Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Dream Cast for the CW's New Gritty Dystopian Little Women Adaptation

In case you haven't heard (you poor thing), the CW is developing a TV show based on Little Women. And the description... well, I'd say it defies words, but it's made of words, so just read it:
Written by [Alexis] Jolly, Little Women is described as a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which disparate half-sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy band together in order to survive the dystopic streets of Philadelphia and unravel a conspiracy that stretches far beyond anything they have ever imagined – all while trying not to kill each other in the process.
Every time I think I know how I feel about that description, it turns out I was wrong. Am I horrified? Excited? Anxious? Confused? I have no idea! All I know is one thing: This show absolutely must be made real. I don't know that a gritty, dystopian Little Women TV show is something that needed to happen, but now that the idea's out there, it had better happen. And it honestly has a better shot--both at being picked up and at being good--on the CW, a network that is currently experiencing something of a golden era of female-driven shows, literary adaptation shows, and genre shows, than it would on any other channel.

While we wait to see what happens, though, my sister and I have decided to prod the CW along with the widely-recognized gold standard of anticipatory fannish activity: a fantasy cast. So look no further, dear reader; you have found the One True Gritty Dystopian Little Women Cast Line-Up.

Emily Kinney as Meg March 

The eldest of the March sisters, Meg provides stability, kindness, and a guiding hand, while hiding an independent streak behind a strong sense of propriety. Kinney has proved herself more than capable of playing a sweet character with a steel spine--and her trademark is bringing sympathy and warmth to a gritty, post-apocalyptic setting setting.

Lindsey Morgan as Jo March

Second child Jo March, the lead of the book, is the wild card of the March family. She's smart, loud, brash, has zero sense of propriety, and is the least warm and nurturing of the four March sisters. And she has a serious temper. But she would do anything for her family. People who've seen The 100 (I know you're out there!) will recognize that as a pretty spot-on description of Morgan's character Raven Reyes. It'd be a wrench to lose her from that show, but she'd kill on Little Women.

Amandla Stenberg as Beth March

Beth is the quietest of the March sisters. Sweet, generous, and incredibly family-oriented, her rebellious streak shines through only when she's standing up on behalf of someone else. Stenberg's been adding quiet humanity to brutal post-apocalypses since 2012.

Kiernan Shipka as Amy March 

Youngest child Amy is self-obsessed, a little bit vain, and cares a lot about appearances--but without the same understanding of propriety that Meg has. She's impulsive and self-centered, but when her sisters set her straight, she'll do the right thing. Because Amy, like all the March sisters, does care deeply about family. Alone of the four actresses playing the March sisters, Shipka did not make her name in a post-apocalyptic movie or show. But she did a phenomenal job on Mad Men portraying a young girl growing and maturing in a restrictive society.

Susanna Thompson as Marmee

Marmee was the original rebel of the March family--that's where her daughters got it from. She loved her children fiercely, and wanted the world for them, but she respected their independence above all else. And she never believed that their gender should hold them back. Thompson has played more than one ferocious mother in her time, and fans of the CW's Arrow should have no trouble imagining her as the March matriarch. Moira Queen may be more cut-throat than Marmee, but the family dedication is definitely there.

John Cho as John Brooke 

John Brooke is Meg's love interest, a sweet, solid, studious, and upstanding man of limited means. John Cho is amazing, makes everyone who watches his shows want to hug him, and needs to be in more things. No-brainer.

Ian Harding as Theodore "Laurie" Laurence

Laurie starts out the book as an impetuous, spoiled, but ultimately good-hearted friend of the March family. Unfortunately, after Jo turns down his marriage proposal, he runs off to be a shithead playboy in Europe. Various unhappy and spoilery events finally calm him down, and he comes back to the fold as a wiser man, but he's a divisive character, to say the least. Luckily, Harding has half a decade's experience bringing charm and genuine likeability to a slightly skeazy character on Pretty Little Liars. (Plus, CMU alumni REPRESENT!)

