#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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#AtoZChallenge Entertainament! TV Talk

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By Tomascastelazo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Quick reminder, Aunty Ida is only $0.99 for a limited time! If you’ve liked hanging out here, wait until you meet Aunty Ida.

Time for TV Talk! Which is all about entertainment. Which starts with an E. What’s that, hypothetical reader?

It’s totally legitimate! Entertainment IS an e-word and today’s show, “Chewing Gum” is A++ entertaining. There’s no such grade as A++?

There is now.

So “Chewing Gum” is a British comedy created by, written by and stars Michaela Coel. You might recognize her from the British show “The Aliens.”

No, hypothetical reader, you don’t? Come on now, I’m not the only person who watched that show. Probably.

It’s a good show, but back to “Chewing Gum.” It also features Susan Wokoma, who appeared in the equally brilliant “Crazy Heads,” and “Crashing.” Wokoma, like Coel, is a natural comedian, and so, with this show you have that magical combination of perfect, precise performance coupled with witty, razor-sharp material.

I told you it was A++.

Coel stars as Tracey, who lives on a housing estate (the flowery UKian term for public housing) with her mother and sister, Wokoma. She navigates the awkward moments of young adulthood in excruciatingly hilarious comic fashion, written with just the right amount of push and restraint.

I admit I’m a sucker for the shows written by the stars, something that seems to happen regularly in the UK. It allows for such a range of talent, and the material is always so suited to the performances.

Two seasons (series on the other side of the Atlantic) of “Chewing Gum” are available on Netflix US, and you need to start watching it now. Small caveat, though: like many British shows, a series is just six episodes.

Use them wisely.

Check out  my full-length novels,  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

 Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only) ($0.99 for a short time)  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: 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!

 Sign up for my spamless newsletter!

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, 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: Death Death Death

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TV-T&PC (1)As usual, there are no spoilers!

There is an epidemic. They’re dying in record numbers, one after another after another. I am, of course talking about TV characters.

There was a time that a death of a character on a show was a big deal. We grew attached to our fictional friends, and yes, that friendship was a little one-sided, but when they disappeared into the great Television Beyond, it was sad.

Now we know better.

I couldn’t even begin to give you a death toll for my week so far in television viewing. And that’s just the Real Housewives of New York! (Just kidding. Only lady parts seem to be harmed in the making of that show, because they talk about them. A lot. A kind of Vagina Dialogues, if you will. And no, that joke didn’t do well on Twitter either).

Seriously, though, the deaths come so quickly and so meaninglessly that they’re starting to have nearly zero impact. And that’s bad for the shows, that’s bad for television, and it’s bad for society as a whole.

The best thing you can have for a television show is a completely engaged audience. Loyal fans who will go out and spread the word, who will tweet with the show, who will attend events and generally show support. And while possible death of favorite characters is a good way to build tension, it can’t be your only way.

Here’s the thing with that: if you keep teasing it, eventually you have to make it happen, or else that element of tension is lost. Some shows don’t care, and actually trade on the safety of knowing that one of the main characters is never going to die. Early “Castle,” for example, allowed fans to enjoy the peril and, more importantly, enjoy seeing how the characters would escape it, knowing that they would.

But if you constantly kill off characters, instead of engaging fans, they tend to disconnect. Why? Because who wants to be broken up over someone who never actually existed ceasing to exist? There’s no point in getting attached to characters who are only temporary.

Not all shows are guilty of it. But the problem is that watching so much TV death on some shows inures us to death on others. And, I think, makes us less sensitive to real-life tragedy.

Yes, TV death allows dramatic, tension-filled scenes with lots of bloody gore. But constant death and constant gore only creates a gulf between viewer and show.

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: Twitter

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It's a bird! Get it? TWITTER? Eh. Everyone's a critic.

It’s a bird! Get it? TWITTER? Eh. Everyone’s a critic.

Nope, it’s not the name of a show you’re missing. Though for any TV execs in the room, have I got a pitch for you!

Twitter is an amazing tool. It can bring you news before it’s news; it can instantly link you to people with similar interests; it can act as a source of endless amusement with various hashtag games. It can even bring love, as two of my friends found.

(What’s that, hypothetical reader? Did I maybe nudge them in the direction of magic? Why yes, yes I did, funny you should ask).

But my favorite use of Twitter is television.

You might have noticed that if you’re following me on Twitter. I’m currently live-tweeting five days a week — at least when I’m home to do it — and TV has never been so much fun.

From reality shows like Real Housewives of etc. and Below Deck random flavors to my science-fiction staples of “12 Monkeys” and “Orphan Black;” fantasy newcomer “Wynonna Earp” and soapy satire “UnReal,” I hunker down in front of my keyboard, mind my hashtags and tweet away.

Some shows are much easier to live-tweet than others. “Real Housewives of New York” (RHONY for those in the know) doesn’t really require eyes on the screen. With “12 Monkeys,” looking away for a second is impossible.

Still, no matter where you are in the world, you are suddenly at a viewing party, and the best thing is you don’t even have to share your snacks. Everyone has opinions, from the super-snarky to the truly insightful, and everyone’s invited.

A little hesitant about the idea of live-tweeting? Don’t be! If it’s too much to tweet while you’re watching, you can always wait for commercials. Be interactive, read and respond to other tweets, retweet the ones that tickle you and reciprocate when someone does the same with yours.

Easy-peasy.

And just so much fun. The best part? You can support your favorite shows, as well. A strong Twitter fan base probably helped to rescue “Nashville” from the great TV beyond.

So see? You’re not only having fun on Twitter. You’re helping.

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!