August 2022 Wrap-Up

It’s been kind of a tough month personally, but I read some absolutely fantastic books and watched some charming, wholesome TV/movies. To shake things up a little I decided to swap the order of this recap and put my viewing highlights first and books second because all the books will eventually get their own individual posts but the movies and TV won’t necessarily.

Here’s what I watched…

Abbott Elementary

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My sister recommended Abbott Elementary to me and I can’t believe I hadn’t either seen it before or heard more about it, because it is a hilarious, warm-hearted show that feels like a spiritual successor to Parks and Recreation. It follows a group of passionate teachers lead by a hysterically funny but woefully incompetent principal who teach at an underfunded elementary school. Each episode sees them them try to do their best by their kids by whatever means necessary, whether it be by leading an after-school step class or using hush-hush connections or by participating in a dangerous viral trend to suck the cool out of it, and it hits that all-too-rare combination of genuinely funny comedy that touches on real subjects but comes from a place of love rather than taking shots at people. Like any good sitcom, it balances small, arguably unimportant plotlines (Melissa and Jacob play poker) with more blatantly character-driven and important ones (Janine, whose mother was never there for her, tries desperately to get in contact with a struggling student’s hard-to-reach mother, and suffers jealousy when work-mom Barbara’s real daughter pops by for a visit). Somehow every character, from the shallow and conceited Ava to neurotic but secretly soft-hearted Gregory, feels fully developed and lovable. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all so funny and because their slightly different styles of humor bounce off each other well, and the show does an admirable job of mixing everyone up into different combinations so that no pairing ever feels stale or merely informed. Perhaps most importantly, the show manages to be largely lighthearted and happy without losing sight of its central premise: because they love their kids and want to do right by them, these teachers are working in a profession that pays them too little and expects too much from them. Watching it, you’ll laugh but you’ll also want to do right by your teachers. Abbot Elementary also—and this can’t be understated—knows how to balance the kids. There’s enough of them that it feels like a real elementary school, but it doesn’t ever focus on them at the expense of the teachers who are the heart of the show. Let’s face it: fictional kids can be very annoying, but Abbott Elementary managed to cast only cute ones and to keep them out of the direct spotlight enough that they don’t put off the people who don’t want to watch a kids’ show.

Basically, this show is hilarious and you should watch it and I’m very glad that it got renewed for season two. That was well-deserved. We need more feel-good sitcoms!

The Descendants

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Yes, I watched these again. If there’s anything I love, it’s a catchy, campy musical. I really don’t know how I missed these movies when they first came out because 1) they’re exactly my jam 2) Kenny Ortega is the best and 3) I LOVE High School Musical. One night my parents and I were looking for something to watch and I was like, “Hey, do you want to try this kids’ movie that I discovered last year in my campiest phase? You might hate it.” But they watched it and, honestly, they loved it too. Even my dad! It’s hard to get him to watch anything all the way through with me because we have very different taste. Mom and I invited him to be nice, expecting him to turn us down, but he watched all three movies! They’re just so much fun. No, the politics don’t really make sense and yes, there’s arguably a little too much autotune, but other than that, what more can you ask for?

There are ridiculous allusions to Disney movies. There are delightfully cheesy big group dance numbers. There are some legitimately sweet romances, and a big emphasis on platonic friendship and personal responsibility (which isn’t always something you get in a romance!). There’s a variety of different musical sounds, from emotional duets to upbeat group numbers to power ballads. There are chaotic pirates (you know how much I love my chaotic pirates) and amazingly over-the-top costumes and hair. Last time I watched these I ended up listening to the songs on repeat, and I am literally listening to “Do What You Gotta Do” as I’m editing this. They’re just a fun time, and I’m side-eyeing old me who said they were “so bad they’re good.” They’re so good they’re good. You’ve just gotta be into a silly, singy good time.

I love all three movies, but the second one is definitely the best one. It has all the best songs! “Chillin’ Like a Villain,” “What’s My Name?”, “Ways to Be Wicked,” “Space Between”! There’s not a bad song in any of them (although I’ll admit that Ben’s rap of “Be Our Guest” does give me major secondhand embarrassment). Also the presence of Kristin Chenoweth gives any musical franchise a major boost, even if she only actually sings one song before getting turned into a lizard.

Are these movies made for kids? Yeah. Does that stop adult-me from unironically loving them? Definitely not.

Only Murders in the Building

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Season two can make or break a TV show. I loved season one of Only Murders in the Building, and I was excited for season two. It’s such a funny, clever, and warmhearted comedy-mystery that both appeals to my current sensibilities and my nostalgia. The Three Amigos was one of my favorite childhood movies, so seeing Steve Martin and Martin Short team up again after however many years was charming to me. Do actors have to be friends to work together? Obviously not, but it’s just always cute when you find out that people who play buddies onscreen are buddies offscreen. Also, just lifelong buddies. Lifelong buddies are the best. Beezus and Ramona, which stars Selena Gomez, was also a major childhood favorite. I loved season one, but knew that sophomore seasons are often shaky. I shouldn’t have worried. This one wasn’t!

