TV Time: What’s Lisa watching?

It’s fall TV season! So much goodness. So much to watch. So few hours in the day.

I thought I’d do a quick round-up of what I’m loving right now:

Outlander. Obviously. In case you couldn’t guess from my approximately 5 billion previous mentions, I’m a fan, and I’m in heaven now that we’re “in season”. Except for the fact that there’s no new episode this week, but that will make next week’s super-sized episode even sweeter, right?

 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is back! Season 3 started this past Friday night. If you ever need something to make you giggle in all sorts of slightly inappropriate ways, here’s a show for you. Here’s one of the two new musical numbers from this week’s episode:

 

In sadder news, one of the hidden gems of cable TV is saying good-bye this weekend after four hilarious, touching, and on-point seasons. Farewell, Survivor’s Remorse! A show that’s been consistently funny, often uncomfortable, with a mix of humor and food for thought that’s never lazy, and certainly never fails to entertain.

 

And then we have a show all about people riding horses fast along seaside cliffs. Kidding, kind of. Poldark! It’s season 3, and the story is still totally engrossing, and the scenery and people are as gorgeous as ever.

 

Can’t forget about my most recent obsession, the show that has me counting the days until season 8 premieres on October 22nd. The Walking Dead returns… and it’s time for All Out War.

 

And finally, there’s The Good Place, which is just consistently funny and surprising and utterly enjoyable. The 2nd season is off to a great start!

 

Yes, there are a bunch of other shows I have a more casual relationship with — I watch, I enjoy, but they don’t rule my waking thoughts the way my favorites do. Other stuff I’m enjoying right now:

  • Speechless
  • Will & Grace (kind of — fun so far, but verging on feeling a little tired)
  • Adam Ruins Everything — something to enjoy with my son (I wrote about it last year, here)
  • Blackish — I haven’t watched consistently from the beginning, so I’m working on catching up
  • Grace & Frankie — in my free moments, I’ve been trying to pick up episodes here and there. I like! Just haven’t had time to truly binge.

**Updated to add: As soon as I hit “publish”, I realized that I left out This Is Us, which I love and which continues to be excellent. My bad.**

What are you watching this fall? What are you most excited for?

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Dramatic plot vs. happily-ever-after: The perils of emotional investment

Fear. Anxiety. Dread.

And it’s all the fault of fictional characters.

I have a tendency to binge when I get into something new, TV or books, and then — oh my stars — it’s so hard to separate. Because what happens when you fall in love with characters, but then have to witness them going through hell? All I want to do is scoop them up and keep them safe, but that’s not the way good stories work.

Clearly, I have a problem.

Take my newest obsession, The Walking Dead. Yes, I am super late to the party, but thanks to finally getting Netflix (again, super late to the party), I’ve been indulging. I started The Walking Dead, season 1 episode 1, in mid-May, and apart from a couple of weeks while I was out of town, have been watching the series straight through. So here I am, a month and a half later, slightly past the middle of season 6, and while I can’t wait to see what happens next, part of me wants to just walk away.

[SPOILERS AHEAD! FOR EPISODES THAT AIRED OVER A YEAR AGO, BUT STILL — SPOILERS!]

I’m at a place in the story where, as usual, the characters’ lives were hanging by a thread. Their supposedly safe haven, where they can finally build a life for themselves and plan for the future, has been overrun by hordes of the undead. All seems doomed, but finally, there’s this totally awesome battle scene (truly, a thing of beauty), and the good guys win! What follows is one of the most chill episodes ever, taking place a few weeks later, where everyone is safe again, rebuilding, relaxing, and starting to make things better.

Guys, they’re smiling! Rick and Daryl are out on a supply run and it’s actually funny! There’s even a sexy, romantic scene! (No, not Rick and Daryl.)

Man, I’m loving this show. I adore Rick Grimes. I want to cuddle Daryl Dixon (after a good bath, maybe). Carl is the cutest. Michonne is a total bad-ass with a heart of gold. And this is where my over-investment comes into play.

Because part of me wants to turn off the TV, pretend that’s the last episode, and walk away. Because then THEY’D ALL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. And I wouldn’t have to watch all these people I love get tortured again and again. No going hungry. No machete-ing walkers through the brain. No fighting off evil human attackers.

Imagine the possibilities, though, if everyone got to stay happy. The Walking Dead could become a sitcom, with charming little conflicts — uh oh! Craziness ensues when Carol’s favorite knife goes missing! Little Judith’s first word is “walker”, and it’s adorable! Abraham runs a fitness class, and Eugene is his best student! And don’t get me started on Rick Grimes and all the possibilities for him as the cool dad whose teenage son has an attitude.

Anyway…

This can’t be, obviously. Dramatic tension is necessary for good storytelling. If everyone on The Walking Dead remained safe in Alexandria behind secure walls, with enough food and medical equipment to lead healthy, safe lives, the story would be over. It’s wonderful for the characters, of course, but there would be nothing further to keep the show going.

Likewise in books. Let’s take my favorite series, Outlander (duh). These characters never get a break. Yes, there are plenty of happy moments, and plenty of swoonworthy scenes of Claire and Jamie basking in each others’ arms after a blissful night of lovemaking… but things just never go well for long. These folks are in the middle of a war, always. There’s always some bad guy or another lurking around the corner, ready to kidnap, shoot at, plot against, or otherwise cause harm to our beloved characters.

[SPOILER AHEAD — MILD — FOR OUTLANDER SERIES]

Book #7 in the series, An Echo in the Bone, ends with not just one, but 4 or 5 major cliffhangers. The agony of waiting years for the next book while pretty much everyone is in jeopardy! Flash forward a few years to Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (book #8), and after 145 chapters, everyone we care about ends up in a pretty good place. Yes, there are some small questions left unanswered but (spoiler) Jamie and Claire and Brianna and Roger and Ian and Rachel and, well, everyone, are safe and happy and together!

