Sunday, May 31, 2015

Series - Summer Lovin': Week 1

Between Frozen and Grease, I assure you that I'll have summer lovin'-related songs stuck in my head for the next few months. Welcome, dear readers, to our brand spakin' new series for the summer! If you've read our TV MVP Series (which, let's be real -- you all should), you'll know that I value the diversity of our writing staff. It's really amazing to see how many of us watch certain shows together and how many of us actually don't. That series was great because each week, I would get the chance to read about at least one performer on a show I didn't watch. It made me appreciate how vast and wonderful television really is. What is so great about the summertime though is the fact that -- with very little on television -- that vast world is opened even further. Summer is the chance to catch up on all of those shows we've been told we need to watch by others. It's the time to go see summer blockbusters and read a few books or binge-watch an entire show on Netflix. If the normal television season is ripe with diversity of entertainment taste around here, then summer is overflowing.

Our new series will focus each week on one thing -- be it television show, book, movie, web series, etc. -- that each of the participants are loving that week. It's hopefully a series that will inspire you all to read and watch some of what we are this summer and also heighten excitement for the upcoming television season. So, without further adieu, here are the writers who will be kicking off this week's first installment with me:

  • Delightful human being, first full-time contributor to the site, and writer extraordinaire, Ann!
  • My favorite person to gush about superhero television shows with, Constance Gibbs
  • Newest contributor and novelist, Lynnie Purcell!
  • Jaime's greatest nemesis, my favorite feminist, and lover of all things wonderful: Chelsea
  • My BFF, partner-in-crime, and the reason I know so much about One Direction: Jaime Poland!
  • Precious tropical sunfish, my forever cheerleader, and soul sister: Jen
  • Our weekly Hannibal expert and lovely writer, Rae Nudson!

What Jenn's lovin': ABC Family's Chasing Life

Why she's lovin' it: The reason that I binge-watched the entire first season of Chasing Life was because it was on Netflix and I kept seeing advertisements for it during Pretty Little Liars. I thought that the show looked like it had promise. I hadn't seen Italia Ricci in anything, but I knew that I loved Scott Michael Foster from Greek, so I thought I would give the show a chance. Imagine my utter surprise and delight when I became obsessed with the series. Chasing Life is a lot like John Green's The Fault In Our Stars: it's a cancer story, but it's not really a cancer story.

What I admire so much about this show is how powerful the writing is, how many amazing women there are in it (front-and-center nearly all of the time), and how it's a series that's not focused on death but on life. Yeah, the series deals with difficult topics but it handles them with grace and poise, choosing to tell the story about fighting for what you want no matter how many times life kicks you down. April Carver is an amazing character. She's driven and she's determined. She's loving and compassionate. She's a good person. And so it makes it all the more heartbreaking to watch her suffer from cancer because we think what her family does: she doesn't deserve this.

But what is amazing is how everyone in this show grows because of April's cancer. Sarah and Brenna become more grateful and thankful and appreciative of all they have, when they so easily could have become embittered. Dominic learns to focus on what he wants in life, but he also learns how to become a better support system to other people too, I think. Beth becomes a rock for April. And Leo? Well, Leo realizes that he has spent so much of his life dying that now he just needs to focus on LIVING. That's really the entire message of this show: if you are breathing, you're still fighting. And you need to fight every single day for what you want, no matter if you have cancer or not. You need to fight for your relationships, even when they get difficult. You need to fight for your family, even when they don't understand you. You need to fight at your job, to be heard and appreciated. You need to set your priorities and you need to live by them.

The performances in this show are incredible. Everyone is exceptional, but no one more so than Italia Ricci who leads this cast with a kind of poise and gentle authority as April. She gets handed quite a bit of emotional material but she never makes it seem melodramatic; every choice she makes as an actress helps make April more believable and relatable. There's a scene in the season finale with April and a sledgehammer -- I won't spoil it -- where Italia Ricci gives a performance worthy of every kind of award. I sobbed because I felt such an emotional connection to April. THAT is how good Italia is. Everyone else matches her skill and her talent, I promise you. And if you loved Scott Michael Foster in Greek (or his recurring role as Kristoff in Once Upon A Time this year), you'll absolutely fall in love with him in this show. Scott Michael Foster gets cast a lot as the witty slacker and there is so much of that in Leo -- he brings that type of humor to this show. But he also brings SUCH emotional depth to the character that I can promise you he will startle you with his vulnerability and probably make you cry at least once in the show, if you're anything like me. Plus, the way that Scott Michael Foster's perfected the schoompy gaze alone will leave you in a puddle of feelings.

