What I’m Watching: GLOW

What I expected: an exaggerated, high-energy, soapy drama set behind the scenes of women’s wrestling in the ’80s.

What I got: an understated, pleasant, yet meaningful character drama following the creation of a women’s wrestling league, still in the ’80s.

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Why are we screaming again?

I mean, with those promo photos, who could blame me for wrongly assuming the show’s tone? But it turns out that, like the wrestling in the show, they’re just a flashy front to a complex, diverse cast of characters whose inner lives are portrayed with a great deal of respect.

The two most important of those characters are Ruth and Debbie. Ruth is trying to make a name for herself as an actress, but is held back by wanting more substantial roles and not being conventionally attractive (which I don’t think is actually true of the actress, but okay); Debbie, on the other hand, was a reasonably-successful soap actress but was frustrated by sexism on the set and retired from acting to raise a kid with her husband.

These establishing details put both characters in sympathetic places, which is good, but they’re also crucial to the show’s examination of just what kind of people would be drawn participate in women’s wrestling in the ’80s. As portrayed in the show, it’s primarily those who exist outside of the mainstream’s very narrow view of what women in media should look like and be: white, conventionally attractive, and subservient to male authority.

GLOW is at its best when it focuses on giving voice and narratives to these women, but unfortunately it’s a little mixed in how well it does that. Debbie is drawn to the wrestling production when she realizes it’s like a soap opera, but in this case it’s one that she gets to have some degree of creative control over. That creative control is not extended to the other women in the show-within-a-show, however, resulting in the women of color being forced to represent racist stereotypes.

These stereotypical characters might be historically accurate, I guess (although I’m not personally familiar with the real-life GLOW the show is based on), but it’s disappointing that the only reason Debbie really gets to have control here is because she’s the only one of the wrestlers who has mainstream success and is therefore the star. The women of color might be getting roles, but they’re still reductive and even harmful. The show does make efforts to have its characters point this out and express their discomfort with it, but these concerns aren’t given enough space to feel more than obligatory. There is a nice sequence, however, where Cherry goes behind the director’s back to swap things so she and the other black wrestler are the heroes of their double fight instead of the villains.

While the show-within-the-show does get bogged down in caricatures and stereotypes, the show itself is a lot more empathetic and respectful of its characters. All of the women are given meaningful, if sometimes light, characterization and character moments over the course of the season, which is impressive given that there are 14 of them. I do wish that the show had leaned a little bit more into its ensemble, though–one episode gives a decent subplot to Sheila that really digs into who she is, but a lot of the other characters aren’t examined as closely. Just a little bit more could have gone a long way toward fleshing out some of the more tertiary characters.

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Leaving the audience wanting more is hardly a terrible problem to have in this case, though, as my desire for more character moments is fueled by how good the moments we get are. The bulk of the show’s first season is spent focused on Ruth and Debbie, even more so on Ruth, following their personal struggles and conflict in the wake of Debbie learning that Ruth twice slept with her husband. The show does a really good job portraying the two’s fractured friendship, that weird space where they both care about each other a lot but now there’s this betrayal hanging between them that prevents Debbie from really letting Ruth in.

Ruth and Debbie’s plotline is also important to one of the show’s less prominent themes, where it goes into what it is to be a heel (the villain in wrestling). There’s a connection built between Ruth, who is arguably the “villain” between her and Debbie, and Ruth’s character in the ring, a Russian foil to Debbie’s American hero. The show remarks upon how a good heel is needed to make the hero look better and be easier to root for, but how the audience also, in a strange way, loves the heel. The exploration of this fairly universal storytelling concept is interesting, but unfortunately the way it relates back to the characters in the show is a little weird.

The first part of this weirdness is the framing of Ruth and Debbie, where Ruth is more or less the show’s protagonist. We spend the most time with her, she gets the most in-depth and complex character work, she is who we’re ultimately rooting for. And so because of this, she’s isn’t the heel in the story. The second thing is that she’s really not a bad person, making the focus on her “villainy” feel hollow. With the exception of sleeping with Debbie’s husband, Ruth doesn’t really do anything morally questionable–in fact, she’s one of the most responsible and mature characters on the show.

