July 24, 2021

THE FASCINATING VOUGHT UNIVERSE OF THE SEVEN AND ‘THE BOYS’

Nominated for outstanding drama series at the Primetime Emmy Awards 2021, THE BOYS has grown from being a comic book-inspired popcorn entertainer to becoming a storytelling powerhouse that has used its own universe to its amazing advantage


Earlier this month, Vought International posted a bulletin from Vought News Network (VNN) on their official YouTube channel, giving us an update following the events of the second season of THE BOYS, which ended in October 2020. Intended as an on-going companion web-series, there will be more of this VNN ‘coverage’ of ‘The Seven’ that will ‘bridge the gap’ between season two and the upcoming season three. There will reportedly be new episodes of these mock bulletins released on the 7th of every month, until the third season premieres. When? We don’t know yet. They haven’t made a premiere announcement so far. One thing is for certain though. This web-series is a fantastic way to build on the very fascinating universe that this Amazon original series has created. It’s a universe that I almost didn’t get acquainted with. 


When THE BOYS first premiered in July 2019, the idea of a story set in a world where the superheroes were the villains seemed a little too strange for my liking. I do enjoy superhero movies and shows. I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I enjoy The CW’s DC fare, and I’ve even liked some of the Zack Snyder DC films. So a show about superheroes with superhuman abilities was not the problem; but the idea of them as villains sounded to me like a twist that might have been all too gimmicky. Moreover, the promotional artwork and trailers reflected a very campy treatment, which I’m not always a fan of. It needs to be done right for it to work. For instance, GOTHAM, the Batman prequel series that ran on Fox for five seasons, embraced campiness, but elevated it in a very gratuitous manner. It was shock-and-awe for the sake of shock-and-awe. Sometimes, it was entertaining, I’ll admit, but most of the times, it didn’t work. So I had this preconceived notion of what THE BOYS would be like. No, I didn’t specifically think that it would be like GOTHAM, but it definitely didn’t seem like my cup of tea. Yet, I kept it in my Prime Video watch-list, as something that I might visit later.

This month, when the 2021 Primetime Emmy nominations were announced, I was surprised to see THE BOYS in outstanding drama, and I was intrigued. I mean, I hadn’t let my preconceived notions completely judge it and disregard it, but I also hadn’t imagined that it would be in consideration for any ‘best drama’ award. So when I saw it nominated for the Emmys’ top drama prize, I wanted to consider it again. Although, seeing BRIDGERTON in the mix did give me pause, as it made me wonder if the Television Academy had completely lost it this year. However, I decided to give THE BOYS a shot with an open mind, putting aside my preconceived notions. If nothing else, I would have another entertaining superhero show to enjoy.

And a superhero show it definitely was. It didn’t take long for me to sink into THE BOYS, as I got acquainted with Vought and ‘The Seven’. It became clear to me that the premise was far from being a gimmicky twist on the superhero genre. It was definitely far more complex than that. The idea of superheroes being true heroes in the eyes of the public—while actually being unscrupulous elements, in it only for the profit and fame, with practically no ethics, and no sense of altruism—it was genius. It also became quite clear early on that this would be a David-and-Goliath story, with the almost powerless ‘Boys’ going up against literal superheroes and a corrupt conglomerate backing them. So I was drawn into that universe very quickly, and into this interpretation of ‘superheroes’. 

It’s something one might have always wondered about superheroes in the genre as we know it. How is it that superheroes from Marvel or DC seldom use their powers for completely selfish reasons? I’m not saying it’s never happened. I’m just saying that it’s mostly always about superheroes who are good. They may be damaged, complex people, who have most often been through some tragedy or trauma that defines them. They may have gray areas, but at the end of the day, they all want to be good and to do good. Yes, there have been supervillains across films and TV shows, who may have also maintained a good public image in their worlds, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen any mainstream hero with powers doing things that they would not want the public to know about; much less, would not even feel guilty about. So it was almost refreshing to see conventional ‘superheroes’ as not just gray, but plain dark, while also being fairly complex. 


