Let Their Truth Be Told: Netflix’s ‘When They See Us’ Sparks Conversation

Week of 6/16/2019 – Show recommendation: When They See Us

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Netflix recently took to Twitter announcing that their newest limited series, When They See Us, “…has been the most-watched series on Netflix in the US every day since it premiered on May 31” (Netflix US, Twitter). Rightfully so, because in just its first week since its release, this series has already made an everlasting impact by sparking important conversations on topics such as race and a corrupt justice system, specifically when it comes to people of color.

Director Ava DuVernay’s four-part series tells the heartbreaking and infuriating true story of the “Central Park Five”: Antron McCray (Caleel Harris / Jovan Adepo), Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk / Justin Cunningham), Yusef Salaam (Ethan Herisse / Chris Chalk), Raymond Santana Jr. (Marquis Rodriguez / Freddy Miyares), and Korey Wise (Jharrel Jerome). In April 1989, they were accused, convicted, and later exonerated for the brutal rape and attack of a White woman jogger in New York’s Central Park. At just 14, 15, and 16 years of age, these teens, whom are also people of color, were physically and mentally coerced by law enforcement to essentially confess to a crime none of them committed. Rather than conducting a thorough investigation, the police and New York District Attorney, Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman), built a case around these teens with no DNA evidence, blood, or semen linking any of them to the crime. This series follows the teens to adulthood from when they are first questioned about the incident, through their exoneration in 2002, and the $41 million settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014.

Ava DuVernay and co-writers deliver their strongest piece of work yet, uncovering and exposing a system fueled by racism, politics, and ignorance; a system in which Black and Brown people are automatically presumed guilty by White authorities. It is brought to light by the raw, dehumanizing, and disgusting language used by authorities to refer to the five boys, and if that isn’t enough, Donald Trump even makes a cameo, voicing his irrelevant opinion that the boys should have “received the death penalty.” His statement is both terrifying and infuriating, especially because we know the outcome of this case. He clearly lacks empathy for people of color / minorities. In a recent interview, DuVernay talks about the series’ impact saying, “I believe that we get to a place where people are intolerant of what is happening and demand change.” I can only hope the same because it is incredibly heartbreaking to know that this isn’t the only case in which people of color have been wrongfully accused. We have seen it too often in recent news, and it is time to uplift and give a voice to the silenced.

While the story is powerful in itself, the actor portrayals are really what drives the series home. While I can praise each teen actor for invoking such emotional and heartbreaking responses from me just within the first episode, Jharrel Jerome, who portrays the young and adult Korey Wise, takes on his role masterfully. The final episode of the series is told from Korey Wise’s perspective: at 16, the oldest of the group, Wise was tried as an adult and sentenced to Riker’s Island. At just 21 years of age, Jharrel Jerome showcases a performance of a lifetime; anything from his silence, his facial expressions, and his line delivery, uttered excellence and he deserves every award nomination coming his way. He truly did Korey Wise’s story justice.

On the other side of the spectrum, Felicity Huffman portrays the true villain of this story, Linda Fairstein. People always say, “if you hate the character, they’re a great actor.” Huffman (and every portrayal of law enforcement in this series) must be incredible actor(s), because I found myself wanting to climb through the screen and punch all of them in the face. It’s a shame that people like Linda Fairstein exist. While these boys were experiencing the worst moments in their lives, she was making money off crime novels, flaunting her wealth and privilege, and sticking to her delusional theories even when Matias Reyes confessed he was alone in committing the crime.

The Exonerated Five’s story spans for a quarter of a century: 25 years of trauma. 25 years of authorities, press, and even public voices mislabeling these men and their families simply because of the color of their skin. 25 years of injustice. 25 years of being robbed of a childhood they can no longer get back. To say this series is triggering, is an understatement, but it is an incredibly important one to watch. We owe it to ourselves to get educated on important issues of injustice / pieces of history that have been overshadowed by privilege and wealth, and to learn to empathize for minorities and the wrongfully accused placed in situations that are beyond their control. But most of all, we owe it to Antron, Kevin, Yusef, Raymond, and Korey: their stories deserve to be told. They will no longer be silenced.

