Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dear TV Gods...


Though this site is extremely young, change is always bound to happen- sometimes in ways we don't expect. For me, this change came in the form of starting college in Boston, where I will be majoring in Visual and Media Arts Production at Emerson College. I'm so excited to be attending this incredible institution to study my passions, but sadly, with this, comes a lack of time and energy to devote to my other passion: TV. 

While I don't have ample free time to watch, analyze, and review TV shows anymore, Emerson College still has incredible opportunities for aspiring writers like me. In particular, their online publication, Emertainment Monthly! Here, myself and other great student writers are able to publish their writings on TV, film, video games, literature, and so much more. It's truly a great publication- one I suggest you bookmark! 

For my fellow TV believers, I will now be publishing articles addressed to the TV Gods there for the foreseeable future, so please head over to that website to continue viewing my prayers to the Gods. Furthermore- Dear TV Gods is going LIVE! Through Emertainment Monthly, I will be writing and hosting a new web show where my loathsome curses or joyous prayers can be displayed for your viewing pleasures! That's right: Dear TV Gods will now be written and filmed! 

This is all certainly something to thank the TV Gods for... What are you waiting for? Go check out now!


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dear TV Gods...

An urgent prayer for the near-perfect The Get Down to unite its exceptional, but disconnected, parts

The Get Down, Netflix's newest scripted drama, has a lot to love on paper: created by Oscar-nominated and personal favorite Baz Luhrmann, a cast made up nearly entirely of black and Latinx actors, a raw and honest setting, and a plot that is both fantastical and historically honest. On screen, however, not all of these great traits retain their greatness, resulting in a show that struggles to balance TV show format with cinematic grandeur, and characters that don't get the depth and development they deserve. 

Before entering the world of The Get Down it's important to note that you will be treated to stunning visuals and vibrant colors, a pulsating soundtrack to guide you through each episode, and multiple storylines converging and clashing at a moment's notice. This is what filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, (who is most recognized for his rhapsodic Moulin Rouge!), does best, and it is a success in The Get Down as well. Separately, these components of a Luhrmann production all make the transfer from film to TV successfully, so successfully that the operatic climaxes of Episodes 1, 3, and 6 is sure to give any viewer chills. However, when combining these elements into a cohesive, television format, the end result is not as fulfilling. When watching a Baz Luhrmann film, the rapid acceleration of songs and visuals and the constantly moving parts of characters and stories are intentionally building to a massive climatic collision that ends the movie on a high. But in TV- and in The Get Down in particular- episodes that aren't finales must have softer endings and plot-lines remaining unresolved amidst all the sensory-overload in order to keep the audience intrigued episode after episode. 

Perhaps Netflix and the binge-watching phenomenon is to blame; given the ability to binge all 6 episodes of a show means episodes needn't end traditionally, and stylistic flourishes alone can drive a show that is meant to be completed in one sitting. But what is most frustrating about The Get Down is that the themes and political nuances presented prove that high-quality writing is thriving under all the stylistic embellishments. In the quiet moments of the show, where Ezekiel (Justice Smith) recites his painful poetry or Dizzee (Jaden Smith) rebels against lawmakers with his graffiti art, viewers are shown the simple, aching beauty of life in the Bronx and the people that contributed to its history. In the quieter moments, viewers are told "leaders are going to lead" as the primary theme of the show, and we get to witness it's complexities when Ezekiel struggles to take control of his career, both musically and politically, while Shaolin (Shameik Moore) continually slides back into the lacky-position under Fat Annie (Lillias White). The complex theme of leadership and the skewering of political misguidance are this show's greatest strengths, and the show is soaring highest when these strengths are combined equally with the explosive flair of Luhrmann productions, rather than when they take a backseat to it.

