Sunday, September 13, 2015

Series - Summer Lovin': Week 11

Hello, everyone and welcome to the final week of Summer Lovin' for 2015. We had such a blast this summer binge-watching Netflix shows, reading all kinds of books, and seeing blockbusters and smaller films. We've listened to new music, re-discovered old favorites, and swapped a lot of recommendations with each other and with you all. All good things must come to an end, though, and this is one of them (until next summer, of course). We'll resume our TV MVP Series on Sunday, October 4th after a bit of a hiatus to devote time to the Emmys (aaaaaaand also because I'll be out of town on September 27th.) If you don't know what the TV MVP Series is, you should definitely check out all of our posts from the past television season. It was a blast!

But before we transition back to our fall series, let's spend one final week of summer talking about what we've been lovin'! Joining me this week are...

  • Newest (and yes, male!) guest contributor, Jon
  • Amazing human, companion, soul twin, etc. etc., Mer!
  • That girl who I could gab for hours with, Laura
  • My Spanish sister from another mister, Lizzie
  • Sweet, adorable, Jesse Pinkman-loving Deena
  • Uber talented, insanely fashionable Rae
  • My long-lost twin sister, Maddie
  • My favorite crazytownbananapants girl, Megan
  • A woman with incomprable wit, Lynnie
  • My source of puppy GIFs, encouraging texts, and hilarious threats of violence to Jaime... Chelsea!
Let's begin!

What Jenn's lovin': Breaking Bad

Why she's lovin' it: Do you know how sometimes people really hype up a series or a movie and then, for whatever reason, you're filled with so much expectation that you wind up disappointed? Well, that's not what is happening in my binge-watch of Breaking Bad thus far. In spite of the fact that I know how the series ends and who does and doesn't survive, I'm still totally and completely invested in the story this show is telling and the arcs the characters already are embarking on. My sister gave me an ultimatum -- she would watch The 100 if I binge-watched one of the most recent dramas that she had. She gave me three options and when I told her that I had chosen Breaking Bad, she approved and said "you'll love this show just for the writing alone." And now, I'm almost done with two seasons of the series and couldn't agree more. It's a captivating journey already and knowing that Walt goes from sympathetic hero to villain completely enthralls me because I can already see seeds of that being planted -- his is a character full of deeply rooted anger and bitterness and I'm really excited to watch him turn into a character I hate, but also cannot get enough of.

And then there's Jesse Pinkman. We could talk for hours about him, but I'm going to -- instead -- just say that "Peekaboo" is one of the most wonderful and emotionally compelling episodes in terms of his character (so far because, again, I haven't seen any further than the second season). I love that he's the kind of character who is so compassionate and loving that you just want to protect him from the inevitable pain he's going to be dealt at the hands of Walter White. The other supporting characters are amazing -- I used to hate Marie, but I'm now kind of in love with her snark; Hank used to grate on my nerves but with his PTSD storyline, I'm finding myself more and more empathetic; and Skylar White is one of the absolute greatest, sassiest, fiercest women ever. The only character I could do without at this point is Walter, Jr. Because... meh.

But my sister was right -- the writing in this show is tight, the directing is absolutely stellar, and the acting is amazing. I'm seriously impressed already, even in spite of cringing and flinching at some of the more violent parts of the series. And really, the fact that I've already been surprised and have audibly gasped at twists I wasn't spoiled for speaks volumes. I can see why Breaking Bad was nominated for and won so many awards, because it really is great television. And I can't wait to finish the show!

Bonus lovin': Alex & Sierra

So this week, I decided to go on a bit of an Alex & Sierra binge. I love them for a lot of reasons, chief among which is that they went to the college I went to and are hometown heroes in that way. More importantly, though, their music is just so delightful to listen to. "Scarecrow" is such an upbeat, fun, catchy song even though the subject matter veers toward more of the angsty edge. These two have voices that blend and harmonize so well together. Plus, they're actually together in real life. How cute is that? Listen to their album It's About Us, on Spotify! Fall in love with the insanely catchy "Cheating" and swoon at the deeply emotional "Bumper Cars." Just go and listen to this amazing duo right now. Please. I'll wait.

