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“Riverdale” recap: Now, a warning

Pictured (Front L-R): Tiera Skovbye as Polly Cooper, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, (Back L-): Nathalie Boltt as Penelope Blossom, Hayley Law as Valerie, Asha Bromfield as Melody, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, and Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom — (Dean Buscher/The CW)

Riverdale Season 1 | Episode 8 | “The Outsiders” | Aired March 30, 2017

AAAAAUUUUGGGHHH!!!!

Yes, this is how I feel right now about Riverdale, and all of that got bottled up and compacted into this particular episode. Yes, Polly had her baby shower, she’s moved in with the Blossoms, Archie and Betty found out that Jughead’s dad is a Serpent, Kevin’s Serpent boyfriend Joaquin is having second thoughts about deceiving him, etc., etc. Now, let’s get to what really needs to be discussed: JUST WHERE IS THIS SHOW HEADING?! 

I feel like this show is treating us like how Lisle Von Rhuman treated Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes HerRiverdale is teasing us with a show beyond our wildest imaginations–inclusion, diversity, a fresh take on Archie and the gang, etc.–and it gives us what we think we want. But then, it comes back to us and says, “Now, a warning.” To which we say, like Madeline, “NOW a warning?!” For us, that warning would have been that the show would begin to lose its way and forget what made its characters great and, indeed, avatars for those who didn’t feel included in their everyday lives.

First of all, I feel like, and have always felt like, Riverdale has the potential to be amazing. There’s so much raw stuff inherent in the Archie Comics canon and it’s so frustrating to see how little the show is using what it could use. Instead, it’s pulling from every kind of pop culture reference from the past 30 years to show it’s “smart” and “edgy” and “hip.” And yet, it still comes off as dated and try-hard.

I think Emily Nussbaum hit the nail on the head in her review of the show for The New Yorker, “Archie’s and Veronica’s Misconceived Return to Riverdale,” in which she eviscerates the show for the reasons presented above. To quote her:

“…[S]even episodes in, it’s devolved into dull cosplay bracketed by bogus profundity. Betty and Veronica don kink-wear and roofie Chuck Clayton, a slut-shaming football player. The girls’ tart-tongued gay bestie, Kevin (a character from the new version of the comic strip), seduces a bi-curious Moose. Archie, when not working out shirtless, pursues a songwriting career. “Your songs,” a critical music professor sneers at him. “They’re juvenile. They’re repetitive.” That’s true of ‘Riverdale,’ too, but the show clearly knows it and doesn’t care. Every time a plot feels corny or prurient or preachy, there’s an acknowledgment in the dialogue. It gets exhausting, like hanging out with someone who keeps saying, ‘God, I’m such a nightmare!'”

It’s like the show desperately wants to prove that it’s new and fresh. “This isn’t your mom’s Archie!” is what it wants to say. But it’s consistently showing that it’s a a show that doesn’t realize that teenagers, in general, don’t talk in decades-old references, which makes it seem like this is a show actually for older Archie fans who recognize all of these references from their own childhoods. As Nussbaum said, the show brings up Lolita, Rebel without a Cause, Wild Things, Gossip Girl, Beverly Hills 90210, Pretty in Pink, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill, and plenty of others they off-handedly mention in snarky asides. Like, what do you actually want to be, show! Are you for the young kids or are you for 30-year-olds? Make up your mind!

I have been growing frustrated by the plot becoming a spinning-of-the-wheels type situation. Jason’s killer is no closer to being found, and clues seem to keep simultaneously popping up and disappearing at the same doggone time. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll even be shocked when I find out who the killer is because I’m just so bored with the whole procedural element. Again with the references, with the murder mystery itself, the show is trying to be Twin Peaks, another reference for someone much older than the target audience. But, if the show is trying to pull a Twin Peaks-ian surrealist-fest, then when are we actually going to get into the surrealism? Again, Archie Comics has tons of surrealist moments, and that’s not even counting the amount of side-universes they have. Surrealism could come in the form of simply introducing Sabrina, a teen witch who often wants to use her powers for good, but usually ends up messing things up and has to right everything back to how it was. Sabrina could come into town, learn about the murder mystery and, after becoming friends with Cheryl and learning of her sadness, reverse time so that Jason is still alive. That could also be a good opportunity to introduce Afterlife with Archie at this moment, since Jason would be, in a way, undead. There’s your second season.

Or, the show could become a true deconstruction of the idea of classic Americana, something it was billed as being but hasn’t truly delivered on yet. Instead of having Jughead tell us that’s what the show is every week in his voice overs, we could actually see some depth of character and real explorations of race, class, gender, sexuality, and anything else that could use a thorough prodding. I’d say that if Riverdale wanted to take notes from a show doing that right now, it’d be Atlanta. This show, like Riverdale, uses the backdrop of a well-known city to explore the underpinnings of American society and culture, and it does so in a specific, tailored way. It doesn’t have to prove to the audience that it’s “edgy”–it shows its edginess in each episode by delivering on its synopsis each week.

If any place needed a deconstruction, it would be a fictional town like Riverdale, which has stood as a the center for clean-cut “American” life, which usually means white life. With much of the cast race-bent, this would have been a great opportunity to see just how destructive and soul-wrenching it can be to live in a town in which you’re the minority (which, in turn, provides context for the larger conversation about living in a country which still harbors racism against you). We could see how some folks in the football stands might be surprised to see Reggie as the captain of the team. Or, there could be some townspeople who resent that Mayor McCoy won over the white candidate (something the character actually brings up in an episode). Or, we could get more insight into the life of Moose, who doesn’t yet have the courage to live his life as an out gay young man due to fear, pressure to be “manly” or what have you. We definitely could have used Chuck, Josie, and Trev to explore life for black kids in a majority-white town.

Pictured (L-R): Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, KJ Apa as Archie Andrews, and Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge (Dean Buscher/The CW)

I write about this in my piece for Ebony, “Riverdale’s Woke Report Card: Does the Drama Get Its Black Characters Right?”. I give the show a passing grade, ultimately, but I still write about how the show really needs to do better by its black characters.

“Out of the Pussycats, Josie is the one who has been given the most screen time; Valerie has only just now started coming up the ranks, but only because of her relationship with Archie. Meanwhile, Melody still hasn’t spoken more than two words during the run of the series and Pop Tate and Mr. Weatherbee may have been racebent, but they also don’t say much either—and in the case of Pop Tate specifically, nothing at all. Pop Tate is a conundrum; even though it’s great to see more representation on screen, it’s also puzzling as to why he has to be characterized as a silent, kindly butler of sorts, even though he’s the owner of the teen hangout, The Chocklit Shoppe. Basically, Riverdale’s Pop Tate reminds me too much of Uncle Ben, and I don’t like it.”

The show proved my point once again by making Valerie merely a sounding board for Archie this episode. She had three lines, and not one of them was about her point of view or her opinion on the matter of Archie’s dad being driven to near bankruptcy. Instead, her lines were there just so Archie could say he was going to go after the Serpents, as well as to give the appearance that they’re in a loving, stable relationship (which we see in the previews for next week that that might not be the case after all). The next time we see Valerie, she and Melody are at Polly’s baby shower, saying nothing.

If the show wants to be actually inclusive, the least it could do is not make its brown and black characters set dressing or talking props. The most it could do is not create a problematic plotpoint of a black boy in handcuffs at the mercy of a white girl who is acting out a revenge fantasy. 

Also for diversity, the show could do well to actually eliminate Bughead and reinstate Jughead as an aromatic, asexual boy, since that’s what he actually is.

Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler wrote “Jughead, Bughead, and the Need for Asexual & Aromantic Heroes in Comics” to point out just how demoralizing Riverdale‘s asexual erasure is (and how it flies in the face of their “inclusion” standpoint).

Wheeler interviewed colorist Sigi Ironmonger  (a grey-asexual nonbinary trans-man); webcomic creator Sarah “Neila” Elkins, (romantic asexual), webcomic creator Jayelle Anderson (demisexual) and literature student LuciAce (aroace) about their opinions on Jughead in the comics and in Riverdale. They mentioned how important it is to have asexual representation in the media, especially for young kids still figuring out who they are. As Elkins said:

“To me it’s important because, growing up, I didn’t know it was a possibility to be asexual. I thought there was something wrong with me that I wasn’t interested in the idea of having sex like other girls my age. Friends called me a ‘prude.’ These were good friends of mine, friends who were also queer, that didn’t know that asexuality is a queer identity. Even among the ‘weird kids’ I was the odd one out.

I think if there was more representation (or any) of asexual and aromantic characters in comics as well as other books aimed at young readers, and other media, that my friends, and myself, would have known I wasn’t broken or weird. I didn’t learn about asexuality as an orientation until I was out of college. I stumbled across it online and thought, “Oh, wow! That’s what I am! This makes so much sense!” I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that, so I write asexual characters in my stuff. I hope to write something in the future, be it a comic or a novel, that’s aimed at younger readers.”

