13 Reasons Why: a review

 

A number of people have been asking me about this show so I thought I would blog about it. I watched this show with my youngest daughter (13 years old) when she expressed interest in it. Her interest was stimulated by the kids at school buzzing about it. I probably would not have started watching it otherwise, as there is so much else on my viewing radar (an almost complete list of shows can be found below). My eldest had no interest in the show at all.

 

13 Reasons Why is based on a young adult novel of the same title by Jay Asher. It centres around the life of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who has just killed herself. She left behind 13 audio tapes for her friends and acquaintances to listen to, in an attempt to be finally understood by those who failed to help her. There are voice over narratives and flashbacks interwoven with the present day depiction of a community devastated by the loss of this girl. We spend much of the time with Hannah’s friend Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he listens to the tapes and tries to figure out what he could have done differently. This show is a realistic depiction of many aspects of teen angst.  For this I applaud it. This is a far cry from the teen glamour soaps that that flood us (Pretty Little Liars, etc.). It is also quite stark in its depiction of physical and sexual violence as well as suicide.

The acting was convincing by the young cast. The dialogue was pretty realist as well. However, the suspense structure for dramatic effect seemed contrived at times. This show strained to fill 13 episodes (45 min each). I wanted to understand Hannah’s pain in the context of her extreme action but struggled to do so for much of the 1st season. My daughter had a hard time understanding her too. A somewhat better understanding was left to the end. Much of the earlier events seemed like ordinary teen stuff that she was emotionally ill-equipped to handle. That Hannah could not go to her parents for help was very difficult for me to watch. Her parents were depicted as loving and supportive in flashback scenes. Their devastation after her death brought me to tears. This show had little if any discussion about the mental health aspects of Hannah’s troubles. I found that problematic. It also seemed to simplify and externalize much of the responsibility of what is a very complex and very personal problem. Hannah’s isolation was probably realistic. Many kids live inside their own heads and do not know how to clearly ask for help. Their struggles can seem overwhelming in the echo chamber of their minds. Suicide is often described as an impulsive and desperate act, but as depicted in this show, it is usually associated with depression. I hope Season 2 will delve into this a bit more.

This is a Netflix original series that I admire but would have a hard time broadly recommending as must see TV. I think if you are a parent who is interested in pop culture and you want to know what kids are watching, it is worth a look. If your child is watching it, then I think you should definitely watch it too and discuss the themes which include financial struggles, social class, social media shaming, under age drinking, rape culture, friendship, crushes and sexual identity. This show has been renewed for a 2nd season. I will probably only watch it if my daughter wants to. I am grateful for the opportunity to have watched season 1 with her.

Curious about what else I have been watching? The list below is shocking.

The Americans ___ Archer ___ Better Call Saul ___ Black Sails ___ Call the Midwife ___ Catastrophe ___ Crashing (UK) ___ Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ___ The Crown  ___ Dr. Who ___ The Fall ___ Fargo ___ Fleabag ___ Girls ___ Glitch ___ Grantchester ___ Happy Valley ___ Humans ___ iZombie ___ Jane the Virgin ___ Jessica Jones ___ Killjoys ___ Last Tango in Halifax ___ Lovesick ___ The Magicians ___ Master of None ___ Mercy Street ___ Orange is the New Black ___ Orphan Black ___ Please Like Me ___ Poldark ___ Preacher ___ Scott and Bailey ___ Sense8 ___ Silicon Valley ___ Taboo ___ This is Us ___ Veep ___ Victoria

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Last Man on Earth: TV for mothers and daughters

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I was looking for a comedy to enjoy with the kids and stumbled upon the first season of this 1/2 hour Fox TV show. It is available with a new steaming service, shomi, that is bundled with my cable package. So with neither commercials nor a laugh track and some warm buzz from a few of my reliable entertainment sources, I thought I would give it a try. So glad I did. This show is currently on hiatus in the middle of its 2nd season. After binge-watching to get caught up, our wait for its return on March 6th, 2016 is excruciating. So my daughters and I are rewatching it with my husband.  The second time round is even better with his boisterous laugh joining ours.

