Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ovaries Before Brovaries: Playing House, and Lady TV Friendships!

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, friends! I hope you've got your American flag sunglasses and Kan Jam ready for your BBQ (I know I do).

Let me just start by saying I can't take credit for the title of this post - it goes, of course, to Leslie Knope, the queen of lady friendship quotes (and friendship in general), but I have a feeling she wouldn't mind me using it to promote some of the best female friendships on TV.

Last month, USA premiered a new comedy, Playing House, starring real-life best friends (and comedy podcast regulars) Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham. Previously of the short-lived sitcom, Best Friends Forever, St. Clair and Parham have a lived-in chemistry that only true friends can bring to the screen. Here, they play Emma and Maggie, best friends from childhood who never let being a world apart keep them from staying in touch. After a pregnant Maggie discovers her husband's penchant for having online affairs, Emma leaves her high powered job in China, and moves back to their small Connecticut home town to help Maggie through her divorce, confronting the people and the life she left behind years before. It's the small moments between these funny women that make Playing House so fun to watch, and so relatable. An inside joke here, a knowing look there, or a dead-on depiction of watching a horror movie with a friend should all hit close to home for a lot of female viewers desperate to see their own relationships reflected on TV. Unfortunately, the rest of the show has yet to catch up with this central duo, but with a cast that features comedy pros like Keegan-Michael Key, Andy Daly, Zach Woods, and Jane Kaczmarek, it's safe to say that with a few writing tweaks, Playing House could turn out to be appointment viewing. Until it gets there, the show (like most of the stuff on USA) is still a perfectly pleasant diversion, and something I'd recommend watching when you can catch it. Check out the first five episodes on demand, or on!

Playing House airs Tuesdays at 10PM on USA

Watching Playing House these past few weeks got me thinking: it's rare to see a really great depiction of female friendships on TV. To quote Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn't help but wonder, what are some of the best representations of girl-friends on the small screen, and what makes them realistic and unique? Surprisingly, there aren't as many to choose from as you might guess (although the tides are turning, and I'm very happy about that) but after giving it some thought, I came up with the list below - sorry all you girls from Girls, although you had a great third season, none of you are actually good friends to each other, so you definitely don't make the cut. Better luck next year!

Liz's Favorite Lady-TV-Friendships:


Mary and Rhoda: The Mary Tyler Moore Show


Quite possibly my favorite female TV friendship of all time, Mary and Rhoda truly know what it means to be there for your girl no matter what. If only we could all be so lucky as to have our best friend right downstairs when we need a cup of coffee or a shoulder to cry on, or someone to help pick out an awesome head-scarf...

Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha: Sex and the City

From bad break-ups (THE POST-IT!), to bad days, to really, really bad outfits, the ladies of Sex and the City were there for each other through it all. The show exposed what real, adult conversations sound like between close friends, and gave women everywhere that "finally someone gets it!" feeling that was desperately lacking until they arrived on the scene.
Daria and Jane: Daria
Daria found her sarcastic sister from another mister, Jane, at a low self-esteem workshop on her first day at Lawndale high, and the two were a match made in misfit heaven ever since. This proud to be uncool (before that was cool) dynamic duo made it through high school hell and boyfriend drama with plenty of pizza dates and TV marathons - ah, girls after my own heart.

Phoebe, Rachel and Monica: Friends

These three shaped the way I saw female friendship from a young age (but like Mary and Rhoda, they also made me believe my best friends would always live in my building...). Through crazy jobs, break-ups, marriages, and babies, the girls became family, and even in syndication, they still inspire me to always "be there for" all the ladies in my life.  
Abbi and Ilana: Broad City

You guys know how I feel about the magic that is Broad City, and of course what makes the show so special: the central friendship between real life best buds, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. These two have, in my opinion, the most realistic and relatable friendship on TV right now. It's great that neither Abbi nor Ilana is a wet blanket, tamping down the others' insanity. Instead, both are up for adventures and hi jinx that rival that of the next pair on our list, taking NYC one joint, lost phone, wedding weekend, and apartment hunt from hell, at a time.

