“13 Reasons Why” television review

A fascinating approach to the exploration of the butterfly effect in terms of how that theory plays out in interpersonal relationships. Or, the most comprehensive anti-bullying PSA out there. Unless you have been off the social media grid, there is little doubt that you are unaware of the impact and following of the Netflix original show 13 Reasons Why. Although it took a few weeks for the show to really catch on, once it became a topic of memes, Tweets, and other social media posts, the popularity of the show spread quicker than a viral meme. Responses to the show have been quite polarizing. There is the camp that feels strongly that the show provided an organic unfiltered approach to the gradual mitigation of one’s psycho-social health upon constant negative encounters with peers and bullying; likewise, there is the camp that feels equally strongly that the show glamorizes the ultimate pay-back effect of making peers and authority figures feel responsible for an individual’s decision to commit suicide, and therefore plants the idea that you can exert the pinnacle of revenge by telling your story after the fact. At the end of the day, one’s response to the show will depend on how one interprets the rather meta narrative. Beyond the contentious diegetic components of the show, the production value and editing are superior to other YA shows and even movies.

It’s been quite a while since I reviewed a television show, so I though that this one would be quite interesting to delve into. I’ll be up front and state that I belong to the camp that feels the show is a mirror to bullying and those who suffer psycho-socially moreso than the camp that feels the show supports the belief that it’s perfectly acceptable to blame others for how one feels. Not that I do not see evidence of the latter–I do–but I think the danger in that camp is throwing out the important anti-bullying messages too. Again, it comes down to how YOU interpreted the show’s narrative. The beauty of shows like this one–like this one, in that there is much left up to interpretation–is the simple fact that it gets people talking about a taboo topic or topics that are seen as difficult to talk about. Doesn’t matter the camp to which you may belong; this show accomplished what I believe it set out to do: get people talking about bullying, relationships, and sexual assault in an organic way. Whether you feel that Hannah (Katherine Langford) was justified in her decision, was selfishly seeking attention and desired revenge, or the one that best describes me: disagree with her decision to commit suicide but understand how she got to that point, 13 Reasons Why provides audiences (mostly those in their 20-30s) with ample material to explore the narrative itself and the impact it has had upon the present cultural climate.

Much like in the same vein as the prologue in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which we are prevued, through dramatic irony, to the unalterable fact that “two star-cross’d lovers” take their lives and [the audience] will spend the next two hours watching events unfold upon the stage thus learning how and why, Netflix’ 13 Reasons Why begins with the unalterable fact that a young lady has taken her life, and you’ll spend the next 13 episodes learning just why. While the show in question may not completely align with a Shakespearean tragedy, there are many similar components in the story. Moreover, had the show been shot in grayscale and set in the 1950s, it could have easily been a film noir. As it were, it can be classified as a neo noir show. But what keeps audiences engaged with each and every episode is the anxiety that builds up in regards to just why is Clay (Minnette) on those tapes, because everything the audience sees is the nicest guy next door that you could ever meet. There is also a ticking time bomb plot device mildly used because there are only six double-sides tapes and one single (13 sides in total); so the closer we get to the end, the more tension builds. As I cannot comment on the best-selling novel by Jay Asher because I have not read it, the writing of the television adaptation is absolutely brilliant–it’s designed to be addictive and succeeds in keeping eyes glued to “whatever device you are using” to watch the show. Interestingly, just like Clay cannot put the tapes down, neither can many out here put the show down.

Throughout the story, we encounter significant peers and authority figures in Hannah’s life that either directly or indirectly contributed to her decision to end her life and leave the tapes. Yes, I am aware that ultimately she made the decision–that is not what I am arguing for or against here. My point is, we encounter different people who each possess unique character attributes, flaws, and personality traits that impacted Hannah’s psyche. Exploring each character could be entire reviews in and of themselves, so I will be brief. You have characters ranging from disclosing secrets for the sake of showcasing art to not being brave enough to stop something horrible, from stalking those who you feel are more popular than you to something as simple as abandoning your friends at “FML” coffee sessions, and even a character who is so blinded by friendship that they cannot see and return the love of another, finally there is a character who cannot hear cries for help, for those cries are falling upon deaf ears. Each character represents a different character archetype. Along the lines of films and shows that personify the seven deadly sins, this show personified character traits that should be avoided in order to not contribute to someone’s overwhelming negative outlook on life. In short, do not be a dick. Treat one another with respect and love.

