Review: Twinsters

Twinsters is a documentary about twin sisters. They were born in South Korea and given up for adoption. One grew up in the US and one in France. They knew nothing about each until a chance viewing of a YouTube video brought them together.

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: Twinsters”

Quantico: The First 8 Minutes Offers a Look at Priyanka Chopra, an Exciting New Star

I’ve been ready to watch Quantico from the first preview because of the interesting lead actress, Priyanka Chopra, playing Alex Parrish. Now that ABC released a teaser showing the first 8 minutes, I’m even more sure I’m going to love this show. It’s about a class of recruits heading for the FBI Academy to learn to be agents.

The series begins on ABC on September 27. Star Priyanka Chopra is a former Miss World, a huge Hindi films success in her home country, and winner of a National Film Award — the equivalent of an Oscar — for Best Actress. She can sing, too. She lived in the U.S. with an aunt during her high school days, and recorded music at that time.

Quantico is Chopra’s first step into the American market as an actress. I predict great success for her here. She’s gorgeous, she’s talented – she’s a winner. She told The New York Times, “After being in movies for 13 years in India, I’m suddenly a debutante all over again. I’m scared and nervous — petrified, actually.”

Female FBI recruits played by Johanna Braddy, Yasmine Al Massri, and Priyanka Chopra
Female FBI recruits played by Johanna Braddy, Yasmine Al Massri, and Priyanka Chopra

She’s not the only thing Quantico has going for it. I’m sure you noticed other interesting characters in that 8 minute clip. Jake McLaughlin plays Ryan who never learned how to shave, Yasmine Al Massri is Nimah, Johanna Braddy is Shelby, Tate Ellington is Simon, Graham Rogers is Caleb, Anabelle Acosta is Nathalie, and Aunjanue Ellis is Miranda Shaw, one of the FBI trainers on the stage. Brian J. Smith is in this clip, but it looks like he doesn’t make it past the first episode, if IMDB has the correct information the number of episodes in which each actor appears.

ABC wanted Priyanka Chopra for something. They didn’t know what, exactly, but were willing to keep trying until they found the right show for her. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Chopra said ABC sent her 26 scripts before she picked Quantico. She didn’t want to be in a box labeled “Indian.” She commented, “ABC was sure they would find the right fit for me, and I think Quantico is. It’s me as an actor. Alex wasn’t written for someone with my ethnicity, but I am Indian in the show, so I’ve been rooted with my culture in the show, but that’s not what the show is about.” Chopra describes her character on the show as a female Jason Borne, smart and tough, but also feminine.

The series doesn’t waste a second getting Alex into hot water. She’s the FBI trainee suspected of masterminding the biggest attack on New York since September 11. I’m already rooting for her to get herself out of this mess, Jason Borne style.

A diverse cast, several leading parts for women, a high stakes story promising lots of action: all that adds up to an appealing season for Quantico. Will you be watching?

[Note: This post was syndicated at BlogHer in a slightly different form.]

Review: Ricki and the Flash

Lucky for me I’m not a critic. It seems to me that the main job of a critic is to watch a fun and enjoyable movie or TV show and find things wrong with it so as to make it unenjoyable for anyone else to watch. Which leads to my point: Ricki and the Flash is fun and enjoyable. Lukewarm reviews be damned.

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: Ricki and the Flash”

3 Themes in Season 3 of Orange is the New Black

Season 3 of Orange is the New Black returns again and again to several themes. My big 3 are the difficulties of maintaining a family while in prison, the need for some sort of spiritual hope, and the need for love.

If you haven’t watched all of season 3 yet, there are spoilers ahead.

Parents in Prison

Elizabeth Rodriguez and Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black

Pregnant prisoner Dayanara Diaz (Dascha Polanco) struggled for most of the season with what to do with her baby. Her mother Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is in prison, too. Aleida is a terrible parent – the worst! – but she tries to guide Daya to a good decision.

Daya hopes the baby’s father, Correctional Officer John Bennett (Matt McGorry), will step up and take the baby, but Bennett isn’t up to the challenge.

Daya reported another Correctional Officer, the horrible “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber) as the rapist who got her pregnant. Now she’s living with the lie.

Mary Steenberger in Orange is the New Black

Pornstache’s mother Delia (Mary Steenburgen) wants to adopt the child. Alida loves this idea because it means money. Even after Daya tells Delia the truth about whose baby it is, Delia wants it. Daya wobbles back and forth between wanting to give her baby to Delia and wanting to keep it in the family. The decision she finally makes feels right, but ends in disaster.

In other story lines about families, the character Maria (Jessica Pimentel) is dealt a painful parenting blow from her little girl’s father. Gloria (Selenis Leyva) struggles to keep her teen on the straight and narrow. Sophia (Laverne Cox) has some especially hard parenting problems.

