Supernatural: Some Early Thoughts from a Newbie Binge-watcher

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I’ve grown exceptionally bored with TV lately. Ok, I know that’s hard to say since Mad Men is in its final episodes and Game of Thrones just started up last night. But The 100 finished its season (and I’m still recovering from it), and The Vampire Diaries just hasn’t been capturing my attention lately. I started watching Hart of Dixie. In fact, I binge-watched it on Netflix and caught up on The CW — and it just ended. I’ve already watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and while we’re going through Bloodline, it’s taking some time. Quite frankly, while Gilmore Girls is my go-to, I really don’t want to go through it again for the third time in two years (if that).

So I needed something new. I’d heard a lot about Supernatural in a way that told me very little. In other words, this is a little engine that could with a cult following that has standout episodes and is in its tenth season — and yet I can’t tell you any plotlines except that Dean from Gilmore Girls plays Sam, and Jensen Ackles plays Dean, which makes it incredibly confusing to discuss with someone who’s only seen Gilmore. Anyway, I figured, hey, let’s check it out.

(As a side note, I just realized that Supernatural is the only series left from the WB network era. Can’t say I don’t appreciate that.)

That was Friday night at about 10 pm. Keep in mind, I have a toddler, so I can’t really stay up all night long to watch a series since I really need to function early the next morning when he wakes up. That said, I still watched four episodes that night and another two on Saturday night.

And considering that (at least right now), it’s very much in the monster-of-the-week mode — like many famed supernatural shows started out with, like Buffy, Angel, Fringe, and The X-Files — I’m still really enjoying it. Sure, I’ve seen shapeshifters on all kinds of series in all kinds of forms…literally. But they still made the episode enjoyable and interesting. What I’m most appreciating about the series is the little tidbits they share about all of the various lore they’re fighting: where the windago came from, for example, or the woman in white.

I also like that they keep it light and humorous, especially since so many of the scenes take place in the dark. Fringe, for example, was very dark with little humor until the show settled on Walter’s ideal craziness, and even Buffy left humor to Xander for many years. Here, we get a good camaraderie with the two brothers, and I almost make it a game to guess when Dean will call someone either a bitch or son of a bitch.

As for downsides? It’s taking me just a little time to get used to some of the color choices, particularly in driving, and in these early episodes, it really feels like Sam’s story — not the story of brothers. And it might become a little too predictable if in every episode Sam gets in trouble and Dean jumps in to save the day at the last minute. But I’m only six episodes in; I’m sure a lot of that will get worked out. And sure, I am certain that there’s something magical, mystical, or at the very least mysterious about Sam that caused that dark figure to loom over his crib and kill the only women in his life. It’s about Sam, not the demon, and that might be a wee bit predictable.

But for now, I’m just enjoying the ride and looking forward to binging on more.

The 100: Blood Must Have Blood, Part 2

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THE 100: 2.16 “Blood Must Have Blood, Part 2″

I have been thinking nonstop about last night’s finale of The 100. I had no idea where this episode would take us, where they’d draw the line. And for a show that’s been said to have never held back, last night was definitely a harsh example of that.

I’m constantly impressed with this show. Just looking at how much these characters have developed since the beginning — hell, since the beginning of season two — shows how much depth and complexity the show has. It doesn’t sugar-coat things. It doesn’t hide real life-and-death choices behind sappy melodrama. It’s tough, it’s brutal. I could go on for quite some time about how this show has exceeded expectations, how it’s so well-written, and how it’s become the show I’ve really been amped about watching week to week. All of that’s true, but I should probably focus on what actually happened in this finale.

I was crying for about 15 minutes during this finale. I’m a natural sap, so that shouldn’t surprise you. But I wasn’t crying over losing someone we’ve loved as a character for a while (ok, yes, perhaps some sentimentality over Maya did slip in there). And I wasn’t crying for some character I knew less well but was forced to have a reaction to because of the crescendoing music to give me sad feelings. I was crying because I was watching a tough, impossible situation. I was screaming at the TV through fat tears because I knew that what was about to happen was wrong, and I didn’t want to see it happen. I was crying because I saw Clarke do something that could never be changed, had so many shades of gray behind it, and ultimately, was something no one would be able to accept again.

I saw Clarke feel the weight of her people on her shoulders, the minute she put her hand on that lever. She felt the weight of family and friendships. And she knew she had to do it even though she knew what it meant she was doing. I saw Bellamy flash back to his days on the Ark, where his one responsibility was to watch out for his sister, no matter the cost. The characters we knew and love were changing before our very eyes, doing something they may never recover from.

