Television Tuesdays: Great British Baking Show

Overview

You may know it as The Great British Bake-Off, but either way, this show is sheer perfection. Twelve contestants are assembled and each week, one is crowned Star Baker, and one is sent home. There is currently one season available on Netflix/Amazon Prime. Each summer, PBS airs a new (to America) season. The 7th series starts tomorrow night in the UK.

Set-Up

Each episode has a theme: pastries, pies, cakes, biscuits, etc. And then, according to the theme, the bakers are given three distinct challenges: the Signature Bake, the Technical Challenge, and the Showstopper. The rounds are all judged by Mary Barry (cook book writer and a delight) and Paul Hollywood (less shout-y, bread obsessed Gordon Ramsey).

First up is the signature bake, in which each contestant must make their own version of the week’s theme. This challenge is to show off their taste and style.

In the technical, all of the contestants are given the same bare-bones recipes and instructed to make identical bakes. Usually, none of the contestants have ever made whatever they’re being challenged to bake in this round. Their bakes are all judged blindly by Paul and Mary, and then ranked from worst to best.

The showstopper is exactly what it sounds like, the contestants have to make something really cool, and usually some kind of baked structure.

The Hook

I can hear you sitting there, asking what the appeal of this show is. What differentiates it between any other cooking show on TV? Unlike most reality competition shows, this show doesn’t foster rivalry and hostility, but that doesn’t mean there’s no tension. I have gasped, cried, yelled, and laughed in the course of watching this show. Probably over the course of a single episode. There is no greater drama than that of a cake dropping onto the floor.

I think the show’s real power is in its editing. Viewers are given enough time with the contestants to learn their personalities without having to know their whole life story. It’s easy to pick favorites, and nice to have someone to cheer for. It feels rewarding when we see quiet moments of contestants rushing to help each other when they have a moment to spare or one is in dire need of assistance. Occasionally one of the hosts (British comedy duo Mel & Sue) will accidentally ruin a contestant’s bake by eating some of their ingredients. The time we spend with the judges and hosts is relatively minimal, and the interspersal of gorgeous shots of baked goods sure does help. In the end, the show has high tension with relatively low stakes and the camaraderie makes it more soothing to watch than most other competition shows. Great British Baking Show is the perfect show to watch after a bad day or when you’re in need of a break from reality.

Television Tuesdays: Jane the Virgin

Overview

Based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Jane the Virgin is a soapy delight that just wrapped its second season on The CW. The show follows Jane Villanueva, a 21 year old college student from Miami, Florida who goes in to her OB/GYN’s office for a regular pap smear and ends up accidentally artificially inseminated.

I know.

I will never walk into my gyno’s office without thinking of this show, ever again. At first, Jane is panicked and unsure as to whether she wants to pursue this surprise pregnancy – she’s newly engaged to the love of her life, Michael, and from a very devout Catholic family. But after it’s revealed that the father, Rafael, had cancer and this is his only shot at biological children, Jane reconsiders. The first season follows her pregnancy, while the second explores new motherhood.

I never thought I would be interested in a show about a new mom, her baby, and her very close family (Jane lives with her mother and grandmother), yet here I am. It’s a testament to how strong those relationships are, how thoughtfully they are crafted, and how interesting their dynamics can be, that keep me tuning in.

 Relationships

The heart of this show is about relationships in all their varying forms. Jane is clearly at the center, but the show deftly explores each connection that she has (with the exception of her best friend, played by Orange Is The New Black actress, Diane Guerrero).

Jane and her mother Xiomara live with the matriarch of the Villanueva family, Alba. Jane, while at times fanciful, tends to be the reserved, sensible counterweight to her mother, while Alba doles out wisdom and unconditional love (and the occasional hand-upside-the-head). As a show with four generations living in one house, mother-child relationships are of course explored, and I think the play between Jane-Xiomara, Jane-Alba, Xiomara-Alba, offers such a rich puzzle of opinions and concerns. One of the most beautiful things about this show is also the way it explores language between different generations. Alba, an immigrant from Venezuela, exclusively speaks Spanish on the show, and is given English subtitles. Xiomara and Jane occasionally speak Spanish, enough to know that they’re fluent, but Alba always responds in her native language. It’s a wonderful portrait of how immigrant families and non-English speakers communicate that is rare to see on TV.

