Month: February 2016

Why You Should Really Spend Your Leap Day Watching The 100

In which Emily encourages you to celebrate calendrical oddities by watching a smart, morally complex, awesomely intertextual story about human society in a post-nuclear age.

Holy Kara Thrace.

The 100 is a compelling television show. Yeah, the beginning was a bit heavy-handed. (Although honestly, most pilots are a bit sketchy, aren’t they?) By the end of the first season, though, this CW dystopia had built itself into a complicated, ambitious, and wildly fast-paced story about what it means to be human in the wake of nuclear apocalypse. This Monday, we’ve got an extra twenty-four hours to enjoy. And sure, we’re all looking forward to using that extra day to check things off to-do lists so we can start March with fewer deadlines and responsibilities hanging over our heads. But you can’t spend all of Leap Day being productive. Breaks are important — especially when you have an extra day in your year!

So this year, we at TTLP would like to encourage you to check out The 100 (which is currently — super conveniently! — streaming on Netflix). The show’s airing its third season right now. And to be honest I’ve only seen the first so far. But in that first season, The 100 becomes a self-reflexive, morally complex show about environmental destruction, moral leadership, and the nature of humanity. Moreover, with a fantastic cast of iconic sci fi actors as well as the prerequisite attractive CW folk, The 100 is an (occasionally stressful, yet) awesome and intertextual show that ends up helping unpack we mean when we talk about genre television.

Here then, in honor of weird random holidays and awesome sci fi television, are eleven reasons to spend part of your Leap Day watching The 100.

1. In many ways, The 100 is a classic dystopian story. Ninety-seven years after nuclear apocalypse, a few thousand humans survive on a space station called “The Ark”. Their space-station-centered existence is really reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica — Lt. Gaeta’s even there!

But resources on the Ark are limited and life-support is failing. So a bunch of juvenile criminals (our eponymous 100) are sent down to Earth to see if it is liveable. Even as the Ark navigates political coups, resource shortages, and all of the troubles of an established society, the 100 engage in a much more Lord-of-the-Flies-type struggle to create a stable, just, and moral society in the first place. Drawing upon a tradition of dystopian storytelling, The 100 uses each half of its split cast (the ship and the ground) to explore big issues in a high-stakes environment.

2. Dystopias catch our attention because they become thought-experiments and limit cases. Because a dystopian world has super high stakes, dystopian fiction allows writers to consider philosophical issues in a real-world context. In its first season, The 100 explores utilitarianism, state-sanctioned killing, Marxist economic policies, libertarianism, environmental catastrophe, and religion. Characters argue about guilt and culpability, trust, revenge, redemption, grief, and hope. Ultimately, The 100 becomes a consideration of leadership, of the nature of civilization, and of the value of hope in desperate times.

3. In this dystopian context, The 100 finds a way to explore both the survivors-in-space trope and the rag-tag-group-attempts-to-create-a-civilization trope. With the teenagers, we get Lord of the Flies — or, perhaps more accurately, Lost without the mysticism and weirdness. With the adults back on the space-station, we get Battlestar Galactica — again without the mysticism. The 100 gets to explore the best of both tropes and to revel in the twinned inhospitable environments of post-nuclear, post-human Earth and of space itself.

4. In these parallel dystopias, The 100 is able to stage its own dialogue about leadership, hope, and the goodness of mankind. In the first episode, self-appointed leader of the 100 Bellamy Blake proclaims independence from the Ark, leading a chant of “Whatever the hell we want!” Over the course of the first season then, Bellamy and our other main characters must come to terms with what it means to be a leader and to enforce justice. And to not just do whatever the hell you want.

(Source: http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/images/stories/blogarticles/2014/November2014/100-Bellamy-Clarke-fight470x24.jpg)

(Source: http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/images/stories/blogarticles/2014/November2014/100-Bellamy-Clarke-fight470x24.jpg)

5. Moreover, The 100 is able to explore the idea of environmental devastation in a way that resonates powerfully with our own era and contemporary concerns about humanity’s impact upon the earth. The inciting incident of The 100 is, in a way, a nuclear apocalypse that devastated earth and its lifeforms. In the first few episodes, we see organisms poisoned or mutated by nuclear radiation. Even more powerfully, there’s a moment where it looked like The 100 was going to straight-out copy the Smoke Monster from Lost. But in the post-anthropocene world of The 100, the Smoke Monster isn’t a mystical island force: it’s acid fog. It’s a show that looks like it’s setting up the mystical weirdness of Lost, but instead imagines what the world will look like after the anthropocene.