They also discussed how disheartening it was to see Jughead and Betty actually become an item, erasing the canonical asexuality the character had before (and, as far as I’m concerned, has always had). To quote Ironmonger, Elkins, Anderson and LuciAce:

Ironmonger: “Honestly, as soon as I heard about the erasure, I’ve steered clear of the show, so I can’t speak of the storyline at all. I don’t watch a lot of TV as it is and I don’t feel like prioritizing something like that, you know? I don’t really understand a decision like that and I can’t stand shoe-horned relationships of any kind but especially at the expense of LGBTQ+ ones.”

Elkins: “I really had my hopes up about that show before it came out. I was so hopeful I know I dismissed friends who said “you know they’re just gonna screw it up, right?” My friends were right. They announced online that Jughead in Riverdale “wouldn’t be asexual” and that he’d “totally want sex” or something like that. It deflated the big hope balloon I had clung onto that we’d finally have some representation on TV in a show aimed at younger viewers. It was crushing. I can’t even bring myself to look at the commercials for the show. Each time I hear the music for them I mute the TV or change the channel.”

Anderson: “Getting rid of this trait in Jughead for the television show just perpetuates the cycle of normalizing often hypersexual behavior that doesn’t fit everyone’s life. Sometimes young people’s only role model are the characters they see on television, so it is important to show that asexuality is a thing, too.”

LuciAce: “I’m really angry about the way they’re handling things. Having aroace representation on TV would have been huge, and instead, they… made him straight? Because apparently there aren’t enough allo straight characters on TV yet. I’ve never seen a character like myself on TV, and I would have been a die-hard fan of the show if they’d kept Jughead aroace and touch-averse like he is in the comics. As it is, the show just makes me furious and sad.”

The show seems to have an understanding of just how offensive Betty and Jughead as an item are, which seems evident in how they are doubling-down on shoving it down our throats (or so it seems, since the episodes have been filmed months before now). Having Jughead and Betty kiss in almost every scene seems and feels unnatural, just like how it felt unnatural when writers would try to give Jughead an interest in girls in certain comic book issues. Jughead’s characterization just isn’t one in which he’s a guy who is interested in the opposite or same sex like that, and that’s perfectly fine and normal. However, the show’s insistence on making him straight and sexual feels like a very 20th century thing to do. If we’re in an age where Kevin Keller can be proudly out as a gay teen, then we should also be in the age where Jughead can be proudly out an asexual aromantic teen. Teens in general, regardless of sexuality, shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to be in a relationship to be normal.

Pictured (L-R): Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper and Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones (Dean Buscher/The CW)

The last grievance I have is about that twist of a plotpoint with Hal Cooper, who apparently forced Alice Cooper to have an abortion. ¿¿Qué??

Why, what when and where did this plotpoint have to come up? Why have we had such little to show for Hal’s characterization until now? I know we had that part where he told Betty that Polly was with the Sisters for whatever dire reason they have, but I wish we had gotten the sense that Hal was a total abusive husband way before now. If that had been built up from the very beginning, that would have been really interesting and it would have given us more reason to try to understand Alice until this very episode. We would already know why she acted like someone driven to desperation–it’s because she’s been brainwashed by her husband’s fruitless demand for perfection from his family.

I guess what I’m getting at ultimately with this point is that for this to be a dramatic show about a murder, there are literally no dramatic stakes coming out of these characters. Yeah, we get it every once and a while, like with Jughead confronting his father and still trying to find some hope in his heart for him, and Cheryl coming to grips with her brother’s death. But the show is quickly losing the plot of both what it wants to say and who these characters are. The reason we have connected with these characters for 50+ years is because of their relatable cores. We all know some hapless goof like Archie, who is a great friend, but is endearingly clumsy (and sometimes emotionally tacky) all other areas of his life. We know someone like Jughead, who is so cool and interesting, yet they’re so enigmatic, you feel you know nothing about them. Veronica is definitely that person that many of us wish we could be–cool, rich, and a boy magnet–while Betty is who we feel we are at the present moment–the girl or boy next door, nice, loyal, but just “regular.” Their strengths and flaws are what make them so much fun, and either you see yourself or you see your best version of yourself in these characters. Right now, I’m not seeing anyone I relate to anymore. I was seeing it at the beginning of Riverdale, but now, as Nussbaum points out, all we’re getting is some great cosplay without the real commitment.

I’ll say that the only person in the main cast who feels like they are with their character in spirit is Cole Sprouse. Not too many of the main cast have read the comic books back to front, but Sprouse has said in many interviews how he studied his source material and, in so many words, came in with a gameplan as to how to approach Jughead from a position that would remain true to the character. However, the show itself is limiting him from actually playing Jughead the way he truly wants to play Jughead, I feel. While the powers that be want Jughead to be a sexual being, Sprouse has been advocating for Jughead to be canonically asexual, as he is in the comics. However, the powers that be aren’t hearing him, and it’s a shame, since not listening to the actor who knows the character is what could actually make this show a whole lot better and definitely a whole lot more interesting.

In short, I hope the show quits trying to prove that “It Goes There” like Degrassi and actually goes there. If this is going to be a teen murder mystery, then by all means, up the murder, up the mystery, and definitely up the characterizations, plots, and respect for the differences in others.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race”/”Untucked” Season 9 recap: Give a cheer!

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9| Episode 2 | “She Done Already Done Brought It On” | Aired March 31, 2017

Oh, Jaymes Mansfield. I had such high hopes for you. We all had high hopes for you. If there was ever a time to use that Tyra Banks “We were all rooting for you” .gif, now would be the time.

I’ve recently become a fan of Jaymes Mansfield from her YouTube page, and after seeing how lively, bubbly, energetic and knowledgeable she is on her channel, it’s a shame none of it translated to the Drag Race stage. Jaymes already knew she was in her head too much, but she just couldn’t shake whatever shellshock she had. I’m not knocking her for it, though. As an introverted person, it sometimes takes a while for us to get used to a new environment, and in the meantime, we’re left looking and feeling like a shell of ourselves. That’s what happened to Jaymes here. All of the girls (well, almost all of them) seemed to understand that and tried to help her out as best they could, but ultimately, the real challenge was up to Jaymes and she just couldn’t get out of her own way enough to really shine. She’ll be fine, though–she’s got tons of fans, and she’s garnered even more after folks sympathized with her during her short time there.

However, wouldn’t it be amazing if Jaymes got the Trixie Mattel save and was brought back for a second chance? That would be spectacular!

Speaking of second chances, how great is it to see Ms. Cucu, Cynthia Lee Fontaine, back again! I’m a big Cucu fan, so I’m excited to see her energy on this season. It’s especially great to see her healthy after her liver cancer bout. I’m glad she was able to overcome this serious disease and come back to her full vigor.

This challenge was all about vigor, since it was a cheerleading challenge, but not where the queens just had to look like cheerleaders–they actually had to perform real cheerleading moves. As Nina said during Untucked, that was the most strenous challenge yet on Drag Race. I’m almost surprised they let that one be a challenge period, much less the first challenge, since it requires skills not everyone has, like doing splits and cartwheels and stuff.

However, like true professionals, everyone rose to the challenge and did what they had to do. Even Jaymes, who did some really athletic-looking tumbling. However, I have to say that while Valentina gave great Overcaffinated Cheerleader Face, Shea Couleé really gave me Real Girl Cheerleader. I didn’t go to a black school (unfortunately), but I feel like I would have seen cheerleaders like Shea Couleé at the black high school of my dreams.

She was also a very strong contender to win; in fact, most of the girls thought was going to be Shea Couleé’s win, what with her living out her Dominique Dawes childhood fantasy with a ton of flips and splits. Also, her White Party look was really strong, too. But the win ended up going to Valentina, who mesmerized the judges with her zany cheerleader persona and stunned them with her bridal look, which is based on her own mother’s wedding video.

Since I’m talking about the White Party Looks, let’s just get into my favorite looks, which are a lot. All of the looks were strong; this might be the first season in which all of the first runway looks for competition were this strong.

Shea Couleé

As the judges (which included the B-52s this week) said, this was a very Barbarella moment. It’s executed flawlessly, and she looks like a supermodel in it.

Valentina

Again, another flawlessly-executed look. If Michelle Visage hadn’t pointed out Valentina’s nude shoes, I don’t think anyone would have even noticed. At least, I wouldn’t have noticed. In any case, if that’s all she had to complain about, I think that’s a clear win for Valentina. Besides, this is ode to her mother and her parents’ love. You can’t really get too mad at her for this, especially when it looks not only amazing, but expensive and luxurious.

Cynthia Lee Fontaine

Cynthia really gave us a My Fair Lady moment with this outfit, and I think it’s the perfect outfit to use as your comeback dress. I feel like we’re going to see a lot of fun, gorgeous stuff from Cynthia this season.

Trinity Taylor

Trinity Taylor is someone I haven’t mentioned a lot, but I’m rooting for her as hard as I am other queens. She’s a Birmingham, AL queen who has made it to the national stage, and even though she’s repping Orlando on the show, I have to keep an eye out for a hometown girl. So far, she’s done the city proud and she’ll keep doing it if she’s consistently turning out looks like this. If there’s one thing I can say about Trinity is that she has an extremely high level for commitment to an uncomfortable look. If you’ve seen her Season 9 premiere party performance (and I’m sure other performances out there), you have seen how severely she tucks, to the point where it looks like she has a va-jay-jay. She’s not called “The Tuck” for nothing. This look continues that throughline of commitment, because this is all vinyl. How she can stand it, I’ll never know.

