Summer Binge-Watch: Riverdale

One of the people in my writing group decided to write a Riverdale spec, so I spent the weekend watching season 1. Riverdale is a gritty murder-mystery show on the CW based on the Archie comics, and the look on your face right now is absolutely correct. Some people have described it as “Archie in Twin Peaks,” meaning the dark, murder mystery part of Twin Peaks and not the supernatural or “weird for the sake of being weird” parts. My overall impression is that this is a VERY teenage show. Every time our narrator, Jughead, references the murder of Jason Blossom as “when Riverdale lost its innocence,” I think, “no, you’re just 16. That’s what 16 feels like.” When Betty confesses that sometimes it feels like there’s an evil inside her and she doesn’t know where it comes from, I’m reminded of Pubertus. And when Cheryl changes moods like hats, I remember that brief period in high school when I tried wearing hats.

And yes, this show is ridiculous. Most of the adults are mustache-twirlingly evil. Betty’s mom, Alice, is supposedly a reporter but writes articles specifically about her personal vendettas and without regard for libel laws. When Alice is right, she’s right for the wrong reasons and in the worst possible way. She’s so over-the-top that the writers use her in situations where there is a clear path forward that any rational person would take, but the show doesn’t want to go that way so they use Alice to derail the plot. A friend called her a “human record-scratch,” which is a phrase I have to work into my everyday conversation. For instance, you may have heard about the plotline at the beginning of the show where Archie is sleeping with his music teacher, Miss Grundy. (There was a strong fan reaction when the show debuted.) Miss Grundy is clearly a sexual predator, and when the parents finally find out and confront her, Archie basically recites all the things that kids who are the victims of sexual predators say, starting with “she didn’t do anything wrong! I pursued her!” So the way this would go in real life is that she would be arrested and tried, and those stories can be interesting but the writers really knew they had made a mistake with this one and wanted it over as quickly as possible, so instead they put Alice in the scene and she started screaming to where we thought Miss Grundy would end up swinging from a tree and everyone agreed that she just needed to leave town as quickly as possible.

And yet, the show can be frustratingly real. Betty still trusts and confides in her mother, despite her mother breaking that trust every single time, because it’s her mother. Most of the kids, in fact, should have declared themselves emancipated long ago but don’t because this is how it works. When Jughead’s dad accepts money to set off a chain of events that he knows will involve making his son homeless, it’s heartbreaking. When we watch the other adults in Jughead’s life penalize him again and again for being poor instead of protecting or providing for him, the reality makes us cringe.

And amongst all of this, the Blossom family literally tries to replace their dead son with Archie, because they kind of look alike, and nobody sounds the alarm. Jughead tells someone “you can talk to the Sheriff, or you can talk to me [a high school reporter]” and this is played straight. Betty is not only a far more responsible reporter than her mother (despite trying to cover up stories involving her friends), but the school newspaper, which didn’t exist at the beginning of the year, has a larger operating budget than the town paper. THIS IS ACTUALLY STATED AND UNIVERSALLY AGREED ON. The kids are definitely the adults, and yet the kids are still kids. Sort of what you expect from a show based on the Archie comics.

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Background Info: The 1973 Westworld Movie

The movie was written and directed by Michael Crichton, and is the basis for the current HBO TV Series of the same name. The thing that strikes me while watching it is how little is actually there. It’s like if you broke down a movie to its logline; say, The Hangover would be “A group of men take their buddy for a bachelor party in Vegas and wake up the next morning with no memory of what happened – and no groom.” Which accurately describes the movie, but obviously there’s a lot more that happens with tigers and a baby and Mike Tyson, because it’s a full movie. Well, in Westworld, “at a high-end amusement park populated by robots acting as people, the robots malfunction and start killing the guests.” And that’s it. That’s the whole movie. Really. Don’t believe me? Here’s what happens:

We open on something like filmed testimonials for Delos, which is made up of three parks: Medievalworld, Romanworld, and Westworld. (Notably, this was clearly shot after the rest of the movie, because everywhere else it’s referred to as Westernworld.) Guests discuss living their fantasies of shooting six men, a woman talks about getting her groove back, and a man gushes about marrying a princess, something he dreamed of doing “all my life!” And they say men don’t fantasize about their wedding days. One man brags that he was the sheriff of Westworld for two weeks. This will be important later. It’s also established that visiting costs $1,000 a day, which today would be around $5,500. (This seems low to me, but two different inflation calculators gave me similar numbers. I was thinking closer to $12,000.) Remember the Fyre Festival fiasco? Yeah. I think we’re supposed to hate these people.

