August 26th, 2017
|08:33 am - Big Little Lies? More Like Pretty Big Liars!|
Big Little Lies kind of came out of nowhere earlier this year, and all I heard was praise for the cast and the ending, so I decided to go into this miniseries not even knowing what it was about. You can also do that! But if you don't want to, I will tell you what it is about.
We open with a murder! All right, now we're talking. Someone has been murdered at a school fundraiser/gala/trivia night, and as members of the Monterey community provide their gossip-laden testimonies, we flashback to meet the characters in play. Madeline, as played by Reese Witherspoon, is very Tracy Flick-as-a-mom, aggressive and curt but full of good intentions, as she quickly befriends newcomer Jane (Shailene Woodley, fully graduating from teen dramas to convincing adult roles), a single mom with a mysterious past. Madeline's best friend, Celeste (Nicole Kidman giving the kind of award-winning performance whose strength is in its subtlety, not its showiness) appears to have the perfect life, but there are some troubling aspects about her relationship with her husband. They're all witness to an incident that puts Jane at odds with Renata (Laura Dern, giving a villainous character the humanity she deserves). Oh, also, Madeline hates her ex-husband's new wife Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz, selling a very hippie granola character without turning her into a joke). Are you still following me? Because by the end of the pilot, we realize that we, of course, don't know who the killer is. That's to be expected. But we also...we also don't know who the victim is.
Well, that's new.
Here's the amazing thing about this show, though: the murder double mystery, which is such a cool hook, quickly fades into the background. You think you're watching these flashbacks to figure out the mystery, but, no, the flashbacks are a compelling story all on their own. I became utterly caught up in the lives of these characters and their petty squabbles and their terrible marriages and their dark secrets, thanks to a number of elements. First of all, the incredible performances. Each actor refuses to make their character a caricature; not a single character on this show—even the unquestionably worst one—is fully "good" or "bad." Everyone has layers and depth, and we see it in their faces—Nicole Kidman can tell a whole story with the camera lingering on her face as it changes expressions—and in the frequent quick edits/flashes that illuminate a character's inner thoughts, both of which require you to pay close attention to the screen. I loved this latter technique, frustrating as it could have been, because it plays into the recurring theme of the series, which is that everyone is so much more than what you see on the surface. We see people having perfectly normal conversations, but, just like in real life, they're thinking of something else, something traumatic, something untrue, something wishful. It's such a great representation of how our minds work, as opposed to sitting in extended flashbacks. With writer David E. Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallèe on every episode—and may I just say I am shocked and relieved that two men adapted a woman's novel about women so well—the show has a consistency in tone and mood and style that's mesmerizing visually and aurally, down to the soundtrack, as characters are constantly listening to songs on their iPods (episodes tend to end on songs that make you want to sit through the credits and decompress).
This could have easily been some trashy show about rich, white neurotic housewives, trafficking in cliché after cliché, but the complex performances and artful directing prove it's more than it seems. Throughout its seven episodes, the show follows multiple narratives, and as it heads into the finale, the specter of the murder rises again, as we can see the seeds of conflicts that could lead to violence. The finale was so tense I could not bear it, as I had become so attached to these characters I did not want any of them to die (well, there was one I wouldn't have minded). I was close to tears multiple times, and then the emotion hits its peak in a culmination of interweaving narratives like I've never seen, a revelatory catharsis, and this is beautiful storytelling, people, this is what I watch things for, this is the feeling I want to create in readers. As the show was ending, I did not want it to end, I had been so sucked into this world, but I also knew it should end and not be tainted by a second season. This one was executed so well, and a second could not replicate the magic, as much as I'd want to see how the remaining characters moved on from this.
Big Little Lies is not my typical viewing fare. I love murder mysteries, but this is not a murder mystery, it's a suburban domestic drama about, honestly, subjects I can't relate to, like the difficulties of marriage and motherhood and how motherhood is far more complicated than it is often portrayed. Also more complicated than it is often portrayed? Women and their relationships (seriously, how did two dudes not screw this up). Plus the child actors are wonderful! I'm getting off track because this is one of those shows where I want to start listing all the things that are great about it at the end, so I'll rein it in. You want to see some great fucking television? Big Little Lies is worth seven hours of your time.
Current Mood: worried
Current Music: Arcade Fire - Intervention
August 23rd, 2017
|10:27 pm - GLOW? More Like Crazy Ex-Bestfriends!|
A television show about a women's wrestling show called Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling sounds ludicrous, but what's more ludicrous is it's based on an actual women's wrestling show called Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It was the eighties, anything could happen!
Ruth Wilder is no wrestler, but she's a struggling actress searching for a great role for a woman in an age when all the best parts are for men (not too different from our own age, but shows like this are signs of progress). Her best friend Betty Eagan is no wrestler, but she's a recently fired soap star searching for something fulfilling. Sam Sylvia is no wrestler, but he's a cult schlock filmmaker who'll make a wrestling show if it means he can make his dream project. So he puts out a casting call, and Ruth shows up, and the rest is history.
GLOW should not work nearly as well as it does, given its subject matter and large cast of colorful characters, but the writing and directing are so assured that you always feel in capable hands. While every wrestler doesn't get the same amount of attention, each one quickly distinguishes herself (except the two designed to be a pair). It was hard to pick a favorite, no it wasn't, it was obvs Carmen, who comes from a wrestling family and is the cinnamon roll of the show. But I also enjoyed Melrose in her bad-girl awfulness and Rhonda (played Kate friggin' Nash) in her British dorkiness and Arthie in her South Asian dryness and...basically everyone, everyone has a thing, and you feel for their small stories, like Justine's crush on a pizza boy or Sheila's whole...deal. Even though Ruth is ostensibly the protagonist—and her conflict with Betty is a central, driving force in the season—it felt less like "her" show and more like an ensemble where she simply happened to get more focus. If that makes any sense at all. Because there's so much warmth and joy in watching these strangers bond over ten episodes and become a found family, which is my favorite thing.
I also love how much of a period piece it is! This show is totally eighties from the soundtrack and costumes to the VHS tapes and hostage situations. Unlike Stranger Things, which was replicating a specific eighties movie aesthetic, GLOW captures the period just as any other "period piece" would bring the Victorian era or the Roaring Twenties to life.
The first season tracks the early production of the show as they attempt to get it on the air, and at times, it's like the Slings and Arrows of wrestling with its behind-the-scenes shenanigans and personal issues carrying over into the ring. Ruth has the clearest arc, but all of the women are, in a sense, finding out who they are on this wrestling journey. While the main story follows a sports movie narrative (team tries hard, team faces obstacles at every turn, team is gonna lose BUT SURPRISE THEY WIN), it's a delight to watch because of the characters and all their interactions. The finale is incredibly satisfying on so many levels and sets the stage for much more wrestling mayhem in season two. And I'm sure Sam has some devilish plot twists in store!
