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A (Sort of) Love Letter to Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies

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Image courtesy of Google Images

Now that December is upon us, it’s officially considered to truly be the holiday season. With that comes a (completely welcomed, in my opinion) barrage of decorations, music and of course, Christmas movies. There are the classics, like “Elf,” “A Christmas Story,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and so many more. But hidden away on a channel in deep cable is a whole other unique sub-genre of Christmas movie: the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

 

I couldn’t tell you what airs on the Hallmark Channel any other time of the year but once the holiday season hits, it becomes an endless marathon of specially made Christmas movies. Two hours at most, they often give off the vibe that the writer simply pulled several rom-com tropes and a Christmas-y thing out of a bag and just went with it. With names like “Christmas List,” “A Christmas Detour” and, I kid you not, “Fir Crazy,” they lean heavy on the cheese factor, full of romance and charming small towns. Not entirely surprising for a network named after a greeting card store. There’s even one, called (of course) “A Christmas Melody” directed by and co-starring the voice of Christmas herself, Mariah Carey.

 

Are they good? Well, not exactly. They’re almost always way too predictable and it’s pretty obvious why you rarely see their revolving cast of stars in other things. And yet I find myself watching them more and more. I think it’s something about the mindless entertainment of it all. So much of TV these days requires you to really focus and pay attention. And while I love the more cerebral stuff (I wouldn’t be obsessed with “Mr. Robot” if I wasn’t) sometimes it’s nice to find something that can just drone on in the background while you decorate the tree or wrap gifts. Something that you can lovingly make fun of with your friends and family. Something that will always have a predictable and corny happy ending in a time where the outcomes of real-world events often feel so uncertain. The more classic Christmas movies can easily do that but if you’re looking for something even more saccharine, a Hallmark Christmas movie can easily do the trick.

 

So if you find yourself flipping through the channels in the next few weeks, looking for an hour or two of escape, might I recommend the Hallmark Channel? It won’t change your life or give you a new worldview, but it’ll at least give you something to laugh at. And sometimes, that’s all you really need.

 

What do you think? Do you enjoy the mindless entertainment in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie? Do you know what airs on the Hallmark Channel when it’s not Christmastime? I’m dying to know. Sing a carol in the comments. And, as always…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

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♫ I Still Get Jealous! ♫ (When Other People Get To See This Great Pop Culture Thing For the First Time)

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

With the holiday season in full swing, (you better believe I am in full-time Christmas music mode) I thought it might be nice to briefly distract ourselves from the horrors that we constantly face in the news and the stresses that always come with the holidays and take a nice trip down memory lane.

 

We all remember our first time experiencing something in pop culture that we knew would be special. Whether it was a great movie, an excellent song, a spectacular stage show or a particularly memorable episode of television, the first time experiencing it was a truly once-in-a-lifetime event. The fact that it was all new, that you had no idea what was coming next – it’s what makes entertainment so special.

 

Once your first time has come and gone you encourage just about everyone you know to see or listen to that thing so that they can also feel the way you felt and experience what you experienced. And if you’re lucky, you’re there to see them do it. (And if you’re unlucky, they’re not as into it as you are and it just becomes awkward and frustrating.) There’s always a bit of jealousy there, knowing that you’ll never again get to have the excitement and the wonder at seeing that thing for the first time but your friends or family will. Sure, it’ll still be fun and enjoyable for you, but it’ll never be the same as the first time.

 

I can think of several things that fit into this category of pop culture for me, but one I’ve been thinking about recently is the opening of the Broadway musical adaptation of “The Lion King.” I got tickets to see the show as a gift for my 11th birthday many many years ago, and had no idea what to expect going in. I knew that there were these puppet-like costumes that the actors wore to look more like the animals they were playing and I knew it featured many of the classic songs from the animated movie, but that was about it. I was in no way prepared for what I was about to witness when the curtain rose and the show started.

