10 Shows and Movies That Have Brightened Up Quarantine Life

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

Getting Rid of the Stigma: Mental Illness in Young Adult Fiction by Megan Mann

In this piece, Megan brilliantly discusses the stigma of mental illness in literature and how some young adult novels are helping to change the landscape for this discussion.

Jenn's Pick: Top 15 Jeff/Annie Moments

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Never Have I Ever 1x03 Review: “... gotten drunk with the popular kids” (Forgetting Is Not the Goal) [Contributor: Jenn]


“... gotten drunk with the popular kids”
Original Airdate: April 27, 2020

When we don’t deal with our issues, they often come back to haunt us in inconvenient ways. 

Devi hasn’t truly dealt with the grief and complicated feelings over her dad’s death. But instead of processing the hard stuff, she does what a lot of us do — she focuses on what she wants to see instead of what’s actually there.

A COYOTE IN THE GARDEN

“... gotten drunk with the popular kids” is a bigger character study on Devi and her grief than the episodes we’ve seen thus far. We get flashbacks to when Devi was young and Mohan planted a garden. Mohan was thrilled with the crop: a single tomato. In the present day though, Nalini asks Devi to tend to the garden. When Devi gets outside, she’s initially frustrated until she’s overcome with memories. Her grief causes her to run away.

But then something odd happens. Devi meets a coyote in the garden and she’s convinced that it’s the spirit of her father. When she tells Dr. Ryan about this revelation, the woman is initially excited that Devi seems to be processing her grief. She acknowledges that we often see our loved ones in many different things and images. But Devi is insistent that she’s not seeing her father in a metaphorical sense; she’s seeing him literally in the form of a coyote. 

Dr. Ryan is concerned, of course, that Devi isn’t truly processing her feelings and emotions (because she’s not, at least not fully yet); Devi is more concerned with figuring our where she stands with Paxton. If you remember from the previous episode, Devi is letting Fabiola and Eleanor assume that she and Paxton are dating and hooking up constantly. Devi continues that lie in this week’s episode, and Paxton is aiding her (unknowingly, of course). When he chooses her for a group project, Devi assumes Paxton wants to actually spend more time with her and get to know her. Meanwhile the real reason he wants her in the group? She’s smart and she’ll help them get a good grade.

As much as she waffles back and forth in the episode, Devi does want to spend time with Paxton. So she accepts his attention, not really interrogating the reasoning. When Trevor, the other group member, throws a party, Devi shows up even though she technically wasn’t invited. Paxton seems thrilled to see her… until he goes off to flirt with another girl. Devi, upset, gets drunk and stumbles into the backyard where she sees the same coyote from earlier.

She thinks it’s her dad, gets too close, and the coyote mauls her. Paxton is the one to bring Devi to the hospital where she realizes that Paxton may actually be starting to like her as a person and a friend.

It’s a sweet moment for sure because Paxton is generally a decent person. He’s a teenager and Devi is too so of course they’re bound to mess up and hurt each others’ feelings. But the fact that Paxton actually chooses to spend time with Devi is quite sweet. 

Devi, meanwhile, is complicated at this point in the show. She has opportunities to tell the truth to Fabiola and Eleanor but she’s too wrapped up in her own world and getting attention. Of course, she’s a teenager so this is normal behavior but we’re going to watch this behavior implode in a few episodes. Just like a parallel to Kamala’s storyline (where she decides to secretly date Steve even though she’s being set up by her parents), we’ll learn soon in Never Have I Ever that secrets don’t make friends. Oh yeah, and unresolved issues? They’ll rear their ugly heads sooner or later so we need to be prepared when they do.