(This paragraph contains some mild spoilers) Although one of the characters has two tapes, each tape focuses on a particular person and the thing he or she did to add one more marble to the scale, slowly tipping it. For those who have dealt with perpetual taunting, teasing, or bullying or experienced it while going through K-12 school and living with the emotional scares as an adult, the show does an excellent job of not shying away from the little things, as well as the big, that each break you down a little at a time. Furthermore, the show also provided audiences with brief glimpses into what drives a potential school mass shooter to begin plotting his or her revenge and that one student’s suicide can prompt another because of the hurt someone else may be facing that feels unbearable–or brought on by the guilt of having contributed to the former’s decision to kill herself (Hannah). I think what hurts the full potential of the show’s ability to call for positive change is never taking a stance on Hannah’s suicide–never does a character state that what Hannah did was wrong, or that it deeply hurt those who DID love and respect her. Of course, the moral implications are topics best saved for another day and another forum.

Upon reading the news of a sequel, I cannot escape the fact that this story does not need a sequel–it IS a complete story; however, there could be “13 reasons” why the attempted suicide in the show during the final episode happened or why another character began to plot for a school mass shooting. Those are potential spin-offs that take place within the same universe and with the same characters. In terms of the show’s production value and editing, I was impressed with the subtle nuances of the present day versus the flashbacks. As a rule of thumb, I do not usually care for flashbacks. I mean, if you spend most of your time in a flashback(s), then let THAT be your main story. That being said, 13 Reasons Why successfully integrates the flashback into the diegesis because it makes the present story just as interesting to watch as the past stories. I also loved the color temperature changes from the present to the past. The stylistic editing techniques employed enable the audience to know when they are watching a flashback versus present day. In addition to the editing, there are also wardrobe, makeup, and costuming differences as well. Over all, this show is definitely one to watch in order to fully grasp just how much the little negative interactions or experience with one another can add up to leave someone feeling like there is no way out or whether or not they have the strength to go on.

“The Golden Girls” Television Show Review

The_Golden_Girls_opening_screenshotThank you for bein’ a friend! Those now iconic lyrics opened Touchstone Television’s (Walt Disney Company) show on NBC for 180 episodes over 7 successful seasons. Earning multiple awards from Emmys to Golden Globes, this series is also one of only three sitcoms in which each principle actor received an individual Emmy. The Golden Girls was ranked in the top ten shows for six out of its seven seasons, TV Guide (2013) ranked it 54/60 in the highest rated programs of all time, and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) ranks it at 69 out of the top 101 best written series of all time. So many accolades. Created by Susan Harris, the show ran along side another 80s hit The Facts of Life. The theme song, written by Andrew Gold and recorded by Cynthia Fee, is also ranked among the top theme songs of all time. No wonder why it is still running and bringing us endless laughter (currently runs on Hallmark Channel). Much like I Love Lucy has never been off the “air” in its entire existence, The Golden Girls has also been kept on a channel somewhere since it first debuted on September 14, 1985. From laughter to tears, these four women have been such a part of Americana and continue to be referenced in pop culture. Not limited to any particular demographic or cultural group, this show transcends all kinds of racial, ethnic, gender, economic, and cultural barriers. But why has this sitcom (situation comedy) continued to be popular for now 31 years? Let’s explore!

