The OA was a very good show and everyone needs to watch it

I know I said I wouldn’t do reviews, but this show more than deserves it.

Netflix has a very long and very damning track history of axing good shows. You know this. I know this. Everyone knows this. It’s the bane of any subscriber’s existence, because it’s like having the sword of Damocles over our streaming experience at all times. At any moment, our favourite show could be on the chopping block and no amount of protest is going to save it. It’s an endless cycle: good show appears, good show gathers a small but enthusiastic following, Netflix guts the show after one or two seasons for monetary reasons, rinse and repeat. The OA was one of those shows. It amassed a medium-sized but very dedicated following of fans, leading to a massive protest and Internet crusade after it was gutted before the story could wrap up. Looking at it from the outside, I’m sure a lot of people saw this coming. But why was The OA such a big deal? Why do people—fans—talk about it with such reverence? What was the secret code that The OA cracked to amass such a cult-like following?

From the very beginning, The OA was an experience. It starts off strong and pulls you in with a compelling mystery. There are hints of the supernatural and the impossible, but these are only teases. You keep watching because you want to know how these little bits of story—these tiny threads—fit together in a way that makes sense. It’s a surreal experience the first time you watch through the first season. There is this otherworldly feeling that permeates the whole series from the beginning. And unlike a lot of movies and shows that try to be “artsy” over substance, The OA toes the line. It feels very human underneath all the “artsy”. It feels more real and down to earth than a show with this level of surrealism ever should. And it really works on your brain from the get-go. So many little details, hidden messages, and pieces of story that nearly fall through the cracks. If watching this show was an experience, watching it again and seeing all the foreshadowing and possibly important details you missed is a ride.

Season Two starts and everything makes less—and also somehow more—sense. The story keeps going and it gets more bizarre, yet it never crosses the line. It’s always grounded, even when we’re dealing with pure surrealism. There is a distinct focus on the people in the story, their lives, and how the events unfolding are effecting them as human beings. We see characters break down, characters suffering from PTSD, and characters mourning loss. It’s all exceptionally human, even as the story bends more towards the otherworldly. That is a big reason why so many people grabbed onto this show: the characters are remarkably real and you root for them. And that is kind of the point: the cast is diverse and each character has their own unique story, yet they fit into the central storyline like puzzle pieces. The show reminds us constantly that everyone has a life and a personality outside of the OA. It’s not all about this grand journey towards something greater. It’s also about small journeys towards something small, like acceptance or self-actualization. It’s a coming of age story. And it relies on the audience being smart and aware enough to notice the deeper themes without throwing anything in their face. There’s no such thing as a detail just for the sake of it. If something is there, it’s because it fits into the central plot in some way. The storyline never stops making sense for the sake of keeping people hooked or fabricating a mystery. It invites analysis with something that can actually be found.

The OA had the potential to be one of Netflix’s greatest shows. The fact that it got axed just when the story was truly starting to ramp up is a travesty. The writers never got to tell the story they’d planned out. It’s really a shame. At the very least, it was awesome while it lasted. Cheers to The OA, Tuca and Bertie, Santa Clarita Diet, and all the other cancelled Netflix originals that could have been amazing if they’d been given a real ending.

Max Caulfield is adorable and I love her

There’s only one thing I love more than talking about Life is Strange: talking about awesome character design and why it matters. Two for one special! I could—no joke—spend several paragraphs just rambling about how the character designs in Life is Strange, Oxenfree, etc. say so much about the characters themselves and how the artists really captured the essence of teen life with the art style and blah blah blah. But this is going to be about Maxine Caulfield, the bisexual icon and probably best protagonist in a story-based episodic game. As a character, Max deserves—and will probably get—her own detailed analysis of all the bits and bobs of her personality/character arc. But for now, it’s time to focus on how she looks.

While Max falls into the common tropes associated with being a female character in a game made mostly by adult men, she’s actually pretty unique design-wise. She’s what every teen movie would label as “plain”, even though she’s clearly not. Everyone loves precious punk Chloe and her blue hair, but are we really expected to believe that a girl who seemingly doesn’t shower, doesn’t wash her hair, and hangs around a junkyard looks like a supermodel? Again, this is a game about teenage girls that was made primarily by adult men and you can tell. It’s not subtle at all. To be clear, Chloe’s design is amazing. Amazing, but super unrealistic in a way that kind of takes you out of it as soon as you really start to think about Chloe’s lifestyle. It’s narrative vs. character design: we’re fed the narrative of Chloe being a huge slob who doesn’t take care of herself, but she doesn’t look the part. I’m also convinced that the game designers—mostly adult men—think that girls just look like that. Max clearly wears eye makeup, yet she mentions that she doesn’t know how to use make-up. Kind of like how comic book artists apparently used to think womens’ feet were just naturally shaped like high heels. Having adult men design female characters is always going to be a weird time because there seems to be this inherent need to make them “attractive”, often in ways that aren’t feasible. But despite all of that stuff, Max is actually pretty subdued design-wise. She’s the extreme opposite of an oversexualized female character. She looks, dresses, and acts like a real teenage girl. Hoodie and T-shirt she clearly grabbed off the floor, medium-length plain brown hair, minimal makeup, very basic haircut. Nothing about her particularly stands out and somehow that in itself is enough to make her stand out. Most protagonists have something that makes them easy to identify in a line-up. This is totally on purpose. You need brand recognition, right? Your main character needs to stand out so they can immediately be associated with your game. Alex in Oxenfree has her dyed hair and jacket, Mae from Night in the Woods is a cat, Sally Face from Sally Face is rocking blue hair and a mask, etc. But Max just looks like a normal teenager. And that works. It works because Max isn’t meant to stand out. She’s supposed to be average. As Chloe put it, a perfect example of strange attractors.