Nina Bo’nina Brown

This is giving me a “Storm at a P-Diddy White Party” vibe, which I’m a big fan of. She looks amazing, and that hair color is really something special; I’m glad she went with an unexpected gray.

Jaymes Mansfield

Jaymes might have gone home this episode, but I think he had one of the strongest runway looks. Who doesn’t like a well-done late ’50s/early ’60s pinup look? I love it, since this is Jaymes Mansfield at her most Jayne Mansfield. The judges are also right that Jaymes is one of the best padders (is that a word?) in the race.

Charlie Hides

I really like the detail in this dress, particularly that faux-two-piece look. I love a high-waisted skirt or pant, and I love to see it especially when it’s executed expertly.

Also, let’s talk about how the commenters are ablaze with love for Charlie for telling Eureka to shut up in Untucked. I think some of it was Charlie’s own frustration at being in the bottom and his fear of being ousted because of his age, but I also think he was genuinely frustrated with Eureka and has been for some time. I’m not going to get into severe Eureka discussion right now, but Eureka is quickly becoming this season’s hated queen, if the comments are anything to go by.

The bottom two were Jaymes and Kimora Blac, who had to lip synch for their lives. I thought Jaymes would be able to get something out of this performance, since she’s campy and the B-52s are nothing but pure camp, especially their most iconic song, “Love Shack.” But instead, she copied Kimora, who, if her Season 9 performance is anything to go by, isn’t the best performer. But I have to hand it to Kimora; she gave the judges personality and a palpable desire to stay, and that’s what RuPaul was trying to coax from Jaymes. Darn it, Jaymes!

It was sad to see him leave the show; his Untucked departure was particularly tough, seeing how torn up he was about his performance and how he felt his dreams came undone. This is why I feel like we’re in for a surprise with Jaymes. I seriously think she’ll be back.

Final thoughts:

• Hearing Peppermint’s story about finding acceptance after a horrible high school ordeal and Cynthia’s story about battling cancer are the reasons RuPaul’s Drag Race has an Emmy. I love when the show decides to get real and give viewers an insight into the real lives of these contestants. It’s not always about glamour and fabulosity; sometimes, it’s about overcoming bigotry, finding acceptance, and overcoming what seem like insurmountable obstacles. It’s moments like these that show how much of a role model drag queens are.

• I’m glad I was able to being somewhat professional with this recap and not make it a pure gush-fest over Valentina. I’m torn between idolizing Valentina as a woman and harboring a crush on Valentina as James Leyva the man. It’s a battle of emotions right now. A result of that is screencapping a ton of Boy Valentina images.

The beautiful people of the world can be really frustrating, can’t they?

• Last, but not least–we’ve got the first RuPaul in Drag moment!

I thought, oddly enough, that this was demure and covered-up for RuPaul. Not that she’s always naked or something, but something about the dress looked understated, even though it was a loud cyan-teal. In any event, it’s not RuPaul’s Drag Race without RuPaul as The Monster, and it’s good to see her continue the tradition.

What did you think of this episode? Do you think Jaymes will come back? Give your opinions below!

“RuPaul’s Drag Race”/”Untucked” Season 9 recap: Mother Monster has arrived

Vh1

RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 | Episode 1, “Oh. My. Gaga!” | Aired March 24, 2017

First, I’m SO GLAD RuPaul’s Drag Race is back! This is one of my favorite shows of all time, and even though I’ve never really recapped it because, frankly, I was selfish. I wanted to keep the magic and the glamour of the show to myself and just have something fun for me to enjoy. BUT, I also feel it remiss to not recap it when Season 9 looks to be the most polished season yet.

By now, most hardcore fans have seen the first 18-20 minutes of the first episode, so we already know that Lady Gaga walked into the workroom with the rest of the queens as one of them until she took off her mask. She’s inspiring to the queens, yada yada yada. I’m not trying to sound flippant about it; it’s just that I’ve seen the first 18 minutes about three to five times before the episode aired so that part of the episode is already passé for me.

Instead, let me show you the video of how Eureka was moved to tears by how Gaga helped her in her darkest times.

Since we’re talking about Eureka, why is she living out all of her insecurities through mild bitchery? If there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s when a big queen inadvertently plays into the “bitter big woman” stereotype. I think Eureka is funny and I’m sure she’s a lovely, witty person, but come on, girl, stop cutting people down right out of the gate. Also: stop with the “I’m a big girl” jokes. Again, another thing that annoys me is when a big queen makes all of their comedy based around their insecurities about their fatness. It makes me sad and, frankly, uncomfortable, if I’m being honest. Speaking from a personal place, I know what it’s like to have body insecurities. I think a lot of us get that. But for me, if you’re a big queen, you’ve got to show that you’ve got more up your sleeve than self-deprecating jokes. Rant over.

So the theme of the episode is a Gaga-centric Miss Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent Pageant Competition! The queens had to give two looks: one repping their home town, and the other one being their favorite Gaga look. Also: No queen is getting eliminated this episode! Hooray! We get to know the queens more!

So let’s get into my favorite looks.

Hometown

Shea Couleé–Chicago

I like how, even though she’s a beauty/makeup queen, she still gives you humor. Her reference to Mystique Summers’ “Bitch, I’m from Chicago!” line and her sexual hot dog jokes, coupled with that headpiece and the commitment to the Chicago-style hot dog theme really set her apart for me.

Aja–New York City

I know several reviewers hated this look, particularly since she and Peppermint both dressed literally as Lady Liberty and Alexis Michelle had the Statue of Liberty on her peacock fan-thing. But I just like this look. Maybe I’m just being biased, but it just looks cool to me, and I like the idea of seeing an edgy Lady Liberty wearing an orange wig.

Valentina–Los Angeles

The sombrero, the hair, the makeup, the flowers, the thigh-high garter-belt boots that are also tights??? I don’t need to say much more about this, do I? The look speaks for itself. It’s all so expensive, and that’s what I love about Valentina’s aesthetic; it’s rich and luxurious and I want to live that life.

Nina Bonina Brown–Atlanta

Again, do I really need to explain why this is amazing? JUST LOOK AT THIS PEACH HEAD! IT’S MADE OUT OF CARDBOARD! It’s simultaneously the freakiest and most creative, artistic thing I’ve seen on this show. I like the way Nina’s mind works.

Lady Gaga

Nina Bonina Brown

What I love about this look isn’t just that it’s clearly Gaga; it’s also the winning look. Eureka thought this wasn’t going to win Nina the pageant crown, and lo and behold, it did. I think what Gaga identified with was the originality that still came through Nina’s looks despite having to adhere to a theme, especially one as limiting as dressing as someone else. However, Eureka’s look was also one of my favorites.

Eureka

It’s very clearly Telephone, and it’s very well made. What Eureka does best is give body queen looks, showing you don’t have to be skinny to wear skin-tight or form-fitting clothes. I do like Eureka’s aesthetic and what she’s trying to do with her drag.

Aja

Kimora Blac was saying that picking Gaga’s red carpet looks were boring, and that she wanted to do one of Gaga’s everyday looks. Well, this is how you do one of Gaga’s everyday looks. While Kimora picked yet another black strappy number, Aja chose one of Gaga’s more daring silhouettes. For me, the Commes de Garcons look played very well into the Aja brand, which is simultaneously about pushing the boundaries and just being fun and accessible.

Valentina

I’m used to seeing Valentina in elaborate wigs, so this wig was kind of a letdown for me. But, the look is still one of my favorites because everything is so put together and fashion modely. Her walk was catwalk-ready.

Sasha Velour

It’s funny that Sasha Velour is already being clocked for being the artsy queen, as in that perhaps she’s probably relying too much on artsy-ness. Perhaps it’s the Brooklyn in her; I only visited New York for about a week, but for the time I was in Brooklyn, I definitely got the sense that it was an enclave all about art and expression. Also, having been in the art world for most of my teenage life, I know this type of artist all too well. I’m not saying she’s not great; she’s one of my favorites of the season. But I can already tell that her biggest challenge will be if she can switch from niche artsy-ness to clsasic drag camp. Versatility, if you will.

Having said all of that, I think the ARTPOP look suited Sasha to a T and she sold it expertly. However, ARTPOP itself also suffered from being too artsy, so it’s kinda ironic that Sasha would pick a look that shows both the strength and flaw of being the Artist Queen.

Final notes:

• Poor Jaymes Mansfield. I’ve seen her on YouTube and she’s great on her channel. But she’s coming off as shellshocked on this show, and it’s understandable. But I hope she’s able to get herself together through the season. I really don’t want her to go home early. She’s got tons of talent, and I think she has the potential to go far. But if I can get into my Untucked review, the biggest part I hated about the first Untucked episode is that Eureka decided to come for Jaymes just because she’s quiet. Unlike the other queens, who seemed actually genuine in their concern about Jaymes’ emotional state, Eureka just seemed like she wanted to cut at the person she felt was the weakest. Again, I feel a little personal about this because I’ve been cut at for being quiet or shellshocked in some situations. Not everyone’s got a loud personality and it seems like Charlie was among the queens who understood this. In fact, it was Charlie who inquired about Jaymes in the first place. Perhaps its because he’s acquired tons of wisdom, since he is, in fact, the oldest queen. But Eureka needs to chillax on this and let Jaymes gather herself.

