Binge ideas needed – ready, set, go!

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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?

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten totally binge-worthy TV shows

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Bingeworthy TV Shows/Movies.¬†Yes, I’m an avid read, but I do love my TV binges too! Here are ten shows that are well worth an obsessive binge — some old, some in their current runs, all entertaining as hell.

In no particular order:

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • The Walking Dead
  • The Good Place
  • Claws
  • Veronica Mars
  • iZombie
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
  • Grace & Frankie
  • Harlots
  • Poldark

What shows do you love to binge? Please share your TTT link!

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