2016 was an all-around shitty year. Personally I dealt with a family health crisis, relationship challenges, work and house stress and an overabundance of terrible things happening to people I know and love – accidents, illnesses, multiple deaths of people and their pets. It was unrelenting and I was counting down the days until it was over. And then George Michael died. On Christmas. I mean, REALLY WORLD???
My junior high best friend and I were downright hostile about Wham! Their songs were lame. They were so dorky and they just were trying so damn hard which was probably the ultimate Wham! trait that cynical girls like ourselves with a growing appreciation for The Cure found most unforgivable. My mom and I giggled over George’s dramatics (see, “Everything She Wants”) and the fact that they let themselves get into absurd photo shoots like this:
Yet despite not liking them I had a copy of this postcard!
Then George went solo and became a massive, MASSIVE superstar. He was all over the radio and MTV, he was spoofed on SNL (I still randomly quote Dana-Carvey-as-George’s “look at my butt! It’s hypnotic! You can’t look away!”), he was friends with Elton John and ultimate A-List. His songs started worming their way into my head and staying there. I still remember sitting in the front seat of our school van with my heart aching over every word of “One More Try” on the radio, despite the fact that I hadn’t yet had a boyfriend or any sort of heartbreak (and now decades later with plenty of both under my belt, these lyrics are even more painfully true). I can vividly recall a party at my first college where I was outside cooling down with friends and the first notes of “Freedom 90” came thumping from inside the campus center causing me to race back inside so I wouldn’t miss a single opportunity to holler “YOU GOTTA GIVE WHAT YOU TAKE!!!” while doing a fist pumping dance.
(Sidebar: How fucking GREAT is this song?? IT IS FUCKING AMAZING. End of story!)
When I transferred to Smith College and met my friend Heather that’s when all Wham! Hell Broke Loose, so to speak. Heather and I share a lot of pop culture trivia, Fangirl obsessions, Royal Family knowledge, and deep, deep adoration of 80s music. Being faced with her joy in George Michael’s music made me realize what I already knew but had been held back from admitting by my grumpy 13YO self for so long: I loved George Michael and every damn song he did. We applied for a radio show at our college station and were refused because our eclectic proposed playlist included disco, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Wham! (BTW, we are still bitter). We had a pledge that if Wham! ever reunited for a tour or even just one show, we were going to go no matter where it was or how much it cost. To this day, in all honesty only days before his death, we were discussing whether George had reunited with his ex Kenny Goss and I was agreeing to make sure “Wham Rap!” was played at her future funeral, should she pre-decease me.
And that’s the thing that has hit us the hardest: George Michael and Wham! were not just music we liked in our youth and had an appreciative nostalgia for. We talked about, listened to and quoted his music weekly. For us he is an artist who is just as relevant in our current lives and playlists (if not more so, at times) as if it was 1988 right now.We are devastated we will never be able to go see him in concert and clutch each other with joy while singing “I’m Your Man”. For us there was no sadness or bad day that couldn’t be polished up by the appearance of a “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” gif or even a simple text bubble reminding the other “I Love Wham!”
George Michael was rich with talent, a beautiful voice and a complicated personal life that gave him the fuel to write so many iconic songs that we are lucky to have with us forever. I recently watched a 1990 documentary about George and this moment was so very poignant:
I don’t believe I’m important as a pop star…I don’t believe that I will leave a great mark as an entity. I think I’m more realistic than that. I do believe now that I’m a lot better singer than I ever thought I would be but at the end of the day I want to leave something as a writer. And I think to have a passion or to have something that drives you on through life in a creative sense, most of us want to leave something, want to have something that will be remembered without having people really having to search in their memory and I want to leave songs, I believe I can leave songs that will mean something to other generations.
Every few months it seems I find myself seeking comfort in his hit “Praying for Time” which is in fact, timeless given the state of the world today. I post these words after a lot of mass shootings, terrorist attacks and all around awful news because they capture the hopelessness I feel in such a beautifully accurate way:
You were wrong George. You’ve left us so very much and I hope you knew how grateful we were, THANK YOU. XOXO.
Snarky Goes to Hollywood by Julie Kushner: Start with one caustic college student with a vengeful chip on her shoulder…Add a suddenly studly childhood friend with a secret agenda…Mix in a hot, flirty, sometimes shirtless veterinarian…Sprinkle with some fabulous drag queen neighbors…Toss with an estranged father and evil superstar stepmother… Combine with a computer genius sidekick…Fold in clever pop culture references and observations on celebrity worship culture…garnish with adorable little doggies…
This is the recipe Julie blends together for her seventh novel “Snarky Goes to Hollywood” the smart, sassy, funny story of Snarky Esther Silverberg a, you guessed it, snarky girl whose parents named her after a TV character from a cheesy sitcom in their youth. But that’s not the worst thing her parents did to her—they divorced when her father invoked the rules of “The List” when he met the real “Snarky”—the actress who played the character on the beloved sitcom, and had an affair with her after first getting her mother’s permission to have a one night stand (as anyone who has ever watched “Friends” knows – there is “The Freebie List” of celebrities you are allowed to sleep with should you ever be given the opportunity).
Now in her first summer after college, Snarky has decided to get retribution on the woman she blames not only for her name but for her ruining her childhood, her family and her life, so she moves to LA for the summer with her best childhood friend Moody planning to destroy the life and reputation of the former TV Snarky, her stepmother Stephanie Andrews.