Seriously, binge-watch Chasing Life because I absolutely loved it and cannot wait for it to return in August for a second season.

What Lynnie is lovin': Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

Why she's lovin' it: From the moment Phryne Fisher (played by Essie Davis) steps off the boat, adventure swirls in the air, much like the tornado of a woman that has disembarked from an extended stay in Europe. With a flutter of eyelashes, a swish of her trousers, and a click of her heels, she lets you know that her clothes are her battle armor, her looks her sword, and her mind the greatest weapon of all. She is prepared to use all three to get her way.

Based off the series of books by Kerry Greenwood, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a step back to the roaring twenties and the scandals that loom in the dark corners and bright parlors of post-WWI Melbourne. After the husband of an old friend is murdered, Phryne is pulled back into Melbourne's society, meets the ever-handsome Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, (played by Nathan Page), and shows them all a thing or two about deductive reasoning, sassy retorts, and breaking-and-entering in style.

Murder mysteries are a dime a dozen, but Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is unique. The breath of fresh air isn't in the murderers they catch, or the clues the audience follows along the way, it's in the woman herself. Phryne Fisher is flirtatious, openly sexual, unabashedly strong, broken, disabused, sometimes just abused, smart as a whip, and openly caring and compassionate for the people around her. She dances, laughs, cries, listens attentively, loves honestly, is flawed and just a little bit crazy.

Phryne is, without remorse, a woman.

From daring to wear trousers in a world of skirts, believing in love in all its forms, to the simmering hate for the man who killed her sister, and the desire to always live life to the fullest, she is undeniably female. And she kicks ass by simply embracing all those disparate things about herself. She does not doubt that she can wear a cocktail dress, dance and sleep with beautiful men, hate fiercely, love strongly, and she always manages to show the police how to catch a killer. She makes her own rules, and Essie Davis pulls it all off with a charm and grace that makes Phryne Fisher feel like an old friend.

The episodes always manage to bring in issues that are (sometimes sadly) still ongoing - worker's rights, race issues, PTSD, LGBTQ rights, women's rights, women's everything, really - via the lens of Phryne's openness and ahead-of-her-time indignation. The costumes are always gorgeous, the settings dramatic and evoking of Film Noir, and the dialogue is witty and human. The murders, while important to the plot, truly serve to highlight Phryne's relationships with the people she has surrounded herself with after her return to Melbourne. She flirts with Jack, even as they partner up to solve the mysteries - the sass between the two of them is, in a word, divine - is helped by Dot, her maid and confidant, as well as Cec and Bert, her drivers and assistant detectives, connects and adopts an orphaned girl named Jane, and is attended to by the ever-calm Mr. Butler. As the family forms around Phryne, murders are solved, and sexual tension remains unresolved, it is clear that one message is true throughout the series. Phryne lives passionately and fully, and she invites the viewer to do the same.

I'm watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries this summer, and I invite you all along on the adventure and pleasure that is getting to know The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher.

What Rae's lovin': Showtime's Penny Dreadful

Why she's lovin' it: Penny Dreadful is a mish-mash of horror, literature, Victorian England, and all things spooky and beautiful. Eva Green plays Vanessa Ives, who builds a team around her to fight the dark forces of evil. Her team includes an explorer, Sir Malcolm; a new take on Dr. Frankenstein; a sharp-shooter-likely-turned-werewolf, Ethan; Dorian Gray (yes, THAT Dorian Gray); and mysterious servant Sembene. This season, Vanessa is up against a coven of witches who are coming to take Vanessa to their master. These are no black-hat wearing, broom-riding witches. They are pure evil and can take many forms, and they have a bone to pick with Vanessa. 