This creates a disconnect where a large part of Ruth’s plotline is about accepting the importance of villainy within a narrative and how she feels like she is that villain in her personal life, but that villainy is not actually present in her character. We’re never even given a particularly compelling reason for why she slept with Debbie’s husband, making her one bad act seem more like a contrivance than a character flaw.

While that theme did leave me a little wanting, it’s a small nitpick in what is otherwise a very compelling plotline. And I do really appreciate Ruth as the protagonist–she’s driven and passionate, but that passion sometimes manifests itself as a sort of dorkiness that makes for a really entertaining and easy-to-root-for character. I can easily see a version of the show where Debbie is the protagonist and I think it would have been lesser for it.

So, yeah, that’s GLOW. Not what I anticipated, but I think it was better for subverting my expectations to tell an almost gentle in tone, but still meaningful and nuanced, story.

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What I’m Watching: The Good Fight

When I wrote about The Good Fight’s pilot, I hoped the show would maintain the high caliber of quality of the first episode set up. It was a tall order, one I’m not sure its predecessor The Good Wife ever managed for a ten episode streak, but, astoundingly, The Good Fight succeeded. There’s a drive, a sense of purpose and relevance, to the show that makes it in many ways superior to The Good Wife after just one ten-episode season.

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I like to think this is actually a room in some Chicago highrise that exists solely for generic cast photos.

First off, despite the high-class world the characters navigate, the show wisely keeps its characters as more-or-less underdogs. Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad, the central law firm, is predominantly African American, while Maia’s public reputation has been destroyed by her parents’ scandal and Diane has lost all her money in addition to her reputation. The clear societal forces working against the characters make their successes feel more triumphant and hard-earned.

This underdog theme carries over into the show’s cases of the week, which are surprisingly strong. In The Good Wife, the weekly cases became trite filler after the first two or three seasons, usually skimming from the headlines without any meaningful commentary or interesting plotting. The cases in The Good Fight, however, feel very purposeful, focusing on “little guy” individuals fighting against more powerful opponents and exploring social issues in a way that feels relevant and genuine rather than perfunctory.

The more serialized plotting is pretty good, too. There are three major running plotlines–an attack on the firm by the State Attorney’s office, Lucca’s relationship with a guy working at the State Attorney’s office named Colin, and the financial scandal–that all intertwine in interesting ways. It’s a testament to Michelle and Robert King’s (the creators and writers of both The Good Wife and The Good Fight) writing skills that they can still make these legal machinations interesting after eight seasons in this world.

I do, however, think that the first of those three plotlines was much more successfully executed than the others. Lucca and Colin’s plotline often felt separated from the rest of the show, and I would have liked something a little more substantive for Lucca. The show has positioned her as roughly analogous to Kalinda from The Good Fight in being kind of mysterious in her motivations and feelings, but that mysteriousness doesn’t work as well with Lucca since she’s one of the three main characters, not a part of the ensemble. This combined with her not actually being as mysterious as Kalinda makes it frustrating rather than intriguing to not know what’s going on in her head.

Meanwhile, the financial scandal plotline doesn’t have any flaws in and of itself, but the context–a scandal with mystery surrounding it setting up the first episode in a plot-driven show–makes it look initially like it’ll be a twisty, plot-heavy storyline, but instead it’s a more character-driven story designed to test and challenge Maia. And for what it is it works very well, but in a show otherwise filled with traditional twisty plotting, it comes across as incongruously simple and un-thrilling.

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It’s the strength of the characters, though, that keeps the less-exciting-than-possible storylines from feeling dull or too much like missed opportunities. Maia isn’t a particularly original character in her conception but she works well as an audience surrogate and the show does an effective job of making her sympathetic to the audience. It’s thrilling to watch when she has her first cross-examination and that’s all thanks to stellar execution on the writing and acting level.

