Fangirl Thursday: A New Decade

Fangirl Thursdays have always been a place for me to get personal. These posts have been a safe space for me and—hopefully—for all of you to talk about the experiences, the media, and even the life events that have made us who we are. So I can’t think of any better place to address the fact that tomorrow is my 30th birthday, and before I embrace my thirty, flirty, and thriving new decade, I needed to say goodbye to the one I’m leaving behind.

The best way for me to express myself has always been through letters, so it’s time for me to write a little something to the woman I was 10 years ago—on the brink of turning 20 with no idea where this crazy, exciting, and fulfilling decade was going to lead.

Dear Katie,

There’s so much I want to tell you about the next 10 years of your life—the places you’ll go, the people you’ll meet, the TV shows you’ll watch, the writing you’ll do…But I’ll start with the most important thing:

They make new Star Wars movies. Good ones. The ones you cried over when you were 12 because you thought they’d never make them. You get to see what happens to Han, Leia, and Luke—and you get to meet some really amazing new characters, too.

Right now, you can’t imagine those movies ever getting made. You might not even be sure you care anymore if they do get made. (Stop fighting it: You totally care. You care A LOT.) But it happens. And that’s the best way I can sum up your 20s: There’s so much good stuff coming your way that you can’t even imagine right now.

I know the thought of life turning out differently than you imagined terrifies you. You have a plan for your life—married by 24, kids by 27, journalism job somewhere close to home. Well, I want to be the first one to tell you that none of that happens—and that when you’re facing the dawn of your 30s, you wouldn’t want to fix those broken plans even if you had the chance to go back and do it all again. You’re about to make some big choices, little girl, and they’re going to be the right ones. You’re going to feel unsure and afraid that you’re throwing your plans out the window, but here’s one of the most important things you’ll learn in the coming decade: Your instincts are always right. That little voice inside of you telling you not to take that job, telling you to get out of that relationship, telling you to trust that Craigslist ad for a job opening…That voice doesn’t care about your five-year plan. It cares about what’s going to make you happy, healthy, safe, and successful. Listen to it.

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“But I Won’t Feel Blue”: The Case for Purposeful Fluff

Mamma Mia

When my friend asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday later this month, I told her all I really wanted was go to brunch and see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again—for the third time since it came out last week.

Why the sudden, overwhelming interest in sitting in a movie theater and watching a bunch of actors sing ABBA songs? Is it the gorgeous Grecian landscapes? The spunky choreography? The presence of icons like Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, and Cher?

All of those things have contributed to my latest pop culture obsession (especially Cher), but my love for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again goes beyond my love for catchy pop songs and iconic actresses.

I love this movie because it’s happy. It exists to do nothing other than make you leave the movie theater feeling better than you did when you went in. And in a world where it can be really hard to feel good most days, that’s a downright heroic mission statement.

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10 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching Pose

pose poster

Source: FX

There’s never been anything on television like Pose. From the creative minds driving it to the actors bringing the stories to life to the stories themselves, Pose is breaking new ground and doing it in incredibly powerful ways. At first glance, it’s a story about ball culture—the underground LGBT+ community of ballroom competitions—in 1980s New York City. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a story about family, identity, and what it means to find acceptance in a larger world that refuses to see you for who you truly are.

The best television shows do more than just reflect the changing world; they help create change by introducing the world to stories that need to be told. That’s exactly what Pose is doing by giving members of the LGBT+ community—especially the transgender community—the chance to tell their own stories. And with the announcement that Pose has been renewed by FX for a second season, those stories will continue to change hearts, open minds and eyes, and move viewers to tears for at least another year.

Before tonight’s season finale (airing at 9 p.m. on FX), I wanted to write my own little love letter to my favorite new summer show, so here are 10 reasons why you should make Pose your latest summer binge!

