Archive | January, 2016

Over/Underrated 2015 – Part Six

21 Jan

I’m happy to announce that the over/underrated 2015 series has reached the halfway point! That means that instead of ranting about what was over or underrated in 2015, I will now be ranting about what was on pointe and what was off the mark this past year. Enjoy!

On Pointe

Mindy Kaling

I’ve adored Mindy Kaling ever since her scene-stealing days as Kelly Kapoor on The Office. The scene where she explains to Ryan how to use Netflix? Classic. This year, though, with her show The Mindy Project making the move to Hulu, a role in the hit Pixar film Inside Out, and a new bestselling book under her belt, was clearly the Year of Mindy. So, how do I love Mindy Kaling? The ways are innumerable, but here are my top 3 from 2015.

  1. The Mindy Project
    Mindy Kaling’s role: creator, star, executive producer, writer
    I want to be Mindy Lahiri when I grow up. For one thing, she says everything I’ve ever thought (see exhibit A and exhibit B). If her spot-on commentary on life wasn’t enough of a reason to love her, she’s also a doctor and businesswoman. In short, she is smart, successful, and on top of her pop culture game, which is basically everything I aspire to be. To be clear, I do know that Mindy Lahiri and Mindy Kaling are not the same person, but it’s Kaling’s spot-on comedic timing and smart writing that make Dr. Lahiri a character that so many people can identify with. With The Mindy Project’s move to Hulu, Kaling has been able to take the show to an entirely new creative level. The dialogue is racier, the characters are crazier, and the laughs are louder. The Mindy Project was always a groundbreaking show for starring an Indian-American actress. Diversity props aside, is it worth a subscription to Hulu? Absolutely.

  2. Why Not Me?
    Mindy Kaling’s role: author
    On September 15, 2015, Kaling released her best selling collection of essays titled Why Not Me? Like her previous essay collection, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), her work in Why Not Me? is funny. Sure, we’d expect nothing less. But, her essays are also deeply relatable, touching on topics universal to women everywhere. Kaling writes with a tone that oozes honesty, and her insights into her own thought process make her even more endearing. Why Not Me? should most definitely top everyone’s to-read list in 2016. (Don’t believe me? Check out an excerpt from the book here.)

  3. Person I Want To Hang Out With
    Mindy Kaling’s role: fashion icon, social media superstar, role model
    Aside from her obvious professional prowess, Kaling has solidified herself on Twitter and Instagram as the girl that everyone wants to be. If I can’t instantly become Mindy Kaling, then I guess I’ll settle for being friends with her. And if I can’t have that, then I’ll live vicariously through photos of her wearing stunning Salvador Perez ensembles, or hanging out with friends (some of which are cast members or fellow writers on The Mindy Project) while they go ice skating, or vacation in Hawaii. Then, if I can’t do that, I’ll just longingly read her Twitter feed about watching old episodes of Sherlock, and sigh wistfully while I’m imagining that I’m watching it with her.

Whether it’s acting, producing, directing, writing, modeling, or simply being Mindy, it’s clear that there’s nothing Kaling can’t do. How do I love Mindy Kaling? I’m sorry, I’m too busy trying to craft Tweets as clever as hers to count the ways.

MK

Off the Mark

Fiction Recycling

It’s bad enough when shitty writing somehow makes it through a publishing deal and winds up on shelves. It’s even worse when that shitty writing somehow becomes a bestseller with an even shittier movie adaptation. And worse? When that original shitty writing is revamped and redistributed to the masses, all the while disguising itself as new material.

Take, for example, E.L. James’ Grey. For those of you who may still be blissfully unaware, Grey is a retelling of Fifty Shades of Grey, told from Christian Grey’s perspective instead of from the point of view of his prospective victim submissive Ana Steele. Now I am not immediately opposed to the concept of alternating perspectives. It’s a compelling literary technique that’s wielded great narrative success for contemporary authors like Kathryn Stockett (The Help), Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), and Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train). But, the success of multiple perspectives hinges on the fact that each perspective needs to bring either new information/events into the fold, or a markedly different take on events that the characters have experienced together. This is where Grey fails, and fails epically.

Rather than giving fans new content, James literally rewrote every scene from Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s not a single new encounter between Christian and Ana. Even worse is that their conversations and email messages are copy/pasted straight from Fifty Shades. Ignoring the fact that the writing is heinous and Christian Grey comes across as a psychopath without Ana’s thin rationalization of their relationship, Grey is just straight up lazy writing.

