Today is the calendar end of summer’s flora and the fauna glory. Here, in the district we trade in the humidity for crisp air that quickly transitions into threats of polar vortex’. So before the cold creeps in, here are a few things to do before your shutter in.
Make America Great Again. Yea, sure. The only vestige of the forlorn time that I’d like to see make a comeback is the drive-in movie theater. Lucky for those of us in the District, Union Market will be showing its last film of its annual summer series on October 7th, Ghostbusters.
Milk s h a k e
Grab a vegan milkshake. Not exactly guilt free, but a healthier alternative to the cold creamy beverages that usher in thoughts of diners and iconic movie scenes. Top of mind: Three Twisted Vegans on Georgia Ave and Hip City Veg in Chinatown.
I’ve come to realize that as a young person I had the unique fortune to grow up in a family steeped in our identity as a Black American family. My mother bounced through holiday sales in order to place Black Barbie dolls under the Christmas tree. Black art and excellence were honored through trips to places like Baltimore’s Great Blacks In Wax Museum. My aunties’ subscriptions to Essence, Jet, and Ebony coated the coffee tables. And the Color Purple was held up as the ultimate expression of Black life depicted in Hollywood and literature.
I didn’t have to look far to see someone like me or the woman I would come to be. My family made it a priority. I’m not sure if it was because of pride, the dearth of representation, or a mix of both. Following this year’s #oscarssowhite (and ableist and male and transphobic) controversy many are holding a more discerning eye to representation in Hollywood. Television is a medium with a quicker response time than film. The slate of Fall 2016 shows reflects an apt response to what’s served as the status quo for far too long.
My summer life has been marked by lengthy commutes. The T in WMATA now stands for Track Maintenance. And with each minute sucked away by underground travel, I’ve become more acquainted with books and the formidable sounds of Chicago’s creative class. I’ve been reflecting on my relationship with music and the devices that usher in the sounds that fuel my day. During those thoughts, I’ve calculated that I haven’t walked down a street solo without earbuds stuffed in my ears since at least 2004. Before my eighth grade year, I begged my parents for an iPod. Prior to the click wheel, the JVC anti-skip portable CD player served as a capable arm and shield from my Dad’s nagging and my sister’s hassling. Cue Brandy’s Afrodisiacand Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. Back to Chicago.
In April, when Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book emerged I hadn’t realized that he’d introduce me to the artists that would lace the soundtrack to my summer, but he did. Chance’s frequent collaborators are politically astute, #blackgirlmagic, vibey and most importantly, talented. Now, those minutes stuffed in a sardine can of a rail car are a little more bearable. Listen to why:
Middling romantic dramas featuring middle age, high-earning white people are my visual comfort food. I found nourishment by locking my door in a house with a mom that didn’t believe in locks to sneak in episodes of Nip/Tuck, in catching Dan in Real Life on TBS, and in ogling Diane Lane (Cate Blanchett , Kate Winslet, and Meryl Streep) carry on illicit affairs in mid-range films. Though fiction, these films were an introduction into how relationships fracture. How intentions jumble. And in the most dramatic sense, how a knowing glance can lead to ruin.
Which brings me to Casual, the newest edition to my book of comfort food recipes. The series centers on the romantic and familial life of Valerie, a newly divorced single mother living with her brother Alex and her daughter Laura. I don’t need to tell you that Valerie is divorced as a result of her husband’s affair. Or that she owns her own counseling practice and Alex successfully cofounded a dating app. Or that they are both floundering in their dating lives, she a novice having been married for 17 years and he a non-committal man child. It fills my plate.
Jokes aside, its a drama that leads with dialogue. The characters are clear-eyed in their wrongness. They are pupils of their quirks, knowing how screwy they are in life yet lacking the full will to make better on their shortcomings. I have scene long eyerolls when I’m confronted with the travails of Alex’ love life. But even those scenes are ripe with meaningful talks on co-dependency and maturity. My favorite scene of the show aired just this week. Valerie and Drew, her estranged husband dine in a cafe after hacking away at their taxes. In the scene, the ex-pair happen upon a honest dialogue that has escaped them in their interactions since his cheating came to light. Drew believes they are destined to be unsatisfied, while Valerie conjures up the idea of cheating intimately by having illicit sex with someone she knows.
I should be happy, the sun has baked my complexion to warm mocha hue, my weekends are filled with brunch sessions with cherished friends, and I’m gliding through my summer reading list.