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A Quick and Easy Binge: ‘Dead to Me’ Keeps Netflix Originals Alive

Week of 5/12/2019 – Show recommendation: Dead to Me

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If you know me, you know how much I love shows with mystery and true crime themes. Per friends’ recommendations and upon reading the synopsis, I was quickly sold on Netflix’s newest dark comedy / drama series, Dead to Me. It tells the story of two widows, Jen Harding (Christina Applegate) and Judy Hale (Lisa Cardellini) who develop a friendship through meeting at a grief support group. While Jen is the hard-working real estate agent and mother of two trying to solve the mystery behind her husband’s hit-and-run accident, she soon finds out that her new, free-spirited friend, Judy, is not who she claims to be. Nevertheless, their friendship blossoms as secrets are soon uncovered.

With unlikely friendships and grief being Dead to Me‘s main recurring themes, I got major Big Little Lies vibes within watching the first few episodes. The show’s sharp writing allows people to empathize and really fall in love with the characters. Jen’s sometimes harsh demeanor and anger issues coupled with Judy’s gentleness and optimism, make them polar opposites and perfectly exemplify two people who shouldn’t be friends, but are. Additionally, this ten-episode series averages at about 30 minutes of watch-time for each episode, making this show an easy binge. Not to mention, cliffhangers await at the end of every episode, so once I found myself at the show’s climax, it was difficult for me to turn away.

One of the best aspects of the show is its casting: Applegate and Cardellini have exceptional chemistry. Both actresses shine in their dramatic roles, and when needed, showcase incredible comedic timing. Secondary characters, such as James Marsden’s portrayal of Steve Wood or Brandon Scott as Detective Nick Prager, bring a certain level of charm to the story and contribute well to the many twists and turns this show brings.

Because I don’t want to give too much away, I will just leave it at this: Dead to Me is one of Netflix’s best new additions. It addresses different stages of grief in an unexpected and sometimes humorous way, taking people on a wild ride in just its first season. If you have a chance, definitely add this to your list of “Must Watch Shows.”

An Odd, Yet Charming Pair: Long Shot Keeps the Rom-Com Alive

Week of 5/5/2019 – Film recommendation: Long Shot

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Who doesn’t love a good romantic comedy? Personally speaking, I am a sucker for a cute rom-com. As cliche as they can sometimes be, when done right, rom-coms have the power to take you on a roller-coaster of emotions and make you believe in love. Co-written by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, Long Shot takes on a modern-day Roman Holiday by blending two distinct worlds and making us believe that the impossible, is possible.

Long Shot tells the story of a free-spirited, talented journalist, Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) and the beautiful, accomplished Secretary of State, Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron). In reality, these two are polar opposites; however, Charlotte was Fred’s babysitter and childhood crush. When they unexpectedly re-connect, he charms her with nostalgic memories of their youth and brutally honest humor regarding current affairs. As Charlotte prepares to run for Presidency, she impulsively hires Fred as her speechwriter to spruce up her likability and humorous side. Soon enough, this opens up the door for sparks to fly between the two, and shows that love can blossom in the most unlikely of places.

One aspect that makes this film work so well is the unexpected chemistry between Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. Director Jonathan Levine did a great job in capturing Rogen’s carefree nature and Theron’s gracefulness, which ultimately balanced each other out in a way that makes their romance believable. At times where jokes would fall flat, their chemistry shined. Because Seth Rogen is widely known for comedy, his character seemed almost second-nature to him. On the other hand, while Charlize Theron isn’t quite known for tackling comedic roles, she showed impeccable comedic timing and proved that she can take on any genre.