This is a dark comedy set in the near future (2022) after the world’s population has been wiped out by a virus. The logistics of this tragedy is not dwelled upon. There are no bodies piled up. Rather, the world is a lonely place for Phil Miller (portrayed by Will Forte, also creator of this show) as he laments his solitude. Because he has spray painted billboards with “ALIVE in TUSCON” a few remaining survivors join him and hilarity ensues.

This show has an ensemble of distinct and quirky characters. Each member is a unique combination of sweetness and wacky. The cast includes January Jones in a surprisingly effective turn as Melissa in a traditional “straight man” role. Kristen Schaal is absolutely brilliant as eccentric misinformed grammar-nerd Carol. Will Forte plays Phil Miller as jerk looking for redemption. His character, although funny, can be almost be cringingly painful to watch. I think this show is a brilliant mix of funny dialogue and physical gags. The joke density is such that I caught things that I missed while watching it the 2nd time. There is no multi-tasking while we watch this; it brings our family together for some great shared belly laughs.

I am the first to admit that humour is so very subjective. But if you think you share a similar sense of humour as me and have enjoyed other comedies that I have reviewed,  you may want to check the first episode out at the link below.

Inside Amy Schumer: a review

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Well, I am a bit late to the party, but boy oh boy am I glad I came!! In response to all the buzz surrounding Amy Schumer’s comedic genius and the return of her sketch comedy show for a 3rd season, this past April, I bought the first 2 seasons of Inside Amy Schumer on DVD and watched it with my daughters. We are now up to date with season 3 and are still loving her humour.

Her show is a riot. A vulgar yet highly feminist riot. It has some fun sketches, some stand-up segments and some on the street interviews. She also does longer interviews with interesting non-celebrities in a segment called “Amy Goes Deep.” If that type of innuendo bothers you, this show is not for you. There is coarse language and explicit sexual discussions. She is fearless when it come to calling “shenanigans” on the double standards that women still face in the world. I can’t think of a better way to educate my daughters about these things. She is equally excellent at calling women out on their crap too.

I just love her comedy, think she is a terrific actress and I am glad she is getting the recognition she is due. She has written and is starring in a movie called Trainwreck, opening this July. I hope it is as fun as the trailer is.

 

Here are a few of my favourite sketches from Inside Amy Schumer. Most are NSFW.

Slap Chef

 

Sleep Gym

 

O’Nutters

 

Call of Duty SPOOF

 

Herpes Scare

I can go on and on, so I will.

 

Spy Spoof

 

Boy Band spoof

 

Big booty hip-hop spoof

 

Delusional diet

 

Women can’t take compliments

Okay, I have to stop somewhere, but you don’t have to. Most of her best sketches are on youtube.

Gravity Falls: TV for Mothers and Daughters

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I find it difficult to relate to many of the shows that my kids watch on the Disney channel but then I discovered the joy of Gravity Falls. I was aware of my daughters’ (ages 13 and 11) excitement every time they caught a new episode. I liked the catchy theme music and enjoyed hear my kids laughter. But it wasn’t until I noticed that the A.V. club started posting weekly online reviews that I really took notice.

This animated TV show is so sweet, silly and satirical that we now watch it as a family. Yes, even my husband has joined the fun.

 

 

Gravity Falls is the name of a town where strange creatures and phenomenon gather. Mabel and Dipper Pines are 12-year-old twins visiting their seemingly oblivious Great Uncle (Grunkle Stan) for the summer. He runs a tacky tourist trap gift shop in Gravity Falls (the punny name still slays me) called the Mystery Shack. Mabel is boy crazy and whimsical. Dipper has investigative curiosity and gravitas as he pines for 15 year old Wendy. It isn’t long before the twins are knee deep in mystery and adventure. With the help of Souss and Wendy, both who work at the Mystery Shack, things usually end well. Together they come up against monsters of the lake and woods, gnomes, mer-folk (named Mermando). It is kinda like X-files meets the Simpsons with added kindness.

