But you grow up, and you grow old. Embrace this life, forget the dream. That girl has left, and now she’s someone I used to know.

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Instant Gratification Vol. 5: The Writers’ Room on Netflix

I’m gonna get real for a minute here: I’m a meta- whore.

Okay, that didn’t come out right AT ALL.

What I’m trying to say is, I am sucker for self- awareness, the meta, and, in particular, art about making art. I own at least a dozen books about books. Some of my favorite movies are the ones about the industry like “Adaptation”, “All About Eve”, sunset Blvd", “Singin’ in the Rain”, and all the old “Hey Kids, let’s put on a show” musicals of the 30s and 40s. One of the reasons I enjoy The Nerdist podcast so much is that I like hearing about how comedians come up with their jokes (if you are into that stuff, “Born Standing Up” by Steve Martin is an incredible read), where the nugget of a show or book came from, or how someone made a scene that didn’t work work.

Therefore, when I saw something called “The Writers’ Room” on Netflix, I knew I would love it before I even watched. The general premise of the show is this: Jim Rash (of Community fame) sits down with the key creative personnel of a popular show and they have a chat about what it is like in the writer’s room. For those who don’t know, television writing is actually a highly collaborative process. Unlike writing a book, where, sure, an editor offers you feedback, but the bulk of the work is done by you, television simply has too much writing to be done to have just one person do it. This is why Aaron Sorkin got addicted to pills and had to quit The West Wing.  When you think about the idea of writing something in a group, it is a funny thing to consider. When I write live updates for apoker tournament, yes it is collaborative, but I still feel like what we’re doing feels disjointed unless it is a situation like we had at WPT, where the group of us consistently worked together and had an agreed upon approach to reporting.

In Season 1, Rash talks with the folks from “Breaking Bad”, “Parks and Rec”, “Dexter”, “Game of Thrones”, “New Girl”, and “American Horror Story”. The episodes featuring shows I have actually seen versus shows I haven’t are obviously more interesting. I would also caution that there are some serious spoiler alerts in the episodes of just about every show, that if you care about now knowing what happens, only watch the ones of shows you’ve seen.

Nonetheless, it is a refreshing and breezy 22 minutes of watching creative people talk about their creative process. Moreover, it is incredibly to realize just how different each show’s process is.  The “Game of Thrones” episode makes you realize just how unusual this show is not only in the production, but in the pre-production as well.  

With Rash’s presence, he manages to keep it light and not delve into some sort of highly esoteric discussion of the meaning of art or let anyone get too pretentious. In fact, my favorite moments are when Rash tries to get them to kid around. He asks them to share pitches to the room that were deemed too cuckoo crazy, even for a show like American Horror Story. After all, if there is anything I love more than hearing about the process of successfully creating something, it is hearing someone unpack the reasons why something failed. And if that kind of stuff floats your boat too, hceck out the documentary of Terry Gilliam’s failed attempt to bring Don Quixote to the screen, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”.

My lack of Sundance Channel means I can’t enjoy Season 2, which is currently airing there, but I may get another rewatch out of Season 1 on of these days to tide me over.  There is a lot to be learned from these discussions and I am only just beginning to tap in to an amusing wealth of information.  Like how to turn my most horrifyingly awkward life experiences commercial entertainment:

Here’s the thing about mistakes. Sometimes, even when you know something’s a mistake, you gotta make it anyway

How I Met My Accurate Depiction of My Life

Since “How I Met Your Mother” wrapped about a month ago, I’ve been going back and rewatching the series from the beginning, trying to recall the times when I rooted actively for Robin and Ted to get together.  Not only did I not recall just how long I held out hope these two would figure things out, I did not recall how spot on this sitcom, which grew to be extremely broad in its final couple of seasons, managed to depict what it was like to be a twentysomething and then thirtysomething who just didn’t have their shit together.

