Ted Lasso, Rom-Coms, and Emotional Vulnerability

Why is it important that a show about men who play soccer did a rom-com homage?

Dickinson Behind-the-Scenes: An Interview With the Artisans

Meet the artists who brought the Apple TV+ series to life!

If You Like This, Watch That

Looking for a new TV series to watch? We recommend them based on your preference for musicals, ensemble shows, mysteries, and more!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Series: Summer Lovin' -- Week 17

It's been a week since Comic-Con ended, which means that many of people are slowly adjusting to a schedule that isn't packed with panels and overpriced convention center food. As we all cherish the last bits of summer before kids return to school and students to their college studies, we thought we would also tell you what you should be reading and watching this week! Joining me are:

Let's get started!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Comic-Con Recap: 9 Things We Learned From The DC Panels [Contributor: Jen]

One of the highlights of San Diego Comic Con was the DC television panels. The excitement in the room was palpable as the writers and casts from Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash and Arrow assembled in Ballroom 20 to discuss their upcoming seasons. The creators and cast from each show had plenty of spoilers for us. But those weren't necessarily the most surprising revelations. Below are nine of the most interesting things we learned from the DC television block on Saturday.

We know who is in "The Pod."

Truth be told, this was a bomb drop for me. I was floored that Supergirl released who is in
The Pod." Okay, now is the time to avert your eyes if you want to remain spoiler-free! Ready? Here we go: Chris Wood — known for his roles on The Vampire Diaries and Contagion — will be joining Supergirl as a series regular in season two. And as it turns out, he is the one in the pod. Judging from his previous roles, Wood plays both a hero and villain equally well, so I truly have no idea what to expect from him on Supergirl.

Arrow's theme for the upcoming season is "legacy."

Every fan of Arrow knows that each year, the show chooses to focus on a singular theme and structure the season around it. The focus of season five was revealed at Comic-Con and will be "legacy." The writers will honor the death of the Black Canary/Laurel Lance, but also refocus on the original premise of Arrow. As Stephen Amell noted about Oliver, "he's really back to the mission [...] the most important thing in [Oliver's] life is honoring what [his] father asked [him] to do, which is protect Star City."

Stephen Amell's mantra throughout the majority of the interviews he conducted about the upcoming season was "back to basics." There's a reason why this message was top priority in the Arrow media blitz. Arrow spent the last three years launching The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. In the midst of all the spin-off goodness, something has been lost for many fans — Arrow. It seems like Amell is echoing the concern of the fans and reassuring them.

This complaint that the show has strayed away from its roots is one that the writers have heard, too. The theme of legacy means that Arrow is committed to honoring the legacy of Oliver's fallen loved ones, but also forging a new legacy with The Green Arrow. It's a return to the street-fighting-Original-Team-Arrow-saving-Star-City premise that makes this show great.

Legends of Tomorrow has new supervillains (plural!) and they are awesome.

One of the chief complaints I had about Legends of Tomorrow's first season was the villain was fairly lackluster. For season two, instead of announcing one villain, creator Marc Guggenheim announced FOUR: Eobard Thawne (Reverse Flash), Damien Darhk, Captain Cold (former Legends of Tomorrow deceased team member Leonard Snart), and Malcolm Merlyn.

All of these villains hail from The Flash and Arrow universes. They are fully fleshed out characters and formidable in their own rights. The legends have personal history with each villain, adding a layer of emotional drama that was lacking with Vandal Savage. Caity Lotz — who plays White Canary/Sara Lance — made specific mention of how much Sara will want to kill Damien and Merlyn, in particular, since Darhk is responsible for killing Laurel and Merlyn is responsible for killing well... her.

A supervillain team fighting against a superhero team throughout time sounds pretty spectacular. Plus capping off the announcement with an appearance from John Barrowman was just the icing on the cake.

Flashpoint is no small paradox.

Of course, at the forefront of everyone's minds is how much has changed (or will change) within the DC television universe because of Barry's decision to save his mother on The Flash. So exactly how much has changed? In a word (or two): A LOT. Grant Gustin said that Barry is somewhat unaware of all the changes because he's living in blissful ignorance. The cast and sizzle reel reveal some of the big changes, however:
  • Cisco is the richest man in the world.
  • Both Barry's father and mother are alive.
  • Iris doesn't really know who Barry is. She has difficulty remembering his name and it's clear they don't have a relationship. Not even a friendship.
  • The West family is no longer the strong, close unit they use to be. Joe is very unhappy and Jesse L. Martin specifically mentioned Joe has, what looks like, an unsolvable problem with Iris.
  • Wally West is Kid Flash.
  • Flashpoint impacts the whole Berlanti universe, but there was specific mention of the impact to Diggle.
It was also announced that Emily Bett Rickards will be guest-starring as Felicity Smoak in episode two this season, but writer Todd Helbing became extremely evasive when pressed for details about her appearance. Grant quickly interrupted and said Felicity is giving Barry advice. The Flash included a clip of Barry and Felicity's kiss during the sizzle reel, leaving some fans to wonder if the Flashpoint impact with Barry and Felicity is more than meets the eye.

Arrow reveals Laurel Lance's final words... and they have real implications for Olicity.

This was another shocker from the sizzle reel. Much has been made about Laurel and Oliver's mysterious final scene and what exactly Laurel made Oliver promise. As it turns out, fans didn't have to wait as long as we anticipated to find out. Their final exchange went like this:
Laurel: Will you promise me something?
Oliver: Anything.
Laurel: Your instinct has always been to go it alone. But Ollie... you can't.
At first, hearing those final words felt like a balloon deflating. Laurel tells Oliver not to "go it alone"? That's it? I felt decidedly "eh." But upon further reflection, it's actually a pretty perfect final exchange between the two. We know that the flashbacks this season are Bratva-centric. In the sizzle reel, in particular, Anatoly Knyaze tells Oliver the only person he can trust is himself. Season five of Arrow is about the juxtaposition of these two sides of Oliver.

Laurel asking Oliver not go it alone not only has literal implications, but also fascinating romantic implications. Ultimately, one of the reasons why Laurel and Oliver failed romantically is because Oliver was constantly going it alone. The Laurel/Oliver flashbacks in "Canary Cry" revealed that Laurel wanted to be with Oliver and save the city together after Tommy's death. Instead of allowing her in, Oliver continues to lie to Laurel and leaves town for the isolation of Lian-Yu. Their romance, of course, never recovered.

We saw this idea of isolation again in season four with Oliver making a similar choice to "go it alone" when he lied to Felicity about the existence of his son and chose to send William away without even mentioning it to her. And in "Broken Hearts," Felicity said to Oliver, "You know, no matter how much you love me, there's always going to be a part of you that defaults to the man who was on the island. Alone. Who came back to save the city alone."

In order to keep Laurel's promise, Oliver can no longer go through life alone. He can no longer default to the man on the island. This means building a new team (and repairing the old one), but it also means becoming the man Felicity Smoak needs and deserves — the man he could never be for Laurel Lance. So, in an ironic twist, Laurel Lance may be the catalyst that reunites Oliver and Felicity.

Katie Cassidy's "deal" across Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow.

Wendy Mericle announced that they made a "deal" with Katie Cassidy for her to appear across all three shows mentioned above. There's been some confusion, however, regarding this announcement. Both Mericle and Guggenheim used the words "deal," but the media reported that Katie Cassidy would be a series regular again. Some fans seem to believe this means Cassidy will be appearing on all three shows with the frequency of her previous contract.

However, in a private conversation I had with Marc Guggenheim, he corrected that notion and told me that Cassidy will not be appearing as Laurel Lance in the present day. Instead, the show will use flashbacks, time travel, and the appearance of Black Siren to incorporate Cassidy into the show again. Her contract, in fact, sounds very similar to John Barrowman's or Wentworth Miller's — both presences in their respective shows, but certainly not in every episode. All of these potential uses of Laurel Lance (or a version of her) sound very interesting, but fans of the character should temper their expectations on the frequency of her appearances.

Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, and Melissa Benoist are quite similar to their characters.

More than once, the cast of Supergirl mentioned how much Melissa is like Kara Danvers. Melissa, herself, admitted her personality is fairly similar to Kara when she is at Catco. However, there was an impressive moment regarding Melissa when she took the time to discuss how important all the little girls who love Supergirl are to her. She talked about how important it is to be a role model to those girls and how it's something she takes very seriously. My daughter loves the show, so I found Melissa's love and respect toward these young fans admirable. It was truly a moment when her inner Supergirl shone.

Grant Gustin continues to be quite Barry-esque. Barry is essentially a Golden Retriever puppy, and Grant doesn't stray too far from this description himself. He made specific mention of how he can't discuss the death of Barry's mother without tearing up (same, Grant. Same).

Finally, Stephen Amell made an interesting admission as well regarding his character: "I'm stubborn, I'm prideful, I hold grudges, but I'm not a murderer." Apparently Amell is more like Oliver Queen than he cares to admit most of the time.


Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin always need to tap dance together.

In the highlight of The Flash panel, Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin performed an impromptu tap dance routine. They made it up on the spot and performed it in perfect unison because they are ridiculously talented. These two men need to do a Broadway show together. Or just tap dance on The Flash. I'll take either, really.

The Arrow cast can really sing.

The Arrow cast broke out into a rendition of Hamilton's "You'll Be Back" during their panel. Echo Kellum took the lead, but the cast didn't miss a beat singing along with him, in harmony no less. Maybe there should be an Arrow musical (no there shouldn't)! But seriously, these guys can really belt a tune.

There's a reason why Comic-Con builds up to the DC panels — the casts truly come to play. There were so many thrills in discussing the upcoming seasons and watching these wonderfully talented people interact with one another on their panels. I was so lucky to be there, and I can't wait for all the new seasons of these fantastic shows.

Comic-Con Roundtable Interview: Creators of Frequency

When Frequency debuted its pilot during Comic-Con’s preview night, I was surprised at how much I loved the series. To the show and network’s credit, the teasers playing on The CW didn’t give away too much of the show’s plot, while still managing to pique my interest. Based on the 2000 movie of the same name, Frequency tells the story of Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List), a detective whose father (Riley Smith) died 20 years earlier. Raimy’s memories of her father are tainted by anger and bitterness, as all she remembers is that he abandoned her family when they needed him. Unbeknownst to Raimy, there was a lot more to Frank Sullivan than met the eye. So when a freak lightning strike allows her to communicate with him via a ham radio in 1996, Raimy learns things and makes decisions that impact her future significantly.

We sat down at Comic-Con with the Frequency’s creator, Jeremy Carver, and executive producer Jennifer Gwartz to discuss the show. 

And if you’re wondering whether or not you need to have seen the movie in order to appreciate the television series, never fear: you don’t! I had never seen the film but was captivated by the story and by the way that Frequency grounded itself in character development first, and then time-travel shenanigans and police drama second. But if you are a fan of the film, you might notice something a little bit different about the television series — the show chooses to gender-swap the main character. When asked what was behind the gender swapping (from a father/son relationship in the movie version of Frequency to the father/daughter version in the television show), Carver noted: “For me, I just thought it would be much more of a challenge. I always loved that central relationship in the movie. But when I thought more and more about it, the idea of making it father/daughter just felt more dynamic to me. […] I haven’t seen a relationship like this [on television], at least not in the shows that I’m watching. So it felt more exciting and more dynamic and not so tried and true.”

When you watch the pilot of Frequency, you might be wondering exactly what kind of show it is. Because while there are supernatural and time-travel elements to it, Frequency is about more than Raimy communicating with her father in the past. It’s about her present, and all of the moments that led her there. She has a very familial relationship with Satch DeLeon (Mekhi Phifer), who works on the force with her and a case presents itself in the pilot that will thread throughout the remainder of the series. So what kind of show is Frequency, then? “I would consider this show to be of three parts,” Carver noted. “You have a mystery/police drama, a family drama, and the genre part of it. And they’re sort of all mashed together. […] There’s no one template for each episode. There’s a sense of unpredictability for each episode that hopefully people will get excited about. […] One of the fun things about the show is that while we have a propulsive mystery with a ticking clock, we have all of these other issues sort of standing in the way. […] There’s no one template for the show. And while that makes it a little trickier to break these stories, I think it ultimately is going to be more rewarding to watch.”

Frequency certainly isn’t the first television series to be adapted from a film (just last year, CBS adapted the short-lived television series Limitless, based on the 2011 Bradley Cooper film), and it won’t be the last. While shows with source material like comic books, novels, or movies might find it easier in some ways to adapt to a new format, there are always still challenges. Especially when timelines are involved, as with Frequency. Carver said that, “I think one of the other challenges might be cross-time communication and the butterfly effect.” But unlike a show involving time travel like Doctor Who or Legends of Tomorrow, Carver said that “we never want people to feel like they have to keep a rule book by their sides [while watching the show]. […] You will pick up on what the rules are but we aren’t going to spell them out for you.” One of the most frustrating and challenging aspects of shows involving timelines or time travel is remembering all of the different versions of history and keeping the rules, as Carver noted, of each straight. Thankfully it seems like the Frequency writers are cognizant of the fact that audiences get frustrated whenever they’re asked to keep track of storylines and timelines and rules of time travel.

Speaking of time travel, it’s pretty evident just by looking at the shows on television this upcoming season (Legends of Tomorrow, Timeless, Time After Time, Making History, and Frequency) that time travel has become the new vampires or zombies. Audiences have always been fascinated by time travel, from Doctor Who to movies. But now more than ever before it seems like time travel has captivated audiences. And Jeremy Carver has no idea why, but surmises: “In our show there’s an element of wish fulfillment and the idea of having a second chance. I think that was one of the appeals to me about the show. But why’s there so much time travel? I’m sure there’s something about the times we’re living in and people looking to escape.”

Jennifer Gwartz then chimes in, “our [show] was developed two years ago. So we were ahead of the trend, regardless!”

Frequency is a show that relies heavily on the emotional relationship between Frank and Raimy Sullivan. Though there is a lot that is packed into the pilot, the episode never loses its central focus. Everything that Raimy does and everything she is centers around her past. While there are definitely procedural elements to the pilot, the cases and Raimy’s job are not at the forefront of the show in terms of importance. The case presented is easy to follow, and the show uses the relationships Raimy has — both with people on the force and with the job itself — to define and elevate her character. Peyton List and Riley Smith have incredible chemistry together already, and are able to nail some really complex emotional nuances within the span of forty minutes. 

If you’re even remotely curious about Frequency, I highly recommend that you check it out when it debuts on The CW on October 5th.

Listen below for the full interview with Jeremy and Jennifer, and stay tuned for more interviews from Comic-Con!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Beauty & the Beast 4x08 Recap: “Love is a Battlefield” (Decisions, Decisions) [Guest Poster: Bibi]

“Love is a Battlefield”
Original Airdate: July 21, 2016

When this episode opens, Cat hasn't seen or heard from Vincent in a week. Not only are they physically apart, but in terms of communication, they are less in sync than ever. Cat is frustrated and goes to Heather and Tess for advice, but Tess really isn't too involved. She has been against this plan from the beginning, and Cat has now reached the point where she realizes it is insane too. They realize that they need a better plan. And during their chat, Tess reveals that she is dating again, thus moving forward from her relationship with J.T.

Cat contacts J.T. and learns that he hasn't heard from Vincent either. When we, the audience, see Vincent, he is proving himself to a team of assassins that don’t trust him enough to put him out on the field initially. A little manipulation on Vincent’s part changes that quickly, as the plan for him to get more information about who put out the bounty isn’t going as planned.

Vincent contacts J.T. and asks him to set up a meeting with Cat. Of course, every federal agency is spending top dollar and every resource to get Vincent. Drones follow Vincent, and he and Cat are almost caught. It is in that moment that Cat realizes that if they do not start talking through this plan, they will either go to prison or die.

Meanwhile, Cat has another problem: she has a new boss who does not trust her at all. Her boss thinks Cat is letting her emotions for Vincent protect him and that she is neglecting her job. She is not providing information to Cat about Vincent because of this. Cat uses J.T. to locate Vincent, who is at the Hamptons. But it is Cat’s actions once her boss gets injured that soften her and earn her trust.

Speaking of trust, Vincent wins the partial trust of the assassins... until his first test at the Hamptons party is compromised. Diane, the woman pretending to be his wife as a cover, is now very suspicious. She talks with the mid-level boss and they decide test Vincent even further by sending him along with Diane to retrieve a valuable USB. While there, Diane sets off a silent alarm and when the security company arrives, she tests his loyalty by forcing Vincent to kill the guard. Diane ultimately meets her fate when the knife she was using to attack Cat ends up lodged into her after her fight. Cat then finds Vincent trying to revive the guard he just killed. But soon after, every major law enforcement agency is intent on catching Vincent. Cat begs him to talk, but he blurs away.

Elsewhere, Heather (in a headband that I own in my personal closet) tries to convince J.T. to be honest about his feelings for Tess and not give up on their relationship. She actually convinces him to fight! While he still has no idea what he is going to do with his life, he does know that he wants Tess to be a part of his future. He goes to the local café and tells Tess how she feels, but then notices she is already there with someone. Is this truly the end for them? We didn’t actually see anyone else there. So is Tess truly over J.T.?

The episode ends with Cat and Vincent finally able to spend time together. Cat’s new boss and the assassins trust both respectively more than they ever have. Now if only Vincent and Cat would come up with a viable plan that truly works.

So what did you think of the episode? What will they do? How is Kyle involved? Can Cat truly prove Vincent’s innocence or will Vincent go to prison?

Share your thoughts below!

