The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Part 2: Back and Whiter Than Ever

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Exodus: Gods and Kings with Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro and Christian Bale

In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite and recent films like Exodus: Gods and Kings and Gods of Egypt (in which Egyptian mythology—a quick reminder, Egyptians are African—is playacted by a cast of almost entirely white actors), I wanted to revisit an article I wrote over a year ago: “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.” In it, I discussed the trend of whiteness on our screens that has finally been brought to the forefront of the way we engage with film and television, and brought it into a specific focus: period pieces. It seems that year after year we are faced with Regency and Elizabethan dramas, shows and stories that are rooted in whiteness and imperialism, even if those implications are ignored.

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Gary Carr on Downton Abbey

I touched on a few shows: Downton Abbey has since ended, and in its six-season run included exactly one Black character, for four episodes. Conquistadors, a proposed FX series about the last days of the Inca Empire, never made it to production. In the time since, the trend has continued in much the same way. Two television shows about the American Revolution, Turn: Washington’s Spies and Sons of Liberty, bore no focus on PoC, despite the obvious presence of Black people in colonial times. Shows involving European history (Vikings, Outlander) continue to be produced while shows that focus on other parts of the world are passed over. Even a quick look at what’s to come is disheartening: another Tolstoy novel comes to us in a minseries based on War and Peace, as well as Taboo—which will star Tom Hardy as an adventurer who returns to London and faces off against the East India Company. Enough said.

Why is media so desperate to pretend history is white? Is it because in order to successfully create a deep and meaningful story, white writers, producers, and viewers must confront their own privilege and places in history? It might be a tall order, but it’s a necessary one—especially in an industry where PoC are systematically shut out of creating anything of their own. Even acclaimed director Steve McQueen’s recent television project, an HBO drama about a Black man entering high society in New York, has been quietly brushed aside.

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Underground with Aldis Hodge and Jurnee Smollett-Bell

I can count on one hand the number of confirmed historical dramas centering on PoC that are either airing currently or are set to premier: two. Underground (which is executive produced by John Legend, who is also in charge of music on the show) has been described as a prison-break drama in Antebellum Georgia. It centers on Noah, wrongfully branded a runaway slave, and his attempt to break free with the help of the other slaves on the plantation. It’s uncompromising and fresh, and definitely deserves viewership as a bright point in the usual (overdone) period dramas that grace our screen. The second is Marco Polo, a Netflix drama chronicling the titular explorer’s years in Kublai Khan’s court, during the Mongol Empire. It has been renewed for a second season, set to premiere later this year. The show’s settings and the characters are almost entirely non-white, yet it has come under fire for inaccuracy, having only one Mongolian actor in a leading role, and damaging portrayals of Mongolian history.

I wanted this article to be rife with new content, yet I see a trend that has not changed in the time since. Still, #OscarsSoWhite has prompted a massive call to action that has already seen results. It’s entirely possible that when I revisit this article again, we’ll have seen change. Until then, we can only continue to make our voices and needs heard, and support the content we want to see, and try to create our own. I’ll be watching Underground, that’s for certain.

—Mariana Zavala

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Gone Too Soon: SMASH

 

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I almost wanted to title this article, “In Defense of a Bad Show,” but if I’m being honest, I don’t think Smash is a bad show. It has a bad reputation, but I’m going to sit here and earnestly convince you to watch it, because I think it is worth 1,360 minutes (the approximate runtime of the entire series) of your time. Smash, which is about BROADWAY MUSICALS) ran for just two seasons on NBC from 2012 to 2013, but it has stayed fairly relevant in that time, spawning two real-life stagings and concerts based on the musicals created in the show. These concerts were sold out, I might add. Smash inspired an unbelievable amount of love and support in a short amount of time, and brought together a lot of different communities as well. The unfair thing about Smash is that many of its problems (uneven writing, dropped plotlines, inconsistent characters) can actually be attributed to conflict behind the scenes—the infighting between the executive producers. Now, while Smash is not guiltless in all other aspects, it deserves a little forgiveness.

