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
Posted on December 26, 2020
Funnily enough, one of my goals for this year was to consume more new media, to experience new stories, expand my creativity, and just for fun. The first semester of the year didn’t really allow for that very much but then lockdown happened. Initially, my anxiety was so high that all I could do was watch comfortable, familiar, and safe stories, but slowly I started adding in new ones as a means of escape. This basically revolved around film and TV as I just didn’t have the brain space to read with all of the fear and anxiety taking up so much space. But I really started to get into watching new things and enjoyed it more and more; I think I’d gotten stuck in a bit of a rut of rewatching old things because it allowed me to do other things at the same time, namely my constant (and desperate) attempts to keep up with my OCD-induced diary. But with so little going on, I really only had to write about the new things I was watching. Back at university, there’s been less time but I have still managed the odd new thing here and there.
I haven’t included everything in this post – for obvious reasons. I’ve just written about the ones I thought were really good or had something specific that I wanted to say about them. Please don’t feel that you have to read the whole thing in detail; feel free to skim or just look at one section for example. Hopefully there will be something in here that you walk away thinking, “oh, I want to read/watch that…” Fair warning, there will be some spoilers but I will try and mark them clearly.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy – My therapist gave me this book just before lockdown and I absolutely adore it. I love the beauty and simplicity of it, of the drawings, of the words, of the characters and the little conversations between them, about everything from cake to fear of the future… I can completely understand it not being for everyone – it is a very specific style of book and approach to life – but I loved it and found great comfort in it. I still do. It’s permanently by my bed so that I can just open it at random and read a few passages.
I Would Leave Me If I Could by Halsey – Halsey’s first collection of poetry is described as “In this debut collection, Halsey bares her soul. Bringing the same artistry found in her lyrics, Halsey’s poems delve into the highs and lows of doomed relationships, family ties, sexuality, and mental illness. More hand grenades than confessions, these autobiographical poems explore and dismantle conventional notions of what it means to be a feminist in search of power. Masterful as it is raw, passionate, and profound, ‘I Would Leave Me If I Could’ signals the arrival of an essential voice.” It’s definitely true that she bares her soul: some of the poems are uncomfortably honest, giving you the sensation of reading a person’s diary. She’s sharing things she’s never shared before and she’s never been one to hide the ugly from the ugly sides of life. (It’s worth noting that some of the poems have graphic descriptions in them and she does discuss some really difficult subjects like abuse and sexual assault so if those things are likely to trigger you, it may be important to have a conversation with yourself about whether you’re in the right place to read the book.) Some of the ones I found most powerful were Due Date, Battles, Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 1, Wish You The Best, Eight, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, American Woman, Telltale, Tornado, Lighthouse, The Painter, High-Five Kids, A Story Like Mine, I Would Leave Me If I Could, Something For Them, and Seventeen. These aren’t necessarily ‘favourites’ because some of them are practically painful to read, knowing that she has gone through these experiences. But these are some of the ones that gave me that gut-punch feeling, ones that felt so important to the collection. I have such respect and admiration for her in sharing these stories; it’s one of the bravest pieces of personal writing I’ve ever seen. You can feel her passion and her sincerity and her emotions pouring off the page and I think that is what most drew me into this book. Yes, I loved the writing but the emotion was what made it so powerful. The closing lines to Ordinary Boys, I think, sums up the book really well: “You write to calm the craving. / To corner them in fiction / And say / Finally, / I have conquered you.“
(I also read chapters and excerpts of multiple music and songwriting books for my course but as they weren’t for the sake of just reading and I didn’t always read the complete book each time, it didn’t feel right to include them here.)
I would’ve loved to have read more this year and I had so many plans but between my mental health struggles and university commitments, I just haven’t been able to. Hopefully next year will be a better reading year.
What Happened To Monday – In a dystopian future where every family is only allowed one child, septuplets, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday must remain hidden by assuming the singular identity of Karen Settman. They each go out one day a week – the day they were named after – and until the age of thirty, they manage to go unnoticed. But then Monday doesn’t come home and the sisters fear their secret has been discovered. It’s a really great action film (although, be warned, it doesn’t shy away from fairly graphic violence) and Noomi Rapace is incredible, playing seven distinct women, each with their own personalities, their own struggles, and their own emotional reactions (I’ve seen some people call the different personalities less than subtle but, if you’re only real existence isn’t really who you are or want to be, I wouldn’t be surprised by a need to defiantly distinguish yourself from the people ‘sharing’ your identity). From the emotional scenes to the action sequences, she was fantastic and I found myself connecting to each of the sisters in different ways, although I think Friday was my favourite. Despite being an action film, the emotional storyline is what really carries the film, getting more and more intense as the minutes pass. And the ending is really, really interesting but I won’t give it away. I thought the aesthetic was perfect for the story and really effective in elevating the emotions of the story. With the complicated moral debate that the film is based on, the multiple characters, the relationships between them, and the challenges they face, it really is a multi-layered movie, leaving you with a lot to think about after it ends.
(I kind of wish they would make a sequel of sorts because the underlying problem – the rapidly growing population and society’s inability to cope with that – isn’t solved. It wouldn’t have to involve the main characters, apart from maybe a cameo or two to bridge the films, and it could be shot like a documentary, like the ‘The Truth Behind The Child Allocation Act’ (the law that enforces the one child per family policy). Half of it could tell the story of how the Settman sisters revealed that truth (which could be where the cameos come in, the use of ‘crowd footage’ of certain moments, and interviews with scientists, etc) and then the other half of it could be about the committees put in place to find a better solution to the population problem. I think that could be a really interesting way to build on an already existing universe but without it needing to be a direct sequel but more an expansion of that world.)
Isn’t It Romantic – Romantic comedies aren’t usually my thing and I’ve never seen Rebel Wilson in something I enjoyed so I wasn’t expecting to like this film when a friend picked it for a Netflix Party but I ended up LOVING it. I loved how it made fun of romantic comedies (as well as challenging the toxic elements that can appear in them); I thought Rebel Wilson was hilarious; the musical numbers were great; and it was just such a joyful, feel good film. I’ve watched it multiple films since my first viewing and it always cheers me up.
