What I’m Watching: Alias Grace

Sarah Polley, who wrote the Canadian-Netflix coproduction adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, described it as a sort of counterpart to Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale adaptation: where that show takes a look into a future where women’s rights have been stripped away, this one looks into the past where they didn’t exist in the first place. And while Alias Grace is structured within the framework of a true crime mystery, it’s this theme of the intersection of sexism and classism that really resides in its core.


This poster defies witty commentary.

Though I’ve read it’s very faithful to the 1996 book it’s based on, Alias Grace in many ways feels like a take-down of the cheery way in which Downton Abbey portrayed the class differences between its characters. It always struck me as profoundly wrong in that show that Mary could be best friends with Anna, her maid, while also employing her at a level of wealth drastically beneath hers. In Alias Grace, this disparity is not glossed over, as central character Mary Whitney privately rails against the social and class system she lives in, idolizing rebellion leader William Lyon Mackenzie. And ultimately, Mary Whitney embodies a horrible reality of the time, all-but forced into getting an abortion after being impregnated by one of the men of the house and dying from it. As the same man, George, starts to go after Grace, she leaves the house to work for a new employer, leading to the murders which put her in prison.

So immediately it can be seen how so much of Grace’s life is shaped by the amount of wealth she’s born into: forced into working as a maid, where the power disparity forces her to leave for another house, where power struggles in turn result in murder. And in addition to being a factor of class, it’s also a factor of gender: Grace’s drunk, abusive father; the scummy George who leads to Mary’s death and chases Grace out of the house; Thomas Kinnear, who strings along Nancy in a way similar to how George did Mary; James McDermott, who probably initiated the murders; and Simon Jordan, who seeks to contextualize and understand Grace’s story but not necessarily on her terms. Even Jamie, who prior to the murders was the one man who seemed to like Grace in a non-exploitative way, grows fixated on how his testimony hurt her and asks her to repeat her trials in prison over and over, seemingly just for his benefit.

And so I think when, in the end, the exact story of what happened during the murders stays somewhat ambiguous–be it possession, multiple personality disorder, or something else entirely–it’s not only appropriate to the fact that Grace Marks was a real person and the exact story of what happened is unknown in the real world, but also to the fact that Alias Grace was never truly about the murders. The real injustice is not that Grace may have been falsely imprisoned, but that she existed in a world that trapped her simply for who she was born as, leading her to the situation of the murders in the first place. The jail cell she lives in for 30 years is only a literal manifestation of the prison that is society to working class women.

Alias Grace

The idea that the truth isn’t really the point is reflected in the way the show tells its story through flashbacks. Most of these are meant to be what Grace tells to Dr. Jordan, but some seem to be flashes into Grace’s head as memories come back to her, and some are based in others’ accounts of events or Grace bringing up a possibility as a rhetorical device. Additionally, Grace narrates the “present” scenes from the future in what’s revealed to be a letter to Dr. Jordan, meaning even that may just be a performance. This creates a compelling tension as the details, especially around the murders, are blurred, while the broad strokes all seem to be true. But, more importantly, it means the audience never gets to hear Grace’s story from herself, really–only as she narrates it to a male, upper-class listener. Her story is always obscured by what she thinks Dr. Jordan and society want to hear.

This is a theme that’s in turn strengthened by how the show touches on the fascination behind true crime stories and explores what it’s like for Grace as the center of other people’s interest. The way that Dr. Jordan becomes obsessed with Grace and finding the truth of what she did seems reflective of how society in general treats these sorts of cases, and in portraying him not as a noble hero but as a really rather messed up dude might criticize the way we view true crime stories. It also returns to the theme of not looking at the exact details of the salacious crimes that may or may not have been committed, and instead paying attention to the greater cultural context that led to such a story in the first place. Alias Grace is ultimately not about a mystery, or watching tragedy for its own sake, but about social injustice and the way in which it destroys lives.


Premiere Week Fall 2017

UHHH. I genuinely did write this the week everything premiered (the week of September 18th, I think? Ahhh), but I took a pause to write about The Good Place and Madam Secretary and then life got busy and stressful and this sat in my drafts. Anyway, I’ve left out those two shows and will write about them at a later date.

Star Trek: Discovery

I only caught the episode of this that premiered on actual TV (the rest of the series is a streaming exclusive on CBS All Access), but I thought it was pretty good! It’s certainly a very different kind of Star Trek series from what we’ve seen before, but then so was Deep Space Nine and that wasn’t a bad thing (or so I’ve heard; I never watched past the first episode).