In a show that transitions from campy to creepy, sometimes with different characters in the same scene, Eva Green grounds everything with her stellar performances. She is perfectly believable whether she is joking with Dr. Frankenstein about buying new clothes or being possessed by the devil himself during a séance. Her eyes, body, and voice all contribute to her storytelling, and she will grab your attention and hold on to it for as long as she pleases. Occasionally the show will spend an episode entirely on Vanessa, and while I’m always glad to see the other characters when they come back, when it’s just Eva Green on screen, I don’t even miss them. 

While the stories the show tells are horror, the setting is often beautiful. Every costume, camera view, and set design is stunning. The over-the-top evil of the witches is matched by their over-the-top Victorian home, decorated in elaborate woodwork, marble, and velvet. Vanessa wears elaborate dresses in deep maroons and blacks. The setting of the show envelops you in its world, and the acting carries you away.

What Connie's lovin': Lie to Me

Why she's lovin' it: This week I am rewatching one of my favorite "why was this cancelled?!" shows. Lie To Me (2009-2010) was one of those "quirky" procedurals that ran three seasons. When I say quirky, I don't mean Psych quirky, but more "soft procedural" (which I might have just made up) like Bones or Castle, where there's more of an emphasis main characters' personal lives (unlike the Law and Orders and CSIs of the world) and there is great chemistry with the male and female leads of the show. The series follows Dr. Cal Lightman, who studies microexpressions. He can determine if you're lying by analyzing facial expression, body language, vocal pitch, and more.

Besides being my kind of procedural show, and starring the amazing Tim Roth, I loved Lie to Me because I felt like I was learning something that was applicable in the real world. The show is based on a real science, led by Dr. Paul Ekman who discovered that microexpressions are universal across cultures. One of the cool things the show did was show an emotion (and the corresponding lie) a character felt, then flash photos of real life celebrities and politicians who were caught in similar lies or situations with the same facial expressions. So a cheating husband on the show with a guilty look on his face is matched with Bill Clinton or Tiger Woods. While when I watch Grey's Anatomy, I feel like I can practice fake medicine but know that I absolutely cannot, this show makes me feel like I can really watch people's faces and analyze their hidden emotions based on the way their lips twitch or their eyes move to the left.

It was a pretty cool and smart show that, in typical FOX fashion had poor ratings and was cancelled after only three seasons. I really miss this show and wish people talked about it more, but thankfully it's on Netflix. So next time you need a procedural binge with great characters, a nice father/daughter relationship, some (sadly unresolved) shipping between the leads, semi-real world science, and some interesting cases, check out Lie to Me. The episodes (aside from the pilot) that have reminded me the most why I miss this show are 1.12 "Blinded" and 2.04 "Honey." You shouldn't need too much before hand to jump into those if you wished. Tweet me if you watch it!

What Chelsea's lovin': The Legend of Korra

Why she's lovin' it: So I thought it would be a fun idea to rewatch all four seasons of The Legend of Korra this past week for fun. Now, this would seem normal to most people but I just spent the last semester writing a 20-page paper about the show so you would think I would be tired of it. Nope. The show is that great. For those of you who haven’t watched it or Avatar: The Last Airbender, the show is set in a world where some people can control or bend the elements of water, earth, fire, or air. The Avatar is the only person that can bend all four elements and is responsible for maintaining balance in the world.

This series follows Avatar Korra, the reincarnation of Aang from the previous series, and her spiritual journey as she becomes the next Avatar. Korra begins the series as a hot-headed and stubborn girl, never backing down from a fight and struggling to learn airbending and connecting with the spiritual side of being the Avatar. As the series progresses, she faces many different political and spiritual forces that help shape her into a more compassionate and strong leader. Watching her grow and develop as she faces these complex issues of freedom and equality is just a gift.

What draws me to the show the most though are the complex relationships between the characters. The familial relationship Korra has with Tenzin and his family is quite lovely. He helps train her in the art of airbending and him and his daughter Jinora help guide her spiritual journey. There is a great father-daughter relationship between them that we haven’t really seen on TV since Veronica and Keith on Veronica Mars, and I love that dynamic on the show. Plus, watching Korra play big sister to the young kids is adorable.

