Friends, Part 3: The Girls and Chandler

I’ve been sharing my impressions of Friends after watching it from start to finish for the very first time. You can read observations on the show as a whole in Part 1, and Joey vs Ross in Part 2. This week I’m writing about the girls.

I don’t quite connect with Rachel. Excellent analyses of this character have already been written. I’m only here to share impressions. I don’t have any major complaints about her. I think she’s well-written, and I get why other people love her, I just…eh. Maybe the well was poisoned by decades of hearing people gush about Jennifer Anniston, whom they saw as the sweet, respectable, safely feminine girl-next-door worthy of all good things in a way I felt they didn’t see me. That I found Rachel the least relatable character and Ross the least appealing, yet still got sucked into their trainwreck of a love story and cried at its happy ending, is a testament to how great Friends‘ writing and showrunning was.

Phoebe is everything. Remember I said I had seen a few nonconsecutive seasons before while I was bedridden and binging whatever daytime basic cable had to offer? Phoebe was the one character whom, even without the context of a greater arc, I immediately liked. I would happily watch a show that was just about Phoebe. I could relate to her Weird Girl vibe so much, and I love how she still fits seamlessly into this kind of basic friend group and ends up in a stable marriage on her own terms.

Monica is my cinnamon roll. I will protect her from her garbage family with my life. Plenty has already been written about how the fat-shaming in Monica’s story doesn’t hold up today, but modern shows are still putting skinny actresses in fatsuits to contrast unacceptable and acceptable versions of their bodies, and it was as cruel then as it is now. The difference is that, thanks to the internet, people have a more accessible platform to point out its cruelty.

Beyond all that, I really like Monica for all the things that annoy the other characters about her. I like how hyper-organized she is, and how she knows exactly what she wants and goes after it according to a perfectly itemized and cross-referenced plan. Her competitive spirit is awesome and hilarious. And who wouldn’t want to spend a couple nights at Hotel Geller?

I guess it makes sense that I like Monica so much, because out of all the Friends…

I am Ms. Chanandler Bong. It’s taking me forever to type out this paragraph because I can’t stop laughing. As much as I related to Phoebe, the Weird Girl, Chandler Bing is the Weirdest Girl. Expressing all emotion through snark? Check. Torn between drives for creativity and stability? Check. Allergic to sentimental attachment? Check. But paradoxically wants to find a soulmate and never have to go through the ordeal of falling for a new person ever again? Double check. On a more serious note, I think if I had been born fifteen years earlier, I would have had hang-ups about my bisexuality into my late 30s similar to Chandler’s.

It’s hard to wrap this up because there’s so much more I could write about Friends. And again, I can’t really even say I loved it. But I do understand now why this show and its ensemble are so iconic, and why people are still watching, quoting, and analyzing it over 25 years after it began. I’ll never know how I would have felt about the show if I had followed it as it aired. As is, a Netflix binge was a fun way to experience these friends’ journey into the new millennium and to look back on my own.

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Friends, Part 2: Ross, Joey, and the Friend Zone

As I said last week, I watched Friends from start to finish for the first time ever during the last few months of 2018. You can read my overall impressions of the show in Part 1. I planned to write some thoughts on each character this week, but I only got as far as Ross and Joey because I had a flu, so tune in next time for my thoughts on the girls and Chandler!

It’s hard to like Ross in the age of internet fanboy misogyny.

You guys, I wish I could like Ross. I love brainy, awkward introverts. I love characters who are logic-oriented and also hopeless romantics. I love characters who love the things I love. But I see so much in Ross Geller that led to the misogyny problem we have in modern geek culture. I feel like if Ross had been born 15 years later, he would be a Red Piller bitching online about “ethics in gaming journalism.” I’d like to think I could enjoy the character and his romance with Rachel without this baggage, but I think his insecurities about her career and his disregard for her feelings would turn me off in any decade.

As a counterpoint, here’s a positive analysis of Ross’ character by an excellent feminist channel. I highly recommend all their Friends character profiles.

To my surprise, I don’t hate Joey.

