The Misselthwaite Archives: A Secret Glade in Portland

We had a trio of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books on the shelf from as early as I can remember – A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and The Secret Garden. I read all three when I was pretty young, and saw at least two movie adaptations of each one. All three books feature child protagonists who’ve lost at least one parent. In A Little Princess, Sara Crewe is known for her brave forbearance and her devotion to princessly virtues throughout her riches-to-rags story. In Little Lord Fauntleroy, Cedric Erroll remains the sweet-natured, charismatic apple of his mother’s eye as he goes from being a street urchin in Brooklyn to an English aristocrat.

The Secret Garden stands out among Burnett’s works (and classic children’s literature in general) in that ten-year-old Mary Lennox, orphaned while overseas with her parents, is a total bitch. She’s unlikeable, and I love her for it. Mary has the kind of behavioral issues you’d expect from a kid raised by neglectful narcissists whose idea of “parenting” is giving the kid whatever it takes to shut her up. Not to mention this child has gone through the trauma of finding her parents’ disease-ravaged bodies and being the only one left alive in her home.

So, when I was asked to review The Misselthwaite Archives, I was pleased to see that #MisselArch’s Mary is traumatized, depressed, and a total bitch. Though, as you can see, she’s not ten.

Sophie Giberson as Mary Lennox. Image via The Misselthwaite Archives.

In this adaptation, 17-year-old Mary is sent to live at her widowed uncle’s home in Misselthwaite, a small, preppy town somewhere in Oregon. Teen angst and Portlandia snark suit this character beautifully.

As does the series’ framing device. Most of Mary’s talking-to-the-camera videos are letters to Dr. F.H. Burnett, the therapist she left behind when she moved to Misselthwaite. Others are study exercises with her perpetually cheerful tutor, Phoebe Sower (Martha Sowerby’s counterpart). Phoebe is the one who first introduces Mary to the legend of The Glade. She also introduces Mary to her little brother, Declan.

Dickon Sowerby was one of my biggest “How is a modern webseries going to handle this character?” characters. With his entourage of enchanted woodland creatures, Book Dickon is pretty much a boy Disney Princess. It’s easy and predictable to take him in a Manic Pixie Dream Guy direction. The 1987 film went full Purity Sue/Too Good For This Sinful Earth, telling us in an epilogue that Dickon died in the first World War. (I like to imagine that version of Dickon actually ran away with Walter Blythe and they lived feyly ever after, but I digress.)

#MisselArch goes the opposite way with Declan Sower. He’s a wildlife sanctuary intern who’s brilliant at ecology and animal care, but shy and awkward with humans. He’s as good-natured as his perky sister, but quiet and thoughtful in a way that connects better with Mary’s withdrawn snarkitude. In fact, Declan connects so well with Mary that every video he appears in is inevitably followed by “I ship it!!!!” comments. I have to agree. I’ve always loved Mary for feeling like a real kid, and for once, Dickon feels as real as she does.

Bryce Earhart as Declan Sower. Image via The Misselthwaite Archives.

My biggest question, though, was how #MisselArch would handle Colin Craven. I can’t tell you the answer without a ton of SPOILERS. You’ve been warned. Continue reading “The Misselthwaite Archives: A Secret Glade in Portland”

Social media guilt: Speculation on the fall of Selfie

John Cho as Henry Higgs; Karen Gillan as Eliza Dooley. Image via Variety.

Selfie, the ABC sitcom remake of My Fair Lady starring Amy Pond as Eliza Doolittle and Mister Sulu II as Henry Higgins, has already been canceled. I’m sad to see it go, because I feel like it never got a chance to meet its full potential. I’m not going to pretend to know why it’s being canceled. But what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t speculate on things I know nothing about? Here goes.

Hypothesis: Selfie failed because it was obsessed with shaming its target demographic for using what could’ve been its most effective marketing tool.

