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Posts Tagged ‘Television’

How to Be Awesome Like April Ludgate

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2012 at 6:51 am

Sarah T.

Since my post on Friday played defense (with a few reservations) for Zooey Deschanel’s Jess on New Girl, it seemed appropriate to kick off the week with an appreciation of a character who’s pretty much Jess’s opposite: April Ludgate of Parks and Recreation.

Curb your enthusiasm, please.

What I love about April, as played with quicksilver wit and subtlety by Aubrey Plaza, is how layered she’s become over the course of the series. In early episodes, she’s a sulky intern with a semi-permanent sneer. Frustrated with her small-town Midwestern life, she’s the first to roll her eyes at anyone who displays the slightest sign of sincerity or enthusiasm.

But the warm humanism of Parks and Rec won’t let that kind of blanket negativity stand for long. Part of the change comes as April falls for Andy, a character fittingly described by Margaret Lyons at Vulture as “a human golden retriever.” In contrast to April, Andy exists in a constant state of delighted wonder at the workings of Pawnee, frisbees, peaches, and shoe-shining. His innocent sunniness brings out new dimensions in April: she’s lighter and more free-spirited around him, and touchingly protective. Meanwhile, April both anchors Andy and broadens his worldview.

April’s other relationships cast new light on her character as well. She bonds with her boss, Ron, over a shared dislike of productivity in the workplace. His libertarian gruffness intersects perfectly with her hipsterhood — he’s pretty much her second dad. The show also introduces her sister, nearly identical in both looks and temperament; her doting, bizarrely cheerful parents; and her friend Oren — a tall, pale, raven-like creature who’s constantly freaking everybody out by predicting the dates of their deaths and hiding under tables. Over the course of the series, April has evolved into a richly drawn character: still snarky and sarcastic and a lover of all things weird, and fundamentally good-hearted too.

And so, without further ado, here are a few ways to model yourself after the awesome sauce (April hates that word) that is April Ludgate. Read the rest of this entry »

Defending Deschanel

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Sarah T.

Sometimes we don’t get to choose who we relate to.

As a nine-year-old tearing through The Babysitter’s Club series, I understood that Claudia and Stacey were objectively the coolest characters. (Claudia’s neon-green leotards worn under purple hammer pants! Stacey’s glamorous city slicker past!) But I couldn’t help but love Mary Anne Spier—a shy, big-hearted girl who loved animals and cried at the drop of a hat—the most. It was kind of embarrassing, but there was nothing I could do about it.

When I started getting into music from the 1960s in middle school, I understood that picking your favorite Beatle said a lot about you. A John person was smart and sensitive and revolutionary. A George enthusiast was mysterious and spiritual. Even a Ringo fan was fun-loving and unique. But I liked Paul best despite myself, knowing that it marked me as hopelessly cheerful, daffy lightweight.

Today, I find myself in a similarly uncool, wide-blue-eyed boat with Zooey Deschanel, the star of Fox’s The New Girl. Of course, plenty of people like Zooey—after all, she’s a sunny, funny, beautiful actress who has a hit sitcom on a major network. But she has a powerful band of detractors too. GLG’s own Melissa S. wrote a very eloquent, well-reasoned, non-attacky post on her problems with Deschanel’s character Jess in The New Girl. Many others make their points less diplomatically.

Deschanel critics tend to organize around several arguments. First, they claim, she is cloyingly twee. This is a problem not only because her critics are experiencing cute overload akin to The Berenstein Bears and Too Much Birthday, but because they see her adorkability as retrograde and unfeminist. Her girliness, they argue, places too much emphasis on singing and kittens and other childlike, harmless preoccupations, and not enough on adult, serious-minded matters.

While I understand these concerns about Deschanel, I can’t help but bristle at them. And a big part of that is because I know that I am in possession of many of the traits with which Deschanel-detractors take issue. Read the rest of this entry »

Interlude: Old Navy & Mr. T

In advertising, Interlude, race on March 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Phoebe B.

Last night, I was watching Psych, a show I quite like because Shawn and Gus remind me of my best friend’s and my fairly goofy relationship. I was enjoying myself, having a glass of wine, and relaxing. But then, this new Old Navy commercial featuring Mr. T appeared on my TV. And then, I was no longer relaxed but rather frustrated and surprised.

Check out the commercial on Facebook here.

The commercial stars Mr. T and is part of Old Navy’s new push for their “Best Tees,” marketed as the most comfortable and softest t-shirt ever. Despite Mr. T’s presence, the commercial–like pretty much all Old Navy spots–is really annoying. But that’s not the problem. The problem is the appropriation and stereotyping of Native American dress on Mr. T midway through the commercial.

Out of nowhere, Mr. T descends from the ceiling of a massage room dressed in dream catcher style earrings, lots of bracelets, feathers, and a brown stereotypical Native dress–the kind of ensemble we might see in 1950’s Westerns or Disney’s Pocahontas. Indeed, he resembles the Pocahontas photoshoot with Mariah from America’s Next Top Model last week, which Melissa wrote about last week on GLG, as did Adrienne K. on Native Appropriations (which if you don’t know it, is an awesome blog). And then, Mr. T says his tag line, “I pity the fool who wears a scratchy Tee.” 

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Engaging Television: An Interview with Writer Jacob Clifton

In gender, girl culture, Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars on March 7, 2012 at 9:59 am

Sarah Todd

“Why bother watching the show when the recaps are so amazing?” my friend Ali emailed me in 2008. We were talking about the Television Without Pity recaps of Gossip Girl, a show then in its headband-wearing, Met-steps-lunching glory days. The in-depth recaps, written by Jacob Clifton with a killer combination of fiery passion, arch humor, and wide-ranging cultural references, were an essential part of the Gossip Girl experience.

