Throwback Thursday: Dredging Up Dawson’s Creek

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Often credited with spawning “One Tree Hill”, “The O.C.”, “Gossip Girl”, the “90210” reboot, and a plethora of other noughties shows about mini adults with massive problems, “Dawson’s Creek” is the godfather of the teen drama and totally reinvigorated the waning genre. The show follows the lives of a group of ordinary teenagers living in the small fictional seaside town of Capeside, Massachusetts. If you find the fast-paced lifestyles and promiscuity displaced in this show’s metaphorical successors distasteful or unrealistic, then “Dawson’s Creek” is the perfect wholesome antidote. The creator Kevin Williamson said he pitched “Dawson’s Creek” as ‘Some Kind of Wonderful, meets Pump Up the Volume, meets James at 15, meets My So-Called Life, meets Little House on the Prairie.’ The show does indeed seem to fluctuate between after school special and “Beverley Hills, 90210” wannabe, but maybe its inability to decide on an identity for itself is part of its adolescent charm.

Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) is the anti-Chuck Bass, an almost unbearably angst-ridden and excessively analytical protagonist who is less Byronic and more moronic and histrionic. At his rare best, Dawson is idealistic and neurotic. At his common worst, he is controlling and selfish. The guy says annoying things like this:

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and this:

blogda22…and attempts to storyboard the perfect first kiss within his own life. Envisioned as the romantic lead of the show (I mean, it is named after him), Dawson was thankfully shunted aside in later seasons in favour of his best friend Pacey (Joshua Jackson), the show’s fangirl heart-breaker and breakout character. Van Der Beek has since good-naturedly poked fun at his own involvement in the show and the Dawson persona he’s unable to escape in “Don’t Tell the B**** in Apartment 23”. The following gif pretty much epitomizes both Dawson’s inherently irritating character and, thanks to the curtains haircut, the whole decade of the 90s.blogda1 blogda2

Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) is the introverted and slightly abrasive tomboy and girl-next-door figure who you can’t help but root for. Her constant self-analysis is vaguely annoying and she tends to make mountains out of molehills, but when she breaks free of the weird emotional Dawson-vortex she’s often caught up in, she’s generally likable (and has a New England 90s wardrobe to die for). Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams) is established as Joey’s opposite: the ‘fast’ New York girl who was forced to grow up too quickly. As she meanders from plot-line to plot-hole, it becomes increasingly clear that the writers had no idea what to do with the character or the talented actress (who, unlike Holmes, went on to bigger and better productions: see “Blue Valentine” and “Take This Waltz”). Once upon a time the show was lauded for its supposedly honest representation of adolescence and its inclusion of intelligent and contemplative teenaged characters. The sophisticated vocabulary utilized by the leads and the unflinching manner in which they discussed their burgeoning sexuality was praised as realistic and fresh. Yet now the show is more known for its cringe-worthy dialogue and its unintentional comedic value in the sheer embarrassment that arises when watching Dawson wax lyrical over his hero Steven Spielberg, or sob to himself as he ‘selflessly’ lets Joey off the invisible leash he holds her on. Supposedly known for its realism, I don’t know many teenagers who have verbal exchanges like this:

Joey: I just don’t think it’s a good idea for me to sleep over anymore, you know?

Dawson: No, I don’t know. C’mon, You’ve been sleeping over since you were seven. It’s Saturday night.

Joey: Things change, Dawson. Evolve.

Dawson: What are you talking about?

Joey: Sleeping in the same bed was fine when we were kids, but we’re fifteen now.

Dawson: Yeah.

Joey: We start high school Monday?

Dawson: Yeah.

Joey: And I have breasts!

Dawson: What?

Joey: And you have genitalia!

Dawson: I’ve always had genitalia.

Joey: But there’s more of it.

Dawson: How do you know?

Joey: Long fingers. I gotta go.

(said no male and female teenaged friends to each other, ever)

We also have “Dawson’s Creek” to thank for Edward, Bella, Jacob and the perpetual love triangle that now seems a prerequisite of all YA fiction in all formsblogda7 anywhere ever. While Romeo-Juliet-Paris and even Kelly-Dylan-Brenda were dilly-dallying, flip-flopping, and angsting about their feelings years (or centuries) before “Dawson’s Creek” ever aired, the lblogda5ove triangle between Dawson, Joey, and Pacey remains the paradigm of this romantic format. This love triangle single-handedly saved the sinking show when it  seemed to have squeezed all of the blood out of the Dawson and Joey stone by the close of the second season. Enter Pacey, the polar opposite of the ineffectual Dawson, who sweeps Joey off her feet, bblogda97blogda96uys her a wall, takes her on a spontaneous cruise, makes season 3 the absolute best, and performs some other minor miracles. I absolutely love it when a show completely veers off its pre-established track because of unanticipated chemistry between characters and the positive and persuasive fan reactions it evokes. Pacey, the underdog (or court jester, if you will), steals the heart of the heroine away from under the hero’s nose. It’s thanks to Pacey, the first sidekick who gets the girl, that Hermione ends up with Ron rather than Harry. Pacey wins hands down in the battle between the boys, no question about it. Just look at him. And read this: http://www.buzzfeed.com/leonoraepstein/13-reasons-why-pacey-was-so-much-better-than-dawson

You know why so many great pictures are about love triangles? Simple. For every piece of happiness, there’s also a piece of unhappiness. If you haven’t told both sides you haven’t told the whole story.

