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Unlikeable Rory Gilmore

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When I was a teen, I loved Rory Gilmore. She was one of my biggest fictional role models, along with Hermione Granger and Veronica Mars, a smart, driven, ambitious bookworm who wanted to learn everything there was to learn and then go out and change the world.

So it’s weird to rewatch the show’s later seasons as a 28 year old and wonder: how did Rory become to unlikeable to me?

At least, why did she become temporarily unlikeable. I made some notes for this post while watching Season 4, and I was so irritated by Rory that I almost quit the rewatch. Now I’m in late Season 6, and my feelings about Rory have changed again, back to far more positive ones, despite her privileged behavior.

And I think the difference is all about perspective. When her grievances seem legitimate (at least, for her age) and her efforts seem genuine, it’s easy to root for her. At Chilton, Rory was the outsider studying hard to achieve her dream. But the moment she steps into Yale, she loses that outsider status. She moves into a privileged position and yet acts like the things that were handed to her still aren’t enough, and it’s this, rather than the ambition and privilege itself, that makes her suddenly hard to like.

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Crazy Ex Girlfriend, the Non-Romantic Comedy

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Crazy Ex Girlfriend is not here for your Rom Com nonsense.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how Crazy Ex Girlfriend is the best show you’re not watching, but to fully get into why, we have to dig deeper into spoiler territory. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is hilarious, heartbreaking and groundbreakingly feminist because of its attitude towards romance tropes and RomCom narratives — mainly, that they’re complete harmful BS, and need subverting as often as possible.

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You Need To Watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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I thought I was super late to the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend party, but turns out the ratings say otherwise, and since the finale of season two just aired and it’s all available to watch on Netflix…

Oh my god, you need to watch Crazy Ex Girlfriend.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is laugh out loud funny, with great characters and heaps of diversity and originality. The colors are bright, the songs are catchy, and somehow, underneath that, it’s a serious treatment of mental illness with far better representation than you usually ever see.

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Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

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Gilmore Girls revival! Gilmore Girls revival!!

There was part of me — a super naive part, I admit — that thought that Gilmore Girls would give me the comforting warm fuzzy feelings I needed this month. A return to Stars Hollow, all that fast talking and cultural references, that general “hug and a hot chocolate” feeling that watching the show always gives me… perfect.

But of course, Gilmore Girls has never actually been sunshine and rainbows, and the revival was no exception. After I finished watching it, I felt raw. I felt like it ripped through me, emotionally. I cried so hard. Super ugly crying. (Thanks, phone call in Fall). If the goal of a story is to make me emotionally connected to the characters, then the revival was a huge success.

It wasn’t perfect. Some episodes felt a little long and lacked a focussed plot, like the entire thing was a sprawling six-hour story rather than four 90 minute episodes. And maybe not every episode needed an off-topic set piece like a Movie By Kirk or a Stars Hollow musical. But as an overall experience, I thought it was excellent.

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Pretty Girls in Stranger Things

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In Stranger Things, Nancy is the “pretty girl.” She’s set up in a kind of 80s teen movie protagonist role, both by Eleven and by the show itself. We meet her as the main boy’s older sister, and she ticks off so many tropes that we probably think we can predict where her story is going. She’s the girl who wants to be popular, with a jerk boyfriend, disagreements with her mom, and an awkward nerd guy waiting in the wings who she’s obviously destined to be with as a reward for his inevitable heroism.

She’s also the girl that Eleven borrows dresses and make-up from, the sort of girl that Eleven is apparently trying to emulate — and delighted about emulating — when the boys stick a wig on her and try and make her look “normal” for school.

And this “pretty” plotline seemed to annoy a lot of people. Eleven is, after all, simultaneously an extremely traumatized child and a paranormal-powered badass. We meet her as the polar opposite to Nancy –the supernatural experiment girl with a shaved head who grew up in a lab, and has always been used for other people’s ends. She doesn’t know words like “friends” and “promise,” but she does know “pretty,” and she seems to treasure the idea that it could ever apply to her.

But just as “friends” and “promise” take on great meaning over the course of the show, “pretty” to Eleven doesn’t really seem to mean “pretty.” It’s being “normal,” and, with it, being worthwhile.

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Jessica Jones vs Supergirl

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Jessica Jones is not what all female superhero stories have to be.

Since both Supergirl and Jessica Jones were announced for release this fall, people have been desperate to compare them. The two series have nothing in common, beyond the general superhero setup and the fact that they have female protagonists, and yet people have almost treated them as competing adaptations of the story, and rushed to decide which one was the best.