James’ attempt to shamelessly keep the money train going without exerting any further work whatsoever isn’t the only example of fiction recycling to occur in 2015. In order to honor Twilight’s 10-Year Anniversary, Stephenie Meyer thought it would be a good idea to publish a companion novel to the Twilight series titled Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined. The gimic reimagining? Meyer chose to switch the genders of her characters. This time around instead of Bella, there’s Beau, and instead of Edward, there’s Edythe. Nearly every other character’s gender is changed as well. Why she chose to celebrate Twilight this way, rather than finishing the much clamored for Midnight Sun (Twilight from Edward’s perspective) is anyone’s guess.

Meyer explained the concept of Life and Death by saying it was done in an attempt to address concerns that Bella was a “damsel in distress.” As many a critic have pointed out before me, though, all Meyer succeeded in doing was showing people that she’s mastered the “find and replace” function in her word processing program. Aside from the name changes, Life and Death reads as nearly the same novel as the original Twilight. Some have argued that it’s supposed to; that the point was that Twilight would be the same story no matter the characters’ gender. I could maybe buy that if the story was exactly the same. But the changes Meyer has made (again, as critics before me have noted) have only managed to perpetrate even more traditional gender stereotypes. Beau doesn’t cry in one scene, for example, where Bella does. Meyer even admitted that she modified Beau’s scenes so that “he’s not nearly so flowery with his words and thoughts.” If that’s not sexist, then I’m a sparkly vampire.

The bottom line for both James and Meyer is that they took the easy road to quick money. To hide behind claims of giving fans what they wanted and trying to right feminist wrongs is insulting at best. Fifty Shades and Twilight fans may not always be the brightest crayons in the box, but even they know a scam when they read one.

GreyLife and Death

 

Over/Underrated 2015 – Part Five

19 Jan

Overrated

Meghan Trainor

If I were writing this article at the start of 2015, I’d probably be putting Meghan Trainor on the On Pointe list. After all, her single “All About That Bass” was arguably one of the best songs of the summer. Throw in her positive messages about female body image, and it seemed certain that Trainor was a star on the rise. Unfortunately, Trainor didn’t make the cut in 2015, and, well, her star’s trajectory has changed a bit since then.

It’s rare to be able to pinpoint the exact point in a musician’s career where the 180º turn from fame to flop was made. For Trainor, however, that point is very clearly when “Dear Future Husband” was released as a single in March of 2015. Up until that point, Trainor had been radiating female empowerment, touting messages of “love me like I am,” and “I’m not a dumb broad who will put up with your bullshit excuses.”

“Dear Future Husband,” on the other hand, negates all that. Firstly, the concept of waiting around for a “future husband” in itself is demeaning. If that weren’t enough, awesomely terrible lyrics such as, “I’ll be the perfect wife, buying groceries,” and “If you wanna get that special lovin’ tell me I’m beautiful each and every night” are ten steps backward for all womankind. Sure, she also says that she won’t be home baking apple pies each day, but by that point the message is contradictory at best, and the damage is already done.

Trainor’s fourth single, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” isn’t much better. Even the smooth vocals of John Legend aren’t enough to save a song that’s “live while we can” theme has been done thousands of times before by artists thousands of times better.

Even Trainor’s retro sound isn’t exactly breaking any molds. Sure it’s catchy at first, but you need more than a sound to have true staying power in the music industry. Artists like Amy Winehouse have done the soul thing before, with much greater success. The difference comes in the weight of the songs and the impact they have on listeners. Winehouse poured her soul into her songs, and fans were able to instantly connect to her raw emotional themes. Fans wanting to connect emotionally with Trainor find themselves grasping at straws.

Trainor’s songs my be earworms, but both her lyrics and her persona lack any true depth. As long as Trainor leaves her listeners wading in shallow waters, her career is sure to wash out with the tide. If only I could say we’d miss her.

mt

Underrated

Agent Carter

I know that I’ve been a tad bit harsh in the past when it comes to the monotony of television programming. I’ve vented my annoyance with shows about doctors/lawyers/cops until I turned blue in the face, and recently I’ve added superhero shows to my frustration list. So why, then, does Agent Carter, a show set within the Marvel Universe, make this year’s underrated?

