Tag Archives: television

Review: One More Thing

Recap: When a book opens with a story about a tortoise and a hare, I first have to wonder if I’m reading a copy of Aesop’s Fables. But when the story turned into a version in which the hare loses and then demands a rematch against the tortoise, I knew we were no longer in Aesop’s territory. Thanks, B.J. Novak. The comedian and actor, best known for his role in The Office dives into his funny, sarcastic, sometimes dark and then surprisingly poignant mind with this collection of short stories that made me laugh and think. 


The content of many of the stories seemed random: in “Dark Matter,” a guy visiting a planetarium; in “Walking on Eggshells,” a woman set on having sex with Tony Robbins; in “MONSTER: The Roller Coaster,” a focus group selecting the name of a roller coaster. Despite the premises, they often had strong, affecting messages at the end about what matters most to us as people, about whether it’s worth it to be in a relationship that may not serve you, about things not turning out the way we expect them to. 
With some of the longer short stories, including the one from which the book got its title “Sophia,” I came to expect something poignant at the end. In the case of “Sophia,” I didn’t ever get it. 


Some stories, like “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela,” were just plain funny, an opportunity for Novak to show off his comedic writing skills. Others were simple plays on words like “If I Had a Nickel” and “If You Love Something,” good for a nice chuckle.

Analysis: As someone who’d never actually read a book of short stories, I didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t particularly excited to read it. I doubted I would enjoy it without a central story powerful enough to keep me flipping through the pages. But color me shocked when I found that I really, truly enjoyed it. Sure, some stories were better than others. Some had me scratching my head (and not in a thoughtful way, more in a what-the-hell-was-that kind of way). But I caught myself laughing several times and stopping to think about some of the stories before going on to read the next ones. I also found that because some of the stories were so short, I was able to fly through the book. How Novak came up with some of the crazy, weird, and creatively thoughtful stories is impressive and delightful.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Show vs. Book: The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has gone down in history as one of the most feminist novels of all time, earning the author several literary awards in the 1980’s when it was first published. But its debut this summer as a streaming series on Hulu has made the story shockingly relative in Trump’s America. Its themes about a male-dominated misogynist society are eye-opening as every other week it seems more Harvey Weinstein’s and Kevin Spacey’s are coming out of the woodwork.

The book tells the story of Offred, a handmaid who, in a dystopian future, has been forced to serve a family as little more than a mechanism for reproduction after widespread sterility has caused the world population to drop. Essentially raped monthly in the hopes of becoming pregnant, Offred does all she can to not only stay alive but stay sane as she wonders whatever happened to her husband and daughter. The story takes us through flashbacks of her former life as she works to find a way out of this chilling world.

Haunting is the best way to describe Offred’s tale, and that is upheld in the television series. Everything from its cold lighting and cinematography to the many close-ups of Offred’s (Elizabeth Moss’s) face as she is raped, locked in her room, or given opportunities to leave her Commander’s home exemplify the bitterness of this lonely, foreign world.

Turning the 300+ page novel into ten episodes of television allows for more detail and more story, and that’s exactly what the series offers. We learn Offred’s name “from before,” which is a detail never revealed in the novel. We learn exactly what happens to some of Offred’s other handmaid friends, including Ofglen, which — because the book is written strictly from Offred’s perspective is — is also not part of the book. The series also added meetings the Offred’s Commander has with Mexican government officials about adopting the same policies to boost reproduction. There is also an entire episode that shows us where Offred’s husband from her “former life” is now and how he got there.

Where I’m normally upset with how much liberty a show or film takes with a novel, it feels okay here. Maybe it’s because the detail given in the novel is so sparse, it’s simply a given that story would have to be added. Maybe it’s because the show matches the book so well in tone that all feels right with this adaptation. Or maybe it’s because the show is just so well executed with its writing, directing and acting. Whatever the case, the show does an excellent job of using the book as a jumping off point, season one ending exactly where the novel does. The rest of the series moving forward will now be entirely new, unread story and I’m okay with that, as I’m sure Margaret Atwood would be as well.

Get The Handmaid’s Tale in paperback now for $9.99.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “Once Bitten”

The latest installment of the Big Little Lies limited series picks up with Amabella now being bitten by one of her classmates. Once again, Renata blames the bullying on Jane’s son Ziggy, adding more stress to Jane’s life. She’s already tangled up in visiting the man who assaulted her years ago after Madeline and Celeste find him online and learn that he lives and works nearby. In this episode, we see a different side of Jane starting to come out as she takes her gun to target practice and smokes weed while she drives to her assailant. It was a trip she had planned to make with Madeline and Celeste but instead she goes it alone. We only get a glimpse into her meeting with him but never learn how it ends or if she confronts him. Instead, we just get an image of her screaming and banging the horn in her car, speeding home and getting pulled over by the cops.

Meanwhile, Madeline is having her own car troubles when she gets into a crash with her co-worker and director at the theater, Joseph. He picks up her and takes her “for a drive” to discuss their relationship. The discussion erupts when they crash in the parking lot. Joseph injuries seem serious, but he winds up coming out of it okay, and it becomes clear that the crash more or less shocked the relationship right out of them as they recede by their families for the love and support they need.

Love and support are two things Celeste certainly isn’t getting at home as she continues to navigate her murky and abusive relationship with her husband Perry. Here, again, we see her going to therapy without him. It’s probably for the best, since she finally comes clean –after some serious pushing from her therapist — just how physically abusive and harmful Perry can be.