Then we move to the hovercraft currently transporting a group of guests to Delos. Why a hovercraft and not a plane? Or a train, like the current series? Shut up, that’s why. We meet James Brolin, looking exactly like James Garner in profile and playing John Blane, keeping it cool. He has been to Westernworld before. He’s being grilled by Richard Benjamin, playing Peter Martin, who is a total dork about the whole thing. Peter asks John how much a Colt .45 weights, and John says it’s 3-4 lbs. Having never handled a gun in my life, I feel completely confident that John is full of shit. Every robber would have carpal tunnel. Everyone else watches a movie pumping them up to visit Delos, and giving us no new information except that Romanworld is basically a giant orgy. (Medievalworld is if you want to stab robots with swords, and Westernworld is if you want to shoot robots. In all of them, you can also fuck robots.) One guy traveling with his wife is clearly regretting that they are going to Medievalworld instead of Romanworld. The hovercraft arrives and everyone gets onto trams to go to their respective worlds, which is mostly us being introduced to robots that look like people “except the hands.” The guys going to Westernworld are given authentic clothes to change into, but they’re just in a big, open locker room, and Peter finally gets a gun.

We do get to briefly see Central Control, where they mostly say numbers and there’s one guy who’s always on the phone placing lunch orders or complaining about his laundry not getting done. It’s a swell job.

Peter and John arrive at their hotel, which Peter complains about being an authentic shithole, and John tips the innkeeper just so we can see his hands, which actually look fine to me but apparently are not? John gives Peter a hard time for still thinking about the wife who divorced him six months ago and took the kids, which, the hell? Peter shoulda pistol-whipped John as soon as he found out John lied about the gun. Who are these guys to each other, anyway?

They go to a bar and Peter’s having trouble getting into the spirit of the place (he orders a vodka martini, extra dry) until Yul Brenner, playing a character called The Gunslinger, shows up. He’s clearly a robot, clearly designed to goad tourists into shooting him. So Peter does, but it takes a while, and nobody thinks much of it besides Peter. John finally explains to Peter that they know The Gunslinger was a robot because Peter was able to shoot him, and the guns don’t shoot anything with a body temperature. Which, do the robot whores have cooch-warmers? Because I’d imagine that would be awkward to fuck a cold robot.

We check in on Medievalworld, I think just to show how much better the food is there than Westernworld. Then we’re back in Westernworld, where Peter and John visit the brothel because they have the same questions I do. Peter’s getting the hang of playing cool and ordering whiskey, but still freaks out at the prospect of fucking machines. For about two seconds. And then he’s all sad they have to miss the bank robbery happening across the street so he can fuck a machine. His robot, by the way, does not look into this. At all. She looks downright sad. But Peter doesn’t notice over the sound of his boner. They make sweet, sweet love, which, to be fair, doesn’t look particularly rapey. (This is one of the differences between the movie the TV show. The movie: “You can fuck and kill robots!” The TV show: “You can rape and kill robots!”) We see the robot’s eyes get wide and hear a tone which we’re supposed to interpret as her being affected by this malfunction, and when she leaves she says “I think you’re very nice” which I suppose is why she doesn’t kill Peter? John comes in so they can both giggle like schoolboys.

At night, while all the guests are asleep (sure, that’s how resorts work), the park employees come around to pick up all the robots that are dead or otherwise in need of service. They’re all put on a conveyor belt and taken to a big room lined with surgery-like repair setups. This is mostly to show off the special effects. It’s funny how there’s not even an attempt to get the actors playing robots to stop blinking if the camera isn’t focused on their eyes, although they do hold their breaths. We then get a long explanation about how more robots are breaking down than expected, and it started in Romanworld and is spreading. They kind of go out of their way to NOT invent the term “computer virus,” calling it “a disease of machinery.”

In the morning, after the robots have been activated, The Gunslinger shows up looking for Peter, presumably because that’s the last person he remembers shooting him. John dives behind a bed, which is a good idea when Peter swings into action, taking out a mirror and a lamp before slow-motion shooting The Gunslinger.

The next scene only makes any sense at all in the context of the TV show, so props to the show for that. See, the show explains this concept that the park has “storylines,” which you can choose to participate in or get roped into. The movie sort of references the concept (like with the bank robbery) but the whole concept doesn’t seem as scripted out. What happens here is that Peter gets thrown in jail until the judge arrives “next week.” Which, clearly, you can’t have someone paying $5,500 a day for a park experience and then lock them in a small room for a week of that time. From the park’s perspective, that just doesn’t make sense. Fortunately, John is familiar with this concept, so he bribes someone to pass Peter a note that he’s getting out of jail. And then the side of the jail blows up. How is not explained. Did John also sneak Peter explosives? There’s no evidence of that. Does the wall randomly blow up every other day or so? No idea. But then John shoots the sheriff as they leave. Hey, remember that guy at the beginning that was all happy he got to be sheriff for two weeks? How was John so sure that wasn’t happening again? Anyway, the boys take off into the desert, where John is bitten by a robot snake and the boys prove they’re BOTH really bad shots and everyone in Central Control freaks out because even the snake robots aren’t supposed to hurt people. And we check in briefly again on Medievalworld, so we can see how quickly the robots can be reprogrammed, I think. And then Westernworld gets a new sheriff, who is a short tourist wearing glasses who clearly causes all the other tourists to worry that he’s going to get in the way of their robot-killing-and-fucking with his non-macho ways.