What seems like just a crazy tale of a girl on a revenge spree is quickly turned on its head when Snarky and Moody’s formerly platonic relationship starts setting off sparks (which may have something to do with Moody’s recent development of a six-pack!) When she’s not sparring with her best friend/possible romantic partner Snarky is locking lips with her sexy new boss Dr. Max the local veterinarian and Moody’s nemesis (did somebody say “love triangle”?) All the while Snarky and her work buddy/retaliation expert Groot work to bring down the impeccably curated life of glamorous Stephanie and by extension, Snarky’s father who abandoned her.
Julie’s writing is deft and fun while weaving some serious issues among the twists and turns in her protagonist’s journey: family ties and disappointments, challenged friendships and sexual awakenings, making choices and living with consequences. “Snarky Goes to Hollywood” is more than just a revenge tale but a unique look at one girl’s journey from a broken childhood to a sardonic young adult with plenty of hot boys, cute dogs, covert plans and pop culture in-jokes that keep the reader entertained along the way. Since Julie has whipped together this delightful concoction you should really have a taste!
Party of One by Dave Holmes: In the late 90s I was bit by the Boy Band Bug and religiously watched TRL and voted for Backstreet Boys videos like my very life depended on it. Oh, and I was in my late 20s, decidedly NOT the target demo for TRL. I became a huge Fangirl for Dave Holmes who sometimes hosted the show and would make me laugh over his excitement over Kevin Richardson’s eyebrows and one particularly enthusiastic Britney Spears back-up dancer. So when I heard Dave wrote a memoir I couldn’t wait to read it because his humor and pop culture savvy are so in line with my own.“Party of One”did not disappoint starting with the very first paragraph of the intro:
Of all the epic stories, both factual and fictional, that we have passed down through history, I identify most strongly with the journey of the Bee Girl in Blind Melon’s “No Rain” video.
BOOM. I was in. Dave’s memoir is about growing up knowing he was different and his struggles to find his own place to fit. It wasn’t just that he was gay—but gay and arty in a sporty mid-western family. His fevered interest in music and knowledge of bands set him apart in the various communities he moved through. And of course, being gay didn’t help in the pre-gay-marriage-is-legal era.
My actual much tagged copy
Each chapter is titled after a song to form a playlist of his life story which is a clever device that will make you run to your iTunes going “Oh I FORGOT about that one!” I laughed so many times reading this and marked so many pages that I loved. It reminded me that since his MTV days I would like to be Dave Holmes Best Friend—or at the very least a casual acquaintance who can chat with him about 90210 plots (Chapter 10: The Man Who Sold the World), our shared appreciation for Robbie Williams (Chapter 12: Wannabe) and the cheesy joy of 1970s entertainment (Interlude: Seven Pieces of Pop Culture That Prevented Me from Leading a Normal Life).
I Know What I’m Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself by Jen Kirkman: I work in a library and part of my job involves flipping through each book to check pagination, illustrations, etc. When I worked on “I Know What I’m Doing…” I happened to land on Jen’s list of all the warning bells she ignored when she got married and soon after that she was divorced. It sounded so eerily like my own wedding day red flags that I also ignored that I had to check the cover that I had not somehow, mysteriously written this book.
Like Dave, Jen is in my age bracket so a lot of her issues, complaints and desires often mirrored my own which again, made me eager to befriend her so we could discuss dumb boys from our post-divorce dating lives (Chapter 16: The Relationship Remodeler), feeling immature teen girl feelings as a mature adult woman (Chapter 9: Jen Cougar Mellencamp) and the joys of New Year’s Eve at home (Chapter 15: Dropping the Ball).
Jen is a stand-up comedian, a feminist and good writer. She is funny without trying to shock you but sharp enough that you’ll punch your fist in the air when she lands a particularly satisfying smack-down about something. Her comedy is confessional which means she does not mind embarrassing herself which makes this book feel like you are giggling with a girlfriend over an after work glass of wine and a generous cheese platter.
The Fangirl Files: True Tales and Tips from the Fandom Frontlines by Amy H. Johnson: I already gushed a bit about how awesome and fun Amy’s memoir is at the beginning of this blog series. But for those of you who haven’t loaded it into your Kindle library yet, here are a few more tidbits that could make “The Fangirl Files” one of the coolest books you will read all year.
– This woman has lived! Haven’t used all your vacation days yet this year? Travel the world with Amy as she waves her Fangirl flag proudly in pursuit of her favorite rock legend, movie stars, and television protagonists. So many of us imagine booking that trip, seeing that show, going back stage to get that coveted autograph. But Amy has done these things many times over and lived to tell the tale. Her dedication and fearlessness should be an inspiration to us all.
– Nostalgia is a beautiful thing: Whatever your age, no matter what you are into, we tend to mark our lives by the things that surrounded us when we were engaged in what will eventually become our most memorable moments. What was the first movie you ever saw in theaters? What song was playing when you experienced your first kiss or when you lost your virginity? What television series finale did all of your middle school friends just have to watch and analyze obsessively the next day at school? What rock star headlined the first concert you attended?
