TV Diary

In and Of Itself

I usually don’t write about movies in these posts. This is more of a special than a movie as it’s a recording of the off-Broadway production In and Of Itself. I wanted it as part of the DocNYC Film Festival a couple months ago, but it drops on Hulu this week, and I highly encourage everyone to watch it. It’s hard to describe what it’s about. It’s a one man show featuring Derek DelGaudio. It’s sort of a magic show, but not really. There is some magic involved, but it’s so much more than that. It really gets very deep in ways you would not expect and it left me thinking about a lot of things. I’m also still entirely flummoxed about how he could have done the part with the letters. Even though I don’t know the exact mechanics of how he did the other magic things I have a good enough of an idea of how they could be done that I just accepted them, but I still have no idea how in the world he could pull of the part with the letters. The whole thing is extremely moving and I think the fact that you get to see compilations of some parts with the audience over a number of shows makes it even more profound. This is well worth your time.

The Cost of Winning

The Cost of Winning is an HBO documentary show following football players at St. Francis Academy, a private high school in Baltimore. It’s in an extremely poor part of town and many of the students who attend come from very difficult backgrounds, but their goal is to get all of them into college. However, because they recruit kids to the football team from all over the country and have have an excellent team none of the other local high schools will play against them. Thus they have no conference and play a national schedule sending these kids all over the country to play high school football. Being from Baltimore I had an extra interest in this show, but I think anyone would like it especially if you like shows like Cheer or Last Chance U.

The Flight Attendant

I read the book by Chris Bohjalian that this show is based on and it was one of my least favorite of his books, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to like this show. I think they did a really good job of adapting it and perhaps even making me more interested in the tv show than I was the book. I’m always leery of shows that extend beyond their source material as a lot of them don’t do it well, but I think the way they set things up for a second season may be okay. I guess we will see.

Bridgerton

Although I love Grey’s Anatomy I have never thought any other Shonda Rhimes property was as good. Private Practice was okay. I quit Scandal after two seasons. I’ve only seen a couple of episodes of Station 19 but couldn’t get into it. I’ve never tried How to Get Away with Murder but suspected it might run into the same issues I had with Scandal. So I was willing to give Bridgerton a chance, but wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it. Basically it turns out that it’s Gossip Girl set in Regency England. I never read any of the romance novels it is based on so I don’t know how it compares to those, but it was fine. It was entertaining enough that I finished it in one weekend, but I also can’t say that I’m over the moon about it and dying to watch more episodes. I’ll continue with it when it comes back for another season, but I can’t say I’m super in love with it.

City So Real

A five part documentary series on Hulu about the most recent mayoral race in Chicago. I suspect it was only meant to be 4 parts originally following the race to it’s conclusion but then COVID-19 and all the Black Lives Matter marches happened and I suspect they tacked on an additional episode to look at how Lori Lightfoot, who won the race, was handling these issues. It all felt very familiar. In many cases if they had replaced the word Chicago with Baltimore it could have been about Baltimore instead. There’s also some really insane things that are part of the Chicago mayoral race that seem like a huge waste of everyone’s time and money. It’s a really great processy documentary that also highlights the issues that facing all big cities.

I May Destroy You

This show written by and starring Michaela Coel that is somewhat based on her own experiences after being drugged and raped was pretty much at the top of every best of tv list in 2020. That was not my experience with it. I struggled with the main character. I of course don’t think she should have been raped, but she seemed pretty terrible both before and after it happened. Also, there were multiple episodes that were pretty much nothing but watching people be drunk and high, which I find extremely boring. I’m not sure exactly what everyone else saw in this show, but I can definitely say it was not one of my top shows of 2020.

We Are Who We Are

Another show that got some critical acclaim that did nothing for me. It was created and directed by Luca Guadagnino who also directed Call Me By Your Name, which I liked. This show follows American teenagers living on an Army base in Italy. Fraser, the lead character, is possibly the worst teenager that has ever been in a tv show. This is also another show that spends longs stretches of time just watching teenagers get drunk and high. As mentioned above this is not something I find the least bit interesting. I don’t think there’s meant to be another season of this show, but if there is I won’t be watching it.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2020

It’s that time of year again where I share my favorite things I experienced in pop culture over the past year. As a reminder these are not necessarily things that came out during 2020 though many of them are. They are however things I enjoyed for the first time this year. This year is a little bit different because some of my standard categories I didn’t really have a choice in thanks to the pandemic. It wasn’t a matter what my favorite thing was. It was a matter of did I even get to do any of these things this year. Although I am sad that I didn’t get to do a lot in the way of seeing things like concerts and theater, which are what I love to do more than anything else in the world, there was thankfully lots of excellent pop culture to keep me entertained while I’ve been stuck at home for most of the year. Let’s get to it.

Movie I Saw in a Theater

This was an easy pick because I saw exactly one movie in a theater in 2020. At least I enjoyed the film, though I doubt it would be sitting in this spot had I seen other movies over the course of the year. It was Birds of Prey, the Harley Quinn movie starring Margot Robbie. Who knew I was going to be enjoying so much Harley Quinn this year, since I also loved the Harley Quinn animated tv series now available on HBOMax. I actually appreciated the smallness of this movie. While I mostly enjoy a lot of comic book superhero movies I hate when they are too what I call smashy smashy where you have long 20-30 minute CGI fight scenes of characters just smashing on things and each other. They bore me to tears. There was none of that in this movie. The fight scenes were at close range and a lot of fun. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I found a lot to like about it and am not sad that it gets to be the lone movie I saw in a theater this year.

Movie I Watched at Home

I probably watched more movies at home this year than I normally do because I couldn’t see movies in theaters. I normally prefer to see movies in the theater as I have a hard time concentrating on them for that long at home without getting distracted by other things. I think my favorites though were two documentaries about collecting, The Booksellers and Vinyl Nation. As you might guess The Booksellers were about rare book dealers and collectors while Vinyl Nation was about record stores and record collectors. I am not a collector. I guess I don’t have that kind of personality, but I enjoyed seeing the worlds of these people who are super into collecting their books and vinyl records. Despite being a librarian and avid reader I have no interest in collecting books. I borrow most of the books I read and am happy to send books back out into the world for others to enjoy. I rarely reread books so I don’t see the point of having shelves full of them. I do often wish I was the kind of person who was into vinyl collecting though. Music is obviously something I consume over and over again and the idea of having a collection of records that I look through, select from, and then sit down and listen to appeals to me. In reality though the record player we have is not even out on the floor and the two vinyl albums I own were WXPN pledge drive gifts. Realistically I am never going to be that person, but I enjoyed living in the world of the people who are for a little while.

Fiction Book

Without actually meaning to or seeking them out I feel like I read a number of books having to do with various wars or people living under the constant threat of violence. Although it is to some degree an entirely different thing I also felt like there were a lot of parallels to our current state living through a pandemic with lots of death, living in a constant state of fear, and not knowing if or when it’s ever going to end. The best of these books and the one that is the best fiction book I read all year is Apeirogon by Colum McCann. I am just going to share my review on Goodreads because I don’t think I have anything better to say about the book than that.

“An apeirogon is a figure with an infinite number of sides and that is actually the perfect title for this book. I don’t even know how to describe it. At its basest level it is a fictionalized story of the real men Palestinian, Bassam Aramin and Israeli, Rami Elhanan both of whom lost their daughters to violence but who come together to try and fight for peace in the Middle East. It also includes non-fiction passages at the heart of the book written by both men. The story if you can really call it that moves and folds back and around itself while weaving in other facts and histories all written in short vignettes ranging from a mere sentence to several pages. It’s masterfully written and creative in a way that compares to no other book I can think of save for maybe Lincoln in the Bardo, which I more admired for what the author did than I actually enjoyed reading it. Here I think everything comes together perfectly. It’s definitely not a book for anyone who needs their books to have a straight narrative story, but this is beautifully written and full of so much meaning that it is a true masterpiece.”

Non-Fiction Book

I have two books that qualify for my favorite non-fiction book of the year. Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of thee Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban was the first book I read in 2020 and even then I said this is probably going to be one of my favorite books of the year. I was not wrong about that. It’s the informative and horrifying true story about how generic drugs are made and why there can be so many issues with them. This has made me question everything when it comes to the medications I take.

The second book, which was no surprise, was Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. I was very much looking forward to this book as I loved Wilkerson’s previous masterpiece The Warmth of Other Suns. Caste looks at how the United States really operates on a caste system based on race. She delves into the history and the effects on people and our country. She offers the best explanation I’ve seen as to why it’s important for us to actually address this issue and do what we need to do to repair rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist or say it’s not our problem because we’re not the ones who caused it. If you read one of the three books I’ve mentioned here make it this one.