Jacob’s recaps didn’t just help us see things about the show that we might not have spotted otherwise. They also influenced the way we thought about friendships and power dynamics and teenagers and surveillance—and, of course, how we thought about television.

I’ve looked forward to Jacob’s weekly Gossip Girl recaps ever since, along with his writing on True Blood and Pretty Little Liars. He’s one of the few writers I’ve followed quite so faithfully. The author of novels The Urges and Mondegreen, he currently recaps American IdolThe Good Wife, and more for Television Without Pity.

Jacob graciously agreed to talk with Girls Like Giants about recapping, teen dramas, feminism, the power of stories, and why Elena from The Vampire Diaries is way under-rated. Come join the conversation in the comments.

How did you start writing for Television Without Pity?

The internet, in 2001, was a very different place! TWoP (MightyBigTV, back then) was a small enough concern that I was able to lobby for some small, one-off assignments that, over a few years, turned into regular assignments. It was a very empowering, very encouraging chance to be given, and I’m still very grateful to the editors at that time for giving me a shot.

You have a very distinctive and dynamic recapping style. A recap of Pretty Little Liars might have made-up dialogue that highlights Aria’s crazy pants (and the fact that she is crazypants), followed by a Jungian analysis of how the four main characters’ personalities complement each other, followed by a mini-treatise on bullying. How do you approach writing your recaps? What do you want them to be, and how has that developed over the course of your career?

I think that, for me, it’s about capturing the sort of tangents and thoughts and jokes that you might go through on the couch, just watching anything. For shows like PLL, that obviously brings up a lot of stuff and thoughts that I feel like are worth representing on the page: This is what it was like for me watching this show, what was it like for you?

I mean, obviously I have my preoccupations — critical, philosophical, political, feminist — and I don’t really hesitate to bring those to bear on whatever’s actually happening on the show, but I trust myself to know the line as far as what’s worth saying and what’s just blabber or personal axe-grinding. (I also cross it regularly, of course.) But that’s what it means to me: A sort of taking shorthand minutes on where the show takes me as a particular person.

However, I do think there’s a certain amount of workshopping that goes on when you’re forced to pay such close attention to a show over such a long period of time. I don’t know if my writing has improved, but I definitely understand television and storytelling a lot more than I did ten years ago — and part of my mission is to bring that into it as well. The opportunity to turn our brains off, or to reject a show or episode for false reasons, is always there. So by bringing out the storytelling qualities, or the writing tricks, or the production values, the hope is that readers can find new ways to enjoy their television shows in a more interactive way. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Eye of the Beholder” (Season 2, Episode 23)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, Recaps, teen soaps, Television on March 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm

This week’s prettiest little liars triumphed over house fires; pieced newspaper clues together; met a random pilot named Duncan; and perhaps found an ally in Jenna. Read on for more on this week’s PLL escapades.

Let's talk about these outfits.

Who do you think this Duncan character is? Can we trust him, and what did you think about his scenes with Aria?

Sarah T: Who? Ohhh Mark Wahlberg’s younger brother you mean? I trust him so far, since we haven’t been given any reason to believe he’d want to hurt Ali or anyone else. Going off of last week’s discussion of Aria becoming Vivian, I thought that scene with Aria in the plane was so illuminating–when Duncan tells her, “You want to understand your friend? What she was looking for? Take control.” Because now the show is really pulling together the ways the four PLLs are dealing with the loss of Ali, her complicated legacy, and the aftermath of her death.

Spencer is dealing by trying to solve the mystery and lay all the answers out in the open once and for all, so that the house she lives in isn’t always so dark and shadowy and filled with strangers. Hanna’s dealing by helping and/or befriending pretty much everyone Ali ever hurt — Lucas, Mona, now Jenna. She’s the new Ali, but she’s reinventing what the new Ali can be by harnessing her own inherent solar power and making amends for the past (particularly since she tacitly supported Ali’s bullying by not doing anything to stop her). Emily’s dealing by continuing to love Ali and remember her in her better moments, so that all the best parts of her live on. And now Aria–who was the most self-obsessed for a long time, and seemed to be dealing mostly by transferring all the pain and confusion and hurt into her secret relationship with Ezra–is finally dealing by becoming Ali/Vivian in order to understand her. She’s learning how to recognize the parts of herself that lived in Ali, and the parts of Ali that are still alive in her. And that is a rocky, bumpy, scary business, hence the plane and the turbulence, but it may be the key to making a breakthrough. You guys! I can’t even say how much I love this show.

Phoebe: Oh my, I think you said it all and best! But, I am a little less trusting of this Duncan fellow and the time up in the plane with him (with all those tight shots of the two of them) totally made me anxious and feel like he might be up to no good. However, I am excited by this new piece of the puzzle in which Ali returned to Rosewood hours before any of the girls knew. What did she get up to that afternoon? And what had she found out? I can’t wait to know! Also, I am intrigued by Spencer’s mom’s confession that she is the one who suspected Melissa … why didn’t Mr. Hastings reveal that to Spencer? So many lies in the Hastings house, but it was nice to see Mrs. Hastings and Jason chatting at the end of the episode.

Chelsea B: The scenes with him were good, though I agree with Phoebe that the airplane scene made me super anxious. I think this is probably just a personal problem, but I keep assuming that every new dudebro they write into the show is going to supplant Ezra (Holden, Jason, etc.). We’ll see if that actually happens with this one, or if I’m doomed to forever imagining romantic conspiracy theories involving Aria.

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Rebound: Shall we receive GCB?