Furthering the battle of style-over-substance is the characters that populate The Get Down. Viewers are given a taste of the rich character-pool the show will dive into in the first episode by rapidly fluttering from scene to scene, introducing us to ample amounts of two-dimensional characters that can expand as the series goes on. But sadly, as viewers complete the first set of six episodes, we realize that the glances from Episode 1 is all we will get. Upon completion of the available episodes, it is apparent that most characters are being used solely to progress plots or express the aforementioned themes of the show, as compared to growing and developing amongst a changing plot and against the backdrop of said themes. This realization of permanently-2D characters is frustratingly apparent in Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola) and her father, the former who displays intelligence and independence when working for her music career, but foolishness and immaturity when dealing with Ezekiel for no reason other than to accentuate the drama of their relationship. The latter, Mylene's father Pastor Ramon (Giancarlo Esposito), is given absolutely nothing to do but abuse and belittle his daughter -with a reasoning behind the abuse being "cartoonish", at best- until he suddenly turns a new leaf after being essentially black-mailed by his brother into supporting Mylene. It's unrealistic, and it's an unfortunate waste of a potentially-riveting character arc for both Mylene and her father. But the most disappointing character out of the crop of potentially-captivating group is Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Storming onto the scene as a colorful, psychotic drug-fiend, Cadillac had the most potential for an interesting arc. Perhaps he resents Fat Annie and attempts to take over her operation, wanting to be the leader he believes he could be. Or, perhaps the opposite, and he begs for Annie to bestow him with more trust, giving us the opportunity to see a new, more vulnerable side of Cadillac. Maybe these arcs are simply further down the line for Cadillac, but as of now, he is given storylines that only propel him further towards the stereotypical, basic "bad guy" archetype, once again, being used solely to progress the plot.

The Get Down has all the makings of an incredible show: a unique and lively plot, a huge crop of diverse characters, a setting with rich history and aesthetics, and a message that is broad in its impact and relevance. These great traits are also the show's pitfall, as it frequently suffers from over-abundance, leaving some characters to be forgotten, and style to overwhelm. If The Get Down can combine these many moving parts into one, cohesive TV production, I am sure it will go down as one of Netflix's greatest TV efforts. Experiencing this show is a true pleasure, one that I legitimately recommend to others, and one that I am eager to see develop and hopefully improve in future episodes and seasons. In it's current state, however, with Luhrmann's lush style and characters that remain stagnant throughout, it's easy to find yourself thinking after some episodes, "why wasn't this just a movie instead?"

Blessings and Afflictions

  • Blessing: The music! Being a Baz Luhrmann production, music is destined to be a key element of The Get Down, and it does not disappoint. Perhaps the biggest hit and most recognizable, 'Set Me Free', is a bona fide hit, but the epic track list doesn't end there. Check out the full album on iTunes for more of the stellar music from the show.
  • Blessing: Jaden Smith's 'Dizzee'! Teased by the other characters for being pretentious or too "artsy fartsy", Dizzee brings a fresh take at the "free-loving 70's" and his journey into famously boisterous queer clubs in their earliest stages. I appreciate the show's delicate but sincere look at a young man exploring himself and the unique communities around him, and I'm excited to see where Dizzee's journey leads him after his kiss with Thor.


 Mamoudou Athie as 'Grandmaster Flash'

It takes a great talent to be the essential heart of a show without being on screen every episode, and yet Athie accomplishes just that. Though focus may shift, it's Athie's sincere performance as the talented and passionate musician that roots The Get Down- and the characters Shaolin and Zeke- in its theme that music is power. Thank you, Saint Mamoudou

Stefanée Martin and Shyrley Rodriguez as 'Yolanda and Regina'

While Mylene may be the lead vocalist on a hit single, its her spunky sidekicks that are the stars of these 6 episodes. With touches of humor- like when the girls tease Mylene for her behavior with Zeke- and glimpses of seriousness- such as Martin's portrayal of an anxiety-filled teen on the verge of fame, and Rodriguez's somber experience helping Jackie Moreno after his overdose- these two hit all the right notes. Thank you, Saints Stefanée and Shyrley

Justice Smith as 'Ezekiel'
I might sound too much like Ezekiel's teacher when I say this, but this kid's got talent. Grappling with adulthood, young love, loss of parents, and being entangled in a war for the Bronx sounds like a lot for one teen to handle- and it is. But Smith's portrayal is genuine, raw, and poetic to keep audiences simultaneously rooting for Ezekiel, and cursing him when he makes a mistake. Ezekiel isn't perfect and still has a lot of growing up to do, but with Smith, I'm excited to see it all. Thank you, Saint Justice


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Dear TV Gods...