JR Bourne as Professor Bhaer

The other leg of Jo's love triangle, Bhaer is an incredibly smart man who, due to his immigrant status, can't get the kind of work he deserves in America. He is staid, but tender, and Jo is drawn to him because he treats her as an intellectual equal. Like all "other legs" of love triangles, a sizeable portion of the fanbase hates him, but whatever. Anyway, Bourne's ace at calm-but-intense, and he's attractive and likeable enough that the CW might be able to overlook the (canonical!) age difference

Monday, July 27, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x06, "Required Reading"

  1. Teen Wolf needs to stop it with the cold opens. I think every episode this season except “A Novel Approach” has opened with five minutes of nonlinear or zero-context storytelling. It’s one thing to use confusing, apropos-of-nothing cold opens to introduce important characters for the week, or establish an important event, but there was no reason that we needed to see the full scene of Malia fighting off the Dread Doctor twice. Listen up, show: Cut the in media res bullshit and use the three extra minutes you just gained to explain more clearly what’s going on. Then you won’t need out-of-context teaser lines like “We never should have read those books” to create a sense of urgency!

  2. I don’t really understand what’s going on with the book-related hallucinations in this episode—as Lydia pointed out, they had nothing to do with the Dread Doctors, and they seem a whole lot like Malia’s Desert Wolf flashbacks, which started a couple episodes before she read the book—but they did give us a chance to revisit one of Teen Wolf’s favorite tropes: Our Three Main Characters Hallucinate, Giving Us Insight Into Their Individual Hopes, Fears, and Histories. Traditionally, this was done with Scott, Stiles, and Allison (see: “Party Guessed,” “Lunar Ellipse,” and “Anchors”) though “De-Void” gave us a rare two-person example with Scott and Lydia. In “Required Reading,” Lydia fills the lead character role vacated by Allison, but the hallucinations otherwise follow the pattern established by “Party Guessed”: Stiles’ is ludicrously painful but incredibly illuminating; Lydia’s provides a glimpse into her relationship with her family’s troubled history; and Scott’s is kinda dumb. Scott’s inhaler does have a certain symbolic weight on Teen Wolf, as a reminder of his humanity and as a piece of the show’s origin story. But Lydia spent the episode remembering the time her grandmother trepanned herself, and Stiles spent it remembering how his dying mother had delusions that he was trying to murder her. Asthma attacks can’t really compete.

  3. Scott’s induced memory will presumably turn out to be either straightforwardly plot-relevant or pure symbolism, but Lydia’s and Stiles’ are worth considering in terms of what they tell us about the characters. (NB: I’m assuming these are hallucinations of events that really happened, since that’s how the characters talk about them, but it is, I guess, theoretically possible that they’re entirely made-up, in which case… psych?) Stiles’ mother’s paranoia is the latest in a chain of moments reaching back to first season, each of which revealed a little bit more about the events that shaped the Stiles we know today. It’s remarkably subtle storytelling, for a show that color-codes its characters’ eyes so that you can pick out the murderers. Each individual scene contains only a little bit—sometimes nothing overt at all—in the way of exposition, but strung together, they tell a cohesive story. Stiles’ mom died, triggering a life-long anxiety problem. Then Stiles’ dad fell apart, and the ten-year-old had to step up and hold things together, and by the time the Sheriff got his shit together, it was too late to go back; Stiles had become this obsessively overprotective person. Stripped of context, Stiles’ hallucinations of his mom in “Required Reading” are pretty melodramatic—like, dear Lord, he just escaped a murderous chimera, how terrible can the show possibly make this kid’s life? Viewed in light of the history that Teen Wolf has gradually built for Stiles, however, the scene makes a great deal of sense. It answers one of the few longstanding questions left about Stiles: Why does he feel so guilty over his mother’s death? We know from his “Party Guessed” hallucination that he does, and it’s a character trait that Teen Wolf has silently reinforced over the seasons. But Claudia Stilinski died of a genetic disease, and while kids can certainly internalize guilt over things they had no fault in, it was hard to see the causation. The reveal in “Required Reading” solves that puzzle. It’s still not logical, but it makes sense that Claudia’s fear and blame would work their way into Stiles’ head.

