Posted in Entertainment, Television

Why I love and hate “The 100”: THE WRITING

WARNING: Major spoilers for Season 1 of “The 100” ahead

As I said last time, I like watching this show. It takes a lot for me to commit to a TV show and I watched this show’s entire first season with nary a complaint. With few complaints. With a moderate amount of complaints. I LIKED IT, I SWEAR.

Just as a comparison, there are plenty of “guilty pleasure” shows (“Parks and Recreation,” “10th Kingdom”) and critically-acclaimed shows (“Attack on Titan,” “Skins,” “Misfits”) that I haven’t been able to get into. This show held my attention for 13 45-minute episodes thanks to its excellent writing. That’s saying something.

Since we are talking about the writing today, let’s get the bad parts out of the way.

THE WRITING
Bad: Oh goodness. I’ve already talked major smack about the first three episodes and now I can talk about why I hated them. My biggest beef was with the dialogue. I could predict what each character would say before they said it; I’m sure my neighbors loved hearing me spout cheesy schlock to my TV only for my TV to repeat it back. My accuracy was at least 95%.

I talked about this in more detail, so I’ll only briefly mention some of the “good guys” the writers have failed to humanize. I knew I was supposed to hate Bellamy, Kane, and Murphy–and I did–but Abby, Clarke, and Finn didn’t provide much of a contrast. It became a game of “Which Side Do I Hate the Least?” That can work when ambiguity is intentional; not so much in a show that–at least in the beginning–has clear good guys and bad guys. Once episode three rolled around, however…

Good: It takes a lot to surprise me. I typically see through “subtle” foreshadowing, I eat spoilers for breakfast, and the show’s clumsy attempts at shock were less than impressive.

Yawn.

I knew Wells’ tensions with Murphy and Bellamy would eventually come to a head, especially after Wells beat up Murphy.

Then Wells was killed by a little girl and I had never been angrier.

I get suspicious when a character dies. I’ve cried–or cheered–over character deaths, only for said character(s) to return with some implausible explanation.

When Wells died, I waited. He couldn’t really be dead. Yes, I’d watched him bleed out while Charlotte delivered a terrible monologue. Sure, his severed fingers were laying on the ground. Okay, people don’t generally recover from fatal stab wounds. This was different, though. Surely, if I watched the next episode, Wells would be okay.

At the VERY START of the next episode, Clarke and Finn visited Wells’ grave. The writers didn’t include the part where the others found his body and dug a grave because they didn’t need to – WELLS WAS FOR SURE DEAD.

I have to admire “The 100” for killing off a main character. So far, the writers haven’t said, “Just kidding!” and brought him back. Killing Wells showed they mean business, and I respect that.

With Wells dead, however, there was one less reason for me to watch the show. I was still rooting for the kids to die and, to be honest, the premise was kind of silly. The show responded to my skepticism by providing all sorts of interesting relational conflict.

There are certain kinds of conflicts I can’t watch (e.g., father-child conflicts), but there are other types I find compelling. “The 100” unleashed brother-sister conflict, mother-daughter conflict, threw in some ship tease, and served up a delicious emotionally-distressing cocktail. And all this conflict lead to character development–finally! Octavia’s friction with Bellamy made her less of an annoying twit once her background was shown. Bellamy’s guilt came back to haunt him, making room for a friendship–and possibly more–with Clarke. Clarke’s likeability increased when she confronted her terrible mom for killing her dad.

One of these people I sympathize with. The other is a murderer.

The show’s greatest strength is its characters’ struggles. Every time I roll my eyes and tell myself I’m going to stop watching, I get sucked in by a redemption arc or an ethical dilemma.

Hmm…to torture or not to torture? 

Speaking of, the torture scene led to my FAVORITE kind of relational conflict: sexual tension.

Hoo boy.

Next post: THE ROMANCE

Posted in Books

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: “You’re lucky you didn’t try to kiss me.”

Strong female protagonists are great. Sometimes.

There is a glut of female protagonists who are skilled in the fighting arts. On one hand, great; you go, girls, proving those fools who think women are weak wrong.

On the other hand, this characterization limits “strength” to physical strength. The “strong” in “strong female character” doesn’t have to be literal, and having strong=powerful can result in a weak character if that’s all that makes your character interesting.

In Eyes of War, this fight scene comes out of nowhere. In terms of story, it serves little purpose and feels more like wish-fulfillment. I tried to do it justice with my sporadic Southern accent.

