Game of Thrones – “Breaker of Chains”

“Well, that was a baller move.”

Those are the eloquent word I uttered at the conclusion of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. But that’s what Daenerys is – a baller and a shot caller. I loved her final scene in this episode.

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Mad Men – And Don’t Call Her Shirley

I really, really enjoyed last night’s episode of Mad Men. The episode had two very strong storylines that frequently overlapped – one involving Don, and another involving the ins and outs of everyday life at SCDP.

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Dawn on ‘Mad Men’, played by Teyonah Parris.

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The Amazing Race – Italia!

This week’s episode of The Amazing Race took place in the area of Orvieto and Civita di Bagnoregio, Italy – a destination I’m now tempted to add to my itinerary for a trip I’m planning to Italy this October However, I don’t think I’ll be doing any donkey-riding or calligraphy-writing while I’m there.

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‘Orphan Black’ is Back!

First of all, if you are not yet watching the series Orphan Black, go fix that. Right now. I’ll wait. There’s plenty of methods of finding the show.

It’s a sci-fi show, and I’m not a big sci-fi fan. It’s a thriller, a cop drama, a mystery. It’s suspenseful and funny. It has many strong female characters, depicted by one freaking incredible actress. It’s a show everyone should watch.

Orphan Black is without a doubt, one of my favorite shows on TV right now. I’d forgotten how much I loved it, until yesterday – I caught the first and last episodes of season one before I sat down to watch the season two premiere.

Read on ONLY if you’ve watched that episode.

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Thoughts on the “Parenthood” Finale and Season Overall

This week, Parenthood ended its fifth season. It’s a show that I’ve always loved, even when some of the story lines are weaker than others. This season was a little topsy-turvy in that sense, but the show still remains one of my favorites. Why?

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Hank, Amber and Sarah on Parenthood

Even when I don’t like a major story arc on Parenthood, I still like the characters. I like the people, and the family enough that I can somewhat overlook the thing that’s bothering me.

This season, Adam and Kristina’s plot was the most clunky. The first part of the season had Kristina running for mayor of Berkeley, something that was just too far-fetched to really pull viewers in. I was happy to get back to stories about Kristina and Adam dealing with Max’s difficulties at school, because stories centered around Max’s Aspergers have always been that family’s best material. Even when I disagreed with the characters’  behavior – like when Max interrupted Sarah at work, but Kristina was the one who felt wronged – I liked the story.

But then Adam and Kristina responded to Max’s school’s lack of understanding by going “We’ll open up our own school!” and I had to sigh. It’s just so unrealistic. How many parents of a special needs kid have that option? I would have rather seen Adam and Kristina struggle with the harsh reality of uncooperative school administrators.

Kristina’s visit to her old friend/nemesis Bob Little bugged me. The building she wanted for the school already had an offer on it. Instead of moving on, she demanding Bob Little lease it to her. She wasn’t calling in a favor from an old colleague, she was just telling him to do the right thing. Because when is Kristina Braverman ever wrong? It’s exhausting.

The death of Kristina’s friend Gwen resulted in a couple of great performances for Monica Potter. It was really well done. I wish the show had just sat on those emotions for a while, rather than switching gears to “Gwen gave us a bunch of money, we’ll name the school after her, yay!”

One scene I really loved in the finale was Crosby and Joel, having a beer on the stoop after fixing Crosby’s floors, laughing over how insufferably perfect Adam and Kristina can be. That felt like a genuine sibling moment, and I loved how honest it was.

Speaking of Crosby, the poor guy and his family had very little to do this season. Mold in the home? We can do better. I hope he gets something juicier, maybe something career-focused, next season.

This season Joel and Julia had one of their biggest plots ever – a separation. The story had good and bad qualities. In some ways, I respect the pacing – seeing Joel and Julia reunite at the end of the season would have felt false. Seeing just a glimmer of warmth and effort coming from Joel was much better. However, at the beginning of the season Joel’s actions felt so hasty and unlike him, that the cold disconnected dude he’s been all season has felt a little off. I felt the writers wanted Julia to be in the wrong so Joel could leave, but not so in the wrong that we would hate her, or that we wouldn’t be rooting for them to get back together. The result was a little sloppy, and I spent much of the season wondering why Joel wouldn’t even try to work things out for the sake of the family he loves so much.