Again, I loved this episode and how they’re slowly building the tension to the explosion that I expect the final episode will be. However, NOTHING that happens in this episode — with the exception of Celeste’s trip to the therapist — happens in the book! Because this tawdry relationship between Madeline and Joseph doesn’t exist in the book, there’s never a car crash in the novel either. And because Madeline and Celeste never tell Jane they found her assailant in the book, Jane never goes to visit him. If the show was going to add so much story to fill the time of seven episodes, why didn’t it just stick to the book and shorten the series to six episodes instead of seven? But again, the story is still well done, the acting great, and the editing –especially the audio editing int his episode– is incredible.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

Limited Series vs. Book: Big Little Lies, “Living the Dream”

The backlash against Renata’s daughter not inviting Ziggy to her birthday party continues in this third episode of the Big Little Lies limited series. Finally, an episode where things really get moving. We see and hear less from the other parents in the school as part of the investigation and instead delve deeper into the lives of our main characters: Madeline, Celeste, Jane …and Renata? (Renata is an important character in the novel, but certainly is not central to the story; however it appears the creators of the series are trying to make her more of a central character here. Maybe that’s just what happens when you have someone as good as Laura Dern playing the role.)

This episode takes us through Renata’s daughter, Amabella’s, birthday party. Because everyone in class was invited except Ziggy, Madeline arranges for Ziggy and several other kids and moms to instead go to “Disney On Ice” in lieu of the birthday party, stirring up all kinds of mom drama.

Meanwhile, Ziggy accidentally leaves the class hippo behind at “Disney On Ice,” sending his mother, Jane, into a spiral over what the moms will say about her. Jane then reveals to Madeline her big secret: that Ziggy’s father is a man she met in a bar who assaulted her. Madeline’s older daughter decides to move out of the house and in with her father because of the stress she feels in her mother’s home. Celeste and her abusive husband see a counselor together.

This episode takes big steps in moving the story forward. The veil is starting to lift on the darkness of Jane and Ziggy, as well as Celeste and her husband. The episode also somewhat redeems Madeline, making her more likable than in the second episode by showcasing how much she genuinely cares for others.

But there are a couple of striking changes between this episode and what happens in the book. Jane’s assault is described much more vividly in the novel. Jane explains to Madeline that the man who assaulted her also verbally assaulted her, calling her fat and ugly. The fact that he called her that is vital to understand Jane as a person. Her lack of confidence in her body and herself all stem from that singular moment. With those verbal details left out of the series, we’re led to believe the assault was strictly physical when, in fact, it was also emotional, and emotional scars also last a lifetime.

The episode also takes a big jump when we see Celeste and her husband go to couples therapy. Though initially timid, they eventually open up a lot about their abusive relationship in a way that’s so dissimilar from the book, I was shocked. It seems as though the series to trying to humanize her husband? But why? He’s horrible. Celeste’s storyline in the book is so great because we get to watch her become stronger and stronger. By going to therapy with her husband and initially lying about the details of their marriage, she comes across more weak than strong. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of this plot is played out in the series knowing that it added this twist.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie vs. Book, Reviews

‘Big Little Lies’ Coming to HBO

If you haven’t yet read Liane Moriarty’s huge bestseller, Big Little Lies — don’t worry, I haven’t yet either!– there’s now more incentive to do it. The bestselling novel is coming to HBO in the form of a limited series.

According to Collider, the series is set to debut in 2017, and it looks awesome. I only found out about this a few weeks ago when I was watching HBO and saw the trailer.

The series stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott and Laura Dern. It’s interesting that it’s set to air in this way on HBO, but apparently the story is complex enough to warrant more than your standard 120-minute feature, and the cast is so good, well, does it really even matter how long it is?

Meanwhile, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Liane Moriarty adaptations. According to Variety, Witherspoon and Kidman have already teamed up to produce a movie version of Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Guilty. 

Leave a comment

Filed under News Articles

‘Pretty Little Liars’ Star To Release Book of Essays

ian-harding-01-2015Is life imitating art or is art imitating life here? According to Entertainment Weekly actor Ian Harding, who plays teacher and writer Ezra Fitz on Pretty Little Liars, is releasing his own book of essays entitled Odd Birds this coming May.

His character on the teen phenomenon of a show is a writer and author, so it’s interesting to learn he writes in real life. While I’m deeply curious as to whether he got into writing since playing a writer on the show or if the show creators wrote that into the series, knowing that Harding himself liked to write, I’m also a little confused about the description of his book, as Isabella Biedenharn explains.

Harding will publish his essay collection, Odd Birds, in May 2017, EW can announce exclusively. Odd Birds will chronicle Harding’s life in Hollywood — including anecdotes from PLL — through the lens of bird watching, making it a fascinating and funny journey for readers of both celebrity memoirs and nature books.

How someone tells anecdotes about a teen television series through the lens of bird watching is pretty baffling to me. But I am interested to know if he’s as a good a writer as they make his character out to be on PLL!

Leave a comment

Filed under Author News, News Articles

‘Clarissa’ Audiobook Now Available

Is it just me or is 2016 becoming more and more nostalgic for the 90’s? First comes the Fuller House reboot. Now author Mitchell Kriegman’s book, Things I Can’t Explain: A Clarissa Novel is available on Audible. The book is based on 90’s character Clarissa Darling from Clarissa Explains It All.

The audiobook — just released today — is voiced by Melissa Joan Hart’s sister, Emily Hart Madar. (Melissa Joan Hart played Clarissa in the 90’s television series.) Below is a special five-minute clip from the audiobook:

The book follows a grown-up Clarissa as she navigates her 20’s. I listened to the clip this mooring, and have to say it’s perfect for what it is. It definitely has more of a YA feel, but that’s the audience the show always targeted, and it’s a smart way to aim for a new generation of Clarissa fans.

You can download the Audible version of Things I Can’t Explain here.

1 Comment

Filed under News Articles