I’m Watching

Stranger Things

StrangerThings

I’m not usually one for bandwagon jumping, but in this case, I am all for it.

You and your mother (yes, even your mother–mine loved it) need to start checking out Netflix’s latest original series, Stranger Things. Because guess what? Everyone telling you to watch it is right.

It’s part Stand by Me, part Alien (actually I’ve never seen Alien so don’t quote me on that), and part ET. Just your every day group of young best friends who stumble upon a government-run experiment and face a fantastical monster in the meantime. Sure, it sounds “out there,” and while it is, it’s also a wonderful homage to the 80s and the nerds who made it through the decade barely unscathed, and it also tells the story of some good ole, true at heart characters we don’t tend to see on regular television anymore.

Stranger Things focuses on four young best friends in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. Their science-obsessed, fantasy-playing after school hobbies suddenly take on real life importance when one of their own goes missing. While the adults around them, including a well meaning sheriff, focus on your standard CSI means of operating, these kids sense there’s something more to the story–you know, like telekinesis, alternate dimensions, and government conspiracies. I mean, stranger things have happened. (See what I did there? …If you never read this blog again, I’ll understand.)

However, one adult in town does think like the kids: the missing friend’s mother, played by my fave lady of the 90s, Miss Winona Ryder. (WELCOME BACK, WINONA. WE’VE MISSED YOU.) As the police go knocking on doors and walking through the woods in search of the missing boy, his mom senses her son is much closer than anyone else thinks is possible. He might be right in front of them; they just can’t see him. And here’s where the show gets not good but great: this adult starts thinking like a kid, willing herself to believe in the fantastical to find her son.

In addition to my 90s queen Winona, Stranger Things is made even better by a slew of great supporting characters who are each rightfully given an opportunity to steal the show. David Harbour plays Jim Hopper, a cop who doesn’t inspire much hope at first but may surprisingly have more heart in the case than anyone else. Then there are those who seem as if they’ve been handpicked from a John Hughes film: from Barb, the 80s girl personified, to Steve Harrington, the Jake Ryan of Netflix, these characters help capture that nostalgia for a time of over-fluffed hair and ill-fitting jeans.

I mean, my head is practically exploding with how much genuine awesomeness they’ve managed to cram into this show.

And the best part? Episodes are only 50 minutes long. And there are only 8 of them. Which means you can watch the whole series in, like, three days and not feel bad about it. (Come on, it’s like two two-hour movies, with a shorter one thrown in. It’s binge-watching, but guilt free!)

So grab your favorite bean bag chair and hit pause on that Toto song. Stranger Things is waiting for you to join the bandwagon.

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Peaky Blinders

TEVEVISION - BBC DRAMA PEAKY BLINDERS

Come at me, bro.

Well, hello, blog. It’s been exactly a year and one day-ONE DAY-since I last posted on you. At this rate, I’ll be posting about once year. That’s a pretty good track record, amirite?

Okay, so it’s actually a bit of a terrible track record. You know what else is terrible? How behind I seem to be on dark, British dramas…Penny Dreadful (luckily, cancelled, so I can take that off my must-watch list), Outlander (jk I watch this one religiously and then again), and Peaky Blinders.

Now I had two people-TWO PEOPLE (loving these all caps asides, aren’t you?)-tell me how much I would looooooove this show. So I was STOKED to check it out. Early 20th century England? Check. Gangsters? Check. Awesome soundtrack? Check. I quite believed I would love it as well. But sadly, well, I just can’t get into it!

And by “get into it,” I mean I slept through, hm, let’s guess 20 minutes of one episode?, refreshed Twitter a good ten times during another, and have spent most of my time overall cringing at Sam Neil’s Irish brogue.

Actually, perhaps my main issue with this show is Sam Neil and that brogue. Neil plays a copper looking to bring down the Shelby family gang AKA the Peaky Blinders (THE PAKEY BLYNDAS–I prefer to yell it, just like that). And Neil is just.so.darn. annoyinggggg. (Yes, I’m whining.)

And then there’s this barmaid, who’s, ah how do I say this…she’s zzzzzzzzzzzzz. (Although maybe I just have a thing against blondes, who knows? I never said I was above shallowness.)

