Binge ideas needed – ready, set, go!

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

Binge-watching during the pandemic… well, it passes the time! I’ve actually watched some great TV over the last several months, and now I need some fresh ideas.

So hey, why not turn to the hive-mind for suggestions? I’ll tell you what I’ve loved, and hopefully, you’ll tell me what to watch next. Deal?

So far, my best binges have been:

  • Harry Potter movies
  • Fast & the Furious movies (yes, I have a teen-aged son…)
  • Jane the Virgin
  • Gilmore Girls
  • Schitts Creek
  • Derry Girls
  • Harlots
  • Veronica Mars
  • The Witcher
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Dead To Me
  • Hollywood
  • Sex Education

I don’t like to watch:

  • Police procedurals
  • Hospital procedurals
  • Crime, violence, gangs, drug cartels (so despite my son’s best efforts, I’m not going to watch Narcos or Queen of the South)

Series I’ve started but haven’t finished:

  • Anne with an E: I enjoyed the few episodes I watched (only 3 or 4), but just haven’t been in the mood to continue
  • The Vampire Diaries: I watched devotedly through season 6, then walked away. Should I go back?
  • The Umbrella Academy: I watched three episodes of season 1, but I don’t really see myself continuing.
  • The Outsider: I loved the book, and I thought the few episodes I watched were really good — but I just don’t think I’ve been in the right mindset for something this dark.

I’ve been thinking about watching Cursed, and I’ve been told I should watch Succession. Meanwhile, I’m watching season 1 of Supernatural in bits and pieces, but don’t feel hooked yet.

So….

I’m open to suggestions! What have been your favorites binges during your months at home? What should I bump to the top of my to-watch list?

All ideas are welcome — ready, set, go!

TV Time: The joy of Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin premiered on the CW back in 2014, and ran for five seasons. Back in the day, I faithfully watched season 1, but then only watched about 4 or 5 episodes of season 2 before giving it up.

Why did I quit? I think maybe I just didn’t get it at the time. Or maybe the weekly cadence didn’t quite pull me in enough to be completely hooked.

But now? After finishing my binge of all five seasons, I can say with complete confidence the Jane the Virgin is GLORIOUS.

What makes it so special? I’ll try to explain.

First, the basics: Jane Gloriana Villaneuva is a 23-year-old college student when we first meet her. She works part-time as a waitress at the swanky Marbella hotel in Miami, is studying to become a teacher, and lives with her mother Xiomara and grandmother Alba.

Alba is an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela, a devout Catholic, and the moral center of Jane’s life. Xiomara had Jane at age 16 as a single teen mom, and has told Jane all her life that the father was an army soldier passing through with whom she had a brief fling.

One of Jane’s core beliefs was instilled in her by her abuela from a young age — your virginity is like a flower that you must protect. Once it’s gone you can never get it back!

Jane is also very much in love with her boyfriend Michael, a police detective who’s sweet, kind, funny, and head over heels in love with Jane. And who’d really like to have sex with her, except she’s vowed to wait until marriage, despite their hot and heavy make-out sessions.

All is right with Jane’s world until she goes in for a pap smear, and ends up artificially inseminated instead by a distracted doctor who mixes up her patients. What’s a pregnant virgin to do?

From here, things get crazier and crazier. The sperm used to impregnate Jane belongs to Rafael Solano, the incredibly hot owner of the Marbella who froze his sperm sample prior to undergoing chemotherapy several years earlier. His marriage to scheming Petra is on its last legs, and Petra had planned to set insemininated with his only sperm sample as a way to hold onto the money that comes with her marriage.

And so many more twists and turns! The key thing to know about Jane the Virgin is that it’s about how much the Villanueva women love telenovelas, and the telenovela theme is what gives Jane the Virgin its style and approach.

So yes, there are long-lost twins and evil crime lords, amnesia and kidnappings, blackmail and murder, and so much more. There’s also a telenovela within the telenovela, since Jane’s father turns out to be Rogelio de la Vega, the star of the hit telenovela The Passions of Santos.

As the narrator often reminds us: “I know! Straight out of a telenovela!”

And yes, there’s a narrator, and he’s phenomenal. Funny, sarcastic, dramatic, he adds spice and humor to every scene, as well as the little subtitles and texts and emojis that pop up too. It works, trust me.

I think one of the things that didn’t work for me when I first watched the show was the telenovela aspect. I didn’t care about the crime and conspiracies, the police investigations, the crazy drug lord caper…

But with this binge, I was better able to appreciate the beauty of the whole, and how the crazy plot aspects balance so well against the marvelous depiction of daily life for a loving family.

Because that’s what this show is really about, at its core. The relationships between Jane, Xiomara, and Alba are lovely, so full of heart and devotion and real day-to-day experience. Yes, they fight and get fed up, but at the end of the day, these three women are strong and solid, and we can always count on their porch-swing heart-to-hearts to put things right.

A few more favorite things:

Magical realism: This show makes fabulous use of magical realism, from showing Jane’s heart glowing when she’s in love to the swirling flower petals that fill the air during an important kiss. It’s a lovely nod to Latin American literary traditions, and it adds so much.

Jane’s writing career: Jane is an aspiring writer, and we see her progress from tentatively sharing her dream to pursuing graduate school, then working on her first novel, and finally achieving success. It’s hard for movies and TV to show a writer at work and make it interesting, but Jane the Virgin does an amazing job of showing Jane’s struggles and her process.

