Television

#Review: The Good Place

Sometimes, entertainment comes from the most unexpected places.

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When I saw a promo for The Good Place, I thought there was no way it could be anything but stupid. I continued on, hopping around #Neflix and as is often the case, 247 clicks later I hadn’t found anything that I wanted to see. Desperate, I took a deep breath and returned to The Good Place. I’m glad I did.

The premise of the series is that after we die, we experience one of two possibilities: We either go to The Bad Place and endure a hell made especially for us, or we go to The Good Place where whatever we desire is available to us. The story centers around Eleanor, convincingly played by Kristen Bell. She lands in The Good Place, only to realize she is there by mistake. Ted Danson also plays a pivotal role, but it is an ensemble cast with no weak players.

To my great surprise, the show is Laugh Out Loud funny. The humor is witty, with a humorous take on the human condition. I laughed because I could relate. It is also an emotional journey, with characters who are flawed, broken, with deep wounds that impact their choices and their beliefs more than they have realized. Moreover, the story arcs are creative and unexpected in that, “ did that really just happen” sort of a way, while still being true to the characters personalities.

I hope Netflix renews the series. I’m already addicted. 5/5 Stars

My 600lb Life and Me

I have been trying to lose weight for a few years now. I’ve joined Weight Watchers, Tops, followed Atkins, Body Clutter, and the Body type diet. You name it, I tried it. I might have lost a pound or two but always gained it back. The desire for sweets and potato chips was stronger than my desire for fitness.

I also have the bad habit of watching TV while I eat. This adds to my tendency to overeat because I’m not paying attention to the food. Then I discovered the TV show My 600 Pound Life, which follows a patient for one year in their weight loss journey. Now, if I watch TV while I am eating, I watch this show. Trust me, this makes me acutely aware of how much food I eat.

I binge watched every season in their entirety, fascinated with the success stories and in awe that the doctor, renown bariatric surgeon Dr. Nowzaradan, didn’t throw in the towel with several of these patients. I certainly would have. 

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The show is mesmerizing, and I believe it’s at least partially responsible for the combined 64 pounds my partner and I have lost since starting this “Program”. I recommend it to anyone who is struggling with their weight.

As a writer, I also realized that the show closely follows the Hero’s Journey. Each episode begins with the ordinary world of the patient. We see the patients at home sharing their backstories. It’s a bit of an info dump but it works.  Next, they are offered the chance of help, but something stands in their way. Transportation to Houston where the doctor is located can pose a huge issue. Finally, a call to adventure forces the patient to make the trip and they meet the mentor, Dr Nowzaradan. Entering Houston, they cross the first threshold to become his patient. Win, lose or draw, their lives are never the same.

After the call is answered, we follow the patient through a series of tests and challenges. The doctor’s first order is to go on a very low-calorie diet and lose a large number of pounds in a month. Most patients fail this test and fall prey to temptation, some several times. They receive assistance from nutritionists, physical therapists, counseling for their emotional issues, and sometimes drug rehabilitation. With the help of these allies they deal with their issues (or not), and experience a revelation. Their reward is weight loss surgery. But the surgery is not the magic elixir many of them believe it will be.  

Now the patient must learn to eat properly and increase their activity using all they’ve learned. There is usually a setback but with the mentor’s help, they pull things together and begin to lose again. The show ends on a hopeful note with the patient making progress towards their transformation.

Over the course of their multi-year journeys, these heroes can loose 400-500 pounds. By their example, I’m reminded that I too can reach my weight loss and fitness goals.

Binge-Watched: A Review of Umbrella Academy

A remote control pointing to a blurry television.

A remote control pointing to a blurry television.

Umbrella Academy is a new series on Netflix. I’d say it’s urban fantasy, my favorite genre to read and watch.

Despite some irritations, I loved this show.  I had no knowledge of the comic so had no expectations, which may have allowed me to enjoy the show instead of looking for where it diverged.

The premise seems to be this: On October 1, 1989, 43 women who had not been pregnant that morning gave birth. A rich entrepreneur adopts 7 of them.  He trains them as superheroes to combat crime. Each child has a unique superpower. For some reason, unexplained but perhaps hinted at, the children go their separate ways. This story takes place when they reunite at their father’s death.

Many of the characters are a bit stereotypical. But can we expect more from comic book villains and heroes?  We saw their flaws and strengths in concrete terms. However, I found most of them to be sympathetic. I tend to be attracted to stories of broken heroes and this one gives me three--Luther, Diego, and Klaus.  

There were a few others worth mentioning. I adored Hazel and the donut lady. I liked Bobo and felt so much emotion from “mom” even though she was supposed to be an automaton. I cared and worried about these people. On the other hand, one major irritant was the show’s inconsistencies. Luther’s size was all over the board.  And the speed of the relationship between Leonard and Vanya was hard to believe. Speaking of Vanya, I also couldn’t believe her total personality metamorphosis took only 3 or 4 days. As this was a major part of the season’s arc, I had some difficulty staying connected to the storyline.

 Even with the irritants, what the series does well had me hooked--Giving viewers a reason to care about the characters.  I watched the entire season in two days. And I’m sure I’ll watch it again.

Along for the Ride

**Minor Spoilers**My friend calls me a serial obsessionist. That isn’t completely true. I really have several obsessions at any given time.

At the moment, I’m hooked on Sons of Anarchy. I’ve seen ads for the show for years and said to myself, “I’m going to watch it as soon as I have time to catch up on the older seasons.” But the time never came—until I signed up for Netflix. Suddenly SoA and tons of other shows that looked tempting became available.

- MARCH 16: Motorcycle Season opening parade with thousands of participants. April 24, 2010, Riga, Latvia.

The plan was to watch the pilot episodes of a number of shows: Community, The Blacklist, or Red Road (Jason Momoa…mmmm) for example. But I started with Sons of Anarchy. Once I saw the first episode, I never looked back. I eat, sleep and breathe SoA. This week I’ve finished Seasons 1 & 2, and started Season 3. I’ve lost sleep, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried—how could they kill off Half Sac? I’ve become obsessed.

As a writer, I can’t keep from analyzing it. First, how did the writer turn a motorcycle gang of gun runners and killers into the good guys? What the hell did he do to make the upstanding, kind and honorable police officer the bad guy? Talk about lessons in character development.

It’s also fascinating to watch beloved characters make bad decisions. When the decision is in line with the character’s personality, life or circumstance—like when Jaxx (Charlie Hunnam) fights despite a desire to leave that life, or when his doctor girlfriend slugs the hospital administrator—you get it. You even support the bad decision. But when the decision makes no sense in light of the character as they’ve been written so far, or is irrational considering the current circumstance—Whoa. It’s hard to watch.

For instance, when the Sons have Zobelle (Adam Arkin) cornered in the convenience store with plans to kill him (Yay!), but leave because Jaxx wants to chase a different bad guy. It wouldn’t have taken that long to shank the guy, right? If they’d only taken a hot second they could have “finished it”, as Clay, leader of the SoA would say. Sure, keeping Zobelle alive leaves the door open for future conflict but it was a stupid, illogical decision.

Fortunately, the men of Sons of Anarchy are largely consistent and make decisions that are “true to form”, which is one of the reasons we can’t seem to get enough of them. Action packed episodes, and gut-wrenching emotion are additional critical reasons.

Incredibly hot, powerful men don’t hurt either.  Heading back to my binge watching. Saddle up and ride, boys.