10 Shows and Movies That Have Brightened Up Quarantine Life

As we navigate a global pandemic, here are 10 shows and movies that might bring some much-needed joy into the mundane.

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.

Jenn's Pick: Top 15 Jeff/Annie Moments

In 2013, Jenn put together a list of the 15 best Jeff/Annie moments. Revisit and discover those memories!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The 2010s: Some of Our Favorite TV Shows of the Last Decade [Contributors: Jenn, Deb, Jaime, and Araceli]

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It’s hard to believe that in just a few weeks, we’ll not only conclude another year but an entire decade. While it’s hard to believe that 2000 wasn’t just yesterday, the truth is that we’re about to enter 2020. A new year (and decade) holds a lot of promise, but it’s always fun to look back on the years that have passed to see how much has changed.

Over the years, there has been a lot of television. With the boom of streaming services, more and more people have shifted their viewing habits from traditional cable models to solely consuming content on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, etc. But at the beginning of the decade, everyone was still in a frenzy for live television: we rushed to finish our dinners so we wouldn’t miss the beginning of our favorite shows.

And speaking of favorites... some of our writers thought it’d be fun to discuss our favorite television shows of the last decade. This is by no means an extensive list, as I’m sure most of us could talk for hours about the best television moments and series that have emerged in the last year alone, but it’s a snapshot of some memorable television shows. Settle in as we discuss our favorite comedies and dramas from the last decade! Then take to the comments section and talk about your favorites too.

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Community (Jenn)


On any given week, Community could be a paintball action/adventure, an 80s homage, or a stop-motion animated Christmas special. That’s pretty incredible, honestly, and no matter how good or bad Community was at its execution, one thing is sure: it always took risks.

I fell in love with Community during one of its “normal” episodes early on (“Football, Feminism & You”), and it was the show that spurred me to start writing television reviews and thinking critically about things I loved. So when I think about shows that made their mark on the last decade, of course this one stands out. “Remedial Chaos Theory” is perhaps one of the most brilliant episodes of television to exist in the last 10 years. It managed to be a “choose-your-own-adventure”-style episode, with the writers crafting six different timelines depending on which character left the apartment to get pizza. It gave us one of the most iconic GIFs of the last decade too.

Community wasn’t perfect; it stumbled a lot in later seasons to establish what it wanted to be and how to get there. But there is, perhaps, no other show that tried as hard as this one did to think outside of the box and boundaries of what a network sitcom could be. In the end, Community will always be a special, brilliant show.

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New Girl (Jenn)


Honestly, New Girl is one of the most iconic comedies of the last decade. Its ensemble-centric focus, recurring jokes and references (True American, anyone?), and focus on love and friendship makes it so significant. Additionally, behind the scenes, the fact that the show retained so many talented female writers and directors will always be admirable to me. New Girl, at its best, was a hilarious show about people living together who often had little to nothing in common. Jess was idealistic. Schmidt was materialistic. Nick was a slacker. Winston didn’t know who he was. Cece was tough.

But then the show decided to flip those stereotypes on their heads too. Schmidt could be sensitive and compassionate. Jess could be tough and fearless. Nick could be driven. Cece could be quirky. Winston could be... well, whatever Winston wanted to be! New Girl always did an incredible job of calling back jokes, displaying character growth, and proving that romance and comedy can always go hand-in-hand. Not much makes me cry as hard as that final game of True American. I’ll always be grateful for this beautiful gem of a comedy and count it as one of my “forever faves.”

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Jenn)


Few shows broke barriers in primetime comedy like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did. I’ve written about this show extensively and one of the things I keep coming back to is how brilliantly it discussed mental health and stigmatized issues with humor and grace and genuine respect. The amazing part of the series was that it was able to have those deep discussions within seemingly silly premises. There were musical homages aplenty, callbacks for days, and character growth that was immensely impressive. To see what Rachel Bloom could do with Rebecca Bunch makes me grateful that she won a Golden Globe for her performance; that woman deserved all the awards possible. Rebecca was such a complex, deep character and Rachel Bloom kept drawing from her time and time again.

I’ve rewatched various episodes and seasons of the show and I’m continually amazed by just how snappy, funny, and smart the comedy is. The music is extraordinary, and the story of a girl in love who comes to realize who she is and accept herself is one that deserved to be told. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend managed to mash up light and darkness, silly and serious, and humor and heart in a way that not many shows could. It was a brilliant musical adventure that will live on long beyond this decade.

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The Good Place (Deb)


I started watching The Good Place for two primary reasons, the first of which being that I had just lost Community the year before and there was a witty comedy-shaped hole in my soul that needed filling. The second reason was simply because I like Kristen Bell. The point is, watching The Good Place was an idle thing for me that I just kind of fell into with a shrug and a “I guess this’ll do.” I wasn’t eagerly awaiting the show’s premiere and, in fact, it was about halfway into its first season before my friend reminded me that I should probably check that show out since there was really nothing else on.

Even after I caught up with the episodes I missed, The Good Place hadn’t fully latched onto my heart. The next episode didn’t do it either, or the next, or the next. Not even the amazing twist in the finale of the first season totally cemented my love for the show, at least as far as I was aware — but then the second season rolled around, and suddenly I realized that I loved this show. When the second season was over, I realized I really, really loved this show. I even wrote about my love for this show here on Just About Write, in an article that mostly concerned itself with the astounding character-first writing the The Good Place focused on:
“Where other shows are straight lines, The Good Place is like a Spirograph drawing: constantly overlapping in different patterns to create a beautiful, unique whole. The more loops it makes, the stronger the design becomes, and the variations derive from the show’s focus not on the linear A-to-B success story, but on the intricacies of human behavior and the chaos that erupts from that.”
Since I wrote that post (just after the second season wrapped up) I’ve noticed a greater focus on the show’s larger philosophical ideas. Sticking to the Spirograph pattern metaphor, it’s as if the frame around a beautifully intricate drawing were removed to reveal an even larger pattern to which the first, smaller pattern belonged. The Good Place turned its story from a rather close-knit narrative about the only four real humans (plus a demon, plus a not-a-robot) in their world to a narrative about all humans. About what it means to be human. About how the fundamental point of humanity is to help each other, to improve each other, and to improve ourselves.

With incredible writing, acting, directing, and a large helping of honest-to-goodness heart, The Good Place hammers home the idea that we are all a part of the same incredible, complicated Spirograph pattern of life — that “We are not in this alone,” as Chidi put it — and it does so within a whimsical framework that makes its beats of philosophical thought and realness somehow more poignant. Despite the show’s propensity for irreverent silliness, it still manages to be reverent at all the right moments, pulled along by a thread of compassion and the idea that trying is always better than not trying. It is the anti-cynicism, the call to action for benevolence and empathy and constant improvement. It is nothing like I expected when I decided to watch halfway into its first season and it is everything I didn’t know I wanted from a TV show at this point in my life.

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Hannibal (Jaime)


On the surface, Hannibal should not be as good as it is. It’s the TV version of a popular film franchise, set before the first film and creating a storyline for two characters that is otherwise hinted at in both the film and Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon, but not seen. It would have been very easy for it to become another in a long string of NBC Thursday night dramas, with a case of the week format and shallow characters who feel like cardboard cutouts. But under the deep affection of showrunner Bryan Fuller, Hannibal immediately proved itself to be so much more.

