How many buildings can we blow up in one episode? A review of “Dirty Pair”

About a week or so ago I stumbled on the Tumblr blog “Yuri Looking Pissed.” I was about to scroll right on by, but this caught my attention:

And that’s the end of Yuri Looking Pissed! What started out as me making a joke on Twitter turned into a way for me to share my love of Dirty Pair, as well as an excuse for me to share goofy screenshots.

The way it was written reminded me a lot of Josei Next Door’s Sailor Moon recaps, so obviously the next question was: what’s “Dirty Pair”?

As it turns out, “Dirty Pair” is an ’80s-era anime about two women, Kei and Yuri (aha!) who work as intergalactic special ops police officers for an organization called WWWA or 3WA. The show, in case you couldn’t tell, is set back in the future – specifically, the 22nd century. Kei and Yuri’s code name is Lovely Angels, but they’re constantly referred to as Dirty Pair because of the trail of destruction they tend to leave in their crime-fighting wake. Kei is particularly trigger-happy and fully believes that the best way to get things done is to shoot at people relentlessly until they obey. Yuri is not much better, but she’s armed with a light-saber style sword instead of a gun, so that tends to limit the amount of damage she can wreak.

Ah, the delicate flowers of womanhood.

The show didn’t get a lot of traction in its day, so the series is quite short.  The original “Dirty Pair” is only 24 episodes long I believe, and “Dirty Pair Flash,” its ’90s-reboot cousin, is a series of three seasons each with only five or six episodes.

I started out watching “Dirty Pair Flash” – and the dub, nonetheless, so I’m fully prepared to be crucified by internet fandom hordes. But hear me out for a second. I decided to watch “Flash” because it was such a low time commitment, and I wasn’t sure if I would even like the show. When I finished the first season, I went back to watch the original…and didn’t like it as much. I only saw one episode, so perhaps I need to give it few more before I render judgment (and I most likely will), but I found that “Flash’s” short seasons meant that you got dropped into the action right away, and the storyline in general was tighter and more fast-paced than that of the original.

Also, I’m not sure I can get behind this style. The phrase “’80s-tastic” comes to mind:

The hair alone is upsetting, but shoulder pads!! C’mon guys! Via Yuri Looking Pissed

Questionable fashion and style choices aside, I really like the show. It’s like a cross between “Thunder Jet” and “Star Wars” but with awesome girls who work for the galaxy authorities as opposed to against.

Of course, that might be part of the problem. There is certainly a “fighting the man” component to a lot of popular television shows that resonate with a target audience of tweens and teens, who often see themselves as victims of the powers that be, i.e. parents, teachers, librarians, crossing guards, driving instructors, etc.

The show also doesn’t fit the “magical girl” genre, in the sense that neither Kei nor Yuri are magical, nor do either of them display the qualities of “femininity” that young girls are socially conditioned to aspire to. Yuri, at least in “Flash,” can be incredibly whiny and annoying; Kei would probably just straight up murder you if you said the wrong thing to her. This doesn’t bother me at all, but I’m also an adult who has come to appreciate that sometimes, whininess and aggression get things done. I don’t know that 12-year-old me would feel the same.

Magical girls also have the advantage of visually appealing and fantasy inducing transformations. In cases where they don’t, they exude a sense of elegance and beauty that falls much more easily into those traditional paradigms of femininity and womanhood.

It’s crime-fightin’ time! Excuse me while I get dressed.

Kei and Yuri are not dressed to fit that paradigm. Their uniforms (I use this word very, very loosely) are what many would call provocative – “Flash” particularly does not shy away from cartoon nudity – and one gets the sense that they’re designed to appeal to a male gaze.

Nothing says “we mean business” like brandishing guns in your underwear. Via Oh no! It’s the Dirty Pair!

If you look at the Sailor Scouts’ costumes, they’re not necessarily any more modest, and there is arguably quite a bit of suggested nudity in the transformation sequences. However, the design – skirts, bows, an emphasis on nail polish and gloves and nice shoes – gives the viewer a sense that this is targeted to girls and their sensibilities and preferences.

(It may be worth noting at this point that the creator of “Dirty Pair,” Haruka Takachiho, and the illustrator, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko are both men. Naoko Takeuchi, writer and illustrator of “Sailor Moon,” is female).

Now, there’s no reason why this show shouldn’t be targeted towards boys. Unfortunately, boys tend not to consume media where females are the main characters. Fun fact: J.K. Rowling’s publisher insisted that they use her initials on the “Harry Potter” covers instead of her name because they were concerned that boys wouldn’t buy a book written by a woman.

Why this is the case is an issue beyond this particular post’s ability to tackle (but stay tuned!). The point is this: you may not have heard of “Dirty Pair” before. You may not have found it interesting or engaging as a child. Watch it now. It’s good.

And let me know which you like better, “Flash” or the original!

The villain’s villain: Big bads, small fry, and the dynamics of power (Or, A review of SVTFOE: The Battle for Mewni)

Last week, Disney XD released the long-awaited, three-episode Season Three opener of “Star vs. The Forces of Evil,” titled “The Battle for Mewni.”

For those of you unfamiliar with this show, it essentially follows magical girl/rebel princess Star Butterfly of the Mewni dimension after she is sent to Earth to learn how to employ her magical princess powers. She befriends human boy/karate kid Marco Diaz, and together they hop through dimensions and battle the monsters (literally) who would strip Star of her magical wand.

