Friday morning I woke up feeling like I was going to vomit my face off. After a couple of pointless dry heaves into the toilet and a failed attempt to stick my finger in my mouth and just cough up whatever was making my stomach feel like an acid vat, I finally decided to just give it up and lay down in bed. Bed ridden and with nothing to do but burp and cover my mouth dramatically I decided to log on to Netflix and see if I could find anything good. As usual, nothing interested me. Except for one show that always came on my recommendations but I always rolled my eyes at, if only for the sheer ridiculousness of the poster.
I mean really, could you blame me? I hate bikers and it pretty much just looked like a show glorifying white trash and Harleys. But I knew that some of my friends, whose tastes I very much respect, love Sons of Anarchy and would constantly tell me to watch it. So I finally caved and clicked on the link. I was hooked within five minutes. I finished the first season that Friday and I’m currently working on finishing the fourth.
I really don’t know how to describe Sons of Anarchy, it’s not like any other show I’ve watched. To be brief, it follows the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (or Samcro as it’s called by it’s members) as they struggle to keep their club in business. The front is an automotive shop, but the real money comes from illegal gun running. Samcro run the small Northern California town of Charming (the name says it all) keeping local police and the county sheriff’s department in their pocket. Samcro is philanthropic; they donate to local causes and keep drug dealing and crime out of Charming. They also hate Neo-Nazis which is always a plus. Not to mention that Charlie Hunnam is the hottest guy on television right now and his character, Jax Teller, son of a founding member and step son of its current president, has a healthy sex life and is often shot seminude, shirtless, or half smirking behind his blond conquistador beard.
But behind the initial draw of eye candy, immoral deluge, explosions, Harleys, and guns, exists something that has resonated with me much more than Charlie Hunnam’s bare ass: feminism.
You might not think that a show about burly bikers aptly called Sons of Anarchy would have such strong feminist leanings, but it actually does. Three women are at the forefront of the first three seasons of SOA and they are all complex, a little scary, but ultimately admirable.
Gemma is the club’s matriarch and Clay’s, the club’s president, “old lady.” Katey Sagal, the actress who plays Gemma is series creator Kurt Sutter’s wife and an interview she stated that Sutter wrote the role specifically for Sagal to showcase her acting ability, so maybe that explains why her character is so nuanced and great. Previously known for Married with Kids, and the voice of Lela on Futurama I really had no idea how on top of her game Katey Sagal is. As a woman, Gemma, isn’t allowed behind the closed doors of club meetings, but she is more involved in major decisions than most of the male members of the club. She is calculating and manipulative, always keeping herself one step ahead of her enemies. She’s tough- she carries a gun with a scratched off serial number in her purse and isn’t afraid to resort to violence to protect her family. But at the same time, she has her weaknesses, and these make her relatable. Born with a congenital heart defect, she has a thick scar down her chest from surgery as a youth. I don’t want to give anything away but her journey through the second and third season is heart breaking. I don’t get the feeling that the writers are doing the “breaking her down to build her up” trope so often found among female characters on television and movies, but they’re instead showing how a woman in her unique situation selflessly gives her everything to her family.
An ambitious ATF agent, Stahl is one of the craziest characters I have ever seen on television. She will do close to anything to advance her career and is absolutely ruthless in her manipulation. Stahl is a sociopath and rarely shows any type of human emotion. She’s also incredibly smart and is singlehandedly responsible for planting the seeds that eventually unravel and rupture SAMCRO. Ally Walker plays Stahl with fierceness and tenacity, as well as hint of crazy eyes. Stahl is also, in my opinion, the scariest character on SOA. Stahl’s character may be a bit extreme but I think she represents the complete opposite of Gemma. Where Gemma is selfless, Stahl is the portrait of selfishness. Stahl fucks over every person she has contact with, and I think she is perhaps representative of the ills of blind ambition and selfish work ethic.