Lucy and Ethel: I Love Lucy

The original lady-TV-friendship to end all lady-TV-friendships, Lucy and Ethel defined a generation, bringing two hilarious women together and setting the standard for every sitcom that came after it. Sure, Ethel wasn't always one hundred percent up for Lucy's crazy schemes, but their adventures together made for some of the best comic moments the small screen has ever, or will ever, be known for. If you can find someone to stomp grapes, scarf chocolates, and...trick your husbands (?) with, consider yourself Lucy-and-Ethel-lucky.

Leslie and Ann: Parks and Recreation

Ann, you beautiful, tropical fish. In the pilot episode of Parks and Recreation, a frustrated Ann Perkins meets city employee Leslie Knope at a town hall, desperate for someone to fill in the pit outside her house. Six seasons later, the pit is finally a park, and Leslie and Ann become inseparable friends in the process. They support each other romantically (Leslie will turn a Valentine's Day dance into an opportunity for Ann to find true love; Ann will get Leslie the confidence - and the waffles - she needs to prepare for a first date) and professionally like no other girl-friends on TV. Since Rashida Jones left earlier this season (and we all cried), the next "one true pairing" of friends has some big shoes to fill. At least we have one more season - and plenty of guest cameo possibilities - before P&R says goodbye for the last time.

Jenny, Cynthia, Trixie, and Chummy: Call the Midwife

Talk about supporting each other professionally! These four ladies are constantly helping each other deliver babies in some of the most high stress circumstances you could imagine. Living in a convent in London during the 1950s, the midwives are constantly facing the harsh realities of East-end poverty, and the challenges of home child birth with few resources. But these gals make it look easy, caring for and respecting each other like no other group on TV. Here's to another season, Midwife fans!

Got any that I missed? I'd love to hear your favorites - leave 'em in the comments below!

ORPHAN BLACK RECAP: Season 2, Episode 5: Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est
What didn't happen this week? After saving Sarah from Daniel, Helena gets sent to Art's where she eats donuts ("these I like") and inevitably escapes, on the war path to murder Rachel. Sarah and Art intervene (why, though?) and the pro-clone gets to live another day, sexually abusing her new monitor, Paul, who can't seem to tell if he's into her creepy dominatrix-persona or not. Meanwhile, the Prolethians have gotten much more effed up, sewing Gracie's mouth shut - shudder - after she let Helena escape their creepy farm. Also, Cosima is getting secret treatments from Dr. Leekie and Delphine that may save her life - Rachel isn't aware of this yet, but I'm afraid to find out what will happen when she discovers the truth. No sign of Alison this week (boo!) but we can all assume she's starting up the rehab's first musical theater troupe and complaining about the lack of organic food. Tonight, let's hope Felix's name is cleared after Paul's horrible gun-fingerprint-blackmail, and OH, it looks like Mrs. S. knows Paul after all...DUN DUN DUN.

NEXT WEEK: Let's take it back to where we first started almost one year ago - wow! The summer TV season is coming, and I'll be here to fill you in on what's worth watching after those long, hot days at the beach. Break out the aloe - we're burning through summer premieres!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Clone Club, Attack! Orphan Black is Back!

Have you ever felt like if you have to make one more decision, you'll just explode? Lately, that's how things have been for me - like I'm in a batting cage and the baseballs are coming at me faster than I can swing at them. Sometimes I knock one out of the park, but more often than not I feel like I've been missing them left and right. With so many big choices to make about my job, my future, and my finances lately, little decisions, like what to have for breakfast, have me agonizing like never before. I just wish there was a little genie sitting on my shoulder who would proclaim "YOU SHALL HAVE THE MINI-WHEATS!" when I'm standing paralyzed in front of my fridge in the morning. Sadly, he has not appeared out of any of my discarded Tropicana bottles yet, so I've had to figure out other ways to keep myself from spinning into orbit...

