Sitcom storyline

La verdad and we ain’t ashamed: some of our family time is spent watching TV. We don’t just settle on the couch, Simpsons style, zoning out before anything. Now that M is 6, we are much more thoughtful about what we watch together. Gone are the days of watching trashy VH1 reality shows (thank goodness M was a baby and will never remember I Love Money) or hoping that the Glee storylines wouldn’t get too sexy because those musical numbers were so awesome (Rumor has it/Someone like you mashup days). In recent months, we have been watching sitcoms about families not unlike our own, namely Fresh off the Boat, Cristela, and Blackish. Interestingly enough, we are living one of the storylines.
Rambo’s mom now lives with us. M gets to enjoy spending more time with her Nana. Rambo is watching his use of profanity. Yes, the house is tidier. But, as witnessed on a few of the episodes of the previously mentioned sitcoms, living in a multigenerational household has challenges—and we don’t have the benefit of writers crafting a script that resolves those in half an hour.
Lest you think I’m living out a Monster-in-Law feud, I’m blessed.  Nana and I have never exchanged unkind words and probably won’t, given the positive nature of our relationship over the last seven years. An old friend of mine used to endure insults about her appearance from her longtime boyfriend’s mother.  In spite of that, she would bring the woman souvenirs from business trips, only to have them rejected.  Not surprisingly, the relationship ended when the boyfriend stated his intention to have his mother move in when they married.  I took notes on that situation. I am grateful for a decent suegra.
Nana has joined us in watching our shows. She was not too impressed with Cristela (too Americanized) and Blackish (she thought it wasn’t funny) but she did like Fresh off the Boat. What we love about watching these shows together is that they speak to and for us. They reflect loving families, families that we can relate to culturally, philosophically, and experientially. Besides, a thirty-minute time limit on any family problem is a good goal to have.  

The resurgence of redneckery

“What kind of redneckery is this? “ The question sprung from my lips without much forethought. It was Shark Week and rather than focusing on the gargantuan great whites or terrifying tigers, an entire special, “Voodoo Sharks” placed the spotlight on Blimp, the portly shark hunter, his relatives, and their country ways. Blimp was later featured on the Shark Week talk show, “Shark after Dark,” doing his bizarre Shrimp Dance.  Hollywood has gone south; even the Discovery Channel is milking this pop culture trend for ratings.
While I confess to never watching Honey Boo-Boo, our household is one of millions that are tuning in to the new Beverly Hillbillies. We laugh at the antics of those rascally (and yes, somewhat endearing) Robertsons on the reality hit Duck Dynasty; we recently watched their appearance on Dr. Oz. Still, as more and more reality shows about Southern folks hit the airwaves, I wonder why.  Why now?
I’m no history buff but reading Howard Zinn as a high school junior has made me question historical events, and pop culture in particular, consistently over the years.  Back in the 1920s, usually remembered for the Jazz Age, there was a resurgence of interest in the Ku Klux Klan. The Reconstruction-era hate group was cast as the heroes in the 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, a movie so popular that President Woodrow Wilson held a screening at the White House. White farmers and working class people felt threatened and disenfranchised by the rise of cities, the growing elite and their culture of glitz and glamour, increasing immigration, and the growing migration of African Americans to the cities.  The movie’s glorification of Southern history, however divisive and racially inflammatory, struck a chord. The Ku Klux Klan began to recruit new members across many states and grew so popular as to host two separate marches to Capitol Hill in 1925 and 1926. When people get scared, they get scary.
We are living at a time of great social and economic change. We are led by a black President. Latinos make up the growing majority of many states. Gay couples can marry.  Even the Pope is calling for a new open-mindedness on the issues of homosexuality and abortion. But for every person who is celebrating these milestones, there is likely someone who feels alienated, undermined, and frightened about the place they hold in society now and in the future. Redneck reality shows about good old boys hearken back to someone’s good old days.  I’m not claiming Bravo will debut a reality show about the Klan’s Grand Cyclops anytime soon; I’m arguing that these shows are appealing for many reasons, including the way they could assuage fears about our changing America.
Pop culture does not merely entertain; it reveals our values, our morals, our doubts. I have the right to enjoy—and question.

