Television Tuesdays: Sweet/Vicious

Image result for sweet vicious logo gif

Sweet/Vicious just wrapped its first season on MTV, but it only took half an episode for me to become incredibly invested. A cross between Veronica Mars and Jessica Jones, Sweet/Vicious is a vigilante show that focuses on campus assault.

There’s a scene about 20 minutes into the pilot in which the two girls, Jules and Ophelia, still strangers, drive away from a crime scene. They have a a body in the trunk of Ophelia’s car and they need to dump it, fast. To decrease the tension, Ophelia turns on some music. Defying Gravity comes on and there’s a slight hesitation where Ophelia may change the song but she lets it play. Ever so tentatively, the girls begin to sing along. Then, suddenly, they’re singing at the top of their lungs and you know instinctively, “oh shit, they’re friends now.” It’s rare to see a show establish friendship and camaraderie so quickly and easily but the show manages with that one pure moment of female bonding.

Overview

Jules Thomas is a beautiful blonde sorority sister who moonlights as a vigilante on the fictional Darlington University campus. After being assaulted at a frat party, fearful the administration won’t give her justice, she takes matters into her own hands. Jules takes it upon herself to strike the fear of God into any man on campus who has gotten away with assaulting a female student. Her hit list comes from the graffiti in a campus women’s room that tells others which men to avoid.

Ophelia Mayer is the green-haired stoner who becomes Jules’ literal partner in crime after accidentally discovering her secret identity. Ophelia is a genius who slacks off, secure in her hacking skills and her parents’ wealth. She sells pot out of the record store she lives above and in which her best friend works.

My favorite thing about this show is undoubtedly the way it portrays friendship. For as much as Jules and Ophelia are partners at times, they don’t actually know that much about one another. They’re radically different people brought together over this one set of circumstances and the show takes its time to befriend one another. They fight. They apologize. They care, they just don’t always know how to express it in terms the other can understand or accept. Ophelia works to relate to Jules, who is at her most vulnerable. The two are an unlikely pair but they’re obviously ride-or-die.

Harris, Ophelia’s best friend, is a gift. Played by Brandon Mychal Smith (Sam on You’re the Worst), he’s a law student who’s trying to discover the truth about the campus vigilante. He’s a driven, thoughtful person and a wonderful balance to Ophelia. Their friendship brings me joy, especially when they have their friendship anniversary celebration or he lets her sit on his shoulders to take a hit from her 6-foot bong.

Vigilante Justice

Sweet/Vicious can be hard to watch. Many of the ten episodes that make up the first season have a warning for viewer discretion attached as the show doesn’t shy away from depicting sexual assault. The show is unflinching as it depicts many ways that assault can happen – quietly, drunkenly, violently, between friends – but it never victim blames. We see Jules on the path to recovery and as she really comes to terms with what happened to her. The show obviously cares about its subject matter; nothing is done purely for shock factor.

I don’t necessarily know how to talk intelligently about all the ways in which the show handles sexual assault. But I do know that the show is thoughtful and it’s important. There hasn’t been any news yet about whether the show will be picked up for a second season, but do yourself a favor and watch it. The subject matter is serious, sure, but that doesn’t stop the show from being charming as hell. The show has a beautiful tone; it’s funny and absurd and smart. It may be hard to watch at times, but never at the risk of being good, entertaining television.

Sweet/Vicious is available to stream and on demand with MTV.

Television Tuesdays: Atlanta

tumblr_og2vrcmONU1tby57oo1_1280.png

Atlanta is the brainchild of Donald Glover. You may know him as Troy on Community or his rap-persona, Childish Gambino. I don’t know what, exactly, put Donald Glover on my radar seven years ago, but I’ve been lowkey obsessed with him for about that long. When FX announced its collaboration with Glover, I was excited. And seeing his show come into fruition, that excitement remains. I wasn’t sure what, precisely, to expect of this show. It’s nothing like 30 Rock, for which he wrote when he was still a student at NYU. Nor is it like his Derrick Comedy sketches. Instead, it’s something unique and new. Atlanta just finished its first season on FXX.

Overview

Donald Glover plays Earn, a broke guy living in Atlanta. He’s struggling to support his toddler daughter and bounces between staying with his girlfriend, his cousin, or at the house of whatever party he attended the night before. So much of Earn’s story revolves around the fact that he’s broke, but the show never pities him for it. Instead, it depicts the reality of trying to make ends meet.

When Earn needs a new job, he turns to his cousin, up-and-coming rapper Paper Boi. Paper Boi is wary about giving his cousin a job, especially since it’s been a hot second since they last talked. But he acquiesces and makes Earn his manager.

