Recently Awesome: American Horror Story: Roanoke

I believe the chronicle of the lost colony of Roanoke is relatively common knowledge among most fans of the paranormal, even if they don’t know the specific details. In short back in the 16th century a group of English settlers vanished from their North Carolina colony, leaving behind a single word carved into wood: “Croatoan.” There are a plethora of theories as to what the word means as awell as happened to the colonists but no definitive answer. Their erasure remains a mystery. While parts of the Roanoke legend have been intertwined with other horror works, such as Supernatural and Vanishing on 7th Street, what AHS  focused on in its latest entry in the anthology is, of course, the more supernatural tilt of an explanation for the people’s disappearance.

And really, would we have it any other way?

(MINOR spoilers ahead.)

Told in a set of 10 tight episodes, the multiverse-laden events of Roanoke  are told to the audience always from the point of view of a camera, which is the other predominant motif of the season. I thought it was a brilliant concept to do a frame story, loosely defined by this English major as “a story within a story”—the documentary of “real life” events called My Roanoke Nightmare and its sequel series, now set in “real life,” Return to Roanoke: 3 Days in Hell.

My Roanoke Nightmare consists of dramatizations of the harrowing ordeal of the Miller couple, Matt and Shelby, who provided interviews that are intercut alongside the reenactments. In “reality” Matt is portrayed by André Holland and Shelby by Lily Rabe; in the documentary, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Sarah Paulson play actors who play Matt and Shelby. (It’s a lot less confusing if you just watch it.) Also involved are Matt’s sister, Lee Harris (Adina Porter and Angela Bassett), her daughter, Flora, a number of learned, well-meaning guests, a backwoods bunch, and the colonists themselves, most notably The Butcher (Susan Berger and Kathy Bates) and her supernatural superior, the witch Scáthach (Lady Gaga).

Long ago The Butcher murdered her fellow settlers and gave herself to Scáthach, tethering them all to the forested land of the Mott home in North Carolina. The Butcher, to put it lightly, does not appreciate visitors and subsequently uses her victims and all the dark creatures at her disposal to terrorize and ultimately slaughter all who step foot on the blood-soaked land. Matt, Shelby, and Lee manage to escape only to join their actor counterparts for Return to Roanoke: 3 Days in Hell  (why return to the nightmare house? You know people in horror movies/shows make stupid decisions). This time around, many, many of the guests of this historical murder house are not so fortunate.

So, why did I find this particular season awesome?

1. Lee Harris. While I liked both Shelby and Matt, I thought some of their intentions and actions were a bit poorly explained. Lee’s motivations were always crystal clear: everything she does, she does out of the will to survive for her daughter and her brother. I find that horror often has heart, and Lee’s desperation to protect and sacrifice what she must for her child’s well-being is endearing. And as noble as that sounds, dear reader, do not leave here thinking she is a selfless, one-note character. She is also a recovering alcoholic and accused murderer. No one’s hands are clean in this house. Also, on a more personal note, I liked having a dynamic woman of color at the forefront of a horror-centric story, something that doesn’t happen often enough. Kudos as always, Ryan Murphy, for your inclusion of people of color, women with sexual agency and LGBT characters. Thank youuuu.

2. Satirical Implications on Society’s Obsession with Crime. Besides two documentaries, the story is told through news coverage, camera phones, the head-cams of a trio of hapless fame-seekers, a clip of Paleyfest, spoofs of shows like Ghost Hunters/Paranormal State and Snapped and coverage of a trial. It just speaks to the fact that we live in an age where cameras are ubiquitous, an age where nothing is sacred and murder is exploited, even arguably glorified, for ratings and hits on Twitter and Instagram. Now if that’s not scary, I don’t know what is. (Yes, I wish I had a more intelligent commentary on this season’s satire, but I just noticed it, I didn’t have anything smart to say about it. Meh.)