Moreover, the portrayal of these superheroes and the conglomerate that backs them draws so much from the superhero genre, and the pop-cultural phenomenon that it is. It gives THE BOYS an added layer of complexity—becoming almost a parody. Now how much is taken directly from The Boys comics and its treatment I do not know, as I have not read the comics. But I’d find it hard to believe that the universe created in the series isn’t significantly inspired by real-life pop-culture. Of course, the superheroes are very obviously inspired by Marvel and DC characters. For instance, Homelander has Superman’s powers with Captain America’s public persona. Queen Maeve has Wonder Woman written all over her. The Deep is most definitely a version of Aquaman. A-Train is clearly like the Flash—the fastest man alive. So one could call these characters themselves parodies of those that inform them. However, in addition to than that, it’s the whole re-creation of the pop culture of our real world—movies, TV shows, theme parks, arcades, restaurants, merchandise, and all sorts of profitable enterprises that the show portrays, as a reflection of the real-life phenomena. Not only are the heroes like those that we see in big superhero films of our times; the world portrayed itself is like the world we live in. It spoofs how we are enamoured by Marvel and DC, and probably even suggests how society would behave if superheroes were actually real. It’s almost disturbing as an exaggeration of pop culture’s impact on the real world. On the other hand, it’s also a commentary on capitalism, without necessarily implying that real-life big studios are evil capitalistic entities like Vought. Though if one had to get into political arguments on the matter, there could be a whole lot of interesting views on the real-life studios as well. This series undoubtedly classifies as a satire. 


Season two in particular definitely holds up a mirror to society and the socio-political environment of our world today. The most prominent theme, of course, is race and white supremacy. Now the Nazism angle itself has been taken from the source material, but from what I’ve read about it, it’s not as big a part of the story in the comics as it is in season two of the series. The series seems to use the theme in a bigger way, making it a core motivation of the antagonist/s in this story. Naturally, the Nazi angle is heavily informed by the conversation on race issues in the real world, especially vis-à-vis the former US government under Trump, and maybe even last year’s surge of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement (the season was most likely in post-production last summer, so maybe not). However, the portrayal of far-right white supremacist voices in the media, the public reactions, the PR surrounding scandals and controversies, the editorializing and strategic use of memes and gifs to twist facts and narratives—it all seems to draw so much from the real world, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. In fact, they even talk about the ‘supervillain’ threat, and how ‘compound V’ was going to be released for public purchase and dosage, giving every individual the right to equip themselves with the ability to fight the threat against America and world. Surely this was a sly reference to the real-world global threat that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has posed and how everyone needs the (vaccine) ‘dose’ to tackle the threat. It could be suggesting all sorts of things, maybe even referencing conspiracy theories that have done the rounds—one can’t know for sure, but one can certainly theorize further.


All these layers in the storytelling reflect complexity in theme and structure, with tremendous nuances in treatment, despite a lack of restraint. All this, in the guise of an edge-of-the-seat entertainer—that even has a good share of campiness and established tropes—is rather commendable. The show manages to garner popular appeal, and excites viewers with its exaggeration and how it unapologetically goes all out with R-rated visuals, language, the gore, and especially the extremities in what the characters will do. THE BOYS owns this heightened treatment and uses it to its advantage as a high-concept series. However, it’s not just drama or action. The series actually creates a genre of its own, with satire and dark humor of course, but even other crowd-pleasing bits of romance and such. (Hughie and Annie of course are in focus as a central couple, but Frenchie and Kimiko are my favorite!) All the while, most of these characters are complex and nuanced, despite being quite black or white, and give you a lot to root for and to root against. And I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of them—not just when season three comes, but even when as the ‘VNN bulletin’ web-series continues. And that’s just one more layer to the complex universe that THE BOYS has created. An obvious nod to the right-wing Fox News—while taking inspiration for its name from the far more liberal CNN—this VNN web-series is definitely expanding this universe, getting us viewers more absorbed into this new pop-cultural phenomenon. The next bulletin should be out August 7, and I can’t wait! 


July 17, 2021

EMMY NOMINATIONS 2021: ARE THE PRIMETIME EMMYS TRYING TO GO POPULAR?

The inclusion of certain shows among the 2021 nominations begs this question. On the other hand, the supporting and guest acting nominations this year are also quite strange, in some ways. Here are some thoughts on the 2021 Emmy nominations, announced earlier this week

 


COMEDY SHOCKER

When EMILY IN PARIS was nominated for the 2021 Golden Globe Awards, back in January, there was all sorts of speculation about why it was nominated, with regard to the integrity of the HFPA and whatnot. It was definitely surprising to see that show among the best comedy nominations, so even I questioned the HFPA’s integrity, when I read about how they were flown down to Paris for a junket during the filming of the series. Now EMILY IN PARIS is not a bad show. As a piece of entertainment, it works, and it’s good fun to watch, just like any other romantic comedy (that would never be considered for awards). Hence, I disregarded the show being nominated at the Globes as a one-off aberration. So on Tuesday, this week, when I saw EMILY IN PARIS among the 2021 Primetime Emmy Award nominations as well, I was baffled.

