9 Golden Globes Wishes

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The Golden Globes always win for silliest award show of the year. Not just because they have a long history of drunkenness or that their majesties Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are hosting for the second year in a row. No, the true silliness of the Golden Globes lies in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, an organization of a few dozen international journalists who have a tendency to nominate the biggest stars they hope will show up (Angelina Jolie in The Tourist, anyone?).

But that doesn’t mean we won’t tune in and talk about who wins and who doesn’t. And it doesn’t mean this won’t affect Oscar and Emmy chances down the line. So here’s a smattering of some hopes I have for the big night, for both the film and TV side of the awards. They’re probably not the best of predictions, but it would be truly awesome if all of them came true.

1. 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture, Drama. The Oscar best picture race is largely between 12 YearsGravity and American Hustle, so it would be interesting to see who goes here. There’s absolutely no voting cross-over between this and the Oscars, but it was this category that Argo first started its roll of domination last year, mere days after Ben Affleck’s famous director snub from the Academy. There’s been some talk that the insane hype 12 Years premiered with is slowing down, so since it’s actually the best film of the year by far, here’s to hoping we still talk about it.

2. Amy Adams wins Best Actress, Comedy/Musical. Hear me out on this one. I liked Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle just as much ast the next breathing human, but she didn’t knock me over the way Adams did. To me, American Hustle would have failed without Adams, hers being the most nuanced and realistic performance. So far the best actress category has been pretty sewn up until Adams took one Miss Meryl Streep’s spot in the BAFTA nods this week. We all know that Cate Blanchett is a Daniel Day-Lewis level mortal lock for this Oscar, but Adams has a real shot here to potentially break into the nominations.

3. Michael Fassbender wins Best Supporting Actor. Have I mentioned I really liked 12 Years a Slave? Because I really, really liked 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender has only shown up in a handful of nominations so far, perhaps in part due to his early declaration that he wouldn’t do any campaigning. But who cares? Fassbender took on a role that could have easily gone cartoonish in the hands of a less competent actor, and instead created the kind of evil you could expect to see walking down the street one day. And that, like so much else in the film, is a huge achievement.

4. Sally Hawkins wins Best Supporting Actress. How great would this be? I mean, Cate Blanchett is amazing and very deserving of the Oscar she will eventually win, but performances like those aren’t complete without someone amazing to play off of. Hawkins really pulled her weight in Blue Jasmine, and made the film that much better for it.

5. Parks and Recreation wins Best TV Comedy. Besides the fact that Amy Poehler would have even more to do during the broadcast if her sitcom wins, I just think it’s about damn time someone recognized how great this show is. This fall’s sixth season may have had rocky moments (please, please no more Councilman Jamm) but the second half of season five, which aired in early 2013, was pretty outstanding. I could watch “Leslie and Ben” over and over and over again.

6. Tatiana Maslany wins Best Actress in a TV Drama. It’s insane how good Maslany is in Orphan Black. Like, crazy insane. I recently rewatched the series and I think the highest laurel I can give to her is that I constantly forget that the clones are played by the same actress. They are so different, so nuanced and just so good. Maslany is finally up for a big ticket award, and there has frankly never really been anyone more deserving.

7. Elisabeth Moss wins Best Actress in a TV Miniseries or Movie. Have you seen Top of the Lake yet? No? It’s on Netflix, go watch it and tell me that Moss isn’t freaking incredible. I dare you. 

8. Monica Potter wins Best Supporting Actress in a TV Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture. Despite some issues this season, Parenthood is still one of my favorite shows on television, and Potter’s work during last season’s cancer storyline was top notch. You might not have believed that this show could make you cry anymore, but it did. 

9. Somebody does something super drunk. It has been remarked upon that the Globes are kind of a schwasty award show. Remember Glenn Close last year, anyone? Besides Tina and Amy’s inevitable show of hilarious hosting, drunken flubs are likely to be the most entertaining part of the evening. It’s not like it’s the Oscars or anything, so nobody has to be too serious.

‘Catching Fire’ Was Always Going to Be a Better Movie

Reviews of the Hunger Games sequel have been nothing short of rapturous when it comes to comparing the new film’s director (Francis Lawrence) to his predecessor (Gary Ross). Critics are crediting Lawrence with taking Suzanne Collins’ unwieldy second novel and turning it into a tight, suspense-filled thriller all the while judging the shaky cam snooze fest that (apparently) was the first movie.

While I will categorically agree that Catching Fire has surpassed the original movie in terms of cinematic scope and quality, I will say that there’s more going on than just a change in the man behind the camera. Although I’m not sad to see the shaky cam go — in fact when I watched the original last week, I actually got a little nauseous —  Ross didn’t do all that bad a job, given what he had to work with. And that’s really the crux of the issue here: with Catching Fire, Lawrence was definitely dealt a much better hand of cards. It was inevitably going to turn out into a better movie.

There’s No Way to Spin Kids Killing Kids 

Trying to keep the rating PG-13, the first film tripped all over itself to gloss over this important factoid, with shaky cam, a lack of blood and an emotional distance that leeched anything that might have been considered “stakes” out of it. By trying to smooth over the idea of kids killing kids, the first movie also sanitized the emotional import of a society in which kids are forced to kill kids. And this decision, whatever the motivation behind it, definitely hurt the movie.

