TV I’ll be watching in 2019

Fleabag, season 2

Fleabag’s first season was, in my estimation, perfect: Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark, cringy comedy about a young Londoner with a terrible moral compass was laugh-out-loud funny and filled with tragedy and unexpected heart. I’ve spent the last two years recommending Fleabag to everyone I know, so I was thrilled when a second series was announced—and yet, I was also surprised, because Fleabag’s first season had such a perfect, well-rounded arc that it felt more like a miniseries than the first six episodes in a multi-season saga. For this reason, I’m a tiny bit skeptical, but also very intrigued to see where the show goes. Will Fleabag’s sister leave her terrible husband? Will Fleabag manage to redeem herself? Will Olivia Colman continue to waft around in kaftans, delivering condescending burns in dulcet tones? I certainly hope so.

Stranger Things, season 3

I watched the first two seasons of Stranger Things mostly through my fingers, flinching at every jump scare, and I can’t wait to do precisely the same thing in season 3. That said, I was impressed by how the second season moved slightly away from the world of the Upside Down, and allowed us to spend more time exploring character development and backstory. The standalone episode in which Eleven meets other young people with psychic abilities is a prime example of this, as was Steve’s redemption arc as a protector of the younger kids, and the time given to Nancy and Jonathan’s romance.

Big Little Lies, season 2


Like Fleabag, the first season of Big Little Lies felt complete in its own right (in this case, because it followed the arc of a novel), so I’m curious to see how the story unfolds in this new season. Meryl Streep has been cast to play the mother of the person who was murdered at the end of season 1 (see how carefully I’m avoiding spoilers here?), which suggests the season will fill in some of the details of the murder investigation; but I’m especially looking forward to seeing how the relationships between the women at the center of the story continue to develop. For me, the thing that made Big Little Lies great wasn’t whodunit suspense, but the way it created a detailed portrait of complicated friendships and marriages.

Catastrophe, season 4

Catastrophe follows the speedy courtship and chaotic marriage of Sharon (played by Sharon Hogan) and Rob (Rob Delaney), and season 3 ended with something of a cliffhanger: following a rough patch in their marriage, Rob, a recovering alcoholic, has secretly started drinking again, and, in the final minutes of the last episode, got into a minor car crash while under the influence. Rob and Sharon’s are far from perfect, but as you watch them mess up again and again, falling short in their efforts to succeed in their careers and to be the parents and partners they want to be, you can’t help but love them.


Collateral: A Subtly Subversive Thriller

Collateral Carey Mulligan

Collateral, David Hare’s new thriller produced by the BBC, centers on the murder of a pizza delivery man, but as its name suggests, the miniseries is not just about the murder. Though the show follows the police investigation led by D.I. Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan), the viewer knows the identity, if not the motive, of the killer from the first episode on. As Kip works to put the pieces together, the viewer has time not only to unpack why the crime took place but to consider what the experiences of the people involved can tell us about our society.

Though the show delivers on plot twists and suspense, it’s more nuanced than your average crime drama. In Collateral, there are no shots of the corpse in the morgue; we see the shooting, but the camera does not linger on the body. Rather, by focusing on the living, Collateral encourages viewers to explore how a crime can harm people who are merely adjacent to it.

Many of the miniseries’ central characters are women, and as they reckon with the fallout of the murder, we see them negotiating sexism in their daily lives, whether it arrives in the form of a snide but harmless comment from a male colleague, or coercive sex. Mulligan was pregnant during the show’s filming, and rather than use camera angles to obscure this fact, Hare wrote the pregnancy into the script. Hare invites us to share Kip’s shrug of annoyance when a male police officer comments on her pregnancy, but Kip herself hardly alludes to the fact that she’s pregnant—she’s too busy getting on with her job.

Hare shows how the characters’ experiences of the crime are filtered through class as well as through gender, emphasizing how the collateral damage of a crime is most severe for people whose economic situation or immigration status makes them in some way vulnerable. This is especially evident in the plot lines devoted to the sisters of the murdered delivery man (Ahd Hassan Kamel and July Namir), refugees who may soon be deported; the sole witness to the murder, a Vietnamese foreign student (Kae Alexander) who has overstayed her visa; and the manager of the pizza restaurant (Hayley Squires), a single woman caring for her dying mother in their council estate flat.