Jane also grapples with the childhood desire to have a father in her life. And when her father, Rogelio, does become part of her life, it’s more difficult than she ever could have imagined. Initially, Rogelio is unaware of Jane’s existence. Over the course of the show, they’ve become very loving and close, but the learning curve for how to behave with one another was steep. Rogelio bursting into their lives also affects Xiomara as they rekindle the romance from their youths.

Jane is also embroiled in romantic troubles, torn between her fiance, Michael, and her baby-dady, Rafael. Michael struggles to accept that Jane is pregnant with another man’s baby, especially considering the fact that the two of them are nowhere near that step in their relationship. Jane is also drawn toward Rafael, the (hot as hell) father of her baby. And, despite the love triangle, I often find myself wavering between just who I want Jane to end up with.

Telenovela Format

I will be the first to own that I don’t know much about telenovelas at all. Voiceover. Fantasy sequences. So many soap opera twists and reveals. Yet instead of finding those weird moments cloying, I lean into them. The show delivers them with aplomb and a wink to the audience that, yes, they do know how ridiculous they are being. The show uses these telenovela conceits to play with story structure, internal monologues/desires, and to add levity to sometimes very serious moments.

Charm

I will freely admit that I tend to think that babies ruin shows. Not always, of course there are exceptions, but generally, when the baby shows up, I tune out. Going in to Jane the Virgin, you know there’s going to be a baby, sooner rather than later. And when he appears, baby Mateo is just as charming as the rest of the characters. He is a character in his own right, not merely a plot device or vehicle for a punchline or plot contrivance. I think what makes the inclusion of a baby work so well in this show, where it fails in others, is that he’s given that character consideration. He’s built into the premise. And the show follows a family, generations of it, so it’s only logical that the newest member is brought into the fold. Also, there’s something that snakes its way into my cold, dead heart in the way Jane loves her kid.

One of the greatest strengths of the show, I’ve found, is that it leans into its genre. It is not afraid to be hyper-sexual, to lovingly explore fantasy sequences, to play with reality and the expectations of polite society. The show can get weird, but it has fun while doing so, which makes it fun to watch. It doesn’t take its weirdness for granted, but allows the viewer to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the fantasy world in which the show lives.

I Wish This Dress Had Pockets

Almost every time I’ve been forced into a dress, I’ve thought, “I wish this dress had pockets – where am I going to stash my lipstick, my Kindle, and a pen and some paper?” My life is not one that requires me to wear a dress with any frequency, a fact for which I am quite grateful, but dresses are still a topic I can’t help but want to explore. I seem them online, on people, in pictures, and envy them. Each dress has so much personality and can convey personality, sometimes more so than any other article of clothing. I find dresses interesting because, in the right picture, or moment, or memory, they convey glimpses of growing up, becoming a woman, and the events that shaped me on my way to adulthood.

Not only is wishing for a dress to have pockets a universal desire in the dress-wearing community, but the act of dressing up itself is a visible marker for adulthood. The chance to change from frilly frocks to sleek evening gowns provides a sense of maturity the way few other clothing items can. Sometimes it’s hard to bear leaving some markers of childhood behind, and the ability to stash trinkets and distractions like a phone or a book into my pocket provides that. I’ve had an admittedly fraught relationship with dresses, starting from when I was a tomboy who would rather play tackle football with my brother than take a dance class. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve come to appreciate the difference between feminism and femininity. Now, years later, I can wear a dress and feel comfortable because donning a dress doesn’t mean committing to being any one kind of woman.

