Television

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Offred is a protagonist who lives in a world gone crazy. In a cautionary tale that borders on post-apocalyptic mania, The Handmaid’s Tale pulls a Planet of the Apes and seduces us into the horrors of Offred’s world and then reveals them to be our own. Offered is us. This is meant to terrify us and indulge our worst slippery slope fears. Rarely does that make for enjoyable entertainment, though. Thus, I blooped my way to Hulu’s new series, with my dog-eared, annotation-scribbled copy of the book still on my nightstand, wondering if I even wanted to spend hours of my life sucked into a vortex of depression. What I found, though, oddly delighted me. It turns out my paranoia enjoyed being indulged.

After an alleged terrorist attack on U.S. Congress, martial law is declared in Offred’s America, and there is a public movement for a return to basic values–which includes women staying in the home and owning no property. This would be terrifying enough, but Margaret Atwood, author of the book from which Hulu plucked its content, chose to add a special science-fiction twist: For reasons unstated, women and men face obliterating infertility rates. This warps the nightmare into a nation with a breeding program in which the “lucky” women are turned into procreational sex slaves.

This is the turn of the screw that is supposed to draw you in. Hook you. Women as forced breeders, wearing wimples and enslaved under such miserable conditions that most opt for one form of suicide or another. As a book reader, I was almost a bit disappointed that Atwood took it to this level. Sure, it makes the story stunning and tragic, but takes it just slightly beyond the grasp of what feels realistic. It disconnects us from feeling the likelihood that this could happen to us.

And it could. Atwood has warned of it herself. Were it not for the fertility plot line, this forced female servitude feels like it is only one international crisis away. One cry for a return to our “values”. One coordinated and well-funded grassroots movement away from decrying that women are not permitted to work outside of the home because, the children. Because the 1950s was when we were a pure and righteous nation, right? When men were men, and women knew their place. So the movements call and chant and wail that we need to go back to our roots, and they share it feverishly across social media. And in turn Facebook and Twitter accounts and voter registration records are used to identify who is a “patriot” or a “believer”, whichever bent the crusade takes. Add a pinch of racism and misogyny, a whirlwind of fear, and some financial incentives, and you’ve got yourself a real modern dystopia.

This is why I am so grateful for the updates and tweaks that Hulu has thoughtfully provided to Atwood’s mad world. It warms the world and makes it feel like it could have been our own once. Yes the show preserves the infertility thread–no way to avoid that– but it takes care to modernize the technology and add some haunting (an sometimes jaunty) soundtracks. I know those songs. Pre-Offred Elizabeth Moss knows those songs. And she orders pretentious coffee, swipes on Tinder, and worries about her profile pic. Sure the original names are still very 1980s, which is when the story was originally penned. Lydia. Janine. Angela. But there I am with Pre-Offred, believing I could hang out with her, or that I could at least pass her on the street. She is a real, modern flesh-and-blood American.

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I Want to Punch the TD Ameritrade Commercial Guy in the Beard

If you watch a lot of television, especially CNN, as I do, then you know the bearded TD Ameritrade douchebag. He patronizes women, telling them that their life savings is a fortune (….to them, filthy peasants). He therapizes stay-at-home moms condescendingly and, I assume fraudulently, because who the hell is a financial therapist, you creeper? And he does it all while talking out of his pervert beard. I hate that beard. I really want to punch him in it.

Since I can’t do that since that would mostly mean punching my TV which might then weeble-wobble right off the table and break forever, I have developed a solution. I give you, the TD Ameritrade Creeper Beard Dartboard!

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Rules: Play darts as you normally would, but you get 50 points if you hit him in the beard.

The Great Golden Girls Game

Gather ’round, gather ’round! I am about to unveil a Golden Girls spectacular of thrills, chills, and excitement. It gives me great pleasure – nay, embarrassment – to introduce to you a game I have invented for those lonely nights when all you want to do is have a slice of cheesecake around a Miami wicker kitchen table with a few old broads.

Here is a game to help you rank and discover what truly is the GREATEST Golden Girls episode of all-time. Or you can make it a drinking game. Which is probably a lot more fun/dangerous. But I don’t know if I want Rose Nylund flashbacks the next morning with lipstick smears all over the screen, so it’s your call.

Here’s what you need to play:

  • A love for Dorothy, Blanche, Sophia, and Rose
  • A few episodes of The Golden Girls ready to roll
  • A pen and paper*
    (*you may substitute a box of wine if you do not own a pen and paper)

Now, start your engines and away we go! As you watch episodes, you’ll need to keep score of each episode’s happenings, and here’s how to do it.