Then we have Team Avatar that is made up of pro-bending brothers Mako and Bolin along with engineer, pilot, and jack of all trades Asami Soto. The gang always comes together to fight the various forces that try and disrupt the world and they never let personal drama tear them apart. Both Korra and Asami began the series having feelings for Mako and both dated him at various points but they never let feelings of jealousy come between them. They both respected and valued each other too much to let that happen. This made them stronger friends and eventually SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE FINALE their friendship turned into a relationship in the final episode. When Bolin had a crush on Korra and she was only interested in Mako, he didn’t hold that against his brother and it didn’t tear them apart. The two guys always had each other’s backs. Even when they were on different sides of a fight, they always looked out for each other.

Before I wrap this up, I just need to stress how gorgeous the show’s cinematography and fight sequences are. Like, better than most things you will see in any film, live action or animated.

What Jen's lovin': Netflix's House of Cards

Why she's lovin' it: I'm in the middle of a House of Cards binge and am halfway through season two. Yeah, I know. I live in a hole. It's not entirely my fault. It took me three years to convince my husband to cough up the $10 for a Netflix subscription. He defies logic.

Saying Kevin Spacey is an excellent actor is sort of like saying the world is round. Obviously. My favorite Kevin Spacey movie is Usual Suspects. If you've never watched it, correct that mistake immediately. Thank me later. It's a man hunt for the mysterious Keysor Soze, the world's most dangerous drug lord. The FBI rounds up the usual suspects and the game of cat and mouse begins. A classic "whodunnit?"

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist. This statement is 100% true. The reason why Usual Suspects and Kevin Spacey's  Roger "Verbal" Kint is a revelation is because each "suspect" could be Keysor Soze. Why? Simple: the devil lives in us all.

House of Cards is basically Keysor Soze Goes To Washington.

Francis Underwood encapsulates all the Spacey magic in one character. The Southern charm, the effortless ease in which he slides from one persona to the next, a sudden well of emotion, followed by cold and unflinching maliciousness, even his melodic singing voice. Francis Underwood is deliciously evil. I love him and I love to hate him. That's the Spacey magic. That's talent you can't buy and why he's a deserving Oscar winner.

House of Cards does something incredibly unique. Francis breaks the fourth wall. In the myriad of "personalities" he plays with varying supporting characters, the only time Francis is completely and unflinchingly honest is when he speaks directly to the audience. Honesty. I think that's what's so refreshing about Underwood and why, against my better judgement, I am actively hoping he doesn't get caught. That the game of cat and mouse can go on. Do we ever really know the politicians we elect to office? Of course not. There's an image that is presented and then there's the truth. We elect these people based on image and pray it's the truth, but more often than not, we are disappointed. The image falls so horrifyingly short of reality. So, when Frank Underwood tells it like it is to you and only you; he's given the audience what we crave. THE TRUTH from politicians. It's like we're wasting away in a desert and Underwood is pool of clear, cool water. Perhaps it's a mirage, but we drink it all the same because we crave it. What's more, Frank only shows his real colors to the audience and Claire. As opposed to feeling shut out of the process like in real life, Frank Underwood is the politician that pulls you in. All the way in. Until you are in his web.

So what is the truth? Frank Underwood is the devil. He connives, cheats, lies, charms, manipulates and murders his way through Washington. Some of his more bone-chilling acts are instructing someone how to kill themselves, letting the engine run with a passed out passenger in the car and tossing an unsuspecting victim directly into an oncoming train. The other characters don't realize they are trapped in Frank's web until it's too late and he's delivered the killing blow. Then, calmly, coldly and unapologetically Frank explains to the audience why those actions were necessary, with a proverbial "FU" as the coda. It all boils down to one simple premise. The ***Faith Lehane political platform: "Want. Take. Have." If Frank wants it, he takes it and anyone in his way will be destroyed. He is ruthless.

And yet, there are moments, especially with Claire, in which Frank exhibits emotion and what he defines as love. It humanizes Frank on a necessary level. Otherwise, Frank becomes other worldly and we can distance ourselves from his actions, which misses the point entirely. We can all be Frank Underwood. We all have that capability because the devil lives in us all. It simply comes down to a matter of choice.

