Posted on April 17, 2022
Apparently I’m incapable of doing things halfway: I went from barely leaving the house to going on an almost three week trip to the US. The songwriting festival, Tin Pan South, was starting up again and I’ve been going every year since 2016, to write songs and network and just learn from the best songwriters in Nashville. I was utterly terrified – about the COVID risk, about how even a minor bout of COVID could affect the trip, about all of the uncertainty and anxiety that I was going to feel every day without having a true safe place to return to and recharge, etc – but I felt like I had to go. My Mum and I were as careful as we could be: we wore masks pretty much all of the time (being autistic makes that hard but I did the best I could) and we went through so much hand sanitiser. I was practically showering with it. I cried pretty much every day (whether from anxiety, stress, or exhaustion, I don’t know) and I was on my knees by the end of the trip but it was amazing and a lot of really cool things happened.
We flew from London to Boston, which was relatively simple – my anxiety aside. I’d already burst into tears at least twice before we actually left the runway. I was very anxious about COVID (and there were so many things that already made me anxious that now had an entirely new context because of COVID) and about flying (it’s not my favourite thing) and I think I was just really overwhelmed by everything ahead of me. The flight felt ridiculously long and while I was relieved to be back on the ground (and eventually into the hotel where we could take the masks off after wearing them for so long), I was immediately overwhelmed by being abroad, by all of the differences. Getting to the hotel room and being able to just collapse was a great relief.
Months earlier, I’d bought tickets to the Bleachers show where they’d be playing their album Strange Desire from start to finish in the hope that I’d be able to combine it with the Nashville trip – the date was, after all, pretty close to when Tin Pan South usually took place. So I chanced it and by some stroke of luck, it worked out and we made our connection in Boston with a day in between to go to the concert. I had no idea what the disabled accommodations were going to be like but, on the whole, the venue and staff were great, which made the concert possible for me and it was incredible.
I still don’t know if I can describe the concert, beyond saying how amazing it was. Charly Bliss were a really fun opener and I’m very excited for them to release the new songs they played; those were the ones that I really got into. And Bleachers were just fantastic. Jack Antonoff in particular was just like an endlessly ricocheting ball of adrenaline; I barely got any photos of him that were in focus because he was just in constant motion. It was so incredibly special to hear songs like ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ and ‘Like A River Runs,’ all of which I love so much. It still feels kind of unreal, like I can’t quite believe I was really there.
The next day, we struggled up – I felt completely wrecked by the concert – and caught our flight to Nashville.
When we got to Nashville, we took a couple of days just to rest and to allow me to collect myself. I was exhausted and a few days holed up in my Airbnb – where I didn’t have to worry about wearing a mask or the risk of COVID – was absolutely needed. And while there are always things to see and exploring to do in Nashville, we’d decided to keep our excursions to our highest priorities; we wanted to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID so that we could do all of the things that we really, really wanted to do.
So those first few days were spent chilling out, watching TV, catching up with my diary, and listening to Maren Morris’ new album, Humble Quest. I think I’ll forever connect it with Nashville now. Between listening to it as I flew into the city and watching her Amazon Prime show that first weekend, the album’s setting will always Nashville.
The show was great and I cannot wait until she comes back to the UK. I’m already in love with this album.
My first show back was a big one: Song Suffragettes’ 8th Anniversary show. Usually a Song Suffragettes show consists of five girls and they go around three times, performing three songs each (in total), before closing the show with the cover song performed together. But for this song, there was the first round of five girls who each performed twice plus a cover, a break in which THE Nicolle Galyon interviewed THE Kelsea Ballerini, and then a second round with five more girls who each performed twice as well as a cover song. It was a long but very excellent show.
The first round consisted of Ava Paige, Autumn Nicholas, Kalie Shorr, Ava Suppelsa, Lanie Gardner, and Mia Morris on percussion (she also played a song in this round – a rewrite of Fountains of Wayne’s ‘Stacy’s Mom’ from the point of view of Stacy, which was hilarious). They were all great but, as I think is the case with every songwriters’ round, there were some that resonated with me more than others. I’ve known and loved Kalie for years so I always know she’s going to be my favourite (if you haven’t listened to her music, please check her out – she’s very special) but I didn’t know the others and found I particularly enjoyed Ava Paige’s songs too. I also loved the cover they did, ‘abcdefu’ by GAYLE, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since (along with ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris).
After the cover, they cleared the stage and set it up for the Nicolle Galyon and Kelsea Ballerini interview. They are both just such cool people and have achieved some incredible things; it was very inspiring. Nicolle asked some really interesting questions and Kelsea shared a lot of fascinating, inspiring, and encouraging stories and advice. And then they played a couple of songs that they’ve written together – ‘i quit drinking’ and ‘half of my hometown’ – as well as telling the stories behind the writing of them. It was a really, really cool experience and I feel very lucky to have been there.
The second round was made up of Emily Brooke, Caroline Watkins, Lauren Hungate, Madeline Merlo, Peyton Porter and, again, Mia Morris on percussion. I particularly liked Emily Brooke; I’ve seen her before and I really like her music. And they all told great stories about what inspired the songs.
It was an amazing show and experience and it was a great reintroduction to Nashville. I also got to reconnect with the people I know at Song Suffragettes (and those who I’ve spoken to online but not met) and that was really, really nice. I was kind of scared that, after three years away, the previous years of building relationships might have ended up meaning nothing but that completely wasn’t the case and I’m really grateful for that.
TIN PAN SOUTH
As I said, Tin Pan South is the big reason for coming to Nashville and I had some amazing shows on my list. There were some very tough choices too, great rounds that I struggled to choose between. But I think I made the right choices, for me, for this trip.
I could write about every single show in a ridiculous amount of detail but then we’d be here forever. So here are my highlights of the week…
AUTISM AWARENESS WEEK / DAY
It was World Autism Awareness/Acceptance Week and World Autism Awareness Day while I was away and, knowing that I’d be busy in Nashville, I’d prepared a series of posts to put up on my blog. I also posted this on Instagram:
OTHER FUN THINGS
While I didn’t do a whole lot more than go to shows, I did do a few things that are specific and special to Nashville…
I did manage to get in a second Song Suffragettes show while I was in town, which I was very grateful for. This round was made up of Jillian Dawn, Sam Bowlds, Olivia Faye, Elana Jane, Paige King Johnson, and Mia Morris, Mia being the only one I knew previously. They were all great – they always are – but I think my favourites were Jillian Dawn and Paige King Johnson; their songs just spoke to me more deeply than the others did for some reason.
On the whole, the travel had been good. I had disabled assistance at all of the airports and until the trip home, that was great and had made the whole flying ordeal a lot easier. But on the return trip, everything kind of went to hell and it was a bit reminiscent of ‘a series of unfortunate events.’ I almost had a meltdown on the flight from Nashville to Dallas because of a mix up with the seats, which was horrible.
And while the Dallas to London flight was okay (I mean, it was long and cold and uncomfortable but nothing went wrong), everything went wrong from the moment we landed, from problems with gates to confusion with the disability assistance to the freaking coach home. And by that time, we were both so tired (and I was so overwhelmed and stressed out) that I was definitely moments from bursting into tears. But we did eventually – eventually – get home.
It’s been about a week since I got home now and I’ve been a bit of a mess. The jet lag hit me hard, on top of my exhaustion from the trip itself, and my mental health hasn’t been great. I guess I’m just feeling really overwhelmed, like all of my feelings have been turned up to eleven (I mean, even more so than usual).
Category: anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue, covid-19 pandemic, emotions, event, favourites, food, heds, holidays, mental health, music, sleep, special interests, video, writing Tagged: bleachers, boston, boston ma, candle bar, candle bar nashville, candle making, caylee hammack, charly bliss, chris destefano, chronic fatigue, chronic illness, chronic pain, commodore grille, concert, covid-19, disabled, disabled access, emily shackelton, exhaustion, face mask, face masks, festival, humble quest, jack antonoff, jeffrey steele, jet lag, kalie shorr, kelsea ballerini, madison kozak, maren morris, mask, masking, masks, nashville, nashville songwriters association international, natalie hemby, nicolle galyon, nsai, paddywax candle bar, pancake pantry, pandemic, pandemic 2020, pandemic anxiety, singersongwriter, singersongwriter life, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriters, songwriters festival, songwriting, strange desire, tin pan south, tin pan south 2022, travel, travelling, waaw, world autism acceptance week, world autism acceptance week 2022, world autism awareness day, world autism awareness week
Posted on April 16, 2022
From Brighton to Boston to Nashville and then back to Brighton, I was listening to a lot of music and like on previous trips, I enjoyed keeping notes of which songs I was listening to. These are all songs that were prominent during my trip, songs that I will probably always connect back to this trip. I didn’t necessarily have a song for every single day but given that I was away for just over two weeks, I figured that this was a perfectly decent number of songs for a playlist.
‘I Wanna Get Better’ by Bleachers
The reason we stopped in Boston on the way to Nashville was so that I could finally see Bleachers live and see them play the Strange Desire album from start to finish, an album that means so much to me. I could’ve chosen ‘Like a River Runs’ because that song is tied with this one as my favourite Bleachers song but the energy of the crowd during this song took my breath away. It was amazing.
Favourite Lyrics: “Woke up this morning early before my family / From this dream where she was trying to show me / How a life can move from the darkness / She said to get better // So I put a bullet where I shoulda put a helmet / And I crash my car cause I wanna get carried away / That’s why I’m standing on the overpass screaming at myself / ‘Hey, I wanna get better!’ // I didn’t know I was lonely ’til i saw your face / I wanna get better, better, better, better / I wanna get better / I didn’t know I was broken ’til i wanted to change / I wanna get better, better, better, better / I wanna get better”
WARNING: FLASHING LIGHTS!
‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris
Maren Morris’ new album came out the day I flew into Nashville and so I listened to it as I flew back into town. While I love a lot of the songs, ‘Humble Quest’ stood out to me straight away and it was stuck in my head for days afterwards. I really related to it although I’m not sure what part of me it’s speaking to. But the lyrics “And damn I do my best / Not gonna hold my breath / ‘Cause I still haven’t found it yet / No, I still haven’t found it yet” just resonate really strongly. And it’s catchy as hell.
Favourite Lyrics: “Haven’t looked up in a while / Been biting my tongue behind a smile / Falling on swords that I can’t see / Poison my well on the daily / Got easier not to ask / Just kept hitting my head on the glass / I was so nice till I woke up / I was polite till I spoke up // I’m on a humble quest / And damn I do my best / Not gonna hold my breath / ‘Cause I still haven’t found it yet / No, I still haven’t found it yet”
‘Circles Around This Town’ by Maren Morris
While I was in Nashville (and still recovering from the flights, the jet lag, and the Bleachers concert), Maren Morris’ Amazon Prime show was streamed from New York and I was able to watch it. I really, really enjoyed it and I could’ve chosen so many different songs but ‘Circles Around This Town’ just felt like the right choice. It’s the first single from the new album and the first song she played for this show. I wasn’t sure about it when she first released it but it’s grown on me so much since then, so much since the album came out. It’s so her and yet so easy to connect to.