A plea for The Walking Dead's return to greatness following a sloppy sixth season

On Friday, The Walking Dead debuted its trailer for the eagerly-awaited seventh season at Comic-Con to hoards of fans, both in real life at the convention and online. Since the polarizing sixth season finale, I have seen many gushing unwavering loyalty to the show and fanboys continually guessing who met the receiving end of Negan's bat. However, it appears I am in the minority with my feelings of distrust an disinterest for the shocking cliffhanger ending of Season 6, and the newly-released trailer only cements those feelings surrounding the ever-growing mystery of "Negan's victim". 

The trailer, while not terrible, makes the mistake of relying on the anticipation from the egregious cliffhanger to carry it and make it interesting. By starting the trailer with an angsty montage of the possible victims, it is clear that everything not pertaining to Negan's victim, (such as Carol and Morgan with the new group, or Tara and Heath finding serious trouble on the road), is an after-thought. And this is the problem with the series as a whole at this point: the writers- for whatever reason- no longer have faith in their audience to stay tuned-in to the show unless each episode is filled with gimmicks and shocking moments. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that nearly every single episode of Season 6 ended with a pseudo-cliffhanger, but is, of course, perfectly exemplified by the final moments of Season 6 with the purposeful anonymity of Negan's victim.

You'll see many people quip that fans who are irritated by the finale are just "whiners". However, the true problem with this show is not the cliffhanger, the issue is that what was once a thought-provoking, dark drama now appears to be a gossipy ploy to get ratings. The cliffhanger itself is not what bothers myself and many others; what the cliffhanger represents from a writing and production viewpoint is what is so upsetting. However, looking to the elements from the trailer that didn't involve Negan's bloody bat, we can see that The Walking Dead has the potential to return to it's former artistic glory. Carol and Morgan, (who are both incredibly complex and interesting characters), are taken-in by a strange new group, led by a captivating leader and his pet tiger. The survivors of Alexandria continue to struggle with their poor choices and horrific events that have plagued them. Tara and Heath- who I have great fear for, considering that Beth was given the similar "post-credits" section of the Season 5 trailer- appear to be stranded and fighting for their lives. Each of these elements are character-driven, thought-provoking, and genuinely interesting, and I beg the writers of TWD to focus on those moments, rather than explosions and cliffhangers. If TWD can trust their audience again and return to the level of storytelling that was evident in seasons 4 and earlier- a level of storytelling that would be easy to achieve with the extremely talented cast and the current, complex plot the show has at its service- the disappointment of Season 6 can be forgiven and forgotten.

Here's hoping Season 7 is an improvement on a truly captivating show, which premieres October
23 on AMC.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dear TV Gods...

All the prayers in the world couldn't thank you enough for the outstanding recognition of this year's Emmy nominees!

Every year, all the happy people of the world join together to sing songs of joy, eat delicious treats, feel the warmth of a united community, and sometimes, lament frustration. No, this isn't Christmas or New Year's I'm talking about, I'm talking about the EMMY'S! TV's biggest night of the year is celebrated (or sometimes boycotted) by rabid fans like yours truly, and this year is certainly a celebration. To make things simpler, this review of the nominations will only be in the Blessings/Afflictions format- and surprisingly, it's mostly blessings!