In GCB, gender, Rebound on March 6, 2012 at 7:58 am

Rebound is a new short-form GLG column that seeks to respond to, critique, and ask questions about current media events and affairs. –Phoebe & Sarah T.

Phoebe B.

On Sunday night, GCB premiered on ABC following the network’s self-proclaimed original “it girls,” the desperate housewives. GCB is one of two new shows that invoke, but do not proclaim, the word “bitch” in their title. The other show being, Don’t Trust the B— in apartment 23.

the ladies of GCB

GCB is all about post-high school mean girls in Dallas, TX and the grudges these ladies carry.* GCB seemingly revels in and produces humor via women being cruel to other women and reliving the icky cliques of high school. And, it is all about women competing for, and being paranoid about losing, their men—a narrative that always pits women against each other and blames women for the choices men make. The use of “B” as a stand-in for “bitch” in the title seems to suggest that the show revels in, and glamorizes, this mean behavior. Indeed, behaving like a “bitch” is seemingly the bread and butter of GCB.

However, the title’s juxtaposition of “Good Christian” with “bitches” suggests the underlying, and humorous, tension of the show. Indeed, the pilot pokes fun at the not-so-Christian undercurrents of this church community. For example, one of the most pious characters secretly owns a Hooters style bar, but she chastises one of the other ladies for working there (before her ownership is publicly revealed that is). And in this way, the show is quite funny and aptly timed—given Christian groups self-proclaimed righteousness and current attacks, in the name of Jesus, on women’s health and LGBTQQI teens. So, I see the point of the title and I like the juxtaposition of good and bad within it. But, I worry and I wonder about the invocation and use of the word “bitch.”

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How to be awesome like Georgina Sparks …

In Gossip Girl, How to be Awesome Like, teen soaps, Television, TV villains on March 1, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Phoebe B.

Gossip Girl’s Georgina Sparks (Michelle Trachtenberg) is one of my favorite television villains. We first met Georgina at Constance where once upon a time she was best friends (albeit briefly) with Serena (Blake Lively). These days their relationship, like all of Georgina’s, is fraught at best and enemies at worst. In earlier episodes of the series, Georgina drank too much; hid a man’s death after he died in her and Serena’s presence (something I think she blackmailed Serena about and perhaps also the beginning of the end of their friendship); and convinced Dan he was the father of her child and then abandoned said child (by the by Dan is not the father). Then, Blair exiled Georgina to Russia, which was after Georgina had found God and promptly gotten kicked out of her God-camp, perhaps also at the hands of Blair. And, most recently Georgina ruined Blair’s wedding to Louis. In fact, one of the reasons I think I like Georgina so much, besides that she is hilarious, is that she makes a good rival for Blair as she is perhaps almost as good a schemer.

Georgina dressed as a priest and set to ruin Blair's nuptuals

This season Georgina returned to New York married to a supposedly rich yet not so bright man, Philip, with her child Milo, and on a new mission to stir up trouble on the Upper East Side. And just this week it seems that she was successful. Indeed, Georgina did declare quite happily that it appears that she has just taken “down the entire Upper East side.” We’ve celebrated many wonderful characters and actresses in the “how to be awesome columns,” thus, I thought it was perhaps time to celebrate a good old TV villainess. So, while you might not want to be awesome like Georgina, after all, she is a little evil, here are some tips of things to avoid should you want to stay far away from the villainy behavior that defines Georgina Sparks.

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Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Father Knows Best” (Season 2, Episode 22)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps, Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 11:26 pm

This week our prettiest little liars got one step (read: episode) closer to finding out the true identity of A; got the moms involved; had awkward father-daughter dances and even stranger sibling moments; Aria wore a very red coat; and Maya is still missing. Read on for more on the PLL’s adventures.

This week featured a lot of awkward daughter-dad moments between all the girls (save for perhaps Emily and her dad). What are your thoughts on these dad developments?

Sarah: Spencer wins the prize for worst dad. Peter Hastings is Captain Von Suspicious. I think I believe him about hiring the PI to investigate Melissa, though. I also heavily dislike Byron (Aria’s dad), who did seem to be putting a lot of gross pressure on Aria to be his “little girl” (matching his tie to her dress). I was glad she told him off, because part of the subtext to his whole thing about Ezra is about controlling her sexuality, which is definitely not okay. Emily’s dad was sweet and helpful in the search for Maya, though. I’m nervous about his going back on duty–I hope he’ll be okay!

Phoebe: Spencer totally wins the prize for worst dad and I love the reference to Captain Von Trapp (particularly given Christopher Plummer’s recent win!). I too believe him about hiring a PI as that actually makes sense. Also, I am worried that Spencer’s mother might be involved in all this. And I second your thoughts on Aria–he is being a bit of a jerk. But also, Emily’s dad was so sweet and awesome and I really hope he’ll be okay to come back to Rosewood but I am glad that Emily’s mom will be back on the show. I have really enjoyed watching their relationship develop. Lastly, it is awesome that is episode is named for (I think) the 1960s domestic sitcom Father Knows Best, in which father always does know best. But, for PLL clearly this is not the case! Yay for TV references! Read the rest of this entry »

Angelica Huston Rises Above Smash

In Angelica Huston, gender, musicals, Smash on February 27, 2012 at 9:06 am

Phoebe B.

Grand moments in NBC’s new show Smash have been few and far between. After seeing many previews for it, I felt assured that the show would be full of big dance numbers, great songs (including some Marilyn favorites), and flashy costumes. The premiere had its moments like anytime Angelica Huston was onscreen, but not including Katherine McPhee’s (Karen) version of “Beautiful,” which was anti-climactic and quite frankly seemed an odd choice. But since then, there has been very little grand about Smash. Indeed, NY Mag’s TV recapper takes the show to task in the most hilarious way possible, while this reviewer wishes for something more like A Chorus Line—which was definitely what I was expecting and hoping for. However, there is one thing that is seriously grand and awesome about Smash, and that is Angelica Huston on network television. In fact, I think they really should have put her on top of the pyramid in the publicity shot (and not Katherine McPhee).

