A Few Good Presidents

I think we can all agree that so far this election season is the most insane in living memory. If this were a West Wing season, we would all be complaining that Sorkin was jumping the shark and creating only caricature Republicans to push his left-wing agenda. But it’s real. It’s all real. And whoever wins in November is going to get the keys to Air Force One for real.

The current political mess inspired me to reflect on some of our best political leaders – the fictional ones. Yes, before we had the catastrophic Selina Meyer and philanderer Fitz Grant, a few fake presidents were actually pretty good. I give you my favourites…

1. Laura Roslin, Battlestar Galactica

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Though perhaps not the most democratic leader, with only a reluctant acceptance of the set-term presidency that Lee instates, Laura Roslin leads a dwindling civilisation to a fruitful new life: the dying leader who leads her people to the promised land. That’s pretty good going.

The Secretary of Education who has the presidency thrust upon her after a nuclear attack wipes out everyone else in the line of succession, Laura Roslin navigates her new role with increasing adeptness as the series develops. She is dealt a terrible hand when she comes into power, and handles the near-total destruction of her people with grace and poise. She’s tough, though, more than proving herself capable of handling the demands of governing a race whose survival depends on her every decision (while her own survival deteriorates). As a leader, she is compassionate, she is pragmatic and she respects the people she represents. These are, in my humble opinion, the fundamental qualities of a good president.

Also – and I realise this may not seem particularly relevant but stick with me – she is an ace at flirting. Congrats to BSG for being the first narrative to get me invested in a middle-aged love story. No matter how adorable Admiral Adama is however, Roslin keeps her eyes on the prize always. She resists his charms, always focusing on her endgame: Earth. She selflessly puts her own happiness aside and endures about twenty different cruel plot twists that would make anyone else straight-up finish Gaius Baltar and comes out the other side a moral, uncompromised, revered president. Her legacy is so much bigger than her, and she always recognises that. She is single-handedly responsible for saving every life in that poignant wide-shot of a fertile land at the end of the series finale. (I guess that also makes her responsible for the Lil Wayne myspace page that’s advertised in the ‘100,000 years later’ scene, but we’ll let her off.) Without Laura, basically all the humans would have met their nasty end. Good job, Prez.

(FYI, “How long do you have to live, Karen?” was the original “What’s good?”)

2. Jed Bartlet, The West Wing

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Everyone’s favourite power-walking president with a penchant for national parks trivia and a subtle air of superiority, Bartlet has often been heralded as the liberal fantasy president. No one puts on their jacket with more flair than our man Jed. And that’s what you want in a president, right? Flair? Well, he also has the best administration of any White House narrative – a charming band of idealistic lawmakers ready to make a difference and talk fast doin’ it.

Highlights of the Bartlet administration include: appointing Bill Adama Roberto Mendoza, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, and the first female Chief Justice, seeming to successfully negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, his not-so-secret (or real) plan to fight inflation, that one time he rocked the debate, and probably other things involving jobs and education and, hang on, did they ever follow through on that idea about making college affordable? Or curing cancer? Anyway, point is, he did a lot of good, lefty things and said a lot of good, lefty things. Perhaps most iconic was his ‘Dr.’ Jenna Jacobs smackdown on the issue of homophobia:

Martin Sheen elevated Aaron Sorkin’s writing every time he was given a speech and together they created one of the most memorable, compelling characters on television. Bartlet was a reminder of what a president could be during the bleak days of the second Bush presidency. He revived people’s interest in the political narrative. Flawed, but so charismatic and so affable that you couldn’t help but love him.

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Pawnee Forever: A Farewell to Parks and Recreation

fdgfParks and Recreation is the last remaining of NBC’s beloved, though criminally under-watched, sitcoms from their old Thursday night comedy block, but soon it too, hot on the heels of The Office (ended), 30 Rock (ended) and Community (rehomed), will conclude its run. I have to admit, I write this post with more emotion than can usually be found on this here page. As the finale date draws closer with alarming velocity (anyone ever told you, you’re the worst, NBC?), I am struck by just how missed this comedy will be. It’s rare that a cast of characters is so universally warm, energetic and loveable, reiterating the message, time after time, that no one achieves anything alone. That is Parks‘ heart and soul.

If there is one thing to take away from the critically acclaimed comedy, it’s the value of creating rich relationships with every combination of characters that you have in your arsenal. I imagine half the fun of writing this show was pick-‘n’-mixing character pairings for subplots. I mean, think about it. Think about any two characters and, if you’ve seen the whole series, you’ll know their dynamic. From Ben and April (“She’s like the little sister I never had, because the little sister I do have is normal and not terrifying.”), to the mutual respect between Leslie and Ron as they settle their differences over breakfast foods, to the juxtaposition of super-fit Chris and, well, Andy, to the inspiring masterminds behind “Treat Yo Self”, Tom and Donna, everyone fits together and, crucially, provides an endless source for comedy. One relationship above all others really steered the show and that was the friendship between Leslie and Ann, unique in its platonic nature as the focal relationship. Given how female friendship has been portrayed within the media when it’s portrayed at all, Parks was a rare treat, celebrating the way that women can support and inspire one another – often over breakfast food. This started with Leslie and Ann but quickly seeped into every female dynamic the show has to offer: the mentor relationship Leslie has with April, the love-hate-but-secretly-just-love between April and Ann, and the ladies’ casual and constant admiration for Regal Meagle.