High-stakes at the hotel: It just cracks me up how the ownership of the Marbella is such an issue throughout the entire show. Someone is always buying or giving or stealing hotel shares, so while Rafael might be the owner one day, he can be out on his ear the next. It’s super silly, and makes me roll my eyes, and is yet one more ridiculous but fun piece of the whole.

Rogelio: Oh, man. There’s nobody like Rogelio. He is incredibly vain, a total name-dropper, and yet also the sweetest man alive. He never fails to remind us that he’s super handsome and a big star with flawless skin, but he’s also vulnerable and loving and loves his family so, so much. He’s also hilarious.

The love triangle: For what it’s worth, I was Team Rafael from the start, and even when that didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped in season 1, I always held out hope. Through their ups and downs, Jane and Rafael managed to form a friendship that saw them through heartbreak and co-parenting challenges, so when they finally (spoiler alert!) make a go of it, it feels real and truly earned. (Sorry, Team Michael fans! I just never really felt it.)

Representation: It’s amazing to see so many talented Latinx actors center stage. And I love that Alba speaks almost exclusively in Spanish throughout the show, and that’s just who she is. Dialogue flows seamlessly from Spanish to English and back again, and it works so well.

Life: Beneath the silliness of so many plot devices, there are real issues that real people face — so many of which rarely get any attention on TV. We see Jane struggling with breast feeding and the feelings of inadequacy that can come with lactation challenges. We see Xiomara’s breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, presented so incredibly thoughtfully and sensitively — including how a woman’s relationship with her own sexuality might change in the aftermath of chemo and all the changes it brings. We also see Alba’s quest to become a citizen, going from a woman terrified of the police for fear that she’ll be deported, through the process of pursuing a green card and finally becoming a full citizen.

There’s so much more — loss and grief, establishing a family and what it means, Jane and Rafael’s efforts to co-parent in a way that supports their son even when they themselves are at odds, their struggle with son Mateo’s ADHD diagnosis and coming to terms with treatment options — I could go on and on. The beauty of Jane the Virgin is that the melodramatic twists never overshadow the day-to-day realities of people living realistic lives. It’s a hard balance to maintain, but the show does it beautifully.

I know I’ve rambled on, probably more than enough. But really, when a show is this great, I just want to shout about it! Jane the Virgin is a perfect binge for these coronavirus times. It’s full of joy and heart, is never dull, and reminds us that life can be full of magic.

TV Time: Survivor Season 40, “Winners At War”

Survivor’s 40th season ended this week. 40 seasons! Can you believe it? Now, I haven’t watched every single one and I in no way claim to be an expert, but as someone who watches the show week in and week out, I thought I’d chime in today and share my thoughts on the season and the winner.

First, my Survivor history: I watched Survivor season one twenty years ago, when it was new and different, when we all thought we were watching a show about actual survival that quickly became a show about alliances and social strategy. I know I watched at least one more season (Australia), but let it fade out of my life after that. I didn’t return to Survivor again until 2011, for season 24, “One World” — I was looking for something fun and different to watch with my 9-year-old son, and this worked for us! And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every season since.

Back to season 40: With “Winners at War”, Survivor brought back 20 previous winners, some who’ve played multiple times, some who appeared only once but managed to win and make a big impression. Some of these players are Survivor gods by now — who hasn’t heard of Parvati or Tyson or Boston Rob? For a lot of Survivor winners — and even non-winners who are extremely popular with fans — Survivor celebrity can be a career all on its own.

It was, I thought, a pretty cool concept to bring back all these winners and let them battle it out. There were a bunch of old-school winners (Rob, Sandra, Parvati, Yul, etc), and plenty of newer winners too. I liked the idea, and I liked seeing these Survivor icons thrown together in new and different ways. And yes, I liked the awkwardness too, like when Nick confessed that Parvati was his Survivor crush way back when.

BUT… the game design itself this time around had serious flaws, and these came close to ruining the whole season for me.

For the 2nd time, Survivor included the ridiculous Edge of Extinction twist, only this time, it wasn’t a surprise. In normal seasons, when someone is voted out, that’s it — they’re gone. Well, unless they’re voted out post-merge, in which case they become a jury member. Still, there’s a very clear distinction. Either you’re in, or you’re out. The tribe has spoken.

With Edge of Extinction, voted-out players get sent to a different island, where they basically just sit around, occasionally compete for rewards, and wait for a chance to get back into the game. Mostly, they seem bored, and spend a lot of time talking about how tough they have it. These players all form the jury, so while they’re not playing with the remaining active players, they’re watching every Tribal Council and keeping up with the ins and outs of gameplay.

And then, the EoE players get two chances to return to the game — through challenges that happen about midway through (Tyson won, only to get voted out again pretty quickly), and three days before the end. And man, do I have a problem with this! More on that in a minute.

The other twist this season was the introduction of Fire Tokens, described as a “Survivor currency”. As players win rewards, they also earn these tokens, which can be spent on luxury items (like blankets or peanut butter) or saved to gain advantages down the road.

The fire tokens became a part of the interplay between EoE players and the players still in the game. Someone on EoE could sell an advantage to an active player, or extort them by demanding payment of tokens in order to avoid a disadvantage. The absolutely worst part of the fire tokens was being able to use them to gain advantages in the battle-back competition.

Here’s why:

As the voted-out players spent time on EoE, there were numerous opportunities to gain tokens. The longer you’re there, the more chances there are. So a player who managed to last in the main game until day 30 had almost no chance to get any sort of advantage to re-enter the game, versus someone voted out early on, who spent weeks gathering tokens as rewards.

In season 38, a player who reentered from EoE ended up winning the game, and it was a controversial win for sure. This person may have lasted a long time, but did he actually play the game?

