Best TV of 2017

Television keeps on getting better somehow. Or it seems to be getting better. Or, at the very least, we talk about it a lot more than we used to, which may very well be a sign of either true cultural ascension of HBO and Netflix or general increase in lazy soma-taking viewership. Or both. Or not. Who knows? Your friends probably have a list of shows that you must check out, and they’ll stuff your ears full with the genial selfless joyousness of stuffing a Christmas stocking till you either watch or suffer the fate of an unfriend. Nobody wants to be an unfriend.

That’s depressing. But there’re too many best television list out there and we had to try to switch the game up a bit. Here’s our list of what you must check out, because they were the absolute best this year, and we are sure you’ll love them. But unlike your friends, we’ll still be here for you even if you don’t watch them.

aka Wyatt Cenac

Wyatt Cenac is the Viceroy, Kings County’s sentry, in aka Wyatt Cenac, the comic’s very own web series on Topic, a “story telling studio”. The Viceroy battles daily crime, confronts bad parenting, stands up for city regulations, busts a mustard shop (Viceroy, aka Wyatt Cenac: “I honestly don’t understand why anyone would want this much mustard, no offense.”), among other things. Though it only has 6 episodes, aka Wyatt Cenac deals more honestly with race, gentrification, and mundane inequities of life in a big city than any other show out there (that I know of). Cenac’s is a welcome respite from the onslaught of mediocrity that’s risen to the top like congealed chicken fat in a sad bowl of ramen in Bushwick in December. That sentence is an example of the kinds of crime Viceroy/Cenac battles, not that it’s necessarily untrue. Watch it and spread the love. (Do web series count as television?) — Hoon, managing editor

Image source.

American Gods

Full disclosure: I watched the television series American Gods, but I’ve not read Neil Gaiman’s book. In the nature of complete disclosure, I half started watching the show based on the draw of Ricky Whittle alone. However, once I started watching, I was, as they say, hooked. The show is weird. It’s intense, it’s violent, it’s confusing, and it’s incredible. The premise makes it an interesting watch now, at a time when secularism runs rampant and the relevance and purposes religion are being constantly questioned. On the outside, it’s a flashy series full of action and sex, which is great on its own, but the themes presented and examined within the show make it so much more. — Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

Master of None

The second, and final, season of Master of None was released on Netflix this May and, already, I am mourning its absence. Aziz Ansari did something original here. He stepped away from the script — from scrupulously monitored plot developments and character arcs — to explore some serious issues (always with a comedic twist). Episode two, ‘Religion,’ follows Dev’s experience growing up in a Muslim family. Episode six, ‘New York Stories,’ is an artistic take on the intersecting lives of strangers; part of the episode is silent, taken from the perspective of a deaf character. Episode six, ‘Thanksgiving,’ follows Dev’s friend Denise as she comes out to her family. All of this relevant social commentary and a satisfying romantic arc, what more could you ask for? — Rachel Gerry, Intern

Big Little Lies

HBO’s miniseries Big Little Lies starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, and Zoe Kravitz is definitely one of my favourite tv shows of the year. Having never read the book by Liane Moriarty, I had no idea what to expect. The dark comedy is set in Monterey, California. Secrets, deception, rivalries, and eventually murder had me hooked each week and trying to figure out what was going to happen next. — Drew Brown, Editor-in-Chief 

 

For Us by Us—Black Women on TV

from Season 2 of HBO’s ‘Insecure’

TEXT: Shauna Mercy

For 8-10 glorious weeks in the summer, my girlfriends and I gather to watch HBO’s Insecure on Sundays. Finally, 30+ mins of storytelling — for us by us. We find ourselves laughing at Issa’s mirror monologues, cheering when Molly slays at work, and cringing when both girls make a complete mess of their love lives. Thankfully, Insecure is just one of many shows featuring black female talent.

These days black girls can look forward to Blackish, Greenleaf, Queen Sugar and the entire Thursday night Shondaland line up, and it’s about time too! For far too long black girls have grown accustomed to not seeing our faces in characters from our favourite shows. And when we are included, the characters tend to be monolithic in nature — we’re either matriarchal, magical and perfect, or urban (because you can’t possibly be all those things at once).