Favourite Lyrics: “So many times I thought about leaving / Got my ass kicked trying to compete with / Everybody else’s ones that got away / Hung around long enough to catch a break // Couple hundred songs and the ones that finally worked / Was the one about a car and the one about a church / That I wrote // Driving circles around this town / Trying to write circles around this town / Trying to say something with meaning, something worth singing about / I’ve been kind and I’ve been ruthless / Yeah, I got here but the truth is / Thought when I hit it, it’d all look different / But I still got the pedal down / Driving circles around this town / Driving circles around this town”
‘Eighteen’ by Kalie Shorr
Kalie is one of my favourite artists and songwriters and this one is gut-wrenching. It’s beautifully written and while I literally can’t name my favourite songs of hers because I love so many of them, this is one of the ones that I love a lot. I’d never heard it live though – up to this point anyway – but she played it at the Song Suffragettes 8th Anniversary show, which was my first show back in Nashville. That was particularly sweet: because of the pandemic, I haven’t seen Kalie live since she released her debut album, Open Book, which is one of my favourite albums ever so it was very special to hear a song from the album now that I’m finally back in the US and able to see her perform.
Favourite Lyrics: “Which one did you fuck harder my best friend or my self esteem / Remember when you got drunk and said you were the only one dumb enough to love me / I don’t want to live just following your script / The actress is too young and the director is a narcissist” AND “I see you out with younger versions of me / While I’m trying to find who I used to be / I’m terrified that you and I will always be chasing eighteen // This isn’t normal, this isn’t okay / But I didn’t know any better, so I thought it’d be better to stay / Almost beautiful, the things that you taught me / I think I really loved you, I think you really loved that I was / Eighteen”
‘abcdefu’ by GAYLE (Performed by Song Suffragettes – Mia Morris, Ava Paige, Autumn Nicholas, Kalie Shorr, Ava Suppelsa, and Lanie Gardner)
This was one of the songs the Song Suffragettes covered during their anniversary show and it just got stuck in my head. It’s such a mood, both in the context of a break up and when you’re just pissed off: just fuck everybody and all of the stupid things about them that irritate you. The dog is spared though, which just cracks me up. It’s so catchy and my brain was just switching back and forth between this song and ‘Humble Quest’ by Maren Morris.
Favourite Lyrics: “Dated a girl that I hate for the attention / She only made it two days, what a connection / It’s like you’d do anything for my affection / You’re goin’ all about it in the worst ways // I was into you, but I’m over it now / And I was tryin’ to be nice / But nothing’s getting through, so let me spell it out // ABCDE FU / And your mom and your sister and your job / And your broke-ass car and that shit you call art / Fuck you and your friends that I’ll never see again / Everybody but your dog, you can all fuck off / Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah / ABCDE FU”
‘half of my hometown’ by Kelsea Ballerini (Performed by Kelsea Ballerini and Nicolle Galyon)
Kelsea Ballerini was being honoured at the Song Suffragettes show (the same one Kalie was playing at) and after an interview with Nicolle Galyon (who is also very awesome), the two of them played a couple of the songs they’ve written together that Kelsea’s released. That was very cool and ‘half of my hometown’ is one of my favourite songs on Kelsea’s latest album so it was very cool to hear her sing it live. I love the detail in the lyrics that is so specific to her and yet it’s such a relatable feeling.
Favourite Lyrics: “Back roads raise us / Highways take us / Memories make us wanna go back // To our hometown, settle down / Talk about that one touchdown / Raise some kids in red and black / Go Bobcats, while the other half / Of my hometown was in the crowd / They knew the words, they sang them loud / And all I wanna do is make them proud / ‘Cause half of me will always be / From Knoxville, Tennessee / My hometown / ‘Cause I’m half of my hometown”
‘Small Town Hypocrite’ by Caylee Hammack
I first saw Caylee Hammack in 2017 – at a Tin Pan South show – and she actually played this song. Now, at my first Tin Pan South show of 2022 – my first in three years – she played it again and I was just so happy to be seeing her perform again (another thing that was taken away by the pandemic). In that time, she’s put out an album that I love and is working on her music, some of which she played during the show. She has an incredible voice, which only amplifies the emotion in the song. I also got to have a conversation with her and she’s such a sweetheart. It was, all in all, an excellent start to the festival.
Favourite Lyrics: “And that scholarship was a ship that sailed / When I chose you and daddy gave me hell / I made myself into someone else just to love you, damn, I loved you / Took all my plans and I put ’em in a box / Phantom pains for the wings I lost / Had me circling rings in the catalogs / For seven years and you never got the hint / Ain’t that some shit / I’m just a small-town hypocrite // Swore we’d be running, running, running this town / But you’re just running, running, running around / And I’m staring at a picket fence / Wondering where the hell time went / I should’ve been running, running, running by now / But I just hang around”
‘My First Last Name’ by Madison Kozak
I could’ve chosen any of the songs Madison Kozak played during her Tin Pan South show because I loved all of them but this one has always been special to me. I’ll never get to have a relationship like this with my Dad but it’s nice to imagine. It makes me super emotional but not in a negative way – or at least, not in a wholly negative way. It does make me sad but I’m grateful for the song. It reminds me of my Dad and the good parts of our relationship. It’s a beautifully written song and I can’t wait to hear the other songs she played that she’s planning to release soon.
Favourite Lyrics: “Yeah, he set the bar real high / But I met a real good guy / Still not much of a crier / Till we’re halfway down the aisle // He’s the son of the salesman / Short glass, old fashioned / ‘How are things going lately?’ / ‘Stop on by, bring the baby’ / People they say, I’m more like him everyday / He can give me away, but no one can take / My first last name”
‘i quit drinking’ by Kelsea Ballerini and LANY (Written by Kelsea Ballerini, Paul Jason Klein, and Nicolle Galyon) (Performed by Nicolle Gaylon)
I love Nicolle Galyon’s songwriting and she has a gorgeous singing voice; she makes all of these iconic songs her own and I love that she’s created a label to specifically support women. She’s just awesome and, again, I could’ve chosen any of the songs that she played. This particular festival slot was a hard one because there were multiple great shows on at that time but I’m really happy I chose this one. I also got to talk to her briefly after the show and she was really lovely. I still feel like I’m getting my feet under me socially, after so long with little in person socialisation (and so I feel very awkward still), but talking about music and songwriting is my favourite thing so that does make it easier.
Favourite Lyrics: “We used to be / Dizzy all morning / Hungover, pouring / Cups of coffee black / Kiss and crawl right back / Under the covers / Down for another / Hour in that bed / Now, I’m here instead // Waking up sober, it feels kind of nice / Except that I can’t sleep at night // You’re the reason there’s no whiskey anywhere inside this house / You’re the reason all my friends know I don’t go downtown / You’re the reason I hate champagne, never used to turn it down / You’re the only thing I want when one drop hits my mouth / Baby, you’re the reason / I quit drinking // I quit thinking (I quit thinking) / Staring at the ceiling (Oh) / And all my cabernet is down the kitchen sink, yeah (It’s down the kitchen sink, yeah) / I quit mixing (I quit mixing) / All my drinks and feelings / It’s not fixing that you’re gone”
‘Doin’ Fine’ by Lauren Alaina (Performed by Emily Shackelton)
I still remember the first time I heard Emily Shackelton play this song at a Tin Pan South round and how it just hit me; like, the autobiographical details are clearly not mine but the message of the song has been so applicable to me so many times throughout my life and here we are again and it’s still true. There was a new level of poignancy in the performance of this song though as it was written with busbee who is no longer with us – he died late 2019 – and this is the first Tin Pan South since then. Emily dedicated it to him and from what I’ve heard, he was an amazing person. I’m sorry that I never got to meet him.
Favourite Lyrics: “I’m doin’ fine enough to know that everyone’s a little broken / Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they’re wide open / I still got fear inside of me / I’m not okay, but I’m gonna be alright / Oh, for the first time in a long, long time I’m doin’ fine / I’m doin’ fine”
‘Where Would You Rather Die?’ by Kalie Shorr
I could’ve easily chosen any and all of the songs she performed (and I have chosen two from the round because I love her songs so much) but this was the only one that was completely new to me and it just blew me away. She paints such vivid portraits with her lyrics and the fact that it was based on a real experience (although it obviously did not involve actually dying) makes it even more enjoyable. I would love a music video for this song because it’s just such a wild story.
Favourite Lyrics: THE WHOLE DAMN SONG.
I was in the presence of so many great songwriters this week, but @kalieshorr has written songs featured in Yellowstone, so how do you beat that? Plus you don’t hear a lot of songs about the pleasures of being murdered in Beverly Hills pic.twitter.com/89xOGHUGZR
— Austin Harris (@ImAustinHarris) April 4, 2022
‘The World Keeps Spinning’ by Kalie Shorr
This song gets me every time. Kalie has been open about the inspiring of the song, that it’s about her older sister’s death and while the details are specific to her life, I think it’s very easy to relate to if you’ve lost anyone, especially if they died suddenly. I relate it to my Dad. It makes me well up every time – or full on sob if I’m feeling particularly emotional – because it’s so beautifully written and gets right to the heart of grief. As sad as it is, it’s one of my favourite Kalie songs.
Favourite Lyrics: “The 5th of January is on the calendar every year / Like some kind of messed up holiday to remind me that you’re not here / I hear people laughing, I don’t get the joke / But I can’t hold it against them, cause it’s not like they know // It was just another day, until it wasn’t // The sky / Didn’t even have the decency to cry / And that damn sun still found a way to shine / When the heartache’s hitting / I think it’s kind of cruel that the world keeps spinning”
‘Crowded Table’ by The Highwomen (Performed by Natalie Hemby)
I love Natalie Hemby and she’s always the first person I look for in the Tin Pan South line-up. She’s a fantastic writer, as well as an utterly hilarious and genuinely lovely person. This song kind of reminds me of growing up: my house was always busy and there was always a lot of people around. We were a big, tight knit family (we’re still close but we’re all a bit more spread out now so getting together is harder) and we often congregated around the table at meal times. So, when I listen to it, it reminds me of that. Hearing it live was very cool and the fact that she gave me a shout out before playing this song (in front of the amazing songwriters on stage and the whole show’s audience) just makes me love this song even more; it symbolises a very special memory.
Favourite Lyrics: “The door is always open / Your picture’s on my wall / Everyone’s a little broken / And everyone belongs / Yeah, everyone belongs // I want a house with a crowded table / And a place by the fire for everyone / Let us take on the world while we’re young and able / And bring us back together when the day is done”
‘What Hurts The Most’ by Rascal Flatts (Performed by Jeffrey Steele)
Somewhat hilariously, the first version of this song that I heard – in my Dad’s car – was the more dance/club version. I have no idea why my Dad had it on a CD but hearing it still brings back fond memories. Hearing the country version for the first time was a bit of a surprise but given the memories of my Dad, I have a soft spot for it and hearing Jeffrey Steele perform it was incredible. He’s an amazing singer and an amazing guitarist; it was a bit like the musical equivalent of a religious experience.
Favourite Lyrics: “It’s hard to deal with the pain of losing you everywhere I go / But I’m doing it / It’s hard to force that smile when I see our old friends / And I’m alone // Still harder getting up, getting dressed, living with this regret / But I know if I could do it over / I would trade, give away all the words that I saved in my heart / That I left unspoken // What hurts the most / Is being so close / And having so much to say (much to say) / And watching you walk away / And never knowing / What could’ve been / And not seeing that love in you / Is what I was trying to do”
‘right where you left me’ by Taylor Swift
I was listening to evermore quite a bit, given that it was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys. It might not have won but it’s still an amazing album and I love it so much. ‘right where you left me’ is such a fascinating song: so specific and yet so relatable; so beautifully written, with some really cool techniques. I wrote about it in my full evermore post. I love it and it’s been stuck in my head on and off during my trip.