The show follows Will Graham, an FBI profiler with the unique ability to put himself in the mindset of a killer and empathize with them in order to understand why they did what they did, and follow the steps backwards to catch them. His work takes a massive toll on his mental state, and he begins relying more and more on his psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a name that might be familiar even to non-fans. The series is dark and more often than not, brutal, with an unflinching look at madness and how easy it can be to succumb to the voices in your head. The true art of this show, and I would dare to call the entire show a work of art, is in its construction. Every week has a murder more grisly than the one previous, and yet, each crime scene (called a “tableau” by Bryan Fuller) is gorgeous to look at. Each aspect of every repulsive crime (and there are some repulsive things on this show that would feel much more at home on a paid cable network than on regular old NBC) is arranged artfully and cinematically, enticing the viewer to keep looking even though they want to look away.

That balance is the key to the whole show and permeates every aspect of it, including in the relationship between its two main characters, Will and Hannibal. It becomes harder and harder to watch as Hannibal’s psychological hold over Will grows, but it is impossible to look away.

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American Vandal (Jaime)


The mockumentary format was everywhere in the 2000s, and inspired some of the most iconic shows of recent years. The 2010s saw the rise of true crime documentaries, where filmmakers follow a crime and try to piece together evidence, often either to identify a suspect or clear an accused suspect’s name. But those shows don’t matter, because both formats were combined and perfected with American Vandal, which follows two high school students, Peter and Ben, aspiring filmmakers who begin making a documentary about a recent incident at their school, in which somebody spray painted a penis onto every teacher’s car. Dylan Maxwell, a burnout who would rather smoke pot with his friends and goof off in class than actually learn anything, is accused of the crime, and due to most teachers’ prejudice against him, he is expelled and facing criminal charges. The documentary hopes to explore the events of the spray painting incident, while seeking to humanize Dylan and prove whether or not he is actually guilty.

It’s one of the biggest tragedies of my life that Netflix only gave this show two seasons (the second sees Peter and Ben going undercover at another high school to investigate an incident in which cafeteria food was tainted and caused mass diarrhea). The concepts of both seasons are, at face value, solely comedic, paralleling every major breakthrough scene in true crime investigation shows. And this show is, without a doubt, one of the best comedies of the decade, if not ever. But as each season goes on, so much more is revealed. It aims to represent its teenage characters fairly and thoroughly, with ample time spent on characters’ insecurities and how they inform their actions. This show could not exist before this decade because the use of technology and how teenagers interact with technology is vital. One massively impressive sequence in season one uses snippets of character-recorded Snapchat videos to piece together the events of a party; small events in the background of one video prove to be hugely important in following the night’s progression, and the direction and production of this sequence is breathtaking. If you want to laugh, watch American Vandal. If you want to cry, watch American Vandal. If you want to watch the most accurate representation of youth today, watch American Vandal.

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One Day at a Time (Araceli)


Norman Lear has been at the helm of some of the most iconic and groundbreaking comedies in American history and, at 97 years old, he’s still making history. In 2016 he gave the go ahead to Gloria Calderon-Kellett and Mike Royce for a reimagining of the classic One Day at a Time, this time focused on a Cuban-American family. What makes this show comedy gold is not just that it took an old story and made it new or that it is one of a handful of shows in ALL of television focused on Latinos. I would even argue that the topical issues such as diversity, mental health, and LGBTQ+ rights aren’t totally what make this comedy so special. It is the fact that at its core, this is a show focused on a typical American family. That the Alvarez family happens to represent a high population of the country that has been severely underrepresented in mainstream television is whipped cream on this sundae. Said whipped cream comes in the form of the Spanish language and traditions that so naturally flow into the dialogue.

And Rita Moreno and Justina Machado are the cherries on top of this all! EGOT legend Moreno is comedy gold as the proud matriarch who never lets anyone forget that a) she is Cuban, b) she is still in her prime, and c) she is always right. As a single mom struggling with post-war anxiety and depression while trying to raise two teenagers with the constant influence of her own traditionalist, and fabulous, mother you can see the comedic frustration dripping off Machado in every scene.

The audience clearly agrees, since their vocal outrage at the show’s Netflix cancellation is the reason the show will be returning to Pop TV with new episodes in 2020!

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Arrow (Araceli)


The proof is in its fandom. Truly, and no offense to Game of Thrones fans, but you will find no more impassioned fandom out there than the superhero fandom. And DCTV has been very good to its fans over the years! When Smallville went off the air in 2011, DC fans might have been skeptical of bringing in a new hero so soon. But Marc Guggenheim and Greg Berlanti took the vigilante that is the Green Arrow and turned him into a beacon of hope so bright, Arrow turned out to be just the beginning. The little superhero show that could has burgeoned into an “Arrowverse” with a multitude of superheroes who represent the spectrum of color, creed, as well as sexual and gender identity.

While there will be many articles in the coming weeks praising the brilliant work of the show that started it all, I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out the Green Arrow himself, Stephen Amell. From the beginning, Amell has worked tirelessly on and off-screen to elevate the show. From his memorable fan convention appearances to his championing of guest and recurring stars alike, Amell has shown that a true hero’s work is not done when the cameras are on. It is the tireless work ethic, commitment, and appreciation for every single cast and crew member, creator, and fan that Amell has shown, which has made the difference between Arrow being a simple DC show, and the lasting legacy that it is.

What were some of YOUR favorite shows of the last decade? Sound off in the comments below!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Jenn’s Pick: 15 of My Favorite TV Characters in 2019 [Contributor: Jenn]

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2019 felt like a really long year and I’m not even entirely sure why, but I feel like I’m not alone in that feeling. Options for television shows have become eve more overwhelming in the wake of new streaming platforms like Disney+ and Apple TV+. In the new year, NBC will launch their own streaming service which will just add to the ever-growing list of services that people will have to pay for.

Nevertheless, since there are so many shows out there (and not enough time to watch them all in), I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite television characters this year. You’ll notice a pretty wide range of streaming services and platforms, and if you haven’t watched some of these, I recommend you do so in 2020!

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15. Emily Dickinson (Dickinson | Apple TV+)


Dickinson is a wild ride. It’s equal parts confounding and compelling, and a large part of that compelling part is Hailee Steinfeld’s portrayal of Emily Dickinson. She does such a wonderful job of balancing the modern-day slang and humor with genuinely heartbreaking moments. Even if I’m confused by what Dickinson was trying to accomplish, I know one thing for sure: the portrayal of Emily Dickinson as an eccentric, deeply loving, funny young author who wanted to make an impact on a world that didn’t welcome her was refreshing.

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14. Dex Parios (Stumptown | ABC)


I decided that when I heard Jake Johnson and Cobie Smulders would be cast in a television show together that I needed to watch it ASAP. Stumptown is a good fit for both actors but Cobie Smulders truly leans into the complexities of Dex Parios. Cobie’s got a knack for playing very subtle vulnerability, and while Dex has a tough exterior, we get to see cracks in her armor. She’s incredibly sweet and protective of her brother, whom she’d do anything for. She’s smart, but she’s been through a whole lot in her life and while she tries to keep the darkness at bay through distractions, she can’t always successfully do that. But Cobie Smulders conveys this complex, incredibly strong and stubborn woman.