 

The stories are well-written, fast-paced, zinger-laden silly fun rather than truly scary. There are pop-culture references that you may or may not get depending on your age. There is no loss in enjoyment if they fly over your head. The episodes are self-contained and can be watch in any order. The humour, distinct characterization and self-awareness keep us coming back for more. Oh, and the awesome theme song is just so catchy. If you are looking for something on TV that you can enjoy with your kids, give Gravity Falls a try.

 

 

Girls, Girls, Girls

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I was late coming to this critical darling, but I just main lined all 10 episodes of Lena Dunham’s Girls TV show (HBO) and I am impressed. Thanks to Dave at Flickers blog and his review, it was the kick in the butt that I needed to dive in. And dive in I did, coming up for air once, as I finished watching this on demand over 2 evenings.

I was hesitant about this show at first because at middle age, I wasn’t sure I could handle a show that focused on 20 something year old “girls” struggling in NYC. Coming from a lower middle class upbringing, as I do, the thought of ever being a struggling artist/writer was never a consideration. My tale is a classic one, oft told, of a 2nd-generation-Canadian with struggling immigrant parents. Education was valued and encouraged at my house if and only if it leads to a profession. “Wadda you mean choice? You can be any doctor you wanna be” failing that, further choices include, in this order, dentist, lawyer, …..) So, I really wasn’t sure if I had the broad-mindedness to relate to these liberal arts educated girls. True confession aside, I could never sympathize with the ill-fated protagonist of Dead Poet’s Society; that movie fell flat on me. My misgivings were unfounded.

Silly me; good writing is simply, good writing. And this show has it. Lena Dunham writes, directs and stars as Hannah Horvath, a scattered, fearful and insecure 24 year old college grad who lives with her best friend (control-freak) Marnie (Allison Williams) in Brooklyn. Hannah’s parent’s ongoing financial support allows her to spin her wheels in an unpaid internship while she simultaneously pursues her writing. The pilot episode takes off from the opening scene when her tough as nails Mom declares that after 2 years, the gravy train has reached the end of the line. Boy oh boy could I sympathize with her Mom! The subtle comedy continues when Hannah decides to demand payment for her work from her ever so congenial boss. This bold move results in a long overdue reality check. It won’t be the last for Hannah and her friends.

Along the way we meet 2 other friends to complete the quartet. Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, a scene stealer in Mad Men) is the innocent one, still in college and her cousin Jessa (Jemima Kirke) is the free-spirited wild child. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them wade through the quagmire of life as they faced complex relationships, often paralyzed by indecision and humiliation. These four girls are uniquely and distinctively developed characters. They are real, flawed and relatable. The portrayals are genuine and moving. All four actresses shine in this ensemble. Lena Dunham is a voice of a generation, to paraphrase her character, Hannah Horvath. And she exposes her character’s physical flaws as boldly as she does the psychological ones.

There are some criticisms of this show. First, if you have watched Dunham’s independent film, Tiny Furniture, this show is not a huge departure. Secondly, that there are few glimpses of African Americans. These points are valid. Yes Girls is not a huge departure, rather it is an expansion of the themes brought forth in that quirky debut film (I enjoyed it).  Dunham is not even close to 30 and like any good writer, she writes what she knows. As to the latter point, I see no need to isolate this show for what I believe to be a systemic flaw of the TV industry.

Girls is at times a cautionary tale of youth; a ying to Sex & the City’s yang. NYC is an undeniable supporting character, amid a strong ensemble cast. I will have to wait a few more years until my daughters are in high school, but I know that this will be required viewing before they graduate. I look forward to seeing what is in store for these “girls”. Lucky for me the second season starts in a few weeks. Until then, I will have to settle for this trailer.

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