new manly disguise) make it to the amusement park, with Dixon questioning their relationship. After a fun day at the amusement park, Coates and Pennsatucky share a kiss that results in some passersby hassling them. Dixon comes to their defense and speaks about their hardship as a couple, finally accepting them as they are as well.


More details have been slowly revealed about the ladies of Litchfield Max. There’s the power struggle between Blocks C and D that we’ve continued to follow. We see more of Pennsatucky’s life outside, while also getting a long-awaited update on Aleida. Things are definitely not looking good for Red and Taystee, who are going to be the last ones left in dealing with riot charges. This episode also elaborated on the loyalties between each woman, reminding us that it’s not about where you come from but where you belong.

What will happen to Red and Taystee? Who do you like more: Badison or Daddy? How inspiring was that Nutri- Herbal salesman training audio book?

Let’s keep this binge-watch going!