“Dawson’s Creek” thought it was demonstrating risqué realism but the legacy it leaves behind is, in fact, one of pure soap opera and unintentional comedy. It’s a show that’s stuck in a turn-of-the-decade time warp with an accidentally unlikable and precocious protagonist and teens no real teens can in reality recognise as peers. Yet despite the barrage of (warranted) criticism I’ve leveled at it, “Dawson’s Creek” remains unnervingly watchable and even sporadically poignant. Furthermore, it’s a cultural phenomenon that influenced all fictional presentations of teens that came after it and for that reason, if no other, it’s definitely worth a watch. Prepare to cringe, mock, and then get totally and completely invested in it against your will – and to hate yourself a little bit for falling for its unforeseen and disarming charms.

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Top Ten Game of Thrones Moments S1-3 (Part 2)

The countdown continues. My brother has already derided all of my choices but I’m staying firm in my resolutions. No book spoilers here so read on and rest easy.

5. My name is Jaime

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‘There it is. There’s the look. I’ve seen it for 17 years on face after face. You all despise me. Kingslayer. Oathbreaker. A man without honor… Tell me, if your precious Renly commanded you to kill your own father and stand by while thousands of men, women, and children burned alive, would you have done it? Would you have kept your oath then? First, I killed the pyromancer. And then when the king turned to flee, I drove my sword into his back. “Burn them all,” he kept saying. “Burn them all.” I don’t think he expected to die. He- he meant to… burn with the rest of us and rise again, reborn as a dragon to turn his enemies to ash. I slit his throat to make sure that didn’t happen. That’s where Ned Stark found me…You think the honorable Ned Stark wanted to hear my side? He judged me guilty the moment he set eyes on me. By what right does the wolf judge the lion? By what right?’

The moment in which Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) reveals to Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) the truth behind his nickname ‘Kingslayer’ is really a culmination of his season-long redemptive arc. Introduced as the incestuous child-maiming back-stabbing king-slaying twin of the unsympathetic Cersei, Jaime has gradually morphed from antagonist to anti-hero to straight-up fan favourite. The amputation of his sword hand (and with it, his martial prowess and subsequent identity) and the mutual respect and friendship he comes to share with the inherently loyal and virtuous Brienne all mean layer after layer of his characterblogga35 is peeled away to reveal depths we didn’t know the villain possessed. The best moment in this arc is hard to pin down: Jaime’s many wonderful scenes of verbal sparring with Brienne and the horribly shocking moment in which his hand is cut off and ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ jarringly blares over the credits have claims for the top spot. The moment Jaime selflessly risks his life to save Brienne from a bear and finally acts like the knight he is supposed to be is also hugely satisfying. Yet the very top Jaime moment, for me, is his revelation that the very act he is most reviled for is in fact his most heroic moment. Jaime is a wonderfully complex character and his relationship with Brienne (a supposed purposeful inversion of “Beauty and the Beast”) is one of the show’s most poignant and intriguing developments. It will be interesting to see whether his newly discovered penchant for knightly virtue will stick once Jaime is reunited with Cersei and Tywin in King’s Landing.

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4. The Red Wedding

‘The Lannisters send their regards.’

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Unequivocally the most dismal scene of “Game of Thrones” yet (and there’s a lot of competition for that label), the infamous ‘Red Wedding’ provoked such strong emotions that many viewers even filmed their reactions and posted them online (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78juOpTM3tE&feature=player_embedded). If you don’t feel like watching the compilation, this gif pretty much sums up most peoples’ thoughts on the scene:

blogga47While book fans had been anticipating this moment since the very first episode, many poor casual television viewers were caught completely off guard at the sudden and brutal murder of two of their favourite protagonists, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley). The moment in which the Lannister anthem, The Rains of Castamere, starts to eerily play couldn’t blogga41prepare anyone for the brutal massacre that suddenly went down. Even smug book fans were left reeling after the pregnant Talisa was stabbed in the stomach in a rare deviation from the source material (Robb’s wife, Jeyne Westerling, isn’t present at the wedding in the book). The reason this whole scene is so disturbing and shocking is not only because it’s so unexpected to the viewer, but because the characters themselves are caught unawares – to kill men on the battlefield is one thing, but to butcher unarmed men while they’re guests in your home is a big medieval no-no. It’s a horrific and macabre scene and once again proves that, in Westeros, the more honest, trusting, and heroic you are, the higher your chances are of being horribly betrayed and slaughtered. It’s tough to watch this huge blow for House Stark but you have to respect George R.R. Martin’s balls in thinning out his cast of characters so considerably. It’s like reading “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and having half of the Weasley family killed off in gruesome fashion while there are still four books to go.

‘The northerners will never forget.’

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3. Blackwater

The entire episode “Blackwater” is amazing and rivals the battle at Helm’s Deep in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” for most epic depiction of a battle. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is the most popular “Game of Thrones” character and for good reason: his simultaneous acerbic wit and vulnerability mean he’s able to evoke amusement, admiration, and pity from the viewer all in one fell swoop. blogga53He’s generally got an answer for everything, shirks responsibility, and can’t help even mocking those who have the power to destroy him. As fun as all that is to watch, it was somehow even better to see him rise to the occasion, stand up, and rally the troops to defend his city and his family.

‘Don’t fight for a king. Don’t fight for his kingdoms. Don’t fight for honor, don’t fight for glory, don’t fight for riches, because you won’t get any. This is your city Stannis means to sack. That’s your gate he’s ramming. If he gets in it will be your house that burns. Your gold he steals, your women he rapes. Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!’