Yeah, he’s a womanizer, but I never got the sense that he was doing anything coercive with his many, many sexual partners. There were some women who wanted more than a one-night stand when he didn’t, but it didn’t seem like he was trying to make them think he wanted more. And he is a good friend to Phoebe, Monica, and Rachel without expecting the friendship to turn into anything more. For the few seasons he’s interested in Rachel, he doesn’t act like he’s entitled to a romantic or sexual relationship or like she’s doing him wrong by not providing one.

In fact, now that I think of it, the friendzone scene exemplifies why I’m more okay with Joey than Ross. In the first season, Joey explains the concept of “The Friendzone” to Ross. Joey says that Ross is in Rachel’s friendzone because Ross presented himself to Rachel as a potential friend, not a potential partner, so Rachel responded in kind. She categorizes Ross as a friend because he hasn’t told her he’s in love with her. This is pretty much the opposite of how we use the term today. Joey isn’t commiserating with Ross, or denigrating Rachel for considering Ross her friend when that’s all he’s made any effort to be. He’s blaming Ross for not being honest about what he wants sooner. Which is…true, and if this were still how we used the word “friendzone,” I might actually consider it a useful term.

Would I date Joey Tribbiani? Heck no. But this show is about friendship, and between Joey and Ross, Joey is the guy I would rather have in my friend zone.

Next up: Best Geller and everyone else who has shared her impossible apartment!

I Finished Friends For The First Time, Part 1

I did not watch a single episode of Friends until after it had been off the air for a few years. I want to say it was 2007-ish? I was sick in bed for a long time and got through a few nonconsecutive seasons of reruns. My reaction was mostly, “Oh, ok, I understand this reference now.” I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t have enough of an impact for me to seek out more episodes once daytime basic cable was no longer spoon-feeding them to me.

A couple months ago, I read something in passing about how Friends is still a cultural landmark 25 years after it premiered. I thought, “Hey, it HAS been 25 years, hasn’t it? And, yes, Friends is a cultural landmark. Maybe I should actually watch it from start to finish and see what the big deal is.”

So I did. Here are my random observations on the show as a whole. Character observations coming next week!

It was fascinating to watch the 90s aesthetic fade into the 00s now that both are old enough to be Other Times. I’ve watched other shows from that time span. Fraiser is one of my absolute favorite comedies ever. But Frasier isn’t about trendy 20-somethings. Watching Friends, every other episode I was like, “Oh, yeah, I remember when that was a thing for five minutes!” Or in the latter seasons, “Hey, I still have that! Should I still be wearing clothes I bought in a year with two zeros?”

Young adults in the early 90’s were born in the 60’s. I know, this is stating the obvious. But Friends, a show about growing up, really highlights the effect our childhood has on our adulthood. On a superficial level, this quintessential 90’s show is full of pop culture references from the 60’s and 70’s. On a deeper level, the characters’ issues make a lot of sense when you realize their parents were their age in the era of Leave it to Beaver. The elder Greens and Gellers raised their kids for the lifestyles they themselves had as young adults. The driving plot of the show is Rachel running away from life as a traditional 60’s housewife, and Ross coming to terms with the fact that he’ll never love a woman who wants to be a traditional 60’s housewife. Alongside them we have Monica and Chandler finding a 21st century version of the white picket fence lifestyle, making room for Chandler’s gender-nonconforming personality and Monica’s dominant role in their marriage.

Why is everyone on this show tan as heck? Seriously, why? They all live in NYC and have indoor jobs and hobbies. There’s no logical reason for these characters to be darker than the cast of Jane the Virgin. Did people notice this when Friends was current? Was the episode where Ross gets a botched spray tan meant to lampshade this phenomenon?

Everything about the cast’s lack of diversity has already been said. But. I can’t help wondering if, in 1993, the showrunners did think they had a diverse show. Over half the ensemble is Jewish or Italian. Depending on the showrunners’ ages, either they grew up seeing those ethnicities as borderline non-white or they were raised by people who did. I remember older relatives on my white and brown sides talking about Italians like they were, I don’t know, brown-adjacent? None of these musings are meant to excuse the show’s lack of diversity, it’s just interesting to reflect on our country’s evolving concept of what does and doesn’t constitute whiteness.

