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Sam B’s Badass “Not the White House Correspondence Dinner”

I’m an outspoken fan of Samantha Bee, who has been best known as an outstanding correspondent on The Daily Show back when our dear Jon Stewart was at the helm. However, she embarked on her own television journey in early 2016, and has been our feminist crush of the month for the last fourteen consecutive months that the show has been airing. Bee is brilliant in Full Frontal, which is in its second unapologetically awesome season, and last night Sam and her staff (along with some special guests) put on what they call The Not the White House Correspondence Dinner, an hour-long event broadcasted on TBS at the same time as the White House Correspondence Dinner.

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The cold open with Alison Janney was perfect, she owns any room she enters and we all love her. The main goal of the evening was to draw attention to the plight of journalists in the post-facts society we appear to be inhabiting, and Bee certainly put the press on blast while raising money to protect journalists. All of the profits of the event went to the Committee to Protect Journalists, so that attacks on journalists can remain online where they belong.

Special guest Will Ferrel as former president George W. Bush certainly brought some star power to the event, but his impression was a tad rusty and he appeared for around five minutes. His appearance wasn’t the strength of the show, it’s the amazing Full Frontal staff who provide the backbone. I wish we could have seen a bit more of the wonderful Ashley Nicole Black, but I guarantee a few of those zingers were hers, as was a good deal of the applause. Steve Buscemi’s cameo was adorable, he almost never gets a chance to be the funny guy these days, but he nails it. A few other notable guests were the comedians who got all of fifteen seconds each to speak. They’re all wonderful and talented, but they didn’t even get three minutes total between them. I’m a huge Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher fan, Kumail Nanjiani is brilliant, and Patton Oswalt is a treasure. They all got their little digs in, but you have to wonder what they could have done with a bit more airtime.

While the show’s timing was certainly flawed, overal, the biting tone of Full Frontal shined through in the way we love to see. Let’s just hope that Sam can stay on the air long enough to cover a president on her intellectual level.   

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“Big Little Lies” Finale

We all knew the end was nigh, but the end of this series still brought me sadness- this show has been a dramatic and intense journey, and I know it had a finite life, but it still makes me melancholy. The ending was everything I expected.

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Just to start at the beginning, Celeste lying on the ground as Perry beats her, her in her underwear and him fully clothed, is a powerful image. Her going to her therapist shows that in the beginning of this episode, Celeste knows that she is going to leave her husband. Her finding out that her son is the bully that has been turning the school upside down is just another slap in the face, but it makes the most sense  Max observed abuse in his home, by his male role model. Jane and Ziggy being vindicated is just a side effect, and Renata’s redemption is easy to swallow she apologizes to Jane and accepts the truth with grace.

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Jane gets closure in this episode, she discovers the identity of her rapist, and defends Celeste from him before he is pushed to his death by Bonnie. All of the women trying to protect Celeste is also important we see these different women, all moms but fundamentally so different, banding together to guard one of their number from a force of evil because Perry is evil in the end. He isn’t a good father, or husband, or a provider, he is, unequivocally, a monster. And he gets the end he deserves.

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The singing was one of my favorite bits, because (aside from the great voices- wow!) it does remind us that the posturing doesn’t end with the women on this show- the guys are just as much drama. In fact, I would argue that the physical threat the husbands present to each other is more worrying than the social threats the women actually carry out. The aggression the husbands, specifically Ed, Nathan, and Gordon, display toward the women and each other, is alarming. Leaving out entirely the central conflict between Perry and Celeste, Gordon threatens Jane and Madeline, Ed and Nathan threaten each other on multiple occasions. Ed and Nathan are openly hostile, which is understandable, they are both insecure. Ed feels insecure in his relationship with Madeline, and Nathan feels inadequate as a father to his oldest daughter. It makes sense that they display animosity to each other, but the violent aspect of their quarreling is disquieting.

Overall, Big Little Lies has been a triumph. The leading ladies are all established actresses, but I think the kids and Kathryn Newton (Abigale) just made a great resumé builder, and can definitely write their own tickets for the next few years. Alexander Skarsgård was incredible, although I don’t know that he will ever be able to play a sympathetic role again. I see some awards in the future, and at least one of them better be for the music, because oh my god was it amazing.

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Side note: I just realized that Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley last worked together playing mother and daughter in The Fault in Our Stars in 2014. Woodley, at 25, is playing a very challenging role at a young age. I’d assume, as with Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, that Woodley is playing Jane as slightly older than she is in reality. Assuming Jane was 21 when she was raped by Perry, as she met him in a bar, she’d be twenty-seven in the show, which is only two years older than Woodley. I’m going to let myself believe this, since the alternative is that Jane was raped at nineteen and became a mother at twenty, which feels somehow worse. The rest of the actresses in the show play slightly older mothers, all but Kravitz are over forty, and having Woodley, who has played primarily teen roles, work alongside them only emphasizes her youth and vulnerability. That is to say, it works.
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“Big Little Lies” Episode 6

Things keep chugging along in Monterey, where our three favorite moms (and Laura Dern) are confronting their problems in spectacular fashion. Episode six does not disappoint, bringing us some more revelations and an awkward dinner party that ends in vomit. Let’s dive in!

