New TV Shows To Get Excited About In Fall, 2014!

TV Premieres I’ll Definitely Be Tuning In For This Fall!

gotham

by REBECCA, August 25, 2014

It’s a glorious time of year: the horrors of summer are nearly behind us and the Fall TV lineup has been announced! With one of my favorite books newly kicking ass on screen (Outlander), my expectations are high. Will this year’s shows cut it? I can’t wait to find out slash watch them anyway.

a to z

A to Z (NBC) premieres October 2. Let’s start on what will likely be a low note.

Andrew Lofland, while a guy’s guy, has always been a secret romantic . . . not above crooning to Celine Dion while driving to work, with dreams of finding “the one.” He imagines her to be just like that shimmering beauty he spotted that night in that silver dress at that concert two years ago. Zelda Vasco is a no-nonsense lawyer who has strong feelings about being her own person and prefers the control of online dating. However, when a computer glitch sends her a total mismatch, she’s asked to come in for an interview at Wallflower Online Dating, the agency where Andrew works.

Andrew and Zelda meet for the first time and despite their differences, sparks fly. She thinks it’s chance. He thinks it’s fate. After all, he’s convinced she’s the shimmering girl in the silver dress. Is it true love forever or just a detour in destiny? Andrew and Zelda will date for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. This program is a comprehensive account of their relationship—from “A to Z.”

The pilot of A to Z is available online now.

constantine

Constantine (NBC) premieres October 24. I’m excited about this one, but it’s a real bummer that it looks like NBC is not going to make Constantine bisexual like he is in the comic.

Based on the wildly popular comic book series “Hellblazer” from DC Comics, seasoned demon hunter and master of the occult John Constantine is armed with a ferocious knowledge of the dark arts and a wickedly naughty wit. He fights the good fight—or at least he did. With his soul already damned to hell, he’s decided to abandon his campaign against evil until a series of events thrusts him back into the fray, and he’ll do whatever it takes to protect the innocent. With the balance of good and evil on the line‎, Constantine will use his skills to travel the country, find the supernatural terrors that threaten our world and send them back where they belong. After that, who knows . . . maybe there’s hope for him and his soul after all.”

gotham

Gotham (FOX) premieres September 22. Whee! If this isn’t awesome I will be so so sad.

Before there was Batman, there was Gotham.

Everyone knows the name Commissioner Gordon. He is one of the crime world’s greatest foes, a man whose reputation is synonymous with law and order. But what is known of Gordon’s story and his rise from rookie detective to Police Commissioner? What did it take to navigate the multiple layers of corruption that secretly ruled Gotham City, the spawning ground of the world’s most iconic villains? And what circumstances created them—the larger-than-life personas who would become Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler, Two-Face and The Joker? Gotham is an origin story of the great DC Comics Super-Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. Gotham follows one cop’s rise through a dangerously corrupt city teetering on the edge of evil, and chronicles the birth of one of the most popular super heroes of our time.”

happyland

Happyland (MTV) premieres September 30. I’m not sure about this one, since the only MTV show I’ve ever seen is Teen Wolf (<3), but I’m game to try it.

MTV’s newest scripted teen drama exposes the soapy inner workings of one of the country’s most popular theme parks, revealing the less-than-magical reality of what goes on behind the scenes. Lucy is a cynical teenager who grew up in the park (her mom works there as a princess) and wants to leave so she can experience the real world. Naturally, that all changes when she meets Ian. He’s the son of the park’s new owner, who sweeps Lucy off her feet . . . until a scandal comes to light that turns both their lives upside-down.”

Jane the virgin

Jane the Virgin (CW) premieres October 13. This sounds fucking nuts, but . . . maybe also funny? Or maybe just an extended chance for me to yell at my tv, “GET AN ABOOOOOOOORTIOOOOOON!” Only time shall tell.

Gina Rodriguez stars as a young woman named Jane, and Jane is a virgin! What more is there to know? Well, okay, there is the fact that she’s pregnant because she was accidentally artificially inseminated by her gynecologist. Whoops! And to make matters even more complicated, Jane has to decide whether or not to keep the baby after discovering the sperm specimen belonged to cancer survivor Rafael, who’s not only a former crush of Jane’s, but also her new boss.”

red band society

Red Band Society (FOX) premieres September 17. This is the show that 10-year-old Rebecca really wanted when she was reading all those Lurlene McDaniel books. It’s apparently based on a Catalan show.

Red Band Society is a coming-of-age dramedy about a group of rule-bending friends and the adults who mentor them through the ups and downs of adolescence in Los Angeles’ Ocean Park Hospital. Exploring everything from strong friendships, and first loves, to humorous mishaps and heartbreaks, the series is a story of life, with an edgy comedic tone all its own.

Twelve-year-old narrator Charlie is in a coma and introduces us to this band of unlikely friends, including the “new kid,” Jordi, a 16-year-old who comes to California to seek out treatment at the renowned hospital. What Jordi soon discovers is that it’s not his illness that’s going to change his life, but his new friends. Also at Ocean Park is Leo, the 16-year-old, charming and independent “leader” of the group. Leo’s best friend is Dash, a 16-year-old “rebel” with a big personality, who is determined not to let his cystic fibrosis stop him from living his life. Also on the ward is 15-year-old “know-it-all” Emma, Leo’s on-again-off-again girlfriend who is coping with an eating disorder. Rounding out this group of patients is Kara, a “mean girl” cheerleader who shares a room with Charlie. Although her heart is failing, she is realizing for the first time that she actually has one and begins opening it up to her new friends.

You can watch the pilot online now.

Survivor's Remorse

Survivor’s Remorse (STARZ) premieres October 4. Well, Starz is kind of killing it with Outlander, so maybe this will be delightful? Even though I don’t care about sports, I love sports movies, so I’m game (get it?). Also I have a fantasy that Survivor’s Remorse might be the new Friday Night Lights . . . because it’s about sports + it’s set in Philly and Friday Night Lights ended in Philly . . .

This basketball comedy follows a young amateur baller Cam Calloway as he lands his first multimillion-dollar contract with a professional basketball team in Atlanta. Cam, along with his cousin and confidante, move to Georgia to start Cam’s career. The two confront the challenges of carrying opportunistic family members and their strong ties to the impoverished community that they came from.”

So, what will you be watching this Fall?

Oops, I Am Addicted To Witches of East End

A review of Witches of East End, based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz

Lifetime, 2013

Witches of East End

by REBECCA, August 20, 2014

witches of eastwickWhoopsiedoodle! My sister and I just accidentally scarfed the first half of a season of Witches of East End. I won’t lie: I took one look at the fact that it’s on Lifetime and the fact that it’s set in North Hampton and thought, “this will be terrible; I must watch this.” But, while I was expecting the show to be a kind of Revenge + witches, with lots of conspicuous consumption, low-cut dresses, and people having incredibly strong opinions about canapés while they ruin people’s lives, it’s actually . . . so funny. No, really. Within five minutes of the pilot, my sister and I were hitting each other and shamefacedly saying, “OmigodIlovethisshow.”

witches of east endWitches of East End is based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz, best known for her YA series, Blue BloodsNow, I’ve never read anything by Melissa de la Cruz, but I am totally not surprised that it’s based on the work of a YA author because what Witches of East End is totally winning at is not taking itself too seriously. Witches of East End could easily seem like a seen-it-all-before show about thin, pretty, white women who can do magic—and let’s face it, do we need more when we have Practical Magic?—but instead, it’s a really fun, funny family drama with a little romance and a few thrills thrown in.

Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) is an immortal witch. Her daughters, Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum of Step Up pedigree) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) don’t know that they have any special powers (a change from the books, it seems). Joanna is cursed to see Freya and Ingrid die over and over and be born again—she’s lived through their lives in every century and seen them die in every way imaginable. So, this incarnation, she’s decided that she’ll keep their magic a secret, hoping to protect them from themselves. This has worked fine for the last thirty years, and the Beauchamps have been happy in North Hampton. Freya is engaged to marry rich doctor, Dash (Eric Winter), and Ingrid is pretty happy with her job at the local library.

Witches of East End

don’t mind me; i’m just smelling your face now

BUT, before you go thinking that everything is fine, dunh duh duh duh, there is a CAT. A black cat. And is not JUST a cat. It is Wendy (Mädchen Amick from Twin Peaks!), Joanna’s sister, who is a cat shifter (avec proverbial nine lives). Joanna and Wendy haven’t spoken in a century, but now Wendy has had a VISION: someone is after Joanna and they have to stop them. And with Wendy around, there’s no way that Freya and Ingrid will remain in the dark about their magic because SHENANIGANS ensue. Not only can the person who’s after Joanna shift into any form, but Dash’s estranged brother is back . . . and Freya might also be in love with him. WHAT? YOU GUYS. No, seriously, though, it’s so FUNNY. Ingrid is hilarious and so, so nerdy.

Okay, so Julia Ormond is kind of terrible (but I have fond feelings about her from Legends of the Fall and Smilla’s Sense of Snow . . .) because she just seems like a very cold person (and also her accent, which is apparently her real Britamerican accent, is whackadoo), BUT Aunt Wendy totally makes up for it. And did I mention INGRID! Best thing: it’s two sets of sisters!

Are you watching Witches of East End? What do you think?

Finally, Outlander!

A Review of Outlander (episode 1), created by Ronald D. Moore and based on the books by Diana Gabaldon

Starz, 2014

Outlander

by REBECCA, August 13, 2014

Battlestar GalacticaY’all, I have been dreaming of seeing Outlander on the big screen since I first read Diana Gabaldon’s book circa the turn of the century. Like many fans, I approached news of Starz optioning it with the mixture of hope and trepidation that always attends beloved adaptations. Would they cast it right? Would it evoke the same feelings of the book? What if I hate Claire and Jamie onscreen? Knowing Ron Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame was at the helm made me hopeful, though, because he has such a great track record with sprawling, epic stories, of which Outlander is certainly one.

But, like many fans . . . I don’t actually have TV, much less Starz. Rather than watching episode one, “Sassanach” when Starz put it up for free viewing last Saturday, then, I waited until I came to visit my parents (who do have Starz—and a large TV) to watch. But now I have, so, though I’m late for the game I’ll be goddamned if I don’t talk about it. In list form. Because . . . mostly it’s just stuff I liked.

Most importantly, for me, I really liked Claire (Catriona Balfe). She was capable and brave and spunky without seeming like she had a chip on her shoulder. She seemed wise and mature, which she’s supposed to be, but still with a sense of humor.

I didn’t love Tobias Menzies as Frank, Claire’s husband. Since he and Black Jack Randall are played by the same actor, I really wanted someone who, as Frank, looked really appealing and cultured, and to me he looks like a villain as Frank, too, making his transformation into Black Jack less striking. He did a good job, though, and, most importantly, Ron Moore was smart to spend the meat of the first episode developing their relationship so that it will be understandable why Claire wants to get back to her own time.

OutlanderJamie. We didn’t see much of him, but he’s clearly Jamie-ish. Sam Heughan definitely looked the part and seemed to have Jamie’s tender youth and bravado pretty much sewn up. Also, you know, extremely handsome. Still, Jamie makes me slightly concerned about the cheese-factor . . .

My problem with the episode is actually a problem with genre. Diana Gabaldon’s book is not really a romance novel. It’s sweeping historical fiction at the center of which is a couple. But it’s often shelved in the romance section (I learned the embarrassing way in high school) and spoken about in terms of the romance genre. The character of Jamie isn’t actually the problem. The problem is that when viewed in romance terms, Jamie’s character has become a huge romance cliché: the strapping, red-headed 18th-century Scottish agitator who speaks with a brogue, threatens to throw women over his shoulder (in a nice way . . . ) and has, for the times, relatively progressive gender politics. It’s practically a staple now, nearly twenty-five years after Gabaldon wrote the book. So, I worry that simply by virtue of presenting Jamie faithfully, Outlander will verge into cheeseball territory.

OutlanderOf course, I would still happily watch a cheesy, romantic version of Outlander, but I don’t think that really does justice to the complex drama of the books, and it makes me a tidge worried that Starz won’t get the extra-literary viewership that it will want to justify renewing the show.

Okay, but aside from the tragic problem of Sam Heughan’s attractiveness and chest muscles, I thought the episode was great. Maybe this was a testament to my parents’ TV, but the long, sweeping shots of Scotland . . . that shit looked amazing. I loved the way the 1945 scenes were shot with a muted palette and dim or washed-out light; it makes the gorgeous natural colors once Claire goes through the stones really pop.

OutlanderThe music was gorgeous (not that I’d expect anything less from Bear McCreary, who also did the music for Battlestar), as was the cinematography. And I can already tell that I like the pace Ron Moore has chosen. It’s lingering, like Gabaldon’s books are, but not plodding. It meant that we got the great scenes of Reverend Wakefield’s housekeeper reading Claire’s palm, and the quiet moments of walking and driving around Inverness. The episode did a great job of establishing Inverness as a respite after the war—a safe place for Claire and Frank to reconnect after a long absence—which made it all the more shocking when Claire was ripped from it. Good show!

Scotland Decides 2014I am a little freaked out to see that Starz is splitting the first season, though, with episodes 1-8 running through the end of September and then going on hiatus until after New Year’s. I guess it’s good in that it will stop me from sitting in front of my computer staring and wishing I was in Scotland. Sigh. Also, I love that a show about independent Scottish clans will be airing simultaneous with the Scottish independence referendum (September 18).

Anyhoo, I was pleasantly surprised and cannot wait to snuggle back into the familiar world of Outlander! Did you see it? What did you think?

5 Reasons You Should Watch Master Chef Junior!

Master Chef Junior

by REBECCA, April 21, 2014

First things first, because this is an elimination show, be careful of going to the homepage for the show because it’ll spoil the finale.

See that adorable, food-smeared child holding what looks like a restaurant-quality dessert? Well, whereas usually that would imply that the annoying child just shoved their face in someone’s beautiful dessert, in Master Chef Junior, it means they freaking made it.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking: I hate reality shows about children because they are always either victimized by their parents’ ambition, or independent psychopaths who will surely grow up to be bullies and serial killers. HOWEVER, Master Chef Junior is not like that! My sister and I watched the whole thing a few weeks ago—it’s only seven episodes, so it’s a great mini-marathon show—and it is bloody amazing. So, here are five reasons why you should definitely check it out!

1. Expertise! There are few things I love more than watching people who are brilliant at something execute that thing well. I love cooking shows because you can see every step of what people do: you can see them brainstorm ideas; you can see them make mistakes and have to fix them; and you can see them receive feedback on them. I’m a pretty good cook/baker and I know there is no way I could ever be on a food competition show. I just don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of recipes or the time management skills to cook that fast. The regular Master Chef (a competition of adult home chefs) is impressive enough to me for both those reasons.

mc jr 4When the experts are children, it’s mind-blowing. These are 8-13 year-old kids and they are cooking at the same level as the adults on Master Chef. To see an eight-year-old with professional knife skills . . . well, actually, it’s a little creepy. But, no, it’s amazing. And it isn’t only that they’re experts on a technical level; they’re also incredibly knowledgeable about food, which allows them to create unique, diverse, sophisticated, restaurant-quality dishes. Y’all, it’s seriously amazing!