Favorite things:

  • I love the opening of this episode with the girls doing a Tik Tok.
  • “I saw someone eating pasta out of a bucket.”
  • “Wait, is this also a murder mystery? What is this show?”
  • “Have you partnered with stupid people?”
  • “Shouldn’t you be counting your friends on two fingers?”
  • This episode gives us more insight into Fabiola’s feelings for Eve and her trying to figure out her sexuality. For the first time, uses a robot to say the words: “I’m gay.” It’s a safe way for Fabiola to admit what she hasn’t been able to really say to anyone, including herself.
  • “I just watched 16 hours of Riverdale.”

What did you think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Julie and the Phantoms 1x03 Review: “Flying Solo” (Double Trouble) [Contributor: Jenn]


“Flying Solo”
Original Airdate: September 10, 2020

How long have you and your best friend been close? My best friend — my ride-or-die — and I have known each other for almost 20 years. That’s 20 years of inside jokes, milestone memories, proms, college graduations, and so much more. I love my best friend because no matter how long we’ve been apart, whenever we hang out together it’s like no time has passed at all.

Julie and Flynn are ride-or-die best friends. They tell each other everything and most important of all, they don’t lie to each other. Except that Julie is lying to Flynn in “Flying Solo” and Flynn isn’t having it. Elsewhere in the episode, Alex struggles with anxiety and being a ghost.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

“Flying Solo” picks up exactly where we left Julie Molina last episode — standing on a stage in front of her peers, awkwardly trying to explain why her band just disappeared. When Kayla (Tori Caro) asks if they were holograms, Julie blessedly finds her easy explanation. And luckily, everyone buys it without question. Julie even gets let back into the music program by the principal. There’s only one issue: Flynn confronts Julie about the band she has failed to mention, and Julie tries to lie. But she can’t. 

Flynn is floored. It’s one thing for Julie to connect with music and not be involved; it’s another thing for Julie to be lying to her about the whole thing. Flynn spends this episode hurt and Julie tries her best to navigate the situation. She can’t tell Flynn the truth because… well, the truth involves ghosts. There’s no way she’ll believe her. But she also can’t lie because it’ll drive a wedge even further in their relationship.

So eventually, Julie decides to tell Flynn that the boys are ghosts. Until she sees them with her own eyes, Flynn is ready to text Julie’s dad with the concerning news of Julie’s state. And then she meets them and realizes Julie was telling the truth. But I’m going to back up for a moment here because “Flying Solo” is rooted in Julie and Flynn’s relationship — one that Reggie and Luke learn a little bit more about when they dig through Julie’s dream box and discover a poem written about Flynn.

The boys turn the poem into the song of the episode, and Julie confesses that she wrote the poem when Flynn was helping her deal with her grief. It’s a moment we breeze past because the song itself is so upbeat. But I want to point out that Julie’s song is all about her connection to Flynn as best friends: when one of them hurts, the other does too. We saw that in the previous episode — the thought of Julie being kicked out of music made Flynn cry. It’s safe to assume that these two shared a lot when Julie grieved her mom’s death. Flynn hurt because Julie was hurt. “When I look at you, it’s like I’m looking at me,” Julie sings. 

I love this friendship. I love that “Flying Solo” includes silly inside jokes or references to gossiping together, but it also talks about how Julie’s life isn’t complete without Flynn in it.

And to prove that Flynn is, indeed, the ride-or-die best friend, when Luke asks Julie if she’s joining Sunset Curve (a thing he was trying to get her to agree to the entire episode), Julie almost says yes. And then Flynn steps in, saying: “I think you’re joining her band.” We’re going to see, in the coming episodes, exactly how much of a hype person Flynn is. She comes up with the band’s name, she works tirelessly to support Julie, and when the boys let her down, Flynn is there.

I love seeing this young but deep friendship as the focus of this episode. And I need more Flynn next season.

ANXIETY STRUTTING

This episode focuses on friendship and also gives us more of a glimpse into Alex’s anxiety. While Reggie and Luke are stoked that the school was able to see them perform, Alex is a little less excited. He doesn’t understand the logic of what’s happening in his afterlife — there’s no manual or instructions on what to do or how to ghost. (I relate, Alex. I would like a manual for how to navigate my current life.)