IS DRAMA A JOKE?


To make things worse, I saw BRIDGERTON was nominated for outstanding drama series, rubbing shoulders with the likes of THE CROWN and THE HANDMAID’S TALE. BRIDGERTON may be the most watched series, ever, on Netflix, and a huge conversation all over the internet, but does that make it good? If yes, then why isn’t NCIS or GREY’S ANATOMY nominated? They’re huge on ratings, aren’t they? BRIDGERTON was a popcorn entertainer at best. In fact, it was even a bit of a snooze in parts, and an over-indulgent piece of fluff even. The show even glossed over marital rape like it was okay. Now I don’t always agree with the Television Academy’s choices for the Emmys, but these two shows being included in the mix was quite bothersome for me this year. This is true especially considering that spectacular shows like THE GOOD FIGHT are ignored year after year. I give that as an example, because the Academy used to actually acknowledge THE GOOD WIFE, which THE GOOD FIGHT spun-off from, and the former even won a lot of Emmys in its time. Moreover, THE GOOD WIFE was a broadcast network show, not even a premium cable or streaming drama, which, by then, the Emmys had already shifted towards.

In fact, there has been such a conversation about the relevance of the Emmys or any awards for America’s broadcast network TV, where these awards are aired. If most of the work being recognized isn’t content that is accessible on network TV, then how does network TV make sense as a platform for such awards. So even if the members of the Television Academy are okay with devaluing the Emmy, while pandering to popular-choice TV, wouldn’t it then make sense for them to recognize more of the content that’s on a platform like the one that the Emmys are being aired on? Surely, if THIS IS US can be nominated even after it has lost its novelty and become downright tiresome, the TV Academy can find more such soapy broadcast dramas to recognize. Don’t get me wrong. THIS IS US is not a bad show either. In fact, it was very good when it started out. However, the novelty of THIS IS US wore off quickly, and it turned into an indulgent sob-fest that thrived on the same event of the characters’ lives for so long that it became tedious. And the gimmicky flash-forwards hinting at things like people growing old and dying are just revolting now. Yet, the show’s less-than-mediocre fifth season is considered as one of the eight best seasons of television in 2020-21 by the Emmys.

VARIETY OR COMEDY?

On the other hand, there is perhaps a little more recognition of broadcast TV in comedy. BLACK-ISH continues its late streak of being an awards contender, Allison Janney has earned her sixth nomination for MOM’s swansong, and KENAN and B POSITIVE have nods in other categories. And then, of course, there’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE—continuing to block out the supporting and guest acting categories in comedy, with 11 of the 26 nominations across the four categories. The show is literally not in the same set as comedy series, nominated otherwise as a ‘variety sketch series’, which is under the ‘variety’ set—separate from ‘comedy’, ‘drama’, ‘limited/anthology/movie’, ‘reality’ and ‘short form’. In fact, with two more spots among the comedy supporting and guest categories taken by another variety series—A BLACK LADY SKETCH SHOW—it comes to 13 comedy acting nominations (half of supporting and guest) being given to shows that aren’t even in the ‘comedy’ set. Surely the TV Academy can create a couple of acting categories under ‘variety’, if they can have up to 13 performances to recognize. If ‘short form’ can have its own acting categories, then why can’t ‘variety’? Meanwhile, so many performers from shows that actually qualify under the ‘comedy’ set remain snubbed, year after year, because SNL must be given their spots!

This year, in particular, with multiple nominees from so many shows in the same categories, it’s really limited comedy supporting and guest by including so many SNL performers. That’s not to say that the multiple nominees from other shows don’t deserve their spots. For whatever reason the TV Academy considered only a handful of series for the supporting categories in comedy, drama and limited/anthology/movie, it’s still a little refreshing to see supporting actors and actresses getting their due, since they don’t always. Secondary characters and actors, who are instrumental to their shows’ success, often get sidelined, with mostly the series and the leads getting all the recognition. I’m referring here to TED LASSO’s six supporting performers, THE HANDMAID’S TALE’s nine supporting and guest, MARE OF EASTTOWN’s three, and THE CROWN’s six.