This scene ranks higher than the Red Wedding mainly because instead of making me want to sob my heart out and eat a whole tub of Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, it made me want to do this:

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2. Ned loses his head

If the Red Wedding corresponds with the Weasleys being prematurely murdered in the third book of the “Harry Potter” series, Ned Stark’s execution can only be compared with Voldemort vanquishing Harry Potter in “The Philosopher’s Stone” or Darth Vader offing Luke Skywalker in “A New Hope”. Ned (Sean Bean) was the presumed hero and blogga61protagonist in the first season of “Game of Thrones”. Sean Bean was the show’s biggest name and he was marketed as the main character. I thought at first that his beheading in episode nine of season one had to be a dream sequence or a joke or a trick of some kind. Alas, it was not. Killing off Ned, the steadfast and upright patriarch of House Stark whom everyone was rooting for, was Martin’s way of sending his readership a harsh message – no one is safe. That Ned’s death came at the cowardly command of Joffrey (the aforementioned little shit), who as an ineffectual and conniving prince previously represented only a mild threat to the characters, made the pill even harder to swallow. As if Ned losing his head wasn’t bad enough, it occurs after he falsely confesses to treason (at the pleading of Sansa, his daughter). Ned, the beloved warden of the North and lord of Winterfell (so beloved that his execution sparks a civil war), is killed as a traitor. The viewer is permitted to see Ned’s final vision of the world through his eyes – a mob of jeering and screaming strangers. The fact that this humiliating death occurs in front of his two young daughters is the hideous cherry on the depressing cake. Arya is forced to look away, totally broken, while Sansa screams and is restrained, a witness to the entire grisly show. Having now made this mistake with both Boromir and Ned, from now on if Sean Bean receives one of the top billings, DO NOT get attached to his character.

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1.

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No explanation necessary.

Honourable mentions:

Robb is named King in the North, Ned Stark v Jaime Lannister, Jon Snow meets Samwell Tarly, Tyrion’s trial by combat, Tyrion and Jon bonding, Arya and Tywin bonding, Arya’s first kill, the birth of Daenerys’ dragons, Melisandre gives birth to a creepy murderer shadow baby, Viserys’ death by crown, Jaime pushes Bran out of the window.

“Game of Thrones” returns on April 6. Disclaimer: don a thick skin/remove heart before watching…

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Throwback Thursday – Top Ten Game of Thrones Moments S1-3 (Part 1)

I think it’s needless to say that this post will include spoilers for the first three seasons of “Game of Thrones” but here’s your disclaimer anyway. Spoiler alert. Read on at your own peril. I don’t know whether “Game of Thrones” is really an appropriate choice for Throwback Thursday but since the season four premiere is coming up imminently (on April 6) I thought I’d take this opportunity to rewind and review the best moments and storylines from the first three seasons. I should preface this by saying “Game of Thrones” is one of my very favourite television shows and choosing a mere top ten best bits from thirty episodes was an arduous and near-impossible task. So don’t hate on my choices.

10. Theon Greyjoy’s journey to the dark side

blogga10 blogga11One of the most difficult storylines to watch was perhaps Theon Greyjoy’s character transition from quietly bitter but passive foster brother-type and ward of House Stark to crazed traitor and Iron Islands fanatic. This storyline wasn’t so affecting because Theon was a particularly sympathetic character: he wasn’t. It’s because Theon’s downfall led to some of the most heartbreaking moments in the second season of “Game of Thrones” – including Maester Luwin’s death and Ser Rodrik’s execution.

You gave me away! Your boy! Your last boy! You gave me away like I was some dog you didn’t want anymore. And now you curse me because I’ve come home.
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Alfie Allen, however, did do an utterly fantastic job in his portrayal of Theon’s conflicting emotions and loyalties. You can tell Theon knows at a certain point he’s gone too far, but he’s too blinded by his desire to please his batshit crazy father, and to really find somewhere he belongs, to change his course. Truly manic and dangerous in his desperation and devotion to his father’s cause, his mask at times slips to reveal a scared and insecure little boy who’s totally lost his moral compass. His face when he looks up at the charred bodies of the two innocent farm boys he’s murdered says it all: he can’t believe what he’s done and he knows there’s no way to go back to the ‘good side’ after this. Theon’s rousing and atmospheric speech to his fellow men of the Iron Islands in the season finale “Valar Morghulis” is perhaps his finest moment, villain though he is.

‘You hear that? That’s the mating call of the Northmen. They want to fuck us. Well, I haven’t had a good fuck in weeks. I’m ready for one. They say that every ironborn man is worth a dozen from the mainland. You think they’re right? We die today, brothers. We die bleeding from 100 wounds with arrows in our necks and spears in our guts, but our war cries will echo through eternity. They will sing about the battle of Winterfell until the Iron Islands have slipped beneath the waves. Every man, woman and child will know who we were and how long we stood. Aggar and Gelmarr, Wex and Urzen, Stygg and Black Lorren. Ironborn warriors will cry out our names as they leap onto the shores of Seagard and Faircastle. Mothers will name their sons for us. Girls will think of us with their lovers inside them. And whoever kills that fucking horn-blower will stand in bronze above the shores of Pyke! What is dead may never die!’