1. It’s telling stories that need to be told through the words, direction, and performances of the people best equipped to tell them.
Pose is a unique show not just because it’s focusing on the stories of people of color in the LGBT+ community, but also because many of the people in charge of telling those stories and bringing them to life are members of that community. Pose has the largest cast of transgender actors as series regulars in television history, and many members of the cast have personal experience with ball culture and its ability to build a community. In addition, the show has a number of members of the LGBT+ community, including the transgender community, as writers and directors, with writer/director/producer Janet Mock serving as the first transgender woman of color to write and direct an episode of television with the episode “Love Is the Message.” The personal connection that has gone into every part of Pose’s production comes through in every honest, celebratory, and revelatory moment. Representation matters both on screen and behind the scenes, and Pose is taking that idea to important new heights.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.10

americansfinale

Source: vox.com

Title: START

This Week’s Discussion Topic: The Value of Staying True to Yourself
“I just want you to be yourself, okay? Because you’re great.”

Beyond being one of the most heartbreaking lines of the entire series, this final piece of advice from Philip Jennings to his son Henry was also one of the most meaningful on a meta level. So many shows live by the “Go big or go home” motto in their series finales, and I’ll admit that all of my predictions for The Americans were in that same vein: melodramatic moments, big twists, major character deaths, shootouts, car chases, etc. But I should have known that this show would continue to whisper where other shows would scream (in a very literal way in some of the finale’s most important scenes). It’s always had its own voice, and it stayed true to that voice when it would have been easy to try to be a different show in such a big moment. The writers, actors, director, and everyone else involved seemed to take Philip’s words to Henry to heart—the show stayed true to itself until the final credits rolled, and in doing so, proved how great it really is.

The temptation seemed strong for the show to lean into its espionage elements in its final 90 minutes. Philip and Elizabeth were on the run, Stan was putting the pieces together, the FBI was interrogating suspects who knew too much, and the fate of Russia (and, in many ways, the rest of the world) rested on a message Oleg was trying to get back home. However, The Americans was never a spy show at its heart; it was a story about marriage and other interpersonal relationships. And in the end, it was that identity that mattered most. When the stakes were at their highest, the show seemed to walk itself back from the brink of becoming a different drama altogether—ending not with bloodshed and body counts but with broken relationships, and proving that the latter might be even more devastating than the former. After all, there are some fates worse than death.

On The Americans, the most heartbreaking sound isn’t a gunshot or a dying breath; it’s the strangled, pained gasp of a mother who knows she has to leave her son behind not because she doesn’t care about him—but because she cares about him more than she cares about herself. (Keri Russell could just submit that gasp, and it should be enough for her to win the Emmy.)

On The Americans, the most romantic gesture isn’t sacrificing your life for someone else and dying in their arms; it’s sitting next to a person when you know they need you—even if you can’t touch them or even look at them.

And on The Americans, the most shocking sight isn’t a dead body, a spy revealing their identity, or a person being put in handcuffs; it’s a young woman, standing alone on a train platform.

The Americans never lost sight of what made it special. In the end, it trusted its actors and it trusted its audience; it put its faith in people. And as this finale showed, that’s all that really matters when all is said and done.

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“I Want It to Be Real”: The Best of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings

The Americans 3.10

Source: spoilertv.com

The Americans is a show about a lot of things: Cold War politics, international espionage, bureaucracy, ideological conflicts, and, of course, WIGS. But at its heart, it’s a show about marriage. It’s a show about trust, intimacy, honesty, and what it means to be truly seen in a world where we all are wearing some form of disguise more often than not. And that’s what’s made it stand out in both the sea of spy shows that have developed into their own genre over the years as well as the sea of antihero-driven dramas that have emerged in this Golden Age of Television. Instead of being focused on missions of the week or the internal struggles and dark deeds of one (usually male) character, the show has always been a kind of love story—a story that first and foremost cares about a husband and wife and how the world around them affects their union, and vice versa. From the pilot onward, the relationship between Philip and Elizabeth Jennings has always been the show’s driving force and its emotional core, and it seems that after a season of separation and tension, that relationship is poised to be at the center of what’s sure to be an emotional series finale.

