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Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Pride and Prejudice

It’s becoming my new Christmas tradition (I did it for the second time this year, that is) to watch BBC’s Pride and Prejudice over the Christmas break. And this time I even made my husband watch it with me (and he loved it, or so he said).

er-bbcprideandprejudicePride and Prejudice by BBC

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
The most classic adaptation of the novel made in 1995. It has Colin Firth, who plays Darcy, who, for some reason, jumps into the lake. It’s the one you probably heard of even if  you never watched it: even Veronica Mars watched this one.

How I found it:
It’s a part of common cultural knowledge. But I decided to watch it last year after listening to a podcast about the novel.

Summary judgment:
It’s close to perfect, definitely my favorite among the many Pride and Prejudice-adjacent works I saw.

Best things about it:
It takes its time to tell the whole story, rather than just butchering it like shorter adaptations have to do. Thus, it manages to retain the atmosphere and the tone of the novel. It looks charming and does justice to many of the classic characters: these are my definitive Darcy and Lizzie but e.g. the Bingleys work great, too.

Worst things about it:
Sometimes it doesn’t trust the viewer enough. The characters make theatrical asides and see other people’s faces when they look into mirrors or at the landscape, which becomes humorous rather than dramatic and is entirely unnecessary for understanding the story.

Other pluses:
✤ I like the pacing of the story: it neither rushes nor drags.
✤ The first failed proposal of Darcy shall remain one of my favorite dramatic moments on TV.
✤ I like how Lydia is not vilified in this version but you still get to see her as destructive.

Other minuses:
✤ I don’t get all those scenes with wet Darcy. Is it just a female gaze thing? ‘Cause he looks plenty fine with his clothes on, too.
✤ Mrs. Bennet is a caricature. In fact, when my husband heard me watching the show last year, he kept remarking that he thought these were Monty Python guys pretending to be women whenever the actress monologued and, you know, I see where he was coming from.
✤ And this is not the adaptation’s fault because the situation remains the same in the book but it always irritates me so much that I can hardly focus on anything else: Mr. Bennet! What a perfect villain of the story, with his indifference, laziness and withholding affection from everyone but one chosen daughter. Seriously, I can’t do justice to my disgust at Mr. Bennet (and at how the story tries to make him likeable).

How it enriched my life:
It brings the book to life and, I think, it actually made me like the book more. Believe it or not, I wasn’t actually such a huge fan of it to begin with.

Fun fact:
Not fun, just me going on and on about Mr. Bennet (I’m such fun at parties, guys). It struck me this time how he hurts all his daughters but none more than Mary. Just think about it: he keeps saying how his two eldest daughters are smart and the rest is silly. But Mary, the third daughter and so the first deemed silly by her father, tries so hard to be smart, with her reading and her quotes. It loses her Mrs. Bennet’s interest, which the other two silly daughters have, but Mr. Bennet, whom she’s trying to impress, still groups her with the uninteresting part of the family. Poor Mary, irritating as she is.

Follow-up:
I’m already planning to re-watch it next Christmas. I might also revisit Keira Knightley’s film some time in the future.

Recommended for:
Fans of Pride and Prejudice and of solid, British costume dramas. Fans of Colin Firth, too.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: To Say Nothing of the Dog

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Stranger Things (S2)

When we finished the first season of Stranger Things, with all the sleep it cost us we decided to take a break before starting the second one. But it just wouldn’t do. As soon as we could, we plunged right back in into Hawkins.

er-strangerthings2Stranger Things (season 2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Netflix

What it is:
The second part of the instant classic focuses more on the characters we got to know and loved in the first season. Mike is getting rebellious, Eleven is missing and new kids come to town, while pumpkins all over the town are rotting – and it’s almost Halloween.

How I found it:
You just couldn’t miss it with the whole internet waiting for the second season. And even though we watched it relatively soon after it was released, people still threatened to spoil it for us.

Summary judgment:
I liked it even more than the first season.