As I breeze through Season 4, I find myself knowingly nodding, rewinding and rewatching, and, in some instances, even stopping to write down something that strikes me (if you’re wondering where these other quotation posts are coming from, there is your answer).  Be it my career, my love life, my friends, or simply growing older, there seems to be an episode for every occasion. Most of my identification went with the Robin storylines, but each of the gang seemed to have a moment that reminded me of one in my own life. So, if you are like me and enjoy syncing up your viewing with your state of mind, a few suggestions of episodes that don’t really involve Ted:

When a Guy Seems to Express Interest Then Abruptly Changes His Mind: Season 1, Episode 4 – “Return of the Shirt”

Ted is supposed to be the romantic hero of this show, but in this episode, Ted is actually kind of a dick.  He seeks out an old ex, begs her for another chance and then, well, let’s just say he didn’t learn his lesson the first time around.  What is great about this episode is they don’t try and rationalize Ted’s behavior. Lily rightfully informs him he is a jerk, and, thankfully, the girl he screws over ends up with a happy ending.  It also includes this memorable Barney moment:

When You Think It Is a Good Idea to Call Your Ex – Season 1, Episode 18: “Nothing Good Happens After 2AM”

This is a pretty canonical episode of the series, as it is the moment when Ted has to choose between Victoria and Robin. As the episode title reminds us, late night decisions never seem to work out well, nor does trying to juggle multiple paramours at the same time. Just trust Korean Elvis:

When You Think You Need to Make Your Life More Granola-y – Season 3, Episode 2: “We’re Not From Here”

There are people in this world who make the hippie dippy lifestyle work for them, don’t get me wrong, but most of us think we need to live more enlightened lives, and we are not correct.  We, in fact, realize we don’t need platitudes and self-help books.  We need to be pragmatic, grow up, and make decisions based not on how we think the world should works, but how it actually works. Be warned though, your reality may be obscured by the presence of the pretty that is Enrique Iglesias.

When You Feel Like History Just Keeps Repeating Itself – Season 3, Episode  16: “Sandcastles In the Sand”

While I have never been a teenage pop star, let alone one in Canada, I would be remiss not to have a Robin Sparkles episode on this list.  While this one pales in comparison to “Slap Bet” and “Let’s Go to the Mall”, Robin’s reaction to her old boyfriend Simon is somewhere most girls I know have been before.  The outcome isn’t unfamiliar either. It is a tough lpill to swallow to see how much your high school ideal isn’t very…ideal, but Alan Thicke makes everything better.

When Your Career Bears No Resemblance to What You Thought It Would Be – Season 4, Episode 2: “The Best Burger in New York”

I think in this day and age, most folks have a couple of different careers that end up being false starts.  But more and more of my friends seem to realize they are never finding their dream job–that there may be no such thing as a job that makes you happy.  This episode, with its burger metaphor and a little help from Regis Philbin, taps into how frustrating that can feel.

When You Just Need a Break From All the Married People in Your Life So You Go Out and Have One Drink Too Many – Season 4, Episode 8: “Woooo!”

Being 30, most of my friends are married.  I am very happy for them that they have found a life partner, but, fact of the matter is, I haven’t yet.  While I wouldn’t trade these friends for the world, there are times when they  have their lives so together and my life is such a mess that I need to let go, which usually leads to drinking, bad decision making, or seeking company from people I don’t normally hang out with.  Sometimes my friends don’t quite get this impulse or how I get myself in the pickles I do, and all I can tell them is, “Woooo?”

If You Ever Have Lost or Lose a Parent – Season 6, Episode 14: “Last Words”

I certainly hope this doesn’t apply to most of you, but this is the most heart-wrenching episode of this series I have ever seen.  Yes, the monologue Ted gives to the Mother about wanting those 45 days back is incredible, as his his final monologue about Tracy.  When I am feeling melancholy, I go back to hear him tell Stella he is tired of waiting.  But the truest, most heartfelt, sickeningly accurate scene I have ever seen on this show is the scene where Marshall listens to the final voicemail from his dad.  I wish I could tell you I have some amazing last words from my dad, but I don’t. I don’t even remember what they were. My best guess is “good night”, since I didn’t see him before he died the following morning. I wish I could tell you I don’t maniacally end every conversation with my mother or my sister with “I love you”, just in case, but I do. This episode perfectly captures just how important those last words can be in a gut-wrenching monologue. I can’t find a good link, but perhaps that is for the best. I wish I could tell you I just watched and am now not writing this blog post and playing online poker whilst crying like a baby, but that wouldn’t be true either.  