However, Cillian Murphy plays the leader of the gang, Thomas Shelby, and he is excellent. A very interesting character who is a savvy businessman but behind closed doors is suffering from post traumatic stress from his time in WWI–which is something we don’t normally see play out on screen. WWII? Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan? I feel like Hollywood loves to focus on these guys, but the poor men of WWI don’t get as much attention. So it’s neat that a show is actually taking the time to shed some light on that.

And then there’s Thomas’ aunt, good old Polly. Now HER I LOVE. Slightly masculine (she sports some fine ties) with more than a touch (actually, it’s more like a slap) of that tough mothering love, she’s my favorite. She’s the tie that binds this out-of-hand group of brothers together. And then there’s Thomas’ sassy sis Ada, who’s also mighty entertaining and reminds me of Lady Mary of Downton Abbey if she’d been born, well, not in an abbey.

So for the sake of these characters, I am WILLING MYSELF to ignore Sam Neil and the barmaid and carry on. (This post is so formal, isn’t it great?)

I’m about to start season two and I’m really hoping it grabs me because I’ve heard it is the bomb.com. (Yes, I’m still living in 1997.)

Hopefully my time put-in will be worth it! *insert praising hands emoji here*

CHEERS.

 

The Royals: Regally Awesome

TheRoyals

It’s been too long since America has had gems like Dallas and Dynasty grace its television screens. These TV empires were fueled by lust and greed with betrayal and devious relatives lurking behind every corner and we LOVED it. What we have today, instead, is an endless rotation of Real Housewives episodes and the ever-growing Kardashian brood. Sure, they’re entertaining enough, but they can never fully go into the deep dark side of themselves because things like jail time (hi, Teresa G.) and lawsuits are tangible threats waiting for them should they go too far.

The beauty of fictional TV is such real life punishments do not exist. A TV character can go full crazy and only suffer the consequence of a few disapproving glares. It is high time this type of n’er do well attitude is returned to us viewers. And it is none other than E! who has delivered, by going across the pond and harnessing in on one of America’s favorite obsessions, the royal family.

And so enters The Royals.

The Royals follows the exploits of England’s very modern royal family. There’s mum the Queen, dad the King, and twins Liam and Eleanor as the royal heirs. But this isn’t your typical royal family. Unlike the real-life Windsors, this family is, for lack of a much better word, very juicy.

Elizabeth Hurley plays Queen Helena, a woman who resembles England’s real-life queen in title alone. With an honesty level on par with Simon Cowell, and a fierceness matched only by Posh Spice, Helena seems more like the female version of Henry the VIII, willing to cut down anyone who stands in her royal way. She wears dresses that might as well have been painted on and wears stilettos that could make Beyonce stumble. Fiercely protective of her title and her royal reputation, the Queen is coldly vicious in her tenacity to keep her children and husband in line.

Then there is King Simon, who, unlike his wife, doubts the monarchy’s necessity in the modern world. After the untimely death of their eldest son Robert, Simon wonders if the monarchy should continue at all, an announcement that dumbfounds his wife and brother, the monarchy’s most tenacious defenders. The King’s brother, Cyrus, is desperate to become king himself. Ending the monarchy would certainly kill that dream. The opposite of his brother in all things, Cyrus loves the monarchy and the power it gives him, whether it’s forcing royal servants to do his, um, sexual bidding, or enabling him to keep Parliament in his pocket (by throwing secret parties with a multitude of “private dancers” as the guests of honor). He and the queen are unlikely allies, united by their goal of keeping Simon’s doubts silent and proving to him the need for the monarchy.  There’s no limit to what these two could achieve together.

The royal couple’s twin children, Prince Liam and Princess Eleanor, take after their father, at least in their lack of obsession with “being royal.” Liam (William Moseley, who has come a very handsome way since The Chronicles of Narnia), though, does believe the monarchy could be a force for good, and asks his father for the opportunity to prove himself. What stands in his way, however, is his reputation for being a playboy and his love for a few too many pints at the pub. Priorities suddenly shift when he meets Ophelia, the daughter of his family’s head of security. Born in England but raised in America, Ophelia understands how things are done in the royal world but doesn’t quite fit in amongst all the fascinators and upperclass snobbery. Yet this is what makes Liam like her so much. Unlike his ex-girlfriend Gemma, a favorite of his mother’s and a girl groomed to be queen, Ophelia sees Liam for who he really is and not just someone with the words “heir to the throne” on his Wikipedia page. When Ophelia tells Liam she believes he could be a great king, it is the push he needs to try to be something bigger than just a tabloid headline.

