At Home with Amy Sedaris Review

Who doesn’t love Amy Sedaris? Maybe you love the show she co-created with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello back in the day, Strangers With Candy. Maybe you love her book Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People. Maybe you love her voice work for BoJack Horseman. Or maybe you just like her, period. And if you haven’t heard of her, what are you doing with your life?

Either way, you should start watching her amazing new show, At Home with Amy Sedaris. Sedaris plays various types of people and characters. The show’s premise is to teach the audience about crafts and cooking of all kinds for all occasions. In actuality, Sedaris delivers us her hilarious dark comedy, with a small slice of actual crafting/cooking advice. The show is a marvelous parody of other types of cooking/crafting shows and their overly cheerful hosts (think Martha Stewart or Ina Garten), and has several comedian guest stars, including Jane Krakowski, John Early, and Stephen Colbert, who play themselves and also a variety of roles.

Amy’s characters on the show include neighbor Patty Hogg (who Amy plays against herself), who requests to use space in Amy’s freezer to store her recently deceased dog, which, according to an interview with Stephen Colbert, may be based in real life as Sedaris once stored her dead bunny rabbit in her freezer.

Other segments include Sedaris learning about acting from John Early (who just insults Sedaris the whole time), and discussing knives and how to sharpen a dull knife with her “knife man”, who seems just a bit off, and Amy describing finding love with her…stair bannister, before showing us how to make spanakopita.

At Home With Amy Sedaris is wickedly funny, totally absurd, and, oddly enough, does actually have some good tips on crafting and cooking. If you like Amy Sedaris already, I don’t need to tell you twice to go watch her show right now. And if you don’t, then go watch her show right now.

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Diversity in Kid’s Cartoons

It was announced recently that the new version of The Powerpuff Girls would be introducing a fourth member, Bliss (voiced by Olivia Olson), and that she would be black. Reactions were mostly positive, with a few noting that the way she was characterized in the show made her out be a stereotype of an angry black girl and some also saying that her inclusion felt a bit like tokenism. It’s a fair criticism.

I was, like most people my age, a huge fan of The Powerpuff Girls growing up. It was rare to see female cartoon characters who got to run around, fight villains, and save the day as they navigated girlhood. For me, it was a really big deal to see such representation. But I’m white, so I never really felt that I couldn’t be like them, nor did I lack cartoon characters who look like me. So for all her faults, it is something that a major kid’s cartoon is choosing to include a dark-skinned black girl who will also run around, fight villains, and save the day, even if her portrayal is a bit problematic.

I think now, more so than before, creators of children’s cartoons have realized the importance of diversity and inclusion. Representation is especially important for kids, as they start to form their sense of self, and especially for kids who aren’t white, who are disabled, who aren’t straight and/or cisgender, or are otherwise marginalized.

The Powderpuff Girls: Bubbles, Bliss, Blossom, and Buttercup

Take a show like Steven Universe. The show revolves around its titular character, Steven (voiced by Zach Callison), who is being raised by three female humanoid jewels (known as the Crystal Gems), and spends his time saving the world and subverting masculinity. There are numerous characters of color, and the show has been widely recognized for its multiple portrayals of queer characters and relationships, non-binary characters, and its ability to frankly discuss consent, gender roles, masculinity, maturation, and anxiety. And yet, the show never really veers into the territory of tokenism, instead letting the identities of its characters simply be a fact of the show. It’s one of the few shows on TV for children that has multiple queer characters, and doesn’t bother with the same tired tropes that most adult shows still haven’t stopped using.

For even younger audiences, there are also shows like Doc McStuffins. The show premiered in 2012 and has been going strong ever since. The premise is that the main character, a young African-American girl named Dottie McStuffins (currently voiced by Laya DeLeon Hayes), who hopes to be a doctor like her mother and practices on her toys that come to life from her magic stethoscope, and who she treats injuries and illnesses each week.

Doc McStuffins

Comedian W. Kamau Bell explained the importance of a show like Doc McStuffins on NPR last year, saying: “And so that’s the thing. It’s not a fantasy…Like, it’s not about wouldn’t it be crazy if I was a doctor? It’s clearly a little girl who wants to be like her mom who is a doctor. And they go to her – and there’s episodes where they go to her mom’s private practice and shows that she’s the leader of this practice, and there’s other black women there…And the dad, who we also see, Marcus McStuffins, he’s always at home, so he looks to be a stay-at-home dad…These are things that break down stereotypes and traditional narratives with, like, yeah, that’s what black dads do. We have gardens of vegetables, and we hand out strawberries. That’s what we do. That’s what black dads do.” 

