60 Books in 2019 #33: I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through The TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum

I feel deeply priviledged to have come of age the same time as an art form. Television began hitting it’s brilliant artistic stride as I entered my teens, and since I was raised in a TV house I was able to witness much of it. (Not all, my mother’s strictures against the “inappropriate” barred much material until I got to college) My dad once smiled wryly at my siblings and I, “You all feel about your shows how we felt about our bands.”

I only made the connection this weekend as I read Emily Nussbaum’s essay collection I Like To Watch that of course we do. We came of age with TV as my parents did with Rock and Roll. We’re defensive of the things we like. (Mary jokes that I “get yelly” when people try to claim Lost as the beginning of something. It was the breakthrough but Buffy and Alias did the hard work.) (Also X-Files) Like TV: The Book last year, I couldn’t wait to get this one in my hand. I was less familiar with Nussbaum’s work than Sepinwall and Zoeler-Seitz, (Both name checked here) because she writes for the hoity toity New Yorker, rather than the rabbly Vulture and AV Club where I go for my TV coverage, but I still know her work. She’s also not a recapper, which is what I knew the guys from.

Her defense of Sex And The City is actually my favorite piece of criticism ever, so there’s that. (It’s included in the book and was rapturously wonderful to read again.) I’m also just trying, with the limited dollars and time that I have to support the idea of TV criticism as valid. I love television. I love that it’s being taken as seriously as film now. (I love movies too, but not like I love TV.) Nussbaum’s essays are stunning in their clarity and research. I disagree with her on several points, she’s far too dismissive of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Aaron Sorkin for me, and thinks that the changes in Weeds post season 3 were “bold” and “reinvigorating,” rather than “absurd” and “ultimately fruitless.” (my preferred adjectives.)

I knew I’d be engrossed in the book though when she opened it with a spirited discussion of getting hooked on Buffy through the largely execrable season 1 episode “The Pack.” (It is a truly odious one, some of the worst, “High School Is Hell” pandering of the first few seasons. You know how I hate those WB genre puberty metaphors.) But the main section could have been expanded to a book on it’s own.

A nearly 50 page essay about grappling with her love for Woody Allen’s movies and Louis CK’s TV shows in the wake of Me Too, is a staggeringly personal look at separating art from artist, the way art gets inside of you and how to separate it out when it’s revealed as filthy or wrong in retrospect (it felt trenchant for me this weekend having rewatched Gone With The Wind on Friday and being enraptured all over again despite my woker instincts shouting “IT’S BAD! WITH THE SLAVERY! AND THE MARITAL RAPE! AND THE LIONIZING OF THE KLAN!”) is a beautiful piece of writing. She grapples with Cosby as well, but admits he was never inside of her the way Woody and Louis were, so it’s more of a footnote.

The three profiles she includes are also interesting, Kenya Barris (black-ish) Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is The New Black) and Ryan Murphy (RYAN MURPHY) deep dives into three very different artists using the medium in fabulously different ways. (Can one even compare Dre Johnson to Nancy Botwin to Andrew Cunahan?) For a work about TV by a female critic, I think there’s woefully little talk about Shonda, she covers Scandal in comparison to House of Cards (Hey! I did that) (Twice in fact) and Shonda is mentioned in all three profiles.

I did adore the book though. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of serious conversation about TV. It’s just a deeply unlikely think to happen.

Up next is The Princess And The Fangirl which is the companion book to Geekerella. Back into the YA breach, at least temporarily.

Advertisements

Fangirl Loves Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Lost Missions

The Clone Wars’ belated final season, released on Netflix, rather than the series original home of Cartoon Network is kind of an odd duck. It’s painfully brief. (13 episodes) It only covers 4 stories (though they’re all pretty strong) and resolves nothing.