GG_HouseIt’s been 31 years since we were first introduced to Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia at an upper middle-class home in the residential neighborhoods of Miami, FL. Ever since 1985, these four single older women have been coming into our living rooms and, for many, have become part of the family. The sitcom represents a radical move by the Walt Disney Company and NBC in that the show featured so many taboos, at that time, in broadcast television. In many ways, the show was 2-3 decades ahead of its time. The very unique nature of the show is part of why it was such success. However, the continued success of the show goes way beyond just being uncanny for its day. For a show to stand the test of time, it cannot be, in whole anyway, (1) a product of its generation (2) contain proliferated pop culture references that significantly support the plot (3) must have exquisite writing (4) have a phenomenal cast that is as interesting to watch and listen to as the plots are engaging and (5) contains characters that one can identify with decades down the road. Over all, the show has to be unique, timely, and just written and acted exceptionally well. As this is a sitcom, in short, the jokes and conflict have to still be relevant in society for many years down the road. Although entire critical analysis articles could be written about each of the characters (and actors) respectively, the focus of this article is a general overview of why the show is endearing even to this day.

GG Cast CrewBehind every successful show (especially dialog-driven ones), there is solid writing. After creating the show and writing a few episodes, Susan Harris became less directly involved in the series. The head writers of the show (for four seasons) were Kathy Speer and Terry Grossman who would each receive numerous awards during the series’ run. Following the fourth season, they turned the reigns over to Mort Nathan and Barry Fanaro who would also go to win awards as well. Other than eccentric 80s attire, it’s the comedic conflict, sarcasm, quick witted remarks, and self-deprecating humor that keeps audiences coming back for more. No matter how many times I have seen each episode, I still laugh every time; the shows never becomes boring. The four women boasted incredibly sharp humor and were very secure in themselves. The creative leadership knew that the show had to leave its mark on television. Quite regularly, the plots were used to not necessarily address outrageous ideas, but important ones. Important ideas and values that had not been addressed in television before. What stands out most about the writing? The fact that progressive values were part of the show’s DNA. From ethnic, racial, religious, cannot forget sex and dating, and of course aging. At its core, the Golden Girls simply made aging fabulous! A good test to understand just how brilliant the writing and comedy is by turning off the picture and listening to the show as if it was a radio broadcast. Most likely, you will find yourself laughing just as much as if you were watching it. You can follow the story without the visuals to accompany it.

GG_Group_ShotBut isn’t television a visual medium? Yes. However, sitcoms are much more similar to live theatre than small cinema. Part of this is because a traditional sitcom is shot in front of a live audience. Just like stage actors feed off of the laughs from the audience, sitcom actors go through similar motions during a performance. Brilliant dialog and plot structure animates characters, and boy were these ladies animated! You won’t find four closer friends. These ladies could insult one another viciously and still remain intimately, but platonically, close. Each and every episode was so very interesting and feels new overtime. Not even a show like Friends holds up as well as The Golden Girls. The relationship between the four women was incredibly dynamic. Hardly an episode goes by that there aren’t alliances, betrayals, misunderstandings, or love triangles. Sometimes we venture to doctor’s offices, restaurants, or the parks; however, most of the time is spent inside the sun drenched Florida multi-champer house. Comparing the show’s floorpan to the exterior of the house, such a floorpan simply cannot exist. Haha. But that’s part of the fun. Unlike movie or television drama, a situation comedy is able to bend logic and make up for that with comedic timing and material. Moreover, the fashion of the girls definitely cannot be ignored. From flashy to trashy, these girls have it covered. The best part of the fashion choices is that, for the most part, the choice of clothing is an extension of the characters themselves. The fashion alone, is something that could be analyzed and actually has been in the past.

