Happy Holidays!

Another change of plans! Yup, originally, I had planned to discuss how and why I thought holiday specials became a ‘thing’. Then, I was going to talk about some of my favorites, make some recommendations, etc. However, this didn’t sit right with me. And after letting the thought marinate for a few days, I decided to table the first part of the discussion for another time.


Now, as for recommendations, there are a number of television specials I could recommend. From Disney Channel Original Films to a number of other programs that have consistently produced holiday specials. Now, there are some programs that might do a Christmas Special here or a Halloween Special there, but then there are programs that put out consistent specials year after year, and those that cover even the less commercialized holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day. It’s the latter that most impress me.

Friends (1994-2004) was known for always having Thanksgiving Specials, but more recently there has been another NBC-produced sitcom that has aired specials for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas for the five seasons that have aired thus far: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-present).

Brooklyn Nine-Nine has aired for the last five seasons on Fox, but was recently picked up by NBC when Fox gave it the ax, however, it has always been an NBC-produced property. Now, Nine-Nine has produced some solid Thanksgiving and Christmas Specials. That’s what I should be focusing on, considering what time of year it is, but the real gems are the Halloween Specials.

In the first Halloween Special, the no-nonsense Captain Holt and man-child Det. Peralta make a bet. Peralta has until midnight to steal Holt’s medal of valor. Shenanigans ensue, and each year a similar bet is made with more outrageous stunts and winners each year (including a marriage proposal one year).

Nine-Nine has mastered a balance between light-hearted flippancy, characters you care about, and serious moments. It’s a truly clever program, and Halloween has become an opportunity for the writers to demonstrate their creativity. Any time of year, these specials are a treat.


Next is a cartoon that never hesitates to celebrate a holiday. From the traditional Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas to Easter and Labor Day, this show captures it. No, it’s not Rugrats (1991-2004), whose dual-faith families gave us some classic spins on the holidays. It’s the more recent Teen Titans Go! (2013-present). Go! is a hugely polarizing program for millennials. We had the classic Teen Titans (2003-2006), which Go! takes a lot of its characterization from. The concept is what superheroes do when they aren’t our superheroing. It’s slice of life when your life is extraordinary and you are a brightly colored cartoon.

Go! uses the voice actors from the first show, including Hynden Walch, who later found success as Princess Bubblegum (Adventure Time, 2010-2018), and Tara Strong, a prolific voice actor whose credits include Twilight Sparkle (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, 2010- present), Bubbles (The Powerpuff Girls, 1998-2005), and Rikku (Final Fantasy XFinal Fantasy X-2).

Because a lot of Teen Titans Go! is just shenanigans, the show does not hesitate to go all out on holidays. If you don’t like frenetic, bright cartoons where nothing of consequence happens, this show is not for you. However, if you have 11 minutes and want to watch something dumb during the holidays, Go! has specials for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.


Now, I can’t talk about holiday specials and not talk about my favorite, Doctor Who (1963-1989, 1996, 2005-present). In addition to a yearly Christmas Special since the show was revived in 2005, Who one year had a year of special after special. From 2008-2010, David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, produced a series of specials that covered Christmas, Easter, and New Years. Yes, it’s not the most diverse, but the show traditionally produces a special that reflects the significance of Christmas in the UK. This year, Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker’s special will not air on Christmas Day, but New Year’s Day, January 1st. And, considering the “simulcast” of the Series 11 premiere, I’m glad we still get January 1st off in just about every profession.


Now, of course, there are the classics, of both Halloween and Christmas, as well as Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter. (I like to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerHow the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Batman Returns before Christmas.) Above are just some highlights. Holiday specials aren’t new and they aren’t going anywhere. (There’s a whole new batch that’s already begun airing.) They have become a part of our culture and are something I look forward to exploring in further depth in a future post.


For now, this post is published on time. And I love celebrating things and what could be better than a commercial holiday?

The Power of Love

No, I’m not talking about the song from Back to the Future (1985), although that is one of my favorite films. This week I’m talking about how love can be a powerful motivator for characters, both protagonists and antagonists.

Six years ago today, my fiancé and I went on our first date, and later today we’re taking pictures to celebrate our engagement. So, after struggling with what I wanted to write about, I decided to look at how and why romantic relationships can be so motivating.