3. The Joy of Being Scared (in Controlled Circumstances). Like I mentioned last month, I am a fan of terror in controlled circumstances: movies, shows, books, video games, haunted houses on Halloween. I enjoy a good slow scare, the kind that creeps up on you and chills you to the bone, keeps you thinking in bed at night. I also enjoy the quick scares, the rush of adrenaline, the instant panic, the belly laughs when you realize it wasn’t that big of a deal/all over. It cracks me up. It’s all a different kind of joy, much darker, more perverse. Rarer and harsher and blunter, like a blow to the head. Only when you choose horror it’s like you bleed a little bit of joy instead. (Rhyme not intended but glad for it anyway.)

There was a large body count this season and a couple jump scares got me. There was also this creepy crawling chick who crab-walked on all fours—I hate unnatural locomotion! It’s so disturbing! But in the best and worst possible ways…Dread and wonder coupled together this year to make a monstrous martini. I won’t say I got drunk off this season but the buzz was morbidly pleasant indeed.

After six years of histrionic horror, I wouldn’t say Ryan Murphy’s monster (pun intended) had its most haunting season ever, but it was a story-telling triumph for the series.

Did you watch American Horror Story: Roanoke? If you did, what did you think of it? What’s your favorite season?

If you want to give a holler about this hallmark of horror, leave a comment below. Thanks.

-BP

This May Interest You: My Horror Movie Collection

What better time of the year to celebrate spine-tingling scares and hair-raising horror movies than Halloween (or, if you want to get technical, Halloween Eve)?

I wasn’t always a horror fan. Growing up, I literally had to hide while watching Gremlins and The Others. By the time I was 12 I decided something needed to be done. I was tired of people thinking I couldn’t handle what they could. I began to rent and buy every classic horror movie I could get my hands on. I watched the behind-the-scenes documentaries and studied the special effects. Researched the actors. Listened to the commentaries. The exposure therapy worked and I became inured to the (relatively) formulaic genre. Rooted for the girls and guys who fought back (when I wasn’t rooting for Freddy Krueger so I could get some more bad puns, that is).  Wrote fan fiction about the killers. And enjoyed myself. I found out I liked being scared in controlled circumstances. I liked finding out killers’ backstories. I liked horror movies.

As a teen I even covered my bedroom walls with lists of horror movies and checked them off as soon as I’d seen them.

Now that I’m in my mid-twenties I’m a fan of the old favorites but not particularly anything super recent. I prefer a little story with my scares so the slashers nowadays no longer do it for me. I still love the occasional outing to a (FAKE) haunted house and a Stephen King book or two…or a hundred.

Now, for my collection (and please, let me know some of your favorites!):

Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein

The Wolf Man (1941)

Psycho (1960), Psycho II, Psycho III, Psycho IV: The Beginning

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Vault of Horror (which is terrible but came in a two-disc set with my Tales from the Crypt)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake)

Jaws

The Omen (1976), Omen III: The Final Conflict (aaand then they had Part IV, which wasn’t very good)

Carrie (1976)

Halloween (1978), Halloween 2*, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers*, Halloween: H20*Halloween: Resurrection 

The Shining

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (yeah, okay), Jason X

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (again, yeah right), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Freddy vs. Jason

Child’s Play, Child’s Play 3 (don’t ask me why I don’t have 2), Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, Curse of Chucky

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth*Hellraiser: Bloodline*, Hellraiser: Inferno*, Hellraiser: Deader*, Hellraiser: Hellworld (and I ain’t watching the ones without Doug Bradley)*

Misery

The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Hannibal Rising

Leprechaun 3, Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (don’t judge me, lol)

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight

Wishmaster, Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies

The Sixth Sense

The Blair Witch Project

Hollow Man

American Psycho

Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2, Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4

Thir13en Ghosts

Jeepers Creepers, Jeepers Creepers 2

Willard (2003)

Gothika

AVP: Alien vs. Predator

Shaun of the Dead

Secret Window

Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, Saw: The Final Chapter (again, I hear they’re making Part VIII)

Hide and Seek

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

War of the Worlds (2005)

30 Days of Night*

1408

The Mist

Quarantine

Zombieland

Paranormal Activity

The Human Centipede: First Sequence, The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence (who said feminists have no sense of humor? The material is so offensive it literally can’t be taken seriously)

* denotes an update – a movie I’ve just purchased or bought again after giving it away, lol

-BP

Taboo Topics: The 2016 U.S. Election

Yep, I’m going there. I just want to have a quick, honest discussion about who and what I’m considering and why.