Amy understands this phenomenon instinctively and uses it to tell her life story, a story punctuated by great music, excellent movies, moody musicians, and dreamy film and television stars. And whether or not her favorites are the same as yours, rest assured, her tales will bring you back to times that will remind you of the simple pleasures in life.
– Feminism and Friendship: Ladies we are living in a great time. A time when opportunities to explore, experience and succeed are available to us in ways they have never been before. Through Fangirling, Amy found herself and her passion for life. It gave her confidence, independence and a sense of purpose. It also gave her a network of amazing friends to experience all of this awesomeness right alongside of her! And who couldn’t use a little bit of that right about now?
All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda:I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not usually a big fan of mystery novels. I find that they often sacrifice strong character development for clichéd twists, artificial red herrings, and a surprise ending that is generally more hollow and derivative than shocking.
That is not at all how I felt about “All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda. The characters were complex and well developed. The narrator was relatable and smart. The dual timeline story kept me guessing from page 1 to page “Please tell your Kindle how much you liked this book.” Speaking of a dual timeline story, the chief narrative of “All the Missing Girls” travels from BACKWARDS TO FORWARDS, which is exactly how I like to read novels! Spoilers first, actual plot trajectory second! It’s like that movie Memento, only the main characters are younger, hotter, and ride way more small-town ferris wheels!
So, if you are looking for a fast, fun, multiple murder mystery, with great characters, a few twists you won’t guess ahead of time, and a unique, expertly executed, non-linear timeline, make this is the next addition to your Fall 2016 To Be Read book pile.
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner: As you might have already gleaned from some of my picks, I’m an unapologetic diehard fan of all things young adult: whether it’s books, television shows or movies, if they feature characters of high school age, navigating the wide world of high school and the unbearably frustrating journey toward adulthood, I’m in 100%. By this point in my life, I’ve read pretty much every type of young adult novel out there . . . which is weird, because I didn’t even particularly like high school all that much.
But whether you like young adult books or not, I’d recommend “The Serpent King”, because it’s just a damn good book. It’s well written. It’s poignant. It’s hopeful, but in a realistic and honest way that doesn’t undermine some of the harsher things it’s trying to say about small impoverished towns and the often limited opportunities available to people who grow up within them.
Nothing irks me more than a young adult book where all the teens sound like 55-year olds, or, worse, professional stand-up comedians / sitcom stars, custom tailored with zingy one-liners for every situation. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen here. Dill, Travis and Lydia are three very unique characters hailing from a wide range of different backgrounds, despite their neighboring addresses. But Zentner is able to make each of their narrative voices feel, not only distinct from one another, but genuine as three flawed teenagers struggling to overcome a small-minded town that, for one reason or another, has already written each of them off in some way. Reading narration from real likable teens who are just as awkward, at times inarticulate and bumbling as I was at that age (and sometimes still am) was just super refreshing.
Oh, and it will make you blubber like a baby, so keep that box of Kleenex handy.
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer: Generally speaking, I tend to be a bit loath to pick up a memoir, because I often find them to be a bit self-aggrandizing and/or self-indulgent. Too many times I’ve been burned by a memoir where the author downplays his or her own flaws and portrays him or herself as a victim of others’ shortcomings. That said, I actually read two memoirs this year that I genuinely enjoyed, both of which went a long way toward altering, or at least softening, my anti-memoir stance.
When I first heard Amy Schumer wrote a memoir, my first thought was, “300 pages of booze and penis jokes, with a smattering of awkward sexual experiences thrown in for good measure.” And though that’s not the type of book I typically rush to grab, at the time, I had just come down from reading a super dark and depressing novel, and booze and penis jokes seemed to me like a real nice change of pace.
And there are a lot of booze and penis jokes / hilariously awkward sexual experiences thrown into this book, I’m not going to lie. But what surprised me was how insightful, genuine, and honest Amy was throughout the memoir, and how much she reminded me of myself in some of the chapters…except, you know, I’m not famous or the least bit talented in the art of acting / standup comedy.
Like me, and, perhaps many of you bookworms out there, Amy is actually an introvert, a revelation that shocked me more than perhaps even the juicier personal tidbits she offers up in this tome. She also battles the same type of insecurities we all have toward her weight and personal appearance, despite appearing on television as this uber confident super woman. I liked that Amy is open and honest with herself about her flaws and shortcomings, throughout the novel. And I was genuinely touched by her recounting of some of her experiences with her father, who suffers from M.S.
I also feel like a lot of women can learn a thing or two from Amy’s experiences with rape and domestic abuse. The fact that a strong, confident and successful woman is being open about the fact that she found herself in an abusive relationship goes a long way toward fighting the stigmatization of domestic abuse victims as weak and passive people. And that may help others suffering in similar relationships seek the courage to remove themselves from these dangerous situations or at least seek help.
In short, even if, like me, you hate memoirs, read Amy Schumer’s. Come for the booze and penis jokes, stay for the honesty, humility and important insights.
And there you have it—all our picks for fans and Fangirls alike! We hope you enjoyed and found some things that you can’t wait to read/watch/listen to and let us know what you’re into this season in the comments!
Welcome Fangirls to our latest edition of The Fangirls Fall Guide to 2016 where today TV Recappers Anonymous blogger Julie Kushner and I will share the things that make us Fangirl the most on the Internet and on our smartypantsphones. If you’re looking to catch up on our pics for TV, movies, music and podcasts then go take a look and we’ll be here ready with our latest picks! (content is cross-posted at TV Recappers).