What really worked about the episode for me was that although it was gussied up with fantastic production values and some fancy sequences, at its core it was a plot about an unexpected problem and the characters trying to find a way to solve it in a way that mostly came down to arguing their different sides. Maybe it wasn’t as cerebral or philosophical as previous series, and it certainly had a stronger theme of insubordination and character confliiiict, but I still appreciated watching an episode of television that was focused on characters debating an issue.

What I’m not sure I like as much is how focused in on one character the episode was. The idea of the show is that Michael Burnham is not the captain of a ship but is the straight up protagonist, and I think that’s fine–but since this episode doesn’t take place on the primary ship of the series, there really wasn’t any time spent developing the crew. The ship’s captain, Michael, and the next highest-ranking officer were really the only characters in the episode (excluding the Klingons) and that felt limiting.

Still, I’m intrigued to see where the rest of the series goes, and while I probably wouldn’t have started the show without the main ship anywhere in sight, the first episode did set a fine enough basis for the rest of the series since it’s so centrally focused on Michael.

The Voice

I’d never watched The Voice before Monday and Tuesday nights, and before that the only reality singing show I’d ever watched was American Idol back in the Carrie Underwood era, so what most interested me here was the contrasts between the shows. I think American Idol in later seasons got more into contestants who were already in music-related careers, but back when I watched it it was still (as far as I remember) mostly filled with hopefuls whose careers hadn’t started yet. That combined with the a capella auditions gave it a much more down-to-earth feeling, plus a lot more shenanigans due to the lower bar to entry.

The Voice, on the other hand, is way more on the “people who can already sing looking to get a break” side of things (although I’ve yet to hear of any The Voice contestant hitting mainstream success), which makes for auditions that are a lot more interesting to watch since there’s already a baseline level of quality. The added element of the judges having to compete to fill a set number of positions in their teams is an interesting wrinkle, too, adding a bit more strategy and gaminess to the audition process.

Anyway I’m sure the world needed my years-late and uninformed comparison between these two shows.

The Brave

I only half-watched this but I’m not sure that really caused me to miss anything. Questionable politics aside (justified or not, watching the characters kill a dude and then move on like nothing happened creeped me out), this is a really dry procedural that somehow managed to feel underdeveloped both in its case of the week and in its characters. Pass.

This is Us

Half-watching this one, plus never having seen an episode before Tuesday’s season two premiere, definitely hurt my enjoyment of the episode, but man did this feel blah to me. The sentimentality seemed waaay too saccharine and the character conflict felt really dry and predictable.

Aaand there we are. That was really worth over a month of waiting, right?

The The Princess Diaries Journals

I recently (read: two months ago when I wrote the first half of this post) rewatched The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2, two movies from my childhood that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first movie is actually pretty good, and unpleasantly surprised to find that the second one is really bad.


She’s not like regular princess, she’s a cool princess.

The first Princess Diaries movie has a really strong premise: Mia, an awkward, unpopular 15-year-old girl, finds out she’s actually the princess of a kingdom in Europe named Genovia and has to contend with the changes this brings to her daily highschool life.

The only thing I really remembered about this movie going into it was that it involved a makeover and the protagonist learning how to be more “princess-like.” Given that, I was expecting some questionable messages about femininity and how girls “should” be, but while that subtext was there at the bottom, I was pleased by how the movie sidesteps those themes by specifically grounding the story on this one character. It’s true that because Mia is now in line to rule a country that she has to act with a certain amount of decorum and meet a certain level of conventional attractiveness, but this is never presented as a universal standard of being that everyone else should aspire to. Lilly, Mia’s best friend, demonstrates this by starting in a similar social standing to Mia and staying there over the course of the movie, and this isn’t portrayed as a bad thing–it just is.

Meanwhile, amidst the silly humor (which works pretty well, actually) and larger-than-life plot, the movie is grounded by solid character work for its primary cast. Mia’s journey especially is extremely compelling, as she learns to become more comfortable in the public eye and finds that the popular kids, who she sort-of-secretly wanted an in with, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

In addition to Mia’s arc, there’s some good stuff about how Mia’s fame affects her relationship with Lilly; how Mia’s grandmother Clarisse has to learn to see her granddaughter not just as a potential successor but also, you know, her granddaughter; and I think Mia’s mom sort of has an arc about respecting Mia’s independence but their relationship is mostly strong throughout the film. There’s even a little romantic subplot with Lilly’s brother, Michael, that isn’t groundbreaking or anything but is solidly executed.