I am not voting for Donald Trump. Based on his comments about Mexican immigrants and Hispanic judge Gonzalo Curiel and a BuzzFeedNews compilation comparing his general quotes about women with the way Obama has spoken about women, I perceive Trump to be a bigot and a misogynist, and I refuse to vote for somebody who so blatantly represents an attitude I don’t respect.

I was originally set to vote for Hillary Clinton simply because my family is Democrat and I have liberal leanings, but after this whole email debacle and her escaping charges, I don’t know if I want to vote for her because so many of my friends distrust her. I don’t have a real opinion of Hillary myself, so it’s possible to be swayed by the people around me, the people I respect, and so many of them are extremely offended by her using her private email (instead of State Department email) to discuss classified material. My best friend, who is an Army veteran, then explained to me the Benghazi incident and how that factored into her distrust of Clinton, and I can’t pretend like her opinion doesn’t have an effect.

Apparently there’s no way to gauge if Clinton learned her lesson—who says she’d do things like this in the future?

Do we condemn not for what she has done but for what she could do? Do we murder Caesar just because of what he might do? Well, yes, if you’re Brutus and Cassius and the other conspirators. And half of the American people, I guess.

I still maintain that we don’t know that she would repeat her mistakes, but it’s true we also don’t know that she wouldn’t, so I can see people not wanting to take the chance.

“She already had her chance,” they’d say, “and she blew it. More than once.”

But I am a Christian. Isn’t our religion based on forgiveness? It’s kind of funny for me to be talking in a broad sense about forgiveness because I have such a hard time with it personally.

Can’t she redeem herself? Isn’t there anything she can do to prove she’d be a good president? For me I think there are things she can do. For you it might be a different case, and I respect that.

But after her that leaves Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, about whom I know literally nothing other than his name. And that he called Trump a “pussy.” LAWL

I talked to my mother about voting for Johnson and she said not voting for Hillary would basically be a vote for Trump, as she predicts Johnson won’t get enough votes to become president.

Well, damn. So what’s the friggin’ point? It seems like it’s not going to come out good either way you slice it, so why bother voting at all? It’s not like one little vote is going to matter in the long run…

I know, I know. This is not how young people are supposed to be thinking. We’re supposed to be thinking about the people who fought and died to give us our God-given right to have our voices heard and counted—I especially should take notice considering I’m both a woman and a person of color. There were times when people like me were only counted as 3/5 of a person, and I have the audacity to take advantage of my position in society now and say that I don’t want to vote? I know it’s societal blasphemy, I know, but it’s how I feel. I didn’t say I wouldn’t vote, but am I excited about it? Do I feel like my vote matters? Not really.

I’m not normally a cynical person, but whenever it comes to politics (a subject about which I admit I know next to nothing), I just think to myself that whoever wins is going to have some small victories that everyone will look past due to whatever awful mistakes they’re going to make. It’s not like that’s not all the media and the people focus on anyway: the negative. You never hear about anything good Obama’s done anymore—it’s just about why the Republicans are glad he’s leaving this year. Yeah, really looking forward to more coverage like that: pissed off people whose problems seem to be going nowhere because the president and Congress can’t get themselves together.

On Facebook I told one of my friends that I didn’t want to vote. I told her what my mother said about the Gary Johnson situation.

She replied: “I don’t vote on who I think is going to win, I vote for who I think is right.”

Her statement is a powerful one, don’t you think? I do, and I think she’s right. It’s the principle of the matter. If you go down, you go down doing what you think is right.

The only question is… who is right for our nation?

Some days I think I’ve made up my mind on Clinton. On other days I feel guilty supporting her and lean toward Johnson. Then the next day it’s like, “Does a third party vote even matter?”