Because Agent Peggy Carter is not your average superhero.

For starters, she’s not technically a “superhero” at all. She doesn’t possess super strength, she can’t mutate into any sort of killing machine, she has no heightened senses, and not a single part of her is machine. What she is, is an officer of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), a top secret Allied war agency originally founded to battle the terrifying weapons created by the Nazis during WWII. Basically, she’s a kick ass spy, complete with killer (pun intended) gadgets, stunning disguises, and dangerous missions. Despite the fact that there’s technically nothing “super” about Carter, she still proves herself time and time again to be not only the brains behind most of her missions, but the brawn as well. She’s a refreshing and relatable change from the average Marvel characters who can only seem to save mankind with the help of the supernatural or alien technology.

Then there’s the fact that Agent Carter is, obviously, a woman. This makes Agent Carter the very first female-led project in the Marvel Universe. The significance of Carter’s gender on today’s television landscape (better late than never, Marvel) mirrors the significance of Carter’s gender in her own 1940s context. The show is set after WWII, and Carter has been relegated to the position of secretary at the SSR, despite her glaring over-qualifications. In spite of her exclusion from the men’s that is the SSR, Carter doesn’t let her frustrations keep her from saving the SSR from itself. Agent Carter may not know it, but she’s breaking down sexist barriers of the past, as well as the present.

Lastly, Agent Carter is pure, straight up fun. While Carter is a character vulnerable in her humanity and fragile in her grief (“RIP,” Captain America), the show never feels heavy. The rapport between Carter (played by the fabulous Hayley Atwell) and her enthusiastic  (and hilarious) sidekick Jarvis is witty and electric, and there are plenty of explosions and ass-kickings to keep action fans invested. Throw in the glamorous backdrop of 1940s New York City (the cars! the lipstick! the hats!), and you’ve got yourself a show that’s not only wildly entertaining, but visually drool-worthy as well.

Even though Agent Carter received primarily positive reviews from critics and fans alike, skeptics couldn’t help but point out that Carter’s ratings were low for Marvel standards. While it’s true that the ratings for Carter weren’t stellar, one could argue that Agent Carter is just the bit of lighthearted “realistic” fun that the Marvel Universe needs to expand its stereotypical fan base. Thankfully, ABC ignored the skeptics and saw Agent Carter for the gem it really is; season two of Agent Carter premieres on ABC tonight. 

AC

Over/Underrated 2015 – Part Four

16 Jan

So I know it’s been awhile since my last over/underrated post, but Life. My excuses, in chronological order, are: birthday party/Golden Globes, dinner with the parents, Downton Abbey, book club field trip (Alexandra Bracken, YAY!), Husband’s company’s holiday party, and my school’s holiday party.

Methinks that this week will be a far more productive writing week, but no promises.

In the meantime…

Overrated

Adele

Let me be clear about one thing: Adele has mad talent. Pure, raw, stuff of legends talent. Whitney and 90s Mariah sized talent. The girl can belt and wail with the best of them. I’m not denying that.

What I will propose, however, is that she’s a bit of a one trick pony.

When “Hello” hit the airwaves in October of 2015, listeners were thrilled to at last have new music from the songstress, who at one point had contemplated retirement after the success of her previous album, 21. “Hello” was a song worth waiting for. Finally, finally, Adele had released a slow building piano ballad that allowed her to belt out the big notes while showcasing her talent for controlled resonance. How truly original! Like nothing we’d ever heard before on her previous singles like “Hometown Glory,” “Someone Like You,” “Skyfall,”… Oh, wait.

I’m not saying that “Hello” isn’t a fantastic song, because it is. I was obsessed with it, too, and even semi-understood why the video was viewed more than 27 million times in its first 24 hours. I may, in fact, still be obsessed with it, but that’s not the point. The point is that nearly every Adele song sounds exactly the same. Even her “uptempo” songs à la “Rolling in the Deep” and “Rumor Has It” seem to have repeat characteristics. Retro sound? Check. Soul choir backup chorus? Check.

All of Adele’s songs are good, and worth listening to. But do I understand the point of 25-release-day listening parties? Not really, considering that it’s hard to tell exactly which song you’re listening to unless you’re using the album jacket as a reference.