Liam’s twin sister Eleanor (Alexandra Park) is the real star of the show. Perhaps the royal with the biggest heart but the least idea of how to live with it, Eleanor is an abuser of all things rock and roll—booze, drugs, and sex are all her means of coping with a viperous mom and the open wound of her brother’s death. When her new security guard secretly films one of Eleanor’s drunken escapades as blackmail, Eleanor sleeps with him rather than report him. But seeing as how he looks like a Burberry model, I suppose I could understand her decision here. Eleanor is trapped in a cycle of self-abuse, spurred on by her toxic relationship with her mother. More concerned with her daughter’s image than her mental state, Helena shows no signs of concern over her daughter’s many addictions, unless the press should put them on the front page. Eleanor is obsessed with the opposite, trying to make her mother look as bad as possible at every turn, even planting a story in the news of her mother spending royals funds on an inordinate amount of lingerie. These aren’t the Gilmore Girls. This is the Battle of the Roses.

Though The Royals is only five episodes in, it has hit the ground running. Surprisingly racy, the show makes you wonder if E! is trying to get away with whatever it can before the FCC steps in and says something. Despite a few easy-to-spot homages to the real-world royal family (the twins happen to have two red-headed cousins who are clearly meant to be Harry and Will’s cousins Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice of York), the show has departed so monumentally from the present-day Windsors as to banish any thought that E! is trying to create a semi-accurate portrayal of life at Buckingham Palace. Instead, The Royals is Gossip Girl meets Winning London meets America’s Next Top Model. Everyone is glamorous, out to ruin each other, and getting chased by very handsome British men. In a time of year when epic shows take the lead (Outlander/Game of Thrones), it’s fun to have a show filled with #firstworldproblems kicked up a notch to the royal level and with British accents, no less. So pour yourself some tea, sit on your plushest cushions, and watch this bloody show already. But make sure your tea is actually whiskey. You want to make sure Eleanor would approve.

Jamie Fraser: Outlander God

If you haven’t seen Outlander, you’re missing out on riveting historical fiction, acutely-detailed recreations of 18th-century Scotland and…lololol jk, guys, you’re just missing out on this:

jamieabs

I caught Outlander on STARZ (what a name, eh?) about 3 episodes in (or was it 2 episodes? Not sure. Again, I don’t really watch the show for plot-based reasons) and thought, “Yes! A show about Scottish people! This is right up my alley.” (If you know me, you actually know this to be a true.) Surprisingly, though, the show soon lost my interest. No offense to Caitriona Balfe, who plays the show’s heroine Claire Randall, but her almost incessant narration seriously dulls the mind. There’s only so much “These people were different from me” speeches you can handle before your eyes start glazing over.

But then…then the above Adonis of a man appeared one fateful episode. His dark but slightly auburn curls. Those questioning green eyes. And–to cut straight to the point–those abs. The man was Jamie Fraser, and he was here to not only save Claire, but to save me and millions of other “geez is this show gonna go anywhere” women.

Jamie

Yes, even in a kilt, I look good.

Now if you were to ask me what exactly happened last season, I can’t quite say. I basically only remember Jamie-centric scenes and that’s it. But apparently, STARZ has finally caught on to this good thing they have. (No, not Outlander, but this Jamie hottie, aka actor Sam Heughen) And so as they embark upon season 2, they’ve chosen to finally give the people what they want, what they really really want: more Jamie. The opening scene of season two is JAMIE’s perspective on things. Thank goodness, because I’ll take his rhythmic Scottish brogue over Claire’s monotone, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to read these lines” voice-overs any day (sorry, Caitriona). Will all of season 2 be Jamie narration? One can only hope. So watch the clip of Outlander’s season 2 opener below, but beware:

Jamiebrogue

Sleepy Hollow Returns! Tonight on Fox, 9:00 pm ET

The weather by me has taken a turn this evening. What began as a beautiful day is now grey, windy, and with barely a hint of sun. Some say it’s humidity interacting with cold air.

I say it’s Mother Nature welcoming the return of Sleepy Hollow.

The only thing missing is a badass leftenant and a hottie from the 1700s. But I can find those easily, nay?

I can barely wrap my head around what happened last season, but I’ll do my best to relay the gist of it here. Turns out Henry, the trusted sineater friend of Abbie and Ichabod, is actually Ichabod’s son. Rather inconvenient considering he’s actually the second horseman of the apocalypse, whose life mission is to end the world along with the two witnesses’ (Abbie and Ichabod) lives. Talk about some awkward family drama.