(Here's a list of the nominees in case you haven't perused it yet, courtesy of my favorite news site, TVLineEmmy Nominations 2016)

Blessings and Afflictions

  • Blessing: All the love for The Americans. Best Drama, Best Actor for Matthew Rhys, and Best Actress for Keri Russell?? Somebody pinch me, I surely must be dreaming! The Americans is one of the few TV shows I've watched that not only remains stunning, but consistently improves, every season that it's on- and that's surely worthy of Emmy noms. 
  • Blessing/Affliction: This is 100% a blessing... but slightly an affliction only because now I have no idea who to root for on awards night! Tatiana Maslany has been mesmerizing myself and others viewers in Orphan Black's cult following for years and seeing her be rightfully nominated for the second year is just as joyous as when Helena returned to save Sarah in season 2. Sadly, she competes against Keri Russell for The Americans- a show and actress that has been woefully ignored for three years. As much as I love Keri and her breathtaking performance, Tatiana portrays at least five different characters in any given episode, making me lean slightly toward Maslany for the win.
  • Blessing: A dark, twisty, and genuine family drama starring a powerhouse cast? Count me in. While Bloodline may not have mass appeal for its slow-burn drama, it has a passionate fan base who are overjoyed to see Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn nominated once again for the dark-horse thriller.
  • Blessing: The entire Best Actress in a Comedy nomination category. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was hilarious as ever in Veep this year, Lily Tomlin explored humorous new depths with Grace and Frankie, and any love for the poignant-yet-hysterical black-ish- especially for leading lady Tracee Ellis Ross- is commendable. Am I wishing Constance Wu from Fresh Off the Boat was also on this list? Totally, but I'll take what Emmy has graciously given.
  • Blessing/Affliction: What's that Harry Potter quote? "Neither can live while the other survives." It might be a tad dramatic for a TV awards show, but I feel like that's the supremely theatrical reaction Jacqueline Voorhes would have to see her portrayer, Jane Krakowski, not nominated for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's amazing second season. However, Ellie Kemper is finally given the recognition she deserves for her work- and personally, I'm rooting for Kemper to win Best Actress in a Comedy. But why couldn't we just get both lovely ladies on this list at the same time? Truly dramatic indeed...
  • Affliction: My first post on this blog, and my first major disappointment of the Emmy noms. No love for Orange is the New Black? Not a single nomination for any major category? I'm unsure if this year's nominations cover season 3 or season 4 of OITNB, but if season 4 was overlooked for Emmy love, then you might as well send me to Shu because I would rather be in a grimy, terrifying cell than be in a world where Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, and the entire show is left without Emmy recognition.
  • Affliction: More than Orange is the New Black's erroneous snubs, or Kimmy Schmidt's saddening switcheroo, the affliction that hurts me the most is Bates Motel's nonexistence on the nomination list. What began as a brooding, slightly-boring drama filled with bizarre and conflicted characters came to it's epic climax this season and deserves nothing but praise. Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore, especially, deserve statues for their insane skills in the penultimate season of a show that has evolved from a gothy look at a creepy mother-son relationship into a riveting, terrifying, and heartbreaking drama.
This year's nominations are arguably the most surprising in recent years, and for someone like me who has a wide and diverse range of favorite TV shows, that makes this the most exciting Emmy's in a long time. However, no nomination list is ever perfect, and we will have to patch our Bates Motel and OITNB-shaped wounds. But with love for The Americansblack-ish, Tatiana Maslany, and Bloodline, those wounds don't hurt so bad.

Which shows are you happy to see on this year's list? What snubs irked you the most? Comment below your opinions on the nominations, and check out the Primetime Emmy Awards on ABC, September 18!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dear TV Gods...

Many thanks for an emotionally satisfying fourth season to Orange is the New Black.

With Orange is the New Black being a tentpole for diversity and a rich well of complex character development, I immediately latched onto it as one of my favorite shows. Through 3 progressively-stronger seasons, OITNB has harnessed topics of interest and a supremely talented cast to rightfully cement itself as a staple of pop culture and TV history. And with Season 4 expanding on and perfecting both diversity and character growth, the show has pushed itself- through blood, sweat and tears- into tragically-relevant and poignant new territory. {Season 4 spoilers below}

Before delving into the powerful socio-political themes of racism tackled by OITNB in its fourth season, I feel its important to highlight my personal favorite aspect of any TV show: the impressive development of characters. And oh, did Orange provide. With intriguing backstories aplenty for characters that have been present since the first season (Ruiz [Jessica Pimentel] and Maritza [Diane Guerrero]) and brief looks at the lives of especially tormented favorites (Lolly [Lori Petty] and Nichols [Natasha Lyonne]), the show expanded on its sprawling cast of characters with arcs that felt genuine to the already-established characters. Of course ditzy Maritza is imprisoned because of her youthful hubris gone awry- mirrored in a darker tone with her twisted encounters with Humps [Michael Torpey]. Of course Nichols returns after a stint in Shu, and is still struggling with her rampant drug addiction. These developments weren't surprising, but the lack of shock doesn't limit their impact; the sincerity of these evolutions are what helps add the missing pieces of the characters we already love.