2. Competitors With Heart! In most competition shows—certainly in Master Chefthe competitors talk a lot of shit. They’re nasty and cutthroat and they refuse to acknowledge the talents of their competitors as if it could, in some way, lessen their own. Not in Master Chef Junior. Almost more surprising than the incredible culinary skill these kids have is their amazingly positive attitudes toward one another. They encourage one another, they say lovely things about each other’s work, they cry when competitors leave because they’re friends, and they help calm each other down when they’re stressed out. I think this was actually my favorite element of the show. I hate to sound all from-the-mouths-of-babes, but it’s incredibly inspiring to realize that at a young age, kids don’t just assume that they have to cut people down to elevate themselves. This also made the show so much more pleasant to watch because there was none of the yelling, complaining, and other garbage that so often goes with the truly amazing cooking.

131004masterchef-junior1_300x2063. Young Adults Rule! There is an episode where the contestants take over a restaurant and have to work in the kitchen, cooking all the food for the restaurant. It’s a real challenge because it’s not just about having the ability to cook. It’s about expecting 8-13 year-olds to work together, take instruction, delegate, move quickly, all of it while being yelled at. And, man, they are amazing. After the diners have eaten their food and raved about it, when those kids come out from the kitchen and they see who cooked it, you can see every one of those diners reevaluating everything they’ve ever thought about what young people are capable of.

4. Appreciation of Food! In a culture where kids are stereotyped as being either picky or addicted to junk food, it is so refreshing to see kids who are delighted by bok choy in a delicate ginger sauce or put fresh arugula on a cheeseburger. And it’s not only about whether these ingredients are to the kids’ personal tastes, but about the appreciation of each ingredient that they demonstrate. They work hard and truly honor food, showing how important it is to give kids access to fresh ingredients. I hope that every person in charge of school lunches, programs that bring food into neighborhoods and schools, and policymakers watch this show and see what kids can do when they’re given access to food and cooking instruction—even if that instruction is in the form of the Food Network.

jrmc_104-elim_03315. Self-Motivation! A few of these kids have family members who have restaurants, but most of them learned to cook from family members or they figured it out for themselves. When the chefs ask them if they’ve ever made things before, many of them speak about how they cook for their families three or four days a week. I love this approach to kids contributing to their families. Rather than just doing chores, this approach allows kids to explore their passions and also be responsible for providing for their families, whether they’re trying out gourmet dishes with exotic ingredients (for those whose families have access and cash) or whipping up homestyle comfort foods and elevating basic ingredients.

And, bonus, if you’ve ever seen chefs Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich on the regular Master Chef then you know that they can be exacting, blunt, and intimidating. To see them interacting with kids is at times funny and at times touching (Graham Elliot is as nice as always).

You can watch Master Chef Junior on Hulu HERE.

In the end, even if you’re not a fan of cooking shows in general, the show has a lot in common with YA novels I’ve reviewed that are about teens with obsessions and skills through which they express themselves or, sometimes, into which they escape. Here are a few.

readalikes

The Sea of Tranquility Katja Millay

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (2012). Two people in pain who find each other and express themselves through their obsessions, Nastya through baking and Josh through woodworking. My full review is HERE.

With or Without You Brian Farrey

With or Without You, Brian Farrey (2011). Evan is used to getting beat up for being gay and used to having parents who don’t understand him. He can deal with all of it as long as he has an escape plan after high school and his painting. Evan has studied the techniques of all his favorite painters and he painstakingly imitates their styles in the expression scenes from his own life. My full review is HERE.

5 Reasons I’m Provisionally Enjoying Star-Crossed (and a few reasons I’m not)

A Review of Star-Crossed, created by Meredith Averill

The CW, 2014

Star-Crossed

by REBECCA, April 10, 2014

Star-Crossed, as the title suggests, is a science fiction Romeo and Juliet. Ten years ago, in 2014, an Atrian starship crash-landed in a small town in Louisiana. Six-year-old Roman (Romeo) takes shelter in the shed of Emory (Juliet) when the shooting starts, and they form a bond in the few minutes before soldiers rip them apart. After a bloody battle, the Atrians are interned in a camp called the Sector. Now it’s 2024 and, as the result of an integration program that has long been in the works, seven teenage Atrians are going to begin attending a human high school, to test whether Atrians and humans have the potential to integrate.

romeo-and-julietSo, I’ve mentioned before how much I generally loathe adaptations. There is NO reason why this needed to be an overt Romeo and Juliet—in fact, it really hampers what Star-Crossed can do by telegraphing what are going to be the major issues and stakes of the show. I will say it again. I just do not understand why people cut off narratives at the knees like this?! In the case of Star-Crossed, it seems likely that either the CW thinks sci-fi is low art and needed a little cultcha or that they worried that sci-fi would turn off their core teen female audience unless they very overtly announced that it would be a romance. Either way, it was a stupid move. Also, can we please agree that, in 2014 (and definitely in 2024), Romeo and Juliet is really not the only text that comes to mind when we think about people from different worlds whose social situation dictates that they not be together. In fact, it’s become something of a cliché at this point—a story that’s concretized into utter predictability. So, yeah. WHAT THE?

Tami-Julie-friday-night-lights-4533494-2560-1920More bad news. Emory, played by Aimee Teegarden, aka Julie Taylor from Friday Night Lights, has the unfortunate fate of being a really boring character. No idea why they’re writing her like this when most of the other characters are more interesting, but Emory is completely blah and has no real chemistry with Roman, or with Grayson—yeah, sorry, they’re going with that whole love triangle thing, at least for a little while. (Grayson is played by Grey Damon, also from Friday Night Lights, and another character, Zoe, is played by Dora Madison Burge, who played Becky on Friday Night Lights, so while you’re thinking how boring Emory is, what a bad actor Grey Damon is, and how much makeup they’ve slathered on poor Zoe, you can just close your eyes and think of how good Friday Night Lights was).

That bad news aside, Star-Crossed has, so far, been a pretty enjoyable watch, if you go into it eyes open. I mean, it’s a CW show, so. Here are a few reasons I’ve enjoyed the first eight episodes.

1. Civil Rights Conversations. The morning the Atrian 7 start school with the humans their bus pulls up to the school where there is a mass of protesters who harangue them and throw things at them. It’s a citation of the morning the Little Rock 9 enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Little Rock 9 star-crossed

As in any aliens-landed-on-earth tale, there are people who believe that the Atrians are a threat to earthlings, those who are fascinated by their culture, and those in between. Emory and her best friends, Julia (a delightful Malese Jow, who played Anna on The Vampire Diaries) and Lukas (Titus Makin Jr. who was one of the Warblers on Glee) are excited to befriend the Atrians, but there are many who antagonize them from the beginning. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but, to my mind, any show that is having explicit conversations about the ways that fear of the unknown leads to prejudice, which leads to violence, which leads to retaliation, which leads to war, is succeeding, at least in some small measure.

The Atrian 7 disagree about what integration means, too. There’s one scene where the Atrian 7 are lectured about how they have to be a model minority, which some embrace and some revile. Roman, at one point, thanks Julia and Lukas for helping him and Lukas replies “We minorities have to stick together,” and Roman says, “You guys are minorities?” (they’re non-white); Lukas replies, “Before you got here.” So, there are some useful conversations going on, and I hope things will get more complicated as the show goes on.

2. The Atrians! Once you get over the fact that the Atrians look exactly like humans except for their tattoo-like birthmarks and the fact that they are all OVERLY ATTRACTIVE, the Atrian 7—well, we only know four so far—are pretty delightful characters. Roman (our Romeo) is played by Matt Lanter, who I’ve never seen in anything (though he did play Edward Sullen in a satire of Twilightesque movies that apparently exists?) but who I find strangely compelling. No, not just because he used to be a model. There’s something natural and straightforward about the way he plays Roman, which turns a character that would otherwise be chokingly goody-two-shoes into one who seems mature and interesting.

