Review: Around the Block

Around the Block is an Australian Hamlet story. It’s set in a Sydney high school where the students are mostly indigenous or Maori or Pacific Islanders. It’s beautiful and tragic and full of unforgettable images.  Beware the spoilers. Continue reading “Review: Around the Block”

Orange is the New Black: Finding a Balm for Your Pain

Orange is the New Black season 4 puts viewers through the wringer. Abuse, murder, death, mental illness, surviving rape, corporate greed. It’s dark and horrifying. There are moments of hope, of light. There are ways of dealing. I thought it would good to end my series of posts on the latest season of Orange is the New Black with something brighter. There are spoilers ahead.  Continue reading “Orange is the New Black: Finding a Balm for Your Pain”

Orange is the New Black: Musings and Observations

Season 4 of Orange is the New Black is on everyone’s mind now. I’ve barely had time to watch it all. This post collects some random observations and stray musings on season 4. It is not meant to be a review of the season, but there are some spoilers.  Continue reading “Orange is the New Black: Musings and Observations”

3 Reasons to Love Dark Matter

Dark Matter stars Roger R. Cross, Jodelle Ferland, Anthony Lemke, Zoie Palmer, Melissa O’Neil, Marc Bendavid, and Alex Mallari Jr. as the characters Six, Five, Three, The Android, Two, One, and Four. Here are 3 reasons why I love this sci fi space drama.

1. Nobody Knows Who They Are

Six people and and a ship-running android find themselves awakening in space with no memory of who they are or where they are going. Unlike stories where strangers get stuck in an elevator or on a bus or a ship, these people are not only strangers to each other but to themselves. They assign themselves numbers because they don’t know their own names.

Melissa O'Neil as Two is one badass character
Melissa O’Neil as Two is one of the badass characters.

Personalities, character, and backstories are revealed slowly. We get to know everyone as they get to know themselves. It’s a delightful concept. The characters turn out to be badasses or wusses, sweethearts or assholes, brilliantly inventive or overly aggressive as problem solvers.

As storytelling devices go, this one works beautifully. Every new situation, every new memory, every new learned fact adds a layer to the characters and the direction of the story as a whole.

2. The Nonhuman(s) are Awesome

Zoie Palmer as The Android
Zoie Palmer as The Android

Obviously, The Android is not human. Other characters may not be human, either, but I won’t spoil it by revealing names (or numbers). The Android speaks in a somewhat mechanical voice, sports a ridiculous curl atop her head like one of those hard plastic baby dolls from the 1940s, and controls the entire running of the ship with some sort of bluetooth messaging service from her brain to the ship’s computers.

She’s more than a machine however, and shows signs of emotion. She listens to criticism and develops new characteristics. In one episode she creates a default version of herself and has a conversation with her default personality (a clone scene!) to determine exactly what is different about her now.

She gets jealous when another android, played by Ruby Rose, is found in the hold and assembled.

She’s not merely well-toned. This android can toss a much bigger person right up against the hull of the ship like a wet towel.

3. Six is a Sweetie

Roger R Cross plays Six
Roger R. Cross plays Six

Roger Cross plays Six. Six has an open, tolerant, kind heart. I’m firmly in favor of men being sweethearts, especially big, strong men like Six. (See Give Us More Charming and Lovely Men on TV.) Six is always the one with the kind word, the generous gesture. Make no mistake, he’s no wimp, he can be tough when it’s needed. Still, it’s nice to have a male character like this on television.

I’m so happy that it’s Roger Cross who got this role because I’ve loved him ever since he donned an evening gown and stole Kit Porter’s heart in The L Word. I’ve watched him play all sorts of gun-toting bad guys, soldiers, businessmen in suits, and Mrs. S’s favorite former fella in Orphan Black. He’s been in almost every sci fi series to come out of Canada and a whole lotta movies.

