Review: Margarita

Margarita, starring Nicola Correia Damude as the Mexican nanny Margarita, is the Canadian version of A Day Without a Mexican. In the same way that all of California comes to a screeching halt without Mexicans doing the actual business of making life work in A Day Without a Mexican, so Margarita makes life work for everyone around her. Only when she’s threatened with deportation, do the people around her notice how valuable she is.

Spoilers ahead. Continue reading “Review: Margarita”

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Orange is the New Black, Soso, and Diversity

Brook Soso. She’s a new inmate on Orange is the New Black. She’s played by Kimiko Glenn, who is at least part Asian. The only other Asian inmate is Chang (Lori Tan Chinn) who was mostly nonverbal in season 1, but does have lines in season 2.

Brook is VERY verbal. Nonstop talking. If she ever shut up she might have to listen to what was going on inside her own head. Not something she’s willing to do.

She’s not good material for a close friendship with Chang. She doesn’t fit in with the black inmates or the Spanish inmates. The white inmates tolerate her badly if at all.

She’s not disruptive like Vee, although she does inspire some good behavior. I’m looking forward to getting to know her as time goes by because she feels like a permanent addition to the cast.

I want to talk about her mostly because she adds another Asian to a cast that is diversity on steroids.

Incessant chatter is her coping mechanism. Because she talks all the time we learn quickly that she’s a flaming liberal, that she is up on all the latest liberal causes, and that she has the liberal agenda down and wants to tell you all about it. She’s in prison for some sort of political protest, but we don’t know what yet. She’s optimistic and bright-eyed and cheerful. I hope it doesn’t get beaten out of her by the system.

You can't make me take a shower.
You can’t make me take a shower.

When she first arrives at Litchfield, Soso’s scared of the showers. To be fair, the shower drains do urp up raw sewage on a regular basis. She goes unshowered for so long that everyone notices and complaints are filed about her stink. Bell (Catherine Curtin) gets the job of making her take a shower.

Passive resistance to cleanliness
Passive resistance to cleanliness

Soso tries passive resistance in protest to the forced shower, but she’s quickly picked up and carried to the showers. When she’s finally forced into the shower, she cries.

Soso, upset with her treatment, decides to go on a hunger strike. Passive resistance didn’t work so well for showers, but it may work better where eating is concerned.

You can't make me eat
You can’t make me eat.

Mendez (Pablo Schreiber) tangles with her in the cafeteria, where she announces loudly that she’s on a hunger strike in protest of the deplorable conditions in Litchfield. She wants others to join her.

As time goes by, she does get some people to join her hunger strike. That has some interesting consequences. Unfortunately, none of the consequences result in a lessening of her verbal diarrhea. One member of the cast does find a way to shut her up, but I don’t want to mention how, just in case you haven’t seen that part yet.

I’m glad they added an Asian character to the mix. When I reviewed August: Osage County, I suggested that the Native American actress Misty Upham be added to the cast of OITNB. I still think a Native American character would be a good idea. In fact, how about more than one Asian addition, and more than one Native American addition? We are, after all, peering into a multiplicity of women on this show.

On Introducing Vee into Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black poster for the character Vee.

Say hello to Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). Notice the dangerous headgear. Notice the deadly serious look in her eyes. Notice the nickname “queen” bestowed on her by the Orange is the New Black team.

Bringing Vee into the prison and into Orange is the New Black was a storytelling decision of brilliance from Jenji Kohan’s and the other writers on this Netflix Original Series.

It was such a juicy part – it gave Lorraine Toussaint a chance to move into Emmy Award territory. Why not give such a juicy part to one of the existing inmates? Someone we already think we know?

Vee and Red
Vee and Red

I have a few ideas about why an outsider, a newcomer, was important to season 2. Vee knew prison. She’d been there before. She knew Red, she knew the power Red used to wield from the kitchen. She knew how to turn prison culture to her advantage, just as she knew how to navigate life outside prison to her advantage.

A strength of season 1, a strength of the writing on this series, is the nuance. The layers revealed about each character in the storytelling, in the flashbacks. Because of that nuance, we thought we knew people.

But we didn’t know people in the way a master manipulator, a psychopathic user of human weakness like Vee knows them.

