Orange is the New Black

ORANGE

I like TV. Not like I like summer days or the smell of baking cookies. I mean, I’m IN like with TV (I wouldn’t say love because I fear commitment). I’m excited to experience new shows,watching new storylines unfold makes me happy, and when I find a show that has that perfect blend of brilliant writing, deep and honest character development, captivating actors and a fully developed vision, it makes me excitement pee a little.

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He’s excited peeing right now. 

So far, I’ve tried to keep my blogs about newer-ish shows, the oldest being Jane the Virgin at the beginning of its third season.

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Not so virginal anymore… 

However, since tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the year, the premier of the newest season of Orange is the New Black, I’m making an exception.

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Whoa big guy, wrong day. Back to hibernation for you, see you around Halloween. 

You guys. Have you even seen this show yet? If not, go do it now. I mean, let me finish, but then go! This show is the greatest (except for Piper, no one likes Piper except Piper)!

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Ugggghhhhh….. 

I love how just about every character gets at least one episode to fully flesh out a back story. I love how there is no one that is just inherently evil, just characters that have been shaped by their circumstances. Like that phrase mom’s are fans of, they aren’t bad people, they just made bad decisions. Or several consecutive bad decisions in some cases. I’m a firm believer in getting to know people’s stories. Their traumas, their suffering, the things that made them who they are through their eyes. Once you do, it’s harder to hate them. This show does just that perfectly.

All of the characters have their irritating times because they’re human, but ultimately, we get to see what is redeeming about most of them eventually. Except Piper, who is never not annoying.

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Yep, still hate her… 

The show hooked me from the very beginning and I never looked back. The drama is addicting, the storylines are compelling the acting is gorgeous. In short, we hate Piper, we love everything else, we are definitely against privatization of the prison system, God bless America.

The Handmaid’s Tale

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Hello, my name is Sarah and I’m an alco… Wait… Wrong meeting, sorry.

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Tequila leads to memory loss and confusion and also a lot of fun sometimes.

Hello, my name is Sarah and I am a giant nerd. Especially when it comes to the urban fantasy and post-apocalyptic genres. I’ve been so excited to watch and review The Handmaid’s Tale but, as I’ve mentioned before, I always like to wait for the first 3-4 episodes to go by before I really assign an opinion to a TV show. So, let’s do this. Let’s talk about this new Hulu original!

The premise, in case you’re not aware, is that at some point in the not at all distant future, a crazy conservative religious faction manages to overthrow the US government and plunges the whole country into puritan times with a little twist (think 1984 meets The Scarlett Letter). There is a strict code of law enforced, women are property and no one is allowed to be gay, but they DO get to keep cars and machine guns, so that sort of balances the scales for all those poor white, straight men that are always so persecuted in today’s society.

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Note: I don’t sports, but I DO sarcasm! 

Infertility plagues most women and, even those that can conceive are usually not able to produce a healthy child. The ones that can conceive are forced to become handmaids, which means are assigned to a married couple for whom they conceive a child (in as completely demeaning a way as possible for all parties involved). Once the child is weaned, the handmaid is reassigned to another family.

I was hooked on the premise immediately. The timeframe of the change in the country strikes me as awfully quick and fairly unreasonable, but I suppose it’s necessary to the storyline as a whole.

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I mean I never thought this would happen either, but here we are… 

The main character is meant to be a modern woman of childbearing age that had been a free American at one point in time, so it’s easy to understand the quick progression of events. I also believe it’s stupid to expect everything in post-apocalyptic fiction to be completely reasonable.

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Fetch me some coffee, will you Peggy? 

The acting is pretty stellar with Elizabeth Moss lending her immense talents in playing the strong, quiet, intelligent characters she is beginning to be known for (ie Peggy Olsen in Mad Men and Sophie in The One I Love) and of course the incomparable Joseph Fines as the Commander. Also, a happy shout out to Samira Wiley as Moira!

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I was so sad to know she wouldn’t be on Orange is the New Black anymore, it was delightful to be her face and attitude clearly represented here.