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Smash is, at its heart, about Broadway. Just like Broadway, it’s sweeping, glitzy, more than occasionally over the top and melodramatic, and not always rewarding. It’s also full of heart and either heartwarming or heartwrenching, with little room for in between. The first season (with its truly fantastic pilot and sadly flat episodes thereafter) centers around Bombshell: a musical about Marilyn Monroe, and how a musical actually goes from conception to production. Bombshell is the brainchild of writer Julia Houston (Debra Messing doing what she does best, and you are constantly aware you are watching Debra Messing) and her composer partner Tom Levitt (Christian Borle, a Broadway star who shines here). While Julia is loosely based on the showrunner, Theresa Rebeck’s own life (a poor choice that led to fights with the other writers), Tom is the one to watch. Borle plays him with a perfect deadpan wit, and watching his poor decisions in relationships—relatable where Julia isn’t—is incredibly satisfying. He’s funny and talented in a way the show doesn’t always make known (many characters are given a chance to let their talents shine, but Tom never is). One of Smash’s greater injustices is that Tom is not given enough credit—surprising, given his huge ego.

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Smash loves dichotomy, so it’s no surprise that season one revolves around another duo (rivals this time, rather than partners): Karen Cartwright (Katherine McPhee) and Ivy Lynn (another Broadway actor, Megan Hilty). Introduced as competitors for the role of Marilyn herself, they are immediately pitted against each other as foils. Karen is the fresh-faced Midwestern ingénue while Ivy is the Broadway veteran, forever an ensemble member and ready for her big break. The issue here is that there’s no contest, and it’s hard to suspend disbelief to make the show work. Ivy is impossible to look away from. Hilty’s voice belts out to fill all the empty spaces on the screen (unsurprising, given her history with Broadway and her considerable talent), and her duets with McPhee tend to leave McPhee in the background. Both characters, especially in the first season, often follow pretty predictable tracks, and so it falls on the actresses to turn them into something more. Hilty succeeds where McPhee doesn’t (truly, Megan Hilty is the shining star of this entire show, and she alone makes it worth your time), though it’s worth mentioning that McPhee finds her footing in the second season, when Karen plays a role that’s essentially a meta stand-in for herself. Smash is smart, and tends to flip the tables on both the characters and the audience, and while Ivy is chosen to be Marilyn fairly early on in the season, she loses it to a hilarious guest run by Uma Thurman, whose character is then poisoned (again, this show does not shy from the melodrama). The first season ends with a perfect crescendo of a final episode, in which her replacement is chosen on opening night.

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This rivalry between Karen and Ivy extends past Bombshell casting. When season two starts, Karen has the role, but that’s just Boston. If they want to bring the show to Broadway, changes have to be made. That change is reflected in the show in many ways—like a total overhaul behind the scenes, including the replacement of Rebeck, the showrunner, and almost all the writers. The main characters (Karen and Ivy, Julia and Tom, and Eileen Rand—the producer of Bombshell and played by the magnificent Anjelica Huston—and Derek Wills—the director of Bombshell and a certified Don Juan) remain, while essentially everyone else is replaced with a new (and stand out) supporting cast. It’s a double-edged sword. The writing soars and the subplots are finally interesting, but it requires the suspension of disbelief. To watch Smash from season one to season two is to decide that you’re about to watch a different show, that nothing else that came before matters, and that’s okay. Once that decision is made, season two is genuinely wonderful.

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The best additions are Jimmy Collins and Kyle Bishop, a writing duo played by Broadway stars Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus, respectively. They represent an important shift in the show: the introduction of Hit List, a new musical. Karen meets Jimmy (a troubled songwriter and drug addict), who is writing Hit List with his best friend Kyle (who is tragically and unrequitedly in love with him, but that storyline unfortunately never goes anywhere). In an exhausting turn of events, Karen leaves Bombshell to star in Hit List, Ivy returns to star as Marilyn, and the conflict actually leaves the dichotomy for a while. It’s refreshing. Hit List is inventive and gritty, and the music is some of the strongest the show has to offer. The choreography is also standout. The shows focuses on creating stability and developing the characters in a way that matters—a strong setup for the third season that never was.