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13. Casey Gardner (Atypical | Netflix)


Netflix recommended that I watch Atypical, and I managed to binge its three seasons quicker than I thought I would. The story follows Sam Gardner, a high-school student who’s on the spectrum, and his family. And while I’ve loved watching Sam’s growth over the years as he’s learned how to cope with change, fall in love, and grow, the character I’ve really been drawn to is Casey, Sam’s older sister. Casey initially comes across as brash and rude, sarcastic to her mom but way closer to her dad. She makes fun of Sam, takes food from him, and shoves him. But she also fights people who dare to make fun of his autism.

Over the seasons, what’s been most impressive is seeing Casey grow into who SHE is as a person. She’s spent so much of her life looking after Sam that she gets the opportunity to take care of herself. She’s fallen in love, and gets caught between feelings for her then-boyfriend and best girl friend. She goes to a new school and we see that Casey’s tough, but she’s a human just like the rest of us — afraid of people rejecting her, scared to be alone. I love Casey so much, especially in the moments where we see her love for her family and others on display (the soft side of Casey is one she hates showing but it’s there!), and can’t wait to see her grow more.

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12. Lexi (Modern Love | Amazon Prime)


Lexi was played brilliantly in Modern Love by Anne Hathaway, which is partly why I love this character so much. But I also really enjoyed how complex and real Lexi is. She wants love. She loves life. And then some days, she cannot move from her bed because of her bipolar disorder. She’s a deep, feeling, beautiful human being who — on those high-energy days — imagines musical numbers in grocery stores. Anne Hathaway’s depiction of Lexi breaking down in a diner though is by far the most compelling scene in her episode. Your heart aches for her to find someone to trust with her story and when she does, you feel relief. By the episode’s end, we get to see the hope that there is for Lexi: hope to journey toward healing, day by day.

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11. Susie Myerson (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel | Amazon Prime)


Admittedly, season three of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel bored me. But the one bright spot in the season was the character development of Susie Myerson. I love that the show relies on Alex Borstein’s impeccable comedic delivery to continue to evolve Susie’s personality. The reason why she’s one of my favorite characters this year isn’t because of her biting wit (though she does keep everyone in line), but because of the emotional development we saw in Susie’s character this year. She loves Midge, obviously, but Susie has her own battles to fight. She loses Midge’s money gambling. She has high hopes for Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch), who utterly disappoints her. She tries to protect Midge, tries to be a good manager, and tries to be someone people can rely on. But Susie’s breakdowns in the last few episodes really and truly made her so endearing and compelling. Your heart ached for her because beneath all the snark and sarcasm is a woman who truly cares about others and is trying her best.

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10. Steve Harrington (Stranger Things | Netflix)


Let’s talk about how Stranger Things managed to take the teenage antagonist from season one and turn him into the endearing, wonderful character he is in season three. After Steve spent so much of his time mothering Will and his friends, we got the chance to see the softer side of Steve — the one who mentors Dustin before he goes into the dance, and the one who spends most of his storyline in season three also with Dustin (and Erica). One of the great things though this season was Steve and Robin’s friendship. We had the opportunity to see Steve be his sarcastic self while also softening in honest conversations with her. Steve Harrington is just such a wonderful, fun, quotable TV character and I’m so glad he graced my TV again this summer.

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9. Ruth Wilder (GLOW | Netflix)


I’ll always love Alison Brie, and in GLOW she plays Ruth Wilder. Ruth is an ambitious actress and someone who genuinely loves her family of female performers. One of the most wonderful things about Ruth though is that she’s genuine. She makes mistakes and doesn’t always say or do the right thing, but she cares. She genuinely cares about the people around her. She cares about silly things too, like hotel hot chocolate with whipped cream. She cares about Sam. But she also has learned, over the course of the seasons, to care about herself. GLOW season three ends with Ruth doing the bold thing we haven’t seen her do yet — bet on herself. She doesn’t want to give up her dream of being an actress; she doesn’t want to settle for just “okay” or “good enough.” Debbie’s dreams aren’t her dreams and Ruth is courageous enough this year to walk away. That’s why I love her.

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8. Aziraphale and Crowley (Good Omens | Amazon Prime)


Was there a better duo on television this year than Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant) in Good Omens? I don’t think so. I couldn’t separate these characters from each other because while Sheen and Tennant are incredibly talented, the best parts of Good Omens featured them working together. Crowley is a snarky, cynical demon and Aziraphale is an optimistic angel. But, of course, these two characters become way more than their archetypes. Crowley has goodness and softness in him, and Aziraphale defies orders when he believes justice isn’t being served. Their friendship is so comedic but also endearing, as they clearly care about each other (and saving the world).

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7. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson (blackish and mixedish | ABC)


I’ve watched blackish for a while now, and was excited when ABC announced a prequel of sorts to that comedy, focusing on Rainbow Johnson’s childhood. The show, mixedish, shows what life is like for Bow and her siblings as they grew up mixed-race kids in the 80s. The show has the same kind of comedy, voiceover narration, and feel as blackish does which is why it works so well for me. And seeing how Rainbow grew up in the 80s makes me appreciate the character that we see in blackish in the present-day. I love Bow: she’s incredibly smart, a little weird, energetic, and a great mother. But watching Bow as a teenager (played wonderfully by Arica Himmel) gives me even more of an appreciation for her. We sympathize with her struggles at home and in school. Bow is so driven, optimistic, and hopeful and even when the world disappoints her, she chooses to get back up and try again. That’s what makes her so strong and important, as a teenager and as an adult.

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6. Rory, Emma, Amy, Sophie, and Graham (Single Parents | ABC)


As much as I love all of the adults on Single Parents, a “best of” character list this year wouldn’t be complete without the kids from the show. Each one brings something unique and hilarious to this ABC sitcom. Graham is just so quirky and fun, and his panic (specifically over Titanic being based on real-life events) moments are hilarious. Rory is just so great. His comedic beats, eccentric personality, and showstopping ensembles are great. Sophie is a bit of a wildcard, which is what I love about her. She’s often quiet and unassuming, the typical “good girl.” But she has moments where she’s more mature than some of the adults and some where she’s hyped up on sugar like the child she is. And then there are Amy and Emma, hilariously dry twins who love construction and snark at the adults in the most commendable way.

Single Parents is an absolute gem of a show, but it wouldn’t work as well as it did if the kids weren’t as great. Each of these child actors portraying the characters above does an incredible job of nailing comedic timing and emotional moments. Seriously, watch this show.

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5. Chidi Anagonye (The Good Place | NBC)


Chidi is so wonderful. This past year he chose to sacrifice himself for the sake of the neighborhood experiment, knowing there was no other way that the Soul Squad could have a chance at succeeding. That led to some incredibly emotional and heartfelt goodbyes (why doesn’t William Jackson Harper have awards?!), including an incredibly sad and romantic montage of moments between Eleanor and Chidi. Even though his weakness is his indecision, Chidi has grown so much over the course of the last few seasons. He’s become more confident, fell in love, and made decisions — including arguably one of the hardest anyone, even a good decision-maker would have to make. Chidi is just such an endearing character to watch grow and develop, and I can’t wait to see what the final episodes of The Good Place bring us.