• Gaga needs to become the Tim Gunn of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I feel like she has a deep respect for the art of drag as well as for the lives of drag queens themselves, and I like that she put herself on the mat when it came to discussing the line between appropriation versus appreciation. I know she gets a ton of flack for what she does for the gay community because to some, it comes off as weaseling her way into the a life she doesn’t understand. I admire that she discussed her own hesitancy to appear that way and her sincere desire to uplift the community, not try to selfishly insert herself as one of its members. I think that bit of self-awareness is refreshing, since I’ve also wondered about Gaga’s intentions on that front. I don’t think we see a lot of music celebrities exhibit that kind of self-awareness, and I responded well to it. I also came to admire how she told the queens how she felt about their looks to their faces during Untucked and not just keep it all nice on the runway, then kill them behind their backs. She kept it 100, but she also kept it encouraging. I like that. Good show, Gaga.

• I’ve listened to several reviews as I wrote this recap, and I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one not getting Kimora Blac. Do I think she’s snatched and beat? Yes, of course. But do I think she’s got a limited range as of right now? Completely. As other reviewers have said, she hasn’t varied her look much, if at all, and I feel like she could give us a lot more. I think she’s got the potential to do that; she’s just stuck in a rut.

• I know Peppermint is a seasoned performer, so it’s kinda astonishing to me how she let herself go out there on the runway with her lacefront visible like that. Sure, they don’t have a lot of time backstage, but everyone else had their wigs together! As Gaga said, it’s the details that Peppermint has to focus on, and her lack of focusing on the details seems to be consistent, from what I’ve seen of her in the “Meet the Queens” segment, her RuPaul’s Drag Race premiere red carpet look, and the looks she’s given us in this episode.

• My mom doesn’t watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, but if she did, her clear favorite would be Valentina. When I showed her Valentina’s entrance into the workroom, she said, “She’s gorgeous! And her body looks good, too! That’s amazing!” I completely agree. For your consideration, Exhibits A-D:

• I’m also going to just say this now: I’m a huge Valentina stan, so there might be some favoritism in this recaps, but who isn’t biased when they’re writing recaps of shows? I just love Valentina so much. Can they make a Valentina Barbie? I’d buy that right now.

• I’m also an Aja stan, and I can’t wait for a challenge that will allow her to dance her competition into the ground. As I showed in my predictions article, Aja can dance to literally any music you put before her, and she said as much in this episode. There’s a reason she’s the number one name in Brooklyn; she’s so exciting to me. And the fact that she gives big ups to John Leguizamo is awesome too. It must be true that sexuality is a construct since I’m attracted to Leguizamo both in and out of drag. (Heck, the only reason I liked the terrible Super Mario Brothers movie was because of how cute Leguizamo is in it.)

• I’m also a big Nina Bonina Brown stan as well. I love her originality, and I really identified with her statement in Untucked, in which she revealed that she was at her lowest point when she auditioned for what was going to be her last time. Everything she said about doubting if your dream is something that is actually meant for you hit home, so it encourages me to see that if Nina can make it and achieve her dream after crippling doubt, then I can, too.

The mystery queen!

The internet is saying it’s Cynthia Lee Fontaine, which would be major if that were true, because I, like tons of people, love the Queen of Cucu. Also, the hair, the covered-ness of the outfit, and the closeup on the queen’s butt seem to point in Cynthia’s direction. But some other guesses floating out there include Lynesha Sparx, Coco Montrese, and Jasmine Masters. All we know is that the queen is either Latino or black, has a big booty, and loves short hair, which means it could be any one of these queens since they all fit the bill. Who do you think it is? Vote here:

 

Who is the mystery queen?

Lynesha Sparx
Coco Montrese
Cynthia Lee Fontaine
Jasmine Masters

Poll Maker

What did you think of the inaugural Season 9 episode? Who gave you your favorite looks? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Into the Badlands” Season 2 recap: Quinn’s back and creepier than ever

Sunny needs to get back to Veil as soon as possible! Antony Platt/AMC

Into the Badlands Season 2 | Episode 2, “Force of Eagle’s Claw” | Aired March 26, 2017 

Let’s start at the ending this time around: Quinn is a creepy mo-fo.

I don’t think I have words that express just how twisted Quinn is. He’s like any twisted plantation owner turned up to 11. Heck, I think he rates even higher than 11. Quinn has serious problems and he needs some help. But at the end of the day, I don’t think he wants help: I think he’s forgotten about the existence of his soul for decades and now all he uses to fill his empty space is power. Right now, that power comes from having Veil and baby Henry at his side. Veil and Henry feed his ego and that empty, sad space inside him much more than all of his loyal clippers and revenge plan do, which says a lot about the power and strength of Veil herself, but it also says a lot about how, as twisted as Quinn is, one thing he seems to desperately want, in his own way, is a family to call his own.

This duality is probably why Martin Coskas loves playing Quinn; there are always a lot of layers to explore with the evil characters because the challenge is finding their humanity. I’m no actor, but I know that to play or write a good villain, you’ve got to find and honor that small kernel of humanity they still have somewhere.

Enough of my Actors Masterclass. Let’s get back to talking about how creepy Quinn is. What’s upped the creep factor this go-round is just how much he’s into Veil. Look, Veil is a woman everyone who’s in their right mind should love. I’ll even go so far to admit that the lengths Quinn will go to protect Veil and the baby is…cute?? Maybe I’m the one going a bit out of my head right now. Don’t get me wrong; seeing him kill that dude through his eye was horrifying. But seeing Veil taken care of, whether by Sunny or by Quinn, hits at a place in my mind that realizes that black women aren’t usually put in this kind of damsel position. That alone is something noteworthy. HOWEVER, Quinn’s adoration over Veil is just as unwanted as it was to see Scar make Sarabi his queen in The Lion King (or, for the Broadway fans, see Scar lust over Nala, which was even creepier since he watched her grow up). Sunny can’t come back for his woman soon enough.

Meanwhile, Veil’s just gotta bear it. She’s got tons of resolve, I’ll tell you that. But I sincerely hope she uses that sunroom as an escape. She needs get her climb on and get out of there ASAP!

Also, let’s talk about the fact that she’s the one that saved doggone Quinn in the first place. I mean, there’s a reason he’s head-over-heels for her; after all he’s done to her family, she still found it in her heart somewhere to save him. While that’s really frustrating for us as viewers who want nothing more than for us to see Quinn dead in the ground, that also says a lot about her character, and I don’t think Quinn takes that lightly. Again, she feeds his soul in a way absolute power can’t; she’s the light he’s probably been seeking for longer than he can remember or even realized. He wants to do whatever he can to keep that light around, which includes him hoping that he can keep her captive long enough for her to start having feelings for him. But Beauty and the Beast this is not. She’s going to escape. It’s just a matter of time now.

Speaking of a matter of time, Sunny’s doing his best to make it back to the Badlands, despite having his “ball and chain” Bajie stuck with him. While Sunny’s journey is at the crux of this show, this episode was much more about where everyone else is in their own personal journeys. We know Sunny’s going to make it back to the Badlands; wherever Veil is, he’s going to make sure he’s there. But aside from Sunny and Bajie’s escape from the head slave fighter, it was a little uneventful on the Sunny front. The one thing of note from his and Bajie’s time in the outskirts was that out of everything’s Sunny’s been through, out of every neck Sunny’s cracked and every heart he’s stabbed, the one thing that freaks Sunny out is having a dead rodent wiggled in his face, as well as the idea of eating said rodent. Really, Sunny? I mean, we all have our phobias…I’m afraid of butterflies, for example, but don’t really mind bees. But if you’re a killer, seems like your fear for things like rodents would be the last thing going on in your mind. But it’s funny, so it’s yet one more fact we know about our favorite Clipper. If you want to defeat Sunny, just throw a hamster in his face.

Antony Platt/AMC

Meanwhile, poor M.K. is battling himself, literally. The Master is taking him under her wing because she knows he’s a special boy, the one who will answer everything. What exactly he’s “the one” for, I’m not sure yet; I don’t think we’ve been told. But he’s special, and in order for him to leave the Master’s care, he’s got to do battle with and conquer himself. However, his dark side is a force to be reckoned with, and he doesn’t give up easily. In fact, right now, he’s capable of killing M.K. The Master has to bring M.K. back before his dark side kills him. M.K.’s got a long way to go before he defeats himself.

One thing I like about M.K.’s time in training is that it highlights how his constant training isn’t so much about being able to defeat others; it’s about being able to bring the mind in concert with the body. I’ve been taking meditation more seriously, so I’m sure these platitudes are things others have known forever, but the art of movement is less about the external and more about the internal. What M.K.’s learning on the outside is supposed to help him on the inside, and usually, all of that training just results in learning that in order to calm the mind and really conquer it, you have to just let it do it’s thing. You can’t fight the mind; you can only observe it and accept it for what it is. That’s all M.K.’s learning—how to become one with himself.