Aside from Angelica Huston, there is another relatedly redeeming thing about Smash: the show, as NY Mag’s recapper Rachel Shukert remarked, truly takes women’s ambition seriously. We see this in Ivy and Karen’s desire to be on Broadway; in Julia’s (Debra Messing) career taking precedence over her husband’s; and in Eileen’s (Huston) desire to go out on her own in the theater production world. In fact, in Julia’s marriage, she is the career-oriented one in the relationship and seemingly the major breadwinner. What makes these women lovable and remarkable is that they have ambition and work hard, rather than just the usual things like body, sex appeal, etc. Although, we also see how other men and women see them: an early shot of Ivy stays on and revels in her tush as do the series of people at the casting table. But, as Shukert says in her NY Mag recap,

“One of the things I genuinely like about this show is that so far, it has generally treated the career ambitions of its female characters seriously, as opposed to something of which they have to be disabused in order to be “lovable.” Smash, for all its flaws, shows us women who are lovable because of their talent, not in spite of it, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to see Karen be such a pushover about this.”

But the show’s push towards valuing smart and amazing women appears oddly conflicted. For example, when Karen travels back to Iowa for her best friend’s baby shower, another friend casually remarks, “Feminism is dead.” It appears that in Iowa everyone over 21 is married and/or with child, per Karen’s friend’s remarks. Because of this, Karen’s friend argues, Karen should let her boyfriend, Dev, take up the slack while she does this Marilyn, the Musical workshop. Granted this logic is fairly terrible, but it is seemingly the logic of the show in this particularly moment. And Dev’s proposal, which comes earlier in the episode, mind you, is something he suggests after he interrupts Karen’s drink with the director via an obnoxious performance of his manhood. At that moment too, he seemingly marks her as his territory through a uncomfortable performance of PDA. No wonder Karen is not too thrilled about accepting his offer. At once, the show celebrates Karen’s drive but undermines it by strange and anti-feminist moments like these. Smash does something similar with Ivy in showcasing her drive, but also figuring her as desperate for attention and thus falling prey to the dangers of the casting couch (she sleeps with the director).

And, this conflicted sense of women in Smash is mirrored in the ways in which Marilyn is imagined and produced for the musical. She is the powerhouse that inspires the show, but the musical they write within the show figures Marilyn somewhat meekly, and always in terms of the men she married. Smash’s Marilyn is far less complicated than–and has got nothing on–Michelle Williams’ version of the icon in My Week With Marilyn. That said, I do like Ivy, and am pleased she got the part.

Marilyn (Ivy) vs. Marilyn (Karen)

It is amidst this landscape of conflicted and waffling representations of women that Angelica Huston emerges as the magnificent Eileen. And she is divine. We encounter Eileen mid-divorce with her seriously slimy and cheating ex-husband, Jerry, with whom she is trying to negotiate a reasonable settlement. Rather than settle on an unfair compromise, she puts all their holdings in escrow, including but not limited to their co-production of My Fair Lady. But as My Fair Lady goes into escrow, so too does Marilyn, the character, emerge somewhat oddly as Eileen’s new American Eliza Doolittle. Just as both Marilyn and Eliza Doolittle make themselves over, so too it seems is that Eileen’s plan. But unlike, these characters, Eileen intends to do it on her own instead of relying on a man.

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The Anti-Stereotype Squad of “Happy Endings”

In gender on February 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

Sarah Todd

When the ABC sitcom Happy Endings first premiered last year, many critics compared it to Friends. Both comedies feature six friends–three guys and three girls–in their mid-to-late twenties who live in a major urban city (Chicago and New York). Both pilot episodes feature a runaway bride whose actions shake up the group dynamic and set the show in motion.

But beyond these superficial similarities, Happy Endings is funnier, smarter, and far more complex. Its often absurd plots center around competitions to determine who’d be the final survivor in a zombie apocalypse and solemn interventions to break a friend of his debilitating addiction to V-necks.

Happy Endings also differs from Friends in its diversity. It’s a show that recognizes the reality that people of various racial backgrounds and sexual orientations might well find themselves living in a major city and hanging out together.

Happy Endings acknowledges difference without falling into the trap of making a minority racial background or sexual orientation a character’s sole defining trait. Brad (Damon Wayons Jr.) is black and Max (Adam Pally) is gay. These identities are a part of their characters, and the show’s dialogue and plots frequently explore what it’s like for Brad and Max to be black and gay, respectively, within their group of friends and in the broader world. But the show also makes them well-developed characters who are many things in addition to these identities. Brad is a delightfully enthusiastic investment banker with a penchant for men’s fashion, romantic comedies, and making out with his wife Jane (Eliza Coupe). Max is a sarcastic and cynical layabout who spent all of last week’s episode transforming into a bear, in a kind of extreme advertisement for the dangers of seasonal affective disorder. (He hibernates in a pile of blankets and gets his head stuck in a honey jar. It Could Happen to You, winter-friends.)

Max evolves into a literal bear-Zach Galifianakis hybrid.