    Lydia’s memory similarly explores an area of her past that we’ve seen hinted at, but whereas Stiles’ memory answered questions, Lydia’s mostly raises them. The biggest question floating around Lydia at the moment—and it’s a doozy—is how much her mother knows about the supernatural. Mayor Lockwood (she’ll always be Mayor Lockwood to me) was the one who revealed, last season, that Lydia’s grandmother was a banshee. At the time, she seemed to have a kind of hunch about the supernatural, but no strong knowledge. This season, she saw a kanima attack her daughter, and she hasn’t said anything about it since. In “Required Reading,” she rushes to Lydia’s side and asks if she blacked out. Was that a reference to Lydia’s miraculously-healed wound? Was it a veiled reference to banshee powers? If it wasn’t, shouldn’t it have been, given that Lydia’s banshee powers are an open secret now? Does Mayor Lockwood’s presence in Lydia’s hallucination—and her increased presence in season five, generally—mean that there’s more going on with her than meets the eye? I wish I could be sure that all of this confusion was going to resolve into something important, because as I’ve mentioned before, Lydia and her mother have a lovely and fascinating relationship, and it would be great if the tension and love there took a central role in the story. But Teen Wolf doesn’t have nearly so consistent a track record with Lydia’s backstory as it does with Stiles’, in part because Lydia’s backstory is supernatural, and Teen Wolf has a hard time nailing down a sensible supernatural mythology. Anyway, mark me down as “eternally optimistic, but doomed to be disappointed.”

  4. Where the fuck is this show going with the Malia/Evil Mike Montgomery thing? Assuming Teen Wolf is plotting competently (always a big assumption), Evil Mike Montgomery’s role in the rest of the season seems clear. He’s trying to get close to Scott, possibly to steal his True Alfalfa powers or possibly for some other nefarious purpose. One of the ways he’s doing so is to remove/discredit Stiles; it’s unclear whether or not he really meant Donovan to kill Stiles, but Stiles hates Evil Mike Montgomery and has Scott’s implicit trust, so he has to be dealt with. At some point, presumably, this will come to a head, with Evil Mike Montgomery using Stiles’ recent kill to drive a wedge between him and Scott. Malia’s role in all this, however, is a lot less clear. Evil Mike Montgomery could just be manipulating her, but to what end? And wherefore all the over-the-top sexual tension? If the show were setting him up as a legitimate new love interest, that would be one thing—it wouldn’t be a well-conceived plotline, but it would at least make sense. But he’s evil! It’s right there in his name! You can’t build a believable love triangle with him, because he sent a freaking chimera to kill Stiles. There have been a few villain/good guy love stories on Teen Wolf, but none of the lasting ones have involved the sole mastermind of a plot to kill one of the main characters. Obviously, the show is going somewhere with this, but it’s going there slowly, and the ride is more frustrating than thrilling. Long-term mysteries work on TV shows when events and character motivations make sense on an episodic basis, and when the show paces out its answers to keep the viewers' interest. Lost, for instance, excelled at both of these things. Teen Wolf, on the other hand, seems to model its story structure off of The Killing. MTV gave Teen Wolf 20 episodes to tell a story, and instead of creating 20 episodes worth of story, the show seems to have stretched out 12 episodes to fill the time.

  5. Calling it now: The chimeras have all had some kind of operation at Beacon Hills Memorial. This has the benefit of making both Sixth Grade Girl and Scott’s inhaler plot-relevant!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x05, "A Novel Approach"

  1. This was probably the best episode of Teen Wolf since… God, “Riddled”? “Insatiable”? Definitely since season 3B. I’d put the jump in quality down to two things. First, none of the Next Gen people were in it. Without Liam, Mason, and Sixth Grade Girl, there were fewer plotlines jostling for space, which allowed for the, you know, interesting plotlines to breathe and develop. This is the first episode of the season that has had a strong throughline, even if it moves at a predictably slow Teen Wolf pace.