Part of me wanted to just say to Diana Gabaldon — okay, great! Stop now! Let these people live out the rest of their days in the peace and comfort and love they all deserve!

But no. I need and want and crave more of the story, and book #9 is in the works… and what would an Outlander book be if everyone was safe and happy all the time? So while I can’t wait for a publication date to finally be announced, I’m also dreading diving back in and finding out what hideous new dangers await my beloved Claire and Jamie and the rest of their family up on Fraser’s Ridge.

So, am I crazy for wanting my favorite characters — TV or books — to just get a chance to be happy?

We all love happily-ever-afters, right? But they just don’t make for great storytelling. There’s a reason most fairy tales don’t continue past the HEA. We can be happy for people who find happiness, but stories are driven by tension, suspense, conflict, and crisis. If there’s no obstacle to overcome and everybody just enjoys mundane daily lives, what more do we need to know?

Sigh.

I know that great drama demands all of the above. As for The Walking Dead — well, hell yes, I’m going to keep going. And I’ve stumbled across enough spoilers before I started watching the show to know that VERY BAD things are coming soon for characters I care about, and I’m going to end up heartbroken once again.

In the choice between walking away at a happy moment or continuing with a story I love despite the unhappiness to come, there’s no question — I’ll always choose to continue.

But isn’t it nice to daydream about a life in which Carl Grimes’s greatest worry is about impressing a girl, and not fighting for survival while covered in zombie guts?

TV Reaction: TURN, season 3 — random thoughts on the season & its finale

I’m a little behind the times, but I finally managed to watch the 3rd season of AMC’s TURN, the historical drama that tells the story of the spy ring that helped Washington win the Revolutionary War. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the show itself (check out my other TURN post, here), but I thought I’d go ahead and share some random thoughts I had after watching the season finale.

Probably needless to say, but THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

01 – First of all, I’m glad I watched the season late. This way, I’d already heard that there’s a confirmed 4th and final season on the way. I’d hate to be left wondering.

02 – The core cast of characters seems to have run out of steam. Their storylines were all kind of scattered in the 3rd season. I never could make sense of what Abe was up to from episode to episode, or for that matter, where his romantic interest really was.

03 – The big bads this season were clearly Simcoe and Robert Rogers, both of whom are historical figures. Now, I assume the show is being more or less true to history by keeping them alive, but I feel like these two have morphed into some sort of superhuman boogeymen. They simply can’t be killed. It started to feel ridiculous that the countless ambushes set up to kill them inevitably fail. I mean, why even bother? It’s like watching a Marvel movie — you know they’re not going to kill Hulk or Iron Man or Captain America, so automatically there’s no actual tension. Simcoe and Rogers ended up being cartoon-like figures of evil intent, and overall I think this weakened the storytelling.

Simcoe is seemingly bullet-proof.

 

Rogers too.

04 – What’s always been phenomenal is the show’s handling of the grand historical figures like George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and John Andre. Season 3’s climax centered on Arnold’s treason, and was exciting, captivating television. Sadly, with this piece of the storytelling over and done with, I’m a little worried about how the show is going to keep season 4 as interesting.

John Andre – you’ll be missed!

05 – The hard thing about a show that’s about historical figures is when you know what history says about their fate. John Andre was truly the best character in every season of TURN. And as we know from history, the real John Andre was captured by the Americans and hanged as a spy. So there’s really no way that the show could claim to be sticking closely to historical events and not hang him, but man, what a loss in terms of character! Not to mention the fact that Peggy Shippen is also likely to be removed from the story or at most a peripheral character in season 4. Good-bye to my favorite parts of the story!

Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold

06 – I can’t help but feel concerned that the spy ring itself — Abe, Caleb, Ben, and Anna — end up being the murkiest part of the overall story. Their plots and motivations can be hard to track, and this season especially, none of them really stood out in any significant way. Sorry, but I just wasn’t that interested in the push/pull between Abe and his father, or Ben’s professional frustration, or Anna’s weird non-romance with Major Hewlett. And Caleb has never had much of an independent story to play out — he’s fun to watch, but I really don’t know much more than that.

07 – Oh dear, does this make it sound like I didn’t enjoy season 3? I did! But the show is supposedly first and foremost about the spy ring, and that’s not the part that truly held my attention. Give me more Washington, Arnold, Shippen, and Andre per episode, and I’d be a happy camper.

08 – Ha, did I mention my geek-out/freak-out in the final episodes, when Washington arrives at West Point accompanied by Alexander Hamilton? Not this version:

But I still found myself breaking into song when he showed up!

Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton.

09 – Overall, I still consider TURN to be excellent television. It’s exciting, with a talented cast, amazing costumes and set designs, and a real eye toward making history come alive. I can’t help it that I get a little thrill whenever George Washington is in a scene (which is yet another testament to the strong casting). I wish the storyline this season had a more cohesive feel to it in regard to the Culper ring, but the Andre/Arnold/Shippen intrigue was more than enough to keep me glued to the TV for episode after episode.

The father of our country.

 

Season 4 — the final season — of TURN premieres June 17, 2017. It’s not too late to catch up on the first 3 seasons before then!

Will you be watching?

TV Reaction: Thirteen Reasons Why

Whew. What an intense experience. I just finished binge-watching Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix, and I’m still seeing certain scenes on repeat in my head.

Kudos to Netflix and the show’s producers for bringing the YA novel to the screen with such thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

Warning: This post will include plot spoilers for both the TV series and the book.

I read the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher years ago, at the urging of my then-high school-aged daughter. I remember being really moved and upset by it, but really didn’t remember a whole lot more than the basic plot outline:

Teen girl commits suicide, and leaves behind a series of cassettes on which she narrates all the reasons for her decision to end her life. Each cassette and each reason corresponds with a person who contributed to her suicide, in ways big or small — and her instructions are that each person must listen to the tapes, then pass them on to the next person mentioned, or face consequences.