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The trouble with Smash is this: it’s trashy—even if it hadn’t been plagued by very real production and writing issues, it would be still trashy. The dialogue is hammy, the melodrama tends to the ridiculous, and there are enough bizarre and awfully executed musical numbers that the good ones really stand out. I have my own personal complaints as well (no queer women and a total waste of Broadway talent such as Krysta Rodriguez and Leslie Odom, Jr.), but overall, Smash deserved more, and simply couldn’t get the viewership up enough for a third chance. Even at its worst, Smash is addicting, and at its best, it is perfectly constructed and deeply satisfying (the pilot, the season one finale, and the series finale easily being the three best episodes of the series). It was a fantastic fusion of mediums, so much so that the fictional musicals became real ones, and it brought Broadway and television together that created powerful and lasting reactions from its viewers, and to me, that’s what makes a show worth watching.

-Mariana Zavala

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The Man in Black: Daredevil Season One Recap

One of my favorite shows of 2015, Netflix’s Daredevil, is coming back for season two on Friday! A second season, consisting of 13 episodes, premieres on Netflix in its entirety on March 18. It will feature two new characters in particular: Elektra Natchios (an assassin and ex-girlfriend of Daredevil himself) and Frank Castle (the supervillain The Punisher). In honor its return, here’s everything you missed in season one!

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  • The scene: the events of the Marvel film The Avengers have left Hell’s Kitchen a mess, and mob violence has taken root in its wake. Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) is our big baddie, and the season chronicles his rise in equal measure to the titular character.
  • Intro Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), who is framed for a coworker’s murder after she finds about an embezzlement scheme at Union Allied (a Very Important Company). It happens.

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  • Let it be clear that Karen is an amazing character and is the human incarnation of the sun.
  • Her saviors are our two other main characters: Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). They’re best friends who turned down lucrative offers at law firms in order to help the innocent, and they make me want to cry.
  • [Stefan voice] Matt Murdock’s past has everything: men boxing, that thing where you get chemicals in your eyes and lose your sight but get superpowers, Catholic orphanages, a blind mentor that teaches you how to fight, law school—

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  • Foggy is his unfailing best friend who confuses avocados with abogados and is undeniably the heart and soul of the entire show.
  • Ben Urich is a reporter who exposes the embezzlement, thus pissing off the mobs (they’re all working together in a much larger and more high-stakes plan) and entangling himself forever more in the drama that’s about to unfold.
  • Matt (so far only known as “the man in black”) plays at being a vigilante by night and ends up in a dumpster. He’s found by Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a nurse who is both no-nonsense and impossibly gentle, and has Matt coming back to her like a stray cat.

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  • James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore), Fisk’s assistant, is often seen lurking around the edges, pulling strings. He’s delightfully creepy and draws focus, and his devotion to Fisk is one of the strongest parts in what is already such a wonderful, character-driven show.
  • Wesley starts pulling strings! Union Allied (the mob-adjacent company involved in the embezzlement scandal) tries to cover its tracks! Money is basically thrown at people that would rather have truth and justice instead!
  • Matt scours the city for Fisk, who looms over the criminal operations while rudely refusing to leave an easy paper trail for people to follow.
  • Things become personal as both sides start to get a little desperate. While Fisk meets a new flame (an art curator named Vanessa Marianna, played by Ayelet Zurer), Claire is kidnapped by the Russian mob in an attempt to get to Matt.
  • Let it be known that Fisk has no chill in Vanessa’s presence.

 

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  • MATT AND CLAIRE KISS!!!
  • There is an unbelievable amount of mob drama as Matt attempts to dismantle the groups that Fisk is taking control of in a segment I like to call Keeping Up With the Mobs.
  • Foggy has an ex-girlfriend, Marci Stahl (Amy Rutberg), and even though he has a ton of chemistry with Karen and the show seems to suggest a burgeoning relationship at one point, they might have rekindled things at the end of the first season. It’s not entirely clear, and more than a little disappointing, because Foggy and Karen so cute together.
  • Karen and Foggy, unaware of Matt’s nighttime exploits, begin trying to take down Union Allied. They are also unaware of just what they’re getting themselves into. Matt has to watch them like children.