    The second thing, of course, is the strong emphasis on Stiles. His plotline wasn’t the only successful one of the episode (we’ll get to that later), but Teen Wolf has always been at its best and most confident when writing for Stiles. And that shows in the semi-experimental opening, a 15-minute long fight scene and fallout in which Stiles never says a word. Centered on any other character, it likely would have been interminable, but between the depth of Stiles’ characterization and the skill of Dylan O’Brien, it became something legitimately gripping. Moreover, all that acting and style was in service of a shockingly well-conceived plot turn. Having Stiles kill Donovan was a smart—perhaps even daring—narrative move. It was the obvious way that confrontation needed to end, in order for Teen Wolf to convincingly tell the story it clearly wants to tell this season. Something truly dramatic has to occur in order to drive a wedge between Scott and Stiles, especially an ideological wedge. But Teen Wolf has backed down, in the past, from letting its main characters kill even when the situation obviously warrants it. Going there with Stiles, even in self-defense, indicates that Teen Wolf is prioritizing sensible plot and consistency of characterization over its weird narrative hang-ups

  2. Lots of relationship discussion in this episode. I don't know where exactly Teen Wolf is going with the Stiles/Lydia and Stiles/Malia stuff; it could be a reformation of the status quo, or it could just be defining the status quo, and I'll reserve judgment until it plays out. Weirdly enough, the angle on Scott and Kira's relationship made me the happiest.I was initially really skeptical of spending the episode’s B-plot on Scott and Kira, because I’m basically skeptical of anything Teen Wolf does that involves Scott. But I forgot that, when the show has time and attention to spend on her, Kira makes Scott a whole lot more bearable. Every one of Kira’s lines in this episode made me like her more, and I’m starting to let myself be won over by the incredibly awkward dynamic between her and Scott. There's something sweet and a little sad about the way their relationship has progressed in fits and starts; sweet, because the two most awkward people on the planet have finally found each other, and sad, because the subtext of season four made it clear that a lot of their relationship's slow pace is because of Allison's death. (On the other hand, fuck you, Scott. Tell Kira about her weird fox thing.)

  3. The third (fully-formed and identifiable!) plot of the episode was Malia’s C-plot, which confirmed my predictions about her weird flashes being flashbacks. (Go me!) On the one hand, I remain really happy that the show is continuing to engage with her history. On the other hand, some of Teen Wolf’s most successful scenes post-3B have relied on the dynamic created by Malia and Stiles’ mirror-image guilt issues; it would be a bit of a let-down if the ultimate reveal of this story is “Malia had nothing to do with her family’s death.” (Also, tangentially: Evil Mike Montgomery really wants to fuck with Stiles, doesn’t he? I wish he’d do it by sending more evil chimeras after him, rather than flirting with Malia.)

  4. “A Novel Approach” was incredibly engaged with Teen Wolf’s continuity, above and beyond even the show’s normal, unexpectedly frequent references to its past. It’s an episode that relies heavily on the show’s history for impact, in ways both spoken and unspoken. Some dialogue caught us up on relevant backstory—the reminder that Lydia and Stiles almost died in Eichen House, and the much more necessary reminder of who the hell Dr. Valack is. Some dialogue examined the show’s emotional history, making text what had only been subtext before—Scott and Kira’s discussion of how Lydia and Stiles’ relationship has changed, for instance. But there were also a lot of scenes in that had no direct mention of the show’s continuity, but that required a detailed memory of the show in order to be fully understood. Take, for instance, the way that Kira’s haywire electricity weakened the Eichen House defenses and allowed the Dread Doctors entrance. It sounds like deus ex machina nonsense, and there’s a sense in which it totally is—but it's a hell of a lot easier to buy if you remember the way electricity has been used to subdue werewolves throughout the series, and in particular Chris Argent’s monologue on the line between science and the supernatural in season two. Or there’s Malia’s subplot, which assumes that you know her backstory. Or there’s the way the characters treat Stiles as they enter Eichen House, and the way Stiles talks about Eichen House, all of which clicks best if you know that Stiles and Malia have both spent time institutionalized there.