 

I don’t want to give too much away, (although you can actually watch a 360 video of the opening on YouTube) but I will say that the opening number completely took my breath away. It was unlike anything I had seen before, so beautiful and majestic. It was also one of my first experiences seeing live, professional theatre and I definitely think it was one of the things that first started my fascination with all things Broadway. I mean, it’s still running very successfully on The Great White Way and that certainly wouldn’t be the case if it wasn’t incredible.

 

I saw that a touring production of the show will soon be coming to Baltimore and it made me think of how jealous I am of all the people who will get the experience that opening number for the first time. I’m sure they’ll all be feeling the same way soon.

 

What about you? Do you have something in pop culture that you wish you could experience again for the first time? Did you catch my sweet Nick Jonas song reference in the title of this post? If you did, good job! If you didn’t, here you go. And, as you settle into this holiday season, remember…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

Chance the Rapper Cemented His Status As a New ‘SNL’ Fave With This Sketch

When it was announced that national treasure Chance the Rapper would be hosting the Thanksgiving episode of “Saturday Night Live,” the question that always presents itself when a several-time musical guest makes the move to the hosting slot came to mind: can he really do it? Can he ascend to the status of people like Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Ariana Grande, musical performers who can successfully sing (or in Chance’s case, sing AND rap) the songs and star in the sketches?

 

The answer, luckily, was a resounding yes. While he didn’t pull double-duty as host and musical guest (Eminem filled in there, going the Prince route with one big song medley instead of two separate performances), Chance proved that he could probably do both and then some. He was incredibly charming and brought a positive, high-energy demeanor to each sketch. His stage presence made great sketches even greater and elevated some lesser later-in-the-night sketches that could have fallen flat in the wrong hands.

 

As if simply killing it as a performer wasn’t enough, Chance revealed on a pre-show appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” (as most “SNL” hosts are wont to do) that he had even written several sketches in the hopes they would make it onto the live broadcast. Based on some post-show retweets from Chance, it seems that the above sketch was one of his contributions and it was also one of the highlights of the night.

 

The sketch shows Bruce Wayne (aka Batman for the uninformed) giving out bags of food to the people of Gotham City for Thanksgiving. An honorable move to be sure, but it quickly becomes clear that while in the Batman costume, Bruce Wayne isn’t nearly as honorable to certain residents committing small crimes like littering. I won’t give it away, but it sounds like he has some signature moves involving the criminal’s jaw and a really intense wedgie. It was both very funny (many of the cast members seemed to be struggling to keep it together at some points) and thought-provoking, given that it was clearly calling out the harsh treatment for minor infractions often given to minority communities by the police.

 

Often you can get away with only watching a few key sketches from an episode of “SNL” without feeling like you missed out on something great, but in this case I would highly recommend watching the whole show. It was a delight from top to bottom, a great way to send the show off before a holiday break. Hopefully Chance the Rapper will be back on “SNL” to host (and perhaps, musical guest) very soon.

 

What do you think? Did you like Chance the Rapper as a host on “SNL”? Are you also compiling a list of men that could have easily beaten Blake Shelton for the 2017 People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive title? I mean, seriously. In a year full of disappointments, this one was a low blow. Share your list (and your thoughts) in the comments. And, as you gather to celebrate this super-questionable Thanksgiving holiday with your friends and family, remember…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

Please Please Please Don’t Let ‘Mr. Robot’ Go Sci-Fi

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

After a somewhat divisive second season (I, for the record, liked it. Mostly.) “Mr. Robot” has come back in full force. The first four episodes of the new season have been especially excellent, full of tension and intrigue and everything that makes “Mr. Robot” so gosh-darn good. But there’s something lingering in the background that makes me a little uneasy.

 

There’s been all this talk about a way to reset things, to reverse all of the damage that E Corp and fsociety and Elliot have done. It seems to go back to White Rose, who has some sort of plan that was convincing enough to turn Angela into a Dark Army henchwoman. But what is that plan exactly? Does it have anything to do with the post-credit discussion between Mobley and Trenton from the end of season two? And will it – god forbid – move “Mr. Robot” from a world of harsh reality to a world of fanciful science fiction?

