#AtoZChallenge: TV Talk: TV!

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Sue, the most-complete T-Rex ever found, at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Silly me, racking (grammar nerd alert: I checked, and the correct racking in this cliche is the one without the W. Are you surprised? I was) my Monday-morning brain for a T-word when the obvious choice was right in front of me. Literally.

I love TV and I’m not at all embarrassed to shout it from the rooftops. Well,maybe not rooftops, because that’s a really good way to convince people that you’re somewhere on the other side of off, and then they can’t quite look you in the eye when you pass in the lobby and it’s all kinds of awkward.

Sounds like the plot of a sitcom, dontcha think?

Anyway, it’s possible I don’t always watch TV for the same things other people do. Or maybe we’re all doing it, but we just don’t talk about it. Like my UK police procedurals I treat as my own private tour, from from London to Shetland and around again. Never focus on the bodies; always focus on the sweeping views and the interesting nooks and crannies only the locals would know. If you look around the death and depravity, they’re very charming.

I haven’t watched one set in Ireland yet, though, so if you know of one I can stream, please share!

There are my “bottom of the pile” shows, ones I watch because I like seeing between the cracks of what people mean to show us. Those shows include the so-called “Housewives” (none of them seem to be real ones), where over-privileged women screech at one another that they’re owed apologies. Those shows are a form of people watching, but only if you don’t buy into their sleight of hand, only if you look at the corners they’re desperately trying to hide.

And then my favorite group: the Pinnacle Shows. Combining superior writing, acting, and almost always, cinematography, they’re my event shows. “Doctor Who,” “Orphan Black,” “Fargo,” “Better Call Saul,” “Wynonna Earp,” “Call the Midwife,” “Outlander.”

No doubt shortly “The Handmaid’s Tale.” And probably “American Gods.” There are many on the streaming services as well: “Grace & Frankie,” “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Orange is the New Black,” (if it recovers), “Transparent.”

There’s no particular genre; no particular aesthetic. Their common thread is superior storytelling paired with extreme talent in all aspects of the production. Some of them — “Breaking Bad,” its prequel, “Better Call Saul,” and “Fargo,” — are far outside my usual genre selection, but they are too special to miss.

It’s as though television has swapped places with film; it’s the long format now, offering worlds up on worlds with mere presses of buttons.

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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TV Talk: Binge It! Humans

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OK, sci-fi TV buddies, I’ve been going through some serious withdrawal since the gripping, “Orphan Black,” “12 Monkeys” and fantasy fav, “Grimm” fluttered away to hiatus. And don’t even get me started on our year-long time-out from “Doctor Who.”

So, thumbing through my various watch lists, I came across “Humans.” Wow.

A species of my absolute favorite British-American hybrid, “Humans” explores what happens if we have truly human-like artificial intelligence. I’ve got to wonder, given all the science-fiction writers who’ve warned of what will come, why we continue to pursue it, but hey, some people never read to the end.

Unlike much American-based sci-fi, British science-fiction isn’t about explosions and bullets and chases, whether in space or in the future or in the past or on the way from the past into the future. British shows tend to explore the cultural questions, the impact on relationships, the way technology shapes our interaction with the world.

There’s a deeply reflective quality to it, both in the examination of issues and in the sense that it — like all good sci-fi — mirrors us back to us through a more palatable filter.

“Humans” accomplishes all of these things while still remaining captivating television. It’s quick, the plotting inevitable yet not predicable, and the acting is phenomenal.

It’s also got Jen (Katherine Parkinson) from “The IT Crowd,” so, I mean, there’s that. And she’s amazing.

“Humans” airs on AMC in the US and Channel 4 in the UK, and will be released in the UK first; it’s coming back to the US some time in 2017. Plenty of time to catch up! It’s available to stream from Amazon Prime, or directly from AMC, though you’ll need your cable provider info.

In or near Chicago in October? Come see “Me Inside Me Presents: Witch, Please,” on October 1, 8, 22 and 29 at Donny’s Skybox Theater at 7 pm. Tickets available atSecondCity.com.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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TV Talk: Binge It! My Mad Fat Diary

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It’s another British show! You all know how much I enjoy my across pondular entertainment, and this one was exceptional. Though I strive to make these TV talks spoiler free, there is one aspect regarding the structure of the show I have to raise, but I’ll try to keep it academic.

Still with me? Fab.

