Queen Sugar

queen_sugar_xxlgTitle: Queen Sugar
Starring: Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardener, Kofi Siriboe, Tina Lifford
Genre: Drama, Realistic, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★★ | 5.0

I am a contrary person. I don’t do prestige things. For a reviewer, I rarely read reviews and I rarely listen to critics. I don’t like being told what to do (being raised in a strict household tends to do that?) or what to think, and the more Important(TM) someone says a work is, the less inclined I am to pick something up, and the less I’ll enjoy the process of consuming it.

I like trash, okay? It’s not hard for me to admit that the more people rag on a thing (to be clear, “ragging” does not entail, for example, comments about racism or sexism, etc., because those are “concerns”) the more I like it. My favourite films include Snowpiercer, Pacific Rim, and Jupiter Ascending. I’m not a connoisseur of quality, okay, I’m a connoisseur of having a fucking good time.

And part of this is because as marginalised people, we so rarely get any of it. A good time, I mean. Stories about us have to be Important(TM) to justify their being told. Stories about us have to be about oppression to be interesting and worthwhile. We’re not afforded any escapism, and I’ve learned to recognise that “realistic” is code for “cruel” and “good” is a judgement on the extent to which something shows us suffering. And I’m really, really not into that.

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Two Fathers 《两个爸爸》

Two Fathers 《两个爸爸》Title: 《两个爸爸》 Two Fathers
Actors: Lele, Yang Yizhan, Lin Youwei, Lai Yayan (Megan Lai), Liang Jing
Genre: Comedy, Family, Contemporary
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 2.0 of 5.0

[spoilers, but they’re pretty much forgone conclusions]

So like, not to be a hipster, but I was into this drama back when it was popular (in 2013). But then I completely forgot how much I loved it, or that it even existed, until I saw one of my friends posting on Snapchat about it, and she told me that it was on Netflix. And I can’t read and do my homework at the same time, right, but I can watch Netflix and do my homework. Which is exactly what I did.

Two Fathers follows the story of aspiring lawyer Tang Xiangxi (Yang Yizhan) and student horticulturalist Wen Zhenhua (Lin Youwei)––college friends who find out that a girl they both slept with, Su Wenwen, has had a baby––one of theirs, but she doesn’t know whose–and then promptly skipped town because she was unable to give up her dreams, leaving the child in their care. Fast forward eight years, and Xiangxi has his own firm, Zhenhua has a flower shop, and they’ve made their own unique family with their daughter, Tang Wendi. The series takes place between the winter break and through the summer vacation of Wendi’s first grade, when the two fathers meet her new teacher, Fang Jingzhu (Lai Yayan), which sets in motion a series of events that allows three families––the Tang/Wens, the Fangs, and the Wus––to find their own happiness.

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《杉杉来吃》Boss & Me

e69d89e69d89e69da5e59083Title: 《杉杉来吃》
Actors: Zhao Liying, Zhang HanGenre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0/5.0

Rare is the trope I hate more than the “in love with the boss” trope. I make no secret of the fact that I despise emotionally stale male protagonists who can’t do any of their own emotional labour. I hate authors who idealise extreme power differences in a relationship. And most of all, I abhor the Chinese trope of the 霸道总裁. Somehow, though, every winter since its release, I’ve found time to rewatch Boss & Me.

It’s not for the acting, that’s for sure. Zhao Liying is incredibly talented, and her bubbly and sweet Shanshan comes across as genuine and kind, with a heart as big as her appetite. But Zhang Han leaves me cold, like he always does in every drama that isn’t titled Queen of SOP, mostly because he doesn’t know how to move his face, and he has the perfect excuse not to in human iceberg Feng Teng. (No microexpressions? Blank expression? Zero personality? I mean, okay.)

It’s not the story, either, because it’s a fairly standard one. After Shanshan donates blood to Feng Teng’s younger sister Feng Yue during a difficult pregnancy, she comes to his attention, despite not being outstanding at work or particularly competent outside of it. When she begins to eat on the balcony outside his office in order to escape office rumours, he becomes enamored with her optimism and her sweetness, and, not really knowing how to interact with her, orders her to come up and eat lunch with him daily, which of course, only begins to fan the flames of the gossip.

Why! O why! Do I like it so much?