With all that the first movie had going for it, I had moderately high expectations for The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, the second Princess Diaries film utterly fails to live up to its predecessor’s level of quality.


I’ll take the alternate universe where “she needs the rock to rule” refers to Dwayne Johnson, please.

The first misstep here is the premise. The first movie sets up the idea that Mia can be an actor for positive, large-scale change as the ruler of a nation, and so the obvious (and good!) narrative for the sequel would be her working to do just that while navigating the complexities of leading a country. Instead, The Princess Diaries 2 opts for a plot in which a political rival seeks to take the throne by invoking an archaic law which states that a queen of Genovia must be married in order to rule. What follows is a shenanigans-y romantic-comedy plot that’s ultimately nothing more than a piece of meaningless fluff.

What’s extra frustrating about this is that the movie does occasionally flirt with substance, but never actually goes the distance. For instance, there’s a sequence where Mia learns of an orphanage that doesn’t have an adequate building and chooses to home it in one of the royal palaces until a better one can be built, angering the Genovian upperclass in the process. That’s exactly the sort of stuff I wanted from the movie–but here it takes up maybe a few minutes of screentime and has no real impact on the plot.

Meanwhile, there’s this really uncomfortable subplot involving Mia’s maids, who are so subservient and eager to please Mia that they get on her nerves. It’s really bizarre to watch Mia, who lives in an opulent palace and possesses the highest office in the country simply by chance of birth, engage in wacky tactics to avoid two girls whose job is to serve her every whim. It comes across as totally tone-deaf to portray the maids in this way, totally ignoring the injustice of their disparate positions from Mia. Like, she could probably sell a single one of the lavish pieces of jewelry given to her by Clarisse and the money would set her maids for life, but she does nothing. Adorable orphans, though, they get absurdly-overkill help!

Probably the worst part of the movie, however, is the resolution to the main plot, where Mia calls a snap vote to abolish the law requiring her to get married. It’s framed as this feminist message but, like, I’m not sure how meaningful a statement “women shouldn’t have to be married to inherit the rule of a monarchy” is in the 21st century. Plus, there’s literally no reason why Mia couldn’t have called for this vote at the very beginning of the movie and made the entire plot moot.

A better movie might have made it so that Mia, an outsider to the country, didn’t have the political clout or trust of the people to abolish a law right off the bat, but by the end of the movie proves herself as a capable leader worthy of respect, but nope–she just arbitrarily decides that actually she’d rather not play by shitty rules and everyone’s like “yeah that checks out.” It’s really disappointing because the first movie managed to be a lighthearted, silly affair that nonetheless had meaningful things to say about its characters, who had actual arcs and solid plots. The Princess Diaries 2 just leans into the silliness with no substance to back it up.

But, hey, apparently they’re trying to get a third Princess Diaries movie off the ground, so maybe whoever’s behind the next one will have the chance to right the mistakes of the first sequel.

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.


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.


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.

Speech & Debate is a Movie about Speech & Debate the Club and Also Speech and Debate the Concept

This is another of those tiny indie movies that Netflix picks up distribution rights to and is basically impossible to gauge the quality of until you try it. Fortunately this one was more Eat With Me than Jenny’s Wedding (which I haven’t written about, but trust me, it’s awful).


I don’t actually have anything snarky to say about this poster, it’s pretty cute.

Speech & Debate is about three high school seniors in Salem, Oregon and ostensibly follows their struggles for creative and social freedom in their school. That thread kind of gets lost a bit along the way, but we’ll get to that.

Let’s start with the teens. There’s Solomon, who works for the school paper and wants to pursue journalism as a career, but the limits placed on what subjects he can write about (anything controversial is off-limits) makes him feel silenced. Next is Diwata, an aspiring actor/singer/etc., who’s frustrated by the school’s decision to alter its production of Once Upon a Mattress to appeal to social conservatism (and is ticked off she didn’t get the lead role). Finally is Howie, openly gay but used to big-city Portland, who feels isolated as a result and wants to start a GSA but is blocked by the school board because it’s “more of a social hour.”

