Sunday, December 29, 2013

What DanielleTBD is Watching: Mid-Season 2014...


It's that time of year again when I look ahead to the television season coming down the pike to determine to which shows I will dedicate my evenings. Even though I was able to take into consideration eliminating shows I used to have to watch for work (until I get a job and perhaps have to reevaluate anyway, that is), mid-season is the place to be for quality programming, and therefore my schedule is a lot more full than it was in the fall. But after we're returning from the holidays, aren't we all a lot fuller-figured?

Sundays
  • 9 p.m. - Revenge (returning to ABC on January 5th); The Good Wife (returning to CBS on January 5th); Shameless (season premiere on Showtime on January 12th)
  • 10 p.m. - Girls (season premiere on HBO on January 12th); Episodes (season premiere on Showtime on January 12th)
  • 10:30 p.m.) - Looking (series premiere on HBO on January 19th)

Mondays
  • 8 p.m. - How I Met Your Mother (returning to CBS on January 13th); Hart of Dixie (returning to The CW on January 13th); Hollywood Game Night (season premiere on NBC on January 20th); Switched at Birth (season premiere on ABC Family on January 13th)
  • 9 p.m. - The Following (time slot premiere on FOX on January 27th); The Fosters (returning to ABC Family on January 13th)
  • 10 p.m. - Castle (returning to ABC on January 6th); Hostages (series finale, airing on January 6th); Archer (season premiere on FX on January 13th)
  • 10:30 p.m. - Chozen (series premiere on FX on January 13th)

Tuesdays
  • 8 p.m. - The Biggest Loser (returning to NBC on January 7th)
  • 8:30 p.m. - Brooklyn Nine-Nine (returning to FOX on January 7th)
  • 9 p.m. - The Goldbergs (returning to ABC on January 7th); Supernatural (returning to The CW on January 14th)
  • 9:30 p.m. - Trophy Wife (returning to ABC on January 7th); The Mindy Project (returning to FOX on January 7th)
  • 10 p.m. - Cougar Town (season premiere on TBS on January 7th)

Wednesdays
  • 8 p.m. - Arrow (returning to The CW on January 15th)
  • 8:30 p.m. - Suburgatory (season premiere on ABC on January 15th)
  • 9 p.m. - Modern Family (returning to ABC on January 8th); The Tomorrow People (returning to The CW on January 15th)
  • 10 p.m. - Top Chef (returning to Bravo on January 8th); American Horror Story: Coven (returning to FX on January 8th)

Thursdays
  • 8 p.m. - Community (season premiere on NBC on January 2nd)
  • 8:30 p.m. - Parks and Recreation (returning to NBC on January 9th)
  • 9:30 p.m. - The Michael J. Fox Show (returning to NBC on January 2nd)
  • 10 p.m. - Elementary (returning to CBS on January 2nd); Parenthood (returning to NBC on January 2nd); King of the Nerds (season premiere on TBS on January 23rd)

Fridays
  • 8 p.m. - The Carrie Diaries (returning to The CW on January 3rd)
  • 9 p.m. - Raising Hope (returning to FOX on January 10th)
  • 9:30 p.m. - Enlisted (season premiere on FOX on January 10th)

Then, coming later this winter / spring the following will be added to my schedule: Scandal on ABC, Thursday nights at 10 p.m. returning February 27th; Once Upon A Time on ABC, Sunday nights at 8 p.m. returning March 9th; Resurrection on ABC, Sunday nights at 9 p.m. premiering March 9th; The 100 on The CW, Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. premiering on March 19th.; Whose Line is it Anyway? on The CW, Friday nights at 8 p.m. returning March 21st.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ask DanielleTBD: Best (and Worst) TV Moments of 2013...

In the past few years that I have been working as a television blogger you may have noticed that my end of the year lists were plentiful. Best shows, best episodes, best characters, best couples, best moments, best surprises... I milked the crap out fandoms and relished the chance to rehash something that happened months earlier. But you may also notice that I stuck with "Best of" lists. This was because I was never a completely objective blogger. Going into a new show or a new season, I would review everything honestly based on story, production value, trends, and technique. But if and when I came across something that was just a mess, I would say it once in that initial review and then most likely never write about it again (I would often watch more just to confirm my initial opinion was still valid and on the rare occasion things actually did get better like oh so many promise, I would write a follow up review and alter coverage plans slightly). I generally tried to avoid the "worst" TV (in my opinion) for my own sanity and enjoyment of my job. I was lucky to have that luxury, and it meant I stayed positive enough (especially around the holidays) to avoid negativity that "worst" lists bring. You can never get back that hour that you originally watched Doomsday Preppers, and that's on you, but I won't steal more of your time by making you relive it. Though, I would often do a "most disappointing" post, but that's another story... 

To create these lists as accurately as possible, I would make notes all year as I watched TV. In one of the equally plentiful TCA notebooks provided, I would jot down everything from episode titles to specific lines of dialogue as I watched them on screeners or on-screen for consideration in my various end of the year posts. No one could accuse me of forgetting about something just because it aired in February and I had Santa on the brain in December! But for whatever reason (probably subconsciously I knew I wouldn't be professionally blogging much longer), 2013 was a year where I shortsightedly took those notes on Twitter. Sure, calling attention to awesome things the night they air is great for telling other people they need to tune in right then, but you try sifting through 10,000 (or so) Tweets now to find that original commentary! So when Twitter's own @boymetworld91 asked me earlier this week, "What was your best and worst TV moments of the year?" I admit I panicked a little bit.


