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August 2016

Words Cannot Describe the Greatness of Beyonce at the 2016 VMAs

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

There are plenty of things I could say about last night’s MTV Video Music Awards. I could talk about how Rihanna performed not once, not twice, not even thrice, but FOUR times as part of her acceptance of the Video Vanguard Award. I could talk about how Kanye West’s new music video (that he debuted in last night’s show) is a real masterclass in burying the lead. (Barely 10 seconds of cat face and sheep and then you cut to black? Come on dude.) I could bring up how MTV kindly provided a real-life visual to my dream of running a diner with Nick Jonas. (Although in my dream, The Fat Jew was nowhere to be found. Joanne the Scammer was definitely there though.) I could even discuss how there was one whole performance where I had no clue who any of the people performing were, which made me feel very uncool and out of touch. But all I really want to talk about is Beyonce’s nearly 16-minute performance of a medley of songs from “Lemonade,” her latest iconic visual album. And yet, I feel like I can’t.

 

How can one accurately describe what Beyonce did on that stage? It seems almost inappropriate to try and put into words what she consistently does so incredibly with visuals. I mean, come on. The way that she (and her equally brilliant creative team) put together something that feels more like an experience than a performance. The effortless inclusion of the most memorable and talked-about elements of “Lemonade,” (which earned Beyonce a total of 8 wins last night, helping her to beat the record for all-time VMA wins) from the smashing of the camera with “Hot Sauce,” her beloved baseball bat, to the ring of fire that felt even more epic live and onstage. The fact that, like I mentioned earlier, the performance was almost 16 minutes long and featured five of the songs from her 12-track album. For most of the performance I was convinced she was just going to run through the whole album and I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have been 100 percent okay with that. Of course, this was all after she arrived on the red carpet with the mothers of four black men who have lost their lives in racially-charged situations, the only really thoughtful political statement of the night. Seriously. How can a simple blogger such as myself take all of that and put it into something that does Beyonce’s ultimate takeover of the night justice?

 

The answer is, I can’t, and so I won’t. You’ll simply have to watch the whole thing for yourself. If you’ve already watched it, watch it again. What else are you doing? Being a productive human being? Whatever.

 

Did you watch the VMAs last night? Have your own thoughts on Beyonce’s show-stealing performance? Think I’m being a little too dramatic about the whole thing? Probably. But hey, what’s life without some drama? You can ruminate on that this week. And, as always…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

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‘Mr. Robot,’ ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ and the Problem With Repeating A Plot Twist

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

(Friendly warning that this post is rife with spoilers for both “Mr. Robot” and “How To Get Away With Murder,” so proceed with caution.)

 

If you were somehow able to pull yourself away from the nonstop excitement of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games this past week (I’m not being sarcastic, I actually got super invested in the games and now I don’t know what to do with my life) then you might have seen the most recent episode of “Mr. Robot” wherein a big reveal was made. We learned that Elliot has not been living with his mom and adhering to a strict daily schedule of his own making (as we had been led to believe by Elliot), but in fact he’s been in prison for a crime that is yet to be revealed (although, let’s be real, it could be just about anything at this point) and was using this illusion as a security blanket of sorts.

 

A major twist like this would be expected to elicit shocked gasps and “I totally didn’t see that coming” tweets and Facebook posts, but it didn’t. This was largely in part because many people saw it, or something like it, coming. Also? It basically already happened in the first season with the big reveal that the titular Mr. Robot wasn’t in fact the shady leader of fsociety, he was just Elliot’s mental manifestation of his own deeply rooted issues taking the form of his dead father.