Here, in season 40, it was even worse. Natalie, voted out on day 2 of the game, the very first person voted out, spent 30+ days on Edge of Extinction. She won a ton of challenges over there and collected more fire tokens than any other player. She had all those weeks to bond with every other voted-out player, all of whom were jury members, to observe the main game from her own jury seat, and to never have to worry about getting removed from play permanently.

When it came time for the final battle-back challenge, Natalie used her token to buy herself three advantages in the challenge plus an immunity idol to bring back into the game with her if she won.

And if you ask me — that’s ridiculous! Having someone have major advantages like that at such a key moment is just out and out unfair. If I were any of the other players trying to get back in, I’d be frustrated and mad as hell. Naturally, Natalie won, and then tried to dominate the few days left by using her idol and spreading (possibly false) info that everyone on the Edge was saying Tony would absolutely win — hoping to use this as a lever to break up his alliance and get the others to turn against him.

Natalie’s reentry into the game was a disruption that didn’t seem fair or right. The other remaining players at that point had survived through challenges, social gameplay, and numerous tribal councils. I just really don’t like the concept of a voted-out player being able to re-enter so late in the game and stand a chance of winning — and especially being able to re-enter with an idol already in her pocket.

The final three ended up being Natalie, Michelle, and Tony. As I’ve said, I don’t think Natalie deserved a place there at all, and the fact that she lasted at EoE while hanging out with the rest of the jury didn’t seem like it could possibly justify handing her any votes to win.

I’ve never like Michelle as a player. I didn’t think she deserved her first win against Aubry, and I didn’t see her doing much of anything worthwhile in this game aside from lacking enough presence as a player to make anyone else want to target her. Yes, she lasted, but she didn’t actually do anything other than winning immunity at a couple of key times.

As for Tony — well, honestly, I’m delighted he won. I would have loved to see both him and Sarah at the final tribal, either with Ben or Denise. Now that would have been a showdown! This, by the way, is why I feel that the process is flawed when it comes to the end. There’s got to be a way that’s better than a fire-making challenge for determining the final three. Maybe when it’s down to four, you have one person win immunity, then let the remaining three battle it out for the next two spots? Otherwise, the one who wins that particular immunity challenge gets an outsized amount of power.

I hate seeing weak players at final tribal, with great players voted out (or eliminated by fire) in the 4th or 5th position. I get it — you want to win, so you try to make sure you’re sitting next to someone you can beat. But wouldn’t it be cool to have three amazing players at the end, each with a really strong argument to pitch to the jury?

I was sad to see Sarah out of the competition — but was practically in tears myself watching Tony and Sarah hug and share “I love you”s.

Tony was the right winner. He’s a delight to watch, no doubt about it. His crazy antics keep the show entertaining and surprising. How can you not love a guy who perches in a tree for hours? And actually, one of my favorite moments was earlier on when he helped Sarah infiltrate the other team’s camp to find an advantage. They were an amazing duo!

A favorite Tony moment

As for Edge of Extinction, I’ve seen a bunch of speculation that the producers basically had to do this in order to lure back the big-time former winners. I guess no one wants to come back with all the hoopla around this season and then get voted out right away. Still, I think it’s a weird and unnecessary addition to the game, it eats up airtime (and isn’t all that interesting), and it upsets the game dynamic, but in a negative (not creative) way. I’m hoping they do away with both EoE and fire tokens in future seasons!

Kudos, however, to Survivor production for going all-out with this season’s loved ones visit, which usually is super hokey. This time around, they brought not just one family member, but the entire family for each player. Yup, more waterworks as I watched all the various competitors dissolve into mom and dad tears as their kids ran out for hugs! So sweet, and I loved that unlike other seasons, everyone got to spend time with their families, not just the winners of a challenge.

Overall, it was a really fun season, and it was great to see some old-time players back in the game. Of course, I did feel like I was missing out by not knowing some of the “classic” winners… so maybe I should “challenge” myself to use my shelter-in-place time to watch some older seasons.

No matter how many seasons of Survivor I watch, I always end up hooked. Here’s to many more! Hopefully, next season’s final episode won’t be hosted out of Jeff Probst’s garage.

And hey, a question for my fellow Survivor fans out there: If I were going to go back and watch an old season for the first time, which do you recommend, and why?

TV Time: The joy of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, as expressed through music videos

You may have already seen me mention that my newest TV kick is watching Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, a new show on NBC that debuted in January this year. Remember January? Back when we could actually leave our houses?

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a total ray of sunshine in these gloomy days, and I’m loving it to pieces. Here’s the trailer, to give you a taste of what it’s all about:

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Zoey is a super-talented engineer at a tech company in San Francisco. She’s close to her family, and torn up over her father’s degenerative disease. A weird encounter with an MRI machine during an earthquake gives her the power to hear people’s secret emotions as songs.

Does it make sense? Well, no. But that’s okay. Just go with it. Because it is just too cute to bother poking holes in the plot.

Not only does she hear songs, she sometimes experiences these musical messages as full-on song and dance numbers — which only she can hear or see. And, as she learns, some of these songs demand action — either she reaches out to try to help the person singing to her, or she’ll hear the song everywhere she goes.

Like I said, logically, realistically, scientifically, it doesn’t make any sense. But who cares? The show is charming and upbeat, often moving (I’m not crying! You’re crying!), enthusiastic, entertaining, and just plain fun. And don’t we all need some fun right about now?