Sure, Ben and Leslie's Parks and Recreation wedding needs to be at the top of the list-- a list which would also be comprised of Kristina Braverman learning she is cancer-free (Parenthood), finally getting Amanda's Nikita back-story and having it be so crazy and so tragic, the entire "Marry Prankster" episode of Happy Endings, the final Breaking Bad sequence, the bunker scene in Scandal where Olivia, Fitz, and Mellie came together to formulate a plan for the affair leak, Sons of Anarchy taking on a school shooting, Danny Castellano dancing on The Mindy Project, and Walter saying good-bye to his son on Fringe. But these are all moments within shows that matter. They may be short in length but they have had a huge impact on the characters, the audience, and the larger world of that show universe. This time around, though, writing on the freedom of my personal blog where I can quite literally play by my own rules entirely, I'd rather look at the moments that changed television this year-- changed the way we watch it, the way we think about it, and the way it may get made in the future-- for better and for worse. Moments like

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting Golden Globes. All eyes were on this comedy duo, and they did not disappoint. It helped that they were helming one of the wackiest award shows out there, where the talent quite literally gets drunker as the show goes on. From their first moments of stumbling up the stairs to their costume changes and GIF-worthy audience popcorn eating, they proved that they took the job seriously enough to want to keep you entertained (especially through the boring categories) but not so seriously that they were going to pretend to be people they're not. They seemed to be having genuine fun and that made everyone want to have fun with them. I can't wait to see what they do in 2014-- and 2015.

The best new series premiered on Netflix. I know everyone wrote about the way binge-watching is changing lives this year, and that is true. But it has also already been said and by sites much more prestigious than mine so there is no need to point out the obvious. But what I do want to point out is that we would not be binge-watching if the shows were crappy. There is still the luxury of turning something off after one or two episodes if it's not striking a chord with you (the difference is now that can happen in one afternoon, rather than over the course of a couple of weeks). Netflix knows that better than anyone; they can track who stops a movie mid-way through because it's not holding their attention only to never return or which shows sit in customers' queues forever but never actually get consumed. So when it came to unveiling original programming, they went sharp and they went smart. After obtaining the fourth season of Arrested Development, the press quite literally came to them, so they didn't have to worry about getting people to sit up and take notice of what they were doing, but they smartly didn't put all their eggs in Arrrested's basket, either. Instead they delivered at least three programs which were arguably even better than Arrested to prove they really know what they're doing. Netflix gave us House of Cards, The Fall, and Orange is the New Black this year-- all shows that I would individually put on any "best of" list, too.

Quiet TV was entertaining, too. The finale of Breaking Bad was a quiet hour of television. There, I said it, judge me if you must! But hear me out first because in this day and age of "dun dun duns" before every act break, let alone end of episode credits tag, the pressure is on television writers to create compelling works that audiences will not only want to stick around for but which they will absolutely need to talk about on social media. And what that does for most writers is create a kind of formula of inciting incidents popping up multiple times per episode and pushing up deadlines for big events to occur within both the timeline of the show and the season. But it doesn't always have to be that way and Breaking Bad proved that. The finale absolutely had big moments (and of course deaths), but it wasn't manic about getting there, and what that allowed for was a realism and a reflection for both the characters and the audience. Much like how the series played out as a whole, the finale had a sense of sheer intensity because you knew-- you just knew, you could feel it in your bones-- something big was coming around the corner but there was also the comfort of the calm by which things were unfolding. Breaking Bad (and another favorite "quiet" show of mine, The Killing) lingered on characters' faces and silent moments, trusting everyone in the process from the writers to the actors to the audience to be able to understand, feel, and be able to sit with the weight of what was happening in these heavy worlds. It was proof that sometimes when you have too much crazy shit going on in an episode you're just distracting the audience from the fact that what's going on really is just shit. Actually, if Hannibal didn't insist on juxtaposing these controlled moments with such shock value gore, even when presented in an artsy way, I would include that here, too. Well, maybe in season two. 

The Good Wife blew off its formula in season five. The Good Wife has always been procedural driven with character and relationship arcs underlying. Robert and Michelle King have done an impressive job of giving CBS and its audience what they think they want by continuing to raise the bar for the kinds of "cases of the week" the show explores but always while challenging them to want something deeper by expanding on what is going on for the characters as they fight for or against these particular cases in court. True to the title of the show, though, the journey is really Alicia's, though, and it is a complex one that sees the audience flip-flopping as much as the character on what the right decision might be at the time (Stay with Peter? Leave a marriage for Will? Start a new firm? Poach a client? etc). Right around the time most procedurals or "of the week" shows would start getting stale, though, The Good Wife refused by blowing the doors off Lockhart/Gardner and splitting apart the team-- not just for a change of physical scenery but to be able to use the character dynamics and histories in new and exciting ways. It was something I hoped Castle would have also done this year when they put Beckett in the FBI but alas that show proved it liked its network drama safety net and brought the show back to its usual formula only a few weeks later. The Good Wife, though, is helping to show networks the most compelling, let alone real, drama comes when there is no formula.

Tatiana Maslany is the lead and supporting characters on Orphan Black. Not since Eileen Davidson's Kristen/Susan/Sister Mary Moira/Thomas/Penelope split on Days of our Lives have I ever seen an actor take on so many roles in one show. But with no disrespect to Davidson (she did the best she could with insane material), never have I ever seen an actor do it so flawlessly as Maslany. Orphan Black could have been a silly, schlocky, Syfy B-movie esque mess if it didn't have a killer technical team and an even more amazing actor in its multiple roles, and that is exactly what they found with Maslany who slips so seamlessly into accents I legitimately thought she was British until I heard her speak on-stage at TCA. There is no one doing what she is doing right now-- on television or otherwise-- and that deserves to be recognized. She manages to steal the scene from herself, and she constantly rises to the occasion of keeping things that seem crazy on paper extremely grounded and at times gut-wrenchingly emotional (We all got a good giggle over Helena slurping Jello and mocking Sarah's day to herself but when Maslany was asked to portray Helena actually impersonating Sarah, she blended the physical characteristics of each individual character perfectly to tip to the audience that something was amiss without giving away everything immediately. Not to sound too scientifically creepy but Maslany should really be studied.