Teri & Drake

Teri & Drake

Sofia (Brina Palencia) is the wide-eyed, human-loving optimist who wants to make human friends because she doesn’t fit in that well with the Atrians. Teri (Chelsea Gilligan) is her opposite. She’s a fierce, badass fighter who doesn’t take any shit. Her mother is the leader of an Atrian splinter group that is willing to use violence to overthrow humanity. Last is Drake (Greg Finley), a bruiser who wants to be tough, but isn’t quite sure where his loyalties lie.

3. Plants. The Atrians’ main sources of power, as well as their main weapons, are plant-based, and one tribe of Atrians is particularly skilled in that regard. Cyper, for example, is a plant that can both heal and kill, and if humans found out about its properties when mixed with Atrian blood, they’d kill for it. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I’ve decided that this was inspired by the centrality of herbs in Romeo and Juliet. Even if it’s not true, it’s an interesting choice.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 10.40.18 PM4. Pansexuality! In a show that is based on Romeo and Juliet and, therefore, pretty much tells us who the main romantic drama will concern, we learn that Atrians are pansexual, which at least opens up some possibilities for the plot going forward. I mean, we were all pretending that Roman and Drake were together anyway, right?

5. Star-Crossed. Come on. That’s actually a really excellent name for a show that is about Romeo and Juliet and aliens who came from SPACE! (I can’t think of a fifth thing that’s actively good.)

SO, have you all been watching Star-Crossed? What do you think? Do the good things make up for the dopey CW-elements, or will these violent delights have violent ends?

How To Have A Happy YA Xmas

. . . Even If You Don’t Celebrate It

Nightmare before christmas

by REBECCA, December 25, 2013

I don’t celebrate Christmas and, really, I could do without 95% of the crass commercialism and 100% of anything to do with chipmunks singing carols. That does not mean, though, that I’m immune to the delightful goshdarned cheer of a great Christmas scene. (I missed doing a Chanukah reading list this year since Chanukah began on Thanksgiving, so this year, I am being a traitor to my people and only doing a Christmas post. So be it.) So, here are five of my favorite Xmas scenes in YA books, tv, and movies! Happy, Merry, Cheery reading.

my-so-called-life-so-called-angels

My So-Called Life, “So-Called Angels”

One of the best Xmas episodes EVER! Rickie has left home and is wandering the streets; Rayanne and Sharon are bonding over working a holiday teen helpline, which Brian Krakow calls; and Angela meets a haunting musician who shows her how lucky she is to be alive. Spoiler Alert/The Title: the musician is an angel! Also, she’s played by Juliana Hatfield. My sister and some friends and I watched this episode the other day and I was shocked at how much like Breakfast Club-era Ally Sheedy Juliana Hatfield looked. Omg, here’s a video with her, Jared Leto, and Kennedy (remember Kennedy!?) chatting in a diner HERE. Sidebar: I just googled Juliana Hatfield to make sure I was spelling her name right, and Wikipedia tells me that her father claims to be descended from the Hatfields of Hatfield-McCoy feuding fame. Yowza.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Harry’s First Christmas at Hogwarts

Every holiday at Hogwarts is freaking awesome, but nothing compares with Harry’s first ever happy Christmas. He wakes in his four-poster on Christmas morning and, for the first time, has real presents, including an infamous Weasley sweater and the invisibility cloak, and an amazing dinner:

Harry had never in all his life had such a Christmas dinner. A hundred fat, roast turkeys, mountains of roast and boiled potatoes, platters of fat chipolatas, tureens of buttered peas, silver boats of thick, rich gravy and cranberry sauce—and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table. . . . Flaming Christmas puddings followed the turkey. . . . Harry and the Weasleys spent a happy afternoon having a furious snowball fight on the grounds. Then, cold, wet, and gasping for breath, they returned to the fire in the Gryffindor common room, where Harry broke in his new chess set by losing spectacularly to Ron. . . . It had been Harry’s best Christmas day ever.”

Nightmare before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas

A combination of Christmas and Halloween? I mean, it’s so smart that I can’t believe no one thought of it before 1993. Trust Tim Burton to be the one to see how easily the garish cheer of a holiday to which we all know the rules can shade into total gothic terror when approached by someone who doesn’t. The scene where Jack Skellington does his mad scientist routine to figure out the equation that will produce Christmas is one of the best things ever. Eureka!

Little Women

Little Women: Christmas Morning

I love Little Women in general, but the March family Christmas is particularly good, whether it’s the book version or any of the movie adaptations. From trying to figure out how to buy each other Christmas presents with nearly no money to singing carols as a family, Little Women is probably the best of Xmas: family, togetherness, and sharing. Ok, so involvement with the Hummels doesn’t turn out to well in the long run (cough *Beth* cough), giving them their Christmas breakfast probably taught a new generation of children about generosity each time a new movie adaptation came out (I can still picture Kirsten Dunst’s reluctant dimpled sacrifice). Bonus points for two appearances of Claire Danes on this list!

The Dark Is Rising Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising: Dark Is Rising #2

Will Stanton’s solstice slash Christmas slash eleventh birthday are chock-a-block with family, snow, and weird happenings. The first quarter of the book—the Christmasy part—is dark and wintry and eerie and grim and delightful. As the blurb puts it, Will “discovers he is the last of immortal Old Ones dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark.” NO BIG DEAL AND A MERRY BLOODY CHRISTMAS TO YOU, TOO, WILL!

Let it Snow John Green

Finally, has anyone read Let It Snow, the collection of three interconnected Christmas tales by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle? It looks rather charming.

Well, friends, I hope you all have/have had/will have lovely, cheer-drenched holidays with your assorted families, friends, and pets! Allow me to leave you with a picture of my cat, as you are thus assured at least some cheer. Dorian Gray:

the cutest cat in the world

The Top 10 Greatest Halloween Episodes of TV!

My So-Called Life Halloween My So-Called Life Halloween

by REBECCA, October 16, 2013

I love holiday episodes of television. The fantasy world on the screen intersects with our mundane world during those episodes, as if the pull of shared seasonal moments is too strong to resist. Since I don’t usually watch tv in real time, though, one of my favorite things to do in the weeks leading up to Halloween is watch Halloween-themed episodes. Whereas Christmas and Chanukah and Thanksgiving episodes tend to revolve around family dynamics and issues, Halloween is nearly always a friend-centric holiday, making it perfect for Young Adult tv shows. But, since Halloween is the ultimate day of becoming someone we’re not, especially in terms of dressing up and acting childlike, it creates perfect opportunities for a YA feel even in adult tv shows.

1. My So-Called Life, “Halloween” (1994).

My So-Called Life HalloweenThis is, without a doubt, my favorite Halloween episode of tv; it really hits all the high points. Characters’ costume choices reveal insights into their personalities, like when Rickie decides to dress as Brian Crakow and comments, “I thought this Halloweek I’d be everyone else.” There’s an actual supernatural happening, in which Angela is visited by the ghost of Nicky Driscoll, a greaser who died in the gym on Halloween in 1961 (she got his book in English class, where every good haunting is born). Then there’s the parents’ humiliating storyline where Patty (gag me with a spoon I hate her) dresses as Rapunzel, and the poignant one where Danielle dresses as Angela because she can’t decide whether she wants to understand her or mock her. All in all, it’s grade-A Halloween.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Halloween” (Season 2, 1997).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer halloweenBuffy and her friends get their Halloween costumes from Ethan Rayne’s shop, and the costumes are magicked so that each one turns into the costume she’s wearing. Buffy is a meek damsel, so she can’t do anything; Zander is an army guy who, in an amusing twist later in the season, still remembers some of his army training; Willow is a ghost. This is a fun literalization of the idea that people become what they dress like. Also it’s fun to see Buffy, who’s usually such a badass, be scared of things, while Zander, who’s usually scared, gets to be capable.