Current Mood: stressed
Current Music: David Bowie - Blackstar
August 20th, 2017
August 15th, 2017
|11:20 pm - The Night Of? More Like Law and Order: Eight-Hour Unit!|
The Night Of begins with a pilot as exquisite as any independent film, absorbing and gripping despite never, as the AV Club reviewer put it, raising its voice. We follow Nasir Khan, a Pakistani Muslim college student in New York who "borrows" his father's taxi to go to a party and ends up picking up a Gothic Pixie Dream Girl who takes him on a little adventure. That leads back to her place. Where things happen. And then Nasir—Naz—wakes up to discover she's been murdered. Did he do it? It sure as hell looks like he did.
Through the rest of the miniseries, we follow several different characters. John Stone, the Saul Goodman-esque lawyer who takes Naz's case. Dennis Box, the soon-to-be-retired detective who investigates Naz's case. Naz's parents, who must search inside themselves as to what they believe about their son's guilt or innocence while weathering the racist shitstorm that results from a Muslim man being accused of murdering a pretty young white girl. Chandra Kapoor, another lawyer attached to Naz's case. And Naz himself, as he tries to survive in prison before and during the trial.
Here is the curious and masterful thing about this series: at (almost) no point does anyone with the exception of Naz, who repeatedly says he did not do it, declare whether they think he is guilty or innocent. The truth of the matter becomes irrelevant in a court of law; all that matters is what you can prove or fail to prove. The Night Of is at its best in the moments when it shows the justice system in its non-idealized form, laying the inherent injustice bare. All of these people serving law and order are there to do their jobs, and to do their jobs they must be right, they must win, and Naz is not the pawn but the fucking chessboard.
But you throw a chessboard into Riker's, and bad things happen.
The Night Of can be extraordinary at times, elevating the simple detective work or courtroom scenes we've seen in police procedurals time and time again. It can also be less than extraordinary, as with a distracting plotline about Stone's eczema that maybe is supposed to have metaphorical resonance but takes up more screentime than anything involving Naz's parents. I also found the prison plotline, pointed as it was, to be absurdly accelerated. To crib from the AV Club again, it was best when it felt least like a television show, and various moments rang false and untrue. While not entirely successful, The Night Of provokes more thought than your typical procedural and does it with visual panache and an assured sense of atmosphere.
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Conjure One - Make a Wish
August 3rd, 2017
|09:42 pm - Comic-Con 2017: The Totally Abridged Edition|
After one skip year and one year where I only went for a couple days, I finally got to do a full Comic-Con again!
I totally gave Alisha a TARDIS Beat to read on the plane to San Diego at the airport. I totally sat next to a woman who was reading The Magicians. The Manchester Grand Hyatt staff were totally wearing superhero shirts. Jen was totally checking in right after I got done checking in. Cat totally cut Alisha's Daenerys Targaryen wig into a Liv Moore wig. Cat totally had not aged in the years since she left the Bay Area. We were totally a mixed-seafood group. Seanan totally told me my hair looked like I was auditioning to be G.I. Joe. I totally snagged the #2 Jeff Smith signing ticket. I totally ran into David Server at the Star Wars booth. We totally walked the floor and perused collectibles. Jeff Smith totally announced a children's book. Pris totally found me so I could let her borrow a power strip. I totally teared up telling Jeff Smith about my Bone reading experience. Alisha totally made a line buddy who had extra tickets to see Conan O'Brien on Thursday. We were totally The Last Jedi. David Mack totally congratulated me on my successes. Theresa DeLucci totally recognized me at the Tor booth. Tracy was totally listening to Jimmy Eat World when we got back to the room. I was totally hungry so I changed a meeting venue from Dublin to La Puerta, but La Puerta was totally busy so I changed it again to Las Hadas. I totally saw Mary for the first time in over a decade. We totally stayed in touch over Facebook. Las Hadas totally made sure there was totally no cilantro on my totally amazing tacos. We totally talked about television shows and then we totally rationalized murder. The Hyatt bar was totally already a happening place. David Server was totally friends with the woman at the SHOUT! Factory booth who chatted with Alisha. I totally fanboyed the fuck out of Patrick (H) Willems. Patrick thought I was cool already but totally knew I was cool since I liked Tokyo Drift.
Alisha and I totally got to the Spreckels Theater at 8 and then totally waited three hours to get tickets and wristbands for Conan O'Brien. Al from Line totally showed us pictures of meeting famous people like Steven goddamn Spielberg. I totally went to one whole panel on Thursday. Gail Simone totally had to pee sitting between Peter David and Chris Claremont at her first Comic-Con. Her new series Crosswind is totally Goodfellas meets Freaky Friday. Gail Simone's career goal is totally to write Spider-Man so Nicola Scott can draw all that Spidey butt. I totally cried while listening to Linkin Park in a restaurant called The Lazy Hippo. My Conan ticket totally fell out of my pocket somewhere and they totally would not let me into the theater. Tracy totally found someone who could help. I totally ended up with a better seat than my actual ticket. We were totally enthusiastic for free T-shirts. Conan O'Brien totally made good Comic-Con jokes. Someone in the audience totally told Halle Berry he loved her and Conan totally made fun of him. Taron Egerton and Jeff Bridges totally sang Guys and Dolls. I totally did not sell my Funko POP! for $80. Aloe water is totally not as bad as it sounds. The line for the Netflix Experience was totally shorter than earlier. I totally took pictures with all the Defenders except Iron Fist. Alisha and Tracy and I totally took hilarious Bright and Stranger Things pictures. Tracy and I totally got matching orc gang tattoos. mycenae totally ran into me on purpose for the first time ever. I totally got eaten by the Demogorgon. La Puerta was totally busy but we totally waited for it. I totally ate tacos with fried crispy cheese-wrapped pollo asado. Alisha totally recognized Blake Anderson from Workaholics at the bar. I totally told him I loved him in Dope.
