Sunday, January 19, 2020

An Interview With Your Favorite Arrow Guru and Fan: Jen! [Contributor: Jenn]

(Jen and Jenn!)

It’s amazing how a seemingly insignificant event or experience can bring two people together. For me, that was the television show, Arrow. Once upon a time (back when I still watched the show), I reviewed the hit CW superhero series. Unbeknownst to me at the time, a prominent Tumblr reviewer followed along with my reviews. Eventually, she reached out to me and we started following each other on social media.

Flash forward a few years and Jen (also known as @jbuffyangel to most of you) has become one of my favorite people and, as we like to refer to ourselves, a “soul sister.” Our friendship has evolved beyond just talking about television or shipping, though that is still something we do. We’ve met numerous times. I’ve spent time with her daughter. We’ve adventured through Comic-Con together. And she’s been the person I’ve called to have hours-long conversations with after break-ups, friend drama, and various life experiences. She’s one of the most loyal and thoughtful people. And as the television show that brought us together wraps up soon for good, I thought it would be fun to do a little interview with one of my favorite friends.

Check out what Jen had to say about Arrow, Olicity, and more!

How did you first get into Arrow? And what made you want to start reviewing it?

Jen: I saw the promo the CW aired — the one with all of Stephen’s abs on the salmon ladder. I wish my reasoning for checking it out had more depth, but it was pretty much ABS. My husband gave me a crash course in the Green Arrow comics when I told him I was going to watch the pilot. He said Oliver Queen was like Batman, but he killed people. I am a massive Batman fan, so that also was a key selling factor. See, I found one more thing! (It was still mostly the abs though.)

Then I watched the pilot and it was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Oliver’s traumatic backstory with his father was incredible, I loved the idea of the flashbacks, and the action scenes were insane. I insisted my husband watch it and he was blown away. Slowly, it became our favorite show.

The most frustrating aspect of Arrow in season one is the romance with Laurel and Oliver. I could never get past Oliver cheating on Laurel with her sister. In shows, I try to get on board with the couple the pilot foreshadows as endgame (I call them the Plan A couples). My husband told me it was Green Arrow and Black Canary in the comics. I loved the idea of these two characters coming together romantically as they evolved as superheroes via an origin story, but the execution was just YUCKY. Plus Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy had no chemistry.

Then the wonderful Felicity Smoak was introduced in episode three. Stephen Amell’s iconic smile during that scene made me think, “Oh, there you are Oliver.” Oliver was kind of a robotic jerk the first couple episodes. I knew he was a good person who suffered a lot and was emotionally shut down because of it, but I couldn’t really see “superhero.” Felicity bringing out his smile connected the dots for me emotionally.

As Oliver and Felicity’s relationship progressed, I became more and more obsessed. After 2x23 aired, I couldn’t stop talking about Arrow with my husband. He begged me to start a blog because he thought I had good ideas people would enjoy and also... I was driving him crazy. Five years later, here we are!

The reviews are primarily for my sanity. I have so many thoughts buzzing around in my head after watching an Arrow episode that I have to purge them or I can’t sleep. I started my blog the summer before season three premiered. I wrote metas during the summer so when the show premiered, I decided to give reviews a try. It still boggles my mind that anyone reads them.

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Your reviews are always so thorough and detailed! Walk me through the process of how you write them.

I love how you describe my crazy dissertation length reviews as thorough and detailed. That’s very nice of you. Back in the beginning, I would watch an episode, sit down, and write through the night. I have almost a photographic memory when it comes to television and movies. I wish my brain was like that with math, but sadly it’s not. If I watch something once, I can recall it pretty easily. Now that I’m live-tweeting, I have to watch the episode again because I typically miss something as I tweet.

Something I’m told often when people meet me is that I write how I speak. I always try to inject some humor into the reviews with reaction GIFs. Bad Arrow episodes afford excellent opportunities for humorous reactions. If I don’t like the episode then at least I can enjoy making fun of it.

