Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Dietland

er-dietlandDietland (S1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Sometimes considered a #metoo revenge fantasy (sometimes veering that way, too), this story of overweight Plum describes her plunge into a female guerilla group Jennifer, who murders evil men (at first, anyway). But before she turns a sort-of revolutionary, Plum works for a lifestyle magazine and saves her money for a life-threatening operation to lose weight, only to slowly reject all that.

How I found it:
I got interested when I saw Margulies would be playing but didn’t love the trailer so I didn’t start watching immediately. However, after a few reviews I decided it sounded interesting.

Summary judgment:
I had fun watching it but, overall, I’m afraid I just wasted my time.

Best things about it:
Definitely Joy Nash as Plum. She’s got so much charisma she steals the screen with her one smile and, no matter how much she’s sold by the story as an ugly fatty, she’s really pretty. I hope she’ll get to play somewhere where her plus size won’t be the only qualification.
The story starts really well when it focuses on Plum and her internal struggles and the further the show goes away from her in the second half, the more characters it introduces, the less interesting it becomes.

Worst things about it:
This show needed more thought because it doesn’t know what it wants to say. Not only does it split into two parts barely hanging together: Plum’s character drama and Jennifer’s social thriller (?), but also it never gives us a clear message as to who it wants us to root for. Should we applaud the terrorist group Jennifer? Maybe, they’re likeable when we meet them and the show really wants us to feel their anger but they are still murderers.

Other pluses:
✤ I really liked the animations and the whole illustrated version of Plum. They added  necessary quirkiness but got sadly sidelined later.
✤ It managed to create a few strong moments, like when Plum emails the girls she used to anonymously advise with an open admission of who she is. But they didn’t usually go far enough.
✤ The French-looking ex-policeman has some potential for an interesting character.

Other minuses:
✤ The show sells out its background characters, not giving them enough motivation and story for us to care about. Julianna Margulies’ Kitty is the starkest example. I loved Margulies in The Good Wife, where she proved to be an incredibly mature actress with a wide range of skills. But here she merely chews the scenery and makes people kiss her boot (the latter thing literally). I’m sure she’s having fun but after 10 episodes I still don’t know if she’s supposed to be a villain, an anti-hero, a comic relief or a pretty piece of scenery.
✤ There are way too many side characters, many of which appear too late and take the time away from those we’ve already gotten interested in. Consequently, nobody’s story gets a conclusion. 10 episodes is plenty to tell a full tale but I feel Dietland barely managed to start.
✤ I really disliked the tiger thing (though if they dared to try more experimental storytelling in later episodes, maybe it would’ve paid off better).

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the watching experience well enough, even if it didn’t give me as much food for thought as it could’ve.

Follow-up:
I would consider watching season two but I doubt it will happen.

Recommended for:
People who like a dose of questionable social justice in their dramas. Fans of Joy Nash or Marti Noxon.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Crooked Kingdom

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: An Invisible Sign of My Own

er-aninvisiblesignofmyownAn Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A fairly short novel about Mona Grey, whose father one day develops a mysterious sickness (a sort of anxiety disorder or depression, probably, but it’s never specified). The novel focuses on how this makes Mona slowly withdraw from life and from the things she enjoyed. Even though it chooses a lighthearted tone, the story actually touches upon very profound and unsolvable questions: the fear of loss and death and the difficulty in communication.

How I found it:
No idea. I did like the description I found somewhere: it sounded like just the right kind of gloomy (it’s not really gloomy though).

Summary judgment:
I liked the book well enough but I feel it had potential to engage me more.

Best things about it:
I like how it tackles the dark theme of the fear we all have to learn to live around. I like the weirdness of Mona and how all her quirks (and, frankly, neuroses) don’t completely incapacitate her or her potential for developing relations with people. I was quite impressed by the casualness of the story.

Worst things about it:
I feel like the book would benefit from a more experimental, sophisticated approach to language. I kept wondering how Lady Oracle-Atwood (rather than the new dystopian Atwood I don’t read) would approach this story and make it both more alive and more chilling with her linguistic games.

Other pluses:
✤ The author has a good ear for children. The scenes in the elementary school are the most lively in the entire book.
✤ I liked the composition of parts of the book, where we are given a series of surreal facts about Mona (for instance, she eats soap not to have sex) and only later learn how this started.

Other minuses:
Maybe the ending did feel too easy and you can wince at the fact that a guy is a catalyst for change but personally I didn’t mind.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoy psychological narratives and stories about children. It also reinforced my already strong belief that I could never teach children.