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  • Public image is a big factor here. Matt, as “the man in black” and “the devil of Hell’s Kitchen,” is a shadowy figure connected to violence and vigilantism. Fisk, once he realizes anonymity is no longer an option, paints himself as an alternate (and more trustworthy) savior. Obviously his own violence and mob connections are not made public as well.
  • Claire leaves 😦
  • Matt meets an engineer who makes him a real superhero outfit, instead of the off-brand DIY effort of before. It’s a huge improvement, not least because it’s armored.

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  • In what’s easily one of the most tense and well-crafted sequences of the show, Karen finally takes it too far, and is kidnapped by Wesley as a result. He threatens her and attempts to blackmail her, and Woll is astounding in this scene as Karen reaches her breaking point. In a moment of a perfect poeticism, Fisk calls Wesley, and Wesley breaks focus. His automatic, ingrained loyalty pulls him away, and it’s all Karen needs to grab his gun and shoot him.
  • There are casualties on both sides: Urich is killed as Page, desperate to find justice and closure, gets him to write an exposé on Fisk.
  • Fisk realizes his own grip on power is not as secure as he thought after Matt takes down central mob operations. He also learns that his own partners have betrayed him by attempting to kill Vanessa. He throws someone down an elevator shaft. It’s a rough couple of days for Fisk.

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  • While Fisk’s plans begin to crumble, Matt’s life goes really well. Foggy forgives him for not telling him about the whole vigilante thing, and they all finally find legal proof to expose Fisk’s criminal activities.
  • Matt and Fisk go head to head, with the win going to the former. Fisk goes to jail and it seems like all is well in Hell’s Kitchen for now. The media dubs him “Daredevil.”

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-Mariana Zavala

The Seven Women on The 100 That You Should be Watching

The 100 is easily one of my favorite shows currently airing right now (go check out its place on my Top 10 TV Shows of 2015!) and in honor of its super strong season three opening, here are seven incredibly compelling (and incredibly female) reasons to watch it.

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  • Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor): Clarke is one of the series’ protagonists, and one of the best bisexual characters on TV right now. One of the original 100 teenagers sent to Earth to find out if it was habitable, she immediately assumed a leadership role, and that hasn’t changed. Clarke is the heart of the show; she’s compassionate, capable, and willing to do what needs to be done—even committing a massacre (and the show does not skimp on the moral aftermath of that). She draws followers like a flame, and her relationships drive the show forward, particularly the unrealized tension between her and Bellamy Blake (the other protagonist) and Lexa, the ruthless queen of the Grounders. She’s astounding, and a credit to the show.

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  • Raven Reyes (Lindsey Morgan): The 100 hits all of my boxes, so of course there’s a wonderfully written, compelling, and proud Latina character, and she is Raven Reyes. She’s a prodigy mechanic and she is fierce and loyal in all her relationships; disappointing Raven is unthinkable. Seasons two and three see Raven struggling with a disability: she is shot and suffers nerve damage to her leg. The writing team shines here; Raven’s disability is not treated as fodder for her character development. Instead, her storyline is treated with respect and realism, which is far more captivating to watch.

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  • Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey): Lexa is closed-off and distrustful in all the ways that Clarke is open and hopeful, and the foil between them makes for one of the best romantic relationships in the show. Lexa debuted in season two as the new commander of the Grounders (after Anya’s death), and she was immediately placed in conflict with Clarke, culminating in one fleeting kiss and then a massive betrayal. Season three proves Lexa is a fantastic character in her own right. Like Clarke, she would do anything to save her people, but unlike Clarke, her instincts are to wage war first, and watching her learn to trust Clarke enough to attempt peace is incredibly satisfying. Lexa is a force to be reckoned with, and that’s saying something on a show with such a powerhouse cast of characters.