In terms of the comedy itself, a lot of people may turn away from the film because in many ways, it is a political satire. President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) is rather clueless and cares more about jumpstarting a film career than he does about the country. The character of Fred Flarsky definitely stands by his political opinions in a rather eccentric way, but the film’s climax also attempts to do its job in understanding different points-of-view. Although it is a moment in the film that feels a bit forced, it paves the way for sparking conversation between differing opinions. This being said, the film isn’t purely based on politically-charged jokes; it also takes a stab at physical comedy with Fred’s clumsiness and laugh-out-loud raunchy one-liners from both Fred and Charlotte.

Overall, Long Shot does its job in addressing gender roles, politics, and the media in a way that doesn’t come off as “preachy.” Sprinkle in a little romance and comedy with two charming leads, and I’d say it’s worth the watch. (8/10)

33 Seasons Strong: The Appeal of MTV’s The Challenge

Week of 4/14/2019 – Show recommendation: MTV’s The Challenge

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Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year since my last TV / film review. Sorry for slackin’ on this category! While I do love my fair share of TV shows, I’d rather just leave some of them for pure enjoyment rather than writing about them. This being said, one show I have been binging on lately is MTV’s The Challenge. I never thought of myself as liking reality shows, especially ones on MTV; in fact, I always made fun of friends who found reality TV enjoyable. Now I am one of those people I used to make fun of.

With its first appearance in 1998, The Challenge has transformed from an adventure-based show to a more drama-filled reality show. 33 seasons deep, The Challenge has become MTV’s most prized possession, and for good reason. It takes alumni from well-known reality shows such as The Real World, Are You The One?, or more recently, Big Brother, and places them in competition against one another for a cash prize. Producing well-known challengers / vets such as Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio, who has 18 seasons under his belt, or Cara Maria Sorbello, who has 13 seasons of experience, the various personalities each cast member brings to the table, is one of the best parts about the show. You’d think it would get repetitive after 33 seasons and seeing some of the same cast members participate, but each season carries a specific theme that calls for either a team or individual competition. Sometimes, even though it is an individual competition, alliances may form amongst the challengers, making the game a mental / emotional one as much as it is physical. On the other hand, vendettas are also formed throughout the show due to backstabbing, trickery, and off-camera drama that comes with clashing personalities, making it so addicting to watch.

This season is entitled War of the Worlds, where alumni from reality shows overseas (Geordie Shore or UK’s Ex on the Beach) have been invited to join in the competition. I was a little nervous about this idea because I’ve grown to love some of the vets already on the show, but in my opinion, this season has been the most fun, cutthroat, and  surprising in the past few years. Without revealing any major spoilers, I love the level of competition the newcomers came with, and I have a feeling they will be giving the Challenge vets a run for their money. If you’re someone who enjoys watching friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) competition or indulging in other people’s drama, definitely check out some episodes of The Challenge. If you already watch the show, who are you rooting for?

Sucker for LOVE

Week of 4/8/2018 – Show recommendation: LOVE

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a show / movie review! Without further ado, here’s a show recommendation for you lovely people.

About a year ago, a friend told me to watch Netflix’s Original Series, LOVE, but I was too stubborn to begin a new show. But since I’ve been sick the past week and have had some time off, I’ve had the opportunity to get back in to my Netflix binge-watching. I must say, I’m mad at myself for not watching this show sooner.

From creators Judd Apatow, Paul Rust (who also stars as Gus), and Lesley Arfin, LOVE follows the relationship between awkward outsider, Gus Cruikshank (Paul Rust) and free-spirited, Mickey Dobbs (Gillian Jacobs). As a stereotypical “nice guy,” Gus strives to please people and make everyone around him happy. On the other hand, Mickey struggles with drug / alcohol and sex / love addictions, but has no problem telling it like it is. While they are polar opposites who undoubtedly have their fair share of flaws, they constantly bring out the best in each other and find their way back to one another. Together, they show that no matter how messy a relationship can be, love is always worth a shot.

