Deep thoughts from Aaron Sorkin

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A few months ago, while driving back to DC from my parents house, I was listening to an Aaron Sorkin interview on a recent episode of The West Wing Weekly.  As always, Aaron charmed me, however there was one line I’ve been pondering ever since.

I’d say a very broad theme in all of the television that I’ve written is that it’s alright to be alone in a big city if you can find family at work.    (1:01)

The statement is so simple, but it resonated with me so much that I had to  replay the line multiple times before I was ready to move on.  In some ways, it made me uncomfortable.  I could spend hours digging into how this thought has impacted my decisions (or lack of decisions) over the last 5 years.   I  could use it to explain why a politics-hating girl (no longer!) fell in love with The West Wing four years ago.  I could also dig into why workplace shows can be so successful (or bomb miserably).  I could  destroy this statement arguing that it is necessary to find “family” outside of work for a truly fulfilling life.   Instead, I just want to leave it here and let you think on it.  For me, it’s a good example of how small pieces of pop culture enrich my life by forcing me to think more deeply about my own life.  Does it have an impact on you?  Is it true?  Is it painful?  Does it make you smile anyway?  Or does it simply just make you wish Aaron Sorkin hadn’t given up on television?

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Living a Teenage Dream

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Confession time:  This winter/spring, when I would come home after a long week at work and sit on the couch to catch up on  my TV — what was my most cherished item on the DVR?  Riverdale.  I’m embarrassed to admit that my favorite thing to watch starred actors all at least 5 years younger than me playing characters over 10 years younger than me.

Now just to levelset — my DVR kind of sucked this year.  There was very little on network/non-premium cable TV that really did much for me, but even so, why was it that a pretty poorly scripted teen soap made it as a favorite?  I guess you’d have to say I’m predictable.

I remember my first foray into primetime television.  And even then, when my mom suggested we start watching a “family show” on Sunday nights — it was still airing at 7 PM.  Nevertheless, upon starting 7th Heaven at age 10, I went WB and never went back.

I could spend this entire blog post confessing some of the weirder things I did during my different TV obsessions (anyone else cut out every single blurb in TV guide about their favorite show?  I didn’t think so), however, I’m more interested in the fact that my love of television about teenagers has stayed with me long past my own teenage years.   This is particularly interesting when teen television has gotten significantly worse.

Yesterday, I was listening to a Pop Culture Happy Hour episode from earlier this year that covered Riverdale.  Everyone trashed it, and I respected almost everything they said.  This made me wonder:  why then did I still adore show?  Perhaps it was the reminiscence to Dawson’s Creek.  As the podcast mentioned — so much of Riverdale called back to Dawson’s Creek’s storylines.  Perhaps it was my nostalgia for reading Archie comics on Shabbat afternoons at camp.  But I really don’t think either of those things are the driving factor.

This past weekend, I binged on the new Freeform show (I still want to call it ABC Family), Famous In Love.  It isn’t good by any means.  Whereas I at least found Riverdale compelling with some intriguing storylines (and a still very hot but old Luke Perry), this one really didn’t have it.   However, I’m going to admit — it hooked me.  And that made me wonder — why, when teen drama/soaps were so much better in my own teenage years, am I still hooked?

I am still contemplating my answer to this question, however I have one theory: drama.   In today’s world, top dramas are represented by fantastical storylines, period pieces, and lots and lots of blood.  I have never been one for action– I would much prefer a book that is all dialogue to one that has any number of pages without characters conversing.  I don’t appreciate choreographed violence (although I do recognize the skill in that acting). And while I do love the thrill of a good mystery or a crazy plot twist, I would rather watch two people talk to each other about nothing.  There are very few shows on TV that center around people talking to one another.  There are even fewer that are actually good (see– my all-time favorites).  So maybe that’s my draw to the sappy teen dramas — it’s one of few genres that still focuses on the mundane conversation.

 

 

 

Or perhaps I really just love the love triangles of 22 year old high school sophomores.

Back on the couch

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Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my interests.  I’ve spent the last 5 years in a city I never wanted to be in and in a job I thought was temporary.  While I don’t have any intention of making specific changes any time soon, I am looking to push myself to go back to some of my hobbies (if that’s what you can call them).   Which brings me to a promise I made myself yesterday: To write more about what I watch.

