Epitosodes: Hey Arnold!


By Allen

The Episode

Season: 3

Episode: 14

Title: “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”

The Review

It’s sometimes easier to see our lives fitting into a template than allowing the randomness of life to take control. We seek that uniformity because it lets us feel connected in a time where connection is severely lacking. This is especially true for young adults, who crave the validation provided by assigning their identity to one particular stereotype or niche. This manifests itself usually through tastes and brand loyalty, but more commonly in the United States, society’s need to fit into a category comes out during the holiday season.

As the son of two Syrian immigrants, I always felt a little bit left out of the traditional American childhood. I didn’t visit or have friends over my house in any meaningful way until high school, I didn’t have many outdoor adventures with the neighborhood kids, and I didn’t have anything resembling the Wonder Years-esque experience of young love whatsoever. I don’t regret these things not being part of my life, because I made up for them with meaningful, character-buildling experiences of my own. Sometimes, it’s nice to imagine what could have been.

I did watch a lot of cartoons though. When my family and I were still living in a lower middle class duplex, my sister and I watched a whole lot of Hey Arnold! It fit into Nickelodeon’s block of cartoons that bridged the gap between serious adult drama and slapstick kid’s show. Nickelodeon was doing what Pixar is today, essentially. For those that don’t know, Hey Arnold! was a show about a young nine year old boy living with his grandparents and various tenants in a boarding house located in some nebulous amalgamation of New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. The general formula for an episode of Hey Arnold! was: Arnold sees something wrong with the world, tries to fix it, fails, learns something, and accepts that he can’t fix everything. The show was about disappointment, and realizing how little power we have to change the world. It’s a message that resonated deeply with me as a young kid, filled with optimism and hope that all of the world’s problems could be fixed with friendliness and a helping hand. That’s not to say the show was nihilistic or cynical; rather, Arnold’s accepting that he couldn’t change things led to him being a better person, and adjusting his world view to fix the world in small ways.

“Arnold’s Thanksgiving” is the episode that I frequently reference as an essential part of understanding why the show resonated with so many people. The episode starts with Arnold biking down a facsimile of the Brooklyn Bridge, when he stops to watch the christening of The Mayflower II as a city landmark. As the credits fade in, he looks on wistfully, as he so often does at history and culture. Craig Bartlett, the show’s creator and lead writer, has said that his original pitch for Hey Arnold! was that Arnold would start every episode dreaming of some fantastic scenario, then be woken up in class by his bully and secret admirer, Helga Pataki, shouting the show’s title. It’s clear that they kept the skeleton of this idea in “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”, where you can tell Arnold is dreaming of big ideas before heading back to reality.

The next scene takes place at Arnold’s school, PS 118. The students put on a play telling the story of the first Thanksgiving, and everything immediately falls apart. The hastily-made set collapses, the audience laughs, but the kids keep going. As every scene is ruined in some way, the students never stop the show. Arnold and his friend Gerald are backstage, and as Gerald espouses his love for the holiday, Arnold reveals why he looked on at the Mayflower II so hopefully; he doesn’t get to have a “real” Thanksgiving in the boarding home. His grandmother “gets mixed up”, and confuses Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, meaning they have to go along with it and cook hot dogs on the roof in November year after year. Arnold’s grandmother’s identity confusion is clearly a sign of advanced dementia, and although the show plays it for comedy most of the time, they treat it with just the right amount of weight for it to feel real. The tenants accept her disability, and work around it.

Helga, the other half of this show, goes on a rant backstage about how her Thanksgiving’s aren’t very typical either; between her overbearingly perfect older sister Olga coming home, her alcoholic mother (don’t worry, the show plays this off as her mom just being a goofball who ‘likes smoothies’), and her father who can’t be bothered to do anything but eat and watch football. The irony of both of these scenes is that Arnold and Helga are playing lead characters in the final scene of the play; a re-enactment of a modern day Thanksgiving amongst a happy family. Both of them get to play the part, but once the curtain goes down, they feel left out again.