In just about any other game, Chloe would have been the main character. Blue hair, tats, and ‘tude. Instantly identifiable. But Max stands out because she shouldn’t stand out, if that makes sense. Other than the iconic doe on her shirt, there’s nothing special about how she looks. She’s not “the girl with the blue hair” or “the guy with the creepy mask” from “that game”. She’s simply Max.

On the same wavelength, Life is Strange is great, but Before the Storm really makes you fall in love with the small town aesthetic. The Life is Strange franchise found a style for itself and ran with it. And it’s a style that works, even though it almost feels like it shouldn’t. It’s all about the characters. And the lack of supernatural elements in Before the Storm—regardless of how you view the game’s storyline and characterization—puts it in a strange space. Character design-wise, it’s in a strange space because Chloe almost turns into Max. It’s strange to see her without the iconic blue hair. And even weirder to realize just how much of her as a unique instantly recognizable character is wrapped up in how she presents herself in the original game. In Before the Storm, Chloe’s general punk aesthetic is a lot more subdued until Episode 3. She doesn’t have the tattoos yet, her hair isn’t dyed, she hasn’t graduated from basic T-shirts to the clothes she’ll eventually start wearing. It’s a weird contrast.

Max occupies this strange middle ground of both looking like a side character in her own story and looking like the main character at the same time. She is the main character, she’s just so average-looking—and average acting for the most part—that you could almost forget. And it makes her the perfect protagonist. It’s so rare to see a female character in a game who isn’t needlessly sexualized—sexualization has a place in fiction, but definitely not in a game heavily centered around teen life—and even rarer to see a well-written teenage girl in any kind of fiction. Most fiction that deals with teenagers/teenage issues veers pretty severely towards unneeded sexualization or bad writing.

Chris Traeger is bisexual and I will die on this hill

I’m sure most of us can count on one hand the amount of openly bisexual characters in fiction. The scope gets a little broader when we add in characters who aren’t explicitly bi. But for the most part, we don’t see a lot of bisexual characters in fiction. And we hardly ever see bisexual men in fiction. The first solid example of a bisexual male character in fiction that comes to mind is Lucifer from the series Lucifer. And arguably Lucifer isn’t the best representation, because he’s portrayed as being hypersexual and hypersexuality is often bundled up with bisexuality in fiction as if the latter is part of the former. So where do we go for a nice, healthy, positive portrayal of a bisexual man in fiction? Parks and Recreation.

Chris Traeger never actually says he’s bisexual. And his apparent bisexuality has been overlooked both inside and outside the fandom because it was never a focal point of his character. To clarify, a lot of the evidence could very easily point to Chris being comfortable with his masculinity in a way that comes off as bisexuality. So rather than focus on small details like the fact that Chris wears a pink shower cap, it’s better to focus on some moments in the series in which sexuality is explicitly the focus and how Chris responds to it. The biggest example—the one that started me off on this theory-crafting—was that scene in the first episode of Season 3. The one in the gay bar. For those who need a refresher, it’s the episode in which Leslie convinces Ann to go on a date with Chris so she can seduce him into giving the parks department more money. Eventually all of them—including Ben and Leslie—end up at The Bulge, a gay bar that was first mentioned and seen in Season 1. A guy approaches Chris and offers to buy him a drink. This scene is very important. It’s important because Chris could have easily said “Sorry, I’m not gay” in response to being approached by a man in a bar filled with gay men. But instead he points to Ann and explains that he’s on a date. He then offers to buy the gay guy—and everyone else at his table—drinks for being so welcoming. It’s not “Sorry, I’m straight, but thanks for the offer” or “I’m on a date with a woman and have zero interest in men, but thanks!”. Chris instead just clarifies that he’s on a date with Ann and attempts to be his usual bubbly self by offering to buy drinks for a bunch of men he doesn’t know. Chris is also notably unbothered at being taken to a gay bar and seemingly not taken aback or insulted by being flirted with, but neither of those things necessarily indicate anything. Ron and Ben are also unbothered by the time they spend at The Bulge. And for the record, the show did acknowledge that bisexual men exist way back in Season 1—Leslie mentions having a few bisexual men give her their numbers while she was at The Bulge—so it’s not like the writers are unaware.

There are also two small moments I’d like to point out: In another Season 3 episode, Chris—upon finding out that Ron’s birthday is coming up—grabs Ron and seemingly kisses him on the lips. This was more played for comedy than anything else, but it should be noted how rare it is for men—comfortable in their sexuality or otherwise—to kiss other men. And yet Chris does it without hesitation, almost like he’s done it before. And a few seasons later—in the campaign bus episode—we have the scene where Andy is giving everyone code names. He refers to Chris as “If I had to pick a dude” and Chris seems very pleased by this and not put off at all. It should be noted that Andy was talking about people he is having/would be having sex with. Andy refers to Leslie as “It happened once in a dream” and April’s code name is “currently doing it”.

Micheal Schur has made two other series’ featuring openly bisexual characters: Brooklyn Nine-Nine has Rosa and The Good Place has Eleanor. Rosa has an entire episode about coming out to her parents and eventually finding a girlfriend. Eleanor talks about having a crush on Tahani, flirts with her, and even uses a simulation to role-play dating and falling in love with another woman. Much like Chris, the show never actually states that Eleanor is bisexual, it’s just heavily implied with lines like “I might legit be into Tahani” and her constant comments about how attractive Tahani is. And of course that entire scene in the simulation in which Eleanor almost kisses Simone.