Best things about it:
People said it didn’t reach season one’s heights but I disagree with you, people. It focuses more on characters, capitalizing on the audience’s attachment to them. It gives them more sweet moments and space to change. It holds the action off till the last episodes, which I imagine might be a problem to some viewers but it only added to my enjoyment.

Worst things about it:
I appreciated that the fighty part was much limited but still the climax had too many ferocious monsters for my taste.

Other pluses:
✤ I loved Hopper and Eleven. You might’ve inferred that already but Hopper is my favorite character and I liked seeing him in this new role.
✤ The conspiracy journalist worked for me, particularly when lampshading Nancy and Jonathan’s relationship.
✤ I loved doctor Owens. I kept waiting for him to turn out evil but was glad when he didn’t.

Other minuses:
✤ I don’t feel that the new Californian characters, Max and the douche, add much to the story. Her, maybe, but so far he didn’t justify his appearance.
✤ The Chicago adventure didn’t feel exactly like the same show. But I would watch it as a spin-off.

How it enriched my life:
We spent another couple of evenings watching exciting adventures – but then we lost so much sleep again.

Follow-up:
I’m not losing sleep, waiting impatiently for the next season but I will watch it gladly.

Recommended for:
Everyone who fell in love with the characters and the setting during the first season.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Holiday break. I need to recharge. I might be back already after Christmas but the new year sounds good, too.

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Wildly Enthusiastic Review: True Blood (S1)

I told you once about my relationship to True Blood and how it bordered on dysfunctional. Well, once I pushed through all the seven seasons I almost forgot how much I loved season one and doubted if I could ever re-live the joy of watching it. Nevertheless, here I am, having just – gleefully! ecstatically! – re-watched the entire season in a few days.

er-trueblood-1True Blood (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Southern gothic as southern and as gothic as they come. Based on a series of Charlaine Harris novels, this drama produced by Alan Ball takes place in a small Louisiana town two years after vampires’ existence has become public knowledge. The resident psychic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, is dating a southern gentleman-type vampire Bill but someone has taken to murdering women who associate with vampires.

How I found it:
Originally I read in a paper about a new show with vampires. It shows you how long ago it was: True Blood was new and I read newspapers. I loved it at first sight. This re-watch, however, was prompted by a dream I recently had: I was running through tunnels under Paris with Bill (who wasn’t a vampire) and we were escaping a gang of bank robbers. I don’t control those things. Anyway, when I woke up I decided I really missed True Blood.

A special badge for marking the things that continue to delight me.Summary judgment:
It was and still is one of my favorite things ever produced for TV and apparently nothing can change that.

Best things about it:
From the first episode I was hooked like a V addict. I kept sitting up at night to watch an episode to the end (I did the same thing the first time I watched but this time I knew who the murderer was). This show knows exactly what it wants to say and how: it’s got such a precise tone and writing. Details matter. Everything looks just right: from the lush green outdoors to the peeling paint on doors. And don’t get me started on the accents: I think this is where my whole thing for southern accent started.

Worst things about it:
I guess towards the end some threads loosen up in the effort to introduce season two smoothly. I didn’t mind the first time but now I know how much of a problem this will become for the show and I didn’t love Sam’s backstory or the whole Mary Ann business.

Other pluses:
✤ I spent the seven years that True Blood first ran hating Bill. I would go on rants about how he didn’t work as a romantic interest. So fixated was I on my idea of what Bill should be that I didn’t pay attention to anything the show (and Stephen Moyer) was doing well with him: and he really is an interesting character. In fact, I spent the first few episodes crushing on him a bit, but that might’ve been the dream.
✤ I always liked Sookie, for her sass and inner sense of justice, and this has not faded. Anna Paquin was born to play her.
✤ Lizzie Kaplan is so pretty. I always wished she could stay on the show longer.
✤ Lafayette is perfection. Nelsan Ellis combines strength, vulnerability and independence so beautifully.
✤ The show will lose footing with Tara in later seasons but her introduction as an angry infatuated intellectual was such an interesting direction. I wish they hadn’t given up on it.
✤ When you know the solution to the mystery, it’s a different watching experience but I could appreciate how the show adds red herrings like it’s a Creole seafood stew.

er-trueblood-extra-dogOther minuses:
Sam doesn’t work for me: he never did throughout all the seven seasons but this time I realized I didn’t like him from the start. He’s just too whiny.