TV Show

I have a few tv shows I want to mention that were the highlights of a year in which I watched a LOT of television and that’s saying something given how much I watched before this. I already alluded to Harley Quinn in the movie section. It’s a fun adults only show that I was sad when I ran out of episodes of.

The first show I watched in 2020 was Schitt’s Creek. I binge watched it over my winter break last year. I had not watched it for a long time thinking it was not something I would enjoy. I was never into all the Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara movies and I generally don’t like shows where people are just awful so on the face of it this show was just not for me. But I had heard so many people talk about how much they loved it that I decided to give it a chance. I’m so glad I did because it is such a delightful show full of so much heart. It is a little rough going in the first half of season one where it felt more like what I was expecting, but eventually the show grows and the characters grow and it’s something that brings me so much joy. If you haven’t watched this show yet please do yourself a favor and do it.

My second favorite show of the year has sadly already met an untimely death after only one season. Thanks Netflix. It’s Teenage Bounty Hunters. I love this show so much! Talk about a show with so much heart. In some ways it shares a lot of DNA with Schitt’s Creek in that it is a ridiculous over the top story with characters that are somewhat caricatures but who have such heart that you just fall in love with them. Everyone I have convinced to watch this show has loved it and I know the many other people I’ve been telling to watch it but who have been resisting my efforts (you know who you are) would love it too. I saw it on a lot of year end best of television lists too. I wish Netflix had let it stick around and grow an audience because get why based on the name and description it wasn’t something people jumped right into when Netflix put it out, but it’s definitely a show that would have grown an audience through word of mouth if it had only been given time. Even though it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger I still highly recommend treating yourself to the one season of this show that we were gifted.

I also fell in love with the show Wynonna Earp this year. It’s not a show I had ever really heard anyone talk about aside from one guest on a podcast I listen to. Apparently her love of the show was enough to get me to check it out and I’m glad I finally did. I tell people if they were Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans than this show is probably for them. It’s got a strong female lead, actually lots of strong female characters, love stories, and supernatural fun. I can’t wait for the second half of the most recent season to air hopefully sometime soon.

TV Episode

I have two episodes to talk about in this category. First Season 4, Episode 8 of Insecure, “Lowkey Happy”. This is one of those pay off episodes that I love from long running tv shows. Season 4 was mostly about Issa and Molly’s friendship and was an excellent season looking at the fading of friendship, but this episode was about Issa and her ex-boyfriend Lawrence. They reconnect over a long night spent together that reminds me of the Before movies. It was lovely and romantic and something that only could have happened with these characters and their relationship being developed over seasons.

Second is Schitt’s Creek Season 4, Episode 9, “The Olive Branch”. This is actually another payoff episode in that earlier in the season Patrick sings an acoustic version of the song “The Best” by Tina Turner to David during an event at their store that David both hates and loves. Then as a romantic makeup gesture after a fight in a later episode David does a dance to the song for Patrick. It’s so wonderful. It’s, no pun intended, the best scene from the entire show and is one of the videos I keep in my arsenal to rewatch when I need something to make me happy. Sadly it seems like the videos on YouTube of just that scene have all been pulled down. So you’ll just have to go watch the show to see it.

Album

I had far too many albums I loved this year to talk about in this post, so I refer you to the separate post I did recently on my favorite albums of 2020.

Song

My favorite song of 2020 was Janelle Monae’s “Turntables”. It’s an amazing empowerment anthem that has kept me going through some pretty dark times in this year.

Also have to give a special mention to the song “It’s Still Alright” by Nathaniel Rateliff. It was the first song I added to my 2020 playlist and it’s a song I came back to a lot. Although the song is about substance abuse and the death of Rateliff’s long time producer Richard Swift, the soothing tones of the song and the lyrics of the chorus repeatedly telling us “and it’s still alright” were a continued gentle reminder in this year full of so much pain and sorrow that there are brighter days ahead.

I will also give a shout out to the following songs that I also loved and listened to a lot this year. “Dreamsicle” by Jason Isbell, “Strangers” by Mt. Joy, “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy, and “Lockdown on Date Night Tuesday” by Ondara. You can also check out my 2020 playlist on Spotify, which contains all the songs I heard this year that I liked enough to want to listen to again.

Concert

Unlike most years when I would have dozens of concerts to choose from in this spot, this year I only had two. The final concert I went to in 2020 before everything fell apart was Trampled by Turtles at Baltimore Soundstage. It was a fun show and one I would have cherished all the more had I known it was the last show I was going to see for who knows how long.

The concert that was ultimately my favorite and probably would have been in contention for that even if I had gotten to see everything I already had tickets to in 2020 was traveling to Nashville to meet up with a friend to see Brandi Carlile at the Ryman Auditorium. One of my favorite artists in a fantastic, historical venue with a friend and fellow music lover. Who could ask for more? If I was only going to get to see two concerts in 2020 I can’t complain that this was one of them.

Online Concert

I’m adding in this new category this year because in lieu of getting to go out and see actual shows I watched a lot of artists perform online this year. Hopefully it’s one that I will only need to use this year because I want nothing more for 2021 than to be able to see live music again. There many, many online shows I watched from artists playing on Instagram and YouTube from their houses for free, shows I paid for with artists playing in their houses or shows I paid for with artists performing in actual venues with no audience. None of it fulfills the same experience as going to an actual live show and sharing the musical experience with a crowd.

The two things that I’m going to talk about here are things that are/were some of the least produced online music experiences but because of the way they are/were done brought at least a little of that communal experience you get from live music. When the pandemic first started Amanda Shires did 30 straight days of shows from her barn, which she called I So Lounging. Most of them also featured her husband Jason Isbell as well as Seth and Kelly Plemmons who were living with them at the time when we thought this would all be over in a few weeks. Seth is a member of her band and Kelly worked on the behind the scenes stuff. It was something that really kept me going those first weeks of lockdown when everything was so new and raw. It was wonderful to hear them play and just laugh and cry together and there was a little community in the YouTube comments for the shows. Although they were up on YouTube for a long time, sadly it seems like they’ve pulled all the videos down now.

The other online shows that I have loved have also been because of their regularity and the fact that they feel a little bit more intimate and personal. Almost every Thursday night since the pandemic started Amos Lee has been going live on Instagram on Thursday nights at 7:30. He hasn’t even been collecting tips. I’m not sure how he’s keeping himself going with no touring income. He’s done a couple of fundraisers for various organizations so whenever he does that I make sure to donate to whatever his chosen cause is. I’ve turned Thursday nights into a little bit of date night surrounding these concerts. We get take out and then I make my husband play a board game or card game with me while we listen to Amos Lee play. He’s even saved a lot of them to his IGTV so you can go back and watch if you want.

Broadway Theatre Production

Even though I had tickets to several shows later in the year I did not get to see any Broadway shows in 2020. My Company tickets were refunded. Who knows when or if that show will ever open. Our Music Man tickets were rescheduled twice and we’re now set to see the show in February of 2022. We thought it was hilarious when we were buying tickets for November 2020 in August of 2019. Little did we know.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I did get to see one show in Baltimore this year before everything shut down. It was Richard & Jane & Dick & Sally at Baltimore Center Stage. Unlike with the one movie I saw I can’t say that this was a show I super enjoyed. Sadly I’m not sure that the new artistic director and I see eye to eye on theatre. After loving almost every show I saw there for many years as a season ticket subscriber, this past season I didn’t really like much of anything. I think most of it was chosen in the interim before she actually started so I’m hoping that I’m wrong and that when the finally do get back to being able to have actual shows there that she selects shows that are more to my liking.

Online Theatre Production

Like with concerts I saw some online theatre productions this year as well. Some were previously taped performances that were released from archives. Some were weird Zoom like things (though not actually on Zoom). And some were live productions in front of no audience. I watched several shows put on at the Old Vic in London that were produced live with no audience. It lead to me watching theatre at some very odd times given the time difference. I think my favorite was Three Kings starring Andrew Scott, who you may know as Hot Priest from Fleabag. Sometimes one person shows where it’s just one long monologue can lose my interest, but I thought he did an excellent job and the story he was telling kept me engaged.

Podcast

I think I’ve mentioned Make Me Smart to some degree in this space every year since it has existed and that is not going to change this year. This year they expanded from their once a week on Tuesday episode to transitioning to a daily podcast after the pandemic started. They still do what they call the big show on Tuesdays, which is usually around a half hour or so. Then the other days they do short 15 minute episodes most of those they each bring a news story and something that makes them happy to talk about. They started naming the episodes at some point: Make Me Smart Mondays, Big Show Tuesdays, Whatta Ya Want to Know Wednesdays (in which they ditch the normal daily show format and spend the whole episode answering listener questions), Hollowed Out Shell Thursdays (because by that point in the week we all feel like hollowed out shells), and Economics on Tap Fridays (their weekly happy hour episode where they would have a drink and would often live tape over YouTube so people could see them and join in in the comments). It’s the first podcast I put on every time there’s a new episode in my feed. It helps me going and I’m so happy they expanded to 5 days a week.