Website: As I mentioned in the last post about my podcast pick You Must Remember This, I am a huge fan of classic Hollywood. About two years ago I stumbled upon Anne Helen Petersen a bonafide “Doctor of Gossip” who had a series called “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” (and wrote a book of the same name) I was stunned to find out that one could actually get a doctorate studying and writing about celebrities! I WOULD HAVE DONE THAT!! Well, likely not as academia was not my thing. So thank goodness AHP exists and that she left teaching to become Senior Culture Writer at Buzzfeed. I love her work because she writes with depth about celebrity and how it works, why we consume it. She explores what our pop culture fascinations actually reflect about us as a society. And her writing is accessible so complex concepts become easier to swallow when seeing them through her lens.
Ridiculously pretty Montgomery Clift
Now with her Buzzfeed gig she has expanded her topics to politics and social issues and those are all well researched and written as well. No clickbait here with AHP! Luckily she is still exploring modern celebrity and giving weight to topics that non-celebrity obsessed people would call shallow. Her recent coverage of the Brangelina divorce was no gossipy piece of fluff but a decade-in-the-making essay on the evolution of Angelina Jolie’s public persona and masterful use of publicity throughout the course of the couple’s high profile relationship. She validates our celebrity fascinations and after I read her pieces I always feel a little bit smarter. Recommended reads:Tiger Beat Goes On, The Trouble with “It” Girls.
App: Thereis just so. damn. much. TV to watch these days and too many ways to watch it. Sometimes just finding what platform is streaming the latest show the Internet is demanding you MUST WATCH RIGHT NOW can take a lot of time that would be better spent on watching TV. Enter a delightful app called Fan TV available for iPhone and Android. Just do a search for what you want to watch and it will tell you where it is streaming for both free and pay, or if it is only available through traditional viewing methods. My only complaint about it is that it can’t be a feature on my Roku so I could just click on it and then go right to my searched show to begin watching (I believe this falls under the category “First World Problems”!).
Website: I’ll be honest, I have no clue how exactly I ended up on Refinery 29’s mailing list. I tend to do a lot of my shopping online, so, perhaps, it related to one of my recent purchases. Or maybe it was a related article I clicked on by accent. Perhaps, a friend recommended me. All I know is that the first time the column / e-magazine appeared in my inbox, I was seconds away from sentencing it to the permanent Spam Zone. My finger waited hovering anxiously over the unsubscribe button. And then, for whatever reason, I decided to read.
Words can’t describe how much Refinery29 has made my life in the past few months. I learn everything from Refinery29. Article topics range from hair coloring and styling tips, to fall fashion trends, to diet and workout advice, to political, celebrity and news items, to what’s the best vibrator for you based on your Zodiac sign. (Mine, apparently is the kind you wear inside your underwear, and maneuver via external remote control. Who knew?) Regardless of topic, all the articles are well-written, interesting, insightful, and, let’s face it, make my dorky ass, way cooler and in the know about top trends and goings on than I was before I got on the list.
The good news though, is that you don’t have to get on Refinery29’s mailing list to read their articles. Save space in your inbox and find them at www.refinery29.com. I promise you won’t regret it!
App: Did you ever read those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid? If you did, did you find that you enjoyed the freedom to dictate what happened in your own story, but find that enjoyment limited by the fact that the main character in the book neither looked, nor acted, nor spoke anything like you. And his or her options consisted of things you would never ever consider doing in real life?
Welcome to Episodes, a free app you can download to your phone that allows you to Choose Your Own Adventure throughout thousands of episodic stories in which you’d actually ENJOY being a character. Some of the stories feature characters you already know; like, Mean Girls: Senior Year and Sorority Rush, in which your character battles against the iconic Regina George, and befriends Cady, Damien and Janis; or the Demi Lovato: Path to Fame Concert series, where you are a young up and coming starlet who landed a surprise spot on the established songstress’ tour bus.
However, Episodes also features and promotes the work of new up and coming writers, providing them with a new and unique visual medium through which to promote their works, and reach readers they might not have a chance to access otherwise. Though the choices you get to make will vary drastically from story to story (and some choices cost money, but I’ll never choose those, on principal), my favorite Episodes, by far, are the ones that allow you to design your own avatar. The choices you get to make toward crafting your character’s visual appearance actually go a long way toward helping you, as the reader, to visualize yourself in the story. And that visualization process is enhanced when the story allows you to select your character’s wardrobe at key points throughout the book. Some of the threads you get are pretty sweet too! Check me out! I’ll be damned if this avatar doesn’t look exactly like me! Well…close enough.
Stay tuned next week for our final installment…books!
Music you should listen to: I watch a show online called Out of Ireland. I like to save a few episodes and then put them on while I’m puttering around my kitchen on a weekend morning. I pretend I’m in my house that happens to be in Dublin! An episode this summer featured a video by the band Walking on Cars. I didn’t pay too much attention to the visuals as I was doing something domestic, but the song “Speeding Cars” sent tingles along my spine. Then I watched the video which is gorgeous and mystical (although not the visuals you expect for a song about an affair!) Finding their debut CD Everything This Way was difficult stateside and I ended up with an import. But this is the kind of music that gets me in the heart and soul. Driving, majestic, U2-esque melodies and emotional lyrics. I don’t think I singlehandedly am going to make Walking on Cars “happen” in the US, but I highly recommend checking them out on Spotify. Some really beautiful and energetic songs perfectly suited for being heard in a stadium full of chanting voices.