The male/female non-romantic relationships are pretty cool. Each woman in the main ensemble has at least one close male friend who isn’t trying to get into her pants. That’s just really nice to watch. They can be alone together, do special little things for each other, go to each other’s family events, comfort each other when they’re hurting, and so on without the guys treating these gestures like sexual punch cards. I cried when Joey offered to stop eating meat during Phoebe’s pregnancy to cancel out the meat his vegetarian friend had to eat for her babies. It was so adorably thoughtful, and it truly was “just” an act of friendship.

The finale truly is perfect. I still can’t say Friends is “my show.” There are many shows from many decades that resonate with me more. But I’m glad I watched every episode in order if only to fully understand what a work of art the finale is. Everyone gets their Happily Ever After in a believable, satisfying way. I didn’t even care for Ross and Rachel’s relationship (more on that next week), and I was still a mess of joyful tears when Rachel came back at the end. And that final shot of the empty apartment, ending on six keys side by side? It was emotional enough after binging these characters’ journey over a couple of months. I can only imagine what it must have been like to watch that if the Friends were a part of your life for ten years.

Next week: Find out which Friend I related to the most!

The Unauthorized Review of The Unauthorized Full House Story

I totally didn’t mean to take the summer off from blogging. Life got busy, and when I did have time to write, I picked novel-drafting over blogging. But, the comedy gods have summoned me back to my blog with a cheesy TV movie about a cheesy TV show from my childhood.

Pictured: Not my old familiar friends.

I’ll be doing a “first impressions” style post like the one I did on Jem and the Holograms. Unlike with Jem, I am quite familiar with Full House. I watched it regularly back when the TGIF lineup was a new thing. I was young enough then (the same age as Stephanie Tanner) to find it legitimately entertaining. Nearly twenty years later, I binge-watched the whole series on TV Land while I was sick in bed. It brought back happy memories and gave me a lot of good laughs (at what my grade-school self had found legitimately entertaining). Today, I find myself looking forward to the Netflix release of Fuller House, half because I hope it’ll have as much unintentional comedy as its predecessor, and half because I’m sincerely looking forward to the nostalgia of predictability, the milkman, the paperboy, and evening TV.

In the meantime, my thoughts on this unauthorized portrayal of my old familiar friends is waiting just around the bend.  Continue reading “The Unauthorized Review of The Unauthorized Full House Story”

Jem and the Holograms: My First Time

Like the rest of the internet, I have now seen the trailer for the new Jem and the Holograms movie. It looks like a painfully cliched made-for-TV band flick written to reassure its young audience that they’d hate being rich and famous. As to how it compares to the original cartoon, I can’t say.

I’ve never watched it.

I KNOW, RIGHT??? I love 80’s pop culture, 80’s pop music, cartoons, and over-the-top pink girly glitter, and my name is a gem, so Jem and the Holograms seems like it should be an obvious win for me. I don’t remember ever being aware of it when it was on originally. I saw commercials for the dolls, but I thought they were knockoffs of Barbie and the Rockers. I’ve known for awhile that Jem is on Netflix and that there’s a new movie in the works, but haven’t taken the time to check it out.

Well, luckily for you, dear readers, I am sick and insomniac, so I am embarking on an all-night binge watch. I’ll be writing random impressions below the cut as I watch each episode. Here goes! Continue reading “Jem and the Holograms: My First Time”

Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil

I want to preface this review by saying I know virtually nothing about Daredevil lore. I know there’s Daredevil and he’s blind and lives in Hell’s Kitchen and his girlfriend is Sydney Bristow whose alias is Elektra and that’s pretty much it. I never saw the Ben Affleck movie. All my knowledge thereof comes from riff reviews like this one.

But, like billions of other nerdy pop culture consumers, I’m loving the new Marvel era, and I’ve enjoyed several of Netflix’s original series, so I had high hopes for this one. My hopes have been rewarded.