Central Control talks again about the snake problem and decides not to let anyone new into the park, although the people already there can stay. One guy says, “but we can’t ensure their safety!” and another guy says, “sure we can. Watch: they’re safe!” And clearly he’s mixing up ASsure and ENsure. This is why, presumably, they have INsurance.

John and Peter are at a bar fight/chance for stunt people to show off in Westernworld, except everyone is beating up everyone else. So clearly 1) that thing about guns not working on anything with a body temperature is going to be irrelevant and 2) some guests are beating on other guests. But just like in Fight Club, everyone leaves happy.

It seems all the scenes in Medievalworld have been leading up to this one, which is relevant because a “sex model” robot turns down sex with a guest and clearly that’s not right. Central Control takes this WAY WAY more seriously than the snake biting someone or The Gunslinger stalking someone, but they still don’t shut down the park. I mean, sure, snakes are supposed to bite people, but a woman turned down sex?!? WE HAVE A CRISIS HERE. So then the Black Knight shows up in Medievalworld and kills the guest. HE DIDN’T EVEN GET TO HAVE SEX FIRST. They try cutting the “robot power,” but that does nothing because the robots run on batteries, and naturally this is when The Gunslinger shows up again and this time he kills John. Peter’s like, “uh oh, better not shoot him again!” and runs away and The Gunslinger follows him.

We see quick video of the robots killing everyone in Romanworld and Central Control complaining about how they have no control and then realizing they can’t even save themselves because when they cut the power they accidentally locked themselves in. Peter rides a horse through the desert and The Gunslinger rides a horse through the desert. Peter loses his gun. Peter finds a maintenance man, who offhandedly suggests Peter throw acid on The Gunslinger’s eyes, then tells Peter he hasn’t got a chance and promptly gets shot by The Gunslinger. Peter rides his horse into Romanworld, where there are lots of dead bodies and suspiciously few robots. He finds an entrance to the underground tunnels (how? don’t know) and kind of picks one at random. He finds Central Control, where everyone has suffocated because their electronic doors are also airtight, or something. The Gunslinger follows Peter into the tunnels.

Peter finds the surgery/repair lab, where there is a handy bottle of HCl with which to douse the eyes of robots. He rather hilariously lies on a table and tries to pretend to be a robot until The Gunslinger walks up to him, and then he throws the acid in his face. And then just strolls away, like, “problem solved! This robot with a clear grudge against me will definitely be fine with this!” Fortunately for Peter, when The Gunslinger finds him, he can’t shoot him because THE BATTERY ON HIS GUN IS DEAD. I feel like someone at the NRA watched this movie and had nightmares. Anyway, Peter runs to Medievalworld, where all the robots’ batteries have died, so he and The Gunslinger are the only ones moving. Now The Gunslinger can only see Peter’s body heat, so Peter’s invisible if he hides near open flame. Yeah, that’s a thing that happens. So Peter then sets The Gunslinger on fire, and strolls away because that was so effective last time.

Peter finds a woman chained up, pleading for help, so he unchains her and then forces her to drink water, which short-circuits her. Maybe there was more rape in the movie than I realized. This is when The Gunslinger shows up again, but mostly so he can fall over and finally die. Peter actually watches it happen this time, so he finally learned his lesson. Or, since then he takes a load off on the stairs to reflect on things, maybe not.

And that’s the whole movie! From this, the TV show came up with a thing about the robots developing consciousness and spent a lot of time exploring what humanity is, what memories are, and what identity is. It’s bigger than the movie in every way, but although you can see the clear inspiration from the movie to the series, there are almost no clues as to where the series is going. At least, none that can be deciphered in advance.

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2017 Emmy Nominations

2017 Emmy Nominations are out, and I’d like to congratulate my friends Franki Butler, who wasn’t personally nominated but wrote on this season’s Genius, which was, and Jack Dolgen, who was nominated as one of the songwriters for Crazy Ex Girlfriend. Also, a bunch of the music supervisors and composers who I know through work were nominated. This is the first year there’s a Music Supervision category, so everyone here is very excited about that.