CATEGORY CONFUSION CONTINUES 

Yet, when it comes to THE CROWN, I find it a little strange to see Claire Foy nominated for what was a prologue flashback, where the young queen sat at a table and read some lines. I love Claire Foy and she brought so much charm, grace and nuance to THE CROWN that made it an instant favorite of mine right at the outset. And I’m happy as a fan of her and the show to see the original queen still tied to the show and its success, two seasons after the cast changed. Yet, objectively speaking, I’m not so sure there wasn’t someone else who should have been given that spot instead. More glaring than this was Don Cheadle’s guest actor nomination for THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER. It was about a 90-second cameo. It’s not something that someone can’t be nominated for, but his role in those 90 seconds were not so captivating that it just had to be recognized. In fact, Cheadle even tweeted that he didn’t get it either. And isn’t FALCON… a limited series anyway? Just because the ‘limited/anthology/movie’ set doesn’t have guest acting categories, the academy just threw this into ‘drama’ it seems.  

EMMYS GOLD—THE GOLD STANDARD?

There’s a lot of good TV to recognize year after year, so it’s understandable that there are so many categories—18 for acting alone. However, some categories seem to be rather convenient, to throw in nominees that don’t fit in anywhere else, because they’re big names, or maybe from popular shows and just must be nominated. And then to see shows such as BRIDGERTON and EMILY IN PARIS and THIS IS US in the mix, it’s just very confusing to me how one can take the Primetime Emmys as seriously as they would like us to. I mean, it’s the Emmy. It’s an EGOT award, along with the Grammy, Oscar and Tony. It’s not the People’s Choice. And I agree, it’s not my choice either. But while I don’t always agree with the Television Academy’s choices—and that is okay—I am now beginning to question them.

 

Here are the nominations of the drama, comedy and limited/anthology/movie categories, at a glance

 

DRAMA SERIES

 

Outstanding Drama Series

THE BOYS

BRIDGERTON

THE CROWN

THE MANDALORIAN

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

POSE

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

THIS IS US

 


Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Emma Corrin, THE CROWN

Olivia Colman, THE CROWN

Uzo Aduba, IN TREATMENT

Elisabeth Moss, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Jurnee Smollett, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Mj Rodriguez, POSE

 


Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Regé-Jean Page, BRIDGERTON

Sterling K. Brown, THIS IS US

Billy Porter, POSE

Jonathan Majors, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Matthew Rhys, PERRY MASON

Josh O'Connor, THE CROWN

 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Gillian Anderson, THE CROWN

Helena Bonham Carter, THE CROWN

Emerald Fennell, THE CROWN

Ann Dowd, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Yvonne Strahovski, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Samira Wiley, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Madeline Brewer, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Aunjanue Ellis, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Michael K. Williams, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Bradley Whitford, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Max Minghella, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

O-T Fagbenle, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

John Lithgow, PERRY MASON

Tobias Menzies, THE CROWN

Giancarlo Esposito, THE MANDALORIAN

Chris Sullivan, THIS IS US

 

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series

Alexis Bledel, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Mckenna Grace, THE HANDMAID'S TALE

Claire Foy, THE CROWN

Phylicia Rashad, THIS IS US

Sophie Okonedo, RATCHED

 

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series

Courtney B. Vance, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Charles Dance, THE CROWN

Don Cheadle, THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER

Timothy Olyphant, THE MANDALORIAN

Carl Weathers, THE MANDALORIAN

 

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series

Julie Anne Robinson, BRIDGERTON

Steven Canals, POSE

Benjamin Caron, THE CROWN

Jessica Hobbs, THE CROWN

Liz Garbus, THE HANDMAID’S TALE

Jon Favreau, THE MANDALORIAN

 

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

Rebecca Sonnenshine, THE BOYS

Peter Morgan, THE CROWN

Yahlin Chang, THE HANDMAID’S TALE

Misha Green, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Dave Filoni, THE MANDALORIAN

Jon Favreau, THE MANDALORIAN

Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Steven Canals, Janet Mock, Our Lady J, POSE

 

 

COMEDY

 

Outstanding Comedy Series

BLACK-ISH

COBRA KAI

PEN15

EMILY IN PARIS

HACKS

TED LASSO

THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

 


Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Aidy Bryant, SHRILL

Jean Smart, HACKS

Allison Janney, MOM

Kaley Cuoco, THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Tracee Ellis Ross, BLACK-ISH

 


Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Jason Sudeikis, TED LASSO

Anthony Anderson, BLACK-ISH

Michael Douglas, THE KOMINSKY METHOD

William H. Macy, SHAMELESS

Kenan Thompson, KENAN

 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Kate McKinnon, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Cecily Strong, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Aidy Bryant, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Rosie Perez, THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Hannah Einbinder, HACKS

Hannah Waddingham, TED LASSO

Juno Temple, TED LASSO

 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Bowen Yang, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Kenan Thompson, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Brett Goldstein, TED LASSO

Brendan Hunt, TED LASSO

Nick Mohammed, TED LASSO

Jeremy Swift, TED LASSO

Paul Reiser, THE KOMINSKY METHOD

Carl Clemons-Hopkins, HACKS

 

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Maya Rudolph, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Kristen Wiig, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Issa Rae, A BLACK LADY SKETCH SHOW

Jane Adams, HACKS

Bernadette Peters, ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST

Yvette Nicole Brown, A BLACK LADY SKETCH SHOW

 

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Alec Baldwin, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Dave Chappelle, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Daniel Kaluuya, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Dan Levy, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

Morgan Freeman, THE KOMINSKY METHOD

 

Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series

James Burrows, B POSITIVE

Lucia Aniello, HACKS

James Widdoes, MOM

Declan Lowney, TED LASSO

Zach Braff, TED LASSO

MJ Delaney, TED LASSO

Susanna Fogel, THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

 

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series

Steve Yockey, THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Meredith Scardino, GIRLS5EVA

Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, Jen Statsky, HACKS

Maya Erskine, PEN15

Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly, TED LASSO

Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, TED LASSO

 

 

LIMITED OR ANTHOLOGY SERIES OR MOVIE

 


Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series

MARE OF EASTTOWN

I MAY DESTROY YOU

WANDAVISION

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

 

Outstanding Television Movie

Uncle Frank

Sylvie's Love

Oslo

Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia

Dolly Parton's Christmas on The Square

 


Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie

Kate Winslet, MARE OF EASTTOWN

Michaela Coel, I MAY DESTROY YOU

Anya Taylor-Joy, THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT

Elizabeth Olsen, WANDAVISION

Cynthia Erivo, GENIUS: ARETHA

 


Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie

Paul Bettany, WANDAVISION

Hugh Grant, THE UNDOING

Ewan McGregor, HALSTON

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Leslie Odom Jr., Hamilton

 

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie

Daveed Diggs, Hamilton

Jonathan Groff, Hamilton

Anthony Ramos, Hamilton

Thomas Brodie-Sangster, THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT

Evan Peters, MARE OF EASTTOWN

Paapa Essiedu, I MAY DESTROY YOU

 

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie

Jean Smart, MARE OF EASTTOWN

Julianne Nicholson, MARE OF EASTTOWN

Kathryn Hahn, WANDAVISION

Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton

Moses Ingram, THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT

 

Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie

Thomas Kail, Hamilton

Sam Miller, Michaela Coel, I MAY DESTROY YOU

Sam Miller, I MAY DESTROY YOU

Craig Zobel, MARE OF EASTTOWN

Scott Frank, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

Barry Jenkins, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD

Matt Shakman, WANDAVISION

 

Outstanding Writing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie

Michaela Coel, I MAY DESTROY YOU

Brad Ingelsby, MARE OF EASTTOWN

Scott Frank, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

Chuck Hayward, Peter Cameron, WANDAVISION

Jac Schaeffer, WANDAVISION

Laura Donney, WANDAVISION 

July 9, 2021

PREMIERE REVIEW: GOSSIP GIRL’S HERE! YOUR ONE AND ONLY SOURCE FOR THE TRUTH BEHIND THE SCANDALOUS LIES OF NEW YORK’S ELITE

Here’s a review of the new GOSSIP GIRL (2021) premiere (without any major spoilers). Read on and decide if you want to follow this highly-anticipated reboot 


It was only a matter of time before GOSSIP GIRL would be rebooted or revived in this day and age of recycling tried-and-tested concepts and formulas of characters and storytelling. Moreover, with social media bursting at the seams, the premise of GOSSIP GIRL fits right into the late 2010s-2020s. It’s like the original GOSSIP GIRL just missed the Instagram boom, but was also quite ahead of its time, in that it captured what would be a bigger part of reality with Instagram becoming what it is now. So a new version of the series makes perfect sense, and the reboot definitely leans on the reality of the social media-obsessed youth of today. Additionally, it features a number of updates from the original, which was quite white, heterosexual, and oblivious to the world outside of Manhattan’s Upper Eastside. It was also very much pre-#MeToo, with Chuck Bass not receiving enough retribution for sexual harassment and the general objectification of women. 