Every piece of fiction that delves into a world not often explored needs a stable, somewhat normal character that viewers or readers can identify with. In The Great Gatsby, it was Nick, in Keeping Up With the Kardashians it’s Scott, and on Sons of Anarchy it’s Tara. Played by Maggie Siff, Tara is a brilliant surgeon and Jax’s love interest. She was Jax’s high school sweetheart but left Charming and a broken hearted Jax for med school and a brighter future. Tara isn’t an idiot, she knows that being with Jax involves having to operate on bullet ridden IRA members and cleaning up Jax’s bloody clothes. Tara slowly applies the lessons Gemma gives her to her own life, taking only what she can handle and feels comfortable with. Tara provides a moral fulcrum for the show and her chemistry with Jax is undeniable.
Often people think that in order for character to be feminist she needs to be unwaveringly strong and masculine, an idea that only serves to elevate masculinity as the ideal way to function in society. It’s a subtle implication that the traditionally feminine are inherently weak, and that as women we can never be legitimate in our strengths. Besides Gemma, Stahl, and Tara, the show features a porn studio with an adult actress turned producer Luann, and an adult actress Lyla. Lyla’s character is sympathetic. While she is on the receiving end of Tara’s prejudices they eventually come to a mutual respect. I was pleasantly surprised by many of the elements present in Sons of Anarchy, but nothing surprised me more than the portrayal of women.
And bonus: girls with guns.
I still hate bikers though.
I hate the term “guilty pleasure” as it applies to television because it implies that I can somehow feel shame about my watching habits. I am a weapon of mass media consumption. I’m absolutely shameless in my tastes, of what I consider to be the television equivalent of black tar heroin and crystal meth. My must TV watch list includes Gossip Girl, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Spartacus, Jersey Shore, Bad Girls Club, Dance Moms, and whatever novela is occupying the 9PM slot on Univision (yes I went there). The more haplessly dramatic the better. But despite my lowly tastes, I still manage to retain a hint of class with some of my other television favorites. Critically acclaimed television is great to watch and stimulating for the brain, but after a daylong marathon of Downtown Abbey, I really just want to unwind with an episode of Gossip Girl.
It takes me three days to really watch a movie if I’m using my computer. No I’m not watching and re-watching to catch things I didn’t miss, I just can’t seem to sit still and undisturbed for more than five minutes. I have to constantly multi-task, constantly check the news, constantly update the world on my musings as I watch Alien. However, TV is a different case for me. I can block myself out of the constant stream of useless information I drown myself in and really focus on a good series. Watching TV can be like running a marathon, your brain and eyes will be exhausted if you stick to one show for a while and perhaps you’ll lose interest and give up on what could be the greatest television show to ever be broadcast. Some of the best television shows pick up slowly and therefore alienate the 140 character crowd who need to consume information and entertainment in short flashy intervals. That’s why I’ve compiled this easy to consume list of some of television shows.
The Killing/ Veronica Mars
The Killing is a dark, slow moving, moody mystery drama that chronicles Seattle detectives Sarah Linden and Eric Holder as they try to find the murderer of local teen Rosie Larsen. This isn’t Law and Order: the murder isn’t solved in an episode. Like the murder of Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks, the mystery spans more than one season. The Killing is grueling to consume, like an uphill marathon lined with hot coals, it’s not just TV you watch. After getting through a couple of subtly written and despairingly shot episodes, give your brain a rest and a bit of closure with an episode of Veronica Mars. Set in the fictional Southern California town of Neptune, the series follows high school student Veronica Mars as she helps her private investigator father while taking on cases of her own. Like The Killing, Veronica Mars stars a strong, passionate, but alienated and vulnerable female detective. Veronica Mars also includes a season long mystery arc, but unlike The Killing each episode of Veronica Mars is a mini-mystery that is solved at the end of the episode. Skip out on watching anything from its disappointing third season.
Downton Abbey/ Gossip Girl
Set in a declining estate in England in the early 20th century, Downton Abbey follows the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family as they struggle to find an heir to their estate, as well as the lives of their extensive wait staff. Downton Abbey is wonderfully written and filled with resonating characters who are as complex as they are realistic to their times. The show jumps ahead in time, beginning with the sinking of the Titanic in 1914 and ending its most recent episode at the tail end of the influenza outbreak following the First World War. There is a certain amount of scandal and intrigue at Downton Abbey, but if your thirst for social melodrama and sabotage needs to be satiated by trashier springs, Gossip Girl is over saturated with teen melodrama that is wholly unrealistic and badly written. But television can be escapism, and if you want your brain to float away to a place of headbands and teenaged cocktail parties, watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Gossip Girl.