Fun fact:
There is a movie adaptation of this story with Jessica Alba, of all people, and it appears from the trailer to have turned the story into a cutesy rom-com mush. I’ll steer clear despite Chris Messina’s presence.

Cover notes:
The cover doesn’t excite me and I wish it found a smart way to use numbers (though alternative covers I saw underline the fact it would have to be smart; overall, I prefer the unpretentiousness of this one). But, unlike the movie adaptation, it emphasizes the subtlety of the story, the composition is evocative and they managed to find a convincing model.

Follow-up:
Definitely not the movie, and I don’t necessarily see a direct follow-up.

Recommended for:
People who are not discouraged by introvert stories about slightly broken characters (but with an overall optimistic sense).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Dietland (the show)

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lovesick

You might remember I have a curiosity about romantic comedies which usually leaves me disappointed. But this experience wasn’t too bad, actually.

er-lovesickLovesick (seasons 1–3)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A British show centering on Dylan (played by Johnny Flynn, who I’d only known as a good folk singer before) and his two friends, Luke and Evie. Dylan discovers he’s contracted chlamydia, which prompts him to get in touch with all his exes (so many of them) and this becomes a quest for true love and for the answer why it’s so hard for him to find it.

How I found it:
I’m not sure but I think it was on a list of best British TV shows.

Summary judgment:
It’s an enjoyable little pastime, without great depths but no great flaws either.

Best things about it:
It’s a charming little story about three (and then four) imperfect friends guaranteed not to depress you. The gimmicky storytelling works (for me, at least, but I like this kind of thing; give me flashbacks and cold opens and whatever professional TV critics frown upon). Even though Dylan as a character irritates, Johnny Flynn sells him with such unquestionable charm that you have to like him.

Worst things about it:
Personally, I never got behind Evie, which becomes a problem with the main romantic interest. I found almost every other character, including most minor ones, more interesting and definitely rooted more for Abigail (who was great and probably deserved better than Dylan anyway).

Other pluses:
✤ Even when the minor characters come close to caricatures, they usually remain a bit more than that and keep you at least mildly interested in their stories.
✤ How side characters grow on you when they get bigger roles (particularly Angus).
✤ The flashbacks related to the titles of episodes intrigue because you start wondering who each new girl will be (and sometimes the answers turn out surprising).

Other minuses:
✤ As I said, I liked the gimmick for the show’s structure in the first two seasons: Dylan going after all his exes and re-living his romantic life in flashbacks. In fact, when the convention changes in the third season, it becomes less interesting. But sometimes I got really confused as to what happened before what. Probably my fault though and it didn’t really matter all that much.
✤ As, I find, is true of most romantic comedies, it’s not really a laugh-out-loud kind of comedy. It’s still fairly cheerful.

How it enriched my life:
This was a perfect evening watch, letting me go to sleep in a better mood. Too few shows manage to do this.

Fun fact:
So the alternative – or original – title for this show is actually Scrotal Recall. Another proof of how you shouldn’t always go for a pun just because you came up with one (note to self, as well).
Fun fact no 2: the poster doesn’t have a scrawl on it but my son caught my drawing before I scanned it and decided to color it (with the same color so I couldn’t edit it out, not without a lot of hassle). It might look better now though.

Follow-up:
As I understand, the show is over but I think it ran just long enough. I might get back to it one day.

Recommended for:
People who enjoy modern comedies of manners (of sorts, if by manners you mean modes of interpersonal behavior, which I do) and who like their romantic comedies with a large dose of promiscuity. Oh, and fans of the British accent.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: An Invisible Sign of My Own

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Bookworming

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Among Others

Sometimes you find a book which reminds you what fun it was to discover magical books randomly as a child.

er-amongothersAmong Others by Jo Walton

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Technically speaking, it’s a YA fantasy novel but it doesn’t bow to most conventions you would expect from those. Mori’s story happens after her great battle – to which we only hear allusions – ended. She survived but her twin sister didn’t and now she needs to build a life after she’s saved the world, surviving a snotty boarding school, getting to know her estranged father and, most of all, reading tons of science fiction.

How I found it:
Don’t remember. It was on my to-read list with 4 stars so I must have read an inviting review somewhere. Maybe LibraryThing?

Summary judgment:
I haven’t enjoyed a book quite like this for a while.

Best things about it:
The unconventional way it treats fantasy, so that it resembles magical realism more than anything else. Mori is very matter-of-fact about seeing fairies and doing magic and focuses more on down-to-earth matters of growing up, which makes the story very grounded.

