8 Female TV Characters that Changed Sci-Fi

I heard recently that considering all the madness happening in the world right now, investing so much time and energy in television and movies seems fruitless. I disagree. I think art mirrors society and vice-versa, and the response to the rise of women in sci-fi and fantasy is a testament to just how much more social progress must be made.

This past Sunday, the BBC announced that Doctor Who‘s Thirteenth iteration of the classic time-traveling alien would be played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker.

Cue the outrage––from men and women alike.

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These are the nicer comments.

But it’s funny that these same die-hard fans seem to conveniently forget about all the women in their favorite franchises that helped shape the success of those franchises. And they seem to ignore that just as men love to see themselves reflected onscreen, perhaps women might too (shocker!).

For reference, here are just a few women who contributed positively to the genre nerds hold so dear. Some are main protagonists, like Thirteen will be, and some are not. The point is that they are dynamic, influential, and prove that making a character male doesn’t deem it more relevant or special to the sci-fi/fantasy canon.

Continue reading “8 Female TV Characters that Changed Sci-Fi”

Sense8 and the Power of Representation in Television

Today, June 1 — the first day of Pride Month — Netflix announced its decision to cancel its original series, Sense8, after two seasons. The announcement has been met with outrage, multiple petitions (including one that has reached over 100,000 signatures), and open opposition over social media.

I thought it was a joke at first. The show, which received critical acclaim for its unadulterated display of diversity in race, culture, gender, and sexual orientation, had its ratings increase significantly between the first and second season (79% in Season 1 to 86% in Season 2 on RottenTomatoes, for example — both seasons considered a significant “fresh” tomato). The choice to end it abruptly leaves me reeling and begging the question: When will television outlets — primetime, digital, or otherwise — recognize the importance of diversity in the 21st century?

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What ’13 Reasons Why’ Got Wrong

You’ve likely heard the hype surrounding 13 Reasons Why, the new Netflix teen drama based on the novel of the same name that’s trending for its “gritty” and “real” depictions of assault, bullying, and suicide. Set at the fictional Liberty High School, we follow student Clay Jensen as he listens through thirteen cassette tapes that his dead friend Hannah Baker left behind. Thirteen reasons why she chose to end her own life. Thirteen people’s contributions to her death––including Clay’s own hand in the matter from Hannah’s perspective. There are graphic depictions of sexual assault and, in the final episode, of the suicide itself.

The show has been met with equal praise and disgust, and I can honestly say that overall, I’m in the middle. The acting was decent for a bunch of newcomer kids. The writing was solid (for a teen drama). The cinematography was surprisingly good, too. The biggest standout of the show to me, actually, was Kate Walsh as Hannah’s mother. Her subtle performance was the most “real” thing about the show to me––I loved every minute she was onscreen. I also related to Hannah. I related to a lot of the main characters for various reasons, and I felt for them. A good show does that effectively and effortlessly, and it uses those characters and their stories to effectively showcase the show’s main message.

13 Reasons Why almost achieved that. Until the very last episode. For me, everything the show attempted to stand for fell apart after that.

It’s not really a secret at this point that I need some daily help to get by in the form of medicine. Most people do. In fact as of last year, 1 in 6 Americans take antidepressants and other medicines for psychological disorders to get by. Life is stressful and wonderful and sad and fantastic, and if you need help being okay through all of it, that is not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s a literal chemical imbalance in the brain. No strict talking-to or desire to “get over it” will change the science.

Clinical depression is not something to be ashamed of. It is something to try and work through as best you can, and it’s all you can do.

I had not read the book version of 13 Reasons Why before diving into this show, so I had no previous investment in the story. I was simply drawn in by the hype. But while I started the show relatively complacent, I finished it angry.

I’m not writing this to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m not even writing this as an overall review of 13 Reasons Why, which is much more on-brand for this blog.

I’m writing it because it is, as the show calls it, “my truth.”

And I refuse to let it align with the message 13 Reasons Why sends about suicide and its aftermath.

*There are major spoilers and disturbing/triggering topics discussed ahead. You’ve been warned.