6. On that note, The 100 is ridiculously intertextual and — through its casting and its references — becomes a show about genre tv itself. I refuse to believe that acid fog isn’t intended to evoke the Smoke Monster. And this is a show that casts Alessandro Juliani (Lt. Gaeta from Battlestar Galactica), Dichen Lachman (Sierra from Dollhouse), and Henry Ian Cusick (everyone’s favorite Scotsman, Desmond Hume from Lost). With its pedigree of classic sci fi actors and its deep attachment to the tropes of dystopian fiction, The 100 becomes a self-aware consideration of genre television and what we turn to genre television for.

(Source: http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/styles/insert_main_wide_image/public/0/16//the_100_adults.jpg?itok=Bx8a102_)

(Source: http://cdn-static.denofgeek.com/sites/denofgeek/files/styles/insert_main_wide_image/public/0/16//the_100_adults.jpg?itok=Bx8a102_)

7. While we’re on the subject of Dichen Lachman, the show has a lot of awesome ladies — and is relatively good at diverse representations in general. I have complicated feelings about representation in The 100, but it does enough interesting things that I’m looking forward to seeing more of the show and seeing how the racial politics of the show evolve. The main cast has many people of color and many awesome women. Moreover, I’ve only finished the first season, but I’ve heard tell that the show is currently also working through a queer relationship between two ladies. (Which is always awesome, of course.) To be honest, I think I need to see more of the show to be sure how I feel about its racial politics: although the main cast has a lot of interesting and complicated characters of color, the first season also involves a conflict with a group of threatening indigenous Others who are almost entirely played by people of color. Which is, you know, not exactly great. But with interesting women, diverse main characters, and the potential for queer relationships, I’m hoping that future seasons make good on this potential and show sophistication in their treatment of the racial politics of post-apocalyptic earth. There’s enough good happening here that I remain cautiously optimistic about representation in the world of The 100.

8. Post-apocalyptic earth itself is beautiful and the show itself is beautifully shot. In the ninety-seven years since nuclear apocalypse, the eastern United States has returned to woodland and swampland. Except now there are a lot of bioluminescent butterflies.

(Source: http://www.crimsontear.com/the-100/s1-episode-2-earth-skills/rev.jpg)

(Source: http://www.crimsontear.com/the-100/s1-episode-2-earth-skills/rev.jpg)

9. The aesthetics of the show in general are really engaging. In the final moments of the season one finale (no plot spoilers I promise), we hear Radiohead’s “Exit Music (for a Film)” play over the action. This is a show that delights in jamming along to Imagine Dragons’s “Radioactive” but also sits in the discomfort and alienation of Radiohead. And in that combination of abandon and introspection, The 100 becomes a story about what it means to be a teenager — or just a person — in the modern world.

10. Also, while I’m talking about aesthetics, the narrative development is pretty great. The CW has figured out how to plot genre shows. The speed of plot developments in this first season of The 100 reminded me of nothing so much than the second season of The Vampire Diaries or the first season of Jane the Virgin. Like both of those shows, plot ricochets by and character alliances shift, but everything remains highly motivated. It’s super captivating tv.

11. Ultimately, the situation is pretty ridiculously bleak at times, but The 100 isn’t nihilist and despairing. Instead, there’s always room for hope, goodness, love, and courage. The 100 finds space for a belief about the strength and morality of humanity. Yeah, in this show, humanity did stage a nuclear war. But we are not just our baser instincts. Instead, we are also people who manage to re-form civilization out of the wreckage of apocalypse. We are people who love, and protect, and fight for what is right.

So I’m really looking forward to starting the second season soon — as soon as I catch up on episodes of Agent Carter (because Holy Katharine Hepburn, that show is FANTASTIC and TTLP will certainly cover it at some point). And as you’re enjoying your extra day on Monday, why not take some time to check out The 100?

Happy watching!

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Happy Galentine’s Day!

In which Emily celebrates finishing the end of Parks & Rec — as well as the impending arrival of the Feast of St. Valentine — by taking a moment to enjoy Galentine’s Day. In doing so, she has some feelings about the awesome lady spies and fabulous lady pilots in Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity.

By the middle of its second season, Parks & Rec had begun to find its feet. First, in “Greg Pikitis,” the show figured out how to mellow Leslie Knope into a likable human being while still giving her space to be the over-enthused, somewhat obsessive, manic government hummingbird that she is.

(Sidenote: The call-back to Greg Pikitis in the last season of Parks & Rec was one of the absolute best moments of the entire show.)