As long as we’re discussing things I don’t understand, let’s talk about Adele’s 2016 Tour. When tickets for Adele’s first tour since 2011 went on sale on December 17th, they sold out within minutes. Fans were willing to fork over upwards of $150/ticket to see the chanteuse, and those were the prices on legitimate, uninflated websites. That’s an awful lot of money spent to see a woman stand in one spot and flail her arms about for two hours while singing songs exactly as they were sung on the albums. Hell, someone could put me on that stage to lip sync her songs for two hours, and I bet the people up in the nosebleeds couldn’t tell the difference.

I’ve always been someone who’s thought that the true sign of musical artistry was reinvention. Take artists like Madonna and Justin Timberlake, who have proven their ability to update their sounds for musical relevancy, while still maintaining their signature styles. Call me strange, but when I hear new music from artists, I expect it to actually sound new. This is something that Adele, despite her undeniable talent, has not yet managed to do. Until I hear a “new” Adele song that I haven’t already heard before, I’ll just be over here in my corner, Disappointed in Adele, Party of One.

Adele

Underrated

The Jinx

SPOILER ALERT: The following post contains spoilers pertaining to the HBO miniseries The Jinx. Although technically, if you were up on your current events, they wouldn’t be spoilers. Maybe you should sort out your priorities. 

“Have you watched Making a Murderer?” This is the question du jour of January 2016.

It seems like literally everyone I have conversed with this month somehow or another gets around to asking me this question. After a discussion of the Netflix series (which I’m sure will be on this list in some capacity come January of 2017), I always follow up with, “Did you watch The Jinx?” I am appalled astounded by how often the answer is “No.”

In case you happen to be ignorant like the vast majority of the people I have this conversation with, let me fill you in. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is an HBO documentary miniseries about accused murderer Robert Durst. The miniseries follows writer/director Andrew Jarecki as he interviews Durst periodically over the course of several years.

If you’re considering blowing off the Jinx as a run of the mill did he/didn’t he true crime story, don’t. There is much about the Jinx that elevates it to a higher level of journalism, and even higher level of entertainment. 

Take, for example, the history of Jarecki’s relationship with Durst. Jarecki was the director of the 2010 film All Good Things, which was inspired by Durst’s story. After seeing the movie and liking it, Durst contacted Jarecki and agreed to be interviewed. Jarecki jumped at the opportunity to get inside the mind of the man who inspired his Hollywood tale, and Jarecki’s passion for the subject matter shows. The Jinx is a superb and artfully crafted blend of news footage, archived interviews, new interviews, and reenactments. The carefully pieced together narrative is so captivating that it’s easy to forget that what you’re watching is true. 

Even if you were to cast the cinematic production value of the Jinx to the side, which you shouldn’t, you’d still be left with an emotionally compelling masterpiece.

While the documentary is technically about the investigations into the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathie, the 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman, and the 2001 murder of his neighbor Morris Black, it’s also about the bizarre relationship between Jarecki and Durst. As the story unfolds, Jarecki struggles to balance a fragile mix of emotions toward Durst. He can’t seem to decide whether to admire, hate, pity, or fear Durst, and what’s more – neither can viewers.

So, even if you were to cast the cinematic production value and the Jarecki/Durst relationship to the side, which you shouldn’t, you’d still be left with a fascinating examination of what constitutes admissible evidence, along with journalistic privilege and its place in the justice system.

“Why?” you might ask. Because not only is the footage captured in the Jinx riveting to watch, it also contained new evidence and an “Oops, is my microphone still on?” confession by Durst. As portrayed on the show, Jarecki and his team struggled with what to reveal to law enforcement and when, so as to maintain the integrity of the evidence. They also had to carefully weigh moral obligation with their desire to maintain their sources’ anonymity. Eventually the evidence uncovered by Jarecki and his team led to Durst’s arrest on a murder warrant. Even better? The arrest took place on March 14th, the premiere night of the Jinx‘s final episode. Seriously, you can’t make this shit up.

Even if you were to cast the cinematic production value, the Jarecki/Durst relationship, and the intriguing lesson on journalism and the justice system to the side, which you shouldn’t, you’d still be left with the overwhelming satisfaction of knowing that what started out as documentary to entertain and educate the masses will wind up playing an undeniable role in serving justice. It’s everything fans of Making a Murderer are looking for, they just forgot to look for it back in 2015.

