My Favorite TV Shows & Films of 2016

Here are my top 10 favorite TV shows and films of 2016. Let’s get this year over with, shall we?!

TV SHOWS

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (CW)

There is no better gift to a theatre kid like me than Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s brilliant and subversive tribute to romantic comedies and musical theatre. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is fabulously self-aware, hilariously screwball, unapologetically feminist, and chock-full of must-see musical gems like the brilliant “JAP Battle,” Fifth Harmony parody “Put Yourself First” (that sax tho!), and Singing in the Rain send-up “We Tapped That Ass.”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend knows exactly the show it wants to be and is refreshingly honest about its characters’ flaws, in particular, Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) anti-heroic delusions. If that weren’t enough, the show features a Filipino-American male romantic lead. Representation matters, y’all.

Season one is streaming on Netflix. I can’t recommend this show enough.

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source: talesofnorth.tumblr.com

SURVIVOR (CBS)

Even in its 32nd and 33rd seasons, Survivor still delivers surprises and shockers each episode. This fall’s season, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, delivered a deliciously entertaining combination of shocking blindsides, next-level strategy, and compelling (and most importantly, likable) characters. #wow

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PLEASE LIKE ME (HULU)

This Australian import is my favorite television discovery of the year. Josh Thomas’ coming-of-age comedy, centered around a young, gay twenty-something, has stolen my heart with its upbeat charm and quirky characters. I love this show to pieces.

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source: dailypleaselikeme.tumblr.com

THE AMERICANS (FX)

Each year, the best drama on television increases its heartbreaking stakes, while digging deeper into the emotional struggles of its characters. The Americans‘ unexpected dramatic instability kept viewers on edge all season long, as the stress of the Jennings’ real/fake marriage and their relationship with their teenage daughter were pushed to a near-breaking point.

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ATLANTA (FX)

Donald Glover’s brand new series swiftly and languidly navigates down the paths of the surreal and real, taking us to places TV hasn’t gone before. It’s a truly breathtaking endeavor.

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THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (FX)

By all accounts, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the O.J. Simpson trial should have been a hot mess, but instead the limited-run series was an engrossing triumph that drew thought-provoking comparisons to today’s society, bolstered by a dynamite trio of performances from Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, and Courtney B. Vance.

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BOJACK HORSEMAN (NETFLIX)

Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s profound and profane animated series mixes pathos with animal puns, and existential crises with Hollywood satire. The tremendous third season delivered one of the best episodes of TV this year: the dialogue-free, underwater-set “Fish Out of Water.”

source: jellymonstergirl.tumblr.com

source: jellymonstergirl.tumblr.com

JANE THE VIRGIN (CW)

Jane the Virgin is consistently the most intelligent, emotional, and character-rich storytelling on television. It’s a confident warm blanket of a telenovela that delights in its open-hearted interpersonal relationships.

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source: b99.tumblr.com

AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)

The second season of this anthology drama, focused on an alleged rape of a male high school student by a fellow student on the school’s basketball team, features superb acting (Regina King! Felicity Huffman! Lili Taylor!) with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality.

source: laquing.tumblr.com

source: laquing.tumblr.com

BILLY ON THE STREET (truTV)

For a dollar, name another show on television that makes me laugh out loud more than Billy on the Street. Spoiler Alert: You’ll never get that dollar. Billy Eichner’s pop culture explosions are an incredible comedic tour de force.

One of my absolute favorite things of the year: Billy Eichner tells unsuspecting people on the street that Seth Rogen has suddenly died, while Rogen stands just feet away behind a camera.


FILMS

MOONLIGHT

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source: lgbtcinema.tumblr.com

ZOOTOPIA

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THE LOBSTER

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source: alsk00.tumblr.com

SING STREET

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source: sokillintime.tumblr.com

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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source: emliy-junks.tumblr.com

DON’T THINK TWICE

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source: keegansjordan.tumblr.com

OTHER PEOPLE

other-people-2016

source: gifs.com

LA LA LAND

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source: chazelle.tumblr.com

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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source: henricavyll.tumblr.com

LEMONADE

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source: causeislay.tumblr.com

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Emmys 2016 Review: A Night of Surprises

Televised award shows can often be painful to sit through, but thankfully, there were enough surprises in the 2016 Emmy Awards to balance out the inevitable second consecutive wins for Veep and Game of Thrones. The potent combination of deserving first-time winners, moving speeches, and diverse voices at the podium made the night feel spontaneous and exciting. At its best, these Emmys, indeed, felt like a true celebration of what television has to offer, and many of the outcomes delighted me.

Master of None’s “Parents” was awarded the Emmy for Writing for a Comedy, an episode that focuses on two first-generation Americans asking their parents to tell the stories about their lives before coming to America. As a child of immigrant parents myself, this story hit straight to the heart. The episode brought me to tears and immediately after, I called my mother. *cue awwww* Awards aren’t the be-all and end-all, but it does feels good to know that this award reinforces the notion that these are stories worth telling. Even better was writer Alan Yang’s acceptance speech, which emphasized the need for more Asian-American stories:

There’s 17 million Asian-Americans in this country, and there’s 17 million Italian Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Sopranos. We got Long Duk Dong, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I know we can get there. I believe in us. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work. Asian parents out there, if you could just do me a favor, just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, we’ll be all good.

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Kate McKinnon’s win for Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her work on Saturday Night Live was also a delight. She had a banner year, thanks to Hillary Clinton, and sketches like The One Where She Was Abducted By Aliens And Ryan Gosling Couldn’t Keep It Together. McKinnon’s humble shout-outs from Hillary Clinton and Ellen Degeneres, to her writing partners, the now co-head writers Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly (watch his new film Other People!), to her late father who pushed her to watch SNL as a child, were particularly moving.

Director Jill Soloway, who won for Transparent, gave a particularly rousing acceptance speech, with a passionate plea to “topple the patriarchy.” Soloway centered the storytelling of queer and trans women in her acceptance speech:

When you take women, people of color, trans people, queer people, and you put them at the center of the story, the subjects instead of the objects, you change the world, we found out. This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikeable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes.

Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor’s won Actor in a Comedy for his thoughtful portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, and his speech concluded with a heartfelt plea of his own: a call for greater hiring of transgender talent. Witnessing diversity in storytelling from a pioneering show like Transparent be richly rewarded was a step in the right direction.

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American Crime was one of my favorite television shows of the year. The anthology drama couples superb acting with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality. It was gratifying to see Regina King be recognized two years in a row for her magnetic work as a mother of a high school basketball player team accused of assault.

Although I was rooting for the cool threat that was Bookeem Woodbine’s Mike Milligan from Fargo, I was happy that the award went to Sterling K. Brown’s understated performance as Christopher Darden in The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The thrilling wins for Courtney B. Vance and Sarah Paulson, who played Johnny Cochran and Marcia Clark, respectively, proved the stellar casting for Ryan Murphy’s series. These three captivating actors took on historical figures familiar to the American public, and breathed new life into their narratives, making their portrayals deeply sympathetic and human. Paulson was one of the locks of the evening, and her win was long overdue.

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On the flip side, yes, The People vs O.J. Simpson was excellent television, but I’m disappointed that Fargo’s remarkable second season was shut out in the process, coming up empty-handed in every category it was nominated in. Was this season too left-field for voters? Too bleak or violent? Too wrapped up in Midwestern quirk, and mysticism? Sigh.

Grease Live was a fine technical feat, with swift and precise direction by Alex Rudzinski and Hamilton‘s Thomas Kail. The live broadcast navigated multiple indoor and outdoor sets, live crowds, inclement weather, and more, but the conceit has been done before, even if it was the best of this new generation of live musicals. Beyoncé’s Lemonade was an artistic achievement like no other. Queen B should have won Directing for a Variety Special and taken one more step closer to EGOT status.

Rami Malek’s performance as Elliot Anderson was a singular triumph on Mr. Robot. Malek tackled such an intense character plagued with drug addiction, social anxiety, and mental illness, but always found ways to humanize him. We don’t often see characters on television like Elliot, much less see their performances rewarded, so this win for Lead Actor in a Drama felt important. Plus, bae looked good in a white Dior suit.

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Host Jimmy Kimmel joked in his opening monologue that “the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity.” As the night went on, the more this notion seemed true. However cynical Kimmel’s quip was, it was refreshing to see the stage visited by African-Americans, Asian-Americans, queer women, an Egyptian-American, and sure, a couple of white men here and there too.

At last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s took home two trophies for Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy and Choreography. How it lost Main Title Theme Music to Jessica Jones (?!?!?!) is beyond me. One is a sunny, catchy earworm that jabs at sexism, while the other is a bland jazz number. The winner is completely obvious to me, but I guess the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. Regardless, just let the words “Emmy Award-Winning Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” sink in. We’re so #blessed!