The reason these friendships are all so special, of course, is because the characters that make them up are a wonderful bunch of weirdos, just as any comedic cast should be. When shows end, often it can be hard to say goodbye to a beloved favourite character. How do you keep it together when you’re saying goodbye to so many favourites at once? If anyone knows, share with the group. I’m desperate here. As I haven’t figured it out, here are my heartfelt goodbyes to each one of Pawnee’s finest…

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The 10 Best Moments of The West Wing’s Josh and Donna

140796482_10January has been a crazy start to the new year, with illness and assignments both sentencing me to full hermit status. As February beckons and we reach the end of my house arrest, it feels like a good time to have a big ol’ fangirl sesh and there’s nothing quite like reminiscing over the best moments of The West Wing to lift everybody’s spirits. I could watch a hundred shows and I’d still come running back into the arms of those beautiful liberals. It’s a show about the best of politics, a fantasy, an alternate world where those at the top care about those at the bottom. Within this magical universe exists the greatest love story ever told, that of Josh Lyman and Donna Moss.

Maybe you’re skeptical. Maybe you disagree with my statement of fact. Here are 10 moments that back me up big time…

10. “You’ve got health and strength.” – Guns Not Butter

vlcsnap-2013-01-09-17h14m01s124 copyAt the end of a day that has been packed full of punches, Josh walks out of the Oval Office to find Donna sat outside waiting for him. “It’s getting harder,” he says, conveying immeasurable frustration with the process that he’s devoted his life to. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were long-time marrieds as you watch their tender exchange.

Donna: You took funding for remote prayer to the president?

Josh: Oh, I did it with gusto.

Donna: That’s because you don’t know the story of Fishhooks McCarthy.

Josh: Is this a real person, or a Donna person?

Donna: Corrupt politician on the Lower East Side in the ’20s. Every morning he stopped at the St James Church on Oliver Street, and said the same prayer: “Oh Lord, give me health and strength. We’ll steal the rest.”

Josh: Not that there needs to be, but was there a point?

Donna: You’ve got health and strength – both of which, coincidentally, I prayed for after hot lead was shot into your body.

Josh: (getting agitated) Yeah, and you’re going to need some kryptonite, by the way–

Donna: Okay… settle down.

Josh: (whispers) Alright.

Donna: So you’ve got health and strength.

Josh: And we’ll steal the rest?

Donna: Bet your ass.

I feel like all Josh needs at the end of the hardest days is to stop and take stock for a minute. In a single moment, looking at Donna and listening to her, he is refuelled. Hope is restored. Whether or not you read this moment romantically or not, it’s evidence that it’s Donna who keeps him going, which should really be a shock to nobody at this point.

On Donna’s part, there is also something incredibly revealing in her reference to the shooting. Little is said about the trauma of nearly losing him but this modest comment, hidden behind the story of Fishhooks McCarthy, reminds you of her ordeal. It’s the ghost of a pain bigger than any ‘bad day’ could bring. It seems to be her point of reference when it comes to challenges or pain or disappointment. It doesn’t hurt as much as the day Josh nearly died, therefore, we can get through it. Together.

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Lessons Learned From Leslie Knope

Parks-and-Rec-2This month marks the beginning of the end for Parks and Recreation fans, as the final season starts its brief run. This wonderful show, exploring the trials and tribulations of local government, was the gift that gave generously throughout its seven years. Perhaps the biggest gift of all was its leading lady, Leslie Barbara Knope, an icon to many and the future president of the United States. In Leslie, Parks presented viewers with the warm-hearted, ambitious heroine that they had long deserved.

The fact that Leslie Knope was so impressive while still hugely relatable, a woman pushing forward in a world built for men, meant that it became easy to learn from her mistakes and heed her best advice. Here are some of the gems that Leslie Knope has bestowed unto us humble Padawans.

1. Be ambitious.

“2024. I win. We move in there. I’ll take the West Wing. You take the East Wing. You can be the First Gentleman.”

Despite her modest position as Deputy Parks Director of the parks and recreation department, Leslie had more firepower than everyone else at Pawnee City Hall put together. When the budget cut Grim Reaper came, in the form of Butch Count-sidy and the Sum-dance Kid, Leslie had one hell of a fight on her hands. Forced to go big or go home, she masterminded the Harvest Festival with great success, winning the admiration of her beloved hometown and taking the first step on a road that would eventually lead to the city council election. In the words of Leslie Knope herself, “Winning is every girl’s dream. But it’s my destiny. And my dream.” And it was. Both.

Her campaign to replace Councilman Pillner (aka my beloved Josh Lyman) was a genius move by the writers, creating a perfect season-long timeline that united the entire ensemble in one aim. Her ambition, both in this venture and always, has subverted the archetypal representation of the career-minded woman. There is no edge of coldness about Leslie; as she breaks Ben’s heart as well as her own to avoid a career scandal, the viewer remains steadfastly on her team while tearfully embarking on their own tragically futile attempt at claymation (probably). You want to see all of Leslie’s big ideas find a home. You want to see her be given the respect she deserves by the town that she adores. You want to see her face brimming with pride when she finally wins that long-desired seat on the city council. The necessary sacrifices that she is forced to make along the way do not define her as cold and ruthless, but determined and brave. Her ambition is portrayed as aspirational, not detrimental.

2. Patience pays. Sometimes.

Admirably, while the many public forums that Leslie has hosted have uniformly proved anarchic and unproductive, Leslie’s attitude remains firm: “These people are members of a community that care about where they live. So, what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.” Even though that community has really not helped very much at all, it was at one of these public forums that Leslie was first introduced to Ann Perkins. There began the greatest love story of our time. It was also at this very first public forum, way back when, that the saga of the pit was introduced. Whether we ever get to enjoy the fruit of Leslie’s labours at Lot 48 remains to be seen, but without her constant patience and perseverance, it would probably still be a pit – or a fast food restaurant.

3. Don’t let people shame you for your passion.

Leslie Knope is passionate about many, many things – namely, friends, waffles and work. And let’s not forget Joe Biden. In a world where it’s become all too cool not to care, Leslie’s enthusiasm reminds us why passion is far preferable to apathy. The special thing about this show, pushing against the heavy tide of cynical television, was that in Pawnee, passion was celebrated and not mocked. Even April, who began as Parks’ representative of the apathetic youth that Leslie tirelessly seeks to inspire, is moved by the dedication of her friend and boss. As we near the end, it’s clear that over the course of the series, April’s journey has been to learn from a seasoned pro that it’s okay to care. In fact, maybe it’s actually kind of… nice?