Stories like that of the sisters of the murder victim are thrown into contrast by their more affluent counterparts, reminding viewers how wealth and social status shield the innocent from incidental damage and the guilty from justice. The woman who ordered the pizza, (Billy Piper) can afford to treat the murder and the police investigation as an unwanted intrusion into her chaotic home. Her ex-husband, the local Labour MP (John Simm), makes a statement condemning hate crimes against immigrants, and his job is more or less done. And as the plot unfolds, subplots emerge that hint of government corruption and potential military involvement.

With Collateral, Hare has artfully constructed not only a gripping thriller with a Dickensian web of interconnected characters, but a thoughtful commentary on issues as diverse and complicated as sexual harassment in the workplace, the refugee crisis, immigration policy, class disparities in gentrifying London, and the consequences of UK military involvement in the Middle East. The show’s emphasis on the perspectives of women, minorities, and marginalized members of society is subtly subversive in a genre which frequently turns a voyeuristic gaze towards these kinds of characters. Smart, empathetic, and unsettling, Collateral charts a course that prestige crime dramas would do well to follow.

Visiting the Library

For the first time since graduating from college, I have a library card once again, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been relishing my visits to my local library here in London.

Growing up, one of the few reasons I went “downtown” was to visit the library. In the summer, the library offered an escape from slow days at home with nothing to do. I would spend hours combing my way through the stacks in the Young Adult and Fiction sections, and then lug home enormous tote bags full of books, which I kept in a stack beside my bed until I had to return them.

Recently, I’ve been reliving this routine: I work from home most days, so a trip to the library is an escape from freelancer cabin-fever. Unlike getting a cup of coffee, it costs exactly nothing, and since the library is walking distance from my flat, it’s also a chance to stretch my legs. But best of all, I get to bring home a glorious stack of books.

This week’s picks, in the order that they have been haphazardly stacked on my bookshelf:

  • Fresh Complaint, by Jeffery Eugenides
  • How to Eat by Nigella Lawson
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • My Cat Yugolavia by Pajtim Statovci
  • The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
  • A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

I won’t get through all of these books this week. I’ll renew some, browse some and return some. I think part of what I love about libraries is this sense of abundance—you can borrow any book on the shelves, and there are more books on the shelves than you’ll likely ever read. Libraries are one of the best public resources we have, and I can hardly believe that I went so long without visiting one.

In the spirit of celebrating libraries and all that they offer, I want to close by sharing an iconic (in my mind) clip from the children’s tv show, Arthur. If you are moved to do so, feel free to join me in chanting the refrain.



Things to read, watch, and listen to


I spent the weekend trying to recover from the kind of cold that makes you not want to do anything except lie on the sofa. Sure, I’m technically well enough to do the things I’m meant to be doing: editing for freelance clients, applying for jobs, attending Christmas parties and networking events, apartment-hunting, and making meals for myself, but with a cold, all of these things are harder than they ordinarily would be, and I’ve been letting those job application deadlines slip by, choosing instead to swaddle myself in my beloved crocheted blanket. The good news is that this is an ideal place from which to consume media—so here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to:

  • Season 1 of The Crown—yes, I know that Season 2 premiered this week, but I’m still back in Season 1, which I began this time last year, when I stayed home from work with a back injury. I can’t quite decide if I like The Crown — do Margaret and Elizabeth have to be so nasty to each other? and why is everyone so riled up about divorcées? — but it’s so well done that I just keep watching.
  • Cat Person—I woke up yesterday morning to see that the New Yorker short story had gone viral in the US while I was asleep in London. Reading the story made me think about conversations I’d had with friends in college about their dating lives—there’s been a lot of talk about how timely the story is, and I agree that this is true. But I was most impressed by how Kristen Roupenian describes Margot’s thought process, how she assesses potential dangers, risks—and her own shifting desires.
  • Baby Driver—several friends raved about this film to me when it first came out, and last night, I finally got around to renting it on Amazon. With the hindsight of the last few months, Kevin Spacey’s presence as a mastermind of heists is discomfiting, but Baby Driver is worth the watch for the chase sequences, the soundtrack, Ansel Elgort’s baby-faced sincerity, and Jon Hamm as a vengeance-crazed baddie. It’s a lot of fun.