The fact is, most women in prison have children, over half of them under the age of 18. Because of changes in sentencing laws during the war on drugs, the number of parents of minor children in prison increased by 79% between 1991 and 2007. Orange is the New Black can’t take us through story lines about the long term effects of so many mothers being locked away, so many broken families, but the series does its best to bring the problem to the front.

Think about Big Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) comments on the book Freakonomics about the number of unwanted children being reduced by Roe vs. Wade resulting in fewer neglected and abused children turning to crime 20 years later. Flip that on its head and ask yourself what the result of harsh drug sentencing laws that sent thousands of mothers to prison for minor drug crimes will be in 20 years.

Faith & Religion

Annie Golden as Norma annoints an inmate played by Danielle Herbert.

Norma (Annie Golden) is at the center of one of the crazy rumor-driven stories in the prison. Some of the prisoners decide she is holy. Since she doesn’t speak, she simply smiles and pats them on the shoulder when they suggest this. They think she’s blessing them, and eventually she starts enjoying the attention and begins to act like the guru she followed as a younger woman. Everyone wants something to hang on to, some spiritual hope, and Norma is it for the moment.

A second plot line around religion involves the discovery that if you ask for a kosher meal, you get better food. Many of the inmates start asking for kosher food. Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) wants to learn enough about being Jewish to pass the test when they ask her why she should be eating kosher.

Cindy starts off on her Jewish experience watching Woody Allen movies but soon turns to an actual study of the faith. By the last episode, she has been accepted as Jewish by other Jews and even experiences a mikveh, or total immersion in water, as a symbol of her new identity as a Jew.

The Need for Love

Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon in a scene from Orange is the New Black

Was it love that made Piper (Taylor Schilling) rat on Alex (Laura Prepon) in season 2, so she would be back in Litchfield Prison in season 3? Whatever the case, they reunite with hate-sex that involves lots of slapping, shoving and biting. Piper eventually asks Alex to be her official girlfriend. Alex says yes. Then the new inmate Stella (Ruby Rose) catches Piper’s eye and official girlfriends don’t seem so important.

Uzo Aduba and Emily Althaus in Orange is the New Black

They had to burn all the books because of bedbugs. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) fills the gap in reading material when she writes crazy sci-fi porn and passes it around the prison. She gets fans! She has readers! Prisoners are desperate for any kind of love and/or romance they can find, and Suzanne provides them with a semblance of a love story. One fan in particular, Maureen (Emily Althaus), really wants to connect with her idol Crazy Eyes. Suzanne doesn’t know how to act around the idea of having a real girlfriend, not a dandelion. In the last episode, Suzanne and Maureen make tentative but thrilling contact.

Samira Wiley and Kimiko Glenn in a scene from Orange is the New Black

Poussey (Samira Wiley) is so lonely and love-starved that she stays drunk on her homebrew most of season 3. Soso (Kimiko Glenn) is lonely, rejected, friendless, and depressed most of season 3.  Something happens that brings these two closer and may be the much needed relationship they both lack.

The loyalties, the friendships, the “families” that form inside prison help people retain their sanity. Maria points out in the first episode, “Mother’s Day,” once people get released, they forget their prison friends. Yet, while inside, the need to feel connected, to be seen and understood by at least one other human being, does not go away. Crazy Eyes even says it out loud, “People need love.”

In addition to this big 3 list, season 3 of Orange is the New Black also deals with the idea of for-profit prisons and the lack of mental health care for inmates. It does all this while still managing to be funny, character driven drama of the highest order. It’s changing American culture, one story at a time.

Note: This post was syndicated at BlogHer.com.

3 Top Shows From the Fall TV Season

What if you picked the top 3 shows from the fall season that you were the most excited about, the most eager to see, and most wanted to recommend and talk about? That’s the question I asked myself. Here is my answer.

Last Tango in Halifax

Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid in Last Tango in Halifax
Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid in Last Tango in Halifax

Choice number 1, and an all time favorite, is Last Tango in Halifax. This BBC series was shown in the U.S. on PBS.org, where you can still watch all six episodes of season 1.

Last Tango in Halifax is built around Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid). They were in love as teens, and probably should have married but did not because of an interesting plot twist. Sixty years later they find each other again via Facebook. They realize they are still in love and decide to get married. Their story by itself is warm and wonderful and a real treat.

We get more story than just an adventurous Alan and Celia from Last Tango in Halifax, however. The children and grandchildren of these two charming, Facebook using elders get into the mix.