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January 2022 Wrap-Up

Is it just me, or has this been the longest month in the history of months? Every time I look at the calendar I’m surprised because it feels like it should be at least mid-April by now. It hasn’t been a bad month, exactly, although it’s always depressing to go back to work after a vacation, but somehow life in general has managed to be even more tiring than usual.

Still, I read a few good books and got to see some absolutely fabulous shows! And Darcy continues to be as sweet as ever! Seriously: look at this precious face:

Here’s what I read…

Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This is definitely a typical romance for the tropey romance crowd. It gets a few diversity point for having a Muslim heroine, but aside from that there’s not much to recommend. The truth of the matter is that I’m never going to like a romance that plays the fake dating trope straight, and this one did. If you like that trope, you’ll love this. If you’re like me, this is one to skip.

Full review here

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It is actually a total coincidence that I read two romances in a row with the world ‘count’ in the title. Of the two, I preferred this one. It’s still not really my cup of tea, but it is a quick, enjoyable read with likable heroines and a mostly compelling love story. It hinges a bit too heavily on the dreaded unnecessary miscommunication trope so many stories have going for them, but other than that it’s not bad. It is the third book of a series, though. You don’t have to have read either of the other two books (I didn’t even know they existed until after I’d finished!), but it’s still good to know.

Full review here

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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I Care Too Much About Fictional Relationships (Adam Groff Part I)

Twice before on this blog, I have written long, analytical essays about fictional relationships that struck me as being particularly memorable. First I wrote about Pippin and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and how their juxtaposition and unlikely friendship contributed to mutual character growth than goes largely uncommented on because of the more obviously important twosomes in that series. Then I wrote about Andy and Erin from the sitcom The Office, detailing how the strong buildup to their romance is ultimately let down by poor writing choices and baffling character regression.

It has been a while since I wrote an involved essay of this kind, but I recently finished season three of the Netflix series Sex Education and had a lot of thoughts, particularly about the relationship between Adam and Eric. After my sister and I discussed and analyzed the series over text for something like four hours, though, I decided that I didn’t actually want to write about Adam and Eric specifically, although that will certainly be a large part of this piece. Actually, I’m interested in Adam and the masterful way the Sex Education team developed and refurbished his character from the bully everyone hates to the heartbreaking hero (almost) everyone agrees deserves better.

For obvious reasons, an essay about a lead character’s development which encompasses all of his significant relationships is by necessity going to be much longer than one about a specific relationship between two secondary characters. For that reason, I have split this essay into two parts. Part I, this one, covers seasons one and two. Part II, which will be out later, is all about season three. I have also created a table of contents with links that will let you jump to specific sections within parts.

Table of Contents

This is an extremely long post, so here’s some navigation to let you skip around to the parts you’re interested in:

Adam and Michael: The Bullied Bully

Despite anchoring a major emotional storyline in season three and wrapping up as a fan favorite, Adam at the beginning of Sex Education sits somewhere lodged awkwardly between sympathetic villain and antagonistic antihero. It would be easy to say that he begins the show primarily as a homophobic tormentor. For much of the first season, many of Adam’s scenes have him tormenting Eric, the openly gay best friend of the show’s lead character Otis. Adam is the school slacker. He cheats on his schoolwork and is apathetic whenever he’s not stealing Eric’s lunch money. It would be easy to immediately write him off as the one-note bully that every teen drama needs.

Even from the start, though, Sex Education doesn’t let the viewer slot Adam neatly into that role. Along with his season one girlfriend Aimee, Adam is the first character we see onscreen. We meet Adam before we meet Eric, or even before we meet Otis. It’s not always true, but it is often the case that fiction will open with its primary character, the one with whom we are going to navigate the story. That’s not generally true of Sex Education, which usually opens with Otis’ client for the episode, but in s1e1, we don’t know that yet. We open with Adam struggling with his sexuality, and we’re therefore primed for sympathy. It’s only in Adam’s second scene—his first with Eric—that we see the school bully. Even then, the scene is queercoded. Of course, there’s a whole history to the closeted homophobic bully, but Sex Education does seem to want to let Adam land comfortably there, either.

Even as he’s viewed through Otis and Eric’s eyes as a bully and an idiot, the viewer gets a little more context for Adam; episode one is Adam’s episode. It’s carefully built so that, as much as it’s easy to hate him, there’s the hint of something less despicable underneath.

AIMEE: Ruby and Olivia think I should dump him. They say he’s bringin’ down my social status, but… the thing is, he can be really sweet when nobody’s watchin.’

Sex Education season 1, episode 1

Adam being sweet when no one is watching is something that recurs with him, and it introduces the idea that at least some of his assholery is performative. Then there’s the fact that the rest of the episode, basically, is about Adam owning his narrative. Adam’s problems start the whole show. He’s Otis and Maeve’s first client, and we are forced to listen to him explain his problems through Otis’ therapeutic ears. It’s the rare situation when you sit in a therapy session with the antagonist. Sex Education does not create a monster and then try to retroactively redeem him. From the start, it builds his insecurities into his character (and also keeps Adam from being the only source of homophobia; most of the homophobes are minor straight characters, which avoids the dangerous all-homophobes-are-closeted-homosexuals trope that might’ve prevailed if it had just been Adam).

OTIS:  It’s interesting you mention your father. How does being the headmaster’s son affect you?