The Olicity fandom is blessed to have amazing GIF makers and they’ve been incredibly generous allowing me to use GIFs in my reviews. When I analyze a scene, I like to include the GIFs so people can see and recall what I’m talking about.

I was an English minor in college so I’ve read a lot of books and studied literary analysis for years — even as far back as high school. It’s one of my passions and Arrow uses a lot of symbolism in their show. Also, I can pretty much tie anything back to Greek mythology, which is another area Arrow borrows heavily from. I am Catholic, so I also enjoy examining the spiritual side stories. I often include personal details of my life to highlight the message I think an episode is trying to share. All of this goes into how I interpret an episode and the pages and pages of thoughts that come spilling out.

A typical review can take me anywhere from six to 15 hours to write and GIF, maybe longer if it’s a big Olicity episode. They are labors of love. And, of course, they are my special brand of crazy because nobody in their right mind spends that long writing television reviews.

What have been some highlights for you as you’ve been involved in this fandom (either the Arrow fandom or the sub-fandom of Olicity) over the years?

The best part of fandom is the amazing people I’ve met because we all share a passion for this show. Arrow has brought some of the kindest, funniest, most loyal and compassionate people I’ve ever known into my life. I met my friendship soul mates through this show and that’s a gift that will continue long after Arrow is on the air.

I’ve been blessed with some pretty incredible experiences too. I’ve written for Just About Write, Tell-Tale TV, and TV Fanatic. Going to SDCC for Just About Write was such a thrill and I had so much fun with the other women on the trip. I am a lover of all things television, so writing for these websites opened so many doors to other shows I enjoy. And I lived out my fantasy journalism dreams.

(The girls at SDCC!)

I met Marc Guggenheim at my first SDCC and LOST MY MIND. No chill. Completely fangirl freaked out on him. I was jumping up and down waiting in line to talk to him like a NUT. He handled it very well. I interviewed him for Just About Write the following year at SDCC. We’ve struck up a friendship and he’s been incredibly kind to me over the years. But that was only possible because Jenn invited me to represent her amazing website.

I went to the first Flarrow crossover screening and HVFF conventions where I met all my favorite Arrow actors/actresses. I had an amazing experience with each cast member whenever I went to a convention. Too many funny and exhilarating moments with the cast to recount here, but the real joy was hanging out with fandom friends in person.

Arrow folded itself into my family in very unexpected ways from my parents extremely hilarious reactions to the show to my daughter’s obsession with Felicity Smoak, despite never watching an episode. (She was too little.) My forever favorite moment at a convention would be my little girl dressing up as Felicity Smoak and getting Stephen Amell to spill when Olicity was getting married. She also marched up to the microphone all by herself and asked what he loves about Felicity Smoak. I will always remember her absolute shriek of glee when Stephen picked her up for their photo together.

The Olicity fandom is full of artists — fanfic, GIFs, metas, and fanvids have kept me entertained for HOURS. They have collectively helped me avoid doing housework for years. Bless their souls. I’ve been a part of other fandoms, but the Olicity fandom fueled their love for this show and couple into good works. They’ve raised money for so many charities over the years and it makes me really proud to be associated with them.

I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response to my blog. The Olicity fandom was incredibly supportive to me over the years and gave me the confidence to start writing again — something I lost in the midst of having a baby and getting through the toddler/preschool years. I have definitely received from this group of people more than I’ve given.

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Arrow has put Oliver through the wringer over the years; sometimes he’s been lovable, sometimes downright frustrating. Tell me a little bit about what makes Oliver Queen so important to you as a character.

You mean Oliver Queen, a.k.a. The Biggest Oak Tree To Ever Live! Loving Oliver can be exhausting at times because he makes the same mistakes over and over again. But that’s also what I love about him. He’s imperfect. His flaws are laid bare for all to see, but that never stops him from trying to do and be better. His redemptive arc is truly one of the best ever written on television. Oliver has gone from sinner to superhero, and while the circumstances of his world are fantasy, the message of his story is real. We are all imperfect sinners. We make the same mistakes over and over, but we can become someone or something else. We are deserving of love. We are worth saving.

