Tag Archives: overanalyzing tv

TV Shows I’ve Seen

IMG_0016

It’s been a long time since I wrote about what I’ve been watching, so I need to add the disclaimer, so that you don’t think I do nothing except lie on my couch watching TV, that these were all watched over a long period of time. Here we go:

Broadchurch

My thoughts on this would probably be a lot different if I hadn’t watched Gracepoint, the short-lived US show based on this British one, first. Gracepoint really didn’t change very much, except for adding a few plot twists to make it three episodes longer, so I knew every single thing that was going to happen. I only saw the first season, though, so maybe at some point I’ll watch the rest.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Love this show. When the new episodes came out, I watched them all in one night. Everyone is fantastic on it- Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski, and freaking Jon Hamm (I laughed so hard when he showed up). I could never get into 30 Rock despite my love for Tina Fey, but I think this show takes her humor and makes it more…sweet? Optimistic? In any case, this is one of my new favorites.

Bloodline

I was so disappointed in this show, not because it’s awful but because I feel like it should have been so much better. It’s by the creators of Damages and is also full of flashbacks and flash-forwards,  so I was expecting more from the show and its end-of-season revelations than what we got. It’s got a fantastic cast- Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, Sissy Spacek- but the best performance is by Ben Mendelssohn, whom I’d never heard of before I saw this. And the route they decide to go with his character is…disappointing, to say the least. I didn’t bother with Season 2.

Garfunkel and Oates

I’ve posted before about how much I love Garfunkel and Oates, so I’m sad that their show only lasted one season. It’s cute and funny, although the way they insert the music videos for their songs into the episodes can be a bit awkward.

Freaks and Geeks

This was as good as I’d heard. It’s sweet and funny, and although it takes place before I was even born, the characters feel like real people and are super-relatable. Also, the parents are awesome- as the Snark Ladies would say, they definitely score high on the Sandy Cohen Eyebrow Scale of Non-Negligent Parenting.

The Neighbors

Heh. This is on Hulu and is created by Tommy Wiseau of The Room fame, so…that should give you an indicator of its quality. And it’s mildly amusing at first- people fighting over a live chicken, a princess who is moving into an apartment building for some reason- but it gets old fast.

Fargo

I’ve seen both seasons of this show, and contrary to popular opinion, I liked the first one better. It’s rare for a show to take the tone and setting of a movie and recreate it so well with original characters. The acting is great as well- I was particularly impressed with Allison Tolman in Season 1.

Friday Night Lights

I liked this, although it’s not the favorite that it seems to be for so many other people. Eric and Tami Taylor are both awesome, as is their marriage. How did their daughter turn out so awful? I also don’t get what the big deal is about Tim Riggins- he’s fine, but he doesn’t do it for me. I prefer sweet Matt Saracen, although for the life of me I can’t figure out what he sees in Julie Taylor.

Making a Murderer

Everyone was talking about this a year ago. I remain unconvinced of Steven Avery’s innocence, although I think there was enough reasonable doubt that he shouldn’t have been convicted. And I definitely think Brendan Dassey’s conviction was based on a series of misunderstandings.

Master of None

I love Aziz Ansari- I was a big Parks and Recreation fan and I enjoy his standup- so I was really excited for this show. The first episode is actually the weakest one, but the second episode is the Emmy-winning “Parents,” co-starring Aziz’s real parents, which is excellent and way more indicative of the show’s overall quality. There are also some really poignant episodes about dating that really resonated with me. I wasn’t crazy about how the season ended, but I’ll definitely be watching when it comes back for Season 2.

The People vs. OJ Simpson

This was EXCELLENT. I’m kind of shocked at how good it was. The OJ Simpson trial was going on when I was 10-11, and while I remember it, I wasn’t following it closely. So there was a lot I didn’t know- i.e., I didn’t realize that Robert Kardashian was OJ’s close friend before the trial, or that there was someone else in the Ford Bronco during the chase. Or that his nickname was Juice (this cut of David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian saying “Juice” over and over is hilarious, especially since he’s usually saying it at a really serious moment). But the pacing is just right, the casting is excellent, and wow, Sarah Paulson made me feel terrible for Marcia Clark. I just wanted to tell her, “At least you’ll still be alive in ten years! Cochran and Kardashian won’t!”

Fuller House

I wasn’t expecting quality, just nostalgia, and that’s exactly what I got.

The Path

I started watching this because I love Aaron Paul. It’s about a family in a Scientology-like cult, and it’s a decent show that always seems like it’s on the verge of being great but hasn’t quite gotten there yet. Season 2 just started and so far I’m a bit underwhelmed, but I’m sticking around to see where this season goes.

Stranger Things

Another show I liked but didn’t love. I’m not usually a big sci-fi person, but this, with its 80s setting and kid protagonists, was fun. One of the kids is played by Gaten Materrazzo, whom I know from when he played Gavroche in Les Mis on Broadway.

Outlander

I haven’t read the books, but I’m liking the show so far, although there were definitely some episodes that didn’t hold my interest. Caitriona Balfe is fantastic, and I’m completely unspoiled as to the books, so I’m interested to see where this goes- there are so many possibilities when it comes to time-travel plots.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

I caught up with this before the most recent season started and it’s great- funny and sweet. It reminds me a bit of The Office without the mockumentary component in that it’s about a bunch of goofy coworkers who pull pranks on each other and has a cute romance between the two most normal characters. And Andre Braugher is hysterical as the chief.

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

The safari in Botswana motivated me to try this, especially since our safari vehicle was called “No. 1 Ladies’ Safari.” This is based on the book series and ran for just one season on HBO. I think it was a good show on the wrong network- HBO is all sex, violence, and antiheroes, while this is just a sweet dramedy about two women running a detective agency in Botswana. I love the characters at the center of it, played by Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose, and it’s really nice to see something that showcases Botswana, one of the most stable countries in Africa, in a positive light.

Catastrophe

I did not expect to enjoy this Amazon sitcom as much as I did. It’s a funny and kind of unexpectedly romantic show. The premise is that after a man and a woman have a fling while he’s in London from Boston on business, she gets pregnant, and he decides to move to London to be with her and try to make things work. But this isn’t Knocked Up– they’re adults with their lives together, and they genuinely enjoy each other’s company. And I enjoy them, too- the male lead is actually one of my favorite characters in any of the shows I’ve seen lately.

One Mississippi

This is one of those comedies-that’s-not-really-a-comedy that SNL made fun of recently. I mean, the premise has the main character returning to her hometown after her mother’s unexpected death and confronting her past, which included childhood sexual abuse. But while it’s not that funny, despite starring Tig Notaro, it is very well-done. I like that it doesn’t fall into too many cliches- it would have been really easy to go the culture-clash route, with the liberal lesbian in a small Southern town, but it stays away from that and keeps characters well-rounded.

Mr. Robot

The first episode got my attention right away, but by the end of the first season I’d lost interest. It may partly have been because I was spoiled, but I also ended up finding it kind of tedious- the whole “F Society” thing gets old fast. Rami Malek’s jawline, though.

The Crown

This is great- engaging and extremely well-acted. Claire Foy is fantastic, and I would never have cast John Lithgow as Winston Churchill myself,  but he knocks it out of the park. I found myself Googling things to see what happened (I’d never heard about Princess Margaret’s engagement that wasn’t, so that was sad to watch)

A Series of Unfortunate Events

This is based on a book series, which I have not read. There was also a movie that came out in 2003 that was based on the first three books, but they never made sequels. So I enjoyed seeing this, which is more detailed and apparently closer to the books. Neil Patrick Harris is great as Count Olaf- more sinister and less goofy than Jim Carrey was in the movie, and everyone else is well-cast. Including Patrick Warbutton- freaking Puddy from Seinfeld!- as Lemony Snicket.