Vee is pleased with her minions
Vee is pleased with her minions

Vee knows how to spot someone who will be slavishly loyal in return for a glimmer of love, a glimmer of approval. She knows who will respond to family obligations. She knows who will go to the dark side out of a need for power or greed. She knows who will follow without question. She knows who can be tempted by the lure of a longed-for high. She knows who can be bought with bribery, with food, with small gifts.

Just watch Vee manipulate. She takes the sexy foster son she’s always lusted after to bed, then sends him out to be murdered. She comforts Tastee before her foster brother’s funeral by promising to protect her forever. Watch her work Tastee later in the prison when she realizes a piece of cake isn’t enough to win her over. Tastee wants an apology so Vee delivers. Watch her in the bathroom with Gloria where she uses tears to manipulate. Watch her deal with Black Cindy when Black Cindy uses cigarettes to get goodies for herself instead of profits for Vee. Watch her hit Poussey, both literally and figuratively, to keep her from influencing Tastee. Watch her promise friendship to Red and then lock sock her.

Lorraine Toussaint is brilliant in this part. I know I said that already, but damn, it’s worth repeating.

Vee goes into the prison and completely rewrites the culture in a few days. She recruits followers, sets tribes and factions against each other, breaks up friendships, and inflames hatred. She claims power with practiced ease.

She will never love you.
She will never love you.

Vee’s mayhem, Vee’s manipulations, pull back the curtain on all those characters we thought we knew. It gives us new insights. We see flaws, strengths, darkness, beauty in ways that we couldn’t in season 1 when everyone more or less got along. Vee disrupts, she brings an end to everyone just getting along, and personalities are laid bare in the process.

The women in Litchfield are criminals. They did bad things, stupid things, crazy things, violent things. But none of them are evil. Vee is evil. That’s another reason why Vee needed to be someone new to the cast. There was no evil-without-regret character already there.

Vee’s presence moves the story away from Piper. We still have Piper, of course, but her story doesn’t carry season 2 the way it did season 1. Season 2 is about power grabs, and Piper isn’t after power. Because Alex Vause will be back in season 3 in more episodes, Piper may come back into the forefront next season. Or maybe not. This story has taken on a life of its own. The actors, the characters, the chemistry between the actors, the fan response – all of it has carried Orange is the New Black bodily into places Piper Kerman’s original book never went.

So kudos to Jenji Kohan for writing Vee, kudos to Lorraine Toussaint for playing her with such brilliance, and kudos to everyone who got to go deeper and peel away more layers in response to Vee’s presence in the story. Brilliance all around.

A personal note: my nickname is Vee. It’s odd to write about a character named Vee.

A First Look at Orange is the New Black, Season 2

This is my overall impression of season 2 of Orange is the New Black. I will talk about performances and high level story lines, without revealing big spoilers. More detailed discussions of particular episodes or events will come later after people have had plenty of time to watch all 13 episodes.

I watched all 13 episodes in two days, and my eyes felt like I’d just finished one of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books when I finally looked up. But the eye strain was worth it.*

The Cast and Credits

The first thing I noticed was who is listed in the main credits. Those people are Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Michael Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgrew, and Jason Biggs. These are the names that show up every week. The cast has been shuffled around a bit, some people have moved up into major roles. Other actors, although very important to season 2, are listed in guest roles or are listed after the main titles roll. Samira Wiley as Poussey is a key actor in season 2, and her name should have been up front, in my opinion.

Fan favorite Laura Prepon shows up in only 3 episodes, but the way the season ends it looks like Alex Vause will be back in full force in season 3. Other favorites who are there, but not necessarily for every episode include Laverne Cox, Lea DeLaria, Yael Stone, Selenis Leyva and many others. All the same officers and prison people are still running the place badly, except Pornstache who only shows up in a couple of episodes.

Vee can't fool Poussey
Vee can’t fool Poussey

Lorraine Toussaint, who comes in as a character named Vee, is in 8 episodes. In those 8 episodes she manages to throw the whole prison into quite a state.