As I mentioned above, I’m disappointed that Lucca’s inner life wasn’t explored as much as it could have been, but she’s still a really engaging character, competent and brassy but while still being compassionate. And while I’m not sure there’s a lot to say about Diane since her character has had a lot of screentime in The Good Wife, she’s still a crucial and enjoyable part of the main cast.

The show’s other characters are also really good as well. The new characters at Reddick, Boseman, and Kolstad (the main law firm) mesh well into the show’s world and I was super excited to see Marissa added as a series regular after recurring on The Good Wife for years.

Marissa’s place in the show does get into some of its more questionable subtext, though. It’s a good move to set the show in a mostly-black law firm, but immediately adding a bunch of white characters (Maia, Diane, and Marissa) into it feels iffy, and the way the show had them ingratiate themselves by using their privilege felt off in its execution. Rather than the vibe being “we’ll use our privilege to help you achieve justice,” it was more “look at how useful and great our privilege is, and doesn’t that make us better at performing the same tasks.” If the show had explored how some of the characters’ marginalized identities could be equally helpful in other contexts I think it would have come across better. The show on a couple of occasions has a white character deal with a racist for better results, but never, say, has a black character handle going into a mostly-black social space for better results.

I also didn’t love how the show handled Maia being gay, or rather how the show didn’t really handle it at all. For a show that is steeped in commentary on social issues, it’s really weird how completely absent any discussion of Maia’s sexual orientation is. None of the public backlash against her takes on homophobic forms that I noticed, her ex-boyfriend harassing her didn’t explicitly have any real homophobic bent to it, and Maia being a lesbian in a homophobic society was never brought up as a motivating factor in her pursuing a career as a lawyer. The show almost seemed to go out of its way to not explore gay identity and homophobia, which was disappointing since the show didn’t show the same avoidance when it came to racism, sexism, antisemitism, ageism, etc.

Despite those quibbles, though, I was really impressed by season one of The Good Fight. It’s an extraordinarily solid show and is a promising start to original programming on CBS All Access.

What I’m Watching: Season Finale 2017

Heyoo, this blog has officially made it through an entire season of TV! I had no idea when I started if I’d make it past a month or two, but somehow, despite how draining this fall-through-spring has been, I’ve still been interested in babbling about media. The summer’s probably going to be lighter on posts (although I might try doing some stuff about video games), but I expect to be back at it when the next season of TV starts up. Anyway, here’s the final rundown on the shows I watched:

Madam Secretary

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❤  my team of world-improvers!

This show felt a little listless coming back from the midseason break, like the writers weren’t quite sure where they wanted to take things. The primary serialized plot that ended up developing was with Henry’s investigation into an extremist religious group and that whole plotline felt pretty stale until the end.

Looking back at the list of episodes, though, the show still put in a bunch of good plots of the week, and it picked up a lot toward the end. A real standout episode was one right near the end of the season that started with a focus on Elizabeth’s assistant, Blake, and took turns over the course of the episode following each of the employees working for Elizabeth. It was a really neat idea for an episode and it was structured really well–each character gained focus as it was their turn to be instrumental to the plot of the week–and did a fantastic job of telling us something interesting about each character. And the season finale was a really good, not to mention timely, cap to the season.

Madam Secretary still sometimes veers too far into cheesiness or contrived storytelling (a plot about a political Romeo and Juliet was . . . a bit much), but when it’s on, it really packs a punch. And in the wake of the election, the show’s real-world parallels feels especially relevant which should help give the show life in season four.

Conviction

This one only came back for four more episodes in January and it didn’t really do anything to change my opinion of it. Conviction was hardly a masterpiece, but it was a solid procedural with good potential and some interesting, modern hooks. It’s too bad that the show never went anywhere in the ratings.