The Good Place

Whoa. I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say that there is WAY more going on in this show than meets the eye. When it premiered, I was hesitant because I thought the premise- a woman who was a terrible person in life dies and is mistakenly sent to “the good place” in the afterlife- sounded kind of dumb. But it’s from the creators of Parks and Recreation, which I love, and stars Kristen Bell, whom I also love. So I gave it a chance, and it turned out to be anything but dumb. It’s actually really twisty and deep- but it is a sitcom, so it’s also very funny. Seriously, the first season just ended and it was only 13 episodes, so you have plenty of time to catch up on it before next season.

My (Belated) Thoughts on the Mad Men Finale

I have had an absolutely crazy month, and there’s a lot I could tell you about. Like the trip to Grand Cayman, a fantastic oasis in the middle of a lot of really terrible things. And how I found a short-term sublet in Cambridge that I moved into as soon as I got back from the trip. And how much dealing with the aftermath of the fire has sucked—having to search for a new longer-term apartment, which I’ve yet to find, and how there are lots of really important things that people don’t bother telling you in the aftermath of a fire (example: the stuff that you were told is still in your apartment has actually been boxed up and is sitting in a warehouse in Saugus). And I will talk about that in future posts.

 

But first, I want to talk about Mad Men.

 

I caught up with this show just before the second season started (and then blogged about it). Since then, it’s become one of my all-time favorites. I was Joan for Halloween one year. A few times, my friends and I have gone to see it at Noir, a hotel bar that shows Mad Men when it’s on and actually looks like something out of the show. I’ve often said that it’s a show for English majors—you can really dig into the language of it, the symbolism, and the character development and find a lot of layers to it. And even though the characters do a lot of really awful things, they retain a strange bit of likeability that leads you to root for them anyway.

 

WARNING: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MAD MEN FINALE.

 

Which is why I’m glad that in the end, in Matt Weiner’s words, everyone was “a little more happy than they were in the beginning.” For the most part, I liked the finale a lot, and although I know I’m quite late on this (like I said—it’s been a CRAZY month), I wanted to share my thoughts on it.

 

I did not see the ending with Betty coming. There was a lot of speculation that someone would die, and I heard Don, Megan, and Roger mentioned as possibilities, but not Betty. Even though she’s often a difficult character, I’ve never been among the Betty haters—back in 2009, I wrote a whole blog post defending her. Back then, I said that Betty didn’t quite know what to wish for and wasn’t quite sure how to be anything but a suburban housewife. In Season 7A, we saw her snap at Henry after an argument, “I’m not stupid! I speak Italian!” And then the first time we saw her this season, we saw that she’d decided to go back to school to study psychology, perhaps inspired by her own experiences. The sad thing is that she DID figure out what she wanted, but just a little bit too late. I know the moment that touched most people in the penultimate episode is when Sally reads Betty’s goodbye letter (that letter was so true to character, by the way—she’s concerned about how she’ll look at the funeral home first, but ends it with some genuinely loving words to Sally about how it’s a good thing that she marches to the beat of her own drummer), but for me, it was when Henry asks her why she’s still going to school, given her diagnosis, and she replies, “Why was I ever doing it?” She has the saddest ending of any character, but in the end she’s found a purpose she didn’t have at the beginning and is, indeed, just a little bit happier.

 

Henry Francis was always incredibly boring, but I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit moved when he broke down crying after telling Sally about Betty’s illness. He didn’t have much personality, but he did really love Betty and seemed to be a good stepdad.

 

Sally is definitely the most likeable character on the show, and we don’t know much about her future after the show ends except that she seems to be stepping up to be there for her brothers. Kiernan Shipka is such a great little actress—she made Sally really fascinating when she started off as a little kid who functioned mostly as a background character. I hope there are all kinds of great things in store for Kiernan in her post-Mad Men life.

 

I think Gene Draper said about two words in the finale and that’s the most he’s ever said. He was about seven by the end of the show, too, but he was always the afterthought of the Draper kids.

 

Pete, oddly enough, might have had the happiest ending of anyone. A lot of people really hate Pete, and while he can definitely be awful, he hasn’t really done anything that other characters on the show haven’t done. I think it’s his lack of the charm that someone like Don has that makes him so unappealing. Despite that lack of charm, though, he was married to a really awesome woman—it’s partly because she’s played by the fantastic Alison Brie, but Trudy was always one of my favorite minor characters. So when they split up, he lost the best thing in his life. It wasn’t that their marriage was unhappy so much as that Pete was unhappy. In the scene with his brother, when Bud’s only explanation for cheating on his wife is that their father did it, too, it dawns on Pete that he’s been doing everything he thinks he’s supposed to do and what he needs is something new. So he leaves advertising, leaves New York, and heads with Trudy and Tammy into a new life he’ll make for himself.

 

I really did not think that Roger and Megan’s mother would last, and maybe they won’t. I kind of would rather have seen him and Mona get back together, but I guess having two characters reunite with their exes would have been a bit of a stretch.

 

I’m surprised that Megan’s departure from the show after she and Don divorce was so complete. A million dollar check, and…that’s the end of Megan, along with most of Don’s furniture. It’s a far cry from being murdered by the Manson Family, as the conspiracy theory suspected she would. If the departed Television Without Pity and its successor Previously.tv are representative (and I’m not sure they are), a lot of people really hated Megan. I did not, although I think Jessica Pare is one of the weaker actors in the cast, but I did think she had outlived her usefulness on the show and am glad she took a backseat this season.

 

One of the biggest surprises of this season was how Meredith, the ditzy secretary who steals every scene she’s in, suddenly became competent in the months between Seasons 7A and 7B. (Although still dumb enough to think that Roger was serious when he said he wanted something translated into pig latin.) She was brought into the office action a bit more this season, and we learn more about her—she was an army brat, she doesn’t seem to have made friends with the other secretaries. And she did say something strangely wise in the finale: after mentioning that she hopes the absent Don is in a better place, Roger protests that Don’s not dead, to which she replies, “There are a lot of better places than here.” Stephanie Drake, the wonderful actress who plays her, has retweeted me twice, which made me happy, and I hope sometime soon we’ll be seeing her in places that are better than McCann Erickson.

 

I do have to say, though—I think the show missed a lot of opportunities to do more with Dawn, the first black secretary the firm hired. The few times she did get a storyline, she was always interesting. This Salon article sums up the wasted potential nicely.

 

And I always hoped we’d find out what happened to Sal, but no such luck. C’est la vie, I guess—sometimes you really never do see people again.

 

I’m so glad that Joan played a bigger part in Season 7B after it seemed like she had nothing to do in 7A, and Christina Hendricks, who sometimes makes me question my sexual orientation, was effing fantastic all season—I really hope she finally gets her Emmy, which she really should have gotten back in Season 5. I think Joan might actually be the character who changed the most over the course of the show. Back in Season 1, she was kind of bitchy to the secretaries she managed, using the small bit of power she had as a weapon, and reveled in the admiration of the office men. But gradually, that desire to be admired for her beauty morphed into a desire to be valued for what she can contribute at work. In Season 1, she thought that as office manager, she’d attained the highest position available to her as a woman—and by Season 3, she’d abandoned it in favor of marriage to a doctor, something she’d always thought she wanted. By the end of the show, she was a single mother fighting back against sexual harassment and not only starting her own company, but giving up a relationship with a rich man to do so. As awesome as I thought the idea of Harris Olson was, it’s really fitting that Joan ends up naming her company Holloway Harris: her maiden and married names. She’s in a financial position that lets her do whatever she wants, and she chooses to make her way on her own, in a company where she answers only to herself.