As for worst? Well, this isn't going to win me any friends, but I miss the days when The CW made shows about regular people. Actually, The CW is just an example I am using in what I consider a larger problem. I understand the need to seize a trend that worked once and try to milk it for more (Arrow), but in focusing so much attention on the superhero (and the male), they end up turning their backs on the core loyal demo that have been there since the beginning. Sure, women can and do watch shows with male leads (Supernatural is a perfect example) and thankfully there are strong women supporting the male leads on others (Arrow and The Tomorrow People), but it saddens me that the few shows the network is holding onto that reflect things we can and probably have or maybe even still will actually go through feel like they're just being burned off to make way for the new wave of flashier programming. Television is an escape for many but escapes come in all shapes and locales. Sometimes they really can be as sweet and simple as a Southern town in Alabama (Hart of Dixie) or a coming-of-age tale in a bigger city (The Carrie Diaries). Not everything has to be bigger, louder, faster, and right about now I'm really missing the days of the good ole WB and their relatable but still entertaining Gilmore Girls, The O.C., and even Dawson's Creek (which I admittedly did not love while it was on but now wish I hadn't taken for granted because these shows are not a dime a dozen anymore and I don't always need to watch something that is sensationalism or plot, plot, plot all the time).


Friday, December 20, 2013

Ask DanielleTBD: Trading Lives with TV Characters...

As you can see from my severe lack of entries this month, my inspiration has been dwindling when it comes to writing anything, let alone anything original or creative. So once again I took to Twitter to ask others for help-- to ask me questions or offer me hot topics they're currently buzzing about or even just tell me what works for them when they're similarly depleted. I got a lot of questions in response, most of them TV related. After all, that is how I made my living for the last few years and therefore how most people know me. One of the most interesting ones to me was from Jennifer Marie who asked, "if you could trade lives for a day with one tv character who would it be and why?"

Oh Jennifer Marie, you think you asking for a specific one would force me to be concise, but you'd be wrong. So here's the thing: I'm not going to be creepy and weird and build my perfect TV character out of all of the parts of other TV characters just to give myself the best possible (albeit fake) scenario because that would be cheating. But I am going to list a few characters (though I'll play by some of your rules and stick to TV characters) I'd want to trade places with because let's face it, when you're almost 30 and unemployed and living in the same apartment you've had since college, you need an escape. Almost any escape.

  • Liz Lemon. When 30 Rock first debuted on NBC Liz Lemon was basically me but successful. I, too, wanted to write and produce television (at one point I even specifically wanted my television to be on NBC but well then the regime changed and changed again). I, too, had terrible eating habits and neurotic dating ones. But none of her obstacles were obstacles, rather interesting pops of color that complicated her life and gave her that much more material. By the end of the show's run she even had the family proving that Yes, Virginia, women really can have it all. In fact, now I may need Liz Lemon's life (even if just for a day) more than ever: to shake myself awake and actually inspire me to do something other than snuggling under a slanket on the couch with my marathons of Top Chef and frozen pizzas.

  • Carol on Episodes. Here's the thing about this character: she blinked. I would want to be her but at the tail end of season two when she was basically offered the head of the network job. Because I would take it and never look back. Now, I don't want to spoil season three for you (because it's hilarious in that meta way it's always been only it goes a step farther to even have its characters attend what basically amounts to a TCA party in all of its own ridiculous glory), but Carol has yet to come into her own at the top of the food chain. She may make most of the decisions because the men above her are morons who don't even seem really understand the medium, let alone have anything past the most basic morsels of ideas ("We should do a show about gargoyles." "What about them?" "That's it, gargoyles!"), but she isn't really in the power position and she actually gets in her own way a lot. Now, I'd love to have the power and nobody's giving it to me in my life either, but if I were Carol, I'd be in a position where I could make some huge moves and then take the power. Also, I'd use the opportunity to green light some of my awesome friends' show ideas.

  • Awkward's Val. This may not be the "cool" answer, but I don't care. Val has her quirks and her oddities, but they are all part of her charm. And the best part is though she clearly wants to be "down" with some specific kids, she really doesn't seem to care what the majority of them think of her. Otherwise she would have burned her own fanny pack by now, right? Granted, if I actually was her for a day I would burn the fanny pack, but I would relish everything else she gets to do-- from doling out terrible advice to creating PSAs in the form of both plays and videos to getting to the bottom of whatever mystery is lurking the halls of Palos Hills. It would be nice to let my hair down and just be kooky for once!

  • The Tomorrow People's Cara. She is bad-ass plain and simple, and when the show returns in the new year she actually gets to step up a bit more front and center in the decision-making of things among her people. Reading minds and teleporting are cool enough, kicking the ass of those who give your kind a bad name (and those who want to do your kind harm) is even better, but her role expands into more of an acknowledged protector that must feel really nice, too. 

  • Any of the Bravermans. I just really want to be a part of that family! Family is therapeutic, and especially around the holidays it would be nice to sit at a huge table over a big meal, talking, laughing, passing potatoes and then presents.

  • Leslie Knope. Next to Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope is the character on television who I see the most of myself in with her hoarder ways that I, too, have recently shed to her very specific older man crushes (hers is Biden, mine has always been Stephen King) to her love of sugar and hatred of salad to her big dreams and big goals. The difference is that she has only had a blip or two of cynicism damper her sunny demeanor and when she gets blocked or down on herself she can pull herself out (with a little help from her friends) very quickly. Those are characteristics I would love to have and think I could learn from, even if only for a day.