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Maddie and Ed finally are addressing their marital problems, which mostly are within the context of their lack of passion, or Maddie’s lack of passion, to be specific. Ed does the good-guy thing, which makes me like him more. The dudes on this show (at least the ones who aren’t adorable six year-olds) are pretty lousy, but out of the lot Ed is the decent one. He cares about the needs of his partner, and is devoted to her. Ed doesn’t confront issues well, but that’s a two way street: Maddie confronts the problems of everyone but herself. I think it’s pretty clear that they’re going to stay together, and Maddie isn’t going to tell him about her affair. The conversation between Maddie and her daughter is metaphorically resonant, because it takes place outside, not in her room at her dad’s. I think it’s important that Maddie tells someone. In telling Abigale about something she’s not proud of, Maddie makes herself vulnerable. Watching, we as the audience see that, despite all of her prickliness, Maddie is all soft spots. The relationship between Maddie, her ex, and their respective spouses has only soured with their reconciliation dinner, but the drama of the final episode will hopefully make them forget their squabbling. Abigale’s behavior is a misguided teen’s cry for attention, and it works. I think that by the conclusion of episode seven, Abigale will be moved back in with her mother.

Shailene does herself proud in this episode. The sex talk with Ziggy is a great moment of parenting, where Jane was clearly caught off guard but explained everything in a way Ziggy could understand. Jane’s tension with Maddie this episode was a bit rough, but it served its purpose. Being honest with Maddie is a big part of Jane’s journey, she’s learning to be honest with herself and her friends. Saxon turning out not to be Ziggy’s father and Jane’s rapist tightens things a bit- we’re going to learn his identity, the identity of the murderer, and the murdered, in one episode. That’s gonna be one packed hour. I thought her trying to make things good with Renata made sense, but Renata is still just a blindingly unsympathetic character.

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She’s worried about her kid, but she has no concern for anyone else. True, Jane does attack her, but Renata has been provoking Jane and socially humiliating her son. Jane is the one we feel for, because she’s by herself, she’s doing her best, and she apologizes when she’s wrong. Renata also says she’s sorry, albeit gracelessly.

Big Little Lies hbo shailene woodley adam scott reese witherspoon GIFOf course, this is really another Celeste episode. Nicole Kidman got the meatiest part on this show, despite the intensity and complexity of the other characters. The scenes with the therapist continue to be pitch-perfect, and you can slowly see Celeste understanding the true nature of her marriage. When she looks around that new apartment, you can see her placing twin beds for her twin sons, boxes of Legos and toy guns and dinosaurs. Celeste only truly accepts that her marriage is a hostage situation when Perry threatens her life, and that’s when she knows she has to do what her therapist is telling her.

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The music in this episode is maybe even better than it’s been- the production on this show is really fantastic, some of HBO’s best. I’m sad that it’ll be over next episode, but I anticipate a very satisfying finale.

 

 

 

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A New “Series of Unfortunate Events”

Like anyone who grew up and came of age in the early two thousands, I read A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket in elementary and middle school. The books, a hit, were adapted into a so-bad-it’s-good Jim Carrey showcase entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events. Personally, I enjoyed watching the movie, but I wasn’t really thinking of it as an adaptation of the books. When I watch a movie based on a book, I lower my expectations. I mostly think of the book as a suggestion- I know that’s how Hollywood sees it.

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So the Jim Carrey movie masquerading as A Series of Unfortunate Events was widely considered a failure, which is too bad because failed movies tend to deter future similar movies. But, through the magic of Netflix, we received an almost version of A Series of Unfortunate Events in the form of an eight-episode miniseries. Neil Patrick Haris is, like his character, a flawless scene stealer. The children are remarkable, especially for such complex roles, and the supporting cast is just phenomenal- Patrick Warburton as Lemony Snicket is just criminally good. Honourable mentions to Aasif Mandvi and K. Todd Freeman, who were just so book-accurate.

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There are a lot of ways that I think that the Netflix adaptation is a lot stronger than the books- there are characters of color whose races were never specified in the books, there are gay characters who are specifically established as gay. Obviously, in television foreshadowing and plot pacing has to be different than in books, so we may get answers we weren’t expecting. The opening sequences are hilarious and give every episode a little special something. I could go on forever talking about the aspects of the show that I think are brilliant, but I’ll just say one more thing: The decision to introduce the Quagmire siblings and their parents in the first season is genius, and Colby Smoulders and Will Arnett are a perfect and tragic red herring.