Antony Platt/AMC

Okay, my Iron Fist moment is over.

Finally, we see Lydia’s Baroness past come back to haunt her when she has to defend her father’s religious enclave from attackers. However, her father is acting very ungrateful. Or is he?

I mean, he is acting ungrateful from our point of view, but he’s also a staunch believer in his way of life, and that includes letting things happen as they are wont to do. If it was his destiny to die that day, he was ready to meet it. He also doesn’t believe in killing, something he said is a privilege only allowed to the gods. So, Lydia has struck out on two fronts, all because she tried to save her father. Kinda messed up.

She tries reasoning with Ryder to have him protect his grandfather’s people, and he…agrees?? In any case, he definitely doesn’t want Lydia’s help in his life anymore. According to him, he’s a great baron and has lasted longer than Lydia gave him credit for. But I’d say he’s only lasted as long because of whatever help he’s received from Jade, who’s crafty in her own way. He’s not ruling things all by his lonesome. I say we can expect a truce to happen between him and his mother at some point. He’s going to need her help at some point, and I can’t wait for the groveling to happen.

Final notes:

• Can we talk about how attractive Sunny looks as a wanderer?

Antony Platt/AMC

Between the Clipper look and this look, I’ll take this look any day. I’ll also take this look with the durag.

Antony Platt/AMC

Knowing Daniel Wu’s intense love for hip-hop culture, did he have any say on the this sartorial decision? There are several types of head coverings people wear when working in boiler rooms or while doing ironwork, and Sunny just so happens to be wearing the durag version? Interesante, show. Muy interesante.

Of course, I won’t say no to a clean-cut Sunny, either. But he could clean up and keep the hair. That’d be great.) All of the men look good on this show, though, even Quinn (yes, I said it).

• I hope M.K. sports his monk-trainee hair for the rest of his life. I need to learn how this hair is done.

• Do you think Sunny would ever make a pact with The Widow once he figures out what she’s trying to do? I think he’d go along with a Baron-free world after everything he’s been through.

• There was a wall at the end of the episode. Does this mean that America finally built Trump’s wall after all? Or has Into the Badlands been set in China all this time?

What did you think of the episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Into the Badlands” Season 2 premiere is a masterclass in inclusive TV

Daniel Wu as Sunny (Antony Platt/AMC)

It’s already a cliche to say this, but Into the Badlands Season 2 showed up Iron Fist in nearly every way possible. If there Hollywood needed an example of how to make an inclusive martial arts-based action show that doesn’t appropriate cultures but actually respectfully melds cultures together into something new and original, then Into the Badlands is that much-needed example.

Did that sentence confuse you? Let me just break down what I’m trying to say in some bulleted points while telling you what you need to know about the jaw-dropping Season 2 premiere.

• The beginning didn’t linger. 

 

I hope you had your Into the Badlands DVDs or On Demand players handy to catch up on the first season, since the show didn’t waste any time jumping back into the story and the action, and that’s great, because while the show’s story is fantastic, the biggest selling point are the extensive, thought-out, creative fight scenes.

We’ve  dropped in on Sunny (Daniel Wu, who is also one of the show’s executive producers) after being transported to a slave colony to work in the mines. Gone are the days of being a Clipper (aka an upper-tier slave), and now, all Sunny cares about is getting out of the mines and back to Veil (Madeleine Mantock) and his new baby. And hopefully to get back on the right terms with Veil, since his role in her parents death is…dubious.

(Look, let’s get this out of the way right now in this huge aside; Sunny didn’t kill Veil’s parents. BUT, he did stand by while Quinn (Martin Csokas) killed them with Sunny’s sword. BUT, Quinn also threatened to kill Sunny. BUT, Sunny can totally take down Quinn, and he didn’t. BUT, Sunny was just waking up to the system as it is and he didn’t realize he was a slave until he realized he wanted more for his life, particularly because of his relationship with Veil. As you can see, the circular argument can go on and on. But bottom line is that he didn’t kill Veil’s parents, but he didn’t stop Quinn due to self-preservation and, to be blunt, selfishness. He wanted to be around to be with Veil, and he didn’t really think enough about Veil’s parents to realize he needed to stop Quinn from killing what could have become his own extended family. However, how did he think he could go explain this to Veil??? Not to be glib, but he didn’t think the “I’ll stand by like my hands are tied” thing through at all.)

At any rate, Sunny wants to get his family back and find his redemption. Right now, it seems like he could and he couldn’t; his new bunkmate frenemy Baijie (newcomer to the show Nick Frost) sold him out in order to try to secure his own freedom, but Sunny already had a plan before Baijie ratted him out; Sunny wants to try to take out the big wrestler of the group in order to become the new head of the slave food chain and, possibly, get his chance to escape.

HOWEVER, before we even get to Sunny making a plan, we immediately see Sunny try to escape from the first few minutes of the show. IT WAS INTENSE! THIS IS HOW YOU START AN ACTION SHOW!

• The diversity and badassery of the Into the Badlands‘ women

I can honestly say that this is one show that treats its women with respect. (Except for that one woman Baijie straight-up punched unconscious just to get a ring to buy his freedom. Baijie should know better than that.)

Overall, the women on Into the Badlands have thoroughly impressed me, even more so this season. One criticism that some, including Mediaversity Reviews, pointed out is that despite the presence of Veil and the awesomeness of The Widow, the show was centered around white feminism. (Li of Mediaversity Reviews also breaks down just how diverse the main cast is, which is that it’s pretty diverse and more multicultural on an individual-by-individual basis than I initially gave the show credit for. For instance, Mantock is black, Hispanic, and white, not just black as I alluded to in my recent Into the Badlands article. My bad.)

However, one of this season’s mission statements seems to be to correct that oversight, since this season, we’re seeing a much more diverse range of women, including The Master, played by Chipo Chung, who is Asian and black and the most powerful person on the show, period. As many online have noted, the show seems to be a masterclass for Marvel on how to 1) create a show with a POC Iron Fist and 2) how to simultaneously make an Iron Fist with Asian heritage and a proper female Ancient One that doesn’t appropriate the culture she’s supposed to be a part of (and, again, is an Ancient One with Asian heritage). She’s everything we wanted both Iron Fist and the Ancient One to be.

Chipo Chung as The Master  (Antony Platt/AMC)

And Tilda (Ally Ioannides), who was just The Widow (Emily Beecham)’s daughter, has now been elevated to Regent. And her crew is also amazing.

And another upcoming new baron, Baron Chau, looks like she can f*** some people up good-fashioned. I can’t wait to see her fight scenes, especially if she has fight scenes against The Widow. (She’s got to have some fight scenes against The Widow.)

• A diversity masterclass for other shows

Yes, the show’s Season 2 premiere had a serendipitous moment by coming on during the same weekend as Iron Fist‘s premiere, simultaneously one-upping it and showing it how it’s really done when it comes to the martial arts game. But the show is a masterclass for any new series looking to infuse cultures together without appropriating or otherwise offending its audience.

This is something that was taken seriously last year, as evidenced by the whole spiel Wu had about rewriting Romeo Must Die through Sunny and Veil, but this year, the crew has taken their commitment to diversity even more seriously than before. We have the examples of the women above, but we also have just the worldbuilding in general. In every scene, you have a multicultural world which reflects the show’s multicultural audience. The world itself doesn’t particularly rest on whiteness as a default or as a power play, something I originally thought the show was using in the first season with Quinn’s family, coupled with the fact that Quinn and The Widow were the only barons we saw until the introduction of Edi Gathegi’s Jacobee (I still wish we saw more of Jacobee).

We’re also getting yet another baron; along with Chau, we’re also getting Baron Hassan, and the two of them together have opened up the baron game in the vein of Jacobee; anyone can be a baron, and knowing that anyone can attain that kind of power is refreshing, and in its own way, subversive, since the power everyone’s battling over is the same original sin that started America in the first place–slavery. It’s interesting that even though the America Into the Badlands inhabits is a post-apocalyptic type of America, it’s still a country that wrestles with the concept of power through owning others.

• Surprises on surprises on surprises

We had the surprise of the Master being who she is, the surprise of The Widow upping her game this season (her big set piece was amazing to view, and I could watch that over and over again), and the surprise of Veil finally having her baby. But the biggest surprise was seeing QUINN AS VEIL’S CARETAKER! What kind of Frankenstein nonsense is happening right now?! We all thought he was dead! What is he doing with Veil and Veil’s baby?! Also, is he trying to seek redemption as well, or is he trying to regain his power to take on his son Ryder (Oliver Stark), who is now the new baron?

Overall, I’m PUMPED! I can’t wait to see where the rest of this season is taking us! What did you think of the first episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

“Riverdale” react: Veronica and Jughead get dramatic

This photo is kinda misleading, since the rest of the Pussycats don’t really factor into this episode. Good composition though. (Katie Yu/The CW)

Riverdale, Episode 7 | “In a Lonely Place” | Aired March 9, 2017

I’ll give Episode 7, “In a Lonely Place,” this: there were some real moments of touching sentimentality. Some genuine moments of feeling and disappointment were palpable among Veronica and Jughead, and finally, some parents were held up to some consequences, even if it was only for a little while.