The Bachelorette 12x09 and 12x10 Roundtable: And Then There Were Two [Contributors: Rae Nudson, Alisa Williams, Rebecca, Chelsea]

JoJo makes some crucial decisions this week and chooses her final two contestants to battle for her ring finger. Also this week, the men came back to tell all, which once again turned into everyone yelling at Chad. See what Rae, Alisa, Rebecca, and Chelsea had to say about this week's episodes of The Bachelorette.

Well, Robby and Jordan are in the final two. What do you think about JoJo’s picks?

Rae: We all think Jordan’s going to win, right? I do not think JoJo has good taste in men. She seems drawn to guys that are bad for her, but Jordan does seem more in line with JoJo. They’ll have a great few months of going on talk shows and being C-list celebrities together.

Alisa: Of course Jordan is going to win! I mostly think this because I only started remembering Robby’s name on a consistent basis maybe ten days ago. Jordan’s been the frontrunner from the beginning. Plus, during the Men Tell All, some vaguely memorable former contestant named Leah tweeted that she was watching MTA with Robby and Chase. And if Robby is getting cozy during MTA with a lady that’s not JoJo, then that only solidifies my guess that JoJo chose the more famous of her two former pro athletes.

Personally, I don’t like either of the final two men. Between Robby With the Dead Eyes and Jordan with his ridiculous swagger, the final two make me question JoJo’s decision-making abilities. There were literally dozens of better guys for her to pick from over these two clowns.

Rebecca: Honestly I don’t feel one way or the other about either of the final two. I guess I like Robby more, although I’m similar to Alisa in that I would forget about him every week until he went on a date with JoJo and I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s the other one who is still on.” Jordan has given me bad vibes from the beginning. He doesn’t come across as very genuine to me and there’s just something offputting about him I can’t really put my finger on. But I think Robby moved into this relationship waaaaay too quickly. At one point, he told JoJo he had broken up with his ex “a couple of months ago,” and this show was filmed... a couple of months ago. So he probably had only been single for a month or so before coming on the show, and a couple weeks later he’s in love. I’m worried JoJo may be a rebound. I don’t think he stands a chance against Jordan, though.

Chelsea: Jordan has been the frontrunner since his first moment on screen. I’ve had no doubt he would win this thing and that they’re both there for similar reasons. They do have a great chemistry and are a solid fit for one another. I think if JoJo was looking for husband material then she would have kept James Taylor or Luke around. Those guys were ready to settle down in Texas and make her happy. Both are too sweet for this show, so of course they wouldn’t win. I do like Robby though and he’s shown growth since his one-on-one date earlier this season. He would be the perfect Bachelor for next season and I think Luke is his only real competition for the spot. Robby seems to be more fun and would be more entertaining to watch. I don’t expect him and JoJo to end up together because he came on a little too strong early on.

How do you think the overnight dates went?

Alisa: Thinking too deeply about the overnight dates makes me squeamish. I mean, it’s really no secret anymore what goes on when the cameras, mics, and producers are taken away and a king-sized bed in a romantic locale is added. Obviously things went well for Robby and Jordan because they’re still standing and JoJo seems more confused than ever, even if the rest of America knows she’ll be choosing Jordan. I rolled my eyes so hard I almost gave myself an aneurysm when the next morning JoJo exclaimed excitedly, “we’re eating our first breakfast together!” to BOTH men. Come on, JoJo. Did the producers tell you that you had to use the exact same lines on both men? Because it seemed a little more forced that second time around.

Rebecca: (Quick side note: I had to laugh when JoJo referred to these dates as “the exotic overnight dates,” because my friends and I just call them what they are — ”the sex dates.”) Obviously Robby and JoJo, and Jordan and JoJo had some good times with one another because they made it to the final two and will meet her parents.

Chelsea: We just need to address the fact that JoJo wasted a night with Luke for the boring mess of a night that was Chase. I’m not even the biggest Luke fan and even I would keep him around for the fantasy nights. I do get why Chase was upset though. She’s been pushing him all season to open up to her and right after he does, she turns him down like that. It’s been pretty obvious that he’s just a Jordan lookalike that the producers are keeping around because he’s sweet and harmless. He never had a real chance at winning.

Rae: Has there ever been a season when all the remaining contestants looked so much alike? After JoJo kicked off Luke, I feel sort of checked out. I am not really into Robby or Jordan, and watching JoJo get worked up over these lackluster guys is sort of predictable and not that exciting. Chase’s date was at least interesting, even though it definitely did not go well. JoJo has said she’s never broken up with someone before this show, and she does not seem at all comfortable with letting the guys go, or good at letting them down easy. Maybe none of us are good at breaking up with someone, but JoJo is, well, extra not good at it.

What did you think were the biggest surprises from Men Tell All?

Alisa: They really should have just changed the name this season to Chad Tells All for all the time that was spent on him. I don’t know that there were any big surprises for me. Everyone stayed in character: Chad the villain, Chase the confused, Luke the brokenhearted (but ready for love again!), Derek the misunderstood Jim Halpert impersonator. I thought it was hilarious that they let Vinny’s mom into the audience and gave her a chance to plead her case for her son. I didn’t even remember Vinny, but I will remember his mother forever. Someone should have duct-taped Evan’s mouth shut before they allowed him on stage. I just can’t with that guy. I’m shocked he was allowed onto The Bachelorette in the first place and now he’s going to be on Bachelor in Paradise, too. Gross.

Rebecca: I didn’t think there were too many surprises; like Alisa said, everyone was who they were when they were on The Bachelorette. Chad... I don’t know where to start. I do feel bad for him in the sense that the other guys clearly egged him on and antagonized him. But he did kind of deserve it. He is so rude and disrespectful, but I have to admit that he was pretty entertaining. I caught myself laughing out loud at things he said more than once — sometimes because what was coming out of his mouth was so absurd and ridiculous, but sometimes because it was seriously funny.

I found Evan seriously annoying this time around but did feel a little embarrassed for him when they showed the clip that outed him pushing Chad. As much as I don’t care for either one, I am looking forward to seeing what kind of drama they bring to Paradise. Echoing Alisa about Vinny’s mom: she was the highlight of the show for me. She injected some humor and unpredictability in an (in my opinion) otherwise bland men tell-all. It was two hours of the guys arguing with Chad, which is basically what the show was when he was still around.

Chelsea: I’m very glad that right from the top they addressed the fact that Alex is really terrible and was always picking fights with others. They didn’t let him slide with being just as terrible as Chad. Also, the grin on his face when Chad walked into MTA just proved that he’d rather fight him than spend time playing the love game. Wells asking Chad what a luxury real estate agent does in Tulsa gave me life. Overall, the focus on Chad was way too much. I liked guys like Grant and Wells that used their words to try to talk about how the way he conducted himself was wrong. Otherwise, it was just too much focus on letting Chad argue and insult the other guys, and give him a platform to gossip about Jordan and Robby.

I like that we got to see more of Luke, Derek, Wells, and James Taylor. Looking at the ladies in the audience, something tells me Luke will find love soon. He’ll probably be the next Bachelor. Like, Chris isn’t being subtle about it when asking if he’s ready for love again.

P.S. When will Evan go away?

Rae: I do think they were totally setting up for Luke to be the next Bachelor. All that talk about how he loved JoJo and was brokenhearted but is totally ready and open to love! The biggest surprise to me was how great Bachelor in Paradise looks like it’s going to be. Except, why does it always seem like they pick the worst men to be on it but the best women? At least Wells will be there to save us from Evan and Chad.

Suits 6x03 Review: “Back on the Map” (Going Places)

“Back on the Map”
Original Airdate: July 27, 2016

Sometimes the best thing for writers to do when a television show is six seasons deep is find a new way to refresh it — a way to make the things that have become expected and stale new and alive. I’ll admit that the past few seasons of Suits have felt rather hamster wheel-ish in their plot and character growth: Mike would almost get caught in his fraud, but at the last minute someone new would discover his secret and together, they would be saved. Harvey would fight with Jessica or Louis, but by the end of the season they would be strong again. The firm would face a crisis and then narrowly avoid it by doing something risky and bold. And while that pattern of storytelling isn’t bad, necessarily, it’s also not original and it’s not new and when it happens for five years in a row, it can become pretty old pretty fast. The characters are given only a finite amount of space in which to breathe and grow, and plot points become recycled using different characters and new nemeses.

But we are three episodes into Suits’ sixth season and suddenly it’s like the show has found its second wind. It has come alive in a way that hasn’t happened for years because of its decision to isolate Mike into his own storyline and give the rest of the characters real, difficult stakes. Harvey, Louis, Rachel, Donna, and Jessica don’t win every single episode — some episodes they’re barely hanging on by a thread. But that makes the victories sweeter, and it makes the characters richer. And Mike is becoming more realized and more developed than he has in years by being in prison. I am really, truly loving this season of Suits thus far and I’m hopeful that the show can continue to keep that strength throughout the rest of the summer and the rest of the season.

But for now, let’s discuss why I enjoyed “Back on the Map” and why I think Suits is flourishing in terms of character growth this year.