The winner, almost inevitably, seemed to be Jessica JonesJessica Jones, after all, is dark. It’s gritty. She’s a “brawling, whisky-chugging, self-destructive mess,” dealing with the darker side of Marvel’s superpowered world, a serious character in a serious story for serious and intelligent viewers. Contrast with the cheery, optimistic, rom-com esque world of Supergirl, with cutesy superhero costumes and an earnest desire to do and see good in the world, and it’s obvious why a world enamored with grimdark stories like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead might prefer Marvel’s take, or at least declare it a higher caliber of storytelling.

But moving from “Jessica Jones is good” or “Jessica Jones is the sort of superhero story I want to see” to “Jessica Jones is the only right way to do female superhero stories” or “other female superheroes aren’t Jessica Jones and therefore they suck” is based on the false assumption that a female superhero can only exist in one single way, or that we can only have one female superhero at a time. The assumption isn’t surprising, even if it is subconscious — most ensemble superhero movies only have one main female superhero, while most single-hero titles only have one (non heroic) female character at all. Of course the “only one!!” perspective has settled into our psyche. But it’s not true. Just as male superheroes can range from the dark grittiness of Christopher Nolan’s Batman to the lighthearted fun of the recent Antman to Spiderman‘s teen angst and quippiness, female superhero stories can be pretty much whatever they want to be. We don’t have to be tricked into believing that we have to choose one single female superhero to represent all female viewers in the world.

Yes, it’s great that we’re getting a female superhero who fits in with that trendy “darkness and nihilism and everybody dies” vibe. Gritty realism isn’t just for male characters, with female love interests merely existing to be threatened or killed and create a motive for revenge. It’s great that Jessica Jones is a complex and morally interesting protagonist, and is neither the clutzy aspiring journalist who’s unlucky in love or the femme fatale spy/assassin that we’re used to seeing.

But Jessica Jones is not a show for me. Not right now. I am completely burned out on grimdark stories, and just reading a description of the series’ backstory made me feel sick.

If I wanted to watch a female-led superhero story, or any superhero story, I’d want one like Supergirl. Something that skewed slightly younger perhaps. Something optimistic and fun. And if I was going to see myself in one of these protagonists, Kara Danvers would come a lot closer than Jessica Jones

And that’s fine, because we don’t have to be restricted to one type of story. Viewers can watch the “girlier” Supergirl. They can watch Jessica Jones stare darkness in the face and deal with incredibly difficult issues. They can step back to the 1940s for the perfect-lipstick world of Peggy Carter or grab a copy of Ms Marvel for some identity-searching teenage heroics. They can enjoy all of them, or some of them, or none at all. We can have optimistic heroines and pessimistic heroics, anti-hero heroines and Lawful Good heroines, reluctant heroines and heroines who throw themselves into their heroics headfirst. We don’t have to pick which version of “female superhero” we like best and have it represent all women forevermore. We can have as much variety as we see in male-led stories.

But only if we insist on it. So enough with the Supergirl OR Jessica Jones. It should be Supergirl AND Jessica Jones, and many more to come.

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Race in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

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What’s the line between racist stereotypes and social commentary? To what extent can discrimination be a source of comedy? Is it OK to use exaggerated racial stereotypes when all the characters are exaggerated stereotypes? Are some things too serious for quirky comedy?

These are the questions that ran through my head as I finished watching Tina Fey’s new Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt over the weekend. Because while Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is adorable and hilarious and has some really cutting commentary mixed in, it’s also got a big problem with race. Or a little problem with race. Or… no problem with race. Everyone seems to disagree.

For my part, I’m pretty sure Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt stumbled over the line of send-up vs racism and faceplanted straight into offensiveness, no matter how pointed and deliberate it seemed to be. It is, as the Daily Dot said, “hipster racism,” using self-awareness and “irony” to excuse the perpetuation of offensive stereotypes without really challenging them at all.

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(Un)likeable characters in Orange is the New Black

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Nothing is simple in Orange is the New Black.

The show has received a lot of praise for its diversity, but it’s just as noteworthy for the complexity and moral ambiguity of its characters. We’re used to seeing male characters like Breaking Bad‘s Walter White walk a path of questionable-at-best choices and to rooting for them despite the terrible things that they do, but female characters are usually forced into much narrower moral narratives. They’re good or they’re bad, the hero’s girlfriend or a bitch, and one questionable decision or moment of weakness can catapult them into the realms of the unlikeable “annoying bitch.”

Not so with Orange is the New Black. Moral ambiguity is the name of the game. And, aside from a couple of villain characters, likeability doesn’t really play into it.

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