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January 2016

British Royalty, Two Ways

KingCharles3
Photo by Jenn Murphy

It seems like the British Royal family is always a topic of interest in the world of pop culture. Photos of little Prince George on his first day of school become headline news, and people (like my mother) celebrate royal weddings and births like the royals are their own flesh and blood. This constant fascination with the happenings of the royal family has fueled many a TV series, film and play, from E!’s campy “The Royals” to Helen Mirren‘s Oscar-winning role as “The Queen.” Recently, I watched two very different representations of royal life, “King Charles III,” a play currently running on Broadway, and the BBC America comedy series “Almost Royal.” The connections between the two offer up a very interesting view of what being “royal” really means.

 

In “King Charles III,” Queen Elizabeth II has died and Prince Charles (played excellently by Tim Pigott-Smith) is finally set to ascend to the throne. When given the task to sign a bill into law that he doesn’t fully agree with, he quickly learns that being King is not all it’s cracked up to be. By the end of the play, the makeup of the Royal family is irrevocably changed and the audience leaves wondering if it really is great to be king.

 

“King Charles III” geniously pulls the curtain back on how much power the Royal family really has. It paints them as powerless figureheads, symbols of an era long gone. The decision Charles and other members of the family have to make in the play is whether or not they are willing to maintain this charade for the sake of their own image. It’s an interesting aspect of modern royal life (That, it’s important to note, may or may not be true. The play is, of course, a work of fiction.) that is rarely seen or discussed elsewhere.

 

AlmostRoyal
Poppy (left) and Georgie (right) Carlton, stars of BBC America’s “Almost Royal” Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

While “King Charles III” looks at royal status as a somewhat aging artifice, “Almost Royal” sees it as an opportunity to shine. “Almost Royal” is a faux documentary series chronicling the adventures of Poppy (Amy Hoggart) and Georgie (Ed Gamble) Carlton, two very very distant relatives of the Queen. (According to episodes from season 1, their place in the order of succession varies from 51st and 52nd to 74th and 75th on any given day.) At the request of their deceased father, they’re visiting the states (with a film crew, of course) and taking in all that makes America great, one brilliantly deadpan joke at a time. The show plays like a somewhat classier “Borat,” as Poppy and Georgie regularly interact with unsuspecting Americans who believe that they are meeting two members of the royal family.

 

Poppy and Georgie seem to understand that their status in the order of succession means little to nothing in terms of actual power. Instead, they use it in the way that seems to be most popular these days: to get attention. They’ve met with a U.S. Congressmen and judged a beauty pageant all because people believe that they have some sort of connection to the royal family. While the Charles in “King Charles III” isn’t willing to play the royal game, Poppy and Georgie welcome it with open arms.

 

Both “King Charles III” and “Almost Royal” feed on the public’s interest in the lives of the royals. Where the former sees the throne as a place of status but not much else, the latter sees it as a chance for attention and some level of power. Maybe not one that can decide on the law of the land, but at least one that can get Mario Lopez to sit down for an interview on beauty.

 

So what do you guys think about the royal family and their portrayal in pop culture? Have you seen “King Charles III” or “Almost Royal?” Let me know what you think in the comments. And, by royal decree…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

To Binge, or Not To Binge?

Binge-watching, or marathon viewing a TV show instead of catching it in weekly installments, isn’t necessarily new. Thanks to a whole host of streaming websites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, binge-watching has become incredibly easy, and even preferable to some who have grown impatient with the typical television viewing format. Perhaps that’s why TBS decided to roll out their new comedy series, “Angie Tribeca,” in a 25-hour “Binge-A-Thon,” airing the entire first season five times over the course of January 17 and 18.

 

So what exactly does binge-watching have to offer that regular viewing practices don’t? Sure, it offers a sense of immediacy. No longer do you have to wait a week for the resolution to a cliff hanger – now, you only have to wait a few minutes at most for the next episode to load. It also has the potential to make a complicated series with a lot of moving parts easier to understand, as one no longer has to remember key character traits or plot points from week to week. In a way, it also has the potential to help a series that might become great over time but start out slow. I love the Aziz Ansari-created (and now, Critic’s Choice Award Winning) Netflix series “Master of None,” but if I had only been able to watch the first episode, one of the slower installments, I might not have continued with it and realized how great it truly is. In summation, binge-watching certainly has its perks.

