The Monday Check-In ~ 5/20/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I ended up staying home three days this week due to a family medical situation (all is well, but I was just needed around the house) — so on the plus side, I ended up with more time for reading than usual!

What did I read during the last week?

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs: The newest Mercy book! Loved it, of course. My review is here.

Red, White & Royal Blue: A totally adorable love story! Really a delightful read. My review is here.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren: Light & fluffy romance. My review is here.

And a novella too! I read (and loved) The Undefeated by Una McCormack. My review is here.

Pop culture:

I did a lot of thinking about TV this week, I guess, since I posted not one but two TV-related pieces:

  • Thoughts on the most recent season of Survivor
  • And a round-up of a few other shows

Fresh Catch:

After my somewhat insane splurging last week, I made it through a week with no book purchases at all. Yay, me!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Westside by W. M. Akers: Just getting started, but I like it already!

Now playing via audiobook:

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua: My book group’s pick for May. Getting close to the end — which is good, since our discussion starts this week.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads at the moment:

  • A Fugitive Green by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection: We’re just starting this (long) short story (novella?) this week. I’ve read it once before, but it’s a good one! Looking forward to sharing it with the group
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection. I’m all caught up, which is good — it’s my turn to write chapter summaries this week.

Pop culture footnote:

I’m writing this on Sunday, counting the hours until the Game of Thrones finale. My anxiety levels are creeping higher and higher. I hope the ending isn’t a major letdown.

So many books, so little time…

 

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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!

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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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!

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?