How it enriched my life:
It’s one of the things that makes me so happy and apparently will make me happy when I re-watch it again. Hereby, it receives an All-Time Favorite badge in recognition.

Fun fact:
Back when I first watched the show and was proselytizing it to everyone and their dog, I recommended it to a guy I was studying with and who was very much a movie buff and he came back complaining about camera angles and scripting and what not. I still hold it against him. (And it’s beautifully filmed, actually, especially the light – or its lack.)

Follow-up:
I will go as far as season two (three, if I’m feeling desperate) for this re-watch but I will surely get back to this one some time.

Recommended for:
Anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet (and is not a movie snob). Those who saw the show and its later seasons and forgot how good the first one was.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 

Next time: The other season of Stranger Things

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Stranger Things (S1)

I’m a bit late to the bandwagon but I’ve finally watched

er-strangerthings1Stranger Things (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Netflix

What it is:
An adventure story rife with monsters, conspiracies and friends for life. It takes place in 1983 in a small town called Hawkins where children bike and play DnD while the government runs illicit experiments. The first season lasts eight episodes and tells the story of a child who disappears and all those who will fight to get him back, facing both human and supernatural monsters.

How I found it:
I’ve been aware of everyone watching this show for a while and I promised myself to catch up some time but there was always something else to watch. But then my student wanted to do a project on the show and I felt obliged to watch it in the end.

Summary judgment:
Surprisingly, it’s not overhyped.

Best things about it:
It’s a charming, expertly done period piece, which adeptly juggles recognizable motifs and allusions. It uses my by-far favorite character archetype: the protective brute in the character of Hopper (it’s also the archetype of the best versions of Wolverine, so there). And it succeeds at the almost impossible: utilizing well child actors, who are neither obnoxious nor unrealistic. All the romances and friendships are drawn with delicate, sweet lines and to me matter more than the monsters and scares.

Worst things about it:
It’s not an objective fault, just a big one to me specifically: I hate horrors and so everything that recalls horror aesthetics, like a shaky camera and jump scares is a big turn-off for me. I could do without any of that but I see why these things were used on the show.

Other pluses:
✤ Winona Ryder’s character (I didn’t even recognize Winona until I read the cast list) marries vulnerability and strength.
✤ Have I mentioned that child actors are believable? That’s an achievement by itself.
✤ The interiors look great and so does everyone’s hair: it’s the picturesque kind of 1980s. But it’s the exteriors and the one-storey buildings that I find particularly memorable.

Other minuses:
Like everyone else on the internet I wish Barb had more scenes to shine in.

How it enriched my life:
We spent a few pleasant evenings and I got a few character ideas and some sleep deprivation.

Fun fact:
So the design project was for students to present a known story in four black and white icons and the student who wanted to do Stranger Things did a smart work dividing her design into black and white areas, with Will and Eleven placed on fields cut in halves, the boys on a white space and the demigorgon on a black square. But she was kind enough not to spoil the show for me so I only fully appreciated her design after I watched it.

Follow-up:
The next season.

Recommended for:
Everyone who grew up in the 1980s in small town America or wishes they did but with more adventures. Everyone who likes the movies about 1980s small town America with adventures.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: A sentimental journey to the world of True Blood

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Good Place

It took me a while to see the show despite the impressive people involved in its production but I’m now up to date and we can talk (with spoilers! if you don’t know the big twist and don’t want to, please don’t read on)

er-thegoodplace1The Good Place (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It’s like that Sartre play No Exit, except bubbly, funny and colorful. (And this was a spoiler, of course.) A bunch of people end up in the afterlife, which turns out to be very different from what they expected, but against all odds they manage to evolve and build relationships. It’s created by Michael Shur, of Parks and Recreation fame, and Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, a truly awful person who learns to be not necessarily good, more like human.