Why is Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life so… disappointing?


I joined the Gilmore Girls fan club late; while many of my middle- and high- school friends were watching the show back when it was, you know, actually on television, I discovered it on Netflix during my first week of college, when I was too wound up to sleep. I had just arrived in Massachusetts, neighbor to the Gilmores’ native Connecticut, and I was awestruck by prep schools, WASPs, and preppy style, none of which really existed in my home state of Oregon. You’ve heard it before: like so many bookish, ambitious, brown-haired girls, I saw myself in Rory. And at the same time, I didn’t see myself in Rory: no one I’d grown up with had coming out parties; I never had a high school romance; and while I enjoyed spending time with my mom, she wasn’t my closest confidante. Nonetheless, I watched season after season, a first by myself, and later with my roommate and best friend. We railed against Rory’s lingering feelings for Dean, rooted for Paris through her tyrannical reign at the Yale Daily News, waited for Lorelai to see that Luke was truly the one, and scorned Rory’s pseudo-Skull-and-Bones escapades with rich-kid Logan. When Rory stole a boat, we still loved her.

Yet, in spite of my love for the show, I managed to put off watching the Netflix reboot Gilmore Girls: A Year For The Life for almost a full year after its release date. First, I was going to wait to watch it with a friend; then, I read the first batch of bad reviews and decided to put it off a little further. But this week, holed up in my new London apartment with a nasty cold, I watched all four movie-length episodes. If I hadn’t known from the reviews, I knew from the first half hour of “Winter” that it was a disappointment. And yet I kept watching, hoping that it would turn a corner. It didn’t.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is about A Year in the Life that doesn’t work. It has all the ingredients: the banter, the coffee, the small-town charm, the mother-daughter closeness, the side-kicks and best friends, backdrop of New England privilege and WASP-y elitism, all certified by the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino. Even Rory’s failing journalism career and quarter-life crisis aren’t without precedent—in the final season, we saw her anxious about her life after graduation—but somehow the pieces don’t quite come together.

I won’t be the first viewer to write that Rory and Lorelai have not grown up much in the last ten years—if anything, they’ve grown less likable. But I think part of the trouble with the Netflix special is its medium. Gilmore Girls, the tv series, had hour-long episodes with individual story arcs, building towards season-long arcs that were usually oriented around Rory and Lorelai’s love stories and Rory’s education. Gilmore Girls was never a strict adherent of the Chekov’s gun rule—and indeed, its propensity to clutter the story with quirky tangents was always part of its charm—but A Year in the Life takes this too far. There are too many guns and almost no gunshots; it’s obvious that all of the characters, including Rory and Lorelai, are only here to make long-time fans smile. We wanted to see Paris, so she’s running a fertility clinic that Lorelai visits; we wanted to see Dean, so Rory bumps into him in the grocery store; we wanted to see Jess, so he resurfaces in the diner; Sookie appears for a single scene (presumably Melissa McCarthy has bigger fish to fry these days); similarly, Logan’s college contingent of posh boys from Yale appear more or less out of nowhere. Yet none of these characters feel necessary to the plot. This may be because there isn’t really much plot to be had.

Gilmore Girls was always built around “will-they-won’t-they” suspense: Will Rory get into Harvard? Will Emily and Lorelai reconcile? Will Lorelai and Luke ever get together? Which boyfriend will Rory end up with for good? What about Rory’s education and career? A Year in the Life is sort of driven by the latter two questions, but it’s also sort of driven by vague questions about loss and grief: Rory’s career and love life are both foundering badly; Emily has lost her husband; Lorelai has lost her father and is worried about her relationship with Luke. These could all be perfectly good plot points—we’ve seen the Gilmores in crisis before (see stolen boat above). Yet stretched out over movie-length episodes, A Year in the Life begins to meander and loses the “will-they-won’t they” suspense that made the season-long plot arcs of Gilmore Girls work. I didn’t believe for a minute that Lorelai would break up with Luke, that Logan would leave his fiancée for Rory, or that Rory wouldn’t figure something out career-wise. Instead, we get bogged down in the tangents, jokes, and cameos, and the plot fizzles.