Now, the problem with many pop culture romances is that, while they can be romantic and incredibly interesting (read: juicy), they are often incredibly unhealthy. It is these unhealthy habits that make for some great drama and keep it interesting. So, while they create opportunities for romantic declarations, they aren’t exactly what you necessarily want to shoot for in real life.


… Or maybe you do…? I mean, you could, I guess…


It’s not really my thing.


Next year, I’m marrying my best friend. He is kind and supportive and our personalities and interests complement each other. Neither of us is particularly interested in drama, so there isn’t a lot of it in our relationship. In other words, it’s super boring. Seriously, ours is not a romance anyone wants to watch.

However, across pop culture and media, whether it be a TV show, movie, novel, comic, manga, anime, cartoon (you get the idea), characters are often motivated by romance. (I mean, to be fair, whole industries are motivated by this idea of finding ‘the one’.) But why? Why does romance motivate characters and why do audiences eat it up?

How I Met Your Mother ran for nine seasons from 2005 to 2014 on the premise of Ted Mosby’s search for the titular mother. Audiences remained invested in finding out who she is, how they meet, what happens to her, and what the poor woman’s name is. Although there was a great deal of disappointment with season nine, the show basically ran on romantic relationships the whole time.

In Once Upon A Time (2011-2018), almost every character is motivated by the promise of ‘true love’. From the Evil Queen to Rumpelstiltskin and the villains in between, many of them are motivated by the search for ‘True Love’. Protagonist Emma Swan struggles with romantic love throughout the series, culminating in a wedding in season six. And, we are given glimpses of couples’ ‘happily ever afters’ at the end of season six and throughout season seven.

Batman‘s Mr. Freeze and Adventure Time‘s (2010-2018) Ice King are both motivated by the loss of their significant others. Mr. Freeze is often depicted as looking for a way to save his wife, while Ice King, in his amnesiac state, kidnaps Princesses in an effort to find his lost girlfriend, Betty.


The point is, romantic love is a major driving force across media and pop culture. So, why is it so motivating? And why do audiences care?

I think it has a lot to do with the human need/desire to connect. Everyone wants to feel understood. Humans naturally look for and fall into groups where they share a common trait or goal with other members. Romantic love is often depicted as being loved unconditionally, despite (or sometimes because) of a person’s flaws. It is the ultimate expression of being understood. Someone is choosing to spend their time with you, possibly committing to years in the future. Romantic love is demonstrating that, for whatever reason, this is the person you choose. They see you, understand you, and make you happy.

It’s an addictive feeling, being understood and feeling safe and happy whenever a specific person is near. The promise of such a feeling can be incredibly tempting and it is something infinitely precious. People don’t want to feel alone. Isolation is often a symptom of depression that can exacerbate already dark thoughts. Knowing you are not alone and are understood can do wonders. Romantic love (in theory) can often provide that.

Now, of course, these feelings can also be hugely detrimental. For one, an insane amount of emphasis is placed on finding a significant other, getting married, etc. It can often leading to relationships where the couple is a bad fit, or situations where people stay together because they are afraid to be alone.

Also, while love is a wonderful feeling, one that releases all kinds of feel-good chemicals in the brain, your life is not incomplete without it. It can be a wonderful life bonus, but shouldn’t be the ultimate focus of your life. You often hear about elderly couples who have been together decades dying shortly after one another. It’s a demonstration of how powerful romantic love and companionship can be, but also how such dependence can end your life prematurely.

Thirdly, pop culture is rife with characters who are motivated by feelings of longing. From villains acting out in search of love or because love lost, to protagonists who make poor choices, characters are often compromised by love or even the promise of it. Look at Romeo and Juliet. They are considered one of the greatest love stories of all time (they’re not. Anyone who’s read the play will tell you that is a lie), but they both give up their lives because they don’t want to live without each other (and a stupid misunderstanding).

Love is essentially a drug. It can make you feel amazing, but also kill you.


Now, before I conclude, I would like to say that I made a lot of generalizations here. My goal is to discuss the majority and also what motivates both characters and viewers. Romantic relationships are not for everyone and not everyone feels this way or the need for such a connection. My argument is about why romantic love can be so motivating to act on/watch. I do not intend to invalidate other forms of connection, though I would maintain that it is rare that someone does not require any form of human attachment to another living creature.

Better Late Than Never: Avenue Q

My original plan for this weekend was to write a detailed comparison of the role the military plays in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe. Due to… circumstances… that did not happen. I typically write my blog entries in advanced and schedule them to post a little after midnight on Saturday (I’ve since deleted my empty blog post). Currently, I am writing on a heavily delayed train on its way to Boston from New York, so you’re getting something related to that.