I love that I love indulging in TV.  I used to be embarrassed by my TV habits and my ability to waste away an entire day binge-ing on something ridiculous.  Lately, I’ve found that it’s probably one of the few things that keeps me sane among all the stress in life. There is very little that makes me happier than disappearing into a fictional world, even if it’s been pretty miserably designed.  A majority of my life has been spent idolizing those who get to work in TV.  From my weird fascination with our local TV critic (I so miss Larry Bonko’s regular columns) to following the TCA’s religiously while stuck in Williamsburg for multiple summers — I’ve wanted to be in it.  Truthfully, my professional skill set doesn’t really align with anything you’d find in TV (Feel free to prove me wrong and send me job postings for professional technical puzzle solvers in that world), but I really do dream about it.  So, I’ve decided to revive my blog to bring some purpose to my bingeing.   So — here’s to insightful posts on mostly-bad TV.  Cheers!

 

Coming up:  My thoughts on the teen soaps of 2017 aka how Rachel can still find herself horribly entertained by 22 year olds pretending to be 16.

Ground Beef and Love Stories

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I just finished reading a young adult love story.  It was one of those typical girl-meets-gorgeous-boy in high school tormented type of love stories.  For all intents and purposes, I loved the book (check it out– Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins).  It was beautifully written especially in comparison to some of the other YA novels I have read this year.  The protagonist is insightful, and you find yourself sympathetic for the scenario in which she finds herself.  Despite all this, I think I finally realized why I like to claim that “I hate love stories”.  

I first realized that I hated love stories when I read The Notebook.  It is a book that is almost entirely focused on the love story, and I hated that there isn’t anything more to tell.  I know I am greatly simplifying what is a pretty well-received novel, but I am just giving you my opinion.  I need more than just your average love story.

Now do not get me wrong, I love a good romance.  In fact, I was the middle/high school girl who watched every sappy teenage romantic tv show, and I re-watched all those squeal-worthy episodes until the VHS that I taped them on no longer played.  However, there is something so different from that long-form, weekly, episodic format of a teen television show.  Plus, there were always drugs, psychotics, and alcohol to add some other types of drama into the mix. I may say that I love Dawson’s Creek for the Pacey and Joey romance, BUT, I really get hooked from the other drama, the friendships, and the banter.

Which brings me to “love story” novels.  In some of the lucky cases, these stories detail a romance in a smart way.  The reader can jump into head of the protagonist and feel the giddiness of that budding crush or the frustration of the brick wall that is his more beautiful girlfriend.  These things are great, especially when written well, but when you get sucked into things easily it can become not so great.

This leads me to Anna and the French Kiss.  I loved it.  From the moment I started, I was hooked with the witty narration.  Anna is a teenager, so she is not overly wise or self-aware, but she does have some great observations.  However, despite the fact that I have almost a decade on Anna, I find myself swept into her drama.  I feel the butterflies and the jealousy, and I want to put the book down.  But then she has that moment with her perfect guy, and I am glued.  But of course, it’s only a moment of almost-perfection, and then the roller coaster begins again.  And that’s what love stories do to me.  They tease, and they taunt, and the relief of a happy ending is just that, it’s an ending.  At which point, the book is over and I realize it was all fiction, and I put myself through the meat grinder for a moment of happily-ever-after.   

Is it just me or am I just realizing something that others have realized for years?  And will I keep reading these so-called love stories?  I know at least one of those questions is a definitive “yes”.

Pop Culture Security Blankets

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It’s been awhile.  I’ve not given up– I’ve just found myself not indulging in anything new or at least not having anything to say about anything new I’ve absorbed.  For a while, those actions led me to believe that I was a bad pop culture leech and that I was failing to keep up.  I’m not saying I’ve not absorbed anything new– if anything, I’ve caught up on more than I would have thought  (Scandal, Orange is the New black (just started so I may have more to say a few more episodes in), The Killing, many many indie movies, and more).  All that being said, I haven’t been passionate about any of it.  In fact, I was merely indulging to keep me away from the other thing I was absorbing these past couple months… or rather reabsorbing.

I’m going to back track.  Ever since I was a child, I have used  pop culture as a safe place.  Whenever anything seemed less than perfect, I was often caught absorbing something to keep me out of the real world.  I kept my mind off of starting high school by zooming through Dawson’s Creek.  The awkward beginnings of high school were dampened by the fictional life I was living in Tree Hill (and the constant internal debate of Nathan vs. Lucas).  But it wasn’t even that I found something new completely comforting, in fact, it was anything but that.  Even though I was constantly finding something new to love, whenever I was at my most vulnerable, I went back to the comforting and to the familiar.  Case and point (or multiple points): Prior to my first AP exam, I watched my favorite episode of One Tree Hill.  Any time I need a good cry, Breakfast at Tiffany’s shows up on my screen.  If I’m feeling the need for some good brainless nostalgia, I start with Saved By The Bell.  The list goes on and on.