The next few scenes really highlight how much the creators cared equally about Helga and Arnold, with each scene bouncing between the two of them as their nontraditional Thanksgivings are shown. They both try to nudge their families into more traditional Thanksgiving celebration, but nobody listens to the nine year olds. These scenes hit home with me the most. I made efforts as a kid to fit into more stereotypes; wearing “cooler” clothes, having a messier room, asking to eat more “American food”. I just assumed that was all right, and fitting in would make me feel like less of an outsider.

Arnold and Helga eventually give up trying to fix their own Thanksgivings, and they both leave their homes for the afternoon. I always found the freedom of Hey Arnold!‘s young cast to come and go as they please fascinating, but it makes so much sense when you consider how truly little their guardians cared about their well-being, be it because of old age or neglect. They both cross paths outside of a store displaying models of a traditional American Thanksgiving, looking inside but always separated by glass. In a beautifully directed scene, they go for a friendly walk on the pier and pass by the Mayflower II, still cruising around the bay. As they look on, it crashes into a bridge and collapses. This is actually the funniest scene in the episode despite sounding so tragic, because it really highlights how willing the creators were to go for a visual gag if it also had a solid symbolic undercurrent. The image of the Mayflower crashing in front of two depressed and jaded young children says everything about this episode.

The kids decide to go join what they think is a “real Thanksgiving” at the home of their teacher and writer of the school play, Mr. Simmons. When they (yet again) look through glass to see Simmons’s house and witness a family dinner almost perfectly resembling the characters in his play, they long to go inside. This time, they pass through the barrier and ask Mr. Simmons if they can join him for dinner. He politely obliges, and the dramatic turn of the episode becomes clear. Mr. Simmons’s Thanksgiving is anything from idyllic; his mother is overbearingly judgemental, his two friends are miserable thirty-somethings that take joy in ridiculing others, and his uncle is an oafishly loud eater (who is also inexplicably Canadian). The whole scene ends in a shouting contest, which Arnold and Helga take as their cue to leave. They realize as they converse in Mr. Simmons’s kitchen that he wrote the play as an idealized version of his own family, and that maybe there isn’t such a thing as a perfect Thanksgiving. Simmons comforts them, saying: “This may not make much sense to you now, but I’m truly thankful for them”. Family gatherings are messy and loud, people don’t get along well, but happiness comes from accepting each other’s flaws and being together. The kids realize this, and head home to their families.

The world does pay you back for being a good person, according to Hey Arnold! Helga comes home to a family that misses her, and they put her handmade centerpiece on the table as they eat together. Arnold comes home to an abandoned rooftop grill, but it turns out the tenants and his grandparents decided to meet him halfway and throw him a surprise party that mixes both Fourth of July and Thanksgiving celebrations.

This episode holds a special place in my heart not just because it echoes many of the same things I worried about as a young child, but it’s also hopeful and honest in a way most cartoons are not. The credits roll as we cut back to the Mayflower II. All of its passengers are safe, and the hull of the ship rises back to the surface. Everything is okay, just a few buffs and scratches. And that’s how family can be; rough and constantly on the verge of sinking, but always capable of rising back to a healthy medium.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Television Tribune: In Defense of Character-Based Storytelling

futurama silhouettes tv tribune

By Allen

One of the core tenets of graphic design is “Show, don’t tell.” It’s a simple truism at face value, but when viewed as a way of writing television, it’s surprising how much some shows benefit from it as a method of writing character interactions. I’ve noticed that most of my favorite shows of the last few years show exactly who each character is supposed to be early on, with changes and eccentricities being introduced slowly over time. Also, viewing your characters as pieces of a larger puzzle is the best way to strengthen the viewer’s connection to them because it directly encourages empathy.