I totally woke up to find a man in my bed. I totally would have saved time by walking along the water to the end of the Everything Else line. I totally got in line at 5:20 next to the IMDboat. I totally met two teen girls who had never been to a con before. The Ballroom 20 line was totally shorter than I'd ever seen it in the morning. I totally sent Rob Thomas pictures of Alisha as Liv Moore. We totally got Psych pineapple pins. We totally told Timothy Omundson to suck it. The Psych cast totally cast each other as superheroes. We totally sang along to the theme song. Robert Buckley totally gave Eric Goldman a Killer Abs shirt. Rose McIver totally wore the Killer Abs shirt. Rahul Kohli totally did not wear the Killer Abs shirt. Robert Knepper totally made a video appearance to announce he would totally be a series regular. David Anders totally sang the first line of "You'll Be Back." The Eduardo Risso signing totally had wristbands but there was no line so it totally didn't matter. Eduardo Risso was totally flattered by how much I loved his artistic contribution to 100 Bullets. I totally re-bought the Lying Cat shirt. There was totally a family of Saga cosplayers with a baby Hazel and kid Hazel. Marguerite Bennett totally thought Batman was a bad guy who felt bad about being bad and so he fought bad guys. A Jewish woman was totally thankful for the Jewish representation in Gotham City Bombshells. Ryan North was totally adorably flustered upon discovering Marguerite Bennett had named an Animosity character after him. I totally congratulated Ryan North on another successful Kickstarter. mycenae had totally given me her extra Legion panel fulfillment ticket so I totally went back to the Hyatt to get fulfilled. The Legion shirt was totally simple but totally comfortable. I totally danced the Legion dance in Legion. Animosity totally sounded cool and Ryan North totally thought I'd like it so I totally bought it and got Marguerite Bennett to sign it. Daryl Gregory totally could not promote Spoonbenders any better than "Arrested Development but they're psychic." Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly and Nathan Gooden totally signed my Zojaqan #1. The woman wearing Danielle Stokdyk's badge was totally not Danielle Stokdyk. I totally fanboyed the fuck out of iZombie writer Josh Bellina, who writes the totally hilarious chapter titles. Kate Leth totally signed my "All books are girl books" shirt. foresthouse was totally late to our Comic-Con dinner again but now it's totally tradition. foresthouse's boss and boyfriend totally joined us at the Cheesecake Factory. I totally regaled them with tales of my adventures. A Power Ranger was totally talking when I walked into Room 6DE. Jon Bailey, voice of Honest Trailers, totally introduced the Screen Junkies panel. MovieFights totally featured celebrity guests Tony Revolori, Samm Levin, and Doug Benson. Tony Revolori totally led the audience in a round of "Penis!" "Parker!" Doug Benson was totally high but totally made a good argument against Human Centipede cosplay. We totally got to see an Honest Trailer for The Incredible Hulk with alternate jokes. The Hilton Bayfront was totally hopping post-Eisners. I totally told Tracy the story of how I met Dahlia. Dahlia's friend Vijay totally had an X-Files tattoo. I totally tried to introduce Tracy to Ryan North but I totally failed. I also totally failed to talk to Phil LaMarr. Tracy and I totally talked to Shannon Wheeler's son. Berkeley is totally possibly amoral.
I totally sat in the 5AB line next to the two people who watch Halt and Catch Fire. Roxane Gay totally hasn't seen Wonder Woman but totally recommends a show she calls "Chopped for blade makers." I totally did not ask Roxane Gay her Fast and Furious movie rankings. A man on the mezzanine was totally promoting swordfights on the terrace so I totally went outside. A whole bunch of Star Wars cosplayers were totally gathered. A bunch of men in actual steel armor totally fought each other in the San Diego heat. The Mystery Knight was totally Deadpool. I totally met Aprotim and Lauren and a much older Ashima in the same place we'd met on the floor three years ago. Dave Porter totally Saulified the Breaking Bad theme before being told to do a completely different style. Kyle Dixon totally didn't tell his friends he did the music for Stranger Things. I totally told the composers of Stranger Things my brother loved the music. The composers of Stranger Things totally could not name synthwave bands they liked. I totally got a Better Call Saul soundtrack for asking a question and Dave Porter totally signed it. I totally left Room 9 to try to get into Room 7AB but then I couldn't get into either of them so I totally chilled. Room 25ABC totally cleared out after the Monster Hunter panel. I totally congratulatd Ryan North on winning Eisners. People totally clapped in appreciation for my praise of Sana Amanat. Sana Amanat totally thinks she's one of the most important people in comics. Rainbow Rowell totally thanked me for praising her in front of her boss. I totally told Sana Amanat about UFISP. Eduardo Risso totally gave his spotlight panel in Spanish. I guess my question for him was totally untranslatable because he totally had no answer. I totally followed a Morty to the epic line for the Rick and Morty event in Petco Park. The Pop Culture Meseeks totally asked a guy why he was wearing a Monsters University hat if he didn't go to Monsters University. I totally hung out with a Rick name Boris. I totally chose the Rick mask with an eyepatch. The Pickle Rick shirt was totally $30 and totally just Pickle Rick on a shirt. The hosts of the event were totally not funny. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland totally came out for like only five seconds. It was totally fun to watch Rick and Morty with 4,000 other fans. We totally saw the second episode of the new season before everyone else. I totally did not talk to Rainbow Rowell at the Hilton Bayfront. I totally did not talk to anyone at the Hyatt.
The 7AB line was totally short. I was totally surrounded by nerrrrrrds. Sexist dudes behind me totally thought Batgirl was added to the animated series to make girls watch...and their dads watch. I totally entered a Buffy conversation by correcting a man's misquoting of Giles's famous surprise entrance line. Paul Dini totally stopped going to philosophy class to avoid an ex-girlfriend but totally graduated thanks to cartooning credits. Paul Dini's favorite cartoon dog is totally Goofy. Bruce Timm totally had no moderator. People asking questions totally loved Justice League: Gods and Monsters. The audience totally applauded for my statement that for many people Batman: The Animated Series was the definitive version of Batman and Joker and such. Bruce Timm totally thought I was baiting him by asking how it felt to see all these new live-action versions of characters he'd worked so closely with. Deadpool totally stood up and asked when he was going to get his chance at Deadshot but Bruce Timm totally told him to wait in line like everyone else. Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman totally talked to Buffy people for their oral history book. David Greenwalt totally told Glenn Quinn that he was a serial killer and he would kill his character. Armin Shimerman totally got the part of Snyder by being a jerk. I totally bought an art book from Michael Manomivibul, an artist I've totally run into a couple times. He totally said we should meet for coffee. Nidhi Chanani totally took a couple of her precious free minutes to talk to me. Seanan totally would have been prom queen if she were made of acid and knives. Alien/Predator fans totally care about alien biology. Seanan totally gave me a Brightest Fell ARC. I totally made it harder for Pris to find me by wearing my Rick mask. I totally dared to eat a peach. Lobster deviled eggs totally drew me to New York West. Alisha and I totally ran into Megan Whalen Turner on the way back from dinner. I totally watched Game of Thrones on HBO GO before I got spoiled. Alisha totally saw me in scrubs for the first time.
At the airport a woman and I were totally wearing the same Legion shirt.
Current Mood: hungry
Current Music: Linkin Park - Waiting for the End
July 14th, 2017
|10:16 am - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? More Like Lazy Sex Curl, Friend!|
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend may be one of the most brilliant, revolutionary, important, yet criminally underrated shows in the history of television, and I am only being partly hyperbolic here because wow. The brainchild of Rachel Bloom of "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" fame and Aline Brosh McKenna of The Devil Wears Prada fame (and as much as Rachel Bloom is the public face of the show, it's important to remember they're equal partners in this endeavor), with musical assistance by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne fame, this show will sing and dance its way into your heart and then fuck with your brain.