The second time around, there are no kids in the arena. There’s no problem with a teenaged Katniss Everdeen taking out a forty-something hulking dude coming at her with a spear. Nothing particular of emotional import there. Just self-defense. And so Katniss can finally fight, a little blood can be shown, and she can be genuinely scared of these hulking monsters who are genuine threats to her and Peeta’s survival. And it’s no different than any superhero taking out the minions of the super villain.

Home Is Where the Backstory Is 

The Hunger Games had so much to cover in so little time there’s very little wasted on Katniss’s home town of District 12 besides some brief shaky cam shots of dirty children looking Appalachian. But just like JRR Tolkein made sure to introduce us to Hobbiton before he sent Frodo off to Mordor, Collins spends a lot of time in the first book introducing us to District 12. Unfortunately she does it in flashbacks that are hard to translate into the flow of an action film. So it’s not till Catching Fire that we really get to see what Katniss is fighting for. The film gets to spend nearly a whole hour of its time with Katniss’s friends and family, establishing relationships merely hinted at the first time around (Gale it’s nice to finally meet you!).

Love You J.Law, But I Can’t Read Your Mind

Almost as problematic as the whole children murdering each other thing is the fact that wide swaths of the first novel are first person narration without Katniss speaking to another living soul. And even when she’s talking to Peeta once they team up, she’s constantly reminding the reader that her relationship with him was an act for the cameras. In the first movie, for someone who’s never read the books, that subtext is almost entirely lost. Jennifer Lawrence does her level best at it, but it would help if she could talk.

Catching Fire has ample opportunity for the Girl on Fire to speak her mind. After spending a significant portion back in District 12 the book takes her back to the Capitol and the arena, but instead of sending her off in search of water and climbing trees, she is immediately thrust into an alliance full of relationships and dysfunction and all sorts of good stuff. Beyond actually getting at characterization, it’s simply more interesting to have her in a group and interacting with people than to have her tied up in a tree by herself.

The Clock is Cooler Than a Forest

The arena in the first novel is your pretty standard forest. Barring CGI fire and CGI dogs, there wasn’t much threat besides the other kids. Not so in the sequel. The arena itself is a much more hazardous place. Tidal waves, lightning, killer baboons, rain of blood. It’s not just more eventful, it’s more visual. A panning shot of the the clock jungle is just a better picture than a plain forest. Plus when there are threats that aren’t people, Katniss is allowed to fight and shoot with reckless abandon. Who cares how many rabbid monkeys she kills? At least they’re not kids.

Just Like Oreos, the Best Bit is in the Middle

Call it The Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers rule. Without being bogged down with lengthy exposition or a conclusion that ties everything up in a bow, the middle chapters of series have an undeniable advantage over the beginnings and endings. They get to just tell a story in an already established world without anything that even resembles an ending. In fact, the more of a cliffhanger, the better. More people will line up to buy tickets to the midnight showing of the last movie (or, er, the last two movies).

Lawrence (Francis, not Jennifer) undoubtedly brought a fresh take and a better eye to the series. He certainly brought fresh new faces to the franchise, and achieved near perfect casting when it came to Sam Claflin as Finnick and Jena Malone as Johanna. The manic arrogance Malone has and the twinkling bravado that Claflin brings to the table are exactly how the characters were portrayed in the book, and exactly what the movie needed. Characters almost as intriguing as Katniss to (maybe) root for. And yeah, it was really good to get rid of all that shaky cam. But really, Gary Ross didn’t do all that bad. And he did cast Jennifer Lawrence, and the internet shall be forever in his debt for that.

None of this is to say that Mockingjay is going to turn into a good movie. As has already been noted, there are some really big problems with that novel that are going to be hard to turn into an exciting film. So we’ll just have to wait and see what Francis Lawrence gives us.

Why ‘Doctor Who’ Endures (At Least for Me)

Fifty years after a pair of school teachers followed their strange pupil into a blue box in a junkyard, the Doctor is still traveling through time and space, making (and leaving behind) friends and having timey-wimey adventures.

In light of this weekend’s anniversary special you might be moved to wonder why this mad cap sci fi show is still on the air, why its fans are so rabid for more and why it’s still relevant after all these years.

There are a lot of reasons you could point to for the show’s longevity. The mere fact that the concept of regeneration allows the Doctor to be replaced over and over again as actors age and contracts expire, has allowed the to survive where others would fail trying to replace a lead. There’s a nostalgia element to it too, parents introducing kids to something they loved, makings something old new again. There’s also the fact that it’s an institution now, a tradition that just keeps passing down the generations.

But I’d argue that the magic of Doctor Who is summed up in something the 11th Doctor says in “The Eleventh Hour,” the first time Matt Smith takes on the role. Speaking to his new companion he asks: “All of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?”

Well, where do you want to start? The answer is, of course, anywhere. Just anywhere. When watching Doctor Who the audience can follow the man from Gallifrey wherever in this vast – and seemingly rule-less – fictional universe that the writers want to take us. And so every story becomes not just another entry in the long history of a time-traveling alien, but also an opportunity to indulge in some childlike wonder and curiosity. You can’t help but ask yourself, what will they think of next?

The first episode of the show I ever saw was actually the series one outing, “The Unquiet Dead,” in which the 9th Doctor and Rose head back to Victorian Cardiff and meet Charles Dickens, and also a bunch of incorporeal aliens who want to use corpses as their new homes.

I distinctly remember saying aloud to my father (who needed no convincing of the show’s worth), “So it’s history and sci fi? Cool!”

And it was cool, gosh darn it.