Is it time the next generation moves on?

With my other half not home to make me watch Smash Lab or Fight Quest, I thought it was time I go back to my soap opera, Degrassi the Next Generation. Now in season 7, Emma and Manny are seniors(Manny turned 18 Filipino style with a debut in the hilarious “We got the beat”)and the older kids are wrapping up their first year of college. The new crop of costars has failed to inspire a following, at least in me, and the producers keep claiming this is the last season. It doesn’t help that American cable channel the N always splits the new seasons into chunks and prolonging and sometimes killing any sense of anticipation. Nevertheless, I tuned in to the latest, “Jessie’s Girl.”

Ellie(looking wan; is college in New York and TV in Toronto too much?)continues to put up with her seventh year senior boyfriend Jesse, despite his arrogance as newspaper editor and that annoying way he calls her Frosh. Never mind his history of cheating and his brief fling with her housemate Paige. Ellie, once a strong level-headed journalist, is mush when it comes to her man. (It’s happened to the best of us.) When Jessie hooks up with her mentor, Ellie gets drunk, ruins an opportunity to shine in the press, and considers leaving the paper in hopes of saving the relationship. Yikes!
In the subplot, Mia(the likable Nina Dobrev who deserves better storylines) tries to help the dyslexic sidekick of mean girl holly J. Now Paige, in her Degrassi heydey, was a mean girl but she had a heart. Holly J is truly one dimensional and therefore makes me cringe, and not giggle. Part of the new ensemble, it remains to be seen if they will ever contribute much more to the episodes.
Despite this lukewarm review, I plan to tune in this week as original focal character Emma tries to sex up her image and in hopes that the show has some life left.

Love for New York

“I’m gonna find me a man, even if it kills my ass.”

Tiffany “New York” Pollard is at it again(aren’t we all?) After being rejected by Flavor Flav twice and being dissed by her fiancé Tango, you would think New York would stay away from reality show dating. But everyone’s favorite Capricorn(yeah you know you thought she was a Cancer, I know I did) in stilettos is hoping to find a new love on VH1. I Love New York 2 is already on Episode 4, bringing us more histrionics, horniness, and hilarity.

The new season kicked off with a new mansion, a new sidekick(no more sassy Chamo), and 20 new suitors. 5 were selected online by fans. 5 are Mama’s Boys, a pack of suit-wearing, college educated men picked by New York’s eccentric mother Sister Patterson, and the other 10 were selected by New York and the VH1 production team. Some of the new suitors include muscle-bound but sensible law student Punk, the bizarre It, spunky Midget Mac, and the man we are all starting to hate, whiny yuppie Tailor Made.

Tailor Made was the root of the recent drama, provoking gorgeous Buddha into striking him, and later spitting on street-smart Wise. Tailor Made lies, tattles, and manipulates—so naturally New York likes him. The man has a baby mama, a not-quite-ex-wife, and hair plugs—who cares if he bought New York a pair of Manolos? Still, it’s clear that their chemistry is strong and New York enjoys Tailor Made’s clinginess. Maybe when last season’s irritant, Chance, makes a comeback, Tailor Made’s chances won’t be so great. Personally, I’d choose the gorgeous Pretty or intelligent Punk.

Even if I don’t always agree with her taste in men, there is something fascinating about New York. She’s a hot mess and therefore fun to watch.

Shark jumping? TV Review

Degrassi the Next Generation, Season 7

I have been watching DNG for approximately four years now. As happens with most youth-centered serial dramas, the leads become adults, even as the ratings stay high. Degrassi was supposed to end when the class of 2006 graduated but it goes on. I have mixed feelings about the series’ new incarnation.