Star GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

From the get-go, there are two main villains in this story. The first is Ludo, a tiny owl-like creature who is intent on getting Star’s wand and has somehow corralled a group of hapless but far more intimidating monsters to do his bidding. The second is Toffee. We’ll get to him in a minute.

Ludo is what I like to call the “Emperor Pilaf” of SVTFOE: determinedly evil but hopelessly (and hilariously) inept. He has moments where he poses a true threat to the life and safety of our heroes, but mostly he’s just there to kickstart the series with some kind of conflict. Like Emperor Pilaf in “Dragon Ball” (and if you have not watched “Dragon Ball,” drop whatever you’re doing and go watch ALL 200 episodes IMMEDIATELY. I’ll wait.), Ludo is there to provide structure and purpose to a set of episodes as a season, as opposed to it simply being our two protagonists (Star/Marco; Goku/Bulma) overcoming a series of minor hurdles.

Excuse me while I quake in fear. Via Tumblr

Ludo in particular provides some much-needed worldbuilding to the SVTFOE universe: he gives us a sense of what monsters’ lives are like and why they would want control over the wand so badly. His misadventures humanizes monsters, which gains increasing importance as the series goes on. More importantly, he is there as a contrast to what true evil really looks like.

And now let’s talk about Toffee.

Damn…

Toffee starts out as Ludo’s right hand man (*ahem*). He’s clearly the brains of the operation, inasmuch as there is one, and he eventually leads an ouster of Ludo after several episodes of hilarious incompetence.

Unfortunately, the ouster of Ludo is not hilarious, because Toffee is not here to screw around. No, Toffee knows exactly what he’s doing, and he has a plan, a long-term, insidious plan. And thus you have the Big Bad facing off with the Small Fry.

Without giving too much away, Toffee possesses Ludo and uses him as a hapless, harmless-looking vessel from which to achieve his goals. Once he’s done with him, he spits him out – literally.

Yeah, good luck sleeping tonight

“The Battle for Mewni” is the climax of the Toffee/Ludo storyline, in the sense that you see the true extent of Toffee’s powers and his abuse of Ludo. The interaction between Toffee and Ludo in this finale is what really captured my attention.

From the start, it was obvious that Toffee was using Ludo for his own goals. In many ways, Ludo was the perfect tool, since he’d been trying to capture Star’s wand for ages without even the hope of success. Star had no reason, at that point, to see him as a legitimate threat – the most he was was an inconvenience. Who better to hide behind than the one nobody takes seriously?

But here’s the thing: once Ludo outlives his usefulness, he’s tossed out as the viewing audience would expect. But Ludo comes back with renewed vigor and this time, he’s actually successful even without the help of his monster crew. BUT – and I know this is a lot of buts – he’s always clearly inferior to Toffee. At no point does he pose a serious threat to Toffee’s goals.

So why does Toffee use him again?

Why Ludo?

Villain vs. Villain is a lot more interesting than Villain vs. Hero

From where I’m sitting, there doesn’t seem to be anything that Toffee can do via Ludo that he couldn’t do without him. Ludo’s ineptitude makes him a comical figure as the usurping kind of Mewni, but what purpose does that serve? Ludo effectively forces the Mewmans into servitude, but surely Toffee would have been even better at that. And in the end, it doesn’t even seem that Toffee is particularly interested in ruling Mewni – having (supposedly) defeated Star and her allies, he simply turns to leave, walking away from the ruins of Mewni.

Let’s compare this to Dragon Ball one more time. In the second to last arc of the series, Emperor Pilaf and his gang revive the Demon King Piccolo after numerous failed attempts to capture the dragon balls for themselves. Their plan is to use his superior powers to gather the dragon balls and then steal them for themselves.

Image result for king piccolo with the pilaf gang
You can tell already this was a bad idea. Source

This, obviously, is not going to work.

Once again, there is no doubt at any point that the Pilafites are in over their heads. They can never be a threat to King Piccolo because he is simply operating at a level beyond their capacity – they cannot even begin to contemplate the evil that he has planned. And, much as you would expect, he only keeps them around while they are useful to him. Once they’ve outlived that usefulness, he dumps them.

So why does Toffee go back to Ludo when he no longer needs him?

In her blog post, writer Katie Cooney identifies nine elements that make for exciting, threatening villains, and a few of these points are very relevant to a discussion of Toffee. The first is his surface motivation. When we first meet Toffee, it seems pretty obvious that what he wants is power. He pretends to believe in Ludo as a leader, but really he wants to wear that hat himself. He pretends to want the monsters as a group to be successful, and that serves as excellent cover for his ouster of Ludo. And truly, power suits him. (See image above. Not the throwing up one, before that).

But what power really is, is control. Toffee wants control – over the monsters, over the Butterflies, over Mewni. When we see him in flashback, we see that had once had control, over a literal army of monsters who believed in him, and who would have followed him into the depths of Hell (or Heaven, depending on your perspective) because of his ability to project dominance.

And then teeny-bopper Queen Moon cuts of his finger.

This flashback scene, I think, is crucial, because it encapsulates the moment when Toffee’s end goal changed. Now he wants that finger, not in his hand but on it, because it represents everything that he lost in that moment – not just control, but the prestige, the respect, the dominance that gave him that control in the first place.