Described by one YouTube user as ‘Theon Greyjoy, the real example of YOLO’, Theon is, despite his total displacement of loyalty, fighting for a cause he appears to have convinced himself is heroic. He gets his just desserts (and then some) for his destruction of Winterfell and his slaughter of innocents in the third season. Needless to say, the removal of little Theon from big Theon (by a terrifying Iwan Rheon from “Misfits”) did not make the top ten.
9. Chaos is a ladder
blogga12blogga13‘Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.’

The conversations between the members of the small council often provide, surprisingly, some of the most intense moments of each episode. In Westeros, a world full of soldiers and battles and magic, these physically unassuming men have managed to cling onto power through pragmatism, trickery, deceit and cunning. The moment when Littlefinger and Lord Varys discuss the meaning of chaos encapsulates the manner in which they always manage to succinctly and poetically summarize the episode’s thematic focus. Littlefinger’s definition of chaos, further, completely expresses the underlying point of the whole show: the thirst for power lies at the basis of all actions, and those most morally suited to power aren’t usually the ones who strive to gain it. This voiceover also occurs at an opportune moment and marks a tragic end for Ros, the figure who served as a conglomerate character for various prostitutes from the book. Ros herself tried to climb the ladder in her own way in order to survive in a highly politicized world, and is ultimately broken by her own fall. The viewer has always known that Joffrey is a little shit, but this was the moment (for me at least) that I realised Joffrey was completely sadistic, sociopathic, and utterly beyond redemption.

8. What do we say to the god of death?
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Syrio Forel’s signature catchphrase comes hand in hand with one of the most simultaneously epic and tragic “Game of Thrones” moments. Forel is only a minor character, appearing in a handful of episodes in the first season as Arya Stark’s ‘dancing master’ aka sword-fighting instructor. Despite his relatively minimal screen time, the First Sword of Braavos definitely leaves his mark upon both Arya and the show. Forel ultimately protects Arya from Lannister guards and fends off six heavily armed men with nothing more than a wooden training sword. It’s a truly heroic fight, with Forel proving himself as one of those rare “Game of Thrones” phenomenons – a selfless character. His fate is left uncertain, but this scene gives Arya her first taste of loss after the early death of Mycah, the butcher’s boy. Her face is a picture of devastation. If only she knew what was coming.

‘The First Sword of Braavos does not run.’

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7. Dracarys!

Daenerys’ storylines have been a little bit patchy since her solid first season, although her second season storyline did give us a great Daenerys catchphrase (WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!). Her constant attempts to find an army, the boring interlude in Qarth, and the weirdly colonial vibes in season 3 whereby she was the mother blogga24adored and followed by the slaves she freed, all mean her scenes aren’t normally the ones I look forward to. Yet it cannot be denied that this scene in season 3, in which we really see Daenerys as a potential conqueror of the Seven Kingdoms for the first time, is anything but utterly epic. Daenerys had promised Kraznys mo Nakloz her biggest dragon, Drogon, in exchange for his 8000 Unsullied soldiers. The moment in which Daenerys reveals to the slave owner that she can speak High Valyrian (and thus has understood all of the insults he has directed at her), and orders Drogon to burn him alive, is seriously badass (and launched a million memes). It’s the moment when we really get to see why House Targaryen sat on the Iron Throne for so long; it additionally makes us question whether Rhaegar really was the last dragon after all.

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6. The mother and her cub/We have won

‘In the King’s wood there lived a mother and her cub. She loved him very much. But there were other things that lived in the woods, evil things. Little cub was frightened. His mother said, “You are a lion my son you mustn’t be afraid.” For one day all the beasts will bow to you…you will be king. All the stags will bow, all the wolves will bow, and the bears in the north, and the foxes of the south, all the birds in the sky and the beasts in the sea. They will all come to you little lion, to rest a crown upon your head. And the cub said, “Will I be strong and fierce like my father?”. “Yes,” said his mother, “you will be strong and fierce just like your father.” …I will keep you safe, my love. I promise you.’

It’s one of those moments where you inexplicably and disturbingly find yourself supporting Team Lannister. The Lannisters as a whole are primarily the antagonists in “Game of Thrones”, yet (dare I say it?) their complexity and moral ambiguity often makes them far more intriguing characters to watch than the more steadfast and beloved Starks. The lioness/cub analogy is Cersei’s most sympathetic moment yet: her love for her children (even Joffrey!) is, after all, her most redeeming feature. On the verge of killing her son, Tommen, in order to avoid him facing the brutal fate suffered by the Targaryen children after Aerys was killed and King’s Landing sacked, Cersei is sat upon the Iron Throne in a symbol of the futile and temporal nature of power. Yet she is stopped in the nick of time by her father. Tywin comes marching in like a boss to announce in characteristically understated fashion: ‘The battle is over. We have won.’ The music swells and you feel triumphant – until you remember that these are the Lannisters and you can’t quite remember which side you were supposed to be rooting for.