Feeling comfortable in my own skin is a recurring theme for me, and expressing myself through my clothing choices is the most obvious way to process that battle. I’ve never desired to look like a model or have clothes that were in-season, but I’ve wanted to dress to express myself. It’s taken a lot of introspection to understand what image I want to project to the world because appearance is so often tied to identity. I carry this struggle with me as I write—how characters perceive themselves, how the world may perceive them, and how they act to change or enforce those beliefs.

At times I’ve struggled to figure out the image I want to project into the world. I grew up playing with the boys on my street, making mischief. I grew up dreading wearing dresses for fear of being mocked by my friends and hating that it was more difficult to run and play. So many milestone events in my life have been ones for which I’ve been forced into a dress, even when I wasn’t comfortable. Doing things, being put in situations that aren’t comfortable, is relatable, even if wearing dresses isn’t.

When I dig deep inside myself to question why I spent my adolescence hating dresses so fervently, I come up with a few answers: because they made me feel like an imposter; because I worried that they wouldn’t flatter me (either physically or personality-wise); because I wanted to run or flop on the couch with my legs spread without a thought to modesty; because I hated the way my legs chafed together on hot, sticky summer days. Now, with the ability to purchase my own wardrobe, armed with a stick of deodorant (will cure that chafing like whoa, trust me), I’m glad that I have fought this battle. I wouldn’t be nearly as self-aware if I hadn’t ever had to stop and consider this dilemma I faced for every milestone in life.

This struggle led me to pause and ask myself, “Why do I hate this?” A question I’ve found that will offer insight, no matter the topic. So yes, I do wish this dress had pockets, but my purse can hold more stuff, anyway.

Television Tuesdays: Broad City

Overview

Broad City is about two 20-something women living in New York City and their ride-or-die friendship. For these two, nothing is normal, everything is absurdist. It’s still recognizable as real life, just a little more – funnier, riskier, rowdier, and probably more intoxicated.

Hey Ladies

Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler are just two best friends trying to have a good time. While amazingly compatible friends, they’re very different people.

Abbi is a little older, a little wiser, and a lot more uptight. Abbi’s her own worst enemy. She’s an aspiring artist whose short-term goal is to be promoted from janitor to trainer at the gym where she works.

Ilana is a little younger, a little wilder, and a lot more crude. The only time she’s going to work is to pick up her paycheck or a convenient place for a mid-day nap.

The best thing about Abbi and Ilana is that they are the most important person in each other’s lives. They will do anything for the other and it’s so rare to see a female friendship as the central thesis of a show that this feels like a blessing. The show not only portrays their friendship, it celebrates it. Sure, they talk about dudes and dicks and relationships, but they always end up together.

Get Some

It’s difficult, at times, to talk about how truly progressive and amazing this show is for women, especially when it comes to sexuality. It’s difficult for a couple reasons, one because my mom reads this blog and there’s still a line of propriety that I’m not sure I’m comfortable crossing in talking about sex on the internet; and two, this show is so prolific, that it’s actually hard to narrow it down. Which, really, is why I love it.

Abbi and Ilana have sex. They have a lot of sex. They have good sex, and bad sex, and weird sex. They hit on guys. They get excited when they’re called “hot”. They call their vaginas “pussies” or any other number of slang words. They have kinks, and they’re not ashamed. They try things. They experiment. They are fluid in their sexuality and it’s not a big deal. They don’t make a point to label themselves or pigeon-hole each other. They date and hook-up, they have one-night stands, and they celebrate being single. They’re just two broads, having a good time living in New York City.

Television Tuesdays: Sense8

Show Overview

I’m not going to lie, Sense8 is batshit crazy. It may not be for everyone, but for some, it’ll be the show they’ve been waiting for. If, like me, your weaknesses include: found families, beautifully built relationships, women who appear weak but can actually Fuck You Up, broken boys, confused girls, and are super into the idea of sharing brain space with strangers, this show is for you!!!