Since I was in San Diego for Comic-Con last week, I didn’t get to watch “Accounts Payable” until before “Back on the Map,” so I’ll recap what I enjoyed about the episode: I loved that Mike’s arrogance reared its head again because even though I hate the self-centered and narcissistic version of Mike Ross, that version generally melts away pretty quickly and turns into selfless Mike Ross. I’m glad that he and Kevin bonded at the end of the episode and that Mike finally got over his stubbornness long enough to let someone else help him. Elsewhere, Jessica and Harvey try their hardest to fend off their class-action lawsuit, and Jessica has a moment of character growth in which she recognizes the way she hurt Jack and makes amends. Indeed, all of the characters (but Harvey and Jessica in particular) recognize that their actions had major consequences. They can’t skirt the blame for the trouble the firm is in, and it is actually really refreshing to see them both actively accepting blame and consequences. Furthermore, Jessica’s comment to Robert and Jack about how the older she gets, the more she wants friends and not enemies was brilliant. Overall, “Accounts Payable” was a great episode filled with character growth (even for Rachel), and we all know how much I love character growth.


We’re going to discuss Mike Ross first, because I am loving the decision Suits made to isolate him into a separate storyline (for now). I think the lack of Mike at the firm is actually more powerful — and a more powerful motivator for the other characters — than him being present. Mike is experiencing a unique type of character growth that would not happen if he remained at Pearson Specter Litt. Because the truth is that Mike is entitled and narcissistic and egotistical, in his worst moments. He feels like the world owes him and he justifies his crime and he essentially acts as if everyone should just treat him the way he deserves. Life isn’t a prison movie, and Mike is beginning to learn that the hard way in this episode after Harvey — bless his soul — threatens Frank Gallo and Frank takes it upon himself to make life a whole lot more difficult for Mike. But Mike has someone in his corner, and it’s his cell mate named Kevin.

I love Kevin. I adore the fact that he has loyalty and he tries to make amends for leaving the cell so that Frank could be in there and learn all about Mike and his loved ones. Kevin isn’t a terrible person, but Mike treats him like one and brushes him off. “Back on the Map” proves, however, that these two men need one another in prison. Kevin is the only friend Mike has, and Mike isn’t always the greatest friend. He runs his mouth and his ego gets the better of him. But Mike cares. That’s what really gets me about his character. On his best days and in his proudest moments, Mike Ross will do everything in his power to protect his own, just like Harvey and Jessica and Donna do. So when Kevin gets beaten badly because Mike’s job conflicts with his ability to protect his cell mate from Frank’s goons, Mike is furious. He’s tired of feeling helpless and he will not sit idly by while the one person who has his back and who he cares about takes a beating because of something he did.

Already one of the most interesting relationships in the prison is the one between Mike and Julius (played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who I adore). Julius is the one person Mike needs on his side and his team, but his arrogance — shocker — is driving a wedge between them. Julius wants to help, but only if Mike is humble enough to stop yelling and throwing childish fits and actually communicate for once. I kind of love their relationship and the fact that it hinges on Mike being able to be “rehabilitated.” Mike needs to become a better version of himself in prison, not a worse one. And if he learns nothing while in there, what was it all for? Mike’s crutch right now is his ego. He’s leaning on it so hard that it’s blinding him to the possibility that he might actually not always have the right answers. Julius seems to be unwilling to help — when Mike confronts him about Kevin being beaten up, Julius tells him to lodge a formal complaint which Mike knows will mean certain death for them both — but as it turns out, he pulls strings at the episode’s end and gets Kevin a job in the kitchen with Mike so the two will not have to be separated anymore.

You can tell that Mike realizes how necessary it is to communicate and to trust other people in prison, even when it seems like they’re not really listening to you. Julius is the kind of person who sees straight through someone else’s crap. He knows that Mike genuinely cares, and when Mike finally lets his guards down enough to communicate that clearly, Julius is willing to help.

Mike’s story is so great and it’s going to be made even better when next week, he learns that if he sells Kevin out and/or gets important information regarding a case from him, he can be released from prison. Mike’s moral conflict will likely be front and center and I’m excited about seeing more of that.


I’m going to take a brief interlude here (before I talk about Harvey) to discuss the small but satisfying story that Rachel had with Jessica. Finally — after what seems like eons — Rachel has a storyline that doesn’t revolve around a wedding or Mike. While in a law school mock trial, Rachel’s classmate questions her ethics, given the fact that everyone obviously knows about Mike’s conviction and sentence. This makes Rachel furious, of course, and her professor notices her evident discomfort in class. So he offers her a position with The Innocence Project — a dream job that Rachel is afraid taking will only lead to her being seen as weak by everyone. And I get that. I totally do. I think Rachel is valid in her fears. And it’s something that Suits hasn’t really addressed: the way that Mike being in prison will impact Rachel and her career as a lawyer. Her classmates obviously know what happened and question her character and her ethics. It won’t be the last time that people do once they realize who her fiancé is. And so Rachel is stuck — she wants to take this job because it would be an amazing opportunity, but she doesn’t want to run away from people every time they seem to have the upper hand or make her upset.

So she seeks out Jessica’s advice, and it’s a lovely little moment of bonding between the women. Remember in the premiere, how Rachel vowed loyalty to Jessica and Jessica opened up to Rachel? Well in “Back on the Map,” Jessica offers Rachel a piece of ruthless advice: make her classmates fear her. When Rachel makes a quip about how quickly and easily Jessica’s response came, saying that she must have experienced a difficult classmate like Rachel is, Jessica speaks more truth in saying that she faces that kind of criticism every single day.

Suits doesn’t usually talk enough about the women in power in this show and how that not only influences their decision-making but also the way they process and react to situations. But I love this little moment and the ones throughout this episode that address the struggles that women in power face. Jessica wants people to respect her, but in order to survive in a man’s world, she needs them to fear her. So Rachel does exactly that. The next day, she digs up some dirt on her opponent and in exchange for not releasing it in their mock trial, makes the girl read an apology that Rachel wrote and then drop out of the debate. It’s a great, very Jessica Pearson-esque move and Rachel’s professor takes note. She then accepts the position with The Innocence Project because she proved to everyone in class that she’s not to be messed with.

Good job, Rachel.


Louis’ story in this episode is hilarious, as he rents out the Pearson Specter Litt office space to a bunch of dudebro stock traders, and clashes with their boss named Stu. I mean, Stu is a jerk so I don’t really blame Louis for being frustrated with him for violating the fridge. But Louis, whenever he gets even an ounce of power, enjoys wielding it to no end. (Unfortunately, Harvey undermines that power in the end, but whatevs.)

Speaking of Harvey, this man keeps growing leaps and bounds, as do the people around him. As we saw at the end of last week’s episode, Harvey sacrificed the painting that his mother did in order to save Mike and the firm. It was a really emotional moment and a surprising amount of both sacrifice and character development for Harvey, whose pain is palpable and whose burden of responsibility grows ever heavier. But I like that Harvey has finally taken responsibility after years of placing blame on others for the decisions he made. And though Harvey’s default response is to always point the finger at someone else, he’s growing and he’s learning that sometimes you have to carry the weight of what you’ve done and you’re the only one who can.

This week, Harvey refuses to make a deal with a wealthy but shady man and turns to a jerk (but a jerk whose word is his bond) to help Pearson Specter Litt out instead. There’s a really great commentary here on what Harvey is now willing to do in order to save the people and place he cares about. He’s not willing to go to any length to get things done, and I don’t think Jessica is either. They’re both still powerful and they’re both still ruthless and they both use their favors and friends in order to help them out of tight spots. But Harvey and Jessica are living by a newly-refined code: there are certain things they just won’t do anymore. And for Harvey, he’s learned his lesson about making deals with shady guys in order to get what he wants. He played that game and he lost Mike and he’s not willing to risk the things he has left in trying to save Pearson Specter Litt. As Felicity Smoak from Arrow might say: “There’s always another way.”

Eventually, Harvey lampoons his “whale” (the jerk, Nathan) for the firm by being honest and speaking to Nathan, rather than above him. I appreciate all that Harvey’s done and the way he’s trying to live in light of all of the crises around him. I think it makes for a compelling character study, and I’m interested to see how the rest of the season plays out.

“Back on the Map” is another solid episode of Suits. Apparently shaking things up is the way to go. Doing so has refreshed the show in a way that hasn’t happened since the beginning.

And now, bonus points:
  • Gabriel Macht has been incredible this season. I just have to throw that out there.
  • “Okay, I’m gonna choose not to respond to that…”
  • I was so excited that last week’s episode and this week’s (and presumably next as well) featured the return of Neal McDonough. I loved his character on Arrow and I feel like they softened his Suits one up just a little bit in the best way.
  • “To being back on the map.” “To drawing a new one.”
What did you all think of this week’s episode? Hit up the comments below and let me know!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

#SDCC: Pilot Preview Palooza 2016 [Contributors: Jenn, Maddie, Chelsea, and Jen]

One of the benefits of going to Comic-Con is attending Preview Night, where you and hundreds of your closest friends get to watch a few of the upcoming television pilots. I didn't get the chance to go to Preview Night last year, but was really excited when I realized I would have the opportunity to this year. In total, our team watched five different shows (Riverdale, Powerless, People of Earth, Time After Time, and Frequency) and we all had fairly similar reactions to each. Here, we're going to tell you what we thought of the new fall and midseason pilots, including which are worth your time (and which you should just run far away from right now).