 

That being said, I’ve never been able to fully get on the binge-watching train. While others have gotten sick of waiting a week for a new episode, I appreciate the break. It gives me time to take in what I’ve already seen and form my own opinions and predictions on what’s to come next. I also appreciate the communal quality of everyone watching a show live at the same time. That experience can fuel exciting and interesting discussion and only add to the enjoyment of a TV series.

 

I also think that in some cases binge-watching can even take away from the appreciation of a show. The only time I ever tried to binge-watch something was the fourth season of “Arrested Development.” I was so excited for the fourth season to debut that I jumped at the chance to watch it all in one sitting. But now, I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I was so focused on watching it all at once that it almost feels like I didn’t really pay attention to the specific episodes themselves. (I know for a fact that I definitely didn’t watch one episode; I fell asleep for an entire episode during my binge and never bothered to go back and watch it again.) When I was finished with the season, I felt accomplished but I didn’t really feel satisfied. Binge-watching it made me more focused on what was coming next than what was happening in the moment. If you ask me, that’s not how TV should be enjoyed.

 

I definitely plan on watching “Angie Tribeca.” I love its star, Rashida Jones, and have no doubt in my mind that it will be funny given its creators, the hilarious Nancy and Steve Carell. But will I take part in the “Binge-A-Thon?” Probably not. While I certainly see the perks that binge-watching can offer, I much prefer to space out my viewing. Given the ways of the world now, I guess that makes me old-fashioned.

 

What do you think? Do you prefer to binge-watch over a weekly viewing schedule? Let me know in the comments. And, like they said in days of old…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

So the Golden Globes happened…

Globes
Photo by Jenn Murphy

Last night, the 73rd annual Golden Globe Awards Ceremony aired on NBC. Hosted by Ricky Gervais, the show celebrated the best (or at least, the best according to the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) in television and film. The Globes are known for their more fun and laid-back nature in comparison to the generally more stuffy and serious Oscars, but last night’s ceremony didn’t feel very fun. Sure, there were some exciting and surprising wins (and a few that were very, very predictable), but the night overall felt a little flat.

 

Gervais, returning to the host position after two years hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, seemed a bit out of place and behind the times. In his monologue he joked about Charlie Sheen and Caitlyn Jenner, two stories that might have been topical a few months ago, but not now. Later on in the night, he also had a strange encounter with Mel Gibson that came off as more uncomfortable than funny. Throughout the night there were shots of celebrities in the audience, clearly unsure of whether or not they should laugh. Tina and Amy made it so easy with their jokes that were equal parts biting and fun. Gervais, on the other hand, comes off as way too antagonizing, and it really brought the night down.

 

On the TV side of things, the winners could basically be summed up in three one-word questions: “Who?”, “What?”, and “How?” The “Who?” would go to Rachel Bloom, who won “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy” for her starring role on The CW series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Don’t get me wrong, I actually love “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (you can read more about my love of it here), but it’s not exactly a ratings bonanza, and up against previous winners like “Jane the Virgin‘s” Gina Rodriguez, she seemed like a long-shot. But the Globes have a history of awarding newbies, and so last night was Bloom’s time to shine. A surprise, yes, but a delightful one.

 

Another delightful happening on the TV end, though not entirely surprising, were the two wins for the excellent new USA series, “Mr. Robot.” I’ve already talked about my love of “Mr. Robot” on this blog (seriously, if you haven’t watched it yet you’re insane) and the Globes clearly agreed, awarding the show “Best TV Series, Drama” and “Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television” for Christian Slater‘s performance as the titular Mr. Robot. This wonderful series of events could have only been made better if Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot’s” mysterious yet endearing lead, had won “Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Drama.” That predictably went to “Mad Men‘s” Jon Hamm. Oh well. There’s always next year!