***I get extra points for connecting Buffy The Vampire Slayer and House of Cards.

What Jaime's lovin': NBC's Aquarius

Why she's lovin' it: To big TV fans, there’s nothing quite like a perfect summer series.  The best ones have a limited number of episodes, to reflect the contained nature of summer itself, and something innately pulpy.  There’s something sort of gossipy about a good summer series, something that makes you lean forward and inch closer to the edge of your seat – not necessarily because it’s suspenseful or thrilling, but because there’s so much about it you’re eager to absorb.

This year, I think my new summer series is Aquarius.  Starring and produced by David Duchovny, Aquarius starts when a girl goes missing.  We very quickly learn that she’s been picked up by Charles Manson, who’s invited her to join his compound of girls who eagerly share his view for peace and love (um, you know, minus the part where they murder a bunch of people.  But like just the pilot has aired so far, so we haven’t gotten to that yet).  Already it’s got my two favorite things: true crime and Renly Baratheon (um, okay, full disclosure: the main reason I was so excited for this show was because Charlie Manson is played by Gethin Anthony, aka Renly Baratheon, aka my favorite Game of Thrones character).  That’s literally all I need in a show.

But luckily for us all, Aquarius has even more going on.  It’s set in the heart of 1967, with race riots and war protests occurring daily.  There’s a huge generational gap, as represented by the rhetoric Manson spews to the girls he meets, as well as between Duchnovy’s character Hodiak and Brian Shafe, who are working together to find the girl whose disappearance kicks off the pilot.  There’s a lot of ground Aquarius can explore, both within the world it’s laid out and within the ongoing conflicts of 1967 in reality, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my summer seeing where it all goes.

What Ann's lovin': Inside Amy Shumer

Why she's lovin' it: I summer-love Amy Schumer and the summer summer-loves her too. Amy is starring in the upcoming romantic comedy Trainwreck, starring another fave of mine, Bill Hader. She also recently appeared on THR's Actress in a Comedy Roundtable. If you Google fire, you might see her face next to it.

However, what got me hooked on Amy Schumer and her sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, was neither of these things. It was instead an episode she'd done in the current season of her show: "Twelve Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer," a parody of the classic film Twelve Angry Men. The entirety of the episode was filmed in the fashion of Twelve Angry Men, except what the twelve jurors -- including guests Paul Giamatti, Kumail Nanjiani, Vincent Kartheiser, Jeff Goldblum, and John Hawkes in the Harry Fonda role -- were debating was whether or not Amy was hot enough to be on TV.

I adore Twelve Angry Men. I love it so much and think it's one of the best movies ever, and the reason that I love it is that it's so conceptually simple (almost the entire movie takes place within one room) yet contains so deep a message about human nature. What Amy Schumer does is conceptually even simpler (as a parody) with a message just as deep about human nature: about how men unfairly view women and the standards women are held up against. Even as the jury is swayed to the other side, one by one, it's not because they see the error of their ways but because of even more ridiculous trains of thought ("Desperate girl like that would just beg for it!" "When they're accessible." "Like Rosario Dawson.")

Amy Schumer's brand of comedy is almost entirely raunchy, and as a result many people unfairly judge that her comedy lacks depth. Even "Twelve Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer" is inappropriate. All this means is that Amy is unafraid to use every tool in her arsenal to make her (very true) points.

The parody is my favorite example of why Amy's comedy just works for me, but other episodes of her show are binge-worthy, too. It's cozy, fun humor that frequently mocks the way people interact with each other (another favorite: Bill Nye revealing that the universe exists to guide white women in their twenties). The sketches are between bits of stand-up and interviews (formal and on the street) that, if nothing else, make you love Amy, who is so warm and friendly.

Amy Schumer's very uncensored humor may not be your cup of tea, and that's fine. But given all that she has done and all that she continues to do to make her biting observations, know at least that Amy is crushing it, milestone after milestone. (And yes, she's hot enough to be on TV, no reasonable doubt about it.)

So there you have it, folks! That's what we all are loving this week. Hit up the comments below and let us know what the best thing YOU saw or read this week was. And be sure to come back next week for more of this summer lovin'! :)


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