Hold on to Happiness

There are times it feels like you really have to reach to find happiness. There are times it feels like everything around you is angry, dark, and heavy. There are times when it seems like the entire media landscape—from the news to the fiction you turn to when you need to escape the news—is conspiring against your valiant attempt to find reasons to smile and laugh every day.

This seems like one of those times, doesn’t it?

Looking back on posts from previous years, it seems that around this time every year, television decides to get really dark, and this year is certainly no exception. From Jane the Virgin and Nashville to This Is Us, there’s been no shortage of tears shed over fictional characters lately. And even in the world of cinema, this has been a rough patch if you’re looking for some escapist fun and unabashed joy; Oscar season isn’t known for its happy films, but this was a particularly heavy year, where even the film being praised most ardently for its joyful spirit (La La Land) ended on a bittersweet note.

What are we to do when things look dark? We celebrate the light. We appreciate moments of pure good where we find them. And we hold on to happiness like the precious treasure it is.

I watched a lot of Fuller House in the days around the presidential inauguration this year. It’s a show that exists for no other reason than to make people happy, and it does its job well. It’s not Breaking Bad or Orange Is the New Black, and not every show needs to be or should be. Sometimes you just want to watch a silly, simple show where storylines are wrapped up in 30 minutes with a group hug. It’s a throwback to a more innocent, less cynical time, and if you’re looking for some warm, fluffy feelings in your media-consuming life, I highly recommend it.

Another show that has become my antidote to all the death and cynicism on television in recent weeks is Timeless. It’s certainly not on the same level of fluffiness as Fuller House, but it’s about three fundamentally good people working together and becoming a family through trust, respect, and empathy, which is even better than fluff. Plus, it’s a time-traveling adventure with great costumes, impeccable guest stars (Fellow Once Upon a Time fans should check it out if only for Sean Maguire’s almost inhumanly charming turn as James Bond creator Ian Fleming.), and characters you feel good about rooting for—characters who have grown more in one season than some shows allow their characters to grow during an entire run, characters who fight for each other, characters who have big hearts and are big nerds. It also has my favorite developing romance on television right now between Wyatt Logan and Lucy Preston, and there is no happier feeling than watching a fictional relationship progress from initial skepticism to respect to fake engagements to real hugs to “I cannot lose you again!” to opening hearts and taking chances—all in the course of one season.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (11/29 – 12/6)

As more shows are gearing up for their holiday hiatuses, this was a slower week than usual in the wonderful world of television—but it was by no means a less dramatic week. On Sunday, we were introduced to Dark Hook on Once Upon a Time, and it was revealed that Jason has been investigating Alicia on The Good Wife. Monday brought some much needed Christmas cheer to our television screens, with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas and the premiere of The Great Holiday Baking Show. On Tuesday, Gonzo soared to new heights on The Muppets, and The Flash began the first of a two-part crossover with Arrow. Wednesday’s Nashville continued to add drama to nearly every one of the show’s relationships. On Thursday, The Wiz Live! captivated audiences, and on Saturday Night Live, Ryan Gosling could not keep it together, which was more adorable than it had any right to be.

Overall, this was another fairly heavy week of television. That made it all the more wonderful to find the bright spots, and The Wiz Live! was a true bright spot. Musical theater is very close to my heart (having been a drama club kid all through high school), so I love seeing live theater celebrated in a way that makes it available to new audiences. And The Wiz Live! was a celebration of musical theater at its very best.

Watching Shanice Williams sing “Home” was such a stunning moment. Not only is that a gorgeous song, it’s a star-making song. And Shanice Williams became a star in that moment. Watching her put so much love into every word of that song made me cry. It felt like I was watching something rare and beautiful, and that’s what musical theater is all about—watching a young star find their home under the bright lights. It was a moment I won’t soon forget, and it brings me so much joy just thinking about it.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?

Nerdy Girl Reads: Fosse

Fosse by Sam Wasson

Title: Fosse

Author: Sam Wasson (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.)

Genre: Nonfiction (Biography)

Page Count: 723

The Basics: Fosse gives readers an in-depth look at the thousands of pieces that made up both Bob Fosse the musical-theater legend and Bob Fosse the man: the dance style that has often been imitated but will never be duplicated; the pills and the cigarettes; the innumerable women; the hunger for the spotlight; the manic-depressive drive and perfectionism; the narcissism and self-loathing; and his complicated love affair with showbiz that influenced every career choice he ever made. Wasson’s comprehensive portrait of Fosse is also a comprehensive portrait of the American musical—from its roots in vaudeville, to its many revolutions on both stage and screen, through its dark days in the 1980s (when years went by without a Tony Award given for Best Choreography). Opening with Fosse’s memorial, Wasson then flashes back to his subject’s earliest years, using each chapter to bring us closer and closer to his death. This technique gives the biography the feel of a well-crafted novel, and the book’s masterful weaving of style and substance would have made its subject—the ultimate dance style icon—proud.

Strengths: Sam Wasson is my current favorite nonfiction writer because of his ability to take one subject and seamlessly show how it’s reflective of a cultural movement much larger than itself. In Fifth Avenue, Five A.M. Wasson showed how Breakfast at Tiffany’s was much more than just a film; it was a major touchstone for the feminist movement in America. And in Fosse, Wasson linked the life of Bob Fosse to the collective life of American musical theater, creating not just a definitive look at Fosse’s life and career but a definitive look at an entire medium of American art. To see the way Fosse’s beginnings in vaudeville, his rise to fame in the early days of Broadway, his growing cynicism, and his death paralleled the rise, success, and fall of the American musical through the 1980s was nothing short of revelatory. I picked up this book expecting to learn about my favorite choreographer and the director of one of my favorite films (Cabaret), and I ended up learning incredible amounts of information about a genre that has always been close to my heart. It was a pleasant surprise of the highest order, to say the least.

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