  • Any of the Orange is the New Black ladies. Okay, I know what you're thinking: why on Earth would I want to be in prison, right? Well, true that I wouldn't do well with the communal showers or the religious babble or the bitches who want to fight me or anything, but there is something just so soothing about being told I have to take a vacation from technology. The stacks of books on Piper's shelf remind me of a simpler time in my own life, and I'd love to be able to just read all day without hearing the buzzing of my email or the questions from friends about what kind of job I'm trying to get. Plus unlike being stuck at home, in jail my meals would be limited and outdoor time would be a privilege I wouldn't take for granted. I might even exercise if I was surrounded by people who I don't know and who I could therefore reinvent myself for. And you know, they have dogs there, too, so...

  • Oliver Queen (Arrow). Felicia Day recently said that if she could switch bodies with anyone for a day she'd pick someone like George Clooney or Clive Owen so she could basically stare at herself in a mirror all day long. And I really think she was onto something with that!

  • And of course, Tami Taylor. That really should speak for itself.
But now had you asked me which characters I most realistically think I am, well, that is a whole other story entirely!


Ask DanielleTBD: About Those Set Visits...

"Report from the Set" is one of my most favorite columns ever because in them I can provide a behind-the-scenes look at how some of my favorite television shows get made. I never get too technical because this isn't film school, but I still really enjoy calling attention to the little things many take for granted or otherwise never even think about: things like the vibe on set or whether a director shouts his notes across the soundstage or gets up after each take to calmly discuss whatever needs tweaking with whoever needs to tweak it. I don't get to contribute original entries to this column nearly as much as I'd like because far too often when I visit sets I am shuttled into one quiet corner to sit and wait patiently for my interviews rather than observing the actual working environment. Other times the things I observe are too spoilery or otherwise off the record (cough: industry gossip) to share here anyway. I always wonder if people want more of those columns like I do, and then I decided to open Twitter to another "Ask DanielleTBD" and the very first question that came my way was one that fit inside that category. Charles Dulaney (you Communies definitely know him!) asked me what was the funniest set I have ever visited. I asked him to clarify if he meant funniest because of subject matter (i.e. cast who brought the most jokes to my experience) or funniest as in most surreal or otherwise odd experience. He asked me to consider both. And so I have.


Charles (and anyone else who cares), I'm not trying to play to my audience, so to speak, but I really think one of the funniest experiences I've had (fitting both parameters) has been on the set of Community. I visited the set three times in the last four years, twice do take part in roundtable style interviews with a handful of other media people and one on my own with an exclusive look at their holiday musical episode in season three. Now, when you get a group of people together, no matter how small the group, the comedian in many of these comedy players comes out. They see an audience, and they want to perform. They know they're there to answer questions about the show, but they can't give away too many spoilers, so they tend to lean towards answering in a colorful way to keep you entertained and to avoid having to say stupid things like "I don't know, you'll just have to watch and see!" which is the bane of any interviewer's existence. Seriously, try printing that; the internet will eat you alive.

Joel McHale is also notorious for being a bit of a heckler. If he gets the sense that you (or someone at your table, in this group scenario) doesn't actually watch the show, he will call it out and keep returning to it throughout the course of the interview. One time I watched him make up three episodes worth of story lines when a reporter who didn't seem to even realize they weren't a brand new show asked him what his favorite episodes were. He asked her what hers were and she stammered but couldn't really answer, so he seized the opportunity. Being an actual fan of the show as well as someone who would research to properly do the job if I wasn't already a fan, I had a field day just watching him think so quickly on his feet. It was like a Community-centric stand up act.

The first time I visited the set in early season two I was able to wander around Greendale's cafeteria, library, and student lounge a bit, taking in the crazy signage, and part of the fun and yes insanity comes from those details. But honestly the funniest moments do come from the personalities you run into on set-- whether it's Danny Pudi doing voices for your FlipCam or listening to Donald Glover talk about the perils of Twitter handles with the crew (Remember @donglover?) or having Chevy Chase stop mid-interview to lean over to Gillian Jacobs for help with an answer (for the record, I simply asked him what he had shot earlier that day).

Being on set alone for "Regional Holiday Music" was a trip in and of itself, though, because they had a few short days to pack in choreography, song recording, and their regular scenes. I hadn't been allowed to read the script before I showed up on set, so I was only able to fill in the context for what I was seeing as the day went on and I talked with more and more cast members. I knew the basics from NBC's summary of the episode, but it was definitely surreal for the first thing I walked into that day to be the study group taking the stage to sing and dance a holiday tune. Chase's spot was filled by his stand-in/body double unless it was a close-up shot on him; Jacobs was dressed in a unitard; Taran Killam was peppier than I had ever seen him; and they all were talking about regionals and singing. 

You expect outside of the box from this show, and sure, the scenes you watch always give you that feeling (the most recent time I visited the set was when John Hodgeman was trying to convince the group Greendale wasn't real), but it's still jarring to see it in non-linear bits and pieces. Over the course of the day I also watched Alison Brie learn shorthand for one of her dance numbers, watched the crew toss cash into a bucket because at the end of the day there would be a raffle where one of them would win the whole thing, listened over a radio as one crew member freaked that he gave a cast member pain pills without knowing said cast member had already taken a bunch of pain meds (dancing is hard, you guys!), and experienced one of Nathan Fillion's now-usual drop bys to visit his friends on the show.

But I'll say this, and probably not just because it's fresh on my mind, a recent trip to the Alibi Room over at Shameless is coming a close second in the funny/odd category-- not because of the stories I heard when my camera was rolling but because of the ones that were shared when it was off. Hollywood is a small town (as evidenced by Fillion popping over to Community so often, probably), and you never know what you may learn about people you only kind of sort of know. Sometimes it will change the way you think about them-- and their shows.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Learning To Dance Alone: The Jenna Hamilton Story...