Obviously, GOSSIP GIRL 2.0 treads some tricky territory, because it’s not easy to show people as being rich, spoilt, self-obsessed, and also being socially aware, ‘woke’, and welcoming and positive to all. So Julien Calloway is not an out-and-out bitch who’ll walk all over everyone to just prove a point. She’s sensitive and can be warm and caring when she needs to be, but at the same time, won’t think twice before turning on her sister when it’s convenient for her. This contradiction can either make her a very interesting character, or it can completely not ring true—that’s something we’ll have to wait and watch. However, Julien is undeniably ‘Queen B’, even if her power isn’t as absolute as Blair Waldorf’s was. Her minions, Monet and Luna—unlike Blair’s Penelope, Isabel and others—actually have minds of their own and aren’t too scared to take matters into their own hands when Julien has made it clear she doesn’t want to go too extreme in a revenge scheme. In fact, Julien appears to be a bit of Blair and a bit of Serena at this point, even if one may want to believe that Zoya is going to be the Serena to Julien’s Blair. That might take a while and some serious convincing on the show’s part, because Serena van der Woodsen was already established as influential within and outside of her social circle; just that she wasn’t interested in being ‘Queen B’ until she was later challenged by Blair. Zoya on the other hand is just an ingénue with little or no clout at this stage. She’s more of a Jenny Humphrey—considering her age also—even if she seems more sensible than Jenny.

Not that you should be looking for the original characters in this new crop of privileged Constance Billard-St. Jude’s students. You might actually find a lot of overlapping of traits between characters, and what we see in them today may not be what we see in them a few episodes down the line. For now though, Max is clearly a lot like Chuck Bass—less arrogant, but just as ‘couldn’t care less’. There might be a bit of Nate and Dan in Obie—who’s quite unimpressive and dull I might add. There could be some of Nate in Aki too, and maybe a bit of Serena in Audrey. We don’t know Audrey well enough yet though. What we can see is the exciting potential of hot ‘throuple’ drama. Where there’s smoking chemistry there has to be some sizzle and fire. 

Speaking of threes, the central conflict at this point, with the love triangle waiting to happen (the ‘this season on GOSSIP GIRL…’ promo confirms that it will) seems like a very old trope, which is already a little tired and hence, disappointing. I hope they’re able to infuse some kind of freshness into the formulaic direction in which this triangle and the conflict seem to be going. Otherwise, this show will also end up being nothing but a guilty pleasure for many. However I will commend the creators for the freshness in the basic premise of this reboot—the inciting incident rather—which does away with the question of ‘who is Gossip Girl’. That hook would have to bear too much weight after the predecessor hung onto it so dearly right till the end. So it’s good to know the motivations of the character/s behind Gossip Girl 2.0 at the outset itself. Is it creepy that ‘grown-ups’ are taking pictures of half-dressed teenagers and posting them on social media? Sure, but at least they admit that it’s sick and wrong, and we know that the show is not condoning such things. At the same time, one wonders how people who supposedly have a conscience can convincingly continue to run Gossip Girl by not following any code. With the gloves already off, and boundaries already crossed, how long can it be okay for them to go on, and for us to be okay with it happening on-screen?


Yes, the premiere of GOSSIP GIRL 2.0 wasn’t perfect—which is okay, because the original was also no masterpiece—but the show can turn out to be very engaging and entertaining, which the original definitely was. However, there are already some problem areas with the characters and plot devices, which would need to be sorted out, before it becomes too paradoxical, too uninspired, or too cringe-worthy. I would also like to see more personality and charisma in the main characters. Despite their contradictions, Julien and Zoya are not immediately interesting; nor do the actresses playing them have any great screen presence. And we need to see a lot more of the others before one can say more about them, except for Max, who, I’d say is definitely the most intriguing of the lot so far. 