Continue reading “What ’13 Reasons Why’ Got Wrong”

How ‘Buffy’ Ruined TV for Me Forever

In honor of its 20th anniversary, I feel I need to pay tribute to one of the most iconic shows ever to grace television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On March 10, 1997, Buffy premiered on the WB (remember when that was a network?!) and began to change the lives of millions of viewers around the world.

I’ll start with a confession: I was one of those high schoolers in 2009. Y’know, one who carried a copy of Twilight around between classes and owned a “Team Edward” shirt.

Yeah. It was a dark time.

I remember walking around the school grounds as one of my best friends, Graham, pestered me at least once a week: “Watch Buffy. It’s way better. I promise. You’re gonna thank me.” (Not to provide another opportunity for ego-stroking, Graham, but damn you were right. And you know it, too.)

He lent me the DVDs, and, nearly a decade after the show had originally aired, a love affair began between me and Buffy that has never ended. My heart still beats only for BtVS. On any given day, you can find me interjecting a conversation about a TV show currently airing with, “Yeah, but Buffy did that way better.”

If you’ve never seen Buffy, I hope that at the very least this inspires you to watch an episode or two. I’ll try to keep this piece as spoiler-free as possible just for you newbies! And if you have seen the show…you’re lucky. So am I. We are all lucky to have experienced Buffy in our lifetime. I’m going to list a few reasons why.

Continue reading “How ‘Buffy’ Ruined TV for Me Forever”

6 Forgotten TV Shows That Shaped My Childhood

A lot of people look fondly on their early years by reminiscing about their first memory of riding a bike or making a friend in kindergarten.

I often look back on my first memories of television. (Shocker!)

There are loads of late ’90s – early 2000s TV shows that blared in the background of my youth––BracefaceThe Winx Club, Inspector Gadget, Boy Meets World…but there were very few that held my attention for 30 to 60 minutes once a week. I was busy in my own world of Barbie dolls and Sailor Moon fanfiction written in 2nd-grade English.

But occasionally, I hear a song on the radio that takes me back to sitting on reddish carpeted ground in the basement and enjoying an evening with my family after school and homework and dinner. Some on this list are more well-known than others, but some of my earliest memories in my family’s first house involve watching these with my sister or with the whole family.

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It’s Not Okay: Normalized Emotional and Physical Abuse in BBC’s ‘Sherlock’

Your favorite Sherlock critic is back!

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Source: allthesherlockgifs.tumblr.com

You can read my thoughts on last year’s Sherlock Christmas special, “The Abominable Bride,” here. I had lot of strong feelings about Moffat’s usual misogyny, and since the disaster that was Series 3, I’d kind of just shut my mind off to Sherlock by the time Series 4 rolled around this month. For a little while, anyway.

As much as I’d like to, we aren’t going to cover the blatant mistreatment of Mary Watson’s character, the lazy case-writing, or the deus ex machina deductive characteristics Sherlock Holmes has miraculously developed, though it’s important to note that they all contribute to my main subject. (Those are posts for another time.)

We are going to talk about the principal reason I fell in love with the show––why and so many people have invested so much of their time and energy into it over the course of 6 years: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s relationship. Where it started, and the awful place the writers have taken it now.

Continue reading “It’s Not Okay: Normalized Emotional and Physical Abuse in BBC’s ‘Sherlock’”

Brain Yoga: An Ode to ASMR

Think of the sensation you feel when someone scratches your back or plays with your hair.

Now think of it occurring when you hear something as mundane as turning a book page, or experience something as simple as a friend applying your makeup or brushing something off your face. Weird, right?

That’s what I thought up until about an hour ago when I finally Googled the right words at the right time. And it’s actually not so weird at all. (Mostly.)

I first noticed it when I was really young. The “brain-tingling,” that is. That’s the only way I can describe it, and upon doing some research today, I’ve found that’s how most people describe it. It was triggered by anything from a classmate turning a textbook page at her desk next to me, to a family friend’s specific Rhode Island dropped rs, to the silence at Sunday Mass punctuated by microphoned syllables. I can only describe the visceral response this way: a kind of tingling beginning from what feels like the center of my brain, down, down, down the back of my head and neck, sometimes down my spine. Kind of like a shudder, but not the cold or scared kind. Just…a nice, calming feeling. Like being at the beach hearing the waves.