The Great Golden Girls Game Scorecard!

Mark points on your scorecard for the following Golden Girls moments:

  • (1 point) A late-night dessert is eaten in the kitchen while discussing a problem or date
  • (2 bonus points) If that dessert is cheesecake
  • (1 point) Every lover or group of lovers that Blanche mentions by name
  • (5 points) If the girls scream in horror after discovering two people in bed together
  • (2 points) Each time Sophia says, “Picture it….” followed by a location and year
  • (3 points) Each time Rose mentions a St. Olaf resident (not her, Charlie, or their kids) by NAME
  • (5 points) Each time Rose mentions a St. Olaf pet or livestock by NAME
  • (1/2 point) Each time someone says “Shady Pines”
  • (2 points) For every family member that comes to stay with the girls
  • (1 bonus point) If the visitor is one of Blanche or Rose’s daughters, and the daughter acts like a total bitch
  • (2 points) Every time Dorothy asks a guest to leave the house
  • (3 points) Every time they have to call 911, or fear that Sophia’s dying “Maaa!!!”
  • (1/2 point) Each time Sophia makes a farting joke
  • (2 points) If Stan comes to the house
  • (4 bonus points) If Stan brings the monkey cone with him
  • (6 points) If any of the four girls sing or dance during the episode (limit one scoring per episode)
  • (2 points) If Sophia talks about a Sicilian curse
  • (4 bonus points) If we see Sophia put a curse on anyone!
  • (1/2 point) Each time Dorothy is mocked for getting pregnant as a teen
  • (4 points) If there’s a wedding (whether or not the bride backs out beforehand)
  • (5 points) If “The Cheeseman” is mentioned
  • (-3 points) If they help a wayward child/person in need
  • (-1 point) For every celebrity cameo as him/herself (I’m looking at you, Sonny Bono!)
  • (-1 points) If Carol, Barbara, Dr. Westin, or Dreyfus appear, in what is surely a sad, sad spinoff tie-in attempt
  • (-1,000,000 points) If it’s a clip show!

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Review: The OA

Mid-March, 2017 and Netflix has a brand-new original series out. It’s in the same vein as the incredibly popular and oh-so-delicious Stranger Things, in that The OA is a one-season wonder. An entire series of goodness packed into a single bingeable season (which may or may not have a sequel). And we are meant to greedily scarf it down, all the while in suspense of where this series is going and what on earth (or beyond?) the “OA” is.

The Safe, Nimbly-Pimbly Spoiler-Free Review

Let’s get one thing straight, fans of Stranger Things: This isn’t nearly as good. This will not be a cult classic and you will not be messaging your friends that they have just got to see this new amazing Netflix show.

The Premise:

First, since you don’t want spoilers, let me tell you, it’s hard to even give you a basic show premise or even assign it a genre without signaling where it’s headed. Sufficed to say it ventures into sort of a sci-fi / fantasy / psychological thriller with a slight Biblical twist (though not so overtly that it made me blow chunks).

The OA stars little-known actress Brit Marling and her shiny blond hair that is never mussed, and her dimples that never sag. Once you understand what the show is trying to tell you, it’s perfectly clear why she was cast. Her character, Prairie, is a young 20-something who went missing years ago and mysteriously reappears with a story to tell. So right off the bat, Netflix hooks you with the “what has happened to Prairie that she’s so messed up?” mystery. And just to turn the screw, it turns out that when she disappeared, she was blind. And now? She’s NOT!

The OA 2

What It Reminds Me Of:

The unraveling of the mystery in full is the entire season. And it keeps you wondering and guessing and really attached. The suspense, along with themes of kids riding bikes around a neighborhood and forming important misfit connections to serve a central purpose that eludes the logic of adults, heavily parallels Stranger Things. But the wee characters in The OA aren’t quite as precocious or likable. Maybe that’s because they’re supposed to be sad, even beaten down.

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Game of Thrones: Why Bran Stark is the Super Villain No One Saw Coming

Forget Joffrey and his crossbow. Or even Ramsey Bolton and his dogs (and his knife, and his sausage, etc.). It could just be that the biggest, most monstrous villain that Westeros has ever seen is, in fact, Bran Stark of Winterfell. Bran, the climbing boy who was pushed out of a tower window. The boy who dreamed of being a knight. It just might be that he found a lurking inner darkness and heeded the call of his very sinister destiny.

How All Great Villains Begin

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Once upon a time, there was a boy who was shoved from a tower window. Until that very moment that the air whooshed past his flailing body, Bran was a sweet, innocent boy with a loving family and a promising and privileged future ahead of him.

Of course, this is exactly how so many villain stories start.