One of the things that I really loved about this season and I think worked well was the tendency to take one topic or situation and examine it closely. It happens again and again, from “Value”, to “B.A.N.” to “Juneteenth”. The examination and exploration of different themes gives the show a certain depth and perspective that most half-hour comedies don’t get the time or breathing room to play with.

At times, the show struggles as it moves from broad episodes about Earn and Paper Boi’s lives to these highly specialized episodes. If I had one wish for the show it would be for it to find a better way to integrate these two types of episodes because they are so radically different at times (especially “B.A.N.”) that they are hard to parse in the scheme of the show. Glover excels at creating these deep, interesting scenarios, so I hope they don’t disappear, but in the instance of “B.A.N.”, playing a little bit with the characters outside the scope of the fake show may have worked better in the Atlanta‘s favor.

I will be the first to admit that I’m not fully equipped to talk about the nuance of race on this show. But as an audience member, it’s riveting. Atlanta is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, preferring instead to play with perception. It delves deep into race and sexuality, especially how they’re viewed in the black community. In an early episode, Paper Boi shoots a man in a parking lot. Throughout the season, he must then ascertain if that’s how he’d like to be known. “Juneteenth,” the penultimate episode, is also an interesting look at black culture, shown from the perspective of a Afro-studies obsessed white man. Earn’s increasing alarm and disbelief with the tone deafness of this man is relatable and well-executed.

The episode “Value” deftly examines female friendships, especially when you’ve known someone for years but have grown in opposite ways. Earn’s girlfriend, Van, deals with trying to balance that familiarity and loyalty to your old self with new responsibilities. Van is a great character, overall. She’s a foil to Earn, in a lot of ways, but she’s always her own person apart from him. I think one of the reasons I like her, and the show, so much is because the show took the time to pay attention to her as a character, apart from her relationship to Earn.

Atlanta is still finding its feet, but it had a promising first season. The writing was phenomenal and the direction was well done. You can stream the first season on FXX now.

Television Tuesdays: Pitch

Image result for "pitch" fox

Premise

Pitch centers on Ginny Baker, the first woman to ever become a Major League Baseball player. She’s called up from the minor leagues to pitch for the San Diego Padres. Suddenly, she’s thrust into the spotlight as she garners attention from her new teammates, fans, and critics alike. Pitch airs Thursdays, at 8:59 EST on Fox.

Overview

Pitch is, of course, about baseball. Or rather, it exists in the world of baseball, but it’s about personal goals and the struggles and sacrifices that must be made to live the dream. Ginny isn’t just a celebrity, she’s a new celebrity and a professional athlete and must therefore learn to carefully navigate the sometimes-thin line between her public and private self. News reporters want her comment and  young girls clamor for her autograph, leaving Ginny to learn how to be in demand.

Not all of her time is spent surrounded by adoring fans and curious media. Her new teammates are, at best, skeptical. At their worst they are sexist and chauvinistic, forcing Ginny to raise her hackles and fight extra hard to prove herself. She gets to practice early and puts in extra training while balancing media requests and being the sole player on her team asked to give public comments about difficult topics, like the rape of collegiate female athlete.

I’ve been told by friends who know professional baseball better than myself that the MLB games portrayed on Pitch accurately reflect reality. For baseball fans tuning in, that may be an important factor, but even people who don’t follow baseball or even care about sports can find something to root for in Pitch. The show is full of heart and humor. I’m insanely happy to see a professional female athlete being portrayed on TV. Not only that, but we have a woman of color leading the show. This representation is a step in the right direction, but there are some limitations: male characters still significantly outnumber the female. This is, to an extent, expected in a show about professional baseball and the female characters we’ve met so far seem to be fully realized with their own ambitions and personalities.

Pitch is one of the rare shows that makes me genuinely happy to watch. It has dramatic moments and an interesting plot, but what really keeps me invested in shows are the characters. I like Ginny Baker. I, like the fans in the show, cheer for her. Her attempts to forge genuine connections with her teammates is relatable. And, let’s not forget, the show has Zack Morris. Zack Morris was my first TV crush and Mark-Paul Gosselaar is just as captivating and fun to watch on Pitch as he was on Saved By The Bell.

Relationships

Ginny and Mark – Ginny’s closest teammate is her captain and catcher, Mike Lawson. From the start, they struggle to find footing with one another–Mark is about to age out of the game, he has to keep Ginny positive and his teammates in line, and Ginny idolized him as a child (but sure doesn’t want him to know that). It certainly feels as though the pair will maintain a will they/won’t they sexual chemistry, but honestly Mark is an amazing mentor for Ginny. It’s heartening to watch him come to grips with the fact that this girl who’s shaking up the game he’s devoted his life to will be his legacy.