I am notorious for speaking out about how shows change (and rarely for the better) once a creator/showrunner leaves the helm in a late season. Even when someone who has been working with that creator/showrunner all along steps up to fill the position, the resulting product is never the same show with which we first fell in love. The behind-the-scenes shuffle doesn't always mean the new show will be bad, but it will be different. It has to be simply for the fact that the person who created it poured so many unique intricacies into it that only he or she can do because it came from his or her brain. His or her absence leaves big shoes to fill for whoever takes over in tone and voice and sometimes story itself (see Supernatural's Eric Kripke literally leaving one of his characters in hell when he departed from the show in season five). There can often be a sense of "where do we go from here?" And it is in those moments that absolutely anything is possible. Magic can be made or a once great show can fall flat on its face.


That is exactly the position MTV's Awkward is in now that creator Lauren Iungerich has departed with the end of season three to create new comedies for more major networks. When Awkward first started, Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards) was a young outcast just hoping to fit in. Her journey consisted of her falling for a boy who at first didn't want anyone to know they were hanging out to becoming more popular and having two cool guys interested in her and between whom she had to choose. She made mistakes along the way; she kept one eye on what she didn't choose even when she supposedly had everything she wanted (in that "the grass is always greener" sort of way); she even cheated and spiraled down a dark, depressingly stereotypical hole of teenage angst that resulted in short-term alienation of friends, drug use, striking out at authority figures, and general douchebaggery. But what was always so interesting about Jenna, even when she was doing things you didn't like let alone condone, was how complex she was written-- to the point of almost tricking the audience into thinking she was a role model when really she was just relatable as any high school girl. And no high school girls are real role models because they all have a lot of growing up to still do. 

Iungerich created Jenna with an air of maturity because she was dry witted and she liked to write self-reflexively alone in her room, but when you saw her-- really saw her-- she was just as insecure (if not more so) than everyone else in high school. She desperately wanted to be accepted-- marked most notably by Matty (Beau Mirchoff)-- and because of that she measured her worth based on how he (and select others) treated her. Even her writing, when you looked closely enough, was less honestly self-aware and more therapeutic for the kid who needed an outlet. There was a reason she freaked out so hard when she realized her blog accidentally went public: sometimes you spin things, even to yourself, to make you feel better about your position in them and in the world. There's nothing wrong with that, but it can work towards keeping you stunted.

In Iungerich's final season at Awkward she took Jenna on a roller coaster ride of self-destruction and spiraling to expose the lost little girl that was hiding inside the character this whole time. It's funny how the moments you posture the most are the ones in which your true colors really shine. Iungerich let Jenna be raw and emotional and vulnerable, but she didn't leave her there for someone else to rebuild, either. Instead, in the end she gave Jenna the one thing you couldn't watch this show and not root for: real confidence. Awkward was about Jenna finding and accepting herself and at the end of season three she succeeded and completed that journey. Where do you go from there?

Jenna didn't graduate from high school at the end of season three, so season four still has a lot of room to play with the high school hierarchy and shenanigans that come along with it, especially in senior year when friendships are at the risk of being torn apart by states separating their colleges, and especially when there are old loves you may want to rekindle. But those are all external stories that can feel really empty without deeper meaning for the characters. Iungerich healed Jenna by the end of season three: she not only gave the character complete self-awareness, but she had the character acknowledge it and actually take the step to better herself because of it. The Jenna at the end of season three was happy in a way she had never been before: she was happy with herself. To have that only be a fleeting moment-- and therefore have Jenna regress in season four-- would be a huge mistake because of how much good work it would undo but also for the positive message it would destroy for the younger audience who is looking to shows and characters like this for guidance.

I do not envy the new Awkward showrunners for being in this tough position, but I would hope that they would use it to their advantage and continue Iungerich's late-series thread of turning the focus off sophomoric, external love triangles and putting it more on introspection and actual growing up. Jenna has learned to like herself, but we need to see more of that exhibited to prove it's permanent and true growth. Only then can we even begin to accept her trying to get into another relationship-- whether it's again with Matty or this time someone new. Her journey isn't really over, it has just greatly shifted. But it wasn't just Jenna who came a long way: she was the center of the show, but Iungerich smartly mimicked the same theme in every character and chose to express them unique and specific ways for the other individuals. Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) and Ming (Jessica Lu) had to learn to give up control; Lacey (Nikki DeLoach) learned to forgive herself and find her own place in the world; Val (Desi Lydic) who learned boundaries-- sort of; Sadie learned humility and how to let others in; and Matty, too, learned to stop caring what other people thought. These characters weren't always on the same page at the same time, but they are all getting to the same destination, and the important one is not high school graduation or college acceptances but self-acceptance. Because more than anything, that is what will set them up for success in love, in friendships, in families-- in life.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

I Elfed Myself and You Should Too...

This is the last Christmas before I turn 30, and I'll be honest with you and say I always assumed I'd have kids by now. But I don't. It just didn't click into place for me yet, and the way things have gone in the past few years, I'm not sure if I will end up having kids at all. But that doesn't stop the desire to run around collecting the coolest things from every Target and Toys 'R Us in the Los Angeles area to have awesome gifts under the tree come Christmas morning. I have a few friends who have kids, and I offered them my services and shopping skills, but they're all so on top of things I wasn't needed there. I thought about donating to one of the many Toys for Tots bins around the city, but I wouldn't know what to select, and the cynical part of me wonders if they are even sanctioned/if they make it to needy kids at all. And then I remembered that 30 Rock episode in which Liz Lemon "adopted" two underprivileged boys and delivered toys to their door for the holidays. That had to be a real thing, right? And if it isn't, maybe I could start it!


It turns out it is very much a real endeavor. Every year, select post offices around the country collect letters to Santa and then open their doors for the public to come in and play elves. I expected to walk into the downtown L.A. branch, be handed a few pages at random-- or hopefully based on the spending bracket I could afford-- and be on my merry way to shop, shop, shop. Instead, when I ventured down there today I was greeted by a few cheerful volunteers, a plate of cookies, hot coffee, and four tables pushed together to make a square, already almost full of people reading through letters. I expected there to be a lot of needy children this holiday season, but I didn't expect to have to be the one to determine which ones were worthy of my presents.

