5 Podcasts to Help You Get Spooky This Halloween

It’s finally Halloween season. As much as I’d like to celebrate all day, every day, I (unfortunately) have a job and other commitments to get to.

Which is why podcasts are just so convenient. If I’m dying for a morsel of the macabre or striving to fit the spooktacular into my day-to-day, I pop in my earbuds and lean into all things spine-chilling. What I love most about well made podcasts is their ability to connect to their listeners on a personal level. As I’m making my daily commute on the Orange Line or jogging on the treadmill, I love listening to shows that make me feel like I’m part of the conversation-like I’m sitting around a table chatting with friends.

The world of podcasting is a vast one, which is why I limit myself to the (admittedly heavy) subjects of true crime, horror, and the paranormal. If you’re not a huge podcast listener, you might not be totally sure what you’re into regarding style. Do you prefer to listen to something more lecture-based? Or to a show that takes a conversational tone?

If you’re not sure where to start, but would really like to up your spook-game this month, I’ve compiled a short list of horror/crime podcasts for you to try. They feature an array of different voices, perspectives, and approaches to storytelling–and I love them all for different reasons.

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‘Jagged Little Pill’ Has Reminded Me Why I Love Musicals

I remember being a freshman in high school, donning a Wicked sweatshirt and skinny jeans (my standard attire on any given day), and justifying for the thousandth time to one of my best friends how I could take seriously any work of fiction in which random bursts into song were not only encouraged, but required.

But I didn’t really have an answer for him as to why I loved musicals so much. It’s just been an innate part of me since…forever. I grew up on musicals. My obsession began with The Sound of Music at age 8 and only intensified from there; 17 years and a “No day but today” tattoo later, I’m still all about that #theatrelife.

But when you stop and think about it, the concept really does sound silly. People have been singing and dancing their way through complex (and not so complex) storylines for centuries; but that doesn’t mean that some don’t find musical theatre ridiculous.

I’ve taken as many opportunities as possible to see live theatre–from Ocean State Theatre’s production of Rent to Kinky Boots on Broadway.

But my new favorite musical is one I found right at home. And it’s helped me articulate the power of musical theatre like I’ve never been able to before.

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Not a Damsel: Female Agency in Today’s Horror

The horror genre has, of course, evolved since the days of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (friendly reminder that the genre itself was, indeed, established by a woman–consider, though, that she wrote from a man’s perspective which surely contributed to the novel’s success). But I would argue there’s still progress to be made. Even some of the timeless classic films hinge on the idea that the “token blonde” dies first, or is the only one to die at all, or has to be saved by a man, or serves no purpose other than to be viewed as a sexual object (see Creature of the Black Lagoon or My Bloody Valentine for reference). Supernatural, which has aired on the CW for over a decade, doesn’t usually feature female characters for more than one or two seasons, and it’s almost always the three principal men who save the world from destruction.

But I digress. Instead of listening who’s done it wrong, I’m going to take some time to tell you what to watch and listen to for good, scary fun that does women right. Don’t cover your eyes for these–you won’t want to miss them.

Continue reading “Not a Damsel: Female Agency in Today’s Horror”

Star Trek: Discovery is More “Trek” Than You Think

Set phasers to do your research.

Nine episodes of the newest addition to the Roddenberry franchise, Star Trek: Discovery, have been released on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on Netflix around the world. I’ve watched them all, and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience so far. Of course, new characters, new CGI, and an expansion of the lore I know and love are all aspects I’m still getting used to.

But the extreme hate from many Trekkies is something I definitely wasn’t expecting––and something I don’t really want to have to adjust to at all. Discovery has already been renewed for a second season (Yay!), but that hasn’t stopped the hate––in fact, it’s increased it tenfold.

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I write this not to invalidate such opinions, but to nudge along a gentle reminder––Star Trek, in all its television incarnations, has always had political and social undertones. It has always aimed to understand and pick apart humanity and all its flaws. The best thing about the franchise, at least for me, is that it’s not just about flashy interplanetary battles––it’s about the best and worst of our species; it’s about what we are and what we could be.

I will start by saying, to be fair, that a lot of the anger stems from CBS’ “money-making” technique of forcing U.S. viewers to by CBS All-Access in order to see Discovery. Historically, Trek has been available to viewers for on primetime cable, and this seems like a step backwards for a lot of viewers who grew up with the shows and have stuck to traditional cable. However, CBS is attempting, as many major networks are, to create revenue through streaming services in light of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon’s successes. Introducing a show in a major franchise for a streaming service was probably the best idea CBS could’ve had. After all, CBS All Access sales have doubled since Discovery began.

All that said, there are those who will always resist progress. Resist new perspectives. And that’s perhaps the most anti-Trek mentality you could have.

Discovery departs from its predecessors in many ways, but it never loses where it came from. Here’s why.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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‘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