Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pop Culture November

I haven't been keeping this up weekly. I apologize. But here's what's been great during the month of November, a notoriously great month for pop culture:

Television

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary
I finally caught up with Doctor Who just in time for the 50th anniversary, and I'm so glad I did. "The Day of the Doctor" is everything you want in an anniversary special: nostalgic callbacks,

David Tennant and Matt Smith playing off each other, crazy shenanigans, and a purpose for the series moving forward. As much as I loved "The Last Time Lord" of the past seven years, that story had played itself out, and I'm excited to see what Peter Capaldi will do going forward. I'm going to miss Matt Smith terribly though--I think he's officially my favorite doctor. Despite the baby face, you can't help but believe that this man is 1200 years old, and Smith's ability to turn from whimsical to terrifying in a split second is unrivaled. I'm going to be a wreck during the Christmas special.

I also caught the TV movie An Adventure in Space and Time, about William Hartnell (the first doctor) and the making of Doctor Who. I learned a lot about the origins of this everlasting British timepiece: that the first producer was a woman, that the executives originally didn't want "bug-eyed monsters and tin robots," and the heartbreaking decision behind the first regeneration. I believe it's time to start up the classic series.

Pretty people.
Reign
I have a love/hate relationship with the CW. Most of it seems trashy on the surface, and I know I should spend my time watching better programming. But no other network is quite as ridiculously fun and entertaining, and on a weekly basis I find myself looking forward to watching The Vampire Diaries, Arrow, and Nikita more than most other shows. What I love about these shows, other than the very attractive casts that I'm positive are bred and stored in a lab, are the balls-to-the-wall crazy plots filled with snappy dialogue, fun action, and over-the-top drama.

New addition Reign is no exception. It's probably the most CW-y of all the shows on the network right now. Someone on the Internet described it as Gossip Girl meets Game of Thrones, which is as accurate a description as any. It's very loosely based off the life of Mary Queen of Scots, although it doesn't care about historical accuracy whatsoever, and it's all the better for it. The plots are crazy, the costumes are gorgeous, Adelaide Kane plays a convincing teenage queen, and did I mention there are pagan sacrifices and ghosts, just to spice it up a little? It's definitely my new obsession. I mean, there's a hunky Nostradamus. It doesn't get much better than that.

Other new shows that have lasted from the original guide:
Trophy Wife
Sleepy Hollow
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (As a Brooklyn resident, the "Sal's Pizza" episode had me rolling)
The Originals
Masterchef Junior

Additionally: This season of Survivor has been great. The finale of The Legend of Korra was epic but made very little sense. Raising Hope is back! Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is perhaps the biggest disappointment. It's just so boring, which is the last thing I wanted to say about a Whedon-produced superhero show. Perhaps it can still get its act together.

Film

I've seen a lot of movies this month, so I'm gonna make this quick:

12 Years a Slave: Brilliant. Will win all the awards, and rightly so. I don't know if I can watch it again for a long time, however, but it's something I believe everyone should see. It's the story of one of humanity's biggest blights, depicted in one of the most real and heartbreaking ways I've seen.

About Time: If you're a fan of Love Actually (and if you have a soul, you should be), then you'll enjoy this. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how it dealt with the time-travel aspect. It was very low-key and lovely.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: It was much better than the first movie, but without the strong performances, these movies would just fall apart. The first half that deals with the consequences of the first games is much more interesting than when they go to the arena again, but that's how I felt about the book too.

Frozen: The marketing for this movie made me skeptical going in, but I actually really enjoyed it. I love when Disney inverts their own tropes and this is probably their most feminist movie yet, so of course I was going to love it for that reason alone. And you'll be singing "Let It Go" for the rest of the day after seeing this. I'm still humming it a day later.

Thor: The Dark World: Needed more Loki.

YouTube

Edgar Allan Poe has a vlog. Brilliance ensues.


My friend Eden has started a great new series called "The Couch Series" that highlights the amazing artists of the Provo music scene. Really enjoyable stuff.


Music

I've basically just been jamming to Lorde's album, "Pure Heroine," all month long.