Staying in with Emily and Kumail was a short lived podcast produced by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani that they put out at the beginning of the pandemic when we were all in lockdown. They basically just talked about their lives and the things they were enjoying and experiencing. Although she is no longer practicing Emily is a trained therapist so she had a lot of great insights to offer about what we were all experiencing and how we were experiencing them. She also is immunocompromised and at high risk for COVID so they were being extremely careful just like my husband and I have been. So it was nice to get their perspective on that as well. It’s not something that would probably make sense to listen to now if you didn’t listen to it when it was first on, but it was super helpful for me in processing everything that was happening and all the feelings I was having at the beginning of the pandemic. I get why it’s not something they kept up, but I do think it would be kind of nice to have a check in episode every once in awhile.

Podcast Episode

My favorite podcast episode of the year was the Song Exploder episode in which Semisonic broke down their song “Closing Time”. I’m not going to give anything away. You should just go listen to the episode. I will only say this, that song has way more meaning behind it than you think and I will never hear it the same way ever again.

TV Diary

The Path

The Path is a Hulu show about a cult that is I think supposed to be somewhat of a take off on Scientology, though not entirely the same. It stars Hugh Dancy as the new leader trying to take over the cult as the original founder is dying (or most people believe off writing the final parts of their bible). Michelle Monaghan plays a woman whose parents were part of the original founders and who grew up in the movement. Aaron Paul plays her husband who has begun to have doubts, which strains their marriage. I really enjoyed this show. It’s set in what I believe is the Hudson Valley area of New York and especially in much of the first season it is set in fall and has a beautiful fall feel to it that I was really digging just as it was starting to be fall here as I was watching. The characters are really well drawn and the show looks a lot into questions of what makes us believe things and why we hold onto them. I didn’t like the third and final season as much as the first two. It got really plotty with a bunch of side stuff that ultimately had no bearing on anything and spent way too much time with all that nonsense. It also retconned some things about the founding of the cult in order to introduce some new characters that I did not love as well as made some of the other characters, especially Aaron Paul’s character act in some ways I didn’t buy. Overall though I liked the show a lot and even though the third season was weaker than the first two I still enjoyed spending time with the characters. Whenever I finish a show where I really love the characters it takes me awhile to start something new because I’m not ready to let them go. It’s been a week and I still haven’t started binging a new show, so I know this is one that is still sitting with me.

Emily in Paris

People seem to be very mixed on whether they love this show or think it’s terrible. The answer to whether it’s good or terrible is yes. It is in fact a stupidly written show where the writers seemed to barely care enough to keep up with their plots (Emily says her Masters degree is in something different every time she’s asked), it’s entirely unrealistic with Emily somehow brilliantly saving the day in every episode, and it writes French people in a ridiculously stereotyped way. And yet it was beautiful to look at, it was nice to sort of know that everything was going to work out well every episode, and it was just stupid enough to be fun. Basically Lily Collins plays Emily an American who gets sent at the last minute to represent her company in the Paris marketing firm they just acquired after her boss, played by Kate Walsh who appears for like 30 seconds in the entire show, gets accidentally pregnant and decided not to go herself. (Seriously someone get Kate Walsh an actual show or bring her back to Grey’s. I always really liked Addison and she and Meredith can be besties now that Derek is gone.) Emily doesn’t speak a word of French and her boss in Paris hates her and is always trying to get rid of her. She also befriends her neighbor who she winds up in sort of a love triangle with as he already has a girlfriend who she becomes good friends with as well. So in short the show is dumb but also a pleasant distraction in these terrible times.

Watchmen

I have no experience with any previous Watchmen property like the graphic novel or the movie, so I came into this show cold. For most of the series that resulted in me having very little clue what was going on, which I really didn’t mind. In fact once they started tying things together in a way that actually helped explain what in the world had been happening in the first 3/4 of the show I thought it got worse and much less interesting. Regina King and Jean Smart were absolutely fantastic in this show. I liked it’s commentary on race and it felt like a very prescient show for 2020. Overall I enjoyed watching it, but I found the last few episodes a little bit of a letdown though the very end ties everything up nicely.

Song Exploder

Netflix turned the popular podcast Song Exploder, in which artists break down one of their songs and how they wrote it, into a tv show. I’m not entirely sure why. They only made four episodes and I don’t really think the visual aspects add much to what you get in the actual podcast. The episodes were still good and I will watch more if they make more, but ultimately I think the show is unnecessary. Just go listen to the podcast.

Lucifer

We’re about halfway through season 2 of Lucifer. I think they’re up to season 5 now. Lucifer as one might guess is the devil who has escaped hell and come to earth where he runs a night club and somehow winds up working as a consultant with the police. There’s a sort of will they or won’t they romance with his detective partner. He also has a therapist as he’s grappling with living as a human and developing human feelings. It’s an average but entertaining network show. It’s got your case of the week, but also ongoing storylines for the season which I always find a nice mix and something that seems to be rarer and rarer these days.

Travel Man

Travel Man is a British Show that is now on Hulu. It’s a travel show starring Richard Ayoade. He travels to some location for 48 hours with a rotating cast of fellow comedians. They usually go to some popular tourist location in the destination and then do a lot of non-standard things including often eating some kind of terrible local food. It’s quite amusing while also making me really want to travel and wondering if we’ll ever be able to do that again.

Sing On

Sing On is a karaoke game show on Netflix hosted by Titus Burgess. Contestants basically sing karaoke to songs and some machine measures how close they are to the original artists. The one with highest score automatically gets to stay and up until the final two rounds the contestants get to vote on which of the other people competing are voted out in that round either because they didn’t sing well enough to earn them money towards their final jackpot or they are worried they are too much competition. There are new contestants every episode so it’s a really easy show to throw on and not think much about if you’re looking for something like that to watch. Whenever a contestant gets kicked out they go stand on a balcony to sing along with the crowd. As they’re leaving Titus always asks them if they want to stay and sing on. Just once I want a contestant to throw down their mic and say absolutely not. They never do they. They always act really excited to stay.

Muppets Now

Muppets Now is the newest reboot of the Muppet Show that is on Disney+. It is sadly not good. It’s basically written as the Muppets producing sort of YouTube like series. Miss Piggy has a lifestyle show. The Swedish Chef has a cooking show. Bunson and Beaker have a science show. Pepe has a game show. Scooter is in charge of uploading everything and there’s always an issue with that. None of it is particularly funny and the way that it’s written leaves them all very segmented and not interacting at all. It’s only 6 episodes that are less than 30 minutes so if you’re a Muppets completist for some reason by all means, but otherwise don’t bother.

TV Diary

It’s time for yet another TV Diary because, you know, I’m watching a lot of tv these days. Luckily I’ve had a really good run of shows recently.

Teenage Bounty Hunters

I haven’t heard very many people talking about this show. I haven’t seen a single critic review it. It’s a shame because I LOVE this show. In some respects I feel like it shares a little bit of DNA with Schitt’s Creek in that it is kind of over the top and unrealistic in some ways, but also just has a whole lot of heart and wonderful relationships at the center of it. It’s sweet and funny and also fun. In some ways it feels perfectly made for me. I mean there was even a library database joke. Who is that for if not me?

Fraternal twin sisters Sterling and Blair are the titular teenage bounty hunters who accidentally wind up in the middle of a bounty hunter catching his skip during a car accident. They wind up helping catch him and in need of money to fix their father’s truck that they just wrecked they convince the bounty hunter to take them on as paid interns. Although the bounty hunting is part of each episode, it almost is beside the point. It is more about their relationships with their mentor, their parents, their significant others, and each other. If you watch one show on this list make it this one.

Harley Quinn

I had heard a lot of really great things about the animated show Harley Quinn, but I was never going to subscribe to DC Universe to watch it. Now that DC Universe has rebranded and shuffled off all their video content to HBO Max I was finally able to watch it. In this version of the story Harley and the Joker have just broken up and she winds up living with and becoming best friends with Poison Ivy who is trying to help her let go of the Joker and live her own life. She eventually gets a crew and is trying to take over Gotham City for herself. It is hilarious and also has a lot of good relationships in it. There is a lot of animated violence and gore and a decent amount of cursing. It waxes and wanes in episodes. The first episode is probably the worst on all counts. They really want to make sure you know this is not an animated show for kids of any age. I also highly recommend this show.