I hate this. Politics. It makes me come off like I’m stupid and don’t have an opinion on my nation but the truth is that I kind of don’t. I just want equal rights and opportunities for everyone and support for the middle class. And who’s going to get our country that?

Who?

Whoever I think will, that’s who I’m going to vote for.

Who are you voting for and why? Why do you think it’s important to vote? If you’d care to, I’d love have some comments on this topic.

-BP

P.S. To whoever’s our future president:

Please, please do your best to do right by the American people. All of them. Not just the whites or the blacks or the 1%. All of us, because it’s only as a nation that we can stand together. And at the end of the day I want to be proud of what we stand for, not ashamed. Keep us together as best you can. Don’t divide our home.

Millennial Nostalgia: Good Burger

Come on, say it with me now:

“Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger, can I take your order?”

In case you need a refresher, the dim-witted, literal-minded fast food worker Ed is portrayed by Kel Mitchell of the sensational duo Kenan and Kel. Both Mitchell and Kenan Thompson were part of an all-star cast on the 90s/2000s hit sketch show All That. Ed’s shtick became popular enough to foster a big-screen debut in which he and fellow employee, Dexter (portrayed by Thompson of course), take on a whopper of a competitor in the form of the industrialized “Mondo Burger.” Linda Cardellini, Abe Vigoda and Sinbad appear alongside them. Shaquille O’Neal and Carmen Electra also have cameos.

Oh the joys of the summer job. The histrionics of adolescent angst. The silliness of a simpleton. It’s all here in Good Burger. It’s got a nice pace, a consistently goofy tone and a rad and rockin’ soundtrack. Admittedly the story’s average, but we’re here for classic Kenan and Kel hijinks, right? And we get them in spades, from cross-dressing to a dance number in an asylum. But what’s at the core of the nostalgia for Kenan and Kel is also the best part of the film: the natural chemistry between the two stars. It’s effortless simplicity. Their jokes are straight-forward but delivered earnestly enough to get you to crack a smile or two. Trust me. The kid in you will find your memories of this movie delicious.

Some of the best lines:

“I’m a dude, he’s a dude, she’s a dude, ’cause we’re all dudes, HEY!” (I know you sang that.)

Kenan’s famous “WHYYY?”

“Kurt is now your mother and your father.” “Kurt must look pretty funny nekkid.”

“Bloobity, bloobity, bloobity, bloobity, Bloobity, Bloobity, Bloobity, Bloobity, BLOOBITY, BLOOBITY, BLOOBITY, BLOOBITY, BLOOPITY, BLOOPITY, BLOOP!” (I know you sang that too.)

“It’s okay, people! Her butt…is fine!”

(And you’d be right to chant this one) “Ed!” “What?” “Ed!” “What?” “Ed!” “What?”

What do you remember about Good Burger? Tell us below in the comments if you’d like.

-BP

Guilty Pleasure: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

It’s really not as bad as it sounds.

When this creepy little midnight movie debuted six or seven years ago, I knew nothing about it except the DVD cover and the final image of the trailer—the one with three semi-nude people inexplicably connected to each other—freaked me out. I’m sure I vowed never to explore it.

This year, however, I got on iTunes searching for a review podcast that would share my views on Twilight. (In case you’re wondering about those views, allow me to quickly say that I regard the Twilight series as a franchise whose popularity I cannot stand and whose main character I despise. Listening/contributing to rants on Twilight is another guilty pleasure of mine.) I found an entertaining podcast entitled Yeah, It’s That Bad, which’ll get its own coverage on the blog later this year, and immersed myself in the archive. Soon I came upon an episode that covered The Human Centipede.

I listened tentatively, and though things were described in reasonable detail, I found myself more captivated by the material than grossed out. I’ve been a horror fan since I was about 12, so the horror and torture-porn genres are not unfamiliar to me. They’re a guilty pleasure for me because of my religious roots; I feel bad that I like some dark things, but it’s not like darkness and pessimism aren’t a part of my nature, and I am aware horror movies are just movies. A lot of times I like to see how they’re done, and it’s not like I actually approve of murder or want people to be killed in real life. No, it’s about the execution of story, character and predominantly the acting, as there are many character actors in horror whom I love (like Brad Dourif and Robert Englund), and I couldn’t get the guys’ rave review of the lead actor, Dieter Laser, or the core concept of a “human centipede” out of my head. Nervous to proceed, I desensitized myself by listening to more spoiler reviews of the movie and decided to rent it on iTunes, even eating ice cream before I watched—ooohhh, risky!

