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.

Nadia watches Netflix: Gotham Season 1

A couple weeks ago, I binged the entire first season of “Gotham” on Netflix. “Gotham,” for those of you who are unaware, is a prequel of the Batman lore and follows Jim Gordon and his budding police career. We also get to see a young Bruce Wayne as he copes with the aftermath of his parents’ murder.

I was intrigued by “Gotham” not because I’m a Batman aficionado (I watched the animated series as a kid, but that was about it), but because Gordon is played by none other than “The O.C.’s” Ryan Atwood, whose IRL name is, Wikipedia informs me, actually Ben McKenzie.

The 2000s was really my heyday in terms of pop culture awareness, so Ryan (that’s his name as far as I’m concerned) is one of a few select group of television stars that I recognize on sight (others include Rory and Lorelai from “Gilmore Girls” and Kristen Bell, who will forever be Veronica Mars in my eyes. You thought I was kidding when I said the 2000s were my heyday, didn’t you?).

Anyway, I wanted to see what Ryan was up to, and I sunk like a rock into the dark world that “Gotham” imagines. I got through the first season almost compulsively because nearly every episode ended on a cliffhanger and I had to see what happens next. But it’s also a very violent show, so I needed a break between seasons. In the meantime, I thought I’d summarize everything I liked and didn’t like about the first season. Fair warning, there are spoilers ahead:

I liked:

  • Jim Gordon: I like Ryan in this new role. I mean, Jim Gordon is essentially a grown-up version of Ryan Atwood, complete with “strong, silent type” demeanor and a predilection towards emotionally unstable blonde girls.
  • Baby Bruce Wayne: It’s actually kinda fun watching a teenage Bruce Wayne develop the skills that he would utilize as Batman later on. Plus the kid who plays him, David Mazouz, is a surprisingly good actor.
  • Alfred: is badass. Seriously, I don’t know how he got the job as the Wayne’s butler, but clearly they were anticipating needing more than just a guy who can answer a door because Alfred is one tough cookie.
  • Harvey Bullock: Donal Logue makes everything better. I just love him.

  • Fish Mooney: I don’t know why, but something about Jada Pinkett-Smith in this bizarre and overly dramatic role just speaks to me. Actually I do know why: it’s because I like watching a tiny lady stab giant men. I’m super bummed she was drowned(?).

  • Edward Nygma: His descent into madness will clearly be the highlight of the next season.

  • Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot: He gives the me the heebie-jeebies, but I kinda want him to see him become the ultimate mob boss. It’s that physically underwhelming guy being the one in control thing again.

I didn’t like:

  • Selina Kyle: For a street urchin, this girl is surprisingly well-groomed and well-dressed. I’m not buying it. Scruff her up a little!
  • Barbara Kean: I knew she was crazy the minute she came onscreen, because a) see predilection for unstable blonde chicks referenced above, and b) she basically didn’t have a personality at all until the last third of the season, and unfortunately when writers don’t know what to do with a character, they make end up making her crazy.

  • Leslie Thompkins: This character is played by the girl who was the barista with crazy eyes on “How I Met Your Mother,” and once you’ve seen crazy eyes on a person, it’s hard to unsee them.
  • The Dollmaker: This was a stupid subplot and a giant waste of time.
  • Victor Zsasz: I like the actor, but I don’t get the character. There are already enough visibly disturbed people on this show. What is he adding here? Not much from where I’m sitting.
  • The city itself: Are we even going to pretend that this isn’t actually New York City? Not gonna even try? No? Okay then. Seriously, it’s jarring to be sucked into the story only to have it interrupted by what is obviously the New York City skyline. I’ll pretend that “Gotham” takes places in an alternate universe where New York City just has a different name, but I won’t like it.

 

The bizarre world of home improvement television

In case it isn’t already incredibly obvious, I watch a lot of television. What can I say? We get some pretty good channels at our place.

One of the channels we get (which will remain unnamed, lest I anger the Producers That Be) is dedicated to real estate and home renovations. If I had to guess, I’d say that this channel runs around eight different shows at a time. “Different,” however, is a strong word. These shows all run on one of two premises:

  1. A couple are moving to a new city and looking for a home in which to live. Both have very specific requirements for this home which are, more often than not, irreconcilable. A harried real estate agent accomplishes the impossible – finding them a home they both like – by showing them exactly three houses.
  2. An old house, rundown by time and probably weather, having suffered the neglect of man and woman and finally abandoned by the populace, is rescued from obscurity by a kindly, creative couple/siblings/single person determined to give it a new lease on life and on ownership, so that it may once again fulfill its housely destiny as a home for a family of three/five/seven/eleven/etc.