Ramy

Ramy stars Ramy Youssef as sort of an alternate reality version of himself in which he still lives at home with his parents and is still trying to figure out his life and his Muslim faith and how to use it to become a better person because he is a low level not great person. It’s a show I enjoyed when we were watching it, but was for some reason something I was never super excited to put on. Probably because there are a lot of things that Ramy does that are not great and meant to make you feel uncomfortable. There are episodes that focus on specific members of his family too and they are similarly as uncomfortable. There is focused on his mother in season 2 that I had to watch most of through my hands. It is a good show with a perspective that no other show has, but it’s not necessarily a fun watch even though I guess it’s supposed to be a comedy. It’s not my kind of comedy.

Taste the Nation

Taste the Nation is a sort of food travel show hosted by Padma Lakshmi. She digs into various types of cuisine and the history and culture surrounding it including a lot about immigration. It’s a really great show and it made me really want to be able to travel and eat in restaurants again. It will also make you very hungry.

Frayed

Frayed is a quick 6 episode series from Australia about a woman who fled her small town in Australia and moved to England without looking back until her husband dies and she discovers they are penniless. She winds up having to return back to Australia with her teenage kids to live with her mother and brother and confront other people from her past in the town none of which are too happy to see her again. I liked it well enough, but I really could have done without all the vomiting. I never, ever want to see tv or movie characters vomit and there was literally at least one person if not more that vomited in every episode of this show except one. So you know, if that also bothers you be forewarned. Also I’m not sure if there are going to be additional seasons of this show, but this one ended on something that seemed to come very out of left field.

Legend of Korra/Avatar: The Last Airbender

I had always heard good things about Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender, so now that they are both on Netflix I decided to check them out. I sort of did it backwards in that I started with Legend of Korra which is the spin-off series because I have been a long time listener of Janet Varney’s podcast the JV Club and she voices Korra so I have heard her talk about it a lot. I’m glad I did it that way because I don’t know that I ever would have gotten to Korra if I watched Avatar first. I know a lot of adults who love Avatar, but it seems squarely aimed at 10 year old kids. I could not get into at all. Korra felt way more adult to me even though I think she’s supposed to be a teenager when it starts. I really liked the first couple of seasons and then it went down hill for me in the final seasons. There was more relationship stuff in the first seasons than there was in subsequent seasons. I really didn’t care for the final season, which obviously had a lot of budget cuts that affected the show in ways you see all the time with live action shows, but I never would have considered in regards to animated shows before this. Most of the first season all the core team was split up and only one or two would appear during an episode and then there was an actual clip retrospective episode, which sit-coms used to do all the time but is not something I have seen done in a very long time. It was kind of odd. I’m glad I watched Korra, but I don’t think I’ll ever make it through Avatar.

Warrior Nun

This show is kind of crazy. I don’t even know how to describe it well, so I’m not going to try. You can go look up a summary if you want. I liked it more at the beginning when she was reveling in her ability to walk again and figuring out her new powers and what was going on and trying to decide if she was going to go fulfill this destiny than I was as the season went on. I definitely was only half paying attention to episodes towards the end of the season.

Lovecraft Country

I tried with this show, but it is not for me. I am just not a horror person. It doesn’t scare me. Most of the time I find it silly and I generally don’t like the plots surrounding it. I understand why people loved Get Out and like this for similar reasons, but I wasn’t into Get Out and was not into this show. I watched a couple episodes and then decided to give up. The fact that each episode seems to be it’s own thing only loosely connected to the other episodes did not help me get into it either.

Cursed

This is a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of the Lady in Lake before Arthur became king. I watched a few episodes and then told my husband he could go on without me. I did not care about anything that was happening and realized that I also want a little humor and or levity in my fantasy that this was just not providing. I don’t care about people just wandering in invented worlds and fighting over some thing. See why I also do not care about Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

TV Diary: Meh Edition

In my previous TV Diary post I promised I would have another post talking about recent shows I watched that I didn’t really care for. Some of these shows are decidedly not great while others were just not for me.

Stargirl

I debated whether I should put this show in this post or in the previous one, but since the other post had a lot more entries already I decided to write about it here. Stargirl is yet another CW superhero show. This is by far the hokiest of all the superhero shows I’ve ever watched. It centers around a teenage girl who discovers that her new step-dad is a former superhero and suspects that her own long missing father was superhero Starman, who was killed when she was a small kid. His former staff seems to want her to be it’s new master and now she’s training with her step-dad and some other outcast kids she recruited. It’s okay. I don’t love it. I find that I’m more interested in the non-superhero parts of the show, but there aren’t enough of those to sustain my interest. I’ve still been watching it while my husband has it on, but I’m not sure once we ever get more television back that I will keep watching.

Hollywood

I barely payed attention to this Netflix show created by Ryan Murphy about old Hollywood. I wasn’t really intersted in the story at all and I found it highly unrealistic that so many women and minorities were in positions of power in Hollywood. That’s not even true today.

Perry Mason

I never read any Perry Mason books nor watched the original series, so other than knowing Perry Mason was a lawyer I didn’t really know much about him. I gather that this show creates an entirely new backstory for Perry Mason and at least thus far is pretty much connected to the original properties in name only. In this version Perry Mason is a private detective. It’s a show that I can see some people enjoying, but I just don’t care about it. I’ve been in the room when my husband is on it, but I really couldn’t tell you what’s going on at this point.

You’ll Be Gone in the Dark

This is a documentary series on HBO based on the book of the same name by Michelle McNamara about her research into the Golden State Killer that eventually led to his arrest, unfortunately after her untimely passing. I’m not really big into true crime stuff. I didn’t read the book either. I can see this show appealing to people who did read the book or who are into true crime shows. This is just one that is not for me.

Outer Banks

I would say that this show is not for anyone, but Netflix just renewed it for a second season this week so I guess it is for some people. I thought this show was so bad that I didn’t even finish it. When I realized we were only halfway through I pulled the plug. There was no way I wanted to watch another five episodes of this show. It’s some sort of teen murder mystery thing set in the Outer Banks with the addition of the divide between people based on the working class people who live there and the second home summer people. I thought it had potential as a nice soapy, teen drama, but I did not find it interesting or engaging at all.

TV Diary Quarantine Edition

Never Have I Ever

Never Have I Ever is a cute rom-com teen show. Devi is high school girl who everyone thinks faked paralysis after she had hysterical paralysis following the death of her father. She is trying to move on with her life without really confronting her feelings about her father by chasing a crush she has on a popular boy at school and fighting with her nemesis and competition for top of the class. I really loved this show and it’s about much more than the teen romance stuff. It’s about family and friendship and culture and the show does not let Devi off for being a selfish jerk for significant portions of the show.

Newsradio

I never watched Newsradio when it was on in the 90s though I had a cultural consciousness of it to some degree. I definitely got wrong how some of the storylines play out. In my head the show had more a narrative arc like Friends did, but it really does put the situational in sit com as the stories mostly reset every episode. I assumed that the show spent seasons leading up to the relationship between Dave and Lisa, but it turns out they got together literally in the first episode of the show and for the most part anything related to their relationship occurred within the confines of single episodes rather than across seasons. I definitely didn’t like it as much as I like some other 90s sitcoms, but it was a fine distraction. I did not however like Jon Lovitz as the replacement for Phil Hartman after his tragic death.

Quiz

Quiz was a three episode mini-series about the scandal that rocked the British version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in which a husband and wife were prosecuted for cheating to win the million dollars. I was surprised that I had no recollection that it happened until watching the show and realizing that the news broke on September 11, 2001 so there were a few things I was paying a bit more attention to. I thought it was a great miniseries that felt just about the right length and I may have enjoyed the beginning episode that went into the development of the show itself more than I cared about the whole cheating part of it.

Looking for Alaska

I read the book Looking for Alaska and remember liking it well enough so I was interested in watching the show, especially since it was created by Josh Schwartz who has a history of using great music in shows. Ultimately though I think I am way over shows, books, movies, etc. about pretentious unrealistic teens at boarding school (or camp or college). It’s been awhile since I’ve consumed anything with that bent that I haven’t been annoyed by. I just didn’t care about these characters or any of the charades they were getting up to.

High Fidelity

I definitely watched the movie High Fidelity around the time that it originally came out, but I never rewatched it and didn’t have many memories of it. You would think that it would be a movie that I adored, but it never really was. It might have been the Jack Black of it all. It’s been so long I couldn’t tell you. I think I also read the Nicholas Hornsby book at some point, but again like two decades later I can’t really say how faithful this tv version is to either of the previous properties. The show does gender flip the lead with Zoe Kravitz playing Rob, John Cusack’s character from the movie. She is wonderful in the part. I loved, loved, loved this show. It basically combined all my favorite things. It’s got fantastic music. There are great romance stories and friendships. Plus it was really funny. I laughed out loud almost every episode and I rarely laugh out loud while watching tv. I cannot wait for more episodes of this show.