Now, it could easily be argued that the show was about Eliza’s misuse of social media, not social media itself. The possibility to take the show in that direction was what kept me watching. Unfortunately, though, it never quite got there. Each episode reinforced messages that we see everywhere: That our Facebook friends aren’t real friends. That we’ve lost the art of meaningful communication because of our communication devices. That using a digital platform to talk about yourself and your life is a sure sign of narcissism. That if you have EVER dared to take a photograph of yourself and utilize a platform that :gasp: allows other people to see it, you are a hopeless attention whore who thinks the world, nay, the universe, revolves around you.

To be fair, Selfie’s Henry Higgs is as lost as its Eliza Dooley. Although Henry prides himself on not being the type to settle for shallow digital connection, he’s as lacking in real-world connections as his insta-famous mentee. It’s obvious that Selfie wants to be a show about two out-of-balance opposites meeting each other in the middle. But this misses the entire point of the source material. My Fair Lady (like the non-musical play it was adapted from, Pygmalion) was a satire of middle-class manners. In the original, there was nothing wrong with Eliza. And Eliza didn’t substantially change over the course of the story. Her basic personality, which was fine to begin with, remained intact. Higgins simply changed the way she spoke, dressed, and comported herself so that she could successfully conform to upper-middle-class arbitrary social conventions. The guttersnipe became a princess just by putting on a pretty dress and pronouncing her consonants. The story mocked the society that accepted or rejected Eliza based on these shallow, arbitrary standards, not Eliza herself for playing their game and winning.

I feel like Selfie could’ve been so much better if it had taken its social media farce in this direction. It could’ve subverted the platitudes of social media guilt that have become as ubiquitous as social media itself. Why aren’t Facebook friends real friends? They’re actual people. They aren’t computer programs. Isn’t it your choice if you’re adding people you don’t want to be friends with, or if you’re posting shallow or drama-filled statuses instead of using this neutral tool to cultivate real friendships? Why can’t phone apps be a way to enhance meaningful communication? That funny Pinterest pin you send your sister could spark a conversation that brings you closer than ever. Why can’t people read their family’s and friends’ posts because they’re sincerely interested in these people’s lives, and why can’t you post things about your own life with the understanding that this sincere interest is mutual? Maybe the real narcissist is the person who’s annoyed by their family and friends wanting to – OHMYGOD – talk about their lives! Why does taking a selfie have to mean that you expect the whole universe to stop what it’s doing and worship at your altar? Can’t it be just another chapter in humanity’s ongoing quest to document our existence? Part of a tradition that goes back to cave paintings?

But now back to my elephant-in-the-room hypothesis. Social media is an invaluable platform for promoting a work of entertainment. Especially for a generation that keeps finding new ways to avoid viewing paid advertisements. We Millennials will adblock our favorite shows out of existence, but we’ll check out that thing our BFF keeps livetweeting. Remember my post about The Quest, another ABC show? I didn’t notice a single commercial for it, even though, unlike most of my Millennial friends, I watch programming on an actual television set. I started watching The Quest because my sister sent me a text about it. On her phone. And then my sister and I joined thousands of other people who tweeted about the show on the hashtag #TheQuestArmy. It was by no means the first show I’d consistently livetweeted. But, although I tuned in to watch Selfie every week, I can’t say I was ever inclined to livetweet a show that kept telling me in the most anvillicious ways possible to put down my damn phone.

Ironically, I think Selfie might’ve had a better shot on a different platform. Since The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, YouTube has been flooded with modern adaptations of classic English literature. Most of them, it seems, star cute redheaded female leads. Selfie could’ve easily had a place among them.

But to do that, they would’ve had to cater to all those millennial narcissists on social media.

Postmodern Songs of the Summer

So, now that summer’s been officially over for a week, what was the Song of the Summer? What song will bring us back to the summer of 2014 whenever we hear it on whatever platform we’re listening to years and decades from now?

Whatever your answer is, I guarantee the original can’t beat Postmodern Jukebox’s cover.