The constant white washing of our humanity is unbelievably exhausting so it makes sense that we gravitate to and celebrate shows that put the narrative of Black female lives back in our hands. I longed for the day when black women would be regular fixtures on TV, where we play white caped heroines saving men from their scandals one day, and basic AF, flawed, insecure women the next.

Though most days we find ourselves yelling at our faves, it feels good. It feels good to see us dominating TV with layered portrayals of what it means to be black and female. It feels good to see those same black female voices win golden statues for jobs well done. It feels good to have options. But mostly it just feels good to finally see us building our OWN tables rather than asking for a seat at theirs.

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Director Robert Lieberman on commercials, science fiction and his CDGA nomination

Lieberman on the set of The Expanse.

American director Robert Lieberman is no stranger to accolades. Having directed commercials for 30 years, Lieberman has been awarded 29 Cleo Awards, has attended Cannes three times, and won the Director’s Guild Award for commercials the first year it was given. His resume is impressive, his experience extensive, but for Lieberman, receiving a nomination from the Canadian Director’s Guild Awards is an honour, and an entirely new one at that.

“I’m a new Canadian,” says Lieberman. “I’ve only been here for about a decade. I’m honoured to be recognized by my peers in the country I’ve chosen, especially given the competition.”

Lieberman has been nominated for the CDGA award in television direction for his work on the science fiction series The Expanse. The show follows a United Nations executive, a detective, and a ship officer uncovering a conspiracy that threatens the peace and survival of the human race in a colonized solar system. Shohreh Aghdashloo plays the executive, Thomas Jane plays the detective, and Steven Strait plays the officer. The show is based off of the book series by James S. A. Corey, a pen name for writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Lieberman was initially a fan of the book, and joined the television adaptation halfway through its first season. “The show they were approaching wasn’t the show I had in mind when I read the book,” explains Lieberman. “[The showrunners] agreed with me. We decided to revamp the look of the show.”

Changing the look of a show partway through the first season is risky, but the creative team behind the show liked Lieberman’s vision for the show and ran with it. It paid off. The show is now entering its third season and boasts an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Lieberman describes his take on the world created in the book as crowded — real estate is at a premium in space, so everywhere you look there’s stuff. It’s different than the cold, minimalist space so iconically portrayed in movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s realer, it’s gritty, it’s not very different from our current reality.

“They wouldn’t fill up cubic yards of oxygen just for the sake of filling it up,” says Lieberman. “I recommended they fill the sets with gack [set decoration] so that it all looked grungy and worked. For the episode I’m nominated for, the set was called the Winnebago of space crafts.”

Lieberman didn’t start out directing television, and didn’t even start out wanting to be a director. His first foray into the entertainment industry was as an actor. While growing up in Buffalo, Lieberman was one of the few working child actors in the area. In University, however, his goals shifted.

“I started to realize I was more of a control freak than I thought. I didn’t like being told what to do and I like telling people what to do. Directing is the perfect profession,” jokes Lieberman.

His heart was in the arts, but Lieberman says his aptitudes were pointing towards mathematics. There are a couple of ways to marry the two and directing is one sure way to do so. The combination of technology, planning, number crunching, and coupling an artistic eye with a logical one made the choice for career clear to Lieberman. And the first big destination that choice brought Lieberman to was Hallmark commercials, where he made a name for himself in the industry. “I love stories about humankind and interaction between people,” he says, “I imbue my films with really in-depth characters.”

Lieberman does bring up a good point: no matter the genre, the stories we are invested in are always about people. If we have no characters, no relationships, nothing human to identify with, then engagement and enjoyment become that much more difficult. Science fiction is no different. While the setting is concerned with technology, machinery and futurism, the story is always revolved around the people within these worlds. But what Lieberman says also draws him to the genre is the aspect of a blank canvas.

On another set for The Expanse.

“You have to invent everything,” says Lieberman. “It’s challenging to create worlds that don’t exist.”