He’s endured more suffering than is humanly possible and I’ve grieved every loss with him. This is why every moment of triumph in his hero’s journey feels so earned. The writers make Oliver work for it and those types of stories are always more satisfying to me.

Suffering has been a part of my life just like everyone in this world. I always connect to a character when my experience is reflected back at me. Oliver’s story is one of enduring hope. Arrow doesn’t shy away from pain but more importantly, it shows the way through the dark and into the light.

What I love most about Oliver is the way he loves. He loves fiercely and selflessly. Oliver always has the best of intentions, even when he makes a mistake. He always puts others before himself. I think having that example on my television every week is good for my soul.

Is there a storyline in the series that sticks out to you as a favorite? Alternatively, what are some storylines that have frustrated you?

THE GOOD: It took a while for Arrow to find its footing. Season one has great action and a gritty realism. The flashbacks are awesome. The mystery of the Undertaking and how Moira, Robert, and Malcolm fit into it was also riveting. Oliver’s family is core to his story and it was great drama watching him balance his love for them and seek justice for those they hurt.

What I enjoyed the most in season one was watching Oliver and Diggle’s bromance evolve. The relationship between Oliver and Diggle anchors the season emotionally as Oliver flits from love interest to love interest and engages in a toxic love triangle. Felicity is included slowly, but the majority of the season is Diggle trying to reign in Oliver’s darker tendencies. John Diggle will always be the Yoda of Arrow.

Seasons two and three are my favorite seasons. I was on the edge of my seat in the season two finale wondering if Felicity was the woman Oliver loved BECAUSE SHE HAD TO BE OTHERWISE NOTHING ON THIS SHOW MADE SENSE. I audibly screamed when Oliver said, “So he took the wrong woman.” Such a great night as an audience member.

They went all in on OTA in season two too. Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle are the show, but they were brand spanking new in season two, so the writers focused on the team dynamic a lot. It’s also tough to beat Slade Wilson as the villain.

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I think season three is the best in terms of cohesive structure and Oliver’s development. From start to finish there is a very strong connective thread. I had a clear idea of where they were going with Oliver and his character and it all made sense. It has my favorite premiere, Felicity Smoak is fleshed out more as a character, Oliver kind of dies, Thea’s arc is fabulous,  Diggle and Lyla get married and have a baby, Sara actually dies (I ugly cried), and Olicity is finally front and center as the show’s main romance (3x20!). Season three is the perfect amount of angst and happiness. It also foreshadowed Olicity’s marriage. I had so much fun with the fandom and the “Olicity Wedding Theory.”

It’s tough to surprise me on this show mostly because Arrow isn’t subtle in their foreshadowing, but Tommy and Moira’s deaths were shocking and absolutely traumatizing. Shoving a sword in Oliver’s stomach and off a mountain left me gobsmacked. Mia Smoak is Olicity’s daughter also ranks high for a mind-blowing moment. I mean… I knew she had to be their kid, but do the writers really love the Olicity fandom that much? Yes they do.

Season four was fun because the minute they teased someone was going to die in the premiere I knew it was going to be Laurel Lance. I like when Arrow has season-long mysteries and playing Nancy Drew with the clues all season long was a blast. Also, domesticated Olicity was perfection, as was Oliver’s proposal.

Season five was challenging for many reasons, but I believe 5x16 through 5x23 is the strongest run of episodes in the show’s history. Josh Seggara as Adrian Chase was a revelation, and Oliver finally being forced to drill down on his trauma/guilt regarding his father’s death was a major full circle moment. It also has my favorite Arrow episode: 5x20. And my most controversial opinion — I loved the 100th episode.