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Finding the Balance in Star Trek Beyond [Contributor: Deborah MacArthur]

When it comes to classic pop culture properties, nostalgia can be something of a double-edged sword. Remaking, rebooting, or planning a sequel to something as far-reaching and influential as Star Trek requires a careful balance: too many references to the well-known films and television episodes can come off as cheap or pandering, while too little shows a poor understanding or lack of appreciation for the franchise’s legacy. Add in the often volatile feelings of die-hard science fiction fans, and you’ve got the makings of a potential disaster that will require great care and consideration to avoid.

The first of the reboot movies, Star Trek (2009), pulled the original series characters out of the 60s and into a much more aesthetically modern setting. It had all the sleek polish and action of a very good summer popcorn film. And even though people mocked the lens flares and explosions as decidedly un-Trek, the movie was still solid entertainment that tapped into that nostalgia section of the brain while also introducing new fans to the classic archetypes of the old series and setting the groundwork for things to come. Despite not quite feeling like the Star Trek I knew and adored growing up, I absolutely loved it — mostly because of the possibilities for telling new stories it brought along. I found its use of time travel clever and full of potential, and I couldn’t wait to see what they did with the timeline they had created and the universe they had remade.

Unfortunately, the second film, Star Trek Into Darkness, didn’t live up to the expectations established by its predecessor. Someone on the writing team had notched their reference-o-meter up a bit too high and ended up completely rehashing the plot of the fan favorite Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but with questionable changes. Star Trek Into Darkness was still a fun movie, but it left fans — myself included — doubting whether the reboot could actually do anything new. Nostalgia was fine to play around with and I do love a good callback, but exploration is Star Trek’s whole deal. You know, continuing the mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new plots and characterization, boldly go where the previous dozen films hadn’t gone before...

So the delicate balance between new and nostalgia hadn’t been reached for the reboot series yet. The first film was good but too new, too shiny, too explosive. The second film went too far in the other direction and felt like it was lazily cashing in on what fans loved.

Enter Star Trek Beyond.

Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung clearly understood the necessity for the Star Trek reboot films to stand on their own while still paying homage to that which came before them. It’s evident that they cared about the franchise and wanted to make something as close to a Star Trek film as possible while keeping in mind box office numbers and audience appeal. Explosions would still have to happen, of course. Fight scenes would have to be action-packed and exciting, dialogue would have to be interesting and fun, and the days of quoting classic literature were over (well, mostly — they do manage a little something), but that didn’t mean the film couldn’t still evoke a little Star Trek thoughtfulness.

Rather than concentrating entirely on ramped-up action and sex appeal like fans accused the previous two films of doing, Star Trek Beyond blessedly let the audience breathe a little. It let the characters live a little. It let the universe grow a little. We got to see some of the psychological effects extensive space travel could have on a person, and we got to feel some of the loneliness that would come hand-in-hand with this world, no matter how much like a utopia it presents itself as being. While not anywhere near the level of philosophizing that the series was known for, Star Trek Beyond’s thematic undertones of duty, changing ideals, and getting lost in the vastness of space (and life) were at least echoes of Star Trek’s past.

Also pulling from the spiritual makeup of past Star Trek was this movie’s focus on the crew, rather than just Captain Kirk or Spock. I could tell that Pegg and Jung really wanted to bring the crew back into the story, for which I am endlessly thankful. Despite being mostly known for the triumvirate of Captain Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy, Star Trek has always been an ensemble and has a history of prioritizing the crew’s existence as a makeshift family in its stories, especially in the post-original series films.

While the tragic loss of Anton Yelchin, who played crew member Pavel Chekov, makes this accomplishment bittersweet, the camaraderie and unity that had been barely believable in the previous two movies finally feels real in this one. Furthermore, the crew’s connection with each other actually plays a role in the movie’s story and holds significant emotional weight for the characters as well as the audience. Star Trek Beyond remains conscious of the fact that it’s a continuation of a long-standing legacy, one built on a family unit of characters that millions of people have loved over the years.

This taps into the crux of the matter: legacy. It means paying proper respect to the past, but also building upon it. That, I believe, is where Star Trek Beyond succeeds while a film like Into Darkness faltered. This film uses nostalgia not as a cynical way to get old fans in theater seats, but as a kind of subtle love letter to the franchise during its 50th anniversary year — a respectful nod to Star Trek’s legacy. The references scattered throughout the film (and there are so many of them!) are what they always should have been: Easter eggs that established fans could find and enjoy, but not things that would get in the way of the plot or confuse newcomers. The movie doesn’t break if the nostalgic allusions are taken away, but it is made better by the presence of them.

Finding the balance of new and nostalgia is critical for something like Star Trek because in the end, I don’t think it can ever escape its nostalgia. Nostalgia rules it. The franchise is too embedded in pop culture to ever fully emerge as its own entity again, but this film proves that doesn’t have to mean the end. The universe of Star Trek can be the final frontier we all expect it to be, as endlessly new and fascinating and full of dangerous wonder as it is simply endless. For the first time since the reboot series began, this film assures us that Star Trek still has stories to tell and worlds to explore. Once again, I’m looking forward to it.

Jenn's Pick: The Best (and Worst) of Comic-Con 2016

I was fortunate enough last year to be able to attend Comic-Con for the very first time as press. It was the biggest event I had ever covered and provided me with so much scoop and awesome interviews. I loved the opportunity to travel cross-country and the fact that my friends at 4YE were so gracious in letting me crash with them at the last minute. But this year I was even more excited for Comic-Con because I wouldn't be going alone — I would be bringing some of my team with me!

Chelsea, Maddie, Jen K., and I ventured to San Diego in order to attend days and nights of panels, bringing you all the coolest and most exclusive scoop from panels and interviews. (Laura was also there with us, though she was at Nerd HQ and the off-site events most of the weekend. Still, we love Laura and it was so great to be with her!) Over the next few days, we'll be posting about our experiences (and giving you some exclusive interviews with the casts of Time After Time, Frequency, and Wynonna Earp). But before we get to all of that, I wanted to post about my experience at the convention — both the good and the bad. This year was more relaxed for me (even more so when I unintentionally fell ill), and it was strange in that regard, but totally welcome. I was able to actually rest, which is not something you usually hear in conjunction with Comic-Con.

So let's kick off a recap of my week, shall we?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Mr. Robot 2x03 Review: "eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd" (Don't Worry, Be Happy) [Guest Poster: Jon]

Original Airdate: July 20, 2016

When we last left Elliot, he had just discovered that he was no longer in control of his Mr. Robot persona and received a mysterious call from Tyrell. The premiere began with such strong momentum and this episode proved to be no different. Since Elliot no longer has control, he’s decided to go to a bit more of an... extreme route.


Before we get into Elliot’s troubles however, we first take a look at what the other members of fsociety are doing. Romero is walking around Coney Island with Mobley, who recruited Romero into fsociety in the first place. It’s a nice way to open the episode, and allows us to focus on something that isn’t centered around Elliot.

However, their nice little bonding session is cut short when shortly thereafter, Romero is found dead by Mobley in his backyard of an apparent gunshot wound. It’s quite possible that the mysterious Hank, who killed Gideon in last week’s episode, is also responsible for killing Romero. It’s a bit odd, considering both individuals are connected to Elliot in some capacity. Perhaps their connection to Elliot is the reason for their murders?

Elsewhere, after the death of Romero, Mobley and fellow hacker Trenton are worried his death might be tied to the Dark Army, another hacker group from last season. However, Darlene brushes off their concern and states that there is nothing to worry about. The seeds of distrust are now sowed inside Mobley and Trenton’s minds, however, which makes their potential storylines more intriguing. I was fascinated by how this might turn out, as we could see members of fsociety break off into their own factions.


When we return to Elliot, he’s not doing so well in the wake of last week’s big revelation. To cope, Elliot decides to take Adderall just so he can make it through the day. But Mr. Robot attempts to fight back, and Elliot’s lack of sleep makes him hallucinate that he is captured for his role in the hack, and is force-fed concrete. In actuality, this hallucination makes Elliot throw up the Adderall he just took, with Mr. Robot taunting him. Elliot then defiantly shoves the pills back into his mouth.

This leads to quite possibly the most frightening part of the whole episode: when Elliot is high on Adderall, he becomes abnormally happy, to a point where it’s almost infectious and terrifying. Rami Malek must be commended for his performance here, because he does an excellent job. The stand-out moment in this sequence is when Leon is spouting more nonsense regarding Seinfeld and Elliot responds in such a way that is borderline hysterical. It’s a scene that helps showcase what happens when someone is pushed too far and they have no one to turn to.  After the Adderall runs out, Elliot begins to spiral into anger, questioning God at a local group therapy. It remains to be seen though if it’s Elliot who said this, or Mr. Robot.