Of course, the big question is, Am I watching all the good stuff? So:

Best Drama Series
House of Cards (Netflix) – NOT YET
Better Call Saul (AMC) – YES
The Crown (Netflix) – WATCHING NOW
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) – YES
This Is Us (NBC) – NOT PAST THE PILOT
Westworld (HBO) – YES
Stranger Things (Netflix) – YES

Best Comedy Series
Veep (HBO) – NOT PAST THE PILOT
Atlanta (FX) – YES
Black-ish (ABC) – YES
Master of None (Netflix) – YES
Modern Family (ABC) – NOT ANYMORE
Silicon Valley (HBO) – NO, BUT MY CARPOOL BUDDY WROTE A SPEC THIS YEAR SO I GOT TO HEAR ALL ABOUT IT
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) – YES, BUT I’M BEHIND

Best Limited Series
Big Little Lies (HBO) – YES
Feud (FX) – NOT YET, BUT IT’S ON THE LIST
The Night Of (HBO) – YES
Fargo (FX) – NOT YET, BUT IT’S ON THE LIST
Genius (National Geographic) – YES

Not too bad. I should be caught up on everything I intend to catch up on before the Emmys on September 17th. Things that are on my list just got shuffled up a bit, so keep an eye out for binge-watch posts. I’m preparing one now for Dear White People, and also a couple posts on background research: I recently read the Legion omnibus and watched the 1973 Westworld movie, and now I have THOUGHTS and FEELINGS.

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Summer Binge-Watch: Genius

Season 1 aired on the National Geographic Channel and followed the life of Albert Einstein. Season 2 has been ordered, but it was a couple months before they announced who it would be about. I saw a lot of speculation about Marie Curie, which seemed to completely miss that she was in the Albert Einstein season so that wouldn’t make sense. I remembered that I had added a book on Picasso to my Amazon wishlist once because I thought he might make the basis for an interesting TV show, and got stuck on that thought. Lo and behold: Season 2 will be about Pablo Picasso. So I’m calling it now: Season 3 will be Mary Shelley and Season 4 will be MLK Jr. (Tesla would also be an interesting choice, but I suspect a highly volatile one.)

I’m not going to avoid spoilers because there’s nothing here you couldn’t find out on Wikipedia. The opening episode leaps in time between Einstein trying to skip his last few years of school to go straight to college, much to his father’s and professors’ chagrin, and his realization that he needed to leave Germany prior to the start of World War II. The second episode then takes us back to those school days and the series progresses in more-or-less chronological order, sometimes flashing forward or back or jumping a few years. There are separate actors for “young Einstein” and “older Einstein,” which is jarring in episode 6 when they switch and you realize they’re supposed to be representing Einstein only 4 years apart in age. But when the show is playing fast and loose with the timeline, it’s a handy way to keep track of which time period we’re in.

The moral of the story is that Einstein was a genius, but not a saint. The opening shot of the show is older Einstein banging his secretary and asking her to move in with him and his wife. (His wife later respectfully requests that he cut that shit out.) I remember when I was kid, hearing on the radio an episode of “The Rest of the Story” about a honeymooning couple where the wife was screaming at her husband because, once again, he forgot something – the keys to their honeymoon cottage. The rest of the story is that it was Albert Einstein. I don’t remember if the wife in question was Mileva Maric, his first wife, or Elsa Einstein, his second wife (they were cousins, according to Wikipedia on both sides of the family). The show didn’t address that particular story, probably because it really is so trifling. Much bigger was how he wooed Mileva by appealing to her intellectual curiosity and treating her as an equal, and then as soon as they had children expected her to be his secretary and mother at the expense of her own ambitions. When she balked, he literally drew up a contract stating that she wasn’t allowed to speak to him. Multiple people in his life observe that he is good at physics and bad at people, but the show makes clear that was a choice he made. He’s not incapable of understanding people, he’s just unwilling to put in the work necessary to learn. We see Pierre and Marie Curie, so we know what it looks like when a male scientist supports his wife in the same time period. It seems like his second marriage to Elsa worked largely because they both already had children and did not have any children together, so she was able to devote most of her time to him.

The backdrop of all of this is the growing antisemitism of pre-WWII Germany, and the United States. The Red Scare is seen as a clear cover for antisemitism, and the reason it took so long for Einstein to get a Nobel Prize is that one of the scientists on the committee is a literal Nazi. Other scientists compromise their principles and are still targeted. The build up is slow – a politician friend of Einstein’s is assassinated ten years before he finally decides to flee, but he is far from the only one. The resulting “brain drain” means Germany had no chance of winning the nuclear race, especially once Heisenberg decided to stall rather than give Hitler the bomb. The bomb which Einstein was terrified would be his legacy, perhaps with what seemed at the time like good reason but today seems like a footnote.