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4. Alexis Rose (Schitt’s Creek | Pop TV)


One of the best parts of 2019 was everyone, including myself, getting into the delightful comedy Schitt’s Creek. Everywhere I turn, friends seem to be talking about how delightful the series is — and I agree! Though I love every character on this show (Patrick might be one of my favorites ever), Alexis holds a special place in my heart because of her growth. People underestimate her constantly. She’s always trying to prove that she belongs, even when she feels like she doesn’t. And she’s grown so much — in expressing vulnerability, in finding her place, in getting closer to her family and friends. Alexis is so underrated but she’s had an amazing character arc (and she’s just so fun too) that she deserved a place on my list this year.

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3. Fleabag (Fleabag | Amazon Prime)


When I heard the buzz around Fleabag, I had to check it out. The titular character is the very definition of complex — snarky, dark, and desperate for something. We don’t really get a sense of who Fleabag is or what she wants until the mystery surrounding her grief gets explored. But what brings this character and show to the top of everyone’s must-watch lists is how amazingly well Phoebe Waller-Bridge portrays a very deep, dark, dimensional character. I liked Fleabag in season one but the growth that her character displays in season two is just incredible. We watch Fleabag come to grips with guilt, process her emotions and responses, exhibit self-control, and fall in love. It’s a really satisfying journey to see unfold and she’s a dynamic character who deserves to be recognized for all of the intricacies and growth that make her Fleabag.

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2. The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda (The Mandalorian | Disney+)


I could talk for a few hundred words about how adorable Baby Yoda is (yes, I know, its name is “The Child” but we’re going with “Baby Yoda” throughout this piece), with his little coos and playing with buttons on a ship and sipping broth with the same level of intensity that Kermit sips tea. But I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll talk about how The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda are two of my favorite new characters this year because they work as a pair. Mando decided to rebel against orders and save Baby Yoda, which says a lot about him as a character. And even though we’ve never seen his face, Mando emotes in such a very tangible way that you feel what he’s feeling — fear, confliction, affection. It shouldn’t work but it does, mostly because of Pedro Pascal’s voice acting. Baby Yoda is already great because he’s adorable and powerful, and because he tries to protect Mando too! The Mandalorian is a series that’s a bit slower-paced than your traditional Star Wars fare, but it’s proving to be an emotional, dramatic ride with these characters.

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1. Rebecca Bunch (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend | The CW)


One of my absolute favorite character arcs this year was that of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch. In the show’s first season, Rebecca is obsessive and manipulative, lying to everyone around her in order to get what she wants: Josh Chan. But as the series unfolds, we learn that there’s a lot more that’s going on in Rebecca’s mind and life than we initially assume. In addition, as she begins to form close relationships with people around her, she starts to recognize patterns in her own life and behavior. It isn’t until Rebecca hits rock bottom though (a place of darkness and desperation that Rachel Bloom deserved all the awards for conveying) that we truly see her character arc start to swing upward permanently.

Rebecca begins taking medication for her borderline personality disorder (BPD). She goes to group therapy. She does workbooks. And while she occasionally slips into old patterns and routines, Rebecca’s commitment to her own personal growth and self-discovery is so beautiful. The series’ finale focuses on Rebecca answering the question of who she is. She’s spent so much of her life devoted to finding love and filling whatever is missing within her that she really hasn’t stopped to figure out exactly who she is. And when she finds her voice, literally and figuratively, there is nothing more satisfying or lovely.

Who were some of your favorite TV characters this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Everything We Know About the Arrowverse Crisis of Infinite Earths Crossover [Contributor: Araceli Aviles]


The excitement for the Arrowverse’s massive, movie-style crossover might be the most highly anticipated event in network television in recent years. That being said, if you’re as dedicated and detail-oriented a fan as I am, you’re probably massively overwhelmed, and confused, as to how all of this is going to play out. For every new nugget of information we’ve received, there are equal scores of questions fans need answered. Therefore, I have compiled a list of confirmed guest stars as well as the biggest questions fans want to know about how Crisis, and Arrow’s subsequent end, will affect this universe of heroes.

ALL THE PLAYERS


Count on the regular players on Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and Batwoman, to suit up, not all of whom will be donning their usual garb. It has been confirmed that Brandon Routh will be retaking his original superhero mantle as Superman for this crisis, which he originated in 2006’s Superman Returns. Only this time he will be known as Kingdom Come Superman.

Additionally, Arrow’s Audrey Marie Anderson will trade her power suit for her first supersuit, taking on the role of Harbinger. Not that we ever thought Lyla Michaels needed a costume to be amazing, but it’s still a treat!

Also reporting for Crisis duty:

  • Tyler Hoechlin as Clark Kent/Superman
  • Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane
  • Tom Welling as Clark Kent/Superman
  • Erica Durance as Lois Lane
  • LaMonica Garrett as the Monitor/Anti-Monitor
  • Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor
  • Cress Williams as Black Lightning
  • Tom Cavanagh as Pariah, a scientist with a direct connection to the Anti-Monitor.
  • Osric Chau as Ryan Choi, a new version of the The Atom
  • Kevin Conroy as Future Bruce Wayne/Rumored Kingdom Come Batman
  • Burt Ward in a yet undisclosed role/cameo

THE BIGGEST HANGING SWORDS


Both Arrow and The Flash have done an excellent job of setting up Crisis of Infinite Earths. This is particularly important because, more than anyone, both Oliver Queen and Barry Allen are under the impression that neither one of them will survive. But... do any of us really believe that? In addition to that hanging sword, here are a few other lingering questions that deserve answers by the end of Crisis:
  1. Can the effects of Crisis, such as the destruction of Earth-2 (and, as revealed in recent sneak peeks, Kryptonian refuge Argo) be reversed?
  2. How are Arrow’s 2040 characters involved in protecting their parents’ past, and how will the present-day ensemble react to their involvement?
  3. Can Nora Allen still be born/revived?
  4. Will the remaining Earths be merged, thus combining universes allowing for more cohesive crossovers post-Arrow?
  5. Will Black Lighting come on board for future crossovers upon Arrow’s end?
  6. Why was Supergirl, specifically, given no prior warning as to the crisis, given how the destruction of Argo kicks off her own personal devastation?
  7. How does the Monitor expect Lex Luthor to be the “hero” of this story?
  8. Was it always going to be Oliver’s choice to be the sacrificial lamb, or is there a larger cosmic destiny behind his impending death? Was this always his fate?
The most crucial detail to remember for the Crisis of Infinite Earths crossover? When it’s airing! Mark your calendars now. Crisis premieres in each Arrowverse starting tonight, and in the weeks to come as follows:

  • Sunday, December 8: Supergirl
  • Monday, December 9: Batwoman
  • Tuesday, December 10: The Flash
  • Tuesday, January 14: Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow
One piece of good news that we know for sure will come out of this crossover is that, by the end, we will have answers to almost every question we have, at least regarding Arrow. The end is nigh, my friends. And if we want some hope of light at the end of this tunnel, let us look to Marc Guggenheim’s final script pages for Arrow’s series finale: “Of possibility...”