Our hero, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), is indeed a blind man headquartered in Hell’s Kitchen. He protects his innocent neighbors as a defense lawyer by day, and masked vigilante by night. He’s the son of a boxer who supported his family by taking falls in the ring. It’s every bit as noir as it sounds, and yet the show still injects just the right amount of optimism and levity to keep from feeling overwhelmingly bleak.

Murdock’s blindness is handled pretty well, imo. The same accident that took away his sight heightened his other senses, which is how he’s able to pull off his vigilante stunts. The scenes highlighting his superpowers do a great job of showing that he’s relying on senses other than sight. The staging and effects let us inside Murdock’s head where we feel him focus on the sound of a faraway cry for help, or the vibration of an attacker’s footfalls. Yet his lack of sight still comes across as a legitimate handicap; something that, as a disabled viewer, I feel is important to acknowledge in-story.

As of the second episode, Team Daredevil includes Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), Murdock’s pragmatically materialistic law partner; Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), Murdock’s former client and current office manager who I’ve since learned is a canon love interest; and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), a Night Nurse who saves Murdock when he’s injured in a vigilante mission. Everyone in the cast inhabits their roles perfectly, and there’s a strong chemistry between the characters.

So far I only have one nitpick with the show. In a scene in the pilot where Murdock and Foggy are interrogating Karen Page, Murdock concludes that Karen’s improbable story is true because he hears her heart rate remain slow and steady while she’s telling it. In this scene, she’s also traumatized, stressed, crying, and in emotional and physical pain. It strikes me as totally reasonable for a person under those circumstances to have an elevated or irregular heart rate even if they were telling the truth, especially if they were stressed about being accused of lying. In real life, lie detection technology isn’t considered 100% reliable for exactly these reasons.

However, one problem with one scene isn’t enough to keep me from enjoying this show. If you’re a fan of the Daredevil comics, I don’t know what to tell you, but if you’re a fan of film noir, TV crime dramas, and the new Marvel cinematic universe, you should definitely check this out. All 13 episodes are currently streaming on Netflix. Here’s hoping life and my internet connection will finally let me binge-watch the rest of them.

Olympus: Green Screen, Red Corn Syrup, And Blue Feet

Hey, did you know Syfy has a new drama set in mythological Greece? No? Me neither, until my parents texted me while they were watching WWE on Thursday night and said I’d probably like this Olympus show that’s coming on afterward. I’m glad they did, because I had a great time watching the pilot, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

This post’s title is an accurate description of the show’s production value. (As an indie author, I know all too well how much people LOVE sinking money into weird Greek mythology adaptations.) It’s tempting to throw Olympus into the “so bad it’s good” category, where I lovingly store many of my favorites, but the female lead and the villainess make this show unironically fun to watch. olympus The Oracle of Gaia, played by Sonya Cassidy (whom BBC fans may recognize as Clara from The Paradise), has divine visions that don’t always come when she needs them to, so she’s learned to appease her petitioners by becoming a master of deduction. This, imo, should be the entire premise of the show. I have dubbed The Oracle #GreekSherlock. She’s resourceful, rational, dramatic, and prone to complicated schemes that can snowball into something way more complicated than she foresaw (damn uncontrollable visions).

And somehow, #GreekSherlock is not our designated hero. That role falls to our male lead known only as Hero – or Mercenary, or You There, or whatever the other characters decide to call him, since saying his name aloud will turn the speaker to stone. He has an intricate backstory that literally makes him the MacGuffin. He gets his feet painted blue for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear to me. He’s a valiant warrior who can kill people with rope. Ultimately, though, he’s there to be eye candy (a role newcomer Tom York fills quite well) while #GreekSherlock steals the show. So basically he’s a Moffat woman.

But the biggest show-stealer of them all is Olympus‘ Big Bad, Medea (played by Sonita Henry). She’s resourceful, rational, dramatic, and prone to complicated schemes that she’s usually completely on top of unless Fate throws her for a loop. As the evil personality counterpoint to #GreekSherlock, I have dubbed her #GreekMoriarty. (Except Hero is her ostensible nemesis, so I have no idea if she and #GreekSherlock will ever officially acknowledge each other.) Medea’s portrayal goes beyond pure camp, although there’s plenty of that. She comes across as clever, in control, and legitimately dangerous. And (SPOILER?) it looks like she has designs on goddesshood. I sort of want to see that.