Ocean’s 8 – I really enjoyed this film. Probably more than the original trilogy. I loved all of the main characters and how different they all were and yet, they became this great team. I loved the dynamics between them, even if many of them weren’t given the time or opportunity to be properly fleshed out (it was a big cast so that’s not exactly surprising). There were so many awesome people in the cast, even the cameo parts. Helena Bonham Carter was brilliant and I adored both Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. They were gorgeous and hilarious and they had great chemistry; I wanted them to have their own spin off adventures, just the two of them. I’m not sure if I ship them in the conventional sense (as I know many people do) but there’s definitely a relationship there that would be really cool to see explored. Anyway. I loved the multiple twists and the comedy was right up my alley (most of the time – there were a few moments that made me cringe but that’s still quite impressive since comedy isn’t really my genre). And the ending was just perfect.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky – I love so many of the Studio Ghibli films and during lockdown, a group of friends and I watched a few of them. I hadn’t seen this one before and although it felt quite similar to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, in terms of themes and general storyline, I did really enjoy it. It follows a young girl and her friend in their attempts to keep a magic crystal safe from the power-hungry military and find a mythical floating castle. But the biggest thing for me was how beautiful it was: the design of the castle, the abandoned gardens with all the greenery growing freely, the big, glass rooms… it was just utterly stunning. It was definitely the most beautiful Studio Ghibli I’ve seen.
Fantasy Island – When a group of competition winners land on Fantasy Island, they are given the opportunity to have their greatest fantasy fulfilled. But slowly the fantasies start to spiral out of control, becoming much darker than originally intended. When they start to overlap, the group start to get suspicious that maybe these aren’t their fantasies at all, that they might be in the fantasy of someone else altogether. I was drawn in by the idea of fantasies being fulfilled and because I’m a fan of Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, and Michael Peña. It wasn’t a life-altering film but I enjoyed it and thought it threw out some interesting stuff about the things we fantasise about, whether they’d actually play out that way if they happened in real life, and who we’d be if they did happen. So, yeah, I felt like it was an afternoon well spent.
The Half of It – Solitary, introverted Ellie Chu lives in a small town, practically taking care of her widowed father and making extra money by writing homework assignments for her classmates. When the less than eloquent, dorky football player, Paul Munsky asks her to write a love letter for Aster Flores, a girl who goes to their school, she initially refuses, secretly in love with Aster herself. But when the power company threatens to cut off her house’s electricity, she accepts in order to make the payment. One letter turns into more and Ellie and Aster connect over their shared love of art and literature, although Aster believes it’s Paul she’s connecting with. Ellie and Paul also start to bond over the experience. I won’t say more than that because the story unfolds so beautifully that I don’t want to ruin it. It’s a funny, gentle, and “quietly revolutionary” (as I believe Rolling Stone described it) coming of age story. I’m sure there will be those who find it too whimsical or too Fault-In-Our-Stars-esque but there’s so much more too it than that. I loved it. I loved the characters and I loved the different relationships between them. I loved the ideas they discussed: about longing, about love, about art, about identity, about life… And the ending is perfect. Utterly perfect.
Official Secrets – This is a docu-drama based on Katharine Gunn, a GCHQ analyst, who leaked a confidential memo that exposed an illegal spying operation by American and British intelligence services to potentially blackmail members of the UN into voting for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It is eventually published but immediately discredited due to someone at the paper accidentally correcting American grammar to British grammar. Meanwhile an investigation is launched at GCHQ and eventually Katharine confesses to what she’s done. War breaks out in Iraq and Katharine seeks help from Liberty, an advocacy group which campaigns to challenge injustice, protect civil liberties and promote human rights. Even though this is about a historical event, I don’t want to give too much away because it’s a really fascinating film and I don’t want to ruin that experience if you’re not familiar with the events. It was a very strange experience to watch because I was alive at the time but far too young to be aware of the politics behind it all. I was aware of the war and went to the protest marches with my parents (so, somewhere, I’m potentially in the march footage that they used) but I didn’t know the details, like the story of Katharine Gunn. So it was a really interesting experience to watch it now and learning about what happened (I researched it more after finishing it) and putting that in the context of the few memories I do have of that time.
The Accountant – I have to admit that I didn’t like this film much, didn’t like how baldly stereotypical the portrayal of Autism was (as an autistic person, I found it so cringe-worthy that I could barely finish it) but there was a moment at the end that I thought was important and so I wanted to include it in this list. A family with an autistic son are being shown around a facility for people with Autism (not hospital or lab like at all though; more like this huge, beautiful country house) where some spend short periods and some live full time. The doctor says something that I think is really important, especially after such a traditional and unchallenging (and, in some ways, harmful) representation of Autism…
NEUROLOGIST: 1 in 68 children in [the US] are diagnosed with a form of Autism. But if you can put aside for a moment what your pediatrician and all the other NT’s have said about your son…
AUTISTIC BOY’S FATHER: ‘NT’s?
NEUROLOGIST: Neurotypicals. The rest of us. What if we’re wrong? What if we’ve been using the wrong tests to quantify intelligence in children with Autism? Your son’s not less than. He’s different. Now, your expectations for your son may change over time, they might include marriage, children, self-sufficiency. They might not. But I guarantee you, if we let the world set expectations for our children, they’ll start low, and they’ll stay there. And maybe… Just maybe… He doesn’t understand how to tell us. Or… we haven’t yet learned how to listen.
Searching – The really interesting thing about this film is how the viewer sees the story entirely through screens: homemade videos, computer screens, FaceTime, news footage, etc. It was really cool, but I can’t imagine that it would work again without feeling like a gimmick. Anyway, for this film, it was a really interesting way of telling the story, what could otherwise be a normal mystery film, albeit one full of unexpected twists. It follows David Kim’s search for his missing daughter, Margot, through which he learns that his daughter was going through much more than he’d realised after his wife and her mother’s death a few years (approximately) earlier. The police come up with multiple theories but continue to hit dead ends but David refuses to give up, leading to some confusing and shocking discoveries.