    Probably the best example of how “A Novel Approach” hangs on the series’ continuity, though, is the first 15 minutes. O’Brien’s acting carries those scenes, but he has a lot of backstory to draw on: the fact that his character has been forced to kill before, and carries a lot of guilt because of it; the fact that Stiles’ supernatural problems have caused serious issues for his father at work in the past; the fact that Stiles has had issues separating dreams from reality. Best of all is the culmination of the sequence, in which Stiles stands before the red-string theory board and frantically tries to make sense of what he’s just experienced. The red strings have intimate connections to Stiles’ relationship with his father, to the events that put him in Eichen House and made him an unwilling killer, and to Malia, whose relationship with Stiles is founded on those events. They also speak, on a more surface level, to the analytical aspects of Stiles’ personality, built up over seasons, that are trying and failing to process this latest development in light of all of those things. Basically, it’s an incredibly loaded place to stage the end of the opening sequence, but there’s no way to put any of that in the text—remember, Stiles doesn’t speak a word until Scott’s phone call. Scenes like this seem to come from an entirely different show than the one that produced “Condition Terminal.” I wish this Teen Wolf showed up a little more often.

  5. On the other side of the continuity argument, however, we have Lydia’s miraculous recovery. Lydia got sliced open by a freaking kanima two days ago, and it’s Stiles who can’t move without wincing?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x04, "Condition Terminal"

  1. Good lord, this episode was a structural mess. We start with a (presumable) flashback of Lydia and Parrish discussing Parrish’s weirdness, cut to a fairly well-done set of scenes that run through the aftermath of “Dreamcatchers,” then drop most of the aftermath (Lydia’s status, the Sheriff’s moral qualms) in order to lay down some exposition about what the hell’s going on. Then, we cut to Evil Mike Montgomery planting terrible, horrible, no good, very bad ideas in Donovan’s head. Then we drop that and spend all of acts three and four following the Adventures of the Gay Chimera and His Boyfriend, neither of whom we’ve ever met before—literally, they weren’t even introduced earlier in the episode, they were both introduced in act three. Then we briefly cut back to Malia’s weirdness, wrap up Gay Chimera and His Boyfriend, take a pit stop by WTF Is Up With Parrish Station, and then pull Donovan out of act two to hurt Stiles for the cliffhanger ending. Try writing a synopsis for this episode. I dare you.

  2. By my count, these are the major ongoing plotlines that Teen Wolf is working on:

    • The Dread Doctors are turning people into chimeras.
    • Evil Mike Montgomery has insinuated himself in the group.
    • Parrish is an apocalyptic fire being who may be connected to the Dread Doctors.
    • Donovan is a crazy chimera who has it out for the Sheriff.
    • The Desert Wolf is out there and super dangerous.
    • Kira seems to be losing control of her powers.
    • Lydia is seeing the Dread Doctors.
    And these are the major ongoing emotional threads that Teen Wolf is working on:

    • Kira and Scott’s relationship
    • Lydia and Parrish’s relationship
    • Scott’s career hopes
    • Tension in Scott and Stiles’ friendship
    • Malia’s relationship with her family
    • Whatever the fuck is going on with Liam and Mason and Sixth Grade Girl
    That is way too many things. Teen Wolf cannot handle that many things. It needs to cut out some of the things. Go back to old-school Teen Wolf: A villain, a villain who’s hunting the first villain, a stupid Scott plot, an excellent Stiles plot, and as many emotional arcs as needed for the major characters of the season. Half of this episode was about people I don’t care about doing things I am uninterested in. It had two freaking acts of Liam, Mason, and Sixth Grade Girl hanging out with Gay Chimera in a gay club. It was like season two all over again.

  3. Beacon Hills sure has a lot of gay clubs for a town with a population of 20,000.

  4. Credit where credit’s due: Evil Mike Montgomery is pretty good at being smarmily evil. I hope he gets unmasked relatively early, so I can see him and Stiles face off.

  5. You guys, I think Stiles’ Jeep might, possibly, just maybe, if you reeeeeeally think about it, be a metaphor.

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x03, "Dreamcatchers"

  1. Between Lydia and Kira teaming up to help Malia drive, and Malia overpowering kanima venom to fight Tracy to save Lydia’s mom, this seems to have been Teen Wolf’s Girl Power episode. I’m not opposed, though I’m still waiting for a sequel to Lydia and Malia: Private Eyes from last season. (Lydia and Malia play really well off each other for a lot of the same reasons Lydia and Stiles play well off each other; they’re both smart, both opinionated, and have completely divergent views of the world.)