When I sat down at the table, I was handed a small pile of letters that had already been read and rejected by at least one other potential elf. I did not like that, and I was determined to pick at least one from that pile. I expected some of the requests to be hard to fill, but that doesn't make them unworthy; every child deserves something special on Christmas, and to make it happen for a child who doesn't expect it is to give that child something that much more magical. That particular pile happened to be the "iPad pile" as the elf before me dubbed it because every letter in it requested an iPhone, iPad, or Xbox (or some combination of all three). Reading through them, one after the other, I immediately felt that sinking feeling their parents must have. I can't afford to buy myself these things right now, let alone one or two kids' worth, but that doesn't stop the demand from being there, nor does it mean the kids don't deserve something so shiny and exciting. What was even more humbling, though, were the letters that asked for money to help pay the rent or for the most basic life items like clothes and shoes and school backpacks. The holidays are a time for specialness-- for having fun and getting things you want, not ones that you need, but it's hard to get excited about a new toy when there is a larger problem looming around you. And people are just struggling.

Some letters were meticulously detailed and organized, listing items in rankings and listing locations and prices next to them, as well. Others were much more general. I have to admit, the specific ones were the ones that I gravitated to personally because they were ones I didn't think I could screw up. Sure, I might have to Google what something is, or a store might be out of something (or one or two of the items might even be something the kid invented), but that's better than getting the kid the wrong thing and having their belief in Santa waiver. I stopped believing in Santa the year I asked for a Magic Baby (the brand) doll, and on Christmas morning I received the bald baby one instead of the curly haired toddler I was hoping for. I didn't specific past brand, assuming Santa would know (he knew when I was sleeping, naughty, and nice, after all!), but my overworked mother had no clue what was in my little head. She later purchased the "correct" doll for me, but that didn't change the fact that I realized the real Santa never would have gotten such a thing wrong and therefore he must not be real at all. And I could never do that to another little kid, so even if I felt good about buying an eight-year old Grand Theft Auto (which I don't for other reasons), unless it was specified on what platform the kid plays, I unfortunately had to add that to my own "pass" pile.

I didn't come close to reading all of the letters the post office had because I knew if I kept reading I'd end up selling my car to make these strangers' holiday dreams come true. But I ended up choosing three letters based on the ones that I kept coming back to, even when reading more and more. The first was one that was so simple and humble in its requests it saddened me a little. He may have wanted cool characters on the hats, shirts, and backpacks he was requesting, but he was still requesting basic items that he needs to get by. He wrote such a nice letter and asked about the Clauses, reindeer, and elves that I decided to throw in a few extra items for him, too, as a surprise and maybe even to keep him writing.

One girl asked for a bike. I know, I know, that's a tall order, but it was such an old-fashioned request I couldn't stop staring at it waiting for the trick or to learn that "bike" was actually the next generation in tablets. But moreover it reminded me of my own mother who worked so hard to make sure I never wondered if Santa would leave me what I wanted let alone anything at all. In fact, she often overcompensated and filled the void of quality time with countless things (like the aforementioned two Magic Baby dolls). And bikes were her thing. I am pretty sure I wanted the first one she ever bought me, but I quickly came to realize that the idea of a bike was better than the real thing and I was actually somewhat scared by how unstable and therefore unsafe I felt while on it. But even after I never really rode that first bike, she kept buying me new ones as I grew. Once she even bought herself a matching one, claiming we'd ride around together on the weekends and get exercise. They sat in our second-story walk up apartment collecting dust and acting as a makeshift clothes hanger for years. But the fact that she spent so much money on something I never wanted while it was the thing this little girl wanted most? I can't get over that.

Although I didn't really think through how to get the bike in my car let alone how to ship it, even locally, but CHRISTMAS!

The last letter I selected only had one item on it: a turtle. It was a short and to the point letter asking for a turtle for Christmas and it even had a drawing of one on the bottom of the page. It was one in the rejected pile from another elf, seemingly because it was too complicated a request. I mean, you can't mail a live animal, right? But complicated doesn't mean impossible, and Santa sure would find a way! I didn't even think about it; I just marched up to a volunteer and asked how we could make it happen.

It actually took three people before the woman running the show, so to speak, gave me her number and said she might be able to set it up where I connect directly with the family and come up with some kind of neutral drop off location. But even if I can't do that, I can go to Petco and get a gift certificate so the kid can pick up the turtle the day after Christmas. It won't be under the tree, but it will still be fulfilled. And it will also come with some awesome new art supplies because talent like that has to get nurtured. Meanwhile, that drawing is going up on my fridge.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

My 2013 Pop Culture Christmas WishList (aka What To Buy Me This Holiday Season)...

Dear Santa,

Admittedly there are quite a number of pop culture items that I am lucky enough to either get for free because of my work or that I simply purchase for myself as they are made available to purchase. But every now and then there are a handful of items that I delay on or simply can't find at all, and those are the ones I would love for you (or for my friends) to leave beneath my tree on Christmas Day. Consider the following my Pop Culture Christmas Wishlist (Consumer Edition) for 2013.

Supernatural Funko Vinyls. Since I am serious about getting a full-time, mostly likely office job in 2014, I am going to need some things to decorate my soon-to-be desk, and what better than these adorable figurines from one of my favorite shows? Sure, Dean should be wearing his amulet and carrying a gun instead of a knife, but I'll let that slide. Amazon has a great two-fer offer for the Winchester boys. Castiel, however, is a rarer find, on eBay, international sites, and I'm told select Hot Topic stores.


Steff Bomb's Zack Morris phone plush. This was a part of Gallery 1988's recent "Rock, Paper Scissors" pop culture art show, but personally I just think it would make a great new pillow for Madison.