As far as writing goes, I’d say that the show is incredibly well-written and the characters are well-developed throughout the series. Most writers know how difficult it can be to write comedy–especially without a live audience to give that feedback right away, but this show had me laughing out loud a lot. Maybe it was because of Gus’ awkwardness or Mickey’s sarcasm, but I think it was just because of how relatable the material was. The dating world is messy, and the writers captured the mood / almost every angle of dating, relationships, and intimacy throughout the series. Writing likable characters is also a tough task, but as long as people are able to form an opinion on each character; love or hate, you’ve done a successful job. Both Gus and Mickey were developed well throughout the series–although on the outside Mickey may seem like the character who has the most potential to grow due to her addictions, Gus also reaches a point of self-realization that shows just how perfect they are for each other. Sure, the characters may annoy you at times, but they were so well-written and acted out that you can’t help but root for them.

Now, as I’ve seen on social media, season 3 is the final season of the series. Full disclosure: I just finished the series last night, and I must say, I am a bit disappointed. I know I just praised the writing of the show, but I felt like the end was rushed. Without giving away spoilers, there were some plot holes that I feel weren’t addressed and it just made me disappointed in a certain character who up until that point, developed so well. I just wish the final episodes were drawn out a bit longer. Each episode is about half an hour, and I was expecting the series finale to be at least an hour, but it was still the same length as the other episodes. Although I did enjoy the final season, I guess I was just looking for more of a sense of closure. It didn’t feel like the end and I hope the creators change their minds and announce a season 4.

So, whether you’re looking for a show to quickly binge or if you’re like me and are a sucker for comedy, love, and romance, I recommend you check out LOVE on Netflix. It’s a relatable and honest look at modern love and showcases the importance of self-growth in any relationship. (8/10)

If you’ve already seen LOVE,  I welcome your opinions in the comment section! What are your overall thoughts on the show?

 

Pixar’s COCO Hits All The Right Notes

Week of 11/26/2017 – Film recommendation: COCO

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*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Coco follows the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy who dreams of one day becoming a great musician just like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt); however, due to a “family curse” Miguel’s great-great-grandmother placed on future generations, music has been banned from the household and he is forced to carry on the family legacy of making shoes. As the family prepares to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Miguel’s abuela discovers his hidden passion for music and destroys his handmade guitar, causing him to run away from his family. Desperate to display his talent at a local talent show, he attempts to steal Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar. In the process, Miguel finds himself whisked away to the vibrant and gorgeous Land of the Dead, where he reconnects with family members who have passed on, and meets the charming Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who claims he can help Miguel meet Ernesto de la Cruz in exchange for a favor in the real world. Together, the two venture on an unforgettable journey to discover the truth behind Miguel’s family history.

What really gives the film its “wow factor,” is its colorful visuals. From our first glimpse in to the Land of the Living where Miguel struggles to live in a world without music, to the Land of the Dead and alebrijes (spirit animals), these worlds look carefully thought out. Although the story tackles sensitive subjects such as losing loved ones, the bright colors and beautiful details provide a sense of lightheartedness. The visuals also work as a way to pay homage to those who have passed on; we often think of death as cold or dark, but this film did a wonderful job in capturing the beauty of it all. Personally, it planted this visual in my head that the loved ones I’ve lost are in a place of vibrancy and peace.

In terms of storytelling and character development, there was never a moment during the film where it felt rushed. Because all Pixar / Disney movies pride themselves on morals to the stories they tell, I felt like the writers were successful in providing us with three main morals: the importance of family, the vital impact music plays in our lives, and to take risks to fulfill your dreams, even when the odds are against you. Although a passion for music caused Miguel to feel disconnected with his family, in the end, music brought them back together. Belief in his own talent played an essential role in his character development. It is hard enough to surround yourself with people who refuse to support your dreams, but when those people are your own family members, giving up sounds like the easiest route. Miguel knew the risk he was taking by pursuing his dreams, but the respect he had for his family and apparent adoration of music throughout the film made it so much easier to root for him. I also favored the subtle message of what fame can do to someone. Golden opportunities can either humble someone, as it did with Miguel and Hector. Additionally, it taught them valuable lessons about family and how one should never disregard family over material possessions. In contrast, fame and fortune can poison personalities, as shown through Ernesto de la Cruz’s character. He became fame hungry to the point where he murdered his best friend just to get ahead.