So far so good with the story. It’s definitely enough to keep me interested for at least a season. It isn’t extremely fast paced, but there is a lot of story to cover and I’m looking forward to watching it all unfold. Though it’ll probably just get refolded and put away by a Martha. Don’t worry, you’ll get that joke when you watch the show. It still won’t be all that funny, but at least you’ll get it.

13 Reasons Why

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It became clear to me several weeks ago that there were going to be times I would need to choose to watch a show because it needed to be reviewed rather than just for the sake of my own entertainment. 13 Reasons Why is my first example of such a decision. I usually stay away from shows about teenage drama because, well honestly, I just don’t care about it. Usually it’s bad acting about problems I can’t relate to set to terrible music, and not just because I’m a crabby old person.

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Salty Sue, my inner old lady

I didn’t like teenage dramas when I was a teenager either. I knew this has been a book, which always garners a little more respect from me, and then Googling revealed that it was a show about suicide. My decision was made. It was too important to not watch.

Television is just like any other art form; some pieces are flippant and fun, some are interesting and mind bending, and a very few are important. They aren’t necessarily made to be enjoyed, they are made to educate, to shed light in an area overcome with darkness, to jar us out of our ignorance and expose us to truth. Make no mistake, I didn’t enjoy watching 13 Reasons Why, but I needed to see it.

We have two main characters to follow in this story: first is Hannah, played by Katherine Langford, the character who throws everyone’s life into chaos when she leaves behind tapes for 13 people to listen to, listing their actions that have lead her to debilitating hopelessness and ultimately suicide. Then we have Clay, played beautifully by Dylan Minnette, the usually sweet, quiet, social nobody that loved her. We follow Clay on his journey through Hannah’s story and through his grief-stricken responses to each tape.

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I don’t want to give away much about what happens, because I think that just about everyone should watch this at some point. I mean, I think it might even need to be played in schools. Just be prepared: there is something, at least one thing, in this story to which you will react viscerally. The rest of it you’ll watch and think, “That’s so terrible! This poor girl!” or maybe, “Okay, that sucks, but it will pass, just hang in there.” But then it will hit you, a scene that hits fairly close to home for you or that you can relate to with stunning clarity and you will cry. It will be messy. You will not feel better afterwards.

For me, it was the scene where her mother finds her dead in her bathtub. I didn’t realize they would show her actually committing suicide, so it took me a little off guard, then to watch her mother walk in on it was just… Pain. I’ve never lost a child, but I’ve lost both parents and several close family members and I know the initial feeling of helplessness when you realize you can’t try to make anything better for them ever again.

The dialog can be a little stilted and unbelievable at times, there are a couple of characters who’s existence I don’t understand (which could honestly be blamed on the transition from book to show) and there’s not a lot of character development except for Clay, the transition of Hannah from decently happy to angst-ridden-to-the-point-of-suicide is a little glossed over. These are very small complaints, honestly. I’m just a critiquer. Watch it anyway. It’s important. To borrow a line from the show, make sure you’re in the right head space for it and if you have some fairly sensitive triggers, maybe don’t watch it alone. Once you do, you will, hopefully, be reminded of the importance to love better, learn faster and connect fully.

Big Little Lies

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I wasn’t going to review this originally because HBO kept saying it was a miniseries and those aren’t really my review bag. I like to try to get people interested in shows that are still going and will be back for another season, rather than limited engagement TV. It’s just who I am, I’m not a love ’em and leave’ em kind of girl. In a world of baby daddies, I’m the guy that gets you pregnant and then marries you.

Recently, however, Liane Moriarty, the author of the book Big Little Lies, confirmed that she was in talks with HBO about a possible season 2. Which… I am INCREDIBLY excited about! HBO has a helluva reputation when it comes to TV. I mean, Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Sopranos? These aren’t great shows, these are iconic! I can’t say that Little Big Lies is necessarily on par with those shows, it’s only been one season after all, but it has a lot of promise.