The best show on television, The Americans, was woefully ignored, after being finally being invited to the party in its fourth season. When Character Actress Margo Martindale’s won for Guest Actress at the Creative Arts Emmys, for a role with seemingly less than ten minutes of screen time, I was hoping that the award boded well for the show’s Emmy chances come Sunday night. Alas, the night was not for The Americans. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, your time has yet to come. Next year, Game of Thrones will air outside of eligibility for the 2017 Emmys, leaving a dragon-sized void in the race. With the HBO juggernaut out of the mix next year, could The Americans finally emerge victorious?

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[gifs courtesy of giphy.com and outofficial.tumblr.com]

What I’m Watching: Fall 2015

The fall 2015 television season is here, right as we enter the age of “Peak TV,” with seemingly too many television series out there to consume.

At the summer Television Critics Association press tour last month, John Landgraf, the president of FX Networks, stated that “there is simply too much television” in our current landscape. According to Vox, “In 2009, there were 211 primetime scripted series on television. That number steadily climbed until in 2014 there were 371, an increase of 160 shows. FX expects the number to top 400 in 2015.” That number doesn’t even included reality television, talk shows, game shows, etc. It’s downright impossible for a person to sample every show that’s out there and once you’ve dropped a show, it becomes even harder to pick it back up.

In the opening number of the 67th Emmy Awards, host Andy Samberg tackles the issue of “Peak TV” head-on by locking himself in a TV Viewing Bunker for a year to catch up on every show:

So where does that leave me? I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll probably never watch the most critically acclaimed new series from this past summer, UnREAL and Mr. Robot, or the 2015 Emmy winners for Outstanding Comedy, Veep, and Drama, Game of Thrones (but let’s be real, Mad Men should have taken the trophy for its final season, or better yet, the real best drama series, The Americans, should have been nominated in the first place). I’ll take solace in the fact that I’m enjoying what I choose to watch. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If a TV show gives you pleasure, more power to you!

Special shout-outs to the shows I watched in the past two months: CatastropheBoJack Horseman season two, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Transparent, and Orange is the New Black season three. I highly recommend all of these excellent shows, especially BoJack Horseman, an uproarious, yet painfully bleak and honest, examination of depression, as filtered through the lens of an animated anthropomorphic horse. Will you get to watching these shows? “They’re on my list,” I’m sure you’ll say. #PeakTV

What I’m Watching:

Scream Queens – Premieres September 22 on FOX

Welcome to Ryan Murphy’s twisted take on campus slasher films! I’m cautiously optimistic about this show, with an emphasis on the cautiously. Ryan Murphy productions start with a bang (see: the first two seasons of Glee and American Horror Story. Ok, fine, maybe just season of Glee.) and they unfortunately get caught up in their own frenetic messes, ending with a whimper (see: the other seasons of Glee and American Horror Story).

Fortunately for viewers, Scream Queens doesn’t seem to have any higher aspirations than being a gleeful, campy, bloody bubblegum confection that offs a character each week to comically gruesome effect. Plus, I can’t help but root for a cast that includes Nasim Pedrad, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ariana Grande, and Nick Jonas. I mean, come on. There’s a fine line between bitchy, catty entertainment and outright meanness. Tread carefully, Ryan Murphy. Here’s hoping it’ll be fun to watch this sorority-set series inevitably fly off the rails!

Fresh Off the Boat – Returns September 22 on ABC

As the first network TV show to feature an Asian-American family in 20 years, expectations for Fresh Off the Boat were dangerously high. To make matters worse, in the weeks leading up to the premiere, Eddie Huang, who wrote the memoir on which the show is based, trash-talked his own team members for diluting his personal experiences. Thankfully, when the first episode debuted, you could feel the collective exhale of Asian America. It was a sigh of relief that this family sitcom was extremely funny, witty, and heartwarming to boot. There were no reasons for audiences to hang their heads in shame. Fresh Off the Boat made specific cultural experiences universal and reset the television defaults of what it means to be a sitcom family.

Constance Wu, who plays the matriarch Jessica Huang, addresses the issues of representation in an insightful Buzzfeed interview:

The Asian-American experience [is something] a lot of us as Asian-Americans really haven’t explored, because they lump us all into one… It’s terrifying to say, ‘This is a thing that is complex and worthy of our time,’ but it is complex, and that’s why you’re not going to always find an easy, palatable answer. I think [the show is] trying to approach that complexity in a very traditionally simplistic form. And I think if we can do that, it’s almost its own type of activism.

I’ve jokingly shared on social media that I love that I can see myself on television, as the youngest brother, Evan Huang. The sentiment is silly, but completely true. This quirky, sweet-natured, delicate boy is definitely me and it’s a feeling that I’ve cherished. It’s progress.

Survivor – Returns September 23 on CBS

I’ve never been more excited about a season of Survivor in 31 seasons than I am about Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance. And neither have any other of Survivor’s ten million viewers. Twenty returning players were voted in by America to compete for a second chance to win the million dollars and the title of Sole Survivor. After All-Stars and Heroes vs. VillainsCambodia is only the third season to feature all veteran players. This past summer, I re-watched Heroes vs. Villains, arguably Survivor‘s best, for the third time and this new season has all the potential to match HvV’s soaring highs.

Some of these players, like Borneo’s OG Kelly Wigglesworth and Australian Outback’s Jeff Varner and Kimmi Kappenberg, have waited over a decade for the opportunity to play again. Every single one of these contestants is here to WIN, ready to overcome their earlier flaws, course-correct for past mistakes, over-compensate for character flaws, underestimate and overpower the competition, and outwit, outplay, and outlast to the Final Tribal Council. The hunger is real.

Each contestant has a strong storyline going into the competition: Can Stephen Fishbach shed his overwhelmingly large target of being a Survivor Know-It-All podcast host? Will Ciera Eastin be able to convince her tribemates she’s a trustworthy player after she voted out her own mother in her previous season? Will Abi-Maria Gomes be able to cool her hot temper and play nice with others? Will Spencer “Charlie Brown” Bledsoe finally be able to kick that football set up by Chaos Kass? The list goes on… What makes this season so exciting is that each person comes in with so much baggage and so much to prove. You can read some of my thoughts on the cast here.

Peih-Gee Law

Peih-Gee Law (source: EW.com)

Who am I rooting for? In addition to the aforementioned Jeff Varner (love his cheeky energy) and Stephen Fishbach (love his quick wit), I’m pulling for for my friend, Survivor China’s Peih-Gee Law, who famously was good at Sudoku and claiming victory of the last of her tribe, ultimately achieving 5th place. Will she be able to keep her emotions in check and not make waves in the early goings of the game? If so, Peih-Gee will at least make it to the merge. In pre-game interviews, Peih-Gee talked about a smart strategy she picked up from fellow China player, Amanda Kimmel:

You have to find someone really strong […] like a Woo…who will be able to win challenges, but he’ll be kind of a target after the merge, which is fine because then I won’t be a target. Then you want somebody weaker, like maybe like Kass. They’re good to have by your side because if they want to get rid of someone who’s not good at challenges, then you’re protected. And then, these people, the weaker ones and the stronger ones, they’re the targets.

Who am I picking to win? Looking at the winners of the two previous all-star seasons, Amber Brkich and Sandra Diaz-Twine, both women entered the game as unassuming characters. They laid low and watched as the bigger targets take each other out each week. I see the same characteristics in San Juan Del Sur’s Kelley Wentworth. Although we never fully saw her game in her first season (which means neither did her competitors), she seemed smart and level-headed enough to be a savvy player. Kelley enters Cambodia without a huge target on her back, but possesses great potential. If she aligns with the right players, she could fly under the radar, make smart moves to get her to the end, and emerge victorious.

How to Get Away With Murder – Returns September 24 on ABC

To be honest, I was a bit on the fence about returning to this Shondaland series. Only Viola Davis’ magnetic and emotionally fraught tornado and Jack Falahee’s voracious sexual appetite and surprising vulnerability proved to be compelling characters. The rest of How to Get Away With Murder’s ensemble was merely beautiful set dressing. I also couldn’t stand Wes and Rebecca at all, separate or together.

Ultimately, Viola Davis is worth the price of re-admission. Her extraordinary history-making Emmy acceptance speech brought me to tears. As the first African-American woman to ever win Lead Actress in a Drama Series, her words were a powerful and inspiring indictment of the decision makers of Hollywood, highlighting how few opportunities women of color have had the chance to even compete for the title.

‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’

That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

I will keep watching to support your trailblazing work, Viola Davis. Here’s to you!

The Flash – Returns October 6 on The CW

Simply put, The Flash is fun, fun, fun. The mere thought of more adventures in Central City fills me with joy. The Flash is a winning combination of celebrating the heroics of superheroes and meaningful, emotional character relationships. Of all the shows I watched last year, I’m certain I cried the most and hardest at The Flash season one finale. Damn you, Grant Gustin, and your beautifully emotive, tear-streaked face! This upcoming year spirals further down the comic book spiral, introducing a parallel universe and the original The Flash, Jay Garrick. I’m not a superhero superfan by any means, but I’m in for whatever thrilling twists are coming our way.