Without the finger, Toffee is emasculated (and yes, I mean that with all the connotations it implies). As long as he doesn’t have the finger, his need for control is overwhelming. He takes a perverse pleasure in forcing Star to be the architect of her wand’s destruction. And he keeps going back to Ludo.

Ludo is easy to control. He’s small and pathetic and in over his head. Even at the height of his power, he is easy prey. Toffee has influence over the other monsters, but without his finger, he needs something more. He needs that tangible control over Ludo’s mind and body to exert dominance. The stronger his hold over Ludo becomes, the more forward he is about decimating Mewni’s magical population. A fingerless Toffee would never have attacked the magical high commission, but in the body of Ludo, he takes them on with a smile on his face.

Once he has the finger, he can walk away. His prestige has been returned to him. He’s proven that can still exert dominance, can still run the show, without it. With it, he is invincible.

Well, not really, because Star kills him. But you get the idea.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of Big Bad-Small Fry interaction before, and I thought it was fascinating – you can tell because I’m still thinking about it a week later. Now, with Toffee seemingly vanquished and Ludo safely on his way to a redemption arc, I’m excited to see what the show does with new villains. Toffee’s demise left a lot of questions unanswered, and I don’t know how they’re going to top his ‘rise to power’ arc.

Season three of “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” resumes in November on Disney XD.

What do you think? Is Toffee coming back in season three? And will any villain ever be able to make us feel the way he did? Let me know!

Nadia watches Netflix: A Young Doctor’s Notebook

I don’t know why this show is classified as a comedy.

Is it funny? Yes. There are certainly moments of hilarity that catch you by surprise and make you actually LOL, but they are far outnumbered by the sheer depressiveness that drives the actual plot.

In “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe plays a med school graduate in 1917 Russia. He’s a star student with zero experience, sent out to a small village in the middle of an unending blizzard. The nearest town is three days away, and not surprisingly, our hero is less than thrilled about this, especially with all the excitement happening in Moscow.

The reason we’re being introduced to the young doctor’s rather unfortunate circumstances is because of Jon Hamm, who plays the same doctor 17 years later, in 1934. He’s under investigation and in the process finds the notebook he kept of that time, which also chronicles his descent into morphine addiction, something he is trying to hide from the Revolutionary Guard going through all his stuff.

So not really the premise for a comedy, although again, the show has its moments of hilarity. Mostly these come from the city-bred, educated doctor’s clash with the uneducated residents of this sad little village, whose idea of medicine is limited to “gargle” and “drops.” In one particularly dark/hilarious scene, Radcliffe is insisting on operating on a young girl who is unconscious and clearly dying, her face completely blue. Her mother, sobbing and terrified of surgery, asks, “Can’t you just give her some drops?”

I’m going to be honest and say that I was predisposed to liking this show. I have a fascination with anything set in Russia during the first half of the 20th century, especially during or around the Russian revolution. I also like comedies. As much as I like it, however, there is no denying that the show is dark. Visually, the setting is gloomy and gray. Radcliffe’s life is incredibly dull, stuck as he is in this little hospital surrounded by 12 feet of snow. He becomes more and more disinterested in his patients’ welfare in the face of their ignorance and their admittedly blase attitude to health and hygiene. Still, because the seasons are so short (four episodes each), it seems like he succumbs to depression rather quickly.

Hamm, meanwhile, is struggling to hide his morphine addiction. This is where the show loses me a little. Hamm watches his younger self take morphine and laments his fate, but in reality that’s just not how painkiller addictions work. It’s not something that kicks in from the first moment, especially if, as in the case of our young doctor, you take the painkiller for actual pain. As long as you’re taking a painkiller for genuine physical pain, you should not get addicted – this is why morphine is used in hospitals, but not cocaine or opium (anymore, at least).

In any case, “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” is a show I highly recommend. It’s the kind of show that’s a new take on the well-known setting of revolution-era Russia and pokes a little fun at it while at the same time addressing a difficult – and very modern – issue. One thing I know for sure, after this show, I’m going to read Tolstoy with a very different mindset.

The fate of a revolution: A review of “Trip Along Exodus”

There really is no place like home, although that’s not always a good thing.

“Trip Along Exodus” is filmmaker and poet Hind Shoufani’s first feature documentary, at once an exploration of the Palestinian resistance and her own father’s personal journey.

Elias Shoufani’s trials and triumphs (mostly trials) form a path that is shaped by the history of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. It starts in 1948, when at the age of 16 Elias and his family were forced to flee their home. When he attempts to return, he is herded onto a bus along with 20 or so other young men, including his brother, driven to the border, and told that if they try to return again, they would be killed.

From that moment, Elias embraced his refugee status, brandishing it as a weapon, turning it into a symbol of his dedication to the resistance. That dedication is still there at the time of shooting, when Elias is living in a Syria still at the beginning of the war that now devastates it. The film is punctuated with calls between him and Hind, who calls in to check on his health – he’s fine, he tells her, but the city is running low on the most basic supplies. But he refuses to leave. His socialist ideals necessitates that he stay with a people fighting for their rights and their freedom in the country he has lived in for many years.