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Season six had the best crossover (a.k.a. the Olicity movie). Oliver and Felicity get married and then the very next episode we had the perfect reception which checked off everything on my wedding wish list. It was a full season of stability and happiness for Oliver and Felicity, which was a looooong time coming.

Felicity’s relationship with William was wonderful to watch evolve too. The scene in 6x11 where she explains to William how to love his dad while coping with the fear of losing him because he’s the Green Arrow was probably one of the best in the entire series. It’s essentially the mission statement of the show. There are no stakes in a superhero show if love is not central to the story.

Season seven was a surprisingly strong season. Oliver’s prison arc was great and Felicity stepped up as the primary storyline focus. Her fight to save Oliver and beat Riccardo Diaz without losing her soul was truly one of my favorite Felicity Smoak storylines. Smoak Tech finally launched and the flash forwards were introduced. They were terribly bleak, but I’m always down for meeting future children of my favorite characters.

Oliver becomes the superhero version of Jesus in Crisis on Infinite Earths. I was mostly joking about that metaphor, but the writers decided to go literal with this whole Spectre thing. All the other characters finally had to recognize Oliver is the best of them and bend the knee to the king of the Arrowverse. The highlight of season eight was watching Oliver form relationships with his adult children. The hole Emily Bett Rickards left in season seven was massive, but bringing Mia, William, and Connor to present day really re-energized my interest in the season. It doesn’t make up for Felicity being gone, but it was a welcome surprise and pretty brilliant.

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THE BAD (in no particular order): Arrow is an imperfect show. I’m either loving it or it’s driving me crazy. Let us never speak of the Olicity break-up. It still makes no sense why Oliver lied to Felicity about William’s existence when literally every other character found out about him. We eventually got some good character development out of it, but it lasted waaaaay too long. It was just an excuse to delay their marriage and it showed.

Oliver marrying Nyssa Al Ghul, the only lesbian on the show, was a real low point. I am pretty sure I got drunk watching 3x22 (Jenn's note: I FORGOT THAT WAS A PLOT. WOW.) Then there was the never-ending sidelining of John Diggle, and too. many. canaries.

(Also Tommy died because Laurel had to get some files for some reason. It will never be okay. I will never forgive her.)

There was not enough Felicity Smoak in the beginning of season five. Yes, I get it. They were broken up, but it’s always a mistake to back off the heart of the show. Oliver sleeping with Sara again in season two made me physically throw things at the television.

Arrow characters always paying the price for Barry Allen’s shenanigans during the crossovers is irritating. Oh, and let’s not do magic again on the show.

Remember when Laurel and Oliver slept together and Tommy watched from the street while “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons played? That sums up Lauriver for me. I try to forget it ever happened.

Felicity’s paralyzation arc was frustratingly short. And the gun control episode was... just... no. I am still waiting to hear what Oliver’s super secret plan is to fix everything related to guns.

Whatshername in season four was the year I prayed for the flashbacks to end. No, I still haven’t learned the character’s name. (Jenn's note: I never bothered and just wrote her into my reviews as Flashback Chick. I muted most of the flashbacks that season.)

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New Team Arrow gave us three more problematic characters that were never as good as Roy,
Thea, and Sara. But I still miss Rory.

I still don’t know why it took seven years to follow through on Smoak Tech. I didn’t love Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a bummer since Arrow’s entire final season was built around it. The plot was nonsensical and it was just too much going on all at once.

Oh, and two words: Susan Williams. I also disliked pretty much everything in season six that wasn’t related to Oliver, Felicity, and William. The writers' inability to construct a believable, engaging and consistent story arc for Laurel Lance was so frustrating as a viewer that it drove me to apathy for her character.  I couldn't care more than the writers did, so I just gave up waiting for her storylines to make any sense. Also, Laurel always being the worst made it difficult to find her endearing.

And one final thing I disliked: Emily Bett Rickards left at the end of season seven and the show continued for ten more episodes.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Olicity! I know you’re a huge fan of this ship. What, in your opinion, makes the pairing so compelling and epic?