Then, in keeping with villainous themes, this tragic thing happens to him. He is nearly murdered by a queen and her brother, and is left crippled. Gone are his dreams of being a knight. Gone are his days scaling the rooftops. The bitterness sets in. He cannot remember what has happened to him, so he doesn’t understand why or how. He was cheated.

bran-in-bed

Let this mark the beginning of his darkness. TV Bran wants to hear only dark and morbid stories, and he despises his mother’s absence (another common villain theme). He cares not anymore about learning or caring for his father’s subjugates.

But, what of it? He’s an adolescent who has been crippled. Wouldn’t anyone’s mind be in a dark place? Absolutely. It’s what Bran does next that defines his character.

Bran Murdered Hodor

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Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Review

My eyeballs are still wide and the snack foods are still crusted to the plates from my binge watching of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. (Sorry, I skipped the Pop-Tarts and Red Vines, and went with a baked brie and some stuffing and mashed potatoes all left over from yesterday’s Thanksgiving.) But here it is. My review of the four seasons of A Year in the Life. And, of course, my take on the final four words. I am also going to go ahead and update my previous ranking of every single Gilmore Girls episode to include Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. (HINT: one of them makes it into the top ten!)

Please be advised, total SPOILERS ahead.

The seasons weren’t the only thread running through the four episodes that brought our girls back to us. Really, this “year in the life” was a throwback to season 4, during which all three Gilmore girls were struggling and, eventually, falling apart. Back then, Emily bought glass apples, and took up smoking in a silk robe. Lorelai ran out of a salon with wet hair and blubbered all over Luke’s shoulder. And Rory started an affair with Dean. Sigh. This time, as we travel through the better part of twelve months, we see Emily give away her belongings and wear jeans. Lorelai goes solo camping, more or less. And Rory has an affair with Logan. Sigh. Well, at least their characters are consistent in how they deal with life crises. This seems like a fitting place to pick up the story since we are witnessing the ladies violently evolve into the next phase of their lives.

Winter

winter

Oh, Rory. You’re 34 and that whole journalism thing never took off for you. I feel so bad for her, and a bit curious that she never got a position at a paper, but it also seems like Rory has trouble settling in one place. For the last thirteen years she has been bouncing from home to home, continent to continent, and (apparently) lover to lover. So this is probably mostly self-sabotage. Still, I feel her pain. I also went through a period in my life trying to scratch out a living in the writing field by jumping from project to project. Lots of irons in lots of fires. But by age 30, I realized that it wasn’t working and I wanted more stability. Let’s just call Rory a slow learner on this subject. Well, and let’s plainly understand that the girl is undoubtedly living off of a trust fund or two–hence being able to casually afford plane tickets back and forth over the Atlantic Ocean a few times a week, and a Brooklyn apartment that was never lived in.

The Paul schtick was cute and modestly funny, but a little out of place. Yes, this is typical of Rory to hang on and beat up boytoys that she is too cautious to discard. But two years? Ouch. Poor Paul. And how on earth did these two hook up un the first place? Sadly, I think Paul stands out too much as a walking, talking recurring joke. He might as well be wearing a sign around his neck that reads, “plot device”. Still, I won’t kibitz, as this is far from the most offensive sin of the reboot.

And then there’s Logan. Even as a person rooting for Jess (don’t make me say “Team Jess”, please), I couldn’t help but squeee a little when I saw her and Logan romantically linked again. I mean, it felt weird knowing that Paul was in the picture, and knowing that the whole “no strings” plan isn’t Rory. We’ve been through this already. She needs strings. She wants strings. She is the biggest Pinocchio in the world. So we know already that is going to blow up.

Around town, my Kirk-filled heart was not disappointed when I learned about his continuing romance with Lulu and his new pig, Petal. And Kirk’s Ooober business was a highlight for me. I mean, Kirk’s already dabbled in the transportation industry before (remember the first Stars Hollow pedicab ride), so this seems like something he would absolutely try.

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Gilmore Girls: Every Episode Ranked

UPDATED! To include the new Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life episodes!

From the sick mind that ranked every episode of modern Doctor Who, comes the biggest, dopest, Stars Hollowy-ist ranking of every last freakin’ Gilmore Girls episode ever made–all 157.