Music I am beside myself excited for: America I will never forgive you for not embracing Robbie Williams. The English mega pop star sells out stadiums throughout Europe, yet I saw him in a club venue in Boston in 1999 which, is likely the last time he ever toured here. Robbie is cheeky and outrageous. His music is often bombastic and ridiculous and he delivers it with such smirk on his face and sparkle in his eye you can’t help but get into it. Plus it’s catchy as HELL. I don’t think anyone captures the ups and downs of fame better in contemporary pop music: the love/hate of adulation, the dangers of temptation and the thrills of celebrity. On one track he’ll tell you, “I am scum”(Come Undone) and the next he’s proclaiming “I’m the one who put the Brit in celebrity” (Handsome Man) He has a new album called The Heavy Entertainment Show coming out on my birthday although sadly, I won’t be in England to get it so I’ll have to patiently wait for my lovely friend Felicity to supply me with a copy which I will play endlessly while proclaiming, “DAMN YOU AMERICA!!!”
Music you should listen to:Meghan Trainor.For those of you out there who may have wrote off this young ingénue as a teeny bopping pop star after her first album, which, most notably, included the catchy ear worm “All About That Bass“, and the 50’s nostalgic “Dear Future Husband,”take another look. Meghan’s second album, Thank Youis edgy, sassy, mature, and will make you dance uncontrollably, even when you are in places you shouldn’t be dancing (like at work, or on the NYC subway). And the song lyrics are just great. Are you having an off day? Feeling down on yourself? Check out “Me Too” (“If I was you, I’d wanna be me too.”), and your confidence will resurge in no time. Heading for a night out with the girls, you need to be playing “No,” while you are getting ready. It will make you laugh and put you in a great mood just in time to hit the dance floor. (“My name is No. My sign is No. My number is No. You need to let it go.”) Indeed!
Music I am excited to hear: The Weeknd – Starboy It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to predict that this is going to be the album blowing up everybody’s Spotify this winter. Every song these guys put out there almost automatically seems like chart topping gold. And their range is so diverse. The sultry “Earned It” feels like it comes from a completely different universe from the haunting “The Hills,” and the bass thumping, booty shaking “Can’t Feel My Face.” Need more evidence? The first single off the album came out on September 28th, less than three days later it had 19 million hits on YouTube. That’s insane! Out: November 25
Bonus! Our fave podcasts for your listening enjoyment!
I have a very particular taste in podcasts. I don’t like anything of the genre I call “Two Guys Pontificating” in which two dudes like hearing themselves talk for over an hour. This is not sexist as I also don’t like “Two Girls Pontificating” either. I prefer my podcasts to have a narrative and structure. I don’t want to spend an hour with two people of any gender basically having an often tedious personal conversation that they somehow believe should be shared with a larger audience. That is why I am such a huge fan of You Must Remember This, which “explores the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” I LOVE The Golden Age of Hollywood and all the stars and scandals so already I was sold on this concept.
But creator Karina Longworth does the work. Every episode is meticulously researched and when she does series, such as “MGM Stories” or the recent “Six Degrees of Joan Crawford” each episode is a chapter that builds on the last and prepares you for the next. Not only is the material fascinating but it is one of the best constructed podcasts I’ve ever heard. If you think the Brangelina divorce is explosive, you should hear what some of the original movie stars were up to behind closed doors in our supposedly “more innocent” history. Recommend: Star Wars Episode III Hedy Lamarr, Frank Sinatra in Outer Space.
Serial, Season 1: Before Making of a Murderer gained a cult following, and took Netflix by storm…before True Crime became as mainstream as reality talent shows, there was a much beloved, but little known by the general public podcast called This American Life, produced by an enterprising woman named Sarah Koenig, who introduced us to the obsession we now know as Serial. In 1999, 18-year old Hae Min Lee, then a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, was murdered. Her body was found in the nearby Leakin Park, hastily buried in a shallow grave. The cause of death: manual strangulation. The chief suspect: Adnan Sayed, also a senior at Woodlawn High School, and Hae Min’s former boyfriend.
There were a number of “bad facts” that pointed to Adnan as Hae Min’s killer. Cell phone towers pinged his location to be close to the murder site around the time the murder was said to have occurred. Witnesses saw Adnan offer Hae Min a ride home from school in his car that day. And, perhaps most damning of all, an associate of Adnan’s Jay Wilds admitted to helping Adnan bury Hae Min’s body.
Adnan was eventually arrested, tried and convicted of Hae Min Lee’s murder. But did he actually do it? Was the trial against him fair? Did he receive adequate counsel from his lawyer, who was disbarred shortly thereafter? Throughout this binge-worthy series that has spawned thousands of obsessive fansites to catalog and extensively discuss each aspect of the case, Sarah Koenig does an excellent job of exploring and unpacking, what, up until this point was a locally known “cold case” mystery. Without taking sides or placing blame, Sarah, through her investigations raises some very important questions, about the reliability of eyewitness testimony, particularly when most of those witnesses are teenagers, the accuracy of cell phone records, particularly in 1999, when the technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is now, and the necessity of a good defense attorney, and whether the lack of one prevents an accused person from receiving a fair trial. Sarah even interviews Adnan himself from jail numerous times, allowing viewers to judge for themselves whether he is, in fact, guilty.
