Over the past couple of years, I have become gradually more and more disenchanted by YouTube. I’m sure you understand the feeling. I’ve recently curated my subscription feed to better reflect this sense of apathy. What’s left is an odd collection: the daily vlogs of queer millennials, Sexplanations, and makeup videos.
In the late 1990s, I rushed over to my best friend Haley’s house so we could watch Sailor Moon every morning before school. Her favorite Sailor Scout was Sailor Venus, and I swore that I was the reincarnation of Sailor Neptune as we both swam and played the violin (I even dyed the tips of my hair turquoise as an homage to Michiru years later, which was pretty edgy when I was fifteen). We were also obsessed with Pokemon, slightly less obsessed with Digimon, and weirdly addicted to a short-lived anime about hamsters called Hamtaro. We walked around with Luna and Artemis plushies and acted out some pretty “vivid” scenes from our favorite episodes. We were fearless, and it didn’t hurt that just about every other little girl we knew was in love with all of the same things.
I moved a few times after that, since my dad was in the military, but my love of anime only grew with age. By the time I was fourteen and just about to enter high school, I had a massive collection of manga, a pretty impressive knowledge of the “hit” anime series of the time (regardless of whether or not they were being shown in the states), and a budding interest in Japanese literature. At that point, I was living near Seattle, and Japanese popular culture seemed to be far more common than any other state I’d lived to date.
I have never been a very avid music listener. I connect more immediately and more deeply to art that tells complete, narrative stories. Because of this tendency (and because of a brief stint as a drama kid in high school) my love for musical music is exponentially more developed than my love for any other specific kind of music. So, naturally, when Hamilton appeared on my radar, I jumped at the chance to love something so cool and so objectively good. And, I did. I loved (and continue to love) it so intensely.
Doctor Who and the holidays will always be intrinsically linked. This may be because of the annual holiday special the show airs every year. Or perhaps this sci-fi mainstay feels so full of festive because of its tone–it’s rare to find a show that is so unfailingly positive in its belief in humanity’s goodness.
Now that the most wonderful time of the year is upon us, it’s time for me to rundown the top five Doctor Who episodes to watch during the holidays.
Instead of picking episodes that all focus on the holiday season, I chose stories that combine thrilling plots, terrifying baddies, and heartwarming lessons to create the perfect “spirit of the season” blend.
So, let’s get to it! No time like the present, unless, of course, it’s the past. Love the past. Good place. You should visit sometime. Are you paying attention? Here we go.
Once the cold weather returns to my neck of the woods, I like to cuddle up with a blanket watch and science fiction. There’s something about the dark evening that sends my mind to a dreamy, speculative place.
While I’m always on the lookout for new shows, books, and movies, sometimes it’s nice to revisit old favorites. To kick things off, here are my picks for sci-fi shows to re-watch (or check out for the first time) this season.
Starring the incredible Tatiana Maslany in more than 14 different roles, this BBC America series is one of the best ongoing series around.
The plot revolves around Sarah Manning, a troubled British woman who wants to make amends with her daughter and adopted family. While waiting for the subway she encounters a crying woman who looks exactly like her. Before Sarah can confront her, the mysterious twin throws herself in front of an oncoming train. Sarah gets more than she bargained for when decides to assume the dead woman’s identity. The truth is that they are clones, and there are a lot more of them. As she is wound deeper into the mystery, Sarah must struggle to keep herself, her family, and her new-found sisters safe.
This near-future science fiction show has so much going for it that I don’t know where to start. The writing is superb, the characters talk like real people, and although the plot is complex, it’s always presented clearly. More than anything, the writers have an excellent understanding of voice, and they use it to full effect. Every character is three-dimensional, which is very important when you have one actor playing so many different roles.
American television has seen some recent changes from a casting and technical stance. These are not changes we should heed with warning, but rather welcome.
Lately, women of color have been attaining more lead character roles, directing opportunities, and writing positions. Some prime examples of women of color as main characters that are killing it are shows like The Get Down (Herizen Guardiola is mixed race), Jane the Virgin (Gina Rodriguez is Latina), and American Crime (Regina King is African-American).These shows portray women of color as real people, not some stereotype. They show the struggles they go through and give a realistic view of the world where not everyone is white and looks and dresses a certain way.
There are more shows taking the leap and casting women of color in main roles (such as Fresh Off the Boat, Empire and Blackish), but what this might mean is that America is finally changing its stance on white people being in charge. However, this does not seem to be the case when it comes to directing, writing, and producing.
I have a pretty established preference for the serious when it comes to T.V. drama. (TGIT, anyone?) However, one night, about a year ago, in a room-cleaning daze, I happened upon the silliest, most light-hearted, and most romance-novel romantic series I know of: Jane the Virgin. It’s the opposite of everything I’ve come to expect from a binge-worthy dramatic T.V. series and yet, I love it.
Jane the Virgin is about a woman, Jane, who, in the midst of finishing school, getting engaged, and suddenly reuniting with her long-lost superstar father, is accidentally artificially inseminated. The premise is loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen, and is a jarring but captivating juxtaposition of telenovela tropes and real characters and problems. The drama is decadent, the writing is masterful, and the characters are hilarious, but that’s not the reason I will recommend the show to anyone and everyone. That’s not what has caused me to write not one but two academic papers analyzing the story’s development. I love Jane the Virgin because I love Jane.