Take Futurama for example. As shown by the header of this very article, each member of the main cast can be easily identified from a silhouette. You’ve got Leela with the poofy hair and efficient bun, Zoidberg’s creepy eyes and mouth, Bender’s eye and head shape, Fry’s hair swirl and upper lip, and the Professor’s…posture/creepy head. These silhouettes actually tell you quite a bit about the characters that they represent, and how they would interact with one another. Fry and Leela both seem fairly young and relatively normal-looking, so they’re probably friends. Zoidberg and Bender look clearly alien or at least inhuman, so one could assume this is some sort of sci-fi show. And just a few more leaps of logic from there, and you can extrapolate that maybe the robot and the human male are friends based on so many films from the 80s depicting this exact idea, and that the Professor is probably a crazy person. It’s these little guesses and stories where we fill in backstory that form the basis of a good cast. From there, the show sets about to defy those expectations. Fry and Bender fight all the time, Leela has the tendency to be a little unhinged, and the Professor shows genuine pathos when some of his experiments go awry. By the end of the show, we’re attracted more to what the characters have become, and less of what they started as.

This concept doesn’t just apply to drawn animation. Lost was another show that spends most of its first season introducing and slowly fleshing out characters. Each character had a stereotypical role, and the later seasons were, at the best, all about everyone trying to defy these roles. Unfortunately, Lost started to fall apart when the story was less about the characters and more about the stories happening to them. Which of the following plots from Lost sounds more interesting to you: Locke engages in faux military training and lives in a fantasy world all his adult life before finally taking on a leadership role on the Island, or Jack got Chinese tattoos from an Asian woman? You need to write from the bottom up, with characters and their motivations coming before what happens to them. Build the silhouettes before you fill them in.

A related writing technique for television characters is the “puzzle pieces” method. The idea here is that each character is a vivid, specific piece of a puzzle. Some pieces fit in with several others, and you can make something resembling an image by arranging them randomly, but there is only one absolute configuration of characters. The many television projects of Joss Whedon are classic examples of this: In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, everyone is dating someone else at some point. The good relationships stay because they fit, but the bad ones slowly show themselves to be ugly and messy (ahem, Buffy and Riley ahem.) That doesn’t mean that Buffy can only be with the people who she fits with; it’s all about experimenting with different interactions until you see what works (Buffy and Willow, Willow and Xander, Spike and Xander, Xander and Anya, Xander and anyone). Viewing TV writing in this way makes bad episodes and pairings make much more sense, since it argues that the writers were just trying something new.

Shows that blend both of these writing methods are one in a million, and they almost always received universal praise when it works. So next time you’re watching your favorite television show, stop and think about what exactly you find so appealing about it.

Seasoned Veterans: Scrubs, Season One


In this new segment, we run through a season of television and discuss our general impressions, and some things that we like and don’t like about it. This week, we decided to kick things off for the inaugural Seasoned Veterans with the first season of Scrubs. Hope you enjoy. And if not, it was James’s fault.

Allen: Let me preface my bit on Season One of Scrubs by saying that I haven’t actually watched the entire season. The show was always on my periphery, and it was just recently that I discovered how good it is. With that in mind, I hand-picked the seven episodes that most represented this season: “My First Day”, “My Mentor”, “My Old Lady”, “My Bed Banter & Beyond”, and the 1-2-3 gut punch of “My Occurrence”, “My Hero”, and “My Last Day”. With that out of the way, I think Scrubs might already be one of my favorite sitcoms. It’s not just the writing and acting, which are both top-notch and hold up marvelously. It’s not just the humor and running gags of J.D.’s fantasies and Dr. Cox’s female nicknames for him. No, it’s the way the show makes me feel at the end of each episode.   Let’s all agree that the pilot knocks it out of the park. Not only are J.D. and the gang introduced, but everyone is immediately likable and believable. It makes Sacred Heart Hospital feel like a real place, and the most brilliant thing about Season One is just how quickly it hits its stride. “My Mentor” starts with one of the most clever cold opens ever from a filming perspective, and that cleverness pervades every aspect of the show. Ending episodes with plot twists, especially in a medical show, can feel cheap. It’s like the writers are profiting on the randomness of how an emergency room can be, with people dying and coming back to life every single day. But where Scrubs differs is how it handles these dark moments; the whole arc of Brendan Fraser’s character Ben (a shockingly subtle role considering Fraser’s stint in The Mummy and its sequels) feels very real and powerful, and the second half of “My Occurrence”, where the show takes J.D.’s classic “fantasy cutaway” gag and makes it the entire second half of the episode, only to reveal at the end that none of it happened. But the best thing about Scrubs Season One is how little the melodrama takes over the humor and storytelling. It wasn’t until “My Last Day” that I thought to look up or even cared about the various affairs and transgressions going on in the episodes I missed, but I really didn’t care. And it ends on such a beautiful moment that only Scrubs could pull off, with Cox looking like he’s juuuuust about to smack J.D. in the face before getting up, cleaning himself up, and getting back to work.