Sweet Magnolia

I gather Sweet Magnolia is based on a book or possibly series of books, but I’ve never read them. It follows three woman in a small town outside Charleston. One is a recently divorced mother of three whose husband cheated on her and got another woman pregnant. One is a chef, and the other is a lawyer. Lifelong friends they decide to go into business together and start a spa. It’s basically Hallmark Channel level of quality. It’s not really very good, but the level of fluff was about the speed I was looking for in the height of the COVID crisis.

America to Me

I had wanted to watch this docuseries following kids, teachers, and administrators at a diverse high school in suburban Chicago when it first aired on Starz, but I don’t have Starz and it never moved to any other streaming platform. In the recent rush by companies to make content they have related to race available for free, Starz made this available for free for a weekend. I jumped at the chance to finally watch it and since I have no plans these days watched all 10 episodes in two days. It’s so, so good. It really perfectly encapsulates so many issues with race and racism that our country faces. It should really be required watching. I wish Starz would make it available more widely since not too many people subscribe to Starz and who are like me and even if they’re interested are not wanting to pay to buy it episode by episode.

Love, Victor

I never read the book that it was based on, but I liked the movie Love, Simon so I was looking forward to this show. Love, Victor is spinoff of the movie with the title character texting with Simon as he has heard tale of Simon’s own coming out love story as he himself is trying to figure out is sexuality under less ideal circumstances than Simon had. This show was originally slated to be a Disney+ show before they punted it to Hulu. It definitely has a vibe of being aimed more towards the pre-teen set as a result. I didn’t connect with this show as much as I did the movie. I didn’t care about the drama surrounding Victor’s parents’ marriage. Even though based on the opening lines this was supposed to be the story of someone who was less supported in the coming out process to address some of the criticisms lobbed at Love, Simon ultimately it kind of felt the same way. I think I’d rather watch a show about Mia, the girl that Victor dates for much of the first season.

TV Diary

Twenties

Twenties is the newest show created by Lena Waithe on BET. She doesn’t actually star in this particular show though, which I didn’t realize before watching it. It follows a group of black women navigating their twenties in Hollywood. It’s very stylized with lots of nods to old Hollywood. The characters were great. I liked the relationships and found it quite amusing. I really enjoyed the show and very much look forward to new episodes at some future date whenever TV can actually go back into production.

I Am Not Okay with This

I Am Not Okay with This is a short series on Netflix. It shares the same DNA with The End of the F***ing World, as they are both based on graphic novels by the same author and produced by the same creators. I didn’t care for this nearly as much as The End of the F***ing World. It just seemed like a poor imitation to me. I think the only reason I even finished it was because it was really short both in episode length and count and it came out at a time that there was a lull in other television.

The Sinner

It’s obviously no secret that I am tv lover and watch way too much of it, so I have no idea how this USA show got to three seasons without me even knowing it existed. The only reason I even heard about it in season three was because Matt Bomer starred in it, and I love me some Matt Bomer. As best as I can tell the seasons sort of stand alone with separate storylines connected by Bill Pullman as the detective investigating whatever happens that season. Matt Bomer’s character is very messed up in this show and winds up pulling Bill Pullman’s character down with him. It was an okay show, but I didn’t like it enough to bother going back and watching the first two seasons and I won’t be watching any future seasons either.

Feel Good

Feel Good is a Netflix show following comic Mae who is recently sober and her girlfriend George who is still hiding their relationship from her family and friends. I liked this show while I was actually watching the episodes, but for some reason it just kept falling out of my head when I wasn’t watching it. I kept having to remind myself what it was every time I saw it in my Netflix list and it’s not something I’ve thought a whole lot about since I finished it, but if there’s another season I would watch it.

Unorthodox

I did not read the book this very limited Netflix series is based on. When we started watching the show I didn’t realize it was only 4 episodes and then felt like I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I looked it up and it turns out the show is only very loosely based on the story. Pretty much in concept only with an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn fleeing her marriage. That’s pretty much where the stories diverge completely. It’s worth watching though.

The Baker and Beauty

Daniel Garcia helps run his family’s Cuban bakery. After publicly turning down his girlfriend’s proposal in a video that goes viral he winds up running into supermodel Noa Hamilton and getting drawn into her orbit and throwing all their lives into disarray. This was some mindless summer entertainment that was perfect for keeping my mind off of COVID-19. It’s based off an Israeli show. I don’t know if the title is literal translation of the Israeli title, but it bugs me that the show is not called Beauty and the Baker like it should be. I did also hear someone say it should have been called Beauty and the Yeast, but that’s probably taking it a bit too far.

Messiah

Messiah is a Netflix show about a mysterious man who appears first in the Middle East and then the United States. Some people say he’s a new messiah and others believe he is a con man. The show ends on what could be considered a cliffhanger, but could also serve as a satisfying although somewhat ambiguous ending since Netflix cancelled the show after one season.

Cybill

If you don’t recall the show Cybil it was a sitcom from back in the 90s starring Cybill Shepherd and was the first acting role that Christine Baranski had as more than a guest star. Cybill is a C-list actress doing guest star roles, commercials, and bad movies. Baranski plays Maryann her best friend, a rich divorcee who spends much of her time plotting revenge against her cheating ex-husband. It’s a goofy show and something I only saw a few episodes of when it originally aired because the humor was too adult for me at the time and I didn’t really get it. Now as an adult I get it, and it was kind of a mindless fun show to watch on Amazon Prime.

Winter 2020 TV Diary

Jeopardy Greatest of All Time

We watched the primetime Jeopardy tournament they did featuring Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter. It was fun to watch, and I appreciated how much fun it seemed the contestants were having with it and each other. I’m happy Ken Jennings was the winner. I thought the format they used was a little wonky though as it pretty much telegraphed that Ken had won given that there were no more episodes scheduled. It took a little bit of the drama out of it.

Cheer

I’m sure no one here needs me to tell them how they really need to watch Cheer on Netflix, but if you somehow haven’t yet you really should. It’s obviously their continuation of a similar series to what they started following junior college football players in Last Chance U, which is also a really good show by the way. Cheer follows cheerleaders from the award winning Navarro College cheer team. I always knew cheerleading was hard, but this show really shows how physical it is how much stress these kids are putting on their bodies. A lot of the kids they follow have really heartbreaking stories, but also seem to be fighting for their futures especially with the help of the coach, Monica. You really just want nothing but the best for them and want them to be able to succeed in cheer and in their future lives. And seriously, if nothing else you really do have to watch the show for Jerry because we should all live our lives a little more like Jerry.

Virgin River

Virgin River is a Netflix show that I imagine to be somewhat of a cross between Hart of Dixie and Northern Exposure, although I’ve never seen Northern Exposure so that’s a little bit of a guess. It definitely shares the same DNA with a medical professional (in this case a nurse practitioner rather than a doctor) moving to a small town to take over a medical practice. In this case it’s a rural town in northern California and oddly the doctor whose practice she is joining against his will is played by Tim Matheson who is plays practically the same character on Hart of Dixie. The nurse is running away from her past, which exactly what that means you get doled out over the course of the season through flashbacks. There’s a love story with the local bar owner, who apparently doesn’t ever actually have to work at his bar since he’s always offering to drive her to whatever remote locale she needs to get to for that episode’s medical case. It’s sort of like a 10 hour Hallmark movie. I can’t say it’s a great show, but I also kind of really like it. I started watching it when I was home sick from work and watched like 6 episodes in one day and finished off the remainder in short order. I’m already looking forward to the next season, which probably won’t be out for like another year but I’m happy to already know they’ll be one.

On My Block

On My Block is yet another Netflix show. With the characters being teenagers I’m sure it’s supposed to be aimed at teens, which is perhaps why I haven’t heard many people talking about it, but really they should because it’s a really good show. I like teen shows so I had added it to my queue when it first came out but never watched it. Then someone I know was talking about catching up on season 2 before the third season comes out next week and saying how much he enjoyed it. I was in need of a new show to watch at the time, so I decided to finally give it a shot and I’m so glad I did. I’m about 2/3 through the available episodes, and I love it. It’s about teenage friends in a poor neighborhood in L.A. and it’s kind of hard to describe the rest of it. At the heart of it the show is about their friendship, but it also has some Goonies type capers in it, it has real drama about living in and around gangs, it also plays with stereotypes in a lot of ways too. It kind of is all things. It’s humorous, it’s dramatic, it’s sweet. It’s just an all around great show and I highly recommend it. The episodes are 30 minutes or less so you can get through it pretty quick.