Blip and Evelyn (and Ginny)-  Ginny came up through the minor leagues with Blip and they remain genuine friends. With Blip comes his truly wonderful wife, Evelyn. Evelyn provides a necessary balance for Ginny, a rare female friend that doesn’t work for her. Ginny’s home-away-from-home is in the folds of Blip and Evelyn’s family, from acting big-sister to their 7-year-old twin boys to or little sister to Evelyn. Evelyn genuinely cares about both Blip, Ginny, and the game. Their marriage is something to root for.

Ginny and Amelia – Before becoming Ginny’s agent, Amelia worked as a high-powered Hollywood agent to the stars. She sought out Ginny and forms a fiercely protective way of championing Ginny.

There are plenty more combinations of characters that form relationships of varying importance. The Padres don’t quite know how to incorporate her into their ranks, from the players on through to the team manager. Through flashbacks we learn about Ginny’s fraught relationship with her parents, transient friends and boyfriends she had as she grew up in the world of baseball. They are all interesting and thoughtfully portrayed and serve Ginny’s characterization well.

The Hitchhiker’s Hail

In the last seven years, I’ve had eight nine different addresses (I almost forgot England). Those seven years have seen me moving out of my parent’s house for the first time, living in six different dorm rooms, moving to England, moving back to the States, getting my first real apartment, and then moving to grad school. I consider myself to be decent at moving, good at packing, and great at upacking. I have moved into and out of my parents’ house so many times that I’m not sure I’ll ever feel like I’ve permanently left.

When I first traveled from Cleveland, Ohio to Washington, DC for college, my dad had a pick-up truck and we used every square inch of the truck bed despite the fact that I was moving into a shared dorm room. I’d like to say I’ve really learned to pare down my belongings, but in reality all I’ve done is leave more and more items behind.

My proudest move is probably the first one I made completely alone, when I got on a plane to England to study abroad for a semester. Against all odds, I packed my life into one suitcase and travelled across the Atlantic. My plan had been to fly into Gatwick and take a train to Brighton, but that was ruined pretty immediately. A broken plane and Amazing Race-style sprint through O’Hare later, I ended up flying into Heathrow, taking a bus to Gatwick (panicked that I would not be able to figure out how to get to Brighton without my carefully laid out plan or a cell phone), and then taking the train to Brighton. Look, in the end I managed, but that’s not the point. My point, I guess, is that it was the first time I’d really had to navigate traveling alone.

I moved again last month, and the move was probably more daunting than my first trans-Atlantic flight, customs, and finding my dorm room at the University of Sussex. The one thing that made this move seem do-able, however, was that my dad was my co-pilot. We packed up my Honda Element as full as we could (leaving behind, among other things: all of my furniture, 95% of my books and DVDs, and my favorite pair of earrings) and hit the road.

For five days we drove cross-country so that I could move to Los Angeles.

I never wanted to live in LA. Despite my deep, abiding love for television and the quiet, burning part of myself that wanted to work on television shows, I never really considered making the move. LA has sunshine, and earthquakes, and it’s in the Pacific Time Zone. All of those things are anathema to me. But as I finished an undergraduate degree that I didn’t really know how to use, and worked in my first adult job, and went to grad school, the thought of working in television never left. It became louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore that, out of everything, that’s what I wanted the most. More than living in the same apartment building as my friends, and being in the same time-zone as my parents, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I gave it a chance.

So my parents, my wonderful, supportive parents helped me pack up the car and my dad drove across the country with me. We took our time, stopping so that we could play in Arches National Park and visit the Grand Canyon. I think both of us had been a little apprehensive about spending so much time alone with one another, no buffer of any kind between us, but it only brought us closer. We shared beers at breweries in the mid-west, and had a pillow fight in Arizona. We took pictures and watched shitty movies in the hotel room, and forced each other to eat salads. At the end of the trip, he even agreed that my choice of superpower (which he’d mocked mercilessly months ago) to be able to stop shedding was pretty worthwhile after all.

There were parts of the trip that were trying, sure. Like trying not to hit that elk as we left the Grand Canyon. Or the moment that I almost ran out of gas in the middle of Kansas because I was too absorbed by an episode of Keepin’ It 1600. Our musical choices are at odds, so striking the compromise of his jazz in the morning, my alt. rock in the afternoon was necessary early on. After so long in the car, our backs and knees hurt, we were probably always at least a little bit dehydrated, but we made it.

I wouldn’t give it up for anything. In fact, I want more road trips. A few summers ago my mom and I packed up and drove around Michigan for a few days, which had been a great bonding experience, despite the near-constant rain. This move was stressful, but certainly less than I had anticipated, because I had my dad by my side. I hope that next year my brother comes to visit and we can go on a trip of our own, maybe to Yosemite.