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  • Octavia Blake (Marie Avgeropoulis): Octavia is Bellamy’s sister, and she spent the first 16 years of her life hidden, as the Ark did not allow more than one child per family, due to resource constraints. As a result, once she is on the ground she longs to find her own place in the world. She does so with the Grounders; after meeting and falling in love with Lincoln, she dedicates herself to Grounder culture, winning the respect of chief Indra and proving herself as a warrior. She, like Raven, is fierce and loyal, and she defiantly dresses in Grounder wear and speaks Trigedasleng, the Grounder language. Octavia is angry, desperate, and yearning, and she’s impossible to look away from.

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  • Indra (Adina Porter): Indra is a Grounder chief, continuing the tradition of female leaders on this show. She’s smart, proud, and honest, and though she generally doesn’t like the transplants from the Ark, she respects and trusts some of them, and is loyal to Lexa, even when it goes against her instincts. Indra’s relationship with Octavia in season two is an amazing show of female solidarity, support, and empowerment on television. Octavia is desperate to prove herself to Indra, and the two develop an important bond, with Indra eventually asking Octavia to be her second-in-command.

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  • Anya (Dichen Lachmann): Anya’s run on The 100 was too short; she was the first commander of the Grounders seen on the show. Introduced in season one, when the show was more straightforward and the audience barely knew what a Grounder was, Anya was feral and mysterious. However, she helped establish the strong tradition of female relationships in the show, and the turning point for her character is the death of her young second, Tris, which devastates her. Like many characters, she eventually puts her trust in Clarke when she’s taken prisoner by Mount Weather. She’s killed in the beginning of season two, in what felt like a true disservice to her character.

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  • Abby Griffin (Paige Turco): Abby is Clarke’s mother; she is also a doctor and former chancellor of the Ark. She is incredibly righteous and butts heads with Clarke, but ultimately loves her. She is familiar with making difficult choices as Clarke is: her husband is executed due to her actions. Abby is special because she is not a leader. She is a doctor, and has complete control in that environment, but she is not a good chancellor and eventually gives up the position. Many of the women on this list are leaders but Abby is not—she is a mother and a doctor and she just wants to heal the world around her, and that’s why she’s so great.

-Mariana Zavala

What the Hell is Mozart in the Jungle?

 

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Just last month at the Golden Globes, a little Amazon series called Mozart in the Jungle—which takes the audience behind the scenes of the classical music world—came out of nowhere and won two of the highest television awards of the night: Best Television Series – Comedy; and Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy for Gael García Bernal, who stars as the eccentric new conductor of the New York Symphony, Rodrigo de Souza. Mozart, based on a memoir of the same name, is charming, whimsical, funny, and full of wit. It is also, however, too reliant on archetypes and tropes, and has a bad habit of pulling away when it should dig deeper, and taking bizarre risks when it probably shouldn’t (Rodrigo’s hallucinations of Mozart, for one). It is an interesting show, certainly, but whether it is interesting because it’s about the scandal behind the classical music world or because it is actually interesting is less clear.

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The show follows Hailey Rutledge, an oboist who dreams of playing with the New York Symphony and instead gives oboe lessons to rich families on the Upper East Side. If Mozart relies on archetypes, Hailey is the ingénue (but think more Karen Cartwright in Smash rather than Mary Pickford). However, Hailey is one of the few times the series manages to subvert and play on these tropes rather than just fall into them. Lola Kirke is a huge part of that. She plays Hailey with a determined, deliberate passion. She is frank, inexperienced, humble, and funny. It would have been easy for Hailey to be an audience conduit, but Kirke grounds her and keeps her a character in her own right. Hailey auditions for the symphony (late, but of course Rodrigo just happens to still be in the auditorium), sort of makes it, and screws it up by dropping her oboe in her first rehearsal—then ends up becoming Rodrigo’s assistant.