Speaking of Saved by the Bell, Joey Splotto has a rare (and admittedly factually inaccurate) framed record and artwork for Zack Attack's "Friends Forever" single also available through Gallery 1988. It's so adorable I'll forgive the inclusion of Jessie who WAS NOT IN THAT EPISODE.

Suburgatory season 2 on DVD. Yes, I still buy DVDs-- select ones anyway of shows that I will watch over and over and often as background noise while I'm doing other things. Now that we've moved past that, Warner Bros. never released the second season of this charming and heartfelt little comedy series, and that bums me out greatly, especially because it is such a big season. Get on that release for me (please), even if it has to be print on demand!

An Arrow/James Bamford Stunt Team tee-shirt. The irony of me wearing such a thing (most likely to sleep) is worth the price alone, but I also just love the physical work they are accomplishing on this show.

Vote Braverman paraphernalia. Kristina may not have won the Parenthood election, but I voted for her and I want commemorative items from that campaign. Besides, they're all the more rare now that she didn't win, right? NBC sent bumper stickers around when Leslie Knope was running for her city council, so it just bums me out this dramatic equivalent didn't get the same promotional treatment.

Cards Against Humanity expansion packs. No matter who hosts game night lately, this always gets pulled out because it's a version of Apples to Apples for terrible people. And let's face it, I'm pretty dark, cynical, and twisted. The makers of the game keep adding to it with what I assume are more timely references, names, and events, and I really want to know what they are and include them in the rotation.

More "Colour Me" coloring books. I already have the '90s one (natch), but I just stumbled upon a Swoon Beefcake book that is just too funny. The pictures in these coloring books are more art than outline, and I admit I find coloring really relaxing and fun. I can't draw worth a damn, but I can certainly stay within the lines and get creative with palates!

Fantasy Floorplans for Friends and Dexter. One TV fan sketched out the craziness of TV digs of the '50s all the way to today. While she has everything from Seinfeld to Desperate Housewives to I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch, you know my obvious favorites. Plus, I can't wait to see what details are highlighted-- from the  picture frame on Monica's door to Mr. Morgan's concealing air conditioning unit. They're perfect for framing!

Also perfect for framing (I really like artistic things-- and I'm really hoping to have an office or at least a cubicle in which to hang these things soon) are Kyle Hilton's TV character paper dolls. I first took the most notice with Happy Endings because ABC gave a book of them out at TCA, but he also has amazing ones for Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, and Parks and Recreation-- to name a few!

A hip-hop Santa. I asked for this last year, too, after Happy Endings used it in their holiday episode. Now, that one was crafted by the prop department specifically for the episode (and the music seemed to be dubbed later), but I was told Walmart sold these a few years ago and there has to be one or two floating around the internet as some kind of weird collector's item!


Monday, December 2, 2013

2013's Pop Culture Gifts (Part 2)...

Thanksgiving may be over, and Christmas is still a few weeks away, but those are not the only two days of the year when we should be celebrating the gifts for which we are thankful. This year pop culture gave us quite a lot of those, and I think it's time to call out some of my personal favorites. Some of these are expected if you've been following my writing for awhile, but there are a few that took even me by surprise.
 
Alison and Felix' Orphan Black friendship. BBC America's Orphan Black was a gift in and of itself, full of so many surprising moments and amazing acting instances, but the one that stuck out as a particularly fun gem was the friendship that evolved between the seemingly Martha Stewart-esque suburban Alison and Sarah's snarky artist pal Felix. Though opposites at first glance, he brought out her looser side, and she provided him with ample opportunity for one-liners. I need a pop-up of them on the bottom of every TV show, commenting on what's going on on-screen!

Suzanne and Sophia on Orange is the New Black. These are characters we have never seen before on television and probably never will again, and everything about them helped make this new Netflix series that much more unique. From the ever quotable "I threw my pie for you" to peeing outside Piper's bunk to seeing her revert to a childlike state around her adopted parents, Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) turned everything you might assume about a prisoner just from looking at them on its head. And Laverne Cox as Sophia introduced a very human side to a struggle many still don't quite understand: her story was much more about finding herself, rather than just the mistakes she made that landed her in the prison, and that opened the world and the story up significantly to ask its audience to reflect on their own senses of self, family, and sacrifices.
 
Mark-Paul Gosselaar going back to Malibu on Franklin & Bash. Sure, the TNT drama didn't take the opportunity to name check Malibu Sands or the Carosi family (how dare they!), but diehard Saved by the Bell fans (aka me) still got to see Zack Morris all grown up and still ruling the California beaches the way he did when he was still enrolled as Bayside. And that meant plenty of shirtless time when he was walking or surfing the shore in the early morning.

Cara on The Tomorrow People. It both baffles and saddens me that young adult programming (novels and movies) like The Hunger Games and Divergent can be so great about featuring flawed but still heroic females at the center of the story while television cannot. It's not for lack of trying (long before Arrow or The Flash were making their way to TV, attempts were made at Wonder Woman and Nikita did actually make it onto The CW network for a few short, sadly low rated seasons), but for whatever reason it doesn't strike the same way. The Tomorrow People is another example of an action drama that is seemingly centered on an "every man" type who learns he has abilities and must become a hero-- but it's not just this one man's story, and one of those most important to it is Cara (Peyton List), a really bad-ass young woman who has a strong sense of self and spirit and can and will kick a lot of ass to hold onto it. She may just be picking up where Nikita is leaving off, and that's a band aid on a bigger programming problem, but it is certainly an exciting start.