 

I was disappointed at first that Peggy didn’t take Joan up on her offer to join her, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that she didn’t. Joan’s path at McCann Erickson was so clearly blocked that she really had to leave, but as we see in an early finale scene when Peggy successfully fights her way back onto an account she was taken off of, Peggy’s learned how to find her own way at McCann Erickson. When Pete, in one of the most genuinely nice speeches he’s ever made, tells her that by 1980 she’ll be a creative director and people will brag that they worked for her, we have no reason to doubt his prediction. After that awesome scene where Peggy strolled into the office with her sunglasses, cigarette, and Japanese painting like a boss, we felt like whatever happened with Peggy at work, she’d be okay. But her love life was the big question mark, so I’m thrilled that after seven seasons of picking the wrong men, she ended up with the perfect one for her. Yes, the Peggy and Stan ending was a little rushed, but I didn’t mind their rom com-esque declarations of love over the office phone. Peggy might not need a man in her life, but she certainly wants one, and with Stan, she has someone who not only loves her but understands and appreciates her as well. I feel like the two of them will have a healthier relationship than any other two people on this show. (Side note: the finale aired the night before Christina and I left for Grand Cayman. We were staying in a hotel near the airport, and I was watching this on my laptop with headphones, since the hotel didn’t get AMC and Christina wasn’t caught up with the show. She didn’t know what was going on, but she saw my giddy reaction to the Stan/Peggy scene, and I can only imagine what she thought.)

 

Peggy’s other important relationship, though, has always been with Don, and I did love that phone call between them. Their relationship is complex and he often treated her badly, but there’s still a lot of mutual respect and admiration there. I like that on the phone call, she pleaded with him to come back, reminding him about working on Coke—and that, combined with the hippie retreat, is likely what lead to Don’s ending.

 

It does bother me that in the end, the question of Don’s role in his kids’ lives after Betty’s death is still unresolved. The ending’s implication is that he goes back to New York and advertising and creates the famous Coke commercial, but what that means for his relationship with his kids is less clear. But although Don’s ending is not what I expected, it makes sense and I kind of like it. He’s struggled with his identity through the whole show, and when he finds enlightenment at the retreat, I think one thing about himself becomes clear: he’s a really good ad man and always has been. But now he’s an ad man who’s found some inner peace and can use some of that to sell Coke. The pilot had him inventing another real slogan—“It’s toasted,” for Lucky Strike—but while that grew out of a cynical place, an attempt to differentiate a product from its competitors when, in truth, they all cause cancer, the Coke commercial, for another less-than-benign product, comes from someplace more genuine. He tells Rachel Menken in the pilot, too, that “what you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons,” but while he uses his experience in California to sell Coke, the peace he’s found is real. I think he really has lost at least some of the cynicism he had at the show’s beginning. And Emmy committee, I am going to be so disappointed in you if you don’t FINALLY give Jon Hamm the award he’s deserved for years.

 

I hope someday another show comes along that has as interesting characters and is as well-written and well-acted and as made for analysis as Mad Men, but it’s hard to imagine. I’m thinking I may have to rewatch the whole thing now, knowing how it ends.

Things I Loved in 2014

I did a “Things I Loved This Year” post for 2013, and here’s another one of sorts for this year. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m consuming fewer and fewer things that I dislike. I think I’ve just gotten better at realizing what I like. Every book I read this year got at least three stars on Goodreads. I only saw a few new movies and didn’t hate the ones I did see. If I wasn’t getting into a show, I didn’t continue watching it—I stopped watching How to Get Away with Murder after five episodes and didn’t make it past the pilot of The Leftovers. (I did stick with Season 3 of Homeland to see how it ended, but didn’t continue with Season 4.)

Books
If I finish the book I’m currently reading by tomorrow, I’ll have read sixty books this year. I’m going to post more about the books of this past year in future posts, but some highlights were Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas. All YA, interestingly enough. Also, at book signings, I met both Ann M. Martin and Neil Patrick Harris!

Movies
You know, I haven’t seen that many movies yet. All the Oscar movies are coming out now, though, so I’m sure that will change over the next couple of months. So far, I’ve enjoyed Gone Girl and The Fault in Our Stars, both of which are based on books I’ve read.

TV Shows
The Good Wife was a big highlight. So was Jane the Virgin, which is hilarious and adorable. Gina Rodriguez is just really sweet and relatable in the title role, and it reminds me a lot of Ugly Betty. I’ve recently started watching Community, too, and am enjoying it.

Theater
LES MIS. Freaking fantastic. I also saw a production of Into the Woods that got me interested in the movie that just came out (haven’t seen the movie yet), and Finding Neverland when it was in Cambridge—I liked it but didn’t love it. My friends and I also saw both The Book of Mormon and The Lion King in Boston, both great.

Music
I never disliked her, but this year I’ve started to like Taylor Swift more than I anticipated. I think part of it is a backlash-to-the-backlash thing—I’ve never really understood why some people who don’t like her are so vicious towards her. If you don’t like her music, fine, but what has she, as a person, ever done that’s so bad? So I put a lot of energy into defending her, but it was really only this year that I started to like her music.

I also really enjoyed Ramin Karimloo’s solo CD. Speaking of which…

Celebrities
I still love Jon Hamm and Aaron Paul, but Ramin is one of my new favorites. And a late-breaking addition: Trevor Noah, the new Daily Show correspondent, whom I can already tell I’m going to love.

Food
I discovered that almond butter fudge—really just almond butter mixed with coconut oil and frozen—is awesome and healthier than most other desserts. I also started making this awesome cinnamon-apple smoothie.

Shows I’ve Watched on the Roku

I bought a Roku a little over a year ago and that was a really good decision. I hate watching TV on my laptop (I know, what a terrible problem), so streaming things on my TV was a welcome change. I joined Netflix, have sporadically paid for Hulu Plus, and bought whatever I couldn’t get anywhere else on Amazon Instant Video.

 

And thus began a dangerous new era of binge watching. I made a list of shows I hadn’t yet seen but wanted to and still have a lot more I want to see. But here are the shows I’ve watched since the advent of the Roku:

 

Parks and Recreation

I love it and I like it. I can’t believe I wasn’t already watching this show. This show is wonderful, and not just because Amy Poehler is hilarious. (One of my biggest regrets about college is that I didn’t see Amy, a fellow BC alum, when she came to campus my senior year—I’m not a huge SNL fan and at the time I didn’t really know who she was.)

 

I’m glad I stuck with it, because the first season actually isn’t that great. It’s created by the same people who did The Office, and I think at the beginning the shows were a bit too similar. Leslie kind of comes off as a ditz in Season 1, but as the show goes on it’s clearer that she actually is very smart and capable—she’s just a bit naïve and doesn’t always go about things the right way. But it starts to hit its stride in Season 2, and with the addition of a couple of new characters, Season 3 becomes even better.

 

It’s not only funny but also really upbeat, happy, and sweet—the constant making fun of Jerry notwithstanding (it’s okay, apparently, because he has a great home life and a wife played by Christie Brinkley), the characters are all nice people. I am not ashamed to say I cried when Ben and Leslie got engaged and then again when they got married. Rashida Jones has left the show now, but I really loved Leslie and Ann’s friendship. There’s one episode where Mark, Leslie’s ex-fling she still has feelings for, asks Ann out. Ann says no out of respect for Leslie and tells Leslie about it in the interest of honesty. Leslie is grateful, but eventually tells Ann that she can date Mark if she wants to. It’s exactly the right way to handle a situation like this, but I can’t remember any other show doing it—most shows would have turned it into a catfight. Ron Swanson, too, aside from being hysterical, is unique among TV characters for being a hyper-masculine, meat-loving Libertarian who also respects and appreciates strong women. Other shows could take lessons from the way Parks and Rec does feminism.

 

Plus, it gave us Lil Sebastian and his memorial song, Galentine’s Day, and “Treat yo’ self.” And also, much like me, Leslie Knope has a special love for waffles with lots of whipped cream on top. I didn’t realize until I saw this show how much I was needing a waffles-and-whipped-cream-loving character in my life.

The X-Files

I didn’t watch the whole show, just some of my favorite episodes out of order. It does hold up, I have to say. Speaking of Gillian Anderson…

 

The Fall

I love her, so I was excited for this British show about a serial killer in Belfast. Gillian stars as the detective trying to solve the case. Unfortunately, the first two episodes just didn’t draw me in, so I didn’t watch the rest.