Socialism and secularism are a defining feature of Elias’s life. Of course,  the time when he became most active in the Palestinnian resistance, the 50s, was marked by a surge in the popularity of socialism throughout the Arab world. The other defining feature is travel. As a refugee, Elias goes from Syria to Jordan to Lebanon to United States (not in that order). He marries, divorces, marries again despite his best instincts, but he is driven by the cause of Palestine wherever he goes. His academic work, technically his job, is essentially a side gig to his role as political strategist to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or Fateh.

It’s when the conversation turns to Fateh specifically that you most get a sense of the passion and fire that must have driven Elias for so many decades. The moral decline of Fateh, as he would characterize it, is perhaps his greatest disappointment, more so even than the continued occupation of Palestine 70 years after he was turned out of his home. In one memorable scene, he is digging out old VHS tapes for his daughter to include in her documentary. She asks him how he expects her to get through Dubai customs with this kind of material. He responds, “Tell them Fateh is dead and these tapes are its funeral.”

“Trip Along Exodus” strikes a deft balance between the personal story of Elias and the broader story of a country’s struggle, but Elias’s emotion and passion are really the draw here. It’s easy to see why so many women found him so attractive in his youth – his personality is intense and focused. Unfortunately, this left little time for his family and children. It’s something he shies away from discussing, insisting as Hind shoots that she change the topic. “I’m sorry Baba, we made you cry,” she says when a tear escapes him.

Perhaps that is part of the reason Elias is so passionate about recounting his time with Fateh, about clarifying his position – his opposition – with regards to Yasser Arafat and the leadership of Fateh in the 1970s and 80s. He wants you to know that he saw through their selfish motives, that he stood against his destructive policies; you can hear it in his voice. Maybe he’s so insistent on this point because he wants his daughters, Hind and her younger sister, to know what he dedicated his life to, to understand why he was so absent, a fact even his siblings acknowledge. Does he have anything to show for it? His children are still refugees, along with more than 7 million Palestinians, including 5 million who are eligible for UNRWA assistance. The trip along exodus continues.

But that’s not what matters, really. If that’s the one thing you get this from this film, it’s that the ends are not as significant as the means. This was a man who lived by his principles to the very end (spoiler alert: he dies), and that is really what he leaves his daughters.

You can watch “Trip Along Exodus” on Vimeo. Seen it already? Let me know what you think!

Burn any incriminating documents: The power of the written word

I like to watch a show called “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Yes, I watch too much TV. Don’t judge me!

But this show is historical, so it’s practically educational! It’s like watching the History channel, if the History channel actually showed any historical programming. But that’s a post for another day.

So the show, for those of you with productive lives, uncovers the ancestral roots of celebrities. Some of the episodes are, frankly, pointless. Kind of like the celeb in question was pitched the idea and was like yeah sure, I’ll dig into my historical background just for the heck of it. Then they have to come to some sort of deep realization at the end of the episode.

(FWIW, @RobLowe, patriotism is NOT an inheritable trait. You cannot believe how much this annoyed me.)

Some, however, are actually quite meaningful and the person really learns something important about themselves (see, for eg., Christina Applegate’s episode, which could not have worked out better if it had been scripted. Julie Bowen’s episode was also quite the emotional rollercoaster).

One episode I thought was really interesting was the one featuring Sean Hayes. He starts out wanting to know why his father abandoned him and ends up going to Ireland to dig up his great-grandfather’s criminal record. I couldn’t help but think, poor great-grandfather Hayes, he traveled across the world to get away from that criminal record and all the people and situations that led to it, and here comes his great-grandson, who didn’t even know he existed until what, like two weeks ago, and is airing it out for the entire nation to see! Damn descendants!

It really is a testament to the power of the written word. We live in an era where everything we tweet or post lives forever and we’re constantly warned about the dangers that poses, but the truth is that anything you write down anywhere could haunt you even beyond your grave (which is ironic, since you should be the one doing the haunting. Geddit?).

Terry Pratchett writes about this a lot in his fantasy novels. The Wee Free Men, tiny aggressive little blue guys, are terrified of having anything written down because they’re afraid it’ll be used against them (this is not a paranoid thought given their criminal proclivities). The books in the library at the wizarding university have the power to “make fireworks go off in the privacy of one’s brain.”

So it’s not just tweets is the point I’m making here. I think we like to believe we live in a unique age that poses unheard of challenges when it comes to privacy and public image, and that’s not untrue in a sense. But ultimately, just as deleting a tweet often cannot kill it, apparently you have to burn down your local county records house before you leave the country if you really want to lose that criminal record. Hey, what’s a little arson after assault?

Please don’t commit arson. Or assault.

This post originally appeared on my personal blog, Nadia’s Writing, which is now defunct.

Does anyone know who the Flintstones are anymore?

I am not old. I want to put that out there from the start so we’re all on the same page here. I am NOT old. Unfortunately, television seems to disagree with me.

First there was the Sailor Moon reboot three years ago, which apparently was rather unpopular. I wouldn’t know – I didn’t watch it because the new character designs freaked me out. And yes, I have seen the manga, and yes, Sailor Moon was not exactly known for its accurate portrayal of the female body in its original run. I still don’t see why their faces need to be so shiny.

Her hair was not this plasticy-looking in the manga. Also her face seems pointier. Originally from Tumblr.

Back to the point: this year, Sailor Moon is celebrating its 25th anniversary. You know who else celebrated a 25th anniversary this year? ME. Sailor Moon and I ARE THE SAME AGE.