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In terms of the second season, it has been announced that it will consist of ten episodes, and cover the next five books- Austere Academy to Carnivorous Carnival. Supposedly, season three would tackle the final four books, but considering how much longer and more complicated the books get later in the series, I hypothesize that they will have to make more than two episodes to cover the last two books, so perhaps season three will be ten episodes as well. The production team and writers have definitely proven themselves with season one, so I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in future seasons. Season two has an anticipated release in 2018, but it’s likely that the producers will choose to film the entire rest of the series back-to-back, due to the children not remaining children forever. Let’s hope it continues to impress us all with its unfortunateness.

You can read a letter from Mr. Snicket here, explaining the very fraught direction that this very frightening decision has pushed us all in.

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“Big Little Lies” Episode 5

So this was an eventful episode! Car crashes, flashbacks, road trips, oh my! Got to admit, I had more problems with this episode than the last few, but it was definitely important, and moved things along in the direction I think we all know they’re headed.

My favorite character moment of the episode goes to Celeste- you can see her close off as the therapist begins to ask questions she’s not okay with. When the therapist asks why she stays with him, she sees herself comforting Perry after he assaults her. Seeing his “remorse” is her justification for staying with him. She makes all kinds of excuses, his being a good parent, his love for her, his staying by her side. But even Celeste doesn’t seem to believe what she’s saying. The scenes with the therapist are genius, and I think they’ll be further explored in interesting ways in the next two episodes. The most pragmatic part of the Celeste scenes was her greeting Perry at the airport- he cries, kisses her fiercely, and their kids look on. It’s another reminder that she’s still trapped, not done quite yet.  Big Little Lies shailene woodley reese witherspoon nicole kidman zoe kravitz GIF

The Madeline subplot feels kind of contrived- like, okay, there have been some hints that the director guy has a thing for her, but aside from her passion for theater, we’ve seen little indication that she has interest in him. I can see her losing control and using someone who clearly desires her , but I’m not sure she’d leave the affair unresolved- Maddie’s an anxious person. The car crash is a catalyst for the spouses to start asking questions, and to put Madeline back on track in the life she wants for herself, or seems to. Her marriage is pretty glass house-y, so we’ll see how this develops further. My hypothesis is that either she and Ben will break up as a result of her affair, or nothing will happen and they’ll continue to live in an uneasy, semi-satisfying relationship. I feel like this subplot was created to give Maddie more to do outside of her problems with her daughter, her ex, and his new family.

Jane had an eventful episode- her PTSD is really well done, but I feel like she needs to be seeking help outside of emotional runs on the beach. Her biggest priority is being a good mom and taking care of her son and herself- and not dealing with her PTSD is hurting them both. At this point, I’m pretty convinced that Ziggy didn’t hurt Amabella- there’s some other culprit at play here. Maybe it’s her dad? Eh. I need more data. I’m having problems with Renata Klein. I just don’t think any reasonable woman would treat another mom like that, even one who she thinks is responsible for the child who is hurting her daughter. I also feel like Renata is another example of the hysterical Jewish mom, which is a trope I would like to see die. Sure, she’s right to be concerned about her daughter, but Jane is being a better mom. Jane took her son to a child psychologist, who told her what she needed to know. She trusted her son, and confirmed what he told her with as much science as you can. All Renata is doing is yelling at anyone who will listen, her husband, her daughter, the school’s administration and Jane. That’s just not productive behavior.

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Side note, where did Jane get all that pot? Maybe she is getting treatment for her PTSD. I get her driving down to confront her potential attacker on her own. The women going with her was a nice idea, but this is something she was always going to do on her own. Whether or not he was truly her rapist, Jane’s reaction to him shows that she’s not done dealing with her assault.

With only two episodes left, the show has a lot of threads to tie up. I don’t think we’re going to find out the murderer and the murdered until the finale, but the dissolution of Celeste and Perry’s marriage and Jane’s rapist have to be revealed in the next two episodes. Hopefully, we will be getting more of the great stuff we’ve been seeing so far, and it will be resolved satisfactorily. We’ll see in tonight’s episode . . .

 

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“Iron Fist” Ironic Failure

I found Iron Fist to be an extreme disappointment. Just gonna lead with that. After the okayness of Daredevil, the genius of Jessica Jones and the brilliance of Luke Cage, Iron Fist is simply blah. Perhaps if Iron Fist had been the first of the series to be released, I would feel more positive about it. But we’ve seen what Marvel can do with Netflix’s support, and Iron Fist shows substandard, shoddy work.