Favorite Episode: “My Old Lady” by a long shot, if only because I myself am going into a medical field, and even if most dental students don’t need to worry about their patients dying, the ending still hit hard, and made me cry much more than I anticipated.  


Impression: I love Scrubs. For all of it’s mid-run faults (the melodrama, the excruciating steps of the J.D.-Elliot will-they-won’t-they dance, the general characterization of some of the cast), Scrubs has endured as one of the few television shows that I’m always in the mood to watch. It’s the kind of show that I’ll stop on if I tick past it on cable, or that I’ll watch a random episode or two of on Netflix before I go to bed. The only other shows that share this dubious honor are probably FriendsSeinfeldFuturama, and the good years of The Simpsons. Having said all that, Season One of Scrubs is really the cream of the crop. Although it isn’t home to all the best episodes of the show, it is definitely the most even-keeled season in terms of quality. The pilot, “My First Day,” is one of the strongest sitcom pilots there is, coming out of the gate swinging with all of the punches that make Scrubs formidable (lovable characters, wacky fantasy sequences, great music, and a dash of wistful realism). The next few episodes are all classic as well, with “My Mentor” rocking that fantastic “Are You Having a Good Time” opener, and “My Best Friend’s Mistake” featuring quite possibly my favorite one-note dream sequence (the one where they’re on Family Feud and J.D. says “We’re gonna go with boobs.” Kills me every time). The season progresses with there almost without a single weak note, such that I would be wasting your time if I tried to rattle off all of the highlights. Suffice to say, the first season of Scrubs is by far the most solid first season of a sitcom that I’ve ever seen. Whereas even the strongest shows out there (like Seinfeld, or Community, or 30 Rock) take some time to find their sea legs, Scrubs knows what it wants to be from minute one and doesn’t stray from that vision.The only other show that I think can boast a similarly consistent first season is How I Met Your Mother, though even that season had some episodes that I don’t care as much for anymore.

High Point: It’s nigh impossible to pick a favorite episode from this season. Though my instincts as a lover of unorthodox episode formulas makes me want to say “My Bed Banter & Beyond,” I’m going to keep it simple and say “My Tuscaloosa Heart.” It’s not a particularly flashy episode, and it’s not necessarily the funniest of the bunch either, but it offers a new take on the typical “J.D. feels guilty for making a mistake” storyline that the show loves to rehash, and it provides some fascinating character development for both Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso.

Low Point: Again, tough to pick a worst episode. I think the most forgettable for me was probably “My Super Ego,” but even that one had its good bits. I will say the moment I liked the least out of the whole season came at the end of the finale, “My Last Day,” when Jordan comes around to tell every character the reason why they should be mad at everyone else. It felt not only like a cheap way to force a tonal shift, but also a cheap way to recap everything that happened in the season and simultaneously offer up a clip that could be easily replayed at the start of the next season. It left a bad taste in my mouth and tainted what could have otherwise been an unassailable first season of television.  