Fresh Off the Boat, The Real O’Neals, Agents of Shield

I ended up dropping all of these due to my life schedule making me extremely tired on Tuesday nights. I probably would have kept watching them if not for that, but I can’t say I especially missed the latter two shows–The Real O’Neals totally failed to live up to its potential, and Agents of Shield was really starting to bore me. I’ll probably pick Fresh Off the Boat back up when it returns in the fall, though.

The 100

So this season was really good. After the overambitious season three, the writers pulled back in the complexity in season four (even as the stakes were raised), focusing on moral quandaries over political machinations. This resulted in a kind of weird situation where this season was definitely better than season three (and in some ways was probably better than season two, which started pretty slow), but because of the reduction in scale and shocking moments it in some ways felt underwhelming.

Part of that is for the better, I think, as The 100 really Went There in season two with the death of Finn and the eradication of Mount Weather, and trying to top that probably would have ended up feeling stale and monotonous. But one of the best things about season three was, as much as the execution was fumbled, the ambition to it, the amount of stuff going on at any given point. Season four being so much simpler made it easier for the writers to execute, but it also meant that the show took a step back in terms of scope which was a little disappointing.

Still, though, this season proved that even at its simplest The 100 is just really good. The moral questions the show dealt with were handled well and seeing the culmination of Clarke’s growth into a pragmatic leader was fantastic, if kind of sad to see given her early idealism. Meanwhile, Octavia continued her arc as one of the most interesting, unique characters I’ve ever seen period, a young woman who’s basically forsaken society but not in a Holier Than Thou way, but in an angry, vengeful way. A lot of stories might have used Octavia as a moral compass, but instead she’s just a brutally effective warrior. To then conclude this arc with her literally fighting for peace, though, was really cool, and continues to move her character in new and interesting directions as she now finds herself in a leadership role.

Although, I think there was definitely some iffy subtext with Octavia this season, where her growth as a white woman was fueled by the death of a black man, Lincoln, and the mentorship of a black woman, Indra, a character whose agency was pretty limited this season. I wish Indra had been given a bit more importance within the narrative to alleviate some of that.

The finale was really a capstone in the “simple but good” thing the season had going for it, as it had no big decision or twist or dramatic shock. It was presented from the beginning as “the characters have to prepare the ship to launch,” and while you knew things were going to go wrong, that was about all there was to it. And yet, the last twenty minutes of the episode were just as tense and exciting as previous season finales and the flashforward at the end left me incredibly hyped up. Who knows if season five will live up to my expectations, but after season four I’m really hoping it will.

The Good Place

This one also only came back for four more episodes (although it’s been renewed, unlike Conviction), but, damn. I’m not exaggerating when I saw that this is one of the all-time best stories I’ve ever seen in a TV show. The twist in the finale was a masterclass in shocking, game-changing plot moves that totally recontextualizes everything that came before it. It’s astounding that all of this is going on in a sitcom, and that something like this exists on network television at all, but I’m so glad it does.

I really should have done a winter finale for this and Conviction because I can’t remember much of my more in-depth thoughts on this show, but suffice to say that it is incredible.


And that does it for the season! It was a pretty good one all around, although my viewing got pretty light by the end. There are a few new shows that look interesting next season (although most are being held for midseason), though, so it should expand again next season. (I don’t know if that’s interesting information but I needed a way to end this post lol.)

What I’m Watching: Sense8

Alright! Season two of Sense8 is here and the world is a little bit better.

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Nooo Wolfgang get away from Kala!

Senseis one of the most visionary, original TV shows I’ve ever seen. Shot on location all across the world with characters from seven different countries and incredible production value, not to mention highly-involved action sequences, there’s simply nothing else like Sense8 on TV, streaming or otherwise. The show just oozes creative vision and cinematic sensibilities and it’s awesome.