A funny side effect of focusing on Einstein’s pacifism is that while we’re told that he’s famous for not signing his name to things, we mostly see him signing his name to things. In fact, by the time he reaches old age, he is having his secretary write letters to the president that feel like they might as well end with “I am not a crackpot.” And yet, he’s being targeted by vindictive crackpots. As in Germany, he doesn’t realize the danger he’s really in because he doesn’t believe how actively evil people can be. Or at least, that’s how the smirking Hoover is depicted here. Einstein’s much more concerned with the passive evil his son sees him as, finally circling back to his family at the end of his life. His son is the one tasked with collecting his body after death, and while he reluctantly gives the doctor permission to keep and study Einstein’s brain, he warns him that that doesn’t come close to explaining who his father was. He’d probably also say that ten hours of TV dramatization won’t do it either, but at least it brings nuance and multiple viewpoints to play, and uses pretty CGI to explain complex theoretical physics.

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Summer Binge-Watch: Big Little Lies

I was looking for a nice palette cleanser after The Handmaid’s Tale. I needed the TV equivalent of beach reading. This aired on HBO last February/March. It’s being called Season 1, and no announcement has been made yet as to whether or not there’ll be a Season 2, but it’s based on a book and Season 1 covered the whole book. Considering it’s a murder mystery and at the end the murder is solved, it’s hard to predict if Season 2 would try to follow the same people or if it would be more of an anthology situation. I guess we’ll see. I watched it on HBO Go.

Yes, murder mystery. I’m going to try to keep this fairly spoiler-free, but the first episode opens with various townsfolk being questioned by police about a murder and then flashes back to the start of the story, so you know up top it’s a murder mystery. You know when the murder will happen, but you don’t know who died or how or who did it. Mostly this device is an excuse to hear how the people outside of our main characters gossip about the main characters. And they gossip A LOT.

The “big little lies” in question are the lies or omissions we all make so that other people think our lives are better than they are. It’s about the struggle rich, (I’m just going to say it), white women feel to appear perfect. And it’s easy to write this off as a show about white women’s problems, but I think it is something we can all relate to in some capacity. I think often of a woman I used to work with; I lost touch after the show we were on was canceled and we went onto different paths, but we were Facebook friends so I still saw what she was up to. I was excited for her wedding pictures, and heartbroken a few years later when she announced that her husband had passed away. But she announced it on Facebook and in the same post also announced how excited she was to be going to see New Kids on the Block in concert. I have no doubt whatsoever that she was absolutely devastated, and continues to be. But the pressure Facebook puts on people to appear happy at all times hits some harder than others. This show doesn’t tackle social media directly, but it doesn’t need to. We all know about keeping up appearances.

The show does an excellent job of slowly layering in the cracks in the facades, showing us how any of the main characters could be desperate enough to kill any of the others. And really, by the time the murder happens, it feels almost incidental. (Almost. If they hadn’t followed through on the promise of telling us who died and how, there would not be the Emmy buzz we’re currently hearing.) There’s one point that I think the show wants us to take literally and I’m choosing to take metaphorically, because that’s an option that’s available to me as a viewer.

And that’s the thing about appearances: they’re open to interpretation. Whether it’s the truth or not, whether it’s what you want people to see or not, people will color the stories you give them with their own. They’ll see whatever is to their benefit to see, either because it makes them feel better about themselves or it’s a better story overall or they care about you and don’t want to have to worry. Trying to control appearances is ultimately a fool’s errand, and on Big Little Lies, it gets someone killed. The moral of the story is ultimately: find your people, let them see everything, and screw what anyone else thinks.

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Summer Binge-Watch: The Handmaid’s Tale

“Binge” isn’t quite the right word. This isn’t the sort of show you watch all at once and maintain your sanity. (I read “Lolita” in a day when I was in college. I’m still not right.) I watched the ten-episode season 1 over two weeks, which was still a lot, but gave me time to breathe in between.

I have read the book. I picked up a copy from the used book store in town a couple years ago, when I first started seeing every story about women’s rights followed by a flurry of comments that “It’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ come true!” Which I hate about as much as “It’s Idiocracy come true!” because it’s a rather vapid knee-jerk reaction. And honestly, this book was not my favorite. I had already read “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” which is a memoir by a woman who was a Western Literature professor at Tehran University during the Iranian Revolution and went almost overnight from having a life any of us would recognize as perfectly normal to suddenly being a second-class citizen, not allowed to leave her home or be visible in public. That is a scary book, and it’s true. “Handmaid’s Tale,” by comparison, reads as a rape fantasy.