American Horror Story: Hotel – Returns October 7 on FX

Oh boy, American Horror Story, where to begin? Season three (Coven) was a supreme mess with inflated dramatic stakes (If characters could be resurrected willy-nilly, what did it matter that characters died?), while season four (Freak Show) was a frightful bore that suffered from warmed-over and languid pacing.

Season five, Hotel, brings AHS into the dark hallways of the Hotel Cortez. The one shining beacon of this season is that the incredible Jessica Lange is sitting this out of this chapter. Lange has portrayed massive powerhouses, stealing every scene and chewing each piece of scenery, but over time, these power-hungry matriarchs drew from the same well one too many times. It will be interesting to watch a more ensemble-driven AHS, as anchored by Lady Gaga.

Billy on the Street – Returns October 8 on TruTV

Pop culture and yelling. #selfexplanitory
I wrote about Billy on the Street’s first season here.

Jane the Virgin – Returns October 12 on The CW

The first season of Jane the Virgin skillfully balanced the hilarious with the heartfelt, and the playfully surreal with the emotionally real. Even when the telenovela-inspired narrative engine seemed to barrel through storyline after plot twist after jaw dropping moment, Jane the Virgin never lost its way, thanks to its charming and radiant lead, Gina Rodriguez.

The world was also introduced to new comic icons in Jaime Camil’s self-absorbed Rogelio De La Vega and Anthony Mendez’ cheeky narrator. Season two promises to double down on the over-the-top telenovela world, announcing guest appearances by not only pop icon Britney Spears, but my beloved darling, Kesha (#FreedomForKesha). The Flash and Jane the Virgin both had stellar first seasons (which I wrote about) and I expect no less this year.

Plus, Jane the Virgin also featured my two favorite Emmy “For Your Consideration” campaigns for Gina Rodriguez and Jaime Camil. Jane the Virgin, you are both inspiring and freaking hilarious.

Fargo – Returns October 12 on FX

My favorite scripted series from 2014 returns. Fargo’s first season was a tightly plotted morality tale, bursting at the seams with memorably quirky characters and black-hearted humor. Fargo follows in the footsteps of its fellow FX series, American Horror Story, and resets its second season in 1979, with a new murderers row of actors taking on the series’ unique voice: Patrick Wilson. Kirsten Dunst. Jessie Plemons. Ted Danson. Jean Smart. Cristin Milioti. Nick Offerman. Kirsten Dunst’s awesomely feathered coif. Just watch the trailer below and tell me you are giddy either.

What I watched in January 2015

Even in the seemingly freezing wasteland of January, warmth could be found all over television. What was once a month of dull month of shows returning from winter hiatus, is now a blossoming time for premieres and finales. Here’s a look at what I watched in January 2015. Some spoilers to follow, of course.

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In streaming news, I finally joined my generation of millennials and signed up for Amazon Prime. What started out as a free trial to take advantage of the 2-day shipping for the holidays and to stream Survivor: Fiji (the last of Survivor‘s soon-to-be 30 seasons I’ve yet to watch), ended up as a thrilling deep-dive into the best show on television, The Americans.

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Source: uptownhags.tumblr.com

The Americans is a must-watch. All at once a sleek spy thriller and an unexpectedly moving examination of marriage and family. The Cold War-set character-driven drama is exhilarating, smart, extremely well-acted, and features lots and lots of fun wigs. It is the 1980s after all.

The first season explores what it means to be married. Married couple Elizabeth Jennings (a striking and determined Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are living in American suburbia, working undercover as KGB agents. This union is an arranged marriage by Mother Russia and to keep up appearances of family life, Elizabeth and Philip eventually had two children of their own, Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati). However, once familiar territory becomes dangerous when real emotions develop and the two see each other in new light. This is marriage as spycraft, marriage as a cold war. Complications ensue when Stan Beeman (the masterful Noah Emmerich), an FBI agent working in counter-intelligence with marital baggage of his own, moves in right next door. Howdy, neighbor!

A Soviet mole tells an FBI agent, “You Americans think everything is white and black. For us, everything is gray.” Throughout The Americans, Elizabeth and Philip encounter shifting allegiances and dodge shifting moral compasses. Relationships morph, lies are bred, and compromises abound. Double agents become triple agents. Confidants become conflicted. In a world of espionage, nothing ever has just one meaning. This is a powerful and thoughtful show that wrestles with severe emotional stakes: Can I trust you?

In the second season, the series explores what it means to believe and fight for something much larger than yourself. The Americans shows the weight of collateral damage, in particular, the toll of espionage on the family unit. Emotional costs do not go ignored. What does it mean to be a parent harboring life-changing secrets from your children and how do children cope with the realization that they’ll just become their parents? How far can you fight for what you believe in while still maintaining your humanity?

I HIGHLY recommend giving The Americans a chance. The first two 13-episode seasons are available for streaming on Amazon Prime. If I can binge-watch 26 episodes in one month, you can too.What are you waiting for? GO!

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I celebrated the season finale of American Horror Story: Freak Show, not because I praised its artistic merit or thought-provoking themes, but because of the sheer and simple relief that this languid melodrama was finally over. FX’s horror anthology has suffered diminishing returns, peaking with its second season, Asylum.

While Jessica Lange remains a national treasure, she has been given nothing but retreads of her earlier characters. What worked so perfectly with the Asylum finale is that we cared about the Lange’s Sister Jude. We were given the gift of a moving redemption arc. What worked so poorly with the Freak Show finale is that I simply did not care about Lange’s Elsa Mars at all. Neither her thirst for Hollywood stardom, nor her passion for her freak show family, nor her shame over her tragic snuff film past made me compassionate for her plight. When Wes Bentley’s supernatural carny spirit took Elsa’s life in the season’s final moments, I merely shrugged.

Color me less than excited about the next season of American Horror Story.

At the very least, American Horror Story: Freak Show gave us Finn Witrock’s devilishly handsome serial killer Dandy Mott. As Angela Bassett’s three-breasted Desiree Dupree hissed at him during the finale, “You may look like a motion picture dreamboat, but you’re the biggest freak of them all!” Farewell, Dandy and Desiree, you were the few shining stars of this dim season.

AHS_Freak_Show_Dandy

Source: realmenteborroso.tumblr.com

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Jane the Virgin had a gigantic January, with Gina Rodriguez winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy, the first-ever Golden Globe for The CW. Rodriguez’s heartfelt and moving speech proved why she won the hearts of the HFPA voters and fans alike:

This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes. My father used to tell me to say every morning to myself it’s a great day. I can and I will. Well Dad, today’s a great day. I can and I did.

In the first new episode of Jane the Virgin that aired after the Golden Globes, The CW used the onscreen hashtag #ICanAndIDid as a celebration of Rodriguez’s achievement. On the show itself, with another onscreen hashtag, the political became personal. Jane’s grandmother, Alba (Ivonne Coll), took a nasty fall down a flight of stairs when Petra’s devious wheelchair-bound mother pushed her (Gasp! Petra’s mother can walk?! Let’s not forget this is a telenovela send-up). While Alba recovered in the hospital, the doctors informed Jane’s mother, Xiomara (Andrea Navedo), about medical repatriation:

Your mother is in the country illegally. She doesn’t have insurance and the hospital can’t afford to absorb the cost of her care. We will have to notify I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and they will deport her to Venezuela where she can continue to receive care if he needs it.

Xiomara, not to mention most of Jane‘s viewers, was stunned by this revelation. Then, this happened:

Jane_The_Virgin_Immigration

Source: janegifs.tumblr.com

Jane the Virgin made a bold statement about #ImmigrationReform by bringing the policy to harsh light, even when seen through the show’s playful onscreen text. Jane the Virgin‘s own Diane Guerrero herself revealed in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that her parents were deported to Columbia when she was 14 years old. By using the plight of the sympathetic Villanueva family, the series brought compassion to an important issue.

— — —

January welcomed the return of Girls and Looking, two high-profile, low-rated HBO comedies.

On Girls, Andrew Rannells’ Elijah continues to steal the entire damn show. Rannells was promoted to series regular for this season and the show has used his snark in strategic, yet mightily effective ways, as a breath of fresh, salty air to cut through all the self-pitying of Hannah and her crew. Rannells also demonstrated his biting wit and wicked sense of humor on an interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers, an interview so hilarious, I watched it twice in a row. (Watch parts one and two NOW.)

Andrew_Rannells_LNSM

Source: latenightseth.tumblr.com

Regarding Looking, I am firmly on #TeamRitchie (the beautifully grounded Raul Castillo), though Kevin (Russell Tovey) does have that unmistakable charm and that damn British accent. In the episode “Looking for Results,” Kevin and Patrick (Jonathan Groff) spend time getting to know each other intimately, outside of their affair, and share potentially embarrassing stories of their childhood crushes.