He nervously paces the studio, trying to verbally process why he’s struggling. The truth is that he doesn’t handle change well. I too can relate, and I think it’s really wonderful that the younger audiences watching this are seeing a character who does struggle with anxiety. Alex decides that he needs to clear his head and decides to poof to Hollywood Boulevard where he meets Willie (Booboo Stewart), a — as Avril Lavigne would say — sk8er boi. And in fact, he reveals that’s how he died. Alex is immediately attracted and drawn to Willie, who is warm and also just a very chill presence to balance Alex’s nervousness.

The two decide to have a conversation so Alex can learn everything that Willie knows about their ghostly states. Aside: this is 100% a thing that you’d do as a person with anxiety! We’re fueled by information and trying to absorb all we can to make sense of the world and control it. Anyway, back to our plot — Alex learns a few crucial things from Willie. He learns that people who are alive are called “lifers.” Willie confesses that he’s never really known any other ghosts who can be seen by lifers randomly. And Willie explains that the reason they are ghosts and haven’t crossed over into the afterlife is because there’s some unfinished business. Willie’s not sure what Alex’s unfinished business is, but he suggests that since all the boys are still ghosts together, perhaps their unfinished business is connected.

Willie calls Alex a cute nickname and skates away, but never fear: we’ll see more of him later this season!

I really do love that “Flying Solo” starts shaping our characters a little further: this episode gives us more insight into Flynn and Alex, and we’ll dive deeper into Luke in the weeks to come.

For now, Julie and the Phantoms reminded us of the power of friendship and importance of connection. That’s a message I can fully relate to and support!

Hitting the right notes:

  • “Flying Solo” isn’t my favorite on the Julie and the Phantoms soundtrack, but I fully appreciate the song’s focus on the friendship between Julie and Flynn. Plus I loved hearing Madison and the rest of the cast talk about filming in that small space.
  • “I don’t think they can see us.” “I wish I couldn’t see you.” Let’s never stop talking about how Owen has the absolute perfect comedic timing and delivery.
  • “He’s so nervous he’s almost making me nervous.”
  • “DON’T TELL ME HOW TO GHOST!”
  • Our friend Allison mentioned this in our podcast episode, but I love that Willie gets the introduction that a traditionally “hot woman” would get with the iconic hair flip.
  • “But we’re not alone. Because we always have each other.” “Ugh.”
  • I really appreciate the subtle pain we get from Carrie in this episode when she talks to Nick about how hard she worked on her routine. While she is still an antagonist, that moment was a great reminder that she is also a human who worked hard for a year while Julie was grieving. While Julie is our heroine, it makes sense that Carrie would feel betrayed and upstaged by Julie in this moment. It does not excuse her meanness, but it helps us understand her character a little more.
  • I just love when Luke jumps up on the piano and starts singing a little bit of “Flying Solo.”
  • “Wow... who’s that?” Owen coming in clutch with the perfect deliveries.
  • “When she says ‘deep dish’ is she talking about like, pizza, or?”
  • “Get woke. These are sensitive times.”
  • The fact that Flynn brought eggs to Julie’s house to egg it is so perfect.

What did you all think of “Flying Solo”? Sound off in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Never Have I Ever 1x02 Review: “... had sex with Paxton Hall-Yoshida” (Mopeds and Grief) [Contributor: Jenn]


“... had sex with Paxton Hall-Yoshida”
Original Airdate: April 27, 2020

Have you ever avoided something because it brings back bad or unwelcome memories?

For the longest time, I couldn’t go to certain bars or restaurants that reminded me of memories with ex-boyfriends. The places themselves weren’t the problem, but it felt like they were haunted by the ghosts of my past.

Never Have I Ever is, at its core, a teen comedy series about love, growing up, and making mistakes. But it’s also a lovely story about grief, trauma, healing, and family. Grief is messy. Trauma is painful and everyone handles it differently. Some people choose to avoid the things that even remotely remind them of hurt. And this is the first but not last episode of the show where we’ll begin to see how Devi and her mother handle their own trauma of losing Moahan.