I am always a fan of beautiful storytelling and in my personal opinion, Pixar writers rarely disappoint. With its touching story, gorgeous soundtrack, lovable characters, and vibrant visuals, Coco is without a doubt, my favorite animated film of 2017. (10/10)

SING Film Review

Week of 12/25/2016 – Film recommendation: SING

Image result for sing movieWhat can go wrong when you combine animation, a fun soundtrack, singing, talking, and dancing animals, and comedy? Not much, and Illumination’s highly anticipated “SING” proves just that.

The story follows koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) as he attempts to keep his theater afloat by announcing a singing competition. Among the main competitors: a teen gorilla named Johnny (Taron Eagerton), who is torn between following his dream of becoming a singer or joining his father’s gang, a stay-at-home mother of 28 piglets named Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a heartbroken teen porcupine named Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a shy and timid elephant, Meena (Tori Kelly), and cocky gambler Mike (Seth MacFarlane). It doesn’t take long for the audience to see that each main character is dealing with their own personal struggles, and it just makes it that much easier for people to relate to any of these characters. But because of the many characters, there is not much room for full-on development; however, writer-director Garth Jennings offers each character just enough screen time to allow his audience to understand where they come from.

The film packs a punch with its use of well-balanced comedic and emotional moments. For instance, Meena’s awkwardness, accidentally knocking over the microphone stand every time she comes out on stage to her incredibly moving performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in a moment of vulnerability, is just one of the many examples of perfectly balancing comedy with heartache. While the film prides itself on being a comedy, I wish there is just a bit more humor throughout. There are instances where the story seems to slow down for me, and because the movie is a bit long for an animated film, just a tad more comedic moments wouldn’t have hurt (as a 23-year-old, I am still a fan of fart jokes, and that one fart moment in the film is probably the funniest part of the movie for me). Additionally, because the film is called “SING”, I was hoping for more singing! Although there is a montage of auditions and each main character has about 2 songs, when the songs are cut down for time, it just doesn’t seem like enough. But when all is said and done, the last thirty minutes of the movie is a huge pay off and will have you tapping your feet and smiling so hard, it will make you feel like you have a hanger stuck in your mouth (especially when Tori Kelly aka Meena delivers a show-stopping performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”).

The one thing that parents look for in animated films is its message. What is the film trying to tell their child? Or even them? When it comes to positive morals, “SING” offers too many to count, which is never a bad thing (another plus to having multiple main characters with different personalities). One main message preached throughout the film is to “not allow fear to stop you from doing what you love.” Not only does this relate to every character’s story line, but it reminds us all to pursue what we are passionate about.

While “SING” has its flaws, the pros still outweigh the cons. Its underlying morals, lovable characters, and catchy tunes make this the perfect film for the entire family to enjoy. So this holiday season, sit back, relax, and don’t you worry ’bout a thing (wow, that was super corny). (8/10)

The Edge of Seventeen: Recapturing Those Awkward Teenage Years

Week of 11/27/2016 – Film recommendation: The Edge of Seventeen

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** CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Who doesn’t love coming-of-age films? Well sometimes, I’m not a fan….but that’s only if they’re done wrong. In writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s case, she does everything right with The Edge of Seventeen. Marking Craig’s directorial debut, she perfectly captures the charming essence of classic John Hughes’ dramedies such as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, and the heartbreaking realities of life in more recent films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The DUFF, or The Spectacular Now. Craig’s mash-up of all these coming-of-age tales, as well as her own storytelling, character development, and overall balance between drama and comedy makes The Edge of Seventeen one of my favorites of 2016.