 

The answer to that is still somewhat unclear. The season premiere revealed some sort of large device in Washington Township, where Elliot grew up and where his father and Angela’s mother got sick and ultimately died on E Corp’s watch, the linchpin that threw the whole plot of the show into motion. This device seems to be of significant importance to White Rose and one can assume it has something to do with whatever she has been telling Angela about being able to change things. That, paired with continued talks about multiple realities and universes, both from White Rose and from a random employee at Washington Township, makes it seem like “Mr. Robot” might be poised to take a sci-fi tinged turn.

 

When asked by The Hollywood Reporter, series creator Sam Esmail chose to not confirm or deny any of the growing rumors that the show could be veering into more fantastic territory, only saying that the device is important and that the show overall is “as rooted and grounded with the real world as possible.” I certainly hope this is true, because turning “Mr. Robot” into science fiction would be a real blow to what makes the show so great in the first place.

 

Part of the allure of “Mr. Robot,” at least for me, is its humanity and realism. It’s about average people taking power into their own hands and realizing that changing the world is not as simple (or as honorable) as it may seem on paper. Even when the show gets a little wacky, we as viewers know it’s only because of our unreliable narrator and his struggles with mental illness. It adds a level of fantasy and complication while still grounding the show in reality. If they decided to go full-out with the fantasy, adding some sort of time travel or alternate universe plot line, the show could lose some of its grit and ultimately run the risk of becoming a joke.

 

It’s not like I don’t enjoy a good bit of science fiction; it’s just that this show has built so much of its story on the stark realities of being a person in a world overrun with big business and corporations with no sign of a reprieve. To move away from that now or to offer some sort of grand fix that would reset everything would be a disservice to the fascinating and necessary story the show has been trying to tell.

 

I don’t want to tell the people at “Mr. Robot” how to do their job. They’ve really and truly done an excellent job so far. I just can’t help but worry that this potential turn could mean disaster, one that no reset button could fix.

 

What do you think? Do you want “Mr. Robot” to venture into science fiction territory? Or are you just wishing that they’ll add Boo Boo Jeffries to the next edition of Super Smash Bros? Let me know in the comments. And, as always…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

Is ‘This Is Us’ Good, Or Just Sad?

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

While I think I’ve made my thoughts on “This Is Us” pretty clear in previous posts (Randall is the absolute best, everyone else in the Pearson family is the absolute worst) I feel like it’s important to look at the show further. It doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon, with a rabid fan base seemingly sticking around for the current second season (at least until they find out how Jack died) and a shocking 10 Emmy nominations (and two wins) this past awards season. All of this leads to the biggest question of them all: Is “This Is Us” actually as good as all of the recognition and accolades imply?

 

I’m not so sure. In an era where so many television shows rival or even best what’s being shown in movie theaters, so much so that big-name movie stars like Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts have made or are making their way to prestige TV, it feels weird to lump a show like “This Is Us” into that quality category. Largely because I don’t necessarily think that “This Is Us” is good. It is good at making people cry though, which is a different thing entirely.

 

All you have to do is look at how “This Is Us” is promoted to figure out how NBC is pulling people in and keeping them there. Almost every preview indicates that the upcoming episode will have some heartbreaking, earth-shattering revelation (often at the expense of poor, undeserving Randall) that will leave viewers in a puddle of their own tears. And they don’t necessarily disappoint in that regard. Every episode culminates in some teary-eyed emotional speech, often geared towards whatever personal tragedy a character has faced that week. It’s tailor-made for tears and in a time where it seems like there’s a new real-life tragedy every week, viewers are often primed and ready for a good cry.

 

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good show, in terms of overall quality. The dialogue is often clunky and corny and the acting talent of the leads is wildly uneven. Plus, its tear-jerking tone and weird way of revealing new tragedies can only last for so long before people are tired of seeing their favorite characters in a constant state of duress and want to see them just be happy for once.