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That’s it for now, folks. I’ll be posting my picks for the top five spots ASAP – watch out for them! To be continued…

Film Review – Veronica Mars (spoilers ahoy)

veronica-mars-movie-posterThe “Veronica Mars” movie was funded by and written for the fans, and you can tell. Its dedication to its fans should be celebrated, and its ability to additionally please newcomers admired. Cancelled in 2007, the neo-noir television show revolves around teenage outcast and part-time private investigator Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), who attempts to simultaneously solve her best friend’s murder and her own rape. Set in the fictional Neptune, California, “Veronica Mars” is known for its cast of idiosyncratic characters (think a sinister version of the Stars Hollow residents in “Gilmore Girls”), its snappy dialogue, and its propensity for exploring darker themes than those included on other shows aimed at teenage audiences. The show amassed an extremely dedicated, if concentrated, fan base during its three season run. I saw the film in Leicester Square on the day of release and most of the audience (including myself) varied between these two Kristen Bell-esque reactions…

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Fans of “Veronica Mars”, dubbed ‘marshmallows’, funded the film version out of their own pockets. The 2013 Kickstarter fundraiser, started by creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell, became the most backed campaign in Kickstarter history. 91,585 donors raised $5,702,153 (being a pauper I generously donated $1) and subsequently brought the show back to life, albeit in a different form, six years after the CW killed it. Perhaps for this reason, the film serves more as a love letter to the fans than anything else. It almost reads as a tangible reflection of a fan’s daydreams. It’s an exercise in wish-fulfillment, a canonization of all fans’ hopes, and a big thank you to the cash cows. The inclusion of fan-favourite “Veronica Mars” catchphrases (‘Who’s your daddy?’), the allusions to fan-favourite moments (‘Our story is epic’), and randomly but hilariously placed familiar faces (Celeste Kane in the car with the revolver), mean the film is a veritable amusement park of knowing self-references for the perceptive fan.

blogv1This reverence for fan enjoyment and engagement is no flaw, and to take into account the hopes of viewers does not impede artistic integrity. As Kristen Bell says:

‘I would want to know what the fans want, to be honest. I don’t say that insincerely. As an artist, you want to do things that your audience likes and wants and appreciates and gets excited about.’

Despite this warranted pandering to the fans, screenwriter Rob Thomas somehow also manages to produce a film which is both coherent in its own right and entertaining to the casual observer. Despite its constant throwbacks and homages to the show, and its generally self-reflexive nature, I can’t imagine it would alienate new viewers; its plot is self-contained and cohesive. Theblogv18 film also serves as more than an elongated episode, instead taking the opportunity to deepen and enrich elements explored during the show’s initial run using the larger medium of film. Just as Joss Whedon used film when adapting “Serenity” from his TV series “Firefly” to widen his creative scope, Thomas scales up his show to match the new film format. The incompetence and the sinister nature of the sheriff’s department in the show, for example, is replaced by full-scale corruption in the film. Weevil’s cinematic arc in his return to gang warfare after cleaning up his life and becoming the target of the aforementioned corruption feels both inexorable and iniquitous. The film also benefits from a plethora of celebrity cameos and bit parts: James Franco, Martin Starr, Justin Long, Gaby Hoffman, Dax Shepard, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ira Glass all make appearances. This seems fitting, as the show is now retrospectively hilarious due to the unexpected guest stars that pop up (Paris Hilton on a pink moped, Adam Scott as a lecherous teacher, and Kevin Smith as a store clerk, to name but a few).

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The film occasionally fails to be quite as quippy as its small-screen counterpart, the adult Veronica’s put-downs lacking the impudence and wit of her teenage incarnation. Yet the important thing is that even after seven years away from Neptune, these feel like the same characters to the viewer, and it feels like the film is occupying the same fictional universe. Neptune is even more ominous and characters have aged but everything is still recognizable after a little reacquainting. Kristen Bell steps back into Veronica’s sleuthing shoes so easily that it seems she’s never stepped out of them.

‘My nerves were high jumping back into it, but within 10 minutes I realized she lives in my skin for some reason,’ Bell said. ‘There’s something magical abblogv23out playing this part and I love it.’

Veronica’s relationship with her father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), a core element of the show, features prominently in the film and Keith’s near-death experience provides a highly emotional moment. I think, however, that many fans would agree that the passionate love-hate relationship between Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and Veronica was the crux of the show, and the way in which their romance was left on the rocks and in doubt provided a major impetus for the campaign to continue Veronica’s story on screen. Fans didn’t just want a LoVe reunion; they expected it. Yet despite almost being a mandatory requirement for fan approval of the film, their reconciliation didn’t feel labored. Veronica is immediately presented living in New York content but spiritless, and upon her return to Neptune, and Logan,  reanimated. Logan has always been characterized as the classic bad boy, and the youthfully passionate but ultimately undependable and dangerous romantic choice for Veronica. I’m glad that Thomas chose to slightly soften Logan’s edge with age, bringing to the forefront his inherently good qualities and presenting him instead as a ‘stabilizing influence’ on those around him, while still retaining his interior intensity. Changes in their characters thus meant their reunion was inevitable – and not only because fans would have stormed Thomas’ house with pitchforks if it didn’t occur.

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The show never avoided darkness and its season-long murder mystery arcs in seasons one and two were painstakingly plotted. If the central mystery in the film is less intricate and the revelations and payoff less invigorating, it is due only to necessary time constraints. In general, though, the mystery is well constructed if not complex, and it feels fitting that it involves so many familiar faces. To incorporate so many old characters and to center the mystery upon the ten year Neptune High reunion is clearly a plot contrivance, but a necessary one which is executed unaffectedly. Rob Thomas had an exceptionally difficult task in concurrently pulling together existing loose threads, filling in the nine year gap, introducing a self-supporting plot, and pleasing those fans who filled the producers’ piggy bank with pennies. The man deserves a medal for managing this feat, and all within a trim running time.