This was no easy feat, mind you. Ranking these episodes required months of re-watching every season (for the upteenth time) and countless hours of careful thought, criticism, and plenty of coffee, my friends. Let me tell you right off the bat that I’m a Jess fan, and I thought Digger wasn’t so bad. There. Phew. I got that out there. And Christopher? King of the Ruiners. I hate him the way Taylor hates the long-haired town troubadour (I just start pulling at my hair and mumbling to myself about vegetable soup, carts, kiosks, and cart-kiosks.). But more than focusing on a single character, I did my best to weigh how much I enjoyed each episode, and how much they fit in with the show and characters that we know and love. Lorelai playing racquetball? No. Mrs. Kim serving tofurkey? Yes. Rory going to the gym? No. Taylor convincing the town to build a giant haybale maze? Yes.

If you’ve ever “been to” Stars Hollow, I really hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane as much as Kirk enjoys crinkle-cut carrots. So, sit back and turn up the BooZoo Barnes, and get ready to completely disagree with my heavily subjective (yet clearly perfect) list.

This list is dedicated to my little sister Meri, without whom I never would have traveled to Stars Hollow, and who sadly did not live long enough to see the “Year in the Life” episodes.

157. “Go Bulldogs!” (season 7, episode 6)

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This episode is so badly written that it’s really difficult to sit back and enjoy it. Christopher’s cheesy, Lorelai’s a giant petulant child, and Rory is self-important. Not feeling it. And all those creme brûlée “to die for” jokes? [gag] [blurp] are like something out of a corny 50s sitcom. Not one scene of this episode works, and the series would be better if it never existed. Awkward Suspension of Reality Moment: The idea that Rory would have “fans”, being an undergraduate student editing a student newspaper for one semester–especially not to the extent that other parents recognize their names. Nope. Lorelai’s Been Hit With the Stupid Stick Moment: She is practicing French without really trying and with a cartoonish accent. I’m sorry, hasn’t she already been to France and other francophone nations? Lorelai’s Been Hit With the Stupid Stick Moment #2: “Extra Provost on that, please!” Tons of points lost for: Having to watch Luke’s wretched date with the really horrible gross swim coach. Super points lost for: A cappella groups. They made me listen to fucking a cappella groups! My ears! They bleed!

156. “Santa’s Secret Stuff” (season 7, episode 11)

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This whole episode is a bunch of terrible about Lorelai trying to write a character reference for Luke. I’m not sure we needed a whole episode to do this–though I get that she’s supposed to be examining her feelings. But you know what that leaves us to do? Listen to Gigi be a moron. And re-live the nightmare that is holiday shopping at the mall. The only redeeming part was the talk Lane and Zack had about life. I never would’ve guessed that they’d end up being the all-star couple of the series, but that’s what it’s looking like. Awkward Suspension of Reality Moment: Wait, Lorelai and Chris actually suspended Christmas–tree, gifts, and all, until Rory got back from England? How incredibly unfair is that to Gigi??? She’s a little kid who had to go to bed on the 25th believing that Santa was visiting everyone but her. I would have sobbed and been deep-down genuinely hurt by the universe. I mean, that is traumatic shit! But they had to all because of fucking Rory and her boyfriend booty call plans. Awkward Suspension of Reality Moment #2: While I don’t mind that there’s no snow (it’s common, plus it’s symbolic of Lorelai’s unhappiness), all of those trees outside should not have green leaves. Go, go California foliage! Awkward Suspension of Reality Moment #3: I just realized that in the outdoor shots you can see that the Crap Shack has some pretty fancy basement windows. Hmmmm. Lorelai’s Been Hit With the Stupid Stick Moment: “Hockey puck, rattlesnake, monkey, monkey, underpants.” Points lost for: “The redcoats are coming.” Gigi, you are NOT cute. Not even a little. Points awarded for: Michel: “You know what, I cannot do this, let us just stand here and let the awkwardness wash over us.”

155. “A Vineyard Valentine” (season 6, episode 15)

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Taking us out of Stars Hollow was always a really bad idea. Then add in a splash of Luke acting like a complete grumpy dickface, not to mention a social spazz (who brings food rations on a romantic weekend?). Seriously, everything about Luke in this episode is what I hate about this character. Complete insensitivity and rudeness. Buy her a present, asshole. Don’t you love her even a little? Then throw in a zippity-pow of Rory being so fake, playing “Look, I’m a fuckin’ Real Housewife” with Logan. Since when does Rory like to cook big dinners? Or go to the gym? The GYM?? No she doesn’t like to do any of those things, and, frankly, without Lorelai there to keep her company, what is it she does at the gym while Logan’s shooting hoops? I bet she sits in a corner nibbling the ends of her hair and praying she never gets poor. This episode makes me angry and depressed all at once. I’m smad. Points lost for: Lorelai’s really tacky and unfunny spermaceti jokes. Points awarded for: I would normally say Boozoo Barnes and his zydeco band, but fuck this episode and this season. No points awarded.

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