I honestly didn’t remember much more than that, except some rosy-eyed, not willing to face reality portion of my brain managed to half-convince myself that at the end of the book, we’d discover it was all a ruse — that the girl was really alive and well somewhere, and that the tapes and suicide were a big con to get revenge on her tormentors. Maybe it was the mommy portion of my brain driving me to this wishful thinking — I just recoiled so instinctively from the idea of a teen girl, similar in age to my own daughter, making such a horrific choice.

Needless to say, I was very wrong. Yes, the girl is dead. She really did kill herself, and there’s no magical fix for that.

So… the TV series.

I was able to start viewing it without a whole lot of preconceptions about the plot or characters, since (as mentioned) I was quite fuzzy on the details of the books after so many years. I watched the show with my 14-year-old son, a high school freshman, and that in and of itself was a remarkable experience.

Wow. This isn’t an actual review or anything. For starters, I don’t really review TV. Beyond that, I wouldn’t really know where to start, so I’m just sharing my thoughts and reactions instead.

Let me kick this off by saying that the casting for Thirteen Reasons Why is fantastic. The show really rests on the shoulders of its young cast. Yes, there are adults — parents, school administrators, etc — and they were great too, but it’s largely the teen characters who evoke the emotions and carry the burden of the storyline’s heaviest moments.

Hannah Baker is dead, clearly and absolutely (lest any of my previous fantasies still linger). Clay Jensen is the nice boy who always liked Hannah, and wanted more, but never really made it out of the friend zone and never understood why. When Clay finds the box of tapes on his front porch about two weeks after Hannah’s death, he’s stunned by what he hears. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s #11 on the tapes, so as he listens, he’s also in horrible suspense. He doesn’t think he ever mistreated Hannah, yet she’s included him in her list of “reasons why”. Clay listens to the recordings in enormous pain, as he learns all that Hannah suffered, and even more, comes to understand all the ways he and everybody else let her down or betrayed her trust or weren’t there at the crucial moment.

It’s truly heartbreaking to watch. As told through flashbacks, Hannah is a vivacious, lovely, bright girl when she starts at her new school at the beginning of her sophomore year. And bit by bit, moment by moment, her soul is crushed, by malicious rumors, whispers about being “easy” or a “slut”, abandonment by friends, and moments of physical and cyber bullying — and much more. Any one of those elements on their own would be difficult; as an accumulation, it becomes unbearable.

We also see Hannah’s parents in the aftermath, utterly broken and suffering horribly, searching for any sorts of explanation that might help them understand why their beautiful girl should take her own life. Watching them is almost too much. As a parent, it took my breath away.

I should mention too that there are a few moments that are brutally graphic, but I think necessary. There are two different rape scenes, which are not done in any way gratuitously, but do show unflinchingly just how horrible those assaults are. The final episode does show Hannah’s suicide, and does not pull back at all from showing her take a razor blade to her arms and bleed out in the bathtub. It’s excruciating.

That said, I applaud the producers for not softening those moments. There’s nothing glamorous here. It’s painful and real. The show does a very good job of showing us how the teen brain doesn’t function the way a fully developed adult brain does. For Hannah, there’s no seeing past her present. She can’t even begin to envision a world that’s better than where she is. She internalizes everything and sees herself as worthless, so that even when something good is happening, she can’t feel worthy — and can’t see herself as being able to ask for or get help.

Now, I did have some quibbles with certain elements of the show. In the book, as I recall (and please correct me if I’m wrong), we only see the story through Hannah’s tapes and Clay’s experience listening to them, which he does all in one night. In the show, Clay takes much longer to get through them all, and meanwhile the ten people who come earlier in the tapes all know that he’s listening. There’s a lot of whispering and plotting among these characters who are scrambling to protect themselves and their secrets, and even contemplate finding a way to stop Clay before he can expose them.

That’s all well and good, but there are varying degrees of guilt and responsibility here, and some of the reactions don’t exactly make sense, especially as each tape gets its own full hour episode to explore. Yes, there are some heinous acts described — but some of the reasons are much smaller, pettier things. While I can’t deny that they hurt Hannah, I can’t understand why some of these characters become so desperate to hide the truth, especially as they’ve all listened to all the tapes and know that they’re being lumped together with others who’ve actually committed crimes.

Again, spoilers here:

There’s a top athlete, Bryce, who rapes both Hannah and another girl. There’s Bryce’s friend who stands by while Bryce rapes his girlfriend. With less bad intention but still a terrible outcome, there’s a girl who doesn’t report when she drunkenly knocks down a stop-sign, which leads to a car accident that kills another student. These are all terrible, awful, outrageous deeds.

But then again, there’s Courtney, a popular, perfect girl who abandons her friendship with Hannah when a peeping Tom catches Courtney and Hannah sharing a drunken kiss on a dare. And there’s a boy who publishes a very personal poem of Hannah’s without her permission — and even though it’s anonymous, everyone realizes it’s Hannah’s. Another boy creates and passes around a list of who’s hot and who’s not, which leads to some gross objectification of Hannah and adds to her reputation as the class slut. On and on. Again, I’m not making light of any of this from Hannah’s perspective — but for the other characters, I had a hard time believing that some of them could be so crippled by their own shame over careless or insensitive — but not criminal — behaviors that they wouldn’t turn in the rapist or come together to share the truth with Hannah’s parents.

There’s also a moment of Hannah’s own shameful behavior that’s really hard to forgive. Hannah is IN THE ROOM when her former best friend is raped, and she’s too stunned and frightened to intervene or scream or call for help — and as a viewer, that’s hard to get past. I totally understand that this adds to Hannah’s sense of shame and failure, but it was hard to believe that this happened and that she acted that way.