My mantra in times like this used to be, "Relax! At least you're not Fiona Gallagher." This little Shameless-inspired speech would often put things into perspective for me, because no matter how terrible my day was going, at least I didn't have to dig up a dead body, find my drunk father in a crack house, or raise my six siblings at age 19. As all of us Shameless fans know, Fiona had a tougher year than ever - girl's got problems for sure - but ever since I fell in love with last year's BBC America cult hit, Orphan Black, I have a new mantra: "At least you're not Sarah Manning."

While Fiona may have struggles I'll never begin to understand, Sarah's got problems that are not of this stratosphere. Since Season 1, she's been dealing with impersonating a dead cop, keeping her daughter safe from mad scientists, running from her murderous identical twin and her fellow religious extremists, discovering whether or not she can trust her shifty foster mother, OH, and finding out she's part of an international cloning conspiracy, and that her genetic code is officially property of the Dyad corporation. Phew. Not having enough for rent doesn't sound so bad now, does it?

With a whole year to wait for Orphan Black's return, it felt like we would never know the result of Sarah's biggest problem: finding Kira. Well, we're officially three episodes in to Season 2, and Sarah's got a whole new mess of issues to deal with already, most of our burning questions have yet to be answered, and my heart hasn't stopped pounding since minute one. In fact, Season 2 has wildly exceeded my expectations (not like I ever expected Orphan Black to have a sophomore slump, but to be this consistently good seemed almost impossible). So, what do you say, Clone Club? Shall we dive into this year's first three episodes? Good TV waits for no woman - I say it's time.

WARNING: There are a TON of spoilers down below for any newbies out there, so if you haven't watched yet and want to, please don't let me ruin the awesomeness for you - go binge now and come back later! I'll still be here with my crack-pot theories when you're done.

Where to begin? All of the clones have really interesting story lines this season, but it's my girl Sarah who's got the most crazy stuff going on, so let's start there. On the hunt for Kira and Mrs. S., Sarah escapes getting kidnapped by two Neolutionist henchmen (reminiscent of the soap drinking scene in the pilot episode - which was also the moment that got me hooked on the series - Sarah again outwits life itself by bashing through a bathroom wall with a fire extinguisher!) and heads over to the Dyad institute in a pretty convincing Cosima costume to kick some ass. After beating the crap out of Rachel - and cementing her status as my favorite clone, #sarah4eva - she discovers that the Dyad doesn't have her family, but manipulative Rachel used her maternal guilt to trick her into coming in. Sarah's not having it. Instead, she finally comes clean to Art about the clone-spiracy, and while enlisting his help to find Kira, she gets kidnapped and thrown in the trunk of a car by a potential Prolethian who turns out to work for...DUN DUN DUN...Mrs. S!?! She took Kira to a compound - the same one she took Sarah and Felix to when they were kids - in order to "keep her safe", but I'm not buying it (and neither is Kira, apparently). Sarah takes Kira in the middle of the night, and thank god, because the bird watching nuts who were supposedly on their side sold them out to the Prolethian religious extremists, but don't worry they both end up dead by a gun-toting Mrs. S. who knows more than she previously let on about Project LEDA. Who's side are you on, lady? I guess we won't find out for a while since S stays behind, and Sarah, Kira, and Felix go on the lamb, crash an old farm house, and, surprise! the person who lives there is Cal, the rustic weed farmer with a great beard who also happens to be Sarah's ex-lover/mark and Kira's DAD (one question answered, 200 million to go...) and also he and Sarah did it, it was super hot, and let me catch my breath because we're not even done yet! In last week's episode, Sarah was kidnapped by Daniel, the sunglassed-fake-lawer-fake-detective who has been on her trail since the end of last year. But don't get too worried, the previews for tonight's episode indicate he won't be around for much longer...