To be fair, it’s hard to offer resolution in Clone Wars it’s meant to be a bridge, the resolution comes in Revenge Of The Sith, but there are seeds planted here that don’t even reach full fruit until The Last Jedi, whether that was “that plan,” (I doubt it, Kathy Kennedy, for all her brilliance is not Kevin Feige, she’s more adaptable than he.) or just some thematic resonance that makes sense because narrative is inherently structured no matter how hard you try to deconstruct it Rian Johnson, (I have many many critical thoughts about The Last Jedi, but we’re still a few months away from that discussion!) I’m interested in the question.

The first arc revolves around Tup and Fives discovering that there’s extra programming in the clones, that could make them turn on their commanders. Their advanced knowledge of Order 66 gets them killed, and leads to Rex deprogramming himself. (We don’t know this yet, of course.)

The second is Padme discovering that her shitty ex boyfriend is playing both sides because he’s shitty. Also she and Anakin discuss divorce. I don’t really care for this arc, but that’s because I have limited emotional investment in Padme and Anakin’s relationship and even less in her ambivalence to her shitty ex boyfriend.

The third arc involves Jar-Jar and Mace Windu fighting an evil force cult and it’s awesome which you would never expect to say about a Jar-Jar arc, but it explores the nature of the force and what it means to those again, outside The Jedi/Sith binary. I can’t believe how central this idea has become to the franchise but I sort of love the work out it gets in this series.

The final arc was the one I remembered, which is Yoda talks to ghosts. This is the one that I think really comes through in Last Jedi. After learning that Jedi Master Sipho Dios isn’t dead, or is he? Yoda goes on a vision quest to learn how to commune with the dead. He does so by talking to some embodiments of emotions in kabuki masks and Darth Bane, the first Sith, voiced by Mark Hamill. Hearing Hamill bring the menace he’s perfected in his voice over the years to an argument with Frank Oz’s Yoda is delightful.

But overall, it becomes clear that Yoda knows the order has lost it’s way. That he continues to fight is out of habit, he knows he has to destroy the Sith, but the old was have to go with that destruction. It’s resignation.

I’m glad I rewatched Clone Wars even if it felt overwhelming at times. Revisiting isn’t a think I do as much lately (the point of Nerd Homework after all was to break me out of the cycle of rewatching I’d found) especially not critically, and I was glad to do it here. The show is a wonder of writing and action. (Even if the animation is not to my taste, exactly) It deepens the lore and scope of this world, and, probably, as I watch Revenge Of The Sith later, it will make me feel deeper about that movie too.

Next week we’ll talk about Revenge Of The Sith, yes, we’re back to movies at least for a few weeks. Which is a relief for the rest of my watch schedule to be frank.

Nerd Homework: Arrow-Verse Catch Up (Minus Arrow)

On Saturday, Juli’s daughter celebrated her first birthday, and I sat around catching up with old friends, and when one asked what I was watching these days, I responded by saying I was chasing my truly epic dive into Supernatural with catching up on the Arrow-verse, except not Arrow.

Chrissy laughed at that, “I love that you’ll do things for your blog that are inconvenient but you draw the line at catching up on Arrow because of your principles.” (Those principles, by the way are Arrow kind of sucks. Except Diggle. We like Diggle.)

There is by the way, nothing inconvenient about catching up on the other three Arrow-verse shows this season as Legends Of Tomorrow remains the best show on TV that no one is watching (and also the queerest), Supergirl did some damn revolutionary social commentary while still being fun, and The Flash managed to be the kind of sweet family drama it should have been all along while also recapturing the silly silver age fun that gave the first season it’s goodness.