Rewatching “Girls”


This spring, I watched from my couch in Queens as Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) said goodbye to the city and moved upstate to an utterly unrealistic teaching job. Then, I opened my laptop and began reading the approximately 1,000 think pieces on the show’s final season.

I thought back to April 2012, when Girls had first premiered. At the time, I was a high school senior, one academic year behind Zosia Mamet’s character, Shoshanna. Six months later, I started watching the show because everyone at my women’s college seemed to talking about it: the nudity and cringe-worthy sex scenes, the cast’s problematic lack of diversity, and the gentrifying Brooklyn that it portrayed. The show was fresh and new and flawed but, true to the spirit of millennial hipster culture, no one was sure if it was deeply contrived or deeply honest.

There is probably little I can say about Girls that has not been said before. To rehash some of the key points: The show is at times good and at times terrible, and it is always messy. Like its obvious predecessor, Sex & The City, it features four white, single women living in New York, and it’s frank about sex and dating and love and friendship in ways that often felt groundbreaking. In both shows, characters who are “broke” can mysteriously live in their own spacious apartments. Sex & The City is sometimes described in aspirational terms, with  “I’m a Carrie” and “I’m a Samantha” comparisons, but no one really wants be one a character in Girls. I’ve never heard someone self-identify as “a Hannah,” “a Marnie,” “a Jessa,” or “a Shoshanna.”

This week, I’ve started re-watching Girls, and though I almost always rewatch shows from beginning to end, I found myself watching out-of-order. I skipped most of the season where Hannah is working as a teacher because her lack of boundaries with students frustrates me too much.  I watched Marnie’s (Allison Williams) wedding, and then skipped ahead to the aftermath of her divorce. I watched the season 6 episode where Shoshanna stages a friend-breakup in the bathroom of her engagement party, and the episodes in which Hanna’s father comes out as gay and her parents decide to divorce.

Girls doesn’t go as far as Master of None in exploring the potential of tv episodes that function as short films, but many of the best episodes of Girls can be watched as stand-alone stories. Marnie’s night walking through Manhattan with her ex, Shoshanna’s business trip to Japan, Hannah’s visit home to see her dying grandmother, and her interview with a manipulative and famous male writer are all slightly disconnected from the show’s central narrative.

As I zig-zagged through six seasons of a show that is, for better or worse, a voice of a generation, I wondered if this could be where a certain type of tv is headed: 25 minute mini-films that can be watched together or apart, in or out of sequence, neither pure comedy nor pure drama.

What I’ve Been Reading This Week: Ants Among Elephants, Harry Potter & Orphan Stories, & Literary Adaptations on TV

I just finished reading this excerpt of Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India featured in the Boston Review. I’m adding the book to my reading list–what I’ve read so far is a fascinating and beautifully written story that touches literature and politics through the lens of family history.

“The Threat Within: Harry Potter and the Cultural Baggage of Orphan Stories” by Kristen Martin Martin reflects on the trope of orphans in literature about children and teens, her own experience losing her parents at a young age, and the absence of honest depictions of grief in “orphan stories.” For me, her essay also brought to mind the debate over Netflix’s recent adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, which spends more time exploring the impact of Anne’s childhood traumas than original novel or the 1985 TV mini-series.

And speaking of TV adaptations, check out Lisa Rosman’s “Have You Seen What TV Has Been Doing to Books Lately?” on the recent trend of prestige TV shows adapted from literary novels.

I also just learned that Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties will be debuting in October 2017! I first stumbled across Machado’s work as an intern at AGNI and have been a fan of her writing ever since, so I’m eager to read the book when it comes out!