I read many episodic television reviews to enhance my viewing experience. In particular, I love Brandon Norwalk’s Looking reviews at The A.V. Club that situate the series within the larger gay experience. His thoughts on Kevin and Patrick’s date conversations, formative childhood stories as shared gay conversation, really spoke to me:

The episode is deeply rooted in history, particularly this universal gay formative experience of knowing you have to keep a secret before you even understand what it is. Gay people start out alone in a way. They start out apart from community.

— — —

Here’s an SAT analogy for you:
Parks and Recreation : “Ron and Leslie” :: Mad Men : “The Suitcase”

In its flash-forward farewell season, Parks and Recreation slammed us with the falling-out of its two powerhouses, as the ever-optimistic liberal Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and staunch libertarian Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) fought over the development of Pawnee land. The struggle between the two titans climaxed in “Ron and Leslie,” a bottle episode that rivaled Mad Men’s stand-out episode, “The Suitcase.”

In “The Suitcase,” while barreling through a single night of stubbornness, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) shared a profound intimacy and worked out rooted issues that were keeping them apart both professionally and personally. In “Ron and Leslie,” while barreling through a single night of stubbornness, Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope shared a profound intimacy and worked out rooted issues that were keeping them apart both professionally and personally.

Parks_and_Rec_Ron_and_Leslie

Source: thatstupidache.tumblr.com

From Leslie’s first interview for the parks department, to the admission that Ron left the parks department because he missed his friends, to the fact that Ron openly admitted that he would take a job in national government to be with said friends again, their personal confessions spoke volumes about their journey together. The epic reconciliation of Ron and Leslie reached the heart-swelling emotional heights of Leslie and Ben Wyatt’s (Adam Scott) wedding and Andy (Chris Pratt) and April’s (Aubrey Plaza) wedding. With truly resonant emotional stakes and a deep-seated respect for each other, Ron and Leslie’s friendship is a love story of the ages. I just know I’ll be out of tears by the time this show wraps up in less than a month.

In the episode, “Treat Yo Self 2017,” Donna Meagle (Retta) and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) revived their infamous tradition of pampering one’s self and took it all the way to Beverly Hills. Not only did the two witness Josh Groban ordering a roll of own sushi, but they also shared a heart-to-heart about Tom’s love life. I tweeted Donna’s sincere advice, which unsurprisingly resonated with fans all over the internet.

When Parks and Recreation leaves the airwaves, the warm and fuzzies will live on in the generous fan community. Waffles for everyone!

— — —

Saturday Night Live is enjoying a particularly robust season, with the additions of Weekend Update co-anchor Michael Che, resident Young Person Pete Davidson, and soon-to-be-Ghostbuster Leslie Jones. After last season’s too-bloated-to-function cast, this year’s cast members have found a steady comedy groove, with stronger sketch comedy and less reliance on pop culture. Alas, if only the WU team of Che and Head Writer Colin Jost clicked.

J.K. Simmons failed to make an impression as a host despite being a strong actor, with the show most likely focusing all its attention on its upcoming star-studded 40th Anniversary Special. While Blake Shelton couldn’t break out of his country persona, rendering him an inept and inert host, Kevin Hart’s fully committed and manic energy made him quite an impressive host his second time around.

I dare you to not be charmed by Kevin Hart in this frenzied “Listening Party” sketch.

— — —

And in other shows…

Shondaland reopened its gates and How to Get Away with Murder attempted to steal the spotlight from buzzy newcomer Empire. Unfortunately, the return of the Viola Davis Show was nothing more than a glorified recap episode. Yes, the HTGAWM winter finale happened nine weeks ago, but did we really have to relive every bloody moment? And least the spinning cheerleader was gone.

American Idol also returned to little fanfare, with last year’s judging panel of Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick, Jr., and Keith Urban left intact. Thankfully, my prayers have finally been answered: Randy “The Dawg” Jackson has left the fading juggernaut once and for all.

And last, but certainly not least, The Flash heralded in the first-ever openly gay supervillain in Andy Mientus’ Pied Piper and boy was his introduction a doozy.

The_Flash_Pied_Piper_1

The_Flash_Pied_Piper_2

Source: lrisallens.tumblr.com

The Naughty and Nice of 2014 TV

Welcome to my fourth annual Naughty and Nice of TV list!

This year, I wanted to focus on the TV characters themselves. To borrow from Into the Woods, characters on the Nice List aren’t necessarily “good.” Likewise, characters on the Naughty list aren’t “evil.” Who are the characters that grabbed my attention and made me what to root for them? As I’ve often said on my love of television: characters are key. Make me care for the people I’m spending time with, and you’ve got me hooked.

And just for the hell of it, here are my favorite episodes of 2014 television: “Beach House” (Girls), “So Did the Fat Lady” (Louie), “Cooperative Polygraphy” (Community), “Looking for the Future” (Looking), and “The Strategy” (Mad Men). My previous Naughty and Nice Lists can be found here: 2013, 2012, 2011

Here are the TV Characters on the Nice and Naughty Lists, presented in their show’s respective alphabetical order:

— — —

TV Characters on my Nice List

Big Brother – Zach Rance

The 16th season of Big Brother was an underwhelming strategic bust, thanks to Derrick Levasseur dominating the game with his Bomb Squad and Detonators alliances. Thankfully, we had the bright ball of charisma that was Zach Rance to keep us entertained. The self-proclaimed “Zach Attack” was new type of reality TV character: the lovable bro. He was by no means the sharpest player, but his heart-on-his-sleeve attitude won over the hearts of millions. Zach Attack was a never-ending fount of emotion, ranging from bitter outbursts to tender cuddling. His bro/showmance with Frankie Grande (dubbed “Zankie”) was the fodder of YouTubeTumblr, and Twitter users everywhere. Big Brother took a commendable progressive step by showing such a strong bond between a straight guy and a gay guy, while not playing into any homophobia.

Zach_Attack

Source: bigbrotherz.tumblr.com

BoJack Horseman – BoJack Horseman

Little did we know that when we first entered the surreal animated world of BoJack Horseman, on the surface a pointed satire of Hollywood celebrity, that we would come out the other end of its first season having saw a sobering examination of anxiety depression. Voiced by Will Arnett, BoJack was a washed-up 90s sitcom star and a tortured soul who diagnosed his childhood hangups in an endless sea of booze and partying. We all want to be loved and accepted, man. Buried underneath the animal puns and the celebrity cameos lies a surprisingly deep and twisted heart submerged in a profound well of pathos. And the reveal that Andrew Garfield loves lasagna and hates Mondays.

BoJack_Horseman

Source: dewogong.tumblr.com

Enlisted – The Hill Brothers

Oh, my dear, sweet Enlisted. You were taken from us way too soon. This little comedic gem followed Sgt. Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) who was reassigned to a rear detachment unit that was home to his younger brothers Randy Hill (the ever-hilarious Parker Young) and Derrick Hill (Chris Lowell at his snarkiest). Enlisted hit the perfect sweet spot of hilarity and heartwarming, from the silliness of Randy sobbing while describing the plot of Toy Story 3, to the poignancy of Pete stepping into a solider support group for the first time to seek help for his post-traumatic stress. The pilot episode introduces “hands on heads” as how the Hill brothers say “I love you.” This simple, loving gesture perfectly encapsulates the empathetic nature of Enlisted. No one is alone.
Source: nalle.tumblr.com

Source: nalle.tumblr.com

Fargo – Molly Solverson

Fargo is my favorite series of 2014. Watching such intriguingly off-kilter characters amidst a fantastically rich landscape filled me with glee. Fargo was blessed with brilliant performances from its all-star ensemble of Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Key and Peele, Kate Walsh, and more, but one performance stood head and shoulders above the rest. Allison Tolman made the most out of the very definition of a breakout role, as her complex performance of Molly Solverson became the shining beacon of hope in an otherwise frigid world. Molly’s quiet confidence and doggedness proved to be perfect antidote to the well-worn hyper-masculinity of anti-hero dramas. Witty, smart, charming, and vulnerable, Molly took the reigns of Fargo and made the show hers, one decent action at a time.
Molly_Solverson

Source: fxfargo.tumblr.com

The Flash – Barry Allen

The Flash revels in the optimism of superherodom, anchored by Barry Allen’s determination for doing the right thing and actor Grant Gustin’s charisma. From my earlier article, The Best New Shows on TV: Jane the VirginThe Flash, I wrote about what makes Gustin’s performance so refreshing: “Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is as charming as all get out. His fresh-faced earnestness makes lines like, ‘Lightning gave me abs?!’ and ‘My chest feels like that one time I had a cigarette. Yeah, teen me lived for danger’ absolutely work in his favor. Gustin nails not only Barry’s easy-going nerd charisma, but he also brings a necessary depth to the role. Barry’s capacity for empathy is deep and you can see the passion and heartbreak in Gustin’s eyes.”
Source: felicitytech.tumblr.com

Source: felicitytech.tumblr.com

Jane the Virgin – Jane Villaneuva

Gina Rodriguez and Jane the Virgin became the first-ever Golden Globe nominees for The CW Network and deservedly so. This wonderfully warm telenovela-inspired concoction was the biggest surprise of the fall season. In my article about Jane the Virgin, I wrote: “The throughly charming Gina Rodriguez leads the cast as Jane Villanueva. Reveling in a star-making turn, Rodriguez provides the nuanced emotional center of honesty and warmth. We feel for her. We laugh with her. We cheer for her. Her earnestness is instantly endearing. Yet at the same time, the Latin Lover Narrator notes, ‘Jane was a virgin, but not a saint.’ She’s flawed. She’s judgmental. She’s judgmental of her flaws.” Jane Villaneuva welcomes us into her world with open arms.
Source: linhcinderella.tumblr.com

Source: linhcinderella.tumblr.com

The Legend of Korra – Korrasami

It is a damn shame that Nickelodeon pulled The Legend of Korra off the airwaves halfway through season three this past summer, airing the final season and a half exclusively online, as the last two seasons were quietly groundbreaking. Korra was an exemplary display of feminism, highlighting both the badass strength of its female ensemble, as well as their flaws and vulnerabilities.