 

Will “This Is Us” be able to stand on its own then? Or will it crumble when its Jack-centric mystery is solved and its “you’ll cry so hard you’ll flood your entire home and drown your loved ones” moment in the sun fades? Only time will tell. For now though, I stand by my belief that “This Is Us” isn’t necessarily good, but it is very very very sad. Ya’ll should have watched Dan Fogelman‘s other new fall 2016 series instead. Want to know what that series was? “Pitch.” It was “Pitch.” Did you really think I wasn’t going to mention “Pitch”? BRING BACK “PITCH.”

 

What do you think of “This Is Us”? Do you think it’s actually a good show? Do you think I should get over my weird vendetta towards it? Yeah, I probably should. It’s not like I don’t watch it. I just quietly whisper “I should be watching ‘Pitch’ right now” while I do. Tell me what you quietly whisper while you watch “This Is Us” in the comments. And, as always…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

This ‘SNL’ Sketch Might Be Only Halloween-Related Thing I Like

While I’m on the record with my general dislike for Halloween (it’s a holiday that’s only fun when you’re a kid and free candy is on the table and then as you get older it just becomes a stressful blockade in the way of Christmas cheer), I do like – nay, love – the Vincent Price Halloween special sketches on “SNL.” While David S. Pumpkins might now be the go-to “SNL” Halloween memory, these sketches are truly modern classics and the above one might be the best of them all.

 

Starring Bill Hader as the titular Vincent Price, the sketch typically involves him trying to host some sort of spooky holiday special only to be upstaged by his chaotic guests and co-host, Fred Armisen’s delightful Liberace. In this case, those guests are the always-perfect Kristen Wiig as Gloria Swanson and the might-as-well-be-an-official-SNL-cast-member Jon Hamm as James Mason. From the beginning it’s clear that Swanson and Mason are only interested in getting drunk and being a mess, and nothing Price does will stop them in their pursuits. It’s gleeful and goofy and doesn’t leave you with nightmares, like most Halloween-related nonsense. (I don’t like being scared, okay? I just want to laugh!)

 

People like to say that your favorite “SNL” cast is the one that was there when you first really started watching the show, and this cast was mine. Hader, Wiig, Armisen and the others were so on top of their game, so absurdly talented and funny that it made every week a treat regardless of what was in the news or who held political office. While I definitely enjoy the current cast and the unique things they bring to the table, this one will always have a special place in my heart and this sketch is one of the many reasons why.

 

What do you think? What’s your favorite Halloween-related “SNL” sketch? Do you have a favorite Halloween costume from your childhood? Mine was definitely Penelope Taynt, “Amanda’s Number One Fan, Please.” I even had the laptop on a strap around my neck! (Although mine was made out of cardboard.) A true classic, to be sure. Tell all in the comments. And, of course, on this night before Halloween…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

 

 

Justin Timberlake Is Doing the Super Bowl Halftime Show…And I Have Some Thoughts

It was announced yesterday that Justin Timberlake will be the headliner at the 2018 Super Bowl Halftime show. This should be great news. It’s Justin Timberlake! He’s talented and fun! But it still sits in an uneasy place with me, and I’m sure countless others. Because we all remember what happened the last time he did the Halftime show.

 

For those who somehow missed Timberlake’s infamous 2004 appearance, here’s a quick refresher: when Timberlake got the the “have you naked by the end of this song” lyric in his song “Rock Your Body,” he stayed true to his word, revealing a part of co-headliner Janet Jackson’s body that is generally not allowed to be shown on a network like CBS. It’s always been somewhat unclear whether or not the move was intentional, but it was clear who seemed to get the most blame for the incident: Janet Jackson.

 

While Timberlake has been able to largely move on from what happened it became a constant topic of conversation whenever Janet Jackson was brought up, in some circles overshadowing much of the success she has had as a solo artist. Timberlake didn’t even really address the hypocrisy of the situation until two years later, and he barely took a stance then.