The first thing that stuck out to me, and honestly the best thing about the show, was how wonderfully developed the female characters are. So often I watch shows, shows that I even enjoy, where so much is put into developing the male characters and making them different while the female characters are more like decoration. They generally fall into one of three categories: uptight, rule-following worrier, damsel in distress that likes to feign independence or bad-ass loner and they get NO development beyond their archetypes. In BLL, there are no categories with the female characters. They could be actual women that you know and are maybe even friends with. I feel like I got to know each of them on an intimate level, every strength and weakness, every mistake and motivation. It was… Refreshing!

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Meanie Face

Madelyn, played by Reese Witherspoon, could very easily just be cast as the shows resident mean girl, and she definitely makes some mean girl type decisions, but her character doesn’t stop at that. Instead, we’re shown a woman who would do anything for her friends, who is loyal and open and artistic. Who is conflicted and pulled between love of her husband and family and her need for excitement.

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Nicer Face

Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman, is more than just your average abused woman character. She is a strong, independent, highly educated woman who just has her eyes shut very tightly to her circumstances. You see the pattern of abuse displayed, it’s clear that she is a victim, it’s just as clear that she sees her husband’s actions as wrong but thinks he just needs a little help. I specifically enjoyed Celeste because of her several dissonant characteristics.

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Wine Face

Renata, played by Laura Dern, doesn’t get quite as much development as the others since she isn’t a central character and is more used as an opposing force for Madelyn. Even this woman, however, isn’t just a run-of-the-mill character. She is the working mom of the ensemble, a CEO of a large company that feels constantly judged for choosing to work and have a family and is so concerned that her daughter may be missing out on something or being mistreated because of it.

The other female characters are just as well developed and intriguing, though the male characters are sort of your standard, go to male character types. It’s very clear that they are the minor characters on this show. I would say that I’d like to see some more character development from the male characters next season, but I won’t be extremely disappointed if that doesn’t happen. This is definitely the best new show this year I’ve seen so far. I would highly recommend this show, especially to anyone that is an avid reader. The attention to detail and reality of the characters are two things that I love about well written books, and those things abound in this series.

The drama is intense, the story is compelling, the acting is, obviously, incredible, and the perspectives of the different characters are gripping. If you’re a fan of dramatic shows, you’re GOING to like this and, honestly, you may still like it even if you’re not.

Santa Clarita Diet

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I realized as I was writing this post that some of you may have some questions for me. Questions like, “How does Sarah Beck pick which show she will next review for our delight and pleasure? Who is this wonderfully innovative and hilarious new blogger? Who are we wondering about again? How long is too long to wait to admit I don’t actually know or care who this person is?”

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The face of low self-esteem

Well, despite the fact that you’re all terrible people and have done irreparable damage to my feelings, I will answer one of your questions. How do I choose which new shows to start watching? It’s not much of a process, really. I just like weird shit. So when I saw a new show on Netflix starring Drew Barrymore about a Southern Californian real estate agent come zombie trying to live a somewhat normal existence, I knew I was in for at LEAST a season.

Let’s get a few disclaimers out of the way first. If you often have trouble understanding dark humor, you can’t stand gore or you need a lot of realism in your shows, Santa Clarita Diet (SCD as you can call it if you’re good friends with it like I am) is not the show for you. Maybe try Fuller House or CSI Miami (is that still a thing?) or something.

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Or puppies. Maybe you just watch a box of puppies.

I invited a buddy over, popped some popcorn, and settled in to watch the first two or three episodes (that’s my usual cut off for deciding if I like a show or not. iZombie only got two episodes before I tried to burn it from my memory). Before I knew it, the show was over. I don’t mean the first episode progressed quickly, I mean somehow several hours of show watching happened without me noticing. I always love shows that can have that effect on me. SCD pulled me into the story so completely and effectively that time ceased to be important to me.