This all works pretty well, and writing it out like that it seems like there’s a pretty clear trajectory for the movie wherein the characters try to find ways to affect change and stick it to The Man. The problem is that the movie never really gives its characters tangible goals until the very end and spends most of the second act on stuff that’s functionally irrelevant to the movie’s plot and themes. I think the movie intends to frame this section, where the characters get involved in Speech & Debate club, as the characters trying to follow their interests in a system-approved manner to less-than-stellar results, but there’s two problems with the execution.

First, the characters aren’t actually pursuing Speech & Debate club in an approved way. They go off to a competition without a faculty sponsor for the club, or even seemingly alerting the faculty of what they’re doing, which results in them getting detention for fraudulently representing the school. Second, their less-than-stellar results don’t really have anything to do with Speech & Debate not fulfilling their desires, but rather because they’re inexperienced with the format and don’t properly prepare. If they’d just gone through the proper channels and learned the rules of the competition, there would have been no problems.

As a result of this, the characters don’t have a meaningful realization about how following the decisions made by those in power isn’t going to work for them, and so their subsequent decision to cause a scene at a school board meeting in order to draw attention to their being stifled doesn’t have nearly as much weight. The only reason they couldn’t have done it right at the start of the movie is because they didn’t know each other well enough, but any plot in the second act could have accomplished that. The movie could have spent half an hour on them at Disney World and the same character work could have been done.


There’s also a problem with the conclusion to the film in that the way it resolves the characters’ goals is unsatisfying and reveals how low-stakes the whole thing was. Solomon is interviewed by a local news station, getting him recognition in a journalism context and implicitly pressuring the school board to change some things (although it’s never shown that this happens), so he pretty much gets what he was looking for, but it’s more complicated for Howie and Diwata.

It’s implicit that the reason Howie wanted to start a GSA was to find friends and to date, so the fact that there’s no indication the school is going to start a GSA isn’t a problem for him because he made friends and gets a romantic interest. But that romantic interest, as far as I could tell, was someone from the Speech & Debate competition, and the same is true for his friends. This means that while his personal goals were accomplished, the climax in the third act has no bearing on them, and his thematically-relevant goal is left totally ambiguous.

Diwata, on the other hand, never even seems to be that concerned with the alteration to Once Upon a Mattress and is more interested in being the lead in any sort of performing. So in that way her goals are fulfilled by the trio’s performance at the school board, but continuing with Speech & Debate club would have accomplished the same thing. And she has the same issue as Howie, where her personal desires led her to the issue around free expression, and so while that’s the theme of the movie neither character actually has to succeed on that front to be successful. The result is that the movie’s themes are played up and made to seem like the important thing, but they really aren’t. Speech & Debate is torn between telling personal, individual stories and exploring a wider topic and because of that it doesn’t really execute either vision.

So . . . that’s all pretty negative, but the thing about fiction is that it doesn’t have to be thematically and structurally solid to be enjoyable, and Speech & Debate totally was enjoyable. The leads all have strong characterization and are easy to like and root for, and their actors do great work to make them come alive. The movie also has a pretty charming sense of humor that keeps things feeling breezy and entertaining even when the plot is going down pointless detours.

And while I am pretty harsh on the movie’s handling of its themes, I do appreciate that it’s trying. Exploring the world of bureaucratic school decisions and their affects on students is a solid premise, and even if the movie doesn’t dig as deep as it should it still touches on important and engaging ideas.

The movie also does a pretty decent job of incorporating modern technology. The usage of texting feels really natural (there’s a great bit where Diwata texts Solomon’s mom as him and the mom immediately knows it’s not him because of Diwata’s excessive emoji usage) and there was a good sense of how Youtube fame works. The on-screen presentation of Youtube did bug me a bit though since the bar showing the like-to-dislike ratio never fit the videos’ views and like counts. Aside from that, though, the movie had a great sense of style. There were a lot of original-but-not-distracting editing flourishes and musical cues in key places that made things more interesting.

Finally, a little nitpick: when Diwata auditions for the school play, she briefly sings from Hamilton, and then later in the movie Lin-Manuel Miranda shows up but not as himself in an instructional video the leads watch. Apparently in this world Hamilton exists but Lin-Manuel Miranda doesn’t? It’s kinda weird.

Overall, I’d give Speech & Debate a pretty solid three out of five stars. It’s far from exceptional and has a lot of issues, but it’s got good heart and even if it doesn’t quite work, you can really see what the movie was going for and that helps me forgive its faults.

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.


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.


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

Good Bones

❤  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.


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.)