Rachel Bloom plays Rebecca Bunch, a well-educated, high-powered New York lawyer with clear mental health issues (our first real look at her is stark and pained). On the same day she's offered a big promotion, she runs into Josh Chan, with whom she had a summer camp romance as a teenager (making her an ex-girlfriend), and then...quits her job and follows him to his hometown of West Covina, California (making her crazy). If you think about it, though, this kind of wild, spontaneous act is the core of so many romantic comedies, but here it's portrayed as A Very Bad Idea That Everyone But the Protagonist Realizes Is a Bad Idea, and that's what makes this show tick.
Once in West Covina, Rebecca makes it her mission to win back Josh, even though he's been dating the same woman for years. Aiding her in this mission is her co-worker Paula, who is the enablingest enabler who ever enabled. Studying her is her neighbor Heather, whose dry, Daria-esque demeanor cannot be penetrated by Rebecca's boisterous delusions. Employing her is her boss Darryl, who wants to be everyone's best friend. But hold up, there's a wrinkle in the form of Josh's friend Greg, who instantly falls for Rebecca himself. Shenanigans will ensue. Oh will they ever.
On the surface, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend looks like a typical romantic comedy, but as it cleverly leans into all your favorite (or least favorite) tropes, it's slyly planning to subvert them hard. This show systematically deconstructs everything popular culture has told us about love and relationships, implicitly criticizing them simply by playing them straight and explicitly criticizing them in both dialogue and song. It's an aggressive assault on the expected narrative, and it doesn't stop at rom-com tropes. It addresses various "taboo" topics like periods, UTIs, abortions, and such (so by taboo I mean female) candidly, as if...as if they are just parts of everyday life for women and we shouldn't constantly avoid talking about them. Despite the focus on a heterosexual romance, the show has prominent, non-tragic queer characters and eventually leans in hard on the side of female friendships. Where most shows would zig, it refreshingly zags. Plus the love interest is Filipino-American, there are a couple women of color, and all of these various characters get focus. They have their own stories, they are their own beautiful, rich, complex people. (They are also kind of awful people much of the time, but the show recognizes their awfulness and both has enough heart to sympathize with them despite their bad choices and allows them to grow.)
Oh, right, it's also a musical with amazing songs that span musical genres from country to hardcore punk, with a healthy dose of traditional musical theater in the middle. As in any good musical, the songs drive the narrative and illuminate character, and they're catchy as fuck. Each one functions as a cute parody of something you're familiar with while also being a great example of that thing, with hilarious lyrics about texting or ping pong.
I could write so much more about why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is incredible, but it's even better to experience it for yourself and let it continue to surprise you with its dedication to callbacks and skillful episodic plotting, not to mention some of the best tags since Community. It's smart as hell and also fun, whose realistic darkness never drowns out its whimsical silliness. It's not every day I encounter a show that constantly makes me think "How is this a real show, how was this allowed to happen?" Also the cast is uniformly wonderful. The characters drink a lot of boba tea. There's some great metahumor. One of the writers is a Patel and named a character Sunil. Okay I'll stop now.
Current Mood: impressed
Current Music: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend - The Math of Love Triangles
July 11th, 2017
|02:33 pm - Brown Nation? More Like Clown Station!|
A few months ago when the new season of Master of None came out, I found myself on the Wikipedia page for "American television shows with Asian leads" and discovered that there existed a Netflix show called Brown Nation that was practically ALL Asian leads! South Asian leads, even! How had I never heard about it? Seeing that it was only 10 20-minute episodes, I started watching during my lunch break at work.
Brown Nation follows the trials of tribulations of Hasmukh (yeah, this show is about a motherfucker named HASMUKH, this show is Desi as fuck), who runs Shree Ganesh Computers Limited Inc, a struggling IT company specializing in Citrus (presumably a take-off on Citrix). His wife, Dimple, loves her little dog, Bobby, and her Papaji, but she wants to explore her artistic side. (In true sitcom fashion, of course, Hasmukh is an average-looking schlub whereas Dimple is the opposite of that.) His friend Hyder (Lebanese, everyone else is Indian) is fun comic relief with his endless get-rich-quick schemes. Hasmukh's company is staffed with Indians as well but for one white guy, Matt, the only white man in the credits. Of the workers at Shree Ganesh, the endearingly dim Balan is the most memorable, but Roli, Gautam, and Mookie (these names!) also make their impressions.
Creator Abi Varghese describes Brown Nation as "Everybody Loves Raymond meets The Office," and that's a fair assessment. It's a single-camera comedy with a multi-camera sensibility. It's generally cute and amusing, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but it knows what it is. It doesn't have extremely high ambitions; it's not trying to be a Master of None-style manifesto on Life as an Indian-American. There are some ongoing storylines, but continuity isn't a huge concern. It wants to be light fun.
And that's what's so great about it. It's light fun...that just happens to be all about brown people. Plus, it exists in this beautiful middle space where it can appeal to both American audiences and Indian audiences without pandering to either. It doesn't go so far in We're So Indian that it alienates non-Indian viewers (even if you don't recognize Bollywood film stars' names, you can understand in context who's famous and who's not), and it doesn't attempt to homogenize these characters and gloss over their essential cultural differences. Plus, given the recent conversation about the trend in popular media to show brown men pursuing white women, I do appreciate that this show features several brown men with brown women. It happens!
Brown Nation is not perfect by any means. It could have stronger continuity, the supporting characters are underserved, and it could be funnier. But it's consistently enjoyable, and I stretched out my viewing as long as I could because I was growing more and more fond of these characters. It's a wonderful cast, and I hope to see them in other projects. Perhaps even Brown Nation S2!
Current Mood: full
Current Music: Ulrich Schnauss - A Letter from Home
April 21st, 2017
|08:13 pm - Rick and Morty? More Like Dick and Shorty!|
A couple years ago, people started raving about this show Rick and Morty, some weird cartoon co-created by Dan Harmon of Community fame. It was wacky sci-fi and it was brilliant and I would love it, they said. Flash forward to this year when my brother and sister-in-law were flabbergasted that I had not seen one of their favorite shows ever, and then flash forward to now, when I have watched it. Time travel is fun, right??