While season 4 strengthened itself by developing some of its most underutilized players and by constructing a captivating and devastating plot around for-profit prisons, the true glory of the season comes from its expert look at the many complexities of racial prejudice. The spotlight being fixed on the Latinas not only gave a chance for Ruiz, Blanca [Laura Gomez], and Maritza to step forward as significant characters, but also gave viewers an opportunity for educational enlightenment. The distinction being made between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans might've appeared humorous, but was a genuinely important distinction; not all Latinx people speak the same language, have the same customs, or come from the same place. Further, the Latina's arc helped to establish the new guards as a clear foil to "minorities" in the prison- though, at the beginning of the season, it was a ruse as to which group would truly suffer the greatest by the end. Though the end of the season clearly established a connection to black rights movements, it was the abuse of the Latinas at the beginning of the season that adequately presented the rising action that lead to the alarming climax in episode 12.

As a show that has always made diversity and the discussion on racial differences a top priority, it is no surprise that the themes of race were handled so skillfully this year. But perhaps most effective and depressingly relevant with the horrific murder of Alton Sterling is the show's interpretation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether it be new-character Judy King [Blair Brown] representing the subtle, restrained racism that is so prevalent in current society, or the blunt killing of Poussey [Samira Wiley] that is a disgustingly-familiar rendition of the murder of Eric Garner, OITNB skillfully captures the spectrum of racism in 21st century America. Looking further, the unfortunate tales of Lolly and Suzanne [Uzo Aduba] can be looked at as an inspection of racial bias in mental health care; Suzanne, who had been an inmate for years, was never given the care and attention that Lolly received from Healy [Michael J. Harney], at least from what viewers saw. Additionally, the Latinas never work particularly hard to help the black girls, or vice versa, depicting how easy it is for prejudiced groups to ignore other groups in favor of their own personal gain.

Returning to the depressing highlight of the season, Poussey's death and the events surrounding it bring up moral quandaries that only the viewer can answer for themselves: the (supremely written and shot) riot following Caputo's [Nick Sandow] speech will certainly lead to harsh punishments, is it really what the kindhearted and carefree Poussey would've wanted? Is CO Bayley [Alan Aisenberg] deserving of hatred, murder being murder, even though it was clearly a foolish accident? Do unaffected prisoners, (like Piper [Taylor Schilling] and Alex [Laura Prepon], who were clearly retreating from the hostage hold-up led by Daya [Dascha Polanco]), have a right to ignore what they aren't directly affected by, or should they join the outrage because of the solidarity of it? These are questions that viewers will see differently, answer differently, and feel differently about. And with a season that showed us enlightening character growth, devastating loss of a beloved character, and a wicked finale that displayed humanity at its most frustrated and impassioned, these questions miraculously still rise above all other accomplishments as the defining traits of the season. Regardless of what season 5 has in store, the queries presented to viewers throughout season 4 has shifted the show into new creative and emotional territory that has, as of now, designated it the best season of the series.