“Fancy” – Vintage 1920’s Flapper-Style Iggy Azalea Cover ft. Ashley Stroud

“Rude” – Vintage 1950’s Sock-Hop-Style MAGIC! cover ft. Von Smith

“All About That [Upright] Bass” – Jazz Meghan Trainor Cover ft. Kate Davis

“Problem” – Vintage Doo-Wop Ariana Grande Cover ft. The Tee-Tones

“Really Don’t Care” – Vintage Motown-Style Demi Lovato Cover ft. Morgan James

Did I miss your song of the summer? Let me know in the comments, and if you’ve got a favorite cover, post it! And check out more of Postmodern Jukebox’s vintage awesomeness at this link.

10 Books That Made An Impression On Me

You’ve probably seen this challenge on Facebook already – list 10 books that have made an impression on you. When one of my friends tagged me last weekend, I decided to narrow it down to ten by focusing on books that I feel have influenced me as a writer. Here’s what I came up with, listed roughly in the order in which I first read them. All images link to listings on Barnes & Noble’s website. Continue reading “10 Books That Made An Impression On Me”

Frankenstein, MD – It’s Aliiiiiiiive!

I read Frankenstein about six years ago when I was discovering steampunk. I was expecting to like it in a so-bad-it’s-good way akin to the B-movie neckbolt cliches. I ended up loving it for its engaging characters (including the philosophical, articulate Monster), its thoughtful exploration of enduring themes like familial responsibility and ethics in scientific research, and its legitimate, well-written horror.

So I was ecstatic when I found out about Pemberley Digital’s plans to follow Emma Approved with an adaptation of Frankenstein. And that they were partnering with PBS. And that Victor Frankenstein (the creator, not the creature) was being rewritten as Victoria!

Anna Lore as Victoria Frankenstein, Steve Zaragoza as Iggy DeLacey. Image via Frankenstein MD (click to visit the official site)

Frankenstein, MD premiered last Tuesday with three episodes, followed by a fourth on Friday. It’s ostensibly a PBS science vlog hosted by two promising almost-MDs, Victoria Frankenstein and Ludwig “Iggy” DeLacey. Like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, the writers are taking plenty of liberties with the source material. For example, the vlog does not open with its titular character stranded in the Arctic. It’s a reasonable alteration, I suppose. As is adding a stand-in for Igor the Hunchback Lab Assistant, a character who doesn’t appear in the book, but has become an inextricable part of Frankenstein mythos.

Overall, I’m impressed by how many elements I’m recognizing from the book. The silent cameraman/editor, Robert Walton, is a nod to the book’s framing device of Frankenstein relaying his story to an Arctic explorer of that name. Victoria’s mentor, Dr. Abraham Waldman, was a prominent character in the book. Victoria’s childhood friends Eli Lavenza and Rory Clerval are gender-flipped versions of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s love interest, and Henry Clerval, Victor’s best friend. Victoria and Iggy’s university, Engle State University, takes its name from the book’s Ingolstadt University.

Most of all, there’s Frankenstein herself. Victoria mirrors Victor in that she’s passionate about pushing the limits of medical science. Nothing gets in the way of her research. Don’t tell her something’s impossible. “Impossible” just means no one’s figured out how to do it yet. Petty things like her subject’s clinical death are no impediment to her. She’ll just shock that bitch back to life. Drug-induced paralysis causing a panic attack? No prob. She’ll bring the subject out of it with MOAR DRUGS! Sure, the higher-ups may question her ethics (and her sanity), but genius and determination will triumph if Victoria has anything to do with it.

In short, Victoria Frankenstein is a mad scientist.

And she is the most adorable mad scientist you will ever see. Great writing, great comedic foiling from the rest of the cast, and a great performance by Anna Lore combine to make Victoria’s megalomaniacal superiority complex come across as hilarious and endearing.

The story has been light-hearted and upbeat so far. I’ll be interested to see how Frankenstein, MD handles the book’s heavier material. The book is full of murder, arson, identity crises, and like I said earlier, legitimate horror. The book closes with (SPOILER) anticipation of both creator’s and creature’s death. In the end, the reader is left contemplating which was the true monster. Pemberley Digital did an impressive job handling the more serious, uncomfortable issues in Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I’m confident that they’ll do the same for Frankenstein, and curious to see how they manage it.