Here are an assortment of terrific musical moments from the nine episodes that have aired so far:

A teeny clip of a great group number. Whoo!
Lauren Graham! Just amazing as Zoey’s high-powered but secretly lonely boss.
Oh my geeky musical theater loving heart. A perfect moment to mark the arrival of a tech guru. (You can quit after the song ends — the rest is talking.)
I love the action in this one.

This father-daughter number totally brought on the tears.
Love the choreography.
Super silly.
Another great dance number.
A terrific number by an incredibly talented cast member… and one of the only songs that’s happening IRL in the show, not just in Zoey’s head
One more tearjerker.

Okay, this is just scratching the surface, and there are so many more that I can’t find decent videos for (including an amazing version of Fight Song performed completely in ASL).

Look, what else do you have to do during these long days of sheltering in place? Give Zoey a chance! And if you’ve watched the show, tell me — what have been your favorite musical numbers so far?

TV Time: What’s Lisa watching? Further random thoughts from my couch.

Check it out — my 2nd TV-related post in two days!

I wouldn’t say I’ve been watching more TV than usual lately, but I thought I’d mention a few shows that were highlights for me this past week:

The Big Bang Theory. Is it too obvious to say that this show when out with a bang? After 12 seasons, the series finale of The Big Bang Theory aired this past week. I’ve had my moments of absolutely loving this show, although I think the last few seasons have been kind of spotty and the jokes a little too predictable. Still, twelve seasons with characters we care about is a pretty big accomplishment. For the most part, I was happy with the finale. (Spoilers ahoy!)

  • Sheldon and Amy won a Nobel prize!
  • Raj got to go the award ceremony with Sarah Michelle Gellar — not too shabby for a guy who didn’t used to be able to speak in front of women.
  • We finally got to see the Wolowitz children. (Adorable, of course).

Okay, but here’s where I get a little stuck: Penny is pregnant. After making very clear that she had no desire to have children, ever, and Leonard asserting that he accepted her choice, the show left Penny with a surprise, unplanned pregnancy, and she and Leonard seem perfectly happy about it. What happened? Why did the show feel the need to tack this on at the very end? If Penny had been ambivalent, or had said she didn’t want kids YET, it might feel more okay. But no, suddenly she’s totally into it, with no on-screen discussion whatsoever.

Look, I get that these are fictional characters on a sit-com and that the series finale is not the place for a serious conversation. But then why include it at all? It’s as if the show is saying that a marriage can’t be truly happy without children, that a couple needs a baby to be complete. And I think this sucks. Why not respect Penny’s very clear choice? Or at the very least, deal with it earlier in the season so Penny and Leonard could talk about it in a meaningful way? Choosing to be childless is a valid choice, and the show should have respected it, rather than forcing Penny and Leonard — a couple who don’t follow the usual path in their marriage — into a happily-ever-after formula that doesn’t suit them. Grrr.

Dead To Me. Who else is watching/has watched Dead To Me on Netflix? I just binged it this weekend, and loved it. With a terrific cast and a pretty dark sense of humor, the show zips through 10 30-minute episodes. Never boring, often deeply emotional, with plots twists and craziness and ridiculous situations galor, Dead To Me is hard to describe without giving away key plot elements. Let’s just say: It’s the story of a recently widowed mother of two who befriends a somewhat kooky woman through a grief support group, but really nothing is as simple as it seems. There’s a powerhouse ending — I want more!

Check out the trailer:

Awesome, right?

Santa Clarita Diet: Oh, I’m so sad to have come to the end of this zombies-in-suburbia series! What a pity that Netflix has chosen not to renew it for a 4th season. Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant are spot-on hilarious as realtors Sheila and Joel, who sell houses, raise their daughter, and find bad guys for Sheila to kill and eat in order to quench her cravings for flesh. Sheila is undead, you see, and that’s kind of hard on a marriage. This show is amazing, really — crazy developments, terrific cast and guest stars, and buckets and buckets of blood (which means that if you’re at all squeamish, you probably shouldn’t watch).

The show ended with a cliffhanger, which makes it all the more awful that there won’t be more. C’mon, Netflix, give it another chance!

Game of Thrones: For anyone talking about TV today, this is the elephant (dragon?) in the room. But I’m just not going to get into it right now. There are thousands and thousands of opinion pieces out there related to the season so far — no one needs mine on top of that! As I write this, we’re about 4.5 hours away from the series finale, and I can barely breathe through all my anxiety over the ending. Will I be satisfied? Will the show do the remaining characters justice? AAAAAAGH. So hard to wait.

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Are you watching any of these? Please share your thoughts!

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TV Time: What’s Lisa watching? Thoughts on a disappointing season of Survivor.

Oh, Survivor. What did you do to my show this season?

I can’t call myself a superfan. There were bunches of seasons that I just didn’t watch. But I’ve been back in for the last 8 – 10 seasons, and it’s been a blast. There’s just something about Survivor. The personalities, the scheming, the strategizing, the challenges — it’s a suprisingly entertaining little social experiment, with stakes of $1 million dollars each time a batch of new players hits the beach.

The 38th season of Survivor wrapped up this past week, and geez — what a letdown. In some ways, the season was doomed from the start due to a weird and dull-but-infuriating theme. Here are some thoughts on the highs and lows, and where I think the season really went wrong.

The full cast competes on SURVIVOR: Edge of Extinction when the Emmy Award-winning series returns for its 38th season, Wednesday, Feb. 20 (8:00-9:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

New and returning players. This season, we had 14 new players and 4 returning players. Why, Survivor, why? The four returnees are all relatively recent players, all very popular with fans despite never winning the game. And I mean, it’s nice to see them again — but who decided it would be a good idea to mix new and returning this way? The new players, while some quite starstruck, nevertheless pretty immediately banded together to decide to get rid of the returnees. They were seen as big threats, and the general feeling seemed to be, “they had their shot already — this is OUR time.” Two returnees were placed on each of the two tribes, making them outnumbered from the start, and despite some good alliance-building, they never really seemed to have a shot at making it to the end.