Lieberman’s creativity is clear in The Expanse, but also shows in his eclectic body of work. Looking into his ear future, Lieberman shows no sign of becoming pigeon-holed into a particular genre or position.

“I’m doing a package of Toyota commercials,” says Lieberman. “I’m writing a personal play I’d originally intended as a movie, but I decided is better on stage. I’m writing three things simultaneously — there’s a sci-fi YA novel, which I hope turns into the next Harry Potter.”

With projects scheduled for the coming years and an inexhaustible work ethic, it’s no wonder award nominations such as the CDGA keep heading Robert Lieberman’s way, and despite the “I’m just happy to be nominated” phrase being a bit of a cliche, Lieberman did tell me, very seriously, that he is happy just to be nominated.

You can visit Robert Lieberman’s website here.

A Class By Herself: A Conversation with Actor, Writer, and Producer Kelly McCormack

Kelly McCormack is not an overnight sensation.

Such a thing doesn’t even exist, not really. Not even in this age of instant fame via Instagram. For people like Kelly, it’s about a lifetime of work that gets them to a point where success is suddenly found. The actor, writer, and producer who stars in the third season of the hit sci-fi show Killjoys, is filming a feature film she penned for next year and recently travelled to Taiwan for an opera. A quick internet search has Kelly showing up everywhere, but as she told me over the September long weekend, her wild amount of on-the-go projects lends itself to years of diligent work.

If you were looking for a Cinderella story, this both is and is not it.

Natasha Grodzinski: 2017 has been and continues to be a big year for you. What do you have on the go right now?

Kelly McCormack: From my perspective, I’ve been so busy for so long working on a lots of different projects. You put irons in the fire and it just so happens that 2017 was the year they all exhibited. It’s been a bit hilarious because my acting career, my writing career and my producing career have all coalesced for this one year of bananas. I’m on the show Killjoys which is a huge deal. I went to the audition — it was the first audition of the year, I booked it, and that kind of changed my year, because I was shooting the series from January to May. The TV show I produced for the CBC, The Neddeaus of Duqesne Island came out. We found out we got to moved forward with my feature film Sugar Daddy and I went to Taiwan for this opera. It’s been a little bit absurd, but amazing. I’m a total workaholic — I get stressed out when I have time off to relax. So, it’s been a lot of fun.

NG: Being idle isn’t something you do well?

KM: Oh my god, no. Laughs. I say that so honestly. When I was seven years old, they asked me to do a project on a superpower I wanted. There were lots of powers I wanted, but when I was seven I wrote I didn’t want to have to sleep because I wanted to get more work done. When I was younger one of my uncles told me you sleep for half your life. I was so devastated by that. I don’t do holidays well. The best kind of holiday is how I went to Taiwan for this opera, where I have to perform a bunch but can explore in between. I can deal with moments of high pressure and I feel like that’s when I’m the most myself and the least stressed. You know, I was the girl who rearranged her room every month and had all these decisions about what she was going to do. All of my bucket lists were books. That’s it.

NG: I would say that’s working out well for you now.

KM: Yes, I suppose. I’ve always wanted to be an actor. I started my academic life of writing in university. Producing I just love. I love putting pieces together and making stuff happen. But those were all done in the service of telling more stories and getting busier. In my film Sugar Daddy I play a musician as I also came up through music. I didn’t mean for it to boil over like this but it’s great. Like I said, I don’t do holidays well. I like being able to turn off my phone for  a day, but then I think, “Oh god, there’s all these things I should’ve been doing.”

NG: You touched on one of those aspects of storytelling I wanted to talk about, which is starting your own production company.

KM: Well, it kind of came out of nowhere. About three years ago I was supposed to be in this play, but it fell through. I did have this sweet part-time job at Seneca College. You know I always say artists live or die by their part-time jobs. People are always trading advice and secrets.This one was sweet, it was the holy grail of part-time jobs, but I got laid off there and a bunch of things just fell though. I had a super busy summer, then my slate was wiped completely clean. I was so stressed because it wasn’t where I saw things going. Then Ingrid Veninger, a very well-known DIY filmmaker in Canada, was doing this challenge for filmmakers to make a movie for only $1000. I was hanging with my friend Kristian Bruun, we were just talking about it and I thought, okay, screw it, I’ll write a feature film, the two of us will produce it and we’l put our friends in it. It was this really sweaty, insane summer exercise. I wrote it in two weeks, we shot it in two weeks and we produced the whole thing for $1000.