I hope my future is filled with road trips. I want them with my friends, hours of fighting over music and putting up with each other’s podcasts. I want nights camped out on the roof of my car looking at the stars with my loved ones as I try not to cry from the beauty of the moment. I want to get lost in a foreign country and not care for the awe of the landscape. I think spending hours alone in a car, while risky, is ultimately good for relationships.

The post script of this post, if anything, is that I live in LA now. But what was really important was the journey.

Television Tuesdays: Preacher

Overview

Based on a graphic novel, Preacher is about a West Texas preacher who gains a celestial power, then goes on a quest for God. It’s about more than that, of course. It’s about faith, and relationships, and how brutal humanity can be. It’s about redemption, and betrayal. It’s an interesting portrait of the lengths people will go to in order to believe in a higher power, the faith they put in a man of god, and how that belief can be swayed.

Of course, that’s all putting things way too simply. The show is violent, and takes glee in enacting that violence (at one point, a character’s arm is cut off by a chainsaw, and then the chainsaw drags the dismembered arm down the aisle of a church). I would argue, though, that it’s done well. That the imagination and cleverness that goes into those acts of aggression make it something more than senseless. The audience doesn’t always know why it’s happening, but it feels appropriate. Despite the show taking almost until the end of the first season (which just ended) to get to the real thesis of the show, it’s well worth the wild ride.

It was my favorite show this summer, hitting all of the check boxes that turn shows into my favorite: attractive men (Dominic Cooper wearing all black with a Southern accent 🔥🔥🔥) , mythology, violence, kick-ass women, and interesting conflict. The show also has some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in either movies or television. It’s absolutely stunning. I’m not entirely sure how to write about Preacher without spoiling everything or doing it a disservice. There’s no way I’ll manage to tell you everything about it, but I hope this is enough to encourage you to give it a try.

Characters

Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is the titular preacher. He inherited his small church from his late father and feels compelled to act as a shepherd of god because, as a child, he witnessed his father’s murder and it was his father’s last wish that Jesse “be good.” Based on flashbacks and allusions, we can gather that Jesse hasn’t always been a good person. Hell, he isn’t for most of the show. Instead, he’s conflicted, and power-mad, and wanting. When Jesse gains the power of Genesis, which allows him to command any living thing to follow his will, he abuses it. He plays god and people get hurt, some vindictively. He relishes the power and refuses to relinquish it, not until his sins are erased and he has spoken to God. When he tries, things don’t quite go according to plan.

Tulip O’Hare (Ruth Negga) is Jesse’s ex-girlfriend who’s on a quest for revenge. She bursts back into town in attempts to win Jesse back and have him join her as she sets out to ruin the man who wronged them both. Sharp and violent, Tulip refuses to put up with anyone’s shit. She’s proud, commanding, and unapologetic. Like Jesse, she’s not a good person, but that underlying frisson of danger keeps her getting out of bed in the morning. She’s captivating.

Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) is an Irish vampire. Yup, cue the absurdist. However, unless he is actively pursuing some vampiric behavior (such as using a broken champagne bottle as a tap to turn a man into a blood dispenser), it’s easy to forget that particular trait of his. It’s much easier, in fact, to remember his disdain for The Big Lebowski. He is Jesse’s best friend and a wonderful foil – Cassidy, more than anyone else, is the one to challenge Jesse’s humanity and the rationale behind his actions.

Mythology

Aside from Cassidy’s vampirism, the show delves close to Supernatural territory with some of its mythology. Genesis, the aforementioned power that inhabits Jesse, is a power created by the coupling of an angel and a demon. It’s storied to be a power that rivals only that of God. Early in the show, we see Genesis try and inhabit bodies other than Jesse’s but they can’t handle it. We don’t know why Jesse is an appropriate vessel for Genesis yet, but I’m excited to find out.

Jesse is not supposed to have Genesis’ power, so missionaries from Heaven, the guardians of Genesis, seek it out so that they may return it safely to its vessel. The vessel isn’t anything exciting, only an old coffee can, and its lured out of Jesse with song. I’m still not entirely clear as to why.

The two men pictured above, Fiore and DeBlanc, are Heaven’s missionaries. They seek Jesse out and do everything in their power to return Genesis to its rightful vessel. Their antagonist is a soccer mom-looking woman, a seraphim (powerful angel) whose job is to return the two angels from their unauthorized visit Earth-side. There’s a lot to unpack, and at points in the show it’s unclear exactly what’s going on, but it’s a hell of a ride.

 

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.