The show gave these characters the freedom to explore their wants and needs through nuanced character development. Women rose to power, women wielded power, and women abused power. The striking journey of Avatar Korra demonstrated the difficult, necessary, and lonely road to recovery. However, she ultimately wasn’t alone. Korra ends the series with her close friend, Asami, by her side. Once rivals fighting over the same boy, Korra and Asami developed a deep friendship over the years, using each other as supportive confidants.

Now we’ll get into spoilers… By the third episode of season three, I had picked up on Korra and Asami’s friendship, and tweeted: “I’m especially enjoying the deepening relationship between Korra and Asami. Not everything’s about boys.” and I was aware of the fervent Korra online fanbase shipping Korra and Asami (“Korrasami”), having followed a couple Korra tumblrs myself. I was not ready for the last minutes of The Legend of Korra series finale, however, when the two women travelled to the Spirit World together, eyes and hands locked. I gasped as I watched those closing moments, with my hands over my face. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Were Korra and Asami ending up together?

Indeed, it was real. Korra co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino revealed post-finale, that indeed the two women ended up together. I’ll let Konietzko explain why this relationship carries so much power and importance (excerpted from his Tumblr post “Korassami is canon“):

“Just because two characters of the same sex appear in the same story, it should not preclude the possibility of a romance between them. No, not everyone is queer, but the other side of that coin is that not everyone is straight. The more Korra and Asami’s relationship progressed, the more the idea of a romance between them organically blossomed for us… But as we got close to finishing the finale, the thought struck me: How do I know we can’t openly depict that? No one ever explicitly said so. It was just another assumption based on a paradigm that marginalizes non-heterosexual people. If we want to see that paradigm evolve, we need to take a stand against it.”

This is progress.

Source: magnificent-vennificus.tumblr.com

Source: magnificent-vennificus.tumblr.com

Orange is the New Black – Rosa Cisneros

In its second season, Orange is the New Black broadened its canvas, expanded its world, and showed a deft confidence in both the cast and writers. By shifting the central narrative away from Piper Chapman, the show’s lesser characters like Black Cindy and Gloria were given time to shine. Through this season’s flashbacks, we learned that not all the women in Litchfield simply made bad decisions, but that some were actually criminals. This was the case with Rosa Cisneros, played beautifully by Barbara Rosenblat. In OITNB‘s first season, Rosa barely made an impression, but her season two quest to find any remaining vestiges of life’s thrilling joy made a profound and powerful impact. The fact that Orange is the New Black showcased such a moving story for a seemingly minor character displays the show’s limitless respect for telling the stories that aren’t always told.

Source: ayeshunx.tumblr.com

Source: ayeshunx.tumblr.com

Silicon Valley – Peter Gregory

The late and very great Christopher Evan Welch gave us a gift with his peculiar and precise portrayal as the eccentric and enigmatic billionaire, Peter Gregory. The scenes in “Articles of Incorporation” in which Welch delivers a speech on the business machinations of Burger King are nothing short of remarkable.
Source: adultum.tumblr.com

Source: adultum.tumblr.com

Survivor – Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson, winner of Survivor: San Juan del Sur, was, in the words of a fellow contestant, “basically a badass.” She was socially savvy, physically strong, and brutally honest. As two-time veterans of The Amazing Race, Natalie and her twin sister Nadiya, entered the season with huge targets on their backs. Nadiya was the first elimination of the game, which stoked Natalie with a passionate fire for vengeance which she fueled brilliantly into her social game. It bears repeating that in a season of Survivor that featured pairs of loved ones (husband and wife, mother and daughter, boyfriends, etc.), a pair of identical siblings bookmarked the game. One Twinnie was voted out first, while the other Twinnie won the whole freakin’ game. This feat shows that Survivor is not only a game of strategy, but also a game of luck and circumstance.

Source: herasyed.tumblr.com

Source: herasyed.tumblr.com

TV Characters on my Naughty List

American Horror Story: Freak Show – Elsa Mars
Yet another power-hungry Jessica Lange matriarch desperately striving to assert her authority in a world where youth and beauty threaten to destroy everything dear to her? Yawn.
 
Downton Abbey – Lady Mary’s male suitors
I honestly could not tell these men apart from each other, nor did the show make me care to distinguish them. I commend Downton Abbey for handling Lady Mary’s grieving process with care, but saddling her with tired flirtations was a bore to watch. Downton Abbey is just more of the same every year.

How to Get Away with Murder – Everyone who isn’t Viola Davis or Jack Falahee
Yes, HTGAWM is progressive in its portrayal of a strong, black female who is given powerful moments of vulnerability and its portrayal of a gay character who is allowed to be as sexual, if not more so, than his straight co-stars. Unfortunately, every other character in this show is a lame, underwritten snooze.

Orange is the New Black – Larry Bloom
For a show bursting to the brim with many vibrant characters, why does Orange is the New Black feel the need to keep coming back to the trials and tribulations of Larry (Jason Biggs)? Yes, he started the series as Piper’s fiancé, but we have traveled down so many more interesting paths since then. Time spent with Larry is time taken away from the richness that is Litchfield.

— — —

But let’s not end on such a downer note, shall we? Let’s end with this Nice unaired Saturday Night Live short, which perfectly skewered 90s family sitcoms, through the “very special episode” trope, chicken wings, and Andrew Garfield’s midriff.

Saturday Night Live – Wing

The Best New Shows on TV: Jane the Virgin & The Flash

In a rough television season that has seen few standouts, the two bright diamonds of Jane the Virgin and The Flash are ripe for your discovery. With thoroughly winning casts and confident storytelling, both series burst out of the gate with superb pilots and are only getting better each week. They know exactly the stories they want to tell, exactly how they want to tell them, and exactly how to get us invested in their characters.

Without fail, Jane the Virgin and The Flash deliver entertaining television that puts a dopey smile on my face, makes me laugh, brings tears to my eyes, and leaves me giddy and wanting more. Thankfully, there will be more, as both Jane the Virgin and The Flash have been given full season orders.

Jane_the_Virgin_Gina

Source: talesofnorth.tumblr.com

Loosely adapted from the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, Jane the Virgin tells the story of, well, Jane, the virgin, and is unlike anything else on television at the moment. Picture the delightful whimsy of Pushing Daisies wrapped up in the heightened emotion and gasp-inducing moments of Ugly Betty.

Our heroine, who is saving herself for marriage to her fiancé, is accidentally inseminated during a routine gynecologist visit. Whoops! The biological father is a wealthy hotel manager and reformed playboy trapped in a loveless marriage, whose sister just happens to be the doctor who caused the mixup in the first place. Whoops! And did I mention that Jane and Rafael once kissed five years ago? Whoops! And that Jane now works for Rafael’s hotel? Whoops! Throw in the secret identity of Jane’s own biological father, love triangles galore, and an abuela who speaks almost entirely in Spanish, and you have the daring tightrope act that is Jane the Virgin.

Jane_the_Virgin_Stepmom

Source: booasaur.tumblr.com

Jane the Virgin fully embraces its telenovela roots and while its over-the-top premise might read as too convoluted by half on paper, it comes to vivid life on television. How does it carry out this delicate balance? This show is having so much FUN!

From the opening moments, the show sets you in its carefully constructed, yet absurdly surreal, world, complete with cheeky on-screen text, playfully revealing dream sequences, and an omniscient narrator billed in the closed captioning as the “Latin Lover Narrator.” Take the typically banal “Previously On” segments at the top of each episode. After breathlessly describing all the plot twists and storyline turns, the narrator remarks with a wink in his voice,”If it sounds like it is coming out of a telenovela; it is!” Jane the Virgin knows it is a television show and plays around with these rules, giving homage to the telenovela, while simultaneously gleefully poking and prodding its conventions. And yet it comes off as completely earnest.

Even as Jane the Virgin zooms through storylines left and right, the show is always in control. Thanks to deft storytelling, these beats are driven solely by character motivations and emotions that actually make sense. As wild as it all may seem, a sincere emotional reality grounds the series. Without that confidence in its intricately layered characters, the show would be all superficial gloss. Thankfully, the show takes its characters (and their wants, their hopes, and their fears) very seriously.