 

“Mr. Robot” isn’t the first show in recent years to seemingly repeat (or at least, utilize in a similar way twice) a significant plot twist or reveal. Another one that comes to mind for me is ABC’s good ‘ol law & murder series, “How to Get Away With Murder.” Each of the first two seasons began with a big whodunnit (“Who killed Annalise’s husband?” “Who shot Annalise?”) and ended its midseason finale with the answer. Both times it was the same central character: Wes, a student of Annalise’s who just can’t seem to get out of his own way. The first time it was somewhat surprising and exciting. The second time? I don’t know about other viewers, but I definitely yelled “Really!?!” in my best Amy Poehler voice at my TV. It might not have been something I predicted happening, like in the case of “Mr. Robot,” but it was frustrating nevertheless.

 

Why is it that these two shows have decided to do this? With “Mr. Robot,” it makes a little more sense. The show seems to constantly be playing with the idea of reality and illusions, given our unreliable narrator in Elliot and his clear lack of a grasp on what’s really going on at any given time. The show thrives on mystery and, as creator Sam Esmail has said in various interviews since the big season two reveal aired, mystery and the uncertainty that comes with it will always be a big part of the show. That I can get behind, especially because there are still five more episodes (plus the promise of a third season) for Esmail to work his magic on.

 

When it comes to “How To Get Away With Murder” though, the excuses are a little more murky and a little less acceptable. Wes and Annalise’s weird, complicated relationship seems to be the focal point of the series (at least, so far) and Wes shooting Annalise (after killing her creep of a husband in self-defense the season prior) brought it’s own fair share of reveals that propelled the second half of the season forward. I can’t help but feel though that those reveals could be have brought forward in a way that didn’t involve doing, in essence, the same thing again. Even the creator of the show, Pete Nowalk, implied in an interview that they decided it would be Wes before they had really thought out the why of it all. On a show with so many characters who could easily make the decision to do something like that, it seems incredibly cheap to go with the one who already did the season before.

 

It might seem like I’m beating a dead horse, bringing up a repeated plot twist from last November, but after seeing the latest “Mr. Robot” episode I couldn’t help but remember the way I felt watching “How To Get Away With Murder’s” last midseason finale. While one is definitely more acceptable and understandable than the other, both “Mr. Robot” and “HTGAWM” seemingly took something that worked for them before and reused it, albeit somewhat differently, in the hopes of achieving the same effect. Did it work? I guess that’s really up to you. I clearly know where I stand.

 

What did you guys think of “Mr. Robot’s” latest reveal? Did you see it coming? Wondering how I can enjoy watching both “Mr. Robot” and “How To Get Away With Murder,” two vastly different shows? What can I say, I’m a woman of many varied tastes. Now before I go to try and find something about the Olympics that I haven’t already watched or read, I leave you with this, just like I always do:

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

“Pop Culture Holes”: We All Have Them, Here Are Some of Mine

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

Can I be honest with you guys? I’ve never seen an entire episode of “Breaking Bad.” I’ve seen clips and moments but if someone were to ask me if I’ve actually sat down and watched it, I would have to honestly answer “no.”

 

There, I said it.

 

This confession may seem shocking, given my penchant for keeping up with all things big and buzzy, but it’s just one of those shows I never got around to watching despite the fact that I’m sure I would enjoy it. It’s a “pop culture hole” if you will. We all have them; it’s near impossible to watch everything out there. (Andy Samberg tried when he hosted the Emmys and it did not end well.) And “Breaking Bad” isn’t my only one.

 

I’ve never seen a single “Godfather” movie. I’ve seen parts of the “Star Wars” films, but never one in its entirety. I got about three episodes into “Mad Men” before something came up and I had to stop. I never went back. And I’ve never, ever seen “Game of Thrones.”

 

It’s not necessarily a conscious decision. (Although it was with “Game of Thrones.” I couldn’t be less interested in that.) It’s just that we live in a world that’s constantly churning out new things. It makes it difficult to find the time to go back and appreciate the old. Plus, the internet and its many recaps and think pieces make it easy for someone to feel like they know what has happened in a movie or on a show without even watching a single minute. Want to know the entire plot of a movie? Simply go to its Wikipedia page. It might not be entirely comprehensive, but it’ll make you aware enough to keep up with the proverbial water-cooler talk. Sometimes it seems like that’s all people want, to be able to keep up with the conversation, but I don’t think that’s enough.