The Jinx

Over/Underrated 2015 – Part Three

9 Jan

I begin tonight’s over/underrated post with a bit of a heavy heart. Life has intervened, and my bestie Brook will be able to contribute to our blogging tradition much less than both she and I would have liked. I shall do my best to carry on with twice as much snark in her absence, but these posts may be spaced out more this year as a result. All entries from here on out will be written by yours truly, unless noted otherwise.

Overrated

Go Set a Watchman Controversy/Outrage

Author’s Note: This entry assumes that you have background knowledge of the great American novel To Kill a Mockingbird. If you don’t, stop reading this blog, and go back to high school. Seriously.

Harper Lee has always been an anomaly in the literary world. She achieved almost overnight success with her debut novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, won a Pulitzer, and then essentially said, “Peace out, Literary Career.” It’s a path that anyone, in or out of the literary world, would find at very least head-scratching. Nevertheless, over time the world seemed to reach a reluctant acceptance that never again would it see a published work from Lee.

Until 2015, that is.

In February of 2015, it was announced that Go Set a Watchman, a lost manuscript of Lee’s, was going to be published later in the year.

How exactly, you may wonder, does a manuscript from one of the most gifted writers in American history get lost? Watchman began as the original manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird, set later in the lives of the characters. When Lee was encouraged to rewrite the novel from Scout’s perspective as a child, To Kill a Mockingbird was born, and Go Set a Watchman was all but forgotten.

When it was announced that Watchman had been found in a safe deposit box and would be published in July of 2015, the literary world lost its shit. I’ll admit, I myself was included in this crazed frenzy of people formerly known as intellectuals. This was our chance to get another taste of genius, and boy were we hungry.

As quickly as our appetite appeared to be soon satiated, however, our food was tainted with rumors of scandal. Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007, had been largely cared for by her older sister Alice, who passed away in November of 2014. Accusations swirled that without Alice to look out for Lee’s best interests, she had been taken advantage of, being forced to publish a novel that she never wanted the public to read. While Lee reportedly stated to her lawyer that she was, “…alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to Watchman,” (more on those “reactions” later) and while Alabama investigators found no evidence of coercion, there are still those who doubt whether or not Lee was mentally sound enough to know what she was signing off on.

Of course, the circumstances surrounding Watchman‘s publication would hardly have been noteworthy had the novel been well received. As it turns out, Watchman was hated by almost everyone who could bear to get through it. Poorly marketed as a “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird, fans of the original novel were shocked to find their beloved Atticus, defender of the wrongly accused, purveyor of equality and understanding, now a racist bigot connected to the KKK. You could hear the indignant cries of, “HOW COULD SHE?” from every indie bookstore across the country, to which I say only this: Calm the f*ck down, and do your research.

I did, and what I discovered was this.

First of all, Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel. Yes, it takes place in years following To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes it details the lives of the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird. But these things does not a sequel make. What it is, is a first draft. A draft which was later revised and molded into the masterpiece we all know and love. I am, nor could I ever hope to be, a writer of the same caliber as Harper Lee. I am, however, a writer, so I feel as though I know a thing or two about the process. If anyone were to judge any piece of my writing, and I do mean any piece, by its original draft, I would be mortified. First drafts are meant to be ugly. First drafts are the result of the brutal and excruciating work of simply getting words out into the universe. Sometimes, it’s a small miracle to get any words on the page, forget about the right ones. Of course a first draft looks different from the final product. It’s supposed to.

If you’re like me, you may think something as naive as, “Why didn’t she edit Go Set a Watchman for continuity before it was published?” Again, do your research (like I did), and note the aforementioned stroke and other health issues that have befallen Lee.

I understand feeling uncomfortable by the glaring contradictions between the characters we admired for their strength and the characters we see presented in Watchman. But, I also took the time to understand why there is such a contradiction in the first place, and am actually quite thankful to have gotten a fascinating inner glimpse at Lee’s creative process. Can’t quite get over it? Again I say, “Calm the f*ck down.”

watchman

Underrated

The Leftovers

SPOILER ALERT: The following entry contains major spoilers about season two of the Leftovers.