But it wasn’t just the 100 I was thinking about. I was thinking about those kids we saw filing into a classroom a few episodes ago, and the kid playing with a soccer ball on Level 5. All the people dining, enjoying themselves, smiling, living life. They were all going to suffer because of this war and these actions.

The writers behind the show could’ve made all of Mount Weather’s people into greedy monsters. But they weren’t. And in the end, innocent people became casualties of war.

It was ugly, and it hurt. And here I am, more than 12 hours later, still thinking about it. Analyzing it. That’s the sign of an effective episode. Kudos.

I didn’t think they’d go there. Sure, I suspected Dante would die in some way, maybe Cage, maybe even Clarke’s mother. Jasper or Maya, for sure (by the way, I think it was IGN who commented that it was brilliant to kill off Maya in this way, illustrating explicitly how Clarke and Bellamy’s actions would hurt the ones who helped them). But the lines that were crossed. Just wow. They didn’t hold back.

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My Favorite Parks and Rec Moments

Parks and Recreation is ending tonight after seven seasons. It’s one of my favorite series. It’s a go-to series to put on when there’s nothing else to watch, and if you ask JC, you’ll find out that I’ve actually memorized lines from some episodes.

I wish I could say this was one of these series that I watched from the start and immediately fell in love with. It wasn’t. I remember watching the first season and being so disappointed. I didn’t love Leslie; I found her annoying. I hated Tom. Andy was just awful — why would Ann possibly date him? They were a couple that lacked any chemistry whatsoever. And Ron Swanson? Well, he made no impression at all.

I stopped watching for the second season, insisting all those reviewers that said it got better weren’t in their right mind. But in a sweet turn of fate, I started watching Party Down that year. I grew attached to Adam Scott. And in my sadness in discovering I had two short seasons of that show and nothing else, I discovered Mr. Scott was turning to an NBC favorite. He was joining Parks and Rec.

I started watching season three and never looked back. No, that’s not true. I looked back just this past weekend, when we officially started the series from the beginning (my habit was to start at the last two episodes of season two, Adam Scott and Rob Lowe’s first appearances) to see how bad those episodes really were. I now admit: I was wrong. They weren’t terrible. They weren’t the Parks and Rec I now know and love, but knowing what the show would become, they were suddenly better. And season two was even better than the first. And the show just kept improving since then (well, except for any episode centered on Councilman Jam; I’m still not a fan of those).

Now tonight we’ll say good-bye to Pawnee, Indiana, and the group of misfits that came with it. But before we sign off, let’s look at some of my own favorite memories.

Snake Juice: I should save this for last, but come on, it’s just too awesome. So let’s start with one of the funniest moments on the show, particularly Ron Swanson’s dancing.

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The 100: Coup de Grâce

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THE 100: 2.11 “Coup de Grâce”

You may be the chancellor, but I’m in charge.

It’s a tension that has been building silently for a while now. And honestly, as I mentioned on Twitter, I kinda forgot that Abby was chancellor at all. Over the last few episodes, she’s been being more of a mom than a leader, following around her daughter while she called the shots. Others had noticed. Even Kane mentioned that they were following a “child.” Somehow, Abby didn’t see it.

Or at least she didn’t process it. Or maybe she didn’t process her role in Camp Jaha’s government. She hasn’t been in charge; no one has really expected to take order from her. Until this episode.

And by the way, Clarke is a badass.

Ok, let’s backtrack because a lot of things happened in this episode. Bellamy successfully got into Mt. Weather, though it certainly wasn’t pleasant when he got there. The process these people — these prisoners — go through just to be clean enough to be bled… it’s ugly. Fortunately, Bellamy seems to have gotten through it a little less painfully than some of the others he was with, though I personally would never want to experience whatever huge metal thing went into his mouth. [Shiver.]

We’re lucky that Bellamy just happened to come across Maya so early. If not, I have no idea how this plan would have gone. Yes, it seemed a little convenient, but come one. The plot must go on. I did feel absolutely horrible that Bellamy killed Lovejoy, though (ironic, considering his name). It was a grotesque scene, and the look on Maya’s face clearly showed that she was digesting exactly what she was getting into by allying with Bellamy and the other 47.  But it killed me to see Lovejoy’s son. I knew that we’d discover who his father was, even before we saw the name on the backpack. I was just hoping it wasn’t the case.

Meanwhile, we had the coup against the President. Of course, we want all of the 47 to pack their bags (what bags?) and go home. But it’s all too easy. So it didn’t surprise me that his son turned his back on him and took over. Though it was heartbreaking to see the former President sitting alone in the end in quarantine. After all, it’s his dream to get to the ground, too. He just wanted to do it in a moral way.