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Rodrigo, played by Bernal, is a harder character to pin down, despite Bernal’s remarkable performance. As the show starts, Rodrigo is the Mexican upstart conductor who shatters the (very white) rigid traditionalism of the classical music scene in New York City. The function of Rodrigo’s character, rather than the character itself, is where the strength lies. There is an irony in his immigrant status: were he French, Italian, German, or even Spanish, he would have fit right in with the elitism of the upper class. Yet he is Mexican, and so at every turn he is exoticized or put down. Rodrigo is incredibly good-natured, but loses his temper when his long, curly hair (cut off right after) is fetishized for an ad campaign. He cannot pronounce Hailey’s name (calling her Hy-ly), and it’s done in clear (and funny) commentary on how the names of people of color and immigrants are often disrespected and Americanized in the US. Those are the some of the smartest scenes that Mozart has to offer, and definitely a credit to the writing team. Less of a credit, however, are Rodrigo’s hallucinations, which only come off as gimmicky. He often falls into cliché as well, especially in regards to his tempestuous relationship with his performance musician wife, Anna María, which comes off as reminiscent of Vicky Christina Barcelona—and that’s not a compliment.

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Mozart has a good supporting cast too, but doesn’t always know what to do with them. Lizzie for example (played by Hannah Dunne), Hailey’s alternative roommate who secretly comes from the same elite world that surrounds the show, hovers on the fringe with half-realized storylines that only really seem to further Hailey’s, and has so much more potential than that. Cynthia (Saffron Burrows, who is stunning and absolutely entrancing in every one of her scenes) on the other hand, who plays a cellist in the symphony and opened the doors for Hailey, is much better done. In a show about classical musicians, at least one character had to have tendinitis, hide it out of sheer stubbornness to admit it’s a problem, and eventually develop an addiction to painkillers. Cynthia fills this requirement, yet she manages to transcend that—which cannot be said about every character. Cynthia is kind and exudes a sort of quiet loneliness. She enjoys casual sex and is involved in an affair with Thomas Pembridge (a hilarious Malcolm McDowell), the New York Symphony’s married previous conductor, yet there’s a sense that she’s never satisfied—and a reference to a given up solo career confirms it. She is the character to watch, and I can only hope the second season brings her further into the spotlight.

 

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All in all, Mozart in the Jungle is a fun show. It’s pleasant and easy to watch, and the music is obviously incredible. There are even a couple of moments of profound truth, though those are too far and few between, and Mozart tends to make the expected move. Case in point: the development of Hailey and Rodrigo’s relationship. Hailey is accused (several times) of sleeping with Rodrigo, and while they each have their own partners (Rodrigo’s Anna María, Hailey’s Alex—the dancer who gives it all up, making Hailey question why she’s pursuing oboe in the first place) there are hints of romantic tension. The predictable route leads to romance, and while I’d hoped throughout the season that it wouldn’t happen, the last episode ends with the inevitable kiss between them. It was entirely disappointing. That being said, however, Mozart is good enough to have hope that the second season shows growth, and it’s good enough to actually watch it to find out.

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London Spy: Not the Ben Whishaw Show We Deserve

 

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London Spy had, in the first three quarters of its premier episode, the potential to be the gay spy drama we’d been waiting for. Ben Whishaw, who plays unassuming warehouse worker Danny, is captivating as always. He’s waifish and almost dwarfed against the cold and grey London landscape, but he holds his own. Still, nearly anything featuring Ben Whishaw guarantees a good performance from him; it’s almost a given and does not necessarily extend to the rest of the show.

In a (sort of sad) meet cute, Danny meets Alex, the titular spy, who appears to be just a jogger—albeit an enigmatic, mysterious, and even awkward one. They eventually fall together, despite Alex’s claims of being both closeted and a virgin. Those are the strongest moments of the episode. For the first half hour, one can almost believe that’s all the show will be about, and it’s satisfying enough. There’s a gaping loneliness surrounding the two of them and it’s echoed in the landscape and cinematography. Every hesitant touch and unsaid word builds tension and fills that empty space until it’s unbearable. When Danny makes Alex smile for the first time—and it’s just a tiny, awed thing—it’s a relief, and one of the most well-cut scenes in the episode. Perhaps it’s because the characters’ loneliness is what audiences relate to most, and when Danny says that Alex was the only person who asked if he was okay and saw that Danny wasn’t okay, it feels life-altering.