Even though it holds a 4.4 on IMDb and a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes and had virtually no story, I enjoyed it. Why?

*MODERATE spoilers abound*

1. Actors Dieter Laser and Akihiro Kitamura. German actor Dieter Laser portrays the antagonist in this film, Dr. Josef Heiter, a retired but renowned surgeon who once separated Siamese twins but now envisions a procedure to produce a “Siamese triplet”—three beings joined together by the gastrointestinal system. A freaky idea, no? No freakier than the actor who sets it all into motion.

From the moment Laser’s craggy, square-jawed profile shows up on screen, I was spellbound. This guy is not playing. From his menacingly attractive face to the way he stands to the way he moves and drawls, he has a truly spooky and imposing presence, one that persists throughout the movie. He also plays an unstable yet duly focused mind so authentically…it’s quite impressive to behold. To unnerve your audience but also to make your crazy character low-key funny , in a strictly black humor sort of way  (at one point he calls Katsuro a “chicken” and proceeds to squawk at him), takes a great deal of talent, in my opinion. I loved him! Loved his voice and his faaaace. I thought he was the optimal choice for such a commanding character. The man must be somewhat of a mad genius himself to be able to play such a sick scientist…O_o

(Or not. Don’t worry. I’ve seen plenty of interviews where he appears to be quite a nice man.)

Akihiro Kitamura bears some similarities to Laser in that he transcends language barriers (he only speaks Japanese in the film) with universal expressions and staunch commitment to his role, which can be summed up in one word: defiance.

Like his fellow captors, the spiky-haired Katsuro is taken early on in the film. He spends most of his waking hours struggling or screaming at Dr. Heiter or both. When that doesn’t work he finds other ways to rebel against the dog-loving surgeon, like refusing to bring him a newspaper and biting him. He bites this crazy dude’s leg! You see it and you’re just like, “YEEESSS!” But it’s just the dirty and dejected looks he gives the doctor that make Katsuro’s resentment so apparent.

The end of the film is really where Kitamura shines. He attacks the doctor with a funny fervor and takes charge to make an escape with the women. He also gives a speech in which he imagines his treatment is punishment for the way he’s conducted himself in life. It’s a moment of self-reflection you don’t normally get in these kinds of movies, and Kitamura portrayed it with the right amount of poignancy.

2. Lindsay and Jenny’s friendship. Sure the characters are kind of annoying and naïve. Yeah, the actresses had some questionable line reads. But they did a good job screaming and crying and whimpering, and they did well to cultivate a believable friendship between their characters.

Lindsay and Jenny are two American women on a European road trip. Between breaking down on a backwoods road and wandering through the woods for help, the duo gets a lot of arguing done. An annoying amount in fact. It’s not until they’re captured that the women’s chemistry takes on a more empathetic slant.

There’s a point in the film where Lindsay has a clear chance to escape. She stands poised in front of a broken window, torn between achieving freedom alone or going back for her best friend. She eventually decides to descend back into the basement to retrieve an unconscious Jenny. I knew it was the wrong choice but respected her for trying. She was thinking of her friend before herself.

Later, when there’s nothing left to say or do, they hold hands for comfort, or Jenny would reach out and grip Lindsay’s shoulder. I liked that, seeing these two friends in an impossibly horrible situation, fighting the despair by soundlessly supporting each other. I find that also rare to get in a horror film—actresses playing friends that come off as actual friends. Lindsay even reached out to check on Katsuro by rubbing his back after a particularly horrific encounter with the doctor. They’re not “dumb bitches.” Just poor decision-makers. (I mean, Dr. Heiter’s first line to them is “Are you alone?” -_-) But other than being naïve, they just didn’t know how to change a flat tire. I don’t either! Doesn’t mean any of us deserve to be in a human centipede. Anyway, I wasn’t rooting for them to meet nasty fates. Quite the opposite. But you’ll have to watch to find what fates they do receive…

I watched the movie, like, two to four times during the 24-hour rental period and ended up purchasing it. The commentary’s not super interesting, but the little nine-minute behind-the-scenes video is neat! You get Dieter Laser’s insight as to why Dr. Heiter creates a pet, secrets to make-up effects and a soul-train centipede at the end. What does that mean? You’ll have to rent the DVD to find out!

