Over/Underrated 2016 – Part One

18 Jan

2016. I think it’s safe to say that it’s a year most people aren’t sorry to say goodbye to. 2016 took Prince from Minnesota, Snape from Hogwarts, and Princess Leia from a galaxy far, far, away. 2016 was the year of Zika, Brexit, the Syrian refugee crisis, and He Who Must Not Be Named. On a personal note, 2016 was the year that brought me my daughter, and for that I am thankful. In a year where an escape from reality was all too needed, I am also thankful for another year that had more to love than to hate in popular culture. That being said, it wasn’t all roses. There were still enough entertainment flops too large to simply go un-ridiculed. And for that, dear readers, you have us. That’s right, folks, I said “us.” Rejoice, because once again my bestie Brooklyn is here to impress with her razor sharp wit and scathing snark. Our entries may be a bit laissez faire this year (read: we’ll write when we bloody well can), but I promise our reviews of the best and worst of 2016 will be worth waiting for. So, better late than never, I bring you Over/Underrated 2016.

Overrated

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

–Andrea (@prettyandink)

Warning: Contains mild spoilers

Let me start by saying that nobody, and I mean nobody, was more excited about the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie than I was. As an fervent fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I was not at all mad about the idea of a spin-off franchise. With a screenplay by Jo herself, Eddie Redmayne leading a talented cast, and my desperate Harry Potter withdrawal, I was having a real Joey Tribbiani “What’s not to like?” moment.

Still, when I look at the movie objectively rather than as a blind-with-loyalty fan, Fantastic Beasts just doesn’t hold up cinematically. Yes, it was visually stunning. Yes, the Niffler was cute af. And yes, that Bowtruckle was the most adorbs tree-like-creature onscreen since Baby Groot. All this was fine, the acting was fine, and the overall story was, well, slightly-less-than-fine. Therein lies the problem.

While each Harry Potter book/film can stand alone as an entertaining story, there is a clear overarching storyline at the forefront of each installment that ties them all together. Fantastic Beasts tells us from the opening newspaper sequence that anti-Wizard movements are gaining traction and Grindelwald is at large, but at the end of the film Newt’s role in regards to anti-Wizardry or Grindelwald’s plans is still a giant question mark.  

It’s obvious that the makers of Fantastic Beasts were banking hard core on movie-goers being satisfied with a seemingly endless menagerie of magical creatures being paraded on screen. If you happen to be one of those people that doesn’t find animals, real or magical, to be either cute or entertaining (like a certain friend of mine), then Fantastic Beasts doesn’t really have a cinematic leg to stand on.

What makes this so disappointing is that the possibilities for the Fantastic Beasts franchise were literally endless. Moving the context of the wizarding world from the U.K. to the U.S. opened countless creative doors for the Fantastic Beasts team. Sadly, there was nothing more than a magical creature behind each one. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a disappointingly lackluster start to what had the potential to be a fantastic (see what I did there?) reincarnation of a truly magical (oops, I did it it again) world.

fantastic-beasts

Underrated

Insecure

–Brook (@brooklynhofstad)

I was talking recently with a friend of mine about the show Insecure. This is a friend whom I find generally more informed than I in regards to all things political and the current state of our country. I’m going to say the same thing here that I said to her: “Even  though I am not a black woman, and I cannot begin to comprehend what it means to be a black woman in today’s society, I like Insecure because I find relatable.”

Not that a show has to be relatable to be likeable. It doesn’t. However, I’m at a time in my life where a lot of programming is supposedly about my life. Young(ish) professional(ish) woman making her way in the world. Ups and downs with friends and family members. Mishaps in love and dating. Pressure to get married. Pressure to have a family. We’ve ALL seen that show. I’m Hannah Horvath without the neuroses. I’m Carrie Bradshaw without the Manolos (well…if you want to get technical, I am a Miranda, but I digress…). So, it helps if when I look at the characters, I see myself instead of some caricature-ized version of myself that Lena Dunham thinks I am.

When I look at the girls on Girls, I don’t see myself. Not even close. When I watch SATC, I see what I would be if I had unrealistic budget constraints. But when I watch Insecure, I see myself. I see my relationships. I see my struggles.

The title literally says it all. Who can honestly say that they have never felt insecure?

Anyone who has ever set up an online dating profile can relate to Molly’s seemingly endless string of dates that are complete and total duds, myself included, but that’s an entirely different post.

Anyone who has ever said something about someone and instantly regretted it can relate to Issa when she sings about Molly’s broken…well…you know…

Issa Rae created a show that elevated modern black female narratives on television. Her show revolves around a strong female friendship. Her show casts a more sympathetic light on the oft vilified unemployed black man. And she did it in eight emotional, funny episodes.

Insecure seems to be the little engine that flew under the radar on HBO this year. Up against heavy hitters like Westworld, it’s understandable that there wasn’t a ton of buzz about the show, but it got picked up for a second season, nonetheless.

Insecure has proven itself to be a worthy successor of shows like Living Single, and hints at being capable of delivering characters and stories reminiscent of HBO’s glory days.

insecure

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