Elliot finally DOES turn to someone: Ray. While we’ve previously seen Ray go after a cyber engineer (for reasons that will hopefully be clarified later this season), he’s visited by Elliot later on in the episode. Ray then explains the story of how his wife died, and how every morning he talks to his wife as if she’s still there as a way of coping. This prompts Elliot to talk about Mr. Robot, asking Ray for advice. It’s a sweet and tender scene that establishes the rapport between the two characters. It’ll be interesting if Elliot will eventually play into whatever plan Ray may have.


Over at E Corp, Angela — who is doing an excellent job in her new position — is suddenly invited to dinner with Phillip Price. While at dinner with Phillip and two executives of E Corp, Phillip then reveals to Angela they were part of the group that covered up her mother’s murder. He then hands her a disc, with enough evidence on there that would end up destroying both of the gentlemen’s lives, if she chooses to release it to the public.

This is such a major bombshell, as Angela has almost all but put everything in the rearview mirror to focus on her career. Having this power to ruin people’s lives not only could firmly put her on Team E Corp, but could also represent the loss of any innocence she had remaining.  Now that she finally has information about her family, the question lingers: what’s next? It’s a choice that I do hope is addressed either next episode, or is a recurring plot throughout the season.


Finally, we check in on FBI Agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer), who is investigating the E Corp Hack (Note: While she did appear in the season premiere, I neglected to mention her in my recap as her role was rather minimal. My sincere apologies for forgetting her). While we see small tidbits about her (hint of insomnia, lonely nights, which continues a theme that’s been running this season), we know she’s someone that could cause some big trouble for fsociety down the line.

While investigating the death of Romero, as well as examining the crime scene, she happens to stumble upon a flyer for “The End of the World Party.” She heads to the location of the party, which just so happens to be the arcade on Coney Island. So now that Dom knows where fsociety is located, what happens now? It’ll be exciting to see where her investigation leads and what that will mean for fsociety.

The third episode of Mr. Robot raised more mysteries while shedding light on some that have been up in the air since season one. While still focusing more on Elliot than anything else, the show has started planting small seeds and stories for the supporting characters.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Cultural History of Stranger Things [Contributor: Melanie]

One thing is for sure: Netflix is proving it is ready to give network and cable television a serious run for its money. Stranger Things is everyone’s new golden child of the Netflix original series pool thanks to its well-conceived plot, touching characters, and heaps upon heaps of narrative, tone, and content homages to entertainment media of our past and sci-fi tropes. Instead of telling you how amazing the show is and convincing you that you really should watch it (because you should), I’ve prepared a cultural literacy cheat sheet for those of you jumping on this bandwagon. Below is a list of various entertainment goodies from which Stranger Things mined its addictive content (with a special bonus section at the bottom). Of course, this list contains spoilers for Stranger Things, be forewarned:


This show is the peak (ha) of all paranormal TV. Easily the most influential show of the last 30 years, it set a precedent for how you could tell a story on TV and what kind of stories you can tell. This show ran from 1990 to 1991 and featured one of the most cryptic and otherworldly mysteries ever presented on TV: a local girl turns up dead, her body wrapped in plastic, and the FBI agent called in to investigate finds the town is far more sinister and supernatural than he thought.

Though Stranger Things doesn’t exactly borrow from Twin Peaks’ pool of riddles, prophecies, and subliminal messaging, it’s impossible not to mention the effect this show still has (which is even more fascinating considering we don’t even watch our TV on TV anymore). If you’re looking to fill your Stranger Things gap, Twin Peaks is an excellent show to fill your desire for some weird paranormal stories. And it’s a general rule of thumb at this point that you should be versed in David Lynch’s crazy world.


This one everybody knows. If there’s one show that defined the '90s, it was this one. Drawing on its own inspirations from the works of Alfred Hitchcock and the classic series The Twilight Zone, this speculative fiction, sci-fi, horror series ran for nine years between 1993 and 2002. It followed the exploits of two FBI special agents who take on hush-hush cases involving paranormal events, often times dealing with extraterrestrial encounters. The X-Files is responsible for the creation of several other shows about weird happenings including Fringe, Dark Skies, and Gravity Falls.

What Stranger Things borrows here is a general tone: “the truth is out there,” it’s dangerous, and the government wants to hide it from you. There are a couple more little bits here and there: the skeptic and the believer, the tragic backstory of the tough love officer, and so on.


This entire show could have been one, long episode of The Outer Limits. This show goes all the way back to 1963, running until 1965, and experienced a revival from 1995 to 2000. In short: it’s The Twilight Zone for sci-fi. Instead of following strange hauntings or unexplained mysteries, Outer Limits dealt specifically with science fiction based mysteries that often featured twist endings. The show’s anthology format occasionally broke tradition and featured connected story lines and this one would have been right at home in any season of the show.


Early in the show. we get a glimpse of the strange, ashen world that the characters refer to as the Upside Down. Visually, and perhaps even functionally, this place instantly recalls the imagery of the parallel world Rose and Sharon find themselves trapped in in the film adaptation of Silent Hill. It’s a gray, misty, and lifeless version of our own and appears like a depressing echo.

A second allusion could likely be made with Insidious and its mythology of the Further, a similarly bleak world sitting right on top of our own.


By this I really mean anything and everything Steven Spielberg touched in the 1980s. This show is positively teeming with Spielberg’s contributions to '80s cinema, but none are more appropriate than this classic, executive produced by Spielberg (though E.T. was a close second). The reason I went with this is for the politics of childhood games and friend groups. One of the key elements of Stranger Things is the interactions between school kids, from friendships to rivalries to bullies. Spielberg didn’t invent this, but he set a real tone for it with his movies and The Goonies is the usual go-to when talking about a rag tag group of friends on an adventure.

The Goonies (and the things it inspired such as Stranger Things and Super 8) kind of act like an '80s upgrade of the Scooby gang: less put together, a little more moral ambiguity, with uncensored, obvious romantic tension. Stranger Things has that on lock.


This one was actually almost mentioned by name. At least its author, Stephen King, did come up for a hot second when Eleven’s strange powers were discussed, a clear reference to Carrie. This 1974 novel was King’s debut work and still one of his most famous contributions to horror fiction. It involves an antisocial young woman, the victim of at-home neglect, who finds herself at the mercy of her own telekinetic powers.

Sounds a lot like Eleven, right? The differences are plenty though. For one, Carrie’s powers were limited to telekinesis while Eleven’s are unexplained and seemingly Professor X level. Further, Eleven has the group of friends Carrie never had, so rather than ending the story in a reign of terror, Eleven sacrifices herself to protect Mike. But Eleven’s capabilities and just out of reach dark side are extremely King-y.

Ultimately, everything’s inspired by everything. We could go back farther and look at the Hitchcock and Lovecraft works that inspired even these above pieces of media, but we have to draw the line somewhere.


As this is in fact science fiction, science is mentioned but, like most things, the fiction is the stronger of those two forces. The show does make vague references to astral projection and telekinetic abilities, but one of the actual scientific tenets it does mention is Hugh Everett’s many-world interpretation of quantum mechanics. It sounds complicated, right? Well it is, but can be very rudimentarily summed up like this: say you’re deciding on whether or not to go to Applebee’s or that new Thai place for dinner tonight and you can’t quite make up your mind. Eventually you come to the decision to not love yourself and break your chain-restaurant addiction and go with Applebee’s. Story’s over, right? Wrong. Somewhere out there, there exists a universe where you went to the Thai restaurant. There also exists a universe where you did make the football team, did get into NYU, and weren’t pulled over for that speeding ticket. Any and all possible outcomes to a set of choices exist somewhere in the universe. This isn’t a universally accepted interpretation, but it does solve several perspective issues in quantum theory involved in the Schrodinger’s cat paradox.

Crazy, right?

The show doesn’t really explore that though. It uses the scientific possibility for a parallel world as a springboard to introduce us to the Centralia-esque world of the Upside Down. But, for the five seconds it was mentioned, it was pretty cool. Perhaps in future seasons we’ll get to see more focus on the quantum mechanics these parallel worlds as the last scene made it clear the Upside Down is not as closed off as one might think.

If you haven’t watched Stranger Things yet and aren’t bothered by me totally spoiling everything for you, go watch it. If you have watched it, then you probably already know everything I just told you. Or, maybe you watched it on a whim after seeing the hashtag and now you have a plethora of other things to fill your newly developing sci-fi/weird fiction addiction.

The Blair Witch Reboot Literally No One Asked For [Contributor: Melanie]

Full disclosure: I am in a rage while writing this. In fact, this post was originally going to be a nice post about the unsung beauty of found footage films and all their redeeming qualities. It’s not about that anymore. The forthcoming found footage horror film The Woods was mentioned in my original draft of this post, as were its narrative elements that sounded exactly like Blair Witch. SURPRISE, KIDS, IT IS BLAIR WITCH. Turns out the very derivative-sounding film is even more derivative than we thought.