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Flash 6x08 Review: "The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 2" (Prepping for Crisis) [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]


“The Last Temptation of Barry Allen, Pt. 2”
Original Airdate: December 3, 2019

In the last episode of The Flash before the entire DCTV multiverse has to face the big crossover Crisis and Barry is destined to die, Barry doesn’t even get to be Barry most of the time and poor Grant Gustin spends a lot of the episode with his teeth comically slathered in black ink. This also seems to close out the Ramsey/Bloodwork storyline, but I don’t buy that’s actually the case — the writers have probably just learned its lesson about having crossover shenanigans while the season’s villain is still running around Central City.

EVEN MORE DARK MATTER ZOMBIES


Starting where we left off, Team Flash sans the Flash is dealing with the aftermath of a Barry gone dark. Thankfully, Cisco seems to already have a fix in mind: a photon blast that could disrupt Ramsey’s influence. Unfortunately, it involves shooting radiation at Barry and Iris isn’t so keen on the idea. There’s a lot of Cisco/Iris stuff in this episode, which is a nice change of pace and something I’d like to see more of in the future.

Communications have gone down all over Central City as part of Ramsey’s plan to sow fear and, in doing so, make it possible for him to convert everyone into zombies, which we’re now calling “blood brothers” I guess? I don’t like that name, so I think I’ll stick with dark matter zombies. The team is split off into groups: Cecile with Kamilla trapped in Cecile’s office building, Joe being CCPD captain out in the field, Nash Wells down in those tunnels talking to a wall, etc. The disconnected cast lends itself to the chaotic nature of a town overrun by Bloodwork’s zombies and, of course, Barry isn’t around to act as Team Leader and pull everyone together.

I suppose this meant to be a hint at what the team without the Flash in a crisis would be like, but... Barry was in the Speed Force for months just a couple seasons back, remember? The team — and the city — has already experienced life without the Flash and, while members of the team didn’t personally or emotionally deal with the loss all that well, it’s not as if things fell into chaos. Is it different because Barry is supposed to be dead forever after Crisis hits? Is it different because there’s a sense of expectation for his loss, while Barry stepping into the Speed Force before was done on a whim? It’s almost like the writers realized that, oh wait, we should’ve really wrung out more drama from that whole Barry-being-gone thing, let’s just do it over.

Anyway, Iris tries to get through to Barry as his wife and the love of his life, but the Bloodwork control is too strong. Then Cisco tries his experimental device on Ramsey but Barry interrupts by zooming into him and destroying the device. After this, Ramsey’s evil plan is revealed: he wants to use the particle accelerator to spread his infection with another explosion. Just after Ramsey-as-Barry woke up last episode, he hacked the particle accelerator to explode, so now it’s prepped to make dark matter zombies out of everyone.

Iris and Cisco are sad about their losing plans and while Iris is still relatively optimistic, Cisco is being a real downer until he Cisco recalls Ramsey saying he “knew [he] picked the right guy,” echoing the exact same words Barry said to Cisco about leaving Cisco in charge. Dark Flash also told Iris that he was “coming home,” which is another Barry-specific reference. They determine that Barry, though he’s being controlled by Ramsey, is finding a way to get messages to the two of them.

Just as this epiphany is happening, Dark Barry tells them to “let the light in,” which Iris and Cisco take to mean that Barry wants through the defenses put up around S.T.A.R Labs and to use Allegra (who seems to have been unceremoniously brought into the Team Flash fold over the course of figuring out secret identities one by one) and her UV powers against Bloodwork.

Barry, Ramsey, and a horde of Bloodwork zombies enter S.T.A.R Labs. Allegra will use her UV powers to spread the antidote of Bloodwork’s “lifeblood,” which is a really gross name by the way, by attaching it to the explosion Ramsey set into motion.

There’s a standoff outside the Pipeline, with Ramsey telling mind-controlled Barry to kill Iris. The power of love is stronger than the power of fear-based dark matter goo, though, and Barry resists. Iris snatches up a gun and, while she doesn’t kill Ramsey, there’s enough distraction for the UV plan to proceed. When the particle accelerator explodes, it sends a wave of zombie-healing throughout the city.

Ramsey escapes, pursued by a Barry with newly restored free will, and Bloodwork changes from mildly gross to a full-on monster. It seems like Ramsey’s about to land a killing blow on the Flash when suddenly Ramsey’s late mother appears and chastises him for turning all evil. Barry brought her out of Ramsey’s mind when he got infected. I’m... not sure how that works, but fine. How is Barry projecting her, though? Wait — no. I’m not going to ask questions; this show won’t ever answer them. So, yeah, Ramsey returns to his more natural state of not a monster, not a goo-covered evil entity, long enough to tell his mom that he just wanted to help everyone.

While the enemy is distracted by this heartwarming reunion from beyond the veil, Barry speeds Ramsey into the containment cell where they’d kept Chester P. Runk while he was coming down from his mind-meld with a black hole. He’s stored there until getting transferred into ARGUS custody and, like I said, I’m assuming we’ll be seeing Ramsey/Bloodwork again some point after the Crisis crossover is done. Then again, his whole purpose was to act as a less healthy mirror to Barry dealing with mortality, so maybe (hopefully) the show will just do what I’ve been wanting it to do and split the season into two villain arcs, thereby skirting around the awful pacing problems that come when the writers try to stretch a storyline over more than twenty episodes.

Frost hands control over to Caitlin so she can be with the team for “whatever Crisis is about to bring.” Everyone seems to just be counting down the seconds until Crisis begins. We get some reminiscing about how great Barry is while Barry gets all teary-eyed, and part of this seems like a summarization of all the weird stuff in the multiverse. Cisco even brings up the “good old days” before Flashpoint and time travel — so will the Crisis crossover event reflect the plot of the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book run and clean up some of the complications in the Arrowverse?

A red light looms on the horizon. Barry and Iris look at each other, nod, and seem ready to face whatever’s coming together.

Other Things:

  • Boy, Ramsey sure skipped over the ugly black-stained teeth small print during his temptation of Barry last episode.
  • Why are Barry’s fingers black OVER his costume gloves?
  • Meanwhile, Nash Wells gets sucked into a wall. I sure hope that character has a point after Crisis, because he’s seemed entirely superfluous to the actual The Flash universe.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Jenn’s Pick: 10 Things to Watch on Disney+ This Month [Contributor: Jenn]


When Disney+ launched, millennials everywhere lost entire days of productivity as we dove headfirst into the Disney vault and relived our childhoods by watching every Disney Channel Original Movie (or DCOM, as we know it) we could get our hands on. We reveled in the new content, too. And if you’re anything like me, you probably began stacking your queue with as much nostalgia and newness as you could find.

Since December kicks off holiday season, you’re probably already in the midst of prepping for vacations and family gatherings. If you’re in need of some fun content to watch on your days off, I’ve got you covered. This is a personal list of favorites — a mix of 90s and current programming — and contains some stuff you can watch any time of the year, as well as some holiday-specific programming I think you might enjoy.

Sit back, relax, and let’s talk about ten things you should watch this month on Disney+.

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10. I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998)


Remember when Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the “it” guy of primetime TV? He charmed as a teenage heartthrob and the sarcastic son on Home Improvement. But he also starred in an incredibly cheesy, fun Disney classic: I’ll Be Home for Christmas. The plot is as follows: Jake (Thomas) is a college student in California who has a strained relationship with his dad. He hasn’t been home to New York for Christmas since his mother died and his dad got remarried. But this Christmas, Jake’s dad promises that if he’s home by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, he’ll get a vintage Porsche.