Blessings and Afflictions

  • Blessing: Piper is no longer insufferable! As a renowned #PiperHater, I thought the day would never come when I didn't hate her guts. But after being branded, losing her panty business, and nearly losing all her friends, Piper admitted her wrongdoings, and the world sighed a collective "Hallelujah!"
  • Blessing: Yoga Jones' [Constance Shulman] development! I have a huge soft-spot for Yoga, (look at those sad eyes!), so any scene or growth with her character is greatly appreciated. Placing her with the egotistical Judy King gave us a juxtaposition of epic proportions that allowed the audience to see Yoga's weaknesses- and hopefully, her strengths, as she rebounds from this in season 5.
  • Affliction: Maybe it was the rushed introduction of her character in season 3, or maybe it's because Uzo Aduba rarely needs a scene partner to display her skills, but Kukudio [Emily Althaus] never made any impact on me, and her and Suzanne's love/hate arc seemed pointless in a season of exceptional plot and character developments. It was a nice distraction from the doom and gloom, sure, but I don't need a character "crazier" than Suzanne to keep my interest in Suzanne.
  • Blessing/Affliction: Nichols is back!! Having the poor, lovable lady back in Litchfield is always a blessing. Having her back because of a rushed and poorly explained swish of Judy's wand, however? Not so much. I kept expecting a further explanation, or a backstory showing Judy speaking with the mystical lawyer, for me to be fully on-board with Nichols' sudden return. Instead, I was more along the lines of Caputo signing her return papers: a "huh?", a shrug, and an eventual acceptance of the return. 


Lori Petty as Lolly Whitehall
It would be easy to applause Petty's talent based on her acting in her final scene: Lolly is found to be the killer of the assassin from season 3 and is dragged away helplessly into the terrors of Psych. But what Petty does so excellently is give her character much more than just one heart-wrenching scene. Instead, Petty infuses a lovable, childlike innocence into everything Lolly does throughout season 4 that shows us just how much the mental health system fails those who need it most. Thank you, Saint Lori

Danielle Brooks as 'Taystee' Jefferson
The comedic talent displayed by Brooks in the first half of season 4 is a feat given how hilarious Taystee already was in the first 3 seasons. But more amazing is Brooks' ability to show Taystee's quiet frustration, hope for justice, and aching loss in the season finale, which all built to her riveting fury that started the riot. Uzo Aduba has rightfully earned several Supporting Actress Emmys as Suzanne, but this year, it's Danielle's time to shine. Thank you, Saint Danielle

Taryn Manning as 'Pennsatucky' Dogget
Too often, rape in a show is used as a "shocking twist". But in OITNB, and with the skill of Manning, Pennsatucky is able to show a side of rape too often missing from media: the disgust, the trauma, the worry for others, companions who desert you, and attempts at forgiveness. 'Tucky's encounter with Maritza, and her forlorn sigh when she proclaims she no longer likes ducks, is a seemingly simple, yet shockingly powerful showing of how a rape victim is forever changed after an attack. Thank you, Saint Taryn


Friday, June 24, 2016


I suppose there's no way to do this without sounding cheesy, so I'm going to do my best to be quick, authentic, and sincere. I'm Spencer, a college student who spends way too much time thinking about television. I'm currently working on getting a degree to write and create TV shows, but for now, I'm going to continue to spiral into my pit of anti-social laze and start a blog discussing, analyzing, and critiquing some of my favorite shows. Yep, I'm just another young white man who thinks my ramblings are important enough to post them on the Internet for all to see- but at least I own up to it, right?

I can't really say what my favorite shows are- there's just too many to list- but I primarily look for shows that involve character development and insightful, clever looks at humanity. For a while, that meant only watching dramatic shows, but I've since been finding a good deal of comedies that are equally as rich in characters. I like to think of a good TV show like this: the characters on any given show should be written in a way that you could pluck them out of their world and place them in another and the audience would still know exactly how they would behave. I'm not sure why those are the shows I gravitate towards, but maybe you can notice a psychological pattern in my posts and let me know what my deep, invisible connection is to this quality of writing.

I think that's enough of an "About Me" for now, (my Tinder profile actually has more information into who I am than this, but whatever, we're here to talk TV). I'll conclude by saying a brief prayer to the Gods I most often find myself praying to... Dear TV Gods, please allow this blog to be a fun place to spend unhealthy amounts of time and energy discussing fictional productions. Please divert trolls and spam commenters, and only allow civil discussions in the comment sections. But most importantly, please continue to produce great television for people like myself to obsess over. AMEN.