In Praise of Brilliant Performances

There are so many brilliant performances in season 2. This is so much of what Orange is the New Black is: a showcase for brilliant talent that we don’t see anywhere else. While that isn’t true of the well-known Lorraine Toussaint, I want to call her out for her performance. She simply stunned in every way.

The cast who’ve been there all along were marvelous again this season. Taylor Schilling, Uzo Adubo, Danielle Brooks and Samira Wiley gave noteworthy performances. Really, everyone in this cast gives a noteworthy performance.

The Backstories

The backstory on each character is what makes us care so much about the women in Litchfield. This season we got more backstory on Piper (Taylor Schilling), Morello (Yael Stone), Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Poussey, Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat), Gloria (Selenis Leyva), Suzanne (Uzo Adubo), Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) and Vee.

The Current Story

When the season begins, Piper is pulled from the SHU and taken to Chicago to the trial of the drug kingpin who was Alex’s boss. The trip from one prison to another provides an opportunity for a guest star, something that doesn’t happen often on this show. The guest was Lori Petty. Jodie Foster came back to direct again this season and she directed the Chicago trip episode.

At Litchfield, important plot points in this season are the dangerous conflict between Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Vee, the tension between the pregnant Daya (Dascha Polanco) and the C.O. John (Matt McGorry), the tension between Caputo (Nick Sandow) and Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), and the problems between Healey (Michael Harney) and just about everyone.

Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you.
Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you.

There’s a contest between Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) that leads to lots of funny lesbianing, but hang in there to the end of the season for the best Pensatucky lesbianing laugh of the year. Nicky has serious challenges to face as the season progresses, too.

You did WHAT?
You did WHAT?

Piper gets involved in tracing down corruption and finding proof of embezzled funds while dealing with Larry (Jason Biggs), Alex, a death in the family and more than one huge betrayal.

Morello and Suzanne
Morello and Suzanne

One of my favorite episodes revolved around Valentine’s Day. It revealed so many deep, meaningful insights. Another favorite was an episode where a good bit of the plot dealt with the fact that most of the women were unaware of their female anatomy and the construction of their lady parts in particular. The few who knew enlightened the others in some pretty funny ways.

I’m a ukelele player. I was highly amused by the C.O. (Joel Garland) who played a banjo ukelele while making up songs about nuns and bad mothers. Ukes forever!

The finale was written by Jenji Kohan. It wrapped up some problems, it opened up new problems for next season, and was a terrific way to end the season. It left us wanting more, it satisfied with poetic justice, and it left me convinced that season 3 can’t come soon enough.

*In one scene, Tastee recommends Outlander to Poussey.

Congratulations to Laverne Cox

Lavene Cox on the cover of Time
Lavene Cox on the cover of Time

I said quite a bit about Laverne Cox in Why Representation on TV Matters back in February – go read it. Today I just want to offer my congratulations to her for being on the cover of TIME, and to TIME for putting her on the cover.

Laverne Cox is using the opportunity to talk, not about herself, but about the violence and threats to transgender people and particularly transgender women of color. She has a powerful message that I hope everyone will listen to with an open heart.

Binge Watching VS. One Hour a Week

I rewatched all of season 3 of Lost Girl on Netflix. I was surprised to see many clues to what happened in season 4 that I’d forgotten about in the months between the two seasons. Now I’m rewatching Lost Girl season 4 and having an epiphany about binge watching.

Check this out
Kenzi from Lost Girl

When I watched season 4 on a weekly basis, I spent a good part of the time bitchy and irritated because the answers weren’t coming fast enough. When I look back over my recaps of season 4, the annoyance shows through. I cared about the characters and I wanted to know what was going to happen to them – and, by damn, I wanted to know right now!

Binge watching season 4 is much less aggravating. Well, true, I know what happened. But also true, I can rewatch episodes of Lost Girl with as much enjoyment as I felt the first time through. I experience it all again. Knowing that I can play the next episode immediately, where more will be revealed about Rainer or The Wanderer or the time on the train or Bo’s strange behavior makes a huge difference. It changes how I feel about the slow reveal of the clues, the seeming detours into things like bird-women who sing opera that don’t turn out to be detours after all.

alan and celia
Alan and Celia from Last Tango in Halifax

When I have to wait a week to see the next piece of a show I love, the wait seems insurmountable. Having to wait for season 2 of Last Tango in Halifax to reach PBS sent me into an absolute tizzy. Especially when it was available on the BBC, on YouTube, on every freakin’ place but legal American TV. Geographic restrictions are another horrible annoyance.

