netflix

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.

Advertisements

Full House: Familiar Friends Returning

Growing up, there was predictability–the milkman, the paperman, the evening TV. Sometimes I miss my old familiar friends, waiting just around the bend.

But I now know, everywhere I look, there’s always a heart, a hand to hold onto and the face of somebody who needs me. I’m never really lost out there or all alone, because a light is always waiting to carry me home.

What is this light, you may ask, that has carried me through trying times? The light of a promise. A promise that no matter where I am or how old I get, Full House will never die.

My old familiar friends are Danny, Uncle Jesse, and Joey. Aunt Becky is a cool lady who gives me make-up advice, and DJ helps me pick between hot guys. Steph teaches me awesome dance moves, while Michelle shares with me her snappy one-liners.

                        The hair! The smiles! Who wouldn’t want to be a member of this crew?

We’ve been friends for some time. Since, oh, maybe 1993? As soon as I was old enough to realize Uncle Jesse was God’s gift to women (and men) everywhere, and side ponytails were a sign of the hip elite.

I look back warmly on my Full House-obsessed years. I spent many a day belting out the theme song and searching CD stores for copies of “Forever,” thinking Jesse’s big hit may have actually been released in the real world. (As it should have been.)

I’ve even got gleefully excited about the Full House re-emergence that has happened in recent years. In the early 00s, I often thought to myself, “Where is Aunt Becky now? John Stamos? Kimmy Gibbler?” It seemed as though my familiar friends had floated into the mist of yesteryear, like the Brady Bunch or the Wonder Years clan. But in this age of social media and viral videos, my friends have returned to me in a most fabulous fashion. John Stamos is a celebrity phenomenon. Even though he virtually disappeared for a while there (but for a brief marriage to Rebecca Romijn-Stamos of the X-Men film series, who quickly dropped the Stamos moniker upon their divorce and is now living the blissful family life with Jerry O’Connell), Stamos bounded back suddenly when more and more people noticed he simply.does.not.age. Dropped into episodes of ER and Glee, it was as if people were gasping the world over at his transformation total lackthereof. Then the Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt commercials established him as one of the world’s most appealing men, popping up when women ate the yogurt as the most perfect figment of their imaginations.

Even Aunt Becky has managed to pop up in unexpected places. (She does have a name–Lori Loughlin–but let’s be real, the woman will always be Aunt Becky.) The Hallmark Channel seems to be her calling card, as she never fails to be in at least one Hallmark Channel movie every two months, and she’s even on a Hallmark Channel show, When Calls the Heart. I haven’t seen it, but I’m sure Aunt Becky is wonderful in it. And have you seen her Instagram? From time to time, she posts photos with John Stamos, feeding all of our hearts and imaginations that the love between Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky is REAL and is POSSIBLE and EXISTS IN THE PERSONS OF JOHN STAMOS AND LORI LOUGHLIN (I’m sorry, I just had a Miracle on 34th Street moment, completely unrelated).

Also rocking her Instagram and Hallmark Channel gigs is Cameron Candace-Bure, or DJ. Let’s call her DJ because her real name is an unnecessary mouthful. DJ is possibly the most surprising hottie to come out of the Full House crew. No offense, but when DJ was a twelve-year-old, she did not show this hotness promise. Unruly hair, oversized t-shirts, and floral leggings were just not. flattering. But flash forward 20 years later, and DJ is a hot fit mom of THREE, second runner-up on Dancing With the Stars (celeb status), and proof that magic is possible.

What’s even more impressive about these social media goings-on is that this group is still hanging out. They post photos together at events, in their backyards, at parties–it’s like they’re taunting us as they continue to live this perfect Full House world in which we can never partake. It makes us yearn for the good old days even more. We want to know, what happened to DJ after she went to prom with Steve? Did Michelle ever get back to horseback riding? Did Steph ever get good at the guitar? Did Joey ever grow up? Did Danny ever get married again (oh, Vicky, how perfect you were. Why did you have to go to New York? Why?!)? What about Steve? Is he in the Full House world? WE HAVE QUESTIONS.

Which brings me, finally, to the actual point of this post.

Upon waking this morning, I scrolled through my twitter feed, as I always do. (No, I do not get out of bed first.) Suddenly, I glimpsed my Full House kin, smiling at me in a group photo. An article was linked as well. Dare I click? What could this be? I wasted no time, and opened the piece. What I found…what I found was life-changing. What I found is that, after 20 years, Full House, my beloved show of shows, is, oh my goodness, returning.

*Some sort of loud operatic music should be booming in your head at this time.*

HAVE MERCY.

Now, many of you may say, “Is this really a good thing?” And I say to you, “No, it may very well be a terrible thing, but we do not dwell on the negative. We dwell on what could be. And what could be…is magical.” (The whole Disney-owned ABC magic message really creeped into my subconscious after watching so many episodes.)

From what I’ve read, this won’t just be about 3 men and a baby (also a wonderful film I highly recommend). This version of the show will be about DJ. A WIDOWED DJ (because no spouse can live in a Disney-affiliated storyline). With two kids and one on the way, DJ needs friends. Familiar friends, who happen to be waiting just around the bend. And so enters the guiding lights of sister Steph and best gal pal forever Kimmy Gibbler.

