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Erin Watches (and likes!): Madame Secretary, Rizzoli & Isles, Angie Tribeca, Lucifer November 5, 2017

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Feels like it’s been a long time since I posted about some TV that was actually good, instead of so-bad-it’s-fun (looking at you, Scandal). Which is weird, since I’ve watched a bunch of it.

Have some recs.


Madame Secretary

Adventures in diplomacy with a Secretary of State and her artist/CIA husband.

If any current show is the spiritual successor to The West Wing, it’s this one. Elizabeth McCord is devastatingly smart and has vast depths of experience, all of which shines through in the writing. The political situations are complex and layered; it doesn’t get too fluffy about ethics and principles being easy, but it also doesn’t get too grimdark about good people being inevitably destroyed by Harsh Reality.

Her husband’s great too — also smart with a background in a lot of fields. My favorite parts are when his knowledge of art history is legitimately what saves the day.

And it’s a textbook example of how you don’t have to shoehorn dishonesty or unsupportiveness or bad communication into a relationship to make it interesting.  These characters’ lives are so full of international conflict, the choices they make every day at work so consequential, that they need a healthy and well-adjusted marriage to get through it all. They lean on each other in these complicated and substantive ways that are great to watch.

The show does pull the wishy-washy cheat of “the president is a Republican, but a ‘moderate’ Republican, which means we don’t actually see him take any positions in common with the current Republican party.” On the plus side, it uses real countries in its diplomatic intrigue plots, China and the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan (all with their own fictional diplomats and heads of state) instead of Qumar and San Lorenzo.

I’m in the middle of season 3 right now (so if anything terrible happens later on, don’t tell me).


Rizzoli and Isles

Cop drama, starring a detective and her BFF medical examiner. The one thing I knew going in was that they’re very shippable.

Good solid background TV, like Bones or Law & Order. The plots were fun to watch, if forgettable in the aftermath. It takes place in Boston, so I got a lot of “hey, I know that place/route/reference!” moments.

There’s a bit of ship-teasing in early seasons — contrived “we must pretend to be lesbians” moments, that sort of thing. It mostly fades away later. The canon romantic tension is all focused on unconvincing m/f — I don’t even remember any background same-sex couples — although I’m sure there were one or two involved in the case-of-the-week. At least it doesn’t eat the show.

And the series finale does end with our heroines going to Paris together for a month. As fanservice goes, they could’ve done a lot worse.


Angie Tribeca

Parody cop show. Created by Steve and Nancy Carell, and the series is saturated with their kind of humor. New joke every other line. It’s great.

The directing and staging and camera work and everything, parody-wise, is spot-on. I was alternating episodes of this with Rizzoli and Isles for a while, and sometimes I would be in the middle of a scene waiting for the next joke and realize, oh wait, this is the serious one.

I think most of the humor would still translate even if you’d never watched a police procedural. But if you do watch them, it’s a total must-see.


Lucifer

Also technically a cop show. The Devil got sick of working in Hell, so he did the logical thing and moved to LA, where he ends up using his evil-punishing skills to solve crimes. As you do.

Okay, you know the character type of the guy who’s really self-centered and socially clueless, often to the point of being mean or careless? And you’re supposed to think it’s forgivable — justified, even — because of how brilliant and talented he is, but mostly it’s annoying?

Lucifer takes that archetype and exaggerates it so far over-the-top that now it’s just funny. “It makes perfect sense now! This was all about me! Thank you, detective!” “Lucifer, wait, that’s not what I–” There are scenes where he gets run emotional circles around by eight-year-olds. It’s lovely.

He has a therapist, which is an inherently entertaining idea just to start with. For a while she was going along with the “metaphor” of his family drama being about angels and demons…then she complained she couldn’t keep track of it anymore, so Lucifer busted out some demonic proof, and she had this extremely understandable BSOD. (She got better.)

There’s romantic tension between him and his detective partner, which is not the unconvincing type of m/f, although Lucifer still hasn’t shown her the literal-Devil-proof, and at this point the reasons why are starting to get strained and contrived. As a character in her own right, she’s great. She has a daughter who’s also great, a perfect kid mix of oblivious and savvy. One of Lucifer’s friends is a demon who makes a delightfully weird bond with the kid — they go trick-or-treating together!

And all the mythology is very cool. Obviously the foundation is pop-culture Christianity with a touch of Paradise Lost, and it adds other layers, like the season-long arc with Lucifer’s mom: a creation-goddess and God’s ex-wife.

I’m mostly caught-up with currently-aired episodes, and looking forward to seeing where it goes next. (I haven’t read any of the comics it was based on. So, again — no spoilers.)

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Erin Listens: The World in Words, Magic Tavern, Chronicles of Oz October 30, 2017

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I’ve been well caught up with the brief archives of the Lingthusiasm podcast for a while, so when one episode mentioned The World In Words, I went to check out the archive.

It’s ridiculous. There are hundreds of episodes. This podcast has been running since the Bush administration.

Basically they just culled all the language-related material from their overall supply of public-radio stories. Great international perspective — they’ll go to France to talk to the translator of a novel, China to interview people from regions whose dialects are being subsumed by Mandarin, Mexico to report on the state of bilingual education for kids deported from the US, anywhere and everywhere.

Early episodes are 30-minute compilations of segments; later they start releasing individual segments, so you’ll get a “podcast” that is 6 minutes, 5 minutes, even 3 minutes long. So it’s not quite as intimidating a backlog as it appears.

