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Author: Elizabeth Engelman

Summer TV: 12 Reasons to Stay Indoors

Summer TV: 12 Reasons to Stay Indoors

Summer used to be fresh air, time at the beach, backyard BBQs and relatively no time in front of the television. That’s all changing this summer. Since the beginning of June, new shows have been premiering to rave reviews every week. Summer television now seems to be the time for inventive, fresh, and exciting new shows. There is truly something for everyone with sci-fi, romantic comedy, crime dramas and lots of dramadies to keep you glued to the TV and stuck on the couch all summer long.

Catastrophe

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I once complained about the lack of adults on tv comedies. Finally, my wish has come true for a romantic duo who are intelligent, funny, and act like grown ups, albeit ones with a catastrophe on their hands. Sharon Morris (Sharon Horgan) and Rob Norris (Rob Delaney) have a one-night stand that lasts a week and ends up with Sharon getting pregnant. This cliched setup is turned on its head by the fact that the decision to keep the baby and Rob’s move to London to be with Sharon all happen in the first episode. This show is fast paced and so unbelievably witty in the characters’ complete honesty about the crazy situation they’re in. When Rob arrives back in London after finding out about the pregnancy, Sharon is holding a sign that reads “Rob ?” because she doesn’t know his last name. People are comparing this to FX’s You’re The Worst but, unlike the characters on that show, I don’t think these people are terrible or unlikeable. They seem normal if not a little brash. Since its already been picked up for a second season you can relish in delight knowing there is more to come.

Available on Amazon Prime.

Another Period

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Another Period is one chaotic ride of laughs and OMGs. Created by and starring Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome as Lillian and Beatice Bellacourt, the show is an amalgamation of The Kardashians and Downton Abbey. If that sounds confusing and anachronistic, you’re right and it’s hilarious. The show is filled with a “I know that actor” cast including some actors normally more prone to dramas like Christina Hendricks and Paget Brewster. Michael Ian Black and Jason Ritter also delight as the head butler and the incestuous brother of Beatrice, respectively. The show is raunchy and ridiculous and everything you’d ever want out of a period drama re-imagined as a reality show. If watching Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan have a “cocaine wine” drinking contest with the Bellacourts sounds like your kind of humor, you can watch episodes on Comedy Central Tuesdays 10:30pm.

True Detective: The Western Book of the Dead

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Season two of this crime drama anthology series stars Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch. This new season of True Detective is set in Los Angeles County and revolves around the death of a city official. The season premiere of was rather slow and boring but had a promising noir vibe. The second episode, which has already aired but which I’ve yet to see, apparently could be a game changer for the rest of the season. I’m willing to stick it out for the short number of episodes and see if the show can become more than the pilot’s premise of alcoholic cops who hate their lives and Vaughn’s vague criminal trying to hold together some fraudulent land deal. My praise for the show falls solely on the back of Farrell who conveys a rage scarier and more out of control than anything I’ve seen on television in quite some time.

HBO Sundays, 9pm

Sense8

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Sense8 is one of those shows that is as difficult to explain as it is to comprehend when watching it. Created, written, and executive-produced by Andy and Lana Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski, the sci-fi thriller focuses on eight people around the world whose consciousnesses become linked. In short, they get flashes of each others lives, a woman in a sunny city in Indian hears rain and thunder which is happening in a city across the world where another one of the 8 lives. The premiere episode did a brilliant job of introducing all the characters without getting bogged down in their backstories. It gives just enough context to feel for each of these people as they start hearing, seeing and feeling the intermittent links with the other characters. It is inventive and complex storytelling with the potential for greatness  as long as it can keep up the pace and the ability to shift from character to character in ways that advance the story.

All episodes available on Netflix

The Brink

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The Brink is an absurd political comedy created by brothers Roberto Benabib and Kim Benabib. The surprising thing about The Brink it that unlike other contemporary shows about politics, this show uses names of real countries and real companies (Lockheed Martin) keep it grounded in some form of reality. This first season focuses on a coup in Pakistan with the idea for the series being that these same characters will deal with a political crisis in a different part of the world each season. An offhanded comment about the lack of wages for military personnel makes this show smarter and more relevant than the zany characters initially portray.  Tim Robbins plays the Secretary of State as a hard-partying cad who relies on his assistant played by Maribeth Monroe to basically do his job for him.  Jack Black is playing it goofy but professional as a low-level embassy worker who tries to prove himself as a helpful spy. The interplay between Black and his assistant in Pakistan, played by Aasif Mandvi, are some of the quickest banter on the show and that’s saying something. My only complaint is that I wish there were more women on the show but since this is a show about high-level politicians, I like to think its a subtle commentary on how few women actually hold positions of power in our government.