Joel’s anger of Julia quitting her job, over her inability to let him take a turn as the working parent, those were the valid emotions. I could have done without the question of infidelity – the kiss obviously meant so little, it just made Joel’s reaction seem overblown. I preferred when they focused on the bigger picture.

My concern with this storyline is that we’re heading for a reunion, which will be derailed when Julia has to tell Joel that she slept with someone while they were apart. I hope it doesn’t move in quite so predictable a direction.

In the season finale, Sarah ended up choosing to be with Hank – and overall, I was very happy with Sarah’s stories this season. I liked the doctor she was dating, but I also liked her new focus on a photography career. She wasn’t as flighty this season, you could see how the character had matured. I thought the questions over whether Hank has Aspergers, and how he can overcome whatever communication issues he does have, were really well done. His scenes in the last two episodes with Amber were just plain sweet.

Until one final scene, I had really liked the twist of Ryan returning back to California. He was a mess – had gotten into a drunk driving accident and was given a medicine discharge from the army. His gem of a mother came to get him, and Amber was questioning whether that was really what Ryan wanted. He told her the situation wasn’t for her to fix, and I thought it gave everything a nice sense of closure. Ryan finally realized that Amber couldn’t cure everything for him, and maybe him realizing that would help her move on from him.

And then she went and bought a pregnancy test.

I really, really hope Amber isn’t pregnant. It’s such a cliche – the troubled daughter of a single mother who just can’t escape that fate. Come on! Amber is whip smart, she’s ambitious. Yes, she’s been troubled. She has also gotten amazing SAT scores, worked as an assistant to Kristina, worked at the Luncheonette, and recording backing vocals for a band. I want to see her take night classes, or pursue music – not because I want a happy ending for the character, but because that’s what feels organic for her character. I don’t want Amber to have a baby and be tied to Ryan her entire life, the way her tragic mother was tied to her alcoholic father. Amber has always been too aware of where her own mother’s life went wrong to do that.

Oh, speaking of young female characters on this show, Haddie’s back. Now, I think the show could have used just a few more casual mentions of Haddie over the course of the season. A Skype session or two, the occasional mention of a phone call. Her glaring absence made her storyline in the season finale feel pretty rushed. Haddie returned home from college with a friend, played by the lovely Tavi Gevinson, who is actually her girlfriend. I liked how the show didn’t spell out exactly what Haddie wanted to tell her parents – she didn’t use the words bisexual or lesbian. She just wanted to tell them about this relationship, which was obviously very important to her. But she couldn’t figure out how to do it.

Max spotted something, which tipped Kristina off – and her conversation with Haddie was lovely. I’d forgotten what nice moments those two are capable of having on screen together. Adam figured it out on his own, and that was also handled nicely – silently, as Parenthood often does, and we didn’t need the words.

Victor’s essay at school about fixing the car was a great moment for his family, and Zeek giving the car to Drew was also a really sweet scene. Drew’s love-triangle plot with Amy and Natalie was hit and miss this year – I liked calling back to the abortion, and showing that Amy was now having a hard time with that and with being away from home. I didn’t love Drew sulking over his crush sleeping with his gross roommate.

The episode ended with a classic Braverman family outdoor dinner, now held at Adam and Kristina’s house. After a season of deliberations, Zeek and Camille sold their home and moved into a smaller place. At times that storyline felt like it was being stalled so that we could have this scene to close out the season – but it was a nice way to end things.

What did you guys think of the season finale? Also, if you haven’t read it yet, my sister wrote a great piece on Parenthood for my blog, which you can find here.

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On ‘Parenthood’

Guest Post written by Allison M.

In a post on Salon today, Neil Drumming argues that although Parenthood “is easily one of the most moving and enjoyable dramas on television today. . . . over the course of five seasons, the show has evinced a particularly staunch opinion about what exactly a strong family entails. That’s a little disappointing being that there are so many alternative permutations of family in this country.” Parenthood, the post’s subheading declares, “espouses some of television’s most conservative ideas.” HMMMMM. An interesting idea? Yes. Selectively argued? Yes. Correct? I’d like to take exception.