Happy Endings seems interested in creating characters who go beyond defying stereotypes and enter the realm of the anti-stereotype. For example, Penny (Casey Wilson) calls Max “a straight dude who likes dudes” because his messy, gruff, video game- and sandwich-loving personality goes against her idea of what gay men are (or should be) like. He’s so far from the stereotype that his personality actually seems oppositional to it. A first-season episode highlights this point. When Penny tells Max he’s “the worst gay husband ever” because he’d rather watch football than go shopping and brunching, Max finds her a gay best friend who’s more in line with her conceit. Derek is a fun-loving, official Sassy Gay Friend, right down to calling Penny “a stupid clumsy bitch.” (He gets introduced to Penny in this scene at the 30-second mark.) Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Breaking the Code” (Season 2, Episode 21)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on February 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

This week on PLL, danger is in the air; Spencer gets drunk; Melissa is back in the picture; Aria and Ezra hit a bump in the road; and Mona becomes A’s newest target. Read on for more on our favorite pretty little liars.

Thoughts on why Melissa feels so scary? And what does that video mean?

Sarah: Why oh why did Spencer go with her to a second location? Is it a barn? Oh lord, it’s probably a barn with creepy dolls and horseshoes in it. Anyway, I think Melissa feels creepy because she has all the Hastings intensity and terrorizing ability with little to no mediating personality traits, and also because she had like twelve good reasons to hate Ali murderously. I don’t know why she’s so anxious to find Ali in that video clip, but it can’t bode well. Also, the fact that Melissa worked at the law firm where the blocked Vivian Darkbloom calls were coming from definitely puts her at the top of my list of A-candidates. And also also, is Garrett going to be the father of the baby, not Ian?

Phoebe: Oh man I was definitely also wondering whether Garrett was indeed the father (and not creepy Ian). Either way, Melissa’s choices in male-companion types = terrible. Then again, I agree Sarah that she is all the Hastings intensity without anything to make that softer and ya know less scary. And I am so concerned for Spencer’s safety with the episode ending as she walks out of the house without her phone! Why leave your phone Spencer?! So worrisome. Then again, could Melissa actually harm her own sister? And what did she want to tell Spencer at Ian’s funeral?

Chelsea: Melissa is scary because she’s always scary. She’s just like Spencer, but with way more bitterness and a tad more ruthlessness. Also, her Ann Taylor wardrobe when she doesn’t seem to do anything Ann Taylor-y in life creates an unsettling dissonance for me. Seriously.

Melissa: I think Melissa is scary (not talking about myself here) because she has been willing to see Spencer hurt before. Remember? Oh sure, murderer husband pooky poo; I’ll keep loving you and not believe my sister that you’ve been threatening her. And Melissa has always struck me as ruthless: willing to throw her family under the bus to get at the men that she loved at the time. She seems to have no loyalty and to be a big ball of bullying possessiveness, with a great capacity for emotional blackmail. I’ve always thought she was at least part of Ali’s death, though I’m not sure I think she’s A…She doesn’t seem quite devious enough…But SPENCER?!??! Why for the first time ever are you believing someone so readily? Normally you reserve that poor judgment for the police. Why are you trusting your sister? Just because your father’s past behavior is currently tearing your family apart? Noooooooooooooooooo.

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Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Hack, Hack” (Season 2, Episode 19)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars on February 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm

This week the PLLs threw a swim meet party; learned out to hack computers (and defeated evil police man Garrett); learned some fighting secrets; and chatted with newly revealed siblings. Read on for thoughts and musings on this week’s episode.

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Puppy Love: Remembering Celebrity Crushes

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Well friends, it’s that time of the year again: the one-and-only Anna Howard Shaw Day, when we break out the champagne and Marvin Gaye tunes to honor one of the top women’s suffrage leaders ever to be born on Feburary 14.

And of course, it’s not too late to dig into some waffles in honor of Galentine’s Day, the February 13 holiday in which we appreciate our dearest friends over delicious breakfast foods.  (Guy friends can totally celebrate Galentine’s Day too.)

But what of our first loves? When do we set aside the time to celebrate everything they’ve given us and tell them how we really feel? I refer, of course, to the celebrities and film and television characters who first made us go all moon-eyed. Just because we’re busy sharing our love with suffragists and chums (and maybe with our special gentleman- and lady-friends too) doesn’t mean it’s all right to neglect the stars who taught our pulses how to race. Read the rest of this entry »

Chuck Bass, Chris Brown, and Un-Forgiving Violent Men

In gender, race, teen soaps, violence on February 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Phoebe B.

The controversy surrounding Chris Brown’s upcoming appearance at the Grammy’s has had me thinking about my favorite Gossip Girl character, Chuck Bass. Chuck, his smoldering eyes, and his bad boy-gone-good situation consistently woo me (at least once a week on Monday nights that is). But the thing about Chuck, which I have a hard time reconciling with his position as my favorite GG character, is his past behavior: in the pilot he attempts to force himself on Serena; later in season one he does the same to 14-year old Jenny (Dan’s little sister); later in the series he trades the beautiful and amazing Blair for a hotel; and ultimately when he finds out Blair is engaged he punches through a window.

Chuck Bass

The narrative drive of the show, at least in part, is about Chuck’s redemption—he becomes a seriously swoon-worthy character by this season (and GG’s 100th episode!). For viewers, that violent history, which is often blamed on his absent and fairly mean father and lack of a mother, is erased throughout the narrative of the show. Indeed, my love for Chuck is possible because the show makes me forget Chuck’s darker deeds—which are most often acts of violence against women. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “The Blond Leading the Blind” (Season 2, Episode 17)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm

This week the PLLs wear some great clothes (especially Aria!); make new alliances; lose a boyfriend; gain some lost and creepy footage; and discover new and scary truths about A. Read on for more PLL news and opinions! Read the rest of this entry »

“Call Me Doctor”: Rachel Bilson Raps, Girls Like Giants Scratch Our Heads.