ADAM: Well, it’s shit, obviously… Everyone’s watching me all the time. Everyone’s like, ‘There goes Adam Groff, headmaster’s son. He’s got a big massive elephant’s cock.’ I’ve got feelings. I guess that… I wish I could be a normal kid. With a normal dick, and a normal dad.

Sex Education season 1, episode 1

Then Adam owns his narrative and Aimee dumps him because he’s a social liability. We’re sympathetic, because that must hurt. Adam’s speech to the whole school and his promise to Otis to leave Eric alone prime the viewers for a redemptive turnaround. But then he goes back on his word and resumes his bullying, and it again becomes very, very difficult to root for him. Because Sex Education immediately builds Adam the bully and Adam the victim concurrently, it’s hard to totally hate him, but it’s impossible to actively support him.

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Shadow and Bone Season 1 Review

I have been looking forward to Netflix’s Grishaverse adaptation for a long time. I read enough that picking a permanent favorite book is more or less impossible, but Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo has been my favorite for coming up on three years and I have therefore rarely been more excited for an adaptation. I was excited enough for Shadow and Bone for its own sake, but even more so because it was going to give me the chance to share my enthusiasm for the Grishaverse with members of my family who don’t read much but could be persuaded to watch a TV show. My hopes were high, not just because I wanted the show to do justice to the amazing books, but also because if it wasn’t great my family was going to think me crazy.

Warning: If you have not finished the show, there will be some spoilers. I’ll mark them with the word SPOILER in red at the start of those paragraphs/sentences. There are a few Six of Crows spoilers, so if you have finished season one of Shadow and Bone but have not read Six of Crows, avoid anything with a blue SPOILER marker.


Thankfully, the adaptation is very, very good. It’s not perfect, but it’s very fun.

Despite mixing in characters from its sequel series, Shadow and Bone is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the novel for which it’s named. It does make a few changes, particularly at the end, but by and large it sticks to the book very well. When it was announced that Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows would be adapted together, I think a lot of us were expecting a Shadowhunters type show, the kind that takes the characters and the vague idea behind the books and cobbles it into something entirely different. That’s always a risky move. Sometimes it turns out brilliantly, but for every Umbrella Academy that improves on its source material in every conceivable way, there’s an Eragon that changed everything and is universally reviled. Shadow and Bone would have had to make a really great new plot if it was going to change it, because those original books are great. Thankfully, the showrunners recognized that and kept everything very book-accurate. Mixing the Six of Crows characters into the original Grisha trilogy, strangely, changes very little about either storyline, and it solves what could have been a glaring issue with the show: everyone likes the Crows better.

Like, I like Alina and the Darkling’s story as much as anyone, but I LOVE Six of Crows. When I first read Shadow and Bone, I was like “Cool,” and put it aside and didn’t think about it again. Then I read Six of Crows and fell in love. When I returned to Shadow and Bone with that love, I was much more inclined to appreciate it. It’s a good book, but what comes later is much better. From what I’ve seen online since the show dropped, even people who haven’t read either series prefer the Crows, with Jesper often topping the list as the most popular character. Bardugo’s writing and her characters improve as she goes. Mixing the morally ambiguous Crows and adding the particularly relevant social commentary by making Alina Asian Shu elevates Shadow and Bone without necessitating drastic change. If the show gets renewed, it can only get better. Just wait until Nikolai shows up. Just wait until we get all SIX of Crows. I love the show for what it is, but I also love it for what it will be once the few remaining pieces of the puzzle click into place. I know logically that there was no way to pigeonhole Wylan into season one, but I still really missed him.

I thought the show did a good job of providing some small surprises for book readers without drastically changing anything. The plotline with the Conductor is a lot of fun, both because it shows Kaz in his scheming element and because it plausibly shows another aspect of the Fold. There are opportunists everywhere, even Ravka, and it was quite interesting to see characters aside from the Darkling who would use the Fold to their own advantage. Shadow and Bone the book is in first person, so it’s very possible that this kind of thing was happening beyond Alina’s view. His scheming makes a lot of sense. It fits into the universe and the story and complicates things without ultimately pulling anything wildly off track. Also, it makes Alina’s position more blatantly dangerous. SPOILER We’re told in the books that some people might wish her ill, but hearing that and seeing an assassination attempt in progress are two different experiences.

The crows plotline, I thought, works surprisingly well. I would’ve been happy to see them in any capacity, but the way the two storylines combines is pretty brilliant. It gives the crows a heist, which obviously they need because heists are their jam, but it also adds to Alina’s narrative. Seeing her story make its way across oceans hits it home how much power she has to potentially change more than just Ravka. Of course there are shady characters after her, hoping to nab her for their own gain. It’s to our benefit that these shady characters are so delightful that we half want them to succeed.