The premise of Sense8 is that eight people across Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas end up mentally linked through some magic-y sci-fi stuff, allowing them to telepathically visit each other and share their skills, knowledge, and perspectives on life. And while there is some meta story going on, the first season especially pretty much focuses entirely on these eight characters’ different plotlines–Capheus as a bus driver in Kenya, Will as a cop in Chicago, etc.–and how their newfound connection allows them to better handle their situations. The show uses its sci-fi concept to explore the ways in which we’re connected as humans, how we have more similarities than we might think and how much our lives are improved by using our capacity of empathy. That message happens to be right up my alley and it’s one of my favorite things about the show.

I was impressed by how season two furthered the meta plot, though–where a lot of shows either overexplain or underexplain their central mysteries, Sense8 uses a sort of dreamy, vague method of exposition for its underlying story that allows the viewer to follow what’s going on without explicitly giving away anything. Additionally, the show expanded its mythology in other ways by introducing new sensates with their own agendas and relations to the nefarious BPO. The whole concept of the sensaste archipelago, allowing for indirect communication via a chain of connected sensates, was especially interesting.

I don’t think Sense8 is without faults, though. By having eight main characters and seven or eight concurrent plotlines, the show is unable to have a meaningful sense of structure–there’s simply no room for per-episode plots or a great deal of momentum to any given plotline when each character only gets an average of an hour and a half of screentime per season. This has the tendency of leaving the show without much underlying tension or drive, especially with how the show tends to give its scenes a lot of time to breathe. This works great with the action sequences, which can get really long and elaborate and intense, but can drag when the show gets conversation-heavy.

On the other hand, I do appreciate how fully the show utilizes its medium. The visual language of the show does such an evocative job of portraying a reality-breaking sci-fi concept that I don’t think it could work outside of TV or film, but no movie could handle this many characters and storylines. Combined with the aforementioned filmic qualities of the show in terms of cinematography and scope (which are easier to get when you’re filming on location, I imagine), it really stands out as a completely realized, masterfully-envisioned creative work.

Getting a little more specific, I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the final half or so of the last episode of season two. It seemed to cover about 40 minutes of screentime in half that, leaving what should have been a really big moment–the sensates all meeting each other in person–as an aside in the rush to get to the final moments. I understand that the writers wanted to avoid feeling repetitious to the BPO break-in that capped season one, but I think there could have been a more elegant way to accomplish what they wanted.

Still, that’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, and it was a pretty thrilling sequence even if it had some unfulfilled potential. There’s just nothing else like Sense8 and after two seasons the originality of the show isn’t even beginning to fade.

What I’m Watching: Dear White People

Uhh, let’s start this post with a big ol’ “I’m white” disclaimer. I’m going to avoid delving too deep into the way the show engages with racism, but nevertheless everything I write here should be taken with a grain of salt as I don’t have authority on the subject. (I probably wouldn’t write this post at all if I had any meaningful audience here.)

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I’m not sure how relevant the title really is to the show but I guess that’s the point.

Dear White People is about a group of black students at a university and chronicles a couple weeks of their life as they grapple with the campus’ pretty crappy racial politics. The choice of protagonists is one of the areas where I think the show really succeeds, as you have Sam and Reggie who are on the more radical activist side, and then there are Troy and Coco who are more into appealing to the system and working within the establishment. By focusing on differing opinions on how to combat racism from within the community, the show avoids easy answers or clear villains and good guys. I get the impression you’re mostly meant to root for Sam and Reggie’s side (or at least I did), but the show acknowledges that there’s more nuance involved.

So while the character side of the premise is quite good, I think the plot side of things is where the show drops the ball a bit. There’s a lot of stuff happening in the show in terms of plot (and especially twisty revelations), but there is no one event that the show revolves around. This would be fine in normal circumstances, but Dear White People uses a structure where each episode focuses on a different character, with a bit of overlap between episodes. This format is best-suited, in my opinion, to narratives that focus on a singular event so that new details can be revealed as we switch to different characters, but because there is nothing like that the format sometimes feels distracting. Instead the overlapping is used to an inconsistent degree (and is more prominent in the early episodes), which comes across as, well, inconsistent.