It didn’t happen all the time, but it happened often enough that I thought it something specific to me, some odd perpetual sensory overload that I should just keep quiet about. Nobody else ever described experiencing this type of thing, so it must be me. Right?

Wrong. Today, in trying to describe the sensation to my sister for the umpteenth time, I found myself typing “tingling sensation in response to certain sounds” into my phone’s browser. And, lo and behold, there it was. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. ASMR.

Before you ask, there isn’t much science behind the subject, largely due to the fact that the term itself wasn’t coined until 2010. The Reddit ASMR board defines the experience as “a physical sensation characterised by a pleasurable tingling that typically begins in the head and scalp. It is commonly triggered by soft or accented voices, personal attention, ambient sounds or watching people work silently, among others.”

The weirdness sets in with how ASMR has been appropriated. If you look up ASMR on YouTube, you’ll find a bunch of videos – sometimes even ASMR-specific channels – that feature 20-odd minutes of the camera subject blowing into the lens, making vague whispering sounds, etc. YouTube culture has added a kind of sexual component to it which, arguably for some people, is a factor. An entire culture, featuring YouTubers “roleplaying” characters that give the viewer specific “personal attention,” has emerged and given the ASMR community an association with sensuality that I don’t think is necessarily a requirement. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s certainly not the exclusive ASMR experience. In fact, I find a lot of the videos to be quite uncomfortable to watch.

For me, it’s pretty much brain yoga. It chills me out like a cup of tea. Sometimes it happens in a group of my closest friends at a coffee shop as someone at the next table types on a computer; sometimes it happens when I’m entirely alone listening to Sigur Rós.

Unsure if you experience this phenomenon? Watch (or, rather, listen to) this video. On the outset it’s completely random (just a bit of styrofoam being crushed by a machine). But if it gives you the brain-tingles, then you’ll know.

If anything, understanding and honing your ASMR can help you relax in general. Once you find the kinds of sounds that relax you, you can even create ASMR playlists that help you go to sleep. But, be careful – as with most things, too much of it isn’t good. You might even become desensitized to it altogether.

Long story short: Yes, you could probably call ASMR a “braingasm” if the sensations for you are strong enough. Mostly, though, it’s just a way to chill out that some people don’t even know they can tap into.

I, on the other hand, have my childhood church’s crappy microphones to thank for my knowledge.

And thank you, ASMR, for existing, and validating that at least in this respect, I’m not crazy.

How ‘Hamilton’ is Getting Me Through This Week

France is following us to revolution; there is no more status quo.

But the sun comes up and the world still spins.

These lines open the second act of Hamilton, and I’ve tried especially to remember the second one in the last 48 hours.

It feels like life itself has stopped, but Earth is still in rotation. Today, November 10th, almost two days after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, the sun came up. Since then, I’ve squished myself like a sardine on the T and had coffee and sneezed and worked and eaten ice cream.

It’s a day like any other. Except Donald Trump is soon to be my President. When I think about it, my heart sinks, and I turn to my friends and family and coworkers to get by. And to music.

I’ve listened to the soundtrack multiple times since learning the results of the election. And it’s ironic that I chose the founding fathers’ story in particular to motivate me to keep going. I say that because many of the founding fathers were undoubtedly racist and sexist. They were products of their time (though that is by no means an excuse); they had no concept of the world outside of their narrow perspectives. Washington held slaves. Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” leaving out women, and, of course, all people who were not white. I can’t say how Alexander Hamilton would have reacted to a Trump presidency in his time (I like to think very negatively, and probably with a 50-page letter telling Trump why he’s wrong. Hamilton was an immigrant, after all).

In truth, I can’t fathom how any of the founding fathers would have responded. It was a different time. Disturbingly enough, I can’t help but fear some of Trump’s close-minded beliefs concerning women and people of color might have been relatively okay with them. And that makes me think that we’ve moved so far back in our ideals and values that we’re back where we started. Initially, I considered this a really bad thing, and in many ways, it is. Americans are tearing each other apart over this, and it’s terrifying.

But instead of being the start of a civil war, I like to think this election is the start of a revolution.

I’m not talking guns and horses here. Rather, I’m talking about this singular event spurring those who would otherwise stay silent to take a stand against hatred and bigotry.