The show follows eight sensates (characters who are connected on a metaphysical level through a super cool mental walkie-talkie. Except instead of speaking telepathically they kind of astral project) as they begin to learn what they are, how/why they’re connected, and as they try to escape being lobotomized by a super scary corporation of Bad Guys.

Admittedly, the sci-fi-ness and in-show mythology can be daunting. The show doesn’t rely heavily on exposition of what is happening, rather it gives the audience time to figure out what is happening in time with the characters. That delay of information, gratification, explanation – whatever you’ll call it – can be off-putting. But the conflict, relationships, and action are all so beautifully crafted and entwined, that you should at least give the show a chance.

Characters

Sun Bak (South Korea): Sun Bak does not have time for your bullshit. Quiet and fierce, Sun can beat the ever-loving shit out of pretty much anyone, and has an amazing dog.

Wolfgang Bogdanow (Germany): 😍  at Wolfie for daaaaaays. Someone needs to wrap him in a hug and never let go. Wolfgang is a thief that operates so mercilessly at times, you worry he may be a sociopath. A hot, badass sociopath.

Capheus (Kenya): 😍  at Capheus, too. He has a love for Jean-Claude Van Damme that is more adorable than you could anticipate, going so far as to name his transport van the Van Damn. Bad things keep happening to him, and yet he maintains a wonderful optimism.

Kala Dandekar (India): Kala has a spirit so wonderfully pure, at times you may worry she is naive. Instead, she’s fleshed out into a kind, caring woman with a deep sense of faith and an obligation to do what is right.

Riley Blue (London, via Iceland): Riley is lonely and profoundly sad. She’s a DJ who refuses to go back to Iceland and visit her father, despite that clearly being where she left her heart.

Will Gorski (Chicago): A Chicago cop and all around good guy. He’s brave and sweet, with a heart of gold; basically a puppy dog.

Nomi Marks (San Francisco): A hacker and social justice advocate, Nomi is a trans woman in a beautiful, loving relationship. She’s approximately five seconds from opening up her own hacking/detective agency with her girlfriend, Neets, at any given time.

Lito Rodriguez (Mexico): Drama queen movie star. He’s in a closeted (yet fierce) relationship with his live-in boyfriend before his beard moves in with them. Then there’s even more drama.

Representation

This show actually has it!!! It is racially diverse! It has multiple sexualities being represented! In a positive way! It has a trans female character being played by a trans actress! There are monogamous couples and couples that participate in orgies and oh my word, so much is happening and it’s wonderful.

Canon Relationships

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When we’re introduced to the Sensates and their world, three of them are already in relationships. The best thing about this show is that all of the relationships (both platonic and romantic) are so dynamic and interesting. Some of the main characters never interact until the finale – believe me when I tell you that the payoff there is beyond great. Some characters only appear to one another in times of great emotional distress, while some sensates fall in love.

I’m not going to lie, I’m almost to the point where I just ship everyone on this show and polyamory. If nothing else, it would probably be easier. (And if you do go this route, well, episode 6 is for you!) There are a lot of couples to keep track of otherwise.

Lito, our Mexican movie star, is in a beautiful (but closeted) relationship with Hernando. Hernando is great and the most attractive and if you disagree you can just leave right now. They’re adorable, but their relationship hits some major turbulence over the course of the season, but it’s all handled intelligently. Also, their kisses are 🔥🔥🔥

Nomi, our amazing LGBT blogger/hacker extraordinaire is in a lesbian relationship with Neets. They are completely in sync and so delightfully supportive of one another and so, so in love.

