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