And a lot stupider.

Blair Witch, originally promoted as The Woods, follows the trail of a group of young adults who venture into the Burkitsville wilderness after one of them realizes the narrator from the original film, Heather Donoghue, is his sister. As they go searching for answers, they’re plagued by the same terrors that befell the original film crew.


Okay. I’ll simmer down now and talk analytically about why this is dumb. Because, objectively, I get it. The A.V. Club once described found footage films as the 2000s equivalent of the 80s and 90s slasher genre. And that’s true for a lot of reasons: the low production cost, the ever-spawning sequels, and the sheer unlimited plot resources centered around the trope. But standards have fallen so greatly that mentioning the phrase “found footage” in conjunction with a horror film would produce several groans and eye rolls. And for good reason. After all, with those tiny budgets, basically anyone can pitch a measly found-footage film for summer release and work at further insulting our intelligence.

The problem however, is that the original Blair Witch was, in many ways, the opposite of all that. And it proved that at the end of the day, found footage can actually accomplish a lot when executed correctly.

First of all, would you believe found footage is a lot older than you might imagine? 70s? 60s? Try the 18th century. The genre has its roots in the epistolary novel, a story written as a series of documents that the reader is experiencing secondhand. This genre first saw the light of a printing press in the 1700s. The first epistolary work of horror was 1818 with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. See? It’s sounding smarter already. Since then the epistolary novel has kind of fallen out of interest. The angsty YA novel Perks of the Being a Wallflower utilized it, and Mark Danielewski redefined it with his debut novel House of Leaves and subsequent series The Familiar.

Let’s fast forward. The first film to truly revolutionize the genre into something viable was 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust, an Italian film that documents the final days of a documentary crew sent into the Amazon to film local tribes after their footage is discovered by a rescue team. A couple films came out after that utilized the same technique but no one did more to completely define the genre in the modern era than The Blair Witch Project.

Like many great works of horror, by modern standards, its fear factor is a little polarizing. On the one hand you’ve got those who attest to the academic and cultural importance of the film, and others (like my sister) who walked out of the theatre (why would you walk out of a theatre?). However scary you think it is or isn’t, it is a pretty important movie. This was the first film to utilize “viral” marketing. It was the first time a film used the internet as its primary source of interest, offering curious web surfers fake police reports and documentaries about the “missing” film students in the movie and the legends they were investigating.

In fact, IMDB listed the actors as “missing/presumed dead” for the first year the film was available, and filmmakers handed out informational flyers asking for any tips on their whereabouts at early screenings. This marketing tactic resulted in crazy debates as to whether or not the movie was depicting true events or not. As late as 2011, I convinced a friend to watch the film who believed it was a true story. So, in the age of internet infancy (1999), viral marketing worked wonders. And now it’s overused and lost its luster, not unlike what happened to the found footage genre itself. This new Blair Witch maybe, sort of, tried to do something similar by hiding its true nature. But in watered down and lackluster way.

The Blair Witch Project is actually widely acclaimed, even to this day. And if accolades don’t do it for you, it is among my top five favorite horror films. The fact of the matter is, anyone can take advantage of a jump scare. It’s anatomical wiring that anyone is going to have a startle response to quick stimuli. It’s how the amygdala works. Even the most god-awful horror film can scare you with enough sudden, loud noises. But Blair Witch was devoid of jump scares and even gore. It was the fear of the unknown and the traditional “don’t show the monster” that made it so chilling. You never saw what was hunting the group of filmmakers in the woods because your imagination was far more terrifying, especially when the script expertly peppered eyewitness accounts to give you an idea of what horror was waiting just beyond the camera lens.

The film also relied a great deal on the method work of its actors. All three of them, Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard, were selected from an open call of thousands of actors based on their improv work in auditions. Every scene was improvised by the actors based on instructions they received that morning. They had to find their own way through the woods (but luckily were never more than a mile from the road). Further, they had a crash course in how to handle their own cameras since the film relied completely on their POV camera work.

In short, what made Blair Witch great was its authenticity and very serious approach to what it was trying to sell. And it paid off in a big way. Of course, what immediately followed were half-baked attempts to replicate the same viral success. It even did have its own little-known sequel in 2000 that went nowhere and abandoned the POV medium. And nothing truly made any mark until Paranormal Activity.

And here we are, with a Blair Witch reboot complete with contrived storyline and familiar scares. Oh sure, they were slick in the way they went it about it, not unlike the original, with the fake name throwing people off. But that’s where the cleverness ends. And sure, I should reserve judgment until actually seeing the film, but I’ve also, as they say, seen this movie before. Blair Witch is still an ominous phrase with a lot attached to it, so making a reboot is smart. But, like all uncalled for sequels and reboots, it’s going to tarnish the memory of the original and fail to recapture its own lightning into a bottle.

In the meantime, here are some non-headache inducing found footage titles to pursue to wash out your brain:

Grave Encounters (2011): This one straddles the line between mockbuster and played-for-straight film as it follows a paranormal investigation group (totally not Ghost Adventures) as they find out a location is more haunted than it seemed.

The Houses That October Built (2014): This Netflix gem has a concept close to my heart as a group of friends travel cross-country to make a documentary on Halloween haunts before getting sucked into the a dark conspiracy.

Unfriended (2015): This one was mostly dumb, but the medium was unique and the focus on cyber bullying was pretty real as a group of friends drop off one-by-one during a fatal Skype call.

V/H/S (2012): This is an anthology series with a frame story of a man watching a series of frightening VHS tapes.

The Den (2013): This film mixes found footage with slasher as a young woman conducts a social experiment across a Chat Roulette-style dating website and finds herself stalked by an anonymous, and dangerous, internet troll.

The Bay (2012): This is a super interesting film starring a novice reporter who narrates a series of leaked footage during a Fourth of July celebration gone awry when a deadly water contagion spreads.

As Above So Below (2014):
Going to be honest, I’m recommending this one solely because I loved the aesthetic and the concept of a group of Parisian “cataphiles” getting lost in the catacombs beneath the city.

REC (2007): This is the original Spanish film upon which Quarantine was based. It follows a reporter and her cameraman who find themselves, along with firemen and tenants, locked inside an apartment building as a means to contain a quickly-spreading virus.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Bachelorette 12x08 Roundtable: Family Fun [Contributors: Rae Nudson, Rebecca, Alisa Williams]

JoJo finally makes it to the boys' hometowns on this week's Bachelorette, and tons of manufactured drama ensues – plus a little bit of actual romance. See what Rae, Rebecca, and Alisa thought of the hometown dates and their dramatic ending.

What do you think of that ending? What do you think JoJo is going to do?

Rae: I cannot believe JoJo was thinking about getting rid of Luke. He is the best choice by a mile, and I know JoJo has bad taste in men, but COME ON. I really thought Luke was going to win this thing, but I can’t see JoJo almost kicking him off and then him coming back and winning. I feel like he’ll probably still end up without a rose this week, but on the upside, I’m getting excited about him as the next Bachelor. I think JoJo is going to end up with Jordan, even though I was holding out hope the last few weeks. I literally can’t believe Chase is still here.

Rebecca: I can’t imagine that Luke admitting his love for Jojo at the last second is going to save him. I think once your mind is made up, you can’t (and shouldn’t) change it. If she was considering sending Luke home, then it wasn’t JUST because he hadn’t told her that he loved her yet. There had to have been some other things going on there. I can’t imagine anyone but Jordan winning. They have clear chemistry and it’s obvious (at least to me) that she’s most attracted to him, physically and emotionally.

Alisa: I completely agree with Rae and Rebecca. Personally, I think Luke is the best guy there by a long shot, and I think dismissing someone just because they hadn’t said "I love you" is a terrible idea. But even though Luke has now said those oh-so-important words, I don’t JoJo shouldn’t change her mind. Maybe I’m biased because I too would love to see Luke as the next Bachelor. But like Rebecca said, that can’t be the only reason JoJo was planning to deny Luke a well-deserved rose. There’s gotta be something deeper at play. One would hope anyway. Clearly, JoJo’s chemistry with Jordan is super strong and he seems to be the front-runner for sure. Who knows why Chase and Robby are still here. But if she felt sending Luke home was the right idea, she should stick with that.

What did you think was the best or worst hometown date?

Rae: Chase’s date was mostly confounding to me because the show was really playing up that he came from a “broken home.” Really, ABC? The worst thing you can imagine is divorce, where both parents are now happily in a new relationship and still have relationships with their kids and seem to be doing pretty well now, actually? Okay, cool, just checking. Kind of weird that Chase chose right now to ask his dad why it didn’t work out with his mom!

I guess Robby’s date was technically the most disastrous since it had them chasing down rumors that Robby wasn’t there for the right reasons, which is even worse on this show than coming from a broken home where divorce exists.