Katy Keene

Katy Keene is a spin-off from Riverdale with Josie of Josie and Pussycats heading out from Riverdale to New York to pursue her music career where she befriends the titular Katy Keene who works at Lacy’s department store and dreams of being a designer. Gorge who is a drag queen dreaming of being a Broadway star and Pepper who seems to be somewhat of a con-woman attempting to be a great artistic icon rounding out their friend group. It’s completely frothy and ridiculous drama and stupid fun. It is exactly what you expect from it and that’s perfect. I could use a little bit more mindless fun in my tv these days.

Party of Five

On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is the Party of Five reboot where rather than dying the kids are left on their own because their parents were undocumented immigrants who were sent back to Mexico. It’s a really smart and timely way to reboot the show. I only watched part of the original as I didn’t start watching when it first came on when I was in high school and back then if you didn’t watch when it was on you just had to start in the middle of show with no real watch to catch up (kids ask your parents), and I quit it before it finished it’s run because I grew frustrated with the storylines. Plus I had gone off to college by then and it was harder to keep up since it wasn’t as easy to record shows if you weren’t around to watch them (again kids ask your parents). I really do like the new one a lot and appreciate it every time I’m watching it, but it’s also generally a depressing watch and I admit that I often put off watching it for awhile but then am happy I watched it once I do.

McMillions

We’re four episodes in to the six episode documentary series on HBO about the McDonald’s Monopoly games scandal where essentially no one real one the game all through the entire run from 1989 to 2001. I really didn’t know much about it, so I’m learning things and it’s a decently made documentary. I’m also pretty sure it could have been half the length and conveyed just as much of the story. It definitely feels a little bit dragged out to me, but I’m obviously going to finish it.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

This is a fun, silly little show with actors I like getting to sing and dance. Jane Levy plays a character who somehow while getting an MRI when an earthquake takes place somehow winds up with something happening to her whereby the people around her sing her songs conveying the feelings they’re having at the time. Lauren Graham plays her boss. Skylar Astin plays her coworker/best friend/potential romantic interest. Mary Steenburgen plays her mother. Peter Gallagher plays her father who has some sort of neurological disorder that prevents him from communicating, but who she is now able to somewhat able to communicate with due to hearing his song thoughts. It’s definitely ridiculous, but again I’m all in on tv that is kind of mindless and silly at this point.

Encore

Speaking of singing and dancing, Encore is a show that you can now watch on Disney+. The first episode aired on ABC some time ago, but obviously didn’t do very well and they shelved it. But now that they have Disney+ why not make available all those episodes they already had in the can. It’s a reality series where they get back together casts of high school musicals to reperform whatever musical they did in a week’s time. As a musical lover I enjoy it, but to some degree the episodes are a little bit samey despite the different musicals and different casts so I can only watch one episode at a time. Thus I still have a lot of episodes to get through, but I’ll make it eventually.

Gentefied

Gentefied is a new Netflix show that follows a family, a grandfather and three of his grandchildren who are all involved in some degree in the taco business he has been running in a now gentrifying neighborhood. Now they’re trying to figure out how to save the business as the rents go up and tastes are changing. We’re only a few episodes in, but I’m enjoying it so far. Be aware that due to the characters speaking a lot of Spanish in addition to English there are a significant number of subtitles.

Everything is Going to Be Okay

Everything is Going to Be Okay is a show on Freeform following an Australian in his mid-twenties who winds up becoming the caretaker for his two teenage half-sisters who he barely knows in LA after their father dies of cancer. One of them is on the autism spectrum. This show has been sort of hit and miss for me. I like some episodes and others don’t do much for me. I’m still watching at this point, but it’s definitely one of the last things I watch each week.

Medical Police

Medical Police is a show on Netflix that is a spin-off of the Cartoon Network Adult Swim show Children’s Hospital. I never watched that show so I don’t know how it compares other than that this one is much longer with the episodes running between 20 and 30 minutes as compared to around 12 on Cartoon Network. Given the comedy style that is the parody sort like the Naked Gun or Airplane! this one might have been better if the episodes were shorter as well. It was dumb as one might expect from a show trying to double spoof medical and cop dramas with some of the doctors from Children’s Hospital being drafted into a secret force run by the CDC. Oddly enough though a little too much of it seems weirdly relevant with all the coronavirus news. If it hadn’t been released during an otherwise slow tv time I’m not sure we would have started watching it and if we didn’t use it to fill in weird little times where we had 20 or so minutes to kill we probably wouldn’t have finished it. I get bored with that kind of comedy pretty quickly, so I would be curious to know what people who are really into that sort of thing think.

Winter 2019/2020 TV Diary

Before we get full force into the new mid-season shows I thought I would do a roundup of the things I’ve been watching over the past few months.

The Great British Baking Show

Hi, it’s me the last person on the planet to watch this show and tell you how wonderful The Great British Baking Show is. I think literally every person I know told me I had to watch this show because I love to bake. I don’t watch too much reality television including cooking shows aside from an occasional episode of Chopped on an airplane or in a hotel, so I just ignored everyone for a very long time. I finally broke down and decided to start watching because I needed a show I could download from Netflix to my iPad to watch on a cross country flight. I thought this show would make great plane fare. It did and as it turns out great fare any time. I love how good natured the show is. I don’t care for all the false bravado and meanness that Americans seem to think needs to go into all their competition shows. I love how the other contestants will try and help each other out instead of someone else’s mishaps just being a way to make sure they get to move ahead in the competition. Aside from usually one or two people at the beginning who generally get kicked out fairly quickly each season I like all the contestants on this show and quickly get sad when any of them has to leave. Plus everything sounds so delicious. Even though I like to bake I would never make it on this show because I don’t like to get that complicated and I definitely don’t do decorations.

Schitt’s Creek

I just finished a binge watch of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix in time to watch the final season on PopTV. I hadn’t watched it up to this point because it didn’t seem like something I would be interested in. I was never a big fan of the movies like Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and Best in Show that Eugene Levy helped write and star in as he does this show. Plus I have never cared for the one character that Chris Elliot plays in everything he stars in, so I just discounted this show. Then with the lead up to the new season I just kept seeing people raving about it and decided to finally give it a try. Chris Elliot still does nothing for me, but I can overlook him because the rest of the show is great. Man this show does an incredible job of threading a crazy needle of somehow both writing a show full of characters that are to a large degree caricatures while also creating a show with the biggest heart and the most amazing little emotional moments. There are so many moments that are just little gestures or looks that the characters give that just melt my heart. It’s crazy how much real sentiment these characters can convey without saying a word when their characters are so over the top unrealistic. David and Patrick’s relationship of course is the best. I also love David’s friendship with Stevie. I adore how Patrick and Stevie sometimes gang up on David to make fun of his particular crazy, but nothing about it seems mean spirited. I think my favorite part of the whole show so far is the pointing gesture and thumbs up Stevie gives to David at the end of the scene that starts at 1:26 in this video. (Sorry I couldn’t find the scene on it’s own or get the YouTube video to start at the right time stamp when embedding it.)  I never expected to like this show as much as I do. Now I’m already sad that it’s almost over.

Soundtrack

Soundtrack is a super gimmicky show on Netflix. Each episode involves the characters breaking out into elaborate lip syncs to pop songs to express their feelings. Each episode is about an hour long and I felt like it would have been a much stronger show if they had made it a 45 minute show and cut out the terrible (and I really mean terrible) lip syncing numbers. They didn’t add anything to the story and did I mention that no one on this show can actually lip sync well? It’s a shame because I actually did mostly enjoy the rest of the show which followed several characters back in forth in present day and the past when two of the characters met and fell in love. Which characters the show focuses on changes in each episode. It’s not a bad watch, but I would recommend just saving yourself some time and fast forwarding through all the lip syncing scenes.

Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings

Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings is an anthology series on Netflix with episodes based on Dolly Parton songs. Some of them were better than others. They’re all super saccharine and even less offensive than a Hallmark movie. I’m not sure I would say any of them are particularly good, but I felt compelled to watch them all anyway.

Home for Christmas

I started watching Home for Christmas on Netflix thinking it was a Christmas movie, but it turns out it was actually a 6 episode tv series in Norwegian no less. We realized pretty quickly it was dubbed in English so changed the settings to get subtitles instead because I refuse to watch things that are dubbed. It was an enjoyable little rom-com series about a nurse named Johanne whose family is obsessed with her finding a boyfriend so she lies and says she’s dating someone and will bring him home for Christmas. Now she only has a few weeks to find someone to fill the role. I’m not sure I loved the way they chose to end it, but overall I found it a very pleasant show to watch. You can save it for next Christmas or just watch it as a winter treat. I don’t feel like it’s so over the top Christmasy that you couldn’t enjoy it at other times of year.