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Still, there’s a honeymooning sense surrounding their relationship, and it comes crashing down in spectacular fashion. When the two of them make plans to get away for the weekend, Alex naturally disappears. That is the turning point of the episode. Danny confides in his older friend Scottie, played by Jim Broadbent in what is so far a pretty expected (still good, just expected) performance from him. Scottie, who is also gay, seems to know more about Alex than he’s letting on, and Danny, mysteriously sent the key to Alex’s apartment, goes to figure it out for himself. This is where the show makes a baffling decision: Danny finds a room that turns out to be not so different from Christian Grey’s playroom in 50 Shades of Grey—that is, it’s dedicated to sadomasochism, complete with Alex’s dead body shoved into a chest. The audience already knows Alex is a spy; that much is clear from not just the premise of the show but Danny’s own suspicions and a few telltale signs, including a mysterious cylinder Danny finds in the room and swallows at the sign of cops. So if this is the case, why the S&M?

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It comes entirely out of left field and feels forced, like a cheap gambit. There’s no point in it, or Danny’s humiliation at the police station when confronted with the photos. If it is simply to throw him off the track, there are better ways than to use shock value, especially when LGBTQ characters are at the center, as their narratives have long been dominated by shock value alone—shock value, then heartbreak or death. London Spy seems to have shoved all these tropes in at the last second, which is its undoing. It’s a five-part series, and hasn’t lost my viewership yet, but has certainly imbibed it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

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—Mariana Zavala

23 Thoughts on Grease: Live

Grease 1In arbitrary honor of my 23rd birthday on Saturday, here are 23 thoughts I had while watching Grease: Live. Some of them are articulate and critical, most are not. But in the spirit of Grease, I decided to have fun with this.

  1. Oh thank god, it’s going to be corny.
  2. For some reason I expected Julianne Hough to have a fake Australian accent. I am incredibly relieved she does not.
  3. Finally: proof that Aaron Tveit can age. He actually reminds me a little of Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused.
  4. I like live musicals. I like TV. I am not sure I like live TV musicals.
  5. This brings back painful memories of a seventh grade drama production of Grease.
  6. What if Ana Gasteyer played Principal McGee like the principal in 10 Things I Hate About You?
  7. Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo is iconic and she’s giving so much face, I love it.
  8. Jan is wonderful; she’s easily one of the favorites to watch.
  9. I have so little patience for fragile masculinity.
  10. I worried a lot about the structural integrity of the bleachers during Summer Nights.
  11. Was the entire cheerleading number necessary? I have my doubts.
  12. The car/racing/gang rivalry scenes are simply not as good as Discovery Channel’s show Street Outlaws.
  13. New Cheerleader Sandy Shows Remarkable Unprofessionalism And Leaves Her First Pep Rally To See A Boy.
  14. Ah, the smell of toxic masculinity in the air.
  15. Grease Lightning is by far the first number to actually garner any excitement in me; I think it’s all the dancing and most definitely the cars.
  16. This won’t mean anything to anyone, but if this were Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws, then Danny would be Big Chief and Kenickie would be Shawn.
  17. The dancing and choreography is the strong point of this whole endeavor. The entire dance scene is so stunning and entertaining to watch and captures the spirit of the musical more than anything else I’ve seen so far.
  18. Danny: *gives Sandy his ring*
    Sandy: This means so much to me because I know now that you respect me.
    Danny: *looks into the camera like he’s on The Office*
  19. Danny, she left because you’re a tool and forced unwanted sexual attention on her. Grow up.
  20. When Eugene pops up to help the T-Birds with their car, I had a great idea that he would fall in love with one of them and they’d live happily every after. Missed opportunity.
  21. Vanessa Hudgens killed “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” and officially rendered everyone else not worth watching.
  22. The last Street Outlaws thought of the night: I feel like I would have been more interested in the race if Thunder Road were on the streets of Oklahoma City.
  23. Overall: the only live TV musical I have ever watched. Not sure if I will again, but this was not a bad experience.

—Mariana Zavala