Still, it’s filling a lot of time. I haven’t gotten past 2013.

Hello From The Magic Tavern is getting good, y’all.

A recent live episode included an improv guy who hadn’t actually listened to any episodes, so he was going on a 5-minute summary of the premise. “Don’t worry, it’s not that serious,” they said. “You won’t break the show,” they said.

Two minutes in, he almost breaks the show. The scramble to fix it is adorable.

A while earlier, don’t remember which specific episode it was, but they get into a recurring gag of soda-based puns, expanded to general drink-based puns. One poor guest gets totally stuck until the end. (I spent a bunch of it figuring out how to work in a reference to “high seas.”)

The Chronicles of Oz is a dramatized rewrite of the book series — so far they’ve only gotten The Wonderful Wizard — but the authors are gleefully throwing in references to Baum’s entire oeuvre. Along with foreshadowing about Ozma, they’ve namechecked the political situations in Ev, Oogaboo, and Jinxland.

It takes things more seriously than the books. The death of the Wicked Witch of the East leads to riots, as the underground revolutionaries abruptly stop being underground, and clash with the established loyalists. Glinda reveals early on that she has a long-term plan to depose the Wizard. Continuity!

But it doesn’t throw out the spirit of the books for the sake of joyless grimdark. It’s fun. There are cute nods to the movies, too. (When Oz asks why Dorothy expects help from him, she stammers, “Because…of the wonderful things you…?”)

Dorothy here is a snarky, sarcastic teenager, who has very little in common with book!Dorothy, but she’s fun in her own right. I’m really loving their take on the Scarecrow — he sounds like Arthur Shappey from Cabin Pressure.

Halfway through the posted episodes, I’m already looking forward to Book 2.

Review – Every Heart A Doorway September 6, 2017

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There was a ton of buzz going around about this book not long ago, and understandably, given the amazing premise. A boarding school to accommodate all those kids who have wandered off into magical fairylands for a while, and help re-acclimatize them to reality? So much possibility.

Guys, it…it really squandered the premise.

After a promising setup, Every Heart A Doorway turns into “a fairly gruesome murder mystery at a school for kids with weird/magic abilities.”

They don’t actually have any scenes of the kids in classes, much less any “here’s how to deal with reality” sequences. It’s insular, almost claustrophobic — the characters never leave the school. There’s no mention of phones, Internet, pop culture, anything connected to the Real World they’re supposed to be reintegrating with. Early on one of the characters mentions looking something up on Google Images before she arrived, but if it wasn’t for that reference, this could’ve taken place any time in the past hundred years.

When the gruesome murders start, there’s no police investigation, no real-world forensics, no “here’s how crimes are solved in a world without magic.” Even the adult authorities at the school, who are In On The Secret, don’t manage the situation at all. It’s just…left to the teenagers to solve on their own, with the residual supernatural talents they have from their fantasylands.

(How great would it have been to have the cops show up with all their mundane nonmagical expectations, and the teachers run interference, and it takes their combined efforts to make progress? Better yet, what if the investigative team included a former student, who could handle both aspects of the case at once?)

Without spoiling any specifics, by the end of the book, it doesn’t support the idea that “learning to be part of the world you’re in” is a worthwhile goal in the first place.

This in spite of the fact that some of the kids’ fairyland-developed coping mechanisms…do not seem healthy. I don’t mean “sensible by fairyland rules but maladapted to our-world rules,” I mean generally unhealthy.

You know what series handles this really well? Star Versus The Forces Of Evil. The heroine in this case is native to magicland, studying abroad on Earth, and the show does a lovely job of exploring the nuances from “Star learns that this behavior isn’t culturally appropriate for Earth” to “Star learns that this behavior is uncool anywhere.”

And I’ve loved fanfic that explores post-magic-journey culture shock. The Pevensies struggling to balance “solving problems by breaking out our mad skills as former-adult Kings and Queens of Narnia” with “not freaking out everyone around us.” Lyra and Pan having to remember to stay close together. Dorothy getting so much cross-cultural experience so young that, after a certain point, she can drop into pretty much any world and have no trouble going with the flow.

The students in Every Heart A Doorway don’t get any “here’s how to codeswitch to Earth-appropriate behaviors” or “wow, you’re interacting with regular Earth culture really well already” or “this isn’t good at all, let’s learn and grow and develop as characters.” They stay in their insulated setting with all the patterns they learned in other worlds going pretty much unexamined.

So much potential material here! So painfully unexplored!

~*~

People were also talking a lot, when the initial buzz was going around, about book’s the asexual protagonist.

Again: cool in theory! In practice, all it seems to mean is that her narration keeps doing unnecessary and shoehorned-in detours about how totally uninterested in sex she is.

The first time it came up was fine. Awkward, but forgivable. The rest, not so much. There’s a scene where she’s having a friendly conversation, and suddenly goes into an internal monologue about how she’s flirting, and this is fun, but she’s totally uninterested in having sex with the people she flirts with. It’s like she’s jumping in to correct an assumption that the reader isn’t making — I hadn’t even realized she was supposed to be flirting in the first place.

The scene that struck me the most is: she’s admiring the beauty of a male classmate, and thinks all the other girls around her must feel the same, “although she was sure she was the only one whose attraction was aesthetic, not romantic.”

First point: the character is not aromantic. (She says so. In those words.) It’s possible to feel romantic attraction in general, and not specifically feel it toward this guy. For her. But…not for literally anyone else?