Favourite Lyrics: “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt / Cross-legged in the dim light / They say, ‘What a sad sight’ / I, I swear you could hear a hair pin drop / Right when I felt the moment stop / Glass shattered on the white cloth / Everybody moved on / I, I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair / They expected me to find somewhere / Some perspective, but I sat and stared / Right where you left me / You left me no, oh, you left me no / You left me no choice but to stay here forever” AND “Help, I’m still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt / Cross-legged in the dim light / They say, ‘What a sad sight’ / I, I stayed there / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair / I’m sure that you got a wife out there / Kids and Christmas, but I’m unaware / ‘Cause I’m right where / I cause no harm, mind my business / If our love died young, I can’t bear witness / And it’s been so long / But if you ever think you got it wrong / I’m right where you left me / You left me no, oh, you left me no / You left me no choice but to stay here forever”
‘HEARTFIRST’ by Kelsea Ballerini
I’ve very used to the first singles of a new chapter not landing well with me – with basically all artists – so I was very pleasantly surprised when I loved this song straight away. It’s fun, it’s adorable, and it’s so feel good. It’s so uplifting and joyful. The imagery is gorgeous and while it’s obviously about a romantic relationship, the broader idea of jumping into every thing heart first is very relatable to me.
Favourite Lyrics: “I couldn’t wait till later, talking in the elevator / Then we’re kissing in the back of the car” AND “Could be forever or we might break / That’s just the kind of risk that we take / My head is yelling that I could get hurt / But I’m gonna jump right in / Baby, with my heartfirst” AND “And I can’t even stop myself anymore / Oh, we couldn’t end the perfect night outside my front door”
So here is my Nashville 2022 playlist. There were definitely more songs I could’ve included but I tried to keep some sort of constraint on myself, otherwise this probably could’ve gone on forever. There were just so many songs to choose from, practically every day. Anyway. A musical post for a very musical trip.
Category: favourites, music, video Tagged: abcdefu, bleachers, boston, caylee hammack, circles around this town, crowded table, doin' fine, eighteen, emily shackelton, favourite lyrics, GAYLE, half of my hometown, heartfirst, humble quest, i quit drinking, i wanna get better, jeffrey steele, kalie shorr, kelsea ballerini, LANY, lauren alaina, lyrics, madison kozak, maren morris, my first last name, nashville, natalie hemby, nicolle galyon, open book, playlist, rascal flatts, right where you left me, small town hypocrite, song suffragettes, songwriter, songwriters, songwriting, songwriting festival, taylor swift, the highwomen, the world keeps spinning, tin pan south, tin pan south 2022, travel, travelling, what hurts the most, where would you rather die
Posted on December 26, 2021
I gained so much from getting out of my rewatching rut and diving into new works last year that I had to keep going. It was so inspiring, especially for my writing. I’m still struggling to read but I did what I could. Hopefully next year will be better in that regard. And I’ve watched some great things while I haven’t been able to read. I haven’t included everything – for obvious reasons – but I wrote about my favourites, or ones that I felt like I needed to talk about. Please don’t feel that you have to read this whole thing; feel free to skim or just look at one section, if that’s what you’d prefer. Hopefully there’s something in here that you leave this post thinking, “yeah, I want to read/watch that!”
Rather than adding a spoiler alert to – let’s face it – the majority of things on this list, I’m just going to put A REALLY BIG SPOILER ALERT here. All of these works have been out for long enough now that the spoiler rule doesn’t apply in the same way. If you see the name of something you want to read or watch, just skip it so that you can remain ignorant because, chances are, I’ve mentioned something important.
Anxiety in Wonderland by Katia Oloy – After coming up with the idea to write a song about anxiety using Wonderland for a metaphor, I googled anxiety references in the Disney version of the Alice in Wonderland film (I saw it as a kid and felt, even then, that it was full of anxiety) and found this book. It’s primarily a book of art based on Alice in Wonderland but it’s arranged to tell Oloy’s experiences with anxiety and depression, accompanied by her comments about her journey. The drawings are beautiful and I found some of them especially compelling. It was really, really interesting to see how another person used Alice in Wonderland to represent their anxiety, especially as it’s very different to mine. So, although my song – my art – turned out very differently to Oloy’s book – her art – it was a really cool experience and I’m grateful to have found the book. My only quibble is that there are quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes.
You Are Helping This Great Universe Explode by Hannah Emerson – In my search for art made by autistic women, I came across Hannah Emerson’s work. I read this book and it was a very strange experience: I could see myself in almost every poem. As a writer myself, I struggled a bit with the flow of the lines but I really liked the content. Some of the poems, I just fell in love with: ‘My Name Begins Again,’ ‘I Live in the Woods of My Words,’ ‘A Blue Sound,’ ‘Musibility,’ ‘Peripheral,’ ‘The Path of Please,’ ‘Animal Ear,’ and ‘All that Spreads Out Before Us.’ Some of them resonated so powerfully that it’s like they were written from my own thoughts.
Uncommon Minds: A Collection of Poetry and Prose Created by Individuals with Autism by Cynthia Drucker – Continuing my search for work by female autistic artists, I read all of the pieces written by women and while all of them were interesting, there were definitely some stand outs for me. I loved ‘What I saw’ and ‘The Unspoken’ by Kitt McKenzie Martin, ‘A Meeting of Two Minds’ by Alis Rowe, ‘The Emotions Inside of Me’ by Sarah Rollins, and ‘My Head, My Life, My Me’ and ‘Alone’ by Cilinda Atkins. But I think my favourites were ‘Stuffed Animals’ and ‘Poetry is Dead’ by Maranda Russell; I just really resonated with her emotional response to the things she was writing about and I liked the flow of her words, smooth and comfortable. That’s always something that’s really important to me in writing, especially in lyrics and poetry. The works weren’t all about Autism but I could feel the autistic influence in all of them, although I obviously don’t know whether that’s because I’m autistic and/or because it’s an anthology specifically dedicated to work by autistic writers.
Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison – After all this time, I must’ve read the whole thing; it has been a course text for five of the last seven years of my life. I may not have read it in chronological order but I’m pretty sure I have read everything in it at least once. I have learnt so much from it and even if I don’t feel like a technique is right for me and my writing style, that’s still helpful information; the more I learn, the more clarity I have about my songwriting and about myself as a songwriter.
Feel Your Way Through by Kelsea Ballerini – I have mixed feelings about this book. I love Kelsea Ballerini’s songwriting but I wasn’t sure how her skill in one form of writing would translate to another. The thing that really jumped out at me was how much I struggled to find the rhythm of the poems; as I read them, there always seemed to be too many syllables at the end of a line, or not enough. I found that lack of flow – or my inability to find it – frustrating. And a bit odd since I’ve always loved the rhythms in her melodies. I think she covered some really important topics, like eating disorders in ‘Kangaroo’ and PTSD in ‘His Name Was Ryan’ (I kind of don’t like that ‘His Name Was Ryan’ rhymed; I just feel like something so tragic and devastating and life altering shouldn’t fit into neat lines and structured rhyme scheme but that’s me and my writing style) and I think it was really brave of her to talk about these things so openly when she has such a high profile. Sharing poetry as a poet and sharing poetry as a public figure is very different, even if the poetry itself should be judged the same; people know you as a person, not just a writer. I think the poems are a mixed bag: I found some of them quite clichéd (‘When It Rains’ and ‘Put The Camera Down’), there were some that I really liked the concept of but not so much the execution (‘Never Burn The Book,’ ‘You Are Where You’re From,’ and ‘You’ll Always Have Me’), and then there were some I really liked (my favourites were probably ‘If I Had a Sister,’ ‘You’ll Always Have Me,’ ‘Role Model,’ ‘The Right Side of History,’ ‘The Driver,’ ‘Permanent,’ ‘The Little Things,’ ‘Isn’t It Sad,’ ‘Music,’ ‘Nashville,’ ‘Aesthetically Pleasing’ (I think the concept of ‘our lives aren’t the highlight reels you see on social media’ is a bit of cliché but I love how she’s written it), ‘Showing Up’ (again, the concept is a little clichéd but the imagery she uses to discuss the idea are really compelling), ‘My Mother,’ and ‘Cheers.’) There were places where the language irritated me a bit: I find most descriptions of blood too flowery and phrases like “cotton caress” (‘Learning To Love Me’) and “peeved at the pain” (‘A Rose’) kind of made me cringe, as well as the use of words like ‘spirit’ and ‘beauty.’ But these are all personal things. I thought there were some really gorgeous lines and images too, like “catch your breath in a reality of three broken hearts” (The Cheerleading Team), “my best kept secret, my worst kept habit” (Kangaroo), “and if you think it’s wrong / to walk tall in my shoes / and won’t sing along / to those parts of me too / then maybe i’m not / the role model for you” (Role Model), “sing loud for this town, but it’s not “this town” enough” (Aesthetically Pleasing), “if you’ve made it this far / and turn back around / you’re leaving with my heart” (If You’ve Made It This Far), “i’d watch her hate her body / fight daily with her blue jeans / yell fuck you at the mirror” (If I Had a Sister), “my roots and my wings / have grown intertwined” (Holding Me Back), “the tangled teenage atmosphere” (His Name Was Ryan), “the scrunched-nosed / faces of constellations” (Not My Age), “it was all gasoline / on my wildfire / coughing up ashes / as melodies / covered in / smokey magic” (Nashville), “the sky at golden hour when the blue becomes undressed / then bronze and untamed yellows swallow up the rest” (Put The Camera Down), and many more.
Note: There was a lot of reading for my Masters but I haven’t included that here, save for a few important books. And between all of the reading for university and my ongoing inability to get into fiction, I’ve been reading a lot of fanfiction, the familiar worlds and characters making it easier to get past whatever it is that’s making reading so hard. I’ve read some amazing work; maybe I’ll make a separate post for them one day.
Ava – What could’ve been a cliché awesome-female-assassin-grows-a-conscious film (a cliché I am NOT tired of by the way) was anything but. The characters were interesting and multi-faceted, their interactions were often complicated but never lost their sincerity, and the way the story played out was so engaging that any thoughts of cliché disappeared almost immediately. I loved Ava herself and Jessica Chastain’s performance was incredible, from the emotional, vulnerable scenes to the intense and suspenseful action sequences. As her past and difficult family dynamic are revealed, we understand her even more and I was completely invested in her story within the first half hour. I’ve since seen that it’s had mixed reviews but I really enjoyed it and loved Chastain as Ava as well as John Malkovich as her mentor and handler, Duke.
The Dig – Based on a true story, the film begins in 1939 when Edith Pretty hires Basil Brown, a skilled archeologist, to excavate the burial grounds on the land around her home in Sutton Hoo. With the war looming, Brown is strongly encouraged to work on sites deemed more important but both he and Edith believe that the mounds could be Anglo-Saxon, making anything found a significant discovery, but due to his lack of traditional education, he is ignored. Edith is also pressured to let him work on the other sites but she leaves the choice up to Brown and he chooses to stay. The story follows his discoveries, the media attention they draw, and the conflicts that arise when another team is brought in when the site is declared one of national importance, as well as Brown’s relationship with Edith, whose health is deteriorating, and her young son, Robert, who has grown very attached to him, all as the country hovers on the brink of war. I loved it. Even though it was ultimately very sad (I admit, I cried multiple times), it was also very human and there was something really life affirming about it, something that I think came largely from the characters and how they and their relationships were portrayed: I loved the respect that Edith and Basil had for one another; I loved how attached Robert got to Basil and how Basil was never anything but kind and generous towards him; I loved how Basil’s wife seemed to understand him so deeply despite his somewhat awkward and reserved nature; and I loved the care Edith showed Peggy, help without expected reciprocity, advice without judgement, and so on. The kindness we see time and again was very moving. The cinematography was also gorgeous and it had some beautiful dialogue. One of my favourite quotes was, “From the first human handprint on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous.” I was still curious about the story when the film ended so (when I finished crying,) I did some reading about the real story: there are a handful of differences (especially as the film was based on the book of the same name by John Preston, rather than the true events themselves) but the one that really frustrated me was the misrepresentation of Peggy (Piggott, one of the archeologists): she was much more experienced than she was portrayed to be and the fictional romantic storyline felt rather insulting when we have no reason to doubt her marriage, although credit to the actress for bringing the emotional journey to life so beautifully. So that was annoying but aside from that… yeah, I loved it.