“My Mad Fat Diary” follows Rae, a 16-year-old girl living in Stamford, Lincolnshire in 1996. Recently released from a psychiatric ward, we’re with her, through the tool of her diary, as she navigates teenaged life out in the world. Based on Rae Earl’s (purportedly) real diaries from 1989, published as My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary, it’s a must-watch for anyone who’s ever, you know, been a teenager.

Though it’s about teenagers, it isn’t really for teenagers. It’s a show packed with truths about who you think you are versus how others see you; truths about relationships in all directions; truths about coping, no matter your stage of life.

It’s extremely well-written, with fleshed-out, believable characters, and enough humor to balance its sometimes stark subject matter.

But perhaps the most intriguing thing about “My Mad Fat Diary” (and here’s the possibly spoilerly bit) is the use of the unreliable narrator. It’s very much a first-person story, and that choice is used to excellent effect later on in the series.

It’s those seemingly small writing decisions that accumulate and tell a compelling, must-watch story. And it’s a complete story. The entire show is available to stream on Hulu.

Or binge. I dare you to try to stop.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

 

 

TV Talk: Real Housewives of…Everywhere

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If you follow me on Twitter (come on, I know you want to) you’ve been subjected to my barrage of Real Housewives tweets. Real Housewives of Orange County (RHOC); Real Housewives of New York (RHONY) and Real Housewives of Melbourne (RHOMelbourne) are currently on rotation. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills joins in when there are new episodes.

Recently, someone I follow (I can’t find the tweet or I’d post it, so if it was you, please let me know so I can edit this and add it) asked what I thought was a really good question: Why do women watch the Real Housewives when it depicts women so poorly?

I definitely didn’t have an immediate answer. As a feminist, it made me stop and wonder at myself. What am I getting out of these shows?

More than you’d think. And a lot of that stems from the audience watching with me.

First, though, I think it’s pretty clear that the Housewives, as a whole, don’t represent women, let alone all women. They live in a world of fantasy and casual inch-thick makeup, where real is a word that always has implied quotes.

They’re pushed together under artificial circumstances for which they’re perpetually overdressed, where glances from amused, regular guests shatter any illusion of normalcy. I’ve yet to meet someone who knows someone like a “Real” Housewife in real life. They have a job, and they do it.

There’s a reason they feel so familiar from franchise to franchise. They are meant to entertain, and they do.

Which brings me to the best part of these shows. The audience.

While the Housewives can embody the worst stereotypes about women, together we get to dismantle them in delicious, technicolor snark. Take Countess Luann, for example, who, like quick-dry crazy glue, stuck to a man who’d “dated” several of her friends, even after seeing photographic proof of him kissing another woman after their engagement.

Who does she blame? The woman who told her — who cultivates her own nest of mean girl stereotypes — and the “clutches” of the woman he kissed. Not the rather aptly-named “Tom,” who left her after an evening together to meet this other woman.

Yep.

But the beauty of it? The number of viewers, men and women alike, pointing out the ridiculousness of that route to denial. It’s the opportunity, publicly, to smash that idea of convenience that it’s man-grabbing women, and not wandering men, who deserve the scorn.

Is now a good time to mention that Luann and Tom were on dates with other people when they met? Hmm. Moving on.

And then there’s the flip side to the show, the opportunity for women who are eternally the objects of other people’s gossip to show their genuine selves, like RHOMelbourne’s Gamble Breaux (Wolfe). A woman who enjoys gilding herself in full high-glamour glitz and married to a much older man, Gamble’s been a target of all of the possible permutations of rumors.

And she’s shed them with grace and humor. She seems to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get person, faithfully interacting on Twitter week-to-week without any negativity toward her costars. Rather than reinforcing stereotypes, she crushes ideas we might have had about “someone like her.”

Is Real Housewives harmful to the perception of women? I doubt it, frankly. I think the depictions of women as window-dressing and little more than accessories is far worse. With the Housewives, the women are entire people, some good, some kinda unbearable. But people.

And that’s all feminism is about at its most fundamental level. Women being seen and treated as people.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

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TV Talk: Guilt

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If you’ve never heard of “Guilt,” here’s all I need to say: Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with an American accent. You in?

I thought so.

A summer offering from Freeform TV — once rather inappropriately known as ABC Family, given other shows like “Pretty Little Liars,” — “Guilt” is loaded with the technicolor soapy unreality that’s all Freeform. Only set in London.