What Jon's lovin': Hotel Transylvania 

Why he's lovin' it: I still hold out hope that Adam Sandler has the ability to make a pretty funny movie... even if he keeps proving me wrong time and time again (looking at you, Pixels). However, with the upcoming release of Hotel Transylvania 2, I thought it would be a good idea to go back and check out the first movie. Thankfully, this is one of Sandler's best films in years, as almost everything, from the voice acting to the animation, works perfectly

The voice acting is incredibly spot-on. Sandler gives one of his best performances as Dracula, managing to find a perfect balance between the comedic and serious, especially involving his backstory. While Sandler does use his trademark serious voice, here it works. This interpretation of Dracula is never meant to be taken seriously, as it paints the gothic legend in a more humorous light. Sandler is also backed by a strong supporting cast, including Kevin James as a pitch-perfect Frankenstein, Steve Buscemi as an overworked Wolfman, and Cee Lo Green as a soulful and smooth Mummy.

Another major aspect of this film? The animation. The film was directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. If you're a 90s kid like I am, that name should sound very familiar to you, as he was responsible for creating both Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack. With this film, Tartakovsky animates with such quickness. Yet, at the same time, he manages to invoke the exact perfect mood needed. An example of this is in the scene where Dracula explains to Jonathan about his wife's death and why he must protect Mavis.


No. That is not fan art you are looking at. That is an actual shot from this movie and it is GORGEOUS. You feel sadness, hurt, betrayal, anger... all coming from this one scene. It is a testament to what Tartakovsky can do with animation.

If you haven't seen Hotel Transylvania yet, I highly recommend giving it a look, especially with its sequel out in a couple of weeks. This is one of those animated movies that both kids AND adults can enjoy. 

What Mer's lovin': Mr. Robot on USA (or on demand)

Why she's lovin' it: I will admit that my TV viewing is mostly dictated lately by my husband. Our few hour block of TV together in the evening after the kiddo goes to bed is really the only alone time we get these days, so we solely choose to watch shows that both of us enjoy. He's pickier than me, so that generally means he chooses. Sometimes I complain, or roll my eyes, or just hang out on my laptop because I'm not interested in what he's watching. But the other day he turned on Mr. Robot. I'm pretty involved in the online fandom for another show (three guess, first two don't count), and a number of my fandom friends have been raving about Mr. Robot. So when hubby turned on the first episode, I put my laptop away and watched (after tweeting about watching Mr. Robot, natch.)

This show is off the rails. That is the only way to describe it. To illustrate: my husband has said that it may be a bit too dark for him. I mean, we watched Breaking Bad, Justified, Mad Men, Orphan Black, House of Cards... we are not strangers to dark shows. It's dark, yes, so be warned. But it's also brilliant. The writing, the acting, the characterizations. Everything is spot-on. The viewer literally has no clue what is happening at least 35% of the time. The warning I got from friends was "do NOT under any circumstances look up spoilers or anything about the show online." You need to go into this show blind to get the full effect.  You will have questions. It will be confusing. That is half the fun -- if not more.

This show is full of so many crazy plot twists and turns, so many shocking and surprising things, so many shady characters. One friend said "the best shows are the ones with an unreliable narrator." That is so true of Mr. Robot. You can't trust anyone while watching, and it leaves you feeling a bit off-kilter. It's fantastic. I have also seen many people talk about how on earth this show ended up on USA -- and that was one of the first things I said as we watched the premiere. It's mind-boggling. The entire thing is mind-boggling.

I feel like I haven't actually said very much about the show... and that's because I can't. Firstly, I can't say much because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. But also, I can't say much because I still have no clue what's going on. But you can be sure I'm going to keep watching to find out.

If you want an entirely new, confusing, intriguing, gripping TV experience, give Mr. Robot a try. And prepare to have your mind blown.

What Laura's lovin': Musicals and musical theatre

Why she's lovin' it: Zachary Levi once defined nerd as “one whose unbridled passion for something, or things, defines who they are as a person without fear of other people’s judgement.” I can say without a doubt that I’m a musical nerd. Ever since a reluctant seven year old me went to see Grease with my family and walked out of the theater in love, I have been a musical person. I grew up watching West Side Story, which remained my favorite for years. Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Rent, and Les Miserables were all staples of my childhood. I’ve seen so many musicals in theaters that I’ve lost count and have enjoyed every single one.