The one role I always wanted Roger Cross to have was an incubus opposite the succubus Bo in Lost Girl. I’m getting a little squozzy just thinking about Roger Cross and Anna Silk making blue eyes together. Why, oh why, was Roger Cross never in Lost Girl? (Nothing personal against Anthony Lemke or Zoie Palmer, who did get to enjoy Anna Silk at her blue-eyed best in Lost Girl.)

It’s Not Too Late

SyFy is just about the air the season finale of Dark Matter, but it isn’t too late to catch up on this series, because all the episodes of Dark Matter are available at the SyFy site. My fingers are crossed hoping for a season 2 of Dark Matter.

If you’ve been watching all along, please share your reasons for loving this series.

Images © Prodigy Pictures

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.

Orange is the New Black Season 3

I just finished all the episodes of season 3 of Orange is the New Black. I’ll be writing about it in more depth, but I wanted to share some quick thoughts.

Themes

Season 3 could be subtitled “I need to be loved.” The sentiment was a theme in many of the episodes and back stories that played out this season. In one episode, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” (Uzo Aduba) even says those exact words. Loneliness and a need for connection drove so many story lines.

Another theme of season 3 was parenting. Daya (Dascha Polanco) had her baby in season 3, of course, but so many episodes dealt with the difficulties of parenting while incarcerated. Over half of the women in prison have children under the age of 18. The emphasis on how parents and children are torn apart when mothers are in prison gave a very sad feeling to season 3.

The prison is bought by a for-profit corporation in season 3. The private ownership of prisons as sources of profit is an obscene practice and a great shame in the American “justice” system.

Mental health care – or more correctly the lack of mental health care – in the prison system is another theme this season.

Finally, there’s a thread about faith, spirituality and religion running through season 3. Santaria, anyone? Mazel tov!

Characters

Laura Prepon was back as Alex, while other favorites disappeared into SHU or plain disappeared. I missed those people.

There were interesting guest stars. Mary Steenbergen was in several episodes as the mother of Pornstache. Blair Brown was in a few episodes as a celebrity in trouble who surrenders herself to Litchfield in the last episode.

New prisoners included Ruby Rose, Lori Petty and Emily Althaus. All of them had a effect on the prison and the inmates in fascinating ways. Speaking of fascinating, some of the new back stories this season were surprising.

Okay. More later about all these topics. If you have overall comments about season 3, please share.

Watch This: Dark Matter 1st Trailer

Are we lost in space yet? Why, yes, almost.

The first trailer for the SyFy drama Dark Matter is out. The new series will have 13-episodes on SyFy, debuting June 12th.

In the photo above, you see the cast of the spaceship. They are: Alex Mallari Jr. as “Four”, Roger Cross as “Six”, Anthony Lemke as “Three”, Melissa O’Neil as “Two”, Marc Bendavid as “One”, Jodelle Ferland as “Five” and Zoie Palmer as “The Android”.
Photo credit: Dennys Illic.

I count 3 women and 4 men – assuming the Android can be gender identified – with several more female characters coming into the show as regulars and guests. I love this habit in Canada to make TV with lots of female characters. Go, Canada!

As you can gather from the trailer, this spaceship crew awakens with no memory of where they are or why they are there.

It sounds interesting to me as a sci-fi fan and because favorite actors such as Roger Cross, Anthony Lemke and Zoie Palmer are regulars. With such a small cast, it will be interesting to see who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what part the android has in the story. Everyone including the creators and the cast are veterans of one or more big sci-fi hits, so they bring the chops for a genre show in spades.

I always wanted Roger Cross to be on Lost Girl, maybe as an incubus who interacts with Bo. He’s been in every other Canadian show there is, I swear, but for some reason he never showed up on Lost Girl. Now he and Zoie Palmer will be together on Dark Matter, which isn’t exactly what I wanted, but it’s close.

Recurring characters will be played by David Hewlett and Amanda Brugel with Torri Higginson and Ruby Rose showing up as guest stars.

Dark Matter is created by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, and is based on the graphic novels of the same name.