The Girl on the Train – While I wouldn’t consider this film life-changing, I was really pulled into the thriller-mystery element, especially the twist that puts the whole story in a new perspective. I loved Emily Blunt in this role; I thought she was phenomenal. The intensity – the pain, the rage, the turmoil – she brought to the character was incredible and just so compelling. But there was also the inner strength that kept her going and searching for answers despite the odds being stacked against her. As much as I enjoyed the way the story unfolded, the way we learned more about the characters and how that changed the whole picture, I think it was Emily Blunt’s commitment to the role that really brings the film to life.
A Lonely Place To Die – After a group of mountaineers find an abducted little girl hidden underground during a climbing trip, they attempt to rescue her only to become targets themselves when her captors realise she’s gone. When I randomly chose this film on BBC iPlayer, I wasn’t looking for anything more than a distraction but I ended up getting hooked. I really liked Alison, played by Melissa George, and I liked her (and the rest of the group’s) interaction with the little girl despite the fact that she didn’t speak English. It wasn’t the best film ever but it was tense and emotional and pretty well paced considering it was essentially a really long chase scene. I’ve seen some pretty negative reviews and while I can understand some of the criticisms, I disagree that there was no character exploration or growth. For some there wasn’t much because of how the story played out but I think there was a pretty remarkable amount considering the whole story took place over approximately forty eight hours. One of the guys, for example, who takes nothing seriously grows up fast, becoming cautious (to the point of life-saving paranoia), selfless, and fiercely protective. Personally, my only real criticism was that it ended very suddenly: I felt like the story wasn’t quite finished. The chase was over, yes, but the story wasn’t resolved and I found that annoying and kind of anti-climactic. Warning for some pretty graphic violence so don’t watch if that’s problematic for you (I’ve seen worse but there were some scenes that I did struggle with).
Moana – I finally watched Moana and I just fell in love. I’m sure I’ll be watching it again and again in the future. I loved the animation: it was absolutely stunning. I especially loved Te Kā and Moana’s grandmother as a manta ray; I thought they were just beautiful. The music was gorgeous and so catchy and uplifting. And the humour was brilliant (it reminded me a bit of The Emperor’s New Groove and The Road To El Dorado in that sense). The ‘David Bowie crab’ cracked me up in particular. I really loved it. It was lovely and meaningful without requiring too much emotional energy, perfect for the stressful time I was going through.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? – This film had been on my list for a while. While I felt like it was a bit slow, I found the story really interesting and I liked the main character, Lee Israel; I found it fascinating how she could so naturally slip in and out of other people’s voices and do it so realistically that, for a long time, no one had any idea. I’ve struggled with Melissa McCarthy in the past but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that I’ve really only seen her in comedy, a genre I struggle with anyway. But I thought she was great in this. I thought it was a good film but I couldn’t truly enjoy it after her beloved cat died. It was so sad and the acting was incredible but – personally – it’s one of those things that I find very difficult to watch and very difficult to forgive in a film, even if that’s not the most adult approach to take; while moments like these can be fundamental to telling a good story – like in this case – it’s just a very raw nerve for me. Despite that upsetting turn of events, I thought the end was a good one. I was glad that she was writing again and that she had a new kitten to love and her response to finding one of her forged Dorothy Parker letters for sale was a beautiful full circle moment because of course she would write to the seller as Parker to refute it’s validity. It was the perfect end. And, last but not least, I loved the inclusion of the facts about the real people (it is based on a true story after all) during the credits. Having gotten to know the fictional versions of them, which I assume the foundations of at least are true to the real people, these little facts were beautiful splashes of colour that just made them that much more real, made me feel like I understood them that bit better.
Destroyer – This wasn’t a film that I instantly fell in love with. In fact, I struggled with it for quite a long time: it felt like a pretty big stretch that a police officer who was that much of a mess (and must’ve been for a considerable period of time since the triggering traumatic event was sixteen years previous) was still on the job; the make up used to age up Nicole Kidman was somewhat extreme, making her look like a walking corpse; the somewhat repetitive ‘find one person who leads to finding the next person and repeat’ middle of the story started to feel a bit tedious. But the reason I mention it is because the performances were fantastic: Chris (played by Sebastian Stan), while only appearing in flashbacks, is warm but with an intensity to him that we see most when he interacts with main character Erin Bell (played by Nicole Kidman), a relationship that feels as important to us, the audience, as it is to the narrative; the most obvious villain, Silus, flirts with danger like it’s all a hilarious game, meaningless to someone like him who’s so high above it all; Shelby, Erin’s teenage daughter, is all sharp edges and fierce animosity but underneath all of that is just a kid who doesn’t understand why her mother won’t let her in. And, of course, there’s Nicole Kidman playing police officer, Erin, who is so clearly carrying trauma that it’s like watching a human being walk around with every bone broken. You could almost feel the weight of her guilt, how it was slowly crushing her, and how the only things that seemed to keep her pushing back were her need for vengeance and her messy attempts to keep her daughter on the right path. Despite the somewhat uneven narrative, the performances were utterly compelling, especially during the more emotional scenes. But it was the end of the film that really got me: one last powerful mother-daughter exchange, one quick and cold act of revenge, and the startling revelation that the storytelling was not, in fact, linear. We actually began at the end or, as director Karyn Kusama describes it, “what we are really seeing is that the detective is hunting herself.” (x). With all of the strings apparently tied up, the ending almost opens up before shrinking right back down. It’s an emotional minefield with no obvious finish line. Oh, and the appearances of both Tatiana Maslany and, briefly, Natalia Cordorva-Buckley were exciting surprises.
Charlie’s Angels – I really enjoyed this film. I loved the cast, especially Kristen Stewart as Sabina and Ella Balinska as Jane (oh, and Sam Caflin had me laughing out loud in almost every scene – his high pitched “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!” was hilarious). I loved the friendship between the main three (Sabina, Jane, and Elena, played by Stewart, Balinska, and Naomi Scott respectively) and I thought their chemistry was great; all of their interactions felt really genuine and they were so funny together. It must’ve been great fun. The stunts were fantastic, especially Jane’s (the early car chase is awesome) but then I am a sucker for slick action sequences. I got a little confused by the plot at certain points but it all came together at the end. It also had a cool end sequence with some great guest appearances.
A Quiet Place – I’ve wanted to watch this film for ages and although I’m not a fan of horror films, I do love a good alien film, especially if there’s an interesting twist involving said aliens. I love these aliens (I think they’re fascinating – they kind of remind me of the future predator in Primeval) and I loved how creative the characters were when it came to adapting their lives, minimising noise and communicating soundlessly (apart from the signing – like the lights strung around the property). After a while, I got so used to the world and the silence that it was actively weird when they did talk. I thought the acting was superb and I loved the different relationships within the family, particularly between the father, Lee, and daughter, Regan. And I loved that the film ended in such a way that the sequel, while taking places in the same world, would be very different because the circumstances had dramatically changed. But I love this film just as much for what was going on behind the scenes. Director John Krasinski said that hiring a deaf actress to play Regan, a deaf character, was “non-negotiable” (which is very progressive – it’s still very rare to find a disabled character played by a disabled actor) and Millicent Simmonds was cast for the part (x). An ASL expert was hired to teach the cast to sign and then to be on set for corrections and to help when script changes were made; Simmonds also had an interpreter on set and while the cast were taught to sign for their roles, many of the crew also started to learn (x). Beyond just accommodating Simmonds, the film, and Krasinski in particular, were eager to hear Simmonds’ experiences and input and there were multiple changes made based on her suggestions, including the fight between Regan and her father (where Simmonds felt Regan should rebel against rather than submit to her father) and the addition of the father signing, “I have always loved you,” in reference to earlier events and conversations in the film (a suggestion that made Krasinski cry) (x) (x). Simmonds was also a driving force behind the authenticity of the signing, both in its fluency and the personal style of each character’s signing (the father’s being “immediate and direct,” matching his survivalist attitude and the mother’s being “more affectionate,” reflecting her warmer nature and so on) (x) (x). Having a deaf character played by a deaf actor is such important representation and her experience as a deaf person (and the film being willing to embrace her input) has added so much more depth to the film than would’ve been possible had they hired a hearing actor, something that the rest of the industry would do well to learn from. It’s not perfect but it is a big step forward in terms of representation.
A Quiet Place Part II – I loved this film just as much as the first one. I loved that we got to see how it all began (and it was nice to see John Krasinski in it again, even if just for that scene) but I also really liked how they managed to move the story along. I liked the way they managed to bring in a new character without him feeling new – Emmett, a friend from before the creatures arrived – and how natural all of the relationships felt. Given how much of the first film was about the parents trying to protect the children, I liked the contrast here where the kids were more autonomous and were more active in the plot: Regan leaving to find the working radio station so that she could broadcast the signal from her cochlear implant and Marcus protecting their mother and the new baby. And I was also really moved by the relationship between Emmett and Regan – particularly given that he’s a father who’s lost his children and she’s a daughter who’s just recently lost her father – as they try to reach the radio station; it felt very complex and emotional, which was fitting given the story. The tension in the second half of the film was almost unbearable, with everyone in precarious situations, and the finale was amazing: the whole sequence was stunning – the acting, the direction, the music, the editing. I loved it. And again, the film has ended with them in an entirely different situation to how it began, giving them another opportunity to tell a new story in this world. I’m particularly intrigued by the creatures, given that they seem to kill everything that makes a sound but they don’t eat everything they kill. So, is sound painful to them or are they – as someone on Tumblr put it – “just arseholes”?
Spinning Out (Season 1) – I really, really liked this show. Figure skating isn’t something I’m familiar with but it was beautiful to watch and I really enjoyed seeing what goes into a routine. I instantly connected with Kat, considering her mental health issues – how they affect her life and the lives of those around her, how she attempts to manage her life, how they keep her constantly questioning herself and her instincts and her future – and although, it was a somewhat obvious storyline for her to descend into a manic episode, I could relate to how it happened: how the pressure to perform prompted her to start cutting down her medication (I’ve been there, although for different reasons). And not only did she have her mental illness to manage, she had the PTSD from her previous fall to contend with: I really liked how they showed her working through that, although it was probably a bit straightforward and simplistic. The show definitely emphasised the pressure of a career in these sports, the intensity of the training leaving the skaters with very little normal life to fall back on. I also thought the family relationships, romantic relationships, and professional relationships made for interesting, thought-provoking, and emotive storylines, as did ongoing issues of race and poverty. There were multiple twists that I didn’t see coming and I also loved the music choices throughout the season. So, yeah, I really enjoyed it and I’m gutted that it was cancelled; I feel like there was still a lot of potential for the storylines and character arcs.