Second point: why does she think there are no lesbians at this school? Why doesn’t it occur to her that some people are aromantic? Why does she show zero awareness that even straight girls (and bi/pan girls, although I’m not sure she realizes those exist either) don’t have to feel attracted to every boy in existence?

Is she just supposed to be really blinkered and self-centered, as a character flaw? Maybe, but I never felt like the narrative saw her that way.

Is it a “the lady doth protest too much” situation, where she is falling in love with the guy, and is aggressively denying/projecting to avoid facing the idea? Also possible, but has Unfortunate Implications for the way her asexuality is established by repeating “and she totally wasn’t sexually attracted to people, nope, not at all.”

~*~

The book is really weird about gender. Most of the students are girls (a couple hundred of them, to a grand total of 5 boys), and this is explained as a result of socialization and sexism and boys not wandering off as easily without getting noticed.

Which…doesn’t track with the genre it’s supposed to be commenting on. At all.

For every Lucy and Susan, there’s a Peter and Edmund. For every Alice through the looking-glass, there’s a Milo in a phantom tollbooth. Wendy Darling disappeared with both of her brothers in tow, and that’s not even counting Peter and the Lost Boys. Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin, and Trot are balanced out by Button-Bright and Zeb. Lyra had her Will. I could go on.

On top of that, this main group of characters ends up including 2 of the boys (along with maybe 4 girls).

Why establish a mostly-female setting if you’re then going to overrepresent the male characters that dramatically? Why not just have a roughly-gender-balanced school in the first place?

And it manages to wring a heck of a lot of heterosexuality out of this casting. Every major female character mentions having a male love interest in whatever fantasy world she wandered into. One of the boys basically wandered into Halloweentown and had a romance with a skeleton…very specifically a girl skeleton. I already mentioned the ace girl’s weird obliviousness to the possibility of gay people. And the only flirting we see between students is m/f.

The aforementioned super-beautiful boy is trans. Which is nice! And the subject is handled more naturally than the asexuality. Doubly nice.

But in some ways that only makes the broader context weirder. If there’s a setting where nobody is explicitly LGBT, it’s easy to read that as “underneath the veneer of everyone politely ignoring the topic, people are still LGBT at the average rate.”

Here, the author wants to have explicit representation! But it’s like…she made one of her boys trans, and one of her girls ace, and then just…stopped. Without considering the idea of LGBT people existing generally. In background characters. In sidelong references. In the concept of female characters other than the heroine who aren’t into a hot guy.

~*~

At least it was short? I blew through the whole audiobook in a single work day, so the disappointing aspects weren’t dragged out for long.

But seriously, there were a lot of disappointments. And now I’m worried there are people writing better versions of the premise but getting shot down as ripoffs, or getting publishing deals but no hype because all the “what a cool, unusual premise!” posts have been done.

…Does anyone have recs? I’ll also take recs for your favorite culture-shock fics of existing portal-fantasy series. Anything that takes this books’ premise and actually, wholeheartedly, runs with it.

Erin Watches: the end of Scandal s6 July 9, 2017

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When last we left our heroes, democracy had been subverted on almost every level, including the level where the writers don’t understand how American democracy works. But a shockingly-decent human being was pulled out of left field and appointed Vice President. It sets up the prospect of a happier ending than I would have thought possible.

Will the new VPEOTUS turn out to have been an evil mastermind all along? Let’s find out!

Episode 13 opens with a fleet of mystery drones over the US. Our election-rigging not-Russian Someones have borrowed the tactic that the “good guys” used earlier. Awkward.

Villain uses the phrase “your loved ones…as you call them.” That’s how you know he’s a villain, he doesn’t believe in foolish things like ‘love’.

They have his co-villain in custody in a bunker under the White House, and obviously the prospect of torture comes up, because these people still haven’t figured out that it doesn’t get accurate intel. Still President Fitz says that if they torture her, “we spit on the Constitution,” and they’ll be no better than the villains…if they do it on WH grounds. In foreign secret prisons? That, he would’ve been totally fine with.

Anyway, they decide to bluff her instead, and she cracks in like a minute. Which should’ve been a hint that she was counter-bluffing, but nope, they go along with it. Even agree to send David Rosen — the guy she was dating, the guy who found out who she was but had to keep sleeping with her so she wouldn’t catch on, the easiest possible person for her to psych out — to deliver the immunity agreement.

Villain: “Can we start over? You know my real name now….”

Rosen, disbelievingly: “You murdered Elizabeth North!”

Villain, wheedling: “I know…!”

(He ends up punching her in the face. I’m okay with that.)

They get her with a more complicated bluff in the end. Olivia’s dad pretends to talk his way into the bunker and bust her out — with a gun, which, you know, maybe was supposed to be a clue that this was a scheme. But given how terrible these people have been about security before, I was totally willing to believe that nobody frisked him.

(He gets her back to the museum, then stabs her with a dinosaur tooth. I, uh, would’ve liked her alive to testify, but if you ignore that bit it’s a cool scene.)

The bad guys were sending Olivia’s dad random packages, which turned out to be full of bricks, but calculated to make up the approximate weight of a human head. Which is apparently terrifying and intimidating, that they can afford to waste that much on postage.

So this episode opens with David Rosen bringing Abby an actual head. (The woman Dad Pope just killed. Abby calls her “ponytail bitch,” which is as good a name as any.)

Third-to-last episode and we kinda have a case-of-the-week! Olivia Pope and Associates are trying to convince Fitz to do a last-minute pardon (for a black guy convicted of killing a white guy acquitted of killing a black guy). Huck and Quinn face down a bar full of heavily-armed racists and walk out untouched (and carrying a few extra guns), which is the kind of content I like to see.