Orange is the New Black cast

I distinctly recall the feeling I had when I reached the last episode of Orange is the New Black. I wanted 1000 more episodes and I wanted them right now! But I’d just spent 13 hours with Orange is the New Black in a big gulp. Even though I wanted more, I could wait. The binge filled me up in a way that a weekly dose of something doesn’t.

I have a friend with no TV. She comes to town for a meeting every couple of months and stays at my place. We watched Orange is the New Black during each visit, a couple of episodes at a time spread out over several months. I started noticing flaws. Flaws! It wasn’t as wonderful when there was a gap in my viewing. The binge has power.

The Fringe cast
The Fringe

I didn’t watch Fringe until it was off the air. When I’d tried watching it weekly, I lost interest. When I could binge watch, I was fascinated. When I look back at the things I binge watched the past year: Orange is the New Black, The Fall, House of Cards, Bomb Girls, Call the Midwife  – I realize that those shows are some of my favorites. Is it because they are truly great shows, or is it because I could watch them in big chunks? “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?”

I still love Lost Girl and The Good Wife and Scandal, Orphan Black and Covert Affairs and other shows I only get to see once a week or in dribs and drabs throughout the year. This is the way TV has always been and I’m willing to go with it. But if I could get a full season of these shows all at once, I would leap at it like a coyote on a cottontail.

Conclusions?

Binge watching is so inherently satisfying. It’s instant gratification taken to its highest level. My conclusion is that more and more shows are going to release ready to binge watch. Television is going to change because of that. Electronic storytelling, streaming storytelling, is going to change.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I know it’s going to happen.

Watch This: Season 2 Trailer for OITNB

This makes me so happy! I love these people, I love these faces. “You an’ me, we goin’ be friends.”

Here’s the new season in 3 words from the cast.

Brain Dump from a Teeming TV Filled Mind

Random thoughts and observations on this and that as seen on my teevee.

The Walking Dead

Did you see the episode of The Walking Dead called “The Grove?” Brighton Sharbino and Kyla Kenedy as the two young girls were fantastic. Brighton, in particular, was 100% convincing. Very impressed to see such outstanding acting from two young actors.

I’m loving what they’ve done with The Walking Dead this season: splitting everyone up and charting their journeys to find each other again. (Assuming that they will be reunited at Terminus.) It’s given them a way to let characters develop with full episodes devoted almost exclusively to just one or two characters.

Glee

Brittany and Santana kiss on Glee
Brittany and Santana kiss on Glee

What about this kiss in the episode “100” of Glee. Glee has never been about grown up sex. Yes, there have been relationships but they are immature high school kinds of things. Even the teachers have immature relationships on Glee.

But in the episode called “100” (as in the 100th episode) we see a grown up Brittany, (Heather Morris) dragged into adulthood by numbers and a failure of joy.

Brittany evolved. Who’d a thunk that?

Couple that with a sort-of-grown-up Santana (Naya Rivera). I say sort of grown up because Santana still has a mouth on her that needs to embrace tolerance and forgiveness – mature ideas she hasn’t mastered yet. Nevertheless, Brittany and Santana exchange a kiss that is the first grown up, adult looking kiss I’ve seen on Glee.

Person of Interest

A whole episode of Person of Interest was built around Root (Amy Acker). The episode was called “Root Path.” Most of the time, Root is only on the screen for a few seconds. Even then she’s the most interesting thing in the show – mysterious, powerful, illusive. You know what would make me really happy? An episode that featured only Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker together for a whole show.

Castle

Is Castle getting better this season? It seems like the writing has improved. The stories are flat out good. Last year Castle frequently put me to sleep, but there is none of that this year.

The Fosters

The crazy adjustable bed that Stef’s mom gave Stef and Lena as a wedding gift on The Fosters is keeping them apart. I say we start a Kickstarter campaign to get Stef and Lena a new bed. A nice flat one. Or, as they put it on OITNB,

The Americans

This show gets more fascinating each week with all kinds of complicated loyalty questions and emotional issues. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys impress me in a new way in every episode. Keri Russell’s character slamming that guy’s arm over and over again with a trunk lid was really intense and surely will make her face the fact that she’s cracking. Plus Margo Martindale was back this week, which is guaranteed to make me happy.