Kala, our Indian pharmaceutical wiz, is engaged to Rajan at the beginning of the series. Despite the fact that it’s a love match, Kala is not so sure Rajan is the dude for her. He’s lovely and charming, but his father owns the pharmaceutical company Kala works for and also wants to tear down the temple at which she prays. But before long she meets Wolfgang, another sensate, and can’s stop looking at him. (Bless episode 5. Bless.) I honestly can’t blame her. That’s not even hitting the tip of the iceberg as to how perfect Kala and Wolfgang are for one another, so let’s have some evidence:

The other ship that’s out of the world between Sensates is the developing relationship between Riley and Will. Riley is the character that you will end the season yelling “someone HOLD HER” and Will is just the cutest little puppy dog that you just want to be happy. They’re stupidly cute together. Where Kala and Wolfgang had me yelling MAKE OUT at the screen, Will and Riley actually had me yelling “HOLD HANDS”.

So, it’s not just the bountiful shipping opportunities. It’s that your ships WILL ACTUALLY SAIL.

Batshit Craziness

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It’s hard to quantify something that’s insane or action-packed without simply reverting to a refrain of, “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” or simply yelling, “It’s so good????”. One of the things I found compelling about the show is that it’s actually really heartwarming and affirming.

Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of intrigue, drama, and consistent doses of “what the hell did I just watch?”. It is made by the Wachowski siblings, after all.

Last but not least: the cool fight sequences. Cool fight sequences that often rely on the sensates astral projecting (or whatever you want to call it) into each others’ lives and realities so that they can take part in the action.

Livin’ That Pączki Life

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I’m Polish. Well, I’m a plurality Polish. Somewhere, saved in the notes app on my phone, is a detailed breakdown of my specific European heritage. My cousin, a hobbyist genealogist, did the breakdown for me at the same Polish festival pictured above.

Most of the time, I don’t think about my Polish heritage. It’s only when I hear a particularly good joke about the Old Polish Navy, or when the sun’s reflection is blindingly white against my pasty, pasty skin. I think about it when I pound Bud Lights at the Family Reunion (hosted, of course, at a Polish festival), and when my family makes gołąbki every Christmas. I always felt distanced from my heritage, though; Polish was never a language I heard spoken.

For someone who was raised Catholic in the South, I don’t think about religion too much, either. When my family moved to Ohio (closer to both of my parents’ families in Michigan and New York), we also moved away from religion. My brother and I stopped attending Sunday School, we didn’t quite fit at our new church, and I never went to PSR on Monday afternoons. (My dad asked, once, if I wanted to go to PSR. I said yes, because that’s what all the cool kids from my middle school did on Monday afternoons. Then he explained that they were all learning more about Catholicism so that they could be confirmed. I think my response was somewhere along the lines of, “Never mind, hard pass.”)

One of the things that baffled me about the new church we would be attending was how casual it was. In Alabama, you dressed up for mass. Dresses for girls and women, slacks and button-downs for men. The first Sunday morning that my dad and I entered the church in Ohio, I was surprised to see jeans and pullovers. It felt too casual to be Catholic. I can also admit I was majorly peeved to find that you could dress so comfortably to hang out with God. Had I known this sooner, I sure wouldn’t have worn so many dresses in my youth. It’s been 15 years and I’m still bitter about the lime green dress with royal blue and purple beaded flowers I wore to Easter Mass circa 2001.

A few times in my youth my Catholicism and Polish heritage intersected. Most notably when my grandfather would tell me about the church he attended in Western New York. He was from a small town, small enough that late into his life the Polish and Irish churches in town didn’t have enough parishioners to justify having two Catholic churches. They ended up merging, and I accompanied my father and grandfather (despite a litany of protests) to the last Catholic service of my life save for funerals. It was a Christmas Eve mass and I remember being a little disappointed that the service wasn’t delivered in a foreign language, like some of the services I knew my grandfather had attended in the past. I also remember hearing an amateur guitar player in the balcony, a noticeable difference from the organ music of my youth. I looked up and thought, “Dave Rygalski, is that you?”