Enola Holmes – I was really excited for this film and I wasn’t disappointed; I really, really enjoyed it. I never quite got into Stranger Things but I did think Milly Bobby Brown was great from what I did see of it. I absolutely loved her in this role though: the incredibly smart, resourceful, and loyal younger sister of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. She had great, effortless chemistry with so many of the characters, including Sherlock himself, her mother (played beautifully and hilariously by Helena Bonham Carter), and the young Viscount Tewkesbury, whose story she accidentally falls into and becomes a part of whilst on her own quest. I loved the story, beginning when Enola’s mother mysteriously disappears, and I loved how it was constantly evolving, starting as one thing and then turning into another and then another. It felt really cohesive and flowed really well as a film: I loved the motifs that kept reappearing throughout, like the meanings of different flowers and Enola paying people to change clothes with her as just two examples. I also really loved how they broke the fourth wall with Enola speaking directly to the audience, looking right at the camera; I think it was a really effective storytelling technique. I really loved it and have watched it several times since my first viewing. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking film while still retaining that feel good factor that makes it so enjoyable to watch over and over again, especially when I’m having a bad day.
Legally Blonde – *Spoilers* It was good fun and I loved that it challenged societal norms: that we should fit in and conform, that others can tell you who you are and who you should be, that your interests determine your intelligence, your character, or your value… It was great to see a film with a demographic of (probably) mainly young girls, pushing back against these ideas. I loved how Elle used her own expertise to her advantage and how it allowed her to draw conclusions that the others wouldn’t have come to (although I’m not sure that her knowledge of fashion and style would win her many cases). I loved how accepting she was and how willing to forgive she was, with Vivian for example. I did struggle with some of the stereotypes portrayed, like gay men knowing fashion, the sleazy professor trying to sleep with his student, and so on but it was made almost twenty years ago; I have to hope that things are better now. Having said that, they did publicly out a gay man (technically they tricked him into outing himself but is it really any different if they were planning on that exact outcome?), which is beyond problematic. And then to have the whole thing treated as so hilarious and outrageous makes it seem like no big deal when it is. Outing someone is not only cruel but potentially dangerous. It’s not something to joke about. So as much as I enjoyed the rest of the film and appreciated the positive messages it focussed on, ultimately it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Close – Noomi Rapace as an action hero with a complicated backstory? Count me in. Close follows Sam, a highly experienced Close Protection Officer, who is assigned to protect Zoe, the young and entitled heiress, after her father’s sudden death when she and her stepmother travel to Morocco to secure the future of the family mining empire. But while there, the house is attacked in an attempt to kill Zoe and prevent her from becoming a powerful figure in the company. It seems that the stepmother is trying to eliminate her competition and ultimately it’s left to Sam to protect Zoe (and to an extent, teach her to protect herself) and both get them to safety and find out what’s really going on. While it might not be a life altering movie, I really enjoyed it. I love Noomi Rapace and thought she did an awesome job as Sam. I thought she brought a lot to what could’ve potentially been quite a one-dimensional role: she shows an incredible control, calm and quick-thinking under pressure, but she also has deeply emotional reactions to some of the events that happen throughout the film. Apparently she did all her own stunts and was trained by Jacquie Davis, the UK’s first female bodyguard, whom the character of Sam was actually based on. I just loved her as a character and the conflict she finds herself in protecting Zoe, even when it’s no longer her job. The relationship between them grows as they have to depend on each other and it’s messy and complicated but they ultimately develop genuine affection for each other, which is particularly heartwarming when both of them have had such a hard time trusting others. So, overall, a film I really enjoyed and a greatly appreciated ninety minutes of escapism.
Cheer – I wasn’t sure that this would be something I would enjoy but multiple people that I like and respect recommended it so I thought I’d give it a go and absolutely loved it from the first episode. I already had a hypothetical understanding of how physical and intense and skilled cheerleading is but to actually see it (and see the process of learning a routine, practicing it over and over, and then taking it to the biggest of competitions) gave me a completely new insight and respect for it, in a way that I don’t think I could’ve had had I only had that theoretical knowledge of it. I got so invested in so many of the team members (Morgan especially – I think I related to her the most and her journey had the biggest impact on me) and I finished almost every episode in tears because I was so moved by their stories and their passion and then where they had ended up when the series finished. It’s not an obvious choice for those without an interest in cheerleading or sports but I thought it was really, really good and highly recommend it.
Noughts + Crosses – I loved the books so I’ll admit I was worried that that would affect how I felt about the show or if the show would affect how I felt about the books. But they were quite different (Callum going to Police Training rather than Sephy’s school, Yaro’s appearance in the story, etc), which actually made the series much easier to sink into: I wasn’t constantly comparing them because the difference in the stories felt so significant. It wasn’t hard to love them both and feel emotional about how the events played out in each version. The show had a much darker vibe than the books but then, in the books, we see this society through the eyes of teenagers. However that’s not possible in television: we see the whole picture. Quite literally. We also see different plot lines from characters we saw very little of in the books as the story was told in first person, either from Sephy or Callum’s point of view.
As challenging and upsetting as many of the scenes were, there were so many things I loved about it as a show. I loved the casting and portrayal of the characters, especially when it came to Callum and Sephy. They had such great chemistry that their relationship felt so natural. The acting – all of the acting – was fantastic and you really felt the emotions of the characters as they went through them. I also thought the two families were portrayed so well; the dynamics were so complex, so layered and nuanced. I also loved how visually rich it was: even in the intentionally grim areas, like the industrial areas and the roof of Callum’s house, which I think is ultimately due to the incredible attention to detail that you don’t really get in the books. But in the show, you can really see the cultural influence in every aspect of life (stemming from an African Empire that colonised Europe hundreds of years prior): clothing styles, hair styles, architecture, interior design, advertising, language (slang, pleasantries, terms of endearment, etc), and so on.