 

The “What?” that I mentioned earlier applies to the other very surprising wins in the TV Comedy categories. “Mozart in the Jungle,” a little-known Amazon Prime series, won both “Best TV Series, Comedy” and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Comedy” for its star, Gael Garcia Bernal. Based on the reactions in the audience (and the reaction online), it’s clear that like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, “Mozart in the Jungle” isn’t exactly on everyone’s radar. I had only heard about it in passing before last night. But I can imagine that won’t last for too long now that it has this awards season attention. It’ll be interesting to see if the Emmys choose to recognize it in the fall.

 

And now onto the “How?” This referred to Lady Gaga‘s completely surprising (and a little bit ridiculous) win in the “Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television” category for her performance on the current season of “American Horror Story.” As a viewer of “AHS,” I can tell you that it has seriously declined in quality since season one and the current season has taken the show’s campy absurdity to a really unpleasant level. Gaga’s performance isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just not very memorable, which makes it all the more surprising that she won against people from quality shows like “Fargo” and “American Crime.” Gaga seemed genuinely surprised and happy by her win though, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

 

Other, less surprising wins in the TV realm included “Wolf Hall” for “Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television,” “Show Me a Hero‘s” Oscar Isaac for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television,” “The Affair‘s” Maura Tierney for “Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television” and “Empire‘s” Taraji P. Henson for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Drama.” That last one was fun; Henson handed out cookies (her character on “Empire” is named Cookie Lyon) to people in the audience as she walked up to accept the award, and called out the TelePrompTer when it told her to “wrap it up.”

 

The movie side of things wasn’t nearly as exciting. “The Revenant” took home “Best Motion Picture, Drama”, “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama” for Leonardo DiCaprio and “Best Director” for Alejandro G. Inarritu. That movie truly looks exhausting, but it also looks like it’s going to be the one that finally gets Leo that Oscar. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how all of that shakes out. Other wins on the Drama side included the wonderful Brie Larson winning “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama” for “Room,” Kate Winslet winning “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture for “Steve Jobs” and Sylvester Stallone winning “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture” for “Creed.” Stallone, who had never won a Globe for any of his previous turns as Rocky Balboa, received what looked like a standing ovation. Even though I had hopes that Paul Dano would win for his amazing turn in the fantastic “Love and Mercy,” it was nice to see Stallone finally get a win.

 

“Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy” went to “The Martian,” and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy” went to its star, Matt Damon, which is interesting because “The Martian” is definitely not a musical or a comedy. Neither is “Joy,” which won Jennifer Lawrence her third Golden Globe, in this case for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy.” It would be lovely if the Globes would recognize actual comedies in the comedy category, like the hilarious “Trainwreck” or “Spy” (both nominated), but that’ll never happen. The comedy category at the Globes seems to solely be for the purpose of giving films that are good (or in the case of “Joy”…decent?) but have no chance of winning in the packed drama category a moment in the sun. It’s nice I guess, but a little disappointing.

 

Other wins in the film categories included “Inside Out” for “Best Animated Film” (duh), “Son of Saul” for “Best Foreign Language Film,” Ennio Morricone‘s “The Hateful Eight” score for “Best Original Score, Motion Picture” and “Spectre‘s” “Writing’s on the Wall” for Best Original Song, Motion Picture.” The great Denzel Washington won the Cecil B. DeMille Award, and brought his family up onstage with him. He also forgot his speech and his glasses, which was charming in a “silly dad” kind of way.