Spinning Out

If you can get over the terrible American accent the lead, who is actually British, is doing then Spinning Out is a very enjoyable show. The tagline says it’s The Cutting Edge meets I, Tonya and I would say it’s pretty accurate. Kat is a former singles figure skater who had a terrible fall during a competition that has left her spooked and unable to compete or even pass the test to become a coach. Now she has one last chance to save her skating career by trying her hand at pairs skating with rich, playboy Justin. Her younger sister Serena is also an up and coming skater. Both Kat and her mother played by January Jones are bipolar which adds another layer to the show. I’m only 3 or 4 episodes in at this point, but I really like it so far.

Succession

I never watched Succession when it started because I heard how every character on it is unlikable, which is not something I like in a tv show. It’s why I quit watching Scandal pretty early on in its run. But everyone seemed so obsessed with it after the second season, even critics who normally share my distaste of shows that only feature abhorrent people, that I decided to give it a try. I’ve only seen two episodes so far. Everyone is terrible, and I’m not yet hooked. I might give it a few more episodes, but I’m not sure this show is for me.

Dare Me

Dare Me is a new show on USA based on a YA novel by Megan Abbott. I’ve read some of her stuff and not loved a lot of it. I haven’t read this particular book, but the tv adaptation has the same trappings of the things I don’t generally care for in her books. It’s about a high school cheerleading squad whose former captain is at odds with the new coach. You know there’s a murder that happens at some point, but you don’t really know who is involved yet. It’s all a lot of drama and terrible people. There have been two episodes so far. I don’t love it and can see it falling by the wayside as shows I’m more interested in start to come back in the next few weeks.

 

 

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2019

Once again it’s time for my annual post on the pop culture that was most memorable to me over the past year. As always it doesn’t have to be something created in 2019. It just has to be something I consumed over the past year. And as always I emphasize that these are the things that meant the most to me, not necessarily the things that I think are the best thing made in any given category. In past year’s I’ve mostly tried to limit myself to one thing per category. I’m going against that this year in several categories because who says I have to choose just one thing? Sometimes I enjoy multiple things an equal amount and don’t want to choose between them. These are the things that brought me joy this year and why shouldn’t I want to introduce you to as many great things as possible? I make the rules here, so I say no arbitrary limits on how many things I’m allowed to write about!

Movie I Saw in a Theater

I often lament the lack of good romantic comedies like there once were, so I always try and go see the few and far between rom-coms that make it into movie theaters even when I know they are going to be terrible because I want Hollywood to know there’s a market for them. This year though the one rom-com I saw in a theater was not terrible. In fact it was my favorite movie of the year, The Long Shot starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. I was slightly dubious about it because I don’t love Seth Rogen and all his drug humor. There was some of that in this movie, but just the right amount. I thought it was a very funny and sweet movie with a great modern day rom-com set-up for why the two leads just couldn’t be together.

I’ll also give a shout out to Knives Out, which was a very fun whodunit.

Movie I Watched at Home

This is the category I always have the hardest time filling out partly because I can never remember what I watched. Last year I kept a list and that worked out really well, so I thought that I would do that again this year. It didn’t really work though because every time I watched a movie at home, which wasn’t that frequently, I thought well that was okay, but I’m not even going to bother adding it to my list because there’s no way I would put it in my end of the year blog post. And that’s how it went for pretty much every movie I watched this year. There were zero movies on that list as of mid-December.

I didn’t initially think to include it because it’s not a traditional movie per se, but I’m going to go with the four hour Tom Petty documentary, Runnin’ Down a Dream. I’ve been meaning to watch it for years because Tom Petty is one of all time favorite artists and I’ve always heard good things about it. I just never wanted to commit 4 hours to it, but this year when I had a snow day back in February I thought today is the perfect day to finally watch this. It was indeed a very good music documentary. It focused mostly on Tom Petty’s musical career and didn’t delve much into his personal life, so I felt like it was a very good companion with the book Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes which gets much more into Tom Petty as a person.

Fiction Book

I have two very different books I’m putting in this category this year. First is The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, which I recently read for my book club. The book moves back and forth in time between 1980s Chicago during the height of the AIDS crisis and 2015 Paris where you pick up with the sister of one of the young men who died and who nursed many of the men in his friend group as they too succumbed to the disease. The 1980s part is for sure the better half of the story. Some of those characters are still with me. The 2015 half while not as good is still engaging enough as to not drag the entire book down and I appreciated how everything came together at the end.

The other novel that I really loved this year was Fear of Falling by Georgia Beers. It was just a really great romance about a famous singer who recently lost her manager and whose label assigns a woman to manage her that she winds up having feelings for. It has very realistic obstacles throwing a wrench in their budding romance and I literally couldn’t put it down. We were on vacation in L.A. and my husband finally had to force me to quit reading so we could go out to the Griffith Observatory.

Non-Fiction Book

I actually have three non-fiction books that I want to write about. One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten. In this book a reporter picks a random day out of a hat and writes a book about what happened on a day that historically we would say nothing really happened. He digs into stories that may not have garnered national attention but that certainly impacted individual people, families, and communities. I found it to be a really fascinating book.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe is fantastic book covering the modern history of the I.R.A. and the Irish troubles. It’s a really well written book that presents a lot of information in a really accessible way. I learned so much more than I ever knew and it gave me a much better understanding of why a hard border being imposed as part of Brexit would be such a big deal.

My final non-fiction book is Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan Metzl.  Physician and sociologist Jonathan Metzl explores how long held ideologies based on both overt and covert racism cause people to create policies that are detrimental to their own lives. Using focus groups and lots of comparative data analysis looking at states both before and after they passed certain laws and comparing them to states with similar demographics with opposite laws. He looks at gun laws in Missouri and how they have led to a huge increase in gun based suicide by white men. In Tennessee he examines the decision to not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act causing significantly worse health outcomes compared to people in Kentucky where the Medicaid expansion was passed. Finally, he looks at tax cuts passed in Kansas particularly focusing on the effects on education. It’s a really well-researched book and a really compelling though maddening read.

TV Show

As much as I lament the lack of certain types of tv shows that once existed in larger quantities before streaming and prestige television took over there were still a number of tv shows that gave me great pleasure this year. I have already implored you multiple times to watch both Atypical and The Bold Type, and I’m not sure I have much new to say about them. However, as far as I know I haven’t convinced anyone else to watch them yet, so I’m going to keep trying because they are really great shows. I rarely rewatch tv shows because there’s always so much new stuff out there, but I’m already considering an Atypical rewatch because I miss those characters.

Chernobyl was an excellent show. I avoided watching it for a long time despite all the rave reviews because I thought it was going to be too depressing. I thought maybe I’ll watch just one episode a week to make it more bearable and then I wound up binge watching it because it was so good.

Derry Girls was pure delight. I also liked that having read Say Nothing meant I had a little better insight into the time and place when the show is set, but it’s not really necessary to know that much about the Irish Troubles to enjoy the show. It’s just a wonderful broad comedy about teenagers in Derry, Ireland in the 80s. The 12 episodes that exist right now are just not enough. I can’t wait until the release more.

Speechless ended its run on a high note back in the spring. If you’re unfamiliar it’s a sit-com about a family whose oldest son has cerebral palsy and who is played by an actor who does in fact have CP. It was a funny and heartfelt show that I think ended in a perfect way even if I wish we got more episodes. Also a special shout out to two other shows I loved that ended their runs this year Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin.

Unbelievable was a really well done limited series based on a true story of a young woman who was raped and not believed and the two female cops working on rape cases years later who finally brought her justice. It stars Kaitlyn Dever, Toni Collette, and Merritt Weaver giving excellent performances.

I also really enjoyed Ken Burns’ documentary Country Music. It was well worth the 16 and half hours of my time. I even wanted more because he didn’t go far enough in time for my liking. Maybe he’ll add more onto it down the line at some point.

I also would be remiss to not include Grey’s Anatomy because it’s still one of my favorite shows to watch every week. Last season and this season have felt like somewhat of a resurgence for the show even though I’m super annoyed with all the tie-ins to Station 19 to try and force people to start watching that. Seems like it’s only going to get worse when that show actually returns after the new year, which is just going to make me madder. All they’ve done is make me never, ever want to watch that show just out of principle.