Stephen King's "Doctor Sleep." I can't tell you how many times I wonder what characters from my favorite pieces of media would be up to years later. Sometimes it would be a fleeting thought as a memory of one, somewhat long-lost character was evoked by a newer book, movie, or TV show, and sometimes it would be more out of hope that the character was still okay after a perhaps less than happy ending. Danny Torrance in "The Shining" was one example of the latter. I tried not to think too much about the book after I first closed it on my shelf because of how downright uncomfortable it made me, but that didn't stop little Danny's image from flashing in my mind-- especially since the kids who played him in the movies were always so cherubic. But this year King told us we could stop our wondering, even if not fully our worrying, by telling us what became of young Danny-now Daniel Torrance, a boy with a gift who grew into a man with a curse. And (ironically to my previous point) he did it while introducing a pretty kick-ass young heroine to follow in his footsteps, too.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

2013's Pop Culture Gifts (Part 1)...

Thanksgiving may be over, and Christmas is still a few weeks away, but those are not the only two days of the year when we should be celebrating the gifts for which we are thankful. This year pop culture gave us quite a lot of those, and I think it's time to call out some of my personal favorites. Some of these are expected if you've been following my writing for awhile, but there are a few that took even me by surprise.

Danny Castellano's sweet, sweet dance moves on The Mindy Project. While I know technically these were introduced in season one when Schulman & Associates spent a night out at a New York Club, things get even better in season two's upcoming Christmas episode. Chris Messina gets to shine in that episode not only by making yet another amazing gingerbread house but also by delivering the best gift to us all with a choreographed routine to a song you would assume Danny would hate. I won't spoil it by saying which song it is; you just have to see it in all of it's glory for yourself when "Christmas Party Sex Trap" airs on FOX on December 3rd at 9:30 p.m.

Softer songs like "Legacy", "The Monster", "Headlights" off Eminem's MMLP2". While I wrote about how this album was a bit uneven, I also pointed out that it could potentially be his last, and that makes it-- and especially these songs on it that shine-- all the more special.


Taylor Kitsch surfacing at a random Broncos football practice. Kitsch has been busy this year filming an HBO project in NYC, and that's great, and I'm excited to see that project when it's done. But it's a slight period piece, and it puts him in a suit with suspenders and Sun-In style blond hair, while these images present the much more rugged Tim Riggins style Kitsch with which we all first fell in love. The Broncos may be in Colorado and not Texas, but Riggins Forever, am I right!?

The book-ended close-ups of Katniss in Catching Fire. Not only did this perfectly set up that the audience was going to be from her point-of-view, but it immediately set you into the mindset of someone who had gotten back from hell and was still exhibiting resonating feelings from it, and it proved Francis Lawrence as a director had a clear plan and vision. But it also proved that this was Jennifer Lawrence's movie. She has come so far as an actress and as a star in such a short amount of time, and she is one of the rare ones who is only going to get better and more deserving of the attention and accolades.

Ben and Leslie's impromptu Parks and Recreation wedding. Everything about this episode was amazing and sweet and so heartfelt and aspirational. There was one blemish on an otherwise perfect episode: Jamm's presence-- but thankfully even that was handled with care and made okay by him getting punched in the face. But from Lil Sebastian (sort of) to Leslie's newspaper wedding dress to Ron taking her arm in the hall to Retta singing along to an appropriated version of Andy's song to the fact that Leslie and Ben's rings were made from a waffle iron-- it was a beautiful piece of television.

Ron and Diane's impromptu Parks and Recreation wedding-- or more specifically, Diane's middle name fake-out and Leslie's reaction to it all. This show is just perfect.

Just Trophy Wife in general. I admit it was hard to get over ABC taking away my Happy Endings, and I was reluctant to fall in love with any of their new programming this fall, let alone their comedies, but Trophy Wife completely won me over. The blended family is charming on its own, but with the wit of Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern behind it, the show has been able to be both sly and smart with its comedy. Whether it's something big like Warren dressing as Ellen Degeneres for Halloween or Jackie "Misery-ing" Pete when he got sick or something much more subtle like the screen name for Warren and Bert's gum web series' number one fan, Trophy Wife has created a really clever comedy with layered laughs. The intention here was to pick a small favorite moment to call out, but honestly, that proved extremely hard. They're all great (okay, Diane as a Catfish is probably my favorite).

Dexter's final season homages to its beginnings. I wasn't nearly as outraged by the series finale of Showtime's Dexter as many, but even if you absolutely abhorred the final minutes, you had to appreciate what came before it. The eighth and final season was chock full of nods to the first season, most obviously with the dive into Dexter's past to again have a truth surface that blindsided him, down to the trap he set for one of his last kills. In season one Dexter used a fake Debra made of prosthetics and pillows to lure the Ice Truck Killer into his apartment. In season eight, proving just how far they had come and together, Debra was in on the trap with her brother. It was the Easter eggs that meant the most in this season (a personal favorite was J. Mitchell as a file on the Brain Surgeon's computer), if you were paying attention to them. You may not have always liked the paths down which this show took its characters or stories but it was hard to argue that they weren't paying attention or that they were ignoring history.

Will Chase on Nashville. In general, Nashville has turned itself around quite a bit since the second season premiere, but with the loss of Smash and the disservice that that NBC series had done to Chase's character before spiraling down the Cancellation Bear's gullet as perhaps the most satisfying meal of the season, I was hoping Chase would pop up somewhere more deserving soon. An episode of The Good Wife was moderately satisfying, but it's really only perfect if he gets to use all of his talents, and singing may just be his greatest one. So Nashville painting him as a country star who has now fallen into a professional and personal relationship with Rayna, letting him share screen time with Connie Britton, has just been perfectly enjoyable.

Penny's "Black Plague: A Love Story" play on Happy Endings. There were a lot of great moments from what turned out to be Happy Endings' final season, but watching Casey Wilson sing and dance and prance around stage as a literal black plague of death in the 1800s while figuratively viewing herself as a black plague of love for breaking off her engagement was certainly a highlight in its silliness-- and also the growth it allowed the characters afterwards. Not only did Penny prove she wasn't willing to settle to get married just to get married; it had to be right, but Max also stepped up and offered some solid, mature advice, too.