How I found it:
I saw a trailer before it started and I really didn’t like it. I thought the jokes simplistic and couldn’t imagine how they would keep up the premise in any interesting way at all.

Summary judgment:
It surprised me! While it’s not as funny as Parks and Rec, it’s funny enough but, most of all, the ongoing arc turns out really interesting.

Best things about it:
It’s a smart show, with little ongoing jokes and meaningful background details. It’s got a consistent visual style that is pleasant to watch with the bright colors and the theatrical artifice. The actors are great and make you slowly learn to like the characters. But most of all, while it has a lot of funny ideas, it also manages to get you invested in the long-term story.

Worst things about it:
You really need to wait through the first two episodes or so to become invested in the characters because Eleonor is truly awful at first and impossible to root for. Luckily, the episodes are short and the whole thing quite breezy so in no time you find yourself excited about the developments.

Other pluses:
✤ It doesn’t fall flat on its not-that-exciting premise and finds new things to do with it. In this it differs from most “Status Quo Is God” sitcoms.
✤ It has so many quotable lines though I will need to re-watch it to cite anything specific.
✤ I enjoyed Adam Scott’s appearance so much, especially because he was so different from Ben. I hope to see more Parks and Rec alumni in the future.

Other minuses:
✤ Sometimes the philosophical part is a bit clunky, especially when the shows is trying (?) to teach the viewers about the studies of morality. But that didn’t really bother me, to be honest.
✤ Not all the characters work for me equally well. I’m not a fan of Jason’s because the idiot trope is one I don’t generally care for.

How it enriched my life:
It was fun to watch and made me think more than I ever did about the concept of frozen yoghurt.

Fun fact:
I knew the big twist that happens in the end of the season from the very beginning but it still didn’t affect my pleasure in watching. In fact, it mattered very little to know about “the bad place” and it might’ve made the whole thing less flat.

Follow-up:
I will watch season two with my husband, who got interested in the show after looking over my shoulder for a while and scoffing that I’m wasting time. And then we’ll probably re-watch the first season that he partly missed.

Recommended for:
People who still miss Veronica Mars and/or Parks and Recreation. People who like their eschatological ruminations kept light.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Loving Vincent, maybe

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lost in Austen

In this year that unexpectedly seems to happen under the banner of Pride and Prejudice, here’s another thing for (non-orthodox) fans of the book, a miniseries called

er-lostinaustenLost in Austen

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2008 4-part miniseries about Amanda Price, a lover of Pride and Prejudice, who discovers the door to the Bennets’ house in her own bathroom (yep) and changes places with Elizabeth. While Amanda tries to save the story she loves, she’s doing a perplexingly bad job of it and changes everybody’s fate, including her own. (She marries Darcy, guys – spoiler.)

How I found it:
I don’t remember. I watched it for the first time many years ago, sick in bed, if I recall.

Summary judgment:
I can see why it rubs some Austen fans the wrong way but I enjoy it: it’s modern and cheeky.

Best things about it:
It captures some of the magic of the original, while remaining quite irreverent. It reinterprets all the characters, giving them different motivations and it also looks good. And it’s simply fun to watch.

Worst things about it:
There is actually only one thing that doesn’t work for me in the story: Amanda. For someone who obsessively re-reads Pride and Prejudice she seems inexplicably unaware of the taboos of Regency society (or, really, any pre-modern society) and insists on behaving in a vulgar way. The way she looks doesn’t help: I wish she had slightly more natural hair and didn’t wear make-up when living with the Bennets (how does she even do that?). It’s hard to suspend disbelief and understand how someone who must look like a prostitute to the locals would be received in society.
And you know, I see the attraction of clashing Austenian society with someone who brings with her twentieth-century values, maybe even showing Amanda that her idealization of Elizabeth’s world was excessive… But for all of that to work Amanda would have to be smarter and subtler. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Other pluses:
Wickham as a decent person, Caroline as a lesbian, Mrs. Bennet as someone much more skilled at the game of husband-hunting… I like all these tweaks. I even like Lizzie as a modern woman.