Worst things about it:
For people who want their fantasy fulfilling certain expected conventions, it must be a letdown, a book in which barely anything happens. In fact, as I was approaching the end, I wondered if it had a continuation because I wasn’t sure if it would manage to finish a story at all (it did).

Other pluses:
✤ The very idea to focus on what happens to the hero after the battle is won is successful in its un-flashiness.
✤ I really like how unostentatious magic is, more a moral question than a source of fireworks and how its lack of glamour allows Walton to focus on the heroine’s personal dramas. In fact, you could probably remove the magic altogether and still have an interesting story about a dysfunctional family (and a disturbed girl). At a stretch, you could probably interpret it this way.
✤ The just-unrealistic-enough love affair is cute. I would’ve loved it as a younger person. Now I focus more on the unrealistic part, I guess.
✤ The places live in the story, not just Wales, which the author clearly loves, but even the school and the small town nearby.

Other minuses:
Sometimes the protagonist reads as many as eight novels a week, five regularly. I find that hard to believe (even in my better reading days I never managed as much).

How it enriched my life:
It made me want to read more, for one thing. It also reminded me of the joy of reading just for the sake of getting to know the story.

Fun fact:
It’s funny how much of the science fiction novels that Mori devours I have actually read. Because the story takes place in 1979 and 1980, it is a love letter to older science fiction and fantasy which I used to read in large amounts because that’s what the local library had in stock.

Cover notes:
(A new section because why not. It’s the thing I’m most qualified to discuss anyway. It will always refer to the version of the cover illustrated on the top.)
The photo captures the atmosphere of the book magnificently but the stars are an overkill: they should’ve been done as a photographic trick of light, rather than so literally because this cheapens the concept (both of the cover and the book).

Follow-up:
I might check out Walton’s other stuff if I come across it but I like how much of a standalone this one is. I might possibly return to it some time.

Recommended for:
Fans of classic science fiction and fantasy who don’t mind challenging the conventions. People who enjoy an unromanticized vision of a boarding school, or just of growing up.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Lovesick

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: 13 Reasons Why

er-13reasonswhy13 Reasons Why (S1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
An adaptation of a YA book by Jay Asher. Hannah Baker commits suicide and, like an asshole, leaves behind a set of cassettes to torment those who led her to this end, or at least to explain her reasons. The rather bland book (yes, I read it, a long time ago) turns into a dark TV show that aims to show high school at its worst.

How I found it:
Since I read the book and didn’t care for it, at first I ignored the ravings about the show but finally I gave in and watched the first season.

Summary judgment:
It’s better than the book but still failed to impress me.

Best things about it:
For the most part it’s very competent, turning the story into almost a thriller (at least in the first half) and fairly efficiently using the difficult tool of flashbacks. It does make you want to know what happens next and who else is on the tapes. Some actors do a great job and I appreciate the lack of cuteness which is typical of most high school stories and which the book didn’t manage to eschew.

Worst things about it:
The further it goes, the more it feels exploitative and unconvincing. Also, it really drags. Every episode could be shorter and the whole season could have fewer episodes in general.

Other pluses:
✤ Hannah’s mom, played by Kate Walsh, stands out in her depiction of grief and vulnerability. Often, she seems taken from a different, less confused show. I don’t even remember Hannah’s parents from the book so maybe it was an attempt to ground her story more and if so, it worked.
✤ Clay kind of grew on me. He really irritated me in the first episodes but I liked his path towards a more active stand.
✤ Other good depictions include Jessica (a hard role to pull off, I’m sure) and Justin.

Other minuses:
✤ One could expect that from the synopsis, I guess, but pretty much all the characters (including Hannah) are really unpleasant for most of the time, which doesn’t add to the enjoyment of watching.
✤ A lot of the show felt to me like a fearmongering piece directed at parents with kids in high school. I hate fearmongering.
✤ The violence towards the end becomes really hard to watch and, frankly, unnecessary to tell the story.

How it enriched my life:
Meh, it was mostly a way to pass a few evenings when I was too exhausted to do anything else. Also, one time it gave me a nightmare (but that’s the opposite of enrichment).

Fun fact:
My high school was nowhere near as traumatic, I can’t imagine for anyone. But then again, we don’t have this whole jock culture at all (or we didn’t ages ago when I was in high school).

Follow-up:
I’m not watching season 2. I read some spoilers online and there’s nothing for me there.

Recommended for:
People who like to watch miserable teenagers and be glad they’re no longer them. Perhaps (though I doubt it, frankly) miserable teenagers who want to wallow?