But honestly, there’s hardly any blood, no sighting of excrement and obviously fake butts. It’s shot well, there’s an eerily airy soundtrack running throughout and the conclusion may just catch you off guard.

I give The Human Centipede (First Sequence)  a 6/10.

What do you think? Will you give The Human Centipede a chance to scurry into your living room? Why or why not? Let me know in a comment below.

-BP

My Favorites: Bonanza

Like many before me, I grew up on reruns of this classic western. The show lasted for fourteen seasons—from 1959 to 1973—during which it depicted the often-heroic exploits of the rich, ranching family of the Ponderosa, headed by patriarch and three-time widower Ben Cartwright and his three sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe (later the series added on ranch-hand Candy Canaday and adoptive son, Jamie Hunter-Cartwright to increase viewership). Barring some first-season aggression, the Cartwrights soon came to embody the best of the Old West, namely the hospitality and progressiveness of good men in the pre-Civil War era.

Ben is the definition of a self-made man, turning from sailor to settler in a bid to establish a mutual relationship of give-and-take with the land he came to love in the Nevada territory. His eldest son, Adam, represents the coolness and confidence of a stern, learned mind; he was the only one to attend college and eventually disappeared from the show after six seasons to go to sea and beyond (as Adam’s actor, Pernell Roberts, wanted off the show). Middle brother Hoss is big and benign, a good-natured animal-lover who was absent from the show’s final season due to actor Dan Blocker’s untimely death; the show literally could not survive without its heart. Joe evokes the sharpness and vivacity of youth all the while being a “daddy’s boy”—as a “mama’s girl” myself I can relate to the warmth and vulnerability one reserves only for one’s same-sex parent, and it makes Joe all the more endearing (not that he needed help in appearing endearing, especially to the ladies…).

There’s really only one reason I love Bonanza. It’s not for the action and it’s darn sure not for the time period (keep your expectations for dynamic female characters low even though there are a couple here and there, eh), it’s because I love the characters; I admire their courage and their compassion, their cleverness and their work ethic, but to delve deeper into the family dynamics and why I love the characters requires me, for one, to mention how much I love the relationship between them, particularly that of Hoss and Little Joe.

Though six years apart the duo is very close, often entangling one another in crime-prevention schemes or outlandish ways to make money or claim livestock. They tease and test each other at the same time they’re so ardently protective over one another, with Hoss looking out for Little Joe especially. Hoss instinctively knows when to give Joe space, when to shut him down, when to let him go and when to move him along and away from swindlers, brutes and “loose” women, my goodness. There’s just something that touches me about the “protective big brother” archetype even though I know nothing of sibling dynamics, having been raised as an only child. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because on this show it’s done a couple of different ways. While Adam often proves protective of both Hoss and Joe, he goes about his mentoring with rigid rationality whereas Hoss and Joe put a different kind of feel into it. They both wear their hearts on their sleeves and share an unabashed bond of mutual care, and it’s beautiful to see, especially when the atmosphere is so rough and other men are so ruthless.

To me these characters epitomize what love between men should look like. There should be passion, there should be humor, there should be expression, even fight, and there should be respect and a will to compromise. That’s what a good man is to me, and I would love to be able to create with my writing bonds featuring the kind of love and strength they portray in each episode. I fear that I won’t be able to, though, because I don’t have a lot of experience being around men. Sure, I had a grandpa who loved me, excellent teachers, coaches and role models in high school and I have close male friends, but that doesn’t mean I understand a homosocial atmosphere. Or maybe I should treat my male characters less like “this is what a man should or shouldn’t be” and more like “here’s a three-dimensional character with this type of personality and this type of story—stop genderizing and tell it.” Hmm.