The Wilds (Season 1) – If you’ve seen this show, you know how complex and layered and confusing it is. A basic synopsis is that, when a plane crashes into the ocean, a group of teenage girls headed to a retreat are stranded on a deserted island. Despite very different backgrounds and clashing personalities, they have to work together to survive long enough for rescue to arrive. But when certain implausible things start to happen, some of the girls start to get suspicious that there may be more going on than they originally thought. While the main storyline revolves around the girls’ time on the island, we also witness flashbacks to what led to them boarding that plane and flashforwards to the investigation after the girls are rescued. I thought the island storyline was the strongest, although the flashbacks were very emotionally powerful. My frustration with it was that even though more and more questions arose, very few were ever definitively answered. Thankfully there’s a second season coming so hopefully some of those questions will be answered.
New Amsterdam (Seasons 1 and 2) – Despite the fairly unrealistic speed at which they manage to get significant changes made, I really enjoyed the show. It was just the right mix of drama and restoring-my-faith-in-humanity, perfect for the headspace I was in at the time. I loved Max for his boundless optimism and drive to help in whatever way he could; I loved Helen, loved the way she handles Max and the evolution of her character throughout the show; I loved Lauren and how competent and self aware she was despite a lifetime of trauma… I loved the through line about Luna, in its various different forms. Although, as a drama, there’s a lot of sad and hard moments, it’s really uplifting and I really enjoy the experience of watching it.
The One (Season 1) – I really can’t say much about this show without giving away something really important but oh my god. It’s based around a matchmaking service that has completely changed society in just a few years, created by two scientists who discovered a way of determining a person’s one true love, their ‘match,’ through DNA. Now CEO, the fierce and charismatic Rebecca Webb, seems to have it all, that is until the body of a friend she reported missing is found in a river. It took me a couple of episodes to really get into it but then I was hooked, mostly, I think, due to the constantly zigzagging plot and the incredible performances from the cast, especially those of Hannah Ware, who played Rebecca, and Zoë Tapper, who played Kate Saunders, the police officer investigating the death of Rebecca’s friend. I have so many thoughts about this show, from how interesting the effect of this matchmaking service on society is to how different and layered and flawed the female characters were; the most powerful scenes were often between the women. Or at least I thought so. I also found the scientific aspect of it fascinating, although I admit I have no idea how much of it is scientifically accurate or not (this statement will make more sense if you watch it, I promise). Definitely recommend.
Unforgotten (Series 4) – I was so excited for the return of Unforgotten. I love Nicola Walker and I love her as Cassie Stuart. I also love Sanjeev Bhaskar as her partner, Sunny Khan. So, as I said, I was really excited for the new series. But I have to admit, I really struggled with it: Cassie was so angry about being forced back to work and hurting over everything going on at home. It was upsetting to watch. I found the case fascinating and I was starting to feel like everything might be okay, like Cassie might be okay, and then, suddenly, she was gone. I was utterly heartbroken and it actually triggered a period of depression. What can I say? My favourite fictional characters mean a lot to me. The show has been renewed for another series but, as much as I love Sunny, I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch it without Cassie. I was (and still am) really upset about how brutal that final episode was; killing Cassie (at all, but especially the way they did) honestly feels like an unnecessarily cruel way to end her story and I just don’t know if I can get over it. It’s already turned a show I loved and a show that brought me comfort into something that feels upsetting and painful. So I really don’t know.
Quantico (Season 3) – After rewatching Seasons 1 and 2, I decided to try Season 3 (I hadn’t previously watched it because I’d really liked the end of Season 2 and hadn’t really wanted any more). I have to admit that, for the first few episodes, I really wasn’t sure whether I’d made the right decision: I wasn’t convinced by Ryan and Shelby as a couple, the single story per episode format, Mike McQuigg as a character, etc. But gradually, I got into the swing of it and started to really enjoy it. I found myself really rooting for Ryan and Shelby and I ended up loving McQuigg. I really liked the series of stand-alone stories that turned into a longer story arc (although I found Timothy Murphy playing almost exactly the same character as he did in Criminal Minds surreal and somewhat confusing – part of me wondered if they took (a little too much) inspiration from that story); I thought the shift played out very smoothly. I liked the new team and their dynamic; I loved their loft; and I thought Priyanka Chopra’s acting in particular was just stunning throughout the series. The one thing that just didn’t make sense to me though was Jocelyn Turner as a deaf FBI field agent. I really liked her as a character and having her teach at Quantico and even consult on cases where her prior work could provide invaluable insight seems possible but as an agent in the field, it seemed unlikely and unrealistic. I’m not deaf or hard of hearing so I can’t and don’t want to speak for the community but the portrayal of her deafness seemed fairly simplistic. For example, other than one group argument where she stops them because she can’t keep up with them, it’s never addressed again, even when similar situations occur at least once an episode. And it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t notice when a team of men smash through the glass ceiling and start a gunfight using automatic weapons while her back was turned. The writing felt somewhat lazy in this regard. Overall though, I found it enjoyable and I am really glad I gave it a chance. I don’t know how I feel about the show being cancelled – whether I think it should’ve gone on longer or if it feels like the right place to have ended it – but I’m sad we didn’t get closure on the strings left untied.
Lucifer (Season 5: Part 2) – I loved the second half of the season. Everyone’s reaction to God was freaking hilarious (Trixie and God were just adorable) and I just loved the family dynamics of the celestials; it was so dysfunctional and childish but with powers that could easily cause natural disasters if they weren’t careful. The musical episode was bonkers but utterly hilarious. I think my favourite song was ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ – Lucifer/Tom Ellis is such an incredible singer – and the performance was just so incredible and so sad. ‘Wicked Game’ was really good too and although I didn’t particularly like the songs chosen for the mash up, having a mash up with Ella and Maze was very cool. I’m glad they made ‘Every Breath You Take’ creepy because it really, really is (although the Denmark + Winter version is even creepier) but the revelation that Lucifer thought he wasn’t capable of love was so sad. Maze had a really interesting story line with the revelation that she could grow a soul and the idea that she could be the Queen of Hell – go, girl! I found the idea of Chloe leaving the police weird and kind of jarring but the whole final arc of the season was incredible (having said that, I found the episode, Daniel Espinosa: Naked and Afraid, kind of tedious but to be fair, the ending was fucking hysterical). And on that note, I never thought I would love Dan so much, never thought I’d be so sad to see him die. His fight for his life was incredible and for a moment, I really thought it would be enough. But of course it wasn’t. The scene in the hospital with Chloe and Trixie and Maze and Lucifer was just heartbreaking. I was in tears; it brought up a lot of personal stuff and I haven’t been able to watch it since. I know Amenadiel said he wasn’t in Heaven but I’m not convinced that that means he’s in Hell; I think that’s a story coming for us in the next season. The funeral had me in tears again: Amenadiel’s speech and Ella and Lucifer singing was so emotional. And to have that mixed in with Maze and Lucifer ruthlessly taking out the men responsible, Maze clearing Lucifer’s path like they were nothing, was kind of breathtaking. I don’t quite know what I was expecting Lucifer to do but simply whisper something in the killer’s ear and walk away, leaving him sobbing on the floor, was not it. I’m desperate to know what he said but not knowing is probably more powerful than anything they could reveal. And so Lucifer’s going to war against his siblings to become god. The resulting final sequence was amazing, somehow managing to move through the whole spectrum of emotions. There were hilarious moments, like Michael dramatically declaring himself god and nothing happening and our team doing a weird little dance to give Maze more time. And there were the epic moments, like Chloe – having been gifted one of Maze’s knives – shooting out the angels’ wings with bullets made from the melted down knife and Maze’s shriek-worthy dramatic entrance. And while the acting has been incredible throughout the season, from the moment Azriel appears, every performance is just stellar: Lucifer’s heartbreaking despair and Maze’s fury pushing her beyond even Amenadiel’s reasoning, just as a couple of examples. The whole sequence in Heaven – Lee showing up again (!) with his big revelations, Chloe getting to see her Dad, Lucifer finally telling Chloe that he loves her, the story of Lilith’s ring coming full circle – is fantastic. The final scene is epic and I’m desperate to know what happens next.
Cruel Summer (Season 1) – Cruel Summer wasn’t exactly a relaxing watch; for the most part, I think I ended up watching just to find out the answers that wouldn’t come until the finale episode. While I think the jumping between three timelines was a very effective storytelling technique for a show about truth, lies, and the perception of both, I struggled with it as a viewer. At first it annoyed me because I kept getting confused about what was happening and why (I don’t think that was helped by all of the subplots throughout the show) but what really bothered me about it was that it was impossible to form your own opinions about the characters because you didn’t have all of the information you needed in order to do so; how you felt about the characters was determined by the show itself and the specific moments it allowed you to see. I didn’t like that; I didn’t like feeling manipulated. And I think that fed into one of my biggest issues with the show: I didn’t really like any of the characters that much and some of them, I deeply disliked. Something always felt really off about Jeanette (her obsession with Kate just got more and more creepy); I did not like her mother, but then I didn’t like Sarah Drew in Grey’s Anatomy and separating them wasn’t exactly easy given that they weren’t that different personality wise but seriously, she just abandoned her family when things got tough; Kate’s mother was a complete horror show; Martin Harris was obviously horrifying, although I wonder if he would’ve seemed so creepy had we not known that he was Kate’s kidnapper from episode one; and I thought Mallory was a bitch in 1993, still annoying in 1994, and I was only starting to like her in 1995, mainly because of everything she did to help Kate, like being her buffer on her birthday to insure she had a good day. I liked Vince but we didn’t see much of him and I felt for Jamie in the 1995 timeline. I guess I liked Kate the best although, having said that, I still can’t get over how, in the early days, she was perfectly content to stay at Harris’ house, regardless of how worried she must’ve known her family and friends would be. I know he manipulated and groomed her (a story that was really important to tell and one I think they told really well) but she didn’t seem to care or even think about how devastated they would be by her disappearance. But despite that, I found her the most likeable and her storyline the most engaging: she went through so much trauma and watching her cope with and work through it (with all of the ups and downs) got me invested in her, making her final scene so joyful and satisfying.
I think the final twist was very interesting. My initial reaction was “Oh my god! What an amazing end, what an amazing twist!” and yes, it was a massive twist to find out that Jeanette had known where Kate was even though she’d technically never lied – it was true that she’d never seen Kate. But after thinking about it and thinking about it in the context of the show, I’m actually kind of disappointed by it and how it changed the story. I think ending with neither of them intentionally lying but telling the truth according to the information they had made a really important statement about truth and our personal interpretations of it, a huge theme of the show. There were no villains (in that situation – Martin Harris was obviously a villain), just fallible, emotional human beings. And revealing that Jeanette was actually lying all along ruined that. Instead she’s a heartless villain, manipulating everyone around her to get attention, to be seen as the victim (after Kate’s accusations) and then as the kind, forgiving, and admired survivor (after her appearance on TV); after all, she forgave Kate and chose not to take her family’s money… Up until that final scene, she was unpleasant and creepy but the twist scene seemed to be the show implying something much worse. I don’t know if I’ll watch Season 2. I think it will massively depend on what story they choose to tell and how that story is set up.