I don’t know if I feel educated enough to make an assessment of the representation, especially considering the race reversal and the fact that certain things don’t line up with the present (in the UK at least, which is where it’s set), such as an inter-racial couple being arrested and the death penalty as a potential punishment. It’s not a straightforward comparison. But having said that, it does very effectively and powerfully highlight a multitude of issues around race and class. “Josh Lee [of The Guardian] gave the television series four out of five stars, describing it as a ‘reverse-race love story that is vital viewing.’ Lee praised the series for highlighting the challenges that working-class white people and people of colour share in the real world through its depiction of racism in an alternate world dominated by African supremacy.”
Criminal Minds (Season 15) – *SPOILERS* It feels so strange to me that this show is over. I started watching it in mid 2009, in the gap between seasons three and four and now it’s over. I can’t believe I’ve been watching this show for eleven years; that just seems so odd to me. Anyway. I must admit that I’ve been expecting someone to pull the plug on Criminal Minds for a while now. I’m not convinced it’s been consistently good since season seven, although there have been good episodes and story arcs since then; it just felt like they were running out of ideas, reusing old stories and villains, or using ideas that in earlier seasons they would’ve considered too ridiculous or traumatising to make episodes out of. I was endlessly happy to have Emily Prentiss back and that’s ultimately what got me back into the show when I was losing interest, especially with her in the position of Unit Chief; I feel like that was a very natural arc and development of here character. Anyway, back to season fifteen. I hated the cliffhanger to season fourteen and was very relieved to see JJ and Reid recover their friendship and I really liked Reid’s relationship with Max; she seemed like a good fit for him. I wasn’t particularly drawn in by any of the episodes, story wise, and I found Everett Lynch to be a pretty uninteresting nemesis, certainly nothing compared to George Foyet or Ian Doyle. But I liked the more character focussed moments throughout the season. The show was obviously coming to a conclusion and they were muddying the waters of who would be leaving the team, creating new paths for multiple characters. While I would’ve loved to see Emily as FBI Director (not exactly likely given all of the trouble the BAU cause), I think it was fitting that Garcia was the one to leave. She struggled with the darkness of it all and going to work for a non-profit seems like something that would’ve been a really positive place for her to be. As much as I was ready for the show to be over, I found those last few minutes really heartbreaking and I definitely cried when she waved them off, everyone aware that she wouldn’t be there when they got back.
Little Fires Everywhere – As soon as I saw the trailer for this show, I wanted to watch it. The mini series begins with Elena Richardson (played by Reese Witherspoon) watching as her big, beautiful home burns down in front of her and I was instantly invested. We jump back four months and the rest of the series is devoted to finding out what led up to that moment. Set in the late 1990s in the midwest town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, two very different families collide: the Richardson family are privileged, wealthy, and white, while the Warren family are transient, artistic, black, and rarely have money to spare. The children become friends, Pearl Warren drawn to the stability of the Richardson home and developing a crush on the oldest son, Trip, while Izzy Richardson identifies with Pearl’s mother, Mia Warren (played by Kerry Washington), as an artist and outsider. Their relationships bring the mothers closer together with disastrous consequences for all. It’s hard to describe the show without giving anything away, which I don’t really want to do with this one; the show does a much better job than I will. I’m still hoping to read the book but something that I found really interesting was that the author had pictured the Warrens as people of colour because she wanted to talk about how intertwined race and class are but hadn’t felt like she was the right person, as an Asian-American, to talk about a black woman’s experience. But then, when Kerry Washington joined the cast and became an executive producer, the showrunner decided to bring race to the forefront of the story and filled the writer’s room “with creatives who could relate to Mia’s kind of Blackness,” a decision the author was happy with. (x) It was also really interesting to watch how the characters developed and changed due to these relationships and how that affected you, as the person watching, and your feelings about the characters. Everyone I’ve talked to about the show has said the same, that their favourite characters at the beginning of the show weren’t the same as their favourites by the end. But overall, I loved Izzy and I particularly loved the scenes between Izzy and Mia. I thought they were particularly powerful. Having said that, the series is packed with incredibly powerful moments.
Absentia (Seasons 1-3) – Six years after disappearing on the hunt for a serial killer, having been assumed dead, FBI Emily Byrne is found in a cabin in the woods, barely alive and with almost no memory of the years she was missing. Recovering in hospital, she learns that her husband has remarried and that he and his new wife are raising her son. Her former colleagues at the FBI investigate her disappearance again but when they start to find evidence that Emily may have faked her abduction, Emily launches her own investigation and it becomes a race. Will Emily find out the truth before the FBI reach the end of the path they’re being led down? I loved this show. It’s one of my favourites of the year and I may very well rewatch it over the Christmas holidays. I just fell in love with the character of Emily Byrne (played by Stana Katic) – she’s a really well developed character and a total badass – and I was just blown away by how the show portrayed the trauma of what had happened to her, consistently and realistically and with the gravitas it deserved. I also thought it was great that they explored the psychological effects that her disappearance had had on her family and her relationships and how, even though they were incredibly grateful to have her back, their previous issues and their issues stemming from her disappearance didn’t go away and had to be dealt with. So there was a lot of interesting character development throughout the whole show, not just the first season. Fair warning, there’s some serious violence so if that’s not your thing, then you won’t enjoy this. But it’s an incredible psychological-thriller-mystery-drama with great characters. And while I don’t want to talk about the later seasons because that would give away the end of Season 1, I do want to shout out the introduction of the character of Cal Isaac. He’s a really interesting character and I really liked him straight away. The development of his relationship with Emily is done really well too. Anyway, I’m gonna stop here. It’s great. I love it. I can’t wait to watch it again.
Broadchurch (Series 1-3) – Broadchurch follows the partnership of the mysterious and grumpy DI Alec Hardy (played by David Tennant) and the bright and cheerful DS Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman) as they attempt to solve cases (one per series) in the small, seaside town of Broadchurch. It was incredibly gripping and the cliffhangers at the end of each episode were almost unbearable. We watched all three series very quickly because we kept finding ourselves watching almost a whole series in one night. Looking back at it though, I’m not sure I could rewatch it: the stories were so painful and emotional that I’m not sure I could bear to, although I guess that’s a testament to how fantastic the acting is. But I absolutely adored Hardy and Ellie’s relationship; the contrast between their personalities was utterly hilarious but their shared commitment to the job and finding the truth made them a remarkable, if unusual, pair.