Posted in Entertainment, Television

MAKE-YOU-CRY MONDAY: Oz and Willow

Shoot.

There are some memories attached to today’s post.

While not the biggest fan, for a while I was pretty into “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” My friend Erica and I would buy Haagen-Dazs, huddle in her dorm, and blitz through entire seasons of “Buffy” on days when we were tired of school.

I tend to like side characters more than the protagonist, which is especially true of “Buffy” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Seriously, Ted. No one cares about your problems.

Uuuuuuggggghhhhh…

Even though Buffy got on my nerves, I enjoyed watching Xander, Willow, and Giles and tried to imagine a show where they had wacky adventures while Buffy sat at home being terrible and making bad choices. I had reservations when Seth Green joined the “Buffy” cast. I hadn’t seen him pull off “monosyllabic musician.” I was 19! I didn’t know better!

Oz quickly became my favorite part of the show. When Oz and Willow fell in love, I couldn’t handle it. When people talk relationship goals, they always mention Chandler and Monica or Lilly and Marshall. For me, it was Oz and Willow.

That is, until they broke up.

“Broke up” doesn’t quite cover it. Oz cheated on Willow with a rogue werewolf, got caught by Willow, murdered said werewolf when she tried to kill Willow, then decided to skip town.

I tried–and failed–to explain the above to my then-boyfriend without crying. Three years later, I’m still having a hard time. Oz was such a great boyfriend. He and Willow were great together. It hurt to watch him screw up his relationship and know it couldn’t be fixed.

“Oz, don’t you love me?”
“My whole life I’ve never loved anything else.”

Need cheering up?
Yikes. How to follow that up? Quick, internet, find me something funny!

Close enough.

Posted in Computer games, Dating simulators

HIGH SCHOOL DREAMS: Benny B

This week’s been a bit rough – I’m finishing up a senior thesis, recently presented at an undergraduate symposium, and have emigrated for the weekend for my brother’s wedding.

The rehearsal dinner just wrapped up and I have about 17 hours of free time until the big day, so I thought I’d take a break from terrible prose, heartbreaking videos, and addicting TV shows to catch up on my favorite dating sim.

Benny

Benny B

Stereotype: Bad boy/class clown

All the stuff I mentioned earlier? While true, the real reason I haven’t posted is because of Benny. I’m not sure what to say about him. It’s been a couple weeks since his playthrough and I still don’t know what to say.

AAAAAAAAAAAH!!

All of the confusing things about Benny can be summed up in his looks. At certain angles, he is legitimately terrifying. At others, he’s not bad-looking, but I’m still confused. Where did they find such a swarthy redhead? Is he a pirate? WHAT IS HAPPENING?

Benny’s personality is similar to that of Fred and George Weasley. Excuse me, just George Weasley. Fred is dead.

I can dig the slacker/class clown vibe to an extent. If a character falls on the class clown side of that equation, I find him enjoyable. Benny straddles the line between the two; a wise move on the game developers’ parts, as so often I find “laid-back” types unpleasant, if not repulsive.

What’s weird, though, is how the other characters react to Benny. I can understand why some people might have reservations about the player character dating a known “troublemaker.” What I don’t get are the implications that Benny is dangerous.

Is this a modern-day retelling of "Rebel Without a Cause"?
“YOU’RE TEARING ME APART!”

Benny is harmless. His worst pranks involve wearing bibs, stealing pants, and…okay, he does blow up all the school’s water fountains. And the player character helps him do it. That didn’t hit me until now.

One thing I can appreciate about Benny is that he is open about his regard for the player character. Really open. As in bordering on sexual harassment.

WHAT.
WHAT.

He’s open to the point of spreading G-rated lies about his dalliances with the player character. At prom. In front of Ryan Seacrest.

That's not even a little bit true!
That’s not even a little bit true!

Other than that, he’s not a bad guy. There’s an excellent subplot where he and the player character help Emily unmask her secret admirer. Plot twist: she has TWO secret admirers, and one of them is THIS GUY:

Why isn't he one of the options?
Can I go to prom with him!?

Benny’s storyline is quick. I scored a prom invitation in nine days–that’s almost unheard of. I’m disappointed there wasn’t more, but I enjoyed the gameplay.

There’s not much else I can say. My prom dress this time around was adorable. I got up to three flower petals of friendship with Emily–again, unheard of. The game shoehorned a lesson about stranger danger into the story.