I also wish the show did a little bit more with the way it inspects its characters through its format–again there’s an inconsistency to it. Lionel and Coco both get childhood flashbacks, while the others don’t; Reggie doesn’t even have any flashbacks that I remember; none of the flashbacks Sam is in are from her perspective; and Coco’s first focus episode is almost entirely a flashback to her Freshman year. There’s no real rhyme or reason as to who gets what kind of flashback or how these flashbacks are used to reveal information about the characters, and the end result is that the flashbacks feel like they’re used haphazardly rather than with real purpose.

Those are my only main issues with the show, though–otherwise I thought it was very strong. The characters deepen a lot beyond their basic archetypes over the course of the season and become really engaging, and I like the way the show doesn’t overtly tell the audience how they should feel about the important characters. I feel like my reading of various characters’ likability and morality is mostly based on my own opinions and could be quite different from someone else’s reading, which I generally I think is a good thing in fiction, especially in a character-driven story like this.

And then of course there’s the themes of social issues and activism that Dear White People puts at the center. I think the show does a really good job of exploring the complexities involved in activism and unlike a lot of politically-related fiction that I’ve seen, it doesn’t paint things in black and white or make its protagonists so obviously correct. The show also very deftly avoids feeling stilted when its characters discuss social issues, or like characters have been assigned opinions at random. Everything feels very natural, very effortless, in a way that a lot of fiction fails to be when tackling social issues.

I’m not sure the show is as good when it comes to issues other than anti-black racism, however. References to other forms of racism tend to be paired with the show’s flippant sense of humor in a way that feels dismissive of them Also, I don’t think the whole “supposed lesbian getting with a guy despite being engaged to a woman” thing was a great look, as either a) it’s portraying a lesbian as still being attracted to men, or b) it’s portraying a bisexual woman as a cheater. Both of those seem pretty bad.

There was a little more going on in the show thematically than just social issues, though, which I liked. There’s this recurring thing with the five protagonists being romantically involved/interested in someone they shouldn’t (or “shouldn’t”):” Sam is dating a white guy; Lionel is into Troy, who’s straight; Troy is having an affair with an engaged professor; Reggie is into Sam, who’s not single; and Coco is involved with Troy more because she thinks she should than because she wants to. And by the end of the season none of these relationships/crushes work out. I’m not totally clear as to what the show is trying to communicate–I wouldn’t really say that interracial relationships and gay guys being into straight guys are equally doomed–but I like that there’s an extra layer here.

Anyway, while I do have some quibbles with Dear White People, overall I very much enjoyed it and I think it nails the execution where it really matters. I should note again, though, that I really don’t have the authority to say whether the specific messages the show sends are correct or good, so my opinion of the show should not be considered particularly important.

What I’m Watching: Grace and Frankie

Continuing the saga of “everything I watch is a Netflix original” is–well, you can read the title. (It’s Grace and Frankie.)

Grace and Frankie

Searching for key art for this show turned up a surprising amount of stuff for Nashville.

Grace and Frankie is perhaps one of the most Netflix-y Netflix shows in its conception, not because of its tone or quality but because of its subject matter. Since most TV shows are funded based on advertising and advertisers only really care about the 18-49 demographic, you don’t really get many shows focusing on older characters. Netflix, on the other hand, doesn’t care about advertisers, allowing it to greenlight shows regardless of what demographics might be interested. So one of the results of that is Grace and Frankie, a show that’s very directly about issues that affect the above-60 crowd.

And it’s a pretty good show, too. There was something strangely captivating about the first season especially, as the show is billed as a comedy and its plots work like comedy plots, yet season one felt mostly devoid of actual jokes. Like, it wasn’t just that I didn’t think it was funny, it was that the show didn’t even seem to be trying to be funny. That’s really not something you get much in TV and it was really interesting to watch.

Season two and the recently-released season three play it more regular, though, with clearer (and very funny!) humor. It’s one of the more pleasant shows I’ve watched in recent memory, too–even when it’s emotional there’s a sort of low-key vibe to it that keeps it from being too stressful. The biggest exception was at the end of season three where the show played an anti-gay protest for laughs. That really didn’t work for me; closeups of clever signs isn’t very fun when the signs are hateful.