“The Unquiet Dead” is no poster child for acting or special effects. The ghost/alien/corpse monsters weren’t actually all that scary. But the combination of setting and story was so novel. And it was fun.

Doctor Who isn’t magical because it’s so well plotted or deep or smart or exciting. It often is (and sometimes isn’t) those things, but they’re beside the point.

The part of Doctor Who that I love, that keeps me coming back for more, despite setbacks and frustrations, is that incredible sense of wonder that it brings to every episode. In no other show that I’ve watched has there been this unending possibility to surprise and amaze. In a fictional universe as wide as the universe itself there are no limits on what could happen, who you could meet or where you could go.

Sure, recent adventures in convoluted plotting (see “The Wedding of River Song”) have abused this idea of limitless possibility. Even when anything can happen, it helps when what happens makes some kind of sense.

That’s why some of the Doctor’s best outings, both classic and new, thrive on complexity of concept but simplicity of execution. Take “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” from the 1st Doctor’s tenure. The title says it all: the Doctor’s nemeses invade Earth in the future. Or of course, “Blink,” where the high-concept Weeping Angels – arguably the most terrifying monsters in the Whoverse – are deployed in pursuit of a single girl. When they next appear in “Flesh and Stone,” the whole thing is so convoluted the angels aren’t as scary anymore.

Ultimately, the sense of curiosity still pervades even in stories that leave you scratching your head. And if one world or alien or idea doesn’t really click (I’m looking at you, strange absorbing alien from “Love and Monsters”) there’s so much more out there to discover, that the show never has to revisit a failed concept again.

So I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s anniversary special not just because of the throwbacks (believe me, I can’t wait for 10 and 11 to say their respective catchphrases at the same time, something like “Allon-imo!”), but also for everything new that could be stuffed in there. I mean seriously, what is the deal with John Hurt? Well, we’ll all find out tomorrow. But there’s always more to see and know.

And that’s enough to keep the show going for years and years to come.

You Should Be Watching ‘Veronica Mars’

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Cult TV show Veronica Mars made headlines back in March when creator Rob Thomas successfully kickstarted his way to $5.7 million for a feature film. The funds were raised by over 90,000 eager fans who donated between $1 and $10,000 to see the revival of the series which was cancelled by the CW in 2007. The filming began a few weeks ago. This week comes the news that  Veronica Mars will be heading to Comic Con for a Friday panel in Hall H with many of the show’s stars, including Kristen Bell, and creator/film director Rob Thomas. Also that James Franco might be making an appearance. The film will be hitting theaters in 2014, so now is clearly the right time to start watching Veronica Mars whether or not you’ve seen it before.

So what’s all the fuss about? Described as a modern Nancy Drew, the series centers on the titular Veronica, played by Bell, a high school student and part-time detective in the fictional SoCal town of Neptune, a town “without a middle class.” Veronica is working for her father’s private detective agency on cases ranging from the abduction of the school mascot to the murder of her best friend, Lily (Amanda Seyfried). Class conflict is palpable throughout the series, and much of the action is a direct result of the Mars family’s loss of status when Lily was murdered and Veronica’s father, then the Sheriff, accused Lily’s billionaire father of the crime and was booted out of office. Consequently, at the beginning of the series, Veronica has few friends and a hardened outlook on life. She’s smart, charming and manipulative, which is how she solves her mysteries. Everybody hates her, so she’s got nothing to lose.

The show is both procedural and serial; there’s a new mystery every week but the first two seasons each have an overarching mystery (season 3 has two big mysteries followed by several free-standing episodes, an attempt to change the format when the show moved from UPN to the CW, but wasn’t enough to save the show from cancellation). The great thing about the show is while it is suspenseful and exciting enough to keep a binge going all-weekend long, you could also watch it in smaller doses. It’s a crime drama but it is more relatable than one where the weekly crime is a murder: Did someone fix the school election? What happened to my dead-beat dad? Who stole the school fundraiser money? And so on.

The pilot can be a little rough because it is very heavy on the exposition. Everything about who Veronica is at this moment is completely dependent on the events of the preceding year: Lily’s death, her father’s firing, her mother leaving them, their worsened financial position and also Veronica’s own date-rape (none of these are spoilers, they are all explained in the pilot). But once past the very first episode, everything starts moving more quickly. Veronica gathers her own group around her, she dates, she solves mysteries, and more mysteries open up every week.

But it’s not just about the mysteries. Beyond Veronica there is an amazing cast of characters including her father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), who is way cooler than a dad should be, her best friend, Wallace (Percy Daggs III), her ally and leader of a biker gang, Weevil (Francis Capra), and Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), son of a movie star and sometimes antagonist. The strange politics and workings of Neptune are also fascinating, and take center stage in season 2 during a mayoral election.

The show saw some great actors in its short run, including early work from Amanda Seyfried, Max Greenfield, and Krysten Ritter. Also, Jessica Chastain guests in a season 1 episode, Steve Gutenberg has a season 2 arc, Ken Marino is fabulous as a private eye competitor, Alyson Hannigan guests in a few episodes as Logan’s sister, and Charisma Carpenter has a substantive arc in seasons 2 and 3. Oh and Joss Whedon was in an episode one time.

I’d recommend it to anyone but especially if you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Psych, Castle, and Fringe. Veronica is the same kind of independent and strong teenager Buffy was, but she’s a super sleuth, not a super hero. The show isn’t about saving the day so much as it is about making sure the bad guy pays. In the crazy and often corrupt world of Neptune, CA, jail isn’t always the best option.