Let’s start with those rascally Legends. Sara and the gang on the Waverider are hunting magical creatures and John Constantine is leading the charge. Constantine is a character I have some trouble with. I actually love him in a team setting, or when he pops up to tell other characters to back off because this is mystical and they’re in over their heads, but I’ve never fully bought into him solo. Matt Ryan is awesome, playing him and him getting crossed over here I think bodes well especially as The Crisis looms, and worlds will be consolidated. (I am speaking of course, of Dick Grayson popping up other places.) (Obviously.) (I JUST WANT KARA AND DICK TO TALK IN CIRCLES AROUND EACH OTHER, AND NEVER ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THEY KNOW WHO THE OTHER IS I DON’T THINK THAT’S TOO MUCH TO ASK BERLANTI!) Meanwhile, Nate and Ray’s bromance is so strong it can excorcise demons, Ava and Sara appear to be endgame, Zari’s been erased from the timeline and Mick’s writing career is going splendidly. Also, “Legends of To-Meow-Meow” is a truly wonderful episode of TV, where Zari is a cat. Also, this season has like so many musical numbers. This show is so goddamned weird, and wonderful and special and GAY AS FUCK.

Supergirl, offered an incredible breath of fresh air with a theme that I couldn’t have anticipated them doing particularly well. Taking on Xenophobia and immigration with aliens as a metaphor was a huge risk and my God it paid off. I eventually came around on Brainiac 5. (Though WINN! How I miss him) Nia Nal, the first transgender superhero on TV was a wonder, and Nicole Maine is wonderfully adorable. Alex and James and J’onn are steady centers for the show but remain a tad bit cyphery these days, and the woman at the top, Melissa Benoit remains stunningly stunningly good as Kara Danvers/Zor-El, and this year, as Red Daughter as well. And this season’s villains, Manchester Black, Ben Lockwood AKA Agent Liberty and Lex Frigging Luthor made the whole enterprise even better. Lockwood was played by Sam Witwer, who I’m having kind of a moment with right now. (Might even circle back to Being Human which I remember quite a bit.) He was tragic, terrifying and a lot of fun. But oh boy did the season belong to the big cheese.

Lex Luthor is probably the greatest supervillain of all, or at least the most well known. And John Cryer brought him, his particular brand of ego maniacal malice and obsession to life flawlessly.

Then there’s The Flash. The Flash is probably the most frustrating of any of the Arrow-verse shows, the beginning of the spin off experiment with a really killer first season and fantastic cast, that just kind of fell apart after that. Season 5 does some strong work to bring things back. Nora Allen, Iris and Barry’s daughter from the future is a welcome presence and the mystery behind  her motives to travel back is an intriguing season long mystery. The Big Bad, Cicada is less compelling. He’s a serial killer that goes after metas! Revolutionary, I know. At least he’s not a speedster. But I was overall just sucked in here.

I really wanted to push to complete the season because next season we get Crisis On Infinite Earths, while I doubt this will reach the epic scales of the actual comic, I’m looking forward to how things move. With this being Arrow’s final season there’s a lot of possibility on the table and I am genuinely considering getting caught up there. (We’ll see…)

So, yeah, that’s that. As for what’s next for Nerd Homework? I think I’m going to dive deeper into My Hero Academia. I started it with Aless a few weeks ago and I’d like to get caught up, and it’s been a minute since “Watch More Anime” dipped in. (Supernatural really dominated this year’s nerd homework.)

Fangirl Loves Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 5

I have to admit I put off watching this season for a few reasons but mainly because I didn’t want to go through it’s ending. But the other arcs leading up the devastation are good too, so let’s talk about them first!

Ahsoka and Yoda and a Droid voiced by David Tennant teach a bunch of adorable Younglings to build lightsabers. Also Hondo is there and there’s a circus? I dunno, the Younglings are real cute though.

Maul and Savage team up with Death Watch to take over Mandalore, which is great on a few levels, because it gives Sam Witwer a lot to do, and isn’t he just the best? (We’ll talk even more about Witwer tomorrow friends, don’t you worry!) There’s also the small matter of Satine, and Maul’s vendetta against Obi-Wan, which of course, ends in the Duchess’s death. (The woman I love…)

The next step comes when a suicide bomber goes after the Jedi temple and Anakin and Ahsoka investigate the crime. Once the case is solved, Ahsoka gets wrapped up in the conspiracy and winds up thrown out of the Jedi order, and even when her name’s been cleared she decides to walk away.