Agents of Shield (Season 7) – *SPOILERS* I was so upset when I learnt that this year’s season was going to be the last (I legitimately called my Mum in tears when I heard the news) but if there had to be a last, this was the best possible last. It was just incredible, from start to finish. I was a bit wary about it, with the previous season ending with them in the past but then, as they moved towards the present, episode by episode, I really got into it and I loved watching the new timeline develop, story by story. Every episode was excellent but a handful of them were real standouts, not just of the season but of the whole show (7×09 is probably my absolute favourite episode). I loved the references to previous seasons and I loved seeing old characters return as we got closer to the present. I also loved the development of the characters: Coulson, May, and Yoyo all had particularly interesting journeys that I found myself very invested in. And of course, I loved Daisy’s storyline throughout the season. I wasn’t sure a love interest was a good move but they handled it so intuitively that the way it played out felt very natural. And I loved the return to her earlier focus on family and where she came from and what that meant for who she ended up becoming. She was already a powerful figure (powers aside) but she really came into herself in this season and I wouldn’t have thought I could love her more but I did. But then Daisy Johnson is my hero and I will love her forever. I also loved that she was the voice of the audience in the sense of her grief over the team’s story ending; that felt really important and special. And despite it being the end. I loved the ending. It was just absolutely perfect. I sobbed through the last few episodes because it was so powerful and so emotional. A part of me will always want more but I don’t think they could have created a better ending. So I’ll be grateful for what an amazing seven seasons and for all the show has given me. I think it’ll probably be important to me for the rest of my life.
The Fix – I was so happy to have Robin Tunney back on my screen, especially as a main character. I thought her acting, especially when it came to the emotions she was experiencing (or when she had to shut off those emotions), was fantastic. I really enjoyed that the series followed one legal case, allowing the show to really delve into the details and the relationships between all of the characters, as well as side stories that fleshed out the bigger picture. It might not reinvent the wheel but I really did enjoy it and as I said, it was such a delight to see Robin Tunney again, especially in such a beautiful nuanced and complex role.
Lucifer (Season 5: Part 1) – *Spoilers* I love Lucifer and this season certainly didn’t disappoint. I love how much work goes into evolving the characters and their own personal journeys. No one in the ensemble feels like a side character; they’re all beautifully fleshed out, more and more as time goes on. I also thought there were some really great storylines in this season. Michael’s introduction was certainly interesting, although I was glad when he was outed as Michael and not Lucifer so quickly as the idea of Chloe starting a relationship with him, thinking he was Lucifer, made me feel seriously uncomfortable. Both Maze and Dan have really powerful storylines and I felt for them so deeply, even though I hadn’t initially liked Dan. I just wanted to hug Maze the whole time. I also thought the ongoing story of Ella and her boyfriend was a really cool addition. But with so many storylines going on at once, I never felt like the show was unbalanced or that any of stories were treated as filler. And yet it never felt too busy.
There were so many amazing scenes but there were a few that really topped the list. One of them was in the first episode when Maze destroys Lucifer’s piano because she feels so hurt and so angry that Lucifer abandoned her for Hell. Lesley-Ann Brandt’s acting is just incredible; I swear I could feel everything she was feeling. And I’m also really freaking curious how the show made the scene possible, what they did to make it possible for her to tear a piano into pieces. My other favourite is the final fight scene, in episode eight. The choreography is awesome and the special effects, particularly Maze throwing Lucifer through a glass wall while time is frozen, are stunning. The glass seems to hang rather than falling to the floor but they can still sweep it aside. It’s beautiful.
And that cliffhanger. Oh my god.
Away – *Spoilers* This is a ten episode season about a group of astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars. I’m a sucker for anything about space and I’ve always really liked Hilary Swank so I was excited when it popped up on Netflix one day. I felt like it started a little awkwardly but I thought the cast were fantastic and I loved the characters, especially the astronauts. I found them all really interesting and complex and I loved seeing how their lives had lead them to that point and I loved the relationships between them, as a group and in the various combinations. I don’t know if that many disasters is realistic or not but I think they conveyed the emotions of the characters really well. I was crying by the end of every episode, if not before. My favourite part without a doubt was the end when, in the last episode, they land on Mars and everything that’s been building through the show (the relationships between the astronauts, their evolving emotions about the mission, the complicated concept of duty, their relationships with their friends and family on Earth) all come to a head. It’s a stunning end and I was just sobbing. Even my Mum, who’d only seen snatches of it as she came and went, found it emotional.
Dare Me – *SPOILERS* I’ve been finding this one really difficult to write about, I think because there are so many layers to the story and the relationships between the characters are so complicated. The story follows best friends, Beth and Addy, who’ve been inseparable for years until the new cheerleading coach Colette French arrives, removing Beth’s captainship and completely shaking up the team. Beth, a wild and reckless but ultimately lonely girl, distrusts her immediately while Addy, the loyal follower and peacekeeper, becomes more and more infatuated by Coach French, something that drives a wedge between the two friends. The storyline requires some suspension of disbelief (I doubt a real cheerleading coach would encourage parties and underage drinking in her own home but then, given that she’s bringing positive attention to the cheerleaders and therefore the pretty fucked up little town they’re living in, who knows…) but it’s definitely a wild ride from beginning to end. When I first finished it, I thought, “okay, cool, that was interesting,” but a week later, I realised that I was still thinking about it a lot, especially about the characters and their relationships. They were so complex and intriguing. I was fascinated. I even ended up writing a song based on the show.
The Queen’s Gambit – *Spoilers* I know a lot of people found this show really gripping right from the start but it was more of a slow burn for me. I don’t think I absolutely fell for it until the last episode. Like an elastic band being pulled, it was almost like I got more and more frustrated with the show and then all of that tension was released in the final episode when I felt it all come together. I loved every second of that episode: her friends coming together to help her with her strategy, her win against Borgov and his grace over her victory, all of her people supporting and celebrating her, and then it ending with her walking the Russian park with all of the old men playing chess and how excited they were to meet her and honoured to play with her. It was fantastic. I do have my criticisms of it as a show but that final episode especially was so powerful that ultimately my experience of it was positive.