Helpful.
Helpful.

For all his “bad boy” ways, Benny isn’t the most thrilling guy in the game. That being said, he’s not the worst. To justify my rating him higher than Eugene, all I have to say is: at least Benny doesn’t have low self-esteem.

Grade: B+

Posted in Books

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

There’s nothing I love more than a good romance. If done right, I even like belligerent sexual tension. I repeat: if done right. Having two characters fight all the time isn’t cute or romantic by itself. If two people are awful to each other, that doesn’t make me root for their happiness.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

To all my fellow writers: if you want to include jealousy and bickering in your romance, that’s fine; just make sure you include that stuff after the characters have known each other for more than a day.

Posted in Entertainment, Movies, Television

MAKE-YOU-CRY MONDAY: “You’re So Beautiful” from Empire

New series! Welcome to Make-You-Cry Monday, where I explore how different entertainment can turn me into an emotional wreck!

Half the reason I love stories is finding ones that wreck me emotionally. People can tell which stories are my favorites when I have trouble talking about them without yelling or crying.

My goal every Monday is to ruin your life with a clip, passage, meme, or piece of artwork, then follow it up with something happy to make up for any emotional turmoil I may have caused.

I don’t watch the show today’s clip is from. I stumbled across it while I was taking a Zimbio quiz that necessitated some research. Even without context, I was hit by the emotion of the scene. It helps that I’m a musician and Jussie Smollett has a beautiful voice. Part of the reason the scene hits so hard is because the flashback was based off an incident from series creator Lee Daniels’ real life. It kills me to know that this is something that happens to actual people, not just fictional characters. I’ve never been a huge Terrence Howard fan, but his subtle reaction coupled with the other family members’ more positive reactions works so well in this scene.

With that, have fun crying. I do every time.

Need cheering up?
Look! A gif of Dean and Seamus from “Harry Potter” dancing at the Yule Ball!

I don’t go as crazy as Tumblr does in shipping characters. I read this is as just friends, because if women can dance together and still be considered straight, men can, too. However you interpret it, I’m encouraged by it. Huzzah for male affection!

Posted in Entertainment, Movies

MOVIE REVIEW: Pitch Perfect 2

SPOILERS AHEAD: Because Lauren don’t care

A trend I’ve noticed in sequels lately is follow-up films taking all the elements that worked in the first movie and adding more of the same. However, there are problems that come with creating a sequel focused on “more.” Just because Usher sang about it doesn’t mean you should do it.

The sequel to 2012’s “Pitch Perfect” focuses on the Barden Bella’s quest to redeem themselves after Fat Amy accidentally flashes the Obamas. Through a loophole in their suspension, they add Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) to their ranks. Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) starts an internship at a recording studio working under Keegan-Michael Key.

…good one, movie. Exactly who I would have cast.

I’m not opposed to the use of cameos in movies, but an overreliance on them can hurt a movie rather than help it. The more funny and or famous actors stuffed into a film, the less attention given to story and characters.

The cameos underscored the movie’s heavy joke focus. More time was given to Keegan-Michael Key berating his hipster employee than to Beca’s experience at the studio; it went far in creating atmosphere, but neglected to give Beca an emotional journey.

Other than MORE cameos, the movie goes crazy emphasizing other elements: MORE Fat Amy, MORE Benji, MORE singing, MORE Lilly, MORE cheesy a capella announcers. The last inclusion is particularly offensive, as John and Gail’s main function in the sequel is to remind the audience of the stakes and comment on the Bellas’ failures as if those weren’t evident to the audience.

MORE Exposition Fairies!

Because the movie is trying so hard to cram in as many funny, funny jokes as it can, the story lacks a focus, as well as a protagonist. I hated Beca in the first movie, but at the least that movie was clear in following her character arc. The sequel tries to give everyone a character arc and suffers for it. Who is this movie about? Is it about Beca’s foray into the music industry? Is it about Emily’s desire to be accepted by the other Bellas? Is it about Fat Amy’s relationship with Bumper? Is it about Chloe’s apprehension about leaving the Bellas? The movie’s answer is “yes” to all of the above, the multiple underdeveloped plot threads leading to a less-than-satisfying conclusion.

“Pitch Perfect 2” isn’t completely without merit. As always, the music is excellent, particularly German group Das Sound Machine’s high-tech mash-ups. Hailee Steinfeld is a nice addition. While weird, the riff-off in David Cross’ basement has some great moments, including performances by the Green Bay Packers and a bowdlerized version of “I Like Big Butts.”