Sundays at 10:30pm on HBO.

 

Ballers

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Ballers didn’t do much for me in the first episode except remind me that The Rock has swagger for days. A lot of people have been comparing this show, created by Stephen Levinson and starring Dwayne Johnson, to that other HBO show about making money, being famous and partying hard, Entourage. I enjoyed Entourage because I liked the insider Hollywood feel. I don’t care about watching football players drive fancy cars or have sex with random women in clubs any more than I liked watching the guys of Entourage do that stuff. If this show deals more with the realities of retiring from professional sports, and the realities of head injuries and domestic abuse within football, then this show may get to deeper levels that make it worthwhile. If it’s just going to be the “Football Entourage” then I’m out.

Sundays at 10pm on HBO.

Mr. Robot

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Mr. Robot is a new show on USA that feels and looks more like it belongs on HBO, and I mean that as a compliment. Created by Sam Esmail and starring Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, this Cyberpunk thriller is about a hacker group led by Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) taking down Ecorp, the largest corporation in the world. Ecorp is a not so subtle stand-in for Enron with the 2015 power of Google. Elliot is a computer genius attracted by Mr. Robot’s desire to redistribute all the wealth by erasing all of Ecorp’s banking and debt history. Malek’s Elliot is the reason to watch this show. In one two minute montage he mentions the hypocracy in our society of idolizing people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs while they profit from the destruction of any real human interaction. You wonder in the first half of the pilot if Elliot is a delusional schizophrenic or if he really is being followed by the top 1% of the top 1% for knowing too much. Mr. Robot could have been a film, given the concept and set up, so we’ll see how involved and complicated they make the story to keep it going long term.

Wednesdays at 10pm on USA.

Humans

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Written by the British team Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley, based on the award-winning Swedish science fiction drama Real Humans, Humans is my favorite kind of sci-fi, relatively quiet and subtly creepy in its implications. It seems to take place in current time with nothing suggesting this is the future, just an alternate version of now where we have advanced robots. While hundreds of thousands of these “synthetics” have been sold to corporations and families for domestic work, five of them are sentient and trying to escape. One of they synths is captured and then purchased by a family. The mother in the family feelings she is being replaced as she watches the synth read a bedtime story to her daughter. The oldest daughter says their is no reason to do well in school since there will be no jobs for her due to the synths. The push and pull between the synths making life easier at first while creating complications for society in the long term make this a very topical and intriuing show.

Sundays at 9pm on AMC.

 

UnReal

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This show had me hooked from the establishing shot of the main character, Rachel (Shiri Appleby), a producer for a Bachelor-like reality TV show wearing a shirt that says “this is what a feminist looks like” while trying to get a bunch of the contestants, dressed in ball gowns, ready to meet “the suitor.” Unreal is the best show of TV right now. It’s a smart, funny satire about the inner workings of Ever Lasting.  I’ve never seen The Bachelor but the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast panel was saying it adds a new level to watch both together, as some of the stories mirror each other and make you wonder if they got to the same destination though similar manipulation. Its probably more real than we want to admit given that one of the creators,Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, actually worked as a producer on The Bachelor.

There’s one scene where a black producer pulls aside the two black contestants and tells them they either have to play mean bitchy black women with attitudes or they won’t move forward because black women aren’t marriage material. Its a sad and infuriating critique of the way minorities are really treated and portrayed in reality TV as well as scripted shows.

The entire cast is brilliant but Shiri Appleby, as the troubled producer forced to come to work at a job she loathes but where she also shines, conveys so much depth in her watery eyes. Everyone on this show, and the show within the show, is conflicted yet everyone stays. You feel sorry for the women while also wanting them all to just walk out or unionize!

I’m not sure how they’ll transition this to a second season but right now this first batch of episodes is entertaining and layered in such a fresh and nuanced way that it’s the show I’m most excited to watch each week.

 

Mondays at 10pm on Lifetime.