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Cleverman

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Cleverman || Hunter Page-Lochard, Rob Collins || Sci-fi, Dystopia, Contemporary || ★★★★☆ – 4 stars

warnings for: racism, medical abuse/human experimentation, state violence/police violence, sexual violence, general violence/gore,

At once heartbreaking and hopeful, the Australian dystopian series Cleverman follows Aboriginal brothers Koen and Waruu West in the aftermath of a world that has just discovered the existence of Hairypeople.

I’ve been trying to write this review for months, but there’s just so much to talk about, and I have nothing coherent to say, so I’m just going to recommend that you watch this show. Don’t watch it all at once, because I marathoned it, and it kind of fucked me up, because it’s really heavy. I don’t mean it in that maudlin, overwrought way of writers who want sympathy for cheap, but because the way oppression is realised within the world of Cleverman so closely mirrors the way those structures actually play out in real life.

For all this is a fantasy series, it often rings so close to life that it was extremely difficult to watch, but one of the things Cleverman does really well is show how being at the intersections of differently oppressed identities may change the nature of your oppression––for Djukara, for example, this manifests as police brutality and prison abuse. For Araluen, on the other hand, it becomes the basis for sexual exploitation and rape.

But the one thing Cleverman doesn’t do is negate the oppression that exists in real life in favour of its fantasy oppressions. The title of the series, after all, is Cleverman, a position of great importance in many Aboriginal cultures. Much of the cast is Aboriginal, as is the series creator, and within the narrative, Aboriginal rights and racism against Aboriginal Australians is very closely tied with discrimination against Hairypeople. I don’t have much knowledge of Australian racial politics and even less knowledge about Aboriginal cultures, but the way it was handled in the series felt nuanced.

One of the strongest interpersonal dynamics in the series was the relationship between the main characters, half brothers Koen (the titular Cleverman) and Waruu (who more openly covets the position). To be honest, they’re both pretty horrible people, but there is a volatile energy in their mutual hatred (and our initial disdain for them) that really drives the emotional heart of the story forward, even as the sociopolitical events of the plotline belong in the hands of the rich and powerful.

There were a few things that I felt could have been done better. Aside from the possible exception of Latani, most of the women in the narrative felt secondary and sidelined, and all of them felt underdeveloped and underutilised for all that I thought they were the most interesting characters. Most of the portrayals also felt a little regressive, and many of the women have absolutely no agency in their own lives. All this felt quite disconcerting for a series that did so well in other areas (though some of the other characters felt kind of stock-y as well), but I have high hopes that this will be sorted in the second season. Which, if you can’t tell, I’m eagerly waiting for.

Twisted

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The positioning of the three main characters tells you all you need to know about what the writers’ priorities are.

Title: Twisted
Starring: Maddie Hasson, Avan Jogia, Kylie Bunbury
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Drama
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ || 1.0

Have you guys seen the recent ads for Amazon TV? Because speaking of show holes, I have a whole category of shows that I have more or less condemned to my personal show hole––that is to say a bunch of shows that have treated its leads of colour so irredeemably poorly that I never want to hear from them again, except to hear about their upcoming cancellations and varying levels of sarcastic biting commentary on them. Sleepy Hollow is one. Teen Wolf is another. And also the thankfully cancelled subject of this review, Twisted.

Twisted began with a neat premise and shaky foundations, even from the start. Years after his conviction for his aunt’s murder, Danny Desai comes back to a town whose attitude towards him has totally changed. Though he maintains he didn’t kill his aunt, no one believes him. No one wants to be near him. No one except his two former best friends, Lacey and Jo (the former more reluctantly than the latter).

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Grace & Frankie

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Title: Grace & Frankie
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda
Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Comedy
Rating: ★★★★☆ || 3.5

In lieu of doing my final essays (10 page paper, here I come!) I’ve opted for marathoning the second season of Grace and Frankie, and imo? #Worthit. I’d watched the first season last year and had considered reviewing it for this blog, but kept putting it off because it felt hard to justify––a story that centres itself around two upper class white ladies? So #diverse. But you know what, fuck it. We’re doing this.

Grace and Frankie follows two women, Grace Hanson and Frankie Bergstein, who have their lives blown to pieces by the news that their husbands are divorcing them to marry each other. Unceremoniously kicked out of their lives and told that their marriages were a lie these past 20 years while watching all of their friends congratulate their husbands (Robert and Sol, respectively), Grace and Frankie, who have never gotten along, find themselves moving into their shared beach house, and learning how to deal with heartbreak––and each other.

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