In gender, race on January 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Rachel Bilson plays a doctor on Hart of Dixie. Some critics have a hard time buying it.  Last week, Bilson shot back with a Funny or Die video that features her throwing down by… rapping.

Chelsea B. was on the case, writing to some fellow Girls Like Giant-ers:

I feel so conflicted. I mean, it’s a fame thing and I get that Hollywood is weird, but also, watching this and not acknowledging or critiquing the inherent privilege and appropriation is a problem.

Since the rest of us were equally puzzled, we decided to try and sort things out with a good old-fashioned roundtable. Let us know what your take on Dr. Dolce Labcoats is in the comments.

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GLG Weekly Round-up

In race, Weekly Round-Up on January 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

Just a few links from around the interwebs …

Sady Doyle on the gifts insomnia bears:
http://rookiemag.com/2012/01/living-after-midnight/

TV and its eerie raceless world, from Salon: http://www.salon.com/2012/01/18/tvs_eerie_new_race_less_world/singleton/

Feminist Philosophers on “Push Girls,” a new reality TV show about four young women who use wheelchairs:
http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/hot-girls-in-wheelchairs/

And this is the show Feminist Philosophers are talking about:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/18/new-reality-show-to-air-a_n_1213453.html

Under Her Wing: Fraught Female Mentorship in “Damages”

In gender, Uncategorized on January 21, 2012 at 7:15 am

Sarah Todd

Onscreen, female mentors are few and far between. As this article from Jezebel observed a few months ago, there are plenty of film and television examples of male mentors helping develop the talents of both men and women–Giles, Haymitch, Gandalf, Robin Williams as the over-involved psychologist in Good Will Hunting, Jack Donaghy, Ron Swanson, Coach Taylor, Mr. Schue, Obi-Wan Kanobi I guess (I’ve only seen Star Wars once and I fell asleep).

By contrast, I can’t think of any examples of a female character in charge of showing a younger male character the ropes. And while I can think of a few female characters who mentor other women, it’s probably no coincidence that the first two who spring to mind are at least a little evil. Read the rest of this entry »

Television, Class, and the American Consciousness: Downton Abbey

In Uncategorized on January 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

Sarah S.

I put off watching Downton Abbey because I knew I would get hooked as soon as I began. But I did put season one on my “instant” queue and knew the day would soon come. It has. Downton features a rather basic “upstairs, downstairs” premise and, aside from great acting and some unique characterizations, the plots of the first season break no new territory. Things get more interesting in the second season because they get more (soap) operatic with the advent of the Great War and its erosion of the stable worldview of the decades before.

Downton is a typical soap opera and a sweeping costume drama, and it’s decent in both modes. But the actors and the characters really keep the thing afloat. Amongst the standouts: Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, the butler, whose commitment to the reputation of Downton Abbey is silly and dignified in equal measure; Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley, the eldest daughter, who hides her tempestuous spirit in a cloak of cold disdain; Sophie McShera, the morally conflicted, much abused kitchen maid; and the ever-formidable Dame Maggie Smith essentially reviving her scene-stealing character from Gosford Park. As I recall hearing from one of the creators when the show first came out, these characters don’t know they’re living in history, just as we don’t. And the actors and writers do a marvelous job walking that tightrope. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Let the Water Hold Me Down” (Season 2, Episode 16)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, Uncategorized on January 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm

This week the PLLs (and Lucas) survive last week’s almost drowning; use fake IDs; venture into the big city; go on fake dates; and then Rosewood has a creepy storm (like the one currently afoot in Eugene). Read on for more on our favorite little liars. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “A Hot Piece of ‘A” (Season 2, Episode 15)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm

This week on PLL, the liars attempt a birthday bash that ends in danger and drowning (maybe), bring Caleb into their super secret circle, and suspect Lucas of being A’s helper. Meanwhile, Mona returns and Jenna and Garrett fight. Read on for answers to our post-PLL questions. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Hanna Marin

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Phoebe B.

As any viewer of Pretty Little Liars knows, Spencer, Aria, Hanna and Emily are a force to be reckoned with. To celebrate the return of our mystery-solving teens to regular television programming, several of the Girls Like Giants crew teamed up to crack the awesomeness codes of the core four.

Hanna is one of my favorite PLLs (although I love them all for different and various reasons) in part because she is the funniest PLL, but also because just like the rest of them she is far from perfect. Part of what makes her so awesome is that she is both loyal and tricky at times; sometimes she gets hurt and makes crazy choices but other times she is the best of friends; I feel for her when A (and/or Ally) is mean to her (often more than for the other ladies) and I think her sense of humor often makes the show. So here are a few ways to be awesome like Hanna.

Hanna with some mighty fine shoplifted sunglasses

Most importantly, always cut tension between your friends with some humor and witty one-liners

Never use your powers for evil. Even when Hanna becomes the new “it” girl post-Ally, she is never mean (in the way that Mona is) and instead befriends Lucas (to whom Mona is quite cruel), joins the student paper briefly, and is an all around nice gal.

Be a super loyal and supportive friend to the other PLLS. For example, invite your best friend stay with you (Em) when her parents move out of town AND give your soon-to-be boyfriend a place to stay when he has no home (remember, Caleb briefly slept in the school library). Hanna is also seemingly always the first one to find out about the other PLLs secrets (for example, that Em is gay, about Aria and Fitz’s super secret romance, etc) and she is always 100% there for her friends. She even tries to intimidate a guy who is following Caleb in order to protect him (she thinks he is a police officer, although he is not). Hanna is just pretty much the best of friends. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Aria Montgomery

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 10, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Chelsea Bullock

As any viewer of Pretty Little Liars knows, Spencer, Aria, Hanna and Emily are a force to be reckoned with. To celebrate the return of our mystery-solving teens to regular television programming, several of the Girls Like Giants crew teamed up to crack the awesomeness codes of the core four.