What I can tell you is that there are just some shows that provide the comfort and reflection I need in my life, and I am only now realizing how much “How I Met Your Mother” is one of them.  There have always been Ted moments I relate to, but now I see my life in Robin or Marshall or one of Ted’s many dates. I used to have “Buffy Season 4” days (damn you, Parker episodes) or “Gilmore Girls when Rory goes off the reservation days”. Sometimes I have CJ Cregg days or Harriet Hayes days (but I never have Maggie from The Newsroom days, tyvm Mr. Sorkin). Now, I can have Robin days or Marshall days.  I don’t really have Lily days, though I have brought countless photos of Alyson Hannigan’s various hair colors to my stylist. And Barney, well, there is no surprise there that I don’t have his days all that often, unless it is the frustration he feels always hanging out with couples.

As I continue my rewatch into the start of Season 5, I suspect I’ll come across more unforgotten “one of those days” episodes, but given how much the show waned in the last couple of years and how, thankfully, I am not 35 yet, I doubt there will be as many.  Perhaps it is time to start stocking up for that next phase of life and what episodes I might need in my arsenal.  If the first 30 years are any indication, I should be prepared for any and everything.

Do you ever have one of those days where nothing monumental happens, but, by the end of it, you have no idea who you are anymore, or what the hell you’re doing with your life? Do you ever have one of those days?

Calling Attention to the Midwife

When hanging out with a group of friends this weekend, most of them were thrilled it was Sunday for the same reasons: “Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones”.  Some threw the new HBO show “Silicon Valley” in there too.

Now I have mentioned before that I enjoy “Game of Thrones” just fine, and “Silicon Valley” has me very intrigued and entertained so far.  Now “Mad Men” is a show I tried very hard to like, but eventually gave up on.  But when I started thinking about which show I got most excited for on Sundays, I realized it wasn’t any of these.  It isn’t “Downton Abbey” when it is on, though I am usually pretty excited for it. It definitely isn’t “The Walking Dead”, which frequently piles up on my DVR.  I can’t even tell you why I bother to keep watching “Once Upon a Time”, as I genuinely have no idea what is happening anymore.

The show that never sits on the DVR for more than 24 hours though, that show is “Call the Midwife”.  This is a British import that airs on PBS. I probably wouldn’t have ever heard of this quiet little show were it not for a co-worker who seems to always know which British shows are on the air.  This show doesn’t aspire to transcend genres or tell some massively complicated story over the course of eight years.  this is a show whose greatest strength is its cast of characters.

I’d actually contend that, player for player, this show has the best written female characters on television. Old, young, midwife, nun, this show offers up almost a dozen regular female characters covering a huge range of life experiences.  The show, which is set in England post-WW2, centers on Nonnatus House, the home for nuns and midwives servicing the working class neighborhood.  The expecting mothers provide new storylines and drama, but the interpersonal relationships of the characters at Nonnatus as well as the men in their lives comprise a good percentage of each episode.  

The lead character is Jenny, but, to be honest, she is probably the weakest of the bunch.  It is the same problem of “Orange Is the New Black” in that the lead character has to stay grounded since she is the heart of the show, while the other characters get some of the juicier storylines, while Jenny doesn’t get much to do except fall in love with guy after guy only to decide she isn’t sure if she really loves them after all.

Even though Jenny’s romantic storylines kinda suck, her interactions with her peers are really why this show keeps me hooked.  Be it the lovably awkward Chummy, the nun with doubts, Sister Bernadette, or my vote for the unsung hero of this program, the quiet and caring Cynthia, I will watch, fully invested in what happens to them in a given week.

A while back, I lamented that there aren’t enough shows out there that I can watch and enjoy without having to do an extraordinarily close reading of every episode, watched in order.  This show answers the call.  Well-written, compelling, and digestable in just about whatever order you want, Call the Midwife is my Sunday show, as well as a show you should pay a house call to if you have the time.

Instant Gratification Vol. 4: “Like Crazy” on Netflix

The problem with my Netflix queue these days is that it is populated with movies I only kind of have some interest in watching. I am well aware I am likely not going to like most of them, but they don’t seem wholly unappealing, so I add them to my list. Problem is, I can rarely work up the energy to watch them.

Instead, I rely on my friend Eric to pick a number 1-end of my queue in an attempt to get me to clear out some of the dreck.  Problem is, Eric is really bad at picking numbers, so most of the time I return 20 minutes later asking him to pick another movie because his first selection is unwatchable.

We decided to take another tact the other day similar to when I used to get my toddler nephew to pick a Derby winner.  I provided him the titles of all these movies he hasn’t heard of and he picked from them.