BuzzFeed Got it Wrong About ‘The Heat’

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Last night BuzzFeed published an article entitled “Why The Success of ‘The Heat’ Doesn’t Mean Anything to Hollywood.” In the article, the writer goes on a lengthy statistical roller coaster “proving” that the reason that Hollywood doesn’t make more “female-driven” movies is because really nobody goes to see them anyway. He also intermixes interviews with The Heat director Paul Feig and studio executive Terry Press, lamenting the harsh reality. The article asks, “can the cycle be broken?”

Well the first cycle that needs to break is the one where after every successful movie with female stars premieres, mainstream media posts articles like this. There are many, many problems with women and Hollywood, but the ideas that a) nobody wants to see a movie starring women, b) Hollywood won’t make female-driven movies because nobody sees them, and c) women only want to see movies starring women are all fallacies that need to die. Then maybe we can talk about the real problems.

“Movies with mostly male casts have on average better opening weekends and better total grosses”

There are many things wrong with BuzzFeed’s methodology in calculating the many charts that led to the above conclusion. First being their definitions of what constitutes a “male” or “female” driven movie. How is Bad Teacher not a female-driven movie? It was explicitly sold on the appeal of Cameron Diaz, and its main conflict was between her and another woman, the devious Ms. Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Just because there were also several male characters does not mean that Diaz was not the most significant aspect of the film. I agree that it’s hard to say exactly what a female-driven movie is when there are multiple leads intermixed with men and women, so I prefer to use the Bechdel Test plus common sense. So I agree that X-Men: First Class was more equal between the sexes but the Twilight Movies? They aren’t a standard bearer for feminism but they certainly are female-driven.

BuzzFeed’s stats are likewise limited only to summer movies, because apparently only those are the movies that matter. Except that’s complete crap. Let me draw your attention to another Melissa McCarthy starrer from this year, Identity Thief, which grossed $134.5 million domestically, higher than the “male-driven averages” in BuzzFeed’s charts for 2008, 2010, and 2011. How about the third highest-grossing film of 2012, The Hunger Games? It went on to take in nearly $700 million worldwide. Definitely female-driven. Definitely a huge success. Released in March.  I’d also remind you that the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar, while by no means female-driven, was released in December.

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Also, while acknowledging that there are vastly more male-driven than female-driven films, the article does little in the way of explaining how that will affect the statistics. With a larger sample, the male-driven films have a greater chance for outliers screwing up the average (the article recognizes this for 2008’s outlier, The Dark Knight, but completely ignores it for The Avengers in 2012). How are female-driven movies supposed to compete when there is such a small sample?

Basically, the charts in the article are skewed. Women have a lot bigger box-office draw than BuzzFeed will admit. They’re just not looking at it from the right angle or with the right movies.

“Studios are reluctant to make female-centric movies because audiences are reluctant to race out to see female-centric movies”

The stats in the article are presented as data to prove why Hollywood is less likely to green light a female-driven film, but it ignores a huge metric that studio executives must factor when determining the success of a movie: its budget.

You know the saying about how the bigger they are the harder they fall? Well that goes double for movies. The biggest flops of the past two years, John CarterBattleshipAfter Earth, and perhaps soon White House Down, were all made even worse by their starting budgets. John Carter made $282 million worldwide (only $73 million in the United States) against a reported $250 million budget (these aren’t always accurate, studios will make them smaller publicly) not including the estimated $120 million in marketing costs. To put it simply: Disney lost a bundle on the film.

On the other hand you have a small female-driven film like 2012’s Pitch Perfect. It made $113 million globally against a $17 million budget, and much smaller marketing budget driven by social media and advanced screenings. That’s a nice profit for Universal.pitch_perfect

The BuzzFeed article also mentions how women are less likely to go see a movie in its opening weekend which may or may not be true (the assertion of Press that “Women are more discerning, period, the end. That’s the truth. In everything” is so problematic I won’t get into it now). I’ll remind you that The Hunger Games opened to $152 million. But the real thing is, although a film’s opening weekend is very important, it is not the be-all end-all for everything.

Pitch Perfect was not an overnight success. It had a limited release (effectively dampening its opening-weekend potential), which was part of the marketing strategy. As a result, the film’s gross came in slowly, but it came in nonetheless. The film has been considered a huge success and a sequel has been greenlit. So clearly, Hollywood recognizes the appeal of a slowburner like Pitch Perfect or The Help (which made $211 million against a $25 million budget, but only made $26 million in its opening weekend). They just don’t recognize this nearly enough.

“Studios aren’t making enough good female-centric movies to attract attention away from the male-centric movies that are dominating the marketplace”

Back in the summer of 2012, I waited in line for a midnight showing of a film I eagerly anticipated. Why? Because the trailer looked brilliant, I loved the filmmakers and the source material, and as a bonus it had a great female character with awesome red hair. I am, of course, talking about The Avengers. Did you think I meant Brave just because I am a woman? Well guess what, I saw that one at midnight too. But I liked The Avengers better.

I’m a woman and I like a whole wide range of movies. Superhero, rom com, thriller, raunchy comedy, drama, musical, tear-jerker, you name it, I’ll see the movie if it looks good (other than horror but that’s mostly because I’m a terrible scaredy cat). The idea that women don’t like male-tentpole films is as offensive and false as the horrible fake geek girl stereotype is. Just look at the figures. Cinemascore reported that audiences of the zombie-apocalypse thriller, World War Z were 51% female in its opening weekend. Magician caper Now You See Me also had a 51% female audience in its first frame. The stats go on.