Rick and Morty is about Rick and Morty. Rick is a mad scientist, and Morty is his dimwitted grandson. Both voiced by co-creator Justin Roiland, their repartee is always sharp, ridiculous, hilarious, and utterly unique in its cadence and delivery, thanks to Rick's intermittent belches and tendency to address Morty by name multiple times and Morty's extreme anxiety and stuttering. It's a treat to listen to Roiland characterize them simply through his voice. Rick and Morty go on wacky sci-fi adventures, much to the consternation of their family. Beth, Rick's daughter and Morty's mom, loves her father despite the fact that he's a raging alcoholic asshole. Jerry, Beth's husband and Morty's dad, has no such love for his father-in-law; also it is clear where Morty gets his dimwittedness from. Summer, Morty's sister, takes more after her mother (who, I should mention, is a horse surgeon). This is a show about a family, but it is by no means a family show.
The show delights in playing with genre tropes and extrapolating to the darkest, most disturbing conclusion. Someone described it as a darker version of Futurama, and that's not far off, actually! It also has a bit of Doctor Who in its DNA, although in retrospect I am surprised that there weren't more direct references. Rick and Morty travel to different planets and dimensions, and Roiland and Harmon revel in being absurd and scatological but also very clever in how they approach these well-worn elements. Expect things to go wrong and people to die because that forces the writers to truly examine the consequences of these things we take for granted. But while they're having fun with these stand-alone adventures, Roiland and Harmon are also building a universe with continuity and telling a larger story on a pretty epic scale.
And yet they are also telling a smaller story on a more intimate scale. Because for how completely out there this show is, it's surprisingly grounded when it comes to its character relationships. Sure, they are placed in some fucked up situations, but the interactions ring true. Beth and Jerry must take a look at their shitty marriage. Beth wants to have a closer relationship with her father. Rick is an asshole to Morty (and, uh, everyone) but maybe secretly has a heart. Morty enjoys going on adventures with his grandfather but that doesn't mean Rick gets a free pass to be an asshole. Summer is discovering how she fits into this weird-ass family.
Rick and Morty isn't for everyone, for sure. You've got to roll with its brand of sophomoric humor and freewheeling plotting. But it's a lot of fun, and it's smarter than it seems. Also there is a character called Mr. Poopy Butthole.
Current Mood: pessimistic
Current Music: Maggie Rogers - Alaska
April 9th, 2017
|11:16 am - Fargo? More Like Fargo Fuck Yourself!|
I am a fan of the Coen Brothers' films, including Fargo, and I had heard many good things about Fargo the TV Show, but it wasn't until watching Legion that I decided I need to see more of Noah Hawley's work because he is making some incredibly daring television.
Fargo, like American Horror Story, is an anthology series, so each season tells a self-contained story, though there are some connections and they definitely take place in the same universe (in the same universe as the film, even). One could review each miniseries as its own show; hell, each miniseries could be its own show. There is enough story and character to sustain a multiseason arc and yet by telling it all in ten episodes, Hawley creates a huge sense of urgency and ends up with a more powerful narrative experience.
Season 1 is my favorite of the two so far. In some ways, it is a cheeky remix of the original film, but it is very much its own clever beast. The first episode packs several episodes' worth of plot into one in order to do what seems to be Hawley's MO: set up a status quo that appears to be a story seed and then blow it up to tell a much more interesting story. By the end of the pilot, Hawley establishes the clear Good Guys (the cops) and the Bad Guys (the criminals), and the entire season is a complex game of cat-and-mouse where we both want the Bad Guys to be caught but we are also impressed with their cleverness and resourcefulness. It makes bold, potentially disastrous choices, but by the end Hawley has earned your trust in him as a storyteller. Again, because it's a single season, he has an end in sight and he knows how to get there.
Season 2 expands the scope and has a different vibe, thanks to the period setting. Whereas the first season felt more personal and intimate, the second season introduces warring crime organizations, and it pumps up the violence. Once again, it's still clearly cops vs. criminals, but this time, there's somewhat more depth to the criminals, even if there are way more of them, which means that they don't get to be as fully developed and shine nearly as brightly as the two standouts in the first season. It's a bit better on the non-white and female characters, though; two of the best characters are POC and unlike in the first season where nearly every female character with a couple notable exceptions was a twit, nearly every female character here is fleshed out and compelling. 0This season also makes bold, potentially disastrous choices that don't completely work; an increase in the number of stylistic flourishes signals Hawley's evolution on his way to Legion, where he can be as self-indulgent as he wants. But yet again, the man knows how to construct a story, as the payoff is worthy of the setup.
So what unites these two seasons of Fargo? The show certainly takes its setting and tonal cues from the film and the Coens in general. It's a black comedy, mixing both darkness and decency, and the anthology format means that you can't be ensured of the safety of (almost) any character. It's marked by explosive, sometimes quirky violence, which can often occur when civilians find themselves in sticky situations and discover that they may not be as good a person as they think they are. It believes in a universe ruled by cosmic forces of justice that do not necessarily care about what's fair but do care that human morality is what we make of it. Good and bad are not what we are but the choices we make. And the choices we make will always have consequences. The show also believes strongly in family and the power of genuine decency and human kindness. It adores its characters, who are all incredibly well acted by fantastic actors. On top of all the excellent writing, the show looks and sounds great, with smart musical choices and bravura directing. The use of titles and end credits makes each episode feel like a cinematic experience in your own home.
I am absolutely on the Noah Hawley train now. You've got another great season of Fargo in you? Okay then.
Current Mood: hungry
Current Music: Perturbator - Humans Are Such Easy Prey
March 21st, 2017
|11:12 pm - The Good Place? More Like The Food Race!|
The Good Place begins with a woman named Eleanor Shellstrop being introduced to The Good Place, the heavenly afterlife that is her eternal reward after a lifetime of good deeds. There is frozen yogurt everywhere, her house is designed specifically to her tastes, and everything is wonderful.
Except that the Eleanor Shellstrop who did all those good deeds...is not her. This woman was not a very good person at all. She does not belong here. This is the first surprise Michael Schur throws at us, and it is far from the last.
On the surface, The Good Place looks like a silly sitcom about a bad person trying to act good so she doesn't get kicked out of heaven. And some showrunners would be happy making that show, but this show is much, much smarter. Which is not to say it isn't also deeply silly—so much of the humor and fun comes from the ludicrous conception of The Good Place and the absurd goodness of all the other residents, especially in comparison to Eleanor. It's a comedy with a great deal of worldbuilding, and almost every single episode reveals some new aspect of this creative cosmology. A point system here, a strange rule there. Luckily, Michael, the architect of The Good Place, is here to explain how the world works, as is Janet, the delightful helper A.I. who can also magick you some clothes because, hey, this is paradise! A paradise now tainted by the presence of Eleanor Shellstrop. How long can she remain undetected?
It's high-concept as hell, but Schur and his diverse team of writers are up to the task, managing to take a fantasy comedy and use it to explore philosophical and ethical conundrums every week, examining the very nature of morality and introducing the layperson to terms like "consequentialism." It contains the funniest joke about Aristotle on network television or any television, and also someone gets killed by an air conditioner. That's just the kind of show this is, and it wouldn't work if the characters pondering what makes a person good or bad—and why someone would deserve to be in The Good Place versus The Bad Place—weren't so damn endearing.