GG around tableWhile aging, women’s rights, and dating were reoccurring themes and tied directly to the show’s premise, other once taboo social topics were important milestones in the series’ development as well. Although there are a few social issues that could be mentioned, the one that is the most prominent after the ones that have been mentioned are topics dealing with gay men and women. Nearly a quarter of a century before the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on the legal definition of marriage equality, The Golden Girls had already tackled that subject and brought it into the mainstream. There are a few times that a gay character was the focus of a show, but the episode that stands out the most is when Blanche finds out that her brother is gay (and later there is an episode where he introduces her to his fiancé). This is one of the toughest episodes for Blanche and one other best examples of character development. She faced a situation that thousands of parents and siblings face everyday across the country. Before Will and GraceGleeThe New Normal, and other popular shows, these four women highlighted real world problems and social issues that continue to be battled today. Indirectly, gay social issues and stigmas were also dealt with. In the episode where Rose is contacted by a hospital regarding the possibility of her having contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, the girls take the then-unpopular stance that HIV/AIDS was not a punishment for being gay but a disease that knows no social, ethnic, sexual orientation, or religious barriers. They brought out the fact that it could happen to anyone. The brilliance of how these once-taboo subjects were handled is seen in how, amongst conflict and tears, the girls somehow still managed to bring humor into the mix, and leave you with a smile.

GG hugAfter watching this show for many years, it still has the ability to make me laugh uncontrollably at times. And, that sentiment is felt by many who have continued to visit the home of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia over the decades. There is so much to explore in this show, and why it continues to be popular today. From the writing to the acting and humorous conflicts to dealing with hard topics of bigotry, disease, sexual orientation, and aging, The Golden Girls continues to be a show that can help you laugh on the worst of days. Although there are shows that have attempted to be a modern day Golden Girls, none can hold a candle to these amazing performers and writers. There is a magic quality to the show that can never be duplicated.

Peering Through the Hole into “Bates Motel”

BatesMotelTVPremiering in 2013, the longest running scripted drama in the history of the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) channel is Universal Television’s Bates Motel starring Freddie Highmore, Vera Farmiga, Max Thieriot, Nestor Carbonell, and Olivia Cooke. Based on the iconic film Psycho (1960), directed by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock with story by Robert Bloch, Bates Motel takes us back to Norman’s early days when he was just a teenager–who was anything but normal. If you have kept up with the series, it is at a huge turning point in the character development of Norman and it just keeps getting better and better. Often shows as dark and heavy as Bates Motel do not have staying power or begin to wane after 2-3 seasons. Not this one. Just like Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho continues to impress, terrify, and influence even today’s suspense/horror movies, Bates Motel provides audiences with a glimpse into how Norman came to be while concurrently focussing on others who are directly and indirectly connected to the development of the most infamous psychopath in all cinema history. From visual and verbal nods even in today’s horror films to inspiring theme park attractions to television shows, the drama at Bates Motel continues to beckon audiences and intrigue those who find the characters fascinating.

Hitch_HouseSadly, executive producer Carlton Cuse confirmed that the show’s next season is slated to be the last, and will adapt the events of the series’ namesake. Although I wish the show could go on, it is clear that we are approaching the events that started it all. That being said, this upcoming season is sure to be exciting as we get to witness the gap between where we are and where Marion Crane checks into the infamous motel begin to narrow and close. Whether we are going to end the series at the point Marion walks in or recreate the diegesis from Hitchcock’s film leaves to be seen. One of the reasons that a series like this one can even be produced is that it has prolific material from which to pull and interpret–the fact that the character of Norman Bates has been studied for years, much in the same way the film itself has been explored–provides writers and producers ample opportunity for inspiration.

Norman and NormanSince we are given little information about Norman in the movie–note: that does nothing to mitigate the experience or effectiveness of the plot–his childhood to adolescent years and transition into adulthood is open for interpretation. For many years, film scholars like myself and others have often hypothesized what psychological and emotional experiences plagued Norman and affected his development. It would be all too easy and even a copout to state that he simply suffers a psychological disorder that was present when he was born. What I appreciate about the show’s portrayal of Norman is taking the cognitive and emotional atypical condition he was likely born with and throwing other experiences into the mix. It’s nature v nurture on a whole new level. Through the storytelling of Bates Motel, we have witnessed how his upbringing has had a profound impact on his development into the single most famous psychopath in cinema and now television history.