That walking away is the fulcrum (HAH GET IT) of Ahsoka’s character. My favorite thing in all of clone wars is the way it plays with the people around Anakin being presented with similar situations to him, emotionally and choosing the more ethical and healthy paths. Obi-Wan chooses the order and his vows and commitment over Satine, Ahsoka leaves the Jedi behind rather than compromise her ideals. Anakin can’t do either of those things. He’s limited by his attachments, and can’t see beyond them.

I know this post was late, but I really was just not up for the emotions of Ahsoka’s walking away from Anakin, especially knowing what comes for them.

Next week we’ll cover “The Lost Missions,” which if I remember is mostly Yoda talking to ghosts? I mean, that’s super rad, so I’m looking forward to it.

Fangirl Loves Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 4

It’s only a few episodes, but seriously, there are very few arcs in American Animation that blows me away like the return of Darth Maul does.

It’s an incredibly compelling bit of work that really really applies a level of consequence to The Phantom Menace that let’s say the movie itself doesn’t quite provide. Sam Witwer’s work with Maul as a character is instantly iconic voice work, deserving of praise alongside say, a certain farmboy’s later interpretation of a certain homicidal clown.

And what’s so astounding about season 4, is that while that terrific final arc is wonderful, and overwhelms the rest of the season in a way, it’s also got a lot more to offer. Ahsoka’s adventure with the Guerrera siblings, (and her own cutie pie senator who she has romantic feelings for. Anakin is adorable about that whole situation.)

Anakin also comes to terms with his time as a slave, while a sexy cat queen keeps trying to get into his pants. (It’s a very strange set of episodes, but quite good.) The “Slaves of The Republic” arc highlights some interesting things about all the characters, (Obi-Wan’s penchant for martyrdom, Anakin’s ambivalence about  his commitments, Ahsoka’s temper and flare for the dramatic.)

The clones also get a good arc, with the crazed racist general Krell pushing for their destruction and (badly) trying to play both sides. There’s also Ahsoka’s adventures with the Younglings building their light sabers, which just really, really badly made me want to go to Galaxy’s Edge and build a saber. (If I manage to save for that trip, I know I’ll have to forgo my typical Disney Dining habits to build that Saber. I will do it though! I’ll eat shitty burgers and soggy fries!)

Season 4 is really, really strong is my point, and it blew me away the first time I watched it, and I was blown away by it this time.

Next week, we’ll talk season 5. We’ll say goodbye to Ahsoka (SOB) for now, and we’ll watch Anakin slide further into Darkness and Obi-Wan confront his past. WAY!

Nerd Homework: Supernatural Seasons 13 & 14

Well, reader, we’re finished.

For the moment. I’m nervous and excited for season 15. But first let’s talk about seasons 13 and 14.

We need to talk about Jack. My god, I love Jack. I love the whole whacky “My 3 (4) Dads” dynamic. He’s a precious baby who needs to be protected from everything. Especially himself. And his biological father, who is the literal devil, but you know…mostly himself and his powers.

And then there’s the shipping. While it should never, even for a second, be denied that I am shiptastic garbage, I was surprised by the depth and intensity that I fell for Destiel. Slash has never particularly been my thing,. (Save StormPilot, OBVIOUSLY.) And in fact, I often found Slash Shippers frustrating. Not because I didn’t also thirst for representation,(There’s a reason why Sara Lance and Rosa Diaz jumped to the top of the fave list, y’all.) but because it often felt like something of a reach.

But here’s the about seasons 13 & 14 of Supernatural. If Dean and Castiel aren’t a couple, the seasons don’t really make a lot of sense. They act like a couple, fight like a couple, co parent like a couple…it’s just, there. But never said outloud. It’s frustrating, but also, like so so so obvious.