I think foremost is the circumstances that surround Olicity’s evolution. I cannot recall many shows where the one time guest star became the female lead and one half of the central romance. Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards’ chemistry is electric. It’s lightning in a bottle, but the miracle is the EPs/studio executive/writers knew it. They admitted the Laurel and Oliver romance was a mess and painstakingly rebuilt Arrow’s entire love story around Oliver and Felicity. It’s really quite something.

Oliver and Felicity are a bit yin and yang. They have the whole opposites attract thing going on, but that’s just on the surface. When you drill down to the core of each character, they are remarkably similar. They are both very intelligent, loyal, compassionate, selfless, and deeply loving. Those aspects of their personality just manifest in different ways, which makes their dynamic really interesting to watch.

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Oliver Queen has his own light, but Felicity is the person who harnesses that light. She offered Oliver trust, understanding, compassion, and unconditional love when he needed it most. But she still challenged him to be a better person and refused to put up with any of his crap. Oliver only became the hero he was meant to be because he fell in love with Felicity Smoak. There is no Green Arrow without her. She is his equal in every way and a hero in her own right.

Oliver inspired Felicity to be a person she never imagined she could be. He exposed her to a world beyond her cubicle. Felicity discovered new levels of strength, resilience and bravery. Oliver’s devotion to the city and his selflessness gave Felicity an outlet to channel her brilliance and heroism. She found purpose. Oliver offered the same trust, understanding, compassion, and unconditional love too. He was always looking, particularly when Felicity wasn’t watching, and she was truly seen for the first time.

That’s why I love them. Their individual strengths and weaknesses work in an almost perfect cohesion. Oliver and Felicity make each other better, and that’s the way love should be. Your partner should be your best friend who harnesses your light and inspires your best self.

Watchover Podcast

You started an Arrow podcast recently too! How has using a podcast helped you process what you’ve seen in the episodes?

The podcast is great for my initial reactions, but when I write the review I do notice more and dive deeper into the episode. There is a strange connection between writing and my brain. It’s difficult to explain, but ideas pop in my head differently when I’m typing. It’s kind of an unconscious flow. I don’t even fully understand the process sometimes.

The best part is having a podcast with my friend Calli. We’re yin and yang. We make each other laugh and we love talking about Arrow. That’s honestly how the podcast idea started: we just decided to record our phone conversations. So it’s been really wonderful to share our friendship with the fandom. We have a lot of fun together!

What would be a satisfying end of Arrow for you?

I would like the ending to be happy, but I realize that is a wide lane for the writing truck to drive through. A happy ending is very subjective. It means very different things to people, and I understand that. My ideal is of course for Oliver and Felicity to end the show reunited. I would like them to find some peace and retire from the vigilante gig. Spiritually, Oliver Queen was dead when he returned home and we’ve watched him come back to life the past eight years. I would like for his character to enjoy his life and live it to the fullest without constantly having to sacrifice his happiness for the greater good.

The most important aspect of a series finale for me is to know the characters I love and invested in for years will be okay. If the Arrow writers give me that then I will be able to say goodbye to Oliver, Felicity, Diggle, Lyla, Roy, and Thea. I can let them go and appreciate the wonderful story which has been such a large part of my life for the last eight years.

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Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?

I’d like to thank YOU, Jenn, for being my soul sister. You invited me to join your website as a guest writer and it’s because of Just About Write that I had so many amazing experiences. You have been a constant source of support and understanding. (Seriously, I never get Blindspot reviews done on time and she never gets upset.) You are a selfless editor who champions women and wants to see us succeed. You are one of the many gifts Arrow has brought into my life and I will always be grateful for that. (Jenn: AWWW. I promise I didn't tell her to write such nice stuff about me!)

As for Arrow... it’s been a blast! Here’s hoping the spin-off doesn’t suck!


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