My love for Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage is well-documented around these parts. It’s what initially drew me to the show, and it’s what’s kept my viewing experience from ever becoming too bleak. Even when bodies were being shoved in suitcases and throats were being slashed, one look from husband to wife had the ability to fill my heart with hope that even in the worst circumstances, something beautiful can be built. Even in a world of lies, something honest can exist between two people.

That’s why—despite the murder and the blackmail and the sex with other people—The Americans is the piece of fiction that I think best explains why people get married, why someone would choose to commit to another person for their rest of their life. And it’s because being married means having a partner. Even if your life doesn’t involve chopping up bodies in parking garages, it probably will involve raising kids and balancing careers and making big decisions in the same way Philip and Elizabeth have learned to do, and it’s nice to know you don’t have to do those things alone. And even if you don’t have to lie for a living, we all hide parts of ourselves from the world—but as Philip and Elizabeth have shown us, being married means finding the one person you can be your true self with. It means finding the one person who understands you better than anyone else, the one person you can be honest with, and the one person you know has your back when it feels like the world is against you. Even though there have been times when Philip and Elizabeth have struggled to be those things for each other, they always come home in the end. And that’s what marriage is more than anything else—it’s home. It’s the person who you stand beside when the rest of the world is falling apart around you, and that’s who Philip and Elizabeth have become for each other.

The journey Philip and Elizabeth have gone on—from strangers to fake married coworkers to co-parents to falling in love to getting married for real and all the stops, starts, and separations in between—has made for one of the most compelling relationship explorations I’ve ever seen in a piece of fiction. Brought to life through the incredible talents and heart-stopping chemistry of Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (whose own working relationship turned into a real-life romantic partnership thanks to this show), Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are something special. As such, I wanted to celebrate the end of their journey (in whatever way it may end tomorrow) with a look back at their best moments.

These are the scenes, lines, and looks that I always come back to when I think of why The Americans told one of the most subtly affecting love stories of this Peak TV period. There were so many great moments between them that it felt nearly impossible to cut it to just 10. I hope you share your own favorites in the comments so we can keep the discussion going!

1. Elizabeth lets Philip in (1.01: Pilot) 
I can trace my love for The Americans back to one specific moment from the show’s pilot: Philip’s voice cracking when asking Elizabeth how Timoshev hurt her and then him killing her rapist with his bare hands as she watched, completely transfixed. In that moment, both the audience and Elizabeth had to confront an essential truth of Philip’s character: Elizabeth always comes first. He will give up everything for her, and he will choose her and her needs over himself and his needs every time. And once Elizabeth finally let herself believe that someone had her back and truly cared about her, everything changed. It led to the perfect “In the Air Tonight” love scene, but even more importantly, it led to Elizabeth breaking the rules by telling Philip about her past and revealing her real name. That simple act of emotional intimacy, punctuated by the most adoring look I’ve ever seen in Philip’s eyes as she intertwined their fingers, showed that Elizabeth had found something more important than her orders to keep her true self hidden; she’d found someone who would love that true self.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.09

Title: Jennings, Elizabeth

This Week’s Discussion Topic: Finding Yourself When Everything Else Is Lost
“We do not want you to lose who you are.”

When illegal-in-training Nadezhda was told this near the end of the episode bearing the title of the name she was given by the KGB, I was struck by the irony of the fact that people have continually tried to tell her who she is. How can a person not lose who they are in some way when even their name is given to them by someone else? In this episode alone, the two women Elizabeth is closest to—her mother figure and her daughter—both tried to define her by their narrow views of her actions. To Claudia, she’s a selfish traitor to the Cause. To Paige, she’s a liar and a whore.