First, though, before we get into the sentimentality, let’s talk about the elephant in the room once again: Jughead and Betty’s relationship. The more I see it flaunted in my face, the more uncomfortable and upset I get. Jughead has never been a character that desired romantic relationships. Even when Archie Comics tried to put him in his own triangle (in a misguided effort to keep people from thinking the rumors of the character being gay were true) it didn’t work out; the fans wanted Jughead to remain Jughead and not become some Lothario like Archie. Was Jughead and Betty as an item floated by several Archie Comics writers/artists? Yes. If you go back to the ‘40s, you’ll find Archie covers with Betty flirting with Jughead (with Jughead not falling for it) and throughout the years, you’ll find Jughead show a little warmth towards Betty, not just because he pitied her for always pining for Archie (who was always chasing Veronica instead of her), but because she was his friend and he knew she deserved someone nice and caring in her life. He was the only person to recognize Betty’s worth even when Betty herself didn’t recognize it. (He certainly knew she deserved better than someone like Archie, and he’s Archie’s best friend!) In one comic, Jughead even went as far as to say that if he did like girls like that, he’d definitely consider Betty over anyone else.

But, keep in mind, he said “IF” he liked girls like that. Despite all of the behind-the-scenes shipping the Archie writers and artists had when they took over their own strips or stories, Jughead has remained girlless. Instead, he’s always been a good, close friend to Betty, an enemy to Veronica, and scared of Ethel (who loved him despite the horrible treatment he’d put her through to escape her). Being above the fray of relationships has been Jughead’s distinct hallmark as a character. That was definitely understood when Chip Zdarsky made Jughead canonically asexual. It fits Jughead’s personality and characterization to a T.

But to make Jughead not asexual, or at the very least averse to being in relationships regardless of his sexuality, shows  distinct misunderstanding of Jughead’s character. There’s a lack of understanding of what makes Jughead great. The fact that Riverdale is written in part by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who is a self-professed Archie mega-fan, should mean that Aguirre-Sacasa understands what makes the characters tick. He should know what makes the characters who they are. Making Jughead part of the muck of relationships shows a lack of understand about who the character is and where the character is now in terms of our current discourse about sexuality, representation, and diversity. Making Jughead just like everyone else makes him a completely different guy who just so happens to be wearing the classic whoopee cap. (Well, it’s a knit version of the classic whoopee cap, but same difference.)

Also, in the dream sequence scene, in which everyone is done up in classic Archie drag, Jughead dreamed of Betty wearing a wedding band. Again, we’re taking Jughead further and further away from what makes him him. STOP IT, SHOW.

Okay, back to the touching moments of the show.

Overall, this seemed like a half-filler, half-substantive episode, but what stood out to me were Veronica and Jughead’s problems with their parents. First, Veronica’s mom Hermione wrongly forged her name to the contract allowing Fred to get the construction job at the old drive-in. Why a mother would do something like that, I’ll never know. Why it needed to be done with this particular thing, especially since Hermione already has Mayor McCoy in her back pocket, is kinda weird to me. Couldn’t the both of them just collude to forge an entirely new document or something? I don’t know. But Veronica has every reason to be angry with Hermione, and while I’m not sure how clubbing works with getting back at your mom, Veronica’s monologue about how Hermione took the last thing that belonged to her—her name—was a deep moment for this character in particular.

CW/Screengrab

The other moment of the night was Jughead dealing with his dad F.P. F.P. is going through it and has been since Fred fired him. But F.P. was already doing some shady dealings anyway—maybe with the Serpents, perhaps?—but now F.P. is a drunken mess and his wife left with Jellybean, leaving Jughead behind to fend for himself. We find out in this episode that ever since the drive-in closed, Jughead’s been living in a school supply closet.

Finally, Archie got out of his own issues long enough to find out that Jughead’s not at home, and ultimately, he and Fred give Jughead a place to stay so he won’t have to stay with his dad. But until we get to that point (which involves Jughead getting pulled into the sheriff’s office for having the sheriff’s murder board), Jughead actually does go back home long enough to talk F.P. into working for Fred again. Archie does what he needs to do to get his dad to give F.P. another chance, and for the most part, things are as smooth as they can be between two Fred and F.P., two former best friends.

When we get to the part of the episode where Jughead gets pulled out of the sheriff’s office thanks to Fred covering for him by saying Jughead was working for him (which means Fred’s now technically a criminal too, since he’ll have to forge timecards for Jughead), we finally get to some ACTING. Not to say folks haven’t been acting before, but if we’re going to be a melodrama, let’s actually get to the DRAMA, not the shenanigans and antics. Jughead wants to trust his dad, who has broken his promises to get his act together over and over again, but F.P. looks so sorrowful and pitiful that Jughead, who is clearly angry with his father, still decides to give him another chance. I thought that was a great moment for a character who naturally leans towards the more soulful mindset anyway.

CW/Screengrab

I know I’ve skipped all around Polly and the baby and the Blossoms and the Coopers–frankly, I’m caring less and less about this baby and Polly. If Polly ends up being the killer, then I’ll end up being intrigued in her life once again. #Sorryaboutit.

(And yes, I’m planning on recapping/reacting to this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. As a superfan, it’s a show I should have recapped/reacted to long before now.)

Other things of note: We had our first sighting of Ginger Lopez!

CW/Screengrab

Will we see more of her? I hope so.

Also, we’ve seen some more of Reggie!

CW/Screengrab

I can’t wait for his storyline to open up. Since the show has the Season 2 greenlight, they’d better give us more Reggie (and possibly Josie/Reggie).

Lastly, I really did like the dream sequence. I know it’d be a sexist storyline, but if the show was literally a hyper-realistic version of the old-school comic book, I’d watch the heck out that. The dream sequence art direction was really nice. Check it out:

What did you think of that episode? Are you sick and tired of Betty and Jughead? And why are fans calling Lili Reinhart “Daddy”? (I legitimately want to know that question.) Leave your comments and answers in the comments section below!

“Get Out” earns rare 100 percent fresh rating, becomes critical darling

Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out.” (Universal Pictures)

Jordan Peele’s debut horror film, Get Out, is getting audiences out to the movie theaters. (Get what I did there? I’m here all week.)

In all seriousness, Get Out is killing it at the box office and currently reigns as the number one film in America.

The Hollywood Reporter has the deets:

“The race-concious horror film Get Out—marking Jordan Peele’s feature directorial debut—will easily win the Friday box office with a projected $9.5 million-$10.5 milloin from 2,781 theaters for a weekend debut in the $25 million -$28 million range, according to early returns.”

The film has also garnered the coveted (and rare) 100 percent fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus so, as Rotten Tomatoes states, is:

“Funny, scary, and thought-provoking, Get Out seamlessly weaves its trenchant social critiques into a brilliantly effective and entertaining horror/comedy thrill ride.”

Here are some of what critics across the country have had to say about Get Out:

“In most slasher flicks, a guy like Chris would die first. Peele’s joke is that the cliché has it backwards. Young black men know their lives are in peril from the first frame.” —Amy Nicholson, MTV

“Get Out is the satirical horror movie we’ve been waiting for, a mash-up of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? and The Stepford Wives that’s more fun than either and more illuminating, too.”—David Edelstein, Vulture

“A refined suspense thriller, consummate film critique, savage satire, inspired horror and fierce, profane comedy. It’s archetypal, prodigious American moviemaking, smart and sly… a succession of shocking, often thrilling satisfactions.”—Ray Pride, Newcity

“One of the boldest, most audacious major studio movies to come along in quite some time. From the opening titles to the end credits, Get Out holds you in its grasp.”—Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat

Have you seen Get Out? What do you think? Give your mini-reviews in the comments section below!

The critics weigh in on ABC’s “When We Rise”

Did you check out ABC’s new miniseries When We Rise? I’m going to have my official review on the site by the end of this week, but until then, let’s take a look at what the critics said.

First, a quick synopsis, courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes:

The LGBT civil-rights movement is chronicled from its turbulent infancy to the present through the experiences of a diverse family of LGBT men and women.

It sounds promising, and something that’s much needed. It’s also a project the actors and crew are very proud of. Just read some of what Rafael de la Fuente, of Empire fame, had to say about his part in the show. (Also check out my exclusive interview with him here!)

Since TV shows are now given the Rotten Tomatoes rating, I went over to the site to see how well the show fared, and turns out…it’s fresh!

The show was given an 81 percent rating, with the general consensus being this:

When We Rise works as a well-meaning outreach project with a decent cast, even if the script’s ambitious reach slightly exceeds its grasp.

Now, I know I haven’t actually watched the show yet, but the commercials alone seemed like there were going to be some elements that seemed more suited to either a more fleshed-out show or an actual movie (something to get the taste of Stonewall out of our mouths). But let’s see what some folks who have watched it had to say about it.