Click here to watch Frankenstein, MD on the official website, or watch the playlist embedded below. If this has inspired you to read Mary Shelley’s original book, click here to get a free ePub, Kindle, or browser ebook at Project Gutenberg.

Green Gables Fables: Anne Shirley, Vlogger

It seems The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has started a trend. Vlogs based on classic literature and starring cute redheaded girls seem to be popping up everywhere. The latest one to suck me in is based on the series that pretty much defined my adolescence, Anne of Green Gables.

Anne Shirley, 17-year-old Canadian foster kid and vlogger

It’s remarkable how very little about the original story is changed in Green Gables Fables. Anne is an orphan who’s spent most of her life in neglectful foster homes. She’s just been taken in by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who’d asked for a boy and got Anne because of a clerical error. Anne clashes with Marilla’s best friend, Rachel Lynde. She goes to a new school and meets lots of new friends and frenemies, including a boy named Gilbert Blythe. She bonds quickly with Matthew and slowly but surely with Marilla. And she’s obsessed with her BFF, Diana Barry.

It all translates really well with a few modern updates. The series, of course, is ostensibly Anne’s vlog. Her epic fight with Rachel Lynde happens over an insensitive tweet. Diana meets Anne through Tumblr, a setting which makes their occasional lapses into Victoriana and referral to each other as “bosom friends” seem oddly believable. The infamous slate broken over Gilbert Blythe’s head is a magnetic locker board (thank God it wasn’t a tablet!).

What really sells this webseries is that it keeps the heart of the books. Anne Shirley is exactly as Anne Shirley should be. She’s a charming, talkative, nerdy, melodramatic, imaginative kid who’s been dealt some really bad luck, but who continually rises from the depths of despair to find kindred spirits who will love her as she is and to make the world a little more like she imagines it.

And she prefers to be called Cordelia.

Want to check out Green Gables Fables? Click here to go to the YouTube channel, or watch the playlist below.

Thug Notes Be All Up In Y’alls Librizzle. Word.

Yo. This here Sparky Sweets, PhD. Join me as I drop some of da illest classical literature summary and analysis that yo ass ever heard. Educate yo self, son.

~ Thug Notes Facebook Page

Gentle readers, this week it is my pleasure to introduce to you a charming and insightful program devoted to bringing classic literature to the masses, aptly entitled Thug Notes.

Promo for review of The Hobbit. Image via Facebook.

Each episode of this webseries opens with a stately, elegant theme reminiscent of Masterpiece Theater. We join Sparky Sweets, PhD (played by co-writer Greg Edwards) in an elegant library filled with timeless literary classics. In the first half of the episode, Dr. Sweets summarizes the selected volume for his gentle viewers. In the second half, he delivers a brief yet impressively thorough analysis of the book’s themes and literary background, highlighting key quotes from the book and sometimes its literary influences onscreen. All of this is accompanied by delightful stick figure composite animated illustrations. The highlight, of course, is that with the exception of verbatim quotes, Dr, Sweets’ reviews are conducted entirely in the vernacular commonly associated with organized crime in urban America, i.e. “gangsta.”

Selected volumes may include  classic fantasy like The Hobbit, in which dwarves enlist the aid of Bilbo Baggins because “some dragon be shackin’ on their turf,”

Greek epics like Homer’s Odyssey, in which “[Bleep] be gettin’ real up in the kingdom of Ithica,”

Or even romances like Pride and Prejudice, in which Dr. Sweets says of Mrs. Bennet, “I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger, but Bingley sure as hell ain’t no broke [bleep].”

You may recall me mentioning that the stereotyping of persons of Latin American ancestry as “thug” or “ghetto” is a cause of exceeding great displeasure to me. Such stereotyping is no less displeasing when applied to Americans of African ancestry. However, when a negative stereotype is satirized and subverted by a skilled comedian, that is quite another matter. Edwards and his co-writers are evidently people of excellent intellect, education, and refinement, a fact made all the more prominent by Sweets’ exaggerated thuggish persona. While the language and at times the subject matter of these reviews are unsuited for the workplace, Thug Notes are a worthy pursuit if one wishes to combine education with entertainment. Click here to peruse them at your leisure.