And that, kids, is the story of how Eric inadvertently recommended a really good movie.  I think he may have thought he was picking “Crazy, Stupid Love” with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore, but in actuality, he picked “Like Crazy” a 2011 flick of the mumblecore variety staring Anton Yelchin (of “Star Trek” reboot fame), Felicity Jones, and the coolest girl in all the world, Jennifer Lawrence.

When you saw the word mumblecore, you probably had one of two reactions. Many of you probably went, “Zuh?”  What is this strange thing?  It sounds kind of porny…

Mumblecore is a genre of contemporary independent film.  Markers of these movies are largely improvised dialogues, super low budgets, and an emphasis on the naturalistic.  Think of it as a much more accessible version of Dogme 95 with more mainstream filmmaking and more accessible storylines rooted in the real and small scale.

Those of you familiar with the term might be doing what I typically do when I see it, which is roll my eyes and mutter something along the lines of, “Damned hipster Millenials.”  By and large, I don’t really dig mumblecore because I dig plot and relatively clipped pacing–things these movies are frequently missing.  Unsurprisingly, I found Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” pretty meaningless, boring, and stupid. And, as it involves Lena Dunham, I found it obnoxiously self-important to boot.

“Frances Ha” is another one I just can’t get behind, as twentysomethings who can’t get their shit together is something I got enough of when I was a twentysomething.  I find “Drinking Buddies” starts strong, but peters off around Act 3 and loses my interest.

So, if you are someone who feels like you should like mumblecore, but can’t seem to find one that rivals the almighty “Before Sunrise” trilogy, I offer you “Like Crazy”.  

This is a small scale love story that touches on several topics people can relate to in their own lives.  That all-consuming feeling of your first true love, the frustrations of wanting a relationship to work, but timing not being on your side, the time you stupidly try to see other people and still make it work.  Yet, while manyt other mumblecore movies find me rolling my eyes in annoyance at the obnoxious behavior of the twentysomething set, this movie manages to make the two leads fallible and remain endearing.

I will also say that the Jennifer Lawrence fans out there have to give this flick a watch just to be a completist.  She is only in about 20% of this movie, but every minute she is on screen, she completely steals the show.  Her performance as Yelchin’s other girlfriend adds a enitrely new complicated layer to this film that wouldn’t exist fi she wasn’t so appealing and believable.  In most romantic movies, the new girl is fine, but no comparison to the old girl. In this film though, you raise an eyebrow and wonder who he should be with, you wonder if this this is a tragic love story and not a happy ending.

The murkiness of this movie is what makes it stand out to me compared to other teenage love stories.  In this respect, the tendency of mumblecore flicks deal in the finer details works to film’s advantage tremendously.  This exploration of emotions, circumstance, and young love is enhanced by some great performances, as the entire cast is committed to making this movie and its core relationship work.

“Help Me Information”

Yesterday, I mentioned my adoration of and fan letter to Johnny Rivers in passing.  I know it seems strange that a seven year old in the early 90s would be preoccupied with a singer who peaked in 1966, but trust me, I loved him. I had a cassette tape of his greatest hits. While “Secret Agent Man” was my favorite, “Slow Dancing”, “Memphis”, “Poor Side of Town”, and “Summer Rain” were all ingrained in my brain long before I entered the third grade.

I wanted Mr. Rivers to know how great I thought he was, so, over the course of a couple of days, I sat in our formal dining room where the electric typewriter was located and I carefully pecked out numerous drafts of a fan letter.  Once I was satisfied with a final draft, I handed it off to my mother to drop in the mail for the man, the myth, the legend.

Today I was recalling this story with my mom, who got a good laugh remembering me and my laser-like focus at the typewriter trying to come up with the perfect thing to say.  We got a good laugh out of the memory, then this happened:

Mom: “And to think we never even mailed it.”

Me: “What?”

Mom: “We never mailed the thing.”

Me: “What do you mean we never mailed the thing?”

Mom: “Where would we have sent it? Where did you expect me to find Johnny Rivers’ address?”

Me: “I can’t believe you didn’t mail it. You just took it and claimed to send it? I thought he actually got it all these years!”

Mom: “Well Jessica, didn’t you suspect something when he never wrote back?”

Me: “No! He’s Johnny Rivers! I assumed he was too busy touring the world singing "Secret Agent Man” to possibly answer all his fan mail!“