But here’s what’s worse: last year, Dragon Ball turned 30. This show, which, along with Sailor Moon, took up a pretty decent chunk of my childhood, is actually older than I am. And it also has the weird shiny character design.

All this I can live with. Sure, it’s been a solid 15 years since I’ve seen these shows (as a kid. As an adult, I’ve rewatched some episodes. If you’re interested, Toonami is airing the Kai version of the Buu saga, which thank God, because those seasons take an eternity.). But 15 years is not that much in the scheme of things. It’s also been 15 years since I’ve worn braces, 15 years since I started wearing a headscarf, 15 years since I put on my first pair of glasses. So big whoop.

But that’s not where it stops. Oh no! I recently watched an episode of “Teen Titans Go!” (yes, I watch a lot of cartoons. Let me enjoy my life!) where they parodied “Scooby Doo,” complete with a dogified Beast Boy, glasses-wearing Raven, and a masked villain(s).

Image result for raven as velma
Photo via YouTube.

You know when “Scooby Doo” first aired?

1969.

And it’s not only Cartoon Network that has it out for me. Disney’s getting in on the fun too. Did you know that the original “Beauty and the Beast” was released in 1991??? And “Mulan,” which is also getting the live-action treatment (which people already hate), was first released in 1998.

Here’s another one. Guess when the first episode of “The Flintstones” aired. Go on. I’ll wait.

Ready? The correct answer is 1960.

Turns out the Flintstones were the original Simpsons. And so in the 1990s, I was watching a cartoon that was already 30 years old. “The Flintstones” is basically my parents’ age.

Speaking of which, you know all those Flintstones Fruity Pebbles commercials on TV? Do kids today even know who the Flintstones are, or is it a “floppy disk is the save button” thing where they only know them as the guys on the cereal box? Do they even know the theme song?!

I’m not really depressed about the situation. It’s actually kinda nice to relive one’s childhood like this. But it is pretty weird to relive your childhood when you’ve only just become an adult. It’s also pretty jarring to realize just how much time has passed. Twenty years is a lot of time at the individual level, and it can be hard to remember that 20 years in the life of a young adult is not that much. If you were five 20 years ago, then you spent more than half of those years in school, which as we all know, Does Not Count.

So in conclusion, I will continue to watch cartoons, enjoy my life, and look down on kids who eat Fruity Pebbles but don’t know that the Flintstones are a modern Stone Age family from the town of Bedrock. Those fake fans.

I can’t stomach the Santa Clarita Diet

At the risk of being drawn and quartered, I’m going to confess to you, my faithful and loving readers, that I just don’t like the Netflix series “Santa Clarita Diet.”

I tried. I really did. I’ve watched six episodes over the course of four weeks, and I don’t think I can keep going. And I’ve figured out that it’s not the show, it’s me.

I completely understand why the show is so popular. It’s really funny – I’ve been in love with Timothy Olyphant since I saw him on Conan, and he’s actually the reason I started watching the show. Abby and Eric are great, and I’m rooting for Eric so hard! How can he be denied love when he’s so adorably awkward?

So yeah, it’s a funny show, and I laugh along with the rest of the internet world. I mean, the gifs alone:

But guys, it’s just so gross. So gross. I’ve never been good with blood. I couldn’t watch “ER” with my mom because the sight of people being cut open made me nauseous. I wait 15 minutes after the start time before I turn on “Law and Order” or “Bones” (which I’ve recently gotten into) because I don’t want to see bloody corpses. If I am so unfortunate enough as to catch a glimpse, I have to keep telling myself “it’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real” so I don’t get nightmares.

That’s just how I’ve always been, so the fact that I kept going through the “Drew Barrymore bites off Nathan Fillion’s fingers and then eats him” scene is frankly a breakthrough moment for me.

The thing is, it’s not that he didn’t deserve it. He was a creep and a jerk. But I can’t help but feel that being eaten is not really what society would call proportionate punishment. In fact, I can’t see that being eaten is proportionate punishment for anything. Yes, the showrunners are making a real effort to make Barrymore’s victims truly awful human beings, but, and this is where it gets weird for me, they’re really just actors, so they don’t deserve to get eaten – they’re also not really being eaten, but my brain for some reason is not processing that part quite as well. Probably it’s the sheer amount of blood being shed on the show that my brain can’t get over.

Another thing that’s definitely not helping is how much Barrymore’s character enjoys eating people. Watching her cheerfully make a smoothie out of a dead guy’s ear – just typing that sentence out made my stomach turn a little – is incredibly disconcerting to say the least. I am also not convinced that she wouldn’t eat her family if she was truly starving and their were no other options. When a girl’s gotta eat, a girl’s gotta eat.

So that’s where I’m at now, but that’s not to say I won’t revisit the series later when I’m feeling a little more up to it, if only to find out about that Serbian town that no one wants to go to. After all, “Gotham” is pretty violent but I’m definitely going to watch the second season…sometime. (Also “Gotham” may be darker than “Santa Clarita Diet” but it’s significantly less bloody. Just sayin’.) I’m also very excited for the second season of “Jessica Jones,” although again it took me a while to get through the show’s first season because it was just so overwhelmingly violent.