Both facets of my heritage intersect in February, with Fat Tuesday, when Lent and Easter are right around the corner. Growing up Lent meant giving up something I liked (usually something specific so that I knew I would be able to manage) and no meat on Fridays. There was no Catholic guilt in my young life like the guilt of accidentally eating a bologna sandwich on a Friday during Lent. Fridays were for PB&Js and fried fish. And then one year I found out about paczki.

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Could I necessarily explain why I am so in love with pączki? No, probably not. Can I enumerate what, exactly, differentiates a pączki from a donut? Not really! But it’s a part of my culture I can understand. Pączki are made in Polish households before Lent, to use up all the lard, sugar, and eggs in the house before Lent began and those foods were forbidden. So Fat Tuesday is married to Pączki Day, and it’s mainly celebrated in the Great Lakes region. Which explains why I didn’t know about it until I was older, living in Cleveland, and visiting family in Michigan. 

Living in Washington, DC was a wonderful cultural experience, but it sucked around Fat Tuesday because there were no pączki available. At least no that I could find. And believe me, I looked. DC is not a city with a lot of bakeries or Eastern European culture. Or, if it is, I didn’t know where to find it when I was living there. But now I’m spending Fat Tuesday in Syracuse, New York and when I found a box of pączki at the grocery store on Saturday, I did a little dance. I shouted with joy. I dug through the selection until I found a flavor I wanted (I went with the raspberry filled with a white icing). And then I went back today, actual Fat Tuesday, only to find they were sold out. I guess I shouldn’t have told so many of my friends about the awesome pączki opportunity.

Who knows if I’ll find myself eating pączki this time next year? I’m just grateful that this year I did, and that it gave me the opportunity to reflect on my heritage.

Television Tuesdays: iZombie

Up front, iZombie has a lot going on. It’s a procedural, but it’s a zombie show, but it’s a fake-psychic show, but, but but.

But it’s delightful.

Overview

The show follows Liv Moore (I know), who in the first five minutes of the pilot transforms from a promising young med student to reluctant zombie after a boat party goes awry. In order to sate her newfound need for brains, Liv abandons her surgical residency to work as a medical examiner in the morgue (alongside the beautiful, charming, hilarious Ravi).

Brains aren’t the only big change in her life. She’s now preternaturally pale and depressed as hell. In order to avoid infecting her perfect fiancé (Major Lilywhite), Liv dumps him. Once you’ve seen his face, you’ll understand what a travesty this truly is. Her family is under the impression she is simply suffering some mild PTSD after witnessing the veritable massacre that was the boat party, but Liv is struggling a lot more than that.

Thankfully, Liv is given some purpose again with the realization that the brains she consumes give her flashes of the deceased’s life and their graphic deaths. Using this new information, Liv joins forces with the local police department, partnering with skeptical Detective Babineaux to solve the murders.

Perfect for…

  • Veronica Mars lovers. It’s got the same procedural roots, witty characters, and snappy writing that viewers have come to expect from Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright. It’s current and polished and refreshingly diverse. And great news Veronica Mars-lovers: Major is not just another Duncan Kane! He is so, so much more.
  • Fake-Psychic show obsessives. It’s hard to believe there’s still a market for this very niche genre, but iZombie fills the Psych-shaped hole in my heart.
  • Those who’ve missed seeing Sark / David Anders on their screens. (I’ve just started watching Alias, so his presence is especially delightful.)
  • Fans of Merlin – Bradley James (Arthur) makes some recurring appearances as rock star/Liv’s hot British boyfriend.
  • Science! – Ravi tries to reverse engineer the zombie virus as well as attempting to create a potential cure.

What Else I Love

It’s not just a fake-psychic show. Or a zombie show. iZombie has the added bonus of a deftly implementing a twist in which perimortem flashbacks aren’t the only side-effect of Liv’s condition: she also temporarily exhibits some of the victim’s personality traits, from kleptomania to a peppy cheerleader persona. What could be an annoying trope has been cleverly used as a nice comedic tool.

Season 2 premieres October 6th on The CW.