David and Abby bond over their mutual angst about being manipulated. It’s kinda cute. I would like them to have a happy ending, if only because they were broken up in such an awful way.

I was reeeeally worried the Shocking Twist would be that our victim-of-the-week is guilty after all, but never fear! We’re 26 minutes into the episode and Olivia hates the idea: “You want me to take your racially-sensitive tinderbox of a closed case to an outgoing President with a legacy to protect because you have a feeling?”

Five minutes from the end, and some of our heroes have a shocking revelation that the Mystery Villains were working for someone! This is a twist? Y’all thought you were chatting directly with the top brass of the superconspiracy this whole time?

On the plus side, it turns out Olivia was testing Quinn — “Running this firm will mean going up against the White House sometimes, I needed to know that you could handle it.” Would’ve had more impact if the viewers didn’t know from experience she would be wrong, but you take what you can get.

The evil mastermind is Olivia’s mom! On Luna Vargas’ behalf, I am delighted.

Mellie: “It’s official, everyone in your family has wanted me dead at some point or another.” She’s not wrong.

Mom Pope gets a long monologue about how she’s been secretly working in the name of good all along, and this just one more example of black women’s work not being appreciated. On Luna Vargas’ behalf, I’m worried again.

Olivia tries to bluff out her mom (“I’m totally on your side, but you need to give them something”), and overplays it horribly. So it doesn’t work, and she tries strangling instead. Who on this writing team has a thing for choking?

Oh, and Quinn’s pregnant. I guess at this point someone had to be.

IT WAS LUNA.

Dammit, show. I didn’t want to be right about this. For this narrative, the really shocking twist would be someone turning out to be a genuinely decent human being.

…or at least, it was sort-of Luna. She “paid someone”, presumably Mom Pope, to kill Frankie. Mom Pope passed the orders to Team Rocket, who passed them on via blackmail to half the main cast.

That still doesn’t answer the question of where Team Rocket came from in the first place. Luna didn’t create them, and I don’t think Mom Pope did either. Their identities were almost perfectly scrubbed, they had millions to throw around and the financial infrastructure to cover their tracks, they were playing next-level blackmail chess. They had tracking chips in their necks, and were able to pull out a dozen covert drones at a moment’s notice.

This only makes sense if they’re agents of a serious organization — and if they have motives other than money. I’m not even sure where Luna was supposed to have whipped up secret presidential-assassination levels of payment in the first place, but the effort these people went to, they would’ve needed power or ideology or both. Russian agents: makes sense! Random assassins: terrible narrative Plan B.

(It’s also implied Cyrus gave her the idea, which, again…nobody’s motives line up with the idea of killing Vargas before the EC vote.)

Abby to Quinn: “You wanted to have a baby? Let’s have a baby.” Uh…you two aren’t the canon ship here…are you?

After a successful inauguration where nobody got shot, Olivia and Jake talk Luna into killing herself. Because hey, let’s wrap up that loose end before any viewers start asking awkward questions. At least it got us this little gem:

Olivia: “Raise your hand if you’ve killed a Vice President before.” [raises hand, looks meaningfully at Jake]

Jake: “Mine was Argentine.”

Olivia: “That counts.”

After all that, it’s looking like the next season is going to have all the same people in power in Washington, just shuffled around a bit. Like, we might even have Cyrus installed as Mellie’s VP after all.

I was going to say “still better than Trump,” but, you know what? The last scene we get of President Mellie is her signing an executive order that Olivia puts in front of her, without reading it. (She accepts Olivia’s summary, that it’s setting aside a bit of cash for the military. It is, in fact, setting aside a bit of cash for Olivia.)

Sorry, America. The votes from the state of Shondaland are in, and it turns out you lost.

Erin Watches: The Doctor Falls July 3, 2017

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Watched the last episode of this season live when it aired, had so many thoughts that I had to go back and rewatch/liveblog, just to make sure I got them all in order.

Spoilers ahoy!

(more…)

Erin Watches: Scandal s6, liveblogging episodes 10-12 June 30, 2017

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Welcome back to Scandal, where the morals aren’t real and the votes don’t matter.

Our story so far: Two mysterious Someones, who were reportedly supposed to be Russian agents until the reality of 2016 forced the writers to think of something more original, arranged a murder-and-framing-spree around the President-elect. Mostly through surrogates that they’ve threatened and/or slept with, including about half of our main cast.

The heroes are dealing with this through a strategy of random guessing, dramatic confrontations, torturing people for inaccurate intel, forgetting to frisk people at key moments, and angsty self-reflection about that time when they rigged a presidential election.

Seven episodes left. Who will win? Not America, that’s for sure.

Episode 10 (of the season, episode 100 of the show) is a whole Imagine Spot about what if Olivia hadn’t voted to rig Fitz’s election way back when.

For some reason AU Pope and Associates can’t afford the swanky office. I thought she got there on her own amazing skills and reputation — is this implying that her business was somehow propped up by Fitz’s presidency? Or is it that she turned a moral corner with the election-rigging? Maybe the show wants us to see this as “she got more ruthless in doing whatever it takes to support wonderful deserving people,” so down this fork-in-the-road she’s not as good because she’s held back by silly things like ethics.

Also, she’s wearing her hair natural. Found a post that unpacks that a bit.

Fitz gets divorced, marries Olivia. Cyrus won’t sit with his not-yet-husband at the ceremony, and, uh, ends up making out with Mellie for some reason? (No word, not even a mention, of who gets custody of their kids.)