I think that’s part of why I’m struggling with “Santa Clarita Diet.” There’s already so much gore on television (by my standards, anyway) that I normally gravitate to comedies as a relief from it all. The last thing I want to think about when I’m trying to relax and enjoy myself is the brevity of human life, and I definitely don’t want to think about cannibalistic neighbors. My neighbors seem nice and normal enough, but then again, so does Drew Barrymore. She’s a real estate agent.

Nadia watches Netflix: A Series of Unfortunate Events

I was a huge fan of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” when I was a kid – I stumbled across “Hostile Hospital” (and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” but that’s a post for another time) at a bookstore and bought it before realizing it was part of a series. I was immediately hooked. Talk about reverse psychology! Every warning from Lemony Snicket only made me want to read it more.

A few years later the movie came out, and I…liked it a lot, actually. Jim Carrey was INSANE as Count Olaf, and by far the best part of the movie. Of course, there is no denying that the movie had very little resemblance to the actual books, but then again, few movies do. It also didn’t help that it tried to condense four books into two hours.

What I particularly appreciated was the way the movie captured the dark humor of the series. That’s something that the recently launched Netflix series trips over a little bit, particularly in the first few episodes. So let’s break it down, bullet point style:

I liked:

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf. I mean, need I say more?

Klaus Baudelaire. Even in the books, he’s the only one with a reasonable sense of outrage at the injustices they’re facing. Violet is great, but she really ought to be angrier.

The mystery! Readers of the original series will know that the whole VFD stuff and the eye and the big mystery behind the Baudelaire’s parents deaths (and the Beatrice thing) doesn’t even start to be revealed until, what, Ersatz Elevator? That’s book six. So yeah, it’s great that the series is already giving us these tidbits of the background in which “Unfortunate Events” is happening.

Mr. Poe. I should hate him. I really should. His utter incompetence is the source of the Baudelaire’s troubles (that and the VFD stuff). If only he would call the cops in a timely manner, the kids might have a better chance at a guardian who doesn’t die on them. But what can I say, I like the guy. He’s well-meaning, if inept.

Very true. Mostly ’cause of you dude.

Sunny Baudelaire. She knows what’s up.

Olaf’s henchmen. I’ve always kinda had a soft spot for these dudes. Even in the books, they’re mostly just along for the ride. This guy is especially enjoyable:

I didn’t like:

The narrator. I like the concept of a narrator, and it certainly makes it more true to the books. But he’s played too deadpan, and the explanations of what things mean is getting kinda boring. It was quirky and fun in the books. Here, it’s just an unnecessary interruption.

We know dude.

It’s not funny enough. Basically what I said in the beginning. In the first few episodes, the show really had trouble striking the balance between humor and horror. What’s happening to the Baudelaires is truly terrible, and it’s largely due to adult incompetence and passivity. Children should not have to live like this, and it’s infuriating that they do. Part of this is that I’m an adult now, and I feel more strongly about child welfare. When you’re a kid, it’s all part of the adventure, and it confirms a deep-held belief that adults are the worst. But even then, a large part of what makes the books more palatable is that they’re genuinely amusing. In terms of funny-to-sad balance, I would say the best part is the “Miserable Mill” episodes. “Wide Window” has its moments, but Aunt Josephine is just so annoying.

The Marvelous Marriage. I had totally forgotten about this part of the first book. I didn’t remember it until well into the first episode, and I immediately felt squicky. Again, this is one of those things that when I was kid didn’t strike me as any more evil than all the other plots Count Olaf was putting together, but now…just no.

Poor Violet.

Overall, I can’t wait for next season. I feel like the series really hit its stride in the last half of the season, and I can’t wait for the next season. Also, “Ersatz Elevator” was my favorite book of the series, and I can’t wait to meet Esme Squalor.

Even in a galaxy far, far away, democracy doesn’t work: A review of Rogue One

I am not by any means a movie theater buff – more often than not, I’m perfectly happy for a movie to appear on television. But “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was one that I had marked down to actually go see in a desperate attempt to avoid being spoiled to death. And I gotta say, I’m so happy I got to see it.

Spoilers III: The Force gives it away

“Rogue One” takes place immediately prior to the events of “A New Hope” and tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance was able to get its hands on the Death Star plans in the first place. The movie stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the daughter of a rebellious Imperial scientist who also happens to be the brains behind the Death Star, Diego Luna as Rebel Alliance captian Cassian Andor, and Riz Ahmed as an Imperial pilot who is entrusted by the scientist (Galyn Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen) to get the Death Star plans to the Alliance.

The movie plops us into the midst of the brutal war between the Empire and the Alliance. On Jedha, a planet that has a quasi-religious significance to believers of the Force, the Empire, the Alliance, and the militia forces of Saw Guerara (Forest Whitaker in a criminally small role) are in a stalled but bloody battle for control. The scenery, not surprisingly, is reminiscent of war-torn Iraq, complete with domed buildings and a Middle Eastern-style bazaar. Even the name “Jedha,” presumably a play on Jedi, sounds and looks a lot like the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah which, incidentally, is very close to the Islamic Holy City of Makkah. Saw Guerara himself reads clearly as a vicious warlord.

(Did you know that Tataouine, Luke Skywalker’s home planet, is the name of a real city in Tunisia? Lots of Middle Eastern inspiration in Star Wars. Not that we get any credit.)