I like seeing returning players (well, some of them, at any rate), but not in such a weird ratio to new. I’d much rather watch an all-returnees season, or a fans vs favorite set-up, where at the least the numbers are even going into the game. I couldn’t really figure out the rationale here, and it ended up seeming like a waste of good, exciting players to put them in this no-win situation.

The returning players

Edge of Extinction was a disaster. The concept here is a new one for Survivor. Instead of being out of the game once voted out, as expected, each player who’s voted out has a choice: Go home (to Ponderosa) and kick back until the game is over, or grab a torch and get in the boat to the Edge of Extinction. All of the players voted out chose the torch, naturally, and then they just sat around on a bare island, waiting… and waiting… and waiting. The voted-out players had a chance to compete to get back in the game mid-way through, and then again toward the end, when only a handful of players remain. And lo and behold, the guy who ended up winning the game spent 28 out of 39 days on the Edge of Extinction. So how did he win the game, and was it fair?

In my view, no, it wasn’t fair. Chris, the winner, was the 3rd person voted out of the game. He then had all those weeks to hang out with all of the other voted-out players, all of whom ended up being the Survivor jury. So he had a chance to make friends, resolve any hurt feelings, not compete, and basically just lay low, meanwhile scooping up all sorts of intel that ended up giving him an edge when he did win his way back in.

No disrespect to Chris — he’s not the one who created the concept. But it does seem like a bizarre twist, and one that gives an edge to someone who actually played much less than the other remaining contestants. And by playing less, he didn’t piss people off, have to compete, deal with alliances or betrayals, or any of the other key elements of game play. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

The final three

On top of the fairness question, Edge of Extinction had a strangely diluting impact on the TV show itself. Most episodes featured some amount of check-in time with the voted-off players, who really weren’t doing anything of note, which ended up taking time away from the action amongst the players who were actually still in the game. At first, the twist seemed kind of cool… but once it became clear that there was nothing actually happening at Edge of Extinction, it became more and more clear that something was off about the entire concept.

They need to fix the final four elimination. A couple of seasons ago, the Survivor powers-that-be added a fire-making competition to determine the final three. At the very last immunity challenge, when there are four players left, the winner automatically goes to final three. He/she then gets to pick who also goes to final three, and the remaining two have to compete to make fire, with the winner getting the 3rd spot in the finals.

The problem is, it’s a dumb way to figure out the finalists. In seasons where there’s someone who’s a clear favorite to win, unless that person wins that last immunity challenge, there’s no way anyone (with an eye on winning a million dollars) will bring that person to the end. And fire-making is a crapshoot. Someone could be a great fire maker, but just have an off day or maybe the wind is blowing wrong. It’s just so disappointing to see someone play a truly great game and get knocked out right before the end.

That’s what happened here. Chris, returned from Edge of Extinction, won the final immunity. The other three contestants included Rick Devens, the clear favorite to win, and two others, Gavin and Julie, who made almost no impression on me with their gameplay. Chris made the risky decision to give his immunity to Gavin and go up against Rick in the fire-making, knowing that (a) if he won, it would be a big move for his Survivor resume and increase his odds of winning the ultimate prize, and (b) if he lost, well, he would have lost to Rick in the final anyway, so why not chance it?

The player most likely to win… until he got knocked out in the fire-making competition.

Chris made a smart move — but I still hate it. At four, it feels like too much power in the hands of the person who won the last immunity challenge. And if that particular challenge happens to be one that the best overall player isn’t suited to, they’re pretty much guaranteed to be eliminated. Look what happened to Malcolm the first time he played — if he’d made it past that last challenge, he’d have won the game.

My suggestions? Try a different approach. Maybe make the remaining three battle it out three ways, with the top two finishers moving to the finals. Or maybe allow hidden immunity idols to still be played at final four, offering one more reward to a person who hustled to find it. I just can’t stand seeing finals where the strongest player has been pushed out, so we end up with lackluster players who made it to the end because no one saw them as dangerous enough to vote out.

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Will I keep watching Survivor? You betcha. But I hope the show runners take steps to fix some of the problems from this season.

For anyone who watched, what did you think of this season? Did you think the right person won? Hit me up in the comments!

A book & a movie: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

It’s the classic tug-of-war: Book or Movie?

In the case of To All the Boys I’ve Love Before, why not enjoy both? That’s what I did this past week!

I watched the Netflix movie last weekend. Here’s the synopsis (via IMDb):

When her secret love letters somehow get mailed to each of her five crushes, Lara Jean finds her quiet high school existence turned upside down.

Okay, that doesn’t really tell us all that much.

The movie is super adorable. 16-year-old Lara Jean, a high school junior, lives at home with her widowed dad and her two sisters — but older sister Margot’s departure for college in Scotland throws the normal family routines out of whack. Lara Jean is missing Margot… and then somehow, her old love letters to five different crushes from her past end up in the boys’ hands, and things get rom-com cute and chaotic.