Last we saw of Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane, the two were in less-than-auspicious circumstances thanks to Henry’s devious machinations. Abbie was stuck in purgatory, while Ichabod had been buried alive by the man…is there a winner for worst tight spot to be in? I’m not sure–Abbie may have oxygen, but it’s not like she can claw her way out of her situation. Still, patricide, that’s a pretty bad offense, Henry, oh Henry.

Then there was some business about saving Katrina from Purgatory, which ended up being a not-so-smooth plan, as it meant Abbie had to stay behind (two souls enter purgatory? two souls leave).

And when Katrina returned to the present world, her welcoming was far from pleasant, as her son agreed to hand her over to the headless horsemen. Welcome home, ma!

Oh, and I think Abbie’s sister Jenny was in a car accident, and Captain Frank Irving was in jail for a murder he didn’t commit.

So, yes, everyone is doing just smashingly in Sleepy Hollow. No idea how these characters can all come back from the brink, but the show almost gave me a heart attack by last season’s end, so it better be able to resuscitate me and a few of my favorites. I’ll try to post a recap tomorrow, and hopefully it will be more coherent than this guessing game. (But I mean, this show is confusing as hell, ya know?) Until then, cheerio and Godspeed.

It’s been too long since I’ve seen this face.

The Mindy Project is Back! So is New Girl…

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME MINDAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY?!

All right, folks, grab a bottle of Pinot, your finest pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and your cheetah print PJs. Tonight The Mindy Project is back on Fox and we’ve got to celebrate properly.

Last Mindy left us, she’d just been rescued on the roof of the Empire State Building by Danny Castellano while Dancing in the Dark played in the background. It was the cheesiest, most hilarious, and most romantic romcom sitcom moment since Ross and Rachael kissed outside Central Perk. Mindy must be so proud.

This season I hope they don’t just let the relationship fizzle out, a la Nick and Jess on New Girl. SPEAKING OF WHICH, that little number premieres tonight also. Last season bummed me out a little. The return of Coach to the show just didn’t feel natural, and it seemed like the show’s only punchline was making Nick sound dumber than usual and making us all feel dumb for playing along. Maybe this season they’ll return to their season two glory, generating genuine belly laughs and making us ask, “Did Schmidt really just say that?”

But I’m most excited to see the Danny-Mindy love play out in the work place. Now that the whole office knows Danny is madly in love with the girl, I’m assuming there will be some good ribbing from Drs. Reed and Prentice, and let’s all hope Morgan offers up his best dating advice, because something tells me it’s worth hearing.

I’ll be live tweeting the show, so be sure to stay connected at @PopCultured_!

Once Upon a Time

I may be inconsistent when it comes to blog posts, but I am dedicated and invested when it comes to other pursuits of mine.

Like Netflix.

From Arrow to Revenge to bad 80s movies, Netflix always has something for me. (This may explain why I don’t get out much and have skin paler than a Tic Tac Freshmint.)

In recent weeks, I’ve gotten hooked on Once Upon a Time (OUAT). You’ve heard of it. It’s that ABC show with princesses and witches and magic spells. Sounds like your everyday show doomed to be cancelled after four episodes. And yet, the show has lasted three seasons and is about to embark upon its fourth.

Since its premiere, I’ve done little more than scoff at OUAT, assuming it would be full of nonsensical ridiculousness. Fairy tale characters transported to modern day Maine seemed a little far-fetched, even by my standards. But when I couldn’t stop avoiding articles about the addition of Frozen’s Elsa and Anna to the show, I had some serious FOMO and needed to investigate (FOMO=Fear of Missing Out, mom).

So  I decided to give the show a shot. The first episode moved along as I expected. There was some wonky CGI, a tad bit of overacting, and lots of sappy love business. But something in the pilot helped me stick around. The show’s main character, Emma Swann, is living her normal, magic-free life in present-day Boston when a young boy named Henry shows up at her door claiming to be the son she gave up for adoption over a decade ago.  He also has a theory that Emma is the daughter of Prince Charming and Snow White, and only Emma can save them from the Evil Queen’s curse.