But I digress. The plot, essentially, is this: Cassian’s mission is to use Jyn and Bodhi to find her father and kill him in the hopes that his death will put an end to the Death Star. Bodhi, meanwhile, partners up with Galyn to give the Alliance a desperately needed weapon against the Death Star: a small but deadly flaw that Galyn has purposefully built into the machine. (He is not rewarded for his efforts, just FYI.)

And Jyn? Well, I found Jyn to be less than impressive. She is essentially a hostage, first of the Empire and then of the Alliance, and spends the first part of the movie making half-hearted attempts at escape before miraculously transforming into an inspiring leader who brings the rebels into the heart of the Empire’s infrastructure.

That brings us to the important part: once the Rebel Alliance gets news of the Death Star, they just…fall apart. They bicker about whether this is a real thing, if they can trust Jyn and her father, and what they should do about it if it is. They spend a solid 10 minutes bickering over whether they should fight back or surrender and, of course, fail to reach a consensus, proving that democracy is terrible and people are the worst.

Oh Kent, you’re just a fountain of wisdom.

Fortunately, Cassian rallies a few of his friends who agree to join Jyn, Bodhi, K-2SO (think Marvin the Paranoid Android but less depressed), and Chirut and Baze (Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang, respectively), two monks they rescued from Jedha. Together, they breach the Imperial stronghold that is the planet Scarif so they can steal the plans to the Death Star and find the flaw.

A bloody battle ensues as the Rebel fighters try to distract Stormtroopers from Jyn, Cassian, and K2SO, who are busy looking for the Death Star plans in the ridiculously manual and yet believably futuristic Imperial Archives. Here, the scenery evokes more of a Vietnam War feel, with rebels running through all manner of tropical shrubbery.

When the Alliance finds out that Cassian and others have gone to Scarif, they’re finally moved to mobilize to support their people. By the time they arrive, however, it’s too late: the Rebels have done some damage, but they are outgunned and outnumbered. Alliance jet fighters are only able to delay the inevitable, but that gives enough time for Jyn and Cassian to steal the plans and make a run for the nearest satellite communications tower. Meanwhile, Bodhi has managed to establish a signal with a Rebel commander to send the plans, giving him a brief moment of triumph before he’s blown up. Frustrated, the Empire turns its new death machine on itself, blowing up Scarif in an attempt to block the breach.

To fix a plot hole

So yeah, everyone dies. Most of our main characters die in some kind of fight, while Jyn and Cassian die in what is supposed to be a moving embrace as they watch the explosion that will kill them. When, why, and how they fell in love are questions “Rogue One” does not bother to answer. After all, where would the movie industry be without forced romances?

The standouts for me were Cassian and Bodhi. I personally think that either one of their backstories would be infinitely more interesting than Jyn’s, whose main thing is that she was left by her parents on a remote planet. (This appears to be the mandatory backstory for all Star Wars’ main characters). How did Bodhi, a cargo pilot, meet a top scientist? What was the nature of their relationship, and why did Galyn trust him to take his message to the Rebellion? Why would Bodhi leave what I imagine is a fairly low-key job with minimal murder and risk his life for this cause?

Or Cassian. What’s his deal? “Rogue One” gives us a glimpse into the brutality of his life as a rebel fighter in a confrontation with Jyn, and then again later when he rallies the troops. They have given too much of not just their blood and tears, but of their morality to the Alliance to give up now. What he did and why – what makes him so loyal to the Rebellion – are things I would love to learn more about.

“Rogue One” also did a great job with the tech. The original “Star Wars” movies are a product of their era and it shows in the technology, as futuristic as it’s supposed to be. “Rogue One” does a great job of matching up with the style of tech in the original trilogy: in one scene, Bodhi is running across the battlefield trying to connect a hose-like wire from the communications tower to his ship so that he can contact the Rebel fleet. In an experience that is quintessentially ’70s, the hose gets stuck on some equipment and stops just a few short feet away, much to Bodhi’s frustration.

Overall, “Rogue One” is a great movie both within the Star Wars universe and as a standalone production. It starts off a little bumpy, with scenes jumping from planet to planet seemingly at random, but overall the plot is solid. We also get a glimpse of C-3PO and R2D2, which let’s face it, is what we’re really here for, and even Princess Leia makes an appearance via the miracle of modern technology. Diego Luna and Donnie Yen are especially awesome, as are Riz Ahmed and Wen Jiang (Forest Whitaker is, as I said, unforgivably underused, and Felicity Jones is honestly a little wooden in places.). 10/10, would see again.

Gilmore Girls 10 years later: A reflection

Like a lot of people my age, I was incredibly excited when Netflix announced that they were rebooting “Gilmore Girls.” I’ve mentioned before that the 2000s were my pop culture heyday, and “Gilmore Girls” was the show around which all other shows revolved for me. As cliche as it sounds, I watched the show religiously – and it wasn’t just me, either. I would come to school and talk about the show in minuscule detail with my friends. Back then I watched everything as part of a group, a larger whole that provided reference to the culture I was imbibing, but that’s a post for another time. Let’s focus on the topic at hand.