It’s no secret that I, much more than most of my lady-friends here, adore Aria. She does dumb things, is super stubborn, is kind of sneaky, and is borderline boy-obsessed. However, there are also lots of great things about her. Want to channel awesome Aria?

Don’t be afraid to experiment with style. One of the things that I love most about Aria is her ever-changing, occasionally wacky-yet-dark sense of style. She isn’t afraid to be punk-rock chic on Monday and laced-up, prim and proper on Tuesday. Her style often reflects her mood rather than some lofty, solidified sense of self. She also embraces trends–even unfortunate ones (hello, dangly hair feather)–but is never apologetic about her choices because she simply doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s too busy having fun trying out different versions of who she might be through her clothes.

Love your family really, really hard. Most of Aria’s biggest mistakes happen with her family. She keeps a secret for her dad and she tells an almost two-season-long lie to her parents and her brother. However, she never hesitates to make her devotion and affection for her family known. Her parents, even when they probably shouldn’t, depend on her and treat her with respect. This means that even when Aria is making big-time mistakes, she returns that respect to them and trusts that their mutual love for one another will make everything okay in the end. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Spencer Hastings

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Melissa Sexton

As any viewer of Pretty Little Liars knows, Spencer, Aria, Hanna and Emily are a force to be reckoned with. To celebrate the return of our mystery-solving teens to regular television programming, several of the Girls Like Giants crew teamed up to crack the awesomeness codes of the core four.

Spencer Hastings is my favorite Pretty Little Liar, because I see a little too much of myself in her: skeptical, aggressive, competitive, driven, and rabidly loyal to the people she loves. Nobody else is as likely to drag the girls into hair-brained schemes that are aimed at vengeance or vindication…but that result in further complication. Her stubbornness and bossiness often create tension with the group of girls; her affection for older boys, especially her sister’s boyfriends, gets her into all kinds of family conflict; and yet she is a fiercely awesome leader and friend. So how can you channel Spencer’s awesome qualities?

Stand up for yourself and for your friends: Spencer often gets into trouble because of her smart mouth and her lightening-fast temper. On the other hand, though, she is a girl who knows how to stand up to the petty manipulation of high school and of murderers. She is the one girl that Ali feared because she refused to be bullied by her and because she would openly fight with her. Whether it’s standing up to Ali in the midst of sleepover, standing up to her sister’s husband Ian when she thinks he’s a killer, or standing up to her father when he refuses to tell her why he seems to be involved in sneaky cover-ups around Ali’s murder and is mean to her boyfriend Tobey, Spencer sets boundaries and speaks to them loudly. Sometimes her protective nature makes her seem bossy and controlling towards her friends, like when she goes to talk to Ezra Fitz about Aria’s budding romance with possible killer Jason; but as their reconciliation scene suggests, even then Spencer has her friends’ best interests at heart and will risk danger and open conflict to help them. Her penchant for conflict also comes in handy as the basis of many a ruse, like the recent season-re-opening battle with Emily that she stages to throw A off their conspiring tracks. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Be Awesome Like Emily Fields

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Sarah Todd

As any viewer of Pretty Little Liars knows, Spencer, Aria, Hanna and Emily are a force to be reckoned with. To celebrate the return of our mystery-solving teens to regular television programming, several members of the Girls Like Giants crew teamed up to crack the awesomeness codes of the core four.

How to Be Awesome Like Emily Fields

Be the hardest worker who has ever worked so hard. Emily’s athleticism is a big part of her identity, and with good reason: sports reward daily dedication and a desire to push yourself harder. She’s the best athlete on the swim team because she puts in the time and effort. When another girl on the team, Paige, tries to upset Emily’s game with homophobic comments and assorted low blows, Emily’s response perfectly summarizes her philosophy: “If you want to beat me, work harder.” What a perfect comeback: not only does Emily strike at the root of Paige’s insecurity, it’s actually good advice she’s giving. To a mean girl who just made a homophobic comment about her. That’s our girl.

Have serious self-respect. As Emily begins dating girls, multiple people try to use her sexuality to manipulate her or make her feel like she should be ashamed. A blackmails Emily and sends pictures of her kissing her girlfriend Maya to both Emily’s mom and Hanna. Paige tries to use Emily’s sexuality as a weapon against her, and Paige’s father does the same to the nth degree. But even as people try to make Emily feel guilty and wrong about who she’s attracted to, Emily becomes increasingly comfortable with her sexuality. When Paige eventually confesses that she’d like to date Emily, but not in public, Emily wisely but gently breaks off their budding relationship. “I’m not ashamed of who I am,” she says. “But I used to be. And if we have to hide like this all the time, I’m going to start to feel that way again.” Emily’s integrity encompasses but is by no means limited to her sexual orientation. What it comes down to is that Emily is growing up, and part of that process is learning how to refuse to betray herself–no matter what anybody else says or wants. She can be the strongest person in the room just by standing her ground.

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Interlude: The Bachelor & Weeping Women

In Interlude, The Bachelor on January 9, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Phoebe B.

Last year, I watched The Bachelorette and it was my first foray into any Bachelor-related programming. Truth be told, I loved it and watched the Ashley season religiously. Sometimes I even yelled at the TV, as if I was watching football, when Ashley fell for that terrible Bentley dude or made other odd choices. Plus, Ben F. who proposed to Ashley only to be rejected in favor of J.P (which was seemingly the right choice for her) was totally my favorite: a winemaker from Sonoma, outdoorsy, funny, and adorable. In case you can’t tell, I had a bit of a TV crush on him (in good company with real people like Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman, and David Boreanaz; and characters like Smash Williams and Tim Riggins, and quite a few others). Thus, when I heard that he was the new Bachelor, I thought I would certainly watch his season. And then, I saw this ad.