TV Episode

The best tv episode I watched this year is also the hardest episode of anything I think I’ve ever watched. It was the fifth and final episode of the limited series When They See Us about the Exonerated Five who were wrongly convicted of brutally attacking and raping a woman in Central Park when they were teenagers. The final episode focuses on the experiences of Korey Wise, who was the oldest of the boys and the only one sent to an adult prison. It’s a brutal watch even beyond the rest of this series, which is extremely difficult but important.

In an entirely different vein, I love episodes of character based tv shows that just feel like a joyous pay-off for the characters where you get to mostly just watch them enjoy themselves. It obviously wouldn’t make for compelling television if every episode were like this, but I love when a show has developed its characters enough that they get a well deserved episode to just have fun and have good things happen to them. Season 2, Episode 9 of Pose, “Life’s a Beach”, felt like that. There were many excellent episodes in season 2 of this show which only got better this season in no small part because they dropped the stupid white characters from season one that were obviously there to sell the show to the network. Anyway, in this episode the ladies get to mostly take a break from their struggles and head away to a weekend at the beach. Their road trip is wonderful and watching them singing together in the car on the drive to the beach brought me great joy.

Album

If you don’t know what’s coming in this category then you obviously have not been paying attention to anything happening here in the past year. There were two albums that dominated my 2019. Way back on January 18 when it was released I predicted that Maggie Rogers’ Heard It in a Past Life would very likely be my album of the year, and I was not wrong. Every amazing album that came after it in 2019 did not manage to unseat it from my heart. It is by far the album I have listened to the most in 2019 (my highly skewed Spotify stats notwithstanding). I adore every song on it, and it’s one I’m sure I’m going to continue to go back to in 2020.

The album that Spotify thinks is my most played album of 2019 is the other album that deserves a spot here and that’s the debut (and maybe only) album by The Highwomen the country super group composed of Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. Spotify thinks that because I did for sure listen to this album a lot, but unlike other albums pretty much only on Spotify because I bought the album as a physical CD along with a hoodie and bumper sticker. The CD is still sitting under my coffee table wrapped in cellophane. It’s too much of a pain to drag out the external optical drive to upload the songs from the CD onto my computer (#firstworldproblems).

The Highwomen’s album is full of amazing songs by these women that seek to uplift other women. As they have said many times it’s more than an album or a group it’s a movement. I adore everything that it stands for. I love these women together and separately. Even though the idea for the group came from Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile has sort of been the front woman for the project. I’ve heard them call her their quarterback. This is only a small part of what she’s doing to lift up other women in music and there’s a reason I will follow her to the ends of the earth (I already have tickets to see her three times in 2020 in places nowhere near where I live.)

Recently she was awarded the Trailblazer Award for Women in Music by Billboard. It so happens that Maggie Rogers was the one to present the award to her and Maggie’s speech pretty much exemplifies why I love both of these women so much.

Song

2019 was a fantastic year for music. My 2019 playlist of songs I loved during the year is longer than any playlist I’ve created by over half. I’ll share that in a future post, but for now I’m going to focus on a single song here even though I could include a hundred. It’s the title song from The Highwomen called “Highwomen”. It’s a rewrite of the song from The Highwaymen, the 80s and 90s male country super group which they created a female alternative to. It re-imagines the lyrics with each verse telling the story of a woman who was persecuted. It’s an incredibly powerful song. I first heard it before it was even released when they performed it at the Newport Folk Festival. It gave me chills and made me know for sure that this album was going to be something that I loved to my very core.

Actually I lied. I have two songs because I was just reviewing the list I keep throughout the year for this blog post and realized that I had Gary Clark Jr.’s song “This Land” listed under this category as a possibility and I think it deserves a mention. It is one of the most powerful songs I can remember hearing and the video just drives it home. When I watched his Austin City Limits episode I was wondering if they were going to bleep the n-word in this song, which they did. But then I saw a promo for the episode that included a snippet of this song that didn’t bleep it. Go figure.

Concert

I usually don’t allow myself to choose a set from The Newport Folk Festival to go in this spot because I’m pretty sure I would never write about anything that didn’t happen at Newport ever again. Perhaps I should just create a new category for the best thing I saw at Newport, but I’m not going to do it this year. I am however going to write about two sets that happened at Newport though because one would have been the highlight of my year if it weren’t for the second and the second is the literally the most amazing musical experience I have ever had in my life so there was no way I couldn’t include it here.

The first set I’m referring to was The Highwomen’s debut and as of this writing still the only actual full concert set they’ve done. I thought that they would at least do a couple dates in conjunction with the release of their album and was willing to travel anywhere to see them again, but they never did and at this point I don’t know if they ever will. I’ve seen up to three of the four of them join each other for a few songs at each other’s shows, but no other full on performances. I’ll be seeing Brandi Carlile at the Ryman in January and Natalie Hemby is opening for her. Since Amanda Shires and Maren Morris both live in Nashville and it doesn’t look like either one of them will be touring then I’m hoping maybe we can get a little reunion during that show if Maren isn’t in labor since she’ll be hugely pregnant by then. Anyway, I feel so blessed to have seen them perform. The album wasn’t out yet at that point and listening to them play it through I knew it was going to be one of my favorite albums of the year. Since I already embedded my favorite song in this post here’s a song I love, but the best part of this video is the intro.

The other set was obviously the Saturday night all-female headlining set curated by Brandi Carlile with surprise guest Dolly Parton. It still really don’t have any words for it. It was truly magical to see so many awesome women up on stage together collaborating. It would take me to long to even name them all. One of the stories I read about it after the fact said something to the effect of can someone please go check on Jade Bird and make sure she’s all right. She was smiling so big up on the stage I’m worried she hurt herself. It’s true. I went back and looked at her in some of the video and I don’t think she could have been smiling any harder. That’s how I feel about it. I still smile every time I think about it. Newport always surprises me, but I don’t know how anything can ever possibly top this experience in my book.

Broadway Theatre Production

For some reason I apparently was very into pop culture reflecting stories about 1980s Northern Ireland and the Irish troubles in 2019. I don’t know why. It’s not something I sought out. It just happened. This is all a lead in to say that my favorite thing I saw on Broadway this year was the play The Ferryman. It’s for certain the longest show I’ve ever seen as a three act play clocking in at 3 hours and 15 minutes including a 15 minute intermission and a 2 minute “pause”. It has a sprawling cast of people from seniors to a real baby about which I jokingly wondered how many babies do they have backstage to make sure they have one that isn’t crying during the show? It pretty much had all your emotions covered bringing you through experiences of great joy and others of sadness. It was also super intense at times particularly the ending, which I did not really see coming. I left that play thinking I have no idea how those actors do that 8 times per week. It’s closed on Broadway now, but if you ever get a chance to see a production I highly recommend it.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I adored Come From Away when I saw it on Broadway and saw it again in 2019 as part of our 2018/2019 season tickets at the Hippodrome. It was just as effecting as when I saw it the first time. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite musicals ever. It’s still running on Broadway and if you’re ever in New York looking for a show to see I can’t recommend it highly enough. Don’t let the fact that it’s about 9/11 make you think you’ll leave horribly depressed because you won’t. Of course there are sad and difficult parts, but it will also leave you filled with a hope for humanity that seems in very short supply these days. The current cast did a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR this year on the anniversary of 9/11, which will give you a great taste of the show.

Podcast

I still love Make Me Smart, which I’ve mentioned in this category the past two years, but this year I’m branching out and talking about two limited series podcasts. At a total of 19 episodes between the two of them you can listen to them both in less than a day’s time. I seriously did listen to Bhi Bhiman’s Peace of Mind in a single day save for the final episode, which hadn’t dropped yet when I discovered the podcast. It’s billed as the first album released as a podcast. Bhi Bhiman wrote a bunch of songs related to social and political issues and then recorded podcast episodes exploring further the topics he wrote about in his songs. It’s really fascinating and is something I for sure have never seen done before.

The other podcast I have to recommend to you is Dolly Parton’s America, which I feel like everyone has been listening to. I’ve seen so much written about it, posted on social media, talked about on other podcasts, etc. I even overheard the people at the table next to me at brunch the other week talking about it. Jad Abumrad uses interviews he had with Dolly over the course of several years as a spring board to talk not only about her and her career but how they relate to the larger country and the issues we face as a whole. It’s really great.

Podcast Episode

Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed and very much recommend all the episodes of the podcasts I just talked about, but I thought I would branch out a little for my favorite episode and talk about the two episodes (part 1, part 2) of the Out of the Blocks podcast titled “Out of the Docks”. I’m not going to lie. There’s a good chance I picked these episodes just because I love the punny episode title so much. In these episodes rather than visiting a single city block in Baltimore like they normally do they talk to people who live and work on boats in some of Baltimore’s harbors. It was a fascinating look at the difficulties of living on a boat and the reasons why people choose to do it.