After the final episode, Netflix had available another 30-minute behind-the-scenes piece that’s quite compelling as well, which aims at its teen viewers directly. Through comments and interviews with the cast, writers, and health care professionals, there’s important information shared about resources, getting help, speaking out, and the finality of suicide, as well as insights into teen psychology and the impact of abuse and bullying. It’s meant to be direct, helpful, and non-preachy, and I thought it was an important wrap-up (which I hope the show’s teen viewers stuck around for). Interestingly, this piece included advice about how to get help, but the episodes themselves didn’t. It would have been better, I think, to also include suicide hotline information at the end of each episode.

Watching the show with my son was really interesting and important. He had no patience for my clueless-parent questions (“does anyone act this way at your school?” or “do you ever feel bullied”), but he did frequently tell me to hit the pause button so he could comment or ask a question. He didn’t always have sympathy for Hannah (“God! Why does she make everything about her? She’s so dramatic!”), but this gave us a chance to talk about depression and victimization and how someone can internalize things to such a degree. We talked about how if Hannah had just had one or two of these experiences, maybe she could have gotten past it, but how it all piled on top of one another until she was drowning.

We talked about whose misdeeds were the worst. Well, clearly, the rapist, but after him, where does the culpability lie, and are there shades of gray? He initially felt really sorry for the school counselor who failed to help Hannah when she came to him on her last day. My son didn’t feel that it was fair of Hannah and Clay to blame him so much for not doing enough. This gave me a good opportunity to talk with him about adult responsibility and the role the school officials are supposed to play. Earlier, we see that this is a man with a stressful home life, but the show doesn’t let him off the hook. Maybe he was distracted, and maybe Hannah wasn’t entirely forthcoming, but this was clearly a girl in distress who communicated that she’d been the victim of a sexual assault and felt that she wanted everything to stop — and he let her walk out of his office.

There’s so much more, but I’ve really rambled on quite a lot already. Obviously, this show really affected me, and has left me with so much still to process and think about. Thirteen Reasons Why is just so well done, and so important. It’s not a sensationalized show aimed at teens. I saw one review describe it (paraphrasing here) as an adult show about teens, and I think that’s right. It’s important viewing, and I can’t stress enough how glad I am that I watched it with my son.

In terms of other pop culture moments, it would be a shame if people assumed that Thirteen Reasons Why is a teen drama (like Pretty Little Liars or many of the CW’s shows). The two TV shows that I was most reminded of, in weird ways, are Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer — two of my all-time favorites. Like Veronica Mars, Thirteen Reasons Why spins a complicated web of causes and effects, showing the seemingly infinite connections between the various characters, and how each decision and casual action or cruelty can lead to unexpected and even devastating effects. (Unlike Veronica Mars, there’s little to no humor to lighten the moments. While Veronica Mars dealt with life and death issues, destroyed reputations, rape, and abuse, its quippy dialogue and characters kept it floating along with a slightly sunnier tone.) I was reminded of the Buffy episode, Out of Mind, Out of Sight, in which a high school student literally becomes invisible after being unseen and unnoticed by her classmates for too long. Obviously, no supernatural elements in Thirteen Reasons Why, but there is a similar seriousness paid to high school power dynamics that resonates as true and important to note.

Clearly, I consider Thirteen Reasons Why to be important viewing! And if you have a high school student in your life, consider watching the series with him or her, and see where your conversations lead you.

So, thanks for sticking with me for my rambles! I’d love to hear other people’s reactions. Did you watch Thirteen Reasons Why? What did you think?

TV Reaction: An outing on Survivor

Pardon me while I amble away from books (shocking!) for a moment while I ponder one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on TV.

If you follow TV news at all, then you’ve probably seen the headlines all over social media last night and this morning. In a nutshell, on last night’s episode of Survivor, one contestant outed another as transgender at tribal council, in a desperate and despicable attempt to show to their tribe mates how “deceptive” the other player was.

It’s been over 12 hours since I watched the episode and I still can’t stop thinking about it. This was truly stunning TV.

The stupidity of Jeff Varner, and his lame attempt to link the other contestant’s personal history to somehow being an untrustworthy alliance member, is astonishing. And I think he realized it within minutes of it all coming out of his mouth — but again, perhaps he was simply unprepared for the outrage he’d stirred up and was operating in CYA mode.

On the positive side, it was uplifting and gratifying to see the other players’ uniformly harsh reaction to Varner. Zeke, who was outed, was absolutely supported, and all the others basically tore Varner apart. Host Jeff Probst did a great job of letting the drama play out, giving Zeke time to compose himself, and refusing to let Varner off the hook by accepting his ridiculous excuse of being desperate to stay in the game.

In the end, in what really seemed like an unprecedented situation, Varner was shown the door and kicked out without the usual ritual of a vote. As Probst noted, a vote was unnecessary. They all wanted Varner gone.

There are some astute and well-written pieces out there already about what happened and what it meant. I have nothing but admiration for Zeke, who managed to show grace toward Varner, who didn’t deserve Zeke’s kindness.

It should be noted that this round of Survivor was filmed last summer, so that all involved had time to prepare for last night’s episode. Zeke wrote a thoughtful and moving piece about his life and his determination to compete on Survivor, and I recommend checking it out, here.

I do wonder, though, why the producers didn’t either a) cut the outing from the episode or b) explain why it was included. I can envision a few different scenarios. Did this tribal have a huge impact on game play going forward? I’d imagine that Zeke’s teammates’ loyalty and support of him was magnified by Varner’s behavior, and might be an important part of the storytelling going forward. If future episodes have the outing and the impact on Zeke as a storyline, then the tribal is highly relevant. Likewise, if Zeke makes the finals (as I’m now really hoping he does), surely the events from last night will be a big piece of his Survivor story — the narrative that finalists pitch to the jury in a bid for the $1 million prize. Further, Zeke and the producers may have discussed the tribal together and reached an agreement, with Zeke’s full cooperation, in terms of what they chose to air.