                                      Gibbler vs. Tanner. We commence.

I can see this premise somewhat working, but I must ask, where will the men be? There is something just plain humorous about men trying to raise girls. Dresses? Hair? Makeup? Women are far too adaptable to be intimidated by raising boys. Men are goofy. Women lay down the rules. (I’m sorry if I’m stereotyping here, but I have my theories and I’m sticking with ’em.) Kimmy will certainly be the “good cop.” DJ the eyebrow raising, “Seriously?” (She always did do an excellent eyebrow raise.) What will Steph be? The semi-troubled aunt who needs the family as much as they need her? (Actually, I may have just tapped into something.) I sort of hope a little of the Jodie Sweeten drug addict storyline makes it into the show…it would make for an excellent drugs are bad segway, you see.

While I have my doubts, I’m still too excited to fully let them fly just yet. The show is going to be on Netflix, so this promises a bit more artistic freedom (I’m guessing) and hopefully better direction. It’s not like these Netflix people don’t know what they’re doing. It also means that all the episodes will be released at once and I will get to bingewatch like no other.

I do feel as though this is some magical, serendipitous happening though. Who would have ever predicted that Full House would come back to us? And in such a re-invented way? It’s following the same trend as Boy Meets Girl, Twin Peaks, and even The X-Files, all shows with passionate fan bases long gone from our television screens. Yet despite its end in 1995, Full House has managed to make itself relevant again. It never truly went away–reruns on TBS and ABC Family have luckily made sure of that. But its stars and its cast have kept the magic going. Full House didn’t really produce movie box office stars like George Clooney of ER or Jennifer Aniston of Friends (95% of Mary Kate and Ashley films were straight to video), but it did produce a cast of very likable, very relatable people that you just never grew tired of seeing. And I think it is this strange alchemy of chemistry and friendship that has kept the show so strong in people’s consciousness, and what has spurred its return. I’m excited to see where this goes, even if it just means the show gets released on DVD (because, hello, someday I will have children and they will need to watch allllll of these episodes. Yes, I’m just thinking of the children). So return, Full House, and I will welcome you with open arms, and maybe even a hand to hold onto.

But please, just make sure Uncle Jesse’s a guest star.

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

Heathers: The 25th Anniversary

It has come to my attention that this year is the 25th anniversary of the film Heathers. Never seen Heathers? OH BOY. Get on Netflix now, my friend, and get watching. Oh, it’s on Instant. I’ve checked.

HeathersBack one day many moons ago, I caught the film Heathers as it began on the WB (remember when it was the WB? what does “The CW” even mean? anyone? anyone?). I had already entered a bit of a Winona Ryder phase, having seen Edward Scissorhands at least a half dozen times due to my obsession with respect for Johnny Depp at the time. I was 14 and he was, well, he was Captain Jack Sparrow. But I digress.

I remember watching Heathers and thinking, “Is this actually happening? Am I actually seeing what I’m seeing?”

Veronica, a less-than-enthusiastic member of her school’s most popular clique, suddenly finds herself committing accidental murders with the school’s resident sociopath. That killer of smile of his proves distracting though, and before she knows what she’s done, Veronica has become her own worst nightmare. But the craziest part of this film? How funny it is. I hadn’t seen a film before and I haven’t since that makes, well, death, I suppose, seem so funny. The only thing I can think of that comes close is This Is the End. But that didn’t have the smart wit of Winona Ryder or, more importantly, the flamboyant bombastic look of the 1980s. From the poufy red scrunchie Heather wears as her symbol of school dominance to the explosive ending, nothing in this movie is mellow or understated. Even as Veronica writes in her journal, she wears a monocle, showing in the most obscure of ways how different she is from her “best friends.”

Is this a style trend we can bring back?

Is this a style trend we can bring back?

Anyone who resented the popular kids in high school, or didn’t understand why they were popular in the first place, can relate in some way to Ryder’s character. Hopefully, you have more difficulty relating to J.D. the psychopath, played by a young Christian Slater, whose rye look quickly reminds one of Jack Nicholson at his schemiest of moments. (Schemiest, yes.)

Forget Mean Girls. This is the daring (and hysterical) high school film you need to see.

A Geek About Freaks and Geeks

In 1999 NBC premiered a show called Freaks and Geeks about the ugly but necessary journey of American life known as high school. I’m sad to say it’s taken me 15 years to discover it. Thanks to the blessing (or is it a curse?) of that Netflix ratings system, Netflix seemed to think I’d take a liking to the show “Based on my interest in…” I guess it was Heathers? I have no idea why Netflix thought I’d like this show. But man were they right. OH MY GOODNESS. I couldn’t stop watching this show for four weeks straight. Never has the greasy haired swagger of James Franco or the lovable goofiness of Jason Segel been more perfect. The show only lasted for a year (Nielsen ratings be damned) so I employed some self discipline for a change and limited the amount of shows I watched each day. If you’re looking for one Netflix binge that will actually make you enjoy life more, this is it. Follow the lives of Lindsay and Sam Weir as they navigate high school as freaks and geeks, respectively, and learn that being true to yourself is sometimes way more fun than learning to blend in.