Other things:

  • Late October was the New York Television Festival, where I saw some animated pilots (that weren't that great, unfortunately) and heard from Greg Daniels, creator of The Office and Parks and Recreation, who gave his advice on comedy writing. I don't have a huge desire to be a writer, although I love hearing about the behind-the-scenes of my favorite shows and am a faithful listener of the Nerdist Writers podcast, so hearing his perspective on what makes great comedy (the characters, not the situations) was really fascinating.
  • I also attended "Behind-the-Scenes with The Colbert Report" as part of the New York Comedy Festival and fell more in love with Stephen Colbert, which I didn't believe was possible. His ability to turn anything into a bit and to mine jokes from literally any subject continues to amaze me. Some highlights: saying he's probably 13% of his character, making a fool of the guy who asked how he feels about influencing the millennial generation, admitting his admiration for Maurice Sendak, and the true story behind the Daft Punk Fiasco of 2013.
  • It's post-Thanksgiving, which means my family sits in a food coma and watches movies all weekend long. So far we've watched Elf, White Christmas, and Ghostbusters. Sometimes my family is cool.
  • This is an important thing you should all read: "Gender Inequality in Film."
  • Quick plug for my friend Preston's new blog, Juicebox Critic. He writes about pop culture much more eloquently than I can, and there are some great articles up already. I particularly love his defense of Christmas music before Thanksgiving, since it validates my opinion on the issue. Take that, old roommates.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lessons Learned in NYC

It's November now, which means I've been a resident of New York City for a little more than six months. The time has both flown by and been a time of great stress, change, fun, and a whole lot of new experiences. Here are a couple of things I've learned or gained a new perspective on over the last six months:

1. Distance is relative.
My friend Andrea came to stay with me last weekend, and when she heard how long it took me to get places, she asked how I didn't go crazy. It made me pause for a moment, since I no longer consider a 40-minute commute to work or a 30-minute trip to Trader Joe's (or really anywhere) much of a big deal anymore. It's just how it is. Funny how just six months ago I'd complain about the 10-minute walk to campus.

2. How to secure a seat in a crowded subway train.
Always work your way to the middle so you're blocking the 4 seats jutting out. Pretend you're pregnant or have a limp. Glare at the man taking up two spots until he feels uncomfortable and scoots over.

3. How to eat a meal for less than $5.
Food stands. $1 pizza. Becoming a deli loyalist. Groupon. It's not impossible to eat cheap in the city.

4. But it IS really hard to diet here. 
See my earlier post.

5. You can feel really important one minute and then tiny and insignificant the next.
You have a tendency to become selfish here: regarding time, sidewalk space, or pride in your super-awesome job, but you are literally one of millions in this city who consider themselves the center of the universe. All it takes is a look out the window to feel humble.

6. Anything can happen here.
Want a job doing whatever you want? Come to NYC! It may take a couple of tries, but there is definitely a spot for you here somewhere. Want to attend a party specifically for TV-watching, video-gaming, flower-arranging, basket-weaving, or whatever it is your passions are? Not hard to find. Want to eat at a restaurant from a country you've never even heard of? New York's got it. It really is a concrete jungle where dreams are made of. There's nothing you can't do. (Thanks Alicia Keys)

7. The outer boroughs are awesome. 
The Bronx has a bad rep they're slowly trying to restore (no thanks to Bansky), but I didn't have any trouble while I lived there and I loved the industrial surroundings of my neighborhood. And Brooklyn is wonderful. It has really gorgeous and yes, hipstery areas, as well as places like my neighborhood, where five dumplings cost $1 and there's a karaoke bar across the street. How much cooler can you get than that? Don't discredit living in the outer boroughs. Except maybe Staten Island. They're still listening to Christina Perri, for goodness sakes.

8. Dishwashers and air conditioners are for the elite. 
Bedbugs are a real thing. So are rats. You learn a whole new definition of comfort while you live here.

9. It's not what you know, it's who you know. 
Luckily in this city it's easy to meet people.

10. The importance of diversity. 
I went from one of the least diverse places in the U.S. to one of the most diverse. And it's changed my perspective in so many ways. I love hearing 30 different languages on any given day. Or getting my ice cream from a drag queen in the East Village and hearing her life story. Or learning about Ecuador from a cabbie or about Yemen from the owners of my favorite deli. Every day's a new cultural experience and it's been one of my favorite things about living here.

11. It's important to set aside time for yourself. 
Work is so fast-paced and there's so much to do here that time can slip away from you all too easily. It's important to not become so wrapped up in everything that you don't make time for yourself. The times I spend at home on my bed watching TV are some of my favorites, because it gives me a change to unwind and be away from all the craziness and just relax. Everyone should find their own thing--whether it's the spa, yoga, taking a walk in the park...whatever it is, it's crucial to set aside time to rejuvenate yourself.

12. Don't take things personally.
This city can knock you down just as easily as it can lift you up. It's important not to take things the wrong way. Whether someone looks at you funny on the train or critiques you at work, you learn to quickly build a thick skin and bear it.

New York, it's been an interesting and educational six months. I can honestly say there's no other place I'd rather be right now.  Here's hoping for many more great learning experiences to come.