The throughly charming Gina Rodriguez leads the cast as Jane Villanueva. Reveling in a star-making turn, Rodriguez provides the nuanced emotional center of honesty and warmth. We feel for her. We laugh with her. We cheer for her. Her earnestness is instantly endearing. Yet at the same time, the Latin Lover Narrator notes, “Jane was a virgin, but not a saint.” She’s flawed. She’s judgmental. She’s judgmental of her flaws.

Surrounding Jane is a diverse and appealing cast, from her telenovela-loving abuela (a wise-cracking, Spanish-speaking Ivonne Coll), to her mother with dreams of her own (the lively Andrea Navedo), to the conniving hotelier’s wife you love to hate (Yael Groblas). With so many characters who we genuinely care about, it’s hard not to fall under Jane the Virgin‘s enchanting spell.

The_Flash_theater

Source: elliottgilbert.tumblr.com

The Flash is simply thrilling television. This isn’t the sullen superhero fare that wallows in the grime of humanity, but rather, as the title would suggest, it’s a dynamic and energetic treat. To be sure, the usual superhero origin melodrama is still in play in Barry Allen’s tragic backstory (as a child, a mysterious force kills his mother, while his father is falsely convicted for her murder and is sent to jail), but the comic book storytelling touch is much lighter. It’s downright refreshing to watch a superhero show that celebrates the super as well as the hero.

The Flash comes to us fully formed, as executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg have an immediate grasp of the tone of the show. Like Jane the VirginThe Flash is just having so much FUN and both shows illustrate how to get a kick out of archetypes while taking the characters and their problems seriously.

From the witty and vibrant color palette and design elements, to the witty and vibrant banter between the characters, this show never stops moving. The impressively eye-popping special effects are entertaining. There are always concerns that without a blockbuster budget, television effects can come across as cheesy, but this thankfully isn’t the case here. To that end, the cleverly interpreted comic book villains are genuinely fun as well, from Multiplex, who can create life-size clones, to Captain Cold, a criminal with a deadly cold blast gun.

Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is as charming as all get out. His fresh-faced earnestness makes lines like, “Lightning gave me abs?!” and “My chest feels like that one time I had a cigarette. Yeah, teen me lived for danger” absolutely work in his favor. Gustin nails not only Barry’s easy-going nerd charisma, but he also brings a necessary depth to the role. Barry’s capacity for empathy is deep and you can see the passion and heartbreak in Gustin’s eyes.

Much of the emotional heft of the show comes from the strong dueling father figures in Barry’s life: Tom Cavanagh as the brilliant and enigmatic Harrison Wells and Jesse L. Martin as the protective detective Joe West. These two actors bring a welcomed sense of gravity, as they mentor and guide Barry through his new life. Granted, not everything on the series is operating at top speed yet. Any storyline involving Barry’s unrequited love interest, Iris West (played by Candice Patton), is a dull detour and slows the show to a crawl.

Still, the world of The Flash is a world of breakneck enthusiasm. In the current television landscape, shining optimism is becoming a rare commodity. Let’s celebrate it where we can.

The_Flash_Cool

Source: the-scientist-and-the-arrow.tumblr.com

Emmys 2014: Déjà vu all over again

The 66th Primetime Emmy Awards hosted by Seth Meyers took place this past Monday night, but you wouldn’t be blamed for having a strange feeling that the only difference from past ceremonies was not airing on its usual Sunday.

Source: giphy.com

Can’t shake off that feeling of déjà vu? Don’t worry, it’s not you; it’s just the Emmys. Here are the staggering stats for this year’s acting winners:

  • Ty Burrell – Supporting Actor in a Comedy, Modern Family
    • 2nd win, 5th consecutive nomination
  • Allison Janney – Supporting Actress in a Comedy, Mom
    • 6th win, 2 wins this year, 8th nomination
  • Jim Parsons – Lead Actor in a Comedy, Big Bang Theory
    • 4th win, 7th nomination (2 noms this year)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Lead Actress in a Comedy, Veep
    • 3rd consecutive win, 5th career Emmy, 18th nomination
  • Kathy Bates – Supporting Actress in Miniseries/Movie, American Horror Story: Coven
    • 2nd win, 11th nomination
  • Martin Freeman – Supporting Actor in Miniseries/Movie, Sherlock: His Last Vow
    • 1st win, 3rd nomination (2 noms this year)
  • Jessica Lange – Lead Actress in Miniseries/Movie, American Horror Story: Coven
    • 3rd win, 6th nomination
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Lead Actor in Miniseries/Movie, Sherlock: His Last Vow
    • 1st win, 3rd nomination
  • Aaron Paul – Supporting Actor in a Drama, Breaking Bad
    • 3rd win, 5th nomination
  • Anna Gunn – Supporting Actress in a Drama, Breaking Bad
    • 2nd consecutive win, 3rd nomination
  • Julianna Margulies – Lead Actress in a Drama, The Good Wife
    • 3rd win, 10th nomination
  • Bryan Cranston – Lead Actor in a Drama, Breaking Bad
    • 5th win, 12th nomination
Emmys_2014_Bryan_Cranston

Source: giphy.com

Did you catch that? In series acting, every single winner had won an Emmy before. There were only two first-time Emmy winners in Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

Now let’s look at the series winners:

  • The Amazing Race – Outstanding Reality-Competition Series
    • 10th win, 11th nomination [UGHHHHHHHHHH]
  • Fargo – Outstanding Miniseries
    • 1st win, 1st nomination [YAY!]
  • The Colbert Report – Outstanding Variety Series
    • 2nd consecutive and last win, 9th nomination
  • Modern Family – Outstanding Comedy Series
    • 5th consecutive win, 5th nomination [UGHHHHHHHHHH]
  • Breaking Bad – Outstanding Drama Series
    • 2nd consecutive win, 5th nomination [YAY!]

This is not to put down any of the impressive talents of this year’s winners, as there are certainly well-deserved winners in this bunch (well, not you, The Amazing Race). The Emmy voters are broken, sticking with familiar nominees in a brazenly predictable fashion. This voting pattern becomes increasingly frustrating year after year, especially when there are dynamic fresh faces nominated or overlooked perennial nominees. But why do we collectively groan at Jim Parson’s or Ty Burrell and Modern Family‘s wins, but cheer wildly for the wins of Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bryan Cranston, and Breaking Bad? There’s a perceived difference here between voting complacency and voting for excellence.

In its first season, Modern Family was an excellent series, but five years later, it is simply an OK one. Its wins are simply passé and uninspired, surpassed by Veep‘s sharpness and Orange is the New Black‘s audacity. There are clearly more vibrantand funnyseries elsewhere. Breaking Bad, however, is in the pantheon of all-time greatest television shows. As the show progressed, it just kept getting better. Last season’s gut-wrenching “Ozymandias” was one of Breaking Bad‘s, if not television’s, finest hours. It rightfully won Moira Walley-Beckett an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series and was the submission episode for both Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston. No one will argue that the Breaking Bad actors were undeserving of an Emmy trophy.

Source: giphy.com

Other Emmys thoughts:

  • Allison Tolman was ROBBED! Seriously and utterly robbed. Tolman was the beating heart within the dark, twisted soul of FX’s Fargo. While not as showy as her fellow scenery-chewing nominees or even Fargo costars, her steadfast and star-making turn as the cool and collected Molly Solverson was such a joy to watch. Damn you, Kathy Bates’ racist severed head!
  • Thank GOD Fargo won Outstanding Miniseries. It was one of my favorite scripted series of the year. Intriguingly off-kilter characters amidst a fantastically rich landscape. It’s a darned shame that series creator Noah Hawley didn’t win for Outstanding Writing.
  • Kudos to Louis C.K. for winning for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the Louie episode, “So Did the Fat Lady.” Even more kudos to Louis C.K. for immediately thanking actress Sarah Baker for owning those words.
  • Seth Meyers was a fine, if not memorable, host. I am a huge Seth Meyers fan, but this material wasn’t the sharpest. However, he did excel when riffing off his SNL friend or celebrity audience members who were game for participation.

    Source: giphy.com

  • Sorry HBO, looks like your decision to move True Detective out of Movie/Miniseries and into Drama Series backfired spectacularly. HBO logic followed that by submitting True Detective as a Drama series, The Normal Heart would be able to reap all the Emmy bounty in the Movie/Miniseries category. Unfortunately for HBO, not only did Matthew McConaughey lose the Emmy, but so did every single nominated actor from The Normal Heart: Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer, Joe Mantello, Alfred Molina, Mark Ruffalo, and Julia Roberts. Whoops!
  • No to Weird Al parodies.
  • No to Sofia Vergara objectification.
  • Yes to Billy Crystal tributes: “Robin Williams: What a concept.”
  • Jon Hamm will probably never win an Emmy for Mad Men.
  • Amy Poehler will probably never win an Emmy for Parks and Recreation.
  • If the groundbreaking Orange is the New Black couldn’t stop the Modern Family juggernaut, what can?
  • Billy Eichner and Billy on the Street will always be a goddamned delight.