 

Moone Boy

I heard of this show after reading this Slate article about it, and it piqued my interest right away. Chris O’Dowd, Ireland, feminism—all things I like. It’s a cute family sitcom set in Ireland in the late eighties/early nineties and while it’s not something that would ever become an obsession, it’s enjoyable and, with only six episodes per season, goes by quickly.

 

Orange Is the New Black

I’d heard so many good things about this show, and in anticipation of seeing it, I read the memoir it’s based on. I wonder if I would have liked it more if I hadn’t read it, because after seeing the first season (still haven’t seen the second and I’m not sure if I will), I came to the conclusion that I like the idea of this show better than the show itself. It’s all about women, it tells a lot of interesting and diverse stories, it sheds light on America’s incredibly flawed prison system, and the acting is universally fantastic. And yet…it doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s because I had read the book and was bugged by how many things had been changed for dramatic purposes and how both Piper and Larry come off on the show—Piper Chapman is really bratty, while the real Piper doesn’t come across that way to me at all, and all you have to do is read this article by Larry Smith to see how different he is from Larry Bloom. There are also a lot of details that are inaccurate—Piper should be in a minimum security federal prison, which means she’d never be incarcerated with someone in for violent crime, like Pennsatucky. But the main reason I can’t get into it, I think, is that as interesting as all the characters and their stories are, there’s no one I connect to personally and nothing I can really relate to. I think the one time I had a flash of recognition was when Piper tries to explain how people misinterpret “The Road Less Traveled” to blank stares– that’s totally the kind of thing I would do. But– and I do realize this says more about me than about the show– I had a really hard time relating to virtually anything else that happens.

 

Breaking Bad

Wow. I don’t like Family Guy, but this clip here? There’s a lot of truth to it.

It only took me about two-and-a-half weeks to finish this show. I kept finding myself thinking, “Okay, I’ve got this much time…how many episodes of Breaking Bad can I get in?” And when it was over, all I wanted to do was talk about it and tell everyone else to watch it. It’s like a fifty-hour movie. Previously, I knew the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, from when he used to write for The X-Files, and he was famous in the XF fandom for his attention to continuity as well as how he always snuck references to his girlfriend Holly into episodes. He does both of those things on Breaking Bad, too—lots of little things you’ve forgotten about come back later and turn out to be important, and Holly references get in here, too!

 

The acting is just incredible. Bryan Cranston does an amazing job keeping your attention as a regular guy becoming increasingly evil—even when you can’t sympathize with him anymore, you still want to know what will happen to him. But Aaron Paul as his sidekick Jesse Pinkman is my favorite part of the show. Even when he does terrible things, Jesse quite never loses his humanity, and he’s the character I remember most. My second-favorite character, though, is Skyler, a character a lot of people inexplicably hate. I agree with everything Anna Gunn wrote in her New York Times op-ed—I’ll give you that she’s a little annoying in the pilot, before she actually has a good reason to be mad, but after that, I completely understand why she does everything she does, and nothing she does is as bad as what Walt and Jesse do.

 

Seriously. I haven’t seen The Wire yet, but I do feel compelled to recommend Breaking Bad to everyone I know.

 

House of Cards

…I don’t like this show. At all. I think I’m the only one. I saw the first three episodes and could not get into it. I’m fine with unlikeable characters (I did just rave over Breaking Bad, after all), but from what I can tell, there’s not a single character with even one redeeming quality on this show. It’s just way too cynical for me, although it’s not hard to believe that there are people this awful in Washington. What I have the hardest time believing, though, is that Frank is a Democrat from South Carolina.

 

I have seen a gif of the death at the beginning of Season 2, though, and I did enjoy that. But that’s it.

 

Veep

While I’d never call this a favorite, it is very funny in a cringe-y way. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is fantastic as the incredibly narcissistic vice president and the rest of the cast is great, too. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I’d like House of Cards if it was rewritten as a comedy.

 

Veronica Mars

Rewatched in anticipation of the movie that came out in March. Upon rewatch, it was even better than I remembered. You should see it if you haven’t and rewatch it if you have. And also read the Snark Squad recaps of it.

 

True Detective

I don’t think it quite lived up to the hype, but this was definitely worth a watch. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are both great, and while I spent most of the show expecting a big twist that never came, I did end up finding the ending satisfying. Random side note: it takes place in Louisiana, but Woody Harrelson’s character is named Marty Hart—I REALLY think they should have saved that name for a show set in Boston.

 

Louie

I mentioned in a previous post that I don’t like stand-up comedy. Well, there’s always an exception—I’ve found that I actually do enjoy Louis CK’s standup a lot. His show, on the other hand? Not my thing. I saw a few episodes, including some that were supposed to be among the best ones, and I just did not find them funny.

 

The Americans

Is this the kind of thing that gets better after the pilot? If so, let me know, because although I’d heard that this was a great show, I saw the pilot and was not impressed. If you’re going to make me care about undercover Soviet spies in the 80s, you need to make them way more interesting characters than they are in this episode.

 

Homeland

Seasons 1 and 2 are fantastic. Season 3, on the other hand?

Season 1, especially, is fast-paced and unpredictable and features fantastic acting (and an epic cryface) from Claire Danes and excellent work from Damien Lewis and Mandy Patinkin as well. Season 2 is almost as good. In Season 3, on the other hand, the lack of new ideas once the initial premise dried up becomes sadly clear, and I’m not even watching Season 4. Also, Dana Brody, the daughter of the Damien Lewis character, might be my least favorite character in the history of TV. She’s that annoying. I kept wishing SHE’D get blown up by a terrorist.

 

A Young Doctor’s Notebook

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe.

I repeat, JON HAMM AND DANIEL RADCLIFFE.

That’s all you need to know.

 

The Good Wife

Note to self: never start watching a network drama so late in the game ever again. This is currently in its sixth season, and since it’s a drama on CBS, it’s 22 hour-long episodes in a season. So it took forever for me to get caught up with this one, but it was totally worth it.

 

It’s funny, because while I think this is one of the best shows on TV right now, it goes against all of the popular wisdom about what works in this day and age. It’s on a major network rather than cable, it’s got a lead character who’s a good person rather than an antihero, and while it’s basically a serial drama, because it deals with court cases, it has elements of a procedural. But it does what it does incredibly well. Shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Mad Men, Dexter, etc. all have terrible people at the center of them, but the titular good wife, Alicia Florrick, has quickly become one of my favorite characters because she’s refreshingly likeable without being Mary Sue-ish. The title is kind of ironic—she’s cast in the role of “the good wife” after her husband, a state’s attorney in Chicago, is jailed following a corruption and prostitution scandal and, after thirteen years out of the workforce raising her two kids, she has to go back to work as a lawyer. I can’t be the only one who’s seen real-life political sex scandals play out and been infuriated at how the wives are always forced to stand there supporting the husbands who’ve betrayed them, but Alicia is anything but a passive, wronged wife. She’s smart, excellent at her job, and a great mother to her two teenagers, but she also has a tendency to stress-drink red wine and has a penchant for comebacks like, “Die choking on your own blood, please.” And while you might not want her to remain married to her husband, their relationship is clearly very complicated and not as black and white as staying vs. leaving.

 

Alicia is far from the only appealing character on the show, too. I’m particular fond of Kalinda, the somewhat mysterious and occasionally violent in-house investigator at Alicia’s firm. Aside from the other lawyers at the firm, all appealing characters in their own right, the show has a fantastic lineup of recurring characters who play lawyers they go up against. Michael J. Fox is especially memorable as a shady but oddly charismatic lawyer, and I would totally watch a spinoff about Elsbeth Tascioni, a kooky attorney whom Carrie Preston won a Best Guest Actress Emmy for playing. Mamie Gummer, Rita Wilson, Matthew Perry, and Martha Plimpton have all had great guest roles. I also really like Alicia’s kids, who are written as much more well-rounded characters than dramas focusing on adults typically write teenagers—Homeland and Nashville should take lessons from The Good Wife’s writers.

Playlist of the Moment: The O.C.