But what about the book? After watching the movie, I decided I needed to read the book — ya know, just for comparison’s sake. The book, by Jenny Han, is sweet and quirky (kind of like Lara Jean!). Here’s the book synopsis, from Goodreads:

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

In both versions, the main boys on Lara Jean’s very confused mind are Josh, the boy next door and Margot’s ex-boyfriend, and Peter Kavinsky, the super popular guy who once kissed Lara Jean back in middle school. Josh is blown away by Lara Jean’s letter confessing feelings for him, and Peter is trying to deal with a break-up from his long-term girlfriend, so Lara Jean and Peter end up as fake boyfriend and girlfriend, just to get everyone off their backs. Yes, the fake relationship plot has been around for a while, but To All the Boys manages to keep it fresh and fun.

The movie version is a great way to enjoy the full story without a whole lot of time invested, and the cast is pretty terrific. I have a definite weakness for John Corbett, who plays the dad (which gives you a good idea of my demographic, btw), but I appreciated the young’uns who make up the teen characters’ part of the cast.

I was a little confused, watching the movie, by the ethnicity of the sisters. According to the book, Lara Jean and her sisters are biracial, with a Korean mom and a white dad. The TV sisters appear to be from different ethnic backgrounds, which I kept thinking the movie might explain (are they adopted? I hadn’t read the book yet when I watched it). To complicate matters further, according to IMDb, the actress playing Lara Jean is of Vietnamese descent, and the actress playing Margot is of Chinese descent. No info on the younger sister (who, based just on looks, doesn’t appear to be Asian), but I thought it was odd casting to pick three girls who look nothing alike and then just ignore their diverse backgrounds. Sorry, I’m not trying to be offensive here, but not being familiar with the story beforehand, I was distracted by how distinctly un-related the sisters looked, and it took me a while to realize that the movie was just going to leave it all unacknowledged. Weird to get hung up on that, I know, but there it is.

The movie advances the plot a bit further than the book — the book leaves the ending on an open note. We know (and Lara Jean finally knows) how she feels, but not what the outcome will be. The movie has a suitably romantic and adorable ending… but since the book is the first in a trilogy, I assume we’ll get there in book #2.

Of course, I’m now a little worried about how there can be two more books’ worth of story left to tell, because the movie ending was pretty perfect and swoony. Now I’m anxious about what comes after that happy ending, and what direction books 2 and 3 might take the characters in.

So, which did I like more — book or movie? Hard to say! I’m glad I watched the movie first (which is definitely unusual for me). It strikes all the right notes, condensing teen worry, flirtation, hard family issues, mean girls, fitting in, first crushes, and the rush of first love, into a (less than) two hour experience that feels fun, fresh, and totally satisfying. If you need a quick mood boost, this is perfect (maybe with a mug of hot cocoa and some delicious cookies to go with). I liked the book a lot, especially the deeper look into the relationships between Margot, Lara Jean, and younger sister Kitty, and I’m glad I read it — but even if I hadn’t, the movie hits all the right beats and feels complete in and of itself.

So yeah, I say do both! Watch the movie, read the book… and as for me, I’m already moving on to book #2, PS I Still Love You… hoping there’s plenty more quirky romance and sisterly shenanigans in store!

The delights of summer TV: Sparkling nails, warring brothels, and a severed leg

It’s summer! Whatcha watching?

I’m having oodles of fun binge-watching TV… and I’m totally in love with three shows that are ridiculously fun.

First up: Claws on TNT

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the glory of Desna, the nail salon owner turned money launderer turned Dixie Mafia kingpin (queenpin)… who always looks completely fabulous, whether sitting poolside or driving her Maserati or breaking into a drug-smuggling warehouse. The show’s true heart is the nail salon and the friendship of the women who work there with Desna. They’re hilarious, ridiculous, outrageous, over the top, and also, surprisingly moving.

Desna got into a life of crime reluctantly, needing a way to support her autistic brother and working toward her dream of establishing a more upscale salon. Pill-pushing clinics, gun-toting criminals, and plain bad luck have gotten in her way, but I keep rooting for Desna to free herself from all the crazy criminal shenanigans and get back to that amazing nail art.

I absolutely did not expect that this would be a show for me, but after much prodding from a couple of co-workers, I gave it a try, and I was hooked. You can’t take it seriously, but if you want escapist summer fun, Claws is top of the list.

 

And then there’s my more recent discovery: Harlots on Hulu

Yes, it’s about harlots. 18th century London prostitutes, two competing madams bitterly at war with one another, the “culls” (customers) who frequent the brothels, and the overall rotten condition of being a woman at a time when women had no power over their own lives. The show is written, directed, and produced by women, and it shows: The emphasis is not on bodies and sex, but on the women characters’ minds, desires, frustrations, and yearnings. It shows the limited options women had to control their own lives, and paints a pretty grim picture of what sex workers experience each day.

And yet, it’s a remarkably fun and entertaining show! Visually, Harlots is a treat. We alternate between seeing the mucky streets and filthy dress hems with ogling the gowns and wigs of the upper class (and the brothels that cater to the rich and noble). Oh, those wigs! Can we talk about the wigs for a minute? Powdered, sky-high, utterly glorious… between the wigs and the costumes, this show is just a feast for the eyes. Add in a compelling plot and terrific acting, and you’ve got some idea of why I’m obsessing over this show right now.

 

Finally, I’m loving the hell out of C B Strike on Cinemax:

And this is where the severed leg comes in.

C B Strike is a TV show that crept in while I wasn’t looking! I’d heard that a TV adaptation of the J. K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith) detective series was in the works, but had no idea it had been completed and released already! Three seasons are all available on Cinemax, each season covering the plot of one of the three books in the series. Season 1 is The Cuckoo’s Calling (murdered model), shown in 3 episodes. Seasons 2 and 3 are two episodes each, covering The Silkworm (murdered writer) and Career of Evil (body parts by special delivery). All are excellent, in large part because of the two excellent actors in the lead roles of Cormoran and Robin. They have great chemistry, and Cormoran especially is just what I imagined from the books.