Biggest Book-to-Screen Changes:

SPOILER There are a few things that I think the show could have done better/shouldn’t have changed, particularly in the last episode. I don’t entirely understand why Netflix messed with the mythology of Morozova’s Stag and amplifiers in general. In the books, amplifiers are a much bigger deal. Zoya, one of the first Grisha Alina meets, has one and throughout her training Alina often wishes for one to hasten her progress. When she learns of the stag, a particularly powerful amplifier with its own rules, it seems like the answer to all her problems. The twist is all the more shocking because it goes against everything Alina has been led to believe about amplifiers, and because it is an example of the Darkling using her ignorance against her. In the show, the stag and the Darkling are really the only two amplifiers we ever see. It’s not a special amplifier. The only reason that the Darkling is able to gain power over Alina is because of the way David melds it into the Darkling and Alina both. That’s all mostly okay.

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Supernatural 15×20 Reaction (Carry On)

Sometimes (often), I read tumblr posts about Supernatural episodes before I watch the episode myself. I’m impatient, and while I can’t watch the episodes as they air live, I can read people’s liveblogs. I don’t really mind spoilers, and Supernatural episodes are so uneven that I like to know what I’m getting into before I get into it. Over the years, I’ve found some bloggers whose opinions I agree with 95% of the time. Based on those bloggers’ reactions to the finale… I don’t want to watch it.

Which is nuts, because I’ve been EAGERLY waiting for tonight’s episode for two weeks. I loved 15×18 when it aired, but in retrospect I’d love to delete it because it set my expectations way too high, much higher than they ever should have been.

I’m a completionist, so I’m sure I’ll watch “Carry On” in a couple of weeks (you can’t really watch 326/327 episodes), but for now… nope.

I’ve been watching for Cas this whole time. Even before I’d seen a single episode with Cas, I was mentally counting down episodes until “Lazarus Rising,” because it was tumblr posts about him that first piqued my interest about the show, and my understanding was that the show is pretty good for three seasons and then becomes epic. For the most part, that was true. I never, ever would have stuck with Supernatural if it weren’t for Cas. He is Supernatural‘s greatest triumph/asset, and all they did was waste him.

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Supernatural 15×19 Review (Inherit the Earth)

I have to say… “Inherit the Earth” was very much not what I expected. If you asked me what I was expecting, I probably wouldn’t have had a very good answer. Doom and gloom probably. Everyone at their wit’s end. Chuck doing some powerful, evil stuff. The boys throwing together some last ditch plan before heading off into the unknown. But I didn’t expect them to actually do their plan, and I really didn’t expect it to work. If I didn’t know that there was another episode next week, I’d assume that this was it and the show was over. Almost everything got wrapped up, and between the defeat of the Biggest Bad, the restoration of order to the universe, and the sincere retrospective montage this very much felt like the grand finale. But I’m very glad that this wasn’t the grand finale, because I would have been a little disappointed if it were.

Like I said last week, Cas has to come back. He’s too integral, and any ending that leaves him locked in a blank abyss with a powerful being who hates him is just a little too depressing. Sam and Dean have control of their own destinies and Jack is at peace with his new role in the universe, but Cas deserves better. I know he said that telling Dean he loved him was perfect happiness, but long-term? That’s too tragic. And there was no “Carry On Wayward Son.” You can’t have a Supernatural finale without “Carry on Wayward Son,” and definitely not the last one.

The other loose ends are things that I’ve pretty much determined won’t be resolved. I’m disappointed, because goodness knows there have been enough episodes to devote time to everything, but at this point I think they’re as wrapped as they’re going to be. Like, whatever happened to Anael? Didn’t she backstab the boys last time they talked to her? And isn’t Ruby back in the world somewhere? As far as we know, Heaven is still dying because there aren’t enough angels. Was that tiny handful of angels Duma tricked Jack into creating really enough to fix things? And who’s in charge up there now? Are we supposed to assume that the now godly Jack can sort that out offscreen? Remember when Jack and Dean met a necromancer who threatened to kill Jack and resurrect him as a zombie so he could spend eternity with her? That was a fantastic episode, and I’ve been fruitlessly hoping Harper would come back for like two years. And what about poor Kevin, who is still wondering the earth as a sad ghost? Is that really the last of him?

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Supernatural 15×18 Review (Despair)

So let’s start with the elephant in the room: that love confession. Honestly, the reactions to that moment are so mixed that nearly everything else in the episode gets lost in it. There are three camps: people who have heteronormativity glasses welded onto their faces and think this was a bro-y confession, people who are freaking out over canonized Destiel, and people upset by a one-two punch of unrequited love and bury your gays. For the record, I’m firmly in camp two and I’m going to very quickly explain why. There’s a heading for when the real recap starts; I tried linking to it, but it emphatically did not work.

Let’s first dismiss the dumb it’s platonic claim. Cas told Dean specifically that he’s talking about something he can’t have. He has Dean’s platonic, brotherly love and has for a very long time. He’s been Dean’s BFF for more than a decade and Dean has said as much about him and to him multiple times, most recently last week. Dean and Cas have fought this season, yes, but they’re in a good place right now. It’s been a long time since their last falling out, and they’re as comfortable together now as they’ve ever been, so this isn’t a reconciliatory thing. Why would it be a dramatic, happiest-he’s-ever-been moment if Cas was just repeating something they’ve both said many times? Why would Cas be crying harder than he’s ever cried if this was just a casual “I love you, bro”? I love my siblings a lot, but the fact of loving them has never caused me to break down into tears.