Or, take the show Elena of Avalor, which revolves around a teenage Latina named Elena Castillo Flores (voiced by Aimee Carrero), who rules over a magical kingdom called Avalor. The show is notable not just for having a young Latina protagonist, but also for putting her in a position of leadership, and giving her power, agency, and some cool magic powers. If you’ve ever doubted the power of representation, I’d like to point to this incredibly sweet clip that was floating around Tumblr recently of an actress at Disneyland playing Elena speaking to a little girl in Spanish.

That’s why all this representation matters. It’s not for me to write about it (although that’s a nice bonus), or for people to argue about political correctness or identity politics. Diversity isn’t just some grand idea or social justice buzzword. It’s a real and important way to ensure that young children get to see themselves in media, in positive portrayals, even if they aren’t always part of the majority.

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Star Trek: Discovery Review

If you’re a science fiction geek like I am, you’ve probably noticed that there’s two types of fans. First there’s those who want it to be totally apolitical. If it were up to these guys (and it’s almost overwhelmingly guys, but not always), sci-fi would be composed mainly of spaceships, explosions, cool technology, and a whole lot of straight white cis guys and sexy aliens/robots. Then there’s fans who see sci-fi for the tool that it can be: the ability to show us more futures and possibilities, or to point to our own problems and shortcomings, and some solutions.

No offense to the former kind, but Star Trek, throughout its many TV series and movies, has always been political and meaningful in the best way possible. Sure, there have been plotlines that focused more on the cool futuristic technology and gadgets, or battles with Klingons or Romulans. And yes, there have been more than a few missteps, from the short skirt uniforms on female members of Starfleet in the first series to an almost complete lack of LGBT representation. But mostly, Star Trek has always been about giving us a different possibility, one where bigotry and prejudice were outdated, and has always been about addressing modern issues with a thoughtful, nuanced perspective. Star Trek has touched on race, gender, identity, humanity, truth, justice, war, and diplomacy.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery

On September 24th, the first two episodes of the latest Star Trek incarnation, Star Trek: Discovery were released to the world. In many ways, Discovery is quite unlike previous series. For starters, the main character is not a captain, but instead First Officer Michael Burnham (played terrifically by Sonequa Martin-Green). Michael is human, but she was raised as a Vulcan by Sarek (played in this version by James Frain), and her struggle between her human emotions and the Vulcan adherence to strict logic makes for a unique acting challenge, one where Martin-Green shines. Instead of using an episodic format for storytelling, the story will play out in a serialized narrative. And, perhaps most intriguingly, the show will depart most from other versions of Star Trek by allowing for more conflict between people on the ship. I should say here: spoiler for the beginning of Star Trek: Discovery.

Allowing for conflict between officers plays out quite well in the series’ first episode, “The Vulcan Hello”. Michael, recalling a prior Klingon attack that killed her parents, urges her Captain, Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) to fire at Klingon vessels first, believing they are gearing up for war. When Philippa dismisses this, Michael attacks her with a Vulcan nerve pinch and assumes command of the ship briefly so she can order the attack, however Philippa comes to just in time to stop the attack. The damage is already done, however, and the series makes it clear that one of the main focuses of this season will be the profound affect that causing a war will have on Michael, and how she will handle the enormous brunt of trauma and guilt. And since this is a serialized narrative, we will get to see how these choices play out, instead of discarding them by the next episode.

Michelle Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou in Star Trek: Discovery

It’s also worth noting that this is a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, even more so than other Star Trek worlds. Our main character is a black woman. Another character, Lieutenant Ash Tyler, is played by British actor Shazad Latif, who is partly Pakistani. Anthony Rapp, who is also gay in real life, plays openly gay Science Officer Paul Stamets. And while it’s incredibly disappointing that Michelle Yeoh’s character is (spoiler!) killed off in the second episode, it’s still worth something that the show chose to portray a ship captain as a Chinese Malaysian woman, with Yeoh keeping her own accent and her character shown as having Malaysian artifacts in her ready room.

There’s a lot we’re still waiting to see about this version of Star Trek, but based on the show’s beginning, I think we’re in for all the best parts of Star Trek, from the hopeful vision of humanity’s future without racism, sexism, or homophobia and the penchant for asking the deep questions, along with some new and exciting elements and possibilities for storytelling.

