Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Nashville

Another show I watched regularly ended quite recently so let me share with you a few reflections on the whole of

er-nashvilleNashville (S1–6)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A TV show about the country music industry in Nashville, focusing, at least at first, on two divas: Rayna James played by Connie Britton and Juliette Barnes played by Hayden Panettiere. The show had six seasons, two of which happened on another TV station after the first one cancelled it, and most of the initial premise didn’t last past season one but it also sometimes dealt with local politics and a lot of family drama and always provided a lot of sudsy entertainment, even at its worst.

How I found it:
Six years ago when the show debuted I was quite up to date on all the new TV happening (not so much since) so I was immediately interested in it from the preview. And the first season really grabbed my interest.

Summary judgment:
It never lived up to the initial promise but I still enjoyed the bumpy ride.

Best things about it:
Season one and what the show tried to do then promised a quality story about an interesting corner of the world and it did deliver a part of it. I didn’t care so much about the diva rivalry and I didn’t mind when they dropped it but, unfortunately, together they also gave up on more mature aspects of the original story and replaced them with a whole bunch of random guest stars and increasingly ridiculous plotlines.

Worst things about it:
As hinted above, the fact that the show didn’t manage to remain what it set out to be, instead becoming a true soap opera with many caricatures instead of characters and many ridiculously contrived stories. It gradually gave up on treating Nashville as an interesting place worth showing, replacing the local color with generic settings. And after season one the music got worse, too.

Other pluses:
✤ Still, some of the music was pretty good. True, most of it veered toward bland pop (which I think is true of most popular country today?) but every now and then they offered a song that stood out, particularly those sang by the marvelous (and fan-hated, for some reason) Clare Bowen.
✤ Clare Bowen deserves a separate bullet point because while her character, Scarlett, rarely got a worthy storyline and was mostly manipulated into boring would-be romances, she always managed to deliver a heartfelt performance and she sings beautifully.
✤ Special mention to other actors I enjoyed on the show: Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Aubrey Peeples and Oliver Hudson (another hated couple) and, unsurprisingly, Connie Britton. Also, the Stella sisters, sometimes. In general, many of the actors and the relations they build between the characters lift the show above a soap, even when writing doesn’t, and make the stories more human and believable.

Other minuses:
✤ From season three the shows gets a bit boring. In fact, when I was trying to rewatch all of it, I only got so far as the beginning of season three and gave up. I did enjoy revisiting the first one, though.
✤ Most of the later storylines are so random, centering on new characters that’s just been dropped on us and giving them up later without proper resolution. It often feels like the creators weren’t sure what they wanted to do with the characters in the long run.
✤ I know she was a fan-favorite but I almost never liked Juliette or missed her when she disappeared from the show for episodes at a time. There’s just something about Hayden Panettiere in this role that grates on my nerves.

How it enriched my life:
While it was never the most exciting watch of the week for me, it almost always delivered an hour of pleasure. And even though the show grew weaker and weaker as the seasons went by, I was still sorry to see it go.

Fun fact:
I’m not saying I did buy I’m not saying I didn’t listen to some of the soundtrack albums, particularly for the first two seasons.

Follow-up:
Ah, I wish there was one but so far I have found nothing to fill this hole in my heart that is reserved for a show about mostly acoustic music and the drama it causes among those who sacrifice their life to it. Granted, it’s a very specific hole.

Recommended for:
People looking for a slightly better soap for whom its saturation with country music is a good thing not a deterrent.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tropic of Cancer

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Sex and the City (movie)

Once I finished the six seasons of Sex and the City proper, I figured I’d re-watch the first movie that followed in 2008 because I had a (wrong) impression that it completed the characters’ stories.

er-sexandthecitymovieSex and the City (the movie)

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A continuation of the show made in 2008 to the great excitement (and then disappointment) of fans, it tells the further story of the four friends but mostly of Carrie’s failed attempt at marrying Big. However, it mostly serves as a thinly-veiled vehicle for product placement.

How I found it:
I watched this movie soon after it came out and while I didn’t love it, I didn’t pay attention to how bad it actually was.

Summary judgment:
Wow. I don’t so much mind the flat story and the bad jokes but the world view I found downright offensive.

Best things about it:
The clothes have gotten so extravagant as to become a form of art and I like the visual part of the whole thing (except for Parker’s general look).

Worst things about it:
I guess to me the worst part, and the most surprising one, was the body shaming the women subject one another to. They criticize one another over weight-gain and body hair, not the kind of supportive friendship the show sold us on, and not the kind of message I’m comfortable with from a franchise masquarading as “feminist.”
On a more general level, the writing fails hard. Everything drags as if they needed to fill the space between advertisements (for Starbucks, for Mercedes-Benz, for all the fashion brands) and didn’t quite know how. Carrie’s marriage drama feels so contrived you just want to tell her to get a hold of herself: throughout the entire movie when we’re supposed to feel sorry for her I kept wanting to shake her because yes, the whole thing was her fault and didn’t merit all the hysterics.

Other pluses:
✤ Carrie’s potential apartment is pretty, I guess, and the library where her wedding doesn’t happen looks great, too.
✤ Charlotte’s mutts. Yes, scraping the bottom here.

Other minuses:
✤ I always found it surprising how Miranda is one-sidedly villified over her anger with Steve, who cheated on her. I feel she has every right to be angry and the film never acknowledges that. In what world is Big’s transgression worse?
✤ Ugh, the terrible jokes. It’s like somebody belatedly remembered the “comedy” part in the romantic comedy and added the funniest thing of all, diarrhea.
✤ Yes, Samantha’s sex object of a neighbor looks good but this kind of reversed-male gaze (I’m not sure if it’s called female gaze in a case like this, when it’s objectifying a man) made me really uncomfortable.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t. The whole thing should’ve ended with the show. This is such a clear, unneccessary money grab.

Fun fact:
Apparently even Cynthia Nixon doesn’t like the “happy ending” of the movie? It’s an internet fact though so don’t hold me to it.

Follow-up:
I’m never watching it again. Also, guys, I did see the second movie back when it came out but it was so abysmal that even this movie seems okay by comparison so I’m not re-watching or reviewing it.

Recommended for:
Completionist fans of the show who don’t mind having their good opinion sullied. Also, people who don’t know the show but like really empty, mediocre romantic comedies without much humor or romance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: The Dud Avocado

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Sex and the City (show)

Sex and the City was one of the more exciting shows of my high school years. I would wait for it on Saturday evenings (I wasn’t all that popular, in case you were misinformed) and feel somewhat naughty for watching it. But the show is going on twenty now and watching it today feels different.

er-sexandthecityshowSex and the City (the show)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
One of the most iconic TV shows before people talked of any golden eras in TV, tells the story of Carrie Bradshaw, her three best girl friends and their quest for love and sex that lasted six seasons (and two terrible movies that barely count).

How I found it:
I watched two or three seasons on TV, though not quite regularly, and then I systematically re-watched everything a couple of years ago. This time now was my more or less third watch.

Summary judgment:
This time didn’t impress me as much as the previous ones. In fact, parts of it left me bored.

Best things about it:
Twenty years ago, in its own way, the show was fairly revolutionary in its portrayal of a certain kind of relationships: both their psychological and physiological aspect. At least back then, it felt honest and surprisingly open.
The writing is often very smart and funny, with clever juxtapositions of different storylines and surprising conclusions to them.

Worst things about it:
I would say seasons one and six because I enjoyed them the least. But from a more general point of view, if you don’t buy this show for what it is, you will be irritated by so many things: its outdated approach to homosexuality, the vacuity of the characters and their ridiculous economic conditions, their occasional cruelty and forced problems. Bergman this ain’t.

Other pluses:
✤ Some of the clothes and, to a lesser extent, some interiors are lovely to look at for the sheer aesthetic pleasure.
✤ The many things Miranda says.
✤ The characters (arguably except for Carrie) all develop and grow, which is one justification for six seasons of a show like this.

Other minuses:
✤ I once read somewhere that the show owed its success to Parker’s likability but I mostly find her childish and irritating, particularly in the moments when she’s trying for endearing. I don’t expect you to remember but there’s a scene in which she talks about Aidan’s “nook”, which perfectly embodies everything I dislike about her.
✤ In the first season or two the show is still looking for its style, with the mockumentary street interviews and too many random characters. It grows better when it gains the courage to drop these crutches.

How it enriched my life:
Now it hasn’t particularly. But the first time I watched it I was in high school and I learned stuff from the show (often very theoretical stuff but isn’t most knowledge, particularly in high school?). The second time I really admired the writing and got quite interested in all the long-term stories.

Fun fact:
Not a single one of Carrie’s relationships was halfway functional. But I always liked Charlotte and Harry. Theirs was a fun story.

Follow-up:
I did watch the movie. We’ll talk about it. I might get back to the show some time but I need to forget most of the stories because this time it bothered me how much I remembered what was going to happen.

Recommended for:
Single ladies. Fans of the early 2000s culture. People in love with New York or, I guess, Sarah Jessica Parker.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Let’s whine about the movie

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: Gray or Blue

This is another random Spotify find, a sweet little song by an artist I don’t really know otherwise.

“Gray or Blue” by Jaymay

Album: Autumn Fallin’

Year: 2007

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
Some songs seem to be playing like movies in my head, their stories vivid enough to imagine in visual detail (even if the details in the song itself are rather vague). And yes, this is one of those songs. It feels like a bittersweet indie romance and her singing is very evocative of the kind of mood you’d associate with those. The whole story is built upon the simple idea of two people avoiding each other’s eyes – I like simple ideas.

Favorite lyrics:
“And I know the shape of your hands because I watch ’em when you talk / And I know the shape of your body cause I watch it when you walk.”

Favorite moment:
The break before “time” in “but it’s taking time” and the immediate move into the next verse.