But a while ago, when Chelsea’s Top 3 was still going strong, I got to thinking about what my top 3 musicals are. I’ve been thinking about this ever since and while it was hard (#ruthlessness) to narrow down the list, I came to a conclusion. Number three on my list has to be Legally Blonde: The Musical. This show is just so fun from start to finish. The first time I saw the play, I hadn’t seen the movie, so I had no idea what to expect. From the opening number, aptly titled “Omigod You Guys” to my absolute favorite “There! Right There,” (aka, the "Gay or European?"), this musical keeps you laughing nonstop. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this musical before go and remedy that right now. I know for a fact that it’s on Youtube as I’ve watched it there multiple times.

Taking the number two spot on my list is the extremely popular Wicked. This one I’ve been lucky enough to see twice and is by far the soundtrack I’ve listened to the most times. Showing the viewpoint of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and focusing on her surprising friendship with Glinda, makes for an emotional and powerful musical. With show-stopping tunes such as “Defying Gravity” and lighter and more fun songs like “Dancing Through Life,” this musical has it all. And if the line “who can say if I’ve been changed for the better but because I knew you, I have been changed for good” doesn’t make you cry, then you might not be human.

A lesser-known musical takes my top spot and it’s one that I didn’t fully appreciate until the last year or two. The soundtrack is another one that I grew up listening to but never fully understood because I’d never seen the entire musical. About a year ago, I finally got the chance to see Evita live and since then, I’ve been addicted. The social commentary and catchy tunes draw you in and while one of the more popular songs is “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” it’s hard not to cry as you watch the title character slowly lose her steam. It’s the complicated social issues and Argentina’s history that really make this musical for me though. You have to pay attention and listen to every word to grasp everything that’s going on, something that a younger me wasn’t able to do. Now that I’m older, it’s easily become my favorite musical.

What Lizzie’s lovin’: Legends of Tomorrow

Why she’s lovin’ it: Well, I'm not technically loving Legends of Tomorrow, since we haven’t seen any new footage from the show yet. (Can you fall in love with something you haven’t seen?) I’m just loving the news, and the cast photos, and the excitement that seems to be building around the show. Well, that and Sara. I love Sara. And, considering how I started, I’ll admit that’s surprising.

Because I wasn’t and haven’t been a big Ray Palmer fan. Quick question for the audience: was anyone a big Ray Palmer fan? So, when the news started coming out that he was getting a spin-off, I was sure that was something I didn’t need or want to watch. And then... we got that promo/introduction to the show, and I was sold. SOLD. Because this, clearly, wasn’t just Ray Palmer -- it was the best version of Ray Palmer, the one we rarely got to see in Arrow. And, moreover, he was going to be joined by one of my all-time favorite Arrow characters, Sara Lance (Caity Lotz can rock both the white and the black), a time-traveler played by Arthur Darvill (time-travel is absolutely the one plot theme that hooks me each and every time), Victor Garber (Alias fan here -- I’ll watch anything Victor Garber does), Hawkgirl (yay for female superheroes!), and a host of other interesting characters.

So, yes, I was looking forward to September -- to actual shooting news and pictures. And what I’ve seen so far of Legends looks good. They really know how to sell the anticipation. We already know we’re getting the beginning of this story in both Arrow and The Flash this year, and though that’ll be exciting, there’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing how this makeshift team can work together. (Well, okay, the possibility of an Arrow/Flash/Legends crossover is just as exciting).

I love me some superheroes. I grew up with them. And I’ve mostly been a Marvel girl for as long as I can remember. DC movies haven’t done anything to make me change my mind. But DC TV? Well, I’m a fan. I’m not abandoning Marvel, but I can be convinced to spread the love.

Oliver Queen was my first DC love. But, who knows -- maybe these Legends can make me change my mind.

What Deena’s lovin’: Carmilla, the web series.

Why she’s lovin’ it: I'll be honest: I'm a little late to the whole web series scene, the only one I've watched before this having been The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. But better late than never, right? After seeing so many people mention it on Twitter, reblog GIF sets on Tumblr, etc., I decided to give Carmilla a shot, going in absolutely blind as to what the fuss was all about.