3. Supernatural, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” (Season 4, 2008).

SupernaturalThe day before Halloween, Sam and Dean are investigating a man who dies from swallowing razor blades in candy and a girl who was bobbing for apples at a costume party and was boiled by the water, and realize they’re dealing with a witch who’s trying to raise Samhain. When Sam and Dean confiscate the dude’s candy to check it for supernaturaly things, there’s an amusing gag in which Dean eats ALL the candy. A fun episode and, bonus, it guest stars Ashley Benson, of Pretty Little Liars fame, a very spooky show—and, Ashley Benson is almost the same name as Amber Benson, who stars in Buffy. See what happens on Halloween?!

4. Roseanne, “BOO” (Season 2, 1989).

roseanne halloweenRoseanne did a Halloween episode every season after this one, god bless it, and they’re all pretty awesome. This is one show that’s an exception to the Halloween-is-for-friends theme I mentioned above—Roseanne and Dan are both obsessed with Halloween, and they spend the episode trying to one-up each other on pranks. They have their living room set up as a tunnel of terror for trick-or-treaters, but really Roseanne and Dan are mostly trying to scare each other. Roseanne forever!

5. Bones, “Mummy in the Maze” (Season 3, 2007).

BonesBones and Booth are investigating a mummy found in a haunted maze. Soon, another body shows up, and it seems like the person has been scared to death. The whole gang dresses in costume for the annual Jeffersonian Halloween party, so when Booth and Bones are called away to try and find a missing girl, they have to go in costume. Booth is a nerd squint and Bones is Wonder Woman and it’s amazing. Favorite moment: Booth and other FBI types are trying complicated systems to explain how to find the mummy in the maze and Booth is getting super annoyed. Then Booth realizes the maze is made of hay bales and just knocks the whole thing over.

6. Will & Grace, “Boo, Humbug” (Season 1, 1998).

Will & GraceSuch classic shenanigans! Jack begs Will and Grace to go with him to the Village, but they hate Halloween and are planning on having an Ingmar Bergman film festival at home. Jack begs Karen to go with him instead (and I think this is the episode where they really become friends—one of the greater tv alliances in recorded history). Just as W&G are pouring the wine, Will’s boss shows up and dumps his kids on Will, so he and Grace have to take them trick-or-treating. Hijinks ensue and W&G rediscover their childlike glee. Meanwhile, everyone in the Village thinks that Karen is a drag queen and worships her, which is really only her due.

7. Pushing Daisies, “Girth” (Season 1, 2007).

Pushing Daisies "Girth"Really, nearly every episode of this delight kind of seem like Halloween. Ned (Lee Pace, I love you) hates Halloween, because as a child it was the day he found out that his father had gotten a new family after sending him to boarding school. Emerson and Olive are on the case of a ghost-jockey and ghost-horse that are haunting other jockeys. Turns out, Olive used to be a jockey (amazing backstory choice since Kristin Chenoweth is so tiny) and is therefore in danger of being killed too. In a poignant ending, Chuck dresses up as a ghost and trick-or-treats at the aunts’ house. God, why is this show SO good?!

8. Grey’s Anatomy, “Haunt You Every Day” (Season 4, 2007).

Grey's AnatomyGrey’s Anatomy doesn’t usually do much in the way of Halloween episodes, but I really like this one because it’s more about a Halloween feeling than the holiday itself, although, there are some amazing Halloween moments, including when the boy born without ears goes to Sloan and trick-or-treats for ear surgery. In this episode, Meredith is carrying around her mother’s ashes in a bag and is trying to decide what to do with them, but can’t make the decision—her mother haunts the halls of the hospital and the decisions Meredith makes. The theme of haunting continues in a particularly creepy and interesting instance of a man who is convinced that his foot is “dead” and needs to be cut off.

9. Gossip Girl, “The Handmaiden’s Tale” (Season 1, 2007).

Gossip Girl The Handmaiden's TaleRemember when Blair and Nate were still dating! Well, Blair has arranged an elaborate scavenger hunt at the Halloween Masked Ball. Because it is a MASKED BALL, naturally cases of mistaken identity and disguise abound. In a show where appearance is everything, the opportunity to be mistaken for someone else is a dangerous one, and one that creates opportunities for people who are willing to take them. Bwah ha ha.

10. Beavis and Butthead, “Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest (Butt-O-Ween)” (Season 6, 1995).

Beavis and ButtheadI just found myself transported back to the moment I first saw Beavis and Butthead (sixth grade) and everyone (well, everyone whose parents didn’t immediately force them to stop watching it) was talking about it at school the next day, trying to figure out if they were using real words or just making stuff up. Sadly, my poor mother waged an epically losing battle against the phrase “that sucks” for years, which she can lay firmly at Beavis and Butthead‘s feet. Except they’d probably tell her, “shut up, dumbass.” Anyhoosier, this episode is 1990s MTV Halloweenery at its finest. B&B are watching a horror movie when trick-or-treaters show up at their door. When they realize they, too, could go trick-or-treating and get free candy, they take to the streets. After being dismissed for not wearing costumes, Butthead pours melted cheese all over himself and goes as nachos. Meanwhile, Beavis eats all the candy corn, and is transformed into Cornholio. Somehow, B&B end up at a farm, where they variously turn into zombies, are suspended on meat hooks, and are chased with chainsaws. Oh, the nineties.

So, there you have my picks for the 10 best Halloween episodes of TV. Tell me yours!

Why Fans of Young Adult Literature LOVE The Voice

The Voice

by REBECCA, October 2, 2013

Obviously, I am talking about myself; I love The Voice with a passion that I usually reserve for soft cheeses in ash rinds. I love it because I love music and great vocalists, but there are plenty of other shows I could be watching were it only good singers I was after. No, it’s the narrative structure of The Voice that makes it so compelling, and its tropes are straight out of YA fiction.