I’m also shipping Rowena and Sam, but that’s more because my brain has a pathological need to pair people off, and also because I love a good doomed love story. Remember, Sam is fated to kill her. IT’S JON AND DANY ALL OVER AGAIN EXCEPT WITHOUT THE INCEST AND DRAGONS. (Also not shitty) (I would not be surprised if Rowena did have a dragon though…tbh…)

Gabriel’s return was a welcome surprise, as was Nick (Lucifer’s Vessel) turning serial killer as revenge. And then there’s the 300th episode which is mostly just an excuse to sit rocking back and forth while sobbing saying, “Why Chuck? WHYYYY?????”

From John’s return, to Mary’s devestation as they realize they can’t keep him with them, to John and Sam making peace, finally, to Dean having to kill Cas, there’s just so much that’s happening and I love it very much, but also, well, it hurts, you know, the feelings?

Mary’s death is the worst, and I hate it, and I’m in denial. But I’m sure she’ll come back next season. (I’m hoping for Crowley to, to be honest.)

And speaking of “Why, Chuck? Why?” Guess who’s going to be the biggest of the big bads? I mean it makes sense. Dean and Sam have killed just about everything else, so they might as well kill God too. Like in His Dark Materials! Only with more feelings. Somehow. Those books also have a lot of feelings. And gayer. Definitely, definitely gayer.

I’m excited for the final season, which I will do my level best to watch in real time, but will probably end up like all of the DC CW shows where I watch until the first hiatus, forget to check when it’s coming back and then decide to just wait until the end of the season to binge the whole thing. (See also, Girlfriend, Crazy Ex) But I am going to try. Because damnit, over the past six months I’ve grown to love this dumb monster show and it’s stupid pretty boys, and their insufferable feelings.

I didn’t even talk about the Scooby Doo episode which is delightful, but that’s about all there is to say about that.

So what’s next? I’ve got about 20 episodes of Clone Wars left, so we’ve got that to push through. Then I’m going to invest in some anime. Aless and I started My Hero Academia, so I’ll go with that. I’ve got Rebels on the horizon as well, plus the aformentioned CW DC shows.

There’s stuff coming is the point. So crank some tunes, and shut your cakehole. This one’s done.

 

Fangirl Loves Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 3

If Season 2 is about complicity and begining to fill in shades of grey, Season 3 is about living in that grey.

It’s also about how Anakin categorically rejects his chances at turning away from the dark side, over and over again. It’s about Ahsoka beginning to see she doesn’t quite fit with the way the Jedi do things. It’s about Obi-Wan seeing the world he knows collapsing around him. It’s about Padme realizing that she might be on the wrong side.

And it’s just so good. The weird wrinkles that form because of those themes make for some of the most compelling episode arcs. Ventress’s origins, as a Night Sister, and their relationship to Darth Maul, (And Savage Oppress, which, like Star Wars names are always a little on the nose but that’s a real doozy) which leads into an exploration of the Dark Side and The Force outside of the Jedi/Sith binary. (Something that I think will probably be vitally important moving forward in the series after The Rise Of Skywalker.) 

This also leads into The Father/Daughter/Son trilogy, and Anakin’s confirmation as the chosen one and his rejection of the responsibility of maintaining balance.

It’s just so good you guys. The physical embodiments of the Force are shouting at him to get it together, and he just. can’t. let. go.

He can’t let go of his grief and guilt about Shimi. He can’t let go of Padme. He can’t let go of Ahsoka and Obi-Wan. He can’t let go of his own identity as a Jedi. He can’t do it. The inevitability of the whole thing is part of what makes these episodes great, but it’s just such good character work.

Anyway, there’s a lot to think about with that. And there’s also just the deepening of the mythology around Force paving the way for Ahsoka finding her “other path” later in her life. And how stunning and amazing that is.

Next week is Season 4, Darth Maul’s actual return, and just more and more escalation. Plus! Admiral Ackbar! Yay!