Jake weighs his options and decides to go to New York, with his girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel) set to accompany him. After Jake gets accosted by his college nemesis and left in the desert with nothing on him but a Santa suit, Jake has to find his way home for Christmas. Shenanigans obviously ensue!

I’ll Be Home for Christmas is cheesy in the way that 90s movies were always meant to be cheesy. They’re often unrealistic and silly, but still heartwarming. This one works because Jonathan Taylor Thomas always had a knack for making absurd comedies and situations work, so if you’re looking for a 90s Christmas movie, this one fits the bill!

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9. Tru Confessions (2002)


I talk about this DCOM as often as I can because it’s one that incredibly moved me as a kid. But not many people have heard of it or watched it and that’s a shame. The plot: Trudy “Tru” Walker (Clara Bryant) is a teenager who aspires to be a filmmaker. She has a twin brother with autism named Eddie (Shia LaBeouf) whom she has a complicated relationship with. He often acts like a child and while Tru feels protective of Eddie, she’s also frustrated by how he’s treated by others and how he’s favored by her mother over her. Tru decides to create a documentary about her life, which obviously includes seeing the world from Eddie’s perspective. The movie is a look at the complex and emotional family dynamics that take place when a child is atypical.

Although, ideally, in 2019 this movie would be cast differently by using an actor who actually is autistic, as a child I was impressed with Shia LaBeouf’s portrayal of Eddie. Bear in mind that around this time he was still playing the slacker/goofball Louis Stevens on Even Stevens. So to see him switch into a serious role was an adjustment, albeit a good one. One of the most powerful scenes in this movie to me, to date, is when Eddie gets lost in a library. It broke me as a kid to watch that scene, and it’s still emotional as an adult.

If you’re looking for a DCOM that’s a little less widely known or talked about, check Tru Confessions out. A lot of DCOMs were fun, silly, hijinks-filled, but this one is deeply thought-provoking and emotional. And sometimes you just need that kind of movie.

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8. Zootopia (2016)


Zootopia is such an underrated Disney movie, in my opinion. Like Inside Out (which I highly recommend as well), it managed to tackle some pretty big topics with ease, humor, and understanding. Zootopia’s main focus is on discussions of bias and prejudice but it does so in such a brilliant way. Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is the first bunny on the police force. She wants to make a difference in the world, is bright and idealistic, and also exuberant. Then Judy meets a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Although these two live in a world where animals talk, have jobs, etc., prejudices still run deep. Judy was always taught to fear predators (since she’s prey), and was given fox spray by her parents before leaving home.

When something begins to happen to the animals in Zootopia that turns them “savage” (they begin acting like animals in our world would), Judy and Nick decide to investigate and eventually learn about each other and the world around them. What makes this film so brilliant is its ability to portray bias and prejudice to children in an accessible format. It’s got brilliant jokes and references, meta humor, an incredible voice cast (featuring Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, J.K. Simmons, and more), and emotional beats that are really earned.

Zootopia is a delightful buddy-cop-style animated comedy and definitely is a must watch.

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7. Noelle (2019)


This Disney+ original debuted with the platform’s launch and while I was initially skeptical about just how cheesy it would be, I have to say that I was incredibly surprised with how sweet and delightful it was. Of course, Anna Kendrick utterly sells any and everything that she stars in, which certainly helped anchor the film. Noelle is the story of Noelle Kringle (Kendrick), who grew up as the daughter of Santa Claus himself, Kris Kringle. Noelle’s role in the family was never going to be to take up the mantle of Santa though — that role was designated to her brother, Nick (Bill Hader). Noelle decides to help Nick prepare to become Santa Claus but unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be getting the hang of things. But when Noelle tells him to clear his head, she doesn’t anticipate what follows: Nick disappears. It’s up to her to find him and bring him back to the North Pole so he can fulfill his duty before Christmas!

What makes Noelle such a sweet and fun comedy is two-fold: there’s an earnest, emotional core in Anna Kendrick. She sells both the fish-out-of-water comedy tropes when Noelle visits the United States and the emotional heart of Noelle longing to do something important with her life. The supporting cast is great though, too, which really helps bolster the comedy. I adore Bill Hader, and Billy Eichner and Shirley MacLaine shine as well.

The end result is a movie that’s earnest. It’s a little predictable, but not cringeworthy. It’s cute, fun, and contains the perfect amount of heart. Add Noelle to your watchlist this holiday season!

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6. Dan in Real Life (2007)


While Steve Carell was playing Michael Scott on The Office (a role he made memorable and entirely his own) he also played a widower and romantic lead in the rom-com, Dan in Real Life. Not many people talk about this movie but it’s one of my favorites because of the way it weaves an overarching family story with a romantic one.

Dan (Carell) is a widower, father of three daughters, and an advice column writer. He and his daughters take a trip to Rhode Island for a family gathering. While at a bookstore there, Dan meets and seems to have a connection with a woman (Juliette Binoche), only to discover later on that she’s his brother Mitch’s (Dane Cook) girlfriend. The rest of the movie, as you might assume, is what happens after that. In addition to being a story about Dan and Marie’s budding connection, Dan in Real Life spends a lot of time focusing on family — both Dan’s complicated relationship with his daughters in the wake of his wife’s death and also Dan’s relationship to his brothers (another brother is played by Norbert Leo Butz) and parents (played by John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest).

This movie is worth watching just for the fact that Steve Carell sings in it, and also because it’s so tonally different from what he was doing in The Office at the time. It’s a cute, quiet comedy about love and the complexities of life and I definitely recommend watching it!

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5. Newsies: The Broadway Musical (2017)


There are two different versions of Newsies available to watch on Disney+ but if you’re a fan of Broadway musicals, like I am, give this version a chance. The musical is based on the 1992 movie of the same name, and follows the story of Jack Kelly (Jeremy Jordan) and “newsies” — kids who are mostly orphaned and sell newspapers to survive. But when the cost of newspapers goes up (because the New York World wants to outsell their competitors), the newsies band together to protest and strike the World. They’re aided by a budding journalist named Katherine (Kara Lindsay) who becomes Jack’s love interest throughout the show.

What’s fun about watching Newsies: The Broadway Musical is that you’re watching a stage performance with the original Broadway cast. Jeremy Jordan is absolutely astounding, and his voice will always be able to melt a little piece of my soul. The choreography for Newsies and its set design are just so much fun. If you’re not rocking out to “Seize the Day,” then something might very well be wrong with you.

So if you’re looking for something a little fun and different to break up your traditional movie/TV show combination on Disney+, check out this stage musical!

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4. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)


I definitely remember owning The Muppet Christmas Carol on VHS as a kid. Honestly, it’s probably my favorite retelling of A Christmas Carol, mostly because it combines some meta/fourth wall breaking humor with a classic Christmas story. And it’s got the Muppets in it!

In this version, Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Michael Caine but if that doesn’t sell you, then perhaps the fun additions to the film, like the songs “One More Sleep ‘til Christmas” and “Bless Us All” will. I think everyone knows the plot of A Christmas Carol, so there’s no need for me to recap it here. But if you’ve never seen this version, I definitely recommend it — especially if you have kids. It’s a fun little take on a familiar story and warrants a watch (or rewatch) this Christmas season.