I started thinking about this concept as Chantal Kreviazuk’s “Feels Like Home” came on my iPod this evening.  This was just as I finished rereading 3 connecting quartets by my favorite author from middle school (that’s 12 books for those needing help with the math).  I was feeling someone empty, very sad, but peaceful all at the same time.  While the lyrics are definitely nowhere near being about pop culture (but I can say that a certain WB tv show already mentioned here did introduce me to that song), it made me think of why there is this comfort blanket I find in pop culture.  With books that I can read and reread, the characters are reliable.  I know what they are going to do, and I know how they will behave.  As they continue not to surprise me, I also find myself understanding them more as I grow older and wiser.  While I may be the one doing the reading, immersing myself in the characters’ worlds allows me to feel like I’m moving along with the readers, and that I’m not growing alone.  I can say it makes sense.  In fact, there was a point in college that I actually did scientific research on these concepts (not well, mind you).  But in all honesty, it makes no sense.  Is it perhaps a fear of change that bonds me so closely to things that comfort me?  That’s highly likely.  Is it the idealism that fictional characters present (you can’t tell me that Bartlett wasn’t an idealistic version of a president with a straight face)?  Also likely.  Is it the nostalgia that I feel when I indulge myself in something I loved so long ago?  Also true.  I wish I totally understood the tendency I have to escape back to familiarity, but perhaps it’s a challenge for a later day.

Let’s end with where I started:  I remember about 12 years ago when I built myself a mini bookshelf (ironically, I did that this weekend as well).  This bookshelf was a pride and joy of mine.  I ran out of space for all of my books and this one became mine– the shelf I kept the treasured books on.  Next to the shelf, I fashioned a stack of pillows, and I deemed this location my “reading nook”.  It wasn’t the most comfortable place in my room, but it still seemed brilliant to my 12 year old self.   Not long after, I remember sitting in that corner and crying.  I don’t know why I was crying or what was upsetting me, but I remember being upset.  And what did I do?  I pulled out one of my all time favorite books, Tamora Pierce’s Squire, one of the same books I just finished reading again.  I opened to a random chapter and just read.  After enough time, the frustration and sadness was still there, but I felt comforted.  As a childhood extrovert, alone time wasn’t all that comforting, but with this discovery, I found my comfort.  Those few familiar chapters, sentences, or even words brought me a sense of calm I couldn’t find elsewhere.   And I still strive to understand why.  Perhaps it’s the charm of the male characters I latch onto or perhaps it’s the lack of surprise.  Whatever it is, I’ll take it.  I only wish it continued after the book ends, but I guess that’s what starting over is for.

Before Binge-Watching Had A Name

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So I must apologize for so  abandoning this blog for than a few months.  I got totally wrapped up in life and didn’t have the chance to come up with ideas and post.  Here’s my first foray back into pop culture blogging.

Binge watching.  It seems like it’s a trend these days.  Magazines are writing about it, podcasters are talking about it, and it’s just all around a real term now.  With the growth of Netflix and other online streaming services, and even earlier, the creation of TV on DVD, it seems like people are not only watching new shows, they are catching up on old shows.  But even with the lack of a term– binge watching was around in my life long before Netflix.

My first binge watching experience was at the age of 5.  My babysitter hooked me onto Saved By The Bell, and I discovered it was on from 5 PM-7 PM every.single.day.   Every day I would come home  from kindergarten and spend 2 hours in front of the TV watching Saved By The Bell.  I knew every episode.  I made my friends “play” Saved By The Bell on the playground.  At that point, the parents realized that TV was dangerous and I had to cut down.  Nevertheless, I think 2 hours a day counts a binge watching.

The binge watching died down until I made it to middle school.  There was the Boy Meets World and the Charmed phases there.  Again, multiple hours of TV available on cable TV for my enjoyment.  At that point, I had also acquired my own VCR, so I took to taping any episode I couldn’t watch in person.  I think I still have video cassettes with episodes of both of those shows and more…

My biggest binge-watching theme was that I always felt like I was just a little bit too far behind the times when I watched it.  For example, Saved By The Bell aired new episodes when I was barely a baby.  Boy Meets World annoyed me when it was on TGIF (how can a show about a boy POSSIBLY be back to back with my beloved Two of A Kind?).  The biggest just-miss of my life?  Dawson’s Creek.  I literally got into Dawson’s Creek the summer AFTER it went off the air.  I had even had episodes of it on my tv when I just didn’t get around to turning the TV off after whatever else I was watching.  It was at that point that I realized I was meant to be about 5 years older.