James: Impression: Scrubs is easily one of the most marathon-able shows I have ever watched. Despite the fact that the show started more than a decade ago, the gags are timeless. Every time I watch an episode, it balloons into another six or seven episodes. Scrubs has one of the most compelling narratives that I have ever seen in a comedy, with a clear progression of characters and plot. It is very easy to get hooked on this show, what with the genuinely funny sitcom jokes, and the almost addictive sense of progression. The most apparent strength of the show lies with the characters. J.D. may be the dorkiest character in the history of sitcoms, but his childish attitude and general positivity make him lovable. Turk is simultaneously one of the most and least stereotyped characters on tv. Despite his various attempts at sounding black, he is treated as a real character, and his role as one of the main characters shows a character who happens to be African American, without being stereotypically black. Though Elliot can be a well-intentioned klutz, there are more than enough capable women to balance her out in the form of Carla and Jordan. The show contains writing at its best, with seemingly very few biases in any direction. Scrubs is fantastically casted, and fantastically written, even from its first season.

High Point: I have to say that I really like the episode “My Bad”.  “My Bad” concerns JD’s mistake in pointing out a clerical error that Dr. Cox made to let an uninsured patient get a much needed surgery. Though he doesn’t know any better, JD’s screw up leads to the deeper side of Scrubs, a side populated with some ethical questions. Should a doctor be responsible to his patients or to his hospital? Is it better to pull a risky maneuver to save a life, or stick to the rules that will save most people’s lives 99 percent of the time? While the show heavily tips towards one side, it presents the issue with clarity and grace, in the struggle to explain that bureaucracy was actually intended for the best, and the greatest of individuals can still screw up. Heavy lessons from a comedy.

Low Point: “My Bed Banter and Beyond”. While the episode advances some plots, the focus is more on the romance and the possible implications for the show than it does on the comedy. Whenever the show gets serious about something other than medicine, the situation becomes very difficult. In the later seasons, the show benefits from an external complication (the episode with the camera), but the benefits are an exception rather than a rule. In general the episodes tend to be heavy handed, which removes most of the levity that makes these fun.     Well that was it. If you want to talk about your favorite Scrubs moments, comments are located underneath this article. Down there.

Epitosodes: Duck Dodgers

Duck Dodgers

By Magellan

The Episode

Season: 1
Episode: 9
Title: “The Green Loontern”

The Review

If I were to compose a list of my favorite television shows, it would have a healthy mix of Mad Men-style period dramas, quirky sitcoms from the 00s, and Warner Brothers cartoons like Animaniacs and Justice League that are smarter than they have any right to be. 2003’s Duck Dodgers covers all three. It follows the zany day-to-day adventures of a deeply sardonic and manipulative protagonist who must make his way through a highly stylized world that wants to do anything but accept him for who he is (Don Draper = DuckDodgers, see the connection?). Oh, also he’s an anthropomorphic duck who flies through space with his pig sidekick.

For those who don’t know, Duck Dodgers is based on a Merry Melodies cartoon from 1953 entitled “Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century” (watch it here, it’s delightful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqAUiUDyFlY). Or, in a sentence, it’s Daffy Duck in space. That short film on its own is one of the more fun takes on Daffy that I’ve seen (matched perhaps by “Duck Amuck”), and Duck Dodgers runs with it. The show is wall-to-wall classic Looney Tunes-style slapstick and wordplay, along with biting science fiction parody.

The episode that I’ve chosen to focus on, “The Green Loontern,” is a bit of a special case. It deviates from the standard Duck Dodgersformula, telling a full-episode story rather than two ten-minute-long stories. It’s also much more iconic and memorable than most episodes, if only because of the DC Comics crossover. Now, I didn’t pick this episode to focus on because it’s the funniest (it isn’t) or because it’s the smartest (it isn’t) but because the way in which this episode shakes up the Dodgers status quo helps to elucidate just what makes that status quo so great.

First, let’s run down the plot. It starts off in typical Duck Dodgers fashion, with Dodgers leading the Cadet (aka Porky Pig in a space onesie) around town as he does errands. The brief minute or so that we see of this does a great job of establishing Duck Dodgers as an endearing jerk who just wants to make sure that the Cadet doesn’t put any of his things down on “the filthy sidewalk.” Eventually, Dodgers has to go pick up his dry-cleaning, which is when the story kicks into gear.