But in case I need a base for my idea of a man’s man, I’ll always have Bonanza to turn to, thankfully, ’cause I’m gettin’ this series on DVD, woot!

Which classics move you? Why? Feel free to leave a comment below if you’d like to share. Thanks!

-BP

Currently Awesome: Empire

The family that plays together stays together, right? Not this season.

*Minor spoilers follow*

Between Lucious’ incarceration, subsequent release (and those telling snippets of his childhood) to the creation of Lyon Dynasty and Hakeem’s reign as CEO of Empire, season two hasn’t shied away from playing up the daily power struggle of the “first family of music” that is the Lyon family. In the midst of backstabbings and power play Jamal and Hakeem fight to spread their wings (with Mirage a Trois and Freda, respectively) while Lucious battles the board as well as his own flesh and blood and inner demons to take back control. But will the king have the queen by his side when he regains his rule? I don’t know—there’s still the finale to go.

What makes this one-hour drama such monster hit? Well, having a monster at the heart of it doesn’t hurt.

1. Characters/Cast. “Lucious is a beast” is what I keep repeating to my mother, who watches the show with me. He is, and Terrence Howard portrays the beast beautifully. Here we have a man so arrogant and yet so ardent that he pulls from me both admiration and repulsion. He’s despicable and close-minded and, as we now know, the sympathetic son of a sufferer of bipolar disorder. He’s easy to hate and hard to hate. Now that is an artist. Not unlike Lucious is his ex-wife, Cookie, into whom Taraji P. Henson injects soul in every beat of the lioness’s heart. And fist. Whenever I dare question the queen I’m drawn back in by her love for her family, the base on which her boys still stand. And Andre, Jamal and Hakeem still stand, whether it’s with their parents or against their parents. They will not be manipulated…and if they are, it’s only because they’re usually a step ahead. They remain true to themselves in an industry where the opposite sometimes seems to be a requirement. Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray remain true to their characters too—to the logic, to the compassion and to the fire.

2. Tone (pun intended). The music is phenomenal—for most fans I feel like that goes without saying (even though I just said it), but I also like the energy of this show and how passion is at the core of it all. Everything—rage, grief, joy, guilt—is perpetuated by passion for the beautiful, twisted jungle the Lyons live in and call home: their music.

I have passions—music is and was one of them. I need to remember the fire, to join with it, to boil and burn and fire messages out into the night like shooting stars…

I need to stand strong on the throne of my own empire.

You can’t sit out your life.

By virtue of being just what it is, the show is kind of inspirational. It doesn’t just play music, it is music. Every dirty, glitzy, greedy, wondrous bit.

How can I relate it to my writing? Here is a drama where the family is not just a family unit—the members are also individuals. I’m intrigued with characters whose loyalty and lust seem to only go so far. But why? Is it because blood is truly thicker than water or for another selfish, sinister reason? Who indeed runs this? Is it the person holding the gun? Holding their tongue? Holding someone hostage? The person holding the strings? Or the person cutting them in half? I want to develop family dynamics as layered as this. I’ll allow my characters to be true to themselves without sacrificing one to another. I need to not be afraid to make antiheroes or even downright villains. You never know what someone’s capable of until they’re pushed, and I’ve got to push my characters and myself in order to create a story worth telling, and Empire has a story worth listening to.

The finale airs Wednesday, May 18 at 9:00 p.m.

-BP

Addendum: MODERATE spoilers below

Of course now that I’ve raved about Empire, the finale disappoints me. Laura decides now, because of some gangster’s appearance, that she can’t be with Hakeem? Are you kidding? I mean, she’s too good for him, but seriously, how convenient for the end of the season. Speaking of the end, what was that? Come on. I can accept the forced marriage, but the soap opera cliffhanger? I personally expected more. Or less. Whatever. Something different. Again, whatever. It’s not like I’m not going to watch season 3.