Ridiculous, right? Absolutely. And Emma thinks so, too. Instead of just throwing the audience into this fairy tale insanity, the writers have given us our own voice and our own perspective in Emma, who is just as disbelieving and unimpressed as we are by this whole idea. And it is Emma that is the very important key to making this show work. When Emma scoffs and rolls her eyes, so do we. But all the show needs is this one hook. Once we’re aligned with Emma, the show is poised to move forward, and we’ve been suckered into the ride without realizing it.

But don’t worry, you won’t be mad about it. When Emma travels to Maine with Henry to deliver him back to his adoptive mother, things get interesting. His mother, Regina, is nothing short of lethal, and the town itself, aptly named “Storybrooke,” as if to invite derision, seems to exist in a hazy bubble of mundane regularity. Henry is convinced the town’s residents are all from a different world, called “The Enchanted Forest” (because why wouldn’t it be?), and that the queen cursed them to live trapped in time in modern day Maine, without any memory of their real identities. So the seven dwarfs don’t remember being dwarfs, Red Riding Hood doesn’t recall any encounters with any wolves, and Jiminy Cricket has no idea he’s a cricket. And where is Henry getting this theory? From his favorite book, “Once Upon a Time,” of course.

Due to Henry’s mentally unstable theories on life and the venomous personality of his adoptive mother, Emma can’t shake the feeling that she needs to stay in Storybrooke to watch out for the kid for a while. Which means we, too, get to invade this picturesque, boring as all get-out town. But with a stranger in town shaking things up, the people of Storybrooke find their lives getting turned upside down. Previously unnoticed things suddenly seem familiar, and stronger personalities start unexpectedly breaking through.

The only two people who seem keenly aware of these changes are Regina and the town pawnbroker, Mr. Gold. And as the flashbacks begin, we see exactly who these two were in “The Enchanted Forest”–the Evil Queen and Rumpelstiltskin.

Now, Rumpelstiltskin–there’s a fairy tale creature you wouldn’t exactly count as memorable. He made people try guessing his name and for some reason he could turn straw into gold. But beyond that, I can’t say I have a strong recollection of his story. And that might be just what the writers of OUAT were hoping. Because they’ve taken this second fiddle fairy tale character and turned him into one of the darkest, most cunning, and most layered characters there has ever been on television.

Is that hyperbole? Maybe, considering the Walter Whites and Don Drapers of recent years, but only Rumpel is a character who exists in both the “modern world” and fairy tale world. Mr. Gold of Storybrooke, Maine, is a reserved sir with a steely demeanor that somehow still manages to inflict fear into those he meets. His Rumpelstiltskin past, however, is one filled with an ostentatious, flamboyant manner of speaking and an almost childlike joy felt in the pain of others. It is difficult to reconcile the two, and yet, you know they’re one in the same. He’s smarter than everyone else around him, and seems to understand the curse better than the Evil Queen herself. Because even though Regina was the Evil Queen, it would appear that Rumpelstiltskin really ran the show.

With these two characters–Emma and Rumpel–keeping me intrigued, I found myself more and more invested in the show. And with each new episode, I met a character whose flashbacks helped weave a complicated past that explains their present-day predicaments. Even the Evil Queen has more going on in that heart (or lack thereof) of hers than first meets the eye.

And sure, being a Disney fairy tale expert helps you appreciate everything just a little bit more, but the show in and of itself is a juicy web of past and present, truths and lies, hope and evil. The fact that it can take your favorite fairy tale stories and spin them on their heads is just an added bonus. Take, for example, the story of Peter Pan. Not one of my go-to Disney classics, but one admittedly loved by many. In OUAT’s world, Peter Pan isn’t a lost boy. He’s actually a boy very much aware of who he is and who he wants to be. Who is that? Oh, just a psychopath with a desire for world domination. It’s an unexpected twist, just one of many OUAT has hidden up its sleeve

So now, six weeks after I started watching this show on the God-given gift that is Netflix, I get it. Once Upon a Time may be ridiculous, but it’s the great, entertaining, shocking, all around most fun to watch kind of ridiculous. And if you, too, accept that your life will be better for having watched this show, then you, too, can know the wonders of the OUAT world, like how Prince Charming came to be called Charming, and why Hook should really be named People Magazine’s next Sexiest Man Alive. Stop pretending you’re not interested in this nonsense and get to watching. If you do, I assure you yours will be a happy ending.

I mean, hello. This is all you need to start watching, right? #hooktastic