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Nobody dragged me to The Avengers. I went because I wanted to see the Hulk smash. This year I saw Iron Man 3World War Z, Man of Steel, and a bunch more movies for men too. Because I think it’s fun when things go boom, just like the boys do. And just like many women do.

But it’s not just the action and adventure that can attract women to male-starring films. BuzzFeed’s article fails to account for the sexual appeal of male movie stars. Just like gratuitous shots of Megan Fox in Transformers undoubtedly brought young men to the film, so did gratuitous shots of an almost-nude Channing Tatum bring young women to see Magic Mike. That film made $167 million dollars globally against a $7 million budget. And it had a lot to do with moments like this. Superhero movies, likewise, have a swath of hunky gentlemen at their disposal as well. I’ll remind you of this moment in Thor.

This is by no way saying that the female/male disparity behind and in front of the camera is anywhere near okay. Because it is super not okay. It’s really, really, really not okay. We need more movies directed, shot, edited, acted, animated, etc, by women. But women can’t be boxed in as an audience group either, forever exiled to watch Safe Haven on an endless loop. It’s all part of the greater ongoing struggle for women. Happily this weekend I was able to go see a movie that passed the Bechdel test, was undoubtedly-female driven, was written by a woman, and starred two of my favorite actresses, and had a whole slew of explosions and f-bombs.

And I was not the only one who was excited. After reading many, many temperature related puns you can see that The Heat made $39.1 million this weekend, roasting/burning/setting fire to standard male-blockbuster White House Down, which only made $25 million. The Heat cost $43 million to make and White House Down cost $150 million. The Heat‘s audience was 65% female. So when given the choice between women blowing stuff up and men blowing stuff up, audiences (that’s all human beings, regardless of gender, White House Down was only 51% male) seem to have chosen the ladies.

So you’re wrong, BuzzFeed, The Heat‘s success means plenty, to me, to the general moviegoing public and yes, to Hollywood. It means that a) when Hollywood makes a great female-driven movie, women and men will show up, b) women like movies that star men and women that aren’t sappy rom coms, and c) Hollywood is running out of excuses for not putting more movies like The Heat into production. Don’t blame the audience, BuzzFeed, we’re telling Hollywood what we want. They’re just not listening.

On Watching Classic ‘Doctor Who’

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (3)

Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary is drawing closer, and so I have decided to catch up on the 26 seasons and TV movie that make up the world before the Ninth Doctor. I had always meant to do this, but I wanted to start from the very beginning, which is hard to do without spending a lot of money for the DVDs. But at last I was able to borrow/rent/beg for the episodes all the way back to season 1, and have begun my intense journey in the TARDIS.

So far I’ve got through talking about Susan Foreman’s tenure in the TARDIS. It seemed like a good stopping point in my binge, including the entire first season (minus missing serial Marco Polo), and the first two serials of the second season. Thematically, it also is a good swath of shows, not just because it’s all of Susan, but because the Doctor starts to become the Doctor we know and love, and a lot of that has to do with him shutting the TARDIS door in Susan’s face. 

Where we start with the Doctor can be jarring to a viewer who started with Eccleston, not just because the original show in black-and-white. William Hartnell’s Doctor is old, curmudgeon-y, and at times pretty clueless, as opposed to the young, charming, and nearly omnipotent Doctor I was used to. In the very first episode, after teachers Barbara and Ian force their way into the TARDIS, he outright kidnaps them so they won’t tell 1963 England about his time machine. He also doesn’t seem to know how to pilot the TARDIS very well (read: even less well than now) and embarks on a random journey with Susan, Barbara, and Ian with the pretense of trying to get Barbara and Ian home. It’s not adventure for the sake of adventure, and he’s not the great saver of worlds. As the group travels the Doctor helps people, sure, but it starts out only as a consequence of his own self-interest. Constantly they are separated from the TARDIS and the action of the plot is only driven by their desire to get back to it. He’s a lost man with a beat up car trying to get home, fixing a few flat tires along the way.

I think there were several turning points along the way that started to shape the Doctor into a more heroic figure. The first, of course, was the original appearance of the Daleks, in the second serial. Even though in that episode, the Doctor is still acting out of self-interest, the creation of an arch-nemesis for him allows him to be heroic later on. The second moment, which may seem minor, occurs in the partially missing serial “The Reign of Terror,” set in the most dangerous time of the French Revolution. The Doctor is separated from his companions and must attempt to rescue them, something he’s done before, but in order to do so he buys the regalia of a government official, which includes a many-feathered hat, and walks into a prison like he owns the place. That confidence and swagger (and inherent silliness) was something I identified with as being very Doctor-ish.

The most important moments, of course, came in Susan’s last serial, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” After landing in the 22nd Century and discovering the Daleks have become the totalitarian rulers of the planet, the Doctor isn’t just trying to get back to his ship anymore. When the Daleks say they are the masters of the Earth he replies, “Not for long.” And then with the help of his companions he blows the Daleks to pieces and returns the Earth to the humans. Only then does he leave.