The plots of the books are really dense and packed with detail, so the pacing of the TV series took a bit of getting used to. They manage to squeeze in enough to make the storie make sense without getting bogged down. It actually amazes me that they were able to condense the plot threads and clues enough to work in so few episodes — but the show is definitely a success.

Added bonus: It has been a while since I read Career of Evil, but now I’m back up to speed and completely ready to continue reading about Cormoran and Robin when book #4, Lethal White, comes out this fall!

 

Those are my top three… but I’m also really excited about the new season of Killjoys, and plan to dive into Castle Rock this week too.

What are you watching this summer?

A weekend pick-me-up, courtesy of CXG

How much depressing, horrifying, loathsome news can we take in one week? My morning routine has now become “read the paper to see what terrible new things our so-called-leader has said since yesterday”.

Don’t we all need a break? Don’t we all need a reason to smile, laugh, be a little gleeful?

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of my favorite TV goodies, and while the show actually takes on serious issues, its musical numbers never leave me less than delighted. Just in time to disrupt my down mood last night, along came another new episode with TWO terrific songs that made me LOL. For realz.

For your viewing and listening please, just in case you need a mood boost too:

Without Love, You Can Save the World:

 

Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too:

 

You’re welcome!

TV Time: What’s Lisa watching? Some random thoughts on a season of Survivor.

And that’s a wrap on another season of Survivor!

I first watched Survivor way back when, season 1, when it was something new and really different. I stuck with it for a season or two, then moved on to other things. A few years ago, it occurred to me that it might be a fun show to watch with my preteen boy — I figured he’d like the challenges, the physical hardship around food and shelter, and the strategizing among players to — as the saying goes — outwit, outplay, and outlast.

We first tuned in together for Survivor: One World back in 2012, which was season 24 of the show. And here we are, five years later, and we’re still watching! Season 35 just aired its finale this week, and while we thought the season had a pretty lackluster start, by the end we were glued to the TV. There may have been some jumping up and down at  certain points. Maybe even a hug or two. The kiddo and I will never tell

I’m not going to write a recap of the season — you can find plenty of those out there all over the internet. I just thought I’d share some thoughts and reactions… which probably won’t mean much to people who don’t watch the show, but here goes anyway.

I’m not into the “themed” seasons very much. The Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers gimmick is just that — a gimmick. It’s a way to divide people into tribes, but had no real bearing on people’s game play or strategies. So the Heroes included a marine vet and a firefighter, the healers had a urologist (whom everyone refered to as the Sex Doctor) and… well, I honestly couldn’t tell you. There was a lifeguard or two — were they healers? heroes? hustlers? No clue. The team distinctions are pretty blurry, and later in the game when the players talk about needing to take out the remaining members of the Healer tribe, my mind was blank — who are they talking about again? Unless the show constantly shows subtitles identifying people by tribe, it’s just confusing.

The cast of season 35

Personalities matter. For the first half of the season or so, my son and I consistently felt that there weren’t enough stand-out personalities to make things interesting. The interactions among tribe members were rather bland, and no one seemed to really have a great grasp on strategy or gameplay. It wasn’t until mid-season that some players started really coming out of their shells and becoming people to cheer for. I feel like Survivor tries too hard to fit “types” — we need a nerdy guy, so insert Ryan. We need an assertive, brainy woman — insert Chrissy. We need a surfer bro — insert Devon. We need an unpredictable tough guy — insert Joe. I’m not saying that’s all there is to these people, but just that casting likes to play up certain stories, and based on the edited show, that tends to be what we get.

My favorites tend not to last. Two big blows for me in terms of enjoyment watching the game were the eliminations of Lauren and Joe. Lauren, a fisherman according to the show, is a tough, laconic woman who isn’t flashy, but who slowly started showing more and more smarts and ability. I liked her gameplay approach, her practicality, and her down-to earth-ness. Joe is just a hoot, a parole officer whose gameplay seems modeled on winner Tony from a few seasons back. Joe is funny and out there and not afraid to be a little crazy. He sure was fun to watch, and when he got voted off, the show lost a lot of its entertainment value.

There are too many puzzle challenges. The puzzles have bugged me for a while now. No matter the challenge’s physical components — swimming, running, balancing, shoving big heavy objects through small spaces — too many of these end with a puzzle, and it’s always the puzzle that decides the outcome. It doesn’t end up mattering how far behind someone is on the physical part — they can always catch up on the puzzle. The problem here is that by the back half of the season when the competitions are individual rather than team-based, one person skilled at puzzle-solving can dominate every challenge. That certainly happened this season. Chrissy was the only one left in the final 8 or so who had an eye for puzzles, and there was just no real shot for anyone else. It becomes a foregone conclusion before the challenge even starts: There’s a puzzle at the end, so Chrissy will win. And she did.

Here’s a suggestion for the Survivor powers-that-be: Only include puzzles in challenges prior to the merge, when the challenges are all team efforts. That way, it’s up to the team to assign puzzle solvers, and the win is more dependent on teamwork and strategy that on one person’s particular talents. I mean, come on — for this one, not a single person other than Chrissy had the slightest clue, and it was ridiculous.