Eleanor consistently shows herself to be kind of a shitty person. Not an evil person, just a shitty one. But Kristen Bell makes you like her anyway, and sells both "Eleanor is trying to be good" and "Eleanor is trying to be good but hoo boy" equally well. Her soulmate/ethics tutor Chidi is a bundle of neuroses I can relate to; he and Eleanor make a wonderful odd couple. William Jackson Harper is a gift, taking the art of exasperated and/or confused reaction to new heights. Tahani initially seems like a cloying, condescending bench (sorry, you can't curse in The Good Place), but Jameela Jamil finds that perfect balance between UGH and AWW. Her soulmate/Buddhist monk Jianyu has taken a vow of silence, but Manny Jacinto still shines. I will pretty much love any A.I. character, but D'Arcy Carden as Janet is comic gold every time she's on screen, her perky, straightforward delivery nailing the joke every time. Finally—notably the only white man in the main cast—Ted Danson is utterly charming as Michael, who of course has no idea he's got a rogue in his perfect construction, and as much as you don't want Eleanor to be found out, you also don't want Michael to be sad. It's a fantastic cast from top to bottom, all the more impressive given that most of them apart from Bell and Danson are relatively unknown.
The Good Place starts out strong and gets better with each episode, and by episode five or six, it's firing on all cylinders, really finding its groove. It's a serialized tale with a clear story to tell, and it's extremely binge-able thanks to its constant cliffhangers. Seriously, a show should not be allowed to surprise you this many times in one forking season. In thirteen episodes, you witness six major character arcs that culminate in a finale that's easily one of the best of all time, a brilliant conclusion to an intricately constructed narrative. I was on a Great Television High for hours afterward, I was so impressed. What an incredibly clever, smart, thought-provoking, funny, heartwarming, fucked-up season of television.
Current Mood: impressed
Current Music: Hybrid - Every Word
March 11th, 2017
December 22nd, 2016
|03:17 pm - Cleverman? More Like Neverran!|
A sci-fi series based on Australian Aboriginal mythology, created by an Aboriginal and starring Aboriginals? Cleverman sounds like a fantasy of its own!
It's the near future, and for some unexplained reason, a new species of people known as Hairies (because they're hairy) have emerged into the public eye after being hidden for tens of thousands of years. They look like the Geico cavemen, and although they're looked down upon as subhuman, they have superhuman strength and agility. Which is, of course, why they're confined to the Zone (think District 9). Much of this will have more resonance to people familiar with Australia's horrible treatment of Aboriginals, which the Hairies are obviously meant to represent, and I appreciated that even though the major racist oppression metaphor takes center stage, the show acknowledges that non-metaphorical, non-sci-fi racism still exists for the Aboriginal characters.
Set against this dystopian backdrop, Cleverman tells a lot of stories about a lot of characters. A Hairy family captured and separated, each enduring their own form of oppression. A Hairy rights activist. His wife. His daughter. His mother. His brother, a pub owner. That guy's best friend. His girlfriend. A media mogul. His wife, a doctor who works in the Zone. And that's just the main cast. I think. The standout characters are media mogul Slade, a slippery bastard who has his fingers in a lot of pies; Hairy rights activist Waaru, who has a lot of shit going on, not the least of which is his angst over not being chosen to be Cleverman; and pub owner Koen, reluctant Aboriginal superhero with the power to connect to the Dreaming.
So Koen is the titular Cleverman, a figure drawn from Aboriginal mythology. Creator Ryan Griffen named him after his son because he thought his son should have a superhero who looked like him, which is an admirable cause and I fully support it. I do find it curious that he then made this character such an asshole. Koen is not very likable...at all. He spends the majority of the season not wanting to accept his powers, which is a superhero trope except they're usually not such dicks about it. While this does give him room for an arc, it's a rough ride, but Hunter Page-Lochard's performance makes the character a complex, flawed person rather than an unsympathetic, one-dimensional jerk. Performances are great all across the board, actually, and this makes most characters pretty likable and interesting, even if we don't know much about them.
Cleverman is definitely blazing new territory in its commitment to authentically telling Aboriginal stories, which I've never seen before. But this first season is kiiiiiiiind of a mess. It doesn't feel boring and every episode ends pretty dramatically, whetting my appetite for the next one, and it definitely builds to a finale. But there is just too much. It crams so many stories into six episodes that nearly every one feels underserved. For instance, in the finale there's what appears to be an emotional scene between two characters that did not land because we had barely seen the relationship between these two characters. In addition, much of the mythology is unexplained, which makes the relevance of some subplots unclear. There's connective tissue missing in places.
The first season finale ends on an upswing, and I hope for more confident, cohesive storytelling in the second season. It's high time for more stories like this.
Current Mood: full
Current Music: Karmacoda - Wonder
December 11th, 2016
August 31st, 2016
June 7th, 2016
|09:04 am - Star Trek: Voyager? More Like Bar Dreck: Dowager!|
For some reason Star Trek: Voyager does not have the same fandom popularity as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Could it possibly be because it has the first female captain? Or that has a large focus on female characters? Or that it has the most diverse cast? WHO KNOWS, because it's certainly not because it sucks. In fact—and I know my opinion is biased by having seen a very abridged version—it nicely combines the excellent standalones of TNG with the serialization and character work of DS9. The best of both worlds, if you will (and that is a very pointed reference, given how central the Borg are to the series).
Voyager has a deceptively simple (if somewhat ludicrous) premise: the starship Voyager gets transported seventy-five million light years away and ends up stranded in the Delta Quadrant. So now they have to get back to the Alpha Quadrant, by hook or by crook! M-mostly by hook because Janeway is no crook (that is a recurring theme). On top of the general How Do We Get Home? is another cool idea baked into the setup: the crew of the lost Voyager includes both members of Starfleet and members of the Maquis (and many of these terrorists are former Starfleet). How are they all supposed to work together...and what are the chances of a mutiny?