TRAUMA AND RECOVERY

Devi spends most of the episode trying to avoid thinking about her father’s death and instead focus on something she wants to control: sleeping with Paxton. In a conversation with her therapist, Dr. Ryan aptly points out that while Devi is trying to avoid having to deal with the death of her father, she’s placing expectations on others that aren’t fair. Devi sees sleeping with Paxton Hall-Yoshida as a quick and easy fix to one of the problems she can easily and quickly control (being an uncool virgin); Dr. Ryan though reminds Devi that Paxton is a human not a concept or fix. He has his own emotions and baggage. But Devi is both too stubborn and young to actually hear Dr. Ryan.

And still, when presented with the opportunity to sleep with Paxton, Devi panics. She can’t go through with it. But it’s important to note what the trigger was for Devi finally confronting Paxton and going to his house — while she was in orchestra practice (her first one back since her father died at her last concert), Devi began to have flashbacks to the night of her dad’s death. The memories startled her so much that she literally ran out of the room looking for something to distract her.

When she goes into the bathroom at Paxton’s house to freshen up before their encounter, she meets Paxton’s sister, Rebecca, who’s a teenager with Down Syndrome. Devi is incredibly kind to her and even jokes with her a bit. But Paxton is thrown off by the encounter and immediately responds by kicking Devi out of his house.

Toward the end of the episode, Paxton shows up at Devi’s to explain his actions: he’s incredibly protective of his sister and always has been. Even people he’s considered to be his friends in the past have bullied her. Devi is understanding, and Paxton actually seems to start to soften a bit.

The most important part of this storyline is the idea that Devi’s avoidance of dealing with trauma will begin to snowball and that it starts with a lie. When Eleanor and Fabiola confront Devi, they assume that given the time spent with Paxton, she’s slept with him. Devi is forced with a decision: she can lie to her friends or she can come clean. She chooses the former, of course, and that’s not going to end up going over too well for her.

MEMORIES AND MOVING ON

This episode introduces us to more of Mohan and Nalini’s backstory which is both beautiful and heartbreaking. After Kamala trips over it and nearly injures herself, Nalini decides that it’s time to sell Mohan’s moped. But while Devi avoids thinking about memories of her father that make her sad, Nalini actually leans into them throughout the episode and it brings her a fresh sense of healing.

We see through flashbacks that Nalini was against Mohan purchasing the moped. Eventually we learn that Nalini suffered a miscarriage after Devi was born. In order to cheer her up, Mohan took her on a ride down the coast. And sure enough, that lifted Nalini’s spirits. In the present, Nalini recalls all of these memories and takes the moped out for a ride down the coast without telling anyone else.

I love that we get this brief side story with Nalini. We’re going to explore her character more as the series goes on, especially her conflict with Devi. This story was an amazing and subtle way to remind us that Nalini lost the love of her life and that she’s processing as much grief as Devi is, even if she doesn’t express it in the same way.

We all deal with grief. And this is just the beginning for the Vishwakumar family to unspool and process theirs.

Favorite things:

  • I do love that every episode is the last part of a sentence meant to begin with the show’s title. 
  • “You have the beauty of Priyanka Chopra with the incisive intellect of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
  • “If you were ready to bone, you wouldn’t use the phrase ‘ready to bone.’”
  • “But let’s just say she wouldn’t get points for accuracy.”
  • “Woah, Paxton speaks Japanese? Guess his last name makes more sense now.”
  • “My mom’s super pissed at me and now she won’t make us any snacks.”
  • This episode kicks off a lie that will follow Devi throughout the rest of the series. RUH-ROH.
  • “I missed it too. I was talking to you guys!”
  • “... Okay that was dark.”
  • “You’re gross, Gross. But thanks.”

What did you think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below!