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“Veronica Mars” was successful because anyone who ever felt like an outsider could identify with the main character’s societal exclusion while finding her sassiness and chutzpah in the face of such adversity aspirational. The show is effectively an anthem for exiles and that’s what makes the communal experience of watching the film so special.

‘I convinced myself winning meant getting out, but in what world do you get to leave the ring and declare victory? This is where I belong, in the fight; it’s who I am. I’ve rolled around in the mud for so long, wash me clean, and I don’t recognize myself.’

If this is how the “Veronica Mars” franchise is concluded we should be grateful. The film leaves Veronica in Neptune with the knowledge that she’s turned her back on the New York life that bores her to death. She’ll still be doing what she does best, kicking ass and taking names, fighting fraudulence, her relationship with Logan resuscitated if not tied up with a big bow. But the marshmallows should clearly never be underestimated, so don’t be surprised if we see Veronica again in some form…

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Throwback Thursday: rewinding and reviewing “My So-Called Life”

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‘What I was thinking, as like a New Year’s resolution, is to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts, ’cause I’m like way too introspective…I think.’

Before Claire Danes was kicking ass and pranging out as Carrie Mathison in “Homeland”, and before Jared Leto was seducing Lupita Nyong’o and collecting accolades for his role as Rayon in “The Dallas Buyers Club”, the two were just Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano on the short-lived “My So-Called Life”. Set in the fictional Liberty High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “My So-Called Life” follows the teenage travails of the introspective Angela and ran, devastatingly, for just one criminally undervalued season (1994-5). As well as basically inspiring all of my fashion choices since I first saw it on my friend’s recommendation a couple of years ago, the show really captures the essence of adolescence in its total amalgamation of the comical and the confusing. Its nineteen episodes are a perfect blogso6antidote to shows like “90210” and “Gossip Girl”, in which impossibly beautiful 28 year olds play 16 year olds and wear several different designer outfits every episode. These shows are subsequently unable to come anywhere remotely close to representing the real inelegance of this pimply phase. They depict a very specific teenage experience and, though entertaining, their escapist fantasy depictions of teenagers can’t compare with the down-to-earth and frank portrait of puberty in “My So-Called Life”. For instance, the costume designers of “My So-Called Life” gave the 13 year old Claire Danes one wardrobe full of clothes, and allowed her to choose her own outfit from this before filming each day. A whole episode was devoted to the character’s insecurity about a zit (aptly titled “The Zit”).

‘It had become the focus of everything. It was all I could feel, all I could think about. It blotted out the rest of my face, the rest of my life. Like the zit had become…the truth about me.’

blogso18While the teens in “Gossip Girl” and “90210” are constantly hooking up and hanging out, Angela spends numerous episodes pining after a boy she’s never really spoken to and analysing her life and her relationships in ‘microscopic detail’. Unlike the other shows I’ve mentioned, in which the parents are all eventually demoted to absent figures replenishing the protagonists’ trust funds, Angela’s parents are more than guest stars, and have their own problems and interests outside of the lives of their angsty children. Angela’s relationship with her parents and the conflict between them is key to the show’s critical success. The first episode begins with Angela in a voice over internally expressing a desire to repeatedly stab her mother. The first episode concludes with Angela crawling into her mother’s bed in tears after a rebellious teenage night goes awry. The show thus perfectly encapsulates that peculiar phase when you periodically alternate between possessing an overwhelming desire to break free of your parents’ authority, and a desire to exist eternally under their protection and curfew.

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“My So-Called Life” depicts teenage years in all their mundane authenticity. Life is, after all, habitually humdrum. That’s not to say nothing happens in this show: at times it explores sexuality, alcoholism, homelessness, drug abuse and more. But these moments are interspersed enough with the everyday to retain a refreshing sense of realism and relatability. Angela’s constant self-analysis is also treated with simultaneous mockery and understanding by the show’s creators. In your teenage years, the smallest things seem earth-shatteringly calamitous and, while it is possible to point out the ridiculousness of such hyperbole, it doesn’t make those ridiculous feelings any less valid to the person experiencing them.

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The other characters are no less interesting and credible than Angela. Jordan Catalano escapes his bad boy cliché by revealing a secret which in turn reveals a certain innocence and disorientation hidden behind his cool facade. His inability to articulate his feelings for Angela doesn’t equal their non-existence. Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall) craves human companionship yet often finds himself repulsed by other humans. His abrasive and socially incompetent persona conceals a passionate inner self. Episode 11, “Life of Brian”, is perhaps my favourite. Excerpts from Brian’s voice over narration include:

‘I became yearbook photographer because I liked the idea that I could sort of watch life without having to be part of it. But when you’re yearbook photographer, you’re, like, never in the picture.’

‘Finally, an erection from actual physical contact!’

‘There’s something about my life. It’s just automatically true that nothing actually happens.’

Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), the obligatory ‘off-the-rails’ friend, is both charismatic and vulnerable.blogso12 Her ‘I don’t care what people think about me’ mask constantly slips to reveal deep insecurities, particularly when confronted with Angela’s more conventional parents and home life. Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) is a gay teenager with an abusive home life. His story is perhaps the most heartbreaking and a moment of self-empowerment he experiences in Episode 11 at the school dance is undoubtedly one of the show’s most triumphant moments. Note: the moment occurs to the backing music of Haddaway’s “What Is Love”.

blogso19The music, the fashion and the jargon all mean that “My So-Called Life” provides an intimate snapshot of suburban life in the mid-1990s. Yet the filial, platonic and romantic relationships, the constant pondering, soul-searching and overwrought teenage agony are all timeless. Cancelled in its infancy, we’ll never know what would have happened in Season 2. In a sense, though, that means those characters will perpetually live in the cliffhanger of their puberty, providing us with immortal teenagers to identify with whenever we’re feeling nostalgic for that time when angst was acceptable.