Captain Kathryn Janeway (aka Space Mom) loves two things above all: coffee and Starfleet principles. The two things that are going to get her through this ordeal. Time and again, we see Janeway turn to the Federation charter for guidance, some way to know how to act in lawless space and still maintain her humanity, and it's an admirable quality, despite the pressures it puts on her and her crew. There's the easy way and there's the Janeway. Chakotay (aka Space Dad) often offers the Maquis perspective, the "whatever, Starfleet RULES" perspective, but he also has to keep Janeway in check when her adherence to a strict moral code (or potential deviation from it) may put the ship at risk. I can't think of many other positively portrayed Native American characters in science fiction, and even though his may not be the most accurate representation, he's a great character. Harry Kim is quite adorable, a precious cinnamon roll who wants to get home and see his family, but the show doesn't give him a whole lot to do most of the time. Tom Paris starts out as Entitled White Guy, a pilot with a chip on his shoulder, but he eventually reveals an endearingly nerdy side; I was not very fond of him for a while but I grew to like him. B'Elanna Torres is half-Klingon but the opposite of Worf: she hates everything Klingon and has no desire to connect with that side of her. She's also a brilliant engineer, and she gets to geek out with science nerd Janeway a lot. I love B'Elanna a lot and was surprised she doesn't come up in discussions of awesome Star Trek women! Tuvok is a black Vulcan with a history with Janeway, and he is...very Vulcan! Like, even more Vulcan than Spock, much more stern without as much lightness to him, but that just makes me love him more somehow. The Doctor is a self-aware hologram who becomes one of the best characters on the show, thanks to both Robert Picardo's entertaining performance and all the different ways the show makes use of him as a hologram. Neelix is a Talaxian who is responsible for crew morale and food; he's a bit irritating at first but once he settles down he's a good guy. Kes is an Ocampan with a sexy-as-hell voice and...a poorly written character. Finally, though she doesn't join the show until later, Seven of Nine is one of the best written and best acted characters, a former Borg drone torn between her Borgness and her developing humanity; she is my Spock, my Worf, my Odo. Jeri Ryan's performance is wonderful, and the character is fascinating, and her sometimes-contentious relationship with Janeway is compelling, and it's a real shame she often gets dismissed as a sexy fanservice thanks to her skintight costume.
Although TNG has the more iconic characters thanks to their place in history, I think Voyager has much better developed characters who actually grow and change in noticeable ways throughout the series (TNG, of course, was more of a reset-to-the-status-quo kind of show). While its plot arcs aren't as complex as DS9's, I loved that there were times when I would watch an episode that had a huge plot twist that had been set up over the course of several episodes but I still felt the impact because the episode itself slyly provided all the necessary information to experience the twist. Voyager is rather skillful at crafting episodes, especially ones that open with a WTF scenario that is then explained as an alternate future or a daydream or a hologram (this show really knows how to use the holodeck). I also loved at how well it tied character development into the crisis of the week (especially with regards to Seven of Nine); I know I watched the best episodes but goddamn there is some fine writing in this show and it deserves to have a better reputation.
I enjoyed Voyager so much that I wasn't even halfway through my very abridged list before I realized that I would want to watch more, that 40ish episodes was not enough. I am glad I got the compressed experience of this crew's journey, but I want to have more adventures with them!
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Panic! at the Disco - Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time
May 24th, 2016
|10:50 am - Where No Cow Has Been Lost in Space Before|
My Star Trek experience was supposed to end with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but my friend Olivia was so insistent that I watch Star Trek: Voyager—and some other friends were fans as well—that I decided that while I did not have the time to dedicate a true abridged watch, I was interested in getting a taste of the show to see what the deal was, so I asked her to curate a Greatest Hits version, distilling the whole show into, like, 30 episodes. Which became more like 40 episodes, thanks to various two-parters. She used the Bechdel test as a criterion for inclusion, which helped narrow the list down; when Bryan Fuller got the new Star Trek gig, I also asked for some good Fuller episodes. Voyager has a plot arc so some episodes are essential, but it's not as heavily serialized as DS9, so it was a matter of choosing enough episodes for me to be able to follow the general plot while also giving me some of the best standalones the series has to offer.
For reference, here is the list! I am more than halfway through it and I'm really enjoying the show!
( Coffee! I think that's Janeway's catchphrase.Collapse )
A WHOLE NEW SET OF SPACESHIP BABIES.
Current Mood: stressed
Current Music: Babymetal - Karate
May 5th, 2016
|04:34 pm - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? More Like Bar Dreck: Sleep Mace Line!|
Remember when I said that for many people Star Trek: The Next Generation is the definitive Trek? Well, for many other people, it's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a show I had been wanting to watch for years ever since I learned it was essentially Ron Moore's training ground for Battlestar Galactica. And hot damn, was it ever fun to spot all the connections between the two shows!
This show is, in many ways, the anti-Trek: it takes place on a space station! They're not even trekking! They are chilling out next to a friggin' wormhole with aliens who have incredible powers and no sense of linear time and a planet with people who worship said aliens, believing them to be their Prophets. That planet is none other than Bajor, first introduced in TNG, now free from the Cardassian Occupation (the first few seasons of DS9 run concurrently with the last few seasons of TNG, so I did come into the show with one spoiler for a plot point that was supposed to be initially introduced on this show). DS9 brings over the Bajorans, the Cardassians, the Ferengi, even the Trill—all alien races from TNG characterized by the classic Trek motto "One Race, One Character Trait"—along with old favorites like the Klingons and Romulans...and deepens them all as it examines what it is actually like for the Federation to share space with these other aliens. The DS9 motto seems to be "Thanks for all these toys, TNG, now we're going to break them!"
Deep Space Nine, unlike the Enterprise, feels like a real place where people other than the main characters live, people who can be affected by the consequences of Our Heroes' actions. We see so many different areas of the space station rather than spending most of our time on the bridge. And who are Our Heroes? Benjamin Sisko, who's almost as unlike Picard as Picard is unlike Kirk. He's proud, fierce, and righteous, but he's a bit more flexible morally and ethically: he's a realist, not an idealist. And he's a father! His son, Jake, grows up over the course of the series, and Sisko's relationship with Jake is one of the show's strong points; it's far better than the one between Beverly Crusher and Wesley Crusher, which...barely existed. Kira Nerys, a former Bajoran freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on who you ask) who serves as the liaison between Starfleet and Bajor (this character was supposed to be Ensign Ro, and in the early episodes, I imagined a show with Ro, but Kira becomes a wonderful character of her own, with a troubled past and also some flexible morals). Jadzia Dax, a female Trill science officer who knew Sisko when she was the male Kurzon Dax, whom Sisko affectionately referred to as "Old Man." I love the relationship between Sisko and Dax a lot because they have so much more history than anyone else on the station. Julian Bashir, charming genius medical officer with the utmost concern for his patients, whoever (or whatever) they may be. Miles O'Brien, Everyman engineer with a wife and kid. Odo, shapeshifting security chief with a mysterious past. Quark, Ferengi bar owner with the utmost respect for the ways of Ferenginar. I mean. Just look at that fucking character list. Realize I haven't even mentioned awesome supporting characters like Quark's brother and nephew, Rom and Nog, and Garak, the only Cardassian on DS9, a plain and simple tailor. AND DON'T FORGET PERPETUAL BARFLY MORN. Put all these incredibly different characters on a goddamn space station and just watch what happens.