So how can Chris be bisexual if he’s never dated men or even talked about dating men? The same way Eleanor Shellstrop from The Good Place is very obviously bisexual despite never mentioning dating women: bisexuality is a spectrum just like everything else. Chris exclusively dating women doesn’t erase or disprove his identity as a bisexual man. If anything, it fits in with his notably complex personality. Chris can be read as a bisexual man with a strong preference for women. Most bisexual people in real life have at least a slight preference for one gender over the other. It’s hardly ever a fifty-fifty split. Someone can identify as bisexual, even if they’ve only dated one gender for their entire lives and have a strong preference for this gender. If they are attracted to both genders—equally or not—they still count as bisexual. If we go a little deeper into it, we might even theorize that Chris doesn’t identify as “bisexual” because he doesn’t like labels. He’s very much a “go with the flow” kind of guy. Or—wilder theory—he might legitimately not even realize he’s bisexual. Chris might even be the kind of bisexual who is eighty-percent into women, but he’d be willing to put himself out there if the perfect guy came around. This of course implies that Ben Wyatt isn’t the perfect guy, which is blasphemy. Being bisexual doesn’t mean you’re attracted to every single person in existence and it doesn’t mean you can’t have friendships with people of the same gender. Example: David from Schitt’s Creek, who is pansexual and eventually comes to the conclusion that him and Stevie are better off as friends. There are endless possibilities. And this is a conversation people could have been having from the start if this show had come out just a few years later than it did.

The way Micheal Schurr writes bisexual characters is—to be perfectly honest—very refreshing. The guy has a knack for creating likable characters within a fictional universe and handling topics like sexuality, discrimination, etc. in ways that prove it’s not impossible. Let’s never forget Captain Holt, one of the best examples of a gay character in fiction. Captain Holt’s sexuality is only one small aspect of his character, but it also doesn’t get brushed under the rug after the first time it’s mentioned. And yet it also doesn’t consume everything else about him and become the focal point of his narrative. And it also manages to be hilarious—i.e. Holt trying to pretend to be straight on more than one occasion—without coming off as offensive. More LGBTQ+ characters like Captain Holt, Chris, and Eleanor please.

The sad horse show is over and everything is worse now

Warning: Huge massive spoilers for the final episodes of Bojack Horseman. Seriously, it’s all spoilers down there. You have been warned.

With the series finale still fresh on all of our minds, let’s take a deeper look at the Internet’s favorite sad horse. I was originally planning to write this before the finale, as kind of a pre-finale introspection before I binged the last episodes of Bojack. But the finale brought a lot of stuff to the surface. Particularly, it wrapped up Bojack’s storyline with a nice shiny bow. Super glad I held off on writing this because I suddenly have a lot more to say about Bojack as a character. Last warning: there will be spoilers. Massive spoilers.

I think it’s safe to say that we all kind of love/hate Bojack. He’s always been a shitty person who does shitty things. It’s his whole brand. Sometimes it’s funny, other times it’s tragic. And the show always tried to paint him as this deeply flawed character who has always had a chance for redemption: tragic back story, alcohol abuse, etc. And of course we’ve always had these little glimpses of progress in every season. But two steps forward, three steps back. Bojack has never stayed healthy for long. He always relapses and that’s just part of his character. And yet we—the audience—keep coming back and expecting him to get better. It’s a constant cycle. And that is entirely by design. We’re going through the same cycle Bojack is: improvement, relapse, improvement, relapse. Over and over again. But there’s always been this underlying belief that Bojack was a good person and he was going to get better. As much as most of us hated his guts, I’m sure we were all rooting for him.

But that’s the core of Bojack’s character: he was never going to get better. He’s an addict, but it’s not just drugs. He’s addicted to attention and chaos. And Bojack hardly ever has to face consequences because of his status and the fact that he blames his dysfunction on anyone within grabbing distance. Every single time it looks like Bojack is about to improve and the audience starts rooting for him, the writers hit us with another Bojack fuck-up. And the fuck-ups get worse as the series goes on, finally culminating in the earth-shattering realization that Bojack is an actual piece of shit. The whole “17 minutes” thing was the tipping point. This revelation came out of nowhere, yet it makes perfect sense. Bojack is selfish, he’s a narcissist, and he’s usually immune to consequences. The audience once again gets the rug pulled out from under them. Consider Bojack at the beginning of the final season: he went to rehab. He was improving, becoming a better person, leaving the past behind. We were rooting for him and felt genuinely upset when it looked like he wasn’t going to get his happy ending. The seventeen minutes revelation changed all of that, but it also changed nothing. Bojack was always a horrible person. This show has just been absurdly good at making us forget. We learn that Bojack had a tragic backstory, that he was abused as a child, that his idol committed suicide, that he’s been struggling with drugs and alcohol since he was very young. Together, these things form a tapestry of unhappy events leading to the Bojack we know. It’s very difficult not feel bad for someone who grew up in such a toxic environment and emerged as messed up and broken as the people around him. But at the end of the day, nothing from Bojack’s past was responsible for what happened with Sarah Lynn.