I had a lovely weekend in New York, went to some amazing eateries, took in a show… Now, I would tell you about the food, but since I am woefully unqualified for that, I’m going to talk about the show we saw: Avenue Q. Avenue Q happens to be one of my favorite broadway shows. I first saw it in high school with my mom (awkward!) and this weekend saw it again with my fiancé, my brother, and his girlfriend.


The concept behind Avenue Q is a Sesame Street for grown ups; something that will teach the lessons we wished we learned as we grew into adults. It utilizes standard tropes from Sesame Street to look at racism, sex and relationships, and finding yourself in your 20s.


Before I continue, I should mention that the show absolutely has content NOT suitable for all ages. For example, some of the songs included are: “It Sucks to Be Me”, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”, “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love)”, and (everyone’s favorite) “The Internet Is for Porn”. So, while the show does try to emulate Sesame Street, it is very much for ADULTS. I cannot stress this enough. This show is NOT appropriate for children! DO NOT BRING CHILDREN.


Now, moving on, Avenue Q is currently celebrating its 15th Anniversary (thats 15 years of shows both on and off Broadway), which means it premiered in 2003. As I said above, I first saw Avenue Q in 2007 with my mom. I was in high school at the time, in New York looking at colleges and planning to study Technical Theatre. At that time, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with politics and I found some of the songs as shocking as they were funny (still kinda do, to be honest). But, in 2018, at a time of great unrest when prejudice, bigotry, and misogyny seem to be rampant, there were some moments that were just plain cringy. (And some that weren’t necessarily cringy, but I found personally problematic.)


The thing to keep in mind (something that my brother, his girlfriend, and my fiancé agree on) is that it is important to remember that the show was written and premiered at a very different time for the American economy and politics. So, while a lot of what is said is still poignant and applicable, there are a lot of places where the message is no longer so relevant.


Let’s start with the most cringy and problematic: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”. The point of the song is that since everyone is a little bit racist, we shouldn’t be overly sensitive about other people’s slip-ups, instead trying to focus on who the person is and their actions, and getting along. In 2018, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” has become the excuse for a number of deplorable acts. Instead of using such a message as a way to bring people together, it is being used to create larger divides. This is a huge problem currently facing our country. So, while the song is still funny, I definitely felt cringy listening and laughing, knowing what I do about the world and our country right now.


Another topic I found problematic was the treatment of gay character, Rod. Rod is a Republican and an Investment Banker who is deeply closeted. His roommate, Nicky, tells him, in song that “If [he] Were Gay”, that “would be okay”, but reminds him at every turn that Nicky is absolutely not gay. Later, when talking to another character, the Japanese Social Worker Christmas Eve, she tells him that a republican investment banker would be an absolutely useless homosexual. The overall message is one of acceptance, but the way the show handles it has become somewhat antiquated. Since Avenue Q‘s inception, Gay Marriage has been legalized in the United States while the spectrum of gender and sexuality has become the greater issue. While I’m sure many still struggle with coming out, it’s an old fashioned idea that you have to be a certain way to be gay (beyond being sexually attracted to the same gender you are).


Another issue that had me prickly comes in “The Internet is for Porn”. I love this song and think it’s hilarious, but was disappointed that not even any subtle changes had been made to the choreography. It just demonstrates a bigger issue with how women are treated. While it matches that era as well as some parts of the country now, it’s not something I’d expect in New York. In the song, the lead female, Kate Monster, thinks recluse Trekkie Monster is a pervert for watching porn, and is horrified when all her male neighbors admit to watching porn regularly.


My first issue is that I feel like by now this is more or less common knowledge. It has nothing to do with relationships or sexuality, it’s just a fact that many (if not most) people have watched or read or seen something pornographic. My second issue is that it does not recognize that women are just as likely to partake. In more recent years (and thanks to shows such as Sex and the City), it has become recognized that women are just as sexual as men.


That actually brings me to another character, Lucy the Slut. Lucy is a woman who regularly partakes in casual sex and serves as a major temptress for all the straight men in the show. In the last fifteen years, slut shaming has become unacceptable and many women are refusing to apologize for their sexuality. In general, the attitudes towards women reflect the social politics of 2003. The most progressive idea is that while Kate Monster wants a boyfriend, her real dream isn’t just to get married, but to open a school and be a successful career woman. That just doesn’t cut it in 2018.