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Among Others

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

er-thelostbooksoftheodysseyThe Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A collection of 44 short stories, all centered around the character of Odysseus as he appears in the Iliad and the Odyssey but, of course, completely transformed through postmodern sensitivity. In fact, each short story – they’re unrelated and only called a novel to mess with you – consists of an intellectual exercise: What if Odysseus was Homer? What if the books were really a chess manual? What if Penelope was a werewolf?

How I found it:
I had it on my reading list to read after the real Odyssey, which I finally finished and followed up with this collection.

Summary judgment:
An impressive intellectual and literary exercise that I enjoyed more than the actual Odyssey.

Best things about it:
Well, if you read the Odyssey, you might have similar doubts that I had when I finally read it. I mean, Odysseus is a psychopath. (I know, I simplify without taking the times and circumstances into account but seriously, just look at the story.) We never get enough insight into his psychological life to understand him – because literature wasn’t big on psychology yet. I feel like Mason’s book makes the mythical story more approachable and intriguing, filling in some gaps left by the original narrative and trying to answer questions a modern reader will have. It also does it in a subtle, poetic and mostly unpretentious way that I enjoyed.

Worst things about it:
As is the case with collections, some of these stories are weaker than the others. I personally preferred staying closer to the original with fewer direct modern references.

Other pluses:
When I was just starting to read short stories my father told me this theory that a good short story has to have a surprising conclusion that twists the whole thing around in the last paragraph. I might have discovered since then that it isn’t always, or even usually, the case, but I still on some level expect such a construction from a short story and “One Kindness” scratched that particular itch.

Other minuses:
Only a small complaint about misrepresentation: this is in no way a novel. The cover lies. (It’s a good cover, though.)

How it enriched my life:
It made me understand the Odyssey better and feel more curious about the story than Homer’s work did.

Fun fact:
Zachary Mason wrote another book but professionally he’s a computer specialist who works in a startup. That makes this book a true work of passion and makes me even more impressed by it.

Follow-up:
I’m not sure there’s a direct follow-up but I’m always interested in a reinterpretation of a classic myth.

Recommended for:
People somewhat interested in Greek mythology who would like to see a different approach to it. I recently saw it on a list of recommended books by a translator of the Odyssey‘s modern edition, so that should be a recommendation enough.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: 13 Reasons Why

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Tick

With all the superhero saturation, how about we discuss a superhero parody?

er-thetick01The Tick (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Another series by Amazon, this time reimagining the mock superhero Tick: a cheerful, blue mountain of muscle with feelers on his head. Together with an accidental sidekick Arthur in his moth costume they take on the Terror: an octagenerian (?) evil-doer. This description should give you a good idea about the tone of the show.

How I found it:
I used to enjoy the animated Tick from the 90s. I found it when I was first getting interested in the superhero genre and while I found some episodes uneven, I still enjoyed the humor in many of them. I didn’t immediately get excited about a live action version but in the end I decided to check it out.

Summary judgment:
It’s the right approach to the often overstuffy genre. I enjoyed it.

Best things about it:
Except for the first episode it hits the right tone, embracing the full ridiculousness of both superheroes in general and this specific bunch of them. Most of the characters, even some villains, are exceptionally likable and many ideas made me laugh.

Worst things about it:
The first episode doesn’t, I feel, know exactly where it wants to go: at times it’s a bit too close to Daredevil (I don’t like Daredevil). Overall, the show doesn’t necessarily become something essential but it’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time.

Other pluses:
✤ Ms. Lint might be my favorite villain of the superhero genre, especially with her very logical predicament (see the name).
✤ You have no idea how much I appreciate the villain as a creepy old guy because I always see them as villainous (take Xavier, for instance).
✤ I like the casual cheerfulness of the characters.
✤ There are small funny details, like Terror’s ship in the shape of T, whose escape pod is shaped like a lower case t. What, I like this kind of stuff. While we’re at it, I also found the creepy Danger Boat funny.

Other minuses:
Except for the fact I already mentioned, that is the general insubstantiality of the story, I don’t have complaints.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me a few fun evenings and it made my husband, even more genre-weary than me, reconsider superheroes.

Fun fact:
In the Polish-dubbed version of the animated Tick, they found the perfect voice for the main character: he made you feel happier and safer. But while Peter Serafinowicz doesn’t look exactly like I’d imagine the Tick, he does a good job with the voice-acting.

Follow-up:
Season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of superheroes who have gotten tired of the seriousness of those stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

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