The Veronica Mars Movie: The Ultimate Fan Service

Without the fans, there would be no Veronica Mars movie. In an act that will go down in history books, the film came into existence through the sheer enthusiasm and financial fortitude of the fans. The 2012 Kickstarter campaign raised $5.7 million dollars, whose backers ranged from the mildly curious wanting to participate in the site’s highest-profile campaign, to the most rabid die-hard fans shelling out thousands to appear as a background extra. I didn’t contribute to the campaign myself, as I hadn’t yet fallen prey to the show’s charms. I only arrived at the series a little over a month ago, binge-watching seasons one, two, and three in preparation for the film’s release, the climax to my full-throttle Veronica Mars experience. While I enjoyed the film immensely, at times I felt like the straight-up “fan service” diluted the film’s potential.

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As an extremely recent binge-watcher of Veronica Mars, I was a bit torn in my appreciation of the film. On one hand, the movie was tailor-made for me. With the series fresh in my head, I got every winking reference and was in on every joke. Do casual fans remember that the murdered girlfriend was originally played by Leighton Meester? On the other hand, I had only watched season three’s untidy, yet wholly necessary, ending mere days before. If I had some emotional distance from the series, would I have geeked-out more seeing the characters all grown up? Do these questions even matter?

As the old adage goes, it serves an artist better to give an audience what it needs, rather than what it wants. And boy, did the Veronica Mars movie cater to the fans. It was “fan service” to the nth degree. Series creator and film director Rob Thomas had stated, “partly because [the film] is crowd-sourced, I’m going with the ‘give the people what they want’ version… ‘Let’s not piss people off who all donated. Let’s give them the stuff that I think that they want in the movie.”

As a result of this approach, the movie bent over backwards to make sure every beloved character got their due (next time, Duncan), instead of giving us a truly meaty mystery. The Carrie Bishop murder, while a smart device to bring the action back to Neptune, never quite took off, thanks to all the detours down memory lane. It was standard Veronica Mars mystery fare and the climax between Veronica and Martin Starr (he’s the guest star, so of course he did it) was stale and uninspired (really, a basement showdown?!).

The film’s emotional life, much to its detriment, was too focused on all things Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell). Rob Thomas decided that what the fans wanted was more LoVe and was determined to spoon-feed us the image of a rehabilitated Logan, down to the pandering shot of him in his too-large Navy uniform. While the sight certainly took the air out of Veronica, it was a touch too blunt. Watching the film eschew all the other dynamic characters in favor of this now-clichéd LoVe story was disappointing. When the fans are the major stakeholders, the film is expected to deliver what they want. But the fans aren’t the authors of this art. The story needed different stakes. Pleasing the fans simply removes all possible surprises. We need to be surprised. It’s healthy, creative, and necessary.

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Granted, there wouldn’t be a Veronica Mars movie if Veronica continued her New York City life with the upstanding Piz (Chris Lowell). Poor, poor Piz. He’ll always have his unbelievably rock star job at This American Life. (Hold on. Am I #TeamPiz because I find everything about him utterly relatable? AM I PIZ? Don’t answer that …this Zimbio quiz already did for me.) Veronica’s emotional decisions, however, seemed more in line with her teenage headspace, than her at 28. Veronica’s father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni, the emotional bedrock of Veronica Mars), was sidelined after his shocker of a car crash, making it clear that the film wasn’t interested in his protestations to leave the bad boy be. Still, Veronica’s character arc of abandoning her burgeoning lawyer career in favor of the alluring and inescapable past in Neptune was strong, addiction metaphor be damned (sorry, Veronica’s addict mom). This pointed character examination elevated the scope of the movie and made it more than just a super-sized episode of television.

At times, the Veronica Mars movie positioned itself as a set-up of things to come, focusing on building the world of Neptune, instead of spending time in the now. I was more intrigued by the film’s B-story, which centered around Weevil (Francis Capra) and Neptune’s corrupt police force, led by the new Sheriff Lamb (Jerry O’Connell). This storyline of police misconduct entwined with racial divides and gentrification stayed truer to the show’s core of smart explorations of social inequity. “When the class war comes, Neptune will be ground zero,” Veronica laments at the top of the film. It’s too bad there wasn’t enough time to dive deeper into these vast class issues.

All of this isn’t to say I didn’t like the film; far from it. I loved the entire engaging experience from start to finish. I squealed with giddiness when Veronica verbally cut Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) and queen-bee Madison Sinclair down to size. My heart sang with the joy during Veronica’s reunion with bffs Mac (Tina Marjorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III). The acting was as sharp as ever, especially with Kristen Bell, whose maturity in the years following the series has only deepened her emotional well.

While I did feel the claustrophobic budget restraints on occasion, the look of the film really popped on the big screen. The visual language stayed true to its noir roots, with dark alleys starkly contrasting with the warm California sun. Oh, and hey there, product placement! Shout-out to Samsung, Pepsi, and Bud Light! Major props must also be given to the film’s rich soundtrack, a highlight of the original series. Sufjan Stevens’ swelling “Chicago,” which underscored Logan and Veronica’s evening escapade, gliding over a sparkling bridge in a sleek convertible, was a perfect, emotionally resonant moment that sincerely captured their epic relationship.

Coming off binge-watching the entire series, I saw the Veronica Mars movie more as a bonus feature and than a grand event, as it must have been for long-time fans. Suffice it to say, I want more Veronica Mars! Rob Thomas and company successfully delivered on Veronica’s transition into the trenches of adulthood. And now that all of the re-introductions are complete, I would love to see what awesomely gripping mysteries the franchise can take on with a mature Veronica at the helm. I have become profoundly invested in all of Neptune’s characters and I hope to see them onscreen again one day. In the meantime, the first book in Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars series is already downloaded to my Kindle. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, here I come!

Team Logan or Team Piz? My Veronica Mars Season Three Binge-Watch Finale

Ok. Let’s get down to… Pizness. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve fallen under the spell of Stosh Piznarski (Chris Lowell) and I can’t get up! In anticipation of the Veronica Mars movie in theaters, I have completed all three seasons of Rob Thomas’ series this past month. You can find my season one reactions here and my thoughts on season two here.

Based on what I’d heard on the Veronica Mars grapevine, I was bracing myself for an abysmal train-wreck. Fortunately, despite some tone-deaf missteps in its thematic storytelling (I’m looking at you, serial rapist arc), season three was a solidly entertaining and enthralling affair overall. It’s safe to say, that SPOILERS follow.

Let’s start by addressing the giant Echolls in the room. Because everything pop culture these days is Team This versus Team That (sorry, Team Deputy Leo), Veronica Mars fans pledge allegiance to either Team Logan or Team Piz. And what shirt will I be wearing to the Veronica Mars movie? #TeamPiz. I’ll be honest with you, going into the third season, I was expecting Piz to be a gigantic wet blanket of a character. Why else would the fandom so up in arms about him? But no, I quickly fell prey to Piz’s charms. He’s a good guy for sure, but he’s way more than a puppy-dog crush. He’s witty. He’s genuine. He has ambition. He defends what he believes in. He provides the stability that Logan (Jason Dohring) simply cannot. (Between Veronica Mars and Enlisted, I’ve had a great time watching the über-charming Chris Lowell this year. PLEASE WATCH ENLISTED, DAMMIT!)

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Logan is passionate as all hell, but his quick temper has caused more damage than good. Over the course of the season, LoVe disintegrated, not just once, but twice. His relationship with Veronica (Kristen Bell) was indeed as epic as he proclaimed it might have been the year prior, but it was unsustainable, unhealthy, and downright exhausting. In the third season, Logan lacked personal vendettas and true adversaries to fuel his fire (well, save Piz, Piz’s ribs, and Piz’s face). While in his relationship with Veronica, he only had his own inner demons to wrestle with. As a result, Logan became more reactionary and subdued, and that robbed him of his dynamic spontaneity. The trust issues that caused the schisms between him and Veronica happened off-screen (Logan’s trip to Mexico with Mercer, Logan sleeping with Madison Sinclair). This telling and not showing, a trait that has plagued the series before, lessened their impact. All told, I felt this wasn’t quite the same snappy Logan Echolls from the first two seasons.

In this third season, the ensemble really worked well together. The dynamics just clicked and it was an absolute joy to watch the core group gel as friends, while the outside world swirled around them. (Score one more point for Piz: Veronica’s friends actually liked him!) While storylines such as the Valentine’s scavenger hunt or Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and the gang hanging out at the beach to test out his airplane may have come off as slight, I thought they highlighted the fun of this group of characters. I enjoyed spending time with them. I enjoyed getting to know more about Mac’s (Tina Majorino) inner life and watching Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) confront his emotions and show vulnerability in the face of past tragedies. Veronica Mars really knows its history and Cassidy’s death resonated with these two characters well into their freshman year of college. By acknowledging their hang-ups, their respective character arcs for the season felt satisfying.