I can and always will appreciate what its doing. Avenue Q broke boundaries and made statements and did some really great things (and there are puppets!). It provides important commentaries and is technically brilliant, but so much of it is no longer relevant. It’s like watching a movie made in the 1950s, but because it’s still so recent it’s difficult to create that separation of time and benefit of hindsight.


What we really need is an update, something that teaches the lessons that are relevant now. We need a show that examines the current millennial struggles and priorities, looks at race and gender tensions, and gives a voice to different members of the LGBTQ+ community.  We need a show that uses a different celebrity; Gary Coleman is dead, it’s just sad now.


I have neither the wit nor musical talent to write a proper update, but I maintain it can be done! The way creative content is produced and distributed these days is drastically different. Why can’t we have a new episode of this grown-up Sesame Street? We can always use new ways to explore important messages and, let’s face it, the world needs more puppets.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Reboots have been the name of the game for some time now, but after the success of the CW’s Riverdale, it wasn’t surprising that the next stop would be another Archie’s property, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Really, the only surprise was that it ended up on Netflix instead of the CW, whose predecessor, the WB, aired the later seasons of the popular sitcom. The choice, however, did enable the show to go to places that simply wouldn’t be possible on network television, including casting the Spellman family as Satan worshippers.




In the original comics, Sabrina was a well-meaning witch under constant pressure to be “bad” by Aunties, Hilda and Zelda. It cast Sabrina as the pretty protagonist exhibiting teen rebellion in the form of trying to help rather than hurt at a controversial time in American politics. (I’m talking about the 1960s.) Over thirty years later, Sabrina the Teenage Witch became a live-action television show starring Melissa Joan Hart, then of Clarissa Explains It All fame. (Note: it was first a TV film aired on Showtime with only Melissa Joan Hart and Michelle Beaudoin making it to primetime.)

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the 90s were all about that girl power and that was something frequently demonstrated by our favorite witch. It also looked at the trials of growing up, particularly growing up feeling different, something all teenagers feel regardless of their standing in school hierarchy. In this version, though, Sabrina had her aunties and a wise-talking cat to help guide her. It was about learning how to be a witch as well as an adult woman, culminating in running away from her own wedding with high school sweetheart, Harvey Kinkle.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is based on a comic of the same name, which takes a darker approach to the characters, in line with other Archie’s properties. Here, the show again tackles the theme of growing up but further emphasizes growing up torn between two worlds. In both live-action series, Sabrina is only half witch, with a Warlock father and Mortal mother, and must learn to navigate both the magical and mundane worlds. In Chilling, however, Sabrina has always been aware of her parentage and heritage and is already practicing magic before her sixteenth birthday. Also, while Sabrina comes to live with her aunts just before her sixteenth birthday in the 90s sitcom, here Sabrina’s parents died when she was a baby and she has been raised by her aunties in conjunction with Cousin Ambrose.



Another key difference lies in the craft itself and the nature of talking cats. In the sitcom, magic is all very light and fluffy, accompanied by a ping! and some sparks or a puff of smoke. Sabrina just recites a rhyme and points and voila! *Magic* In Chilling, spells can be English chants but are more often recited in Latin and magic has lost the campy sparkles. Sabrina doesn’t even need to point anymore– perhaps a concept inspired by some of the witches to come after sitcom Sabrina, the Halliwell sisters and Willow Rosenberg. Additionally, the witches aren’t just born with their powers… well, they are, but they are also considered a gift from the Dark Lord, Satan, and upon a witch’s sixteenth birthday she is expected to sign the Book of the Beast and pledge herself to the Dark Lord or begin losing her powers (and continuing to age at the same rate).

In Chilling, witches are also in possession of familiars to help and protect them. They are actually goblins that take animal form and while their witches can understand them, it’s rare that the audience knows what the familiar is communicating through “caw”s and “meow”s. In both the sitcom and the TV film it derived from, Salem the cat didn’t start out as a cat but as a Warlock who was turned into a cat as punishment. In the TV film, it is the consequence of using magic to make someone fall in love with him (again continuing the idea of magic being for benevolence that contradicts the earlier comic), while in the sitcom it is punishment for the outlandish crime of TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD. (I hope the Millenials heard that in Brain’s voice, otherwise what is even the point?) In fact, the only reason Salem lives with the Spellman family is because Hilda was one of his underlings. The Salem of Chilling has yet to be given a voice (I suspect we won’t be getting Nick Bakay) but has proven an able protector of his charge, whom he came to of his own free will.