If this is a conversation that is really about class issues or the show’s representation of LGBTQ parents, then it’s one worth having, as the show often flounders on both these fronts. Having Sarah pay the advertising piper by supposedly impulse-purchasing several Cuisinart products during a bout of retail therapy in a recent episode, for example, was out of step for her working class character, and a throwaway mention of Jenson’s two mommies (episode 310) surely doesn’t do justice to Berkeley’s LGBTQ community. It’s also worth exploring whether the show leans too hard, sometimes, into a patriarchal framework. There are often wonderful moments in which this framework is recognized and dismissed, as when Zeek explains to Jasmine that he only takes the Braverman grandsons on a rite-of-passage camping trip and she responds by scoffing, “That is sexist and absurd.” On at least two occasions, Crosby and Adam have reprimanded Zeek for asking them who wears the pants in their respective families. Indeed, Zeek is often treated as a kind of crusty, if lovable, relic of the past: he can get away with going over to Joel’s depressingly beige single man apartment to discuss that time he “gave” Julia’s hand in marriage to his son-in-law because he is so clearly of another era. It’s the younger Adam whose ruminations on his role as provider and protector can veer too far into Leave It To Beaver territory.

But if the issue at hand is the representation of family on Parenthood, as I understand it to be, then I have to offer another perspective. More than perhaps any show other than the Gilmore Girls, Parenthood offers a multifaceted, nuanced look at what it means to be raised in a single parent home. It does a better job, in fact, because it gives us two examples: the Holts and the Trussells. On Gilmore Girls, Rory and her mother were best friends; Parenthood, on the other hand, shows us the particular dynamic that develops between siblings when they negotiate—together—the (sometimes tricky) landscape created by their divorced parents. There’s a great moment on Parenthood when Haddie stops by her father’s office to complain about the driving lessons Kristina is giving her. She attempts an imitation of her mother and is frustrated when Adam won’t acknowledge its truthfulness. Two-parent families do this: the kids can poke fun at one parent’s flaws in a harmless way, or even vent about him or her. One-parent families, on the other hand, typically don’t do this: one parent’s flaws may be a source of contention or sensitivity, and often aren’t so easily discussed. Although Amber and Drew fight, especially in earlier seasons, they also have a bond unlike that of other siblings on the show. In season two, after their father, Seth, fails to live up to a promise he made, Amber goes to Drew’s room: “We’ll always have Mom,” she jokes wryly. “But seriously. We’ll always have each other, ok?”

Similarly, Jasmine has a hard time explaining to Crosby exactly why she doesn’t like fighting with her mother, Renee, who raised Jasmine and her brother on her own, without help. Her sacrifices outweigh any criticisms Jasmine might have of her somewhat meddlesome or opinionated ways. Are Renee and Sarah vilified or pitied for their positions as single mothers? Does the show suggest that their children are lacking in moral fortitude because they come from single parent homes, as would some conservative worldviews? No. Sarah worries about not providing Drew with a male role model—a concern that led to a rewarding storyline about Adam stepping in to fill Seth’s absented shoes—or Amber with opportunities she might be able to if she were more financially comfortable. But merely exploring such concerns is surely not the same as privileging or glorifying a traditionalist worldview.

So, certainly: at the core of the show is a nuclear family (albeit one that has been fractured by infidelity, on the part of both Zeek and Camille, as well as Camille’s intense dissatisfaction with her decades-long role as an old-school homemaker). But it has also, as did Friday Night Lights before it, depicted an abortion—a rarity on network television. It has had a meaningful conversation about the n-word, and how to handle that conversation in a mixed race family. It has explored Julia’s guilt over being a working mother, then her lack of fulfillment in the role of stay-at-home mother, and her anxieties over being an adoptive parent. It has also flipped over the family tree and looked at the worms underneath: how do you have an honest conversation with your kids about the hereditary nature of alcoholism and drug addiction?

So while I agree that there are an awful lot of white people on the show, and that everyone’s house is just a liiiitle too nice, and that it wouldn’t have been too difficult to cast the Lessings, say, as a gay couple instead of a couple of wacky heteronormative speed-walkers, I will say that I appreciate the bond between siblings that Parenthood shows. I appreciate that not everyone in the family is a professional, in a televisual topography that generally portrays families as uniformly filled with either lawyers or Duck Dynasty cast members. And I respectfully disagree that marriage is presented as the ultimate initiation into Responsible Adult Life. If anything, the show seems to argue in favor of kindness: Show up. Do your part. Forgive the ones you love (within reason). Family is what you make it.

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Survivor – Deconstruction

tribeWow! Has this season been filled with questionable blindside votes, or what? This cast has featured a few strong players, but I think they’re getting bamboozled by silly decisions made by loose cannons. First Kass, and now Tony.

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