Since most people reading the scene this way are homophobic and/or deeply entrenched in heteronormativity, let’s knock out the obvious thing that keeps people from thinking logically about this: Cas is not straight and never has been. He’s been very, very queer since his first season. Cas has been female on multiple occasions, for significant amounts of time. Just because most of it occurred chronologically before Castiel appeared on the show doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. Would people be bending over backwards to read this scene as platonic if Cas still looked like this?

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Supernatural 15×17 Recap (Unity)

This week, Chuck returns to earth, Jack imbibes cataclysmic power, Sam makes a breakthrough, and Dean plummets off the emotional deep end. In other words, season fifteen is officially in the home stretch. Things are definitely moving full steam ahead now, which is quite the change from the last few episodes, which have had small plot elements mixed into weekly adventures. Every bit of this episode builds to a big conclusion, and in fact the big conclusion it builds to actually arrives; I didn’t think that the guys would enact Billie’s plan until the last moment. I should have known that there was more to Billie’s plan than anyone let on.

The episode is cut into thirds, each with its own character placard. It starts with Amara, then moves to Dean, and finishes with Sam before bringing everyone together for a dramatic, emotional conclusion. It honestly amused me to see an actual episode formatted this way, because I so often recap them with that delineation. I did think it was odd that a few characters were left out of the placards. Like, yeah. Sam’s section is mostly about Sam, but Cas is there as well. And I’d argue that Jack is as much a part of Dean’s section as Dean is. In any case, I found this episode the most compelling of those that we’ve had since returning from the COVID hiatus, which is good. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Supernatural has a satisfying finale instead of tarnishing itself at the last minute like How I Met Your Mother or White Collar. I’m definitely more optimistic now than I was last week, and in that spirit I will be reacting to this episode purely with gifs from shows with excellent finales.

It’s go time. Chuck is back on earth and Amara checks in with the Winchesters to remind them that she’s still on-bard for their plan, and to let them know that it’s time to enact it. Dean’s ready. Jack is ready. Sam is unwilling. Like Cas, Sam is hoping for another way that doesn’t involve killing Jack. Dean, however, is unwavering. He can’t deal with the lack of free will and is at his wit’s end. He’s been building to this total meltdown for a while now, and watching him hit his breaking point this hard is rough. Poor Dean.

Sam, though, still has his head on his shoulders. He tries to talk Dean around but appealing to Dean’s protective side. He reminds Dean that Dean’s protection is the one thing he’s always been able to depend on. Love for family and the desire to protect the people he loves is usually a foolproof way to get through to Dean, but Dean is too distraught.

SAM: We don’t give up on family.

DEAN: Jack’s not family! I care for the kid, I do, but he’s not like you. He’s not like Cas.

Oh, Dean.

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Supernatural 15×16 Review (Drag Me Away From You)

About midway through “Drag Me Away (From You),” Billie checks in on Dean and expresses bewilderment that he’s working a standard Monster of the Week case this late in the game, and I have to say that I agree. As a general rule, I’m not onboard with all Billie’s takes. I mean, she wants Jack to die! But she’s right on the money here. There are four episodes after this, and we’re spending time here? A flashback episode with no Cas, no Jack, and no Chuck? There are three important scenes in this episode, and the rest, while entertaining, feels like a waste.

It’s not that it’s a bad episode. If we’d been farther from the end, I probably would’ve liked it a lot, but the simple fact of the matter is that we’re not farther from the end. As close to it as we are, every episode like this feels like a confirmation that the final resolution is going to be rushed an unsatisfying. There are four episodes left, right? We still need to defeat Chuck, deal with Amara, and resolve Cas’ deal with the Empty. And that’s just the plot stuff. Once you get into the character stuff… Dean alone still needs to make huge strides before he’s at a place where the show can reasonably leave him without it feeling like a copout. And it’s not like Sam, Cas, or Jack are totally set yet.

But anyway. On to the recap. Sam and Dean are headed to meet an old friend at her brother’s funeral. We didn’t get to see Cas tell Dean about Jack, but that conversation did happen.

Side note: last week I said this:

I hope we get more of this conversation next week because Dean and Cas’ talks account for a lot of my favorite scenes in this show, and they’ve been in very short supply lately.

So, yeah. I’m a little upset that we didn’t see that scene at all. But whatever.

Dean knows, but he hasn’t filled Sam in yet, despite Cas nagging him about it via text. The main takeaway from this scene is that, after fifteen years of this nonsense, someone finally tells Dean to keep his eyes on the road.

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Supernatural 15×15 Review (Gimme Shelter)

Well, this episode was a lot better than last week’s, wasn’t it? I always say that I can’t decide whether Dean or Cas is my favorite character, but at times like this I think I have to come down solidly on Cas’ side because the episodes he’s in tend to be a lot more entertaining and engaging. That’s what makes it so frustrating when he disappears for full episodes. There are only a few episodes left, so I was already a little miffed that Cas was absent last week and I’m not taking the implication that he’ll be gone next week particularly well. He has just as much necessary resolution as the other guys. More, even, and since character growth and emotional arcs on Supernatural are developed and resolved so slowly… I don’t think he can afford to leave again without being shortchanged yet again.