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Horses with Depression: BoJack Horseman Season Four Review

Warning: this article is going to be full of spoilers for BoJack Horseman

BoJack Horseman is an animated comedy show on Netflix about an anthropomorphic horse named BoJack Horseman who is also a washed-up ’90s actor. A few episodes’ plots include trying to rescue his friend/roommate Todd from the cult of improv comedy; and others’ are about a yellow labrador named Mr. Peanutbutter trying to win the race for governor of California via a ski race. BoJack Horseman is also a drama diving into the horrors of depression, anxiety, and addiction, and is a deeply nuanced and thoughtful show, offering a no holds barred criticism of Hollywood, the media, politics, and sexism.

Confusing? Yup. From the get-go, the show never shies away from the absurdity of its premise, and season four is no different, continuing along the same bizarre and hilarious plot points of the last three seasons, while still providing the same ruthless look at the humanity (so to speak) of its characters.

Take the titular character, BoJack. While we’ve previously seen the disastrous results of his depression and addiction, the season four episode “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” takes us directly into his mind, where he has to listen to a near constant monologue of self-hatred and intensely harsh criticism. BoJack’s inner thoughts continually try to lead him to bad decisions, then berate him for doing so. He thinks of alcohol as an easy reprieve, only to regret it right after. Many on the internet with depression and anxiety have noted the accuracy of this inner self-hating voice and the damage it wreaks.

BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) and Hollyhock (voiced by Aparna Nancherla) discussing hearing a hypercritical voice in their heads.

Though this isn’t the first season of the show to delve into mental illness, but so far it’s mostly been through BoJack’s experiences. The fourth season gives us a story in a flashback of BoJack’s grandmother, who, after experiencing severe grief following the death of her son and acting “hysterical”, is forced by her husband to have a lobotomy. It’s a terrifying scene made all the worse because it’s grounded in real life. The fear and discomfort surrounding women’s emotions is apparent, with BoJack’s grandfather even cheerily noting, “As a modern American man I’m woefully unprepared to manage a woman’s emotions. I was never taught, and I will not learn.”

BoJack Horseman has certainly been willing to explore sexism (as in episode “Hank After Dark” in the second season and the episode “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” in season three). But in this season, it is never explicitly a part of a ‘Very Special Episode.’ Instead, the show lets the issue simmer as a main theme throughout. In a flashback, BoJack’s mother Beatrice recalls both classmates who mock her weight and her father — the same man who ordered his wife lobotomized — say this about her experiencing scarlet fever: “Some good may yet come of this. Doctor says your throat is nearly swollen shut. So perhaps you’ll finally lose some of that weight that’s given you such troubles. Won’t that be nice?”

To be fair, those flashbacks take place between the late 1940s and early 1950s, so such disturbing displays of sexism aren’t quite as present outside of the flashbacks, at least on the surface. But lest we breath any sighs of relief: in a subplot in one episode, Hollyhock (BoJack’s biological teenage daughter, who turns out to be his biological half-sister…it’s complicated) calls herself a ‘blob’ compared to several skinny Hollywood women. Later BoJack discovers that his now senile mother has been secretly drugging Hollyhock with ‘Chub-B-Gone,’ showing how Beatrice has internalized the misogyny to the point where she herself perpetuates it.

Todd (voiced by Aaron Paul), in yet another wacky situation.

But this season isn’t all terrifying mental illness and misogyny. Beyond the usual sight gags, puns, and amusing celebrity cameos (Jessica Biel becomes a power-hungry political figure and Zach Braff wails about needing someone to validate his parking for a good 20 minutes), the show manages to find one particular bright spot in Todd, who’s attempting to figure out his asexual identity. In the last episode of season three, Todd admitted to his friend Emily that he wasn’t straight or gay, and wondered if he might be “nothing”, as he put it. This season has Todd trying to decide if asexual is the right label for him, and what exactly he wants from a romantic partner, or if he even wants one at all. In the episode “Hooray! Todd Episode!”, after spending an episode trying to be as helpful as possible and getting into a bizarre array of shenanigans, Todd finally allows himself to have some quiet introspection, and plucks up enough courage to go to an asexual meet-up. It’s a lovely ending, and stands in contrast to the other, much harsher storylines of this season. It’s worth noting that Todd is one of the first main characters of a widely-viewed TV show to identify as asexual, and the show is doing a really good job of it, handling his identity with a gentleness not often seen on television.

Other subplots are handled with similar grace and care. Mr. Peanutbutter, the aforementioned yellow lab running for governor, and his wife, Diane, struggle with their marriage as political issues from guns to fracking become sounding boards for two characters who are very much in love, but very far apart from each other. Princess Carolyn, BoJack’s former agent, struggles with infertility and to keep her work and personal life together. We can’t help but root for her, even as she faces heartbreaking after heartbreaking setbacks.