It’s easy to take Bojack’s dysfunction in small doses. That makes it seem less harsh in the long run and it’s much easier to forgive him. But when it’s all laid out like that—first with Diane, then with Biscuits Bixby—it’s obvious that Bojack is a terrible person. We weren’t being given the full story. Bojack was intentionally being an unreliable narrator, leaving the audience to believe he was beating himself up over something that wasn’t really his fault. After all, he didn’t force Sarah Lynn to take the heroin. His blame in the whole thing was secondary because Sarah Lynn is her own person. The revelation that he was entirely at fault for her death—because Bojack was first and foremost concerned with covering his own ass—again gives us a glimpse at the larger picture. The pieces are laid out and we start to see the kind of person Bojack really is outside of our half-baked concepts. To put things into a better perspective: Bojack ruined Todd’s rock opera, he almost slept with an underage girl, he nearly killed Gina on set, and he was responsible for the death of a woman who trusted him. Lined up like that, it makes Bojack seem like the villain of his own story. And he is the villain. But at the same time, it’s equally difficult not to feel at least a little sorry for him. It’s hard not to root for him because the story is told from his perspective. And that is why the ending is actually perfect.

Bojack wasn’t going to kill himself at the end of the series. That would have been too obvious. It would have been taking the easy way out: Bojack commits suicide, the other characters feel guilty for not helping or being there for him, and their grief—as well as the audience’s grief—consumes all of Bojack’s bad deeds. The fact that Bojack survived but is still being punished is actually a better end to his story. He doesn’t get off the hook, but he also doesn’t get to just relieve himself of blame by taking his own life. Bojack is alone. Most of his friends—except Mr. Peanutbutter—have moved on and jettisoned him from their lives. He has no clue what he’s going to do after his sentence is up. The real conclusion of Bojack’s story is left open-ended. And maybe he actually learned something and has a chance to become a better person. Who knows? Whether Bojack deserves redemption or not is very much a personal opinion. Having also watched the series finale of The Good Place, it could reasonably be argued that Bojack—just like everyone else—deserves a chance to be better. It can also be argued that Bojack has had a dozen chances and has squandered most of them. Bojack would just burn through Good Place scenarios for thousands of years before he was allowed into paradise.

Bojack Horseman and The Good Place are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Bojack is about a bad person doing bad things and not learning enough from his mistakes. The Good Place is about redemption and moral development. It’s kind of ironic that they both wrapped up at roughly the same time. They both occupy their own unique strips of the human psyche.

Also shout-out to the writers for having an asexual character—Todd—and doing representation right. Todd’s asexuality isn’t the main aspect of his character, but the writers also don’t brush it under the rug. It strikes a perfect balance, showing us Todd’s journey of self-discovery and the setbacks he endures when he tries work around it with Emily. And even though Todd is the comic relief character, the entire storyline is treated seriously. That’s some gold-tier storytelling.

Killing Eve is gay and everyone should watch it

CW: Mentions of violence and queer-baiting (brief)

Note: This is going to focus entirely on the first two seasons of Killing Eve. Also spoilers. So many spoilers. And probably stuff that has already been talked about a dozen times by thousands of bloggers. But here it is, just in case people want to hear it again.

Killing Eve occupies that incredibly specific space between “badass ladies doing badass lady things” and “the gayest and also not-gayest show to ever exist”. But since this isn’t a review, I’ll refrain from gushing about Jodie Comer’s excellent performance. This is an analysis of the themes in the show and how it can easily be classified as one of the gayest shows on television. Because—massive spoiler alert—this show is very very gay. And it’s not even subtle about it.

BBC’s Sherlock has gotten blasted for queer-baiting in the past. Whether it’s true or not, there’s definitely a lot of homoerotic subtext in the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Well, Killing Eve takes the whole idea of “subtext” and cranks it up to eleven. By the time Season 2 rolls around, it’s very obviously not “subtext” anymore. Eve and Villainelle are in love. It’s a twisted poisonous relationship, but the show doesn’t try to pretend it’s not there. It makes use of common tropes found in WLW—women-loving-women—romance. The narrative is essentially the story of a woman whose life is turned upside down by the discovery of her sexuality. Of course that’s a bare bones interpretation relying on metaphor, but that’s really the point. The show is meant to mirror these familiar aspects of WLW fiction. And even though it pulls back at times, even that serves the grander narrative of Eve’s obsession. Eve’s obsession with Villainelle causes an abrupt shift in her personality. She thinks about Villainelle every day, her marriage starts to fall apart, she loses perspective, the people around her begin to notice broad changes in how she acts. It all builds up to that iconic scene at the end of Season 1 in which Eve and Villainelle are lying next to each other in bed. Eve comments that she’s never done anything like this before or felt anything like this before. This of course escalates to Eve’s first real act of violence: she stabs Villainelle as they’re lying beside each other. Eve is horrified by what she did. Disgusted and angry at herself and completely emotionally destroyed. After she returns to her house, she can’t even bring herself to tell her husband about what she did.

Eve’s entire struggle is a brutal hyperbolic mirror of what many WLW go through while discovering their sexuality. She starts out with a passing interest in Villainelle, an interest that eventually grows into an obsession. And as Eve loses herself to these brand new feelings, her existing heterosexual relationship begins to suffer. She tries to hold it together, but it’s very obvious that Eve is losing interest in her mundane relationship with her husband. And still Eve doesn’t realize it. She thinks she’s just fascinated with Villainelle’s mind, but her captivation goes much further than that. This all leads to that scene on the bed with Villainelle and the regret afterwards. This entire thing is framed like a woman having sex with another woman and regretting it afterwards. Eve stabbing Villainelle represents the actual act, the thing that causes Eve so much regret. Eve knows it’s not something she’s supposed to do. And it’s also not something she can talk to her husband about because she knows he won’t understand. Even she doesn’t understand because this is all so new to her and she’s trying to sort through her own feelings. This very much reads as a bisexual woman who has just now discovered she’s bi having a one night stand with a woman she’s been obsessed with and not being able to admit it to her husband due to the guilt and confusion of the whole situation.