Sam and Dean are researching leads, but they’re not finding much. Sam finds a story about a mysterious death but isn’t sure that it’s their kind of thing, and Dean suspects that a city-wide blackout in Atlantic City may be an indication that Amara is there. That’s not much to go on, but since “not much” is more to go on than they’ve had recently, Sam and Dean head to Atlantic City and encourage Cas to take Jack to check out the murder. Cas is initially unwilling, but gives in to Sam and Dean’s insistence and Jack’s adorable enthusiasm wear him down.

JACK: Can we wear matching ties?

CAS: …yeah.           

They do wear matching ties, and Jack shows off his many similarities to his angelic dad. He presents his FBI badge upside down (Cas finally has his right-side up) and even uses an extremely famous current female popstar’s name for his alias (he’s Agent Lovato to Cas’ Agent Swift).

Can and Jack’s son-father relationship is on full display this week. “Gimme Shelter” is a strong episode thematically. The emphasis on fatherhood and the different sides of religion/faith are really interesting and well-done. Davy Perez is one of my favorite Supernatural writers. He does a really good job with Cas and Jack and he usually manages to make the standard hunts more interesting than they would be in the hands of a different writer.

A major theme of season fifteen so far has been that monsters are not always, well, monsters. “Gimme Shelter” has one of the most gruesome murders we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s so bad that we don’t even see the Connor’s body. We’re just told about it, which is good because yikes. I do not do well with body horror. The scene with the second victim’s hands was too much for me, so I would not have been able to handle seeing the first kid.

The murder seems demonic—the victim had his fingers cut off and crammed down his throat, and the world “Liar” carved into his body—so Cas summons a crossroads demon while Jack looks for Connor on social media. This scene is possibly my favorite in the episode, because it gives us two amazing moments: Cas’ cowboy hat picture, and this exchange:

JACK, A 3-YEAR-OLD SIGNING UP FOR SOCIAL MEDIA: It says I need a parent or guardian’s permission to join.

CAS: You have my permission.

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Supernatural 15×14 Review (Last Holiday)

Supernatural has been on hiatus for COVID-19 for a really long time, and I’m very out of the habit of writing TV reviews. I’d also forgotten pretty much everything that happened, so I had to go back and reread all my own reviews from this season. Gosh, those things are long. And thorough. I’m glad for it, because I really needed the refresher, but this recap is likely going to be considerably shorter, both because I’m out of the groove and because I have a lot of other reviews and writing projects that I need to get to.

Also, I just finished watching Schitt’s Creek and adored it. At this point, any show I watch that isn’t Schitt’s Creek is going to disappoint me a little bit; it is so funny, so sweet, so unabashedly queer and filled with lovable characters and amazing story arcs. So I decided to switch up this recap by reacting solely with Schitt’s Creek gifs. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.

After a recap that doesn’t cover nearly as much information as I expected (if I were in charge, I probably would’ve opted for a long-style musical recap the likes of which we normally see in a season premier), we find Sam and Dean in the bunker, discussing Jack’s recent trauma. What with all the things he did without it, Jack is suffering from the weight of his recently-restored soul. Sam and Dean are worried about him, but they’re letting him have his space. Later in the episode, Dean says that he’s been through worse than Jack and is fine and he and Sam have this amusing, on-brand conversation about Jack and trauma generally:

SAM: Ignoring your trauma doesn’t make you healthy.

DEAN: Sure it does.

Dean is in homemaker mode: he found an apron and is making burgers. Sam makes fun of him for the apron, which strikes me as a dumb move. Never mock someone who’s making you food.

The power in the bunker has been fritzing, so Dean goes down to the basement to hit the reset. All seems fine until he returns to his bedroom to find a strange woman folding his underwear. Yikes. Also, Dean has cartoon characters on his underwear, which is somehow not at all surprising.

It turns out that underwear lady is a wood nymph called Mrs. Butters. Apparently she’s been in the bunker this whole time. The Men of Letters used her power to supplement the bunker, and it–and she–have been in standby mode the whole time Sam and Dean have been there. With her out of standby mode, the boys have all kinds of new toys, including a monster radar that shows the guys what monsters are in the area and exactly where to find them. They want to believe that Mrs. Butters is what she says she is, so they head to the spot indicated by the sensors, figuring that if they find vampires there, they can trust her.

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10 Reasons to Watch Galavant (Musical Monday)

Galavant (Series) - TV TropesHello, and welcome back to Musical Monday! This blog is almost entirely dedicated to reviewing books, but every two weeks on Monday I dedicate a post to one of my greatest loves: musicals. For the most part, I’ve stuck to reviewing traditional stage musicals, but I thought I’d take a departure this time and write about a TV musical that is criminally under-appreciated: Galavant. I watch a lot of TV, so it’s hard to pick an outright favorite show, but if I did, it would probably be Galavant, because it is just about perfect. TV viewers definitely let themselves and Galavant down by not watching it while it was airing, because it got cancelled after only two short, hilarious seasons. Yes, it has the most satisfying final scene in the history of television, but it deserved to have at least two or three more seasons.