Mr. Peanutbutter (voiced by Paul F. Tompkins), running for Governor of California

Also, after the success of last season’s mostly silent episode “Fish Out of Water”, it’s clear that the creators of BoJack Horseman have become unafraid of experimenting more with narrative and animation styles. Episodes like “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” and “Henrietta” take unflinching looks inside the psyches of BoJack and Beatrice, respectively, while other episodes like “The Old Sugarman Place” seamlessly mix past and present, culminating in a stunning, tender musical duet between BoJack’s grandmother in the past and his newfound friend in the present.

There are other graceful moments and bright spots this season, and they make a good counterbalance to the utter devastation that the season pushes on the viewer. For all the cartoon animals, sight gags, and fantastical elements, this season of BoJack Horseman has the show remaining brutally honest and terribly affective.

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5 Women Working in TV You Should Know About

It’s often said that we’re living in the golden age of television, and I couldn’t agree more. However, we have to ask ourselves who gets credit for this? Networks and streaming services for hosting good content? Actors? Showrunners? While all of these people have a part to play, a lot of other people working on shows often get left behind. Even directors! After all, you can probably name at least a few film directors, but can you name any TV directors? Or, for that matter, writers, producers, cinematographers, and other people working on the more technical aspects. Now if these people get little recognition or credit in general for their hard work, women working in the industry get even less.

Last week my fellow contributor Natasha Grodzinski told you about 5 women working in Hollywood you should know about. Well, now I’m going to tell you about 5 women working in TV you should know about.

Reed Morano (Cinematographer & Director)

At 36 years old, Reed Morano became the youngest person to be invited into the American Society of Cinematographers, and one of just 14 women. She’s worked on several films as a cinematographer, and has been a cinematographer and camera operator on several episodes on shows like Divorce and Looking. She’s also made her mark as a director, and has several directorial credits under her belt, including the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, which many people (myself included), see as the strongest parts of the season. You can find out more about Morano and her work at her website here.

Michelle MacLaren (Director & Producer)

Michelle MacLaren has had a hand in directing and/or producing some pretty big TV hits in her career, including The X-Files, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, and Westworld. Oh, and did I mention that she’s been nominated by the Primetime Emmy Awards six times (twice as a director and four times as an executive producer) for her work on Breaking Bad? She’s also got new projects coming up, including working as an executive producer and director for the upcoming HBO show, The Deuce. You can see all of MacLaren’s work on her IMDb page.

Kai Wu (Writer)

Any geek worth their stripe has likely seen an episode or two written by Kai Wu. She’s written several episodes of the high-quality horror show Hannibal (she initially interviewed for a position as an assistant and impressed Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller so much that she was hired as a staff writer) and several for the superhero show on the CW, The Flash. Wu is also a writer for the latter show’s prequel comic series, The Flash: Season Zero. Additionally, she was promoted to executive story editor for season 2 of The Flash. And she’s worked through her career as an assistant in various capacities for shows like Flash Gordon and Burn Notice. You can check out Wu’s twitter account here. Also, you can hear Wu discuss her TV writing secrets in this interview.

Joanna Calo (Writer & Producer)

Joanna Calo is an executive story editor, co-producer, and writer for the hilarious animated Netflix dark comedy series BoJack Horseman. She wrote the season three episode “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew”, tackling abortion in an empowering and fantastic way that most shows wouldn’t dare. And as an executive story editor she helped plan out another bold episode, “Hank After Dark”, where she took on sexual abuse in Hollywood (the show even name-drops some real Hollywood men accused of sexual assault, abuse, and domestic violence). She’s also written for shows like Girlboss and Benched. You can check out Calo’s IMDb page here. I’d also highly recommend checking out this article BuzzFeed wrote about her.

 

Ruth E. Carter (Costume Designer)

Ruth E. Carter has not one, but two Academy Awards for costume design: one for Malcolm X and one for Amistad. While she’s mostly worked on films throughout her career (including big hits like Do The Right Thing and Selma), she also worked on the 2016 remake of Roots and currently works on the show Being Mary Jane. Carter is highly regarded for her work, particularly in her ability to make both historical costumes for any era and for ensuring the costumes feel like a cohesive part of the character. She’s also one of few black women who have been truly recognized for their accomplishments in the industry. You can find out more about her on her website here. You should absolutely look through her incredible portfolio.

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