 

Simply being a part of the conversation isn’t enough. I want to be in the room where it happens. (The room where it happens, the room where it happens…) I want to be able to find the things in these pop culture juggernauts that capture my attention and make me excited. That can’t be done with a recap article or a Wikipedia post. That can only be done by actually watching something. So one day I hope to see “The Godfather” and “Star Wars” movies. I hope to watch all of “Mad Men” and definitely all of “Breaking Bad.” I hope to fill all of those “pop culture holes”so that I can see what made those shows and movies become such indelible parts of the pop culture landscape. I look forward to it.

 

But not “Game of Thrones.” Never “Game of Thrones.”

 

What about you guys? Have any big “pop culture holes” of your own? Want to take me to task for my complete and total disinterest in “Game of Thrones”? You wouldn’t be the first person to try. Leave your confessions and diatribes in the comments. And, as always…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

 

 

Friendly Reminder That the London 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony Was Straight Fire

The Rio 2016 Olympics is currently underway, meaning that just about everyone is dealing with (suffering from?) a serious case of Olympic fever. There’s just something about a bunch of people from all over the world coming together to play sports that you’ve never heard of (like dressage) that gets people psyched! I, for one, am not as fully invested in the Olympics as others (certainly not as invested as “SNL’s” Leslie Jones) but I am generally excited to see what the host country does with their Opening and Closing ceremonies. It’s an opportunity to really put on a show, something that people will remember and talk about long after the games are over.

 

Rio’s Opening ceremony was very entertaining and fun, although perhaps a little too focused on a “save the environment” message. A noble pursuit to be sure, but a little too on the nose in its execution. Messages are ever-present in an Olympics ceremony, but I think they’re best received when done in a more artistic, almost metaphorical way. Showing legit maps of how the sea level will rise on the world’s coasts in the coming years is important and something that everyone should be concerned about, but maybe not the thing to make front and center in a presentation that is meant to be a celebration of Rio and everything that makes it great? Especially when the environmental issues that plague Rio are of key concern to all coming for the Olympics? I don’t know. That’s just me.

 

Anyway, all that fun got me thinking about previous Olympic Opening and Closing ceremonies and what made them great. We all know what made Sochi’s 2014 ceremonies great: it was the giant, crying, animatronic bear. I mean, come on. Anything that’s giant, crying and animatronic will always capture the hearts of the public. It’s a known fact. Then there was the 2012 London Olympics, the focus of this post. The Opening Ceremony was full of great moments, from “Queen Elizabeth” jumping out of a helicopter James Bond-style, to everyone’s favorite goofball Mr. Bean (aka Rowan Atkinson) doing what he does best (aka being silly). It was fun and exciting and a perfect way to kick off the Olympics. And their Closing ceremony? Well it was just about perfect too.

 

The event was a true showcase of all of the amazing musical acts that have come out of London and England in general. It was truly a who’s who of superstars, with appearances from classic groups and performers like The Pet Shop Boys, George Michael, and oh, I don’t know, THE SPICE GIRLS, along with newer acts like Jessie J., Ed Sheeran and a semi-new group at the time called One Direction, I think? No clue what happened to those guys. Hope they ended up alright! There were also appearances from London’s comedy scene new (Russell Brand) and old (Eric Idle of Monty Python). It was like one huge, epic concert that seemed like it was never going to end, and I don’t think anyone really wanted it to. (Mostly because we all thought the world was going to end in December. Remember that? That was fun.) When it did finally end, it was with a blazing performance from The Who, the perfect way to cap off a perfect show.

 

It will certainly be interesting to see how Rio closes their Olympic ceremony. I hope they go the more fun and celebratory route as opposed to something more dire and serious. Because if they don’t, I might just watch the London one over again. It clearly wouldn’t be my first time.