We find the film’s heroine, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), struggling to build a relationship with her over-critical mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) and seemingly “perfect” older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). This struggle only intensifies when Nadine’s father, the only member of the family who really understands her, tragically dies right in front of her. Ultimately, Nadine’s only sense of solace comes from her budding friendship with her first (and only) best friend, Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson). Fast forward to the age of seventeen, Krista suddenly jumps into a relationship with Darian, leaving Nadine all alone. As Nadine attempts to cope with this newfound loneliness, she develops unexpected relationships with her shy classmate, Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and History teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). To top it all off, she lands into awkward situations such as accidentally sending an inappropriate message to her crush / the school’s rebel, Nick (Alexander Calvert), who later tries to take advantage of her. Along with being an outcast in both her home and school life, Nadine momentarily contemplates suicide; that is, until she receives a reality check from a surprising source.

When it comes to coming-of-age stories, the bulk (or entirety) of the plot should be dedicated to character development; even then, these types of films can be predictable, but Craig effortlessly pulls it off. She presents us with an extremely well-developed protagonist and a charming supporting cast in a matter of two hours–all of whom have their own personal struggles to deal with as they navigate through life and high school. Despite the young cast, even minor characters such as Mona, Mr. Bruner (who are also the only ‘adults’ in the movie), and Erwin, have their own, unique presence and play significant roles throughout the story. While Mona portrays the troubled and absent mother, Mr. Bruner essentially becomes the brutally honest, sarcastic voice of reason for Nadine. Similarly, during moments when Nadine feels as though she’s had enough, she finds a distraction in her classmate and aspiring filmmaker, Erwin. Although he makes it known that he wants to pursue her romantically and she sees him strictly as a friend, this doesn’t stop them from building a genuine (and super cute) relationship.

As far as Hailee Steinfeld’s performance as Nadine, she definitely brings it home. Although notably known for her portrayal of Mattie Ross in the 2010 re-make of True Grit, Steinfeld brings a certain level of spunk, energy, and charisma to her role, marking her as one of the most diverse actresses of her generation at just 19 years of age. With her witty comebacks and heart-warming exchanges with Harrelson’s character, she makes it difficult for you to not fall in love with her.

In terms of balancing the dramatic and comedic elements throughout the film, Craig’s writing is incredibly sharp. Although addressing serious issues like suicide or depression, she finds a nice balance by offering comedic relief through quick-witted characters and lighthearted situations. It’s hilarious moments between Erwin and Nadine, Mr. Bruner and Nadine, or even Darian and Krista, that give this film such an authentic feel.

All in all, The Edge of Seventeen perfectly captures adolescence and the struggles of accepting who you are. This flick offers everything and more that you should look for in any coming-of-age story: raw, emotional, hilarious, painful truth. Whether you’re seventeen or not, I guarantee that you will be able to, in one way or another, relate to the characters or situations. There has been a lot of well-deserved hype centered around this story, so try not to miss out on what I think is one of the most enjoyable and moving films of the year. (9/10)

Thank You, J.K. Rowling

Week of 11/20/2016 – Film recommendation: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Set in 1920’s New York and several decades before Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows Hogwarts alumnus and “Magizoologist”, Newt Scamander, who specializes in the study and care of magical creatures (fellow Harry Potter enthusiasts may also know him as the writer of one of the assigned zoology textbooks in “Sorcerer’s Stone”). When a few of his creatures are accidentally let loose throughout the city, the secret existence of wizards and witches comes to light among Muggles (or in 1920’s NYC, No-maj’s), threatening the break out of a war. Meanwhile, the Magical Congress and head of security, Percival Graves, are troubled by the mysterious havoc caused around the city as well as the disappearance of the wizard-supremacist, “Voldemort-esque” Gellert Grindelwald. Could these mysterious cases around New York be caused by Scamander’s creatures or has Grindelwald come back to claim ultimate power?