 

The whole ordeal spoke to the larger issues surrounding censorship in entertainment, something that has bugged me for years. You can’t show most nudity on network television, but you can show oftentimes gratuitous violence? A movie becomes R-rated if someone says the “F” word too many times, but remains PG-13 if it’s just people shooting guns at each other? The disparities there are definitely evident in the way that our society perceives certain events and situations, much like this one, and it’s not right.

 

There’s also, of course, the issue with the fact that Timberlake, the male artist involved in the incident, is being welcomed back while the female artist involved, who was possibly exposed without her permission or consent, is seemingly still banned from appearing on the Halftime show again. It’s just another example of the ever-present double standards between men and women, especially women of color and especially in the entertainment industry. Justin Timberlake was just a little scamp who make a mistake, and we forgive him; Janet Jackson was a grown woman who should have known better, so she doesn’t get to move on. It’s completely and totally unfair and this latest development only highlights that more.

 

I like Justin Timberlake. I’m a longtime fan of his music and have seen him in concert twice. I hope that he will use this opportunity to welcome Jackson back (regardless of what sort of consequences it might produce for him) and allow her the time she rightfully deserves after this whole ordeal. It’s really the least he could do, but it would at least be a big step in the direction of righting the wrong that started 14 years ago.

 

What do you think? Do you hope that Timberlake will bring Janet Jackson back for the Halftime show? Do you wish they had just gotten Beyonce to do it again? I feel you. Share your thoughts in the comments. But, of course…

 

Keep it classy.

Jenn

What Are You Reading?

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Photo by Jenn Murphy

Sure, I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about the things that I’m watching on stage and screens big and small but when I’m not ruining my eyes with screen time I’m most likely reading a book. Or sleeping. Or eating something I shouldn’t be. But often I’m reading a book!

 

Some people (like “Secret Life of the American Teenager Star” Shailene Woodley) like to believe that just because someone is an active and frequent enjoyer of things like television and film they can’t also be a reader, which is simply untrue. It feeds into the snooty idea that television and film are a lesser art, meant to entertain the mindless masses while the truly intelligent spend their time with fine literature. Yes, there are certainly many things on television and in movies that aren’t exactly mentally enriching, but there are also a lot of things that both entertain and make you think. And then, when you’re done watching those fascinating and thought-provoking pieces of entertainment, you can pick up a book! Crazy concept, I know.

 

Right now I’m reading “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah‘s memoir of sorts, “Born A Crime.” It features stories of his life growing up in South Africa, both during apartheid and after, and is actually really good. Not to say that I didn’t think it would be, it’s just that sometimes celebrity memoirs can fall a little flat. For a celebrity memoir to be truly great, you need someone who has a backstory that’s actually interesting and can write said story in a compelling way. I’m only about halfway through “Born A Crime,” but Noah is definitely hitting both of those marks. It’s a mix of humor (inevitable, given his comedy background) and more dramatic moments and offers a glimpse into Noah’s very fascinating life. Even if you’re not a fan of Noah’s current “Daily Show” tenure, I would recommend you check the book out. It might actually change your mind.

 

Have you read “Born A Crime”? Are you reading a different book right now that you’re really enjoying? Did you also absolutely love last week’s season premiere of “Mr. Robot“? (It’s finally baaaaaack!!) Let me know in the comments. And, as always…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

5 Comedies That Could (And Should) Score An Emmy Nomination Next Year

 

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

The 2017 Emmy Awards may have only happened mere weeks ago but that doesn’t mean we can’t start talking about 2018 now, especially since there’s a good chance several key slots in the Best Comedy Series category might be opening up. Rumors are swirling that “Veep‘s” seventh and final season will likely not be ready to air by the May 31 cutoff date for Emmy eligibility and Aziz Ansari has basically said that there will be no more “Master of None” until he has lived more life worth writing a TV show about, meaning that both frequently nominated (and in “Veep’s” case, frequently winning) shows will be out of the running next year.