I liked the structure of the smaller mystery arcs at Hearst College, which allowed for more breathing room towards the end of the season for character development. But as for the mysteries themselves, the results were uneven. The first of the two mini-mysteries, the Hearst College serial rapist, was a less than successful arc. It was an all-too-quick introduction to college life that threw Veronica into the deep end. At Neptune High, she wasn’t at the top of the food chain, but Veronica knew the school’s machinations inside and out. Props to the series for tackling complicated gender issues head-on, but the players involved were painted with such broad strokes that their impact hardly resonated. We were presented with all-too familiar stereotypes of angry, self-righteous feminists and sexist, douchey fraternities, with nothing truly subversive under the surface. Still, the stakes could not become more higher than in “Spit & Eggs,” when Veronica defended herself from the rapist’s attack. The threat of violence never felt more real than it did in that episode.

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The mystery of Dean O’Dell’s death fared much better, particularly with Patrick Fabian’s excellent performance of the slick and calculating Professor Landry. His assistant, Tim, proved to be a great foil for Veronica. His character had more social standing than her, yet he possessed less detective acumen. Veronica’s deduction of Dean O’Dell’s killer was a delightfully delicious scene. No physical attacks or need for rescue in this climax, just plain ‘ol deductive reasoning. Brain trumps brawn. The other “case of the weeks” had a decidedly more mature tone (Ugandan child soldiers, abortions, prostitution), but were no less entertaining.

The series finale, “The Bitch is Back,” brings Veronica Mars unexpectedly full-circle to the Kane residence, with larger-than-life paintings of Lilly and Duncan Kane overlooking Veronica’s break-in. For the first time, we really see Veronica’s relationship with her father (Enrico Colantoni) put to the test. Keith makes an immeasurable sacrifice for his daughter and willingly tampers evidence of her jumping the fence. This act could jeopardize him winning the sheriff election. His demonstrated love for his daughter is so strong, but we aren’t privileged to a cathartic emotional release, as we did when Keith rescued Veronica from Aaron Echolls or when the two were reunited after Veronica believed him to be dead in Woody’s plane crash. We’re just left with a knowing conversation over breakfast.

Frustratingly, so much is left up in the air in these final moments. Does Logan win Veronica back? Does Keith win the election? This unsatisfying resolution was, in fact, intentional. Creator Rob Thomas told The New York Times, that this lack of closure was his way of sticking it to the network: “My view was, ‘No, I don’t want to make it easy for you to cancel us.'” I understand now why fans were clamoring for a Veronica Mars revival. There was so much potential left in these characters’ stories and so much unfinished business.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to wait for almost seven long years to revisit the awesome world of Neptune. I just need to get myself to a movie theater stat, #TeamPiz shirt in tow.

The Binge-Watch Continues: Veronica Mars Season Two

In preparation of the Veronica Mars film release in theaters on March 15th, I have been binge-watching the series from the beginning, with great gusto. My thoughts as a VM newbie on the excellent season one can be found here. My reaction to season two are as follows. SPOILER ALERT, you marshmallows!

Any successful television series manages a fair amount of world-building in its second year. In the first season, Veronica Mars concerned itself mainly with the Lilly Kane murder and Veronica Mars’ (Kristen Bell) rape, with “case of the weeks” linked thematically to the issues of parenting. In the second season, we not only continued with the Aaron Echolls murder trial, but the season-long mystery of the bus crash brought several seemingly disparate plot threads into the show’s orbit; from Felix’s murder, to the rivalry between the PCHers and the Fitzpatricks, to Mayor Woody (Steve Gutenberg, who had all the signs of the bus crash killer, thanks to Gutenberg fitting the Harry Hamlin guest star role), to Kendall Casablancas (the commanding Charisma Carpenter). With social inequities pushed to the forefront*, the magnitude of the show’s world-building became quite remarkable.

* Special acknowledgment goes to my hometown of Palo Alto. Aside from Veronica Mars’ desire to attend Stanford University, I was quite taken aback to see Palo Alto be used as a cautionary tale for Neptune’s impending incorporation vote. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer…

What has impressed me the most about the first two seasons of Veronica Mars is just how much plot the show is able to wrap up within the final episode and still have the breathing room to provide emotional catharsis. It’s not an easy feat, but the show has stuck the landing each time.

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I’ll admit it, Veronica Mars had me fooled again. As with Aaron Echolls last season, I did not see Beaver “My Name Is Cassidy” Casablancas* as the one who orchestrated the bus crash. Throughout the season, Kyle Galliner’s performance as the neglected and bullied little brother was extremely effective in gaining my sympathies. I rooted for Beaver’s small successes, including letting out a squeal of delight when he and Mac held hands in public at the Winter Carnival (which looking back, ick. Kudos, too, to Tina Majorino’s great performance). This solid groundwork made Beaver’s shocking turn from pathetic punching bag to ruthless mass murderer all the more impressive. The reveal that Beaver did, in fact, rape Veronica was an especially brutal moment.

* I didn’t get the names of the Casablancas brothers, Dick and Beaver, until halfway through the season. I was a prude in high school; sue me.

This season was filled with intricacies that wove a deep history of Neptune and its inhabitants. The fallout from the Lilly Kane murder held a surprising command over the year, culminating in the not guilty verdict of Aaron Echolls. Not only was that outcome a massive blow to the gut, it was completely sobering. As the audience, by default, we’re almost always predisposed to be on Veronica’s side. The show is titled Veronica Mars, after all. We are privy to her awesome detective skills. We are sympathetic to her schemes and scramblings. But to an impartial jury? Veronica doesn’t look too hot; she’s just a nosy, troublemaking teenager. But as Veronica’s dad said, Aaron did indeed pay for his deeds. While a free Aaron Echolls may have been a more interesting dynamic than a dead one (especially with that chilling conversation with Veronica in the elevator), perhaps it’s for the best that the show tied up loose ends moving forward.

Ultimately though, the bus crash was more of a puzzle to be solved than anything else, rather than providing a emotional payoff. We didn’t really get to know the bus crash victims until Veronica became haunted by them towards the very end of the season in “I Am God.” The bus crash-related “case of the weeks” were held at more of a distance, clues to be observed rather than felt. While this was a thoroughly and meticulously plot-driven season, the emotional impacts weren’t quite as personal for Veronica as a ruthless social ostracizing, the murder of your best friend, or determining the identity of your rapist. Believing the bus crash was orchestrated to kill you does come close, but the personal stakes weren’t as deep.

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Veronica Mars also has a tendency to tell rather than show, which became a bit problematic this season, particularly with the character of Jackie Cook (Tessa Thompson). Early in the season, during the climactic homecoming dance, Jackie tears into Veronica for presumably wanting to be with both Duncan and Logan. But the next time we see Jackie, she is part of the Veronica and Wallace’ Fennel (Percy Daggs III) team, assisting in a caper to clear Wallace’s name. Where was the reconciliation? Why was it deemed unnecessary to leave that out of the narrative?

The show had difficulty managing Jackie’s character, but I found her to be the most compelling when she was set up as a mirror to season one Veronica; how the socially elite can become the socially outcast in a heartbeat. Teenagers are brutal, and watching Jackie attempt to stay strong during her father’s troubles was compelling. Somewhat surprisingly, I felt her emotional coming clean to Wallace to be one of the more moving parts of the finale. It came together nicely, though it was still transparent that she was being written off for not always clicking. The aftermath of Wallace’s father drama also fell apart at the seams, especially since we never saw his mother again until a cameo at graduation. Still, the reunion between Wallace and Veronica on New Year’s Eve was an emotional highlight of the season for me.

Meg Manning and Duncan Kane were also effectively dismissed, both of whom were more interesting in their departures than they ever were roaming the halls of Neptune High. I also found the Fitzpatricks to be bland baddies. Similar to the neo-Nazis in the final season of Breaking Bad, the Irish crime family had no distinguishing characteristics other than being despicable human beings. But kind of that’s the point, isn’t it? When you’ve enlisted their help, you get nothing but evil. The Fitzpatricks didn’t get what’s coming to them (at least this season), unlike Weevil (Frank Capra) who was arrested at his high school graduation for the murder of Thumper, but other characters, such as Abel Koontz, Deputy Leo, and Trina Echolls, were brought back for satisfying conclusions.

Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) coming to Veronica’s aid during her confrontation with Beaver was also gratifying. While nothing this season topped the epic Camelot motel kiss, I’m still invested in Team LoVe. Logan is a much more dynamic love interest than the snoozy Duncan, that’s for sure.

While the second season’s intricately-weaved narrative didn’t quite pack the emotional punch of the last, I still really enjoyed this twisty roller-coaster. With that said, based on commonly-held opinions of the Veronica Mars fandom, I’m cautiously guarded about the third season. But I am keeping an open mind about Piz and eagerly await him with open arms. Bring on the Piz, I say!

For my thoughts on Veronica Mars season three, click here.