Where the revolution in the backstory of “Handmaid’s Tale” differs from real revolutions is that the inciting incident is a worldwide drop in fertility. When a woman does get pregnant, there’s only a 1-in-5 chance that a healthy child will result. Most of the time, it’s miscarriage, stillbirth, or the baby only lives a few days. With pretty much everyone in panic, a religious group called the Sons of Jacob rises in the U.S. and slaughters the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government and takes over. They have decided that this problem is the result of God’s wrath (it is otherwise heavily implied to be related to global warming, but not in a concrete, scientific way) and the remedy is forced piousness, which naturally includes rounding up all the fertile women and ritualistically raping them. It’s not clear how it’s decided who is and isn’t fertile, beyond that men are never considered infertile even though all evidence points to the contrary.

So my basic problem with the show is one that I knew existed before going in, because it’s baked into the premise: women can be oppressed without rape being the tool of that oppression, but not here. But like I said, I knew what this story was about and decided to watch it anyway. And for being what it is, it’s adapted very well for television. There’s a lot more backstory and nuance than we get in the book (it’s a relatively short book) and the world is pretty complete. The one piece of controversy I’ve heard is that, while in the book racism is addressed with “those people got sent away” (paraphrased), the show wanted to be more racially diverse and so they simply don’t address racism at all. It’s a hard argument. Yes, racists often use religion to justify their racism, but does that mean all religious zealots (not religious people, but zealots who would use religion to justify rape and murder) are also racists? I feel like arguments could be made either way. (EDIT: I’ve thought about this a bit, and come to the conclusion that in order for this show to be effectively scary, we have to be able to recognize the possible future. Which means being able to recognize the bad guys in the show as the bad guys in our world, and the bad guys in our world often seize power partly by taking advantage of racism and appealing to racists. The show didn’t have to deal with racism the same way the book did – by writing off the people of color – but it would have been realistic to see people of color generally being treated even more harshly than white people.)

In the real world, decisions about women’s healthcare are currently being made by large groups of men behind closed doors, who tend to emerge and announce that since women’s health is “optional,” they have no intention of covering us. Texas has an enormously high maternal mortality rate, largely ascribed to this same issue. Women’s rights are in danger, and although rape hasn’t technically been codified into law, it can sometimes feel like it has. But maybe a show about rape will help the conversation along. The striking visuals are useful, anyway.

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The Season Pass List

American Crime: Disappointed but not shocked this one has been canceled. It was a show that prided itself in tackling all aspects of difficult crimes, which in season one and two meant focusing on many aspects of a single (alleged) crime and in season three meant featuring a bunch of crimes that all revolved around a theme, in this case human trafficking. The ratings never really matched the show’s quality, which was too bad, but in season three I think the sheer number of victims got to be too depressing. (And the knowledge that the white men were winning might not have made it quite as enlightening as a show like this aims for.)

Another Period: Not on the schedule yet, but if history holds, Comedy Central will start airing it this summer. This, like Drunk History, is one of those fun, silly shows that makes you feel smarter for having watched it without actually giving you useful information. (Although what do I know? Maybe the fact that cocaine wine once existed is useful to you.)

Arrow: The Mothership of the DC shows on the CW (Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, sort of Supergirl). This show likes to focus on the responsibility of leadership and the sacrifices involved with being a hero, which can make it bleak but I still like it.

Atlanta: This is a very, very good show. But although 90% of it takes place in the real world, it still likes to mess with occasionally having someone drive off in a literally-invisible car, or have Justin Beiber played by a black man with zero commentary. So just slightly magical, but so slightly that it makes it hard to definitively say they’ve found their voice. I still highly recommend it.

Better Call Saul: The third season of this Breaking Bad prequel-series is currently airing. I recently took a spec-writing class to help me with my fellowship applications and one of my classmates was writing a Better Call Saul. As I watched an entire act of the show play out on TV with no dialogue, I appreciated his struggle. It’s really hard to write a quiet, slow-moving story and have it read right and hit the proper page count. I had the same problem with my script.

Billions: I debating speccing this for the fellowships, but ultimately decided against it. As fun as the show can be, it’s about how no one was held accountable for the 2008 financial crash (the same way Ray Donovan is based on Whitey Bulger, which is to say, loosely inspired) and the current political climate just didn’t make that seem very fun anymore.

black-ish: I had just been discussing with my carpool buddy the genre lines when a comedy is dramatic and when a drama has comedic elements, and then I put on the season finale of this show and cried for 30 minutes straight. It’s not always perfect (Dre suffers from Adult Man-Child Sitcom Syndrome) but it does a much better job of addressing complex issues than most other shows on TV.

Broadchurch*: I don’t think this aired at all last year, but the third (and final) season is airing starting June 28, so that’s something.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: This is one of those shows that has grown leaps and bounds beyond what anybody expected. They put a lot of work into making each character independently funny and making sure this isn’t just the Andy Samberg Comedy Hour.