The Split (Series 2) – I started watching this back at the beginning of the year but then the pandemic derailed everything and I forgot about it. But recently I found it on BBC iPlayer and had to finish it. I love Nicola Walker and while the whole cast was great, she just delivered incredible performance after incredible performance. The dual storylines of the legal case her character, Hannah, was working and the difficulties in her personal life were balanced beautifully and they informed each other in a powerful but still realistic way. I loved Series 1 but this series really upped the emotional intensity and Nicola Walker’s acting – the subtlety of the emotional spiral – as the pressure mounted and her life started coming apart around her was just breathtaking. And even though she wasn’t innocent, she also wasn’t the only guilty party and the complexity of the story, the emotions experienced, and the relationships between the characters felt very true to life. The pain that Hannah was going through by the end was completely and utterly heartbreaking and the final episodes had me in floods of tears. I just wanted to hug her. It was an absolute masterclass in acting and I only love Nicola Walker more after watching it. I really, really hope there’s another series and I can’t wait to have her back on my screen, whether in a third series or when Series 4 of Unforgotten airs. She’s fantastic in that too.
Little Voice – I didn’t watch this straight away; the idea of watching a TV show about a struggling singersongwriter felt a little too close to home when I was already struggling with my mental health. And the likelihood that it would probably have a really positive ending for her, music wise, just felt like more than I could handle. So I kept it on my ‘To Watch’ list; I mean, it was co-created by Sara Bareilles so I knew that, in the right frame of mind, I’d really enjoy it. But after hearing Sara’s album of the songs in the show and falling in love with so many of them, I had to watch it. And I did, I really did enjoy it.
*SPOILERS* I got really invested in lots of the characters, especially Bess, Prisha, and Samuel, and I loved the relationships between all of the characters; they all felt really different and natural, based on the characters personalities and experiences together. I especially loved Bess’ relationship with the other characters, particularly with her father, her brother, Prisha, Samuel, Benny, her boss at the bar, one of the elderly women at the senior centre she also works in, and so on. I felt like she had a really special way to connect with people. There were some really touching moments – watching Bess write songs, the first time she performs and it goes well, Bess and Ethan’s conversation about hope, etc – but then there were a handful of moments that made me cringe with secondhand embarrassment – Bess’ early stage banter, watching her father rant during her first studio experience, etc. Overall, it was a positive experience but when I cringed, I really cringed.
It was great to see such a diverse cast and for the show to have a disabled character who’s disability wasn’t brushed aside but also wasn’t his only character trait; he was pretty well developed (considering how many characters there were) with his own storyline, involving his relationship with Bess, his love of musical theatre, and his journey to be more independent, to which he had both positive and negative reactions. There were also some very relatable music industry experiences, like producers trying to mould a song to their own vision or telling you what you want to hear, industry people saying good things and then telling you all of the reasons why they can’t work with you, people making promises that never come to anything, and so on. I haven’t experienced all of these situations but I’ve definitely experienced some of them.
My only real issue with it was that I felt like there was just too much going on, too many storylines that ended up not getting the time they deserved. I loved so many of them that I don’t know which ones I would’ve cut but it was too much for nine episodes and what could’ve been really beautifully developed stories ended up being glossed over. I don’t want to say any more because I don’t want to totally ruin it but I would recommend it if you have Apple TV+. I loved the music and I loved how well it matched the story and the characters. Oh, and I loved Sara Bareilles’ cameo and how Bess and Louis fangirled over meeting her.
His Dark Materials (Series 2) – *SPOILERS* I loved series 1 so I was really, really excited for series 2 of His Dark Materials. I don’t want to give too much away since it’s literally just finished and so a lot of people may not have seen it yet but I thought it was excellent and looked forward to it every week. I thought the city in the ‘middle world,’ Cittàgazze, was really intriguing and so beautiful. And it was very cool to see characters from Lyra’s world in Will’s world (which I believe is also our, the reader’s, world?) and how they tried to fit in. Sometimes the jumps between worlds was a bit confusing or jarring but I loved how some elements matched up beautifully and how some were in such stark contrast. And that was just background as it was the strength of the characters and their relationships that really drove the show. I thought the chemistry between Lyra and Will (and Pan, of course) was great and I loved their friendship; even with only seven episodes to the series, we really saw it grow and develop as they got to know and trust each other. I also really liked Mary Malone and her relationship with Lyra (and the scenes with Lyra and Mary’s machine were incredible). As much as I love Lyra (Dafne Keen really was the perfect choice), I couldn’t help but be absolutely blown away by Ruth Wilson in every episode. Her performances as Marisa Coulter are just awesome. She’s such a complicated character (I’m desperate to understand how she can do what she can do and why her relationship with her dæmon is so different to everyone else’s: why he doesn’t speak, why she’s so cruel to him, how they can be so far apart – something that does seem to distress him but not her – and so on) and Ruth Wilson does such an amazing job playing her. I admit that a part of me was waiting throughout each episode for the moment where we saw how awesome she is, because there was one in pretty much all, if not all, of the episodes: her interrogation of Lee Scoresby (and the painful moment with her dæmon afterwards), the moment when Lyra sets Pan on her dæmon but she is able to fight off the affects – that whole scene is amazing, not to mention intriguing – her ability to control the spectres, the moment where she almost turns on her own dæmon… She’s a force of nature. I’m kind of obsessed with her because she’s such a fascinating character. I did feel like the end was quite rushed: they spent most of the series looking for Will’s father and then he’s just suddenly there, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the pandemic had played a part in that. It just felt like it was suddenly over and I was completely unprepared for that. I have just seen that it’s been renewed for the third and final series so I’m really looking forward to that, whenever it may come. This team and this cast have done such an incredible job with these stories so I’m really glad that they’ll be able to finish them.