I’m not pointing fingers at the producers at this point, but I do feel they do their viewers a disservice by simply airing the episode without including any explanation of why those chose to do so and whether Zeke had a say in the decision. Yes, Varner is the one who outed Zeke — but the Survivor production team decided to put it on the air. I’d just like to know why, and I hope with all my heart that Zeke will confirm that he was a part of the decision-making process and gave it his blessing.

In any case, that was a shocking moment, unlike anything I’d seen previously on TV. For my household, it was also a great catalyst for discussion. I watch Survivor each week with my 14-year-old son, and we have fun speculating on strategy, mocking ridiculousness, and cheering for our favorites. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that an episode of a reality competition show would spark a discussion of transgender rights and identity, but it did. The kiddo and I talked about Zeke, what his life must have been like, his courage, and why the outing was such a travesty and betrayal. And the kiddo really gets it, which was gratifying for me to see.

As the day progresses and I read more pieces about this Survivor episode and the fallout, it does seem as though Zeke was deeply involved in the process of bringing this episode to the air, with the Survivor production giving him support and agency in determining how his story was told. I certainly hope that’s the case, and I applaud Survivor overall for its sensitivity to key social issues and flashpoints. (I can’t help but wish that this had been made clearer during the episode itself — even via a text screen at the end — rather than leaving viewers hanging until more statements dribbled out.)

More than anything, I’m filled with awe and admiration for Zeke’s humanity and decency in a moment of shock and betrayal, and for his bravery in sharing his feelings over a matter he had the right to choose to keep private. Prior to watching yesterday’s episode, I was kind of “meh” about Zeke — he’s a fun player to watch, but I wasn’t necessarily rooting for him to win. But now? Team Zeke, all the way! And I suspect I’m far from alone.

For more on the events on yesterday’s Survivor, here are a few thoughtful pieces:

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/12/opinion/outed-as-transgender-on-survivor-and-in-real-life.html
New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/arts/television/survivor-contestant-transgender.html?_r=0
Vulture: http://www.vulture.com/2017/04/cbs-defends-airing-survivor-trans-outing-episode-zeke-smith.html
E Online: http://www.eonline.com/news/843440/survivor-s-handling-of-zeke-smith-s-outing-proves-it-just-might-be-the-most-lowkey-progressive-reality-tv-series-around

 

TV Time: What I’m watching this fall

It’s fall TV time, and the pickings are great! I swore I wasn’t going to get involved with more than one or two new series this season, but I found myself unable to resist adding just a few more.

Here are the new shows I’m loving so far:

this-is-usThis Is Us: This is probably the most hyped new show — it even made the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s newest issue (which proclaims it the best new show of fall after only 2 episodes.). Hype is usually such a turn-off for me, so I held back… but finally had a slow night and gave episode 1 a try.

Boom. Hooked. Man, what an episode. Great characters. Amazing twist. So well done. I watched the 2nd episode as well, and will absolutely be sticking with this one.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Speechless: You know what? This little sitcom about the hyperprotective, activist mom of a teen with cerebral palsy and the way this plays out in the larger family is charming and funny and really quite clever. Minnie Driver kills it as the mother, who means well even though her execution is pretty much 100% over the top. The rest of the family is pretty great too (I love that the husband is played by the guy who plays Kripke on Big Bang Theory!), and the school principal is hilariously nervous and eager to please.

 

The Good Place: I expected to love this comedy, solely based on it starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, and I was not disappointed. Quirkiness rules. The story follows a recently deceased woman who makes it to heaven (the “good place” of the title) by mistake, and who now must frantically try to impersonate a good person to make sure she doesn’t get expelled. I’m a little worried that the quirk and cute might get to be a bit much eventually, but for now, it’s quite good. And has introduced me to the excellent heavenly versions of swearwords, especially “bullshirt”.

 

Westworld: Oh, HBO. This looks like it will be intense. The Western-robot drama is full of mystery and conspiracies and, let’s face it, really disturbing robot scenes. I’ve only seen one episode, but I’ve just gotta know more.

 

No Tomorrow: Only one episode has aired as of now, but it was pretty darn cute. A story of an unfulfilled young woman who meets a free-wheeling guy who’s convinced that the world will end in eight months — the characters are funny and likeable, and the plot is quirky enough to be different without being annoying. It’s hard to judge based only on the first episode, but I’m willing to stick with it, at least for a little while.

 

What else?

Those are my top five. I wasn’t going to include returning shows, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that the 2nd season of Poldark promises to be just as great, if not better, than the first. In just a couple of episodes, we’ve had plenty of dramatic horseback rides along the Cornish coast, plus a shirtless Ross scene, so based on visuals alone, the show is delivering.

 

Almost forgot:

My son and I have been watching Son of Zorn, which is ridiculous and absurd… but also kind of hilarious. Check it out:


The ones I’ve missed:

There are a few others I considered checking out, but I just haven’t had time. Top of the haven’t-gotten-to list are:

  • Designated Survivor
  • Timeless
  • Conviction (which I doubt I’ll actually bother with — I love Hayley Atwell, can’t stand procedurals, and the reviews have been pretty dismal)

 

How about you?

What are your favorite new shows this fall? Are you watching any of mine? Let me know what you think!

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TV Time: Adam Ruins Everything

Think you know all there is to know about such topics as true love, the weekend, purebred dogs, and airport security? Think again… or maybe check out Adam Ruins Everything.

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Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour show on the TruTV channel (new to you? it was to me), hosted by and starring “investigative comedian” Adam Conover. The show first aired in 2015, and is now 17 episodes (and counting) into its first season.

Each episode, Adam… well, he ruins things. As in, he — okay, this graphic explains it better than I ever could:

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Adam takes a topic, and then subjects his “friends” (i.e., the other actors in the show) to a series of explanations and vignettes showing the truth behind the misconceptions and misdirections.

Adam is a goofy fast-talker with unusual hair, and the other actors pose as so-called normal people who just want to enjoy their restaurant dining, trips to the mall, or weddings without Adam screwing it all up by pointing out what’s wrong with each scenario.