April explains: “Where I live, there are a lot of apathetic people, people who don’t care at all about what they do or how they do it. They let the world wash over them and barely notice anyone else is even there. Leslie Knope is not one of these people. She cares about everything and everyone in our town. I don’t know how she does it. People come to her with the pettiest, stupidest problems and she cares, like really actually cares what happens to them. And if you’re lucky enough to be her friend, your life gets better every day. She spends every waking moment thinking of new ways to make her friends happy.”

4. Don’t let the haters keep you down. Bounce back.

Of course, with great passion comes great disappointment. Leslie’s taken more than a few knocks in her time in the parks department: government cuts, relationship scandals and the recall vote, to name but a few. While she’s had to deal with her professional setbacks, she has also faced a series of personal ones, with the second season charting Leslie’s often-disastrous attempts at dating. With Ann on hand to console her, it’s never long before Leslie is back on fighting form, though. Her irrepressible positivity has afforded her the dream job and the dream husband, so it seems that bouncing back has done pretty well for Leslie Knope.

The key, with Amy Poehler’s portrayal of Leslie Knope, has been maintaining the balance between her theatrical side and her competence. ‘The Comeback Kid’ is the perfect example of one of Leslie’s turbulent attempts to bounce back. She is finally getting back on her feet but is faced with the reality that, in a town like Pawnee, the ground will always be shaky – or rather, slippery. Even when the entire cast are sliding around on the ice, the belief that Leslie can and should win the election is absolute. The viewer knows that no one should ever bet against Leslie Knope.

5. Love yourself. (Also: love Leslie Knope.)

vlcsnap-2015-01-05-23h57m00s241“I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself,” Leslie says unapologetically as Ben notices the framed picture of his girlfriend that she displays on her “wall of inspirational women”. I adore her total lack of false modesty, particularly within the context of her relationship with Ben. Women should never feel inclined to reduce themselves for the ego of a man. Despite her small stature, Leslie is a powerhouse. She should not and, delightfully, does not pretend otherwise for Ben’s benefit. Leslie’s self-assurance only makes all of her friends love her more, so it’s win-win. Leslie’s relationship with Ben works because he is not intimidated by who she is, and she allows it to flourish by not moderating herself for his benefit.

6. Love your friends. Love them a lot.

Leslie Knope loves her friends. Like, reeeeally loves them. Especially beautiful Ann. No matter how swept up she might get in her relationship with Ben (her brilliant, sexy little hummingbird), Ann always comes first: “You know my code: hoes before bros, uteruses before duderuses, ovaries before brovaries.” When we are first introduced to the colourful world of Pawnee, it is Leslie and Ann’s relationship that provides the opening chapter of our story, and their bond holds firm from that point on. To celebrate the ladies in her life, Leslie even created Galentines Day, a day of “ladies celebrating ladies”. If we take one thing away from this show, it should be that February 13th is henceforth set aside for ladies celebrating ladies.

tumblr_mc3n7kzhsR1qe9t4zo2_1280 If there’s one thing I find most relatable about Leslie Knope, it is her unabiding love for Ann. I have my own Ann, named Hannah. Her name even contains “Ann”, so it’s kismet. As Leslie declares, “Less man time, more Ann time,” I will proudly do the same (with an ‘H’ in front).

As well as her love of Ann, Leslie maintains numerous other firm friendships. Her growth, from everyone’s pain in the backside to their respected leader, has allowed every one of her friends to realise the value of having Leslie in their life. To show their gratitude for Leslie’s unwavering loyalty, they frequently team up with interventions of support and motivation. There’s nothing that that team of people wouldn’t do for her, and I promise that I’m only paraphrasing The West Wing there by accident. Remember, “one person’s annoying is another person’s inspiring and heroic.”

7. Love your hometown. Hate Eagleton.

Eagleton sucks. Pawnee forever.

7 Reasons To Watch Season 7 of The Mentalist

6x19-5After seven years of Patrick Jane getting himself into endless pickles and relying on the impossibly patient Agent Teresa Lisbon to come to his rescue, The Mentalist’s finale date sadly beckons. After a late renewal, it’s the season fans were lucky to get at all – though that makes the goodbye no easier, especially not when it looks to be one of the best years of the show ever. Here are seven reasons why this final season is the perfect time to watch…

1. Throw caution to the wind and let go of all the Moonlighting anxiety, Jane and Lisbon are together and damn, it feels good. The aftermath of, “That woman in 12-B, I love her. You take care of her!” seems, so far, to be even more enjoyable than the many years of build up. There’s something impossibly charming about the walking heart-eyes emoji that Patrick Jane has become. Since shaking off the Red John albatross, he’s been floundering around the small matter of his deep, abiding love for Lisbon. Now, we see the sunniest incarnation of the man whose darkness has always been driving the plot. Sure, it’s different but, as someone who’s watched many an angstfest of a TV series, letting the light in for this ‘encore season’ is the biggest treat for both the characters and the loyal viewers. Whether we’ll get engagements, marriage, babies, etc. remains to be seen, but no matter how much of this relationship we are witness to, I sense it will be romantic as hell. It is romance that, so far this season at least, has proved to be more entertaining than indulgent, more charming than saccharine.