First of all, one of the main things that I really enjoy about it is how easy it is to finish it in just one sitting. I'm not new to binge-watching, obviously, as I'm fairly certain none of us here really are, but it only took a couple of hours (which flew right by) for me to tackle the entire first season. And, as I type this, I'm getting ready to dive right into the second. Every episode is conveniently short at about 3-5 minutes each, but don't let that fool you. Those four minutes can pack as much emotional punch and character depth as any half hour or full length show out there, if not more. There's a certain wonderful charm to the web series that I can't quite explain. Maybe it has to do with the lovable bunch of characters (and the individual relationships formed between them), who are all fantastic and probably the main reason I've fallen for it as hard as I did. Maybe it's the writing, which is both witty and hilarious, no doubt leaving me in tears in a couple parts from how much I laughed (or cried.) So if you haven't started watching Carmilla yet, do it. I can promise you it's one hundred percent worth it.

What Rae's lovin': The comic book The Wicked and the Divine

Why she's lovin' it: On the surface, the comic book The Wicked and the Divine tells a story of a group of gods, known as the Pantheon, who come alive every 90 years to live among people for two years, before dying and starting the cycle again. It uses pop music and popular culture to tell its story but – like pop culture itself – The Wicked and the Divine is about so much more if you look a little deeper.

By taking a critical look at celebrity culture, WicDiv treats it not as fluff, but as something worth studying. All of culture warrants a tough look in WicDiv because all of culture affects the people living in it. And whether you are a mere human or a rock star god, in WicDiv your life matters.

The first arc of WicDiv told the story of Lucifer, who may or may not have committed a murder, but who was definitely murdered herself. Her death led fan Laura to begin to uncover a mysterious conspiracy that may go back eons. Did a crazed fan kill really Luci, or is that just what they want you to think? After Luci died (and after a few others may or may not have died – I don’t want to spoil too much!), the storytelling shifted and the issues are now focusing on specific gods. As we learn more about each god in the Pantheon, the mysteries deepen and clues abound.

The storytelling in WicDiv has so many layers. In the dialogue, in the artwork, in the layout, writer Kieron Gillen and illustrator Jamie McKelvie use every inch of storytelling real estate available to them. And in issue 14, which came out last week, they used yet another tool to retell part of a story they’ve already told, from a different perspective.

The issue goes back to fill in the gaps of what’s come before, but this time from god Woden’s perspective. To do this, McKelvie and Gillen reused art that had been in the comics previously. If I didn’t know it was happening, I’m not sure I would have been able to tell that most of the images were reused because the context and coloring (by Matthew Wilson) made a beautiful, coherent story, and not a single panel felt out of place. Whether WicDiv is laying out the same images in a new way, or laying out panels that descend in reflection of a character descending further into the underworld, I am excited for every issue to see how the layout will add to the story, and to find out which god may be the next to go.

Issues 1-5 and 6-11 are available in trade paperbacks, and you can find new issues on Comixology or at your local comic book store. If you’re already reading WicDiv, please come find me on Twitter (@rclnudson) to talk about it with me!

What Maddie's lovin': Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?

Why she's lovin' it: So Mindy Kaling's new book Why Not Me? comes out this Tuesday. I am beyond excited because I love Mindy Kaling dearly. The Mindy Project is one of my favorite comedies and personally goes down in history as my most hardcore TV binge. I literally watched the first two seasons in one sitting with only a one hour break to stock up on frozen pizza, ice cream and Sour Patch Kids. After that binge was over sometime around 10 AM and I then slept for eleven hours, I proceeded to buy Kaling's first book Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) and was delighted. I already enjoyed Kaling's talent as a television writer and love Mindy Lahiri dearly, but reading this book allowed me to get to know Mindy Kaling as the fabulously awesome person she is. After reading this book, I totally wanted her to become one of my best friends. Her tales of her childhood, friendship, dating, self-image, self-discovery, and her journey as a writer are hysterically funny and delightfully honest.

What I enjoy most is the way that Mindy Kaling views the world it is the perfect blend of optimism and snark. She acknowledges those little things about life that range from mildly annoying to outrageously unjust, but doesn't let those change how she sees herself and the world around her. She knows and loves who she is and loves life. I think this is best exemplified in her retelling of her shoot with People Magazine (which had resulted her being insulted and doubting herself, and after a bit of tears she had a laugh and then continued to be confident and radiant). This is why she is one of the people who not only makes me laugh on a regular basis, but is also someone who I find a great kinship with and inspires me. At the end of the book, I had laughed out loud countless times, but was also more confident in my own fabulousness and ready to share that with the rest of the world. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Likewise, I am so thrilled to see the amount of success Kaling has had since writing it, and look forward to read the amazing and hilarious stories to come in Why Not Me?