The Strain (season 2)

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If you didn’t see season 1 of this nouveau vampire story, based on the graphic novel of the same name, by you should really binge before season 2. The tv show is produced by Guillermo Del Toro and Carlton Cuse, two guys who know something about suspense and beautiful imagery. The exciting thing about this show is its basically a prequel to The Walking Dead but with vampires instead of zombies. You get a sense of the confusion and chaos that goes with the initial collapse of the internet and all mass communication systems. I like that these vampires make vampires scary again. One of the main changes they go through is that their sexual organs fall off (or out for the women) making them non-sexual beings. The only weak part of the show is the protagonist, the head of the CDC Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stall) and his random group of allies who are all too whiny, with the exception Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) who’s been hunting vampires since WWII. There are two levels of vampires, the zombie-like ones who retain no personality or human qualities and then the others who are a higher level and can mask themselves to pass as human. I hope the show will continue in the state of “recent panic” for at least another season.

Watch season 1 on Hulu Plus or buy it on Amazon.

Premieres July 12th

Sundays at 10pm on FX.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

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Denise Leary plays a washed up “rock star” more famous for his bands dissolution than any music he ever made. Co-starring John Corbett, I’m excited to see what tone the show takes. From the previews it looks very fun in the same way Leary’s previous show, Rescue Me, could also make you laugh at how horribly depressing the character’s lives turned out.

Premieres July 16 10pm

Thursdays at 10pm on FX.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

If you’ve never seen Wet Hot American Summer, finish reading this and then stop whatever else you were going to do today and go watch it. Its rich with people who are now uber famous but were only on the brink of stardom back in 2001. See Elliot Stabler from Law and Order : SVU be funny! Enjoy all the awkward humor and sexual tension between Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Ian Black, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Zak Orth, and A.D. Miles, just to name a few. The film takes place during the last full day at a summer camp in 1981. The series is, hilariously, a prequel which takes place on the first day of camp that same summer.  As long as it as equally as random and zany as the original, we’ll all have a great summer.

All episoded available on Netflix July 31.

Have you seen any great summer television yet? If you’ve seen any of these shows, leave a comment telling me what you think. Happy watching.

Come From Away: Thriving in a State of Emergency

Come From Away: Thriving in a State of Emergency

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Come From Away, the newest musical at La Jolla Playhouse, tells the touching true story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada which double in population for five days when over 30 planes were diverted to the island after all planes were rerouted on September 11, 2001. The story of 9,000 stranded travelers spending almost a week in this strange land full of friendly people is so vibrant and ripe for telling that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been made into a feature film or play before now.

I was a senior in high school in San Diego, CA on September 11, 2001. I went to school that day and all we did was watch the news in every class while most of my teachers cried or frantically tried to call family in New York. My dad watched CNN nonstop for weeks. The videos of the towers falling are seared into my mind like every other American of a certain age. I knew a couple people who lived in New York City at the time but I didn’t personally know anyone who died or was related to someone who died. As an American and a human of course I was affected but it was a different type of pain and sadness than most of the film, theater, and other artistic takes on the event have depicted throughout the years. As a bystander grappling with events taking place 3,000 miles away, I always felt slightly guilty for not being more involved. Come From Away is one of the best depictions of the confusion, panic, and helplessness felt during the days following 9/11 from the perspective of people not at ground zero, or New York, or even on American soil.

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The Art of Movie Marketing: Jurassic World

The Art of Movie Marketing: Jurassic World

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Jurassic World is going to be a huge money maker. That’s not up for debate. What is being discussed ad nauseam are the over the top CG, sexism, and stupid plot points (trained raptors). As a huge Jurassic Park fan, I’ve been excited to see Jurassic World for the last couple years. I’m seeing the movie this Friday and I’m trying not to let what I read color my giddiness. What’s clear though is that regardless of my opinion once I see the movie, Jurassic World has had the best marketing campaign I’ve possibly ever seen. The marketing has been immersive, fun, inventive, and an impressive story on its own.

The main reason I’m so excited for the movie is the same reason the marketing has been a compelling multimedia story to follow. The ability to watch a fully functioning and realized dinosaur theme park is a great idea. It’s what everyone wanted after seeing Jurassic Park, despite the death and destruction. Even though the fictional theme park depicted in Jurassic Park was a failure before it ever opened, people who watched it dreamed of a park like that in real life that was a success. Who doesn’t want to pet a Triceratops?

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

madmaxExciting. Breathtaking. Funny. Nerve-racking. These are the adjectives that should describe every summer blockbuster and action film. For the last few years, however, tent-pole films could be described as bloated, sappy, overwrought, and a CGI black hole. Mad Max: Fury Road finally reminded us what we’ve all been missing from action films of late; bad ass women, men not wearing tights or superhero costumes, and action with real consequences. If action, violence, cars, heavy metal, and dystopia don’t sound like anything that will interest you, I promise Mad Max will change your mind as you sit in awe of the sheer feats of filmmaking and ingenuity that are apparent in every frame of the film.