As with previous Treks, I watched an abridged version, but this was the least abridged of the three series, as I ended up watching more than 75% of the episodes. The biggest cuts were in the first season, understandably, as the show was still figuring itself out, but once it started introducing serialized storylines, it really took off. I wasn't sure how the storytelling would work in a static environment, but they made it work. Since they weren't on a starship that could go out and find trouble, trouble often came to them! And they could also take smaller ships out exploring (often through that friggin' wormhole) and discover a whole host of trouble. I don't even want to say anything about the host of stories because they came as a surprise to me, but as a rule some of the most successful stories involved the Cardassians—who are trying to deal with losing control of Bajor just as the Bajorans are trying to deal with interacting with their former oppressors in any civil way—and some of the least successful stories involved the Prophets—who basically make no sense and speak in riddles and can do anything the plot requires them to. That being said, this is the best depiction of religion I've seen in science fiction since...well...Battlestar Galactica. It is a show that respects that people have beliefs, and that their beliefs are important to them, even if others don't believe the same thing.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is an amazing show that was ahead of its time. This is what we want from our television today, and it was doing it in the nineties. A diverse ensemble cast, with characters getting spotlight episodes, even ones not in the main cast. Long-term arcs full of surprises and emotional payoffs. A charismatic villain who has one of the best character arcs in the series. Complexity and moral greyness up the wazoo. This is top-notch science fiction right here.
March 28th, 2016
December 21st, 2015
|11:26 am - Where No Cow Has Remained in One Place Before|
I loved Star Trek The Next Generation, and I always had my eyes set on watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine afterward! But, uh, abridged, of course. I used this list of essential episodes as a starting point and let my friends flesh it out.
In the end, my "abridged" DS9 is about 75% of the series, as opposed to about 50% of the series for TNG. Which sounds about right!
For reference, here is my list! As before, I don't need you to tell me I have to watch every single episode or complain that your favorite episode is left out. They will all still be there when I'm done for bonus space station babies. (They're not my space station babies yet. But they will be!)
( Engage! Wait, no, that was Picard, I don't know if Sisko has a catchphrase.Collapse )
Get excited with me, everyone! I'm going to watch DS9!!
Current Mood: busy
Current Music: Veruca Salt - Shutterbug
December 10th, 2015
|08:37 am - Steven Universe? More Like Gem and the Stevengrams!|
For the longest time, I thought of Steven Universe as "that annoying show that took over the Adventure Time AV Club comments." I had no idea what it was about, but I was irritated by it on principle. Then, out of nowhere, it became the show du jour among my people! Twitter would not shut up about this goddamn Steven Universe show! THIS CARTOON FOR CHILDREN wait people were right about Adventure Time though.
Steven Universe begins harmlessly enough. There's a loud, boisterous boy named Steven, and he's...he's a Crystal Gem? He's got a gem stuck in his belly. And it's supposed to give him special powers. That appear to be activated by his favorite ice cream, Cookie Cat. Uh, okay. And he lives with three other Crystal Gems, whatever those are. Pearl, tall and skinny and lithe like a dancer, very prim, very meticulous. Amethyst, short and squat and buff like a fighter, very crass, very feral. Garnet, tall and built and calm like a Zen master, very soft-spoken, very enigmatic. And they all have magical powers or whatever. Okay, that was a decent eleven minutes of story, but what's the big deal?
Oh. You guys. This show is a big fucking deal.
The absolute genius of Steven Universe lies in how the show slowly reveals itself to be so much more than you thought it was, and on top of that, so forward-thinking that it's clear that they knew all of these incredible worldbuilding and character details from the beginning. This is a show that will focus on a cheeseburger backpack and a stack of waffles but actually tell you all about the world and backstory if you pay attention to the setting and the dialogue. This is a show that can introduce a character and then make me cry about her in seven minutes. This is a show that will drop earthshattering worldbuilding into episodes when you least expect it. The S1 finale contains a moment that is one of the most brilliant things I have ever seen done in any medium, a culmination of tremendous character and storytelling work.
My challenge here is, as it always is, to attempt to sell the show without spoiling it, especially since I came in knowing nothing so even basic worldbuilding things like "What the hell is a Crystal Gem?" were unknown to me, and I enjoyed learning every new piece of information as the show told it to me since I was learning it along with Steven. Steven learns more and more about what the Gems are, who they were, where they came from, what they are here for, and what they do, as he attempts to fulfill his own destiny as a Gem and aid them on missions. Often...poorly, since he can't seem to activate his own powers, and also he's Steven, and he's a doof. A lovable fucking doof. (This line tells you everything you need to know about Steven: "We can totally build a spaceship! People have done it before, and we're people!") But they're going to keep Beach City safe. And also weird. KEEP BEACH CITY WEIRD.
Beach City is very weird, you guys. Here are the titles of some episodes from which you may be able to glean weirdness: "Cat Fingers," "Tiger Millionaire," "Steven's Lion," some other feline stuff, "Watermelon Steven," okay, that's enough. I came to the show expecting something like Adventure Time, but they are very, very different shows, the only commonalities being an excitable boy and a surprising amount of worldbuilding and emotional destruction. Steven Universe is far more coherent and interested in telling character-focused stories, whereas Adventure Time often seems to just delight in weirdness for weirdness's sake. And I love Steven Universe far, far more than I love Adventure Time now (I still like Adventure Time though). But my point is that the show has delightfully bizarre standalone episodes that highlight the town's inhabitants, like Sadie and Lars, who work at Steven's favorite donut shop; conspiracy theorist Ronaldo, who has a very important blog; Mayor Dewey, who, like most fictional politicians (and, uh, real ones, I guess), is terrible and incompetent; Onion, who...who...I don't even know about Onion, you guys, but I love that weird little dude; the Pizzas, who run a pizza shop. And so on. The show has more diversity onscreen and offscreen than most shows, too! In addition to Garnet and the Pizzas, Steven's best friend, Connie, is Indian, and nearly all the voice actors are women of color.
Besides the consistently amazing writing and ever-more-complex characters (every single character has hidden depths, is far more interesting than you think they are initially), I love how fucking positive this show is. It promotes love, but not in a cheesy THE POWER OF LOVE way, but in the real way that people care for and about each other. Steven and the Gems have conflicts, but they resolve them by talking about them and understanding that they are not perfect. Steven fucks up a lot, but the Gems are his family, and they always forgive him: they know he means well and they know that making him feel bad won't solve anything. There are some episodes in the second season that I could not believe, because I'd never seen conversations like this on television, and this was on a show for children, not sugarcoating the world for kids, allowing them to see that the world is messy but still beautiful, that relationships are hard but they are worth it.
Steven Universe starts out a weird children's show and then proves itself to be legitimately good science fiction with a more nuanced and mature depiction of friendship, romance, and relationships between women than most live-action dramas. It is an amazing fucking goddamn show, and more people need to be watching it.
Current Mood: sleepy
Current Music: Hamilton - Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)