If someone had looked inside my brain and formulated a show specifically to my tastes, they couldn’t have done better than Galavant, which is a musical parody of medieval fantasy. It’s hysterically funny but engages with tropes in surprisingly sophisticated ways. Galavant does for medieval fantasy what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does for romantic comedies. It is one, but it’s also a meta commentary on them. It works as a surface-level comedy, but is also clever enough to be the subject of a college report (seriously! My sister did one!).

It has a charming cast that’s a combination of recognizable actors (Psych’s Timothy Omundson plays King Richard, Luke Youngblood of Harry Potter and Community fame plays Sid, and Downton Abbey’s Sophie McShera plays Gwynne) and relative unknowns (some of the biggest roles—from Galavant to Isabella to Jester—are played by actors whose imdb pages are still pretty short).

What’s it about?

When the evil King Richard kidnaps Madalena, lady love to the gallant Sir Galavant, it sends Galavant into a long depression he only shakes when Princess Isabella, whose kingdom was captured by the same King Richard, approaches him to engage his help in freeing her family and her people. Galavant jumps on the chance to win Madalena back, unaware that Isabella is leading him into a trap.

So without further ado, here are 10 reasons to watch Galavant

1) The Songs

Even though the episodes are very short, they all have at least one or two original songs that hilariously advance the story but are also catchy enough that you can listen to them on their own (I have often done this, including while writing this post). There are a pretty wide variety of musical styles, from a rap battle to a Les Mis parody to a song set to the dirge of an executioner’s drum to a cheesy karaoke-style number. There are some blatant homages to well-known songs (I particularly love when Richard and Galavant sample from West Side Story and even pull out the classic Shark and Jet snapping move; there’s also a clear reference to Grease). The lyrics are playful and often challenge their form. A song about hatred is sung like a loving duet, songs break the fourth wall  to acknowledge that they’re being sung, and so on.

Oh, and did I mention that Alan Menken—who worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Newsies, Pocahontas, Hercules, Enchanted, Tangled, and more—did the music? Because he did, and it’s brilliant.

In Memoriam: Shows & Characters We Lost in the 2015-2016 TV Season  [Contributors: Jenn, Rae, Maddie, Deb, Lizzie, Megan, and Chelsea] ~ Just  About Write

2) The Meta and Satire

I love a good bit of metafiction, and that’s something that Galavant does best. It makes liberal use of anachronisms and tropes to cheerfully mock its genre and the time period it’s set in. Galavant as a whole is a masterclass in effective meta. One of the best meta moments is in the first song of the second season, which absolutely defies explanation. Every line is deeply, deeply meta, lampooning both Galavant itself and the larger entertainment landscape. Just watch it.

If you don’t love it, I don’t trust you. Later, before the climax of the season, a character sings a recap song to catch everyone up and then, unwilling to fight in an upcoming battle, offers to sing it again to delay, in case someone missed it. At a tense moment, Galavant suggests that it’s a good day to die and someone replies, “We won’t, there’s one more episode.”

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The Umbrella Academy Season 2 Mini Review (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix finally dropped The Umbrella Academy season two, and I’m almost embarrassed at how quickly I binged it. I stumbled across the first season of the show shortly after it was released, so I’ve been waiting impatiently for the second season for the better part of a year. From the get-go, I loved The Umbrella Academy. It’s a weird, character-focused fantasy adventure series that balances an ensemble cast and has a brilliant score. I would’ve been eagerly anticipating season two even if season one hadn’t ended on a gigantic cliffhanger, which it definitely did.

Now I’ve seen the second season, and happily it lives up to season one. It does a good job of expanding the world while still holding onto the things that made the first season so fresh and exciting. If pushed, I’d probably say that I narrowly prefer season one, but it’s definitely close because season two is also really fun. And I’ve only seen season two once, while I’ve seen season one… more times than that…

umbrella academy diego here we go

The soundtrack is still dynamic and occasionally random, and the characters are still dysfunctional in the best possible way. Since those are the most important elements of The Umbrella Academy to me, that alone is enough to count this as a successful sophomore season.

What impressed me the most, though, was the show’s willingness to go in new directions. When the first trailer dropped, and arguably after the first episode, it looked like the plot for season two was going to take us to roughly the same places that season one did. That was misleading. Yeah, there’s still the threat of an apocalypse, but the feeling is different and the plot develops in very different ways.

The main characters’ relationships with each other have changed, and they’re shuffled  slightly. After season one, everyone was talking about Klaus and Number Five. It would’ve been easy to capitalize on those two characters’ popularity by pushing them to the forefront, but instead the other members of the family got time to shine. I’ve loved Diego from the start, but I’d argue he had the least to do in season one. Not so in season two, when Diego gets to carry a lot of the plot and have a lot of personal growth. Allison, after spending a lot of season one focused on Vanya and Luther, takes on a powerful, emotionally heavy storyline about the civil rights movement in the 60’s. Luther was an important part of the first season, but a lot of fans went into the hiatus disliking him for the decisions he made in the latter half, and this season makes it impossible not to sympathize with him and feel his regret about those choices. Also, his physical comedy is just brilliant this season. His comedic eating? Beautiful. His reaction shots? Iconic. Somehow, the show even manages to put Ben—who is dead—front and center.