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Did I mention it’s funny? It’s hilarious.

And even better, it’s fact-based. As Adam rattles off his intricate explanations, sources pop up on the screen, naming the articles and research from which he pull his facts. Likewise, the show’s website includes a list of sources for each episode, with links to the original material — so skeptics can go right to the source and fact-check Adam’s fact-checking.

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Also, adorably, he features real-life authorities throughout, sometimes appearing as themselves, sometimes in cartoon form, to explain the various truths behind the lies and misdirections and set the record straight.

Here’s a little clip from a recent episode (Adam Ruins Shopping Malls):

Full episodes are available on the TruTV website, here.

My 14-year-old son was the first in our household to discover Adam Ruins Everything, and insisted that I watch it with him. It’s now among our top must-see viewing each week. I’m having a blast sharing it with the kiddo. It’s smart as well as funny, so even when we giggle incessantly, we also come away from each episode with something new to think and talk about. And if we cast a skeptical eye at the world based on Adam’s ruining of what we thought we knew… well, so much the better.

TV Time: The Girlfriend Experience

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Well, that was weird.

But in a pretty good kind of way.

I just binge-watched the new Starz series (I think “anthology” is the term they’re using). Thirteen episodes in 3 days is a lot to take in, even though — fortunately — each episode is only 30 minutes.

So what’s it all about?

Christine Reade is a law student who’s just landed an internship with a prestigious law firm. She’s dedicated and ambitious, and scrimping by on limited funds. She is also, the opening episode makes clear, completely unemotional and uninhibited when it comes to sex. She picks up a guy in a bar, completely calls the shots when it comes to their sexual encounter, and then gets dressed and leaves, despite being asked to spend the night. She doesn’t need his number, and she doesn’t need chit-chat. She got what she wanted, and she’s out.

When Christine’s law school buddy Avery fills her in on how she acquires such fabulous clothes, jewelry, and toys (hint: rich man with lavish spending habits), Christine is cautiously interested in learning more.

And learn she does. Avery introduces her to the world of “girlfriend experience” escorting — basically, charging insane amounts of money to wealthy men who want more than just sex. For a price, they get a gorgeous woman dedicated to making them happy, willing to give them her undivided attention, listen to their hopes, dreams, and worries… and yes, indulge whatever sexual fantasies they have as well.

Christine assumes the name Chelsea, sets up a website, makes a deal with a broker/madam, and quickly starts raking in the cash. Her double life becomes increasingly difficult to maintain, as her escorting business is going so well that she misses class, and an ill-advised workplace sexual entanglement threatens to spiral out of control.

It’s interesting to watch Christine’s transformation, all the more so because it’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking or why she does what she does.

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Money appears to be an issue, but she’s not desperate or in especially bad straits. She seems to be devoted to her law career, and to have the single-minded dedication to succeed, but gives it all up fairly easily when it no longer suits her. Christine is adept at manipulating and maneuvering, turning seemingly catastrophic situations to her own advantage.

She seems to be all about control and pretense. Christine’s ability to adapt, find a way to give another what they want, and come out with what she wants is evident from the start. As we watch her interview for internships, we get a first glimpse of Christine’s innate talent for understanding the best way to please and present herself as the most desirable. This serves her well later on, of course, as she quickly becomes the perfect girlfriend for pay. She never says no. She’s never in a bad mood. When a client asks her if she’d like something, whether a particular sex act or to go on a trip with him or to spend a whole lot more time together, the answer isn’t just “yes” — it’s “I’d love that”.

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But is she actually enjoying any of this? What is she getting from her business that she needs? Is it just about financial security, glamor, admiration? Christine/Chelsea apparently enjoys sex A LOT, but is any of it genuine? She puts on a great act and is always enthusiastically responsive, but it also appears that perhaps the only sex acts she’s truly enjoying are the ones when she’s alone.

She appears to enjoy the company of the men she’s with, but does she? Most of them — the kind with the ability to spend $1,000 per hour for her companionship — seem like spoiled rich jerks who’d rather buy a relationship than work for one. The exception here is an older man, a widower who cares for Christine in a way that seems genuine — and I couldn’t help believing that he touched her heart in a way none of the others did.

Even when Christine’s worlds collide and it seems like she’ll be buried by catastrophic scandal, she manages to pull herself together and figure out exactly what she needs to come out of the disaster not just in one piece, but at a profit. There’s a tremendous piece of acting in here, as Christine is forced to do a walk of shame through the office, holding onto a wall of filing cabinets for support, before having a complete and utter meltdown at her desk. But does she really have a meltdown? Right before the walk, we see Christine first prep herself around the corner, taking deep breaths, before coming out all weak-kneed and devastated. Christine has learned never to show weakness, and if she appears weak here, it’s because she intends to.

By the end of the season, Christine is working independently, consulting financial advisers, living in a fabulous apartment, and in total control of her own life. Is she happy? No idea. But she is successful and seems to be completely calling her own shots.

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Christine is played by Riley Keough**, whose looks transform easily from conservative law intern to super-hot working girl. Her face is a picture of absolute stillness much of the time, and it’s impossible to tell what’s going on behind the surface beauty.

**Daughter of Lisa Marie, grand-daughter of Priscilla and Elvis Presley — and yes, the resemblance is mind-blowing and occasionally distracting.

The look of the show is cool, elegant, and clean-edged. The hotel rooms where the action takes place are all large and uncluttered, with huge windows. Seriously, this series has more rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows than I’ve ever seen. The colors are mostly muted and understated, and everything seems removed from real life and real messiness in a way that fits completely with Christina’s detached, controlled affect.

In the early episodes, we see Christine laughing unguardedly in a casual moment. I can’t remember seeing her laugh at all by the later episodes — but if she does, it’s because that’s what the situation calls for. Like her clothing and her apartment, everything is planned and delivered for maximum effect.