And later this whole thing just gets pumped up to eleven with that scene near the end of Season 2. Eve literally has sex while listening to Villainelle masturbating on the ear piece. This is probably the closest the series will ever get to Eve and Villainelle having any kind of sexual contact, but that scene itself makes it very obvious that Eve’s obsession with Villainelle has crossed the barrier between “interest” and flat-out sexual attraction. The season ends with them essentially running away together. At which point Eve realizes that Villainelle manipulated her and accuses Villainelle of not knowing what love is. This is very much Eve’s first time having this kind of relationship with a woman. But by this time she’s learned enough and gained enough experience to know it’s not going to work. Of course this is only up to Season 2. Season 3 likely brings a brand new interpretation of that ending scene, given that Eve is definitely not dead.

And what about Villainelle’s side of it? Well, Villainelle is clearly intended to be bisexual and the show doesn’t dance around the fact. She might be somewhat new to actually being with women in the beginning, but she warms up to the idea pretty quickly. She flirts with women, has sex with a woman in one of the first episodes, and of course confesses her love to Eve at the end of Season 2. Villainelle can easily be read as someone whose never had a stable relationship trying to make it work even though she has no idea what that really means. And that’s not just stripping down her character and applying real life WLW tropes to it. Villainelle has zero clue how to approach her feelings for Eve. She breaks into Eve’s house and forces her to have dinner with her, she threatens Eve’s husband to get a recipe for Eve’s favorite food out of him, she nudges Eve’s husband into leaving Eve so he’ll be out of the picture. Villainelle sends Eve clothes and other gifts. Most importantly, the lipstick with a knife in it. The lipstick can be interpreted as a physical representation of Eve and Villainelle’s relationship: Beautiful and deadly. Eve loves it, but she’s also aware of how dangerous it is and how wrong it feels to her. Villainelle was also apparently in love with her teacher Anna, which of course reminds me of the classic lesbian romance film Loving Annabelle. And how many lesbian romance movies feature a woman whose engaged/married falling in love with a confident and clearly gay-as-hell woman and thus discovering her own buried sexuality? Several. It’s a very common WLW trope.

Of course there are thousands of equally valid interpretations of the WLW themes in Killing Eve. Villainelle and Eve’s relationship could simply be a metaphor for a young naive inexperienced WLW ending up in an abusive relationship, it could be a metaphor for unhealthy relationship dynamics in general, it could be meant to represent the blurred lines between platonic, sexual, and romantic relationships. But however you interpret it, it is definitely a queer-coded story.

Hulu wins the streaming wars

I know, I know. Commercials??? Fuck this shit. But hear me out: have you seen commercials on actual live boob-tube TV? Trust me, thirty or even two minutes of ads every few minutes is well worth the price of Hulu Basic. It actually helps break up the repetitiveness of the show for binging, but that’s just a personal thing. In any case, if you really can’t fucking stand ads, there’s always Hulu Premium. Or, you know, an adblocker that actually works. For the record, the actual superior method of online streaming is the one that involves getting access to shows through unsavory means, but I’m not going to talk about that.

Netflix has some great original series’. Unfortunately, more than half of their really good ones have gotten canned after one or two seasons. You can’t really trust Netflix to keep a series going regardless of how popular it is. Santa Clarita Diet, The OA, Tuca and Bertie, etc. And with one of the their absolute cult favorites—rhymes with “Wojack Porseman”–ending this month, things aren’t looking good. But that in itself is the problem: Netflix is no longer this hub of streaming. It’s all about the originals. The originals they keep canceling. Tuca and Bertie could have been a spiritual successor to Bojack, but it was sniped right out of the gate. It left off just when it was starting to pick up steam. And unlike traditional TV, shows like this are literally a one—season–and done deal. If the first season doesn’t pull in the viewership/subscribers, it just gets yanked. Netflix has a habit of pulling in these well-known talents—Drew Barrymore comes to mind—and then fucking them over by abruptly gutting their series. Mostly it’s budget stuff, but that in itself should tell you everything. Netflix is trying to keep itself afloat by throwing everything at the wall and hoping it sticks. How many crappy original movies and original series’ have hit Netflix this month alone? Of course there’s always going to be at least one or two gems, but a lot of those gems are going to be canned after one season, so why even bother getting invested?

By contrast, Hulu as a platform is way better at managing its roster of original series’ and non-original media. For whatever reason, it’s way more difficult to find a shitty original series on Hulu than it is to find one on Netflix. Maybe because Hulu doesn’t pump out original movies/shows constantly? So far their Into the Dark series has been going strong, despite it probably costing a crapload to produce that many full-length movies. Bottom line: Hulu knows how to deal with its own media.

But therein lies the problem: there are too many services and each one of them wants to control their own content. Remember how everyone got super excited about the new Twilight Zone series? Remember how pissed off people were when they found out it was going to be exclusive to CBS’s shitty new streaming service that costs about seven bucks a month? No one—or at least practically no one—is using CBS All Access as their only streaming service. It doesn’t have the library for that. If only there was one universal streaming service where you could watch anything and build your own library. And yes, this hypothetical service could be ad-supported Hulu Basic and people would still be on board. If only every company wasn’t trying to max profits by trying to get in on the streaming wars. If only this wasn’t going to end with all of these services getting absorbed into Disney, which will either merge them into one single service or sell each and every one back to the consumer at a separate price for each like a cable package. Either way, the cycle starts all over again. And that’s capitalism.