The Chair (Season 1) – I love Sandra Oh. She’s just fantastic (and I have massive hair envy). I’ve loved her in everything I’ve seen her in and this was no exception. For the most part, I thought the show was great: the acting was brilliant, the humour was great, and it dealt with some really important issues. Having said that, I did feel like it tried to tackle a few too many issues and stories in just six half-hour episodes; even ten half-hour episodes would have allowed it to explore and pace the stories a little better. It was just a lot and a lot very fast. But it was very enjoyable with some great performances and unravelling of stories. Also I think it has one of the best opening scenes of any TV show I’ve ever seen:
Believe (Season 1) – This isn’t quite a new watch because I watched it back in 2016 when it first aired but I could barely remember any of it so, apart from a handful of scenes, it felt like a new watch. I just remember really enjoying it so I wanted to see it again and it was great to basically experience it as a new story despite having seen it before. The story revolves around Bo Adams, a ten year old girl with psychic abilities that are still relatively unexplored that she only has a certain amount of control over. On the run from the organisation, Orchestra, that raised her just to exploit her abilities and protected by a small but dedicated team, Bo is reunited with her father (although neither of them are aware of this fact upon meeting) and, as they continue to dodge Orchestra, she learns more about the scope of her abilities and how to control them. Her frequent visions often get them into trouble: Bo is determined to help the people she sees, regardless of the danger it might put her in, which results in her meeting some interesting people. There was definitely potential set up for a bigger story, one that included those characters, but then the show was cancelled after one season. It didn’t get particularly high ratings (I think it would’ve done a lot better if it hadn’t been scheduled opposite Game of Thrones – it didn’t really stand a chance) but I really enjoyed it. I loved Bo and I loved her relationship with Tate, before and after they found out he was her father; they were completely adorable. It still makes me sad that we didn’t get more of what could’ve been a really interesting story.
Vigil (Series 1) – I love Suranne Jones and having loved her as Rachel Bailey in Scott & Bailey, it made me very happy to see her as a DCI (Rachel’s dream) in this show. Her character on this show, DCI Amy Silva, is sent to investigate a murder on a Navy submarine. While navigating (no pun intended) an uncooperative and secretive crew, she’s also trying to manage some pretty traumatic personal issues, which have only become more difficult given that she’s been so suddenly cut off from her coping mechanisms. She’s tough and fierce as hell when she needs to be but she’s also hanging on by a thread, trying to keep everything together. I was deeply attached to her by the end of episode one and I found the storyline of her coping with and working through her trauma the most impactful of the show. While it was somewhat extreme (I know many felt the show could be ridiculous at times – personally, I’m just happy to get lost in the story and suspend my disbelief), seeing her trapped in the torpedo tube, reliving her biggest trauma, and thinking of her daughter and ex-girlfriend in what she thought were her last moments was very powerful emotionally, which I think was mostly down to Suranne Jones’ superb acting. It was a great relief to see her rescued and the takedown of the true villain was very satisfying; I liked that we got to see how personally the crew took the betrayal and how unified they were during the takedown sequence. And while I was never super passionate about Amy and Kirsten as a couple, I did like them together and I thought the scene where they finally got to talk and Amy was finally able to say the words “I love you” was really powerful; I thought it was beautiful writing and really stunning acting. And I loved the moment when Amy and her daughter, Poppy, were reunited; I will admit to getting a bit emotional over that scene. No doubt, Amy thought she’d never see her again so it was all the more emotional; they were just so adorable and you could just see how much they loved each other. I would happily watch a show where the three of them are just a cute little domestic unit. I also thought the larger ending – the political and societal ending – was very fitting. So, to sum up my thoughts, while the story might’ve been somewhat overdramatic at certain points, I really, really enjoyed it and I think that was largely down to Suranne Jones and her incredible acting. Yes, I am a fangirl. But I really do think she was great in this role and I can’t wait to see what she does next; and in the meantime, I’m going to go back and watch the things she’s been in that I haven’t already seen (and probably some I have too).
Girls5Eva (Season 1) – I have to admit, I found this show pretty weird. I always want to love everything Sara Bareilles is involved in but I can’t say that I loved this (although that doesn’t come as a huge surprise since comedy isn’t generally my thing). There were things that I liked: I found all of the digs at the music industry and all of the examples of how shitty it can be hilarious (because, damn, someone needs to call them on it). And of the four main characters, Dawn (Sara’s character) was my favourite and I sometimes liked Wickie (played by Renée Elise Goldsberry) but mostly, I found them too outlandish and caricatured. I did find some of it really funny but then some of it really made me cringe so it was a bit of a mixed bag. Having said that, I did love the end where they performed at the Jingle Ball and how the young rapper that brought their hit back to prominence kept security from kicking them out at least until they’d finished their song. I really enjoyed the song, ‘4 Stars,’ and I also found Dawn’s first attempt at writing – ‘I’m Afraid’ – utterly hysterical. I’m not sure if I’d watch another season or not (I saw that they’ve been renewed for a second season): it was just a bit ridiculous for me as much as I loved the main concept and love Sara Bareilles.
Harrow (Series 1-3) – I love Ioan Grufford so I was very excited to discover this show. I watched all three seasons one after another and have rewatched it multiple times since; it’s become one of my comfort shows, a safe world to escape into when the world feels too overwhelming. Set in Brisbane, Australia, Dr Daniel Harrow is a workaholic pathologist, irreverent, highly intelligent, and always sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. The whole cast is excellent and the relationships between the characters are great: Harrow and trainee-pathologist, Simon, make a hilarious double act; Scenes of Crime Officer, Soroya Dass, and Harrow have great chemistry; and Harrow’s relationship with his troubled daughter, Fern, is deeply compelling to watch. Fern’s relationship with her boyfriend, Callan, is incredibly sweet and I love that he calls her ‘Fish,’ that it’s never explained why. The acting was excellent (the standout moments for me were always the ones between Harrow and Fern) and I really liked the episodic nature but with an ongoing, bigger arc. Series 1 follows the case of a mysterious set of bones pulled from the ocean that Harrow is somehow involved with, the tension only increasing as we get closer to the answer. The climax of the series is fantastic and, again, the performances are just incredible. Series 2 picks up where Series 1 left off and we discover that someone is after Harrow, determined to take apart his life as an act of revenge. Part of the fallout from the finale of Series 1 is the relationship between Harrow and Soroya and with her gone, a new character is introduced, a Dr Grace Molyneaux. While I prefer Soroya, I did warm to her and she was definitely a breath of fresh air in the pathology department. The stakes get higher and higher, especially as Harrow’s friends and colleagues doubt his theory as to who is after him, leading to a very intense final episode. But again, the real star is the relationship between Harrow and Fern; their scenes together, especially in that finale episode, just take my breath away. Between a new, business focussed boss and the appearance of Harrow’s son from a long ago relationship, Series 3 does have a different feel to it. A lot has changed. Of the three series, it was probably my least favourite (although that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it): Harrow’s son is a pathological liar and drags everyone into the mess he’s made. Fern is possibly the most frustrating example of this, given how smart she’s been up to this point, and yet, she keeps letting him get away with it. The final episode is incredibly tense but has a great pay off and if it has to end there, I’d be okay with that, although I would, of course, love more from this cast. They’re all consistently great and the interactions feel so natural and real and there are some really fantastic moments throughout the series (one of my favourite episodes involves a camping trip that is just one disaster after another). As I said, it’s become one of my favourite shows and one that I consistently return to when I want something that feels familiar and safe and good.
Annika (Series 1) – [So I have a confession to make: I accidentally started watching this in reverse order. Because it was airing over the most stressful part of my Masters, I’d recorded it and when I went to the My Shows menu, I didn’t realise that the episodes were listed in reverse order (I mean, what? Nowhere else do they list things in any order but chronological, do they?) and I got through the last and the penultimate episodes before I figured out why it was kind of confusing. It didn’t not work though so I stand by it not being completely ridiculous (but yes, still pretty ridiculous). So, having seen those last two episodes, I went back and started from the beginning but it did change my watching experience of it so I feel like it was important to mention.] Initially, I found the format of Nicola Walker / Annika talking to the camera kind of weird and jarring (I did feel like, with her detailed knowledge of certain literary works, frequent awkward moments, and jokes that didn’t land, she was autistic coded). I still found her engaging and funny though; I’m not sure I could dislike her in anything. But over time, I got used to it and ended up really enjoying what it added to the show. The references to different pieces of literature, her internal monologue, a pointed statement here and there… it all added to the fabric of the show, making it quite different to anything else I’ve seen. And while the team was super awkward at the beginning (understandably as they’re a brand new unit) and Annika wasn’t exactly a natural boss, they found their rhythm and they became a really solid unit with a really great dynamic. It resulted in some really fun moments, like Annika buying them all candy floss after an arrest at a fairground (resulting in jokes about arranging arrests in other places good for gifts, such as the zoo so that they could all get a penguin) and using desk objects to represent suspects (“My money’s on the stapler.”) during a discussion – the script writers must have had so much fun. Their interactions felt very natural and funny, as was the relationship between Annika and her daughter, Morgan: they were very cute and even though they had their ups and downs, they were really lovely to watch. The final episode was great (and features possibly my favourite line of the series, where Annika says to one of her colleagues, “I’m going to need you constantly available to put that kind of spin on all of my neuroses,” after he explains away her vertigo as a survival instinct) and leaves us with a twist that will certainly affect a second series should it be renewed. I felt it was a somewhat obvious way to take the story but it’s all in the storytelling so we’ll just have to see how they tell it.
Lucifer (Season 6) – I have mixed feelings about this season: it was special because it brought the whole show full circle but it was a bit chaotic and the story didn’t feel as streamlined as it has in previous seasons, with the characters all having pretty separate arcs: Lucifer’s attempts to be worthy of being God; Ella figuring out about the celestials on her own; Dan’s quest to reach heaven (his last conversation with Trixie made me cry); Amendial’s struggle with being a police officer, seeing and experiencing racism everyday; Maze and Eve getting married with the bumps in the road of Adam reappearing (an “absolute pancake of a human,” according to Maze) and Maze’s issues with her family. Lucifer and Chloe’s daughter from the future, Rory, is obviously the biggest storyline and while it did feel a bit rushed, I think it so important to one of the core foundations of the show: Lucifer’s anger at being abandoned by his father. And here, he’s discovering that one day he’ll disappear and never come back. Following that storyline through gives us a lot of emotional and special moments: we get to see Lucifer and Chloe as a real couple (they’re adorable) and see Lucifer and Rory really get to know each other. The tension of the penultimate episode was almost unbearable and as the moment where Lucifer disappears forever bears down on them, Lucifer has some very emotional moments with all of the people important to him. And we finally learn why Lucifer disappears and why he can’t change it, because it’s so much bigger than just them. Chloe and Lucifer’s goodbye is utterly heartbreaking; the acting was amazing (and it was even more emotional, knowing that it was also the two actors saying goodbye to each other and the show, all of the tears genuine). And the music choices were perfect: one I was hoping they’d bring back (yes, I screamed) and one that I’d long given up hoping they’d use. The final episode wasn’t as cohesive as I would’ve liked but then they did have a lot of stories to wrap up but it meant we got to see all of the important moments so I can’t be annoyed about it. I loved that we got to see how everything played out, where everyone ended up (I actually shrieked when it was revealed that Dan and Charlotte were together in heaven, having waffles and pudding – that made me very happy). I thought the final scene(s) was both hilarious and perfect and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Season 22) – This season felt very tense and raw, moreso than it has in a while; the stories they told were so powerful. The COVID-based stories were gut wrenching: the episode, ‘In The Year We All Fell Down’ – with the restaurant owner taking hostages out of desperation when, after losing pretty much everything, she’s about to lose her restaurant too – was devastating and, I think, one of their best episodes. They really didn’t pull punches in their stories involving racism either, challenging their own biases and the biases of others, encouraging us as viewers to do the same. That’s something that I’ve always admired and respected about SVU: they may not always do things perfectly but they never shy away from stories that are important to tell. The personal stories of the characters were also really compelling and moving. Of course, a big part of the season revolved around Elliot’s reappearance after disappearing from their lives ten years prior. That damaged his relationship with Olivia – the scene where they talk about how he left was heartbreaking and Mariska Hargitay’s acting, particularly in the moment where she says, “You were the single most important person in my life and you just… disappeared,” was incredible – and it’s only complicated further when his wife is murdered. I know he’s been through a lot but I find Elliot endlessly frustrating: he has so many issues that he refuses to deal with, which often results in dragging the people he cares about into the mess with him, and he never learns that lesson. I really don’t like the way he treats Olivia, the way he messes with her emotions and her life: he tells her how important she is to him and then disappears (repeatedly), forces her to clean up after him and make the hard choices, does whatever he wants without regard for how it affects her… And do not get me started on the letter he gave her – that said what they’d meant to each other hadn’t been real – that was actually written by his wife but he still slipped in “But in a parallel universe, it will always be you and I.” He demands too much of her without giving anywhere near enough back. But even though their story took up a lot of time, the other characters are great too. Carisi and Rollins are adorable (I loved the scene where he told her about how bad his parents are at Zoom to cheer her up) and Fin and Phoebe are cute too. I love Kat and don’t think we saw enough of her. I already knew the character was leaving but I couldn’t imagine her lasting long in SVU when every injustice made her so angry; I get it but you can’t die on every single hill. And some of the cases this season were really great too: the death of Olivia’s half brother, Simon, is investigated, which brings up a lot of stuff for Olivia; a child they’d had institutionalised years ago is released and goes on a killing spree (Rollins is awesome in this episode); and, as I mentioned earlier, ‘In The Year We All Fell Down’ are just some that spring to mind. The season ends in a nice place, with the endings of old stories and beginnings of new ones.