We do get a couple of sweet details. Huck walks Olivia down the aisle, looking super awkward in a nice suit, while Abby is the maid of honor. Shots of various smiling friends and allies in the refreshingly multiracial audience.

Fitz gets a cheesy TV pundit spot. Also, for some reason it’s a year post-wedding and they’re not living together. Abby and David are namechecked as happily married.  Cyrus and Mellie…are…married and pregnant? Quinn didn’t even get roped into the firm, so she’s being cute and giggly on a Bachelor-type reality show.

…oh my god, the Bachelor says to not-Quinn “You really love torturing me, don’t you? Is that your thing?”  (And Huck is clapping! He’s rooting for her!) This is beautiful and they’re so innocent and it hurts that they don’t live in this universe.

Final score: Cyrus stays closeted and career-driven and miserable. Mellie is also pretty glum, but she’s a better human being who cares about others. Fitz and Olivia have a lot of stress and fighting, including the revelation that she could’ve stolen the White House for him…but they pleasantly surprise me by both ultimately realizing that politics is soul-sucking and they’re better off without it.

Totally should’ve gone with this reality.

Aaaand we’re back to the merry-go-round of people yelling about who the Electoral College should vote for, based on whose kink for power they’re most interested in indulging.

Mellie yelling at Olivia: “Get off your high horse! Like you never killed anybody? Like you never stole an Oval or two?” Look at all that sense and logic.

Olivia’s response: “I know you. You are better than most. You are inherently good.” Have you never seen your own show.

…She switches to Team Cyrus later in the episode, for reasons, and there’s a lot of back-and-forth between Team Cyrus (he knows he’s not worthy, but he wants to do it for Frankie!) to Team Mellie (Cyrus was a terrible husband and also she deserves it!). Until the point where Mellie meets the Someones…and one of them murders not!Veronica in front of her. Dammit, I liked Veronica!

Also, remember how the FBI director and the President are doing it? Yeah, that comes up again.

Fitz accuses her of being jealous of Olivia. She responds: “Boy, I am the director of the FBI, not some chick who got dissed at prom.” Federal Director of Sass. And currently holding the mantle of Only Likeable Character Left Alive.

The EC votes! Mellie is in! Possibly in a landslide! Wonder how many of the electors were flipped via murder.

Episode 12 finds Dad Pope in protective presidential custody, although he’s cranky because he sees more murder on the horizon.

…and we finally get one of the Someones confronting Olivia in person. Threatens her to replace Mellie’s VP candidate. She goes to him and says “you should try being head of the NSA instead,” as if our mysterious enemies would be totally chill with that.

FINALLY, a ploy with some strategy! Our heroes send one of their own drones into WH airspace, giving security an excuse to drag all attendant Someones into a secure bunker with phone signals blocked. Time for a secure war council.

(Or at least, I hope it’s secure. Mellie’s office was bugged for months and they never noticed. Have they learned a lesson from that? Time will tell! And there’s a mention of Mellie’s kids being in Secret Service custody — are we taking it for granted that the Service hasn’t been compromised?)

…so, okay, there was not a lot of actual council-ing in the secure council. Lots of angry yelling about various bombshell secrets that Subset X was hiding from Subset Y. (I remembered Dad Pope killing one of Fitz and Mellie’s kids, but I forgot that Fitz knew. Mellie…finds out here.)

Then they split off into subgroups for a bunch of one-on-one conversations. Pairs up people who haven’t interacted much all season, and I appreciate the character moments that come from exploring underused dynamics…but is this really the time?

By the end it seems like the only decision they’ve made is picking Mellie’s replacement VP. No progress in figuring out who, exactly, is blackmailmurdering their way into the US government? Do we have a long-term safety strategy? Because that was not mentioned.

True fact: I am genuinely impressed by the VP reveal. I didn’t see it coming at all, and yet in retrospect it’s perfectly suited to the themes this season has brought up over and over — how decent people usually aren’t the ones who run for office, how they can honor the voters who chose Vargas by giving his position to someone he trusted, how political wives (and husbands in Cyrus’ case) deserve more credit for all the sacrifices and compromises they’ve made to support their husbands.

It’s Frankie Vargas’ widow. She’s consistently been a Good Person in all her appearances, and yet I haven’t even been mentioning her in my tally of likeable characters because she’s so mild and unassuming and respectable. Which I suppose was probably the point.

Scandal being Scandal, I give it 50-50 odds that it’ll turn out she was the evil mastermind behind the Someones this whole time.

But if she isn’t…possibly the American people will end up kinda-sorta winning? Or at least not totally losing?

Nicely done, show.

Erin Watches: Scandal s6 continued (episodes 6-9) June 25, 2017

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Our story so far:

PEOTUS was shot and assassinated on election night. Olivia Pope is on the case! So far she has accused three (3) people of ordering the killing, and been explicitly proved wrong about two (2). Meanwhile, the Electoral College is left to decide between the horrible, self-serving, politically-soulless VPEOTUS or the horrible, self-serving, politically-soulless runner-up ticket.

Onward!

Episode 6 gives us campaign-era flashbacks of Olivia’s dad reconnecting with an old girlfriend, who turns out to be a lure under the control of…someone.

Different flashback: Olivia asking her dad for advice on how to handle Mellie. Hey, remember when Olivia’s dad orchestrated the murder of Mellie’s son? (The grief put her for months into a near-suicidal depression.) I’m sure his advice will be great.