In many ways, Chilling is an appropriate successor to the sitcom, reflecting both the time and the change in TV and its priorities. While I found the writing to drag at times, rather than be suspenseful, the show does some really interesting things with the camera and the casting is excellent. For the bulk of the show, the camera’s focus remains blurry at the edges, giving the show a dream-like and surreal effect. It implies that perhaps Chilling is just a bad dream you are having, that such terrible things couldn’t exist in any world. The effects and lighting are consistent with the gothic feel, while the costuming makes the show timeless. While Sabrina is typically looking like she stepped out of the 1960s comic, members of the Church of Night take on a more Victorian appearance. Her best friends, Roz and Susie bring minorities and the trans community into play, while the appearances of technology are few and far between.

Now, the casting. Oh, the casting… it’s something I’ve been dying to talk about. Let’s start with Sabrina herself, Kiernan Shipka (Mad MenFeud: Bette and JoanThe Legend of Korra). I was constantly amazed by how much Shipka resembled Melissa Joan Hart in the role (and James Van Der Beek… check out Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23…). While she obviously plays down (or not at all) the camp that Hart brought to the role, she is just as earnest, well-meaning, and determined to fight for what’s right and those she loves. The casting is truly spot on, with Shipka bringing that same altruism to the prospect of Satan worship, while still subtly underscoring how odd it is that men are the ones in power in what one would expect to be a matriarchal society. (This was something the sitcom transitioned away from as time went by, with more and more women in roles of power).

One of the few women in power is played by Michelle Gomez, whom I know from her role as the Master (“Missy”) in Doctor Who. I knew going in that I should expect Gomez to once again play a villain, and from the first episode it is clear that, like Missy, “Ms. Wardwell” has her own agenda. Gomez once again plays up the creepy, though is more deadly serious than completely mad like she was as the Master (“Bananas!”). Still, aside from the occasional slip into her native Scottish accent, Gomez is perfection as the woman working in the shadows to steer Sabrina down a specific malevolent path.

Ambrose, although a character that did not exist in the sitcom, is one from the comics and, like in the comics, fills the role that Salem played in the sitcom. Like Shipka, Chance Perdomo seems to channel his predecessor, although it’s clear he is not a cat, nor as frivolously ‘evil’. He helps Sabrina get into and out of trouble and serves as a confidante, much like sitcom Salem did.

In Chilling, Aunts Hilda and Zelda are played by Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto respectively and here is a clear deviation from the sitcom portrayal. Hilda is kindly, but knowledgeable, rather than goofy, but over time becomes something of a black sheep. Zelda is just as knowledgeable and serious about magic, but that is where her interest ends. They are again the fun one and the strict one, but are again taken more seriously, and the disconnect from their sitcom counterparts is palpable. While they were both excellent, the difference in their accents was one I found distracting (though this was true of all the Spellman family), but I can appreciate how the cast was more colorful than simply a collection of thin, white, blonde ladies.

Harvey Kinkle is another change. While still kind and unknowingly affected by magic time and time again, this Harvey’s passion is art, while his older brother was a football star. Ross Lynch perfectly gets that combination of cluelessness and confusion that Nate Richert nailed in the sitcom (though, while I’ve never seen anything else Lynch has done, the brown hair was kinda jarring). This Harvey best demonstrates how the show manages to channel its predecessor (a nod to many of the now grown-up fans watching Chilling) while still bringing something new to the table.



Overall, I have really mixed feelings about this first batch of episodes (though it does have me wanting to check out Riverdale). The prophesized greater destiny trope is one that I feel has been played out, but I’m curious to see what Chilling does with it, especially after seeing that last episode. The characters remain compelling (some more than others) and we are given the “witchy” world in a way that we haven’t seen before. In the sitcom, The Other Realm was another separate plane of existence for the sitcom’s magical cast, but here the supernatural exists alongside and has influenced and been influenced by mortal humans. With the show influenced by other witches, such as in Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as the vampiric True Blood, I have to wonder what the comics do and how they differ. I know, this is incredibly wishy-washy, but having just finished the ten episodes last night, I’m still not quite sure where I stand.


That being said, my nostalgia and appreciation for Chilling‘s production values means that I will almost certainly watch the next batch of episodes and keep an eye on when Netflix plans to release them…