In this kinda Amanda Knoxian drama, British police accuse American Grace of the murder of her Irish flatmate, Molly. As has become standard, the mystery spins its tangled tendrils over the course of the season.

And if you feel like there’s something strangely familiar about the young actress playing Grace, you should: She’s Daisy Head, Anthony Stewart Head’s daughter. I can’t help but imagine them practicing their American accents together, maybe over tea and crumpets. Because that is all that British people are allowed to eat. And tea sandwiches. That’s why they don’t have the same obesity problems. Tea sandwiches are very small.

But I digress.

One of the things I enjoy about true British television is the diversity of appearance. Everyone is not smoothed and sanded down to a uniform look; they don’t seem like they’d lined up at the plastic surgeon to be given the #7.

Apparently Freeform TV felt that needed to change, and “Guilt” has that same air as their other shows, that insistent emphasis on attractiveness, so much so that it can distract from the story line.

But I’ve got to admit, it’s a pretty good story line. I binged it OnDemand and caught up to real time pretty quickly. Given that the season finale airs next week, that’s some binging.

Will “Guilt” change your life? Unless you’re one of the characters in this glossy mystery, I’d say not. But it’s definitely makes the list of a worthwhile summer “Guilt”y (see what I did there?!) pleasures.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

TV Talk, British Edition: Miranda

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Oh, British television. How I love my British TV, from comedies to cop dramas.

So many cop dramas.

But Miranda is not one of them. Nope, Miranda — a sitcom written by and featuring the hilarious Miranda Hart — encompasses so much of what I love about British television.

Let’s start with the writer-driven material. Very little of what we have on television here comes from the minds of the people who star in it, and while Hart didn’t completely produce the show herself, it feels like she might have. Which only adds to the sense that the Miranda on the show would genuinely be a friend if only she didn’t only exist for half-hour bursts. When actors create their own characters, it leads to a different kind of depth.

And a different kind of performer on TV.

Here, all nearly all actors, but particularly women, must be smoothed to a near-Photoshop perfection, whether on or off-camera. Women must conform to certain standards, unless cast specifically because they don’t, making that a vital aspect of the character.

Here, the fear of deviating from established beauty norms radiates from the screen. Often casting makes female characters intended to reject beauty norms laughable, such as the young Hayden Panettiere as a nerd on Malcolm in the Middle.

But not in the UK. No one but Miranda Hart could have brought the character of Miranda to life. And there, she was given the freedom to do it.

Yet this show isn’t a statement, it’s thirty minutes of laugh-out-loud moments where we can recognize ourselves, our own human awkwardness, the funny side of how we relate to others and the world around us. Miranda is a cozy blanket of humor, kind and inclusive; it’s that warm glow from a window on the street, coming from a room where we’re all invited.

All seasons of Miranda are available to to stream on Hulu. But I warn you, take it slowly. You’ll miss her when it’s over.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

 

 

 

TV Talk: The Olympics!

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By Edwiges Lopes Tavares (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t think I’d be excited for the Summer Olympic Games. All the talk of the problems in Rio de Janeiro — like the contaminated water and beaches, including two of the most storied beaches on the planet, and the high crime rate  — left me a little…flat. And concerned. I figured I’d go into them with a shrug and a pang for the shows that won’t be airing for the next few weeks.

I was wrong.

Now that it’s nearly time for the Opening Ceremonies, I’m feeling a twinge. No matter what the issues with the venue, as was the case in Russia in 2014, the perseverance and hard work of the athletes themselves are a siren song.

I’m still worried for them, especially in the water-based sports. I hope everyone leaves Rio as healthy as they arrived. Still we get to see people who are the best at what they do attempt to do the best they’ve ever done.

The funny thing is that Chicago actually competed to host these games. Oprah Winfrey, along with other big Chicago names, headed off wherever it was to plead Chicago’s case when it was down to the final few choices.

Chicago lost; Rio won.

I was disappointed at the time, but now, when I think of the logistics of the world descending upon us…that was a near miss. Rio is expecting nearly half-a-million visitors. Given that Chicago is pretty accessible, I expect the number may have been higher. Yikes.

Thanks, IOC!

Here’s the thing about the Olympics: it’s a world-wide phenomenon. And now that our global communication is easier than ever I can watch the events with people literally anywhere in the world, in real-time.

Talk about live-tweeting.

So good luck, athletes, every single one of you. We’ll all be watching the culmination of your dreams.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), and the sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) which is now available!

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!