The Lost phenomenon is nothing new. Every television season, there’s a show that tries to break out the confines of cop/lawyer/doctor/superhero drama, and every television season that show fails. The issue comes down to plot. All of the shows that tried to measure up to Lost such as FlashForward and Revolution (which made our underrated list in 2012) had plots that, while creative, were simply too self-involved to sustain viewers’ attention beyond a season or two.  

What makes the Leftovers different is that showrunner Damon Lindelof (who also was co-creator and showrunner of Lost – coincidence? I think not.) gave viewers an instantly intriguing premise – one seemingly normal day, 2% of the world’s population simply vanishes into thin air – and then promptly told viewers that the “departure” is not what the show was about.

What makes the Leftovers extraordinary is that it lacks all pretension. Where the other shows in the Lost-ish genre got caught up in big picture story arcs that spiraled out of control in an, “Oh shit, how can we possibly tie all these loose ends back together,” kind of way, the Leftovers is blissfully lacking in self-awareness. The Leftovers isn’t about the bigger picture. The show is not about where the departed went or why they went, nor is it about people remaining on Earth trying to find them. The Leftovers is a story about the people who were left behind, and how their lives have changed in the aftermath.

So why did it take until its second season for the Leftovers to make our underrated list? Season one of the Leftovers was all about the slow satisfaction. It was a show that you didn’t realize how much you were enjoying until it was over. Season two, on the other hand, was the show that you wanted needed to talk about on Monday morning. Despite this, it remains the one HBO show remains off the popular culture radar. A shame, because it means the vast majority of people still don’t realize they were missing one of the best seasons of television to air in 2015. 

Season two of the Leftovers began with a seriously disturbing prehistoric birthing scene, and only got crazier. How crazy? Well, there was an attempted-murderer for a neighbor who sees fit to hand out his own special brand of arson justice as needed, an is-she-real-or-isn’t-she ghost from Kevin’s past that only he can see and talk to, and the disappearance of three local girls on Kevin’s very first night in a new town. Continue on to a woman who puts living birds into boxes and buries them in the woods, a witch doctor who’s willing to kill himself to save Kevin’s soul, and a hotel purgatory where the only way out is to either drown a child in a well or sing karaoke.

Crazy? Damn straight. Entertaining as hell? You betcha. “International Assassin” was one of the greatest hours of television in 2015. I may not have had any idea what was actually going on, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t worried about “what it all meant,” because I was too busy just enjoying the moment. Take note, Imitation Lost. This is what happens when a brilliant idea runs wild, unburdened by heavy-handed writing and attempts to be brilliant. The Leftovers doesn’t try to be brilliant. It just is.

the-leftovers-season-2

Over/Underrated 2015 – Part Two

4 Jan

Overrated

Taylor Swift’s 1989 Tour

– Brook (@brooklynhofstad)

There were precious few things in 2015 to which I was looking more forward than Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour. And there were precious few things in 2015 by which I was more thoroughly disappointed.

I’m an unabashed TSwift fan. I love her style (no pun intended). I love her wholesome, girl-next-door image. And god, do I love her catchy-as-hell hooks.

As I sat waiting for the reigning pop princess to take the stage, to say I was as excited as little Ralphie when he opened his Red Rider BB Gun is a gross understatement. I was waiting with bated breath for what was surely going to be the highlight of my year.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Long gone is the relatable girl who wrote love songs akin to fairy tales. As Swift went from teen sensation to savvy media mogul, her songs evolved, too. She’s all grown up now, which is great — her fans grew up, too, and they appreciate the more mature material. The only problem is that in her attempt to be seen as sexpot goddess, she completely lost everything that made her great.

Unlike former teen queen, Britney Spears, Swift doesn’t dance. Well, she tries. And aside from approximately three songs in her two-hour set, she doesn’t play instruments in her live shows anymore. So, what’s the biggest music star in the world to do? You guessed it. She pulled a page from her supermodel besties, and spends almost her entire show strutting about the stage in her fiercest runway walk.

Don’t get me wrong. She NAILS the walk. She’s waifish and has legs for days. She couldn’t look more at home than if she was Giselle incarnate. It just gets a little old after about two-and-a-half songs, and aside from glitzy lights, it’s the sole trick she employs to whip the audience into a frenzy.

And when she opens her mouth to converse with her adoring fans, she squanders an opportunity to really connect with the audience by channeling that girl with whom we all fell in love. Instead it’s little more than rehearsed, canned lines about how unfairly she’s been treated in the media.