But not before he leaves his granddaughter behind. Now the companion situation is odd in these first few serials. The Doctor, not as powerful as usual, often is playing second fiddle to the dashing Ian Chesterton, who knows a lot about combat for a high school science teacher. Barbara plays mother most of the time, taking care of many of the people they meet and constantly offering to cook (well, it was the 60s…). The Doctor’s role is often cerebral, needing to defend Ian from a murder charge on one alien planet or prove that someone was poisoning the water on another. This leaves Susan, despite being an alien like the Doctor with telepathic powers (the words “Time Lord” have yet to be spoken), with little to do except scream, cry, be kidnapped, and watch as the stronger characters save the day. She is often ill and often utterly useless, except maybe as a plot driver when she needs to be saved.

She is different from most other companions in that she is not the audience surrogate here. That’s Ian and Barbara. Susan is just as alien as the Doctor. She also has a long-standing relationship with the Doctor that is defined as familial, so the relationship doesn’t really change. The core principle is that they take care of each other, and that they don’t belong anywhere.

So when Susan finds a place where she can belong (otherwise known as a suitable husband, weren’t the 60s great?) the Doctor chooses to leave her behind instead of allowing her to make that choice herself. He literally slams the door in her face, locking her out of the TARDIS and promising to return some day (with the later Doctor’s reputation on that front, I’m going to say no, he’s not coming back for her).

It’s significant for a number of reasons. It’s the first casting change, of the many, many rotating companions and Doctors to come. It’s the first time the Doctor abandons a companion, which he’ll do many more times. Susan becomes the first in a long string of people left behind by the Doctor, some screwed up as he’ll say later, and some not. Although, it seems a little harsh to leave Susan on a war-torn Earth with a man she’s just met and only one shoe (her other broke and the Doctor took it inside the TARDIS to fix, and so when he leaves, she’s literally only got one shoe on). Well, I hear that there are a lot of job opportunities in the post-apocalypse.

But the Doctor’s moving on with one less companion, and possibly, a more heroic sensibility.

Review: ‘The Bling Ring’

There’s something intensely uncomfortable about watching Sofia Coppola’s new examination of celebrity and material culture.

The story is based on real events, the story of a group of upper-middle-class teens, using only the internet and their own sense of entitlement, rob a series of celebrities for something like $3 million worth of designer goods. They’re not masterminds in any sense. They check TMZ and the like to find out when celebrities are away, then they hop fences and crawl through doggie doors and find keys under mats. Even in their thievery they’re incredibly lazy. That may be part of the discomfort I was feeling when I was watching it. Not just that the celebrities fell down in their own security, but that it was so easy for the teens to get what they wanted.

While working with a story where everyone knows the ending, the film is mostly about explaining how they got there. Ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) is incredibly manipulative of her new BFF Marc (Israel Broussard) and very into petty crime (she checks parked cars to see if they are open and steals wallets). Then there’s Nicki (Emma Watson, truly shaking off Harry Potter finally) so obsessed with celebrity and wealth that she is actively seeking a manager (but for what talent, it’s unclear) with the help of her clueless mother (Leslie Mann). Everything escalates after a trip to Paris Hilton’s mansion one night (using a key under the doormat).

It’s plainly clear that Coppola despises all of the characters, except possibly for Marc, who is painted as a victim for awhile. They smoke cigarettes, pot, do cocaine and other drugs, stay out all night get DUIs and none of it ever seems to lead to real consequences. Why do they rob? Because they can. And so even after their arrests, they seem to continue to live life like there are no consequences. But the only difference is now they are famous too.

A lot has been written about Coppola’s treatment of wealth and excess but I feel The Bling Ring is its own animal entirely. Shot with an incredible coolness (one frame in particular, a wide shot of Rebecca and Marc robbing Audrina Partridge’s glass house, is remarkable) The Bling Ring is more judgmental than her other films. It’s not just judging the teens and the celebrities, but you while you watch it. Why do you find it so fascinating? It’s just a series of thefts. You’re only there because of the celebrity aspect, the same reason Rebecca and Marc and Nicki were there too.

The Walking and Running Dead

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Zombies are everywhere.

Not literally. That would be worrisome (I have a zombie apocalypse plan, do you?). They’re all over pop culture right now, though. The Walking Dead continues to eat up ratings on AMC and this weekend Brad Pitt’s expensive and troubled World War Z hit theaters. Whether you liked the movie or not (I thought it was a a pretty peppy apocalypse tale, with three acts that don’t seem to fit together), you certainly noticed how freaking fast the zombies were. They run! They jump! They climb all over each other to get over walls! They head butt! They are generally unlike many zombies you’ve encountered before.

And really, every zombie movie, TV show, book, and comic has its own rules. So to help you keep all the zombies and their abilities straight, here’s a guide to a couple of the more famous versions. (Mild spoilers below)

World War(film)

Dead? Yes

Fast or Slow? Very, very fast. They sprint! They climb! They head-butt excessively. Which seems so counter-intuitive. But maybe zombies don’t have a whole lot of intuiton.
Viral? Yes, unknown origin. They’re saving that for the Zequel.
Bite to infected in…12 seconds, with some variation
Called zombies? Yes, but reluctantly. A more accurate term may be “pale and bloody video game characters” because that’s what they look like.
How do you kill them? Slightly unclear in the movie. Head shots seem to work but burning seems to be the only sure-way.
Scariness? Very, very litte. There’s some genuine fear in the first act of the movie but that’s before you really see any of these guys. In large numbers they really look like video game animation, and in small numbers they’re too easy to defeat. 2/10
Grossness? They’re not very decomposed or bloody. And they’re blood is weirdly black. 3/10