So now we have the 47 trapped, waiting for their doom, while Bellamy and Maya figure out what to do next. I wish we had gotten more of a reaction from Jasper, though, when he recognized Bellamy. Man, that’s a reunion I can’t wait to see.

Now let’s get back to our heroine. Clarke discovered that she was the target for an assassination attempt. Abby seemed to be unable to wrap her mind about this, but Clarke was unfazed: Just another day on the ground.

It’s actually interesting. Clarke tried to stay in the background for this particular scenario. Which is probably why it didn’t work all that well. Of course, he wouldn’t answer questions. Even he didn’t see Abby as the real threat. It was always about Clarke.

And eventually, Clarke realized it. She was the one in charge and the only one that could keep the alliance. (And we got that badass march through the Arc for it.) The faceoff with her mother was just fantastic. If that didn’t get you excited for where this was headed, I don’t know what would. Clarke found her power again — and she took hold of it with both hands.

What this will mean for Abby, I don’t know. On the one hand, they still see Clarke as just a child. But then again, Clarke has logged more field time on the ground than all of the people from the Arc. And that will clearly give her an edge.

And yet, there’s something about all this badass-ery that makes me nervous. Nothing goes well on the ground. So what bad situation is waiting for our new leader?

*Photo by Cate Cameron/The CW

Switched at Birth: At the First Clear Word

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SWITCHED AT BIRTH: 4.05 “At the First Clear Word”

Last night’s episode of Switched at Birth was meant to start a conversation.

That’s not an easy thing to do. If you’re going to tackle a tough issue, you have to do it well. You have to raise awareness by showing people what they don’t want to see. And honestly, you have to go into places that people probably don’t want to spend their time. And I think Switched at Birth did a commendable job.

It certainly wasn’t an episode I was looking forward to. In the hours leading up to airing, I kept saying how it was going to make me sad. Why sad? Well, because it’s taking on an issue that too many people face today in college campuses. It’s going to be emotionally heartwrenching for Bay. And it’s going to take good ol’ Tank and put him in a very dark light.

And it did all that. We started with Bay waking up naked, next to Tank, wondering what happened. She knew something didn’t go as planned, but she didn’t remember. And, of course, her mind first goes to Emmett, worrying that she cheated on him.

I must applaud the show. It was 25 minutes into the episode before the word “rape” was used. But as viewers, the idea of it hung in the air, so that we were all kept wondering if that’s really what happened. It came as such a surprise when Bay herself heard it and digested what might have happened — what she had a feeling did happen.

And even by the end of the episode, we still don’t really know. We’re not meant to. In situations like these, when it’s a question of drunkenness and he said/she said, we may never know. And I have a feeling that Bay never will (though I suppose that we’ll have to wait until next week to know for sure). We just know it was a bad situation, there are too many shades of gray, and something wasn’t right.

Now, at first, I was a little hesitant that we put Tank in the center of this scenario. But as I think about it more and more, I think it was a fantastic choice on the writers’ part. It’d be easy to assign some nameless, one-episode character to be the one that Bay spent the night with. But in a situation like that, you’d be left thinking that of course it was his fault. He’s just clearly a bad guy.

But in this situation, we know Tank. We know Tank’s not a bad guy. Heck, Travis even said so in last night’s episode. We don’t want to think that Tank was capable of crossing a line like that. And Tank doesn’t think he did. She was into it, he said. She kissed him, he claimed. She didn’t say no.

But what this episode wanted you to take from it was that not saying no isn’t the same as consent. Bay asked, “Did I say yes?” To Tank, this was just a drunken night. To Bay, it was clearly something else.

I must say, I appreciated how they did the flashbacks in this episode, displaying Bay’s fuzziness in blurred vision. And showing the scene in the bedroom was especially effective, using similar dialog but different intonations to indicate the differences in perception and understanding of the situation. It was tense and uncomfortable.

I’m sure many people are standing on both sides of the line, saying that either Bay just got drunk and it happened, or that Tank took advantage. It’s a debate that many people have outside of the Switched at Birth world. Clearly, neither of them were in the best frame of mind that night. But in the end, we’re left with Bay’s lasting message to Daphne: it didn’t feel right. Something felt wrong.

There’s a lot of ways this could go. I can imagine that since she doesn’t know for sure, Bay won’t want to do something to hurt Tank if she’s wrong. But then again, can you just let it go? And while I’m sure we’ll cover Emmett’s reaction, it’s the one I care least about. True, I like “Bemmett” as much as the next guy, but this is about more than that. I care more about what this will really mean for Bay in the long run.