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A bildungsroman for the twenty-something: where is the fiction for the flailing graduate?

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The stage between living with your parents and entering the real world as a fully-fledged adult is fraught with emotional and financial peril. I’m a member of the so-called ‘Peter Pan’ generation.  We millennials (it’s claimed) are entitled underachievers who expect jobs to be handed to us on a plate upon completion of our highly theoretical degrees – despite our evident lack of vocational expertise. Nothing can prepare the ambitious graduate for the jarring realisation that no one cares about his or her thoughts on Foucault. Employers, fairly enough, just want to know whether a potential employee is able to photocopy or make a drinkable cup of coffee.

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In correlation with this bitter sting of professional disappointment, many graduates succumb to deep existential angst. They suddenly realise they might not be able to become the Prime Minister or the Director-General of the BBC with the ease they had once assumed. They realise their CV is identical to thousands of others sitting in a stack collecting dust on a desk. They also realise there’s a good chance they might end up being the person sitting at the singles’ table at their friends’ weddings for the next few decades. Being forced to suddenly readjust or discard the dreams and assumptions you’ve held since you were a child leads to an awful lot of soul-searching. This is no new phenomenon, although the media certainly has a renewed interest in the flailing graduate of late, perhaps as a result of the recession coupled with the perpetual discussion around HBO’s “Girls”.

Deemed the quarter-life crisis, representations of this specific and highly-relatable stage of life are now pervasive in film and television. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that we are now living at home for longer, are our parents’ financial dependents for longer, and are likely to marry and enter full-time employment later rather than sooner. Back in the day, a child reached maturity at the age of 18 and the apron strings were abruptly cut. The bildungsroman, meaning ‘novel of education/formation’, was a termbloggrad28bloggrad27 coined in 1819, and was characterized by a protagonist’s emotional and physical growth from childhood to adulthood. Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre”, George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss”, Olive Schreiner’s “The Story of an African Farm” and Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” are just a few nineteenth-century prototypes of this genre. This format, of course, is now represented more widely by the standard ‘coming-of-age’ novel. Books like Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit” and S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” constitute prim?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????e examples of this genre.

Yet the collegiate, and particularly the post-collegiate, phases are largely absent in literature. This is a huge gap in the literary market that ought to be capitalised upon. Originally touched upon by “The Graduate”, this angsty and awkward phase of life was mined by Lena Dunham for her TV series “Girls” and her debut film “Tiny Furniture”, and she has reaped the rewards in critical accolades and column inches for this astute move. There is something simultaneously so disturbing and so captivating in seeing your own life in all its grim detail mirrored so accurately in art. The unpaid internships, grotty flats, disillusioning relationships and irrational life decisions Dunham writes about are surely something all twenty-somethings can relate to. The eponymous character in “Frances Ha”, a 27 year-old aspiring dancer, also suffers from arrested development. Both “Frances Ha” and “Tiny Furniture” are clearly inspired by the mumblecore movement, a sub-group of films identified by their penchant for naturalism. “Funny Ha Ha”, credited as thbloggrad31e original mumblecore film, bleakly follows its protagonist, Marnie, as she shuffles between her temp job and romantic disappointments without any real sense of purpose. “Reality Bites”, following a group of Generation X college graduates, rather than our Generation Y, is perhaps the pinnacle of those films depicting the post-graduation psychological slump. Lelaina’s (Winona Ryder) mournful comment –  ‘I was really going to be something by the age of 23’ – perhaps encapsulates the disenchantment characteristic of that age group. “Like Crazy” and “Felicity”  also demonstrate the painful fact that angst endures well past high school graduation. All of these films also serve as a snapshot of the simultaneous idealism and anxiety young adults face in their personal and professional lives.

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Such films validate the experience of us twenty-somethings and perhaps tell us it’s alright to not have our shit together at this stage of our lives. Yet such literary consolation is few and far between. While adults in their twenties are still able to identify with the universal discontentment of Holden Caulfield and other angst-ridden youths, few books deal with explicitlybloggrad7 twenty-something problems. Helen Fielding’s epistolary novel “Bridget Jones’s Diary” expresses the prevalent dissatisfaction, confusion and crushing weight of disappointment felt by graduates as they enter the so-called ‘real world’, yet only succeeds in notifying us those feelings will last for at least a decade more. Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” details the interior life of a college student who expresses an emotional numbness and a lack of conviction in his life choices. Aside from these, I can’t think of any immediately relevant written material. The transition from child to adult is bumpy, and despite the implications inherent in the volume of YA fiction produced, emotional development occurs not primarily at puberty but at the point at which the overgrown child is flung from the nest. This time of life, at once full of confusion and potential, is abundant with creative possibility and I predict that this will soon be reflected in our literary choices.

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‘A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance’: portrayals of female friendship on the big and small screen

Happy International Women’s Day! I thought it would be festive to explore the presentation of women in film and television and, in particular, the depictions of their relationships with one another.