And I thought maybe not. And then Sarah T. asked me this question: “is it possible that The Bachelor is super-sexist and misogynistic while The Bachelorette is relatively progressive?” And I thought, yes it does seem that way. Although I am not too quick to label The Bachelorette as progressive, in the wake of these ads, The Bachelorette looks more and more like a mini dash of not horribly regressive TV. The thing about The Bachelorette, for me at least, is that it fulfills a certain kind of fantasy in which a bunch of very attractive and reasonably interesting (not all the time) people vie for my, I mean The Bachelorette’s, attention. And at least in Ashley’s season, the drama surrounded the choices she made, rather than drama between the guys (perhaps save for the crazy masked Jeff, remember him?). The show did not rely on the men being mean to each other in order to create the primary drama, nor did the advertisements showcase a guy crying. This choice, it seems, is due to gendered expectations and notions of what The Bachelorette audience might find appealing. Read the rest of this entry »

Pretty Little Liars Recap, “Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares” (Season 2, Episode 14)

In girl culture, Pretty Little Liars, teen soaps on January 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm

This week we welcome back our favorite little liars in full force as they fake fights, sneak into scary greenhouses (alone!), tell parents their secrets, and much much more. Read the rest of this entry »

The Wonderful Women of Friday Night Lights

In gender on December 30, 2011 at 10:05 am

Phoebe B.

Of late, I am watching a lot of Friday Night Lights (it is all on Netflix streaming!) and I just finished seasons 1, 2, and 3 and now am swiftly moving into season 4 (I have big plans to watch the whole series over Christmas Break, so we shall see how that goes). Many things strike me about this show as a first time viewer, including its candid, important, and often uncomfortable discussions of race and racism, including but not limited to interracial dating, in a network landscape currently dominated by problematic post-racial fantasies. But the topic of this post is another phenomenal facet of FNL, which is the wonderful, nuanced, complicated, and dynamic female characters. I am blown away by the women of FNL, whom I did not expect to encounter in a show dedicated to the male-driven world of Texas football. For example, Tami Taylor, Corrina Williams, Tyra, Mrs. Saracen, Waverly, Julie, Devon, and even Lila, to just name a few. Recently, Sarah T. posted a wonderfully detailed account of Tami Taylor’s awesomeness on GLG, but I want to highlight and celebrate my other favorite FNL lady characters, who are by no means perfect but strong and complicated women, the likes of which are rarely seen on network television. So here I want to highlight why Tyra, Waverly, Mrs. Saracen, and Corrina Williams (my favorite) are a particularly refreshing escape from a network landscape too oft-populated by post-racial fantasies and one-dimensional women.

Tyra:

Tyra (on the right) with her mom and sister on her sis' wedding day

Landry and Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) have a heart to heart

Tyra suffers consistently from her class position as much of the town reads her as ‘white trash’ and she is plagued by other people’s conceptions of her as such. However, we see her strength when she stands up for her mother against her abusive boyfriend, and she even stands up to her mother for her mother’s own sake. In season one, Tyra convinces her mother to attempt life on her own after an affair with the town’s resident football lover and car dealership owner, Buddy Garrity, leaves her jobless and angry. It is in these rare moments early on that we see Tyra’s strength and her potential—something Tami Taylor (Guidance counselor extraordinaire, Principal, and wife of football coach Eric Taylor) also realizes. Throughout the show, we see Tyra struggle as she falls in love with Landry, the most wonderful and smart and awkward kid in school (who, not to give too much away, also saves her life). Landry functions, for me, as a means of viewing Tyra outside the town’s perspective and judgment. Landry sees that she is is strong, smart, and capable in a way that she does not see or value. However, at times she is selfish and frustrating, but that is part of what makes her great (which Landry points out to her). What makes Tyra wonderful is that she makes bad and good decisions, and she must be forced to take herself seriously (instead of skating by on her good looks), which in and of itself is a struggle.

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Avast! A Shark!

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Sarah S.

My last (and first, ha!) post was on the women of Sons of Anarchy, and how the show seems uncertain how to handle strong, non-stereotypical female characters and so, by season four, they were beginning to dissolve. In terms of Gemma and Tara, the show gave us an uptick of interesting behavior, plot twists, and potentials at the end of the season but the season itself ended with much ridiculous, silly, semi-coherence. Alas, I fear that SOA may have jumped the shark.

Pondering the possibility of shark jumpage led me to another question, a serious question that I ask here to serious watchers of media: Has a show ever jumped the shark but recovered? Put another way: Is jumping the shark forever or can it just be a blip? Any examples of shows that did jump but then still stayed aboard their water skis? Or do we need another term for shows that seem as if they’re going off the rails (to mix metaphors) but then recover like “Mad Men dodged the bullet”?

 

 

 

 

A Ghost of Herself: Supernatural Femininity on “Being Human,” Season 1

In gender, race, Uncategorized on December 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Sarah Todd

One day, I hope, I’ll get the chance to sit down and chat with a supernatural character from popular culture. Maybe  Angel and I will toast Guinnesses at a local Irish pub and we can laugh about his fake accent. Maybe I’ll trick Edward into inviting me into his bizarre bed-less Neomodern home where he still lives with his parents even though he’s a hundred years old, the weirdo. Regardless of how these talks happen, I’ll ask them all the same question: What’s the big deal about being human? Read the rest of this entry »