With or Without You by Brian Farrey1. Overcoming an obstacle to get a chance at your dreams is a major trope of YA lit. The Voice milks this trope for everything it’s worth: each singer tells the story of how she got into music—stories of everything from disfiguring accidents, racism, and terminal illness to the deaths of loved ones, brutal bullying, and devastating acts of nature. But what gets each and every one of them through their hardships is the power of freaking music, y’all. Now, I know that probably sounds cheesy (and not in the good, ash-rind sort of way), but there is really nothing that gets me as much as the way that people can transform the horrible, the unfair, and the devastating into art. I did a whole post last year that was a list celebrating YA books that feature characters who use creativity as an outlet because I really think it’s one of the most powerful stories there is. And to hear those stories and then watch these singers come on stage and just annihilate . . . well, it’s pretty inspiring.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills2. Relatedly, unlike American Idol et al, which operate according to a cattle call mentality, where we laugh at as many contestants as we clap for, The Voice is totally sincere. Sure, the coaches make fun of each other good-naturedly, but at the end of the day their genuine passion for the voices they’re hearing is humbling. Relationships between a mentor and a hopeful are definitely the stuff of YA fiction, even though many of the contestants on The Voice aren’t young adults. The show’s sincerity, further, makes it doubly easy for me to feel good about my devotion to it. Where some similar shows either take themselves too seriously or seem to be laughing at anyone who really invests in them, The Voice feels more like the Magic: The Gathering group that met at lunch in your middle school and was legitimately psyched to find other people as excited about getting down to it as they were.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going3. Because the premise of The Voice is that the coaches cannot see the singers until they choose to turn their chairs around for them, the disconnect between what a singer sounds like and what she looks like is a theme on the show with which any YA reader will be very familiar. Dynamite singers discuss the way the music industry has been unwelcoming to them because they aren’t white enough, young enough, thin enough, attractive enough. Over and over, we hear stories of prejudice and bullying that makes the singers feel like their only fair shot is to audition blind, which is what led many of them to The Voice. This is an issue that looms large in YA fiction, certainly. The limitations that we place on ourselves, our talents, and our ambitions based on how others treat us, or how we believe they see us, is at the heart of a lot of YA lit, as is breaking through the ceiling of those limitations.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins4. Once the blind auditions are over and each coach has assembled a team of twelve, the Battle Rounds begin, in which two singers from the same team sing one song in an epic sing-off for the chance to continue in the competition. This is a Hunger Gamesworthy drama that wreaks Machiavellian havoc on the singers, the coach that must make the decision, and the viewer. Forcing the coach and the viewer to choose between two very different, but both appealing, singers is precisely the tension that makes the much-loved/oft-scorned trope of the love triangle so powerful (and so polarizing) in YA lit. It’s intoxicating to know that there is so much talent to choose from, empowering to decide who is worthy of staying, and humbling to have to end someone’s dream. I mean, at least that is totally how I feel every time I’m forced to choose between two really attractive, really talented people who want to date me. Right?

The Culling by Steven dos Santos5. Because The Voice has to be watched in real time (if you have tv, which I don’t) or online (which I do), there isn’t the option to marathon it (my favorite way to watch tv), which is a real shame, because the arc of The Voice is not that of your mama’s reality show. Unlike most reality tv shows, which are episodic and therefore repetitive, there are multiple phases of The Voice, so we watch the singers develop, see their personalities as artists cohere, and get attached to them, just like characters in a novel or fictional tv show, which is a really smart narrative choice. First we’re introduced to the singers’ backstories and fall in love with their voices. This is like the first quarter of a book where we meet the characters and see who’s who. Next, before we’re too, too committed, but after we’ve formed allegiances, we have to watch singer after singer die from exposure, arrows to the throat, poison berries, and tracker jacker stings be eliminated from the competition in the Battle Rounds. But wait! There are steals, whereby some lucky singers are saved and switch teams, shifting allegiances immediately—just like when a character is blackballed by her friend group and has to find another table to sit at in the cafeteria (or my father moves cities and has a new favorite sports team).

Friday Night LightsThen, after the teams have been whittled and stolen down to their very essences, when you think you couldn’t bear to lose even one more person, most of them leave you and go off to college! Ahem, I mean, get eliminated. Because the third stage of competition finds us in the Knockout Rounds, where two singers from a team compete against each other with songs they each choose for themselves. Here singers’ personalities emerge even further and who the judges choose to continue in the competition depends as much on their song choice and vision as it does on their execution. This is the part of the book where a character realizes that she has to be true to herself because even if she succeeds, if she does so on someone else’s terms, it ain’t nearly as sweet. Finally, the Live Rounds shift the power from the judges to the voting audience, changing it from Debate Team to Popularity Contest (there goes the neighborhood) in a display of “taste” that has often been as heartbreaking as having your school cancel its football program, if you know what I mean.

So, it is for these reasons (and more, like, say, awesome music, and the fact that it resurrects Carson Daly from his mid-to-late-1990s MTV Total Request Live VJ past and puts his crooked little face back in the action) that I am totally, unapologetically a fan of The Voice. And, I’d wager, they’re why a lot of YA lit-loving folks love The Voice when they couldn’t care less about shows like American Idol. What do you think? The Voice: love it? hate it? indifferent to it? Tell me why in the comments!

Fall 2013’s Young Adult(ish) TV Lineup

A List of 10 Exciting-Looking YA(ish) Shows Premiering in 2013

Supernatural Beauty and the Beast

by REBECCA, August 22, 2013

It’s the dog days of summer and I’ve sweat through every article of clothing I own. All I want to do in the whole world is drink ice cold cocktails made with Saint Germain and some kind of fresh herb and watch something amazing. Thus, my thoughts turn, inevitably, to the upcoming Fall tv schedule! I am still reeling from the disappointment of Smash being cancelled after its second season, but I’m trying to pull myself together because there is a ton of stuff premiering this season. Lots of it looks intriguing, much of it looks entertaining, and some of it looks legit promising.

So, in addition to being super psyched about my friends, Supernatural, Beauty and the Beast, Elementary, etc., here are the 10 (vaguely) young adult(ish) shows I’m looking forward to checking out, in order of pilot premiere.

sleepy hollow sleepy hollow

Sleepy Hollow, FOX (September 16th)

“In this modern day twist on Washington Irving’s classic, Ichabod Crane is resurrected and pulled two and a half centuries through time to unravel a mystery that dates all the way back to the founding fathers. Revived alongside Ichabod is the infamous Headless Horseman who is on a murderous rampage in present-day Sleepy Hollow. Bound to the Headless Horseman by a blood spell cast on the battlefield of the American Revolution, Ichabod quickly realizes that stopping Headless is just the beginning, as the resurrected rider is but the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC (September 24th)

I’ll definitely be checking this one out. Produced by Joss Whedon, he also writes and directs the pilot.

“Clark Gregg reprises his role of Agent Phil Coulson from Marvel’s feature films, as he assembles a small, highly select group of Agents from the worldwide law-enforcement organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. Together they investigate the new, the strange, and the unknown across the globe, protecting the ordinary from the extraordinary. Coulson’s team consists of Agent Grant Ward, highly trained in combat and espionage; Agent Melinda May, expert pilot and martial artist; Agent Leo Fitz, brilliant engineer; and Agent Jemma Simmons, genius bio-chemist. Joining them on their journey into mystery is new recruit and computer hacker, Skye.

the originals The Originals

The Originals, the CW (October 3rd)

The Originals is a spinoff of The Vampire DiariesI thought The Vampire Diaries was boring, so I’ve probably missed some backstory to The Originals; I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to follow along, though. This is set in New Orleans, though, and I’m hoping for some Southern awesomeness. Plus: psychology grad student/bartender.

“Klaus Mikaelson, the original vampire-werewolf hybrid, has returned to New Orleans, the city his family helped build, the city from which he and his siblings were exiled a century ago by their relentless hunter father. Klaus is intrigued by his recent unexpected reunion with his former protégé, Marcel, a charismatic but diabolical vampire who now has total control over the human and supernatural inhabitants of New Orleans. Tensions between the town’s supernatural factions—vampires, witches, werewolves and humans—are nearing a breaking point as Marcel commands his devoted followers and rules with absolute power.

Even the human population of the Quarter is unwittingly drawn into this supernatural battleground. A recent arrival to New Orleans, Cami is a whip-smart psychology grad student who appears happy to pursue her studies by day and work nights as a bartender, unaware that many of her customers are vampires. Hiding the dark secret that has brought her to New Orleans, Cami soon finds herself fascinated by both Klaus and Marcel, and totally unaware of the danger that they pose for her and everyone around her. Now, in the midst of a thriving New Orleans, a city known to be steeped in magic and history, the long-smoldering war is about to reach a fever pitch, and the Originals stand as the catalyst.”

The Tomorrow People CW

The Tomorrow People, the CW (October 9th)

The Tomorrow People is based upon a British show of the same name from the 1970s. This looks like it’ll be a bit of a departure for the CW, so I’m curious.