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HBO’s “Girls” has been lauded for its supposed realism, particularly in regard to its authentic portrayal of the nature of female friendship. I would agree that during its excellent freshman season this praise was warranted. The girls in “Girls” exposed themselves to each other warts and all. They shaved their legs together, fell asleep in the same bed, listened to each other bemoan their relationships (or lack thereof) and yes, during arguments, used intimate details they knew about one another in order to wound their opponent as deeply as possible. The show nailed typically female passive-aggressive communication. It also basically destroyed any existing romantic notion of perfectly groomed girls having pillow fights at slumber parties and replaced it with a picture of physically and psychologically unkempt girls who wear their grubby underwear down to holes and console one other over their bouts of HPV and IBS and OCD. Indeed in an interview with Lena Dunham, Claire Danes stated:

‘Your depiction of women is unnervingly relatable. It’s so funny how you’ve worked in things like the way that we’re always asking everyone if they’re mad at us, and the fact that women cuddle with each other and we pee with each other.’

Lena Dunham has stated that ‘the great complicated romance in the show takes place in female friendship’. I love this idea in theory, and I think any attempt to destabilize the notion of the heterosexual union as the holy grail is admirable. After all, female friends support one another emotionally, hold each other’s hair back when they’re vomiting, grow apart ablog93nd back together and apart again as interests change,  and ultimately are likely to see themselves brutally, speedily and traumatically upended as the best friend and replaced as the shoulder to cry on in someone’s life by a boyfriend. It is indeed a complex and tumultuous relationship. See Noah Baumbach’s wonderful “Frances Ha”  for a realistic and bittersweet portrayal of such a relationship. Former flatmates and BFFs Frances and Sophie find themselves becoming estranged for a variety of reasons, and their friendship and gradual mutual understanding is certainly portrayed as the central romance and narrative drive of the film.

Dunham similarly visualises “Girls” as ‘a hyper real-nature documentary exploring the phenomenon of friendship.’ What is problematic is that Dunham was either carried away by her desire to depict the negativity involved in some female friendship, or she has had a very narrow and limited personal experience with her own female friends.  The girls in “Girls” are not friends. To use a stupid term: they are frenemies. These girls do not experience the mild natural jealousies and distance and competitiveness and conflict that can arise between long term friends – they just do not like each other. They don’t have one another’s back. They don’t make an effort to stay in touch. Dunham has disturbingly stated in reference to HBO’s “Sex and the City”:

‘I kind of…felt like it was aspirational about friendship. Like, I love the blog8friendships that you see in Nancy Meyers’ movies, but for me, that kind of friendship is elusive. I feel like a lot of the female relationships I see on TV or in movies are in some way free of the kind of jealousy and anxiety and posturing that has been such a huge part of my female friendships.’

There are many things aspirational and idealistic about “Sex and the City”. Carrie’s ability to afford her flat and $40,000 worth of Manolo Blahnik shoes on a minute newspaper columnist’s salary is just one implausibility on a long list. Yet I see nothing unrealistic about the friendships portrayed. The women occasionally fight or disagree, but ultimately they enjoy spending time with one another and always support one another. I don’t think it’s naive to argue that there is nothing elusive or fantastical about that. While I don’t necessarily agree with the sentiment expressed in “Sex and the City” that maybe ‘our girlfriends are our soul mates, and guys are just people to have fun with’, I think the show’s celebration of female friendship is more admirable than the dose of supposed reality we are force-fed in the form of abrasive and catty women by Dunham. Complaints that the women in “Sex and the City” obsess about men, sex and little else are certainly valid. Yet the depiction of the supportive female support system at its core is undeniably feminist.

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There aren’t actually many films or TV shows which focus largely upon women and their friendships and for that reason we should be grateful for both “Girls” and “Sex and the City”, regardless of their respective and admitted flaws. Other examples of female friendship centric films that spring to mind are “Beaches”, “Bridesmaids” and “Mystic Pizza”. All three of these movies display the pits and falls of female friendship while still demonstrating the inherent loyalty and emotional support at the core of these unions. All three, I feel, also offer far more realistic and satisfactory depictions of female friendship than the bleak picture painted by Dunham. “Now and Then”, dubbed a female “Stand By Me”, also explores the lifelong friendship between four girls who grow into four very different women. “Thelma and Louise”, a classic of this underrepresented sub-genre, validates female experience to the extreme.

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Yet such films are few and far between. Most films and TV shows aimed at a female audience have a narrative driven by a pursuit for male love. I’m not a man-hater or a man-basher. I love romantic movies and novels, and a desire for romantic love is a massively significant part of life that I’m glad is reflected in fiction. Yet the deficiency in fiction reflecting female relationships, those of a positive or negative nature, is an issue that needs to be addressed. The box office success of “Bridesmaids” and the critical success of “Girls” has demonstrated that there is a receptive audience for female-driven narratives. Netflix will soon air the second season of “Orange Is the New Black”, a show which almost exclusively explores the disparate experiences of a diverse group of female inmates. Hopefully the big and small screen will at some point accurately reflect the multitude of relationships, both sexual and platonic, that women experience throughout all the stages of their lives.

So appreciate your female friends today and send them a card (or at least a snapchat).

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‘It’s that thing when you’re with someone and you love them and they know it and they love you and you know it but it’s a party and you’re both talking to other people and you’re laughing and shining and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes. But not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual, but because that is your person in this life and it’s funny and sad but only because this life will end and it’s this secret world that exists right there. In public. Unnoticed. That no one else knows about.It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us but we don’t have the ability to perceive them. That’s what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.’ – Frances Ha