Call the Midwife: Babies! But seriously, also class issues and civil rights and Thalidomide and how times have changed and how they stay the same. This show usually supplies the therapeutic cries I need from my TV.

Class*: This is a Doctor Who spinoff. The entire first season aired in the UK, the show was canceled, and then it started airing in the US. It’s kind of a relief, not having that bit of suspense. It’s set in the school where Clara taught, although she’s not referenced in the show at all. It’s a fun enough diversion, but I’m not starting a campaign to get them to change their minds.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: I have so many boxes of files on this show in my office. I’m drowning in files on this show. And yet, I still watch it. Voluntarily. Which says something.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: This show responded to their problem of too many characters to service by killing off a few characters and replacing them with a whole bunch more characters, mostly white guys. The good news is that as the show goes on and it becomes easier to remember who is who, it becomes easier to keep track of the storylines. The bad news is there’s still a lot of characters, and now some of them really look alike.

Doctor Who: I was reading a comment online today from someone who was griping that anytime he had a criticism of Doctor Who, people would attack him as a “hater” and I was like, “dude, where are you hanging out?” Because I go to a monthly Doctor-Who meetup that’s all about discussing which showrunner you liked or didn’t and why. We watch the show so we can debate the show. It’s definitely the most social thing on this list.

Drunk History: See Another Period, above. I have trouble getting too excited about this show because I tend to find drunk people boring, but the stories are interesting.

Frequency: Disappointed but not shocked. The ratings were terrible, even by CW standards. It was a fun show featuring time-travel but with consequences and through-lines and stuff, and I would have liked to have seen more.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: If you’re not watching this show, you are woefully misinformed. Sam Bee went to Russia in October and interviewed the state-hired social hackers targeting the election. In October. Watch. This. Show.

Game of Thrones**: You already have opinions about this show. Even if you don’t watch it. ESPECIALLY if you don’t watch it.

Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce: This is one of those shows that’s much better binge-watched. I like to let the season gather on the DVR and then go through them all at once (and gawk at the fashion).

Grimm: We knew going into it that this was the last season, so the writers finished their story the best way they could. This started out as a procedural about the idea that fairy tale monsters were real and then became a serial about secret societies and royal families, but I am a sucker for fairy tales for adults and I was there for the whole ride.

HUMANS: I know you’ve never heard of it, but it’s on AMC and just finished season two and season three has been ordered and it’s really good. It’s another “robots develop consciousness” show but with a more real-world take.

Insecure: The HBO half-hour from Issa Rae. The second season will start in July. The first season spent time finding its legs, but even then it’s worth watching. I think every half-hour on HBO is in danger of being described as “It’s like Girls for…” so I’ll just tell you the correct answer: “It’s like Girls for grown-ass women with real problems who are at least sometimes likeable.”

Inside Amy Schumer: A weird thing happened with this show last fall when one of the writers tweeted some offensive stuff, and then Amy Schumer tweeted that people should stop referring to this guy as one of her writers because he’s not, then clarified that no one is because no one’s writing on the show, and everyone thought the show was canceled, and then she clarified that no, it’s just not being written RIGHT NOW but Comedy Central is totally holding a time slot for whenever they’re ready to return and Comedy Central was like, “say what?” So, this’ll be back? Eventually? Probably? Who knows.

iZombie: Here’s another example of a procedural that’s expanding beyond its premise and doing a lot of world-building. They keep flirting with curing zombie-ism, so we’ll see how that goes.

Jane the Virgin: Talk about expanding the premise; this year Jane became a (non-virgin) 28-yr-old-widow. So… that happened.

Killjoys: Hijinx in space! Coming soon! Season 3 starts June 30.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: If you’re not getting enough bigger-picture comedy news, this needs to be on your schedule. At the very least, the clips are easy to find online, fun and informative.

Legion: I LOVE THIS SHOW! I asked for (and received, because my brother is awesome) the comic book omnibus for my birthday. The show itself is a masterclass in non-linear storytelling, an unreliable narrator, and theatrical art direction. Which is to say it’s as beautiful as it is smart and entertaining. I put Fargo on my summer watchlist because of this show.

Lucifer: I started watching this show because I thought it might make a good spec. I ultimately decided against that, but it’s still a fun enough procedural, if you can handle another white guy making everything about him all the time. (To be fair, EVERYONE calls him on it. All the time. And it’s never actually about him.)

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: I am surprised this got picked up. The ratings haven’t been great, but the buzz was it was either this show or Inhumans (which is not a spin-off but is from the same comic books and they are on the same network) and we’re getting both.