2. Simon Baker’s hair is majestic as ever. That’s just science. He is more beautiful than Cinderella. He smells like pine needles (I imagine) and has a face like sunshine. Slip your shades on, because Sunshine Baker…

3. Showrunner Bruno Heller is the gift that keeps on giving. With only 13 episodes before we’re forced to say goodbye forever (do you hear my gentle sobs?), Heller’s laid on a spread of nothing but blue skies. (Yes, that is what the premiere was called. It was accurate.) The final season has also been referred to as “Season of Jisbon” so, y’know, if that doesn’t make you want to watch while also breaking into a chorus of ‘Seasons of Love’ at every commercial break then I don’t know what will. Having read spoilers for what is coming up over the next couple of months, it very much seems like Heller’s kept a tab open on the fandom wishlist and is doing his utmost to tick off each item. Their every interaction thus far reads like the greatest effing fan fiction you’ve ever read. If you do that kind of thing. *shifts awkwardly in seat, closes all windows*

4. Time is running out, yo. You gotta get on the bus before it leaves the station. There’s no need to do as I did and marathon all six previous seasons, though it helps. Seasons 1 and 6 would be good for context, but procedurals are designed to be accessible. What I’m saying here is, you can do this. I believe in you. Watching Season 7 as it airs would come with all the joys of social media freak-outs over smitten Jane and Lisbon (aka my Twitter timeline constantly) and week-long periods of wondering what they’re getting up to after each episode ending. If you’re an old viewer who hopped off the bus before the journey’s end then now’s the time to catch back up. It’ll be worth your while, pinkie swear.

5. Bunney game strong. The best shows usually come with the best cast friendships, and The Mentalist is no exception. I would be remiss not to mention offscreen BFFs Simon Baker and Robin Tunney, whose delightful friendship has translated onscreen with added intimacy. Season 7 sees the pair with a new challenge on their hands – that of exploring the romantic sides of their characters. So far, the balance of new-relationship-awkwardness and happy-relationship-glow has been played to perfection. Having been friends for so long, it would be insincere to ignore the adjustment for Jane and Lisbon, but the similarly enduring friendship between the actors plays into this exceptionally well. Tunney, in particular, pulls some brilliant nervous-Lisbon faces (see below) as they attempt to navigate their new situation. Long may this continue! (I mean, 13 episodes…*more crying, crying gets louder*)

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6. Old school Mentalist vibes are back. With the Big Bad dead and gone, the cases this season are going to feel a lot more like the fun Season 1 cases, before Red John really took hold. I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing Jane at his most theatrical and Lisbon being pulled into many a scheme, all while Abbott gives an exasperated sigh (what a gift Abbott is, while we’re at it). It’s exactly what I enjoy most about the show, and what separates it from other procedurals. The promise of Jane and Lisbon as fake psychics, in particular, has me pretty darn pumped.

7. If you’ve ever had a favourite show prematurely cancelled, you deserve this. You’ve earned it, baby! From the sudden, cruel cancellations of shows like Firefly and The Hour, to the shows I simply wasn’t ready to let go of like The West Wing (Josh and Donna had only just begun!), this is retribution for every one of us who has ever experienced television show heartbreak. It’s time to let the sunshine in. I prescribe a 13-episode dose of an ‘encore season’.

What are you waiting for? Go, do, watch.

A Year in Television

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While others may call themselves movie buffs or bookworms, the small screen is my preoccupation. The 2013-2014 television season has been an eventful one, so allow me to reflect on the highs, the lows and the WTFs…

Heartbreaker of the Year – Leo Fitz (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

LET ME LOVE YOU. Putting aside my crush on real life Iain De Caestecker, Fitz is my ~male character of the year~ (imagine a little jingle). In between being a science whizz, offering up more than his fair share of witty asides and looking cute in a cardigan, Fitz was busy being the underdog hero of this show. There’s no doubt Fitz clocked up more heartbreaking moments this year than anyone else. First there was F.Z.Z.T., in which he was faced with the prospect of losing the other half of his portmanteau. A few episodes later, he was blaming himself for Skye’s perilous decision-making. In Turn, Turn, Turn, he was touchingly single-minded in his mission to save Simmons from the rampant HYDRA dudes. Then came his shining moment: standing up to the Big Bad, tearful and trembling. Later, there was the revelation that his sub-bestie was secretly evil, though Fitz adamantly refuted it until the bitter end. And then came the bitter end. In one of the most moving scenes of the show full-stop, he sacrificed himself to save the woman he loves. His goodness and courage is something else. So Gryffindor it hurts. Please be okay, boo.

Most Contrived Breakup – Nick and Jess (New Girl)

After almost a season of a relatively healthy, happy relationship, New Girl’s dorky roommates decided that it was time to split. Apropos of really nothing, as far as I could tell. The problem was less that they broke up (as is typical of TV relationships), and more that the non-issue that broke them up isn’t really solvable. It’s been there the whole time. Yes, they’re polar opposites. This breakup throws into question whether they even want to be together that much if they can’t work the fundamental differences in their personalities. It reeks of panicking writers instead of good storytelling. Prince would be so disappointed in you.

Best Declaration of Like-Like – Jake Peralta (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)

Despite my AOS temptation here, I’m going to show a little love to the best new comedy on the block: Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Jake’s admission to Amy in the final episode of the show’s inaugural season won my affection for three reasons.

  1. “I wish something could’ve happened between us… romantic styles.” A perfect sentence tbh.
  2. The no-pressure approach. Expecting nothing in return is the best way, and in my mind the only right way, to admit to someone you like them. Four for you, Jake. You go.
  3. It will undoubtedly lead to interesting changes in the Jake/Amy dynamic for Season 2.

 Worst Finale – How I Met Your Mother

Untitled-2I think we can all just agree this finale was a total mess. But we can all take relief in the fact that we never have to watch another episode of this again.

Best Soundtrack Moment – ‘Love is Blindness’ (Peaky Blinders)

The use of music throughout this show was phenomenal. Despite its post-WW1 time setting, this series had a contemporary feel to it, slickly using modern music over stylized direction. Nick Cave and The White Stripes were peppered throughout the series, with Cave’s ‘Red Right Hand’ providing a pretty stunning opening theme. The musical highlight was offered up in the final episode, though. Jack White’s ‘Love is Blindness’ seamlessly held together a dramatic montage that closed out the series, with an eerie relevance in the lyrics of the song.