People who don’t look for idols have only themselves to blame. Ben was on the bottom for the last several weeks of episodes. His alliance was gone. He was seen as a huge threat by everyone else left in the game. He was the #1 target for elimination, and no one wanted to work with him. So Ben did what he needed to do to save himself — he hunted for hidden immunity idols night and day, and he found them. And everyone else kept saying, well, there’s no way he’ll find another one. But he did. And they all just sat around camp and talked about needing to get Ben out, or else just had a good night’s sleep. Meanwhile, Ben found an idol every time he needed to. That, to me, is excellent Survivor. He had no shot at an alliance or talking people into saving him, so he saved himself, time and time again. Kudos to Ben. For the others, it’s your own damned fault for not following him around or finding idols yourselves!

It’s a game; it’s not personal. I get sick of hearing about “bitter jury syndrome”, and I have no respect for players who make decisions based on emotion. And this is why I wasn’t rooting for Chrissy to win. Too many times, she pushed a play on her team because she felt personally betrayed by someone, rather than for strategic reasons. I have news for y’all — the game is about betrayal. People who don’t ever go against their alliances or switch sides don’t win. Blindsides are what move people ahead in the game, and to pull off a blindside, there’s betrayal involved. Alliances are crucial to keeping yourself safe, but knowing when to break from the crowd and make your own moves is what wins the million dollars. People who base their votes on personal likes or dislikes are not the best players. I hate hearing players saying that they need to get rid of so-and-so next because they’re too annoying or they can’t stand having them around camp anymore. That’s not strategy, and it often leads to illogical moves. And as for the bitter jury thing — people who are voted out should be able to leave their grudges at Tribal, and cast their votes based on good game play, even if that game play is what led to their own ousters.

Now THIS is a challenge. Watching people cling to poles just never gets old.

Personal history is important, but shouldn’t affect the votes. This is a tough one. When someone waits until Tribal to pull out the sob story, as touching as it may be, it always feels like a cheap play for sympathy votes to me. And sympathy votes should have nothing to do with determining the winner of Survivor. It’s a fine line, though. If someone is truly dealing with something emotional or difficult back home, and it affects their game play, then yes, it is relevant to an extent. I guess I just don’t like it when a player keeps the big news a secret all season and then drops a truth-bomb at Tribal for maximum impact. And this is yet another reason why I support Ben as this season’s winner. All along, he was upfront about his PTSD stemming from his combat service. He clearly was carrying an emotional burden with him that affected him day in and day out, including during all his days playing Survivor. Ben’s PTSD had a real impact on how he played the game and his ability to connect with his teammates. He was criticized for his social game, but I think he did a great job of overcoming his own obstacles. So in this case, the “sob story” at Tribal was real and relevant, and should (and probably did) have an impact on how the jury assessed his overall game play.

Social game is kind of a myth. Look, some people are smooth talkers, and some aren’t. What does a social game mean? Is it about forming real friendships? Is it about getting others to trust you? Is it about being able to talk people into doing what you want? Chrissy was praised for having a good social game, and maybe that’s true. But let’s pause for a moment and remember that she works in the corporate world as a financial analyst. She has to be able to think on her feet, to give presentations, to be persuasive. How does that compare to people who don’t work in that environment? Yes, she was much more articulate and polished in her speech at the final Tribal, but I don’t necessarily give her points for that. Ben is coming from a really different set of circumstances, and I think he did great… just differently.

The final 5.

Okay, by now it’s clear that I was rooting for Ben, so it’ll come as no surprise that I loved the final twist. Instead of having the person from the final four who wins the last immunity challenge have all the power in determining who makes the final three, the producers threw in a twist: The immunity winner picks one person to go to final three, and the remaining two have a fire-making challenge, with the winner moving on to the final three. Awesome. It gets frustrating as a viewer to see great players eliminated right before the finals because the other players know they’d never beat them. I like the element of chance, and that the determination of the final three doesn’t rest in one person’s hands. This is causing a lot of controversy, and I’m seeing a lot of complaints out there that the producers “rigged” the game so Ben would make it to the finals… but they announced the twist in advance, and Devon had just as much of a shot as Ben. It kept things exciting, and ultimately, I do believe that the best player won the game. So there!

Other random thoughts:

  • I think the players’ facial expressions whenever Jeff tells them about food rewards is hilarious. Are they coached? Do they all really get that ecstatic over the idea of chicken or pizza or cookies? I know they’re hungry, but it’s always so over the top. We crack up every time.
  • There’s a lot of talk about people getting a “winner’s edit”, and it’s really true. The production team films 24/7, and I know they need to craft the footage into one-hour episodes, but it gets so obvious after a while from the edits who the likely winner and contenders are going to be. Maybe vague it up a bit going forward?
  • Also, it makes us laugh every time a contestant says “I’m in control of the game” or “There’s no way I’m going home today”. Sure sign that that person is going home!
  • Why do all the women wear bikinis? Are they required to? Why do guys walk around in their underwear? No one wants to see that!
  • In earlier seasons, they used to talk about luxury items. Do players still get luxury items? Are there set grooming items they’re allowed to have? Inquiring minds want to know.
  • What was up with the bandage on Ben’s shoulder all season? Was it to cover up a tattoo? Was it an injury? See above re inquiring minds.
  • Why don’t all players know how to make fire? Should be basic preparation before going on the show, right? Practice making fire, using a machete, making sure you can swim… maybe do puzzles every day?

That’s it for my random Survivor thoughts! Despite my initial doubts about this season, by the end, it was really a good time. An added bonus for me is the time spent with my 15-year-old watching the show and discussing strategy the day after each episode. Entertainment and family bonding all in one!

For anyone who watches, what did you think of this season? Did you think the right person won? Hit me up in the comments!