Miss Americana – I don’t know if I can sum up this documentary in just a paragraph or two but, between them, Taylor Swift and Lana Wilson created a beautifully honest and emotionally revealing documentary about Taylor’s life so far, the period of transformation she had found herself in, and what she wanted for her future. It shows footage and discusses the history and the fall out of everything with Kanye and the infamous phone call in 2016 (the full recording of which has since been revealed, proving that Taylor was telling the truth all along), the toxicity of social media and how the response to Kanye’s attacks on her continue to affect her, addressing her need to please and how damaging that had become, the harrowing experience of the sexual assault trial, her body image issues and eating disorder, the making of reputation, the reputation tour, her mother’s cancer, beginning to voice her political opinions and arguing with her father and management team about it, the making and release of Lover, the writing of ‘Only The Young,’ and basically her journey of growing as a person. There’s a lot in there and it was a real eye-opening experience, even for someone who considers themselves an avid Taylor fan. I loved her even more than I already did for putting out this documentary and deliberately including details that she knew would help people, like her previously unknown struggles with her body image and the experience of her sexual assault trial. She didn’t have to discuss these things but she did because she knew that there would be people who needed to hear her talk about it. I admire her so much for that. I would highly recommend watching it, fan or not.
City of Lover Concert (Taylor Swift Show) – I was gutted that I couldn’t be at this show when it happened so I was really excited that Taylor was putting it on Disney+. It wasn’t the same and the flow of it felt quite jerky as they had to cut around the songs caught up in the Masters situation (she can perform them but they can’t be recorded and distributed in a film like this one) but it was still really cool and a lovely tribute to the Lover album since we didn’t get a tour for the album (and probably never will since the release of folklore and evermore). You can feel the joy radiating off Taylor as she performed the then new songs and it’s hard not to smile, watching her do this thing that she loves so much. I still wish I could’ve been there for the actual show but I’m so grateful that we got this, especially with the pandemic and the resulting loss of live music.
Hamilton – I’d been planning to see the show in London but then the pandemic hit and obviously that plan was scuppered but then it went up on Disney+ just as my phone contract offered me a free subscription. The timing was beautiful. From the first note, I was absolutely entranced. I loved it. I loved the music, the acting, the set, how the actors interacted with the set… everything. I’ve watched it over and over and read so many articles explaining different aspects of it because I just find the whole production so fascinating. And as both a songwriter and a songwriting nerd, my mind was just exploding. It really is mind-blowing work and I’m sure there are still things I’m missing because it’s so clever and so layered. I could talk about the music for hours but I won’t, I promise. So, yeah, I found it really inspiring as a writer (and I did actually attempt to write a song in the style of it although I’m not sure it’ll ever see the light of day). It was amazing and I love it. I love it more every time I watch it.
folklore: long pond studio sessions – I loved this so much. I love Taylor Swift and I love the folklore album and in a time where we can’t have real concerts, I so appreciated that this film gave us the next best thing. The studio was gorgeous (I would love somewhere like that to write and record music one day) and the performances were stunning; Taylor’s vocals in particular were just breathtaking. She can convey so much emotion just through her eyes and I found watching the film a really emotional moving experience. I also loved getting to learn more about the songs, what they were about, the context in which they were written, and so on. We’ve been speculating and theorising for so long that it was so satisfying to find out where fans had guessed right and get some insight into the ones where we’d been so confused (‘hoax,’ for example). And the whole thing is so beautiful and intimate. It was just so good and I knew from the first watch that I’d be watching it over and over again.
So I hope that was of some interest and that you’re maybe even leaving with a few new things to read or watch. I’m quite proud of how many new things I discovered this year, after being stuck in a rut of just rewatching the same things. I definitely want to continue this approach into next year, although hopefully it will include more books. As I said, I just haven’t been able to concentrate enough to get into a novel. But having said that, I feel really good about pushing myself out of my comfort zone, exploring genres I don’t generally favour, and expanding my creative brain by filling it with new stories, new characters, and new ideas. So I’m proud of this list and I’m excited for the new discoveries that 2021 will bring.
Category: book, covid-19 pandemic, emotions, favourites, music, quotes Tagged: absentia, agents of shield, autism, autism awareness, away, book, broadchurch, castle in the sky, charlie mackesy, cheer, chloe bennet, city of lover concert, close, criminal minds, daisy johnson, dare me, documentaries, enola holmes, fantasy island, favourites, film, folklore: the long pond studio sessions, hamilton, his dark materials, i would leave me if i could, isn't it romantic, laputa: castle in the sky, legally blonde, little fires everywhere, little voice, lucifer, milly bobby brown, miss americana, musical, new, nicola walker, noomi rapace, noughts + crosses, ocean's 8, official secrets, poetry, review, rewatching, ruth wilson, sara bareilles, searching, spoilers, stana katic, taylor swift, the accountant, the boy the mole the fox and the horse, the fix, the half of it, the queen's gambit, the split, tv show, university reading, what happened to monday
Posted on January 18, 2020
Now that I’ve finished my assessments, I thought it might be an interesting idea to sit down and write about my experience of the first semester of my Masters Degree. Because I’m doing it part time (mainly to protect my mental health), I’m only doing one module rather than two, which is what the full-timers do. The module I did was called ‘Creative Process’ and it was four hours of uni time, a two hour seminar where we talked about different areas of the creative process and then a two hour workshop where we played the songs we’d written based on the ideas and concepts we’d talked about the week before. It was a really interesting module and I wish my mental health had been better so that I could’ve focussed and enjoyed it more.
I feel really lucky when it came to my group and my tutor.
My group was only about nine people (when the other groups were much larger as far as I know) and they were all absolutely lovely. We were all really different, both musically and life experience wise (but I guess that’s what happens when you get to Masters level), which was really interesting when it came to writing and socialising and… just everything. It was a completely new experience and one that I’m really grateful for. Up until now, I’ve mostly been surrounded by people my own age with similar experiences.
Everyone was so, so good, all in their own way. They all had their own style (some had particularly beautiful musical signatures, some wrote from interesting perspectives with thoughtful lyrics, and so on) and it was so interesting and exciting to see how they developed over the semester. We were and I know will continue to be so supportive of each other’s music and development as songwriters. It always felt safe to bring in something I felt unsure or insecure about and the feedback was always constructive and because the person wanted you to get better; I never once felt like someone was being mean or looking down on me. It was such a supportive atmosphere and I’m so grateful because I think that was a huge part of what helped me to grow so much as a writer.