Masterpiece: I’ve mostly watched this for Sherlock and Downton Abbey. I usually delete the other recordings, but something will probably come up at some point. I like to keep an eye on it.

Mr. Robot: The show I’m speccing for the fellowships this year. Much better binge-watched, and much better on second viewing. Season 1 is on Amazon Prime and season 2 is on USAnetwork.com.

New Girl: Absolutely shocked this got a pick-up. It has an abbreviated final season next year, although I don’t know what they’re going to do with it. The writers are probably also shocked because they wrote the season finale clearly thinking they were done.

Once Upon a Time: Shocked this got picked up, with most of the main cast leaving. They’re rebooting the story (basically, they set it up as OUaT: The Next Generation) but since the hook (ha!) of doing a deeper dive into fairy tales feels pretty played-out, I’m not sure what they’re going to do with it.

Orphan Black*: I expect the final season to reveal that Tatiana Maslany is all of us.

Outlander: My boss recently told me that she watches this show and has listened to all of the audio books and my eyebrows have not recovered.

Pitch: Disappointed, but only surprised that the cancellation was announced this month instead of January. As someone who really doesn’t care about any sports at all, this was a fun view into a different world. But apparently there’s only a handful of us that felt that way because the ratings were terrible. It would have been nice if it developed a cult following, but the people in charge of these sorts of things didn’t ask me.

Portlandia**: If you watch this show while knowing that Carrie Brownstein is an introvert, it feels a little different. She’s wickedly funny, but I wonder how the show would be without such an extrovert right next to her.

Powerless: Not surprised. This is one of those shows that had a really great premise, and the execution wasn’t all bad (they liked to shoot from slightly above eye-level, using a fish-eye lens, and oversaturate so the whole thing had a vaguely comic book effect). But Vanessa Hudgens was miscast and the show didn’t have time to find itself. My carpool buddy saw the original version, which was screened at Comicon last year, and said it was much more sustainable.

RuPaul’s Drag Race: If all gender is performance, then why not perform the shit out of it? I love this show.

Saturday Night Live: I know some people haven’t forgiven them for letting Trump host, and I can understand that. I certainly can’t watch episodes from right before the election. In general, reruns of this show are getting really hard to watch.

South Park: For my office’s Christmas lunch, we went to a local restaurant that, among other things, put out a fruit plate. The grapes were so sweet that tasting them immediately transported me to August, when there was still hope in the world. I told one of my coworkers who, correctly, said “they’re member-berries!” I ‘member.

Speechless: My mother had a sister with severe disabilities, and this show speaks to my whole family on a very basic level. The family on the show can be a little more sitcommy than, for instance, black-ish, but they still prefer keeping the conflict grounded.

Steven Universe: This is one of those shows that’s like a symbiotic parasite that crawls into your eyes and settles in your heart and makes you sing songs in the shower and feel like there is good and light and joy in the world. But Cartoon Network airs it, you know, whenever, not really any rhyme or reason to the schedule and they haven’t released any DVDs even though they’re now on season 5. So if you don’t have Hulu or don’t trust Hulu, you can end up filling your DVR. Not that I would know about this. (I really wish they would release DVDs.)

Supergirl: Somehow demoting Cat Grant made this show more feminist, but it was still nice to see her in the finale. Personally, I think CWfying this show was exactly what it needed.

The Americans**: This whole season is currently sitting on my DVR. I’ll get to it soon! I promise!

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Jon Stewart made a point of calling out Fox News, which Trevor Noah specifically did not want to be his schtick. But he hasn’t quite found a schtick of his own yet, and it’s hard to say that he should have one enemy when there are so many to choose from now.

The Flash: This one used to be the “happy superhero” one of the bunch, but this season felt pretty dour, musical episode notwithstanding.

The Good Place: This is a great show. If you haven’t heard that it ended on a twist… well, sorry, spoilers. But go watch it right now before someone spoils the twist for you. I’ll wait.

The Last Man on Earth: This is another parasitic show, except this one makes me scream at other drivers on the road, “WHY AREN’T YOU ALL DEAD!” So not quite warm and fluffy like Steven Universe.

The Leftovers*: I’m sad to see this show go, but glad it gets to end on its own terms.

Throwing Shade: It’s like Full Frontal meets Best Week Ever, is on TV Land, and I know one of the hosts. It may not be appointment viewing, but hopefully it will be. (Although that might require more than 10 episodes/season.)

Twin Peaks: The Return: I am withholding public judgement until the season has aired. Let’s just say I have reservations.

Westworld: I LOVE THIS SHOW. Plus it’ll make you feel better than a bunch of near-future rich assholes because you’d imagine that killing probably isn’t fun, right?

*completing its run in 2017/currently airing final season
**scheduled to complete its run in 2018

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