NG: Holy god.

KM: Yeah, it was crazy. The way that we cast it, with a budget like that, the more creatively involved you have to keep people. Everyone thinks you have to call in all these favours — don’t get favours, get people who are so hungry to make something happen. The way we assembled this cast and crew was like this: I asked Kristian, “Who would you not make a movie without?” He said, this person. Then we asked that person the same question and so on. We assembled this ride or die clan of people. Kristian and I didn’t sleep for two weeks, I sublet my apartment to pay the $1000, because even with a low budget like that it’s a lot of money. We produced this film called Play the Film. It’s a comedy, it’s really weird. It’s about these actors who aren’t booking work so they put on this play. Very meta about our lives, you know. It goes horribly wrong and they end up improvisation stage and making the most offensive play every to be put before an audience. It ended up doing really well and went to festivals around the world. It happened that I needed to put a company name on this film. I have this super righteous dog named Floyd and for some reason we call him Floyder. I wanted to immortalize him so I called the company Floyder Films.

Of course as the acting, writing and producing are going well, I’m thinking, what else can I do? I’ve started thinking about how I can grow the company and about better ways to monetize my ability to bring people together who love to tell stories and hopefully bring in some business-minded people, and hopefully, you know, just be a really powerful CEO one day. Laughs.

NG: One step closer to world domination.

KM: Yeah! I can say these things in interviews, like over the phone you know I’m not saying it in a different way, but I’ll see myself on paper saying, “I want to change the world!” I think, “Yeah, I sound really full of myself.” I’m sure lots of men say stuff like that and don’t worry about it.

At the same time, I am an outspoken feminist. I care about the representation issue in the industry. I care about telling stories that represent women and casting and hiring people of colour. The impetus from wanting to be successful with my production company is because I want to invigorate and hire people who may not normally get that opportunity, I want be a change in the industry. I’ve started trying to option books, which is a really fun thing. You get to read your favourite books and stalk the author and publishing company to try and convince them to give you the rights. Doing that is fun. I’m a big sci-fi reader and am always thinking of how I can make this story into a movie.

NG: Science fiction is a really fantastic space for progression.

KM: For sure! And you have all these people watching Star Trek or Star Wars where there are futures where race and gender don’t mean a thing. Mothers are realized to be at the centre of societies. I was finishing Dune over the weekend and mothers who reproduce and populate civilization are gods. There’s this future that we could be heading towards but it’s like, come on people! Sci-fi’s already there! That’s what great bout being on a show like Killjoys. I get scripts for my character and you don’t get the same ick factor as you do reading other scripts, when you’re thinking, “Ugh this is so gendered and so mildly racist.” It’s a wonderful space.

NG: Is that a direction you want your company to go in?

KM: I do talk about this a lot, about making movies without gender pain, without the ideas of the expectations we put on masculinity and femininity. I have a documentary I’m working on, and another series, and they centre around that topic.

NG: In your own writing, you have the film Sugar Daddy, which had a very familiar concept to me, having heard about it at school, but I wanted to talk about writing the stories you want to see.

KM: Well, Sugar Daddy is, first and foremost, about this up-and-coming musician. And she’s trying to make it. She’s broke and has yet to cross that threshold where she’s making money or getting noticed. Even without the sugar daddy, that’s not a story we see often. There are so many movies about artists trying to make it, and they’re all men! There’s this obsession with the male artist and the tortured, struggling musician. We’ve seen so many movies like that.

[Sugar daddies, at the basest definition, are rich men, usually older, who pay younger women to date them.]