  2. I realized that the flashes Malia had last week and this week are flashbacks to the crash that killed her family, and a) I feel like SUCH AN IDIOT for not getting that, and b) I’m proud of Teen Wolf for dealing with it.

  3. Teen Wolf has apparently given up on having full subplots, opting instead to focus vaguely on a single character or theme. In the premiere, it was “getting/keeping the gang together”; in “Parasomnia,” it was “What the fuck is up with Theo and Tracy?”; in tonight’s episode, it was “MAN THAT MALIA’S PRETTY AWESOME AND TERRIFYING.” So we get Malia learning to drive, and then we get Malia seeing a picture of the Desert Wolf’s destruction, and then we get Malia overcoming the kanima venom to save Lydia’s mom. Those three things together make up at least half the episode, and while they share a kind of thematic focus—Malia’s power, and how that makes her potentially amazing and potentially dangerous—they’re only tangentially related, in terms of plot. I’m like 90 percent sure that this is why Teen Wolf is so confusing.

  4. Speaking of kanima venom, for those playing along at home, Stiles has now been paralyzed by it four times. If I remember correctly, Derek has been paralyzed by it twice, and no one else has gotten hit more than once.

  5. Man, Teen Wolf is really trolling its audience with the Sheriff/Lydia’s mom stuff.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x02, "Parasomnia"

  1. I can’t be the only person who has no idea what’s happening with Tracy. Was she already a werewolf? Did she get turned into a werewolf? I don’t even know, man. Teen Wolf kinda thrives on this sort of thing—even in this episode, we had another unexplained and unremarked upon mystery in Malia’s weird flash while driving. But the difference between the Tracy mystery and, say, the Theo mystery is that while I can easily formulate questions to ask about Theo—Is he really Theo? Is he really from Ethan and Aiden’s pack? What does he want?—the only question I can come up with about Tracy is “What the hell?”

  2. “Why can’t you trust anyone?” “Because you trust everyone!” This is a really interesting way of framing Stiles and Scott’s relationship. I’m not sure the text fully supports it—Scott kind of wavers in how much he trusts people he obviously shouldn’t trust—but I buy it on an intuitive level. And I definitely buy that that’s how Stiles sees their friendship, because Stiles is an overprotective neurotic crazy person who thinks he’s responsible for everyone. The trailers for the rest of the season make it seem like this may turn into a Thing, but this is Teen Wolf, so who knows.

  3. Speaking of this being Teen Wolf, I’ve thought about it, and I’ve figured out how a reasonable show would handle the Lydia/Eichen House flashforwards. We know season five is a 20-episode season split into two 10-episode half-seasons, but following a single story the entire time. (Unlike season 3, which told distinct stories in its first and second halves.) So the thing to do, of course, would be to spend the first 10 episodes building up to Lydia in Eichen House, catch up with the flashforwards in the midseason finale, and then move on from there in the second half. This makes so much sense that I would be shocked if Teen Wolf did it.

  4. I was so happy to see Lydia’s mom back. (And amused to see her lecturing about night terrors; she is such her daughter’s mother.) I love their relationship—how prickly it is, how weird the power balance is, but how much genuine love is obviously there. It’s one of the show’s most consistent relationships, up there with Stiles and his father.

  5. Theo is played by Mike Montgomery from Pretty Little Liars. I feel like that makes an absurd amount of sense (Mike is always going out of town on lacrosse trips, after all), but also it means that every time the show tries to be, like, suspenseful about Theo, all I can think is, “Mike! Get back to Rosewood! Mona’s not done with you!”

  6. BONUS THING: With the increased focus on Mason and Liam’s relationship and Mysterious Girl from Sixth Grade, I can’t help but feel like Teen Wolf is trying to establish a new generation of supernatural teenagers in case its current stars move on, a la Degrassi. I cannot emphasize enough how terrible that idea is.