So who is Elizabeth Jennings—or, perhaps more accurately, who is Nadezhda? She’s a woman who never had the luxury of self-reflection. In that final flashback, her downcast eyes and hunched posture (How great was Keri Russell at making her look so young?) showed the truth: Self-definition has always been a foreign concept to Elizabeth. When you’re just trying to survive, you don’t really have time to care about how you see yourself and what you value.

However, this episode showed that it’s often in those kinds of traumatic circumstances that our identity reveals itself. When a person’s back is against the wall, they often revert to the truest version of themselves. And nearly every character’s back is against the wall now. In that sense, “Jennings, Elizabeth” gave us not only an action-packed penultimate episode, but a penultimate episode that reminded us exactly who these characters are and what matters to them when they have nothing left to lose.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.08

ta_608_0149

Source: indiewire.com

Title: The Summit

This Week’s Discussion Topic: The Heartbreaking, Heroic Humanity of Elizabeth Jennings
“You don’t think I’m a human being?”

That question looms over every moment of “The Summit,” and by the end of the episode, no one who’s been paying attention could accuse Elizabeth Jennings of being devoid of humanity. This was an episode devoted to putting the show’s truest believer through the emotional wringer until every speck of soul she tried to burn away with ideological zeal and every bit of conscience she tried to bury under her devotion to her cause were finally laid bare. And from that vulnerable place emerged a woman who’s more dangerous and in more danger than ever before—because humanity can be a strength, but in the world these characters inhabit, it can also get you killed.

Elizabeth’s awakening sense of agency didn’t come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of small moments of humanity throughout the show’s run, including the powerful moment in last week’s “Harvest” when she let herself finally accept the magnitude of Philip’s love for her and the lengths her will go to for her. The opening of “The Summit” was fueled by that revelation, with Elizabeth entering their living room in a much less guarded and more sincere emotional state than we’ve seen her in previously this season. The softness on her face when she told Philip she knows he cares about what happened in Chicago and that he worries about her was a shocking contrast from how she’s looked at her husband for much of this season. Elizabeth’s walls were down with her husband in that moment, and that made everything that came after even more painful because Keri Russell let us see exactly why Elizabeth puts those walls up in the first place—because anyone she lets behind those walls has the power to destroy her.

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Thanks for the Magic

leaving storybrooke

“And you may think this is just a story, but that’s the thing about stories—they’re more than just words. They live inside us. They make us who we are. And as long as someone believes that, there will always be magic.” (Henry Mills) 

I’ve always loved stories. I’ve always believed in the power of stories—the stories we’re told, the stories we tell, the stories that reflect who we are, and the stories that show us who we can become. When I look at my life, I can see that I’m the sum of a million different stories that all showed up to shape me exactly when I needed them.

One of those stories ended last night, and I can’t let it go without a proper sendoff.

Once Upon a Time is a show about many things—crazy timelines, strong women, second chances, and hope. But it’s also a show about stories. One of the most prominent themes throughout the show’s seven seasons has been that you have the power to control your life’s narrative; you can write your own happy ending. You can choose whether people see you as a villain or a hero. You are the author of your story. And that’s where hope comes from—knowing that it’s never too late to change your story, to find your happily ever after.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.07

After a little hiatus, I’m back and ready (but also completely NOT READY) to discuss this final run of episodes with all of you! And because I feel these last episodes of such a deep and complex show deserve a little more attention, the format for these posts will be changing slightly to accommodate even more analysis. I’ll be taking one major theme/discussion point each week and developing it into an essay, but please feel free to bring up other discussion points, too. I hope you all find the change to be a welcome one, and I also hope to see your thoughts, hopes, fears, and favorite moments in the comments section!

the-americans-episode-607-harvest-promotional-photos

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: Harvest

This Week’s Discussion Topic: Epiphanies, Emotional Connections, and the Truths We Try to Bury
“Harvest” was an episode that lived up to its name. So many moments in the episode harkened back to similar moments in the pilot, and it was both thrilling and gut-wrenching to watch those seeds planted so many years ago—in both the show’s timeline and our own—begin to finally sprout into something fruitful for the plot. But where this episode truly excelled was in using the time that’s passed and the emotional connections that have developed between these characters to turn those parallels to the pilot into explorations of how far these characters have come and how much higher the stakes are because of those emotional connections.