Honestly, it wasn’t surprising that I enjoyed the show, not like Jane the Virgin. Netflix is on fire with its original series. I mean, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, (we won’t talk about Iron Fist here, I’ll leave that mess to someone else), they are behind some truly amazing shows lately! So let’s break it down with what I really enjoyed about SCD. First of all, Drew Barrymore. She’s fantastic. She brings an honesty and levity to her character Sheila that makes her endearing and fun to watch. Other enjoyable performances include Ricardo Antonio Chavira as the high strung, possibly violent, potentially dangerous next door neighbor Dan and Skylar Gisando as his nerdy, awkward, sweet stepson, Eric. The bright, colorful, plastic backdrop paired with the repression and shallowness of the characters (mostly the neighbors) is a pretty cool juxtaposition against the new dark, gritty world that Sheila is attempting to secretly navigate.

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Mmmm… Tasty tasty arm…

There are definitely a few weak spots, like the weird, forced feel of the relationship slowly developing between Eric and the Sheila’s daughter Abby (because we all know that the brilliant guy HAS to be awkwardly obsessed with the mediocre girl next door) or the strange and convoluted search for a cure for the zombie disease. Hopefully, these are issues that will be addressed and fixed in the second season, but they definitely don’t ruin the show for me overall.

The darkness is met with sufficient brevity, the storyline holds your interest and there are some pretty fun characters thrown in the mix. For a show in its first season, I think SCD did very well! I’m hooked and I impatiently await season two… COME ON NETFLIX, HURRY UP!

Jane the Virgin

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When I first heard the concept behind Jane the Virgin I thought, “A good little Catholic girl ends up accidently pregnant via insemination with a baby meant for another couple and now… What? You’re going to show me how that impacts her love life? That has to be the silliest, most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! Oh, it’s on CW? Yeah, that tracks. No way is this NOT going to be super lame.” I thought that so much that I refused to even look at it during its first season. CW has burned me too many times before. I still haven’t forgiven them for Hart of Dixie.

Then somewhere around the middle of season 2, I got stuck in a show hole.

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#ShowHole #QuestioningMyExistence #IsRealityEvenReal

I had just finished binging the most recent season of Orange is the New Black (which always leaves me with a general sense of hopelessness and ennui that I may be a little addicted to), and I wanted to go with a show that was more lighthearted and fluffy. I Netflixed, I Googled, I Hulu-ed, I… Primed? Amazoned? I don’t know. Insert your favorite proper noun being turned into an adjective here. The point is, I researched a bit to find something interesting but light… and ended up reluctantly settling on Jane the Virgin.

From episode 1, I was hooked. I didn’t realize that the story would be told as a telenovela, which is an interesting and unique set up for an American show. Strike 1 (but in it’s favor, I don’t know what the positive counterword would be for strike, so just roll with it and stop thinking so hard). It also has a narrator, which I love (And Anthony Mendez is the whipped cream AND the cherries on this already tasty ice cream sundae of a show).

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Pictured: Jane the Virgin sprinkled liberally with Anthony Mendez.

I’m often drawn to shows like Arrested Development or A Series of Unfortunate Events because I love having an outsiders opinion on characters and goings on within the world of the show. It also mirrors my own tendency to separate myself from people and situations and cast myself as the wisdom-filled outsider. Enough about that, I’ll go blog somewhere else about by mental health issues. Anyway. Strike 2. Add in the genuine feel of every single central character (no matter how crazy their back story may be) and the fact that I was introduced to possibly the single most enjoyable name to pronounce (Rogelio DeLaVega), and it was a clear home run for me!

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Best. Name. Ever.

What? That’s not the way baseball works? Sorry, I don’t really sports. I can caveman, though if it helps. Me likey show. Funny, make laugh. Like fancy name.
All of this to say, if you haven’t watched it yet, do it. Some other highlights for me include the emphasis on family love and loyalty, the different novels Jane is always attempting to write and how she interacts with her own characters and the overall brightness and beautiful scenery of the show. It is light and funny much of the time, but when this show sets out to pull at your heart strings, it accomplishes that goal plus some. It ended up being pretty well rounded and even keeled for a show I didn’t have a lot of expectations for. The characters are consistent, the acting is up to snuff and the storylines are huge and ridiculous. Jane the Virgin has easily become one of my top 10 favorite current TV shows, and that’s saying something for me. Go. Watch. Enjoy. You’re welcome.