Boardwalk Empire/ Jersey Shore
Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of going to Atlantic City knows that it’s a rotting tourist destination filled with crime, poverty, misguided tourists, and herds of stray boardwalk cats. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the earlier part of the 20th century, Atlantic City was a vibrant metropolis and tourist destination that during the era of Prohibition became known as The World’s Playground. Boardwalk Empire captures the lawlessness and carefree party atmosphere of the 1920s in a sleek, well written, and gorgeously designed television show. But Boardwalk Empire isn’t a night out on the town, it’s pretty tragic and sad and will leave you in a mess of your own tears and despair as you whisper why over and over again. But perhaps great television must be tragic in order to be resonating. And that’s why I think Jersey Shore is one of the greatest reality shows to ever air. No one looks up to the trashy antics of the cast members (who most, by the way, aren’t even from Jersey), and if they do they’re probably missing the part of the brain associated with shame and decorum. But the cast members are tragic, not one has any sort of redeeming quality and all suffer from their fair share of misfortune. Jersey Shore is an exercise in schadenfreude. No one would tune in if they weren’t so embarrassing and made the most hapless life and style choices. While I feel for the characters of Boardwalk Empire, I fiendishly enjoy whenever someone on Jersey Shore falls on their face or cries about being short and alone. Maybe I’m just a sadist hiding behind the guise of a viewer, but who cares, it’s fun. The cast of Jersey Shore even have an embarrassingly trashy alcohol fueled trip to Atlantic City with bonus violence sequences reminiscent of the Atlantic City of days past!
Breaking Bad/ Weeds
The first three seasons of Weeds is a quirky, unique show about a suburbanite single mother, Nancy Botwin, struggling to keep her family afloat by selling marijuana. But like all money schemes that involve illegal drugs, things go awry for Nancy. In between rival drug dealers, the DEA, and a nosy vindictive neighbor, Nancy has her fair share of turmoil. However the show keeps an unrealistic air of optimism; Nancy always manages to come out on top of things, no matter how many times her decisions manage to screw things up. Weeds is ultimately a light hearted and easy watch. Later seasons are total garbage though, Nancy becomes even more stupid and unredeemable yet somehow the writers still favor her. Breaking Bad, like Weeds, features a struggling suburbanite trying to keep his family afloat. But while Nancy Botwin quips and drinks iced lattes, Walter White poisons children and bombs nursery homes. Perhaps Breaking Bad is so good because you’re almost certain you’ll know how it end. Walter White will die. Even if he can escape the clutches of Gus Fring, the inoperable terminal lung cancer still lingers on, waiting in the shadows, reminding Walter and us that his days are numbered. Walter White is death, and as death is, he is unforgiving and ruthless in getting what he wants.
Telenovela, (television novel) is a short run television serial popular in Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. Often called “Spanish soap operas” due to similarities in over dramatic storylines and terrible acting, true aficionados refer to them simply as novelas. Unlike American soap operas, novelas have a limited run that typically last less than a year. And unlike the critically derided soap opera, novelas are prime time entertainment in Spanish speaking countries. The format has been adopted in Asia where they appear as dramas, and unsuccessfully adapted to American television audiences in the failed MyNetworkTv novelas.
Novelas are kitschy, tacky, over-acted, badly written, and incredibly formulaic. Almost every novela follows a basic premise- sweet, pure, and virginal poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks meets charming, handsome, rich guy whose family usually owns a plantation, a town, or a mega-corporation. His evil shrew of a mother and his equally evil shrewish girlfriend or girlfriend to be or ex-girlfriend try desperately to sabotage the romance. In the end the villainess either reforms, goes to jail, or gets killed (and sometimes all three) and the happy couple lives happily ever after. Side characters include cute wise cracking kid, priest with a secret, and sagely country matron usually played by this lady:
Carmen Salinas, bottomless well of advice and “mijas”
Novelas can come in different subgenres- the period novela, the beach resort novela (popular in the 80s and early 90s), the teen novela, and the kiddie novela. No matter what the genre, the basic plot remains the same.