 

Of course, this could just mean that “Modern Family” will reclaim its wholly undeserved title as Best Comedy Series, but it also means that there will be room for some new shows to join the nominated ranks. I know who I want to take those slots, obviously. In the vast world of comedy on TV, there are plenty of shows that have, year in and year out, proven themselves to be worthy of recognition of the shiny trophy variety. Here’s just five that could (and should) be newly in the running.


1) “Superstore” – NBC

One of what I consider to be the true heirs to the “The Office“/”Parks and Recreation” quirky workplace comedy with heart throne, “Superstore” has been a quiet delight for several seasons. Following the goings on at a big box store called Cloud 9, “Superstore” has its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments as well as moments that address things like immigration, PTSD and more. While it does deal with heavier topics from time to time, it’s always done with a sense of respectful levity. A lot of shows on TV now are meant to make you feel down or uneasy. “Superstore” just wants to make you smile, and it does. If that doesn’t deserve some Emmy love, I don’t know what does.

 

2) “The Good Place” – NBC

Many of the comedies nominated for the big Emmy are pretty straight-forward in their plot (other than “Atlanta,” which is great and should win next year if its second season ends up being as good as its first) so it would be great to switch it up with something as wild and unique as “The Good Place.” I’ll refer you to a previous post I’ve written about the show that describes the plot and urges you to watch it, if for nothing other than to be totally shocked by the big twist at the end of season one. The second season began a few weeks ago and has continued to surprise and amaze, throwing formula out the window to look at things like destiny and how to be a good person. It’s also just super funny.

 

3) “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – Fox

While I mostly include this one because I want to see the great Andre Braugher get back in the Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category he was wrongfully absent from this past Emmys (curse you, Alec Baldwin and you bland impression of our garbage president!) and hey, maybe actually win for once, it’s also been a consistently great ensemble comedy. Much like “Superstore,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has the perfect mix of humor and heart, and unsurprising fact given that the show’s co-creator, Michael Schur, created “Parks and Recreation” and wrote for “The Office.” It would be great to see this and his other latest creation, “The Good Place” get the recognition they rightfully deserve.

 

4) “You’re the Worst” – FXX

Sometimes I feel like a one-woman campaign for this show, but it really is so great and so under appreciated that I will keep talking about it until someone, anyone takes notice. It recently began its fourth season on the super deep cable FXX and continues to be devastating, both in its biting comedy and bare-bones depiction of people at their worst. The drama categories at the Emmys were a home for the anti-hero for many years, whose to say the comedy category can’t take that over? “Veep’s” Selina Meyer certainly isn’t the most lovable women and yet people have watched and rooted for her for years, often against their own better judgement. Perhaps Gretchen and Jimmy can take that slot. I’m definitely on board.

 

5) “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” – The CW

In 2015 the Emmys adopted a kind of weird new rule stating that to be considered a comedy series, a show must only be 30 minutes long. While this certainly applies to most comedies, there are at least a few that break that mold and the absolutely excellent “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is one of them. The musical series created by and starring Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch, a clearly mentally unwell woman who moves across the country to pursue a childhood crush, might not sound like a comedy from the outset but it really truly is. The show is endlessly funny and the songs are actually really good, not corny or uncomfortable like other musical television series (*cough* “Glee” “Smash” *cough*). If you know that Rachel Bloom is entertaining enough to intro the Emmys accountants at the ceremony, than you should know her show is entertaining enough to get an Emmy nomination.


So there you have it, five comedies that could (and should) fill the positions potentially left empty by “Veep” and “Master of None.” There are also reports that “Better Call Saul” might not be finished in time, opening up a slot in the drama category for “Pitch.” Did you think I wasn’t going to mention “Pitch”? BRING BACK “PITCH”!!!

 

What do you think? Have any other comedies you’d add to this list? Think I should move on from the Emmys? If so, have you ever read this blog before? I feel like you don’t get my brand. Explain yourself in the comments. And, of course…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

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