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3. Big Hero 6 (2014)


While I often see people post GIFs of Baymax, I don’t often hear people talk about Big Hero 6 as a film overall. It’s such a wonderful story with some really powerful lessons in there for kids (and adults too) about anger, loss/grief, and forgiveness. Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a teenager and robot prodigy living in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. He’s a little bit rebellious, choosing to use his talents to battle robots. His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) and he are close, and his brother encourages Hiro to enroll in the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology and use his talents for good. Hiro does manage to build microbots, tiny robots that can bond together to accomplish things. Unfortunately after Hiro showcases these robots, an explosion erupts and Tadashi perishes in the fire.

After Tadashi’s death, Hiro discovers the project his brother was working on — an inflatable healthcare robot named Baymax. Together, the two embark on an adventure that eventually ropes in Tadashi’s friends and classmates too. Big Hero 6 is such a wonderful film, for numerous reasons. First of all, it features so many wonderful cast members and voices including but not limited to Damon Wayans Jr., Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, Alan Tudyk, and T.J. Miller. In addition to the stellar cast, the story is really compelling and relatable. Understandably, Hiro spends a lot of the episode wanting to avenge Tadashi’s death. He’s grieving and angry and he wants to use those feelings to hurt the people who took his brother from him. But Baymax — such a wonderful, emotional character — truly makes an impact in Hiro’s life and the lives of the people around him.

If you haven’t yet watched this movie, definitely do so. And maybe bring a box of tissues if you cry easily.

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2. Never Been Kissed (1999)


I first watched Never Been Kissed at a sleepover. It’s been one of my favorite underrated rom-coms ever since. The plot is so 90s that it’s perfect: A 25-year old copyeditor named Josie (Drew Barrymore) gets the chance to do an undercover assignment posing as a high-school student. As someone who was wildly unpopular back then, Josie gets the chance to have a do-over — to shake the insecurities from her past off. At first, she struggles to become popular. But then her brother Rob (David Arquette) helps coach her... and eventually poses as a high-school student himself. As Josie continues to form relationships at school, she begins to have feelings for the English teacher, Sam (Michael Vartan). What ensues is obviously hijinks, tropes, and revealed secrets.

The thing that makes Never Been Kissed so great is the earnest portrayal of Josie by Drew Barrymore. A lot rides on rom-com leads and she always delivers in spades. You really feel for Josie when she’s found out, and you root for her because she just wants to have what everyone else does: real love. The supporting cast in this movie is also just so dang great: John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon are fabulous, and the fact that Jessica Alba plays a popular mean girl is a lot of fun.

Drew Barrymore and Michael Vartan have fantastic chemistry (why wasn’t he the lead in more rom-coms than just this and Monster-in-Law?!), and if you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend you do!

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1. The Mandalorian (2019)


Yes, I know that this is a series (and the only series represented on this list), but it’s becoming one of my favorites. The Mandalorian is part of the Star Wars universe so if you’re unfamiliar with it, you probably will be more confused than anything. But for someone like me who’s familiar enough, this is probably right up your alley. The entire first season will be on Disney+ by December 27, when the season finale airs, but I recommend watching weekly if you can. The Mandalorian is a little bit of a slower series — it’s less about action and more about traipsing the galaxy.

The plot? The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is a bounty hunter, traversing the galaxy for his next mission. He finds one and is set to deliver... until he sees his mark, referred to as “The Child.” Now he and The Child are on the run through the universe, encountering obstacles, fighting monsters, and saving some helpless people along the way.

A lot of people who criticize The Mandalorian do so by saying that it’s “slow.” And yes, it’s got a bit of a smoother pace than most things in the Star Wars franchise, but that’s not a bad thing. This is a “space Western,” which means that fight scenes move quickly and everything in between those scenes is slower-paced storytelling. Genuinely though The Mandalorian is great fun — it’s comedic without being over-the-top cheesy. Its comedy fits right into the Star Wars universe perfectly.

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And you’ve probably seen Baby Yoda (what many of us call “The Child”) pop up all over the internet recently. And that’s because Baby Yoda is so gosh darn cute that we can’t help ourselves. The dynamic between the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda is adorable. He’s serving as the little one’s adopted parent, and the show spends a lot of time reminding us of their cute little dynamic. This isn’t something the Mandalorian necessarily wanted, but he chose to save Baby Yoda because something within him knew it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t let people hurt or use his powers.

I’m interested to continue to learn more about the Mandalorian’s past (we’ve gotten hints of it here and there), but I can honestly say that Pedro Pascal is doing such great work emoting with just his voice since the Mandalorian never takes off his helmet. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you’re probably already watching it. But if for some reason you’re not, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s fun, good storytelling. And again... Baby Yoda.

What do you plan to check out this holiday season on Disney+? Sound off in the comments below and let us know what we should watch too!

Monday, December 2, 2019

How Mike Schur and J.J. Philbin Became My New TV Power Couple [Contributor: Jenn]


I’m a sucker for TV comedies.

For a long time, I couldn’t even name five dramas I watched on a consistent basis. Life is often too dark, unpredictable, and disappointing and dramas just emphasized that. Comedies provide the sort of escapism and sweetness that we need in a world that is growing more and more heartbreaking by the day. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a slight trend emerging in some of my favorite TV comedies: they feature the writing, EP, or other behind-the-scenes presence of either Mike Schur or J.J. Philbin.

Parks and Recreation was the comedy of optimism — a show defined by the love the characters had for each other (as well as their quirks). New Girl was a feel-good, slapstick show about friendship and relationships. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an ensemble series that leans heavily into the theme of found family. Single Parents is a heartwarming, funny show about raising kids with the help of your “village,” and The Good Place is a wonderful gem of a comedy series raising big questions and providing even bigger payoff.

All of the series above have the influence of either Mike Schur or J.J. Philbin — who are, if you hadn’t already guessed it, married. So what is it that makes these two writers and creators so special? I think it’s their consistent drive to create content that is poignant, emotional, and uplifting.

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TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK


You’ll notice that each of the series I mentioned above is truly an ensemble sitcom. I love that Schur and Philbin have really brought their hearts and humor to this sub-genre. The Good Place is such a great example of this. It’s a show that hinges on some pretty big, deep concepts — the afterlife, philosophy, how to become a good person, theology, ethics. And yet, this is a comedy. Morality is a main character, but the true comedy and heart of the series comes from the interaction between Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Michael, and Janet. Mike Schur took a show whose primary concept is so deeply serious and turned it into a bright spot in the TV landscape. The writers and producers on The Good Place recognized that the show’s plot was the afterlife but its main purpose was to showcase real, flawed, funny human beings. When the show works well, it focuses on the hilarity that can ensue when we clash with each other because of our fundamentally different upbringings and wiring.

Ensemble comedies that are positive and hopeful focus on the ways we clash with each other, but ultimately, they work because they emphasize our similarities and love for each other. There are numerous comedies that forgo hopefulness in favor of cynicism, but honestly I feel like it’s important that Schur and Philbin don’t lean too heavily into the darkness; life is messy and broken but also there is good in the world. It’s nice to be reminded of that every once in a while, and it’s nice to be validated in celebrating the hope.