New Amsterdam (Season 3) – Beginning the series with a montage of their experiences during the height of COVID, accompanied by ‘What A Wonderful World,’ had me in tears. I’d somehow forgotten how this show reduces me to tears at least once an episode. Their reactions during the height of COVID and then later on when things were better was really emotional (everyone coming together to clap for essential workers always did and still does make me cry) and I thought Helen’s comment about being “scared of normal” – handshakes and hugs and so on – was very relatable. There were a lot of different storylines and arcs going on over the season: I loved Lauren and Leyla’s friendship and then relationship, from Lauren sneaking Leyla in to use the hospital showers to confessing all of her secrets; Max’s tireless attempts to make things better could be a bit over the top but he does usually manage to make good change, even if it isn’t as much change as he or others would like; I found the storyline following Iggy’s eating disorder very triggering (at one point, he says, “It’s the thing about myself that feels most true. How do you stop believing that?” in reference to the connection that has been forged between his weight and his self worth and I really felt that, about a number of things); Luna was adorable but I found myself hating her grandparents and how overly critical they were of Max and I thought the speech he made about how he’ll always fight for Luna was really moving; I thought they played out the story of Iggy’s patient turned stalker really well because it had you feeling so many different emotions throughout the season. And that’s just a handful of them. I love a lot of the main characters (I think Floyd is the only one that irritates me – he’s so fixated on his dream scenario that he won’t accept anything else, even if it has the potential to be just as good) and I love their relationships. I love Lauren and Casey’s relationship in particular: one of my favourite moments was when Casey was hanging out in Lauren’s room while she recovered from chemical exposure, how she woke up and gave him a hug, telling him that he can’t leave because she can’t do this without him. And he just smiles and says he’s not going anywhere but maybe they can dial back the excitement a bit. They’re very cute. I think my favourite episode was ‘Things Fall Apart,’ where there was a chemical spill in the hospital: of course, Lauren didn’t say anything until she actually went blind (temporarily); the scene with Helen and Max in the decontamination shower – silent – was really powerful; and their reunion was acted beautifully too. I loved how the season ended, with Max panicking about his lost wedding ring (I found it very funny – and deeply relatable – when another character tells him to come out from under the table where he’s been looking for it and he says, “Do I have to?”) and the realisation that that leads him to about his life, past and future.
WandaVision – I’m still not sure what I think of WandaVision. I really loved the concept – how, in her grief, Wanda brought Vision back and created a bubble for them to live in, inspired by the TV shows she found comfort in as a child (but accidentally holding the town hostage in order to keep up the illusion) – but I struggled with the different TV show styles; as cute as I thought Wanda and Vision were, I found a lot of it very cringy. I don’t think I started to properly enjoy it until about episode eight, although I thought witches was a bit of a left field concept for Marvel – they’re usually much more science-y. But I thought it was an interesting twist to have another powerful being in the town. I loved learning more about Wanda and seeing the things that have made her who she is: her childhood, her time with Hydra, the aftermath of Endgame. And I was very relieved when she started using her powers again (I love the way she moves when she uses her powers) and her original accent returned; it felt weird without them. I thought the penultimate and final episodes were amazing: Wanda reliving her memories (I loved Wanda and Vision’s conversation about grief and the famed quote – “What is grief if not love persevering?” – still hit hard, even though I knew it was coming), discovering what she’s done to everyone in the town, realising that letting them go will mean she loses everything all over again. The finale is powerful and emotional and heartbreaking, and it really made the show for me. I thought the whole thing was a compelling, moving depiction of grief that I think a lot of people relate to; I know I did.
Creating The Queen’s Gambit – I loved getting a look behind the scenes of The Queen’s Gambit; it was utterly fascinating. They managed to cover a lot in just fourteen minutes. They talked about the show as a whole, about the main themes: “It’s not about a game. It’s about the cost of genius.” Anya Taylor-Joy – the actress who played the central character, Beth – describes it similarly: “It’s a story about how you survive in a world when you have a very specific gift that makes you harder to understand.” I loved how they really dug into the characters, giving some great insights, especially with Beth (unsurprisingly given that she is the main character). I loved just how much Taylor-Joy loved Beth, just how passionate she was about every little detail that made her who she was: “I fell in love with Beth immediately, and there was a really strong kinship.” One of my favourite things she said about her was about her approach to both the world of chess and the world in general: “She just automatically assumes that she is equal.” It’s so true and I found it really powerful; imagine if we all did that? Anyway. Writer and Director Scott Frank was similarly passionate about the character, describing her as “her own antagonist,” which he found fascinating; He said he’d “never read a character like this before. Somebody who is so brilliant and so self-destructive, and in a world that she was already kind of not a part of.” They talked about her addictions, to tranquillisers and later alcohol, but also to winning. Taylor-Joy said she’s “also addicted to winning. She’s addicted to feeling like she is in control,” and Frank concurs, saying, “Chess is the one thing she feels like she can control, that on that board, she’s in charge. Whenever she’s moving those pieces around, she’s at home.” Taylor-Joy also made what I thought was a very astute comment about Beth and the tightrope she’s constantly walking: “Beth is very obsessive, full stop. Like, I think that is just something that is intrinsic to her. When your brain works that quickly, it can drive you a bit mad. But I also think that she is aware that her gift makes her special. I do think she’s, like, consistently worried that she’s a bit crazy… She’s juggling a very fine line of, like, ‘Am I insane or am I a genius?'” I also loved how much thought went into the visuals, from the characters appearances to the sets and so on. When it came to Beth’s appearance, they discussed in depth the hair, make up, and costume details and development, how to show her growing up, and these decisions were ultimately determined by where Beth was in each moment of the story. Taylor-Joy and the hair-and-make-up artist both strongly and individually felt that Beth should be a red head and that was that; they wanted her to stand out, even when she didn’t want to. Taylor-Joy said she would’ve dyed her hair but shooting multiple ages and styles in a day made that just too impractical so it was a series of wigs. Beth goes through a series of different styles, something that was a deliberate choice: Taylor-Joy commented that “What’s fascinating about watching her grow up is that she puts on all of these different personas. It is incredibly sad, because it’s basically just saying that she just doesn’t like she’s enough without them. It’s not a physical loneliness that she’s suffering from. It’s an emotional and intellectual one,” and the costume designer agreed, saying, “her search for cool is actually her search for herself.” They also talked about the final scene with Beth, “finally comfortable in the world of chess,” walking through Moscow in her long white coat and hat, looking just like the white queen. I loved that scene so I loved hearing more about it. And on the topic of visuals, the director described how it was basically impossible to make the chess itself cinematic so they focussed on the stakes of the game and the reactions of the players. They kept the cameras on the characters faces so that the audience, even if they didn’t understand what was happening on the board, would see the way they responded to the moves, feel their emotions in that moment based on their facial expressions and movements. As for the other parts of the show, they talked about how beautiful the sets were and how incredible the attention to detail was. Apparently the entire cast and crew would come to see every set because they were so amazing and so rich in detail. The director said that, after seeing a set, he would often change the scenes in order to incorporate different aspects that the set designers had added because they were just so interesting or cool. I just think that’s amazing (I think, in another life, I could be happy working in this kind of world). The end is really sweet, with Taylor-Joy expressing her great affection for Beth: “Having the opportunity to spend time with Beth in this way, and not just see all of the wins but of the hard work with the sacrifices that it takes to get the wins. I think, hopefully, that just builds a lot of empathy for somebody who I, selfishly, really, really care about.” I love it when actors get really emotionally invested in their characters.
Amidst the Chaos – Live (Again) from the Hollywood Bowl (Sara Bareilles) – I’d wanted to see this tour so badly so I was so happy to see any part of it in any way possible. And I absolutely loved it. Of course. The ‘Orpheus’ opening was utterly perfect and it was so emotional to see Sara perform again, even if it wasn’t in real life. She was hilarious, pretending it was a real show (or, more precisely, a normal show) and talking to the empty seats as if there was an audience there. She can be such an adorable dork. It made me miss seeing her live and she was clearly missing normal shows: “It’s really all about you.” But they – she and her band – still clearly managed to have a good time and that was so fun to watch. I cracked up when Emily King came on and Sara sang, “If you thought there’d be applause, you were wrong, dun, dun.” I love her. Her performances were fantastic but her performance of ‘She Used To Be Mine’ was truly incredible; she really has an extraordinary voice. I find it so amazing that it was the first song she wrote for Waitress: it’s so perfect and so telling of the whole show and yet it was written, presumably, when she was least familiar with the show. While I can’t fully articulate it, I feel like that really says something about both her empathy and her songwriting skill. Anyway, moving on: it was so cool to see her perform with the other women from Girls5Eva and I just loved ‘4 Stars,’ which I hadn’t yet heard. And ‘Brave’ felt like a very fitting end to the show. When she was thanking everyone who made the show possible, she said, “It was a mountain and it was amazing to move mountains with you,” and I just thought that was a beautiful sentiment. It really stuck with me. It was a really special experience to have, especially as I don’t know at this moment in time when I’ll next get to see her perform, so I’m really grateful to her for doing it and to everyone who helped make it a reality.