Asshole Award – Dan Egan (Veep)

He’s the worst but I totally would. His repartee with Jonah has renewed his asshole status until the year 2026. At least.

 Biggest WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, SHOW? – Parks and Rec

parksFive babies and a time-jump? Really? I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you. How dare you. Learn something from this. When you go to bed at night, you lay there and you take responsibility for yourself, ‘cause nobody’s gonna take responsibility for you.

 Biggest ‘We’re Never Ever Getting Back Together’ Moment – Jaime Lannister rapes Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)

Very, very done with Game of Thrones at this point. The fact that the (already quite disturbing) sex scene between Jaime and Cersei was consensual in the books, combined with the fact that the rape was entirely ignored in the following episodes left me more than a little disturbed. HBO’s cash cow has had its problems from the start, but those problems seem to be snowballing at an exponential rate. People make fun of all the “but it wasn’t in the books!” fans, but at the end of the day, why would you add an unnecessary rape scene in? Not for the first time, might I add. Enjoy the brutal deaths of the remaining 83 characters without me, y’all. Jess out.

 Pointless Baby of the Year – Tie: Baby Swanson, Baby Traeger, The Triplets (Parks and Rec)

If you’re thinking three pregnancy storylines in one season might seem excessive, you’d be right. A bizarre narrative choice with zero pay-off. There must have been a sale on. Baby Swanson, while the big reveal in last season’s finale, has been straight-up shunned for most of Season 6. Ann hopped town with hers still in utero. Bizarrely, with Chris. Then came the triplets. Three? Really? That’s a lot of work for one female lead to handle while also having to juggle A-plots week-in, week-out. But you knew that already, didn’t you Parks? And then came the worst plot device in all of Dystropia, found just around the corner from fridging the love interest: the time jump, skipping several years in time, bypassing birth and new parenthood. I’ll be right back, just gotta go find the point.

Most Inappropriate Use of Music – Grey’s Anatomy (constantly)

o-GREYS-ANATOMY-SEASON-10-facebookI say this disparagingly, but it’s actually brought me a great deal of joy despite that I don’t actually watch Grey’s Anatomy. I caught one musical moment, and later discovered that there was a trend: John Lewis covers of 80s pop music. I’ll give you some of the most ludicrous examples, but just imagine some of these over a montage of dying people in a hospital:

  • ‘I’m So Excited’ (10×16)
  • ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ (10×18)
  • ‘Fame’ (10×19) …no, really.
  • ‘Like a Virgin’ (10×22) …WHAT.
  • ‘Jump For My Love’ (10×23)
  • ‘99 Red Balloons’ (10×24)

Unnecessary Death of the Year

There were too many entries for this category, so the machine that processes them imploded. R.I.P. everyone. You will be missed. (Obviously not by your showrunner.)

 Best Finale Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

agents-of-shield-cast-0002The one comfort that viewers had going into the finale was that things couldn’t possibly get any worse. S.H.I.E.L.D. had turned Hydra, and so had Agent Ward. Fitzsimmons were at the bottom of an ocean. Coulson’s team were in a bit of a sticky situation, all things considered. The episode was fast-paced and fun, with a surplus of one-liners flying around and a Fury cameo thrown in for good measure. The beautifully written Fitzsimmons scenes anchored the finale in humanity (with absolutely stunning performances from both Henstridge and De Caestecker), while the action sequences were delightfully threaded with humour. Samuel L. Jackson was used brilliantly, with the temptation to over-use expertly resisted. What elevated the hour-long from solid episode to killer finale was that it absolutely left you dying for the next episode. It was the perfect balance of closure for old storylines and introduction of new ones.

 So, what do you think? Do you agree? Or was the HIMYM finale the highlight of your year? Were there other shows that deserved consideration for these prestigious titles?

10 Reasons to Love Josh and Donna

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You probably didn’t need reasons, but I’m giving you them anyway, as the wise philosopher Billie Piper once sang, because I want to, because I want to. Indulge my shipping heart a moment and allow me to reflect on what made the White House romance quite so special.

1. They were a beautiful accident. 

Much about the success of The West Wing has a touch of serendipity to it, but nothing more than the relationship between the deputy chief of staff and his assistant. Bradley Whitford, who played Josh in the White House drama, said: “They’re completely in love. What’s great is Aaron Sorkin never wrote it as a romantic thing. It just sort of came out.”

In fact, because Rob Lowe is reeeeal pricey, folks, Whitford was originally asked to play Sam (perish the thought!), and he had to fight for Josh. He won the part in the end, of course, but back then, no will they/ won’t they tension was intended between Josh and Donna; rather, Josh was supposed to romantically spar with White House media consultant/professional disappearing act, Mandy Hampton. Donna herself, Janel Moloney, had originally auditioned to play CJ and lost out to the wonderful Allison Janney before being offered a few lines in the pilot episode as everyone’s favourite deputy deputy chief of staff. Chemistry happened, and those few lines earned her an extra scene in the pilot episode. She continued earning herself extra scenes throughout the inaugural season until Moloney was promoted to a series regular for Season 2. By this time, all hope had been lost for a Josh/Mandy romance, praise be.

Moloney explained: “I decided early on that this was a passionate, deep love relationship where my character was mad, head over heels in love. Because that’s drama, that’s fun. A little bit of love’s not fun for anybody. I think it made the relationship special because there wasn’t really anything like that on the show. And you can’t get rid of a hot, burning romance on your hit show.” True dat.