Growing up novelas were always on. We didn’t gather round the TV and watch Full House; we watched Maria la Del Barrio. As I got older and gained more independence in my television selections, I shied away almost completely from novelas. I didn’t get back into them until I moved to El Salvador and my television selections were limited to old episodes of Judging Amy in Spanish and channels that ran old and new Mexican novelas 24/7. My choice was obvious.
My favorite subgenre of novela is the teen novela which typically features a cast of young adults dealing with the usual teen angst stuff, sex, drugs, school, money, self-identity, and an evil villainess who wants to destroy your life. Popular in the late 90s and early 2000s, the teen novela has seen a substantial decline. The most important of the era were Soñadoras (Dreamers) which aired in 1999 and Amigas y Rivales (Friends and Rivals) which aired in 2002 and featured some of the same cast. Amigas y Rivales was ground breaking TV, it was engaging and thought provoking and included modern issues like AIDS and illegal immigration. You can watch all of Amigas y Rivales on youtube
My favorite novela character however is Itatí Cantoral’s portrayal of insane hyper villain Soraya Montenegro de la Vega Montalban in 1995’s Maria la Del Barrio (Maria of the Neighborhood).
The novela starred musician and mega star, Thalia, as Maria. Maria la Del Barrio was remade in the Philippines in 2011. When I recently re-watched the series and some of Soraya’s more epic scenes, I was totally rooting for her. Maria was super annoying I’d probably pull a Soraya too.These are two of Soraya’s most memorable and unintentionally hilarious scenes: No Me Amenaces (Don’t Threaten Me, subtitled in English)
and Maldita Lisiada (No subtitles necessary honestly)
It is recommended that you watch every episode of a novela. However missing one usually isn’t a problem since most episodes are pointless fillers and recaps are always available prior to the start of an episode. It’s also recommended that you know Spanish or find some English subtitles if you can’t keep up. But sometimes you can feel the raw bottled emotion through eyebrow acting, dramatic close ups, and intense soundtracks. Antics can be enough to sustain you for an hour even if you don’t speak a lick of Spanish, but remember you are watching an art form that is sacred to ti@s, and abuelit@s around the world. So value and appreciate that for many this is sophisticated television at its best.
Thursday May 3, 2012. 1:42 AM. I am sitting in my room exchanging tweets with my friend Alicia from Dallas. Alicia live tweets her almost nightly craigslist prowl for jobs that usually devolves into a hunt for ridiculously pathetic personals. Soon our mutual followers join in, searching through their local craigslist ads looking for something funny to make us feel better about our personal lives. The personals section for New York City and adjacent towns is lackluster tonight, unlike Princeton where men are looking for someone to urinate on and Dallas where a woman begs for someone to pretend to be her grandmother. I decide to mine through gigs where I hit an unexpected piece of gold. No, it isn’t an adult baby looking for someone to change their diaper; it’s a listing for an internship at a small independent publisher looking for part time student interns. I pause and read the listing a couple times, realizing it’s surprisingly suited for me. I muddle through my documents looking for the perfect writing sample to send across what kind of writer I am. I settle on a morbid reflection about a mental ward. I write a cover letter that I think stands out, filled with my brand of dry humor and semi self-deprecation that still manages to make me seem like a viable candidate. I send this out along with a copy of my resume and tell my mom to light a candle for me. I don’t believe in God, but the candles lift my spirits (and they smell great too).
Two weeks later and I get the gig. So here I am: a publishing intern at the Campus Clipper. Founded by Cassandra Fox, The Campus Clipper produces a coupon magazine students as well as a guide book for NYC students written by NYC students. As a publishing intern here my responsibilities and opportunities include blog writing, social media promotion, and the publication of an e-book. For my blog here I’ll be focusing on one of my favorite past times: critical analysis of television shows. For the Campus Clipper Blog I’ll be writing about another favorite past time, eating authentic ethnic foods. The only way I can describe how I feel about my internship here is enthusiastic anxiousness. I feel like my blood is lighter than my body and is trying to evaporate through my skin whenever I get on the train here. But it isn’t fear: its excitement and hopeful anticipation.