This is going to be a little more involved than your average Playlist of the Moment post, so bear with me here.

 

I mentioned in the previous post that I’d be guest-posting a recap of The O.C. on Snark Squad. Voila. Writing it was a lot of fun, and both that and just reading Snark Squad’s O.C. posts in general made a bit nostalgic, so I’ve been re-watching some episodes of the show that I have on DVD.

 

I was first introduced to the show my senior year of college by my roommate Steph. That was Season 3, and I caught up with the previous seasons with Steph’s DVDs and bonded with my roommates over the show.

 

If you’ve never seen it, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: teenager Ryan Atwood, from Chino, California, gets arrested after he and his brother steal a car. Shortly thereafter, Ryan’s mother abandons him, so he calls his public defender, Sandy Cohen. Sandy lives in Orange County with his son Seth, who’s Ryan’s age, and his wife Kirsten, a rich real estate developer whose father owns most of the O.C. By the end of the third episode, the Cohens have become Ryan’s legal guardians. Over four seasons, we see all kinds of soap opera drama unfolding, particularly with Ryan and Seth’s love lives (Ryan has a tumultuous relationship with their drama queen next-door neighbor, Marissa, while Seth’s long-term crush on Marissa’s best friend Summer eventually turns into something real), but it’s also about family. It’s one of the only teen shows where the parents are not only a huge part of the show but also really good parents. You don’t have to be a poor kid from Chino with a neglectful, drunk mother to want Sandy and Kirsten Cohen to adopt you- and although I think the network intended it to be more of a Dawson’s Creek-esque teen relationship drama, the most interesting part of the show for me was always Ryan’s relationship with the Cohens. The moments that moved me the most and that were the most memorable for me were always about the love between this tough, fish-out-of-water kid and his adoptive family. This article explains everything really well.

 

The O.C. is kind of the perfect show for a site like Snark Squad or the late, sometimes great Television Without Pity because there is plenty to snark on (the episode I just recapped had a character faking a miscarriage and another character having a ridiculous screaming meltdown) BUT it’s also genuinely enjoyable most of the time. I feel like most statements you could make about The O.C. have a BUT in the middle of them. It’s a teenage drama BUT it’s also about the parents and the rest of the family. It’s a trashy nighttime soap BUT it also has a lot of moments that are truly moving. It’s kind of like Dawson’s Creek BUT the characters are a zillion times more likeable- a lot of characters on The O.C. start off as villains and gradually become more three-dimensional.

 

During the first year I blogged, The O.C. was in its final season, and although ratings had dropped, the show was having a series of fantastic episodes. You might recall these posts, where I tried to convince people to watch it so it wouldn’t get canceled. I was unsuccessful, unfortunately, but falling headlong into an obsession with a show was exactly what I needed during that crazy first year out of college. (I was living with Christiana Krump at the time, and I’m pretty sure at some point she threatened to fake-divorce me from our fake marriage over The O.C.)

 

Anyway! Another great thing about The O.C. was its music. It introduced me to a lot of awesome songs that to this day are among my most-played. So here’s my playlist with some of my favorite songs that have been played on the show. Some highlights:

Alexi Murdoch, “Orange Sky.” I can’t remember if I knew this song before I heard it on the show or not, but either way, I adore it. It’s so soothing I swear it lowers my blood pressure. “In your love, my salvation lies in your love.”

 

Patrick Park, “Something Pretty.” Aptly titled. “And I’ve known ugliness, now show me something pretty.”

 

Placebo, “Running Up That Hill.” This show also had a lot of great covers- in fact, one of their six soundtrack albums is nothing but covers. This one, of a Kate Bush song, I like just as much, if not more than, the original.

Here’s the playlist. It’s not comprehensive, but it is a bunch of songs I like that were on the show. Welcome to my O.C. Playlist, bitch!

 

 

 

1. We Used to Be Friends, The Dandy Warhols

2. Caught by the River, Doves

3. Dice, Finley Quaye and William Orbit

4. Move On, Jet

5. Honey and the Moon, Joseph Arthur

6. California, Phantom Planet

7. Paint the Silence, South

8. The Way We Get By, Spoon

9. Rain City, Turin Brakes

10. How Good It Can Be, The 88

11. Forever Young, Youth Group

12. Fix You, Coldplay

13. Insomnia, Electric President

14. Hide and Seek, Imogen Heap

15. Goodnight and Go, Imogen Heap

16. Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley

17. Maybe I’m Amazed, Jem

18. A Bad Dream, Keane

19. Float On, Modest Mouse

20. Running Up That Hill, Placebo

21. California, Rogue Wave

22. Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own, U2

23. Start Today Tomorrow, Youth Group

24. Life Is a Song, Patrick Park

25. Any Other World, Mika

26. The House We Live In, The Stills

27. Orange Sky, Alexi Murdoch

28. Walnut Tree, Keane

29. Saturday Morning, Eels

30. Popular Mechanics for Lovers, Beulah

31. So Sweet, Johnathan Rice

32. Trouble Sleeping, The Perishers

33. Little House of Savages, The Walkmen

34. You Got Me All wrong, dios (Malos)

35. Specialist, Interpol

36. A Lack of Color, Death Cab for Cutie

37. Hello Sunshine, Super Furry Animals

38. Something Pretty, Patrick Park

39. On the Table, A.C. Newman

40. Play, Flunk

41. Hardcore Days & Softcore Nights, Aqueduct

42. Cartwheels, Reindeer Section

43. To Be Alone with You, Sufjan Stevens

44. Fortress, Pinback

45. Scarecrow, Beck

46. Eve, the Apple of My eye, BellX1

47. The View, Modest Mouse

48. Into Dust, Mazzy Star

49. Just a Ride, Jem

50. Mr. Brightside, The Killers

51. Your Ex-Lover Is Dead, Stars

52. Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Poison

53. Blue  Light, Bloc Party

54. Love You Til The End, The Pogues

For Your Consideration

The Emmy nominations come out on Thursday, and being a bit of a TV junkie, I’m looking forward to hearing them. And there are a few people I’m particularly hoping will get nominated.

Before I give you this list, there are a few things I need to make clear. First, there are some shows I love that have already been honored. Breaking Bad will totally deserve any nominations and wins it gets for the final half of its last season, but since the show, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Anna Gunn have already won, I don’t feel super strongly about it. Similarly, the show Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and all the supporting actors are all great, but again, they’ve been honored already. Second, I don’t watch Game of Thrones or The Big Bang Theory, couldn’t get into Louie or Girls, liked the first two seasons of Homeland but not the most recent one, and don’t like House of Cards at all. Third, I think everyone from Orange is the New Black is great and many of them should get nominations, but while I acknowledge that the show is very well-done, it’s just not one of my favorites. I feel the same way about True Detective.

So here we go:

Cristin Milioti, Best Guest Actress in a Comedy, How I Met Your Mother

As disappointing as the ending was, Cristin Milioti’s performance as the mother (Tracy) was never disappointing. She was adorable, sweet, and interesting, and in the episode “How Your Mother Met Me,” which is told from her point of view, she was particularly impressive.

Jennifer Carpenter, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama, Dexter

The last season of Dexterwas an absolute mess, but Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter’s foul-mouthed sister Deb has always been the best thing about the show, and I have no idea why she’s never gotten an Emmy nomination. Even when the material she was working with sucked, she’s always done an incredible job with it. I’ve said for a long time that she should have her own show, so I’m really disappointed that a pilot she filmed wasn’t picked up!

Cat Deeley, Best Reality Show Host, So You Think You Can Dance

Okay, I may be a bit biased because SYTYCD is the only reality show I’m currently watching, but Cat Deeley is freaking awesome. She’s either very warm, funny, and genuine or really good at pretending that she is, and I can’t imagine the show without her. She’s been nominated a few times but has never won.