The theme of “catching on too late” continued throughout high school and on.  Beverly Hills 90210 made me say I should have been 10 years older (at least), I played PI with Veronica Mars only after it died on The CW.  I tried Friday Night Lights only after I learned my way around Texas (finishing the show only a few weeks after the last season aired on NBC).  The West Wing became a thing years after Jed Bartlett left the presidency.  The concept of binge watching wasn’t there for some of those– and others were encouraged by DVD’s and online streaming services.  Nevertheless, the world caught on too, and binge watching became a thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not claiming to have started a trend.  That being said, I do believe my habits came way before the majority of the rest of the binge-watching world.  And I don’t blame the world for copying me.  In fact, I think I’m kind of grateful that the world decided to follow me– now I don’t have to feel nearly as crazy for my previous actions.

So I think binge watching is here to stay.  We can indulge in the good, the bad, and the laughable.  That being said, don’t forget the new shows out there.  If we all kept binge-watching the old stuff, we’d never have any new stuff to binge-watch ten years later….

Parenthood: When Simple Makes Great TV

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Parenthood defies the trends of our era’s television.  While other shows are using elaborate period settings, fancy stunts or special effects, or mind-bending plots, Parenthood tells stories with emotion.  No other show on television consistently causes its audience to spend hours with tissues simply from the emotions the characters are portraying.  I am often in tears by simply listening to two characters argue.  The show makes me laugh, makes me cry, and always leaves me thinking.  I think its simplicity is what makes it one of the best shows currently on television.  

I am no stranger to the family dramas.  I grew up watching 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, and the rest of the WB family (along with TGIF and anything else appropriate for children out there).  That being said, every other family show seems to have some kind of gimmick. That is aside from Parenthood– unless you consider fabulous acting to be a gimmick.  The background is simple.  Parenthood is the story of one large family– a set of parents with four grown children, and each of the children with their own families and lives.  Story lines are so simple.  They have ranged from everything from a school election to getting into college to “mom’s dating a new guy”.  Yes, there is the occasional shocker, but again, it is always addressed with such realism, you cannot help but feel that the Bravermans are a real family living right next door.

I owe much of the brilliance behind Parenthood to the style of Jason Katims.  We saw it once with Friday Night Lights (and FNL fans get the excitement of seeing some of their favorite back on the screen in Parenthood), also a beautiful show wrought with emotion but bathed in simplicity.  He knows how to make acting feel raw and real.   I am unsure if it is purposeful or due to the actors, but one of my favorite things about Parenthood is how you can see similarity in mannerisms between mother and daughters.  Even when they are not in a scene together, the two older mother/daughter pairs of Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman and Monica Potter and Sarah Ramos share similarities in speech and emotion.  It is unbelievable to watch how Whitman’s character Amber reacts to an upsetting situation in the same rambling way that Graham’s character does so.  They do not even have to look alike to recognize that they are mother and daughter.  I can say the same exact thing for Sarah Ramos and Monica Potter.  The acting is brilliant, the directing is beautiful, and they play their emotion with such a raw realism that I can see myself responding identically to how the characters act in any given situation.

There are definitely story lines in the show I could do without.  For how brilliant (I may be using that word too much) Lauren Graham is, much of her romantic plot lines seem a little to average for a show with such heart.  There are many characters that annoy me, yet that is more of a strength than a flaw.  When Max Braverman, a preteen with Asperger’s played beautifully by Max Burkholder (can someone nominate that kid for an Emmy please?) responds selfishly to his father (played by Peter Krause) when he refuses to take care of the puppy he asked for, you want to scream at him, especially considering Krause’s character is overwhelmed by trying to manage a house while his wife is ill.  At the same time, Max is supposed to be annoying, so you can recognize how difficult Adam (Peter Krause) and Christina (Monica Potter) have it.  

Again, the only words I can use to better explain Parenthood are “simple” and “raw”.  In every show, you see the simple moments of cooking breakfast, running through hallways, and falling asleep.  The kids do homework, the parents are cranky, and the grandparents are a little kooky.  The Bravermans are anything but a perfect family, yet the love portrayed throughout the family, makes any viewer wish they could be a part of that crazy clan.  There is no need for some crazy shocking cliffhanger because even small news can play cliffhanger in their world.  It is refreshing to see television that can entertain with simplicity.  When today’s film and tv are filled with special effects and enormous plots, simplicity is hard to find and oftentimes without simplicity, real emotion is harder to find.  Parenthood brings us both, makes us cry, and reminds us that sometimes simple can be the most beautiful.