The American Revolution was born from oppression, from the desperate need for change. And in a lot of ways, the election of Donald Trump is such a revolution. People wanted to turn the political system on its head.

The bitter voice in my head says that they got their wish. That change will happen, and it will be the kind that will hurt many of us.

But as Americans, we have the power to alter the direction of this revolution. We have the power to shape it however we want, as it’s happening. How do I know this?

Because of Hamilton.

Hamilton took a story about the Revolution and made it something revolutionary. Lin-Manuel Miranda, his creative team, and the astounding group of actors who grace the stage eight times a week changed the rules. The show cast almost exclusively non-white actors in portrayals of the very white people who shaped our country. It fused hip-hop with showtunes with pop, intertwining styles and musical histories that are rarely associated with each other. They made sure today’s America owned, understood, and related to yesterday‘s America. They bridged the gap between those founding folks we barely recognized in ourselves and who we are today: a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life just trying to make their best lives in this country.

The factual history doesn’t change. How America was founded doesn’t change. But through art, Hamilton reclaimed that history to make it feel ours again, make it feel unequivocally 21st-century American. It made history out of history.

So. Think about it. There are people who voted for Trump for change, even if they’re unsure of what kind. And then there are people who voted for Trump in the belief that he will take our country back centuries socially. Regardless of what Trump voters wanted out of all of this, the result is that this change is coming. And as a bisexual woman, it makes me fear for my future and the futures of many of my friends and family.

But I also think we have the power to make something good out of this. To bring this political revolution to life with the reminder that we are all American, that this one incompetent person and his sexist, homophobic VP do not define us.

Like Hamilton, we can revolutionize this revolution. And the difference is, it won’t take 240 years for us to change the white, privileged scenery of this story.

Because this history is happening now.

Perhaps this American tragedy, however upsetting and disturbing and often hateful it has appeared to be, is the catalyst for an American victory in equality and empathy.

How do you want the story of Election of 2016 and its aftermath to be remembered in history books?

Right now, there are people painting swastikas on windows and telling black students to go to the back of the bus. There will always be those people. But we can take their grayscale, uniform view of America and of the world and sprinkle it with color. We can counter the violence Trump has inspired in many Americans with our strong will to maintain diversity and strive for equality. We’re already speaking up. We’re not giving up.

Imagine what we can do with this energy to reclaim the history being paved for us as I write this. Imagine the inspiration we can gain from one another. Imagine the ways in which we can forge new political and social paths and establish connections that make us stronger than ever in the face of hatred and bigotry displayed by a small few.

This is more of a stream-of-consciousness musing than a call to action, but I hope it inspires you to perhaps listen to a Hamilton tune or two with a different mindset. Yes, the world is still spinning, and that means there is time for positive action.

America: Rise up. History has its eyes on you.

Make history, and make it colorful.

‘Star Trek Beyond’ boldly goes where the first two should’ve started

It isn’t Star Trek if Captain Kirk doesn’t “accidentally” rip his uniform shirt.

It isn’t a Star Trek film if the Enterprise doesn’t blow up at least once.

Luckily for Trek fans everywhere, the third reboot series installment, Star Trek Beyond, features both these attributes. Ultimately, as a new-ish Trekker, I was more impressed with this film than I was with the first two combined. What sets apart Star Trek Beyond from its predecessors, fundamentally, is its focus on the Enterprise crew–which is where the series’ focus should have been all along.

Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) both received mixed reviews (largely negative in the latter’s case) by critics and die-hard fans alike. I can’t say much about that, because it was Into Darkness that got me into Trek in the first place. Now that I’ve seen the original series, all the original films, and almost all the spinoff shows, I, too, have many bones to pick with the reboot movies (no pun intended). Beyond was far from perfect, but it was a step in the right direction in terms of bringing Gene Roddenberry’s vision to the 21st century. (Finally.)

For one, I found there to be a marked difference in characterization this time around. The Jim Kirk who opens the film is very much like he of the original series. Yes, Jim is cocky and rash–the first two films do a solid job establishing that–but he’s also quick on his feet, a true leader, and a very good speech-maker. The opening scene, wherein Kirk attempts to talk his way through negotiating peace between two squabbling species, establishes all of these things. It feels very Trek right from the start, which is a relief and a joy to see.