Tatiana Maslany, Best Actress in a Drama, Orphan Black

Tatiana Maslany is the best actor on any TV show right now, period. I feel totally comfortable making that sweeping statement, which makes it even more outrageous that she wasn’t nominated last year. I talked about her here, but for a quick summary, she plays several clones who are all very different from each other and does so pretty much flawlessly. Wake up, Emmy voters. Tatiana rules the universe.

Joanne Froggatt, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama, Downton Abbey

I have mixed feelings about the most recent season of Downton Abbey, but no mixed feelings about Joanne Froggatt’s work this past season. Her upsetting but sadly believable storyline involved her character, a lady’s maid named Anna, being violently raped by a visiting servant. Watching her dealing with the rape and its aftermath was devastating, but Froggatt was excellent with difficult material.

Kiernan Shipka, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama, Mad Men

Here comes another sweeping statement: Kiernan Shipka is the best child actor on TV today, period. She’s wonderful on Mad Men as Don and Betty’s daughter Sally, whom we’ve watched grow up over the course of the series. Sally’s growth as a character has been one of the most rewarding storylines on Mad Men, and I can’t wait to see where things go with her in as the show wraps up.

Jon Hamm, Best Actor in a Drama, Mad Men

I have made no secret of how much I love Jon Hamm or how brilliant an actor I think he is. I’m really afraid that Matthew McConaughey or Woody Harrelson will keep him out of the running this year for the Emmy he deserves so much. Can he at least get a win for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries for A Young Doctor’s Notebookif that happens?

Amy Poehler, Best Actress in a Comedy, Parks and Recreation

Last year at the Emmys, Amy Poehler and Jon Hamm had a party for the Emmy losers—winners could only attend if they donated to charity. They were the perfect people to host that party, seeing as they’ve both been nominated several times but never won. So I really hope this is Amy’s year, and I’m encouraged by the fact that she finally won a Golden Globe this year.

Nick Offerman, Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Parks and Recreation

If I’m mystified that Amy Poehler has never won for Parks and Rec, I’m even more mystified that Nick Offerman has never been nominated. Ron Swanson is such an awesome character, and Nick Offerman is just perfect playing him. There have been some great Ron Swanson moments this past season, too—I particularly love the episode where he introduces his colleagues to his new baby, John [middle name redacted] Swanson.

Ed O’Neill and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Modern Family

I think there’s been a bit of a backlash toward Modern Family after it won Best Comedy Series four years in a row…but you know what? The show is still good and I still love it. Half of the adults on the show have won Emmys now, but Ed O’Neill and Jesse Tyler Ferguson are still waiting. (So is Sofia Vergara, but nothing she did this past season really stood out to me.) The storyline that came to a head at the end of the season—Cam and Mitchell’s impending wedding brought up some old resentments about Jay’s discomfort with Mitchell being gay, ultimately resolved when Jay comes to the rescue after a series of misfortunes befall the wedding—allowed both of them to do some great work.

My Internet Origins

Recently, Television Without Pity, aka TWoP, ceased operations. In April, they stopped posting any new recaps and on May 31, the forums shut down. Even though I hadn’t posted in the forums for a long time and only occasionally popped in to read a recap, I was sad to hear it. This was a site I used to spend a lot of time on. I was very active in the Gilmore Girls forums for a long time and I made a lot of friends I’m still in touch with today.

But let’s back up a bit. The loss of TWoP, a place that was a huge part of my online life for a long time, got me thinking about what Lorraine and Sweeney on Snark Squad refer to as “internet origins.” Theirs are hereand here. And here’s mine.

When I was a freshman in high school, we got the Internet. I used my mom’s email to write to my friends, and I’d send these long, very enthusiastic emails to my friends. Except once I got a friend’s email address wrong and it went to some random guy.

We had dial-up Internet (my parents actually had dial-up until I was a senior in college), so I couldn’t spend too much time online for fear of tying up the phone line. But I never spent a whole lot of time online until the summer before my junior year of high school, when I got into The X-Files.

I got into The X-Files at a weird time—during the summer between the seventh and eighth season, just as the show was losing David Duchovny and the quality was about to rapidly decrease. Back then, they showed reruns daily on FX, and I’m kind of impressed with myself for how quickly I got caught up with the show considering that TV on DVD was not yet a thing. Instead, I just watched and taped those reruns, and since I was watching them out of order, I discovered X-Files fan sites that helped me make sense of what had happened on the show so far.

There was one big fan site in particular, now defunct, called Idealists Haven, where I discovered this little thing called fanfiction. I read a ton of XF fanfic—often saving them so I could read them offline and not tie up the phone—and eventually started writing it myself.

Yeah, that’s a deep, dark secret from my past. No, I will not share that fanfic here. Believe me when I say that it is truly, truly awful. I need to remove all traces of it from the Internet and then pray that the Internet is not, in fact, forever.

Then I went to college and The X-Files ended. Freshman year of college, the big thing was finally having high-speed Internet. I joined AIM and posted lots of melodramatic away messages. (Actually, I think I enjoyed coming up with different profiles and away messages more than talking to people.) I downloaded a ton of music through questionable means. I finally had my own email address.

Sophomore year of college was when I rediscovered Internet fandom. I was watching Monk at the time and started a short-lived Angelfire page (which I’d lost the address to until recently) where I just kind of rambled about my thoughts on each episode and which character had been the “coolest” in those episodes. While I’d always liked Gilmore Girls, this was the season where I started connecting with fellow fans online via TWoP.

Nothing has shaped my Internet life more than TWoP. I’ve made so many friends through that site and a lot of us have stayed in touch through Facebook and posting on a private forum. I’ve even met some of them in person. We used to have local TWoP cons where TWoP posters from Boston would meet for lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, and meeting these people I only knew by their screen names was awesome and kind of surreal. I went to my first TWoP con my junior year of college and I was so nervous, but I had so much fun!

But, uh…one time I accidentally started a flamewar. It actually got a write-up on this site called Fandom Wank that documents Internet drama. I’m the Katie they mention in that post (they seem to agree with me, thankfully), but basically what happened was that after one Gilmore Girls episode that most fans liked, the recapper, Pamie (whom I actually like and who has since published several books and written for many TV shows), posted a really negative review. TWoP had this kind of asinine rule that you couldn’t criticize the recappers in the forums (although showering them with praise was fine), so when Pamie linked to the recap on her blog, I left a polite blog comment saying that I disagreed with her and other fans joined me. Well, the next thing I knew all the other TWoP recappers were piling on yelling at us and it majorly escalated, culminating in Pamie posting this really sarcastic recap for the next episode. I was mortified and, even though I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, ended up apologizing to Pamie. I had not meant for any of it to happen—but now I kind of think the whole story is hilarious. Years afterward, I saw the incident mentioned elsewhere on the Internet and was like yeah…that was me.

Oh, yeah, and I started writing fanfic again. It got to be kind of an obsession—I’d be sitting in class planning out my next story instead of taking notes. But it was great writing practice and enough people read and liked my stories that it boosted my confidence a lot. (I’m actually pretty sure that more people have read my fanfic than anything else I’ve ever written.)

BC was on Facebook pretty early, when Facebook was just for college students and the URL was thefacebook.com, and I actually held out for a bit until I joined in December 2004. I was never on Myspace, though. All those pages where music started playing the second you opened the page annoyed me so much that I could never bring myself to join.

The same month I joined Facebook, I started my first blog, which I’ve since made private. I was very ambivalent about the idea of any kind of online journal or blog for a long time, but I finally decided to start one that only my online communities knew about. In 2006, several of my online friends and I joined Livejournal, and a few years later I started a second LJ where I did share some things with real-life friends. I no longer use either of them, though.

In September 2006, I started this blog. That same year, I got back into fanfic, this time for The O.C. (I have not relapsed since, though. And yes, I have often referred to it in terms of an addiction, because it is highly addictive!)

My most recent online community has been 20sb. Once I joined that, I discovered so many awesome blogs—and people—and have become friendly with many fellow bloggers. I wish 20sb was as active as it was in 2011-2012, but maybe that will change with the new redesign they’re planning.