Swift is all pop and no country now. And her live show dazzles in technicolor. It’s clear we’re in Oz now, with no hope of going home soon. And I was Dorothy, just clicking my heels, albeit to the beat of her insanely popular music.

1989

Underrated

Life in Pieces

– Andrea (@prettyandink

If you’re a television devotee like yours truly, you know that comedies always get the short end of the stick. While actors are quick to say that performing in a drama is easy, and that comedy is the true art form, it’s always the dramas that get the acclaim. Watch any award show and you’ll know that it’s true. The comedy awards are presented first, with very little pomp and circumstance. The true glory is saved for the dramas. 

It was no surprise to me, then, that when I was reviewing lists of the top new shows of 2015, Life in Pieces was frequently omitted. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a shame.

Life in Pieces is the best network comedy to hit the airwaves since Modern Family debuted in 2009. While it’s inevitable that viewers will draw comparisons between the two sitcoms (both are about large, close knit families just trying to get through the trials and tribulations of life), to say that Life in Pieces is recycled material would be false.

One of the things that makes Life in Pieces most unique is its formatting. Instead of the standard sitcom format of using the entire half-hour episode to tackle a singular problem/event/misunderstanding, Life in Pieces divides its 30 minute time slot to tell four separate stories about the different branches of the Short family. Sometimes these vignettes are tied together around a common theme (Christmas, for example), and sometimes they don’t relate at all. Skeptics might worry that this format would make the storytelling disjointed, but what it actually does is serve as a reminder that while families may be close, they do not experience life events simultaneously. Letting each member of the Short family tackle his/her own issues separate from the other family members not only makes the show interesting; it also makes the show relatable.

Distinctive formatting aside, Life in Pieces is one of those rare comedies that is actually funny. It’s that exceptional magic of brilliant storytelling combined with a stellar cast, many of whom are experienced actors who seem to have finally found their niche. I’ve watched Zoe Lister-Jones shine in shows like Whitney and Friends with Better Lives, but unfortunately the writing on those shows didn’t live up to her talent. Now, though, as Jen Short, the writers have created a layer of softness around Lister-Jones’ patented sarcasm and pointed delivery, making her one of the show’s breakout stars. Right alongside her as one of the show’s highlights is Thomas Sadoski. Sadowski was one of the best parts of HBO’s The Newsroom, and while his character this time around isn’t as intellectual or fast-talking as Don Keefer, his humor is just as dry and his romantic efforts just as endearing. While Lister-Jones and Sadoski could easily carry a show on their own, they are hardly alone in the stellar ensemble that also includes Colin Hanks, Betsy Brandt, James Brolin, and Dianne Wiest. Throw in a hysterical-in-its-absurdity recurring guest role by Jordan Peele, and you’ve got primetime comedy gold. 

Life in Pieces may have been snubbed by the Golden Globes this awards season, but it was thankfully picked up for a 22 full-episode season by CBS. If it’s not already on your DVR lineup, do yourself a favor and start 2016 right by making this show a top priority. You can thank me later.

LiP

Over/Underrated 2015 – Part One

1 Jan

Happy New Year!

I am pleased to ring in the new year once again by celebrating the only time of year my blog seems to have consistent entries! That’s right, folks, it’s time for my bestie Brooklyn and I to channel our inner Michael Ausiello and sum up for you, lucky readers, the highlights and lowlights of popular culture in 2015.

This year was a year unlike any other, in that Brook and I found ourselves with very little to complain about. We are not easily impressed, but 2015 was a year that met our expectations more than it didn’t. Still, that doesn’t mean we didn’t find a few things worth ripping apart critiquing. Like last year, we will review 2015 with five parts of over/underrated, followed by five parts of on pointe and off the mark.

With that said, let the snarky comments begin! 

Please note, all images included in the over/underrated series are from Google images.

Overrated

Fifty Shades of Grey (film)

– Andrea (@prettyandink)

Let’s be clear about one thing. Fifty Shades of Grey was never going to be a good movie. Given the source material, my bar was not set very high. I knew going into the theatre that what I would be viewing was not going to be Oscar material. Still, I was hopeful that Fifty Shades could at least provide me with a couple of hours of fluffy, no-thinking-required entertainment.