These are the months when we’re to dance off the ash of a brutal winter, but this is a summer when a dance floor was bloodied by actual violence. When state violence confronts the timelines I scroll for humor and family pictures. When the joy of the summer sun is replaced by a haze of near weekly mass killings and a presidential campaign powered by bigotry. In a summer marked by sadness, I’ve needed a few cures and I’ve explored some pop culture, food, and activities to do the job.
LISTEN Chance the Rapper Coloring Book
The rapper’s third mixtape, is the rap wunderkind at his most jubilant. Armed with the smirk of new fatherhood and a stamp of approval from his own hometown hero, Kanye West, Chancelor Bennett has hit his sweet spot. The album is a less tormented “Jesus Walks” and more Gospel music in 1997 when it discovered the Tommy Hilfiger windbreaker, choosing instead to rest within the joys of spirituality. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t tackle the perils of growing up in a city marred by violence (‘Summer Friends”) or the carefree nature of youth (“Smoke Break”). This mixtape is the warm breeze passing through the windows of your mom’s sedan after church while you wait for her to wrap up that conversation with Sister Jones. It’s familiar, it’s healing, and it’s what I want the future of the genre to sound like. It’s buoyant beats, ever-present horns and his boyish intonation has coated the drear of my summer with fushia and the royalest of blues.
DO Pokemon Go
Full disclosure, I downloaded Pokemon Go..ten minutes ago. Prior to that, I have observed my peers jump back into our middle school hallways. Before our eyes Pokemon transformed into something that exists beyond our couches, tangible in a way that us Gogurt eating kids couldn’t have dared to imagine. A load off from quarter life stressors. And update, it’s fun!
EAT Hip City Veg
DC has enjoyed a nice upswing in fast casual restaurants in recent years, but I’m always on the hunt for a gem that is both fast and healthy. Hip City Veg is DC’s newest edition, different in that it is 100% plant based and offers vegan burgers, crispy sweet potato fries, and non-dairy milkshakes. In the center of Chinatown’s 7th Street, the shop has made this on-the-go diner’s belly warm with the Buffalo Bella, a burger made delectable with crispy portabella, celery slaw, and buffalo sauce.
I made a fastbreak past this series for nearly two years. At the dawn of its premiere I watched a trailer and decided against watching a comedy, with yet another a male lead. Last week, I listened to Another Round where the hosts interviewed Tichina Arnold, comedy icon and star of Survivor’s Remorse. Listening to her reminded me of how much I have missed the frankness of her comedic voice. I watched binged the series and the show that I feared would be drenched in testosterone is brilliant. It is not only funny as hell, it’s smart in its warm portrayal of a Black family unvarnished by the wealth they have amassed by talent and grit. The characters are challenged, the fictionalized NBA star at the center of the narrative isn’t infantilized and the female characters, Cassie, M-Chuck, and Missy aren’t mere accessories in the narrative arc, they drive to the hoop as much as the guy in the jersey.
Chicago knows these kinds of summers all too well. I want to shirk the introduction from this kind of summer, to avoid its outstretched hand. I don’t want to know this kind of summer, its last name or what it likes sprinkled on top of its froyo. When the summer sun becomes oppressive, good food and entertainment provide a balm for its rays.
There was a two-year span where my television diet consisted of Bravo and CNN. I’d gorge on Shahs of Sunset and wash it down with Larry King Live. I balanced the guilt of watching Bravolebrities shatter champagne flutes and wallow in wealth with weighty news features on the 24-hour news network. These years were just a breath before the era of Too Much TV, when Shonda only produced two shows and Breaking Bad was in its infancy. The sky was falling. The Chicken Littles of the media industry held reality tv liable for our society’s eventual ruin. And I bought into that notion by puking up the remains of my Bravo diet, save for The Real Housewives of New York. It’d be uncool to break loose of The Countess, after all. Reality TV has been a thing since The Real World. Scratch that, since 1971’s An American Family, wherein filmmakers followed the daily lives of an affluent Santa Barbara family. With cameras rolling, the beaming family fractured under the weight of the father’s infidelity and fallout from the divorce.
But the genre reached its zenith during the Recession, attached to the low price tag of herding in unknowns and casting them into an assortment of situations, some contrived and others seemingly authentic. In that time, Kardashian became a part of the cultural lexicon, Flava Flav reemerged, and there were enough spouse swapping shows to make a polygamist sweat. In time, the economy recovered and the television industry along with it.