I do hope going forward there’s going to be enough substance behind the style—which also needs to be amped up—but I do have hope for this new interpretation. Let’s keep it coming. XOXO!



 

May 28, 2021

THE ‘FRIENDS REUNION’ REALLY TUGGED AT ALL THE HEARTSTRINGS, AS A PERFECT, LITTLE TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

Since the much-hyped Friends Reunion released yesterday, there have been reviews that call it ‘empty’ because of how it didn’t address a lot of conversations that have taken place about the show since it ended. Others have said it’s a ‘TV’ event meant only for hardcore fans, and not viewers of the series who don’t care as much about it as said fans. However, was the special event meant to place a microscope on how well the series has aged since the original run ended 17 years ago? No. Is an event like this expected to appeal to passive viewers of the show? Most certainly not. It was always about talking to those who were interested enough to listen. And it would surely be meant primarily for those who are familiar enough with the show to know the context needed for the conversations and the nostalgia.


Moreover, the reunion was always meant to be a coming-together of the main cast to take a trip down memory lane, and not to pick up where the show left off 17 years ago. It was never meant to be a revival. I too was aware of that, and my expectations were in check, believing that it would be a nice throwback, and nothing else. Yet, upon seeing the full-length promo that HBO Max had released, I realized that there was a lot more in store than a group interview that one might simply expect to see on any talk show. So my expectations rose, and still the one-of-a-kind event exceeded the expectations. I wouldn’t say it ‘took me back’ per se, as revisiting FRIENDS has been a constant since the show ended, through reruns and streaming and so on. So here are just a few of the highlights of the HBO Max event that made it special—seven highlights to be precise…seven, seven, seven.

1. The hybrid, one-of-a-kind format


We’ve seen some of the actors together before on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, and with Ellen, after the show ended. So a simple interview would just not do for such a big ‘reunion’. Taking us back to those sets, as the cast reminisced, was just what was required. Moreover, the reenactment of the iconic quiz that made Monica and Rachel lose their apartment to Chandler and Joey was a wonderful way to spark those memories and even a fun way to see how the actors themselves would fare in a quiz about what they’d brought to life. Then, there was the table-reading of scenes, which was fascinating, mainly because the actors’ delivery was so close to what it was in the takes that made it to the episodes, as was evident from the clips from the scenes interspersed. The documentary-style soundbites thrown in added another layer. And then the tributes to the costumes, to ‘Smelly Cat’, to the famous guest actors, and so on against the backdrop of a late-night-talk-show setup just added to the richness of the experience. The variety package, including content akin to ‘DVD extras’, was something that I can’t really imagine being done for anything else really. It was just right for the version of itself that event this was.


2. The people behind the phenomenon

It was so good to see the creators of the show—Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane—being focused on, as they told us about their journeys towards getting the show on the air. From concept and casting to storytelling and conclusion, it wasn’t all brand new information, but it was absolutely essential to include their take on the magical phenomenon that they created, and not just bring us the faces that brought the show to life. The creators’ introduction as the three names on the closing production-house slate was nicely done as well.

3. The trivia


Through the conversations and the documentary-esque interviews, there were a lot stories told that we might have already known. Over years of reading trivia lists on IMDb, BuzzFeed and the like, we already knew that Matt LeBlanc was near-broke when he auditioned, and had a scab on his face during the final call-back. We knew that David Schwimmer was the first actor cast, and that Courteney Cox was originally asked to play Rachel. However, to hear these stories reiterated with such fondness, while also giving us perspectives one might not have thought of before was very interesting. Additionally, the on-set habits such as Cox writing her lines on Monica’s kitchen table, and how the girls always ate lunch together, and how they six of them huddled before every episode—it was just so much fun to discover and/or revisit.

4. Beyond bloopers: between takes and after ‘cut’

The only time the cast huddle didn’t take place was when Matt LeBlanc dislocated his shoulder and returned for the next episode. And we saw how he got injured. Now that could be classified as a blooper, but it was more in vein of seeing what happened on those sets between takes and after calling ‘cut’. Aside from LeBlanc jumping onto the armchair, there were also reactions to scenes after ‘cut’. David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston laughing hysterically after the ‘pivot’ scene was such a riot. Perry and Cox’s little off-scene joke for the live audience, while under the covers in that hotel room in ‘London’ was really cute. And then, the mother of it all… Jen and David’s little naps between takes on the sets, cuddling and spooning—all captured! It was just what we needed to see as we were given the biggest revelation of the special.