The Walking Dead

Dead? Yes
Fast or Slow? Relatively slow, but dangerous in a herd
Viral? Yes, but (spoiler) we’re all infected
Bite to infected in…Bites take a while to kill you but once you’re dead it’s pretty instantaneous
Called zombies? Nope. Walkers, biters, the dead, lame-brains, geeks etc. They’re very creative in this dystopia.
How do you kill them? Destroy the brain. In the most disgusting way possible. I recommend any type of blunt weapon to the head repeatedly, for maximum blood splatter.
Scariness? Not very. After an episode or two it’s easy to become desensitized. Which is sad for humanity and good for zombies.  3/10
Grossness? Really, really nasty. They ooze and crack and bleed and move while their entrails are hanging out. The show is way more disgusting than it is scary. 11/10

28 Days Later (& 28 Weeks Later)

Dead? Technically not. Living infected with “Rage.” Some would say that makes them not actually zombies. It also makes the characters have to kill living people.
Fast or Slow? Pretty darn fast
Viral? Yup, “Rage” virus from some freed lab chimps, which is either a commentary on medical testing or meddling animal rights activists. Either way, don’t let it get in your eyes, man.
Bite to infected in…10-20 seconds
Called zombies? No,”Infected”
How do you kill them? Anything fatal to humans because they’re still alive. But goodness are they resilient.Even to molotov cocktails.
Scariness? Fast zombies are particularly apt for this day and age. And the red eye is very terrifying, especially on a priest in a church. 8/10
Grossness? They vomit a lot of blood. 8/10

Romero Zombies (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead)

Dead? Yes, hence the titles.
Fast or Slow? Slow, like it should be.
Viral? Yes, unknown origin (hints that it’s radiation)
Bite to infected in…Die within 3 days of a bite, all dead reanimate shortly after they die
Called zombies? No. In the Night of the Living Dead radio broadcast they call them “ghouls.” Mostly just “they.” As in, “They’re coming to get you, Barbra.”
How do you kill them? Destroy the brain
Scariness? May seems lame to some now but bonus points for the original scares. 8/10
Grossness? Slightly less gross in black and white. 6/10

So, which zombies would you rather face in the apocalypse? I’m a big Walking Dead fan and have planned for that particular apocalypse. The fast zombies are way harder to fight.

You Should Be Watching ‘Orphan Black’

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Meet your newest binge obsession: Orphan Black. If you’ve never heard of it that’s because it’s a Canadian sci-fi show that aired on BBC America Saturdays after Doctor Who this spring with barely any advertising behind it. Now it’s become a sleeper hit and its star, Tatiana Maslany, is a darkhorse for an Emmy  nomination.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, clones. The show’s premise begins with Maslany’s (main) character, Sarah Manning, exiting a train only to see a photocopy of herself jump in front of it. From there on Sarah has entered what the characters call “Clone Club,” trying to make sense of her dopplegangers. In season one she portrays a whopping seven different clones, each one completely unique. They have different accents, different mannerisms, different personalities and are, really, seven different people. The mystery of the whole cloning thing (and the ethics of it) are the meat of the show, but the bones are all Maslany and her incredible performances.

I’m throwing a big old recommendation behind Orphan Black, both for watching and for an Emmy for Maslany. I really think you’ll like it, especially if you like any of the following: Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, Veronica Mars (ooh look see it’s not all sci fi!), and Dollhouse. Yeah it’s sci-fi, but it’s accessible and smart. Once you accept that you’re in a world where clones exist (which is the not-too-distant future and a stand-in city for Toronto), you become immersed in that world, and it’s quite a bit of fun. You’ve got a bit of action (someone’s trying to kill them!), a bit of a cop show (one of the clones is a police detective), a lot of intrigue (who cloned them? why?), and some romance. Plus a whole lot of Maslany bickering with herself (in any other context, that would be concerning).

The ten episode season is perfect for the arc of the show and for a nice weekend in. Long enough to keep you entertained but not so many episodes that you’ll need to call in sick for work come Monday. Unfortunately  you’ll have to wait till next year for season 2. In the meantime you can desperately try to contact someone with an Emmy ballot and force them to watch the show and then vote for Maslany.

Let’s be Less Rotten: Thoughts on Spoilers

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Author’s Note: In order to write this post I had to include spoilers, which is silly but true (and kind of why I wrote it). I redacted all spoilers. I’ve linked each redaction to something that tells you what plot point I’m referring to. Click at your own risk. The links are, by definition, SPOILERS

I’ve been thinking about spoilers a lot, recently.They’re everywhere. For people writing about entertainment (especially TV these days) it’s rough.Writers try to avoid spoiling people, but sometimes they fail. They add capitalized and bolded SPOILER ALERTS to articles and posts. They try to keep them out of the comments. I’ve seen recaps use a blackout system. I myself have recently discovered the art of [REDACTION].

But sometimes, I think, our collective fear of spoilers can be as harmful as the spoilers themselves. I think we could, perhaps, relax a little. If we change the way we approach spoilers, I think we all might feel a little better.

Spoilers suck and they are everywhere

Okay let’s start by agreeing that spoilers are the worst. They genuinely can take the fun out of entertainment. It might seem trivial, but for certain, some things should stay hidden. There is a certain joy (sometimes followed by unendurable sadness and/or anger) in being surprised by something. Weren’t you genuinely bowled over when (REDACTED) happened in Game of Thrones? Wasn’t it so perfect when they revealed [REDACTED] on Battlestar Galactica? Even for a sitcom like How I Met Your Mother, wasn’t [REDACTED] just crazy? Wouldn’t the experience of watching these shows be cheapened by knowing THE-BIG-THING-THAT-HAPPENED? Yeah it would.