Enter Lifetime’s UnReal. Plopped into a sea of campy television movies and unauthorized biopics, the network’s bright spot is a fictionalized tale of the behind the scenes antics of a Bachelor-inspired reality show, Everlasting. The show comments on the dynamics of female relationships in the workplace, mental health, and the seedy practices of industry executives. UnReal is what television audiences deserve after years of peering into family disputes, rooting for alliances and bemoaning villains by water coolers. As the show’s fictional producers steer emotion and confession, UnReal attempts to muddy any remaining pretense amongst reality show viewers, casting away any notion that what you see is in fact, what you get.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever hit the clicker on The Real Housewives of New York. But, UnReal has cast a fascinating light on the manipulation that takes place behind the scenes and now I’m certainly more discerning of a Ramonacoaster when its in motion.
Traditionally, sitcom moms aren’t in on the fun. Usually the attractive face in a mismatched pair, she plays the straight man to the zany husband. She somehow conveys both a smirk and a scowl in response to her children’s hijinks. She’s the anchor, present but unseen under a sea of oxford tops, ill-fitting jeans, and sensible shoes.
Black-ish premiered two autumns ago and brought with it the topical humor perfected by Norman Lear and a different take on the sitcom mom’s wardrobe. Bow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a doctor mom of 4, with a contrarian husband and an enviable wardrobe that melds function with fashion.
Ross has long been a personal style mainstay in many a Pinterest board. Even Kerry Washington cites her as a guru. The Black-ish wardrobe department has managed to incorporate her sensibilities in the otherwise moth-ridden closet of the sitcom universe.
Bow, a surgeon spends a hefty portion of the series draped in scrubs. Outside of her work wear she rocks band tees, mixes prints, and accessorizes with doorknocker earrings. She leans into a wardrobe that would intimidate the functionality of Claire Dunphy, embarrass the frump of Roseanne, and further raise the eyebrow of Clair Huxtable.
“What I really wanted to bring to Bow is that she dressed hair and makeup wise, like an authentic woman. I don’t know a mother of four with a career and a husband that can spend a ton of time putting together looks and doing the whole thing.” –Tracee Ellis Ross [rwethereyetmom]
Bow’s wardrobe sometimes betrays the finger wagging right of the comedic center she rests in on Black-ish, but for me her style choices are a nod to Ross’ star making role on the UPN seriesGirlfriends. It reminds me of the comedic chops she displayed back then and the space left for Bow in the writer’s room to have as much fun as Dre, Diane, Jack, Junior, Pops, Ruby or Zoey.
Black-ish’ success has marked the resurgence of topical television comedies and made over the modern sitcom mom’s dress, now they just have to let her in on the fun.
The Good Wife is over. 7 years, 156 episodes, umpteen affairs, and countless wigs.
The Good Wife started airing on Middle America’s favorite network during a personal low. My attached-at-the-hip college best friend did not watch or own a television, in fact she was one of THOSE people who looked down on the pastime. A very dark time, indeed.
I lost my television diet in the years we were closest and regained it in 2013 when I finally decided to commit to The Good Wife, in ways Peter Florrick never could. The series followed (past tense ugh) Alicia Florrick, a mother and wife to Peter Florrick, a corrupt State’s Attorney for Cook County. His imprisonment stemming from corruption charges thrusts her into the workforce and ultimately a competitive law firm where Alicia rises to name partner.
The Good Wife shirked black or white storytelling and the writer’s room rarely drafted a right or wrong side for Alicia to stand on. Nuance was this story’s greatest attribute and if you ask some finale viewers, its most frustrating weakness. The Good Wife upended the case of the week formula that audiences have grown accustomed to with well-crafted takes on current issues like NSA surveillance, gay rights in conflict with religious freedom and so on. This wasn’t a show that could play in the background as the salmon seared, this was a show to be engaged in.
The Will They or Won’t They The Good Wife team never shied away from having a straight-backed suitor for Alicia Florrick to make eyes with. But, where The Good Wife thrived was in its efforts to have Mrs. Florrick experience an intentional and fervent love despite motherhood, her position in Chicago and in full view of her philandering husband.
The Guest Stars
Oliver Platt. Taye Diggs. Mamie Gummer. Vanessa Williams. Anika Noni Rose. Valerie Jarrett, the dad from Wonder Years. The Good Wife made expert use of its guest stars. Save the misplaced celebrity walkthroughs, each guest player pushed the story forward.
The Opening Credits
The Good Wife crafters often let an entire scene unfold before the title card appeared and that device left my head spinning.
Diane Lockhart & Kirk McVeigh
Women of a certain age aren’t allowed love, especially an outwardly passionate love in film and television. The pair married in season 5 and the thrill of watching two very sharp, secure characters support and challenge each other was something to behold.