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It hardly seems necessary, but I suppose I should point that anyone thinking of trying this series should be aware that it includes adult content, language, nudity, and sexual situations. The sex scenes are explicit without being graphic — no genitalia on display or anything, but you pretty much see everything but.

I did wish that the show found a way to make plainer how much time had elapses between episodes. Because Starz released all 13 episodes right from the start, binge-watching seems like the way to go, but it wasn’t until I finally listened to one of the “behind the scenes” pieces at the end of an episode that I realized that months had supposedly gone by. Having a better understanding of the time frame of the events would help put Christine’s evolving self into better context.

I did find The Girlfriend Experience pretty fascinating on the whole, even though Christine’s inner life was intentionally concealed and enigmatic. Still, it’s mesmerizing to see a young woman taking such utter control by using her looks, sexuality, and ability to please to gain power in her life.

Meanwhile, I did a bit more Googling about the show, and it sounds as though the use of “anthology” here means that there will be another (or more) seasons of The Girlfriend Experience, but about a completely different set of characters. Um, okay? I got pretty hooked pretty fast on Christine’s weird life, but considering the quality and thought that went into this production, I’d be up for seeing whatever the next chapter ends up being about.

Outlander Rewatch: Episodes 115 & 116, “Wentworth Prison” and “To Ransom A Man’s Soul”

Wrapping up the season!

This is going to be a two-in-one post. covering episodes 115 & 116. With only a few days until the start of season 2, it’s time to wrap up my Outlander rewatch!

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Outlander, Season 1, Episode 15: “Wentworth Prison”

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 16: “To Ransom A Man’s Soul”

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Thoughts and Highlights:

You don’t actually expect me to write a recap of these two episodes as if they’re just TV shows like any others, do you?

I can’t. I just can’t.

These final two episodes are two parts of a whole, showing monumental events that forever change Jamie and Claire.

The events of these two episodes are full of horror and despair, pain and torment, rescue and redemption. My admiration for the entire cast knows no bounds. Their bravery and commitment is evident in every scene, in every expression and movement. There’s a raw honesty here that is breathtaking, even in the most horrible of moments.

From the opening moments, as Jamie faces death upon the gallows:

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… to the gorgeous closing shot, as Jamie and Claire sail into their future:

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… the episodes are stunning and unforgettable.

I’m grateful that the episodes, and the season, end with such a glorious, visually arresting, emotionally uplifting set of images.

Start to finish, season 1 of Outlander remained true to the overall story arcs of the book, as well as to the beloved characters, while infusing the adaptation with life and a perspective of its own. From the strong female character at its center to the journey into Highland culture to the heart of a passionate love story, Outlander has gone from strength to strength, never missing a beat.

The amazing cast, crew, and production team have pulled off a remarkable achievement.

And needless to say, I’m counting the minutes at this point until the start of season 2.

Diana Gabaldon has written eight marvelous books in the Outlander series so far, plus a terrific assortments of related novels and novellas, and she’s working on book 9. I’ll always love the books above all else — but damn, the Starz TV series is making me fall head over heels in love as well.

Here’s to Starz, Ron Moore, Diana Gabaldon, Terry Dresbach, and the fantastic stars of Outlander! Wishing them (and us) many more seasons of Outlandish bliss.

Outlander Rewatch: Episodes 113 & 114, “The Watch” and “The Search”

Changing format a bit:

This is going to be a two-in-one post. covering episodes 113 & 114. Time is tight, so I’m trying to force myself to keep the recapping on the shorter side! One week to go until season 2…

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Outlander, Season 1, Episode 13: “The Watch”

The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:

Jamie finds himself between a rock and a hard place when a redcoat deserter from his past resurfaces. Claire tends to a laboring Jenny while Jamie and Ian join The Watch, resulting in devastating consequences.

My synopsis:

The Watch, led by Taran MacQuarrie, has arrived at Lallybroch. MacQuarrie has mistaken Jamie for a thief doing some breaking and entering, but Jenny soon clears things up with a lie, introducing Jamie as her cousin, Jamie McTavish. Ian and Jenny have been paying off McQuarrie for the past few years in exchange for protection from the redcoats. As extortionists go, he could be worse, although the band of thugs he travels with seem intent on stirring up trouble and getting in Jamie’s face.

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Later, MacQuarrie is joined by the deserter Horrocks, who’s ready and able to blow Jamie’s cover. If the Watch realizes who he is and that he’s wanted, they’ll likely sell him out to the redcoats without blinking an eye. Horrocks realizes that Jamie is at his mercy, and blackmails him. When Jamie goes to pay him off, Horrocks indicates that he needs even more, making it clear that Jamie is safe only so long as he keeps paying. Ian, always there to protect Jamie, runs Horrocks through with a big sword, and the two friends bury him. MacQuarrie doesn’t seem too peeved to find out that Horrocks has been killed, but insists that Jamie join his raiding party to take Horrocks’s place. Ian decides to go along as well.

Jenny is in labor, and the baby is breech. Claire has seen childbirth, and as the midwife is unavailable, it’s up to her to deliver the baby. It’s a looooong drawn-out labor, giving the women plenty of time to bond.

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Jamie and Ian depart with the Watch. Jamie and Claire have a tender good-bye. MacQuarrie and Jamie seem to connect and understand one another, and McQuarrie makes clear that he would never turn Jamie over to the British.

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As they reach the spot picked out by Horrocks for their raid, Jamie realizes that it’s a trap just as their group is ambushed by a band of redcoat soldiers.

Back at Lallybroch, Jenny eventually gives birth to a health baby girl. Three days go by, and the women are getting nervous. Finally, Ian limps into the yard supported by one of MacQuarrie’s men. Most of the men have been killed, Ian reports. MacQuarrie was injured and Jamie wouldn’t leave him — so Jamie has now been captured by the British.

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Claire is devastated, and gazes off down the road, wondering where Jamie is and how to get him back.