Then in “Hunting Trip,” Parks & Rec threw Andy and April at each other and watched the weirdest, silliest, most unlikely romantic relationship develop between an unspeakably cynical intern and a goofy, shoe-shining man-child.

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(Source: http://parksbinch.tumblr.com/post/139079734465)

But then, in episode 16 of season 2, Parks & Rec presented us with “Galentine’s Day” and, in so doing, completely confirmed its eternal place in my internal queue of comfort-food tv.


In the episode “Galentine’s Day” — Leslie Knope preempts Valentine’s Day to gather together her group of lady friends for an absolutely amazingly wonderful holiday.

“Every February 13, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair. Minus the angst. Plus frittatas.”

A non-angsty Lilith Fair with breakfast food? Who could possibly want anything else?

As an episode, “Galentine’s Day” works because the aforementioned breakfast date motivates some weird hijinx around a Valentine’s Dance. But as a thesis statement of the preoccupations of Parks & Rec, “Galentine’s Day” works because it’s about optimism, multigenerational female friendship, and the fact that ladies liking ladies (whether romantically or not) is one of the coolest things ever. In a society that all too often wants us to decide which lady we like best in some made-up competition — do we like JLaw or TSwift? is Poehler better or is Fey? is Anne Hathaway cool or is Emily Blunt? — it feels fantastic to just revel in the waffles, affirmation, and friendship of Leslie’s annual Galentine’s Day celebration.

“Galentine’s Day” gets at what I love best about Parks and Rec: it’s about community and about female friendship. Both of these, the show posits, can be super weird and can steer our protagonists down some truly bizarre side-plots. But they are, fundamentally, powerful, positive forces that we should all seek to cultivate.

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With the relationships between Leslie, Ann, Donna, and April — as well as the brilliance of Galentine’s Day as a concept, Parks & Rec joins — for me at least — the pantheon of awesome pop culture about fabulous female friendship. And this year, in advance of Valentine’s Day and in honor of finding something delightful to celebrate when February days get slushy and cold and grumbly, I encourage you to take some time and celebrate Galentine’s Day.

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(Source: http://samanthapanther.tumblr.com/post/80228021888)


That’s not to say, of course, that you need to throw your own Galentine’s Day party or brunch. (Although that would be awesome.) But if you’ve got some spare time in the next week or so, why not wander over to that aforementioned pantheon of fabulous female friendships?

There’s something there for everyone. You could go canonical with Celia and Rosalind in As You Like It, whimsical with Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables, or mildly passive aggressive with Paris and Rory in Gilmore Girls. Perhaps you love Emma and Maggie in Playing House, or Abbi and Ilana in Broad City, or Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. (Yes, I know that Elinor and Marianne are sisters. It still totally counts.)

Some of these pieces of media allow for queered readings between the ladies (Mallory Ortberg, for example, famously and only somewhat facetiously argued that Paris and Rory and the one true pairing of Gilmore Girls). Other are strictly platonic.

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But awesome media affirming female friendship is kind of the best. Especially when it’s cold and slushy outside and you need a metaphorical hug, cup of hot chocolate, and long girl talk. And that’s why this week I’m recommending that you take a break from your busy February life and dive into Elizabeth Wein’s FABULOUS Code Name Verity, in celebration of Galentine’s Day, female friendship, and WONDERFUL narrative storytelling.

Code Name Verity is partly a Scheherazade story, partly a Peter Pan story, and partly a WWII spy story. It’s about unreliable narrators, and about how we tell stories about our own lives, and about heroism. It’s also about kickass lady pilots who fight Nazis. (I am absolutely certain that the two ladies at the center of this book would be total BFFs with Peggy Carter.)

And with these two ladies, Elizabeth Wein tells a gorgeous, sad, and deeply felt story about female friendship.

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

The friendship at the heart of Code Name Verity is TOTALLY one that you could read as queered. There’s totally lesbian subtext. But there’s also just a fantastic relationship between clever, brave ladies in WWII Britain. Regardless of whether or not you want to ship these ladies, Wein tells a stunning and ridiculously happy-making (but also heartbreakingly sad) story about the power of female friendship even in the darkest of situations. It’s a book about companionship, and about why we tell stories, and about hope. And in that, it might be the perfect companion to your Galentine’s Day celebration.

So take some time, this week, to think about the awesomeness of your favorite lady-friends. Even if you’re not a lady yourself, Galentine’s Day seems like a meaningfully bubbly sort of holiday. And if you need some new reading, I highly recommend that you check out Wein’s fabulous young adult novel about the British resistance in WWII. Happy Galentine’s Day, all!

And happy reading!