“They are the next evolutionary leap of mankind, a generation of humans born with paranormal abilities—the Tomorrow People. Up until a year ago, Stephen was a “normal” teenager—until he began hearing voices and teleporting in his sleep, never knowing where he might wake up. Now, Stephen’s issues have gone far beyond the usual teenage angst, and he is beginning to question his sanity. In desperation, Stephen decides to listen to one of the voices in his head, and it leads him to his first encounter with the Tomorrow People—John, Cara and Russell—a genetically advanced race with the abilities of telekinesis, teleportation and telepathic communication. They are being hunted down by a paramilitary group of scientists known as Ultra, which sees them as a very real existential threat from a rival species, and the outcast group has been forced to hide out in an abandoned subway station just beneath the surface of the human world. They offer Stephen the chance for a normal life with his family and best friend if he will help in the struggle to isolate and eradicate the Tomorrow People.”

Once Upon A Time In Wonderland

Once Upon A Time In Wonderland, ABC (October 10th)

Once Upon A Time In Wonderland is a spinoff of Once Upon A Time, which I enjoyed for the first season and then got bored of. Still, I’m always willing to give an Alice a chance.

“In Victorian England, the young and beautiful Alice tells a tale of a strange new land that exists on the other side of a rabbit hole. An invisible cat, a hookah smoking caterpillar and playing cards that talk are just some of the fantastic things she’s seen during this impossible adventure. Surely this troubled girl must be insane and her doctors aim to cure her with a treatment that will make her forget everything. Alice seems ready to put it all behind her, especially the painful memory of the genie she fell in love with and lost forever—the handsome and mysterious Cyrus. But deep down Alice knows this world is real and just in the nick of time, the sardonic Knave of Hearts and the irrepressible White Rabbit (John Lithgow) arrive to save her from a doomed fate. Together, the trio will take a tumble down the rabbit hole to this Wonderland where nothing is impossible.”

Reign CW Series Logo for Reign

Reign, the CW (October 10th)

Ok, let’s be serious: this will probably be both horrendous and very historically inaccurate, but I will definitely check out the pilot, if only because it looks like the CW is trying to tap into a Harlequin Historical kind of vibe here. Plus, costumes and castles, duh.

“Hidden between the lines of the history books is the story of Mary Stuart, the young woman the world would come to know as Mary, Queen of Scots. The teenage Mary is already a headstrong monarch─beautiful, passionate and poised at the very beginning of her tumultuous rise to power. Arriving in France with four close friends as her ladies-in-waiting, Mary has been sent to secure Scotland’s strategic alliance by formalizing her arranged engagement to the French king’s dashing son, Prince Francis. But the match isn’t signed and sealed, it depends more on politics, religion and secret agendas than affairs of the heart. Prince Francis is intrigued by the fiery Scot, but like most young men, he resists the idea of settling down into marriage, especially when he has a history with a lady of the court and his own point of view on the wisdom of an alliance with Scotland. Still, an attraction between Mary and Francis is ignited.

As Mary learns for herself that fierce foes are conspiring to sabotage her marriage to Francis and even threaten her life, she becomes aware of other dark forces. There’s a mysterious presence in the castle; a shrouded figure who may become her unlikely ally. Villagers cope with the brutality of the times by trusting in magic and superstition. And in the dark woods surrounding the French Court lurk those who offer human sacrifice to a being who seems to require blood.”

dracula nbc

Dracula, NBC (October 25th)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is very close to my heart, but it’s been done so many times that I don’t have any squeamishness about the story being changed. This really could go either way, but I’m cheered by the fact that Daniel Knauf, creator/writer of the awesome Carnivàleis the head writer and showrunner.

“It’s the late 19th century, and the mysterious Dracula has arrived in London, posing as an American entrepreneur who wants to bring modern science to Victorian society. He’s especially interested in the new technology of electricity, which promises to brighten the night—useful for someone who avoids the sun. But he has another reason for his travels: he hopes to take revenge on those who cursed him with immortality centuries earlier. Everything seems to be going according to plan… until he becomes infatuated with a woman who appears to be a reincarnation of his dead wife.”

Believe NBC JJ Abrams

Believe, NBC (Midseason)

I’m super excited about this because J.J. Abrams is producing and Alfonso Cuarón is producing, writing, and directing!

“Levitation, telekinesis, the ability to control nature, even predict the future… since she was two years old, Bo has had gifts she could neither fully understand nor control. Raised by a small group known as the ‘True Believers, the orphaned girl has been safeguarded from harmful outsiders who would use her forces for personal gain. But now that she is 10, her powers have become stronger, and the threat has grown more dangerous.

With her life and future now in jeopardy, the ‘Believers’ turn to the only person they see fit to be her full-time protector. That is, once they break him out of jail. Tate, a wrongfully imprisoned death row inmate who’s lost his will, is initially reluctant – until he witnesses one of her extraordinary abilities. Bo sees people for who they truly are . . . and who they may become.”

Surviving Jack surviving jack

Surviving Jack, FOX (Midseason)

Surviving Jack is based on the book I Suck At Girls, by Justin Halpern, of Shit My Dad Says fame. I am assuming, then, that the character of Jack here is the eponymous “dad.” Whatever, I don’t usually care for comedies, but Jack is played by Christopher Meloni, my favorite ever SVU detective, and in the preview he looks hilarious. Le premise:

“Jack Dunlevy, ex-military and an oncologist, is a no-bull kind of guy. He sees little, if any, need to sugar-coat the truth. Up to this point, Jack’s been the parent who’s left for work early, come home late, eaten the big piece of chicken, yelled at his kids and gone to bed. But after years of deftly raising and running the family, his wife, Joanne, is going back to law school, leaving Jack as a full-time parent for the very first time.

Jack’s teenage son, Frankie, is just starting his freshman year in high school. Lanky, quick-witted, self-deprecating and not entirely sure of himself, all Frankie wants to do is fly under the radar. But over the summer, he grew 10 inches, threw a no-hitter against a rival team and started to attract girls—all of which put him in some awkward situations—especially when the only base he’s ever been to is on the field.”

Resurrection

Resurrection, ABC (Midseason)

Resurrection is based on the novel The Returnedby Jason Mott, which comes out next week. I have an ARC of it and have been looking forward to reading it; it seems like a premise that would translate well to tv.

“The people of Arcadia, Missouri are forever changed when their deceased loved ones suddenly start to return. An 8-year-old American boy wakes up alone in a rice paddy in a rural Chinese province with no idea how he got there. Details start to emerge when the boy, who calls himself Jacob, recalls that his hometown is Arcadia and an immigration agent, Martin Bellamy (Omar Epps), takes him there. The home he claims as his own is occupied by an elderly couple, who lost their son Jacob more than 30 years ago. While they look different, young Jacob recognizes them as his parents. Those closest to the family try to unravel this impossible mystery, including the Sheriff, whose wife Barbara drowned 30 years ago trying to save Jacob. But this boy who claims to be the deceased Jacob knows secrets about his own death that no one else knows—secrets that Fred’s daughter will begin to investigate and discover to be true.”

What about you? What shows are you looking forward to this season?

5 Reasons You Should Watch Hemlock Grove!

A Review of Hemlock Grove, Season 1, created by Eli Roth & based on the book by Brian McGreevy

Netflix, 2012

Hemlock GroveNetflix debuted its third original series on Friday: Hemlock Grove, a tale of a small town with big secrets. Now, nearly every news outlet and reviewer has panned Hemlock Grove. However, lest you find yourselves without my opinion on the matter, here it is: I TOTALLY ENJOYED IT!