Dialogue in video game is actually kind of important?

The evolution of language is—if I’m being honest—one of the most interesting and tragically under-discussed phenomenons within the diverse history of humanity. And of course with the good old ‘net, language is evolving at an even faster rate. Complex feelings and opinions can now be summarized with random pictures and you only need two emoticons to express a singular thought. Language has been changing so fast that common turns of phrase are adopted and dropped constantly throughout the course of a single month. Yep, a month. And some turns of phrase don’t even last a week before the Gen Z and/or younger millennial crowd has found something bigger and better to express their intricate thoughts. It’s nearly impossible to actually study this rapid evolution of language. But for the most part, people can still communicate with one another as long as they keep up with trends. Some slang never goes out of style, it just gets recycled into something more modern.

Video games have become an increasingly talky form of media. There are hundreds of critically acclaimed story-based games that use some kind of dialogue system to give the player more control over the character. This normally goes beyond a simple Yes or No response to another character’s question. Dialogue options play a massive role in these kinds of games. A lot of these games give you the option of being either a complete asshole, a good person, or neutral. Sometimes you aren’t even given a choice. An awesome example of this is that infamous scene in Night in the Woods. Anyone whose played the game knows what I’m talking about. That scene. The one in Bea’s bedroom. The one where Mae is given two options when responding to Bea’s anger. It’s either “You always have a choice” or “You can always choose”. Yeah, it’s basically the exact same dialogue option and the outcome is the same regardless of which one you choose. But that, comrades, is the whole fucking point. Most of us were ready to start screaming at our screens at that point, right? Because we knew that whichever we chose, Bea was going to be even more pissed. We wanted to comfort her, to be rational so Mae could salvage the situation. But that’s not Mae’s character. There is no “I’m sorry, I was wrong and you’re right” option because Mae is not that kind of person. Mae fucks things up, she says the wrong things, and she really just doesn’t know how to deal with anything in Bea’s life. The game isn’t giving us a choice, it’s giving us a character. We can only react within the parameters of Mae’s personality. And Mae is simply incapable of not messing up when it comes to giving people serious advice. Mae’s “choice” of response also mirrors how a conversation like this would go in real life. We don’t always know what to say in the heat of the moment. Most of the dialogue in this scene isn’t really guided by the player. We can’t stop Mae from getting herself into this situation and we aren’t given the option to fix Mae’s mistakes as she digs herself deeper and deeper. We’re not controlling her, we’re simply reacting as her.

Oxenfree goes a step further with the whole idea of dialogue choices. The player not only gets to choose the dialogue, they also get to choose whether or not to interrupt other characters. If you let the dialogue choices fade off the screen without choosing one, Alex remains silent and the other characters continue what they were saying. If you choose one, Alex will either interrupt whoever is talking or wait until they finish their sentence. This approach keeps the conversations fast-paced and active, similar to a real life conversation. The game doesn’t stop and give you time to consider what you want to say. If you don’t say anything, the conversation moves on with or without your input. Given how much of this game is just dialogue, this is actually a pretty nice way of making sure that no one gets bogged down. A lot of games like this try to tie players down with dialogue options, forcing them to make a choice before they can move on. This system forces the player to take a more active role in engaging without overthinking. And yes, a lot of the dialogue options tilt Alex’s character in one direction or the other. She can be a dick to her friends, she can be neutral, or she can be helpful and kind. There’s actually an achievement for making all of Alex’s friends pissed at her.

The Life is Strange franchise is all about consequences. And while the consequences of the dialogue don’t really matter in the end—at least compared to the player’s actual actions within the game—different options give you different responses and reveal different information. If you play through the game multiple times and choose every possible option, you’ll get a better picture of the characters and their motivations. Spoiler alert: there are a few little dialogue options that make Chloe’s feelings towards Max even more clear, as well as Chloe’s relationship with Rachel. One dialogue option in particular leads to Chloe telling Max that “No one is good enough for you. Except me”. Another option leads Chloe to reveal that she had a crush on Rachel and believes Rachel would have fought over her and Max. But these are only things you’re going to see with either a lot of rewinding, choosing specific options on your first playthrough, or playing the game over again and choosing different things. But obviously this game franchise is all about hidden details. Max’s journal—which a lot of players skip over at the start—gives a lot more context for all of her relationships, including her actual feelings about Warren and her opinions about various characters. It’s not the most exciting read, but it does provide some somewhat vital information about Max’s personality and her perceptions of the people in her lives. Plus there are some cool little hints with all the stickers and stencils and things all over the character profiles.

Night in the Woods and Oxenfree are also amazing at alluding to a larger narrative beyond the player’s understanding. To keep the dialogue natural, the characters often talk about things that the player doesn’t—and sometimes will never—understand or know about. Throughout the game, Mae and the others talk about certain events from their childhoods, things that happened or are happening in other towns, and characters that we will never get a chance to see or interact with. This makes the world feel a lot more real because there are events that the player cannot and will not see. There is also a massive amount of throwaway dialogue that never ties into the central plot in any way. But that’s the point: not everything has to be about the main story. In fact, ninety-percent of the game focuses on Mae’s interactions with characters who are only slightly relevant to the weird and possibly supernatural events going on. And being very dialogue-heavy, Oxenfree is filled with anecdotes and little details that have nothing to do with anything except the characters’ lives outside of the narrative.