While all of the Schur/Philbin comedies are real (meaning that they deal with some heavy issues including, but not limited to, racial profiling, death, divorce, morality, etc.), they also allow us to remind ourselves of the good in humanity. Too much of life is centered on darkness. People can be cruel, and people can be awful. Bad things happen every single day. Comedies in the Schur/Philbin universe don’t willfully ignore the bad things. That would be absurd. Instead, they reframe the bad with a lens of goodness. What if there is, indeed, bad in the world? But what if there is also love? And friendship? And hope, against all odds? What if there is change and reform when the good guys win?


Just like Mike Schur enjoys ensemble comedies, so does J.J. Philbin. If you compare New Girl and Single Parents, you’ll find that both are ensemble series where the emphasis on “found family” (a theme that runs pretty heavily through Schur AND Philbin’s shows) means hilarious shenanigans, misunderstandings, fights, and ultimately support. In New Girl, Schmidt would annoy his roommates, act like a jerk, and yet eventually he’d recognize his wrongdoings and be forgiven. In Single Parents, Douglas is the seemingly curmudgeonly one of the parent group but has a soft heart. Both shows focus on characters who are optimists and some who are pessimists.

What makes these comedies so wonderful is that they have a balance of all kinds of characters. That leads to comedy, tension, and also a whole lot of silliness. New Girl and Single Parents operate on the same wavelength of comedy, focusing on how people can turn insignificant things into high-stakes shenanigans. Everyone has their quirks, and everyone has things that press their buttons. What makes comedy tick is the balance between individual storylines and overarching narratives.

Ensemble comedies are tough to navigate because, by their nature, they require focus on the group as a whole as well as dynamics between individual characters. But Schur and Philbin’s shows have always managed to strike that balance with relative ease. It’s impressive how well Parks and Recreation was executed, given the fact that there were ten major characters throughout the majority of the series to juggle. Single Parents is currently a cast of five adults and five children. But both shows manage to balance the important overarching story (the love these characters have for each other) with fun storytelling dynamics (personally I always loved the Ron/April stories in Parks and Rec, and I adore Will/Angie stories in Single Parents).

I’m consistently impressed by how well the shows in the Schur/Philbin universe make the characters their first priority. It’s something that makes their comedies so significant, memorable, and funny.

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ROMANCE DOESN’T KILL COMEDY IN THE SCHUR/PHILBIN UNIVERSE 


A lot of television creators have talked over the years about romance as it relates to their shows. (And, fun fact, so have I!)

In our digital era, “shipping” is more prevalent than ever and, unfortunately, a lot of writers decide to dangle will-they-won’t-they relationships with no intention of following through simply to bait their audience. They worry that putting a couple with romantic tension together will erase the excitement and comedy from their shows. But in trying to avoid romance, shows often stumble into the ironic problem that shows NEED romance to survive; to be fully alive and human means that you experience all ranges of emotions and feelings. It means you love, you lose, and sometimes you just have to talk about feelings.

What I’ve always admired about shows in the Schur/Philbin universe is that they don’t seem to view romance as a stumbling block or erasure of comedy. In fact, they seem to view it the exact opposite: as a way to make their shows more relatable and funny. A primary example of this is Ben and Leslie’s romance on Parks and Recreation. While the show wrote in tension between the two and threw obstacles in the way of them being together, once the show committed to the pairing, they did so wholeheartedly. There was no reason for the writers to try and tear the two apart anymore — the comedy from Ben and Leslie’s relationship didn’t derive from their demise; the show realized that the two were fundamentally different and therefore funny on their own.


There’s a difference between tension and denial, and when writers are in tune with the characters they create, romance can make shows better. The key takeaway is that part about understanding the characters though. A lot of showrunners and writers place their own desires above the needs of their characters. They forgo plot development and characterization, deciding to break up couples just because they’re bored or cannot find a creative way to keep the relationship interesting. And, unfortunately, that can lead to character assasination and a general demise. I’ve watched numerous shows succumb to these issues. But a show that never really did in the Philbin-verse is New Girl. While J.J. Philbin wasn’t the creator of New Girl, she was a writer and consulting producer for the series. From the beginning of the show, it was clear that there was some sort of romantic tension between Nick and Jess. But it wasn’t until season two that the writers acted on that tension, and the pair kissed in “Cooler,” then proceeded to date throughout the next season or so.

When Nick and Jess broke up in season three, many fans were concerned that criticism over the pairing’s focus, and the romance itself, “ruined” the series. While that was untrue, it wasn’t unheard of for writers and audience members alike to draw that kind of conclusion. Nick and Jess eventually reunited by the season six finale, and the significance of that is not lost on me. The writers didn’t reunite their couple immediately, instead giving them each the character growth necessary to become the kind of people who were ready for each other the second (and final) time around. New Girl did a fantastic job showcasing Jess pining for Nick — something usually reserved for male romantic leads — and it’s only because she acknowledged her feelings, processed them, and asked for help from her friends that she became a better version of Jessica Day. Nick, similarly, had to grow too; instead, he was grown through a relationship with someone else. He learned how to be a better boyfriend, and he learned to be a better best friend. If Nick and Jess hadn’t spent crucial time apart, they wouldn’t have been better together.

Nick and Jess didn’t break up for petty reasons, and the writers of the show didn’t separate them because romance kills comedy or dragged the show down.

Writers who understand their characters know that romance elevates the humanity of any comedy or drama, and good romance requires an acute understanding of the characters to work.

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Mike Schur and J.J. Philbin both love the will-they-won’t-they pairings (Nick/Jess, Leslie/Ben, Jake/Amy, Will/Angie, Chidi/Eleanor, Schmidt/Cece), but you’ll notice that all of those pairings have one thing in common: the writers esteem the individual characters and they know great storytelling is built from organic conflict. Those characters clash even in love because some of them are idealists paired with realists or pessimists. Jake and Amy are seeming opposites, but they are both passionate people who express their passion in very different ways (shenanigans vs. structure). Will Cooper in Single Parents is the softest, most energetic person; Angie is tough and has trouble dealing with emotions.

Characters deserve to grow within romantic relationships on television shows. And one thing is sure: I’m incredibly grateful for the Schur and Philbin, because their shows are always willing to put in that work.

A NEW DECADE OF THE SCHUR/PHILBIN UNIVERSE


As we prepare to enter 2020 soon, I’m excited for more opportunities to watch Mike Schur and J.J. Philbin shine. They’re working on shows that are consistently highlighting optimism, friendship, and love. I feel like I say it every year, but life is dark; we need their comedy now more than ever. And what can we learn from these two executives and writers? We can learn that love is hard but it’s worth pursuing. We can learn that our coworkers can become our closest friends — and even our family.

And, finally, we can learn that life is messy, but it’s always and only better with others.

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Community Rewatch Podcast is Here! [Contributor: Jenn]


It's been a while since we visited Greendale Community College, but all of that is about to change. We've officially launched the Communtity Rewatch Podcast! Right now it's available to listen to on Spotify. Be sure to follow us there so that you're the first to know when new episodes drop.

Community aired on NBC a little over 10 years ago, and yet it's still one of the most impactful shows for many people, including us. The homages, jokes, and tone of the show informed a lot of what followed in pop culture. And while yes, the show did stumble a bit in its later years, one of the best things it taught us all was how to love something that was flawed.

You can listen to and follow the podcast below. Stay tuned for more episodes soon!