Fortunately, of all people on this show, I know that Vanessa Marano is one that could handle whatever is thrown her way. It’s not going to be a comfortable thing to watch, but if in the end, it does, in fact, start a discussion and raise awareness, it looks like the show’s done its job.

*Photo by ABC Family

Some Belated Thoughts on the ‘Parenthood’ Finale

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PARENTHOOD: 6.13 “May God Bless and Keep You Always”

There’s been very little on TV lately that I’ve wanted to write about. And the few things that I have wanted to write about, I haven’t had time. But here in the few days after the finale of Parenthood, now that I’ve mopped up all my sentimental tears, I did want to say a few words about our last hour with the Bravermans.

I couldn’t have thought of a better finale. Sure, it was sappy — but if it weren’t, it just wouldn’t be Parenthood. And maybe it was unrealistically optimistic (Crosby saves the Luncheonette; Adam becomes headmaster at Chambers), but it was just what we needed.

And while nothing groundbreaking happened, some large moments did. Sarah got married, which was a perfect way of getting the whole clan together and happily taking pictures of all of them in all sorts of small groups. Heck, it even got Haddie to return (even if I did still find her annoying, self-centered, and irritating, even as she was trying to be nice to Max — how did she still come across as abrasive and obnoxious?). But we got to feel like we were celebrating with them. And that was nice. We deserve a happy ending.

Of course, we had Zeek’s death. It was sad, but not surprising. It’s the moment we had all been expecting all season. And quite frankly, it was well done. The entire episode wasn’t brought down by a heartbreaking scene, a dark funeral, and teary eulogies. It was a simple discovery, topped off with an appropriate family moment of spreading ashes and celebrating a life through fun and play. Another opportunity to put the family side by side and show what they really are like when they got together.

Of course, there were some surprises. Joel and Julia adopt a brand-new baby girl, for one, which was just wonderful. And then we discover in the flashes forward, that she wasn’t their last baby. They later have a little boy — and get a puppy. Crosby and Jasmine are expecting again. Even Amber had a little girl with Jason freakin’ Street — or at least his doppelganger. And Ryan got his happy ending too, after apparently getting his life together and getting to spend time with his son (thank goodness).

Max even smiled.

Ultimately, it was just a satisfying, uplifting ending on all counts. One that helped us remember the family that we followed for the last six years and rooted on in times of trouble: whether that was Kristina’s cancer, Sarah’s failed relationships, Joel and Julia’s marriage troubles, Crosby’s struggle to become a responsible family man, or even potential cancellation. And it helped remind us that even though the show might end, the Bravermans live on.

So I raise a glass at that famous table, with the lights strung in the trees above, and I say, “Bravo.” It was a great way to end a series. And it may just stand out as one of the most memorable — and maybe one of the best — finales I’ve seen.

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*Photos by NBC

The 2014 Awards: The Best, Worst, and In Between on TV

Well, I had a rough year on this blog. I was reminded via an automatically generated email — in a very congratulatory way — that I only had 59 new posts this year. Ouch. But hey, here’s number 60.

It only seems fitting in this very up and down year in TV to give a shout out to some of the best and worst moments. While I may have been writing little, I’ve still been trying to watch.

So here goes, with the 2014 Awards from Raked.

Best Surprise Series: The 100. I’ll start with what sticks out in my mind as one of my biggest surprises of the year: The 100. For a show that was touted as the CW’s version of The Hunger Games when first pitched, it quickly became one of my favorite shows. And it’s one of the few that I’m eagerly anticipating week to week. It increasingly surprises me with its twists and turns, and it’s not afraid to make its beautiful cast dirty. No, really. Very few other shows do this, but most of its characters are running around with mud, dirt, and blood streaking their faces all the time. Hair is tangled. Cuts are revealed. Kudos to making it real, especially for a sci-fi series.

Best Season Finale: The Vampire Diaries. Holy crap, Bonnie and Damon died. You could see it coming (heck, Bonnie even knew), but this episode still had me hopping from one leg to another in anxiety as the episode progressed. I was so upset, I wrote about it twice. TWICE. Talk about a cliffhanger. This then leads us to…

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Best Dynamic Duo: Bonnie and Damon, The Vampire Diaries. For two characters that despised each other, it was great to see them have to work together in a love-hate friendship back in 1994 (and quite frankly, I just loved revisiting 1994!). I personally  think they separated these two too early in the season, but it was nice to hear that sentimental phone call that Damon left on Bonnie’s voicemail once he was back in the present.