And that’s my life online so far. More will be coming soon, specifically changes to this blog…stay tuned!

We Reduce People

In fiction, moral complexity is in. Today’s golden age of TV have brought characters who are difficult or whose intentions are ambiguous out of the realm of literary fiction and art house movies to popular shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and countless others. And we love it. When you consider a character, your opinion of that character is colored by many things other than “hero” or “villain.” On Mad Men, when nearly every main character has either cheated on a significant other or knowingly slept with someone who’s cheating, how do you measure which character you enjoy the most? On Breaking Bad, why do some people root for characters who’ve killed innocent people but hate other characters for smaller, personality-related reasons? I don’t watch Game of Thrones, so I can’t really comment on it, but I’ve picked up on some of the Snark Ladies’ interesting thoughts regarding the actions of some characters on that show.

Here’s what I’ve been noticing lately: this cultural embrace of moral ambiguity does not extend to actual human beings. With current events, there always has to be a villain, even in accidents where no one was really at fault. On the Internet, if anyone says anything regrettable, they’re never given the chance to backtrack or apologize—and even if they do, people will label them and discount anything they say from then on. There’s this ridiculous Tumblr, which I won’t link (if you’ve heard of it, you’ll know which one I mean) that catalogs everything that popular celebrities say that could be construed as “problematic”—even though some of those things are hardly problematic and some of them are things said or done while playing a character.

We reduce people.

We boil down every single thing about a human being—all experiences, all circumstances, all thoughts, all actions, all feelings—to one single thing we don’t like and slap a label on them.

We do it all the time, with everyone from celebrities to politicians to criminals to people we know personally or engage with online. It’s too much work to consider the bigger picture or to imagine that there’s anything more to a person than whatever we don’t like.

I say “we” because I’m guilty of this, too—too often. It’s easy to reduce. It’s harder to look closer and find the humanity in people we don’t like, or people who do things we don’t like.

I mentioned before that Schindler’s List, which I saw for the first time last year, is something I have a hard time talking about. The reason why is that what I took away from it was very personal, and I was afraid if I tried to explain it, it would come out sounding like I was making a movie about the biggest genocide in modern history all about me. But this was the revelation I had while watching it, a movie about a man who, despite doing an incredible thing that saved over a thousand lives, was not by any means a saint: if you lose your ability to see beyond whatever you don’t like about a person, if you can dehumanize people enough to boil them down to a single thing about their complex being—then that’s one thing you have in common with the Nazis.

When you don’t consider the humanity of every person, the inherent worth everyone has just by being alive, even people who do terrible things with their lives, it looks pretty ugly.

I’m often amazed by people who are more generous, compassionate, and forgiving than I am. When Fred Phelps died recently, I was surprised by the subdued reaction, which could be summed up as “let’s not stoop to his level.” My basic instinct is more often than not a desire for revenge, even if it always stays just a revenge fantasy, but thank God for the example of people whose hearts are bigger than mine.

Sometimes I’m not very good at forgiveness. But I’m trying to get better.

There’s no one thing that inspired this post. It’s a conglomeration of observations of things around me and in the world. But this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and something I always want to keep with me as I check my reactions when anything upsets me.

I don’t want to reduce people. And I don’t want anyone else to, either. People are all more than the sum of their complex, sometimes infuriating parts. I need to remember that while there is a great capacity for evil in humans, there is an even greater capacity for love, kindness, and compassion. And I need to recognize that greater capacity in all people as well as in myself.

Tracy McConnell, We Hardly Knew Ye

WARNING: I will spoil the endings of How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, Veronica Mars, The X-Files, The Office, Seinfeld, Friends, Breaking Bad, and Six Feet Under in this post.

So I was one of many people outraged at the How I Met Your Mother finale- let me rant for a minute.

The writers went with an ending that would have been satisfying in Season 2, but didn’t fit in at all with what the show had built up to. After all that, the mother (Tracy) was basically just a sidenote in the story of how Ted and Robin got together after all- even after the entire show lead us to believe in Barney and Robin as a couple and that Ted would get his happy ending. And I guess he did, but in the end he only was with Tracy for eleven years. They hit us over the head so many times with how Ted had to get over Robin before he met the mother- but this ending made me think he never got over Robin at all, and worse, maybe he was pining for her the whole time he was with Tracy. And it kind of cheapened his relationships with both women. Also, I really liked Tracy herself, and Cristin Milioti was great in this role. (I think she may have been too good—she was adorable and likeable without being Mary Sue-ish and seemed perfect for Ted, so people may have ended up rooting for her more than the writers intended.) So I wanted to know so much about her that we never found out- like, what exactly was she doing to try to end poverty? Why was that her passion? What was her book about? Where was she from? What was her family like? How did Max die? How did she die, for that matter (I mean, we know she was sick, but they glossed over her death so quickly that we never got any details)? Having kids before getting married seems very…un-Ted-like to me, too. I didn’t like how Ted and Tracy’s wedding eventually happened.

I feel like Robin really got the shaft, too. I mean, I’m sure she loved her work and all the travel she was doing, but it was literally what cost her her husband and friends for several years. Who did she even talk to during all that time she was estranged from the group? Patrice? I hope she made new friends or dated someone else or…something.

And then there’s Barney. I wondered, going into this season, if Barney and Robin would actually get married. Eventually it became clear that they would, and the show had really gotten us to invest and believe in the idea of them as a couple- so it pisses me off that they got divorced only three years later. They made such a big deal of him finally growing up and settling down with Robin- and the second they divorce, he just reverts back to being an immature slut, until he knocks some girl up and his daughter magically changes his life. The whole thing just pisses me off. I read some speculation that maybe “Number Thirty-One” will be the main character on How I Met Your Dad, which makes sense, but I hate that he referred to his daughter’s mother only as “Number Thirty-One.” Not to mention—what did Lily end up doing after she got back from Italy besides having a third kid whose name and sex we never learn?

It got me thinking, though, about how to end a show. There are other series finales that have gotten me almost as mad as HIMYM’s did, but there have also been some great ones. So here’s a look at the best and the worst of series finales:

Dexter

There are a handful of people who did like the HIMYM finale (my mother is among them), but absolutely no one liked the Dexter finale. I didn’t for a minute buy into his rekindling of his relationship with Hannah after she tried to kill Deb, so I hated how the show tried to get us to believe that she was his one true love. And then when Deb dies and Dexter decides that he’s caused people too much pain, his solution is to…cause even more pain by faking his own death and going off somewhere to be a silent lumberjack? Which is especially nonsensical because he no longer had the urge to kill? UGH. This finale made me wonder why I wasted so much time watching the show.

The X-Files

Another terrible ending. I’ve blocked out a lot of the specifics, but basically, at the end everyone was miserable and the world really was going to end in 2012. And the Smoking Man finally died for real. The movie that came out several years later didn’t do much to redeem it, either.

Veronica Mars

But this recent movie, thankfully, did redeem the series finale. To be fair, it was bad largely because it was written as a season and not series finale, but there were still things that bothered me about it—namely that Veronica’s actions over something that wasn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things and where the damage had already been done ended up getting her father in trouble. Like I said, though, the movie was so good it undid the unsatisfying series finale.

Seinfeld

At the time I hated this finale, as did most people, but it’s actually grown on me since then. Seinfeldwas not a show that dealt with feelings or happy endings, but aside from “nothing,” it was about four hilarious but still really horrible people. So putting them in jail for, basically, years of being awful was kind of fitting.