2. The best things come to those who wait.

Josh and Donna take their sweet time to get together, eventually locking lips in a moment of euphoria, mid-Season 7. Yes, I’m sad that we had so little time to bask in the post-consummated glory of a Josh and Donna relationship. But the beauty of the slow burn is that all of the little moments feel like big ones. Any time they flirt or gaze at each other or basically outright declare undying love (“If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights”), it’s a huge effin’ deal. The best thing is, these delightful occurrences come on the regular.

A particularly sweet, very downplayed moment occurs when Josh is telling Donna’s prospective boyfriend, Jack Reese, some dorky stories about her. She’s mortified; he’s confused. He insists, “Those are good stories about you, though. Those stories would make me like you.” It still burns me that she doesn’t notice the intense googly eyes he’s making at her as he says it. Yes, I took every single piece of bait they threw at me for seven seasons. Expect no less. I WAITED FOR THEM FOR SEVEN YEARS.

3. Individually, they are two of the most dynamic, complex, heartbreaking and amusing characters in their show – or in any show, period. 

It’s perhaps unsurprising that separately Donna and Josh (in that order) make up the top two on my list of West Wing faves, but it would be a poor show to overlook their respective brilliance.

Donna is witty, confident, brave, compassionate, determined, and incredibly good at all the jobs we see her have. As Josh’s assistant, she begins under-qualified and ends up over-competent. Donna embarks on an arc of empowerment through the later seasons of the show, a storyline that sees her all the way to the office of FLOTUS chief of staff. Whether she is pursuing her ambitions, bringing the comic relief or providing a moral compass, Donna Moss is a constant joy. It’s really no wonder that Josh couldn’t bear the idea of losing her, professionally or personally.

Speaking of Josh, he’s plenty interesting himself. Desperately loyal, committed, intelligent, funny and just a little broken, Sorkin expertly juxtaposes his amusing arrogance with such deep vulnerability that one can’t help but fall hard. One minute he’s declaring, “I drink from the keg of glory, Donna. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in all the land.” and another he’s flying all the way to Germany at a moment’s notice to be at Donna’s side.  I would argue that Josh is the most complex character (while Toby’s the most nuanced) and by mid-Season 2, the show has inadvertently made him its very compelling lead. Whitford’s Emmy for Noel, an episode that explored Josh’s post-traumatic stress disorder, was about as well deserved as Emmys get.

4. Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney.

bradjanelThe actors who play them are candid about their characters’ onscreen relationship, openly expressing support for it. Moloney said of their collaboration: “I really feel like that’s my central relationship on the show. Any scene I do with Brad is particularly enjoyable.” Whitford obviously shared this sentiment, having told the director, “God, I love her!” immediately after their first scene together.

On their characters, both conceded that the pair belong together. Whitford admitted that “they’re absolutely crazy about each other” despite their jobs, adding that, “I think I know deep down that emotionally, as a human being, I can’t function without her and I think professionally, as a human being, I can’t function without her, either.” Geez. Now I’m struggling to function.

Moloney commented that, “I think they’re absolutely mad for each other. I think it’s probably something that they both struggle with personally and they don’t really know how to express it and they don’t really want to admit that they have the feelings that they have.”

At a reunion, the duo was asked what they imagine their fictional counterparts are doing with themselves several years on. Married with a kid, they agreed.

5. War Crimes.

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HE BROKE THE LAW TO PROTECT HER. HE MAKES THE LAW. HE IS THE LAW. HE BROKE THE LAW… FOR HER.  Don’t tell me to be calm about this! I will not be calm.

6. They bring the funny.

Their witty repartee never ceases to entertain me. Always a delightful dose of sharp dialogue and sizzling chemistry, biting sarcasm permeates their every exchange. At times, most times really, they resemble an old married couple – reluctantly sharing food, dressing each other, having their petty squabbles and sharing the most over-familiar rapport.  They play tricks on each other (the “XW-9 warhead in a silo 93 feet below the Eisenhower putting green”) and they play tricks on their colleagues (“I framed Roger Rabbit!”). They fight (“You know, there are times when, to put it quite simply, I hate your breathing guts.”) and they flirt (“You are a very powerful and a very handsome man”). It’s hard to know which is more enjoyable to watch. Both actors have a knack for understated physical comedy and superb comic timing, which lends itself beautifully to the lightness of their scenes.

7. “She was the one who guessed.”

They get each other. When Josh’s symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder begin to manifest, Donna is the one to notice and get him help. When Donna is caught in a roadside explosion, Josh drops everything and flies to Germany to be with her. In a more low-key display of the bond between them, after Donna hears of the suicide of Donovan Morrissey in The Benign Prerogative, she tells Josh that she “needs to learn how to […] keep things at arm’s length”. He replies simply: “I hope not.” The sincerity of the line’s delivery shows his affection for that part of her, her deep-rooted compassion as a driving force of her character.

It’s hard to talk about Josh and Donna “getting” each other without referring to her conversation with Amy in Commencement. “You have to get Josh,” Donna states, the implication being that Amy does not. “His sister died in a fire while she was babysitting him. She tried to put it out; he ran outside. He went off campaigning; his father died. He wakes up in the hospital and discovers the president’s been shot. He goes through every day worried that somebody he likes is gonna die and it’s gonna be his fault. What do you think makes him walk so fast?” She gets him, like really gets him. She’s thinking about all the factors that have shaped who he is and how he behaves on a moment-by-moment basis. She takes the time to wholly know him and so when an outsider comes to her for some insight on the mind of Josh, it’s as simple as: “You have to get Josh.” But she’s the only one who does.

8. They don’t even try to hide it.

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They are more tactile than married Jim and Pam, to be quite honest. If Josh can find an excuse to touch the small of her back or hold her hand, by golly, he’ll do it! And likewise, Donna makes a nice home for herself in Josh’s personal space. There is an episode, Stirred (a favourite of mine for many reasons), where she positions herself in his office with her legs up on his desk. Scandal! In-universe, it’s made clear that there are rumblings around DC about the nature of their relationship as outsider Amy flatly asks, “Are you dating your assistant? […] I heard you might be.” His mind’s telling him no, but his body’s telling him “IF ONLY!”