Most Ridiculous Branding Ploy: Once Upon a Time. Because OUAT can’t seem to let anything Disney go, we pulled in Frozen. And while I do like the movie, and Elsa and Ana eventually grew on me, at the end of the day, it was a weak storyline that was solely for the purpose of grabbing all those Frozen fans into the series and spreading the Frozen brand. Personally, I’d prefer content over Disney’s attempt to control the world.

Biggest Reality TV Controversy (at least in my house): Top Chef. Should a contestant ever give up immunity? That was the question in last season’s Top Chef (sneaking into 2014 by the skin of its teeth — a January air date). No one had ever been asked to do this before. And it’s a competition show. You’ve won immunity; you shouldn’t have to give it up, whether you made a mistake or not. But be the big man and get yourself back in during Last Chance Kitchen. All this — and more — was debated. It made Nick a jerk but ultimately the winner. Where do you stand on the topic now?

Lamest Use of Guest Stars: Girl Meets World. I’ve been really amped about seeing my favorite Boy Meets World characters return to TV, and the show has done a good job of it with the return of Minkus and Harley. But the recent return of Sean and Cory’s parents was lacking. Overdramatic, unfunny, and not highlighting what I like best about the characters. For example, suddenly Topanga and Cory’s mom have some issues in the kitchen. And diving into the reasons Sean is MIA just seemed over the top. Stick with the best friend bit — the highlight of the episode — and leave the heavy emotion at the door.

Best New Show I Never Thought I’d Watch: Last Week Tonight with John OliverNot that I have anything against John Oliver, or the Daily Show style type of show he was launching at HBO, but I got tired of the Daily Show a while ago; you can only make fun of depressing news (and 2014 had plenty of that) so many times before it wears you out. But Oliver’s weekly show turned out to be hilarious, and carefully measured out at once a week intervals to avoid oversaturation, and his one long story per episode always dug into an important but off-the-radar issue.

Best Season-long Procedural You Watched: True Detective. We didn’t write about it here, but we were continuously impressed with the series. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But I did want to reiterate it.

Best Season-long Procedural You Didn’t Watch: Gracepoint. I’m back and forth about the ending — certainly there could have been improvements — but ultimately, I enjoyed the FOX series Grace Point, which was based on a UK series. Good cast. Good acting. It’s too bad no one really saw it.

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Biggest Cancellation Mistake: Selfie. Many people mocked Selfie. In fact, when you read the pitch, you probably would, too. But it was cancelled just as it hit its stride. I raise my glass to you, Selfie. You probably could’ve been a good little comedy if you just had a little more time.

Biggest Cancellation Mistake, Part 2: Manhattan Love Story. The mistake here wasn’t cancelling the series. Manhattan Love Story was by far the worst new series to hit the airwaves. The mistake here was that they didn’t cancel it sooner.

Biggest Question of the Year: “Will Zeke Die?”, Parenthood. My goodness, have we gone through the ringer on this one. Previews have hinted at it. We’ve had close calls. And now we’re waiting until January because another promo shows him having heart issues. It’s the final season, so we kind-of expect it. But then again, wouldn’t it be nice to have him holding Amber’s baby as a final scene of the series? And speaking of finales…

Biggest No-Win Situation: How I Met Your Mother. Yes, I was one of those frustrated and outraged by the end of HIMYM. And I still contend that the final episode was unfunny and could use some work. But in the time sense, I’ve given it some thought. The writers of HIMYM couldn’t win. If they did the predictable episode where it ended with Ted meeting the mother and that was it, viewers would complain that it was boring and ask why we spent all this time looking at Robin if it was all moot. But at the same time, the current ending had people complaining the opposite? Why say it was about the mother when it wasn’t? Really, artistic vision, viewer expectations, whatever — they were in a tight spot. It really was a no-win situation.

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Worst Forced Christmas Special: Chasing Life. Chasing Life had a lot going for it — but it’s “Christmas episode” was not one of them. Not only did it kill the cliffhanger we were left with, but they forced Christmas in May. The dialog was stilted. The decorations were sparse. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Or better yet, don’t do it at all.

Worst Christmas TV Movie: Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever. I can’t even describe how bad this was. Oh wait. I did here. If you don’t want to read it, just imagine Aubrey Plaza’s voice saying, it was bad! Stop asking me!

TV Movie I’d Like to Forget: The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story. It was boring. Just boring. And poorly cast and acted. And I read Dustin Diamond’s book in advance of it. I want all that time back.

Well, those are my picks. But what do you think? What should be added to this list? What’s been the best and the worst for you? I know I’m missing some big series. Let me know in the comments.

And here’s to more good and bad in 2015!

*Photos by The CW, FOX, and CBS