Still ahead this week are Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Must dump brain before then!

What is burning in your brain from this week’s TV?

Why Representation on TV Matters

Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald were the guests on Democracy Now on Feb. 19, 2014. This is how Amy Goodman introduced the program and the two women. As background for this post, I’m going to quote the entire introduction.

After serving 19 months in prison, the African-American transgender activist CeCe McDonald is free. She was arrested after using deadly force to protect herself from a group of people who attacked her on the streets of Minneapolis. Her case helped turn a national spotlight on the violence and discrimination faced by transgender women of color. In 2011, McDonald and two friends were walking past a Minneapolis bar when they were reportedly accosted with homophobic, transphobic and racist slurs. McDonald was hit with a bar glass that cut open her face, requiring 11 stitches. A brawl ensued, and one of the people who had confronted McDonald and her friends, 47-year-old Dean Schmitz, was killed. Facing up to 80 years in prison for his death, McDonald took a plea deal that sentenced her to 41 months. In the eyes of her supporters, CeCe McDonald was jailed for defending herself against the bigotry and violence that transgender people so often face and that is so rarely punished. At the time of the attack, the murder rate for gay and transgender people in this country was at an all-time high. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 30 hate-related murders of LGBT people in 2011; 40 percent of the victims were transgender women of color. Transgender teens have higher rates of homelessness, and nearly half of all African-American transgender people — 47 percent — have been incarcerated at some point.

McDonald joins us on her first trip to New York City. We are also joined by one of her supporters, Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, producer and activist who stars in the popular Netflix show, “Orange is the New Black.” She plays Sophia Burset, a transgender woman in prison for using credit card fraud to finance her transition. She is producing a documentary about McDonald called “Free CeCe.” We also speak to Alisha Williams, staff attorney with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

“I very easily could have been CeCe,” Laverne Cox says. “Many times I’ve walked down the street of New York, and I’ve experienced harassment. I was kicked once on the street, and very easily that could have escalated into a situation that CeCe faced, and it’s a situation that too many transwomen of color face all over this country. The act of merely walking down the street is often a contested act, not only from the citizenry, but also from the police.”

Laverne Cox has been everywhere lately. She gave the keynote address to 2014 National Conference for LGBT Equality: Creating Change. Cox has also appeared on The Katie Couric Show. After the much criticized questions in the Katie Couric interview, Cox gave Salon this interview: The post-Katie Couric shift: Laverne Cox tells Salon why the media’s so clueless. (Related to bad interviews, this Democracy Now episode also talked about @JanetMock and her interview with Piers Morgan.)

Can a TV show change the world?

Laverne Cox has been an actress since 2000, but Orange is the New Black has given her an unexpected platform and visibility. OITNB has given transgender people in general an unexpected platform and visibility. Justice for transgender people, for trans women of color, is now a topic of conversation all across the country.

It isn’t so much about Laverne Cox, as that she’s suddenly been given this moment because of OITNB. She’s been given visibility, and she’s making good use of it.

Cox seized the opportunity to promote change, up the stakes in her activism, and be a voice to whom the media will listen. She’s wonderfully suited to be a leader and public voice for the trans community. She’s brainy, she’s articulate, and she’s charismatic.

You may say that change would come eventually, that demands for justice and equality from the transgender community would eventually be heard, but I think it would have been a longer time coming. It would have been a harder struggle.

A TV show about women in prison with a sympathetic and likeable transgender woman’s story as part of the ensemble has made change possible sooner. It has given activists like Laverne Cox an opportunity to be heard by a wide audience.

Giving representation to marginalized or minority parts of society on TV shows can change the world. What we see on TV matters. It matters to real people.

Watch This: Orange is the New Black Season 2 Teaser

It’s a mere 30 second teaser, but it came with the announcement that all 13 episodes of season 2 of Orange is the New Black will be released on June 6 on Netflix.

I’m ready right now.