So, eight programs, all based on premise or the other. It is amazing to me that this kind of situation can occur and apparently be very profitable for said channel, although given the fact that there are approximately three separate “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” shows on at any given time, perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised.

And let’s face it, that’s basically what we’re watching, isn’t it? Yes, it’s interesting to see what you can get for your money in Chicago or wherever, or what kind of furniture goes with blue wallpaper, but that’s just a sideshow next to the real entertainment.

Why can't they indeed, Liz Lemon.
Why can’t they indeed, Liz Lemon.

What’s truly entertaining is watching couples bicker about budgets and yard size and “curb appeal,” a term I learned recently. It’s a short window into the relationships, but through it you can glimpse (and snigger) at the power dynamics. You’d think there’s enough conflict on television, but apparently not.

I don't know if these two are married, but they should be.
I don’t know if these two are married, but they should be.

 

Regardless of the whys and hows, it’s obviously a winning formula, because it seems that every time I turn on the television I see an ad for a new show based on the exact same premise. Clearly, this unnamed channel and its army of real estate agents and contractors are raking it in.

It makes you want to get into the real estate industry.

The case for close-ended shows

Does it though? Image by Brandon Martin-Anderson via Flickr.

You, the reader, probably don’t watch a whole lot of Arabic television, but I do. But this not a list of the differences between Arabic and English television shows. That would be too long.

No, this is the case for incorporating one particular aspect of Arabic drama into the world of Western television, and that aspect is the closed ending.

Consider: the most satisfying aspect of a story in any format is that it’s building towards some kind of climax, followed by a winding down to a sensible end. This is story arcs 101, and there’s a reason for that: it works. When you don’t have a specified end, you force the story to continue in ways that are inorganic and ultimately dissatisfying.

Couldn’t be any simpler. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Think about it, how many of your favorite shows ended up going down the tubes after three or four seasons, rehashing old plot-lines and resorting to obnoxious guest characters to force humor and/or drama where none can grow?

Or even worse, how many shows were cancelled after one or two seasons, leaving the dedicated viewer grasping at straws, forced to resort to that dark side of the Internet, fanfiction, in a desperate attempt to gain some form of closure?

Compare that to your average Arabic television drama, which wraps up in quick and easy 30 episodes. This ensures that the show will have a beginning, a middle, and, thankfully, an end. Within that tried and true structure, you have character development, crisis and resolution, and an overall sense of structure. Even when the end is left purposely open, at least you have a sense that the main plot is wrapped up.

There are, of course, many shows that follow a season format, but that’s usually because they cannot, for whatever reason, resolve the major plot points within 30 episodes. At most you’ve got a story that 90 episodes to end. That’s still much less than the average six-season American television show, which at 22 episodes a season is over 120 episodes! That’s not even taking into consideration the fact that a lot of these episodes involve either a) upping the dramatic ante until it reaches previously unheard of levels of insanity (*cough “Grey’s Anatomy” cough*), b) employing ridiculously convoluted plot twists in an attempt to maintain viewer interest (“Pretty Little Liars” is particularly notorious for this), or c) beating the “will they won’t they” drama to death (“Friends” and, increasingly, “New Girl”).

Stop this plot! In the name of proper storytelling structure!

I’m not alone in thinking our shows go on for way too long: more and more new shows are debuting at just 10 episodes in their first season. In an interview with Variety, television producer and the brains behind Parks and Rec, Mike Schur, says, “…there’s more of a sense that shows should have a number of episodes that befits that idea, instead of just, ‘Let’s do as many as we possibly can.'”

It’s a trend that many credit to networks like HBO, AMC, and Starz. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s not enough. The problem is not the number of episodes per season, it’s the number of episodes overall. So I say it’s time to take a page out of the book of Arabic television and commit only to shows that have both a start and an end.

Goodbye show. We knew ye a little too well.