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The Politician Season 2 Review

I watched The Politician shortly after its first season dropped. I’ve watched and enjoyed a handful of Ryan Murphy’s earlier shows (specifically Glee and American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson) and I’m a big fan of Ben Platt. The first season is bizarre and over the top and weirdly compelling. It’s partly a parody of politics and partly a teen soap opera, and every time you think that it can’t get any crazier someone there’s an assassination attempt or a double-cross or a psychotic act act of stupidity and you get even more sucked in. The show is also very Dear Evan Hansen-esque, at least initially. It stars Ben Platt and Laura Dreyfuss, and River is essentially the fanon version of Connor. The Politician may as well have been actively courting DEH fans and hey, it worked on me!

So I was really looking forward to season two. While I still enjoyed it, there’s no getting around the fact that season two is significantly less compelling than what it follows. There are significant spoilers for both seasons one and two throughout this review.

connor murphy spoilers

What’s the show about? 

In season one, Payton–a very rich kid whose identity is almost entirely built out of his desire to grow up to be POTUS–is running for student body president against the very handsome, very popular River. Payton and River had a very ardent emotional relationship, so when River kills himself, it sets Payton spinning… but not so much that he can’t focus on his election. His new opponent is Astrid, River’s girlfriend. It’s the most intense student election ever. Payton finds out his running mate Infinity is being poisoned by her grandmother. Infinity’s ex-boyfriend Ricardo tries to kill Payton, and later Skye, who enters the race as River’s VP before becoming Astrid’s and then ultimately Payton’s, follows suit (he survives both). Payton’s brothers try to murder their dad for inheritance reasons. Astrid fakes her own death and Payton is a suspect in her murder, before she admits that she and Ricardo staged the whole thing. Payton’s mother (Gwyneth Paltrow, playing herself basically) has an affair. Payton’s girlfriend Alice cons a lie-detector test. And so on. It’s chaotic and hilarious.

In season two, a few years have passed and Payton is running for New York State Senate against a longtime Democratic incumbent, Dede. Dede has a few glaring gaps in her record, most notably her lack of urgency considering environmental issues, and Payton takes advantage of this to get a foothold in the election. As Payton’s popularity with young voters increases and Dede’s personal life threatens her strong standing, the race gets closer and closer.

 Why doesn’t season two hold up?

The biggest issue with the new season is that it fails to capitalize on its most interesting characters. Infinity, arguably the deuteragonist from the first season, is all but absent in the second one; it’s a shame, because some of the most fun storylines crop up when she’s around (like when she tries to teach Payton how to live a zero-waste life). Skye is now one of his closest friends and supporters, and there’s little to no indication of how she went from I believe in him so little I’ve decided to murder him to my man! of course I’ll stand behind you at a photo op so you don’t look racist! Like Infinity, Skye has some of the best moments in s2, but is criminally underused.

One of my favorite elements from the first season was the dynamic between Payton and his two longtime friends and advisors, James and McAfee. It’s fun because the three support each other but push against each other a lot. This time around, though, James basically disappears into the background except from a few scenes towards the end. McAfee still gets a lot to do, but without James to play off, she’s not as much fun. I still like her a lot, but she and James were always a dynamic duo and McAfee suffers when she can’t play off him.

The Politician' Satirizes High School Power Struggles - The Heights

Ricardo, by far the most insane character in a cast of insane people, has literally one scene. And River–who, yes, is a ghost and/or the voice of Payton’s conscience, but despite that emerged as one of the most popular characters on the show–is all but forgotten. He is recapped heavily at the start of the season, which led me to believe that he’d figure into season two prominently, but it was false advertising. If I’m counting correctly, he appears only three times and only actually speaks once.

To make up for these characters being pushed out of the spotlight, The Politician focuses more on Astrid, Alice, and Dede and Hadassah (the two ladies against whom Payton and company are running for office). This was a mistake, because their storylines are repetitive.

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Supernatural 15×13 Review (Destiny’s Child)

It feels a bit like we’ve come into the home stretch of Supernatural, and maybe we would be there if it weren’t for COVID-19 shutting down production and giving us another hiatus of indeterminate length. “Destiny’s Child” works hard to pull a bunch of dangling plot and character threads together into the main story. This week, the show revisits several familiar faces—Ruby, Sister Jo/Anael, Meg, and the Empty—as well as restoring Jack’s soul and reminding the viewers of Cas’ deadly deal. Things are ramping up just in time to get shut down.

Overall, I liked this episode. Buckner and Ross-Leming are polarizing writers, both for the fandom as a whole and for me individually. I like some things they do. For instance, Cas and Dean’s interactions this episode are great: funny, snarky, and just heartfelt enough to be sweet… not to mention the scene where Cas tells Jack that Dean feels things more deeply than anyone he’s ever met, which is cute. The alternate versions of Sam and Dean are also pretty funny most of the time, and I loved the scene where they repeatedly toasted their dad and humblebragged about how rich their hunting corporation made them. On the other hand, can the Busty Asian Beauties gag go ahead and die, please? Everything else on Supernatural does. And can it go the way of Crowley and not get resurrected? Because Dean liking racist porn was never funny and was something that I thought he’d developed past. And yeah, I know it was AU Dean watching it this time, but still. No, thank you.

dean gross supernatural

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