 

What did you guys think of the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony? Have a favorite past Opening or Closing ceremony of you own? Still thinking about that crying, animatronic bear? Me too. Tell me about it in the comments. Now before you go back to watching water polo or fencing or whatever weird sport is on right now, always remember…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

Get Into ‘BrainDead’ (Before It Gets Cancelled)

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

As I’ve said before, summertime can often be a desolate landscape when it comes to good, new TV. Now this isn’t exactly the case with cable (see “UnREAL” and “Mr. Robot“), but for the major networks like NBC, ABC and CBS, the summer is often a time to quietly burn off a series that maybe didn’t live up to the promise of its pilot. I can’t quite tell if that’s what CBS is trying to do with “BrainDead,” a new series from the creators of “The Good Wife,” but if they are they’re making a serious mistake. Because, you guys, “BrainDead” is actually really great. In fact, it might be one of the best new shows to come out of CBS in a loooong time.

 

The best thing “BrainDead” has going for it (although there are many good things to say about “BrainDead”) is its very unique premise. Set in Washington, D.C., the show is part-political satire, part-alien invasion horror comedy. Like I said, very unique. It follows Laurel Healy (played by the always great Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an aspiring documentary filmmaker who returns to her politics-focused family in D.C. in the hopes of getting some financial assistance from her father for her next film. He offers her $10,000, but says that she must work in her Democrat Senator brother’s (played by Danny Pino) office for six months first. She accepts the offer and is pulled into the constantly-gridlocked world of D.C. politics, where certain people are starting to act quite…strange. The reason? Alien bugs have crawled into their heads and eaten parts of their brains, turning them into the most extreme versions of themselves. It’s certainly not your typical show, but that’s what makes it so great and so worth keeping around in a time when CBS is allowing Kevin James to basically just reboot “King of Queens” with a different name.

 

“BrainDead” cleverly addresses and skewers the extremism that can often be found in modern politics with its “alien bugs” premise and based on the way current election news reads, it honestly wouldn’t be too surprising to find out that some extraterrestrial source was the cause of much of the tension and absurdity that seems to be ever-present. The show also has many other clever elements, including the always catchy and charming musical “previously on” recaps that start every new episode. Winstead is an excellent audience proxy, deftly leading us through the insanity of her world, and she’s surrounded by an equally great supporting cast, including Pino, Johnny Ray Gill as a conspiracy theorist that Laurel teams up with to take down the bugs and Tony Shalhoub as an extremely right-wing Senator whose brain may or may not be bugged out. There’s also a whole host of wonderful Broadway stars in the cast, like Aaron Tveit as Shalhoub’s Senator’s aide and Tony-winner Nikki M. James as a doctor who joins the bug-fighting squad. Megan Hilty and Beth Malone even appear occasionally as competing cable news anchors.

 

To break it all down into the most basic of terms, “BrainDead” is a really interesting and enjoyable show that I’m afraid is at risk of cancellation. CBS already moved it from Monday nights (where it competed against “UnREAL”) to Sunday nights in “The Good Wife’s” old slot. Normally this wouldn’t be super-concerning except this is the summertime when no one (but me, obviously) is watching live TV on a Sunday night. So please, I beg you, check out the six previously aired episodes of “BrainDead” online so you can be all ready to go when the latest episode airs next week. I clearly don’t think you’ll regret it. And hey, maybe if we all work together it won’t get cancelled! Or, at least, when the aliens come to get us all because it did get cancelled, you can say that you watched it and they might spare your life. It’s definitely something to consider.

 

Have you already watched “BrainDead”? Have any other summer shows you love that might be on the brink of cancellation? Think that aliens have already landed on earth so it’s too late to do anything anyway? Share your own conspiracy theories in the comments. And, before you go binge-watch “BrainDead” (seriously, do it), remember…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

 

P.S. Also, go see “Hunt for the Wilderpeople“! I saw it last night and it’s really lovely!

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