Racebending vs. whitewashing: Whys, whens, and hows

If you have a Twitter account and a vague interest in movies, you’ve likely heard of the rising furor over recent casting choices in upcoming movies. Specifically, the casting of British actress Tilda Swinton as Asian character The Ancient One of the “Dr. Strange” comics, and the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the lead character in the movie version of the Japanese series “Ghost in the Shell” caused outrage over the whitewashing of Asian characters, culminating in the trending hashtag #whitewashedOUT.

Of course, Asian characters aren’t the only ones being whitewashed in pop culture. There’s a lot that has been written about race and representation in the media (some of it by me). The concept of representation is simple: people should see their world reflected back to them in what they consume. The process of representation, however, can sometimes be more complex, because we can have disagreements over what constitutes representation, particularly when it comes to changing the race or gender of already established characters. For the record, I am all for race and gender-bending – I actually wrote an article highlighting some great examples of it here. But there are times when race and gender-bending is appropriate and fun, and times when it is not.

Context matters

One of the major criticisms of the movie adaptation of “Ghost in the Shell” is that the casting of Scarlett Johansson ignores the specifically Japanese context in which the story takes place. That’s not to say that you can’t adapt a story from one culture into another – you can, and that’s a great way to share cultures. But the key is that you adapt the whole story, recognizing that there are some aspects to the original that won’t translate or are not relevant in the receiving culture. A movie like that wouldn’t be “Ghost in the Shell,” it would be something else, something different, that’s inspired by “Ghost in the Shell.”

This is particularly important when we consider manga and anime works. Because of the way they’re drawn, a lot of Western audiences perceive anime characters as being white – they’re not. Anime and manga stories are created in a Japanese context and are often set in Japan. If you’re going to translate anime directly into another medium, you have to acknowledge the characters’ Japanese identity.

See this beautiful setting? It's Crystal Tokyo. TOKYO. via sailormoonnews.com
See this beautiful setting? It’s Crystal Tokyo. TOKYO.
Image via sailormoonnews.com

Where diversity is now

If you’re going to racebend a character, don’t do it to one that’s already underrepresented in mainstream media. Our goal should be to increase diversity, not decrease it.

Although there’s been some improvement in the representation of minorities, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, not just in numbers but in how these characters are presented as well. As this wonderfully detailed post by Nerds of Color demonstrates, major franchises sorely lack in representation of not just people of color, but also women and women of color specifically. What little representation there is often relies on harmful stereotypes and double standards for male and female characters.

The "diverse" world of The Avengers.
The “diverse” world of The Avengers.

This leads to another question – should you switch out one underrepresented group for another?

I’m going to go ahead and say no, and here’s why: a lot of Western culture tends to treat minority groups, especially those from similar cultures or close geographical areas, as though they’re the same and therefore interchangeable. Indian and Pakistani cultures are often conflated, Arab cultures are treated as one monolith, Asian people are seen as “looking the same,” and people deem it socially acceptable to say things like “I went to Africa.” Where in Africa? Apparently, that’s not a distinction that’s necessary to make.

Minorities are not interchangeable. You cannot, for example, replace an originally Arab character in a story with an Indian one and call that a win for diversity. When production companies do this, they’re basically saying, “Well, Indians and Arabs are basically the same.” Now think about it. If someone told you that Arabs and Indians are the same people, wouldn’t you consider that ignorant and racist?

I rest my case.

What purpose does race/gender-bending serve?

When we examine race and gender-bending in the media, we need to ask why it’s being done and to what end. I don’t include fan art in this because a lot of artists use these techniques to see themselves reflected in the works they love and admire, and I think that’s something we can all relate to. But when studios and production companies do this, I think we as an audience are entitled to ask questions.

For example, a good question here would be, "Is this a costume party? Because otherwise I have no idea what is going on."
For example, a good question here would be, “Is this a costume party? Because otherwise I have no idea what is going on.” Image via trevorcamis.tumblr.com

1. How does race/gender-bending fit in the original story being presented? In a story like “Ghost in the Shell,” for example, we can see that it doesn’t fit very well at all. In others, it might work better.

2. What does race/gender-bending add to the character? A black Superman, for example, would make a lot of sense given the science and the fact that, being an alien, Superman doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have a particular ethnicity associated with him.

3. What are the motives of the production companies in charge of making these decisions? One of the main arguments for the casting of Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton as Asian characters (and for whitewashing in general) is that these names bring in big bucks at the box office. We don’t need studios casting minority actors in an attempt to be edgy or to pacify “angry minority hordes.” Diversity should be reflective of the world around us – it’s that simple.