This episode was anchored by three key epiphanies for its three major players—Stan, Elizabeth, and Philip. But, in typical The Americans fashion, these moments didn’t lead to huge shifts in plot momentum or dramatic “Aha!” scenes. Instead, they were quiet moments of shifting understanding, handled with no dialogue or in the spaces between words where so much of the emotional weight of this show has always existed. These moments were less about propelling the plot forward into the final stretch of episodes than they were about reminding us what this show has always been and will always be about: the connections between people. While this episode certainly moved the characters closer to the endgame, it did so in a way that prioritized the interpersonal consequences of those moves and, in doing so, ensured that absolutely no one (including those of us watching) will be able to escape the coming carnage unscathed.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.04

After a brief departure from the normal format of these posts (You can check out last week’s deep dive into my thoughts on humanity and nihilism on The Americans if you’re looking for some light reading.), we’re back with our typical post-episode rundown this week! However, for the next two weeks, NGN will be on hiatus as I take the vacation the Jennings family never took to EPCOT. Posts around here should be back up and running following the May 8th episode and will continue for the remainder of the season—hopefully with a few fun wrap-up posts celebrating the show as a whole before it’s all done!

the-americans-episode-604-mr-and-mrs-teacup-promotional-photo

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: Mr. and Mrs. Teacup

Episode M.V.P.: Matthew Rhys
No one plays conflicted and downtrodden like Matthew Rhys. At the very beginning of the season, it was nice to see him looking lighter and more confident than perhaps we’ve ever seen him, and even as it became clear that he was dealing with plenty of problems of his own, his inner struggles seemed to pale in comparison to what Elizabeth has been going through. However, in “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup,” Rhys brought such nuance and depth to Philip’s scenes that I found myself feeling more drawn into his story than I have been so far this season.

Rhys played what felt like 100 different variations on the theme of disappointment in this episode, and each one managed to break my heart more than the one before it. There was his disappointment with Elizabeth over how she’s handled the fallout of Paige seeing Rennhull’s death, which came out in a burst of angry skepticism that was clearly influenced by all Oleg has told him about what Elizabeth might be up to. There was his disappointment with the young woman Paige is becoming, which came out in frustration over her acting as if she knew more about the world of spying than he does (another great use of a universal experience—a child trying to act as if they know more than a parent—made incredibly specific to this universe). There was his disappointment with the “American Dream,” which was laid out so well in that scene with Stan at the bar, with Philip’s communist background coming through in a subtle but very pointed way. There was his disappointment with Elizabeth’s lack of openness, which was played on two levels: disappointment as a husband that his wife doesn’t desire the same level of intimacy they once had and disappointment as a spy that he couldn’t get more information out of her.

And then there was the saddest scene in the episode, in which a father and a son both faced the disappointment of not being able to afford his boarding school education anymore. Watching Philip try to break the news to Henry as gently as possible broke my heart because Rhys is so good at being so achingly sincere. It felt so grounded in reality—a conversation I’m sure many parents have had and will continue to have—that it made me uncomfortable to watch it unfold. This was a kind of vulnerability and disappointment that many people can relate to, and Rhys brings such a human touch to everything he does that he made what could have felt like a mundane plot point resonate with genuine sadness. Watching Elizabeth deal with the strain of high body counts, high-stress missions, and the constant presence of a suicide pill around her neck is upsetting but it’s not something that’s easy to empathize with. However, watching Philip deal with financial problems and a family that’s falling apart is painfully relatable. And Rhys gives his scenes enough weight that what could have been boring deviations from Elizabeth’s missions have begun to resonate in powerful ways.

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