Emma_DylanThe show is not limited to the development and history of Norman, but also includes influential people in his life. Of course there’s Mother (Norma), but we also have grown to love his estranged brother Dylan, close friend Emma, and frienemy Sheriff Romero. Obviously Norman is obviously interesting to watch, but the writers and producers of the show make sure that each of the principle and reoccurring characters are fascinating as well. Dylan represents the only male figure in Norman’s life who consistently tries to help him, even though Norman often cannot see the love in his brother’s actions. Much like Norman, Dylan has also encountered much negativity and abandonment issues as a kid. Unlike Norman though, he found ways to deal with it and build a life for himself. In recent times, Norman keeps pushing the one positive male role model in his life away to further isolate himself. His close friend and coworker Emma is a very interesting female figure in his life. Unlike Mother or other females we have encountered over the series, he loves Emma and has done nothing to bring about permanent harm to her–at least so far. Emma is the only person who really gets to see the Norman hidden behind all his bizarre actions and obsession with Mother. Like Norman and Dylan, Emma had her own struggles with cystic fibrosis. Each of the characters is dealing with their own respective psychological or physical problems.

Romero_AlexLastly, prior to analyzing Norma, Sheriff Romero has played a key role in the life of Norman. Like Dylan he too is a consistent male figure in his life, but Norman has grown to resent Romero for his relationship with Norma. Romero has worked through his involvement in the drug trade and has grown as a result of it. Again, we have an individual with their own personal conflicts amidst the consistent conflict of Norman. The only other character, besides Dylan, who really knows what Norman is capable of. Romero is constantly trying to protect Norma from what he dreads Norman is truly capable of.

NormaBates1“Mother, what have you done?!?” Norma Bates is probably the most fascinating character after Norman. She is the closest to him and has been directly and indirectly responsible for his atypical development from his time as a child into an adult. Although she all but denies Norman’s psycho-social and emotional problems, she truly does recognize they exist. Unfortunately, she is so incredibly attached to him, having been abused and abandoned herself in the past, that she cannot truly provide the help he needs. Fortunately, she finally got him the help he needed–and should’ve received years prior–at the Pine View facility as we have seen in this season. It’s too little help too late. For the longest time, she felt that mother knew best and that no one could help Norman the way she could. Oh the irony. The attachment she was so fond of is regrettably the very thing that would bring about her undoing. Despite her best intentions, she really was the most instrumental in creating a monster. Her fits of rage and jealousy transferred into the mind of Norman and intensified the predisposition to sociopathic behaviors already present. Had she taken him to get help as a child, it is entirely possible that he may not have turned out to be the “psycho” after all. But, mother will always be with Norman; and no woman is allowed to take the place of her in his life.

bates_motelWell, here we are! At the crossroads between seasons four and five. This upcoming season is sure to terrify and excite as we buildup to the single most famous scene in all of cinema history. The reason the shower scene is the single most famous scene can be recognized by analyzing the length, actions, and sounds included in those few seconds. You can learn more about that scene by reading my article The “Attraction” of  Horror: a “Psycho”analysis. After more than 50 years, the Bates Motel and Norman still haunt our dreams and provide direction and inspiration for today’s cinematic storytellers. An interesting thought on the direction of these immortal characters and setting is the potential for a live theatrical production. There is certainly enough dialog driven material that Psycho and Bates Motel can easily be translated into a live theatre experience. It takes rich material to be able to be so versatile. Here’s to the final season of A&E and Universal Television’s five year homage to the infamous and macabre happenings at the Bates Motel. Thank you Hitchcock for truly being the master of suspense.

How to Get American Netflix in Canada

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 3.47.05 PMBreaking away from my typical entries, I found this interesting and desired to share it with you. Having recently attended a conference with a speaker from Toronto, this topic came up. The speaker commented over drinks that she is unable to watch American Netflix in Canada. Since analyzing media and entertainment is something I do, I decided to explore how one could enjoy American Netflix in Canada. While I was browsing the internet for ideas that I may be able to share, I stumbled across this website. I found it to be quite useful and seems to solve the problem of the inability to access American (U.S.) Netflix in our neighbor to the north. Click HERE.