The cleaner’s seems to have had a mix-up, as Dodgers finds himself with a uniform much different and greener than his own. He tries the baggy number on, and finds that it magically fits his form when he dons the glowing ring that comes with it. Dodgers has now gained the powers of a Green Lantern, which leads to a delightful sequence as he tries out his newfound abilities around the city. Every line out his mouth in this sequence is pure gold (my favorites: “Time to mete out some sophomoric justice,” and “Whoa, check out the serious babe-age!”), and I could watch Daffy Duck fly around as a Green Lantern for hours.

“The Green Loontern” begins to lose me, however, when the crossover becomes more exaggerated. After Dodgers hangs the Cadet off a flagpole by his industrial-strength underpants, he’s whisked away to the Green Lantern base planet of Oa by a distress call. The planet is being ransacked by Sinestro (or, as Dodgers calls him, “Say-what-stro”) and an army of robots. The attack leaves three Lanterns and Dodgers to formulate a counter-attack and free the other members of the Corps. Although there are certainly some great moments of comedy thanks to how little Dodgers knows or cares about the Lanterns Corps. (take, for example, his version of the Green Lantern Oath:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfO5S1Iu_VU), the entire sequence on Oa, and the rest of the episode, smacks of tonal dissonance.

Maybe it’s unfair of me to criticize a children’s cartoon for mishandling its tone, but this particular cartoon is clever enough that I feel it’s warranted. My issue with the episode lies in the way it plays the classic straight-man/funny-man relationship. Normally, Dodgers has the Cadet or Marvin the Martian to act as his straight-men, characters who are, on some level, just as ridiculous as he is. The Cadet cleans up all of Dodger’s messes, but he does so while talking in that hilarious, stuttering, Porky Pig way. When Dodgers is forced to interact with and play off of characters that are more grounded in real-world reality and consequences, the formula begins to tear at the seams.

That’s not to say that superheroes are real, but they do care more about realism in terms of danger and consequence than cartoons. If Duck Dodgers were on any other mission, he could get blown up or disintegrated and stand up to do the next scene. In the world of the Green Lanterns, however, every threat has to be de-clawed in order for him to cope with them. The ray beams have to teleport people rather than injure them, the robots have to be given dopey personalities so that they can squabble about robot high school rivalries, and Sinestro has to be rendered no more intimidating than your corny uncle in a Sinestro costume. Mixing these two worlds has the doubly troublesome effect of cutting out the slapstick half of Dodger’s shtick, as well as neutering Sinestro and the Lantern Corps. in order for everything to mesh.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Even though it was cheesy, I thought the Dodgers-Sinestro banter was hilarious. And, like I said, everything on Dodgers’s home world with the Lantern ring was classic in its charm and rapid-fire pace. All I’m trying to say is that there’s a lesson to learn here about blending worlds together and about adding well-known and specific rules to an otherwise zany and off-the-cuff cartoon universe. When you mix two properties together, you should think of it less as a liquid concoction and more as slicing two balls in half and sewing part of each together. No matter what you do, you’re losing fifty percent of what makes each universe special and compelling, so it’s vital that you pick two worlds that end up complementary. Some mash-ups are like a tennis ball and baseball, a sort of Frankenstein that you can get away with and still play either game passably well. This episode was more like a stitched together basketball and football. It’s amusing, and you can probably still have a lot of fun with it, but first you have to spend twenty minutes figuring out how to handle the damn thing.

Take Our Word: Girls


The Word

College is a time for students to develop new ideas and opinions that will define them for the rest of their lives. If there’s one single idea that has popped up continuously in my first two years of class, it’s that women deserve way more respect than we give them. There isn’t a single thing separating men from women when it comes to being a strong protagonist save for the writers themselves. Oh, and did I mention that HBO’s Girls came back this week? God be damned, you just have to watch Girls if you’re looking for some strong female protagonists being awful to each other and everyone around them. What we’re highlighting here isn’t just the entire gender of female, but a few shining examples of it being portrayed powerfully and fairly in pop culture.