It’s dark in space. Cold. And after a while, it’s a job just like any other. This is the world we are dropped into at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Alien.
Through voyeuristic cinematography, we’re introduced to the crew of the Nostromo. There is nothing glamorous about this version of space. Their jobs seem something akin to long-haul trucking, and their living quarters are about as clean. They make small talk, give and receive orders, and generally look bored. Of course, that all changes when they run into an alien species.
I’d love to wax poetic about the incredibly tense, bare-bones script of Alien that follows, but that’s not my focus for today.
My focus is warrant officer, Ellen Ripley (played with femininity and strength by Sigourney Weaver). She is one of the best examples of a truthful female character to date.
From the first moment she appears on screen she is treated with an equality rarely afforded women in film. She is shot with the same camera angles and lighting as everyone else. She wears no makeup because a person performing a job such as hers would not be wearing any. Her uniform is the same cut and fit as the rest of the crew. Nothing about her is highlighted in a stereotypical leading lady fashion. She’s just one of the crew.
The story moves forward as the characters struggle to make sense of the creature threatening their every move. Ripley fights, second-guesses, and makes mistakes along with the rest of the crew, but she is never treated differently because she is a woman. Certainly, she is strong, but she is notjust strong. She is frightened, flawed, intelligent, and most importantly, human. Her strength comes from her resilience in the face of being imperfect.
Ripley finally prevails over the creature, but not before being forced to give up everything, even (temporarily) the atmosphere in her escape pod. Her desire to survive is found in all of us. It’s coated in humanity’s DNA. It knows no gender. It is singular in its pursuit.
It is worth pointing out that the character was originally written with a man in mind. That piece of information gives the idea of strong female characters a whole new perspective. The character of Ellen Ripley is competent, real, and entirely female. This is because she is presented to us that way.
Armed with this simple behind-the-scenes knowledge we are given the most blaring example of gender-as-construct. Ellen Ripley identifies as female, so the actions she takes are viewed as female. Having strong, complex, emotionally alive female characters is as simple as focusing more on the character’s desires and actions and less on their presented gender.
Who we are is determined by what we do. When we create female characters with this focus in mind, they will be filled with all the tenacious strength humanity has to offer.
My daughter in Kirk’s chair at the EMP Star Trek exhibit.
“It’s Hoshi! I love Hoshi, she’s my favorite.”
I was standing at the lone display box for Star Trek: Enterprise at the EMP Museum’s new Star Trek 50th Anniversary Exhibit with my nine-year-old daughter. She was naming the characters as their pictures came up on a screen, trying to say their names before the graphics spelled it out. It was my third time viewing the exhibit, but her first.
I fought back joyful tears several times during our walkthrough. Both of my kids (Nathan is 15) have grown to love Star Trek in all of its iterations, and seeing them enjoy it makes me really happy. There was something really remarkable specifically about going through the exhibit with my daughter, though.
I was her, once: an overly-enthusiastic nine-year-old who, once she found something she loved, didn’t hesitate to share it with everyone around her. When I was nine, I remember sitting down with my parents to watch the premier episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Neither parent had really been a fan of The Original Series, but I remember my dad telling me that they were going to watch it for its “Cultural significance.” There had also been a brouhaha because the Captain in this new series would change Kirk’s iconic, “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” to the gender neutral “…where no ONE has gone before.” As a budding feminist, this was enough of a hook for me. I remember watching the first episode transfixed. The rest of the family could take it or leave it, but I was off on my first journey to fandom.
Watching my daughter run to each display case with her eyes wide and full of wonder was a perfect reminder of why being a geeky parent is so special.
My kids have grown up as geeks. They have been exposed to fandoms since they were teeny-tiny, so they enjoy so many of the things that Rick and I enjoy. It’s truly amazing though, when your child finds their first geeky passion, and even more so if it’s one you share. Here is this small person, who you already love in the most profound way, learning to love something you love, and you can learn new ways to love it together.
My daughter is less likely to be ostracized for her geekiness than I was. Megamarts carry Captain America themed dresses, her friends all like Doctor Who, and there was a room of over a hundred people sharing her love for Star Trek. Parents who want to encourage their kids in geekdom have so many resources and opportunities. I encourage you to find a geeky community you can participate in with your kids (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention here that GeekGirlCon is family friendly!) so that you can watch that spark in their eyes when they find their first fandom.
I have a hearty admiration for well-written female villains. Hearty, I say, because it is a severe, bountiful, and vigorous admiration, but also because they still seem to be few and far between. While female protagonists are progressively growing in rank, it’s sad to see the nurses from Silent Hill on more “Top Tens” than characters with actual dialogue. It’s not that we totally lack woman antagonists, but we do lack a variety that have believable backstories, relevant motives, and some good TLC from the good ol’ writers. There is a place for leotards and sultry walk cycles, but they still need to fit into some sort of justified environment and have at least a smidgen of narrative integrity.