The Office

This was one show that went on way too long, and I didn’t watch the last two or three seasons. However, I’m really glad I tuned in for the finale. They’d announced that Steve Carell wouldn’t be coming back, but I was really glad when he did, even if it was only for five minutes (presumably so he wouldn’t take the focus off everyone else) in which we learn that Michael finally has kids like he always wanted. Dwight and Angela get married in a predictably weird ceremony at the beet farm. Jim and Pam start a new life in Austin. Kelly and Ryan return to hook up again, and abandon Ryan’s baby in the process. Stanley retires. Creed gets arrested for…whatever he’s done in the past. And Andy utters this oddly poignant bit of wisdom: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” The other great quote was the last line, which came from Pam and basically summed up the whole show: “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”

Breaking Bad

This show was never going to have a happy ending, but it pulled off a pretty satisfying one. Aside from a few lingering questions (i.e. how does one get ricin into a sealed-up stevia packet? And how, exactly, did Walt poison Brock?), they resolved everything, killed all the bad guys, and had Walt tie up all his loose ends before dying. Best of all, Jesse Pinkman lives! We last see him driving away laughing ecstatically, and I hope he found a new life somewhere else. But the moment of the finale that really stands out to me is Walt’s final meeting with Skyler. When she wearily says, “If I have to hear you say one more time that you did it for the family…” he surprises her, and us, by finally admitting, “I did it for me.” And strangely, it feels like the nicest thing he could say—probably because it’s the truth.

Friends

My memories of this finale are a bit tainted—I watched it with a bunch of friends in college, but as it happened, two of my friends who’d been dating went through a rather dramatic breakup that night, so that’s actually what I think of first when I remember this finale. But while this episode, on its own, isn’t one of the show’s best, it does wrap things up pretty nicely—Rachel gets off the plane and she and Ross are back together at last, Chandler and Monica end up adopting two babies instead of one after their birth mother realizes during labor that she’s having twins, and Joey…got his own short-lived show soon afterwards. In the end, they leave the big purple apartment behind and go get coffee.

Sex and the City
After the show ended, there were two movies- the first of which was fun at first watch but didn’t hold up upon rewatch and the second of which was just awful. If you forget about those, though, the last episode of Sex and the City was actually pretty great. For that matter, the whole last season was- SatC is that rare show where the ultimate season was its best one. Samantha is finally in real love, Charlotte gets a baby, Miranda is married with a kid and committed to her new family (even Steve’s ailing mom), and Carrie and Big (ugh) end up together, and his name is John. It worked, everyone was happy at the end, and they should have just left it here.

Six Feet Under

It’s weird that this is my favorite TV finale because the show overall is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It was about a family who ran a funeral home, and someone died in the cold open of each episode, often in a very strange way. (My near-death by falling vodka bottle would have fit right in on this show.) It starred Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, and Rachel Griffiths, and the acting was superb. I wish I could say the same for the characters, who frequently became annoying. Peter Krause’s character, Nate, was awesome in Season 1, while his girlfriend Brenda (Griffiths), was not, and I thought Nate was way too good for Brenda. Well, by the last season, Nate had become unbearably obnoxious and selfish while Brenda had made strides toward redeeming herself, and by the end of the show I thought Brenda was too good for Nate. On the other hand, Federico, the one non-family employee of the funeral home, started off obnoxious and just got more and more so as the show went on. Michael C. Hall’s character, David, and his long-term boyfriend Keith were a couple you rooted for, but they had multiple variations on the same fight throughout the whole show. Season 4 had a really dumb plotline where David was kidnapped. Sometimes the fantasy sequences were overdone and got confusing. And I feel like whenever the writers got stuck for ideas, they pulled a character and a drug out of a hat and dedicated a subplot to seeing fill-in-the-blank character high on fill-in-the-blank drug. Seriously, way too much reliance on drugs as plot points.

And yet— the finale was excellent. It resurrected the touching moments that sometimes penetrated the weirdness and, fittingly, wrapped things up in the most final of ways—by flashing forward to the deaths of each of the main characters during a montage to Sia’s “Breathe Me.” It sounds morbid, but it was very fitting and left absolutely nothing unresolved. And rather than beginning the episode with a death, as all other episodes did, this one began with a birth—that of Nate and Brenda’s daughter Willa.

Things I Loved This Year

I’ll do another post about the events of last year, and I’m going to do some more substantial posts later on books, movies, and TV, at least, but I wanted to do this post on some of the things that I enjoyed the most this year. Without further ado:

Books

October was my book month. Two books I’d been anticipating for a long time were published that month—Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Halfbook and The Disaster Artist, a book about the making of The Room by Greg Sestero, who played Mark. I also attended the Boston Book Festival, where I had conversations with J. Courtney Sullivan, Tom Perrotta, and Hallie Ephron. I read many other wonderful books throughout the year, and I’ll blog about them more in a future entry, but some highlights include John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.

Movies

The best movie I saw for the first time this year actually came out twenty years ago—Schindler’s List. I don’t know how I made it to this year without ever having seen this movie. And…wow. I have such a hard time talking about this movie because I’m not sure I can in a way that does it justice. It completely deserves the reputation it has—I will say that. And the very end has me in tears every time. (I’ve seen it quite a few times since I first saw it in August, most recently last night at Erin’s. Yep, our super-fun movie night was with a three-hour movie about the Holocaust.) It also motivated me to learn more about the real story behind it, so I’ve now read several books about Oscar Schindler and the Jews on the list- so many that I could tell where writers got their sources from. And there’s so much more I want to say about this movie that I’m not sure how to say, but just know that it profoundly affected me.

Future entry coming about the movies that actually came out in 2013.

TV

The two TV shows I caught up with this year that I loved the most could not be more opposite. Parks and Recreation is this happy, upbeat show about nice people doing good things. Breaking Bad is a dark, tense show about an increasingly evil guy doing increasingly terrible things. They’re at opposite ends of this TV mood scale, but I loved them both so much- Parks and Rec because it’s funny and sweet and I enjoy all the characters, Breaking Bad because it’s incredibly well-written and acted and basically a masterpiece. (Yes, I’ve seen this clip.)

I also started watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report regularly for the first time. The week of the marathon bombing, I desperately needed something to make me laugh. Previously, I’d only watched these shows sporadically, but after that week I put them both on my DVR. They keep me sane.

Music

I didn’t listen to much new music this year. I did listen to a LOT of U2. I’ve always liked them, but over the summer I started listening to them kind of obsessively and discovered some songs I hadn’t heard before or re-discovered songs I hadn’t listened to enough. As for new music, I enjoyed Sara Bareilles’s The Blessed Unrest, especially her song “I Choose You.”

Theater

Aside from the very welcome news that Les Miserables is coming back to Broadway next year, there was a lot of good theater in my life this year. I traveled to New York to see Lucky Guy on Broadway, which was wonderful and moving and…there’s so much I could say about it and maybe I will in a future post. I saw Wicked for the second time. I saw a local production of Les Mis. I also saw a great play in the fall called The Power of Duff.

Technology

Two devices have massively improved my life this year. I bought a Roku, allowing me to stream Netflix and Hulu on my TV, and it’s been fantastic. (Future post about everything I’ve been watching via Roku.) I also finally caved and got my first smartphone, which was a good decision. I’d always been afraid I’d end up spending too much time online if I had the Internet on my phone, but that hasn’t really happened. Plus, now I know when the bus is coming.

Celebrities

My two biggest celebrity crushes this year are both guys on AMC shows- Jon Hamm and Aaron Paul. It’s kind of interesting- with guys in real life, I’ve never been attracted to good-looking jerks, and I realized this year that even with celebrities, there’s a personality element present with everyone I like. Jon Hamm, I am convinced, is a perfect human being. I could look at him all day, and I think it’s a travesty that he doesn’t have an Emmy yet. But even if, for some strange reason, you’re not into his looks or his acting, you have to love him after this. And this. And this.

Aaron Paul (who does have two well-deserved Emmys), is possibly the most adorable person on the planet. I love him on Breaking Bad, where he played one of my favorite TV characters of all time, but he seems like such a sweet person, too. Read this. And this. And watch this clip of him on The Price Is Right before he was famous, because it’s hilarious. And look at his Twitter and his Instagram, from which I have learned that he really loves his wife and he really loves pizza.

Food
When Pigs Fly bread is the best kind of bread, and it’s awesome when you toast it and spread avocado on it.

Remember that if you take nothing else away from this post.

Happy New Year, all!