“As a television drama, it often plays like a high-minded, dutiful educational video. But at its best moments, it’s also a timely statement that identity is not just an abstraction but a matter of family, livelihood, life and death.” —James Poniewozik, New York Times

“When We Rise’s timid and narrow idea of what counts as progress doesn’t do justice to all the bravery, imagination, and hard work that went into making that progress a reality.”—Inkoo Kang, MTV

“When We Rise is the most impactful LGBT-centric series since HBO’s “Angels in America” more than a decade ago. Sure, it’s a small playing field, but a notable one given the challenges of today.”—Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times

“The miniseries is meant to be a Roots for the LGBT community. Unfortunately, much of it is about as enjoyable as civics class on a Saturday afternoon.”—Mark A. Perigard, Boston Herald

(Interestingly enough, Inkoo Kang compared When We Rise to a show shooting wildly for the importance of Roots as well.)

“Important television, but also wildly, maddeningly uneven TV, too.” —Verne Gay, Newsday

The reviews are mostly positive, and yet they are still all over the board. What did you think about When We Rise? Give your opinions below!

BGN Movie Review: Rings

Comparing “Rings” to a colonoscopy? The film must be bad!

By Valerie Complex

Orignally posted on Black Girl Nerds

If I had to choose between receiving a colonoscopy and watching Rings all over again, I’d go with the colonoscopy. At least with a colonoscopy, I would be under heavy sedation while going through the procedure. Too bad that I had to stay awake during Rings. If it weren’t for my need to see things through no matter how bad, I would have hit the door in the first 15-minutes.

Rings takes its premise from last year’s nauseating Sadako vs. Kayako (Ring vs. The Grudge), but instead of director F. Javier Gutierrez expanding some something halfway interesting, he made Rings— and made it 10x worse than the source material.

This time around Samara (Bonnie Morgan) is sending Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) on a nonsense journey to find her birth mother and father and bury the ashes of her dead mother. But this is a setup. Samara wants to get out into the real world because she wants to go viral. The wonders of technology make the video quicker to share. With faster email transmission and smartphones, you can access the video in real time, anywhere. Thanks to Professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), this video is spread fast because of the Samara death cult he’s created.

The danger lies with people who are silly enough to watch the footage (even after all the havoc it’s already caused). These are folks who have watched the video and encourage others to watch it, so it becomes a revolving door of people watching videos and dying or trying not to die. LOL! You see how ridiculous this all sounds? Anyway, Julia’s boyfriend, Holt (Alex Roe), gets involved in this cult and is now on the run from Samara. Foolish boy. Don’t people know by now you cannot escape her death stare?

From its inception, The Ring has always been a solid story. But it’s a story that can only go so far, and Rings is the perfect example of when a franchise is pushed beyond its limits. Samara is at the center of it all and is one of the most interesting characters in the series. But even in the afterlife, you can tell she doesn’t want to be associated with the craptacular Rings movie.

Why didn’t the studio just remake Sadako vs. Kayako in its entirety? It’s not a great film, but it’s far more entertaining than Rings. What I liked about Sadako vs. Kayako is that there is the stacked history of Rings and Ju-On (The Grudge) behind it. If you’ve kept up with Japanese cinema, you’ll know that The Ring series has been consistent, so new movies don’t seem so random. Rings is the reboot 10 years too late that no one asked for.

The characters are grossly incompetent, in addition to being vapid, and devoid of common sense. They each deserved what they get because each death meant the film was closer to ending. If you’re wondering if you’re missing anything, you aren’t because the movie isn’t scary. The only scary thing here is people in New York City probably paid $15.00 to see this dumpster fire.

I was hoping Samara would come through the movie screen and put me out of my misery.

“Rogue One:” A satisfying, sad chapter in the “Star Wars” franchise [SPOILERS]

Lucasfilm/Disney

SPOILERS ABOUND!

Synopsis (Lucasfilm): From Lucasfilm comes the first of the Star Wars standalone films, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” an all-new epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Monique’s review: What a film.

Maybe it’s that time of the month and I’m being hormonal, or maybe the film was just that sad. But it’s about 48 hours after having seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and I’m still reeling from the ending. AUGH! MY HEART!

The opening crawl to Episode 4: A New Hope states that rebel spies steal the Death Star plans, but it doesn’t say that they die! I haven’t gotten over it yet.

It also doesn’t help that the princess of all space, Carrie Fisher has died. Can 2016 give us a break yet?!

The good:

What I loved about the film is that we got to see what Star Wars is like outside of the confines of the traditional crawl, so to speak. I, for one, liked that the film decided to forgo the crawl and throw us right into the movie. It makes sense, since this is the first story that that kickstarts the entire franchise, but it’s also a bold move that takes the franchise further into the future. We’re in the 21st century with Star Wars now; it needs to go beyond what the older fans expect. Now that we’ve got younger fans, the franchise has to use the 21st century modernization to enthrall and keep them. Also, the lack of a crawl added a freshness that a new fan like me appreciated. It made me feel like I was watching a sci-fi action film that didn’t chastise me for not having grown up with the Star Wars franchise.

Let’s talk about the cast. Overall, the cast is 8/15 POC (or should I say MOC), which is hefty for a blockbuster film, especially since they are all main characters. This number, I should say, is if you count the voice of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (the actual figure of Darth Vader, as usual, is played by another actor, this time Spencer Wilding) There are only five main characters who are women, and one of them, Jyn’s mother Lyra (Valene Kane), gets killed early in the film and the other, young Princess Leia, is portrayed by a body double (Ingvild Deila) with a CGI’d face. Aside from Jyn, the most prominent woman in the film is Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), a senator from A New Hope who is mostly used in this film to give gravitas with her face and clothes, but not much more. If anything, she seemed to act as a loose replacement for Leia in the majority of this film, almost as if she were a preliminary sketch for the actual Leia character, down to her white robes.

(Interesting fashion note: It appears that this film is setting up the idea that style trends are a thing in the Star Wars universe–White is a color that seems to have been popular up until the construction and usage of the Death Star. Perhaps the lack of white after A New Hope suggests that the innocence of the galaxy before the Death Star had been lost.)

Why is counting the amount of non-white people and women important? Because in Star Wars films of the past, the cast has been mostly white, with only a few POC actors as minor rebel pilots who quickly get killed. Having people of all racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds gives Star Wars the legitimacy it needs as both a contemporary film in a multicultural world and as a space opera itself; why does science fiction/fantasy just have be a place for white people, when we all would like to live in a galaxy far, far away?

Lucasfilm/Disney

The character portrayals themselves are great despite being a little truncated. Was it because the screenwriter knew we’d only be seeing these characters in one film? At any rate, the characters’ collective fates make their performances even more riveting and haunting. Felicity Jones held down the movie as Jyn Erso, further establishing the notion that women can successfully helm “boys’ movies” and bring in the big bucks. I also thought Diego Luna played Cassian Andor convincingly, but I must point out that like Mon Mothma, his character seemed like a sketch of an early Han Solo, what with his own “who shot first” moment early in the movie (although they don’t show a close-up on Cassian’s hand pulling the trigger, we know he’s the guy who shot his informant in cold blood).

Cassian, though, provides one of the most satisfying character arguments I’ve seen in film in a long time. Surprisingly, the film delves into privilege when discussing Jyn’s sudden turn to the resistance after years of not caring about who’s in power. Jyn’s turn comes after her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) dies. Even though Galen dies due to his involvement with the Empire—he was the chief architect of the Death Star, who defected, then later came back to work on the project in order to place a well-hidden weak spot—Jyn blames Cassian, who was ordered by the resistance to kill Galen. It’s when Jyn offends Cassian’s honor as it relates to fighting for the resistance that Cassian decides to tell her the ugly truth about herself. Jyn, he said, was picking and choosing when she wanted to fight for the resistance, whereas he had been fighting for it since he was a small child. While Jyn found it easy to take up the resistance mantle after years of running, Cassian and others like him had devoted their entire lives to the cause. Jyn had no right to assert she automatically knew more about fighting the good fight than someone like him, who had sacrificed everything to get to that point.

On the surface, it reads like a standard argument about who has more to lose and who has the most to learn. But when it’s played out, the optics—a white woman “Damonsplaining” resistance fighting to a Latino man whose been in the trenches long before she had no choice but to care—took the scene up a level to near discomfort for some in the audience, I’m sure. If put in today’s context, the scene was basically a man of color telling a “well meaning,” but insensitive and selfish white woman that she can’t co-opt the fight for social justice and chastise someone else’s part in the fight just because she realized she should have been fighting long ago. The distillation of Cassian’s message was that Jyn should be reckoning with herself as to why she found it so easy not to fight the good fight, considering all she had at stake. It shouldn’t have taken Galen’s death to spur her into action. Similarly, a lot of Jyn Ersos in the audience should ask themselves why it’s taken them so long to join the social justice fight a lot of marginalized people have already been a part of and, indeed, have sacrificed a lot for.

Other standouts include Donnie Yen as the blind devotee to the Force, Chirrut Îmwe, and his friend? life partner? Baze Malbus, played by Wen Jiang.

I went into the film aware of the strong reaction these two had garnered online, with many believing that these two could be Star Wars‘ first gay couple. I say that’s great if it’s true, but if it is, then it’d be nice for Lucasfilm and Disney to actually confirm that. 

Rogue One director Gareth Edwards told Yahoo! Movies that he doesn’t mind people reading a relationship into the characters. “I think that’s all good” he said. “Who knows? You’d have to speak to them.”

“Them” being the characters. Come on now, Edwards. Quit being coy.

The coyness is what kills me, honestly. I’ll get to this in “the bad” section of this review, but seriously, the cutesy answers like this from directors need to stop. People don’t like having their emotions played with, and LGBT viewers are a demographic who have had their hopes dangled in front of them like carrots by the entertainment industry for far too long. Queerbaiting isn’t a good business practice for any entertainment studio, especially not in today’s time.

With that said, the evidence for Chirrut and Baze being that couple that’s been together so long that you can’t understand what they still see in each other (no pun intended) is strong from the beginning. They’re a package deal from the first time we meet them, with Baze hovering protectively over Chirrut, who is very much capable of being on his own. But even though we come to know that Baze is entirely aware of Chirrut’s independence (I mean, Chirrut can beat up hordes of stormtroopers in minutes), he still watches over him, and Chirrut lets him. Perhaps a better word to use is that Chirrut allows it.

Second, we have when the gang is on some rainy planet (the same planet Galen and Jyn have their sad reunion) and Chirrut decides to go trudging after Jyn, Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) and Cassian. If memory serves, Baze taunts him a bit, saying Chirrut would have to be lucky out on his own to survive. Chirrut says, “I don’t need luck; I have you.” At the very extreme, this could be excused away as just banter between really good friends. Sure, Chirrut and Baze are best friends, but movies don’t usually portray friendship in this fashion. This moment was basically the “You complete me” line from Jerry Maguire. Except that in movies, men and women are instantly coded as being in a relationship, while same-sex couples are nearly almost instantly coded as being “just friends.” If one of these characters was a woman, you’d have people vehemently arguing against any idea that their relationship was merely platonic friendship.

Also, this moment, as explained by Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan, is something that seals the deal, if you were in doubt after the “I have you” statement:

“He spends his final moments in Baze’s lap, and as his friend stares down at him, devastated, Chirrut raises his hand as if to caress Baze’s cheek. It’s the simplest gesture, but it packs a potent, more-than-platonic current, and as Chirrut expires, it’s clear that Baze does not want to live in a world without this man. He charges almost suicidally into battle, firing at Stormtroopers while repeating Chirrut’s mantra over and over–finally, at the end of his life, paying tribute to his partner’s guiding philosophy–until he, too, is felled. And while there are still plenty of big moments yet to come as Rogue One completes its story and links up with the familiar opening minutes of A New Hope, I couldn’t stop thiking about that near caress and what it might mean. After the movie was over, I asked other audience members if they thought Baze and Chirrut could have been in a relationship, and I was surprised by how many people had been picking up on the same signal.”

I must also add that as Baze faces his death, he looks back at Chirrut’s body, as if he was mentally telling himself and Chirrut that he’d be reunited with him soon. Comfortable friendship is one thing, but showing an all-encompassing love to where you don’t want to live without the other is a completely different kettle of fish, and Rogue One toys with that kettle a lot. If you read their relationship another way, you’re basically sticking your head in the sand.

Another point: Yen did an interview with GT, formerly known as Gay Times Magazine. Movie stars who are playing gay characters do interviews with gay outlets, for instance, Moonlight‘s Trevante Rhodes doing an interview with OUT Magazine. So that kinda cements it as far as I’m concerned.

Chirrut and Baze as two people in a same-sex relationship remind me of what John Cho said about the invisibility of gay Asian men in movies. Cho said that for Star Trek Beyond, he took his character Sulu’s sexuality as a way to pay homage to some of his friends:

“…I always felt the Asian gay men that I knew had much heavier cultural-shame issues…I felt like those guys didn’t date Asian men because of that cultural shame,” he said. “So I wanted it to seem really normal in the future…that there was zero shame in the future.”

In this vein, Chirrut and Baze are even more important; not only are they providing a much-needed outlet for LGBT viewers, but they are also providing an outlet for gay Asian men, who are marginalized along racial lines and within the mainstream LGBT community as a whole.

Lucasfilm/Disney

I mentioned Riz Ahmed above; his character Bodhi is super important because it finally breaks with Hollywood tradition of casting brown actors as “the terrorist” or “the taxi driver.” Finally, an actor like Ahmed, of Pakistani heritage, can be the hero of a film.

Silicon Valley‘s Kumail Nanjiani explained it best with his Twitter thread:

It was also cool to see Tyrant‘s Fares Fares in a role as well. The racial and ethnic diversity abounds in this film, and I’m glad for it.

The bad

I liked Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera. The trailers make you think you’re going to spend the majority of the movie with him, but we don’t. I wish we had more time with him.

Saw raised Jyn after was forced to separate from her parents, so you’d think we would have gotten to see more of their relationship after their reunion. It seemed like a waste to just have Whitaker around for a couple of scenes, only for him to die nobly minutes later. Whitaker gave his scenes his all, though; you can’t say he didn’t chew scenery.

K2SO, played by Alan Tudyk, was…interesting. This might be the first droid I’m lukewarm on. I get that he’s supposed to have a personality—all of the droids do—but maybe the personality went a little overboard with this one. He (since the droid is coded as such) sounded a little too human to be a realistic, more crudely made droid, and it took me out of the film a little bit each time he spoke. He did grow on me, but it took a while.

I wish there were more women of color in this film. I address this at length in this article, but just to reiterate, it’d be nice for me, as a black woman, to see more black women and women of color in general do things in this franchise.

Also, it kinda seems like Jyn still co-opts the resistance and becomes a de facto leader, even though she hasn’t done much to earn the role. Meanwhile everyone else who has given much has to follow her, as if they’ve never come up with a bright idea before. That bugged me. Again, the optics—white savior leading POC soldiers towards victory—painted the picture.

Chirrut is awesome, but does his characterization bleed into the “Hero” stereotype of disabled characters? It definitely could.

Much emphasis is on how accomplished and independent he is in spite of his disability, as if his disability is something that would make him weak otherwise. What’s actually true is that he’s strong because of his disability; it’s because of his adversity that he’s found the strength to channel the Force. On the other hand, though, the fact that he uses the Force to see has its roots in the ableism of the script, which posits that with “sight,” Chirrut is closer to being an able-bodied person. However, Chirrut doesn’t struggle against his disability, which is something that is seemingly inherent in the “Hero” stereotype. He seems to embrace it as a part of himself, which is encouraging. In short, Chirrut’s characterization teeters on both edges of the disability stereotype spectrum.

Lucasfilm/Disney

I already mentioned it above, but just to reiterate: It’s not cool when franchises bait the audience. If Chirrut and Baze are together, everyone in the film should be of one accord and say that to the press. Edwards’ maddeningly cutesy answer flies in the face of those who don’t feel Chirrut and Baze’s relationship is a joke to piddle around with. Of course, I’m sure Edwards is a fine person; he, like most of the people under the Bad Robot helm, is all about diversity. I also don’t think he means to turn Chirrut and Baze into a joke. But to say that we should ask the characters takes all of the onus off of him as the director, who has the unique ability of deciding who gets to be what in the movie. He made it a point to have a diverse cast, right? Why not make it a point to say definitively if Chirrut and Baze are in love? What’s the difference? (I know, “money,” but seriously, though, what’s the difference?)

Finally, I didn’t like the idea of reviving characters with CGI at all.

I understand the minds behind the film feeling that Tarkin and Leia were crucial to tying this film into A New Hope. But I just didn’t care for it at all. It was way too creepy and jarring to me. However, Leia looked a lot more convincing than Governor Tarkin (who we know as Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope). Like Leia, Tarkin had a body double (Guy Henry), but whereas Leia’s transplanted face looked like it could be sustained relatively easily throughout a film (because of Leia’s Disney Princess like features, which are probably easier to animate), Tarkin’s wasn’t realistic enough. To me, this was a case of the animation needing to be as close to the uncanny valley as possible, if not all the way in it.

For me, Tarkin’s face had too many Pixarisms to make me believe it was a real person. Yes, I know the CGI was by Industrial Light and Magic, but I’m sure there was some crossover at some point since this is a Disney movie after all. The eyes seemed too big, the nose seemed to long, and he ended up coming off as a more realistic version of the old man from Pixar short Geri’s Game.

This video explains what I’m talking about (after much fanboy-ing):

If O’Reilly could play Mon Mothma, who looks just like the original Mon Mothma, Caroline Blakiston, how come Guy Henry, who looks and sounds similar to Peter Cushing, couldn’t play Tarkin without the CGI?

Final verdict

I liked the film a lot. It’s a bit of a mood-killer, since all of our heroes die. But I don’t think we were ever promised they’d survive. The subversive aspect of a genre film like this one injecting some realism is quite jarring; we’re used to the heroes surviving no matter what. Even when Han Solo was supposedly dead from carbonite, he still survived. The fact that everyone dies and not just one singular character ups the stakes for the entire fight for the galaxy. It’s no longer child’s play; it’s hardcore. We’re not just following fun characters on an adventure; we’re following people who will give up their lives for a cause. Things are serious, and it’s fascinating that such a serious tone would inject itself in these films at this point in time. As many have said, this film has a serious social message embedded within it (again, something the film’s team coyly deny). If anything, the film warns us to jealously guard our own freedoms; don’t wait until it’s too late to stand up for what’s right.