Best for: Coming up with love stories.

Listen here.

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

I love Three Men in a Boat. It’s one of my favorite books in the world. It was a revelation the first time I came upon it in my father’s collection and I cherish it still. So when I found a modern book that plays with it, I was more than excited to read it.

er-tosaynothingofthedogTo Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Such a weird mix of a postmodern pastiche, humorous science fiction and historical novel of manners. Oh, and a mystery novel. Time travel has been invented and lady Schrapnel is rebuilding the Coventry Cathedral, with the help of the brightest Oxford historians – who travel in time to sketch or locate original ornaments, to say nothing of the bishop’s bird stump. I’m not going to summarize the rest of the plot but at least a half of it takes place (time?) in the Victorian era, on the Thames, and Jay Jerome makes a cameo.

How I found it:
I think it’s another book I found on some online list.

Summary judgment:
I loved the story.

Best things about it:
It’s a light, pleasant trip that manages to include a serious philosophical (or theological) message. And many things about it actually made me laugh out loud (which was embarrassing whenever it happened on a train). Willis managed to capture some of the humorous spirit of the original.

Worst things about it:
It tired me how obvious some of the mystery solutions were (particularly the one about Mr C, evident pretty much from the first scene in which he appears) and yet how long the characters took to get there.

Other pluses:
✤ I love how complicated the structure of the book is sometimes: how things mentioned lightly in one chapter return with greater weight in another one. Like the treasures in the attic.
✤ It’s a good approximation of the original novel’s humor: simple at times but still really funny. I appreciated running jokes, like the one with hours on the pocket watch.
✤ Time travel never makes sense in novels but Willis at least attempts to make it consistent. It might be the least nonsensical time travel I’ve read.

Other minuses:
Sometimes I wished Willis trusted that her readers actually read Three Men. I was happy to read about Ned fighting swans because I did remember Harris in that scene. But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t care about it so there was no need to mention Harris explicitly. (Nitpicking.)

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the book a lot.

Follow-up:
I will certainly re-read Three Men in a Boat many more times. Right now I’m trying to make my husband read it too. But as for Willis’s novels, the other ones set in the same universe sound a bit too gloomy.

Recommended for:
Fans of Three Men in a Boat or other Victorian stories on the lighter side. It feels like it would be a good beach read, too.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Your Name

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Show Case

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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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Bridget Jones’s Diary

Looking for a sort of Christmassy, light and meaningless movie to watch before Christmas, I re-stumbled upon

er-bridgetjonesdiaryBridget Jones’s Diary

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
An adaptation of a once-popular British book about a woman who’s so weak-willed and disorganized that just about anyone can identify with her (?). Very loosely inspired by Pride and Prejudice, mostly in that one guy is a cad and the other is called Darcy, it tells a story of Bridget, who can’t do anything right but will end up with the perfect man anyway, to make every woman in the world feel better about her romantic chances.

How I found it:
The first time I saw it was in a theater: I was in high school and my friends were going and at the time it sounded like nothing I would enjoy because I scoffed at romantic comedies and at enjoying myself when watching a movie. I was all about Bergman and boredom back then.

Summary judgment:
For what it is, it’s a competent movie that I can enjoy at least for Colin Firth’s performance.

Best things about it:
It’s light and mostly unpretentious. Colin Firth gets to revisit and play with his classic performance as Mister Darcy Proper and he’s quite charming in this role.

Worst things about it:
I wish Bridget had one good quality. One would be plenty, really. But instead she’s a complete failure: a (Hollywood-)fat, messy smoker without interests or self-esteem. It saddens me that the producers of this film think a female character has to be so pathetic to make women like her. And why-oh-why would Darcy ever be interested in Bridget? When did she ever do anything to attract him?

Other pluses:
✤ I enjoyed seeing James Callis as Bridget’s friend, Tom: I’ll forever love him for Sex, Chips and Rock’n’Roll, my Favorite Show Ever (TM).
✤ I never really got Hugh Grant’s attraction but at least as a villain he convinces me more than as a straight romantic interest.
✤ It is a good-looking movie and I’d take Daniel’s apartment any day.

Other minuses:
✤ The cutesy humor doesn’t usually work for me, though I understand why it would work for people less critical of Bridget’s character.
✤ This time around I actually felt sorry for Natasha. Apparently intellect and competence stand for nothing.
✤ Have the writers of this movie ever been out in the snow? You can’t run in it in your underpants, period.

How it enriched my life:
Most Christmas movies are not that great and I like having one more that I can watch around this time of year, even if it’s not a masterpiece.

Fun fact:
The only thing I remember from that first time I watched this movie in a theater was the song “It’s Raining Men” and how I didn’t like it. But, guys, I was way too young to appreciate the attractiveness of a Darcyesque character then.

Follow-up:
I will be coming back to this one. See the scarcity of watchable Christmas movies.

Recommended for:
Fans of romantic comedies and incompetent women who only pretend to be fat.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (yes, we’re still at it)

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