Dialogue options are important in story-based games. Dialogue is important in story-based games. And unless the character you’re playing is intended to be a blank slate—like the farmer from Stardew Valley—most dialogue options in these games try to work within the narrative and personality of the character. That’s just how games like this work. Everyone likes a main character with an actual personality that isn’t shaped entirely by the player. It’s control, but it’s also telling a story.

Shane and Ryan are the heroes this generation deserves

Ghost-hunting shows have never really been my thing. While some people go nuts for that sort of thing, the clearly staged and mass-produced crap pumped out by greedy unimaginative network executives doesn’t really have an appeal. It’s all the same, right down to the shitty night vision and over-acting. There are probably some good ones out there–”Paranormal Home Inspectors” is actually decent—but that’s a lot of crap to dig through. So when news of a brand new ghost-hunting show appears, checking it out is never going to be a high priority. Regardless of how good or bad it is, most people who’ve already made up their mind aren’t willing to take that chance. How could someone take such an overused concept and make it appealing to anyone for anything other than background noise?

Enter….Buzzfeed. Yeah, Buzzfeed. Those guys. The so-called “news outlet” that has recently become a lot better at actually being a news outlet. Most of Buzzfeed’s entertainment is horribly predictable and trendy. It’s aimed at a particular subsection of society. And most outside of that subsection tend to stay clear of anything Buzzfeed-related. Other than The Try Guys, there really hadn’t been anything spectacular linked to Buzzfeed. And with the Try Guys having struck out on their own, Buzzfeed has even less to offer for video entertainment.

Buzzfeed: Unsolved is unlike any ghost show you’ve ever seen. No fake reactions or video manipulation to drive in views. It’s real and uncut, the way you’d want a ghost show to be. Because at the end of the day, you’re not there for the ghost part. It’s all about the Boys. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts—don’t worry. Shane doesn’t either—you’ll probably enjoy yourself. If you can spare twenty or thirty minutes, it’s a great show to binge in October. All the episodes are on their official YouTube channel. And it’s not just ghosts. There’s also multiple seasons of a “true crime” series in which Ryan and Shane talk and speculate about, well, crime. The banter between Ryan and Shane is absolutely perfect in every single way. You know that critical and annoyingly skeptic and/or slightly worrying friend? Shane is basically that. And Ryan is the perpetually freaked out little baby who believes in ghosts. Needless to say, it’s very fun to watch.

Is this a review? Kind of. If you’re looking for something to binge in October, Buzzfeed: Unsolved is a good choice. It’s entertaining, the relationship between the hosts is both heartwarming and hilarious, and it’s just great to watch. I first discovered this gem while prowling Reddit and I’ve been hooked ever since. But that’s the magic of GIF sets and screenshots with captions. Number one way to get someone to watch a show: out-of-context quotes over equally out-of-context screenshots. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to check out a show because I stumbled across a GIF or screenshot. And Buzzfeed: Unsolved is really suited to this format because it has so many good lines. And it has this chill vibe of two buddies with cameras heading into a haunted place. How many ghost-hunting shows have that?

The existence of this show also says a lot about what actually speaks to Gen Z and younger millennials: substance and camaraderie. A more down-to-earth atmosphere that doesn’t feel over-produced and cheesy. Just two buddies chilling in a haunted place with cameras and bantering like best friends. It really puts an extra layer of human into the entertainment and that’s something viewers appreciate. How many shows have been propped up by the strength of the characters and/or hosts along with the plot? The Good Place, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, etc. We watch because we care about the story, but we also care about the people on screen. It’s even better when the people on screen are actual real human beings acting and behaving in ways actual real human beings act, but also entertaining. Buzzfeed Unsolved scratches that itch for a non-podcast approach to true crime and the supernatural with the necessary human element. It’s not perfect, but it’s fucking great.

It’s the month of spook so here’s some horror recommendations

The essence of good horror is….blah blah blah.  We’ve all heard it before, right?  No jumpscares, monster has to be scary, shadow people etc.  Everyone had an opinion on horror in October.  And to an extent, that’s why it’s so hard to find a decent horror movie these days:  everyone is clamoring over themselves to explain why so-and-so isn’t actually pee-your-pants scary.  The found footage trend has been run into the ground and everything else just lacks imagination.  We’ve had about ten or twenty scary haunted dolls, teenagers getting trapped somewhere haunted, family buys house and discovers a demon is living inside it.  Here’s a modern horror plot:  Family moves into a haunted house.  Demon lives in the house.  Demon starts communicating with the kid and/or wife.  Jump scares.  Demon is either defeated or we’re left with a spooky “Or is it???” ending to leave room for a billion sequels.  One of the first horror movies I ever watched was Paranormal Activity and that one scared the absolute fuck out of me.  At the time, I was super into ghost hunting and I one hundred percent believed in the paranormal.  Needless to say, that movie freaked me the hell out.  I was scared to sleep for a whole month after I first watched it.  Now that I’ve turned more towards the skeptic side, I can honestly say that Paranormal Activity—the first one—actually holds up pretty well as a terrifying experience.  It’s not ten out of ten stars, but it’s at least a six or seven.  A pretty decent watch for the spooky season. 