What does really work for me, though, is how the show handled its central premise. (Which is that the titular Grace and Frankie’s husbands, Robert and Sol, leave them for each other.) I was worried going into the show that it would minimize Robert and Sol and basically just use them as a prop, but instead they’re main characters and both sides of the divorces are given very fair treatment. Grace and Frankie are very understandably hurt that their husbands lied to them for decades, but the show also notes the hurt of Robert and Sol in having felt the need to hide their relationship. Everyone is allowed to have their feelings and the situation is generally recognized as one that kind of sucks all around.

The friendship between Grace and Frankie is handled really well, too. I think a lot of shows with odd couples struggle to pace the characters’ relationship, either making them too friendly too quick or holding onto the animosity for too long. Here, though, the development of Grace and Frankie’s relationship is handled perfectly: they still argue and clash by season three, but they also recognize each other as their best friend, and it makes for a really interesting, sweet friendship.

So, yeah, this is a really pleasant show and I really enjoy it. Glad it’s already renewed for season four!

What I’m Watching: When We Rise

Okay so this is even later than Time After Time but WHATEVER.

I don’t actually have a lot of pressing thoughts on When We Rise. And not because I found it boring, but because I think overall it’s such a strongly put together eight hours of television that I feel like there’s not a lot to say. (Also it’s been a couple weeks since it aired so I’ve forgotten a bunch of what I might have said.) So actually, what I’m going to do is rank each two-hour episode and use that as a jumping off point. (Technically it’s eight episodes with two aired per night but ABC’s website counts each pair as an episode so that’s how I’m doing it.)

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This show has no promo photos with all the characters in it which sucks.

4. Episode Three

So the central structure of When We Rise was that each two-hour episode would approximately cover one decade. Night three was for the ’90s, and ended up being a lull in the show’s story. The miniseries mostly focused on activism, but only one of the three main characters was actually doing activism in this episode–the other two were just living their lives. I think it was important for the show to have some downtime, and it’s not as if two women raising a child together wasn’t radical in its own right, but the end result was an episode that felt far less focused than the rest of the show.

Also, this episode had the “Cleve starts taking care of a baby and wants to adopt it but then can’t because the social workers notice his HIV medication” plotline which I have to assume actually happened, but boy did it feel like a Lifetime movie the way the show handled it.

3. Episode One

This episode had the most working against it structurally–it had to establish three protagonists as well as the time period’s culture and societal attitudes while also trying to get into the activism that’s central to the show’s premise. The result was an episode with a lot of small, hazily-connected scenes that was still good, but that didn’t work as well as it could have. It probably would have been better if the narration hadn’t retreated as the episode progressed and had instead been used to help hold together the narrative.

2. Episode Four

The thing about this episode is that I was basically sobbing for the entire last 20 minutes so I’m not sure there’s a lot to really discuss here. What can I say–seeing a heavily-promoted miniseries on a major-three network focus entirely on gay characters and social justice meant a lot to me, and this episode did a great job really selling the culmination-of-sorts of decades of activism and just life. These people went through so much, had such an intense struggle, and affected real, meaningful change and progress. That’s pretty incredible.

1. Episode Two

This is, however, the best episode of the When We Rise in my opinion. The first half, still in the ’70s, had a clear focus with the fight against a proposed anti-gay law in California and the second half was an effective portrayal of the harrowing beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. This episode also had the best use of voiceover, with Roma’s narration in the first half being used to give useful exposition and bridge the gap between scenes and both hers and Ken’s in the second half being revealed to be a letter and conversation, respectively, that had relevance to the plot.


Eh. I wish I had better, more meaningful commentary on this show, but at the end of the day it’s just something that I really liked and that I absolutely recommend. It’s a shame the show’s ratings were crap because I think it’s a really important piece of media.