Rebecca: Echoing Rae, I think Robby’s was the worst just because of the drama with his ex. It usually makes for an awkward hometown date when you’re put on blast under those accusations. As far as the best, I objectively think Jordan’s went the best. As I’ve said before, something about him is just offputting to me, but JoJo seems to really like him and fit in well with his family. Unless something drastic happens the next couple of episodes, I can’t imagine him not winning, and I think their hometown date really sealed it.

Alisa: Luke’s hometown was the only one I really loved. I thought the other three all had disastrous elements to them. JoJo’s constant need to bring up Jordan’s brother, Aaron, to every single family member was getting on my nerves. Jordan clearly told her it was not a topic that needed to be brought up and yet she brought it up… with EVERYONE. Clearly, there’s a lot of pain and hurt surrounding that situation, so I just felt that JoJo disrespecting Jordan’s wishes was unfortunate. It just came across like she had ulterior motives for being there or was looking for some juicy gossip, which I don’t think was the intent, but it was hard not to wonder what she was really digging for when she just wouldn’t let it drop.

I just felt bad for Robby with the whole ex-girlfriend drama. He didn’t deserve that. And I thought JoJo was being super hypocritical asking why anyone would be spreading those rumors about him if they were untrue. She acted so naive like, “clearly no one would ever say something false ever, that’s just crazy.” When, umm…. wasn’t she just having to defend herself a few weeks ago against similar allegations HER ex-boyfriend made to some magazine? I felt she could have been way more sympathetic and understanding to Robby in that moment. I mean, give the guy the benefit of the doubt, especially when he’s the one bringing you this information and putting it out there for you to know. He didn’t have to say a word about it to her, and I think it speaks volumes that he did.

I agree with Rae about Chase’s date. Both his parents seem happy now, and I felt it was a poor choice for ABC to act like he came from this sordid, pain-filled home just because his parents were divorced. But they need to stir up drama where they can, I guess.

Regardless of JoJo's decision, who would you most like to see as the next Bachelor?

Rebecca: Okay...to be honest, it’s hard for me to even keep the four of them straight. I always forget about someone or get them mixed up because they all look SO ALIKE (she must have a type). I actually saw a meme on Instagram that said for the next season of The Bachelor, they should just rotate episodes with each of the four finalists until one of the women notices they are different people, haha.

That being said, most of my favorites left before the final four. I really, REALLY liked James Taylor, although he turned into a bit of a drama queen. And I still have a soft spot for Wells. But I’m not sure I would like either one of them as the Bachelor...if I have to pick from the final four, I’d say Chase or Luke.

Alisa: Of the final four, I’d definitely pick Luke. I can’t stand any of the other guys. Luke actually seems like a genuinely good guy. But seriously, they really do all look alike. JoJo could not have picked a more identical bunch of generic looking men to be in her top four. My favorite was Derek and clearly his 15 minutes of fame will be up after the Men Tell All episode. I just really, really hope Jordan doesn’t get named the next Bachelor because I just think he’s smarmy, but I suppose it would at least be an interesting season. And let’s be honest, if it’s either Robby or Chase, it’ll be such a snooze fest.

Rae: Yes, I agree with both of you. Smarmy is the perfect word for Jordan's vibe, and I'm really not feeling it. As I said before, I want it to be Luke because he's pretty much the only one I can stand at this point. Chase is so forgettable, and Robby is not that compelling. Maybe Derek, James Taylor, and Wells will end up on Bachelor in Paradise next year. One can hope!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Mr. Robot 2x01 & 2x02 Review: “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt1.tc" & "eps2.0_unm4sk-pt2.tc" (An Intriguing Start) [Guest Poster: Jon]

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Original Airdate: July 13, 2016

When Mr. Robot began, no one had the faintest idea of what to expect. Based on the marketing, all people knew was that it concerned hackers and was getting extremely good word of mouth from just about everybody.

After the show’s stellar first season, it’s easy to see why it got so much praise. The show was complex and philosophical, focusing on such themes like loneliness, invasion of privacy, and cynicism about today’s technology. In addition, the show was anchored by two powerhouse performances from Rami Malek and Christian Slater. Throughout the season, I was surprised this landed on USA of all channels — not FX, not AMC, not TNT, but the channel that made pineapples iconic.

With such a phenomenal first season, there is a lot riding for the second season to hold up that standard. Blessedly, this season opener hit the ground running and just wouldn’t stop, as these were an engrossing and intense first two episodes.


As the episode opens, we flash back to the night of the big hack from last season, and actually get some insight into what happened when Elliot was blacked out for three days. What’s so interesting about this scene is Elliot as a character. We don’t know if Elliot is in control of himself or if the Mr. Robot personality is. In addition, seeing Tyrell in the fsociety mask was an interesting revelation, but his motivations remain unclear. I still don’t know if he’s good or bad.

One of the big recurring moments throughout the episode is Elliot’s constant clash with his Mr. Robot personality, which — as was revealed — has taken on the persona of Elliot’s father. Due to the fear of possibly unleashing Mr. Robot again, Elliot sticks to a routine schedule every day and lives with his mother, hoping that routine will eventually vanquish the personality. The theme of loneliness and repetition still plays a major part here, with Elliot shutting off from everybody in an effort to save his sanity.

Both Malek and Slater have to be commended for giving incredible performances in this opener. Whereas before the characters were believed to be on the same side, it’s now shown that they’ve grown resentful of each other. Slater, especially, unleashes all the venom and hatred his character feels toward Elliot’s insistent routine. Their tête-à-tête throughout the entire episode, especially in the last ten minutes, is simultaneously chilling and enthralling. Both actors should be praised not only for their chemistry, but for how well that chemistry pits them against each other.

As we see Elliot’s life and routine unfold, we meet a few new characters along the way: Leon, a friend of Elliot’s who seems to love Seinfeld; and Ray, a man Elliot encounters who tries to get Elliot to open up. While Ray seems to come across as nice and easygoing, there’s something sinister lurking under the surface. Where that takes Elliot this season, at all, remains to be seen, but is still massively intriguing. 


As Elliot’s troubles continue, we learn where many other characters stand from last season. Inside fsociety, Darlene has taken command in the wake of Elliot/Mr. Robot’s disappearance. Since the E Corp hack, fsociety has only gotten larger, prompting the group to go for even bigger stunts (read: going after E Corp General Counsel Susan Jacobs’ smart home, for one).

While the majority of the hackers celebrate their newfound status, Darlene — who seems to be dealing with some personal issues of her own (even ignoring when someone asks about Elliot) — reminds them that they only have an even larger target on their backs, and much bigger problems to deal with. Again, the theme of loneliness is hinted at here, and — as with Elliot — Darlene is shutting out everything else in order to focus on the primary goal. 

Elsewhere, we see the fallout of the E Corp hack from the conglomerate’s perspective. It’s fascinating to see the actual fallout from the attack, rather than have someone simply mention it in passing. The scene where average people are trying to close their account feels very reminiscent of what happened during the 2008 financial crisis, as well as the Bernie Madoff scheme.

It’s also curious to see the consequences of the hack not only affect average citizens, but higher ups in E Corp as well. In addition to going after Susan Jacobs, fsociety blackmails Scott Knowles into burning thousands of dollars in a public display (a scene that is brilliantly set to Phil Collins’ "Take Me Home"). What makes one curious is just how far fsociety is going to push the envelope. How far is too far? Where will the line be drawn, if at all?

Finally, we also get some insight on Angela, who has dropped the E Corp lawsuit and has begun moving up the corporate ladder at the company. But there’s no passion in her eyes, no fire to keep her going. In this, we come across another sense of loneliness. But unlike Elliot and Darlene, this is a different kind: it’s the kind of loneliness that leaves you numb. You’re so beaten down by everything going around you with no one to help that you just feel nothing. Whether Elliot’s the cause of this or not, it’ll be fascinating to see where Angela goes this season.


By episode’s end, two major things happen that potentially set up the rest of this season. The first is that Gideon, Elliot’s former boss, is brutally murdered in public by a mysterious man named Brock. Who Brock is could be anyone’s guess, but it can’t help but be wondered if perhaps he has something to do with Gideon threatening to go to the FBI to expose Elliot. Does he work for the FBI? Or does he work for fsociety?

Finally, the big bombshell is dropped: as hard as Elliot has tried to control Mr. Robot, it’s all been for naught. Mr. Robot reveals he takes control of Elliot when Elliot goes to sleep. This has massive ramifications for the show, as now we don’t know what kind of damage was done while Elliot was under Mr. Robot’s control. The final scene shows Elliot waking up right as he’s about to talk to Tyrell, who’s been in hiding. It’s such a great cliffhanger, giving you no idea as to where the show is headed.

The second season of Mr. Robot is off to an incredibly strong start with its complex storylines. Props to director and series creator Sam Esmail for some beautiful framing of certain shots. Let's hope that the momentum will continue throughout the rest of the season.