So, I was super excited to hear that “Gilmore Girls” was coming back, but I was also kinda wary. I loved this show you guys, and to me, the season seven ending was honestly kinda perfect. Lorelai and Luke were clearly set, Rory finally dumped Logan, whom I’ve always hated (I’m #TeamJess all the way. They should get married, live in a loft in Queens, and run an indie publishing house together.), and it seemed like the Gilmore parents were going to be open to coming out of their New Haven den and joining the lesser mortals of Stars Hollow and the state of Connecticut at large. So I approached the Netflix reboot with some trepidation, hoping that it would, at minimum, not destroy the fondness I have for this show.

Let me say right now that it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it wasn’t what I hoped or imagined it would be. Part of the issue lies in me and my perceptions of the show. When I was watching the original “Gilmore Girls” back in middle school, I identified with Rory so strongly it was a honestly a little creepy. Rory embodied all the qualities I hoped to have: she was smart, well-read, a role model for her peers, and most of all, she was pursuing a journalism degree with genuine seriousness. In a world where smart girls went to med school and writing was a hobby for housewives, this was nothing short of revelatory. It’s no exaggeration to say that I not only saw myself in Rory Gilmore, I wanted to be Rory Gilmore.

Spoilers Hollow five miles ahead

Watching the reboot, I realized that once again, I see myself in Rory Gilmore. Wrestling with a career in writing, feeling aimless as she takes a stab at independence from the 9-to-5 world and tries to do her own thing (write a book, which, OMG, I’m also working on right now! Coincidence, or is Amy Sherman Palladino cyber-stalking me for inspiration? I’ll let you come to your own conclusions). The main difference is that I’m not 32. Not to be all judgey, but I don’t understand why Rory cannot, at her age, have the common sense to rent a place to at least store all her stuff in, especially when her solution involves sending at least a fifth of that stuff to another country. So yeah, this wasn’t the image I wanted to see, the image I wanted to project myself onto eight years from now.

It was disorienting. Or disappointing. A little of both. I wanted to see Rory successful and happy, partly so I that could believe that I too would be successful and happy. But I also wanted her to be happy because I really like Rory Gilmore. She feels so familiar, like an old outfit that doesn’t quite fit but you still wear it because you have so many fond memories of wearing it.

Instead Rory’s back in old, bad habits. Logan, whom I hate and have hated and will always hate, and the being the other woman thing that was terrible but forgivable when she was a naive virgin but is just mind-boggling now. The enforced homelessness is not as cute or endearing as it would have been if this had picked up from when Rory was just out of college. The friendships with Lane and Paris, which were the heart and soul of the show, for me at least, are rigid and stiff. What, no hug for your best friends of two decades after months apart? Jeez Rory, let’s at least try and fake some warmth here.

So yeah, it was disappointing. The Rory part, anyway. Thank God for Emily, Luke, Paris, and Michel. They made this show then and they make this show now. Paris and Michel are hilarious, dealing with their own major transitions – is anyone surprised that the Paris-Doyle union didn’t last? I’m honestly surprised Paris consented to having kids, although maybe she got one of her “top breeders” to carry them – and their freakouts about where life has placed them are sweet and understandable. Michel being nice to children is a moment that will live with me forever. Heck, Paris being nice to children, her children, is a moment that will live with me forever. Emily grieving over Richard (actor Edward Hermann died in 2014) broke my heart, and his death permeates the entire four-episode series.

But even in grief, Emily is the same sharp, witty, scheming woman she’s always been. Master of all that she sees, even when it’s not technically hers. She assumes everything will bend to her will and it does, all the way to the very end.

And Luke. Oh Luke. Lukey Luke Luke. He is the same as ever, and it is as comforting and warm as I imagine the food at his diner is. He is, in many ways, the character that represents the audience, watching the titular Gilmore girls barrel through their lives, making poor decisions and drinking lots and lots of coffee. And he is patient and supportive and loving even in the darkest times. And when he finally fights for Lorelai the way he did in the last season of the original, but then it was too late because Lorelai had already invited the devil indoors (yes, Christopher is the devil in all this). It was a perfect moment. It was what I had hoped that moment in season 7 would be.

If only there had been more Jess, or less Logan, or more Paris, or more Sookie, or less Taylor (what was with that weird musical storyline?), I would have come away feeling better about the reboot.

But there were a few shining moments that saved the whole thing for me. Jess telling Rory to write her story. Sookie’s triumphant return and Michel’s well-earned rant. Emily turning on the club. Emily and Lorelai in therapy, and I really wish we had spent more time there. Emily terrifying children in Nantucket. Paris terrifying children at Chilton. Hep Alien still rocking, and Paris just not getting it. Jess and Luke getting ready for the wedding. Lorelai telling Rory to go ahead and write the book. “Just Gilmore Girls. It’s cleaner.” Kirk getting something right for once. Emily finding peace in Nantucket. Luke and Lorelai finally getting married.

Overall, I’m glad I watched it. I wish Rory would make better decisions, but maybe it’s good for me to see her like this. At some point you have to accept that life isn’t and never will be perfect. People disappoint you. You disappoint yourself. Things don’t work out in your favor, and sometimes you self-sabotage a little bit. Any perfection life does hold is fleeting, so we should enjoy it for what it’s worth. You should be happy no matter what. And of course, I realize that I’m not the only fan, that some people are inexplicably #TeamLogan, and that it’s not the Palladinos’ fault that I project myself onto their fictional characters.

So here’s to next time, and you’d better believe there will be a next time, because no way are we ending there.