In spite of these things, the sequel has plenty of other things to dislike. As I mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of Beca. Though she’s more tolerable (notice I didn’t say sympathetic) this time around, I had to endure multiple moments where other characters told her, “Oh honeybabysweetheart, you are the most wonderful and talented person I know!” Having other characters shill her doesn’t make her a likable character, movie!

Aside from Emily, another newcomer to the Bellas is Flo, an offensive caricature of a Guatemalan immigrant, whose main gag is commenting on the trivial nature of the other girls’ problems by trivializing her own traumatic upbringing.

Pitch Perfect 2: Now with an Ethnic Scrappy!

Her “jokes”–along with John Smith’s brutally sexist comments–fell flat every time. In the theater, audience reaction varied between nervous laughter and dead silence. I’m not a politically correct individual; I’ve laughed at racist and sexist jokes in movies before. What that tells me, though, is that you can be funny while being offensive. Contrary to what this movie thinks, being offensive doesn’t make something automatically funny.

I can understand why the movie’s creators included more of what the fans loved from the previous film. If it were up to me, “Pitch Perfect” would be nothing but Benji and Cynthia Rose singing Pitbull covers. Unfortunately, by pandering to fan expectations, the creators made a less successful, less cohesive, less interesting story.

While not terrible, “Pitch Perfect” is nowhere near as awesome as the trailers promised. What a dis-aca-appointment.

Posted in Television

Why I love and hate “The 100”: THE CHARACTERS

WARNING: Major spoilers for Season 1 of “The 100” ahead

My writing buddy Chelsea told me to check out a show she’d started watching called “The 100.” She promised good characters and excellent eye candy.

She neglected to mention it was terrible.

Seriously. The first three episodes of “The 100” were some of the worst TV I have ever seen. They were super predictable, packed full of cliches, and kept trying to suck me into teenage drama. 100 kids are stranded in a new environment with no way to contact their families; I care more about that than I do about who’s sleeping with who!!

Naturally, I binge-watched the entire first season.

What can I say? It got a lot better. So now I’m in this weird middle ground, where I’m really invested in the characters, yet roll my eyes at most of the things they do and say. If anything, I’m this show’s frenemy: I claim to love it, but I’m not very nice about it.

The same things I love about this show are the same things I hate about it. I have so many things to say that can be spread out over multiple posts, so today we’ll start with the most important component of any story:

THE CHARACTERS
Good: Even though the first episode of this show was beyond awful, I kept watching for one reason: I wanted to see all of the characters die. As dark as it sounds, I was very invested in the characters–mostly in seeing them get their comeuppance for being so incredibly stupid. And all of them were so dumb. Except for Wells.

Look at that face.

Yes, he was a goody-goody. Yes, he moped around in the Friendzone. I liked him anyway. As far as forces for good went, he and Clarke were the only ones concerned with keeping order, and I much preferred unlucky-in-love Wells to whiny, preachy Clarke (at first, anyway). He kept coming up with good ideas that NO ONE LISTENED TO, and his friction with Bellamy and his cronies made for good, tense TV. I was looking forward to seeing his growth and influence over the rest of the season. Turns out the writers didn’t feel the same way.

Oh, come on!

Wells was dead. I had no one left to root for. Then a miracle happened: the other characters got better. If not better, than at least interesting. Clarke exhibited ambiguous ethics and made questionable decisions. Bellamy tried to be a good leader in the face of torment, guilt, and self-doubt. Octavia rebelled against her former way of life by hooking up with a Grounder.

The character who made the most growth, however, was not one of the idiot teenagers, but one of the idiot adults on the Ark. I’m talking, of course, about Marcus Kane.

Kane
Everything about you is perfect, including your beard.

Kane transitioned from a murderous extremist to a broken leader forced to deal with the guilt of his previous actions. Over the course of several episodes, Kane tried to rescue as many people as he could after the Ark lost power. Every time Kane faced a life-threatening situation, I found myself screaming in agony. Near the season’s end, he offered to sacrifice himself for the others, only for Chancellor Jaha to take his place.

Yeah…you can go right ahead and do that, Chancellor. No big loss.