5. The revelations

When David revealed that he had a crush on Jen, and she said that she’d reciprocated it, it took me a second to let that sink in. To find out that arguably the most popular will-they-won’t-they couple in TV history were also almost a couple off-screen was baffling, especially since it was literally brand new information. The person in me who used to be extremely invested in celebrity relationships even had a ‘what if’ moment, as I wondered of the possibility of these two getting together in real life eventually!


Aside from this, there were other fascinating revelations too, such as how the creators really responded to the audience’s reaction to reshape Monica and Chandler. It was about turning what was meant to be one-time-hook-up storyline to an extended fling scenario, and eventually a full-blown relationship and marriage—all based on the fanfare surrounding it. Matt LeBlanc’s shoulder dislocation and how they wrote his real-life injury into the show was something I had no idea of prior to this. And then another big one was how David Schwimmer hated the monkey that played Marcel, whom Ross loved to bits. It was so funny how he declared it was time for the monkey to ‘f*** off’! I was also quite absorbed by how Maggie Wheeler brought Janice to life—the voice, the ‘oh my god’, and how that signature laughter was inspired by Matthew Perry and Chandler’s jokes.

6. The reunion of the guests

It was such a joy to see not just Maggie Wheeler make an appearance, but also others, such as James Michael Tyler (Gunther), and Tom Selleck (Richard), and even Larry Hankin (Mr. Heckles) and Thomas Lennon (Joey’s hand-twin), who were effectively woven into the little quiz that the cast had going. It was so sweet to see Christina Pickles and Elliot Gould (Judy and Jack Geller) in the audience, with them speaking so fondly about how they’d started to feel like the cast’s parents during the show. It was also endearing to see Reese Witherspoon (Jill Green) talking about how excited she was back during her appearance in season six, to be in a scene where Joey used his iconic ‘How you doin’!’ line on her.

The most glaring absence for me was that of Paul Rudd (Mike Hannigan), who effectively married into the six friends’ family, when Mike married Phoebe. It would have been nice to also see Cole Sprouse (Ben Geller), and even Jane Sibbett and Jessica Hecht (Carol and Susan). Anna Faris (Erica—the birth mother of Monica and Chandler’s twins) would have been a good addition too.

7. The phenomenon and the show’s everlasting impact

Other guests, who had nothing to do with the series also made appearances. At first, honestly, when their names were released, I thought they’d be a waste of time. However, appearances by Justin Bieber, Cara Delevingne, and Cindy Crawford were less than cameos, as they still made their impact on the runway showcasing iconic costumes from the show. Others such as Mindy Kaling, David Beckham, Kit Harington and BTS were simply to add star power to the testimonials from fans who’ve been impacted by the series in large and small ways. It was moving to hear how the show encouraged someone to take charge of their relationship, while it helped others feel less lonely, and saw many trough other tough times. This look at the far-reaching impact of the show is not at all surprising, given the evergreen nature of the series, and how it speaks to so many different people in so many different ways even today.

Speaking for myself, I’m in my 30s now, and I’ve seen the show in sequence and in bits and pieces countless times since the first viewing back in the 90s-2000s, when I was in my teens and 20s. And the show has appealed to different sides of me at different ages, all the while making me laugh and cry, and find a lot of comfort in the relatability of the characters.


It would have been nice enough to simply see the cast together again, reliving the 10 years of their lives that made them household names, and helped them forge bonds and friendships for life. That everlasting camaraderie was the biggest overarching aspect of the reunion that made it what it was. However, to see the actors enter the sets reconstructed to look exactly as they did on the show was nothing short of beautiful. The last shot of the series, with the camera panning Monica’s empty apartment and landing on the gold picture frame on the door, with that music, anyway gets to me every time I see it. And then to see this event starting with that last scene of the series—and seamlessly giving us a ‘17 years later’ on the same frame that ended the show—set the tone of this trip down memory lane just perfectly. The cast got emotional, as they walked onto the sets thereafter, and so did I. Revisiting a series like this would anyway be a nice treat, but to revisit it through the eyes of the six people who brought those characters to life—and have also been such good friends themselves ever since—was what made it extremely heartwarming. It was a one-of-a-kind experience without a doubt. Nothing else can conjure up such emotions, and especially not after such a long time.