Other minuses:
✤ While I like most of the ideas for changes in the characters, I can’t get behind this Darcy. Yes, he looks fine, except for the bad wig. He looks even finer in the wet shirt. But what a mess he is! I don’t understand his sudden attraction to the vulgar girl who comes out of nowhere – it’s as if he preferred Lydia to Lizzie in the book. Most of his decisions make no sense and the love affair seems to happen only because it needs to in every proper fan fiction ever, which this show is, after all.
✤ On that note, everything could have been salvaged with another ending: Amanda chooses Wickham or even to return to her world. But this forced “will they, won’t they” culminating in a weird marriage didn’t work for me.

How it enriched my life:
It’s an entertaining piece of entertainment to entertain one and it also makes me think whether I’d do any better in Regency England but I would probably be too horrified at the lack of dental hygiene. Also, I can’t curtsy, let alone ballroom-dance.

Fun fact:
So yes, I didn’t know people used to rub chalk across their teeth to clean them and whatever else Amanda was brought. Though I do know other things people used (or still use), including salt, baking soda and some kinds of tree twigs. History of hygiene is a fascinating subject, actually, and reveals how much stuff we take for granted though we shouldn’t.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch this show some time because it’s fun. I would also watch any similar thing though it would likely disappoint me.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans who are not too hung up on the original. People who didn’t read the book at all but think it’s a funny concept to transport a modern character into a book.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Speaking of books, I Am Charlotte Simmons

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Mindy Project

This is an impromptu, unscheduled review (yes, there is a schedule) to celebrate the ending of one of my favorite TV series in the past six years. I will probably re-watch it and talk about all the seasons separately but for now let’s just talk about all of

er-themindyprojectThe Mindy Project

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Hulu

What it is:
A rom-com, sit-com, workplace-com unlike any other I’ve ever seen. It tells a story of Mindy Lahiri, a NY Indian American ob-gyn in search of love and of some fun, too, as she goes through innumerable inappropriate boyfriends and situations to end up with the one we always wanted her to end up with.

How I found it:
I started watching it back when I would watch pretty much anything new because I got interested in the trailer and something about this show immediately spoke to me, even though I’m normally not a sit-com kind of person.

Summary judgment:
I think it’s pretty obvious by now I love Mindy.

Best things about it:
It’s got a unique, light-hearted, unapologetic tone, which is very much like its heroine, Mindy, who pretty much redefines the feminine woman. I was so invested in the central love affair with Danny Castellano because – at least until they make him into a chauvinistic monster for a while – Chris Messina’s Danny sells everything he does as irresistible. And the show is really funny in a surprising way, not like most half-hour comedies in which you see all the jokes coming a mile away.

Worst things about it:
The show does have an inconsistency problem, with dropped storylines, not enough running jokes and disappearing characters.

Other pluses:
Mindy gave us Morgan played by Ike Barinholtz, and he’s comedy gold. Some other supporting actors work wonderfully, too, particularly Adam Pally, but it’s Morgan who’s the heart of the show.
✤ The deadpan way in which the characters react to one another’s quirks creates an atmosphere of universal acceptance. Always makes me feel better.
✤ So. Many. Wonderful one liners.
✤ And so many wonderful guest stars and recurring guest stars. My favorite by far are the Duplass brothers as holistic midwives.

Other minuses:
That time when Chris Messina wanted to do other stuff and so they made his character terrible and then that time when he went to do something else and his character wasn’t on the show at all.

How it enriched my life:
It made me so happy. It also made me laugh a lot and smile even more and gave me a few lines that I still use every now and then.

Fun fact:
When I was watching the first season for a while I used to immediately re-watch an episode right after I watched it for the first time.

Follow-up:
I sense many big re-watches in the future and probably reviewing every single season, too.

Recommended for:
Hm, this is a bit hard. People looking for intelligent comedy that’s not afraid to be quirky but also very feminine? I’d say at least some fans of Sex and the City though it’s by no means the same kind of thing.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Jonathan Strange, it’s scheduled

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