I think there were a bunch of other people, too. But as far as I was concerned, it was all about #GreekSherlock and #GreekMoriarty.

So, anyway, if you’re looking for Game of Greek Thrones, you’re not going to find it here, but if you miss Xena and Hercules, you’ll have as much fun with Olympus as I did. Check it out on Syfy on Thursday nights at 10/9 Central, or stream full episodes here.

Agent Carter: Can I be her already?

You remember Agent Peggy Carter from the Captain America movies, right? And you know ABC gave her her own miniseries and scheduled it during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s winter break, right? And you saw its two-episode premiere last Tuesday because all of my readers live in the US and structure their lives around TV schedules, right? What??? OMG you aren’t hooked on Agent Carter yet??? Well, read on! I promise this won’t be too spoilery.

My biggest question about Agent Carter was whether it would feel more like a spin-off of the Captain America movies or the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series. The answer is both and neither. Like any of the individual series under the Avengers umbrella, Agent Carter draws from the franchise as a whole, but maintains its own distinct feel. And if you like a 1940’s aesthetic with a James Bond storyline, that feel is pretty freakin’ awesome.

One of my favorite things about Agent Carter is how it lets Peggy fill the Bond role while looking like a Bond girl. There are times when Peggy switches out her skirt suit for a pair of slacks, but she’s always got her perfectly-coiffed curls and her signature red lipstick. Do I think any of this should be a social requirement for real women in the real world like it was in days of yore? No and no. Is it how my fantasy self would be attired in my self-insert pulp fanfic? So very much yes.

Peggy’s aesthetic suits her character, imo, because it’s one that requires a lot of effort, skill, and control; all traits we see her display in the field. Peggy is always in charge of whatever situation she’s in, whether her superiors realize it or not. Tell her to bring coffee, and she’ll gather all the intel from your top-secret meeting. Give her a sick day for “ladies’ problems” and she’ll work that case and find the MacGuffin in a disguise that has all her spy colleagues fooled.

Every good comic book hero needs a sidekick, and Peggy’s will be familiar to Iron Man fans: Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (not to be confused with Tony Stark’s computer system). There’s no will-they-or-won’t-they tension between this dynamic duo, as Peggy isn’t over Steve Rogers, and Jarvis is steadfastly devoted to his unseen wife. Clearly he knows Mrs. Jarvis is the greatest good he’s ever going to get. Jarvis’ deadpan insistence on providing hero support is a perfect foil to Peggy’s obligatory insistence that she doesn’t need it.

Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter; James D’Arcy as Edwin Jarvis. Image via Ace Showbiz.

Well, “obligatory” isn’t quite fair, since Peggy’s adamant independence is more than justified in-universe. She works in an environment where she has to prove herself twice as good as her male colleagues to earn half the respect. Jarvis recognizes this, and when he informs Peggy that he’s there to stay, he makes a point of saying that all heroes, whether male or female, need support, just like Captain America did when Peggy and Stark were providing it for him.

Which, imo, sums up the best thing about Agent Carter. In the first Captain America movie, I really wanted to love Peggy, but I mostly felt like she was an under-utilized character with great potential. For all her informed awesomeness, she was essentially just The Love Interest. The faded photograph that the real hero looked to for inspiration. In Agent Carter, their roles are reversed. Now Steve Rogers is the faded photograph, and Agent Peggy Carter is the lone hero in red, white, and blue.

And pumps, nylons, and red lipstick.

Agent Carter airs on ABC on Tuesday night at 9pm/8pm Central. You can watch full episodes online at ABC.com.