Did anyone else kind of want it to become a Mary Marsh-involved scandal that tested their relationship but ultimately brought them closer together? My best friend and I talk about this so often that it’s become real to me. I feel like Taylor Swift wrote ‘I Know Places’ about this very dream.

9. Their first meeting and THAT stage direction.

Josh is immediately a smitten kitten when this charming, audacious Wisconsinite shows up “at my desk, reading my calendar, answering my phone and hoping that I wouldn’t notice that I never hired you.” From that very moment, he’s a goner. And judging from one rather touching stage direction, so is she:

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Goddammit, Sorkin.

10. The struggle is real.

The obstacle in their relationship is legitimate. It’s not that they won’t admit to themselves that they’re in love; it’s not that they are with other people; it’s not that they are cop partners who can’t risk complicating their working relationship. If they were to enter into a relationship, they would risk tarnishing the Bartlet presidency with a pretty big scandal that the administration could very much do without. Obviously they know the term is going to be four or eight years, and potentially that’s what is in the back of their minds whenever they confront their feelings. The backlash to any potential romance would be catastrophic if it were to happen while Donna was still his assistant. It would seem as though he was taking advantage, or that she was sleeping her way to the top.

Romances from Sorkin’s other shows have had comparatively insubstantial obstacles – Dana and Casey’s nonsense, Matt and Harriet’s nonsense, Will and Mackenzie’s nonsense. I’m just saying, he’s good at romantical nonsense. Dana and Casey’s felt like a real low point until you caught Season 2 of The Newsroom and were introduced to the second round of Mackenzie and Will. Seriously, their obstacle was mindless stubbornness and literally nothing else. If there had been a Josh and Mandy romance, I have a feeling it would have resembled the aforementioned list of nonsense.

The fact that Josh and Donna were a blessed surprise to even their writer may have actually worked hugely in their favour. Throughout the show, their situation, their problems, their struggle is real – making it all the sweeter when you reach the delightful final chapter.

My Mad Perfect Diary

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I feel like My Mad Fat Diary explores a previously-untapped point of view. All told through the female protagonist’s diary entries, it explores deeply personal – sometimes taboo – issues. These are quite often things that I have never before seen approached on TV. But I’m glad it’s happening now. Last night’s episode took this to new heights, dizzying heights, look-at-the-beautiful-scenery-up-here heights. It was PERFECT. Here’s why:

Sex was a hot topic in the season premiere. But unlike most (read: all) times that I’ve seen sex referenced on TV, MMFD focused on female pleasure. Women liking sex? Who’d have thunk it?! How many times have you read headlines like, “How to Keep Your Man Happy in the Bedroom” on the covers of women’s mags? Too many, anyhow. Note that vice versa doesn’t pepper the covers of men’s magazines. Evan Rachel Wood was recently even talking about her frustrations with the way the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) censor female sexuality, commenting that “The scene [in her movie] where the two main characters make “love” was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people “uncomfortable”, but the scenes in which people are being murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered.” She further suggested that this was symptomatic of a society that punishes women for enjoying sex. While MMFD didn’t go as far as to show male-to-female oral sex, it was certainly addressed as Rae expressed her desire for Finn to “go down on me for so long that he has to evolve gills.” It was both hilarious and a delightfully positive acknowledgement of female sexuality, as was Rae’s later comment that she “was so turned on, we were gonna need a canoe and life jackets.”

Another wonderful moment in the episode was the acknowledge that pubic hair exists. These might seem like easy bonus points but seriously, it might be the first time I’ve ever seen pubic hair mentioned on TV. After her visit to the beauticians, Rae eloquently states: “My lady clam no longer looks like a barber’s bin.”  I believe the world would be a better place, an easier place for teenage girls at least, if we stopped pretending girls aren’t naturally hairless.

And yes, BRAS SUCK. And My Mad Fat Diary proved that rather brilliantly last night as Rae, who has given up comfort in favour of more aesthetically pleasing lingerie, is given some boob support from “stereotype gay best friend” Archie. Too often femininity comes at the cost of comfort.

Hello, Finn’s butt. Daaayummmm boy.

Then there’s Rae’s heartbreakingly relatable insecurity. The show, at its best, superbly taps into a near-universal human neuroses that manifests in all of us differently. Personally, I’ve found a worrying amount of solace in Rae Earl quotes from the show: “It’s easier to like yourself when someone else likes you”, “The worst thing was that a lot of the stuff was so nice … It just wasn’t made for someone whose body wasn’t pretty, wasn’t delicate”. I feel like Rae is representative of a personality that we don’t see on TV enough, at least not depicted in such a positive and enlightened way. Mental illness is a sensitive issue to explore and MMFD does it beautifully, clearly informed by the autobiographical source material.

Finally, the episode beautifully addressed the mindfuck chaos that comes from the pressure to lose your virginity in your teens. Please can we stop hurling the word “virgin” around? Girl will get the D when she so wishes.

Feeling a Little Peaky…

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Blinders, that is. The BBC Two drama has me hooked.

Back in August, you may remember I posted about writing a feature on Peaky Blinders. I loved it from the screening of the first episode. Beautiful cinematography, a stupidly talented cast and top-notch writing were apparent from the very beginning. It was only last weekend, however, that I had a chance to continue watching the series. In the words of Aunt Pol: holy Jesus! It gets better every week. I’m now extremely relieved that I did get to watch them in one hit because the wait for the finale leaves me more impatient than I’ve been over telly in a very long time!