But you know what’s scarier than Paranormal Activity?  Better produced, more down to Earth, and just generally creepier?  An itsy-bitsy-little YouTube series by the name of Marble Hornets.  In case you haven’t heard of it, Marble Hornets is essentially a found footage series about a mysterious creature stalking a group of friends.  I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s still one of the best and spookiest bits of horror out there.  It’s long—about eight hours in total—and well worth every second.  And once you’re finished binging that, you can take a look at one or all of the many other web series based in the same universe, including the somewhat trippy TribeTwelve.  Marble Hornets about the length of a Netflix original series, so it’s the perfect weekend watch for October.  What really sets this apart from most mainstream horror is that it’s just so down to earth.  The characters feel real, which makes the horror elements all the more terrifying.  Marble Hornets is an example of good found footage, as opposed to all that shitty overproduced stuff.  It actually has a lot of heart in it. 

That’s what makes web series’ like this so damn entertaining:  the heart.  You’ve got characters who feel like real people and tons of relatable stuff going on behind the scenes.  For example, PostContent and Hiimmarymary tackle mental health in a very surreal and metaphorical way, drawing us into physical manifestations of depression, anxiety, etc.  PostContent dabbles in satire while toeing the line between reality and fantasy.  It’s very esoteric and more than a little mind-bending, especially once you really start to notice the themes.  Content warning:  suicide, self-harm, implied mental illness, implied violence, and some generally disturbing stuff that might not be for everyone.  But if you’re into mind-bending horror and satire, you should check it out.  Start from the beginning (first upload) and work your way up to the finale.   

Hiimmarymary has a similar premise, but it’s the older of the two and slightly less obvious from its initial premise.  Like with PostContent, you have to really engage your brain to fully understand the metaphors.  You might want to check out a theory/explanation video or two if you’re struggling.  But even if you’re not into figuring stuff out, both PostContent and Hiimarymary are fun to watch and pretty fucking creepy even if you have no clue what anything actually means.   

Oh, and Echo Rose, which is just…Echo Rose. Yes.

We’re not kids anymore and the way we look at our childhood heroes reflects this

There is a sub-reddit titled “I’m Sorry, Jon”. If you stumble across it—perhaps through r/all or perhaps through some random compilation of Internet oddities—you’ll find a nightmarish collection of fan art and occasionally text posts about the beloved Monday-hating cat Garfield. But this isn’t a fan forum or anything like that. No, this is a sub-reddit dedicated to a single idea: “What if Garfield was a disgusting creepy Eldritch abomination with reality-warping powers and a ceaseless need to torment his owner?” It sounds strange and off-putting, like a bad joke. But somehow this phenomenon has attracted its own unique fandom of darkly funny Internet users. So our next question is: “Why the fuck did this idea catch on?”

Weirdly enough, this isn’t really new or unique. For whatever reason, Garfield has kind of been a target of this kind of Internet culture for a while. There was that spooky Garfield-themed ARG a while back, plus the somewhat popular “Garfield without Garfield” Tumblr page that remains active to this day. And of course there’s the “You Are Not Immune to Propaganda” meme featuring Garfield and his shit-eating smirk. The orange cat—a cultural touchstone—has sort of become an unintended mascot for the new generation. And why not? An apathetic, sarcastic ball of fur with a cynical sense of humor. Much like Squidward, Garfield represents a certain fraction of the common millennial mindset. Millennials just want to eat, sleep, and be sarcastic.

It’s a pretty normal thing: taking aspects of our childhood and distorting or perverting them into something unrecognizable. Garfield is a more literal example. As we age and our taste in media changes, we become less attached to certain characters. But we don’t want to let go of them, even as we start to experience a different and darker side of the world. So we take these characters with us, using their faces and personalities to express how we look at the world. That is why we often see memes featuring characters like Arthur, Shaggy, etc. and other classic cartoon characters. They were a part of our childhood and we don’t want to let them go, but we also don’t want to experience and consume them in the same way. The art grows with us, reflecting our generation’s mindset towards the fiction that once captivated us.

A bigger example is “The Boys”, a recent addition to Amazon Prime’s original series roster. We all love superheroes, right? As kids, we went nuts over these caped crusaders. Everyone wanted to be Batman, Superman, Iron Man, etc. because they just seemed so cool and invincible. Even now, a brand new generation of comic book fans are losing their shit over Marvel’s latest lineup. “The Boys” takes a more realistic stance on what would happen if a bunch of people with superpowers and God status were running around. This is very much a show about superheroes for people who grew up reading comics. And even if you were never too into comics as a kid? If you grasped the general idea—caped man good—you’ll probably appreciate the premise.

And that is where stuff like “I’m Sorry, Jon” and “The Boys” comes from. The distortion and perversion of our own childhood heroes as we become adults. The appreciation for deeper narratives, a better understanding of the world, a burgeoning love for realism. Even shows like “Bojack Horseman” reflects this, with a depressing story line told through a cast of talking animals. But while the talking animal shows from our childhood were bouncy and fun, “Bojack Horseman” reflects the stage of life most of us are in now, the stage of life being experienced by those who grew up watching “Arthur” and other shows like it. The basic concept is still there, it’s just deeper and sadder because we have become deeper and sadder.

Here’s a particularly mind-bending thought: “Spongebob Squarepants” was kind of a precursor to the modern sitcom “Superstore”. Both shows are aimed at different audiences and have somewhat different tones—one animated, one live action—but they both feature minimum wage workers—Spongebob and Squidward—in a position that many within Gen Z and the Millennial Generation can relate to. And now that we’ve spent our childhoods watching Squidward complain about his shitty job, shitty boss, and generally shitty life, we can watch “Superstore”, a sitcom revolving around the very same concept that “Spongebob Squarepants” touched on back when we were naive kids. It’s really just a circle that gets bigger and deeper and darker as we age. If we have to grow up, the media we consume grows with us.

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