Olivia: “She’s from California. Why don’t they like her?” Dad: “I can’t answer that.” Ooh, ooh, pick me! Because Californians hate Republican policies, and she’s a Republican!

They keep talking about “calling San Benito County” as if the voting within states is calculated the same as national voting, as if you’re guaranteed a certain number of points (and no more) once you win a county. Even if Mellie got every vote in San Benito (pop. 58,000), that doesn’t mean she couldn’t fall behind once all the ballots are counted in San Mateo (765,000), or Contra Costa (11.13 million), or, I don’t know, Los Angeles (10.2 million).

Dad Pope was behind the Vargas shooting! Although not on his own initiative, it was pushed by the Someones, who had the girlfriend hostage. And then they went to far in taunting Dad Pope about his compromising attachment to her, so he shot her in front of them. Good grief.

Episode 7 finds Olivia telling Huck to kill her father. For the second time. He helpfully reminds her that the first time didn’t end well.

Huck confronts Dad on a subway platform, openly aiming a gun at him, and there’s a lot of yelling, which echoes beautifully. For some reason there are zero other people on the platform, and nobody is concerned about metro security cameras capturing this shouted confession of killing Vargas.

Accusations of a mole in Olivia’s company lead to Huck and Quinn aiming guns at each other’s faces. What a team.

Investigation by Huck leads to him threatening his current girlfriend with a syringe of something nasty, all while going “this is hard for me, but you’re making me do this!” Just in case you were starting to feel sympathetic toward him.

Olivia is back for the third time to accusing her dad of Vargas’ murder, but she’s passionately insisting that it was all his idea, based on the admittedly reasonable evidence that he murdered the girlfriend who was being used to manipulate him. Huck counters by passionately insisting that Dad Pope has changed because he was in love and now he’s in pain and…listen, buddy, both him and you are still 100% willing to be violent-to-murderous the minute you feel threatened. You haven’t changed, and people, especially women, should stay away from you.

(I would say “random civilian women,” but this girlfriend turns out to have been planted to shoot a witness, which she gets away with because none of these geniuses thought to frisk her, and, wow, we are never going to get any case-of-the-week episodes this season, are we.)

The Someones got to Abby. That explains why she was pushing for Cyrus to get the death penalty ASAP, huh.

In flashback she asks Cyrus “how did you know Frankie was the one, how did you know he could go all the way?” We’ve seen this in The West Wing — Josh asking Leo how he knew Bartlett was his guy, because Josh had found Santos and was starting to think Santos could be his guy. But Abby isn’t thinking she’s found a candidate — she’s thinking she could be the candidate.

Anyway, the Someones offered her $3 million with no paper trail and no explanation beyond “we like you and want to support your eventual candidacy.” And she took it! What’s next, Abby, sending the money to a the next Nigerian prince in your email?

So Huck’s evil girlfriend shot the witness, and then shot him, but in a weird way that seemed designed to miss all vital organs. I figured she was deliberately not-killing him for some reason. (He was flat on the floor, she had lots of spare bullets, it’s not like she could miss the heart and lungs.)

Then she sticks him in the trunk of a car and pushes it into a lake. Apparently she’s just incompetent.

We get a nice hallucination-sequence where Huck is back in Pope HQ, with the mental images of his team members talking him through how to escape. And he does it! Not only did she not kill him, she didn’t even shoot him hard enough for the blood loss to slow him down!

…setting aside that part of my disbelief, I do actually like the bit.

Hey, was anyone worried that there hadn’t been enough graphic on-screen torture this season? Well, don’t sweat it. Quinn’s got you covered.

Olivia gets a pep-up talk about how she’s a “miracle worker,” from another of these people who hasn’t seen the show. And sure enough, they find Huck — by tracking the phone of the dead witness, which murder-girlfriend wasn’t smart enough to chuck in a dumpster on her way to the body disposal! That’s not you working a miracle, that’s your opponent being a complete moron.

Gonna wrap up this post here, purely because my head hurts from hitting this desk so hard.

Erin Watches: Scandal s6 continued, e02-05 June 24, 2017

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Just gonna jump right into the liveblogging on this one.

Season 2 episode 2 starts with a flashback to when Mellie accepted the Republican nomination, making it even harder to ignore how unrealistic it is that the Republican party would vote for a woman to get their nomination.

Olivia yells at Fitz for sending “scrubs” to investigate a crime scene. The actual FBI Director steps out and informs her that, no, he sent her to investigate the crime scene. (This director is a black woman with giant hair. I want to like her.)

Cyrus invites Mellie to join him as VP-elect. This is all so terribly incestuous. There’s no discussion of what policy would be, because of course there isn’t — I’m not sure if Scandal buys into the fallacy that the two parties are Basically The Same, or if this is just a symptom of it not caring about government except as a dramatic backdrop for sexy power struggles.

Olivia has dinner with the FBI director with the hair. It starts as piercing commentary on the way they get treated, as competent black women in positions of power…and turns into Olivia asking if the director has a thing with Fitz. Turns out no, but not because it’s a terrible idea for the head of the FBI to bang the President, it’s just because she was worried about disrespecting Olivia.

At the same time as this is happening, Olivia’s people are stealing evidence from the FBI, and the White House is having a “confession” tortured out of a suspect who’s supposed to be under the FBI’s purview.

(The evidence is a hard drive, which, when recovered, has “over 5,000 hours” on it. By my back-of-the-napkin calculations, that would fill 17.6 terabytes. On a laptop drive. As of 2017, if you’re willing to shell out several thousand dollars, the most Amazon can get you is 4.)