What Megan's lovin': Humans on AMC

Why she's lovin' it: Lately I've learned that I'm quite the sucker for sci-fi related TV shows and this English import is no different. It takes place in an alternate present time when synths are more frequently the norm. They live in your homes, are healthcare professionals, and work as janitors. They're everywhere and act so humanlike that if their eyes weren't an unnatural green, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between them and humans. When Laura Hawkins is away for work for too long, her husband Joe (Mr. Grove from Mr. Selfridge!) decides that they need a synth in order to help with daily tasks. But there's something peculiar about their new synth, Anita. She's different from other synths and both Laura and their daughter Mattie can tell that something is up. Is there something faulty with her software or she some sort of human/A.I. hybrid?

I saw a commercial for this series a long time ago when I was watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (another really fantastic miniseries I suggest any fantasy fan view) but never got around to watching it. Then I started the pilot and now I'm at the end of the season and I don't know how I got here. All I know is that I think I'm missing a day in my personal calendar, okay? Some might say that this concept for a series is a tired idea but I thought that it was really interesting. You keep wanting to know what wais going on with Anita and the writers only allow you the smallest glimpse every episode. So you are compelled to keep watching. I also think the idea of a an A.I./human hybrid is something totally unique. I really enjoyed this eight episode series and am definitely excited for season two next year!

Bonus Lovin': Sunday nights on Bravo. I know that I've talked about it before, but I cannot help how absolutely hysterical Don't Be Tardy and Manzo'd with Children is. If I have a rough few days, I just turn those episodes on and I crack up. They're that funny. I want to be friends with both families, so if they need a new pal... I'm available.

What Lynnie's lovin': Masters of the Universe

Why she's lovin' it: There is no question that Masters of the Universe has an inordinately terrible script. The things that come out of the actors’ mouths are equal parts awful and entertaining for all the wrong reasons. This is part of the reason why the movie is so awesome. Another reason is something I had not been expecting at all: it is nearly a feminist movie. The main woman in the movie is not turned into a swooning love interest. She fights, she storms, she comes up with good ideas while He-man is searching for a way to speak more and flex his severely oiled chest as much as possible. Her battle armor is just that – armor. It doesn’t have cutouts for her boobs or thighs. It’s practical and makes sense. This is an exception in the 80s, where women could be strong so long as the men could still see plenty of skin. The evil woman in the film, aptly named Evil Lyn, also manages to go through the movie fully clothed. The only one you get to see sexualized is He-man; the female gaze is strong in the movie. It also features an extremely baby-faced Courtney Cox, who gets to somewhat be in the plot for a hot minute until she gets scratched and almost dies. Or something. It’s ridiculous, it’s fun, and it is totally worth the watch.

What Chelsea's lovin': Grace Helbig's recent video

Why she's lovin' it: Grace Helbig is a YouTuber best known for being the Internet's awkward older sister. It's a running joke that she doesn't "do emotions" and her podcast is literally called Not Too Deep, where you don't learn anything about her guests. She avoids sincerity and I not only identify with that quality in her but also respect it. So when another YouTuber named Nicole Arbour posted a video fat-shaming people, the normally non-confrontational and unemotional Helbig posted a very thoughtful and moving reaction video calling out Arbour's mean behavior.

What works about this video is that Grace does not outright attack Arbour as a person. She gives her the benefit of the doubt but also breaks down why Arbour's method of comedy in the video does not work. Helbig notes that she looked up Arbour's social media accounts and saw how the comments section of the controversial video was disabled and that Arbour herself was bragging about the followers she was gaining as a result of the controversy. Helbig goes on in her response video to talk about how she was personally affected while watching and listening to Arbour's remarks and tries to tell Arbour in a respectful way how that kind of  idea of "comedy" genuinely did nothing but hurt people.

In Helbig's rare moment of sincerity, she uses her position as a public figure to not only defend comedy and YouTube as a social media platform, but to defend her fans and the people of the Internet that may have been triggered by this video. Her call for people to respect others and to be smarter when creating comedy is something that needs to be listened and adhered to. And I, for one, would just like to thank Grace Helbig for speaking up and making this video.

That's a wrap on Summer Lovin' for this year! Hit up the comments and let us know what you've loved about the series and if you've tried out any of our recommendations. Until next year, folks! :)


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