As a huge Harry Potter fanatic, I was a bit skeptical with the idea of J.K. Rowling screenwriting a prequel, but she has once again proved that she still has some magic left up her sleeve. Although the beginning did start off a bit slow for me, it was necessary for story-telling purposes and specifically for those who are not so familiar with Rowling’s universe. Within the first ten minutes, I fully immersed myself back into the wizarding world and suddenly remembered why I loved it so much. In addition, director David Yates (who also directed the final four Potter films), continues to perfectly transfer Rowling’s imagination onto the big screen. As such, Yates not only does this story justice, but he shows us that he loves these journeys just as much as we do. Full of imagination, fantasy worlds, fast-paced adventure, and lovable characters, it will be both interesting and exciting to see where J.K. Rowling will take us next. Until then, thank you, Miss Rowling for your ongoing dedication to these stories and for inspiring writers like myself to channel the deepest parts of our imaginations and creativity.

Jane the Virgin: More Than Just a Typical Comedy-Drama TV Show

Week of 11/6/2016: Show recommendation – Jane the Virgin

 

Jane the Virgin is a comedy-drama that revolves around Jane Gloriana Villanueva, who is accidentally artificially inseminated by her past crush, Rafael’s, sperm. As a chaste young woman, the pregnancy directly impacts Jane’s views on life, religion, and family, and we are taken on a journey as we see motherhood unfold through her eyes. Eventually, Rafael, who owns the same hotel where Jane is employed, and her detective boyfriend, Michael, entangle themselves in a crime-mystery occurring within the hotel and Rafael’s family. This essentially leaves both Rafael and Jane’s families in danger as Michael attempts to uncover the truth behind Rafael’s family secrets. Currently in its third season, Jane the Virgin has easily become one of my favorite TV shows, and thanks to Netflix, I’ve been able to re-watch seasons 1 & 2 and come up with reasons as to why The CW’s first telenovela-inspired show succeeds. When it boils down to it, the cast, writing, and overall balance between “impossible” and “this could happen in real life” continues to draw in new and day-one fans every week. Again, I don’t want to leave any massive spoilers to those who are currently watching or will watch the show, so I’ll just quickly go over the major positives it brings to television.

The charming family dynamic captured in the show is a big plus, all thanks to the casting. Gina Rodriguez phenomenally brings the character of Jane to life, and does incredibly well in terms of reacting to real-life situations. Seeing the relationship between Jane, her mother, and grandmother give this show a lighthearted vibe despite tackling controversial topics such as abortion, chastity, and religion. No matter how sometimes ‘overly dramatic’ the show can get, the chemistry between the cast is what makes up for all of it. Family plays a huge role in the show, and seeing how Jane’s new role as a mother ultimately makes them closer, continues to spark an interest among watchers. In addition, a love triangle forms throughout the show’s first two seasons — with this in play, it will always make good TV among a young-adult demographic.

Casting goes hand-in-hand with the writing and overall balance between impossible / possible situations seen throughout the show. The script and narration is funny, so the cast has the ability to showcase comedic timing. Along with that, the writers do an incredible job with balancing both comedic and dramatic elements, so it never gets too corny or overwhelming. In terms of pacing, each episode always seems well-thought out and allows its audience to learn new dimensions to each character. Sure, some flashbacks could be cut out, but because most of the flashbacks are vital to an episode’s story line, that is just me being nit-picky.

When it comes to combining genres, I’m all for it as long as it is done in a tasteful way. In my opinion, Jane the Virgin succeeds in doing so. Although labeled as a “dramedy” I feel like there is also that mystery/crime, action/adventure, romance or even satiric components that can appeal to any type of audience. In addition, the show’s homage to telenovelas opens the door for them to become more mainstream, allowing us to learn more about different cultures, which deep down, is what this show intends to do. Not only does it educate its audience about woman / motherhood, but it gives us insight into the Latino culture by introducing us to new and lovable characters we usually never see on networks such as The CW. What I love most about TV shows, is that writers can focus on long-term storytelling rather than trying to fuse everything together within a 2 hour film..and I think Jane the Virgin is doing an amazing job at taking advantage of the opportunity.