I made two really good friends in particular, both of whom I’m still in the same group with to my absolute delight. They’re truly beautiful souls. One of them, Luce Barka, wrote this amazing song during the semester and has said she’s happy for me to share it with you guys. I really, really recommend it…
I also had a fantastic tutor, Isobel. She’s a really cool, independent singersongwriter, which I think made her an especially good teacher because she’s very immersed in the industry we’re all trying to get into, in her own, distinctive way. She’s also dealt with serious health problems (which she has talked about publicly so I’m not breaking her confidence or anything) so I felt like she was a really good tutor, especially for me. She understood, or had a kind of understanding, of what I deal with. She was a really, really great tutor, in discussions and when giving and guiding feedback. But for me personally – and this is my blog after all – she was incredible when it came to helping me manage the course against all of my issues. When my anxiety was overwhelming, she helped me adjust the tasks to make them easier while still allowing me to do the task and learn the skills. I am massively appreciative of how accommodating and generous and kind she was, even before she received the Student Support Agreement (the document with all my information and recommendations).
Anyway, she was amazing. I learned so much, obviously from the course but also from the way she delivered it and the feedback she gave me. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a writer and I feel like she’s a really big part of that. Plus, I’ve never had a teacher who was so understanding, who helped without hesitation, with just my word to guide her. I can’t properly express how much I appreciate that. It’s never happened to me before and it felt so wonderful to be treated as if it was something you just do, rather than being made to feel like a burden or an obstacle to be manoeuvred. So, as much as I learned (and I learned a lot), that is what I’m most grateful for and one of the things that I will always remember about this semester.
The first few weeks were really, really tough. After my massive meltdown in Victoria station, I was having meltdowns every day (as I wrote about here), which was having a big impact on my mental and emotional health, also leaving me physically exhausted. That significant meltdown was triggered by an email from the Disability Coordinator (who was also an Autism Specialist), suggesting a very last minute change of plan for our scheduled meeting which still leaves me bewildered. As an autistic person, sudden changes of plan are known to be highly problematic. That, plus my existing anxiety, caused a massive meltdown that took a very long time to recover from. And it left me feeling less than confident in her ability to support me even though we had had a positive first meeting and I had left feeling cautiously optimistic that this time it might be different. It then didn’t improve as actions promised at that meeting didn’t get done, leading to more meltdowns. So that was a real complication and painful part of the semester.
Having said all of that, I loved the classes. We learned about songcraft, collaborating, imposter syndrome, professional practice, perfectionism, and so much more. It was fascinating and fun and the briefs, while often stressful (with only a week to write the song), were interesting and challenging. I wrote some songs that I’m really proud of and I feel like my songwriting grew a lot because the briefs were challenging.
We watched this video in one of the classes and I thought it was really good so I thought I’d share it:
I loved it – loved getting better at songwriting – even the bits that pushed me and made me feel uncomfortable.
However, out of class was another matter. We were expected to do research that would later become the foundations of our assessment essay and presentation. Except whenever I asked, they wouldn’t tell me what the assessment entailed and just said it was ‘self directed learning’ so I didn’t know what I was actually researching, which caused me terrible anxiety. I created a reading list of books, articles, and interviews about creativity and songwriting but as hard as I tried to do the work, my OCD – my need to write everything down – battled against it. And usually won. So if I wasn’t writing, I was reading. I had no downtime. I was constantly anxious, like, end-of-the-world-anxious. And I felt like I was failing.
They explained the essay and presentation in the last couple of weeks but I still didn’t really understand. The language was complicated and vague and while I understood the general idea, the grading criteria was pretty ambiguous. I didn’t know what I had to do specifically to get good grades. I need clarity. It was incredibly stressful.
It took a couple of last minute meetings with my module leader to really understand what was expected of me but I was now facing a myriad of problems. The research I had been doing had little relevance to the subject I was writing about so I’d have to redo all of that, as well as actually write the essay and prepare the presentation. Plus we were in the final two weeks of the semester and the university would soon be closed for the Christmas holidays so I would have no way of contacting anyone for any support. I was wound so tight I felt like my spine might snap. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’m really grateful for those meetings but I just wish the assessment had been clearer earlier in the module so the research I was doing could’ve been more focussed. With all the problems associated with Autism, like chronic fatigue and chronic pain, time is something I have to be incredibly thoughtful about.
I worked every day of the entire holiday (apart from Christmas Day, which I spent with my family – something I don’t often get to do) but the assessments were always in my head so I felt like I couldn’t take a break or have any time to rest and recharge. I still didn’t feel sure that I was doing it right but still, I worked hard on it and gave it everything I had. I finished both the essay and the presentation with time to spare, allowing myself time to redraft and prepare, giving myself the best chance of doing well. I submitted the essay, despite big technical problems with the system, and I did my presentation to the best of my ability, despite finding presentations incredibly difficult. Now I just have to wait for the marks.
Now, having run through the whole semester (and having reflected a lot on the difficulties), I just wanted to share a couple of specific, positive experiences:
Overall, it was a very mixed bag. The good moments were great and made me feel amazing. I got a lot out of it. But I spent a lot – A LOT – of the semester in crippling anxiety and I had a lot of meltdowns. It was fucking hard. And the marks haven’t even come back yet. I’m terrified that I’ve done horribly. But I’m trying not to think about it. I’m just trying to get through this new semester. Which may be even more stressful than the last.
Category: holidays, mental health, music, ocd, university, video Tagged: anxiety, asd, assessment, assessments, autism, autism spectrum disorder, autistic, christmas, christmas holiday, creative process, elizabeth gilbert, essay, first semester, i'm with you, luce barka, masters degree, masters degree in songwriting, meltdown, meltdowns, mental illness, perfectionism, presentation, research, review, semester, songcraft, songwriters, songwriting, student support agreement, tedtalk, tutor
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.