This is a show that, had I simply read a synopsis, I would have assumed was not for me. Gangs, crime, violence – none of it particularly lends itself to my taste. In fact, I think it’s more about a family trying to get by in a hostile world. Nevertheless,  this show defies exact categorisation. It’s just really bloody good. (And yes, sometimes just bloody.)

Cillian Murphy is one of the most commanding leads I’ve seen in any TV series. Having never seen any of his other work, I say that without bias. He is captivating. In Tommy, he has created a character of such complexity and contradiction. Tommy can be all kinds of intimidating and, at other times, deeply vulnerable. He has a commanding stillness on-screen, distinct from the scenes that depict his monstrous violence. He’s cunning, and yet not malicious. He takes no pleasure in violence, but is forced to be as bad as those above him to help move the family up in the world. I find that I defend his harsher moments in spite of myself. Whether or not I’m right to, it’s exciting to find a character that inspires such a conflicting array of feelings . I’m a girl who likes the Jim Halperts and Josh Lymans of the world – the slightly smug, good guys. And yet here I am getting all worked up over a Brummie gangster? I don’t know what’s come over me. Sometimes I just find his casual badassery kind of sassy: “Oh, I don’t pay for suits. My suits are on the house or the house burns down.”

Beyond Cillian’s magnetic performance, the show boasts an impressive ensemble, which includes Annabelle Wallis as the shady chanteuse, Helen McCrory as the badass matriarch, Sam Neill as the corrupt chief inspector, Sophie Rundle as the lively and lovely Shelby sister, and Iddo Goldberg as Tommy’s former BFF turned communist agitator. Each is perfectly placed in a series that offers a unique depiction of post-WW1 Britain. The time setting offers rich historical context, with all manner of political changes occurring. The most interesting historical aspect for me is the gender conflict. With women having taken care of business while the men were at war, they then have to adapt to the loss of that control upon the soldiers’ return. There are countless other social issues that play a part in the series, though.

Oh, and if you like a little romance then you’ll get your fill. Promise. While Tommy might seem all sharp edges and sharp-tongued compared to the softly spoken, aptly named Grace, simplistic binary oppositions of good and bad don’t really fit in the world of the Peaky Blinders.

Since getting hooked on the series, I’ve become retrospectively all the prouder for having been able to write about a series so brilliant for my first published feature article. In Peaky Blinders, it feels like the BBC is finally making steps to make it up to me after the distressing cancellation of my last TV love (RIP The Hour). Fingers crossed for the future of Peaky Blinders – and for the futures of all my favourite characters in tomorrow night’s finale. (Whoops, I’m invested!)

If you haven’t given Peaky Blinders a chance, get on it like a car bonnet, my friend. It’s one of the Beeb’s best for a long while now. It doesn’t fall into the (very BBC) trap of trying to appeal to everyone – it knows what it is, and what it is is quality drama. It’s hard to know exactly where to focus my gushing. The cast? The writing? The cinematography? The music? Just go and watch it.

You’re welcome.

The Deep End is Really Deep

Just over a year ago, I made a Big Scary Life Decision. Do I stick with the course that I am unhappy on, or do I move past my overwhelming fear of change and transfer to English? After a horrible period of will-she-won’t-she (the one-woman version of Ross and Rachel), I did it. I talked a little more about this in my first post but, ever since then, everything that’s happened has only confirmed it to be the absolute right choice. This week any remaining doubt I had was obliterated.

In the middle of August I headed off to London, for some very ‘citing work experience. Two weeks at the TV Times. Not bad, not bad. I was in equal parts thrilled and nervous about the opportunity. I love TV (more than is socially acceptable) and I love writing. This could work… right?

During my two weeks, I had the chance to do a real variety of writery things. One thing that I really sensed from the people I was working with was that they really wanted to give me great experience. It wasn’t a matter of bringing me in to do all the little jobs that they didn’t want to; at least, that’s not how it felt. Even writing a transcript of an interview felt valuable because I was learning about the interview process, the kinds of questions they like to ask. It was in the second week, though, that I was given something that I could really sink my teeth into.

On Tuesday (Day 7) I was invited to a screening of a new BBC show, Peaky Blinders, the following evening. There would be a panel afterwards, with Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Otto Bathurst and Steven Knight. I was to take my cassette dictaphone (old school) and get some quotes for a feature I would later write. A couple of hours before I left for said screening, an interview with Helen McCrory the following day was thrown into the mix. It was one-to-one and face-to-face. Do-you-need-more-hyphens? You should know, prior to this, I had never interviewed anybody. I’ve never been very good at putting myself forward for things, but it was a matter of being given a task and wanting to do it to the best of my ability. It all happened very fast.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the screening and there was some really interesting discussion at the panel. Afterwards, I immediately began throwing together a list of questions that I thought would make for a good interview, before emailing them very late that night to my boss. It was really exciting to have so much freedom. While there was certainly a little input from him on the questions, it was very much my interview. The next morning, I found out details of the interview. I was given a half an hour slot. Now, just to make clear how long an amount of time that is, let me list some things you can do in half an hour: watch an entire episode of a soap of your choosing, make one of Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals (probably not, but still), learn Cups, load The Sims, watch just the good bits of any romantic comedy twice over, go on a shopping spree with me, listen to the Firefly theme song 34 and a half times.

The interview itself, while daunting, went relatively well. I’m still alive and there’s no restraining order in place. I call that a win. Helen McCrory was probably the best first interviewee I could hope for: patient, intelligent, interesting and passionate about the project she was promoting. We ended up talking a lot about female roles on television, which is something that I have a particular interest in so I enjoyed that. I think it also helped that my enthusiasm about Peaky Blinders was so genuine. I can honestly say I’ve not enjoyed watching a new series so much since The Hour. The cinematography is outstanding, and the actors make up a compelling ensemble. Watch it, you know you want to.

Gone are the days when getting the milk/coffee/water ratio correct and answering phones are the scariest aspects of work experience. And now look…