…I got real worried because Olivia’s next thing is to snap at the WH that forced confessions are worthless as intelligence. Which is absolutely true — but the show has never seemed to realize that before, and also, it’s 23 minutes into the episode. (Thankfully, the next one seems to be backing her up.)

Flashback to Mellie’s romance with a campaign staffer, and, oh hey, it turns out Abby knows Olivia broke up her and David! (I don’t remember if we knew this already, or if this is the dramatic reveal.) Flash-forward to Mellie confronting Olivia over orchestrating her breakup with the staffer. “Why are you doing this? What is wrong with you?!” Good question!

Episode 3 retcons the video data to “300 hours of [tip-giving videographer]’s footage, 2200 hours of the security feed.” That would need less than 2 TB on the hard drive, which is more believable.

Portia di Rossi’s character is back! And she’s amazing. Partly because I can’t help seeing her as Veronica, all charmingly ridiculous, meant to be judged by comedy standards rather than real-world ones.

This episode uses flashbacks to unveil that, yep, Cyrus isn’t the murderer. I was definitely expecting that to be dragged out for longer. (There’s a secret video of Frankie yelling at him for being a terrible person who should be in jail, and, look, he’s not wrong, but for other reasons.)

Most obvious suspect is the hitman Cyrus was secretly having an affair with, because that’s the kind of show this is. Flash-forward to the present, Cyrus secretly meets with the (armed!) ex-boyfriend at night in a park, because that’s totally the kind of thing PEOTUS can do. Secret Service, what Secret Service?

Vengeful hitman ex throws a wrench in the works by “admitting” to killing Frankie on Cyrus’s orders. This’ll be fun.

Olivia: “With Cyrus in jail, the Electoral College will have no choice but to vote for you.” Orrr they could vote for the runner-up in the Democratic primary. Without knowing anything specific about these people’s policies, that seems like the most moral and honest choice re: the will of the voters.

Wow, almost nothing to say about episode 4. It’s all Cyrus’s Adventures in Jail. The narrative woobifies him hard, to the point where in spite of everything I actually feel bad for him by the third act. (Fourth act, he gets a guard murdered. So much for that.)

And episode 5 focuses on the drama around Jake Ballard — Olivia’s ex, former agent of Olivia’s dad, now Mellie’s VP candidate, in a politically-orchestrated marriage with a not!Kennedy who’s now going into an alcohol-fueled emotional tailspin as she slowly realizes (a) Jake doesn’t like her very much and (b) he’s a terrible person.

(To illustrate: he seriously considers strangling her in order to keep the angsty tailspin from damaging his career.)

Newly revealed in flashback: Jake blew up the cabin that held the laptop that held the video that came from the photographer that called in the tip that swallowed the spider to catch the fly. Don’t ask me why.

Olivia wrangles Mellie to have a heart-to-heart with the not!Kennedy wife, as part of the Women Whose Husbands Like Olivia Pope Better Club. This wrangles the wife back into urging Democrats to fall in line behind Jake’s ticket, based on him being a Good and Honorable Person who married someone from Massachusetts. What policies does he support that they should appreciate? Ha. Aha. Ahaha.

Then she spends the rest of the episode trying to get proof that Jake did the murdering, which of course means he didn’t do that, although she lets him drive her alone without her phone to an isolated location before she figures it out.

And, whoof, that’s about all the Olivia Pope always-rightness I can take in one sitting. (Still working on commissions, but I’ll have to switch to some other background TV for the rest.)

Erin Watches: Scandal, season 6: episode 1 June 23, 2017

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The latest season is on Netflix now, so it’s time for me to work through more of this incredibly watchable show about terrible people.

For those who need a brief refresher:

Do you like The West Wing? Do you like Leverage? Would you like a series that’s cross between those two shows? How about a series that thinks it’s a cross between those two shows, but missed the memo that a big part of the appeal was the main characters being likeable, competent, and out to do good things? Well, Scandal is that last one.

Our heroine is Olivia Pope, a freelance fixer of political problems with a reputation for being supercompetent, brilliant, and heroic. Before canon started, she had already helped rig the US Presidential election to put her (Republican) (also married) boyfriend into office. The first few episodes follow a mini-arc where she is asked to defend the reputation of a woman who also had an affair with said President. Olivia yells at this woman for being a lying liar. Olivia is proved wrong.

This sets the stage for a pattern where, halfway through any given case-of-the-week, whoever Olivia is defending will turn out to be evil, and whoever she just shot down will be revealed as the true victim. She is aided by a motley crew of employees and allies, some of whom are already terrible people when the show starts, others of whom compromise their morals over the course of the series. They’ve covered everything from war crimes to murder to perjury to torture.

An illuminating example: One of the employees (Abby) idolizes Olivia for rescuing her from an abusive husband — now if only it stopped there. Later, Abby and a much-nicer love interest (David, also a legal ally of Olivia’s) come perilously close to uncovering Olivia’s Presidential-election-rigging. To get them off the trail…Olivia plants information that triggers Abby’s abuse-trauma, manipulating her into a panicky and tearful breakup. Neither Abby nor David finds out Olivia orchestrated this! Both of them continue to idolize and adore her! The writers still seem to think we should too!

At the end of season 5, there were maybe 2 characters that were likeable human beings. Senator-turned-VP Susan Ross, who pleasantly surprised me by flat-out quitting her job rather than sell her soul, and governor-turned-Dem-candidate Francisco Vargas, whose soul is still up for grabs.