And as Kirk himself says in the film, “It wasn’t just me. It never is.” Beyond finally establishes that the Enterprise is a collective group of people, that Star Trek is not the Captain Kirk Show, or even the Spock Show. Rebooting this series was an opportunity to let other characters shine, and finally, director Justin Lin and writers Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung take advantage of that. Sulu has a husband and daughter. Uhura exists outside her relationship with Spock (gasp!) and stands her ground against Krall in believing, unwaveringly, in her crew. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) had probably more lines in this film than he did in the first two combined–and it’s about damn time, because Bones is a crucial part of what makes Trek special. He is the heart behind Spock’s logic and Kirk’s courage. The newest addition to our band of space heroes and heroines, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), is a force to be reckoned with. Though her backstory is a bit predictable, she comes in guns blazing to help the crew and develops an immediate rapport with Scotty that actually doesn’t result in a romantic relationship–a rarity for dynamics between men and women in mainstream film.

Beyond is also sprinkled with subtle little treats for hardcore fans. However, the references to the original series are tasteful choices–they are vague enough to amuse a wide audience but specific enough that Trek fans will pick them out in seconds. “Did you know,” asks Pavel Chekov toward the end of the film, “that scotch was actually invented by a little old lady in Russia?” – a line almost directly taken from the original Chekov’s speech in the original series classic, “The Trouble with Tribbles”. Laughing at the reference, and hearing the rest of the audience laugh with me whether they understood its origins or not, was a great feeling.

The film’s weaknesses lie in (a) a generic storyline, and (b) lazy characterization of Idris Elba’s role as Krall, this film’s adversary. Both these qualms are related–Krall’s anger toward the Federation drives the plot forward, but this anger is unfounded until almost the very end of the movie. Without revealing spoilers, I’ll say his motives are a bit contrived and cliche; furthermore, the actions he takes because of those motives are entirely over-the-top. Idris Elba is a very talented actor, and I wish more had been done with his character to expand and develop him and showcase Elba’s talents. I’m also more partial to character-driven films, so the gratuitous fight scenes and explosions, while necessary to appeal to a mainstream audience, lulled me into distracted boredom every so often. (Pretty sure that’s just a “me” thing, though. As soon as the weapons come out, I start planning what’s for dinner.)

Despite all that, I’m a bit more forgiving with Beyond in terms of plot since, as I mentioned, it was so much more character-driven than the first two films. It might not seem like it to action movie-goers or casual Trek fans, but to those of us who hold the characters dear to our hearts, a new set of writers and directors who actually care about Star Trek made all the difference. Essentially, what Beyond has that the others don’t is heartStar Trek ’09 was too bogged down with establishing an alternate universe to do justice to the lore upon which it was based. Into Darkness forced us to care about a Kirk/Spock dynamic that wasn’t  grounded in the trust and inspiration and love that characterized it for decades.  Instead of floundering for fanservice or trying too hard to march to its own drum, this installment finds balance in staying faithful to the original and holding its own.

It’s always been clear that this cast has fun with each other, but never more so than when their characters are actually talking to each other instead of yelling over phaser fire. The film does a great job grounding and establishing relationships, especially those between our favorite triumvirate: Jim and Bones have a great scene together early in the film where Bones sees right through Jim’s apparent ambivalence toward his approaching birthday; Spock and Bones spend a significant amount of time stranded together and do more than just banter; and of course, Kirk and Spock spend the movie realizing for the umpteenth time that they have no idea what they’d do without each other. It’s kind of beautiful, and it’s what made me fall in love with Trek to begin with. However many explosions or dramatic fight scenes there are, I’m in it for the characters. Beyond delivered in that regard, and I wish the first two films had taken the time to do so early on.

But Beyond proves it’s never too late to save a franchise. With an 85% on RottenTomatoes so far, I have a feeling this one will soar at warp speed toward being named a classic in Trek film history.

In short: Dear Justin Lin & Co,

Thanks for caring. It makes a difference.

Love,

The Trek Fandom

Biased Trekkie review: 4/5
Overall review: 3.5/5