My Top 10 Posts of 2014

Welcome to my obligatory year-in-review post! As of the precise moment in time that I’m writing this post, these were my 10 most-viewed posts of 2014. A couple of these, including #1, weren’t even written this year. It’s encouraging to know that my posts have staying power, considering I usually write about pop culture and internet culture, which can be particularly fickle. Continue reading “My Top 10 Posts of 2014”

How I Met Your Avatar: The Legend of Korra Series Finale

SPOILER Warning: This blog post is all about the Legend of Korra series finale and is full of SPOILERS. Don’t read this post if you don’t want SPOILERS. Here’s something else you can read – my fangirly post that I wrote in anticipation of Season 3.

“Korra” by deviantART user taratjah

Okay, so. If you’ve been anywhere near Tumblr this weekend, you know that the infamous Korra/Mako/Asami triangle was resolved with Korra being on friendly terms with her ex-boyfriend Mako and…going off on a romantic vacation with his ex-girlfriend, Asami. #Korrasami is canon. The Legend of Korra ended the same way as The Last Airbender – the Avatar gets the girl. Or the girl gets the Avatar. Or something. However you want to put it, The Legend of Korra began with teenage Korra in love with a boy and ended with adult Korra in love with a woman.

There are enough bloggers talking about what a great thing this is for bi representation. All I’ll say on that is ZOMG THIS IS AWESOME FOR BI REPRESENTATION!!!! But beyond that, what really struck me about the way The Legend of Korra ended is that it gave us the story that How I Met Your Mother promised and didn’t deliver. Korra finds True Love, loses True Love for completely legitimate reasons, regains a genuine friendship with her ex-True Love, and finds True Love again in the end. Like I said in my review of the How I Met Your Mother finale, you almost never see this in television. Either the first love turns out to not really be love, or the first love is the only possible TRUE love and you can never really get over them or be as in love with someone else.

Image via SpoilersGuide.com

The Legend of Korra didn’t go either of these predictable routes. Korra was undeniably in love with Mako in the first season. In her own words, she felt like they were meant for each other. And, because I dearly love Korra and want her to have everything she wants, I was completely on-board the Good Ship Makorra. (Seriously, after the Season 2 finale, I was playing “Set Fire To The Rain” on a loop.)

Then Season 3 started. Cue post-breakup awkwardness with Mako. But through the awkwardness, it never went into “I never want to see you again” territory on one hand or “I’m secretly trying to get back together with you because I could never possibly love anyone else” territory on the other. And meanwhile, here’s Asami displaying no lingering feelings for Mako whatsoever and flirting up a storm with Korra, and Korra seeming remarkably okay with that. Season 3 ended with all three points of this forgotten triangle totally single and in no hurry (or condition, in Korra’s case) to change that.

Season 4 revealed that Korra, Mako, and Asami had all been single for the three years between seasons. Mako and Korra affirm to other people that, by the end of Season 3, they’d come to think of each other as friends. In the finale, they affirm this to each other. They share a beautiful scene near the end as two people who sincerely respect and care for each other. But neither one moves toward making their relationship more than that, and I, a die-hard Makorra shipper for the first two seasons, didn’t sense regret on either side.

Then, in a scene mirroring Avatar Aang’s happy ending with his future wife Katara, Avatar Korra gets her happy ending taking the hands and gazing into the eyes of her second True Love. Balance has been restored. A children’s show has given us one of the most mature, adult romantic storylines in modern television. That beauteous rarity known as an emotionally satisfying series finale has been achieved. All is right with the world.

In my opinion, The Legend of Korra succeeded where How I Met Your Mother failed because Korra‘s showrunners could acknowledge that their characters had evolved beyond their original vision. The first season of The Legend of Korra was supposed to be a stand-alone miniseries, so obviously Korra and Mako were originally meant to be together. But, like Ted and Robin, Korra and Mako evolved. Barney Stinson and Asami Sato evolved, too (man, I never thought I would name those characters in the same sentence). I applaud the Avatar creators for letting Korra’s new relationship with Asami follow this path. Seeing these two walk off into the sunset together was, in Korra’s words, “perfect.”

“They did the thing!” by deviantART user KrystalSerenity

But, hey, who the hell is Su Jin Beifong’s father?