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The characters do look right and feel honest. Ward Meachum looks predictably evil, almost Trump Jr. like, with his slicked-back hair and inky black eyes. There is no clear relation between him and Joy, who is supposedly twenty-six but looks younger. The premise of Meachum sr. leaving the company in the hands of his two, at the time, teenagers, or in trust for them upon their reaching adulthood, is kind of ridiculous. It does kind of fit with Meachum’s general control freak-ness and horrible parenting, though, so there’s something to be said for that. Colleen feels real too, she’s brave and funny, but her character arc is flawed. She lacks consistency, and her connection with Danny lacks depth. I think it would have played out differently if they had been friends, and not romantically linked, but their closeness as a couple doesn’t feel right. Their only real moment of chemistry is in the dance scene at the end of episode twelve.

The only really enjoyable parts of the show are the appearances of character we already know from the other shows, mainly Claire Temple. Rosario Dawson is always a win. Hogarth also makes me feel that life is worth living again, she acts as a wake-up call for Danny, which was sorely needed. I love Claire- she’s clearly a cape-chaser, but she keeps it real and is hilarious.

Finn Jones is ultimately the main issue of the series. The only authentic thing about him is his American accent- he only slips once, during the wound-cleaning scene in episode eleven. Jones is very obviously a martial arts novice, he looks as though even he doesn’t believe he’s in this. He comes across as a poor man’s Oliver Queen, and honestly this whole show does feel like a more lack-luster Arrow. The board-room power struggles are uninteresting, the characters’ loyalties are fluid and inconsistent, and the writing is not what we’ve come to expect. Plus, the show expects us to be surprised in the end that they pulled the oldest trick in the book, the business partner did it.

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This first season is supposed to establish Danny as a character. His whole arc this season is meant to be his quest for identity, Danny’s journey from the Himalayas to New York, Danny finding himself. But what he finds? It’s uninteresting. The writers make Danny intrinsically good, and in the process deprive him of all personality. I just hope that this flop doesn’t derail the other defenders.      

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“Big Little Lies” So Far

So far, there are four episodes of Big Little Lies that have aired, to wide acclaim. The show has everything that the viewing public like, dramatic parents, funny kids and dysfunctional marriages. Couple that with the sheer star power of the cast, and it was sure to be a hit. BLL has far more than just these things going for it, the editing is fantastic, the kids are great, and the music is perfect. However, the real standout of the show are the female characters, who take center stage. They are all complicated, complex and flawed, and they feel real.

Reese Witherspoon shines as Madeline Mackenzie, a stay-at-home mom with a teenager from her first ill-fated marriage, and a first-grader with an ear for music. Her part time gig at the local community theatre gives her an artistic outlet outside being sarcastic with her friends. She’s strong, and opinionated, and funny. She is intrinsically flawed, like any real person. Madeline is more than a little self centered, brash, and short-sighted, but her good heart overcomes most of these tendencies. Her history is less than spotless, her failed marriage has left her a bit bitter and more than a little sore at her ex-husband.

Said ex is married to Bonnie now, played perfectly by Zoe Kravitz, and has a daughter in the same class as Madeline’s younger daughter. The two little girls seem to understand the situation pretty well, and get along much better than their parents do. Madeline resents that her ex, Nathan, is making more of an effort with Bonnie than she perceived he did with her during their marriage. Bonnie is just the kind of second wife you don’t want for your ex, she’s young, fit, a model citizen and just as sweet as sugar.

Celeste Wright is played by the incomparable Nicole Kidman, who is apparently ageless. Celeste is a full-time mom who was once a shark lawyer, now devoting her days to her twin boys. Her husband Perry is portrayed by the always delightful Alexander Skarsgård, who has perfected the quiet scary voice, and is abusive. He executes the movements of an abusive personality in imperceptible little ways, from his hunched shoulders to the slight threat in his voice. Kidman’s movements shadow his almost exactly, retreating as he approaches. She tries to head off arguments at the pass, but she knows the cycle. When she talks to Madeline, her best friend, about it, she eliminates the violence from her narrative. When she goes to therapy with Perry, she lets him set the tone, lets him decide how honest they’re going to be. Even when they have sex, the signs of his abuse are clear on her body, as evidenced by his finger prints in bruises on her arm. It will be interesting to see how Celeste goes about getting her power back.

Shailene Woodley appears as young mom Jane Chapman, rape victim and mother to Ziggy, a part she carries pretty well despite her relative youth. Jane is a recent transplant to the area, but it’s still a bit unclear as to why she moved away from her parents and to an unfamiliar area. She repeats a few times too often that it’s to help Ziggy, but it’s anyone’s guess. A bigger mystery would be the identity of Jane’s rapist, and the father of her son, and how it ties into the murder mystery unfolding episode by episode.

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The larger arc is the mystery murder: the mystery being both the victim and the murderer, or murderers. It seems likely that the murderer or the murdered is probably Celeste or Perry. The largest fault of the series is the slightness of the police investigation scenes. The editing is just fine, but the detectives and interrogators are not fleshed out. Hopefully, we’ll see more over the course of the mini-series. Overall, a great beginning.