Meanwhile, Cosima is investigating her biology at the Dyad with the very shady Delphine, and the introduction of a new clone, Jennifer, who died from the same disease Cosima is suffering from. Watching Cosima perform the autopsy on Jennifer, a literal carbon copy of herself, was one of the most intense and sad moments of the series to date. Tatiana Maslany has been serioulsy crushing it this season, and her understated performance as the strong, science-minded, but suddenly vulnerable Cosima has been one of my favorite things about these past few episodes. While Cosima's been wrestling with questions of clone fertility and her own iminent death, Alison has been dealing with the fall-out from Ainsley's death, and it hasn't been pretty. When she discovers - long after we have - that Donnie has always been her monitor, her guilt over letting Ainsley choke to death leads her back to some heavy self-medication, and a scary fall from the stage on opening night of her musical (the rehersal scenes have also been some of the funniest of the season, but now that Alison has officially unraveled, it's time for some more time with her and Felix, don't you think?). Then we've got the biggest surprise of all: wait for it, HELENA'S ALIVE! That's right folks, she's a mirror image twin, which means Sarah's shot to the heart didn't actually kill her, since her heart's not on that side! Instead, she's been rehabilitated and freed from the grasp of Tomas (dead, you know) and put into the care of some people who, shockingly, are even more terrifying. These science-loving religious extremists (??) are itching to impregnate her, and Helena's drugged-out-forced-marriage to their leader was some really harrowing stuff. I have no words for how disturbing the lead-up to her unseen rape was just horrific, and nauseating, and almost too much. But damn, Orphan Black takes it there, further exposing the way women's bodies are still so often seen as just a means to an end. With the clones' exploitation and infertility, and Sarah's continued sacrifices for her daughter remaining as major themes this year, Orphan Black brings a desparetely needed feminist (don't worry, Shailene Woodley, I'll explain that word to you later) viewpoint to TV and a unique twist on the sci-fi genre that never stops surprising me.

Now it's time for those crackpot theories I promised! Theory number one: We know Mrs. S. knows more about the clone's origins then we once believed, but I don't think she's still on the Neolutionist's side at this point. My theory: she's "the original" (or the one whose genes were used to create the clones), but after the experiment took off, she had second thoughts and decided to protect Sarah, the only one she had access to, from being monitored by the Dyad. Theory number two: I've said this before, but I bet you Felix is also a Project LEDA clone, and his look-a-likes will be appearing very soon. And finally, Theory number three: The Dyad has clearly tricked Cosima and Alison into signing their lives away, but I have a feeling once Cosima discovers the key to the clones' biology, the tables will be turned in a big way - there's a clone revolution a'brewin', and between Alison's gun connections and Cosima's "crazy science", these two are going to be at the forefront from the inside (just don't tell Delphine ANYTHING, Cosima! She's giving your blood away to Leekie for god's sakes, she's a traitor!).

What do I want for Season 2? More of Jennifer's video blogs please! They're tough to watch, but even with her short time on screen, she's already become a very interesting character I'd love to learn more about. And how about some Felix/Cosima interaction? I'd love to see more of the two of those characters on screen together, since as of now their dynamic is pretty much unexplored. Plus how about less time with the cops (Toronto PD, you're done here, this is above your paygrade) and no more Kira/Sarah separation! I can't - it's too emotional!

Wait, Felix! We don't have to say goodbye just yet! For more Orphan Black awesomeness, check out NPR's interview with Tatiana Maslany here and get ready for episode 4, tonight, May 10th at 9PM on BBC America! I'll be recapping episodes each week until the season ends (a la Shameless and Leah's epic Under-the-Dome-caps!) so Clone Club can keep meeting all summer long!

NEXT WEEK: I'll be checking out USA's new series, Playing House, and talking about some of my favorite lady friendships on TV! See you then!