Brought to life by Juliana Margulies, Alicia Florrick proved delightfully inscrutable in her hands. Alicia Florrick was the female answer to every cable television anti –hero audiences have had to root for or suffer through. In a single episode she could exercise ambition, be unflappable, sensual, and competent. She was king.
25 years ago, Anita Hill, a demure legal professor sat in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee seeping with pomp and testosterone to read her claims of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, the soon to be confirmed Supreme Court Justice. A few weekends ago, I watched Confirmation, an HBO film that casts a light on the lead up to and eventual fallout from the hearings.
In viewing the film, I marveled at Hill’s bravery as a Heartland raised, single, childless, black woman of a certain age and reflected on my own transition into feminism. As a kid, I imagined a feminist to be the girl who wanted to integrate the football team or the hairy-legged loudmouth who could hold court with the pugnacious guys in the back of a classroom.
I grew up in the age of Spice-Girl Power and Mia Hammanything-you-can-do-I can-do-better Nike branded empowerment. Still, the media I encountered as a kid failed to present nuanced representations of young women, specifically, who were equal to and/or independent of a male.
If I had to settle on one, I’d say my first feminist icon was Moesha Denise Mitchell. The lead character on UPN’s Moesha, she was intellectually curious, an ambitious student journalist and managed the independence of teendom with the most enviable a-line skirt game. But, even she buoyed between seeking the approval of a domineering father (#worstsitcomfatherever) and having her young life upended by every bushy tailed suitor that made it past the series’ casting director.
Media has grown bolder with depictions of feminism in praxis with heroines like Scandal’s Olivia Pope, The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick, and even Girls’ Hannah Horvath. And we’re better for it. In the years since the hearing, Thomas sits mostly silent on the bench and Hill has been hoisted up as a feminist icon inspiring a surge in female lawmakers and sexual assault reportage.
Though I am but a baby feminist. Experience, books, tumblr pages, twitter timelines, women like Anita Hill and films like Confirmation have lent to my feminist- womanist leanings and I now know better than to reduce a brazen woman to unshaved legs.
Depending on who you ask, we as spirited beings get to live on after our bodies decay. But what then? Clouds, harps, songs of praise, and streets of gold; or weeping, flames, gnashing of teeth, and eternal torment? Maybe we live on, inhabiting the bodies of a lesser life form, or we sort of melt into a collective greater consciousness. Or perhaps it really isn’t that different. Maybe we still have jobs, we still have friends, and, whenever possible, we still like eating ice cream cake.
Clayton’s first life is over. In fact his mortal life ended a century ago, at least, and though his current existence is pretty tough, Clayton has centuries left before his sentence is up. You see, he has the misfortune of working in the soul acquisition department of Hellfire Industries, overseeing the paperwork of mortals who want to sign over their immortal soul to the Devil for advancement in life. Clayton hates his job, he hates watching people make the same mistake he made so many years ago. The Devil (a.k.a. Jerry) has heard of Clayton’s dismay and, being a betting man, wants to “help” him out. Jerry will give Clayton the chance to have a do-over, but there is a catch. If In his second life he cannot achieve the goals the Devil has outlined, Clayton will be bound for eternity to the will of the nefarious Jerry… Interested? Do lend your ear to Conversations from the Afterlife.
Don’t you just love that narrator? He has such a friendly and conversational tone. The way he acknowledges the presence of the audience is just welcoming, ya’ know? I think that’s pretty important when discussing such weighty topics as the afterlife and damnation. I will try to give you the same courtesy as I walk you through this nifty breakdown:
Acting: All the actors have done great jobs creating understandable and at least partially relatable characters. For instance, Jerry (played by the devilishly smashing show creator Adam Henry Garcia) is genuinely detestable, but somehow even as you cringe you feel just the slightest twinge of pity when you notice the desperate futility of his struggle. Good acting, that.
Plot: The plot is interesting, but it can be a bit meandering at times. If you have patience (‘tis a virtue, they say) or you perhaps like that kind of story you will love the extra time that it takes to unfold this truly unique world.
Production: Most of the cosmetic issues that this show suffers from (like the minimalist sets) would be fixed with a larger budget. As a life-long tight-wad, I really don’t think that should be held against them.
Conversations from the Afterlife is an excellently unique and satisfyingly complex fantasy. Honestly, it might be my second favorite creative imagining of the nether world (the first spot will always belong to C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce), and after watching even just the intro you could easily find yourself dreaming about the possibilities of the world to come.
Watch Ep. 1 –and the rest of the series for that matter– on the Conversations form the Afterlifewebsite.