The Reccomendations


Beyond Good & EvilWell-regarded as one of the best games that nobody played, Ubisoft’s 2003 adventure game Beyond Good & Evil is exactly the type of game that we need in the gaming landscape today. It harkens back to the best 3D Zelda games with its open world and clever dungeon designs, it respects the player’s time with plenty of substantive activities and secrets to discover, but most importantly, it treats its own story with the proper respect. You play as Jade, a photojournalist in a fantasy world that resembles a less futuristic, more primitive version of The Fifth Element, and you’re on the case of unraveling a totalitarian government conspiracy against the anthropomorphized animals of your world. Jade is never sexualized or treated as a gender-neutral character. She never uses her body to evade trouble, and she never has to rely on her strong male counterparts to do what she can’t. Armed with nothing but a camera, some mean staff-fighting skills, and a thrill for adventure, Jade is exactly what all female protagonists should strive to emulate. It also helps that her adventure is lengthy and fun, even if it was cut short by a cliffhanger and little potential for a sequel.

 You don’t even have to dig up the old PS2 or Xbox to play Beyond Good & Evil. The original version is on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/15130/ , and an updated HD version was released in 2011 on PSN and Xbox Live: http://us.playstation.com/games/beyond-good-evil-hd-ps3.html
A Song of Ice and Fire: One of my favorite series is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. This is better known as The Game of Throne Series. The setting is somewhat medieval, with knights, castles, and kings, but the women are portrayed in a surprisingly human way. Martin has been asked about how he makes his literary females so compelling and strong. Martin’s response is to say that he just writes the females as if they were regular people. Martin avoids the hyper sexualization of characters that his fellow  fantasy writers often succumb to, sheerly due to his ability to write the women as real characters. From Cerci Lannister to Sansa Stark, the women are powerful, capable, and use their sexuality for their own benefit. While there are a few sex scenes, they are all given a purpose, and what’s more, a real voice.

A link to the first book: http://www.amazon.com/Game-Thrones-Song-Fire-Book/dp/0553573403


Kissing Jessica Stein: I think we all have those films that we see the poster for every time we log into Netflix, and then one day we decide “To Hell with this, I’ll just watch it.” A couple days ago, I had just that kind of a moment with Kissing Jessica Stein, and I don’t regret that decision one bit. Going into this movie I knew next to nothing, except that there would be kissing and there would be a girl named Jessica Stein. The lack of a comma also indicated, although implicitly, that this mysterious Jessica Stein would be somehow involved in the kissing. It turns out that this assumption was correct, as Kissing Jessica Stein is a kind of off-beat romantic comedy in which the protagonist, Jessica Stein, tentatively embarks on a lesbian relationship with a bisexual art gallery director named Helen. Oh, and Jessica is a flaming heterosexual. Nowadays that kind of blasse treatment of homosexuality may come off as offensive, and I guess that elevator pitch sounds like the worst blend of chick flick and Lifetime movie you can think of, but the film itself has an under-budget, quietly urban style to it. The characters feel realistic (despite the somewhat far-fetched circumstances), and I left the movie with a distinct sense of satisfaction. If you’re looking for a movie with some strong women and an undeniable charm, you should give Kissing Jessica Stein a chance. Oh, and Jon Hamm’s in it for like two minutes, so that’s fun.
Here’s the trailer (don’t watch it, it’s awful): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCRSXG1tg_w

And this is Roger Ebert’s review, to give you a more balanced and sophisticated take on the film: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kissing-jessica-stein-2002

The Round-Up
If you haven’t had your fill of strong female protagonists after all of that, look no further than the combined works of Joss Whedon. The man has a knack for putting women in good, non-sexualized roles, and he’s both done and been the subject of many convention talks about this exact thing.
Here’s his speech on gender equality from 2006: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYaczoJMRhs
Here we see Joss in his natural habit, Comic-Con, discussing strong female characters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7YKYAe0jo4
And let’s wrap up the Round-Up with a video of Eliza Dushku discussing how amazing Joss is at writing female characters at Fan Expo 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7C-Zp5xmV8

Group Think: Community Season 5 Premiere “Repilot”


A new year means new columns, and one of said new columns is ‘Group Think’, where the three of us here at Pop Modern gather around and discuss a common, poignant event in contemporary pop culture. Think ‘Today in Pop Modern’, but with a common theme, and also even cooler.