Liveblogged the first episode. Might end up doing the same for the whole season, depending on how commentable it is.

Onward!

 


 

Season 6 opens on the night of a presidential election, and it all comes down to…California. That’s right, folks, in the Scandal universe, California is a swing state.

Also, Olivia is chastising her staff to vote if they haven’t already. I mean, hey, just because they’re reporting totals on the west coast, that doesn’t mean the polls can’t still be open! Our competent political-genius heroine in action, folks.

Frankie won. So now Olivia is berating her candidate (Mellie, also her boyfriend’s ex) to call and concede, which seems like the smart and reasonable move. Knowing this show, that means we will eventually learn it totally the wrong move.

(I like Mellie and Olivia being friends. For all that they’re awful, their fighting with each other was pretty evenly matched — not one abusing the other, they both gave as good as they got. And it all stemmed from their rivalry over Fitz, who is painfully not worth it.)

Dammit, they shot Frankie. He might escape becoming awful by dying.

Obnoxious agent: “Ma’am, I’m sure you have some security clearance…” Abby: “No. I don’t have some security clearance. I have all of it.”

Hits all the beats and all the right emotions of a badass smackdown scene. Logically, undercut by the fact that Abby didn’t show any security clearance. If you’re going to waltz into a hyper-secure operation (the hospital) and start barking orders, have your badge in hand! (Also, her entire order was literally “don’t let anyone in here,” which I’m pretty sure they were already doing.)

…yep, they killed Frankie.

Olivia yells at her father (ex-leader of the government’s Evil Secret Black Ops Division): was he behind the killing? Well, we’re 22 minutes in and she’s yelling at him, so I bet not.

Mellie just wants to go on vacation and leave this all behind. Now that would be the smart and reasonable move. (She never really wanted the job in the first place. She wants power in the abstract, but has no interest in doing anything in particular with it. Five minutes later she’ll forget all her reasonable plans and decide she wants it again.)

Now Olivia’s convinced it was Cyrus (part of the Fitz conspiracy, now VP candidate for Vargas) who had the candidate murdered so he’d be promoted to the top of the winning ticket. But we’re only 27 minutes in, so she’s probably wrong. After all, the Electoral College hasn’t voted yet, so Cyrus would be taking a pretty steep gamble on them not abandoning the Vargas-Cyrus ticket even with half of it gone.

Olivia storms into the hospital. The same hyper-secure hospital that nobody was supposed to be let in. And finds Cyrus in mute, trembling shock. Who could’ve seen that coming?

Fitz: “I wanted you to be right. You’re always right.” Dude…have you never seen this show?

He ultimately supports the EC supporting Cyrus, which is the right choice as far as the will of the people is concerned, although both he and Mellie are impressively awful choices who should not be trusted with this country.

Vargas’ widow is still in the hospital after a sleepless night, still covered in blood from standing next to the shooting, but for some reason her hair and makeup is still flawless. D- for realism, makeup department.

…So the last five minutes unveil a tip from a mystery person that it was Cyrus (no details on how the tipper came to this conclusion). Well, now that this twist has been un-twisted and re-twisted again, I’m sure the issue is settled, and will be quite shocked if the rest of the season isn’t completely straightforward.

Burns & Allen Masterpost May 13, 2017

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A combination “as-complete-as-I-can-get-it link roundup” and “Gracie Allen appreciation post.”

The Burns and Allen Show (Radio)

Early on, the show is basically a recorded standup routine, with George and Gracie as generic comedians. Around late 1941 it turns into a more narrative audio sitcom, with George and Gracie as a married couple in the suburbs.

Gracie had an incredible work ethic. did shows with terrible migraines. She did shows when she had a broken nose and could barely talk. Here’s George, referencing the 3/24/29 show:

“In all the years we performed together she missed only one performance. That was a radio show, and her headache was so bad she couldn’t get out of bed. Our friend Janie Wyman, who’d just won the Academy Award as Best Actress, played Gracie’s part. That was about right.”

The Burns and Allen Show (TV)

Episodes for the first two seasons were often “remade” for the next six, which probably explains why a bunch of them aren’t uploaded.

“Screenwriters had an easy time writing for us. In our first few pictures they wrote the dialogue for all the other characters until we entered, then they instructed: Burns and Allen do four minutes here. That’s what they wrote for us: Burns and Allen do four minutes here. Then, later in the script they wrote: Burns and Allen do four minutes here. So writing parts for us was easy.

[…] The shooting schedule usually provided a full day for us to do a complete scene, but because we were used to doing shorts, we could film our whole bit in two hours. Then everybody would stand around wondering what to do to fill the remainder of the day before they could go home. Hollywood was so accustomed to dealing with temperamental stars who took much longer than scheduled that they just didn’t know how to deal with actors who finished too quickly.”

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“Let me tell you a little story about Aunt Clara. She wasn’t really rich, but Papa Burke left her a little money. When Gracie and I were starting out in vaudeville we weren’t doing very well, so every week Aunt Clara would send us a check for $25. Every week. Even after we’d become big stars, earning thousands of dollars a show, we still received that $25 check every week from Aunt Clara. Well, Aunt Clara never knew it, but she lost almost everything she had in the stock-market crash. But she never knew about it, because Gracie found out and arranged to have enough money deposited in Clara’s account each month to cover all her expenses. That went on for years. It’s a good thing Gracie did, too, otherwise we would have stopped getting those $25 checks.”