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 14: “The Search”

The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:

Claire and Jenny set out to rescue Jamie from his redcoat captors. When Murtagh joins up, they turn to unorthodox tactics to send word to Jamie. When word finally arrives, the news isn’t what anyone had hoped.

My synopsis:

Claire is ready to dash off in search of Jamie. Ian wants to go with, but he’s injured and in no condition to go anywhere. Jenny to the rescue! Despite just having given birth, Jenny straps on two pistols and rides off with Claire in hot pursuit, using her excellent tracking skills to find out where Jamie has been taken.

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Finally, they come across an encampment of British soldiers and see MacQuarrie held as prisoner, but no sign of Jamie. They capture a courier and Jenny tortures him for information until Claire thinks to look in his messenger back for information. They discover that Jamie has escaped, and the message is a request for the garrison at Ft. William to help find and recapture him. Claire is about to treat the wounds of the courier, but  Jenny points out that they can’t let him live. As the two women debate his fate, they hear a sound and turn to see Murtagh slitting the man’s throat.

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With Murtagh there to ride with Claire, Jenny can go back home to her baby. The women part with hugs and affection, but not before Claire gives her some advice about the coming years of hardship and urges her to plant potatoes. Jenny remarks that Jamie had told her that Claire might sometimes tell her things about the future, and that she should listen to Claire. Not weird at all!

Murtagh has an unusual plan for finding Jamie: Stop looking for him. If Jamie is hiding out in the Highlands trying to avoid detection by the British, there’s no chance of finding him. Instead, they need to make themselves very visible so that Jamie will catch word of their presence and come to them. To that end, they travel from village to village, with Claire providing services as a healer and a palm-reader while Murtagh performs atrociously bad dances. They ask everyone they meet if they’ve seen a tall red-haired lad passing through, but no one has.

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They decide to up their game after Claire remarks that Murtagh should “jazz up” his performance. Claire ends up dressed as a boy, singing a popular Highlands song to the tune of “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B”. It draws a lot of attention, but no Jamie. Meanwhile, Claire and Murtagh are venting their worry on each other with constant sniping and arguing. Finally, they reach the end of the road and share an emotional moment, as Claire realizes that Murtagh was in love with Jamie’s mother Ellen years ago, and Murtagh confesses that he loves Jamie like a son.

With new determination, they keep looking, and Claire finally gets word of a message to meet at a nearby location. Certain it’s Jamie, she runs to the meeting point…

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… only to find Dougal there instead. Dougal informs Claire and Murtagh that Jamie was captured, and has already been tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang. He’s at Wentworth Prison, and may already be dead.

Claire is ready to rush off, but Dougal stops her for a private word. He declares his interest in Claire, advises her that once she’s done grieving for Jamie she’ll need protection, and asks her to marry him. Shocked, Claire declares that Jamie’s not dead yet. She sees through Dougal’s words, and realizes that if Dougal marries her, he’ll get the Fraser lands that belong to her by marriage. Claire wants Dougal’s men to help her try to rescue Jamie, refusing to give up. Finally, Claire and Dougal strike a bargain: He’ll give her his men, if they choose to go — but if she fails or if Jamie’s already dead, she’ll marry Dougal.

Dougal’s men are reluctant at first, as it seems like a no-win situation, but ultimately Willy, Rupert, and Angus agree to help. The five ride toward Wentworth Prison, a massive fortress that looms in the distance.

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Thoughts and Highlights:

Romance:

Jamie and Claire’s good-bye is sweet and tender — but there’s an ominous feel as well. After they kiss, time slows as Jamie walks off and Claire gazes after him. She may not realize it, but it’s the last time she’ll see him free and whole.

Images:

The entire labor and delivery sequence is so well done. I particularly love this shot of Jenny, making her pregnancy look both real and beautiful, as she describes the intimate sensations of being pregnant:

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In “The Search”, Claire looks full-out adorable in her “drag” get-up:

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Here’s a closer look at that amazing coat and vest:

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Key points:

Major facts that the episodes get on the table:

  • The Watch is dangerous, but also holds up its end of the bargain by protecting the lands that pay them off.
  • Ian and Jamie fought as mercenaries together in Europe years earlier, which is how Ian lost his leg.
  • Claire is afraid that she’s unable to have children, something she tearily confesses to Jamie after he shares his dream of a large family. Jamie being glorious, selfless Jamie, he immediately reassures Claire that he’s fine with not having babies, so long as he has her.
  • Murtagh is completely loyal to Jamie (and to Ellen’s memory), and will do anything to protect Jamie.
  • Dougal is creepy and stalkerish as he tries to seduce Claire, basically declaring Jamie dead in advance and advising her to give up hope. He seems to have gotten over Geillis’s death already.

Memorable lines:

Episode 113:

Jamie, telling Claire why it might be best if she can’t have children:

“I can bear pain myself, but I couldna bear yours.”

Saying good-bye:

Claire: “Haste ye back, or else.”

Jamie: “Or else what?”

Claire: “Or else I’ll follow you, I’ll drag you back by your thick red curls, and you won’t like it one bit.

Episode 114:

Murtagh: “You think you’re the only one who loves Jamie? He’s a son to me.”

Character impressions:

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Jenny is one bad-ass woman. From the way she handles her pistols to getting on horseback three days post-partum to the casual stop by the side of the road to express breastmilk, Jenny is tough, determined, and committed to doing whatever she needs to protect her family.

McQuarrie seems a decent guy. His men seem like thugs, but McQuarrie is a former soldier with a sense of honor. And — added bonus — he’s played by Douglas Henshall, who’s always wonderful.

Takeaway:

We don’t see Jamie at all in “The Search”, and it’s a very effective way of keeping the tension high. We have no more idea than Claire does whether Jamie is alive or dead, free or a prisoner. The little bits shown of Claire singing and dancing may be amusing, but the desperation behind the roadshow is always apparent.

Claire is determined to find Jamie and save him, and it’s 100% believable that she’ll do it or die trying.