But spoilers are just literally all over the place. I have a friend who, in one night, spoiled [REDACTED] from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and [REDACTED] from  A Song of Ice and Fire  (and consequently, Game of Thrones) for a group. It was an accident. But people still got spoiled. I’m guilty of this too. I tend to just irrationally believe that everyone has watched and read everything I have and only that. What was worse than [REDACTED] in Game of Thrones? [REDACTED] in Angel, or [REDACTED] in The Sopranos or worse still [REDACTED] in Buffy! I tend to accidentally lay land mines in conversations for my friends who don’t watch quite as much TV as I do (read: all my friends).

The internet is way, way worse. Unless you’re planning on avoiding social media and news outlets all together, you best watch your shows live. I mean, the reaction to episode 9 of this season’s Game of Thrones was so prevalent that before we were done reacting to the episode we started reacting to each other’s spoilers. And it’s not just social media. Don’t forget how an actor spoiled the world for Downton Abbey by [REDACTED].

So yeah, spoilers are awful and can be hard to avoid. I’m totally with you on that. But there are ways to make them suck less.

Rosebud is a sled, not a spoiler

I was spoiled for [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and [REDACTED] in Lost by virtue of having been alive while it was on the air, but not watching it until about a year ago. It sucked but it was unavoidable.

A problem I find in spoiler culture is that some moments from TV and film and books have become part of our larger culture, but they’re still taboo to talk about. I want to list things Harry PotterThe Sixth Sense, Twin Peaks and more right now, but I don’t want to spoil any of you. But at the same time, it’s been years.

So there’s got to be a statute of limitations on spoilers.

It can’t just be a number, because the significance of these plot points isn’t just a product of the date they became public. It’s cultural, like I said. Some shows’ plots are more well-known than others. And it’s different for tv than for say, movies or books, because TV by nature tends to have more spoiler opportunities. I feel like, at this point The Sixth Sense should be fair game. It premiered in 1999. But that same year had bits of the third and fourth seasons of Buffy, which are definitely not fair game.

So maybe we can’t make a hard and fast rule, but we can be more understanding. It’ll have to be based on a “feeling” but that’s all we’ve got. Examples: I won’t spoil the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movies, but The Wrath of Khan is on the table. I’ll stay away from 24 but not Friends. Psycho can be discussed but Bates Motel cannot. Are you with me? I hope so.

Regardless, I think we can all agree that Shakespeare’s statute has expired.

If spoilers are bad, surprises have to be good

We all spend a lot of time trying to avoid spoilers and/or griping about how we’ve been spoiled. But then as soon as we see great plots, we start immediately noting how “we knew it all along.”

The best example of this that I can think of occurred during season six of the new Doctor Who. At the midseason finale, we finally discovered [REDACTED]. I personally thought it was a big deal. A pretty huge deal. If I recall correctly I had to get up off my bed where I was watching it and run around just to get my adrenaline out. 

But some decided to rain on my parade. “It was so obvious,” they’d say, or “I can’t believe you didn’t see that coming,” as if I am quite the idiot for being shocked by something that was designed to shock me. For the record this twist isn’t foreshadowed very much in the show. There are subtle hints. When you rewatch you’ll think to yourself, “oh, that’s what that was about.” But I really doubt very many people “totally knew that was going to happen.”

People talk about a twist or surprise or reveal afterwards with such negativity. And yeah, sometimes they are super disappointing, like [REDACTED], another instance from Doctor Who. But sometimes moments are so good and so genuinely surprising, they remind us why we hate spoilers in the first place. Trying to make yourself seem clever afterwards by claiming to have “called it” cheapens the surprise.

Follow the signs

I’m behind on Mad Men right now. And as a result, I’ve been steering clear of twitter Sundays at 9pm. I’ve been careful when looking on entertainment news sites. I scroll past anything I see with “Mad Men” or “Draper” in the headline. I’m keeping myself spoiler-free.

You can too! Yeah I get it, sometimes you just want to go on facebook without being accidentally spoiled. But be smart. If you’re a fan who’s missing an episode for some reason or who regularly watches the next day, stay off  dangerous sites until you’ve seen the episode. If you live on the West Coast wait to go on twitter until the episode airs for you. Talk about it with people who live there too. Don’t yell at the East coasters who tweeted to each other three hours ago. Be smart about it, and you won’t need to rage-tweet until you actually watch the episode and find out who died. Then you rage tweet at the show-runner.

It’s all about the journey

Above all we need to remember that spoilers are a fact of life in the internet age, and they’re not going away anytime soon. I’ve been spoiled for lots of shows. Lost, like I mentioned before but also, BuffyAngelMad MenThe SopranosPsychThe West Wing, How I Met Your Mother and probably a bunch more I can’t remember specifically. But I still love all of those shows. Yeah I knew that someone was going to die or a couple was going to get together or an identity was going to be revealed or any number of other plot points, but I still was enthralled watching all these things happen. I still got emotional and involved.

Having read A Song of Ice and Fire is arguably one giant Game of Thrones spoiler. But I still watch the show. Because knowing how it ends doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the ride on the way there.

So let’s be smart about spoilers. And then we can get back to what’s really important: watching way too much TV.