Bipolar love-hate object Craig Manning(Jake Epstein) has disappeared into cocaine rehab. Lovable clown JT York(Ryan Cooley) was knifed to death in a controversial cliffhanger last season. Reformed bad boy Sean has joined the Canadian Army. Series centers Emma(Miriam McDonald) and Manny(Cassie Steele) have taken second billing to the other cast members. Annoying goody-two-shoes Darcy(Shenae Grimes and her annoying hair extensions) and reformed pervert rich boy Peter have become the new power couple. Yikes! Add a new storyline in which rival school Lakehurst has been forced to attend Degrassi, three new cast members, and everyone’s favorite Toronto high school doesn’t feel the same.

It is still too early to tell if the series is over for me. I will continue to tune in for a half hour of melodrama.

Just like Degrassi

I’m embarking on my fourth round of therapy. I have a fabulous new doctor(strange way to describe her but she’s a tall, chic black woman) and I’ll be joining a depression support group in two weeks. I’ll be able to spend weeks with others like me, discussing strategies for managing our depression.
That must make me Degrassi’s Ellie Nash, former Goth girl, budding journalist, perennial best friend to bad boys, active participant in mental health support group. In fact, it was the support group that turned her teeny-tiny crush on buddy Craig into the kinda love we women shake our heads at later.
Craig Manning better stay the &%#* away from me. 🙂

Endings aren’t always opera-worthy

Review of “What’s It Feel Like To Be a Ghost”, Part 2, Degrassi the Next Generation
When I sent Nice Guy the text message heard across two zones all those years ago, there was an epic quality to it all. My so-called best friend had turned out to be a spineless jellyfish(or rather I finally admitted he had been that all along) and I put him in his place. Even if it was only my small circle of girlfriends, the crowd cheered. My TV-show heroine Manny Santos had a smaller moment of truth, so many years in the making, but all too brief and dull.

As just-not-that-into-you boyfriend Craig paws her, Manny pulls away and attempts to talk him into a normal date. He, on the other hand, wants to continue his illegal partying. When she tries to do a not-quite-Dr.Phil intervention, Craig shrugs off her efforts. A look crosses her face, one that says she has had enough. But instead of reaming/reading him, as many faithful fans would hope, she merely announces her intention, “I’m dumping your ass” and dashes out. Imagine my crestfallen response. After five years of taking Craig’s bullshit, Manny didn’t even get in a good hard bitch-slap.

Oh I know. My dreams of cocktails thrown in faces and Bette Davis slaps are the stuff of telenovelas and Almodovar movies. They have no place in teen dramas or real life. But one can dream.

Craig Manning must die!

I didn’t see the teen comedy, John Tucker Must Die, but I liked the title. It definitely fits my feelings about one-time Degrassi the Next Generation heartthrob, Craig Manning(played with gusto by Jake Epstein) especially after last night’s mid-season premiere episode, “What’s it feel like to be a ghost?” Craig returns from his tour as a regional rock music champion to his adoring girlfriend Manny, his adoring best friend Ellie, and an adoration for a drug not prescribed for his bipolar disorder. It was a good episode but had a strangely emotional effect on me. Within half an hour, I was pacing the living room like a maniac, livid at a fictional character as if Manny were my best friend or I were in her shoes. It made me wonder: why do I hate Craig? What is it about this character that makes me hope he’s the one to die(the often-publicized hook for this season’s finale)?

I’ll begin with my take on Manny. Manny is one of my favorite characters. She may be the school hottie but this girl has survived abortion, her best friend’s eating disorder, body image issues of her own, her strict Filipino parents’ rejection, and years of drama thanks to Craig. She may not be an honor student but she is feisty and insightful. Craig has treated her badly since seventh grade yet she forgives him constantly. Like that friend’s boyfriend you secretly can’t stand, if you love Manny, you know she loves Craig and therefore deserves the happiness of being with him. After last night’s episode, I hope Manny finally realizes she deserves happiness that doesn’t sacrifice her dignity or health.

On a personal level, I have been in Ellie’s place more so than Manny. Like Ellie, I have been the loyal best friend, the one who provides intellectual connection and emotional depth. In high school, it was Warrior. In college, it was Tiger(and to a certain degree, that hot water polo player.) For all those men, I was the faithful sidekick, only to be dropped for the hot girl. Whenever I see Ellie clamor for Craig’s attention, I am reminded of all the energy I put into my so-called best friends. Forget chemistry. No errand or favor or hours-long conversation got me the guy.