Celia’s daughter Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) is headmistress of a school. She’s brilliant and snotty and sarcastic and positively luminous. Her husband of 18 years (Tony Gardner) recently ran off with another woman. In his absence, Caroline began a relationship with another teacher at her school, a woman named Kate (Nina Sosanya). When the series opens, Caroline has yet to tell anyone in her family that she’s seeing a woman. Her coming out affects each person differently and causes mayhem in several episodes. Caroline, her two sons, and Celia live in a big house with a cottage for Celia. As the season begins, Caroline’s husband arrives and wants to come back home.

Alan’s daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker) is a farmer in Halifax. She’s been a widow for 10 years and runs the farm on her own. Alan and Gillian’s teen aged son live on the farm with her. She builds rock walls, drives tractors, replaces clutches and generally is the perfect self-sufficient woman. Well, except for her habit of choosing inappropriate sex partners like 20 year old boy toys of questionable character who are already engaged to someone else. Gillian’s sexual choices cause mayhem in every episode.

The love stories of this extended group of northern England’s most engaging characters are riveting and often run parallel as everyone in both families gets a second chance at love. The best part? They are already filming season 2.

Nashville

Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere in Nashville
Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere in Nashville. Image from ABC TV.

Give me music and I’ll love you. My favorite episode of Grey’s Anatomy? The musical one. My favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The musical one. I love Glee and Smash (is that even still on?) and I love Nashville.

I’m also pretty darn big on Connie Britton, and she’s the star of this drama, playing country music legend Rayna Jaymes. Connie Britton isn’t a great singer, but she’s good enough. Hayden Panettiere (who is a very good singer) plays Juliette Barnes, a young country star who is trying to unseat Rayna from her throne as the queen of country. There is plenty of  musical talent on this show from many other characters. A special favorite is Clare Bowen, who plays Scarlett O’Connor, and possesses a wonderful voice. Lots of guys with guitars and big hats fill out the singing contingent. Rayna’s family is into politics so there’s political drama along with all the music industry goings-on. Rayna and Juliette both have rather messy love lives, further adding to the weekly drama.

I love the music, I love the characters (even Juliette, who we are supposed to hate) and I love the soapy melodrama of Nashville.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast.
Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast. Image ABC TV

I am so not the target demographic for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I love it anyway. I mostly love it because it reflects Joss Whedon’s sensibility about what makes a good story. That means that the gender balance is perfection, the women are as powerful and smart as the men and no concept is too ridiculous a stretch of science fiction to entertain.

I happen to believe that we need more geeky female role models for young girls (who are part of the target demographic for this show). Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a female jet pilot warrior commando, a female scientist, and a female hacker. Role models everywhere.

These are the 3 shows I get the most excited about seeing each week from this year’s fall TV season. What are your three?

NOTE: This post was syndicated on BlogHer.com.

The Crazy Ones: How’s SMG Doing?

Calling a show created by David E. Kelley and starring Robin Williams The Crazy Ones is only logical. Robin Williams, as ad exec Simon Roberts, doesn’t have to be anything but his most manic to be hilarious. In this show, he gets to do plenty of that.

David E. Kelley has a string of bizarre hits to his credit including Harry’s Law, Boston Legal, The Practice, Ally McBeal, and, my favorite, Picket Fences.

Together, these two guys are the world’s most outlandish and wacky minds on the planet. Putting them together on a sitcom is, again, only logical.

Then you introduce Sarah Michelle Gellar as Simon’s daughter Sydney to the mix. She’s the other Roberts in the Roberts & Roberts ad agency. I love SMG – Buffy forever! – but let’s face it, she’s not known for her comedy chops. Can she keep up with the world-class comedy awesome Robin Williams brings?

Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar
Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar

Luckily, a considerable part of her job on The Crazy Ones is to be the sane one. She reins in her father with a voice and look that she surely acquired from being a mother. Even though she tries to tone him down, his excesses are always a stroke of pure advertising genius which she should have actually encouraged rather than discouraged. She never will, however, because the premise of the show is that she must act as the tether that ties her father to solid ground.

Even so, it isn’t all perfect sanity from her. She’s been given a chance to stretch her comedy muscles. She’s proven she can do the fast talking and the sight gag stuff with aplomb. She’s got the timing down. We are getting to see Sarah Michelle Gellar stretch and grow on this show and it seems to me that it’s working out very nicely. Working with Robin Williams every day must be like going to the college of comedy with the valedictorian as your personal mentor. I think she’s taking advantage of the education and holding her own with a solid performance.

What’s your opinion? Is SMG keeping up with the master?

Photos by Richard Cartwright – © 2013 CBS BROADCASTING INC. All Rights Reserved.

Note: This post was syndicated in a slightly expanded form on BlogHer.com.