Mad Max: Fury Road, as most will tell you, is not about Max. It’s about Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her quest to free the sex slaves (more on that later) held captive by Immortan Joe to provide him with healthy offspring. That’s really all you need to know and that’s about all the film tells you. You can pick up snippets of backstory (Furiosa was kidnapped and taken by Joe 7,000 days ago) or world-building cultural touchstones (The War Boys believe in the afterlife, Valhalla) but the plot is basically one long car chase and it’s exhilarating.

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Podcasts: My Rush Hour Sanity

Podcasts: My Rush Hour Sanity

podcast-logoI live 12 miles from my job. Those 12 miles take me an hour to drive in the morning and between an hour and an hour and a half in the evening. I’ve been doing the commute for over 3 years and while, at some point, I did stop having small meltdowns every night (the drive home is always mentally harder than the start of the day for me) I was still relatively cranky. I’d listen to the radio or blast a new CD but I would still find myself in a much worst mood when I got out of the car than when I got in. That was until I found my saving grace, podcasts.

My husband, Kevin, was apparently an early adopter to podcasts, listening to certain ones religiously since 2009. He’d always tell me some interesting fact he’d learned from them but I never got interested enough to listen myself. After my dad died last November, I found my commute nearly impossible. No matter what song was playing I found my thoughts traveling back to my dad and my loss and I’d arrive at work in tears. I realized I needed more than a song to keep my mind occupied during my drive each day.

I thought I’d make podcast listening into an extension of my job and only listen to podcasts about marketing and branding. I quickly realized I was bored and didn’t want my commute to feel like more work. So, I went to the App Store and just typed in keywords of stuff I wanted to listen to: film, television, pop culture, film reviews.

I now listen to podcasts morning and night and have even started a walking routine at work each day to keep myself moving. I use my favorite podcasts as motivation, I’m only allowed to listen to those when walking. I’ve been thoroughly entertained by these shows and am thankful for the companionship they provide me each day.

Finding a podcast that connects with you is a very personal thing. I’ve found that certain qualities keep my attention much better than others. I also find that I’m more quick to dislike a podcast due to one person in a round-table not being my cup of tea than I am to, say, stop watching a television show because there is a character I dislike. Perhaps its because these are real people or because radio always feels like a more intimate medium. Without further ado, here are the people who’ve gotten me through the last seven months.

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Settlers of Catan: A Film?

Settlers of Catan: A Film?

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Me basking in the glory of a Catan win!

My sister, Sara, brought to my attention that there are plans for a movie based on the board game Settlers of Catan. Since the first time I ever played the game was with Sara and her friends, it felt fitting that she asked me to write about my thoughts on the potential adaptation.

Loser: Board Games Adapted as Fictional Movies

No one needs a movie or tv show based on a board game. Battleship (2012) being the obvious example of why this idea will fail. All producer Gail Katz, and every other film studio, wants is name recognition so people will tune in. The reality is that Settlers is quite simple (once you set up the board and understand all the rules) and there is no backstory so the script will end up being a complete work of fiction with no real ties to the game anyway.

Obviously, people with money and producing power in Hollywood have realized the fanatic love of the game. I’ve been play with friends for years. We all should have known this was coming after it showed up in an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Winner: Board Games as Documentary Film Subject

The better question is not “what will the film adaptation be like?” but “why fictionalize it?” Katz has the makings for a great story right in front of her in the form of a documentary. If she really wants to capitalize on the fan base this is the way to their hearts.

Some of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen are based on people’s obsessions with specific games. The King of Kong (2007) being my favorite. Its a brilliant piece of film that is a standard good vs. evil story with all the tropes of a Hollywood Western. King of Kong is about people trying to break the record score on an old King Kong arcade machine but it is so well executed that even if you’ve never seen an old coin-op machine you’ll find yourself quickly immersed in this subculture. If you want to be complete engrossed and amazing by the level of commitment people have to a game, watch the complete film on Hulu.

kong of kong

Other documentaries about striving for perfection in the world of competitive game play:
Word Wars (2004) – Scrabble
Wordplay (2006) – Crossword Puzzles
Darkon (2006) – Live Action Role Playing (larping)
Mile High Magic (2014) – Magic: The Gathering

What are your favorite films about games? Would you watch a Settlers of Catan film or documentary?

Final Thought: Clue (1985) is the only exception to this rule.