The popularity of Serial (to date the podcasts have received over 80 million downloads) and its reinvigoration of interest in Adnan’s case, actually turned the tide of justice, resulting in Adnan receiving a new trial, nearly a decade after his initial conviction. So, if you aren’t one of those 80 million downloads, I highly recommend you jump on this bandwagon and enter the cult that is Series 1 of Serial. I promise you, you won’t sleep until you’ve heard the entire series from start to finish…
Get your tablets and smartphones ready because next time we tackle websites and apps!
Movie you should see: Earlier this year I saw the trailer for Sing Street in theaters a few times. Each time I would think, “This movie looks made for me! 80s music!Ireland!Cute boys in bands wearing eyeliner!” But for some reason I wasn’t interested and I couldn’t figure out why. Thankfully I ignored myself and watched it on DVD recently and let me tell you, it is delightful. Written and directed by John Carney who did Once (a favorite of mine) it hits all the right nostalgia buttons: teenage crushes and heartbreaks, discovering yourself and defining who you are, losing yourself in music and the connections you make through songs. I flat out loved it and the soundtrack is something that I would have owned in the 80s and will keep you humming the tunes long after the movie is over. Available: iTunes, Amazon, DVD
Movie I’m excited for: Allied. My Girl Crush Marion Cotillard? I’m in. Brad Pitt being dashing? SOLD! But then the trailer came out and it was the first time in a long time that I watched a trailer and got swept away. I watched it several more times. Maybe it was the epicness of it – love and war, intrigue and danger all set in WWII and the post-war era, two movie eras that I adore. It looks pretty grand and it has actual capital M, capital S Movie Stars and there are no damn superheroes to be seen. Pretty people + Gorgeous costumes + War time dangers + Romance + Hot car make-outs in sandstorms = my butt in the theater on opening night! Opening: November 23.
Movie you should see:The Lobster. I’m just going to come right out and say it. This movie is weird. And it’s definitely not for everybody. But it’s the one “new” movie that really stood out for me in 2016, and it’s the one that’s sparked the most conversation amongst my friends and family after viewing. As a terminally single person who just plain sucks at relationships, you could bet that I would long ago have been turned into an animal in the fictional world that embodies this film. (I’d choose a cat naturally. I know it’s not the most creative answer, but I happen to think I have a lot of cat-like tendencies.)
The Lobster has a lot of interesting things to say about the way that society pressures us to couple, and looks down upon and/or often vilifies single people. That episode of Sex and the City, Bay of Married Pigs, comes immediately to mind. But it’s not all one sided. “The Loners” in this story don’t come off so hot either. Though, to be honest, I’m less certain about what the writers are trying to say about me. Hence, the endless discussions about the film with family and friends.
Apart from being an interesting social commentary, The Lobster is funny, quirky, and just flat out different than anything I’ve ever seen before. And in a world that turns out cookie-cutter films like the assembly line at Chips Ahoy, that’s saying something. Available: iTunes, Amazon, DVD
Movie I’m excited for: The Edge of Seventeen. I’ve always been a sucker for a good coming-of-age tale, probably because my level of maturity is irrevocably about on par with most sixteen year olds. Not that there’s anything entirely new or different on the surface, about the story of an awkward, wise-cracking, but intensely intelligent girl on the outer fringes of the high school social order trying to survive the sometimes unforgiving, and often ridiculous, world of adolescence. But this trailer made my smile, and reminded me of my own best friend from high school, who remains one of my favorite people in the world. Plus Hailee Steinfeld just seems so darn likeable here. How can you not root for her? Opening: November 18th
We hope you have your iPod ready because next up — Music!
I have been lucky enough in my blogging “career” to meet some great people. One of them is Julie Kushner who wrote a blog about Pacey and Joey in 2010 that I read, loved, gushed over and out of that connection we became real friends. Since then we have spent time together chatting about boys (imaginary and real), giggling about TV Boyfriends, attending actual fan conventions, joint blogging about Hot Vampires, and of course, fangirling our hearts out.
Today I’m excited to present our latest venture together: our Fangirl Fall Guide to what we’re watching, reading, listening to and much more that we want to share with you! So just scroll past the photo here to see the Julie penned intro to this series that is also cross posted at Julie’s fab blog TV Recappers Anonymous. Read on Fangirls!
In Amy H. Johnson’s honest, fresh, funny and inspiring memoir “The Fangirl Files: True Tales and Tips from the Fandom Frontlines,” she writes about how Fangirling is not just a hobby but a way of life. Whether it’s a favorite band, or a favorite book series, a favorite actor, or a favorite television show, Fangirling is a way we define ourselves, both to stand out from a crowd, and connect with the wide world of people who share similar interests with us in ways we never dreamed possible even a decade ago. Through Fangirling, Amy, like many of us, found solace and comfort, excitement and adventure, independence and self-reliance, and a loving extended network of like minded fans, who she can turn to, not just to discuss the latest album by The Killers, but to share all the ups and downs life has to offer.