She learns to package herself for all these other men in different ways. Then she learns how to package herself for the already sexualized music industry. It’s about the commodity of art and self-worth. It’s about sex as a commodity and generally the sexual politics that every single woman has to negotiate on a daily basis. You know, “Oh, this guy bought me a drink, do I need to talk to him now,” or, “This guy bought me dinner on a date, do I have the sleep with him now?” The things that half the population has to think about on an hourly basis is really what the film is about. It’s told through the eyes of this artist who is then regurgitating it into her music.

When I was in New York and had a million part-time jobs and all my friends were trying to make it on Broadway, a bunch of my friends did this. This was years ago, before it became the cultural phenomenon. My first reaction was disgust, but it took five or six years of being a producer in the industry and going to these parties to see how you don’t really have a choice in being commodified.You have to go through that stuff anyway.

NG: When you’re looking at roles you haven’t written, what are you looking for?

KM: In general, the type of roles that inspire me, whether I get offered them or not, are depictions of women we don’t see a lot. I like playing characters that have endgames, motivations and locations that are not not involved with them falling in love with a man, though I’m not saying I wouldn’t do a romantic comedy. Laughs. Like Zeph, for example, the character I play on Killjoys, she’s a science nerd. That’s her passion, her focus, her drive. In Sugary Daddy, she’s an artist, that’s her drive.

In terms of types of characters, I want to play the most opposite of the one I just played. I would love to have a career where someone calls me a character actor. I don’t really have an interest in defining this “Kelly brand” and delivering this ongoing character of myself. I became an actor because I love pretending to be other people. I’ve had some opportunities to play bizarre characters and I hope when I get to put them together, people don’t recognize me part to part.

NG: One of the weird characters I had to ask you about, and I watched the whole thing last week, is on The Neddeus of Duqesne Island.

KM: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That show is probably one of the most proud things I’ve been a part of in my life. I produced that series and it’s written by Aaron Schroeder who came to me a couple of years ago with this crazy idea of making a faux NFB documentary. We shot it in the fall, and I also had the opportunity to be in the series as Eloida, the demonic twin. It was so much fun to be in. The whole point of the series was to mimic that ultra-naturalism from the documentaries, so it’s not about what you’re saying, it’s about the action and what you’re doing with your hands in the moment. The director Sam [Zvibleman] was really good at making sure the actors were not performing. I had this badass 70s costume that made the twins looks like the twins from The Shining. We went up into the woods in the fall and made this weird-ass show. The director would have us do the scene over and over again and improvise and by the end of the day, it didn’t feel like we were performing.

But yes, she was weird character. The dialect was weird and the way she stood was weird. She’s another interesting character where her motivation is actually world domination. That is Pinky and the Brain right there. Her interests are simple: she wants to rule the island and kill her brother. And going back to the roles I want to play, I don’t want to recognizable. I don’t want them to say, “Oh that’s Kelly McCormack.” I want them to say, “Who’s that weirdo? Oh, it’s Kelly!” Laughs. “Who’s that weirdo?” Those are the roles I want to play.

NG: If there were to be a brand, that would be it.

KM: Yeah!

NG: So with all the excitement this year, and with everything happening, where do you see these projects going?

KM: Oh my gosh good question. You know, as busy as it is, I have a constant fear that it will just end. As great as all this is, the upkeep is something that will require all of my energy. Killjoys got picked up for two more seasons, which is incredible. I don’t know what the means for me, but I didn’t die at the end of season three, so…

NG: That’s always a good thing in sci-fi. I didn’t die!

KM: Exactly, so who knows? Sugar Daddy is in the works and I have a couple of other TV shows I’m writing and pitching. I’m always upping the bar for myself. My standard and bucket list is growing. In terms of what’s next… I really want to focus on my production company and the types of films I’m developing. Because for me, I always say, I wanted to be an actor when I was seven and having this life of art was a dream. Then it became my life. It suddenly happens where you work hard and don’t have to do any more part-time jobs, you’re just supporting yourself off of your art. To me, that’s making it. That’s it.

Interview has been condensed for print. You can follow Kelly on Twitter here and Instagram hereContinue following our fashion and lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Is Game of Thrones Becoming Feminist?

Warning: this article is going to be chock-full of spoilers, and probably won’t make sense if you’ve never seen Game of Thrones.