Call me naive, but I don’t think my hopes were misplaced. After all, the casting was good. (See 2013’s post about the casting here.) To summarize for you: Jamie Dornan, Calvin Klein underwear model. You’re welcome.

The first trailer set to an on fleek gritty version of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” teased just the right amount of romance, sex, and Jamie Dornan. Did I mention Jamie Dornan? I’ll admit it. Against my better judgment, I was actually looking forward to the movie. This became even more true when the MPAA announced a firm R rating. Choosing to forgo potentially higher ticket sales in favor of keeping explicit content seemed to be a pledge to the viewers: This will be the movie you want it to be.

Except it wasn’t.

Let’s start with the dialogue. While I am normally all about movie adaptations sticking true to the books they’re based on, there are some things that just should not be said out loud. Yes, the characters in the book say lines as ridiculous as, “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week,” and, “I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard.” What makes these lines (barely) tolerable in the book is Ana’s narration. Her inner thought process reveals that she, too, finds these words to be disturbing in a, “Who says shit like that?” kind of way. That doesn’t stop her from overlooking the warning signs and pursuing Christian anyway, but at least we know she’s aware of what she’s getting into. Without that narration to give the dialogue legs to stand on it just comes across as uncomfortable and laughable, in scenes that are definitely not supposed to be funny.

I could have maybe, maybe, gotten over the dialogue if I at least got some steamy romance out of the deal. Except I didn’t.

Dornan and Johnson may have been well cast in terms of their physical appearances, and maybe even in terms of their acting abilities. Whoever screen tested the pair together, though, and thought, “Yes, they have chemistry,” was clearly smoking crack.

Let’s be honest. Fans of the Fifty Shades series are not fans because of the well crafted plot and well developed characters. Women flocked to the movie in droves to see some hot sex between two attractive actors. How disappointing, then, that there was nothing hot about it. Dornan and Johnson may as well have been siblings for all the enthusiasm they portrayed for each other. The storyline requires the two characters to want each other so badly that it turns into a sick and fifty shades of fucked up need. The one and only saving grace in the thin story is the “so wrong it’s right” urgency between the characters. This was something that simply did not come across in Dornan’s and Johnson’s performances.

Soundtrack aside, Fifty Shades of Grey was a disappointment in every way possible, but that didn’t stop the movie from raking in over $560 million worldwide. Still, if you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen the movie, don’t. Similar to how I felt after reading the book, the only thing I have left to say about the movie is, “I’ve seen better.”

Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-Movie-Poster-2

Underrated

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

– Brook (@brooklynhofstad)

This year, Tina Fey bestowed upon us yet another gem from her seemingly endless creative genius. Originally set to debut on NBC, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt premiered on Netflix in March and was as much a breath of fresh air as Kimmy, herself.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tells the story of the “Indiana Mole Women,” four women held captive in a doomsday cult by the reverend John Wayne Gary Wayne (played by none other than Jon Hamm), their rescue, and their assimilation into modern culture. After the women are interviewed on the Today show, Kimmy Schmidt decides to stay in New York City, and forge a new life for herself.

I enjoyed the hell out of this show for the following reasons:

  • You won’t be able to get the theme song out of your head. It’s basically a newsclip mash-up a la Antoine Dodson or “Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That.” It’s catchy, and just like the show as a whole, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the societal preoccupation with tabloid soap-opera obsession.

  • It absolutely crucifies millennials. You’d think Netflix would be out to cater to the under-21 crowd, since they seemingly refuse to watch anything on network television, but no. Fifteen-year-old Xanthippe, the step-daughter of Jane Krakowski’s character, is mean, fickle, friends with terrible people, and incredibly self-absorbed. While it is amusing to watch her tease Kimmy for her misuse of modern vernacular and her outdated pop culture references, mostly Xanthippe is a scathing indictment on the youth of today.

  • Seasoned actresses have tons to do on the show (and Tina Fey’s cameo as a scatterbrained, incompetent lawyer is spot on). There’s a line in the theme song: “These females are strong as hell.” And it’s true of all the women in the show. Carol Kane and Jane Krakowksi offer up some of the biggest laughs in the show. Amy Sedaris and Christine Ebersole also turn in memorable performances. In fact, the men in the show (or at least the white men in the show) serve as little more than a parody of themselves, which hardly seems accidental. These females really are strong as hell.

unbreakable