The first installment of Group Think is going to be on the Community Season Five premiere, “Repilot”, which aired on January 2, 2014. All three of us have some level of connection to the show, so it felt appropriate to discuss what has been considered a return to form for the series. For a more critical review of the episode, look no further than The AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/review/repilotintroduction-to-teaching-106548

Allen: Community has been a fixture in my weekdays during the winter TV season for almost half a decade now. I was never particularly enamored with it, but it was the best sitcom on cable that I was watching at the time. To this day, it still holds a spot in my heart alongside Modern Family and How I Met Your Mother, but there’s something special about Community. It’s not just the meta humor or the constant callbacks and inside jokes; It’s the familiarity of the Greendale crew that kept me coming back. Even as their social positions shifted and relationships changed, there was always the same number of filled seats at the study table just about every week. Season Four was pretty depressing, but mostly because it put the characters in a position that didn’t lead to much comedy; away from each other. I can only remember individual scenes from Season Four, but episodes like the ones I mentioned in the Three By Three from earlier this week are ingrained in my mind. Season Five is a return to form, mainly in that the gang is back to doing what they do best. Troy is still getting a few jokes in before Donald Glover leaves the show, the school is returning to its usual levels of chaos, and it doesn’t feel any worse without Pierce. It’s not that I ever disliked Pierce as a character, but it became clear over time through reading about the show’s production that Chevy Chase was causing problems with the cast and writers. So I’m happy to see Community off this season or next as long as it keeps up this standard of quality, and I’m mostly just glad that Dan Harmon has finally returned to the series that he loves so much. It really shows in the heart and soul of the gang.

James: The reopening of Greendale was met with mixed reception. After the extremely disappointing season that last year produced, I thought that I had enough. Let it at least die with dignity, I thought to myself. The new episodes changed that. It wasn’t as though there was something particularly great about the episodes. They were standard fare. But the fact that the show showed its potential once more lifted my spirit. Once again, funny people cracked funny jokes, and even with an absent Chevy Chase, the humor goes on. Even in the face of Troy’s upcoming personal finale, the show still maintains an air of levity and wit, with self-referential quips intended to please fans who don’t mind breaking the fourth wall. True, the show could definitely have benefited from some script polishing, but I am willing to overlook some rough edges in the midst of an abrupt transition. Though the show is moving on in a different path with a different cast, I hope to enjoy walking through the halls of Greendale once again.

Magellan: I’m lucky to be among those who watched Community from the beginning, who grew and developed with the show. I remember, when I first started using Hulu, I stumbled upon a benign-looking sitcom about a group of community college students, and decided to give it a shot. The first couple episodes didn’t exactly thrill me, but hey, it was free and it had potential. So I stuck it out, and over the course of the next three years I enjoyed the show on a weekly basis, growing to love the characters and looking forward excitedly to what they would do next. I don’t want to rag too much on Season 4 (since, if you really want to criticize this show, you could say that many of its problems were rooted in Season 3), but there’s no denying that last season had a sense of emptiness to it. Really, the only stand-out moment was the episode where the Dean thought he and Jeff had switched bodies, but that’s not saying much. So, you can imagine my excitement at hearing that Season 5 had a chance at recapturing some of the show’s former glory. Having watched the first few episodes now, I must say, though I don’t care much for Dan Harmon as a person, he is clearly the one who understands Community best. These first two episodes were fairly straightforward sitcom fare, but they both buzzed with a kind of comfortable familiarity that was completely lacking last year. I was finally sold on this season by one of Troy’s one-liners: “If we sue Greendale, can I be a surprise witness? Wait…don’t tell me…” If they can keep churning out moments like that, then this season is going to be a lot of fun.

So there you go, everyone. We all enjoyed the pilot, and it’s only left us more excited to see where this crazy series is going in the future. What did YOU think about “Repilot”?