If you only saw the first episode, or even just the first couple of seasons of Game of Thrones, you might be surprised to hear me call it a feminist show. After all, episode one gives us Daenerys Targaryen (played by Emilia Clarke) being abused by her older brother Viserys (played by Harry Lloyd) and forcibly married to warlord Khal Drago. Seasons one and two included plotlines of domestic abuse, rape, and general brutality toward the women on the show, not to mention a great deal of gratuitous nudity and the show’s infamous sexposition.

However, the show has changed gears recently. Daenerys has gone from being a scared, meek young woman with little agency to being one of the most powerful characters with three dragons and a very large army. Sansa Stark (played by Sophie Turner) went from being a spoiled, naïve girl, to being a victim of cruelty from King Joffrey (played by Jack Gleeson) and Ramsay Bolton (played by Iwan Rheon), to becoming a powerful young woman with agency and intelligence.

That’s not to say the show isn’t still experiencing issues. Game of Thrones has been roundly criticized for its lack of diversity. As it stands, there are very few people of color with speaking roles whose characters are still around at the start of season seven. Off the top of my head, I can mainly think of Missandei (played by Nathalie Emmanuel), Grey Worm (played by Jacob Anderson), Ellaria Sand (played by Indria Varma), and some of the Sand Snakes, Obara Sand and Nymeria Sand (played by Keisha Castle-Hughes and Jessica Henwick, respectively). Considering that the cast is well into the hundreds, this is a pretty unimpressive list. Not to mention, there are precious few LGBT characters or storylines, with notable exceptions like the love story between Renly Baratheon (played by Gethin Anthony) and Loras Tyrell (played by Finn Jones).

Also, I do wish that the show could figure out how to deal with sexual violence. In the first episode, Daenerys is raped by her new husband Khal Drogo (played by Jason Momoa), but their marriage morphs into some kind of a love story. Queen Cersei (played by Lena Heady) is raped by her lover/brother Jaime Lannister in season four, but this event is never mentioned again nor does it seem to have any effect on the plot or characters. And while the most recent episode, Stormborn, did a good job showing Theon Greyjoy’s (played by Alfie Allen) trauma from his time being tortured by Ramsay, they’ve given no such indication that they’ll show the trauma that a character like Sansa would likely suffer from after being in two separate abusive relationships from what are quite possibly the two most evil characters Game of Thrones has ever had. Which isn’t to say that I want to see Sansa merely crying and feeling bad about it, but I think there could be space here for a deeper dive into the effects of sex trauma, but the show has yet to do so.

Still, the show has recently made a point of giving its female characters ever-increasing agency and power and more ways to exert this power. We have female warriors like Brienne of Tarth (played by Gwendoline Christie) and Arya Stark (played by Maisie Williams), just Queens like Daenerys, villainous ones like Cersei, and everyone’s favorite little badass, Lyanna Mormont (played by Bella Ramsey), who had one of my favorite lines in last week’s episode when she let the men of the North know that she wasn’t going to be knitting by the fire when the white walkers come. With Jon Snow (played by Kit Harrington) off to Dragonstone, this season is poised to have women in control over much of Westeros, from Sansa in the north, Daenerys in the south (ish), and Cersei in King’s Landing.

Plus, while watching Jon attack creepy pedophile Petyr Baelish (played by Aiden Gillan) for preying on Sansa was quite satisfying, I’m more excited to see the women of Westeros protecting each other and supporting each other, especially Arya now that she’s headed back to Winterfell to hopefully, along with Brienne, protect Sansa (not that she can’t protect herself), and Daenerys’s newfound alliance with Olenna Tyrell (played by Diana Rigg), who lets her in on the secret to surviving and outliving men: ignore them. Also, it’s worth noting that so far this season has been light on the sex and nudity, with the one exception being the sweet and romantic encounter between Missandei and Grey Worm.

We’ve only just finished the second episode of season seven, but if the season continues on this track, I think it’s poised to be the most feminist seasons on Game of Thrones, and prove itself a far cry away from its initial ways of portraying women.

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