Similar to the A Song of Ice and Fire series, where I ended up cheering for initially unlikable drunks and rapists, this show made the villains some of my favorite characters. Unfortunately…

Bad: …their heroes weren’t as sympathetic. Clarke and Bellamy are great; I’m fine with them. It’s the side characters I take issue with. What bugs me about this show is not that it has characters I don’t like, it’s that it wants me to root for unlikable, unsympathetic, and undeserving ones.

Speaking of: in the first episode, the audience is introduced to Clarke and Wells. Wells is clearly into Clarke and GOT HIMSELF ARRESTED SO HE COULD BE WITH HER. Clarke wants nothing to do with him. Already some interesting conflict, and an interracial relationship to boot! I was stoked.

Then this idiot floats over:

“Hey, I’m your obvious love interest.”

Uuuugghh. Thomas McDonell, we meet again.

I don’t understand what the deal is with this guy’s acting. He was so great in that 2011 indie art house film! Okay, it was put out by Disney. Okay, it was “Prom.” Okay, I saw it twice in theaters. But I really enjoyed him in it! In this show, more than anything he reminds me of a baby Keanu Reeves, another favorite actor of mine.

Finn starts flirting with Clarke the minute they land on Earth. Four episodes later, the reveal comes: Finn has a girlfriend he never mentioned!

Whoooops! Sorry, Clarke!

We’ve all seen this plotline before. Surely this can be resolved in a way that leaves Finn’s likability intact.

Here’s what Finn does:

  • He CONTINUES FLIRTING WITH CLARKE even though his girlfriend has landed on the planet
  • He neglects to tell said girlfriend
    • a. he’s no longer into her
    • b. he definitely slept with Clarke

And he’s not framed as a jerk! The show wants me to buy that he’s a confused young man trying to do the right thing when that is clearly not the case. The writers gloss over his flaws instead of acknowledging them and letting him develop into a rounded character. I have no patience for Finn and was so glad when both Raven and Clarke finally shut him down.

There are other characters I could mention, but Jasper is the worst one. For one thing, I couldn’t remember his name for the first five episodes and kept referring to him as “Goggles.” For another, I cheered when he got speared by Grounders in the pilot episode.

That’s what you get for screaming all the time!

He SOMEHOW SURVIVED the above incident, which meant I had to spend the rest of the season with this joke. Never have I begged so earnestly for a character’s death. With every plague, Grounder attack, or returning villain, I would whisper, “Please get Jasper, please get jasper, please get Jasper.”

I have my reasons. A girl tries to get with him and he rejects her, calling her “low-hanging fruit.” Strike one. He never apologizes to his friend Monty for saying incredibly hurtful things. Strike two. He’s so entitled, getting really angry when he does nice things for Octavia and she doesn’t fall at his feet. Strike three. You’re out. Go die in a hole.

What really frustrates me is that so much of the other characters’ energy is spent trying to save or rescue Jasper. Yes, he has valuable skills…but so does Monty. Yet when Monty’s in trouble, Bellamy’s reaction is, “Huh, that’s unfortunate.” When Jasper’s in trouble? Time for Bellamy to go on a dangerous solo rescue mission!

Since this post ends on a downer note, next time I’ll end with the positive in order to convince you that I really do like this show!

Next post: THE WRITING

Posted in Books

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: A little on the handsome side

I’m lucky enough to have some friends who are fellow writers and readers. They work on creative projects with me, give me helpful feedback, and allow me access to their extensive libraries. It’s awesome.

A couple months ago, one of them told me about a book she’d bought at a writer’s conference that was the worst thing she’d ever read.

I’ve read some bad stuff. Not just mediocre stuff. Actual, painful, horrifically bad stuff, some of it so popular and well-liked that I don’t feel comfortable mentioning it by title but it may or may not have been written by Suzanne Collins. So when Claire brought up this book, I thought she was exaggerating.

She wasn’t.

So I’m currently slogging through a 400-page fantasy novel riddled with grammatical errors and silly dialogue. I can’t say I’m not enjoying it, thanks to Claire’s annotations and my continuing incredulity that something like this could exist.

I can say, though, that this is the worst thing I’ve ever read.

In a positive twist, this book has inspired me to do a weekly series. Two of my favorite things are being dramatic and hearing the sound of my own voice. Starting today, I plan to read a passage of unbelievably ridiculous prose every Tuesday.

Though I flub occasionally, these passages are presented unchanged, unpronounceable names and all.

With that, I present this week’s Terrible Prose Tuesday: