NBC

Last night was the series premiere of Young Rock, NBC's newest sitcom.

The comedic series follows the upbringing of its namesake, WWE legend and action movie juggernaut, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, through ages 10, 15, and 18.

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TV Features

This Haunts Me: The Empire Waist Dresses in "Bridgerton"

Please, any other silhouette, any at all.

Much has been written about Bridgerton, the dramatic period romance created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes.

The show is many things: it's aesthetically pleasing escapism, it's a gift for anglophiles, it's insanely hot, and...it features more Empire waist gowns than I've ever seen in my life.

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TV Reviews

"The Mandalorian" Season 2, Episode 7 Recap

The Mandalorian, "Chapter 15: The Believer" (written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa) premiered Friday, December 11th on Disney Plus

With only one more episode remaining in Season 2, fans will likely be disappointed that Chapter 15 barely hits 32 minutes, excluding credits. And let's be honest, not a lot happened. "The Believer" did however unexpectedly treat us to what is probably the best dramatic performance of the series: Bill Burr (returning) as Migs Mayfeld.

Let's talk Mayfeld and breakdown the best and worst moments of The Mandalorian, Season 2, Episode 7.

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

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TV Reviews

"Dirty John" Is Too Relatable

Dirty John is incredibly frustrating, but quality actresses make an unbelievable survival story seem all too realistic on screen.

US Weekly

This week's pipeline from true crime to entertainment culminated with the finale of Bravo's Dirty John, which aired Sunday.

While the miniseries is not the first podcast to be adapted to television (HBO's 2 Dope Queens and Amazon's Lore and Homecoming are notable examples that predated it), the show marked the first true crime-turned-podcast-turned-TV-drama. Based off the #1 podcast of the same name, the eight-episode first season features Connie Britton giving a painfully believable portrayal of real-life mother Debra Newell, a highbrow interior designer and four-time divorcee in her late 50s. While she thinks she's met the perfect man online, Dr. John Meehan (Eric Bana) soon reveals himself to be a conman and unrepentant asshole with a penchant for mood swings, drug binges, and entreaties for forgiveness—which Debra grants, again and again.

Variety

Created by Alexandra Cunningham and directed by Jeffrey Reiner, the show excels in its depiction of sheltered Californian socialites. Debra is portrayed as a blind optimist who resists the reality of John's physical and emotional threats to her family, despite glaring red flags such as threats to shoot her daughter in the head and his escalating possessiveness over her—and her finances. Additionally, Debra endlessly coddles her two adult daughters, Veronica and Terra, entitled millennials played by Juno Temple and Julia Garner, respectively. Both girls are very privileged, very blonde, and very distrusting of the new man in their mother's life. Most apparent in all three women's performances is that Britton, Temple, and Garner even capture the child-like vocal fry of the real-life Newell women, whose voices feature in the Dirty John podcast.

Temple, in particular, excels as the brash and abrasive older daughter whose genuine concern is muddled with her elitist offense that a lower class outsider has insinuated himself in her family's inner world of designer bags and luxury penthouses. In contrast, Garner's performance as the younger daughter is kept intentionally low key and peculiarly infantile.

Spoilers ahead

However, for the finale, the show doesn't hold back in re-enacting John Meehan's knife-wielding attack and attempted abduction of Terra Newell, the family member whom we're led to believe is the weakest and most vulnerable. Here, the show's greatest gamble is hinging the entire climax on the subtleties of Terra's personality, which suddenly manifests as a self-assertive and independent survivor—who stabs her attacker 13 times in the parking lot outside her apartment, rather than be dragged into the trunk of his car. The transformation is almost unbelievable—except that part actually happened. In 2016, the real John Meehan died of his injuries in the parking lot where he attacked her. The real Newell girls even suspected that John would target Terra, believing her to be weak. In the show, Garner's nuanced performance is what makes an unbelievable survival story seem believable on TV in a triumph of fight-or-flight instinct.

As for the real Debra Newell, she wanted her story told as a cautionary tale of the perils of both online dating and blind devotion. She commented on the series, "It's a story to tell others to make them aware of what could happen to them. You almost have to remove yourself a little bit." In her personal life, Debra still calls herself "a naturally happy person," but it took the tools of time, therapy, and the removed sense of media to see her story clearly. She said, "[Therapy] had so much to do with being able to be healthy again. I had a lot of guilt at one point. I had to learn [the mechanics of] what had happened to me." But she's a fan of Connie Britton's portrayal. Debra praises, "She got my voice and my mannerisms down perfectly. I was in a dangerous situation, and there wasn't a lot of opportunity for Connie to show the lighter side of me — I'm not always that nice or serious!"

Debra and Terra NewellToday Show

Yet, the show isn't exactly sympathetic towards Debra. To be clear, Dirty John is incredibly frustrating. But that's largely due to the incensing nature of the late Meeham's crimes and manipulations. His history of deception, impersonation, and conning every woman in his life (including his own family members) is perhaps the heaviest focus of the series. Debra, the character, is less important; her previous marriages aren't explored, while her naivety often is, and her family's Southern Californian ethos gives off plenty of Mean Girl vibes to provide comic relief. Above all, her initial refusal to doubt John is frank and infuriating, but it's primer for the show's midpoint climax; Debra's conflict foreshadows her decision to take John back even after her family presents proof of his elaborate lies, which include wearing stolen scrubs every day to allege he's a doctor and waxing morose about traumatic deployments in Iraq despite never serving in the military.

Dirty John is a concrete depiction of how unexpectedly, eerily enthralling it is to be under someone's "coercive control." One of the reasons the podcast garnered over 33 million listeners in the first place is because of how relatable Debra's experience is. Because of course Debra didn't think of herself as a vulnerable target. "Remember," she said in an interview after this week's finale, "it's Hollywood. First of all, I don't feel desperate. I think that it's very natural to want to have a companion and to be in love." She reflected, "It really helped relieve me, to some degree, knowing that it is such a common thing, unfortunately. But I now know what happened to me and that it could happen to anyone."

Sling TV


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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TV Reviews

"The Masked Singer" Is America's Favorite Joke

With 10 million viewers tuning in, this Donnie Darko nightmare of a singing competition has claimed the ratings' top spot.

Every contestant on The Masked Singer is a cross between a Vegas showgirl and the monster under your childhood bed.

Nearly 10 million Americans tuned in for the singing competition's premiere last week. Viewers' reactions range from horrified to conversion to furry fandom, as twelve so-called "celebrity contestants" compete while costumed as: Deer, Lion, Monster, Peacock, Unicorn, Rabbit, Alien, Raven, Poodle, Bee, Hippo, and Pineapple.

Official Trailer | Season 1 | THE MASKED SINGER youtu.be

Hosted by Nick Cannon, the bizarre show is the American version of the popular South Korean competition, King of Mask Singer (on which Ryan Reynolds has appeared as a unicorn singing "Tomorrow" from Annie). The concept is both simple and over-the-top, as costumed singers introduce themselves to give hints as to their identities–and not only are they dressed as giant anthropomorphic creatures, but each costume is replete with a ridiculous voice-changing filter. After each contestant karaokes America's most overplayed songs, a panel of C-list judges evaluates their performances and takes a stab at guessing who could be under the mask. At the end, whoever displayed the least amount of talent is eliminated and forced to remove his/her disguise.

With "celebrity" judges including Robin Thicke, Nicole Scherzinger, Ken Jeong, and Jenny McCarthy, the qualifications seem lax. As the judges make increasingly outlandish guesses, from Beyoncé to Barack Obama, social media has certainly enjoyed the joke. #TheMaskedSinger remained a trending topic on Twitter during both weeks' airtimes, with posts ranging from reality TV personalities to common, decent people.



But The Masked Singer could very well become America's next favorite joke. After last week's premiere garnered over 9 million viewers only to reveal the identity of Hippo was NFL player Antonio Brown (he sang Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative"), the show's second episode still entertained over 7 million viewers. The contestant unmasked Wednesday night was Pineapple, revealed to be Tommy Chong of beloved Cheech and Chong's Adventures (he sang "I Will Survive" and it was brutal).

Fox

The Seattle Times

Ridiculous as it is, this Donnie Darko nightmare of a singing competition still held the ratings' top spot for Wednesday night among viewers from 18-49 years old. The Masked Singer airs every week at 9PM. Who do you think is Alien?

FOX


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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Sabrina Fights the (White, Straight) Patriarchy in Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”

While a dazzling reimagining of its source material, the show isn't as "woke" as it thinks it is.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for Part One of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Stories that explore the occult are rife with opportunities to explore identities typically "othered" by white patriarchal society, including women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals. Witches and warlocks can inhabit our world as seen through the eyes of outsiders, and thus provide the perfect opportunity for storytellers to take a hard look at what (or who) we give priority, meaning, and power.

It's clear from the first episode of Netflix's The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina that this retelling of Sabrina Spellman's, the half-human, half-witch orphan who must choose between the two worlds, story is not a reboot of the ABC '90s sitcom. In the first ten minutes, a lonely, socially-awkward schoolteacher is murdered and possessed by a demon-witch, which gives the audience a small indication of the show's shift toward the comics' darker inclinations. The episode ends with a vision of hanging witch corpses and the horrifying goat-man Baphomet, AKA the Dark Lord, rising from the pits of hell. Oh, and there are no talking cats (Praise Satan).

Creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's Chilling Adventures takes a bold approach to the teenage witch's choice between life as a mortal and life as a spell-casting sorceress, framing her decision to inhabit both worlds as a middle finger to the patriarchal Satan. As Sabrina approaches her 16th birthday and prepares for her long-awaited dark baptism, a witch's rite of passage where she signs her name in the "book of the beast," she is told that the ceremony is largely symbolic. However, when she realizes that one must wed Satan and obey his every whim to join the coven, Sabrina chooses to flee and keep her freedom instead. Throughout Part One's ten episodes she casually plots to dethrone the Dark Lord—an intriguing idea despite its inherent lunacy.

Netflix

Sabrina's human squad has also been reimagined. In the age of #MeToo, they are in charge, mad, and not willing to put up with their bully white guy principal any longer. Watch out, because they are "woke" teenagers adept at analyzing the influences of "civil rights" and the "collapse of the nuclear family" on zombie D-movie plotlines. Together with her black best friend Roz and gender-non-conforming Susie, Sabrina founds the first-ever WICCA club at Baxter High, which stands for the Women's Intersectional Cultural and Creative Association. This is where the eye rolls begin.

Sabrina is a White Feminist Ally™ and while the show relishes its "intersectional" tag, it's mostly just paying lip service. This is Sabrina's story, and any character who isn't straight or white is sidelined for her arc, which again and again reinforces the myth that only white people are powerful enough to solve the world's problems. For a show that spins itself as a feminist manifesto, it misses many opportunities to highlight race and LGBTQ+ issues for its large and diverse cast.

There are a number of warlocks and witches of color in the series, including Ambrose Spellman, Sabrina's pansexual English cousin, and Prudence Night, the leader of the antagonist witch trio the Weird Sisters. Neither character is used to their fullest capabilities.

Ambrose is maddeningly on house arrest for most of the story and is thus relegated to Sabrina's helpful, rule-breaking warlock sidekick. His pansexuality is referenced by his romantic and sexual interests with both men and women, which is refreshing to see, but also could be explored more deeply since pansexuality is likely an identity your average viewer is still confused about. The character feels like he's being tokenized, thrown in to pander to its socially liberal viewership.

Netflix

Prudence on the other hand is a hell-raising, devoted witch who has it out for half-blood Sabrina. Of course, while audience members are invited to grow attached to Prudence throughout the series, her character is clearly the evil counterpart to Sabrina the "good witch." This dynamic is tired in 2018, as it paints yet another woman of color as the "angry black woman," and another white person as her moral superior. Too often the subtle choices we make in casting characters for television or film can reinforce inherent racial prejudices. Prudence is even surprisingly lynched by hanging (but does not die) in a tone-deaf choice by the show's creators in the fourth episode.

In a recent io9 piece, Beth Elderkin and Charles Pulliam-Moore critiqued the scene perfectly: "This should not have to be explained, but it is in extremely bad taste to depict black people being hanged on television without an extraordinary amount of context and care that make it clear that (a) the creators of the television show understand the significance of that imagery, and (b) said hanging serves a narrative point."

Like most cultural representations of witches, Chilling Adventures focuses on white women both as heroes (Sabrina) and also as the victims of social prejudice, as with the case of the Thirteen, a group of white witches who were hung and seek revenge in the show's final episodes. This ignores the victimhood of slaves and other people of color who had non-Christian religions that were demonized as witchcraft in real life. For example, Tituba, an enslaved woman of color, was accused of teaching and using curses on the girls on trial in historical Salem, and some historians think the racism against her was a great source of the mass hysteria that ensued.

Netflix

The show also doesn't seem to know what to do with its much-touted non-binary character Susie. While the inclusion of the character seems to be well-meant, especially since they are played by non-binary actor Lachlan Watson, they are written to be a sad, misunderstood teenager who is constantly harassed by bigoted boys at school for not being feminine (Susie's pronouns are never revealed, but Watson prefers they/them pronouns). The word "non-binary" is never even spoken in the show, but Susie's identity struggle is obvious, especially with their nightly visitations from a cross-dressing ancestor whose ghost spills the tea on the Spellman family's secret witchcraft. Audience members feel a bit like they're in the '50s with the handling of gender identity on the show. And again, Sabrina is cast as the savior, ganging up with the Weird Sisters to taunt Susie's bullies with a weirdly homophobic gag, tricking them into thinking they're making out with the witches when they're really kissing each other (the horror!).

At the end of the day, Netflix's Sabrina is a teenage melodrama, so perhaps some of these critiques are unfair. It has its positive aspects, like its, at times, terrifying supernatural flare, a cast that gives mostly rock-solid performances, and an interesting take on Sabrina vs. the patriarchy/Satan.

However, the show is too obviously catering to millennials and Generation Z-ers in the age of #MeToo and hyper social justice. It screams its feminist intersectional allyship from the mountaintops, but clearly doesn't know what it's talking about. Rather than investing in meaningful plot lines that heighten the outsider's perspective of characters that are LGBTQ+ and people of color, it treats them as puppets to indulge its youthful base and make them feel "woke."

In reality, viewers are being fed the same old inequitable narratives that keep those at the top and bottom in their "rightful" place. If you're going to take the time to create a show with as much diverse, fantastical potential as this one, then you need to act on that promise.

Take note, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Do more with season two.

Rating: ⚡⚡


Joshua Smalley is a New York-based writer, editor, and playwright. Find Josh at his website and on Twitter: @smalleywrites.


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