Throughout “The Fangirl Files” Amy details her life from childhood, through adolescence into adulthood, using the various fandoms with which she associated as milestones along her thrilling journey. And this, of course, may lead you to wonder, what is Amy fangirling about now, in the Fall of 2016?
With the help of her fellow Fangirl friend (Me, Julie, naturally), Amy will share with us the things that get her all excited and fangirly right now.
I’ll play as well, because, why not? I’m a Fangirl too, after all.
Coming upwe’ll discuss a few of our favorite things in 2016 from a wide variety of pop culture topics including television, movies, music, apps, podcasts, columns, and books. And you can weigh in on whether you agree with us, think we are totally nuts, or have your own recommendations. Because that’s what true fangirling is about, after all . . . . sharing our passion, expanding our horizons, and bonding over the things we all love. Also, let’s be honest, it’s about the cute boys . . . because who doesn’t love those?
Amy’s TV Picks
What I’m watching:
I have been binging on season four of The Americans. Perhaps “binging” isn’t the right word as sometimes an episode is so stressful it takes me days before I feel emotionally ready to watch the next one! I often wonder why this show has never had the same sort of pop culture fixation as other “prestige dramas” like Mad Men or Breaking Bad. It is also filled with conflicted anti-heroes and heroines and is intense, brilliant, suspenseful, heartbreaking and superbly acted (if you ever thought, “Awww, Felicity Porter is so adorable!” Keri Russell will kick the living sh*t out of your memory of her previous incarnation). Plot lines are artfully woven through multiple seasons so things that happened two seasons ago come back to haunt the characters. Under the layers of spy intrigue and danger is the story of a family trying to stay together through the mundane tasks of every day life, and the high stakes secret world of espionage. And it always bears repeating, “POOR MARTHA!”Watch it: Amazon, iTunes.
What I can’t wait to watch:
I’m excited about season three of The Affair. This one is another under-the-radar show that critics and awarding bodies like but is also not part of the “Peak TV” conversation. I think that may be because it can contain some soap opera-y elements although I don’t think that detracts at all from the performances or really deep emotional places it goes to. It is another doozy of a show in terms of stressing me out but this one also makes me cry a lot because at the heart of it is the understanding that relationships—with spouses, lovers, friends, parents, even enemies—are complex and often overwhelming. The first season featured the POV of the two characters having the affair Alison and Noah. Season two added the views of the spouses they cheated on, Cole and Helen. As we follow the frequently conflicting interpretations of what happened in each relationship, there’s also a central mystery unfolding known as, “Who Killed Scotty Lockhart.” Let me tell you, last season’s finale was a true Gasp-Out-Loud-What-Just-Happened-Holy-Sh*t! Kind of TV moment that made me miss a time when everyone watched TV shows at the same time so we could discuss them right afterwards. Of course the entire reason I even began watching this show was because of my Ultimate TV Boyfriend Joshua Jackson(Pacey 4eva!) who even got his own chapter in my book The Fangirl Files! Watch it: Showtime, November 20th.
Admittedly, I was a bit late to the party on this one, if only because I thought it would be too scary for my wimpy, fraidy cat, ass. (Also because I’d heard the ending involved a full-sized slug coming out of somebody’s mouth, which pretty much describes every nightmare I’ve had from the age of six until forever.) If you’re an eighties kid, you’ll love the overload of nostalgia you will inevitably feel for a simpler time, when “fun” for kids involved just riding bikes around town or playing an intense round of Dungeons and Dragons, two activities that involve NO TECHNOLOGY AT ALL. Not to mention the fact that the film is jammed packed with pop culture references from the time: movies (E.T., It, Nightmare on Elm Street), music (Hazy Shade of Winter, Waiting for a Girl Like You); even school supplies (Teen Heroine Nancy owned and promptly displayed her very own Trapper Keeper during the series).
Even those who don’t exactly remember the eighties will still find plenty to love in this super fun series that is filled with action adventure, mystery, humor, horror, plucky characters you will root for, and cheesy special effects that will make you giggle. But most of all, I think Stranger Things is about the enduring nature of childhood friendship. Because when you are eleven years old your best friends are your whole wide world. It’s a feeling you never quite get back, after you inevitably grow into the self-absorption of your teenage years . . .
The Night Of (HBO)
Based on the British series Criminal Justice, this HBO crime procedural / mystery follows Naz, a well-behaved, dutiful Pakistani college student, who gets invited to a party, meets a hot girl, has the best sex of his life, and then proceeds to have the WORST SIX MONTHS EVER! Though its Naz’s plight and the mystery of Who Killed Andrea, that will draw you into the series, you’ll stay for the harrowing portrait of our criminal justice system, and the pressure it puts on everyone from beat cops, to detectives, to district attorneys to judges to arrive at a conviction for violent crimes, even if it means ignoring exculpatory evidence, not to mention the picture it paints of our prison system. The Rikers Island of The Night Of makes the Litchfield of Orange is the New Black look like a trip to the mall.
Also there’s a really cute cat in the series. And I’m just a sucker for really cute cats…
This is Us (NBC)
A husband whose wife is about to give birth to triplets; a Hollywood heartthrob experiencing malaise over the trajectory of his career; an overweight woman struggling to take back control over her life in a society that often obsesses over appearances; a successful businessman who has just reconnected with the biological dad who abandoned him at a fire station 36 years earlier. These are four very different people, with vastly different stories; people who seem to have nothing in common with one another but the date of birth that they share . . . OR DO THEY?