Hemlock Grove is set in a small Pennsylvania town where girl has just been violently murdered—torn apart by . . . is it an animal? a crazed killer? We don’t know. But, in the crosshairs of the rumor mill surrounding the murder are the newly-arrived Peter and Lynda Rumancek, a Romani mother and son who the suspicious town calls filthy gypsies, and the Godfrey family, most notably to-the-manor-born Roman, who uses his beauty to get what he wants (and, when that doesn’t work, his gaze, which compels obedience), his mother, Olivia, the “most beautiful and hated woman” in Hemlock Grove, and his sister, Shelley, a lurching, seven-foot-tall girl who can’t speak and glows with strong feeling. The first murder, of course, is no isolated incident; they are occurring every full moon, giving rise to rumors that it’s a werewolf committing them—and that Peter is the werewolf.

Is Hemlock Grove the smartest, least misogynist, most disciplined, least derivative, and most sex-positive show that’s ever aired? Em, no. But it has a totally awesome opening credits sequence. And here are five reasons why I think Hemlock Grove is totally worth watching.

1. Genre Feast! If you’ve ever read Crunchings and Munchings or met me (or, really, talked to me for, like, two minutes) then you know I am a fool for genre; especially interesting combinations of genre. Well, Hemlock Grove has . . . all of them, really. Its main genre is a kind of horror-light supernatural mystery. It’s a werewolf story, complete with its own set of werewolf lore, from a Romani perspective, and what is probably my new favorite human-to-wolf transformation method. Hemlock GroveIt’s gross and cool and the effects are done really well. Then, there’s the small-town gothic, one of my favorite genres. Hemlock Grove is a creepy place, complete with secrets, cliques, only one high school (which we all know can tip any show into horror!), and an eerie combination of woodland and broken-down industrial wasteland. In addition, there are definite notes of the fairy tale, the 18th-century novel (hello, Shelley, anyone? p.s., she lives in the attic . . .), and good, old-fashioned camp. There is also a bit of a science fiction twist: Godfrey tower, the town’s only skyscraper, houses secret medical experiments, run by the sociopathic Dr. Pryce (yet another nod to classic horror). This storyline is less developed, presumably to keep our interest for season two . . .

2. Binge! Netflix has gotten a mixed response to their experiment of releasing all the episodes of their original programs at once—folks seemed to love what it did for House of Cards and hate what it did for Hemlock Grove. Well, I say, bless you, Netflix, for finally acting on the behalf of people like me who would rather wait a year to be able to watch a whole season of a show at once, rather than wait around week-to-week and watch one episode at a time. Now, the critiques of this strategy are that without the necessity to compel an audience to come back each week, Hemlock Grove writers and producers were not nearly as disciplined with their cliffhangers and structure as they would otherwise need to be. But I really liked the feeling of chugging through all at once, not just because I am a binger, but because many episodes picked up exactly where the last left off, giving it a novelistic  or filmic feeling. Also, it allowed them to avoid one of my all-time pet peeves of serial tv: when the “previously on” recap totally gives away what’s going to happen in the episode based on what clips from previous episodes they show. WHY, for the love of god, has no one solved this problem, yet, I ask you!? But Hemlock Grove doesn’t need to do this, so I was never taken out of the story. It uses flashbacks where necessary, which aren’t the most graceful thing ever, in terms of filmmaking, but totally serve their purpose. And, at thirteen episodes, it was the perfect length for a weekend binge (#don’tjudgeme).

Hemlock Grove3. Depressed Industrial Town! Hemlock Grove‘s setting is a small town in Pennsylvania that used to be home to a booming steel industry, a downturn in which threw the town into a depression, only saved by Roman’s late father, who turned to the biotech industry, but in the process laid off many people in town. This made the Godfrey family many enemies and resulted in huge, abandoned factories and broken-down machinery for bored teenagers to smoke in, have sex near, and search for bodies in. It also created a stark disparity of wealth between the Godfreys and nearly every other family in town, especially the Rumanceks. Roman wears tailored overcoats, does a lot of drugs, drives a fancy sports car, and has perfectly coiffed hair while Peter is scruffy, with long fingernails, vaguely dirty hair, persistent two-day stubble, and grimy jeans. Class, then, is always subtext in Hemlock Grove, and while the show does a shitty job with gender, it’s more savvy in terms of economy. Plus, abandoned industrial shit is awesome-looking.

4. Wacky Casting! One thing that amused me about Hemlock Grove was the fact that its casting directors clearly didn’t give a good goddamn about realism in terms of casting, so the show is kind of accent soup. But it really worked out well (except for Famke Janssen who plays Olivia Godfrey, doing a British accent like she was barely even trying). Peter, played by Landon Liboirin, is charming and not smarmy and doesn’t overdo things, for the most part. I do not know what is in the water over in Sweden, but Roman is played by Bill Skarsgård, another in the seemingly endless line of extremely beautiful children sired by Stellan Hemlock GroveSkarsgård. Like, seriously, I’m starting to think that every time I clap my hands a Skarsgård cheekbone sharpens. Anyhoo, Roman is totally delightful as the mercurial heir apparent: he’s fucked up for sure, and you can see exactly how he got that way. He also does my favorite thing a character can do, which is that he sometimes makes really terrible decisions and sometimes makes really good ones. Because, you know, that’s what people do. Also delightful is first-timer Nicole Boivin as Shelley, who is expressive when not speaking, but also really touching and funny in her voice-overs as she writes Jane-Austen-inspired emails to her uncle (Dougray Scott!). But the you’re-awesome-why-weren’t-you-in-every-scene award goes to the always-amazing Lili Taylor, who plays Peter’s mother. Ah well; maybe next season.

Hemlock Grove Brian McGreevy5. A Real, Season-Long Plot! Hemlock Grove is based on the novel by Brian McGreevy, who also wrote some of the episodes. As such, the whole season was already plotted out for the creators/writers. This is such a good thing, I think, because with so many elements at play (genres, mystery, murder, relationships), Hemlock Grove is a mixture that could quickly have gotten out of hand and turned crazy. And if there’s one thing I will argue to anyone about the show it’s that it does not go off the rails, plot-wise. There are definitely things that aren’t tied up completely or explained fully—possibly because we’ll get more about them in the next season, if they make one—but for the most part, this is a well-plotted show. It’s not particularly tight, which has been a critique of the show but which I found thoroughly enjoyable: this is a show that sits back and stretches its legs, sure the next thing will happen pretty soon, not a show that chases every speck of dust. It’s not particularly invested in action, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t suspense. There is; it comes from having a mysterious plot instead of trying to building a cliffhanger before every commercial break. So, for me, the fact that the show was confident in where its material was going allowed for it to take the long way, something that gave the show texture and mood, even if it didn’t make every second count. I was never bored and I felt like I got the time to get to know the characters.

So, there you have it: five reasons I really enjoyed Hemlock Grove! There are, of course, negatives as well, and it will likely come as no surprise that they’re nearly all to do with misogyny. The show—and I don’t know if this is the book or creator Eli Roth—just can not stop punishing women for having sexual desire, so that’s a total bummer. There is a plot point (no spoilers) that goes Hemlock Grovetotally unacknowledged, but which makes me feel wretched for still liking Roman. Olivia Godfrey/Famke Janssen is a “strong and beautiful woman,” which apparently now is synonymous with a cold borderline sociopath with incestuous tendencies where her son is concerned. I’m so deathly sick of this character (and Famke Janssen seems to play her in 4/5 of her movies). I haven’t read the novel that Hemlock Grove is based on in order to know how much of that is the show’s interpretation of the character. Either way, I want to go on record as providing future novelists/tv and film creators with the following cheat sheet:

It is possibly for women to be strong without being evil; it is possible for women to be evil without being sociopaths; it is possible for women to be strong and evil in ways that are not fixated on their children!

SO, have you watched Hemlock Grove? What did you think? Are you going to watch it? Why or why not? 

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