LOST and Found: A Memory of Janelle

If we don’t live together, we’re going to die alone. — Jack Shephard, LOST

It was May 23, 2010.

I threw a LOST series finale party at my Berkeley apartment for eight or so of my friends.

We feasted on island-inspired pulled pork and had mangoes and pineapples for dessert. We drank Dharma chardonnay and ate Dharma fish biscuits I baked for the occasion. You know, from that time when Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were held captive in polar bear cages?

The point is, we went all out in celebration of one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

The DHARMA fish biscuits were tastier than they appeared.

*Light thematic LOST finale spoilers to follow, but come on, if you haven’t watched LOST by now, will you ever?*

We gathered in front the television, awaiting answers to its myriad mysteries. As the finale neared its end, the show revealed its existential beating heart. In essence, the castaways needed to find each other in order to move on. Over the course of six seasons, the journeys of these characters led them all to be in one place, together.

LOST is all about the people in our lives and it celebrates our shared experiences. While we can’t always control what happens to us, we have each other.

To be sure, the finale left questions unanswered. However, in the grand scheme of things, those details become insignificant. It was less about the secrets of the Easter eggs and literary references, and more about the truth in finding value in our loved ones.

What matters most, LOST emphasized, is the people we care for. It’s about the journey we take with them. It’s every life that has made an impact on ours. We carry these bonds with us to the end. The message becomes clear: it’s truly better to live together than to die alone.

In those last moments of the show, I thought about all the people with whom I shared my LOST viewing journey: from my mother, to my roommates, to my friends, to the podcasting community. I was instantly flooded with memories.

I was punched in the gut by an overwhelming cathartic wave and was left crumpled in tears, lying in the fetal position on the floor of my apartment.

Janelle Jovellanos was there right by my side. She took me into her loving embrace. For what could have been minutes, as the credits rolled, I sobbed in her arms.

We had gone down this path together, and here she was, one of the people I cared most about in this world, giving me the support I needed. She knew how much our shared journey meant to me. She was always there for me. She was always there for others.

Janelle, myself, and Jessica in a LOST-esque pose.

Cut to seven years later. May 5, 2017.

I’m sharing this story in a eulogy for Janelle with her close friends and family members.

I tell them that the woman who held me tightly as I wept in front of our friends was the most generous person I have ever met. I go on to share more about my best friend.

About how I first met Janelle in the spring of 2006, my freshman year at Cal, in a student group called Theatre Rice.

How that fall, we were elected co-course coordinators of Theatre Rice and built a safe and loving space for our peers. How it was through leading theatre games that I first keyed into Janelle’s passion for teaching.

How I was honored to witness her grow her talent over the years, from volunteering for a crisis hotline, to leading an after-school reading program, to teaching English in Korea, to teaching elementary school in Oakland and Los Angeles.

How she radiated a boundless capacity for empathy and love. How that in Janelle, we were given a gift. A true gift of love and light.

How it is my honor to continue her legacy of kindness. It is through that love that she will be remembered.

Janelle recreating the LOST scene of Sun’s liberation.

The day I first learned about Janelle’s passing, I watched an episode of Jane the Virgin to distract myself from the pain. It hit me harder than I could have ever expected.

A character on the show had reservations about speaking publicly on the devastating loss of a loved one. She was reassured it would get easier to talk about in time, but she was afraid of the loved one becoming just an anecdote.

She was given beautiful advice that couldn’t have been more perfect for me to hear in the moment:

You’re in a long-term relationship with grief. But it has to evolve. And it’s okay to keep letting go. You have to.

That simple line of dialogue brought me to tears. In hearing those words, I knew my life would never be the same.

With Janelle’s passing barely a month removed, I’m not yet ready to let go.

I’m in a liminal phase, between wanting to wallow in my grief and wanting to cut it down with a sword. But I’m heartened by the fact that I am not entering into this new long-term relationship alone.

I have those who have been alongside me on this journey. We live together. We celebrate Janelle together. She lives on in each of us, through every laugh, through every act of kindness.

You will always be with me, Janelle. I will share your spirit with the world.

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.

crazy-ex-girlfriend-2016

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

survivor-2016

source: mikeholloway.tumblr.com

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.

please-like-me-2016

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.

the-americans-2016

source: cuando.tumblr.com

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.

atlanta-2016

source: northgang.tumblr.com

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.

the-people-v-o-j-simpson-2016

source: gifthetv.tumblr.com

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.

source: b99.tumblr.com

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

source: lgbtcinema.tumblr.com

source: lgbtcinema.tumblr.com

ZOOTOPIA

zootopia-2016

source: giphy.com

THE LOBSTER

source: alsk00.tumblr.com

source: alsk00.tumblr.com

SING STREET

source: sokillintime.tumblr.com

source: sokillintime.tumblr.com

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

source: emliyjunks.tumblr.com

source: emliy-junks.tumblr.com

DON’T THINK TWICE

source: keegansjordan.tumblr.com

source: keegansjordan.tumblr.com

OTHER PEOPLE

other-people-2016

source: gifs.com

LA LA LAND

source: chazelle.tumblr.com

source: chazelle.tumblr.com

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

source: henricavyll.tumblr.com

source: henricavyll.tumblr.com

LEMONADE

source: causeislay.tumblr.com

source: causeislay.tumblr.com

My 15 Favorite TV Shows of 2015

Welcome to #PeakTV!

SURVIVOR

FARGO

THE AMERICANS

BOJACK HORSEMAN

MAD MEN

THE FLASH

JANE THE VIRGIN

FRESH OFF THE BOAT

TRANSPARENT

BILLY ON THE STREET

Rounding out my Favorite 15:

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND
SILICON VALLEY
UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
PARKS AND RECREATION
BETTER CALL SAUL

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.

— — —

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.

The_Americans_S3

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!

— — —

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

— — —

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.

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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.

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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