 

So that was the Golden Globes, not as good as previous years, but at least in terms of winners it wasn’t a complete disaster. What did you think? Did you like it? Happy with the winners? Have any ideas for a host to replace Ricky Gervais next year? My vote is on Andy Samberg, who nailed it as the Emmys host last year and was more charming in his brief moment as a presenter last night than Gervais was all evening. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. And, before I forget…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

5 Things That Need to Happen on the Final Season of ‘American Idol’

IMG_0691
Photo by Jenn Murphy

American Idol,” the long-running talent competition responsible for making Ryan Seacrest a household name, will begin its 15th and final season on Wednesday, January 6. As someone who at the age of 8 dressed up as Kelly Clarkson for Halloween (true story), this means a lot to me. While I (along with most of America) haven’t paid as much attention to the more recent seasons, “Idol” played a huge part in my upbringing. I remember spending hours after an episode dialing and re-dialing the voting numbers of my favorite contestants, truly believing that I was doing my civic duty by making sure that they would live to sing another week. The “Idols Live!” concert tours became a staple of my summers, and everyone at my middle school knew exactly who ask about what day “Idol” would return for a new season. Basically, I was a hardcore “Idol” fangirl, and extremely proud of it.

 

 

Because of all of this, I have very high expectations for this final season. It’s a real opportunity to show viewers why this show survived for as long as it did and to remind them that without the early success of “Idol,” shows like “The Voice” might not exist today. So here is what I, a longtime viewer with a lot of strong opinions, am hoping to see on “American Idol’s” farewell season.

 

 

5) Winner Check-Ins

Currently, there are 14 people in the world who can say with all sincerity that they are an “American Idol.” Some of them we all know very well, like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, and others…well, not so much. This season would be a great opportunity to catch up with all of the former winners (I’m looking at you, Taylor Hicks and Lee DeWyze) and see what exactly they’ve been up to since they were crowned the “American Idol.” And heck, while we’re at it, why not bring them back for a performance. It’ll give the winners who have perhaps faded into obscurity a chance to get their face out there again, and it will give old school fans like myself the blast from the past that we so rightfully deserve.

 

 

4) A Fully Reunited Judges Panel

“Idol” has had its fair share of judges over the last 14 seasons, and now would be the perfect time to bring them all back for the judges panel to end all judges panels. There have already been some rumblings that a full judges reunion is in the works, so this seems like a definite possibility. How great would it be to see the original trifecta of Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson rubbing elbows with the current three, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick, Jr.? The answer is so great. It needs to happen.

 

 

3) Recreations of Memorable Performances

Remember when Kelly Clarkson hit that absurdly high note on “Natural Woman” during the first season of “Idol,” cementing her status as a serious contender? I do. It was fantastic, and it needs to be done again. In addition to bringing back all of the previous winners, this season would be an excellent opportunity to bask in the glow of what “Idol” once was by recreating some of the performances that had people talking around the water cooler, back when that was a thing. This would also be an excellent opportunity to bring back some memorable “Idol” contestants who didn’t win but had insane careers post-“Idol,” like Jennifer Hudson and Adam Lambert. They could even incorporate some memorable-but-not-necessarily-good performances, like when the infamous Sanjaya Malakar from season six legit made a girl cry. That’s definitely something that people need to be reminded of.

 

 

2) The Ultimate Finale

“American Idol” finales have always been pretty memorable, but this one needs to knock all of the others out of the water. My dream “Idol” finale involves all of the former winners and judges reuniting on stage with the final winner to sing “We’re Brothers Forever,” the classic song written and sung in a season seven audition by Renaldo Lapuz. It could easily become the “We Are the World” for a new generation and I’m only partially kidding.

 

 

1) The Return of Brian Dunkleman

Long before Ryan Seacrest became the host extraordinaire that we all know him to be now, he spent the first season if “American Idol” as a co-host with actor and comedian Brian Dunkleman. But by the time the second season premiered, “Idol” had gone from two hosts to one, and Dunkleman was no more. Dunkleman has continued to work post-“Idol,” but reportedly regrets leaving “Idol” after that first season. He seems to now have a somewhat good sense of humor regarding his time on the show, having tweeted this after hearing of “Idol’s” cancellation. Bringing Dunkleman back in some capacity would be the ultimate full-circle moment for “Idol,” and a great way to close out the memorable series.

 

 

So those are my hopes for “American Idol’s” final season. What do you think? Do you plan on tuning in? Have any hopes of your own? What about memorable performances or contestants you’d like to see make an appearance? Share your thoughts in the comments. And, of course…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

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