In real life, guys like Craig are to be avoided. I do still notice them(what was Beautiful, if not a better-groomed, non-musician Latino version of Craig?) but I prefer to meet someone who will be my loyal partner.

The Cranny factor

As some of you know, I live for Degrassi. I check in periodically with a sophomore that used to be my student and we jump up and down like we’re the same age over the latest DNG happenings. Never mind that I read the spoilers on the fansites from Canada because I can’t stand the suspense of not knowing the plotlines before I watch the episodes. This week, the moment I have been waiting for finally arrived. No, the Latin or Asian man of my dreams didn’t run into me at church and ask me on a date to dance to house music or have Peruvian food. Cranny has returned.

Cranny is shipper(online term for fans of relationships between fictional characters) jargon for the romantic connection between Craig Manning and Manny Santos. Craig Manning is the artsy bipolar orphan who’s had Manny’s attention for years. Manny is the bad girl turned social misfit who broke up Craig’s first serious relationship. They went from puppy love to an unplanned pregnancy to barely speaking to each other. The last time these two had a significant scene together, Craig, wired from his new meds, told Manny she was the biggest mistake he had ever made. Imagine my surprise when Craig defended Manny when her Girls Gone Wild moment hit the school’s email. These two, like Carrie and Mr. Big, just can’t stay away from each other.

It’s surprising how much of a Cranny fan I am. After all, I hold He’s Just Not That Into You as my new personal life survival handbook. Craig has spent years just not that into Manny. I have had moments of wishing she’d find someone better. But when these two are given the chance to be together: chispas y fuego. They have chemistry for days. Sure he’s a lanky white boy with thin hair and she’s a curvy Pinay. But when they’re good, they’re great. They complement one another and share a warm, friendly rapport. They have the dynamic sparks I still seek. Is the Cranny factor the stuff of tv teen melodrama or a real phenomenon?

Not like a TV soap at all

Television, that great American medium, has made society unrealistic about relationships, sexuality, family life, work, practically every human sociological experience. Even the most ardent cultural critics(the great bell hooks comes to mind) have been influenced and inspired by the images portrayed on the magic box of dreams. I, like most people in the First World, have a mind full of meaningless TV trivia but also, more impactfully, images and motifs that have shaped and/or struck a chord with my real life. It didn’t take long for me to see that my new job is more real than any reality show and more dramatic than any soap opera.

Adolescents, like most subgroups of society, have been portrayed superficially on television. From All-American boy Wally Cleaver to cutesy girl from the block Moesha, teens are seen in that problematic angel/devil paradigm that plagues most media. The bad kids are drug-dealing gangsters from New York Undercover, lovestarved prostitutes on Boston Public, or promiscuous brats on The OC. Even the kids on Degrassi the Next Generation, which comes closest to reality, in my opinion, are still light years away from the youngsters I speak to in my office every day. Television has yet to truly capture the heartache of adolescence in the 21st century: absent parents, the long-term emotional and physical consequences of parental drug and alcohol use, harsh poverty, twisted sexuality, and the volatile allure of violence and crime. Television cannot adequately portray the many-layered difficulty of parenting this new generation which is technologically savvy but educationally underprivileged. As a rookie administrator, I have no fictional role models to follow. School leaders are powerful buffoons, like Degrassi’s Mr. Raditch, who did nothing to help bullying victim Rick from orchestrating a tragic school shooting, or sharp-suited meanies like Ms. Musso from Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. On television, administrators are mostly irrelevant keepers of the law, often relegated to bit parts. This is why I actively seek out mentors and value the living leaders around me.

Ms. Hatzilakos from DNG: not quite a role model

In real life, high school has storylines that won’t wrap up in thirty minutes or an hour. There is no catchy theme music or sweeps season cliffhangers. Still, it is something worth watching and living.