From the first moment of the pilot, this series instantly had me hooked with its cast of likeable, not to mention super attractive characters, their relatable stories, and the unexpected twists the writers seem to enjoy slipping into the end of every episode. And touching, man is this show touching. Bring your hankies folks, because if you are in the right mood when you are watching this, you will be happy crying all over the damn place!
So it is clear that my attention to this blog has fallen by the wayside the last few years. There are many reasons for that including, but not limited to: a real, non-imaginary-man boyfriend, a house and a dog.
There is another reason that will be far more interesting to you which is that I have been writing a book! If you’ve liked what goes on here (when things were, you know, actually going on) then I guarantee you will like
I have been loving the “revival” of The X-Files, or, technically, season 10. There’s been a mythology episode (My Struggle), a monster one (Founder’s Mutation), a funny one (Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster) and a heart breaker (Home Again). But even with two episodes left in this run, it will be hard for them to top this quiet moment in Home Again as they sit together in the hospital with Scully’s dying mother:
Scully: Back in the day did we ever come across the ability to just, wish someone back to life?
Mulder: I invented it. When you were in the hospital. Like this.
There is a LOT going on in this brief exchange. Writer Glen Morgan knows these characters well, and these actors know their characters incredibly well. So much of Mulder and Scully’s entire relationship both professional and non has hinged on all the looks they exchange and what those gazes are saying, oftentimes without them having to speak a word. These 30 seconds intimately capture a shared history of pain, loss, struggle and understanding with exactly the right level of understatement in the performances.
Which brings me to a surprising aspect of the revival that I hadn’t expected which is the interesting new chemistry between Mulder and Scully. The show is famous for creating the “shipper” mentality in TV fandom and that’s because the leads had such incredible, lightening in a bottle on-screen chemistry together. Many viewers were like me and my friend Sarah shouting “JUST KISS ALREADY!!” at them in the 90s. But that was two decades ago and since then there have been a lot of kidnappings, near death experiences, monsters, creepy children, alien conspiracies, shadow governments, comas, dead parents, talking tattoos, buck toothed vampires, shape shifters, black oil eyes, ghost ships, inbred hillbillies, virus carrying bees, and cancer that these two have survived together.
Even with all that our favorite special agents found time to finally get it on, have a kid, give the kid away, go on the run together, settle down together, break up and reunite (at least professionally) to re-open the division that brought them to one another in the first place. And while that’s all fantastical and made-for-TV, in many ways it mirrors a marriage or any long term relationship. There are ups and downs, there are disappointments and joys, celebrations and sorrows, sometimes you want to throttle the other person and other times you could kill anyone who has hurt them.
And in the same way the actors probably feel that they are in a long term relationship of sorts that will always keep pulling them back together. It wasn’t much of a secret during the original run that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson didn’t always have the best off-screen relationship. They worked very long hours on an extremely intense show and both have said at various points they were just sick of each other. I tend to think that their off-screen prickliness may have been what lent their on-screen dynamics such an undeniable spark, because now that they clearly are quite close in real life (they seemed to be having a ball doing press together for this season), their on-screen chemistry is less hot and more cozy.
And isn’t that what happens in a real relationship as well? You ease into something comfortable and familiar. It isn’t as exciting or sexy but it’s deeper and more interesting because there are years and layers to it. This new Mulder and Scully dynamic seems lived in and because fans have watched it unfold in all it’s mysterious complexities over the last 23 years, it feels earned. Scully seems more appreciative of Mulder and he seems a lot more respectful of her and together they are just as interesting to watch as they ever were. It’s made me want to see how they develop further into another season, one in which they hopefully would find their son William, now a lanky red-haired teenager with (possibly alien) superpowers and an eye-rolling attitude about his parents who are sooooo lame.
Before David Letterman retired he had Mumford & Sons on to perform from their latest album. I don’t know a lot about them other than I didn’t like much of their previous work and that they were vaguely associated with hipsters (this may be more my own judgement and less fact).
The song, “Believe” stunned me. I rewound about 4 or 5 times because I kept falling more in love with it. In the last few weeks I have been listening to the album Wilder Mind a lot and I absolutely love it. It is rare for me to find an album where I like each and every song and yet that is exactly what has happened with this one.
In doing some poking around I’ve found that perhaps the reason I am loving M&S so much is that this album sounds very different than their previous ones! I always thought of them as sort of folksy and twee but now they sound like a catchy hybrid of U2 and Foo Fighters which I know sounds totally bizarre but they have got the soaring anthemic guitars of U2 happening (“Believe”, “Tompkins Square Park”) and the slow burn to a loud crescendo “whisper to a riot” that Foo Fighters are masters of (“Snake Eyes”, “Only Love”)
The other thing is that there’s a lot of sad-relationship-bitterness-heartbreak in this album. The songs are all about painful realizations and last moments and it’s making me feel heartbreaky even though my heart is fully safe. THAT is a mark of good songwriting and songs if it’s making you feel something that you’re not actually experiencing at that moment. It’s evocative and makes me long for a good Cheesy Teen Drama to watch and then enhance with these angsty lyrics!
So I guess I’m one of those annoying johnny-come-lately-fans that hardcore fans always hate. Does liking Mumford & Sons make me a hipster now? Please advise.