Friends: The Reunion – I have no problem admitting that I had a big, stupid grin on my face for the whole thing. It just made me so happy. It was super nostalgic to see the six of them come together on these familiar sets and reminisce about specific moments, recreating the scenes, and telling funny stories that even other members of the group didn’t necessarily know. The episode readings were great too: Lisa Kudrow reenacting the “My eyes!” scene was hilarious and it was oddly emotional to watch Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer read the scene where Ross and Rachel first kiss. And it was so lovely to see them all in that living room, playing a real life version of the quiz, watching the bloopers (Matt LeBlanc running into Central Perk only to fall flat on his face and then Matthew Perry copying him on the next take to make everyone laugh, the whole lot of them breaking and cracking up over one of Ben Stiller’s scenes, everyone absolutely losing it over David Schwimmer screaming ‘Pivot!’ over and over again), and taking the piss out of each other. It was also really cool to see the behind-the-scenes footage, especially as someone who started watching Friends after it finished airing, when it had already been established as a cultural moment. It was kind of surreal, seeing them so young and just hanging out on the set and then suddenly there’s all these red carpets and flashing cameras. I can’t quite believe they actually showed the footage of Matt LeBlanc injuring his shoulder but the process of making that episode was really interesting. And the footage from the final episode and the after party is kind of amazing given what a big deal the show was and, to a degree, still is. It’s like a time capsule: how they all hugged long after they said ‘cut,’ celebrating together even as the sets were being dismantled around them, signing the backs of the walls. I also loved hearing from the creators of the show: how the show was based around “that one time in your life when your friends are your family” and how they became family in real life; how the audience’s response to Monica and Chandler getting together in London changed their plan for the story; how they came to the decision that Ross and Rachel would get together in the final episode. They really pulled out all the stops with all of the guests and features, including Tom Selleck, Maggie Wheeler (I loved hearing the story behind Janice’s laugh), Reese Witherspoon, and both Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles, who played Ross and Monica’s parents (the story they told was so sweet: how the cast would say “the parents are here” and how they did feel like their parents, how they worried about them when they weren’t there). And those are just some of the people who appeared on the actual show. Initially, I wasn’t sure about the section where they all sat on a couch, interviewed by James Corden in front of an audience and while the fashion show felt unnecessary (apart from Matt LeBlanc wearing all of Chandler’s clothes again – that was great), it did also facilitate some interesting discussions and revelations that we might not have had otherwise. It was kind of hilarious to hear, after all this time, that they’re all in agreement that Ross and Rachel were on a break. And it was really, really nice to hear where they all thought their characters would be: they’d all have families and Joey would’ve opened a sandwich shop. I know a movie was what everyone was expecting but I don’t think a movie could’ve lived up to expectations. A special like this was just perfect. It ended with them in a huddle, just like they began every episode, just like they ended the show. It was perfect.
Love on the Spectrum (Season 1) – (Since the creator/director refers to it as more of a documentary than a reality show, I’m going to do the same, something which makes more sense anyway as the only intervention was the setting up of the dates and the whole point was to document the dating experience of young autistic adults). I watched this as part of my research for my final Masters project, as an example of how real autistic experiences (rather than fictional ones) are represented in media. I’d heard that it had been positively received but knew little about it. I ended up watching the whole thing in one day just to get it over with. I hated it. I appreciated that it wasn’t all about causing drama and that the team had good intentions but ultimately, it was made by neurotypical people for neurotypical people. As one review put it: “For all it’s intent to break stigmas, in observing autistic people rather than putting them in control of the narrative, it falls short.” Watching it, I felt like it was made for neurotypicals to “aww” over whereas every date had me cringing; I found it deeply patronising and infantilising. They’re weirdly reluctant to say ‘autistic person’ or use identity-first language and spend (in my opinion) too much time talking to the parents of autistic adults (something that would not happen with a neurotypical individual and further infantilises autistic adults). It’s also too white and too straight; yes, there is one date shared by two autistic young women but given the growing evidence that a high proportion of the autistic community identify as non-heterosexual, that one date isn’t exactly representative. It spreads misinformation (Olivia states that 95% people on the spectrum don’t find love and it’s framed as a fact when it’s not true at all), reinforces the ‘othering’ of autistic people (treating autistic people as separate from the rest of society), and encourages harmful behaviour in autistic individuals, such as masking: the tutoring and classes (all done by neurotypical people it’s worth noting) all taught these young autistic people how to act neurotypically (while also confusingly telling them to be themselves), something that seemed somewhat pointless when they were only set up with other autistic individuals to date. That was another frustrating aspect: only dates between autistic individuals were set up because, according to them it seems, autistic people only date autistic people, which only intensified the othering factor. It wasn’t exactly encouraging that none of the dates worked out; only couples who were already together were together at the end of the season. Therein was the one bright spot for me: Sharnae and Jimmy. They were just so lovely together and I particularly appreciated the scene where, together, they navigated Jimmy’s near meltdown over having the wrong colour of socks: Sharnae is patient and understanding, they come up with a new plan that involves a detour to get the right coloured socks, and then they go on to have a really special evening. That little moment meant a lot to me, seeing such a healthy and supportive response to problem which helped to prevent it from becoming a bigger problem and ultimately made the day smoother for both of them. But that was the only positive moment for me; everything else about it was a pretty distressing experience. It just made me feel even less hopeful about the possibility of a relationship, pointing out every reason dating feels hard (or even impossible) in harsh, painful detail. Watching the show triggered an episode of depression so, as you can imagine, I have little desire to watch the second season. “What Love on the Spectrum has shown autistic people need, more than anything, is the opportunity to tell our own stories, to not be observed and fetishised. I hope other producers will learn from their mistakes and put us in charge – we understand ourselves, and each other, better than anyone.” (x)
Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Moment House Online Show) – Given the impossibility of a real concert or tour at the moment, between COVID and Halsey only just having had her baby, this was a really great alternative and a really cool way to celebrate the album. They sounded incredible and the amount of thought and work that went into creating each different performance look and space was amazing. I loved her look for ‘The Tradition,’ with the intricate shirt and collar, and her make up was so striking; with the camera just focussing on her face, it’s a very different, very intimate experience. Her performance of Lilith was equally compelling but I did find myself getting distracted by how uncomfortable it must’ve been, lying in that bath. I loved the simplicity of the look for ‘Easier Than Lying,’ the simple black dress in contrast to the white screens; this performance was just so energetic – very Halsey-on-tour vibes, especially since they weren’t visibly pregnant in this one – which was only heightened by the flashing white and red walls of the corridor. It was somewhat chaotic to watch but in a way that really matched the song. I was intrigued by the inclusion of ‘You should be sad’ but she sounded amazing and the visuals of her inside the box (or coffin perhaps) were oddly beautiful. The look for ‘Girl is a Gun’ is really cool: the big, black cape which is cast off to reveal a lace bodysuit. Her pregnancy is very obvious here and yet she’s still her performance is as energetic and compelling as ever; the space might be big and empty but she absolutely owns it, just like she does the stage on tour. ‘Nightmare’ is equally energetic but this performance looks more like a music video, with the dark forest set and group of dancers, and the lace bodysuit from ‘Girl is a Gun,’ which she continues to wear for ‘You asked for this.’ I struggled with this one a bit due to the combination of flashing lights and twisty camera angles; it was a bit much for me, a bit close to sensory chaos. But that was beautifully reduced a moment later. I think the performance of ‘Darling’ was my favourite: Halsey in a whimsical garden in a pink, puffy dress, offset by black combat boots and almost steampunk-style jewellery. She looked stunning and the way she looked into the camera really made you feel like she was really looking at you. I loved the look for ‘honey’ – the white, peasant-style dress with the warm, golden light – but, while I can understand the artistic choice of spreading honey over her hair, face, neck, and chest, watching it made me cringe a little because I could almost feel the sensation of the honey on my skin and that’s the sort of sensory thing that I really, really don’t like. So I get it but not for me. I thought ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god’ was really powerful: the contrast of the white, toga-like dress and the dramatic black eye make up was stunning and the moving light vs the flashes of red light was almost hypnotic. Seeing just their head and shoulders was, again, very effective: I love the way they move when performing but, as I said earlier, this different approach gives us a very different experience of the song (although having said that, I really hope to see them perform this live one day). It was pretty shocking when she’s suddenly spattered with what looks like blood, with more and more until she’s all but covered. But, as I said, it was very powerful. And finally there was ‘Gasoline,’ another of my favourites: I loved the big open space, lit only by the fire-filled barrels; Halsey looks great in a big, loose white dress with her make up smeared; the whole think looks so desolate, which is fitting for the song, I think. It was a really cool show and I was super inspired by all of the thought and creativity that went into it.
The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 – I love the legend of The Loneliest Whale so I was both really excited for this documentary and really nervous, nervous that it would reveal something that would take away from this story that is so special to so many people. But it was really good: it had light, fun moments (such as when one of the team said, “They say you know you’re doing Oceanography when what you have is too heavy to lift and too expensive to lose and then you throw it in the ocean anyways,” and then threw said equipment overboard) and it had really powerful, emotional moments: they talked in depth about how whales navigate and communicate and how the noise from ships and shipping lanes is so disruptive that it’s essentially creating a world of lonely whales. I found that very distressing, both for the whales and also because I realised the similarities to my autistic experience in trying to cope with the world; that was quite an upsetting parallel to draw. But it was, overall, a great documentary. The whale footage was absolutely stunning and they were all so passionate about whales and the work they were doing; you couldn’t help feeling that you wouldn’t want anyone else to find this whale. I’d desperately avoided spoilers so the end was a total surprise; they’d set out to find the 52-Hertz Whale but what they find is completely unexpected. My one complaint about it was that, when they were discussing the history of human and whale interaction and talked about the killing of whales, there were far too many traumatic images and much too much detail included. It was incredibly graphic and, personally, I found it very distressing.
If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – I have really mixed feelings about this film, if I’m honest. I wasn’t sure if it was something I’d enjoy, given the warnings for it, but I am glad that I’ve seen it. The cinematography, the sets, the costumes, the make up… it was beautiful. It was art. But I have to say that I really struggled to make sense of the story beyond the basic narrative; yes, she did this and did that but I felt like I was missing out on so much of the nuance that makes stories/films great. I’ve read every interpretation I can find and while I can see what they’re saying, I never would’ve made those connections by myself. It made me feel kind of stupid, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable. So, yeah, I have really mixed feelings about it.
This was long and, at this point, I have no idea if it flows or not. But it’s done. I’ve had the brain of a goldfish recently due to the ADHD meds I’ve been trying so writing has been hard. This post was a real struggle but I am really pleased to have finished it at all, to have this record of the stories and art that I loved this year.
Category: book, favourites, music, quotes, video Tagged: 2021, a lonely place to die, a quiet place, a quiet place part 2, a quiet place part ii, amidst the chaos live, annika, anxiety in wonderland, art, autism, autistic, ava, believe, book, can you ever forgive me?, charlie's angels, cruel summer, destroyer, documentary, film, friends, friends the reunion, girls5eva, halsey, hannah emerson, harrow, katia oloy, kelsea ballerini, law & order: special victims unit, law & order: svu, law and order: special victims unit, livestream, love on the spectrum, lucifer, moana, new amsterdam, pat pattison, poetry, quantico, review, sara bareilles, songwriting, spinning out, the chair, the dig, the girl on the train, the loneliest whale, the loneliest whale: the search for 52, the one, the wilds, tv show, unforgotten, vigil, wandavision
Hi! I’m Lauren Alex Hooper. Welcome to my little blog! I write about living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD (Inattentive Type), and Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), as well as several mental health issues.
I’m a singer-songwriter (it’s my biggest special interest and I have both a BA and MA in songwriting) so I’ll probably write a bit about that too.
My first single, ‘Invisible,’ is on all platforms, with all proceeds going to Young Minds.
My debut EP, Honest, is available on all platforms, with a limited physical run at Resident Music in Brighton.
I’m currently working on an album about my experiences as an autistic woman.